Thursday, December 23, 2004

And a very Merry Christmas to you all...

I make no secret of the fact that I am atheist.

Despite that, I have no hesitation in wishing all who might pass this way "Have a very happy Christmas".

To those who think it illogical or hypocritical for me to make such a wish, think on this.

Why should you, if the wish upsets you, accept what is freely given. Why should you, if the wish has religious connotations that affect your sensibilities, try to read what is in my mind.

Well, to all those "freedom loving liberals" hear this -




To those who believe that their religion is the "one true faith" and that all others must bow before it hear this -




Have a Hapy New Year as well.

I am heading south in about three hours to have Christmas with our daughter and partner. Will be back on deck in early January.

Ka kite ano.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

I am a grinch, I admit it...


This is not a pick on this one guy, and if I am honest I do not think the posts he put up were “grinchy” - as he puts it - in the slightest.

Far from it in fact. One of the reasons ( and it is somewhere near the top of the list of the very many reasons that I have ) for my not having any faith in the Christian religion as a pastime is the very apparent (to me anyway) conflict between the basic precepts that are preached and the blatant commercialism of the Christmas festival.

I know that the underlying principle involved here is giving.

I know well the importance to Christian believers of the original gift.

I very much doubt that the original donor had in mind, or even contemplated the idea of a quick trip to a department store and loading up the credit card. Nor, I suspect, was the idea contemplated of children demanding of their parents gifts which the parents can not afford nor the children deserve.

My ideal gift, the one that I try to give to my wife and family every year (with meagre success sometimes I will admit), is one that just can not be bought; anywhere. It is the one gift that I would wish to receive from every member of my small family.

My ideal gift might take many different forms, but it will never be seen in a shop or warehouse.

My ideal gift has no value, because it is beyond price.

My gift will never make another person rich.

My gift is my love.

Now how grinch is that!!!

Saturday, December 18, 2004

From the realms of "unforeseen consequences"...

NZ's "smoke-free bars and clubs" law is now just one week old.

In this morning's paper is a small article quoting vox pop experience of the effects the new law have had.

There have been a few complaints - some about the fall-off in patronage and consequently takings and profit.

But, sufficiently significant to feature in the informal survey, is the problem of smell.

Body odour features as a good part of the comment, but the most prominent is the "problem" of (I am a country boy, this word is Anglo-Saxon, not rude) farting.

It is not that it is a new problem. It is merely the fact that it now is coming to notice rather than being concealed or camouflaged by the smell of cigarette smoke.

So, to those of you who may be smokers, and who are facing the thought of legislation that is going to take away your right to smoke in your favourite speakeasy or club, here is another line of defence for you...

Ask the pc bastards what they propose doing about the fart smells and body odours that will become apparent once people stop smoking in the bars. Tell them that you are still prepared to risk health, life and limb in the war against the imposition of unwelcome and ill-disguised body odour and the gaseous by-products of natural digestive processes.

Then, let's see what the pc brigade can make of THAT!

Friday, December 17, 2004

Why do I do this?

Dave, a long reply to your short comment...

Dave, I think that I can appreciate your opinion that the piece is a “load of crap”. It takes quite an effort, it requires a huge stretch of the imagination, but it is possible.

The other side of the debate (at least on my part) is not, as you have implied, a return to the stone age. To get a better idea of the true point of this, perhaps you might consider –

How many times have you (do you) or your wife tell your children to stop doing something “because it is dirty”?

How much adverse impact might that “dirt” really have on the health of your child?

How much disinfectant do you use in your toilet?

How much disinfectant would you use if you followed the ads on tv?

How many times do you think your “standard” of disinfectant use or more is repeated around the US? BTW this is not picking on the US here, from the attitude of my son and his partner I suspect that the same applies in NZ…

This leads to the crux of what this article is saying. To put it in my own words…

Every organism on this little space rock evolves to ensure its own survival.

If one considers a bacteria or similar simple organism, it adapts and evolves over time in response to environmental threats. That is not a “conscious” response. It is at its most fundamental a chemical change, nothing more. It is enough to ensure the survival. If the change is not made, or if the change is wrong, the “branch” dies out.

In that way, over time, we are now experiencing the result of the Tuberculum bacteria evolving to the extent that the Salk type vaccines are less effective; we now have mutated forms of Staphlococcus that are unaffected by penicillin, and in some cases even the more powerful man-made chemical antibacterial agents are ineffective giving the MRSA infections; the ultimate is, of course, the HIV virus which - if the reports I see are correct - is mutating at a rate of hundreds of “new strains” every day. Many of those strains are “duplicates” or arrive at the same “end”, but the problem lies in the fact that this is such a simple organism most mutations survive.

The very big difficulty is that all higher animal species are (obviously) many millions of times more complex that single cell beasties. That is not a DNA measure that I am using – it is a matter of thinking about all of the different cell types in our body and how they must change in response to a threat and at the same time maintain the ”cooperation” needed for a body to function.

So that is the physical aspect of survival – not just for the human species but for every form of life. The greater the complexity of the organism, the greater it has difficulty in responding to environmental changes. That, BTW, does not automatically imply global warming or the like. The progression of animal life from sea to land might have been the consequence of a series of adaptations across a wide range of species in response to quite different threats; those might include climate change, predation patterns, food source adaptation or evolution…

The other part, one which I flicked to in my haste, is the mental aspects of survival. It is well documented that if you take an animal from its “natural” environment and place it in a different surrounding, the level of stress that is created is directly related (in the mathematical sense) to the degree of change. Given the opportunity to adapt, the time to adapt, the stress can be completely overcome. But this adaptation is not genetic, it is more immediate than that.

This reflects a good part of what the linked article is speaking of… If you change the immediate environment of living thing – plant or animal – the change creates stresses that can affect the physical viability of the organism. Think of transplanting a flower, compared with a tree. Think of taking an animal from a zoo to be released into the wild, or vice versa.

I do not question that ADHD or anorexia existed 100 or 1,000 or even 10,000 years ago. The difference from then to now is not that we are able to “diagnose” it. (My honest feeling on ADHD is that it is “manufactured” in part - there are some individuals that might have such a syndrome). The difference is that having recognized it we are now aware of where and when it can occur.

I suspect (and I say that because this is entirely speculative) that if one were to research the incidence of ADHD in the Masai peoples (the example from the article) one would find that there was a much lower, probably unmeasurable, level in that community.

I have another example, this is not on the mental adaptations required, but on the physical. There are a series now of well documented research studies into the incidence of Type 2 Diabetes (adult onset, non-pancreatic) in the Polynesian peoples. This is a major on-going problem for NZ’s health services, hence the detailed studies that are continuing.

What these studies are finding is that the problem is being caused not by “bad diet” as such. The problem is far more fundamental than that. The Polynesian / Micronesian peoples have adapted over some 10,000 years to specific diet and lifestyle parameters. Those adaptations involve (if I understand this correctly) the ability to store energy foods for long periods, and to then metabolise that very rapidly when required. The source of the adaptation has been the low fat, medium sugar, high protein and high fibre diets that these people lived on over that period combined with the physical stresses created by long sea voyages (from days to weeks and perhaps even months) on very low diets…

Their diet has changed, overnight when you compare 100 years to 10,000. It has now become high fat, high sugar, low fibre high protein. That change, so the research indicates, has brought about stresses which which the Polynesian metabolism has been (statistically) unable to cope. The comparatively very high availability of diet sugars in particular has created stresses evidenced by high blood sugar levels and the obvious consequence of Type 2 diabetes.

So, if I use this example to illustrate the conclusion that the article reaches by a different route –

There is an artificially created (that means “man-made”) environmental change that has made drastic changes to the diet of the Polynesian peoples. That change has been traced as the probable cause of the high rates of Type 2 Diabetes.

The article’s conclusions if applied to this situation DO NOT predicate that we “send” the Polynesian peoples “back to where or when” they came from”. That, I think, is the implication of your comment regarding the stone age.

The article says (as I read it) that we should be using science to find better ways of easing the adaptations required to overcome the problem.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Well, well!!! Someone who agrees with me...

...and they are very few and far between.

Came across this through Human Nature.

The Garden of Eden

Although rational in many ways, the idea of considering human beings as something apart from nature is dangerous. Evolution has shaped all organisms, us included. Moreover, we are all shaped to live in particular environments. If animals are kept under unfavourable conditions their health tends to deteriorate, they typically behave oddly and appear discontent. People living in modern societies show similar ailments, as witnessed by the incidence of various maladies, including mental disorders. I believe it is possible to alleviate these problems by creating living conditions closer to those our genes are adapted to; but in order to do so, we need to accept our biological inheritance...


...Yes, our genes are adapted to a Stone Age way of life. They expect our bodies, including our brains, to mature in interaction with the social, physical and natural environment of those days. When conditions deviate from that norm, we gamble with our health. Some changes may not matter, or may even be purely beneficial, but other discrepancies make us vulnerable.


