Why a flat out refusal to learn anything from history makes me so angry.

I’ve been putting off writing this post for a good while now as the subject matter is both sensitive and infuriating. I have used this blog as a form of therapy in the past but can’t see how putting my worries, thoughts and concerns on this subject matter into writing will help this time. That being said I can hold off no longer and I have learned from past experience that bottling things up only makes things worse.

On the November 13 of this year something truly terrible happened in Paris. I need not go into any detail on who, what, where and why as the fallout and exposure to this story has been intensive and at times divisive. As a result of what happened in France on that Friday night the public, politicians and media have been whipped into a frenzy about what this country should do to protect itself against such attacks and how big a part we should play in other countries foreign policy.

I had the opportunity to write about this subject matter for a university assignment but have declined to do so as I find it next to impossible to write on this subject completely objectively although this hasn’t stopped anyone in the press or media from doing so. The line between opinion and news has not so much been blurred in recent weeks but breached so heavily one wonders whether the flood can be stopped. The biggest and worst example of this was the poll ran in the Sun newspaper which was tantamount to inciting racial hatred.

Spending the last couple of weeks measuring arguments put forward both for and against UK involvement in bombing Syria I have noticed tribal politics getting in the way of level headed thinking and a complete lack of empathy from many for anyone who lives further away than western Europe.

Despite the fact that western interference in the middle east for more than a century is directly responsible for the mess we currently find ourselves in, colonial attitudes and habits die hard. ISIS, ISIL, Daesh whatever you want to call them are the love child of Bush and Blair’s embarrassing failure in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The idea that you can drop bombs and stop these people is insane. I use that word very deliberately because the west has been dropping bombs for a hundred years and yet terrorism is blossoming.

The argument from those who want to see the UK bomb Syria seem to be broken down into three camps: Those who want to see something done as an act of revenge. These people are either ignorant to the fact that innocent people will be killed and this will have consequences or they merely don’t care as long as those who die are not British. The second group are those trying to make political capital from a complex situation. These people are pushing for borders to be closed and for refugees to be abandoned on the premise that this will keep our citizens safe. They also fail to recognise that any terrorist attack in this country is likely to come from those born here and have been manipulated by terrorist propaganda and hate speech. The third group is the military elite who are desperate for the armed forces to remain relevant and give Britain a presence abroad. These people are trying to keep themselves in work and believe the military should have a voice beyond protecting people on these shores. Theirs is the most honest and straightforward argument of all even if it does lend itself to accusations of warmongering.

As the son of an immigrant I find a lot of what I hear from people around me and those online fairly hard to stomach at times. I have had family displaced, threatened and shot at as a result of past misadventures from western forces in the middle east and yet I am supposed to believe that dropping bombs on people living in the region is the best solution to a complex problem caused by prolonged military and political interference there.

Britain has propped up and helped dictatorships and family dynasties in the region with financial help and the selling of weapons since before anyone who is reading this was born. They have encouraged and whipped up revolutions in countries where the leadership was not to western taste only to withdraw support in these countries leaving innocent people to be butchered and gassed by blood thirsty dictators. They have placed incompetent puppets in charge of countries and watched as they go to ruin. This country has befriended others who behave in much the same way as the terrorists we fear so much in this country for financial gain . All of this and more is why I cannot understand why dropping indiscriminate bombs on an already war torn, desperate country will help to keep our citizens safe.

There will  be those of you who know me (and some who don’t) who will read this and think it is an opinionated and biased view but with a bit of research you will see that all I have said is the truth. I actively encourage people who think bombing Syria is a good idea to look at the background and history of the middle east before deciding that the innocent people who are being killed by air strikes are just collateral damage. Just because they speak a different language and have a different culture to you and me doesn’t make them any less human. There is no way to bomb the terrorists without killing innocent people. That’s wrong not just on a moral basis but because it will turn more and more people against us here in Britain making us far less safe.



An open letter to Bob Geldof

Dear Mr Geldof,

I have not long finished reading an article in the online edition of the Independent. The piece in question reflects on a speech you made to the One Young World conference in Bangkok. Within the speech you suggested that your generation left mine with the tools to change the world and spread a message of hope and peace. I have no qualms in admitting this is true. Thanks to people of your generation we have the Internet and many other technological advancements.

