Sunday, 25 May 2014

Geering Valedictory

Ian Harris        Otago Daily Times            May 23, 2014

At the age of 66, when most people are thinking of retiring, Sir Lloyd Geering began a ministry to Wellington and the modern world, as principal lecturer for St Andrew’s Trust for the Study of Religion and Society. Now 96, he delivered his valedictory lecture this month to a crowded church and a standing ovation. His topic was The Evolving City, tracing the evolution of the city from the earliest settled population clusters and the biblical city of Cain in Genesis, to the megacities of a globalising world, and the biblical vision of the City of God in Revelation.

Geering’s themes over the years cover a wide field, which he has explored with his hallmark breadth of scholarship, clarity, wisdom, and insistence that in a changing world religion must absorb the knowledge explosion of the past 200 years or wither on the vine. Below are some samples from published titles (in italics) from those 30 years.

A basic question is Does Society Need Religion? Geering says: “The word ‘religion’ has come to mean quite different things to different people ... In today’s religious pluralism we must avoid all definitions which interpret religion by selecting one of the particular forms as the norm by which anything is to be judged religious or not. By that method, what is religion to one person is often simply superstition or non-belief to another.

“Derived as it is from the Latin religio, religion did not originally refer to any particular set of beliefs at all, but to the degree of commitment or devotion which people displayed towards their most important interests. Religio, and hence religion, basically meant conscientiousness, reverence and devotion. It could be spelled out to mean a conscientious concern for what really matters.”  In practice each of us begins with a norm absorbed from family and culture: children learn the stories of their cultural and religious heritage and the values it teaches. Today it is also necessary to learn about other religions and develop respect for their place in our world. Not uncritically, though. Every religion has its intolerant, even fanatical fringe.

Geering has a word for them all: “Fundamentalism may be described as a modern religious disease, for it distorts genuine religious faith in the same way as cancer distorts and misdirects the natural capacity of body cells to grow. Instead of bringing spiritual freedom and the realisation of a spiritual goal, as all sound religion should, fundamentalism imprisons people into such a rigid system of belief that they find it difficult to free themselves… “Fundamentalism fosters a closed mind, restricts the sight to tunnel vision, hinders mental and spiritual growth, and prevents people from becoming the mature, balanced, self-critical persons they have the potential to become.” That applies to all fundamentalisms – religious, atheist, economic, political – the lot.

But can religion remain relevant in a culture becoming steadily more secular? Specifically, Is Christianity Going Anywhere?  Geering is up-beat: “Far from being the enemy of Christianity, the truly secular life is the legitimate continuation of the Judaeo-Christian tradition. The traditional worship of God has widened into the celebration of life. Faith is a matter of saying ‘yes!’ to life in all of its planetary complexity.
“The secular path still honours the abiding values it has learned from its Christian origins, even while it is shedding many of its past symbols and creedal formulations. It is concerned with the pursuit of truth, the practice of justice and nurture of compassion, freedom and peace. It is learning to live by faith, hope and love.

“Faith requires us to be free of all excess baggage. Hope requires us to be open to an ever-evolving future. Love requires us to be inclusive of all people and of all cultural traditions.”

And a final word from Crisis in the Christian Way: “The responsible care of the biosphere, which is the matrix of all life including our own, has become the supreme religious duty of our time …

“It is just here that something central to the Christian Way becomes strikingly relevant. The central Christian symbol has always been the cross. Whatever else the way of the cross may have come to mean, it was strongly symbolic of the call to sacrifice one’s own life and interests for the greater benefit of others. In today’s world that means the readiness not only for us to accept human mortality, but to live and die in such a way as to bring the greatest benefit to all other living creatures.”

● Booklets and CDs of the St Andrew’s Trust lectures are available from

Women on the frontline: female photojournalists' visions of conflict

Tracey McVeigh                         Observer/UK                                     25 May 2014

Women are coming to the fore in a profession long dominated by men, and telling stories their male counterparts couldn't get. 

For female photojournalists the past six weeks have been a particularly brutal reminder of the dangers they face. Two photographers have recently been killed while making a record of the suffering on humanity's most extreme edges, documenting the otherwise hidden effects of war on people left to endure tremendous hardship and pain.

German photographer Anja Niedringhaus was shot dead at a checkpoint in Afghanistan on 4 April by a man in police uniform, and just four weeks later, a young French photographer, Camille Lepage, died of gunshot wounds in the Central African Republic.

