Wednesday, 25 February 2015

The Syria-bound schoolgirls aren’t jihadi devil-women, they’re vulnerable children

Nosheen Iqbal                   Guardian/UK            24 February 2015

We shouldn’t be writing these girls off – the rockstar barbarism of Isis is designed to recruit impressionable teenagers, Grade-A students or otherwise

What springs to mind as I read through many of the comment pieces on
the three schoolgirls who seem to have disappeared to Syria. Leave them to rot, scream the headlines. They’re colluding with evil! These jihadi devil-women know exactly what they’re doing, and will get all they deserve on arrival in Syria! But does anyone actually remember, in hindsight, how stupid they were at that age?
Like the neighbours of serial killers, no one voxpopped from Bethnal Green Academy can believe it: these were three bright young people with families and a future. Why would they do this? How could they do this? “Academically bright,” came one description from a source in the Daily Mail, “but naive and vulnerable.”

They have been brainwashed by an ideology many times more threatening than a regular cult: Isis is offering religious power to its victims, selling the idea that recruits become a type of turbo-Muslim, and that theirs is a legitimate adventure because it is one sanctioned by God. Isis has Hollywood-ised war, made barbarity so blockbuster, that it looks cartoonishly unreal to a young, malleable mind. Plenty of teenagers love violence – this isn’t new. The shock seems to be that girls, as well as boys, appear to have an appetite for it.

Like all predatory internet groomers, Raqqa’s warriors wield a sexual power; anyone who has seen their social media feeds will understand that Isis lads brand themselves as rock stars. Marrying one is a religiously approved way to channel the mad, hormonal energy that powers all teenagers – Muslim girls included.

Grade-A students aren’t exempt from grooming. If you make that your starting point in trying to understand why three teenage girls, yet to even sit their GCSEs, would run away from home to join the world’s most powerful cult, you are already one step ahead of the bile. Amira Abase, Shamima Begum and Kadiza Sultana are British schoolgirls, two of them born and raised here. Being savvy and confident enough to pack a duffel bag and board a flight without their parents or the authorities’ knowledge doesn’t make them immune from being manipulated. Being sharp and clever in class doesn’t make them any less impressionable as children.

This doesn’t absolve the three of responsibility – I’m betting each of them is self-aware enough to think that they’re independent, acting entirely of their free will and rebelling against their parents in the most perverse way they can: by becoming more pious, more extreme, than their families would ever tolerate. The reality is that they have barely lived. At their age, extremism and nihilism can easily take root, because real life hasn’t really happened to them yet. Isis knows this; that’s why it’s targeting teenagers so ruthlessly.

Spitting in a full-frothed outrage over both their audacity and their stupidity doesn’t make the problem go away, in the same way that trying to understand it doesn’t make you an apologist for Isis. Would there be this level of contempt for a victim of sexual grooming? What would the coverage look like if three middle-class schoolgirls upped and left to fight on the frontline of
Golden Dawn? It’s worth asking, because the argument that we reject these girls and refuse them help is as dumb as the mistake they’ve clearly made.
It’s difficult to remember when a 15-year-old was last taken seriously as an adult in the national press. Why are we affording three brown Muslim girls that privilege now? [Abbrev.] 

Church of England calls for 'fresh moral vision' in British politics

C of E letter urging people to vote on 7 May laments ‘growing appetite to exploit grievances, find scapegoats and create barriers between people and nations’ 

Esther Addley                     Guardian/UK                 17 February 2015

The Church of England has launched a strongly worded attack on Britain’s political culture, criticising politicians of all parties for offering only “sterile arguments” that are likely to make voters more apathetic and cynical in the runup to the general election.

In an unprecedented intervention, the church’s bishops have published a joint open letter warning that “our democracy is failing” and attacking the “growing appetite to exploit grievances” and “find scapegoats” in society. They call for “a fresh moral vision of the kind of country we want to be”.

It is the first time the bishops have intervened in this way before a general election, but one said the church had felt the need to counter the “sex appeal” of people such as Russell Brand, who have argued that people should disengage from Westminster politics.

Text of Church of England bishops' pastoral letter for 2015 general election

House of bishops has published a letter calling for a new direction in political life and urging people to vote on 7 May. While the bishops insist the letter is not targeted at any party in particular and criticise successive administrations for political failings, the 52-page document can be read as an indirect criticism of the government’s welfare policies.

“There is a deep contradiction in the attitudes of a society which celebrates equality in principle yet treats some people, especially the poor and vulnerable, as unwanted, unvalued and unnoticed,” the bishops write.
When those who rely on social security “are all described in terms that imply they are undeserving, dependent and ought to be self-sufficient”, the language deters others from offering informal support that in turn could relieve the welfare budget.

