31 December 2005

Growth vs development

By Rupert Read

Often, we think of growth as a positive thing. But picture the following:

A child who grows to be 1m tall. Then 2m Then 4m Then 8m… That's growth!

A child who becomes better and better at maths, at running, or at understanding other people. That's development.

A cancer or parasite that spreads - until it overwhelms the organism which it inhabits. That's growth!

A cancer that is treated; and an organism that finds ways of living which make it is less likely to contract cancer again. That's development.

As 2005 comes to an end, humanity is burning fossil fuels like there's no tomorrow. We are told that this is essential for economic growth.

Surely everyone agrees that economic growth is a good thing?

But, when you stop to think about it, what's really so great about (economic) growth? The burning of fossil fuels in record quantities is producing pollution (especially, greenhouse gases such as CO2) in record quantities. As our economy grows, the remaining capacity of our environment to absorb these wastes shrinks.

Something to think about, as you watch those Christmas light-displays burning.

Meanwhile, 'Peak Oil' is fast approaching. What's 'Peak Oil'? It's the year in which the amount of oil produced worldwide reaches its peak – and starts, inevitably, to decline. Because resources are, of course, finite. Their use cannot keep growing forever.

The Peak Oil year may well turn out to be 2006. In fact, it may well turn out to have been 2005. Once oil production starts to decline, get ready for some real 'oil shocks'. Fuel prices will go through the roof, making the price increases of recent years look insignificantly small, by comparison.

Another reason why we should remember the old wartime slogan, "Is your journey really necessary?" We need to think of the onset of 'Peak Oil', and the increasing risk of catastrophic climate change also consequent upon the burning of so much oil etc, as putting us on a kind of war-footing. No-one questioned the need for rationing, in the Second World War, nor the need for voluntary blackouts. Likewise: we need a system of rationing of fossil fuel use. 'Carbon rationing', it's called. It's the only fair way to deal with the long energy-and-pollution crisis for humankind which is commencing.

And perhaps we should voluntarily black out some of those light-shows! Ask the supermarket, the motel, the ice-rink: are all those lights really necessary? Can we afford them, if we start thinking long-term? If we think like there's always – or should be, always – a tomorrow, for us and our children?

The holiday period and the New Year is a chance to slow down, and to reflect on whether the growth in our economy, which has brought us to the onset of this crisis-situation, is really what we want. Have the changes in our lives over the last generation improved things? Are families closer? Are you less stressed, and sleeping better? Do you feel more fulfilled, relaxed and confident, in your job? Is the local community stronger? Do you have a stronger sense of your life having a point? Are you less worried about the future?

My own answers to these questions are decidedly mixed. And that brings home to me that growth just ain't necessarily a good thing. It's a means to an end, at best. The real goal is the satisfaction of needs, and a worthwhile existence. So: when growth doesn't lead to needs being satisfied, and doesn't contribute to a meaningful life for all, it should be stopped. We should stop growth that is not helping us be happier, not merely because such growth can't go on indefinitely, but because it is pointless.

Whereas development, in its true sense, is always a good thing. We are all, I hope, part of the developing world, in this sense.

An economy in which ever more people are rushing around ever faster clocking up ever higher wages (and debts!)and not feeling any more happy at the end of the day. That's growth.

A society in which people are doing less, slower, but what they are doing is increasingly satisfying to them; a society in which people's real needs are satisfied. That's development.

A world in which our use of resources (and our wasting them) spreads until it finally overwhelms the life-supporting capacity of our planet.

That's growth – to the point of collapse.

A world whose limited capacities to provide us with resources and to absorb our pollution we recognise, and live within.

Such recognition, such 'living lightly on the Earth', would show that the human race had really learned, really developed, really made progress.

24 December 2005

The silent stars go by

By Marguerite Finn

O Little town of Bethlehem
how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep,
the silent stars go by.

Tomorrow we gladly sing, knowing full well that Bethlehem today is a very turbulent place. Philip Brooks' poem depicts the ancient city of David as it was 2000 years ago, on the night Jesus was born.

For centuries, Bethlehem has been the destination of Christian pilgrims from all over the world. Deep below the Church of the Nativity is a small cavern with a manger cut into the rock wall. St Helena claimed this is the place where Jesus was born, 10 kilometres from the hill where later He died. In between, Jesus walked the length of the land preaching peace.

This Christmas, Bethlehem is enclosed by an 8-metre high concrete wall, erected by Israel on Palestinian land. Cutting right through the city, it destroys homes, businesses and lives. Bethlehem has lost most of its farmland and olive groves. The number of tourists has dropped from 92,000 in 2000 to a mere 7,249 in 2004. Restaurants, shops and commercial outlets have closed. In the last five years 9.3 percent of the Christian population of Bethlehem has emigrated.

Pilgrims entering or leaving Bethlehem must line up to be checked individually. Even the Dean of the Anglican cathedral in Jerusalem was forced to leave his car and walk some forty yards through a culvert hidden from the road, to emerge, shaken, on to the concrete beyond the checkpoint. Armed guards monitor everyone entering the Church of the Nativity through the side doors - built low to prevent horsemen invading the church. The main doors are barred and bolted as a security measure. The ancient walls are pockmarked with bullet holes where Israeli soldiers once laid siege to the church, sanctuary for some alleged terrorists.

But who is terrorising whom?

Mary, the mother of Jesus, found refuge in a stable where her Son was born. Centuries later, Palestinian women, pregnant, terrified and desperate to reach the safety of a hospital to give birth to their children, endure hours of degrading treatments at Israeli checkpoints. Many die from lack of proper medical care. The Israeli army issued "birthing kits" to soldiers controlling the checkpoints. These kits are to help Palestinian women who "choose" to give birth while being held up at checkpoints. A growing number of Palestinian infants carry the name Hajez (Arabic for 'checkpoint') as a bitter reminder of their birthplace.

Canon Aves, the late priest of St Giles-on-the-Hill in Norwich, spent the last three months of his life working with others in a refugee camp near Bethlehem. They hoped their presence would deter Israeli harassment of West Bank people. His diary describes how, one cold November night, he saw young Israeli conscripts drinking coffee at the checkpoint on the road from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. They had detained 40 young Bethlehem men, their faces against a wall, hands held high. They were kept there all night for "illegally" entering Jerusalem looking for work. Bethlehem has 70 percent unemployment due to the partition wall, the roadblocks and the dearth of tourists.

These harsh Israeli security measures stem from their understandable worries over suicide bombers. However, in 1948, Israel was founded in part on expulsion of former residents. More than 750,000 Christians and Muslims were forced from their homes to live in refugee camps. Many are still there, 50 years on, just a 40-minute drive away from land they once owned. Israel proclaims the 'right of return' and citizenship to all Jews worldwide but denies this to expelled Palestinians, despite repeated United Nations resolutions.

This makes grim Christmas reading but it also provides an opportunity. At Christmas, our attention focuses on Bethlehem more than at any other time of the year. We can prevent the life being squeezed out of this holy place. Citizen's freedom may be under threat, but Bethlehem is doing its best to open up to the international community.

The international campaign, "Open Bethlehem" launched in London on 9 November, announced that Bethlehem Passports (honorary citizenship) would be available to all people of the world who "uphold the values of a just and open society and remain a true friend of Bethlehem throughout its imprisonment". With headquarters inside Bethlehem University and offices in London and Washington, 'Open Bethlehem' is well placed to keep that city at the forefront of world attention.

Details from the London office, Tel: +44 (0) 207 222 7820 or www.openbethlehem.org/contacts.asp. Thanks to David Roberts from Norwich United Nations Association for his help with this column.

17 December 2005

The hand that rocks the cradle

By Marguerite Finn

Christmas shoppers in Norwich yesterday may have been intrigued by the notice over the Charity Market Stall on Hay Hill: it read simply: 'WILPF'.

Those venturing closer would have discovered that the stall was in aid of an organisation that celebrated its 90th birthday this year - the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom.

WILPF is the oldest women's peace organisation in the world. It was established in 1915 when more than 1000 women from all over the world met at an International Congress at The Hague to protest against the First World War, to suggest ways to end it and how to prevent future wars. Back in 1558, John Knox might have railed against such a "Monstrous Regiment of Women" - as he did against the most powerful women of his day. Happily, by 1915 attitudes were beginning to change, albeit slowly !

Many of the organisers of the Women's Congress at The Hague were also prominent in the International Suffrage Alliance and saw the connection between their struggle for equal rights and the wider struggle for peace. So this feisty crew issued resolutions, sent delegations to 14 countries and met with President Wilson, who apparently said that their resolutions were by far the best for peace and promptly borrowed some of them for his own subsequent proposals !

