<![CDATA[Books & ebooks - Books Blog]]>Fri, 10 Nov 2017 00:30:17 +0000Weebly<![CDATA[Suffer the Children]]>Thu, 11 Feb 2016 23:25:55 GMThttp://booksand-ebooks.com/books-blog/suffer-the-childrenPicture

In any situation, particularly that of war, the prevailing ethos is to protect children. But could it be that events have conspired so that the liberal left find themselves unwittingly aiding and supporting the death of children in war situations?
Surely not? While views might differ between the left and right as to right and wrong, aggressor or victim, in any war situation – on the subject of children both sides roundly agree: children must be protected at all costs in conflict situations. And the left, as usually the stronger defender of the weaker, more vulnerable parties in any conflict situation – though some might argue that claim – would as a result be the stronger defender of children; though a close call, and the one area where left and right views often correlate. So how could this terrible anomaly have arisen?

The first part of that puzzle came to mind when I recently viewed a programme on Nicholas Winton, who saved several hundred Jewish children from the holocaust in Czechoslovakia – often referred to as ‘the English Schindler’. There were many poignant moments in the programme, but one that stuck strongly in my mind was how these Jewish parents had sacrificed everything to save their children: queuing for countless hours, filling in forms, getting papers stamped, raising the necessary money, then finally the tearful goodbyes – knowing that they’d probably never see their children again and their own lives would soon be lost. The ultimate sacrifice.

At the time, I was also involved in debates regarding the growing number of knife attacks in Jerusalem and the West Bank, with defences and retaliations leading to a number of teen deaths, with the father of one 16-year-old Palestinian boy who murdered a young Israeli mother boldly proclaiming, “I am proud of him”. The stark contrast stuck in my mind – that one party would go to such lengths to protect their children, while the other would so readily sacrifice their lives. If it was just one isolated incident, it could be put down to the strange aberrations of one parent, but there are numerous videos online of fathers at Hamas rallies proclaiming how they’d happily sacrifice their children for ‘martyr’ actions against Israel.

Thankfully, that isn’t the entire picture, with the Palestinian father of the gunman who killed two in a Tel-Aviv bar expressing his horror at the incident:
“I am an Israeli citizen, a law-abiding citizen. I heard what my son has done, and I am sorry. I did not educate him to act in that way.” The father was no doubt aiming to be the voice of the 1.7 million Arab-Muslim citizens of Israel – largely ignored when anti-Israel protestors try to portray a purely them-and-us situation and dishonestly sell the ‘apartheid’ tag – who are peaceful and support unity rather than conflict.

But we hear in his voice a sense of plea. In the same way that many parents in the west, upon learning that their kids have become drug addicts, decry that they’d always warned them strongly against drugs, yet in the end the prevailing influences – the streets, pop and rock culture, fellow teens and peer groups – had won out. The prevailing influences in this instance come from the countless Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders praising the attacks, with even the usually moderate Abbas lending his support:
“We welcome every drop of blood spilled in Jerusalem. This is pure blood, clean blood, blood on its way to Allah. With the help of Allah, every martyr will be in heaven, and every wounded will get his reward.” Only weeks later when an Israeli couple were killed, PLO official Mahmoud Ismail went on official Palestinian television, PBC, proclaiming their murder to be a fulfilment of Palestinian “national duty.” Faced with that level of encouragement and incitement – running all the way to the top of Palestinian leadership – it’s easy to understand the despair of any parent trying to push back against that tide.

It brought to mind that classic quote from past Israeli Prime Minister, Golda Meir:
“We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us.” Surely the last thing Fatah and Hamas leaders would want is to make the words of Golda Meir bear fruit and appear glaringly true thirty years after the event? Surely too, Palestinian supporters in the West, realizing that much of the current wave of attacks involves incitement of under-age Palestinian teens to attack innocent civilians and in the process often lose their own lives, would shy away from lending their support to such actions? But, sadly, that hasn’t been the case.

Go on social media and you’ll see any number of sites glorifying the deaths of these teens as ‘martyrs’ – though all too often the full details of them being involved in knife attacks prior to being shot and ‘martyred’ are conveniently avoided. The picture painted is that the IDF or Israeli check-point security have killed these teens in unprovoked assaults. Predictably, this then gives rise to righteous outrage and further chants of ‘evil Israelis’ and calls for their destruction. 

So while on the face of it, Palestinian teen lives lost will have served little purpose, by the time they’ve been put through the - Al-Jazeera-Electronic-intifada-Palestine-free-river-to-sea – one-way-view editorial machine, they will at least serve a purpose in propaganda terms: Israel will have been further demonized and another victim chalked up on the hate-wall of ‘Palestinian children killed by Israel’. No thought given to the fact that it was various Palestinian leaders – safe in their villas or hotel rooms, their own children safely at school - who incited these teens in the first place to take such drastic actions. But neglecting to mention that fact – along with painting a one-way picture of Israeli aggression and Palestinian victimhood – also serves a purpose: the next Palestinian teen to read these accounts might be sufficiently outraged to take the same action, thereby providing useful cannon fodder for yet another Israel-evil-Palestinian-victim incident report, and the cycle continues.    

If it was only western journalists who had picked up on this, I daresay it would hold less credence for Palestinian supporters. But tellingly this is an issue which has also raised concerns in Palestinian circles, with a number leading intellectuals and journalists speaking out, including Hafez Al-Barghouti, former editor of the PA daily and a Fatah Revolutionary Council member. He voiced that these teens were a particularly vulnerable and easily influenced age group, and that their childhood should be protected. He accused a number of Palestinian leaders of
"trading in the blood of children" by praising and glorifying these attacks. Palestinian journalist Ihab Al-Jariri of Radio 24 held a similar view: "Those who write theories on Facebook, from behind the safety of a computer monitor, supporting the idea of children carrying out stabbing attacks and encouraging them to do so – should first do it themselves and only then ask the young ones to follow in their footsteps."

The fact that this current wave of renewed violence has been largely fuelled by social media has also been commented on by many newspapers, from Haaretz to The Guardian and New York Times. While four local dailies and eight TV stations give a blow-by-blow account of Israeli-Palestinian violence, the main source of news for Palestinian teens is via Facebook groups that pump out a continuous stream of bloody images and pro-violence slogans. As this cycle of life reflecting-social-media-distorted art/death reached its zenith, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu commented,
"We are seeing a situation in which Osama Bin Laden meets Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook founder). The incitement on social networks is what is causing the wave of terror."

Israeli citizens too have taken this issue to heart, with more than 20,000 Israelis suing Facebook for
"facilitating and encouraging" violence against Jews by allowing Palestinian users to post and share how-to videos on stabbing attacks, as well as violent messages and videos glorifying killers as martyrs. Certainly, the power of the internet and social media should not be underestimated, with it being cited as playing a major part in the ‘Arab Spring’ uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria. But its value then was for militia groups to organize and coordinate – some of it using the ‘dark web’ – not to inspire teens to carry out ‘lone wolf’ attacks. So how and why did this use of young people and teens as a useful and valued spearhead take root in Palestinian society?    

To get the answer to this, you have to go back over forty years – to the attack by the PLO on Israeli athletes at Munich. While this certainly gained the Palestinian cause worldwide media attention, it was not in the way they wished. They learned from this that killing non-involved athletes was considered an abhorrent act and as a result had lost them international sympathy. The second series of actions which alerted them to what would gain or lose sympathy in the international arena was the wave of suicide bombings launched against Israel between 1995 and 2006.  These targeted mainly civilians, blowing apart men, women and children in cafes, hotels, shopping malls, and on buses. Particular horror was attached to the number of children killed, with one bombing at the Delphinarium Disco specifically targeting young teens: of the 22 killed, the youngest were 13 and 14. These bombings caused outrage in Israel and internationally, alienating many to the Palestinian cause, and shortly after the dividing security wall was built.
Possibly this action was the main kick-start for the largely media-led Palestinian propaganda war that followed – after all, with the divide built and conventional terrorist and suicide-bomber attacks thwarted, what other option was there? Also, since the main banner headline of that propaganda campaign often read, ‘
They’re killing our children!’, they could hardly voice that protest – at least with a straight face or without appearing grossly ironic – when their own bombing campaigns were proportionally killing far more children the Israeli side.

But the international outrage caused by the Israeli children killed in these bombing campaigns – even though, out of respect for the dead, Israel rarely if ever showed photos of these corpses – had obviously gone deep into the Palestinian psyche, because it then often played at the forefront of their own propaganda campaigns. Alongside the prerequisite ‘Killing our children’ headlines, gory photos of the victims were displayed, and if the horror of these wasn’t enough, often a blood coated teddy-bear or doll would be strategically placed by the bodies. And as this one-way Israel-demonizing campaign gained momentum, ‘apartheid’ started to be used as a tag for the security divide – even though the suicide bombing campaign had not long finished and so its main purpose should still have been blatantly clear – and the term ‘Nazis’, genocide and comparisons to the holocaust quickly followed. 

It was almost as if a conversation had taken place in some electronic intifada or Hamas-central backroom whereby it was felt that labelling Israeli-Jews as
‘child killers’ might not on its own be enough. ‘What else would upset the Jews to be labelled? Racists! Yes, that’s good; having been the victims of racism for so many years, they wouldn’t like that. Ah, Nazis, genocide and holocaust. Brilliant! Comparing them to their main past aggressors and their attempted annihilation… they’ll hate that!’ What probably amazed this back-room bunch was that this rather obvious and infantile name-tagging exercise would ever gain wings outside. “I’m sure that most western journalists, academics and students will see through it and won’t be stupid enough to repeat it.” Most journalists, yes, but not all, and go on any social media site on any given day and you’ll see countless students and supposed academics repeating the same trite name-tags with abandon, not far different to kids – and with the same required intellect level - hurling playground insults. And on some choice days, you’ll even find some politicians stupid enough to repeat the same – particularly if they’re campaigning in Bradford!

But the final component which aided this ‘Child-killer’ labelling campaign came from an unlikely source: the UN. In the eyes of the UN, a ‘child’ is someone under 18 years of age, and it was probably not lost on both Hamas and Fatah that in a number of conflict showdowns, many of those on the front line jeering and throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers were in the 12-18 range. It’s one of the by-products of disaffected youth, particularly in an area of high unemployment in an on/off conflict zone. All that was needed was a tilt on that rudder for those teens to become more involved and aggressive, and they’d become a useful component in the war against Israel. Hamas would never admit to recruiting under-age militants, but there are numerous accounts of youths making up a jeering and rock-throwing front line while adult snipers shoot past them at Israeli soldiers. This provides a dual purpose: cover for their main militants and snipers, and if the young teens got caught in the crossfire, they added to the child-kill statistics aiding the propaganda campaign.

 The way in which this was played to advantage can be seen from the statistics of the Gaza war of 2014 and Hamas’s announcements about losses. In this conflict (from UN figures) a total of 2,104 Palestinians died, of which 253 were women and 495 children. Downplaying their own militant losses, Hamas went instantly for the child-killer angle, claiming that the IDF had killed more children than they had militants. At the end of the conflict, Hamas admitted to 500-600 militant losses, whereas Israel claimed it was more than a thousand. So which one of them was right? There were a number of newspaper reports about the high number of male 19-39 year olds amongst casualties which threw doubt on the Hamas claims, but none of these were conclusive.

There’s an old saying in crime investigations, ‘follow the money’. Well, as any seasoned war-journalist will tell you, replace ‘money’ with ‘women’ to properly gauge civilian losses. Mainly because most nations comprise 50% men/50% women, and women generally are not involved in front-line combat – particularly true in Gaza. So by doubling the number of women, 253, you have the likely number of non-involved adult civilian deaths: 506. With the children, from a related Palestinian report, 183 of the 495 killed were female. Double 183 to get the total of non-involved civilian child deaths: 366. Which leaves 129 males unaccounted for, thus ‘involved’ to some degree, no doubt many of them in the aforementioned 12-18 range, since it’s likely those under 12 would have been kept away from the conflict wherever possible.

Deduct the 495 child deaths from the 2,104 overall and you have a total of 1,609 adult deaths. Then take away the 506 non-involved civilian deaths, and you have a total of 1,103 involved in the fighting – indeed, slightly higher than the original figure claimed by Israel. But then on top we have the aforementioned 129 males listed by the UN as ‘children’ (mainly 12-18) involved in the fighting. All this aside from the Israeli claim that Hamas often fired from heavily residential sections, thereby increasing the overall civilian death-toll, and used their tunnels - which could have been used to shelter civilians - solely to protect their munitions and their leaders.

The high number of male casualties can also be seen in the statistics from this current wave of knife attacks. Of the 284 attacks since last September, which has left 31 dead and 348 injured, only 7 of the perpetrators have been female. A number are males in their twenties, but a higher proportion are under 18, with the youngest knife attacker only 11. The one-way-demonizing posts on Facebook are certainly taking their toll, not only in Jewish lives lost, but in the larger number of young Palestinians losing their lives during these attacks – which are then duly published on Facebook to further demonize Israel and incite more attacks. The fact that so many of the attacker-victims are young males has been reported by many journals, with a Haaretz (usually more left-leaning) editorial a month ago commenting,
“What kind of a national movement unleashes 13-year-olds to do its dirty work? How does a child sacrifice, or at the very least an after-the-fact justification of child sacrifice, bring honour to the Palestinian cause?  Once again, the leaders of Palestinian nationalism have led their people down the long, cruel path of violence, suffering and death.”

Bassem Eid, a leading Palestinian human rights activist, in an editorial at the end of last year, lamented about the lack of good Palestinian leadership in inciting this current wave of violence. And an op-ed tagged to Amnesty International went a step further by looking deeper into the history of child-recruitment for the Palestinian cause, even going as far back as a LIFE magazine cover depicting tiger cubs of 8-11 in full assault gear and armed with automatic weapons at a Jordanian training camp, with a supporting explanation from a leading Palestinian newspaper-illustrator:
“I saw for myself how afraid the Israeli soldiers were of the children. A child of ten or eleven had sufficient training to carry and use an RBG rifle. The situation was simple enough. The Israeli tanks were in front of them and the weapon was in their hands. The Israelis were afraid to go into the camps, and if they did, they would only do so in daylight.”

