Salman Rushdie and Fareed Zakaria on the First Amendment

On CNN the other night Fareed Zakaria asked Salman Rushdie whether he thought CNN should have aired the anti-Islam video and shown the cartoon ridiculing Mohammed by the magazine Charlie Hebdoe.  Rushdie said yes, because CNN’s job is to report the news, not to censor it out of fear.

He said the First Amendment was the most important part of our western civilisation, and that the west should not be held hostage by fear of inflaming fundamentalist passion.  There have been plenty of cartoons, videos and films denigrating the Pope but Catholics don’t go on a killing spree about it.  Is that because they’re not really passionate about their religion?

Of course not.  Rushdie added that when one sees a stupid Youtube video, the healthy and normal response is to say it’s a stupid video and move on with your life.  And that deliberately inflaming people’s passion with it is about politics and power, which has nothing to do with religion.

It’s an old business, using religion as a guise to mobilize those prone to violence.  It’s a frightening business these days, when entitlement is so out of control.  I have found myself giving into the fear that fundamentalists prey on – if you do something don’t we like we kill you.  Even Christiane Amanpour seemed pretty convinced that it was irresponsible to create and print the derogatory cartoon.

I wasn’t sure whether I agreed with her or not, or whether I thought it should have been aired.  But when Rushdie spoke, I realized that if you give in to the fundamentalist threat it’s a slippery slope.  Pretty soon you’re not reporting anything they do.  In case you inflame them more.  Here’s the truth, they’re inflammable.   And that kind of neurotic abuse of power doesn’t diminish when you kow-tow to it.  I admired Rushdie for his courage and solid good sense.

This situation reminds me of when I was a child.  A Catholic priest asked me what I would do if I was given a choice to denounce my faith or lose my life.  I was very clear about it, because I was already disenchanted with Catholicism.  I’d lie, of course.  But now, if I was given the option to support fundamentalism – by not criticizing violent criminal acts – or lose my life, it wouldn’t be such an easy choice.

Fundamentalists, regardless of their religion and whether they’re from the Middle East or the West, are bullies with no respect for life, a lot of repressed anger looking for an outlet, and an exaggerated entitlement.  They seek to destroy freedom of speech.  Salman Rushdie was right.  The First Amendment is one of the most important rights we have in the west.  Give it up and you violate your soul.

Resolutions for Success in 2012

Kelsey Grammer voices Sideshow Bob.

I hope 2012 doesn’t go as quickly as 2011 did.  It went by in the flash of an eye.  It was a good year in comparison to the ones preceding it.  I had hit the bottom of the pit the year before, and 2011 was the first part of coming out of it. I swear with all my heart and soul and by all the gods that I will never let myself go back there.

I feel optimistic and hopeful for this year and determined to hold onto and build on that hope, that faith, with as much audacity as I can muster.  I think that’s going to be one of my buzz-words for the year – audacity.  The other one is resilience.  They both create another word that I’m going to plaster all over the walls of my room and my mind – traction.

Everybody’s always debating what the secret of success is.  I don’t know what it is for anyone else but I do know what it’s going to be for me this year – getting stronger and stronger in my belief that my book is just fine, Jack, the way it is.  That’s where traction comes from, not letting the doubt in when I get rejected, no matter by whom.  For one thing doubt is a spoiler, it will ruin a perfectly good day, cast a blight on a perfectly good life, and annihilate prospect.

It’s not even the truth, so how ridiculous is that, to listen to it?  But also, it will stop me from acting, putting myself and my book in front of as many people in as many ways as I can think of, all over the world.  Frankly I don’t want to be stopped any more by a bully living in my head, or by somebody else’s opinion.  Especially since so many people who have achieved great things were told by self-styled authorities that they’d never get anywhere.

Our local TV is showing reruns of Piers Morgan at the moment, and the other night I watched an interview of Kelsey Grammar.  He talked about how getting onto the world stage needs massive resilience, inner strength and the willingness to take the risk of putting yourself, at your most vulnerable, right in the firing line.

It’s not hard to think that celebrities are flaky, because it looks as if their lives are so easy, and their private affairs are often such a mess.  But we don’t see their resilience, how much they have to draw from within themselves every time they get rejected. How often it happens.  We don’t see what a huge price they pay, or how they just don’t give up.  I’m very clear this year that wanting success means I to be willing to pay that price.

And I am.  Success comes to some because of the environment they were born into, or their incredible talent, or they got the “lucky break”.  But for many they just ploughed on through a lot of rejection, adversity and hardship, building traction within themselves.  I suppose we all long to have had the nurturing environment and the break, but if it hasn’t happened success is still possible.

Audacity.  Resilience.  Traction.

