Tuesday, 25 August 2015

NZ backing a regime showing little regard for Iraqi civilians

Harmeet Sooden                      NZ Herald                     Aug. 18, 2015

New Zealand's intervention in Iraq is being sold to the public as an exercise in stopping ISIS's atrocities, especially those against the people of Iraq. The reality, however, is that many of Iraq's civilians are caught between Scylla and Charybdis - between two dire alternatives: on the one side, opposition groups including ISIS; on the other, the US-led coalition and Iran. While human rights violations committed by ISIS are widely condemned, those committed by New Zealand's coalition partners, including Iraq, are underreported.

The Iraqi Government, in particular, is responsible for widespread abuses, mainly against Iraq's Sunni population. Iraqi security forces have engaged in: torture, hostage-taking, and
summary execution of civilians, including women and children; beheading, lynching, and immolating captives, desecrating corpses, and celebrating the atrocities in photographs and videos posted online; looting and wanton destruction of property, and shelling and bombing residential areas and hospitals. Iraqi and Kurdish authorities sometimes prevent families fleeing the fighting from reaching safer parts of the country.

UN agencies warn that Iraq is "on the brink of humanitarian disaster" due to the escalating conflict between the US-led coalition and opposition forces, and the severe shortfall in international funding. At least 3.1 million Iraqis have been internally displaced since January 2014. A total of 8.2 million people now require immediate humanitarian support. The UN has concluded that civilians are the
primary targets of the conflict in Iraq.

In late June, New Zealand's Task Group Taji completed its first eight-week training course for troops from the 76th Brigade, a formation within the Iraqi Army's 16th Division. The division was formed to replace the US-trained units that collapsed in 2014 when ISIS seized the Mosul region. It is composed of new recruits as well as soldiers who fled during last year's assault.

The training cannot address the root causes of the coalition's human rights violations, including the structural corruption and sectarianism introduced into Iraq's military and state institutions after the 2003 US-led invasion. As the 76th Brigade deploys to the frontline, possibly to join the Ramadi offensive, the NZDF cannot eliminate the risk of the training offering the Iraqi army greater means to worsen the human rights situation.

Several Iraqi soldiers being trained at Taji have openly told journalists that "they actively served on their days off with Shiite militia - some...still listed by the US as terrorist groups", some also sponsored by Iran. The UN has reported pro-government militias, including the popular mobilisation forces (PMF), "seem to operate with total impunity, leaving a trail of death and destruction in their wake" that often rivals the depredations of ISIS.

confirmed reports of children being recruited by militias from all sides, including those supported by the Iraqi Government. The PMF is reportedly providing combat training to children in summer camps established throughout the country. Militias fighting alongside Iraqi and Kurdish forces are using armed boys and girls on the frontline - some as young as 10. Enlisting children under the age of 15 or using them to engage in hostilities is a war crime.

NZDF personnel are also deployed in unidentified roles in Baghdad and other undisclosed locations. The military role New Zealand's intelligence services are playing in the conflict is secret. The full extent of New Zealand's activities in Iraq is therefore not subject to public scrutiny.

Sectarian abuses continue unabated under the government of the new Iraqi leader, Haider al-Abadi. Yet, the New Zealand Government
insists on backing a regime that is showing little regard for civilians. When coalition forces were poised to re-conquer Tikrit in March, Prime Minister al-Abadi said in a speech to the Iraqi parliament: "There is no neutrality in the battle against ISIS. If someone is being neutral with ISIS, then he is one of them." His words epitomise the dilemma civilians face in areas where ISIS is active.

There is a straightforward way New Zealand can begin to protect the people of Iraq: namely, by withdrawing its support for the human rights violators in the coalition, and accepting that
worthwhile alternatives exist.

Harmeet Sooden has recently returned from Iraqi Kurdistan, where he was working on a human rights project assessing communal tensions in a camp for internally displaced persons. [Abridged]


The migration crisis will define this decade

Natalie Nougayr├Ęde                     GuardianUK                         21 August 2015

After calling the shots on Ukraine last year and leading Europe’s reaction to the Greek conundrum,
Angela Merkel has assumed responsibility for forging a common European strategy on migration. It’s not that this is a new idea, but the political impetus from Berlin may finally yield more convincing results than those achieved so far. She is ready to tackle the issue head-on. The imponderable is whether fellow European leaders will let her.

