Chapter 5: The Opposite of Love.
The opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is indifference.
Hate, in fact, is a form of love, since you cannot hate what you have not previously loved, or which has not hurt or wounded or threatened that which you love. Hate is love bent out of shape. Hate is love which is itself wounded. Hate is love broken or betrayed, tortured or defiled, raped or murdered, molested or mutilated. Hate is love when confronted by injustice, or by violence, or by cruelty or by hate. Hate breeds hate, just as love breeds love. Hate is love grown bitter. It is love roused to anger. It is love forced to witness the destruction of innocence. It is love in shackles. It is love enslaved. It is love deprived of hope or freedom or a say over its future. It is love humiliated, made to crawl, love whose spirit is broken. It is love’s ache at the loss of a loved one. It is love’s rebellion at the corrosion of liberty. It is love’s stand against the darkness of repression.
Hate is love’s wound.
It was about a fortnight after MayDay and the guerilla gardening demonstration. Paul and I were going to a protest in support of the Kurds. It was against the building of the Ilisu Dam, which at the time was still in the planning stages. The demonstration was taking place at the Department of Trade and Industry. The British government were helping the Turkish government by means of financial loans. Were the dam to be built, it would flood a vast area of territory in the Kurdish regions, and, in particular, destroy Hasankeyf, an ancient Kurdish settlement dating back to the Bronze Age. (Since the writing of this, in fact, the dam has been built and Hasankeyf has been flooded.)
The Kurds had been at war with Turkey ever since the allies had split Kurdistan apart after the First World War, leaving the Kurds without a country. Kurdistan was divided between Turkey, Iraq and Syria. In Turkey the very existence of a Kurdish identity was denied. Kurds were categorised as “Mountain Turks”, the Kurdish language was banned and Kurdish culture suppressed. People weren’t even allowed to sing their own songs. Kurdish children were being forcibly re-educated in Turkish schools.
There had been a long-running guerilla war going on in the region since the 80s, lead by Abdullah Öcalan of the Kurdish Worker’s Party, the PKK. Öcalan himself was in a Turkish gaol.
One of the most striking images to come out of MayDay was the one of Winston Churchill with a turf Mohican and blood dripping from his mouth. The rumour was that it was the PKK who had done this, in revenge for Churchill’s use of poison gas against the Kurds in the 1920s, when he had described them, variously, as “uncivilised”, “turbulent” and “recalcitrant”.
Paul was staying at his Mum’s house at the time, in Eltham, South London. It’s where Paul was brought up, on a huge council estate on the outskirts of London, and I travelled up to the city to meet him. The demo was planned for the following day, so that gave us the opportunity to grab a few pints in advance. We hit the town.
I don’t remember much about that evening, but a couple of things do stand out. The first was that Paul was constantly writing little slogans with a marker pen on a lot of the adverts he saw, particularly ones in bus shelters. It was his small bit of daily protest. Most of the slogans were quite mundane, and I wondered why he was doing it. Did he really think he could change the world with that? On reflection I think that it’s probably not a bad thing to remind the general public that there are different ways of looking at the world than the one portrayed by all these glossy corporate images.
The second was on the train going home. A group of people were singing Jerusalem at the tops of their voices, and I joined in. I didn’t sing it however, I chanted it like a prayer, or a spell, in order to emphasise the words:
And did those feet in ancient times/ Walk upon England’s mountains green/ And was the holy Lamb of God/ On England’s pleasant pastures seen?
I’m sure I don’t need to remind you how it goes. It is a series of questions to which the answer is—implicitly—always yes! It is actually a revolutionary hymn, though most people don’t know it. It was written by William Blake, a Londoner who lived not many miles from this spot, though, had he been able to look into the future, he would have been surprised at how fast we were travelling. He had probably walked along lanes and pathways crossing or running parallel to this track, even while he was composing these words in his head.
Bring me my bow of burning gold/ Bring me my arrows of desire/ Bring me my spear, oh clouds unfold/ Bring me my chariot of fire!
Blake saw his life as a war taking place in Eternity. Jerusalem is a rallying cry for the armies of the dispossessed to rise up against the spirits of darkness and oppression.
