Feb 17

2024

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Helen Whitten

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Alexei Navalny died yesterday fighting for democracy. We must fight for ours too and not take it for granted.  Reports show that the younger generation want a ‘strong leader’.  Well, I hope the death of Navalny opens their eyes to what happens when you get a strong leader: you lose free speech, and can be imprisoned or assassinated if you speak up against a President, their government, or the unjust wars they embark upon.

There have been attempts over the last decade to divide us and weaken our Western societies.  I have written about this before and suspect Russian bots are responsible for much of the propaganda that questions or attacks Western values.  It certainly suits Putin and our other enemies to undermine the belief we have in our society and, ultimately, in democracy.  Without cohesion we leave ourselves vulnerable.

So isn’t it time for our own political leaders to speak up more vociferously for the benefits of Western values? Isn’t it time they contrasted the freedoms we have here with the restrictions that people face in Russia, China, North Korea, the Middle East and elsewhere?  Isn’t it time they demonstrated to younger voters that they would not be able to march on the streets, drink, dance or be gay in quite a large number of other countries? Isn’t it time they woke young women here up to the amazing freedoms they have in the West that they do not have in other places?  In fact isn’t it time for them to re-emphasize how fortunate we are living here because if we rubbish our own ways of life we weaken ourselves and, believe me, we would not wish to live under a Putin-like regime!

But our political leaders are not doing a great job of standing up for our way of life.  They flip and flop and apologise and insinuate that life is worse today than it has ever been – take people back only a few years and they might realize that life was appallingly difficult for the majority of people in previous centuries so let’s celebrate what we have, where we have got to now.  Yes, of course there are difficulties and challenges but the poverty and hardship of only a century ago in our own country was real before the welfare state, before equal rights and the incredible developments of science, technology, medicine. We have come to take our freedoms and rights for granted and forget that to uphold our democracy we must also accept that rights come with responsibilities towards our society and that includes voting.  But I foresee electoral turnout as being a major problem in the next election.

I am not alone among my friends in feeling totally disenfranchised. Recent by-elections showed that people did not turn out in their droves to vote. Unless Sunak, Starmer and Davey (for a moment I couldn’t even remember his name!) tell us what they really stand for they will weaken our democracy.  People are turning away from the Conservatives but the worse part is that they are not sure who to vote for and I don’t blame them.  We are unsure whether either Sunak or Starmer are actually capable of leading because leadership means giving people a vision and a vision needs to be achievable and based on principles that can be understood by the electorate.  We need to know that Starmer can control his far-left faction and Sunak his far-right faction.  At the moment I am not convinced that either of them can and I really don’t know what Davey stands for. And so, in these gaps, Reform did quite well in Wellingborough…

Whichever party gets into power will have the same challenges to face and these are similar to the challenges being faced in other countries, such as an ageing demography, health services under strain etc.  We must value what we already have if we are to protect it and build on it further to improve life even more.  Life is tough now with the cost of living but it isn’t just tough in the UK – read about life elsewhere, even in Europe and the USA, to make comparisons before becoming so critical or complacent that we lose what we have.

The winning party will need us to play our part in remedying these issues and it may not be comfortable but I, for one, would prefer they treat us like grownups and are honest about (a) the problems we face and (b) how they intend to tackle them. No empty promises or magic money trees.

Democracy is flawed, as is every kind of political government, but it is the best we have.  Navalny died fighting for it.  He was extraordinarily courageous to do this when he knew he risked his life to stand up for what he believed in, including his fight against corruption. So far in this country we would not be assassinated for speaking up against our leaders but we are already seeing people cancelled and losing their jobs for speaking up for principles or facts they believe in.  Antisemitism is on the rise.and surely it is unacceptable to blame schoolchildren living here for the perceived sins of their leaders. Protest but do so in a fair and peaceful way as bullying crowds are making our politicians’ lives so unpleasant that people are starting to turn away from being MPs.  And we need our elected representatives in order to function as a democracy. 