I’m sure that Hamas and the harder-line elements within Fatah might argue that if male youths between 11-18 are keen to be out on the streets at the forefront of conflicts, what can they do to stop them? But the lack of leadership voices urging them to desist – in fact, quite the opposite, urging them to partake and become ‘martyrs’ – tells a different story. And the reverse side of that coin is equally disturbing: if this is largely as a result of disaffected youth in an on/off conflict zone, what incentive is there to improve the lot of that youth, particularly when they can be used as such a worthwhile tool in the conflict against Israel; direct cannon fodder on one level, child-kill statistics to further demonize Israel on another. Which I suppose might go some way to explaining why much of the aid and concrete hasn’t yet found its way into re-building Gaza, it has gone into building more supply and terror tunnels.

The other archly dishonest element in this current wave of attacks is that their founding held no substance in the first place. This originally stemmed from the request of Jewish religious groups to increase the currently restrictive hours that Jews were allowed on the Temple Mount, and that some prayers should also be allowed (on the grounds only, where prayers by non-Muslims are currently forbidden); on the face of it not an unreasonable request, since this is holy ground for Jews also, being the original site for the First and Second Temples. Some radical Muslim groups took exception and called for protesters to heckle Jewish visitors during their existing allowed visiting times. This then led to more widespread protests and the current wave of knife-attacks. However the Knesset and Prime Minister Netanyahu had from the outset made it clear in announcements that they would make no alterations to the existing visiting times or prayer restrictions for Jewish worshippers - but this was roundly ignored by Muslim radicals as they spread the word that the 'Al-Aqsa' was under threat.   

But where does the left-wing stand on all of this? That bastion of protection for the innocent and underprivileged, with children – and with good reason – at the pinnacle. If these observations and linked accusations were coming only from Western journalists, you might expect them to do the usual of sticking their fingers in their ears while chanting a repetitive mantra of ‘Hasbara’. But many of these accusations are coming from the core of Palestinian society itself. So now keenly aware of that fact, are they shrinking back from the fray:
“I’ll support many things in the name of the Palestinian cause, but I won’t support the use of children in conflict… particularly when it might lead to the death of those children.”

Yet on numerous ‘Palestine-Free’ Facebook sites, amongst the Arabic-named posters talking about the latest young ‘martyrs’ – often linked to a gory image or video - you’ll see any number of Susan’s, Elsa’s, Steve’s or Jose’s, all reading/chanting from the same evil-Israel hymn sheet. Go on their profile pages and you’ll see links to universities in Southampton, Stockholm, Amsterdam or Oakland, while others might be business consultants, computer analysts or health or socialist party workers. A broad spectrum.  

Palestinian journalist Ihab Al-Jariri’s comments about those writing on Facebook from behind the safety of a computer monitor start to hold a more callous resonance, as those writing from cities in the West are not only far removed from the conflict zones geographically, but from reality too by the very one-way-information nature of these sites. Most of these sites are private or group membership, so only those who sign up can comment. Make any comments that fall outside of a pre-set party line, and they’ll quickly be deleted and your membership revoked. Through this, a constant barrage of one-way-anti-Israel hate messages can be maintained. So they remain hermetically sealed from the reality of the situation or any balance.

All of this could be viewed as harmless banter on Facebook under the umbrella of ‘open debate’ if the only readers to get incensed by this one-way hate barrage were Israelis and their supporters. The left might shout that it was equal dues and served them right for being pro-Israel and so ‘Hasbara’. But when the recipient of those one-way hate messages might be Palestinian teens – arguably the most impressionable and easily influenced group both in terms of their age and being at the geographical heart of the conflict – who might be only a key-stroke away from taking up knives themselves, then it takes on an entirely different meaning. How would one of those left-wing supporters feel if a 14-year-old Palestinian teen they’d made a particularly bold anti-Israel comment to one day on Facebook – had the very next day lost their lives while engaged in a knife attack?

I daresay that true Palestinian supporters, concerned about the impact of their messages, would pause for thought or at least temper their posts. But the problem is that amongst this number are a collection of die-hard anti-Semites – as evidenced by the number of Rothschild-banking, Jews-in-control, blood-libel and holocaust denial posts – whose care for the Palestinians is minimal beyond the common bond of their shared hatred of Jews.

As a result, it will be interesting to see how these Facebook sites evolve and change over the coming months, especially in the face of a 20,000 strong law-suit. I think the first thing for Facebook to tackle will be the one-way nature of these sites whereby moderators censor out any opposing viewpoints which might level the playing field. Their main role should be to ‘moderate’ any inflammatory, hate-filled or racist messages – not give carte blanche to those messages and edit out or block anything which might run against that and give some due balance; ergo ‘moderation’.

​But with many Palestinian leaders having made use of this under-age army in their fight against Israel for so long, and with the additional benefit of being able to use their ‘martyr’ deaths in their ‘child-killers’ demonization of Israel – I see any change slow in coming.   

<![CDATA[I used to be left-wing... but now I'm not so sure.]]>Sun, 10 Jan 2016 23:53:15 GMThttp://booksand-ebooks.com/books-blog/i-used-to-be-left-wing-but-now-im-not-so-surePicture
So what has changed over those years? Has it been due to a shift in my values and perspectives, or those of the left-wing? 

To more accurately gauge that requires going through a quick check list: do I believe in equal rights for all? Yes, absolutely. Am I against discrimination of any groups or races? Yes. Do I believe in equality of the sexes? Yes. Am I homophobic? No. Do I generally believe in fair play and stand up for the down-trodden? Very much so. Do I speak out when I see any of the aforementioned rights abused? Yes, indeed often probably too much so.

So how does the left-wing fare on that same check-list? I’m sure they would proclaim they hold true and firm on all of the preceding. However, in a couple of areas – discrimination and standing up for the downtrodden – the lines have become blurred over the years, and on occasion have gone directly against their other core values.

But to fully explain how and why this has come about requires going back some years – in fact to 1969 and the state of Israel, when Golda Meir became Prime Minister. At that time – hard to believe when you consider the state of affairs now - Israel was beloved and championed by the liberal left. It ticked all the right boxes: a brave new nation of only 4 million people surrounded by numerous hostile Arab nations, with a combined total of two hundred million, vying for its destruction; one of the first ever female Prime Ministers in a male-dominated political landscape, at a time when women’s lib was on the rise; and the kibbutz, a particularly idealistic socio-economic endeavour and the model for many farming co-operatives to follow. In fact, such was the level of the love affair between Israel and the liberal left that a favourite past-time of British students throughout the late 60s and 70s was to spend summer breaks on a kibbutz – whereas now they’d more likely be found demonstrating in front of the Israeli embassy.

Finally, that this was a people who had survived the holocaust. Indeed, with the advent of the 1967 war two years previous, it had been unthinkable that the surrounding Arab armies might be victorious and the Jewish people would face the same again – massacred and cast to the wind to return to being simply an ethnic group in other nations. Another diaspora, if you will. Such was the level of fear and outrage, particularly amongst the liberal left, that many protest groups begged the USA to intervene to protect Israel. The USA didn’t – partly because at that time Russia was backing the Arab camp and that could have led to direct conflict with Russia – though the USA did provide arms, as indeed the Russians were supplying the Arab armies.

Then the war came, and went. In six days! While Israel could be applauded for fighting such a speedy, strategic war with resultant low losses on both sides, the downside was that it caused a serious dent to their status as ‘underdogs’ with the liberal left. Still, though, the surrounding Arab nations massed against them were much larger, and six years later made a more concerted and organized assault with the Yom Kippur war – which at one point came dangerously close to success – before finally throwing in the towel.

This six-year period also saw the first seeds of Palestinian nationalism – before that it had been purely a Pan-Arab battle, and if successful Israel would no doubt have been divided up equally between its surrounding conquerors of Egypt, Syria and Jordan, with little thought of developing an independent Palestinian homeland. Indeed, that hard truth was demonstrated by the fact that Jordan, who held the West Bank and East Jerusalem between 1948-1967, made no moves whatsoever towards the formation of a separate Palestinian state, they simply annexed the entire area as part of an expanded Jordan.  

In the decades following, there was an uncomfortable courtship between the left-wing and the Palestinian cause, mostly due to how it was pursued during that period. After all, however righteous that cause might be, what self-respecting left-winger could, with a clear conscience, support plane hijackings, killing half an Olympic team and blowing apart men, women and children in cafés, hotels, clubs and shopping malls. Paradoxically, it wasn’t until the security divide to protect against this was built between 2002-2006 that the Palestinians were seen as a fully-entrenched and disadvantaged group, and so in turn were perceived by the left-wing as fully deserving of the ‘underdog’ crown previously held by Israel.

In Gaza – where with the withdrawal of settlers, Gazan women gave flowers to Israeli soldiers in thanks – that initial hope faded as Hamas gained control and with continual rocket fire into Israel, the situation became even more entrenched.

In retrospect, one can’t help wonder whether Palestinian leaders – having viewed the reaction in the West to that thirty-year largely civilian-targeted terrorist bombing campaign – helped shaped how they would fight their cause in the future. Certainly with the divide built and future bombing plans seriously hampered, propaganda was probably the only remaining strong option – so it’s easy to see why the Palestinians would make as much of their future civilian losses as they could. As a result, those losses were strongly exaggerated or bent out of shape, and pictures of injured or dead infants displayed at every opportunity. ‘They’re killing our children,’ became a favoured headline. And who can blame them? Having seen their own bombing campaigns against Israelis have a reverse effect and raise nothing but horror in the West, why not dip their bread in some of that same gravy – or in this case, blood – and plumb Western liberal sensitivities as best they could. Perhaps they even thought at one stage: the holocaust helped the Jews gain Israel, playing the victim card might work in a similar way for us too.

So it’s easy to understand why the Palestinians and part of the Arab media pursued this course; after all, with the odds against them in a conventional conflict, what other choice was there? But the position of the liberal left and much of the Western media is not so easy to comprehend. Where were the voices questioning these statistics or this strategy, or indeed stating the obvious: ‘You can hardly complain about civilian losses on your side when for the past thirty years you’ve pursued a terrorist bombing campaign against Israel which has targeted almost exclusively civilians.’ But this sort of reality-check was rarely if ever aired.  

And as this one-way Palestinian-plight-propaganda-machine gained momentum, any remaining semblance of reality or balance was also lost. The security wall was suddenly dubbed an ‘apartheid wall’ (neglecting the fact that if that had been the main aim it would have been built in 1949, not 55 years later in the wake of one of the worst terrorist bombing campaigns any nation has suffered); the Palestinian plight was sometimes compared to the holocaust (neglecting the fact that they were several million lives lost short, with the only remotely comparable recent conflict, Syria, where 5 times as many Muslims have died in 5 years than with Israel in 65 years). The term ‘ethnic cleansing’ bandied about, when indeed the population in Gaza and the West Bank now stands at almost 5 million, four times that of the Palestinian population in 1948. And within Israel itself – something often conveniently forgotten by the left-wing – you have a further 1.7 million Muslim Arabs residing, almost three times that of Palestinians originally displaced.

By the time you get to the stage of liberal left-wingers and students marching alongside Palestinians chanting ‘Palestine shall be free, from the river to the sea,’ in essence calling for the removal or eradication of all the Jews in between, hardly different to the stance of an ardent racist or latter-day Nazi – the polar opposite of all the left-wing has historically stood for – you realize just how out of control things have become. I’m sure that if any of the students involved in demonstrations in support of Israel in the 60s and 70s were looking on, they’d shake their heads in disgust. ‘Don’t you realize you’re demonstrating for the very thing that we strived to avoid all those years ago – the removal of all Jews from the area. Don’t you appreciate how abhorrently racist that is? Indeed, directly against all left-wing principals we’ve ever held dear.’

Of course, when these ardent left-wingers are called out on this apparent racism, they often reply, ‘Oh, I’m not anti-Jewish at all, it’s just Zionists I’m against.’ But even this doesn’t stand up to even a basic litmus-morals test. It’s a bit like saying, ‘Those pesky Jews are bearable I suppose when they’re living in other nations – but for God’s sake don’t let them have a nation of their own.’ Or how would it be if the remark came (I often feel you get more clarity on an issue when viewed from the other side), ‘Oh, I’m not anti-Muslim at all, it’s just the Palestinians I’m against.’ And while no doubt the many Israeli infractions and wrongdoings would be raised in support of an anti-Zionist stance (and yes indeed, there have been many), as many infractions and wrongdoings could also be pointed at the Palestinians with the waves of suicide bombings, rockets, kidnapping tunnels and knife attacks.

Thankfully, many of the Muslim and Palestinian contacts and friends I have, don’t think this way at all, and indeed you’d be hard pushed to slide a playing card between my view and theirs – perhaps not surprising for a Labour-Herzog and peace-camp supporter (in the same way that regrettably today you might have trouble discerning between an arch-left and Islamist/jihadist view on the Middle East). So while I’m critical of Palestinian suicide bombing campaigns and rocket attacks, I’m equally condemning of many Likud-led actions by Israel: the heavy-handed military actions in Gaza, and the fact that they often stay mute – or in some cases support – expanded settlements in the West Bank, which I feel are an impediment to peace.

As for the seemingly endless ‘occupation’, most Israelis don’t wish to see it continue in any shape or form, but are stuck for a viable alternative. They’ve handed over as much of security in the West Bank to Fatah’s PA as is sensible, and Hamas are in complete control in Gaza. Further, if the Palestinians were offered independent statehood tomorrow, the majority wouldn’t wish it under the current leadership. They find Fatah largely corrupt and Hamas little better, an arch-Islamist group in the pocket of foreign proxy paymasters intent on continued conflict with Israel, with little care or regard for the Palestinian people caught in the middle.  

By the same token, I’m sure many of my Palestinian friends and contacts would also like to shake some sense into today’s left-wingers: ‘Don’t you realize that with your ‘Palestine-river-to-sea free’ chanting you’re simply igniting a harder-line protective policy within Israel, ensuring that Likud get voted in yet again and further bolstering them? Effectively pushing peace and a solution away another five to ten years. Ensuring that more protective walls, fences and check-points are built. And that with each rocket fired, suicide bombing or knife attack, very much the same is achieved?’ 