As you continued your speech you made it clear that you are suitably unimpressed with what younger people have done with the tools provided. You spoke of frivolity and beliefs as if they were some sort of ideological genres created single handedly by the current generation of youth. You also suggested that because millennials  were involved in the various terrorist attacks over the last weeks or so, that the whole generation is in some way implicated.

The report  by  Heather Saul does go on to say that you and your generation take some responsibility for current mess the world finds itself in but frankly your entire speech was a waste of breath given the audience. You were preaching to the choir and the only people who will read articles such as the one I did are people like me who are interested in current affairs, inequality and trying to change things one step at a time. I share information via social media, through my own writing and by word of mouth on a daily basis. I am one of an enormous number of people doing the same.

Apathy isn’t a newly formed concept. There are millions of millennials spreading the good word across social media and getting involved with protest and projects worldwide. You can’t make people take in the information you can only put it out there.

Unfortunately whilst your intentions may be well meaning they come across as patronising and in some ways a desperate attempt to stay relevant. Go and spread the message to places where it is not wasted. Your celebrity status gives you the opportunity to speak to a captive audience wherever that may be. Speak in front of an EDL rally and the cameras will follow.

Many of my family members have suffered a great deal by western actions taken in the middle east. I won’t go into any detail as I have great concerns for their safety and writing about them in this letter may do them more harm than good. There have always been messages of opposition to government foreign, home and welfare policy on both sides of the coin. These issues will continue to divide people and their opinions. The idea of abandoning these beliefs for the sake of a better future may work in theory but without strong beliefs how can we shape any future?

I agree with large parts of what you had to say in your speech and continuing to be part of a solution to the world’s problems is commendable. Please choose your words carefully in future though or you are just as likely to turn people away from peace, activism and tackling inequality as you are to get them to engage with those concepts.

Kind regards,

Tom El-Shawk.

Here is the link to the article mentioned.

Motivation and emptying the well

Of late I have had a serious issue with writing. I haven’t much liked anything I have written in the last two months and as a result my productivity has waned on a massive scale. I have had mini periods like this before but nothing quite so prolonged as this current crisis of confidence. As a result this post will probably take the form of some amatuer psychology and try and break down why I am struggling to get much done.

There can be no denying that I have felt anxious and stressed about a number of things lately. It often feels like the work I am producing for my final and most important year at university is a chore that has been rushed to get it out of the way. This rather than taking the time to make sure I am showing the best of myself has me stressed when I could do with being a lot more focused. The pressure is the same for everybody on the course so I am not using this as an excuse I am merely trying to pen (type) my worries in the hope that they will be easier to deal with when read in black and white as opposed to running around my head late at night whilst I struggle with sleep.

I have also spent the last couple of weeks fending off various viruses and ailments. I think I have let myself get run down and this hasn’t helped with regards to the mental sharpness needed to write well. I read a blog post the other day that made me determined that whatever I produce, it should be the best work I can achieve and at this moment in time I cannot stress how difficult I am finding it to do so.

I have always read a lot of articles either in paper form or online. I listen exclusively to BBC radio 4 and 5 and spend most of my limited time in front of the TV watching news. I wonder sometimes if I have saturated my brain with too much of the thing I am most passionate about but missing out on news just feels criminal to me. It must also be said that I have become increasingly disillusioned with the news I take in whatever medium that should be. Everything nowadays seems to have to be in list form or a critique and increasingly I am finding opinion pieces where they have no right to be; Either the lead in a broadcast or on the front pages of newspapers and their online outlets. What I mean by that is there is very little reporting of hard news at times and more opinion about a person or organisation. This goes against everything I have been taught and screams of bad journalism. Having had a variety of guest speakers over the years I have spent at university it would seem there is a genuine concern from some in the industry that standards are being allowed to slip and this can’t be good for anyone.

I spent the weekend trying to free myself of my worries and decided time with friends was needed to do this. It was nice to catch up with so many people on Saturday night, some I haven’t seen for a really long time. Having done so there is a nagging guilt that I should have been getting more work done but what’s done is done. I got to take in some live sport in the form of a cracking game of rugby at Drybrook and the mixture of entertainment and fresh air helped distract me from my worries for a while.

I have had a really hard time writing about sport in particular. Every time I have an idea for a piece my initial enthusiasm dims very quickly and I convince myself the subject isn’t worth writing about. Whatever happens I am going to force myself to sit in front of this laptop this week and get at least three pieces of worth, well researched and written to the best of my ability. I am going for the ‘write your way out of the block’ approach in the hope that something sparks and ignites my creative side.

