Saturday, February 28, 2015

Reflections on murder of Boris Nemtsov in Moscow, last night

The murder of Boris Nemtsov outside the Kremlin last night, shot four times in the back by thugs who emerged from a car, fired their lethal shots and fled into the night, is both a pivotal moment in history and another in a long line of senseless killings that infest the daily news feed.
It is pivotal because Nemtsov, a Jew, had served as Russia's deputy premier under Boris Yeltsin, and had later become the face and voice of the unofficial opposition to what he himself called Putin's cleptocracy, in a 2012 CBC interview with Evan Solomon. He was set to participate in a peace march today, that would have exposed the Russian involvement in the Ukraine battles in the eastern Ukraine. It is pivotal in its timing also given the considerable pressure from various capitals on Putin to amend his denied engagement in Ukraine, demonstrating as it does, just how dangerous the exercise of free and uninhibited criticism of Putin has become, regardless of the highly ironic claim by Putin himself, that he has taken personal control of the investigation after publishing a letter of condolence to Nemtsov's mother.
It is also "normal" in today's news cycles, stuffed as they are with ISIS beheadings, lone-wolf murders of Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, Canadian soldiers, cafĂ©-clients in Australia, and assorted other shootings of innocents by law enforcement officers in the United States.
We live in a social climate of violence, epitomized by the level of disdain for the most mediocre of social graces like please and thanks, like how are you and how are you managing through whatever your rough patches might be. Our television menus are replete with violence, albeit much of it in purporting to chanse, find and exterminate the " bad guys" as are our video games. Our streets are filled with people who, for the most part, shove their way past, without so much as an "excuse me" as they forge their own path through the middle of the maddening crowd that fills urban streets and shopping malls. Men who open doors for women, in a now archaic force of habit, are met with either the words or the attitude: "I can open it myself, so get out of the way!" Once, several years ago, I read a book entitled, "New York, New York"..by Michelle Landsberg, wife of then Canadian ambassador to the United Nations, Stephen Lewis, who recounted her experience in attempting to catch a taxi in Manhattan in the pouring rain. The car had stopped, and as she reached her hand out to the rear door handle to open the door, another woman swept past, opened the door, leapt inside and turned to Landsberg with the triumphant words, "This is New York, Honey!" as if her bullying and arrogant pre-emption of the cab were the norm.
And indeed, a decade later, it would seem that such pre-emption has become the norm.
We are living in a time when to be courteous, civil, and even accommodating is considered "soft" and "wimpish" and "loser" behaviour. Brutish and uncompromising, confrontive and abrasive, wrapped up in our private lives, including the now hereditary digital devices, we storm our way around, both while walking and driving, as if the street belongs only to our personal needs, desires and ambitions.
We are marching headlong into a future devoid of consideration of the needs of others, the spaces that others also require in order to make their way.
In too many workplaces, no one is willing to accept responsibility for a "screw-up" of their obvious and demonstrable agency. Their instant push-back is either a list of circumstances that put the spotlight on another, the situation or an outright denial. "Did you do such-and-such?" brings a reflexive, "No!" as the starting place for another fruitless exploration of the evidence.
The investigative commission in Moscow that has official responsibility for determining the perpetrators and their motives of the Nemtsov murder, in releasing their many theories to be explored, according to reports from more than a single country's media, refuse to include in their "theories" the well-known and acknowledged fact that Nemtsov's political life had become fixated on the corruption of the Putin regime, exposing that corruption and courageously shining light into the darkest corners of the Putin Kremlin. Islamic Jihadists, Ukrainian government supporters, and even anti-semitic thugs are all considered potential theories to explain the murder, but not Nemtsov's vehement and fortissimo criticisms of Putin. Ukrainian President Poroshenko has described Nemtsov as a "bridge between Russia and Ukraine that has not been destroyed."
So not only is his murder an example of the current climate of violence and bullying, but it also exposes the deception and the Teflon character that has become the model of so much of our political, corporate and entertainment cultures. "It really does not matter what one does, (goes the mantra) so long as one is not caught."
Of course, this prose reads like a morality play, espoused by one living in the dark ages of  a time now lost forever.
Nevertheless, it is not rocket science to expose the false claims of advertisers, themselves with total impunity from public prosecution and from any mediocre sign of integrity, the promises made by political leaders, of all stripes, and the concomitant rejection of political careers by the vast majority of worthy, credentialed and visionary candidates, not to mention the public opinion on whom all politicians rely. It is also not rocket science to reflect on and to expose the racist violence, hypocrisy and self-serving attitudes, actions and even beliefs of too many public officials none of whom would tolerate their own actions if committed against a member of their own family.
