Thursday, 20 December 2012

Vatican II, 50 Years Later

The following is an article by Sister Joan Chittister which was posted on The Huffington Post's 'The Blog' on 9 Sept. 2012. Read the original article here:

As Vatican II ended, I was just about to begin doctoral studies in communication theory and social psychology. I didn't know a lot about either subject at the time, but, with one foot in religious life spawned by the Council of Trent and the other in a religious life awash in Vatican II, I knew that anthropologists and social psychologists were missing the academic news of the century. Right in front of their eyes, a subculture was about to unleash its own cultural transformation -- by design, with impunity and in toto. It was a human undertaking of massive proportions. It added a great deal to religious life, but it exacted a cost as well. Or, as Robert Hooker put it over two centuries ago, "Change is not made without inconvenience, even from worse to better." 
Of all the church, the people most mobilized for change were women religious. Mandated to hold renewal chapters and write renewal constitutions, groups retrained their entire memberships in the theology of Vatican II in anticipation of what would of necessity be a community project. Change was impossible without the support of the entire group. Groups suspended their Vatican I constitutions and instituted experimentation in every area of religious life. 
It was an exciting time. It was also a dangerous time, a time of great personal tension and deep spiritual struggle. 
The truth is that religious life had been formed in the spirituality of the virgins and martyrs, of sacrifice and perseverance -- virtues men had traditionally required of women -- when what Vatican II called for was the spirituality of priests and prophets, of community-building and witness. It was, then, on the deepening, the broadening, of both personal development and spirituality that the transition to Vatican II religious life really depended. To bring the church into the modern world, it would take women committed to risk and with courage for the unknown. But prophecy and risk are not the hallmarks of large groups. It was not the large groups who started religious life, and it is not large groups that will renew it now. Religious life must travel light into the future, burdened by nothing of its successes of the past, held down by none of its past goals but fresh in direction, vital in its meanings for the people of today. 
A movement that loses its creative edge loses its vision and its reason for existence. A movement that is only radical can lose both its popular base and its stabilizing foundation. The continuing task of Vatican II is to sharpen the edge of religious life again. What religious did for past generations, they must now do for the forgotten peoples of our own generation. A whole new global population must be carried beyond the limitations of their lives, become visible to those who see them not, be heard by those who are deaf to their tears. 
Conformity is no longer the major religious virtue, togetherness masking as community, and the fear of change is no longer the agenda of religious life. Renewal of spirit, openness to new needs and depth, if not necessarily length, of personal commitment has become the new norm. "Why did you come here?" I asked a new applicant. "Because this is the only group of women I have been able to find that cares about exactly what I do -- community, the gospel of Jesus, and a commitment to peace and justice," she said simply. Interestingly enough, I couldn't help but think that her answer sounded to me exactly like what Vatican II wanted from religious, too: that they would examine their life from the perspective of the "charism of the founder, the needs of society, and the gifts of their members." But if that's the case, religious life is not only new again, it is also a long way from being over. 
Excerpted from 'The Struggle between Confusion and Expectation: The Legacy of Vatican II' by Joan Chittister in 'Vatican II: 50 Personal Stories,' ed. William Madges and Michael J. Daley (Orbis). In this new book, 50 distinguished authors, including theologians, journalists, spiritual writers and pastoral leaders, offer their own assessment of the meaning of the Second Vatican Council and its historic documents.

Earthing Christmas

,         Ian Harris           Otago Daily Times       Dec. 14, 2012

There’s a view of God which holds that if something happens, it must be because God wills it. Another, that God knows what will happen, but it’s over to us to make our own decisions – we’re not robots. Another, that this sort of God-talk is redundant in the 21st century, because it hinges on supernatural speculation which for many westerners has outlived its usefulness.

This withering away of a sense of the supernatural brings loss as well as gain: loss of certainty beyond this life, loss of a strand of a religious heritage that has been central to western identity and culture, and along with that, loss of an unassailable moral authority through which the churches, at their best, saved society from some of its worst excesses.

But for those Christians who embrace the new world shaped by advances in knowledge and modern biblical exploration, there is also great gain. An example is the way new perspectives are opening up on mystery and transcendence. These have always been central to religious experience – and still are, but in a quite different way.
Some would argue that a supernatural reality is essential to both. That is understandable, given the pre-modern world-view within which the Christian tradition was fashioned. The secular world-view that now prevails in the western world, however, demands a radically new approach.