For immigration remains a political hot potato, prompting most European leaders to retreat to the safe political territory of the nation state. David Cameron’s attitude has been a case in point, but look too at Slovakia, which has said it will
take only Christian refugees, and it is clear that populism is rising across the continent.

Throughout Europe, leaders are succumbing to the keep-them-out syndrome. Hungary is building a fence (along its border with Serbia). Spain has done the same (in Ceuta and Melilla). Bulgaria followed suit (on the border with Turkey). More fencing is springing up in Calais. In Macedonia, which is not in the EU, they are deploying armoured vehicles against migrants. Will this work? Unlikely. When you flee atrocities and war, the desperation to reach a haven will always be stronger than security fences and dogs.

In dealing with the refugee flows that will be a fact of life for years to come, Europe must both concentrate on its needs and live up to its humanitarian standards. Without a decent common asylum policy, the EU will flout the fundamental values that go to the very essence of the European project. And without immigration, Europe will grow old and squander opportunities for future generations. So now might be a good time to take the long view. This was Angela Merkel’s message last weekend when she said refugees will
“preoccupy Europe much more” than the Greek euro crisis. The issue of asylum “could be the next major European project”, pronounced the chancellor. Whatever ambiguities exist, few can now doubt her priorities.

The solutions aren’t simple, but they are fairly well identified. The only sustainable way to prevent deaths at sea and other dramatic scenes at borders is to open up alternative, legal routes for migration: ways for asylum seekers to apply for protection in
Europe without having to embark on needlessly perilous journeys. And the only way Europeans will come to grips with the deeper issue of immigration – as we must – is by looking closely at ourselves and, more practically, by noting that demographic trends ultimately demand new inflows.

Germany is, along with Sweden, the country that to date has welcomed the largest number of asylum seekers. Applications are set to reach a record number of 800,000 for 2015, three times more than in previous years. There is a psychological imperative at work. Public attitudes shaped by the nation’s history make it difficult for Germany to pursue the “keep-them-out” approach. Its government has shown more generosity than most in distributing aid packages to arriving refugees. But there is pragmatism too. Low fertility rates make the need for migrants a reality. This is an important part of the analysis in Berlin. Some projections show the country’s population is set to drop by 18 million people by 2060.

Merkel is right to frame this as a strategic issue for Europe for reasons that resonate in Berlin and beyond. Germany is faced with a major increase in asylum demands not just from Syria but from the Balkans – one of the EU’s weaker geopolitical flanks. Addressing the migration question will likely become a growing part of the overall task of stabilising
the Balkans, whose integration into the EU remains unfinished. Merkel knows that if solutions aren’t found, populism and xenophobia will grow in Germany as elsewhere in the EU.

What Merkel seems to want is for an issue that has been tackled piecemeal to be addressed holistically. It’s a tough message; that the current denial of realities amounts to a collective stupidity. Europe needs migrants and for that to happen in a decent, sustainable way, legal channels need to be opened, and resources devoted to integration. This is an existential issue, not one that can be solved by haggling or bickering over quotas.

Merkel, with her prioritisation, has it right. There is a moral obligation to save people in need, but there must also be collective recognition that we have entered a defining era, and a collective effort is needed to meet the challenge. [Abridged]


Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Discarded Deities

By Ian Harris                         Otago Daily Times                Aug. 14, 2015

History is littered with discarded deities – and any god that has run out of puff should be gently laid to rest. Such gods die only if they cease to be real to people and their communities, and religious leaders sensitive to their times will join in seeing them off. That doesn’t mean the end of any God worthy of the name, however. For the impulse that led to the creation of those once-potent deities does not die. The drive to find meaning, purpose and hope amid the twists and turns of life continues as before. 

Adventurous minds then find new insights and new ways of expressing them that speak to their own time and place. Some will discover new lines of approach within the old faith. Some will turn to other faiths or philosophies. Others, of course, will cling more firmly to the security of the past.

