29 January 2005

A living memorial to Auschwitz

By Jacqui McCarney

Thursday saw the first ever commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz 60 years ago. The calculated evil of the Nazi's, responsible for the deaths of 6 million Jews, along with Poles, homosexuals, Soviets and Gypsies, is a harrowing reminder of man's inhumanity to man.

This commemoration acknowledges respectfully those who suffered and died, and provides the living with an opportunity to express their grief, sadness and perhaps shame. Shame at what we are capable of doing to one another.

Is the human race destined to express itself, in violent acts of terror and war while praying for peace? History shows that this is indeed the case, and our time on this planet is punctuated by barbaric acts of war and violence.

While we pride ourselves on our superior intelligence, inventiveness and ability to solve problems, we are caveman age in human relations. We have used our superior intelligence to make very sophisticated clubs with which to batter one another - from machine guns to atomic weapons. As yet, we have not figured out how not to batter one another.

Indeed every discussion about conflict sees today's expensively educated leaders revert to a caveman speak of simplistic polarities - Good, Evil, Friend, Enemy, Civilized World, Axis of Evil. Then George Bush's memorable, "You're either with us, or against us" and Tony Blair's most recent, "A few bad apples".

Honestly! Most parents expect more emotional intelligence from their 5 year olds. "It's all his fault", gets little sympathy from parents who know that it's usually six of one and half a dozen of the other. So why do we accept such nonsense from politicians.

Seeing the world in black and white allows us to abdicate all responsibility. Whilst placing ourselves comfortably on a seat of righteousness, we can commit all kinds of barbarism to those we have demonised. Hitler's delusion was that he saw himself as the liberator of the German people. Those who commit acts of evil often fervently believe themselves to be acting out of honourable intentions against some outer evil.

What does human evolution amount to, when we fail miserably to live peacefully with our fellow man? Our failure amounts to our childish refusal to engage fully with the other.

Instead, we dishonour the sacredness of other's humanity and render them subhuman. The evil is out there, it is 100% their fault, whilst the halo of God's goodness is owned by us alone. Projecting the darker side of our human nature, our shadow, onto the world and others leaves us with a dark and frightening universe. No wonder, we now live in a "culture of fear".

To step beyond this primal level of relating, we must begin to take responsibility for some of the mess and be prepared to talk, but more important, listen. Listening carefully to others allows us to understand them.

The aim is not to get rid of conflict, this would probably be impossible, but to develop the techniques, skills, and wisdom for resolving it. Condoleeza Rice's promise of more US diplomacy are words in the right direction, but is she serious she can deliver it?

We really need leadership that favours diplomacy over war - a new approach that could permeate the whole of society. Studies such as that of Mel and Carl Ember conclude that continuous wars is a major cause of escalating violence in countries like the US, whose homicide rate of 7 or 8% per 100,000 is the highest in the world compared to non-combatant countries like Denmark, 0.2 per 100,000, the lowest.

The bullying in our institutions, wife beating, rape, mugging and assault that happen in our local community can not be divorced from each other or from our engagement in war. According to research carried out by Dane Archer and Rosemary Gartner, (Violence and Crime in Cross-National Perspective) all forms of aggression are strongly inter-related - the more aggression in one sphere, the more there will be in others.

This is true whether the aggression is verbal, symbolic or physical. Far from being a release valve, it becomes a template or formula for how to behave in other spheres in the world. Germaine Greer's refusal to play ball with the bullying in Big Brother is also a refusal to play the bigger game of our society, pretending it is all harmless fun.

A living memorial to the holocaust would be a genuine commitment to conflict resolution being practised at all levels from ordinary people to governments.

22 January 2005

The mission for a democratic Iraq

By Ian Sinclair

In his book, Web of Deceit, Mark Curtis argues the public's understanding of Britain's real role in the world is being obscured by the mainstream media, which "promotes one key concept that underpins everything else - the idea of Britain's basic benevolence." Criticism of foreign policy does take place, but always within narrow limits which show 'exceptions' to, or 'mistakes' in, promoting the basic rule of benevolence. Thus, a regular EDP columnist has written that "the mission for a democratic Iraq" is "still not successfully concluded."

The historical record clearly shows, rather than promoting democracy and human rights in the Arab world, Anglo-American foreign policy has been systematically opposed to these ideas. For example, in 1953 the US and UK instigated a coup against the popular, nationalist government of Iran, installing the brutal Shah. Amnesty International observed the Shah's regime slaughtered 10,000 Iranians and held over 25,000 political prisoners. This week the investigative journalist Seymour Hersh exposed renewed US interest in Iranian affairs, reporting that the neo-conservatives are contemplating whether to extend the 'war on terror' to Iran, with Special Forces already operating in the county.