For dispensing with the supernatural does not rule out mystery. Now, though, it is not so much the mystery of the ultimately unknowable, but of human life itself. Awe and wonder may be a better way of expressing that, if only because those who focus on mystery sometimes brandish it as if it were a supernatural trump card. “Ah yes,” they say when logical argument runs out, “but beyond all that is
elusive/ineffable/ungraspable/indescribable/inexpressible/intangible (take your pick) mystery.”

Mystery then becomes the unchallengeable hidey-hole in which the God of the gaps can repose for ever (the God of the gaps being the explanation for everything that cannot yet be explained by science or other knowledge).
So where does religion sit in relation to mystery today? Here Christianity re-thought from a secular perspective has much to offer, stemming from the dual vantage point that it is both the most secular of the world’s great faiths, and it is within the Christian West that secular culture has taken root.

There are good reasons for that, beginning with the church’s most innovative doctrine: the other-worldly God of old became human flesh and blood in Jesus of Nazareth. God was earthed. The human (and not just the human Jesus) became the locus of the divine. This insight is so astounding that it is only slowly being rediscovered, after lying dormant for 2000 years.

Sir Lloyd Geering points out that this revolutionary perspective proved too much for the early church, which took the opposite tack: instead of teasing out the implications of making God human, it poured its creativity into making Jesus divine. Drawing on the cosmology of the times, it imagined Jesus as having been sent by God from a heaven that was as real as Earth, to be born in Palestine; and after his death and resurrection it returned him bodily there. In heaven, say the church’s 4th-century creeds, he reigns over creation as a full and equal partner with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, three aspects of the one Godhead.

It was inevitable that mystery gathered around Jesus in that heavenly world, and for hundreds of years theologians wove their interpretations around that understanding of God in his heaven with Christ at his right hand, and humans sweating it out on Earth.  A secular Christian faith, by contrast, grows naturally out of that doctrine of the Incarnation or enfleshment of God in human form. It does not locate a supernatural God in a faraway heaven, nor insist that Jesus is “divine” in the traditional sense. Instead, it interprets Jesus as a man whose life makes total sense within this world of space and time.

That affirmation of humanity as the locus of the divine does not mean abandoning any notion of mystery and transcendence. It simply reinterprets them so that they belong naturally within our secular experience of the amazing miracle of life. Transcendence climbs across (that is what “transcendent” means) the confines of our everyday existence to give a glimpse – and an experience – of a quality of life that excites, transforms, enlarges, satisfies and renews. The divine becomes incarnate.
That is mystery. And that mystery is what Christmas is all about

Sunday, 16 December 2012

US Stupidity in Syria: This Is No Fight Between Goodies and Baddies

Syria's descent into Holy War
by Patrick Cockburn                      Independent/UK                          December 16, 2012