 It is “game-playing”, they add, “to claim that anyone who cares about the impact of austerity on the most vulnerable members of society is … careless about the extent of national indebtedness”.

Britain has become “a society of strangers” and “individualism has tended to estrange people from one another”, proof of which could be seen in “the extent of loneliness in society today with the attendant problems of mental and physical health”.

They give credit to political leaders “that the impact of the [financial] crisis has been less severe in Britain than in some other European countries”, but argue that “the greatest burdens of austerity have not been borne by those with the broadest shoulders”. Instead, the less well off “have not been adequately protected from the impact of recession”.

 But the letter also calls for a return of the values of the “big society”, which the bishops say was dreamed up by “thoughtful Conservatives” who drew “from earlier Christian tradition”. “The ideals the big society stood for … could still be the foundation for the new approach to politics, economics and community which we seek,” they write.

 See also

My Own Life: Oliver Sacks on Learning He Has Terminal Cancer

By Oliver Sacks                    NY Times             Feb. 19, 2015

A MONTH ago, I felt that I was in good health, even robust health. At 81, I still swim a mile a day. But my luck has run out — a few weeks ago I learned that I have multiple metastases in the liver. Nine years ago it was discovered that I had a rare tumor of the eye, an ocular melanoma. Although the radiation and lasering to remove the tumor ultimately left me blind in that eye, only in very rare cases do such tum ors metastasize. I am among the unlucky 2 percent.

I feel grateful that I have been granted nine years of good health and productivity since the original diagnosis, but now I am face to face with dying. The cancer occupies a third of my liver, and though its advance may be slowed, this particular sort of cancer cannot be halted.

It is up to me now to choose how to live out the months that remain to me. I have to live in the richest, deepest, most productive way I can. In this I am encouraged by the words of one of my favorite philosophers, David Hume, who, upon learning that he was mortally ill at age 65, wrote a short autobiography in a single day in April of 1776. He titled it “My Own Life.”

“I now reckon upon a speedy dissolution,” he wrote. “I have suffered very little pain from my disorder; and what is more strange, have, notwithstanding the great decline of my person, never suffered a moment’s abatement of my spirits. I possess the same ardour as ever in study, and the same gaiety in company.” I have been lucky enough to live past 80, and the 15 years allotted to me beyond Hume’s three score and five have been equally rich in work and love.

Over the last few days, I have been able to see my life as from a great altitude, as a sort of landscape, and with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts. This does not mean I am finished with life. On the contrary, I feel intensely alive, and I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight. This will involve audacity, clarity and plain speaking; trying to straighten my accounts with the world. But there will be time, too, for some fun,

I feel a sudden clear focus and perspective. There is no time for anything inessential. I must focus on myself, my work and my friends. I shall no longer look at “NewsHour” every night. I shall no longer pay any attention to politics or arguments about global warming. This is not indifference but detachment — I still care deeply about the Middle East, about global warming, about growing inequality, but these are no longer my business; they belong to the future. I rejoice when I meet gifted young people — even the one who biopsied and diagnosed my metastases. The future is in good hands.

I have been increasingly conscious, for the last 10 years or so, of deaths among my contemporaries. My generation is on the way out, and each death I have felt as a tearing away of part of myself. There will be no one like us when we are gone, but then there is no one like anyone else, ever. When people die they leave holes that cannot be filled, for it is the fate — the genetic and neural fate — of every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death.
I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers. Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure. [Abridged]

 Oliver Sacks, a professor of neurology at the New York University School of Medicine, is the author of many books, including “Awakenings” and “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.”

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Talking offers hope of a peaceful solution. But we’re not allowed.

Robert Fisk                  Independent/UK              15 February 2015

The very precautions aid agencies now take have made them objects of suspicion

 Should we talk to the killers of the “Islamic State”? Or al-Qaeda? Or Hamas? Or – let us cross the line – the Provisional IRA? Or should we join in the madness of “listing”, drawing up mammoth charts of those to whom we can and cannot talk: a “good” and “evil” list, defining those good “terrorists” (the PLO, the post-Good Friday IRA, the squeaky clean version of the Muslim Brotherhood) and the really horrible “terrorists” (Isis, al-Qaeda and any lesser creatures whom Israel and the US, and thus the UN and even the EU, deem utterly satanic).
Not long ago, I was chatting in Beirut to a Tory MP who had maintained moderately good relations with the Lebanese Shia Hezbollah militia. Only with the Hezbollah political party, you understand. Not those vicious anti-Semitic chappies who threaten Israel. But then Britain and the EU decided that all of Hezbollah – even those supporters who wouldn’t know one end of a Kalashnikov from another – were verboten, beyond the pale. End of all chit-chat, therefore, between a UK parliamentarian and Hezbollah politicos. Much good did that do.