Or what about the continuing US/UK support for Saudi Arabia? In Saudi Arabia there is no freedom of association or expression, peaceful demonstrations are banned and women are pervasively discriminated against. There are no political parties, non-governmental organisations, trade unions or independent local media. In November 2003, Tony Blair said he counted Saudi Arabia as "a good friend" and hoped in the future our two countries relationship "will become even stronger."

More than anything else the US and UK don't like independent, popular governments, who want to do things their own way. This attitude towards democracy was well demonstrated by the distinction made between "old" and "new" Europe in the build up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The former took the same position as the majority of their population (they opposed military action in March 2003) and were condemned by the US and UK. The latter ignored huge domestic opposition (e.g. Italy and Spain) and supported the invasion, and were praised by Washington and London.

In Iraq today the US and UK forces face a fundamental problem: The majority of Iraqis want to kick them out (many opinion polls show this). Therefore, an elected government that reflected Iraqi popular opinion is unlikely to be sufficiently submissive to US and UK interests, and is unlikely to take an 'acceptable' position on the wider Middle East security and the Israel-Palestine conflict.

To this end, the US has consistently stalled on one-person-one-vote elections since the invasion. The popular Shi'ite cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistini called for elections by June 2004. This was blocked by the US, despite British officials claiming early elections in Iraq were viable and that an electoral roll drawn up from a mixture of ration, health and identity cards would be adequate. Salim Lone, the former UN Director of Communications in Iraq, notes the US "put democracy on hold until it can be safely managed."

How this might occur was highlighted by a recent Time magazine story, which reported the existence of a "secret finding… proposing a covert CIA operation to aid candidates favoured by Washington." Furthermore, in July the US-puppet Ayad Allawi made moves to control the media, establishing a committee to impose restrictions on print and broadcast media. The head of the committee told the Financial Times these restrictions would include "unwarranted criticism of the prime minister." There are, of course, less subtle means of rigging the vote. For example, the 100,000 people estimated to have died in Iraq since the invasion certainly won't be voting on January 30.

If the US and UK are serious about establishing an independent, democratic Iraq they would deescalate the violence, not escalate it, and hand over control of the electoral process to the UN. Indeed, the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, wrote to the US and UK governments before the recent assault on Falluja, arguing military action "could be very disruptive for Iraq's political transition." Unsurprisingly the day after the US assault began attacks on US forces rose from 80 to 130 a day. Can an election be legitimate when it is conducted under foreign military occupation?

The organisation Global Policy Forum believes Western oil companies could reap profits anywhere between $600 billion and $9 trillion over the next 50 years - as long as Iraq enters into production sharing agreements that offers the companies favourable terms. With such high stakes being played for, it seems highly unlikely the US and UK are going to voluntarily hand real control to the Iraqi population.

15 January 2005

Conflict resolution - a growing trend

By Andrew Boswell

The world appears very bleak from images on our TVs, and pictures in newspapers. People rightly say we need more positive news.

Well, it does exist, and we should find and celebrate it as a Norwich Quaker friend of mine, Elizabeth Stutz, did.

Inspired to discover the world in which hatred and recriminations have been laid aside, Elizabeth searched the Internet, finding thousands of Palestinians and Israelis who devote their lives to different ways of creating peace in their war-torn region:
  • The Parents' Circle, a growing, hundreds strong, group of Palestinian and Israeli families, who have lost close family members in the conflict.
  • BRIDGES, a new health journal being launched by Israeli and Palestinian health professionals with portions in Hebrew, Arabic, and English.
  • young people from both communities growing up in friendship and understanding through art, drama, sport and travel.
  • nine different women's groups, working in harmony on different aspects of peace.
  • Christians, Jews and Muslims, worshipping and studying together in increasing numbers, celebrating reconciliation and the fact that they share the same Prophets, basic religious beliefs, and cultural background.
Now Norwich Quakers and the Norwich and District Peace Council have produced a web site - http://www.practisingpeace.org/ - which links to some of the many websites describing this work.

The international community urgently needs to know that Muslims and Jews are able to live and work together in harmony and we invite you to visit the site, and to support and encourage these brave people who are laying the foundations for justice, peace and human dignity. These people demonstrate that peace is possible where politicians have so far failed, through their courageous work.

The world hears daily of Middle East incidents in which extreme violence, cruelty and injustice are the norm. Constant negative news inflames negative feelings of hatred and animosity, and produces an atmosphere in which retaliation, vengeance and reprisals are seen as unavoidable. In this climate, the thought of a real peace appears impossible.

