Sunday, 26 April 2015

Rattling the cages

During the month of April I was able to temporarily remove my nose from the grindstone in NZ and take time out to visit family and friends back in the UK. Having not been there for almost ten years, there had obviously been some changes there in my absence - and my own perspective has changed.

My friends and family are a mixed bunch; millionaires and paupers. I visited families whose kids had grown up and either graduated from or were still studying at Oxbridge, those in private schools, those across the full spectrum of state schools. Families of stock market traders, those who had small businesses, those who worked as shop assistants, or secretaries, and those unable to work because of serious health issues and retirees.

Though an atheist myself, I also thought it important to remember and visit graves of friends and family who have passed on; and Banaz Mahmod who I never knew personally, but she lived close by and is buried in the Muslim section of the graveyard in SW London adjacent to my own family members.

Banaz Mahmod. 16.12.1985 - 24.01.2006. Verily we belong to Allah and unto him is our return. Q. 2:156

Muslim family members remain in thrall to the ideology when it suits them. Inheritances set according to Sharia principles are inherently unjust, and some women members of the family short-changed by the process are understandably unhappy with their lot. In one case a Muslim community leader died without leaving a written will, but apparently had a conversation with his son expressing his (not unexpected) wish to follow the Sharia. This has resulted in an acrimonious situation between the daughters and sons which escalated to a legal battle lasting years and is currently in stalemate. Yet, these same male family members seem to be flexible on the rules when it suits them. 

Other friends families have married off sons to their first cousins - with the consequent genetic risks.

In the same interval, another family friend died from what may be substance abuse or an overdose. The truth is hard to extract from the remaining relatives. What is clear is that he was a mixed up kid who had gone off the rails and was unable to talk about his situation openly with his family. Why? Generational differences; cultural issues; an inability of the older generation to comprehend new situations or move away from the simplistic absolutes they see as enshrined in the Quran, Hadith and Sharia.

Several family and friends (young and old) are dependent on external electronic devices for life support. These physical 'cages' allow them to continue living, but restrict their ability to move around as they would wish.

Others are suffering the evident ill effects of deep childhood religious indoctrination and/or abuse (emotional/physical). This has a had a deep effect on their ability to live normal lives; working and having normal relationships.

Some Christian family members are wracked by guilt over their 'original sin' and seek absolution daily while refusing to acknowledge their mental health issues and continuing to damage those around them. 

Moderate Muslims (even the children) are feeling that they have become classified as extremists, under suspicion and under surveillance. And in a sense they are extremists - all of them; the Muslims and the Christians. They both have firm beliefs in things that are quite irrational, with little or no evidence. They are emotionally bound up in this so that reason becomes an anathema; a tool to be co-opted and twisted to ends that must be served.

The tragic thing is that none of them can see it; their cage; their symbolic universe (as per Berger and Luckmann). None of them is willing to push the boundaries or study any document that might not align with their world view.

On top of all this, the London area now seems to have every inch observed by security cameras, speed cameras, traffic light cameras, bus lane cameras, road toll cameras, supermarket car park cameras; plus congestion zones and low emission zones. So traffic volumes, speed cameras, speed bumps and potholes conspire to make every journey by car a fairly unpleasant experience. The feeling engendered is one of an oppressive big-brother.

Image result for london speed cameras
Speed camera

Overall I came away from the UK with very mixed feelings; a thankfulness for my own health and (self) education and the ability to work and to think; and a sorrow that so many of my friends and relations are imprisoned by mental or physical restrictions or cages.
So in many ways, despite its shortcomings, I'm glad to return and escape to Aotearoa and its relative freedoms again.