This was the birth of WILPF. There are now branches in 37countries across the world. There may be one in Norwich in 2006. Why do we need a 'women only' organisation? Well, I am sure that it will have been obvious to readers, sitting around the meal table in each and every Norfolk home, that there definitely is a male and a female way of looking at things. If both points of view are taken into account when tackling a problem a more equitable solution is likely to be achieved.
Unfortunately, women are too often excluded from the decision-making process in many societies. It was ever thus. But in 2000, Dr Theo-Ben Gurirab, Namibia's Minister of Foreign Affairs, said, "Women are half of every community - are they therefore, not also half of every solution?" It is a question that needs answering for, despite all their peacebuilding efforts, women are rarely present at the peace table.

Gender parity is at the core of WILPF's work, which aims to:
  • Bring together women worldwide to study, make known and help abolish the causes and legitimisation of war.
  • To work toward world peace; total and universal disarmament; the abolition of violence;
  • To strengthen the United Nations (UN) system and the implementation of international law;
  • To establish political and social equity, economic equity and co-operation among all people;
  • To promote environmentally sustainable development.
WILPF has been successful on many fronts. It has achieved consultative status with several UN agencies. It played a leading role in drafting UN Security Council Resolution 1325 which was adopted in 2000 and which emphasises the need to consult women at all decision-making levels in conflict resolution and post-conflict peace processes. It also highlights the need to protect women and girls in armed conflict from gender-based violence including rape.

WILPF recognises that there is a gender dimension to trade issues too. Last month, in New York, the United Nations envoy dealing with the world's poorest countries called for solutions to the problems faced by women who increasingly bear the burden of what he called "the feminisation of poverty". These women have little representation in negotiations and, as small farmers and traders, they are the first to be driven out of business. The breakdown of family life and social structures forces them to become migrant workers or prostitutes in order to provide for their families.

WILPF rejects the idea that "the free market", whose rules are largely determined by multinational corporations, is the only model of economic globalisation. WILPF calls instead for an approach to trade and development that better serves the needs of all social and cultural groups while respecting their fundamental rights as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Women's leadership role is most visible within their communities; it is here that they organise to end conflict and build the skills necessary for peacebuilding and reconstruction. Visualise half a dozen purposeful women trudging on foot from embassy to embassy in London in May, disarming diplomats with their arguments for nuclear non-proliferation. Twelve visits - twelve presentations of irrefutable feminine logic !

WILPF's great strength is that it addresses a broad range of contemporary human rights issues with both practical and policy-directed approaches, at local, national and international levels of decision making.

10 December 2005

Self esteem will beat crime

By Jacqui McCarney

"Let us reform our education and we will have little need to reform our prisons" so wrote John Ruskin. If Ruskin were right surely New Labour would have emptied our prisons by now.

From SATS to league tables, religious schools to new academies, time energy and money has been lavished on educational reform during this government's time in office. Increasing numbers of children have jumped A level hurdles and gained places at university.

So why has all this effort failed to produce a more civilised society? Why are our prisons increasingly overcrowded, violent crimes growing and horrifically violent acts of bullying at schools becoming all too common?

The relationship between education and crime is borne out - in reality the vast majority of people who end up in prison have failed at school - many reach adulthood illiterate, and large numbers will have been labelled as having learning difficulties. Yet, the real reason for failure is overwhelmingly linked to bias in the current system against their poorer deprived backgrounds.

Despite the media obsession with fractional changes in A level results, the real measure of a school's success has to be the number of optimistic, self confident, caring young people it produces - pupils who feel that they are of value to themselves and to the world, now and in the future. This is the holistic education vision that Ruskin, and many others, advocate.

Whether their talent is in making a cabinet, building a wall, gaining A levels, growing vegetables or caring for others; all these skills are equally valuable to society and deserve to be valued equally.

The damage to society from alienated young men that have experienced nothing but failure and are turned onto our streets with little self-esteem and even less hope is incalculable. We have only to open our newspapers to be bombarded by the results of their anger. Paul Taylor and Michael Barton the young racist murders of Anthony Walker are all too familiar; no-hopers with a history of failure at school and then at work.

Extremist and racist views are more a reflection of a personal sense of deprivation and powerlessness, which can be just as easily turned on homosexuals and women.

What if these people had been given the opportunity to study philosophy from a young age as had the fortunate children at Tuckswood First School, a Community First School, here in Norwich. Feeling valued must start early - children as young as four are learning about "Peaceful Disagreement" and the opportunity to discuss issues freely. Their teachers notice that leads to "increased self-esteem" and "respect for others". It is hardly surprising that these open, non-judgmental sessions have a "profound effect" on the children. The excellent work in this school could be lost if it is not continued when the children move on to their next school.

School should be the start of a lifelong education - children need such opportunities to explore their ideas and develop the skills for independent thinking early if they are to become fully participating members of a democratic society - involved in the community and politics, and becoming voters.

We must begin to produce a win win situation for all children in our schools. And it is only by doing this and enabling every child to feel valued will we begin to decrease the prison population. We need people with a wide range of qualities and talents, and these needs to be reflected and valued by schools. Schools need to have academic success as just one strand in a broad and inclusive education. To limit intelligence to academic intelligence is unrealistic surely in life emotional intelligence, practical abilities, physical skills, entrepreneurial talent, creativity are all of equal value. Children with these wonderful and useful talents are made to feel like failures in our school system instead of using these to boost their self esteem and help them too enter the adult world with a sense of pride.

Both David Cameron and Tony Blair have lost the plot in their apparently close educational views which provide for more competition and choice for a few. They continue to regard schools like factories with quotas and targets, and assuming, that if we put children on the national curriculum conveyor belt, then success is guaranteed.

The achievements of dedicated teachers in enriching the lives of young people are usually achieved despite successive governments' policies and interventions in education, not because of them. It is essential that present and future Governments of all political colours should start by listening to teachers, and their needs for smaller classes. Education bringing on all talents will only flourish in less stressful environments.

3 December 2005

Nelson's nuclear blind eye

By Andrew Boswell

Today is International Day of Climate Protest. Worldwide from Athens to New Zealand, people are demonstrating for stronger binding targets for carbon emissions reduction after 2012 (post-Kyoto) based on the 'Contraction and Convergence' scheme - as supported by Norwich City Council in Tuesday night's vote.

Thousands of UK citizens will march in London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast - Norwich 'Campaign against Climate Change' is hosting a march, too, from the Forum to St John's Catholic Cathedral, starting at 9.15am.

Urgent action is needed to put the UK back on track to meeting in its emissions targets - they are going up, and are only 4% below the level of 1990 whilst the government target is to be 20% below by 2010.

The UK must agree tough new targets for after 2012. Tony Blair deeply worries many people, including MPs of all parties, when he is no longer sure that we need emissions targets, and may turn his back on 15 years of British climate policy to please his friend George Bush again.

The government's climate policy is in disarray, and they have failed to act on their own 2003 Energy White Paper which promoted localised and renewable energy sources, whilst Germany and Spain, amongst other countries, have made much greater progress in implementing similar policies.

This week Tony Blair announced a new energy review - effectively admitting this failure to deliver the White Paper. Time has been wasted in securing our energy, and now that Mr Blair is desperate to be seen doing something, he is spinning nuclear energy as a route to a "carbon free" future.

In fact, a new nuclear industry will be expensive in emissions - actually increasing emissions compared to other options.

Anyone thinking that nuclear is carbon neutral (ie has no emissions) has taken a telescope, conveniently provided by the nuclear industry, with a fixed line of sight to one very small part of the nuclear process - the physics of the energy generating process itself. In Nelson's blind-eye tradition, they claim "nuclear fission … E equals M C squared … can't see much carbon in there … no, that C isn't carbon, its the speed of light … no, absolutely no carbon".

Let's take away the deceptive telescope and look clearly with both eyes at the whole nuclear lifecycle. The industry depends on a rare metal, Uranium, which has to be extracted from weak ores, often in inaccessible parts of the globe. Huge amounts of carbon dioxide are required to mine and extract Uranium, transport it around the world, and process it into high concentrated fuel rods. The carbon emissions from this are estimated to be at least one third of the emissions from a gas fired electricity station.

Over time, the quality and accessibility of available ore will decrease, and both the economic and carbon costs of nuclear fuel will increase drastically. The ore may run out completely before Blair's new power stations would complete their life.

There are further huge energy / emissions costs in building the elephantine power station, and later decommissioning it, processing the waste and disposing of it. The energy required to deal with the waste will continue effectively forever - we cannot be sure of current waste management strategies working for even 100 years. And 10000 generations will need to reprocess and find new solutions to the nuclear waste from just our 2 or 3 generations.

A new nuclear industry will haemorrhage funding into this single (non-)solution. Of course, Blair says his new nuclear industry will be "private" and have to "compete" in the neo-liberal marketplace, but, like with PFI, you can bet the consumer will fund it in the long run with special levies.

This huge expense will directly damage our ability to reduce carbon emissions as nuclear will take vital funding from energy sources which really are renewable - wind, wave, tidal, solar. The miniscule funding that these energies have now would disappear, and so would the political will to fully develop them.

