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Sunday, 27 April 2008

Getting clear about the sacred: some thoughts provoked by Anzac Day

You know that secularism is not a live option for Australians at large when you are greeted by a heading on page 5 of the Canberra Times, the day after Anzac Day "Records set for Sacred Ceremonies in Canberra". 30,000 people attended the dawn ceremony at the War Memorial.
In 2000 when I attended the service their around 7,000 in attendance. That certainly suggests we have a "religious" revival on our hands.

The "sacred" that underlies this religious revivalism is I think a bit problematic for followers of Jesus. We can I think acknowledge the sacredness of life and the sacredness of creation as something that is given, that we are not in control of. Sacredness is a quality pointing to the need for respect and recognition of connection of that to which it is ascribed.

Beyond that "secularised" form that I have attempted to describe above Christians really should not be buying into the sacred especially when it is expressed in forms of public worship in close connection with the language of sacrifice arising from war. The sacred and human sacrifice have been too closely associated in history for anyone who gives the matter more than a few minutes thought to be comfortable about their close association in public rhetoric. Lighting a candle may be a beautiful gesture. When it is done in a context in which there are combustible fumes around it is not a smart option.

The liturgical language of the dawn service gains its moral force, and makes its liturgical claim on the assent of those there from its appeal to the theme of sacrifice. The Anzacs sacrificed their lives, we are told, so that we might have the freedom and the sort of society that we have in Australia today. And the application of the logic of this moral appeal to our gratitude and benefits of this sacrifice was extended both implicitly, and explicitly to all those who had died during other subsequent episodes of warfare in which Australians had been engaged.

This claim to the benefits of sacrifice is a powerful one, grounded as it is in an emotionally grounded narrative. It is an appeal to us to respond with a lived out response of gratitude in the way we shape our lives as Australian citizens. As a moral argument calling for such a serious response on our behalf, it demands thoughtful consideration from a number of angles. Can the claim carry the moral freight that is required? Does the reading of history provide support for the claim? In other words is the claim true in its account of history and in the light of the outcomes of military conflict?

The sacredness of Anzac Day as expounded in the public pulpits brings together, national identity, a particular telling of history that avoids the frontier conflicts within Australia, as an attempt to ascribe meaning and purpose to the death of men and women in the armed forces during war expressed in a quasi religious language of sacrifice and the sacred.

Christian discipleship is or ought to be profoundly ill at ease with this powerful and unstable mixture, not least on theological grounds. We have no interest in the "sacred' as such, while the narrative of Jesus' life, death and resurrection in the New Testament moves us beyond the logic of human sacrifice as being self justifying.

• In the book of Hebrews the argument of the author is quite simply that the time of sacrifice is over. The role of the priest is finished because sacrifice has been completed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and no further sacrifice is required.

• In Romans the sacrifice we are called to make as the people of God is of our lives, as a form of dedication to God in following Jesus. Paul argues in Romans 12 that we should present our bodies as a living sacrifice to God and not be conformed to the world in our behaviour, surrendering our bodies to the claims of the state to carry out violence on its behalf.
Greater love has no man than this, than a man should lay down his life for his friends.

• The text which is appealed to in the many Anzac Day services is John 15:13, Great love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. While the appeal of this text is unmistakable, again if examined it will not stand up to its use to claim Jesus in support for the death toll of war. The phrase must be read in context. It is preceded by the command: This is my commandment. Love one another as I have loved you. You are my friends if you follow my example says Jesus. The laying down of lives to which we are called, is to lay down our lives in the pattern of Jesus who refused to take up the sword against his enemies. It has nothing to do with underwriting death as a result of taking up arms and engaging in war.

Engaging the world

Recent readings from the daily readings from Bonhoeffer I Want to Live these Days with You bring into view an understanding of what it is to be a Christian that was more than academic.

Those who affirm the resurrection of Christ in faith can no longer withdraw from the world, nor can they become slaves to the world, for in the midst of the old creation they know God's new creation. (April 23, p.118)

Unlike believers in the myths of redemption Christians do not have a last escape from earthly tasks and difficulties into the eternal. Rather they must completely and fully enjoy earthly life as Christ did. Only when they do this will the crucified and resurrected One be with them. Only when they do this will they be crucified and resurrected with Christ. The present age must not be prematurely abolished. In this Old Testament and New Testament remain united. Myths of redemption arise from human boundary experiences. But Christ meets human beings in the middle of their lives. (April 24, p.119)

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Civil Religion in Canberra - nationalism beats the Olympic spirit hands down.

