Category Archives: Mankind

Love Thy Brother (and His Beliefs)

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I somehow don’t seem to manage to do too many of my blog entries without referring to the Spanish Civil War. Well, here I go again.

The Spanish House of Congress in Madrid has just passed a Law of Historic Memory (Ley de memoria histórica de España). With this legal framework, the misdeeds of the Franco regime are finally declared bad practice, even illegal. Some relatives of victims of this Spanish civil war between brothers will now be able to claim compensation, or recognition, or at least might have their dead family members unburied from mass graves, to put them to rest in a civil manner.

There was indeed a war, often between members of the same family, with wounds that are still not healed, even now, seventy years on. Perhaps the new Ley will help the healing process.

The point that I am trying to make, though, is that nothing unusual occurred in the Spain of the Thirties of the last century. Nothing, that has not occurred elsewhere as well, at other times, or that is occurring right now, somewhere, at this very moment. Just look at the American War of Independence. The Armenian genocide. Ethnic cleansing in the Balkans. The Hutus-Tutsis conflict in Rwanda. The current Turkish-Kurds conflict. The Burmese confrontation between the Military dinosaurs and the Buddhist monks. In fact, any war. Any conflict. Any genocide. Any confrontation. Any fight: a pub brawl, a football match gone wrong, a rugby match lost.

It is the old Biblical conflict of Cain and Abel, of the first and second sons of Adam and Eve.

The problem is that us humans seem to be in conflict with our brothers, our neighbours or our compatriots because of a code system that has been instilled in us from the earliest of our days, and that we seem to want to fight tooth and nail, to uphold, even at the cost of committing murder. As I say, not a problem restricted to the Spanish, but inherent to the Human race.

Each group of people, each community and each segment of society seems to establish some code of conduct, as to what is allowed and what is not, or what is desirable, appropriate, conforming, or what is to be achieved in life, etc.

You have the gender groups. You have males, females, children, adolescents. You have religious groups: Catholics, Jews, Muslims. You have desert people, city people, rural people, western people, Asian people, black people, money people, stock market people, left wing people, conservative people, students, artists, rich people, widows, gay people, punks, military people, hippies, indigenous people, Amish people, politicians, backpackers, hikers, pilgrims, religious zealots. You have the fundamentalists and the Anti-Abortionists. Mothers. The Greens. The Neo-Conservatives. And you have zillions more human categories. 

Each of those groups or communities appears to love everyone who belongs to the same group and at the same time, seems to loath everybody else who is outside of their own defining characteristics, belonging to a different group, race, creed, uniform, religion, language, code or whatever. The herd instinct, if you want. The hatred of the black sheep.

Each of these group entities conforms to the code of practice of their own particular group, it seems, and those who do not conform within that group seem to get punished by the other members of this clan or tribe, or otherwise reprimanded.

Those group code rules appear to be most vital to the members of the group that adhere to that specific code, whilst often seeming ridiculous or bizarre to other groups. 

I suppose a group conformity code even exists amongst some species or packs of animals, as well. Wolves, let’s say, for example.

A rather good and current example amongst humans is the ongoing battle of belief systems between the Western world and the Islamic world. The one world does not understand the viewpoint of the other one. Many mistakes are continuously committed by assuming that the population of the entire planet should follow the same code of behaviour as one does oneself, which is of course not feasible. The antipodals tick in different ways from the Alaskans, shall we say, and the Sunnis prefer to differ from the Shias. In fact, the Republicans differ from the Democrats, and the Labour from the Tories. Cain versus Abel, everywhere.

A telling example is a rather ridiculous photo that I saw the other day of an American pinball bowling track being newly inaugurated in Baghdad, Iraq, to bring the blessings of U. S. American values (bowling and democracy) to the underprivileged people of the Middle East.

It seems bizarre to me to think that a victim of war torn Iraq would like nothing more, right now, than to learn the rules of pinball bowling. 

To a Muslim, it also seems quite obvious that one would happily adhere to the Islamic fast of Ramadan, whereas a non-Muslim would most likely not succumb to the rigid restrains of this annual practice, or even to Western style Lent. Catholics might have adhered to Lent, a few generations ago, but do on the whole not follow this practice any longer.

Social patterns and codes seem to change, then. Some groups of society are quicker to give up on a code then others, or adapt new codes. Sexual behaviour patterns are one such code, virgin chasteness for instance. Divorce, or drug consumption, binge drinking or hooliganism, are others. 

I should think that this Cain & Abel conflict would be a very compelling phenomenon to look into at greater depth, and the problems and errors that this obviously involves. Perhaps it becomes evident, though, that this conflict also possibly provides a safety net for people who want to feel more secure as part of a group/community/family/network, or simply, herd. 

Perhaps people prefer to be wrong in union with others, rather than be right, but stand out and feel stigmatized.

 

Kenji Nagai and the Dinosaurs of Burma

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One of the defining characteristics of dinosaurs is not to know when time is up. An oversight that can have fatal consequences.

