Monday, 29 September 2014

The Sea of Faith

Ian Harris                                   Otago Daily Times                       Sept. 26, 2014

Psychology and neuroscience have for years been throwing up wave after wave of new knowledge about human life – but where does that leave religious experience? What about spirituality? Notions of the soul?

Those questions will be explored over the first weekend in October as Dunedin plays host to the annual conference of the Sea of Faith Network in New Zealand.
Essentially, this is a network whose groups across the country offer a space where people can discuss religious thought and expression without the constraint of creeds and dogmas. Members have found it a safe place to discuss unsafe things. Among them are Christians who attend a church and others who don’t, Buddhists, atheists, agnostics – anyone who thinks religion is worth exploring for what it still may offer, even though they may differ on what that might be.

The New Zealand network was formed in 1993, four years after a similar movement began in Britain. The spark was a six-part BBC documentary series called The Sea of Faith, broadcast in Britain in 1984. In it Cambridge theologian and philosopher Don Cupitt, an Anglican priest, looked back over 400 years of pivotal changes in western science, philosophy and religion – changes which help to explain why the churches no longer appeal to so many people in the West today. The title comes from the poem Dover Beach, which Victorian poet and critic Matthew Arnold wrote after watching the tide going out below the cliffs on the coast of Kent:

The sea of faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl’d.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

The series aroused much interest in Britain. TVNZ rejected requests to screen it here, though eventually it went to air via Massey University’s former Educational TV service. People drawn to Cupitt’s approach began meeting in groups in Britain to discuss the ideas, then held a national conference. New Zealand theologian Sir Lloyd Geering initiated a parallel network here. The Sea of Faith is not a mass movement and the network does not proselytise. In New Zealand it comprises around 500 members and participants, who meet in 18 groups around the country. It is valued by people, lay and clergy alike, who value the freedom to question and explore ideas, including some that would discomfort, even shock people in local churches.

Accordingly, the Sea of Faith makes no attempt to define what members are expected to believe. The focus of the British network is “exploring and promoting religious faith as a human creation”. The New Zealand network describes itself as “exploring religious thought and expression from a non-dogmatic and human-oriented standpoint”. It also affirms the continuing importance of religious thought and practice “as a vehicle for awe and wonder and for the celebration of key social and spiritual values”, drawing freely on the Judaeo-Christian heritage without being bound by it.

Twelve years ago the Australian Broadcasting Commission found this of sufficient interest to send a television crew to the network’s conference in Timaru, attracted by the presence of Cupitt, Geering and British Buddhist scholar Stephen Batchelor. It afforded an excellent opportunity to get a fix on the Sea of Faith at a time when a similar network was getting off the ground in Australia. In the resulting Compass programme, Cupitt cut to the chase. “I think the traditional world religions are coming to the end of their historical life,” he said. “The question is what should take their place.

“Some people would say a globalised eco-humanism, a kind of environmental humanism. I’d have a stronger element of philosophy and spirituality than that. I want religion to break with ideas of power and tradition. I want it to become more a matter of freedom, of spirituality, of the way people relate to each other in the here and now. I believe religion has a future, but it will be very different from the past.” This points not to religion turning its back on modern life, as some urge in all religions, but to engaging contemporary thinking across a wide front, reassessing its own traditions, and reinventing itself in the light of both.

The church has done this more than once during its 2000-year history, and it marked a new beginning. The tide came back in. □ Information about the Sea of Faith Network is available at

Apocalypse Now, Iraq Edition

 Peter Van Buren                                Pub. By Tom Dispatch            Common Dreams Sept. 23, 2014

As someone who cares deeply about this country, I find it beyond belief that Washington has again plunged into the swamp of the Sunni-Shia mess in Iraq. After all, less than three years ago President Obama assured Americans that “we’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq.” So what happened in the blink of an eye?

The Sons of Iraq Sometimes, when I turn on the TV these days, the sense of seeing once again places in Iraq I'd been overwhelms me. After 22 years as a diplomat with the Department of State, I spent 12 long months in Iraq in 2009-2010 as part of the American occupation. My role was to lead two teams in “reconstructing” the nation. In practice, that meant paying for schools that would never be completed, setting up pastry shops on streets without water or electricity, and conducting endless propaganda events on Washington-generated themes of the week (“small business,” “women's empowerment,” “democracy building.”)

In 2006, the U.S. brokered the ascension to power of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shia politician handpicked to unite Iraq. A bright, shining lie of a plan soon followed. Applying vast amounts of money, Washington’s emissaries created the Sahwa, or Sons of Iraq, a loose grouping of Sunnis anointed as “moderates” who agreed to temporarily stop killing in return for a promised place at the table in the New(er) Iraq. The “political space” for this was to be created by a massive escalation of the American military effort, which gained a particularly marketable name: the surge.

I was charged with meeting the Sahwa leaders in my area. My job back then was to try to persuade them to stay on board just a little longer, even as they came to realize that they'd been had. Maliki’s Shia government in Baghdad, which was already ignoring American entreaties to be inclusive, was hell-bent on ensuring that there would be no Sunni “sons” in its Iraq. False alliances and double-crosses were not unfamiliar to the Sunni warlords I engaged with. Often, our talk -- over endless tiny glasses of sweet tea -- shifted from the Shia and the Americans to their great-grandfathers' struggle against the British. Revenge unfolds over generations, they assured me, and memories are long in the Middle East, they warned.

When I left in 2010, the year before the American military finally departed, Iraq had already been tacitly divided into feuding state-lets controlled by Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds. The Baghdad government had turned into a typical third-world kleptocracy fueled by American money, but with a particularly nasty twist: they were also a group of autocrats dedicated to persecuting, marginalizing, and perhaps one day destroying the country’s Sunni minority.

U.S. influence was fading fast, leaving the State Department, a small military contingent, various spooks, and contractors hidden behind the walls of the billion-dollar embassy (the largest in the world!) that had been built in a moment of imperial hubris. The foreign power with the most influence over events was by then Iran, the country the Bush administration had once been determined to take down alongside Saddam Hussein as part of the Axis of Evil.

The staggering costs of all this -- $25 billion to train the Iraqi Army, $60 billion for the reconstruction-that-wasn’t, $2 trillion for the overall war, almost 4,500 Americans dead and more than 32,000 wounded, and an Iraqi death toll of more than 190,000 can now be measured against the results. The nine-year attempt to create an American client state in Iraq failed, tragically and completely. The proof of that is on today's front pages.

According to the crudest possible calculation, we spent blood and got no oil. Instead, America's war of terror resulted in the dissolution of a Middle Eastern post-Cold War stasis that, curiously enough, had been held together by Iraq’s previous autocratic ruler Saddam Hussein. We released a hornet’s nest of Islamic fervor, sectarianism, fundamentalism, and pan-nationalism. Islamic terror groups grew stronger and more diffuse by the year. That horrible lightning over the Middle East that’s left American foreign policy in such an ugly glare will last into our grandchildren's days. Copyright 2014 Peter Van Buren [Extracts only, from a long article]

Peter Van Buren spent a year in Iraq as a State Department Foreign Service Officer serving as Team Leader for two Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs). Now in Washington, he writes about Iraq and the Middle East.

