Sunday 19 November 2023

Christians and Israel

Some folk are mystified by the unconditional support for Israel from some Christians. (I don’t mean governments in Christian-majority countries — there’s enough out there to explain that — and I don’t even mean the suckers who fall for the scams of the very rich people behind the megachurches. I mean ordinary Christians with seemingly sound principles and solid family values and all that.)

I am, as I have said often here, devoutly agnostic and the opposite of a fan of religion, and deeply suspicious of organised religion. But I grew up in a Christian family, was a believer myself, went to Christian-run schools and colleges, lived in Christian neighbourhoods half my life, and though I began walking away in my teens, I can tell you that that upbringing does condition one to think of things in certain ways. Add to all this that most of what I read was by British or USAian authors, and ditto with what little television and cinema I was exposed to. I am of very mixed heritage, but I grew up as pretty much a white Christian under a brown skin.

And from that kind of upbringing, what one subconsciously imbibes is that the whole Israel enterprise is not just right but divinely ordained. Remember that the Bible’s Old Testament is pretty much the story of the Jewish people — the ‘chosen’ people, the ‘promised land’ — and that Christian and Jewish (and the Islamic, but that’s not germane to this topic) texts only diverge on the matter of whether Jesus was the messiah promised by the prophets.

With the more modern stories in comics and books and the very limited television and cinema I was exposed to, I continued to hear the same kind of story, of the plucky Jews fighting the heathens to claim the holy land. And of course the atrocity that was the holocaust could make any reasonably sane and vaguely human person feel sympathy for the followers of Judaism.

Now, add to this the acts of terror committed by a few batshit extremists who were technically followers of Islam which got far more media exposure and public discourse than similar acts committed by folk who claim other religious affiliations, and the very little exposure that Israel’s acts of discrimination, violence and colonialism got.

Of course the precise mix will differ from person to person, and my hybrid experience will not hold true for all. But I can tell you that as a result of the way I grew up, it took the Israeli attacks of 2014 — you recall the visuals of Israelis cheering from their deckchairs while they watched bombs land in Palestinian areas? the defiant foot-stamping dance of young Palestinians while black smoke billowed behind them? — for me to begin to question my conditioning and read more history.

I must also mention here that one thing that had begun to propel me on to this path was a piece by Sundeep Waslekar in my then-workplace, Forbes India, in 2011 about the ‘business plan of terror.’ I worked on our covers then, and so I was also privy to the conversations that happened before the story came out, and it was a major reorientation for me to learn about how terrorism took root in different parts of the world. (The piece, and the podcast episode that accompanied that issue.)

If you know me, you know I’m a fairly liberal person, someone who tries to understand other points of view, reasonably eager to learn. But it took this much for, to use a, hehe, biblical phrase, the scales to drop from my eyes.

Tuesday 31 October 2023

Mathew Perry

I find it a bit sad that so much of the sorrow being expressed after Mathew Perry’s death is centred around a character he played in the 90s.

Before I go on, I watched F.R.I.E.N.D.S off and on, and I enjoyed it. It was an international mega hit, it defined the time for many people of my generation and it still connects with young people today, despite often valid critique. The ‘who is you favourite Friend’ debates were the ‘who is your favourite Beatle’ conversations of an earlier time, fun, and also revealing of what we projected on our icons. And to be part of that phenomenon was, indeed special, and to be defined by it was perhaps inevitable, and applies equally to his co-stars except, and only to an extent, Jennifer Anniston. It is also natural, I guess, for actors to be defined by the roles they play.

And, no, no, no, I have nothing against one-hit wonders. And I’m well aware that it is one hit more than I have had or ever will in all my careers. (Have you seen James Blunt’s Twitter? It is one of the few reasons left for me to use that platform.)

But, F.R.I.E.N.D.S was an ensemble show, and to me the writing was as much a star as any of the people who appeared on camera. (And here I also acknowledge that each of those actors shaped their characters too, and that the writing then played off the characterisations, in a beautiful symbiotic way.) Chandler Bing was beloved, but Chandler Bing was the creation of many, not just the man who played him. Chandler Bing was fiction.

I come not to bury Chandler Bing (or F.R.I.E.N.D.S).

What I most admired about Mathew Perry was his openness about his own struggles with mental health and substance abuse. That he fought long and hard to overcome them and reclaim himself. That he used his celebrity status to help others who were fighting those battles.

That his life ended when he seemed to be more at peace with himself, that he didn’t get to grow old and weird and wonderful: that makes me sad.

Chandler Bing will live on, maybe even finding future generations whose truths he will speak, who will identify with him, love him and own him.

I come to mourn Mathew Perry.

I would like to be remembered as somebody who lived well, loved well, was a seeker. And his paramount thing is that he wanted to help people…
I’ve had a lot of ups and downs in my life. I’m still working through it personally, but the best thing about me is that if an alcoholic or drug addict comes up to me and says, ‘Will you help me?’ I will always say, ‘Yes, I know how to do that. I will do that for you, even if I can’t always do it for myself!’ So I do that, whenever I can. In groups, or one on one.
And I created the Perry House in Malibu, a sober-living facility for men. I also wrote my play The End of Longing, which is a personal message to the world, an exaggerated form of me as a drunk. I had something important to say to people like me, and to people who love people like me. When I die, I know people will talk about Friends, Friends, Friends. And I’m glad of that, happy l’ve done some solid work as an actor, as well as given people multiple chances to make fun of my struggles on the world wide web… but when I die, as far as my so-called accomplishments go, it would be nice if Friends were listed far behind the things I did to try to help other people.
I know it won’t happen, but it would be nice.
~Matthew Langford Perry
(August 19, 1969 - October 28, 2023)

Sunday 10 September 2023


I haven’t written here in a while. Bu this is just to note that it is 20 years to the day that I first posted here. The wee thing I had written that the post links to does not exist any more. And of course the blog layout has changed. And it was to be another three months before I wrote my second post. But hey, there it is.