morning newspaper: MPs and Elgin Marbles

I usually only read the newspaper when travelling and either do the ‘free mineral water with newspaper’ deal (usually the Telegraph, maybe the only way they can sell newspapers), or whatever they have in the hotel or plane.

The front-page news today is the Israeli attack on the Gaza aid convoy, which needs no further comment.

of MPs

However, I also got yesterday’s Independent when I arrived at the Holiday Inn near midnight.  One of the main stories then was still the ‘outing’ and resignation of David Laws.  The key issue here (at least in principle) was not that nature of his personal relationships, but that he had not disclosed that the flat on which he was claiming rent belonged to his partner.

I was glad to see Mark Pack’s commentary in today’s Independent take a robust view of this, noting that while Laws may have broken rules (still to be determined), there had been no financial gain involved, and indeed the arrangement had saved the taxpayer money.  Pack’s contempt of the Telegraph was perhaps not unexpected in a column in a rival newspaper, but echoed my own feelings.

I was happily abroad during the height of the MPs expense ‘scandal’ last year, but was appalled at the coverage, not least because my travels take me to countries in Europe which would give anything to have the high standards of public office we take for granted in the UK.  In the end a handful of MPs may (still sub judice) have abused the system, but the vast majority were simply trying to do their job.

A short while ago I happened on the web on a page detailing the expenses of a Cardiff (now ex) MP Julie Morgan, when MPs expenses came under the spotlight, she rechecked her previous claims and indeed, with more careful checking, it turned out that the claims she had made on her mortgage did not match the actual expenditure.  Over the five years of the last parliament she had accidentally over-claimed in two years to the total of £800 … but in the other three years had under-claimed to the tune of £1900.  The rules meant she could not retrospectively be paid for the under-claimed years, but did pay back the £800 for the over-claims.  Despite being £1100 out of pocket, one of the lowest claiming MPs and indeed paying significant amount of her own salary to help maintain her constituency office, on the books she will part of the statistics of the large number of MPs who repaid expenses and so appear to have been doing wrong.  Crazy!

and of Marbles

Back to today’s newspaper and deeper into the Independent a very old story that is entering a new phase: the fight for the return of treasures from around the world displayed in British Museums.  The most well know is of course the Elgin Marbles (maybe Germany may claim them as security for Greece’s Euro-bailout), but others include African treasures taken during punitive raids by British soldiers in the 19th Century.

The issues seem clear-cut for a Liberal-minded Independent reader, but maybe things are more complicated; certainly some of the items, including the bronze ‘Birmingham Buddha’ would not have survived to the present day if they had not been removed – if only the Victorian adventurers had also removed some of the giant Buddha statues destroyed by the Taliban in the 1990s.

I wonder how far repatriation should go, what is the statute of limitations for national treasure?  Maybe as the Birmingham Buddha travels back to India, several hundred shiploads of railtrack and steam trains will be repatriated to the UK, offloaded at Felixstowe docks and moved overland to form a mountainous sculpture of piled steel in the centre of Birmingham.

Having just been in Italy, I am sure there are many Italian artefacts in British museums, but then in Rome there are a number of Egyptian obelisk’s removed by the Romans 2000 years ago.  However, I would be surprised if, in turn, the Egyptians had not taken artefacts from other parts of the ancient world.  For that matter, what about the work done by the Israelites in Egypt before the Exodus?  If not for the fear it might be taken seriously I might suggest Israel could claim this.

In fact, these treasures are often more symbolic of the greater rape of natural resources and human labour that still continues today in many parts of the world today.  Indeed being brought up in the shadow of the South Wales coal valleys, I am well aware that the benefits of natural resources rarely go to the countries where they are found nor the labourers who mine them.

One of the key arguments against repatriation of ancient artefacts is that the curatorial standards are higher where they are presently.  Indeed the pillage of Iraqi sites after the fall of Saddam could be seen as overwhelming evidence that institutions such as the British Museum do the whole world a service.  Repatriation of artefacts to less secure countries would put at risk our shared global heritage; after all who knows what civilisation the UK and US will decide to decimate next.

Broken Soldiers, Tibetan Monks, and the Love of God

A few weeks ago Nad took part in a fund raising event for injured forces; on the television this week I watched “Battle for Haditha” recreating the events leading to a massacre of Iraqi civilians by US Marines and “The Passion” recreating the events leading to the first Easter and the crucifixion of Jesus; and in the news are the reflections of 5 years of bloodshed, occupation, freedom, and fledgling velocity (choose your own words) in Iraq and of rioting in Tibet.

Look around you, can you see
times are troubled, people grieve
see the violence, feel the hardness
all my people, weep with me

Kyrie Eleison, Jody Page Clark

pulling a plane for charityNad maintains the website for, which was set up by the emergency services at Birmingham Airport in response to seeing the injured soldiers brought back from Afghanistan and Iraq. The charity does not in any way support the forces in the field, or politically support the conflicts themselves, but is purely about humanitarian aid for those people who have returned, often with severe injuries, and for their families. However, despite this Nad has been criticised by those who ask “question why (he), a Muslim, (has) chosen to support a charity that attempts to aid the very soldiers that are killing our brothers and sisters abroad.” (see Nad’s blog entry).

