Tag: terrorism

The Pershing Bullet Myth

The Pershing Bullet Myth

Last week I wrote on US history according to Trump before hearing about the President’s “Pershing bullet[1] myth”, which obviously should have been included in that post. For those who aren’t aware[2], in the wake of[3] the Barcelona massacre Donald Trump tweeted about how General Pershing had executed Muslim rebels in the Philippines using bullets dipped[4] in pig fat[5] and that this ended Islamic insurgency there for decades. There is absolutely no historical evidence that the US general ever dipped bullets in pig fat and in any case the Muslim insurgency was not ended by Pershing’s activities. Pershing notes in his memoir – but does not condone[6] – the US practice of burying[7] the dead bodies of Muslim insurgents who had killed Americans with dead pigs because this meant that they would be excluded from paradise.

It seems that the bullet myth probably has its origins in the Indian Rebellion of 1857 (previously known as The Indian Mutiny). However, the conclusions drawn[8] by Trump are the exact opposite from those suggested by this historical event. The spark[9] that led to[10] the uprising[11] against the British was that Indian troops[12] employed by the British East India Company were expected to bite open[13] cartridges[14] that were lubricated either with pigs’ fat or with cows’ fat. The first was of course offensive to Muslims, the second to Hindus. Incredibly, the officials of the East India Company mixed up the two types of cartridges, so the obvious solution of giving pigs’ fat-coated[15] cartridges to the Hindus and cows’ fat cartridges to the Muslims wasn’t an option. Rather than[16] bringing peace, the “pigs’ fat bullets” caused the death of 800,000 people, Mr Trump.

However, there is one idea that comes out of all this. Why not have a law that says that the corpse[17] of anybody killed perpetrating a terrorist act, as determined by a judge, should automatically be cremated? Cremation is forbidden[18] in Islam and is generally believed to deny[19] access to paradise. It would be non-discriminatory, would not affect the lives of peace-loving Muslims and might be a deterrent[20] against suicide bombers.

[1] bullet – projectile used in a rifle or a pistol

[2] to be aware – be conscious (of a fact)

[3] in the wake ofafter, following

[4] to dip – immerse, cover

[5] pig fatporcine grease

[6] to condone – approve of

[7] to bury – inter, put underground

[8] to draw a conclusion (draw-drew-drawn) – reach a conclusion, come to a conclusion

[9] spark – immediate cause

[10] to lead to (lead-led-led) – cause, provoke

[11] uprising – rebellion

[12] troopssoldiers

[13] to bite open (bite-bit-bitten) – open with one’s mouth/teeth

[14] cartridge – (in this case) a packet containing a bullet and an explosive charge for a musket

[15] coatedcovered

[16] rather than – instead of, in contrast to

[17] corpse – cadaver, dead body

[18] forbidden – prohibited

[19] to deny – prevent, impede

[20] deterrent – dissuasive factor

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What Message Are You Sending?

What Message Are You Sending?

In the last week we have seen two young men use a vehicle to kill and maim[1] as many people as possible. Both had failed in the both basic aspects of their lives – they had each committed domestic violence. James Fields has physically attacked his mother on several occasions. Driss Oukabir has been in trouble with the law for violence against his wife. Andreas Lubitz was another misfit[2]. He was the German Wings pilot who used his vehicle to kill as many innocent people as possible. Lubitz had no cause – he was simply crazy. Three young men who would all be defined as ‘losers’ in popular parlance[3].

So, my point is this:

Dear neo-Nazis, white supremacists and Alt-Righters, presumably you think that Islamic terrorists are the scum of the earth[4]. However, if you act just like them, then we will equate you with them. People who act like they are crazy can be dismissed[5] as mad. Please stop killing us. If you have concerns[6] that positive discrimination and political correctness have gone too far, we can talk about that. But you don’t convince anybody by acting like nutters[7].

Dear Islamists, presumably you think that Nazis are the scum of the earth. However, if you act just like them, then we will equate you with them. People who act like they are crazy can be dismissed as mad. Please stop killing us. If you have concerns about Western imperialism and Zionism, we can talk about that. But you don’t convince anyone by acting as if you have a mental illness.

If you follow an exemplary life in which you love, care for[8] and help those around you, you may convince us of the legitimacy of your cause. If you can’t even have healthy relations with your loved-ones, you probably have little to teach us. Violent hatred[9] will never convince the rest of us that you are right. Please grow up[10].

[1] to maimmutilate

[2] misfit – sb. who does not form part of a community

[3] parlance – speech, language

[4] the scum of the earth – the worst people possible

[5] to dismiss – ignore

[6] concernsworries, preoccupations

[7] nuttercrazy person, demented person

[8] to care for sb.look after sb., take care of sb.

