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…

Good Grief!!

Grilled cheese?

If there were ever a "sign" this has to be it.

Not of any great religious event or significance.

Just another sign of this world's leading nation heading rapidly in the direction of a mythical region where central heating is provided free of charge.

Is it that funny?

No. It is just sad, very sad.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

US Foreign Policy?

Fire ants infest Nelson

After hearing of this on the news this morning, together with the accompanying warning that disturbing a fire ant nest "can send them into a breeding frenzy"...

How does that compare with US foreign policy in Iraq?

Tuesday, November 16, 2004


I tried to permalink this, but it went astray.

Che Libby on Nation building

So if that don’t work, then try this and look for…

Nations and nation-building | Nov 08, 2004 13:30

Once again my shameless editorial emphasis and comment… and Che, I do like your post, really!

Nations and nation-building | Nov 08, 2004 13:30

As I said earlier, there's a conventional wisdom in the public sphere that automatically equates nation with population and/or citizen. What this means in practical terms is that when Helen says 'in the interests of the nation', she's implying everybody. This always kind of pisses me off though, because you only really have to scratch the surface of any nation-state world wide to see that the word nation is always a limiting term.

Now, regardless of the country, the type of government, the size of the population or its place in the hierarchy of nation-states, every sovereign state has a group that calls the shots. In some countries this group is politically contested by another group that doesn't recognise its legitimacy (Spain and the Basques), in some this group dominates other group's right to belong (Fiji and Fijian Indians), and in some this group is small in relation to the overall population (South Africa under Apartheid). But, there's always that one group, and that's the nation.

How and why nations exist was a hotly contested subject, but was largely settled in the academic world by the late 1980s after this guy called Benedict Anderson wrote a book called 'Imagined Communities', which radically transformed the way the boffins understood nations. Its most important contribution to the debate was to indicate that nations aren't exclusively maintained by ethnic or familial links, but instead exist in people's imaginations. This doesn't mean that they are imaginary, but more that like other abstract concepts, they don't have any real form.

There is one truth in all this relativity though, and that is the link between 'the nation' and 'the state'. If you're a member of a nation and live in a democracy you get to influence the structure of the state. Voting for social reform and representatives to run things for us is all about belonging to the nation. If you are excluded from belonging, for instance by only having partial citizenship, like temporary residency, then you have no say in the shape of the state.

If and when this debate into 'Treaty and constitutional' issues kicks off, Wellington is going to have to ensure that the parameters of the arguments being laid out are sufficiently inclusive. My concern here is that if the National Party's pitch to the redrubberneckers at Orewa is anything to go by, they'll try and define a New Zealand that excludes Māori society in favour of some kind of 'South Pacific melange'.

And frankly, that's just not going to cut it.

Much like the old-school authors who freaked out about ethnicity, trying to exclude Māori society because of some misguided concern about 'ethnic conflict' or a penchant for a 'one-nation' mythology is both foolish and petty. If a constitutional debate is to take place, it has to occur within a framework that recognises the equality and ongoing relevance of both Māori and mainstream society.

I think I'm running out of space here, so I'll try and wrap this up by saying that nation-building does not have to imply that a single type of national individual exists in a nation-state. Instead, nation-building is all about bolstering the ability of minority and majority alike to contribute to the ongoing development of how 'the nation' is imagined by individual citizens.

Excluding Māori society by trying to close down the nation-building that has already occurred around the role of the Treaty on the political landscape is a marked step backwards. Or, put another way, when Helen uses the phrase 'the nation' and this does not include a politically active and vibrant Māori society, we have made a grave mistake.

I wrote my last piece before Auntie Helen announced the Select Committee process. Unlike some, and there are a few, I am not at all disappointed at the approach she is taking.

ANY change to the constitutional structures of this nation require full and careful debate before even approaching implementation.

For the likes of Brash Donny to suggest that it is a simple machiavellian machination to remove Te Tiriti from the election campaign next year is short-sighted at best; self defeating at worst. Even if this constitutional reform process announcement had been made six months after the last election, the same accusation would probably have been made. Why? Simply, because to do the process of consultation, study and report with any measure of fairness to the importance of the subject it is going to take all or most of three years to achieve. If there are expectations on the part of any involved that this is not true then the hopes of all “republicans” are dashed here and now.

