Murder or not

Ruth Hartley Storytelling, Displacement, History, Human rights, Philosophy4 Comments


Ruth Hartley “Emotional Landscape” Collage,oilstick and torn paper.

The dictionary says totalitarianism is a system of government that is centralised and dictatorial and requires complete subservience to the state. It means that someone living in such a state is not free to speak out or act without permission from the powers. From my brief experience of a police state, it is a terrifying place to live in. Totalitarian states kill without justice.

Read more: Murder or not

What does it mean to send somebody to Coventry?

Ruth Hartley “Surviving Monsters” Installation.

It means that a person is placed outside of the human community and away from communication or the connections needed for life. It means that a person isn’t considered human and doesn’t deserve to be treated as a human. It can only be done by someone with power to someone with less power. It happens in relationships and marriages and is done in schools by bullies. From my experience, it feels like being slowly killed. It is being exiled to a prison without parole or the possibility of making a new life. A short Golden Silence may be healing, but Coventry is cruel and painful.

What does it mean to cancel someone?

Cancelling can mean calling off an arrangement, a debt or an event. In movies, it can mean killing somebody. Synonyms are abandon, abort, void, revoke, rescind, scrap and kill as well as many others. Cancelling can be the stopping of a relationship or the breaking of an engagement. There could be reconciliation and a new beginning instead. Sometimes distancing for a while is helpful but there are always better ways to manage problems than wiping out someone. Being cancelled feels like being killed, but it’s not slow.

What does it mean to kill someone?

Ruth Hartley charcoal drawing Untitled

Killing someone means that you end their life. I was threatened with death several times. As a woman, I will not be alone in experiencing that and the fear it brings. Sometimes it is difficult for endangered people to escape and to find a safe secure place to be and to live.

Why would someone kill, cancel or send a person to Coventry?

To kill, cancel or send someone to Coventry, is to exercise power over them. We suppose that these actions are done for valid reasons, but is that true? How can we judge them? What appeal is there against them? Human justice and fair play notions require that they are done for good reasons and not in a rage, for revenge, out of spite, or for personal emotional reasons, however strongly felt. The carrying out of a death sentence is done by the state after a just trial. It’s not something I ascribe to and it’s not done in the countries where I am a citizen. Thank you Robert Badinter, Minister of Justice, for abolishing the death sentence in France in 1981.

When is it right to kill, cancel, or send someone to Coventry?

Ruth Hartley Untitled sketch

Killing is the crime of murder. It’s never right. Cancelling or sending someone to Coventry is not done after a fair trial where impartial justice can be seen to be done. In Coventry, no system prescribes the length of the punishment or allows for parole either so by default, it is unjust. Worse, it’s a bad idea and it doesn’t work. All of these actions are totalitarian because they are forced by one power onto another without fairness, kindness or the possibility of redress, justice or discussion.

What happens to someone who kills, cancels, or sends another person to Coventry?

The killers, cancellers and senders-away are first of all, human, complex creatures capable of understanding, of love, of learning, of wrongdoing, of remorse, of guilt and forgiveness and kindness. They are the same as the person they have decided they have the right to kill or punish. As they are the same they have two ways to go. Either they will become less human and more totalitarian or they too will suffer and regret that their behaviour was totalitarian. Of course, life doesn’t work in neat patterns, but humans are ‘patterns’ that we can’t escape from. The answer lies somewhere between Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby and Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid. There’s the possibility of a better way if only we communicated with each other

What did I do to be dead, silenced and cancelled?

Ruth Hartley Installation Old Family photos on wood from 200-year door

The sad truth is I don’t know why this has happened. I’ve agonised, I’ve guessed, I’ve been desperate. I do know I’ve made mistakes and I’ve failed. Like most people, I did my best and like most people, my best wasn’t good enough for all circumstances. We all come out of a history of wrongdoing and though we wanted and tried to be good, we are both damaging perpetrators and damaged victims. I hurt my mother very badly when I was young. It wasn’t deliberate. It was just the way life happened. I tried at the time to lessen my mother’s pain, but though we were never estranged, she would not let me talk about it until she was about the age I am now. In the end, we asked each other for forgiveness. I wish it had been sooner. My guilt might have been less and my happiness greater and maybe hers would have been, too.

