Monday, 13 June 2016


Every day this awful confrontation of consumer flirtation, ego and the overwhelming darkness of humanitarian disasters. I spent today with myself. Opened the fridge....strawberries, spring onions and a radish. Coffee. Found walnuts. Spontaneously bought a psychedelic sofa which will no doubt be too big for my nano size flat.  Arranged my new dreads and went shopping looking like Medusa and hoping to turn people to stone. Returned with geraniums and mould killer. Retail therapy is the black hole of despair and women do it more than men. Spilt bleach over a favourite dress. Drank some Ryanair vodka. Took a couple of selfies and felt selfishly vain and shallow. Nothing I do makes anything feel better, not even being a volunteer helper.  Wept copiously listening to BBC radio's The Island, The Sea, The Volunteer and The Refugee. (Listen to it if you can) Drank more vodka. A million tortured souls climb into bed with me. The futility of not being fully there because the horror constantly  harangues. Hangs in the air like a muted scream.  Nothing diminishes the magnitude of horror - except the media. We are all drowning.


How sad for so many families in Orlando, losing loved ones in a tragic shooting. People were killed for their sexuality by a mentally unstable, homophobic American, able to buy guns as easily as fries from McDonalds, and who had previously been investigated by the FBI for 'terrorist' connections, whose ex-wife reported him as violent and whose father is believed to have sympathies for the Afghan Taliban. Another mentally unstable American, with a reputation for marital rape, fraud, bullying, mafia dealings, racism, bankruptcies, etc and who is now running for the USA Presidency, is exploiting the shootings for his 'Keep Muslims out of America' campaign. Islamaphobes will flock. ISIS is also making political capital from the murders and touting the killer as one of their own. Mateen is a hero, and new recruits will flock. These two men share  the same bigotry, and a  belief that  any means justifies their end, which is ultimately world dominance - either by an Islamic  Caliphate or by Neo-con corporatism. You can take your pick because  there's not much difference between either of their tyrannies. They share mysogyny, mind-numbing propoganda, sexual oppression, censorship and  the curtailment of all freedoms as their modus operandi. The Islamists may have the lead in the race, unrestricted as they are   by an unwieldy and  sham democracy, and receiving orders from an Ultimate Authority via an outdated  best seller. 

It's a marriage made in heaven on the way to hell. Like all marriages, there are differences:    one is Christian, the other Muslim, and one is alive and the other dead - which hardly matters as there are plenty more Mateens ready to say, 'I do.' Ignore their domestic violence - men like Mateen and Trump shoot from the same bed and  hip with the same double barrel gun.  Both  are symptomatic of a moral and political rot that erodes the freedom and humanity in each of us. Blaming other religions and ethnic groups etc merely  capitilises on the fear that finger-pointing engenders and  glosses over the real cause of the problem - a system that churns out  psycho-maniacs faster than I can eat peanut butter ice cream. These days they are spreading like an epidemic, but they have always been there and religion has always been a greedy, useful cog for  power seekers, propped up  by the  compliant, lost and brainwashed. Islamic and Christian imperialism has already polarised the world. Men like Mateen and Trump will do anything to achieve  their half-baked ideas which are fed by hatred and a belief that they are right and everyone else is wrong.   They are symptomatic of a  worn-out,  brutalising capitalism which is past its sell-by date. What terrifies them most is the intelligence of  a united, growing, secular,  grassroots movement  based on equality, and with love at its core.

Friday, 26 February 2016


Painting by Rebecca Belmore

You and I wait for a boat.
We do not know where we are going and neither does anyone else.
The water is cold you say, a treachery for blood,
stand  and dive  into   broken stars of floating  wreckage, 
 following those who have jumped before;
a woman and a child holding hands, a family.
You say nothing, as if goodbye has already been said.

A baby sinks, an orange life-vests blossom.  
From the  edge  of the jetty, you watch a  silence more  cruel than winter.
Ice grips my legs, my head bobs, eyes frost. 
Something draws me down.
 You know what it is – not a bitter sea – its gelid flesh, 
but the turning of a back.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015


Having witnessed several rounds of voting in Egypt for new parliaments, new presidents, new constitutions, I really missed not being in Cairo for the ongoing  homage to President Sisi. During the presidential election in May, 2014, women queued in droves to vote for their balding pin up.  Women are not turning out as before.  Neither are men,  Reports from friends in Cairo and Alexandria  show that several polling stations in the populous areas were empty, except for an occasional handful of elderly voters. Almost every news account reported a dearth of voters elsewhere as well. The love affair is over.