It is virtually predictable that the world will never know who committed the Nemtsov murder, just as it is also highly unlikely that we will never fully learn the details of another murder of a Russian living in Great Britain back in 2006.
From Wikipedia:
Alexander Litvinenko was a former officer of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) and KGB, who fled from court prosecution in Russia and received political asylum in the United Kingdom. According to his wife and father, he was working for MI6 and MI5 after receiving the asylum.
Upon his arrival to London, he continued to support the Russian oligarch in exile, Boris Berezovsky, in his media campaign against the Russian government.[1]
In the UK, Litvinenko became a journalist for a Chechen separatist site, Chechenpress. Litvinenko wrote two books, Blowing up Russia: Terror from within and Lubyanka Criminal Group, where he accused the Russian secret services of staging Russian apartment bombings and other terrorism acts to bring Vladimir Putin to power.
On 1 November 2006, Litvinenko suddenly fell ill and was hospitalized. He died three weeks later, becoming the first confirmed victim of lethal polonium-210-induced acute radiation syndrome.[2] Litvinenko's allegations about the misdeeds of the FSB and his public deathbed accusations that Russian president Vladimir Putin was behind his unusual malady resulted in worldwide media coverage
Litvinenko's death is finally being formally investigated by a coroner's court in Great Britain, after so many years of fear of offending the Kremlin, when relations between Putin and the west were more amenable. Today's climate, however, offers a very different and less hospitable culture, making such an inquiry politically palatable.
The history of the Kremlin, under Putin's presidency, has so enraged some observers that they have asked the question, "Is Russia the official terrorist state?"
Given both his actions and his denial of any involvement in the Ukraine war, as well as his official spokeman's denial of Kremlin involvement in the Nemtsov murder, and the growing suspicion in so many quarters that Putin's real "strategy" is to stay in power for the rest of his life, to enrich and protect his own wealth, and to grow his relationship to the oil and gas community in Russia (all motives ascribed to Putin by Nemtsov in his CBC interview in 2012 with Evan Solomon), there is a growing sentiment and perception in many quarters that Putin will indeed go to any lengths to achieve whatever purposes he deems appropriate for his legacy and his renewed prominence of his Russia.
Political leaders in the west, including Chancellor Merkel, Presidents Obama and Hollande, Prime Minister Cameron, would be very wise to approach Putin as one approaches a rabid lion in the jungle, for whatever actions are required in order to survive, for both the lion and the Russian president, will be used to preserve whatever power is deemed necessary by both the rabid animal and the demonic Russian bear.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Blaming the other, and other reductions that entrap us

Greece blames primarily Germany for the severity of the economic restrictions it lead the EU to impose as the price for the Greek bailout. Germany, of course, blames the government of Greece for profligate spending and the collapse of her economy that made the bail-out necessary. Ukraine blames the Kremlin and Putin for the violence, destruction and devastating, not to mention the "abduction" of Crimea, and, in the natural course, of both political conflicts and the reporting of those events, Putin blames the government of Ukraine for "ousting" the previous government leaders in a "coup d etat" and also the United States and NATO for failing to keep a promise not to expand NATO on Russia's borders.
In the Greece-EU conflict, both sides are going to have to give some, if a peaceful and manageable compromise can be reached...Greece committing to long-term government reforms that do not promise premature pensions to workers (among other similar commitments) while Germany is going to have to acknowledge the benefits it has acquired from the heavy burden it "imposed" on Greece and take a more tolerant, long-term view of Greece's readiness to honor its obligations to the EU.
In the Russian-Ukraine conflict, compromise is not so readily visible if Putin is indeed determined to destroy the government of Poroshenko in Kiev, and make Ukraine in effect another satellite of the Russian mothership. Credible observers discount the potential move of western countries (Canada has already committed both humanitarian aid and military materiel) to arm the Kiev government given that such assistance will not come close to matching the military power of the Kremlin and Putin. Russia's military budget, at a moment of serious national economic crisis, continues at some $70 billion, so any military aid will be little more than a drop in the "proverbial bucket" in comparison to Moscow's capacity to retaliate, should the current cease-fire even hold.
Blaming Putin, as Kissinger has reminded us, is an excuse for not having a policy to deal with him, on the part of western countries such as his own, the United States.
Nevertheless, blaming, pointing the finger of accusation, and a "final judgement" has become the norm in both human relations and geopolitical conflicts. Along with that negative development, quite naturally one has to conjecture, is the eager and over-anxious willingness and capacity to absolve oneself, including one's country, one's government, one's corporation, one's church, and one's preferred institution from all responsibility.
Back in 1970, in a then famous film, Love Story, the slogan of the movie and the time went something like this: "Love means never having to say your sorry!"