Senior General Than Shwe, 74, may have pushed his luck when after 15 years in command as the head of Burma’s military junta, he allowed and possibly instructed his soldiers to open fire on foreign journalist, Kenji Nagai, who was shot and executed in front of cameras three days ago.

Kenji Nagai, a 50 years old Japanese photojournalist, was killed whilst taking photos of the recent, largely peaceful anti-government protests.

Dinosaurs are extinct because they did not absorb the changes that had occurred in their habitat. The Burmese generals repeat the dinosaurs’ costly mistake of not understanding that it was one thing, in 1988, to kill 30,000 Burmese citizens, when the country was closed off from the eyes of the rest of the world, and quite another circumstance once the digital century had spread throughout the world. Digital eyes are everywhere now.

Twenty years on, Burmese military brutality can not possibly happen without being noticed by the rest of the world. Only hours after the death of Kenji Nagai, the outside world could witness how the photographer was pushed to the ground, shot and killed.

 

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The Internet, YouTube, Internet blogs, mobile phones, and digital video cameras manage to instantly expose the brutal offensive against their own people, blatantly carried out by the military regime of so-called Myanmar, in a way that is quite unprecedented. The goalposts have changed since 8888, as the last Burmese uprising was called, and it won’t take long before the generals realize their current offside position.

Monks in Burma have historically been at the forefront of protests – first against the colonialism of the British and later against military dictatorship. Monks also played a prominent part in the failed 1988 pro-democracy rebellion. Monks are being killed, threatened and imprisoned at this very moment but the blatant actions of Than Shwe’s clique of generals look like no more than a desperate last effort to hide their impotence in the face of the inevitable.

If my understanding of the situation in Burma is correct, Kenji Nagai’s death may well have served a purpose.

Peace, Kenji-san.

 

The ‘Príncipe de Asturias’ Award for Yad Vashem

We all know that most noble award of all, the Nobel Prize. Each year, scientists are awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine, Physics, or Chemistry, as are authors and writers, for Literature.

 

The crown of all that is the Nobel Prize for Peace; never mind that Mr. Nobel was the inventor of dynamite, a product  that has had its fair share in bringing down peace more often than enhancing it.

Not everyone knows that Spain has created the poor man’s Nobel Prize.

Well, that is not quite doing it justice. Spain has set up something similar, with perhaps a slightly more contemporary and more popular angle, and without the prize money that is attached to the Nobel Prize. And without any dynamite or other applications with sinister possibilities associated with it. It is called Premios Príncipe de Asturias, and is awarded annually to outstanding achievers from the world of theatre, literature, art, music, film, architecture, politics, sports and the world of science.

 

Stephen Hawking, Woody Allen, Daniel Baremboim, Günter Grass, Arthur Miller have all been awarded the ‘Premio Príncipe de Asturias’ in the past, as have Doris Lessing, J. K. Rowling, Susan Sontag, Yaser Arafat, Jane Goodall, Yehudi Menuhin, plus many others, as well as the Camino de Santiago, in case you should want to know.

 

Rigoberta Menchú Tum and Nelson Mandela are laureates of both, the Nobel Prize as well as the Premio Príncipe de Asturias.

The Prince of Asturias award was first bestowed in 1981 and now celebrates its 26th anniversary (quite a way from the 106 year old Nobel Prize). But Spanish Prince Felipe after whom the award giving Foundation is named, has the slight advantage of still being alive and kicking, something that Mr. Alfred Nobel, sadly for him, can no longer claim.

Quite why the Prize giving scheme was conceived is anyone’s guess. I suspect that the Premios Príncipe de Asturias have to be seen in the historical context.

After a dictatorship of 40 years, Spain has been a Parlimentary System with a Constitutional Monarchy only since 1978. It is a system similar to the one in Great Britain. The Monarch is the head of the State and as such, represents Spain internationally. Prince Felipe is the 3rd child of King Juan Carlos and Queen Sophía. He was born in 1968; he will be 40 years old next January. His full name is Felipe Juan Pablo Alfonso de Todos los Santos de Borbón y Grecia. His Royal title is Prince of Asturias. He is also Prince of Girona and Prince of Viana. He is the Spanish Crown Prince, i. e. the future King of Spain, if things don’t change any time soon.

With a bit of maths you can work out that the prince was a mere 13 years old when the Premios Príncipe de Asturias were set up. I believe that the Spanish Royal family was then looking for a niche in the international scene. Spain also wanted to give itself an image of being democratic, pro-Western, open, liberal, dignified and humanitarian, attributes that this country had forgone during the dark years of Franco. Plus the young Prince also had to be given a role on the world stage with some prestige attached.

26  years on, Spain is a respected member of the world community, both in Europe and in the world. The Premios Príncipe de Asturias were certainly not fundamentally instrumental in getting Spain to this position, but they have hardly done any harm on the way there.