Alice Gabriner is a picture editor now at National Geographic, where about 12 of the 60 freelance photographers are women. The National Geographic Society has chosen to celebrate its 125th anniversary year by showing the work of 11 female photographers in an exhibition entitled Women of Vision (the exhibition runs all year in various venues across the US) because, says its vice-curator Kathryn Keane: "For the last decade some of our most powerful stories have been produced by a new generation of photojournalists who are women."

Gabriner has worked closely with the world's leading female photojournalists: "I'm always astonished by the bravery of these women. "I like to try and meet people, to try and get a sense of a person before a commission. Make sure that they understand the risk. I've stopped working with people in the past who I thought were too immature.

Women in war photography are a relatively new development. But they have played a vital role in the development of photography generally, from the Scot Clementina Maude's pioneering portraiture of Victorian ladies in the 1860s to Londoner Christina Broom – the UK's first female press photographer – and her startlingly atmospheric pictures of first world war soldiers leaving for the front, and the American Dorothea Lange's famous, harrowing images of migrants during the great depression, which helped to change the perception of poverty in the US in the 1930s.

One of the first women widely known to have taken her camera on to a battlefield, certainly from the western world, was New Yorker Margaret Bourke-White, who was allowed to travel with American troops during the second world war and later photographed the Korean war and India's civil rights struggles under Gandhi.

Female photojournalists are often telling the stories that are hidden from male eyes, and would otherwise never be covered. Only by getting inside homes in Afghanistan during the rule of the Taliban could anyone find out how women were living their lives, while access to other culturally sensitive issues like child marriage and female genital mutilation, while difficult for a western female, are a non-starter for a man.

"A great photograph is something you feel, in its compassion, its light and colour, its aesthetic. A photographer recently said to me . “'I don't take pictures with my eyes, I take pictures with my body”.

In an interview last October, Camille Lepage talked about her work in South Sudan, where she had gone to live and cover the under-reported conflict in the Central African Republic. She said: "Since I was very little, I've always wanted to go and live in a place where no one else wants to go, and cover in-depth conflict-related stories… I can't accept that people's tragedies are silenced simply because no one can make money out of them." [Abridged]

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Kerry wasn't wrong: Israel's future is beginning to look a lot like apartheid

Chris McGreal                                 Guardian/UK                                              14 May 2014

The howls of outrage from the pro-Israel lobby are probably the best indicator that John Kerry and his chief Middle East mediator, Martin Indyk, had it right. Organizations claiming to speak for America's Jews reeled in horror after Kerry dared to say it two weeks ago: if Israel doesn't reach a deal on an independent Palestine it risks becoming an "apartheid state"

The second blow came a week later, when Indyk said that Binyamin Netanyahu's government had "sabotaged" the latest negotiations with another surge in Jewish settlement construction in the occupied territories and large-scale expropriation of land that does not belong to Israel. After years of traveling through the West Bank and South Africa, it's blindingly clear to me: the ever-expanding settlements are, indeed, carving out the geography of West Bank apartheid.

Israel's intent in the West Bank is an issue that has largely been off-limits in Washington. But Israel needed challenging. For all their public professions of horror, influential members of Netanyahu's party and its allies were happy enough to see the peace talks collapse – and to have an excuse to scorn Kerry. They see an opportunity to diminish the American role, abandon lip service to the two-state solution and, eventually, move toward the very outcome Kerry warned about.

Danny Danon, the increasingly powerful chairman of the central committee of Netanyahu's Likud party and Israel's deputy defence minister, called Kerry's comment "unacceptable". But Danon openly opposes his own prime minister's professed support for a two-state solution – as, apparently, do a majority of Likud members. In an interview late last year, Danon told me that there is not going to be a Palestinian state.

His aim might be drawn straight out of the South African playbook: Danon says bluntly that he wants to take the bulk of West Bank land – Judea and Samaria, as it's known in Israel – while ridding the Jewish state of responsibility for governing the mass of Palestinians. "Long-term, I am not talking about annexing the Palestinians. My goal is to annex the land in Judea and Samaria with the minimum amount of Palestinians," he told me. " I want the majority of the land with the minimum amount of Palestinians."

