Monday, 30 June 2014

Our role in the terror

Karen Armstrong               September 18, 2003              Guardian/UK

Ever since 9/11, President Bush has repeatedly condemned Islamist terror as an atavistic rejection of American freedom, while Tony Blair recently called it a virus, as though, like Aids, its origins are inexplicable. They are wrong, on both counts. The terrorists' methods are appalling, but they regard themselves as freedom fighters, and there is nothing mysterious about the source of these extremist groups: to a significant degree, they are the result of our own policies.

History can tell us a great deal about the profile of these movements. Wherever a western-style, secularist society has been established, a religious counterculture has developed alongside it. The persistence of this militant piety shows a disturbing and worldwide alienation from western modernity. Every group that I have studied in Judaism, Christianity and Islam has experienced secularism as destructive, and is engaged in a battle designed to push God and religion back to centre stage. All are convinced that the secularist liberal establishment is determined, in one way or another, to wipe them out.

Only a small minority of fundamentalists take part in acts of terror, but when people feel that their backs are to the wall, they can lash out violently. In the past, any attempt to suppress a fundamentalist group has usually made it more extreme, because it has simply confirmed this deep-rooted fear of annihilation. Far from quelling Islamist terror, Israel's assassination of its leaders has only inspired Hamas to further atrocities, and the invasion of Iraq, which had no links with al-Qaida, has predictably opened a new terror front, convincing some Muslims that the west is truly engaged in a new crusade against the Islamic world.

Yet even though they have given us terrifying demonstrations of their power, those brought up in the secular tradition find it difficult to assess these movements. "Whoever cared about religion?" cried an exasperated official in the US state department after the Iranian revolution. People seem to assume that Muslim extremists are mechanistically driven by a fanatical strain inherent in Islam itself, which is patently not the case, since the terrorism that currently concerns us is chiefly confined to the Arab world, which makes up only 20% of the Islamic population. It is widely believed that the terrorists are simply inspired by a fanatical yearning for paradise and martyrdom that has fuelled both Hamas and the Iranian revolution in exactly the same way.

Ironically, we tend to become like our enemies. In describing his war against terror as a battle between good and evil, President Bush has unwittingly reproduced the rhetoric of Bin Laden, who subscribes to a form of Sunni fundamentalism that divides the world into two diametrically opposed camps in just the same way. The west has also cultivated its future enemies, by arming Bin Laden and other Arab mujahedin in Afghanistan during the cold war and by giving initial support to the Taliban. These exploitative policies reflect a thinly veiled contempt; the religious ideas of these groups were dismissed as beneath serious consideration. Yet to those who had studied these movements it was clear long before 9/11 that fundamentalists all over the world were expressing fears and anxieties that no government could safely ignore.

The west has contributed to the growth of radical Islam in the region by repeatedly supporting undemocratic regimes, which allow little effective opposition. As a result, the only place where the people have been able to express their anger and discontent has been the mosque. Iran is the classic case. After the Mossadeq government deposed the shah in 1953, British intelligence and the CIA organised a coup that put him back on the throne. The US continued to support the shah, even though he denied Iranians human rights that most Americans take for granted. The result was the Islamist revolution of 1978-79.

Had its intelligence taken the trouble to learn more about the dynamics of Shiism, the US could have avoided bad mistakes in Iran. We can no longer dismiss religious movements with secularist disdain, but must study them as seriously as other ideologies. In particular, we must educate ourselves to see the distress, helplessness, fear and, latterly, rage that underlie the various fundamentalisms, if only because these groups now have powers of destruction that were formerly only the prerogative of nation states.

Terrorism is wicked and abhorrent, but it has not come out of the blue. If we simply write off these movements as irrational and inexplicable, we will feel no need to examine our own policies and behaviour. The shocking nihilism of the suicide killers shows they feel they have nothing to lose. Millennial or fundamentalist extremism has risen in nearly every cultural tradition where there are pronounced inequalities of wealth, power and status. The only way to create a safer world is to ensure that it is more just. [Abridged].    Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003 

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Sex, Science, Spirit

by Ian Harris           Otago Times                June 27, 2014

Hear what the Spirit is saying to the church, intones whoever has just read the day’s scripture passages in Anglican worship. Last month the church’s General Synod took up the cry in relation to same-sex partnerships: “At this time it is the will of the General Synod/Te Hinota Whanui to respond to what the Spirit is saying to the church.”

Now comes the hard bit: What exactly is the Spirit saying to the church? What each person hears will depend largely on how they understand the Bible in all its depth and variety. On homosexuality, is the Spirit calling for a strict literalism bound by the knowledge and attitudes of the many men (unrelievedly men) who had a hand in writing the Bible 2000 and more years ago? Or an understanding based on what science is adding to our knowledge of human sexuality, and what the scriptures can inspire in living fully and loving responsibly?

One who made the journey from condemnatory prejudice to championing the place of homosexuals in the human continuum is John Spong, a retired bishop of the US Episcopalian (Anglican) Church. Brought up in America’s segregated south, initially Spong shared the traditional male stereotypes about homosexuals. His autobiography tells how he took into the priesthood his view of homosexuality as “an aberration, a distortion of normal behaviour, perhaps even a mental illness”.