All those responses are evident in New Zealand today. In the churches, diminishing numbers suggest that one God is slowly dying – but there are signs that another is quietly emerging. Or, more precisely, one human image of God is being challenged by another that many find more in tune with the modern world.

Both groups would say they are being faithful to core insights of their Christian heritage – and so they are. But they are viewing their tradition from different vantage points. One insists that the hallowed doctrines and forms of the past are non-negotiable. The other seeks to interpret that same tradition through the lens of present-day understanding.

All this came bubbling to the surface when Anglican Bishop Richard Randerson, of Wellington, was interviewed on radio last month about his memoir Slipping the Moorings. There he sets aside the theistic image of God as a supernatural Being or Person, in favour of a concept of God as the living heart of all being. “The question of faith,” he writes, “is not one of intellectual assent to the existence of ‘God as a Being’, but arises out of our experience of ‘God as Being’, a reality at the heart of human life.”

  Randerson cites four shortcomings in theism:

* It is framed within a three-tier physical universe of heaven, earth and hell.

* God is conceived anthropomorphically in a human image (though with supernatural add-ons).

* Theism stirs needless controversy with science over the origins of the universe and of life.

* It leads to legitimate questioning about an all-powerful, all-loving God co-existing with evil and tragedy.

  On radio he spoke of “a sense of God as mystery, something other, something bigger. It’s characterised by love, by spirit, by transcendence. It gives me a sense of connection . . . and for Christians, of course, the mystery is revealed in the person of Jesus Christ.” Randerson has clearly slipped the moorings of theism, but not of Christian experience.

He is in impressive episcopal company. In England, Bishop John Robinson believed that entering into arguments about the existence of God as a celestial Being, even a celestial Person, was to miss the point. Look rather to the truth that image is trying to convey, he said, namely that “in personal relationships we touch the final meaning of existence as nowhere else” – and Jesus fleshed that out.

“Jesus never claims to be God, personally: yet he always claims to bring God, completely,” said Robinson. Jesus provides a window into God through the way he lived his life. Central to this approach is a fundamental orientation to love, grace and transformation, and an affirmation of the potential of men and women to somehow live beyond ordinary human limitations.

That is basic to Christian insight, but Robinson believed that binding it to theism turned many people off engaging with it today. They have discarded that God. American Bishop John Spong concurs. “I believe passionately in God,” he says. “Yet I now find the theistic definition of God far too limiting.”

Instead, “the meaning and the reality of God are found in the experience of human wholeness flowing in life-giving ways through all that we are. God is experienced when we open life to transcendent otherness, when it is called beyond every barrier into an expanded humanity.”

It follows that in the modern world Christian faith no longer depends on believing in the existence of God but, more appropriately, on the experience of God (or Godness). Jesus’ followers enter into this first by taking him with ultimate seriousness, and then by orienting their lives accordingly.

A corresponding shift in the church’s focus is now in order.

Fighting Austerity’s Impact on Mental Health

Dawn Foster                        Guardian/UK                        19 August 2015

For Stephen Weatherhead, a 37-year-old clinical psychologist working in Lancaster, and for a lot of other psychologists, this week is going to involve walking 100 miles from Leicester to London, sleeping rough, and meeting dozens of people along the way.
Walk the Talk, an awareness-raising trek from the British Psychological Society (BPS) offices in Leicester to its headquarters in the capital, will take in visits to food banks, supported housing, homelessness services and mental health centres, recording testimonies from people whose psychological wellbeing has been jeopardised by the benefits system and Work Programme. The participants will meet people at points on the route, so other psychologists, social workers, and anyone who agrees with their concerns, can join the march.

Weatherhead and his colleagues see the effect that the benefits system has on extremely vulnerable people every day, but the day-to-day impact on people’s lives remains hidden from the public, especially in terms of mental health, due to the ongoing stigma attached to psychological illness. “I work in brain injury and it’s been stressful to see the effect the benefits system has, with patients being pushed through traumatic assessments or being pressured into work when they’re not ready,” he says. “I came up with the idea of Walk the Talk, to see if we could draw attention to the impact social policy is having on people’s mental health every day.”