That was, essentially, South Africa's 1960s blueprint for the supposedly self-governing Bantustan homelands intended to rid white South Africa of millions of black people while taking the best of their land. I saw that plan in force in South Africa so I put it to Danon that not only is his policy similar but that the end result might look much the same: a patchwork of Arab towns and cities in the West Bank surrounded by Israel. He didn't deny it. "Of course we will keep building," he said.

The US secretary of state saw the future far more clearly than his critics. [Abridged]

The Global Crisis: Seeing It Whole

By Paul Rogers                          Pub. by Open  Democracy                May 1, 2014
There have been many books published about the failures of the global economic system, but two in particular compel attention. The first is Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett's The Spirit Level  (2009), which analysed in great depth the many ways in which inequality harms society and people's life-chances. The second is Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2014), a magisterial historical overview of the entire system of capital whose copious research examines its inconsistencies and shows how its very structure consolidates extremes of wealth and poverty, and prevents it from delivering equity.

A common reaction to The Spirit Level among hostile commentators was that it merely repeated what everyone knew, that inequality is bad. The book (subtitled "why more equal societies almost always do better") survived the sneers, and continues to be a major influence on social and economic thinking about a better system.

Capital in the Twenty-First Century is already being greeted by the same charge of stating the obvious. Yet its grounded analysis of how the economic system is failing to deliver socio-economic justice - and indeed going into reverse - presents a huge challenge to the apostles of open-market capitalism.

The four dynamics
This strand of argument concentrates on four global trends - including how they interact and can best be addressed:
* The inability of the global system to deliver equity and emancipation, leading to the relative marginalisation of the majority of the world’s people
* The increasing impact of environmental limitations on human activity, especially in relation to climate disruption
* The worldwide improvement in education, literacy and communications over the past half century, transforming societal potential in so many countries
* The persistence of the control paradigm as the appropriate security response - maintaining the status quo, if need be by the use of military force.
The first two trends are hugely serious on their own account, and taken together demand a vigorous  response.

The third is greatly to be welcomed; but it carries a real sting, because it means that far more people are becoming knowledgable of their own exclusion. This trend underlies many of the anti-capital outbursts of recent years.
The fourth trend is typified by the military invasion and occupation of states, as with Iraq or Afghanistan.

And yet change is in the air - and it involves more than the questioning of capitalism's open-market stage. Bit by bit, climate disruption is being recognised as a threat to the whole world that requires radical action.
There is, in short, significant movement in two areas: critical questioning of the open-market model, and wider acceptance of climate disruption. Wilkinson and Pickett's book, and now Piketty's, are vital contributions on the economic and social dimensions of the current crisis; so should be the global arguments on environment and security. These signs of progress are a start, no more. But if they are followed by serious exploration of radical responses, they could bring nearer the transformations of attitude and approach that current global trends demand.

Paul Rogers is professor in the department of peace studies at Bradford University, northern England.

Monday, 12 May 2014


By Ian Harris        Otago Daily Times          May 9, 2014

Catholics may be short of priests but never of saints. They have more than 10,000 to choose from – and last month they got two more: Popes John XXIII and John Paul II.  In the church’s eyes they have been “transformed fully by the grace of Christ and are with God in the heavenly kingdom” (which John Paul said was a state of being, not a place). They were deemed to have performed two miracles, though John passed muster with only one, and relics were to hand: for John a piece of skin, for John Paul a vial of blood.

A key qualification for sainthood is to be dead, but it helps to have been male, clergy and a pope. The latest additions have their critics. Traditionalists disapprove of the way John set out to jolt the church into the modern world through the Second Vatican Council. Others frowned on John Paul’s centralising tendencies, and were appalled at his tepid response to priestly sex abuse.

With the status of sainthood so high and steeped in the supernatural, myth-making becomes inevitable. Among the oddballs have been St Wilgefortis, devout teenage daughter of a Portuguese king 700 years ago, who prayed to be ugly so that she would not be forced to marry a pagan king. Her prayer was answered: she grew whiskers. Wives keen to be rid of their husbands began to pray to her for help. Today she is regarded as a pious fiction.  The French St Guinefort was put to death when he was mistakenly thought to have killed a baby he was actually trying to save from a snake. Local women venerated him as a protector of children. What marks Guinefort out among the saints is that he was a dog.

The proliferation of local saints with local followings led popes to rein saint-making in. From the 12th century canonisation became the prerogative of Rome. In 1969 a clean-up stripped 93 dubious saints from the church’s universal calendar as the stuff of local legend, including high-profile figures such as St Christopher, St George and St Nicholas (who nonetheless lives on in secular mythology as Santa Claus).

