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Saturday, 29 August 2009

Democracy and freedom

Robert Fisk in a recent column in the Independent argued that "Democracy will not bring freedom" in Afghanistan. The reporting of what is going on in Afghanistan in the Australian media seems to take no account of the power of ethnic identity and the sociology of communities in Afghanistan. The political debate about Australian involvement takes no account of these issues either.

So they voted. But for what? Democracy? Certainly not "Jeffersonian" democracy, as President Obama reminded us. Yes, the Afghans wanted to vote. They showed great courage in the face of the Taliban's threats. But there's a problem.

It's not just the stitched-up Karzai administration that will almost certainly return, nor the war criminals he employs (Abdul Rashid Dostum should be in the dock at The Hague for war crimes, not in Kabul), nor the corruption and the hideous human rights abuses, but the unassailable fact that ethnically-divided societies vote on ethnic lines.

I doubt if anyone in Afghanistan voted yesterday because of the policies of their favourite candidate. They voted for whoever their ethnic leaders told them to vote for. Hence Karzai asked Dostum to deliver him the Uzbek vote. Abdullah Abdullah relies on the Tajik vote, Karzai on the Pashtuns.

It's always the same. In Iraq, the Shia voted in a Shia government. And in Lebanon, Sunni Muslims and a large section of the Christian community voted to keep the Shia out of power. This is not confined to the Muslim world. How many Northern Ireland Protestants vote for Sinn Fein?

But our problem in Afghanistan goes further than this. We still think we can offer Afghans the fruits of our all-so-perfect Western society. We still believe in the Age of Enlightenment and that all we have to do is fiddle with Afghan laws and leave behind us a democratic, gender-equal, human rights-filled society.

True, there are brave souls who fight for this in Afghanistan – and pay for their struggle with their lives – but if you walk into a remote village in, say, Nangarhar province, you can no more persuade its tribal elders of the benefits of women's education than you could persuade Henry VIII of the benefits of parliamentary democracy. Thus the benefits we wish to bestow upon the people of Afghanistan are either cherry-picked (the money comes in handy for the government's corrupt coffers and the election reinforces tribal loyalties) or ignored. In the meantime, Nato soldiers go on dying for the pitiful illusion that we can clean the place up. We can't. We are not going to.

In the end, the people of these foreign fields must decide their own future and develop their societies as and when they wish. Back in 2001, things were different. Had we hoovered up every gun in the land, we might have done some good. Instead, the Americans sloshed millions of dollars at the mass murderers who had originally helped to destroy the place so that they would fight on our side.

Then we wandered off to Iraq and now we are back to fight in Afghanistan for hopelessly unachievable aims. Yes, I like to see people – women and men – voting. I think the Afghans wanted to vote. So, too, the Iraqis. But they also want freedom. Which is not necessarily the same as democracy.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Australian blog worth noting

Link to an Aussie blog worth noting - thanks to Bessie Pereira for this A place where I can rant about my life in community, mission (whatever that is), social justice, hospitality, spirituality, social work and life in beautiful Doveton. Did I mention and transform the world...

The everyday experience of Palestinians

25 August 2009
by Samuel Nichols

A man came to our house, asking, "Where is Nasser? Is Nasser here?"

I didn't quite know how to respond, because Nasser is in jail. He's not in jail because he did anything wrong. He's in jail because he's Palestinian, and because he's living in the South Hebron hills in Area C, an area under full Israeli control. He's in jail because the mission of the Israeli military and police is to protect settlers, whatever the behavior of those settlers may be. Nasser was arrested because he tried to build a house, a house the settlers didn't want him to build, and thus, the military and police didn't want him to build.

I turned to the man and quietly responded, "Sorry, but Nasser is in jail."

"Where?" he asked.

"I think he is in jail in Jerusalem; he has been in jail for nearly a month."

The man raised his eyebrows and walked away disappointed, but not apparently surprised or perturbed.

His reaction speaks to the situation of Palestinians arrested by Israeli forces in the occupied Palestinian territories (OPT). The arrests of friends and family are common for Palestinians in the OPT. Nevertheless, it's challenging for families to be without a father, husband, and provider.

When Palestinians are arrested, no one knows when they will be released. Unlike Israelis, Palestinians are rarely granted bail while awaiting a court date or sentencing. Court dates are routinely postponed while the 'defendant' sits in jail; often large sums of money demanded for the release of a Palestinian (the most recent sum demanded for Nasser was 20,000 NIS - approximately $5,300.)

According to a 2008 report issued by the Israeli group Yesh Din, the Israeli authorities brought charges against settlers for attacking Palestinians in only 10% of cases. In May 2009, 449 Palestinians were under Administrative Detention in Israeli prisons-imprisonment without charge or trial. The facts demonstrate that Palestinians who take legal action against criminal settlers in the OPT have little chance of being heard; meanwhile, Palestinians are routinely arrested and imprisoned without any semblance of legal proceedings. This is a system that privileges Israelis and imprisons Palestinians committed to resisting occupation, regaining their stolen land, and asserting their right to be treated as human beings.

Prayer and history

Prayer holds together the shattered fragments of the creation. It makes history possible.

- Jacques Ellul

A cry from the heart from Fiji - living the truth in a time of fear

A cry from the heart from a blogger in Fiji on the impact of the military coup. Touches on issues of truthfulness in public life and the moral challenge of living truthfully in a time of repression and fear.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Responding to good and evil

Non co-operation with evil is as much a duty as is co-operation with good.

Mohandas Gandhi

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Catching up on a Papal Encyclical Caritas in Veritate

A belated collection of references and links on the papal encyclical Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth) as a resource if I need to follow up the topic.

