Canada Slim and the Quest for George Clooney

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 28 September 2017

Celebrities ARE different.

They get more public attention and media exposure than we do.

They usually have far more wealth than we do.

Some achieve celebrity status through their successful careers in sports or entertainment or politics.

Some become famous due to media attention on their lifestyle, wealth or controversial actions, or for their connection to another famous person.

And rewarding mere mortals godlike celebrity status is not a new thing.

Athletes in ancient Greece were welcomed home as heroes, had songs and poems written in their honour, and received free food and gifts from those seeking celebrity endorement.

Ancient Rome also glorified actors and gladiators.

Some have had to die to achieve fame.

In the early 12th century, Thomas Becket (1119 – 1170) became famous following his murder.

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He was promoted by the Roman Catholic Church as a martyr and images of him and scenes from his life became widespread in just a few years.

And in a pattern often repeated throughout history, what started out as an explosion of popularity, or mania, turned into longlasting fame.

In the case of Becket, pilgrimages to Canterbury Cathedral where he was murdered became instantly fashionable and the fascination with his life and death has inspired many plays and films.

The cult of personality (particularly in the West) can be traced back to the Romantics in the 18th century, whose livelihood as artists and poets depended on the currency of their reputation.

(Which makes Johann Wolfgang von Goethe´s (1749 – 1832) escape from his fame (somewhat) in Germany to make his Italian Journey (1786 – 1788) even more remarkable.)

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Above: Goethe in the Roman countryside

The establishment of cultural hotspots became an important factor in the process of generating fame.

Newspapers started gossip columns and certain clubs and events became places to be seen in order to receive publicity.

With the global spread of the movie industry in the 20th century, we now have the familar concept of the instantly recognizable faces of its superstars.

Yet, celebrity status wasn´t always tied to film actors, when cinema was starting out as a medium.

“In the first decade of the 20th century, American film companies withheld the names of film performers, despite requests from audiences, fearing that public recognition would drive performers to demand higher salaries.”

(Paul McDonald, The Star System: Hollywood´s Production of Popular Identities)

Public fascination went well beyond the on-screen exploits of movie stars and their private lives became headline news.

Television and popular music brought new forms of celebrity, such as the rock star and the pop group, as shown by Elvis Presley or the Beatles.

A square quartered into four head shots of young men with moptop haircuts. All four wear white shirts and dark coats.

Above: The Beatles (clockwise from top left: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison)

John Lennon´s (1940 – 1980) highly controversial 1966 quote:

“We´re more popular than Jesus now.”

….which he later insisted was not a boast, and that he was not in any way comparing himself with Christ, gives an insight into both the adulation and notoriety fame can bring.

Unlike movies, television created celebrities who were not primarily actors, like presenters, talk show hosts and news readers.

Still only a few of these have broken through to a wide stardom.

The book publishing industry began to persuade major celebrities to put their names on autobiographies (many ghost written) and other titles to create a genre called celebrity publishing.

Cultures and regions with significant populations have their own independent celebrity systems, with their own distinct hierarchies.

Outside of Switzerland, who knows DJ Bobo?

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Above: D J Bobo

Outside of German-speaking parts of Europe, who knows Michelle Hunziger?

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Above: Swiss-born TV hostess/actress/model/singer Michelle Hunziger

Outside of Quebec, who remembers Mitsou?

Above: Canadian actress/singer Mitsou Gélinas

Regions within a country, or cultural communities (linguistic, ethnic or religious) can also have their own celebrity systems.

Regional radio personalities, newcasters, politicians or community leaders may be local or regional celebrities, much like my foster cousin Steve, a local athlete, is instantly recognisible within the confines of Argenteuil County in Quebec, Canada, but mostly unknown beyond there.

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Above: Canadian athlete Steve O`Brien

In politics, certain politicians are recognisable to many people, usually Presidents or Prime Ministers.

Yet only the heads of state who play a major role in international politics have a good chance of recognisability beyond their country´s borders.

Do you know who the Prime Minister of Luxembourg is and would you recognise him/her on the street?

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Above: Xavier Bettel, Prime Minister of Luxembourg since 2013

But, because so much media attention is brought to bear on the US President, Donald Trump has become, unfortunately, world famous.

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In contrast, some people are more famous under their official titles rather than their actual names, such as the Pope or the Dalai Lama.

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Above: Jorge Mario Bergoglio, aka Pope Francis

Do you know the Pope´s birth certificate name? The Dalai Lama´s?

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Above: Lhamo Thondup aka the 14th Dalai Lama

Some politicians remain famous even decades or centuries after they were in power, because of the historical deeds associated with their names and kept in memory in history classes, like Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, Napoleon Bonaparte, Abraham Lincoln, etc.

Scandal can also make people famous, regardless of how accomplished they were in their chosen professions.

Who can tell me what were the legislative accomplishments of Anthony Wiener or can you only recall his exposing himself and sexting?

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Above: Anthony David Weiner, US Congressman (1999 – 2011)

Some things are associated with fame, like appearing on the cover of Time, being spoofed by Mad, having a wax statue in Madame Tussauds or receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Some people are well known even to folks unfamilar with the area in which the celebrity excelled.

I never followed boxing, but I know the names Muhammed Ali and Mike Tyson.

Even those who aren´t interested in art, recognise Pablo Picasso.

The unscientific know Albert Einstein.

Even criminals become famous if their crimes are sensational enough.

Celebrities often have fame comparable to royalty.

Some celebrities are hated for being celebrated, and due to their high visibility the successes and shortcomings of even their private lives are made very public.

Celebrities are also portrayed as glowing examples of perfection, as possessing skills and abilities beyond average people, beyond us mere mortals.

Even those celebrities with limited education or experience are viewed as experts on complicated issues and some have been very vocal with their political views regardless of their understanding of these views.

And sometimes it is a person´s celebrity status that can bring an issue´s importance into the spotlight with the public and the media.

It is believed that because very few people can become celebrities, this must mean that those that do must be superior to those who, for many reasons, cannot become famous.

It is a fallacy, but a manic belief nonetheless.

 

Lago di Como, Italia, 1 August 2017

We had booked three nights at the Convento San Antonio Bed & Breakfast, and I was determined that Ute (my wife) would not drive our car except between accommodation stops.

We had driven a lot the previous day and it had been a frustrating and hot drive along the western shore of Lago di Como to arrive in the city of Como.

(See Canada Slim and the Evil Road, Canada Slim and the Apostle of Violence, and Canada Slim and the Road to the Open of this blog for details of that first day.)

So I hoped that Ute (and I, of course) could relax and enjoy our vacation if we were not bound to our Peugeot throughout the trip.

Of all the lakes that Italy possesses, it is the forked Lago di Como that comes most heavily praised.

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Marie Henri Beyle first set foot on the shores of Lago di Como (also known as Lago Lario) as a 17-year-old conscript under Napoleon.

Years later, as Stendhal, he wrote in La Chartreuse de Parme that the blue-green waters of the Lake and the grandeur of the Alps made it the most beautiful place in the world.

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Above: Stendhal (1783 – 1842)

The hordes of Italian and foreign tourists who have flocked here ever since suggest that Stendhal was onto something.

Wordsworth thought it “a treasure which the Earth keeps to itself.”

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Above: English Romantic poet William Wordsworth (1770 – 1850)

Today, despite the influx of tourists, the Lake is still surrounded by abundant vegetation and zigzagging across the water on a steamer still seems ridiculously romantic.

And Como, come summertime, is packed out with British and German tourists.

Now I understand how Italians can be both puzzled and delighted by us, the foreign visitors, the peaceful invaders.

There are over 20 million of us every year and we still keep coming.

Nothing stops us.

Nothing frightens us.

We are a flood that never dries up.

We come from all over.

We are well-fed, self-satisfied and well-behaved.

We follow urges we cannot explain.

Italy once experienced first hand never loses its charms.

We are never satiated by the sights, climate, food, music and life.

The cities of Italy are emptied of Italians, save those who cater to we dusty and perspiring tourists.

Rough Guide Italy does not sing Como´s praises, describing it as “a rather dispiriting place to arrive, with little of the picture-postcard prettiness you would expect from a lakeside town.

As the nearest resort to Milano and a popular stopoff on the main road into Switzerland, Como is both heavily touristed and fairly industrialised.”

Lonely Planet Italy describes Como:

“Elegant Como, 50 km north of Milano, is the main access town to the Lake and sits at the base of the 146 sq km body of water.

Como has relatively few attractions in its own right, although the lakeside location is stunning, its narrow pedestrian lanes are a pleasure to explore and there are numerous bars and cafés where you can relax with a cold drink on a balmy day.”

Ferries operated by Como-based company Navigazione Lago di Como crisscross the Lake year-round.

We buy a map “The Villas Seen from the Lake”, so from the boat we will able to identify the many villas and interesting places that one can see from the Lake, from Como to Bellagio on the east bank and from Como to Griante on the west.

The rows of villas seem endless.

So many Villas!

Villa Carminati Scacchi, Villa Saporiti (“the Rotunda” and Napoleon´s residence during his stay in Como in 1797)….

Colored painting depicting Napoleon crowning his wife inside of a cathedral

Above: The Coronation of Napoleon Bonaparte (1769 – 1821), 2 December 1804

Villa Gallia, Villa Parravicini Thaon de Revel, Villa Pisa Colli Canepa, Villa Geno (a former hospital and convent of the Humiliati Friars), Villa Volonté….

Villa Olma (host to kings and queens and emperors and Garibaldi who unified Italy. Here Garibaldi fell in love with Josephine, a daughter of the owner of the Villa. Their marriage lasted…30 minutes!)….

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Above: Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807 – 1882)

Villa Mirabella, Villa Pisani Dossi (built by the Italian writer Carlo Dossi, including the famous “porch of friends” with columns engraved with the names of important artists close to Dossi)….

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Above: Carlo Dossi (1849 – 1910)

Villa Troubetzkoy (“the Swiss Chalet” built by Russian Prince Alexander Troubetzkoy and used after he had been sentenced to six years of hard labour in Siberia for an attempt on the Tsar´s life), Villa Sforni, Villa Dozzio, Villa Cademartori (once owned by the Artaria family, publishers of the compositions of Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, etc)….

Villa Taglioni (built in 1840 by Marie Taglioni, the famous dancer who invented ballet “en pointe”, who once was so rich she also possessed five palaces by the Grand Canal in Venezia, but lost her fortune when her father made poor investments. She died penniless in Marseille.)….

