Politics, Terrorism

Al-Baghdadi killing — the eight year counter-terrorism cycle

The news echoed on Europe 1 in the car radio, that Donald Trump claimed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead. That he died like a dog, like a coward. It brought back memories of 2nd May 2011, as I received, on my way home, a text from my classmate, with whom we were out clubbing the night before. The message is still there on my phone –

“Osama hunted down – killed”.

As we breathe a sigh of relief on the news of the assassination of the heinous criminal, who spread his reign of terror for nearly a decade, other thoughts cloud in mind. We are nearly at the end of 2019. A new US presidential election is due next year. Do you remember the year of the capture of Saddam, and assassination of Osama bin Laden? It’s 2003 and 2011. Yes, eight years apart, as is the year al-Baghdadi is killed. A year before the US presidential election. Also note, that nothing happened in 2007, or 2015, in terms of a breakthrough in fighting terrorism.

  • 2003 Capture of Saddam Hussein

  • 2004 George Bush Jr. re-elected

  • 2011 Osama bin Laden assassinated

  • 2012 Obama retains office

  • 2019 Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi terminated

  • 2020 New presidential election. Trump holds office?

This raises a question – whether the main threats to western civilisation are only killed off or captured on the year before the US presidential election, to help a president hold the office through re-election? The dates uncannily give you a déjà vu feeling. Remember the famous starting line for Obama in 2012 electoral speeches? “Osama bin Laden is dead”. Trump is many degrees less suave than Obama, and he brashly claimed, “He died like a dog”. Were they mere coincidences, or, irrespective of the political spectrum, did the previous US presidents always knew the whereabouts of America’s Most Wanted criminals? Perhaps they either turned a blind eye in the name of diplomacy or they waited until the encounters would have benefited them personally? And perhaps due to this reason, in 2007 or 2015, the previous US presidents, who were completing their full-term, did not bother?

One would rejoice to the fact al-Baghdadi is dead, considering how much blood was shed in Syria and Iraq by his jihadist supporters. On top of it, like al-Qaeda, Daesh managed to take their atrocities into Europe and beyond. Not only did their fanatical deeds cause loss of many lives, but they also made lives of Muslims, the people they were purported to be helping, more marginalised elsewhere. Sadly, the word terrorism is redefined to be Islamist terrorism these days, and Muslims are bearing the brunt of white supremacists in the US and Europe alike. It’s worse in the US, but Europe will soon follow suite. We’ll never know if that was a calculated move from the jihadist groups, to instil more anger in the Muslim communities against the state. If it was, their tactic did work, but benefiting far-right groups than Muslims, when we see a polarised Europe with the context of Islam.

So, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead. Is he actually dead? He probably is. Is his legacy dead? We’ll soon find out. His rabid supporters are now busy butchering Kurdish fighters in Syria. Once the dust has settled, we’ll know what has happened to Daesh. Does this mean anything for the extremely complicated and sensitive situation in the Middle-East? Probably it doesn’t. Al-Qaeda is still active eight years since their leader was killed. So my guess is Daesh will continue their horrific killing spree, but now that the link to the Caliphate is erased, there will be less funding. And fewer volunteers to affiliate with them. But there will probably be another leader with another group spewing their propaganda of hate and bloodbath. Daesh fighters will probably join the new group and carry on their jihad. And again, we’ll be waiting for eight more years before the US hunts the leader down. Unless, we see a decent president in the White House, who would break this eight-year jinx.

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Fiction, Humour

If Muggles did magic – Harry Potter spells on daily life

Ever since I finished reading Harry Potter books, I often felt sad that we can’t do magic, and in certain situations, I felt I could have done with some of the magic spells from the books. Especially while travelling hundreds of miles, I wished I had a portkey. It’s from that chain of thoughts, I thought what if us, muggles, knew magic as well? What would we have done with our skills? Would we have been cautious and careful about magic, like most wizards and witches? Or, would we have made magic banal by using in our daily life? My prediction is for the latter. So let’s have a look at most of the memorable spells, charms and hexes from the Harry Potter books and how, once the initial euphoria was over, muggles would butcher them to make them suit in their day to day life. We could use the spells as follows:

Accio: Summoning Charm; used to summon objects toward the caster (usually from a long distance)

 – Fetch the remote left on the TV unit when you just sat down.
 – You’re in a day out and realise you didn’t bring baby nappies.

Aguamenti: produces a jet of water from the caster’s wand

 – Fill the paddling pool in the garden when you have no hose.

Alohomora: used to unlock and open doors

 – First spell learned by the burglars.
 – When your car door is frozen.

Avada Kedavra: the Killing Curse

  –Never. Except cockroaches and biiiig spiders.

Bat-Bogey Hex: causes the victim’s bogies to enlarge, grow wings, and attack the victim

  –On most of the Tories.

Bubble-Head Charm: creates a bubble of air around the caster’s head and mouth, acting as a breathing apparatus

  –When you’re on holiday and don’t want to spend money for snorkelling.

Caterwauling Charm: causes a loud, high-pitched shrieking noise when encountered

  –Intruder alarm. Bye bye Chubb.

Cheering Charm: causes the person upon whom the spell has been cast to become happy and content

  –The labour MPs who can’t make up their mind whether to leave or stay.

Colloportus: used to magically lock a door and prevent it from being opened by non-magical means

  –All your doors and windows when you’re going on a holiday especially if you live in North London.

Confringo: Blasting Charm; causes items the charm comes in contact with to burst into flames

  –If you’re burning an effigy.
 –To light a log fire or the barbecue.

Confundo: Confundus Charm; causes the victim to become confused and disoriented

  –Again, most of the Tories (Hang on! They already are!).

Crucio: causes the victim extreme pain; one of three Unforgivable Curses banned by the Ministry of Magic

 – Again, it’s not needed.

Descendo: causes the target object to move downward

 – The flour tin on the top rack in your kitchen.
 – If you play cricket, nobody will hit a six.

Diffindo: Severing Charm; causes the targeted object to rip or tear

 – The tangled mess of wires and cables for appliances you no longer use.

Disillusionment Charm: hides objects and humans

 – On the refugee boats.

Engorgio: Engorgement Charm; causes objects to increase in size

 – McDonald’s cheeseburger.
 –Women may use it on other objects 😉.

Episkey: used to heal minor injuries

 – A frequent spell at every school and nursery and household with children.

Evanesco: used to vanish object

 – To hide the stash of porn when your mum comes in.
 – Hide the pack of cannabis at security checks.

Expecto Patronum: used to cast a Patronus (a physical manifestation of one’s most positive feelings)

 – Remainers, when surrounded by demented Brexiters.

Expecto Patronum
Source: Imgur/Most Vital Images

Expelliarmus: used to disarm another wizard

 – If you live in north London, a daily spell against the hammer and machete wielding gangs.
 – Disarm toddlers wielding sharp objects – knitting pin, fork.

Homenum Revelio: allows the caster to detect human presence

 – When you’re walking down the street and you feel that you’re being followed. 

Impedimenta: Impediment Jinx; prevents the victim from approaching the caster

 – On Britain first and Tommeh supporter thugs mainly. 

Imperio: removes the victim’s free will and ability to make decisions for him- or herself

 – Hmm, the 17.4 million I guess, but you’ll need a time turner as well. Or on Boris to hold a second referendum.
 – On children having a tantrum on the shop floor.

Impervius: causes objects to repel outside forces, such as water

 – Dominos pizza in a rainy day.
 – Tommy Robinson may use it often to avoid milkshake missiles.

Incendio: creates fire

 – Light up barbecue and fireplace.

Levicorpus: a nonverbal spell that causes the victim to be dangled upside down by his or her ankles

 – Definitely JRM and Farage to start with.

Locomotor: causes an object to rise and move at the command of the caster

 – On dry laundry to let them fly into the laundry bag. Also on utensils and cutlery from dishwasher to cabinets.

Lumos: projects a beam of light from the user’s wand

 – During power-cut and when you need to go in the loft.

Morsmordre: conjures the Dark Mark

 – Brexiters if there is a no-deal Brexit.

Muffliato: used to prevent conversations from being overheard by filling the ears of those nearby with an unidentifiable buzzing noise

 – In front of your kids when you need to talk about presents or birthday parties.

Obliviate: used to hide memories

 – When you cheated and worried that truth might spill out.
 – Also, on your kids when they spotted something expensive and you know they’ll ask for it on Christmas.