Anyone who has lived under a regime where they are not allowed to vote, or where they know that their vote is pointless will tell you this: a vote is a precious right. Let’s be responsible enough to value it. Let’s stand up for what we have built, for free speech and for democracy and ensure we get off our sofas and vote when the time comes.

I just hope that by the time of the next election our political leaders have shown us clearly where they want to take our country and specifically how they plan to do so, so that we feel motivated to get down to the polling booth when that time comes.

RIP Alexei Navalny

A friend has just pointed out that I should mention that the way Russia relates to democracy is one of the themes of my novel No Lemons in Moscow …  just in case you’re interested!

 

 

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When I was writing my novel, No Lemons in Moscow, it was in the midst of the tragic scandal of the Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Trust’s record on maternity services.  I used the research to form one of the themes of the book as the protagonist, Kate, has lost a baby son due to lack of care during his birth. Last week we read of similar tragedies occurring in Gloucestershire NHS Trust.  Before that, in 2015, it was Morecombe Bay and the regulator was reported as saying that most maternity units were not “safe enough”.  How many more years will it be before real action is taken to protect mothers and babies?

I hear doctors talk of birth as a “natural process” as if they didn’t really have to think about it further, despite the fact that for centuries women and babies have died in this “natural process”.  In addition women with problems such as endometriosis or fibroids are fobbed off for years as their GPs don’t take the conditions seriously, yet these symptoms cause pain and prevent a woman enjoying quality of life.  I read this week that only 2% of the NHS budget is allocated to such problems but we are talking of our future generations at a period when our birth rate is falling, so isn’t it time to take more action?

But a death, whether a miscarriage, stillbirth, or a child who only lives for a short time, is something you never fully get over.  You adapt and get on with life, because that is what you have to do, but that child, or would-have-been child, stays with you for life. We lost our son of a cot death at nine weeks and thinking about him nearly 48 years later can still bring tears to my eyes. And it impacts the parents’ relationship too.  I weave into my novel the fact that men and women, fathers and mothers, may grieve differently and this may draw them together but can, also, push them apart. I have no statistics on same sex parenting, but the misunderstandings of response could still play its part in how they relate after death or disability.

So why can’t midwives, doctors, consultants, nurses and managers get their acts together in these NHS Trusts and work as a team to solve the problems? Can they not put aside their cultural differences, their power struggles, their defence systems, to put the lives of mother and baby first? For it isn’t always the child who dies. There have been too many cases of mothers dying too, which is a loss for their partner and may well deprive other children of a mother.

I believe I was fortunate in the maternity care I received in that I had an excellent consultant, though there was pressure from the NCT to have a natural childbirth, so I felt like a failure in some ways when I was rushed to the operating theatre for a Caesarean section. But my child was healthy so what matters more, the statistics of a natural birth for a hospital or a live baby?  We were encouraged to breastfeed but the nurse in the hospital where I had my first son was really bitchy when I found this difficult, despite the surgery inevitably making this more complicated.

I believe most women simply ask for compassionate and supportive competence.  They don’t want ideology. They don’t want a midwife who is loathe to refer the case up to a consultant and they don’t want a consultant who shrugs off the fact that a mother senses something is wrong. It is such a vulnerable time. You are absolutely dependent on those around you.  You don’t want a nurse to fob off the fact that you can’t hear a heartbeat by saying something like “the baby is probably sleeping”, which is a case I have heard.  You don’t want to be left alone unable to move, with no one coming to your aid. You want to feel held by your consultant, nurses, midwives and the system itself. Yet the admin of the NHS is appalling so notes get lost or previous history not passed on.

When our first son died my consultant decided he would take no risks and give me Caesareans for my next two sons.  I wasn’t “too posh to push” as the media seem to love to scream.  I just wanted a healthy baby, having obviously run into difficulty with my first, though the cot death was nothing to do with his birth.