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Above: Marie Taglioni (1804 – 1884)

Then….

Day 2 of our vacation was turning out to be the Quest for George Clooney.

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Above: American actor George Clooney

Villa Erba in Cernobbio, west bank of the Lake, was built in 1894 by the grandparents of the famous director Luchino Visconti.

Some important scenes of Ocean´s 12, the 2001 film starring George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt and Catherine Zeta-Jones, were shot here.

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The boatload of passengers were suitably impressed.

Villa Allamel, Villa Belgioioso Schouvaloff (in Blevio, east bank of the Lake, built by Russian Prince Schouvaloff and owned today by casino prince Oleg Boyko. It once belonged to Cristina Trivulzio Belgioioso, an exceptional woman who, despite failing health, led a very interesting and adventurous life, working hand in hand with those who fought to release Italy from Austrian rule.)….

Above: Cristina Belgioiso (1808 – 1871)

Villa Cima (where the noble intellectual beauty, rich and refined Vittoria Cima della Scala once lived), Villa Belvedere (belonged to the Imbonati Family, whose grandson, the famous Italian writer, Alessandro Manzoni spent many happy summers)….

And on and on…

Till the mind could not take in any more Villas and the tales they harboured.

Then the boat threatens to tip to one side as we all rush to get a glimpse of Villa Oleandra, to the left of the church of Laglio, owned by George Clooney (and his wife (his 2nd marriage) human rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin, of British-Lebanese heritage), near the former residence of Italian author Ada Negri.

Above: Villa Oleandra

Above: Julia Roberts with George and Amal Clooney at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival

Why did Mr. American Apple Pie buy property in Italy?

We foreigners don’t just come to Italia.

We keep coming back.

Hollywood actors like Clooney come and stay, because the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) wants more money from him than he feels they deserve.

He wants the reassurance of noble surroundings, to show off his excellent taste, his genius, his charisma and importance in a land that still appreciates such things.

He does not realise that Italians treat him as one treats children, with courtesy and sympathy.

But the reality of being Italian is too disturbing, too difficult, too mysterious, too undefinable, for folks like George or myself.

A boatload of female fans were disappointed as George was not seen.

The women still love George, at least those over 30.

George Timothy Clooney, born 6 May 1961, exactly 4 years and 8 days before yours truly, is an American actor, director, producer, screenwriter, activist, businessman and philanthropist.

He has received three Golden Globes and two Academy Awards for his work in Hollywood.

His rise to fame came when he played Dr. Doug Ross on NBC´s medical drama ER (1994 – 1999).

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His first major Hollywood role was in the horror-comedy-crime thriller From Dusk till Dawn, co-starring Harvey Keitel.

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He then increased his profile in the romantic comedy One Fine Day (with Michelle Pfeiffer), the action-thriller The Peacemaker (with Nicole Kidman), the superhero movie Batman and Robin (with Arnold Schwarznegger, Uma Therman and Chris O`Donnell), crime comedy Out of Sight (with Jennifer Lopez) and  the war satire Three Kings all while still on contract to ER.

Three men in army fatigues

After leaving ER, Clooney starred in the disaster drama The Perfect Storm, the adventure comedy O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and the heist comedy Ocean´s 11 – Clooney´s most successful film with him in the lead role.

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Clooney made his directorial debut in the 2002 film Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, based on the autobiography of TV producer Chuck Barris.

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He then starred in Syriana, a story based loosely on former CIA Agent Robert Baer´s memoirs of his Service in the Middle East.

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He then directed, produced and starred in Good Night, and Good Luck, a film about 1950s TV Journalist Edward R. Murrow´s famous war of words with Senator Joseph McCarthy.

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Clooney next appeared in the film noir The Good German set in post WW2 Germany, then in the legal thriller Michael Clayton.

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He directed and starred the sports comedy Leatherheads, costarred with Ewan McGregor and Kevin Spacey in the war parody The Men Who Stare at Goats, starred in the comedy-drama Up in the Air, produced and starred in the thriller The American, starred in the drama The Descendants, and in the political drama The Ides of March, and produced the thriller Argo.

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He co-starred with Sandra Bullock in the science fiction thriller Gravity, co-wrote, directed and starred in the WW2 thriller The Monuments Men, produced August: Orange County (starring Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts), starred in science fiction adventure Tomorrowland and in the 1950s Hollywood spoof Hail, Caesar!, reunited with Julia Roberts for Money Monster and directed Suburbicon (starring Matt Damon and Julianne Moore).

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Clooney is the only person in Academy Award history to be nominated for Oscars in six different categories: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Clooney has appeared in commercials outside the US for Fiat, Nespresso, Martini vermouth, and Omega.

Clooney was named one of Time magazine´s “100 Most Influential People in the World” (2007, 2008, 2009) and has been described as one of the most handsome men in the world.

TV Guide ranked Clooney #1 on its “50 Sexiest Stars of All Time” list. (2005)

He has been parodied by South Park and American Dad.

Director Alexander Cartio made his debut feature film, Convincing Clooney, about a LA artist who, faced with rejection as an actor and screenwriter, tries to get Clooney to star in his first-ever low-budget short film.

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As an activist, Clooney supported President Obama´s campaigns in both the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections.

Obama standing with his arms folded and smiling

He is a supporter of gay rights.

In 2003, he opposed the Iraq War, saying:

“You can´t beat your enemy any more through wars. 

Instead you create an entire generation of people seeking revenge.

Our opponents are going to resort to car bombs and suicide attacks because they have no other way to win.

I believe Donald Rumsfeld thinks this is a war that can be won, but there is no such thing anymore.

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Above: Donald Rumsfeld, 13th and 21st US Secretary of Defense (1975-1977 and 2001-2006

We can´t beat anyone any more.”

In 2016, Clooney endorsed Hillary Clinton for the presidential election.

He is involved with Not On Our Watch Project, an organisation that focuses global attention and resources to stop and prevent mass atrocities.

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He organised the telethon Hope for Haiti Now after the 2010 earthquake.

Clooney performed with Martin Sheen and Brad Pitt in Dustin Black´s play 8, re-enacting the federal trial that overturned California´s Proposition 8 ban on same sex marriage, raising money for the American Foundation for Equal Rights.

Clooney advocated a resolution of the Dafur conflict, spending ten days in Chad and Sudan making the TV special “A Journey to Dafur” reflecting the situation of Darfur´s refugees, with proceeds donated to the International Rescue Committee.

He spoke to the UN Security Council to ask the UN to find a solution to the conflict and to help the people of Dafur, and he visited China and Egypt to ask both governments to pressure Sudan´s government.

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

Above: Flag of the United Nations

He sent an open letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, calling on the European Union to take decisive cction in the region given the failure of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to respond to UN Resolutions.

He narrated and produced the documentary Sand and Sorrow and also appeared in the documentary Dafur Now.

The United Nations announced Clooney´s appointment as a UN Messenger of Peace in 2008.

Clooney initiated the Satellite Sentinel Project to monitor armed activity for signs of renewed civil war between Sudan and South Sudan and to detect and deter mass atrocities along the border regions there.

Clooney is an avid supporter of the recognition of the Armenian Genocide and is one of the chief associates of the 100 Lives Initiative, a project which aims to remember the lives lost during the event.

He has urged various American government officials to support the United States´ recognition of the Armenian Genocide and he visited Armenia to commemorate the 101st anniversary of the event in April 2016.

In May 2015, Clooney told the BBC that the Syrian conflict was too complicated politically to get involved in and he wanted to focus on helping the refugees.

In March 2016, George and Amal met with Syrian refugees living in Berlin to mark the 5th anniversary of the conflict, before meeting with Mrs. Merkel to thank her for Germany´s open door policy.

All of this about George was unknown by the ladies on our boat and, quite frankly, I don´t think they would have cared to know.

As access to celebrities is strictly controlled by their entourage of staff, including managers, publicists, agents, personal assistants and bodyguards, this makes it difficult for even journalists to have access to them.

We on the boat knew that most of us would never meet George face to face in our lifetimes.

Still I don´t envy George.

While being famous offers some advantages such as wealth and easier access to things that are more difficult for non-famous people to access – like the ability to easily meet other famous or powerful people – being famous comes with the disadvantage of creating conditions in which the celebrity finds himself acting in superficial, inauthentic fashion.

Being famous means a life without anonymity, often without privacy.

And a private persona that is different from the public persona that the celebrity created can lead to difficulties in accepting the celebrity for the person he/she really is.

But ironically there remains a strong public curiosity about celebrities´ private affairs.

George´s love life prior to his marriage to Amal interested a great many people and….

George has dated.

A lot.

He has dated actress Kelly Preston, actress Talia Balsam, porn star Ginger Lynn Allen, French TV personality Céline Balitran, British model Lisa Snowdon, actress Renée Zellweger, actress Krista Allen, dating reality personality Sarah Lawson, Italian actress Elisabetta Canalis, wrestling diva Stacy Kiebler and finally his present wife Amal Alamuddin.

Above: Italian actress/model Elisabetta Canalis

And why not?

Women have found him attractive, both physically and socially.

Perhaps the ladies gawking and craning their necks to shore hoped to see George without his shirt, but perhaps the recent births of twins to George and Amal has kept him secluded inside the Villa Oleandra….

Or inside his main home in Los Angeles….

Or in his home in Los Cabos, Mexico, next door to supermodel Cindy Crawford….

Or in his new home, the Mill House, on an island in the River Thames at Sonning Eye in England.

The ladies aboard sailed past the Villa Oleandra disappointed but not surprised.

I met a celebrity only once in my life, riding the same elevator as myself, riding up to do separate interviews for CBC Radio inside the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa, Canada.

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Former Canadian Prime Minister Joe Clark and I had little to say to one another and I am certain his meeting me was quickly forgotten.

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Above: Joe Clark, 16th Prime Minister of Canada (1979 – 1980)

And I am certain that whatever it was that I said in my stunned surprise was both unintelligible and unintelligent.

And I am certain that if George Clooney ever crossed my path I would have absolutely no idea what it is I would say to him.

Above: Amal and George Clooney, 2016 Berlin Film Festival

But considering that my wife has always lusted after George since she first began watching ER I think I would say:

“George, thanks for keeping your shirt on.”

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Sources: Wikipedia / Rough Guide Italy / Lonely Planet Italy

 

 

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Bullets and ballots

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 20 April 2017

On Easter Sunday, the Turkish people had an election and chose to support President Recep Erdogan by a slim minority of votes. (3% victory margin)

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Depending on who you listen to, this means that either the President has now received a mandate to exercise unbridled power or he can now make democratic reform a reality.

