Author Archives: labelledred

‘A Vision of Angels’ by Timothy Jay Smith – review

Originally published by Friends of Al Aqsa: http://foa.org.uk/publications/a-vision-of-angels

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A Vision of Angels by Timothy Jay Smith is a light but well balanced story surrounding the Israel/Palestine conflict.  It’s general pace is appropriate and being a predominantly dialogue based novel, makes it easy to read. It was therefore not surprising to discover Timothy Jay Smith is also a screenwriter. This novel could easily translate well to screen or stage. There are some interesting and consistent characters presented to us throughout the novel.  However, it is their surroundings and the ensuing situations that find the characters lives unknowingly intertwined, that gives this novel its appeal.  In spite of the portrayal of characters from both sides of the divide, and all the various strata within those two sides, Smith manages to make each character’s life seem separate, while simultaneously being inextricably linked.  This is perhaps a nod to the clarity of the writing style, and could be said to represent a true mirror of the broken society. The selection of characters are somehow thrown together in the story, despite having high walls surrounding keeping them worlds apart, literally and figuratively, as represented in Smith’s prose.

The main characters, according to the author’s acknowledgements, are based on his lifetime of experience with Jewish families and his work with Palestinians during the peace process.  He also acknowledges his time spent travelling around the Middle East and the vast range of people he met along the way as inspiration for the characters in the novel.  The key characters are from each side of the Israel-Palestine divide and include: David Kessler, an American journalist whose work becomes a focal point of the story, Major Levy and his family; his wife Leah, daughter Rachel and most notably his son Mishe; a young Israeli soldier, quickly recognised as a hero, an angel, and later a peace activist. Amin Mousa, from a powerful Gazan land-owning family and an ally of Hamas. Issa and his wife Nadia; a Christian/Muslim Palestinian couple.  I warmed a great deal to these characters in particular.  The name of this character becomes an important but subtle undercurrent, that runs through the novel about the similarities between the 3 monotheistic religions. Other important characters are Captain Sa’ab Al-Rayes, Senior Security Officer in Gaza, Major Levy’s close friend IDF Chief of Staff Ben-Ami, Noam, a Brooklyn-born Jew, immigrated to Israel, and Katya, a single-mother, native of England.

Overall the story uses the characters well to describe and demonstrate the differences in culture and way of life.  The routine inter-mingling of faiths is made clear in symbols. Smith uses the title of Chapters as one way in which to demonstrate the importance of the three faiths and the role they play in everyday life in Palestine and Israel, and most notably of course in Jerusalem. On the other hand, I do feel that the most has not been made of an opportunity to develop one of the main families as Muslim Palestinians. This would hence give a more balanced insight into life in the Occupied territories for them.  Conversely, the use of a Christian Palestinian family as protagonists, could go some way in extending the popular generalization of all Palestinians being Muslims. Issa’s character plainly states this, ‘For the day he could forget about being part of a Christian minority in an Arab world and a Palestinian minority in an Israeli one.’

The writer makes good use of timescales and pace to connect the past and present and throughout the novel there is a great fluidity of transition from the past to present and vice versa. The historical context is key in this novel, not only because of the nature of the subject matter. The fluidity of movement over time, gives a great sense of singularity and consistency to the conflict. A well-constructed example of this is Amin Mousa looking through his father’s diary.  The flow of prose from Amin’s thoughts to the diary entry feels contiguous, and as such serves to join the past and the present as one. There are also many references to history and historical sites, which are of course a part of the fabric of the land. Nevertheless, Smith uses these to great effect perhaps to remind us of the importance of the cycle of history that is attached to the past, present, and future of the conflict.

Expanding the theme of time and history, another theme is the generational gap.  The older generation seem to represent an older more binary way of thinking, where themes of tradition and heritage appear to confuse the younger generation. Noam, an American immigrant, often expresses his minor crises of identity in various ways. David Kessler, a character who always seems to be somewhat detached from Jewish life, as an American of Jewish heritage. ‘Pausing outside a synagogue to listen to boys chant their nasal prayers, he pondered how, through their shared blood, it could have been him inside.’ ‘Could he deny his blood heritage that made him want to touch his forehead to Isaac’s altar or link arms with the men dancing in the synagogue?’ In spite of David’s secular, modernist/liberal stance, Smith shows him, and other characters, repeatedly struggling with denial of faith and issues of guilt that revolve predominantly around heritage and bloodlines. In this sense, Smith represents the spectrum of Jewish people that have immigrated from all over the world, while at the same time examining some of their individual and collective insecurities about tradition and culture, particularly through language and religious practices.  Comparatively, the Jewish characters seem to have more of a disconnection with their elders. The relationship between Mishe and his father is an example of such.  His girlfriend Nina also complains of the poor relations between her and her mother. The Arab characters on the contrary seem to have much stronger ties to the older generation.  This is perhaps because the fathers of the two main Arab characters, Issa and Amin, died in the conflict.  This seems to serve to venerate and almost idolise memories of them.