Today, a contemporary cultural slogan would run something like this: "Never ever acknowledge guilt, responsibility or culpability in any situation, because those making whatever charge will only have enough tenacity to sustain a brief moment and in the long run, they will either run out of evidence or patience."
Clouds of "objections" now challenge the digital "Cloud" for primacy in the cultural universe, and those "objection clouds" are filled mostly with blaming the accuser, blaming a third party, blaming the circumstances, the background, the authorities or whatever target is most available accessible and most likely to be credible in the eyes of the accuser.
Blaming, including character assassination strides the digital universe also, generating faux conflicts that too often lead to real suicides, real addictions to substance abuse and real gangs. We are a world "at war" in our own mind, and the enemy is everywhere within and without, bearing the faces of whatever demon seems to have taken residence in our psyche. What we have missed in our "rush-to-judgement" culture are a number of steps that are integral to a healthy human being as well as a healthy culture in which healthy human beings can and do thrive.
We have missed the step of honest reflection of the conditions in which "the other" is operating.
We have missed the step of acknowledging our own bias and fear in our daily lives.
We have missed the step of opening our minds to opinions and positions and their human carriers that differ, honestly and respectfully, from our own.
We have accepted half-truths and false choices, like those in too many commercials that make comparisons so extravagant as to be deeply deceptive and seductive for those unable or unwilling to pause to consider the stupidity of the claims being made for a product the advertiser is determined to sell for his client.
We have turned a consumer economy into a oligarchic economy, through a toxic mix of indifference, complacency, ambition for our own status and power, and narcissism, thereby reducing all other humans to "pawns" on our chessboard, useful in whatever ways they may be to our goals and trash in so far as any other pursuit.
We have also replaced open discourse and honest dialogue with talking points, designed to paint the most beautiful picture of whomever or whatever we are talking about, thereby reducing the debate to shouting matches, voices at the highest decibels, rushing past closed, blocked and indifferent ears.
While we permit our political leaders to mount their own narcissistic campaigns on our tax dollars, we also contribute to their goal of transforming the culture into another corporation whose success will be measured in profits, firings, efficiency reports detailing "cost-benefit-analyses" of all social programs, and, in the words of the most recently appointed Secretary of Veterans' Affairs in the United States, the former CEO of Proctor and Gamble, "I am testing the hypothesis that you can run a government department like a giant corporation." (from NBC's Meet the Press, February 15, 2015)
The KOCH's (including the specific Koch Brothers and all others marching to the same drummer) have taken over the world, redefined its purposes in terms of personal profit, and continue to pour their excessive billions into a total takeover of the minds and hearts of the American people, and all other countries (like Canada) willing to lie down and drink their koolaid.
And this piece is unable to find a single target to blame for the most tragic development; it has taken all of us, sleepwalking our way through the demise of the credible and albeit boring news media, and the morphing of information into infotainment, and the reduction of education into mere training, and the reduction of a complex theology into a list of moral and immoral bromides attributed to Jesus and to God (really an admission to our playing God ourselves!) We are risking not merely our ecosystems and our plethora of species, nor our many complex languages and cultures, nor our deeply entrenched and legitimate rights and freedoms (Freedom Watch says while 60 countries are less free than a year ago only 30 are more free..and the trendline is downward when measuring human freedom)
There is no single prescription to address the many symptoms of the current malaise in which the world and the people find ourselves. However, one thing is certain: Everyone of us will have to take a much more active and vocal part in protesting what is going on right in front of us, if the ship is ever going to change course, toward a human and a humane destiny, inspite of the many advances in technology and in communication and in disease prevention and management for which we are all grateful.
(Editor's Note: See also Karen Armstrong: We need to accept the other...acorncentreblog.com May 25, 2012)

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Is Ukraine a potential equivalent to the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1961?

As Stephen Cohen, Russian scholar, warned on Fareed Zakaria GPS on CNN today, the world may be moving toward another Cuban missile crisis over Ukraine. His portrait of the situation is gloomy if not frightening.
He says the only two rational peace-pursuers outside Russia are German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Hollande, "both of whom are weak" (according to Cohen) and the war-mongers, including the United States and NATO are driving events in this conflict. According to Cohen, the European Union is divided, and the crisis could lead to the break-up of the trans-Atlantic alliance.
Cohen's analysis includes this statement: "The train attempting to arm Ukraine may already have left the station" referring to the crescendo of U.S. voices calling for shipping American military equipment to the government in Kiev. Cohen also referred directly, and scornfully, to the chorus of western voices "demonizing Putin" who, he says, inherited this crisis and will not end it by capitulation but rather on his own terms. He quotes former Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, from a few weeks back, who claimed that demonizing Putin is not a policy but rather an alibi for not having a policy.