In 1985, however, he initiated a study within his Newark diocese on changing patterns in sexuality and family life. A revolution in sexual attitudes and behaviour was occurring, and he believed the new times demanded a thoughtful response from the church.

The study broke new ground. It proposed that assessment of all relationships, including premarital and post-married, should be “in terms of their capacity to manifest marks of the realm of God: healing, reconciliation, compassion, mutuality and concern for others”. It even contemplated new liturgies to recognise and bless committed homosexual relationships.

That hit the headlines. Controversy raged. The United Methodist publishing house commissioned Spong to write a book on the issues. He did – but on the eve of publication certain Methodist leaders demanded it be abandoned. Nine other publishers promptly queued to take it up, and it appeared under the title Living in Sin? A Bishop Rethinks Human Sexuality. The book explores the issues clearly, especially for the churches, canvassing sexuality in relation to betrothal, marriage, divorce, homosexual commitments, post-married singles, the use and misuse of the Bible in coming to conclusions about all of these, and the role of the church.

In preaching, the biblical book of Jonah proved invaluable. This gem of a parable is a classic exposé of prejudice, set against the limitless and life-affirming power of God’s love. Spong used it to challenge prejudice against homosexuals and invite congregations to welcome them into their midst. Present at one such service was a doctor specialising in microbiology and sex-related brain research, Robert Lahita. A former Catholic, he had become disheartened by his own church’s refusal to take account of modern science in its ethical pronouncements.

The brain, Lahita told Spong, is the primary sex organ – “all else is equipment”. The sexing of the brain occurred through a biochemical process in the womb. It determined a person’s sexual orientation, with homosexuality the outcome for around 10 per cent of people in every country and culture, and in the higher mammals. Homosexuality was therefore not of one’s choosing but of one’s being, and so part of the natural order. This made it necessary to rethink age-old moral and cultural taboos.

If that is so, it’s hard to believe that the Spirit would be saying to the church: “Ignore all that! Stick with the understanding of biblical writers who could have known nothing about it.” At the very least, churches must relate to the world as it is, not was, and develop their moral teaching accordingly to promote an ethic that is life-enhancing for both individuals and society. That applies across the board – to heterosexuals and homosexuals, married and unmarried, men and women, young and old.

Now the General Synod is tiptoeing gingerly towards acceptance of “right-ordered intimate relationships between two persons regardless of gender” – leaving open what is right-ordered and what is not. But the Anglican future will include marriage as traditionally defined, plus a liturgy to bless same-sex unions (and meantime “recognise” them, though not as marriage or by a rite of blessing), plus an opt-out clause for clergy who object, with implications of all this for ordination to be teased out later.
Good luck!

Saturday, 28 June 2014

“Love Your Enemies” by Ian Harris Otago Daily Times June 13, 2014

In the real world, “love your enemies” doesn’t hold a candle to the use of ultimate force. Which goes far to explain why the real world is in such a mess. Yet “love your enemies” remains the most startling and most original of all Jesus’ precepts for living. The greater part of his teaching, including the golden rule to act towards others as you would like them to act towards you, is anticipated somewhere in the Hebrew scriptures he knew.

While hating your enemies is easy and natural, it also keeps anger, resentment and hostility stoked. Turning enemies into friends changes the ballgame – and everyone gains from that. History shows this repeatedly, as when England and France buried centuries of hostility, or nations once at war joined to form the European Union, or President Nixon met Chairman Mao and set US-China relations on a new course.

The current war on terror presents a visceral new challenge. A grass-roots Islamist enemy has mounted a lethal challenge to the West. The US is retaliating with ultimate force, using unmanned drone aircraft to blitz suspected terror nests. And Prime Minister John Key confirms that New Zealand is helping through our participation in the Five Eyes spy network.

This aspect of the war on terror has crept up on the world almost unawares. It came sharply into focus last month with revelations about the killing by drone in Yemen of a New Zealand and an Australian citizen. Similar assassinations outside any war zone have also become regular in north-west Pakistan and Somalia.

Mr Key says he is comfortable with the way the US is pursuing “very bad people”, adding: “For the most part drone strikes have been an effective way of prosecuting people that are legitimate targets.” This is not only a novel use of the word “prosecuting”, but assumes the infallibility of intelligence that will never be tested in a court of law. That is why some very good people in the US question both the legality and morality of these “surgical strikes”, which also cause carnage among the innocent.

In 2011 a drone killed a grandfather, father and 16-year-old boy who were eating outdoors in Yemen. Whether they were the intended targets or dead unlucky is an open question. But they were all American citizens (the boy was born in Denver). The family of the dead trio appealed to an American court to uphold human rights, the rule of law and the US constitution, which inconveniently guarantees against the deprivation of life without due process.

The court dismissed the suit on the grounds of national security. In the war on terror, apparently, unproven allegations of evil intent outweigh any right to a fair trial, and may even carry the death penalty. This is a dangerous power to place in the hands of the modern surveillance state.

