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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

My Guilty Little Secret

I grew up at a time when anything to do with Russia was inherently suspect and dangerous.  Anyone who read the "Morning Star" (a Marxist newspaper) was suspected of treachery.  Covert surveillance of the hard left in Britain was (and probably still is) commonplace.   If you were Labour then you read the Mirror; Tory? the Times or the Telegraph for you; Liberal? the Guardian of course.  This was a time when there were just 3 TV channels ... BBC 1, BBC2 and ITV.  Then there were "D" notices ... the State denying publication under the Official Secrets Act (a sort of Wikileaks before Wikileaks).  Public opinion was sustained by very limited media input and options.  All that changed with Cable TV and the Internet.

There were of course losses as well as gains.  The reliability of news on line was and is questionable.  In some ways opportunities for propaganda distortion and just plain dotty fancifulness have grown exponentially. However, the real game changers have been choice and access.  Today mostly everyone (except perhaps in China and Iran) can read whatever they want to read by way of news content and comment.

Shall I share with you my guilty secret?  It amuses me that today I tend to trust RT (Russia Today) more than I trust SKY and even the BBC.  Of course there is spin on RT just as much as there is spin anywhere else.  It's just that their take on the news is a healthy corrective to what would otherwise be a very unbalanced monochrome western perspective on home and world events.

Interestingly, when I talk to my friends I discover that they also watch RT.  It hugely amuses me that what the Politburo in Moscow could never achieve through Pravda after the War is now much more easily achieved (influence in the west that is) through the application of a little modern technology.  No wonder totaliltarian regimes everywhere try and control and even throttle information exchange on the internet.  The satellite dish has become the great democratic leveller.  The people really are in charge now.  It's just the politicians that need to catch up.

Monday, June 17, 2013

A lesson from history ....

The Peace of Westphalia ended the 30 Years War, a sectarian religious conflict that ravaged Europe in the mid seventeenth century. It  established a principle of international law persisting to this day that Mr. Hague would do well to revisit.  A sovereign state may not suffer military intervention from another state on account of internal domestic conflicts.  It was the lack of such a tempering principle that spread sectarian violence throughout Europe at the time.  
So, no matter how horrific the events inside Syria, proxy wars on behalf of combatants always spill over into regional conflicts (don't feed the terrorists) and can even lead to wider international conflicts.  Remember that we declared war on Germany only when it invaded Poland.  However, I am NOT saying that we shouldn't have done so if Nazism had confined itself to internal German affairs rather than try to build the Third Empire.  Systematic mass killing and genocide must always be resisted BUT (and we should take lessons from Iraq and WMD) only with due authority (one of the priniciples of a "just war.")  
Once again the US and the UK are beginning to act alone.  Short of a UN declaration, the Syrian government is the legitimate authority in Syria.  If there is a credible alternative to the present regime, colluding with armed insurrection and risking military hardware falling into the hands of jihadists is not the way to provide it.  
Yes, it's horrible to see so much suffering in Syria but the choice is whether we want to see yet more suffering by external as well as internal escalation.  The west needs to work with Russia in bringing the combatants to the peace table.  If Russia is arming the government rather than the militias, however unpalatable that might be to some, it has international law on its side.  This is not about sentiment but rather a hard nosed assessment of what will lead to a cessation of the violence and, thereafter, contribute to the long and hard business of healing wounds and building peace.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Sleep Walking toward the Abyss

A fire is raging. What do you do? Well, you get some petrol (gasoline) and you simply chuck it onto the flames.  Absurd isn't it?  And yet that is what many non-Syrian nations with their own agendas have been doing for the last 3 years.  America is simply late to the infernal party.

Desperate to see the "rebels" prevail with the Syrian government now pushing back into the "rebel" held north there are some in Washington and London who think that Assad can be eased out by threats and pea shooters. Maybe it's just for show; who knows.  What I do know is that "rebels" linked to Al Quaeda were apprehended at the end of May by Turkey in possession of a 2 Kg cannister of the sarin nerve agent that the west is now saying has been deployed by Syrian government forces, (WMD anyone?).  The Al Nusra linked faction was apparently planning to export its terror campaign into southern Turkey. Oh yes, and then there was that park in Istanbul.

Shouldn't we be more alert to what is going on here?  Terrorists always try and use violence to radicalise and divide otherwise peaceful movements so that the poison of their terror can spread by fear and loathing.  It matters little what the antagonists believe or what the colour of their politics or religion happens to be ... just exploit it.  Terrorism is always both parasitic and manipulative.  That's what they always want ... war; war on the streets, war between the nations ... war so they might prevail.

