Canada Slim and the Forgotten

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 30 May 2017

Marriage ain’t easy.

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“My successful marriage is built on mistakes.

It may be founded on love, trust and a shared sense of purpose, but it runs on cowardice, impatience, ill-advised remarks and low cunning.

But also: apologies, belated expressions of gratitude and frequent appeals for calm.

Every day is a lesson in what I am doing wrong.”

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“Twenty years ago my wife and I embarked on a project so foolhardy, the prsopect of which seemed to us both so weary, stale and flat that even thinking about it made us shudder….

We simply agreed – we’ll get married – with the resigned determination of two people plotting to bury a body in the woods.”

(Guardian columnist Tim Dowling, How to Be a Husband)

Since autumn of 2016 I have been teaching technical English to a company in two locations: Amriswil in Canton Thurgau (the Canton where I reside) and in Neuhaus in Canton St. Gallen (the Canton where I mostly work) on the border of Canton Zürich.

From Neuhaus it is closer to visit Zürich than it is for me to return back to Landschlacht, so when my schedule as a freelance English teacher finds me with a free afternoon after the company class I take myself down to Zürich.

Zürich possesses many temptations for me: museums, bookshops, the Limmat River, the Lake of Zürich, restaurants and cafés.

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And as well Zürich is where my wife resides from Sunday afternoon to Thursday evening every week.

And somewhere buried deep within our marriage contract in words only my wife can read is a clause that insists that I occasionally be nice and visit the Wife, aka my own personal She Who Must Be Obeyed.

Upon my arrival in Zürich yesterday a bus ride and a train journey later, I still had a few hours to myself with which I had the illusion of freedom to do what I wished before my wife, the doctor, finished work at her hospital.

I foolishly forgot that most museums in Switzerland are closed on Mondays and I had this explained to me politely by a security guard at the Swiss National Museum.

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But like every bibliophile bookworm I never travel without literature for such situations, so with Duncan Smith’s Only in Zürich: A Guide to Unique Locations, Hidden Corners and Ununsual Objects in hand I once again set out to discover Zürich before meeting the wife who would then set my agenda for me.

All guidebooks to Zürich mention the fact that Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955) spent time in the city during the years leading up to the First World War.

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Seven years and eight months (1896 – 1900 / 1909 – 1911 / 1912 – 1914 / 1919), to be precise, at six different addresses (Unionstrasse 4 / Klosbachstrasse 87 / Dolderstrasse 17 / Moussonstrasse 12 / Hofstrasse 116 / Hochstrasse 37).

Albert Einstein’s name is now synonymous with genius and his face has become a 20th century icon.

But what about his wife during this time, the gifted mathematician Mileva Maric (1875 – 1948)?

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Few books mention her name and even fewer mention that she was buried in an unmarked grave in Zürich.

Albert Einstein arrived in Zürich in October 1896 to study at the Federal Polytechnic Institute (Eidgenössisches Polytechnikum) – today the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule)(ETH).

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A wall plaque at Unionstrasse 4 marks one of the addresses where Albert lived during this period.

In the same year Mileva attended the same institution and the two soon became close friends.

Born to wealthy parents in Titel (then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, today a part of Serbia), Mileva was the first and favourite child of an ambitious pesant who had joined the army, married into money and then dedicated himself to making sure his brilliant daughter was able to prevail in the male world of mathematics and physics.

Mileva spent most of her childhood in Novi Sad and attended a variety of ever more demanding schools, at each of which she was at the top of her class, culminating when her father convinced the all-male Classical Gymnasium in Zagreb to let her enroll.

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Above: St. Mark’s Church, Zagreb, Croatia

After graduating there with the top grades in physics and math, Mileva made her way to Zürich, where she became, just before she turned 21, the only woman in Albert’s section of the Polytechnic.

More than three years older than Albert, she was afflicted with a congenital hip dislocation that cause her to limp.

She was prone to bouts of tuberculosis and despondency.

Mileva was known for neither her books nor her personality.

One of her female friends in Zürich described her as “very smart and serious, small, delicate, brunette, ugly”.

But she had qualities that Albert, in his romantic scholar years, found attractive: a passion for math and science, a brooding depth and a beguiling soul.

Her deepset eyes had a haunting intensity, her face an enticing touch of melancholy.

Mileva would become, over time, Albert’s muse, partner, lover, wife, bête noire and antagonist and she would create an emotional field more powerful than that of anyone else in Albert’s life.

Mileva would alternately attract and repulse Albert, with a force so strong that a mere scientist, a mere man, like himself would never be able to fathom it.

Mileva and Albert met when they both entered the Polytechnic in October 1896, but their relationship took a while to develop.

They were nothing more than classmates that first academic year, but they did, however, decide to go hiking together in the summer of 1897.

“Frightened by the new feelings she was experiencing” because of Albert, Mileva decided to leave the Polytechnic temporarily and instead audit classes at Heidelberg University.

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Mileva and Albert corresponded, her letters a mix of playfulness and seriousness, of lightheartednes and intensity, of intimacy and detachment.

Albert urged her to return to Zürich.

By February 1898, Mileva made up her mind to do so.

By April she was back, in a boarding house a few blocks from him and now they were a couple.

They shared books, intellectual enthusiasms, intimacies and access to each other’s apartments.

Friends were surprised that a sensuous and handsome man such as Albert, who could have almost any woman fall for him, would find himself with a short and plain Serbian who had a limp and exuded an air of melancholy.

But it is easy to see why Albert felt such an affinity for Mileva.

They were kindred spirits who perceived themselves as aloof scholars and outsiders, rebellious toward others’ expectations, intellectuals who sought as lovers someone who would also be a partner, a colleague and collaborator.

Above all else, Albert loved Mileva for her mind.

She would eventually gain the same score in physics as Albert.

In 1900 Albert presented his first published scientific paper to the Annalen der Physik, Europe’s leading physics journal, in which his unified physical law of relativity was already apparent.

In February 1901, Switzerland made Albert a citizen, but his parents insisted that he go with them to Milan and live there if he could not find work in Zürich.

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Both in Zürich and in Milan, Albert was unsuccessful at attaining fulltime employment.

He spent most of 1901 juggling temporary teaching assignments and some tutoring.

Waiting for a decent post to materialise, Albert accepted a temporary post at a technical school in Winterthur for two months, filling in for a teacher on military leave, while Mileva remained in Zürich.

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To make up for his absences, Albert proposed that they have a romantic getaway by Lake Como.

It was early Sunday morning, 5 May 1901, Albert waited for Mileva at the train station in the village of Como, “with open arms and a pounding heart”.

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Mileva became pregnant by Albert.

Back in Zürich preparing to take her exams and hoping to go on to get a doctorate and become a physicist, she decided instead that she wanted Albert’s child – even though he was not yet ready or willing to marry her.

Perhaps as a consequence of her pregnancy or her dissatisfaction that Albert went on summer vacation with his parents and sister in the Alps instead of finding employment after Winterthur as he had promised her, Mileva failed her exams and gave up her dream of being a scientific scholar.

In the fall of 1901, Einstein took on a job as a tutor of a rich English schoolboy at a little private academy in Schaffhausen.

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Mileva was eager to be with Albert, but her pregnancy made it impossible for them to be together in public, so she stayed at a small hotel in a neighbouring village.

Their relationship became strained, as Albert came only infrequently to visit her claiming he did not have the spare money.

Albert was desperately unhappy with his job in Schaffhausen so it was with some relief that his friend Marcel Grossmann told him that a job as a Bern patent office clerk would soon be his.

Albert moved to Bern in late January 1902, while Mileva returned to her parents’ home in Novi Sad to have their baby, a girl they called Lieserl.

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Above: Petrovaradin Fortress, Novi Sad, Serbia

Though Albert wrote to Mileva asking about Lieserl, his love for the child was mainly abstract.

Albert did not tell his friends or family about his daughter and never once publicly speak of her or even acknowledge she existed.

Albert found a large room in Bern but Mileva would not be sharing it.

They were not married and an aspiring Swiss civil servant could not be seen cohabitating in such a way.

After a few months Mileva moved back to Zürich to wait for Albert to marry her as he had promised.

She did not bring Lieserl with her.

Albert and Lieserl never laid eyes on each other.

Lieserl was left back in Novi Sad with relatives and friends, so that Albert could maintain both his unencumbered lifestyle and respectability he needed to become a Swiss official.

The fate of Lieserl remains unknown.

Albert finally was rewarded the position on 16 June 1902.

Albert married Mileva at a tiny civil ceremony in Bern’s registry office on 6 January 1903.

Their son Hans Albert Einstein was born on 14 May 1904.

After gaining his doctorate in 1905 while working in the Swiss Patent Office, assessing the worth of electromagnetic devices, Albert wrote four groundbreaking articles: one concerning the photoelectric effect (for which he received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921) and another containing his now famous mass-energy equivalence equation: E=mc squared.

In 1909 Albert and Mileva along with Hans moved back to Zürich, where Albert was made Associate Professor of Physics at the University of Zürich.

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The Einstein family lived on the second floor at Moussonstrasse 12, where in 1910 their second son Eduard “Tete” Einstein was born.

In March 1911 the family relocated to Prague, where Albert became full professor at Charles University.

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Einstein’s fame would lead him to wander around Europe giving speeches and basking in his renown, while Mileva stayed behind in Prague, a city she hated.

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She brooded about not being part of his scientific circles that she had once struggled to join.

She became even more gloomy and depressed than her natural disposition had often led her to before.

So it was in this instability between them that Albert travelled alone to Berlin during the Easter holidays of 1912 and became reacquainted with a cousin, three years older, whom he had known as a child, Elsa.

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Elsa Einstein had been married, divorced and now at age 36 was living with her two daughters in the same apartment buildings as her parents.

Albert was looking for new companionship and thus began secret romantic correspondence between them.

But after returning to Prague from Berlin, Albert began to develop qualms about his affair with his cousin.

What remained between Mileva and Albert was a feeling that living among the middle class German community in Prague had become wearisome, so they decided to return to the one place they thought could restore their relationship: Zürich.

In July 1912 the Einsteins returned once more to Zürich, where Albert took up a professorship at the Polytechnikum.

Life should have been glorious.

They were able to afford a modern six-room apartment with good views.

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Above: Hofstrasse  116, Zurich

They were reunited with old friends.

But Mileva’s depression continued to deepen and and her health to decline.

After a year of silence, Elsa wrote to Albert.

So, when a few months later, Einstein received an offer to work in Berlin and be with Elsa, he was quite receptive.

This time they lived at Hofstrasse 116 where they remained until February 1914, when Albert became professor at Berlin’s Humboldt University.

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Mileva was unhappy in Berlin and their marriage was dissolving.

She had become more depressed, dark and jealous.

He had become emotionally withdrawn.

Mileva became involved with Zagreb mathematics professor Vladimir Varicak who challenged Einstein’s theories.

In July Mileva moved out with the two boys into the house of her only friend Clara Haber and her husband the chemist Fritz.

Albert was prepared to take her back if she agreed to a brutal ultimatum of her duties and responsibilites.

He was prepared to live with Mileva again because he didn’t want to lose his children but it was out of the question that they would resume a friendly relationship but he aimed for a businesslike arrangement.

Mileva and the two boys left for Zürich on 29 July 1914.

She filled her time giving private lessons in mathematics, physics and piano playing.

Einstein returned to Zürich once more in January/February 1919 to lecture on his Theory of Relativity, staying at Hochstrasse 37.

That same year Albert divorced Mileva, giving her the proceeds from his Nobel Prize for her and their children’s support.

Mileva invested the money in three properties in Zürich, occupying one of them herself at Huttenstrasse 62, which has been identified by a memorial plaque since 2005.

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Hans Einstein (1904 – 1973) would go on to study engineering at Zürich Polytechnic, get married, become a father to two sons and a daughter with his first wife Frieda, move to the United States becoming a professor of hydraulic engineering at Berkeley, remarry after Frieda’s death, father two more children.

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Above: Hans Einstein’s final resting place, Woods Hole, Massachusetts, USA

Eduard Einstein (1910 – 1965) was smart and artistic.

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Obsessed about Freud, Eduard hoped to be a psychiatrist, but he succumbed to his own schizophrenia and was institutionalised in Switzerland for much of the rest of his life at Zürich University Psychiatric Hospital.

Albert would go on to access even greater fame and award, eventually marrying his cousin Elsa.

And what of Mileva?

By the 1930s, the costs of treating Eduard for schizophrenia had overwhelmed her.

She was forced to sell her two investment properties and to transfer the rights to Huttenstrasse to Albert so as not to lose it.

Although he made regular payments to her Mileva died penniless in 1948.

She is buried in an unmarked grave in Zürich’s Nordheim Cemetery and mostly forgotten.

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It was not until 2009 that a memorial gravestone was erected by the Serbian Diaspora Ministry, just inside the cemetery entrance on Käferholzstrasse.

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I visited the places Mileva had known in reverse order from the cemetery to the first apartment she had shared with Albert.

And I found parallels with my own past…

I too had been left behind by my parents like Lieserl.

My mother lies buried in an unmarked grave, but unlike Mileva there is no society to put a plaque on Fort Lauderdale´s cemetery.

Like Mileva I have married a partner more successful professionally than myself, though unlike Mileva I have no illusions about my ever having the same aptitudes as my wife possesses, nor do I feel jealousy or resentment for her success.

Mileva’s partner required that she uproot her life several times to different locations in Zürich and to other cities like Prague and Berlin.

As my wife´s career is more stable than mine, I have moved with/for her from the Black Forest to the Rhine River border near Basel up to Osnabruck and then to this wee village by the Lake of Constance here in Switzerland.

I, like Mileva, am less attractive and outgoing than my spouse.

I, like Mileva, have my own quiet struggles with depression, but, so far, these bouts seem far less serious than those she suffered.

I came from work at the company in Neuhaus dressed for executive type work.

The temperature in Zürich yesterday was 32°, hot and humid.

Elves could have taken a bath in the pools of sweat gathered under my armpits.

Zürich like Rome is built upon hills so seeing the former abodes of the late Mrs. E demanded energy.

Happily if one gets thirsty in Zürich there is no need to find a café or a supermarket because it is quite acceptable to drink from a public fountain.

One never has to travel far to find a fountain because there are few cities with more fountains than Zürich, again compareable to Rome.

At last count, this city boasts a total of around twelve hundred fountains.

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Above: The Napfbrunnen Fountain

With portable Starbucks cup in hand, I drank deeply and often.

Albert, with his great intelligence, achieved great fame and fortune.

Mileva, also possessing great intelligence, gave up fame and fortune for her family.

If Albert was a bad husband and father, history has no record in Mileva’s handwriting.

Her secrets and potential lie buried somewhere beneath the earth of the sprawling necropolis in the metropolis she chose to call home.

Daughter of Serbia, wife of a genius, mother to an abandoned daughter, sons becoming a wandering engineer and an ill schizophrenic, a victim of depression, genetics and passion, Mileva Maric Einstein was many things.

Now she is just a historical footnote lost in the shadows of an uncommunicative cemetery visited by a sweaty Canadian with too much time on his hands.

Mileva had her flaws and made her mistakes, but in the end analysis I am glad I found out about her.

I meet the wife later for a quick bite after her work and before her tango dance lesson and as I watch her speak with drama and passion, and as I consider both are good and bad times I can quietly smile and know that I have met my match, muse, partner, lover, wife, bête noire and antagonist.

I don’t know what the future holds, but I will say that she has made my past quite interesting.

Being a husband ain’t easy, but it sure isn’t boring.

Sources:

Tim Dowling, How to Be a Husband

Walter Isaacson, Einstein: His Life and Universe

Duncan J.D. Smith, Only in Zürich

Wikipedia

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Fear Itself

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 28 March 2017

And the madness continues….

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London, England, 22 March 2017 (1440 hours)

Just another day, business as usual.

Tourists take selfies outside the Houses of Parliament while inside the politicians buzz about on the business of Brexit and schoolchildren view the spectacle of Prime Minister’s Questions.

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On Wednesday, exactly one year after the Brussels bombings, a London terrorist attack has left 5 people dead – including the attacker and a police officer – and 40 people injured.

Dozens of tourists and workers were struck down by a car on Westminster Bridge before the driver fatally stabbed an unarmed police officer outside the British Houses of Parliament.

The assailant, a man in his 40s wielding two large knives, was shot dead by other police.

The attack lasted five minutes, as the dark grey Hyundai Tucson hurtled across Westminster Bridge and jumped the curb.

Pedestrians on the Bridge thought that the driver must have collapsed and that the car would come to a halt.

Then the car changed direction.

The next sound was the revving of the engine.

This was a deliberate act.

The car barrelled along the pavement, hitting more than a dozen people, including a group of French schoolchildren, forces a woman to jump into the Thames to avoid being struck, before smashing into the railings by the Palace of Westminster near Westminster Tube Station.

“It was carnage.

There were bodies flying everywhere.

He (the driver) must have been going 70 mph.

There must have been dozens of people flying up into the air.

It was chaos.

There was mass hysteria.

Blood everywhere.

Bodies everywhere.”

(James Sheriff, witness)

Three shots were heard as the driver leapt out and rushed around the corner to Parliament’s Carriage Gates, stabbing a plainclothes policeman.

