Posts Tagged ‘Spree Killers’

John Brunner on the 1979 SF Book Show, Time Out Of Mind

May 4, 2015

‘I have seen the future, and it doesn’t work!’

I found this edition of the BBC series, Time Out of Mind, over on Youtube. Broadcast in 1979, the series looked at four SF authors, who were either British, in the case of Ann McCaffrey, an American based in Ireland. Apart from John Brunner and McCaffrey, the other authors featured were Arthur C. Clarke, and Michael Moorcock and M. John Harrison. The fifth and final programme in the series was on that year’s SF convention in Brighton.

I vaguely remembered the series from the trailers running earlier in the evening, though I never watched it myself as I was probably too young. I’ve got a feeling it was broadcast long after my bed time.

Stand On Zanzibar

Brunner’s particularly interesting, as he’s known for writing very dystopian, near-future SF, such as his books The Shockwave Rider, The Sheep Look Up and Stand on Zanzibar. All of these are rightly classics of the genre, and I think Stand On Zanzibar has been republished under the Gollancz colophon as an ‘SF Masterwork’. It is indeed, though I think it’s also one of the most depressing books I’ve ever read. It’s very much a product of its time, which was the late 1960s-’70s concern about the ‘population bomb’ and the massive problems faced by an overpopulated world. It’s set in a near future, c. 2020, if I remember properly, in a massively overcrowded world, where living space is in short supply. The result is endemic domestic terrorist violence, and ‘muckers’ – frenzied spree killers. These are ordinary citizens, who’ve finally snapped under the strain of such oppressive conditions. They’ve taken their name from quite literally ‘running amok’.

In order to curb the population explosion, the government has passed eugenic legislation preventing those with genetic defects or inheritable diseases, like haemophilia, from having children. Recreational cannabis, on the other hand, is legal, but still vulnerable to the interest of organised crime.

Far more sinisterly are the attempts by the various government to find ways to control the population using genetic engineering. This includes the research of an Indonesian scientist, who the Americans send a special agent to extract.

Brunner, CND and Environmentalism

Brunner was politically active for a time in his life. He was a member of CND and attended their meetings and marches. The programme shows how he even took part in an exhibition of the horrors created by the bomb, and how this influenced him. He states on the programme that when he turned to writing near future SF, he didn’t have to do much research. While it was harder to write than stories set in the far future, where the imagination could run freely, he found that much of the nightmarish conditions he describes in his works have already happened. This includes the dangers of chemical pollution on the environment and agriculture in The Sheep Look Up.

The ‘New Wave’ and Literary Modernism

Brunner’s like Moorcock and the other members of the British ‘New Wave’, in incorporating the techniques of literary modernism into his work. Moorcock in the programme dedicated to him said he wanted to use the techniques of such avant-garde literary authors as James Joyce. He was bitterly disappointed when his literary aspirations were rejected by the rest of the SF milieu, who considered these models to be pseudo-intellectuals.

Brunner acknowledges that in creating the background for the world on Stand On Zanzibar, he took John Dos Passos as his model, and included clippings from newspapers, even poetry. These clippings also show how rooted the book was in present-day reality. Several of the clippings explaining the ‘muckers’, for example, are taking from 1960s reports of real spree killers. As for the ‘partisans’ and their terrorist campaigns in America, this looks like it was based very much on the urban terrorists that emerged in the late 1960s and ’70s, like the various paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland, the Baader-Meinhof gang, the various French Maoist rebels and the Weathermen, Black Panthers and Symbionese Liberation Front in America.

America as Dystopia

The show also makes the point that although Brunner’s British, he’s popular in America, partly because he speaks with a mid-Atlantic voice. Brunner is shown talking to friends and his publisher in the US. But Brunner was also very critical of the US. He says that he took America as his model for the dystopias he created, as much of what he describes in his books has already happened there. He follows this with the statement I’ve quoted at the top of this piece ‘I have seen the future, and it doesn’t work’.

Folk Music and Dancing

I also found the episode interesting, as Brunner was a folkie, who lived in the small town of South Petherton in Somerset. He and his wife were the organisers of the town’s folk festival. I found it rather incongruous that an author, who was concerned with the future and the problems that it would throw up, should also be a fan of, among other things, such very traditionally English pastimes as, um, Morris dancing. Brunner and his wife are shown opening the festival, and watching a group of Morris men dancing with the white flannels, handkerchiefs and bells.

Here’s the video:

Population Explosion or Population Crash?