And research by the Queen Mary University of London School of Law and the Berghof Foundation in Berlin strongly suggests that the “listing” of armed groups by governments – often for clear political reasons – prevents what the writers call “peace building”, hindering the host of NGOs, academics, lawyers and others who are trying to explain the benefits of human rights and political moderation to armed groups whose brutal methods have never been challenged.
In Gaza, for example, NGOs, human rights workers and others labour under intense political scrutiny from obedient government lawyers, Israeli propagandists and servile overseas charities. Suggest that a Western agency has been talking to a Hamas official about the purchase of land for a humanitarian project in Gaza and, bingo, the NGO has been negotiating with a vicious “terrorist” organisation that wants to destroy the State of Israel. Indeed, the very precautions that aid agencies now take to avoid accusations of illegally talking to “terrorist” organisations have made them objects of suspicion. When a humanitarian worker turns up at a Gaza home and demands the passport and personal details of an entire family – in order to employ a Palestinian – the reaction is one of fear. Why do the foreigners want all this information about those living under Israeli siege?

The 197-page report, to be published on 24 February, states that for those interested in peace and a non-violent resolution of conflict, the future looks bleak, “not just because the war on terror keeps producing enemies with whom, it is said, there is no negotiating, but because of the way in which political violence … is managed. At the heart of this transformation is the freedom for governments to apply the terrorist label to groups and individuals on the basis of very broad definitions of what ‘terrorism’ entails … leading to a glut of terrorist designations.”

International, regional and national lists of thousands of designated “terrorist” entities now span the globe. The war on terror, the report says, has “presented a formidable challenge to those seeking the peaceful resolution of conflicts caused by legitimate and long-festering grievances”. In short, how can professional mediators and “peacebuilding organisations” continue to work if they don’t know whether their activities are lawful?

The report is rather mild to the Western governments who threaten all those who “talk to terrorists” with legal action at home while doing deals with the same rogues behind everyone else’s back. The Israelis organise Hezbollah-Israeli prisoner releases, for example, via the German secret service.

The paper looks at terrorist “listing” in Somalia, the Palestinian occupied territories and Turkish Kurdistan, but its analysis of Hamas “listing” tells the whole story. The EU’s exclusion of Hamas from diplomatic relations – the EU obediently following the Israeli-US lead – resulted in Europe’s marginalisation in Palestinian talks. Jimmy Carter’s US-based “Carter Centre” ended conflict-resolution talks with “Hamas” leaders. An EU mental health project in Gaza collapsed because of “a prohibition of dialogue with relevant [Hamas] officials”.

A truly surreal remark from a Palestinian NGO deserves a finale all of its own. “I believe that we need to talk to Hamas to educate them and we need to let them know what’s going on,” he said. “But we cannot make a workshop, we cannot offer a Nescafé or cappuccino for any one of them. It’s considered as materialistic support … can you imagine it? You cannot offer them a coffee!” [Abridged]

Facing Cancer

 Ian Harris                     Otago Daily Times                     Feb. 13, 2015

How do you bear reality if your reality is an incurable cancer? It’s a question too many of us have to face, one my wife faced over the past year.

It’s also a question that challenged an influential shaper of modern theology, English Bishop John Robinson of Honest to God fame, just over 30 years ago. It calls on all a person’s resources of meaning, identity, purpose, resolve and, for the lucky ones, faith (by which I mean a trusting orientation to life and its possibilities for good).

Indeed, Dr Bernie Siegel, an American surgeon who has treated hundreds of people with cancer, writes from his experience of four faiths that help patients in this situation: faith in themselves, their doctor, their treatment, and a spiritual faith that enables them to find peace. All these work together to give people a positive bearing on the life still ahead of them, even though with terminal cancers – and not all cancers are terminal – the final outcome is already known. 

Robinson tells how, before his diagnosis, he conducted the funeral of a 16-year-old girl who had died of cancer. He said then, to no little consternation: “God is in the cancer as much as in the sunset.” Of course Robinson never intended to blame God for the girl’s cancer. That would imply a totally inadequate notion of God – “it would make God a very devil.”

Two years later, preaching his last sermon in Trinity College Chapel, Cambridge, before his death in 1983, he referred to his comment at that funeral, and conceded it had been an intellectual statement. Could he say it now of his own reality? Could I say it of my wife Jill’s?

Robinson found he could. He said God (I prefer to call it Godness) was present in the way people responded to his illness with love and kindness, the honesty and sensitivity of his doctors, and above all in deepened relationships both within the family and beyond. It was “a time of giving and receiving grace upon grace.”