Alarmed by the low turnout on Sunday, the prime minister  gave public employees a half-day holiday on Monday to encourage more voting. The governor of Alexandria dropped the fares for public transportation. Pro-government talk show hosts (that's most of them) hectored their audiences to get out and vote. For what? The elections are being held under a number of legislations that make all forms of collective action illegal including   the “protest law” that’s been in effect since 2013, but they also include the “NGOs law”, the “terrorism law” and the amendments to the “Azhar law”.  All forms of collective action are under the scrutiny of the government so it's a wonder, in this Mickey Mouse state, that voters have not been arrested for queuing at polling stations.  The difference is that the the government, by working within a legalised framework of repression, is sure to get the results it wants. 

For this parliamentary vote,  Sisi has put up three-quarters of the seats  for competition by individual candidates, favouring the prominent and wealthy.The majority of candidates are very proud to be apolitical - which promises more of the same old   political affiliations and the fostering of individual interests.  The rest are   devoid of any political ideas and the opposition is zilch leaving the regime unmonitored and unchallenged. It's tempting to want the return of the Muslim Brotherhood, if only to liven things up a bit.

Egyptians, however, have been adding their own brand of humour to this damp squid. “I need to sit alone for a while.I am going to a polling station." “No one went today either” was trending on Twitter.

The Egyptian government is, as usual, in a state of denial and (of course) blaming the western media for misreporting. Far from being dismal, this has been the best post-revolution election ever. Even taking into account the boycotting of the elections by the Muslim Brotherhood and others,  Egyptians are hinting at a simmering collective dissent by refusing to  vote for the same old medley of crooks. They can hear the  death knell ringing for the political entities that emerged after the 'revolution' and they are witnessing  the  re-configuring of old  political elites. But the memory of the 'revolution' can't be stamped out, re-edited or  revised because everybody was there.  Fading pin-up Sisi, may discover sooner, or later, that the death knell is tolling for him.

The low turnout recalls elections for the rubber-stamp parliaments under Mubarak,(now born-again in the Sun God's parliament) although he allowed more competition. The rip-off merchant  and his military cronies are back again...but not by popular demand. Fi hob Misr.

Friday, 2 October 2015


One thing I miss about Egypt are the bum washers (hose taps connected to the water pipes). Every toilet has one and it was nice to know, that despite the dirty  streets, they were  full of clean, washed bums. The West is not. It has clean streets but dirty bums. Paper does not do the same trick, so in the UK I struggle with bottles of water, usually on what seem to be very small toilets, (or, is my bum getting bigger?) and generally end up with wet clothes. I havent got the knack...yet. It seems to me the world might be a more peaceful place, if, instead of being divided between Believers and Unbelievers we just had Wet Bums and Dry Bums.It would be just too ridiculous to crucify or behead someone because they had a Dry Bum, or a Wet one. Wouldn't it?  

Just a thought.

Since posting the above, I have been told about Fresh Buzz...friends recommend it and it's ideal because it  also fits into my handbag for when Im travelling. Check this video. Fresh Buzz knows that only humour will sell its product...

Wednesday, 5 August 2015


I have lived in Egypt for three years. It has been a turbulent time, both for me and for  the country. Shortly before leaving I sat on a hotel roof in Zamalek above the Nile reflecting on my departure. This poem emerged from these thoughts - a rag-bag of impressions,  sadness, irritation and affection. It was written very quickly and I have left it more, or less, as scribbled. It's an attempt to express something  of how I feel about the country that has given me so much, and taken so much. 

Like a lover, Egypt, you have broken my heart so many times
I ate your sand, your molakeya, your dates.
Your hot winds burned me.
I plunged your Red Sea
touched its coral gardens, 

 its brash neon fish,
watched stars sink into your  deserts,
hid behind doors 

when your people marched – one voice in chains,
caught hems on barbed wire nests,
walked with cats through silent curfews
around barriers up, your guns pointing.
In twilight's pale, I watched your pigeons,
unfolding flocks, wheel home -
that place where love and grief is.
Heard your old gods calling
from their broken shrines.
“Kefayah, kefayah.”