Of course, the situation is far more complex than that, but while the left-wing point to America’s support of Israel, they tend to overlook the tremendous support Palestinians also have, particularly in the Arab world. Abbas’s Fatah party receives support from many Arab nations, the EU and USA, whereas historically Hamas’s support has come from Syria, Iran, Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood in various Arab nations. And with the advent of Hamas losing Syrian and Iranian funding due to their support of rebels allied against Assad, the Muslim Brotherhood and Qatari funding has increased, and there is now talk also of Hamas links with ISIS.

The underlying issue with this funding is that a hundred percent of the Hamas funding (and a degree of the Fatah funding from Arab quarters) is provided on the understanding that it be used primarily to undermine and ultimately destroy the Jewish state rather than make peace with it. So in that regard the Pan-Arab battle against Israel of forty years ago has hardly changed – except that now it’s fought primarily on a proxy rather than open basis. So that on the surface the Palestinians appear isolated and vulnerable (so that they garner Western sympathies and support), yet in the background they are still fully supported.

The problem with this type of support is that it shows little regard for the actual plight of the Palestinian people. The undermining of Israel is put first and their own welfare second; in that regard, they are seen as mere pawns in a much grander Pan-Arab battle against Israel. So rockets, mortars and cement for incursion and kidnapping tunnels take precedence over schools, hospitals and trade parks – things which might actually improve the welfare of the Palestinians. Of course, there’s also an underlying motive in all of this – because you can hardly recruit the next band of ‘freedom fighters’ when things are stable and the economy quite good. Which is no doubt why a number of surrounding Arab nations have kept the Palestinians in refugee camps throughout, without integrating them into their societies. Do we in the UK still have Ugandan Asians in refugee camps forty years later? Do we intend to put the current influx of Syrians into refugee camps and keep them there? No. So why do we tolerate numerous Arab nations doing that with the Palestinians?

There is it appears a need to keep them ‘lean and mean’ so that all their ills can be blamed on Israel. And of course with the response to suicide bombings, rocket attacks and random knifings – with increased barriers and security and often heavy-handed and OTT reprisals – those ills and injustices come to the fore even more (especially by the time they’ve been put though the media-and-online propaganda mill), and the cycle continues.   

When it comes to the attitude of today’s left-wing liberals to Muslims at large, their fault-lines are even more acute. Yes, I fully understand their motives in defending a seemingly put-upon minority in Europe and the USA, as indeed Jews and Afro-Caribbean’s were similarly defended by the liberal left in those regions in years gone by. And, yes, Islamophobia is a problem in some quarters, particularly with the far-right and UK groups such as the EDL. But in the rush to defend that minority, left-wing liberals seem to have forgotten that many of these Muslim groups (and this is particularly true of Hamas or any ardent Islamic group) are intolerant of gay rights, equality for women, democratic rights and freedom of speech (particularly when it involves the Prophet Mohammed). All the core tenets that any self-respecting left-wing liberal holds dear. So in that respect they face a tremendous dichotomy, with one part of their aims directly at odds with all the others.

These are all, I might add, values that Israel embraces probably more than any other nation in the Middle East. Indeed, I recently posted a link to a New York Times article about the Palestinian Arab community in Haifa, where a more liberal lifestyle is enjoyed, embracing secularism, feminism and gay rights, as propounded by Palestinian café owner, Ayed Fadel: ‘We want a gay couple to go to the dance floor and kiss each other, and nobody to even look at them. This is the new Palestinian society we are aiming for.’ A lifestyle that no doubt would tick all the right boxes with left-wing liberals, yet that 1.7 million Palestinian-Arab community within Israel is so often ignored.

The issue of ‘minorities’ also becomes a moveable feast, as that tag changes with geography. In the UK, America and Europe, Muslims are still very much a minority – though entirely the opposite case in the Middle East. In that region, Christians, Jews, Druze, Yazidis and Baha’i’s are in the minority. So that ‘minority-status-vulnerability’ felt by a number of Muslims in the West is not too different to that experienced by these other minority groups in the Middle East. Indeed, with Jews numbering just sixteen million worldwide – versus two billion Muslims – they carry that ‘minority status’ in both the West and the Middle East. Something for left-wing liberals to consider while waving the banner for ‘minority groups’.

Of course, perceived prejudice against Muslim minorities in the West now has a label: Islamophobia. In some instances, I think this is openly practiced and is a real problem, especially amongst far right groups. But recently on a leading UK Muslim message board which carried a banner headline proclaiming their battle against ‘Islamophobia’, I couldn’t help noticing how many of their posters openly displayed Judenphobia, Zionophobia and Big-Bad-Westophobia. The irony appeared somewhat lost on them of complaining about prejudice against Muslims while openly practicing the same against so many other groups.  In fact, Mehdi Hussein, a prominent UK Muslim journalist – and not normally known for his pro-Jewish stance – chaired a debate last year which discussed antisemitism within Islam.

However, it’s not just with the left-wing that the lines have become muddied over the years. On a message board not long ago, an EDL member suggested that my defence of Israel on various fronts must surely mean that I was anti-Muslim? I quickly put him right that I was strongly anti-prejudice on all fronts, and indeed was deeply suspicious of the EDL’s motives and overall stance, since their forerunners of the National Front and Mosley-ites have by turn had Jews, Afro-Caribbean’s and Asians/Indians in their cross-hairs. All they’ve done is shift their ‘ethnic group to target’ over the years.

That left him as baffled as the Palestinian supporter involved in the same debate, so I felt I owed them both an explanation. I elaborated that while I was pro-Zionist (a hang-up of the 70s left-wing ‘brave-new-nation’ supporting, if you will), I was also very much pro-Palestine (cue more raised eyebrows of surprise on both sides). I went on to explain that if you believed in the rights of a people to have their own nation, then it was the only rightful and correct stance to take. Further, that favouring one people’s rights over another could be seen as somewhat prejudiced. I accepted that that’s how the conflict had come to be seen by many over the years – that being pro-Zionist automatically meant you were anti-Palestinian and vice-versa. But did that indeed need to be the case? That one had to be at the expense of the other? Surely if you took an independent-nation-rights stance, you could support both equally.

It might be that events have gone too far over the years for that sort of open-minded and even-handed stance to be adopted readily by some, but I do feel that’s at the heart of where left-wing liberals have gone wrong and strayed from their core values. That through time they’ve taken a stance purely from one side and one viewpoint, then cherry-picked information to back up that stance (some of it pre-packaged for them by propaganda groups), so in the end they appear more like a one-way-view football-supporting rabble, rather than the more balanced, open-minded intelligentsia they used to pride themselves on being.   

And, following that same ethos, perhaps a more open and even-handed view on other fronts: that if concerned about human rights abuses, these should be focused upon equally (not just when Israel are responsible). That if atrocities and civilian losses are the issue, these again should be given equal consideration (yet time and again we see losses where Israel or the Big-Bad-West are involved focused disproportionally upon, even though these are a fraction of the Muslim vs Muslim losses of the region). Same again for free speech and abrogation of rights of any group or nation. In other words, put the issues first, not the people or ethnic group involved.

Thankfully, there are many who do adopt a more open and even-handed stance. Polls show that 79% of Israelis and 68% of Palestinians support peace and a ‘green-line’ border solution. And indeed, before the current wave of knife attacks and reprisals which started last October (largely religious inspired), things in the West Bank were reasonably stable and good. Palestinian losses from security conflicts averaged only four a month for the past 5 years (about a quarter of the inter-person Palestinian murder rate), unemployment is less than in Spain, trade and welfare quite good, shops well-stocked and restaurants busy. Gaza is a different matter, and unity between West-Bank Fatah and Gaza-run Hamas is in fact part of the hold up with the $5 billion foreign aid for Gaza, which leading Palestinian human rights advocate, Bassem Eid, writes about here.

Indeed, Bassem Eid has for a long while been one of the main Palestinian voices of hope and unity coming out of the region. A leading human rights campaigner for thirty years, he has developed a strong reputation of pulling no punches and being openly critical of abuses on both sides – whether by Israelis or Palestinians. As a result, he has become respected by each side, and in some instances feared: his views are simply too honest and forthright for some. But one thing becomes clear, he’s one of the few strong voices to clearly have the welfare of the Palestinian people at heart, rather than simply be washed along with the flow of some nearby proxy-interest Arab nation (in these two articles he talks about the lack of clear Palestinian leadership as they put those proxy interests before the interests and welfare of the Palestinian people). In that regard, today’s left-wing liberals would serve themselves well by taking a leaf out of his book. And perhaps ask themselves the same hard and fast question: do they also wish to serve those same remote Arab-proxy interests, or those of the Palestinian people?

And if in turn I was asked the hard and fast question of whether I still considered myself left-wing, I’d answer that if it involved targeting one race, nation or ethnic group, then cherry-picking any and all facts to back up that stance – so that in essence I became no better than a mirror-image of a right-wing supporter targeting a similar ethnic group or religion on the reverse side of that coin – then count me out. But if it involved a return to grass-roots ethics of defending human rights, atrocities, discrimination and prejudice on an even-handed basis wherever they may occur – then count me back in.



<![CDATA[Death to the Cross!]]>Sun, 22 Nov 2015 14:37:06 GMThttp://booksand-ebooks.com/books-blog/death-to-the-crossPicture

Having started with a dramatic heading, I'm now going to come out with something equally as extreme – to a lot of anti-Muslims out there, at least.

Most Muslims are decent, hard-working people. Yet, where in my opinion they have gone wrong in the last decade or so is that some of them – those who also seem to grab the main headlines and the limelight – have increasingly associated themselves with the more extreme elements of Islam. Ban the Cross! Death to the Danish and French cartoonists! Death to the Pope! America the great Satan! Destroy Israel!...etc. And now with the recent atrocities in Paris, an attack at the very heart of all the West stands for in terms of freedom and culture.

So that now, with all that shouting at the forefront and constantly grabbing newspaper headlines, that's all that many British people and others in Europe and the USA see.

But let's take the clock back fifteen years, shall we, before this new wave of jihadism gained strength in Britain (and beyond) – and before indeed some Islamic adherents started to see their own religion as so superior, and the morals of western women so loose and inferior in comparison, that grooming our young teen girls seemed a good idea.

The majority of Muslims in this country are from Pakistan, and they moulded well into the nation, worked hard, were very enterprising, opening corner shops and stores all over. Indeed, at that stage, the most common voice heard about them (and in part because some of the West Indian population were responsible for more muggings, and perhaps weren't so hard-working and enterprising in opening their own shops, etc)... was why can't the West-Indians here be a bit more like the Asians - in other words, just get their heads down and work a bit harder without getting involved in crime. Or, as the British like to put it, 'keep their noses a bit cleaner' or 'fit in more'. And hopefully I can say this without fear of a back-lash, not only because it's true, but because my wife is partly Afro-Caribbean, and over the years that community has also seen their fair share of prejudice here, from the BNP and similar.

Then comes this new jihadist wave, and everything changes. But I would argue that in fact things have not changed - still 97% of Muslims here are hard-working, 'keeping their noses clean', non-extremists. But the problem is that these extremists are grabbing all the headlines and as a result soiling the reputation of the rest - their own people, I might add.

But there is a perfect prior example of this - the Jews. Yes, that favourite kicking-horse and long-term sworn enemy of all extreme Muslims - the Jews. And I will tell you why.

When they first came to this country in their numbers in the 1920s, 30s and 40s, they opened up exactly the same type of businesses as the Pakistanis and Indians did years later: textile sweat shops in the East End of London - Brick Lane indeed was a predominantly Jewish community right up until the 1960s – and corner shops wherever they could. Similarly, they were hard-working and kept their noses clean. And similarly, for many years they were subject in this country to exactly the same sort of racism that Pakistanis and Indians were in later years.

They always say that when you have a problem with a particular race, try to look more to what you have in common than what divides you. And so I would say this to Muslims here: you in fact have far more in common with the Jews of this country than probably any other race here, for the simple reason that you have both shared very similar immigrant experiences, albeit years apart.

But then comes the divide, and it has come about most sharply with the rising jihad mentality of this past decade. Yes, apart from the most obvious deplorable acts of 7/7, 9/11 in the USA, the Madrid train bombing and now the mass killings in Paris - in the interim we've also had the Danish cartoons, the Pope, various film makers and Charlie Hebdo. But let us return for a second to the Cross in the heading.

The Jews too have their own extreme religious element. They're called Hassidic Jews and you can see them shuffling around in long black garments and with long beards in Hatton Garden and Golders Green. But have any of these men got out on the street preaching hate towards the West – or indeed perhaps towards Arab factions against Israel – No! Do any of them, or indeed any Rabbis preach hate from the pulpit here against their fellow countrymen or other Arabs?... No!

And now let's get to the Cross: the Christian Cross too is a symbol that many a Jew could choose to rail against. After all, it was Christ's death on the Cross, and blame attached to Jews – even though it was Rome who were responsible for that crucifixion, as with thousands of other Jews - that for two thousand years has seen them systematically killed and persecuted. And the last, I might remind the Muslim community here and beyond, was just 75 years ago in Germany – not some 900 years ago with the Crusades.

But do you ever hear of a Jew complaining about the Cross symbol as being offensive, or asking for its removal from places they might visit? No!

So, my Muslim friends, if you want to know how to act in this country so as not to get a rising surge of public opinion against you – then, as much is it might be a tough pill to swallow, take a leaf from the Jews who preceded you here – because they did know how to act here.

And to any others out there who wave the flag for that same jihadist mentality or terrorists – by doing so, you are in turn waving an anti-flag for your own people and letting them down; by tarring them with that same jihadist brush (and so inflaming more public opinion against them), when indeed I still maintain most Muslims in this country, 97%, are decent, hard-working people who have little interest in this jihad- mentality which is increasingly denigrating their good names.

So, to all jihadists, I say - stop it! It's a shot in the foot against your own people, whose good name you are harming and dragging down.

<![CDATA[Charlie Hebdo. A unified rally for free speech, but the growth of social media has seen a decline in balanced, even-handed commentary and journalism. ]]>Fri, 16 Jan 2015 13:41:15 GMThttp://booksand-ebooks.com/books-blog/charlie-hebdo-a-unified-rally-for-free-speech-but-the-growth-of-social-media-has-seen-a-decline-in-balanced-even-handed-commentary-and-journalismPicture
Is Russell Brand responsible for the Charlie Hebdo massacre? Of course not. Any more than Muslims at large should have felt responsible, which was the absurd comment made by Rupert Murdoch and duly lambasted by others in the media, with even J.K. Rowling finally joining the twitter fray. Nor indeed should Jews or the West at large have felt remotely to blame, by virtue of some obscure knee-jerk retaliation agenda over Iraq and Gaza. Though given the regularity that this is trotted out by the likes of Anjem Choudary, fellow Islamists and arch liberals as being at the core of most jihadist atrocities aimed at the West, perhaps not so obscure. 