But, I want to go one step further than Che has done. I raised the question in my last post of the role that religion should have in our nation/state. Che has raised another aspect – that of culture. I fear that her “South Pacific melange” might no be far from the truth, irrespective of the makers of the final proposals for a new Constitution. But I fear it from another point of view – that “culture” will be hard-wired into a Constitution, rather than being allowed to develop in its own unique way from the Constitution.

So, should “culture” also form a part of a nation’s founding document, in the way that some will propose that religion should?

I treasure this country’s secular government. That alone removes the stench of constitutional stultification and stagnation caused by the direct involvement of religion in nations such as USofA, and the “radical religious” Islamic nations.

And so I argue, in exactly the same manner, that no one culture should have supremacy over all others. It has taken the 50 plus years of my life to see the emergence of Kohanga reo, the acceptance of Te Reo as one of the “official languages”, to see Maori artists held up as the pinnacle of creativity and cultural advancement, to see the end of the paternalistic colonial administration attitudes in the governance of the Maori people in this country.

If there were a word relating to culture giving the same relationship that “secular” does to “religion” then I would use it.

It is NOT “multi-culturalism. That states the inclusion of all cultures. That is not a bad thing, but inclusion implies order and order eventually implies supremacy. That is where the “inclusion” of religion in the American Constitution (in the form “One Nation Under God”) despite the opposing sentiments of freedom of religion has been interpreted as the supremacy of one religion – Christianity - over all others. In the same way that freedom of religion comes from its exclusion, total exclusion, from the present NZ Constitution, so should total freedom of culture be allowed by leaving out all matters cultural. There are already debating points well upon the wind at present, and the details are not debatable here. However, I do recognise the clash of culture highlighted by the insistence of one person on wearing traditional dress when it creates problem in legal process. I only point out that there is no difference between a Maori insisting on being tried in “a Maori Court” and a follower of Islam asking for Shia law to be applied in his hearing. There have to be limits to the application of “culture”, and the formulation of those limits must be by due process within a Constitution, not hard-wired into that document.

So, should Te Tiriti to stand as a major foundation for any new Constitution. I have no problem with that; I agree that it should. It is not a “cultural” statement, although it does give Maori the right to their culture as a taonga. I see it as a simple statement of intent – that two very different peoples will live together. That there have been breaches of that covenant is indisputable – that does not destroy Te Tiriti’s importance in the history and the future of this nation.

I do, however, have a problem with the idea that that inclusion should give Maori some form of cultural supremacy. It should not. Nor should any other “culture” have Constitutional supremacy, either by direct statement or by implication.

Sunday, November 14, 2004


Gordon McLaughlin is one local columnist who, even if I do not always agree with his position, does reflect reasonably well the general attitudes of NZers.

His pitch in yesterday's NZ Herald column covered a wider range than he is sometimes wont to play in the restricted space he is allowed and it suffered just a little from not having a single theme as a consequence. In the light of the Labour Party annual conference this weekend, and the accompanying announcement of a "Constitutional Review", there is among them a thread which is pertinent to current events both here and overseas.

I want to extract those bits which I see as relevant...if you wish to put them back into the context of the other themes you can so do at... (my comment in italics, emphasis is unashamed and intended)...

Herald, 13 Nov


One of the curses of the first millennium was that religious people of all faiths were trapped inside texts - most notably the Old Testament, the Torah or the Koran.

Because these books are complex and subtle, priests were called upon to interpret the books' meaning and, therefore, to rule on the moral behaviour of the time, which meant lives were lived to the letter, without individual initiative.

That is why the period is now called the Dark Ages. Now I don't know that I agree with that leap of faith...He forgets for a start that this was a period of power for Islam in the areas of mathematics and art. But I quibble...) Life and self-expression came to a standstill compared with what has happened since the Reformation. Almost nothing changed. Literacy among ordinary people was not just discouraged but made a crime where it affected the sacred texts. Attempts to translate the Bible into vernacular languages led to death at the stake.

There is a modern parallel here which many miss or prefer to ignore, and which is fundamental to much of the modern conflict between Christianity and Islam.)


Sadly, as Americans have shown, the desire for believers to use the Old Testament texts to enforce by law how the rest of their countrymen should live has not diminished. They want everyone to abide by their texts, or the way they interpret them.