My experience just before Christmas was similar. As I sat with my wife, watching her life energy slowly draining away, I was at first overwhelmed by a sense of God’s absence. I was devoid of any spiritual or emotional connection whatsoever, full of aching and grief.

But then I thought, given the way I conceive of God, the supreme symbol for everything that is of ultimate worth for life, and love, and meaning, what do you expect? A symbol has no life or emotion of its own – only the life you give it as you shape your life around it.

And Godness was certainly all around us – in the loving presence of family, the gentle caring of hospice staff, the many messages from friends of affirmation and support, the sense of peace in the hospice’s garden setting. I didn’t need a “beyond” kind of God, because the beyond is in our midst – which is what the Christmas doctrine of Incarnation is meant to convey. 

Unlike a sudden death, cancer usually gives people time to prepare. I once heard such preparation crudely likened to swotting for your finals: if you pass, you’re off to heaven; if not, the other place. But fewer and fewer people believe in heaven or hell today, whether as a physical location or even as a spiritual existence on the other side of death.

That shouldn’t squelch any notion of eternal life, however. It simply makes it necessary to relocate the concept to life as we live it in the here and now. Eternal life then ceases to point to everlasting endlessness for a disembodied soul, as once was assumed, but instead to living in light of all that is of ultimate worth for life, love and meaning. It is life at depth – for Christians, life “in Christ”, a phrase evoking Christianity’s distinctive archetype of love, grace and meaning.

That appears to have coloured the way Robinson lived his last months. Told he had six, maybe nine months to live, his first reaction was shock. Then: “Six months is a long time. One can do a lot in that. How am I going to use it?”

Jill’s answer lay in renewing and deepening relationships, completing her fourth novel for children and young people, then preparing for publication a selection of liturgies she had written for this new era. Purposeful living, with a focus beyond herself, helped her to bear the reality of her cancer. She died having achieved much, and at peace.  

Is it any wonder religion is on the wane?

 Benjamin Jones                    Guardian/UK                  12 February 2015

Atheism has soared among young Britons, as science answers our questions and God fades from our cultural life 

 Every non-believer comes to atheism or agnosticism in their own way. For people of my generation, this has been against a backdrop of religious wars, which have been fought for most of our lives. This has contributed to a deep hostility towards religion in society generally –
more than half of Britons think religion does more harm than good. A lack of religion is a common feature of advanced societies, and a new poll is the latest in a long line that show a marked decline in religiosity, particularly among young people.

Religion often seems to offer an explanation for fundamental questions, the type of question everyone considers at some point. How did the world come to be, for example. But cosmology and evolutionary biology can speak to this question, even if they are now operating at such a level of specialism and complexity that the answers can seem unsatisfying to the layperson.

As a humble humanities graduate, I try to keep abreast of developments in the world of physics. I do not always succeed, but if given sufficient attention science offers a deeply satisfying model for how we got to be here. As for why we are here, without religion we have the freedom to determine our own fate and to find our own purpose. Initial scepticism about God, often during early childhood, is consolidated later by the superior explanatory power of modern science. Science works.

We live in an age where we seriously plan to
send human beings to Mars, where the life expectancy for westerners is Methuselah-like, but where beheadings, crucifixion and rape are commonly used weapons of war. For some, this stark choice leads to an obvious conclusion: that religion is a force for ill. For these atheists, their lack of belief is a defining characteristic, along with their conviction that religion is retrograde. Others have simply been brought up in the general cultural atheism of our time, where religion is not a major part of people’s lives. In this case, lack of belief is almost incidental; it is not a part of their belief system or values, it is simply an absence. There are varieties of atheism, just as there are spectrums of belief within religion – just see the huge disconnect between the Vatican and Catholics on contraception or divorce for examples of this. Others have simply been brought up in the general cultural atheism of our time

The same poll also finds that lack of religious belief is much less common among older Britons than in 18- to 24-year-olds. Much of this can be put down to tradition and culture, rather than theology.

Despite my own atheism, I do retain a fondness for elements of the Church of England and the Anglican tradition; particularly its hymnal music, the King James Bible and many of the more quixotic rituals. I am quite sure I am not alone in this – in recent polling just 16% of Anglicans and Methodists said they had “no doubts” about the existence of God. Indeed, the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, admitted that he had his own doubts about the Lord and Father of Mankind, before quickly adding that this was “probably not what the archbishop of Canterbury should say”. I once met a fairly senior clergyman, who told me: “My dear boy, I know vicars who are atheists.” Even Richard Dawkins has spoken of his “cultural Anglicanism”.