While Stand On Zanzibar is a classic, it’s also somewhat dated. Europe and America don’t have the teeming, claustrophobically overcrowded cities of books like Stand On Zanzibar, or Harry Harrison’s depiction of similarly terribly overpopulated world, Make Room! Make Room!, filmed as Soylent Green. Indeed, birth rates around the world are falling, and in some parts of the West, China and Japan they’re actually below replacement level. Some demographers are talking of a ‘population crash’, and the problems this will cause. This in its turn has created its dystopian prophetic fiction in the film Children of Men, with Clive Owen and Thandie Newton. This imagines a world where humanity has become sterile. No children have been born for 18 years. The result is political instability, violence and ruthless control by a Fascist state. The only hope in this dystopia is presented by an immigrant woman, who has become pregnant.

Spree Killers and Religious Violence

We also don’t have intelligent, supercomputers cooled in liquid helium, like Shalmaneser. Other predictions are so accurate, as to be actually prosaic, such as influence of the media and the emergence of the pop video. Unfortunately, so are the ‘muckers’ – such as the maniacs, who walk into schools, restaurants or cinemas with guns and begin shooting. The book’s also accurate in that some of the crazed killers are religious fanatics. In the book the religious violence is carried out by Christians. This is true of part of the American extreme Right, as shown in the Militia movement and their fears of an atheist government, which will begin sending Christians to death camps run by FEMA as part of the establishment of a one-world global dictatorship.

The Pieds-Noirs and the Legacy of Algeria

Other predictions look dated, but contain a kernel of truth that has been subsequently hidden, but still remains a powerful influence in contemporary politics. Two of the characters, for example, are a brother and sister, Pieds-Noirs – former French-Algerian settlers, who have been forced out of the colony after independence. Despite the decades that have passed since France lost its war against its former colony, Pieds-Noirs still suffer from considerable stigmatisation because of the atrocities the former colonial overlord committed. Now, nearly five decades or so later, there is little special shame attached to the Algerian War. Nevertheless, it has influenced French politics in that many of the Arab, Muslim population of France are the descendants of Algerians, who chose to emigrate to the former colonial power. These have formed an immigrant underclass, who have suffered racism and discrimination. Much of the political disaffection French Muslims come from this background of emigration, dislocation and resentment by the host society.

The Corporate Take-Over of the Nation State

One of the most extreme of the novels predictions, and one which mercifully hasn’t occurred yet, it the literal corporate takeover of entire states. Another of the characters is the president of a small, west African nation. Unable to improve conditions for his people through normal politics and democracy, he literally signs it away to an American corporation. In return, that company promises to invest in his nation, develop it economically, and provide jobs and training for its people. It also, as Brunner makes clear, condemns them to corporate slavery.

This hasn’t quite happened like that yet, but there are some close parallels. The Socialist government of Alfredo Benz in Guatemala in the 1950s was overthrown by a CIA-backed coup, after Benz nationalised the banana plantations of the United Fruit company, an American corporation. Similarly, Mahmud Mossadeq, the Prime Minister of Iran, was overthrown by the Americans in the 1950s after his government nationalised the oil industry, including British-Persian Oil, which then became BP.

And the TTIP, if launched, will allow multinationals to sue national governments if they dare to pass legislation, which threatens to harm their business. Veolia has used similar legislation to sue the Egyptian government, after it raised the minimum wage for Egyptian workers.

The Psychological Legacy of Slavery and the Experience of Black Politicians

Another part of Brunner’s novel, that still retains its contemporary relevance, is that one of his characters is a Black American politician. This isn’t quite so novel as it was when the book was written, coming when Blacks in America were still very much fighting for their civil rights. America now has its first Black president in Obama. Nevertheless, the issues of racism, Black alienation from what they see as White power structures, and the psychological legacy of slavery, still remain a powerful presence. Although physically fit and able-bodied, the Black politician suffers from a psychological weakness in one of his arms, due to being told about how one of his slave ancestors had his amputated as a punishment by his owners. The organiser of a recent campaign against an exhibition on the White exhibition of Africans as subhuman others, staged a year or so ago by one of the Museums, stated that amongst her reasons for opposing it was a concern for the psychological health of Black people. She pointed to studies of young western Blacks, who have suffered Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder through material showing or discussing the sufferings of their slave ancestors.