In my novel I am able to write about such things and enable Kate to set up a charity in memory of her dead son.  I read this week that novelists can be egotists because by writing about things they can control them. So yes, in my novel, I am able to ensure that Kate’s charity is successful, that she creates a maternity home where women are treated with care and respect and competent medical treatment.  It is my dream, too, as I have watched the younger generation of mothers receive such poor care and lack of continuity that I have wished to make a fortune in order that I could leave behind me a maternity home such as the one I describe in my novel.  On paper I can do it, of course! And sure, that is a nice feeling, to bring my dream alive even if only in a book.

Surely now, after all these tragic cases, the consultants can pull together their teams to work together to make the changes necessary to put the safety and health of mothers and babies first?  Please?

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It’s a long time now since I did my history degree at King’s London but I have been thinking about Hegel often over the last few years.  In particular his theory of thesis, antithesis, synthesis with its message that in order to hone the best ideas, perceptions and solutions one needs to have one’s theories tested through conflict, through listening and considering another or the opposite perspective.   Through this, one can develop the best synthesis of a solution, sometimes referred to as the “becoming”, or a moving forward that unifies, casting off that which is no longer useful.

He felt, if my memory serves me right, that this process, whether in state institutions or individuals, would result in the continuing enlightenment and development of humankind and how we live, through the combination of individual freedom of thought and government.  His term was ‘a community of individuals’. Therefore individuals who thought independently but nonetheless felt themselves to be a community.  Sadly I think he might be disappointed in our current situation of polarity and division where our sense of community appears to be under attack.

However much we have in common on a human basis we seem always to find ways to divide ourselves. Whether it is Brexit, Ukraine, gender, race, religion, empire, Trump or the Middle East, the reality is that groups have moved so far into their ‘tribe’ that they accuse everyone else of being wrong.  And not only wrong but also potentially stupid, ignorant, bigoted, racist, transphobe, fascist or any other unpleasant label that can be attached to justify their own point of view and shut the others up. So the result is that people just refuse to listen to any opposing arguments put before them, however much they are based in fact or historical context.

For what I am seeing and experiencing is that people don’t want to have their minds changed. They are often hesitant to have these conversations with friends or family in case it leads to conflict and equally are not willing to accept that they might have got some things wrong or put a bet on the wrong horse. It takes maturity and confidence to listen and learn and not get defensive or aggressive.

Watching interviews of those on recent marches it was distressing to observe how ignorant people were even of the banner headlines they were carrying, not understanding what ‘from the river to the sea’ or ‘social intifada’ means and having no initiative as to how a ceasefire or peace might be achieved. Watch:

It doesn’t help that the social media platform algorithms are set up to bombard us with posts that simply reinforce our own already biased perspective.  Surely X, Facebook, TikTok and others could learn from this dysfunctional situation and throw in the occasional post that is totally opposite to what the person usually ‘likes’?  It can’t be beyond the means of these IT experts to start to do this now.  If not, we are simply going to end up in increasingly polarised little echo chambers.

Another polarising factor is that there is a cynicism about the main media these days.  The BBC, ITV, CNN are all accused of being biased in one way or another or of giving erroneous reports.  So people go to the internet, to smaller providers and it ends up that masses of people are developing their own ‘truth’.  Quite possibly this is also because with 24/7 news channels we have the whole globe to cover and the complexities are enormous so it is inevitable that however hard the main media stations try they will never be able to cover it all.  I, for one, am interested by how much news I pick up on Twitter/X that is never covered on the BBC.

And this is leading to conspiracy theories because with Deep Fake and other faked videos one can’t necessarily believe anything one sees.  This is incredibly dangerous, I think, because we are having our minds totally confused by one propaganda source or another, such as the idea that October 7 never happened, or that the Israeli Government allied with Hamas rebels to make it happen, or to questioning whether any of the footage coming out of Gaza or Israel is true or simply concocted as part of this propaganda war.  I personally learnt a lot about the context of this war from Norma Perry’s insightful series The Fifty Years War on BBC Iplayer where she interviews all players with a view to not taking sides but to demonstrating the context of so many years of upheaval.