Bombing Isis will increase the chance of home-grown terror

Yasmin Alibhai Brown                  Independent/UK             28 September 2014

I was on the BBC’s Any Questions? on Friday with the columnist Simon Jenkins, Tory William Hague and Labour’s Yvette Cooper. The main topic was the parliamentary vote that enabled the Government to send RAF Tornado warplanes into Iraq, to stop Isis or Isil as it is now called for reasons unexplained.

Jenkins and I were sceptical of this latest military adventure and the two politicians soberly explained why it was essential. Now I am not a pacifist and really do like and respect both Cooper and Hague, but they came up with no credible strategy. After Iraq and Libya, I would have hoped for carefully thought-out objectives. It seems to me that politicians don’t know what to do about Isis and so have decided to do something; anything. Bombs are the last resort of the panicked.

My colleague Patrick Cockburn has written with great wisdom on these organised and ruthless Islamicists and expressed his doubts about this latest development. Other reporters and commentators have done the same. But parliamentarians still backed Cameron, whose own justifications and those of his inner circle were either disingenuous or plain illiterate. Isis was not behind the Glasgow bomb, as Defence Secretary Fallon suggested, nor were the killers of Lee Rigby secret members of this guerrilla force. Such spin does him no favours.
Isis is guilty of beheadings, rape, mass killings and torture – we know and are horrified. I am a Shia Muslim and in our mosques, you can feel the terror. The transnational bandits wish to annihilate all those outside their own proscriptive and prescriptive Islam. We want them stopped, pushed back, preferably into some gulag.. Not good.

The Iraqi government, hastily put together, is not yet trusted. Its call for Western intervention is resented by millions of citizens. Isis is feared and loathed, but these Western allies are mistrusted. Those people don’t know what can save them.Syria is even more of a quagmire – the leader, as murderous as Isis, still holds on to power. Various opposition groups are milling around and killing whoever the enemy is at that moment.

A number of the British Muslims who went forth did not go to join terrorists, but to help Syrians, after the UN failed to act. Some then got swayed by promises of world domination and joined Isis. Among those, we now hear, several feel they are prisoners of their commanders, unable to leave and to come back home.

Our leaders make no distinctions between the well-motivated “soldiers of mercy” as they saw themselves and the hardened British Muslim Isis fighters.

British politicians and spooks are just as clueless about why these home-grown rebels went off and what they will do if ever allowed back here. Peter Neumann, director of the International Centre for Radicalisation at King’s College London, believes about 20 per cent of the jihadis want out; at the same time, there is an Isis fan club in Britain which is very radicalised. Our bomb attacks will fuel their rage and we might see some action here in the UK.

More frightening than that prospect is not knowing why so many young men – some well educated and middle class – have become the enemies within. They faced racism and injustice, perhaps. So do other black and Asian Britons. They feel the injustice of the Iraq War, drone attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the West’s complicity with Israel’s appalling oppression of Palestinians. So do millions of us – white, black and brown. But we do not enlist with Islamo-Fascists. Where does this inchoate rage come from?

I think families need to ask themselves if they do enough to teach their children they belong here and have precious rights that are not found in any Muslim states, or under killer extremists. In too many homes, the message is still given that they must not become British-ised; that they must stay within their own cultural boundaries.

Too many such young people are then easily preyed on by the messengers of Wahhabism, funded by the Saudis and other rich Sunni states. Their young minds pick up on the message – follow this path, fight your battles and you can take the world. Now Isis has shown the promise is real.

Our greatest enemies are these Arab states. Neither Hague nor Cooper wanted to talk about that, because they are our allies, now part of the coalition attacking Isis, another one of their own bastard children, as were al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

Expect things to get worse because many Muslim families still don’t accept responsibility for alienating their children and because the British Government will not take on Saudi Arabia and other intolerant gulf nations. Tornadoes raining down bombs on Iraq will not solve these deep problems. [Abbrev.]

Isis an hour away from Baghdad - with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack

 Patrick Cockburn                              The Independent                29 September 2014

Three and a half months since the Iraqi army was spectacularly routed in northern Iraq by a far inferior force of Isis fighters, it is still seeing bases overrun because it fails to supply them with ammunition, food and water. The selection of a new Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, to replace Nouri al-Maliki last month was supposed to introduce a more conciliatory government that would appeal to Iraq’s Sunni minority from which Isis draws its support.
Mr Abadi promised to end the random bombardment of Sunni civilians, but Fallujah has been shelled for six out of seven days, with 28 killed and 117 injured. Despite the military crisis, the government has still not been able to gets its choice for the two top security jobs, the Defence Minister and Interior Minister, through parliament.

The fighting around Baghdad is particularly bitter because it is often in mixed Sunni-Shia areas where both sides fear massacre. Isis has been making inroads in the Sunni villages and towns such as in north Hilla province where repeated government sweeps have failed to re-establish its authority.

Mr Abadi is dismissing senior officers appointed by Mr Maliki, but this has yet to make a noticeable difference in the effectiveness of the armed forces, which are notoriously corrupt. During the battle for Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, in June, Iraqi government forces nominally numbered 60,000 in the army, federal police and local police, but only one third were actually on duty. A common source of additional income for officers is for soldiers to kickback half their salaries to their officers in return for staying at home or doing another job.The same system is universal in civilian ministries, which have far more people on their payroll than are actually employed.

A World Bank report just published reveals that out of 8,206 guards employed by one ministry only 603 were actually working. Some 132 senior officers have recently been sacked by Mr Abadi, but there is as yet no sign of the army being able to make a successful counter-attack against Isis. Worse, in Baghdad it has been unable to stop a wave of car bombs and suicide bombers, which continue to cause a heavy loss of civilian life. An example of the continued inability of the Iraqi army to remedy the failings, which led to its loss of Mosul and Tikrit, came on 21 September when Isis overran a base at Saqlawiya, near Fallujah, west of Baghdad after besieging it for a week.The final assault was preceded, as is customary with Isis attacks, by multiple suicide bombing attacks. A bomber driving a captured American Humvee packed with explosives was able to penetrate the base before blowing himself up.

The US could embed observers with Iraqi troops to call in air strikes in close support, but people in the Sunni provinces are frightened of being reoccupied by the Iraqi army and Shia militias bent on revenge for their defeats earlier in the year. In areas where there are mixed Sunni-Kurdish populations both sides fear the military success of the other.

The military reputation of the Kurdish soldiers, the Peshmerga, has taken a battering since their defeat in Sinjar in August where its troops fled as fast as the Iraqi army had done earlier. The Peshmerga have not done much fighting since 1991, except with each other during the Kurdish civil wars, and even in the 1980s their speciality was rural guerrilla warfare, wearing the enemy down with pinprick attacks by 15 to 20 fighters.

