Sunday, May 31, 2009

Dark Ages – The Scary House

The recent release of the Ryan Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Report ( has precipitated an eruption of national condemnation concerning the Religious Orders and their acceptance, if not orchestration, of systematic physical and sexual abuse within the ‘educational’ institutions they ran in the name of God and, it must be said, a pliant Irish establishment. It also has created headlines in Australia, South Africa, the USA and Canada with these countries’ own collective memories of the physical and sexual abuse perpetrated by Irish missionary brothers, nuns and priests since the end of the 1940s. 

Whereas once – at the end of the early medieval ‘pagan’ Dark Ages in Europe – Ireland’s missionary priests reintroduced Christian ideals into a continental consciousness; it seems now, that as a society for the past 70 years, we have encouraged the work of Irish missionary personal whose only ideal appears to have been a determination to re-establish a Dark Age, a perpetual darkness for the individuals victimized. 

In a far too belated way the report has also vindicated the few, vilified brave individuals like Gerard Mannix Flynn who have campaigned for many years for an acknowledgement by our society of the brutality perpetrated within these institutions and for justice for the victims.

This quote appeared in an article by Brighid McLaughlin in the Sunday Independent newspaper on one of Ireland’s foremost writers and artist Gerard Mannix Flynn’s brutal memories of his time in Letterfrack Industrial School in Connemara, Ireland in the late 1960’s. 

Mannix Flynn was sent to Letterfrack in 1968 at 11 years-of-age following what could only be called a ‘kangaroo court’ committal. That same summer, I was in the family car as we drove by Letterfrack while spending our summer holidays in the area. I remember my mother at a moment of desperation with misbehavior on my part begin to threaten me with, 

‘I’ll leave you in there if you …..’ 

but then suddenly bite back on the words in regret. 

I realize now that the memory of a monthly beating, in public, at her school in Roscrea by an eminent Jesuit priest, with the collusion of my grandfather had scarred her enormously. As children we were therefore fully aware – in the sense of the sanction involved – of the physical brutality associated with these schools (I also lived in Clonmel, Co. Tipperary for about six years, until the age of 12, and at the far end of the town was the Ferrybank Industrial School, another notorious institution mentioned in the report) but until about 2002 when Mannix Flynn’s play JamesX was performed had no idea of the extent of that brutality nor of the levels of sexual abuse perpetrated. 

Letterfrack remained large in my consciousness. In October 2004 I went to see, at the Arsenale in Venice, Ireland’s entry for the Architecture Biennale. The theme of the Biennale that year was ‘Metamorphoses’ and Irelands entry was an interpretation by John Tuomey and Sheila O’Donnell, architects of Letterfrack’s transformation from a cursed institution to a world famous furniture and ceramic school. The transformation and interpretation had been prompted by a conversation concerning the school with Mannix Flynn by John Tuomey about 10 years earlier.

On entering the Irish Pavillion the first part of the installation was called the “Scary House”, a bare construction of angled wooden square frames that got smaller and smaller in diameter causing me to bend, touching out to feel the wooden ribs; like the ribs of Jonah’s whale, swallowing me. I retreated and did not follow the remainder of the installation to find ‘peace’ at the ‘Settled Bench’ but left by the end door into the light, to sit at the edge of a dock where Venice constructed its own means of imposing a Christian terror on the galley slaves of years goneby.

Reading the report on Letterfrack, and the layers of secrecy and collusion that allowed the abuse to flourish is heart-rendering, and a permanent indictment of the so-called works of God that have existed since Irish missionaries determined to extinguish the Dark Ages 1500 years ago.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Simurgh and the Nightingale (Part 21)

Chapter 35 
French Ambassador's Residence, Pera. 
September 30th 1638

The clattering of glasses and the babel of conversation in many languages came to an abrupt halt as the first fusillade of cannonshot boomed out over the heights above Pera. All the guests present automatically moved to the garden's balcony edge in time to catch the second salute. An intensely burning incendiary shot lit the night sky with phosphorescent trails before fizzling out in chaotic spurts on the waters of the Bosphorous below.