Permanent Sticking Charm: causes objects to permanently stay in place

 – The wobbly table with one shorter leg.
 – A scotch tape on Boris Johnson’s mouth. And the rest of his cabinet.

Petrificus Totalus: Full Body-Bind Curse; temporarily binds the victim’s entire body, thus immobilizing him or her

 – Used by police instead of taser.

Portus: turns objects into Portkeys

 – The possibilities are endless. Go on holidays without paying, watch your favourite game from the stadium.

Priori Incantato: creates an “echo” of previously performed spells

 – Police when they want to find out if you’ve been up to no good.
 – On wands of naughty kids in school.

Protego: Shield Charm; rebounds minor to moderate hexes, jinxes, and spells upon their caster

 – Britain first and Tommeh supporter thug gangs, when they have tantrums and throw things.
 – Tommeh and Farage can use them to avoid the milkshakes.

Reducto: Reductor Curse; breaks objects and in its strongest form has the ability to disintegrate them

 – Crack open walnuts, coconut.

Relashio: causes the victim to release whatever they are holding

 – When you want the toy your sibling is playing with.

Reparo: used to repair broken objects

 – Must use for household with children.

Rictusempra: Tickling Charm; causes an extreme tickling sensation that disables the victim

 – On Brexit party MEPs. They will become a laughing stock. Wait, what?

Riddikulus: spell used when fighting a Boggart; causes the Boggart to transform into something the caster finds humorous

 – On most of the Tory and Brexit party members.

Scourgify: used to clean objects

 – Clean the household. Bye bye Fairy and Cif.

Sectumsempra: spell that causes deep gashes on the victim’s body

 – On the joint of beef or lamb, or on veg.
 – At operation theatres.

Silencio: used to make something silent

 – Women when in a group 😉.
 – All other noise creatures – dogs, parrots, children, men in pub.

Sonorus: magically magnifies one’s voice

 – When you’re calling your kids and they pay no attention.

Stupefy: used to stun a victim

 – Alternative of taser for police.

Taboo: a jinx that can be placed upon a word so that when the word is spoken, a magical disturbance is created which alerts the caster of the Taboo

 – 17.4 million.
 – Downstairs.

Tergeo: used to remove matter (blood, dirt, etc.) from an object

 – All your meat and veggies before cooking.

Unbreakable Vow: causes the vow being taken by the witch or wizard to be inviolable with the consequence of death if it is breached

 – When you want to diet but it normally doesn’t last more than a week.

Wingardium Leviosa: Hover Charm; causes an object to levitate

 – Taking children to bed who would insist on being carried.
 – Lifting furniture when you’re hoovering the house.


The following link has been used for obtaining the list of Harry Potter spells

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Durga puja, Nostalgia, short story

এই সুন্দর স্বর্ণালী সন্ধ্যায় – দুই মাতালের ষষ্ঠী উদযাপন

এই কাহিনীর স্থান, কাল, পাত্র সম্পূর্ণ কাল্পনিক। যদি কেউ এই ঘটনার সাথে কোনো বাস্তবিক চরিত্রের সাযুজ্য খুঁজে পান তবে তা নিতান্তই কাকতালীয়।

এই কাহিনীর প্রেক্ষাপট কলকাতার অগুন্তি সরকারি আবাসনগুলির কোনো একটি। সেখানে দুর্গাপুজো হচ্ছে প্রায় গত বিশ বছর ধরে। খুব যে আড়ম্বর করে তা নয়, কিন্তু পুজোর অছিলায় পাড়ার প্রায় হাজার বাসিন্দা একজোট হয়ে কিছু একটা করার চেষ্টা করে যথাসাধ্য। পাড়ার মাঝে চত্বরে প্যান্ডেল হয় একটা, অনেকটা জায়গা জুড়ে, আর পুজোর পাঁচদিন কিছু না কিছু সাস্কিতিক পোগাম। কচিকাঁচাদের উৎফুল্লতা সবচেয়ে বেশি – নতুন জামাকাপড়, সাথে হাতখরচের কিছু পয়সা তা দিয়ে দেদার ফুচকা ঘুঘনি চালতা কুলের আচার, সময়মত বাড়ি না ফেরার চোখরাঙানি নেই, সব মিলে জমজমাট ব্যাপার। বয়স একটু বাড়লে তখন আবার এক-দু ঘন্টা আড্ডাও মারা যায় রাতের দিকে। সমস্যাটা হলো সাবালক হয়ে। উচ্চমাধ্যমিক দিয়ে ফেলা মানেই অনেকটা গুপী বাঘার মতো যা চাই পরতে খাইতে পারি যেথায় খুশি যাইতে পারি সানিধাপামাগারেসা গাইতে পারি অবস্থা। অনেকের এই সাবালকত্বে পদার্পন হয় নিতান্তই নিরাড়ম্বর ভাবে।তবে এই গল্পের গুপী বাঘা সে পথ মাড়ায়নি। মাড়ায়নি বলেই এ গল্পের অবতারণা।

জগাই আর মাধাই এই পাড়াতেই বড় হয়েছে। একসাথে খেলাধুলো ঝগড়াঝাঁটি মারপিট। দুজনেই সবে উচ্চমাধ্যমিক পাশ করে যে যার কেরিয়ার তৈরিতে ব্যস্ত। কে কি পড়ছে তা অপ্রাসঙ্গিক। তবে পাড়ার বাইরে বেরিয়ে দুজনেরই প্রচুর সদ্যপ্রাপ্ত সাবালকত্বের অভিজ্ঞতা সঞ্চয় হয়েছে বিগত ২ মাসে। সেগুলো একে অপরকে খুলে না বলতে পেরে দুজনেরই পেট ফুলে ফেঁপে উঠছে। এমন সময় হঠাৎ করে না বলে কয়ে দুর্গাপুজোর আগমন। তা দুজনেরই কলেজ আপাতত বন্ধ। দিনক্ষণ পাঁজি পক্ষ দেখে জগাই মাধাই ঠিক করলো ষষ্ঠীর দিন তারা বিকেল বিকেল পাড়া থেকে বেরিয়ে পড়বে, গন্তব্য এসপ্ল্যানেড। তখন মোবাইল ফোনের যুগ আসেনি, তাই খুটখুট করে মেসেজ করে যোগাযোগের চল ছিলোনা। কাউকে ডাকতে হলে হয় তার বাড়ি গিয়ে কড়া নাড়তে হবে, আর নিতান্তই আলসে হলে বাড়ির নিচে দাঁড়িয়ে হাঁক পাড়তে হবে। তবে এযাত্রা হাঁকডাক নৈব নৈব চ। বন্ধুবান্ধব কেউ জেনে গেলেই হয় ঘন্টার পর ঘন্টা কৈফিয়ত দিতে হবে নাহলে সব দঙ্গল মিলে একসাথে যেতে হবে।  প্ল্যানমাফিক তাই ষষ্ঠীর বিকেলে দুজনে মাঞ্জা মেরে বিশ্বকর্মা সেজে গুটিগুটি পাড়া থেকে বেরিয়েই ট্যাক্সি। স্কুলজীবনে যে তারা ট্যাক্সি চাপতনা তা নয়, তবে কলেজ মানেই অ্যাডাল্ট, তাই পিতৃদেবের হোটেলে খেয়েও পকেটে রেস্ত তখন অনেক বেশি। জগাইয়ের পরনে এক ধবধবে সাদা জামা, তার নাম আবার Fried Water. মাধাই পরেছে Van Heusen এর ফর্মাল জামা। কলকাতা তখনো অনেকটা কলকাতাতেই ছিল, জ্যামজট থাকলেও এসপ্ল্যানেড যেতে বিশেষ সময় লাগলোনা। লিন্ডসে স্ট্রিটে নেমে দুজনে ঢুকে পড়লো গ্লোব সিনেমার পানশালায়। হ্যাঁ, তখন সিনেমা হলে বার থাকতো, রেস্টুরেন্ট ও।

