Thursday, December 31, 2015

A life without fear

If I had one wish for 2016, it would be for a life without so much fear.

Not just for myself, but for the whole wide world.

Because fear seemed to overwhelm too many people over the past year. Fear of change, fear of failure, fear of the unknown.

I have quite a few scuba diving friends who usually travel to Egypt or Thailand in search of sunshine and fun at this time of year. Now, for obvious reasons, they are abandoning their sense of adventure this time around.

People don’t want to travel in the face of the threat posed by ISIL terrorists, and who could blame them in the wake of attacks in Paris, Tunisia, and Egypt over the past year? 

Nobody wants to risk their life for a holiday and the fear is understandable following the appalling scenes in Paris in November. But it seems so sad that people are letting fear rule their lives.

By not travelling, they are not meeting ordinary Muslims, which is scary too at a time when xenophobia and racism are on the rise across Europe and North America.

How can we possibly understand each other if we never interact any more?

The saddest image of 2015 was that of a three year old boy from Syria washed up on a European beach in late August. His family’s bid for freedom, their desire for a new life, ended in appalling tragedy.

In the wake of the subsequent outcry, it was hard not to forget that some of the newspapers who raised the most concern had been referring to “swarms of migrants” only a week before.

Some papers used the migrant crisis, caused by military intervention by the West, as an excuse to generate fear.

Across Europe, people were being told that the migrants entering Europe included ISIL terrorists determined to cause havoc.

The reality was that toddler Aylan Kurdi and his family were fleeing fierce fighting in the northern Syrian town of Kobani. His parents took desperate measures in a bid to escape terror and to build new lives in Canada.

In my own case, fear dominated life far too much and curtailed my ability to live in the moment. I had a seven month battle with the MRSA bug, only getting the all-clear in late May, which seemed to be incredible timing just after I took voluntary redundancy from a job I’d held for 22 years.

It’s too easy to let fear take over, to worry about an uncertain future, when none of our futures are set in stone.

During my daily visits to the clinic in Galway, I built up a huge affinity with a small group of community care nurses who did wonders to boost my spirits and speed up my recovery.

When the nurse who took care of me most dropped dead suddenly, leaving a devastated husband and three young children, I had more time to contemplate how fleeting or temporary life can be.

I will never forget how much care and attention I received from that nurse during one of the most troublesome periods in my life.

She taught me a lot about acceptance and the importance of focusing on the positives in life.

During 2015 I completed courses in digital marketing and TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) and I’ve experienced new jobs.

And yet I’ve allowed the judgement and uncertainty which followed the redundancy to dominate my life and take away from my sense of fun and adventure.

It’s too easy to close your mind, to allow your world to shrink.

It’s too easy for Europeans to distance themselves from ordinary Muslims, to build up an irrational fear of the unknown. Terrorists don't represent ordinary Muslims any more than the kind of people who shoot up US abortion clinics represent Christians.

And I've been guilty of my own irrational fears.

It’s too easy for someone who has been made redundant to despair that he or she will not find a rewarding job.

We all have spontaneity, adventure, bravery and excitement within us, if we don’t allow our lives to be dominated by fear. 

So that’s my only wish for 2016, not just for myself but for everyone on the planet . . . that our lives won’t be dominated so much by fear and that we will see the huge possibilities out there in this crazy, cruel, but wonderful world. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Selling our 'neutral' souls

A disturbing video popped up on my Facebook timeline this week.

It showed two little boys, the younger aged no more than three, running from airstrikes, with terror in their voices and tears in their eyes.

They were crying out for their mothers, as a distressed adult bundled them into the back of
US troops at Shannon Airport
a van.

Behind them, the dust and debris disguised the fact that ten children had just been killed. Their school had been destroyed.

If it had happened in Europe, we would be expressing outrage and changing our Facebook profiles in sympathy with the victims this week.

If it happened in Europe, people would clamour for justice and contact their politicians to express their horror and despair.