Ambassador de Cesy beamed as a collective cheer greeted the display and as the orchestra struck up a fanfare he turned back towards the large ballroom. Two men were standing in one of the open doorways. He stopped in front of them. “Well young O’Driscoll. That will cause the whores of the Sultan’s harem to moisten their pantaloons. Will it not? ”He roared out laughing while at the same time turning a full circle to ensure he had a bigger audience. A few appreciative snorts and schoolgirl giggles satisfied his humour.
“Indeed Count de Cesy. It was a fine display. Guaranteed to capture their attention.” The Frenchman smiled but lingered somewhat impatiently for the expected introduction to O’Driscoll’s companion, a handsome raven-haired man whose skin was almost ebony from sun and sea. Dermico O’ Driscoll stepped aside a little. “Count de Cesy, Ambassador of His Great Majesty, Louis of France, may I present Dom Djivo Slavujovic, Knight of Sant’Iago and head of the Republic of Ragusa’s tribute delegation.”
The Frenchman’s eyes appeared to flicker with recognition of the name and Djivo noted this as he bowed stiffly. “I am honoured to make your acquaintance Count de Cesy.”
Dermico O’Driscoll took Djivo, possessively, by the arm. “Dom Djivo here is a remarkable man. These past years he has been a captive of the Algerian pirates but very recently managed to effect an escape.”
De Cesy pursed his lips and nodded his head vigorously. “Congratulations Sir. Most bravely done. You are most welcome. Come . . .” The Frenchman linked Djivo’s other arm and almost wrenching him from O’Driscoll’s grasp herded him through the door and across the ballroom floor. “You must give me a full account of your escapades. It will make a fine story for my dinner guests.”
Dermico began to follow but de Cesy turned and held up his free hand. “Young O’Driscoll, go and amuse some of the ladies present. They will no doubt fall for that quick wit of yours. I will return your friend to your company in a short while.”
Djivo and de Cesy moved across the ballroom and left through the guilded doors at the far end. Their arms no longer linked Djivo followed the Frenchman up a marble staircase to the next floor where he was shown into what was obviously de Cesy’s private office. De Cesy’s exquisitely tailored silk waistcoat - a local copy of the height of French Court fashion - struggled to contain his ample girth.  
“Take a seat Slavujovic. Would you like a cognac.”
Djivo nodded, and watched de Cesy pour them both drinks from a large flat-bottomed decanter. “You do me great honour Count de Cesy, but if you will forgive my ignorance, pray tell me what is the occasion of tonight’s festivities.”
De Cesy looked somewhat taken aback and glared at Djivo to see if his question was serious. “What? You do not know? ”
Djivo shook his head slowly, and then lowered it slightly, embarrassed as he accepted the cognac. “My apologies Count de Cesy. I only docked in Constantinople late this afternoon and having fortuitously met Dom Dermico at the quay he asked me to meet him here. I had just arrived when you chanced upon us and had not asked him about the occasion.”
De Cesy relaxed, accepting the explanation. “I will reprimand that young brigand for his poor manners later. Tonight, mon ami, we are celebrating the birth of the next King of France. All seven marks weight of him and with four fully formed teeth as well. It is a good omen.” He raised his glass. “A toast to their glorious Majesties and the new prince.”
Djivo raised his glass also and responded. “The new Prince. May God protect his childhood and grant him the skills of Kingship.”
De Cesy accepted the toast and after refilling their glasses indicated for Djivo to take a seat. The Frenchman sat on the opposite side of a large bureau and began to study Djivo intently, saying nothing. Djivo found the silence awkward. “I am keen to repay your hospitality, Count de Cesy. What can I tell you of my time in captivity? I have some splendid stories.”
De Cesy continued to stare, mute, before eventually breaking the silence with a sneering snort. “Slavujovic, do not flatter yourself. I have little time for any of your tales. Indeed another captive story would bore me beyond belief. My days here are filled with negotiations trying to rescue stupid and pathetic countrymen of mine and paying well over the odds to do so. Most deserve to rot. No Sir, your story is of no interest to me.”
Djivo, caught by surprise, reddened as his anger flared at the pompous and bilious heckle of the Frenchman. “And why Sir, the apparent generosity of your welcome if my presence irritates you so? ”
De Cesy stood up. “Don’t prickle young man. Certainly I rejoice in your escape, and particularly because you are alive. Your whereabouts and well-being has occupied the thoughts of many of us for some time.”
Djivo did not know how to react. What did this bloated toad mean. “I do not understand what you mean, Sir.”
De Cesy removed his velvet coat and loosened the tight neck cravat. Waves of sweat had stained the collar and armpit of the silk shirt he wore underneath. “Dom Djivo you will soon realise that I am a very direct person, preferring to show my hand than shroud its movements in calico. There is intelligence abroad that you have been searching for some very important ancient manuscripts and that you are close to the person who possibly holds the key to their recovery.”
Djivo sat silently. “That person, a fellow captive of yours in Algiers, is an Irishwoman called Cullen, who is, God forbid, a surgeon here in Constantinople. It is rumoured that she was in favour with the Patriarch Loukaris, before his recent, and well deserved, departure from this world. It is also rumoured that he told her where to recover the documents.”
Djivo tried to remain impassive as de Cesy studied his reactions. He knew he had to say something. “Yes I know Senora Cullen. I am glad to hear she is alive. She is a very able surgeon. But, I am not sure I understand the connection. What documents do you speak of? ”
De Cesy’s face pinched with irritation. “Slavujovic do not take me for a fool. I have some intelligence of your mission for the Sant’Iago Order. Why do you think I steered you away from O’Driscoll so brusquely? Incidentally, his meeting you was no accident. We all had news of your impending arrival almost a week ago. He has been hanging about the Ragusan warehouse like a panting whore every day since. And not the only one by all accounts.”
Disarmed by the Frenchman’s directness, Djivo stuttered, “What . . . what do you mean ?”
De Cesy laughed. He was a rasping cobra waiting to strike. “Well apart from O’Driscoll of Sant’Iago, there is Comneno of the Angelicks and also Pococke, a heretic cleric dispatched by Laud and the Garters. In addition the Austrians and the Patriarch of Jerusalem, who is determined to succeed Loukaris, also want the documents.”
“And Cardinal Richelieu as well, it seems!” Djivo realised immediately that this comment would confirm there were documents and he added quickly, “I still do not understand what documents you speak of and why this extraordinary interest in me.”
De Cesy circled the bureau and moved across the room, taking up a position behind Djivo. He placed a hand on his shoulder. “I will ignore your feigned ignorance. It is my understanding that the ancient manuscripts relate to the events surrounding the death of Christ and could prove most useful in the current conflict between Catholic and Protestant interests. For this reason France and Cardinal Richelieu would like to appeal to your Catholic beliefs, and your pocket, to try and obtain those documents for us.”
Djivo shrugged his shoulder trying to dislodge de Cesy’s hand. He could feel the sweat soaking through his light tunic. “If this is all so certain why have you not dealt with Senora Cullen directly? I am sure you have the resources?”
De Cesy released his hand and moved around to face Djivo. “She is a witch. I am certain of that. In a short time here she has made powerful friends and also has the patronage of the Valide Sultana. She is untouchable.”
Djivo relaxed, and smiled for the first time. “She is a very fine surgeon you know.”
De Cesy fumed. “A witch I say. In any event what do you say to the proposal?”
Djivo knew he had to try and minimise his involvement, it would be the only way to help Catherine. However the arrogance of the Frenchman had undermined his tact. “Ambassador Count de Cesy, if I meet Signorina Cullen, I will be sure to mention your kindness to me and relay France’s proposition. For my part I owe my life to her skill and to repay that debt will defend her safety and honour to my death if necessary. I will now take my leave. Good night to you.” Djivo stormed through the door and down the staircase to be met at the bottom by the loitering O’Driscoll. He brushed past him.
“Djivo where are you going?”
Djivo stopped to look back at his comrade Knight. There was venom in his voice. “O’Driscoll if you come near me again, I will not be responsible for my actions! Return to the quay and wait for another fool to arrive. Good night.”
Dermico O’Driscoll stood still for a moment before rushing after Djivo. “Djivo stop! Djivo, do not be so hasty. Listen to what I have to say. I must report back to the Order.”
Djivo stopped suddenly and reaching inside his cloak ripped the Espada of the Order from his tunic. Turning to face O’Driscoll he threw it on the ground in front of him. “Take that back to your precious Order. You never lifted a hand to save me from imprisonment and now you want to put somebody I care about in danger. Rot in hell!” 
With that he barked an order to one of the servants to fetch his horse. Mounting he galloped from the residence at a furious pace. He knew he had to find, to warn Catherine – both their lives were at risk.
Dermico O’Driscoll had wanted to follow him but was stopped by a shout from de Cesy, who had watched the events from halfway down the stairs. “Hold on O’Driscoll. It looks like both of us have lost our quarry. For the moment!” De Cesy completed his descent of the stairs and came close to whisper in O’Driscoll’s ear. “If we are discreet we can help each other. Richelieu will always be a better bet than Olivares and your Sant’Iago puppet masters. Now seek out Marco Comneno and meet me in my study. I fear we must act in concert and with urgency as our prey has a head start.”