Blair said once he couldn't put an environmental tax on cheap flights, a fast growing source of carbon emissions, because it would be "unpopular" with people, yet he is prepared to back the deeply unpopular nuclear option. The truth is that in both cases he places loyalty to business and the free market before people.

He would fiscally restrict the aviation industry tomorrow if he wasn't scared of upsetting a large and powerful industry. He would fast track renewables, the next day, if it wasn't for the aggressive PR campaign of the nuclear "big boys".

The Norwich march ends at the Green Fair at St John's Cathedral on Earlham Road. Do come and talk to myself and other marchers about Climate Change.

26 November 2005

Slaughter in Paradise

By Rupert Read

The Pacific Island of New Guinea must have seemed a long way from home last Monday night as West Papuan tribal leader, Benny Wenda, made his way through the fog to UEA, to speak about his people's struggle for independence from Indonesia. I was fortunate enough to be in the audience of 60 or so people, that night. It was a moving experience.

Just two years ago Benny was a political prisoner in the hands of the brutal Indonesian military, held in solitary confinement for weeks in a prison toilet with his hands and feet shackled. (After the talk, in the bar, Benny showed me the deep scars on his legs and wrists, that he bears as a result.) Benny's 'crime' was that he is a leader of the peaceful campaign for West Papua's freedom. For that, Indonesia sentenced him to 25 years in jail.

Now, after escaping from prison and spending months trekking through the jungle to eventual safety in neighbouring Papua New Guinea, Benny is living in political exile in Oxford. "I am a long way from home" Benny said to me, "but my heart is still with my people. I am carrying the bones of all Papuans killed by Indonesia on my shoulders."

One of the things that really struck me about Benny's story, as having relevance to us all, is how, when he arrived at Heathrow, Benny was ... an asylum seeker. After coming face to face with an asylum seeker, and one who almost ended up being sent straight back to Indonesia, I cannot abide any more the frequent claims in the press here that we must stop the 'flood' of asylum seekers, of refugees, into this country. Those people who would 'send asylum seekers back' would have sent my new friend Benny to his death.

Having managed to find refuge in Oxford, Benny has gathered a team of activists around him and set up the Free West Papua Campaign. For the first time in his life he can speak openly about the terrible suffering the Papuan people have endured under Indonesian rule and about their yearning for independence.

Indonesia occupied West Papua 42 years ago when the Dutch pulled out. Under a 1962 Netherlands / Indonesia treaty, the Papuans were promised an act of self-determination involving "all adult" Papuans, to choose between independence or being part of Indonesia. Indeed, December 1st 1961 was supposed to have been Independence day for West Papua. Next Thursday is its 43rd anniversary. But the West Papuans are still not independent...

For what actually eventually happened, in 1969, cruelly called the "Act of Free Choice", was neither free nor a choice. Indonesia hand-picked 1,025 Papuans out of a population of 800,000 and forced them at gun-point to vote to become part of Indonesia.

Since the 1960s the Indonesian military has slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Papuans, sometimes using British-made LandRovers and Hawk jets in the process. Most of Benny's family were killed when his village was bombed in 1977. "I saw the river flowing red with the blood of my people" said Benny, to the audience at UEA. "My mother held on to me as she ran for her life into the jungle. For the next four years we lived in the jungle to avoid being captured by Indonesian soldiers. I saw hundreds of my people die because we had no proper food and shelter. We didn't even have time to bury their bodies."

After seeing all this, Benny had no option but to become a peaceful campaigner for independence.

Benny explained to me later, in more detail, what exactly the story behind the Indonesian seizure of West Papua was: "Indonesia wants our gold, copper, oil and timber... but not us people", he said. "We are simply not respected as human beings. Even though Indonesia claims it is a democracy, hundreds of Papuans are imprisoned as political prisoners simply because they want freedom. Right now, thousands of my people are starving as refugees in the jungle ... simply because they are Papuans."

At the Monday night meeting organised by the UEA Greens' student group, Benny passed on some more bad news he has just heard from back home. Last Saturday (19th November) the Indonesian police baton-charged a peaceful pro-independence demonstration in the West Papuan capital Jayapura, leaving 21 students critically injured in hospital.

Indonesia is a key British ally in the so-called 'War on Terror'. But in places like West Papua, the 'War on Terror' is really a war of terror...

If you want to help stop the genocide in West Papua, then go to www.freewestpapua.org

Many thanks to Richard Samuelson, and of course to Benny Wenda, for vital help in researching this article.

19 November 2005

Three days in November

By Marguerite Finn

"Only connect - - Live in fragments no longer".

British novelist, E M Forster tells us to "only connect" and it is true that seemingly disparate events can sometimes be interconnected in surprising ways.

On 7th November, this paper ran a story about the discovery of early Christian mosaics in what may be the Holy Land's oldest church. The mosaics are part of the floor of a church in Megiddo, dating from the third century, before the Emperor Constantine legalised Christianity. Israeli officials are delighted, no doubt anticipating a booming trade in Christian tourists flocking from all over the world to witness the unique evidence of the developing Christian Church portrayed in these ancient stones.

On 8th November, I received an appeal for help from the Parish Priest of Aboud, a small Palestinian village near the recently uncovered mosaics. He was asking the international community to help stop the destruction of the community of Aboud. The Israeli government is building a separation wall through the village, despite the specific ruling of the International Court of Justice in 2004 that the wall was illegal.

10th November was the 30th anniversary of the establishment of the UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. After decades of failed efforts to resolve the question of Palestine, this is no cause for celebration. Rather it is a call to civil society to redouble our efforts.

Aboud is a pretty village 30 kilometers north-west of Ramallah. Stone houses blend into rocky hills covered in age-old olive trees. The population of 2,500 is equally divided into Christians and Muslims, who have co-existed peacefully for centuries. The village has been on this site for three thousand years and is believed to have received the faith from Christ himself. Ruins of the ancient Messiah Church mark the location where Jesus is said to have preached. Close to the village is the Roman road the Holy Family would have used when travelling between the Galilee and Jerusalem.

There are remains of nine Byzantine churches in and around Aboud. Every 17 December the villagers venerate St. Barbara, an early Christian martyr and patron saint of the village. On a hillside facing the village are the remains of St. Barbara's Monastry, including a small sixth century church which was in use until 31st May 2002, when, without warning, it was blown up by the Israeli army.

Aboud is hemmed in by the Israeli settlements of Beit Arye and Ofarim - built on village land in defiance of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, plus a string of UN Resolutions, including Nos. 242, 338 and 465. On 2nd October 2005, an Israeli military officer issued further land confiscation orders, with maps showing the proposed route of the separation wall.

This wall would be a death sentence for Aboud - a village steeped in the history of Christianity, a village where in all probability, Christ himself walked.

It would separate villagers from over 35 percent of their agricultural land - a main source of income.

It would swallow up many ancient, religious sites that characterise the village - in particular, it would prevent access to the little shrine of St. Barbara, painstakingly rebuilt following its demolition by the army.

It would separate Aboud from villages to the north and west, with detrimental affect on the social, economic and educational aspects of village life.

It would place under Israeli control Aboud's underground water aquifers (currently supplying 20 percent of the West Bank's water).

On 7 October, Israeli settlers raided a farm in Aboud, uprooting 500 grape vines, part of a unique project in environmental farming supported by Birzeit University. In the last five years, 4000 olive trees have been similarly uprooted.

It is ironic that Israeli officials should celebrate the discovery of Christian mosaics at Megiddo while at the same time deliberately crushing the life out of a real life Christian community a few miles up the road. Why is the world more interested in the 'dead' stones of Megiddo than the 'living' stones of a Christian Palestinian community whose future is threatened?

This question concerns Norwich in several ways. Links were forged between Norwich, Israel and Palestine at the Conflict Resolution Conference at UEA this October and also between Muslim, Jewish and Christian groups here in Norwich. United Nations Association (Norwich) has received a request from the Israeli Embassy in London for their representative to come and speak to us about the relationship between Israel and the UN - a God-given opportunity to speak up for the endangered Palestinian Christians of Aboud. We must not fail to do so.

More information at: www.leics-holyland.gothere.uk.com or www.sacredheart-stives.org.

18 November 2005

November memories

By Rupert Read

So, the Remembrance services are over, and it's time to put away the poppies, for another year. I have taken off my red poppy (which I wear for the benefit of some of war's worst victims: the soldiers themselves), and my white poppy (which I wear so as to say: never again. No more war.).

The other historic event that we commemorate each November is the foiling of the attempt by Guy Fawkes to blow up the Houses of Parliament. Last week, I took the part of Guy Fawkes in an enjoyable and informative modern 're-trial' of Fawkes held at Norwich Magistrate's Court, under the auspices of 'Norwich Churches Together'.

