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Marginalised voices - a diatribe

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This is not the response expected from 4.4. It is a personal diatribe because a nerve has been struck. The course sub-heading is Marginalised Voices. We are asked to write a 250 word reflection. This is not it. Strictly speaking, what follows is not a straightforward response to that sub-heading. But it is my response to what I've read in Chapter 4 so far.

There is something liberating about the introduction to this block. For once, someone - in this case, Sally O'Reilly - is expressing things I've felt for a long time but have hesitated to express for myself, to write about - or even dare think about. I was brought up to believe that politicians did good things for the people who voted. In old age, I have come to understand that politicians do good things for themselves and only for the people who voted for them. That did not seem to be the case for a child steeped in the politics of the 1940s and 1950s. My parents were not activists but they were clear and determined in their views. Initially, I learned from them. Good political intentions do not now seem to be the case in the divisive politics of the 21st century, not in the decades 2010 and 2020.

We are now in a time of fake news, of warped and twisted half truths, deceptions, avoided questions, a time when a spokesperson for the president of the United States can present lies as 'alternative facts'. A time when so called 'celebrities' are famous for being infamous, having done nothing positive for humanity. A time when so called 'reality TV' broadcasts the artificial, the trivial and the patently unreal. 

A recently overheard conversation engaged two sides of an argument with passionately held beliefs about the individual being discussed. A name I was unfamiliar with was mentioned again and again. A life was passionately dissected and mulled over by both sides. I wondered who this person was, who could be so important to the world. The matter had been in all the papers. Once home, I did some internet research. I wanted to see who this person, this auspiciously important individual, was. It was a TV presenter who had appeared in a 'Love Island' programme, had become infamous and had been hounded by the press. Should I have been surprised? Not about being hounded by the gutter press. Recent court cases have not stopped the activities of the gutter press. The surprise was at the depth of feeling in the part of the protagonists in the overheard discussion; one participant in deep mourning for the individual, the other full of joy at the hounding. This much feeling, this much passion for a person who had done nothing to solve the problems of famine and drought, nothing to right the injustices of the world, nothing to cure, educate, heal or mend.

I've found ‘My name is my name' fascinating to read if disturbing. It paints a very broad picture. It is understandably a subjective picture. Chimene Suleyman says, 'When the border was put in place the official records of the island began'. That is very puzzling comment. I, too, have a personal and subjective point of view. I, too, have read literature, history. Shakespeare knew about this island. Records already existed. The crusaders left their mark on this island. There exist records of their time there. Visitors enjoy crusader buildings. On this island, Paul was scourged in Paphos. The records exist. Places can be visited. The New Testament has the record. Lazarus, miraculously raised from the dead became bishop on the island. The records are there in the island's history. The author's statement is too broad, too ill-defined. And therefore, for me, her viewpoint is suspect. There are Ottoman Empire records. There are the records of those who mined and smelted copper. There is Phoenician history and Venetian records. The ancient walls of Nicosia are Venetian. One sided is one thing, and too one sided is another. Understandable but inaccurate. There is blame to be apportioned, but not set wholly on one side

The neutral is allowed to ask why this piece has kindled such a strength of feeling in me. I am not a neutral because I am part of the history of the island. I join Max Boyce in saying 'I was there’, although unlike him I was not at a rugby football match. I was there in a time before partition. I was a pale and decidedly green serviceman while Britain was holding the reins of control and trying to keep the peace between warring factions. I was one of those taught a single command, the classic serviceman’s challenge, in three languages: HALT - STAMATA - DUR. I was one of those who carried a red card at all times: 'Instructions for Opening Fire'. It was never clear whether or not we had to allow time to re-read the card before opening fire. It never came to that, Yes, Britain had annexed control after the decline of the Ottoman Empire. Yes, Britain was trying to hold grimly onto the declining shreds of its own empire. Yes, thousands of foreigners like me, strolled the streets of Nicosia, of Larnaca, of Paphos, of Limassol, carrying antiquated firearms. My clumsy .303 rifle was date stamped 1937, the year of my birth. It had been the British serviceman's basic firearm during the First World War. It was only later that I was trained to use a revolver and carried that much more convenient and less-obvious weapon. And, yes, we looked anxiously over our shoulder to see who was following us, looked ahead to check if there was an ambush planned. And yes, at that time it was mainly Greek Cypriots that we pursued in their terrorist hiding places up the Troodos mountains, because they wanted Cyprus to be part of Greece, although Turkey was much, much closer. And yes, it was mainly Greek entrepreneurs that we dealt with. But we were writing records of a whole island, not a sadly divided one.

A subsequent friend, a Greek Cypriot national and a much respected colleague, has a different version of the partition story. A version where he and his family had to abandon their tranquil family home near the beautiful harbour of Kyrenia, in the face of invading armies from the Turkish mainland. I wonder if it was Mavro's house that Chimene Suleyman's family were allotted. There are two sides to every story and both need to be told fairly, and respected for that.

It is important in life that we each have a story to tell. It is important that the riches of our history, culture, traditions, beliefs is remembered. To go along with this we need balance, a truth, fact, not just opinions and subjective views. And certainly not fake news or 'alternative facts'. The world needs those who would join together through understanding, education, compromise, not those who seek to divide and build barriers.

Diatribe ends!

Ancient Geoff

Ex 5030468, Royal Air Force, Cyprus, 1957-58

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