Ambiguous Endings and Political Message

Brian Aldiss, discussing Brunner’s work in his study of the history of SF, The Trillion Year Spree, criticises him for failing to take an explicit stance. Despite being a very political novel, Brunner doesn’t take a party-political stance. There’s one incident, for example, in which an elderly lady is forcibly moved out of the home she has lived in for most of her life by the local authorities. This can be read in two ways. It can be seen as council busybodies, enforcing bureaucratic red tape and over-regulation, regardless of the harmful effect this has on the lives of ordinary people. Or it can be read in the opposite view, as local authorities blindly committed to corporate interests and commercial redevelopment.

Brunner also leaves the final results of his characters’ actions on the wider society ambiguous. One of the last sections of Stand On Zanzibar is entitled ‘And See Which Seed Will Grow’, taken from the line in MacBeth which about peering into the sands of time. He hints at their being two possibilities for the world and its millions: either pacification through specially engineered food introduced into its peoples’ diet. Or the possibility of genetically engineering humans themselves, as presented by the Indonesian biologist.

At the end of The Shockwave Rider, the authorities organise a plebiscite, which will hopefully liberate humanity from tyranny. This asks them to vote between two statements. These seem to offer strikingly different alternatives, but when read closely, don’t actually mean very much, and actually say pretty much the same thing. The book then concludes ‘Which way did you vote?’

Again, as in Stand On Zanzibar, the final result, the choice made by humanity, is never shown. There’s the possibility of hope, or a little more hope. But it doesn’t end with a total solution that will automatically improve everything, and the outcome is decidedly mixed.

Warning: 70’s Fashions on Display

I think Brunner died a little while ago. This documentary gives provides an insight into the life and views of one of Britain’s great writers of dystopian SF. As I said, his book’s don’t make an explicit party-political statement, but in his anti-nuclear activism, environmentalism and critiques of corporate power, Brunner does share many of the concerns of the Left.

You should be warned, however, that as the documentary was made in 1979, it shows it in some truly horrendous ’70s fashions.

The Young Turks on American Girls Joining ISIS and the Reality there for Women

April 6, 2015

This is another couple of videos from The Young Turks internet news show. Although this is an American news programme, it addresses an issue that is also very much in the news over here: that of western girls running away from home to join ISIS as jihadi brides.

Western Girls Joining ISIS

This was in the news about a month or so ago, when three Muslim girls from London ran away from their families and school to go to Syria to join the Islamic State there. As the video below shows, this isn’t just confined to Britain. It’s also happened in America. In the video, the Turks’ anchors Cenk Uyghur and Ana Kasparian discuss the case of three girls from Colorado, who ran away from their homes to try and join the jihadis. The were of Somali and Sudanese heritage, and aged between 15-17 years old. They were caught by the German police trying to go from there to Syria after the authorities were contacted by the girls’ families.

Muslim Feelings of Disenfranchisement and Isolation

Uyghur and Kasparian discuss the girls’ motives for going, and the fundamental stupidity of their actions. They make the point that however marginalised and disenfranchised the girls may feel in America, nevertheless they are leaving America and its immense freedoms for ISIS. Uyghur makes it very clear that the girls could only expect a loss of freedom over there. He states that Islamic fundamentalists view women in a lot of ways as chattels, and would regard them as more property arriving.

Low Status of Women in Islamists like ISIS

It’s a very good point. You can certainly find passages in the Qu’ran and Hadith where Muhammad urges Muslims to treat their wives well – he himself helped his wives with the housework, and the Qu’ran, while allowing polygyny, states that a man must treat all his wives equally. Nevertheless, a movement that twists the words of Muslim scripture to justify the terrorisation and mass butchery of civilians and non-combatants probably isn’t going to be too punctilious about observing those verses that encourage respect for women. Especially as one factor in these movements appears to be a reaction against western feminism.

Uyghur himself is from a Turkish Muslim background, although he’s an agnostic/ atheist like most of the Turks. His comments thus come from his experience from within Muslim culture, and therefore should carry far more weight than the bonkers utterances of various members of the Repugs, who frankly haven’t a clue about the Middle East or its peoples.

Jihadi Brides and Western Idolisation of Serial Killers

He also connects the motives of the girls and young women joining ISIS with those of the westerners, who idolise masked killers. They feel disconnected and powerless. Watching murderers like ISIS and domestic serial killers makes them feel powerful. It’s the same motive that inspired Adam Lanza, the maniac responsible for shooting the audience in an American cinema. He was absolutely obsessed with masked spree killers.