I will not cease from mental fight/ Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand/ Till we have built Jerusalem/ In England’s green and pleasant land.
It is a rousing battle hymn for the heart of our nation. It reminds us that the true soul of England is not this passive, regressive, feeble consumerist paradise that appears to have taken over our country in the last few decades, but is something much more glorious: rebellious, energetic and defiant, it is a cause given to us by God, which we shirk at our peril.
The fact that ordinary Londoners on their way home from the pub could sing this rebel song with such gusto, such conviction, such whole-hearted joyousness, gave me hope for our future.
We carried on drinking when we got to Eltham and, later on, went for a walk.
Eltham Palace was nearby, commonly known as King John’s palace. It turns out that the King John in question is John II of France, who was held captive here, although, naturally, we thought it was the King John of Robin Hood fame. We were on to the spliffs by now, walking along an ancient pathway as Paul was showing me the Palace. It was one of his childhood haunts. We passed a hoary old oak with overhanging branches laden with spring blossom, and I started quoting something I’d written about Robin Hood:
“Robin Hood is not a man, though many men have used his name. He is the spirit of the wildwood in its budding time. Jolly Robin in the Green, the force that makes the green shoots grow, that hisses in the foliage like love’s electricity, that sizzles and crackles with the laughter of life, with the joy of the blossoming of the Earth’s goodly store. He is the spirit of the Maytime in its fruitfulness and splendour, the spirit of England, the Summerlord, King of the Summerlands, where summer’s sun always shines. The spirit of mirth and playfulness, of sport, of dance, of jest, of love. He is there with the lovers in their secret tryst, with the dance of the birds in the merry air, with the players of sports in their triumphs and losses, with all that is light and lively and fanciful and free. His day begins on the first of May and continues through to Whitsun, White Sunday, and is accompanied by music and laughter, games, feasts and festivities. Dances and plays are performed in his honour, jests and japes and buffooneries. Not for nothing is his name Jolly Robin. Jolly as the sunshine. Jolly as the Noontime. Jolly as the Moon in May.”
It was Jo who had inspired me to write this. She’d said that at this time of year, if you closed off your chattering mind, and listened to the plants, you could feel the forces of nature as they come alive in the world. “It’s like electricity,” she said.
I leant against the oak and told Paul about the Little Gest of Robin Hood, which I had not long since read, how Robin had leant against an oak tree just like this, and told his Merry Men to go kidnap someone from the high road because he was bored and wanted entertainment. So they would kidnap their victim, then ply him with drink and food and entertainment, after which they would ask for money in payment. And if the victims pretended not to have money when they had, had tried to conceal their money, then the outlaws would take all that they possessed. But if the victim had no money, but were themselves victim of some crime, some dispossession by the forces of oppression, then the Merry Men would set out to avenge that crime, to return that person’s property to them, to serve as the agents of justice in the land.
It seemed to me then that Robin Hood is the true spirit of England, not St George. His day is Mayday, which was always a day of love and heathenism in the English calendar: a day of secret trysts and greenery, of folk lore and fellowship, of rebellion and romance. The trip to Parliament fields was fresh in my mind. I was still in the throes of my love affair with the spirit of English resistence I had seen that day.
But seeing me there, leaning against an oak like Robin Hood, talking about Robin Hood, a little shiver of recognition went through Paul. I could see it in his eyes. It was as if the spirit of Robin Hood had visited us there, in that moment, as if he had come alive in that stance, in that story, and it reminded us that these old spirits live on, whether we are aware of them or not, and that it is through living human beings that they can make their presences known.
In some versions of the story Robin Hood is known as “The Lord of Misrule”.
I had a terrible night at Paul’s, sleeping in his Mum’s bed. It was like I was fighting some psychic battle in my dreams, as if the whole world was now in a state of permanent war; or as if the walls of this council house had absorbed some great violence in the past and was now exuding it like poisonous smoke into the atmosphere. It felt like the house was in psychic pain.
On the landing the dogs were pacing and squabbling with each other, growling in their sleep. They would prowl about, then lie down with a groan against one of the doors which would shudder with the impact. Then Paul would wake up and shout: “Shut the fuck up!” The dogs would groan and turn again.
