When Humanity Rises

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As we get in to September there will doubtless be many looking back over this year known as 2014 and starting to compile their own End Of year Review. You know the one’s, where we are reminded of various events and facts from the previous 12 months, often using a mildly witty and amusing point of view. Thing is, as I look back from my point of view, 2014 could be seen as, well, not the best year we’ve had. In fact I could go on record and say 2014 sucks. Look at what’s happened recently (no, Wonder Woman’s costume in the Batman V Superman film or someone leaving someone elses ice cream out of the freezer did not make the list. And yes, that was a Great British Bake Off reference!):

  • Escalated conflict in Gaza
  • Chemical warfare in Syria
  • Militant uprising in Iraq
  • Race related riots in Ferguson, Missouri
  • Plane crash and invasion in Ukraine
  • Young girls forcibly taken from their schools and still missing in Nigeria
  • A 9 year old girl killing her gun instructor with an Uzi
  • The Ebola outbreak in Western Africa
  • The mysterious missing Malaysian Airlines plane
  • The prosecution of many public figures for abuse charges, and their subsequent convictions. 

In many of these examples, and many I’ve not even mentioned, you could argue that this year has not been humanities finest hour.

Or has it?

I started thinking about this when I saw this recent excerpt from the Adam Hill fronted “The Last Leg” (Channel 4). For those who haven’t seen the preceding clip, a certain extreme church in America (I’m not even going to write their name on this article as they’ll probably take it as some kind of promotion) announced they were going to boycott Robin William’s funeral. Adam Hill was so outraged, he announced live that he would “personally pay for every member to fly first class to Iraq”. And then this happened.

This is just one of hundreds of examples of basic decent humanity standing up to any form of negativity, any form of hate, and turning it around. It happened when Jon Snow returned from Gaza and put his feelings on YouTube which kickstarted a massive outcry for more awareness to be raised. It happened with the #BringBackOurGirls putting social pressure on Nigerian powers-that-be to find kidnapped children. It happened with the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, which incidentally caused some in Gaza to do their own Rubble Bucket Challenge. Yes it was a blatant sarcastic jibe at the ALS campaign, but at least it proved they still had a sense of humour!

Humanity is flawed – governed by emotions feelings and beliefs that not everyone can agree on, but as we’ve seen through the various awareness and fund raising campaigns, humanity always rises to the occasion. Many of the events in this year have been of terrible, catastrophic, heinous levels, the likes of which should make us ashamed of ourselves as a species. But it’s our reaction to these events, how we’ve been so outraged by these acts and what we’ve done to make even a small difference to the outcome that proves we do care. We want to be better. We want to do better. As long as we can hold on to that desire, then humanity can defeat it’s own inner demons, and when you see the inevitable 2014 End Of Year Review you will know that we are not beyond hope. 

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What Can We Really Do?

About a month ago I was sniffing around on the internet, and I saw this:

This video from Channel Four News’ Jon Snow had been doing the rounds on all social media a good week before I stumbled on it. This well respected journalist, usually a beacon of impartiality side-stepped the editorial shackles of mainstream TV news and put his thoughts and feelings on the internet. Watch the video and you can see that his return from reporting on what’s going on in Israel and Gaza has shaken him. You can see it on his face, in his demeanour. Seeing this conflict scarred him. I made the mistake of watching this at work – a mistake as I almost burst in to tears at the sight of the girl with the “panda eyes”. Mr. Snow says in his video that  “our United Nations, our Government, our world, is just not that interested”. That it is “for us, no priority whatsoever to stop”  the fighting. but the fact that we watch the news and read the stories from Palestine means we’re “motivated enough to do something”. Mr. Snow is not wrong, of course we want to do something. Being honest with myself I didn’t know what we could do about this, which is awful because, as Mr. Snow said, “this is the greatest hope the people of Gaza have”.

So what can we really do? Following random feeds on social media I found a link to a JustGiving page raising funds and awareness for the people of Gaza. Set up by London based charity worker Jennifer Robson, her “Pound and a Minute for Gaza” appeal is asking for just that – one of your pounds and one of your minutes, because it only takes a minute to make a difference”. Her target of raising £1000, which she herself calls “ambitious”, is working by using “our social networks to ask our friends, friends of friends, and their friends” to donate their time and money. 

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On the evening of Monday 18th August 2014, when a ceasefire was still in place between Gaza and Israel, I got the chance to chat online with Jennifer on her progress. At that point she was at 80% of that £1000 total. She explained that she was, like myself and doubtless many others, inspired by the Jon Snow video. “Gaza had been in the news for a while by that point but that video seemed to be what caught people’s attention”.