What gets forgotten in all these arguments is that there is more that we have in common than these disagreements. For we are a community of individuals but also of families, of friends, work colleagues, villages, counties, states, neighbours.  We may have differing political viewpoints but ultimately the majority of people want to live a peaceful life where they can bring up their children in safe surroundings and earn a decent living. Whether you are an Israeli or Palestinian most of their citizens want a simple life that reflects this goal – as do those who are marching for one cause or another.  They are, in the end, all marching for peace and for the end of the suffering of little children and private citizens. Well, I say ‘all’ but of course it isn’t all as some people do want intifada or wars of one kind or another – religion, class, race, gender – but I posit that the majority of us don’t.

Whether you vote Labour or Conservative, ultimately all parties aim to provide good education and an efficient health service.  Where they differ is in how they reach these goals but the ultimate goals are often the same. I’m not saying these differences of political perspective and approach don’t matter.  Of course they do. I’m just suggesting that they don’t have to polarise us in the way they do. It doesn’t have to be a war.  We can listen and learn from other opinions rather than block our ears to them because if we don’t remain curious to other perspectives we will surely never achieve that synthesis of which Hegel wrote.

To solve world problems, or, for that matter, any problems, we must define them accurately. Then we can develop a potential solution, the thesis.  From here, we can really benefit from opening our minds to the opposite conclusions, the antithesis.  As Einstein said “We cannot solve a problem from the same state of mind in which it was created”. Within this process we have the possibility of checking our original premise and of learning to look at things differently.

The problems we have in the world today require new thinking, in my view. We need creativity to solve what we face and we need to realize that the majority of us are on the same side, seeking peace, humanity, civilisation.  So we need to put on our problem-solving hats and work together, listen and discuss options, imagine a different world, develop lateral perspectives through collaborative debate, brainstorming and negotiation. This must be our best option.  We have, as human beings, the capacity to do this.  Can we create the will to do so?

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As most of you know now, I wrote my novel No Lemons in Moscow inspired by a literary tour of Russia in 1990.  When I returned there in 2016 we were shown around St Petersburg (as it now was) by a guide called Sergei.  He was a gregarious man and told us much about the city and about Russia. I asked him whether he was able to speak about anything he wanted to say now and he replied “Oh yes, absolutely,” then paused and said “but my mother worries about me saying too much. She and her generation have fear in the blood.” This was a chilling thought, imagining how frightening it must be not to be able to speak up for one’s beliefs or opinions without the threat that the State or the police would overhear you and arrest you. 

My second thought was wow, Fear in the Blood is a great title for a novel, although I had no intention at that time to write one. And so when I started to write the book in 2020, its original title was Fear in the Blood, as I felt it encapsulated how anxious one would feel on a daily basis and how limiting it would be on one’s actions and conversations to sense that everything you did was being observed and judged. It could lead your nervous system to becoming attuned to threat to the extent that you were never truly free to be an individual.  Individual thought and creativity were, after all, barred under communism, and writers, poets, artists and academics had been sent to gulags for daring to express original thought.

As to the title, it was only when I met up with Ian Drury, a literary agent at the Winchester Writers’ Festival, that he pointed out that it could lead potential readers to believe that the book was a thriller, with blood and bodies on the carpet, which it isn’t.  And so, with the help of Adrienne Dines, with whom I worked to shape my story, I changed the title to No Lemons in Moscow because, as I recorded in my diary at the time, there were no lemons in Moscow or Leningrad in 1990.