Take our immune system, for example. A highly complex entity designed to interact with the surrounding world of germs, our immune system seems to suffer from a lack of dirt! Ten thousand years ago babies crawled on a carpet of soil and grass. Today, in the absence of a steady stream of mostly innocent bacteria to contend with, the immune system tends to develop aberrant ‘behaviour’. It launches excessive attacks on harmless pollen or, even worse, on the person it belongs to. Asthma, allergy and rheumatic disorders descend on us like plagues. But who would have guessed that the solution may be a bit of Stone Age living: a daily spoonful of mud for the babies?
Hey!! I agree with THAT

I don't know that I agree wholeheartedly with his conclusion that we can re-create paradise.

However, when you consider the increasing prevalence of behavioural disfunctions such as ADHD, anorexia, through to "road rage", you really do have to wonder where we "lost touch".

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Brian Tamaki in the news again...

On the front page of my Sunday paper this morning the lead article is about Ahmed Zhaoui, the Algerian Government Minister in exile who was released from 2 years detention without trial or charge during the past week and placed on bail in the care of the Order of Benedictine monks in Auckland..

The second lead though is the one which I wish to address.

It centres on my favourite "Christian", the born again bikie bad boy, the "Reverend" Brian Tamaki. This time the article is a brief outline (make that "rehash" ) of previous revelations (should that be Revelations? ), interspersed with the "news" that he had received a "custom built motor bike".

This apparently was payment in kind for making the trip to the US and preaching at the home church of his mentor, the very "Bishop" Eddie L Long.

Now this is a man about whom I know nothing, wish to know even less, and hope never to meet. Nothing whatsoever to do with his being Christian nor his preaching of his version of the religion.

No, the report includes a brief description of him in the following terms -

...Long has visited New Zealand several times, including at Labour Weekend (That is the end of October). Cardno (official spokeswoman for the Destiny Church - Tamaki's own) confirmed that Long was given an honorarium for his visit, but she would not give specifics.

"It would obviously be generous", she said, "It's the same at any huge conference".

In a previous visit, Long told a Destiny congregation that the church would be "ruling New Zealand" before its 10th anniversary.

"That means you control the wealth, that means you control the riches, that means you control the politics, that means you control the social order, that means you are in charge", he said.

Now that, coming from a man who professes Christianity (of some kind), I find to be very scary, very scary indeed. It is particularly so when you consider that the sermon was given to Tamaki's faithful before "Enough is enough" and the formation of the Destiny Party.

Well, I can but wonder what manner of people believe this $h!t enough to contribute 10% of their income to maintaining this guy's (Tamaki's) palatial living style. Talk about the religion of lies and deceit...

A different tack -

I think that this is a fascinating site, full of all manner of commentary and scientific gems.

Human nature

Some of the more recent -

An essay on social justice and poverty-

A look at evolution and the connections between humans and nature -

Quite a bit on schizophrenia at the moment -

As I say - interesting stuff...

Monday, December 06, 2004

I know that it takes all kinds...

I have been reading this site for a while now, and it proves to be quite interesting in many respects; particularly for me in that the stories it tells are of real people. I have no idea as to its provenance or accuracy or truth, but it has a ring of honesty that is missing from many others…

Glimpse of Iraq

This particular thread is followed by this comment…

"Speaking as an American, I am very sorry we have failed you. In such an attack, you should expect and hope that nearly all of Amir's friends would be killed. To have only killed one is a very sad result. Certainly we will have to improve our productivity if the goal of creating a decent democratic Iraq is to be realized.

Amir wanted to prevent democracy. He wanted to prevent Iraq from becoming a free country where rights of all are protected. Because of his totally immoral and ignorant opinions, he was killed. We will do better the next time."

Naturally, and as one might expect from the rabies infested minds that produce this kind of garbage, it is by our old friend “Anonymous”.

A question to all you Americans who think that the war in Iraq is just and right.

Is this “Anonymous” thing representative of your nation, your thoughts?

Saturday, December 04, 2004

What IS going on in the UN?

One of the little annoyances that media generally cause me is this thing that they have about “mixing stories”. Now I can see in this example - from CSM - that the common thread is the UN, and the report prepared by Kofi Annan. The real point is that here are TWO important items coming out of that organization, both of which would warrant lead articles of their own. As a consequence of “mixing” both have lost their impact somewhat.

Now, to be honest, this item and another from CSM came up in my search for more detail on the proposed changes to the Charter of the UN. I think that more of that is going to have to wait. There are other matters at hand.

What is more to the point presently is the furore that surrounds Kofi Annan. This is an interesting little piece of demonisation, not least because in many respects it goes hand in hand with the “ineffectiveness of the UN”. That there is something rather nasty smelling in the back of his pantry is, in my opinion, a convenient hook on which to get him hung. The truth of the matter is, objectively, that Annan’s connections to the Iraq Oil money scandal is no different to the relationship between Cheney and Halliburton.

Annan’s bio, courtesy of the UN, makes for interesting reading and especially this part…

Official UN bio - Annan
Before being appointed Secretary-General, Mr. Annan served as Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations (March 1992-February 1993) and then as Under-Secretary-General (March 1993-December 1996). His tenure as Under-Secretary-General coincided with unprecedented growth in the size and scope of United Nations peacekeeping operations, with a total deployment, at its peak in 1995, of almost 70,000 military and civilian personnel from 77 countries. From November 1995 to March 1996, following the Dayton Peace Agreement that ended the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mr. Annan served as Special Representative of the Secretary-General to the former Yugoslavia, overseeing the transition in Bosnia and Herzegovina from the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) to the multinational Implementation Force (IFOR) led by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

He has used his good offices in several delicate political situations. These included an attempt in 1998 to gain Iraq's compliance with Security Council resolutions; a mission in 1998 to help promote the transition to civilian rule in Nigeria; an agreement in 1999 to resolve a stalemate between Libya and the Security Council over the 1988 Lockerbie bombing; diplomacy in 1999 to forge an international response to violence in East Timor; the certification of Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon in September 2000, and further efforts, since the renewed outbreak of violence in September 2000, to encourage Israelis and Palestinians to resolve their differences through peaceful negotiations based on Security Council resolutions 242 and 338 and the principle of "land for peace".

Why do I think that significant? Not because it is wrong. To my knowledge it is totally factual, except for one small detail.

During 1995-6, Annan was the Secretary General’s Special Envoy to Africa. He had particular responsibility for the administration of UN activity in Central Africa. He was responsible for the administration of UNFOMOR and subsequently UNFOMIR. As is well known, this UN attempt at administering conflict control (in this instance in Rwanda) without involvement was something of an unmitigated disaster.

A very big part of the cause, I have read, is Annan’s personal attitude that the UN had no mandate to get involved in the internal affairs of any nation. That he was dealing with Bosnia at much the same time, and with much the same result as far as the UN was concerned is more than coincidental. His recommendation (as I recall it ) that NATO should deal with Serbia / Bosnia as it saw fit is merely another of the expressions of that attitude.

So, how did he become Sec Gen of the UN? This is how I see it…

He replaced Boutros-Ghali…

Boutros-Ghali bio - independant?
Boutros-Ghali, Boutros , 1922–, Egyptian statesman, secretary-general of the United Nations (1992–96). He attended the universities of Cairo and Paris (Ph.D., 1949). He was (1949–79) professor of international relations at Cairo Univ. A member of numerous academic and diplomatic organizations, he was present (1978) at the Egypt-Israel Camp David Accords negotiations. He also served as Egypt's delegate to the United Nations and other international bodies and conferences. A member of the Egyptian parliament (1987–91), Boutros-Ghali became Egypt's minister of state for foreign affairs and deputy prime minister for foreign affairs. The first African and Arab head of the United Nations, he moved to reorganize and streamline the UN Secretariat and strengthen the UN's peacekeeping role. In 1996, after policy disagreements mainly with the United States, he was forced from office. He became secretary-general of La Francophonie, an organization of French-speaking nations, in 1997.

And another...

Boutros-Ghali headed the Egyptian delegation to the United Nations General Assembly in 1979,1982 and 1990. From 1992 to 1996 he served as Secretary General to the United Nations (U.N.). He was the first Arab and the first African to obtain this post, which he assumed as the role of the U.N. was expanding in the post-Cold War era. During his term he was faced with crises in Somalia, Rwanda, Angola, and the former Yugoslavia. Throughout his tenure he was concerned with conflict in the Middle East and the widening economic divide between North and South, as well as the bureaucratic reorganisation of the U.N. Secretariat. The United States opposed his re-election for a second term despite strong African and Security Council support for his cadidacy.