Open fires and great expectations

It is that time of year again. My thoughts turn to cosy nights in with friends and family. Comfort food aplenty and that magical Irish stout elixir comes into its own. I should point out that whilst most people enjoy cider in the summer, early autumn produces the best fruit and shouldn’t be forgotten. This is club rugby time for me too. I don’t know why but I seem to become far more engrossed in the oval ball game this time of year and really look forward to taking in as many matches as possible.

Something crazy seems to happen around this season too. Despite the clocks going back last night the weekend seems to have been and gone in the blink of an eye. Maybe it is the light drawing in early or just a funny quirk of time but I feel like I was preparing myself for so much this weekend and now it has passed I can’t remember actually enjoying any of it.

This morning was definitely the highlight of my weekend. Spending time with the family including my nephew put me in a good mood for the rest of the day. I was an expectant sport fan this weekend. With both rugby and football providing what should have been some decent entertainment. Now all’s been said and done I can’t help feeling a little short changed. When it comes to sport and in spite of my own physical limitations, I am somewhat of an armchair perfectionist. I have always been the same and expect the highest standards from those at the top of their game. With that in mind I was seriously disappointed with the All Blacks, South Africa game. I am not used to seeing New Zealand give away so many penalties and the South African’s inability to create any moments of magic left me a little underwhelmed. Today Argentina made an average wallabies performance look good and the Manchester derby was the most expensive in history but lacked quality throughout the game, especially in the final third. Below is the sort of sporting entertainment I was looking for. Not that I’m greedy or anything..

There are always university assignments to keep me entertained and I have plenty to do in that respect. I am looking forward to getting the first bunch handed in and out of the way. It is amazing how clear my head becomes after submitting work. It is almost as if I can ready myself for the next challenge and look forward to what’s new. Whilst I am on that subject it might be an idea to get my head stuck into some. Ciao for now.

Reading, writing and agreeing with people

A short while ago (a deliberately vague use of time) I toyed with the idea of becoming a comedian. Not because I thought I was funny but because I had this romantic idea that, through the genre of satire, you can not only make people laugh but help people challenge their level of social consciousness. Now of course this is an incredibly arrogant and self promoting thought but having come to that conclusion it would be a lie to say that alone was what put me off the idea. No despite sounding like a two bit Russell Brand with an over inflated ego and god complex that Freud would have been proud of it boils down to this: When you think about standing up in front of people and giving them an opportunity to tell you how poorly researched you are or how limited your ability to write something satisfactory let alone worthwhile might be, it is enough to make your stomach churn. When you write something for a newspaper, online, TV or even a book you are bound to receive a level of criticism but when you think about the immediacy of comic failure that is what really puts me off.

I’ve mentioned on a number of occasions before how I have grown up on the comedy of satire and how it has influenced my ability to read people, writing and certain situations. A lot of people would describe me as being a very cynical man who allows his belief system to encroach too far into everyday life. I’m opinionated and true to form I don’t care. Now that isn’t because I think I am somehow better than anyone else, I just trust myself to make informed opinions or decisions based on educating myself on the subject I am spouting off about at any given time. I suppose as a journalist this admission is not necessarily the sort of quality or redeeming feature a potential employer is looking for. On the other hand those of you who hate people like me can rest easy in the knowledge that I get punched in the face on public transport periodically. Generally it’s for failing to agree with the bigot with the can of extra strength lager spilling unceremoniously onto the walkway as a mother pushing a pram tries to get past. For instance I don’t believe that performing a sexual act with the deceased head of a member of the even-toed ungulates family to get into an elitist club is better than failing to sing a song that worships an unelected head of state funded primarily by the taxpayer.

Whilst thinking about it all I can understand that people might read this and think what a pretentious knob. There is a danger that this post is just a self congratulatory piece I am writing to distract myself from more important worries. On top of that I do recognise that just because I invariably disagree with certain groups of people and tend to agree with others it doesn’t mean I am always right. I feel like that line has taken me a little off topic but was necessary for those who are new to this blog or have forgotten the purpose for why I started it. If that is the case then please feel free to read the ‘about‘ page.