Constable Keith Palmer was standing near the entrance to Westminster Hall when the intruder, dressed in black, stabbed him in the back of the head and the back of the neck with an 8-inch long knife.

Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood (centre) stands amongst the emergency services at the scene outside the Palace of Westminster, London, after policeman has been stabbed and his apparent attacker shot by officers in a major security incident at the Houses of Parliament

In the midst of the chaos of the attack, MP Tobias Ellwood, Foreign Office Minister rushed to the Constable’s side and performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation while trying to stem the flow of blood pouring from his body and splattering Ellwood’s face and clothes.

By Ellwood’s side was Tony Davis, a Team Great Britain boxing coach who hopped over the fence to assist.

Despite their efforts Constable Palmer was pronounced dead later that afternoon.

Two armed plainclothes police officers then shot the attacker three times.

It saddens me that no one seems shocked, because terrorist-type violence has become so prevalent as to almost have become passé, with the notable exception of violence`s impact on its victims and their loved ones.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said that Westminster had been targeted by those who rejected its values of democracy, freedom, human rights and the rule of law.

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The PM praised the bravery of police and said Parliament would continue to meet as normal.

“The location of this attack was no accident.

The terrorist chose to strike at the heart of our capital city, where people of all nationalities, religions and cultures come together to celebrate the values of liberty, democracy and freedom of speech.

These streets of Westminster, home to the world’s oldest Parliament, are ingrained with a spirit of freedom that echoes in some of the furthest corners of the globe.

And the values our Parliament represents _ democracy, freedom, human rights, the rule of law – command the admiration and respect of free people everywhere.

That is why it is a target for those who reject those values.

But let me make it clear…

Any attempt to defeat those values through violence and terror is doomed to failure.

Tomorrow, Parliament will meet as normal.

We will come together as normal.

And Londoners and others from around the world who have come to visit this great city will go about their day as normal.

They will board their trains, they will leave their hotels, they will walk these streets, they will live their lives.

We will all move forward together, never giving in to terror and never allowing the voices of hate and evil to drive us apart.”

World leaders condemned the attack on Westminster as they reacted with horror and sympathy.

French President Francois Hollande issued a call to action:

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“We are all concerned with terrorism.

France, which has been struck so hard lately, knows what the British people are suffering today.

It is clear that it is at the European level, and even beyond that, that we must organise ourselves.”

Donald Tusk, President of the European Council:

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“My thoughts are with the victims of the Westminster attack.

Europe stands firm with the UK against the terror and ready to help.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that her thoughts were “with our British friends and all the people of London.”

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“Although the background to these acts is not yet clear, I reaffirm that Germany and its citizens stand firmly and resolutely alongside Britons in the struggle against all forms of terrorism.”

In an Evening Standard article, from September 2016, London Mayor Sadiq Khan said that capital cities “have got to be prepared” for terrorist attacks.

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The article described how the Mayor ordered a complete review of the capital’s terrorist attack response.

Donald Trump Jr., the US President’s eldest son, tweeted (like father, like son):

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“You have to be kidding me?!

Terror attacks are part of living in a big city, says London Mayor Sadiq Khan.”

“Mini-Donald” has been accused of judging the Mayor and failing to read the full article.

Though one thing remains certain…

Somewhere, sometime, it is not a matter of if there is going to be another terrorist attack, but when that attack will come.

It is impossible to watch everyone and stop everything.

Terrorists cling to the knowledge that they only have to be lucky once.

“Since 2001, they have been lucky more than once….

The murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby in Woolwich in 2013, using a car and kitchen knives as weapons of terror, paved the way for the kind of crude atrocities we have since seen in Nice, Berlin and yesterday….

(H)owever…jihadists try more often than they succeed.

Since the Woolwich murder, 13 terrorist plots have been twarted while at any one time about 500 security investigations are taking place.

London….will defy the terrorists by returning to normal today, although it has had a sharp reminder to shrug off complacency.”

(Sean O’Neill, The Times, 23 March 2017)

Ellwood has felt the shock of terrorism before, having lost his brother Jonathan, a 39-year-old teacher, in the 2002 Bali bombings.

Above: List of the victims of the 2002 Bali bombings

Was the attacker inspired through the Internet?

In September 2014, ISIS chief spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani – killed last year in a Russian airstrike in Syria – issued a fatwa that spread rapidly around the world on jihadist forums.

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“If you can kill a disbelieving American or European – especially the spiteful and filthy French – or an Australian, or a Canadian, or any other disbeliever from the disbelievers waging war, including the citizens of the countries that entered into a coalition against the Islamic State, then rely upon Allah, and kill him in any manner or way, however it may be.

Smash his head with a rock, or slaughter him with a knife, or run him over with your car, or throw him from a high place, or choke him, or poison him.”

Since then, there has been a series of attacks in the West that appear to have been inspired by Adnani, including the vehicle attacks on the Nice waterfront and the Berlin Christmas market, when lorries were used as weapons, and the assault on the Canadian Parliament by a lone gunman.

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Above: The Promenade des Anglais, site of the 2016 Nice attack

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Above: Aftermath of Berlin Christmas market attack

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Above: Ottawa’s Parliament Hill

London has seen it all before.

In the grim list of incidents in London that have been labelled as “terrorism”, as far back as 15 February 1894, when Greenwich Observatory was attacked with a bomb which killed only the French anarchist who mishandled it, London has been a target of groups and individuals who have intended to punish governments by attacking citizens.

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Above: Royal Observatory, Greenwich, England

London has survived Roman and Norman invasions, plague and fire, German bombardment and riots in the streets.

In the 21st century alone, a series of four coordinated suicide attacks in central London in which three bombs exploded on the Underground and aboard a double-decker bus killed 52 people and injured 700 people on 7 July 2005; in 2013, a British Army soldier was attacked and killed near his barracks in southeast London; in 2015, a man with a knife stabbed a number of people at the Leytonshire tube station, shouting “This is for Syria!”.

Worldwide there have been thousands of terrorist attacks since the mid-19th century, starting with the Ku Klux Klan’s activities in the US.

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In the year 2000, in just the first six months of the year, the world witnessed 91 separate acts of terrorism enacted on civilian populations.

And this was not an unusual year.

But many of these types of attacks go unnoticed the further away they occur from white Christian lands.

For example, every single day in January 2006 saw a terrorist incident somewhere in the world, but as these mostly occurred in the Middle East and Africa the media paid scant attention to them.

Does anyone remember on New Year’s Day last year ISIS executed 300 West African immigrants in Tripoli, Libya?

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Above: The flag of Libya

If you don’t, then you are not alone.

But we remember Paris, we remember Nice, we remember Brussels…

There was a terrorist incident every single day in January 2017.

We all remember Alexandre Bissonette killing six Muslims in a mosque in Quebec City.

Above: Memorial outside the ruins of the Eglise Sainte Foy next to the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec which was targeted

Yet this same month also saw…

(I am only mentioning the double-digit casualities here.)

…17 killed in Cameroon, 30 killed in Pakistan, 77 killed in Mali, 94 killed in Somalia, 15 killed in Nigeria…

Don’t remember these?

First time reading about these?

Why am I not surprised?

President Trump has spoken with British Prime Minister Theresa May, pledging the “full cooperation and support of the United States government in responding to the attack and bringing those responsible to justice.”

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Last month, 39 people were killed in terrorist incidents in Somalia, 45 people in Afghanistan, 93 people in Syria, 106 people in Pakistan and 185 people in Iraq.

We remember Olathe, Kansas, and one dead Indian computer programmer.

(For details about this shooting, please see Bleeding Beauty of this blog.)

This month alone, there have been 122 people in Afghanistan, 125 people in Syria, 53 people in Iraq, 13 people in Somalia, 12 people in India, 11 people in Mali…all killed in terrorist incidents.

Where is the world`s full cooperation and support?

Are Afghanis, Indians, Iraqis, Malians, Syrians and Somalians less noteworthy, less newsworthy, than others?

As we consider the events of the assault on Westminster on Wednesday, eight Nigerians were killed by a series of Boko Haram bombs detonated along a public highway on the same day.

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Above: The flag of Nigeria

You might read about Nigeria sometime, buried in the back pages of a newspaper, if it is mentioned at all.

The War on Terror?

How exactly is that working out for everybody?

Claiming down on civil liberties in the name of security is not the answer.

Opposing democracy and independent development in other countries because otherwise their products or their labour in our factories there will become more expensive is not the answer.

Supporting regimes and dictators regardless of their atrocities because this gives us access to resources at a lower cost is not the answer.

If we are attacked by terrorists, religion is not the reason, it is the excuse.

If the West wants to prevent further attacks in the future, it must realise that neither unleashing our militaries nor tightening domestic security  nor limiting discussion on supposedly patriotic grounds is the answer.

We see ourselves as decent, hardworking people who wish the rest of the world well and do more than our share to help.

We are proud of our freedom and prosperous way of life, but we need to have honest discussion about our conduct abroad.

Where is our conduct wise?

Where is our conduct not wise?

Does our conduct correspond to the values we say we believe in?

Outside of our homelands are our troops, our companies, our embassies practising the values we preach or only pretending to do so?

If we want a healthy relationship with the six billion people we share the planet with, we need to understand who these people are, how they live, what they think and why.

We need to care about the world beyond our borders, beyond our experience.

We need to think beyond our bank accounts and realise we are a planet of people interdependent upon one another for our mutual survival as a species.

We need to question ourselves and those who represent us and those who inform us and those who serve us.

This is not charity, this is for both our self-interest and self-preservation.

No nation is invulnerable.

We can no longer afford to ignore what the rest of the world thinks.

We are our brother`s keeper.

But when we bomb cities, allow dictators to crush their citizenry’s free spirit, finance and train revolutionary movements against democratically elected governments, disregard starvation, disease and starvation around the world while living such privileged wasteful lives, we should not be surprised when others might be upset with us.

As individuals we need to ask questions about what our governments are doing in our name and demand they practice the values they say they represent..

As individuals we need to demand a media that tells us the truth about ourselves and the world regardless of whether the truth is complimentary to ourselves or not.

The media should serve all its citizenry not just the business interests that fund it.

Remove the reasons for terrorism and remove the fear.

The only way to fight terrorism is to fight the causes of terrorism.

When people suffer injustice and oppression, when their lands are occupied, when they are endlessly humiliated, when they are beaten, imprisoned, raped or killed for expressing dissident political opinions, violence can seem their only alternative.

The best defence of democracy is the practice of democracy, both within and shown outside our lands.

London, Ottawa, Brussels, New York, Nice, Madrid have fallen victim to terrorist attacks.

So have Pakistan, Turkey, Nigeria, Iran and Iraq.

Their lives are no less important, no less significant than our own.

When someone commits a crime and says he does it in the name of a religion, this is not a religious believer this is simply a criminal and should be treated as such, an individual who has committed a crime.

Those who truly follow a religion do not practice violence.

Practicing a religion does not mean regular attendance at a building designated as religious.

Practicing a religion does not mean discrimination against others who do not do as you do, believe as you believe, dress as you dress, think as you think.

Practicing a religion means acting as if the words of love and obedience to love actually matter.

Practicing a religion is to show that religion as something that truly makes you happy and shines through you to make that religion attractive to others through your exhibiting love for others.

If we act responsibly then we can, with clear conscience, expect others to respond accordingly.

If we have done so, and those that represent us and inform us have done so, then those who do commit violence against us will have shown themselves to be the criminals they truly are and should be dealt with as we would with any criminal.

Be vigilant, be ready to respond to emergencies, but be loving towards others.

Fear usually is the result of our being worried for receiving punishment for the things we did but shouldn´t have or for the things we didn’t do but should have.

If my government is causing harm to others and I have done nothing or said nothing to prevent them from causing harm, then I should not be surprised if those who have been harmed seek vengence against me.

We are responsible for others and this responsibility doesn’t only stop outside our homes, our borders or our beliefs.

Did the individuals struck down in Westminster deserve what happened to them?

As individuals, no.

But as representatives of powers and principalities that allow harm to happen to others, it should not be a surprise if those that strike us down feel we are deserving of such a terrible fate.

We need one another and until we learn that lesson we will continue to destroy one another.

Sources: Wikipedia / The Times, 23 March 2017 / The New York Times, 25 March 2017 / Noam Chomsky, Power and Terror: Post-9/11 Talks and Interviews / Mark Hertsgaard, The Eagle’s Shadow: Why America Fascinates and Infuriates the World

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Train a Dragon 1: Canadians in China

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 23 March 2017

The further away a country is, the harder it is to know and understand that country.

China is such a country.

Flag of the People's Republic of China

So it is with caution that I express my opinion of the events that have so far transpired with China and its relations with the rest of the world.

Until this year I have had little exposure to Chinese people.

The only Chinese people I had known were second generation Chinese Canadians, more Canadian in character than Chinese as they have spent the entirety of their lives in Canada.

Flag of Canada

I am not certain whether they have ever visited their parents’ homeland or even if they have wished to do so.

I have nothing against the three Chinese Canadians I have known, though whether they feel the same towards me remains debateable.

I know that Dicky and I have become more closer since our high school days and that he seems happy back in his hometown of Lachute and working for Air Canada at the Pierre Elliot Trudeau Airport in Montréal.

I am fairly certain that Walter from my college days became the international lawyer he wanted to be, though whether he returned to Québec City I do not know.

Things had ended badly between us and the only excuse I have in my pitiful defence is that we had known one another at a most difficult and painful time of my life.

Nonetheless I wish him much happiness and success but I don’t anticipate a happy reunion betweeen us anytime soon.

I am not at all sure where Jack, whom I knew from my travelling days, is or what he is doing these days.

I remember his face and stature as if he had been seen only mere moments before, but whether he found whatever he was searching for in his travels I know not.

Here in Switzerland I teach a young lady from Beijing twice a week and I occasionally meet another Chinese woman who works for a company I teach at once every two weeks.

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These two ladies have awakened within me a curiosity to know more about their homeland, but I remain uncertain about how I feel about visiting China one day.

As tourism goes, of course, there is much that attracts me about China…

I would love to walk the Great Wall, visit Beijing’s ancient Forbidden City and Summer Palace, parade amongst the army of terracotta warriors, explore the lush rainforest of Xishuangbanna, take in the sights and scents of Guangzhou’s evening spice markets, listen to the talented Chinese National Orchestra in live performance, watch a Zhang Yimou film without English subtitles, eat duck in Beijing followed by chá at a teahouse where my appearance might increase the level of gossip and intrigue within, hug a panda (if such a thing is even possible), dodge yet another of the endless array of construction sites, sigh as yet another Chinese student tries to practice his English upon me, gaze nervously at Tiananmen Square fearful that my rebellious thoughts betray me, wonder at a country which doesn’t only include an endless sea of Han Chinese but as well 55 other officially recognised ethnic groups…so much to see and experience one hardly knows where to begin.

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The Hall of Supreme Harmony (太和殿) at the centre of the Forbidden City

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Above: (from top to bottom) The Great Wall, The Forbidden City, The Terracotta Army, the tropical rain forest of Xishuangbanna, the skyline of Guangzhou, the logo of the Chinese National Traditional Orchestra, poster of Zhang Yimou’s 1991 film Raise the Red Lantern, Peking duck, the Yu Yuan Garden Teahouse of Shanghai, a giant panda bear in Hong Kong Zoo, Tiananmen Square

(I am curious about the rumor that generations of Chinese are still convinced that Western music is the Carpenters, Richard Clayderman, Kenny G and Lionel Richie and what the concert goers to Wham!’s Freedom Tour actually felt and understood.)

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Above: (from top to bottom) US musicians Karen and Richard Carpenter at the White House in 1971, French pianist Richard Clayderman (née Philip Pagès), US saxophonist Kenny G. (née Kenny Gorelick), US musician Lionel Richie and British pop duo Wham!

The little I know of China has been limited to newspapers and magazines and the occasionally travel account from writers like Paul Theroux (Riding the Iron Rooster: By Train through China) or books telling folks how to do business in China, and though this exposure has been interesting I am uncertain, despite the advent of the Internet, how accurate are these impressions.

And though I am aware that it is unfair to confuse the Chinese people with the Chinese government, much as it would be to label all Americans in the mold of Donald Trump, I must confess the politics of China does bother me, especially in regards to Taiwan and Tibet.

Why can`t the Chinese government let Taiwan go?

A red flag, with a small blue rectangle in the top left hand corner on which sits a white sun composed of a circle surrounded by 12 rays.

Above: Flag of Taiwan

Why must the Chinese continue to occupy Tibet?

Above: Flag of Tibet

I have met a handful of Tibetan people here in Switzerland and have read numerous accounts of the oppression that Tibet endures and the never-ending exile of their Dalai Lama and I find it difficult to reconcile my desire to see China with my sadness about the acts that are done in China’s name.

I also admit to feeling remorse about the correctness of the accusation that is often levelled at the West…

We simply don`t care about what happens outside of the West until it affects us.

Shortly before I began teaching Chinese students in St. Gallen and Herisau, I read of one Canadian couple’s experience in China and it is their tale I now wish to tell…

Vancouver, Canada, 28 June 2014

Su Bin, aka Stephen Su or Stephen Subin, the owner and manager of Beijing Lode Technology Company Ltd, an aviation technology company -based in China with offices in Vancouver, Kansas City, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Chengdu, Xi’an, Shenyang and Changchun – a cable harness equipment company that served the aviation and space market and represented and distributed related aerospace products for a number of companies – is arrested today.