©R.Derham 2001,2009

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Simurgh and the Nightingale (Part 20)

Chapter 34 
Rumelia Hissar, The Bosphorus. 
27 June 1638

The long caigue with its' eight yedekdjis boatmen was making slow progress against the very strong current that swept the waters of Euxine around the promontory known to local fishermen as the Cape of Women. The name alluded to a fair Sultana drowned at this point when her boat was wrecked by the viscous swell. Although the journey distance of six miles from their embarkation at the arsenal on the Mamora shore of the city was not unduly long the effort of overcoming the current had fully exhausted the oarsmen. In addition, a strong southerly wind was getting up and its opposing force was whipping up the river surface and submerging the quay and jetty piles. High above them Rumelia Hissar – the Fortress of Europe – brooded with its' three massive towers. 
As Catherine looked up at the south-eastern tower - its' conical wooden roof surmounted by green and blue banners - she nearly fell overboard as the boat thudded against the quayside. The helmsman was shouting out orders at the bowman who was having difficulty in securing the mooring lines on the wet wooden platform. Catherine slipped as she stepped over the gunwale but helped by Murad - who had insisted on accompanying her - regained her footing and soon reached the dry steps of a small kiosk perched beneath the walls.
From the castle gates a troop of soldiers were rushing to meet them. They wore green dolama coats over blue trousers and were armed with  saska sabres and large calibre snap-lock muskets with rounded shoulder butts. None were wearing bork caps and instead their heads were covered with tightly wound turbans. As they approached at speed Catherine remarked to Murad that they did not look like Janissaries. 
He whispered in her ear. “You are right. They are kale azaps, volunteer Anatolian bachelors. This particular unit are known as the divanegan or madmen but are commanded by a Janissary corbasi from the fourteenth cemaat division. His name is Hosrev Beg and a more soulless man you are unlikely to meet. His sinecure here is a reward for his loyalty to the Sultan in suppressing other Janissary units. We will meet him soon enough.”
Catherine adjusted her veil to fully cover her face and they were escorted through the gates to the inner courtyard of the castle. As they did so she noticed the marble lintel stone with the Arabic letter mim engraved on it just above the gate. After climbing the interminable steps they reached the courtyard and were met there by a small man in an elaborate uniform and with a tightly curled moustache. He had trouble controlling his sneering welcome. “What brings the famous Black Murad Aga on a visit to my garrison to share my meagre pilaff? If I had known you were coming my mehterhane band would have been at the quayside.”
Murad bristled and touched the hilt of his sword briefly before deciding to ignore the sarcasm. “I am here to see your prisoner . . . the Patriarch Loukaris.”
Hosrev Beg eyed Catherine suspiciously. “And this woman?”
Catherine and Murad had already discussed a cover story. “She is the Patriarch’s niece and you will see from this passport issued by the azar basi she has permission to see him.” Murad proffered the sealed scroll and after allowing the garrison commander time to read it, snatched it back. 
Hosrev Beg spat at the ground. “Very well then. But you’d better be quick and say your farewells. The Greek is to be executed at sunset. The order came through earlier today. Cavus!” He shouted at the nearby azap sergeant. “Show them to the prisoner.” Hosrev Beg smiled as he watched them being escorted away. 
Catherine barely suppressed a gasp as she staggered and leant heavily against Murad. The cavus led them across the courtyard and down the steps towards the south-western tower. This had been built by the pasha Khalil and was known as the Tower of Blood. Here -Catherine knew - had been incarcerated the most important prisoners of the Sultan’s wrath, and she could feel the desperation of past agonies from the walls as they were led through a rat infested tunnel until eventually reaching a heavy wooden door. The iron bolt was pulled aside and Catherine went in. Murad remained in the corridor.
The cell was dark and dank and as Catherine lifted her veil it took some time for her eyes to adjust to the small amount of light coming from a slit sentry window high above her. She first heard the rasping cough and then saw the curled figure of a frail old man on a litter in the corner. She knelt by his side. “Patriarch Loukaris! What have they done to you? ”
The elderly man dressed in his simple monk’s habit struggled to sit up. His eyes lit up when he recognised his visitor. “Catherine my child. Thank you for coming.” By now she was crying and as he took her hands in his, he could feel Catherine shuddering when she felt the cold clamminess of his skin. “Stop that my daughter. I am an old man and your tears will break what brittle sinews I have left.”
It took Catherine some time to compose herself before she could tell Loukaris of the execution order. He appeared calm indeed almost relieved.