The great generational gulf is therefore one I attribute (at least in part) to these traditions, and to the sense of belonging and community that the church provides for older people. For many older Anglicans, community, I wager, is a much stronger incentive for church attendance than theology.

Although younger people are generally far less religious than their parents, there are reasons to think the reverse may be true for
British Muslims, and atheism should not been seen as an inevitability. While this latest YouGov/Times poll is another benchmark in the decline of religious belief in the UK, much more study is needed to understand all that is driving this, and where religion may still be resurgent.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Open letter on military deployment to Iraq

11 February 2015

To all Government Ministers and Members of Parliament,

We strongly oppose the commitment of any military support by the New Zealand government to the war in Iraq and Syria, and are appalled by the Prime Minister’s use of the Gallipoli anniversary as a mantle to cloak a new deployment of combat troops to the Middle East. 

The situation in Iraq and Syria is the direct result of the tragic history of western military intervention in the region, in particular the 2003 US-led military invasion of Iraq and subsequent brutal eight-year long occupation. The further involvement of western armed forces in the Middle East, whether in a training or combat capacity, will do nothing but bring more violence, killing and hardship to the peoples there. Military trainers will add nothing of value to peace processes in the region.

We advocate for the self-determination of all people, in this case the people of Iraq and Syria. Any solution to this crisis must come from them, with diplomatic support from the international community. As the Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq and others have stated, comprehensive solutions will only come about through an inclusive political process. 
The Prime Minister’s assertion that the deployment of combat troops to Iraq is the price of membership in the exclusive Five Eyes “club” implicates New Zealand in atrocities and human rights violations committed by any of the states involved. This diminishes rather than enhances our security, and will make it more difficult to be an independent honest broker on the Security Council. Such a “club” is completely at odds with the government’s stated commitment to an international order based on respect for human rights.

If endless overseas military deployments are the price of membership of the Five Eyes “club”, which in any event is New Zealand’s most significant contribution to US and UK-led military interventions in other countries via the Waihopai Spy Base, then it is clearly not in our best interests and New Zealand must withdraw from it.

We call on the government to make a positive contribution to peace in Iraq and Syria:
by providing non-military humanitarian aid to intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations working in the region, and in particular we call for the resources currently earmarked for military deployment to be transferred instead to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian assistance agencies; and by increasing support for diplomatic processes to bring about comprehensive and long term solutions to the crises in Iraq and Syria.

Edwina Hughes, Coordinator, Peace Movement Aotearoa
Professor Kevin Clements, Director, National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Otago
Helen Kingston and Virginia Stocker, Golden Bay Peace Group 
Mike Treen, Global Peace and Justice Auckland
Murray Horton, Spokesperson, Anti-Bases Campaign
Kevin McBride, National Coordinator, Pax Christi Aotearoa-New Zealand
Elizabeth Duke and Elizabeth Thompson, Yearly Meeting CoClerks, Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), Aotearoa New Zealand, Te Haahi Tuuhauwiri
Pauline McKay, National Director, Christian World Service
Celine Kearney, President, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Aotearoa section
Chris Barfoot, Chair, Aotearoa New Zealand Peace and Conflict Studies Centre Trust
Pania Lawsen, Hokianga Catholic Workers
Caroline Ongleo-Calub, Acting General Manager and Head of Peace Development, The Peace Foundation
Commander Robert Green RN (Ret'd) and Dr Kate Dewes, Co-Directors, Disarmament and Security Centre
Fr Peter Murnane, Waihopai Ploughshares
V. Jonathan Hartfield, Chairman, New Zealand Anglican Pacifist Fellowship
Jess Murray, Otaki Women’s Peace Group
Richard Northey, Chair, International Affairs and Disarmament Committee, The Peace Foundation
Dr. Teresia Teaiwa, Pacific Studies, Victoria University of Wellington
Professor Jane Kelsey, Faculty of Law, University of Auckland
Professor Dr. Klaus Bosselmann, Director, New Zealand Centre for Environmental Law, University of Auckland

…and others still signing their support

Contact: Peace Movement Aotearoa, PO Box 9314, Wellington 6141.
Tel 04 382 8129, email

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Fear of Vladimir Putin grows in EU capitals

Tariq Ali       Ian Traynor, Europe editor                Guardian/UK               6 Feb. 2015
In Brussels and other European capitals, the fear of Vladimir Putin is becoming palpable. The mood has changed in a matter of weeks from one of handwringing impotence over Ukraine to one of foreboding. The anxiety is encapsulated in the sudden rush to Moscow by Angela Merkel and François Hollande. To senior figures closely involved in the diplomacy and policymaking over Ukraine, the Franco-German peace bid is less a hopeful sign of a breakthrough than an act of despair.

