The Americans have an expression, “bully pulpit”, for the right granted by might or mandate to lecture or otherwise lean-on those whose behaviour is clearly in need of improvement. The term is particularly used in the context of inner-generational, gender, cultural or racial minority affairs. Thus a figure such as the current president has more “bullying” rights than others if he chooses to belabour African-Americans on the poor parenting skills of their menfolk and the need for stronger, more virtuous male archetypes for kids growing up without fathers.
Mr Obama retains double pulpit privileges here. Firstly, as a genuine African-American, whose Kenyan family brag massively on the sole collateral of the very limited role one of their number once played in the provision of a spermatozoa and precious little else. Secondly, for being that paragon of achievement, a minority child from a single parent family, who has made it to the very top, not only despite, but also because of his disadvantaged background.
Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale also made it to the top. As sons growing up in single parent UK-African families, these young men whom everyone remembers as quiet, polite and good at school are now at the top of Britain’s “most hated” list. Seemingly out of the blue, the two Nigerian twenty-somethings first ran over Army Drummer Lee Rigby with their car then hacked him to death with butcher’s knives and a meat cleaver, before haranguing the stunned little crowd that had gathered near the mangled body with the usual Islamist gibberish, which significantly neglects to mention that most Muslims who die violently will do so at the hand of other Muslims. They told us we can expect more of this, whatever that means, as long as we insist on democratically electing our governments ... or something. The two Michaels had never met Drummer Rigby, never even heard of him. He could have been a fellow believer, for all they knew. It was enough that he was out collecting for a veterans’ charity, looked like the soldier he was, and stood on a street corner near Woolwich Barracks.
The parallels with Barack Obama are real: like him, both these boys had caring mums who worked hard and kept a well-run home and family. Both were raised as Christians by strong women with good jobs. One of the two Michaels (excuse me for not being able to tell them apart, put it down to the blood stains) even has a little sister called Blessing. Both had absent fathers whose vacant space was readily filled by the “virile” arguments of militant Islam. None of this can explain why they went on a rampage that fortunately only resulted in one death, but would have led to many more if they’d had the chance. They could so equally well have ended up as tenured university professors or directors of medical trusts and still kept the faith.
So what’s your point, Edwin? Good question. I wish I knew. The fact is I’m being continually confronted these days by the absolute unpredictability of human behaviour. A guy in Cleveland Ohio drives the local school bus, barbecues with his neighbours, is an all-round good fellah, but has kidnapped three girls (now young women) whom he has kept locked in his house for over a decade to use as sex-slaves and punchbags. A good boy who mows his neighbours’ lawns for pocket money walks into town and tries to take out an entire primary school with a couple of handguns and an assault rifle. Two young men with everything - college educations, jobs, girlfriends, good looks - fill a couple of rucksacks with explosives, surrounded by metal bearings and other odds and bits, packed into pressure cookers and set off to blow up marathon runners (hardly the most obvious target for jihad), and now two more young men, who have grown up in England, not Ruanda, choose meat cleavers as a form of political expression! I realise I’m mixing my criminal genres here, but all of these men fit the “lone wolf” profile of a person whose level of general social integration nonetheless masks a singular and perverse desire to mark territory at any cost.
“Lone wolf” sounds romantic, but the traditional wolf pack (see The tale of BlackSheep & SheepWolf
) has little time for such silliness, as lone wolves are unpredictable and treacherous, endangering the welfare of sheep and wolves alike. The world’s opinion makers, or at least its leading sheep and even a few of its leading wolves want Mr Obama to close Guantanamo Bay. The prison is serving no valid end, the prisoners are being detained without charge and the whole shebang only institutionalizes an abuse of legal and human rights entirely unsuited to a great democracy. But what is to become of the poor individuals whose sense of social cohesion is now definitively ruined? If even those who have never suffered are prepared to extract vengeance for the perceived suffering of others, what will the vengeance of those who have suffered so long and so unjustly be? Will the Cleveland women commit vigilante castrations of sex offenders? Unlikely. Will the Guantanamo detainees commit vigilante murders of military personnel? Less unlikely, but unlikely nonetheless. Those who have truly suffered are usually happy just to find a place to call their own and repair their damaged lives. Vengeance, it seems, belongs to the entitled classes, the privileged, the pampered sons of social welfare and public education. The Bader-Meinhof gang were a textbook example of privileged avengers.
No one is more fanatical than a convert. This we know. On that fatal day in Woolwich, the converted were preaching to the converted. Three women: two who courageously kept the suspects talking to gain time for the police to encircle them, and a third markswoman, who took them both out with a few shots to the lower body. The first two were clearly converted to a doctrine of non-violent engagement. The third clearly held to a strategy of robust damage control. The stunned nation that watched it all unfold on video has been converted to a belief much like my own: that there’s “no art to find the mind’s construction in the face” and that it is becoming increasingly difficult to isolate the virus of hatred. Nothing can prepare us for what someone we think we know might actually do. Calling for hate preachers to be “sent home”, so that they are less likely to corrupt our young men at Friday prayers, is perfectly reasonable, but will not achieve much in results. Firstly, this is
home. Secondly, the internet, where they will continue to operate unchained and largely unmonitored, is a limitless playground for every kind of weirdness.
We just have to accept that we cannot know one-another. We can only trust what we do. Trust will bind us together. Yes, life is a gamble. But that’s no reason to reject it out of paranoia and retreat into our little domestic fortress (as I was so keen to do a couple of weeks back). We should rather take the time to enjoy it more. There are still rosebuds to be gathered, still coffee to be smelt. Don’t be afraid to tell your teenage son to go and tidy his room. He’s not going to turn into a killer because of firm parenting or even lax parenting. It will take an entire community of hatred to do that to him. So just make sure he never joins one. And keep preaching to the converted ... they need all the support they can get.
© Edwin Drood
, May 2013
"La Calavera Oaxaqueña" (The Calavera from Oaxaca), lithograph by José-Guadalupe Posada.
From a Calavera broadside, published by Antonio Vanegas Arroyo, Mexico, 1903.
Source: Library of Congress, www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2005677216/