Demonizing our opponents, however, has become the default position in so many conflicts that one wonders if the tactic (it is clearly not a strategy) has not replaced the formation of any long-term policy and strategic analysis and plan. Similarly, for Putin to demonize Obama or the United States, is a parallel ruse to deflect both criticism and potentially political suicide.
The west, including especially the western media, has fallen prey for the spectacle of personalizing our conflict with terrorists, and over the Russian take-over of Crimea, as well as painting a political and professional target on the back of NBC news anchor, Brian Williams, whose memory, after twelve years following the ground attack of the helicopter convey (not his helicopter specifically) has blurred to a revisionist recounting of the events. While Williams has removed himself from the anchor desk, and the pilot of his helicopter has publicly exonerated him by pointing out that the chopper in which Williams was a passenger in 2003, at the inception of the war in Iraq was indeed shot at, and struck, yet not by the same and more serious ground-to-air missile as the chopper ahead of Williams, he is nevertheless the subject of excoriation, a political form of demonization, in a world addicted to the perfection of all of its public figures.
In an international dispute, like the continuing and growing one over the eastern part of Ukraine, however, the personality of the Russian leader, while extremely significant, is not the sole factor in the crisis. If it were, and if that personality were subject to both negotiations and compromise, then one would guess that the proposal of a "demilitarized zone" of some 50-75 miles along the eastern boundary of Ukraine with Russia, would at least remove some of the heat from the fighting and killing and continuing destruction of the towns and cities in that region. It is quite clear, from many observers, that neither the Russian people nor the people of Ukraine in all quarters do not want the fighting to continue. It is also quite clear that the governments of the European Union are deeply divided about whether or not to supply arms to the Ukrainian government of President Poroshenko. NATO, in concert with the United States, seems more than ready and willing to provide lethal weaponry to Poroshenko, while Merkel and Holland remain highly skeptical about the outcome of such a move.
What is significantly missing from reports reaching North America, is the position of the Cameron government of Great Britain. Is that government contemplating siding with the Merkel "negotiation" and compromise initiative, of which she herself is quite sceptical about its potential for agreement, or is the British government tending to lean in the direction of the "arming" position of the United States and NATO?
If Stephen Cohen is right that Russian Generals are openly talking about using nuclear weapons in Ukraine, and if this conflict somehow morphs from one of increasing numbers and severity of skirmishes in Eastern Ukraine to one that sees the deployment of nuclear weapons, or even the public acknowledgement that nuclear weapons constitute the next step in the escalation of the conflict, from the perspective of the Kremlin, then what is a heated, yet still simmering "pot" in international relations will have become an open, dangerous and lethal war, from which the "climb-down" for all parties could be very difficult if not highly unlikely.
A world in which pounding airstrikes over Iraq and Syria targeting ISIS encampments, training centres and weapons depots, concurrently with a deeply divided Islamic world, crying out for some form of reconciliation between the Iranian Shiites and the Saudi Sunnis, accommodated by a persistent and deadly drum beat of killings, maimings, beheadings and abductions in Nigeria by another arm of the Islamic terrorist movement, complicated by a military confrontation between the west (read NATO and the United States) and Russia leaves all of our heads spinning.
We spin in our profound lack of either understanding or appreciation for the underlying forces that are determining our world's path, and impacting the lives of ordinary people both in close proximity to the conflict(s) and around the planet.
We spin in our fears and our imaginings that the world we might leave to our grandchildren is not one they either deserve nor will be able to manage, overcome and survive. We spin in our powerlessness to do much more than cry out, in unity and solidarity of the innocent people in Ukraine, and in Syria and Iraq and Yemen and in  Nigeria, Somalia and in more isolated incidents in other places (including Canada) and perhaps join a public or a digital march in protest to the violence and the refusal to bring the violence to a negotiated settlement.
While demonizing Putin is an alibi for not having a policy on how to bring the Russian dictator to the settlement of his differences over Ukraine and elsewhere with the west, Ukrainian issues which he and his Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov claim are the result of instigations by the United States, we have to acknowledge, as does professor Cohen, that Putin is supremely and totally in charge of all the moves made on behalf of Russia, at home and abroad. And we must never forget that Russia is a strong ally of both Iran and Syrian President Assad, so the colours of his allegiances and loyalties are hardly "friendly" when seen from the perspective of most western governments.
