Run that red light. Speed. Ignore the road rules and never sit in traffic. Do it all. Get away with it, day after day after day…
You’d love to wouldn’t you. You could, if you were the Sultan of Brunei.
In his tiny, oil-rich Sultanate at the top of Borneo, the Sultan and his family never stop at a red light or obey any of the road rules that are imposed upon every other occupant of the South-East Asian nation. The Sultan drives gleefully behind two police outriders who clear traffic from his path and assure him safe passage.
The police motorbikes speed into traffic with sirens blaring, and gesture violently to every motorist to pull over- immediately. Drivers screech and swerve to the side of the road in an attempt to stop just 100 metres after the arrival of the police, lest they incur the wrath of the royals.
Motorists are more scared of the government than they are of crashing.
The Sultan and his family then fly past with their foot firmly planted on the accelerator. Danger matters not to the omnipotent ruler. His outriders clear traffic from expressways even when that sends motorists into the path of merging traffic. The police part motorists as Moses parted the red sea, and the Sultan’s loyal disciples obey.
If they don’t?
For a Bruneian, the consequences could be disastrous. The Sultan controls every aspect of their lives and could easily cut financial support. Malay Bruneians essentially exist on a subsidised lifestyle and a welfare system disguised as public service employment. Locals get out of the Sultan’s way.
That’s easier. The government could cancel their work visa and give them 48 hours to leave the country. Expats get out of the way.
Do Bruneians resent the Sultan?
They don’t appear to. They gaze respectfully at their glorious leader as he smiles and waves back from behind the tinted windows of his bullet-proof black Mercedes SUV.
Does it cause accidents?
Yes, but no more than the everyday driving habits of Bruneians. Locals speed, tailgate and fail to indicate. They nurse their kids on their laps while driving and use their phones. They let their kids run around the car without seatbelts. They don’t understand merging and they honk like mad if they’re made to wait half a second after a traffic light turns green, even though they have nowhere important to be – there’s not much to do in Brunei. This despite the fact that honking the horn is considered very rude in Brunei.
Another peculiarity of Bruneian motorists is their habit of waiting in the shade. They will seek out any form of shade while waiting at the traffic lights, even if it’s a full 15 metres back from the lights. Brunei is always hot. If you’re four or five cars behind the person in the shade, you might miss the green light altogether. Furthermore, every Bruneian knows someone who has been badly injured or killed in a road accident, but this doesn’t alter their behaviour. The Sultan is just setting a good example.
Strangely, Bruneians also run out of petrol a lot. Strange because Brunei is a very small country and one end of the country to the other is only a two hour drive. Strange too because petrol is cheap. It’s an oil nation. Cars are often abandoned at the road side with a small branch sticking out of the window – the universal sign of an empty tank.
What about the police?
The police rarely enforce road rules on a daily basis in Brunei. Police exist to serve the royal family.
What happens when the royals travel?
What happens when they go overseas? How do they react when they’re forced to wait at a red light or sit in traffic? They must go mad. It must frustrate them enormously, or remind them that they are big fish in a very, very small sea.
Once the Sultan has flown by, the outriders trailing his car give motorists permission to resume driving. This causes more potential carnage as drivers set off without indicating or waiting for other drivers. Worse still, some canny locals will speed after the Sultan’s entourage like loyal devotees following Moses.
Next time you’re tempted to run a red light, remember you’re not the Sultan of Brunei.
What gift arrives today? replied Gwen, who recognised Wilson’s number but not the content of the message from the jovial and effusive charity liaison.
Arrive Gift today, make you happy forever.
Eternal happiness was not the first grand claim Wilson had made, but the transactions between Gwen and the children’s charity usually flowed in the opposite direction. Appreciation letters were common, especially approaching Christmas, but never before a gift. Thabani’s letter had impressed Gwen and Dara immensely, for its linguistic competence and the cute drawing of a tropical palm tree, despite the children’s home lying in the heart of southern Zimbabwe’s arid region.
He’s clever, Gwen had told Wilson.
No, is not Clever, is Thabani, he’d replied.
“You should give Wilson some lessons in grammar, and tactful language,” quipped Dara light-heartedly. The grammar lessons did not eventuate, nor did the sponsorship the couple had initially requested. They’d been matched with 3-year-old Rose and had been quite content. But they soon discovered that Rose would not be receiving their benevolence. When they contacted Wilson, he informed them Rose had never existed. Maybe they were thinking of Primrose, or her identical sisters Prudence and Privilege.