Boutros-Ghali made an enemy of the US. No debate on that. He was quite a different Sec Gen that Annan has been. He was much more in the mould of Hammerskjold, an independent thinker who is not averse to shoving people around to get them into a course of action. Of course, when Boutros-Ghali began trying to shunt the US on its position in the Middle East, and Israel in particular, some noses went out of joint very quickly. The accusations against him (again my memory) did not specifically state but inferred strongly that trying to influence US foreign policy was “interfering in its internal affairs”. In some respects, no make that many respects, the Rwanda debacle was a convenient clothesline on which to hang him out to dry.
So, what should the rest of the world have expected?

Here we have the incumbent Sec Gen Boutros-Ghali, not doing a bad job; a bit abrasive; not afraid of telling important people what he thinks; making one or two – especially one – very powerful enemies.
The rules of the UN require the Sec Gen to be a diplomat, from a “non-aligned” nation, and that the post will be rotated among the five major continents. Thus we have had Europe (Hammerskjold), Asia (Thant) and Africa (Boutros-Ghali). That meant (and I recall this being debated at length) the next Sec Gen should come from the Americas.

Now that was an arrangement that pleased one particular nation very much indeed. But the Africa bloc were considerably p’d off that their “turn” was being cut short by the US applying its Veto to the reappointment of Boutros-Ghali.

In the end, the solution came back to compromise. Africa put up an alternative candidate that the US could agree to. Why could they agree to Annan?

Simple. He had already shown himself to be strongly on the side of non-interference in internal matters of individual nations, and he had also shown himself to be a very good administrator… Totally ineffectual when required.

Back to the CSM for the final word from the article (same link as the first...)
The panel proposes an expansion that includes either six new permanent members - with no veto - or new regionally distributed seats renewable every four years. That would boost membership from Africa, Latin America, Asia, and the Muslim world.
But critics say adding more voices at the table means more debates, more lobbying, more gamesmanship - and less action.

"Yes, it will make it slower, but ... it will be more representative, will boost the ego of the other continents, and make them happier by opting them in," says Yusuf Juwayeyi, the former UN ambassador for Malawi.

While the veto of the "Permanent Five" will continue to dictate how and when the Council responds to crises, two other factors also look unlikely to change: the widespread lack of political will among UN member-states to act against friends and neighbors - regardless of the transgression - and the vital role the US plays in UN success.

But the US is not expected to embrace any UN reforms that would dilute its influence there or constrain its ability to act unilaterally. And that really is the nub...

"The United States should exercise its moral authority to work through the UN and really find a way to forge these solutions to common problems," says Suzanne DiMaggio, of the UN advocacy group United Nations Association of the USA. "It's not that I'm not holding France, China, and Russia to the same standard, but the US is a special case, as the world's only superpower. It's beholden upon us to be a leader."

And, guess why there is still considerable pressure for the UN to get shot of Annan?

There is still the matter of who will replace him. It is the turn of which continent next? Who in the Americas would be non-aligned and acceptable to the rest of the world?

That, really, is the greatest threat by far to the continuation of the UN.

Friday, December 03, 2004

For those with an interest in things ...

This is another of those blogs that I have come across by chance.

News from Basque country...

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Just at the moment, I feel a bit of a wally...

a twit, an idjit even.

My apologies go to anyone who may have tried to e-mail me from this blog.

I do not know why, but I had the wrong addy on it. Stupid boy...

If you want to hurl invective, damn with faint praise, or even just talk the e-mail will now (I hope) get to me.

Oh, one other thing.

I am going to have to pull my head in somewhat. Spending time on blogs at work is NOT a good look. People with important titles start wondering what you are being paid to do...

So, posting is going to limit to once a week, Sundays. Commentary might be even less.

Monday, November 29, 2004

In Memorium Flight 901 - 25 Year Anniversary

A quick note of remembrance to the 258 people killed when Air New Zealand FLight 901 crashed into Erebus in whiteout conditions.

Spare a thought yourself too, that whenever you fly international a good part of your safety is the consequence of the causes that led to this tragic loss of life.

The cause was navigational error created when incorrect data was loaded to Air New Zealand navigational databases. That incorrect data was then loaded to aircraft nav systems and not checked "because it was never wrong".

It was. By some 23 miles.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Another go at the religion in politics debate ...

After posting up on religious debate, and making mention of the Gita, and the terminology of religion, I thought in an idle moment that I should return to it and re-read the Introduction for no other reason than that it was written by Aldous Huxley. Now Natashjia should immediately recognise a connection, so for that reason alone I am going to base this post on one short excerpt from that Introduction, and a second extract from part of an historical and explanatory note by the translators Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood.

First I want to point out that the first print of this book was 1954, my copy was printed 1964. I emphasise this to show that I am not stealing a current critique to present as my own.

So first to the historical and explanatory commentary that opens this translation of the Gita. This comes from the Mahabharata historical legend of the Pandavas and King Dhritarashtra. The story is fairly similar to the "Riddle of the Sphinx" so I will skip to the final question / answer sequence in the interest of brevity...

Last of all came Yudhisthira, the youngest. He found the corpses of his brothers and began to lament. The the voice told him:"Child, first answer my questions, and then I will cure your grief and your thirst." He turned, and saw Dharama, the personification of duty and virtue, standing beside him in the form of a crane.

"What is the road to heaven?" the crane asked.
"How does a man find happiness?"
"Through right conduct"
"When is a man loved?"
"When he is without vanity"
"Of all the world's wonders, which is the most wonderful?"
"That no man, when he sees others dying all around him, believes the he himself will die."
"How does one reach true religion?"
"Not by argument. Not by scriptures and doctrine; they can not help. The path to religion is trodden by the saints."

This second piece is the Huxley.

...Contemplation of truth is the end, action is the means. In India, in China, in ancient Greece, in Christian Europe, this was regarded as the most obvious and axiomatic piece of orthodoxy. The invention of the steam engine produced a revolution, not merely in industrial techniques, but also and more significantly in philosophy. Because machines could be made progressively more and more efficient, western man came to believe that men and societies would automatically register a corresponding moral and spiritual improvement. Attention and allegiance came to be paid, not to Eternity, but to the Utopian future. External circumstances came to be regarded as more important than states of mind about external circumstance, and the end of human life was held to be action, with contemplation as a means to that end. These false and, historically, aberrant and heretical doctrines are now systematically taught in our schools and repeated day in and day out, by those anonymous writers of advertising copy who, more than any other teachers, provide European and American adults with their current philosophy of life. And so effective has been the propaganda that even professing Christians accept the heresy unquestioningly and are quite unconscious of its complete incompatibility with their own, or anybody else's, religion.

It is possible that Huxley had teachings such as that I have quoted from the Mahabharata, along with the sayings of Christ, and the Analects, and a far wider range of teachings in his mind when he wrote that paragraph. I can not match his learning. I can not match his insight. But I want to try and apply this to the previous comment that I have made on the role of religion in politics.

I want to pick on the charismatic churches, especially those that consider themselves "fundamental" or "conservative", and in the interests of fairness I am going to use the New Zealand "Destiny Church" as my example. It is doubly pertinent as an example because of its illegitimate (in my view) offspring; the Destiny Party. Now I must say here that the Church takes great pains to emphasise that there is no direct connection with the Destiny Party. I will merely point out that the founder of the political Destiny Party made it very clear that it was his intention to bring Christianity into the political arena in the form espoused by the Destiny Church.

And at that I can point straight to the heart of my argument, that religion does not, must not, form an integral part of government.

First because religion is not a matter of government, it is a matter for each person to reach with his personal god.

Second because religion is not the process of worship, not the process of ministry, not the truth or otherwise of scripture; it is the personal quest for truth and enlightenment. The "church" can provide access to learning, teachers and a meditative environment. But it should be no more than that.

Third and the most important of all, is the "thread" that I have picked up on here and in other posts and debates with Al, that "right conduct", "virtue", the "rules of society" are the way to happiness. It is not possessions, it is not law, it is not lack of law or government.

I can see the dichotomy here, that between individuals and their beliefs on the one hand and the process of governing on the other. What I hear from the Pavanda legend equates for me with the Ten Commandments at this level; both are intended as guides to individual action and the individual's quest for his god.

Where the Destiny Church, and others of its ilk, fail in my estimation is their emphasis on the interpretation of scripture, their focus on the process of worship, and their doctrine of financial contribution determining the distribution of spiritual merit. None of this would, according to Dharma, lead to individual happiness, being loved, or righteousness. What is being promoted is the worship of process; the self deception of vanity. If you are a Christian who attends church regularly, think on these; what are your thoughts as you prepare for church? What is your desired outcome from your attendance? What are your thoughts as you leave the church? Are those thoughts on how you might change your self or are they now on the activities of the rest of the day? What is the Church promoting? In most instances that "the only salvation, the only path to 'eternal life', is through our ministry, our church". The price is our 10% (in the case of Destiny) tithe.