Now, unlike Guy Fawkes, I am a committed believer in non-violent methods. I am a Quaker, and a member of the Norwich 'Peace Police'. (The 'Peace Police' are a group of friends who join together in non-violent 'direct-action' campaigning for peace. Our motto is 'Upholding and enforcing international law - through non-violent means'.).

I disagree very strongly indeed with the methods that Guy Fawkes chose; but I also disagree very strongly with what was done to him. I absolutely love fireworks and bonfires (as long as they aren't let off too anti-socially, late at night!); but I have always felt vaguely uncomfortable that on Guy Fawkes Night we celebrate the torture and burning and violent execution of this man. The event in the Magistrates' Court was a chance for me to explain that: to explain why it is always wrong to torture even those who might threaten us or our way of life. Why torture is incompatible with civilisation. This message is very important today. For our government is complicit (because of its intelligence service's involvement) with the torture of so many, including Britons, at places like Guantanamo Bay; and our government is, furthermore, complicit (because of the CIA being given free passage to transport victims through Heathrow Airport) in 'exporting' people for even more appalling tortures in various countries, as part of the CIA's 'extraordinary rendition' programme. (At least in the seventeenth century the government was honest about its (horrific) use of torture. Today, our government pretends to be innocent of torture which in effect it condones, in foreign countries.)

Much of the threat of violence that faced the British government in 1605 was due to its own violence: its insufficient tolerance of religious minorities, its lack of democratic accountability, its violent state and military apparatus. Many things have changed since then - but aren't there also some worrying similarities? What threat the British government - and, rather more so, we the British people (let us not forget the awful events of July, in London) - what threat we do face today from non-state terrorism exists largely as a result of the government's own actions.

What am I referring to? Well, for instance, the extraordinary decision unlawfully to attack Iraq, in 2003. (The attack on Iraq is agreed by most international lawyers to have been unlawful, because it was a 'pre-emptive strike', a war of aggression, which lacked good cause and lacked UN backing.) That attack has brought in its train events such as last November's lethal 'coalition' assault on Fallujah, in which chemicals including phosphor were used as weapons. (And this attack on Fallujah, which cost hundreds of civilians their lives, has unfortunately become another event which we should remember, each November.)

Guy Fawkes was acting violently against a state (his own) that was if anything even more violent, even more destructive. The same is true of fundamentalist terrorists today. Until our government stops its criminal activities, which have resulted in many tens of thousands of innocents dying in Iraq, and (this summer) in tens of innocents dying in London, it has itself to blame for the violent revenges that, tragically and appallingly, are wreaked upon it - or, rather, upon us.

For stating these truths, I could potentially be vulnerable to prosecution under the 'Glorification of Terrorism' act, very recently passed in the House of Commons. Not because I am glorifying terrorism: I would of course never dream of doing that. But because what I am saying might be twisted into sounding as if it is an apology for terrorism, a way of excusing terrorism. Whereas what I actually think is: terrorist methods are never right. Whether they are used by private individuals, or by governments.

As a passionate believer in the rule of law and in non-violence, I have the right to criticise those who would wreak revenge on Britain and its government, through violence. But what right does the (violent, criminal) British government itself have, to make similar criticisms?

After the fireworks and poppies have all been put away, this question remains.

12 November 2005

Remembering not to forget

By Andrew Boswell

This weekend the horrors of war are "remembered" in countrywide events honouring the deaths of countless young men in two world wars. I read with interest recently that members of the Movement for the Abolition of War had engaged with the Royal British Legion in a positive and fruitful correspondence. Traditionally, on opposing sides of an abstract battle for hearts and minds, these peace activists and these old soldiers had found some common ground and mutual respect - in the words of Ian Townsend, RBL General Secretary "war is a catastrophic event and there are no more ardent peacemakers than those who have experienced it".

Nowhere do we see this inevitable catastrophic nature of war being played out more clearly than in the on-going war in Iraq. This, we were told, was a War which would be fought and won decisively with precision missiles: technology would give us "a clean war" over in a few weeks. The "brilliant military thinking" of one Donald Rumsfeld would give us a 21st century war, designed and programmed for efficiency, quick execution and minimal pain. The now infamous "Mission Accomplished" speech from President Bush was part of the game plan - the finale to a luminously performed short, sharp war.

Of course, the reality is that an increasing insurgency plays out against the bizarre political machinations of elections and constitution writing which everybody knows is not quite the 'democracy' it is meant to be. It is clear to any observer that there has been no end to the War; the real peace building and nation building has yet to even start.

The war seems endless - most British people have switched off - somewhere over "there" horrid things are happening, but we only need worry about our next shopping trip to the latest mall, and what we are going to do for Christmas. In all honesty, we are in a state of forgetfulness, not remembrance.

Yet, this war is on-going and about to take the 100th British soldier's life, having already taken 2000 US military lives - before the huge toll in physical and psychological injury.

But, remember, modern wars kill many more civilians than combatants, and Iraq in no exception. Throughout Iraq, the civilian population suffers tragedy and disaster each and every day.

The greatest call of remembrance, today, is to embrace the suffering of those innocents caught up in Iraq. How many families, men, women and children, are there in that country trying to continue some semblance of normal life against the daily backdrop of violence, holding the grief of those they have lost?

All wars hit desperate points at which humanity's utter uselessness is revealed vividly. In Vietnam, it was when US commander in charge of the destruction of Ben Tre (actually a city of 300,000) said "We had to destroy the village in order to save the village."

Move on 40 years to another city, another country - Fallujah - also 300,000 - scene of the saddest, gruesome and least accurately reported, "salvation" of the Iraq war.

In April 2003, 13 civilians on an unarmed demonstration were killed by US gunfire; two more, two days later. So started the immense hatred and resistance to the occupation within the Sunni triangle.

The US assault of the city in April 2004 led to the deaths of 731 civilians according to the local hospital director. Then in November 2004, a year ago this week, following a siege in which the city's water, power and food supplies were cut off, and eight weeks of aerial bombardment, there was another massive US assault. The city's main hospital was selected as the first target - 36,000 of the city's 50,000 homes were destroyed, along with 60 schools and 65 mosques and shrines - a third of the population has not returned. 700 bodies were recovered from the rubble in 9 out of the city's 27 neighbourhoods: 550 were women and children.

Alleging that these assaults have broken international law: ie are war crimes, the Italian State broadcaster, RAI, screened this week a documentary "Fallujah: the Hidden Massacre". This charges that US warplanes illegally dropped white phosphorous incendiary bombs - an "outlawed" chemical weapon, similar to napalm - on civilian populations. A former American soldier who fought at Fallujah says "Phosphorus burns bodies, in fact, it melts the flesh all the way down to the bone. I saw the burned bodies of women and children." On Wednesday, the group Physicians for Social Responsibility called for an inquiry.

Recent assaults in other resistance towns - Tal-Afar, Haditha, Husaybah - have resulted in civilian devastation.

As we remember the catastrophic destruction of the past, we must not forget recent and on-going catastrophes.

5 November 2005

Taking our liberties back

By Jacqui McCarney

Today, there will be colourful street theatre on the steps of Norwich City Hall from Norfolk Humans Right Protection Group to highlight the Government's seeking new legislation and worrying new powers - detention without trial, curfews, restrictions on movement, further limitations on protest, the newly endorsed use of torture, psychological profiling of children, a national identity database, the removal of privacy, and ID cards.

All these powers represent striking reversals to the advance of human rights in our relatively wealthy privileged society. Are we heading towards a new security state and why?

Many feel that democracy is threatened when the political and economic leadership of this country is advancing an agenda at odds with what people actually want - this government feels a need to arm itself with the kind of powers that are employed by, well, undemocratic states.

Increasingly whether it is privatising health and education, housing determined by the market rather than people's needs, engaging in unjustified wars, increasing terror risk at home, too little action on climate change, wilfully ignoring commitments to disarmament treaties … and on many other topics, this government is directly opposed to what people want.

People really want good public services, and public control over those services - yet, hospitals, education, affordable housing, public transport, social security and reasonable retirement are all under attack. Our social services, whether directly or under the guise of private finance initiatives, are being transferred into the hands of the private sector in whose benefit they will operate.

The effects of uncontrolled privatisation can be seen no better than in the United States. It has the most expensive health care system in the world, and is also the rich-world leader in social poverty. Of rich countries, it has by far the greatest disparity between the very poor and very rich. This sustains levels of violence that can otherwise only be found in third world countries, and a prison population way above the average for the rich world.

It is quite incredible and alarming, that the American model has become the model on which our future services are being based. Study after study reveals that violence is directly related to inequality in wealth and income. Do we want our society to follow the American pattern?

Extended drinking hours and liberal gambling laws, largely in the interests of private business, look certain to worsen the problem too.

The government response is Anti-Social Behaviour Orders, curfews, proposed databases in the Children and National Identity Register Bills.