Su Bin a.k.a Stephen Su a.k.a. Stephen Subin

Su Bin, a Chinese businessman and permanent resident of Canada allegedly hacked into the computer systems of US companies with large defence contracts, including Boeing, to steal data on military projects including some of its fighter jets.

On 27 June, the Los Angeles branch of the FBI filed a complaint outlining the alleged participation of Su Bin in a conspiracy to unlawfully access computers in the United States.

The complaint provides an in depth look at an EaaS (espionage as a service) operation.

Su’s alleged role was to help his partners identify valuable military aviation technology to steal.

His company’s logo is almost laughably ironic: We will track the world’s aviation advanced technology.”

Lode Tech is also a representative and distributor of related aerospace products for a number of companies, including DIT-MCO of Kansas City which proudly announces that its equipment “was used on the early Hawk Missile, the first Transcontinental Atlas missile, Polaris missiles for the Navy, Titan missiles for the Air Force and the Patriot Missile used so successfully in the Desert Storm War, as well as almost all the aircraft used by the Air Force, Army and the Navy.”

DIT-MCO International

Prosecutors allege that Su Bin worked with two unnamed Chinese hackers to get the data between 2009 and 2013 and that he attempted to sell some of the information to state-owned Chinese companies.

This case underscore the importance for companies in high value technologies to:

a) Conduct in depth due diligence investigations on all of their vendors.

b) Restrict network access by implementing least privilege rules.

The three hackers targeted fighter jets, such as the F-22 from Lockheed Martin and the F-35 as well as Boeing’s C-17 military cargo aircraft program.

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As well, they stole 20 gigabytes of date from a US military contractor via the company’s FTP server, acquired a list of contractors and suppliers and had access to a Russian-India joint missile development program (Brahmos Aerospace?) by controlling the company’s website and “awaiting the opportunity to conduct internal penetration”.

Su Bin’s arrest marks the first time that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has issued an arrest warrant for a foreigner charged with an act of cyber-espionage via a network attack that had until now been attributed to states.

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While this is the first criminal complaint that describes “hackers for hire” or espionage-as-a-service, this type of criminal activity is neither new nor exclusive to China.

Hackers for hire operate in the following manner:

Their target selection is determined by the science and technology priorities of their potential customers.

The hackers establish “technology bases” and hop servers outside of their native nation and “machine rooms” with legal status in cities back home.

They focus on those contractors which are among the top 50 arms companies.

Cyber security companies who research cyber threats should study this criminal complaint closely.

Intelligence companies worldwide need to find ways to differentiate the activities of a nation-state with those of a for-profit hacker group, criminal organization or other alternative entities engaging in acts of cyber espionage.

US Department of Justice spokesman Marc Raimondi said that the conspirators are alleged to have accessed the computer networks of US defence contractors without authorization and stolen data related to military aircraft and weapons systems.

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“We remain deeply concerned about cyber-enabled theft of sensitive information and we have repeatedly made it clear that the United States will continue using all the tools our government possesses to strengthen cyber security and confront cybercrime.”

Boeing said in a statement that the company cooperated with investigators and will continue to do so to hold accountable “individuals who perpetrate economic espionage or trade secret theft against US companies.”

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“We appreciate that the government brought its concerns about a potential compromise of our protected computer systems to our attention.”

None of the claims have been proven in court.

The New York Times reported that Chinese hackers broke into the computer networks of the Office of Personnel Management earlier in March with the intention of accessing the files of thousands of federal employees who had applied for top secret security clearances.

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The hackers gained access to some of the agency`s databases before the threat was detected and blocked.

The Chinese community in Canada is one of the largest overseas Chinese communities, the 2nd largest overseas Chinese community in North America after the United States and the 7th largest worldwide.

Canadians of Chinese descent make up about 4% of the Canadian population, or 1.3 million people.

The Chinese Canadian community is the largest ethnic group of Asian Canadians – 40% of the Asian Canadian population.

Chinese have been a part of the Canadian mosaic as early as 1788.

The highest concentration of Chinese Canadians is in Vancouver, where 1 in 5 residents is Chinese, prompting other Canadians to nickname Vancouver “Hongcouver”.

Clockwise from top: Downtown Vancouver as seen from the southern shore of False Creek, The University of British Columbia, Lions Gate Bridge, a view from the Granville Street Bridge, Burrard Bridge, The Millennium Gate (Chinatown), and totem poles in Stanley Park

According to the Canadian Ethnic Diversity Survey of 2002, 76% of Chinese Canadians said they had a strong sense of belonging to Canada, yet maintaining a strong sense of belonging to their ethnic culture.

Chinese Canadians are active in Canadian society.

Many of them vote in federal and provincial elections and participate in gatherings such as sports teams or community organizations.

Sadly 1 in 3 Chinese Canadians reported that they had experienced discrimination, prejudice or unfair treatment based on their ethnicity, race, religion, language or accent.

Dandong, China, 4 August 2014

An obscure port tucked away in the corner of southeastern Liaoning Province at the confluence of the Yalu River and the Yellow Sea, Dandong‘s interest to travellers lies in the city’s proximity to North Korea and its convenience as a departure point for the Changbai Shan Nature Reserve eight hours distant by bus.

View of Dandong's skyline on the Yalu River

The North Korean city of Sinuiju (Chinese: Xinyizhou) lies on the other side of the Yalu River, so the Chinese come to Dandong (“red east”) just to see the border of their country.

Flag of North Korea

Above: Flag of North Korea, or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

A strong Korean influence can be felt in Dandong, from shops to restaurants.

Yalujiang Park is an appealing riverfront park that is a favourite with tourists posing for the standard “I visited the Sino-Korean border.” shot.

After the start of the First Sino-Japanese War in 1894, this region was occupied by Japan who built an iron bridge leading to North Korea.

From November 1950 to February 1951, this bridge along with a younger Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge was “accidentally” bombed by the United States during the Korean War.

(Americans also “accidentally” bombed the airstrip at Dandong.)

Even though the Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge was rebuilt, the remains of the Japanese-built iron bridge remain and now serve as a war monument.

The Koreans dismantled the Japanese bridge as far as the mid-river boundary line, leaving only a row of support columns.

On the Chinese side, tourists can wander along the remains of the original Broken Bridge, from dawn to dusk, and see shrapnel pockmarks along the bridge until it ends mid-river.

The Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge runs parallel to the remains of the Japanese bridge.

The Korean War, from the Chinese and North Korean perspectives, is recorded in the city’s huge macabre Museum to Commemorate Aiding Korea Against US Aggression in a compound northwest of the city, close to the 53-metre high square column Resist America, Aid Korea Memorial.

This gleaming museum, built in 1993, has nine exhibition halls on the Korean War, full of maps, plans, dioramas, machine guns, hand grenades, gory photographs, “Defeat Wolf-hearted America” spelled out on marble, a trench simulation, an impressive revolving panorama showing Korean and Chinese soldiers hammering American aggressors, North Korean folk art including dolls and children’s shoes and statues of valiant Chinese and Korean soldiers.

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Everything is labelled in Chinese and Korean, with the exception of the Chinese propaganda leaflets dropped behind enemy lines in which worried American wives wonder what their husbands are fighting for, and the United Nations official declaration of war – the only written record in the entire museum that mentions the small trifling detail that it was the North Koreans who kicked off the War by invading the South.

A couple of MiGs and Red Army tanks sit in a compound to the side of the Museum.

At the entrance to the compound, next to Chinese President Jiang Ze Min’s large plaque of calligraphy swearing eternal Sino-North Korean friendship, ice-cold Coca-Colas are for sale.

Behind the Museum, a gleaming structure marks a graveyard containing the remains of more than 10,000 Chinese soldiers.

The promenade along the Yalu River is packed with games, parks, modern restaurants offering freshwater fish or Korean barbeque and the Hong Kong Coffee House with strong Korean coffee and the latest North Korean news on TV.

One of Dandong’s top-rated destinations on TripAdvisor is Peter`s Coffee House, owned by Julia and Kevin Garratt of Vancouver and named after one of their sons.

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Peter’s Coffee House is a hub for expats, local Chinese curious about the outside world, state security agents suspicious of the staff and customers, and the occasional North American diplomat.

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“Down by the riverfront Peter`s Coffee House, at 103 Binjiang Zhong Lu, open from 0800 to 2200, Monday to Saturday, noon to 2200 on Sunday, is a friendly café run by a longterm Canadian expat family.

In addition to its excellent coffee, Peter`s serves milkshakes and sodas, authentic Western baked goods, a fine all-day breakfast, burgers and sandwiches.

This is also the place to go for local information and restaurant recommendations.” (http://www.peterscoffeehouse.com)

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Canadian Christian aid workers Julia and Kevin Garratt lived in China on and off for 30 years, raised their four children there and moved their family from Vancouver to Dandong in 2007.

Kevin Garratt and his wife Julia pose for a portrait in the backyard of a home they're staying at after returning to Canada. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

Julia taught international trade and management at a local university while Kevin ran the café, organizing weekly “English Corner” language exchanges.

In their spare time, the Garratts volunteered around Dandong, often taking Chinese orphans ice skating.

The Garratts wanted to address the suffering of those living across the border by providing aid to orphanages and a school for the disabled in North Korea.

The Garratts considered China their home, as do the 300,000 Canadians living in China.

(Most Canadians live in Hong Kong, Beijing or Shanghai, so it can be imagined that the gritty border town of Dandong might have regarded the Garratts as highly unusual but generally not unwelcome.

For two Canadians remain etched in Chinese consciousness: Dr. Henry Norman Bethune and Dashan.

Norman Bethune (1890 – 1939) was a Canadian physician, medical innovator and noted anti-fascist.

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Above: Dr. Norman Bethune (1890 – 1930)

He first came to international prominence for his service as a frontline surgeon supporting the democratically-elected Republican government and their Loyalist troops during the Spanish Civil War, but it was his service with the Communist Eighth Route Army during the Second Sino-Japanese War that would earn him enduring acclaim.

Dr. Bethune effectively brought modern medicine to rural China and often treated sick villagers as much as wounded soldiers.

His selfless commitment made a profound impression on the Chinese people, especially the Communist Party of China’s leader, Chairman Mao Zedong.

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Above: Chairman Mao Zedong (1893 – 1976)

The Chairman wrote a famous eulogy to Bethune, which was memorized by generations of Chinese people:

“Comrade Bethune’s spirit, his utter devotion to others without any thought of self, was shown in his great sense of responsibility in his work and his great warmheartedness towards all comrades and the people.

Every Communist must learn from him.

We must all learn the spirit of absolute selflessness from him.

With this spirit everyone can be very useful to the people.

A man’s ability may be great or small, but if he has this spirit, he is already noble-minded and pure, a man of moral integrity and above vulgar interests, a man who is of value to the people.”

Bethune is one of the few Westerners to whom China has dedicated statues, of which many have been erected in his honour throughout the country.

There are hospitals across China named after him and the Norman Bethune Medal is the highest medical honour in China.

Dashan is the Chinese stage name of Canadian Mark Henry Rowswell (born, nine days after yours truly, on 23 May 1965 in Ottawa) who works as a freelance performer in China.

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Relatively unknown in the West, Dashan is the most famous Western personality in China’s media industry, where he occupies a unique position as a foreign national who has become a bona fide domestic celebrity.

Dashan is best known for his mastery of Mandarin Chinese and is considered a true cultural ambassador through his work as a TV host and stand-up comedian done in Chinese.)

This evening the Garratts were invited to a restuarant dinner by Chinese acquaintances who told them they wanted advice about how their daughter could apply to the University of Toronto.

But the dinner was a trap.

When the restaurant elevator doors opened onto a crowd of people, many holding video cameras, Julia and Kevin thought they had stumbled into a wedding party.

But this was no celebration.

In a flash, the Garratts were snatched by men and shoved into separate cars.

They did not know they were in the hands of China’s feared Ministry of State Security.

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Above: Logo of the Chinese Ministry of State Security

They would not see each other for more than two years.

The men drove Julia, 55, to an office building and demanded that she sign a document stating that she agreed to be investigated.

“Investigated for what?”, Julia asked.

It was only after a translator said the words “suspect” and “spy” that Julia understood.

“I seriously thought they would realise that they had made a mistake, they would say sorry and we would go home.”

In another room, Kevin Garratt, 56, was hearing the same chilling accusations.

Scared and bewildered, the Garratts signed.

Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, 12 December 2016

Why were the Garratts taken?

The Garratts suspect they were unwitting pawns in a gambit by the Chinese government to prevent Canada from extraditing Su Bin to the United States.

Those supporting the Garratts say that the couple were simply chess pieces in a larger geopolitical skirmish.

“The Chinese made it clear that the Garratt case was designed to pressure Canada to block Su Bin’s extradition to the US.”, said James Zimmerman, an American lawyer in Beijing hired by the family to lobby Canadian and Chinese government officials for their release.

In an emailed statement about the Garratts’ detention, Global Affairs Canada, the department that handles Canada’s diplomatic relations, declined to comment on the question of an exchange, but said: “Senior government officials were raising the case at every opportunity.”

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The Chinese Embassy in Ottawa denied that the Garratts’ detention was linked to Mr. Su.

“We don’t think it is related to any other cases.”, an Embassy spokesman said in an email.

The Garratts’ account provides a rare glimpse into the workings of China`s opaque state security system.

Their interrogations also reveal clues about the vast reach of China’s global espionage network and the lengths to which the Chinese government will go to protect it.

During the couple’s months-long detention, they said they were frequently threatened with execution or told that they would be sent to a North Korean gulag.

The Garratts’ experience highlights the risks nations face in engaging with China.

According to the Garratts’ account, after signing the investigation document Kevin was driven to the couple’s apartment, where agents ransacked their possessions, grilled him about the contents of their kitchen cabinets and then carted off schoolbooks and computers in the family’s suitcases.

After a heated exchange, the men allowed Kevin to take a pair of Bibles back to the detention centre.

Julia was already at the compund, an extralegal detention centre on the outskirts of the city, confined to a separate isolation cell that had a couch, a bed and a small window covered in opaque plastic.

During the next six months, neither one knew where the other was.

But neither was ever alone.

Rotating pairs of guards sat on the couch in each of these cells, staring intently at them and writing down their every move.

Harsh lights remained on 24 hours a day.

To stay sane, Julia prayed, read books provided by the Canadian Consulate and each day drew a cryptic picture of something she was grateful for in the back of her Bible, afraid anything written would be confiscated.

They each faced daily six-hour interrogations by a team of three men.

Armed with years of emails, Skype messages and surveillance records, the interrogators accused the Garratts of “hosting” foreign diplomats at their coffee shop, taking orders from Canada’s intelligence agency (the Canadian Security Intelligence Service – CSIS) and stealing state secrets.

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The agents showed them photos of United States and Canadian diplomats who had visited their coffee shop.

The interrogators claimed Kevin’s photos of street scenes in Dandong and views of North Korea across the Yalu River were espionage, even though tourists on riverboats took the same photos every day.

Security officers used a variety of coercion tactics.

In one exchange, the interrogators described a 2009 meeting in Vancouver between the couple and a CSIS agent who had wanted to ensure their volunteer work in North Korea was not violating United Nations sanctions.

When Julia asked how the interrogators had known about the meeting, one of them said:

“We have people in the US, Canada, everywhere.”

Canadian officials declined to discuss the Garratts’ treatment, but the couple’s accounts squares with those of many people who have been in Chinese detention.

In February 2015, Julia was released on bail and returned to their apartment.

Meanwhile, Kevin was charged with espionage and transferred to a prison medical ward.

During the 19 months he spent there, a rumour circulated among the guards that he would be released as part of a prisoner exchange.

But in February 2016, Mr. Su waived his challenge to extradition and cut a deal with the United States.

Once that happened…

“Beijing was stuck with a weak case of espionage against the Garratts and little bargaining leverage to get much of anything out of Ottawa.”, said Mr. Zimmerman, the American lawyer.

At the end of August 2016, just days before Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrived in Hangzhou, China, for the 11th meeting of the Group of Twenty (G20) – an international forum for governments and central bank governors from 20 major economies, with the aim of studying, reviewing and promoting high-level discussion of policy issues pertaining to the promotion of international financial stability – Julia was allowed to leave China.

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Above: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

The G20 Hangzhou summit was held on 4-5 September 2016.

Two weeks later, Kevin was taken to court, where a judge read out an eight-page guilty verdict in Chinese.

The next morning, he was put on a plane bound for Tokyo, but only after agreeing to pay more than $14,000 in fines and signing a document promising not to speak with the news media about his detention.

Much of that money had been dedicated to a North Korean orphanage.

Julia and Kevin were finally reunited in Canada in September.

Though the Garratts are now back in Canada, they say they do not feel entirely safe, describing a series of unnerving incidents suggesting that the Chinese government may be trying to keep tabs on them and their relatives.

In recent months, relatives have encountered strange interference on their phones, computers have gone haywire and strange cars parked outside their homes drive away when someone approaches.

“Even now we live under a cloud.”, Kevin Garratt said.

Most of all, the Garratts feel grief at losing the lives they built over 30 years.

“That’s the sadness that overwhelms us.

We were just trying to help people in need.