The point in my mind here is not the answers; they are for you and you alone. The idea I want to plant is the difficulty in legislating control of what you are thinking. It matters not how strong a church may be, the only really effective way that the action and thought of the individual can be controlled is by creating that compliance in the individual from birth. That in essence is the power of Islam in states such as Iran. But when I listen to the ideas propounded by the Conservative Right Religious they are trying to persuade me that theyknow best what is good for me;they are the learned who will tell me what is right thought and what is wrong;they will determine how I shape my life and my quest for happiness and enlightenment; the Church determines my fate in the hereafter.

There was, some centuries back, an attempt by the Christian Church to impose that level of control on the thought and action of the individual. We have our current civilisation because those attempts failed. The Church failed because the Inquisition failed. The Church failed because they could not totally suppress science at the time of Galileo. The Church failed because deistic rights of royal succession were lost to revolution and religious evolution.

As Huxley put it, the purpose of Christian religion has changed from religious eternity to utopian future. As a consequence, the Church is no longer the fount of personal enlightenment. It has transmogrified into the capitalism of self deception and false happiness.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Just an idle thought in passing...

It occurs to me that there is really little wonder that the American politic has reached its current state...

Take just as a very simple example the matter of colour. No, not race, political colour.

In NZ, Britain for sure, blue is the colour of the right, the conservative element. Quite apart from anything else, think "blue-blood" for "upper class".

In NZ, all communist countries, Britain too, red is the colour of the left, of the revolutionary, of the worker and the working class.

Why is it then that in the US, blue is the colour of the Democrats, the "liberal left" and red is the colour of the "conservative right", the Republicans?

Strange. Realy, really strange.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

I thought I was going paranoid... it seems not?

I picked this up from “The average Man” and it struck something of a chord, quite loudly.

"Living under Fascism"

Another of my selective quotations…

In an essay coyly titled “Fascism Anyone?,” Dr. Lawrence Britt, a political scientist, identifies social and political agendas common to fascist regimes. His comparisons of Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Suharto, and Pinochet yielded this list of 14 “identifying characteristics of fascism.” (The following article is from Free Inquiry magazine, Volume 23, Number 2. Read it at ) See how familiar they sound.

1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism
Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.

2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights
Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of “need.” The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.

3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause
The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial, ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.

4. Supremacy of the Military
Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized.

5. Rampant Sexism
The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Opposition to abortion is high, as is homophobia and anti-gay legislation and national policy.

6. Controlled Mass Media
Sometimes the media are directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media are indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common.

7. Obsession with National Security
Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.

8. Religion and Government are Intertwined
Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government's policies or actions.

9. Corporate Power is Protected
The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite.

10. Labor Power is Suppressed
Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed.

11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts
Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts is openly attacked, and governments often refuse to fund the arts.

12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment
Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations

13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption
Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders.

14. Fraudulent Elections
Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.

This list will be familiar to students of political science. But it should be familiar to students of religion as well, for much of it mirrors the social and political agenda of religious fundamentalisms worldwide. It is both accurate and helpful for us to understand fundamentalism as religious fascism, and fascism as political fundamentalism. They both come from very primitive parts of us that have always been the default setting of our species: amity toward our in-group, enmity toward out-groups, hierarchical deference to alpha male figures, a powerful identification with our territory, and so forth. It is that brutal default setting that all civilizations have tried to raise us above, but it is always a fragile thing, civilization, and has to be achieved over and over and over again.

And again…
The Perfect Storm
Our current descent into fascism came about through a kind of “Perfect Storm,” a confluence of three unrelated but mutually supportive schools of thought.

1. The first stream of thought was the imperialistic dream of the Project for the New American Century. I don’t believe anyone can understand the past four years without reading the Project for the New American Century, published in September 2000 and authored by many who have been prominent players in the Bush administrations, including Cheney, Rumsfleid, Wolfowitz, Richard Perle and Donald Kagan to name only a few. This report saw the fall of Communism as a call for America to become the military rulers of the world, to establish a new worldwide empire. They spelled out the military enhancements we would need, then noted, sadly, that these wonderful plans would take a long time, unless there could be a catastrophic and catalyzing event like a new Pearl Harbor that would let the leaders turn America into a military and militarist country. There was no clear interest in religion in this report, and no clear concern with local economic policies.

2. A second powerful stream must be credited to Pat Robertson and his Christian Reconstructionists, or Dominionists. Long dismissed by most of us as a screwball, the Dominionist style of Christianity which he has been preaching since the early 1980s is now the most powerful religious voice in the Bush administration.
Katherine Yurica, who transcribed over 1300 pages of interviews from Pat Robertson’s “700 Club” shows in the 1980s, has shown how Robertson and his chosen guests consistently, openly and passionately argued that America must become a theocracy under the control of Christian Dominionists. Robertson is on record saying democracy is a terrible form of government unless it is run by his kind of Christians. He also rails constantly against taxing the rich, against public education, social programs and welfare — and prefers Deuteronomy 28 over the teachings of Jesus. He is clear that women must remain homebound as obedient servants of men, and that abortions, like homosexuals, should not be allowed. Robertson has also been clear that other kinds of Christians, including Episcopalians and Presbyterians, are enemies of Christ. (The Yurica Report. Search under this name, or for “Despoiling America” by Katherine Yurica on the internet.)

3. The third major component of this Perfect Storm has been the desire of very wealthy Americans and corporate CEOs for a plutocracy that will favor profits by the very rich and disempowerment of the vast majority of American workers, the destruction of workers’ unions, and the alliance of government to help achieve these greedy goals. It is a condition some have called socialism for the rich, capitalism for the poor, and which others recognize as a reincarnation of Social Darwinism. This strain of thought has been present throughout American history. Seventy years ago, they tried to finance a military coup to replace Franlkin Delano Roosevelt and establish General Smedley Butler as a fascist dictator in 1934. Fortunately, the picked a general who really was a patriot; he refused, reported the scheme, and spoke and wrote about it. As Canadian law professor Joel Bakan wrote in the book and movie “The Corporation,” they have now achieved their coup without firing a shot.

Our plutocrats have had no particular interest in religion. Their global interests are with an imperialist empire, and their domestic goals are in undoing all the New Deal reforms of Franklin Delano Roosevelt that enabled the rise of America’s middle class after WWII.

Another ill wind in this Perfect Storm is more important than its crudity might suggest: it was President Clinton’s sleazy sex with a young but eager intern in the White House. This incident, and Clinton’s equally sleazy lying about it, focused the certainties of conservatives on the fact that “liberals” had neither moral compass nor moral concern, and therefore represented a dangerous threat to the moral fiber of America. While the effects of this may be hard to quantify, I think they were profound.

These “storm” components have no necessary connection, and come from different groups of thinkers, many of whom wouldn’t even like one another. But together, they form a nearly complete web of command and control, which has finally gained control of America and, they hope, of the world.

Read the whole sermon. It says a great deal about the state of America as that man of the church sees it…

Monday, November 22, 2004

A brief review...

Time for a short post, methinks.

Following my post on religion in government but certainly not as a result of it (I’m not that good) come the following observations…

Brian notes…

The NZ Herald on Friday…

Ewen McQueen comments that –

With proportional representation the strategic realities have changed. Now Christians can express a political calling in two ways: there remains the option of working within a secular party but there is also now the option of a Christian political party.

Though such a concept might be new in New Zealand, it has plenty of international precedents. The Dutch Christian Democrats have their roots in three different Christian political parties, the first of which was established in 1898.
Although the Christian Democratic movement in Europe has since strayed from its founding values, there can be no doubt about its origins. In more recent years Europe has seen a resurgence of smaller Christian parties. Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Estonia, Switzerland and the Netherlands all have such parties holding seats in federal or state parliaments.

Elsewhere in the world, including in South Africa and Australia, new Christian political parties are springing up and finding support.

The significance of the Dutch Reform Church (one of its offspring) as the formative force behind apartheidt in South Africa is forgotten rather than ignored. Well, I will give him benefit of the doubt anyways.

The Richard Randerson column is here…

His conclusion I think says much for retaining the secular government this country has –

In the midst of the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln said of the warring parties: "Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully." (Second Inaugural Address, 1865).

Lincoln displayed in many speeches the recognition that the will of God could not be assumed to lie with his own side, and that in exercising power the ability to think broadly about divine justice was a central ingredient. His was a healthy objectivity one might hope for in all political leaders.

Such objectivity is even more essential in the life of religious bodies, whose advocacy of ultimate objectives in human affairs is fatally compromised by aspirations to political power.

Randerson is the assistant Anglican Bishop of Auckland.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

In a recent post – here Wednesday, November 17, 2004 It's time for some more non-original material – OldWhig has been ruminating on the philosophies of the ancient Chinese. This is an area of common interest though not, I believe, for the same reasons.

His post includes –

The moral man conforms himself to his life circumstances: he does not desire anything outside of his position. Finding himself in a position of wealth and honor, he lives as becomes one living in a position of wealth and honor. Finding himself in a position of poverty and humble circumstances, he lives as becomes one living in a position of poverty and humble circumstances. Finding himself in uncivilized countries, he lives as becomes one living in uncivilized countries. Finding himself in circumstances of danger and difficulty, he acts according to what is required of a man under such circumstances. In one word, the moral man can find himself in no situation in life in which he is not master of himself.

