Belfast Telegraph

It's the end of the world, but I feel just fine

An ancient Mayan prophecy predicts the world will end next year. Even if it doesn't, we'll be lucky to survive 2012 unscathed, says Malachi O'Doherty

There could hardly be a more exhilarating moment for the apocalyptically-minded. Not only do ancient prophecies say the world is ending, but there are copious indicators of impending disaster in the newspapers, too.

Just go to YouTube and key in the digits '2012' and you will find yourself faced with a string of titles discussing the validity of an alleged Mayan prophecy that there won't be another Christmas.

The prophesy itself is based on a reading of the transit of Venus across the face of the Sun. Never a good thing, apparently.

Our Moon fully eclipses the Sun about twice a year without appreciable calamity, though some link earthquakes to the enhanced tidal pull at those times, but wee distant Venus has got it in for us.

These are bad times for the impressionable, for it would be easy to persuade yourself that horrors are building around us.

The Christmas message of International Monetary Fund (IMF) president Christine Lagarde was that the global economy faces collapse. And a collapsed economy means no one having any money.

Google 'IMF Fears' and you'll find that the fund has been warning us for years about the dangers of going broke, of Europe imploding, of social unrest. The warnings are now the general background hum of our lives; so routine that they are hardly reported.

You'll have heard more on the news over Christmas about the uplifting message of the Queen, about how we all rally to each other in hard times, than the tiresome recital of the dangers before us. Probably you will have blanked out what you heard, anyway, unless you are a paranoid looking for affirmation, for there is nothing you can personally do about it.

Yet, in the coming year, the scale of the damage sustained to the economy will become clear.

Will there be another bank collapse? The dominoes that might fall this time include whole countries - regions, even.

This will also be the year of a US presidential election, one in which a disappointing incumbent is advantaged by the low calibre of opponents. Yet the threats building to world peace require the best brains in the biggest jobs.

If 2011 was defined by the Arab Spring, a period of near-elation as revolutions were triggered across the dictatorships of the Middle East, this coming year will show us the parameters of potential conflict between countries that have reshaped themselves.

Iran, first in the sequence to quell a revolt, before it was clear that a pattern was emerging, unnerves the US and Israel with its progress towards building nuclear warheads.

Some in Israel would like to attack Iran and attempt to demolish the nuclear plants, but others counsel that this would be impossible and would inevitably trigger a regional war, anyway. The optimistic reading is that, in an election year, Barack Obama would not sanction such chaos.

But the implosion of Syria and the sharpening of divisions in Iraq complicate things further, for what is developing is a possible confrontation across the region between the major sects of Islam, the Sunni and the Shia, between an alliance centred on Saudi Arabia and another centred on Iran, extending even to including Pakistan, a nuclear power already.

All of this looks incredibly messy. Iraq is now tearing itself apart into three regions; war in Syria threatens to draw in Turkey.

Israel's position already looks precarious after the revolution in Egypt, the country that was her strongest ally among old enemies.

Now the country hailed as the only democracy in the region has a growing minority which wants gender segregation on public transport and is prepared to advance its demand through public disorder.

At home, we at least face a year without likely political disruption. Few seriously doubt that the DUP and Sinn Fein want their coalition to thrive.

There are possible upsets in the offing, however. If the PSNI procures - as seems likely - the recording made by Dolours Price for a Boston College archive, then arrests of senior republicans for past crimes may follow. Nuala O'Loan, the former Police Ombudsman, has called for a single investigative body into the past with powers of arrest, trusting that the political system is now strong enough to absorb the shock of some of its founders being tried for murder.

And we may have to absorb other shocks, too, with possible hospital closures and other cutbacks to ease the economic trauma.

We are in need of answers to big questions in education and surely the insistence of many schools on privatised selection is just a clash with government waiting to happen.

But if any single event is likely to make us reconsider who we are and where we stand, it may be the move towards Scottish independence.

I don't think it is possible to compromise the Union in one area without raising questions about it in others, but we shall see.

It may be that the coming year will be so dramatic on the economic front and in the Middle East that, even here, people will have their minds diverted from petty problems in front of them.

The paranoids will breathe a sigh of relief when Venus passes the Sun without steering us into a black hole, or planetary collision.

But it will be a miracle, too, if we reach the end of next year with peace on earth and our economic security intact.

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