The Syrian conflict, aided and abetted by these demonic forces now has all the essential ingredients of an international conflict, seeded by a self righteous proxy war between the "not-so-great" world powers.  We may yet see a Third World War breaking out from this orchestrated nesting of evil.  The First World War started from an arguably much less contentious situation.  And what does the west do?  Divide the world up into goodies (the "rebels") and the baddies (the Syrian government). In this the hawks can always rely on the impressionable consciences of the liberal left.  Some American politicians are now actually talking about a "fair fight."  How on earth is this at all helpful in reducing tension, brokering peace and bringing the amenable to the table?  Arming one side against the other is just going to exacerbate and spread the conflict.  Israel is getting nervous, as is Turkey and Lebanon is already being dragged into the dark vortex of sectarian violence.

What we need now is less propaganda, less pulling at heart strings to justify violent intervention and more hard nosed, even handed diplomacy, eschewing self interest, intimidation and threats.  But who now has clean hands?  Everyone (just about) whiffs of petrol and most are standing far, far too close to the fire.  It does not look good.  It does not look good at all but there may as yet be enough time to stop this one spinning out of control.

Wake up!  Stop sleep walking toward the abyss!  Shut up ... stop performing to the media and your electorate and work hard, damned hard, for peace.  You know whom I'm talking to!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

What to do about Syria

Western politicians mean well ... they are just naive.
Western politicians are duplicitous.  They manipulate events to their own advantage.

I have heard both comments from Christians in and from the Middle East.  The recent expiry of the arms embargo in the European Union means that the UK Government will soon be arming the anti-Government forces ... but WHICH anti-Government forces?  How will our Government ensure that its arms do not fall into the hands of jihadists?  Is there such a thing as a "good rebel" .... committed to freedom, democracy and a truly pluralistic Syria after Assad?

I personally believe that any military intervention by the west in Syria is at best unwise and potentially, disastrous.  This is rapidly becoming a proxy war between Arab States in the Middle East and their oil hungry western backers and a Russian-Iranian axis concerned to protect its own interests in the region.  It may may be a civil war at the moment but it has all the ingredients and precedents from history to become a regional then international conflict, even, God forbid, a Third World War.

Bashar in Damascus is not going to back down and his control of the south and readiness to retake the north is building momentum.  Iran is not going to walk away from the Middle East and Hezbollah will continue to mobilise with fellow Shiites and derivative sects against Sunni insurgencies in traditionally Shiite controlled areas from Baghdad to Beirut.  Western involvement in this mess is only going to make things worse ... and certainly for religious minorities such as Christians in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East.

It is very easy of course to get people emoting on 24/7 western news channels about the truly terrible suffering in Syria and then use that as a mandate for military intervention. But, the "cure" must not be worse than the disease.  The so called rebels will never take Damascus and with the regime digging in and pushing back north to recoup their losses the straight choice is between the Balkanisation of Syria and attempting to foster its evolution towards an inclusive political settlement.

Only those with "clean hands" will be able to play a role in the second option, (the first is too terrible to contemplate).  Today the UK stands at the crossroads.  Will it genuinely become even handed and work with a coalition of the willing in Syria or will it tragically take sides - even more starkly than it has already done - and arguably make both the local and international situation much worse?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Credibility?

The Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury (outgoing), Dr. Rowan Williams commented recently that the Church of England had "lost a measure of credibility" by rejecting women bishops.  It is not for me to comment on the internal affairs of another Christian body.  However, the issue of "credibility" is a good deal more complex than might be suggested by a rather superficial test of "acceptability" in the eyes of secular society.

The Church (and by that reference here I mean the ORTHODOX Church - western and eastern) prevailed over a persecuting Roman class in the 4th century not by being credible in this sense of "acceptable" but by the blood of the martyrs - as Tertullian characterised this, "the seed of the Church."  "Credibility" has much more to do with faithfulness even unto death than with being acceptable to the mores of unbelievers. 

If the Orthodox Church was ever to have women bishops it would not be because it felt that it needed to conform to a secular world view, perhaps that shared by David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, who later opined in the House of Commons that the Church of England needed to "get with the programme."  No, it would do so because quite independently it believed it to be God's will to do so in conformity with Scripture and Tradition and in the unity of the Church.  There are many in the Anglican Communion who honestly hold to that position (albeit that Orthodoxy respectfully disagrees with their conclusions). 

The lesson I take away with me from this sad affair is that Christians generally should seek credibility from the gospel rather than court respectability and acceptance in the eyes of the world.  I don't expect that position to be popular or to make it easier for people in the short term to receive the gospel.  But, will I sacrifice the gospel for a substitute secular standard of belief and witness?  No, I will not.

So my argument is not with those who support women bishops on theological grounds (however much I might disagree with that position, and I do) but with those who believe that such issues should be addressed from outside the Church and according to contrary, extrinsic principles. Therein lies the authentic question of "credibility."