OK, I find that rather less enlightening. So you have to go outside of Confucius' works to find the paths to propriety in those cases.

In a high position he does not domineer over his subordinates. In a subordinate position he does not court the favors of his superiors. He puts in order his own personal conduct and seeks nothing from others: hence he has no complaint to make. He complains not against God, nor rails against men.

Thus it is that the moral man lives out the even tenor of his life calmly waiting for the appointment of God, whereas the vulgar person takes to dangerous courses, expecting the uncertain chances of luck.

Confucius remarked: "In the practice of archery we have something resembling the principle in a moral man's life. When the archer misses the center of the target, he turns round and seeks for the cause of his failure within himself."

I'd like to see a bit more of that going on.

Al, sorry for picking on you, but yours really is a good post, and it is also a good place to pick up on other thoughts at the same time.

In the course of paging through linked sites and blogs on anarchy (I came upon anarcho-syndicalist by chance) there is an increasing trend toward analysing the likes of LaoTzu (TaoTeChing) and Confucius as “models” or leads into political philosophy which I suspect would have been far from their minds at the time they wrote their particular works.

To give one direct parallel (this one peddled from time to time on right wing militarist boards), I have no doubt that modern US military strategists such as those planning the future direction of the war in Iraq have studied SunTzu “Art of Warfare”. No doubt, that work can be translated to parallel much of what happens in Iraq at a broad level. On that basis also it can argued, quite rightly, that SunTzu’s analysis of correct strategy applies in the modern world. I suspect that the truth of that conclusion is in fact somewhat removed from the fanciful application I have given. If we turn the logic over, take out the belief, it happens that there are fundamentals of warfare that are like laws of nature; they are inescapable, incontrovertible, and undeniable, like gravity. Where the parallels from SunTzu to Iraq can be drawn come both from his recognition of these fundamentals, and that the fundamentals still apply in Iraq; just like gravity.

This is why I take issue with the anarchists and others who apply Confucius in particular to their particular ends. It is in fact no different than application of the Bible to the same manner of justifying (or legislating against) events in the modern world.

Now I have no problem with any of the texts that I mention in this post; all of them are challenging to read, all of them espouse principles of “good action” and “good law” and “good society” that I can whole-heartedly agree with and – along parallels like those between SunTzu and Iraq – apply in my life every day.

Those also are the parallels that many free thinkers pick up and (mistakenly in my view) misapply to the modern world.

Now I can say here that I agree with much of what Al has posted. His quotation of Confucius is apt and follows one of these fundamentals. But in the middle he has dropped this –

OK, I find that rather less enlightening. So you have to go outside of Confucius' works to find the paths to propriety in those cases.

The “outside” of Confucius has been forgotten because the work has been taken as all inclusive.

It is NOT complete, NOT all-inclusive, NOT comprehensive..

Like every work of philosophy (any work for that matter, writing, art, music…) it has an outside.

That “outside” is the environment in which it was created.

I suspect that (from the language) Al’s quote is from “The Analects”; written about 500BCE or over 2,500 years back. Its age is not what creates the problem.

The problem is that everybody reading the Analects sees the parallels, thinks “This is marvellous; it suits me!!!” without ever considering its environment.

So, Al, to answer just that one part of your comment, the answer comes not from incompleteness, but from assumption. Al has picked this – “you have to go outside” – and Confucius says in reply “Of course not, because the piece you are missing is a fundamental for me, an integral part of the way that I think and believe. It does not require being written down”.

Another parallel if I may be permitted.

In the Old Testament of the Bible, the story is told of Abraham sacrificing a lamb to God. The story does not detail the rites involved. It makes no mention of words to be said or action to be undertaken. That was simply the environment from which the story comes. No doubt the rites of sacrifice (if they still are practiced within Judaism) would be little changed from that time.

Hand in hand with that environmental consideration, comes that of language. To give an illustration of how difficult that can become, I offer the following.

In my teens and early twenties I went through very much the same manner of search for “truth and enlightenment” that every thinking person seems to undertake. As part of that process I purchased myself a small paperback copies of the ‘Gita and the Upanishads.

In the preface to these translations (by the same translator), there is a note explaining that the translation has retained the original terms for the religious concepts espoused in the text. It gives as the reason the rationale that there is no exact or literal translation of the term into English; the concept of the term has no direct equivalent. It then gives a small table of “approximations” to help the ignorant like me with reading the text.

Now this comment does not apply to Al, but it most assuredly does to many others who are picking up on the Eastern religions to support modern contentions in philosophy, belief and politics.

Tucked into the tail end of his quotation from the Analects (if I got that right…) is the word “God”.

That one little word gives me a problem. Not as one might think because I am atheist. No far from that.

The problem arises from translation.

It is my understanding that in Confucius’ time, there was no “God” as such; religion was predominantly animist, and pantheistic (everything is a “god”).

It is my understanding that the Analects were written as an outline toward good government for a despotic ruler and at the same time to form the basis for maintaining and strengthening the observation and preservation of the rites of worship practiced by the religion(s) of that time. None of those practices are detailed in the Analects. There is no prescription of “what to do or say”. That is very simply explained; the purpose of the text was to protect that multitude of beliefs, not to restrict or proscribe in any way.

Now PLEASE NOT MISUNDERSTAND ME!!! The parallels between Confucius, or LaoTzu, and the modern world are real. That is because they are fundamentals of good conduct and good society. You will find the same parallels, figuratively almost word for word, in the Ancient Greeks, the Bible, the Upanishad and the teachings of Bhudda.

BUT PLEASE - as a universal plea – would all of you self-appointed philosophers, learned or not, homespun or ivory tower, Christian, Taoist, Bhuddist or Moslem, PLEASE REMEMBER the environment from which the detail comes when you take pieces out of your faith to justify action and belief in the 21st century.

The parallel that you draw might well exist, but the devil is in the detail.

Friday, November 19, 2004

This is very long but I think worth the read...and far greater visibility

From "

Clash of Civilisations: Myth or Reality? | Oct 21, 2004 09:29
GUEST Ahmed Zaoui from his prison cell

The following is the text of Clash of Civilisations: Myth or Reality?, a lecture by Ahmed Zaoui, delivered on his behalf by Professor Andrew Sharp of the University of Auckland political studies department, at the university on October 19, 2004.
The lecture was written by Ahmed Zaoui in Arabic and translated into English by Tarek Cherkaoui. Mr Zaoui was unable to deliver his lecture in person because he is being held at Auckland Central remand prison. Extensive background on his case is available at the Free Ahmed Zaoui website.
Mr Zaoui is a former lecturer and tutor at the Religious Faculty of Algiers University.

Clash of Civilisations: Myth or Reality?The end of the cold war and the events of September 11th have engendered an intense and ever-increasing focus from academics and observers about the heterogenic and conflictual relations between the West and Islam. At the same time the powerful Western media machine has produced selective coverage of the Muslim world that has emphasised only its negative aspects: absence of democracy, human rights abuses and terrorism, all manifestly defective in any nation yet all demonstrably legacies of the cold war and of postcolonial states that have failed to achieve development at all levels. Rather than enlightening their readers, sensationalist headlines and unbalanced commentaries in Western media are evidence of a systematic failure of critical thinking about how to deal with a large portion of the world's population, one that has over the centuries contributed in a positive way to the human and scientific development of Western civilisation itself.

A simple example can be seen in the notion of the "Islamic" nuclear threat, a concept that is now deeply anchored in the Western psyche, especially now that Pakistan has successfully tested a nuclear bomb in the context of a frenzied arms race with its neighbour, India.

I oppose these weapons of mass destruction, and do not regard it as praiseworthy for Muslims to possess nuclear weapons, which do not differentiate between belligerent combatants and children in playgrounds. Therefore it is more than enough for the Pakistani bomb to be called Pakistani and not Islamic, as it is enough for other Weapons of Mass Destruction to be called by the names of the nations that develop and hold them - American, British, French, Chinese - rather than by any religious label: Christian, Hindu or Jewish - or secular.

This paranoid view of Islam - I think of it as a psychological disorder characterised by delusions of persecution or grandeur - has been further compounded during the recent campaign to invade Iraq, when the main reason invoked for the war was the alleged possession, by the Iraqis, of nuclear capabilities; an allegation that has not only proven false, but also unmasked the disgrace of reliance on "secret evidence", and exposed the elaborate façade of lies and half truths emanating from the White House and 10 Downing Street.

At the heart of the matter is, as always, 'the other'. Today a globally triumphant Western civilisation no longer characterises 'the other' in terms of skin colour; in Western culture nowadays that form of identification is relatively old-fashioned and clearly racist, with obvious and politically unacceptable links with Nazism and aligned doctrines. Instead 'the other' is now defined in terms of religion and a dissimilar way of life. Consequently a vicious cycle gets erected, in which absurd dualisms prevail: the West versus Islam; the West versus the rest; them and us; civilisation versus barbarism; "You're either with us or against us."