Later John Paul cranked up the assembly line and more than offset the deficit. He beatified 1340 people, the first step to sainthood, and proclaimed 483 fully-fledged saints – more than all his predecessors in the past 500 years.  In earlier eras, when it was taken for granted that the natural and supernatural worlds were each as real as the other, the idea that saints continued to exert influence from heaven after they died seemed perfectly logical. They had been devoted to Christ and had given the church exceptional service. Many were martyrs. Their bones and other relics were believed to be channels for miracles.

The common people, lacking easy access to physicians and pharmacists, turned to saints to protect from headaches, sore throats, epilepsy, insanity, accidents, whatever. People called on them as healers, guardians, and patrons of countries, cities, institutions and trades. Their shrines attracted pilgrims, prayers and profits. Even today, people wedded to that way of understanding the world will see nothing strange in the way popes continue to create new saints. The laws of chance make it certain that those who pray to them will succeed in at least some of their petitions. But for those who have moved beyond this pre-modern mindset, the phenomenon belongs to a past world, not the present.

That said, it is clear that as role models, most of the saints in the Catholic gallery compare more than favourably with the pop, film and sporting celebrities beloved of contemporary culture.  The cult of the saints is, of course, a distinctly Catholic practice. From the earliest days of the 16th-century Reformation, Protestants have rejected it as both unnecessary and a deviation from focussing on Christ alone – and from the way the word is used in the Bible itself.

The apostle Paul, for example, writes to the “saints” in various cities, living people who have centred their lives in Christ. The Greek word he uses also means “holy”. Translators have rounded the term out to “Christ’s men and women”, “faithful Christians”, “God’s own people”.

There’s nothing there that secular Christians should object to – that is, those who would say that Jesus is decisive in their lives, but who look for meaning, purpose and fulfilment within this world of space and time, not beyond it. Saints are meant to be flesh and blood in the here and now. I know some.

Number of UK war veterans seeking help for mental health issues on the rise

Nick Hopkins                                           Guardian/UK                                      12 May 2014

The number of Afghanistan veterans seeking help for mental health problems surged in 2013 and is likely to peak again this year as the British military ends its 13-year conflict in the country, according to new figures published on Monday. There was a 57%increase in the number of ex-military personnel needing treatment from the charity Combat Stress, which had a record 358 Afghanistan-related referrals last year, compared with 228 in 2012. The number of Iraq veterans needing help also rose by nearly 20%, even though British troops ended combat operations in the country five years ago, and left altogether in 2011.

Commodore Andrew Cameron, chief executive of Combat Stress, added that he expected the numbers to further increase over the coming years and the UK had to prepare for the escalation. Most mental health issues take time to emerge, and armed forces veterans are often unwilling to admit they need help.

"These statistics show that, although the Iraq war ended in 2011 and troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan later this year, a significant number of veterans who serve in the armed forces continue to relive the horrors they experienced on the frontline or during their time in the armed forces," Cameron said. "Day in, day out, they battle these hidden psychological wounds, often tearing families apart in the process."

Even now, Combat Stress is taking on new cases from veterans who fought in conflicts from an earlier generation, such as the Malayan Emergency, which ended in 1960, and the 1982 Falklands war.

But the vast majority of its current caseload of 5,400 patients comprises veterans from Iraq, Afghanistan and Northern Ireland, with sharp rises in referrals from all three in recent years.

Cameron said that one-fifth of all veterans were likely to need help for some form of mental illness and that it could take more than a decade before symptoms presented themselves. With demand for our services already rising, Combat Stress faces a real challenge. We are planning for services at or above the current level for at least the next five years, and we do not expect to see demand for support tail off in the near future," he said.

Combat Stress compiled the statistics to mark its 95th anniversary. It has worked with veterans of every conflict since the second world war, and has found that, on average, servicemen and women wait 13 years after leaving the military before seeking help. It has supported 20,326 veterans, including soldiers, sailors and air crews who fought in Aden, Korea and the Iran-Iraq war. It estimates that 42,000 UK troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan may develop a mental health condition over the coming decades.

The charity has treated 1,300 Afghanistan veterans so far and has 662 in its care. It has received 1,968 cases involving Iraq veterans and is treating 806.