Another common thread that links the characters is political involvement. All the main characters are involved in some kind of movement, public speaking or action group that assists with pushing forward their solution to the conflict.  The power and perceptions created by the media is another running theme of this novel.

Demonstrates the power and perception of images in the media. Chief of staff Ben-Ami mistakes a scene from Iraq for a scene from Israel; ‘He knew those battlefields too well and had almost mistaken the broadcast for one of his own wars when the reporter identified it as Iraq.’ Timothy Jay Smith emphasizes the futility of war many times in this novel and this is one clear example. The repetition of images by the media is also remarked upon here, ‘Then suddenly the same picture popped up on the screens like cherries on a slot machine. A good Samaritan extending his hand to a mother whose injured son lay stretched across her knees.’  The interpretation of the image and representation of the soldier as a hero are strong, and Smith uses the pace well to represent a real-time understanding of the speed at which the photo moves from being just a photo, to an iconic image within hours. This image becomes the central focus of the story, interlinking all characters together in one image.

By and large this work succeeds at showing a balanced view of the conflict and the lives of those characters involved.  It illustrates life across every demographic, however the vision could be a little better balanced. The ending felt a little rushed as if all the action had been saved until the end, this added to the pace at the end however but made for slower reading in the first third of the novel. Although there were some interesting twists and surprises, the unsurprising fate of the Arab characters, as well as the occasional incorrect transliteration of Arabic, felt a little disappointing. Nonetheless, Timothy Jay Smith does balance out the predictable terrorist rhetoric with a revealing comment from Avi, an Israeli soldier with a colourful history, that David befriends. He astutely notes that in he eyes of the media, “One man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist.”  This point not only ironically indicates a part of the plot that follows later in the story, but also emphasises the importance of language used by the media in creating and upholding images and perceptions, that serve to perpetuate and exacerbate conflict.

 

 

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Street mentalists

From http://platonicsolids.tumblr.com

Meaningful messages can be delivered to a public audience in many ways be they music, as discussed in the last post, art, particularly street art, or other forms of media. Of course there are many places to find your target audience depending on your choice of media. But in capital cities of the world such as London, the streets and its variety of public transport systems, are where you find the biggest mass movements of people.

Arriving in London, which if you’re familiar with it or not, does have a reputation for being a seemingly cold and mercenary city.  Of course, like most major cities in the world, it is a place where huge masses of people, despite coming into relatively close physical contact, have the bare minimum of actual interaction on a daily basis.  Interaction, at the most, often solely involves a sideways glance at those with whom you will be sharing very-precious-because-it’s-somewhat-limited oxygen on a packed tube that morning.  It’s likely to even be the same group of people for a successive amount of days, working weeks, months and even years.

What is unlikely to happen in that time however, is that you strike up a conversation with said fellow oxygen-sharer.  If you did, you would initially be looked upon with some degree of suspicion. When someone starts talking to you in London the first thing you are programmed to think is ‘What does he/she want and why are they talking to me?’ It’s like an automatic switch that comes on when someone tries to interact with you.  You quickly get sucked out of your individual bubble, as if someone had stuck a pin in it, burst it and your head came popping out under considerable pressure.  I always envisage people walking around in bubble-like pods in London.  I mean, each person actually walking around with a physical oval or pod-shaped bubble that extends from the bottom of their necks up over their heads.  The pod would be transparent, and ultimately pretty much bubble-like.  It could be made of plastic or some kind of galvanized rubber so as not to cause discomfort or be too heavy. Ideally, people wouldn’t even really feel that it’s there.  Inside the pod people are connected to their music, their media, their literature, their own thoughts, their own language, tastes and smells: their own veritable mini-universe.  When they sit down next to someone else on the tube, then the bubble extends down to the elbows, leaving just enough room for the necessary forearm and hand manoeuvres for the turning of pages or electronic device operation.

Nothing much can disconnect you from the pod. Its very existence allows you to virtually ignore other human beings, even and especially when they are in times of need. There are of course the few who actually want to open their pod. Or, being new to the city and due to the pod’s lightweight and almost invisible qualities, they aren’t fully conscious of its presence yet.  They tend to breach pod protocol by having a moment of interaction with you that goes beyond pod-world norms. Interaction has a whole range of levels of intimacy in pod-protocol. The base level being a standard acknowledgement of another person, that is acknowledgement not as in direct eye contact, but just a simple feeling of recognition that there is another person next to, in front of, or behind you.  It’s almost telepathic. You can do this without disconnecting any of your senses from your pod.  The most intimate in pod interaction would probably be the dreaded conversation, or even worse the emergency situation where you might have to be one of the small percentage of people in pod world that actually offer to help someone out in such a situation.