It is one of the most horrifying videos of the war in Syria. It shows two men being beheaded by Syrian rebels, one of them by a child. He hacks with a machete at the neck of a middle-aged man who has been forced to lie in the street with his head on a concrete block. At the end of the film, a soldier, apparently from the Free Syrian Army, holds up the severed heads by their hair in triumph.AC
The film is being widely watched on YouTube by Syrians, reinforcing their fears that Syria is imitating Iraq's descent into murderous warfare in the years after the US invasion in 2003. It fosters a belief among Syria's non-Sunni Muslim minorities, and Sunnis associated with the government as soldiers or civil servants, that there will be no safe future for them in Syria if the rebels win.
In the past week,130 countries have recognised the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces as the legitimate representatives of the Syrian people. But, at the same time, the US has denounced the al-Nusra Front, the most effective fighting force of the rebels, as being terrorists and an al-Qa'ida affiliate. Paradoxically, the US makes almost exactly same allegations of terrorism against al-Nusra as does the Syrian government. Even more bizarrely, though so many states now recognise the National Coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people, it is unclear if the rebels inside Syria do so. Angry crowds in rebel-held areas of northern Syria on Friday chanted "we are all al-Nusra" as they demonstrated against the US decision.
The execution video is very similar to those once made by al-Qa'ida in Iraq to demonstrate their mercilessness towards their enemies. This is scarcely surprising since many of the most experienced al-Nusra fighters boast that they have until recently been fighting the predominantly Shia government of Iraq. Their agenda is wholly sectarian, and they have shown greater enthusiasm for slaughtering Shias, often with bombs detonated in the middle of crowds in markets or outside mosques, than for fighting Americans.
The Syrian uprising, which began in March 2011, was not always so bloodthirsty or so dominated by the Sunnis who make up 70 per cent of the 23 million-strong Syrian population. At first, demonstrations were peaceful and the central demands of the protesters were for democratic rule and human rights as opposed to a violent, arbitrary and autocratic government. There is compelling evidence that the movement has slid towards sectarian Islamic fundamentalism intent on waging holy war.
The analogy with Iraq is troubling for the US and British governments. They and their allies are eager for Syria to avoid repeating the disastrous mistakes they made during the Iraqi occupation. Ideally, they would like to remove the regime, getting rid of Bashar al-Assad, but not dissolving the government machinery or introducing revolutionary change as they did in Baghdad by transferring power from the Sunnis to the Shia and the Kurds. This provoked a furious counter-reaction from Baathists and Sunnis who found themselves marginalised. Washington wants Assad out, but is having difficulty riding the Sunni revolutionary tiger.
Syria today resembles Iraq nine years ago in another disturbing respect. I have now been in Damascus for 10 days, and every day I am struck by the fact that the situation in areas of Syria I have visited is wholly different from the picture given to the world both by foreign leaders and by the foreign media. The last time I felt like this was in Baghdad in late 2003, when every Iraqi knew the US-led occupation was proving a disaster just as George W Bush, Tony Blair and much of the foreign media were painting a picture of progress towards stability and democracy under the wise tutelage of Washington and its carefully chosen Iraqi acolytes.
Patrick Cockburn Middle East correspondent for the British newspaper The Independent  [Extracts only]

A decade of western folly has erased hope from Afghanistan

With the exit of US troops the Taliban are poised to fill the gap. The Afghans' mood is gloomy 

Jonathan Steele in Kabul              Guardian/UK                               10 December 012

Eleven years after the west's military intervention, the withdrawal of US, British and other international forces has started, but no one knows whether their departure will lead to more or less instability for a country that has been mired in civil war for almost 40 years.  Most Afghans say they are happy to see foreign troops depart, yet many are also concerned at the vacuum they will leave, in spite of international pledges of billions of dollars for the next decade. In seven visits to the country since the Taliban were toppled I have never found the Afghan mood so febrile and gloomy.

Disappointment and bitterness are widespread. Long gone are the high hopes sparked by regime change in 2001. The foreigners delivered far less than they promised. Kabul was transformed into a canyon of concrete blast walls and watchtowers shielding enclaves from which foreign diplomats only emerge in armoured vehicles for official contacts. Journalists, NGO staff and independent westerners who have lived here for years sense a rising mood of anger, and most have stopped going around Kabul on foot for fear of hostile looks, insults hissed in  Dari  or Pashto, or stones being thrown.
While Afghans blame government officials for creaming off much of the aid money, they blame western donors for doing too little to reduce corruption. US military commanders who handed out cash for "quick impact" projects are accused of encouraging it.
Most diplomats still peddle cautious optimism about "progress, albeit fragile", as the US and UK hand military responsibility to hastily trained Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). Few Afghans share it. The new rich are getting their money or their families out to Dubai and other Gulf states. Many are putting their houses on the market so as to acquire the cash to leave.
In many instances US commanders no longer provide close air support or medevac facilities to embattled Afghan units – a dramatic sign that Afghans are on their own. Afghans direct experience of the difference in facilities and "culture". They resent the brutality of raids on family compounds in which they are asked to take part.