I have been closely watching Turkey over the past few years and in particular the actions of His Excellency Recep Erdogan and I think that one needs to closely look at the President of Turkey to better understand the dynamics of Turkish politics and how these dynamics can affect global affairs.

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In three previous blogposts (The sick man of Europe 1: The sons of Karbala / The sick man of Europe 2: The sorrow of Batman / The sick man of Europe 3: The rise of Recep) I wrote about the relationship between the Turkish people and the Kurds, with the latest post examining the rise of Recep Erdogan to the post of Prime Minister.

His tenure of Prime Minister (Turkish head of government) and his actions since he was elected President (Turkish head of state) are critically worth examining as his recent proposed reforms involve dissolving the post of Prime Minister and incorporating these powers into the position of the Turkish Presidency.

For non-Turkish readers I believe that the vigilant observation of Turkey is important for the world as Turkey has been and continues to be the bridge between Europe and Asia, between secularism and fundamentalism, between Christianity and Islam, between the West and the East and the Middle East.

And, of course, Europeans are keenly interested in Turkey as, at present, Turkey harbours millions of Syrian refugees and prevents them from entering, in uncontrollable numbers, the European Union and other countries of the West.

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Above: A Syrian refugee centre on the Turkish border 80 km from Aleppo, Syria (3 August 2012)

So what affects Turkey has a rippling effect on the rest of the world.

In my last Turkey-related blogpost I ended by suggesting that Recep Erdogan has begun his political reign quite successfully.

He had risen from the role of one of Istanbul’s best mayors to the post of Prime Minister.

Erdogan served as the 25th Prime Minister of Turkey from 2003 to 2014 and is at present the 12th President of the Republic and remains the leader of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) which he established in 2001.

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So, let’s examine his record in power…

In 2002, Erdogan inherited a Turkish economy that was just beginning to recover from a recession as a result of reforms implemented by then Minister of State for Economic Affairs Kemal Dervis.

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Erdogan supported Finance Minister Ali Babacan in enforcing macroeconomic policies and he tried to attract more foreign investors to Turkey by lifting many government regulations.

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In his tenure as Prime Minister, Erdogan reduced Turkey’s debt to the International Monetary Fund from $23. 5 billion to $0.9 billion, increased the Turkish Central Bank’s reserves from $26.5 billion to $92.2 billion, reduced Turkey’s inflation rate from 32% to 9%, reduced Turkey’s public debt from 74% to 39%, but he was unable to curb the increase in unemployment rates in his country.

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In 2003, Erdogan’s government pushed through the Labor Act, a comprehensive reform of Turkey’s labor laws, greatly expanding the rights of employees, establishing a 45-hour workweek and limiting overtime work to 270 hours a year, providing legal protection against discrimination due to gender, religion or political affliation, prohibiting discrimation between permanent and temporary employees, entitling employees terminated without valid cause to compensation and mandating written contracts for employment arrangements lasting a year or more.

In 2003, the Turkish government, together with UNICEF, started a campaign called “Come on girls, let’s go to school!”(Haydi Kizlar Okula!), with the goal of closing the gender gap in primary school enrollment through the provision of a quality basic education for all girls, especially in southeast Turkey (Kurdish populated).

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After assuming power in 2003, Erdogan’s government embarked on a sweeping reform program of the Turkish healthcare system, called the Health Transformation Program (HTP), to greatly increase the quality of healthcare and protect all citizens from financial risks.

On 18 April 2003, BBC News reported that the US had named 30 countries which were prepared to be publicly associated with the US (George W. Bush Administration)’s action against Iraq.

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All of the Arab states, Israel, Canada, Belgium, France, Germany, Norway, most of Latin America and most of Africa did not support the US action, but Turkey along with 29 other countries (including Britain and Australia) did join this “Coalition of the Willing” in the war against Iraq.

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Above: The flag of Iraq

Besides his government’s Haydi Kizlar Okula campaign, Erdogan would go on to increase the budget of the Ministry of Education (from 7.5 billion Turkish lira in 2002 to 34 billion Turkish lira by 2011), would raise the age of compulsory education from 8 years to 12, and would ensure that every province in Turkey would have its own university, doubling the number of universities from 98 in 2002 to 186 by 2012.

In 2004 textbooks became free of charge.

The construction of Marmaray, an undersea rail tunnel under the Bosphorus Strait separating Asia from Europe, was started in 2004, and, when completed, will be the world’s deepest undersea immersed tube tunnel.

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As well in 2004, as part of the government’s health care reforms, the Green Card program, which provides health benefits to the poor, was expanded, aiming to increase the ratio of private health care to state-run healthcare, which, along with long lines in state-run hospitals, resulting in the rise of private medical care, forcing state-run hospitals to compete by increasing quality.

And his reforms would attract the world’s attention…

In 2004, Erdogan would be listed in Time magazine one of the 100 most influential people in the world, “a builder of bridges”, and be named European of the Year by the weekly European Voice, for having put Turkey on the road to reform.

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During Erdogan’s Prime Minstership, Turkish relations with Greece both politically and economically improved significantly.

In 2004, Erdogan and his party strongly supported the EU-backed referendum to reunify Cyprus, thus inspiring the EU to promise to end the economic isolation of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

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Above: The flag of Northern Cyprus

In 2004, Syrian President Bashar al-Assan arrived in Turkey for the first official visit by a Syrian President in 57 years, signing a free trade agreement with one another.

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Above: Bashar al-Assan, 15th President of Syria since 2000, born 1965

And at the end of the year, Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Turkey – only the second presidential visit in the history of Turkish-Russian relations after Chairman Podgorny’s visit of 1972.

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Above: Vladimir Putin, Russian President (2000-2008/2012- ), Prime Minister (1999-2000/2008-2012), born 1952

In 2005 Erdogan seemed to continue his exemplary reforms and positive foreign relations.

Erdogan and the main opposition party leader Deniz Baykal wrote a letter to Armenian President Robert Kocharian, proposing the creation of a joint Turkish-Armenian commission of historians, archaeologists, political scientists and other experts to acknowledge the mass killings of up to 1.5 million Armenians during World War I as genocide.

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Above: The flag of Armenia

Armenian Foriegn Minister Vartan Oskanian rejected the offer, because he asserted that the proposal was “insincere and not serious”.

“This issue cannot be considered at historical level with Turks, who themselves politicized the problem.”

The Turkish Parliament granted amnesty to students expelled from university before 2003, on academic or disciplinary grounds.

On 1 May 2005, in a rare state visit by a leader of a Muslim majority country, Erdogan came to Israel offering to serve as a Middle East peace mediator and looking to build on trade and military ties, bringing with him a delegation of businessmen.

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During his visit to Israel, Erdogan also visited the Yad Vashem (Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust).

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Above: Aerial view of Yad Vashem

In November 2005, Russian President Putin attended the inauguration of a jointly constructed natural gas pipeline in Turkey, considering it their strategic goal to achieve “multidimensional cooperation” in the fields of energy, transport and the military.

Erdogan was a co-founder of the Alliance of Civilisations (AOC), first proposed by Spanish Prime Minister José Rodriguez Zapatero at the 59th General Assembly of the United Nations in 2005, seeking to galvanize international action against extremism through the forging of international, intercultural and inter-religious dialogue and cooperation.

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Erdogan said that “Turkey’s accession shows that Europe is a continent where civilisation reconcile and not clash.”

On 3 October 2005 negotiations for Turkey’s accession to the EU formally started.

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Above: The flag of the European Union

In 2006, a Turkish-Armenian friendship monument, the Monument to Humanity, was commissioned in Kars, representing the rapprochement of the two countries after many years of dispute over the events of the 1915 Armenian Genocide.

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Above: The Statue of Humanity (2009 – 2011)

But Turkey’s troubles and questions regarding Erdogan’s questionable methods began to arise…

In March 2006, the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) held a press conference to publicly protest his obstruction of the appointment of judges to the high courts for over 10 months, saying that Erdogan wanted to fill the vacant posts with his own appointees.

Erdogan was accused of creating a rift with Turkey’s highest court of appeal, the Yargitay, and high administrative court, the Danistay.

Erdogan said the constitution gave him the power to assign these posts to his elected party.

Yet reforms still seemed underway as Erdogan unveiled a social security reform package demanded by the IMF under a loan deal.

The move which Erdogan called “one of the most radical reforms ever”, was passed with fierce opposition.

Turkey’s three social security bodies were united under one roof, bringing equal health services and retirement benefits for members of all three bodies.

The previous system had been criticized for reserving the best healthcare for civil servants and relating others to wait in long queues.

Under the 2006 bill, everyone under the age of 18 was entitled to free health services, while starting from 2036, the retirement age was increased to 65 for both men and women.

In August 2006, Saudi King Abdullah as-Saud made a visit to Turkey – the first visit by a Saudi monarch to Turkey in four decades, increasing their trading volume as their strategic locations meant their economies were in a a position to supplement each other.

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Above: The flag of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Erdogan received the Outstanding Service Award from the humanitarian organization Red Crescent (Islamic equivalent to the Red Cross).

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But 2006 would mark the last year where people were mostly praising Erdogan…

In May 2007, the head of Turkey’s High Court asked prosecutors to consider whether Erdogan should be charged over critical comments he made the previous month regarding the election of Abdullah Gül as President.

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Above: Abdullah Gül, 11th President of Turkey (2007 – 2014) / 24th Prime Minister of Turkey (2002 – 2003)

Erdogan said the High Court ruling was “a disgrace to the justice system” and criticized the Constitutional Court which had invalidated a presidential vote because a boycott by other parties meant there was no quorum.

Prosecutors investigated his earlier comments, saying Erdogan had fired a “bullet at democracy”.

Tülay Tuglu, head of the Constitutional Court, condemned the Prime Minister for “threats, insults and hostility” towards the justice system.

On a positive note, the Turkish Parliament agreed to reduce the age of candidacy to elected office from 30 to 25 and abolished the death penalty in all instances, including war time.

Both the military and the judiciary are widely known for their secular credentials (that is, the separation of religion from government), so both therefore represent a threat to Erdogan’s moderately Islamic government.

2007 was an election year.

The stage was set for a fight for legitimacy in the eyes of voters between Erdogan’s government and the second largest party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP).

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On 14 April 2007, an estimated 300,000 people marched in Ankara to protest against the possible candidacy of Erdogan in the Presidential election, afraid that if elected Erdogan would alter the secular nature of the Turkish state.