While the symbolism of the Olympic Torch this year has become fiercely contested, events in Canberra today made it clear that the civil religion of nationalism has triumphed in the contest. The supposed "Olympic spirit" just didn't cut the mustard when Tibetans in exile sought to use the extended perambulations of the Olympic torch to draw attention to longstanding grievances with the Chinese hegemony in their region and the spirit of affronted nationalism was aroused.

Evidence for the triumph of nationalism?

1. Several thousand Chinese waving flags and chanting patriotic slogans along the shores of Lake Burleigh Griffin - television broadcasts might have given the impression that Canberra was populated by flagwaving Chinese. (This might be good tourist publicity in China, a place to go where you can feel at home, but how it would advance the attractiveness of Canberra as an Australian destination in the rest of the world is something of a mystery to me)

2. The media performances of the Chief Minister of the ACT, John Stanhope, a progressive by ALP standards, normally sensitive to the claims of the underdog, was well and truly on the back foot defending the Chinese display of chauvinism on the grounds that Australians got pretty nationalist on big sporting occasions. "We do nationalism pretty well" he commented. As a defence of what happened in Canberra, with several incidents of native Canberrans being physically intimidated this was pretty weak, but as a Freudian slip about the character of the Olympics it was I thought fairly revealing.

3. A TV interview with a former sporting hero, Robert de Castella saying what we needed more of this spirit in the world the way it is today - announced against a visual background of large numbers of people waving Chinese flags. What spirit he had in mind and how it related to the clear reality of the Chinese Government pressing the appeal of nationalism and using the Olympics as a vehicle for purposes of advancing national prestige and claims to maintain the mandate of heaven was far from clear.

The response by ACT government officials, civic leaders and people with a stake in the sporting and Olympic establishment associated with organising the Canberra torch relay has been a stunning demonstration of the triumph of wishful thinking over reality, in proclaiming the revival of the torch relay as an Olympic event beyond the reach of political disturbance.

The entire episode has had a decidedly surreal character.

Perhaps that is not surprising, considering that the sacred was on the loose but no one was prepared to acknowledge that that was in fact what was happening. Civil religions were in competition for control of what each hoped would be an efficaciously powerful symbol to advance their cause. Australia is supposed to be a secular society and the sacred cannot be explicitly acknowledged and named as such. But if you happen to get in the way and raise questions it will not be a confortable place to be.

Result of the contest for the symbol of the torch on a sunny autumn day in Canberra - in football terms I reckon Nationalism 3 beat the Olympic spirit 0 with lots of police present to ensure order was kept.

In a postscript ...

Best gestures of peaceful protest on the day came from some Tibetan supporters - Senator Bob Brown of the Greens who hired an aerial signwriter to sketch "Free Tibet" against the Canberra skyline and organisers who floated a sign with similar sentiments attached to balloons above the crowds. As a minority without power they had no chance of winning a contest but as dissenting minorities often do they have helped unveil that which would otherwise have remained hidden.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Palm Island, Justice and the Queensland Police

The extent to which indigenous Australians are over-represented in Australian prisons and subject to appearances in the criminal justice system may seem puzzling or surprising. While there are lots of reasons why this is the case, the following account by Chris Graham of the National Indigenous Times (Issue 151, April 17, 2008) of the events that lead to the death in custody of Mulrunji Doomadgee on Palm Island in a now notorious case opens a window on the way the conduct of the police can contribute to these statistics.
For the full story of the events on Palm Island that followed see:

The first thing that you need to understand about the death in custody of Mulrunji Doomadgee is that the happy-go-lucky 36-year-old should never have been arrested in the first place.

On November 19, 2004 Mulrunji was walking home from a relative’s house. The time was shortly after 10am.

Mulrunji was pretty drunk. An autopsy revealed that his blood alcohol level was almost 0.3, six times the legal driving limit.

Still, Mulrunji was on foot - he wasn’t breaking any laws. It’s not yet illegal to walk down a street with a ‘skinful’, even in Queensland.

As Mulrunji turned into Dee Street, he came across a not unusual scene for a ‘morning after’ on Palm Island - police were in the process of arresting a young Aboriginal man, Patrick Bramwell.