The Premios Príncipe de Asturias command prestige and respect already. They have not quite yet achieved the flair that the Nobel Prize evokes, but wait another 78 years, before we can take stock. They are in a close second position now and that is not bad going for such a young scheme.

The 2007 prize winners have already been named:

Writer, Amos Oz has won the ‘Premio Príncipe de Asturia de las Letras 2007’. Michael Schumacher won the award for Sports. Arts, Bob Dylan. German born British Lord Dahrendorf has won the ‘Premio Príncipe de Asturias’ for Social Sciences. Al Gore has won the ‘Premio Príncipe de Asturias’ for International Cooperation. Peter Lawrence and Ginés Morata have been chosen for Scientific and Technical Research.

 

And just a week ago or two, the ‘Premio Príncipe de Asturias de la Concordia’, was announced. Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, Israel, has been awarded the coveted prize.

 


The Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, an international institution in memory of the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust, aims to transmit to future generations the need for preserving human rights and, essentially, the respect for life. It is the only one of its kind in the world to also honour people who risked their own lives to save Jewish victims of the Shoah. Yad Vashem has become an important centre of information, research and education of one the largest genocides in the history of Mankind.

I just wish Israel would not only take good care of the memory of Jewish victims of the Holocaust, but would also begin to preserve human rights and respect for life in their own territory and in the immediate neighborhood in the present day, i. e. in Gaza, the Lebanon and also in Jerusalem. Too many victims and too much death, destruction, misery and hardship are caused on a daily basis in the vicinity of Yad Vashem.

If not, perhaps our children will visit an Intifada Museum in Gaza, one day, which the Premio Príncipe de Asturia might also choose to award some Concordia award to, in years to come. 


Some Buildings in Mallorca Are 3,000 Years Old, or More

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Imagine you walk through a passage way that is covered by a solid stone slab weighing some 3,000 kilograms or more and that was put there, no-one knows how, some 3,000 years ago, or more. Eerie.

Mallorcan civilization is much older than one might think. It is older than the Arab’s, and older than the Roman’s. As old as some Pharaonic dynasties, even.

 

There was life in the hills of the Levante some 4,000 years ago. Well, let’s settle for 3,000 years, just to avoid argument. Yes, that’s almost as old as the pyramids of Giza. No, I am not comparing the two. It is to give you a feeling of age, nothing more.

 

The Megalithic civilization that had settled in the Balearic islands, mainly really in Menorca, but to a lesser extent also in Mallorca, is called the Talayotic society. Talayotic because they lived in settlements that were characterized by some massive watchtowers, called Atalayas. If you are really into all that you should soon make your way to Menorca, where there are some fourty or fifty settlements, of various states of importance. Some of them are magnificent. World heritage stuff.

 

Here, on the bigger Balearic island, we have to settle for something smaller and lesser. But impressive nevertheless, if you join me on the way to Ses Païses (see photo above), near Arta, or to Capocorb Vell, south of Llucmajor, or to Son Fornes, near Montuïri. Mallorca has only about twenty or twentyfive Talayotic settlements, of which the three named above are the biggest and best preserved. Some others and mainly smaller Talayots in Mallorca are not very well cared for, I am afraid. Some have been outright neglected.

 

I do not know why the Island guardians care so much more about small infringements in contemporary planning laws, when they have architectonic remains of historic importance on their hands that they neglect to even fence in.

 

Be that as it regrettably may, you might just want to pop down to Llucmayor and see for yourself, one of these days. The Capocorb Vell settlement is well fenced in and is signposted all the way from Llucmajor. You can’t miss it. Opening hours there are from 10h00 to 20h00 (closed Thursday), now that the season is in full swing. But busloads have been known to descend, and it gets too hot anyway. Why not wait another few weeks until things get cooler. The extensive Talayot is nicely looked after. Of course this is public domain, but the keepers are private people that obviously care. There is a small entry charge of 3 € and it is worth every Cent. If you get exhausted from looking and perhaps acting out that Indiana Jones urge inside of you, refreshments are on offer, as are crisps and sweets. You can take your young ones, too. But urge them to stick to the paths. 

 

And if you are still up for it, you might check on the other sites, too. Son Fornes near Montuïri is currently being assessed in earnest, after many years of neglect. A small exhibition display has recently been opened at the vicinity.

 

A real classic is Ses Païses, near Arta, but then, some of you might know that one already.

 

It is the Talayot that Mallorca likes to show off.

 

08h15 on 6th August 1945 – A Sad Day for Mankind

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“When you call yourself an Indian or a Muslim or a Christian or a European, or anything else, you are being violent. Do you see why it is violent? Because you are separating yourself from the rest of mankind. When you separate yourself by belief, by nationality, by tradition, it breeds violence. So a man who is seeking to understand violence does not belong to any country, to any religion, to any political party or partial system; he is concerned with the total understanding of mankind.”

Jiddu Krishnamurti

(1895-1986)

Freedom from the Known (pp. 51-52)