দুজনে মিলে একটা টেবিলে বসেই তৃষ্ণার্ত চাতক পাখির মতো আশেপাশের লোকজনের হাতে হাতে ঘোরা রঙবেরঙের গেলাসগুলো দেখে নিলো। কলেজ যাওয়া ইস্তক দুজনেরই বেশ কিছু জ্ঞান আহরণ হয়েছে এ বিষয়ে। কি ব্র্যান্ড, খেতে কেমন, কোন তরলের সাথে কি খাবার খেতে হবে। বিশেষ কালবিলম্ব না করে দুজনে ঠিক করলো গ্রীন লেবেল বলে এক তরুণ তুর্কি। এর মধ্যে খাবারের অর্ডার দিতে না দিতেই আশ্চর্য ব্যাপার। গ্রীন লেবেলের রিপ্রেজেন্টেটিভ স্ক্রাচকার্ড নিয়ে হাজির। সেসব ঘষে পাওয়া গেলো গিফট। যদিও জগাই মাধাই নিজেদের কীর্তিকলাপ খানিক ফুলিয়ে ফাঁপিয়েই বলেছিলো, তবু একটা ব্যাপার সেই প্রথম গিফট পাওয়া থেকেই পরিষ্কার হয়ে গিয়েছিলো, যে গ্রীন লেবেলের লোকটাকে বারে বারে তবু আসতেই হবে ফিরে। তা সে এসেছিলোও। ৭ বার। গ্রীন লেবেলের সোনালী রঙের ছোঁয়ায় সন্ধ্যে তখন সত্যিই সোনালী বর্ণ ধারণ করেছে। চিরুনি, পেন, কাপ, বেল্ট – টাকাকড়ি মিটিয়ে যখন তারা বার থেকে বেরোচ্ছে হাতে একরাশ গিফট নিয়ে, তাদের ভাবখানা ছিল যেন খেলার শেষে ম্যান অফ দ্য ম্যাচ প্রাইজ পেয়েছে। ওয়েটারের চোখে যেন ছিল খানিকটা বিস্ময় খানিকটা সম্ভ্রম, আশেপাশের টেবিলের গুঞ্জন আর আড়চোখে চাউনি যেন তাদের সেই অতিমানবিক প্রদর্শনীরই নীরব সমাদর। বাস্তব হয়তো ছিল সম্পূর্ণ আলাদা, তবে জগাই মাধাই তা জানেনা, ওদেরকে সেটাই ভাবতে দিন।

গ্লোবের বারে বসে এদিকে কারো খেয়াল হয়নি সময় কত হলো সেটা দেখার। আর সময়ের দামও তেমন ছিলোনা যে ঘনঘন ঘড়ি দেখতে হবে। কিন্তু কটা বাজে সে খেয়াল হতেই দুজনের নেশা খানিকটা চটকে গেলো। মোটে সাড়ে ৮টা। পাড়ায় তার মানে পোগাম চলছে পুরোদমে, জগাই মাধাই দুজনেরই বাবা মা তার মানে পাড়ায়।  খানিক সময় নষ্ট করার অভিপ্রায়ে ওরা এসে ভিড়লো দু পা হেঁটে নিউ এম্পায়ার সিনেমা হলে। তাদের বার-কাম-রেস্টুরেন্ট ওপরতলায়, সেখানেও একবার ঢুঁ মারা হয়ে গেলো জগাই মাধাইয়ের। ঢুকুঢুকু দু পেগ হুইস্কি মেরে আবার ঘড়ির দিকে চাওয়া। সময় যেন কাটতেই চাইছেনা। সবে তখন বাজে ৯টা। দুই বন্ধু কোনোমতে চৌরঙ্গীর রাস্তা টপকে ঢুকে পড়লো ময়দানে। ময়দান ঘুটঘুটে অন্ধকার আর রাস্তার উল্টোদিকেই ঝলমলে এসপ্ল্যানেড। নেশাটা যেন একটু চড়ছে। আলাপে ঢুকে পড়ছে শীর্ষেন্দু সুনীল কলেজ ভবিষ্যৎ। একটু জিরিয়ে নিতে দুজনে বসেপড়লো ঘাসের ওপর। ঠিক জুৎ হচ্ছেনা। জগাই এলিয়ে পড়লো হেমন্তের শিশিরে ভেজা ঘাসের ওপর, খানিক পর  মাধাইও। নেশাটা যেন একটু দেরি করে চড়ছে। মোটে পৌনে ১০টা।

তবু ফেরার চেষ্টা করতে হবে। পুজোর বাজারে গাড়ি পাওয়া দায়। বহু ড্রাইভার দুই মাতালকে নিয়ে কলকাতার কুখ্যাত এলাকায় যেতে বিশেষ উৎসাহ দেখালোনা। অবশেষে এক দয়ালু চালক জগাই মাধাইয়ের সরকারি আবাসনের থেকে কিঞ্চিৎ আগে অবধি নিয়ে যেতে রাজি হলো। হেঁটে পাড়ায় ফেরার সাধ্য কারোরই নেই তখন, অগত্যা রিকশা ভরসা। পারে ফেরা মানে ষষ্ঠীর রোমাঞ্চকর অভিযানের সেখানেই ইতি, তাই জগাই মাধাই মনের আনন্দে গান ধরলো।মাধাই সিটে বসে, জগাই পাদানিতে ঝুলতে ঝুলতে।

এই সুন্দর স্বর্ণালী সন্ধ্যায়

Gilbey’s Green Label – সোনালী সন্ধ্যার অনুঘটক
Source: Quickcompany.in

গল্পটা এখানেই শেষ হতে পারতো। দুজন চুপচাপ জর্দা পান খেয়ে গুটিগুটি বাড়ি ঢুকে ঘুমিয়ে পরদিন বন্ধুদের বলতে পারতো তাদের কান্ডকারখানা। কিন্তু বিধি বাম। আসল গল্পের শুরু তো এখান থেকেই। রাত সাড়ে ১০টা -১১টা। পাড়ার মুখে বসা গণশক্তির ষ্টল পেরিয়ে, পচা ডোবা পেরিয়ে রিক্সা এসে থামলো মণ্ডপের সামনে। গান কিন্তু তখন থামেনি। …”এই সুন্দর স্বর্ণালী সন্ধ্যায়”…পাদানি থেকে গড়িয়ে নামলো জগাই…”এ কি বন্ধনে জড়ালে গো বন্ধু”…ভাড়া মিটিয়ে একে অন্যের গায়ে ঠেকা দিয়ে জগাই মাধাই মর্ত্যে পদার্পন করলো। মণ্ডপে ঢুকে গুটিকয় চেয়ার বিছিয়ে আরাম করে বসে দুজনে চারপাশটা একটু জরিপ করে নিলো। কেউ সন্দেহ করেনি তো? মন্ডপ আর তার আশেপাশে ছড়িয়ে ছিটিয়ে থাকা জনাবিশেকের মাঝে তখন এক থমথমে নিঃস্তব্ধতা। নাঃ সব স্বাভাবিক।খালি দুজনের বন্ধুবান্ধব বাদে। বিনেপয়সায় তামাশা দেখার সুযোগ পেলে সবাই খানিক ডেঁয়ো পিঁপড়ের মতো ছেঁকে ধরে, তেমনি এবেলাও তার ব্যতিক্রম হলোনা।

সবাইকে সব বিস্তারে বর্ণনা করে গিফট দেখাতে গিয়েই হলো প্রথম গুগলি। কোথায় গিফট, কোথায় কি? সেই বার থেকে বেরোনোর সময় কোঁচড়ে করে যত গিফট নিয়ে বেরিয়েছিল জগাই আর মাধাই, সে সব পড়ে আছে ময়দানে। আবার ফিরে যাবে কি তারা, ফেলে আসা জিনিসগুলোকে কুড়িয়ে আনতে? না, তারা পাগল নয়, মাতাল মাত্র। কিন্তু বন্ধুবান্ধব পরিবেষ্টিত হয়ে, সারা সন্ধেবেলাটা পুঙ্খানুপুঙ্খ বর্ণনা করেও তাদের মনে খানিকটা খেদ রয়ে গেছিলো। কোথাও না কোথাও একটা খামতি রয়ে গেছে। তাই জগাই গিয়ে মাঝবয়েসী টেনিদার সামনে চেয়ার টেনে বসে ঠোঁটে আলতো করে একটা ক্লাসিক সিগারেট ঝুলিয়ে বললো, আগুন হবে? টেনিদা হঠাৎ বিষম খেয়ে পাড়ার বয়োজ্যেষ্ঠ কানুবাবুকে বলল বাড়ি চলেন। জগাই সিগারেট ধরিয়ে ফুড়ুৎ করে খানিক ধোঁয়া ছেড়ে দুটো চেয়ার নিয়ে মণ্ডপে প্রতিমার পাশে গ্যাঁট হয়ে বসলো। মাধাই আবার খানিক পালোয়ান টাইপ। তার খানিক পাঞ্জা না খেলে ঘুম আসবেনা। সে এবার ওপাড়ার রিজুর সাথে একদফা মারপিট করে নিলো। যাকে বলে আসর জমজমাট।