Sometimes the surgical strikes go wrong and innocents are killed. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports that in about 400 drone attacks in Pakistan in the past 10 years somewhere between 416 and 957 civilians have died, including 168 to 202 children. Sometimes this “collateral damage” is deliberate, as when the US sends a follow-up missile to deter rescuers and mourners, the so-called “double tap”
Mr Key notwithstanding, it is discomforting that this new form of warfare fights terrorism by adopting the methods of the terrorists, inflicting death and destruction on a battleground without borders.

About 50 countries have drones, including Israel (which produces them) and Iran. Who can guarantee they will never use them? The US precedent would seem to open the way to bypass the intent of the Law of Armed Conflict, pleading “imminent threat”.

There will be no end to terrorist violence and counter-violence until some authority is able to bring the foes together to talk their way through to some sort of understanding rather than simply blow each other up. A huge gulf separates them, but they share a common humanity and both want a better world in which their children can flourish.

The parties don’t have to like each other, but it should be possible, even in a war on terror, to bring a steady direction of the will toward the lasting good of the other (which is a Christian definition of love). Most Muslims would not demur – and Muslims have a central role in re-educating the violent fringe who are debasing their religion.

In the real world, “love you enemies” holds far greater promise than ultimate force. The latter can only compound the violence.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Quotes from “THE GOOD WAR” : by STUDS TERKEL

Page.5  “For the typical American soldier, despite the perverted film sermons, it wasn’t ‘getting another Jap’ or ‘getting another Nazi’ that impelled him up front.  ‘The reason you storm the beaches is not patriotism or bravery’, reflects the tall rifleman.  ‘It’s that sense of not wanting to fail your buddies.  There’s a special sense of kinship’…  You had 15 guys who for the first time in their lives were not living in a competitive society.  We were in a tribal sort of situation, where we could help each other without fear.  I realized it was the absence of phoney standards that created the thing I loved about the army.”

P.13  (Quoting an ex-admiral):  “WW2 has warped our view of how we look at things today.  We see things in terms of that war, which in a sense was a good war.  But the twisted memory of it encourages the men of my generation to be willing, almost eager, to use military force anywhere in
the world.

P.39  “The reason you storm the beaches is not patriotism or bravery.  It’s that sense of not wanting to fail your buddies.  Having to leave that group when I had the flu may have saved my life.  (Many of his friends were killed while he was sick.)  Yet to me, that kid, it was a disaster.” 

P.44   “It was sunshine and quiet.  We were passing the Germans we killed.  Looking at the individual German dead, each took on a personality.  They were no longer the Germans of the brutish faces and the helmets we saw in the newsreels.  They were exactly our age… boys like us…   What I remember of that day is not so much the sense of loss at our two dead but a realisation of how you’ve been conditioned.  At that stage we didn’t hate the Germans just for evil the country represented, their militarism, but right down to each individual German.  Once the helmet is off you’re looking at a teen-ager…”  19-year-old GI.

P.47  “The Germans were willing to lose millions of men.  And they did.  Every German house we went to, there would be black-bordered pictures of sons and relatives.  You could tell that most of them died on the eastern front.  And the Russians lost twenty million.

P.  175  (U.S. Marine) “These people, they really put you in your place.  That’s a polite way of sayin’ it.  They humiliate ya.  They make ya do things that you don’t think are physically possible.  At the same time they’re makin’ you feel you’re something.  That you’re part of something.  when you’re there and you need somebody, you got somebody.  It was the high point of my life..”

.P.178  “The last image that comes to my mind is what we were taught about the Japanese.  The Marine Corps taught us that too.  That the Japs are lousy, sneaky, treacherous – watch out for them.  Well, my God…who’s brainwashing you on all this?  I’ve been married for 24 years to Satsuko – Sats (he indicates his wife who has just entered the room) – Miss America here, that’s a super person.  She’s the best thing ever happened to me.”

P.191  “Our military runs our foreign policy.  The State Department simply goes around and tidies up the messes the military makes.  The State Department has become the lackey of the Pentagon.  Before WW2 that never happened….  I think the United States has changed.  It got away from the idea of trying to settle differences by peaceful means.  Since WW2 we began to use force to get what we wanted in the world…  Not long ago the Pentagon proudly announced that the U.S. had used military force 215 times to achieve its international goals sinceWW2.  The Pentagon likes that…”  Admiral Gene Larocque.

P.209  “All of war is cruel and unnecessary, but the bombings made this one especially so.  The destruction of Dresden was unforgivable.  It was done very late in the war, as part of a military dynamic which was out of control and had no relationship to any military needs.”  J.K.Galbraith

P.329  “The single most important legacy of the war is what Eisenhower warned us about in his farewell speech: the military-industrial complex.  In the past there were business representatives in Washington, but now they are Washington.  And with the military build-up beyond all our imaginations, we have a new fusion of power.  It has become a permanent feature of American life.”

P.439  (In Poland in 1946.)  “The first (Jewish) child I saw in three months in Europe was a little girl named Ruthie.  Her father was killed and her mother hid her with a Polish family.  She was stunted, paper-thin.  She’d been hidden in cellars and attics.  I asked her what she wanted.  Her exact words were, “I am ten years old.  I never went to school.  help me go to school.’”  We found 100s of youngsters who’d been hidden by Christian families, living in monasteries and elsewhere.”

