Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Moving blog

This blog has now moved to www.ramblesofmrc.wordpress.com

Please feel free to join me there

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Cricket Test

It could hardly have passed anyone’s attention that we’re in the middle of the Cricket World Cup competition. Despite following the odd match with slightly more than a cursory interest, I have to say I haven’t followed this as I would have in previous years. One just doesn’t have the time these days – even for a one day match. I don’t remember how I could have followed test matches in years gone by, which to the bemusement of non-cricket lovers every where, can last five days and still end in a draw! But with the Bengal Tigers punching above their weight and causing upsets against India and now South Africa, the hype is getting too irresistible. At time of writing England proved to be a challenge too far. Next time, just maybe……..

The current tournament (and a friend’s blog) brought to mind the old debate around which cricket team to support a.k.a. the Norman Tebbit Cricket Test. For those younger than a certain age, you probably don’t remember Norman Tebbitt. Suffice it to say he was a Conservative party big wig during the Thatcherite years, a driven ideologue whose obituaries will no doubt be filled with his contribution to the race debate in Britain. The Norman Tebbitt Cricket Test essentially is a crude test of loyalty, allegiance and identity. Stirred up by footage of Britsh born Pakistanis (and later Indians, Sri Lankans and West Indians), supporting the teams of their parent’s origin, Tebitt basically posed the question about whether you can be English and support another team.

In the days before Bangladesh was honoured with test status, I ‘followed’ Pakistan’s exploits, then a star studded team led by Imran Khan in the 1990s. It never occurred to me to do anything else. At school the black boys followed West Indies, the Indians India and the majority of the white boys England apart from the odd Antipodean. It helped that Pakistan were flamboyant and successful, but looking back even then cricketing affinities could be seen along racial lines.

As primitive as it was it seems that this did not only apply to Cricket. With no decent sub-continental team to support, we sided with Argentina or Brazil with England being a reserve for our support in the event they played Germany. Perhaps our choices were a reflection of how black players (there are/were no English Asian footballers) were treated on the pitch despite representing their country – remember how John Barnes got monkey chants and had inflatable bananas waved at him despite being the most skilful player in the side. Similarly if you went to a cricket match, you couldn’t help being put off by the antics of the ‘barmy army’, usually booze fuelled and politically incorrect to say the least. Its not surprising that few of us would pass the Cricket Test. Scottish nationalists famously printed out t-shirts with ‘I failed the English Cricket Test’ on the front.

But how does all this apply to the post modern world we live in today? Multiple identities in a multi-cultural world are de riguer with no-one batting an eyelid if for example, you celebrate Eid, enjoy a Thai curry, holiday in Africa, speak three European languages and feel at home in a sarong. Children born of immigrant parents have no problems carrying dual or more identities - its just they way they are. Whether they are bi-lingual, have multiple heritages or different religions, they can be more secure in their identity than many may think. By having to face the question about who you are it perhaps does more to query the insecurity of the questioner as well as being forced to organise the thoughts of the questioned. If someone can give me a definition or checklist of what it means to be English/British perhaps the question can be answered.

This opens a veritable smorgasbord of opportunity to muse the subject of identity of the children of immigrant communities, multiculturalism and integration, but that my dear readers, is for another day. For now, we must revel in the irrelevance of the Tebbit Test. If I was good enough, I would have almost no problem in playing for England. Just look at the ‘success’ of Monty Panesar and Sajid Mahmood to see how defunct the question has become.

Of course, not content with that, the Tebbit Test question has been replaced by a new generation with the ‘Army Test’ - Would you fight for England against the country of your (parents') origin? The debate rumbles on….

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Slave Trade

On 25 March 1807, Parliament passed the Act for the Abolishment of the Slave Trade, outlawing the trans-Atlantic slave trade, in my mind probably the greatest crime in human history. Britain is commemorating this bicentennial anniversary and Britons certainly should remember William Wilberforce and the abolitionist movement.

The Act passed made it illegal for British owned ships to transport slaves at the risk of being penalised £100 per slave. The trade continued and as the slaves were considered nothing more than chattel, if unscrupulous captains feared being boarded by the Royal Navy they would throw men, women and children overboard to lessen the overall penalty.