She goes on to explain that the funds raised by her appeal will go to Oxfam to help charities within Gaza. (At the time of writing this article official figures 2,016 Palestinians and 66 Israelis have died since the recent Israeli manoeuvres, given the mantle “Operation Protective Edge”, began on 8 July) Given the tough security and sanctions imposed on Hamas controlled Gaza, and the reported monitoring and rationing of supplies by the Israeli forces, a natural concern from donors would be that their cash is going to the right people, and not landing in the hands of the military. “I think with this appeal, that’s been one of people’s biggest concerns” Jennifer agrees. “But I’ve donated to Oxfam before and I’ve read up enough to assure myself that the money is channeled to the front line.  And we can see the impact it’s having in terms of the aid that’s already being administered”. While she can’t see the impact first hand, she is able to follow the progress through the Oxfam Facebook page “which is helping me stay connected to why I did this in the first place”.

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The Gaza conflict has of course been in the background of world news for decades, with attacks and ceasefires coming and going seemingly on the change of the wind. Like many other long running conflicts, it’s routed in a complicated political backstory. This was a connection that Jennifer was desperate to avoid. “I tried to write an appeal that was clearly not about picking sides, or debating the politics, but that was clearly focused on the humanitarian need.” She also mentions that some people have chosen not to donate or discuss the appeal because of the politics, sidestepping the humanitarian issue. Following the various forms of western media responses to the conflict, the politics have naturally come up for discussion. Russell Brand and Fox News’ Sean Hannity had an online sparring match. Penelope’ Cruz has been banished from Hollywood for seeming to side with the Palestinians, calling the Israeli bombardment “genocide”. This prompted actor Jon Voight to write his own open letter defending Israel, and condemn any support for the people of Gaza. Most recently “comedienne” Joan Rivers has been the subject of a UK tour ban for her “I don’t care” rant about the Palestinians. All steeped in controversy and very hard to miss, but Jennifer sees this as a positive. “It feels like this is the first time that the Gaza conflict has attracted that type of coverage. I think all of that has played a role in keeping the crisis on people’s radar, which can only be a good thing.”

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Most recently media attention has shifted somewhat to other humanitarian conflicts in Ukraine and Iraq. where aid seems to have been made available from the West much quicker than in Gaza. “I think, however simplistic this may be, governments feel greater responsibility for what’s happening in Iraq, and of course they have their own interests located in the territories affected.” I ask Jennifer if she worries that the shift in media attention has or will affect the attention needed for continued support in Gaza. “It’s not headline news anymore […]  but I think that’s also due to the fact that people engaged very quickly with it – sharing and donating – and it’s perhaps reached it’s natural peak.” She also points out that the DEC (Disaster Emergency Committee) had started their own emergency appeal for Gaza which may have taken over somewhat from individual fundraising. Either way, money is still being raised and Jennifer has seen that the conflict is “still very much on people’s minds”.

From the current political instability, fundraising and awareness campaigns, and celebrity opinions, we look briefly to the future. There is an entire generation of people, in both Gaza and Israel, who have probably never known a day of real peace, always waiting for the next bomb to drop. In Gaza it’s well known that the Palestinians are rationed on food and water, and restricted from education. Gaza’s future, even if the missiles stop flying seems bleak. “This conflict has seemed like an escalation on recent previous conflicts, and that worries me too.  The issues preventing a lasting peace just seem so intractable.”

A whole generation may never know a day of real peace.

A whole generation may never know a day of real peace.

As we near the end of our interview, I bring Jennifer back to my original question: what can we really do for the people of Gaza? “Just to donate what they can to the DEC appeal, and if they don’t have the money then just raise awareness. And most importantly, don’t forget.”

Sadly, literally hours since I spoke to Jennifer, the peace talks that were taking place in Cairo, and had been extended three times and lasted ten days, broke down, with Gaza and Israel blaming each other for the talks collapsing. Rockets have been launched, guns have been fired, and more people have been killed on both sides of the divide. You only need read the news, or click on the links on social media to see the varying degrees of brutality, so I won’t go in to what I have seen in the last few days. Suffice to say, the violence has escalated once again, with neither side willing to back down. As money is being raised to help the innocent people caught in the line of fire, and plays a fundamental part in the relief effort, the fact remains that these funds can only help in the short term, it won’t fix the problem. Awareness is the best form of defence for these people, be they in Gaza, Israel, Syria, Iraq or any other place in this world caught up in violence. The best thing we can do for these people, is remember them.

Never forget. 

A full transcript of my interview with Jennifer Robson can be read HERE.

Her JustGiving page is www.justgiving.com/GazaAPoundandaminute

The DEC Gaza Emergency Appeal is HERE

The Oxfam Facebook page is HERE

Interview transcript: Jennifer Robson

The following interview with Jennifer Robson on Monday 18th August between 21:45 and 22:45.