For people working in mental health, any progress is tempered by the external problems created by the rise in sanctions and the cuts to employment support allowance and the independent living fund. “People’s psychological experience is exacerbated by their social situation. Some people are really struggling to feed their families, or worrying about whether they can pay their heating bills over the winter. Their debts are mounting up and they’re not able to find a way out,” Weatherhead says.

 “It feels a bit crass trying to work with someone on their depression or anxiety, when that depression or anxiety is well-founded because they’re at risk of losing their home, or not being able to feed their kids.” Stress, depression and anxiety can be completely debilitating, he says, and when this stress is caused by hardship, trying to combat it through talking therapies feels like ignoring the reality of the situation.

What has worsened over the past five years in terms of what psychologists are seeing on wards? “Debt, poverty and homelessness – I see an increasing number of clients who have lost their home or are struggling to retain their home, as well as people not able to access services as well as they could if they had stable accommodation,” Weatherhead says.

 Clinicians who are joining the walk say that they’ve seen an increase both in appointments being missed because patients daren’t miss compulsory jobcentre appointments for fear of being sanctioned, and also in parents declining psychological therapy for their children, because they simply cannot afford the weekly transport costs.

Weatherhead has also witnessed patients who fear that any small step to recovery will see their benefits stopped before they are healthy, or that even going outside means they’ll be reported to the Department for Work and Pensions. “I have clients who are going through recovery, who are being pushed into work when they’re not ready. I was trying to get one client to walk around her local park as part of her recovery,” he says. “But she’s afraid to in case she’s then told she’s fit for work, when she’s clearly not able to work, and loses her benefits. It’s really traumatic: it’s probably the biggest problem facing mental health in this country.”

The group sets out its concerns online: “Emotional wellbeing does not exist or develop in a bubble; it is affected by our social contexts. Some of these, such as ethnicity, gender, ability or socio-economic status, bring with them institutional marginalisation or discrimination, which increase experiences of inequality. Figures demonstrate that individuals in more unequal societies have poorer overall mental health and emotional wellbeing.”

The BPS states that as a profession, psychologists aim to “reduce psychological distress and enhance and promote psychological wellbeing”. The walk participants and supporters point out that this is not possible while social inequalities, cause, ingrain and perpetuate psychological distress. The BPS president, professor Jamie Hacker-Hughes, is leading the walk with Weatherhead. 

          [Abridged] walkthetalk2015.org/walk


Monday, 10 August 2015

Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Stephan Lendman       Counterpunch     Pub. by Common Dreams   9Aug. 2015

August 6 marks the 70th anniversary of one of history’s great crimes, followed three days later by incinerating Nagasaki. At least 200,000 died, many others scarred for life, future generations to this day harmed by radiologically caused birth defects and other serious health problems.

Big Lies still claim bombing both cities hastened war’s end and saved many lives. Truman informed the public deceitfully saying bombing Hiroshima “destroyed its usefulness to the enemy.” “It was to spare the Japanese people from (further) utter destruction…If they do not now accept our terms they may expect a rain of ruin from the air, the likes of which has never been seen on this earth.”

Nuclear bombing both cities were two of numerous American genocides – beginning with a conquering the new world from sea to shining sea, ravaging and destroying one country after another ever since, endless wars of aggression continuing today.

Japan was defeated ready to surrender when Truman authorized testing America’s new toy in real time – twice, not once. Not to win a war already won. To show Soviet Russia America’s new might, what its leadership already knew, what might follow against its cities if Washington decided to attack its wartime ally. US leaders always considered human lives expendable. Many thousands of Japanese victims were considered a small price to pay.

Terror bombing is an international high crime. Article 25 of the Laws of War: Laws and Customs of War on Land (1907 Hague IV Convention) states: “The attack or bombardment, by whatever means, of towns, villages, dwellings, or building which are undefended is prohibited.” Post-WW II Geneva IV protects civilians in time of war – prohibiting violence of any type against them, requiring sick and wounded be treated humanely.

The 1945 Nuremberg Principles forbid “crimes against peace, war crimes and crimes against humanity,” including “inhumane acts committed against any civilian population, before or during the war,” – notably indiscriminate killing and “wanton destruction of cities, towns, or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity.” In his book,
The Good War: An Oral History of World War II, the late Studs Terkel explained its good and bad sides through people experiencing it. The good was America “was the only country among the combatants that was neither invaded nor bombed. Ours were the only cities not blasted to rubble,” said Terkel.