America's fixation with texts - as its reverence for the Constitution attests - has driven it into the conservatism that leads to social and political arthritis. Several times I have read of Supreme Court judges working towards decisions on the basis of what the founding fathers would have wanted. Gordon being subtle? Wishful thinking for the future?


Whether this is the sole reason, I'm not sure, but the range of acceptable opinion in the US has narrowed alarmingly. George W. Bush's claim that John Kerry represents the far left of liberalism in the US would be a joke anywhere else but as far as the two main US parties are concerned he was about right.

The main difference between them is Bush's God-bothering, not economic and social policy. ...

You don't hear much from the loony left in the US nowadays but the raving right fears no contradiction. Ann Coulter, fruitcake right-wing columnist, wrote recently that if Americans needed oil and oil was available in the Middle East, why shouldn't they just go and get it. She sells as many books as Michael Moore, by the way.

So let us be proud of our national secularism and of the breadth of opinion we have here and the trenchant debating we have in Parliament, even if sometimes it descends to petty squabbling.

And let us support the attempts to look at our constitutional legislation and not be beholden to old texts. We should not be trapped into old beliefs on things no longer relevant.

Constitutional laws should not be changed quickly or casually, but neither should they be preserved in formaldehyde.

It is one thing to respect the past and quite another to dwell in it.

You see, there are second and third parts to this. McLaughlin is thus far the only columnist that I have found who has been prepared to speak out and as such he gets kudos from me for starters. There are reports, based upon the media releases and proceedings of the Labour Conference, of the announcement. There are included comment (of the one and two sentence kind) from the likes of Brash Donny.

That leads to the second part of this whole Constitution thing - the role of the Treaty of Waitangi in the form of this country's future and the place of the Maori in it. This is a point that Brash Donny flicked up on; it is obvious as the nose on my face. Any consideration of the Constitution has to include the Treaty. What really matter is how you say it.

I agree with McLaughlin; there is a danger in having too much emphasis placed upon the "meaning" of a foundation document. Go back 50 or 60 years in this country and you will find exactly the opposite attitude to the Treaty. Very largely it was ignored. There was no formal national celebration of the formation of the nation. In fact Waitaingi Day did not rate as a holiday at all until late in the 1960s when it became the provincial commemorative holiday for Northland.

Was that "temporary loss" of the Treaty a good thing? In the light of history it is easy to say "No, it was not." I can say that I was fortunate in that my parents lived and worked in areas with large (in one case predominant) Maori populations. That gave me as a start, at least, a glimpse into the Maori culture and people; enough to have me temper my opinion now with the knowledge that there is very much that I still do not know. That at least is one step further than most europeans (including I am embarrassed to say, my son).

If the Treaty had been used then, as it has been in recent years, to redress some of the greater injustices against the Maori such as Parihaka and the Tainui confiscations then who can say where this nation would be today... but that is not the point that I want to follow.

With respect, there is always the danger as McLaughlin points out, of the pendulum being allowed to swing too far - of the Constitution becoming " preserved in formaldehyde" as he put it - toward a particular interpretation. In this latest move from the government, and it is important to remember now that exactly the same proposal was made but never followed by the last, the Bolger, National government. As yet none of the regular commentators have flicked up on this point. Nor has anyone yet had the gumption to point out that both Bolger and Clark are equally trenchant republicans (and for american listeners that has the local meaning of supporting total severance from all remaining vestiges of British rule such as the Govenor General; NOT support for the GOP). The conclusion that the formation of a republic is an idea whose time has come at long last is inescapable.

It is at this point that McLaughlin sets the course for future debate. It is a debate that is going to be intense. It is a debate that I know I must have my very small part in. It is a process where some of the dangers that McLaughlin (and I agree totally for reasons I will shortly show) foresees are already past flowering and well on the way to ripening.

"Let us all be proud of our national secularism"

That was the banner to Mclaughlin's column. Yes, Gordon, betchadupa I am. I would have it no other way. At the very least while we still have it.

There is already one "political party" representing religion - make that Christianity - in our Parliament... call themselves United Party, shortened down from United New Zealand I think. It is a conglomeration of one ex-National member (Caple) who is also a minister of his particular Christian brand plus four other political hopefuls. As such they have been pretty inoffensive supporters of the Clark government.