Reality TV – The Dark Face to Civilization

Life seems so complicated some times, especially when I really pay attention to what’s going on around me.  Being virtually bed-bound still I can’t see much of what’s in the world except what’s reflected on TV and it’s generally not a very pretty sight.  I can hardly bear to watch the news much, it’s just all war and fighting and killing and murder and mayhem.  And it’s all so normal now.

I can only watch it in fiction if the person suffering is given the love they need so the suffering can stop.   And the good guys win and life is portrayed as being essentially good, with most people having the integrity to at least wrestle with fairness and justice.   And when it comes to reality on TV, I long to see more of that, too.

I watched CNN’s coverage of William and Kate in Canada.  It was absolutely divine to see all the excitement and the love.  No hatred, violence, anger or ugliness.  No overblown celebrityship either.  A young couple who have such humanity and dignity, know how to connect, how to have fun, how to be real.

But obviously not enough people want to see that.  If they did, wouldn’t we see more of it in the news?  And in the papers.  This civilization we have has blood-lust running through its veins.  It’s weird, even reality shows apparently created for entertainment are becoming more and more about making people suffer as much as possible.   Who can enjoy watching that?   More to the point, why?

Piers Morgan interviewed various journalists over the Casey Anthony trial and made the point that trials like this are a media shark feeding frenzy.  He seemed astonished that people would get off on the spectacle which had really been created by so much suffering.

But honestly, Piers, what’s new?  People have been gathering en masse since Medieval days to watch hangings and public executions.  What about the Romans, throwing Christians to the lions?  I guess it was the earliest form of reality entertainment.  It seems we’re not far from that again.  Scary.  I hope it’s a phase the world is going through, one which will pass.  Maybe we’re living in a kind of dark ages even though we think we’re civilized.

Maybe we’re heading towards an age of respect, of kindness and gentleness towards ourselves and each other, absence of greed, healthy self esteem.   An age where real sanity prevails and violence of every kind is seen as revolting, disgusting, the ultimate in everything that’s unattractive in every way.  An age where nobody gets off on suffering for the sake of being a martyr, or on watching others suffer.

An age where beauty is more valued than ugliness, and life is a softer, happier thing all round.  A true Renaissance.

 

CNN Pledges to Fight Against Slavery and Human Trafficking

Here is a great good news story about the media.   CNN has started a year long quest to fight against slavery.  On March 4 Tony Maddox, Executive Vice President and Managing Director of CNN International wrote an emotional and moving editorial on cnn.com/freedom about the status of slavery around the world.  He  included some shocking statistics, and said CNN is  committed to contributing to bringing an end to this inhumane trade.

Currently, the number of slaves globally has been estimated by the International Labor Organization to be over 30 million.  Levels of slavery and human trafficking are higher now than they’ve ever been.  The UN estimates that the total market value of human trafficking is currently at US$32 billion, which about the same as Exxon’s projected earnings for this year, and is more than twice Walmart’s.  In Europe alone some traffickers are making up to US$2.5 billion a year.

Why has it become so popular and profitable?  Because nobody is stopping it.  Traffickers operate with virtual impunity.  This is a much easier business to run than arms or drugs, where the punishment may not fit the crime, but it is something to be avoided.

Not with human trafficking.  161 countries have laws to fight it, but they’re not enforced.  At the moment trafficking is relatively a punishment-free zone.  There’s also the fact that one commodity – a human – can be used over and over again to make profit.  Unlike drugs and crime which are more or less once-off profit-making enterprises.

The inhumanity which people living in today’s world are capable of is impossible to get your head around.  Some of the trafficking is forced labor, some of it of course is forced sexual labor – and some is young boys being forced into armies to fight somebody’s war.

Last night I saw a program on forced labor in Indian brick factories.   Factory owners lend people a tiny amount of money, which they of course can’t pay back.  Then they have to work it off.  One woman had borrowed $50 and had been working – together with her children – for two years.  Another man and his whole family had been working for 2 generations – to pay off a loan that was $100.

Why don’t they leave?  They get beaten up.  Which is how traffickers operate.  They deceive, kidnap, coerce, torture.  Whatever it takes.  All of it is unconscionable, and operates because of monstrous greed and vile-minded and spirited people – mostly men, I’m afraid – but also because there’s not enough protection for the victims in the law.   Especially not in the countries from where the slaves come.

In times gone by, slaves were bought for a reasonably high price, which meant they were an investment, so their lives were worth something, even though they were horrifically treated.  Now children and young women can be bought for as little as US$50 – and because they come so cheap, their live are worthless.  If they die, who cares, they don’t cost much to replace.  These traffickers are inhuman.

Well, over the next year CNN, committed to using the full range of its resources, will expose as much as it can globally, going to places where victims are ensnared, and then follow the routes taken to the destination markets.  It will also highlight the work being done to stop slavery by various organizations and individuals and give exposure to their courageous and inspirational work.

If you want to know more about the project, go to cnn.com/freedom.  Other sites are abolishslavery.org and freetheslaves.net