The arresting officer was Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley, a veteran of more than 17 years in the Queensland Police Service.

With Hurley was Aboriginal Police Liaison Officer, Lloyd Bengaroo, a Palm Island local whose job it was to act as an link between locals and the cops.

According to Hurley, Bramwell - who was being loud and abusive towards an elderly Aboriginal woman - had committed the offence of ‘public nuisance’.

As he walked past, Mulrunji remarked to Bengaroo (who he knew) that he shouldn’t be locking up his own kind.

Bengaroo warned Mulrunji to move on or he too would find himself under arrest.

Mulrunji complied, but about 30 metres from the vehicle, he apparently turned and called back three words that would cost him very dearly: “You f**king c**ts”.

Hurley decided that Mulrunji should go for public nuisance as well. Of course, the only members of the ‘public’ Mulrunji had annoyed was a cop and a liaison officer. Regardless, after loading Bramwell in the van, Hurley and Bengaroo set off after Mulrunji, who had continued walking home. He was duly arrested and bundled into the back of the wagon with Bramwell.

The accusation levelled against Bramwell and Mulrunji constitutes the first in a trio of charges that law enforcement officials call ‘having a punt’.

It goes like this: A person is arrested for a trivial offence, such as public nuisance or offensive language. The person objects to being arrested, often on the grounds that police are more foul-mouthed than most criminals. The person becomes more aggressive at the notion of a trumped up charge, and suddenly finds himself facing the additional charge of resisting arrest.

Even more infuriated, the ‘offender’ struggles harder, and a ‘fight’ ensues.

An incident that began as a verbal exchange between a cop and a citizen has led to a man facing charges which could attract some serious prison time.

Police call the three offences ‘the trifecta’. The practice has been around for decades, but admittedly happens less frequently these days (although that’s in no small part due to the fact most magistrates today are aware of the practice, and many keep a watch out for it with a view to dismissing the charges).

It’s a moot point whether or not Hurley was ‘having a punt’ that morning, because Mulrunji never lived long enough to be formally charged with any crime.

Anzac Day and the Armenian Genocide

As Australians mark Anzac Day this week, Armenians around the world will be remembering a disconcertingly parallel and not widely commemorated event -- the Armenian genocide of 1915. As Allied troops landed at Gallipoli, the Ottoman government was rounding up Armenian intellectuals and leaders, who were later executed en masse. The expulsion and slaughter continued for two years, and many of the Australian POWs from Gallipoli bore witness to the terrible treatment of Armenians - a witness that has only recently started to come to light through diaries and photos from those POWs.

Robert Fisk comments that Encouraged by their victory over the Allies at the Dardanelles, the Turks fell upon the Armenians with the same fury as the Nazis were to turn upon the Jews of Europe two decades later. Aware of his own disastrous role in the Allied campaign against Turkey Winston Churchill was to write in The Aftermath ... that 'it may well be that the British attack on the Gallipoli Peninsula stimulated the merciless fury of the Turkish Government'. (pp.393-4 The Great War for Civilisation: The conquest of the Middle East)

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Catching the Light? Talking about God and the Movies

God-talk is therefore immensely difficult. It requires resourceful imagination funded by scripture, liturgy, art, prayer, literature and poetry. It also requires and enables the rational disciplining of imagination that we call theology; an unending dialogue between these two, in fact. (
Simon Barrow Ekklesia paper What Difference Does God Make Today.

Discussing the process of catching light, as the search for God in the movies, Roy Anker comments:

The word " God " is no longer particularly evocative having accrued mountains of negative association, especially for moviegoers. Nor is the term any longer - in the polymorphic culture in which we live - particularly precise, having long since become the great cosmic catchall for anything slightly strange, repressive, or for that matter, unjust - either in politics of personal life. that is at least part of the reason that many of the films discussed here are very cautious about using the term "God" to identify the remarkable elements in them. Appropriately they are more about showing than naming. And that approach is fitting not only in the light of the medium, but also - for Jewish and Christian viewers - in view of the biblical caution about trying to contain the Limitless within a single term, particularly in a term that has become so multivalent and depleted as "God". (p.11) Catching Light: Looking for God in the Movies (Eerdmans, 2004)

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

What is policy for and why might indigenous Australians be rightly suspicious of policy made in Canberra?

Given the history of Australia, indigenous Australians have few reasons to trust Governments and their agents rocking up to announce trust us, we are here to help you.