জগাই তারপর যখন চোখ খুললো তার বদ্ধ ধারণা হলো সে মারা গেছে। চারদিক ঘুটঘুটে অন্ধকার, ছোট্ট এক চিলতে এক বেঞ্চ। মাথাব্যথা। হাতড়ে হাতড়ে আলো জ্বেলে আরেক আশ্চর্য ব্যাপার। সে রয়েছে একটা গুমটি ঘরে আর ঘরের ভেতর আরো ২-৪ জন অচেনা লোক। চোখের চশমা গায়েব, ঘড়ি নেই হাতে, মানিব্যাগ টাও হাপিস। ঘরে কনকনে ঠান্ডা। মরেই যখন গেছি, খানিক ঘুমিয়ে নেয়া যাক আগে, ভাবলো জগাই।

সপ্তমীর সকালে ৭টা নাগাদ হুঁশ ফিরলো তার। গুমটি ঘরটা থেকে বেরিয়েই পড়লো। আরে এ তো পাড়ার ক্লাবঘর। পেটে চরম খিদে এদিকে টাকাকড়ি সব গায়েব, শেষে টিউকল থেকে গাদাখানেক জল খেয়ে ল্যাজ গুটিয়ে বাড়ি ফিরলো জগাই। পরনের Fried Water তখন সবুজ আর কালোর মাঝামাঝি রঙে দাঁড়িয়েছে। ঘন্টা চারেক আরো ঘুমিয়ে আমতা আমতা করে কোথায় ছিল রাতে, জামার কি করে ওই দশা হলো এসব বিবৃতি দিয়ে বাড়ি থেকে যখন বেরোলো, মাধাই তখন অঞ্জলি দিতে নেমে পড়েছে। জগাইয়ের সব জিনিসপত্র ওর বাড়িতেই গচ্ছিত ছিল। এতক্ষনে দুজনেরই সাবালকত্ব প্রাপ্তি হয়েছে, এক রাত্রির ঘটনার জেরে। মাথা হেঁট করে, বকাঝকা খেয়ে, মাঝে কেউ এসে আবার প্রণামও ঠুকে দিয়ে গেলো – দুজনে প্রতিজ্ঞা করলো আর কখনো তামসিক ফুর্তি করবেনা। অনেক লোকসান। সেই প্রতিজ্ঞা বজায় ছিল অনেকদিন। অষ্টমী অবধি।

এরপর বহু বছর গড়িয়ে গেছে। তবু দুর্নাম রয়েই গেছে। ওই এক রাত্রির জেরে পাড়ায় যারা তাদের চিনতোনা সবাই হয়তো জেনে গিয়েছিলো ওদের দুজনের নাম। জগাই মাধাইকে একসাথে দেখলেই বন্ধুরা বলত আজ কি খেল দেখাবি। চুইং গাম খেতে খেতে পাড়ায় ঢুকলেই জিজ্ঞাসা কি খেয়ে এলি। এখন আর অত লুকোছাপা নেই। জগাই মাধাই কেউই থাকেনা পাড়ায় বহু বছর। তবু পুজোর সময় পাড়ায় দুজনকে দেখলেই লোকে আজও মনে করিয়ে দেয় পঁচিশ বছর আগের সেই সোনালী সন্ধ্যার কথা। জগাই মাধাইয়ের মনে চাগিয়ে ওঠে হারিয়ে যাওয়া গিফটগুলোর জন্যে একদলা মনখারাপ। আর মনে পড়ে যায় সেই পুরোনো সুর –

এই সুন্দর স্বর্ণালী সন্ধ্যায়

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France, Paris, Politics, religion

Faut-il sauver Notre-Dame?

Après le terrible incendie de Notre-Dame en avril, je trouve la polémique vraiment intéressant et pertinent s’il faut sauver Notre-Dame et qui paie pour la restauration. J’ai rencontré plusieurs articles en français et ainsi que sur les réseaux sociaux britanniques qui discutent et se disputent sur ce sujet. Voici, j’exprime mes pensées sur la tragédie d’incendie de Notre-Dame et sur la manière quelques familles d’investisseurs ont réagi après la catastrophe.

Tout d’abord, il faut dire que c’est une tragédie sans doute. Pas seulement comme un bâtiment religieux, mais Notre-Dame faisait partie du patrimoine français, du patrimoine parisien. Quand j’ai entendu les gens parler de l’incendie, j’ai pensé que c’était un incendie comme d’habitude et les pompiers vont y aller et le feu serait éteint. Mais quand j’ai vu que la flèche est tombée, j’étais choqué. J’avais peur que l’église soit complètement détruite. Tu te souviens que je t’ai raconté nos vacances à Paris et toutes les fois nous sommes allés à Notre-Dame. À mon avis, j’étais triste comme l’image de Notre-Dame ne resteront que dans nos souvenirs. 

Le lendemain, après avoir entendu que le feu a été enfin éteint, je me suis senti heureux que la façade n’a pas été détruite. Mais en même temps, j’ai trouvé que deux familles françaises les plus riches ont décidé de faire un don plus de €600 million. C’était énorme. J’étais en colère. J’ai pensé que ma théorie marche : « Que la majorité de l’argent a été ramassé par quelques individus dans le monde tandis que millions souffrent chaque jour ». On dit qu’il n’y a plus d’argent pour payer les chômeurs, ou pour la santé, mais comme un clin d’œil, on ramasse environ un milliard d’euros pour reconstruire un bâtiment religieux. Cela m’a aussi exaspéré plus que fâché « avec la situation des réfugiés. On dit, ils ne peuvent pas arriver ici comme il n’y a plus d’argent pour dépenser. Y compris que c’est un défi pour le gouvernement, mais les individus comme ceux qui ont fait le don peuvent ramasser des milliards s’ils le veulent.

J’ai noté que dans les médias français que les gens parlent pourquoi avoir oublié les misérables ? Je suis complètement d’accord avec cela. Quand il y a une telle pauvreté, pourquoi dépenser une telle somme sur un projet vaine pour l’Homme ? Et aussi dans les réseaux sociaux anglais, j’ai vu un exemple qui ressemble à la situation et la réaction du public en France. En 2017, il y avait un incendie dans un bâtiment en Londres. Plusieurs personnes sont morts. Mais dans ce bâtiment vivaient des pauvres, la plupart d’origine Afro caribéenne et le bâtiment appartenait à la mairie. Rien est fait pour la centaine de familles qui ont tous perdu et sont devenues sans-abri. Ils habitent encore dans les logements temporaires. Le gouvernement leur a donné une certaine somme d’argent qui n’était pas suffisant, et rien est fait pour restaurer ces habitants dans un logement permanent. Mais quand on voit, qu’il y a une telle urgence pour restaurer un bâtiment religieux, les gens disent, s’il y avait une flèche en haut de ce bâtiment, connu comme Grenfell Towers, peut-être il y aurait beaucoup de don, d’argent et d’aide pour eux. 

Incendie sur Grenfell Tower, Londres
Source: Metro

On peut demander, est-ce qu’on peut laisser détruire un des patrimoines français ? Bien sûr que non ! Mais cela ne doit pas être une urgence comme s’il y avait une catastrophe gigantesque ! Il y a le budget pour les projets de restauration des bâtiments classés et anciens. Peut-être le gouvernement peut financer la restauration de ce budget. Peut-être que le Vatican paie la somme. Je suis sûr que les pratiquants autour de monde veulent voir un patrimoine catholique soit restauré. Mais pourquoi ignorer la crise des pauvres, des sans-abri, des chômeurs qui luttent chaque jour pour survivre et donner une telle importance à un bâtiment ? En fait, on parle aussi pourquoi les familles ont fait leur don avec un grand geste, comme veulent-ils profiter de ce cadeau. On ne le sait pas encore. Peut-être, il le récupère par des crédits d’impôt sur leur société donc ils ne donnent rien en fait.

Et enfin, la question philosophique. S’il y a le Dieu, sera-t-il heureux avec un tel gaspillage d’argent pour un bâtiment ? Pour moi, c’est une question rhétorique, que cela n’a rien à faire avec le Dieu. Mais même pour les pratiquants, je crois que c’est plus important que l’Homme se place avant le Dieu. Comme le Dieu reste dans le cœur des gens. C’est quel type de Dieu s’il voit ses fidèles souffrir quand sa maison est en train d’être couverte en or ? Pas plein d’empathie, je dirais.