P.454  (A Russian Stalingrad veteran)  “We had been very excited when the combats were actually taking place.  But now we saw these German prisoners walking by in such a pitiful way, you felt a sort of pity for them.  We understood that these were people who had some families, relations who had been deceived by Hitler.   When I visited West Germany for the first time in 1965, I’ll never forget the welcome given us by these former prisoners-of-war.  It was a visit of the Stalingrad veterans.  Our hosts explained simply: ‘You fed us when you had nothing to eat yourselves.  You saved our lives.’”

P.458  (A Russian veteran soldier)  “Eight from my family went to the front.  Three came back.  We were a lucky family… It was miraculous, wonderful, how brave we were then, how close together we were. (But)  It is not a worthy occupation for a human being.   Of my generation, out of 100 who went to fight, three came back.  Three per cent.  One should not ask those of us who remained what war means to them.   I look at my children and my grandchildren and I think: only centimetres decided whether they should be on this earth or not.  Whether the bullet went that way or this way.  But I lived and they happened.  They can’t understand that.”

P.464   (U.S. prosecuter at Nurenberg trials)  “Why did they do these things?  Because it had become the thing to do.  People most of them were followers.  Moral standards are easily obliterated….They so very easily fall into the pattern that their superiors set up for them, because that’s the safe way.  They may be loving husbands, nice to their children, fond of music.  They have become accustomed to moral standards prescribed from above by an authoritarian regime.  The safe way to be comfortable in life is that way: following orders.   If our general population was subjected to the same trends and pressures that the Germans were, a great many of us would do the same.”

P.534  (Father George Zabelka – U.S. military chaplain)  “When the news of Hiroshima hit me, my reaction was a split one.  Gosh, it’s horrible, but gosh, it’s going to end the war.  Finally the boys will get home.  This was going to save millions of lives…. But, as a priest, I should have considered: We’re killing little kids, old men and old women, burning them to death. I don’t recall any feeling of guilt at the time.   (Later)  In Kyushu, I met some sisters and missionaries who had come from Hiroshima.  I had already visited Nagasaki and talked to some of the survivors.  Thousands had what they called the A-bomb sickness.  This was the first time, I think, that it really began to come through to me.  Here were these little kids, who didn’t have anything to do with the war, and they were dying, many of them very quiet, very silent.  They were just quiet, just dying.  The worm started squirming…..  Along comes Vietnam  The mad bombings.  I’m recalling Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  There’s Martin Luther King.  I’m now with the blacks, the poor, the militants…”

P.573  “The war was fun for America – if you’ll pardon my bitterness.  I’m not talking about the poor souls who lost sons and daughters in the war.  For the rest of us, the war was a hell of a good time.  Farmers in South Dakota that I administered relief to, and gave ‘em bully beef and four dollars a week to feed their families, when I came home were worth a quarter-million dollars. True all over America.  Mass travel, mass vacations, everything else came out of it.  And the rest of the world was bleeding. World War Two?  It’s a war I still would go to.” 

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Desmond Tutu reaches out to convicted Canadian terrorist Omar Khadr

BY SHEILA PRATT                                EDMONTON JOURNAL                        JUNE 7, 2014

EDMONTON - When Archbishop Desmond Tutu came to Fort McMurray last weekend, Alberta’s oilsands and native rights were his major concern. But in the days before the conference, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and human rights activist added a small personal task to his busy schedule.

After a press conference on Friday May 30, Tutu found a quiet corner and placed a phone call to Bowden prison where Omar Khadr, 27, held in Guantanamo prison for 10 years, was waiting.

Tutu has been a vocal critic of the U.S. military Guantánamo prison in Cuba, a place of torture where prisoners have no legal rights. It was established after the horrifying 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The prison, Tutu has said, has disturbing similarities to draconian powers wielded by white police under apartheid when blacks were held without charges, were abused and some died in prison in South Africa. So when approached about speaking with Khadr, he was sympathetic. Khadr’s lawyer, Dennis Edney of Edmonton, was keen to have his client talk to Tutu. They are both men of faith, and the older Tutu could provide moral support to the young man who has been in prison since he was 15 when he was picked up in Afghanistan after a battle with U.S. soldiers, Edney said.

“Tutu is a man of compassion and healing, and he’s spoken out about Guantanamo in the past,” Edney said. “A man of peace, he also understands reconciliation and healing. He helped prevent South Africa from falling into a civil war.” Edney declined to give details, saying it was a private call.

“Omar was delighted and honoured to speak to such a statesman,” Edney said. “The conversation was a spiritual discussion between them that helped to further strengthen Omar’s belief in humanity, notwithstanding all he has suffered.” Through his studies, Khadr is familiar with Tutu’s critical role in ending apartheid in South Africa and then running that country’s Truth and Reconciliation commission, Edney added.

Khadr is serving an eight-year sentence in Canada a result of a plea bargain at a contentious U.S. military trial at Guantánamo that allowed evidence obtained under torture. Khadr pleaded guilty to five crimes committed when he was 15, including murder of a U.S. soldier “in violation of the laws of war,” spying and aiding terrorism. Those charges are being challenged in U.S. courts. The Harper government views Khadr as a violent, unrepentant terrorist and promises to fight any effort to reduce his sentence.