I swam your Nile,
lay in its arms
all night afloat,
dived its drinking dark.
You took me in.

Travelling south, the long roads,
scent of Africa- a perfumed bride

among the palms.
Heard your music in the reeds,
enchantment in the oud,
a woman chanting on a roof,
the squeal of brakes,
a timeless, tuneless adhan.

Walked unlit streets with my landless love.
Watched your dogs feast
 on old falafel, chips and bones,
curl on car roofs,
bark: This is our place.
Our home. Coming and going
like prayers from a minaret.

Where else can we go?

Monday, 6 July 2015


Dear Believer, 

I have lived in your (predominantly Muslim) country for three years and during that time I have    been  referred to  as an Unbeliever by yourself and other Believers, and more recently,  people have shouted  'Infidel' at me in the streets.  As you know they all  mean much the a person l who does not believe in Islam. The word translates into Arabic as Kafir. The use  of the word 'infidel' takes us a bit further down the unbelieving road, and refers  to people who have no religion at all. God forbid!

The distinction between Believer and Unbeliever is a dangerous one. It has become  the deciding factor  for who keeps his/her head,  or loses  it. Like racial supremacy, it sets the superiority of one group over another. To dismiss the beliefs of others by calling them  Unbelievers as if they have no beliefs at all, and that only yours count, dehumanizes. White supremacy has the same effect.

I have the Quran on my kindle - a translation by Marmaduke Pikthall  which has been upheld by various Islamic scholars. I sweep my finger randomly to one page and immediately read, '127: That he may cut off a part of those who disbelieve, or overwhelm them so that they retire frustrated.....' Friendly stuff.

 Despite a few  verses citing that Allah can be Merciful and Forgiving when he's in a good mood,  you will know  that  the point is driven home  even   further  by108  more verses  calling on Muslims to kill, mutilate and fight with Unbelievers, particularly in the later writings of the Quran when your prophet was getting stuck into power, expansion, war and its booty.   You are  commanded to chop off heads and fingers of unbelievers and kill them  wherever they may be hiding. I am grateful that you haven't, although there are other Believers who are carrying this out to the letter. According to your book, the unbelieving are in a no-win situation. Even if they  manage to keep their heads in this life, they will be barbecued in the next.  Must have been tough being a Jew, Christian or pagan when Mecca's  young upstart religion emerged. Before that time, they all lived as kinsmen. Religion took second place to tribal allegiances.

I have lived amongst Believers, and none  of them have threatened to chop off my head or fingers, or crucify me as your prophet and his god have advocated.  I appreciate this, and the warmth and love that has been shown to me by mny Believers. However, history shows us  that Christian communities in the Middle East have always been under threat because there have always been those, like ISIS etc,  who take these verses literally.(I note that you do not call these 'literalists', Unbelievers, but refer to them as non-Muslims, as if part of them is still connected to Islam. Once a Believer always a Believer whether you like it or not.) Today, Middle Eastern  Christians are  crucified, tortured, beheaded and forced to leave their homes. Smelling blood, the Jews left years ago.

I've had many conversations with mild and decent Believers. like yourself,  who seem to work on the  assumption that without an unchallengeable celestial dictatorship I have no moral compass. The less  mild tell me that my 'unbelief' will end in tears and the burning flames of hell. You all assume   I am a Christian, and fall silent when I say I am not. What am I then? Well, I dont have a religion. So, you assume I am an atheist, but I tell you I am  agnostic, and you fall silent and look at me as if I have fallen from the moon. An agnostic does not believe in god or disbelieve in it.  Non-belief is not quite un-belief. Please keep that in mind.

