Wednesday, 10 August 2011
Ban the Burka?
Marcia startled me by suddenly coming to life on the sofa along which she had extended herself to watch her morning soap by declaring, with attention grabbing vehemence, that she hated Brazilians.
Considering we were both very fond of our new neighbour, a Brazilian businesswoman with whom we had spent until the early hours of this morning enjoying one of our other neighbour’s hospitality at a noisy and well catered party (in honour of his son’s fifth birthday), this came not only as quite a shock but also as one of those irritating domestic buzzes that impinges an honest citizen’s basic human right to a cup of tea before he is obliged to engage his brain.
‘I wish you wouldn’t say things like that, Marcia,’ I said, feeling suddenly very uncomfortable knowing that Miss M was unlikely to let it go at that, ‘Perhaps if you said, ‘you didn’t like a particular type of Brazilian’, or their culture or something like that, but not all Brazilians, surely?’
I would be the first to admit that I am guilty of occasional xenophobic outbursts, usually after having been frustrated by some petty bureaucrat, queuing for hours to no avail without even the relief provided by a hastily choked down cigarette or a swig from a hip flask lest I am tossed to the back of the crowd again, stumbling out of the edifice cursing all Angolans to hell and back but such sentiments are fleeting, without real foundation or conviction.
I live in a country which I know is widely regarded as corrupt and dictatorial. I can’t help liking it though. Maybe I have inherited the same rose tinted spectacles that Ernest Hemingway wore when he hung around with Castro and Guevara. Both those two as well as the Angolan leadership, in the early days at least, weren’t shy of standing their political opponents up against a pock marked wall and gunning them down. Hardly democratic, but bloody effective if you need to quell riotous assembly.
It appears the Angolan government is concerned with the content of some of the Brazilian soaps and would like to ban a few. Anyone who has seen the film 'City of God', based on incontrovertible truth and one even I was disturbed to watch portraying as it did not just teenage gang culture, but pre pubescent indoctrination into hopeless violence, would agree that sometimes Brazilian films, and many of those emanating from the US and UK as well, can have a disturbing influence on a developing mind.
The director of City of God, Fernando Meirelles, was making a very valid if shocking point, a comment on the alarming descent of society into degradation and anarchy portrayed so effectively it gave me sleepless nights. One has to question, however, the validity of such graphic portrayals of mindless aggression on day to day TV programmes the motive of the directors of which I suspect are not so much to make serious comment as to chase ratings.
Meirelles wanted to appal and thereby alert his audience not only to weakening social structures but also to venal, self serving and ultimately ineffectual governance.
He certainly convinced me. I cried when the older boy told the younger one who had unwittingly transgressed an unwritten code he was too young to comprehend, a wee lad about the age of my son when I watched the film, that he would have to shoot him in the foot as a matter of ‘honour’ and the little lad stood there, as brave as he could under the circumstances but wet his pants in terror before his toes were blasted away.
Too many directors of the mass produced detritus they call a window to true society are really capitalising on a sickening, primarily urban culture and are driving our descent to anarchy by glamorising and elevating the now evidently laudable, or at least ‘cool’ and ‘hip’ qualities of ruthlessness and pitiless lack of compassion that are justified by a perceived lack of opportunity. Brains and honest hard work won’t get you to the top, muscle and a concealed switchblade will. Our daughters are being sexualised and our boys are being taught how to be Men. Not ‘Men’ in the way we understood it, but GangstaMen. The authors of their anthems unable to even spell ‘Gentleman’ let alone comprehend what it means to be a real man. Even the BBC grace mindless hoodlums by referring to rioting anarchists as 'protestors'.
Yet such freedom of expression is enshrined in the very democracy we stand for so if the Angolan government seek to ban the bits of some reality soap opera they don’t like, then surely that is dictatorial?
Still not having had time to resolve the conflicting emotions that Marcia’s comment had aroused, Sr. Decal arrived and accepted the offer of a cup of tea.
Sr. Decal is diminutive but his intellect more than makes up for that. Sipping his cuppa, he asked me for my opinion of recent events in London. Angolans often quiz British nationals on events in UK, especially events as dramatic as citizens smashing and burning a neighbourhood, just as they quiz French nationals about farmers blocking motorways and spilling Spanish fruit out onto the road. For an Angolan, such unopposed riotous assembly is inconceivable. Just like the rest of the world lump Africa, a region of so many diverse nations into one hopeless amalgam of despair, so Africans consider Europeans the seed of former colonialists, the ancient masters for whom nothing goes wrong and when it does, only confounds and confuses.
Sr. Decal and a now very alert Marcia wanted to know what would happen to the authors of such mayhem, after all, the capital city of Britain was burning under the astonished gaze of the rest of the world.
Quite simply, and to condense a very long and for me weary conversation (weary in that I had insufficient wit or energy left to refute their arguments, my tea long cold and untouched) they wanted to know why the police did not open fire.