Before the deployment of US air power, Isis in Iraq used motorised columns with 80 to 100 men which would launch surprise attacks. With the possibility of US air strikes, this kind of highly mobile warfare is no longer feasible without taking heavy losses, But Isis has shown itself to be highly adaptable and is still able to operate effectively despite US intervention.

The problem for the US and its allies is that even if Iraqi divisions are reconstituted, there is no reason to think they will not break up again under Isis attack. The main military arm of the Baghdad government will remain Iranian-backed Shia militias, of which the Sunni population is terrified.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Cameron and Obama want to ‘destroy’ Isis

...but what will they do about the growing number of refugees fleeing Iraq and Syria?

Kate Allen                        Independent/UK                     22 September 2014

With momentum building over military action against Isis in Iraq and Syria, almost nothing has been said about what this might mean in humanitarian terms, such as population flows and new refugees.

In just a few short weeks Isis managed to uproot 600,000 people in and around the Mosul region. Inhabitants of villages like Kocho and Qiniyeh were either massacred or managed to flee to the inhospitable terrain of Mount Sinjar. In a terrible twist of fate, many of these traumatised people have exchanged certain death in Iraq for the deep uncertainties and mortal dangers of Syria.

A new wave of attacks on Isis’s roving bands of killers will surely displace thousands more local residents. It’s hard to see how aerial assaults on militants can have any other effect. What plans has John R Allen, the retired US general charged with overseeing the anti-Isis drive, made for those caught in this new pincer movement?

I raise these matters having recently returned from Lebanon where I witnessed the plight of some of the 1.4 million Syrian refugees now living in the country. Consider that number for a moment. Lebanon had a pre-Syrian conflict population of around 5m people. It’s seen a gargantuan influx of more than a quarter of its entire resident population, equivalent to something like 16m refugees pitching up in the UK in the space of three years. And it isn’t stopping; Lebanon is still receiving 9,000 refugees a week from Syria.

The numbers are off the scale, and Lebanon is beginning to feel the strain. Despite the incredible hospitality and kindness of thousands of Lebanese people — some hosting distant relatives from across the Syrian border, many simply helping struggling strangers in their midst — the country is under unbelievable pressure.

Ninette Kelly, head of the UN refugee agency in Lebanon, told me that hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in Lebanon are living in informal settlements, and even in garages and shops. I visited a refugee settlement in the Bekaa Valley. Here hundreds of people are huddled under plastic sheeting strung across wooden struts (these are not even tents), many living on the bare earth. They are all but exposed to the elements, contending with freezing winters and searingly hot summers. There are no kitchens, and the few toilets available are incredibly basic.

Healthcare is virtually non-existent. I met a mother who fears her five-month-old boy may be deaf and suffering from a serious eye condition, but she is unable to afford the treatment he needs. Another woman was caring for her mother, who has suffered three strokes, as well as her young, epileptic son. Again, the treatment they need is unavailable, but she also fears for the fate of two of her brothers who are languishing in Bashar al-Assad’s prisons. They will almost certainly have suffered and she’s in anguish at the thought that they’ll be killed.

Existence itself is hard but so is co-existence. In Bekaa there have been disputes between refugees and the local Lebanese community over access to water. Is this surprising? Lebanon is small, not especially wealthy and is already hosting the largest population of Syrian refugees of any country in the world. No-one knows when the conflict in Syria is going to end, and in some quarters patience is running out.

Well over a year ago voices in the Lebanese government were saying the country had already “exceeded its ability to absorb” refugees, however desperate or deserving. Recently the atmosphere has become even more fraught after the beheading of two captured Lebanese soldiers, almost certainly by Isis. People say they’ve “woken up in a different world” after the beheadings, with anti-Syrian sentiments hardening and posters saying “No Syrian refugees here” appearing on the streets.

Syria is facing the world's biggest humanitarian crisis, and its neighbouring countries can’t manage on their own. Around the world, despite the politicians’ promises, the response has been woeful. EU countries have taken less than 1% of Syria’s refugees, the UK has resettled a grand total of 51 people.

As I left Lebanon a government adviser said to me “Don’t tell us to keep our borders open, while you close yours”. It’s a remark that ought to be reverberating around Downing Street as the generals explain to David Cameron how they’re going to “destroy” Syria’s Isis fighters. [Abbrev.]

We fought apartheid. Now climate change is our global enemy

On the eve of the UN Climate Summit, Desmond Tutu argues that tactics used against firms who did business with South Africa must now be applied to fossil fuels to prevent human suffering

 Desmond Tutu                                   Observer/UK                          21 September 2014

Never before in history have human beings been called on to act collectively in defence of the Earth. As a species, we have endured world wars, epidemics, famine, slavery, apartheid and many other hideous consequences of religious, class, race, gender and ideological intolerance. People are extraordinarily resilient. The Earth has proven pretty resilient, too. It's managed to absorb most of what's been thrown at it since the industrial revolution and the invention of the internal combustion engine.

Until now, that is. Because the science is clear: the sponge that cushions and sustains us, our environment, is already saturated with carbon. If we don't limit global warming to two degrees or less we are doomed to a period of unprecedented instability, insecurity and loss of species. Fossil fuels have powered human endeavour since our ancestors developed the skills to make and manage fire. Coal, gas and oil warm our homes, fuel our industries and enable our movements. We have allowed ourselves to become totally dependent, and are guilty of ignoring the warning signs of pending disaster. It is time to act.

As responsible citizens of the world – sisters and brothers of one family, the human family, God's family – we have a duty to persuade our leaders to lead us in a new direction: to help us abandon our collective addiction to fossil fuels, starting this week in New York at the United Nations Climate Summit. Reducing our carbon footprint is not just a technical scientific necessity; it has also emerged as the human rights challenge of our time. While global emissions have risen unchecked, real-world impacts have taken hold in earnest. The most devastating effects of climate change – deadly storms, heat waves, droughts, rising food prices and the advent of climate refugees – are being visited on the world's poor. Those who have no involvement in creating the problem are the most affected, while those with the capacity to arrest the slide dither. Africans, who emit far less carbon than the people of any other continent, will pay the steepest price. It is a deep injustice.

The United Nations deserves kudos for its leadership on human rights issues. But on climate change, it has run up against governments and leaders of industry who have until now put short-term economic and political goals ahead of our collective long-term survival. We can no longer tinker about the edges. We can no longer continue feeding our addiction to fossil fuels as if there were no tomorrow. For there will be no tomorrow. As a matter of urgency we must begin a global transition to a new safe energy economy. This requires fundamentally rethinking our economic systems, to put them on a sustainable and more equitable footing.