On the subject of agreeing with people; the inspiration for writing this blog post came from comedy I have familiarised myself with in the past few days by people like Josie Long and Stewart Lee. That in turn was inspired by a video I saw on social media by this guy. Enjoy.

The difference between Aung San Suu Kyi and Maya Angelou

I have just returned from my first lecture of the year ‘Reporting politics’. It was a good day for it I suppose with the Labour party conference in full swing and newly elected leader Jeremy Corbyn delivering his first speech at conference. I was a speech clear in message if not in policy. That isn’t to say it was policy free just that there is obvious work to be done.

As a journalist I thought that a warning had been sent out; Jeremy Corbyn is not afraid of those in my profession and will decide on his own terms who he speaks to, pointing to a drive in social media to deliver his message to people as opposed to media outlets or the press. Whether or not this will work remains to be seen but it is a bold move from the man only recently elected to lead the Labour party.

He made reference to several points or in his words ‘key issues’ that were of interest to me. As a student I often feel that the rise in tuition fees has led me and many others to scrutinise what is now seen as a product. Instead of being content with the learning and support provided to students the money paid to universities has many students, myself included, wondering how the money is spent and what on.

Asked if anyone had heard of Maya Angelou after Corbyn had quoted her in his speech, I was a little disconcerted when my lecturer confused the American poet and author (just two of her many wide ranging talents) with Aung San Suu Kyi. It is not that I expect my lecturers to be the font of all knowledge but to ask a question and then tell a student that they are wrong when clearly they are not did get my back up a bit. People will read that and think well don’t be such a know-it-all but we are talking about two very different and equally brilliant women and I have always been told by my lecturers that accuracy is crucial.

Aung San Suu Kyi AC is a Burmese opposition politician and chairperson of the National League for Democracy in Burma. In the 1990 general election, the NLD won 59% of the national votes and 81% of the seats in Parliament.
Aung San Suu Kyi AC is a Burmese opposition politician and chairperson of the National League for Democracy in Burma. In the 1990 general election, the NLD won 59% of the national votes and 81% of the seats in Parliament.

I won’t let it get to me though. As the late great Maya Angelou said:   “You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”

Political ramblings of an increasingly irritated and disillusioned voter.

By writing this post I am betraying myself. I always said I would keep this blog free of politics but I also said I would use it as a form of self therapy. Of late I have found myself more and more irate and depressed about the state of play in UK politics. I am acutely aware that when it comes to the welfare state the Conservative ideology of ‘scroungers’ has been swallowed whole by a huge number of people in this country and as a result the party has been able to drive home the point that their version of austerity which slashes funding to much needed services is a way of reducing national debt. I am not so naive that I believe no-one in this country exploits the welfare state. I am however aware of how little that contributes to UK national debt especially when compared with tax avoidance of the incredibly wealthy.

Tory austerity in it’s current form does two things: As I mentioned before it cuts vital services to those who need them most. Secondly it privatises debt for those ‘lucky’ enough to be able to gain it. Instead of the government putting money into the welfare state for things like the NHS or Working tax credits the individual who needs the support is expected to front the bill by applying for loans from those companies on tv with the infuriating adverts and unbelievably high rates of interest.

Some of you out there will read that and think ‘tough, the government can’t pay for everything’ and if that is your belief you are entitled to it. What happens however when you fall ill from no fault of your own and the services you desperately need have been cut? Not only that but you can’t get those tax credits anymore because you are not working. As a result you get a payday loan you can’t afford to pay back and rack up huge interest repayments. The chancellor can go to the press and media and claim he has made inroads into the deficit because he no longer has to help out people like you; the debt has been privatised. All that will be reported is the deficit reduction part.

Whilst they are at it the government think it is a good idea to reduce young doctors pay. Doctors are all super rich so who cares right? Who are they to moan? They only go through ten years of education and training to become GP’s (other specialisms can take up to 16 years) on low to no income relying on loans and when they start work they are offered £23,000. Seems like an awful lot of work for that much money if you ask me and I am extremely grateful that there are people out there willing to do it. If they continue to be treated in this way however they won’t be and some have already said they will work abroad which will eventually leave the country with a serious labour and skills shortage.

Finally this is not about trying to get people to vote one way or another, it is about trying to address some of the misleading arguments put forward by those currently in power. Not to worry though, our chancellor has just secured over £12 billion of investment from a country on the brink of recession.

Musings, tips and ideas