Il y a déjà quatre mois quand la flèche a été ravagée par l’incendie. Le chantier ne vient d’être redémarrée que la dernière semaine. La restauration va durer beaucoup longtemps, n’importe qui paie les factures, et n’importe comment se voit la flèche. La somme des dons continuera à augmenter à un chiffre ridicule. Nous espérons que le gouvernement rend compte de cette absurdité et rejette de financer la restauration entièrement avec les impôts. Entre-temps, les internautes étaient très occupés dessiner la nouvelle flèche. Pendant cette période grave et triste, de perdre un des patrimoines français, j’espère que ces articles et les dessins vous feront sourire.

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Culture, Education, Equality

No Outsiders protests: Paving path for more Islamophobia

While some of the UK population watch in despair that yet another attempt to bring the country back from the brink of disaster is failed by the incompetent bunch of tossers aka MPs, something else happened in a school in Birmingham which probably won’t create enough uproar, at least not for the right reason. I can’t help but link anything is happening in Britain these days to Brexit, and this is no different. However, at the end of this essay, it will be clear why the links are relevant and why Brexit needs to be stopped before it breaks the society apart.

Parkfield primary school in Saltley, Birmingham adopted the No Outsiders, an LGBTQ awareness course. This has caused an uproar amongst the families of the pupils and a few weeks back, the parents threatened to withdraw children from the school unless the course is suspended. After a few days of standoff, the authorities gave in to the protests of the parents and dropped the programme. A few weeks later, today on 14th of March, following consultation amongst the Academy trust, parents and the DfE, it was decided that the course will be suspended until a resolution is achieved between the school and the parents.

When this issue first came in the news, about the protests, we had a debate at home and thought perhaps the four-year-olds don’t really need to understand about lifestyle choices, but it could be introduced on a slightly later stage, say about seven. But then, thinking about the children of non-binary parents who would spend a long time doubting their identity during their formative years, my opinion swayed towards including the LGBTQ awareness right from the beginning of the school age. Also, not knowing how to view someone’s parents who do not fall into a mummy-daddy stereotype, it would perhaps become a reason for the children to distrust/alienate. Nevertheless, we did the rational thing of going through the pros and cons of teaching about relationships from the reception years and acknowledge that there may be more room for discussion on the age of introduction. However, if the school introduced the course from reception as mandatory, although some of us may be slightly uncomfortable about it, we would not oppose the plan vehemently.

So what would you say about the parents who boycotted the school, took their children out of the school and made them protest at the school gates along with the parents demanding the resignation of the headteacher who proposed to introduce the No Outsiders programme? “What a bunch of w@nkers”, right? What would you think of the parents if I add the detail that 98% of the children who attend the school were Muslims and the reason behind the parents’ protest was that the teachings were against their religious beliefs? I’d still think “What a bunch of w@nkers”. I don’t think it needn’t be any more complicated than that.

But is that the reality? The reaction on the social media with supposedly moderate reader base suggests otherwise. The majority of the reactions are in the same vein, criticising the religious indoctrination of Islam and how a school’s curriculum is now influenced by the religious naysayers. Personally, I have been involved in a number of arguments opposing the decision and unsurprisingly enough, the likes and loves were generally from non-Muslim readers, whereas the criticism to my argument and commendations to the school board’s decision were mainly from the Muslims.

So what was my argument? That education knows no religion in particular. The state of UK has no official religion, even though every Tory prime minister likes to mention during Easter and Christmas that Britain is a Christian country. The essential values of being British are individual liberty and respect & tolerance. So whilst the schools need to respect the beliefs of different faiths, it cannot be hijacked by the one single faith. One may argue, what about over-indulgence regarding Christmas and Easter? And I’d fully agree with them, but let’s not meddle into that topic. So, No Outsiders is an essential programme, apt with the increasing bigotry in society. I went in further suggesting that if the religion was of such paramount importance to the parents, why do they send children to a state school with no recognised affiliation to one religion?

Probably my argument seems a bit Islamophobic. However, it is quite the contrary. Allow me to explain. But before doing so, let me present some other findings that I thought would support my perspective. The epicentre of the attention, headteacher Andy Moffat is Gay, he’s been awarded an MBE for the No Outsiders programme that broadened children’s tolerance, and he changed a few schools due to arguments he had regarding his teachings. He was also nominated for an award given to World’s best teacher. In a world where teaching qualities are in decline, Andy Moffat is an exception. The point I’d like to highlight about the details I provided is that he changed a few schools before arriving at Parkfield. The reason? You probably guessed it right, that he told the children that he’s gay, that being gay is normal, that he tried to introduced No Outsiders in those schools. He was forced to resign or abandon the programme whilst being in the previous schools because parents have complained. So you see, everywhere he’s been in the past, he angered the communities with views for schools that broke the glass ceiling. This must be a déjà vu moment for him, being confronted by a group of unhappy Muslim parents that his teachings were against the religion?

Déjà vu? Yes of course. But it’ll be surprising to find out that schools he resigned from before Parkfield were due to parents’ complaints who were Christians as well as Muslims. It was contrary to the Christian values. So, does that imply, that perhaps there was something wrong in Mr Moffat’s teachings if he irked the feelings of parents of two religions? No, absolutely not! And I would brand the parents who opposed to the programme in the other school the same what I thought about Parkfield protesters — “What a bunch of w@nkers”. If the same issue was flagged by 100 other religions, the feeling won’t change. One may argue that it’s easy to pass my judgement being an atheist. There are two points to add. First, atheists don’t have religious sentiments. So something cannot hurt a feeling that you don’t have. Secondly, there may be atheists who are/were opposed to the course. I’m my view, if they are so opposed to it that they had to demand an apology from the teacher, they are probably homophobic. They are a bunch of w@nkers as well, in my view. Now, disagreement on the age of introduction is slightly different, where parents admit that children should be taught about homosexuality in schools but reception may not be the year. This argument doesn’t apply for Parkfield because even parents of students in Year 6 took part in the protests. I do not know the details about the parents from the other school, but citing religious feelings meant that if the children aren’t ready at 4, they won’t be ready at 11.

Education for children should be based on no bias. Schools should be at least one place where the children can learn how not to be bigots. We have the outside world to teach that anyway. They should learn what is right and not discriminate based on race, religion, sexuality. They need to learn to be tolerant. No Outsiders is a course created to broaden tolerance and it’s myopic not to realise how essential it is to be living in a multicultural society. There is already a lot of bigotry related to religious education, with parents unhappy about their children knowing about other religions because they are “unholy” or “violent”. The trust shouldn’t have bowed down under the pressure from the parents. What would be next one to go? Sex education? Teaching about contraception? What about science or anything that questions the existence of God? However, those who are raring to have a go at the Muslim community for the conservative sentiments, please note that before the Equalities act repealed it in 2010, the Local Government Act, passed in 1988 by Saint Maggie herself, prohibited the local authorities to promote homosexuality.

These days, when we are becoming increasingly click happy, it’s easy to pass judgement without understanding both sides of the story. The reports in the newspaper cited a number of protesting parents who said that the course is against the religious belief of the community. Yet, it needs to be understood that No Outsiders is not a new curriculum introduced this year. In Parkfield primary, the programme has been running for at least two years. There was an article published in 2016, how a teacher is transforming communities with his No Outsiders curriculum. The article also cited the reaction of the parents. Whilst some were against the course, some expressed the importance of the course, do the children are not presented a one-sided version of what is acceptable and what isn’t. So, suddenly after two years or more of running the programme successfully in the school, why did the parents realise that it’s wrong and they started demanding the resignation of Mr Moffat? Was it a sudden awakening in the entire community or are there in fact, external influences? Was it the retaliation for the foiled Trojan Horse campaign? The other fact to be borne in mind is that from the previous school, he was forced to resign because it was untenable to continue teaching whereas in Parkfield, although the course was axed until further resolution, Mr Moffat is presently continuing as head teacher. So apart from the meeting with parents, it’s not clear how much pressure was put on him in the previous school, whether it was only from parents or from staff and trust as well. Or is it simply because the Parkfield trust doesn’t want him to resign for personal interests, of keeping an MBE teacher to maintain their Outstanding Ofsted rating?

