Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Instead of a post about Anders Breivik

If you tuned in to talkback radio late the other night you may have caught a caller or two denouncing Anders Breivik and demanding his painful execution, and then seguing effortlessly into similarly vituperative attacks on the 'illegal immigrants' and 'Muslimists' who are supposedly besieging New Zealand.

I don't mean to sneer at the sort of hypocrisy such a juxtaposition of subjects represents: I feel it in myself, whenever I try to issue a ringing denunciation of the evils of the world.

I wrote this poem a couple of years ago, after reading an account of the ways in which Parisian intellectuals adjusted to the occupation of their city by the Nazis in the middle of 1940 and realising how cowardly I would also have been when threatened with a visit from the Gestapo and deportation. I don't think we're any less adept at accommodating evil today than we were in 1940.

The Barbarians

Barbarism can never triumph over
civilisation: barbarians are inferior
to civilised men and women.
The conquerors cannot be barbarians, then,
despite their high fires of books
and the wire round the transit camps.
We must be the barbarians.

It is true that we resemble
civilised men and women,
relaxing on the sidewalk
of a potholed street,
warming our spare hands
on chipped cups of tea,
enjoying our lunchbreak,
enjoying the break in the rain,
sharing our rations of cigarettes,
our rations of gossip.

None of us mentions
the day the guns grew hoarse,
the day the whole town
had to stand to attention,
the day Olaf forgot to close his shop,
refused to stand outside, on the dirty kerb,
while the conquerors called their roll -
the day that Olaf got dragged
out of his bakery,
away from his half-kneaded sculptures,
the loaves and croissants
arranged on steel trays -
the day Olaf's knees hit the kerb together,
and the fists went
into his mouth
like bread.

Each of us remembers Olaf
in a different way.
One of us scribbles poems -
witty satires, and tubthumping
polemics - and publishes them
in his drawer.

One of us keeps his grandfather's pistol
in a shoebox,
under the bed
in the spare room
upstairs.

One of us turns tadpoles
into frogs, in the bathtub
she is forbidden to fill
with tapwater.

One of us drafts orders
for new consignments
of boots.

One of us supervises
a thesis
on Nietzsche.

One of us stares out of his study window
for days, watches his hedgerow growing
higher.

One of us is coopted
onto a textbook committee.

We lean forward in our chairs
and watch the civilised men
marching past, in triple file,
on their way back to barracks
or the city wall.
They stop.
They turn towards us.
Each of them stares straight ahead
like a man in the dock
about to be sentenced
or a judge staring down
a familiar defendant.

One of us smiles slowly
and begins to wave,
then looks around him
and stands up
with the rest of the table,
with the rest of the street.
My arm extends itself,
stiffens into a salute.

The soldiers turn
and march away,
and I sit down quickly,
thinking of Olaf
and his half-baked bread.

17 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

orwegians have hit back at former Fox News presenter and Tea Party darling Glenn Beck, after he compared the country’s shooting victims to the Hitler Youth in a radio show overnight.

In a monologue on the syndicated radio show The Glenn Beck Program, the conservative commentator said: “There was a shooting at a political camp, which sounds a little like, you know, the Hitler Youth or whatever. I mean, who does a camp for kids that’s all about politics? Disturbing.”

10:07 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Andrew Sullivan frequently goes off the rails, especially when it comes to Israel, but I think he makes an excellent point here:

Notice how unlike other crazed madmen, [Breivik] does not end his killing spree by killing himself. Notice how he has not pled insanity; but has pled not guilty even though he concedes the horror of his actions. This man is extremely sane. Notice the justification:

Speaking at a televised news conference, [Breivik's lawyer] Mr. Heger said that Mr. Breivik had acknowledged carrying out the attacks but had pleaded not guilty, because he “believes that he needed to carry out these acts to save Norway” and western Europe from “cultural Marxism and Muslim domination.”

He did what he did, knowing it was evil, because of a passionate commitment to a political cause, which has become fused with a politicized parody of one religion, and with a passionate paranoid hatred of another one.

10:20 pm  
Blogger Sensa said...

Verdict: Insane.

7:40 am  
Anonymous KiKi said...

Orwegians, I like. Orwell goes to Norway. What might G.O. have thought about all of this?

4:49 pm  
Anonymous Bashir said...

The Exiled has a better take on it, by looking at Norwegian Death Metal.

One lesson of Lords of Chaos is that it pays to murder in Northern Europe. Literally. Going to prison there is like getting comped at a Comfort Inn. You can’t possibly get locked away for long, and even if they give you 10 or 20 years–and that’s if you’re lucky–you can still get off on weekends for unaccompanied home visits, enough time to participate in another murder. Prisons there are so comfy that even the metalists complained about getting treated too well. As Varg Vikernes sneered, “It’s much too nice here. It’s completely ridiculous. I asked the police to throw me in a real dungeon, and also encouraged them to use violence.” Naturally, they didn’t.

http://exiledonline.com/black-metal-nation-how-norway-spawned-the-worlds-most-violent-rightwing-metalheads/

Thank God our prisons will be privatised next year. Let Judith 'Basher' Collins at em!