The very big danger comes from another direction. It is the formation of "Destiny New Zealand", a right wing political party which is directly linked to the Destiny Church, one of the Christian fundamentalist sects that seem to spring up around charismatic leaders with the ability to link religion with money.. I can understand McLaughlin's reticence in holding this particular example up and saying "this is a spade". The potential for personal criticism and denigration lies all around this topic like a stagnant moat.

On the other side I must add that I am not picking on the Tamaki sect, but it does so well illustrate the direction I fear. If this example had not existed than another would have found the niche. It is a "sign of the times", and is being used as the illustration; nothing else.

Destiny Party...

Our Vision for New Zealand
A nation under the governance of God

Empowered families and individuals fulfilling their God-given potential leaving an inheritance of compounding prosperity to successive generations

A model nation

The Mission

To establish a God-honouring nation founded on Christian principles - order, truth, faith, integrity, and moral responsibility, therefore ensuring the success of present and future generations


New Zealand is a Christian nation, a nation that was founded on Christian principles. New Zealand is currently being lead by a government that has forsaken our Godly heritage. Destiny New Zealand will recover and uphold the heritage of our forefathers and ensure that this legacy is passed on to future generations.
Richard Lewis
Party Leader

Suffice it to say that this particular development shows, in my opinion, the worst of american religious politics. How far will the electorate allow the divisiveness that such "beliefs" might bring us.

We need look no further than there for the dangers of mixing religion too far into government; personal beliefs too far into policy. Yeah, OK we can say the same about Bolger and Clark and the idea of the NZ republic. There is a distinction though; that republican debate is pure politic. It is not religious.

One of the very great attractions of the NZ lifestyle is the (I suspect largely unintended) secularism in government. We do not have the endless debate and division about whether creationism should replace evolution in school science curricula. We do not have the open repression of "other" religions ( I am proud of the fact that 5 or so kilometers down the road is the reputedly largest Bhuddist temple in the southern hemisphere). I am proud of the fact that or immigration policy has collected a polyglot of most religions into this country; most races. Oh how deadly dull might it be if the only permissable variation in this society were the denomination of the church that you attend.

Returning to the opening of McLaughlin's column, I am minded that ;
One of the curses of the first millennium was that religious people of all faiths were trapped inside texts - most notably the Old Testament, the Torah or the Koran.

Because these books are complex and subtle, priests were called upon to interpret the books' meaning and, therefore, to rule on the moral behaviour of the time, which meant lives were lived to the letter, without individual initiative.

Who, in the view of the Destiny Party, is the most appropriate to interpret the meaning of the books and the application of those interpretations to New Zealand Society? The best that one can hope for is the benign guidance of general religious tenets in the formation of the rules that guide society.

At its worst extreme, it is the introduction of Ayatollah Tamaki.

And here I have to set aside my personal beliefs and look for the balance that McLaughlin hints at but ignores. There is a fundamental starting point which it would be better to have in the open from the beginning. It is the reverse of his banner...

"Is there a place for religion in the New Zealand Constitution?"

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Whirimako Black

This is a rather roundabout story, but please bear with me.

Last week I had the very good fortune to win the office sweepstake on the Melbourne Cup. That gave me a few pennies to rub together in my pocket. The resulting friction was sufficient to get said pocket smoldering.

So, when I went down to Pakuranga on Monday to drop in some films for processing I went off and did a bit of shopping on the side. I indulged myself with a small impulse purchase from the CD shop.

What attracted me to this particular cd is a connection (love them as you might have learned).

The cd is produced by a small private studio in Mangonui, Far North, NZ. My "home town".

Reading through the tracks and notes on the sleeve, I discovered that the music ranged from modern Maori composition back to early traditional music from the Tuhoe peoples. The cd title "Hinepukorangi" gave me the clue - enough to make me look.

Before my father moved us north to Mangonui, he was teaching at a school in Te Whaiti, right smack in the midst of the Ureweras and the Tuhoe people. That two years of my life has left indelible impressions and memories.

There is the connection.

If ever anyone reading this wishes to hear some of the best modern interpretation of traditional Maori music, it would be hard to better this. It is not like Hirini Melbourne and his strict scholarly research and traditional recordings. This is interpretive, with modern backing on some tracks, minimalist on others like pre-recorded bird song, a stream and suchlike, and a capella as well.