A massive surge in unemployment is approaching. The vast army of translators, drivers, cooks and bottle-washers who serve the occupation forces will shrink throughout next year. The provincial reconstruction teams – the bases where foreign advisers and consultants sit and monitor aid delivery – will close. The result will be a dramatic curtailment of projects, since foreigners will no longer be able to supervise them.
Optimists in the Afghan elite believe there is still a chance to win popular support for the government in the two years remaining before foreign troops leave. They want to ensure that the elections, due in 2014, are clean this time. This would weaken the Taliban claim to provide justice more effectively than the predators and brigands who now dominate local and central government.
Outside Afghanistan, public interest has collapsed. In Europe and the US, people want out, and care little whether the whole adventure is seen as a defeat. It was remarkable how minor a role the war played in the US election. There will be less demand for a grand reckoning of policymakers' blunders than there was for Iraq.
The American and British people were largely complicit, since the revenge attack on Afghanistan after 9/11 had widespread approval, and certainly more than the invasion of Iraq. In Kabul there was a greater welcome for the foreign occupiers than in Baghdad or Basra. The Taliban had less of a support base than Saddam Hussein. But western armies cannot remain popular for long when they invade Muslim countries, Bush and Blair are guilty of as great a folly as they were in Iraq.          [Abridged]

Thursday, 13 December 2012

The Threat of Drones Ushering in ‘Invisible Wars’

by Rahiel Tesfamariam                  Washington Post                           December 10, 2012

The increased use of drone strikes during his presidency raises the question among critics that Obama has sidestepped congressional approval for declaration of war.: “There’s a remoteness to it that makes it tempting to think that somehow we can, without any mess on our hands, solve vexing security problems,” Obama has stated.

The NY Times recently reported that over 300 drone strikes have taken place since he first took office, leading to 2,500 deaths, the creation of “kill lists” and mass displacement of civilians in targeted regions. But the administration is not backing off. Its goal is to “institutionalize” the drone program to ensure that there is protocol in place for future successors. As we set rules that govern our use of drones, we must also consider other factors.
Is this administration’s increased use of drones unique to Obama’s outlook on how to best fight “the War on Terror”? Do these unmanned strikes reflect growing ethical dilemmas posed by technological advancement? Is it time that we reevaluate the price that is being paid globally for keeping Americans safe? What happens when the technology is adopted by other nations? And is it ethical to use overwhelming force without engaging in combat?
Vijay Prashad, a professor of international studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., argues that this type of technology is likely to produce outrage. “You can’t bomb a country into giving up certain ideas,” he said in an interview. “Internal struggles have to take place to marginalize certain ideas. You harden ideas this way. Why does the U.S. feel the need to enter other people’s conflicts versus allowing them to sort through it on their own?”
We must be cautious about being enthusiastic about the establishment of protocol, Prashad argues. He believes that who gets to set the rules is as important as what the rules are — challenging the idea that internal regulations by agencies such as the C.I.A. will offer the level of accountability and due process that the American public needs.
Prashad rightfully believes that we can’t ignore who is using the technology and who is being victimized by it. According to the NY Times article, “In Yemen, some strikes apparently launched by the United States killed militants who were preparing to attack Yemeni military forces.”   What’s the implication if these strikes are being used to serve the U.S. government’s special interests in foreign conflicts rather than responding to an imminent threat to this country?

“The history of industrial advantage is that the West will always use this advantage against the rest,” Prashad said. “They will use the fruits of industry in military fashion. The history of colonialism coincides with the history of modern industrial warfare.”
A leading argument in support of drone strikes is that they diminish the weight that American families have to personally carry for warfare. The unmanned strikes eliminate the fear of a loved one returning home in a flag-draped casket. They remove the element of psychological trauma experienced by soldiers on the ground. In the words of our president, drone strikes allow us to be engaged in never-ending wars “without any mess on our hands.” But war is always messy.
No matter how good-intentioned a Commander-in-Chief may be, the onus is still on Americans to know the trail of death, displacement and hopelessness that our government is leaving behind in other parts of the world.
© 2012 The Washington Post               [Abridged]   
Rahiel Tesfamariam is a writer, social activist, public theologian and cultural critic.