General Sir Richard Dannatt, chief of the general staff when British forces were fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, said: "There is no doubt that combat, whether in Northern Ireland, the Falklands, the Gulf war 90-91, Bosnia, and elsewhere, has always produced psychiatric casualties, just as it produced 'shell shock' in the first world war. Our operations in Iraq and Afghanistan will produce a sharp upturn in such psychiatric casualties. It needed to be recognised that there were too many former combatants who ended up in jail as murderers, or as suicide victims.”

Western intervention will turn Nigeria into an African Afghanistan

Lindsey German                                 Guardian/UK                              6 May, 2014

It seems almost beyond belief that more than 200 girls can be kidnapped from a school in northern Nigeria, held by the terrorist group Boko Haram, and threatened on a video – shown worldwide – with being sold into slavery by their captors.. This tragedy touches the hearts of everyone, evoking a feeling of revulsion not only at the danger and loss of freedom itself, but at the assumption that for young girls their destination must be forced marriage and servitude, not education.  There is rightly anger that so little has been done by the Nigerian government to find the girls, and that those who have demonstrated in huge numbers against President Goodluck Jonathan have themselves been accused of causing trouble or even temporarily arrested.

But we should be wary of the narrative now emerging. This follows a wearily familiar pattern, one we have already seen in south Asia and the Middle East, but that is increasingly being applied to Africa as well. It is the refrain that something must be done and that "we" – the enlightened west – must be the people to do it. The call has been for western intervention to help find the girls, and to help "stabilise" Nigeria in the aftermath of their kidnap. The British government has offered "practical help".
Yet western intervention has time and again failed to deal with particular problems and – worse – has led to more deaths, displacements and atrocities than were originally faced. All too often it has been justified with reference to women's rights, claiming that enlightened military forces can create an atmosphere where women are free from violence and abuse. The evidence is that the opposite is the case.
Women's rights were a major justification for the Afghanistan war, launched in 2001, when Cherie Blair and Laura Bush supported their husbands' war as a means of liberating Afghan women. Today, with millions displaced and tens of thousands dead, Afghanistan remains one of the worst countries on earth for women to live, with forced marriage, child marriage, rape and other atrocities still occurring widely.
And western intervention is already firmly embedded in Africa. Barack Obama has his military forces engaged in West Africa through their Predator drone base in Niger, which borders northern Nigeria. It also borders Mali, the scene of recent French and British interventions, and Libya, object of a disastrous western bombing campaign in 2011 that has left that country in a state of civil war and collapse.  US drones also operate in Djibouti, Ethiopia and just across the Red Sea in Yemen. The west has been engaged in proxy wars in Somalia in recent years.  If Islamism is now a threat to western interests in growing parts of Africa, it is one that they have played a large part in creating.

But there is another war going on in Africa: economic war. A continent so rich in natural resources sees many of its citizens live in terrible conditions. In President Jonathan's Nigeria, economic growth has not trickled down to the poor. Healthcare and education are beyond the reach of many.
There is widespread corruption, yet weapons and armies are paid to protect the wealthy and the foreign companies, such as Shell, that want to access the country's resources, especially oil. This corruption and inequality is not separate from the role of the west, but an integral part of a system that is prepared to go to war over resources such as oil and gas, but will not go to war on poverty or to provide education for all.
It is this background that informs the terrible plight of the kidnapped girls in Nigeria. It will not be improved by more western weapons and armies on the ground or in the air.        [Abridged]

Friday, 9 May 2014

War and Disease: The Case of Polio

by Paul Rogers                Pub. by  Open Democracy                        May 8, 2014
Sixty years ago smallpox was endemic across much of the world, killing two million people each year. In 1959 an international programme to eliminate the virus was started, not least because it was a disease amenable to large-scale vaccination. In 1977, the last case was diagnosed and recorded. It had taken just eighteen years to achieve the elimination of the entire disease in the wild.

This was the first-ever case of a major disease organism being destroyed in the wild, and there has only been one other - far less well-known. This is rinderpest, a dangerous viral infection most common in cattle.  It took several decades to exterminate, but success finally came in 2001.

A third disease has been the target of attempts at total elimination. This is poliomyelitis, which in the 1980s still infected hundreds of thousands of people. Polio is particularly prone to attack children and can leave them with severe impairments that can last a lifetime.