Let’s now look at the aspect what I mentioned before — the Brexit connection. This news of the LGBTQ course being dropped from Parkfield Primary will obviously be seen in different lights by people from the different political spectrum. Whilst the faction in the left are busy lambasting the trust and the communities for dropping the course for an ideological reason, the ones on the right — Tories, far-rights, gammons, zombies — this news is a golden opportunity for them to peddle their politics of fear. Soon this will be one of the chapters in the next Tommy Robinson book, an agenda on the Britain First campaign to protest outside a school with largely minority students, a reason for Nigel Farage to travel to Brussels to give a lecture on the untenable situation Britain was in. This incident will be seen as the effect of Muslim conservatism on the liberal British society. A further reason why Brexit was justified to limit the influx of immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa. It’s another red herring to feed the xenophobic minds of the 17.4m who believe that immigrants are the root of their problem.

The utter bigotry of the xenophobic faction of Britain, who is sure to earn a mileage from this incident is blatantly disgusting. People who express their dismay in the intolerance of the Muslim community in Saltley are perhaps the ones who instil homophobia in their children. It’s probably these stalwarts of tolerance who protest at the supermarkets when they make all their meat supplies halal. It’s probably these beacons of liberalism who squirm hearing someone speak a language that’s not English. Where the country would be without these gems of Britain, the only group of people to withhold the true British Values? And that’s why, on the august day of 23rd June 2016, these saviours, the modern day Knight’s Templars finally won the crusade against the barbaric invasion that was the “swarms of refugees” heading towards the UK. The Brexit result was the manifestation of the anti-immigrant and Islamophobic bias of the general public, brainwashed by the profiteering peddlers of the Leave campaign.

It is therefore unfortunate that the after carrying on with the No Outsiders course for over two years, the protests not only meant a lost opportunity for the children to learn acceptance and tolerance towards the LGBTQ community but also, this will fuel the hostility towards the Muslim community. A community that is already branded for harbouring extremist feelings by the nationalist press and media, this will only marginalise the Muslim community, another little hurrah from the Brexiters. Needless to say the persecutions faced by the LGBTQ community in the UK will see no improvements if more and more schools keep dropping it. I don’t know what the future holds for Mr Moffat, not the pupils of the Parkfield primary school, but I do hope that the protesting parents realise the repercussions of their action, not just for the parents, but for the long term future of their children being integrated into the society. Let’s hope that the parents and the education trust will reach a resolution in favour of continuing with the curriculum. Let common sense prevail over bigotry and prejudices.

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France, Language, vacances

Partir en vacances: le changement d’espoirs suivant l’emplacement

Cette discussion est inspirée par le podcast innerfrench.

Partir en vacances est un concept assez récent pour moi. Quand j’habitais en Inde jusqu’à ce que j’avais 30 ans, je ne suis jamais parti en vacances. Pas comme un adulte. Quand j’étais petit, nous sommes allés à une autre ville pour passer quelques semaine chez mes oncles ou ma tante. Et une fois, mon père m’a emmené à l’étranger, au Bangladesh, pour rencontrer ma grand-mère. Je crois que c’est la liste de mes vacances entières quand j’habitais en Inde. Bien sûr, au boulot j’ai eu les congés payés, mais c’était justement en papier. Ce n’était pas pour aller en vacances, mais pour mes loisirs. Pour aller au grand foire du livre ou les autres foires pendant l’hiver, ou bien allonger le séjour pendant la fête automnale «Durgapuja» quand il y aurait au moins de cinq jours fériés. Donc congés payés ont toujours été distribués pendant l’année, un jour ci, un jour là. Brefs, j’étais paresseux, c’était pourquoi je ne suis jamais parti en vacances.

Mais une grande partie des indiens n’étaient pas comme moi. Ils aiment leurs vacances et chaque année j’ai vu mes voisins ou les membres de ma famille partants en vacances à quelque part de l’Inde. Comme l’Inde est un pays géographiquement très divers, il y avait toujours tant de choix. Parfois ils sont allés au bord de mer, parfois aux montagnes, parfois au désert. Et aussi, comme la plupart des ménages hindous étaient religieuses, ils sont partis aux pèlerinages aussi.

À l’autre côté, quand je parle de vacanciers, c’est plutôt les gens qui habitaient dans une grande ville, qui travaillaient dans un bureau ou dans une usine, est plutôt les gens en appartenant à la moyenne-classe. Comme on sait, la plupart d’indiens sont pauvres, ils n’ont pas le moyens de partir en vacances. Et les bureaux qui offraient congé payés, il y avait toujours une choix de ne les prendre et être payé à la fin de l’année. Moi, j’étais aussi coupable de faire ça, mais seulement 2 ou 3 fois.

Pendant les années 80s et 90s, les gens sont partis seulement aux destinations bien connues. Cela a changé depuis la periode 2000-2010, quand tout le monde a été intéressé par les destinations moins connues, grâce à l’introduction des sites d’internautes sociaux comme Orkut et Facebook. Quand on partage les témoins de ses vacances, soit l’histoire, soit les photos, tout le monde voulait être unique, un peu plus distingué que les autres. Et voilà une compétition est lancée, de partager la meilleure photo, le meilleur plat, de porter le meilleur maillot. Et avec lancement d’Instagram, il fallait présenter chaque événement de son vie. Je ne juge pas ce que les gens aiment faire, mais c’était un des grands facteurs comment les indiens sont allés aux destinations moins connues.

Pendant ces années quand même, plus de 95% des vacanciers passaient leurs vacances en Inde. C’était seulement les hommes d’affaires, les célébrités, les bourgeois ou les politiciens qui sont allés passer les vacances à l’étrangère. Mais plus en plus, la moyenne classe en Inde a commencé à gagner beaucoup d’argent grâce à l’augmentation d’économie indienne. Avec cela, il y aurait eu une tendance de passer les vacances à l’étranger. D’abord les gens allaient au Ceylon ou Thaïlande, mais quelques sont-ils parti un peu plus lointain, en Afrique, ou en Europe. Venir à l’Europe, c’était toujours plus cher, mais les indiens qui travaillent à l’étranger, ils sont y allés passer leurs vacances. Mais pendant les dernières dizaines d’années, plus d’indiens ont passé leurs vacances à l’étranger qu’avant. Il faut aussi préciser une groupe démographique, c’est les retraités. Ces nouveaux retraités, ils ont du coup gagné beaucoup d’argent, leurs enfants ont déjà eu un boulot et n’habitent pas chez leurs parents, et donc ils sont partis en vacances de rêve, soit sur un voyage d’Europe, soit aux Etats-unis.

Mais pour moi, je n’étais pas associé avec ce changement parce que j’avais déjà quitté l’Inde en 2008 pour faire mon maîtrise en Angleterre, et ensuite y travailler. Comme un étudiant, ce n’était pas facile d’apprendre la tendance du monde britannique, mais quand j’ai commencé à travailler, ça a devenu très clair. Ici j’ai trouvé une culture tout à fait différente pour partir en vacances. Les Anglais aiment leurs vacances. Et n’importe quel rang de société on appartient, l’économie n’empêche personne de partir en vacances. Évidemment, certains ne veulent pas aller à l’étranger, mais beaucoup de foule y vont pour passer leurs vacances, surtout la population jeune. Pour moi, il parait c’est un phénomène culturel. Je suis dit que les américains ont une culture de prendre les vacances complètement différent, mais on n’en parle pas ici. En parlant avec mes collègues, qui appartiennent généralement à la moyenne classe, j’ai appris que les destinations préférées sont des îles espagnoles, mais aussi l’Égypte et le Turquie. Mais certains viennent plus lointains au Vietnam, Cambodge, en Côte d’Ivoire ou Cape Verde. Et aussi, il y a grande différence entre les voyageurs indiens et britanniques. À un côté, les indiens que je connaissais toujours disaient comment ses vacances sont tellement chers. À l’autre côté, les britanniques ne sentent pas d’honte quand ils expriment ils profitent d’un offres moins cher et quelles choses ont-ils gagné gratuitement. Comme leurs vacances, les britanniques aiment marchander pour un bon plan.