Pope Benedict Gets It Right by Brian McLaren
Of particular interest to me is his strong endorsement of the key concepts behind the sustainability and fair trade/ethical buying movements. These related movements help us see that the economy is an important sphere where we can, in a sense, cast votes with every dollar we spend, literally loving our neighbors (or not) by the way we buy (or don't buy) groceries, clothing, corporate shares, and so on.

Eureka Street:Home » Vol 19 No 13 July 14, 2009> Who deserves charity? Susie Byers

Eureka Street: July 10, 2009> Bruce Duncan Pope Confronts Economic Injustice

Eureka Street: July 10, 2009> Neil Ormerod Pope's 'seamless garment' bares green credentials

Larvatus Prodeo: the PM and IL Santo Padre; and world capitalism at Larvatus Prodeo

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

The dislocation of long distance air travel and the ambiguity of techonology

Just returned from a weekend in Darwin for work purposes - pity it was not for a holiday it is the best time of the year there - Wurgeng - the early dry season.

The experience of long distance flying on Monday, from Darwin to Adelaide and then Adelaide to Canberra left me as it always does feeling dislocated from people, life and connection with the touch of earth and slightly nauseous.

The experience for me is one of abstraction and detachment.

The paradox is that the conversations I was involved in over the weekend were intense and involved an engagement with people tracing a trajectory that could not have been achieved over a video link. They involved discussion about policy, engaging issues of political judgment and moral responsibility that extended over meals and opened up issues of personal vocation and responsibility as public servants.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Early note for 9 August - remembering Franz Jägerstätter

With travel for work taking me away over the next few days I wanted to get up a posting on Franz Jägerstätter who I remember every year on 9 august, the date of his execution by the German authorities for his unwillingness to take up arms on behalf of the Nazi regime.

The true Christian is to be recognized more in his works and deeds than in his speech. The surest mark of all is found in deeds showing love of neighbour. … Let us love our enemies, bless those who curse us, pray for those who persecute us. For love will conquer and will endure for all eternity. And happy are they who live and die in God’s love.
From a reflection by Franz Jagerstatter quoted in Gordon Zahn In Solitary Witness: : The Life and Death of Franz Jägerstätter (Revised edition, Templegate Publishers, 1986)

Franz Jägerstätter teaches us the way of Jesus. Give your life for others, even for your enemies. Surely this is a powerful witness, and one that challenges every one of us here tonight to give up war, to give up hatred, to give up killing, to follow the way of Jesus
. (Bishop Gumbleton - Homily on the beatification of Jägerstätter 23 September, 2007)

"The crucial lesson to be learned," Gordon Zahn declared, "is that, however hopeless the situation or seemingly futile the effort, the Christian need not despair. Instead he can and should be prepared to accept and assert moral responsibility for his actions. It is always possible, as Jägerstätter wrote, to save one's own soul and perhaps some others as well by bearing individual witness against evil." (John Dear SJ "On the Road to Peace" 30 October 2007)

I have found myself increasingly movedin recent years by power of the witness of Franz Jägerstätter as much as I have by that of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

It is worth remembering that they did not seek death and they both affirmed the goodness of God’s world and hoped despite their imprisonment that they might be able to live to enjoy it. Bonhoeffer’s final poem from prison, dating from December 1944 and smuggled out from the Gestapo Prison at Prinz Albrecht Strasse speaks again in a voice that echoes the sentiments of many of Jägerstätter’s letters from that same prison to his family.

By kindly powers surrounded, peaceful and true,
wonderfully protected with consolation dear,
safely, I dwell with you this whole day through,
and surely into another year.

Though from the old our hearts are still in pain,
while evil days oppress with burdens still,
Lord give to our frightened souls again,
salvation and they promises fulfil.

And shouldst thou offer us the bitter cup, resembling
sorrow, filled to the brim and overflowing,
we will receive it thankfully, without trembling,
from thy hand, so good and ever-loving.

But if it be thy will again to give
joy of this world and bright sunshine,
then in our minds we will past times relive
and all our days be wholly thine.

Let candles burn, both warm and bright
which to our darkness thou hast brought,
and, if that can be, bring us together in the light,
thy light shines in the night unsought.

When we are wrapped in silence most profound,
may we hear that song most fully raised
from all the unseen world that lies around
and thou art by all they children praised.

By kindly powers protected wonderfully,
confident we wait for come what may.
Night and morning God is by us faithfully
and surely at each new born day.

Remembering Hiroshima 6 August 1945

To remember the bombing of Hiroshima today is to acknowledge the devastating capability of technology and our ongoing implication in that technology through Australian links to the American empire.

Hiroshima stands as a question mark against claims that World War II fulfilled the criteria for a just war.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Christianity versus the "Church of Power"

Simon Barrow in his latest editorial on the Ekklesia website "Christianity versus the "church of Power" speaks for me when he says that the... approach we are seeking to develop, in other words, is neither a Christian gloss on a non-theologically derived secularism nor an attempt to revive ‘established religion’, but something quite distinct and different from both – namely, a recovery of the non- and anti-imperial heart of the Christian message in the midst of a plural world, in a way which emphasises and exemplifies its socially subversive, just and peaceful expression.

Much of the anxiety apparent in discussions on human rights by some of the churches betrays a hankering for a return to the privileged mode of the Christendom model of church society relationships. The record of the institutional church in terms of living out the gospel within the institutions that we have been running, in terms of protecting the vulnerable is not so good that we have got solid grounds for claiming a privileged position.