Western Recruits to ISIS Will also Kill Other Muslims

Uyghur also makes the point that once there, those westerners joining ISIS would spend most of their time butchering other Muslims, whose religious views don’t match those of the Islamic State, like the Shi’a. Rather than fighting against non-Muslims, they probably wouldn’t see them, and would spend all their time killing their co-religionists. Again, it’s an excellent point, though following Sayyid Qutb, radical Islamic ideology views liberal or secular Muslims as part of the jaihiliyya, the non-Muslim forces of darkness and ignorance. They are seen as irredeemably corrupt through their acceptance of non-Muslim, western ideas and culture.

As for the Shi’a, extremist Sunnis, like the Wahhabis, consider them to be heretics, who are an enemy of true Islam. The grand mufti in Saudi Arabia even declared them to be ‘worthy of death’, in a chilling exhortation to religious genocide. In addition to murdering and enslaving non-Muslims, ISIS also present a murderous threat to other Muslims, who don’t share their brutal views.

Girls Joining ISIS Should also be Prosecuted for Terrorist Offences

They also make another good point in that the girls joining ISIS should, if caught, face some kind of judicial process and punishment for aiding and abetting a terrorist organisation. This shouldn’t mean an adult court, as they are minors, but nevertheless they should face some kind of judicial punishment.

Women’s Lives in ISIS-Controlled Syria

In this second video, John Iadorola and the others discuss a film made by the French showing the reality of life for women in the part of Syria controlled by ISIS. It was made by a courageous lady, who made it with a hidden camera. For western audiences, it’s chilling. There are armed men everywhere, including one woman calmly pushing a baby buggy with a Kalashnikov slung over her shoulder. The dress code for women is very strictly enforced. All the women are swathed with the niqab. At one point a soldier or cop flags the female journalist down, and tells her to cover up properly. Too much of her face is showing, as her veil is transparent. Her face is fully covered, apart from a slit for the eyes.

Women in Internet Café Refuse Parents’ Pleas to Return

In the second segment of the film the Turks show, the journalist goes to an internet café to talk to the women there about why they joined ISIS. They’re talking to their families, who are clearly distraught and desperately trying to persuade them to come back to France. The girls refuse, saying that they want to stay there, and are very definite about this.

Women Motivated not from Lust for Bad Boys, but also Rage at Western Treatment Middle East

Talking about the video, Ana Kasparian makes the point that she isn’t convinced that it’s just about women falling in love with ‘bad boys’, like criminals in jail. She argues instead that much of the girls’ motives for joining ISIS probably comes from rage at the way the Western powers have treated and abused these countries.

No Choice about Wearing Niqab under ISIS and Extreme Muslim States

She also makes a good point about the headscarf. She states that she was against the French mandatory ban on the scarf, as it was a part of their religion. It should, however, be a woman’s own decision whether or not she wears it. Under ISIS, women don’t have a choice. They have to wear the niqab.

On this last point, it needs to be said that the penalties for women, who don’t dress ‘modestly’ under extremely hard-line Islamic states can be fatal. After the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, women were legally required to wear the veil. If they did not, the police shot them as prostitutes. I’ve heard that things have loosened up a bit since then. For example, at one time if the Iranian police caught a group of youths with a bottle of vodka, they’d shoot them. Now they just pour the bottle away.

That, however, is contemporary Iran. This is the Islamic State, who seem to have taken over as the most violent and repressive state in the Middle East.

Ban on Music by ISIS; Pop Music in Revolutionary Iran

On a more trivial point, amongst the things the Islamic State has banned is music. The Turks are astonished at this, and can’t work out why. Now there has always been a debate within Islam on whether music is lawful. It is, however, very much a part of modern life and contemporary youth culture around the world. So much so, that many people, like the Turks, cannot imagine a world without music, and would find such a situation almost unbearable.

Again, Iran provides an example. In Iran it was illegal to play contemporary pop music so loud that another person could hear it. It’s not a complete ban on music by any means, and there was no problem with listening to western classical music. Traditional Iranian music was actively discouraged because it had been promoted by the Shah as part of his programme of creating a secular, national identity against that of Islam.

The Beeb’s reporter, John Simpson, in his book on Iran describes the case of an Iranian trucker, who was playing a piece of western pop in his truck. He had the window down, but the sound of the hip ‘n’ happening sounds were drowned out by the noise of the traffic. Except when he had to stop at the traffic lights. He was overheard, arrest, and given something like 60 lashes.