Increased powers to confine and monitor the population in secret, with low burdens of proof for wrongdoing, are a serious encroachment on the hard won right for innocence until proven guilty and basic rights of privacy.

What about terrorism and its prevention? Has the Government put its own priorities higher than reducing the terrorist threat? Given that they were advised by Intelligence agencies, diplomats, other governments and many commentators that invading Iraq would increase terrorism, here and in the Middle East, it would appear so.

In fact, our government backed the US invasion of Iraq in brazen disregard of the likely increase in terrorism. Further, it is increasingly clear that the UK and US governments went to war on false pretences. The charging, last week, of Lewis Libby, chief-of-staff to Dick Cheney, with perjury, obstruction of justice and making false statements to a federal grand jury shows the level of deceit used to engineer the US people's consent for the invasion.

In embracing the War on Terror, our government followed the knee-jerk American response to 9/11, and has singularly failed to address the well known and well documented causes of terrorism. Now, the ordinary people suffer the prospect of arbitrary detention and arrest through the judiciously regressive anti-terrorism legislation, and, worse still, they face the possibility of suffering terrorist attack itself.

Once again, we see the solution consistently offered by states to the threat of violence - the resort to force and greater powers of confinement. Yet, the policies which have lead to this environment of insecurity have been pursued without a democratic mandate, and largely in opposition to what people actually want. The government has, in short, been taking liberties.

In today's street theatre called 'Innocent until proven Guilty', Giant scales, representing Scales of Justice will be brought out to weigh up the hard won rights of all individual citizens against the requirements of the 'war on terror'. Here in the streets of Norwich, we are showing the government that we want our liberties protected.

This article was written with help from Liam Carroll, a member of Norfolk Human Rights Protection Group.

29 October 2005

Together, we can stop climate change

By Rupert Read

As I sit here writing this column, we are still enjoying a most unseasonably warm October: it shouldn't be this warm, at this time of year. We all know that, really.

And I thank my lucky stars I do not live in the Caribbean, where yet another killer hurricane has just struck. 2005 has already been one of the worst hurricane seasons on record. The latest hurricane, 'Wilma', is the 12th hurricane of this year - a figure equalled only in 1969 since record-keeping began in 1851. By one measure, Wilma is the strongest hurricane EVER, with the lowest barometric pressure on record in the Atlantic.

The scientific consensus is now that these changes in the climate are the direct result of more heat-energy in the weather system. In other words: this catastrophic weather IS global warming.

Perhaps we can dare to hope, in the aftermath of Wilma hitting Florida, that the USA (and the UK!) might finally start to move faster toward real action to combat climate change? Such an intelligent response to such a disastrous change in the weather would at least give the many thousands of victims of these hurricanes a kind of legacy. We must begin to act to prevent future destruction on such a scale, by tackling the causes of climate change. The unprecedented scale of the disaster that hit New Orleans (Hurricane Katrina) should already have made that quite clear.

Now, we EDP writers and readers are fortunate to have on our doorsteps, at the University of East Anglia, the world's premier climatologists. We are less fortunate to live in a part of the country peculiarly vulnerable to climate change. Our crumbling coastline, our low-lying land, our inadequate flood-defences … East Anglians need to be very conscious of the threat that man-made climate change poses to all our futures.

Climate change is in fact the pre-eminent issue - and crisis - of our times. Britain's chief scientist has warned that civilisation may perish virtually everywhere outside Antarctica, within a century, if the crisis is not solved. This is a deeply-shocking state of affairs, almost too big and frightening for the human mind to comprehend. We need radical and co-ordinated action on a scale greater than the world has ever known, to solve the climate crisis.

In the early stages of this worldwide crisis, a remarkably effective potential worldwide solution has been presented by Aubrey Meyer's Global Commons Institute. It is called 'Contraction and Convergence': contraction of CO2 emissions, to a scientifically-agreed safe level, and convergence of emissions toward the same per capita basis, worldwide.

Contraction and convergence would be equitable: because it is put forward on the basis of the right of each individual to an equal entitlement of the maximum amount of carbon emissions that is consistent with climate safety for all, including for those as yet unborn. It would ensure human survival: because it will be based on the best climate science in drawing up safe emissions levels.

Actually, it will be equitable because it will lead to human survival: insufficiently radical action to counter the threat of climate chaos imposes grossly unfair burdens on those whose lives are threatened by that chaos; especially, our children. And it will lead to human survival because it is equitable: any other deal will be unacceptable either to developed nations (which will ask why they should constrain their own CO2 emissions, if developing nations are not bound to) or to developing nations (which will ask why they should be forbidden development, when it is developed nations who have damaged the world's climate and reaped the economic benefits of having done so).

If any of this sounds too remote or abstract, then just remember: this isn't some academic debate. And it isn't just about people far away of whom we know little. Nor is this even just about your children and grandchildren.

Unless we move now to curb carbon emissions drastically, worldwide, then, next time, it might be us. So isn't it time we adopted a 'Contraction and Convergence' policy, and stopped this man-made climate change, in its tracks?

That's what I'll be saying today, in my keynote speech to a new think tank, the 'Green Economics Institute', who are holding a big conference in Reading this weekend on climate change (http://www.greeneconomics.org.uk/). I hope people are ready to listen: especially, to the boffins at UEA who are leading the way on this all-important issue. We need something of the spirit of the Blitz here: we can only solve this problem if we all pull together. The 'war on Terror' is a sideshow compared to what must become the main attraction: a war on climate change.

22 October 2005

Keep the bio-fires burning this Hollow'een

By Marguerite Finn

All weekend the hand-carts have been trundling past the window. I'm not reporting the flight of a population from an invading army or natural disaster. My village's annual bonfire night approaches and everyone is using it to dispose of their green and other burnable rubbish. I like to see this annual procession of men, women and children dragging or carrying sundry bits of greenery towards an enormous mound in the middle of a field - like an altar to the Green Man of ancient times! Perhaps something of that pre-Christian era lingers on in our collective subconscious.

Last year there was a scare that the EU was about to ban such bonfires, but it turned out to apply only to certain types of agricultural burning, so this year the trundling continues and it looks as though the pile will be bigger than ever; it seems indeed to be the year of the Leylandii cull. Yet, if the EU is really worried about global warming, it should realise that the rush of CO2 released in one evening from the bonfires of countless villages, will add considerably to global harmful emissions.

Would it not be better if all that greenery which faithfully absorbed CO2 for so long, was encouraged to return it slowly over many years while adding useful organic matter to the soil, via shredders and compost heaps? Better still, if villages invested in shredders and sold the resulting compost and mulches so that people could protect their soils from extreme weather, giving the proceeds to local charities.

I can already hear the cries of "Spoil Sport!" Yet paradoxes and incongruities such as these abound in EU affairs, particularly where agriculture is concerned.

Norfolk farmers are unhappy at the reductions in sugar beet growing that are being enforced in the current reforms to the Common Agricultural Policy. The argument rages over whether this will hurt more third world countries than it helps. Yet CAP reform was not principally directed at helping poor countries. It was supposed to reduce the pressures for intensive industrial agricultural production which have been contributing to declining soil organic matter (soil carbon), pollution of surface water, ground and coastal waters and terrible destruction of wildlife over the last thirty years. Intensive beet growing is harmful in all those ways - a fact rarely acknowledged .

Going in the opposite direction, the EU has proposed optional biofuel targets, to which many European countries are responding by developing their biofuel agriculture. Norfolk is berating our own government because it won't create the favourable financial terms under which our own biofuel industry might take off. Again, no one mentions that it would take about a quarter of all UK arable land to meet those optional EU biofuel targets. It wouldn't simply be a matter of growing biofuels on what is presently set-aside. It would mean massive food imports to replace the food that is no longer grown here. Long distance transportation of food across the world is incompatible with the requirement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60 percent by 2050. Statistically, a typical UK family of four emits per year 4 tonnes of CO2 from the house, 4 tonnes from the car but 8 tonnes from production, processing, packaging and distribution of the food they eat.

That 16 tonnes of CO2 per year is about six times our global ration - were everyone on the planet given an equal ration of the total CO2 emissions for a sustainable climate.

A recent European Conference on Climate Change and Biodiversity organised by English Nature, concluded that far more gains for the environment would be made by reducing the size of car engines than by producing fuel from crops. "You can either feed humans or cars but not both", it said.

But there is a type of biofuel that can be developed locally from organic wastes, used cooking oil and damaged crops, using simple equipment that can be erected on a farm or community basis. This would enable farms to generate their own heat and drive their own vehicles and machinery. Villages could build similar plant and profit from the sales while helping to reduce waste recycling and other substances harmful to the environment.

This cannot happen while governments impose swinging restrictions on the development of such systems. We need clear, positive leadership from government down to local council level. Sustainable food and transport systems should be at the heart of national and local policy. In East Anglia we have already started and a Zero-Waste Centre is planned for Lowestoft. Further information can be had on 01502 584061 or email anna@zwc.org.uk.

