Monthly Archives: April 2012

Read an amazing article today. Well, the article itself perhaps wasn’t amazing, but it alerted me to something that I thought was actually fairly monumental. And that monumental thing is an example of effective cohabitation of different faiths in practice, including the big ones, Christianity and Islam.

The article in question heralded the completed construction of a crematorium in Abu Dhabi, UAE. The official religion in the UAE is Islam and for Muslims, burial is the only acceptable practice when someone dies. However as the UAE is host to a staggering amount of migrant workers, many of whom aren’t Muslim, the Abu Dhabi government contributed the funds itself to have the crematorium built. (The funeral home has a ‘detachable crucifix’ which can be removed if the deceased is a Sikh/Hindu/Buddhist/etc.) To me, this really brings into perspective the European debate on burqa-banning in public places: I’m not a fan of the burqa due to  how it dehumanises women, however the idea of governments prescribing what one can and cannot wear and how to interpret one’s religion makes me equally uncomfortable.

Source: Cambridge InterFaith Group

Violent Religions is quite a dramatic or aggressive juxtaposition of words for me its a combination that at first isn’t very positive. It summons images of extremism of media coverage of whats known as terrorism and its attack on western democracy and its ideologies such as the ‘American Dream’. However it is dangerous to allow that very western stance to fully occupy our thoughts, when it comes to an aggressive element of religion. We should also be aware that religion and the way it functions through certain belief systems and cultures. Can be viewed from the perspective of a power relationship, for example within Christianity you have several different churches. And throughout their history they’ve been in conflict as to who follows the teachings of God correctly a conflict between Catholics and Protestants. These internal disputes offer an insight into how religion becomes violent its because of the need to believe in the dominant hegemonic belief. Religion simply becomes violent when its is confronted with an equally strong theology that differs from language and the form of its own teachings and proclamations. For me the most interesting example of this lies in a period of the ancient Roman empire’s history, the conversion of emperor Constantine. From paganism to christianity marked the start of a violent conflict for christianity to usurp ancient gods and become a dominant religion. Its interesting to note that their is and was an element of class involved, If you where christian after this date you became civilised, pagans became labeled as barbarians. Currently there has been an overriding debate over the lack of spirituality and faith in contemporary society and this narrative I have just been describing sets an interesting flashback. People who have been rioting in major cities all over the globe and this conflict could be akin to something involving religion. I am one of the people that would go on record saying that currently this modern, materialist or capitalist dogma is something of a religion to the majority of todays population. And the conflict is about that, its about people without ownership over valuable objects and prospects. These young individuals are rallying against the class that have inherited wealth. The words Violent Religion are actually dashed and splattered throughout our history.


So some of you may know, although I doubt many of you do because it hasn’t been exactly big news, that the Dutch coalition government has effectively collapsed. For a long time the government has had to run its plans by the PVV (‘Freedom Party’) leader Geert Wilders, who, although not a direct member of government, won enough votes to secure this dubious position. Recently while trying to push through more cuts (or ‘savings’, to employ a commonly used euphemism) to adhere to the not-more-than-3%-deficit rule enforced by Brussels, Wilders withdrew his support and made a grandiose (see: dramatic) exit, citing ‘attacks on the elderly’ and ‘excessive demands from elitist bureaucrats in Brussels’ as his reasons. (Wilders is a typically outspoken, fear-mongering Eurosceptic.)

Essentially, no big deal right? Elections will be held again in September and a new government will be formed. The real issue however is the time lapse and the damage it creates: financial markets lose faith in Dutch political will to enforce necessary budgetary reform, borrowing costs increase, effectively nullifying the point of Wilders’ stance as increased borrowing costs will be felt in the pockets of every consumer anyway (oh, including the elderly). The fine received for breaching the 3% rule is also considerable. The loss of triple-A status isn’t even that big an issue: in a world where AA is the new AAA, there are bigger concerns. What does this mean, however, for the rest of Europe? In a worst case scenario, other EU countries will point to the Netherlands and argue that hey, if they aren’t following the rules, why would we? Who could blame them, especially countries like Spain and Italy where existing cuts are already causing so much resentment?

