The Nine Flagbearers

I would not want to imply that I think silliness is a necessary part of going right-wing. But you cannot read the serenely egotistical incoherence of Rush Limbaugh without wondering:

“Of all the things that you want to honour. I mean, the people of Great Britain don’t even like the National Health Service! And then it hit me, and then it hit me. It was actually done on behalf of President Kardashian. They did it for Obama. Nobody will convince me otherwise.”

(Limbaugh, by the way, has long been described as “the Number One voice for conservatism in the US“, God help them.)

Then shortly afterwards I read Douglas Murray in the Spectator. He was quite anxious to point out that not liking the opening ceremony didn’t make him a Nazi. He had perfectly logical reasons for not liking to see the Director of Liberty honoured as a flagbearer:

Among the people honoured with the task of carrying the Olympic flag was the left-wing campaigner Shami Chakrabarti. The stadium voiceover announced that this was because of her ‘integrity.’ The conservative philosopher Roger Scruton is some years Chakrabarti’s senior and I would say rather demonstrably her superior in achievement and ‘integrity’. Yet I do not believe Professor Scruton was asked to be one of the Olympic flag-bearers. Nor was Ayaan Hirsi Ali invited to be honoured for her integrity. Or Margaret Thatcher. Why not? To ask the question is to answer it: all are recognised, like Chakrabarti, to be highly political figures.

Shami Chakrabarti said of her involvement with the Olympics, which Liberty has criticised:

When the emails and texts came in from friends across the political spectrum over the weekend, one in particular noticed the poignant contrast between the Beijing and London approach. In China, human rights campaigners get locked up; in Britain, even the most irritating gets to carry the Olympic flag.

The Olympic Flag has always previously been carried by Olympic athletes only. The nine flagbearers were from the US, Ethiopia, Argentine and Israel, Liberia, South Korea, Brazil, and three from Britain.

Muhammad Ali won the Light-Heavyweight gold medal for boxing in the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. He was one of only two Olympic athletes to be a flagbearer at the 2012 ceremony.

On 20th June 1967, Muhammad Ali was convicted for refusing to be conscripted into the US army. Very publicly, at his scheduled induction 28th April 1967, Ali had refused three times over to step forward when his name was called, though he was warned he was committing a felony “punishable by five years in prison and a fine of $10,000”. The New York State Athletic Commission and other state boxing commissions suspended his boxing license: Ali was unable to box professionally until, in 1971, the Supreme Court reversed his conviction.

“Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs?”
Anti-war sentiment was growing and it was thought that a stern rebuke of Ali would help put out the fire. In fact, the opposite took place. Ali’s brave stance fanned the flames. As Julian Bond said, “[It] reverberated through the whole society. … [Y]ou could hear people talking about it on street corners. It was on everyone’s lips. People who had never thought about the war before began to think it through because of Ali. The ripples were enormous.”

Ali himself vowed to appeal the conviction, saying: “I strongly object to the fact that so many newspapers have given the American public and the world the impression that I have only two alternatives in this stand – either I go to jail or go to the Army. There is another alternative, and that alternative is justice. If justice prevails, if my constitutional rights are upheld, I will be forced to go neither to the Army nor jail. In the end, I am confident that justice will come my way, for the truth must eventually prevail.”

Haile Gebrselassie is widely considered one of the greatest distance runners in history. At the 1996 and 2000 Summer Olympics, he won the gold medal for the 10,000 metres. In 2005, he won the Amsterdam Marathon. In 2006, he won the Berlin Marathon and the Fukuoka Marathon. He won the Berlin Marathon again in 2007, 2008 – that year with a world record time of 2:03:59 – and 2009. He won the Dubai Marathon in 2009 and 2010. In 2011 he won the Great Manchester Run and the Great Birmingham Run, but failed by nine seconds to qualify for the Ethopian Olympic team in 2012:

“The Games in London is over for me,” said Gebrselassie. “I ran a good race until the last lap. I felt good but I manifestly didn’t have the speed to compete against my rivals. That’s life. I am not disappointed.”

Daniel Barenboim founded the West-Eastern Divan Workshop with Edward Said.

In the early 1990s, a chance meeting between Mr. Barenboim and the late Palestinian-born writer and Columbia University professor Edward Said in a London hotel lobby led to an intensive friendship that has had both political and musical repercussions. These two men, who should have been poles apart politically, discovered in that first meeting, which lasted for hours, that they had similar visions of Israeli/Palestinian possible future cooperation. They decided to continue their dialogue and to collaborate on musical events to further their shared vision of peaceful co-existence in the Middle East. This led to Mr. Barenboim’s first concert on the West Bank, a piano recital at the Palestinian Birzeit University in February 1999, and to a workshop for young musicians from the Middle East that took place in Weimar, Germany, in August 1999.

The West-Eastern Divan Workshop took two years to organize and involved talented young musicians between the ages of 14 and 25 from Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Tunisia and Israel. The idea was that they would come together to make music on neutral ground with the guidance of some of the world’s best musicians. … It has since found a permanent home in Seville, Spain, where it has been based since 2002.