For this reason, it is of utmost importance that the harmony that exists among many grass roots citizens as well as professional workers and their work for peace should be recognised and understood by the international community, and used as a foundation for a peace settlement that both sides feel they can embrace.

Contact has been established between the Norwich website and those in Israel / Palestine and some heartening exchanges are taking place.

Aaron Barnea from the Parent's Circle wrote "We are glad … that, together with others, we may change a bit the generally pessimistic mood regarding the future of our region. Our families, victims of the ongoing conflict, are working together in order to show to both communities that cooperation and friendship is possible".

Heskel Nathaniel, Founder, Breaking the Ice writes of the 2005 "extreme peace mission", which, in September, "will take a group of Jews and Arabs in a breath taking expedition across the Sahara", following last year's, joint Palestinian and Israeli Peace Expedition to Antartica.

Our site links to over 30 sites, including audio and video content, and bears witness to the success of conflict resolution, noted by Scilla Elsworthy as the fastest growing method of dealing with conflict in the 21st century.

A few decades ago, there were few such stories worldwide, now there are many - in Britain alone there are over 50 institutes who research non-violent conflict resolution.

This growing trend is reflected in several books - in 2001 Scilla Elsworthy and the Oxford Research Group (ORG) published "War Prevention Works". This tells 50 inspiring stories from around the world of successful peaceful resolutions initiated and sustained by diverse civil society groups such as women, youth and faith-based organisations.

In 1999, the European Center for Conflict Prevention published a similar book "People Building Peace - 35 inspiring stories from Around the World". Now, 2005, they are publishing a follow up book with a further 65 stories from countries as diverse as Liberia, Macedonia, Argentina, Nigeria and Cambodia.

Mikhail Gorbachev's Green Cross International has launched a magazine "Optimist" - issue 2, just out, has an article on the Good Water Makes Good Neighbours project where Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians build peace through sustaining shared water resources. The UK's "Positive News" paper has been reporting such good news since 1993 the banner "Another world is possible, spread the word, let's make it happen". To find out more about Norwich's small contribution, please check out our website!

Thanks to Elizabeth Stutz for her inspiration and help for this column. Proceeds from the January and February One World columns have been donated to the Sarvodaya Movement, a Sri Lankan Buddhist charity working with the victims of the tsunami.

8 January 2005

Am I my brother's account keeper?

By Marguerite Finn

"Loving our neighbours includes loving those in distant lands requiring our practical help"
(Rt Rev Graham James, Bishop of Norwich)

What was it about the Tsunami disaster that prompted us to respond so quickly and generously? The time of the year, perhaps - or the fact that many of us are deeply troubled by the appalling situation in Iraq - an avoidable disaster which we failed to prevent? Maybe it was the dawning realisation that we all live a precarious existence on the surface of a volatile planet and we do not control the forces of Nature? If we accept that, then we have no need to live in fear of phantom 'enemies' and the money in the global war chests could be diverted to rebuilding devastated homes and cities.

Each New Year we are presented with an opportunity to clean up the mess from previous years and start again with a clean slate. This is both a strength and a weakness. If the latest disaster pushes earlier 'on-going' disasters to the back of our consciousness, that is a grave weakness. We live in an age of unprecedented global communication. At the press of a button we can have instant access to news from around the world. We are horrified and saddened at the plight of victims of death and destruction. We are moved to help. But we don't follow it up. New events occur, the media focus moves on and we forget to wonder what is happening today in Bam, or Bangladesh, Falluja or Haiti. I often find myself wondering what ever happened to the hundreds of people last seen clinging to trees and roof-tops to escape the floods in Bangladesh (2004), the 14 million Chinese made homeless when the Yangtze River flooded its banks (1998), the Iranians digging frantically in the dusty debris of the ancient city of Bam (2003) or the Palestinian families in Gaza whose homes had just been bulldozed (2004/5).

It is not compassion that is missing - it is accountability.

What would happen if the media reported on the progress of cleaning-up and rebuilding disaster areas after, say, two years and again after ten years? Would this not ensure that all agencies involved from Governments down were accountable for their actions? With the eyes of the world focussed on them it would be difficult for donor countries to renege on their pledges and for the recipient countries to waste or mismanage the resources given to them. Surely there is scope here for positive 'good news' stories - and if not, why not?