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Prince of Peace, the Dogs of War and the "Fox" on the side ...

The devastating blasts in both Damascus and Baghdad remind us that whatever is happening in the Middle East, it is certainly not simply a matter of human rights being defended by noble rebels.  Of course in Syria, the rebels have been quick to point the finger at the government for an alleged black op. aimed at discrediting their own cause.

Since 9/11 most of the conspiracy theories peddled by Islamists have centred around similar accusations; namely that the destruction of the Twin Towers was orchestrated by the US Government in order to justify a "crusade against Islam."  At the time and since the western media have not given any credence to such ridiculous and immoral accusations yet now when the same accusations are being made by destabilising elements in Syria all we get from the BBC is that "we have been unable to investigate such accusations."  One has to ask whether or not the BBC has made any corresponding attempt to investigate the claims of US complicity in 9/11?  Of course not! No democracy would do such a thing.  I don't believe so either ... but neither do I believe such a thing of the Syrian government.

The key to understanding all of this is in the fracture in Islam between extreme Sunni and Shia elements ... Christians being caught in the Middle from Egypt to Baghdad.  This is fairly good coverage of this ... here.

Everybody mostly now forgets that before the Gulf Wars there was a long and bloody conflict between Iraq (at that time largely Sunni led by a secular Baathist regime which persecuted its Shia and Kurdish citizens) and Iran (Shia ... with a long grudge match against the Sunni).  It is no accident, therefore, that we are now witnessing the return of Al Quaeda (Sunni) backed insurgencies in BOTH Syria and Iraq simultaneously.... the Americans now having left Iraq and about to leave Afghanistan.  In Egypt the Salafists and the Muslim Brotherhood are mobilising to Islamicise one of the few secular, democratic multicultural states left in the Middle East.

Why does the west get this so, so wrong, time after time?  I have referred before on this Blog to two possible answers to this question.  Western leaders ... stupid or cunning?  In the Telegraph article linked above Fraser Nelson refers to the lack of concern in the UK Foreign Office about the plight of Christians being caught in the middle of this terrible internecine strife.  It's hardly surprising if the naive liberal narrative of the so called "Arab Spring" is to believed.  It leaves the sectarian divisions between Sunni and Shia extremists out of the picture altogether.  So, I must reluctantly conclude, "cunning, not stupid."  That being the case, WHO is the "fox on the side" and what is his game?  I genuinely don't know the answer to that question ... but it is the only question worth asking right now.

In the meantime Christians in the Middle and Near East are preparing to celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace, God Himself who became Incarnate in order to bring an end to sin and death.  The real danger now is that we shall be pushed out by the Salafists who want a "pure" Egypt and Sunni insurgents in Syria and Iraq for whom Christians are simply seen as an alien element ... even though the Church predates Islam there by several centuries.  Will the west lift a finger to protect us?  I think not.  The land of our Lord's birth and its environs may well become a "Christian free zone" within a generation ... something that not even the Ottomans achieved.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

It's Just Not Fair!

The national strike by public sector workers might not have been a "damp squib" (David Cameron) but a minority vote call out was reflected in the numbers  marching on our streets yesterday.  It is extremely unlikely that the Coalition Government will improve on its offer to moderate the impact of pension reform, if only because the public piggy bank is empty.  The government, in my view, has the economic argument with many years ahead of us of privation in the face of a global financial meltdown.  It has, however, lost the political argument because the reforms are seen by many, including myself, to be unfair.

At the same time that low paid public sector workers are having their pay capped to 1% increases and are expected to pay more and work longer for the same benefit, the rich are largely untouched by these financial severities.  Indeed with bonuses and salary increases approaching 50% in some sectors of City financial institutions, the claim that "we are all in it together" is manifestly absurd.  If there is one thing you do not do in Britain it is to compromise our sense of "fair play" and if any government thinks that it can get away with squeezing the public sector and not at the same time discipline and reform the contemptuous fat cat scams that characterise parts of the private sector, it had better guard its electoral back.

For sure, we all know that sacrifices have to be made but when a highly privileged class of bailed out failures in the banking industry keep lining their own nests in the belief that they can sail through the present crises unscathed, then "It's Just Not Fair!" becomes a warning rather than a lament.  The warning is in fact spiritual as well as temporal and political.  Our Lord warned that it was exceedingly difficult for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven ... difficult but not impossible.  The "difficulty" lies in the false worship of attachments to possessions and materialism as an ideology.  As a down to earth Cheshire baboushka once remarked to me many years ago:- "Eh Father, there are no pockets in a shroud."  There will be an accounting ... but at that time it won't be on a balance sheet.

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