Is Putin ready willing and able to support the initiatives that are attempting to bring ISIS to the ground? If Putin willing and able to exert a positive influence in the negotiations to terminate the nuclear enhancement program in Iran, a program that many allege is targeting the acquisition of nuclear weapons, for use particularly against Israel. Putin was highly visible in his joining Russian Jews in the commemoration of their day of remembrance of the atrocities suffered at Aushwitz but is he committed to the preservation of the state of Israel, and thereby to the protection of its people and borders against attacks from his allies in Hezbollah and Hamas?
One former investor in the Russian economy who brought down the ire of the Russian dictator describes Russia as a criminal operating a gas station. Bill Browder was also a guest on Zakaria's GPS today, and his book Red Notice details his encounters with Putin's Kremlin and his assessment that all "morality" has to be set aside when analysing the Russian tyrant.
Nevertheless, at the state level, notwithstanding his weakness in terms of the Russian ruble (dropped 50% in the last few months, making the cost of imports to the Russian people double in cost), similarly to the apparently only marginally empowered Islamic terrorists, both Putin and the terrorists have been able to inflict considerable damage, and strike a level of fear in their opponents, without having to take responsibility for their actions, to the degree that most western observers would prefer.
Are we watching a multi-layered response of nations like Russia and of what are considered oppressed peoples, especially immigrants in various countries, who no longer wish to comply quietly with a geopolitical, and globalized economy from which the profits are increasingly flowing to the uber-rich in many countries. When Zakaria puts graphs on the screen depicting the numbers of billionaires in various countries, is he not condoning such a development, while we all know that scarcity, fear, poverty, impoverishment, hopelessness and alienation, the remnants of globalization, are the soil in which unrest, terror and even uber political gamesmanship of the kind Putin is playing
will inevitably grow from such soil?
Power imbalances, no matter their specific theatre or culture, will continue to plague our planet, and unless and until some kind of inclusive, consensus-building of all players, within the Islamic world and among the countries outside the Islamic parameters, is set as a legitimate target for world leaders and their respective governments and alliances, we will continue to live under the shadow of opportunism, revenge, hatred and fear.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Compassion and violence....part of all faith communities including Christian....

These are the words of President Barrack Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast on February 5, 2015.....

“How do we, as people of faith, reconcile these realities — the profound good, the strength, the tenacity, the compassion and love that can flow from all of our faiths, operating alongside those who seek to hijack religious for their own murderous ends? 
“Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history.  And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.  In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.” (Reported by Greg Sargent, The Plum Line, Washington Post, February 6, 2015)
Of course his political opponents have taken umbrage at his "insulting" Americans of the Christian faith who take comfort from their "selective amnesia" and willful "rose-coloured glasses" in blocking the atrocities committed in the name of Christ from their consciousness.
President Abraham Lincoln also pointed to the same opposing claims on God:

In the case of slavery, it’s right there in Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, in which Lincoln talked about how both sides were invoking religion, and asked how slave-holders could conceivably invoke a “just God” on their side, though he acknowledged uncertainty about God’s designs:
Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes (From the above quoted segment by Greg Sargent)
In our own time, a Christian God is claimed by both those attempting to ban abortions and those seeking legislative and legal authority for a woman's right to choose. Only those who do not espouse or express a faith are freed from the history of claiming that God is on their side. They simply do not care or believe in any deity.
Even within the same walls of the same sanctuaries, believers in the Christian faith hold completely contradictory views: e.g. some hold that "retraining" homosexuals to heterosexuality is sanctioned by God, while others hold that loving all members of the LGBT community is an act of Christian agape.
For centuries, women were forbidden to hold clerical office (still are in the Roman Catholic faith) while others pressed for inclusion. Many hearts and minds and even bodies and spirits have been broken on the fires of these conflicts within the church. There was also the conflict over prohibition, with some Christians holding to a "teetotalling view" and others advocating for moderation.
Capital punishment, too, has been debated by Christians and "heathens" who, in the view of some of the their Christian colleagues, support the abolishment of the penalty by the state.
Compassion does, indeed, as Obama reminds us, potentially flow from our adherence to a faith perspective; so, sadly and tragically, does viscious vindictiveness, in the name of the Christ who is purported to be the head of the church, through holy writ.
As Carl Jung reminds us, the central theme in explaining and attempting to understand human life is "paradox"....and we come to accept that view with all of our beings kicking and screaming in protest.
We seek to find rational, tolerable and tolerant explanations that merge our capacity for compassion and love with our capacity for destruction of our own kind. They are, and likely will be for a very long time, not subject to our desire for integration.
Even in the Christian "views" of death, some hold that it is a passing into the afterlife of streets paved with gold where there is no dissention while others hold that, for those who have "sinned" there is purgatory and possibly even Hell.