I am not without hope. When we, humans, walk together in pursuit of a righteous cause, we become an irresistible force. There are many ways that all of us can fight climate change: by not wasting energy, for instance. But these individual measures will not, the scientists assure us, make a big enough difference. And they may not be appropriate for the world's poor.

We can boycott events, sports teams and media programming sponsored by fossil fuel companies; demand that their advertisements carry health warnings; organise car-free days and other platforms to build broader societal awareness; and ask our religious communities to speak out on the issue from their various pulpits. We can encourage energy companies to spend more of their resources on the development of sustainable energy products, and we can reward those companies that demonstrably do so by using their products to the exclusion of others.

Just as we argued in the 1980s that those who conducted business with apartheid South Africa were aiding and abetting an immoral system, we can say that nobody should profit from the rising temperatures, seas and human suffering caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

We can encourage more of our universities and municipalities, foundations, corporations, individuals and cultural institutions to cut their ties to the fossil fuel industry. To divest, and invest, instead, in renewable energy. To move their money out of the problem and into the solutions. We can urge our governments to invest in sustainable practices and stop subsidising fossil fuels; and to freeze further exploration for new fossil energy sources. The fossil reserves that have already been discovered exceed what can ever be safely used. Yet companies spend half a trillion dollars each year searching for more fuel. They should redirect this money toward developing clean energy solutions. We can support our leaders to make the correct moral choices and to avoid undue industry influence that blocks the political will to act on climate change. Through the power of our collective action we can hold those who rake in the profits accountable for cleaning up their mess. The good news is that we don't have to start from scratch. Young people across the world have identified climate change as the biggest challenge of our time, and already begun to do something about it.

Over the last three or four years, we have seen the rise of a new civil society divestment movement to stand alongside the scientists, environmentalists and social activists who have been challenging the moral standing of the fossil fuel industry.

Once again, it is a global movement led by students and faith groups, along with hospitals, cities, foundations, corporations and individuals. It is a moral movement to persuade fossil fuel companies away from a business model that threatens our very survival. My prayer is that humankind takes its first tangible steps in New York this week – as a collective – to move beyond the fossil fuel era.

There is a word we use in South Africa that describes human relationships: Ubuntu. It says: I am because you are. My successes and my failures are bound up in yours. We are made for each other, for interdependence. Together, we can change the world for the better.

Who can stop climate change? We can. You and you and you, and me. And it is not just that we can stop it, we have a responsibility to do so that began in the genesis of humanity, when God commanded the earliest human inhabitants of the Garden of Eden, "to till it and keep it". To "keep" it; not to abuse it, not to make as much money as possible from it, not to destroy it.

Monday, 15 September 2014

The last thing Iraq needs is more misguided military action by the west

 Past interventions helped create Isis and al-Qaida. Have Britain and the US not learned?

 Sami Ramadani                                   Guardian/UK                                  11 September 2014

 In announcing his new strategy to tackle the terrorist insurgency in Iraq, President Obama has put the US on a dangerous collision course with Syria, the Lebanese resistance led by Hezbollah, and the biggest obstacle to US and Israeli regional hegemony: Iran.

The so-called war on Isis (Islamic State) is, in reality, the same war that the US and Britain abandoned last year due to public opposition, the anti-war vote in Britain’s parliament, and the determination of Iran and Russia to back Syria. But the savagery of Isis and the beheading of two American hostages have dampened public opposition to further military intervention in the region, and has boosted hawks in Washington and London.

A few days before Obama’s war-on-Isis speech, the former secretary of state Henry Kissinger revealed the US roadmap in much clearer terms than Obama could, stating that despite Isis occupying large parts of Iraq and Syria, the biggest danger to US interests is still Iran; Isis is vile but containable, but Iran is the really dangerous power, he stressed. This also chimes with Israel’s policies, as described by its recently departed ambassador to Washington that Iran-backed forces are more dangerous than al-Qaida. “The greatest danger to Israel is by the strategic arc that extends from Tehran, to Damascus to Beirut,” he said.

 Broader still, Obama’s war will inevitably heighten tensions with Russia, China and their allies. If we include the confrontation lines being drawn by Nato along Russia’s borders, and US escalation of its military presence in the South China Sea, the evolving new cold war could rapidly degenerate into the greatest threat to world peace since 1939.

 Following David Cameron’s agreement with Obama last week over a campaign against Isis, attention is now focusing on whether Britain should join in the airstrikes. But beyond hitching a ride on the US military juggernaut, has Cameron seriously considered the consequences of new war in Iraq and Syria? The policies of US, Britain and Nato helped to create Isis and al-Qaida in the first place. Doing more of the same could have similar consequences and cost thousands more lives.

 And when the US, Britain and France decided in 2011 to back the armed groups in Syria, their goal was to bring about regime change – but the result was to strengthen the more brutal terrorist groups such as Isis and the al-Nusra Front, the “official” al-Qaida affiliate in Syria. For three years US allies Qatar and Saudi Arabia supplied billions of dollars to fund armed groups in Syria, while Nato member Turkey opened its borders for US and Nato supplies, as well as terrorists from across the world, to pour into Syria.
Have Obama and Cameron acknowledged any of that? On the contrary. The US and Britain have now decided to give even more arms and backing to Syrian “moderate” armed groups, who were the allies of Isis until recently and are still the allies of al-Nusra.

 In Iraq the US and Britain created state institutions to entrench sectarian divisions with the aim of implementing the so-called Joe Biden plan to divide Iraq into three ethnic regions with, importantly, a very weak central government.

The US is now consolidating its military presence in Iraqi Kurdistan with the aim of creating yet another client force in the region. The president of the Kurdistan regional government, Masoud Barzani, is in fact harbouring former Saddam Hussein officers and allies of Isis who played a leading role in the fall of Mosul and the disintegration of three divisions of the US-founded Iraqi army, in the face of the Isis advance.

 The real enemies of Isis and terror groups in the region are Syria, Iran, the Iraqi Christians, Yazidis, and Shia, Sunni, Kurdish and Turkmen people. If the US and Britain really want to fight Isis and terrorism – rather than using the Isis savagery to further their strategic aims of dominating the region and its resources – then they should reverse the policies they have been pursuing for decades. They should stop backing the armed groups in Syria and Iraq, and instruct their obedient allies in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to do the same.

Prophetic visions can rouse politicians from complacency to save the planet

Rowan Williams                             Guardian/UK 9                          September 2014

The past year has seen the obstacles blocking action on climate change beginning to crumble. Opposition on scientific grounds looks pretty unpersuasive in the light of what has come from the experts on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Their seven-year study states that they are now 95% certain that human activity is a significant and avoidable element in driving climate change around the world. Predicted changes in the climate are now being observed in the most vulnerable countries, confirming the predictive models that have been used.

The suggestion that action on this would have too great an economic cost is likewise looking shaky. This month the New Climate Economy report will be published by a global commission, including Felipe Calderón, the former president of Mexico; Paul Polman, the chief executive of Unilever; the economist Nicholas Stern; and Chad Holloway, the chairman of the Bank of America – as well as a substantial number of finance ministers from around the world. This report will show that action on climate change is entirely compatible with economic growth in almost all countries and that the economic benefits, both short and long term, will outweigh the costs.