4:56 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To say he is insane is a cop out.
He's totally in line with mainstream right-wing thinking.
Just look at Fox News.
Just look at David Cameron on the evils of multiculturalism.
Just look at Kiwiblog comments.
Just look at Act.

Norway is no aberration.
Fascism is coming to a town near you.

5:26 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beck, a favourite of the Right-wing Tea Party, suggested that people who sought to stop his use of such comparisons were leading the US into a "society of gas chambers".

He caused anger on Monday by comparing the Norway Labour party's summer youth camp on the island of Utoya, where 68 people were slaughtered last week, to gatherings held by the Nazis' juvenile wing.

"There was a shooting at a political camp, which sounds a little like, you know, the Hitler youth," he said on his nationally syndicated radio programme. "I mean, who does a camp for kids that's all about politics? Disturbing."

On Tuesday's edition of his programme, Beck did not address the controversy directly. But after describing both the Obama administration's approach to the present US debt crisis and the early days of the Nazi government in the late 1930s, he said: "I'm telling you – it's the same situation".

"Hitler and all of the people in the Third Reich – they were all doing the same thing," he said, suggesting that they complained of inheriting a "bad situation" from the Weimar Republic just as Mr Obama has stated he was left with an economy wrecked by George W. Bush.

5:55 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Fox News people are mostly (all?) insane.

As for talk back radio - Maps don't go there!! Listen to Bach on the concert program.

(I rember liking talk back when Gordon Dryden started it in about 1972 or so...I was bit addicted to it at one stage, but now Ilistedn to NO other radio than the Concert program (as there is less babbling and less obtrusive noise on it) and only watch TV as my son has one. The News I find too disturbing so I mostly simply "switch off").

I am finding myself increasingly apathetic to world and local events as I get older. So why am I on here (someone might well ask) !!?

Hmmm...I like your poems and sociology etc and the stories of history and the "personal" related events you have etc such as the Huntly story or Maori history or Smithyamnia or the Bog on the Hauraki plains! and so on...

8:55 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Norway is pretty evil place I have heard by the way.

(But this is just something I overheard en passent)

The 20 year old Magnus Carlsen - the world's highest rated chess player - comes from there I think...so all is not bad in Norraway...

"To Norway, to Norway, the King's daughter to Norway."

Or was it, Or, or, was it "To Orroawayyyee or to Norrowaaayee"?

9:01 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'I am finding myself increasingly apathetic to world and local events as I get older.'

Typical old Maoist.

9:11 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Breivik's fans in NZ

http://www.kiwipolitico.
com/2011/07/by-their-works-
ye-shall-know-them/#more-7172

11:21 pm  
Blogger AngonaMM said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

4:53 am  
Blogger AngonaMM said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

7:02 am  
Anonymous Edward said...

I doubt Basher has ever seen what goes on inside a prison in this country. They get free sky TV, McDonalds on request, electric blankets on their queen sized beds, eggs benedict for breckie, just to name a few items. Pretty sweet deal aye? Know how I know this? Neither. I just do. Might have heard a kiwiblog expert talk about it.

But don't worry, crusher Collins will sort it out: she'll strip them of all civil rights, including access to food and water and exercise. Make them work the chain gang, and when their time is up, put them back in. We all know it's impossible to change so why should be bother being compasionate human beings. The aim of prison is punishment not rehabilitation afterall. Maybe we should bring back the death penalty for petty crime? Like those 'hardcore' Norwegian death metalers might like (man, they're just so hardcore).

I know most of what I'm saying might sound incredibly naieve, and it might sound like it flies in the face of 50 YEARS OF INTERNATIONAL HUMANITARIAN LAW, but I've never once bothered to read a single thing on human rights (other than the right to free speech of course - like Glenn Beck - where you can say whatever whenever and never be held responsible), so I don't know why that should bother anyone else. Anyway, i'm off to pick corn and listen to my death metal. It's just so hardcore and coool.

9:13 am  
Anonymous Keri H said...

*Good* putdown Edward!

And,enjoyed the post Maps - helps me look at a wider context.

2:49 pm  
Anonymous Bashir said...

Perhaps there could be, alongside italics, a script that denotes irony. Perhaps one for sarcasm, too. Or perhaps people could read closely. Or use CAPS.

Collins and Co will do none of what Edward has said. The point of privatisation is not to inflict punishment on the prisoners, but to redistribute wealth from the public to the private. Having private contractors can give government some plausible deniability as to conditions. And the actual reasoning Collins can give for this is startlingly clear in the speeches for PPPs in prisons - the private sector has the "know how and can do".

5:45 pm  
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8:05 pm  

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