It is one of the illogical ironies of current debates on geopolitical issues that those people who own intelligence, control the production of information and claim objectivity are the same ones who adhere to zealous and empty slogans that serve only the vested interest of arms conglomerates and other business predators. It is likewise illogical to place Islam, which is a monotheist religion, comparable to Christianity and Judaism, in opposition to the West, which is, by turns, a strategic region, an arbitrary geographical division of the earth's surface, or a metaphorical expression of an ill-defined agglomeration of political and economic values.

In his 1990 Tanner lecture, Europe and Islam, Bernard Lewis talks of some of the difficulties presented by the two opposed terms in the title. Islam, he says, is not a geographic location; it is a religion. But for Muslims the very word religion connotes something different than it does for Christians. The word itself, common to the languages of nearly all Christians, Eastern and Western, is derived from the Latin religio - a pre-Christian term for the cult and rituals of pagan Rome.

The comparable Islamic term is dín a term originally Arabic, but which has been adopted in all the many languages of Islam and in common with its cognates in other Semitic languages, notably Hebrew and Aramaic, it means law.

So for Muslims, Islam is not simply a system of belief and worship, separated from other systems, which are the concern of nonreligious authorities administering nonreligious laws; it is the whole of life, and its rules include civil, criminal, and even what we would call constitutional law. Neither is it the monotheistic practice of standardised doctrine.

Of course we can argue that in some secular countries the religious creeds of their leaders are increasingly reintegrating the State with the Church, just as each of the great monotheistic religious traditions have an unattractive apex of fervent belief that thrives in certain environments. However, Islam, like Christianity, and indeed agnosticism, flourishes in a decentralised, tolerant, multiplicitous and democratic format.

Thus we might reasonably speak of the West and the East, North and South, America and Asia, Europe and Africa. Or we might speak of Islam and Christendom, or of Islam and Buddhism. But what can we say about Islam and the West? There is no doubt in my mind that this artificial and often expressed duality is a result of deliberate deception and dishonesty, because the categorisation simply does not stand any close scrutiny.

Yet even if we were to accept such a partition between Islam and the West, Islam itself is not a monolithic construct. It means different things for different people. Islam is not a uniform expression; Islam cannot be constrained to one country or one group. No person or organisation holds exclusive rights for articulating or interpreting Islam, because there is simply no clergy in Islam. Islam has no councils or synods, no prelates or hierarchies, no canon laws or canon courts. The Church, as both an institution and a power, has no equivalent in Islam.

So what does the West, if it exists, understand by 'Islam'? Is it some regime backed by the West itself? Is it some petrodollar sheik supported by the West regardless of his human rights abuses and repression of minorities? Is it some violent group who previously received Western support to fight the Soviets? It is plain that the enemy, 'the other,' is ill-defined and hollow at heart.

Yet behind these generalisations and superficialities there is within Islamic peoples a richness of intellectual trends ranging from those who express a broad admiration of Western ideals and values, to those who reject everything that has its origins in the West. And the question that needs to be addressed is this: what pushes Western decision makers to articulate theories based on the idea of a clash of civilisations?

The answer to this question is a complicated one, reflecting interlocking historical, geopolitical, philosophical and psycho-cultural factors. In terms of history, the West has a strong, if selective, memory and, by making Islam 'the enemy,' is able to retrieve long sequences of history, from the Crusades to the colonial wars, and frame them as parallels and sequels to contemporary events. As an example the Mediterranean Sea, despite being a place of exchange and concurrence between Islamic and Christian civilisations, was also a place where vicious wars were fought and peoples conquered and subjugated. As Fernand Braudel put it in his book The Mediterranean Sea and the Mediterranean World, Islam created and lived Jihad just as Christianity also created and lived the crusades.

Western civilisation, in at least one of its manifestations, aims at global domination. As proof we need look no further than the documents and policies emanating from the Project for The New American Century. This private organisation simply proposes that "American leadership is good both for America and for the world," therefore right-thinkers will promote American global leadership, a "Reaganite policy of military strength and moral clarity" and strive "to shape circumstances before crises emerge, and to meet threats before they become dire". It maintains that such leadership requires "military strength, diplomatic energy and commitment to moral principle; and that too few political leaders today are making the case for global leadership." The cast of fellows includes some familiar names: Messieurs Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Cheney, Quayle, Bush (Jeb, that is), and Steve Forbes. In order to reach that global goal the authors arrogantly do not accept any cultural obstacle slowing its progression. The result is an asymmetric, hegemonic confrontation that aims to subdue 'the other' and remove 'the other's' cultural traits and differences, whatsoever those may be.

Another factor may be that, since the Roman era, the Western conscience vis-à-vis the rest of the world has been shaped and precisely characterized by the idea of confrontation with the other. It is a conscience built upon the idea of subduing the other, abrading the other's differences and reducing the other to its own image rather than dialoguing with the other. With respect to strategic intent, it can be posited as a norm that Western strategy has an absolute and desperate need to find an enemy before tailoring an agenda. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Western decision makers were faced with a strategic void, an emptiness of otherness. They had to find a new enemy and Islam met the need, in a manner that, ironically reflects an old Arabic proverb, which says, "When a merchant goes bankrupt, he looks in his old registers." It may be that the confrontational attitude epitomized in the notion of a clash of civilisations is the result of the failure of the West to achieve total and universal acceptance of its ideals.

It is a paradox that religion is a factor in the development of humanity as the Algerian intellectual Malek Ben Nabi has demonstrated in his book The Requirements of Renaissanec. Religion never intervened to change historical factors; rather it was one of the factors making civilisation. Maximilian Weber, in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism viewed the industrial revolution as a consequence of Protestantism. The corollary follows: will religion be a determining factor in the shaping of strategies and the form of international relations? Will we see Muslims inside Western countries paying the price for state failures or be the fuel for right wing hatred? Will Islam and Muslim immigrants be an unending source of fodder for sensationalist tabloid headlines and a convenient electoral instrument for populist politicians? It is interesting to see that the French psychiatrist Jean Meyson stated in his book The Right Wing in the Psychology Chair that all nations need a Jew as scapegoat. Will this civilisation that aspires to universality exchange the Jew for the Muslim? Will history repeat itself?

There is nothing that makes me think otherwise: the same generalised rhetoric has been used in the past to oppress the Jew in Europe because he was living in the ghetto, because his religion was considered backward and because he was perceived as conspiring against established authority. The same rhetoric prevails today.

It is a paradox that the famous Dreyfus Affair, in which a Jewish French officer was unjustly accused of espionage and conspiracy for Germany against France, should have created, in Sartre's words "the idea of the intellectual." So will this symbolic and corporal oppression that ranges from Abu Gharib and Guantanamo Bay to the secret evidence laws (which bear an uncanny resemblance to McCarthyism's sinister rhetoric) engender a new intellectual spring in the West? In fact there are many important and compelling questions that I want to discuss with leaders and intellectuals:
When will this new clash cease? Who will prevail? Will the result be in favour of democracy and human rights? Will it bridge civilisations and help cultures flourish, as former Czech president and intellectual, Vaclav Havel, demands? Or will it start a troubled era of clashes and bloodshed between religions and civilisations?

There is no doubt that truth is the first casualty of this war. It is a war that targets not only Ben Laden and his few followers, but it will be a persistent pretext to muzzle opposition groups that choose a democratic path to express their projects. In my opinion the "war on terror" is only another deal between the West and Arab dictators aiming to secure cheap oil in exchange for a continuing silence concerning human rights abuses as has happened - and happens still - in Algeria.

The late European MP Sir James Goldsmith once observed in his book The Trap, commenting on the situation in Algeria after the putsch during the 90's, said:

Virtual silence has greeted the reversal of a democratic election in Algeria. The West cannot understand a democratic rejection of its ideas. For the West such a rejection is a sign of either dementia or evil.

More pointedly perhaps, Oliver Roy, the French expert in political Islam, addressed the hypocrisy of the West towards democracy in the Muslim world by saying:

“When the West has to choose between democracy and secularism, as happened in Algeria and Turkey, it will always choose secularism and not democracy. “

And indeed, even as we speak of the West it is important also to know which West we are talking about: is the West represented by NATO and its armies or is it represented by the well-known French antiglobalisation militant José Bové? Is it represented by the French officials who invented the "cultural exception" to rebel against U.S. leadership? Or is it represented by the United States who succeeded in building a worldwide coalition in the 1991 Gulf War while failing to do likewise in 2003 in Iraq? Is it the West as represented by the old Holy Roman Empire, now known as the European Union? And in future will that include or exclude Islamic Turkey? I understand that the admittance of Turkey to the EU will mean that in that most Western of institutions, Muslims would have a majority.
Frankly speaking, notions of both Islam and the West are subject to ambiguity and amalgamation, confusion and compression, yet it is Islam that remains the more elusive.