“Do not distress yourself further my child. I knew this was imminent and that is why I arranged with the garrison Bektashi Imam to send a message to Murad to have him bring you here...” Loukaris began coughing and his fight for breath meant that his fingers and lips became blue. Catherine stood up and brought him a small beaker of water. She sat down beside him and held him until the coughing subsided. He took a small sip of the rancid water. “For many years I have been a thorn in the side of the French and their Austrian puppets. They recognised my antipathy to the overtures of Rome, and it’s desire to absorb my church, and were fearful of my dialogue with Protestant leaders such as Bishop Laud in England. My fate was finally sealed when I recently anticipated and blocked their attempts to give the Franciscan’s control of the Holy Places in Jerusalem. The Austrians I understand, prostituted by de Cesy, have lined the ample pockets of Grand Vizier Beiram Pasha and falsely accused me of inciting the Cossacks in Azzov to invade, thus interfering with the Sultan’s plans to attack Baghdad. It is on this account that I find myself here. Precedence for the firman ordering my execution already existed in that Sultan Murad had previously dispatched a Grand Mufti for his perceived lack of support for the Persian campaign...”
Another coughing fit brought his explanation to a halt and this time it took even longer to settle. Catherine was powerless to help. Loukaris struggled to control his breathing. He held her hand tightly and spoke quietly as he saw the concern in her eyes. “My child. Have we not travelled some interesting roads together exploring the limitations of intellect in understanding the true nature of our Creator?” Catherine lowered her head slowly and sadly. Loukaris paused again to draw some respite from the coughing and then continued. “It is far more likely, given the intensity of the French enquiries, that de Cesy acting for Richelieu, wished to prevent certain Scrolls in my possession falling into Protestant hands. It is my stout guardianship of these that has determined my fate.”
Catherine tried, unsuccessfully, to conceal her knowledge. “What . . . what Scrolls Patriarch Loukaris? Why are they so important? ”
Loukaris smiled. “Catherine my sister. You cannot hide your destiny from me. I have known since I first met you that your Path and mine are linked. The manuscripts that you seek came into my care from the Angelicks for a reason. The responsibility for their guardianship had to be removed from the world of men where the power of their revelations would be used for evil. That legacy, that onerous responsibility, whether you like it or not, is now yours.”
Catherine stuttered shamed by her puerile attempt to hide the truth. “Was . . .was it so obvious? ”
Loukaris nodded limply, the effort of speaking having drawn most of his depleted reserves of strength. “Not initially but when I was confronted by the various agents of France, Spain, Venice and England and their machinations to seek out the Scrolls then your destiny and my part in it became clear. Wherever your Path directs you, be assured that the true and intimate presence of our Creator will be guiding its direction. You have my blessing.”
Catherine once again knelt in front of Loukaris and held his hands. “Where are the Scrolls? ”
Loukaris watched as an ember of the evening light filtered through the window above. “In the monastery of St. George on the Prince’s Islands. You will have to hurry in your quest as I, with the agreement of the Patriarch of Jerusalem, have recently authorised their transfer to the Athonite Iviron Monastery.” He slipped a ring off his finger and pressed it into her hand. “Take this ring with my sigillion to the hegumen of St. George’s and its' authority will ensure that the Scrolls are given to you. Now call in Murad as I wish a private word with him.”
Catherine pulled down her veil and after taking her leave from Loukaris opened the door and called into the corridor. Murad came in and as she left the cell she caught his eye and shook her head silently. After a few minutes he returned, gently closing the door behind him. Catherine tried to push past him. “Murad I want to go back in to Loukaris. Let me pass.”
Murad turned his back to her and pulled the bolt across. The accompanying azap sergeant checked that it was secure. Murad turned again and taking Catherine’s elbow leant forward to whisper in her ear. “No Catherine, the Patriarch does not want you to. He asked that he be left alone to make his peace with God. We must leave quickly.”
Reluctantly she followed him back up the dark tunnel to the courtyard and without stopping to pay their respects to Hosrev Beg they descended quickly to the quayside gate. On reaching the boat the crew were startled by their sudden arrival and made an effort to jump out and meet them. They stopped when a harsh command from Murad ordered them to remain aboard and to ready their oars. He cast off the mooring lines himself before helping Catherine climb in.
The swift current immediately caught the hull and drew it away downstream towards Constantinople. Murad was aft giving instructions to the helmsman but Catherine could not make out what he was saying. Her gaze switched from the two men to the tower before finally turning to watch the rapidly setting western sun.

It was not long after they had left when Hosrev Beg entered the cell of Loukaris. He found him kneeling, facing towards the wall, deep in prayer. The old man did not turn to see his executioner. Taking a silk cord Hosrev placed it around the Patriarch’s neck and knotted it violently. Despite the little strength left in his battered body Loukaris struggled against the garrotte. Hosrev became angry and placing his knee in his victim’s back pulled back so hard he caused the neck to snap. All resistance was instantly gone and the body slumped to the ground. Hosrev removed the cord and replaced it with a noose of hemp rope. He then ordered the guards to drag the lifeless body through the courtyard and down to the quayside. It left a trail of blood and faeces behind it.
On reaching the water’s edge the azaps placed the body in a weighted sac and threw it into the black waters of the Bosphorous. Away from the lights of the quayside it was almost pitch-dark as the splashing sound of the thrown sac echoed against the fortress walls. It floated high on the surface for some distance only gradually sinking as the trapped air within it was expelled. Just as it appeared to finally submerge a fast moving boat approached. There was an urgent shout. “There it is! Hand me the boarding gaff. We have very little time. Get closer.” Murad’s voice was strident. The sac had dipped fully beneath the waves just as the bow of the boat reached it and released from its buoyancy began its sharp descent to the rivers bed. Murad plunged in the gaff, with the expert skill of the practised spear fisherman he was, and with a quick lateral movement searched for and snagged its sodden cloth. With great effort and slow movements least the weighted bundle be pulled from his tenuous hold, by the current, he guided the sac to the lee gunwale where it was hauled aboard. Murad cut open the cloth to confirm that the body was indeed that of Loukaris. Catherine’s anguished cry at the pained death mask of the gentle Patriarch was drowned out by the roar of a single cannon being fired from the now distant castle. “Make for the village of Arnaoutkeui, helmsman. The monks of the Church of St.  Michael will receive the body and execute his burial wishes. The akindi current will carry him to his final and deserved peace.” 
There was silence between them for a while as Catherine stared down at Loukaris' face. Murad eventually broke it. “ I know this is not a good time but I also received before we left Mamara some distressing news from Vlore.”
Catherine had learnt to dread Murad’s matter of fact tone. “Where is Vlore? ”
“Vlore or Valona, as the Italians call it, is in Albania. It seems that Ali Bitchnin’s fleet was suprised and routed by the Venetians. Over 2000 slaves were freed. Unfortunately Murat Reis was killed.”
Catherine stared at him. “ I thought Murat was a captive of the Knights in Malta. When did . . .”
Murad interrupted her. “Sorry. No...not the Murat we both know, but another, more famous, captain from Algiers who was the beylerbey in the Morea. He and Bitchnin were friends and had arranged to sail together...” He hesitated for a moment. “Djivo was with that fleet. There is no gossip of his whereabouts or even if he is alive. I am sorry.”
Catherine slumped to the crossbench. To Murad it appeared as if the black waters of the rushing current on which they rode rose up to carry away her spirit. 

©R.Derham, 2001,2009

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Simurgh and the Nightingale (Part 19)

Chapter 33 
The Adriatic. 
7th June 1638.