Poliomyelitis has been subject to an intensive programme of vaccination. By 2012, substantial success had been achieved, with only 223 cases diagnosed and the virus remaining endemic in three countries: Pakistan, Nigeria, and Afghanistan. The programme had been coordinated by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and backed by Unicef, though much of the funding - $850 million over two decades - came from the Rotary Foundation,  Where infection remains and is increasing are conflict-zones -it has risen in Afghanistan, spread to Syria and Iraq, and moved from Cameroon to Guinea.

The WHO is now calling for a huge new effort to curb the spread of polio through much tighter controls on travelling from endemic areas and a renewed emphasis on childhood vaccination. More generally, what is happening with polio is a stark reminder of how warfare can multiply susceptibility to disease among populations already damaged by poverty and insecurity.

2014 is the beginning of a long commemoration of the first world war that is estimated to have killed 11 million people. The appalling aftermath of the war is less remembered: an influenza epidemic, often termed “Spanish flu”, which started in 1918, was spread partly by troop movements and took hold among the weakened populations of an impoverished Europe. The human cost is not certain even now but may have been far in excess of 25 million people worldwide.

The disease was made worse by the war itself - and in human terms was even more of a killer. Polio will not reach the same extent as Spanish flu. But the risk of a pandemic is growing.    [Abridged]

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

Paul Rogers is professor in the department of peace studies at Bradford University, northern England. He is Open Democracy's international-security editor, and writes a weekly column on global security

Monday, 5 May 2014

Why aren't we more outraged by the missing Nigerian schoolgirls?

Ruby Hamad                        Daily Life                    May 4, 2014
Today marks three weeks since more than 300 Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped from their school by gunmen, thought to belong to the anti-Western group Boko Haram.  After more than two weeks of inaction from the Nigerian government, and lack of interest from the outside media, the world finally spurred into action late last week.
Renewed interest in the girls’ fate followed reports that they may have been sold in sexual slavery for as little as $US12. As columnists began questioning why the media was ignoring the story, the Nigerian government finally announced last Friday that it had set up a rescue committee–more than two weeks after their abduction.
That same day, the US government confirmed it would aid Nigeria in the search, though it did not specify what form that aid would take. Secretary of State did, however, say that getting the girls back was imperative because this “is not just an act of terrorism. It’s a massive human trafficking moment and grotesque.”

If the girls have been sold off then they have likely been separated and much harder to locate than if the government had organised a rescue operation immediately. But as far as we know, the Nigerian government initially did nothing to locate the girls, apart from lie to the media that the girls had been found. But if the Nigerian government was hoping the devastated parents would simply give up and disappear much like their daughters, they were sorely mistaken. One thing is clear: this story is finally grabbing worldwide headlines thanks, not to the international media itself nor efforts of the Nigerian authorities, but to the families themselves who refused to give up on their daughters.

The wider Nigerian community took up their plight. The protests were picked up by social media with petitions circulating #BringBackOurDaughters.  It was this grassroots determination to find the girls that finally spawned both the media and the Nigerian and other governments into action. So why was government and media so slow off the mark?

It is rather ironic, given the western world’s love for Malala Yousefzai, the Pakistani girl shot by the Taliban for attending school. These girls are 274 more Malalas, risking their lives just by turning up to school. Did the Nigerian government simply not expect anyone to kick up a fuss over a few hundred missing schoolgirls? Sadly, it is difficult not to see the initial lack of interest in the fate of these girls as a case of sexism on the part of the Nigerian government, and implicit racism on the part of the rest of us

“When a pretty blonde girl goes missing, news outlets send helicopters and reporters to the scene, but when hundreds of black girls are kidnapped in a faraway country, it barely makes the news.
Perhaps this is simply indicative of the western world’s preference for symbolism over action. As long as we profess our love for Malala, we don’t actually have to do anything to help girls like her. Or perhaps we, without even realising it, paid so little attention because we have become desensitised to such trauma in the developing world. I am reminded of the words of blogger Lia Incognito, “White people experience trauma, sins and tragedies, while everyone else’s suffering is (considered to be) part of their natural condition.”

When this story first broke, it appeared for all the world that we were willing to simply accept it as another chapter in what we see as the ongoing trauma of Africa. For a brief moment in time, we would be shocked and saddened by the loss of innocent children even as no one -not even their own government- thought to make any real attempt to retrieve them. And then we would all simply move on until the next tragedy briefly captured our attention.