The bad was it “warped our view of how we look at things today (seeing them) in terms of war” and the notion that they’re good or why else fight them. This “twisted memory….encourages (people) to be willing, almost eager, to use military force” to solve problems, never mind how they exacerbate them.

Wars are never just or good. In the nuclear age they’re “lunatic” acts – horrific by any standard. On February 24, 1945, Japan wanted surrender, asking only to retain its emperor. Roosevelt wanted war continued. So did Truman after his April 1945 death.

The late Howard Zinn said “(t)he bombing of Hiroshima remains sacred to the American Establishment and to a very large part of the population in this country.” It’s been falsely portrayed as an expeditious way to end war and save lives – a myth believed to this day by most Americans, ignoring appalling gratuitous mass murder by any standard.

“Hiroshima and Nagasaki were unforgivable atrocities,” Zinn explained – “perpetrated on a Japan ready to surrender…a wanton act of gargantuan cruelty (not) an unavoidable necessity.” What “could be more horrible than the burning, mutilation, blinding, irradiation of hundreds of thousands of Japanese men, women, and children?” “And yet it is absolutely essential for our political leaders to defend the bombing because if Americans can be induced to accept that, then they can accept any war, any means, so long as the war-makers can supply a reason.” Endless US wars of aggression from summer 1945 to this day killed countless millions from conflict, subsequent violence and chaos, starvation, untreated wounds and diseases, as well as overall deprivation. “There is endless room for more wars, with endless supplies of reasons” justifying the unjustifiable, said Zinn.

Before bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Secretary of War Henry Stimson briefed Dwight Eisenhower on their imminent use, saying: “Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary.” After its use, Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral William Leahy called the atom bomb “a barbarous weapon. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender.” In mid-July, four days before Truman, Churchill and Stalin met in Potsdam to discuss post-war issues (two months after Nazi Germany’s defeat), a Japanese Foreign Minister Togo telegram to ambassador Sato in Moscow discussing negotiated surrender terms said:

“It is his Majesty’s heart’s desire to see the swift termination of the war.” Washington intercepted the message. Japanese codes were broken before war began. At least from summer 1940, US intelligence began reading Japan’s diplomatic messages. Earlier in 1945, Japan sent peace feelers.

Two days before the February Yalta conference, General Douglas MacArthur sent Roosevelt a 40-page summary of its terms. They were nearly unconditional. The Japanese would accept an occupation, cease hostilities, surrender its arms, remove all troops from occupied territories, submit to criminal war trials, let its industries be regulated, asking only that their Emperor be retained. Roosevelt categorically refused. So did Truman. They wanted war continued followed by unconditional surrender.

America “was determined to drop those bombs,” said Zinn. Churchill advisor PMS Blackett called using them “the first major operation of the cold diplomatic war with Russia.” The bombs of August are an ominous reminder that what happened to Japan can repeat whenever lunatics in Washington believe it’s to their advantage. Humanity may not survive their madness.

© CounterPunch
Stephen Lendman http://www.commondreams.org/views/2015/08/09/hiroshima-and-nagasaki-gratuitous-mass-murder

Win or lose, Jeremy Corbyn has already changed the rules of the game

 Seumas Milne                            Guardian/UK                    5 August 2015
In six weeks, Labour’s outsider has forced anti-austerity on to the agenda and created a national movement. The media and the political class can hardly contain themselves. What’s happening in the Labour party should simply not be happening. It’s suicidal, puerile, madness, self-mutilation, narcissistic, an emotional spasm and,
in the words of one Tory cabinet member, a “potential catastrophe for Britain”.

But Jeremy Corbyn’s runaway leadership campaign shows little sign of flagging. In fact, the more he’s attacked and derided, the more support he attracts. It’s an extraordinary example of how utterly unpredictable politics can be. In the aftermath of the general election,
Corbyn’s name was barely mentioned as a possible candidate, as Labour’s leaders lurched to the right. A couple of months later and the veteran leftwing MP is heading the field in polls and nominations, attracting thousands of young people to the party and packing public meetings across the country. As Corbyn himself readily concedes, it’s a political insurgency that was waiting for something to latch on to - and that something has turned out to be him.