When my mentioning due process and human rights was treated with derision by descendents of a formerly enslaved society I thought it best not to add to my grief and the inevitable incredulous onslaught by confessing that in UK immigrants convicted of crimes were routinely not deported back to countries of origin because their right to a family life was enshrined in the European constitution. Instead I thought I had best try what to me was a tougher, but to my audience perhaps a more conciliatory tack. I pointed out that a recent poll in UK suggested that the majority in UK felt the death penalty should be reinstated.
I may be wrong, but to the best of my knowledge the last to be formally tried and executed in Angola, by firing squad as it happened, were some British mercenaries and an American who, until his death remained bewildered by the incredibly short time frame between 'Arrivals' and 'Last Requests' so I was as surprised, when I noted their reaction, as Marcia and Sr. Decal were when they realised that institutionally sanctioned death was no longer the ultimate penalty in UK, or anywhere else in Europe for that matter.
‘You don’t shoot bandits in UK?’ they asked in awe.
What could I say? If I was a Norfolk farmer banged up in jail and watching my livelihood wither simply because I blew some thug away who was assaulting my property, potentially threatening my family, I might think twice. If I were a Copper, I would just close my eyes and let the bastards beat the shit out of me. Let’s face it, a stay in a hospital, even one as inhospitable as those provided by the NHS would be infinitely preferable to acres of paperwork and the unwelcome attention of the IPCC and screaming tabloids if I had been Blackberried burying a truncheon followed by the edge of my riot shield in the bastard’s head instead.
I freely confess that faced with an immediate threat to my family I would, if able, subject the perpetrator to a more than horribly unnecessarily painful death at my own hands and yet I disagree with the death penalty. As I explained to my by now slack jawed companions, I would rather see all allegedly guilty men incarcerated for life than see one innocent man, his heart heavier than any of us should ever endure, bid a really final farewell to his family before having his neck expertly snapped on the gallows. Only those who are absolutely confident in the judiciary should dare to advocate the death penalty, I was quite firm on that.
The TV was tuned to the Chinese news channel and at that moment impartial coverage of the London riots came on again. I had already been subjected to their opinion of the right of police to shoot a known (alleged as I futilely pointed out) bandit who opened fire (allegedly) on the police trying to arrest him, the spark that ignited this round of violence.
As far as they were concerned, the guy was a known thug and should have been drilled into the back of his taxi seat and his body set on fire and then hung on a lamppost as a warning to others, the way it works here, but instead I was a lone voice trying to argue a case for democracy and human rights.
The Chinese program director, presumably for darker emphasis, froze a frame that captured a masked hoodlum, flaming Molotov cocktail in hand, about to launch it into a building, no doubt some honest citizen’s about to be destroyed livelihood. An image captured not in Libya, Iran or Iraq, not even Syria or Afghanistan, but in London, England.
To Sr. Decal and a horrified Marcia, this single image represented all those stupid laws I was unable to adequately explain, laws elaborated with the best of intention in Europe but now routinely exploited to protect not only chancers, but also the violently disaffected minority who are, let’s face it, screwing up our society and giving yet more excuses for weak and ineffective governance to monitor and restrict the freedom and basic civil rights of the rest of us, providing yet more fuel for the racist conflagration extremists seek to propagate.
‘Why’, repeated Sr. Decal, ‘Why didn’t the Police just shoot him?’
A good question and one for which I did not have a ready answer. Try to torch a building in Angola and there would be a very short and very one sided exchange of gunfire. Show violent disrespect to a policeman here and, I suspect much to the envy of many a routinely abused English Bobby, your legs would be shot from beneath you, no IPCC enquiry necessary. If you are a known gangster and the police catch up with you, they don’t even have to arrange the delivery of your body to your relatives. All they have to do is tack a message on the corpse saying it was lawfully killed, and leave it in the street or wherever its late owner was assisted to shuffle off this mortal coil until a relative collects it. Naturally it, in its former life having been a criminal, there is no such thing as compensation for its surviving relatives and they know better than to shout about it or they'd get a kicking too for having spawned such evil.
Now I know there will be those who say the lack of riots in this country, the speed with which the authorities repatriate illegal immigrants (those having committed crimes here spending a few miserable years in the notorious Bentiaba prison first before getting their one way tickets home), and the relative inhibition with which police would open fire at any of those intent on criminal violence, are examples of state sanctioned repression but, as Sr. Decal pointed out, crushing any remaining arguments I may have had, I can safely stroll through my neighbourhood at night to catch a breath of fresh air and the chances of my son being knifed in a school yard are negligible. The thought of me having to defend my restaurant and its clients armed only with a rolling pin instead of allowing my guards to, here at least, legally open up with their AKs was to them utterly incomprehensible.
There is crime here, just as there is anywhere in the world but the right of a citizen to use any means to protect what is his is enshrined in the law. A few months ago, I disturbed two burglars in my house, both of them armed with my own kitchen knives. They had already relieved me of my laptop, the TV, the decoder and stereo and were on a return journey for my tools. Rather than plunge the sword I had in my hand into their worthless torsos, I just threatened them and they left. At first light Marcia, with skills that would put a bloodhound to shame, tracked them down and we recovered all our property.