Sensing their disappointment, and determined to find a child to benefit from the couple’s goodwill, Wilson had messaged soon after,
You want Charity?
Us, charity? This wasn’t making any sense. Gwen understood the difficulty of communicating in a second language, her students faced it every day, but now Wilson seemed to be offering them charity. What is happening?
To be honest, Wilson, we’ve almost lost hope, they’d confessed after hearing the news of Rose and failing to secure another sponsor child.
No, not lose Hope, Hope and Faith I see today with my very own eyes, this I am sure.
Gwen was buoyed by Wilson’s irrepressible optimism and his continued dedication in undeniably challenging circumstances, and she and Dara were determined to provide an impoverished child with a better life. But even after endless trials and tribulations with their charitable efforts, they still had no idea why they would now be the recipients of a gift.
“Maybe it’s a thank you for the water pump we funded, suggested Dara. “or the equipment for the sewing and carpentry workshops. Wilson did say the sewing machines were ‘great for Blessing’ though I’m sure he meant to say ‘a grateful blessing’.”
“Perhaps, but why send us a gift, and how can Wilson be sure it’ll arrive today? Nothing sent between here and Zimbabwe has ever arrived on time.”
Then the couple heard a noise. A noise that would change their lives forever, just as Wilson had promised.
Gwen opened the door. Standing in front of her was not a harried delivery driver demanding a signature. At their door stood a shy young African boy gazing up at her with big, brown eyes.
The Prime Minister of Australia, Scott Morrison, has surprised a family of four with a Christmas present of $30m. Morrison offered the gift to the Murugappan family as well as granting them asylum in Australia after holding them in immigration detention for more than 1000 days. The Christmas blessing will see Priya, Nades, Kopika and Tharunicaa return to Biloela immediately with Australian residency.
Morrison claims he made the decision to exercise his executive powers after communicating with God during a religious experience at the Horizon Church in the Sutherland Shire.
“It was during the second rousing rock song that God spoke to me,” explained Morrison, before recounting the divine conversation.
“Hey, what about freeing that family on Christmas Island?”
“Oooh, I don’t know about that mate, it’s a big call. A lot of Aussie racists won’t be happy, and don’t forget who voted me in at the last election.”
“Yeah, but it’s Christmas, and remember all of those teachings that my son imparted to Christians like you, about morality, compassion, forgiveness and helping the less fortunate…”
“Yeah, what about them?”
“Well, what about you put them into practice?”
“Apply the teachings in a practical way and free the family, let them go back to Biloela.”
“Ummm, sorry mate, I’m still trying to get my head around what you just said – applying the teachings of the church in a practical way…that’s news to me”
“Yes, but that was the original intention of the teachings”
“Hang on, I love this part of the song…(Morrison sings a few lines). How good…yeah, go on”
“Well, I recommend you free the family and let them go back to Bilo”
“Back to Bilo – I don’t like the policy, but I do love the slogan – great ring to it. Back to Bilo, Back to Bilo…”
“And all that money, you could give to the family, to help them set up a new life.”
“The $30m, but that’s a lot of money, plus I was gonna give that to Foxtel.”
“Well, Rupert will have to wait – let me have a word to him. Anyway, I strongly recommend you apply the underlying principles of your Christian faith and free the family in detention, and do it in time for Christmas”
“Yeah, righto mate – but only for you”
“You’re a great bloke Scotty”
Morrison then explained that after deliberation with colleagues such as Peter Dutton, and after discussing it with Jen and the girls, he made the decision to free the family and reward them with a substantial yuletide gift.
“It’s great PR too, isn’t it,” said the man dubbed Scotty from Marketing, “you know, Christmas Island and a Christmas present, I thought of that myself, how good is that!”
Almighty God has successfully sued Scott Morrison for $549,250 after proving that the Prime Minister of Australia has defamed the image of the lord our saviour. God proved beyond reasonable doubt that the words and actions of the devout Christian had brought the lord’s name into disrepute, during a hearing at the Court of Holy Omnipotence.
Morrison publicly celebrates his religion and is a proud member of Horizon Church in Sutherland, south of Sydney, but his actions as a junior government minister, and now as prime minister, have been decidedly un-Christian. During the lengthy court case, God drew particular attention to the following incidents as evidence of defamation:
Biloela Family – The family of Priya, Nades, Kopika and Tharunicaa Murugappan have been detained on Christmas Island since March 2018 after seeking asylum in Australia. They were forcibly removed from their home in Biloela, Queensland, where the two daughters were born. God raised Morrison’s refusal to intervene in the case on moral grounds as proof of un-Christian behaviour.