The parallels with the anti-austerity movements that threw up Podemos in Spain, Syriza in Greece and are fuelling Bernie Sanders’ campaign for the US Democratic nomination are clear. And the claim that the influx of new members and registered supporters is fuelled by far-left “entrists” is time-warp twaddle. He may not be able to match Podemos’s Pablo Iglesias for charisma, but he’s transparently honest and unspun

The paradox of Corbyn’s campaign is that some of the very reasons he wasn’t seen as an obvious challenger after the election are why he’s attracting such wide support now. He may not be able to match Podemos’s pony-tailed Pablo Iglesias for charisma. But he’s transparently honest and unspun, and so obviously not from the professional politician’s mould. Not only that, Corbyn represents Labour’s mainstream values and is making the case for a social democracy that has been driven from the mainstream for a generation.

one young supporter at a Corbyn rally explained: “People say he is an old leftwinger or an old Marxist but to my generation his ideas seem quite new.” What she meant was simply free university tuition and the public ownership of rail and energy – common across Europe and popular with the British public.
“Corbynomics” is scarcely revolutionary. As the Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman put it, when Labour supporters refuse to accept a failed austerity ideology, they aren’t “moving left”, they’re “refusing to follow a party elite that has decided to move sharply to the right”. That is what Labour’s other leadership candidates all did after the election, ditching the party’s most popular policies, such as the mansion tax and 50% top rate, in order to appease corporate business – which polling shows most voters believe Labour has in fact been too soft on. So now the mild-mannered London MP faces a wall of propaganda from almost the entire media and every Blairite has-been that can be mobilised to derail his bandwagon.

There’s no sensible comparison with the 1980s, when
Labour was trounced after a rightwing faction broke away to form the Social Democratic party and Margaret Thatcher dined off the jingoism of the Falklands war. And the political and media establishment’s “centre ground” bears no relation to the actual centre ground of public opinion, from public ownership to taxes on the rich.
Having decided against the evidence that Labour lost the election because it was too leftwing, they now insist the party must move closer to the Tories or be consigned to irrelevance. Mass support for the anti-austerity Corbyn is definitely not part of the script. So expect the attacks to intensify – and more loaded polling and tendentious reports such as that partially published this week attempting to show the public supports austerity.

 Of course, Corbyn is far from home and dry. But even if he loses to Andy Burnham or Yvette Cooper, Corbyn has already succeeded in busting open a political establishment stitch-up. He has pushed an anti-austerity agenda into the heart of political debate, forced his rivals to halt their shift to the right, and brought tens of thousands of young people into active politics. Whoever wins, that movement is not going to disappear. In six weeks, the Corbyn campaign has changed the rules of the game. [Abridged].


Wednesday, 5 August 2015

I believe in an authority greater than David Cameron’s. Am I an extremist?

 By Giles Fraser                       Guardian/UK                        31 July 2015

In his attack on ‘non-violent extremism’, the PM forgets that had the Levellers of the 17th century not been radical or extreme, they would not have introduced England to democracy in the first place

The Church of England is the longest-running prevent strategy in history. If not from its inception, then certainly from the end of the English civil war, the big idea of the C of E was to prevent radicalisation – precisely the sort of radicalisation that led to religious people butchering each other throughout the 1630s and 40s. Its strategy was to discourage two things: big expansive politically minded theology – the sort of theology that has ambitions to change the world – and religious passion (or “enthusiasm” as it was dismissively described).

From the end of the 17th century, a new mood of religious inclusivity would dominate. Increasingly suspicious of theological dispute, the idea was to kill off God – or at least God-talk – with religion. People would all pray together, using the same form of words (the aptly described Book of Common Prayer), but be discouraged from discussing the ideological side of religion. Religion itself – going to church and so on – was reclaimable as a part of the much-needed project of national togetherness. It cemented all that one-nation, big-society stuff. But God had to be kept out of it as much as possible. Thus the formation of the English dinner party rules: no discussion of God, sex or politics. And under pressure not to “do God”, the wet non-committal English clergyman became a figure of fun – at best, a local amateur social worker, and at worst, a social climbing hypocrite. The
Vicar of Dibley or Mr Collins. Thus God is defeated by religion. Indeed, one could even say that, for the English establishment, that is precisely the purpose of religion. They trap Him in boring services so that people won’t notice the revolution for which He is calling.