Ten days later, Erdogan announced that his party had nominated Abdullah Gül as the AKP candidate in the Presidential election.

Protests continued over the next several weeks, with over one million people reported to have turned out as a 29 April rally in Istanbul, tens of thousands at separate protests on 4 May in Manisa and Canakkale, and one million in Izmir on 13 May.

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Above: Protest rally of 14 April 2007, Ankara

Early parliamentary elections were called after the failure of the parties in Parliament to agree on the next Turkish President.

The opposition parties boycotted the parliamentary vote and deadlocked the election process.

Erdogan spoke of a failure of the Turkish political system and proposed to modify the Turkish constitution.

Gül was later elected President after the general elections on 22 July 2007 that saw the AKP and Erdogan brought back to power with 46% of the vote.

Later in 2007, a Turkish constitutional referendum was approved with the support of 69% of the voters to modify the constitution to allow the people, not Parliament, to elect the President.

This reform also reduced the Presidential term from seven years to five, allowed the President to stand for re-election for a second term, determined that general elections would be held every four years instead of five and reduced the quorum of lawmakers needed for parliamentary decisions from 367 to 184.

During this chaotic elction, the military issued an electronic memorandum warning the government to keep within the boundaries of secularism when choosing a candidate, because Erdogan had close relations with Fethullah Gülen and his Hizmet movement.

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Above: Muhammed Fethullah Gülen, born 1941

(Muhammed Fethullah Gülen is a Turkish preacher, former imam, writer and political figure, as he has been actively involved in the societal debate concerning the future of the Turkish state and Islam in the modern world.

Gülen has been described in English-language media as an imam “who promotes a tolerant Islam which emphasises altruism, hard work and education” and as “one of the world’s most important Muslim figures”.

The Gülen movement has millions of followers in Turkey and abroad.

Beyond the schools – over 1,000 schools around the world –  established by Gülen’s followers, it is believed that many Gülenists hold positions of power in Turkey’s police forces and judiciary.

Gülen has stated that he believes in science, interfaith dialogue and multiparty democracy.

In his sermons, Gülen has reportedly stated:  “Studying physics, mathematics and chemistry is worshipping God.”

He has initiated dialogue with the Vatican and some Jewish organisations and has personally met with Pope John Paul II, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople and Israeli Sephardic Head Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron.

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Above: Gülen with Pope John Paul II, 1998

Gülen teaches that the Muslim community has a duty of service to the “common good” of the community and to the nation and to Muslims and non-Muslims all over the world, and that the Muslim community is obliged to conduct dialogue with not just the People of the Book (Christians and Jews) and people of other religions, but also with agnostics and atheists.

Gülen has said that he favours cooperation between followers of different religions as well as religious and secular elements within society.

Among his strongest supporters and collaborators has been for years the Greek Orthodox Turcologist and Professor at the University of Ottawa, Dimitri Kitsikis.

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Above: Crest of the University of Ottawa

Though Gülen has criticized secularism in Turkey as “reductionist materialism”, he has said that a secular approach is not “anti-religious” and “allows for freedom of religion and belief, compatible with Islam”.

Gülen has supported Turkey’s bid to join the European Union and has said that neither Turkey nor the EU have anything to fear, but have much to gain, from a future of full Turkish membership in the EU.

Gülen has condemned terrorism and has warned against the phenomenon of arbitrary violence and aggression against civilians, saying it “has no place in Islam”.

Gülen wrote a condemnation article in the Washington Post on 12 September 2001, one day after the 9/11 attacks and stated:

“A Muslim cannot be a terrorist nor can a terrorist be a true Muslim.”

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Gülen lamented the “hijacking of Islam” by terrorists.)

In 2007, Erdogan’s government developed the SECSIS secure vote counting system in order to reduce fraud.

However SECSIS has been criticized for being prone to manipulation, and, according to one of its critics Neval Kavcar, “with this electoral system, the AKP can be elected for a thousand years”.

However, not all the news regarding Erdogan that year was bad.

The President of Israel Shimon Peres addressed the Turkish Parliament during his November visit, the first time an Israeli leader had addressed the legislature of a predominantly Muslim nation.

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Above: Shimon Peres (1923 – 2016), 9th President of Israel (2007-2014) / 8th Prime Minister of Israel (1995-1996)

And that same month, Erdogan and Greek Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis met on the bridge over the Evros River, at the border between Greece and Turkey, for the inauguration of the Greek-Turkish natural gas pipeline, linking these longtime rivals and giving Caspian gas its first direct Western outlet, easing Russia’s energy dominance.

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Above: The flag of Greece

Erdogan received awards for his efforts from the President of Tatarstan, the Prime Minister of Spain, the Chancellor of Germany, and the United Nations.

2008 didn’t garnish much world attention for Erdogan or for Turkey.

In December 2008, Erdogan criticized the “I Apologize” campaign by Turkish intellectuals to recognize the Armenian Genocide saying:

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Above: An Armenian woman kneeling beside a dead child in field within sight of help and safety at Aleppo, 1915

“I neither accept nor support this campaign.

We did not commit a crime, therefore we do not need to apologize.

It will not have any benefit other than stirring up trouble, disturbing our peace and undoing the steps that have been taken.”

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Above: Headline of New York Times, 15 December 1915

Erdogan supported the continuation of Turkey’s high population growth rate and commented that to ensure the Turkish population remained young every family would need to have at least three children.

He has repeated this statement on numerous occasions.

In 2008, the Turkish Parliament adopted a law to prohibit smoking in most public places.

Erdogan is outspokenly anti-smoking.

On 14 March 2008, Turkey’s Chief Prosecutor asked the country’s Constitutional Court to ban Erdogan’s governing party.

The AKP escaped a ban on 30 July 2008, although judges did cut the party’s funding by 50%.

As 2009 dawned, though Erdogan was not loved by everyone within Turkey itself, Erdogan had, for the most part, the support of the world community.

This would begin to change as Erdogan’s relations with Israel and the Kurds would become problematic…

(To be continued)

Sources: Wikipedia / Andrew Finkel, Turkey: What Everyone Needs to Know / Richard Stoneman, A Traveller’s History of Turkey

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Above: The national emblem of Turkey

Big Yellow Taxi

Landschlacht, Switzerland, Ides of March 2017

These are interesting times we live in, where nothing seems as certain as it once was.

Uncertainty as to whether foreign governments can determine other national elections…

Increased irrationality and xenophobia and hate crimes against folks whose only offence is the appearance of being different…

Wars that never end, from the ancient conflict between the Koreas that was resolved by uneasy ceasefire but without a peace treaty, to Afghanistan whose location and lithium cause empires to clash, to Syria so divided and torn apart causing untold millions to become adrift in modern diaspora, Africa where bloodshed is constant but media attention is scarce…

The most public nation on Earth run by an administration whose only real goal seems to be the total erasure of any achievements the previous administration might have accomplished…

Flag of the United States

Brazil: where governments change and prison conditions worsen…

Flag of Brazil

Turkey: a land of wonderful people ruled over by a government that seems desperate for the world to view the country in the completely opposite way…

Flag of Turkey

Israel: fighting for its rights of self-determination while denying the same rights of those caught within its reach…

Centered blue star within a horizontal triband

India: a land of unlimited potential yet prisoner of past values incompatible with the democracy it would like to be…

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.

A world where profit is more important than people, short-term gain more valuable than long-term consequence…

"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.

Interesting times.

And it is these interesting times that find me re-evaluating the behaviour of the routine traveller and why this type of person may be more deserving of respect than is often shown him…

A routine traveller is that kind of person who, regardless of a world that has so much to offer visitors, will not visit any other location than the one to which he returns to, again and again, year after year.

This kind of routine traveller tends to be found amongst the older population.

My biological father will drive down from Canada to Florida once a year, following the exact same route, stay at the same motels and eat at the same restaurants he slept in and ate at before, return to the same trailer by the same beach and do the same things he did before, vacation after vacation, year after year.

An elderly lady student of mine travels from Switzerland to Spain once every seven weeks and lives in Barcelona for a week, remaining in her apartment except to visit familiar places and familiar faces.

22@ district, Sagrada Família, Camp Nou stadium, The Castle of the Three Dragons, Palau Nacional, W Barcelona hotel and beach

And the only thing that would dissuade them from changing their routine would be circumstances beyond their control, like ill health or acts of God or government.

For much of my life I have mocked this kind of traveller.

I have wanted to explore the planet and visit faraway places with strange sounding names.

I have loved the sound of ship horns, train whistles, plane engines…

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I have loved discovering new sights and smells, meeting new people with different perspectives, learning anew just how much I have yet to learn, every day a new discovery, every moment a new adventure.

And that inner child, with eyes wide open with excitement and wonder, never really disappeared from within me.

But as I age I feel I am beginning to understand the routine traveller more, for there is something comforting in the familiar.

My father and my student had made wiser financial investments than I ever had or ever will so they have managed to build themselves second homes in other locales outside their countries of regular residence.

My wife and I, limited like most by time and money, have not even considered the lifestyle of the routine travelling retiree just yet.

But I am beginning to see their point of view.

Last month the wife and I visited the Zürich Zoo and I found myself, to my own amused astonishment, expressing a desire to retire one day in walking distance of a zoo with an annual membership and spend my final days sitting on benches watching the animals obliviously engage in their natural routines.

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I could see myself spending hours watching monkeys climb and swing, penguins march, peacocks strut, elephants calmly forage for food, owls stare back at me unblinkingly, bird song filling my ears, animal odors filling my nose, the solid concrete beneath my feet, the endless activity and colourful wonders of nature in myriad form.

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I can imagine worse ways of spending my last days.

There must be something comforting about going away to a place oft-visited, to once again shop in familiar markets, to take familiar strolls that never require a map, to rediscover the pleasure of a favourite café, to browse again in a well-loved bookshop, to feel at home in a place that isn`t home.

Above: Café Terrace at Night, Vincent van Gogh

I am a married man, for better or worse, so I am unable to simply abandon everything and hit the road as I once did.

I, like most, am bound by schedules and obligations and responsibilities and it is an adjustment, a rut, quite easy to mold oneself to, with its security and certainty in a world not so secure, not so certain.

Time is precious – as is health –  and the unreligious know that we only get one life, so there should be more to life than spending one`s youth working for unappreciative others than finding oneself struggling painfully to maintain a sliver of dignity in a health care centre just waiting to die.