At a certain point I woke from some nightmare about chasing ghosts, dying to go to the toilet, only I found that I was locked in. The yale lock on the door was stuck and wouldn’t move. Why was there a yale lock on the bedroom door in any case? I had to call out to Paul to open the door for me. I put the door on the latch to make sure I wouldn’t be locked in again and a cushion against the inside to stop the dogs getting in.
This went on all night. Prowling demons, dog’s groans, shuddering doors, ghosts, waking and sleeping in fitful, disturbed bursts.
I had a peculiar dream. I was outside one of those pubs in Eltham we’d been at the evening before. Eltham is a very racist area; or rather, to be absolutely precise about this, there are strong racist pockets. I’m sure not every resident is a racist. Paul isn’t. But Stephen Lawrence was murdered here, and his killers came from the area. The place is a bastion of right-wing political thinking, most of it hidden, but still stirring under the surface.
In the dream I was sitting at a long table with a bunch of young, white football casuals, with gelled hair and football shirts. We all had pints of lager in front of us. “Come on lads,” I was saying, in my usual liberal manner, “we’re all the same.”
“He’s not,” they said, indicating with a nod of the head. And I turned and looked, and at the end of the table, separated from the rest of us, there was an Hasidic Jew, all dressed in black, with his hat and his beard and his curls falling either side of his face. “Oh no, he’s not,” I thought, realising that the Jew was deliberately making himself different by his dress.
When we got up in the morning there was no milk, so we had to make do with black coffee. And nothing to make breakfast with. We decided to go to a cafe.
Paul was dressed all in black, looking sinister as usual. He said, “I was a soldier in a past life. I’m making up for it now.”
And he was right. There was a very powerful military air about him I realised. I hadn’t thought about it before. It’s like he was a member some psychic black ops team of the SAS, dropped behind enemy lines. He has an aggressive and edgy air, as if he’s about to pick a fight with the world.
There was a small cafe near the station. It was run by Turks. I said, “don’t mention the Kurds.” Then Paul noticed the name of the cafe. It was written on the menu. “Marmara” it said.
“That’s the name of the prison where Öcalan is being kept,” he said.
Later we found out it was slightly more complicated than that. Marmara is the name of a sea. We were eating at a Turkish cafe in Eltham, named after a sea, in which there is an island, on which there is a prison, in which Öcalan was being kept. We were just about to get on a train, to attend a protest by Kurdish people about the cultural genocide which they said would be caused by the building of the Ilisu dam in occupied Kurdistan, but we were eating breakfast at a cafe which commemerated, in a roundabout way, the incarceration and humiliation of the Kurdish leader.
On the train Paul was neurotically playing with his hair, trying to cover up his bald patches by moving his hair around. Lack of sleep and a bad hangover was making me feel unusually irritable. The sight of his fingers twisting strands of hair into gel-soaked ribbons was getting on my nerves. I wanted to slap his hand and tell him to stop fiddling.
The Department of Trade and Industry is a glass and steel building on the approach to Parliament Square. I’d probably passed it when coming to the demo before. It was shimmering in the sunlight, reflecting the street and all the buildings around it, looking suitably anonymous, almost as if it wasn’t really there.
There was a knot of people on the pavement outside, maybe 20 or 30 of them, with a couple of policemen looking fairly relaxed. Mark Thomas, the comedian, was climbing up a lamp post with a digital camera in his hand trying to get pictures from every angle. One of the policemen asked him to get down. He paid no attention.
There was some drumming going on, and some dancing. They had their arms linked in a line and were doing this elaborate stepped dance involving handkerchiefs being waved in the air. I remember it very clearly: the kicking and the dancing and the trills and whoops of excitement. There were a few cars lined up by the side of the road including an old VW van. Paul took me over to it and introduced me to one of his friends. He was putting up slogans on the van. He smiled and said hello, and shook my hand formally. He had gentle, kind eyes.
Paul said, “show him the pictures.”
And the gentle-eyed Kurd opened a folder, and showed me the first picture. He said, “these are photographs taken by Turkish soldiers as trophies. They sell for a lot of money in Istanbul.” It was an enlarged colour photocopy of an ordinary snapshot, laminated for protection. It showed a Turkish soldier in a snowy, mountainous landscape wearing a blue beret. He was kneeling down on one knee, grinning triumphantly, holding up a pair of objects in his hands. It was hard to make out what they were at first. They were about the size of footballs, and, indeed, that’s what I took them to be. But then my eyes focused on the detail, and I saw what they really were. They were severed heads.