It will reinforce the findings of a report published last October by a group of financial heavyweights outlining the threat to US businesses of doing nothing. Risky Business – by former US treasury secretaries Hank Paulson, Robert Rubin and George Schultz; Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York; and the billionaire investor Thomas Steyer – argued, purely on economic grounds, that ignoring the challenge is folly.

 Another stumbling block that is also beginning to disappear is political inertia. Politicians have constantly been tempted to kick this particular can down the road. But President Obama, having spoken powerfully about the need for action, is now backing up his rhetoric with legislation limiting carbon emissions from US power plants. There are similarly encouraging signs in China, where lethal levels of atmospheric pollution, especially in cities, have at last goaded the government to start to move in the right direction.

 With actors who have traditionally dragged their feet taking the lead, and with the urgency for action in developing nations beyond any serious doubt, it is now those who have traditionally been more proactive – European nations in particular – who need to step up to the mark.

The hope is that the New York summit of world leaders on 23 September, at which climate change will take centre stage, will be the next major prompt to agreed action. Hosted by the UN secretary general, this meeting will show the real leaders in responding to climate change, and should kick-start negotiations ahead of the crucial UN climate summit in Paris in December next year which must decide on limiting greenhouse gas emissions. David Cameron became prime minister on the promise of “Vote blue, go green”. He promised to lead the “greenest government ever”. His presence and actions at this month’s summit will be a significant test of these commitments and aspirations.

 The moral case for action is clear. It is those suffering the most who carry the least historic responsibility for our situation. The wealthier industrialised nations have the power to act and secure a safe world for today’s poorest and tomorrow’s children. Christian Aid is soon to publish a report by Susan Durber examining the links between theology and climate change, in which it will be made very plain that the call for climate justice is something that echoes clearly the challenges found in the biblical prophets to a complacent and short-sighted society. 

What is needed from our politicians is leadership that takes the long view and breaks free of the tight cycle of calculated electoral advantage – a calculation that often misses the issues that most directly affect everyone’s wellbeing. We’re starting to see this with the publication of a paper from the Department of Energy and Climate Change which outlines the need for, and the benefit of, an ambitious climate deal at the Paris meeting. But as Christiana Figueres, the leading UN spokesperson on climate change, said in a speech in St Paul’s Cathedral last May, we need to see action already in place this year if the deal in 2015 is to be strong enough: we need the groundwork laid, and we need clear signs that the political will is there. [Abridged]

Samson and Israel

Ian Harris                           Otago Daily Times                     September 12, 2014
Remember Samson? Champion of Israel at a time when the Jewish tribes were at loggerheads with the people of Gaza? Nothing new there. In his day, however, the Philistines of Gaza were dominant, not the Jews, and in tit-for-tat raids Samson, who was extraordinarily strong, won fame for his prowess in slaughtering Philistines.

Then, whoops, he fell in love with Delilah, a Philistine. Her people prevailed on her to wheedle from him the secret of his strength: his hair, which had never been cut. So as Samson slept she called someone in to shave it off. The Philistines gleefully took him prisoner and gouged out his eyes. Came the day when they mockingly called on this “ravager of our country” to entertain them at a great religious festival. They had somehow failed, however, to notice that Samson’s hair was growing back. Summoning all his returning strength, he strained against the temple’s two central pillars, and brought the building tumbling down. Thousands of Philistines died in the rubble, and so did Samson.

Sometimes it seems that echoes of Samson’s story are reverberating in Gaza today. There is the domination of one people by another (this time with Israel on top), recurrent attacks by one party triggering retaliatory vengeance by the other, and disproportionate death and destruction wrought on the people of Gaza.

The Philistines disappeared from history. Their successors in Palestine will survive, but the prospect grows that the searing injustices at the root of their enmity will undermine and perhaps destroy the Israeli dream of a uniquely Jewish state. For that, the state of Israel must take prime responsibility. When it was established in 1948, the horrors of the Nazi holocaust ensured that the world’s sympathies were overwhelmingly with Jews seeking the security of their own homeland.

But in the 47 years since Israel seized the West Bank and Gaza to ensure that security, opinion has shifted steadily in favour of the Palestinians. Israel has thwarted every attempt to give the people of the occupied territories a dignified future. It has encouraged squatter settlements. And the very power, hostility and intransigence of the modern successors of Samson risk bringing the whole Zionist edifice crashing down on their own people, with Palestinians doomed to share in the mayhem.

In present circumstances a two-state solution would allow Palestinians their statehood and preserve Israel’s Jewish majority. A single state would achieve Israelis’ vision of unity for the entire Holy Land, but Palestinians are close to outnumbering them. Rejecting both those options would guarantee unending hatred, violence, and suppression of one by the other.

Broadly similar choices – separate homelands, a democracy embracing all citizens equally, or violence – confronted South Africans for most of last century. Now leading South Africans are warning Israelis not to go down an apartheid path.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fuelled such fears in May when he proposed tweaking the country’s basic law to make its Jewish identity paramount. The country’s independence declaration defined Israel as “a Jewish state”. Netanyahu wants to stiffen that to make clear it is “the nation state of one people only – the Jewish people – and of no other people”. That would divide residents into two classes of citizen, based on race.

South Africa’s last apartheid president, F W de Klerk, promptly warned that Israel risked its very being if it refused to reconcile with its Palestinian neighbours. The long occupation of the West Bank has produced a situation in the territory where some 2.3 million Palestinians and 460,000 Jewish squatters live under two legal and political systems, geared to the interests of the minority.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu cautioned: “The State of Israel is behaving as if there is no tomorrow. Its people will not live the peaceful lives they crave – and are entitled to – as long as their leaders perpetuate conditions that sustain the conflict. Peace requires the people of Israel and Palestine to recognise the human being in themselves and each other, to understand their interdependence.”

Tutu acknowledges that South Africa had the advantage of a cadre of extraordinary leaders. “But what ultimately forced these leaders together around the negotiating table was the cocktail of persuasive, nonviolent tools that had been developed to isolate South Africa economically, academically, culturally and psychologically.” That is developing as the next phase for Israel.

 There was a time when the Hebrew prophet Isaiah envisioned Israel as “a light to other nations”. Its leaders would “faithfully bring forth justice”. Nobody talks that way now. What might follow if they did?

Monday, 8 September 2014

Jihad’s fatal attraction

The challenge for democracies is to provide an alternative means of satisfying the quest for glory that motivates those who join in Isis’s barbarism

Scott Atran                                 Guardian/UK                          4 September 2014

In a speech on Wednesday, President Obama said: “Whatever these murderers think they will achieve by murdering innocents like Steven [Sotloff], they have already failed.”

