I sometimes wonder what on earth I did as a full time employee - and for the wise guys out there, particularly those that used to work with me, that is a rhetorical question and not an open invitation to pass comment!
I try to keep up a regular Blog but struggle to do so. Reason? Happily I've too many other things going on in my life that interrupt the times when I could otherwise be sitting down and writing. There's certainly no shortage of material out there in my areas of so-called expertise. The Middle East, Asia, particularly Hong Kong and China, Finance - and a few odd observations.
But setting aside the temptation to comment on relatively small matters - such as bank headquarters relocations or whether China is beginning to look as capitalist as Hong Kong, there are in my mind a number of much broader issues out there today that are not being viewed in their entirety, and that cause me some concern.
For example, the situations in the Middle East and North Africa which have the potential to create serious destabilisation, as if events in Europe, Russia and yes... the USA, were not enough already. Or not so creeping nationalism and an apparent revival of prejudices in what should be a world that has learnt to live in harmony and peace. Why can't we put up with and accept each other's idiosyncrasies, religions, creeds, colours, and sexual preferences ... whatever those differences may be. The list could go on, as indeed could I - and mustn't.
Almost every conversation I have these days turns to every one of the topics I've mentioned above - and then some, such as ones I have had recently about education. When you think about it, many of the troubles we have today seem to be created by people who have not had the benefit of a decent education - and if they have, find it hard to get employment. The devil (in whatever language) finds work for idle hands (and empty minds). We must educate our children better and give them hope.
From the "helicopter" view of the world it seems many people view Middle Eastern affairs by looking at a number of individual issues in the region without recognising or understanding the complexities that underlie much of the trouble. We consider the impact on the EU if Greece leaves the Union. (Amazing to me how a country with a population the same size as half a dozen Chinese cities can hold Europe to ransom, and the armageddon scenario that seems to be favoured by many commentators as the outcome of a Grexit). We look, in many cases from a distance, at the rise of nationalism around the world with a particularly hateful anti-Islamic brand in Germany, and what appears on the surface to be incidents of racism simmering in the USA, and ask if it ever really was defeated? We despair at the plight of refugees trying to cross into Europe from Africa, while others besiege the French town of Calais in their attempts to get to Britain. We wonder separately about China's real territorial ambitions in the South China Sea, or what a North Korean drought might do to the Young Leader’s mental stability, and to the fate of the Rohingya.
Just as an example let's look at the Middle East for a moment, which is where I still spend quite a lot of my time. ISIS - better known there as Da'esh (داعش) - keeps rolling along, apparently largely unchecked despite earlier predictions that it was small and could easily be defeated. Far from being driven back or even contained by any forces, be they Iraqi, other Arab States and Iran - they are actually gaining ground. And not content just with finding and slaughtering Christians they are now killing their own Sunnis. They occupy about 50% of Syria - and Iran has taken to providing arms and ammunition to Syria's Assad to defend himself against Da'esh - who now also control about 30% of Iraq. They are heading towards the Saudi border and if unchecked the Saudis are going to get very nervous.
Saudi has a war on its hands with Yemen that is costing them a lot financially. War is not cheap, and oil revenues are down (behind which there is a whole other story). If Da'esh continues to be successful the Saudis may end up also having to defend the other end of its Kingdom, on the Syrian border. Not to mention the disturbances created in Saudi’s Eastern Province by a vocal Shi’a population. Saudi Arabia has a new King, whose 29-year-old son is the Minister of Defence. Not, I suspect, a comfortable position for a young man with minimal experience.
But Da'esh is unlikely to be content just upsetting things in the Middle East. They are gaining in confidence it seems, so expect their "representatives" to start turning up one day unannounced in a city near you! They have attracted Europeans, Americans and Chinese to their ranks. And while we know that security forces everywhere are on the alert, just one or two successful returnees can do a lot of damage where you least expect it.
Da’esh appeals to more people than we would want to believe: people such as those homeless and hungry refugees I mentioned earlier and who have very little to lose. A fertile breeding ground for recruiting urban terrorists. Da'esh, according to the Muslims I speak to are not representative of Islam. Nevertheless Muslim communities will all be branded as terrorists, as many are already, even the vast majority that have done nothing wrong, and will eventually come up against a backlash by anti Islamic nationalist groups such as the German group Pegida who recently held their first rally in the United Kingdom, and who of course claim not to be anti-Muslim! Ultimately, I suspect that Pegida and Da'esh may escalate matters between the believers in each camp.
I'm not a pessimist by nature, and I am not yet downhearted by this but I feel we must keep a close eye on the bigger picture. It is not just the Middle East and Islam - there is much more going on out there.
Usually, from a negative situation one sees light at the end of the tunnel. Daylight, that is, unless the light happens to be a train coming the other way, but what I see at present is dark.