But the families of the girls disrupted the narrative. They refused to accept this trauma as part of their “natural” condition. It is their determination not to give up on their daughters that has finally made the rest of the world stand up and take notice.

We can only hope now that it isn’t too late.       [Abridged]

Our manifesto for Europe

European Union institutions no longer work. A radical financial and democratic settlement is needed

Thomas Piketty and 14 others                       Guardian/UK                                 2 May 2014

It is time to recognise that Europe's existing institutions are dysfunctional and need to be rebuilt. The central issue is simple: democracy and the public authorities must be enabled to regain control of and effectively regulate 21st century globalised financial capitalism. A single currency with 18 different public debts on which the markets can freely speculate, and 18 tax and benefit systems in unbridled rivalry with each other, is not working, and will never work. The eurozone countries have chosen to share their monetary sovereignty, and hence to give up the weapon of unilateral devaluation, but without developing new common economic, fiscal and budgetary instruments. This no man's land is the worst of all worlds.

Concretely, our first proposal is that the eurozone countries, starting with France and Germany, share their corporate income tax (CIT). Alone, each country is hoodwinked by the multinationals of every country, which play on the loopholes and differences between national legislations to avoid paying tax anywhere. National sovereignty has thus become a myth. To fight against this "tax optimisation", a sovereign European authority needs to be given the power to establish a common tax base that is as broad as possible and strictly regulated. Each country might then continue to set its own CIT rate on this common base, with a minimum rate of around 20%, and with an additional rate on the order of 10% to be levied at the federal level. This would make it possible to give the eurozone a real budget, on the order of 0.5% to 1% of GDP.

Our second proposal is the most important and flows from the first. To approve the tax base for the CIT, and more generally to discuss and adopt the fiscal, financial and political decisions on what is to be shared in the future in a democratic and sovereign fashion, we must establish a parliamentary chamber for the eurozone. In this scheme the European Union would have two chambers: the existing European parliament, directly elected by the citizens of the EU 28, and the European chamber, representing the states through their national parliaments. The European chamber would initially involve only the countries of the eurozone that want to move towards a greater political, fiscal and budgetary union. But it would be designed to welcome all EU countries agreeing to go down this road. A minister of finance of the eurozone, and eventually an actual European government, would answer to the European chamber.

This new democratic architecture for Europe would make it possible to finally overcome today's inertia and the myth that the council of heads of state could serve as a second chamber representing the states.

Our third proposal concerns the debt crisis. We are convinced that the only way to put this definitively behind us is to pool the debts of the eurozone countries. Otherwise speculation on interest rates will renew again and again. It is also the only way for the European Central Bank to conduct an effective and responsive monetary policy, as does the US Federal Reserve (which would also be hard pressed to do its job properly if every morning it had to arbitrate between the debts of Texas, Wyoming and California). The pooling of debt has de facto already begun with the European Stability Mechanism, the emerging banking union and the ECB's Outright Monetary Transactions programme, which already affect the taxpayers of the eurozone to one extent or another. It is necessary now to go further, while clarifying the democratic legitimacy of these mechanisms.

Thomas Piketty Director of studies at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS) and professor at the Paris School of Economics
14 other names are added. NOTE: These are extracts only, from a long article.

The Lusitania and the secrets of war, revealed

New details of the sinking of the Lusitania aren't mere footnotes to history. They can teach us how people make decisions in times of conflict

Saul David                       Guardian/UK                  1 May 2014

One of the great mysteries of the first world war – whether or not the passenger ship Lusitania was carrying munitions and therefore a legitimate target when it was sunk by a German submarine in May 1915 –has been solved in the affirmative by newly released government papers. They contain Foreign Office concerns that a 1982 salvage operation might "literally blow up on us" and that "there is a large amount of ammunition in the wreck, some of which is highly dangerous".

Yet the truth was kept hidden in 1915 because the British government wanted to use the sinking of a non-military ship, and the loss of 1,198 lives, as an example of German ruthlessness. It was also a useful means of swaying American opinion in favour of entering the war. It eventually had the desired effect – the US declared war on Germany in April 1917 – but the lie continued as successive governments, worried about their ongoing relations with America, denied there were munitions on board.

These wartime lies are inevitable. The perpetrators – politicians, civil servants and soldiers – would argue that the end justifies the means, and that information that assists the enemy must remain secret. After the conflict, however, it's all about protecting reputations.