Thanks to Peter Lanyon and Maxine Narburgh (Chair - SIREN).

15 October 2005

We are all connected

By Andrew Boswell

Poignantly last week's terrible Kashmir earthquake cut through human imposed borders. In affecting both India and Pakistan, the earthquake respected no border showing how we are all connected.

A connection which was aptly illustrated at last weekend's Resolving Conflict conference at UEA by three members of Friends of the Earth Middle East - Mira from Israel, Munqeth from Jordan, and Nader from Palestine presented their project for the Lower Jordan River saying "the River has no borders".

The river from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea is in environmental crisis. Just 50 years ago, a strong river took 1.3 million cubic meters of water from Mt Hermon and springs across Lebanon, Syria, Israel and Jordan into the Dead Sea. Now the flow is just 10% of this, whilst the Dead Sea surface lowers 1 metre each year.

Waste dumped at Wadi Abu NarPhoto: waste dumped at Wadi Abu Nar

For 50 years, water has been progressively diverted to meet the needs of Israel, Jordan and Syria for water for agricultural irrigation and drinking. The ecological catastrophe is compounded by all the countries pumping untreated Israeli sewage into the river.

Friends of the Earth Middle East, founded in 1994 as 'EcoPeace' by Egyptians, Israelis, Jordanians, and Palestinians, fosters environmental peace building projects across the region - their Jordan river project catch phrase is "Good Water makes Good Neighbours".

As Nader Khatid, Palestinian director has said "Water can be a bridge for peace - the water resources are so scarce in the Middle East that we have to work together with our Israeli neighbors in order to help guarantee that we as Palestinians get our fair share of water and all together stop the pollution of the water resource."

Turning around the river's plight requires a huge coming together of people who are also in conflict. Whilst all parties have contributed to the crisis by excessive water diversion and dam building, discharging sewage and saline into the river, it is only all party solidarity that can turn around these devastating practices.

Due to years of conflict, badly needed cooperative mechanisms between the parties do not exist, and Friends of the Earth Middle East are working hard to create these and foster joint sustainable development - the third joint meeting between Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian mayors in the valley takes place next month.

Internationally, they are lobbying UNESCO to recognise the river as a world heritage site, given its natural and cultural significance, leading to jointly developed cross-border nature reserves and national parks.

Their vision needs our support as real action to restore the ecology of the river directly challenges the prevailing tide of economic globalisation that benefits only a minority in the region, and worldwide - the ecological restoration of the river has to be built on a fundamental restructuring of the region's economy.

Right now, the region's agriculture is far from sustainable, nor justified in terms of the water economy. Much of Israel and Jordan's agriculture is for profit oriented export - high value fruit trees such as apples, peaches and bananas needing large amounts of high quality water are favoured by rich absentee farmers because they are more profitable than vegetables.

20th century agricultural development was about making the deserts bloom for burgeoning Western demands - huge amounts of water have been required for this project - literally diverted from the river, leaving it to shrivel away and die.

Yet, the economic benefit of this has only been for a minority of the population - 50 percent of Israel's water goes to agriculture, yet the sector's contribution to the GDP is just 3% (for Jordan, the figures are 75% and 6%). Friends of the Earth Middle East promote a return to sustainable agriculture that can feed the local people growing vegetables such as tomatoes and aubergines which make less demands on water.

Systemic problems of the imbalance of power and water poverty must be overcome too - Palestinians have a mere 70 cubic metres of water per head compared to 340 for Israel.

As elsewhere, radical change is needed quickly - the river's original water sources must be restored quickly so it may heal - otherwise like rain forests and ice sheets, it too will die. In battling for ecological rehabilitation of the Jordan, Friends of the Earth Middle East are in solidarity with all those who seek the life of the planet and people to be put before economic growth.

This approach, given a chance, could produce a beautiful outcome - restoration of the natural and cultural heritage of the river and its region, and water playing a fundamental role in the long term Middle East peace process - reminding us we are all connected.

8 October 2005

Man cannot live by bread alone

By Jacqui McCarney

One may eat and drink at any time during the night
"until the white thread (light) of dawn appears
to you distinct from the black thread (darkness of night)":
then keep the fast until night"

The Holy Quran

Muslims started to celebrate one of the most important festivals in their religious calendar this last Tuesday. During this ninth month of the Muslim lunar calendar, they will fast during the daylight hours, and in the evening eat small meals and visit with friends and family. Ramadan is the month in which the Qur'an was revealed, it is a time for worship, reading the Qur'an and contemplation. Also a time to family and community ties are strengthened.

What is the relevance of this today? The great quality of all religions at their heart is that they are profoundly radical. Their core values centre on the 'brotherhood of man', generosity, renunciation and personal transformation. These values are clearly at odds with societies that advocate competition and greed. Sadly, religion, throughout the ages has been fashioned to fit human vices whether this means justifying slavery, wars, capitalist exploitation and hunger for power.

We will never extinguish the human hunger for meaning; it may be as necessary as food and shelter. Islam retains a central position in the lives of ordinary people. Its teachings are not abstract ideas to be touched infrequently at weddings and funerals, but part of the rhythm of everyday life. The Holy month of Ramadan, free from the commercialism that all too often dogs Christian festivals, allows Muslims to have a truly religious experience.

All Muslims, if they are fit, excluding pre-pubescent children, fast from all food and drink, from sunrise to sunset. Fasting is common to practically all religions, and its meaning, like the skins on an onion has many layers. It is a practice of self – sacrifice, enabling one to experience what the poor in the world experience on a daily basis. It encourages compassion and generosity and at the end of the month every person will be expected to give to charity, so that the poor too, can celebrate Eid-ul-Fitr, the shared meal and festivities marking the end of Ramadan.

Fasting, for Muslims - as for Buddhists and Christians - is about 'letting go' of all that one does not need. This operates not just on the physical level, but on psychological and spiritual plains too. On the physical level, one is expected to let go of unnecessary food and snacks, but also the habits of endless cups of coffee, tea and smoking. On a psychological level, it means letting go of fillers like TV, magazines, unnecessary shopping, and other forms of entertainment. It also means letting go of ways of thinking that are unkind or egotistical. You fast not only with your mouth but with your ears and eyes and thoughts and from all wrongdoing. This state of nakedness exposes the spiritual, where there is nowhere to hide and we are confronted by ourselves.

This is to awake to our patterned way of behaving, and in that consciousness, we can go beyond habits and begin to live with more awareness. For Muslims, it is also to awake to the presence of Allah (God) in a heightened state of devotion and prayer. Fasting brings spiritual purification and is a cleansing of the heart and oneself.

But Ramadan is not just about ascetics, it is about balance and just as important as fasting is the breaking of the fast. The fast is broken slowly with dates or water and the sharing of an evening meal called iftar. This is a time to strengthen kinship ties and show hospitality to guests.

Kinship ties are of paramount importance to Muslims and the prophet Mohammad said that Ramadan entered into with ongoing conflict between people will be of no merit to either party. All conflict must be resolved before Ramadan, and no conflict should last longer than three days without resolution.

Christians share their religious roots with Muslims; all three monotheistic religions Christianity, Judaism and Islam originate in the Holy Land. Abraham and the prophets are revered by all three religions, we share the creation story of Adam and Eve, and the Garden of Eden and the promise of reward in the after-life. Our common bonds are numerous and yet this commonality is seldom talked about.

I have recently shared some time with local Muslim women and their children, and have been moved by the atmosphere of tranquility and peace around them – a living testimony to the truth that man cannot live by bread alone, and a society that offers only this can never be truly contented.

1 October 2005

Leading the way beyond animal testing

By Rupert Read

There are many reasons to be against testing cosmetics, diseases and medicines on animals. Some of those reasons have been explored in recent 'One World' columns.

But the most basic reason of all is perhaps the least understood one. It is this: animal testing just doesn’t work. Europeans for Medical Progress (EMP) is a new organisation representing thousands of doctors and scientists who oppose animal experimentation exclusively because it is harmful to human health. In fact, a survey that EMP commissioned in August 2004 revealed that 82% of doctors are concerned that animal data can be misleading for humans. Sadly, the mainstream national media seems to have little interest in this perspective, preferring sensational stories of "thugs" threatening "men in white coats".

Meanwhile, we hear constantly that animal experimentation is essential for medical progress – but where is the evidence to support that claim? Whereas there is a mountain of evidence from the scientific literature against it. For example, animal experiments showed that cigarettes were safe, that high cholesterol diets were safe, that Aidsvax would protect against HIV (it doesn't), and that HRT would protect women from heart disease and stroke (it doesn't). See http://www.curedisease.net/ for many more examples.

