Archive for the ‘Things I’ve done’ Category
At 7.55pm on Monday evening I’ll be on Channel Four, in the first of a series of short films for the week of the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
I’ll be talking about the massacre that formed the subject of my first book, Titanic Express – in relation to article eight of the UDHR, the right to justice. The film was made by Native Voice films, in collaboration with Amnesty International, and will be showing on Channel Four’s “3 minute wonder” slot. To give some sense of the detail that can go into a TV production, this 3 minute short took the best part of two days to film, with many hours more for editing. It was a fascinating process to be involved with, and from the edits I’ve seen so far I think they’ve done an excellent job.
First the Buddhist talked of the ways to calm, the mastery of desire, the path of enlightenment, and the panellists all said ‘Wow, terrific, if that works for you that’s great’. Then the Hindu talked of the cycles of suffering and birth and rebirth, the teachings of Krishna and the way to release, and they all said ‘Wow, terrific, if that works for you that’s great’. And so on, until the Catholic priest talked of the message of Jesus Christ, the promise of salvation and the way to life eternal, and they all said ‘Wow, terrific, if that works for you that’s great’. And he thumped the table and shouted: ‘No! It’s not a question of it if works for me! It’s the true word of the living God, and if you don’t believe it you’re all damned to Hell!’
And they all said: ‘Wow, terrific, if that works for you that’s great’.
All being well, this is the text that will actually appear on the cover!
Why is it that, time and again, intelligent, educated people end up
falling for ideas that turn out on closer examination to be nonsense?
We live in a supposedly rational age, yet crazy notions seem increasingly mainstream. New Age peddlers claim to cure Aids with vitamin tablets. Media gatekeepers stoke panic and regurgitate corporate press releases in the name of ‘balance’. Wild-eyed men in sandwich boards blame it all on CIA… Even the word ‘sceptic’ has been appropriated by cranks and conspiracy theorists bent on rewriting history and debunking sound science.
But while it may be easier than ever for nonsense to spread, it’s never been simpler to fight back….
Don’t Get Fooled Again offers practical tools for cutting through the claptrap and unravelling the spin – tackling propaganda, the psychology of deception, pseudo-news, bogus science, the weird cult of “Aids reappraisal”, numerous conspiracy theories (including the one about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq), and much more.
Richard Wilson’s book is user-friendly, enjoyable, shot through with polemic – and argues forcibly for a positive solution. Don’t be a cynic – be a sceptic!
“Don’t Get Fooled Again” is a very different kind of book from “Titanic Express”, but there are some common elements. Both, in their own ways, centre around a search for the truth, personally and politically. Both also look at how we can distinguish what’s true from what isn’t – or at least how we can tell a reasonable assumption from a completely nonsensical one – and why it is that these things matter. And both look in some detail at the issue of conspiracy theories, and the damage they can do.
In “Titanic Express”, the conspiracy theories I came across were often all-encompassing – so much so that at one point I was told that my sisters’ killers suspected me of being part of some devilish global plot to discredit them. And in “Don’t Get Fooled Again”, many of the most disturbing delusions I looked at – such as the belief that HIV doesn’t exist or is harmless, seemed ultimately, again, to rest on the belief in some conspiracy or another. What I wasn’t able to do in “Titanic Express” was to look in detail at the features that define a conspiracy theory, what it is, psychologically, that attracts us to such ideas, and the tools that we can use to unravel them – so it was great to have a chance to go into these questions a bit more in DGFA.
My first book, Titanic Express, was published by Continuum in 2006. It takes its title from the bizarre name of the bus that was ambushed by Burundian rebels in December 2000, close to the capital Bujumbura. One of the 21 victims of the attack was my elder sister Charlotte, who had been working as a teacher in neighbouring Rwanda. Her Burundian fiancé – another Richard – who was travelling with her, was also killed.
It took over a day for the news of Charlotte’s death to reach us. More or less from the moment I heard it, I was consumed by an overwhelming desire to know what had happened to my sister in the last moments of her life. But as time went on, this developed into a much wider interest in the chaotic chain of political events that had led to her death. The Titanic Express massacre was just one among hundreds – if not thousands – carried out by ethnic extremists, both Hutu and Tutsi, in Burundi since the current conflict began in 1993. Yet I’d known almost nothing about it until it had a personal effect on me. One of my reasons for writing the book was to try to make some record of the lives that had been lived – and lost – in a largely forgotten part of Africa.
Although this was always going to be a niche book, the response was immensely heartening. Titanic Express was covered sympathetically in several mainstream newspapers, including the Times, Sunday Times, and Independent, among others. Equally gratifying was the reception it got from many of my Burundian contacts. While not everyone agreed with my recounting of Burundian history – some deny, for example, that a genocide was committed against the Hutu population in 1972, and there was some disquiet over my criticism of the involvement of the current Rwandan government in the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the disagreements were much milder than I had expected!
Since Titanic Express was published, I’ve continued to campaign on the issues raised in it, and later this year I hope to be involved in an event in London marking the fourth anniversary of the August 2004 Gatumba refugee camp massacre, which was another of the cases I highlighted in the book.
One of the most moving independent reports about the Titanic Express case was written in French by a Burundian journalist, writing under a pseudonym for fear of reprisals against his family, who interviewed the mother of Charlotte’s fiancé back in 2005. I made a rough translation into English and, not knowing what else to do with it at the time, published it on Indymedia here.