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Friday, 20 March 2009

Iraq - after six years

Peggy Gish from the christian Peacemaker Team in northern Iraq provides the following summary of life in Iraq six years after the invasion - a summary which focuses on the realities of everyday life.

After six years of war, Iraqis are living with

The deaths of an estimated million Iraqi civilians. (See

A devastated society and infrastructure. Water is still contaminated. The average Iraqi has an average of four hours a day of electricity, and the poor have inadequate medical care.

Continuing economic crisis. Sixty percent of the families rely on the food rations, which have been reduced. Unemployment is over 50%. Prices of food and fuel have increased, but not wages.

Widespread anger and despair about their living conditions.

The threat of torture, coerced confessions, and false imprisonment. Iraqis are in control of prisons and "security," but Iraqis often feel terrorized by special-forces police, trained and equipped by U.S. personnel who also trained death squads in Latin America. Many Iraqis say that the ways of Saddam continue.

Never knowing when the terrorist attacks might begin again. Violence on the streets in Central and Southern Iraq has decreased in the past six months due to repressive control, but this control has not resolved deeper problems. Iraqis in these areas wonder if the lull in the violence is temporary and still live in fear. They believe those doing greater acts of terror have simply moved to other areas such as Mosul and Baqubah, where high rates of violence continue.

Increasing violence against women and the loss of women's rights and freedoms.

Their children growing up seeing violence and killing as the norm.

Pollution from the radioactive depleted uranium used in U.S. weaponry, which has caused cancers and birth defects.

Election fraud and the killings of candidates and elected officials. Irregularities in the most recent election left about 100,000 Kurdish Iraqis unable to vote. Kurds in Kirkuk and other northern disputed areas are afraid of civil war between Arabs and Kurds, because of election manipulations.

Turkish, Iranian, and Syrian attacks on Iraqi civilians. The U.S. government has allowed Turkish military planes to fly over Iraqi airspace and has given Turkey military "intelligence" to bomb Kurdish villages along Iraq's northern borders with Turkey and Iran, causing destruction of hundreds of villages and displacement of villagers.

The internal displacement of 4.5 million Iraqis who have fled their homes.

Forces telling Iraqis that only violence and surrendering their civil rights will bring them security.

Words cannot express the anguish that the Iraqi people have experienced in these last six years. Occupying forces have exacerbated ethnic conflicts and oppressive political forces in their country. The ongoing war has caused suffering and hardship that will probably continue for generations.

For further details on the CPT delegation in IRAQ see:

Annie Dillard and Worship

Thanks to Jim Barr for this quote from Annie Dillard on worship in his call to worship last Sunday:

The higher Christian churches - where if anywhere I belong- come at God with an air of professionalism, with authority and pomp, as though they knew what they were doing, as though people in themselves were an appropriate set of creatures to have dealings with God. I often think of set pieces of liturgy as certain words which people have successfully addressed to God without their getting killed. In the high churches they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a strand of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger. If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it any minute. This is the beginning of wisdom.
(p.59 Holy the Firm)

For the sermon that day - a really good sermon - see the Canberra Baptist website, 15 March The Discerning Worshippers Guide
Click to get the MP3.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

One part of Iraq where peace is absent...

While the level of violence in much of Iraq has thankfully declined the Kurds have not yet benefited. Kurdish villages in border areas are subject to bombing by Turkey, with the support of the United States, Iran and Syria. The following news report from the Christian Peacemaker Team in the area tells the story.

3 March 2009
IRAQ REFLECTION: Kurds feel abandoned and surrounded

by Michele Naar-Obed

Word is filtering throughout Iraq that the United States is starting to remove its military presence. The country is theoretically in the hands of Iraqis. However, the situation on the ground is chilling. Journalist Dahr Jamail writes "the capital city of the country is essentially in lock-down and prevailing conditions are indicative of a police state..." (See And, of course, the Kurds in the north are again experiencing feelings of fear and betrayal as they let go of the U.S. safety net.

While the recent election was touted as an example of democracy, over one million Kurds in the province of Diyala were not allowed to vote, costing them important political seats. Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission admits that voter fraud was rampant.

The new U.S.-backed leaders in Iraq have been levying threatening language the Kurdish region. When the Kurds turn to the U.S. for help, U.S. officials tell them to solve their own problems. A worse betrayal is the refusal of the U.S. to sanction Turkey for its ongoing bombing along Iraq's northern border. The U.S. has admitted to clearing air space inside Iraq for Turkey and providing "military intelligence" for strikes against the militant Kurdish Worker Party (PKK). Damning evidence that these attacks have caused extensive destruction for Kurdish civilians not associated with the PKK makes the U.S. complicit in violating their human rights.

While Turkey has done the most damage, Iran and Syria have also launched attacks. Iraq's central government has done little to protect the Kurds from hostile neighbors. Instead, they admonish the Kurds for their efforts at semi-autonomy because these efforts inspire the Kurds of Turkey, Iran, and Syria to exert independence. The Kurds thus feel completely surrounded by hostile forces. With feelings of nowhere to turn, some Kurds have found violent self-defense a more attractive option, and more may join PKK ranks if this situation continues.