And then along comes Islam – and, thankfully, it disrupts this absurd game and refuses to play by the rules. Its practitioners want to talk about God, sex and politics rather than mortgages, school places and the latest Boden catalogue. And good for them. But David Cameron’s whole attack
upon “non-violent extremism”, his upping the ante on the Prevent agenda, is an attempt to replay that clapped-out C of E strategy of stopping people talking about God in a way that might have social or political consequences. Cameron, of course, thinks of this sort of political God-talk as radical and extreme – which, by the standards of English dinner-party rules, it most certainly is. But had the Levellers of the 17th century not been radical or extreme, they would not have introduced England to democracy in the first place (something for which they were eventually rounded up and shot).

This week we learned that a three-year-old child was among a number of young people identified by the security services as being at risk of radicalisation. And it is increasingly becoming the responsibility of schools to watch people who display the worrying signs of radicalisation – signs like going to the prayer room too much, or wearing modest clothing. Do we really want to turn our educational establishments into part of the security apparatus? And do we really want to spy on universities for the presence of dangerous potentially world-changing radical ideas – like Plato or Marx or Jesus or Muhammad? This, apparently, is what Cameron calls “the struggle of our generation”. How bloody ridiculous.

Let me be clear. I condemn absolutely any theology that calls for or encourages violence. If people are doing that, arrest them. But “non-violent extremism” is, by definition, neither of those things. And attacking it is simply an attack on thinking big, thinking differently and arguing passionately. It comes from a now defunct C of E mindset (now defunct even within the C of E, thank God) that assumes it’s the job of religious people to be pastorally nice, softly spoken and uncontroversial. But that’s not Jesus. And like him, I believe in pulling the mighty from their thrones and lifting up the lowly. And I believe there is an authority greater than yours – one I would obey before I would obey the laws of this land. And if that makes me a dangerous extremist, Mr Cameron, then you probably ought to come over to south
London and arrest me now.

@giles_fraser    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2015/jul/31/i-believe-in-an-authority-greater-than-david-cameron-am-i-extremist

Armed Insecurity in the Age of Endless War

by Robert C. Koehler             Common Dreams                    July 23, 2015

This is still the unnoticed insanity haunting the American news cycle, whether the story being reported is domestic or international. As a society, we’re armed and dangerous – and always at war, both collectively and individually. We’re endlessly declaring bad guys (officially and unofficially) and endlessly protecting ourselves from them, in the process guaranteeing that the violence continues. And the parallels between “them” and “us” are unnerving.
Mohammad Abdulazeez opened fire at a naval reserve training facility in Chattanooga and killed five people. He was suffering from depression and possibly radicalized by ISIS. Fox News headlined the story: “Tennessee gunman was armed to the teeth and ready for war with America.” The story pointed out that he was a naturalized American citizen born in Kuwait.
A few days later, a gun shop owner in Florida posted a video on YouTube declaring, with the Confederate flag in the background as he spoke – summoning the spirit of Dylann Roof’s murder last month of nine African-Americans in Charleston, S.C. – that his store, Florida Gun Supply in Inverness, was now a “Muslim-free zone.”
Ray Mabus, U.S. Secretary of the Navy, spoke of the shootings with less clarity about the nature of the enemy: “While we expect our sailors and Marines to go into harm’s way, and they do so without hesitation, an attack at home, in our community, is insidious and unfathomable.”