Friday, 7 December 2012

An Invented Crisis Threatens the Forgotten Millions

by Paul Krugman                   New York Times                         December 7, 2012

Let’s get one thing straight: America is not facing a fiscal crisis. It is, however, still very much experiencing a job crisis. It’s easy to get confused, since everyone’s talking about the “fiscal cliff.” Indeed, one recent poll suggests that a large plurality of the public believes that the budget deficit will go up if we go off that cliff. In fact, of course, it’s just the opposite: The danger is that the deficit will come down too much, too fast. And the reasons that might happen are purely political; we may be about to slash spending and raise taxes not because markets demand it, but because Republicans have been using blackmail, and the president seems ready to call their bluff.
Moreover, despite years of warnings from the usual suspects about the dangers of deficits and debt, our government can borrow at incredibly low interest rates.  And don’t tell me that markets may suddenly turn on us. Remember, the U.S. government can’t run out of cash (it prints the stuff), so the worst that could happen would be a fall in the dollar, which wouldn’t be a terrible thing and might actually help the economy.
Let’s get one thing straight: America is not facing a fiscal crisis. Yet lavishly funded corporate groups keep hyping the danger of government debt and the urgency of deficit reduction now— except that these same groups are suddenly warning against too much deficit reduction. No wonder the public is confused.
Meanwhile, there is almost no organized pressure to deal with the terrible thing that is actually happening right now — namely, mass unemployment. Yes, we’ve made progress over the past year. But long-term unemployment remains at levels not seen since the Great Depression: as of October, 4.9 million Americans had been unemployed for more than six months, and 3.6 million had been out of work for more than a year. Worse yet, there are good reasons to believe that high unemployment is undermining our future growth as well, as the long-term unemployed come to be considered unemployable, as investment falters in the face of inadequate sales.
So what can be done? The panic over the fiscal cliff has been revelatory. It shows that even the deficit scolds are closet Keynesians. That is, they believe that right now spending cuts and tax hikes would destroy jobs; it’s impossible to make that claim while denying that temporary spending increases and tax cuts would create jobs. Yes, our still-depressed economy needs more fiscal stimulus.
And, to his credit, President Obama did include a modest amount of stimulus in his initial budget offer; the White House, at least, hasn’t completely forgotten about the unemployed. Unfortunately, almost nobody expects those stimulus plans to be included in whatever deal is eventually reached.
So why aren’t we helping the unemployed? It’s not because we can’t afford it. Given those ultralow borrowing costs, plus the damage unemployment is doing to our economy and hence to the tax base, you can make a pretty good case that spending more to create jobs now would actually improve our long-run fiscal position.
Nor, I think, is it really ideology. Even Republicans, when opposing cuts in defense spending, immediately start talking about how such cuts would destroy jobs — and I’m sorry, but weaponized Keynesianism, the assertion that government spending creates jobs, but only if it goes to the military, doesn’t make sense.
No, in the end it’s hard to avoid concluding that it’s about class. Influential people in Washington aren’t worried about losing their jobs; by and large they don’t even know anyone who’s unemployed. The plight of the unemployed simply doesn’t loom large in their minds — and, of course, the unemployed don’t hire lobbyists or make big campaign contributions. So the unemployment crisis goes on and on, even though we have both the knowledge and the means to solve it. It’s a vast tragedy — and it’s also an outrage.                [Abridged]
Paul Krugman was the 2008 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economics.           © 2012 The New York Times

Syria: last chance for diplomacy

There is still time for Obama to take the diplomatic lead

Paul Rogers for Open Democracy         Guardian Comment Network      6 Dec. 2012

The situation in Syria is dire. After 20 months of conflict, the war has created a human and economic disaster. Around 40,000 people have been killed, many more injured and hundreds of thousands displaced. All this, now reinforced by concern over Syria's chemical weapons, is creating an upsurge in support for western military intervention, on the grounds that the moment could become the "tipping-point" for Bashar al-Assad's regime.

There is a clear need to assess the risks and probable consequences of such a course, and to examine the prospects for a diplomatic solution. The context for both is the way the Syrian conflict has evolved. Syria's power-elite drew from Tunisia and Egypt the lesson that it had to be ruthless in its repression and offer little in the way of concession. But ever more force only hardened the opposition, and by mid-2012 a rebellion was developing.

The conflict was evolving rapidly into a form of "double-proxy" war that, by involving regional and global actors, hugely complicated the search for a peaceful resolution. In the Middle East, the rebels were increasingly encouraged by Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The Assad regime was strongly backed by Iran; weapons and training resources flowed in, greatly aided by an "air bridge" that transited Iraq (thanks to Nouri al-Maliki's government in Baghdad, in an act dismaying to the United States.)
Washington and its allies were on the side of the rebels, while the Russians and to an extent the Chinese stood by Damascus. A further complication was the growing presence of Islamist paramilitaries, many of them travelling from elsewhere in the region. They proved particularly effective thanks to their intense commitment and motivation, but also because some had gained combat experience in urban warfare in Iraq.