Et donc, grâce à la culture britannique de partir en vacances, j’ai été petit à petit inspiré pour aller voir les pays desquels j’ai beaucoup entendu. On a commencé par les endroits touristiques en Royaume-uni, et pour passer le miel à la lune, nous avons décidé de visiter Tunisie. C’était un vacances super! On a beaucoup appris sur visiter un étranger pendant notre séjour là. Dans un côté, il y a tant de choses à voir surtout les endroits des anciennes civilisations romans, tant de couleurs, tant de gens, la chaleur, l’eau chaud de la mer. Mais dans un autre côté, la vie là n’était pas comme la vie en Europe. Il y avait beaucoup de foule partout, les hommes pissaient sur les murs dans plein jour, les gens qui demandaient l’argent pour rien, maltraités chameaux et chevaux. La vie semblait un peu moins perfect, aimable quand même, mais moins idéal, plutôt comme la vie que j’avait avant d’arriver en Angleterre. En fait, ça m’a fait ressentir un peu triste car j’ai du choisir une mode de vie contre l’autre même si tous les deux étaient également spécial. Et aussi, après avoir été me marié pour quelques jours, je me suis rendu compte de la changement de la manière de voyager. Quand j’étais seul, j’aurais pu aller partout, sans peur, sans être inquiété, mais avant de se marier, c’était nécessaire de penser tout ça.

Quand notre aînée a reçu son premier passeport, on est allé en France la première fois. Ce n’est pas possible d’exprimer comment je ressentais parce que mes pieds se sont enfin sur le sol de le pays auquel j’ai toujours crû d’avoir un lien d’âme. Après ce moment surréel, nous sommes allés en vacances plusieurs fois en France, et aussi au Pays-Bas, en Belgique, aux îles espagnoles. Pus avons décidé de ne partir en vacances en avion jusqu’à ce que mes filles ont grandi. Donc comme d’habitude nous allons en France pendant l’arrivée d’été, et s’il y a plusieurs congés payés disponibles, on décide de partir en vacance mais dans le Royaume-Uni.

À mon avis, le dernier point sur les vacances sera ce que nous avons prévu pour l’avenir. Avant que notre aînée est née, nous avons considéré d’aller au île de Faroe. C’était nos vacance de rêve, sur ce département danois. Nous avons encore envie d’y aller un jour, mais ce ne sera pas possible avant que nos filles soient grandis. Il y a autres destinations, autres pays que nous voulons visiter, par exemple l’Inde, pour que ma femme et mes filles puissent rencontrer mes amis et ma famille. On a aussi envie d’aller aux États-Unis et en Australie. Nous faisons une liste de toutes les destinations. Moi, je crois qu’en liste n’est pas allez car je veux visiter chaque coin de terre, mais en même temps il faut être réaliste, de rester les pieds sur terre. Donc les pays sud-américains, les îles polynésiens, les pays de moyen-orient et les anciens états URSS, comme on les connaît- les stans — tout ça reste dans notre liste mais je ne sais pas si nous y irons un jour.

Partir en vacances est cher, même plus avec des enfants. Mais il faut, si on peut, voir le monde pour qu’on apprécie la diversité entre nous, et mieux comprendre l’un à l’autre. Nous pouvons voir que même si nous sommes différents — avec nos couleurs de peaux, nos langues, cuisines, cultures, vêtements, mais quand même nous sommes enfin tous pareils. Plus qu’on comprend les étrangers, moins on devient xenophobic. Est c’est nécessaire à cette époque d’avoir un peu d’humilité, un peu d’empathie. Il ne faut pas aller en vacances pour avoir ces qualités, mais apprécier une autre culture y contribue sans aucune doute. Donc pour partir en vacances, selon moi, il y a deux objectifs. Le premier, bien sur, est le divertissement, loisirs, s’amuser, se reposer. Le deuxième sera d’apprécier la différence entre les modes de vie qui existe dans le monde, et comprendre que malgré les différences, on est tous égales. C’est un grand chose à apprendre pour les enfants comme l’avenir reste dans leurs mains.

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France, Politics, Populism

Dialogue with a Frexiter — loss of centrist appeal amid the wave of nationalism in the EU

During the men’s FIFA World Cup 2018, I was following the results of every game with an avid interest like I’ve always been. Gone are the crazy days of bickering, taunting, goading your friends about their favourite team’s performance. Now we live hundreds, and in my case, thousands of miles away; but the same excitement still remains, as we replace direct communications with social media. Once I came across a meme that it’s not France, but Africa that has gone into semifinals for the first time. With immigration and vain nationalism close to my heart, I replied stating the obvious that they were all born in France. The discussion ended there. A few weeks later, after Les Bleus lifted the cup for the second time, I saw another piece of news, but this time in France, with a title «C’est l’Afrique qui a gagné». Although on the Africa rhetoric, there is a positive angle many tried to highlight — that France football team represented a great example of an inclusive society, neither version of the memes circulated was acceptable. It was perhaps less shocking seeing such a meme in a different country than one going around in social media in France. And that’s just after they have won the World Cup.

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A few weeks later I met a French contact I have known for last two years. We had many interactions but not a tête-à-tête as such. Trying to find a bit more about France and French life, I thought it would be an easy start to talk about Brexit and find out what the view is sur le continent. When M. Ch’ti (imaginary name, of course) said in his opinion UK will be better off because it’ll be able to source goods from anywhere else, I thought something must be amiss. The rest of the conversation was somewhat like this:

C: And here, you’re looking at one of the supporters for French Brexit.

Me: A French Brexit! But why?

C: Because EU has too much control over the French people and I think it will be good for France to be outside the EU.

Me: There might be a point, but why would you walk away from the world’s largest economic zone? What’s the cost of it? Look at the UK.

C: Of course Brexit is a lesson for French people as well. They need to be ready to negotiate straight away.

Me: I know Macron said under his presidency if there was a referendum, France may well have voted to leave. But is that true? Is that the sentiment?

C: Well, a lot of people think that. Also, we are paying into EU economy so our salaries will be higher.

Me: What do you mean? In what way?

C: EU has been a vanity project for the Germans. They were worse off before EU, unlike the French economy that was doing better.

Me: I found the actual value of the Euro is quite different in different countries. I found it quite surprising how that unbalance was allowed to happen. If you have the same currency, it should be the role of the EU to make sure that the purchasing power should be the same as well, or at least similar.

C: Yes, I remember when Euro was first introduced there was a complicated chart and people just charged anything they pleased.

Me: So do you think outside EU, wages in France will be better? Do you think with a smaller market, the French economy will have to offer a lot more to big corps to appear lucrative to them? Every country will have to follow the Irish model of offering tax havens. That will only benefit a few compared to the mass.

C: Yes because the French economy was better at the time when we joined Euro and to avoid the effect on the economy, they put a cap on wages. I believe once outside EU, we will have a lot more negotiating power especially with our close ties with African nations.

Me: Ah yes the ex-French colonies.

C: Yes, just like there are many ex-colonies the UK can benefit from. And also, not just business, there will be less expenses on security, with all these jihadists, and it’s been crazy in France the last few years…and it’s the same in the UK as well I’ve noticed.

Me: Don’t think the security expenses will come down, and besides, if France exits, you’ll lose all the access to Europol. But true, UK and France have been biggest targets on the list of the terrorists.

C: It’s just crazy. And you need to look at the profile of these people. They lead western lifestyle, drink, smoke, go to nightclubs and then one day they get the illumination that I have to kill people now. The government needs to be stricter about who they let in. The UK has got a much stronger immigration policy than in France. You can just come in and disappear from the system.

Me: It’s not that it doesn’t happen here either, but much less I believe. But you need surveillance on the terror suspects. I believe for the attacks in Bataclan, and in Nice, the attackers were known to the authorities?

C: Yes but there’s a bit conspiracy going on. They want to appease the human rights organisations but they aren’t worried about the general public. There are people who go to Syria, to Iraq, they fight with the jihadists and come back and we just say yes, welcome back and they then disappear before making an attack again.

Me: it’s much stricter here, I mean incidents do happen but they are under heavy surveillance I believe, and some are charged as they come back.

C: That’s the right thing to do. In fact, they should be turned away and we should tell them, go back to where you went fighting.

Me: You can’t take their citizenship away, you can charge them.

C: And then they go to jail and convert other people so they blow themselves up. There is a big cover-up.

By this time I started to wonder what must be the equivalent of Daily Express in France and whether I’m talking to a reader. A well-timed interlude arrived in the shape of an omelette. I tried to change the topic to speak about the last holiday in France.

Me: I thought I’d come and see your office when we were on holiday.

C: Where did you go? In Disneyland?

Me: No, just north of Paris. It’s a place near Compiègne.

