Tuesday, July 31, 2007

We moan about floods but...

Acres sunk beneath bloated rivers ... sewage floating beside houses ... drinking water runs out ... billions in damages.

The recent July floods in the UK have seen unprecedented anguish and pain for residents living in the north and middle of England. Dire warnings of global warming and finger wagging (and worse) at slow political response have seen the media and country focus like never before on the fury of Mother Nature.

But spare a thought, if you will, the people of China. Hundreds have died there these last weeks, during the worst flooding ever on record.

The recent floods in China have already displaced some 4 to 5 million people - twice as many people as the Darfur conflict and about as many as Iraq. Experts fear they may take years to recover.

More than 150 people died last week alone, state media said, in what some reports call China's worst rain since records began.

It is not just China, of course. Floods have battered various parts of the world from central England to Sudan to Pakistan. But in China, as always, the numbers are massive.

"According to the government, around 200 million people have been affected and 4 to 5 million have been evacuated," Quinghui Gu, regional disaster coordinator for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent societies (IFRC), told AlertNet. "There is great need there and the government is doing as much as they can."

Read how the rest of the world lives - see the story up at AlertNet.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Fewer Muslims support suicide bombers

Mother Jones, the investigative magazine based in San Francisco, reports a Washington Post story on the results of a recent Pew Global Attitudes survey.

The survey showed that most of the world’s Muslims reject suicide bombings and violence against civilians. The poll, conducted between April 6 and May 29, surveyed 45,239 people in 46 countries.

Not surprisingly, Palestinians were the most enthusiastic supporters of suicide bombings: 70 percent of them responded that such attacks are “sometimes” or “often” justified.

The countries showing the least amount of support? Egypt (eight percent) and Pakistan (nine percent). The survey also suggested that, in many countries, enthusiasm for suicide attacks has fallen sharply since 2002.

Read the full report here.

War Photography - what does it take?

Ever wondered what it must be like to live out of a rucksack, hopping from continent to continent, like the war correspondents of old (nicknamed the "fireman")?

My old friend and colleague, Alex Smailes, is interviewed here in this stunningly-presented piece about his life as a conflict photographer. Alex and I always promised to work on a joint story, though somehow never got round to it - despite mutual contacts and interests.

Still, you never know... Alex, mated, hope the Trinidad life is still agreeing with you! I recommend his site for all aspiring photo journalists.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

English Patient's brother reviews Homeland

I just discovered a new (old) review of my tome, Homeland. It was written by the philanthropist and writer, Sir Christopher Ondaatje, co-owner of The Literary Review and brother of the brilliant novelist, Michael Ondaatje.

In a book strangely reminiscent of George Orwell's early non-fiction (The Road to Wigan, Homage to Catalonia) Nick Ryan's Homeland is the story of one man's journey into the heartlands of extremism undertaken during a gruelling six-year voyage.

Ryan met, interviewed, and in some cases lived with members of the extreme right in a dozen different countries. He examines this far right community, from the vilest new-nazi gangs to some prominent politicians. He travels across Europe and the USA to find out how these extremists share information, ideology, and contacts, and how they are linked occasionally by business interest. However, Homeland is not simply a story of undercover intrigue. It is a powerful personal odyssey and a social commentary, written as literary reportage. The twists and turns of the journey leave the reader no less exhausted than the man who came to write about it.

"I was motivated by one simple question: why?" says Ryan, talking of his desire to understand the men (and women) fuelling the rise of the extreme right. In the first few pages of Homeland, he admits to starting as a "classic wishy-washy liberal", yet by the end of his quest he is left a more bitter and cynical person, paying a price for his obsessive curiosity...

Read the full review here.

Whilst I'm at it, here an American woman gives her opinion of the book...

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Growing unease over student's death in Germany

If ever a story called to be written, it was this one: the mysterious death of Jeremiah Duggan, a Jewish student who was found dead on a German autobahn one cold winter's morning in 2003.

The case involves the shadowy Schiller Institute, run by Lyndon LaRouche (or see strongly critical pieces on him), but the German authorities have been dragging their feet about reopening the case. A British inquest says Duggan's death was not suicide; German police disagree.

Now a group of German MPs have joined Duggan's family in arguing for the case to be reopened.

This from The Guardian story:

Mr Duggan, who was Jewish, was studying at the Sorbonne in Paris and travelled to Germany for an anti-war protest run by the Schiller Institute. He went to Wiesbaden, in central Germany, with a group of young men selling the newspaper Nouvelle Solidarite, a French version of a newspaper published by the group's leader Lyndon LaRouche, an American rightwing extremist condemned by leading Jewish organisations as an anti-semite.

Mr Duggan knew nothing of the group's background until he heard anti-semitic comments being made at the conference. He rang his parents in London to say he was "in deep trouble". Hours later he was found dead having been struck by three vehicles on a motorway. The Schiller Institute has strongly denied any involvement in his death or that any crime took place.

A murky plot, indeed.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Few imams in UK born here

Just a quick post as I dash out the door:

News from a report for the BBC that only 8% of imams - the prayer leaders in a mosque - practising in the UK are actually born here.

Lots of argument and debate about why this matters. Catch the BBC report and I'll discuss more on my return...

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

London Fringe Literary Festival

Yup, for all the bookies out there (or for those who can read...), London is staging not only a literary festival, but also a 'fringe lit' event.

Luminaries such as Doris Lessing, Brian Aldiss, Ghada Karmi, one of the world’s most renowned commentators on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and many others, cutting edge as well as lesser known, are appearing in all sorts of nooks and crannies across the capital. Not just one for the Guardian readers, before my well-known chums intercede and start making their jokes.

Visit the site here, the event takes place until mid-July I believe.

Damn, I wish I'd been to the boozing event...

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

1977 'Clash' anniversary t-shirts

Three decades ago 'The Clash' released 'White Riot' and as Billy Bragg puts it " the flame they lit is still burning bright."

My friends over at Philosophy Football are celebrating Clash Culture with four unique summer designs inspired by the lyrics and graphics of the band. Part of the profits will be donated to Billy Bragg's Jail Guitar Doors initiative, like the shirts also inspired by the Clash.

From Paul smashing his guitar on the re-take of 'London Calling' and the message 'Hate and War' that was spray-painted on Joe's bolier suit, to the words of Garageland as pointed today as they were back in 1977 and English Civil War, the band's pointed anti-militarism anthem.

Four shirts for nostalgists or those new to The Clash, available in sizes S-XXL, plus skinny-rib. At www.philosophyfootball.com.