A new momentum     So far, western powers have confined themselves to channelling aid to "acceptable" rebels while trying to prevent Islamist groups from acquiring weaponry. An extension of this stance might initially take the form of supplying the rebels with more effective arms and erecting a "no-fly zone". Both are feasible short-term actions, although the latter could be made more difficult by the presence of 2,000 Russian advisers in Syria.

The supporters of intervention have two cogent arguments: that an even worse humanitarian disaster must be prevented, and that a quick end to Assad's regime will diminish the risk of Islamist influence in a post-Assad Syria. They point to the evident increase in the number of Islamist-linked paramilitaries active in the conflict, with the Jabhat al-Nusra group alone claiming 10,000 fighters. In parallel, the tactics of many rebels have become far harsher now that they have deprived the regime of the near-monopoly of terror it enjoyed in the conflict's early months; this has lost them support among some Syrians with no love for the regime.

These leave three other issues out of consideration. First, any western military action will provoke Tehran into increasing its support of Damascus (which Baghdad may facilitate). Second, the fall of Assad's regime may turn out to be a prolonged process involving even greater loss of innocent life. Third, the wider impact of yet another western intervention in the Middle East may be disastrous.

A different endgame   The predicament over Syria remains appalling.. There is, though, one possibility that could avert the worst outcomes: a decision by President Obama's administration to make a very strong effort to achieve negotiated regime change. The west, to put it bluntly, is not in a position to dictate what form Syria's evolving governance might take. It has to recognise that this must principally be decided within Syria – but that the acquiescence of other states in the process will be essential: Russia and Iran, but also Turkey and Egypt.

The lone hopeful element in this scenario is that Obama's re-election gives him room for action. Over Syria – as over Iran and Israel-Palestine– he could in principle follow a more considered approach, avoid the risks of escalating conflict, and seek the best possible solution available in difficult circumstances. Where Damascus is concerned, there is still a chance of some kind of arranged regime change – very tough though it would be to reach. Will that chance be taken? The answer lies mainly in Washington, but not a little too in Moscow and Tehran, and in Ankara and Cairo. The fate of Syria, and more than Syria, is in the balance.       [Abridged]

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Paul Rogers: Peace studies in our time

Paul Rogers tells his story

Analysing war does little to make one optimistic, the professor and commentator tells Huw Richards

Huw Richards                    The Guardian,                3 January 2006

For a native east Londoner, Paul Rogers does an excellent impersonation of a country boy. The Professor of Peace Studies at Bradford University is known chiefly as a commentator on strategic issues who has enjoyed a particularly high profile since the 9/11 attack on the US, but has little doubt about one of his proudest achievements. "Building a house-sized barn on our smallholding," he says proudly, flourishing a photograph of a solid four-square construction to be found at Kirkburton, on the edge of Huddersfield.  The family home contains a facility less often associated with Yorkshire smallholdings - a broadcasting studio installed in reaction to the frequency with which he has been called by radio stations at home and abroad.

The juxtaposition of the two reflects the differing influences on his life. Rogers started as a biologist, taking his degree at Imperial College, then winning an appointment to a lecturership in plant pathology at the age of 24, before joining an overseas development ministry project in Uganda.        "The idea was to improve crops, specifically a new variety of sugar cane. I ran my own unit - training a very good Ugandan plant pathologist to take over from me. It was a great learning experience."

He was already interested in trade and development issues, working in the 1960s with the Haslemere Group, an early pressure group concentrating on this field, and began the transition that would take him in disciplinary terms from biological science to international relations on his return to Britain, taking up a lecturership at Huddersfield Polytechnic in 1971.

"I was appointed as a biology lecturer, but rapidly developed an interest in international relations and conflict. The polytechnics were very lively and interesting places at the time. Staff- student ratios were very good and there was a lot of freedom to develop ideas. Huddersfield offered a degree in human ecology, and in 1973 we ran a conference on human ecology and world development, asking a lot of questions about social and economic development and the environmental constraints and consequences that look pretty prescient 30 years on."