Not so, says the evidence. Publicity, Islamic State (Isis) knows, is the oxygen of terrorism. And publicity it has received in spades with the beheadings of two American journalists. So an organisation that hardly anyone knew existed only a few months ago is now the world’s, and particularly the west’s, premier political and public concern, eclipsing Iran’s nuclear programme and Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

The aim of Isis’s strikingly gruesome spectacle is to terrorise and fascinate public sentiment. Especially in the media-driven political theatre of western liberal democracies, public fury reliably leads to precipitate political reaction. Like the kind of heedless, scatter-gun approach pursued by America and Britain that transformed al-Qaida from a small band of fairly well-educated violent extremists into a youthful social movement that appeals to many thousands of disaffected Muslim immigrants in the western diaspora, and many more millions who are economically and politically frustrated back home.
Unlike al-Qaida, though, from which Isis was expelled earlier this year, Isis tolerates no compromise with other interpretations of Islam, much less with Islam’s duty to rule the world. In its view, America and Britain are too weak in the conviction of their ideas and ideals to ultimately matter. For the devoted actor, rightness of cause will always win against apparent material advantage as long as the cause has the minimal material means to endure.

Western volunteers for Isis are mostly youth in transitional stages in their lives – immigrants, students, between jobs or girlfriends, having left their homes and looking for new families. For the most part they have no traditional religious education and are “born again” to religion. They are self-seekers who have found their way to jihad in myriad ways: through barbecues or on the web; because they were perhaps uncomfortable with binge-drinking or casual sex; or because their parents were humiliated by form-checking bureaucrats or their sisters insulted for wearing a headscarf.

What inspires the most lethal terrorists in the world today is not so much the Qur’an or religious teachings as a thrilling cause and call to action that promises glory and esteem in the eyes of friends. Jihad is an egalitarian, equal-opportunity employer: fraternal, fast-breaking, glorious and cool.

Volunteers for Isis are surfing for the sublime and all that is lacking in the jaded, tired world of democratic liberalism, especially on the margins where Europe’s immigrants mostly live. Many are just “vacationers” for jihad, going to Syria over school breaks or holidays for the thrill of adventure and a semblance of glory. The beheadings are doing what the images of the collapsing twin towers did for al-Qaida, turning terror into a display of triumph over and through death and destruction. In Burke’s sense, a display of the sublime.

Awe of God and its myriad representations in art and ritual was once the west’s sublime, followed by the violent struggle for liberty and equality. The great historian Arnold Toynbee argued that civilisations rise and fall on the vitality of their cultural ideals, not their material assets as such. In studies carried out with support from the National Science Foundation and the US defence department, my co-researchers and I found that most societies have “sacred values” for which their people would fight, risk serious loss and even die rather than compromise. In 1776, the American colonists had the highest standard of living in the world. Frustrated not over economics but “sacred rights”, they were willing to sacrifice “our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor” against the world’s mightiest empire.

Is our ideal now merely one of “ease, security, and avoidance of pain”, as Orwell surmised in explaining why Nazism, fascism and Stalinism had such a strong pull on engagement and commitment, especially among adventurous youth? For the future of liberal democracies, even beyond the threat from violent jihadis, this may be the core existential issue. [Abridged]

Far from keeping the peace, Nato is a threat to it

Seumas Milne                                  Guardian/UK                         4 September, 2014       

After 13 years of bloody occupation of Afghanistan and a calamitous intervention in Libya, the western alliance has got an enemy that at last seems to fit its bill. Swinging through the former Soviet republic of Estonia today, the US president declared that Nato was ready to defend Europe from "Russian aggression". Nato's secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen – who insisted as Danish prime minister in 2003 that "Iraq has weapons of mass destruction … we know" – has released satellite images supposed to demonstrate Russia has invaded Ukraine. Not to be outdone, the British prime minister has compared Vladimir Putin to Hitler.

The summit is planning a rapid reaction force to be deployed across eastern Europe to deter Moscow. Britain is sending troops to Ukraine for exercises. In Washington, Congress hawks are squealing appeasement and demanding action to give Ukraine "a more capable fighting force to resist" Russia.

Ukraine's prime minister, Arseny Yatseniuk – an American favourite in Kiev – described Russia as a "terrorist state" and demanded that Ukraine be allowed to join Nato. It was precisely the threat that Ukraine would be drawn into a military alliance hostile to Russia that triggered this crisis in the first place. Instead of keeping the peace, Nato has been the cause of escalating tension and war. Which is how it's been since Nato was founded in 1949, six years before the Warsaw pact, supposedly as a defensive treaty against a Soviet threat.

After the USSR collapsed, the Warsaw Pact was duly dissolved. But Nato was not, despite having lost the ostensible reason for its existence. If peace had been the aim, it could have been turned into a collective security arrangement including Russia, under the auspices of the United Nations. Instead, it gave itself a new " mandate to wage unilateral war, from Yugoslavia to Afghanistan and Libya, as the advance guard of a US-dominated new world order. In Europe it laid the ground for war in Ukraine by breaking a US pledge to Moscow and relentlessly expanding eastwards: first into ex-Warsaw Pact states, then into the former Soviet Union itself.

But the biggest prize was ethnically divided Ukraine. It was scarcely paranoid for Russia to see the takeover of the neighbouring state as a threat to its core interests. Six months on, Moscow-backed eastern Ukrainian resistance to the Nato-backed nationalists in Kiev has become full-scale war. Thousands have died and human rights abuses have multiplied on both sides, as government troops and their irregular auxiliaries bombard civilian areas and abduct, detain and torture suspected separatists on a mass scale.

The Ukrainian forces backed by western governments include groups such as the neo-Nazi Azov battalion, whose symbol is the Nazi stormtroopers' wolf's hook. The increasingly repressive Kiev regime is attempting to ban the Ukrainian communist party, which won 13% of the vote at the last parliamentary elections.

But then Nato, whose members have often included fascist governments in the past, has never been too fussy about democracy. Evidence for its claims that Russian troops have invaded eastern Ukraine is also thin on the ground. Arms supplies and covert intervention in support of the Donbass rebels – including special forces and state-backed irregulars – are another matter. But that's exactly what Nato powers such as the US, Britain and France have been busy doing all over the world for years, from Nicaragua to Syria and Somalia.

That's not to say the proxy war between Nato and Russia in Ukraine isn't ugly and dangerous. But it's not necessary to have any sympathy for Putin's oligarchic authoritarianism to recognise that Nato and the EU, not Russia, sparked this crisis – and that it's the western powers that are resisting the negotiated settlement.That settlement will have to include federal autonomy, equal rights for minorities and military neutrality as a minimum – in other words, no Nato. With the scale of bloodshed and the centre of political gravity in Kiev shifting to the right as Ukraine's economy implodes, only its western sponsors can make that stick. The alternative, after Crimea, is escalation and disintegration.

