Tag Archives: violence

Nobody is safe now

A few hours ago, a knife-wielding man injured a few people at Leytonstone tube station. He yelled “this is for Syria” as he slashed his innocent victims. Police are treating it as a terrorist incident.

On Wednesday last week, Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, shot dead 14 people and left another 21 injured in San Bernardino, California.

Their victims were attending a holiday party of social services organisation The Inland Regional Center.

The FBI found an arsenal of weapons at the couple’s apartment, otherwise left as though they had just popped out to do the shopping.

They leave behind their 6 month old daughter, dropped off with Tashfeen’s mother before they went to the party.

On Friday 13th November, 130 people were killed in a series of meticulously planned attacks on soft targets in Paris…..a music venue, bars and restaurants. A football match at the Stade de France was also targeted.

But something else in the last few days has appalled me even more than all these ISIS-inspired attacks around the world.

Remember the innocence of our youth, playing hide-and-seek on the local common, or around the house?

ISIS have just released their latest propaganda video. It shows boys, as young as 8 years old, being given loaded guns with which to hunt down captured Syrian soldiers – “spies” – in a ruined castle. The children execute the bound and defenceless men.

The pièce de résistance, however, is the 6th boy beheading his victim.

It’s been reported that this updated version of hide-and-seek, played out like a computer video game, was a reward for the boys winning a competition.

The message is clear. You can bomb our training bases in the Syrian desert. You can attack us on the ground. You might in time return Syria to some kind of uneasy peace.

But around the world, our supporters will deliver our message wherever and whenever you least expect it.

It might be meticulously planned, It might be random and spontaneous. But it will be deadly. And we have already trained the next generation to continue the fight.

It’s hard to escape the feeling that this clash of ideologies is an insoluble conflict.

 

 

 

Paris – a city in mourning, but not in fear

Below is an article I have just had published on Paris for Silver Travel Advisor, a travel website for people of a certain age…..

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We have just got back from a weekend in Paris.

We arrived 2 weeks after 130 people were killed in a series of devastating, barbarous attacks by Islamic State murder squads, and the day after President Hollande led the country in a moving tribute on a day of national remembrance for the victims.

Outside the Bataclan club, a moving message from a victim's parent

The security in Paris was heightened on my last visit there in March, just 2 months after the Charlie Hebdo murders. That was clearly targeted at the satirical magazine that had so overtly lampooned the Muslim religion. The recent 13th November attacks assaulted global sensibilities, however, as the victims were intentionally innocent people in a liberal western democracy enjoying a sporting, musical and culinary Friday night out in one of the world’s most vibrant, multicultural and liberated cities.

Our trip was booked a few weeks ago, to benefit from a free Eurostar ticket (thanks to a 5 hour wait at St Pancras after a “jumper” at Ashford on a previous trip). And also to enjoy a free night at the wonderful Great Northern Hotel, smack bang next to St Pancras & Kings Cross stations, after Gill experienced her own Poseidon Adventure in the shower, en route to Marseille in June (it’s a long story…….).

We could easily have cancelled this trip. Belgium remains in lock down, and France is still hunting those connected to the recent murderous attacks, who didn’t die for their violent cause or who weren’t subsequently captured.

But we still wanted to go, for all those reasons that appear trite on the page: to show support for our French neighbours; to uphold the principles of freedom v the bullet; to carry on normal life in the face of terrorist atrocities.

Paris seemed quiet on Saturday. The Eurostar train was only half full and it’s rumoured hotel bookings are down on usual levels by as much as 40%.

But we enjoyed an entertaining and insightful guided walk around Montmartre, with Pierre from the excellent Culturefish Tours, and a cosmopolitan group comprising Swedes, other Brits, Americans and a young Chinese girl living and working in San Francisco.

We learned that the hilltop community was outside the city until 1860, populated at that time largely by winemakers and by miners, excavating gypsum from deep mines under the “butte”. This output was used to make plaster for the city walls….et voila, plaster of Paris!