 Yes, you are right. I  unbelieve…
  • I don’t believe  I have been conceived in sin and have a duty to a stern creator.
  • I don’t believe I am the part of a divine heavenly plan. 
  • I do not believe I can only do a right action from fear of diviner retribution, or a hope for divine reward 
  • I don’t believe we are the centre of the universe and everything is created with us in mind.
  • I do not believe that any divine creative force is an intervening or redeeming one.
  • I do not believe in any celestial despot that subjects us to continual surveillance and  regards us as their private property, even after we’ve snuffed it.  
  • I do not believe in 'Divine Revelation' 
  • I don’t  believe in the Tooth Fairy any more.  
 My beliefs are as valid as yours even though, as you keep reminding me,  I do  not believe in what you believe. My beliefs  reflect my own spiritual, mystical and human journey, my unique response to this world, my personal connection to humanity. 

I believe in the marvels of science and the beauty of nature, the consolation and irony of philosophy , the infinite spendours of literature, art, music, poetry and architecuture  that aim for the sublime.  In these I feel an awe and magnificence that  connects me to a wider humanity and reinforces my belief in   the Oneness of our existence. The great thinkers.writers and poets of the ages  sustain  me; Socrates, Aristotle, John Stuart Mill, David Hume, Omar Khayoum,Spinoza, Simone Weil, Simone de Beauvoir, Rumi etc  I may not agree with everything they say,  but their thoughts have challenged and inspired me to question the messianic bilge I was force fed as a child. 

Over four hundred years ago, Shakespeare wrote more compassionately on the trials and tribulations of  the human condition than any holy book or so called prophet.  His wit, wisdom and humanity subscribes to the idea that we are all imperfect and that there is no Absolute Truth. My spirituality is an ongoing quest and I find my 'spiritual food' in the most unexpected  of places.  . 

I believe that religion is a man-made response prompted by a fear   of death's likely oblivion and darkness. I am repelled by religious medieval dogma  that you and over a  billion others choose to live by it.

I believe in the profound power of love.

 I have tried to understand your beliefs, but  have you tried to understand mine? They might   pose a number of questions you may not want to ask yourself. The answers could leave you grappling with what you consider  scientific 'heresies'  and  spiritual insights that could cut off your scriptural life support system. I don't care for the Catholic Church, but it has at least acceeded to Darwin's theory of evoution, saying it does not contradict the idea of divine creation. All rational, scientific evidence turns Adam and Eve to fiction, yet even the most educated and intelligent of Believers will hang on to this fairy tale. The Ancient Greeks; Pythagoras (570 - 495 BC), Aristotle (384 - 322 BC) and Hipparchus (190 - 120 BC) all knew this. Apparently Allah didn't. 

 In the Quran, 20:53 and 15:19 Allah declared the earth to be flat even though it was thought to be round for thousands of years. You have mentioned that the Quran states the earth is egg shaped...and indeed, surah and verse  79:33 translates as such. The word 'dahaha' is used and does mean 'egg shaped' but it also means an expanse and fits in with earlier references to a flat earth. Can god afford to be so ambiguous and ignorant?

I believe the earth is round. Don't you?

You are a highly intelligent Believer, but I have yet to meet any human being who is remotely qualified to say that he/she understands or knows the mind of god. Yet you claim to do so. The existence of a deity remains   neither disproved or proved. You say you cannot prove your statements but that I would believe if I  recognised that  the 'truth' in my heart has been corrupted by my intellect.

I cannot accept an alliance of intellectual and moral perversion which is perveyed with an arrogance and intolerance that labels me an Unbeliever, and which qualifies Believers to look upon me with pity and disdain. Indeed, Unbelievers have been killed throughout history for their unbelieving, and still are. The Christian Catholic Church were efficient in their torture and murder of those they considered Unbelievers and who undermined its beliefs.

I suggest you edit the Quran (it does go on a bit) and remove all the 108 verses that were written when people were mainly illiterate and  thought the world was flat and  did not know our planet orbited a lesser star in an huge cosmos that exploded into existence. They  knew nothing of physics, biology, etc. Muhammed was a wiley politician and businessman  for his time,  but that time has long passed. Desert dogma and the mindset of Arab religious imperialism fostered by a Meccan merchant 1,500 years ago, are  not compatible with  the science, complexities and human rights of the 21st century. It counters the holy grail of democracy - equality, and scuppers human rights.

We can no longer share our planet divided between those who believe they have the Absolute Truth and those who don't. The evidence in the destruction and lives lost is already apparent.

Best wishes from an Unbeliever.