It says here that to claim to know the will of God, for society, and for individual lives, absolutely, is one of if not the most serious form of playing god that humans can fall into. And yet, for the purposes of church identity, and institutional "integrity" and viability, (read acceptance and commitment from those in power with money to keep the church doors open) each religious institution has adopted what it considers the "orthodox" position of the Christian faith. And there have always been those who, risking their own lives in many cases, and certainly risking their expulsion from the faith community, have proposed views that confront, contradict and even explode those views previously held by the institution.
Banned books, is one example: for centuries Christians were banned from reading books that were considered "suggestive" or "evil" or "sexual" by the church authorities, (in the Roman Catholic faith they are called the leaders called to protect the "Doctrine of the Faith"). The banned book list, however, as with prohibition, only increased sales of those books, given the human penchant and proclivity for seeking the "forbidden".
We are a rebellious species, as well as a neurotic species, and managing our neuroses has too often become the central focus of our lives, both individually and collectively. What we are told by our parents and grandparents has, very often, trapped us into their "conventional" wisdom, even when we knew that our own perceptions differed. Hedonism, is one example, in which the church has found itself moralizing in order to preserve the "moral virginity" of its people, while others repeatedly questioned the value of such "prohibitions".
We are also a species that aspires to reach beyond its rigid and rigidly imposed curtailments. We consistently aspire to the heights of the human imagination, the human intellect and the human capacity to identify with the weakest among us. We are in awe with the solar systems, the beauty of the flowers, the melodies of the symphonies and oratorios, the strivings of all of our peers who conquer the highest peeks in their chosen field. We are, in a word, trying to be "better than our ancestors" and aspiring to reach the heights of what we commonly call "our better angels".
When these aspirations run counter the health, wellbeing and even the lives of others on the planet, who in their own way are also aspiring to their perceptions of a "heaven on earth" that we have the most explosive conflicts.
And when God, whomever and whatever our conceptions of that being are, is injected into "our" personal, and our neighbourhood's and especially our faith communities' traditional perceptions and beliefs of that God, then the fight takes on a whole new kind of pseudo-holiness. We are in those instances, attempting to wrap ourselves and our faith convictions in the flag that we believe flies on the flag pole in heaven. And yet, we have designed the flag, painted the colours on the flag,  selected the armies that will defend to the death the sanctity of that flag, in the name of our "DEITY" and tankers full of human blood have been and will continue to be shed in what are falsely framed as "holy wars".....they are not! They are merely neurotic humans seeking power at the expense of those considered "apostates".
And of course, since all political operatives of all political ideologies either have or have rejected some form of a faith belief and practice, the merging of the interests of the "state" and the faith often merge in a conflation that eventually defies parsing. The American pledge to the separation of church and state is merely a rationalization of something that simply cannot be sustained. It may provide some cosmetic guidance in the preservation of direct church policy and polity from flooding into the public arena. However, it will never provide an impenetrable wall between the two "sectors" that have become enmeshed in the body, mind and spirit of each human being in some fashion.
Currently, the government of Great Britain has approved legislation providing for the gestation of a human fetus from the genetic material of three parents. This in a country in which, until only that past year, were women forbidden from becoming bishops in the Church of England. Some "Christians" consider the move to be that of "playing God" with human lives, and thereby abandoning the humility that accompanies a true faith in God. In the United States, the debate rages over capital punishment in the face of a cocktail that leave the subject dangling in pain between life and death before the eyes of his witnesses.
In Islam, if published reports are credible, the state and the faith are one, and that in itself is a concept to which the west is unalterably opposed. If any single religious body were ever to demand complete control of the government and the courts, there would be a revolution, a violent revolution, with "Christians" on both sides of the conflict. Similarly, with the proposition of a government controlled from and by a mosque, or a collective of mosques, much of the western world vomits.
Human nature, by itself, has demonstrated unfailingly and repeatedly its dependence on violence in the pursuit of its goals of prosletyzing. Converts, and the higher the number the better, have always been the life blood of all faith communities, with the single exception of the Jewish community.
the smallest faith community has consistently reserved entrance only to those it permitted entry, through conversion. Of course, original Jewish families, of whatever cultural heritage, were and remain part of the original tribes of Judah. So, another layer of competition, for simple recruits is finding expression in the evangelizing march to human domination from both Christian recruiters and Islamic recruiters of all their many and diverse types, some moderate and others "revolutionary".
Tension, both creative and destructive, is also at the heart of the human capacity for growth, development and enhancement, if deployed creatively, collaboratively and compassionately, regardless of the faith foundations from which it emerges.
So within each of us, on daily basis, even minute by minute, we are engaged in a process of asking questions of the premises on which we are basing our choices, and in turn we discuss these choices with those in our circle, and even select circles of conformity as part of our reinforcement for our perceptions, beliefs and attitudes.