The oil shock following the 1973 Arab-Israeli war was the direct stimulus for his shift of focus. "I had to learn about the issues around this for a course I was teaching. If you want to learn a subject, one of the best ways is to have to give a lecture course on it."

Then in 1979 came the move to Bradford and what was still a relatively new department of peace studies. "It is a marvellous department, extremely strong and it has grown hugely. There's a remarkable range of experience and knowledge here and I wouldn't want to work anywhere else. I hope to be contributing for another 15 to 20 years, since there is an excellent tradition of asking retired members of staff to come back and teach," he says. He has always resisted offers to join higher-profile universities. He adds that in one highly specific respect the department lives up to its name. "There's plenty of vigorous debate, as there should be, but in 15 years we've never had members of staff not on speaking terms with each other."

His own work sits firmly within the cross-disciplinary and often collaborative traditions of peace studies - in the 1980s he worked with Malcolm Dando, also a biologist by academic origin, on arms control - and he admits to some embarrassment that he gets so much of the department's media attention. He has, however, accomplished a fair bit by himself to justify this. In particular, his book Losing Control: Global Security in the Twenty-first Century (2000), gives him a legitimate claim to be regarded as one of the prophets of 9/11.  He explains the thesis: "The real long-term conflict in the world is between an elite and the marginalised majority."  In it he describes the spectacle of a World Bank conference on poverty cocooned in a five-star hotel amid the squalor of Dhaka, in Bangladesh, and the grotesqueness of a gated community in South Africa surrounded by a 33,000-volt fence.

Rogers says: "The one certainty is that every so often the marginalised will revolt. Much of modern politics is concerned with what I call 'lidism', measures aimed not to address the underlying issues but to keep the lid on. But what you can't predict is exactly where or how radical social movements will erupt and that is what makes control impossible - nobody except perhaps a couple of real experts foresaw the Maoist rising in Nepal or the Zapatistas in Mexico."  Similarly, pre-9/11 he and Dando expected some sort of attack on America. "But we didn't know where and we thought that a chemical attack was the likeliest means."  He remembers their conversation two days after the attack: "We were very clear that the hawks would be able to do what they wanted for the next few years."

When Iraq was invaded he made three predictions: "One was wrong, which was that I thought Saddam had a small cache of biological weapons for use as a last resort. The others were that there would be a high level of civilian casualties and a high risk of insurgency."  That analysis has been developed and consistently updated through monthly reports for the Oxford Research Group and weekly commentary on the Open Democracy website. The Oxford reports have been re-published by Pluto Press as A War on Terror: Afghanistan and After (2004) and his latest book, Iraq and the War on Terror: 12 Months of Insurgency (IB Tauris, 2005). His next book, A War Too Far, is due out in February.

To see those reports consolidated in book form is to see a pattern of consistent official over-optimism endlessly dashed. Rogers says: "I remember an interview with a British soldier who said his sector had its first insurgent attacks on the very day that Bush declared 'Mission accomplished'."  Rogers's Losing Control analysis argues that any "war on terrorism" is likely to fail. But even he is surprised by quite how spectacularly counterproductive the invasion of Iraq has been.
"It has given al-Qaida and other radical groups an extraordinary recruitment opportunity - it can now say that the site of the Abbasid Caliphate, a hugely important centre of Arab culture, is under the control of Christians and Zionists. The events in Falluja have echoed across the entire Muslim world. And it has provided a new training ground for jihadists - Afghans are now learning from what is going on in Iraq."

He finds it extremely hard to be optimistic for Iraq. "It is an unholy mess, causing great disquiet in the British armed forces. The Americans will find it almost impossible to disengage and I can't see British forces leaving while Blair is prime minister."  Iraqi misery may, though, bring benefits for the wider world. "It is such a disaster that it may force a serious rethink on the discredited control paradigm. I lecture to people in the military who are smarter and more aware on this than politicians or business people."

So what should take the place of 'lidism'? "We need more effective, sustainable development underpinned by proper debt relief, trade reform and effective development assistance. At an environmental level, we need to get serious about climate change, which dwarfs every other issue."
Half a lifetime of smallholding has made him peculiarly attentive to the way winters, in particular, have changed. "I like being able to grow sweetcorn in the open air and having a small vineyard. But the changes that make that possible have frightening implications."