I shut my eyes and the mist rises from the bush as Hinepukorangi goes to meet her lover Uenuku in the dawn.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Moral homilies and scenarios

In comment on an earlier post, LibertyBob posted up this. It is a theme that I have heard from many people in the debate since Iraq 2 was first mooted.

Sure, the WMD thing was astupid basis for war (especially since we just had to wait for Iraq to fire at another plane patroling the no fly zone and then attacked "in retaliation"). There is another side to it.
As part of the surrender after the first Gulf War, Iraq had to prove that it had gotten rid of its weapons. Just saying that they didn't have them anymore really wasn't the point. They should have made a better show of disarming.
The equivalent is this:

1) Go menace your neighbor with a gun.

2) When the police show up and tell you to throw out your weapon and surrender, say you don't have a weapon.

3) Walk out with your hands in your pockets and tell the police that you're behaving well and have no weapons.

The likely result of this scenario is that the police will capture and beat you till you know better (if they don't just blow your head off with their own firearms).

The interesting start of this theme is the requirement, after Desert Storm, for Iraq to “prove” that “it had gotten rid of its weapons”. Well there is the first mistake. The requirement of the various resolutions of the UNSC were not for total disarmament, but to destroy and dispose of all weapons of mass destruction and the means of production.

Now over that same period, one might recall, there were a succession of UN based inspection teams.

The first were removed from Iraq “for spying for the CIA” as I recall. Is there any dispute of that? That team did oversee the destruction of some weapons. I think that there were a few Scud missiles and launch systems. There were other minor “findings” during that time.

After a delay of some years, the UN again persuaded Iraq to allow inspectors back into their territory. This was the team led, I believe, by one Hans Blix. His efforts proved fruitless, despite urgings from one particular nation “that he was looking in the wrong places, that intelligence showed the existence and blatant concealment of WMD…”. The intelligence was never reported as having been given to Blix or his team. It was never said “The UN inspection administration has been given information on sites…”. The closest ever was the statement that “We can not provide that information without compromising the source.”

The denigration of the UN inspection teams continued to the point where I can well imagine the exasperation and frustration that Blix was under. In those circumstances, I think any person capable of leading such a mission would contact HO and say “Enough. Stick your mission. I will report what I have found which is nothing of consequence.”. It is pointless debating whether this was the result that was sought by the US; if it was then the idea is VERY scarey.

We all know what the following stages were as well. With the basso US in the lead role now, we have learned through a series of recitatives that there was a war, that the good guys have won it and the worst of the bad guys is in prison. There has followed a series of chori lauding the victors, their bravery and skill, sung forte fortissimo with full orchestration to ensure that the audience does not hear the gunfire in the street outside.

Now how does that scene at the conclusion of Act 2 lead into the quiet domestic parable that opens Act 3. Well, I would suggest that the best that could be done for this comic operetta would be a new librettist. Certainly the current one has gotten it all wrong.

A quick reprise –

The equivalent is this:
1) Go menace your neighbor with a gun.
2) When the police show up and tell you to throw out your weapon and surrender, say you don't have a weapon.
3) Walk out with your hands in your pockets and tell the police that you're behaving well and have no weapons.

The likely result of this scenario is that the police will capture and beat you till you know better (if they don't just blow your head off with their own firearms).

Where this “equivalence”, this sweet little homily, falls over is in the last act.

There are several ways in which it could be re-written….

3. Go back into the lounge and sit down in front of the tv. Five minutes later the police crash through the doors, guns blazing, and shoot everything in sight including the cat (just in case it is boobytrapped you understand).

Or another variety…

3. Go back into the lounge and sit in front of the tv. There is a knock at the door and a FAA Inspector is standing there. He shows his credentials and search warrant, searches the house, then goes back to the front door and shouts “Clear”. His Swiss accent makes the word sound like “Fire”, and all the police surrounding your house open up with their guns killing the inspector, and everything else in sight…”

Or another…

3. Walk out with your hands in your pockets and tell the police that you're behaving well and have no weapons. The police say “Thank you very much for making our job easy. We will suggest to the Courts that this be taken into account when you are tried for crimes against humanity and war crimes. Perhaps you will get a quick hanging instead of a slow one. Now here are your rights…”

This is getting to be too much fun so I will stop. There are at least another five that come to mind…