Of course, to keep all these far-left absurdities in check, you can always rely on the equally absurd Fox News, who halfway through their phobic 'Muslims under every bed' style reporting (presumably to replace the 'Reds' now that Russia has embraced capitalism) had a counter-terrorism 'expert' claim that the entire population of Birmingham was Muslim. And as the absurdities reached fever pitch, I suppose it was only a matter of time before Russell Brand joined the fray with his own inane comment, claiming that Muslims in general were no more responsible for the actions of the Charlie Hebdo killers than Christians were responsible for the actions of Bush and Blair. 

Again, of course not. But unfortunately by drawing that comparison, Brand appears to be buying into the jihadist auto-response that one action (the war in Iraq) leads to or indeed justifies the other. And that is very dangerous ground indeed, because then by extension it can be seen as condoning such retaliations. And if we then include Gaza in that same 'extended blame' melting pot, we can more readily understand why terrorist number 3, when he'd run out of religious cartoonists to target, entered a Jewish supermarket to take hostages, and why Jews in Paris have felt increasingly unsafe this past year.

Of course, blaming Jews or the West at large for atrocities against Muslims is pure folly, since as J.K. Rowling correctly pointed out in her tweet to Murdoch, Muslims themselves are responsible for killing eight times more of their fellow Muslims than the West. In Israel's case that fraction is even smaller. In the last few years in Syria alone three times as many Muslims have been killed than in all conflicts with Israel since 1948, including two major wars, without considering the Sudan, the Iran-Iraq war, Lebanon and Libya. So if today's budding jihadist was to select targets based on culpability for the majority of Muslim deaths, why aren't they targeting hilal rather than kosher stores?

A somewhat simplistic derivation, but no more simplistic than the causes behind this selectively skewed blame-laying, which seems to have much of its roots in today's increasing sound-bite culture. Highly complex conflicts are quickly stripped to the bone so that the reader doesn't have to waste time deciding which faction is deserving of their recrimination or loathing, with all the necessary damning sound-bites pre-packaged (in case they might, God forbid, just want to be given the facts and make up their own minds) – killing innocent civilians/children, stealing land/oil, war crimes, occupation - so that when repeated they fit neatly into twitter or message board comments.

Both Iraq and Israel-Palestine are highly complex conflicts with many factors and counterbalances, yet time and again we see them boiled down into these simplistic and often demonizing sound-bites. Now let's get this straight from the start, I was no fan of the Iraq war, felt it was reckless and foolhardy; the weapons inspectors should have been left to do their job, and even taking on board the second stage aim of ridding Iraq of a brutal dictator, Saddam Hussein, and providing them with a more benign democracy was totally short-sighted: democracy was never going to be adopted either kindly or easily by a Sunni minority of 30% who'd been running the nation the past forty years. Unfortunately, the nation's entire political and security structure of army and police also rested with them, so when it was dismantled and attempts made to replace it with a more Shia based structure, chaos prevailed and the two sides have been fighting over the resulting power vacuum ever since, with coalition forces struggling to bring calm to this chaos and get things back on track towards the originally intended stable democracy. Both the Russians and French, both with more experience of the region, warned this would happen, but the coalition didn't listen.

So all of this I hold against the coalition over Iraq, but that's a far stretch from claiming that they purposely went into the country with the aims of warmongering and killing innocent Muslims – yet that is the simplistic sound-bite often levelled at them. In fact the vast majority of Iraqis, some 80-85%, have been killed as a result of the aforementioned Sunni-Shia infighting, the very thing which has constantly thwarted Bush and Blair's 'imposed democracy' intentions. Indeed, if we cast our minds back to the early days of the invasion, there was a 'quiet after the (shock and awe) storm' period in which we saw Iraqis rejoicing to be rid of Saddam and his brutal regime, and there was much hope in that brief period of better things to come; then unfortunately the insurgency started and the clouds darkened again. 

The most that could therefore be laid at Bush and Blair's door is that they were shortsighted and irresponsible in launching a campaign that might lead to this chaos and bloodshed – but purposeful warmongers intent on attacking innocent Muslim civilians? No. Yet this is the sound-bite which has been bandied about, to such a degree that now Russell Brand finds it perfectly OK to compare them to the Charlie Hebdo killers in drawing parallels between Christian and Muslim culpability at large. Further, he doesn't feel he even needs to offer any explanation, that sound-bite of Bush and Blair 'the warmongers and killers of innocent Muslims' has been spun round the globe so many times by Islamists and left-wing sympathizers on social media that now it's accepted. A given. 

The same is true with Israel, with simplistic and often misleading and false sound-bites abounding: 'They stole our land', which strives to ignore the 1948 partition or the fact that Jews were actively buying land in Palestine from the 1920s and that now most moderate Palestinians (and Israelis) accept a 'green line' solution. 'Apartheid', when this term is usually used to delineate internal divides and inequality, yet there is no such divide for Israel's 1.6 million mostly Muslim Arabs, 21% of the population – three times the proportion in France – where they enjoy equal Israeli privileges, including joining the police, judiciary and Knesset. And where there are divides and barriers from Palestinian territory, these are purely to deter suicide attacks, in the first 5 years of the new millennium as many as three a month; before this the barriers did not exist. 'Occupation', when there hasn't been a regular Israeli military presence in Gaza for over ten years and the Palestinian Authority have policed the West Bank for the same period (the IDF presence there is minimal and primarily at security checkpoints).

And finally 'Purposely targeting and killing our children.' For a whole week during the last Gaza assault, political editor of the Huffington Post, Mehdi Hasan, ran articles claiming that the rising death toll comprised 'mainly children'. When the final UN stats came in, that figure was 25% of the total (under 18s). Still high, but a far cry from 'mainly', and considering that Gaza's under 18 population is 48%, this tended to support Israel's claim that they were 'exercising caution'. If they had been firing indiscriminately, let alone the ridiculous claim of 'purposely targeting', it would have been far closer to that 48%. And while it is true that 'mostly civilians' were killed, final stats showed that the militant/civilian ratio was something like 1 to 2.8, whereas in similar guerilla style wars where fighters are merged with the civilian population, such as Bosnia and Iraq, UN and coalition forces have only managed ratios of 1 to 4; so again this tended to lean towards some due caution.

That means no less condemnation over Gaza. That is inherent in the disproportion of Palestinian to Israeli lives lost, however besieged and nerve-frazzled Israelis might have felt after years of rocket attacks. Certainly 'disproportion of attack' will be at the heart of Abbass's upcoming complaint to the ICC; he won't be presenting wildly overcooked claims that Israel purposely targets Palestinian civilians and children.

So why do these simplistic and often false sound-bites abound? I think the main reason is that in today's increasing sound-bite leaning culture, these serve those who wish to take a stance one side or the other on a conflict particularly well. They can read a couple of short, sharp demonizing sound-bites which will make up their minds which side to support and allow them to start waving the flag and beating the drum for that side – often by repeating those same demonizing sound-bites – without having to read the full background of that conflict or attempt to take a balanced stance by taking into account both sides. Certainly, if you said to any budding jihadist, 'now sit down and read fully about this conflict, taking into account both sides, then when you're happy go and shoot those cartoonists and lay siege to a Jewish supermarket' – no action would ever take place. No jihadist in their right mind (if that's not a contradiction in terms) would ever take lives, let alone risk their own, on the basis of such muddied, unclear arguments with so many counter-balancing factors. For them those 'battle cry' sound-bites are desperately needed – 'they're insulting our prophet, killing our children' – to spur them into any sort of action. 

I recall a while ago commenting that the far left and extreme supporters were responsible for as many lives lost as any other party. Why? Because with these simplistic demonizing sound-bites constantly repeated – and the growth of social media to reach billions has helped fuel that – extremists feel duly emboldened by the righteousness of their cause and the grievances against them and are spurred into action once again, with then more rockets fired and tunnels built, which inevitably after a few years brings a response with more lives lost and more recrimination, and the whole cycle continues again.  

With the aforementioned growth of social media and the fact that now anyone can have a voice and vent an opinion, that was perhaps inevitable. But it is still disturbing to view the sheer volume of people who ardently take one side or the other over a conflict without troubling to study the facts on both sides; there is so often a side-taking nature to it, akin to the 'for-life' adherence usually reserved for football supporters. 

But we should expect better from journalists and those in the public eye such as Russell Brand and Mehdi Hasan, to give us a more balanced and even-sided view of any conflict, then let us make up our own minds. Not merely repeat the same trite, one-sided, force-feeding sound-bites we can read from any idiot on a message board. After all, that's what they're paid for – or at least that used to be the case when more balanced journalism held sway and journalists were trained to present the full facts of any situation, devoid of simplistic and often demonizing sound-bites to prod readers in one direction or the other. 

This week we saw free speech come under threat, and the response to that was indeed heartwarming, with over 3 million taking to the streets. But it seems to me that more balanced and even-handed journalism has come under threat these past few years, but in such a slow-drip manner – without the radical event of gunmen storming a magazine office – that perhaps we haven't even noticed. 

<![CDATA[Thoughts on the Middle East]]>Sat, 04 Oct 2014 17:45:46 GMThttp://booksand-ebooks.com/books-blog/thoughts-on-the-middle-eastPicture
Below is a collection of comments on the Middle East compiled mostly in the wake of recent events in Israel, Gaza and Syria.

Each comment has its own sub-heading.


Proportionality of Middle East Conflict reporting

(when events in Gaza rather than Syria dominated the news)

I think when you have 30,000 press lines a day devoted to a conflict that's cost 2,000 lives and far less on one that's cost 180,000 lives to date, then issues of 'proportionality' then arise. I don't think it's a matter of people caring more about one than the other, it's simply that the press lineage (and the demos) might give the impression that the Palestinian situation is more important than Syria.

As for us expecting better from partners we arm, well we supply arms to Qatar and Saudi, and they in turn have been one of the funders of extreme terrorist groups in the ME, including Hamas and ISIS. In fact, the next world cup will be in Qatar. So equally we should expect better of them and demonstrate against their terrorist funding.

But one of the most perplexing things about the long history of this conflict is the way in which other territorial displacement in the area has been studiously ignored. Something like 700,000- 800,000 Palestinians were displaced in 1948, and of course a similar number of Jews were displaced from surrounding Arab nations about the same time. Which is an issue rarely ever raised, except by Israeli Jews themselves when the issue of Palestinian right of return arises.

But the fact is enormous tracts of land changed hands between the fall of the Ottoman empire in the 1920s and 1948 when Israel was formed, with far larger displacements of people. The borders and populous of many nations in the ME changed in that period, but none more than Saudi Arabia. Most notably most of the Hashemites were displaced and from then on lived in an expanded Jordan (with resultant displacement of some of the populous there). This was particularly significant because that had originally been designated as future Palestinian land and the Hashemites had for 700 years lived in and controlled the region surrounding Mecca.

Ibn Saud, the Saudi leader, went on to double the size of Saudi in this period, a nation some 100 times the size of Israel. The numbers displaced through all this was almost 2 million, many times that of the Palestinian displacement, but nary a mention today, and certainly not in the Arab world.

That then raises the question that at heart this is a racial-religious issue, which is what Israel has been saying all along; that if other Arab nations and fellow Muslims had caused that displacement - as with the Hashemites in Mecca - rather than Jews, there would be little or no mention of it now, and resultantly no conflict. Certainly the Hashemite expulsion from Mecca gets no mention today.    

Contrasting claims

I've covered this conflict now for thirty years on and off, starting with the days of the Lebanese civil war in the 80s. The truth with these claims on each side usually resides somewhere in the middle.  What has to be appreciated is that Hamas control every bit of media coming out of Gaza. File a report that isn't anything more than 80-90% supportive and you won't get let back in to report again. A case in point is the Italian journalist who reported about Hamas using human shields, and he received death threats. Also in recent media reporting we have Mehdi Hassan of the Huffington Post reporting incorrectly for a week that 'mainly children' had been killed in Gaza. When the final stats came out, they reported that nearly 1900 had been killed, of which 385 were children (under 18). Now leaving aside the fact that Hamas use people as young as fourteen, this total is 19%, a far stretch from 'mainly'.

Also there was an earlier report that said the children represented 30% of civilians killed at a time when 298 children was the tally and the overall total 1,650. This would mean that 985 civilians had been killed, leaving militants/fighters as the remaining 665. This is taken not only from the main media and UN reports, but those of Al-Jazeera.  

Now Israel were saying all along that they were exercising caution re civilian casualties. Taking the media slanted reports of 'mainly' children and cherry picking the UN and hospital site hits, this would seem hard to believe. But taking the cold, hard stats, they tend to support this claim. After all, the under 18 population of Gaza is 46%, very high, and if they'd only struck 19% of them, then go figure...  if they were striking indiscriminately, as has often been claimed, they would hit nearer that 46%. Also the civilian/militant hit ratio is far better than the coalition has ever reached in Afghanistan or Iraq. Are we to dub them purposeful civilian and child murderers too? 

Hamas and Likud charters compared

It's true that Likud's charter is also extreme, but the devil is in the detail of the wording. Hamas do not recognize in their charter not only the Jewish state, but any form of co-existence. IOW, they see the entire region as a Palestinian-Muslim region with every Jew gone - however unrealistic this aim might be.

The Likud charter likewise doesn't recognize Palestine as a 'state', but does clearly state the right of the Palestinian people to self-rule in peace alongside Israel. The difference in wording is significant, because Likud would be quite happy to allow every Palestinian to live in peace alongside Israel with that self-rule and determination. The 'statehood' is feared by Likud simply because that would then entail Palestine having its own air force and navy and the worry as to where that sea and air power might be aimed (after all, where have the home-made rockets so far ben aimed?). Netty has in fact talked not long ago about accepting a Palestinian state, as long as it doesn't include said sea and air power - but this isn't far different to the self-rule in their charter.