Nato likes to see itself as the international community. In reality it's an interventionist and expansionist military club of rich-world states and their satellites used to enforce western strategic and economic interests. As Ukraine shows, far from keeping the peace, Nato is a threat to it. [Abridged] Twitter: @SeumasMilne

Monday, 1 September 2014

The Fun of Empire: Fighting on All Sides of a War in Syria

 Glenn Greenwald                 The Intercept              Common Dreams                August 27, 2014

CBS News, August 18, 2011: President Barack Obama officially demanded that Syrian President Bashar Assad resign for the sake of his own people, saying he was no longer fit to lead after “imprisoning, torturing, and slaughtering his own people” during a crackdown on pro-reform protesters.

New York Times, October 24, 2012: Most of the arms shipped at the behest of Saudi Arabia and Qatar to supply Syrian rebel groups fighting the government of Bashar al-Assad are going to hard-line Islamic jihadists, and not the more secular opposition groups that the West wants to bolster, according to American officials and Middle Eastern diplomats.

 Barack Obama, August 31, 2013: Now, after careful deliberation, I have decided that the United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets. . . . [W]e are the United States of America, and we cannot and must not turn a blind eye to what happened in Damascus.

New York Times, August 27, 2014: President Obama has authorized surveillance flights over Syria, a precursor to potential airstrikes there, but a mounting concern for the White House is how to target the Sunni extremists without helping President Bashar al-Assad. . . . The flights are a significant step toward direct American military action in Syria, an intervention that could alter the battlefield in the nation’s three-year civil war. . . .

On Monday, Syria warned the White House that it needed to coordinate airstrikes against ISIS or it would view them as a breach of its sovereignty and an “act of aggression.” But it signaled its readiness to work with the United States in a coordinated campaign against the militants.

It was not even a year ago when we were bombarded with messaging that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is a Supreme Evil and Grave Threat, and that military action against his regime was both a moral and strategic imperative. The standard cast of “liberal interventionists” – Tony Blair, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Nicholas Kristof and Samantha Power - issued stirring sermons on the duties of war against Assad. Secretary of State John Kerry actually compared Assad to (guess who?) Hitler, instructing the nation that “this is our Munich moment.” Striking Assad, he argued, “is a matter of national security. It’s a matter of the credibility of the United States of America. It’s a matter of upholding the interests of our allies and friends in the region.”

U.S. military action against the Assad regime was thwarted only by overwhelming American public opinion which opposed it and by a resounding rejection by the UK Parliament of Prime Minister David Cameron’s desire to assume the usual subservient British role in support of American wars.

Now the Obama administration and American political class is celebrating the one-year anniversary of the failed “Bomb Assad!” campaign by starting a new campaign to bomb those fighting against Assad – the very same side the U.S. has been arming over the last two years.

Read the full article at
The Intercept.

Glenn Greenwald is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, constitutional lawyer, commentator, author of three New York Times best-selling books on politics and law, and a staff writer and editor at First Look media. His fifth and latest book is, No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State, about the U.S. surveillance state and his experiences reporting on the Snowden documents around the world.

John’s Gospel Revisited

Ian Harris                            Otago Daily Times                August 29, 2014

One of the great things about Christianity is that the moment you think you have it sussed, something emerges that makes you think again. Or rather, should make you think again – lots of people in the church and out of it will resist the invitation and stick with convictions arrived at long ago.

An example of this is the recent re-appraisal of the gospel of John. In the other three gospels Jesus comes across as reassuringly human, but in John he is disquietingly other-worldly. Instead of beginning as a human baby born to a human mother, for example, Jesus is here retrojected right back to be alongside God in the busyness of creating of the world. He therefore doesn’t need (and John doesn’t give) a Christmas story.

That provides a clue to how John’s gospel should be approached. It is not an eye-witness account of Jesus’ life and ministry, but rather an extended parable about the import of Jesus. John doesn’t set out to record the actual words and deeds of Jesus, but to convey the religious significance his followers were finding in him 60 years and more after his death.

The authors (there were more than one) achieve this through highly creative stories of incidents that never happened and words Jesus never spoke. Yet in a powerful, almost mystical way it is entirely true to the spirit of Jesus and to the inwardness of religious experience.

John also reflects the bitterness which Jesus’ followers felt after the rabbis ejected them from the synagogues around 88 AD. Till then Christians had worshipped alongside Jews and looked for synergies between traditional understandings and their experience of Jesus. Now they were out on their own.

Right, one can imagine them musing, if the Jews of the old Israel reject Jesus as messiah, we’ll just have to get on with establishing a new Israel, centred on Jesus, without them. Tragically, this repudiation of “the Jews” in John’s gospel was in later centuries lifted out of its 1st-century context and used to fuel a virulent anti-Semitism. 

That was a deplorable fate for a book which American Bishop John Spong, for one, sees as shot through with Jewish mysticism. The target was the hostile authorities in the synagogues, not all Jews. The writers were themselves Jews.

A major part of this gospel comprises seven “signs”, all pointing to the possibility of living life more fully and at depth when people enter into the kind of God-presence which Jesus’ followers experienced in him. 

Typical is the sign or story of a man born blind. According to the lore of the day, such a fate had to be the consequence of sin. But whose sin, asked Jesus’ disciples. Not the newborn baby’s surely? His parents’, maybe?

Neither, Jesus answered and, declaring “I am the light of the world”, he gave the man his sight.

People who came across the man later were incredulous – he had to be a lookalike! “Not at all,” he told them. “It’s me, all right! Jesus opened my eyes.” If this was a regular miracle story, it would end there. But the point is still to come, set squarely in the fraught circumstances of the time.

The leaders of the synagogue grilled the man who could now see: “Who did this for you? How? Such things are forbidden on the Sabbath, so that rules God out of it. A prophet, you say? There’s something murky here – what can his parents tell us?”

But they could add nothing. Meanwhile word was getting around that the rabbis were determined to expel from the synagogue anyone who thought Jesus was the messiah. The authorities concluded that Jesus must be a sinner to heal on the Sabbath, and told the man so. “I know nothing about that,” he replied. “All that matters is that I was blind, and now I see.” And he cheekily asked whether they would like to be his disciples, too.

“Never!” they bellowed. “We are true followers of Moses. Now get out of our synagogue.” And the man joined the fledgling Jesus community.

That bruised and defiant company would know exactly how to understand this story, because it was actually about them. They were like the man born blind in all the years before Jesus opened up to them another way of seeing.

So the “sign” is about the choice between darkness and light, between being blind to new possibilities for life and faith and embracing them, between the old Israel and the new. Echoes resonate still.

The War for Nothing

Uri Avnery's Column                     Gush Shalom                       30 August 2014

The war is over. Hallelujah. On the Israeli side: 71 dead, among them 66 soldiers, 1 child. On the Palestinian side: 2,143 dead, 577 of them children, 263 women, 102 elderly. 11,230 injured. 10,800 buildings destroyed. About 40,000 damaged homes. Also, 12 West Bank demonstrators, mostly children, who were shot.