As the property was being returned, one of the lad’s parents thanked me for not killing their son. I’d like to think I didn’t do so through an innate sense of fair play, a recognition of my assailants’ right to life, a fair trial followed by rehabilitating incarceration but, the real reason I did not slash the bastards into sushi was because I was scared of what would happen to me, a foreigner killing locals, even though they were armed and cleaning out my house. All the neighbours, and even the attending police when I asked them, told me that I could have legitimately run them through. Would that the British Police were graced with similar impunity.
There are plenty of police on the streets here. Do I get annoyed when they pull me over to check my documents? Occasionally. Do I argue with them or give them abuse? Never. Am I likely to see a shopping centre burnt down by a load of balaclava clad mindless thugs? I think not. Say what you like, Marcia and Decal have a point. They weren’t taking the piss out of UK. Like me, they were shocked. What they could not understand is how it could have happened in a country so apparently civilised and why the Police and security services could do so little to stop it.
Thoroughly subdued now, I poured myself a stiff scotch and lit a cigarette. It had been readily accepted that flaws in any legal system meant that a death sentence based on the result of a lengthy and expensive investigation and subsequent trial was not only wasteful, but possibly unsound and, therefore, unpalatable so I thought I had scored a victory for democracy. Difficult, though, to refute their notion that it would have been better just to kill those caught in the act of violence or, as the Angolan police are trained to do, shoot them in the kneecaps and sort them out later in the calm and peaceful environment of their increasingly efficient hospitals.
In a rare moment of sanity, the UK Crown Prosecution Service recently declined to prosecute a householder who stabbed an assailant, a thug who in company with his mates, had smashed a way in through the back of the man’s house clearly with evil intent. The wounded assailant died and was left by his fleeing accomplices on a nearby street. Surely the same fate is appropriate for the hooded thug who stands on a high street intent on throwing a Molotov Cocktail, or those that trash and loot neighbourhoods or overturn cars before setting them alight? Even the dead man's father stated, despite his obvious grief but with a comprehension and sense of responsibility not normally given column space in tabloid fuelled indignation, that by setting out to rob another citizen of his property, his son had left his Human Rights at home.
Unable to rely on a legally and politically castrated and demoralised police force, we now see the citizens of London, Birmingham and other cities, once the industrial root and foundation of an empire, protecting their own properties with kitchen implements and broom handles and even being murdered in the attempt. Turks, Bangladeshis, Hindis and, let’s be honest, ordinary and traditionally ever so slightly racist white blokes standing shoulder to shoulder facing a baying, hooded mob in defence of everything an Englishman holds dear, their castles, all they have worked so hard for.
Unlike in UK or many other civilised and democratic countries, the Angolan security services, be they police, intervention forces or the Army, have more of a choice than the hard pressed Police or vacillating Home Secretary of UK enjoy. Not only that, they have the support of a strong government, the judiciary and above all, public opinion.
This all started with a discussion on the right of the Angolan Government to censor Brazilian programmes showing gratuitous violence.
I have now decided that not only do I agree with Marcia that it is OK to hate Brazilians (but only those who through their ‘art’ encourage my two year old son to point a make believe gun at me, cradling it and making use of available cover in a manner that would make any small arms instructor proud, and without any remorse, blow his Dad away), I also feel that, in order to allow the rest of us to enjoy our lives, it is perfectly OK to let the police have a bit more litigation free latitude and if that means shooting looters, so be it. It would save a lot of time and money. Instead of fielding 15,000 coppers to give a load of missile hurling yobbos some target practice, you would only need a few well trained marksmen and, if there were still a need to keep the trendy leftie yoghurt knitting tree huggers happy, yes, we could just shoot rioters and looters in the legs, a concession to Human Rights that I, and the manufacturers of wheel chairs and crutches, could probably live with.
Mr Cameron and the Mayor of London both baulked at the suggestion that one of the most successful coppers in the business should replace the two top Bobbies in UK (who were forced to resign under the most shameful political and tabloid fuelled pressure), just because he is a Yank. Who gives a damn what nationality he is? If he managed to halve gang crime in LA and the Big Apple, probably two of the toughest cities in the world, I think we need him in London now and stuff the stuffed shirts. Get him down to Thieves and Hawke’s, kit him out with a smart uniform, pat him on the bum and push him out into the streets. Maybe not pat him on the bum, thinking about it. In UK’s warped system, that would land you in jail for a far longer term than torching Debenham’s.
In the meantime, rather than follow the example set by the French, the Belgians and other countries by banning the Burka (did any of you see an ambulant tent hurling petrol bombs during Sky News’ extensive coverage of the riots?), we should simply declare open season on Hoodies.
Or at least their kneecaps.
'Now remember chaps, targets will fall when hit. In your own time... Fire!'
But that is the subject of another post...