Two Masters – The Bible advises Christians to avoid serving two masters, but God easily demonstrated that Morrison’s serves both Rupert and Gina.
God’s Creation – The court found that Morrison’s support of the fossil fuel industry and his failure to protect the natural environment is destroying the planet that God created, and God was not pleased.
Our Father – Morrison and his PR team have carefully cultivated an image of Morrison as the ‘Daggy Dad’ and the lovable father of the nation – but God reminded the PM that only he is everyone’s father.
Blessed are the poor – The Bible also teaches Christians to help those less fortunate, including the poor. However, the court heard details of Morrison’s complicity in the Robodebt scheme, the disparity in school funding, the refusal to increase Newstart, and countless government policies which enrich big business.
Resting – God created the world in six days, and only rested on the seventh, once the job was complete – whereas Morrison has been resting every day since becoming prime minister.
Respect your elders – Countless Bible stories teach Christians to respect the elderly, but God highlighted Morrison’s central role in defunding Aged Care facilities, which left residents increasingly vulnerable to mistreatment, and to COVID-19.
Thoughts and Prayers – On a personal note, God chastised Morrison for responding to every crisis with nothing more than thoughts and prayers.
Morrison responded to the guilty verdict with a smirk.
Australians have reacted with horror to a new law banning non-Christians from enjoying a holiday on Christmas Day. The shock new law was announced on the eve of the summer break and requires non-Christians to attend work on December 25.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, himself a devout Christian, rushed through the new law on the final day of parliament this year and chose to announce the decision just days before Christmas holidays.
“Christmas is for Christ,” stated Morrison from outside the Horizon Church in Sutherland, south of Sydney. “So only Australians who identify as Christian, and can prove their devotion, can take a day off work on December 25. Everyone else must work, and don’t dare ask for overtime or penalty rates.”
According to the prime minister, Australians wishing to take a day off on December 25 will have to supply their employer, and/or the government, with a letter from their church priest or minister, signed by a Justice of the Peace. To reinforce his message, the prime minster resorted to a slogan, reminding everyone:
‘Jesus is the reason for the season’
The law prohibits time off for Muslims, Jews, Buddhists atheists, agnostics and anyone else who cannot prove that they belong to a Christian denomination which officially recognises Christmas. Critics slammed the decision as a failure to acknowledge the religious, cultural and racial diversity of the nation, and as a rude shock to citizens who have endured bush fires, floods, drought, COVID-19, and more floods, in 2020.
Morrison responded to the criticism with a smirk.
The new law also prompted changes to other annual celebrations in Australia. The Christmas law will apply to Easter, and public holidays in 2021 will be affected in the following ways:
Australia Day – Only people officially recognised as Indigenous can party on January 26.
Anzac Day – A holiday will be granted only to soldiers who served in a war, or registered members of the Australian defence force.
Labour Day – The day of the workers will grant time off to employees, socialists and active members of unions. Employers and business owners will be required to work. It is not clear what conditions apply to the unemployed or the self-employed.
Queen’s Birthday – A long weekend will be granted only to staunch royalists, including people who buy trashy magazines full of royal gossip. Republicans such as Peter FitzSimons and Malcolm Turnbull will not get the day off, nor will anyone who voted for an Australian republic way back in 1999.
Bank Holiday – This will still be a day off for most Australians, except for drug dealers, devotees of cryptocurrency and those stashing their cash in a shoebox under the bed, as well as tradies promising a discount for payment in cash.
One national public holiday to remain unchanged is Boxing Day, because no one can explain why it’s called Boxing Day. Australians can now look forward to resting a hangover and flicking between the cricket and the Sydney to Hobart yacht race
New Year’s Day has also been saved, so at least Australians can also look forward to escaping 2020.
Not sure what to gift for Christmas? Sick of buying the same presents year after year only to see feigned surprise and excitement on the face of the recipient? Try a present with a difference, which will make a difference.
Make a donation to an organisation such as Greenfleet on behalf of your friend or relative.
Greenfleet is a not-for-profit environmental organisation which protects the world’s climate by restoring forests. You can help them to plant native biodiverse forests which capture carbon emissions and help fight the impacts of climate change. You can contribute to the growth of an entire forest even if you don’t have the time, space or opportunity to plant a tree. Greenfleet will do it on your behalf.
Since its inception, Greenfleet has planted more than 9.4 million trees in more than 500 forests in Australia and New Zealand. The forests generate many benefits for the planet, and for us. They address critical deforestation, absorb carbon emissions to protect our climate, improve water and soil quality, conserve biodiversity, and restore vital habitat for native wildlife.