So it’s no surprise really, that these are no fun times to be a politician – nothing you do is going to be popular. Sarkozy losing the first round elections is evidence of that.

So I watched this film a few weeks ago and came away feeling a little disturbed (which was undoubtedly the point) and a little dubious about the assumptions made by author who came up with the original storyline. Since then I’ve seen that for a debut film it’s doing remarkably well. This has enticed me to share some of my initial confusion and maybe see how other viewers made sense of the following.


OK, so firstly, it’s set in an Orwellian type future where there is this great big government who is in control of pretty much everything. A long time ago (75 years?) twelve districts under the control of said government revolted, but the revolt was unsuccessful and they failed to overthrow the regime. As a punishment (and to serve as a reminder) the central government organises the yearly ‘Hunger Games’: it selects one male and one female representative from each district to fight each other to the death in a restricted forest setting until only one emerges alive. Fighters’ names are drawn at random and everyone in the district between the ages of 12 and 18 has their name put in.

Not a bad idea for a plot, right? And OK, so I haven’t read the books. So this review is only really fair for my understanding of the film.

Here’s where I felt the plot failed. It is a poor reflection of the human psyche. It makes human nature seem ultimately weak, in order to fit the desired story line. It does not give the viewer faith in humanity. Which, really, every story of this type needs. That’s the point. Or so it is normally, but the author is fickle.

Yes, alright, the Romans had a similar set-up with the Gladiators but the difference being that the Gladiators were foreign soldiers/criminals/subversives/enemies of the empire/WHATEVS. Not children – excessive dramatic effect to attempt a cheap tear-wrench from the audience, and aimed to shock (‘OMG children killing each other in a game’ – yeah you get the point). Fair enough, but in a pseudo-real world with psuedo-real people revolution and anarchy would ensue at the mere prospect of organised, ritualistic child-on-child murder.

Then, the characters are somewhat unconvincing. There is a repeated flashback scene of Katniss (main character) sat pitifully in the rain and the local baker’s son throwing her a loaf of bread out of pity.  Although, in the ‘present’ time she has a house/mother/sister etc and for someone who is supposedly starving the actress has a plump face with rosy cheeks. Hmmm.

Then, finally, why does she befriend the girl from the other district knowing full well that only one person will come out of it alive? why do any of the participants befriend/team up? why on earth would you trust someone if they are likely to stab you in your sleep? I mean, really.

I think one of the few convincing parts of the story is her refusal to ultimately kill the boy from her own district. Overall, I did enjoy the film although found it too nerve-wracking and there are a lot of plot twists. But I suppose that comes with the territory.


Renzo Martens film Episode 3: Enjoy Poverty Is one of those visual experiences that will stay with you forever I was lucky enough to have seen it in a lecture theatre. It made me feel uncomfortable its fleshy ness and unavoidable narrative where the lesser contributors to my discomfort above these lay the fact that the works premise was true. The notion that poverty its self is a resource one that is manipulated and currently does not help those who are subjected to what the west calls ‘Absolute Poverty’, Instead international aid makes the wealthy wealthier. Martens video journalism even now months after first witnessing it still carry’s a refreshing sense, an artist perhaps with a social conscious one that does care about this alarming issue. Episode 3 wields real people and uses them as puppets and actors on a stage in which the play is all to real, portraying the power relationships between people watching (the audience) and the people being watched (Africans, Aid workers etc). He uses a neon sign as the focus of a party an emancipatory tool Renzo sets out to inform the people of the Congo that they should be benefiting from their poverty. He articulates the idea that if only they benefited from their poorness and used it as a resource then it would be their biggest source of revenue or capital. In this narrative I find the artists dissection and advance on the remnants of colonialism rejuvenating it shows the perpetuation of a distorted reality an example being when he takes an African photographer with images of death and poverty to Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders  and the african is turned down because the NGO has to use western photographers thats its policy. Thus effectively demonstrating the wests hold on the resource that Martens has successfully termed as the ‘Poverty Industry’ and the exclusion of locals benefitting from the resource of poverty. An alarming Idea right?