Yet if this be fate then few will avoid it.

As much as I long to see more of a world so vast and unexplored, I think what might attract me to a life of a routine traveller is the increasing realisation that change is inevitable so it is important to appreciate what we’ve got before it is gone, before it is no longer available.

My father at Jacksonville Beach, my student in Barcelona… are comforted by the false security of the familiar getaway.

Images from top, left to right: Jacksonville Beach Pier, water tower, Jacksonville Beach City Hall, Sea Walk Pavilion, Adventure Landing, Jacksonville Beach

No matter how much their lives have changed back in Canada or in Switzerland, the trailer by the beach abides, the apartment in Barcelona is waiting.

But I am not yet ready for a trailer by the sea or an apartment in another city, for what I want to do in the few precious leisure moments afforded me at present, though I am limited by money, I want to step outside as often as possible and explore and re-explore the outdoors within my reach.

While it still lasts…while I still can.

For the newspapers and the media suggest that things might not last.

America has convinced itself that running a pipeline next to a major supply of fresh water is somehow a good idea.

Around the globe, forests are denuded, holes scar the Earth in Man’s mad search for scarce resources, waste is dumped into rivers and oceans with no thought or compassion as to what dwells under the surface or the consequences these actions will have for generations to come.

We rattle our sabres, stockpile our nukes, cry out for war and blindly fight for invisible gods under ever-changing banners, staggering drunk down the road towards our destruction while applauding ourselves for our cleverness.

Nuclear War: Nuclear weapon test, 1954

How long will the forest beyond the village of Landschlacht stand?

How long will seagulls and ducks swim in the clear waters of the Lake of Constance?

How long will the waves crash upon the shores of Jacksonville without dead fish and rotting carcasses polluting the sands?

How long will Barcelona’s streets be filled with music before the sound of marching militia boots tramp over the assumed tranquility?

How long will mothers fear the future for their newborns, teenagers feel the rage of a legacy cheated, the workman groan under the weight of his duties, the elderly too weary to care?

Too many questions…

I still want to explore the planet, but I no longer mock the man who embraces the familiar.

For the routine traveller may be lacking in courage or curiosity, but he is wise in his appreciation of the moment.

The routine traveller abides.

I take some comfort in that.

 

“They paved paradise and put up a parking lot

With a pink hotel, a boutique and a swinging hot spot….

…They took all the trees and put them in a tree museum

Then they charged the people a dollar and a half just to see ’em….

…Hey farmer, farmer, put away that DDT.

Give me spots on my apples but leave me the birds and the bees please….

…Late last night I heard the screen door slam

And a big yellow taxi come and take away my old man

Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve gone ’till it’s gone…”

Joni Mitchell, “Big Yellow Taxi”, Ladies of the Canyon, 1970

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Just another day?

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 24 February 2017

Perhaps all of this is none of my business.

Perhaps I should just quietly go about my life ignoring the world around me.

"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.

What does one man’s opinion matter, especially if that man lacks wealth, power or fame?

I believe that no man is an island, that each man is a note that contributes to the symphony of mankind.

I believe if a person acts according to the surety of conscience, resolving to do no harm but fight for the common good then that voice merits attention.

I live in one of the world´s most wealthiest countries, not by premeditated choice, but because I followed my heart and my wife when she sought better working conditions as a doctor than our homelands were offering.

But living in Switzerland, just as living in other countries prior to this (including my home and native land of Canada) did, often saddens me.

Flag of Switzerland

For it is the acquisition of wealth that seems to drive both institutions as well as individuals to act in ways detrimental to both our and others’ human spirit.

We have allowed ourselves over generations to let pieces of metal and paper dominate our decisions: how we spend our days, what we consider valuable, how we choose our leaders, how we interact, how we choose our life companions, the list seems endless.

Why do we believe that a beggar impoverished by circumstance is less worthy of respect than a banker who profits from the hard labour of others?

Why do people starve in the world when there is an overabundance of food available that if equally distributed could reach everyone?

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Why do we send young people and civilians to their deaths in wars so we can protect rare resources in the name of ideals we preach but seldom practice outside our borders?

Why are farmers who put food on our tables less respected than supermodels who are mere walking clothes hangers?

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We spend 80% of our adult lives working, yet so very few seem to enjoy the work they do, but we sacrifice our joy for what we believe to be the greater good: comfortable home lives.

But is that big screen TV enhancing our relationship with our spouses and children?

We reach our destinations faster, at the sacrifice of communion with our environment.

We have access to more information, but no time to assimilate it.

Why do we think ourselves superior to others and disregard what their common humanity has to teach us?

There is much I do not understand, much I have to learn.

I am a simple man of simple education, but I try to think and understand and learn about a world beset with problems.

I have been blessed by life in that I have been allowed to teach others to earn my daily bread, in the opportunities I have had to explore a small part of the world, in the range of information sources that time and place have granted me access.

I have a warm, dry place to lay my head each night and food to sustain my appetite.

I have been blessed by an imperfect beautiful and intelligent wife who feels compelled to remain with an even more imperfect, not so handsome or clever husband.

I have been blessed by friends who may not understand me but whose opinions and encouragement I value.

I have been blessed by sufficient health and the ability to think and feel and through electronics a forum to share my thoughts and ask questions.

I enjoy blessings that others in the world might not be enjoying.

With privilege comes responsibility.

This is a lesson many wealthy individuals forget.

This is a lesson many politicians forget.

I have a number of friends whose political views I do not share.

I respect their opinions and would gladly defend their rights to express those opinions.

In Europe and America many people have been shocked by the rise of right wing parties riding waves of populism they managed to create.

No one could have predicted the rise of France’s Marine LePen or America´s Donald Trump or the resilence of political parties like Germany’s Alternative Party, Italy’s Lega Nord, Belgium’s Vlaam Blok, Austria’s Freedom Party or Switzerland’s Swiss People’s Party.

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Lega Nord logo.pngVlaams Blok logo.pngLogo of Freedom Party of Austria.svgSVP UDC.svg

Brexit was unimaginable yet it happened.

Donald Trump becoming US President was even more inconceivable yet it has already been a month since his Inauguration.

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They scream about the potential security threats of letting immigrants and refugees into their countries.

I sadly read of yesterday’s events in Lahore, Pakistan…

At least eight people have been killed and more than 30 others injured in an explosion that hit the Defence Y Block, which houses restaurants, offices and shops in a busy shopping area in Pakistan`s second-largest city.

Punjab police said it was a planted bomb, set on a timer or remotely detonated that caused the explosion.

The force of the explosion blew out the windows of surrounding buildings and cars, spraying them with shrapnel as people fled.

The Defence Y Block, part of the Defense Housing Authority, is controlled by the military with housing mainly given to people working for the armed forces.

Just one week prior to this, a suicide attack on a shrine in Pakistan killed at least 88 people and injured more than 250.

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Above: The Sufi Shrine of Lal Shahbaz in Qalandar Sehwan, Pakistan, attacked on 16 February 2017

Two days before this a suicide bomber attacked a rally in Lahore, killing over a dozen people.

Above: Charing Cross, across from the Punjab Assembly, where the protestors had assembled on 13 February 2017

ISIS has claimed responsibility for the deaths, causing terror and distress across the country.

Black Standard flag[1]

While the Western press have published the odd article about the attacks, the coverage goes no further…

There is no big front page reporting, no special emergency episodes of political podcasts, no trending #s, no Snapchat filters…

The Western media is so obsessed with what Donald Trump does and doesn´t say about potential security threats that they are ignoring the actual terror attacks going on.

Nationality, religion and race are the clear deciding factors in the media’s reporting of lives lost.

Western media and governments have a standard policy…

Terrorism isn’t worth mentioning unless it affects their own people and countries.

If there were the same number of terrorism victims in a similar attack in any Western country, the media and politicians would have respondly quickly and loudly.

The message is clear.

Western lives matter, but brown, black and non-Christian lives aren’t worthy of a story.

Pakistan`s terrorism problem can’t be ignored.

More than 80,000 Pakistanis have lost their lives since the 9/11 terror attacks.

Flag of Pakistan

Above: The flag of Pakistan

A total of four million Muslims have been killed in the war against terror.

Until we realise that all lives matter, that all lives deserve the same respect, regardless of race, wealth or creed, we will never be able to eradicate the threat of extremism which hangs over us all.

What happens in Nigeria, Turkey or Pakistan is no less important than what happens in America, Canada, France, Belgium, Germany or Switzerland.

Until we begin to care about life beyond our borders, not just for financial gain but for humanitarian reasons, mankind will never make much progress.

NASA recently announced the discovery of several Earthlike planets beyond our solar system, but I hope I don´t live to see the day mankind visits these planets or encounters alien life.

If we are unable to empathise with our fellow humans beyond our borders, surely we are not ready to explore the galaxy.

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The fashionable dead

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 3 January 2017

The scene outside my window seems worlds apart and away for the world I am about to describe…for the streets here in this wee Swiss hamlet by the Lake of Constance are covered in snow both magical and mysterious.

Image may contain: outdoor and nature

You could spend days explaining to me the science behind snowfall and yet the boy inside the man will always find snow to be a marvel of nature unworthy of description but deserving of awe and praise.

Yesterday, St. Berchtold´s Day in Switzerland, a day celebrated since the 14th century, mostly in Protestant regions where Epiphany had been abolished and replaced by a second day off after New Year´s Day.

Some say that the holiday is named after Blessed Berchtold of Engelberg Abbey.

Others claim that the holiday celebrates a hunting trip in 1191 by Duke Berchtold V of Zähringen who decided to name his new city after the first animal he killed on that trip, a bear, this giving us Bern.

Wappen von Bern

Different folks believe that the name is associated with the verb “berchten”, which means “to walk around, asking for food”.

The name may also relate to Perchta, the female guardian of animals and leader of the Wild Hunt, featuring visits from humans transformed into animals.

Or the name could come from the German berhttac, the High German translation of the Greek epiphanias.

Who knows?

Who cares?

In some German-speaking cantons, families celebrate the holiday with meals at pubs or offered by traditional socieities.

In Hallwil, Canton Aargau, residents hold a mask parade with folks dressed up as symbols of fertility, age, ugliness, wisdom, vice, etc.

The Bärzeli occurs on this day when 15 Bärzeli (specifically costumed figures) march though the Hallwil village streets granting luck to all they meet.

In French-speaking Canton Vaud, children celebrate Berchtold´s Day with neighbourhood parties involving folk dancing and singing.