Khadr’s supporters says he is a child soldier who should be rehabilitated, not jailed, under Canada’s commitment to international law. A co-operative effort of Tutu’s office and “justice minded” Khadr supporters in Canada made the phone call happen, Edney added.

Khadr continues to work on his high school education and is expected to write his Grade 12 math exam next week.

He is also awaiting for the Alberta Court of Appeal to make a decision on his application to be moved out of federal prison because he was juvenile when the crimes were committed. His lawyers want him moved to less harsh provincial jail.

We are at a crossroads for women in the church

Joan Chittister                           National Catholic Reporter                              Dec. 11, 2013
This is a crossover moment in history. This is the moment when history discovered women. In fact, intelligent men as well as intelligent women realize now that feminism is not about femaleness. It's not about female chauvinism either, or feminismo machismo. And it's definitely not about women wanting to act like men.

Feminism is about allowing every member of the human race to become a fully functioning human adult, to make choices at every level of society, to participate in the decision-making that affects their lives, to be financially independent, to be safe on the streets, secure in their homes, to have a voice in the courts and constitutional bodies of the world -- to enjoy, in other words, full and equal civil rights.

It is about bringing to public visibility and public agency the agendas, the insights, and the wisdom of the other half of the human race. It is about taking their ideas and plans seriously. No! Correction: It is about taking the theology of creation seriously. It is, in other words, about this century's "emancipation proclamation" of women. And since it is 2,000 years after Jesus himself modeled it, it can hardly be argued that we're rushing things.

It is, in other words, about this century's "emancipation proclamation" of women.

And since it is 2,000 years after Jesus himself modeled it, it can hardly be argued that we're rushing things.

Pope Francis, clearly sensitive to the issue, has himself brought up the notion of launching a study of women, the very thought of which coming out of Rome is at least as earth-shaking as seriously expecting Rome to do something serious about it. Three issues in particular will measure the authenticity of the church's response:

Three issues in particular will measure the authenticity -- the morality -- of the church's response to the women's issue. The issues of maternity, human agency and poverty are key to the way we'll be seen on this issue for years to come:

First, the question of the role of women in church and society is not one of the 39 areas of concern listed in the questionnaire the Vatican sent to the world's bishops in October seeking wide Catholic response to questions about family life. So how really important are the roles and rights of woman-as-woman seen in shaping even the family?

Second, the pope's recent statement on women concentrated almost entirely on women's maternity, which occupies -- at best -- about 20 years of a woman's life. Most modern women live at least another 35 to 40 years after the youngest child leaves home.

And after that? What is her role then? What does she do now with her personal talents, her insights, her gifts that, they tell us, are given for the sake of the world? And how does the world make up for the loss of such experience, intelligence and wisdom of the other half of the human race if women are not expected, not welcomed to its shaping? Without the input of women, humanity sees with only one eye, hears with one ear and thinks with only one half of the human mind. And -- read the newspapers -- it shows.

Or, more, why is a woman defined by maternity, whether she is a mother or not, when a man is rarely, if ever, defined by his paternity rather than by his job, his genius, his leadership, his heroism?

Pope Francis says in his now-famous interview with the Jesuit magazine Civilta Catholica, which was shared worldwide in September, "We have to work harder to develop a profound theology of the woman. Only by making this step will it be possible to better reflect on their function within the church." Right. But the question there is who will do this study? The same clerical, patriarchal types who have been doing it for the last 2,000 years when church fathers first said that women "have the malice of both dragons and asps," among other things.

Or when Thomas Aquinas called women "misbegotten males." Not the gold standard of the human race, apparently. And medieval theologians declared that women were by nature subservient, secondary in the order of creation, more emotional than rational. And today, here and now, a Vatican document can say, "Forms of feminism hostile to the church are among matters of deep concern" but never even mention male chauvinism or the very structures of patriarchy itself as any kind of concern at all.

The church never treats women as fully independent adults, let alone as fully baptized disciples of Jesus. And this despite centuries of deaconesses, a chorus of women saints and hundreds of years of women religious administrators who built the larger part of the social service systems of the church.

Most important of all, on what anthropology and theology and science from what century will they ground their ideas about women this time? What feminist writers, feminist researchers, feminist philosophers, what scientists, theologians and canonists, both women and men, will shape this theology in this era?

Will it simply be another round of "men do this" and "women do that," a dual anthropology that sees women as caregivers alone and men as world builders exclusively, an anthropology that denies our common humanity, our joint human nature basically and entirely? Despite the work of our own Dorothy Days and Raissa Maritains, our Mother Joneses and Rosemary Haughtons as national leaders and bona fide theologians?

And if so, what can possibly be done to save the world such division has made?

The fact is that religion -- all religions -- has been used to justify the oppression, the servitude, the invisibility of women for century after century. Indeed, religion after Jesus has a historic lot to repent where women are concerned, Catholicism and Christianity among them.

As a result of such poor study in the past -- "religious," as it may have called itself, sincere as it possibly was -- everywhere on the planet women are still, today, at this hour, as the United Nations Development Fund for Women reports, two-thirds of the illiterate of the world. Women are still two-thirds of the hungry of the world. Women are yet two-thirds of the poorest of the poor everywhere in the world. Even here; even now.