We strolled in the footsteps of Toulouse Lautrec and Picasso and Renoir, some of the many artists who populated bohemian Montmartre during the “belle epoque” period – from the late 19th century to the early 20th – after it was embraced as another city arondissement.

We heard the bewitching story of The Man Who Walked Through Walls, now trapped in a moving sculpture.

Statue of The Man Who Walked Through Walls

And we saw where Dalida – the exotic singer and dancer of Egyptian and Italian – lived, and whose many lovers all seemed to commit suicide, just as she eventually did. And on a lighter note, we saw the cafe and greengrocer’s shop made famous by Audrey Tautou in the joyously Parisian movie “Amelie”.

Amélie (2001) Poster

We enjoyed dinner at a typically French bistro, Le Louis on rue Coquilliere in the 2nd arrondissement. We luxuriated in a cheese-based Sunday brunch at l’Affineur Affine, tucked away on a quiet neighbourhood street in the 9th, and we gorged on cheap Thai street food at Monthai in the 3rd.

We walked miles, as you always must in Paris. We felt safe.

But on Sunday night and throughout Monday, we saw lengthy convoys of armed police, and heard sirens wailing, and helicopter rotors droning in the Parisian skies. The world’s leaders had arrived for the climate conference, and the city felt under siege again.

We struggled to keep our emotions in check as we read the hundreds of tributes draped around the statue in the Place de la Republique, and then saw those in front of the Bataclan night club, scene of the most murderous attack.

We returned on Eurostar, humbled but glad that we had spent the weekend in Paris, a city in mourning but not in fear.

Tearful tricolour graphic

 

Bombs and terrorism

On Saturday 24th April, 1993, I was on holiday back in Bermuda. That day the office of the Japanese company I was working for, high up the tower of 99 Bishopsgate in the heart of London’s business community, was destroyed by an IRA bomb.

An IRA bomb destroyed the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank in the City of London.

Hidden in a stolen tipper truck parked by the HSBC building, the device – a huge and deadly concoction of fertiliser and diesel – killed 1 person, injured 44 and caused £350 million of damage.

I never worked in the building again.

The long-running mainland UK bombing campaign by the IRA eventually came to a halt, after decades of murder and devastation, and thanks to tortuous political negotiations.

On Wednesday 6th July, 2005, I stood in Trafalgar Square with colleague David Kuo and hundreds of other Londoners awaiting an announcement from the IOC, in Singapore, about the venue for the 2012 Olympics.

Paris was hot favourite. London won. I have never known such a perfect, instantaneous outpouring of elation as on that hopeful summer lunchtime.

The following day, Thursday 7th July – known as 7/7 in a poignant homage to New York’s 9/11 of 4 years earlier- Islamist extremists  detonated 3 separate backpack bombs in quick succession on the London Underground, Soon after, a 4th ripped apart an iconic red double-decker bus, in Tavistock Square.

52 people died and more than 700 were injured.

On Wednesday 7th January, 2015, two Al-Qaeda inspired Islamist terrorists entered the office of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris, killing 11 and injuring 11 others.

In related attacks across the city, a further 5 were killed and another 11 wounded.

On Friday 13th November, 2015, ISIS-inspired and Syrian-planned extremists carried out a series of deadly attacks on bars. restaurants a music venue and the Stade de France sports stadium in the heart of Paris.

At the moment, 129 people have died and 350 have been injured.

I was in Paris earlier this year.  Security was visibly high, in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack, and suspicious drones had been seen in the clear blue skies of a Parisian spring.

Gill and I are going back to Paris in 11 days time. We’ll be staying near to the site of some of the restaurant attacks last Friday.

We could cancel but I believe we should still go. To carry on life as normal, as France is defiantly doing today, and because the risk of something happening to you exists every day, wherever you might be.

The politicians will slowly work towards a potential solution for the current Syrian crisis, and the ISIS threat. But this is much more complex than the Irish terror we faced for so many years, and could take a generation to resolve.

In the meantime, life MUST go on. As it always does.

Movie review – Black Mass

Well, I suppose it had to happen.