But the little boys live in Syria, and to them and their families it must seem that the world doesn’t care. Their city of Damascus has been shelled countless times in recent weeks, but we never see the images of the destruction on our nightly TV news channels.

The harrowing two minute film I saw came from Al Jazeera, rather than any European, Irish, or British network.

These are the invisible victims, the ones who do not seem to matter to those in power.

Their terror seemed in such contrast to the scenes of joviality in the House of Commons a couple of weeks back, when a majority of British MPs voted in favour of airstrikes across Syria.

As they laughed and voted for war, those who opposed their views were branded as “terrorist sympathisers”.

We don’t know from the video whether the boys live in an ISIL controlled area or not, all we see are two little boys with terror on their faces.

This is the reality of what our Governments in the West do in our name.

And the Irish can’t moralise, either, as none of us has a clue what has been going on at Shannon Airport for the past 13 years.

We know that American warplanes stop there every week to refuel, on their way to and from ‘renditions’, tours of duty, or bombing missions across the globe.

Nobody knows what’s inside those giant planes, because nobody in authority at Shannon has bothered to check.

And when two TDs took it upon themselves to try to inspect those planes, they found themselves in a ludicrous situation – facing the District Court, required to pay fines, and then facing an hour and a half to two hours in jail when they refused to pay those fines.

Such a waste of taxpayers’ money, such a terrible compromise of the concept of Irish ‘neutrality’ just months before we celebrate the heroes who fought for our freedom, and neutrality, back in 1916.

If you want to see how good the security is at Shannon, have a look for the old footage of Galway activists Margaretta D’Arcy and Niall Farrell trespassing onto the runway a couple of years ago.

It’s never a good idea to wander onto an airport runway on a Sunday afternoon, but the activists were determined to make a point.

To their huge surprise, nobody noticed that they had cut a fence and entered the runway – even though they were wearing bright orange boiler suits, as an expression of sympathy with the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay.

Shocked that nobody seemed to notice them, or that nobody approached them, Niall eventually rang the authorities to tell them what he’d done. Eventually, after taking the call, the Airport Police arrived to remove them from the runway.

The same Airport Police have never once, to anyone’s knowledge, boarded one of the US military aircraft to find out who or what is being carried on board.

If you are flying from Shannon on a midweek night, you can often find that civilian passengers are outnumbered three or four to one by US troops buying plastic leprechauns, shamrocks, and bottles of whiskey on their way home from Afghanistan, Iraq, or Pakistan.

For all you’d know, those same troops could have blood on their hands as a result of bombing missions all over the Middle East.

But we never hear about those missions and we didn’t hear much about the Medecins Sans Frontiers hospital which was destroyed by US air strikes a couple of months ago.

We don’t know who bombed the school in Damascus this week, either. 

And, doubtless, the two little boys in the video shared by Al Jazeera don’t care who bombed their school. Russian bombs cause the same damage, heartbreak, and destruction as British, French, or Syrian bombs and are unable to distinguish between fighters and innocent civilians.

The monthly protest at Shannon Airport

So, like the MPs who joked and ridiculed Jeremy Corbyn MP as they voted in favour of air strikes in a far-off land, we should hang our heads in shame.

Because, while US troops continue to use an Irish civilian airport to facilitate bombing missions across the globe, we, too, have blood on our hands.

But who’s complaining as long as Shannon keeps busy and the soldiers keep buying their plastic leprechauns?

Only Mick Wallace and Clare Daly and a handful of others, notably the Shannonwatch people who protest once a month, while the rest of us turn a merry blind eye to what’s really going on. 

Our authorities don’t seem to have the time, resources, or desire to find out what’s happening with the US military at Shannon, in a so-called ‘neutral’ country, but they can afford to send a TD to jail for two hours. 

It’s not today nor yesterday that the Irish began to sell out their principles in the pursuit of fools’ gold.

No doubt the children of Syria would find the whole thing ludicrous, if they hadn’t got far more pressing matters on their innocent minds.