Importantly, the forests are legally protected for up to 100 years through an on title agreement with the landowner.
A forest guaranteed to grow for the next 100 years is better than the cheap plastic toy which will become landfill as soon as your nephew discovers the next fad. This is practical climate action.
Greenfleet began in 1997 and planted its first trees in West Gippsland, Victoria. It reached two million trees in 2005 and combined with Scouts to plant their 1,000,000th tree for the Murray Darling Rescue project. The organisation has been a finalist in the World Environment Day awards and gained Greenhouse Friendly™ Approval for forest sink methodology.
In 2013, the organisation’s projects were registered under the Carbon Farming Initiative and it purchased its first property, Avoca, in NSW. Working with private landholders allows Greenfleet to secure guarantees that the trees planted on that land will be protected.
In 2015, Greenfleet expanded its operations to New Zealand and through donations from supporters, managed to purchase ‘Wurneet Laang Laang’ in Victoria in 2016. The latest of many initiatives is an innovative climate-change research project at Nardoo Hills Reserve in Victoria in association with Bush Heritage Australia.
Greenfleet receives Deductible Gift Recipient status and is listed on the Register of Environmental Organisations in Australia.
Greenfleet draws upon the methodology outlined by Gold Standard for the Global Goals, an internationally recognised standard designed to accelerate progress toward climate security and sustainable development. This methodology is based on six central principles.
Collaboration – Working closely with landholders and partners, including rangers, native nurseries, tree planting contractors, other not-for-profit organisations, Traditional Owners, local community and government.
Location – The right place is chosen through a comprehensive assessment of each potential site to determine whether the land can support the growth of a biodiverse carbon forest.
Species selection – Forests comprise of a mix of native species that would have been present prior to land clearing. The focus is on recreating multi-species ecosystems and not single species plantations. The Australasian Virtual Herbarium, DELWP’s Ecological Vegetation Class benchmark and other state and regional vegetation maps and classifications are used to establish a list of native species that should be present on the site.
Efficiency – Projects are delivered as cost-effectively as possible without compromising quality.
Co-benefits – In addition to delivering nature-based climate solutions, Greenfleet strives to deliver additional social, environmental and economic benefits.
Long-term thinking – Every project focusses on the lasting success in order to protect the climate, the environment, wildlife, people and the future.
One benefit of donating to an organisation such as Greenfleet is the assurance that the trees you help to plant will be protected. When a Greenfleet forest is planted, the landholder retains ownership of the land and the agreeemnt ensures the forest is secured for up to 100 years. This means the landowner must protect the forest by not damaging or removing trees for the duration of the agreement.
Where an area of planting has failed, remedial action, like in-fill planting, is carried out.
Donating to Greenfleet is a constructive and practical way to protect the earth’s climate for the sake of the planet and the sake of humanity. A donation as a Christmas present on behalf of friends or family is also an original and long-lasting gift which is so much more beneficial than yet another boring gift from yet another boring store.
Plus, if you give your Dad socks for Christmas, what are you going to give him for his birthday?
It’s over. Just like that. Anthony was in no way prepared for this. Something was certainly different when she first appeared that night, but it gave him no indication of the revelation that was to come.
He stared in silence for a moment and his mood sunk. He felt undeniably alone. He felt tears well up but he was too despondent to cry. He wasn’t sure how to react so he just went to bed. It was probably late enough.
“I sleep better when I’m depressed,” he’d often told himself. It’s not scientifically proven, but it made sense to him. When he was depressed a numbness replaced the agitation that otherwise kept him awake. The realisation that it was over drove him to seek solace in the covers and escape the cold winter evening.
At about 2pm the next day it hit him again. His one day a week in the office had so far distracted him from the heart-breaking news, but now it returned to haunt him. Normally the promise of an evening in would carry him through the final monotonous and arduous hours at work better than an afternoon caffeine hit, but not today.
It was at this hour that he would customarily gift himself a mental power nap, a brief daydream, as he pictured the scrumptious evening meal, the choice of dessert and the pure pleasure of “slipping into my trackies and ugg boots for a few blissful hours in your company.” Rain pouring on his roof enhanced the comfort that was always better shared.
“You don’t share my comfort, you are my comfort,” he’d always said.
Colleagues had labelled him mildly and harmlessly eccentric as he broke into random grins and light chuckles provoked by the memories of the previous night’s adventures. He hadn’t smiled today. The pleasant memories stored themselves in the recesses of his mind but would remain suppressed for quite some time.