That’s all we did.”, Kevin Garratt said.

So how should businesses and governments deal with China, a country that is both a strategic partner as well as a potential adversary?

A country that is surpassing the United States as the world’s largest economy?

Flag of the United States

A country whose investment in its military continues to rapidly increase, to perhaps achieve military equality with the US in 15 to 20 years?

A one-party socialist regime with a poor human rights record?

I personally teach for three companies in Switzerland which do business in China.

China is Switzerland’s top trading partner in Asia.

There are approximately 300 Swiss firms with more than 700 branches operating in China with a total employment of over 55,000 people.

China is the second largest foreign creditor of the United States, yet US President Donald Trump continues to make comments that strain Sino-American relations and have some Americans anticipating potential trade or military conflict between China and the United States in the near future.

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China is currently Canada’s second largest trading partner.

Trying to understand China feels as difficult as trying to train a dragon, but I believe if we can learn from those who have spent time there and those who have studied Chinese history and culture we might be able to find a solution that enables nations and individuals to have an economic partnership with the Chinese, while encouraging them to develop their country for all its people within their sphere of influence, improve their human rights record, govern well for the good of everyone and build a world that is safer and more secure.

If our leaders could admit that even the most capable must sometimes ask for help and that dragons need be handled carefully, then progress rather than destruction could be their legacy.

(To be continued…)

Sources: Wikipedia / Lonely Planet China / Rough Guide China / Jeffrey Carr,”Su Bin, Lode-Tech and Privatizing Cyber Espionage in the PRC”, Digital Dao (electronic blog), 14 July 2014 / CBC News, “Su Bin, Chinese man accused by FBI of hacking, in custody in BC”, 12 July 2014 / Dan Levin, “China freed Canadians, but ‘even now we live under a cloud'”, New York Times, 3 January 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Revolution of One: Seize the Day

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 19 March 2017

Everyone has their own ideas about what is wrong with the world.

"The Blue Marble" photograph of Earth, taken by the Apollo 17 mission. The Arabian peninsula, Africa and Madagascar lie in the upper half of the disc, whereas Antarctica is at the bottom.

We will argue amongst ourselves about which are the most important issues.

But I think we all agree that things could be a lot better than they are.

Something really needs to be done.

We are all fired up with passion, with a thirst to change the world.

But then what?

Do we just leave it to governments and international institutions?

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Flag of United Nations Arabic: الأمم المتحدةSimplified Chinese: 联合国French: Organisation des Nations uniesRussian: Организация Объединённых НацийSpanish: Naciones Unidas

Or are there things we can do that will actually make a difference?

The issues that confront us are HUGE, complicated, difficult.

It is hard to believe that anything we can do will have a meaningful impact.

But…there are a lot of us in the world.

A lot of people doing a lot of little things could have a HUGE impact.

By doing something, we also demonstrate that lots of people really do care.

That isn’t only a world of sadness and sorrow, of only the bad and corrupt, it is also filled with average, ordinary, loving, compassionate people.

So where should you begin?

Begin with you.

San Francisco, California, 26 November 1974

San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge from Marin Headlands

“What would happen if I forced myself over a period of several months to sluice my mind the way I sluiced dirt in my gold-hunting days, using a journal as a sluicebox to trap whatever flakes of insight might turn up?”

Eric Hoffer asked himself this question in his journal.

He did NOT expect a happy outcome.

“I had the feeling that I had been scraping the bottom of the barrel and I doubted whether I would ever get involved in a new seminal train of thought.

Would it be possible to reanimate and cultivate the alertness to the first faint stirrings of thought?”

No philosopher’s beginnings were messier than Eric Hoffer’s.

“You might say I went straight from the nursery to the gutter.”, Hoffer confessed in an interview.

Hoffer was born in 1898 in the Bronx of New York City to Knut and Elsa Hoffer.

four-story houses along a city street

His parents were immigrants from Alsace.

Flag of Alsace

Above: Flag of Alsace, France

By age 5, Hoffer could already read in both English and his parents’ native German.

That same year, Elsa fell down the stairs with him in her arms.

She did not recover and died in the second year after the fall.

Hoffer lost his sight.

At the age of 9, Hoffer was told by Martha, who raised him after Elsa’s death and the person he trusted the most, that –  with his short-lived parents’ genes –  he would definitely not live past the age of 40.

“I believed her absolutely.

When I was almost 20, my life was half over, so what was the point of getting excited about anything?”

Hoffer’s sight inexplicably returned when he was 15.

Fearing he might lose it again, Hoffer seized on the opportunity to read as much as he could.

His recovery proved permanent, but Hoffer never abandoned his reading habit.

Hoffer was a young man when he also lost his father Knut.

The cabinetmaker’s union paid for Knut Hoffer’s funeral and gave Eric about $300 insurance money.

“I made up my mind to go to California because California was the place for the poor.

Flag of California

So I bought a bus ticket to Los Angeles and I landed on Skid Row and I stayed there for the next ten years.”

San Julian Street south of 5th, part of the Skid Row area

He still kept reading, occasionally writing, and working at odd jobs.

In 1931, Hoffer considered suicide by drinking a solution of oxalic acid, but he could not bring himself to do it.

Toxic

He left Skid Row and became a migrant worker, following the harvests in California.

Hoffer did only manual work: dishwashing, claw-the-Earth prospecting, railroading, lumbering, migrant farmwork and later mostly waterfront day labour on the San Francisco docks.

A lumberjack c. 1900

A loner all his life, Hoffer was entirely self-educated.

Hoffer was a voracious reader.

He had library cards from virtually every library up and down the California railroad lines.

There was no subject he was afraid to tackle, no author who intimidated him.

Yet he felt no compulsion to pursue, let alone admire, certain authors generally considered essential reading for an intellectual.

Hoffer freely admitted never to have read Freud and confessed he “never got anything from Plato.”

Plato Silanion Musei Capitolini MC1377.jpg

Above: Bust of Plato (428 BC – 348 BC)

“Socrates was supposed to be a workingman, wasn’t he?

A bust of Socrates

Above: Bust of Socrates (470 BC – 399 BC)

A stonemason or something.

But this is not the way a self-taught mason would argue.

He would tell stories to illustrate his points.

How can you convince anybody by going after him the way Socrates did – another question, another question – showing him how stupid he is?”

Prospecting for gold in the mountains and snowed in for the winter, Hoffer read Montaigne’s Essays and Hoffer had his first flash that he himself might become a writer:

Montaigne Essais Manuscript.jpg

Above: Original manuscript of Michel de Montaigne’s Essais

“Here was this 16th century aristocrat…and I found out that he was talking about nothing else but Eric Hoffer!

Michel de Montaigne 1.jpg

Above: Michel de Montaigne (1533 – 1592)

That’s how I learned about human brotherhood.”

Montaigne impressed Hoffer deeply and Hoffer often made reference to him.

He also developed a respect for America’s underclass, whom he said was “lumpy with talent.”

Hoffer was influenced by his modest roots and working class surroundings, seeing in it vast human potential.

“When I got out of the woods and back to town, I had money.

First I bought all new clothes and threw the old ones away.

Then I went to the Japanese barber where he and his wife not only cut my hair but got way down into my ears and nose to clean them out.

Then I got myself a room halfway between the library and the whorehouse.

Both were equally important.”

Hoffer wrote a novel, Four Years in Young Hank’s Life, and a novella, Chance and Mr. Kunze, both partly autobiographical.

He also penned a long article based on his experiences in a federal work camp, “Tramps and Pioneers”.

Hoffer tried to enlist in the US Army at age 40 during World War II but was rejected because of a hernia.

Wappen des Department of the Army

He began work as a longshoreman on the docks of San Francisco in 1943 and began to write seriously.

“A common labourer who had been blind in childhood, who had then recovered his eyesight and proceeded to educate himself entirely by his own efforts, whose reading had been broader and deeper than that of many leading intellectuals in United States and Europe, whose ideas were frequently more penetrating and provocative than theirs, and whose prose style was a monument to economy and precision.

‘Who the hell is Eric Hoffer?’, I asked myself as I read his books and how did he happen?” (James Koerner)

How Hoffer “happened” – how he found his ideas, cultivated them and did his research – was outrageously unconventional and wonderfully quickening for our own creativity.

“I’m not a professional philosopher. 

My train of thought grew out of my life just the way a leaf or a branch grows out of a tree.”

Hoffer’s thinking and writing occurred as a regular part of his life.

In one of his books Thinking and Working on the Waterfront, Hoffer wrote:

“My writing is done in railroad yards while waiting for a freight, in the fields while waiting for a truck and at noon after lunch.

Now and then I take a day off to ‘put myself in order’.

I go through the notes, pick and discard.

The residue is usually a few paragraphs.

My mind must always have something to chew on.

I think on man, America and the world.

It is not as pretentious as it sounds.”

Hoffer described how a specific key idea came to him out of an immediate experience.

One day on the docks he drew as partner the worst worker there, a clumsy and inept man avoided by everyone.

“We went to work and started to build our load.

On the docks it’s very simple – you build your side of the load and your partner builds his side, half and half.

But that day I noticed something funny.

My partner was always across the aisle, giving aid to somebody else.

He wasn’t doing his share of the work on our load, but he was helping others with theirs.

There was no reason to think he disliked me.

But I remember how that day I got started on a beautiful train of thought.

I started to think why it was that this fellow, who couldn’t do his own duty, was so eager to do things above and beyond his duty.

And the way I explained it was that if you are clumsy in doing your duty, you will be ridiculous, but that you will never be ridiculous in helping others – nobody will laugh at you.

That man was trying to drift into a situation where his clumsiness would not be conspicuous, would not be blamed.

And once I started to think like that, I abandoned him entirely.

My head was in orbit!

I started to think about avant-garde, about pioneering in art, in literature.

Above: Film The Love of Zero (1927)

I thought that all people without real talent, without skill, whether as writers or artists and so on, will try to drift into a situation where their clumsiness will be natural and expected.

What situation will that be?

Of course – innovation.

Everybody expects the new to be ill-shapen, to be clumsy.

I said to myself, the innovators, with a few exceptions, are probably people without real talent and that’s why practically all avant-garde art is ugly.

But these people, these innovators, have a necessary role to play because they keep things from ossifying, they keep the gates open and then eventually a man with real talent will move in and make use of the techniques worked out by clumsy people.

A man of talent can make use of any technique.

Oh, I worked and worked on this train of thought.

I was excited all day long and I have a whole aphorism that came as a result.

When I got back to my room all I had to do was write it down.

It often happened to me just that way – and all on the company’s time!”

To give his ideas finished form, Hoffer retreated to Golden Gate Park, following a favourite path down to where the Park meets the ocean.

GoldenGateBridge-001.jpg

The walk took him about an hour from where the bus left him at the entrance, which was just right for chewing over the concept or problem he had selected for scrutiny.

Then, sitting on a bench facing the Pacific, he transcribed the product of his thinking in his notebook, “adding crumb to crumb”.

Hoffer hated “intellectuals”, but by the term “intellectual”, he did NOT mean men and women of the mind who pursue truth and understanding for its own sake – he exemplified that breed.

The criterion for “intellectual” in his lexicon was not a passion for truth but a passion for power, especially power over people.

He defined an “intellectual” as “a self-appointed soul engineer who sees it as his sacred duty to operate on mankind with an axe.”

“I am not venting any personal grievance against the intellectual.

They have treated me fine, but anyone who wants to be a member of an elite goes against my grain, and that’s what the intellectuals who now make most of the noise really want.”, Hoffer insisted.

Hoffer knew from his own experience that intelligence, perceptiveness, understanding, mental capacity, indeed wisdom are far more widely diffused among people than we usually imagine.

“Every ‘intellectual’ thinks that talent, that genius is a rare exception.

It’s not true.

Talent and genius have been wasted on an enormous scale throughout our history.

This is all I know for sure.”

Hoffer knew for sure because he developed his own ideas through discussion with the men with whom he worked and spent his leisure time – suggesting that we too might find far more intellectual stimulation among such people than we might expect.

“I have never felt cut off intellectually, but I have never associated with literary people.

I could always talk to the people around me and discuss my ideas with them.

All experiences are equidistant from an idea if your mind is keyed up.

The crucial factor is not the set of circumstances in which we find ourselves, but the ‘keyed-up’ mind.”

In a nutshell, keeping a journal is the best way to cultivate your own “alertness to the first, faint stirrings of thought.”

Above: Facsimile of orignal diary of Anne Frank on display in Berlin

“It is more than six months since I started this diary.

I wanted to find out whether the necessity to write something significant every day would revive my flagging alertness to the first, faint stirrings of new ideas.

I also hoped that some new insight caught in flight might be the seed of a train of thought that could keep me going for years.

Did it work?

The diary flows, reads well and has something striking on every page.

Here and there I suggest that a new idea could be the subject of a book, but only one topic, ‘the role of the human factor’, gives me the feeling that I have bumped against something which is, perhaps, at the core of our present crisis.”

Virtually every important writer and thinker has kept a journal.

For example, Leonardo da Vinci, Abraham Maslow, Franz Kafka, Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoyevski, Francoise du Maurier, Eugene Delacroix, William Gibson, Paul Gauguin, John Steinbeck and Gertrude Stein all kept notebooks or journals in which they shared their thoughts and work, in steps small enough so that we can easily follow.

“Every intellectual used to keep a journal and many have been published and are more interesting and more instructive than the final formal perfected pages which are so often phony in a way – so certain, so structured, so definite.

The growth of thought from its beginnings is also instructive – maybe even more so for some purposes.” (Abraham Maslow)

Abraham Maslow.jpg

Above: Abraham Maslow (1908 – 1970)

You will gradually find your own best method of generating thoughts.

The crucial thing is to start.

It is the doing that teaches us how.

“You might start by clipping and pasting newspaper articles that interest you for the next 30 days.

At the end of that time, see if there isn’t any trend suggestive of a deep-seated interest or natural inclimation.

Keep alert each day…” (Dr. Ari Kiev)

A book I cannot imagine living without is a psychology / philosophy book by Felice Leonardo Buscaglia, aka Leo Buscaglia, with the simple title: Love.

Leo F. Buscaglia

Above: Professor Leo Buscaglia (1924 – 1998)

I love this warm and wonderful book and the way Buscaglia envelops the reader in his warm embrace through his quiet simple manner.

“…they didn’t know about Papa’s rule that before we left the table, we had to tell him something new we had learned that day.

We thought that this was really horrible – what a crazy thing to do!

While my sisters and I were washing our hands and fighting over the soap, I’d say:

‘Well, we’d better learn something.’

We’d dash to the encyclopedia and flip to something like ‘The population of Iran is…’

Flag of Iran

Above: Flag of the Islamic Republic of Iran

We’d mutter to ourselves ‘The population of Iran is…’

We’d sit down and after a dinner of great big dishes of spaghetti and mounds of veal so high you couldn’t even see across the table, Papa would sit back and take out his little black cigar and say, “Felice, what did you learn new today?”

And I’d drone ‘The population of Iran is…’

Nothing was insignificant to this man.

He’d turn to my mother and say, ‘Rosa, did you know that?’

She’d reply, impressed, ‘No.’

We’d think ‘Gee, these people are crazy.’

But I’ll tell you a secret.

Even now going to bed at night, so exhausted as I often am, I still lie back and say to myself, ‘Felice, old boy, what did you learn new today?‘.

And if I can’t think of anything, I’ve got to get a book and flip to something before I can get to sleep.

Maybe this is what learning is all about.’

(Leo Buscaglia, Love)

I think keeping a journal is more than just recounting the events of your day.

It is about what you have learned from those events and from that day.

“He had no education, save that of experience.”

(Mahatma Gandhi, An Autobiography)

Gandhi’s father was not educated beyond the elementary grades and had nothing more than an education that gave him basic literacy.

“Of history and geography he was innocent.”, Gandhi wrote.

Nevertheless. he judged that his father’s “rich experience of practical affairs” enabled him to solve “the most intricate questions” and prepared him to manage business.

Our age is obsessed with diplomas and certificates, which are, certainly, of value.

However, it is a big mistake to minimize the value of experience – the best teacher of all.

Let your journal show you what issue(s) are important to you, that deserve your time, attention and passion.

Use your journal to think about your issue(s) and why you want to see change.

Find out what you believe in.

Find something YOU wholeheartedly believe in – and most likely others will too.

So, tell me…

What did you learn today?

Sources: Wikipedia / Eric Hoffer, Working and Thinking on the Waterfront / Eric Hoffer, Before the Sabbath / Mahatma Gandhi, An Autobiography / Alan Axelrod, Gandhi CEO / Ronald Gross, The Independent Scholar’s Handbook / Lucy-Anne Holmes, How to Start a Revolution / Michael Norton, 365 Ways to Change the World / Adam Kerr, “All You Need is Cafuné”, The Chronicles of Canada Slim, 10 October 2015)

 

 

Behind the veil: Islam(ophobia) for dummies

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 1 March 2017

There are moments when the well runs dry, the fire is out, the spirit extinguished.

Moments when I look at this blank screen and ask myself:

What should I write about?

Regular readers of my blog (both of them?!) patiently wait for some blog series to continue and/or conclude – That Which Survives (Brussels/Brontes), The sick man of Europe and the sons of Karbala (Turkish/Kurdish relations), The Underestimated (Switzerland) – but I seek to find opportunities when writing upon these themes seems appropo for the current time and events of the moment.