The bottom line of all this fine tune wording? Is Hamas happy to have Israel alongside it as a state, or even the Jewish people in any form of self-rule status - NO. Neither are acceptable to Hamas. Is Likud happy to have Palestine and its people alongside it? Yes, in self-rule form (as long as they don't constantly fire rockets), but not as a sovereign state with incumbent military might. 

Land claims

The claim of only 6% Jewish land ownership in 1948 is inaccurate at best, totally dishonest at worst. Actual ownership of land was quite low on both sides because most of the Arab-Palestinians living there were tenants to their previous Turkish absentee landlords and their agents and this practice continued up until 1925. Very few Palestinians actually owned their farms or houses.  The main plank of dishonesty in representing these figures is that 70% of the land in question was actually government owned, comprising all the arid land,  many public and non-fertile areas and some farmland. This 70% was previously owned by the Ottoman government then passed to the British for the their mandate of the area.

So if we then follow the exact percentages of the UN partition plan in 1948, about 36% of it would have been ceded to Israeli Jews and 34% to Palestinian Arabs. Of the remaining 30% in private ownership, something like 9% had been purchased by Jews over the years up until 1948, 3% by Arabs who subsequently became Israeli (Druze, Christian Arabs and, yes, many Muslims - 20% of Israel is Arab, 82% of which are Muslim). The remaining 18% were non-Israeli Arabs; however, how many of that 18% were purely Palestinians residing in Palestine and how many were still landlords and owners from neighbouring Arab lands is not specified. 

Regardless, this is a long way from the picture painted of 94% Palestinian ownership and only 6% Jewish prior to 1948. But if you look at the mainly Palestinian-created documents, they very craftily say 'Palestinian and other ownership'... and neglect to mention that most of that was government held land; first Ottoman, then British; then to be ceded equally between Palestine and Israel at point of partition.  

How would it be if Jewish created documents and files were headed 'Jewish and "other" ownership', and listed the Palestinian ownership at only 18%? Or even less if the issue of absentee Arab ownership was taken into account.  This is essentially dishonest, and it surprises me that so many today simply accept this falsehood as a 'given' without troubling to look deeper into the facts. Here below is a pdf, rather long I'm afraid, that attempts to break the figures down and give a history of land purchase in the area. 


David and Goliath

I actually covered this conflict in another arena - the civil war in the Lebanon - when I was only 26 years old. I had been to Israel three times before that, the first time in the early 70s. At that time it was still viewed as a brave new nation and a popular activity of British students then was to spend summers on a kibbutz.

At that stage it had not long recovered from fending off various hostile Arab neighbours, so it was very much seen as the David and their neighbours as the Goliaths. Then came the waves of suicide bombings, the wall was built, Israeli defence became mightier, and as the Palestinians became increasingly isolated they became the Davids in this battle - and of course British students these days are more likely to protest in front of the London Israeli embassy.

So the main constant here appears to be that British trait of having a soft spot for the underdogs in any situation. 35-40 years ago it was seen as Israel, a small and brave new nation surrounded by numerous hostile Arab neighbours, now it's the Palestinians. 

A different approach to long-term peace

The entire framework of land exchanged for peace was laid down at Camp David and Taba, and indeed I'm an avid supporter of 'green line' adherence. But the intifadas then muddied the waters, and the key problem now is that the more aggressive groups like Hamas appear to be, the more Israel argues to hang on to those occupied areas over the green line as some sort of 'buffer' zones. 

I also think the settlers are an enormous fly in the ointment. I actually drafted some elements towards a peace plan a while back (I used to be editor for European Brief, the main magazine for the European Parliament, and have been involved in ME debates and editorials many times over the years, which helped guide the cornerstones of this plan).

In essence this plan would allow the settlers to stay, but as long as double that number of Palestinians were allowed right of return on a residency basis. Both parties would continue to vote for their national elections (Palestinians for Palestinian elections and Israeli settlers for Israeli), but their vote would count in the local elections of where they lived. This then would bypass the problem Israel has of allowing right of return because it might sway voting in the Knesset towards a Hamas style govt. But in essence a Palestinian's main interests should be in their nation's ruling party in Palestine and likewise an Israeli's in Israel. Neither side should have interest in trying to influence the other's ruling govt.  

There would be accompanying enormous aid package to provide decent housing for the Palestinians, and this should also spread to comparable decent housing in the Lebanon, etc., should they decide to stay in those regions. IOW, no refugee camps and decent housing replacing all, with the Palestinians having the choice of where to live. Either where they were now or return to regions of Israel. That settler land would then also become Palestinian territory, and their paying in to the Palestinian economy rather than Israel would further aid the Palestinian situation. After all, the insistence that every Jew/Israeli should be expelled to the Israeli side before peace can be agreed is as apartheid as the suggestion the other way that every Palestinian shall remain their side. This solution also therefore offers a far faster route to peace. 


The term 'Palestinian' does have historical connotations, but not in the way it's used now. Indeed that term was used as much by the Jews of the region in the 1920s as it was by the Arab population. But when the post Balfour partition plans were initially set in place, the region that's now the West Bank was called Transjordan and the people there considered themselves Jordanian, and the area that's now Gaza was part of Egypt and the people there considered themselves Egyptian. Yasser Arafat was in fact Egyptian rather than Palestinian per se.

Then came the 1948 partition plan from the UN, but none of the surrounding Arab nations were willing to accept it, so they attacked Israel. If they had won, then Israel would have ceased to exist unless the UN had been prepared to go in and enforce their separation plan (which appeared unlikely). A Palestinian friend and contact who now works in the New York office monitoring Jewish settler activity explained that one of the key reasons the surrounding Arab armies lost was lack of coordination.

'The main fear then was Hashemite expansion from Jordan, so the Egyptian army tried to advance forward as fast and soon as possible. It was never considered that Israel would actually win because their army then was too small, so the thought was that wherever the armies ended up, that would be the dividing line for future territories.'

He went on to say that he didn't think those surrounding nations would have ever formed an independent Palestine from that territory, it would simply have been expanded Egyptian, Jordanian and Syrian territory. A telling factor in that regard is the West Bank territory held by Jordan after 1948, including Jerusalem.There was never an attempt to make an independent Palestine in that time. It was simply held as extra Jordanian territory.'

There was then the war of 1967 in which the surrounding Arab armies tried again, and it was only after this that the term 'Palestinian' was coined, because at this stage they'd finally given up on turning it into extra Jordanian, Egyptian and Syrian territory. Jordan then not long after ceded that West Bank territory 'in absencia' to the Palestinians. Then why not before, when they actually had hold of that territory?

There is much about this conflict that UK Muslims and many of today's UK student populous are simply not aware of. When it gets to the stage that their views are more extreme than informed Palestinians like my friend, it becomes very worrying indeed.  

The recent incursion in Gaza

As for the rockets, they have continually fired over Sderot and Southern Israel since 2005, so 9 years now. This has been at a rate of about 30-60 a month, but at times of escalated conflict they increase. At the time of the teenagers being kidnapped and retaliations, they increased to 50-100 a day.

But I believe the main reason for the incursion was Israeli's growing panic over the tunnels and fear of increased attacks and kidnappings. In fact Shin Bet uncovered a plot by which the tunnels would be used to send in hundreds of fighters for an attack similar to the Pakistan jihad attacks we saw in Mumbai years ago. This is apparently what sent Israel into panic mode, otherwise I think they'd have kept up enduring the rockets - after all they'd done just that for the past 5 years. Or answer them simply with low fly-by fighter jet passes without attack, as they used to do years ago.

As for Hamas's need to exist, there has been perfectly good 'resistance' in the form of Abbas and Fatah for many years now which has seen the West Bank prosper. If Hamas had taken a leaf out of that book and built schools, hospitals and light industry parks instead of tunnels to attack Israel, they too would have benefited. There is the offer in fact of $50 billion in aid if Hamas will relinquish violence and try and co-exist with Israel, But thus far they have refused because they see their own end game of ridding the area of every single Jew as far more important than the lives and welfare of fellow Palestinians. It's a bit like asking ISIS to relinquish violence and recognize other religions; it isn't going to happen.

Some interesting comment about Hamas's overall aims here from no less than the son of a Hamas founder. It unfortunately carries worrying similarities to ISIS.


Aid monitoring

After the last incursion in Gaza 5 years ago, many millions of dollars in aid was sent to Gaza. But unfortunately we see that much of that was spent on terror tunnels and rockets rather than helping the local population. And without doubt if it wasn't for those rockets and terror tunnels the current attack wouldn't have happened and no Palestinian lives would have been lost.

So this time perhaps the international community should lay strict conditions on that aid that not a penny be spent on terrorist aims, because to do so further endangers the Palestinian people.  

Ghandi comments

The full text of Ghandi's speech in fact gives a far more balanced view than him being one way or the other over Israel-Palestine. In one part he says his sympathies are overall with the Jews, though he feels the way it has been gone about has been wrong. I think in a way he's as much complaining about British intervention and the way they carved out territories in that period (as they had India) as anything else.

However, if we were then to denounce the partition and acquisition of land to suit a particular race or religion (particularly apt in light of Ghandi's comments), then we would have to denounce the formation of Pakistan, in very much the same period, 1947-1948, as Israel's partition and formation. Tellingly, some 2 million lost their lives in that partition, many of them Indian. Something like 40 million Indians were displaced or lost their homes. Though to this day they are avowed enemies, do we hear cries of Pakistanis being land grabbers, illegal occupiers or Nazis? No. Full link to Ghandi speech here:


<![CDATA[Past Imperfect and Leon Brittan]]>Fri, 11 Jul 2014 17:02:19 GMThttp://booksand-ebooks.com/books-blog/past-imperfect-and-leon-brittan I thought I should clear matters up by issuing this disclaimer right at the outset: 'No, the character of French MEP Alain Duclos in Past Imperfect is not based on British MEP, Leon Brittan, either loosely or otherwise.' But why would it be necessary for me to offer such a disclaimer, you may well ask? To explain this would require going back to the late 90s when I started writing 'Past Imperfect'. At that time I was working as an editor at European Brief, the main magazine for the European Parliament. Now, yes, like many others working in political circles I had heard certain rumours, but to outright state that the central baddie in Past Imperfect, Alain Duclos  - a young Public Prosecutor who later goes on to become a prominent politician and MEP - is based on one political character or another would be errant and foolhardy of me.
 Possibly it's the MEP connection, possibly it's Duclos' long and sordid history with the molestation of young boys - but I didn't appreciate how strongly that link had evolved in the minds of many (particularly journalists and those in political circles) until I was involved in initial publicity for the book and was speaking to a Sunday Times journalist. 'Mmmm, sounds to me like this Duclos character has been inspired by Leon Brittan,' he said. 'I couldn't possibly comment,' I responded in coy Francis Urquhart mode, then followed up with a more forthright denial. Still it wasn't sufficient to stop speculation because later that day another more senior editor phoned me back: 'I hear you're the chap who has just written an expose book on politician Leon Brittan.' I was quick to assure that I wasn't and that in fact Past Imperfect was pure fiction, slipping quickly into the standard denial, 'and any resemblance to characters either living or dead is purely coincidental.'
 He didn't sound wholly convinced. 'Shame,' he mused. 'We've sent out three investigative journalists at different times and still haven't managed to nail that bastard.' These conversations took place in the late 90s. Since then, Past Imperfect went on to become a bestseller, and little was heard about the Leon Brittan connection until just recently, when I received another call from a past fellow journalist. 'Looks like they've finally caught up with Leon Brittan - he's all over the news.' I switched on the TV. The story was on every channel, and covered the tabloids the next morning. In particular what struck me was the central allegation that an MP had passed  Leon Brittan a dossier naming 105 people as part of a suspected paedophile ring, and said file then mysteriously disappeared.
 Now rumour is one thing and fact is another, and I have never been foolish enough to confuse the two. But what struck me immediately with this story is that if I, a humble political editor back in the 90s, had heard these rumours, and that indeed they were rife in political and journalistic circles - then certainly a Westminster MP would have also heard them. Even Private Eye a while back had a front page satirical stab at Leon Brittan responding to a Downing Street policeman's request to 'accompany him': 'No, you're far too old for me.' So what on earth was this MP doing handing over a file to a person central to these rumours? It makes no sense. And now we hear that those files mysteriously disappeared, which indeed does make far more sense (if the rumours are to be believed).    
 But again I reiterate: 'Past Imperfect is totally fictional with the aim solely of entertaining.' Though no less entertaining than the circus of obfuscation and trite political denials which will no doubt arise as this latest drama unfolds.  ]]>
<![CDATA[Twelve Days of Christmas]]>Thu, 26 Dec 2013 14:32:06 GMThttp://booksand-ebooks.com/books-blog/twelve-days-of-christmasPicture
I was asked by the good people at Exhibit A to prepare a suitable blog post comment for their Twelve Days of Christmas site.

Having prepared it, I saw on the TV last night the hilarious 'reverse play' version of a Christmas Carol on Blackadder; whereby he's generous to begin with, then has a worldly (and drunk!) messenger in the shape of Robbie Coltrane come and visit him and show him that if he didn't wise up and become a
bit sharper, he'd be left with nothing for Christmases in the future. Hilarious, but in Victorian times we're reminded that it was one of the first main learning curves of social injustice, so I felt it was both apt for the time of year and the series of period thrillers I was now writing.

Here's the blog in in its original form, along with a link for you to be able to grab your Christmas Coupons: Exhibit A blog

Reviews and links for Letters From a Murderer here


We’re often reminded that one of the key elements of Christmas is that it’s a season of goodwill and good cheer to all our fellow men. The season not just to be merry but kind in spirit too; and by that I don’t mean an extra case of beer or whisky, but acts of kindness of the soul.

In writing an historical thriller series, one ‘spirit’ I felt close by my shoulder throughout was indeed Charles Dickens. Not only as one of the leading Victorian authors, but also because he was one of my heroes; and not solely due to his writing ability. If that was the case, then John Fowles or Dennis Lehane would have been higher on the ‘hero’ list. It was because through his writing, Dickens was such a champion of social justice.

He made Victorian society more aware of the plight of child chimney sweeps and child labour in general; of work houses, debtor’s prisons and the terrible inadequacies and injustices that took place in orphanages at the time. Much of this indeed was written from Dickens’ personal experiences; he had himself spent some time in an orphanage and his father had been in a debtor’s prison for a spell. Whether through his writing or it coinciding with an uplift in Victorian ‘social conscience’, in the late 1800s the number of charities for the poor increased ten-fold.