“There’s nothing new in their plan, just an attempt to stop a massacre,” said one senior official. The US and UK condemn him for Crimea but supported him over the war in Chechnya. Why? Because now he refuses to play ball Once again, it seems that Russia and the United States are finding it difficult to agree on how to deal with their respective ambitions. This clash of interests is highlighted by the Ukrainian crisis. The provocation in this particular instance, as the leaked recording of a US diplomat, Victoria Nuland, saying "F+++ the EU" suggests, came from Washington.

Several decades ago, at the height of the cold war, George Kennan, a leading American foreign policy strategist invited to give the Reith Lectures, informed his audience: "There is, let me assure you, nothing in nature more egocentric than embattled democracy. It soon becomes the victim of its own propaganda. It then tends to attach to its own cause an absolute value which distorts its own vision … Its enemy becomes the embodiment of all evil. Its own side is the centre of all virtue."

And so it continues. Washington knows that Ukraine has always been a delicate issue for Moscow. The ultra-nationalists who fought with the Third Reich during the second world war killed 30,000 Russian soldiers and communists. They were still conducting a covert war with CIA backing as late as 1951. Pavel Sudoplatov, a Soviet intelligence chief, wrote in 1994: "The origins of the cold war are closely interwoven with western support for nationalist unrest in the Baltic areas and western Ukraine."

When Gorbachev agreed the deal on German reunification, the cornerstone of which was that united Germany could remain in Nato, US secretary of state Baker assured him that "there would be no extension of Nato's jurisdiction one inch to the east". Gorbachev repeated: "Any extension of the zone of Nato is unacceptable." Baker's response: "I agree." One reason Gorbachev has publicly supported Putin on the Crimea is that his trust in the west was so cruelly betrayed.

As long as Washington believed that Russian leaders would blindly do its bidding (which Yeltsin did blind drunk) it supported Moscow. Yeltsin's attack on the Russian parliament in 1993 was justified in the western media. The wholesale assaults on Chechnya by Yeltsin and then by Putin were treated as a little local problem with support from George Bush and Tony Blair. "Chechnya isn't Kosovo," said Blair after his meeting with Putin in 2000. Tony Wood's book, Chechnya: The Case for Independence, provides chapter and verse of what the horrors that were inflicted on that country. Chechnya had enjoyed de facto independence from 1991-94. Its people had observed the speed with which the Baltic republics had been allowed independence and wanted the same for themselves.

Instead they were bombarded. Grozny, the capital, was virtually reduced to dust as 85 percent of its housing was destroyed. In February 1995 two courageous Russian economists, Andrey Illarionov and Boris Lvin published a text in Moscow News arguing in favour of Chechen independence and the paper (unlike its Western counterparts) also published some excellent critical reports that revealed atrocities on a huge scale, eclipsing the siege of Sarajevo and the massacre in Srebrenica. Rape, torture, homeless refugees and tens of thousands dead was the fate of the Chechens. No problem here for Washington and EU. In the calculus of western interests there is no suffering which cannot be justified. Chechens, Palestinians, Iraqis, Afghans, Pakistanis are of little importance. Nonetheless, the contrast between the west's attitude to the Chechen war and Crimea is startling.

Putin, unlike Yeltsin, is refusing to play ball any more on the things that matter such as Nato expansion, sanctions on Iran, Syria etc. As a result, he has become evil incarnate. He has decided to contest US hegemony by using the methods often deployed by the west. (France's repeated incursions in Africa are but one example.)


The Fiery Cage and the Lynching Tree

By Bill Moyers              Common Dreams                 February 06, 2015

They burned him alive in an iron cage, and as he screamed and writhed in the agony of hell they made a sport of his death. After listening to one newscast after another rightly condemn the barbaric killing of that Jordanian air force pilot at the bloody hands of ISIS, I couldn’t sleep. My mind kept roaming the past trying to retrieve a vaguely remembered photograph that I had seen long ago in the archives of a college library in Texas.

Suddenly, around two in the morning, the image materialized in my head. I made my way down the hall to my computer and typed in: “Waco, Texas. Lynching.” Sure enough, there it was: the charred corpse of a young black man, tied to a tree in the heart of the Texas Bible Belt. Next to the burned body, young white men can be seen smiling, seemingly jubilant at their front-row seats in a carnival of death. One of them sent a picture post-card home: “This is the barbeque we had last night. My picture is to the left with a cross over it. Your son, Joe.”