The difficulty we have in comprehending the everyday elements of another culture is rendered most poignantly by Argentinean author Jorge Luis Borges, in his story Averroes' Search. Averroes, or Abu'l- Walid Ibn Rushd, was a physician, a master of philosophy and Islamic law, science, mathematics and medicine who lived in Cordoba in the 12th century - a renaissance man several centuries before the movement shook Italy - and who, through his commentaries, played a decisive role in Aristotle's rehabilitation.

Borges describes how, while composing his monumental work on Aristotle, Averroes struggled, without success, to understand two crucial terms within the Poetics: tragedy and comedy, terms without any reference point in his world. To appreciate the fruitlessness of this struggle, we must appreciate that there is no historical dramatic tradition in Islamic societies. Averroes and his contemporaries could not draw on the experience of attending the playhouse, of watching or acting, of being in an audience. At evening, setting aside his puzzle, Averroes attends a dinner, where one of the guests describes a visit he made to a strange house of painted wood, a single room with rows of cabinets or balconies on top of one another. On a terrace some fifteen or twenty people prayed, sang and conversed:

They suffered prison, but no one could see the jail; they travelled on horseback, but no one could see the horse; they fought, but the swords were made of reed; they died and then stood up again.

The dinner guests consider the phenomenon, but are unable to satisfactorily account for it. On returning to his library Averroes revisits his commentary, and suddenly inspired, reaches a conclusion:

Aristu (Aristotle) gives the name of tragedy to panegyrics and that of comedy to satires and anathemas. Admirable tragedies and comedies abound in the pages of the Koran and in the Mohalacas of the sanctuary.

Borges describes Averroes' search as a failure: "closed within the orb of Islam, [he] could never know the meaning of the terms tragedy and comedy," and recognises the absurdity of his "wanting to imagine what drama is without ever having suspected what a theatre is."

Indeed, he might easily have said that it is like trying to imagine what Islam is without ever visiting a mosque. Or, from the comfortable security of a liberal democracy, imagining what it might be like to live under a military regime.

For Borges, this is a story of otherness and alienation, of the paradox of a Spanish-born Arab who, exiled in Marrakesh, consoles himself with a pastoral image that reminds him of Cordoba.

“You too! oh palm,
are Foreign to this soil...”

Some scholars maintain Borges reveals the story as a symbol of defeat, a modernist expression of the folly of a man unfamiliar with the theatre trying to discover the meaning of tragedy and comedy. When Borges stops believing in Averroes, he simply disappears.

Yet more than anything it is about the difficulty we all have in forming a bridge between our own limited experience and our understanding of another culture. As T. S. Eliot says, "We have had the experience, but missed the meaning."

So the matter before us now is how to grasp that meaning, convert it to understanding and disarm the threat of the inevitable clash between what we're told is the West and Islam. Peace and our children's future depend on restoring the common ground between the great religions.

Like everyone else, Averroes is now online, albeit 800 years after his death. The website and fund for free thought which bears his Arabic name is available at The Ibn-Rushd Fund for Freedom of Thought "recognizes the philosopher's intellectual achievements, his independent interpretation of Islamic ideas, his tolerance of convictions and cultures differing from his own."

Indeed, historical evidence shows that the Islamic world played a significant role in the renaissance of the West through contact, discovery and cultural exchange. For instance, in the Middle Ages Europeans often sent their pupils to learn in Spain and Sicily, both Islamic communities. Averroes strongly influenced the seeds of European philosophy from the Middle Ages till the 16th century. Even outside his resuscitating work on Aristotle, Averroes was considered a great philosopher. He had many followers in intellectual Paris. Thomas Aquinas was heavily influenced by both only Aristotelianism and Platonism and he attempted to fuse Averroes' thoughts into his own system. This popularity soon irritated the Church and by 1270 Bishop Étienne Tempier of Paris condemned 13 propositions from Aristotle or Averroes as punishable by excommunication. At stake were the manner and extent of using Aristotle, 'the philosopher" and the Arabian Averroes, "the commentator," in explaining Christian theology. In 1277 Pope John XXI instructed the bishop to investigate the matter formally, and Averroes' works, along with those of Thomas Aquinas and other thinkers who had synthesized problems in Christian theology and philosophy, were condemned as anti-Christian. The later 13th century was congested with sternly corrective literature, and Bishop Tempier became a cardinal.

Even Thomas Aquinas became displeased with his Aristotelian commentator and identified heretical elements in his ideas. However, Aquinas is generally agreed to have moved the focus of Christian Scholastic philosophy from Plato to Aristotle, and so the commentator's influence endures. Indeed, in 14th century Italy, Averroes' adherents studied his writings over Aristotle. This trend continued until the 16th century Padova and put in place certain structures of modernism.

If you will permit me, I would like to indulge in a personal recollection as a means of demonstrating that the gulf may not be as wide as you may imagine.

I was born in 1960 in the village of Al-Idrissiya, in Algeria, where my grandfather was a Sufi preacher. I remember very clearly the year of 1967, when animosity between Israel and the Arab countries, under the leadership of Egypt, was at its height. The mood within the Arab countries was very tense, and Algeria was no exception, since the Algerian people used to follow the speeches of Nasser very attentively. At that time I was very young and I used to go to the only football pitch available in my home village. It may have been called Al-Idrissiya but its other name is Zenina, which local legend described as being either the surname of a Jewish woman, or of a Roman notable. There was a Jewish cemetery close to the football pitch, and sometimes the soccer ball would bounce into the cemetery. I and my fellow players took as much care as possible not to walk on any grave - out of respect for the dead, since Islamic traditions prohibit such acts, or any other kind of disrespect for any dead.

Looking back, it strikes me, wasn't that a beautiful example of tolerance? Despite the inflamed feelings against the state of Israel, the principles that my little buddies and I had been taught to hold dear never let us cross the line, or led us to act incorrectly against the symbols of another religion.

Now I am older and a lot wiser about the ways of the world - but the soccer games in Al-Idrissiya came back to me when I read what Edward Said wrote in his book, Orientalism. Sadly but forcefully, he made the point that Muslims - even when they were extremely angry - had never dared to insult the prophets of ancient Israel. We need to recall these things, now as many in the West see Islam as the enemy of civilisation and a byword for religious intolerance. In an interview, 20 years after the first publication of Orientalism Said noted that the situation had, if anything, worsened:

The West's almost obsessive emphasis on terrorism and fanaticism in the Arab world is a form of exorcism. They see it in Islam so they won't have to recognize that the same elements exist in their own societies, and in alarming levels.

In fact, Islam's relative tolerance stands in stark contrast to the attitude of many writers in the Western canon. For almost a thousand years the Chanson de Roland has perpetuated the notion that chivalric Roland's enemies were Muslims, instead of the Basques whom he and his men actually fought at Roncesvalles. Dante reserved a place for the Prophet Muhammad alongside Satan in Hell. Melville, in Moby Dick, ridicules Queequeg's observance of Ramadan and attempts to equate his faith with paganism and cannibalism. Even the normally compassionate Dickens, speaking of the Mogul Empire in the Christmas 1857 edition of Household Words, says, "I should do my utmost to exterminate the Race ... proceeding, with all convenient dispatch and merciful swiftness of execution, to blot it out of mankind and raze it off the face of the Earth."

Isolated and selective these examples may be, but they outweigh counter-examples of Islamic tolerance, forbearance and dignity. Even the best-known literary figure born into the Islamic faith offers little relief to this catalogue of infamy and oppressive cruelty. Othello is a Moor living in Venetian, and therefore Catholic, society. While Shakespeare does not directly allude to the faith of the "old black ram," with his "thick lips," "sooty bosom" and "foul charms," it is probable that he was born a Muslim but was a forced convert to Catholicism as part of his acculturation into Venetian society. And then, delicious irony, he is sent to fight the Ottomans on behalf of his Christian paymasters.

Isolated and selective these examples may be, but they outweigh counter-examples of Islamic tolerance, forbearance and dignity.

Let's move from literary to cultural representation and symbolism. If we exclude the Oil Blockade of 1973, the Iranian revolution, and the 11th September events, the image of Islam and Muslims in the Western psyche comes from a legacy of animosity shaped by a history of conflicts from the era of the Crusades until the colonial wars. Moreover we should also acknowledge that there were academic obstacles which contributed in propagating stereotypes against Islam and Muslims, for instance the orientalist movement linked to the colonial movement. Furthermore there are other psychological aspects inside the Western consciousness shaped by historical events and popular culture which enflamed the imagination vis-à-vis the "heretical" Muslim and the "barbarian" Turk.

