Tuesday, February 28, 2006

248. Riots in Dublin

Crowds gather in O'Connell Street.

Last Saturday afternoon, February 25, a confrontation between two groups of demonstrators led to a small riot in central Dublin. A group of Northern Unionists under the name 'Love Ulster' had bussed down to Dublin with bands and Union Jacks with the intent of marching down O'Connell Street, Dublin's main thoroughfare. Had the march proceeded, they would have passed by the General Post Office where the Easter Rebellion against British rule in Ireland had been proclaimed in 1916. The professed aim of this group was to commemorate the Unionists who had died at the hands of the IRA during the Northern Troubles of 1969-97. Some Irish commentators dryly likened such naivety to a group of Taleban or Al Quaeda supporters proposing a march down New York's Fifth Avenue. Nevertheless, the government and all the political parties (including Sinn Fein) shrugged their shoulders, and advised the populace to ignore these people and just let them get on with it.

Unfortunately, an organized band of 200-300 hardline republicans thought differently and when they moved in to block the Unionist parade they came in direct conflict with the Gardai (Irish police).

Smoke bombs, stones, and building materials were thrown by the protestors.

Construction is going on in O'Connell Street so a lot of useful material lay at hand for the demonstrators to throw at the police.The clashes were sporadic with several dozen injuries, many to the police, but hardly more than a skirmish compared to the riot of 1981 when tensions in the North were running very high.

The police pushed the demonstrators south of the river and several cars were overturned and torched in Nassau Street before the rioters and their hangers-on (mainly inner-city youth in hoodies with scarves pulled over their faces) decided to call it a day and go home to their tea. The cars targeted were Mercs and BMWs which says a lot more about economic disparities than the national question.

In 1981, during the IRA Hunger Strike, there was a serious riot in which thousands took part and which led to the burning down of the British Embassy. Saturday's events were minor by comparison, but the return of violence to the streets of Dublin came as a very unwelcome wake-up call to the country's leaders and the complacent majority of the population who had hoped and believed that the passions aroused by the continuing partition of the island had largely subsided since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Gardai in Nassau Street.

Today's editorial in the Irish Independent can be read here.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

247. Toh-Koh (Climbing Upwards)

Before you start: This poem should be considered as a translation. It is certainly not my own original work -- but, at the same time, it is.

There is a great deal more guesswork involved when translating from classical Chinese than, say, from a contemporary European language.

The signposts are the "Kanji" -- the Chinese ideographs. Each of them stands for a separate thing or action or idea. They act as concrete guidelines across the centuries but their juxtaposition and the absence of clues leaves a great deal open for modern interpretation.

What got me started was this: I got talking about this poem with a Japanese teacher at my school who teaches "Classics" (i.e. Chinese and early Japanese literature) and it soon became apparent that the standard English translation -- the one that shows up on dozens of sites on the Internet; every single site, in fact! -- was putting an interpretation on this text that was aesthetically pleasing (Western-style) but in some ways very inaccurate. It didn't respect the deliberate use of repetitive words, for one thing, and introduced the simile of "spray from a waterfall" which simply didn't exist in the original.

For that reason I decided to re-translate the poem. I don't know if I've done any better (and I'd be delighted to hear from anyone who reads Chinese!!) but I went back to the original -- as it was written 1250 years ago -- and took it from there. Here we go:

Climbing Upwards

Shen Zou 'Poet on a Mountain Top' Ming Dynasty ca. 1500

Under a cutting wind from the open sky, the monkeys are sadly keening,
Over clear lake waters, over white sands, the birds are flying home;
The autumn leaves come fluttering, fluttering down,
The never-ending river keeps flowing along, keeps flowing along ....

Ten thousand leagues, the sadness of an autumn traveller,
A hundred years of sorrows attend me, all alone I climb;
Misfortunes press down on me, there is frost upon my brow,
There are floods of weariness. Dust gathers in my wine cup.

Here's the standard translation:

In a sharp gale from the wide sky apes are whimpering,
Birds are flying homeward over the clear lake and white sand,
Leaves are dropping down like the spray of a waterfall,
While I watch the long river always rolling on.

I have come three thousand miles away. Sad now with autumn
And with my hundred years of woe, I climb this height alone.
Ill fortune has laid a bitter frost on my temples,
Heart-ache and weariness are a thick dust in my wine.

It's very similar ... but it's not the same.

You can check out the Chinese original (plus standard translation) at the following website

What is really cool about this site is that if you pass your cursor over any one of the Chinese characters, the English meaning will pop up. When I consider those many long years of 1000-page dictionaries .... !!