The only other interactions or distractions that lead you to think about the world outside the pod are the invariable announcements you hear from the tannoy.  The tannoy, which neatly connects directly into your internally fitted pod-speaker, delivers regular and repetitive messages about delays to your service, as well as the incessant warnings about the destruction of left luggage and safe-guarding of your personal belongings.  This instils a feeling of constantly being watched and under threat simultaneously, despite the protective shield of your pod.

Funny thing being that all this pod-living directly contrasts the idea that floats around of London being a free and liberal city.

However, there are a few glimmers of hope when some people leave their house deciding not to wear their pod.  Having not lived in London for quite some time I tend to be one of those, but after 4 weeks have realised that people tend to think you’re an escaped care-in-the-community-case, so most of the time I partially slip unwillingly back into the pod of conformity, always poised to take it off.

The people that battle on without their pods though are inspirational to me. They decide to step out of the grid and give us, the pod-wearing public a chance to hear their thoughts and actually try to interact with us about issues that matter to them.  These are the mostly-silent protesters who stand, camp or live in the streets with signboards.  They have really had an impact on me because of the very nature of the city just described. These people have really decided to shout their message out.  And quite cleverly so, as in a world full of pods, no one will hear words being shouted, but the impact of reading words in the street through our pods can be phenomenal in terms of the message hitting home. Thankfully for us they disconnect from pod world, because how stale street life would be without them.  Often written off as madmen, I’d like to suggest they be nominated as metropolitan superheroes.

‘Repair the world, keep hope alive.’

Some camp outside of Parliament for days to years.

Mark Quinsey killed by Freemasons

Others are homeless and make their home a place of political argument by relentlessly trying to tell us something through their boards.

Protest at home. Under the Great West Road Bridge, Chiswick, London

Dale farm evictions – The vile english at their most grim and mercyless*’ (left)

‘A vile and brutal country England.’

Maybe it’s nothing new, but in a city full of tightly sealed pods, it seems refreshing to at least see some trying to get their message across.  It’s particularly uplifting and effective that they protest alone, and continue on through adversity.

The pod makes the messages all seem real. Real, exaggerated and in neon-bright colour.  Their message gets amplified because the people that don’t instantly dismiss them as mentalists*, really take a moment to disconnect themselves from their world and enter another’s.  And this, I think, is the ultimate in effective message delivery.

*Mentalist (n) (adj) One who is mental – first coined by UK sitcom “I’m Alan Partridge” (Episode 5)  “What are you doing, you mentalist?”

“Mentalist” has more recently become a tongue-in-cheek insult for when someone is behaving oddly or wackily, thanks to tv series “Alan Partridge” and “The Office”. (From http://www.urbandictionary.com)

From ‘mentalism’ (noun) Philosophy

The theory that physical and psychological phenomena are ultimately explicable only in terms of a creative and interpretive mind. (Apple dictionary version 2.1.3)

Related links:

Group protest to be criminalised ‘lone protesters’ come together for mass impact

http://www.peacenews.info/issues/2478/247801.html

Dale Farm evictions

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/dale-farm

Mark Quinsey/Freemasons protestor on bus

http://www.life.com/news-pictures/89369743/freemasons-protest-sign-seen-on-london-bus

‘Doing Battle in a War of Words’ – Meaningful messages on the streets of Dubai.

http://www.7days.ae/article/news/special-reports/doing-battle-war-words-29305


Voices of Political Music Women: the delicate chords delivering a political message

Article published here:

http://shejay.net/articleDetail.php?articleID=62758


Follow the signs


While I was in Katmandu recently I noticed the huge number of religious symbols that exist for various different reasons and beliefs.  A huge number if you compare it with most of Europe for instance, particularly the UK and France where secularization and political correctness now exist to a point where religious symbols are severely frowned upon and in some cases, banned in public.

I have a relatively limited knowledge of the Hindu religion and only a little more of the Buddhist religion, which I was told firmly by many Hindus in Nepal is actually considered by them to be more of a philosophy rather than a religion.  I found it so intriguing that whenever you ask the Nepalese people about the religious structure of Nepal you get a different answer.  A Tibetan taxi driver I met told me that there are 40% Hindus and 40 % Buddhists in Nepal, 20% other.  I have a very funny story to recount about his views on the world and religions which I will have to write about in another post, because it opens up a whole new topic!  Another guy I met called Rama, a Hindu of Indian origin who guided me around Durbar Square and explained the history of all the temples and the palace.  He also gave me a quick rundown of the key beliefs in Hinduism so I could make sense of all the carvings and symbols.  They were so intricate and numerous that even he joked that he didn’t know the meaning of every single one. He remarked that there were indeed a lot of symbols and they all had some specific interpretation most of which he enlightened me with.  So Rama’s view on the religiosity of Nepal was 60% Hindu and 30% Buddhist 10% other denominations.