One particular disaster, which the world seems to have forgotten is Bhopal. Here is a twenty-year old mess crying out to be cleaned up - for which nobody wants to be accountable. In December 1984, forty tons of lethal gases leaked from Union Carbide Corporation's pesticide factory in Bhopal, India. It was the worst chemical disaster in history. Over 8,000 people died in three days from direct exposure to the gases. The Company refused to provide full information regarding the nature of the poisoning, which meant that doctors were unable properly to treat the victims. To this day survivors have been unable to obtain information on the composition of the leaked gases and their effect on the body. Union Carbide abandoned the factory, leaving behind large quantities of dangerous poisons, which continue to contaminate the water supply and affect the local population. A third generation of victims is now emerging. These are children born to parents born after the gas leak. They are suffering from TB, lung fibrosis, cancers and chromosomal aberrations. Dow Chemical Corporation bought Union Carbide in 1999, but refuses to accept any responsibility for the Bhopal disaster - even when Greenpeace found severe contamination of land and water supplies due to the continued release of chemicals from the toxic wastes that remain on site.

Bhopal cannot start 2005 with a clean slate - but neither can the Dow Chemical Corporation, which still owes the people of Bhopal a clean environment and the removal of the festering remains of the chemical factory. Here in Norfolk we agonise about dogs fouling pavements and public places. How can we do that while allowing the people of Bhopal to be born, live and die on contaminated land, in total breach of their human rights ? Further information can be found on the Greenpeace USA website or at http://www.bhopal.org/.

My thanks to Greenpeace International for their excellent report on Corporate Crimes (June 2002).

1 January 2005

Things can only get better?

By Rupert Read

Some say that progress is inevitable. As the wrapping paper gets recycled, as the January sales barrel on - and as the 'New Year' begins - it's worth thinking about what 'progress' really means.

Take computers. Apparently computers double their capability every 18 months. So they become more efficient and cheaper. Transistor radios are now lower in price than they were 40 years ago. So, when inflation is taken into consideration, are cars. A Mini in 1959 cost £600. Small cars can now be bought for around £6000 - much cheaper than the 1959 model, in real terms.

You can carry the analogy too far: if cars were 'progressing' at the same rate as computers we would be able to buy a Rolls-Royce for £1.35, it would do three million miles to the gallon and it would deliver enough power to drive the QE2. It would also have been miniaturised enough to get half a dozen onto a pinhead! (But then it would be pretty useless as a car.)

The above examples only prove that there are areas of our lives where the application of the latest scientific expertise can have dramatic payoffs. What if we move our consideration of 'progress' away from commodities and focus our attention onto attitudes or human relations? Do people regard other humans and the environment around them with greater respect than in the past? Two simple examples suggest not. It seems more of today's families leave litter behind after a family picnic. And fly-tipping is on the increase in the greater Norwich area.

Perhaps I am being picky. Life is in many respects better for most of us in the Western world. However, the wealth of the poorest countries in the world has declined in absolute terms over the last two decades. Not to mention those, such as the homeless, and those perplexed by the over-complicated claims forms produced by the Government for means-tested benefits, who are hardly living in paradise, even right here in Norfolk.

And think about the world we are leaving for our grandchildren. We have been overstretching the global system for longer than anyone can remember: a lot of the system's parts are starting to creak rather badly. Fish - at least the kind people buy at the fish-shop - are running out. One reason why is that many of the smaller fish that big fish eat are being scooped out of the sea and used as fertiliser. Or take water supply: As the industry and agriculture swallow up ever more water we find that the water-table is sinking. 'Fossil water' that has been below ground for centuries is now being used to create the 'miracle' of golf- courses in places like Phoenix, Arizona - a city in the middle of a desert! Talk about unsustainable…

Some will say that technological progress will come along to solve these man-made problems. But this depends how that technology is used. It could be used to ensure that non-animal methods of testing new medical cures are used and that barbaric and scientifically inaccurate animal testing comes to an end. And to make more goods from recycled materials so that we do not continue to use up the Earth's resources at an unsustainable rate.

But some of society's problems do not require technological solutions at all, but political and economic solutions. Buying local produce, such as from farmer's markets, helps cut down on pollution from unnecessary transport. And more could be done by governments to promote Fair Trade - to ensure that the 'third world' workers producing those goods that we need to import (goods such as tea and bananas) are paid a living wage. In the field of health, the promotion of preventative medicine must be a higher priority. This includes eating more fresh fruit and vegetables and making more journeys on foot or by bike to get more exercise.

Preventative action is also necessary when it comes to transport. People drive so much partly because it was decided that supermarkets would be able to make larger profits if they were located at highway intersections, where people would be forced to drive to - because many small shops would close after building the supermarkets! And if you build hypermarkets you can close down an entire town centre, not just the grocers'.

Does anyone care if we lose the character of our town centres? Yes - I certainly do!

Things will get better - if we keep things local … and make them sustainable. May I wish all readers of this column a sustainably happy New Year.

Many thanks - for huge help with this column - to Bob Gledhill