I have now been out here for just over eighty days, days which have sometimes felt like they have been punctuated by starts and stops. There were the two weeks of self-quarantining in which nothing seemed to happen, then a two day week occasioned by the Eid al-Adha holidays, and most recently a three day week for the National Day Holidays. Though somewhat an accident of timing, I have been grateful for the opportunities to break the monotony of work; up by 4 am, on a bus by 6 am, back home by 5 pm wash-rinse-repeat, and the gifts holidays sometimes bring, like a large tray of meat I got during the previous Eid holidays.
Coming from the ‘Deen where what bank holidays we got were added to our annual entitlement, it is a strange feeling for everything work-related to shut down and for everyone to eschew emails and work phone calls completely. It does bring back memories of working in Nigeria many years ago. For what it is worth, I will not be complaining about forced breaks from work, given these are days I would have been loath to take off, being the new guy and all. Unfortunately, the borders are still not open, and all the holidays have meant delays to my paperwork (I still don’t have a drivers licence yet), so the free days are lost on me, although they have helped me catch up with friends and family around the world and reduce my sleep deficit.
A consequence, surely intended one suspects, of the dawn to dusk routine and the lack of mobility – besides iffy taxis – is that the eighty days have been spent very much in a bubble with little interaction besides the immediate locale. As such I have not had much opportunity to dispel or confirm the notions of the country I have in my head. Speaking of notions, there is a narrative that is often repeated which paints the West as bastions of personal freedoms, opportunities and the rule-of-law and elsewhere as somewhere between a backwater and a shit-hole. Each new revelation of what is at-best underhand, and at worst kleptocratic with regards to the UK’s handling of COVID related contracts makes me wonder if every country is not only a group of bumbling idiots – and failed checks and balances – away from the precipice of self-destruction and avarice.
All of this makes me wonder what the trajectory of human existence is. The last few years seem to suggest that perhaps all the gains of the 19th and 20th century – and there have been great gains as the RBG eulogies show – were an aberration and that we are reverting to our darkest, basest means again. An altogether dark view perhaps, but on the evidence of 2020, one that is not inconceivable.
For Wordle 381:
— Last night they gathered with intent, forty-eight memos a lingering stench that could no longer be shrugged away. Behind the bluster of “doing the right thing” was the lure of the keys to Number 10.
When the frame is badly broken can the picture be restored? Is the crime of lying words so great that everything is irretrievably broken and no longer of use? Inside, the Wounded lived to fight another day; outside the circling hyenas beaten back for a season will return.
Though Mo and P both pilfered stuff,
their ends could not be more diverse.
For his hard work he earned six strokes,
For hers, apologies.
For Dame J and Mohammed who though both in possession of items of doubtful provenance, receive different rewards. Image Source Unsplash/Claire Anderson
It’s official, we’re the leaving kind after all. Voting last Thursday concluded with a 52% majority that Great Britain’s future path lay outside the EU framework, ending a 43-year association. The easy conclusion – particularly given how much the result has been affected by voted cast south of the Solway-Tweed line – is that insular England has held the Union hostage, but I suspect things are far more nuanced than that.
Voter turnout was high, over 30 million or 72% of eligible persons, indicative of how important the issues at stake were (framed largely by the cost of the EU, its ever increasing bureaucracy and control of borders). Much has also been made of how the vote to leave was favoured more by older folk than younger. The BBC as always has a fascinating breakdown of the numbers here.
In the immediate aftermath, David Cameron who campaigned vigorously for remaining announced he is to step down in October. The opposition Labour leader who also campaigned (some same less interestedly) for a remain option faces a renewed leadership challenge. Here in Scotland, the noises are all about a second independence vote being ‘highly likely’, a straw the SNP were always likely to clutch at in their quest to extract Scotland from the Union. The economic impact has been swift, the pound fell to a 30-year low before recovering somewhat, the FTSE 100 losing 8% before also recovering and Moody’s downgrading the UK’s credit rating to ‘negative‘ following the result.
De-tangling the legal, economic and political machinery of the United Kingdom from the EU is likely to require significant time and resources, given the significant integration with EU frameworks over the last 70 years. Formal separation still requires the UK to trigger the so-called Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty, a process which provides for a 2-year road map for negotiations.
Private conversations with a number of friends leading up to the vote illustrated the difficulties. On the one hand the cost of the EU – the so-called new £350 million hospital every week – appealed to very many people, as did the opportunity to claw back control of laws and regulations which a section of the population felt drove the country increasingly towards a ‘god-less’ future, a point made by the Telegraph’s Charles Moore here.
Much like the Scottish Independence referendum in 2014, the result highlights how deeply fractured the country is; Scotland vs England and Wales, the young vs the old, affluent urban London vs the rest of England – the contrasts go on and on. A number of leave voters appear to have voted in protest, in the belief that their single vote wouldn’t sway the overall outcome. To their surprise, our new reality is an advisory to government to initiate leaving the EU. It is by no means certain what happens next. By choosing to step down, David Cameron might just have had the last laugh – leaving the actual decision to act on the ‘mandate’ to those who might benefit from blaming him. They – Boris Johnson, Theresa May, Michael Gove or whoever else inherits the seat – now have to deal with the legacy of whatever happens next and what that leads to in the long run ; if article 50 is triggered or not.
