Essays and discussions

Review of 2003

2003 has been, I think, an odd year. Not particularly descriptive, perhaps, but it seems like the most appropriate word. It feels like the year’s hardly begun and now it’s already over. I think that I never really ‘got the hang’ of 2003. When I think about it, this year has not been a good one. In fact, it feels like a positively bad one. The major world event that dominated the news for the first quarter of the year (and has continued to have repercussions long after) was, of course, the war in Iraq. However, this wasn’t the only world event of note. The American ‘war on terror’ has continued apace; civil liberties have continued to be eroded, and, closer to home, the Northern Irish institutions remain in limbo.

The war in Iraq is the one item that has dominated the news this year. I am one of the millions of people in Britain who opposed the war and still don’t think that it was justified. I’ve heard the arguments put forward by Bush and Blair and the pro-war camp and still can’t accept them. Yes, it’s good to have got rid of a dictator, but using that as the excuse for war (as Bush did) is scary. He’s basically saying that America has the right to change the government of any country that it wants to. This is why I didn’t support Britain and America’s action – it was an illegal, unilateral action, without United Nations authorisation.

Tony Blair is having a harder time of it after the war than Bush, since he claimed that we went to war on the basis that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction that could threaten Britain – claims that have yet to be substantiated. The Hutton report, when it is published early in the new year, probably won’t help his position either.

As well as the war in Iraq, America has continued its so-called ‘war on terror’ which doesn’t seem to have resulted in an awful lot. I think that America seems to be missing the point a bit with the war on terror. It’s going after people that it accuses of terrorism, but it still continues with the economic and social practices that created the terrorists in the first place. Surely it’s only by changing their own practices and helping the poorest parts of the world, that terrorism can hope to be defeated. An arrogant, imperialistic America will continue to be resented by the world’s poor and disenfranchised. It doesn’t matter if that view is true or it’s not, that seems to be the perception around the world.

India and Pakistan seem to have drawn away from the brink over the course of this year. Although relations between the two countries are not exactly ‘normal’, the threat of war has receded. This is partially, I suppose, a result of Pakistan being America’s new best friend in the region and having to retain some sense of civility if it doesn’t want that state’s attention directed towards itself like it was to its neighbour, Afghanistan, last year. The fact that both countries have nuclear capabilities is still worrying, but it’s something that we’re going to have to live with. Maybe this is how people felt during the cold war?

Last year, I wrote that I was worried about the erosion of civil liberties in Britain, and beyond. This year has, if anything, seen more of that. Home Secretary David Blunkett was given the ‘dog poo on a stick’ award at the Big Brother Awards 2003 for the most work done to undermine civil liberties. His quest to introduce national identity cards (and the giant database about every man, woman and child in the land behind it) continues apace, and at this point, I can see it as a matter of when, rather than if. However, is this such a bad thing? Once, I wouldn’t have hesitated in saying yes, but lately, I’ve been thinking about it more. What arguments can I give to sceptics to convince them (and me) that identity cards are a threat to the country and that the dangers outweigh the benefits? To be honest, I don’t know. No citizen wants to think that their government is spying on them and it’s this, I think, that forms a major part of the resistance to the scheme. I think that more research on this subject is necessary and maybe I’ll be able to say something more concrete this time next year.

2003 saw the final flight of Concorde. I'm sorry to see this beautiful plane leave service, but the French crash sealed its fate. Although I thought that the plane itself was quite lovely, it's what Concorde represented that I'm sorry to see go. Concorde was the world's only commercial supersonic aircraft – it was a symbol of modernity and a desire to meet the future head on. I've heard it said that we may not see a return to supersonic flight within my lifetime. I sincerely hope that they're wrong.

The situation in Northern Ireland remains much as it was last year. There was an election towards the end of the year that meant that the two moderate sectarian parties (the Ulster Unionists and the SDLP) have both been pushed to the rear in favour of the more extreme DUP and Sinn Fein. However, this means exactly nothing at the moment, since the Assembly remains suspended. People have speculated that if and when power-sharing resumes, the parties will have to soften their line, but time alone will tell.

Family matters this year have meant that it hasn’t exactly been a great year for me personally, either. Although nothing catastrophic has befallen us, lots of small things have added up to make a climate that can be unpleasant at times. Nothing but emotion and strong feelings are responsible and nothing can be done about it, so all that we can do is wait for time to exert its healing influence... At work, I spent the summer rewriting our entire course administration system and ObSys 2.0 was launched (barely) in time for the start of the 2003/04 academic year. In the course of one term (less than three months), it’s gone from 2.0 to 2.5 with at least one new major feature being introduced in each revision and has turned into a system that I’m really proud of... We were forced to move from the Walrus Flat in the middle of the year since the owner decided to sell up and I’ve now moved to a smaller flat (with the same flatmates) further out. I’m now thinking seriously that it’s time to buy a place of my own.

Whatever happens in 2004, I can feel that it will be a year of change and that perhaps nothing will be the same afterwards. While I would like to be able to say that things will be alright, I really don’t know if I believe that. Once again, the only toast that I can offer at the end of the year is to survival in 2004.

— 31 December 2003

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