Sally Becker founded the charity Operation Angel. She was delivering aid to west Mostar in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1993

and soon became a familiar sight as she drove in and out of the city in an old Renault 4. When she was asked to help a child trapped on the east side of the river she drove an ambulance across the front line and evacuated all the wounded children and their mothers. The mission was successful and Sally was dubbed the Angel of Mostar. She continued her missions throughout the war, bringing humanitarian aid to besieged areas and evacuating the wounded from all sides.

In 1998, she resigned as director of Operation Angel after having been shot in the leg and on hearing that the UK government had turned down her application for 87 visas for Kosovan refugees she was trying to bring into the UK for medical treatment. She is a Goodwill Ambassador for Children of Peace, which

seeks to protect all of the children and their communities in Israel and Palestine – Bedouin, Christian, Druze, Jewish, Muslim, Sufi – Jewish and Arab, regardless of culture, faith, gender or heritage.

Leymah Gbowee (Nobel Peace Prize 2011)

mobilized and organized women across ethnic and religious dividing lines to bring an end to the long war in Liberia, and to ensure women’s participation in elections. She has since worked to enhance the influence of women in West Africa during and after war.

Gbowee, a Liberian, was the focus of the documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell “which shows how women confronted then-Liberian President Charles Taylor with a demand for peace to end a bloody 14-year civil war.”

Led by Gbowee, Liberian women locked arms and refused to let Taylor’s representatives out of negotiations in Ghana until they had reached a peace agreement. Ultimately, Taylor resigned from office after a U.N. tribunal charged him with war crimes. He went into hiding for a time but is now on trial.

The efforts of the Liberian women ultimately led to the election of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf as Africa’s first female head of state.

Ban Ki-moon is the 8th and current Secretary-General of the United Nations.

“I grew up in war, and saw the United Nations help my country to recover and rebuild. That experience was a big part of what led me to pursue a career in public service. As Secretary-General, I am determined to see this Organization deliver tangible, meaningful results that advance peace, development and human rights.”

Marina Silva (Maria Osmarina Marina Silva Vaz de Lima) is a Brazilian environmentalist and politician. In 1984 she founded Brazil’s first worker’s union. In 1994 she was elected to the Senate as a member of the Partido dos Trabalhadores and became Minister for the Environment in 2003. The Brazilian deforestation rate fell by 59% between 2004 and 2008. She resigned as minister in 2009 when she became a member of Brazil’s Green Party. She won the Goldman Environmental Prize for South & Central America in 1996 and the Sophie Prize in 2009. The United Nations Environment Program named her one of the Champions of the Earth in 2007.

Shami Chakrabarti worked as a barrister for the Home Office between 1996 and 2001, and thereafter for Liberty. She joined Liberty, the human rights organisation, on 10 September 2001, and became Director of the organisation in 2003. From a profile in 2008:

The political climate had shifted: governments talked of a war on terror and in the new, febrile atmosphere many commentators became alarmed that fundamental civil rights were in danger of being eroded.

Chakrabarti found herself becoming the most prominent mouthpiece for a disparate network of politicians from both the right and the left, human-rights groups and millions of concerned citizens who felt voiceless. ‘I’m told I don’t smile enough on TV,’ she told The Observer two years ago. ‘But it’s difficult when talking about campaigns like “No torture, no compromise”. Apparently, I look miserable, but how can you grin away when you are talking about the CIA using British airports for extraordinary renditions?’

Chakrabarti wrote of her experience as a flagbearer in the Guardian:

While proud to represent Liberty holding the flag in such incredible human rights company, my lack of personal sacrifice was rarely far from my thoughts. I also knew some would accuse us of sanitising the less ethical sponsors and more controlling aspects of this international institution while others would charge the organisers with “political correctness gone mad”.

Chakrabarti adds:

[Danny Boyle] greeted my friend Doreen Lawrence with the confession that she had been his first inspiration for the flag-carrying party. With typical humility, she expressed surprise that he knew who she was. He shook his head in incredulity and gave her a hug.

Doreen Lawrence was one of the torchbearers.

On the 66th day of the torch’s tour of Britain, Doreen Lawrence took up the flame at 7.46am and jogged to the learning and development centre in Deptford that she and her ex-husband, Neville, set up in memory of their son, who was murdered as a teenager in a racist attack in 1993.

“I was getting very emotional. I was trying desperately to hold back the tears and everything,” she told journalists after completing her stretch of the relay at the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust.

Passing on the torch to the Young Mayor of Lewisham, 16-year-old Kieran Lang, whom she had nominated, the 59-year-old added: “The torch represents the community, and it is fantastic for the torch to be part of the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust and centre.”

On 24th February 1999, Doreen Lawrence said (read in full):

“We all saw at the inquiry how the five boys who we say are responsible for Stephen’s murder lied under oath and the judge has chosen not to take any action against them.