Overwhelming evidence shows that testing drugs on animals is meaningless for people, with a successful prediction rate for side effects of only 5-30%. Tossing a coin would predict drug safety as 'effectively' as animal tests do.

Side-effects of prescription medicine are now the fourth biggest killer in the western world. How are these drugs tested for safety? On animals! Pharmaceutical companies have known for decades that animal testing is mostly scientifically worthless - pure junk science - but they use it to provide liability protection when their drugs kill or injure people. Juries are easily swayed by volumes of safety data from rats, mice, dogs and monkeys – even though it is meaningless for humans. Vioxx (the recently withdrawn arthritis painkiller) alone has killed tens or more probably hundreds of thousands of people through heart attacks and strokes – yet tests in monkeys and mice showed it protected their hearts!

As to finding cures for our most dreaded diseases, it is vital that we abandon animal experiments if we expect to see any progress here. In 1998, Dr Richard Klausner, director of the US National Cancer Institute (NCI), admitted, "The history of cancer research has been a history of curing cancer in the mouse. We have cured mice of cancer for decades - and it simply didn't work in humans". The NCI believes we have lost cures for cancer because they were ineffective in mice. How can animal testing actually prevent us from finding cures to diseases? Through the tests showing substances as being dangerous to animals, even though they may be harmless for – and beneficial to – humans. Just think: without animal testing, perhaps we might already have figured out a cure not only for some cancers, but also for killers such as multiple sclerosis.

I believe the idea of cures for human disease efficiently being found via research on animals to be an expensive and dangerous lie. As respected elder statesman Tony Benn has said, "There is every reason why the public should be sceptical about claims that animal testing benefits human health. It is astonishing that animal testing has never been scientifically evaluated, and the process of doing so is long overdue."

The positive news is that we already have much safer ways to test new medicines – such as DNA chips to identify who will benefit and who will suffer side effects, and sophisticated microdose studies with volunteers monitored by PET scanners – providing information that could never be obtained from animals. Switching to these 21st-century technologies will benefit both people and animals.

Forward-looking scientists have already given up animal experiments, and are using exclusively non-animal based methods, as they endeavour to uncover the basic mechanisms of human diseases. Here, for instance, is the ‘Statement of policy regarding applications for funding’ of the Humane Research Trust, which is based in Cheshire (and has a laboratory at the University of East Anglia): "No animals or animal tissue to be used. Applications need to show some advance in technique, or use existing techniques in area where it is the norm to use animals, which will lead to a reduction in animal usage and a benefit to human health." It's good to know that British 21st century non-animal-based medical research is showing scientists the world over the way to go.

Big thanks to Shelley Willets of 'Europeans for Medical Progress', for help researching this article.

29 September 2005

Suspicious minds

By Marguerite Finn

"We can't go on together
with suspicious minds
and we can't build our dreams
on suspicious minds"

Thus sang Elvis Presley when I was a youngster. I was reminded of it again last Saturday when the Iranian President spoke at the UN General Assembly in New York. I was intrigued by the hostile reporting of his speech, and by the fact that the American delegation walked out in the middle of it and the British Foreign Secretary called it "unhelpful". So, I read the speech for myself. What I discovered was a respectful and honest appraisal of the current global situation - albeit delivered in a language using a more religious vocabulary than is usual at such events. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad caught the mood of the Summit precisely in his opening sentence: "Today we have gathered here to exchange views about the world, its future and our common responsibilities towards it." No disagreement there. "Truth will shine the light of faith and ethics on the life of human beings and prevent them from aggression, coercion and injustice". Yes, OK - but are some delegates beginning to shift uneasily in their seats ?

Maybe a smidgen of 'aggression, coercion and injustice' had crept into the foreign policy of some of the powerful countries attending the Summit, enabling them to acquire weapons and power that they wished to deny to other countries - not all countries, just certain countries.

Let us imagine why President Ahmadinejad would go out of his way to try to establish a level playing field in international affairs. He may not have had much confidence in the playing field's existence but he spoke in the fervent hope that one might develop.

A quick look at the history of Iran might help us understand his suspicions. Iran is not a motley colonial confection like Iraq, but a proud and ancient country three times the size of France, with a population of 70 million. It is OPEC's second largest oil producer and has the world's largest reserves of gas. Back in the 1950s, Iran was ruled by the Shah and with his acquiescence, British Petroleum produced and controlled Iran's main source of income: its oil - and therefore, its destiny.

BP's oil revenues were greater than those of the Iranian Government, which was paid royalties of 10% to 12% of the profits. The British Government received as much as 30% in taxes alone.

A few Iranian parliamentarians profited handsomely from this arrangement and were persuaded to maintain the status quo. Then Dr Mohamed Musaddiq became Prime Minister. His government was democratic, popular, nationalist, anti-communist and as the British Ambassador privately admitted, "free from the taint of corruption". In 1951, Dr Musaddiq nationalised Iran's oil operations. He offered to compensate the British. His offer was rejected. Iran's nationalisation and offer of compensation were perfectly legitimate under international law - but that was irrelevant to the UK government of the day.

Britain boycotted the purchase of Iranian oil in the hopes of bankrupting the country and causing a revolution. In 1953, the CIA and MI6 jointly organised a military coup overthrowing the popular government of Dr. Musaddiq and replacing him with the pro-western General Zahidi. The British Foreign Secretary at the time believed this was "evidence that United Kingdom interests could not be recklessly molested with impunity". The Shah, backed by Britain and America, thenceforth used repression and torture to institute a dictatorship that lasted until the 1979 Islamic revolution.

The Islamic Republic of Iran today has good reason to mistrust Western Powers. It is sandwiched between nuclear Pakistan and nuclear Israel, with nuclear Russia to the north and nuclear America everywhere in the skies above. Far from posing a threat to anyone, Iran is surrounded by nuclear states of which at least one is openly hostile. Israel is determined that Iran can not be allowed to develop a civil nuclear programme - let alone nuclear weapons - and the smart money is on any future attack on Iran coming from Israel - not America.

Mistrust and Suspicion thrive in such arenas. President Ahmadinejad focussed attention on Iran's predicament and on the "nuclear apartheid" preventing it from developing nuclear technology for peaceful use.

America and Israel - even Britain - can't overcome their suspicions about what Iran might do next. Perhaps they feel Iran couldn't forgive them and the only way to assuage their guilt is to label Iran the perpetual 'enemy'. Kahlil Gibran wrote in The Prophet: "if it is fear you would dispel, the seat of that fear is in your heart and not in the hand of the feared"

If only we could exist without the need for an 'enemy'.

17 September 2005

The law must protect black Americans

By Jacqui McCarney

Hurricane Katrina washed away the glossy fa├žade that America likes to project on to the world. 'Liberty', 'Democracy', 'Equality' and the 'American Dream' looked as washed up as the poor of New Orleans. The stench of poverty, segregation, neglect and blatant racism hung around the Superdome stadium and in the surrounding water.

The kind of racism that allows the government in the richest, most powerful country in the world to treat its largely black people with such casual indifference does not appear overnight, nor is it an accident. While the constitution declares "all men are born equal", the law has worked in the opposite direction, upholding and strengthening racial inequality at all levels of society. And where the letter of the law is non racist, the spirit of the law is blatantly, and apparently, unashamedly, racist. America TV is a witness to such prejudice, in its nightly showing of black young men in shoot outs, and arrests. Even during Katrina, we saw this constant negative coverage as white survivors were reported finding bread and soda in local grocery stores, and black people looting it.

America's racist history goes back to the slave trade where white slave owners were protected by law. With the end of slavery the law jumped in to protect white supremacy. And it was in the city of New Orleans that a landmark case was fought. In 1892, a mixed race old man, Homer Plessy, challenged segregation in public places by sitting in the white compartment of a train heading out of New Orleans. The Judge upheld the law and cemented what had come to be known as "separate but equal" ruling legitimising segregation in the South.

Free from slavery, black people are still not equal. This legacy of injustice was all too apparent in the scenes emanating from New Orleans. The civil rights movement of the 1960s, under the leadership of Martin Luther King, has had little impact against powerful opposing forces of the law.

George Bush has said "The decision of the Supreme Court affects the life of every American" and it is strangely ironic, therefore, that as New Orleans struggled with the collapse of law and order, Chief Justice William Rehnquist died. His legacy in New Orleans was writ bold and large in those desperate days.

It was 1952 when a major challenge to racial segregation was launched in Brown vs. the Board of Education. Rehnquist, then, a mere clerk to judge Jackson, took it upon himself to intervene with a memo to the Judge in which he argued that "separate but equal" had been correctly decided and should be upheld. And so began a career dedicated to implementing a right wing agenda in opposition to civil liberties and racial equality.