Why is it wrong to cancel, kill or silence another human?

My mind has been awash with ideas that ripple outwards beyond family and local matters to the shores of wars and nations. We live between a past we didn’t understand as it happened and an unknown future we are blindly creating. If knowledge of our past is fixed, if that knowledge never varies, then we are imprisoned in a totalitarian history that never existed. Brexiteers voted for a Britain that never was. Rhodesians fought a war for a past that was a white man’s dream. The past is not just another country – it is another land of mirages still being discovered. If you cancel, kill or send away a person you are putting a totalitarian stop to change. It’s impossible. You can’t bring an end to hope and the possibility of wisdom and growth. Cut my throat, drain me of blood, I will not choose to haunt you, but you cannot choose not to be haunted by me. You will always remember that you invited silence, death and ignorance into your heart instead of love.

What can I do now?

I don’t know. People are constantly cancelled for their opinions on gender, religion or politics. It’s always in the news and it’s sad, frightening and unhelpful for many of us. Cancel culture is something I have no control over as it’s not down to one person but to us all. I’m one of the Silent Generation and will soon be among the dead. I have to accept what has happened to me in life but though I’ve often been afraid to speak out, I will not be silenced and I cannot be cancelled.

My next post may be about the funeral of a young man 50 years before he died.

Israel/Hamas – with blood and fire or with doves

Ruth HartleyColonialism, Conflict, Displacement, Feminism, Human rights, Justice, Migration, Politics, Power, Racism, Refugee, War5 Comments

The dividing wall near Bethlehem

The right side in the Israel/Hamas war.

The whole world is engaged with, but divided over the Middle East war. It’s a risk to venture an opinion, but it seems to me that there is only one right side and one way to protect children and that is to find peace for both sides. What I’ve learned in the war-torn 80 years I’ve lived through is that wars are based on false assumptions about an “enemy” of “other” people who must be “beaten”. The right thing must be done, but it will be a solution for everyone and not a victory for one side. Everyone is situated in the world by history and family but we can disagree with our governments. Hamas has built tunnels to protect it’s fighters not it’s children or women whom its is ready to martyr. Netanyahu survives with the support of fundamentalist Jews whose actions in the West Bank are evil.

Read more: Israel/Hamas – with blood and fire or with doves

Becoming who we are or who we want to be.

Water – the most important element in the Middle East and the world

Travelling through 27 different countries in 2008, John and I heard many languages, but the sound of a mother and father talking to and caring for a child was the same everywhere. It was the universal sound of love. If people are more alike than they are different, what makes us into the people we are with the opinions we have? Why do we choose one side against another? Ought we take sides in this dreadful war? Which side is the right one?

The “right” people are always all on the one “right” side

There are good, kind, thoughtful humans everywhere and on every side, but they don’t know everything and can’t always make the wisest judgements. They pick leaders to do this for them or are forced to submit to those in power. My mother told me that the community in which she lived in what was then Rhodesia were kind and hardworking – the “salt of the earth”. Sadly they were also lied to and led by Ian Smith into a destructive unwinnable war founded on racism. It’s true that “one” side may have a better and more justifiable cause than the “other”, but the solution is not for “one” to wipe out and kill the “other”, even supposing that that side is misguided and misled. People act out of fear of losing family, livelihood and home.

With our Palestinian guide at the Yitzak Rabin Memorial. Rabin was murdered by a fundamentalist Jew. I wept when it happened in 1995 and again when I saw this memorial. Peace for Israelis and Palestinians once again destroyed by religious bigotry.

Learning about life and history

History is biased, out of date and doesn’t provide answers to current world situations. To bridge these gaps myths are invented. At this moment in the Middle East, these myths are dangerous and misleading. I’ll deal with two in this post. One is the myth that Jewish Israelis are white, the other is that they are colonists and therefore must go back “home”. From 1890 a tiny number of Zionists began to arrive in Palestine to escape Russian pogroms.  By the 1930s Palestine had a minority Jewish population in rural areas and a majority population in Jerusalem. Colonisation is the economic domination of one people by a more powerful outsider nation, as happened in South Africa. Jews were a powerless few returning from a diaspora that had tried to annihilate them to a homeland where Jews have always lived alongside other groups. Historical research shows that all the ancient names of present-day places in Palestine and Israel are Hebrew. There have always been Jews in Palestine.