By the time that Britain had woken up to the brutality and immorality of the transatlantic slave trade, the wealth generated from the previous two centuries of legalised cruelty had already kick started the Industrial Revolution giving Britain a competitive advantage, setting her in prime position for the next stage of colonial domination and imperialist ambitions. As the headline in the Voice newspapers shouts, Britain was ‘Built on Black Blood’ with much justification. Lloyds of London, Barclays Bank, the City of Liverpool and countless other institutions, industries and towns were built, directly or indirectly, on the profits of slavery.

But should Britons today apologise for the slave trade? Whilst the devastating impact of slavery on present day Africa, their descendants in the Americas and of course on the direct experience of upto 30 millions transported slaves cannot be ignored, who do we apologise to now? What responsibility do I or anyone living in Britain today have for the actions of pirates, traders and capitalists hundreds of years ago? What would you say and to whom? If you apologise does this imply culpability and the need to make recompense. There are serious advocates claiming that the government make substantial reparations. How do you put a price on kidnap, forced labour, cruelty, dispossession, rape, oppression, murder and torture?

Despite all these imponderables, Ken Livingstone to his credit, has issued a full and unequivocal apology on behalf of all Londoners for London’s role in the slave trade. In the absence of any previous formal apology on behalf of the nation, it probably is time to finally record the country’s regret at the inhuman activities which it legalised and the blood and tears it prospered from. Germany apologised for the Holocaust and as a way of acknowledging and coming to terms with its past, this was a necessary first step.

But by doing so, it should not be implied that individuals today bear any responsibility for the actions of previous generations. That would be contrary to natural justice. The Quran states ‘that no bearer of burdens shall be made to bear another’s burden’ 53:38. Which is obviously quite different from the fundamental Christian concept of Christ suffering for the sins of others.

An apology could only be a symbolic gesture to ensure, as with any lesson from history, that we learn from our mistakes and seek to avoid them in the future. Lessons it seems we as humans have forgotten - modern day slavery is still around us in the form of trafficked women from Eastern Europe, bondaged labour in the sub-continent and exploited migrant labour in the Far East. The Quranic exhortation to free slaves (2.177) has as much resonance today as it did when revealed.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Bangla Windows

This is one for the Bengali speakers out there - made me laugh out loud.

Bill gates was in Bangladesh last year. He announced that Microsoft plans to release a windows version in Bengali. Here are some Windows related terms that may be used in the Bengali version of: Janaala1971

Phaail --- File
Basao --- Save
Oula Basao --- Save As
Hokholre Basao --- Save All
Amare Basao --- Help
Khanda Thaki Dheko --- Zoom In
Duur Thaki Dheko --- Zoom Out
Bhaago --- Run
Kofi --- Copy
Gulli Maro --- Delete
Saddor Bisao --- Spreadsheet
Itar naam zanina --- Database
Ghaas --- Tree
Unduur --- Mouse
Onthaki Hono, Honthaki Ono --- Scrollbar
Khagoz Bango --- Page Break

Monday, January 29, 2007

Big Bother

Now whilst I try to avoid getting sucked into the detrius of junk TV, I have to admit to wasting a few hours watching Celebrity Big Brother over the last week. Unsurprisingly this has been prompted by the debate of the day that has exorcised the international media on what must have been a very slow news cycle.

For the uninitiated, this excuse for a social experiment locks half a dozen z-list celebrities in a house, points cameras at them 24-hours a day and sees what happens when the eponymous 'Big Brother' manipulates their environment sowing discord in the name of entertainment. Apart from only recognising the Face (only those of us watching TV in the 1980's truly remember the A-team in all its macho-glory - 'I luv it when a plan comes together' and 'I pity the fool') I didn't know any of the others.

Anyway, one day, two particular characters in this car wreck of a show, Jade Goody and Shilpa Shetty have an argument over oxo-cubes and chicken curry. Small thing to argue about you might think, but bear with me. This descends into an uncontrolled rant, a tirade of incomprehensible gibberish from Goody whose apparent claim to fame is that she was on another version of the show. In fact her most marketable characteristic apparently lay in her panache for asking stupid questions, chavette like behaviour and 'down to earth girl in the next council estate’ charm which has garnered her £8m so far! Shilpa Shetty on the other hand hails from Bollywood royalty and apart from being cultured and possessing dignity, knows how to string words together to make a coherent sentence.