The victim’s name was Jesse Washington. The year was 1916. America would soon go to war in Europe “to make the world safe for democracy.” My father was twelve, my mother eight. I was born 18 years later, at a time, I would come to learn, when local white folks still talked about Washington’s execution as if it were only yesterday. This was not medieval Europe. Not a heretic burned at the stake by some ecclesiastical authority in the Old World. This was Texas, and the white people in that photograph were farmers, laborers, shopkeepers, some of them respectable congregants from local churches in and around the growing town of Waco.

Large crowd looking at the burned body of Jesse Washington, 18 year-old African-American, lynched in Waco, Texas, May 15, 1916. (Library of Congress) Here is the photograph. Take a good look at Jesse Washington’s stiffened body tied to the tree. He had been sentenced to death for the murder of a white woman. No witnesses saw the crime; he allegedly confessed but the truth of the allegations would never be tested. The grand jury took just four minutes to return a guilty verdict, but there was no appeal, no review, no prison time. Instead, a courtroom mob dragged him outside, pinned him to the ground, and cut off his testicles. A bonfire was quickly built and lit. For two hours, Jesse Washington — alive — was raised and lowered over the flames. Again and again. City officials and police stood by, approvingly. According to some estimates, the crowd grew to as many as 15,000. There were taunts, cheers and laughter. Reporters described hearing “shouts of delight.” When the flames died away, Washington’s body was torn apart and the pieces were sold as souvenirs. The party was over.

Many years later, as a young man, I visited Waco’s Baylor University, often referred to as the Texas Baptist Vatican. I had been offered a teaching position there. I sat for a while in the school’s Library, one of the most beautiful in America, containing stained glass windows, marble columns, and elegant ceilings that bring to mind the gorgeous interior of Michelangelo’s Laurentian library in Florence.

Sitting there, I found it hard to reconcile the beauty and quiet of that sanctuary with the photograph that I had been shown earlier by a man named Harry Provence, publisher of the local newspaper. Seeing it, I realized that as young Jesse Washington was being tortured, students his own age, some of them studying for the ministry, were just finishing their spring semester. In 1905, when another black man had been lynched in Waco, Baylor’s president became a leader of the anti-lynching movement. But ugly memories still divided the town.

Jesse Washington was just one black man to die horribly at the hands of white death squads. Between 1882 and 1968 — 1968! — there were 4,743 recorded lynchings in the US. About a quarter of them were white people, many of whom had been killed for sympathizing with black folks. My father, who was born in 1904 near Paris, Texas, kept in a drawer that newspaper photograph from back when he was a boy, of thousands of people gathered as if at a picnic to feast on the torture and hanging of a black man in the center of town. On a journey many years later, my father choked and grew silent as we stood near the spot where it had happened.

Yes, it was hard to get back to sleep the night we heard the news of the Jordanian pilot’s horrendous end. ISIS be damned! I thought. But with the next breath I could only think that our own barbarians did not have to wait at any gate. They were insiders. Home grown. Godly. Our neighbors, friends, and kin. People like us. [Abbrev.]
Bill Moyers Over the past three decades he has become an icon of American journalism and is the author of many books. He was one of the organizers of the Peace Corps, a special assistant for Lyndon B. Johnson.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

How books can defeat Isis

As Islamic State struck with brutal speed last year, the world dawdled in response, hampered in its understanding of a complex enemy by a news media fixated on by-the-minute updates and a publishing industry whose lethargic pace means in-depth analysis is rendered historic by time of publication. Yet, says Patrick Cockburn, there is another way...

Patrick Cockburn                  Independent/UK                  1 February 2015

I still find it astonishing that no foreign governments spotted the growing strength of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (formerly known as Isis) in the 18 months before it captured much of northern Iraq in June 2014.

There was plenty of evidence that Isis and al-Qa'ida-type organisations were getting stronger by the day in Iraq and Syria, but in January of that year President Obama flippantly compared Isis to a junior university basketball team which was never going to hit the big time and whose activities could be largely ignored.

He was speaking after Isis had captured the city of Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad, and the 350,000-strong Iraqi army was failing to win it back. The previous summer, Isis fighters had successfully attacked the infamous Abu Ghraib prison and freed hundreds of its most experienced fighters. In training camps in the deserts of Iraq and Syria, Isis fighters were preparing for spectacular advances in the summer of 2014 that would create a "caliphate" the size of Great Britain, defended by an army stronger than that of many members of the UN.

The outside world may have been astonished by the explosive rise of Isis, but Iraqi politicians had been warning me for several years that, if the war in Syria went on, it would destabilise Iraq and lead to the full-scale resumption of the Sunni-Shia civil war. They also predicted, with varying degrees of emphasis, that the Iraqi army was rotted with corruption and was not capable of fighting a battle.