“Nonetheless, this report [The Macpherson Report] represents an opportunity not to be missed by this society as a whole.

“It is a time for change.”

On 17th July 2012, Doreen Lawrence told a Parliamentary Committee that the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) was effectively the police investigating themselves:

“Until they change the culture of who is investigating, then I don’t think things will be any different,” she told MPs. “I don’t feel it’s as independent as it should be. It’s still police officers investigating police officers, even though they’re retired. It gives me the air of them investigating each other.”

So those were the flagbearers. (A military honour guard then took the Olympic Flag from the nine bearers and actually raised. it.)

Douglas Murray’s suggestion of Margaret Thatcher – who suffers from such severe dementia that she can no longer remember that her husband Denis died in 2003 – is presumably a nod to the Winston-Churchill brigade, to have Thatcher there as a symbol of conservative triumph even though she herself would not know it. Murray, who has written of “Islamic fascism – a malignant fundamentalism, woken from the dark ages to assault us here and now” would admire Ayaan Hirsi Ali

enters an apartment in New York followed by a bodyguard. The 40-year-old, who for the last six years has been unable to turn up at a venue without it being checked by security, is a writer, polemicist and critic of Islam. She is also a Somali immigrant, an ex-Muslim, a survivor of child genital mutilation, an exile many times over, a former Dutch MP, a black woman whose language would not, in places, look amiss in a BNP pamphlet, a remarked-upon beauty and a lady-in-peril, identities that lend her as a figurehead to disparate causes and bring on confusion in the people she meets.

and would prefer her to the Director of an organisation that has consistently fought against governments using “the war on terror” as an excuse to attack civil liberties. Besides, nodding to Ayaan Hirsi Ali means Murray is not quite suggesting that it’s inappropriate to have two women of colour as the British heroes who are carrying the Olympic flag.

As for Douglas Murray’s belief that Roger Scruton is “rather demonstrably [Chakrabarti]’s superior in achievement and ‘integrity’”: for forty years Scruton has held full-time and part-time academic posts. He is a barrister, though he has never practiced: he enjoys fox-hunting: he wrote a column on wine for the New Statesman: and he wrote many essays, articles, and a pamphlet defending smoking, arguing that the health-risks of second-hand smoke were not proven, deriding the World Health Organisation for “an increasingly public and shrill campaign against the manufacture and sale of tobacco:

Tobacco is called an epidemic on the spurious ground that the methods used to measure its effect belong to the science of epidemiology . By a semantic trick, therefore, Mrs . Bruntland and her team have been able to classify as a dangerous disease what is, in fact, a voluntary activity and a source of pleasure, the risk of which entirely falls on the smoker.

In 2000 he wrote a pamphlet, published by the Institute of Economic Affairs, in which, he wrote:

I shall be considering the way in which a political agenda can be promoted without hindrance, once legislative powers are granted to transnational bodies answerable to no national electorate . And I shall focus on one example : the current attempt by the World Health Organisation to impose, through the machinery established by the United Nations, punitive legislation directed against the manufacturers, distributors and users of tobacco products.

In October 2001, Roger Scruton wrote to Japan Tobacco, his undeclared sponsor:

“We have found that our workload has increased during the course of the last year. We will need a part-time office assistant for the day-to-day stuff.

In the light of this we were wondering whether you would consider putting up the fee from £4,500 monthly to £5,500 – on the assumption that we try our hardest to justify this amount and that you have the right to revise it downwards if dissatisfied.”

Roger Scruton argued that

in a business “largely conducted by shysters and sharks” he represented value for money.

“We would aim to place an article every two months in one or other of the WSJ [Wall Street Journal], the Times, the Telegraph, the Spectator, the Financial Times, the Economist, the Independent or the New Statesman”

Once the correspondence was published, Scruton claimed that he had never made it a secret that he worked for the tobacco industry, though none of his articles or the pamphlet had mentioned that he had been taking a monthly fee from Japan Tobacco for two years.

This is the kind of behaviour Douglas Murray thinks displays a superior integrity. But then Roger Scruton is white. And Douglas Murray isn’t racist. He says so himself.

Phil Vernon wrote on 29th July:

Including the two British campaigners was in keeping with the idea that the 2012 Olympics is at the same time an international, a national and a London event. The opening ceremony referred to many aspects of British history and culture, and one thing that stood out was how much sheer disruption Britain has been subject to in the name of progress. The industrial revolution of two hundred years ago is doubtless one of the main foundations of my ability to live a fairly free and healthy life in Britain. But it was a tough time for most people alive then: development progress came at a great cost. And the Olympics opening ceremony showed that.

Update, 13th August: Decca Aitkenhead interviews Doreen Lawrence:

“It wasn’t until I thought to myself, all the countries’ flags have gone past and this is like the pinnacle of everything. The Olympic flag. This is the most important flag that’s going to be raised. This is going to be the most important thing, and here I’m the one helping to carry it.”

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Filed under Equality, Human Rights, Olympics

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