Culture & Conversation

Rover 2015: a crisp new year



After spending two hours watching TV news last night, I couldn’t sleep. Tried melatonin, ginger tea, a slice of panettone, rum in wildberry juice. Eyes wide open at 2 am, I checked out Facebook, posted the following:

I appreciated Neil Macdonald’s comment on The National last night, noting the extreme caution taken by mainstream media on all things Islamic. At this exact moment I am Charlie too. Yet can’t help but reflect that we (the West) are a culture that has lost touch with the meaning of blasphemy because we hold nothing sacred. Neil was right to reference Life of Brian – probably the last time Christians got steamed over a satirical movie. Terrorism, open societies and fundamentalist religion are a perfect storm in our hyper connected world. We are Charlie tonight, and very soon we are all the Middle East. Knowledge is power, and now power is more widely distributed than ever before in human history. But there is always only a finite amount of power, meaning no one state or movement or establishment has it all, or enough of it to impose order. So the wars of our lifetime will be street wars. The paradigms of left, right, centre are ancient history, which is why there is also something archaic about this awful incident. But it’s too soon to expand on why…

After that I fell into bed, descended into a nightmare. I was in some unrecognizable foreign place with my daughter, who was a toddler, and other children, most of them black. Adults were watching, possibly making some kind of film. The actors on screen walked into the room. Confusion. Gunshots. We sent the children into a shed at the back of the property and turned out the lights. The next moment I was wearing a black chador, looking into the barrel of a gun pointed at my face by a hooded man in army fatigues. I pleaded for my life, repeating the word baby. The thugs left. I called out to the children to come inside, shutting the gate behind them on two smallish hounds and a miniature tiger. As we climbed into a large double bed, I pulled a white bedspread over our heads, the same one used by my grandson when he was visiting at Christmas.

I woke up to daylight, reality, newspapers filled with news and comment on the Charlie Hebdo massacre. What happened to those journalists and unnamed others is terrible. Inexcusable.

Yet I can’t help but notice a strong streak of naivety embedded in the outpouring over freedom of expression that has followed this terrorist act.

The extremist believers of Islam have no sense of humour? What they do have is highly politicized sense of the sacred as defined by a thin, hard slice of the sprawling Muslim world, and a powerful, highly-trained global network of militants, coldly sane and otherwise. Like it or not, we are all at war. It behooves us to both speak up, and to be careful.

There is a significant difference between genuine courage and taunting a wild beast. Have we already forgotten the provocation waged by legitimate western nations against functioning governments abroad in the last decade? Wars most of us opposed. Wars we failed to win.

There are things we cannot and never will say out loud about sacred cows in our own culture. The male dentistry students who posted what turned out to be inexcusable remarks about women on their Facebook page no doubt thought they were being funny. No harm intended. Now their careers are in tatters. Last summer’s violence in Gaza exposed how fragile our nerves are on the subject of Israel and its neighbors.

Enough for now. The carnage is raw. Let us mourn.

Stay tuned for a new Rover in 2015. The old dog has teeth. It’s high time we showed them from time to time, for the good of art and humanity.

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Marianne Ackerman is founder and editor of Rover.

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