The creation of Israel by the Allies was more of an abrogation of power than an imposition of it. In 1947 there were 630,000 Jews in Palestine, 143,000 Christians and 1,183,000 Muslims. After the Second World War and the Holocaust, there were about a million unwanted Jews in Europe interned in Displaced Persons Camps without a country to speak for them, protect them or claim them as nationals. Other nationals were forced to or wanted to return to their various homes. For Jews who could not go to the US, there was only the Zionist dream to give them hope.

The Nakba

Many contributing factors went into the 1948 tragedy of the Nakba, the expulsion of Arabs from Israel, and there is disagreement about it among historians. Two World Wars, the Holocaust and the Nakba are immensely damaging to both Israel and Palestine, although Jews and Palestinians are the same Semitic ethnicity. An outcome of the Nakba was the persecution and expulsion of Jews from Middle-Eastern Arab countries as revenge for the Nakba. They came and continue to come to live in Israel. Going backwards is impossible and so won’t change history. Today, the Jewish population of Israel is more than 60% Mizrahi, that is Jews with no connection to any other part of the world but the Middle East. The solutions can only be found by going forward. Hamas are Islamists who want all Jews killed and who care little for the rights or safety of their own Palestinian women.

Comparing my colonial history and its outcomes.

I was born into a white colonial society during the apartheid era, but that doesn’t determine that I, or any other Southern African individual, was, is or remains, a racist abuser of power. Times and people change. Democracy came to South Africa in 1994. My mother’s family have been in Africa for 8 generations and are of British and Germanic stock, though Germany did not exist then. Where could whites like me and my family be sent back to and what nation would have us? South Africa accepted all of its varied population and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission dealt with its apartheid and colonial crimes.

A safe home for everyone

Not a good likeness of Madiba – perhaps from a film starring an American but these are his sentiments. He also supported the right of Israel to exist.

For all its problems, Israel is in not a colonial power and there is no other place on the planet that gives Jews greater security and life, so Israel must survive.  Palestine also must survive and continue on to become an independent nation as the home of Palestinians. In both places, human rights, women’s rights and democracy must be upheld as the only basis to build a lasting peace. There will be no place for Hamas there, as democracy and women’s rights have no place in their credo, while both are needed and have a place in the lives of Palestinians.

The Literary Life and me

Ruth Hartley Storytelling, Books by Ruth Hartley, Cartoons, Comic Strip, Creative Writing, Creativity, Dust and Rain, Graphic Novel, Reading, Writing ProcessLeave a Comment

Posy Simmonds

Posy Simmonds is a brilliant artist, acute satirist and eye-watering cartoonist who, in Literary Life Revisited, exposes authors, publishers and the book trade. Her work is currently on display in the Centre Pompidou in Paris. She has the essential gift of making you laugh at yourself.

Funny Feminist Cartoons

I became addicted to Posy Simmonds’s Mrs Weber’s Diary in the Guardian newspaper. Mrs Weber was a middle-class, ‘woolly liberal’ who tried so hard to do the ‘right thing’ – it was a relief to laugh at her and, of course – at myself! Posy Simmonds is a feminist, but her razor-sharp wit means that she laughs at feminists too. Before Posy and Mrs Weber, the cartoon strip most seen was of Andy Capp and his wife Florrie. Astonishingly, in our French local paper, La Depeche, we still have to suffer the unforgivable misogyny of the 87-year-old Danish comic strip, Ferdinand.

Literacy and Numeracy

A few years ago, while I was still struggling to sell my novels, I bought Posy Simmonds’s Literary Life in which she details all the disasters writers endure – ah well – she tells the truth with such wit I can only grin and bear it. If you are a writer, go at once and buy it and learn from it. Posy’s first lesson is on Literacy and Numeracy – can you do the maths? I know all about it now and am much poorer for not learning it long ago.