As a Republican activist in Arizona in the 1950s and 1960s, he opposed the desegregation of restaurants. He also worked as a volunteer challenging the African-American voters at the polls, trying to get them stricken from voting on the day of the election. This tradition was continued in the first Bush election of 2000. Bush lost the popular election by 500,000 votes but "won" the election by taking the hotly contested State of Florida (see Greg Palast's book The Best Democracy Money Can Buy). Here 57,700 names were removed from the rolls on the grounds that they were felons - later research showing that 90.2 % were completely innocent of crime except for being African American.

As less than 10% of African Americans vote Republican, these votes would have lost Bush the election. It was Judge Rehnquist who oversaw the Bush vs Gore election and refused a recount.

Black Americans have entered the 21st century unrepresented, poor, angry and segregated. A pervasive and persistent form of Apartheid separates their neighbourhoods and schools.

Still separate but certainly not equal Black neighbourhoods are poorer and black children are more likely to fail at school, become unemployed, and are seven times more likely to end up in prison. Rhenquist took his mission to oppose integration personally, and had covenants on his houses in Phoenix and Vermouth prohibiting their resale to minorities. His career thrived in a culture where he felt free to write "It is about time the court faced the fact that white people in the South don't like coloured people. It is not part of the judicial function to thwart public opinion".

The America constitution boasts "all men are born equal" - its society won't survive unless black people's 200 years of demands for equality and justice are really met. As in this country, racial discrimination should be made illegal (although we should not be complacent). Black people should be given support to bring cases of discrimination against the police, employers and schools.

Black History month in Norwich and Norfolk starts on Monday 28 September (http://www.norfolkblackhistorymonth.org.uk/).

10 September 2005

Animal, vegetable or criminal?

By Rupert Read

When there is so much human tragedy in the world, who has time to spare a thought for our kin, the billions of non-human animals who share this planet with us? Well, I do, for one.

It seems to me that when we are trying to help fellow human beings who are suffering, we start from the assumption that those who are most powerless are the ones who most need our support. For example, people who are imprisoned and tortured for their political convictions; those whose homes or livelihoods have been devastated by natural (or manmade) disasters; refugees; women or children who have been sold into slavery; those on the receiving end of bombings or threatened with death in whatever way: all such groups of people, we aim to help the most, just because they are temporarily powerless to stop themselves from being abused or oppressed or simply destroyed.

The thing about our non-human cousins is that they are always in such a condition. Non-human animals cannot rise up in revolution against their oppressors; they cannot speak out in the media about what is being done to them; they cannot even begin to tell us (at least, not in words) what it is like for them. We have far more power over our non-human cousins than ever a tyrant has over his people, or a pimp over his prostitutes.

And this, I think, places upon us an absolute responsibility to treat our non-human kin with love, care and respect.

As a Quaker, I feel this especially strongly. We Quakers have a strong history of principled (non-violent) struggle against injustice and violence. In particular, against slavery, and for peace.

Obviously, it would be meaningless if human beings declared world peace but continued to wage an endless war against our non-human kin. And it would be a terrible omission, to free human beings, but to enslave animals the world over. And yet that - the mass enslavement and destruction of animals, for our commercial use - is exactly what is happening.

We have a clear kinship with non-human animals. They feel pain, they suffer, they scream; some of them can reason and care and empathise, too. And yet we subject them to the most extraordinary attacks. For example: Each year inside British laboratories, approximately 4 million animals are experimented on. Every 7 seconds, one animal dies in a British lab. Meanwhile, about 750,000,000 animals are slaughtered every year in Britain for food. That's right, you didn't read that wrong: 750 MILLION. That's almost 20 animals every second. By the time you finish reading this column, approximately 6000 British animals will have been killed inside farms and slaughterhouses, for casual human benefit. Most of these animals moreover are raised and killed in conditions that are - throughout - miserable and natureless.

Many readers will have seen the recent TV programmes on 'Supermarket Secrets', which depicted in graphic detail the way that animals suffer, in the course of becoming food for those of us who eat flesh. In particular, the programme showed the appalling conditions on a Norfolk factory farm raising broiler chickens for slaughter. Such farms are nothing less than the equivalents, for the animal world, of concentration camps and extermination camps.

It can sometimes be easy to evince concern for the plight of humans suffering in New Orleans, or Indonesia, or Palestine, or Abu Ghraib. And it is of course both vital and wonderful that we do so. But care for our fellow creatures, like charity, needs to begin at home. Next time you reach for your wallet to give to the victims of wars and disasters abroad, spare a thought too for the mass torture and extermination of animals that is going on all around us, every day. In Norfolk, in shoots and traps and hunts across the country, in our seas; in factory farms, in scientific laboratories, in slaughter houses.

As a Quaker, I believe that there is 'that of God in everyone' - including in my friends, the non-human creatures with whom I share this world. But you don't have to believe that, in order to take action (a good place to start is by going vegetarian). And action is sorely needed to stop this holocaust of suffering that I have merely begun to gesture at, in this article. Non-human animals are suffering, as you read these words, in their billions. For instance: in disguised 'concentration camps' scattered across the green and pleasant countryside of Norfolk alone, millions of chickens and other birds are suffering, right now. And all over the world, the pattern is repeated.

Non-human animals are in this pain, because of us humans. It is a moral crime, to ignore their wordless screams.

3 September 2005

A country whose time has come

By Marguerite Finn

"When my country takes her place among the nations of the earth, then, and not till then let my epitaph be written"

Thus spoke Irishman Robert Emmett in his speech from the Dock prior to being executed in 1803. In our house, a large print of Robert Emmett hung on the wall at the bend in the stairs. I passed the picture on my way to and from bed every day for 23 years. I used to wonder who would write Emmett's epitaph - and when. Perhaps the time has come?

In 2004, The Economist Intelligence Unit reported that the Republic of Ireland is the best country in the world to live in. Irish adherence to family values on the one hand, while embracing economic growth on the other, enables Ireland to maintain the delicate balance between tradition and modernity.

The Lake Isle of InnesfreePhoto: The Lake of Isle of Innesfree

I was born in Howth - a fishing village 9½ miles north-east of Dublin. It was a wonderful place to grow up in. The population was a glorious mix of Catholic, Protestant and other faiths (the Dalai Lama took refuge in Howth for a while!). In this close-knit community, Catholic children met up after school with their Protestant friends to go swimming or play tennis. Catholic Priest and Protestant Minister were buddies, invited jointly to all village functions. Both churches were a vital part of the community, an integral part of daily life. That was Ireland in 1967, just one year before the ambush of a Civil Rights march in October 1968 triggered the onset of Northern Ireland's recent "Troubles".

It must be said that the denial of civil rights denied to Northern Ireland Catholics in the years leading up to 1968 was unjust. Readers today may find it hard to believe that a substantial group of UK citizens were denied a vote and were discriminated against in housing and employment. This continued unchecked by Westminster for decades. Thirty years of pain and terror followed.

There has been an unwillingness to face up to the injustices of Northern Ireland, both on the part of the UK government and the UK media. It was tempting to concentrate on the terrorist activities of the "Sinn Fein /IRA" rather than paint a more balanced picture of a failing society.

How many readers know that Catholic families in County Antrim, have now been issued with fire blankets by the Ulster police, to thwart sectarian attacks by loyalist paramilitaries? Last month, a Catholic Primary School was fire-bombed, and the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) warned Catholic families living peaceably on a mixed housing estate near Belfast, that they would be burned out if they did not leave. It is easy to pretend that such things don't happen in our democracy. But this 'blind spot' allowed years of pent-up resentment, mistrust and suspicion to harden into extremes, manifested in the revival of the IRA and Loyalist paramilitary groups.

In July, the IRA formally announced the end to their armed campaign and signalled their willingness to "assist the development of purely political and democratic programmes through exclusively peaceful means." This was a groundbreaking statement. The British and Irish Prime Ministers responded in kind. But much remains to be done. The people of Northern Ireland need our unbiased support. Northern Ireland stands on the brink - it can move forward into the 21st Century, with a just and peaceful society, or it can slide into a sectarian hell. All of us, as members of the 'civil society', can help prevent that by being aware of the problems facing the divided community on our doorstep, and by being interested in resolving them.

Mo MowlamAugust saw the untimely death of Mo Mowlam, former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and a good friend to that country. Mo worked very hard for all the people of the province, enabling nationalists to engage constructively with the British Government, leading to the Good Friday Agreement, which still remains the best hope for peace.

Mo Mowlam appealed to the basic humanity of ordinary people and this humanity may yet prevail where politics fail. A group of Protestants in Ballymena are planning a vigil to show their support for Catholics whose church was repeatedly attacked. Our Lady's Church was paint-bombed and daubed with sectarian graffiti four times in August. Protestants from a nearby Presbyterian church helped clean up the mess, wanting to show Loyalists that they did not support sectarian violence. Protestants from throughout Ballymena plan to join them and pray at our Lady's Church - a gesture deeply appreciated by the Catholic congregation.

The Protestants of Ballymena are giving Robert Emmett a reason to be proud of his country.