The lights can’t always be green, right? And I guess Novak Djokovich will lose a tennis match one day.

Last night was our third foray to Screen Unseen, the Odeon’s lucky dip movie night. You roll up and have no idea what you’ll be seeing, other than that it’s guaranteed to be a mainstream film, and that it has yet to be released to the wider UK audience. And for just £5 it’s worth the risk it might be a celluloid dog.

We lucked out with our first two ventures – animated Inside Out from the geniuses at Pixar, and the offbeat coming of age movie Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.

Last night’s surprise was Black Mass, a biopic of James “Whitey” Bulger. Jimmy was a low-level mobster born and bred in Boston’s rough south side. But for almost 20 years from the mid 1970s he became untouchable, thanks to an unholy alliance with the FBI.

The relationship was intended to bring down the Italian Mafia gang running the city on the other side of the river. It did – eventually – but it also gave Bulger and his gang carte blanche to commit crime on an epic scale.

Johnny Depp plays Whitey. He’s a smart pyschopath, murdering anyone who crosses his path, or who rats him out. And yet he’s an FBI informant, convincing himself it’s just business. His criminal mayhem really gets out of control after losing his son and mother, but he’s clever enough to escape from Boston when it all finally unravels in 1994. He evaded capture until 2011 and is now serving multiple life sentences in a Florida penitentiary.

 

The FBI agent who facilitated Bulger’s criminal ascent was John Connolly, a childhood friend of both James Bulger and his brother, Billy Bulger. Connolly is arguably a more nuanced character than Whitey, brilliantly acted here by Joel Edgerton. The FBI agent’s own career, and income, soar in direct proportion to Bulger’s Winter Hill Gang’s lawlessness.

Connolly’s innate sense of loyalty extended to not informing on Bulger when the alliance was finally aired, despite Whitey ordering the murder of his long time collaborator. The ex law agent has been imprisoned since 1999 on multiple charges, including taking bribes, informing Bulger of his imminent arrest, and 2nd degree murder.

Amazingly, Billy Bulger becomes a senator and the most powerful political figure in Massachusetts, at the same time as his brother is murdering, drug-running and racketeering. His own demise only happens when he contacts his fugitive brother. Benedict Cumberbatch is an unlikely choice to play the politician, but he does it well, straddling the corridors of power and the rough neighbourhood he was brought up in.

The film is inevitably violent and contains the usual mobster movie f-word blizzard. But it’s a low-rent Goodfellas, a wannabe Godfather, recounting an incredible true story, but without being nearly as engaging as either of those mob classics.

Unless Whitey is reading this….in which case it was a f***ing great movie, Jimmy.

 

 

 

 

 

Movie review – Legend

In a memorable line from Alan Bennett’s The History Boys, one of the lippy lads defines history as one f***ing thing after another.

What is it about the 1960s era that makes us see corruption, violence, racism and sexism through – if not rose-tinted glasses – then certainly a fuzzy lens of misguided nostalgia?

The Great Train Robbers, and especially Ronnie Biggs, were written into folklore more as lovable rogues than violent criminals.

And somehow, the Kray twins image is as much successful East End boys done good, as psychopathic gangsters.

Tom Hardy pulls off the impressive acting feat of playing both Ronnie and Reggie Kray in the new movie Legend, directed by Brian Helgeland. They may have been identical twins at birth, but Ronnie was an out-and-out nutter, and Reggie – slightly more sensible -found it increasingly difficult to control his brother’s wayward excesses.

The film is told largely from Reggie’s perspective, but voiced by Frances who is just 16 when  she meets the more rational brother. They marry when she’s a little older, but as much as Reggie loves her, he can’t escape the brotherly bond, despite it being inevitable it will destroy them and everyone in their wicked web.

This is not an easy movie to watch. It’s splattered by blood and littered with swearing. But it’s a real tour de force by Tom Hardy as the twins, with an excellent supporting performance from Emily Browning as Frances, the fated young East End girl.

And it’s a little piece of 1960s history, which you can interpret as you wish.