Marketing Material

Her second lesson is on the writer’s image and marketing. As a crazy female writer, I thought that exciting stories and good writing would overcome the fact that I’m an old, white woman without an agent or publisher who simply is not media-marketable material.

Literate Philosophy

I grew up in the days of libraries and small bookshops. No matter how much I still love both, the digital world and global consumerism rule OK. Perhaps there is another way to tell stories – maybe I should take a stall in the market and read aloud in English as the French walk on by. Instead, I sit at my desk playing solitaire, rewriting my haikus and trying to philosophise about the tiny way my writing may matter or not. (Dust and Rain, my climate change kid’s book does matter! Go and buy it and save the world.)

Harare City Library

I’m very proud that copies of my books are in the Harare City Library. I did take them there, but they were accepted graciously and kindly. I’m not in the same wing as the famous Doris Lessing who donated all her books to the library, but it’s good to be there and near her. The library staff work very hard to encourage children to read and write. Once upon a time Harare had excellent book fairs and Zimbabwe has some very good writers – for example, Lucy Mushita, whose book, Chinongwa, is an excellent read.

Weaver Press

I have to write with sadness that Weaver Press will close down this year. I have known Irene Staunton since we were both about 16 years old and lived in Wedza District in what is now Zimbabwe. Publishing books ethically in Zimbabwe takes great courage and commitment. I’m very proud to know Irene and her husband Murray McCartney. I will also extend my admiration to Fay Gadsden of Gadsden Publishers in Zambia for the same reasons.

Sleepless Night Haiku

Stories must be spun

out of our light our lives and

the voices of our souls.

Covent Garden Encounter

Ruth Hartley Storytelling, antisemitism, Art by Ruth Hartley, Conflict, Displacement, Freedom Fighters, Graphic Novel, Human rights, Installations, Justice, Politics, Power, Religion, War4 Comments

As I  walked up from Covent Garden Tube to Neal’s Yard I saw my teenage son coming towards me. We had not planned or expected to see each other there or then. As we smiled at each other in recognition we both became aware that a small demonstration was taking place on the street between us. To my right was a small Israeli shop selling Dead Sea products. To my son’s right was a small group of Palestinians waving banners and calling out to the Israelis. The Palestinians and the Israelis were young, beautiful and intelligent people who looked like brothers and sisters. They seemed surprisingly willing to talk and smile at each other as well as explain and demand. I looked at my son knowing his deeply-felt sympathy for the Palestinians as he knew my deeply-felt commitment to the right of Israel to exist. Each of us wanting peaceful solutions to the conflict in the Middle East. Benny Morris’s history of 1948 is essential reading

Read more: Covent Garden Encounter

On the way to Covent Garden

Many years earlier an El Al flight was hijacked by Palestinians on its way from Nairobi  to Tel Aviv and forced to land at Entebbe in Uganda. Jews were taken off the plane as hostages and threatened with execution. My family and I regularly flew over Uganda and occasionally landed there. I found it impossible not to feel fearful that something similar might happen to us. One evening in Islington walking home from an Italian restaurant with friends I confessed my anxiety to Jan, a Dutch friend.

“I’m not Jewish but my husband is.” I said. “If Palestinians hijacked the plane we were on I don’t think I’d have the courage to stay with him – what about our children.”

“ My mother was Jewish. My father isn’t. ” Jan replied. “ During the Nazi occupation my father sent me and my brother to live with farmers who pretended we were their children. My mother went to the gas chambers.”

Jan’s story was a reality. Mine just fear. Elie Wiesel’s ‘Night’ tells of his time in Auschwitz, Buchenwald and Birkenau as a boy.

Driven by left wing activism

I was politically left wing at Cape Town University -but opposition to apartheid was dangerous and I’m a coward. I knew young South Africans including Jews who did join the resistance. A few years later at LSE during the sit-ins, I realised that there are left wing people who are as authoritarian and tyrannical as some people on the right. I stopped to think. At the time there was an explosion of extreme left wing groups like the Angry Brigade, the Red Army and the Baader-Meinhof Gang. One of the hijackers at Entebbe, a young German, saw a concentration camp tattoo on the arm of a Jew held hostage.