Showing by example the same shades of social injustice of this era helped me greatly in writing ‘Letters from a Murderer’. I felt that many previous books featuring ‘Ripper’ victims had not shown them in a particularly kind light. Little or no empathy was developed for them; often the main focus was on the gore and brutality of the murders, almost as if having chosen to be street prostitutes they had automatically exposed themselves to such risk.

Through Ellie Cullen and her commune I wanted to bring home to readers that often for women of that era there was little choice; it was either work the streets or let your kids starve. Once that more noble cause has been identified, reader empathy for Ellie and her commune starts to grow, and Jameson and Argenti too have ‘soft spots’ for those less fortunate or might have fallen from grace. Jameson’s own mother was committed to London’s Bedlam and Argenti’s sister had been a showgirl and prostitute.

Of course, the prospect of kids ailing or starving was something Dickens played on heavily in Oliver Twist, but perhaps none more so than with ‘Tiny Tim’ in a Christmas Carol. Here in Dickens’ perennial Christmas favourite, he stabbed readers’ hearts with a spit-roast stave at the prospect of this poor crippled boy facing yet another lean Christmas. And as Scrooge gets a view of that through his ‘Ghost of Christmases Past’ visions, his conscience too is stabbed to (for once in his miserable life) do the right thing.

With the gift of that same ‘Scrooge-like’ hindsight, and knowing as we do how Victorian attitudes changed through that era, it makes me wonder whether indeed Dickens used Scrooge as representative of that changing mode of Victorian thought regarding social injustice. Or is that just me, as a writer, trying to tie up all the loose ends and add due perspective as once again we approach the season of goodwill.

<![CDATA[Gun Control: Ten point plan.]]>Sun, 06 Jan 2013 12:31:45 GMThttp://booksand-ebooks.com/books-blog/gun-control-ten-point-planPicture
In the course of writing The Second Amendment, an alternative proposal for Gun Control started to take shape. After all, I felt there would be little point in having such a controversial issue in the spotlight without any possible solution also on the table.

After contact with several gun control groups, six months ago it was suggested that I try and shape that proposal into something which could be put before Congress. Further research and contact with interested parties has added some enhancement, but the core proposal remains unchanged.

In the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, the call for something to finally be done has of course increased. I personally have been involved in signing two petitions to the White House, one of which already has over 500,000 signatures (far more than the 100,000 asking for Piers Morgan's deportation, I might add :)  Again I was asked to finalize my own proposal for Congress, to serve either as a rider or follow-up to these petitions.

Anyone who knows the background to the writing of The Second Amendment and my lobbying efforts and comments since, will also know that part of this proposal is based on Swizerland's 'at home' private militia.  It is indeed ironic that the NRA has ofted cited Switzerland as an ideal example of a nation with a high gun ratio yet a low gun crime rate, as if to support that there is no correlation between the two.

However, Switzerland's guns are strictly controlled along the lines set out below and their model is in fact far closer to the original ethos of the 2nd Amendment than the current free-for-all in the USA.  It's also worth noting that the following proposal falls in line with recent US Supreme Court rulings that the 'right' of US citizens to bear arms may also be for personal protection and security, not just for national militia/security reasons.

Ten-point plan:
1. Every US home to have a gun (with current 'clearance' procedures observed). In most cases this would be a hand gun (range of choice of .38, 9mm and .45 caliber). Some may opt to have a single-shot rifle instead.

2. All weapons to be kept at home in a pin-number controlled lock-box. Those anti-gun who do not wish to have a gun at home may opt to have their weapon held in store by an elected neighbourhood-watch warden (store also pin-control locked).

3. No guns under any circumstances to be carried in the open on the streets. Current 'conceal carry' laws in certain States to be revoked. The only exception would be some hunting, farming and 'open range' areas.

4. Strict induction and training in use of the weapons, along with signed agreement as to their use: only for national security, should the nation come under threat, or for personal protection of life, limb or property.

5. If the pin-controlled boxes are opened, an alarm sounds with local police and with local wardens. This then would have the effect of calling assistance in the case of threat; but in the case of wrongful use (such as shooting a neighbour, family member or fellow US citizen outside of purely personal protection) could lead to arrest and conviction.

6. Mid-level neighbourhood wardens could have both a handgun and a rifle in their care under pin-lock. High-level neighbourhood wardens could also hold semi-automatic or assault rifles. These local wardens would be elected between the local police and neighbours, and would also normally have had police, military or gun association training.

7. The general aim would be to have an effective and highly-trained private militia force, on call and ready in the face of any national threat or emergency. While at the same time giving sufficient provision for private US citizens to protect their own family and property from threat or attack.

8. Amnesty on all guns currently in circulation. In many cases these could be exchanged for the newly-designated lock-box guns or rifles. This amnesty would be without questioning of individuals or recrimination, penalty, fines or charges for any illegal weapons handed in.

9. Heavy penalties and charges for anyone carrying illegal weapons after the amnesty period, or for carrying weapons on the streets, towns or in urban areas. 3-5 year minimum penalties.  It is accepted that even with an amnesty in place coupled with stricter control laws, it could take some time to see a reduction in the number of illegal guns. However, in the meantime US citizens would be fully protected by having their own guns at home, as well as fuller training as to their use and a more effective neighbourhood back-up force in the case of emergency (national or private).

10. Individual States may wish to propose the use of 'smart guns' as the at-home weapon of choice for individuals. These would have radio-controlled firing mechanisms which would prevent them from being fired beyond a certain radius of the designated home.


A. The proposal falls more in line with the original ethos of the 2nd Amendment and would provide for a far more efficient private militia force than the current free-for-all whereby 98% of gun attacks are against fellow US citizens.

B. The induction and training would further bolster and enhance that private militia force, as well as generally teach people more respect regarding use of their guns, in terms of both safety and proficiency.

C. The pin-controlled boxes would at the same time protect the guns from theft by house-robbers or the danger of children gaining access to them (an increasing problem).

In summary, if indeed this or a similar proposal was adopted, it is perhaps suitably ironic that a return to the 'grass roots ethos' of The Second Amendment would not only create a stronger, more proficient and 'well-regulated' private militia force, which was the original intention, it would also lead to saving an increasing number of US lives.

<![CDATA[Twelve years on... has anything really changed?]]>Wed, 26 Dec 2012 16:56:22 GMThttp://booksand-ebooks.com/books-blog/twelve-years-on-has-anything-really-changedPicture

With Aurora and now Newtown, will the US legislature finally take action over gun control? If they don’t, it starts to look unlikely that they ever will.

Partly inspired by the Oklahoma bombing – a right-wing attack on an ATF building stemming from what they saw as increasing government legislation to take their guns away – it's now twelve years since I wrote the Second Amendment.
    What should be recalled is that pre-911, the Oklahoma bombing was the single largest terrorist attack to take place on American soil. Now we all know what happened after 911: the USA took up arms against two nations – Afghanistan and Iraq. Did they make a similar purge against far right gun activists after the Oklahoma bombing? Quite the opposite. Years of appeasement to strong gun and lobby groups such as the NRA and GOA followed, including the lapsing of a ban on semi-automatic assault rifles that President Clinton had steered through Congress.
    We can now only sadly reflect that without that appeasement, incidents such as Aurora this summer and Newtown only a week before Christmas might well not have happened. And the reason for that appeasement? Gun owners and pro-gun advocates form an important part of any State electorate, so politicians are wary of upsetting them.
    Indeed, the cinema shooting in Aurora took place in the midst of the run-up to the recent elections, but still when asked by journalists whether gun control would form a part of their election platform, both Democratic and Republican representatives were loathe to make any forthright comments. Only with a far more atrocious gun incident and the lives of 20 young children lost was there finally a strong statement from the White House on the topic. ‘That’s only because the election were over and their positions were secure,’ a cynic might comment.
    And now we see even further arch-right reactions to anyone daring to mention gun control, with a petition asking for Piers Morgan’s extradition from the USA. Thereby proving that to certain people the rights enshrined in The Second Amendment eclipse all else – including First Amendment rights. Indeed, in my own small way, I have seen good reason for that wariness with some of the down-vote review reactions to The Second Amendment – the modern-day version of book-burning, far-right style. ‘Another Michael Moore feeble brain’ one swiped (I noted that he suffered the same with far-right reactions to ‘Bowling for Columbine’); ‘Cars kill more people – why not ban them?’ says another. Yep, the arguments have become even less credible since the days when some Neanderthal commented, ‘It’s not guns that kill people, it’s people,’ and countless gun advocates latched onto it as a cogent, intelligent catch-phrase to repeat.
    But thankfully other readers have grasped the intent and aim of The Second Amendment and made insightful, balanced comment: ‘I feel like this book should be required reading for the American legislature. Maybe then the trend of random deaths and ever escalating death toll in homes, cities and schools could be reversed. To people living outside the USA, their love affair with guns seems madness. To American citizens it appears to be a rational reaction to an ever-increasing fear of gun crime and violence. Who is right? Both sides? Neither? John Matthews appears to have an alternative answer that addresses all the concerns raised by both sides of the debate...’
    Reading these supportive reviews, I’m encouraged that I’m on the right track and should ignore getting called a knee-jerk liberal, a Commie (didn’t anyone tell them that ‘reds under the beds’ paranoia went out with McCarthy??) and the email threats. 
    It’s no wonder given the furore at even the mention of ‘gun control’ that Michael Moore went to a Canadian company, ‘Salter Street Productions’ to make ‘Bowling for Columbine’. Make an anti-gun comment and you’re likely to go on an NRA ‘hit list’ that members should not support or give custom to. On that list are now a number of leading corporations along with half of Hollywood. It got to the stage where it became an insult ‘not’ to be on the list, with Dustin Hoffman wryly complaining that his credibility might have taken a knock by not being included.
    As one Canadian journalist who read and reviewed The Second Amendment commented, it becomes obvious that many far-right reviewers had obviously not read the book, because if they had they’d have seen that the final solution hit upon is for a gun in every home. Simply with more effective control that might save lives.
    But what forged my interest in gun control in the first place? I suppose it goes way back to when John Lennon was shot in New York. A lot of Brits at the time thought that if he’d stayed in the UK, it wouldn’t have happened. But Americans have a number of their own celebrity and political victims to point to the need for stricter gun control: Abraham Lincoln, McKinley, John and Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Ronald Reagan, Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye and Senator Brady.
    Not long after John Lennon’s murder I emigrated with my family to Canada and while there regularly visited the USA on business trips and holidays. Canada was an interesting place to view the situation in the USA with guns. 80% of all Canadians live within 50 miles of the US border and cross it regularly. However, they also become keenly aware of the difference in crime rates when they cross. Vancouver to Seattle the murder rate was three times higher. But make the trip between Southern Ontario and Detroit and the murder rate was almost ten times higher. So it was something that became a topic de jour amongst Canadians.
    Guns are allowed in Canada, but strictly within the home. Whereas the USA allows ‘concealed carry’ in most states as well as semi-automatic rifles. A move towards the Canadian model of gun law would be a start, and indeed would also satisfy The Second Amendment. When drafted, there was no such thing as semi-automatic weapons and there was no provision for guns to be carried liberally in the open. Indeed the main condition was to be part of a ‘well-regulated militia’ – but I’ll come to that later.
    There was an interesting series of articles on gun control in the major Canadian newspapers while I was there in the 1980s. In particular one story of a Toronto IBM executive stood out. Middle-class, responsible, with a wife and two kids, he suffered a house robbery one day and so applied to have a hand-gun in the house. Readily approved, he decided to learn how to use it and so joined a gun club, which he regularly attended.
    Then one day he had a massive argument with his wife and in a rash moment found himself reaching for the bedside drawer with the gun. His hand had hardly touched the gun before he found himself recoiling in horror. The gun was packed off out of the house that same day.
    But he found himself asking the question: how many people might feel similarly intimidated by a gun in the house and the power it gave over others? And how many might not stop themselves at that final, vital moment in the midst of a blind rage?
    The answers to that, for anyone truly honest with themselves, are uncomfortable. Even if a person might consider themselves to be responsible and fully balanced, can they hand on heart say that they have always been so and cannot recall a single moment when they might have felt emotionally or mentally challenged? And if they are such supreme beings that they have never been guilty of such a moment, can they say the same of all of their neighbours and people they know?
    That guy from four doors down who sometimes gives them a strange look. The teen from round the block with a sly smile, not to mention some of the cagey-looking friends he hangs out with. And what about that guy from work who went off the rails a few years back? If an NRA or GOA member can think of a single person who might fit into such a category, then they do in fact believe in gun control – only they haven’t realized it yet.
    When I tweeted recently about the Newtown massacre, one pro-gunner retorted, ‘I haven’t shot any kids or harmed anyone, so why should my Constitutional right to have guns be effected?’ Personally, if I could turn the clock back, I’d be willing to give up my right testicle to save the lives of twenty school-kids – so someone bleating about their ‘constitutional rights’ doesn’t cut it, I’m afraid.
    But if we are talking about ‘rights’, then what about having equal rights for visitors to the USA, who right now have no choice but to go in unarmed. Turn up at JFK or LAX packing a gun and you’ll be put on the first flight back and added to an ‘undesirables and terrorists’ list. Just last year two tourists in their twenties were shot and killed when they wandered into the wrong part of Sarasota, Florida.
    Taken to a ridiculous extreme, in order for tourists to have equal protection maybe guns could be provided with rental cars? You can just imagine the scene at the local Avis check-in. ‘This is one of our most popular models and comes complete with a .38 and two rounds of ammunition. Please also consult our map for advised ‘no-go’ areas. But if you do end up having to shoot anyone, please fill in the portion of our ‘accident and incident’ form allocated for that.’
    A ridiculous example? Yes. But it serves as an illustration of how ludicrous it could become if the same paranoia now evident amongst many US citizens – ‘too many guns already out there, so I gotta have my own’ –  was extended to ‘every’ citizen. A ‘Can’t beat them so must join them’ policy with no limits is a rocky route to go. But I’m keenly aware that it could take some time for any control and linked gun amnesties to have any effect, even if the statutory rights guaranteed by The Second Amendment could be adequately addressed. 
    The wording of the Second Amendment is in fact unequivocal: it states clearly that the preservation of a ‘A well regulated militia’ is at the heart of why the right to bear arms ‘shall not be infringed’. It says nothing about pursuit of crime or shooting neighbours, rival gangs or family members, which now comprise 98% of shootings in the USA. So how do we return to the core principles set out by the original drafters of the Constitution?
    I looked at a number of other nations, but the one to shine through was Switzerland. With its neutrality dating back to the 17th Century, a private ‘at-home’ militia has been the main replacement for Switzerland’s standing army. In practical terms this means that many Swiss males have guns at home which are to be taken out only in the advent of the nation coming under threat. The guns are strictly regulated and there’s also rigorous induction and training as to their use.
    There’s an amusing anecdote from World War One when apparently the German Kaiser asked what the quarter of a million Swiss militiamen would do if invaded by half a million German soldiers. The head of the Swiss militia replied succinctly: ‘Shoot twice and go home.’
    To all intents and purposes the Swiss model more closely resembles the ‘well regulated militia’ defined in the American Constitution rather than the free-for-all of crime, gang, neighbourhood and schoolyard shootings that currently exists. But how to get such a system integrated into US society?
    Designated guns at home would certainly cut down on the annual murder rate. And the induction and training would not only fall more in line with the original ‘militia’ ethos of the Constitution, but would also teach people more respect for their guns. Strict driving instruction and codes are insisted upon before allowing anyone out on the highway with a vehicle, why not for something as lethal as a gun? This is something the NRA and GOA should fully support if they truly believe in more ‘responsible’ use by gun owners.
    The Swiss model has all guns under lock and key at militia homes. But would that be enough to deter misuse in the USA, despite the strict induction that they only be used in the case of national emergency or defence of life and property? One suggestion has been a pin-coded lock-box, but with an added security twist: tap in that pin number and it alerts the local police (or designated militia security unit). So take out that gun for defence and you’ll soon have back-up. Take it out for any other use and you’ll have just precipitated your arrest.
    As for semi-automatics, perhaps this should carry an extra level of security. Only to be held by locally designated militia wardens: those more trusted, perhaps police or army trained, and with an extra level of pin-number security.
    Another suggestion made in the course of research of The Second Amendment was for ‘smart guns’. Guns with a radio-controlled firing mechanism which only allows them to be fired within the radius of a home or at designated locations. In the age of micro-electronics and with empty space in most gun butts, certainly a possibility.
    This is a move that most gun manufacturers would also get strongly behind. One of the biggest opponents to gun control are gun manufacturers fearing declining sales, and so they actively fund and lobby through the NRA and GOA (in the same way that the tobacco lobby fought hard). But this could in fact lead to a new generation in ‘smart guns’ which could enliven their production and lead to fresh sales.
    These issues are at the heart of the thesis/proposed Bill in The Second Amendment which draws the battle lines between a White House keen to see them implemented and an ultra-right hell-bent on seeing them scuttled. But one of the first main stumbling blocks of any Congress Bill is how to get all the ‘recently designated illegal’ guns currently in circulation replaced for legally designated militia guns or smart guns? Perhaps some form of exchange and amnesty programme, coupled with strong fines and prison terms for those not adhering to it?
    Australia a while ago had such an amnesty and only months back Brazil set out on a programme of ‘gun hand-in and collection’ in order to make it a safer place in the run-up to the next Olympics. If Australia and Brazil can do it, then why not the USA? Surely that ‘can-do’ spirit, which made the country so great to begin with, is still alive there today?