Nuts are involved.

Nuts are both eaten in a nut feast and used for games.

So considering snow-covered streets and animal figures marching through Swiss streets granting good fortune and then finding parallels to events in Turkey is a bit of comparative shock, but this morning I learned the name of the sole Canadian victim of New Year´s Eve in the attack on an Istanbul nightclub.

Istanbul has long be known as a city where East meets West, and its cosmopolitan makeup is reflected in the nationalities of revellers killed in Sunday’s attack:

The dead included a Russian, a Belgian, three Lebanese and seven Saudis, as well as eleven Turkish nationals, among others.

At least 25 of people killed in the attack were foreign nationals.

Nationals of Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Morocco, Libya, Israel, India, Canada, a Turkish-Belgian dual citizen and a Franco-Tunisian woman were among those killed at the nightclub on the shores of the Bosphorus waterway.

Flowers have been laid in front of the Reina night on January 1, 2017 in Istanbul, after a gunman killed at least 39 people, including many foreigners, in a rampage at an upmarket nightclub in Istanbul where revellers were celebrating the New Year.

A Toronto-area mother of two has been identified as one of the 39 people killed in the early morning terrorist attack in Istanbul on New Year’s Day.

Alaa Al-Muhandis, a resident of Milton, Ontario, in the Greater Toronto Area, was killed in the attack, which was executed by a lone gunman in a luxurious Istanbul nightclub a little more than an hour after revellers celebrated the start of 2017.

Ms. Al-Muhandis operated an events-planning business, specializing in weddings.

Her Facebook page also identified her as an employee of her husband’s Milton car dealership, a business – Looloo Auto Sales – that was named after her.

“We used to call her Looloo,” said Ghada Saad, a friend who also works as an events planner.

Ms. Al-Muhandis, a Canadian of Iraqi heritage, leaves two children, one youngster around two years old, as well as a six-year-old, friends said in interviews.

One friend said that Ms. Al-Muhandis’s children were not with her in Istanbul and were staying with a relative.

A spokesman for Global Affairs Canada confirmed on Monday evening that Ms. Al-Muhandis was the Canadian citizen who was killed in the nightclub attack.

A relative told a Globe and Mail reporter that the family was in mourning.

According to her public Facebook posts, Ms. Al-Muhandis had last shared a posting from her events-arrangements business in April, then posted “Bye bye Canada” on 23 June as she prepared to fly from Montreal’s Pierre Elliott Trudeau Airport to Amman, Jordan.

Flag of Canada

Two months later, on 22 August, she indicated she was flying back to Montreal, but she subsequently posted twice in November from the Iraqi city of Erbil, according to those entries that were geotagged on Facebook.

In early December, Ms. Al-Muhandis posted a prayer on Facebook in Arabic asking God to help her overcome despair.

Ms. Al-Muhandis launched her event business a few years ago as a “new start” to her professional life, said Ms. Saad, her friend from the events industry.

“She was a fashionable woman, full of life. … Every time you see her it was a new style,” Ms. Saad said.

One friend of Ms. Al-Muhandis, who asked not to be named, said that it was common for Iraqis to travel to Turkey as a way to leave behind the violence and conflict that has ravaged the region.

Istanbul was seen as an escape, he said.

“You never know what cities you’re going to get killed in now,” the friend said.

The Reina nightclub was a symbol of a cosmopolitan Istanbul…a dazzling nightclub where people from around the world could party together, free from the mayhem and violence gripping the nation.

It was there, at the Reina nightclub on the Bosporos – a hot spot for soap opera stars and professional athletes, Turks and well-heeled tourists – that those hoping to move past a particularly troubled year…died together.

Canada´s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, issued the following statement on the terrorist attack that took place at the Reina nightclub in Istanbul, Turkey:

“It is with deep sadness that I learned of the deadly terrorist attack on a nightclub in Istanbul that killed and injured innocent people celebrating the New Year and claimed the life of a Canadian citizen.

“On behalf of all Canadians, Sophie and I offer our deepest condolences to the families and friends of all of the victims of this horrible act, and we hope and pray that those injured have a rapid and complete recovery.

“We mourn with the people of Turkey today and with all countries who lost citizens in this vicious attack.

Flag of Turkey

“We also grieve the senseless loss of a Canadian citizen and remain steadfast in our determination to work‎ with allies and partners to fight terrorism and hold perpetrators to account.”

Nuts are involved.

Islamic State claimed responsibility on Monday for a New Year’s Day mass shooting in a packed Istanbul nightclub that killed 39 people, an attack carried out by a lone gunman who remains at large.

AQMI Flag asymmetric.svg

It described the Reina nightclub, where many foreigners as well as Turks were killed, as a gathering point for Christians celebrating their “apostate holiday”.

The attack, it said, was revenge for Turkish military involvement in Syria.

The attack had been carried out “in continuation of the blessed operations that the Islamic State is conducting against Turkey, the protector of the cross”.

“The apostate Turkish government should know that the blood of Muslims shed with airplanes and artillery fire will, with God’s permission, ignite a fire in their own land,” the Islamic State declaration said.

At a news conference in Ankara, Turkish government spokesman Numan Kurtulmus made no reference to the claim, but said it was clear Turkey’s military operations in Syria had annoyed terrorist groups and those behind them.

“This attack is a message to Turkey against its decisive operations across the border,” Kurtulmus said, adding that the offensive in Syria would continue until all threats to Turkey were removed.

The authorities are close to fully identifying the gunman, Kurtulmus said, after gathering fingerprints and information on his basic appearance, and had detained eight other people.

NATO member Turkey is part of the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State and launched the incursion into neighboring Syria in August to drive the radical Sunni militants, as well as Kurdish militia fighters, away from its borders.

The jihadist group has been blamed for at least half a dozen attacks on civilian targets in Turkey over the past 18 months,  but, other than assassinations, this is the first time it has directly claimed any of them.

It made the statement on one of its Telegram channels, a method used after attacks elsewhere.

All of those killed died from gunshot wounds, some of them shot at a very close distance or even point-blank range, according to a forensics report quoted by Milliyet newspaper.

The attack at Reina, popular with Turkish celebrities and wealthy visitors, shook Turkey as it tries to recover from a failed July coup and a series of deadly bombings, some blamed on Islamic State, others claimed by Kurdish militants.

Around 600 people were thought to be inside when the gunman shot dead a policeman and civilian at the door, forcing his way in then opening fire with an automatic assault rifle.

Some at the exclusive club jumped into the Bosphorus after the attacker opened fire at random just over an hour into the new year.

Witnesses described how he shot the wounded as they lay on the ground.

The attacker was believed to have taken a taxi from the southern Zeytinburnu district of Istanbul and, because of the busy traffic, got out and walked the last four minutes to the entrance of the nightclub, newspaper Haberturk said.

He pulled his Kalashnikov rifle from a suitcase at the side of the road, opened fire on those at the door, then threw two hand grenades after entering, Haberturk said, without citing its sources.

It said six empty magazines were found at the scene and that he was estimated to have fired at least 180 bullets.

Security services had been on alert across Europe for New Year celebrations following an attack on a Christmas market in Berlin that killed 12 people.

Terroranschlag-Berlin-Breitscheidplatz-2016 (2) (31731061626) (square crop).jpg

Only days ago, an online message from a pro-ISIS group called for attacks by “lone wolves” on “celebrations, gatherings and clubs”.

In a statement hours after the shooting, President Tayyip Erdogan said such attacks aimed to create chaos and destabilize the country.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan June 2015.jpg

“They are working to destroy our country´s morale and create chaos by deliberately targeting civilians with these heinous attacks.

We will retain our coolheadedness as a nation, standing more closely together, and we will neve give ground to such dirty games.”

Four months into its operation in Syria, the Turkish army and the rebels it backs are besieging the Islamic State-held town of al-Bab.

Erdogan has said he wants them to continue to Raqqa, the jihadists’ Syrian stronghold.

Turkey has also been cracking down on Islamic State networks at home.

In counter-terrorism operations between 26 December – 2 January, Turkish police detained 147 people over links to the group and formally arrested 25 of them, the interior ministry said.

The New Year’s Day attack came five months after a failed military coup, in which more than 240 people were killed, many of them in Istanbul, as rogue soldiers commandeered tanks and fighter jets in a bid to seize power.

Above: US General Joseph Dunford examines ruins of Turkey´s Parliament on 1 August 2016.

More than 100,000 people, including soldiers and police officers, have been sacked or suspended in a subsequent crackdown ordered by Erdogan, raising concern both about civic rights and the effectiveness of Turkey’s security apparatus.

The government says the purges will make the military, police and other institutions more disciplined and effective.

In my second journey to Turkey, on the Turkish Airways flight from Antalya to Istanbul, I was surprised and shocked to find amongst the travel literature the airline offered a full-colour Turkish Airways souvenir album of the events of 15 – 16 July (15 – 16 Temmuz) and the coup d´état attempt.

The photos are powerful, the coup is shown almost minute by minute in glorious splendor, the reader is captivated by photos of civilians seizing a tank, anti-coup demonstrations filled with Turkish flags, bombed buildings and bullet-ridden vehicles, President Erdogan on TV advocating calm, blockades of bridges and arrested militia, shots of protestors worldwide supporting the Turkish government (including demonstrations in Geneva, Toronto and Zürich among others), the descriptions exclusively in Turkish.

Did the airlines assume only Turkish people would fly between Turkish cities?

The attempted coup, the subsequent mass arrests of 40,000 people, (including 10,000 soldiers and 2,745 judges) (15,000 teachers suspended and 21,000 teachers´ licenses revoked), ongoing attacks on Turkey by ISIS and Kurdish nationalists, do leave me wondering…

This Turkey, a country tearing itself apart amid terrorist attacks and political instability…

A nation engulfed by the dark and destabilising forces gripping the Middle East, where everything seems to converge: terrorism, the migrant crisis, the rise of authoritarianism…

If I were Turkish, how would I be feeling about my country now?

Would I still feel it was a place to comfortably call home?

Would it still feel like my country?

“I don´t know what to say.

I don´t want to say anything political, but this can´t be accepted as the new norm.

Terrorism is everywhere now and the government has no control.

Something needs to be done.

There is no life left in Istanbul.”(Zeynep Ozman, brother to one of the injured in the nightclub attack)

 Above: The Bosporos Strait

Sources: The Globe and Mail / The International New York Times / Wikipedia

Burkinis on the beach

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 25 August 2016

As I read the headlines of recent newspapers I can´t help but feel a sense of sadness about how much discussion can be generated over themes of relative unimportance while other themes that should be talked about are often marginalized and ignored.