I had been writing about the growing power of Isis and other jihadis in Iraq and Syria since the second half of 2013. In December 2013, I nominated the leader of Isis, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as The Independent's Middle East Man of the Year. The following March, I wrote a five-part series for the paper called "Al-Qa'ida's Second Act", the first sentence of which read: "Al-Qa'ida-type organisations, with beliefs and methods of operating similar to those who carried out the 9/11 attacks, have become a lethally powerful force from the Tigris to the Mediterranean in the past three years."

The five articles tried to show how strong Isis was on the ground in Iraq and that it was able to levy taxes in Sunni Arab cities such as Mosul and Tikrit that were nominally under the control of the Baghdad government. I wrote that the "War on Terror" had utterly failed, though the US and many of its allies had "adopted procedures formerly associated with police states, such as imprisonment without trial, rendition, torture and domestic espionage". The series attracted some interest among those who followed events in Iraq and Syria closely, but otherwise I was disappointed that there was so little appreciation of the danger.

 This is the introduction to a long article which may be read at the website above. A.

As Ukraine Spirals Again into Violence, US Contemplates Pouring Fuel on Fire

 Jon Queally, staff writer                  Common Dreams                 2 February, 2015

reporting from the N Y Times revealing new consideration by the Obama administration to send $3 billion worth of weaponry and military equipment to Ukraine, concerns over a deepening civil war between the Ukraine Army and the eastern rebel factions who reject the authority of the government in Kiev are rising rapidly.

On Monday, Alexander Zakharchenko, president of the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic in the east, has
reportedly announced plans to recruit 100,000 men to fuel the eastern region's ongoing battle with the Ukraine Army, which receives backing from both the U.S. and the NATO alliance.

fighting intensifed in Donetsk, Vuhlehirsk, Debaltseve and other eastern cities on Sunday and into Monday, the Times reported that NATO's high commander as well as top members of Obama's national security team are again discussing plans to send more weapons to the war-torn and divided nation.

reports on Monday: Municipal authorities in Donetsk said 15 civilians were killed over the weekend by shells, mortars or other missiles that hit residential areas of the city which is controlled by the separatists. To the northeast of Donetsk, the Russian-backed rebels kept up attacks to dislodge government forces from the small town of Debaltseve, a strategic rail hub, in fighting which has grown more intense since peace talks collapsed on Saturday. Kiev military authorities said separatist forces launched more than a 100 attacks by artillery, rocket systems and tank fire on Ukrainian positions and residential areas in the past 24 hours.
Despite indications that the shelling of Donetsk and other rebel strongholds by the Ukraine Army is resulting in devastating civilian casualties, the reporting indicates White House and Pentagon support for more advanced arms is increasing:

This mindset, however, which calls for military escalation over renewed efforts to settle the crisis in Ukraine diplomatically is generating cautions of warning from experts on U.S./Russian relations. As the increased fighting has led many to say the
peace agreement reached in Minsk last year has collapsed, the threat of wider war—with the U.S. and Russia governing their respective proxies within Ukraine—looms, with various dangers rapidly converging.

Last week, former Soviet leader Mikhael Gorbachev
accused the U.S. of pulling Russia into a new Cold War that faces the risk of further escalation. "I can no longer say that this Cold War will not lead to a 'Hot War.' I fear [the U.S.] could risk it," Gorbachev said. "All you hear is about sanctions towards Russia from America and the European Union. Have they totally lost their heads? The U.S. has been totally 'lost in the jungle' and is dragging us there as well."

As far as veteran reporter Eric Margolis is concerned, the stakes in Ukraine could not be higher. For one thing, as he reminded readers in his
latest column over the weekend, rule number one of geopolitics should be this: "nuclear-armed powers must never, ever fight." Secondly, he argues, what is happening with U.S. and NATO involvement in Ukraine is classic "mission creep" of the most dangerous kind. He writes: The neocons in Washington and their allies in Congress and the Pentagon have long wanted to pick a fight with Russia and put it in its place for daring to oppose US policies against Iran, Syria and Palestine… A massive propaganda campaign is underway, vilifying Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin as “the new Hitler.”

Again, it’s all been about demonized “bad guys” – in this case, Ukraine’s elected President Viktor Yanukovych and Russia’s elected President Vladimir Putin – versus the “pro-Western good guys” who are deemed model democrats even as they collaborated with neo-Nazis to overthrow a constitutional order.

 Last week, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman told the Security Council that a political solution to the conflict in Ukraine was urgent. "Over 5,000 lives have already been lost in this conflict," Feltman said. "We must find a way to stop it and must do so now." So far, however, it appears those urgings have found little traction. [Abridged]