So when Goody and her Goons gang up on Shetty and say things like ‘She doesn’t speak English’, ‘She should go back home’, wilfully mispronounce her name, call her ‘Popodom’, and other petty gibes, the question that Shilpa Shetty and the world ponders is ‘Is this what Britain is today?’. To be sure Goody and the Goons are bullies but are they racist? They are no doubt extremely ignorant and represent an unpalatable side of British society. But is it representative, or is it merely a class issue representing the views of the young disenfranchised underclass? These are questions that will no doubt me the subject of future media relations PhDs.

To give the benefit of the doubt to these girls, especially when Shetty herself was magnanimous in her forgiveness is probably the reasonable thing to do. To foist upon them a status as a barometer on British society is a bit harsh. Indians themselves are not immune from a bit of racism and class intolerance themselves – see the caste system for one. There’s just that nagging feeling at the back of my mind which says you don’t have to scratch too far below the surface to bring out people’s innate intolerances and prejudices.

I hope Channel 4 never do another Big Brother. Its an awful concept for a show.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Veiled Threats

The blessed month of Ramadan is now over all too quickly as usual. It does seem that every year that it slips by faster than the last one and one hopes that you live to see another one. With Eid now celebrated (with the now customary moon sighting dispute) it seems appropriate to reflect over some of the hysterical media reporting that blighted last month's spiritual exercises.

From stories about policemen not guarding embassies, cabbies not letting guide dogs in vehicles, pharmacists not dispensing pills, teachers wearing veils, Muslims against the Olympics (apparently it will clash with Ramadan!), potential race riots (thanks Trevor), university lecturers to spy on Asian looking students, prison officers to spy on Asian/African/convert prisoners, 'hot-spots' identified by Ruth Kelly all topped of by the a Pope's speech, you wonder why some people are beginning to feel a little victimised. And that’s just some of the negative news stories I picked up on.

It's not that Muslims should not be open to sincere debate but the vitriolic nature of unbalanced (and uninformed) editorial opinion pieces, hours and hours of phone-in radio programmes and the pandering to the basest instincts of human nature can only, at the very least have a severe polarising effect. At worst, political acquiescence to some these views has given them a credence not previously enjoyed and released expressions of bigotry and hate which are entering the public discourse as being perfectly acceptable to be held by rational and reasonable people. Sadly this has already led to increasing incidences of verbal and physical assaults on Muslims.

The issue that seems to have dominated the majority of air waves and news print and exorcised angst is over the veil. This is only worn by a tiny minority of Muslim women in the UK but has been picked out as amongst other things a symbol of male subjugation of women, a throw back to pre-medieval society, a slap in the face for a generation of bra-burning feminists or political expression of a pro-terrorist agenda (the latter view seriously espoused by Melanie Phillips on Radio 4’s The Moral Maze).

What is glossed over is that it is actually overwhelmingly a personal choice for these women who see this as essentially a religious observance and mark of their piety. Islamic edicts differ in opinion on whether the veil is obligatory or merely permissible (unlike the hijab which is considered obligatory by all orthodox schools of thought). So although it is not viewed as compulsory (from a religious perspective), the fact that women choose to wear this is mainly a demonstration of free will.

Now whether you approve or not is not really an issue. I may not like tattoos, facial piercing, blue hair or inappropriate exposure of flesh but if people choose to express themselves in this way so be it. With these choices do, I acknowledge come consequences, some of which will include limitations in the way you can interact with society in general. Given that over 60% of women in general are not economically active anyway, why should the choice of a minute number of women to wear the veil and not ‘fully participate’ in society matter so much?

Friday, September 29, 2006

Think Positive

I saw this poem and liked it enough to share.. enjoy.

It Couldn't Be Done

Somebody said that it couldn't be done,
But he with a chuckle replied
That "maybe it couldn't", but he would be one
Who wouldn't say so till he tried.
So he buckled right in with a trace of a grin
On his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing,
That couldn't be done and he did it.

Somebody scoffed: "Oh, you'll never do that;
At least no one ever has done it";
But he took off his coat and he took off his hat,
And the first thing we knew he'd begun it.
With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
Without any doubting or quiddit,
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn't be done, and he did it.

There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
There are thousands to prophesy failure;
There are thousands to point out to you, one by one,
The dangers that wait to assail you.
But just buckle in with a bit of a grin
Just take off your coat and go to it.
Just start to sing as you tackle the thing
That "cannot be done," and you'll do it.

Edgar A. Guest

Think Positive,
Believe you can,
Do everything that you plan,
When you do - it will turn out grand.
So, Think Positive, man!