On a regular basis, I buy daily newspapers and weekly newsmagazines in the hopes that they will generate ideas of themes to discuss, but these media must somehow move me to react strongly to provoke words and thoughts out of me.

This morning I was uninspired.

Completely.

Though President Trump (two words I never thought I’d see together / two words that just seem wrong together) and his first speech to Congress yesterday seemed to be all anyone could talk about – what did he say? what did he not say? what did it all mean? – I honestly could not decide what I could say in this blog that hadn’t already been said by professionals more cleverer than I.

Coat of arms or logo

I had worked hard on my last blog post Bleeding Beautiful, trying to bring to the reader a semblance of connectiveness to the shooting of an Indian IT specialist in Kansas, a sense of place and time to the incident and a sensory sensitivity to help the reader relate his/her own life to the incident.

From left: Srinivas Kuchibhotla, who died; Alok Madasani, who was injured; and Ian Grillot, also injured

From left: Srinivas Kuchibhotia, who died; Alok Madasani, who was injured; Ian Grillot, also injured

So my mind felt it had to take a step back and meditate for a time before finding, yet again, the passion and the patience it takes to weave words into worthwhile reading.

Then a visit to Konstanz generated three sources of inspiration: We Are The Change We Seek: The Speeches of Barack Obama, a back-ordered copy of Huston Smith’s The World’s Religions, and the latest edition of Foreign Affairs.

Then I knew what I wanted to share with you, my gentle readers…

America has become afraid.

Flag of the United States

9/11 was a wake-up call…

Americans could be attacked, not only in fields foreign or upon exotic embassies or military machines, but in US streets, in US fields, fury visited from the skies and visited from within.

Not even the Second World War, with its millions of lives destroyed, had shown Americans attacked on the soil of the continental United States, if one does not include war with neighbours or amongst brothers.

But the images of passenger jets striking the Twin Towers was so shocking, so powerful, that even Presidents on tour could only sit stunned with disbelief, trying to grasp the surrealness of such an unreal situation.

It has been established that credit has been taken by and blame leveled at al Qaeda, who killed 3,000 people on that day –  innocent men, women and children from the US and other nations who had done nothing to harm anybody.

Flag of Jihad.svg

Above: Black standard of al Qaeda

al Qaeda chose to murder, claim credit for the bloodshed and state their determination to kill on a massive scale.

Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda, or Boko Borom, or ISIS/ISIL/Daesh to lay down their arms.

Many Muslims protest against and publicly condemn the twisted fantasies of extremists who commit acts of terrorism.

Others say that these types are not true Muslims.

“Those people have nothing to do with Islam.” is the refrain.

And no one seems to see the irony that, of all the non-Western religions, Islam stands closest to the West, both geographically and ideologically.

Despite Christian, Jew and Muslim all descending from the family of Abraham religiously and Greek thought philosophically, Islam remains the most difficult religion for the West to understand.

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 2 March 2017

“No part of the world is more hopelessly and systematically and stubbornly misunderstood by us than that complex of religion, culture and geography known as Islam.”

(Meg Greenfield, Newsweek, 26 March 1979)

Proximity is no guarantee of concord, of harmony.

More homicides occur within families than anywhere else.

Common borders have given rise to border disputes.

Raids lead to counterraids and escalate into vendettas, blood feuds and war.

There have been times and places Christians, Muslims and Jews have all lived together harmoniously, but for a good part of the last fifteen hundred years, Islam and the West have been at war.

People seldom have, and often do not want, a fair picture of their enemies.

It is easier to misunderstand while remaining faithful to our deepest values, but we need to discover through dialogue, observation and thought that there doesn’t have to be conflict between Islam and the rest of the world.

“As a student of history, I know civilisation’s debt to Islam.

It was Islam that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment.

It was innovation in Muslim communities that developed the order of algebra, our magnetic compass and tools of navigation, our mastery of pens and printing, our understanding of how disease spreads and how it can be healed.

Islamic culture has given us majestic arches and soaring spires, timeless poetry and cherished music, elegant calligraphy and places of peaceful contemplation.

Throughout history, Islam has demonstrated, through words and deeds, the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality.

Islam has always been a part of America’s story.

The first nation to recognise the United States was Morocco.

Flag of Morocco

Above: The flag of Morocco

In signing the Treaty of Tripoli in 1796, President John Adams wrote:

Official Presidential portrait of John Adams (by John Trumbull, circa 1792).jpg

Above: John Adams (1735 – 1826)(2nd US President: 1735 – 1826)

“The United States has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Muslims.”

And since America was founded, Muslims have enriched the United States…

partnership between America and Islam must be based on what Islam is, not what it isn’t.”

Obama standing with his arms folded and smiling

Barack Obama (born 1961)(44th US President: 2009 – 2017)

(Barack Obama, “A New Beginning”, Cairo, Egypt, 4 June 2009)

“Although I loathe what terrorists do, I realise that, according to the minimal entry requirements for Islam, they are Muslims.

Islam demands only that a believer affirm that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is his messenger.

Violent jihadists certainly believe this.

That is why major religious institutions in the Islamic world have rightly refused to label them as non-Muslims, even while condemning their actions…

…Even if their readings of Islamic Scripture seem warped and out of date, they have gained traction…

…As the extremists’ ideas have spread, the circle of Muslims clinging to other conceptions of Islam has begun to shrink.

And as it has shrunk, it has become quieter and quieter, until only the extremists seem to speak and act in the name of Islam.”

Above: United Arab Emirates Ambassador to Russia Omar Saif Ghobash (born 1971, Ambassador since 2009)(on the left) with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (on the right)

(Omar Saif Ghobash, “Advice for Young Muslims”, Foreign Affairs, January/February 2017)

“The very name of Islam means “the peace that comes when one’s life is surrendered to God”.

This makes Islam – together with Buddhism, from budh (awakening) – one of the two religions that is named after the attribute it seeks to cultivate.

In Islam’s case, life’s total surrender to God.

Successfully surrendering one’s life to God requires an understanding of what it is God wants.

Until the 20th century, Islam was called Muhammadism by the West, which to Muslims is not only inaccurate but offensive.

It is inaccurate, Muslims say, because Muhammad didn’t create Islam.

God did.

Muhammad was merely God’s mouthpiece.

The title of Muhammadism is offensive, because it conveys the impression that Islam focuses on a man rather than on God.

To name Christianity after Christ is appropriate, for Christians believe that Christ was/is God.

To call Islam Muhammadism is like calling Christianity St. Paulism.

Islam begins not with Muhammad in 6th century Arabia, but with God.

In the beginning God…

Islam calls God Allah by joining the definite article al (the) with Ilah (God)- literally Allah means the God, not a god, for there is only one.

The blend of admiration, respect and affection that Muslims feel for Muhammad is impressive.

They see him as a man who experienced life in exceptional range – shepherd, merchant, hermit, exile, soldier, lawmaker, prophet, priest, king, mystic, husband, father, widower – but they never mistake Muhammad for the earthly centre of their faith.

That place is reserved for the scripture of Islam, the Koran.

The word al-qur’an in Arabic means the recitation.

As discomfitting as it is for Christians to contemplate, the Koran is perhaps the most recited, the most read, book in the world.

The Koran is the world’s most memorised book and possibly the book that exerts the most influence on those who read it.

Muslims tend to read the Koran literally.

In almost exactly the way Christians consider Jesus to have been the human incarnation of God, Muslims consider the Koran to be the human recitation of God.

If Christ is God incarnate, the Koran is God inlibriate.”

Huston Smith.jpg

Above: Huston Smith (1919 – 2016)

(Huston Smith, The World’s Religions)

In my personal library here in Landschlacht I have a number of books on the topic of religion, including the scriptures of Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism.

I have different versions of the Christian Bible and I also possess books that examine morality from secular and atheistic points of view.

But I am neither a practioner of, nor scholar of, religion.

Rather I seek to understand the power of religion upon so many people on this planet, in a humble quest to seek out a kernel of commonality and truth that might, in time, unite us in ways the conflict of faiths cannot.

The Koran, even in English translation, is not an easy read.

It is not the kind of book one can read in bed on a rainy day.

Nothing but a sense of duty could carry an agnostic Canadian through the Koran.

Flag of Canada

“The European will peruse with impatience its endless incoherant rhapsody of fable and precept and declamation, which seldom excites a sentiment or an idea, which sometimes crawls in the dust and is sometimes lost in the clouds.”

Edward Emily Gibbon.jpg

Above: Edward Gibbon (1737 – 1794)

(Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire)

“The language in which the Koran was proclaimed, Arabic, is the key.

Muhammed asked his people:

“Do you ask for a greater miracle than this, O unbelieving people, than to have your language chosen as the language of that incomparable Book, one piece of which puts all your golden poetry to shame?” “

(Huston Smith, The World’s Religions)

“No people in the world are so moved by the word, spoken or written, as the Arabs.

Hardly any language seems capable of exercising over the minds of its users such irresistable influence as Arabic.”

(Philip Hitti, The Arabs: A Short History)

“Crowds in Cairo, Damascus or Baghdad can be stirred to the highest emotional pitch by statements that, when translated, seem lifeless and banal.

The rhythm, the melody, the rhyme of Arabic produces a powerful hypnotic effect.

The power of the Koran lies not only in the literal meaning of its words, but in the sound of the language in which it is recited.

Translation cannot convey the emotion, the fervor, the mystery that the Koran holds in its original Arabic.

This is why, in sharp contrast to Christians, who have translated their Bible into every script known to man, Muslims prefer to teach others the language in which they believe Allah spoke finally with incomparable force and directness.

The language of Islam remains a matter of sharp controversy.

Orthodox Muslims feel that the ritual use of the Koran must be in Arabic, but there are many who believe that those who do not know Arabic should read the Koran in translation.

A paper Quran opened halfwise on top of a brown cloth

Language is not the only barrier the Koran presents to outsiders, for its content is unlike other religious texts.

The Koran is not explicitly metaphysical like the Upanishads, not grounded in drama like the Hindu epics, nor historical narrative like Hebrew scriptures.

Unlike the Gospels of the New Testament or within the chapters of the Bhagavid-Gita, God is not revealed in human form within the Koran.

The overwhelming message of the Koran is to proclaim the unity, omnipotence, omniscience and mercy of God and the total dependence of human life upon God.

The Koran is essentially naked doctrine –  doctrine stripped of chronological order, doctrine stripped of epic character or drama, doctrine stripped of commentary and allusion.

In the Koran God speaks in the first person, describing Himself and making known His laws, directly to mankind through the words and the sounds of this holy book.”

(Huston Smith, The World’s Religions)

“The Qur’an does not document what it is other than itself.

It is not about the truth.

It is the truth.”

(Kenneth Cragg, Readings in the Qur’an)

“Islam does not apologise for itself, try to explain itself or attempt to seduce others into its fold by altering its form.

And for the non-Islamic outsider, it is this nonconformity, this inflexibility, that makes compassion and comprehension of Islam so very difficult.

Certainly it seems that the message of the Koran proclaiming the unity, omnipotence, omniscience and glory of Allah is uncompromising, but outsiders miss and misinterpret that Islam is more than the recognition of the majesty of Allah, Islam is the mercy of Allah manifested as Peace.

The Koran, 4/5 of the length of the New Testament, divided into 114 chapters (surahs), cites Allah’s compassion and mercy 192 times and Allah’s wrath and vengence only 17 times.

Is this Koranic description of Allah as “the Holy, the Peaceful, the Faithful, the Guardian over His servants, the Shelterer of the orphan, the Guide of the erring, the Deliverer from every affliction, the Friend of the bereaved, the Consoler of the afflicted” anything else but loving?

“In His hand is good, and He is the generous Lord, the Gracious, the Hearer, the Near-at-Hand, the Compassionate, the Merciful, the Very-forgiving, whose love for man is more tender than that of the mother bird for her young.” “

(Huston Smith, The World’s Religions)

Is this the Allah of jihadists?

“We need to speak out, but it is not enough to declare in public that Islam is not violent or radical or angry, that Islam is a religion of peace.

We need to take responsibility for the Islam of peace.

We need to demonstrate how it is expressed in our lives and the lives of those in our community.”

(Omar Saif Ghobash, “Advice for Young Muslims”, Foreign Affairs, January/February 2017)

“The use of force is one aspect of Islam that is often misunderstood and maligned by non-Muslims.

The Koran does not counsel turning the other cheek or pacifism.

It teaches forgiveness and the return of good for evil when the circumstances warrant it.

Muhammad left many traditions regarding the decent conduct of war.

Agreements are to be honoured and treachery avoided.

The wounded are not to be mutilated, nor the dead disfigured.

Women, children and the old are to be spared, as are orchards, crops and sacred objects.

The important question is the definition of a righteous war.

According to the Koran, a righteous war must either be defensive or to right a wrong.

The agressive and unrelenting hostility of Islam’s enemies forced Muhammad to seize the sword in self-defence, or, together with his entire community and his faith, be wiped from the face of the Earth.

That other religious teachers succumbed under force and became martyrs was to Muhammad no reason that he should do the same.

Having seized the sword in self-defence Muhammad held onto it to the end.

This much Muslims acknowledge.

Above: The Umayyad Empire at its greatest extent

But Muslims insist that while Islam has at times spread by the sword, Islam has mostly spread by persuasion and example.

“Let there be no compulsion in religion.” (Koran, al-Baqarah 256)

“To everyone have we given a law and a way.

And if God had pleased, he would have made all mankind one people of one religion.

But He has done otherwise, that He might try you in that which He has severally given to you.

Therefore press forward in good works.

Unto God shall you return and He will tell you that concerning which you disagree.” (Koran, al-Ma’ida 48)

“Will you then force men to believe when belief can come only from God?” (Muhammed quoted by Ameer Ali, The Spirit of Islam)

How well Muslims have lived up to Muhammad’s principles of toleration is a question of history that is far too complex to admit of a simple, objective and definitive answer.

Objective historians are of one mind in their verdict that, to put the matter minimally, Islam’s record on the use of force is no darker than that of Christianity.

Every religion at some stages in its career has been used by its professed adherents to mask aggression.

Islam is no exception.

Muslims deny that Islam’s record of intolerance and agression is greater than that of the other major religions.

Muslims deny that Western histories are fair to Islam in their accounts of its use of force.

Muslims deny that the blots in their record should be charged against their religion whose presiding ideal Muslims affirm in their standard greeting:

As-salamu ‘alaykum. (Peace be upon you)”

(Huston Smith, The World’s Religions)

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, 1 March 2017

“Two attacks on Jewish cemeteries in St. Louis and Philadelphia last week have resulted in an outpouring of more than $136,000 in donations from thousands of Muslims and others, who have pledged to financially support Jewish institutions if there are further attacks.

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Jewish organisations have reported a sharp increase in harassment.

The Jewish Community Center Association of North America, which represents Jewish community centres, said 21 Jewish institutions, including eight schools, had received bomb threats on Monday alone.

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Two Muslim activists, Linday Sarsour and Tarek El-Messidi, asked Muslims to donate $20,000 in a crowdfunding effort to repair hundreds of Jewish headstones that were toppled nead St. Louis last week.

That goal was reached in three hours.

El-Messidi said on Monday that the money raised would most likely be enough to repair the graves near St. Louis and in Philadelphia, where about 100 headstones were toppled on Sunday.

Any extra money will be held in a fund to help after attacks on Jewish institutions in the future, which could mean removing a spray-painted swastika or repairing the widespread damage seen in the graveyards.

About 1/3 of the donations have come from non-Muslims, but El-Messidi said it was especially important for Muslims to support Jews as they deal with anti-Semitic attacks.

“I hope our Muslim community, just as we did last week with St. Louis, will continue to stand with our Jewish cousins to fight this type of hatred and bigotry.”, El-Messidi said.

Barbara Perle, 66, of Los Angeles said on Monday that several of her family members were buried in the vandalised Chesel Shel Emeth Cemetery near St. Louis.

In her eyes, an attack on one gravestone in a Jewish cemetery was an attack on them all.

Perle said she had reached out to thank El-Messidi and that she had “come to understand more about our shared humanity.”

"The Blue Marble" photograph of Earth, taken by the Apollo 17 mission. The Arabian peninsula, Africa and Madagascar lie in the upper half of the disc, whereas Antarctica is at the bottom.

(Daniel Victor, “Muslims pledge aid to Jewish institutions“, New York Times, 1 March 2017)

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 3 March 2017

I am not saying that Muslims should accept blame for what terrorists do.

I am saying that we can take responsibility by demanding a different understanding of Islam.

We can make clear to Muslims and non-Muslims, that another reading of Islam is possible and necessary.

We need to act in ways that make clear how we understand Islam and its operation in our lives.

I believe we owe that to all the innocent people, both Muslim and non-Muslim, who have suffered at the hands of our coreligionists in their misguided extremism.

Taking that sort of responsibility is hard, especially when many people outside the Muslim world have become committed Islamophobes, fearing and hating Muslims, sometimes with the encouragement of political leaders.

When you feel unjustly singled out and attacked, it is not easy to look at your beliefs and think them through.”

(Omar Saif Ghobash, “Advice for Young Muslims”, Foreign Affairs, January/February 2017)

“For Muslims, life has basically two obligations.