That can't be an accident. That is a policy. Someone somewhere has decided that women need less, deserve less, and are worthy of less than men. And all in the name of God.

By the time those apologists get done, God is the only sexist left in the room.

Pope Francis has won the heart of the world by being humble, simple and pastoral -- the warm and caring face of the church, a man like Jesus who is a man of the poor.

But clearly, no one can say they are for the poor as Jesus was and do nothing, nothing, nothing for the equality of women. To address classism does not begin to resolve the problems that come with sexism.

Yet when the membership of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious commit themselves again -- as they have so often in the past -- to do for women what must be done for the sake of the Gospel, and the good of the church, it's called "radical feminism" and they are investigated for heresy.

The full humanity of women, human anthropology, and our efforts to eradicate poverty are indeed among the issues that will measure both this papacy and this church as it moves again from an age that is dying to a new age that is coming to life. Otherwise, when death comes, we may all be there to see it.

In 1998, Pope John Paul II instructed the bishops of Michigan and Ohio in their ad limina visits to Rome: "The genius of women must be evermore a vital strength of the church of the next millennium -- just as it was in the first communities of Christ's disciples."

Which, from where I stand, leads directly to the question women find continually more wearying: If not now -- 15 years later -- when? [Abridged]

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Bowe Bergdahl: hero or traitor? War doesn't allow an easy answer

Bergdahl may have been delusional, but the whole game of war is delusional

Suzanne Moore                         Guardian/UK                  4 June 2014

It isn't like the movies. The returning hero shown in the video is pale, thin, clutching at a plastic bag. He is trying to cover a twitching eye. The bag is removed as he is patted down before being escorted into the helicopter. Indeed, Bowe Bergdahl, held by the Taliban for five years, may in the eyes of some fellow soliders be a deserter who needs further punishment. Parts of the American media are rabid with this demand.

Bergdahl is being held in Germany, considered not well enough, physically or mentally, to be taken back to his family. A video the Taliban made of him in captivity, seen by the US government and not made public, is said to have prompted the prisoner exchange. The swapping of five Guantánamo prisoners in return for one American is also being hotly contested. That Guantánamo is still open is a stain on Obama's presidency but he powerfully defended this exchange. The American way is to bring home their own. "Period. Full stop." There is honour in this.
Bergdahl's parents – especially his father, with his bushy beard, his learning of Pashtu, his understanding of the geopolitics of where his son was fighting – do not look like the standard US military family. Bowe also learned Pashtu. One of the reasons that Bin Laden could operate so well in the late 90s was because there were no CIA operatives who spoke the local language.

The Bergdahls live, actually and psychologically, in places that most British people fly over. They are free-thinking Idaho Calvinists who home-schooled their children and talk about ethics and philosophy. Alongside this is a strong survivalist streak: by five, Bowe could shoot a rifle and ride horses. His need for adventure led him at 20 to Paris to learn French in order to join the French Foreign Legion. He was devastated when they refused him. By 2008, the fantasy was to go to Africa to teach self-defence techniques to those brutalised by local militia. He spoke of "taking out warlords in Darfur and Sudan".
Unsurprisingly, this didn't happen either and he ended up in the army, and in Afghanistan. Soon, according to his father, he saw that "we were given a fictitious picture … of what we were doing in Afghanistan". He saw innocent children casually run over by soldiers. Either he consciously deserted or he was not in a fit state to see the danger he was putting not only himself in, but also those who were sent to look for him.

Those who now want to try Bergdahl seem to be in utter denial about the mental state of those who have been at war. When soldiers come home, many are armed and dangerous. America knows this better than we do. I will never forget sitting in a late-night diner in the States in the 80s when a guy walked in with a sleeve gun. He said he had been in Vietnam, and he didn't want to hurt anyone. He wept and put the gun on a table. Everyone gave what they could.
Those who are anti-war tend not to care for these walking wounded. The left can be callous. The military concentrates recruitment where there are no jobs or chances of further education. In the US, it waives criminal records. Bergdahl's background should have raised alarm bells, as should Chelsea Manning's troubled past. Instead Manning found herself even more bullied and ostracised and put in an impossible situation.
Bergdahl and Manning dissented. Others who have served remain in the combat zone. They continue to kill: often their wives, children or themselves, and this is hushed up. From the invasion of Afghanistan up to 2008, in the US there were 150 cases of fatal domestic or fatal child abuse by "new veterans". Last year, Panorama revealed that more British soldiers had killed themselves in 2012 than had died at the hands of the Taliban in the same period.
How easy is it to be clear about what is heroic and what is traitorous when the mission is on ever-shifting sands? We were in Afghanistan to stop poppy production, free women, defeat the Taliban, root out al-Qaida. Our generals always said we would have to talk to the Taliban, as we did. Jihad is an ever-movable feast of death, as we have seen in Syria. The game of war that Bergdahl played, his desire to be the good guy in a bad place, was delusional. But all of it is delusional: the slaughter of innocents that we are to accept as somehow worthwhile.
War comes home now raw, skeletal, damaged. Such is the denial about what has been done that Bergdahl must be welcomed with yellow ribbons or denounced totally as evil personified. He wrote that "the horror that is America is disgusting". Whether he was sane or insane when he wrote this will now be battled over. But whatever happens, Bergdahl was a prisoner of war. And like so many he will always remain one.          [Abridged]

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Who's in control – nation states or global corporations?