He trudged to the break room and shoved some instant into a mug with too much sugar and some ‘girlie milk’ – no full cream left.
Today, pouring rain reminded him that he’d forgotten his umbrella.
Working from home would be even harder now. At first the idea had excited him. No more commute. Snacks and meals at arm’s length. No need to shave, no need to dress up. He’d reached a top score of 3390 in Solitaire; surely that was something to celebrate. But now the emptiness was omnipresent, taunting him in his open-plan living area with impromptu workspace. The single lounge chair looked lonelier than ever.
“I’m supposed to leave it all behind and move on,” he chided himself. “I have to accept that it’s over. It’s life. Nothing lasts forever, as myriad soppy love songs remind us. I should start dating again,”
But how does one date during a pandemic?
Social distancing is not conducive to romance. Flirtatious conversations in dimly lit restaurant corners are just a memory, and dancing is discouraged or banned – although maybe the latter is a bonus for Anthony.
What of the post-date?
Various scenarios run through Anthony’s mind.
He enters his unit with the lovely young woman. He offers her a seat and a drink. She relaxes in the lounge chair while he sits on the kitchen chair and the table renders them more socially distanced than in a restaurant or on public transport.
“Maybe I should paste on the lounge chair a green circle with “Sit Here” and a tick on it,” he suggests to himself.
The single lounge chair could, on the other hand, be a pretext for intimacy.
“We’ll just have to share,” he flirts.
“Or there is space for both of us on the bed.” In his wild imagination this sounds cheeky and charming. In real life it’s probably sleazy.
a wild imagination,
a dreadful situation and
a lethal combination.
“Loneliness is as unhealthy as smoking 15 cigarettes a day,” claims the psychologist on the radio.
Anthony thought sitting was the new smoking and he reminds himself to stop sitting alone in cafes lest he be fined or kicked out. On that reasoning, his daily exercise routine is therefore redundant. Maybe there’s no point dragging himself out of bed on winter mornings to slosh through the mud and rain. It always boosts his mood and offers a great sense of accomplishment, but if he’s virtually smoking 15 ciggies a day, what’s the point?
The clock grinds towards 5pm and he prepares to walk home. Then he stops.
Why go home? What have I got to go home to? You’re not there, and his mind races back to the previous evening…
He’d sat in numbed silence. It had finally come to an end. You’re gone.
Australian scientists have created the E-chidna to replace echidnas in the wild once the country’s natural environment has been successfully destroyed, in what is being hailed as a world first in the creation of electronic wildlife.
The digitised animal looks exactly the same as a wild echidna, but will exist only in animated form. The first E-chidna is set to be released into the world wide web next week, and a female counterpart will soon follow. It is hoped the pair will breed and populate cyberspace with little baby E-chidnas.
“The E-chidna is a source of pride for all Aussies,” announced Minister for the Environment, Sussan Ley. “It epitomises this country’s attitude towards and treatment of the natural environment, and it will replace wild echidnas when they and other native animals become extinct.”
The minister then outlined how successive federal and state environment ministers contributed to the birth of the E-chidna through support of the fossil fuel industry, traditional agricultural practices, land clearing and overdevelopment, as well as a general apathy towards the protection of Australia’s natural environment.
“They are all here with us in spirit,” Ley said of the ministers, “and their actions should not be forgotten today. Every minister could have chosen to spend the E-chidna budget on protecting the natural environment and saving the wild animals, but their dedication to environmental destruction has been vindicated today.”
Ley also boasted that the E-chidna represents a watershed moment in government and private sector cooperation. She explained that much of the research and development was funded by the donations from the fossil fuel industry, the farming lobby, property developers and large scale irrigators, without whom none of this would have been possible.
Observers have compared the E-chidna to the Tamagotchi, a Japanese electronic pet, but highlighted one major difference between the two electronic animals. The Tamagotchi had to be fed and cared for by its owner, or it would die, whereas the E-chidna will simply be neglected, just like its wild cousin.
Ley also boasted that the E-chidna is only the beginning of an exciting scientific journey.
“This country has the highest rate of native mammal extinction in the world – which is another source of pride for Aussies, and means we have a backlog of wild animals to replicate in digital form. The Tasmanian E-Tiger is ready for release, and we’re also determined to wipe out species such as the Black-flanked Rock-wallaby, the Eastern Curlew, the Gouldian Finch, the Northern Quoll and the Black-footed Tree Rat. Our tech experts are already working on the E-versions of all of those animals, so they can be released as soon as the animals become extinct. It’s quite exciting.”