Liberals seek out liberals, and like to believe that we are more caring compassionate and inclusive than those who prefer a more conservative life view, many of whom consider liberals irresponsible and lawless, in the major and minor ways of offending both natural and human law.
In the current environment, even the most conservative Christian seems too liberal for the most radical Muslim, especially in his depiction of the identity and meaning of females. And at the heart of this difference, for the Islamists, has to be a deep and profound psychosis about the willingness and the ability of other men to keep their distance from Muslim women. Distrust, like many of the other faces of fear, is, we have been taught, one of the most insurmountable obstacles to a relationship with any deity and so Christians are unmoved by this "patronizing" and "protective" set of religious and state rules about the lives of women, including their potential for both education and professional employment in research and human intellectual activities.
Is the twenty-first century a war of religious, cultures or a war about feminism and the role and place in society for women?
It is apparently all of those things and more, as we all seek to find our individual and cultural paths to some form of integration and balance between our extreme capacities for compassion and vengeance. And all the Gods that have ever been depicted in human literature, both sacred and secular, are watching!
How many lives are will jointly willing to shed, main and repress to win a "Phyrric" victory, because in the end, all sides will eventually have to learn to listen and talk to their most hated enemy, and all the Gods will be watching and waiting for that conflab.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The states' view of religion could foreshadow human lives for decades

This morning the Globe and Mail reported that China is eager to exchange her high-speed train expertise to Ontario for Canadian natural resources. There are reports that the Ontario government is considering a high-speed train corridor from Windsor to Montreal (a long-overdue project, in our view!) Clearly the Chinese have demonstrated considerable expertise through their 400+mph train projects and would be ideally positioned to offer such expertise to the Ontario government.
Whether or not the Ontario government would be wise to accept such an offer from the Chinese government is another question.
We already know that China has poured billions into the infrastructure of African countries, more than any other world power, in exchange for their opportunity to strip natural resources from African governments and people in a similar exchange. And the Chinese have, thereby also demonstrated their expertise in the negotiations of such "deals"....Chinese money and expertise for infrastructure in exchange for natural resources, mostly coal for Chinese factories in the case of Africa. The Chinese have already played some of their "hand" in the purchase of natural resource companies in Canada, as part of their long-range planning to feed the monster of their own appetite for those natural resources, given their population size and their long-range vision of becoming a fully developed modern industrial, technical and profitable country.
We also know that of all the stories that have emerged over the last couple of years about high-level cyber-spying, all reports point to the Chinese as the source and perpetrator of many of those "hacking" jobs. Cyber-targeting western corporations for technical know-how in order to produce their own "one-off" duplicates, at much lower costs in order to sell those "knock-offs" to the same countries from which they were absconded has become a trademark of Chinese modus operandi. Also cyber-penetration of military website, including the Pentagon, in search of both hardware specs and strategic plans, in order to leap ahead of their prime "enemy" the United States, is also apparently hardwired into the Chinese government's DNA.
Recent reports of the slowing down of the Chinese economy, as well as highly touted reports of air pollution that makes masks mandatory for Chinese people in several cities, and reports of thousands of vacant housing projects waiting for the tsunami migration of rural Chinese people into urban environments notwithstanding, the Chinese are nevertheless "on the march" militarily, economically and, in the view of the inner circle of their communist party, socially and culturally.
The government has abandoned their one-child policy, fearing a drought in population generation and a shortfall in productive workers in the oncoming decades. And, uniquely consistent with Chinese totalitarian tyranny, the Chinese government is putting pressure on both people of any religion and people without any religion.
It says here, in fact, that how a country confronts the question of religion, including all strains of fundamentalism rampant in all world religions, could well foreshadow the cultural and political storms of the rest of this century. The eruption of radical Islam is not only undermining moderate Islam, but could be part of the Chinese motive to stamp out religion from their society.
Pluralism, on the other hand, including the open and unrestricted engagement of people of all faith communities, and with those who call themselves atheists, runs counter, even anathema, to the communist need for complete and perfect control of their people. Pluralism, like democracy that supports and fosters it, as does pluralism support and foster democracy, is messy, unpredictable, sometimes heated and disruptive and often generates more heat than light, in an intellectual sense.
Shifting policy and practice in a totalitarian regime is demonstrably quicker, easier and much more adaptable than shifting direction in a democracy in which religious traditions, beliefs and practices are deeply embedded into the public consciousness. Hence, power, authority and control are much more easily managed, implemented and passed on to successive "regimes" in a state that does not have to bother with the messy and often disagreeable and certainly inconvenient obstacles presented by people of all faith communities.