           “I’m an idealist!”  he declared shouting down his shame. In the end he did not choose to shoot the hostages and was himself shot dead when they were rescued. Doris Lessing’s brilliant ‘The Good Terrorist’ is a compelling story of confused idealism.

Choosing any political allegiance is complicated and uncertain. You will be compromised and complicit in actions that you did not approve. I recently discovered that in 1930’s Russia, Stalin had used antisemitic memes to discredit independent thought among the Jewish intelligentsia and therefore separate them from his chosen cadres. Stalin’s antisemitism was gratefully received and applied by Hitler to turn the working class against the Jews of Germany. I was shocked to find antisemitism  still alive and serving the same purpose in the British left wing support for Hamas in 2017. Support for Hamas is not the same as support for Palestinians. The analyses by Hirsh and Rich explain Labour’s problems.

A hidden world war

The BBC news talks of the war between Hamas and Israel as if they were the only protagonists. It isn’t the case now and never was historically. Pogroms. the Holocaust and two World Wars are  a bleeding and terrible wound connected with the Middle East past, present and future. Putin wants the Israel/Hamas war to distract Europe from the war in Ukraine. Russia is implicated in antisemitism in France, in supporting both Brexit and Trump to weaken the US and the UK. North Korea also wants chaos in the Middle East to distract the US. China sees an opportunity to take control of Taiwan. Iran has been fighting a proxy war with Saudi Arabia in Yemen and has funded Hamas. Hamas fighters come from Daesh, ISIS, Al Qaeda. Boko Haram, Hezbollah and fundamentalist extremists from everywhere. There are fundamentalists in every religion and in every branch of politics but they do not want freedom for everyone – they want power they can use for themselves. They want to impose their religion or politics and their gender or skin tone on the world. Human rights must remain universal. Satrapi’s book is a painful account of the problems of being a woman under a fundamentalist dictatorship.

Here are numbers that add to the confusion

Millions of Muslim have been killed in the last 25 years. Most by other Muslims but Muslims have also been persecuted in Chechnya, Myanmar and China. There are  just over one million more Jews in Israel now than were killed in the Holocaust. There are about the same number of Palestinians in the Occupied territories and Gaza. Most Israeli Jews were displaced from Arab and North African countries following the Nakba. It’s a mess needing solutions, difficult decisions and good leaders. The actions of Netanyahu and the West Bank settlers are not defensible and neither are the actions of Hamas. Joe Sacco’s Palestine is a BD that is shocking and painful.

Over thirty years later

So many grieving hearts, so many deaths, so many broken promises over the years since we met in Covent Garden. My son and I speak together with sadness about the current conflict in the Middle East. We are now both old enough to understand that the whole world is mixed up and confused. We didn’t choose and we do choose to be where we are. We want a kind and hopeful world with a future and plans to deal with climate change and universal human rights. We want peace for Palestinians and Israelis together. I’ve tried to use my art to explore the tragic conflicts of our need for freedom and human rights. Here is a write up from one installation.

On being non-gendered

Ruth Hartley Storytelling, Feminism, Installations2 Comments

I read this wonderful piece in the marvellous The Marginalian compiled by Maria Popova and thought with delight that it may explain me and perhaps other women of my generation.

 Ursula Le Guin writes:

“I am a man. Now you may think I’ve made some kind of silly mistake about gender, or maybe that I’m trying to fool you, because my first name ends in a, and I own three bras, and I’ve been pregnant five times, and other things like that that you might have noticed – little details. that don’t matter… I pre-date the invention of women by decades. Well, if you insist on pedantic accuracy, women have been invented several times in widely varying localities, but the inventors just didn’t know how to sell the product. Their distribution techniques were rudimentary, and their market research was nil, and so of course the concept just didn’t get off the ground. Even with a genius behind it an invention must find its market, and it seemed like for a long time the idea of women just didn’t make it to the bottom line. Models like the Austen and the Brontë were too complicated, and people just laughed at the Suffragette, and the Woolf was way too far ahead of its time.”