If you are still with me, check out the Kanji:

Wind - sharp/cutting/biting - heaven - high - monkey(s) - cry - lament;
Lake - clear/pristine/pure - sand - white -bird(s) - fly - return/revolve ;
Without - boundary - falling - tree - mournful- mournful - down
Not - limit - long - river/waters - roll - roll - come;
10,000 - Ri* - sad - autumn - always - made/constructed - guest;
100 - year(s) - many - illnesses - alone - climb - station;
difficult - disaster - bitter - hate - complicated - frost - temple/brow;
heavy rain - flood - new - stop/pause/settle/ -muddy/dusty - wine -cup

*Ri - a Chinese measure of distance

I have a visual understanding of this poem: I can feel what the guy is saying. Say what you will, but these poems are visual events, not just when printed, but in the controlled explosions of brushed ink on paper. Thank God for print -- they are almost totally illegible otherwise!

Finally, and I've been saving this for last, Tu Fu, or Du Fu -- To-Ho in Japanese -- was one of a pair of near-legendary poets who became famous (celebrities, superstars) within their own lifetimes during the T'ang Dynasty in China, a period which lasted from 618 to 906 AD. The T'ang interval is generally considered by most Chinese to be the introduction to the early-modern period of their long history. They had concluded their "Middle Ages" in about 1000 BC, around the time of the Battle of Troy. The other famous poet was Li Po, or Li Tai-po (Rihaku in Japanese), a wonderfully attractive person who features in an earlier posting on this Blog, entitled Ezra Pound in China

Thursday, February 09, 2006

246. Maureen Rua

This is a recycle of a previous post ... ages ago, lost in the mists of time .. but it's been on my mind for the last three days and I've rewritten a lot of the central part of it. I think it's because I've been listening to a lot of really good Irish music (the real stuff) thanks to Paddy & Bridget and their friends back in the County Clare and now I can see where it wasn't quite on the button the first time around. No guarantees it's "on the button" this time either, but it feels and reads better ...........

The character is a composite of several well-known beauties who lived on into the 1920s and 30s, women who had been much celebrated in story and song among country people during the latter part of the 19th century.

Them lands beyond
belong to strangers now,
says Maureen Rua
bringing the tea
over to the table,
the large pot in her
withered shaking hands,
and herself getting on
to a rare old age
now that Dinty's gone,
but with the scraps
of her wild red hair
still showing, and her eyes
undimmed: they had made her
the belle of five counties
back in the days
when the world was young.

Maureen Rua!
Some farmer's sons
fell close to self-destruction
for the love of you,
but they recovered
the run of themselves
after many stout blows
from the sticks of their fathers,
and through the blessings
of Holy Mother Church,
and through the less blessed
but far more fascinating
smiles and enticements
of the local sweet colleens.

There was the land
and she with no brothers.
It was the land, they said,
but it was never just the land:
it was you, Maureen Rua,
that had them so bedazzled,
you, with your sparkling eyes,
your soft full figure,
your tumbling, tangling
wild red hair.

O Maureen Rua
how my heart goes out to you
with the song of the lark
in the clear morning air,
and in the bee-buzzing afternoon
my same heart stumbles,
then lazily lingers
with sweet honey thoughts;
and in the evening, yes,
I sing along, softly,
with the shy nightingales.

All for you, Maureen Rua.

You are old now, a widow,
saddened and past innocence,
awaiting your final repose;
but you are still the finest
among the "m'nah nuh Hay-rinn",
champing on your false teeth
and not so sure of your gamy legs,
as you bring the tea this very minute
with uncertain steps
here to the table.

Ah, Maureen Rua,
Maureen Rua!
The finest woman
in God's creation!

* mnaa na hEireann - (Gaeilge) the Women of Ireland. They actually run our country right now from the President on down -- perhaps not such a bad thing .

Thursday, February 02, 2006

245. Danish Muhammed Cartoons

Last September a Danish newspaper, Jyllands Posten, commissioned and published a series of twelve cartoons depicting various artists' perceptions of Muhammed (and by extension, Islam). That was in the Year of Our Lord 2005 -- notice how even the numbering of years carries a religious significance!! -- and now the editors at Jyllands Posten are starting to wish they hadn't. Not only the newspaper but the whole country of Denmark has become the target of a veritable firestorm of Islamic outrage. Ambassadors have been recalled, trade boycotts have been initiated, and threats of violence have come pouring in.

Two questions. First, why did it take three and a half months for the Islamic world to work itself into its present state of frenzy? Second, what did the editors of the newspaper -- and for that matter, the cartoonists themselves -- expect, given the history of Islamic sensitivity to any real or implied criticism of their religion? Have we so soon forgotten the fatwa on Salman Rushdie, or the assassination of Theo van Gogh in Amsterdam?

The general European reaction across a wide spectrum of government and social opinion has been to deplore the possibility of having truly offended against Islam while stoutly defending the right of freedom of expression as a bulwark of open and free societies. I tend towards the latter view myself (what do you think a Blog is for??) but not to the point where such freedom implies the right to incite hatred or violence towards other groups or individuals. It is interesting in the context of the present virulent attacks on Denmark and the Danish government to note that the same government stepped in quite recently to shut down an anti-Islamic publication on the grounds of incitement. But all that is forgotten in the present excitement.