Similarly, human rights, as a public issue, is starved for the oxygen it needs in a state in which religion is considered anathema to the public good. When the "people" are reduced to productive robots, moveable, replaceable and disposable in the same way as lumps of coal, to be burned in the furnace generating the most widgets at the lowest cost, all of the tenets of religion, including tenets like "created in the image of God" and "do unto others as you would have them do to you" and "love your neighbour as yourself" are so not only foreign but actually dangerous to a totalitarian regime, dependent as it is on the most reductionistic premises of financial, military, political and productive power. China has not so far been either willing or able to marry its ambitions as a leading world power to the corresponding need for human protections at all levels. What the state (government, communist party, inner circle of the politburo) needs, simply, is not to be fettered and impeded by the paradoxical and often contradictory pronouncements coming from the darkened sanctuaries and seminaries of the "religions".
Historic traditions of contributions to the welfare of the state, it is thought in states like China, can and do serve adequately as models of human contribution to the continuing growth and development of that state. Individual and even shared belief systems that centre on the possibility of a deity and a world force that might surpass that of the state, any state, (without becoming completely enmeshed with the state, as some radical proponents of Islam demand) threaten the supremacy of the state and of those whose careers, indeed whose very lives, exist at the behest of the state. The complete surrender and enmeshment of any individual to the will of the state, at least from these western Christian eyes, is as evil as the surrender of an individual to any drug gang, or to any growing behemoth like ISIS, AlQaeda, AlNusra, Boko Haram, AQAP, Hamas, Hezbollah without even beginning to consider the methods used by either or both state actors (like Putin, for example) or non-state actors like radical Islamic terrorist cells.
Existence of any group that can and will only be sustained through violence is as far distant from any legitimate belief in and practice of any religion as can be conceived by our limited human intelligence.
Hence, the belief in and the opportunity and freedom to explore "faith" as a legitimate component of a full, rich and enhanced human existence is not merely an extravagant and narcissistic "frill" like expensive cars and palatial houses, or exotic and erotic vacations in island paradises. Nor is it or can it be removed from the responsible exercise of political power and care for a people, the central purpose of all governments, regardless of the ethnicity or the historical traditions of the culture in which that government operates.
So, all governments, including the government of Ontario, must be watchful and scrupulous in their survey of the local landscape for potential terrorists, like those who allegedly were determined to blow up a bridge over which a VIA train would travel, killing hundreds. Governments must also be highly watchful of the strange bed-partners their governments sleep with, even if and when the proposed "union" of such expertise as China does possess, with the abundance of natural resources in Ontario seem like a perfect "win-win" agreement.
It is not that we fear a godless Ontario if China were to build a torpedo-like passenger service from Montreal to Windsor; nor is it a rape of all of Ontario's governmental and corporate secrets at the hands of the Chinese who would work here is such an agreement were ever consummated. (They can already do that from Bejing if they so desire!) It is in reinforcing the growth and development of a godless state with billions of people and the reinforcing of an appearance that such things as human rights and open debate and religious freedom (both to and from worship) and the transparent security of all people everywhere really do not matter if states in which all of those repressions do not curtail the opportunities of such states to spread their "wings"....economically, politically, culturally and ideologically.

(This piece was found on The World Post, a Huffington Post publication, on today's date.
Read and reflect on the potential spread of both the dangers and the efficiencies of godless states.

Karl Marx long ago disparaged religion as “the opiate of the people,” and now the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) wants to ban all addicts. The Communist leadership of coastal Zhejiang province has declared it will double down on a long-standing but little-enforced rule that bars religious believers from joining the Party.
That move comes amid a widely reported tightening of the ideological screws in Chinese universities and across the media landscape. Professors across the country have reportedly been fired for speaking against the Communist Party, and the country's education minister declared last week that China should "never let textbooks promoting Western values appear in our classes."
December also saw scattered protests by Chinese students demanding an end to Christmas celebrations on Chinese campuses, a move supported by authorities in one Zhejiang city. One professor at a Party-affiliated university speculated that the recent moves to bar believers from joining the Party are meant to guard against “penetration of Western hostile forces," according to a Global Times report. (By Matt Sheehan, The World Post, February 3, 2015)

Opposing "western values" as a goal of Chinese education, would seem compatible with the stated goal of radical Islam, another ideological group that seeks to undermine and potentially remove western values from the planet. The Chinese methods and scope may differ from those of radical Islam but they nevertheless posit another "front" on the cultural, and ideological collision of ideas that are swirling around the world.
What would be the outcome of some merging of radical Islam's opposition to western values, education and religious practice with the godless state of China? Who knows, but even to contemplate such a merging is a little scary.