As I’ve said, Iran appears to have become somewhat looser since then. There are pop groups in Iran, including one that made the news by having both male and female musicians on stage together at the same time. This contravenes the regime’s policy of strictly segregating the sexes. Nevertheless, the Iranian experience after the Revolution gives some idea of the nature of the strictures imposed by the regime in ISIS. Any westerner going there should know that when they do, they’re going to have to give up their ipods and CDs.

Jihadi Girls Want to Marry ‘Warriors’

I’ve posted these videos as they add an interesting, foreign perspective on something that has happened here, and is being discussed in the British press and the BBC. After the three London girls from Bethnal Green fled to Syria, the Beeb’s One Show had one of the Corporation’s female Muslim newsreaders on as a guest to discuss the issue. She put some of it down to the attraction to some girls of marrying a warrior, and the excitement of joining a military organisation, especially one that claimed it was defending their faith.

Girls who Go Won’t Return

She also made the point that those who went, probably wouldn’t come back. It was extremely difficult for those, who wanted to leave, to return to Europe. She cited the case of a foreign women, who joined ISIS, married one of the commanders and had his child. She then decided she’d had enough, and wanted to leave. She couldn’t, and her situation became very difficult.

But she also made the bleak point that most of the girls wouldn’t be returning to Europe and America, simply because they wanted to be there, a fact that must surely break their parents’ hearts.

Difficulty and Dangers in Pregnancy and Child Birth in War Zone

She also made the point that if the girls wanted to get pregnant and have children, then they would have to give birth in a warzone with very limited medical provision. Pregnancy and childbirth is a difficult time for expectant mothers and their partners anyway, even with advanced western medical care. In those areas fought over by ISIS, the risks become much higher.

ISIS Propaganda Tailored to Appeal to Girls and Women

Following this brief item on the One Show, the Beeb are screening this week a documentary on women joining the Islamic State. This makes the point that the internet propaganda perpetrated by the jihadis is extremely pernicious and insidious. Along with the propaganda about fighting for Islam, or rather, ISIS’ version of it, their propaganda also includes items designed to appeal to young women and girls, like fluffy kittens and food.

Girls’ Applause of Brutal Murder American Aid Worker Shows Them to be Sadistic Psychopaths

Now it strikes me as bizarre that the women and girls, who have got drawn into ISIS, have any kind of finer feelings at all, including sentimentality over cute animals. One of the British girls, who ran off to join ISIS, was a fan of beheading videos. She had commented on the video of the brutal execution of an American aid worker ISIS had captured, saying ‘that was gut-wrenchingly awesome’ and pleading ‘more beheadings please!’ I see absolutely nothing in that comment except sadism and bloodlust. It’s the comment of a psychopath, who has absolutely no feelings for the suffering of others, and in fact only derives pleasure and amusement from them.

I realise that kids getting sick pleasure from watching the suffering and deaths of others on video is hardly confined to Muslims. A friend of mine told me years ago how one of his friends – who was definitely White, and non-Muslim – had a copy of the video, Executions. This was ostensibly produced by an organisation opposed to the death penalty, and purported to show how horrific execution actually was. My friend was shocked by the way his friend was just laughing and sniggering at the last, desperate actions of those killed.

The girl’s applauding of the murder of the American aid worker goes beyond this. She wasn’t just a passive spectator; she demanded more, and in doing so became complicit in further atrocities, even if she did not, in fact, commit them herself. As for the victim, if he is the person of whom I’m thinking, then his death was even more iniquitous than the usual run of murders. The man was an aid worker, who had dedicated his life to helping the local people. He had identified with them so much, that he had converted to Islam. By no stretch of the imagination could he ever be considered a threat to Islam or its people.

Except in the twisted minds of ISIS, who captured him purely because he was an American. When the Americans refused to make a deal for his release, they butchered him. Just like they’ve butchered so many others.

I have every sympathy for the parents of children, who have gone to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS, from those of the girls from Bethnal Green to the parents of ‘Jihadi John’ Emwezee. Clearly they wanted the best for their children, as most parents do across the world, regardless of race or faith. The last thing they wanted was for them to join monsters and mass-murderers.

But this is what has happened. And I’m not convinced that the girls, who ran off to join ISIS should be seen as somehow more innocent than the boys and young men, who did so. Considering the atrocities committed by the Islamic State, they should be seen exactly as modern counterparts to the women, who volunteered as guards for the female sections of the Nazi concentration camps, and who showed themselves as brutal as the men.