Greece Demonstrates, Syria bleeds

November 14, 2012

In Greece, Political leaders continue to battle for the country’s economic survival. The ruling coalition is introducing increasingly unpopular austerity concessions. Refugees from Syria find there is little compassion for their plight. Leadership lessons are hard to find

The political and economic turmoil in Greece continues.

Last week [7th November 2012] judges and doctors participated in a general strike. As politicians deliberated, over 80,000 angry protestors including a group of policemen in uniform, demonstrated outside the Parliament buildings.

The Greek dilemma

The Greek dilemma is increasingly seen as misery and decline inside the Economic community, or misery and decline outside it.

If Greece leaves

The most vulnerable members of the Economic community such as Greece, Spain and Portugal all have the most recent history of military dictatorships ‘rescuing’ the country at its time of need. Is there any evidence of that about to happen? It seems at least a possibility, if Greece leaves the EEC.

Meanwhile, in Syria

Meanwhile the national turmoil has implications for the bloody conflict waging in neighbouring Syria. [14th November 2012]. Even the cold statistics make heart-breaking reading.

The Syrian Red Crescent charity says two and a half million people have been displaced within Syria, and a UN refugee agency considers the estimate on the conservative side. Nearly half a million Syrians have fled to neighbouring countries, the UN says. Figures of more than thirty people have been killed since the uprising against President Assad began over the last eighteen months.

Civilians flee in their thousands into camps on the Turkish border.

Life savings for an eight mile boat journey.

I watched a BBC Newsnight report last night, which showed desperate Syrian families prepared to spend their life savings in a risky crossing of eight miles, into Greece. Hardly surprisingly, those who arrive find the bitterness of people at their own plight, and a mood of heightened xenophobia against immigrants in general.

Leadership, what leadership?

I would like to draw some instructive leadership lessons from these stories, but they are hard to find. Perhaps there is the paradox to consider of the weakness of strong leaders and the limits to autocratic rule. Maybe we should think about the inter-connectedness of events which make dominant theories of leadership too simplistic to help us understand events and find actions which protect the interests of those most at risk.

Displays of ‘friendly’ bonfires to mark Northern Ireland’s marching season

July 11, 2009
Northern Ireland Bonfire BPA

Northern Ireland Bonfire BPA

The bonfires of Northern Ireland have long been part of the rituals of the marching season. Now efforts are being made to convert the symbols into affirmation of the peace process

The marching season in Northern Ireland comes each July with a host of symbolically and culturally significant actions which reinforce historic loyalties.

The challenge for leadership is the management of the meaning of such actions and images. This has become increasingly recognised since the publication of an influential article by Smircich and Morgan in the 1980s.

Leaders of the peace process rightly worry about the impact of symbolism and associated violence. But it is hardly surprising that efforts are being made to avoid counter-productive reactions by too direct action against such symbols.

The BBC reports a more subtle approach this year [July 2009]

Traditionally, bonfires are lit the night before the Twelfth of July and the aim is to make them as big – and as brutal – as possible. Over the years, for many loyalists the fires were not complete without an Irish flag, a Glasgow Celtic shirt or a Catholic emblem on the top for a ceremonial burning.

In the past, there have been so-called ‘shows of strength’ when hooded gunmen appeared from the shadows and fired bullets into the night air.

If all goes according to plan, a very different scene will be witnessed this weekend in loyalist parts of Belfast. The centre piece will be a custom-built beacon. Although technically bonfires are illegal, Belfast City Council is taking a pragmatic approach and trying to manage them rather than get rid of them.

The council’s Good Relations Officer, David Robinson, explained: “People might say that bonfires are never going to be environmentally friendly, but this is about as close as we’re going to get.”

Communities willing to work with the new system will be eligible for a grant towards a street party.

Action and Reaction

Maybe the initiative will trigger opposition. Bribery, cry some. But whatever happens, the sensitive management of meaning will remain in important aspect of any leadership within attempts to influence the processes of social and cultural change.


Image from The Guardian publicizing Unseen, issued by The British Press Photographers’ Association from unpublished images from its members’ back catalogue [ISBN 978-0-9561801-0-0] .

Eyeless in Gaza: Sampson lurches on

December 30, 2008


The tragedy unfolding in Gaza defeats rational resolution. Parallels can be found in the insights of the great classical poets

There is a sense of inevitability about the tragedy being re-enacted in Gaza, as 2008 draws to a bloody close. I have no words that can approach the horrors that continue to rage in the Middle East.

How to express emotions beyond pity for millions directly affected? Beyond pity for each individual? It is not so much anger at the acts of political and military leaders, but anger at the blindness of the protagonists toward alternative actions to those they are setting in train.

Eyeless in Gaza

It is an easy cliché to make a connection between the conflict waging in Gaza and Israel and those evocative words, originally from John Milton’s Sampson Agonistes and subsequently popularised in the title of Huxley’s otherwise forgettable novel, Eyeless in Gaza . But even a clichéd labelling may shift our attention to the moral blindness which has descended among many of those with influence in the conflict.

‘Now look what you’ve made me do’

The cry echoes far beyond Gaza. ‘Now look what you’ve made me do’. I have heard that cry too often. It is a universal cry of despair. The whine of the rapist raped in his own childhood. The bluster of the bully as much as the defence of the bullied. The frustration of the mourning parent or the vigilante at a perceived lack of justice and retribution. The anger of the teacher after one further intolerable incident, and of the student returning with a loaded shotgun.

‘Noise call you it, or universal groan’

Milton takes us away from the whine of despair without sparing us the comfort of denial of its sources. In the poem, chorus notes in Sampson’s blindness the dungeon of the self:

Thou art become (O worst imprisonment!)
The Dungeon of thy self; thy soul …
In real darkness of the body dwells,
Shut up from outward light ..
For inward light alas
Puts forth no visual beam

Then, later, as Sampson, offstage, pulls down the pillars of the temple, chorus explains ‘the hideous noise’

Noise call you it, or universal groan,
As if the whole inhabitation perished?
Blood, death, and dreadful deeds are in that noise,
Ruin, destruction at the utmost point.

‘Now I see what I’ve made me do’

It would be wrong to quote from the poem without acknowledging Milton’s religious beliefs, although his genius transcends the context of his writing, as it transcends our everyday notions of good and evil. For me, it points us to the wider issues of human folly in pursuit of victory. Milton helps us approach the condition in which any leader has to say ‘Now I see what I’ve made me do’


Sampson Agonistes is now interpreted as only peripherally associated with it’s author’s blindness. John Milton created a different fourteen lines of poetry which captured his rage at his own sightless condition, and his ultimate resolution of it.