 

Thanks for agreeing to chat with me. I’ve just seen on your FB profile you did a final push on your Gaza appeal. How’s it gone?

Very happy to chat about it!  I’m up to £792 last I checked, which is incredible. That’s nearly 80% of my (very ambitious) target
What made you want to start this appeal?

It was inspired, as you were, by the Jon Snow video and how fast and how widely people shared it on their networks.  Gaza had been in the news for a while by that point but that video seemed to be what caught people’s attention

And do you work for any charities or was this completely seperate?

It was completely separate but I do work for a charity.  It’s a UK-based children’s charity

You mentioned the ambitious target – £1000 – and you are so close. What’s going to happen to the money?

It will go to Oxfam, who I chose  mainly as, even before the DEC appeal, they were working directly on the ground with those affected in Gaza (and continue to do so)

Do you have concerns about the money getting to those who really need it? Are there any guarantees  that the funds won’t end up going to paying for arms or falling in to the hands of others?

I think with this appeal, that’s been one of people’s biggest concerns.  But I’ve donated to Oxfam before and I’ve read up enough to assure myself that the money is channelled to the front line.  And we can see the impact it’s having in terms of the aid that’s already being adminstered

A lot seems to have changed since we first started talking about this. As we chat Gaza and Israel are on an extended ceasefire, and attention has shifted slightly towards Iraq and Syria. Now it was in the news pretty quickly that aid was on the way to Iraq to help with the latest terrible crisis, and yet Gaza really seemed to take a long time to get that much attention. Do you think Gaza is an afterthought for the public and the media? Do you think the west have a less vested interest in Gaza than they do in Iraq?

I was discussing this with people just today.  I think, however simplistic this may be, governments feel greater responsibility for what’s happening in Iraq, and of course they have their own interests located in the territories affected.  But my feeling with Gaza, in terms of the general public’s response, was that the deeply entrenched politics overshadows the human crisis, and it’s only been in this most recent conflict that the human story has felt stronger, partly thanks to Jon Snow’s reporting.  It’s not headline news anymore but the DEC appeal is still urgent, and the same suffering persists on the ground

Has it been more difficult to keep awareness of your own appeal going since the shift in media focus from Gaza to Iraq?

Yes, but I think that’s also due to the fact that people engaged very quickly with it – sharing and donating – and it’s perhaps reached it’s natural peak.  In my everyday conversations though, it’s still very much on people’s minds Also, I think the launch of the DEC emergency appeal took over somewhat from individual charities’ fundraising, and some people are donating directly to that now

Just reading through the comments on your justgiving site, everyone who left comments have voiced their support. Has there been any moments during your campaign, speaking to people where they didn’t want to support the cause?

Yes, there has.  And in each case it was because it was too ‘political’. I tried to write an appeal that was clearly not about picking sides, or debating the politics, but that was clearly focused on the humanitarian need. However, I respect that nobody is obligated to support it, and indeed that some people may choose to do something privately in their own way

Because the situation has been going on for so many years, it carries that weight. It’s gotten so complicated and I see that some people have tried to over-simplify it. Have you been following people like Russel Brand when he chatted about the reaction from Fox News? Or even Joan Rivers?

I have, it’s been hard to miss it!  It feels like this is the first time that the Gaza conflict has attracted that type of coverage. And I think all of that has played a role in keeping the crisis on people’s radar, and perhaps engaging those who haven’t thought much about it before.  Which can only be a good thing

Obviously we’re chatting amid a ceasefire, and everyone hopes that stays in place and peace continues, but because of the length of the conflict there will undoubtedly be a generation that has known nothing but conflict. Do you worry about the future of Gaza, even if (hopefully) the peace is maintained?

Yes, of course.  This conflict has seemed like an escalation on recent previous conflicts, and that worries me too.  The issues preventing a lasting peace just seem so intractable

This is brilliant thank you. Do you have a closing deadline for your appeal?

You’re very welcome, i hope it’s been useful.  I’m keeping it open-ended as the money is passed on to the charity as it’s donated, and I’d like to reach £1000.  If not, I’m going to top it up myself anyway!

And will you get to see how the money is spent?

Sadly not directly, but I’m following Oxfam’s progress every day on their Facebook page, which is helping me stay connected to why I did this in the first place

And finally, is there anything else people in the UK can do to help the people of Gaza?

Just to donate what they can to the DEC appeal, and if they don’t have the money, then just raise awareness. And most importantly, don’t forget.