So what was it all about? The honest answer is: About nothing. Neither side wanted it. Neither side started it. 

Two young Arab men kidnapped three young Israeli religious students near the West Bank town of Hebron. The kidnappers belonged to the Hamas movement, but acted on their own. Their purpose was to exchange their captives for Palestinian prisoners. The kidnappers were amateurs, and they panicked and shot the hostages. All of Israel was in an uproar. The kidnappers have not yet been found.

The Israeli security forces used the opportunity to implement a prepared plan. All known Hamas activists in the West Bank were arrested, as well as all the former prisoners who were released as part of the deal to free the Israeli hostage Gilad Shalit. For Hamas this was the violation of an agreement.

 The Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip could not keep quiet while their comrades in the West Bank were being imprisoned. It reacted by launching rockets at Israeli towns. The Israeli government could not keep quiet while its towns and villages were bombarded. It responded with a heavy bombardment of the Gaza strip from the air.

Hamas then did something that was, in my opinion, a cardinal mistake. It used some of the clandestine tunnels which it had built under the border fence to attack Israeli targets. The purposeless war acquired a purpose: It became the War Against the “Terror-Tunnels". The infantry was sent into the Gaza Strip to search out and destroy them. Eighty thousand soldiers entered Strip. After destroying all the known tunnels, they had nothing to do except stand around and act as targets.

The next logical step would have been to move forward and conquer the entire Gaza Strip, some 45 km long and an average of 6 km wide, with 1.8 million inhabitants. But the Israeli army detested the idea of conquering the Strip for the third time (after 1956 and 1967). Predictions of military casualties were high, many more than Israeli society was ready to suffer, in spite of all the patriotic hyperbole.

The war deteriorated into an orgy of killing and destroying, with both sides "dancing on the blood", blessing every bomb and missile, completely oblivious to the suffering caused to the human beings on the other side. And still without any realizable aim.

IF CLAUSEWITZ was right about war being but a continuation of policy by other means, then every war must have a clear political aim. For Hamas, the aim was clear and simple: Lift the blockade on Gaza. For Israel there was none. Binyamin Netanyahu defined his aim as "Calm in return for Calm". But we had that before it all started. Some of his cabinet colleagues demanded to "go to the end" and occupy the entire strip. The army command objected, and one cannot fight a war against the wishes of the army command. So everyone stood around waiting for Godot.

What brought about the final ceasefire agreement? Both sides were exhausted. On the Israeli side, the feather that broke the camel's back was the plight of the settlement around the Gaza Strip, called the "Gaza envelope". Under the unceasing barrage of short-range rockets and – even worse – mortar shells that cost next to nothing, the inhabitants, mostly kibbutz members, started to move quietly to safer regions.

That was almost sacrilege. One of the founding myths of Israel was that in the 1948 war, in which the state was born, Arab villagers and townspeople ran away when they were shot at, while our settlements stood firm even in the midst of hell. That was not entirely so. Several kibbutzim were evacuated by order of the army when their defense became impossible. In several others, women and children were sent away, while men were ordered to stay on and fight with the soldiers. But on the whole, Israeli settlements stood fast and fought.

But 1948 was an ethnic war for territory. Land evacuated was lost forever (or at least until the next war). This time, the whole rationale was different.

LIFE IN the "envelope" became impossible. Sirens sounded several times within the hour, and everybody had 15 seconds to find shelter. Hundreds of families moved away. The myth was abandoned and the government was compelled to organize a mass movement. That did not look like victory.

The Palestinian side underwent a terrible ordeal. About 400 thousand people had to leave their homes. Whole families found shelter in UN buildings, several families in a room or in a corner of the courtyard, without electricity and with very little water, mothers with 6, 7 or 8 children. 

It is almost a wonder that under these conditions, the Hamas government and command structure did function. Orders passed from hidden leaders to hidden cells, contacts were maintained with leaders abroad and between different organizations, while spy drones circled overhead and killed any civil leader or commander who showed his face.

After the action to kill the Hamas military Commander in Chief, Mohammad Deif, Hamas started to shoot the informers without whom such actions are impossible. But with all their remarkable ingenuity, Hamas could not go on forever. Their large stocks of rockets and mortar shells were being depleted. They also needed an end.

The result? Clearly a draw. But, as I have said before, if a small resistance organization achieves a draw against one of the mightiest military machines in the world, it has cause to celebrate – as it indeed did, last Monday, the 50th day of the War for Nothing.

WHAT DID the two sides lose? The Palestinians sustained huge material losses. Thousands of homes were destroyed in order to break their spirit, some with some slim pretext, others without any. In the last days, the Air Force systematically brought down the luxurious high-rise buildings in the center of Gaza. Palestinian human losses were also enormous. Israelis did not shed any tears.On the Israeli side, human and material losses where comparatively light. Economic losses were significant, but bearable. It is the unseen losses that count.

The delegitimization of Israel throughout the world is accelerating. Millions of people have seen the daily pictures coming out of Gaza, and, consciously or unconsciously, their image of Israel has changed. For many, the brave little country has turned into a brutal monster. 

Anti-Semitism, we are told, is dangerously on the rise. Israel claims to be the Nation-State of the Jewish People, and most Jews defend Israel and identify with it. The new rage against Israel sometimes looks like old-time anti-Semitism, and sometimes is. We don't know how many Jews will be driven to Israel. Nor do we know how many Israelis will be driven by the eternal war from Israel to Germany, the US or Canada.

One tends to overlook the most dangerous aspect. A huge mass of hatred has been created in Gaza. How many of the children we saw running with their mothers from their homes will become the "terrorists" of tomorrow? Millions of children throughout the Arab world have seen the pictures beamed daily into their homes by Aljazeera, and become bitter haters of Israel. Aljazeera is a world power. While its English-language edition tried to be moderate, the Arab edition had no brakes - hour after hour its reports showed the heart-breaking pictures from Gaza, the children killed, the homes destroyed. On the other side, the generations-old enmity of Arab governments towards Israel has been broken. Egypt, Saudi Arabia and all the Gulf States (except Qatar) are openly collaborating now with Israel. 

Can this bear political fruit in the future? It could, if our government were really interested in peace. In Israel itself, fascism, vile and unmistakable, has raised its ugly head. "Death to the Arabs" and "Death to the Leftists" have become legitimate battle-cries. Some of this foul wave will hopefully recede, but some may remain and become a regular feature. Netanyahu's personal fortunes are clouded. During the war his popularity ratings rose sharply. Now they are in a free fall. It is not enough to make speeches about victory. Victory must be seen. If possible, without a microscope. 

WAR IS a matter of power. The reality created on the battlefield is generally reflected in the political results. If the battle ends in a draw, the political result will also be a draw. Celebrating a similar triumph long ago, Pyrrhus, King of Epirus, remarked: “Another such victory and we will be lost!”