The first is gratitude for the life that has been received.

The Arabic word “infidel” is closer in meaning towards “one who lacks thankfulness” than one who disbelieves.

The more gratitude one feels, the more natural it feels to let the blessings of life to flow through one’s life and on to others, for hoard these blessings to only ourselves is as unnatural as trying to dam a waterfall.

The second obligation lies within the name of the religion itself.

“Islam” means “surrender”, not in the sense of miltiary defeat, but rather in the context of a wholehearted giving of oneself – to a cause, to friendship, to love.

Islam is, in other words, commitment.

The five pillars of this commitment to the straight path are:

  1. Confession of faith: The affirmation “There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is His Prophet.” said correctly, slowly, thoughtfully, aloud, with full understanding and with heartfelt conviction.

2. Constant prayer:  To give thanks for life’s existence, to keep life in perspective, routinely done five times a day when possible, publicly when possible, kneeling and facing towards Mecca

Masjid al-Haram and the center of Mecca

3. Charity: Those who have much should help lift the burden of those who are less fortunate.

4.  The observance of Ramadan, Islam’s holy month:

Welcome Ramadhan.jpg

From the first moment of dawn to the setting of the sun, neither food nor drink nor smoke passes the Muslim’s lips.

After sundown, these may be consumed in moderation.

Why?

Fasting makes one think.

Fasting teaches self-discipline.

Fasting underscores one’s dependence on God, reminding one of a person’s fraility.

Fasting sensitizes compassion: Those who have fasted for 29 days tend to be more sympathetic to those who are hungry.

5. Pilgrimage: Once during his/her lifetime every Muslim who is physically and economically in a position to do so is expected to journey to Mecca.

The basic purpose of the pilgrimage is to heighten the pilgrim’s devotion to God.

The conditions of the pilgrimage are a reminder of human equality.

Upon reaching Mecca, pilgrims remove their normal attire, which carries marks of social status, and don two simple sheet-like garments.

Distinctions of rank and hierarchy are removed.

Prince and pauper stand before God in their undivided humanity.

A pilgrimage brings together people from various countries, demonstrating that they share a loyalty that transcends nations and ethnic groupings.

Pilgrims pick up information about other lands and peoples and return to their homes with better understanding of one another.”

(Huston Smith, The World’s Religions)

“You will inevitably come across Muslims who shake their heads at the state of affairs in the Islamic world and mutter:

“If only people were proper Muslims, then none of this would be happening.”

Some Muslims will say this when criticising official corruption in Muslim countries and when pointing out the alleged spread of immorality.

Some Muslims say this when promoting various forms of Islamic rule.

“Islam is the solution.”

It’s a brilliant slogan.

Lots of people believe in it.

The slogan is a shorthand for the argument that all the most glorious achievements in Islamic history – the conquests, the empires, the knowledge production, the wealth – occurred under some system of religious rule.

Therefore, if we want to revive this past glory in the modern era, we must reimpose such a system.

This argument holds that if a little Islam is good, then more Islam must be even better.

And if more Islam is better, then complete Islam must be best.

The most influential proponent of that position today is ISIS, with its unbridled enthusiasm for an all-encompassing religious caliphate.

Black Standard[1]

Above: Black standard of ISIS

It can be difficult to argue against that position without seeming to dispute the nature of Islam’s origins: the Prophet Muhammad was not only a religious leader but a political leader as well.

And this argument rests on the inexorable logic of extreme faith:

If Muslims declare that they are acting in Allah’s name, and if Muslims impose the laws of Islam, and if Muslims ensure the correct mental state of the Muslim population living in a chosen territory, then Allah will intervene to solve all our problems.

The genius of this argument is that any difficulties or failures can be attributed to the people’s lack of faith and piety.

Leaders need not fault themselves or their policies.

Citizens need not question their values or customs.

But piety will take us only so far.

Relying entirely on God to provide for us, to solve our problems, to feed and educate and clothe our children, is to take God for granted.

The only way we can improve the lot of the Muslim world is by doing what people elsewhere have done, and what Muslims in earlier eras did, in order to succeed:

Educate ourselves and work hard and engage with life’s difficult questions rather than retreat into religious obscurantism (intentional obscurity and vagueness).

Today, some Muslims demand that all Muslims accept only ideas that are Muslim in origin – namely, ideas that appear in the Koran, the early dictionaries of the Arabic language, the sayings of the Prophet, and the biographies of the Prophet and his Companions.

Meanwhile, Muslims must reject foreign ideas such as democracy, they maintain.

Confronted with more liberal views, which present discussion, debate and consensus building as ancient Islamic traditions, they contend that democracy is a sin against Allah’s power, against His will and against His sovereignty.

Some extremists are even willing to kill in defense of that position.

But do such people even know what democracy is?

Another “foreign” practice that causes a great deal of concern to Muslims is the mixing of the sexes.

Some Muslim-majority countries mandate the separation of the sexes in schools, universities and the workplace.

Authorities in these countries present such rules as being “truly Islamic” and argue that they solve the problem of illicit relationships outside marriage.

Perhaps that’s true.

But research and study of such issues – which is often forbidden – might show that no such effect exists.

And even if rigorous sex separation has some benefits, what are the costs?

Gerichtshof für Menschenrechte: Schwimmlektionen sind obligatorisch

Above: Aziz Osmanoglu, father of two daughters with Sehabat Kocabas, recently lost a decision in Strasbourg’s European Court of Human Rights over whether sending his daughters to a mixed gender swimming pool was a violation of Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights respecting religious practices.

European Court of Human Rights logo.svg

(The court decided that in the interest of integration that his daughters were required to take swimming lessons in mixed gender groups, but they were permitted to wear burkinis (full body swimsuits).

Above: Islamic modest swimwear, known as a urqini or burkini

Basel Canton, the Islamic family’s residence, will fine parents CHF 1,400 should they not send their children to swimming pools for religious reasons.)

Could it be that rigorous sex separation leads to psychological confusion and turmoil for men and women alike?

Could it lead to an inability to understand members of the opposite sex when one is finally allowed to interact with thwm?

Governments in much of the Muslim world have no satisfactory answers to those questions, because they often don’t bother to ask.

Conservative readings of Islamic texts…the strict traditionalist view…presents women as fundamentally passive creatures whom men must protect from the ravages of the world.

That belief is sometimes self-fulfilling.

In many Muslim communities, men insist that women are unable to face the big, wild world, all the while depriving women of the basic rights and skills they would need in order to do so.

Other traditionalists base their position on women on a different argument:

If women were mobile and independent and working with men who were not family members, then they might develop illicit romantic or even sexual relationships.

Of course, that is a possibility.

But such relationships also develop when a woman lives in a home where she is given little love and self-respect.

The traditionalist position is based, ultimately, on a desire to control women.

But women do not need to be controlled.

They need to be trusted and respected.

Treating women as inferior is not a religious duty.

It is a practice of patriarchal societies.

Within the Islamic tradition, there are many models of how Muslim women can live and be true to their faith.

There is no hard-and-fast rule requiring women to wear the hijab (the traditional veil that covers the head and hair) or a burqa or a niqab which cover far more.

Woman wearing a niqab with baby

Islam calls on women to be modest in appearance, but veiling is actually a pre-Islamic tradition.

The limits placed on women in conservative Muslim societies (mandatory veiling, rules limiting their mobility, restrictions on work and education), have their roots not in Islamic doctrine but rather in men’s fear that they will not be able to control women – and their fear that women, if left uncontrolled, will overtake men by being more disciplined, more focused, more hard-working.

The Prophet spoke about the ummah – the Muslim community – but the concept of the ummah has allowed self-appointed religious authorites to speak in the name of all Muslims without ever asking the rest of Muslims what they think.

The idea of an ummah also makes it easier for extremists to depict Islam – and all of the world’s Muslims – as standing in opposition to the West, or to capitalism or to the cause de jour.

In that conception of the Muslim world, the individual’s voice comes second to the group’s voice.

(Omar Saif Ghobash, “Advice for Young Muslims”, Foreign Affairs, January/February 2017)

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 4 March 2017

People have been trained over the years to put community ahead of individuality.

Dialogue and public debate about what it means to be an individual in the world would allow us to think more clearly about personal responsibility, ethical choices, and the respect and dignity that attaches to people rather than to families, tribes or sects.

Dialogue and public debate might lead us to stop insisting solely on our responsibilities to the group and start considering our responsibilities to ourselves and to others, whom we might come to see not as members of groups but rather as individuals regardless of our backgrounds.

We might begin to more deeply acknowledge the outrageous amount of people killed in the Muslim world in civil wars and in terrorist attacks carried out not by outsiders but by other Muslims.

We might memorialize these people not as a group but as individuals with names and faces and life stories – not to deify the dead but rather to recognize our responsibility to preserve their honour and dignity, and the honour and dignity of those who survive them.

The idea of the individual might help us improve how we discuss politics, economics and security.

If we start looking at ourselves as individuals first and foremost, perhaps we will build better societies.

Take hold of your fate and take hold of your life in the here and now, recognizing that there is no need to return to a glorious past in order to build a glorious future.

Our personal, individual interests might not align with those of the patriarch, the family, the tribe, the community or the state, but the embrace of each person’s individuality will lead to a rebalancing in the world in favour of more compassion, more understanding and more empathy.

If you accept the individual diversity of those inside your own faith, you are more likely to do the same for those of other faiths as well.

We can and should live in harmony with the diversity of humanity that exists outside of our faith, but we will struggle to do so until we truly embrace ourselves as individuals.

(Omar Saif Ghobash, “Advice for Young Muslims”, Foreign Affairs, January/February 2017)

It is said that we fear what we do not understand.

To conquer fear, we must first try and understand that which we are afraid of.

Only then will peace be unto you.

Bleeding Beautiful

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 28 February 2017

There are friends and stories that remain in the back of your mind that sometimes require some dramatic moment to have their memory come rushing to your forethoughts.

Such is the case of my Indian friend Sumit, originally of Orissa Province, India, and now Canadian resident of Ontario.

I have known him only for three years, but his friendship is such that constant communication between us is unnecessary, for ours is a friendship that does not need to be constantly voiced to be assured of its constancy.

We met while we were both seeking to improve our German in evening courses across the lake in Konstanz and have remained friends ever since.

Rheintorturm, a section of the former city wall of Konstanz at Lake Constance

I have watched him struggle and succeed against racial profiling, unequal employment opportunities, uncertain prospects and unhappy losses in his family.

Last contact with him a while ago, he spoke with joy about his newborn son, his satisfaction with his Canadian employer and his hopes for the future.

As with all those who have chosen to call me “friend” it is with the greatest pleasure that I greet his communications and listen with rapt attention to his tales of my home and native land from his non-native perspective.

It is a rare moment when a bus ride from Landschlacht through Kreuzlingen to Konstanz does not bring back to me recollections of Sumit riding his bicycle along the same route.

His friendship is such that he will be the sole reason that I will include Toronto in my itinerary when I return again to Canada for a visit.

From top left: Downtown Toronto featuring the CN Tower and Financial District from the Toronto Harbour, City Hall, the Ontario Legislative Building, Casa Loma, Prince Edward Viaduct, and the Scarborough Bluffs

His laugh, his humor, his unique perspective on issues, all are missed.

He is missed.

Sumit dominates my thoughts this week when I read of recent events in Kansas.

Olathe, Kansas, USA, 22 February 2017

In my own personal travels in America I have visited at least 40 States.

Flag of the United States

By happenstance, and like most tourists American or foreign, Kansas is one of those States that somehow seems to get overlooked, which is a shame.

Flag of Kansas

For Kansas is surprising.

The vast, rolling prairies of Kansas, blanketed by wheat, battered by tornadoes, ignored by many, is said to be the Home on the Range (the state song) of some of the friendliest folks you could possibly hope to meet.

The Sunflower State, 32nd in population, 15th in area, the 34th to join the Union, birthplace of avatrix Amelia Earhart (1897 – 1937), jazzman Charlie Parker (1920 – 1955), actress Annette Bening (born 1958), songstress Melissa Etheridge (born 1961) and silent film legend Joseph Frank “Buster” Keaton (1895 – 1966), Kansas is famous for Turkey Red wheat, being the first State to start prohibition, and the fictional residence of Dorothy and Toto (of The Wizard of Oz (1939) fame).

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Portrait of Charlie Parker in 1947.jpg

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Kansas has historically been a place people pass through – Spanish conquistador Francisco Vazquez de Coranado (1510 – 1554) seeking the rich civilization of the Quivira, cowboys driving cattle, pioneers following the Santa Fe Trail, the Pony Express delivering mail, railroads transporting goods and people, carloads of college kids heading to Colorado ski slopes…

The buffalo are gone, as are the native Kansa tribe who were forcibly relocated to Oklahoma in 1873.

One might argue that it was in Kansas that the US Civil War really began, for the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which allowed settlers to vote for or against slavery, triggered Bleeding Kansas – a term coined by Republican New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley – violent political confrontations that gave a glimpse of how impossible compromise without conflict would be, how inevitable Civil War would become.

Reynolds's Political Map of the United States 1856.jpg

Above: Reynold’s 1856 map showing free and slave states, Kansas in white in the middle

In October 1855, abolitionist John Brown (1800 – 1857) came to Kansas to fight slavery.

John Brown by Levin Handy, 1890-1910.jpg

On 21 November 1855, the Wakarusa War began when abolitionist/Free-Stater Charles Dow was shot by a pro-slavery settler.

On 6 December Free Stater Thomas Barber is shot and killed near Lawrence.

On 21 May 1856, Missourians invade Lawrence and burn down the Free State Hotel, destroy two newspaper offices and ransack homes and stores.

In response, Republican Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts took to the floor of the US Senate in Washington DC to denounce the threat of slavery in Kansas and humiliate its supporters.

Sumner had devoted his enormous energies to the destruction of the Slave Power – the efforts of slave owners to take control of the federal government and ensure the survival and expansion of slavery.

In his The Crime against Kansas speech, Sumner ridiculed the honour of elderly South Carolina Senator Andrew Butler, portraying Butler’s pro-slavery agenda towards Kansas with the raping of a virgin and characterizing his affection for it in sexual and graphic terms.

The next day Butler’s cousin, the South Carolina Congressman Preston Brooks, nearly killed Sumner on the Senate floor of the Senate with a heavy cane, deepening the North-South split.

Violence continued to increase.

Ohio abolitionist John Brown led his sons and followers to plan the murder of settlers who spoke in favour of slavery.

On the night of 24 May, at the proslavery settlement of Pottawatomie Creek, Brown’s group seized five pro-slavery men from their homes and hacked them to death with broadswords.

Brown and his men escaped and began plotting a full scale slave insurrection to take place at Harpers Ferry, Virginia.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act, which had created from unorganised native lands the territories of Kansas and Nebraska, permitted residency by US citizens who would decide the region’s slavery status and seek admission to the Union as States.

Immigrants supporting both sides of the question arrived in Kansas to establish residency and gain the right to vote.

Kansas Territory officials were appointed by the pro-slavery administration of US President Franklin Pierce (1804 – 1869)(14th US President 1853 – 1857) and thousands of non-resident pro-slavery Missourians entered Kansas with the goal of winning elections, sometimes capturing them by fraud and intimidation.

Portrait of Franklin Pierce by Mathew Brady

In response, Northern abolitionist elements flooded Kansas with free-soilers. 

Anti-slavery Kansas residents wrote the first Kansas Constitution and elected the Free State legislature in Topeka, in direct opposition to the pro-slavery government in Lecompton.

In April 1856, a Congressional committee arrived in Lecompton to investigate voting fraud and found the elections had been improperly elected by non-residents.

President Pierce refused recognition of the committee’s findings and continue to authorise the pro-slavery legislature, which the Free State people called the Bogus Legislature.

On 4 July 1856, proclamations of President Pierce led to 500 US Army troops arriving in Topeka from Fort Leavenworth and Fort Riley.

With cannons pointed at Constitution Hall, they ordered the disperal of the Free State Legislature.

In August 1856, thousands of pro-slavery men formed into armies and marched into Kansas.

That same month, Brown and his followers engaged 400 pro-slavery soldiers in the Battle of Osawatomie.

Hostilities raged for another two months until Brown departed Kansas and a new territorial governor John Geary took office and managed to prevail upon both sides for peace.

This fragile peace was often broken by intermittent violent outbreaks for two more years.

By 1859 approximately 56 people would die violently in Bleeding Kansas.

The American Civil War commenced in 1861.

Over time, the rip-roaring open range would evolve to become some of the most productive wheatlands in the world, while aviation industries would become big moneymakers for the State as well.

For the tourist, there are some tourist attractions in the State.

In northwest Kansas on route 24 is Nicodemus – the oldest African American settlement west of the Mississippi.

Founded in 1877 by black American settlers seeking the promised land, this lonely but friendly village of 25 souls has five historic buildings and a single isolated parking meter.

Nearby Hays has the Fort Hays Historical Site and the domed Sternberg Museum of Natural History with an unusual fish-within-a-fish fossil and animated dinosaurs.

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To the south between Dodge City and Wichita, Hutchinson‘s Cosmosphere and Space Center is an out-of-this-world collection of rockets, space gear and warheads.

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Here visitors can see the original Apollo 13, a nuclear warhead that had been found rotting in an Alabama warehouse and cool Soviet cosmonaut outfits.