The sea was calm and Bitchnin’s galley could make good speed. It was a Reale with 30 rowing stations on each side set-up a scaloccio with six slaves chained to each oar. The slave oarsmen were positioned in such a way that four were pulling and two were pushing the enormous fiols. Ali Bitchnin gave a smile of satisfaction as he stood near the rudder post. He had always preferred the single, large, a scaloccio oar to the complicated alla zenzile set-up where there were three oars of different size at each station. Slave rowers adapted easier to the manoeuvres of the single oar although the effort required was still torturous. He could see that despite the previous winter’s heavy work hauling stone to repair the mole in Algiers all of the slaves were showing the immense strain involved on their faces. Like him they wished for a favourable wind to rise to ease their burden for the time being there was no sign of this. The sails on the lateen rigs of the galley’s two forward masts remained unfurled. Behind the Reale twelve other galleys of various sizes followed in their wake. All displayed the colours of the Algiers fleet.
Djivo stood on the fore-castle, leaning against the rigging of the forward mast. He was looking at the fast approaching harbour of Valona, directly ahead of them. He was in familiar waters again and he shivered as the realisation sunk in. 'So close to Ragusa and yet so far,' Djivo murmured as he turned to look back at the banks of straining oarsmen. He could still recognise some of the men who had been captured with him off Cape Falcon - seven years earlier - but had learnt to avoid their envious stares. On his return to Algiers from his work on the aqueduct in Constantine he had joined Bitchnin’s fleet which was departing to rendezvous with the annual assembly of the Kapudan Pasha’s fleet. This summer the rendezvous was to be at Coron in the southern Pelopenese with their eventual mission to transport soldiers and provisions to the Sultan's army which was besieging Crete. By departing early Bitchnin had decided to do some raiding of his own in Dalmatia, for profit first. 
After leaving Algiers the galleys had sailed for Bizerte in Tunisia and from there made the long dash to the coast of Puglia. Finally making landfall about ten miles south of Bari, Bitchnin and his company of marines from the ta’ifat al rusa had raided inland to the small cathedral town of Noicattaro where in the absence of much booty had made sport by raping the convent nuns. Bitchnin had rationalised these actions to Djivo by saying that the nuns had prostituted their lust and he had done them a favour. His mood was foul however as there had been little profit in the raid, and he had angrily ordered their departure to spend a week cruising the Puglian coast in search of merchant vessels with even less luck. By then the men were spent with the effort and turning east they had docked in Ulcinj in Albania where they had replenished their supplies. 
The respite had been brief. As the time for the assembly of the Sultan’s fleet drew ever closer Bitchnin drove his tired oarsmen for one more raiding cruise northwards along the Dalmatian coast before returning south to make for Valona where Bitchnin had planned a three day lay-over. After this he planned to sail the final leg to Coron. It was this raid northwards that had brought Djivo so close to Ragusa. He thought of Catherine constantly. The two or three letters of hers that had arrived from Constantinople in Constantine were invariably a season old and had to be first routed through Bitchnin’s bano in Algiers. They had devised a secret code for their exchanges as he did not want anyone to know of his whereabouts. He had not even risked trying to inform his family.
Djivo's thoughts were interrupted by barked commands and the galley banking sharply to round the island of Saseno and make directly for the port of Valona. The wind was beginning to rise and its direction from the east was whipping up the sea. Their speed dropped further as the galley battled into both wind and sea. At the same moment there were loud shouts from the look-outs aloft. From around the north-western cape of the outer bay there had suddenly appeared a great number of sails moving at speed. It was not long before Djivo could make out the huge ensigns of a Venetian war fleet. He could make out three frigates, four galleasses and seven galleys straining on wind and oar to close the gap between them. Being outnumbered by size and firepower Bitchnin ordered four of his galleys to stand station to slow down the Venetians while he and the others attempted to make the inner harbour.

Djivo recognised on the lead Venetian galley the personal colours of the Signora’s admiral Marin Capello. He knew him to be a battle hardened captain and the prompt dispatch of two frigates to flank the Bitchnin fleet was decisive. With the benefit of full sail they hugged the northern shore and quickly cut off the Algerians escape route. The situation was impossible and Bitchnin knew there was little they could do at sea to defend themselves. Ordering four more of his galleys to intercept the frigates - and the knowledge of their certain massacre - the Reale made directly for the sheltered shore of the mountainous Karaburun peninsula. Bitchnin ordered the beaching of the remaining galleys. ‘Far better,’ he told Djivo. ‘To barter your freedom than sink your future in futile effort’. As they beached Djivo saw Bitchnin transferring his command to one of the smaller galleys of 40 oars and ordered it to stand offshore. Manning the fiols of this galley were freemen and the decks were packed with the armed mariners. Bitchnin knew that if he was captured, even the prospect of the king’s ransom he could attract, would be unlikely to prevent him from being strung between the poles of Saint Mark’s square by his fellow Venetians. His head had a price. Dead or alive. 
It was nearly nightfall and in the confusion of the landing, Djivo realised he had an opportunity to escape. He quickly and quietly slipped away from the shoreline and making for higher ground he hid behind a small rocky outcrop where he could observe the commotion below. Most of the slaves remained chained to their oars. He could hear them screaming for help and it was only when he saw that members of the militia were preparing to fire the boats that he realised why. Djivo knew that the militia would also have placed gunpowder kegs to ensure their efforts were total. Slaves and boats  were all to be sacrificed.
Offshore the Venetian galleys - with their night braziers now lit - appeared like a glittering necklace surrounding the entrance of the small cove where the Algerians had beached. The noose drew tighter and tighter with the sound of each crashing wave. Suddenly on a pre-arranged signal from Bitchnin the militia lit the powder fuses and as the first keg exploded into the night sky its thunder was soon replaced by the agonised cries of dying and injured men. With this diversion Bitchnin’s galley made the dangerous exit between the island and the peninsula by hugging its rocky shoreline. The oarsmen had on occasions to lift their oars to make the passage and the pounding surf threatened, at any moment, to catch the galley broadsides and catapult it like a twig onto the waiting crags. The fleeing galley soon disappeared from Djivo’s view and the Venetian flares that arced into the night sky in pursuit found nothing.
Djivo stayed where he was. He knew he could not trust the Venetians to grant his freedom as he had not been chained as a slave. Any suspicion on their parts that he was a possible renegade Christian officer - voluntarily sailing with Bitchnin - would render his life worthless. He knew he would have to hide until daybreak and then find a way off the peninsula. ‘But where to go?’ He thought to himself. He then remembered that there was a small harbour at Hirmane on the coast just north of the island of Corfu and that was his best chance. With further explosions the screams of the dying men and the shards of burning wood raining down on him emphasised the peril. He could see that only two of the beached galleys were on fire and realised that somehow, the other powder fuses must have misfired. There was little he could do as the Venetian galleys were already landing. For the remaining captives at least, Djivo consoled himself, it meant the end - for some of them - of nearly ten years chained to the Barbary oar.