Take the case of the Sèvres protocol, the secret deal between the governments of Israel, France and the UK to topple President Nasser of Egypt by launching a two-step invasion in 1956 (otherwise known as "the Suez crisis"). Although reports of the deal leaked out within days, Sir Anthony Eden, the British prime minister, always denied its existence and even sent a civil servant to France to collect all copies and leave no trace. Yet the proof of Eden's engineered war remained buried until 1996 when a BBC documentary on the 50th anniversary of the Suez crisis obtained a copy from a former head of the Mossad (Israel's foreign intelligence service).

My own research into the case of the Salerno mutineers – 191 veterans of the Eighth Army who were convicted of mutiny for refusing to join unfamiliar units at the Salerno beachhead in 1943 – turned up documents that proved they had been lied to and were probably victims of a miscarriage of justice.

Of course many, if not most, "smoking guns" have yet to be discovered. The two Australian officers – lieutenants "Breaker" Morant and Handcock – executed by the British for shooting unarmed Boer prisoners during the South African war of 1899-1902 always claimed they were following verbal orders approved by their commander-in-chief, Sir Herbert Kitchener. Those orders, they said, were to execute any Boers captured in British khaki. But when a member of Kitchener's staff denied this at their trial, their fate was sealed. Did he lie because peace talks with the Boers were under way? It is possible, but documentary evidence will be hard to find (as Australian campaigners know to their cost).

Does all this matter? Do we need to know the truth? The answer is yes. We can forgive the lies at the time – many are often told without malice and, at least in theory, in the national interest – but they must at some point be publicly acknowledged. We need to know why governments (and individuals) take the decisions they do. That, to me, is the point of history.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Matt’s Questions Part Two

3.  Is there a case, at least in terms of defence, for technology that can be used to destroy weapons but not people?  Is this a blind alley? 

This would b e a welcome development, though it is hard for me, not being a scientist, to imagine how it might be done.  At present there appears to be more interest in finding a technology that would decimate people without also destroying their homes and infrastructure.  We urgently need a different mindset, which values people above money and resources, even when some fellow-humans, both here and abroad, appear to be intent on destroying what we value. How has that come about?  What have we done that has contributed to that happening? These are questions that we avoid because the answers may require us to act differently.

4.  What is your view of sanctions as a political tool? 

I believe sanctions may have a place in politics when the chosen representatives of people who suffer gross discrimination in another nation ask this of us. But it will always be difficult to avoid causing some distress when certain products fail to reach those who will suffer without them.  This is a grey area, to my mind. When there is a strong case for refusing to export certain products to an oppressive state, basic foods should not be included in items banned.  But weapons, or materials that assist in maintaining grossly undemocratic practices, these may very well be included in a list of banned exports.  Any such programme should be selective and accompanied by a lively dialogue explaining why this action is being taken.  What is your thinking on this?

5.  Might the Syrian revolution have succeeded had it remained non-violent?

I believe the answer is yes, though it might have been only after a long drawn out and costly period of resistance, with a number of martyrs.  The history of the Parihaka opposition to land confiscation may be quoted to suggest otherwise.  The military might of a land-hungry white citizenry arrested the leaders and many male supporters.  Totally non-violent opposition had to watch the destruction of a model township, even judged by European standards.  Their lands of almost a million acres became farms for white settlers, and the survivors of those arrested returned from prison to a devastated remnant of what had been.  Their chiefs, Te Whiti and Tohu, died about 20 years later, and never saw the confiscation order reversed. Did that mean that their brave action in non-violently resisting was shown to be futile and mistaken?  On reflection, did they wish they had taken a different course of action?  There is no hint that this was so.  They had acted in response to deep convictions that we honour now, and this period of NZ’s history glows as we remember their sacrificial acceptance of pain and loss, and refusal to deny a truth that was accepted only by a very few.  Their action moved a sceptical humanity to recognise, slowly and wonderingly, that this truth was being demonstrated in a new way, and there was real power in it.

Could this have shown its power in Syria too? I believe so. But for maximum effect a period of disciplined preparation would have to precede the crisis, with inspiring leadership and active cooperation between racial groups determined to work and act non-violently even when provoked.  Martin Luther King was able to inspire this sort of commitment.  There were martyrs in USA. There would have been martyrs in Syria. But from those losses new life and hope can spring up.  By contrast, the present horror in Syria will take decades to heal, with old antagonisms gaining strength with every shipment of arms to the region.

Read Part One here