More headlines are devoted to athletes and Hollywood stars then are devoted to destruction and disease.

Most of us are more aware of Kim Kardashian´s measurements than we are of how serious a problem global warming is, more concerned about fashion than famine, more afraid of phantom menaces than actual threats.

As my wife is quick to remind me, your humble blogger is quite possibly the most unfashionable person she knows, but I know if I wait long enough fashion will catch up to me!

I think I am a typically, old-fashioned kind of a man when I say I can´t understand the fuss and hullabaloo that is made over fashion.

If my clothes match the weather, fit the function I need them to do, are somewhat clean and are not offensive to the eye of the beholder, then I am satisfied.

My wife is right when she suggests I may have too many books that threaten to eat up what little space our apartment possesses, but I can counter her arguments by taking a quick stroll to her side of the bathroom or taking a quick peek inside her wardrobe.

How many bottles and tubes of toiletries and make-up does a woman actually need?

How many shoes are “enough”?

Has she even worn all the clothes she owns?

In fairness, we strange humans judge one another, especially the female of the species, by appearance, even going so far as to falsely believe that appearance is an accurate gauge of character, that a beauty can never be a beast.

We pin our perceptions of self based upon how others judge our appearance and feel flattered and complimented when someone approves of our looks.

We spend fortunes on pharmaceuticals and some even go so far as to have surgery to maintain an image of unreal perfection and ageless youth.

We foolishly separate the ideas of intelligence from beauty, stupidly thinking that beauty and intelligence cannot co-exist within the same bodily frame and many of us believe that being beautiful is superior to being intelligent.

Why do we give so much respect and attention to fashion models and ignore the truly intellectual individuals among us?

We believe that age is incompatible with beauty, so many a woman tilts against the windmills of immovable inevitability by buying into the notion that science in a bottle can stave off the signs of aging.

Many believe that the body itself is insufficient and incomplete, so folks add cosmetics, jewellery of one form or another, and even body art.

So much time, so much energy, so much interest, so much money revolves around fashion and appearance.

The world might end tomorrow, but, damn it, we will look good when the final chimes strike.

Take the case of Bethany Mota.

Bethany Mota by Gage Skidmore.jpg

“Since launching her YouTube channel from the humble clutter of her north California bedroom, Mota has gone on to amass a following of nearly 10 million viewers and earns an estimated $40,000 a month for her videos.

Only 20 years old, Mota has won awards for her tips on recipes for packed lunches, back to school and morning routine tips, make-up and fashion tutorials.

This internet personality has through her videos built up her own media and fashion empire with her own clothing line with Aéroporta, JCPenney and Forever 21.

Testimony to the ever-rising reach of social media influencers, Mota was deemed so influential that she was selected to interview President Barack Obama as part of an initiative to branch out to a wider audience.

Mona’s YouTube channel reaches automatically larger audiences than most politicians’ social media accounts.” (Independent, 7 April 2016)

Think about this for a moment…

A 20-year-old whose “expertise” lies in what lip shade goes with what dress is more influential than a politician whose decisions have impact on a country’s economy and ultimately its future.

A 20-year-old makes more money per month than the President of the United States makes per year.

It’s a mad, mad, mad, mad, mad world.

No matter how one might belittle the world of fashion, there is no denying its impact and influence upon so many of us.

Fashion makes a statement.

With half the population on the planet obsessed with appearance, there is great potential for profit to be made from this obsession.

“Global brands are waking up to the massive opportunities of the worldwide Muslim market – a burgeoning sector that is young, highly educated and collectively has enormous spending power.

"Allah" in Arabic calligraphy

The world´s 1.6 billion Muslims constitute a laregly untapped commercial market, worth $2.1 trillion annually worldwide and increasing by $500 billion every year.

“A huge opportunity is being missed by corporate brands, but the market is being taken by storm by young Muslim start-ups,” said Shelina Janmohamed, vice president of Ogilvy Noor, an Islamic branding agency.

Ogilvy Noor | A full-service Islamic Branding consultancy | A full-service Islamic Branding consultancy

There are recent indications that global brands are beginning to target Muslims.

A decision by Marks & Spencer to sell a range of “burkinis” (full cover swimsuits) in the UK last month prompted heated debate.

MarksAndSpencer1884 logo.svg

H & M, one of the world´s biggest fashion chains, attracted attention with an ad featuring a model in a hijab last year.

H&M-Logo.svg

But there is still a long way to go.

“One of the complaints we hear is that Muslim consumers feel they are not engaged with, as businesses do not reach out to them.” (Shelina Janmohamed)

Janmohamed´s company´s research has found that more than 90% of Muslim consumers said their faith had some influence on their purchases.

Muslims want food, beverages and personal products to be sharia-compliant, but show more flexibility in products and services, such as finance, insurance and travel.

Although most Muslim consumers want acknowledgement and engagement from global businesses, some worry that corporations are motivated more by the chance to profit from the Muslim market.

According to Janmohamed, Muslim consumers fall broadly into two groups: futurists and traditionalists.

Futurists combine faith and modernity.

“They are proud to express their Muslim identity, but are also brand-conscious and brand-loyal.

They are open to the world, very tech-savvy, and very engaged in social media.”(Shelina Janmohamed)

Futurists, or Generation M, are younger and have influence disproportionate to their numbers.

Navid Akhtar, CEO of the Islamic TV production company Alchemiya calls Janmohamed´s futurists “gummies”(global urban Muslims).

Gummies are hyperdiverse, spiritual rather than Religious with a capital R, educated, transnational, with high disposable incomes and the vast majority are English speakers.

A key subset of gummies are “mipsters” (Muslim hipsters), aged between 16 and 24, obsessed with identity, image, fashion, friendship and education.

Tabish Hasan, CEO of the US-based Muslim Aid Network, compares the failure of major brands to tap into the Muslim market now to a similar disregard of the potential of the Hispanic market in the 1980s.

Muslim Aid Serving Humanity

“Brands can´t afford not to engage with the Muslim market.

The Muslim lifestyle market is moving in the same direction – it´s so big, it has so much spending power.

It´s just a matter of time.”(Tabish Hasan)(Guardian, 8 April 2016)

“France has begun arresting Muslim women for wearing full body swimwear.

What started as a temporary rule brought in by a single resort in France has spread along the French Riviera and beyond and has become a lightning rod for a multitude of divisive issues.

The first city to announce the prohibition was Cannes, where mayor David Lisnard said he wanted to prohibit “beachwear ostentatiously showing a religious affiliation while France and places of religious significance are the target of terror attacks” to avoid “trouble to public order”.

A Cannes bylaw says anyone wearing swimwear deemed not to “respect good customs and secularism” would be barred from visiting the resort´s beaches or swimming.

The second community to announce a burkini ban, Villeneuve-Loubet, was not so direct linking burkinis to terrorism.

V-L´s rule stipulates that only clothing that “is respectful to morality and secular principles, and in compliance with hygiene and safety rules” is allowed.

V-L mayor Lionnel Luca could not give what specific hygiene reasons there were for banning full body swimwear.

A tribunal in Nice ruled that a burkini ban is “necessary, appropriate and proportionate” to prevent public disorder.

Armed police forced a Muslim woman to remove her clothing on the city´s Promenade des Anglais, the location of the lorry attack on 14 July 2016 (Bastille Day) in which 84 people were killed.

Four police officers armed with handguns, batons and pepper spray stood around the woman who was lying on the beach wearing a blue headscarf and matching top and forced her to remove them despite her and her daughter´s crying.

(Think about this for a moment…

Men with guns forcing a woman to undress, with the weight of the law behind them.)

None of the French Riviera orders have directly mentioned burkinis and some people have questioned whether police would enforce the ban for wetsuits, nuns´ habits and other garments.

Dozens of Muslim women have been fined, given warnings, or arrested  for wearing clothing deemed to violate these bans.

Authorities in at least 15 towns and cities have brought in bans, with the most recent being Cagnes sur Mer in Provence.

News of burkini bans has spread around the world, gaining support from right wing politicians.

Marine Le Pen, leader of the far right Front National, claimed the “soul of France is in question”.

Le Pen, Marine-9586.jpg

“France does not lock away a woman´s body.

France does not hide half its population under the fallacious and hateful pretext that the other half fears it will be tempted.”(Marine Le Pen)

Critics have compared the enforcement of the ban to repression in Saudi Arabia and Iran, arguing that ordering women what to wear (or not to wear) is a violation of human rights in any context.

The bans are widely perceived to be a response to increased tensions and public fears following the Nice attack and the murder of a Catholic priest by ISIS supporters.

Some rights groups have said the new laws amount to the “collective punishment” of Muslims following the terror attacks and amid friction over immigration and the refugee crisis.

And other incidents continue…

Women are being ordered out of the sea, with onlookers shouting racist abuse.

Don´t misunderstand me…

I am very sympathetic to the victims of terrorism and I understand how sad and angry and afraid events of this type make people feel.

But we must not give in to these emotions nor let these emotions be a justification for acting as injustly as those we condemn.

We must not judge entire groups by the actions of a few.

We cannot prevent expression of religion and claim that this prevention is a secular act.

We cannot use the law against someone´s religious beliefs and then claim that we are ensuring that the law is separate from faith.

Nor need we fear that our beliefs are being supplanted by those who have chosen to bring their beliefs among us.

For if our beliefs are strong then they cannot be threatened by change.

And if our beliefs aren´t strong, then maybe change is necessary.

Terror analysts have warned that the dispute will fuel jihadist propaganda as groups like ISIS attempt to portray France and other Western countries as at war with Islam.

If the aim of the terrorists who took so many innocent lives in Paris, Nice and elsewhere was to foment hatred and conflict and to provoke the French state into an overreaction, then the French authorities have more than fulfilled their unsavoury ambitions.

Victimising and bullying Muslim women on holiday is not only bad PR, it is wrong in principle and entirely counterproductive.”(Independent editorial)

Germany is separately considering a nationwide ban on full face veils, which is already enforced in Belgium. (Independent, 25 August 2016)

In regards to face covering, I only consider it necessary when there are security issues where a person would be required to remove a motorcycle helmet, such as places like banks or border crossings.

As for swimwear I lean towards a “live and let live” philosophy.

If a woman is comfortable with being fully covered or uncovered then personal liberty and dignity should be paramount over whether I like seeing that woman in a burkini or a bikini.