In Wichita, the birthplace of both Pizza Hut and the Coleman lantern, the visitor can touch a tornado, visit a traditional Wichita grass house and revisit the Wild West in Old Cowtown.

The Exploration Place-Wichita, Kansas-June 2013.jpg

Above: Wichita’s Exploration Place

Lawrence, the nicest city in Kansas, has America’s only intertribal university (where Olympian athlete Jim Thorpe studied) and Teller’s Restaurant, transformed from a bank, offers bathrooms inside a vault.

Lawrence is famous for the University of Kansas and the many famous folks who once resided here (ex: activist Erin Brokovich, author William S. Burroughs (Naked Lunch), basketballer Wilt Chamberlain, Senator Bob Dole, author Frank Harris (My Life and Loves), scientist/diet pioneer Elmer “Mr. Vitamin” McCollum, Canadian-born basketball inventor James Naismith, author Sara Paretsky (V.I. Warshawski crime series), actor Paul Rudd (Ant-Man), just to name a few…)

Official seal of Lawrence, Kansas

Topeka, the state capital, has the unassuming Brown vs Board of Education Historic Site (which shows the story of the landmark 1954 Supreme Court case which banned segration in US schools), the impressively domed State Capitol (housing a famous mural of John Brown) and the Menninger Foundation (a leader in mental health treatment which displays a collection of old mechanical restraints).

Dodge City revels in its infamous Wild West past with its Boot Hill Museum and Front Street cemetery, jail and saloon, where enactments regularly held invoke the memory of Wyatt Earp (1848 – 1929) and Bat Masterson (1853 – 1921), gunslingers, buffalo hunters, card sharks and brothel keepers.

Above: Wyatt Earp (seated) and Bat Masterson (standing)

Abilene, where once cussin’ cowboys and huge herds of Texas longhorns ended their trip up the Chisholm Trail, the visitor can now find the boyhood home of former President Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower (1890 – 1969)(34th US President, 1953 – 1961) and the Greyhound (the dogs not the buses) Hall of Fame.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, White House photo portrait, February 1959.jpg

Lindsborg flaunts its Swedish roots, while the large Mennonite communities around Hillsboro are descendants of Russian immigrants who brought the Turkey Red strain of wheat to the Great Plains where it thrived despite harsh conditions.

But Olathe in northeastern Kansas, a stone’s throw away from both Lawrence and the twin cities of Kansas City on the Kansas-Missouri border, seems to escape the notice of most folks.

Flag of Olathe, Kansas

In the spring of 1857, Dr. John T. Barton rode to the centre of Johnson County and staked two quarter sections of land.

Barton later described his ride to friends:

“…the prairie was covered with verbena and other wild flowers.

I kept thinking the land was beautiful and that I should name the place Beautiful.”

Barton asked a Shawnee interpreter how to say beautiful in his native tongue.

The interpreter responded, “Olathe”.

Olathe saw violence during the days of Bleeding Kansas and much conflict during the American Civil War.

On 7 September 1862, Confederate guerrillas from Missouri led by William Quantrill surprised the military post (located on the public square where a company of more than 125 Union troops, most of them recruits) and the residents of Olathe, killing a half dozen men, robbed numerous businesses and homes, forced the Union troops to surrender and compelling them to swear an oath forbidding them to take up arms against the Confederacy, and destroying most of the city.

Quantrill would again raid the city on 21 August 1863, en route to Lawrence (where he would massacre over 164 civilians) and later Olathe would suffer a third raid by Confederate Major General Sterling Price and his force of 10,000 men as they retreated south on 25 October 1864 just before the Battle of Marais des Cygnes.

Kansas militia would occupy Olathe until August 1865.

Olathe served as a stop on the Oregon Trail, the California Trail and the Santa Fe Trail, so catering to travellers was the main source of income for local stores and businesses.

The Mahaffie House, a popular resupply point of wagons headed westward, is today a registered historical site maintained by the City of Olathe.

1100 Kansas City Rd., Olathe, KS J.B. Mahaffie House.jpg

The staff wears period costumes, while stagecoach rides and farm animals make the site a favourite attraction for young and old.

Visitors can participate in Civil War enactments, Wild West Days and other activities.

In the 1950s, the construction of the Interstate Highway System, the I-35 linked Olathe with nearby Kansas City, resulting in tremendous commercial and residential growth that still continues.

In 2008, the US Census Bureau ranked Olathe as the 24th fastest-growing city in America, while CNN/Money and Money magazine ranked Olathe #11 in its list of the 100 Best Cities to Live in the United States.

Winters are cold, summers hot and humid in Olathe.

Folks in Olathe are fairly well educated with 35 elementary schools, 9 middle schools, 4 high schools, the MidAmerica Nazarene University and the Kansas State School for the Deaf.

Olathe is home to many companies, including Honeywell, Husqvarna, Aldi, Garmin, Grundfos and the Farmers Insurance Group (this latter though based in LA has more Farmers employees here than anywhere else in the US).

Olathe has also produced a few notable people like Hollywood actor Charles Buddy Rogers (lead actor in Wings – the first picture to win an Academy Award – America’s boyfriend and 3rd/final husband of America’s Sweetheart, Canadian-born Mary Pickford), actor Willie Ames (of TV’s Eight is Enough and Charles in Charge), NFL footballers Jonathan Quinn and Darren Sproles, as well as prominent Communist leader and 1936/1940 US Presidential candidate Earl Browder.

Olathe is now famous for four other names: Adam Purinton, 51, and his victims – Srinivas Kuchibhotla, 32, who died; his friend Alok Madasani who was injured; and Ian Grillot, 24, who had tried to stop Purinton’s violence, also injured.

Adam Purinton

Above: Adam Purinton, suspected shooter

From left: Srinivas Kuchibhotla, who died; Alok Madasani, who was injured; and Ian Grillot, also injured

From left: Srinivas Kuchibhotia, who died; Alok Madasani, who was injured; Ian Grillot, also injured

Last Wednesday night at 2103 East 151st Street in South Olathe – one of  three chain locations – Austins Bar and Grill“serving up great food and spirits since 1987”, known for its “world famous chicken tenders”, “sports, spirits, steaks”, smoked pulled pork. BBQ sauce, Napa slaw (cole slaw from the Napa Valley?) and baked beans, was offering its Wednesday night $7.00 special: chicken fried steak smothered in gravy and served with garlic mashed potatoes and sweet corn.

Austins Bar and Grill

Austins Bar & Grill in Olathe

The place was packed, as folks were watching the University of Kansas (Lawrence) Jayhawks basketball team, coached by Bill Self, play at home against Fort Worth’s TCU (Texas Christian University) Horned Frogs.

Logo

Kansasans were hoping that the Jayhawks continue their 13-game winning streak.

(Final score: U of K – 87, TCU – 68)

Kuchibhotia and Madasani both worked at the US technology company Garmin.

Logo von Garmin

Garmin is a multinational, founded by Gary Burrell and Min Kao in 1989 from Lenexa, Kansas, with its international HQ in Schaffhausen, Switzerland and its American HQ right there in Olathe.

Garmin is known for its specialization in GPS tech development for its wearable use in automotive, marine, outdoor and sports activities.

Kuchibhotia and Madasani were regulars at Austin’s Bar and Grill where they enjoyed sharing a drink after work.

Purinton, another customer, began shouting racial slurs and told the two men that they did not belong in America.

Madasani told the BBC:

“This guy just randomly comes up and starts pointing fingers.

We knew something was wrong.

He said, ‘Which country are you from? Are you here illegally?’ “

Purinton was thrown out, but, according to Olathe Police, he returned with a gun.

A bystander told the Kansas City Star that Puriton shouted: “Get out of my country.” just before opening fire, killing Kuchibhota and wounding Madasani.

Grillot hid under a table when the shooting began, counted the gunman’s shots, then pursued Purinton, mistaking thinking he was out of bullets.

Grillot was shot in the hand and the chest.

Grillot, speaking from his hospital bed to local KMBC TV news, brushed aside any suggestions that he was a hero:

“It wasn’t right and I didn’t want the gentleman to potentially go after somebody else.

I was just doing what anyone should have done for another human being.

It’s not about where he’s from or his ethnicity.

We’re all humans.

So I just felt I did what was naturally right to do.”

Madasani later visited Grillot to thank him.

Purinton fled on foot.

Thousands of Indian tech workers have come to the United States under the H1-B program, which grants skilled foreign workers temporary visas.

Kuchibhota’s wife, Sunayana Dumala, had grown anxious about racial hatred after the election of Donald Trump, but she said Srinivas was dedicated to their life in the United States and to his job as an engineer.

In this undated photo provided by Kranti Shalia, Srinivas Kuchibhotla, right, poses for photo with his wife Sunayana Dumala in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Sunayana began to lose sleep after the election in November, fearful that the couple would suffer hate crimes in the country they called home.

“I was so worried I just couldn’t sleep.”, Sunayana told the BBC.

“I was talking to Srini and I was like, ‘Will we be safe in this country?’

He would say ‘Nani, Nani, don’t worry. We will be OK. We will be OK.’ “

They discussed whether they should return to India but, in the end, she decided that if they minded their own business, nobody would harm them.

Many immigrants in the US have been voicing anxiety since the rise of President Trump, who has ordered restrictions on immigration and a sped-up deportation process for undocumented immigrants.

A potential tightening of the H1-B program has raised concerns in India where many young people dream of studying or working in the United States.

Sunayana last saw her husband that morning when he left for work.

“I was still taking my shower as he was passing from the hall and he said goodbye.”

Srinivas had worked late two nights already that week and so she texted him to ask if he would bring some work home so they could have tea together.

He said yes and told her he would be home at 7 pm.

At 8 pm Sunayana began to get worried and started calling friends, including Madasani’s wife.

Sunayana heard something about a shooting at a bar and she phoned her husband over and over again.

A friend came to the house with news.

Sunayana wanted to rush to the hospital but collapsed in the garage.

She waited at the house until two policemen arrived.

“They asked me my name, Srini’s name, his date of birth.

Then they told me those words and they just said it so simply.

They said they were sorry.”

Srini was from the Indian city of Hyderabad, where his parents still live.

A montage of images related to Hyderabad city

Sunayana said her husband “loved America” and came to the country “full of dreams”.

Sunayana described how her husband had recently bought a car for his father.

“He was so happy and so proud about it.”

Srini had worked at Rockwell Collins, an avionics and IT systems company in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, before joining Garmin in 2014.

“Just last week we drove to Iowa to see our friends and their new baby.

When we came back, he was working in the car while I was driving.

That’s how much he loved working.

He personally wanted to do so much for this country.”

Purinton was arrested five hours later at an Applebee’s restaurant just over the state border, 80 miles / 130 km away in Clinton, Missouri.

He told a staff member at the dining chain that he needed a place to hide because he had killed two Middle Eastern men.

A barman there tipped off police that he had a customer who had admitted shooting two men.

Police officers arrived to detain the suspect.

Purinton has been charged with premeditated first degree murder and two counts of attempted first degree murder.

Olathe Police Chef Steve Menke has declined to comment on the reports of racial abuse, but said his force was working with the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) “to investigate any and all aspects of this horrific crime”.

The FBI have reported a rise in hate crimes in the US since Trump’s nomination as Republican candidate for the US Presidency.

Last October, two men were charged with hate crimes in Richmond, California, after being accused of beating a Sikh man and using a knife to cut his hair, which was unshorn by religious mandate.

The Olathe killing has dominated news bulletins and social media  in India.

Horizontal tricolor flag bearing, from top to bottom, deep saffron, white, and green horizontal bands. In the centre of the white band is a navy-blue wheel with 24 spokes.

Above: The flag of India

Indian actor Siddharth Narayan tweeted to his 2.6 million followers:

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“Don’t be shocked!

Be angry!

Trump is spreading hate. 

This is a hate crime.

RIP Srinivas Kuchibhotia.”

Shashi Tharoor, an Indian lawmaker and former diplomat, tweeted:

“The vicious racism unleashed in some quarters in the US claims more innocent victims, who happen to be Indian.”

Back in Hyderabad, Madasani’s father, also an engineer, Jaganmohan Reddy, called the Olethe shooting a hate crime and said that his family was “in a state of shock.”

Reddy said he did not know whether he would ask Madasani and another son living in the States to leave the country.

“We have to think it over.

My sons are not new to America.

They have been staying there for the last 10 to 12 years.

This is a new situation, and they are the best judges.”

Srini’s parents, Madhusuhan and Vardhini Rao, were too stunned by news of his death to comment, the Associated Press reported.

The Indian External Affairs Ministry sent two Indian consulate officials from Houston and Dallas to meet Madasani in Olethe and to arrange the repatriation of Srini’s body back to Hyderabad.

Dhruva Jaishankar, a foreign policy fellow at Brookings India in New Delhi, said that an isolated incident like Olethe would not affect the relationship between America and India, but if there were more attacks against Indians, or if the US is perceived to not be taking such cases seriously, there could be a problem.

Jay Kansara, Director of Government Relations at the Hindu American Foundation, an advocacy group in Washington, called for the shooting to be investigated as a hate crime.

“Anything less will be an injustice to the victims and their families.”

The US Embassy in New Delhi condemned the shooting.

“The United States is a nation of immigrants and welcomes people from across the world to visit, work, study, and live.”, said Charge d’Affaires Mary Kay Carlson.

“US authorities will investigate thoroughly and prosecute the case, though we recognise that justice is small consolation to families in grief.”

Nani flew to India to be with her husband’s family.

She is “devastated” by Srini’s death.

She plans to return to the US, but she said her husband would be “everywhere”.

“His clothes, his side of the sink, the way he used to brush, shower.

His daily prayers in that room, preparing his favourite food.

It will be tough eating without him.”

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 27 February 2017

As I learn more about the shooting in Olethe, I feel fear for my friend Sumit and his family in Canada.

Flag of Canada

For as liberal and welcoming as Canada appears by comparison with the United States at present, hate crimes also exist and continue to rise there as well.

For reasons that escape me there are a minority of Canadians who agree with the fear and paranoia that has managed to seep across the border from Trump´s America.

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Sumit is a faithful husband, good father, true friend and hard dedicated worker.

I pray for his and his family’s safety and am almost confident that my worries have little basis in reality.

Almost.

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Above: Liberty Enlightening the World, New York City, USA

Sources: “Olathe shooting: Murder charge after Indian man killed in bar”, BBC News, 24 February 2017

“Olathe shooting: My husband loved America, says widow”, BBC News, 25 February 2017

“Indian foreign minister shocked by Kansas shooting”, New York Times, 25-26 February 2017

Lonely Planet USA / Wikipedia / http://www.austinsbarandgrill.com

 

Snowbirds

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 22 February 2017

In pauper’s fields the daisies grow

There are no crosses, sadly, no

To mark the place beneath the sky

There is no singing from up high

Scarce heard beneath the ground below

These pauper’s fields.

We are the dead, some time ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In pauper´s fields.

I have no quarrel with a foe.

To you from me: I failed, I know.

No time, no longer heads held high

Faith is broken, hope gone by

Memory won’t sleep, though daisies grow
In pauper’s fields.

(With apologies to John Mccrae)

Fort Lauderdale, Florida, 22 February 2017

“Ah, we’re drinking and we’re dancing and the band is really happening and the Johnny Walker wisdom running high…”

(Leonard Cohen, “Closing Time”)

Downtown Fort Lauderdale

For many, this city of nearly 175,000 represents Life.

Until the late 1980s, Fort Lauderdale was the college Spring Break destination.

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However the college crowd has been replaced by a wealthier group of people.

Today it is known as an international yachting centre, although there is still plenty of partying in its clubs, bars and pubs by straights and the LGBT crowd.

(The gay community is thriving here with many gay-friendly hotels and guesthouses, their own library and archives, community centre and the World AIDS Museum and Educational Center.)

(AIDS does not discriminate, though some folks still make the erroneous connection between sexual orientation and this uncompromising disease.)

Fort Lauderdale is 28 miles / 45 km north of Miami and enjoys a tropical rainforest climate with little seasonal variation.

Flag of Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Most days the temperature remains above 24°C / 75° F with over 3,000 hours of sunshine per year.

(Though it must be said that the ideal time of the year to visit the Fort is from October to May.)

And this endless summer attracts over 12 million visitors a year, a 1/4 of them from other countries.

To serve all these visitors, Fort Lauderdale has over 130 nightclubs, 16 museums, 12 shopping malls, 63 golf courses, 4,000 restaurants, 46 cruise ships dock here regularly, over 560 hotels offer over 35,000 rooms, with 278 campsites when the rooms are filled (regularly a 72% occupancy rate), 100 marinas shelter over 45,000 resident yachts and the convention centre serves over 30% of the city’s annual visitors.

Like South Florida in general, Fort Lauderdale has many residents who can speak a language other than English, but English predominates.

Residents not serving visitors are probably engaged in making or maintaining boats as Fort Lauderdale is a major centre for yachts.

Nicknamed the Venice of America, Fort Lauderdale, with its many canals – 165 miles / 266 km extensive network of canals – and its proximity to the Bahamas and the Caribbean, the city serves as a popular yachting vacation spot and home port and its annual International Boat Show attracts over 125,000 people to the city each year.