C: Ah I know. Very nice place. Very green. Did you see the big palace?

Me: Yes it was awesome. And we liked Soissons.

C: You know there is a place in Compiègne where the Germans surrendered the first big war, and during the second, when they defeated France, they wanted the treaty signed at the same place.

Me: Yes the Versailles treaty. We went to that place in Clarière d’armistice.

C: You know that part of France is so beautiful and it’s the cradle of France. It’s very green. And l’île de France actually comes from this region where the old Frankish kingdom used to be.

Me: I did wonder a long time back why Paris is called that name. I thought it’s all the rivers around it.

C: Yes it’s confusing, you call it the Isle of France but there is no island. But that region hasn’t changed with time, the houses, way of life everything just remained the same.

Me: We really enjoyed there and definitely will go back.

C: That part of Paris is beautiful, around the river Oise. Well, there are other areas that are not so good…

Me: That’s probably the same in every big city. London has some notorious boroughs. What sort of problem are there in Paris?

C: It’s the Japanese mafia.

Me: I see, what sort of problem is there? Gang violence?

C: Yes, mainly. Recently Japan government has a big cultural event in Paris so they had to send people to clean up some of the areas.

Me: Sounds crazy.

C: Yes. Paris used to do such a nice place. And now it’s dirty, full of graffiti, gangs…I was away for a few years, and the first time I went back to Paris, I was horrified. And now you go to Eiffel Tower, it’s covered with security, it doesn’t feel the same.

Me: Yes last year we went there. We just wanted to go to the garden, but even then you have to go through security, so we didn’t bother in the end.

C: It’s a shame, I know it’s needed so deranged people don’t blow us up.

Me: Yes, but in Paris, after so many attacks, you see armed guards and you feel secure that the government is doing something. We don’t have any armed guards.

C: That’s just a decoy. The government can do a lot more. This Macron is useless.

Me: I thought he’s quite liked in France at the beginning? I know he made a few unpopular moves, especially with unions…

C: Macron is secretly building an army. It’s not French national army but his own army. No president has ever done that…well maybe Charles de Gaul during the Algerian war, but that was a different time and he was heavily criticised for it. But what’s Macron’s motive? Nobody knows.

Me: That’s bizarre. What’s his motive? Is he planning a coup? You’d understand when you’re in opposition but he’s the president of the country!

C: Macron is an awful choice. People were besotted by him, but now they can see his true colours. The whole of Europe has become pacifist. I don’t like it now.

Me: Well the EU is above all an economic union. There are a lot of contradictions amongst its member states and a lot of scepticism between each other. It will eventually fail because of the inherent differences between the countries. Just think about Eurovision.

C: Haha yes that is a big farce now. But the biggest challenge is Europe has to close its doors. We can not afford any more people.

Me: But there’s plenty of room, it depends on the governments approach and how much they engage with the population to tell them why they need to help the refugees.

C: I agree with you, they need to be helped, but there should be a limit. Some say it’s in the bible, if somebody comes to your house, you should let them in. But that’s the concept of a pilgrimage. You left them to stay, get rest, then they will be away. Bible doesn’t say that when someone comes to your house you feed them for the lifetime.

At this point, I was beginning to despair. I was wondering whether to prolong a painful discussion by bringing colonialism and its effects into the argument. But before I did, he carried on-

C: And then you host them, then they’ll do petty crimes, go to jail and be converted. Then they become jihadists trying to cut your throat. They could just go back to fight the countries they came from. But they want to bring the war in here.

Me: But that’s what governments are for. They should ensure that people coming here are not socially isolated. And that’s why it can’t just be a government process. The people will need to get involved in that process.

C: Or I have a better solution. They want to come to France? Let them come to France. But send them to a remote island in Pacific that is owned by France. I bet you have places like that with UK as well…sovereign territories.

Me: Yes, the old colonies…

The conversation died off then. The omelette was gone, and it was time to go back to a more comfortable business. But that conversation cast some doubts on the demographics of the populism supporters. And it also cast shadows on the long-term future of a unified Europe. C is undoubtedly a Marine Le Pen supporter from his views about migrants and how to solve the terrorism issue. But he is not a working class, what one would expect a populism supporter to be. He’s not deprived or oppressed by the system and venting the failure of the state towards the scapegoats. One may say based on a sample size of one, my statistical generalisation of French middle-class educated population is crass. It doesn’t hold any credibility. And I know that well. But I’d expected that when I start discussing Brexit with someone from the EU, the general reaction would be — “I pity you, what on Earth were you thinking”? With my first sample doing a volte-face, I’m now worried if more and more people turn out to be closet fascists.

But from another angle, it just proves another thought I’ve had for a while. That the liberal and the left are not loud enough because they have mixed loyalties. The general vibe from the public is that the western society is consumeristic. Aligning a party or oneself too far from that stance would alienate themselves from the public, and they’ll lose their appeal instantly. At the same time, we are prisoners of our own vices. While talking about equality, we still want to enjoy life — holidays, technology, property, investments. Due to that hypocrisy, we cannot go gung-ho against a society that still is failing and widening the gap between its layers. On the other hand, the populism campaign is driven by a rosy picture that’ll never happen. Nor that it ever was. But it’s also characterised by its campaign of fear. And hatred. It’s very direct. There is a culprit, an enemy that you point your finger at. The message from the populist leaders is direct and unequivocal. They froth malice as they open their mouth. They don’t give a toss about political correctness. They tell their followers what to do. And the public meekly comply. Meanwhile, somewhere in the virtual world, a liberal/centrist/moderate expresses their dissent by clicking a dislike or angry button. Or they sign a petition.

On the other hand, the liberal engagement has been feeble, to say the least. Apart from a lack of conviction from our part, the liberal ideology always assumes a moral and intellectual high ground and most of the believers consider themselves much above than getting meddled into a debate. The lack of conviction was apparent prior to Brexit vote — if you asked a remainer, you’d get an answer “that’s the only logical choice isn’t it? I mean who in their right mind would want to leave?”. But when you spoke to a leaver, they always spoke with great conviction, statistics, confidence. All that they said were false because they have been lied to, but the damage was done. The reluctance of the liberals to engage in dialogue with the people who held a view contrary to theirs has already caused enough havoc in the world politics. Yet, we haven’t learned from that mistake, and still look at the world from the ivory tower of our own ideology and think how stupid the other camp is. We don’t try to see their thought process, we don’t see their desperation where they’d believe anything as long as there is someone to blame.

It’s not that there weren’t fascists before Brexit happened. But they didn’t have the platform, the limelight they always wanted. Most of their activities were limited to bravado after the terrorist attacks or commemorating their fascist ideologues. Brexit and Trump gave them a new impetus. It gave them hope, and within two years, we have FN as the second largest party in France, the Netherlands barely scraped through being led by Geert Wilders, as was Austria. Hungary did, in the end, get a right-wing PM, and Italy sleepwalked into a pandemonium in the form of a coalition between nationalist and far-right parties. The European states are becoming partisan, forgetting the virtues and the history that brought them together. The only two leaders that stayed firm against the tide are Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron who constantly spoke about European integration.

It’s not that Macron has no flaws, but during the discussion with C, I expected, like most of the French population, he’d be pro-Macron and inclined towards a vision of EU for the coming years and share their disbelief at the decision taken by the British public. I think beyond Macron, this expectation stems from my idea of France, the epicentre of the modern philosophy and renaissance, from Descartes to Camus. In that biased vision, I think every French person upheld the three basic virtues — liberté, égalité, fraternité. And it’s for that reason when someone didn’t fit into that stereotype, it came as a surprise to me. Perhaps C was just an outlier who doesn’t represent the views of middle-class Parisians, perhaps I have just picked the biggest odd as my first sample. Perhaps, I need to speak to more French acquaintances. I wish I had the same luck with the lottery in picking the odds.

Going back to the meme that made me think about this first, it is clear that people don’t think before endorsing casual racism. It’s also apparent that there is an undercurrent of growing hostile environment for the migrants, waning tolerance between communities and a disbelief over the EU. I wonder how many more distress signals would we need before we start to work on it. Before it’s too late.

PS: I’m going to meet a few Italians soon. Some from the North and some from the South. It’d be enlightening to see their views on Lega Nord. And on the coalition. And on the man who once introduced populism to Italy vowing to drag the country out of the mess it was in, and his famous lines:

E Forza Italia
É tempo di credere
Dai Forza Italia
Che siamo tantissimi

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