Beyond that there are philosophical and theological reasons why there might be an intractable problem in assuming that there will be an easy transition for indigenous communities engaging with agents of modernity such as public servants.

The following quote from Stanley Hauerwas in The State of the University (p.37) gets us close to the heart of the matter.

Hauerwas points out that according to Charles Taylor ... the social imaginary that has shaped the world in which we now find ourselves "starts with individuals and conceives society as established for their sake. Political society is seen as an instrument for something pre-political." Political society is understood to be the instrument to help individuals serve each other for mutual benefit by providing security and by fostering exchange and prosperity. Such societies emphasize the importance of rights which "reflects the holders sense of their own agency and of the situation that agency normatively demands in the world, namely freedom."

Taylor, however suggests that the individual that enjoys such freedom is "disembodied." ... requiring that they choose to be who they want to be. ...modernity names the time when a people are produced that believe they should have no story except the story they choose when they had no story.

But if you do believe that you have a story that is not exhausted by the "disembodied" storyless individual of modernity, what then?

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Following the Spirit – Fighting Injustice

Something new is emerging in Australia and across the world in signs of the recovery amongst charismatic and Pentecostal Christians of a commitment to stand with the poor and to struggle against injustice, according to Ash Barker, Director of Urban Neighbours of Hope, an Australian originated, missional order committed to living with the poor.

Ash was speaking at Kippax Uniting Church in Canberra during the launch of the anthology Following Fire: How the Spirit Leads us to Fight Injustice. The emerging focus on the Biblical call to seek justice, by Pentecostal and charismatic churches who up till now have concentrated solely on the power of the Spirit only for their own use, Ash , was of tremendous importance. He urged Christians committed to the radical character of discipleship to do what they can to support and encourage this development.

The anthology Following Fire, published by Urban Neigbours of Hope. explores how the Holy Spirit leads the Christian community in the fight against injustice. The anthology covers biblical foundations, historical precedents and practical models of Spirit-led justice-seeking. The anthology has been complied out of the conviction that the flowing together of the charismatic and social justice streams of Christianity, to which it points, has the potential to radically change the world.

While the contributors are mostly from Australia and New Zealand, there are a sprinkling of names on the contents page that will be familiar to Christians in the UK and North America, including Stuart Murray Williams, Martin Robinson, Tony Campolo and Richard Rohr.

Who are Urban Neighbours of Hope (UNOH)?

The UNOH community was first formed in Springvale - a multi-cultural city of Melbourne in 1993. The Churches of Christ mandated this new vision and auspiced the work, although UNOH workers and supporters are from diverse Christian churches.

In May 2001 UNOH was commissioned as "a missional order among the poor" by the Churches of Christ. This came after four years of prayer, refection and experimentation around being an Order. Since 1993 the UNOH workers have served in Springvale among Pacific Islanders, East Timorese, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Burmese, indigenous Australians and communities of people with mental illnesses. Ministries in these communities have focussed around starting new churches, leadership development, community development and evangelising.

Since March, 2002, UNOH has be serving in the largest slum in Bangkok, Thailand and has recently commenced a presence amongst the indigenous community in Mt. Druitt, in the outer western suburbs of Sydney.

Just Policing?

The Christian response to war has been undergoing a major transition over the decades since World War II. The Pope has been accused of being a pacifist, while the peace churches have been issuing statements suggesting police style action in the face of terrorism.

Gerald Schlabach has been provoked by these changes to open up a fruitful field for work by the churches that has implications not only for their contribution to public policy but also for their relationship at the ecclesial level. In Just Policing Not War: an Alternative Response to World Violence (Liturgical Press, 2007) Gerald has offered some key essays on the fundamental issues at stake and assembled a group of discussants from the Catholic and Mennonite communities.

This is a significant contribution to consideration about the character of policing - ecclesiology meets public policy and in the shadows lurks the contribution of John Howard Yoder.

Monday, 14 April 2008

Olympic torch is a symbol of?

Eureka Street in its new electronic incarnation continues to produce material worth reading.

Michael Mullins in todays mailing draws attention to the history of the Olympic torch as a symbol not of freedom and sportsmanship but as a symbol of state propaganda by oppressive governments and brings to our attention a little remembered piece of history and pranksmanship that even the Chaser should be envious of.

The power of marketing has obscured the original symbolism of the Olympic torch as an effective celebration of human rights violation.