For the nomad, Fort Lauderdale means a chance to find work as a deckhand or cook in exchange for exotic winds.

To beaches and palm trees of distant islands filled with folks dreaming distant dreams of escape from a hell of service to wealthy visitors for whom their islands whisper Paradise…

Few nomads see the Fort as the locals do.

As they search for work amongst the throngs of tourists, the locals work in firms with names uninspiring, such as AutoNation, Citrix Systems, DHL Express, Spirit Airlines, the National Beverage Corporation, Tenet Healthcare, American Express, the Continental Group, Motorola, Maxim Integrated Products, Gulfstream International Airlines, the Online Trading Academy…

Surrounded by wealth, the average worker grits his teeth and sweats his life away for the scraps these firms reluctantly relinquish.

He sends his children to one of 23 public schools and, if he can afford it, later to one of the 9 institutions of higher learning the Fort has to offer.

Getting around, for the rare person without a car, means hopping on a BCT (Broward County Transit) bus.

Getting away means the railroad or the airport.

Only the wealthy dock in Port Everglades, the nation’s 3rd busiest cruise port, Florida’s deepest port.

Only the wealthy use the international passenger ferry service to Freeport on Grand Bahama Island.

But baby you can drive my car out of the Fort upon one of the three major interstate highways leading into the city.

Akin to other US cities, the Fort has fire and police services, hospitals and ambulances, churches and cemeteries, serving the city´s 13 municipalities divided into 90 distinct neighbourhoods.

Do not mistake the Fort for Paradise.

Despite its many attractions, despite its tropical climate, despite the wealthy who come to play, summer is hot and humid rife with folks collapsing with heat exhaustion and concerned by wayward hurricanes, winter is dry with the threat of brushfires and heavy afternoon thunderstorms.

And the Fort has had hard environmental lessons to learn.

Off the coast the Osborne Reef was an artificial reef made of discarded tires intended to provide a habitat for fish while simultaneously disposing of trash from the mainland.

A lengthy bed of old, skummy tires rests piled upon the ocean's floor at Osborne Reef; a small yellow fish swims by the left of the photo.

But the ocean decides for itself how it is to be governed.

The nylon straps used to secure the tires wore out, cables rusted, tires broke free.

The tires then migrated shoreward and ran into a living reef, killing many things in their path.

Thousands of tires continue to wash up on nearby beaches during hurricane season, though local authorities along with the Army, Navy and Coast Guard may have removed the 700,000 tires by the time these words are read.

Yet folks still decide to come here, still decide to live here.

Depending on the season the demographic picture changes.

Winter and early spring in Florida, a land of gentle breezes where the peaceful waters flow, attracts the snowbirds – tourists from the northern United States, Canada and Europe.

This Venice of America used to be dubbed Fort Liquordale because its beaches, bars and nightclubs back in the 1960s and 1970s attracted tens of thousands of college students for Spring Break.

But the city has actively discouraged college students from visiting the area since the mid-1980s passing strict laws aimed at preventing the mayhem and madness that regularly occured every year during Spring Break.

Where over 350,000 students used to party, now only 10,000 do so.

The Fort wants to be known as a resort town, a host city, a hub of arts and entertainment, of sports and culture.

Fort Lauderdale is home to the Riverwalk Arts and Entertainment District (that runs from the beach to the heart of downtown, from the Broward Center for the Performing Arts to the Elbo Room Bar on Fort Lauderdale Beach) and the Langerado Music Festival.

Lockhart Stadium is the home of the Strikers soccer team and the Florida University Owls football team.

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The New York Yankees, the Baltimore Orioles and the Kansas City Royals all once conducted baseball spring training at Fort Lauderdale Stadium.

Inside Fort Lauderdale Stadium.

Fort Lauderdale is home to the Aquatic Complex, part of the International Swimming Hall of Fame.

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The Complex open to Fort Lauderdale residents has also been the venue for many different national and international swimming competitions since 1965.

Ten world records have been set there, the latest being Michael Phelps’ 400-metre individual medley of 2002.

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Above: Olympic swimming champion Michael Phelps (born 1985)

Fort Lauderdale is a place where a visitor finds it hard to be bored.

Here one can find the Swap Shop, a large indoor/outdoor flea market and the site of the world’s largest drive-in movie theatre with 13 screens.

The Hugh Taylor Birch State Park offers nature trails, camping, canoeing and picnicking.

The Museum of Art has works from the Cobra art movement (Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam) as well as collections of Cuban, African and South American art.

Fort Laud FL MoA01.jpg

The Museum of Discovery and Science has amazing exhibits, including an IMAX theatre.

Museum of Discovery and Science, Fort Lauderdale

Ten miles west and the #2 tourist destination in Florida is Sawgrass Mills Mall with more than two miles of outlets for such stores as Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Disney, Kenneth Cole, Tommy Hilfinger, Gap and Polo Ralph Lauren.

Fort Lauderdale Sawgrass Mills verkl.jpg

(Perhaps even Ivana Trump?)

And for the history buff, Fort Lauderdale offers the Old Fort Lauderdale Museum of History (that covers the history of Fort Lauderdale and Broward County, including exhibits of native Seminole folk art and baseball)…

Stranahan House (the oldest building in the city, originally built as a trading post)…

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…the Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel House, the residence of the infamous gangster (1906 – 1947)….

Bugsy Siegel.jpg

…and Bonnet House (a beautiful historic estate near the beach with a nature trail, tours and tropical plants both native and imported).

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Life: throbbing, authentic, vibrant, day and night.

Such is Fort Lauderdale.

But for me, Fort Lauderdale represents death.

This was the site where the native Tequesta tribe failed to stop the encroachment of white settlers who brought with them diseases to which the native population possessed no resistance.

This was the site of a massacre at the beginning of the Second Seminole War where Anglo settlement had pushed the Seminole tribes south from Alabama and threatened to push them out of their new homeland by the establishment of the New River Settlement (present day Fort Lauderdale).

During this War, Major William Lauderdale led his Tennessee Volunteers into the area and erected a fort on the New River in 1838.

William Lauderdale statue.jpg

Above: Statue of Major William Lauderdale in Davie, Florida, the site of the Battle of Pine Island Ridge, 22 March 1838

Lauderdale left after a month, his fort was destroyed by the Seminoles a few months later, his name remained.

After the end of the Seminole War in 1842, the remaining Seminoles withdrew to Pine Island and only a handful of settlers lived in what would become known as Broward County.

The hurricane of 1926, with the highest sustained winds ever recorded in the state of Florida, killed 50 people and destroyed over 3,500 structures in the city.

Just as the city was beginning to recover, in 1928 another devastating hurricane struck Florida and though Fort Lauderdale was only slightly damaged, the enormous death toll to the north in Palm Beach County, contributed to the perception that Florida was not real estate development heaven.

When the Great Depression struck in 1929, Fort Lauderdale never knew it, for it was already in a depression from the real estate bubble burst caused by the two hurricanes.

The United States didn´t enter World War II until 1941, but Fort Lauderdale felt the effect of the War sooner than most of the country.

In December 1939 a British cruiser chased the German freighter Arauca into Port Everglades, where she remained until 1941 when Germany declared war on the US and the US seized the vessel.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour and the US entry into the War had immediate effects on the city.

Blackouts were imposed and several Allied vessels were torpedoed by German U-boats, including one ship within sight of the shoreline.

The first Medal of Honor recipient in World War II was a graduate of Fort Lauderdale High School.

By mid-1942, Fort Lauderdale would find itself with the US Navy Air Station Fort Lauderdale.

By the end of the War, the Station had trained thousands of Navy pilots, including the first President Bush.

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Above: George H. W. Bush, 41st US President (1989-1993)(born 1924)

On 5 December 1945, the five planes of Flight 19 departed on a routine training mission from NAS Fort Lauderdale.

They were never seen again.

No wreckage was ever found.

The strange disappearance of Flight 19 and the coincedental explosion which destroyed Training 49, a plane involved in a search for the missing squadron, have contributed to the Bermuda Triange myth.

Bermuda Triangle.png

NAS Fort Lauderdale closed in 1946, becoming Broward County International Airport.

Commercial flights to Nassau began in 1953 and domestic flights began in 1958.

In 1959 the airport opened its first permanent terminal building and renamed itself the Fort Lauderdale – Hollywood International Airport.

Today the Airport (FLL) has five terminals, serving 31 passenger airlines and four cargo air services flying to a multitude of domestic and international locations.

Death has been felt here as well.

On 7 July 1983, Air Florida Flight 8, with 47 people on board, en route from Fort Lauderdale to Tampa was hijacked.

One of the passengers handed a note to one of the flight attendants, saying he had a bomb, and telling them to fly the plane to Havana.

He revealed a small athletic bag, which he opened to reveal an explosive device.

The plane was diverted to Havana’s José Marti International Airport.

The hijacker was taken into custody by Cuban authorities.

On 19 November 2013, an Air Evac International Learjet 35 crashed shortly after take-off en route to Cozumel, Mexico, leaving four people dead.

Fort Lauderdale – Hollywood International Airport, 6 January 2017

“And everybody knows that you’re in trouble.  Everybody knows what you’ve been through, from the bloody cross on top of Calvary to the beach of Malibu. Everybody knows it’s coming apart. Take one look at this sacred heart before it blows. And everybody knows.” (Leonard Cohen, “Everybody Knows”)

Terminal 2, known as the Delta Terminal or the red terminal, has one concourse and nine gates, the Delta Airlines Sky Club (one of only six in Florida) and is used by Delta Airlines and Air Canada.

A shooter opened fire with a Walther PPS 9-mm semi-automatic pistol in Terminal 2’s baggage claim area at about 12:55 pm.

Travellers rushed out of the airport and hundreds of people waited on the tarmac as numerous law enforcement officers rushed to the scene.

Former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer tweeted from the Airport:

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“Shots have been fired.  Everyone is running.”

The shooting lasted about 70 to 80 seconds.

The shooter lay down on the ground after he stopped shooting, having run out of ammunition.

Law enforcement officers did not fire shots.

The gunman was arrested without incident.

Five people died in the attack, all of whom were passing through Fort Lauderdale to begin cruises with their spouses.

Six people were injured by the shooting, three admitted to intensive care units.

40 people were injured in the panic to escape from the shooting.

The American Red Cross assisted 10,000 passengers, bussing them to Port Everglades for food, shelter and transportation connections.

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The Airport closed for the rest of the day.

Following the shooting, more than 20,000 pieces of luggage were left at the Airport amid the choas.

Flags of the United States and Florida were flown at half-mast throughout the state on the following two days to honour the fallen.

Flag of FloridaFlag of the United States

Esteban Santiago-Ruiz (born 1990), a 26-year-old resident of Anchorage, Alaska and a military veteran of the Iraq War, was arrested immediately after the shooting.

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According to investigators, Santiago flew from Anchorage on a Delta flight through Minneapolis.

He checked a declared 9-mm pistol in his baggage before retrieving it in Fort Lauderdale and loaded the gun in an airport bathroom just before the attack.

It remains unclear why the attack occurred.

Though the proliferation of guns in America makes incidents of this kind sadly not surprising.

Federal officials are seeking the death penalty against Santiago and he has been charged with 22 federal law violations.

No links with terrorism have been proven.

According to his family members, Private Santiago had become mentally ill by seeing a bomb explode near two of his friends while he was in service in Iraq.

A man who had seen death up close brought death with him to Fort Lauderdale.

Fort Lauderdale, Florida, 19 January 1971

“Oh, the sisters of mercy, they are not departed or gone.  They were waiting for me when I thought that I just can’t go on.  And they brought me their comfort and later they brought me this song.  Oh, I hope you run into them, you who’ve been travelling so long.  Yes, you who must leave everything that you cannot control.  It begins with your family, but soon it comes round to your soul.  Well, I’ve been where you’re hanging. I think I can see how you’re pinned.  When you’re not feeling holy, your loneliness says that you’ve sinned.”

(Leonard Cohen, “The Sisters of Mercy”)

For four long years, a waitress battled cancer.

She too was a snowbird, born in Manhattan, raised, married and divorced in Montreal, Genevieve – “Jenny” to her friends and family and preferred by herself – was only 34.

Yet those had been a full 34 years, for she had given life to six children – four boys and two girls.

Her youngest, a boy, would have been six years old in four months’ time.

Jenny had dreams of being a singer and still smiled when she remembered performing on local stages with her family band before she married the man who had changed her life for better and for worse.

But the secrets of her heart she did not reveal to the staff of the Holy Cross Hospital, run by the Sisters of Mercy.

Holy Cross Hospital

She did not give the name of her divorced husband nor mention her children to the staff of the hospital or to her social worker.

Perhaps good Catholic girls confess only to their priests.

She was just a patient among hundreds.

Since migrating down to Florida, Jenny had taken work as a waitress.

But health care in America, then as now, was expensive, and the salary of a waitress, then as now, was insufficient.

Social assistance was needed which entailed a social worker.

Jenny was admitted into the hospital just before New Year´s Eve.

She slipped into a coma and died at 05:30 just before dawn.

She was buried four days later in Sunset Memorial Garden Cemetery.

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Buried in an open field, which in spring is covered by daisies and dandilions, designated paupers’ field reserved for those without anyone to pay for a burial plot or headstone, it appears that Jenny died alone.

Fort Lauderdale, Florida, 31 December 1988

“Like a bird on a wire, like a drunk in a midnight choir, I have tried in my way to be free.” (Leonard Cohen, “Bird on a Wire”)

It had been a long journey of many miles and many years, but I would finally be “reunited” with a mother I no longer remembered.

For years I had known nothing about my origins, save that my family name differed from the surnames of the foster parents who had raised me for a decade.

I had, through painstaking effort, retraced the documents that detailed my life prior to my stewardship with my foster parents, and the paper trail would find me travelling from Ottawa to New Brunswick to Montreal to Manhattan to Fort Lauderdale.

I, like my mother before me, did not possess great wealth, so much of my journey was done by thumbing rides and obtaining shelter and food through charity.

I was not reluctant to work, but what work I was qualified to do would have required many months, possibly years, before I could afford to travel without assistance.

And questions too long gone unanswered now drove me impatiently to the road.

Two days ago in Jacksonville, I received my mother’s death certificate from the Florida Office of Vital Statistics.

Now I stand in the cemetery´s caretaker office enquiring where my mother´s remains rest.

He informs me that there is no headstone, that she is buried in an unmarked grave in a pauper’s plot.

The ground is dusty and barren.

The tufts of grass that remain are yellow and brown.

Is this how I am to remember the woman who gave me life?

A few faded black-and-white photographs given reluctantly by the man whose surname I bear and a dry abandoned corner of a faraway cemetery?

According to him, Jenny had left husband and children behind as she was desperately unhappy, but she clung to her newborn son.

For this they never forgave her nor, I would learn later, me.

Out of sight, out of mind.

Now she is only a name on scattered certificates in registeries in Montreal, New York City and Jacksonville.

Unloved, unmourned, forgotten.

Is this the sum of a person’s life?

I stare at the ground which remains stubbornly mute and unresponsive.

Moments feel like eternity.

I look up in frustration at my inability to reconcile this empty field with the years of searching, both within myself and across the breadth of two countries.

I feel cold despite a Floridan winter warm by comparison to Canada.

A chain link fence surrounds the cemetery.

On the other side of the fence stands a factory.

Upon its back wall a painting of a mother holding a laughing baby beneath the words “Baby Love”, a producer of baby food and disposable diapers sold worldwide.

Sustainable Baby

I find myself upon my knees in the dirt of this plot of land rarely visited and tears flow down without warning, without rationale.

There is no comfort to be found in this field.

There are no answers to be found here.

The dead below lack a voice, lack awareness, lack even identity itself.

I dry my eyes, return back to the caretaker to thank him for his assistance and keep my sorrow hidden even from myself.

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 22 February 2017

Years have passed since I said goodbye to Fort Lauderdale.

Weeks have passed since the airport shooting that reminded me of death in Fort Lauderdale.

I realise that it has been these recollections that made me quiet and reflective in my expression of thought and feeling these past few weeks.

Perhaps it is in coming to terms with mortality that we begin to discover the meaning of life.

Not that it ends, but that it is precious and should not be wasted.

I hope I can return one day to Fort Lauderdale and see the city through the eyes of a tourist and sample life there in all of its richness and fullness.

I hope to return to pauper’s field of Sunset Memorial one day and whisper into the tropical breeze a “thank you” to the remains of a woman who gave me birth, knowing she cannot hear the words but knowing I need to say those words to give a meaning to her life, a meaning to my life.

I hope that the families and friends of those that fell to the gunfire of an ill man in an airport baggage claim can find solace in the memory of how those departed made a difference to their lives.

And I hope that in my own humble way that I too will leave this world one day remembered for the way I made a difference in the lives of others.

Maybe if there is an afterlife I will wake to find Heaven resembles Fort Lauderdale.

As a snowbird Canuck, I think I would like that.

“Beneath this snowy mantle cold and clean, the unborn grass lies waiting for its coat to turn to green. The snowbird sings the song he always sings
and speaks to me of flowers that will bloom again in spring. When I was young, my heart was young then, too. Anything that it would tell me,
that’s the thing that I would do. But now I feel such emptiness within,
for the thing that I want most in life’s the thing that I can’t win.”

(Anne Murray, “Snowbird”)

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