The night was long and Djivo spent most of it avoiding the groups of torch carrying soldiers now fanning out across the mountain trying to catch fleeing pirates. Progress was slow as he hugged the hillside that banked away from the small river that drained into the bay. Moving up the valley the sun’s first rays found him looking tiredly down on the small village of Dukat. In the distance there was the occasional discharge of a musket, but it seemed a long way off. Perhaps it was his fatigue but Djivo did not see a small group of soldiers cresting the hill behind him until too late. There was a sudden shout. “There is another one! Get him! The Admiral has offered two ducats for a pirate head!”
The soldiers needed no more encouragement and with musket balls singing about his ears and thumping into the ground behind him Djivo began to rush headlong towards a small group of houses on the outskirts of the village. He needed to get to cover fast. He had just entered a small ravine when he was suddenly flung with huge force to one side. At the same moment everything went dark and Djivo found himself lying face down on a dry reed- covered floor. He did not think that he had been shot as he could feel no pain. He struggled to get up but just as quickly there was a hand placed over his mouth and what felt like a knee placed behind his neck keeping him pinned to the floor. He could feel his assailants hot breath close to his ear.
The man whispered, “Dom Djivo. Do not struggle or the soldiers will find us. Not a word. Do you understand? ”
Djivo was suprised by the use of his name and by the calmness of his assailants voice. He nodded his head. The strangers grip loosened. Djivo sat up, gingerly, but in the pitch-like darkness could see nothing. Feeling out with his hands he realised he was inside some kind of a tunnel or cavern. Above him he could hear the voices of the soldiers initially bewildered and then angry at the sudden disappearance of their prey. The search went on for many hours -he could hear the soldiers retracing their steps many times- while he and his companion sat in absolute quietness, the silence broken only by the sound of muffled water from a stream somewhere behind them in the cavern. Eventually there was no more noise. 
Djivo turned towards the heat of his neighbour. “Shall we venture out? ”
The answer was curt. “No. We are likely to be here for some days. The Venetians will have left watch details to flush out any remaining fugitives.”
Djivo sunk back, the aches and pains of his cramped conditions searing home. He had to relieve himself and felt the searing hot liquid run down his leg and trickle across the floor beneath him. “What is this place? ”
“We are in an underground storage silo. I think it is attached to an old well. If you crawl back further you should be able to find some food and perhaps water. I will light a torch.”
“Is there not a danger they will see the fumes? ” Djivo was beginning to feel safe in their sanctuary.
“Perhaps. But these nights are moonless and the smoke should be invisible. In any event we need to eat.”
The whispering man took out a crude flint and finding a primed reed torch waiting in its stand on one wall managed to ignite its flame. The cavern was suddenly cast in flickering orange shadows and adjusting to the light Djivo took the torch and explored the silo. Returning after a few minutes with a bag of raisins and some cheese he had also brought an urn of water from the well that lay at its furthest recess. Both men ate ravenously and Djivo took the opportunity to study the features of his saviour before the torch was doused. “Who are you? How did you know my name? ” He could sense the other man stretching out to get some sleep.
“You do not recognise me then? ”
Djivo was perplexed. “No!” 
There was a silence for some moments before the man continued, “I am Issac ben Jacob. We have met before.” Djivo still could not make the connection. “Many years ago in Palermo. I was with my Rabbi.”
Djivo sat up, startled, bumping his head on the cavern roof. He could taste the blood as it soon trickled down his face to his mouth. “You! You were the boy with Jacob ben Moses. What are you doing here? ”
There was a pause again. “Consider me as your guardian angel. I have been with you since Ulcinj in the guise of a local pilot. Our destinies are intertwined. Now get some sleep.”

It was nearly six days later when Issac ben Jacob felt it safe enough for them to exit their stinking bolt-hole. In the early hours of a beautiful summer morning, with the rising sun casting its first brushstrokes on the eastern hills, they made their escape. It took two days of furtive and painful travelling on cramped and weakened limbs, to climb the pass that brought them through the mountains and back down towards the glimmering sea. It was just before sunset when they reached the outskirts of small harbour that served the needs of the more inland village of Hirmane. Scanning the boats at anchor Djivo recognised, with disbelief, his family’s crest flying on the flag of a small Ragusan merchant vessel. There was only one watchman apparent and sound asleep it seemed. His snoring was loud with the evening’s tavern wine having pickled his senses. 
Waiting until darkness both Djivo and Issac were glad to remove their clothes and make the short swim out to the ship. It helped to wash away the stench of their recent entombment. If they had stayed any longer in the silo, Djivo thought to himself as he drew closer to the ship with silent gentle strokes, they would surely have soon been detected by the smell. They swam to the side hidden from any eyes on the wharf and pulling themselves up and over the low gunwale they crept stealthily across the deck to enter the Captain’s cabin. His own snoring was also loud and it took sometime to rouse him from the slumber. Issac held his hand across the sailor’s mouth as the man’s eyes displayed his waking terror. After a few words of gentle reassurance whispered in his ear by Djivo, dawning recognition caused the Captain to shoot up out of his litter. With a speed belying his great bulk he wrapped Djivo in a smothering bearhug of effusive slobbering. “Your excellency. It’s a miracle! We had long given you up for dead. Your brother and family will be overjoyed.”
Djivo felt a cold chill race down his spine. “My brother? ” The words stuttered out. 
The ship’s captain realised his mistake. “I am sorry Dom Djivo. That was both ignorant and cruel of me. You were not to know that your father died in Constantinople three years ago. An unfortunate accident on a street, of all places. Trampled by a horse. He is buried in your family vault on Sipan. Your brother Dom Stefan is now the head of the house.”
Djivo’s heart tore at his chest. “Why was he in Constantinople? He was no longer required to undertake those embassies.”
The captain tried to ease the younger man’s pain by resting a hand on his shoulder. “It is no consolation Dom Djivo, but your father had petitioned the legislative Council to allow him lead the tribute payment Legation in order to try and get some information with regard to your whereabouts and well-being. You were always his great favourite.”
Djivo bowed his head, shaking it slightly, and then remained silent as the captain left his side to waken the crew. Waiting until just before daybreak they were then ordered to break out full sail. At the same time the captain cut the anchor rope to avoid making any noise or cause any delay in departing. The boat slipped silently from the harbour and pursued by a good south-westerly sirocco wind reached the outer Ragusan territories in the late afternoon. Even the proximity of his homeland after so long failed to lift Djivo’s spirits. When Issac ben Jacob joined him he wondered aloud as to what further price his quest would demand. 
The Djerban could only shrug. “Your destiny will bring with it many obstacles determined to obstruct your resolve. You must be strong enough to overcome them.” There was a slight pause before Issac continued, “Your lady. The surgeon is well.”
Djivo was startled. “Catherine. You have met her. How? Where? ”
Issac looked at the Ragusan who was almost puppy-like in his attention. “I have told you before. Our destinies are linked. The Lady Catherine is in Constantinople and is held in high regard. I will bring you to her.”
Djivo wanted to ask more but Issac turned away to fix his gaze on the approaching city. There would be time later for his questions. Djivo’s sombre mood had lifted with the news of Catherine and he pointed out the familiar landmarks to Issac. Ordering the Captain to bypass the harbour and to continue on to land in Sipan he had decided to first visit his father’s grave before completing the journey to the city. How he wished he had been able to contact him sooner. Now more than ever he felt the longing of his love for Catherine. This would be his lodestone from hereon out. 