Thinking back over this yesterday I suddenly realised that we may well be in danger of having our own fear-in-the-blood moment here in the West.  Here, the very place that thought it had learnt so many lessons from the consequences of the terrible groupthink that overtook Nazi Germany, followed not so long afterwards by the revelations of what living under communism was really like when the wall went down in Germany and bit by bit Eastern Europe was released to freedom. During this period we came to realize how limited people’s lives had been, unable to speak their minds, unable to travel or learn from others beyond their borders. But of course our young were not alive to witness this and so, when I read that the Generation Zs wish for ‘strong leadership’ I realize they know not what they ask for. They have not seen or heard the stories we have heard from history, the way strong leaders generally impoverish their people for their own gain, how creativity is stifled, how we all end up having to think the same.

I have just finished reading Konstantin Kisin’s excellent book An Immigrant’s Love Letter to the West. He is a Russian who came over to the UK and became first a stand-up comic but was horrified when he was asked at the Edinburgh Festival to sign a contract to say that he would not offend anyone and would be kind and sensitive to everyone in his audience. He could hardly believe he was standing on UK soil not Russian soil, being asked to sign this when, of course, comedy pushes the boundaries and what offends one person will not offend another and inevitably you can’t be kind to everyone because if you are kind to one person another may suffer.  And so he refused and he has written his book telling us loudly to wake up to what is happening to us here in the West, to how forces we may not be able to understand are busy undermining our institutions, our social cohesion and wishing to disempower us for their own ends.

He and others are pointing out, as I have been doing in my blogs in my own small way, that we are in danger of losing all that we have built up over the last few decades. There are several articles this week, in fact, pointing out that the DEI policies of Diversity Equality and Inclusion are actually resulting in the opposite. That instead of welcoming diversity of opinion and perception, academic institutions and corporations are limiting what people can say, resulting in utter conformity of thought in a truly Orwellian way. Students in universities and pupils in schools are reporting that they feel nervous of expressing an opinion in case it does not conform to current trends, whether on gender, race, empires, the Middle East, etc.  Certainly, I know people of my own generation and younger who feel they are being judged for questioning this Orwellian Newspeak that is being mirrored on the mainstream media as much as in the classroom, where teachers have been sacked for expressing a viewpoint. I actually wrote a blog about it some time ago, wondering whether we would all be locked up by our grandchildren for expressing thoughts that seem perfectly normal and legitimate to us but outrage them!

The world is being turned into the concept of the oppressed and the oppressor and yet, as I have said before, this omits to acknowledge how powerful a position it is to be the oppressed, the victim, and throw blame and shame all around you. That is not to say that of course terrible things have not been done in the past and continue to be done all around the world but Konstantin Kisin’s point, reiterated by many others recently, is that people living in the West, whatever their colour or creed, are living in better conditions than any other human generation before them and we need to appreciate this and hold on to the quality of life that we have built up.  Are there problems? Of course, and we can continue to learn and develop but if we can’t even see what is in front of us and how fortunate we are, then we shall never be able to preserve the best of what we have created.

So here comes 2024 and may this please be the year we move beyond this limiting groupthink and speak up for freedom of expression, for respectful debate where each of us can stay in the room with someone who has a different opinion to ours and feel perfectly safe to listen and learn from them instead of blocking our ears to opposition. May this be the year where we stop the hypocrisy of promoting diversity when actions, laws and policies denote the opposite. May it be the year when we recall recent history and the moments when we have shouted “never again!”.

Finally, may we recall the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes and call out those who are denying scientific or biological facts.  If people truly want tolerance of many different ways of life then may they too allow for this because tolerance or inclusion or whatever you want to call it is not a one-way street. It’s give and take. You can’t say you want diversity but only if everyone thinks the same way as you. That is a contradiction in terms.  Let’s please wake up to this.

Oh, and if you haven’t yet read my book you can buy it here!