*   *   *

The Second Amendment is available on the following links:

The Second Amendment #1
The Second Amendment #2

The Second Amendment #1
The Second Amendment #2



<![CDATA[Print or ebooks?]]>Sat, 10 Nov 2012 12:39:24 GMThttp://booksand-ebooks.com/books-blog/print-or-ebooksPicture
As Christmas approaches, perhaps there are some advantages publishers and retailers have overlooked with the burgeoning ebook market?

I was reminded the other day that 17 years ago I developed one of the first ever online magazines. Sounds like a bold claim? So let me take a couple of steps back.
    At the time I was running two glossy design and architectural magazines, and together with a partner we came up with the brainwave of an online magazine. British Telecom showed early interest because it could be a handy adjunct for their plans to expand video-telephony, but broadband was at that point undeveloped on a wide-scale (ISDN was the only option), so picture quality and speed was restrictive.
    Enter into the fray, Reuters, who did have a broadband network for news-feeds and financial data and were attracted by the idea of their traders having an online magazine to shop for anything from a bottle of wine to a Porsche in between trades.
    So I designed and developed the first online magazine prototype for Reuters simply because at that time few had the bandwidth to carry it and the internet was in its infancy. The internet was in fact what led to the project  stalling a year later because Reuters - and rightly so - wanted to 'wait and see' how that developed. So meanwhile I joined a political magazine and wrote another book, and suddenly I had both feet back in the print-publishing camp - again.
     In the following years as the internet developed there was much talk about print books becoming redundant and electronic media taking over completely. But for me, two factors would always hold this back: many people worked all week on a computer, so the last thing they'd want to do is spend their leisure time also strapped to a computer.  Second, portability. The ease and feel and portability of a book, easily read on a train or on the beach, was one of its main attractions.
    Then along came Kindle, Kobo and Nook and these issues were addressed to varying degrees. But as these products made stronger inroads into the marketplace, the last bastion of resistance didn't come from c0nsumers, but from publishers and retailers.
    And, taken on face value, that resistance makes sense: having built their empires on a system revolving around the printing and distribution of paper books, the emergence of an alternative which could distribute that same product directly to consumers in milliseconds - thereby cutting them out 0f the cycle - had, for them, distinctly worrying implications.
    But I don't think enough publishers are thinking about this threat laterally by at the same time looking at its advantages, in particular in addressing an even deeper,  long-standing industry concern: print and distribution costs.
    This was something I was keenly aware of from my magazine days: 60% of our revenue went on print and production costs. I also recall one of my first book editors, Richard Evans (who also edited Terry Pratchett) complaining that booksellers often only noticed the returns on a book rather than how many were sold overall. So a book that sold 80% of its 100,000 print run, unfortunately what stuck predominantly in bookseller's minds was the 20,000 returned rather than the 80,000 sold.
    So, one target right there for publishers:  if they can shift half their sales to ebooks where returns are nil, that would effectively halve their paper returns ratio - surely an advantage?
    But so many publishers are focused purely on the threat or are busy adopting high ebook mark-ups to protect their main print market, that all too often these side advantages are being missed. 
     One of these, as we approach Christmas, comes keenly into focus: packaging. Buying a book for a child, it's hard to say: 'I sent that book directly to your Kindle. Didn't you get it?' Not being able to see, touch and physically unwrap a present simply doesn't have the same feel to it. It becomes somewhat detached, sterile. The expectation and mystique long associated with Christmas gifts is lost.
    But if publishers and retailers could work out ways of packaging their ebooks as gifts - along the lines seen with CD packaging - it could breathe new life into the ebook market for high street retailers. Indeed, ebooks could be downloaded directly from distributors - all that would be needed in-store would be quick-fold covers and cases. Again, no returns.
    And with a touch more lateral thinking, ebook packaging could also be the next stage in enlivening the BOGOF (buy-one-get-one-free) market. After all, the cost of including an additional ebook with either an existing ebook or print book would be minimal.
    But while the industry is focused mainly on trade-protecting against market disadvantages, that sort of lateral-advantage thinking might be slow in arriving.

<![CDATA[All or Nothing]]>Mon, 22 Oct 2012 10:12:21 GMThttp://booksand-ebooks.com/books-blog/all-or-nothingPicture
Brand name authors increasingly dominate the bookshop front rows - though at least in one respect Kindle Indies have the last laugh.

Last year when I first put my back-list titles on Kindle, I also sent a notification to my email list.
    Now amongst those were several crime and mystery reading groups in the USA, many of which had their periodic get-togethers in local bookstores.
    Some duly responded with thank-yous for the notification, but one lashed back: 'How dare you send this to us! It's people like Amazon Kindle who are putting us small independent bookstores out of business.'
    Now at the other end of the scale, Kindle has been tremendous for many writers. Established writers have seen a whole new audience opened up with the advent of kindle - but the real boon has been to fledgling authors previously unpublished. Some/many, readers might argue, should have remained that way - unpublished; but in turn some/many are very worthy. Look at the various 'Indie' author blogs and comments and you'll see heartbreak tales of writers trying for years to get published without success. And just at the point of starvation or when they're about to jump off a bridge from the constant rejection, the shining knight in armour of kindle rides up to the rescue. Heartwarming tales indeed.
    But what I found ironic about this bookseller's retaliatory comment was that it has in fact been the 'greed' of bookshops which has brought about this cycle. A strange word to use, 'greed', you might say, in the advent of so many bookshops fighting for their lives, and the likes of Borders going to the wall not so long ago. So let me explain.
    The business of selling books has increasingly been driven by 'promotions' the past 15 years. Now in the mid 1990's, though these frontline bookshop promotions were paid for, the costs were not excessive and most publishers could budget them in comfortably for a new author. Also they gave opportunites for new authors to 'price-compete' because invariably the new Grisham or Clancy title would be sold at full price (they were far too grandiose to get themselves involved in the tawdry business of discounting).
    So a publisher could list a new author at 20-25% below the latest Grisham or Clancy, and if exposed on the front line of bookstores, sales could be very bullish indeed.
    But then two things happened: year by year the costs of front-line promotions went up (now a decent book-chain promotion can cost anything from $10,000 - $30,000) - so to hit bookstores on a multiple basis, the outlay can be $100,000 or more. Then the major authors also discovered that price discounting could greatly boost their sales, so they wanted first dibs on these; or perhaps their publishers made those decisions for them.
    However, as any agent will tell you: if a book is NOT promoted and does not get on that front line in the bookstores, the chances of it selling well are low. And that's even more acute for a new author. A well known author stands a good chance of selling well from the back rows. But reverse that position and imagine you're a little known author selling from the back rows of a bookstore at full price, while the front rows are dominated by brand name authors selling at a discount or 2 for 1. 
    I recall the ex-MD of Penguin UK, Helen Fraser, lamenting how it had unfortunately become (largely as a result of these bookstore price-promotion policies) an 'All or nothing' game. The costs of getting into these bookstore promotions were so high and the resultant risk so great to launch new authors that increasingly publishers were shying away from even attempting to do so. And so we return full circle to the Indie author with a worthwhile book losing the will to live after countless rejections, with some insight now to the backdrop as to why this is happening.
    So, paradoxically, we have a price-promotion strategy starting as a bookstore ethos which when passed on to publishers makes them cut back on the new authors they take on. Kindle then arrives and opens up new opportunities for those previously unpublished authors, and as it develops starts to threaten the bookstores and the very structure of traditional publishing which originally closed so many doors to them. A certain poetic irony, you might say. 'Karma in practice' and the 'Goths and Rome cycle all over again'; and all the other worn comments that probably sound better after a doobie or two.  

<![CDATA[Fifty Shades of Success]]>Fri, 12 Oct 2012 16:14:27 GMThttp://booksand-ebooks.com/books-blog/fifty-shades-of-successWhen like half of the world I heard about the E.L. James Fifty Shades of Grey boom, I thought to myself: West London housewife, she probably sent it off to a London agent and, hey presto, she got a book deal from a major publisher en route to world domination. Wrong!
    Then I read that she was in fact a self-publishing sensation, until a leading blogger commented that she'd never heard of E.L. James before seeing stacks of her books piled high in her local bookstore. And this from a leading US blogger who prided herself on keeping abreast of the leading Indie authors. So, wrong again!
    In the end I heard the full account from my agent over dinner a few weeks back. Fifty Shades in fact started life as fan fiction based loosely on Twilight. She built up a steady online audience through weekly instalments, and at some stage the transition came to serious standalone erotic fiction.
    In the midst of this an agent did in fact approach London publishers, who roundly told her to get lost. Same story too in the USA. Too this, too that, not enough this, too much of that... the old familar comments that are now cliched at a time when 'cliche' seems to be the in word with editors: cliched characters, cliched plots, scenes, etc.
    Along the way she then teamed up with a small Austalian ebook publisher, almost a literary blog community - by which time she had two books in the final trilogy finished. This small ebook publisher managed to sell 75,000 copies, a whopping result for the Australian market.
    It then swung back to US publishers, then UK -- some of whom had in fact given it the thumbs down 18 months previous. A 'transitional', unconventional publishing route to say the least - so not easy to categorize simply as self, small press or trad published. In the end it appears to have been 'fifty shades' of all three. 

<![CDATA[OCR nightmares]]>Wed, 10 Oct 2012 21:59:16 GMThttp://booksand-ebooks.com/books-blog/ocr-nightmaresConverting your printed book to Kindle through optical scanning? Think again.

Last year when I was first considering putting my back-list titles on Kindle, my UK agent, the illustrious Robert Kirby (who also represents Ricky Gervaise, Anthony Horowitz and Dawn French) mentioned that a number of agents had been pitched by Amazon at the London Book Fair about a special book-to-Kindle service.
    Part of this involved optically scanning books (known as OCR in the trade) and then converting them to ebook Kindle format. However, at the time I'd gained good input from other authors and also I had all of my books on electronic files on my computer. In other words, the kdp conversion process was easy.
    So, I went at it without using this specialized Amazon service - until I got to the fourth book in my list - The Shadow Chaser. For some strange reason, I had two thirds of the book on file but the rest was missing. I phoned Penguin to see if they had copies on file - no luck.
    So in the end I was stuck with using OCR for the final third of The Shadow Chaser. The converted copy that came back was a nightmare. At least five misread words per page, sometimes far more, with on occasion entire lines mangled and rearranged. It took me ten days solid to go through it and take out the gremlins. A whole book I envisaged would take nearer a month. I got to thinking that it might have been quicker and easier re-typing the whole thing.
    The problem with OCR is that it takes the nearest approximation to the word it 'thinks' it sees. Check out the same problems found with an early Kindle edition of Game of Thrones. The region known as Dorne was misread as Dome. The word 'don't' with a thick apostrophe might be misread as donut, etc. This appears to be a common problem with the OCR system. 
    Having worked so tirelessly to get rid of these errors, it appears that two or three still remained and only recently I found myself going back into the script to correct them. If any other authors have experienced the same problem with OCR, I'd be pleased to hear about it. Or indeed readers finding Kindle editions with multiple errors from mainstream publishers where you'd expect better.