©R.Derham 2001,2009

Monday, May 11, 2009

Lapidation– A loss of Reason

Mahmoud Farshchian's "Ashura"
Sa'd Abad Museum Complex, Tehran.

On the 5th March 2009, at the Sa’d Abad Museum complex in Tehran, I spent the afternoon taking in the sublime beauty of the metaphysical paintings of Mahmoud Farshchian of which his interpretation of Ashura, the Shi’a day of mourning that commemorates the martyrdom of Husain ibn Ali at the Battle of Kerbala in 680 CE (61 AH), is depicted above. 

On the 5th March 2009, 350 kilometres to the north, in the city of Rasht, 30 year-old Vali Azad was dragged, in secret, to a pit in Lakan Prison, buried up to his waist and executed by stoning – lapidation – for the crime of zina – adultery whilst married. It is not certain who carried out the sentence but the post-revolutionary Iranian constitution dictates that the stones be not big enough to cause immediate death or small enough to cause little injury. There is no doubt that Vali Azad would have looked up to see the first stone being thrown. It is not known whether this was done by Hojjatoleslam Kashani, the sentencing Judge of Branch 11 of the General Court of Gilan Province, or perhaps a prison guard. 

In either event it can only be hoped that the first stone rendered Azad unconscious but this is unlikely given the deliberate determination of the size of stones used. His bowels would have evacuated. The searing pain, perhaps the fracture of an eye orbit, nose or jaw followed again and again by repeated blows. Death when it came would have been a brutal implosion of the bones of the skull being forced into the soft brain tissue to create haemorrhage around the vital centres. 

Zina is considered a hadd punishment, defined by the law. It must be supposed that given shari’a law’s requirement for four witnesses to the adulterous episode, and the unlikelihood of this in an adulterous sexual encounter, that Vali Azad must have confessed to the crime. Who knows whether this was done freely or as the result of coercive torture? 

In 2002 the head of the Iranian judiciary imposed a moratorium on stoning, but individual judges have continued to utilise the punishment.

Mahmoud Farshchian's "Injustice"

Capital punishment of any kind, anywhere in the world, is the end of reason, particularly of those perpetrating the sanction. Stoning in particular as a legally recognised method of execution is as barbaric a form of human ‘justice’ as one could possibly imagine. 

Amnesty International (Public AI Index: MDE 13/041/2009) have asked concerned people everywhere to protest in the strongest possible terms to the authorities in Iran to prevent further stoning executions, particularly in the case of Mohammed Ali Navid Khamami, sentenced recently to such a death, again in Rasht. 

Thursday, May 07, 2009

The Simurgh and the Nightingale (Part 18)

Chapter 32

Prison of Anemas, Constantinople 
11th November 1637

The group descended a spiral serpent-like passageway to an apartment which lay immediately below the first chamber they had previously been in. Entering Catherine surveyed the room. Above she noticed a small circular aperture in the roof that appeared to connect to the upper chamber and shed a beam of dusty light onto a small table in the centre of the room where there were jugs of wine and plates of figs laid out. A number of low benches surrounded the table and high on the wall at the far end of the chamber - resting in a niche - was a carved head made of some kind of emerald coloured stone. Catherine was transfixed by its green aura. The pir joined her.
“Beautiful is it not?”
Catherine could not take her eyes off the carving and nodded her head slowly.
“All that remains of the statue of Minerva of Lindia, carved by Scyllis and Dipoenus and presented by Sesostris, King of Egypt to Cleobulus, King of Lindia in recognition of his renowned wisdom. Its emerald antiquity is the fulcrum of our tekke. ”
Catherine was puzzled. “I do not understand,” she whispered.
The pir did not answer but taking her arm gently led her back to a low bench and seated her close to him. The others took their seats and for the first time Catherine could make out their faces and was surprised by some of their smiles of recognition. The pir held her hand and that of the person on his right. All of the others followed suit until the circle was complete. 
The pir then addressed the gathering in a quiet voice, “We who have passed through the door of marifet, and the mystical secrets it hides, will for ever be kept within the merging of this circle. With the initiation of Catherine, once again the Lodge of the Khorram-Dinan has its 30 members and thus we can all continue our individual Paths. Before proceeding any further it is opportune to introduce ourselves to our new member.” He turned to Catherine. “I am Chelebi Kalender Oglu and on your left is Solakzade the Sultan’s historiographer. Next to him is Evliya Effendi a writer and beyond him Husseyn the nahib of the salted beef guild. Next is Murad of course and you also know the Patriarch Loukaris. After him is Issac ben Jacob, of Palermo.”