Calls for national autonomy have grown. Minorities are blamed but the real culprit is neoliberalism  

The Gary Younge                 Guardian/UK                   2 June 2014

In 2002 when Lula da Silva won his landslide victory in Brazil's presidential elections, he warned supporters: "So far, it has been easy. The hard part begins now." He wasn't wrong. He was elected on a platform of fighting poverty and redistributing wealth.  But on the way to Lula's inauguration the invisible hand of the market tore up his electoral promises and boxed the country around the ears for its reckless democratic choice. In the three months between his winning and being sworn in, the currency plummeted by 30%, $6bn in hot money left the country, and some agencies gave Brazil the highest debt-risk ratings in the world.

The limited ability of national governments to pursue any agenda that has not first been endorsed by international capital and its proxies is no longer simply the cross they have to bear; it is the cross to which we have all been nailed. The nation state is the primary democratic entity that remains. But given the scale of neoliberal globalisation it is clearly no longer up to that task.  "By many measures, corporations are more central players in global affairs than nations," writes Benjamin Barber in Jihad vs McWorld. "We call them multinational but they are more accurately understood as postnational, transnational or even anti-national. For they abjure the very idea of nations or any parochialism that limits them in time or space."  This has continued, for more than a generation.

The recent success of the far right in the European parliamentary elections revealed just how morbid those symptoms have become. Over the past 30 years, fascism – and its 57 varieties of fellow travellers in denial – has shifted as a political current from marginal to mainstream to central in Europe's political culture.  The problem with describing these parties as racist is not that the description is inaccurate but that, by itself, it is inadequate. For their appeal lies in a far broader set of anxieties about the degree to which our politics and economics are shaped by forces accountable to none and controlled by a few: a drift towards cosmopolitanism in which citizens, once relatively secure in their national identity and financial wellbeing, are excluded from the polity.

The responses to these anxieties have been racially problematic. But the anxieties themselves are well-founded. From the Seattle protests over a decade ago, to the Occupy movement more recently, the left has been grappling with the same crisis. The recent elections produced less impressive but nonetheless significant successes for the hard left. In six countries, socialist-oriented groups critical of neoliberal globalisation got double figures, including Syriza, which topped the poll in Greece. They are also Eurosceptic. However, their base is driven not by a dislike of foreigners but by a desire for more democracy in the EU and more national autonomy.

"It seems clear that … nationalism is not only not a spent force," argued the late Stuart Hall in an essay, Our Mongrel Selves. "It isn't necessarily either a reactionary or a progressive force, politically." It suits the far right to shroud its racial animus within these blurred distinctions in order to appear more moderate. "Our people demand one type of politics: they want politics by the French, for the French, with the French," said Front National leader Marine Le Pen in her victory speech. "They don't want to be led any more from outside.”

Neither the right nor the left has a solution for this crisis. But while the left holds out hope of building a more inclusive society in the future, the right has built its populist credentials on retreating to an exclusionary past.
In the absence of any serious strategy to protect democracy the right resorts, instead, to a defence of "culture" – reinvented as "tradition", elevated to "heritage" and imagined as immutable. Having evoked the myth of purity it then targets the human pollutants – low-skilled immigrants, Gypsies, Muslims, take your pick.

"Minorities are the flashpoint for a series of uncertainties that mediate between everyday life and its fast-shifting global backdrop," writes Arjun Appadurai in Fear of Small Numbers. "This uncertainty, exacerbated by an inability of states to secure economic sovereignty in the era of globalisation, can translate into a lack of tolerance of any sort of collective stranger." The targets of this intolerance shift according to the context: Roma in Hungary, Romanians in Britain, Latinos in the US and Muslims almost everywhere in the west. But the rhetoric and the true nature of the crisis remain constant. Parochial identities describe the protagonists, but it is global economics that shapes the narrative.               [Abridged]

Farzana Parveen's killing must trigger change for women in Pakistan

Human rights violations have spiked, but this 'honour killing' stands out, because the victim was seeking justice

Aisha Sarwari                              Guardian/UK                                29 May 2014

On 27 May 2014, as Farzana Parveen lay dead on the uneven floor of the Lahore high court, it was not easy to ignore the blood-stained brick next to her. A chador she had worn that morning covered her crushed head. Police investigators said that members of her family had attacked her and her husband with batons and bricks. Farzana was three months pregnant.

