The road to Damascus – By Duncan Harley


Never really read much by Ian Banks. I mean, he was an Edinburgh man after all. The Wasp Factory was published in 1984. My heroes around then were Blair and Mandela. Not the Labour Blair of course, but Homage to Catalonia Eric Blair and of course Nelson Mandela. A man who was later awarded the freedom of the city of Glasgow and Aberdeen. My son met him briefly outside Glasgow City Chambers, just after the ceremony in 1993, but was then too young to recall the smiling eyes of the man and the air of peace and gentle power he generated.

Before his presidency, Mandela was of course an anti-apartheid activist and leader of the African National Congress and its armed wing Umkhonto we Sizwe, translated “Spear of the Nation.”

Following his 27 years in prison on convictions for various crimes, including sabotage but not murder, his switch to a policy of reconciliation and negotiation helped lead the transition to a multi-racial democracy in South Africa. Since the end of apartheid he has been widely praised, even by former opponents. Another case of yesterdays terrorist becoming today’s politician I suppose. Somewhat like Ian Banks however, Mandela may soon be out of this earthly place except of course in our collective memories.

It was moving indeed to view the tributes to Ian Bank’s passing. In particular I personally was struck by the fact that both Sky News and the BBC carried lengthy interviews with his writing and drinking pals. At the outset of his illness he famously told an interviewer that he had been very surprised at the media interest in his future life prospects and commented that the day of his announcement must have been a slow news day indeed. The day of his demise was flanked by news reports of Nelson Mandela’s illness and the news that the Duke of Edinburgh was back in hospital so it seems that Ian was up there on our screens and newspapers with the best of them.

The outpouring of dismay and affection by his readers on the announcement by Ian regarding his imminent demise spoke volumes about the impact the man made. Comments such as “Ian Banks was a very sad loss as for Mandela who can say anything but a working class hero” from Ruby Finnie and Helena Petre’s “I’m sorry to hear about Ian Banks, loved his book about Whisky and the TV dramatisations of his novels, though I did not read any of them” say it all. I may just buy the Wasp Factory on the strength of it.

Then of course there are the detractors. As far as I am aware, the British National Party have no burning issues to do with Scottish fiction writers but it seems that, in their world view, Nelson Mandela is a completely different matter.

The BNP leader, Nick Griffin, has this week sparked some outrage with a series of tweets branding Nelson Mandela a “murdering old terrorist”. Mr Griffin, who has been often been called a far-right politician and who is of course NOT an MP has seemingly mocked the 94-year-old former South African president’s lung condition by apparently writing on Twitter that “nelson Mandela on last legs it seems. Make sure to avoid BBC when the murdering old terrorist croaks. It’ll be nauseating” and “‘Statesmen must be judged on results not rhetoric. Before Mandela, South Africa was a safe economic powerhouse. Now crime ridden basket case.” He seemingly also wrote “No surprise Mandela’s lungs are shot – all those burning tyres. Smoking necklaces very bad for the health.”

Love them or hate them the BNP are seemingly here to stay. Nick Griffin is currently holidaying in Syria on a fact finding mission. He will shortly be meeting President Bashar Assad in Damascus.

Mr Griffin’s comments have been followed by an explanation from BNP spokesperson Mr Simon Darby as to why the party leader is in Syria meeting a man who has allowed his country to descend into a bloody and protracted civil war. According to Mr Darby the mission is an attempt to see just how many British citizens are fighting out there for the Free Syrian Army and other elements opposed to Assad.
We are “sick and tired of seeing lads from Manchester and Liverpool coming back in body bags or with arms and legs missing because the Government got them involved in business that isn’t any concern of ours” Said Darby.
What can the BNP spokesman mean? Body bags, arms and legs missing? Surely that is President Bashar Assad’s mission in life. In any case if the BNP wanted to count the numbers of British citizens fighting on the rebel side they had best contact the National Alliance for Syria who are more likely to have useful figures.

On the whole though, the majority of comments regarding both the life and death of Ian Banks and the life and current ill health of Nelson Mandela have been positive and informative.

As for the BNP, they have yet again messed up their own nest and proved to many in the UK and abroad, that they have no place in UK politics. That is unless Nick Griffin has a Road to Damascus experience during his holiday.


About Duncan Harley

Author, photographer and feature writer.
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