In this atmosphere of fear and insecurity, CPT and Kurdish villagers are working with a UNHCR*-sponsored working protection group towards a return to homes the villagers fled from because of the bombings. While the villagers know CPT's accompaniment isn't a guarantee of safety, one said, "God will bless this plan, because it is for the good of our people."

Proletarianisaton of the workforce

Nicholas Boyle in an essay "After Thatcherism" observes:

The devices for making us more "flexible" - that s more sackable - workers, introduced in good times, make us that much less cnfident consumers in bad times, which thereby become even worse. We thus grow particularly aware in recession of how far we are not, after all, individuals whose needs are serviced by an anonymous markt but are dependent for much of the content of our lives on our ability to work for others who in turn work for us. (p.39)

Who Are We Now? Christian Humanism and the Global Market from Hegel to Heaney
(T&T Clark, 2000)

Friday, 13 March 2009

Life, Death, Love and Suffering - Spencer Colliver and Wendell Berry

Coming home from a funeral yesterday, a celebration of a life well lived, (Spencer Colliver - a senior public servant during the Whitlam years and a key figure in the founding of the Zadok Institute), a funeral that featured a series of reflections by his children who honestly, wryly and lovingly recorded the light and the shadow, the complexity of energy, demand and love that had been their father, I carried with me the memory of the walk to the cemetery down a country lane behind the hearse, brief prayers against the warmth of an early autumn day pretending, fairly successfully, that it was still still summer and the faint call of cockatoos against the brown of the distant hills, I sat down to read and found myself moved by the closing passage of Wendell Berry's novel A World Lost.

What the connection between my thoughts about the funeral and thanksgiving service and the passage in the novel was I am not quite sure. Perhaps the sharing of it will help make the connection clear, to myself at least.

A World Lost is a first person reminiscence by Andy Catlett of a crucial event in his growing up his gradual exploration of that event in his later years and its significance for his life. At the end of the story Andy comes to the following conclusion about himself and the family members who have been at the centre of the novel.

One by one, the sharers in this mortal damage have borne its burden out of the present world: Uncle Andrew, Grandpa Catlett, Grandma, Momma-pie, Aunt Judith, my father and many more. At times perhaps I could wish them merely oblivious and the whole groaning and travailing world at rest in their oblivion, but how can I deny that in my belief they are risen?

I imagine the dead waking, dazed into a shadowless light in which they know themselves altogether for the first time. It is a light that is merciless until they can accept its mercy; by it they are at once condemned ad redeemed. It is Hell until it is Heaven. Seeing themselves in that light, if they are willing, they see how far they have failed the only justice of loving one another; it punished them by their own judgement. And yet in suffering that light's aweful clarity, in seeing themselves within it, they see its forgiveness and its beauty and are consoled. In it they are loved completely, even as they have been, and are so changed into what they could not have beenbut what , if they could have imagined it, they would have wished to be.

That light can come into this world only as love, and love can enter only by suffering. Not enough light has ever reached us here among the shadows, and yet I think it has never been entirely absent.

Remembering, I suspose, the best days of my childhod, I used to think I wanted most of all to be happy - by which I meant to be here and to be undistracted, I thought, I would be at home.

But now I have been here a fair time, and slowly I have learned that my true home is not just this place but is also that company of immortals with whom I have lived here day by day. I live in their love, and I know something of the cost. Sometimes in the darkness of my own shadow I know that I could not see at all were it not for this old injury of love and grief, this little flickering lamp that I have watched beside all these years. (p.326 Three Short Novels)

The cost of Peace

We must be prepared to make the same heroic sacrifices for the cause of peace that we make ungrudgingly for the cause of war.

- Albert Einstein

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Followers not Admirers ...

It is well known that Christ consistently used the term "follower," He never asked for admirers, worshippers, or adherents. No he calls disciples. It is not adherents of a teaching but followers of a life Christ is looking for. ( from Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard)

Monday, 9 March 2009

Osso Huna Pre-Secondary School - Timor Leste

Classroom in Osso Huna

Entertaining visitors - who came to help out with conversational English classes

Attached are some photos from Osso-Huna Pre-Secondary School up in the mountains south east of Baccau.

School Parents meeting

Lining up before school

Back in 2002 the community gave a high priority to education and established with the help of some teachers from the community a presecondary school. With the help of friends from overseas and funding from TEAR Australia the school has continued to run successfully and constructed permanent class rooms.

Report from the School
For the 2007-2008 school year that began on 6 October 2007 and ended on 30 June 2008, there were 80 students enrolled in the Osso Huna Pre-Secondary School. For Year I there were 33 students; Year II had 27 students, and Year III 20 students. These students received very good grades in English, Portuguese, Mathematics and Biology. In June 2008, the Year III students took their national exams. All but one of them passed. A graduation ceremony was held on 29 July 2008 for the 19 students who passed their national exams.

An alumnus of the Osso Huna Pre-Secondary School, is now continuing his studies in Sydney, Australia. He was one of 30 students that were selected by the Secretary of State for Petroleum in Timor Leste to receive scholarships to study about petroleum in Australia. He graduated from Osso Huna in 2004/2005. In December 2008 another two alumni from Osso Huna, were awarded scholarships to continue their studies in the Philippines.