<![CDATA[Indie author dilemmas]]>Wed, 26 Sep 2012 15:29:08 GMThttp://booksand-ebooks.com/books-blog/indie-author-dilemmaThat all so awkward transition for Indie authors.

This was a comment originally made by me on the Amazon Kindle boards in response to many readers complaining about the low standards. Not just with plot and style, but typos, grammatical errors, etc.

However, I've found myself biting my tongue slightly on this issue, having had problems on one book with OCR sampling. If you want to see a book series that has suffered the same nightmare, check out the reviews on George R. R Martin's Game of Thrones. LOL. More on that later, but here for now are my original comments.


It's very true that sampling or trying to find quality books amongst such a volume becomes a game of diminishing returns.
    And I suppose pretty much the same process has in fact already been experienced within trad publishing itself. I recall years ago that every major publisher had staff on hand to read the incoming slush pile of daily manuscripts.
    Such was the incoming volume with such a low degree of even passable grade manuscripts that it didn't even pay their staff to keep the slush piles open. So one by one they shut their doors and passed that (often thankless) task to agents.
    I recall an interview with a US editor talking about his first day as a novice assistant at a big publishers, and he was given the task of handling the slush pile. He was told to open the packages, slip a standard rejection slip in each, and put them back in their pre-paid envelopes. He asked, 'What - don't I read them first?'
    'God, no!' came the answer. 'We need your help with books that we ARE going to publish.' He was talking as an editor at McAdam Cage - who did in fact at that time actually trouble to read what came in (thus the boast about the contrast to the big bad publisher from his novice days).
    Agents too often get fed up with the deluge, and the only way to get through it is sample just the first few pages, or at most the first chapter. From that they pretty well know whether the person can write or not. If it goes beyond that (and 98/99 of a 100 don't), then they're in with a chance.
    Shift that slush pile straight to readers, and it's hardly surprising that their attitudes are going to harden in the same way. Who the hell has got time to sift through 100 sample books in the hope of finding one or two gems? The publishers got fed up with doing it long ago.  
    Even picking solely amongst trad published books, there's a high quota of mediocre or lack-lustre books; by the time factors of genre, taste and style are taken into account, you might be lucky to find one good book in ten. Truly GREAT books are even rarer -- so it doesn't take much to work out the odds without all that gatekeeping of agents, editors and copy-editors in place.
    And the reason they're all there - even when they have finally sifted down to the books they feel are worthy to publish or will work commercially - is that they know that unless they hone and polish that book to shine as best it can, they'll get panned by critics and readers alike.
    So, without those people to hand, then it befalls every Indie writer to do the best job they can with self-editing and polishing so as not to run that risk of getting panned. Or, as has been covered here ad nauseum - not simply transfer those vast slush piles from publishers desks to readers, so that readers end up closing their doors one by one, just as publishers have done in the past.

<![CDATA[The First Cut...]]>Tue, 07 Aug 2012 07:44:43 GMThttp://booksand-ebooks.com/books-blog/the-first-cut
The first blog is the hardest (hums to the tune of Cat Steven's 'First Cut is the Deepest' as he ruminates. How to start? Too current a comment and it risks being like a pair of old socks in a week's time. Too old and it appears like a pair of old socks straightaway. So maybe best to start with what made me start a blog page to begin with.
    When I first started writing, back in the days of steam-driven typewriters (I lie, it was an IBM golf-ball, but with the last typewriter factory having recently closed, it feels like eons ago), the internet hadn't even been heard of, let alone blogs. Then a few years back my publishers suggested it, and I thought: 'What's the point, they're doing a good job with all the marketing and promotion, I'll just be that smiling face ready to turn up at book signings.'
    Then a short while back I heard about an author called John Locke, a self-published author who boasted shifting 1 million e-books online, mainly through blogging, twittering and targeted email campaigns. Mmmm, I thought: I've got that impressive list of back-titles which have yet to be seen by a mass audience in the USA. Maybe I can sell another million that way.
    Another million?? Yep, like John Locke, I've already sold over a million of my books, except that it has taken over a decade to achieve that rather than six months. Though as another writer commented: 'Do you know how hard it is to shift a million books purely outside of the USA?' He has a point. So the only thing I can go nah-nah-nah-nah-nah to John Locke is with that. I've got my books in all those languages, oh, and they were sold at the full price (except the usual discounts, bogof's, etc).
    But doing the same again in just six months, or even a year or two, would be neat - though it appears that other authors such as Joe Konrath, Stephen Leather, Lawrence Block and Barry Eisler have had the same idea and already turned their e-book direct sales into an art-form: sell 'em cheap and sell 'em often appears to be the key, and they're blogging and twittering like mad to support that. John Locke even has a 'how-to' book on the subject, popular enough to have been parodied by another author, Russell Blake, in 'Da Vinci Cod' style in his book:  'How to sell a gazillion copies of your book while drunk, high or incarcerated.'
    So here I am following all that good advice, twittering and blogging. Mention some famous people in your blog, JL advises, that always helps. Well, I almost met Bill Clinton once while booksigning at a London Waterstones (surely I'm not famous enough to warrant all this security, I thought). Another occasion I almost met Annie Lennox, also Mayor Rudi Guliani. The list of people I 'almost' met is endless.
    Give a hint of your writing style, he advises. Well, that's easily achieved. Plenty of material, quotes and anecdotes.If you're funny, show them. No problem there either. Am I funnier than John Locke? Is Karl Marx - he's one of the Marx brothers, by the way - funnier than the Pope? I would hope too that my writing's stronger, if nothing else based on JL's boast of churning out some books in only six weeks. I'm still sharpening my pencils and pondering at that stage (or reading Groucho Marx's Communist Manifesto) . Can I write a better book than JL in only six weeks? Probably not. Not my style (that's a play on his 'not my audience' to anyone who doesn't like his writing. Do catch up!).
    How far I can get towards selling another million books directly remains to be seen, but I'll try to make it fun 'following' how I get on (see, I'm picking up the twitter lingo already). Lot of stories and anecdotes about publishing in general, other authors (not just me and my books -- always find that boooooring after a while in blogs), oh, and the film world too.
    Since getting involved with screenplay writing a few years back, I've written two adaptations and two fresh scripts, so can talk about that transitional process too (Douglas Adams 'How to bake a cake in Hollywood' springs to mind). Okay, that's it for now folks...

<![CDATA[Old theme or new?]]>Wed, 11 Jan 2012 16:48:18 GMThttp://booksand-ebooks.com/books-blog/old-theme-or-new(note: originally published on the Penguin Most Wanted site at the time of the Dan Brown plagiary court case)

Whether to push the boundaries or not?

Many a crime and thriller writer approaching their next novel – unless they’re writing in a set theme and mould, such as in a series, where marked change might well be counter-productive – will have asked themselves variations on the above question. To grab reader and market attention – to be the next ‘The Firm’, ‘The Lovely Bones’ or ‘The Da Vinci Code’ – the overriding temptation might be to try and break the boundaries, boldly go where no other crime or thriller writer has gone before. 
    Easier said than done. New and startlingly original ideas don’t just hover in the air waiting to be plucked out, and if that weren’t daunting enough for the writer, now at their wits’ end after months of musing on park benches or soaking in baths with still no ‘Eureka’ in sight – there’s that old adage that every single plot has already been done in one form or another. All that’s left to do is re-work that stock of old, worn plots and ideas in new and exciting ways; with different characters and locales, and fresh angles, twists and turns. Which is indeed what ends up happening 99% of the time.
    With writing ‘Past Imperfect’, I was fortunate; the core of the plot was simply there one day, in a flash. The problem was that it was so extreme– involving past life regressions and parapsychology – that I became worried it would then verge into science fiction or even Stephen King/horror realms. So it needed reining in, for two reasons: first, to fit more comfortably under a crime umbrella, but secondly, and most importantly, to be grounded and believable to that same crime/thriller audience. The first bit of grounding came through seeing that core plot through the eyes of the doubters – detectives and prosecutors battle-hardened to extreme or ethereal evidence (and this indeed is a device that any writer could employ for an extreme plot); readers inclined to be more doubting could then view the proceedings by riding along comfortably from that perspective.
     The second bit of grounding came from using an old and familiar plot – a detective pursuing one suspect dauntlessly throughout a lifetime. This was in fact the core plot of ‘Les Miserables’, and while conducting my research I discovered that it was probably the most re-used crime plot line of all time. ‘The Fugitive’, one of the longest-running TV series of the 60s  (more recently made into a film with Harrison Ford) had this same plot as its foundation. So, in Past Imperfect, I had a cutting-edge plot combined with one of the oldest plot stalwarts. An unlikely mix, a true ying and yang, but it worked.
    A year later ‘The Sixth Sense’ hit the movie screens, and two years after that Alice Sebold’s ‘The Lovely Bones’ was published; the dead having an influence on living events was no longer original, was starting on its way to becoming a Les-Miserables-style old-faithful.
    Around the same time as ‘Past Imperfect’, Michael Cordy came out with a book called ‘The Miracle Strain’ – a cutting-edge thriller involving the genes of Jesus (extracted from the shroud of Turin) being used for miracle cures today. I thought the author was going to do a human Jurassic Park and create a Jesus clone; but, thankfully, the DNA was used to save a child with an incurable disease (though I’m sure that the Jesus-clone plot will turn up at some stage by someone jumping on the Da Vinci bandwagon, if it hasn’t already done so).  
    Yet that is where our perception of old or new plot suddenly becomes warped; it only becomes a worn theme if we’ve been personally exposed to it before. Twenty million readers into ‘The Da Vinci Code’, they’re all suddenly enlightened – most prominently by a high-profile law-suit – that what they originally thought was an excitingly new  take on Jesus and the history of the Catholic church, was in fact little more than a re-hash in thriller-form of a book originally written twenty years ago, ‘The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail’. 
    So, now that what was originally billed as the biggest cutting-edge blockbuster of the past twenty years has been debunked, is nothing sacred? I’m sure clergy and devout Christians were asking themselves exactly the same question when Dan Brown’s book first hit bestseller lists, albeit for different reasons. But it does bring us full circle again to the core adage that practically every plot has been done before in one form or other; and so, in the main, all that’s left to do is re-work them in new and exciting ways: different locales, characters, texture and speech patterns – all of this pulls the core plot away from its anchor and makes it less recognizable as ground we’ve trodden before.
    Where that territory has become embarrassingly saturated, very often the reviews start with an excuse: ‘This treads the same old serial-killer ground we know so well, but the author does so with the freshest set of characters in years, with a one-legged hit man with a mother complex, and his pink-haired and pink-cat-suited side-kick with a passion for Harleys who is never without an Uzi in her tote bag…’ Sub-text: yes, this is the same tired old plot you’ve read a hundred times before, but the author has spiced things up with a new and quirky set of characters. The only problem with this cycle is that in order to keep that ‘freshness’, the characters tend to become more extreme each time. Some would no doubt argue that these characters merely reflect modern life, but Agatha Christie would nevertheless turn in her grave at the collection of limb-challenged hit-men, gun-toting lesbians, transvestite wrestlers and tattooed midgets that have invaded her tea-sipping, crime-scene drawing rooms – local vicar, butler and all-suspects-present – of seventy years ago.
    But at the other end of the scale to those trying desperately to distance themselves from past plots, themes and characters, some books in fact revel in the fact that they’re re-works of old favourites. A recent Grisham-style legal thriller, ‘The Colour of Law’ re-hashes the hot-bed racial theme first visited in Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’ forty years ago – though now, updated to the modern age, money is more at the heart of the issue than race. ‘The Mercy of Thin Air’ is a 1920’s New Orleans’ re-take on ‘The Lovely Bones’; ‘The Alienist’ of a few years ago has Theodore Roosevelt as police Commissioner (before he became President) in a turn-of the-century New York mystery, and ‘The Arcanum’ – treading similar territory and period – manages to combine Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Harry Houdini and H.P Lovecraft all in the one novel. There’s even a recent American mystery titled ‘Holmes on the Range’, a tongue-in-cheek take on Sherlock Holmes in an unlikely Wild West setting - though I’m reliably informed by those partial to Jamaican Blue Velvet that it actually works. Then the countless re-workings of Jack-the-Ripper, Crippen, Rasputin and Sweeney Todd.
    Sometimes, when shifting an old theme to the modern age, that change and freshness will automatically be there without having to resort to obscuring through oddball characters. Shift a classic love story from medieval Venice to present-day Verona Beach in upstate New York – the foundation for a modern film adaptation of Romeo and Juliet – and practically everything else changes at the same time. When re-working the ‘Les Miserables’ part of ‘Past Imperfect’, I found much the same. In the original novel, at heart a condemnation of post-Revolution France and its justice system, a man is pursued throughout his life for simple parole violation after stealing a loaf of bread to feed his family; the police Inspector relentlessly hunting him down, Javert, becomes the baddie. I felt that transposed to the modern age, the boot would be on the other foot: a clever villain could get away with a heinous crime (in this case, the sexual assault and murder of a young boy) for practically a lifetime, and the detective pursuing him would become the wounded, reader-empathetic character. In that respect it was almost a complete reversal of ‘Les Miserables’. 
    Old plot or new? A re-vamp of a timeless stalwart that, simply by shifting to current-day, will inject the necessary freshness? Or serious repeat-offender territory where sharp new angles and fresh, quirky characters will be required? Still undecided? Perhaps the most fitting closing quote comes from no other than Dan Brown speaking recently in London’s High Court. While admitting that he had in part sourced from ‘The Holy Blood and Holy Grail’ (along with several other books, and not until a year into his research), he then deftly commented that he thought he’d brought to the table by far the most valuable element by repackaging all of that in readable, novel form. ‘The ideas are the easy part; ideas are everywhere. The hard part is getting the ideas to work as a novel.’
    So, there you have it. It’s official. Straight from the mouth of the world’s current bestselling author: not only can a re-hashed old plot seem fresh and original, but if done right it can actually have far more impact than its core predecessor. That is, assuming Mr Brown wins the current court case; if he doesn’t, it will be run-for-the-hills time and no author in his right mind will touch another’s plot idea with a ten-foot barge pole.