Why We Need Doctor Who

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One of my vivid childhood memories is going to see my family GP, and thinking that I’d seen him on TV before, running around all of space and time in a little blue box. But there he was with his blonde hair, a stethoscope around his neck asking about my recent high temperatures. My GP bore a striking resemblance to Peter Davidson, the 5th Doctor. My real life Doctor was also my TV Doctor.

It blew my mind!

Back then I was never really a full blown fan of Doctor Who, more of an appreciator. I knew about the TARDIS and the Daleks, and understood that at some point Peter Davidson would regenerate in to someone completely different. I didn’t have an overwhelming need to watch the show, but when I watched an episode, it stayed with me. For example, remember those weird glass globes with the electric in them. You touched the globe and the electricity went to your hand? According to a Who episode with Sylvester McCoy that is some kind of weird alien bomb or something. Seeing that stacked on the shelves in Hamleys still makes my 12 year old self question the kind of “toys” they’re selling.

It blew my mind!

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It wasn’t until Christopher Eccleston stepped out of the TARDIS I became a true fan. It was mostly down to the return of the Doctor, but it was also a relief from the now standard judge based “talent” shows that continue to blight our televisual viewing. Doctor Who is the perfect vehicle for good old fashioned escapism, while at the same time being, to a certain extent, very realistic. I’m not talking about the aliens, the monsters, the mutants, the demons or any of the other foes the good Doctor squares off against on a weekly basis. I’m talking about the emotions. For a programme based around an alien time traveller, Doctor Who is one of the most human programmes ever made, because it deals with a whole variety of feelings. One episode of Who will give you laughs, scares, tears, anger… Beloved characters, often the Doctors companions have been known to be killed. Good people die no matter what the Doctor does to try and save them. The series covers birth, life and death and everything in between. Pretty heavy when you consider this is “just” a kids show.

It also deals with change. As we gear up for the new series of Doctor Who (19:50, BBC 1, 23rd August) expectation is reaching fever pitch, not just because the Doctor is returning to our screens, but because he’s doing it with a new face. Peter Capaldi will be the joint eldest Time Lord of the entire 50 year + run, putting certainly newer fans of the show in unfamiliar territory. With Eccleston, David Tennant, and previously Matt Smith, the Doctor was relatively young looking and, as my wife would put it, fairly “easy on the eye”. Capaldi, at 56, is bringing a complete change in the look and tone of the show, and everyone wants to know what that means for the show. The Doctor himself is even seem asking in a trailer for the new series “am I a good man?” If he doesn’t know either, we’re in for a heck of a ride. That’s what TV should be about; adventure, escapism, surprise, a rollercoaster of emotions. That’s why, in a constant sea of talent shows, reality shows, fly-on-the-wall shows etc., we need Doctor Who. We need him to take us on a crazy adventure, even if it is just for an hour a week.

Robin Williams: The Sum Of All Parts

It’s a weird thing when a celebrity dies, especially a celebrity that you’ve seen and heard all of your life and you’ve been a fan of. One that you’ve become almost attached to. This week alone we’ve lost actress Lauren Bacall to a stroke, and comedian/actor Robin Williams to a tragic suicide. Sad losses for the industries, the fans, and of course the loved ones they left behind.

I’m a huge fan of Robin Williams – his stand-up, his films. He was lightening fast in interviews, even if it wasn’t actual words that came out of his mouth. He could make you laugh with a simple gesture, cry with a simple word, or cringe with a simple look. A comic genius by any standards, but an amazing actor as well; Oscar winning no less. As we’ve been increasingly told in the last few days all these accolades and comedic antics have hidden this well documented more turbulent personal life, and it’s this that the media seem to be concentrating on. It’s like they’re trying to turn him in to a poster boy for despair and death rather than a shining example of joy.

He’d struggled with depression all his life. His battles with alcohol and drug addictions are well documented. Check some of his stand-up, it’s their in the routines. He was an alcoholic, or has he described it “ethanol challenged”. He’d recently come out another stint in rehab, he was rumored to be having financial trouble, and the latest was that he was in the early stages of Parkinsons disease. Whatever the reasons, we of course cannot ignore what he went through in his life or what drove him to end it. Topics like this need to be addressed. I read earlier this week that suicide rates in British men under 35 is three times more likely than in women of the same age range; a shocking statistic which highlights the lack of resources towards helping people with mental health issues, certainly within the UK. Hopefully one thing we can take from a story such as Williams’ is that it can highlight that necessity for those resources.

No matter what we learn from the stories associated with Robin Williams, it is essential that we remember this was not all of the man; it was just a small part of a much greater story. It was not his whole life.  A man has died, a family has been broken, and an amazing talent has gone.

So lets not ignore his problems, but also lets always remember everything else the great man was. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Robin Williams. May he rest in peace.

See, genius!!