The modern Olympic torch relay was initiated by the organisers of the 1936 Berlin Olympics. It was carefully orchestrated by the Nazi leadership to uphold the image of the Third Reich as a dynamic and expanding influence on the international culture and economy. It fitted perfectly with the Nazi belief that classical Greece was an Aryan forerunner of the modern German Reich.

Olympic officialdom has since cast aside the torch's original link with political oppression and human rights violation by asserting that it's about sport, not politics, and that the two are mutually exclusive.

2008 is not the first occasion on which protestors have attempted to expose the flame's link to human oppression. Before the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, a veterinary science student at St John's College at the University of Sydney was successful in upstaging the torch with a fake flame that rose from kerosene-saturated underwear, before Sydney Lord Mayor Pat Hills. Prankster Barry Larkin and fellow students organised the action because of the torch's Nazi origins, and the fact that it was given 'too much reverence'.

Such pranksters are what we need more of - they show up the principalities and powers by demythologising them by creating roars of laughter.

This is non-violent activism at its most imaginative.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Living the Resurrection

As we live beyond Easter it is worth remembering that each of the central days of that festival has particular themes that we could reflect on as a way of shaping our lives as disciples.

Good Friday provides us with the challenge of accompanying with compassion those living in the shadow of death and those who experience the power of death daily through their experience of injustice, deprivation and the ravages of war.

Easter Saturday, the most neglected day of the three, points us toward living with patience, perseverance and an underlying trust in the activity and presence of God in the face of the long haul of everyday life, between crucifixion and resurrection.

Easter Sunday is about resurrection as a way of living not simply as a theological or doctrinal proposition to which we give intellectual assent and then move on with our lives as though nothing has happened.

What we need then are not “Bible believing” or even “resurrection believing” Christians” but Jesus following, resurrection living disciples.

While the resurrection is about the way we live, in the life of the church there has been relatively little reflection and guidance that I could find about what a resurrection shaped discipleship looks like. And this is really strange, because if we were to go into a Bible study looking fir the meaning of the resurrection for our life as disciples as members of the Christian community we would be here for a very long time. Beyond the stories of the resurrection of Jesus at the end of the Gospels, we have Acts and the New Testament epistles that are shaped profoundly by the arguments that they contain on what living out of a resurrection shaped faith is all about.

The Anabaptist tradition has given expression to the significance of resurrection living; it comes to us through a single yet powerful phrase from in the Schleitheim Confession in 1527 – one of the earliest statements from the radical, peace church tradition of the reformation period. Entry into Christian discipleship is for …all those who desire to walk in the resurrection of Jesus Christ”

Walking in the resurrection was no easy matter for the Radical Christians of the 16th century with their commitment to make the church independent of the state their refusal to bear arms. It was not a matter of a spiritual high detached form the hard realities of life. Many of those involved in drawing up the Schleitheim confession were killed within a matter of months.

To walk in the resurrection is to walk in the path of the Resurrected Crucified Jesus. The one who was resurrected is the same Jesus who healed the sick, who affirmed the value of those caste out from society, who partied with those of dubious reputation, who challenged the religiously comfortable and confronted the Roman Empire with a non-violent witness to God as the true ruler. The Jesus who was resurrected, in whose resurrection we are called to walk, is the Jesus who suffered capital punishment at the hands of the Roman Empire. Walking in the resurrection is to live as those for whom violence and injustice do not have the last word

With the resurrection of Jesus, God created a new world and sent Jesus’ followers off to announce it to the world. If you go to the resurrection chapters in Luke 24, or in Matthew, or Mark, or John, and say, “What do the evangelists think this stuff means; why are we telling this story?” The answer is not, “Jesus is risen again, therefore, we can go to heaven when we die and be with him.” It’s interesting they never say that, those resurrection chapters. Rather, they say, “Jesus is risen from the dead. Therefore, God’s new creation has begun, and you are commissioned to go off and make it happen.” That’s the emphasis. And it’s a new world of justice and freedom; it’s the exodus world, the return-from-exile world, the world where Jesus already reigns as Lord, it’s the world with good news for all, especially as in the New Testament, for the poor. (Tom Wrights The Resurrection: A Sermon Nov 11, 2001)

Resurrection is about justice, freedom and God’s new creation. To share in Christ’s resurrection is to be empowered by God to be witnesses to and participants in God’s preaching of peace not as some purely inner spirituality but as part of a whole new creation and to live in a way hat is paradoxical bringing into question the social norms of the time but is the start of a new creation that is lived out in the midst of confusion and pain, violence and political conflict.
So what does living in the resurrection look like?