The Conference of the Birds

Catherine leant forward to greet each but missed many of the names the pir continued to call out.
“Finally on my right is Selim Zeitun Oglu, of Tavshanli. He is our archivist.”
The old man with a happy face stood up and walking behind the pir came and embraced Catherine. “You are welcome, our sister.”
Catherine stuttered as the old man retook his seat. “Thank you all. I will try to be worthy of the welcome.”
Chelebi Kalender Oglu smiled. “As you will soon find out Catherine, this tekke includes members of all the religions of the book whose central belief in God our Creator guarantees their inclusion. You have chosen also to consider welcoming the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed into your heart and for that we are doubly grateful. The secrecy of this tekke is essential because of increasing conflict with the orthodox ulema who fail to understand the necessity of esoteric contemplation. The teachings of Ibn ’Arabi and the divine revelations set out in the jawidan-i-kabir of Fadullah are the keys to the Path and they, the lawyers, have numbed their senses to that Love.”
The pir sat down and the clapping of his hands brought an attendant running with a waterpipe. “For dear friends, this is the feast of our Path, the tonic of elegant wit.”
The smell of hashish soon wafted throughout the room. The pipe was passed from person to person until it reached Catherine. Some had chosen to inhale its smoke others to merely to touch the rim and then their foreheads. Catherine hesitated. The pir gently took her hand. “You will have noted from my title of chelebi that I am also of the Mevlevi and the hashish is a tradition of theirs which will enhance the experience of the sama. If you are uncomfortable just touch its rim and drink wine instead.”
Catherine elected to inhale and almost immediately felt a strange disinhibited calm settle on her. 
Kalender Oglu was pleased. “Good. Let us proceed with our deliberations. Today we will explore the suluk of Berith. It is perhaps the pivotal stage in the understanding of our Order’s deeper mysteries. Murad you might start.”
Murad coughed to clear his throat. Catherine recognised its timbre from earlier. “Berith is the alchemist’s devil who could change all metals into gold. However the imagery of the devil’s name is but a secret device to hide from the ignorant the existence of the Emerald Tablet.”
The pir nodded and then looked at another of the members who was hidden from Catherine’s direct view. “Issac what do you know of the Emerald Tablet?”
A young voice answered. Catherine leaned forward to see who was speaking. Since his introduction earlier she was bothered by the feeling that she had met him before but was unsure where. “It is the alchemist’s stone recovered by Alexander the Macedonian from the ruins of the Ancient Grand Lodge in Thebe. It is thought to have been the work of Hermis Trismegistos the Greek counterpart of Thoth, the Egyptian God of Wisdom. Hermis is considered along with Jaber ’ibu Hayyan, Aristotle and Rhozes to be a founding father of alchemy. The stone’s carvings were thought to hold the key to understanding the Fifth Essence.”
The pir stood up and going to the back wall recovered the Emerald Head from its niche and brought it to the table. Catherine was once again transfixed by its glow. “Catherine, what can you tell us of the Fifth Essence?”
She resisted the urge to touch the carving. “This is believed by the Alchemists to be the mystical gift given by God which allows them to create Gold. It is a guarded secret but about 30 years ago Sindivogius in his book ‘De Capide Philosphorum’ - the Philosopher’s Stone - stated that the Fifth Essence was to be found in the mixture of air.’
The pir muted his surprise at this information. “Selim. Perhaps you would explain the significance of the Emerald Tablet for us.”
The archivist opposite Catherine smiled at her as he replied. “Hajji Bektash, our glorious saint, came to Anatolia from Khorsan driven out by the towers of skulls built by the merciless Khan’s. He had decided to make his pilgrimage to Mecca and followed the silk road from Meshed to Tehran and on towards Ashvaz. At Susa he had a vision which told him to follow the river Kerkheh which would bring him to Behistun, the Mountain of the Gods. On the way he had to traverse four mountain passes and this formed the basis of the Doors of our tariqat. On reaching the mountain the saint found an ancient sanctuary above the carvings of Darius where the Zoarastians once had a fire-bowl. It was now attended by initiates of the Khorram-Dinan sect. These guardians told Baba Becktash that ancient lore had Alexander leaving the Emerald Tablets in this place. They allowed him to see transcriptions of the tablets which detailed and explained the secrets contained in those ancient carvings. He carried away with him this knowledge and in his mystical writings has left hidden clues to understanding the secret.”
The pir took a ancient calf skin-covered book from his inner pocket and after turning a couple of leaves stopped and began reading, “The believer in reaching for the golden Truth should avoid the fools path to the top of high mountains. He will be cleansed best by the vigour of valley rivers rather than gasping in the weak moisture of passing clouds. Abu Turab is the Custodian of the body which we understand to be the ultimate expression of God’s will. He also is the water of the river, the father of all existing things and their point of origin and their reality, the sirr of all engendered things . . .”
Catherine found the mixture of wine and hashish carrying her forward on waves of heightened awareness. She involuntarily began to chant, interrupting the pir’s dialogue.
“I am the Essence of Essences, and the Essence in the Essences of the Essence.”
Chelebi Kalendar Oglu shook as if he had been stuck by a blow. “How do you know of the commentaries of Rajab al-Bursi on the hadith elucidating the difference between the body and the soul?”
At that point Catherine suddenly remembered where she had seen the young man Issac before and leant forward to smile at him. “Rabbi Jacob ben Moses discussed them with me.”
The pir whistled softly before a second clap of his hands signalled the distinct sounds of a rebab having its strings tuned and the unearthly tones of a ney pipe having its' reed pores blown. The sounds soon fused and with a slow, haunting melody soon carried all of the listeners with them. The pir sang of love in a verse from Rumi’s Mathnawi,

“By love bitter things become sweet,
by love pieces of copper become golden.
By love dregs become clear,
by love pains become healing.
By love the dead is made living,
by love the king is made a slave.
This love moreover is the fruit of gnosis.”

©R.Derham 2001,2009

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Blasphemy and Bananas

In 1896 the American short story writer O. Henry – William Sydney Porter – exiled himself to Honduras to escape charges of embezzlement at a bank in Houston. While there he wrote a series of short stories, collected in his book Cabbages and Kings, in one of which, The Admiral, he coined the term ‘banana republic.’ It is worth quoting the passage:

“In the constitution of this small, maritime banana republic was a forgotten section that provided for the maintenance of a navy. This provision—with many other wiser ones—had lain inert since the establishment of the republic. Anchuria had no navy and had no use for one. It was characteristic of Don Sabas—a man at once merry, learned, whimsical and audacious—that he should have disturbed the dust of this musty and sleeping statute to increase the humour of the world by so much as a smile from his indulgent colleagues.

With delightful mock seriousness the Minister of War proposed the creation of a navy. He argued its need and the glories it might achieve with such gay and witty zeal that the travesty overcame with its humour even the swart dignity of President Losada himself.”

With equal travesty, in the midst of another banking scandal – I must be careful here not to be accused of the equally medieval crime of sedition – our own Don Sabas, Dermot Ahern T.D., the Minister for Justice in Ireland’s banana republic, has decided to insert a section on blasphemous libel in a proposed reform of Ireland’s defamation law, merely because the provision for such an offence is mooted in our Constitution (Article 6 1° i), albeit a 'forgotten section' having laid reasonably inert since the foundation of our Republic. 

What a load of codswallop! 

The Irish Law Reform Commission in 1991 recognised that in a modern secular world nobody knows what blasphemy actually is, nor indeed is there an adequate definition of what constitutes a religion, and advocated its removal from the Constitution. Similar reservations were also expressed by the Irish Supreme Court in the Corway case of 1999. 

All individual rights are a matter of trade off: the right to freedom of expression versus the right not to be the subject of religious hatred. Common sense alone will determine what constitutes religious hatred. Dermot Ahern with his offence of blasphemous libel will be re-enforcing (with €100,000 fines - enough for boatloads of bananas!) the archaic concept of a public-order offence for the protection of a Judeo-Islamic-Christian monotheistic moral perspective, a public order religious protection that is completely redundant in a pluralist society. 

Even Chaos theory will be unable to decipher the dangerous consequences of such an ambiguous presumption.