[9] hatred – hate, abhorrence, hostility

[10] to grow up (grow-grew-grown) –act like a mature, emotionally balanced person

Shoring Up[1] London Bridge

Shoring Up[1] London Bridge

Photo: London Bridge by Robert Dimov

[1]

Mrs Thatcher once infamously said, “There is no such thing as society”. She was wrong and one of the reasons she was wrong was literature. Much of literature, like religion, tells us how to behave[2], especially in extreme circumstances. Works like Beowulf and Spenser’s The Faerie Queene are essentially conduct books[3]. In this sense literature is propaganda from the past for the future. However, unlike[4] religion, literature is flexible and naturally inclusive.

In his Nobel acceptance speech this week Bob Dylan mused[5], “I had principles and sensibilities and an informed view of the world. And I had had that for a while. Learned it all in grammar school[6]. Don Quixote, Ivanhoe, Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver’s Travels, Tale of Two Cities, all the rest – typical grammar-school reading that gave you a way of looking at life, an understanding of human nature, and a standard to measure things by[7]. I took all that with me when I started composing lyrics[8]. And the themes from those books worked their way into[9] many of my songs, either knowingly[10] or unintentionally.”

A similar process occurred when the band Oasis took the name of the greatest British play of the 1950s, John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger (1956) and transformed it in the title and refrain for their song Don’t Look Back in Anger (1995). Over the last fortnight[11] that refrain[12] has been used by Mancunians[13] both to console and to define their reaction of “love conquers hate” in the wake of[14] the terrorist attack in Manchester.

Many would baulk against[15] the idea that a mere pop song could be considered literature. More would be affronted[16] by the idea that literature – let alone[17] pop lyrics7 – could compete with religion. But the greatest British poet of the 20th Century, T.S. Eliot, described literature as “Fragments… shored[18] against my ruins”. In other words bits of legends, stories, plays and poems are what we use to console ourselves in times of need – be they Cervantes, Charles Dickens or John Osborne.

That famous quote comes from Eliot’s cento[19] at the end of his greatest poem, The Wasteland (‘What the Thunder[20] Said’, ll. 426-31) [1922], which ends:

Shall I at least set my lands in order[21]?

London Bridge is falling down[22] falling down falling down[23]

Poi s’acose nel foco che gli affina[24]

Quando fiam uti chelidon[25]O swallow[26] swallow[27]

Le Prince d’Aquitaine a la tour abolie[28]

These fragments I have shored18 against my ruins.

Why then Ile fit you[29]. Hieronymo’s mad againe.

Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.[30]

Shantih[31] Shanith Shantih.

London Bridge is not falling down22, thanks to the robust mix of multicultural voices and the literature we have shored18 against our ruins.

[1] to shore up – reinforce, fortify, strengthen

[2] to behave – act, conduct oneself

[3] conduct bookguide to social norms

[4] unlike – in contrast to

[5] to muse – (in this case) write thoughtfully

[6] grammar school – (US English) elementary school

[7] to measure things by – to evaluate experience

[8] lyrics – the words to a song

[9] worked their way into – be inserted in a subtle way

[10] knowingly – intentionally

[11] fortnight – two weeks

[12] refrainline that is frequently repeated in a song

[13] Mancunian – sb. from Manchester

[14] in the wake offollowing, after

[15] to baulk against – resist, not accept

[16] to affront – offend, insult

[17] let alone – much less

[18] shored – accumulated, a. up to support a building, b. (of a catch of fish) brought ashore

[19] centoliterary text created from lines/fragments by other authors

[20] thunderloud noise generated by a storm (= tempest)

[21] shall I set my lands in order – will I reorganize my kingdom appropriately?

[22] to fall down (fall-fell-fallen) – collapse

[23] a line from a famous nursery rhyme (= traditional children’s song) that probably has its origin in the ritual of human sacrifice in blessing new buildings

[24] “(remember later on my pain). He hid himself in the fire which refines them” from Dante’s Inferno

[25] from The Virgil of Venus (anonymous) “When shall I be like the swallow?” (i.e. able to sing and fly away/escape). The refrain of the poem promises love to all.

[26] swallow – (Hirundinidae) very fast migratory insectivorous songbird

[27] “O swallow swallow” comes either from The Princess by Tennyson or Itylus (= Philomel) by Swinburne

[28] “The Prince of Aquitaine in the ruined tower” from The Disinherited (El Desdichado) (1865) by Gérard de Nerval (1808-55)

[29] Why then Ile (= I’ll) fit you – I’ll give you exactly that. The line is from Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy: Hieronymo’s Mad Againe (c.1589). Hieronymo is asked to produce a court play. Superficially, he says he will do it, but he is really saying that he will use theatre to trap the murderers of his son.

[30] Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata – give, show compassion, and control yourself; from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, a sacred Indian (Hindu and Buddhist) text

[31] Shantih – (the Sanskrit conclusion to an Upanishad) peace, amen, shalom, As-Salaam-Alaikum