And if I am uncomfortable with my environment then I have the choice of leaving it.

Fashion is a statement.

How we choose to respond to it is a question of not only the wearer´s character, but as well our own.

Red Stripe Swimsuit

 

 

 

 

Shadows on the stadium

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 17 August 2016

In less than a week the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics will be a thing of the past and to no one’s surprise the United States leads the medal standing, with 28 gold, 28 silver and 28 bronze, with swimming being the leading sport that the Americans are excelling at.

A green, gold and blue coloured design, featuring three people joining hands in a circular formation, sits above the words "Rio 2016", written in a stylistic font. The Olympic rings are placed underneath.

American swimmer Michael Phelps has single-handedly won the most Olympic medals so far: 5 gold and 1 silver, while US swimmer Katie Lededy is in second place with 4 gold and 1 silver.

Michael Phelps 2012.jpg

My homeland of Canada has won 2 gold, 2 silver and 0 bronze, excelling in swimming and gymnastics.

My country of residence Switzerland has won 2 gold, 1 silver and 2 bronze, excelling in cycling and rowing.

But let’s look at how many athletes each country sent…

America dominates the Olympics having sent 554 athletes, as compared to Canada’s 314 and Switzerland’s 104.

Now if I were a gambling man it would seem logical to place my bets on the team with the most players in the game.

I wonder what the founder of the modern Olympic Games, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, would have said about the unequal distribution of athletes.

I wonder if he would even recognize the Games he envisioned as being present today in Rio.

On a positive note, the Olympic Games, every two years with its media exposure, provide unknown athletes with the chance to attain national and international fame.

Olympic Rings

Over 13,000 athletes from more than 200 nations compete at the Summer and Winter Olympics in 33 different sports and nearly 400 events.

The Games offer an opportunity for the host city and country to showcase themselves to the world.

But much has changed since the first modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896.

The world now has Winter Olympics, Paralympic Games and Youth Olympics.

The Games have had to adapt to changes in economics, politics and technology.

Games that were once restricted to amateur athletes now allow the participation of professional athletes, allowing athletes like Usain Bolt to dominate the sporting events they participate in.

The growing importance of mass media has created issues of corporate sponsorship and vast commercialisation of the Games.

Someone profits from these Games.

World wars led to the cancellation of the 1916, 1940 and 1944 Games.

Boycotts have limited athletic participation in the 1980 and 1984 Games.

And the Olympics deals with challenges and controversies of the type that Coubertin could never have imagined: doping, bribery and terrorism.

So, let’s look at Rio 2016.

Cristo Redentor - Rio de Janeiro, Brasil.jpg

The 31st Olympiad is the first Olympics in South America, the first Olympics in a Portuguese-speaking country, the first Summer Olympics to be held in winter.

This is the first Olympics to include golf and rugby.

This is the first Olympics in which Kosovo and South Sudan are eligible to compete.

Due to the European migrant crisis and other reasons, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) now allows athletes to compete as independent Olympians under the Olympic flag, because they otherwise would be unable to compete due to their inability to represent their home National Olympic Committees.(NOCs)

Bulgarian and Russian weightlifters are banned from Rio for numerous anti-doping violations.

Kuwait is banned for the second time in five years over its government’s interference in Kuwait’s NOC.

At first glance, everything seems bleak.

The Brazilian federal government is unstable.

Operation Car Wash, a 2014 investigation by the Federal Police of Brazil, uncovered unprecedented money laundering and corruption in the state-controlled oil company Petrobras, while Brazil faces its worst economic recession since the 1990s.

In November 2015, Russia’s track and field team was suspended from all competitions by the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) following a World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) report into a doping program in Russia, but the IOC decided against completely banning Russian participation and instead set stricter requirements for all Russian athletes entered into the Games.

Of the original list of Russian athletes, 278 out of 389 were cleared for competition.

On 12 May, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was stripped of her powers and duties for 180 days and is waiting to be impeached, so Vice President Michel Temer is President during the Games.

Official portrait of Dilma Rousseff

Yet Brazil’s infrastructure continues to crumble and corruption remains rampant, while the Rio state government is almost bankrupt and hospitals and schools are in complete chaos as schools strike and hospitals can’t afford to handle anything that isn’t an emergency.

There are health and safety concerns surrounding the mosquito-borne Zika virus.

Mosquito 2007-2.jpg

Puddles of stagnant water, a common problem, allow mosquitoes to breed, while trash goes uncollected and lies rotting in the streets.

There is significant pollution in Rio’s Guanabara Bay.

Only 17% of Rio’s sewage is treated.

The rest of the raw sewage flows into the Bay.

Rio has always had crime problems, but these problems are now under an intense international spotlight.

Severe poverty in slums controlled by armed gangsters are only a short stroll away from luxurious beachside apartments.

There are more than 300 street robberies a day.

On 21 April 2016 – the day that the Olympic torch was lit – a 50 metre/164 foot section of the Tim Maia bike path was hit by a giant wave and collapsed causing the death of three pedestrians and injuring three more.

On 27 June, protesting police fly at a banner at the international airport that reads “WELCOME TO HELL” alongside a placard “49” – the number of Rio police killed this year.

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The police patrol without paychecks.

On 21 July 2016, just two weeks before the Games started, Brazilian Federal Police broke up an Islamic jihadist terrorist ring.

The athlete’s village, the largest in history, was described as unliveable and unsafe, because of major plumbing and electrical hazards, like blocked toilets, leaking pipes, exposed wiring, darkened stairwells and dirty floors.

Many economists are skeptical about the economic benefits of hosting the Olympic Games, emphasizing that the mega-event costs more than it benefits in the long run.

The Games also have significant negative effects on host communities, displacing more than two million people over the past two decades, disproportionately affecting disadvantaged groups.

In other words, the poor are driven from their homes.

The IOC itself has been accused of taking bribes in the bidding process for the hosting of Olympic Games.

Hosting an Olympic Games is a damnedly expensive endeavour.

The biggest threat to the future of the Olympics is that very few cities want to host them.

To be fair, Rio is not unique in modern Olympic history in having many problems to overcome.

Antwerp 1920 had still not cleaned up all its rubble from the devastation that had been World War I.

Plakat der Spiele

Mexico City 1968 was marred by a massacre of protestors just before the Games began and is still remembered for the Black Power salute given by two American medal winners.

Logo der Olympischen Sommerspiele 1968

Munich 1972 is remembered for the Palestinian attack on the Israeli complex resulting in 11 deaths.

Ap munich905 t.jpg

Montreal 1976 is a Olympics famous for its huge debt that took three decades to pay, East German doping, a 20 African nation boycott and the perfect performance of Romanian gymnist Nadia Comaneci.

1976 Summer Olympics logo.svg

Atlanta 1996 was marred by the collapse of a steel lightning tower killing spectators and the Centennial Olympic Park bombing resulting in two dead and more than 100 people injured and an investigation that took seven years to find the bomber responsible.

A fire, emitting many different-colored stars, burns from a cauldron represented by the gold-colored Olympic rings and the number "100" acting as the cauldron's stand. The words "Atlanta 1996", also written in gold, are placed underneath. The image is situated on a dark green background, with a gold border.

Athens 2004 struggled with a bomb blast and a lack of ticket sales.

2004 Summer Olympics logo.svg

Beijing 2008 is remembered for extreme air pollution conditions as well as the threat of Islamic jihadist terrorism.

The official logo for the 2008 Summer Olympics, featuring a depiction of the Chinese pictogram "Jing", representing a dancing human figure. Below are the words "Beijing 2008" in stylised print, and the Olympic rings.

Vancouver 2010 began sadly with the death of a luge athlete during a training run, a lack of snow and criticism of its homelessness situation in its urban centre.

2010 Winter Olympics logo.svg

Sochi 2014 was a truly unpleasant moment in Olympic history as Russia massacred its stray dogs, banned all public discussion of gay rights and exercised extreme security measures after a suicide bomber struck in Volgograd.

2014 Winter Olympics logo.svg

Since Berlin 1936 some countries have chosen to boycott a celebration of the Games for various reasons.

Greece, Australia, France, Britain and Switzerland are the only countries to be represented at every Olympic Games since their inception in 1896.

Even Canada has boycotted, refusing to send its athletes to Moscow 1980 because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

The Olympic Games has been used as a platform to promote political ideologies, the most famous example being Berlin 1936.

1936 berlin logo.jpg

The National Socialist Party (Nazis) wanted to portray themselves as peaceful and benevolent yet simultaneously showing the world Aryan superiority.

Though Germany was the most successful nation at the Games, the victories of black American Jesse Owens and Jewish Hungarian Ibolya Csak denied the complete success of their Aryan supremist message.

As early as 1904, many Olympic athletes began using drugs to improve their athletic abilities, with even one death as a result in Rome 1960.

Canadians still weep when we remember Seoul 1988 when Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson (who won the 100-metre dash) tested positive for the performance-enhancing drug stanozol.

Logo der Olympischen Sommerspiele 1988

Johnson was stripped of his gold medal and it was awarded to the American runner-up Carl Lewis, who arrogantly proclaimed American superiority and condemnation of doping while he himself had tested positive for banned substances prior to the Olympics.

Canadians felt that insult had been added to injury.

And the policies and practices of Olympic host countries continue behind the scenes: the theft of land expropriated for Games use and the neglect and intensification of poor social conditions for indigenous peoples.

Canada and America still have much work to do to resolve the injustices done to the natives that have lived there long before the Europeans arrived and continue to do so.

Yet in spite of politics, in spite of scandals, in spite of fears of disease or terrorism, the Games go on.

For the focus is not on the problems of nations but on sport’s greatest athletes with their superhuman feats.

Fans don’t let morality ruin their fun.

We watch gymnists flip and propel themselves into the air turning backflips and somersaults that leave us breathless.

We wonder if merpeople really do exist as we watch Michael Phelps seek to redeem himself from his arrest for drunk driving and resulting stint in rehab in 2014.

We gaze in amazement at the sprinters, who despite careers of strained hamstrings, still deliver speeds that dominate our imaginations.

And judo throws are thrown, badminton birds struck, bullets shot, soccer balls kicked, basketballs bounced, boats rowed and sailboats sailed, pools dove into, rugby balls thrown, swords drawn, hurdles hurdled and poles vaulted, tennis courts beckon, boxers spar, weights are lifted, water polo and golf attract but not so beautifully as volleyball on the beach…

The show must go on.

Are we having fun yet?