The E-chidnas will be visible to anyone searching the internet, anywhere in the world, so people will not have to visit Australia to witness this unique and fascinating creature. This created concern among the tourism sector, which relies heavily on Australia’s natural wonders to generate income.
In response, Ley argued that destroying Australia’s wildlife is further proof that her party is good at managing the economy.
Not always. Two beaches in Mexico are famous for stories of sadness and sorrow.
Playa San Blas, Nayarit.
The first beach synonymous with sorrow is Playa El Borrego en San Blas, in the state of Nayarit, and it centres on the true story of Rebecca Mendez Jimenez, who was known as La Loca del Muelle de San Blas.
Rebecca was often seen at the beach, the lighthouse and the wharf of San Blas wearing the same white wedding dress for 41 years, until her death on September 18, 2012.
So how did Rebecca come to be known as the crazy woman of San Blas? Two separate stories attempt to explain her actions.
The first claims that a teenage Rebecca fell in love with a local fisherman named Manuel, who promised to marry her in 1971. A date was decided for the wedding and preparations were made. A few days before the wedding Manuel went out fishing, but did not return that day. On the day on which the pair were set to declare their love, Rebecca went to the wharf in her wedding dress and veil to wait for her love. She waited, and waited, but Manuel never returned. He and some companions had been killed by a hurricane that swept through the region. A distraught Rebecca visited the wharf in her wedding dress to wait for her beloved for 41 years.
The second story is equally sorrowful. Rebecca is said to have fallen for another man, this time a merchant named Laos, who referred to her affectionately as Smoke Girl due to her greying hair. He also promised to marry Rebecca, who waited at the church in her wedding attire, but in vain. Laos never arrived and Rebecca was left heartbroken.
Rebecca will always be remembered. Her ashes were scattered on the beaches of San Blas, a statue has been erected at the wharf, and she is the subject of a song by popular Mexican rock band Mana, titled En el Muelle de San Blas.
For locals and Mexicans, Rebecca is a symbol of eternal love.
Playa La Llorona
The crying beach lies in the state of Michoacan, also on Mexico’s Pacific coast.
It is one of the picturesque unspoilt beaches scattered along the coast of Michoacan and it is referred to as ‘una playa virgen’. The sound of crying does not emminate from a crazed widow or a ghost-like creature, but from the sand itself. Such is the chemical composition of the sand on this particular beach that visitors hear a crying sound while walking upon it.
The beach is also more isolated than other beaches on the Pacific coast of Mexico and it has so far avoided the construction of a hotel or other accommodation which smother many of the country’s best beaches. In fact, the coast of Michaoacan hosts many precious beaches devoid of large hotels or development.
Camping is popular at La Llorona due to its tranquillity, its beauty and its clear night skies. Campers drift off to sleep to the sound of the waves lapping the shore. If you’re lucky enough to visit and camp at La Llorona, and you hear what sounds like crying during the evening, do not despair. It is most likely a fellow visitor taking a romantic walk along the seashore under the light of the moon.
A Frenchman, who died a gruesome death after changing the course of French history. His name was Maximilien Robespierre and it’s doubtful he ever made a robe, let alone a million in one year. Robespierre’s significance reaches far beyond haute couture as he was a central player in the Reign of Terror, and a Jacobin leader during the French Revolution. His death was far more dramatic than anything that has graced a French catwalk.
Maximilien-François-Marie-Isidore de Robespierre was born on May 6, 1758 in Arras, France, and was described as intelligent, altruistic, frugal and well-groomed, but also as dictatorial, a bloodthirsty creature or a timid bourgeois. So how did such a man die such a gruesome death?
A weak voice
Robespierre is remembered for having a weak voice, but he gave voice to the voiceless. He is also remembered for once shooting his mouth off. During meetings of the National Assembly from 1789 onwards, he exhibited simple manners and a soft voice which was often drowned out by those who opposed his views. Nevertheless, in the 500 or so speeches that he made to this assembly angered the conservatives because he advocated universal suffrage and unrestricted admission to the national guard, public offices and the commissioned ranks of the army. He fought for the right to petition and he opposed the royal veto, as well as the abuses of ministerial power, and religious and racial discrimination. These were all burning issues in France at the time and underpinned the desire for revolution and change.