Yet a few days later at least 10 Afghan soldiers – American allies – died “at home, in their community” when the checkpoint they were manning in eastern Afghanistan was taken out in a U.S. helicopter strike, which the Afghan regional commander described as “a very big mistake.” He pointed out to the Washington Post that the strikers should have known they weren’t attacking the enemy because it happened in daylight and “the Afghanistan flag was waving on our post, when we came under attack.”
Well, you know, these things happen. But somehow the deaths of these soldiers didn’t cause the same stir the Chattanooga killings did, though the victims’ lives were equally precious and were cut short in an attack that probably seemed, to them, equally unfathomable. But, whereas the Chattanooga shootings were a “horrific attack,” the friendly fire killings were an “incident” – just like all the other bomb and missile killings, accidental, intentional or whatever, of civilians in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere over the last decade and a half.  We have no real security, just a massive power to retaliate. This is the nature of armed self-defense.
As I wrote several years ago, speaking of the “moral injury” that so many vets bring home from their war service: “Killing is not a simple matter. It’s not a joke. The argument can be made that on occasion it’s necessary, but military killing is not about self-defense. Soldiers are trained to kill on command, and this is done not simply through physical preparedness exercises but through dehumanization of the enemy: a cult of dehumanization, you might say. Turns out we can’t dehumanize someone else without dehumanizing ourselves.”
And the more that people lose touch with their own humanity, the more, I fear, they will feel the need to be armed – desperately imagining it’s the same thing as being secure. And the news cycle will continue, endlessly bringing us more of the same.             [Abridged]
Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist   

Lame Duck President Takes Flight

By Anne Summers                     Sydney Morning Herald                          24 July, 2015

There's a very strange thing happening in American politics and I'm not talking about Donald Trump. Rather, it is the way that so many Americans are now taking a second, and more favourable, look at their President. After seven bruising years in the job, and struggling – and for the most part failing - to stay ahead in the polls Barack Obama is earning kudos from some unexpected quarters.

"President Obama will go down in history as an extraordinary president, probably a great one," is the view of the well credentialled Washington journalist Dick Meyer. His accomplishments, ambitious goals, dignity and honesty under tough circumstances demand admiration and appreciation".

Meyer singled out for praise Obama's diplomatic accomplishments, especially the Iran deal, the stunning success of Obamacare (fewer Americans now without health insurance than in living memory), presiding over economic recovery, and the "dignity and honesty" of his administration. "It's the first two-term presidency not to be derailed by scandal since Eisenhower.”"

Far from being the classic lame duck as candidates from both major parties start their campaigns to replace him, Obama is revealing himself as a thoughtful political leader who is methodically working to complete his agenda in the time remaining to him. Not just the big international and national reforms you would expect from a Democratic president, but also the "smaller" issues that reveal an understanding of how pervasive social problems might be addressed.

Obama was recently the first sitting President to ever visit a federal prison. That, and his subsequent commuting of sentences of 46 people convicted of minor drug offences, revealed his desire to tackle America's shameful incarceration rate and its truncating of the chances for productive non-criminal lives of so many young people, most of them men. And black.

Obama can never please the Republicans but he had been a huge disappointment to many on his own side for his cool demeanour (nicknamed "the Professor"), his cuddling up to Wall Street, failure to close Gitmo and a string of other unfulfilled promises. But lately he is confounding his critics. His most recent exercise of pastoral duties, in his powerful reflection on race in his eulogy to the slain pastor in Charleston reminded Americans what they are about to lose.

His approval ratings are climbing again, currently at 47 per cent, way ahead of the 31 per cent George W. Bush scored at a comparable point in his presidency. If he continues in this vein he could leave office a popular, admired and appreciated president.

No chance of that happening with Australian leaders with what passes for politics in this country. Here, instead of thoughtfulness we have sneers and slogans. Rather than a measured understanding of complex social and economic problems, we have base simplifications or policy solutions ruled out as electorally risky. We don't have honest and brave reflections by our leaders on divisive issues. We see education funding policy revert to rewarding the already privileged.

Climate policy ignores the reality of other nation's remedial actions to head off looming irreversible damage to the planet. Our anti-terrorism policies are naive and likely ineffectual, just as our asylum-seeker policies are brutal to those seeking refuge and financially crippling to our budget.

Just as we now need to look overseas to remind ourselves that good policy and social reform is still possible, for ethical sustenance we also need to turn to another country.

And yearn for ours to be different. [Abridged]

Anne Summers is editor and publisher of the online magazine Anne Summers Reports