• The issue is one of the practice of hope. There is a deep connection between peacemaking and hope. We do not have to use violence to make things come out right. Patience, compassion and a non-violence – all are elements of hope.
• Living beyond our means – living with open hands in both giving and receiving - not needing to control or force the outcome. Learning to live generously.
• Embodied life – how could a resurrection life be a ‘spiritual’ life detached from the body. Expressed by Jesus in the sharing of meals – Jesus is recognised in the breaking of the bread. Resurrection about living practicing for a new heaven and a new earth now.
• Living out God’s coming kingdom now – practicing – living the new creation now – wherever there are signs of brokenness, destruction and injustice trying to find practical ways to address them. learning to live generously
• Seeking the justice that God desires now.
• Living with the freedom that we are not controlled finally by the state or the powers of violence, rather witnesses to God’s coming kingdom of peace

The ‘kingdom’ of which Jesus speaks is an entirely new order of relationships grounded in mutual forgiveness, open table fellowship, the sharing of wealth, peaceable politics, healing for the sick, welcome for the stranger, and good news for the poor. “How Easter Brings Regime change” by Simon Barrow (Ekklesia, April 14, 2006)

See also
“For they were Afraid” Sermon by Jim Barr (Easter 2006)
“Resurrection: The Ultimate Answer to Empire” Sermon by Rick Derksen (2003)
“Threatened with Resurrection” by Simon Barrow (Ekklesia, April 29, 2006)

Kevin Rudd and Tibet

Anyone who had assumed that Kevin Rudd was a cautious technocratic politician despite his article proclaiming his admiration for Dietrich Bonhoeffer might now be given some pause for thought by the following news story on the ABC website.

Senior Chinese Government officials have publicly attacked Prime Minister Kevin Rudd over his comments on Tibet.

In Washington, Mr Rudd said it was clear that human rights abuses were being committed in Tibet, and today he repeated those claims during a speech at a university in Beijing. Mr Rudd says he will not be backing away from his plan to raise his concerns with the Chinese leadership.

"It's important, as I said in my speech earlier today, to have a relationship that is capable of handling a disagreement and putting views in a straight-forward fashion," he said.

"That's what I said I'd be doing in my remarks earlier today, and that's what I will be doing. I stand by the comments I made earlier on this matter."

He has also supported Australians' right to turn their back on the Olympic flame.

"You know one thing about Australia [is], it's a robust democracy. We live in a free country - people can express their point of view in any manner that they choose," he said.

In a speech earlier today to Beijing University students, Mr Rudd said he did not support a boycott of the Olympics, but he risked increasing Beijing's ire by talking about other human rights issues and controversies.

"There are still many problems in China. Problems of poverty, problems of uneven development, problems of pollution. Problems of broader human rights," he said.

"It is important to recognise that China's change is having a great impact, not just on China, but also the world."

Mr Rudd described China's social transformation as "unprecedented in human history", but warned his audience that its rise was causing anxiety overseas.

There is something appropriate in the fact that this speech was given on 9 April, the date on which Dietrich Bonhoeffer is remembered in the Anglican calendar of saints and martyrs.

Getting sport out of politics or politics out of sport?

Calls by distinguished ex-Oympians in Australia over the past twenty four hours, including an angry tirade by Kevin Gosper to keep politics out of sport profoundly misses the point. The more difficult question is how can we keep politics out of sport.

In the Olympic movement the two are profoundly intertwined - the Olympic movement could not survive without the willingness of states to through large amounts of money in the vicinity of the IOC when bidding comes around for the right to "host" the next Games.

Given that reality how can anyone claim that sport is separate from politics?

Let alone the transparent attempt by the Chinese Government to use the Olympics as huge public relations exercise ... and on a minor scale the evident disappointment of the ACT Chief Minister, a beacon of progressive politics, at the prospect that a $900,000 investment in the presence of the flame in Canberra as a photo opportunity was going to be spoiled by people protesting about human rights in Tibet...

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Olympics, Christendom and the Sacred

The "sacred" doesn't disappear under the pressure of modernity it simply migrates elsewhere.