Robespierre also attracted attention after defending actors, Jews and black slaves while working as a lawyer. He entered the legal profession in 1781 after excelling at the college of Oratorians at Arras and then the college of Louis-le-Grand in Paris, where he studied on a scholarship. He won praise for his work in philosophy and law and was well versed in the writings of the French philosophers of the Enlightenment. He drew inspiration from the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, and these ideas informed his political thinking.
The law practice he established in Arras with his sister, Charlotte, quickly established a solid reputation, and it was not long before he was appointed a judge at the Salle Épiscopale, a court with jurisdiction over the provostship of the diocese. His legal firm followed in the footsteps of his lawyer father and earned Robespierre a comfortable income and the ability to pursue a life in politics.
It would also lead to his gruesome death.
Robespierre began his political career at the age of 30. His first office was deputy to the Estates General in 1789 as one of the representatives of the Artois region. In 1790 he was elected secretary of the National Assembly and he soon came to preside over the Jacobins, a political club promoting the ideas of the French Revolution. His involvement with the Jacobins would lead to controversy, attacks on his life and clashes with various sections of French society.
The Jacobins were famous for advocating liberty, and clashed with the royal family and their supporters. Robespierre was labelled a dangerous individual for his challenge to the status quo, and when King Louis XVI fled, threats against Robespierre and the Jacobins became violent. As a result, Robespierre hurriedly called for a vote on changes to the constitution. In the ensuing chaos, martial law was proclaimed in France and the national guard opened fire on a group of protestors at Champ-de-Mars who were demanding the abdication of the king.
Friends and enemies
The physical attacks on progressive thinkers placed Robespierre’s life in danger. He took refuge with the family of a cabinet maker, Maurice Duplay, where he considered his next move. The complication was that many of the Jacobins had since joined a rival club. Eventually, the National Assembly dissolved itself and the people of Paris organised a triumphal procession for Robespierre.
Robespierre would soon return to public life in the new Legislative Assembly. Even though he excluded himself and his colleagues from this assembly, he still spoke at the Jacobin Club where he delivered about 100 speeches until August 1792. One topic of his speeches was opposition to the European war that Jacque-Pierre Brissot was proposing in order to spread the aims of the Revolution. For Robespierre, there was still more work to be done in France.
Brissot and Robespierre were to clash repeatedly. Brissot disagreed with Robespierre’s denouncement of the secret intrigues of the court and of the royalists, and their collusion with Austria. Robespierre questioned the preparedness of the army, and suggested that some aristocratic officers had committed treason. At the same time, he defended patriotic soldiers, including those of the Châteauvieux regiment, who were imprisoned after a mutiny at Nancy.
In response to criticism from Brissot, Robespierre founded the newspaper Le Défenseur de la Constitution (“Defense of the Constitution”), in order to win more support from the people. Through the newspaper, Robespierre attacked Marquis de Lafayette, who was now commander of the French army. Robespierre suspected Lafayette of plotting to establish a military dictatorship but was unable to secure Lafayette’s dismissal.
Particular incidents which highlights the contrasting reputation of Robespierre occurred in 1792. Robespierre had long advocated insurrection “only with the sword of the law”, but on August 10 an attack was carried out on the Tuileries Palace, and even though Robespierre did not participate in the attack, he was nominated to the insurrectional commune. A month later, nobles and clergy were imprisoned and murdered during the September Massacres and, as a member of the electoral assembly of Paris, Robespierre exonerated the mob. Soon after, the people of Paris chose him to lead the delegation to the National Convention.
At this stage, Robespierre had attracted many supporters, and many enemies.
Robespierre was accused of a dictatorial leadership style on various occasions. In 1792, The Girondins accused him of dictatorship during his sessions with the National Convention. The Girondins were a political group which favoured political but not social democracy, and clashed with the ideals of the Jacobins. They also controlled the government and the civil service. To support their accusations, the Girdondins cited Robespierre’s call for the death of the king during his trial in December 1792.
Other critics point to Robespierre’s use of the phrase “une volonté une” or “one single will” as proof of his dictatorship. Robespierre adopted this phrase to unite all of the disparate forces of the revolution, including the warring factions in the Vendee region, the Montagnards and the federalists. Robespierre saw that the foundations of the revolution had been established, and he accepted responsibility for mobilising all of these forces in a combined effort.
The Committee of Public Safety
The Committee of Public Safety also prompted many people to question Robespierre’s legacy. The committee had been set up in April 1793 to essentially maintain public order during the revolution, but critics argued its methods were excessive. The committee utilised vigilance committees to maintain unity among revolutionaries, and Robespierre himself established a revolutionary militia to fight counterrevolutionaries and grain hoarders.