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Dec 12

2023

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Helen Whitten

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A friend I knew in my teens reminisced recently that he remembered me bursting into a pub or café full of ideas and conversation from the latest book I had been reading. And I guess that is what I love about books – how they inspire ideas, take you to other worlds, into other characters and even better to deep conversations with other people on these topics. And so I am hoping that my own novel, my debut, No Lemons in Moscow, will do this for other people.

For those of you who are writers, would-be writers, or part of a writing group, the process from which my novel began was an interesting one. In our creative writing class we were asked one week to write a list of twenty events or experiences that had been extraordinary in some way.  I included seeing the sunset go down between the pyramids on horseback, being with both my parents at the moment of their death, and a literary tour of Russia in 1990.

The following week we were encouraged to take one event from that list and write about it more fully.  I chose Russia in 1990 and realised that it had changed my life and sense of myself.  I had met extraordinary people and had my mind opened up to life under a communist regime. I wrote about meeting a young Russian in a bar. He had fought in Afghanistan and wanted to start a restaurant but couldn’t grasp how this could be possible. I explained that he could go to a bank, borrow money and pay it back as he made a profit. “Impossible” was all he said. He was unable to get his mind around free enterprise.

The following week the tutor suggested we fictionalise some aspect of what we had written about. So I created the character of Kate, a London woman coming out of divorce who goes on a literary tour of Russia in 1990. There she meets Valentin, a young Russian who wants to become an investigative reporter – a far more dangerous career than starting a restaurant! She falls in love with him and from there she gets into various situations that take her way out of her depth as Valentin wants to expose corruption in the Gorbachev and post-Gorbachev era. A risky business, as we evidence from the journalists we read about who are locked away in cold prisons.

The book is set within this context of the socio-political background of Russia 1990-2003 and follows, also, Valentin’s sister Anya as she battles with a lack of food (no lemons) and her wish to start her own health food shop. I started to write in May 2020 and after many different edits and versions I finally sent the typescrit to the publisher in April 2023.  It was published on 28 November 2023.

It was only when the book was published that I began to think about the various themes of ideas and conversations that could arise from the book. That might sound strange but when I was writing it, I was so focused on the story and characters that I wasn’t thinking about what book clubs might discuss.  Now I realize there are many different themes for discussion and these are just a few:

Identity – Kate is coming out of a bad marriage, divorcing, and needs to reinvent herself as a single woman, single mother and discover how she will pay her bills.  Russia is coming out of the era of the break-up of the Soviet Union and needs to reinvent herself in the world. Both Kate and Russia as a country have to consider who they will be now, how they want to present themselves to the world. Russia in 1990 was full of hope yet has gone down a different journey to the one we expected at that time.  I wrote a blog once about identity being a verb and not a noun as we have to reinvent ourselves often and at many different stages of our lives.

Loss – Kate has lost a baby and her grief infiltrates her daily life and her nightmares.  As many other parents, she wants to set up a charity in her son’s name so that no other mother has to experience the care she did.  The theme of loss also raises the question of how that loss impacted her marriage, as it often does. Instead of bringing a couple together it can push them apart should both parents grieve in different ways.

Love and how it fits within a relationship where one of the couple has a driving passion to change the world as Valentin does with his wish to expose corruption. We see this happen with Navalny, with Khordokovsky, Litvinenko. Stand up for what you believe in and you can be put in prison for years, or killed.  Inevitably this has an impact on intimate relationships and those who love you.

The contrast between life in the UK and life in Russia. The 1990s were a time of recession in England and yet the shops were full of food in a way that simply wasn’t the case in Russia. And post-Gorbachev the Russians came to London to invest their money in property. Kate’s best friend, Eve, in the book, is an interior designer busy making money from this Londongrad period.

Parenting a teenager as a single mother. The book suggests some of the emotional pulls that occur after divorce, the slight edge of competition and jealousy between exes as they relate to children and offer them different experiences, and then the inevitable pull away of the teenager to want to make their own life. How does a mother cope with being thrown back on herself as her role as mother lessens and the child leaves home?