Read more: On being non-gendered

The invention of women

8 drawings are arranged on the gallery wall they show a woman with 5 arms, 5 breasts each containing a drawing of a child. She has wings but is rooted to the earth. Her head is that of Medusa and she holds scissors, a gun, a thread and a lead attached to a dog who is biting her thigh.
Charcoal and mixed media drawings on cotton rag paper titled The ‘true’ History of my Body by Ruth Hartley

Who invents women and why might women require to be invented. A woman is a human female animal whose role, status, and human rights are prescribed by the society that she belongs to while that society is constantly changing. We could ask how much input a woman has in the creation of the role she is permitted to play. There are people who think a woman’s role is ordained by God or religion and is therefore fixed for eternity. The evidence that we witness in societies all around the world suggests that’s nonsense. Are women created by themselves, by what they wear, how they display ourselves, what they do, or by the fact that women can give birth to babies. Are all women subject to biology and if so, surely all men are subject to biology. What do Drag Queens act out about women? Is that even what Drag Queens do? What are transwomen choosing to be? Are they all choosing the same way of being a woman or are they each transitioning to different ways of being a woman. As they can’t become female animals what does that mean for women who are female animals. Can it all be reduced to the choice of a pronoun? Who invented misogyny? What does it mean for human female animals if women are invented by misogynists.

Role models for girls

As for me and my generation, we had role models in the books we read as children, but few were female and those too often, were good wives and lady missionaries or nurses. Of course, we had no doubt we were human and we expected to be successful heroes. If there was any character in a book that we related to, it was rebellious Jo in Little Women. Personally, I wanted to a be a Zane Grey cowboy and ride the ranges all alone on horseback. I was quite sure I didn’t want to be a boy. I knew a few and they were entirely unsatisfactory creatures who were allowed to run wild and do what they liked. They were also unreasonably bossy and not that intelligent. They didn’t even read books. I envied some boys because they were taught to shoot – an essential skill for a cowboy – but the one time I tried to play football with some local boys, my father made me stop. That was partly because they were African kids and of course only African boys were free to play. African girls worked as soon as they could carry a baby. One of my ‘problems’ was that I lived an isolated life on a farm without a peer group of any gender and then went to a girls-only boarding school. This may explain why I seldom wear a skirt and it never bothered me that I wasn’t pretty though it did bother me later when I found that my breasts attracted more attention than my face.

The invention of myself

In 1999 I was awarded an MA in Women’s Studies. It was a challenging and exciting course. It no longer exists. Is is good or bad that now there are gender studies instead? Briefly put, I raised questions about the boundaries of Feminist identity for me as Non-Black, Non-Jewish, Non-Lesbian and Non-Working Class artist. We are all creatures of partial perspectives who are connected by changing and fluid elements throughout our lives but perhaps we start off knowing that we are human and if men are human and women are defined as “other” by misogyny then, like Ursula Le Guin, I am a man and I might have added to my MA title that I an a Non-Woman, Non-Black, Non-Jewish, Non-Lesbian and Non-Working Class artist.

The reinvention of myself

I’ve reinvented myself through my art in Spiderwoman and The “true” History of my Body but that isn’t about gender or identity. It is about the way we interact with the worlds, both physical and metaphysical, that we inhabit. My art is about being a Being who is human and sometimes my creatures are sexless nebbishes.

As I remember, I became confused in late adolescence by the way gender was changing and manifesting itself socially. I found I couldn’t be me if I was to stay safe while also being acceptable to others. All of this seems even stranger now as I’ve learned that some people feel they need to change their gender identity even though the essential sex we are born with remains fixed. Nobody is just ‘their sex’ or their sexuality, we are fluid creatures who are reshaping ourselves as we think. I have written a short story about Tom who does make a sex-change. Now I know how many different Barbie dolls there are! I didn’t know much about Barbie’s till I saw the wonderful and witty film Barbie in which Barbie is reinvented many times. I think gender is, ironically, ‘immaterial’ and Ursula le Guin’s witty and light-handed statement about ‘being a man’ is closer to my experience. If all humans are human then are human male animals more or less human that human female animals?

I have just read an interesting article in The Conversation that says that science finds that feminists are not men-haters. It confirms my experience that they never were and I’m not.