Another aspect of Robespierre’s leaderhip which drew claims of dictatorship was conscription. Robespierre sought to mobilise the masses in order to defeat the counterrevolutionaries and conservatives. The policy of conscription, the management of the economy and the centralisation of power under Robespierre became known as the Reign of Terror.
Robespierre is often regarded as the architect of the Reign of Terror, but it is also accepted that he opposed pointless executions and opposed the arrest of deputies during the arrest of the Girondins, and even the arrest of the king’s sister. He also spoke out against various massacres and demanded that the perpetrators be recalled for “dishonouring the Revolution”.
Meanwhile, tensions were heightened, violence was increasing, and Robespierre’s enemies were circling.
Robespierre regularly justified the centralisation of power, and some interpreted this as a justification of dictatorship. He called for purges of local authorities and other factions which threatened the government, and he clashed with groups such as the Hebertists and the Cordeliers. Some of these groups called for radical actions to secure the revolution, and disagreed with Robespierre on the matter of religion.
Defence of Christianity set Robespierre at odds with other revolutionaries. Various factions called for the de-Christianisation of government and society, but Robespierre modelled himself on the Deist Jean-Jacques Rousseau. A report to the National Convention in his name affirmed the existence of God and advocated a civic religion and support for the notion of a supreme being. This increased his popularity among some quarters, but it angered others, so much so that on May 22, Henri Admirat attempted to execute Robespierre. He survived this attempt and was soon elected president of the National Convention, in which capacity he led the festival of the Supreme Being (“Etre suprême”) in the Tuileries Gardens on June 8, further angering his detractors.
Accusations of dictatorship, support for Christianity, leaderhip of the Jacobins and calls for the king to be executed all contributed to a growing list of opponents, and Robespierre’s life was now under genuine threat.
Robespierre fell ill and disappeared from public life for about a month. He returned to denounce the radical leader Jacques-Rene Hebert, who along with foreign agents was executed. Other opponents such as Georges Danton criticised the policies of the Committee of Public Safety and launched violent attacks against Robespierre in order to halt the revolution and end the Reign of Terror. They were unsuccessful and faced the guillotine in April of that year.
Opposition continued to grow. Critics disagreed with the reorganisation of the Revolutionary Tribunal, and they included people he had himself threatened, as well as Georges Couthon, Louis de Saint Just, Joseph Cambon, the minister of finance, and even members of the Committee of Public Safety.
How much longer could Robespierre survive?
The political and military battles and the threats on his life took their toll. Robespierre suffered ill health and he was said to be irritable and distant. Accusations of dictatorship affected him personally and he absented himself from the National Convention and the Committee of Public Safety, appearing only at the Jacobin club to denounce counterrevolutionaries.
At the same time, he began to lose the support of the people, whose hardships continued. From his partial retirement, Robespierre followed the unleashing of the Great Terror in the summer of 1794 and the progress of opposition.
In an attempt to win back public support and complete his patriotic work, he reappeared at the Committee of Public Safety on July 23 and at the National Convention on July 26. While his speech at the convention was first greeted with applause, this soon turned to disquiet, then majority opposition. On the same evening he attended a reception at the Jacobin Club where he was well received, but the next day he was prevented from speaking at the Convention. The situation worsened when Robespierre, his brother and three associates were taken to the Luxembourg prison. Even though the warden refused to jail them, the threat to Robespierre’s safety was growing by the day.
Robespierre and his closest allies sought refuge at the Hôtel de Ville (City Hall), where he was expected to lead an insurrection utilising the armed contingents from some of the sections of the city who had been summoned by the Paris Commune and were awaiting orders. Robespierre refused, however, and then something strange happened. After being declared an outlaw by the National Convention, Robespierre severely wounded himself by a pistol shot in the jaw.
Chaos reigned as his supporters and allies were thrown into confusion and soldiers of the National Convention attacked the Hôtel de Ville, easily seizing Robespierre and his followers. What had been anticipated for months would finally eventuate.
On the evening of July 28, Robespierre and the first 22 of his condemned supporters were guillotined before a cheering mob on the Place de la Revolution, (now the Place de la Concorde). In total, 108 people would die for their support of Robespierre’s cause.
Maximilien Robespierre left a lasting impression of France. He presided over political organisations which attracted many supporters and just as many critics, and his ideas and actions led to the overthrow of existing power structures, and prompted attacks on his own life. His actions will forever be debated, but his influence of France is undeniable, and is far greater than that of any fashion designer.