These are just a few of the themes I now realize I weave into the book. You may find more, or different ones, as you read the book. Inevitably each reader comes to a book with their own history, their own interests and perspectives and each person is likely to pick up slightly different topics of interest. That is the fun of a book club, if one chooses a formal setting, or just a chat between friends, as I used to have with my teenage friend.  Either way, I really hope you enjoy the book.

No Lemons in Moscow is available from Amazon or from Troubador Publishers or your local bookstore.

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Dec 03

2023

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Helen Whitten

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This afternoon there will be a vigil for peace in Central London. People of diverse faiths, ideas and political beliefs intend to stand together for peace, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Christians, Conservatives, Labour, LibDems and many more.  They are requesting that people do not bring flags or placards but just themselves and stand there to support the wish that we do not allow ourselves to be divided by events in the Middle East or, indeed, other parts of the world.

Most human beings want a quiet life and for their children to grow up in safety. But sadly there are those who use religious or other ideology to turn one of us against the other. In the last few decades we have been experiencing a barrage of disinformation via social media, particularly, that is designed to disrupt and divide society in the West.  These people want to degrade Western values and civilisation and somehow make us apologise for the progress we have made over so many centuries but look around the world and consider what other civilisation would you prefer to live in, what other values would you prefer to live by? That’s not to say we can’t learn and adapt, as we do, but I think we need to be aware that many of those who are creating these messages are by no means our friends.

Let’s be alert to this propaganda, wherever it comes from. Let’s be discerning and make up our own minds, do the research and analysis to work out what we personally really think and feel rather than being influenced by some social media platform or the people shouting the loudest.

There was evidence this week that TikTok are inundating young minds with pro-Palestinian messages and, as we have seen in recent weeks, the young are vulnerable to such a call. They inevitably will feel sorry for those who feel oppressed and, as I have written before, victims actually hold a great deal of power to influence minds on their behalf, whatever the facts. And journalists have also shown that these young people, when interviewed, are not necessarily well versed in the facts of this very complex situation. It’s hardly surprising – many of us find it thoroughly difficult to appreciate the events that have led us to the situation that is faced today in Gaza.

But shouting for hatred, rage, or the destruction of a country or race does not get us closer to peace. “Jaw-jaw not war-war” was the phrase used by Sir Winston Churchill to promote the need for discussion. So far over the many years since World War II there have been many attempts at peace in the Middle East but they have not reached any long-standing result, although there was a level of ceasefire before the Hamas attack on Israel of October 7th.  Both parties feel victimised and oppressed but finding the way through to peace will take moving beyond that and the trouble is that the Hamas charter states that they want the destruction of Israel and so unless the Palestinians eradicate the influence of Hamas it is regrettably unlikely they will reach a settlement any time soon.

And in the meantime the Palestinian people suffer, as civilians inevitably do in warfare – we saw terrible destruction not so long ago in Homs, Syria, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Ukraine, and, further back in time, throughout the world during World War II. I can’t claim to understand it all any more than a lot of other people, but it would seem to me that the Palestinian people would themselves benefit from the end of the Hamas regime and the election of leaders who have their best interests at heart, though those marching through our streets recently didn’t seem to give that impression.

Either way, my main point is that there are several narratives that have been going around over the last few years that are absolutely designed to divide us by class, gender, sexuality, race, skin colour, religious or political beliefs but we do not have to allow ourselves to be manipulated in this way. We can stand together for peace in the world, we can agree to disagree on political or religious beliefs but respect the other person’s right to have an opinion.  Where one person is accused of being uncompassionate you can realize that perhaps they are being compassionate, but to another group to yourself.

No one of us holds the secret to life or the ultimate truth of any situation. We can all learn from each other and there are plenty of Jews and Muslims in the Middle East and elsewhere who are working together for peace. Let us support this narrative now.

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