In the “Battle for Haditha” both US Marine’s and Iraqi ‘insurgents’ were shown as people who in different ways cared and protected their own. It is natural and human to care for those close to us, who share ties of family, nationality, race or religion. Those closest to us, our children, parents, friends, have first place in our affections and often a special call on us. This human love is a good thing. But is not the end of things.

I was disappointed that the Dalai Lama, whilst outspoken against Chinese actions against Tibetan rioters, was relatively muted in addressing Tibetans themselves. The riots there began with Tibetan crowds attacking ethnic Han Chinese and even Muslim Hui1. The targets here were not police stations and public buildings, but shops, homes and ordinary people. It seems the Chinese held back for fear of international sentiment while ordinary people were killed or made homeless. Then when the Chinese security forces were unleashed they struck hard … hitting back at those who had hurt their own.

Dalai LamaIn the Dalai Lama’s press release he says that “a form of cultural genocide has taken place in Tibet”, “the Chinese government discriminates against these minority nationalities”, and in their response to the situation the authorities “believe that further repressive measures” are the way forward – this is I am sure all true. However, in contrast, about the rioters themselves, the Dali Lama merely says “the demonstrations and protests taking place in Tibet are a spontaneous outburst of public resentment built up by years of repression”.

Why is it so hard for him to denounce the ethnic attacks of Tibetans themselves as well as the repression of the Chinese authorities? But I know I am the same, overlooking the understandable failings of those close to me or those I support, whilst feeling righteous anger over the way they, the other, treat my own kind.

The Dalai Lama shows a deep, and human love for those he is responsible for.

In Gethsemane, one of Jesus’ friends, tries to defend him when temple guards come to arrest him2. The unnamed disciple (I always assume Peter), strikes with his sword and cuts off the ear of the High Priest’s slave. Jesus admonishes his followers and heals the slave. On other occasions Jesus talks with, shares food with or heals Jewish Priests, Roman Centurians, lepers and prostitutes – friends and enemies, the unclean and the immoral,

In a recent blog “A Charter for Compassion“, Nad discusses a TedTalk by Karen Armstrong on the Golden Rule. This comes in many forms, some more about harm “Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you”, some about behaviour “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”3. Most personal is the form from Leviticus “Love your neighbour as yourself”.

But who is my neighbour? My family, friends, the Welsh (maybe even the English), people I work with, the person next door, in this Internet age perhaps FaceBook friends, or people who add my photos as Flickr favourites? Jesus is asked this and in response tells the story of the “Good Samaritan”. In school I recall we wrote variants of this where the Jew and the Samaritan were replaced by rival football teams, or Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. This story of the Samaritan caring for someone who would have despised and persecuted him goes beyond human love, it is the love of God.

If the story were told today who more likely that an injured British soldier and young Muslim man.

Those who criticise Nad, show that very human love, just like the Dali Lama, just like I see so often in myself – caring for those close to us, “our brothers and sisters” in race, religion or political beliefs. In working beyond that, Nad shows no less than the Love of God.

  1. see Guardian report
    Oh my God, someone has a gun …‘[back]
  2. Matt. 26:51, Mark 14:47, Luke 22:50[back]
  3. see Wikipedia’s page on the “Ethic of reciprocity” for a wide variety of versions fo this from nay cultures and religions[back]

Iraqi bloggers

By chance I just came across this BBC New article “Iraqi bloggers at home and abroad“. Short poignant snippets from active bloggers from Iraq: Mohamed a dentist form Baghdad, Sunshine a 15 year-old girl in Mosul, Najma an engineering student at Mosul university and Riverbend who recently left Iraq to become a refugee in Syria. In each case I was amazed not just by the stories, but by their hope and spirit amongst appalling conditions. I loved the names of the blogs of Sunshine and Najma: “Days of My Life” and “A Star form Mosul”, and was humbled by Riverbend’s description of her new neighbours: one a Christian family escaping persecution in Kurdistan and another a Kurd family driven from Baghdad and yet showing kindness in trouble and poverty – a toothless boy bringing cake.

face to face with myself – Nad’s blog on Live Search

Nad has been blogging about Live Search‘s new features for searching for images of different kinds (see Finding Faces with Live Search). he used me as an example and it was weird both the images it found of me, but also the occasional images that also showed up that were not of me, including a golden Budda (!). There is something quite poignant about the near random associations that come with the ‘mistakes’ on the search. One image was of a national guardsman about to leave for Iraq. the link was tenuous, his name was Alan and he was at Fort Dix, but seeing the photos of his children and his going away cake (stars and stripes and plastic tanks), gave me a very odd feeling of connection to someone far away and in so different circumstances.