Rama

Later I met Krishna, a Hindu shopkeeper who introduced me to Siddhartha, which I bought and read the same day on his recommendation.  We had a very interesting conversation and he introduced me to the notion of Hindu practices with a very strong Buddhist philosophy.  He also had some very interesting views about life, love and all the rest of it, and as did Rama, made a clear distinction between his religion and his philosophy.  His estimate of the number of Hindus to Buddhists was roughly the same.

Krishna. He has special powers, his own words not mine!

I found it fascinating that Hindu and Buddhist temples were as one in Kathmandu.  Often both religions pray in exactly the same place.  As I continued around the city the presence of the Hindu religion was ultimately the strongest, particularly in terms of symbols that you see all over the city.

I also noticed that many of these symbols have been borrowed and used in the Occult and various other religious/spiritual practices.  Of course, as I touched on in the last post, Hitler notoriously took the previously Hindu swastika, turned it around, and gave it a meaning entirely of his own making.


I started to question why symbols had been so readily borrowed from this religion in particular.  On researching I found lots of information that I’m yet to fully analyse and understand, as it’s pretty complex.  I don’t feel I have enough knowledge as yet to give a detailed analysis but the two easiest and most general assumptions I can come to are 1) it’s such an old religion and hence had a lot of influence over those that followed and 2) Paganism and occult practices existed long before the revelation and establishment of the monotheistic religions.  Perhaps it’s because Hinduism is a polytheistic religion and it’s on this basis that a lot of occult and pagan practices can find common ground to borrow ideas and base their practices on.

Skull engravings at the entrance of Kumari Devi's (The living goddess) house

Hand of the Kalydana holding his dead victim. His hands held in Apan Mudra - hand gesture for cleansing, now used as a Horned god hand gesture between those in the occult.

Skulls on the crown of the Kalydana

Shatkona, six-pointed star which is two interlocked triangles denoting male and female energy. Known as a hexagram in the occult used for working magic. The sacred dogs that guard temple entrances stand either side. In the occult symbols dogs represent of the guardians of the underworld as taken from the ancient egyptian god Anubis.

Helena Blavatsky (see previous post) was reknowned and cited for using Hindu teachings in her development of the Occult.

“ Narrowly defined, modern New Age teachings can be linked to the transplantation of Hindu philosophy through the Theosophical Society founded by Helena Blavatsky in the latter part of the nineteenth century in the United States, and to the psychic medium Edgar Cayce, whose prophecies scholars now consider foundational to its birth and development.  Madame Blavatsky, as she was known, promoted Spiritism, séances, and basic Hindu philosophy while manifesting a distinct antagonism to biblical Christianity.”

The Kingdom of the Occult By Walter Martin, Jill Martin Rische, Kurt Van Gorden


Defining ‘Power’

Power is the main concern in political thought, theory and events – contemporary and historical. The balance of power between states is supposed to be essential, however we can clearly see an imbalance or even extreme polarity in the custodian(s) of power on the world political stage.

*power |ˈpou(-ə)r| (n.)

  1. the ability to do something.
  2. the ability to influence people or events.
  3. the right or authority to do something.
  4. Political authority or control.
  5. A country seen as having international influence and military strength.

Post-war realist H.J Morgenthau aptly describes power as;

“Man’s control over the minds and actions of other men.” (1948)

He goes on to say;

“Power is a relational concept, one does not exercise power in a vacuum but in relation to another entity.”

Other relevant power quotes;

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Abraham Lincoln

“Power is my mistress.  I have worked too hard at her conquest to allow anyone to take her away from me.”  Napoleon Bonaparte

“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”  Alice Walker, author.

Power corrupts. Absolute power is kind of neat.John Lehman, Secretary of the US Navy, 1981-1987

 

“The problem of power is how to achieve its responsible use rather than its irresponsible and indulgent use – of how to get men of power to live for the public rather than off the public.

Robert F. Kennedy (1964)

 

Power never takes a back step – only in the face of more power.

Malcolm X (1965)

Power consists in one’s capacity to link his will with the purpose of others, to lead by reason and a gift of cooperation.

Woodrow Wilson (1913)

 

You see what power is – holding someone else’s fear in your hand and showing it to them!Amy Tan, writer.

 

*definition taken from the Oxford conscise dictionary


Hello world!

I hope to be able to use this blog to vent my many ponderings.