Is there an anti-Islamic backlash taking root in Europe? It wouldn't altogether surprise me, given the increasing pressures surrounding unintegrated immigration and the intolerable intolerance (to coin a phrase) of Islamic fundamentalists with their openly expressed contempt for Western-style democracy. These chaps don't have to like us or accept our views. We can live with that - well, most Europeans certainly could; I wouldn't be too sure about some of our American cousins, though, wrestling with their own fundamentalist/ideological demons: the 'Rapture' comes to mind, but then so do the neocons and the Project for the New American Century.

On the other hand, we don't have to like them, either, nor do we have to accept their views and interpretations of the world we live in -- a world we have to share, by the way. Can they live with that? Apparently not. There seems to be more than a slight whiff of hypocrisy in the air ...

Here is an interesting Danish blog on the subject.

And in this article Magdi Abelhadi discusses some of the issues which have given rise to the controversy.

And here comes today's coverage onBBC NEWS:

Muhammad cartoon row intensifies

Newspapers across Europe have reprinted caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad to show support for a Danish paper whose cartoons have sparked Muslim outrage.

Seven publications in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and Spain all carried some of the drawings.

Their publication in Denmark led Arab nations to protest. Islamic tradition bans depictions of the Prophet.

The owner of one of the papers to reprint - France Soir - has now sacked its managing editor over the matter.

The cartoons have sparked diplomatic sanctions and death threats in some Arab nations, while media watchdogs have defended publication of the images in the name of press freedom.

Reporters Without Borders said the reaction in the Arab world "betrays a lack of understanding" of press freedom as "an essential accomplishment of democracy."

'Spiting Muslims'

France Soir and Germany's Die Welt were among the leading papers to reprint the cartoons, which first appeared in Denmark last September.

The caricatures include drawings of Muhammad wearing a headdress shaped like a bomb, while another shows him saying that paradise was running short of virgins for suicide bombers.

France Soir originally said it had published the images in full to show "religious dogma" had no place in a secular society.

30 Sept: Danish paper Jyllands-Posten publishes cartoons
20 Oct: Muslim ambassadors in Denmark complain to Danish PM
10 Jan: Norwegian publication reprints cartoons
26 Jan: Saudi Arabia recalls its ambassador
30 Jan: Gunmen raid EU's Gaza office
31 Jan: Danish paper apologises
1 Feb: Papers in France, Germany, Italy and Spain reprint cartoons

But late on Wednesday its owner, Raymond Lakah, said he had removed managing editor Jacques Lefranc "as a powerful sign of respect for the intimate beliefs and convictions of every individual".

Mr Lakah said: "We express our regrets to the Muslim community and all people who were shocked by the publication."

The president of the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), Dalil Boubakeur, had described France Soir's publication as an act of "real provocation towards the millions of Muslims living in France".

Other papers stood by their publication. In Berlin, Die Welt argued there was a right to blaspheme in the West, and asked whether Islam was capable of coping with satire.

"The protests from Muslims would be taken more seriously if they were less hypocritical," it wrote in an editorial.

La Stampa in Italy, El Periodico in Spain and Dutch paper Volkskrant also carried some of the drawings.

European Muslims spoke out against the pictures.

In Germany, the vice-chairman of the central council of Muslims said Muslims would be deeply offended.

"It was done not to defend freedom of the press, but to spite the Muslims," Mohammad Aman Hobohm said.


Correspondents say the European papers' actions have widened a dispute which has grown very serious for Denmark.

1989: Iranian spiritual leader Ayatollah Khomeini calls on Muslims to kill British author Salman Rushdie for alleged blasphemy in his book The Satanic Verses
2002: Nigerian journalist Isioma Daniel's article about Prophet and Miss World contestants sparks deadly riots
2004: Dutch film maker Theo van Gogh killed after release of his documentary about violence against Muslim women
2005: London's Tate Britain museum cancels plans to display sculpture by John Latham for fear of offending Muslims after July bombings

The publication last September in Jyllands-Posten has provoked diplomatic sanctions and threats from Islamic militants across the Muslim world.

Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller has postponed a trip to Africa because of the dispute.

Thousands of Palestinians protested against Denmark this week, and Arab ministers called on it to punish Jyllands-Posten.

Syria and Saudi Arabia have recalled their ambassadors to Denmark, while Libya said it was closing its embassy in Copenhagen and Iraq summoned the Danish envoy to condemn the cartoons.

The Danish-Swedish dairy giant Arla Foods says its sales in the Middle East have plummeted to zero as a result of the row, which sparked a boycott of Danish products across the region.

The offices of Jyllands-Posten had to be evacuated on Tuesday because of a bomb threat.

The paper had apologised a day earlier for causing offence to Muslims, although it maintained it was legal under Danish law to print them.

Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen welcomed the paper's apology, but defended the freedom of the press.