The wider context is what worries me a bit – the rise of far right, anti-immigrant parties across Europe (France, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands) and Trump’s ascent in America – perhaps speak to an under current of concern around borders, and the loss of a certain way of life which main stream politics has failed to address.
All told, there are days of critical importance ahead – I hope we haven’t handed our children a poisoned chalice.
A few months ago, people across the length and breadth of the nation of Scotland went to the polls to answer the question, “Should Scotland be an independent country?” At stake was the very future of the United Kingdom, and Scotland’s place in it. On one hand, the governing Scottish National Party staked its reputation on a ‘Yes’ vote, alongside the Scottish Greens and the Scottish Socialists under the aegis of Yes Scotland, whilst Scottish Labour, the Scottish Conservative Party, and the Scottish Liberal Democrats took a pro-Union Stance under the Better Together banner.
As the vote count came to an end on the morning of September 19th in victory for the Better Together campaign, what became clear was that the keenly contested campaign had revealed deep fissures in the very fabric of the Nation. The romance of nationalism and the historical antecedents notwithstanding (Scotland as a distinct entity has existed in some shape or form since about 840 AD and 2014 was the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn which saw the English army defeated by the forces of King of Scots Robert the Bruce), economic considerations, fair and equitable distribution of wealth and protecting access to the NHS in the face of the (real or imagined) threat of its privatisation featured strongly as a subject of contention.
The HAVES vs HAVE NOTS narrative seemed supported by analysis of the voting patterns which showed strong correlations between greater unemployment and support for independence, and age above retirement with support for staying with the Union (perhaps due to concerns over pensions).
The immediate aftermath involved clashes between Unionists and independence supporters. As recently as October, a pro – independence rally in Glasgow still managed to attract over 6,000 people, perhaps indicative that even the passage of time has done little to soothe the sense of grievance a significant proportion of the nation still feels.
The challenge going forward therefore is one of reconciliation; recreating a sense of togetherness and genuine belief in all and sundry that the nation belongs equally to everyone – rich, poor, old, young and old alike. That sense can only be fostered by delivering on the sound bites trundled out by both sides of the campaign, mainly a fairer, more productive, empowered Scotland.
There is an economic argument for a fairer, more egalitarian Scotland. Equal opportunities and lower unemployment will deliver greater productivity, and enable more people contribute to the state in the form of taxes, rather than constitute a drain the system.
There will also be benefits, purely from the perspective of enlightened self-interest. It stands to reason that crime, social delinquency and violence are likely to drop as more people are gainfully employed. Those who are not, if they have access to the opportunities to improve and are catered for the interim will also see less of an incentive to crime.
The arguments for social justice go beyond secular and economic ones; there is also a biblical imperative. Passages like Deuteronomy 15:11 – For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land’, being a case in point.
Time and time again, the call to ‘do good and seek justice (Isaiah 1:17), not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor (Zech 7:9,10), defend the rights of the poor and needy (Prov 31:8,9), to do justice and love kindness (Micah 6:8) and protect the resident alien, the fatherless and the widow (Jeremiah 22:3) are repeated throughout the Old Testament. When Israel failed to heed this call, they were punished severely by God (Amos 5:11-15, Ezekiel 16:49,50).
Elsewhere a social justice component is explicitly commanded as part of true and acceptable worship – knowing the rights of the poor (Proverbs 29:7), letting the oppressed go free, sharing bread with the hungry and homeless (Isaiah 58:12) as well as visiting the orphan and the widow (James 1:27).
Jesus himself, after being tempted and returning to Galilee in the power of the Holy Spirit chose to reveal himself in the Synagogue in his home town of Nazareth by reading from the passage in Isaiah which spoke of his mission to proclaim the good news and set at liberty those who were oppressed (Luke 4; 18, 19). Beyond that, he also highlighted acts of kindness as one of the things we will be judged by at his return (Matthew 25:31-46). The Apostles also weighed in in their writings – John enjoined us to love not in word but in deed (1 John 3:17,18), Paul in distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality (Romans 12:13) and James to treat all without partiality (James 2:1-4)
The danger of all this is to end up flying the flag of social justice, for its own sake alone, as an end in itself or as an opportunity to ship sounds bites, hog the limelight and portray ourselves as good citizens. However as Christians, everything we do on earth occurs within a context – that of being Jesus’ hands and feet on earth, utilising the resources, skills and time that he has given us to further His kingdom. In these days in which the popular narrative is one of the death of the church and its increasing irrelevance, being champions of social change, in our communities – our next door mission fields – may well be one way that the tide can be turned, providing a door of opportunity to ‘do all for the Glory of God’.
Originally written for my Church Newsletter, reproduced here for archival purposes.