This murder stands out among the 900 honour killings committed over the past 12 months in Pakistan because it happened at the very place she had come to seek justice. She was apparently killed for doing something that was her right according to the law – marrying the man she loved. She was there to record her statement against a false allegation from her family that claimed that her husband had kidnapped her. If her husband hadn't escaped the attack, he too would be dead.
The crowd had looked on. This is what Pakistan is increasingly becoming now – a country of 180 million or so onlookers. The papers reveal one violation of human rights after another, and women are mostly the targets.
Perpetrators of honour crimes mostly try to justify their acts by appealing to religious doctrine. This is ironic. In pre-Islamic days, daughters would be buried alive. Islam put an end to that ghastly tradition. Now, those with the same pre-Islamic thinking just stone women when they are older.
If one were to plot the human rights violations on a graph, 2014 would likely form a spike. The geopolitical situation is not helping – neither is the choice to negotiate with the extremist Taliban. With the kind of discourse flooding our newspapers and airwaves, it might as well be the terrorists calling all the shots.
No surprise, then, that there are only muffled cries from an anaemic civil society. People are now afraid of putting their necks on the chopper of protest.
With around eight million more women now in the workforce than there were 10 years ago, one cannot help but hope that it will be women themselves who will break the archaic mould they are forced into, and that it will be financial independence that will eventually free them from oppression.
These numbers, however, are less impressive when compared with those who have no access to an education in the first place. Although a demographic dividend of the kind Pakistan has – over 60% are below the age of 30 – is a blessing, the kind of education emergency that exists could send the country to the brink, making it a curse. Pakistan ranks second in the world for numbers of children out of school.
What can change this inevitable downward trajectory is a clear involvement of the international community with Pakistanis – a people-focused engagement – be it through developmental programmes, education via the media, or giving law-enforcement agencies the teeth they need. The key is more engagement not less.
It was Simone de Beauvoir who said: "On the day when it will be possible for woman to love not in her weakness but in her strength, not to escape herself but to find herself, not to abase herself but to assert herself – on that day love will become for her, as for man, a source of life and not of mortal danger." We need, above all else, to be taught how to love without death.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Army of One: On the Isla Vista Killings

By Robert C. Koehler                             Common Dreams                                 May 29, 2014

Sheriff's officials said Elliot Rodger, 22, went on a rampage near the University of California, Santa Barbara, stabbing three people to death at his apartment before shooting and killing three more in a crime spree through a nearby neighborhood. The world withheld love and he went to war. He was an army of one —another army of one, laying out his plans in secret torment, plotting his “day of retribution.”

“The rampage shooters see themselves as moralistic punishers striking against deep injustice,” Peter Turchin wrote a year and a half ago, in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre. In his essay, ominously titled “Canaries in a Coal Mine,” which was published at Social Evolution Forum, he notes the upward trajectory of mass murders. Since the ’60s, they’ve increased more than tenfold. Something’s going wrong in the world we’ve created.

The killers are always described as loners . . . monsters, psychopaths. They’re not like us, and so the motives for the killings are sought only in the rubble of their lives — in the left-behind writings and YouTube videos, the psychological reports, the fragmentary reflections of acquaintances. So it turns out that Elliot Rodger, the 22-year-old who killed six UC Santa Barbara students, then committed suicide, last week in Isla Vista, Calif., was shut out of human connection, nailed into a coffin of isolation.

Unlike most lonely people he sought a military solution to his troubles. His enemies were wrecking his life, so he armed himself and went after them. He “went to war” and, in so doing, dignified his predicament and justified his course of action. Calling it “war” is a nearly airtight justification for violence — for murder.

The distinguishing characteristic of mass murder — the coolly impersonal killing of strangers — is not that the victims are random, but that they are in some way symbolic of the imagined “deep wrong” the killer wants to eradicate. The victims Elliot Rodger sought were the members of a local sorority: symbols of the women who had rejected him all his life. This is what mass murder is. This is what terrorism is. This is what war is.

“On the battlefield,” Turchin wrote, “you are supposed to try to kill a person whom you’ve never met before. You are not trying to kill this particular person, you are shooting because he is wearing the enemy uniform. It could easily be any other individual, but as long as they wear the same uniform, you would be shooting at them. Enemy soldiers are socially substitutable. As they say in gangster movies, ‘nothing personal, just business.’”

The point of all this is that it’s time to stop calling mass murderers “loners,” even though that’s what they no doubt call themselves. It’s time to stop seeing them in isolation from the larger society — our society — of which they are a part, whether they know it or not. It’s time to acknowledge and begin examining the complex interconnectedness of good and evil, right and wrong. It’s time to reach for a deeper wisdom with which to understand, and begin healing, our intensifying social problems.

“Driven by the forces of love,” Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote at the dawn of World War II, “the fragments of the world seek each other so that the world may come into being.”

Something has gone wrong. The fragments of the world are killing each other. The killings in Isla Vista took place just before Memorial Day, a day of notorious short-sightedness about whom and what we’re supposed to remember. The convention of remembering “the sacrifice of our troops” requires us to maintain remembrance, as well, of a perpetually lurking enemy from whom we were protected. Subbing for enemies of the past, who are now (perhaps) our allies, are the enemies of the future. It might just as well be called Social Substitutability Day, unless we deepen and widen its meaning and allow the day’s remembrance to include the crimes against humanity every side in war commits — unless we remember that militarism, like racism and misogyny, are the real enemies.

“The definition and practice of war and the definition and practice of mass murder,” I wrote last year, “have eerie congruencies. We divide and slice the human race; some people become the enemy, not in a personal but merely an abstract sense — ‘them’ — and we lavish a staggering amount of our wealth and creativity on devising ways to kill them. When we call it war, it’s as wholesome as apple pie. When we call it mass murder, it’s not so nice.”

And armies of millions beget armies of one. [Abridged]