The week's headlines over the protests against Chinese violence in Tibet provides a significant moment of illumination on the reality of this process with regard to the Olympics, sport and the nation state.

A lot of criticism of the Oympic movement in recent years has focussed on the linking of the event with marketing and consumerism. While there is undoubtedly substantial empirical truth in this tale it has tended to occlude the ongoing linkage of performance sport and national identity in the Olympic movement.

The Christian movement in the West has spent the last few centuries disentangling itself from the linkage to state power and the upholding of national identity expressed in the Christendom settlement.

The Olympics has been heading in the opposite direction with performance sport becoming inextricably linked with government purposes. The International Olympic Committee has been in the business of promoting the Olympic games as a hyper-nationalist event.

Governments provide huge amounts of funding to run the events, providing the continued justification for the IOC's existence. The symbolism of the Games particularly the flame and the opening and closing events draws large draughts on unacknowledged elements of ritual usually associated with the "religious" elements of human behaviour. The sacred has become more and more visible in these ceremonies over recent decades.

The IOC has brought politics, national purpose and state power together in a new sports "Christendom" that benefits chiefly the IOC and the state authorities who wish to obtain the blessing of association with the event for their own political purposes.

The actual benefits of a Christendom arrangement, whether it is religion or sport linked to state power for those who are on the margins of empire are dubious in the extreme.

Suggestions that protestors should let the Olympics proceed and keep politics out of sport are totally misguided. Olympic sport is in politics up to its neck. Watch to lobbying associated with the decision as to where the Games will be held.

We need to get sport out of politics by abolishing the Olympics movement and being saved the hypocrisy that has politicians and commentators proclaiming that the Olympics are purely about sport. The Chinese government has performed us all a service in making that abundantly clear this week.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Pine Gap 4 and the law

Interesting exploration on the ABC Law Report program this morning on the legal fall out from the prosecution launched against the Pine Gap 4 following their attempt to conduct a citizen's inspection of the site.

The Northern Territory Court of Criminal Appeal quashed their convictions.

Ron Merkel who argued the case for the Pine Gap4 in the Court of Criminal Appeal observed:

The real problem there is that if the Commonwealth want to institute a prosecution, raising as one of the central elements of an offence a trespass on a defence facility, it throws open the question of whether it was in fact a defence facility, that is, something necessary for the purposes of defence of Australia. If it does that, it has to allow the accused to challenge that fact if there is a bona fide dispute about those matters, which there clearly was in the present case. If it wishes to use public interest immunity, the problem is it can't really have it both ways; it may be able to claim public interest immunity, but if that prevents the fair trial of an accused of an offence, then the court in those circumstances may be prepared to stay the prosecution permanently, because there can't be a fair trial. But this case never really got to that stage because of the trial judge's approach to the facts which took it away from the jury.

Damien Carrick: Bryan Law, you're planning to go back to Pine Gap on Anzac Day later this month. What do you think will happen to you there? You've had one rumble with the law; do you think you'll be charged again?

Bryan Law: Well, we'll be challenging the government to charge us under the Defence Special Undertakings Act and put some of these legal issues to challenge again. I would expect to see a heavier police presence this time and a more constructively thought out security response from Pine Gap. We've invited the Minister for Defence, Joel Fitzgibbon, to have a dialogue with us about the role of Pine Gap; we haven't received a response from that. But realistically I'm expecting the government to back down. I think that they won't touch the DSU legislation again with a 40-foot pole, and that we'll be charged under the Crimes Act with minor offences of trespass, and let off with fines.

Damien Carrick: They won't charge you under the Defence Special Undertakings Act 1952 because what's just been decided, or just been made clear in the judgments, that if they do then they will have to establish for the court that Pine Gap is a prohibited area necessary to the defence of the Commonwealth, and they'd have to then go in and talk about, articulate, argue, tell the court what it's role is and how it fulfils that brief.

Bryan Law: Yes, we would be able to bring into the court documents created by the government discussing the role and function of Pine Gap, and that would be the first time those documents would come before the Australian people for public attention. If we could get those documents out into the light of day, we would get a decent public discussion about the role and function of Pine Gap and my guess is that within ten years it would have changed dramatically.

Damien Carrick: So the irony here is that you'd love to be charged under this what you describe as 'draconian legislation' because it would offer you a platform to discuss and debate the role of Pine Gap in a public forum.