The Turkish soldier was holding them up by the hair as trophies. The snow was stained with patches of blood, as blood dripped down from the ripped tendons of the neck, as blood stained the soldier‘s hands. I had never seen anything like it before in my life. The eyes in the two heads were rolled backwards into the skulls. Open-mouthed, they seemed to be screaming some unimaginable blasphemy to the sky. I immediately began to cry. The picture was like a jolt of extreme violence, like something from a nightmare. Ordinary Londoners passed by in motorcars, blissfully unaware.
Paul was looking at me pointedly, while the quiet-eyed Kurd spoke to me in a gentle even voice.
“Yes,” he said, “I have seen 23 of my family killed. My brother was killed. The Turks came to the village and called everyone out of doors. They took ten of them and shot them in the head while the others watched. The people were made to clap. If they didn’t clap, they too were shot. My brother was 14 years old.”
There were several more of these photographs, of soldiers holding up severed heads, sometimes one head, sometimes two. Sometimes a number of soldiers would be standing in front of the headless corpse while one of the soldiers held up the head.
Then my Kurdish friend showed me another photograph. This, too, was like a snapshot. It was even arranged like one. It showed a family ranged around in someone’s living room, on their knees, posed, looking at the camera. There were family trinkets displayed on shelves, and pictures and wall-hangings on the walls. Before them a dead body. The body is naked, and has long white gashes along the legs. You can see the bone. The family consists of a woman and several children. The woman’s eyes are wild, though her face is held in a taught mask. The children just look towards the camera, eyes as deep and unfathomable as the night.
My friend said, “this is the dead-man’s family. They are being made to pose by the corpse. Those wounds on his legs are where he has been tortured.”
I was utterly speechless. There weren’t any words. In the whole universe there wasn’t a single word I could say that meant anything anymore.
I’ve never forgotten that moment. I remember going into a shop soon after to go to the toilet. There were all the products lined up in their various displays, looking shiny and new. But I couldn’t help seeing the blood that seemed to flow from the photographs underlying this conspicuous display of opulence all around me. I couldn’t help thinking of the murder of innocence.
So, now, imagine those children made to sit before the corpse of their beloved father while an enemy soldier takes a photograph. Their faces betray nothing of their feelings. But what will be seething in their hearts? What rage, what anger, will have been born there that day? What hatred? What acts of revenge? What future violence? Do we really expect them to forgive?
Hate breeds hate breeds hate breeds hate, but hate is born from love.
Now imagine that on a world scale: in Palestine, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, in Yemen, in Syria, in Somalia, in Libya, in Bahrain. All over the world. Everywhere there is a war.
Thousands of corpses. Tens of thousands. Unimaginable numbers. Who knows how many corpses or how many children there are, just like these children, being tortured by the horrors of war? Who knows the scars on the heart of the world or how much blood has been accumulated there? How much sorrow, how much anger, how much violence, how much pain? How much love seeking revenge?
So why don’t we know this? We’ve all been brought up on stories about the Second World War, about the Nazis taking men from the village and shooting them arbitrarily, killing ten men for every German, things like that. So why don’t we know it is still happening, that fascism still infects our world? Not only that, but that our governments are supporting it, with grants and loans and sale of arms? Why do we only hear about the atrocities of official enemies – and only then when its time for war – but not the atrocities of our official friends which are going on all the time? Why isn’t this on the news? Why aren’t these photographs seen by everyone?
They should be on the front page of every newspaper, I thought: the consequences of war. We should see the bodies ripped apart, the innards spilling out of the wounds like the human meat they are. We should see the mothers screaming for their dead children. We should see the fear in a father’s eyes, the fear for their children, whom they cannot protect. We should see the children’s naked fear. We should see the broken bodies in the hospitals, the bloodstained sheets, the body parts. We should see the broken homes and the broken lives. We should be made to feel their pain. We should all be made to feel the consequence of our own indifference.
Because the opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is indifference.
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