Famous examples can be found in the writings from Martin Luther, also an anti-Semitic. Another example occurred when the Austrians succeeded in defeating the Turks in a 17th century battle. An Austrian warlord who owned a bakery invented a cake with the shape of a crescent: the croissant, as a symbol of defeating Muslims through eating their supposed symbol. Still today symbols play a decisive role through employing the image and the media. Like all important brands, Islam needed a colour. Red been previously assigned to communism, so somehow Islam is green, even though my knowledge of Islam and the history of Muslim civilisation and culture provides no evidence that green is a particularly Islamic colour. The problem is that nature abhors a vacuum so when Muslims are not represented, there is always somebody who will represent them and speak on their behalf.

In order to avoid unhelpful generalisation we must likewise underline that animosity was not always constant. The Dutch have a long history of cooperation with the Muslims, albeit against their common enemy, Spain. Moreover it is not surprising to find that the first countries acknowledging the independence of the United States of America were Morocco and Algeria.

So, if a thousand years of literature cannot help, where do we go to from here? The recent confrontations since September 11th tend to obscure the tentative steps we have made together. For truly, the beginning of the 20th century did witness the first, fledgling attempts to address a history of tragedies and confrontation between the monotheist religions - and this dialogue also included the representatives of Buddhism and Hinduism. In more recent times, the most encouraging stage of this process occurred in 1965, when the Catholic Church formally renounced the ancient "crime" held against the Jews for killing Jesus (peace be upon him).

This step underlined the fact that the Catholic Church had inaugurated a new era, in which dogmatism and history were no longer a barrier to dialogue between the sons of Abraham. Later on, various European countries such as Belgium and Scandinavian countries have recognized Islam as a national religion, a very important development.

Such recognition however was not unanimous. France, in contrast, is still caught up in its colonial legacy, as exemplified by its decision to place Islamic Affairs under the authority of the interior ministry in blatant contradiction of its secular principles. To Muslims, the practice seems to be the continuation of the colonial practices in Algeria, when the French authorities used to control mosques, name muftis and administer the Islamic properties until the independence of Algeria in 1962.

Historically, Islam pioneered the reciprocal recognition of the monotheist religions, Judaism and Christianity. It is a matter of record that the Holy Koran called for constructive dialogue with the people of the book, which is itself a respectable designation for Islamists, Jews and Christians. For centuries, the Arabic and Eastern churches were involved in discussion and building bridges with Muslims. So it should come as no surprise that today there are more than 10 million Arab Christians living side by side with their fellow Muslim countrymen.

We forget this common heritage at our peril, after September 11th. Yet there are numerous verses in the Koran that not only contain the names of the prophets of the Old Testament, but express praise for them, and for their actions. Furthermore the Holy Koran contains more than 120 verses about Jesus and the Virgin Mary, including details of the birth and early childhood of Jesus that do not appear in the Holy Bible but can be traced to a number of Christian apocryphal writings. These intertwined narratives of the people of the book include the palm tree which provides for the anguish of Mary after Jesus' birth (sura 19:22-26); the account of the infant Jesus creating birds from clay (sura 3:49) and the story of the baby Jesus talking (sura 19:29-33).

Even in Algeria, the country of my birth, interconnections like these define our history, even as modern conflicts seek to bury any sense of our common heritage. Yet we share the same impulses to worship, our prophets walked the same lands in the Middle East. We are all children of the book. It is a matter of fact that the Jewish and Christian presence in North Africa - to be precise, in Morocco and Algeria - precedes the Islamic presence, while numerous Berber tribes were converted to Judaism, of which the Algerian Queen Kahena is a notable example.

In much the same way, Christianity has had a visible presence in Algeria since the third century AD. In 2002 there was a scholarly conference about St Augustine - yes, a Christian saint, but also the Algerian saint who once lived in the Algerian city of Bon, or what is called Annaba today.

Near where I grew up was the Trappist Monastery of Tibherine, where monks of Our Lady of Atlas had lived in respect, peace and honour for centuries. Alas, in 1996 seven of these monks were kidnapped, used as bargaining tokens and beheaded by the GIA, a crime that has an unhappy familiarity today. The international community condemned the barbaric criminals, as did the villagers for whom the monks, like the statue of the Virgin Mary that overlooked our village, had simply always been part of our community. But the prior of the martyr-monks did not condemn, instead commending their "friends of the final moment" to "God whose face I see in yours"..."the God of both of us."

Unfortunately, these bonds between us are all but forgotten, as politics interferes in the dialogue between religions. This is especially so since the Cold War ended, a finalé that gave birth to many ethnic unrests and fundamentalisms - which, to be fair, are an understandable enough response. They represent the attempt to preserve national identities that are being threatened by the bulldozer of globalisation.

We need to be on guard that this quest to defend our identity does not become the justification for pre-emptive action against others.

The risk only underlines the fact that dialogue is more important than ever, especially now that Islam has a visible presence in the West, and Muslims display sometimes a different way of life that can obstruct their integration or assimilation into Western societies.

The value of dialogue is easy to under-rate. It seems slow, and its achievements so much less dramatic than the deadly outbursts of conflict. As a religious practice, it consists of the patient building of bridges, to peaceful co-existence between peoples and religions, linking experience and meaning, dissolving otherness - and constructing an understanding based on common interests and a shared history.

As a Muslim I have always believed in dialogue with anyone and everyone who shares a readiness for dialogue and peaceful coexistence. In my view, the essence of Islam resides in the verse: "O humankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise each other)" (sura 49:13). We have to persevere. We have to show tolerance. And we must be prepared to set aside any resentment we may feel at treatment that seems unjust. Salaam. Peace.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

DeLay and Prevarication...

This is just in from our local news. No doubt there will be intense comment throughout blogland about the rights and wrongs and the politics involved.

I want to ignore all that and (like my favourite Mr Obviousman) go straight to the heart of the matter.

First the news…

US Republicans change rule to shield leader if indicted

18.11.2004 2.20 pm
WASHINGTON - Republicans in the US House of Representatives have changed their own rules to allow their powerful Majority Leader Tom DeLay to keep his post even if he is indicted in connection with illegal fund-raising activities.

In a closed-door session, they approved the rule change in a voice vote to allow a leader or chairman to keep his post after an indictment. The leadership would then make recommendations, based on whether the indictment was deemed legitimate or politically-motivated.

Three of DeLay's associates were indicted by a Texas grand jury in September in connection with illegal fund-raising and the prosecutor has said the investigation is not yet finished.
The controversy surrounding DeLay, a Texas Republican, does not seem to have dented his considerable power.

He is credited with helping Republicans increase their majority in the House in this month's elections and many Republican lawmakers feel indebted to him for fund-raising.
DeLay, who has been admonished by the House Ethics Committee three times this year, told reporters he was "not at all" worried about an indictment.

He said the change in party rules was necessary to protect Republicans against the Democrats' "politics of personal destruction".

Democrats complained that Republicans were lowering the ethical bar for leadership.

"Not only did the House Republicans vote to re-elect the most ethically challenged member of Congress in modern history to lead them ... now, in an act of unprecedented shamelessness, the Republicans have apparently changed their own rules to allow Mr DeLay to be indicted for a felony and still keep his job as Majority Leader," said outgoing Rep Chris Bell, a Democrat who lost his seat because of Texas redistricting pushed by DeLay.
"That is a truly pathetic standard of leadership," added Bell, who brought a House ethics complaint against DeLay.

The new rule does, however, require anyone convicted of a felony to immediately relinquish a leadership position.

The vote changes a decade-old rule passed when Republicans wanted to draw attention to the questionable ethics of such powerful Democrats as former Illinois Rep Dan Rostenkowski, who eventually pleaded guilty to mail fraud and was sentenced to prison.
Connecticut Rep Christopher Shays, one of the few Republicans to openly oppose the rule change, said it was a return to "business as usual." He added: "If you are a cop, a judge, a prosecutor, and you are indicted, you step down" and the US Congress should have similar standards.

From Granny Herald...

Now first to clarify –

“…changed their own rules…” These are the rules of the Republican Party, not of the process of government. Well I guess that they are allowed to do that. At least the stench of dishonesty is not being entrenched in the system; only in the party machinery.

Second point to history –

Interesting that the rule being revoked was introduced to give the Republicans a measure of political virtue when the boot was firmly on the other foot. Well I guess that when you have the upper hand you do everything that you are able to maintain the moral high ground. I guess too, that when the tide runs against you then you cut loose anything that might drag the boat down. (Oh what a luverly mixture of political cliché that is… :-D )

So ignore all of the politically righteous indignation. Put aside the interminably tedious politicised emotion. Cast off all of the claptrap, cliché and party propaganda.

What is going to be most interesting of all in this smelly little event is just how the leaders and promoters of democracy, the saintly proponents of the rights of the people of every nation to self determination, the knights against corruption and graft everywhere are going to handle what seems to be more than just cat piddle in the corner of the laundry.

But watch it just quietly disappear into the toilet. DeLay will last this term. There is no doubt that he will DeLay his departure until just prior to the 2008 elections. Then he might even run for President.

He has proven his credentials for that job well…