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Australia: regain some self-respect

Do not allow the solution to be worse than the problem.

by Peter Maher

In spite of the volumes of historical evidence about the wars waged in the name of Christianity, it is true that non-violence is the most basic Christian principle.  Any reading of the gospel stories of Jesus’ life and teaching must conclude that he opposed all forms of violence.  However there is no shortage of very strong attacks on institutions and leaders of institutions when their actions, or the systems they oversee, in any way violate the rights of the individual and the body corporate.  Jesus saw those who were marginalised socially, economically, politically, physically or religiously as victims of the powerful interests within the political economy.  He refused to allow the powerful to dictate the terms of the argument and staunchly stood alongside those who suffered from self-interested decisions of the state or manipulations of religious authorities.

Let's analyse the threats of war in Iran.  It is a brave person who would seriously suggest that such wars and rumours of wars are anything but the manipulation of the powerful over the powerless.  Political and economic interests of the powerful use the people on the streets of Bagdad, Kabul, the West bank and Gaza, West Papua, Darfur and countless other conflicts as fodder in the battle for economic supremacy, the game of exploitation and the heartlessness of apathy.  We see time and time again that human life and people’s basic human rights will be sacrificed by the powerful if they get in the way of their grand scheme to save the world, which is often code for maintaining economic and political supremacy.  What enables this to happen and with such moral certainty?

Political leaders say they have to act in the national interest.  It is high time we all got the message that “the national interest” only thinly hides the interests of those who keep them in power. Our leaders talk of moral obligation and the national interest as if we lived in the 19th century.  Have we not already emerged from the global village into the global fishbowl?  Every environmental, scientific, technological and social analyst today reminds us of the interdependency of all creation.  No one and no thing on this globe can remain unaffected by the actions and interests of any other person or thing on the globe.  For world leaders to talk of national interests as if they were independent of global interests is culpable and negligent.  The first lie of international relations today is nationalism.  It fosters inaccurate analysis, strategising and action.  It is a major factor contributing to the violent and simplistic proposals of world leaders to address complex problems; it always discounts the value of the lives of the poor and ordinary people; it contributes to a sense of fear and disharmony; it falsely dichotomises peoples and finally, but most importantly, it disenfranchises the ordinary people by distancing them absolutely from decisions directly affecting them.  The Bush Administration plan to democratise the world aided by our own government turns out to be the most undemocratic of processes not only for those most seriously harmed, but also for the people of the democratic West - ourselves.

In Australia the most frightening reality is the ability of our government and its co-opted media to manipulate the masses into consent for the worst possible option for the global community - war.

With Iran - just like Iraq - we are proposing a violent solution to a complex problem.  All serious think tanks suggest the present issues regarding Iran need the utmost in diplomacy.  We can no longer sit by in a world where the solution is worse than the problem.  The possible use of nuclear force to contain the use of nuclear weapons would be laughable - except in our world where we know these are not idle threats.  We know such threats can turn into reality and we have the monstrous results in Iraq to prove it.

Frank Brennan at the seventh Manning Clark lecture recently noted that we can no longer say we are uninformed and play the "we didn't know" card.  Every Australian who listens to or watches any news knows the disaster that is now Iraq.  We can blame the government but indeed we must take some responsibility for putting it there and maintaining its power.  The power is maintained because of our self-interest - we prefer tax cuts to making a stand for decency and a commitment to our responsibilities as good global citizens.  We say we believe in democracy but we have no sensitivity to the exclusion maintained by comfortable majorities that cause and/or allow suffering among the minorities.  Our lack of public outcry and political will to address reconciliation and disadvantage among Indigenous Australians who live inside our borders should alert us to the poor prognosis for shifting attitudes and inspiring action on behalf of those outside our borders. No surprise then that there is little sympathy for the suffering in Iraq or Iran that converts into action.

So should we leave the so called "rogue states" to do as they wish? Certainly not. The argument that progressives should go and live in Iraq to support them is so infantile as to not be worth addressing were it not for the fact that such hecklers are actually serious.  The climate of fear has so engaged us that it has also paralysed us.  We seem unable to analyse, think and create or imagine a different world.  Imaginative solutions to complex problems have dried up.  To suggest that the only solution is to go to war with conventional or nuclear weapons is at best to so minimise the unique human quality of imagination, creativity and ingenuity as to render us less than the animals.  Even animals live with a sense of how to survive often with an element of interdependency.

Progressives are far too often dismissed as naive and negative and without constructive ideas.  The solution needs fast and direct action.  There seems to be a blindness to strategies that have been successful which do not include war with conventional or nuclear weapons.  Progressives must continue to offer alternatives such as negotiation; diplomacy; trading ideas and strategies; stalling for time by involving third parties in talks; initiating aid programs; proposing and funding spaces for regions and countries to participate in conferences and workshops using self activation and liberation methodologies; using creative symbolic non-violent resistance such as street demonstrations and theatre; supporting grassroots community groups to resolve conflicts within and across borders; maintaining alternative think tanks and policy development institutes in Australia and at the international level; supporting United Nations and global NGO initiatives; funding and hosting peace talks which take seriously the views of both parties; engaging people with non-violence expertise in brainstorming solutions to difficult global situations; finding ways to talk to government no matter what persuasion; stop minimising and ridiculing the ideas and aspirations of countries involved in conflict and poverty; and remembering that the heavy handed approach of arrogant economic, military and political colonialism is always a recipe for disaster.

Unfortunately we cannot trust our political leaders to act rationally.  Bob Burnett’s article on CommonDreams website, “Iran - Inside Bush's Brain” suggests that the Bush administration acts not rationally, as if it were just a matter of the penny dropping with a good dose of information, but to acquire power and even as a messianic actor. If Burnett is correct, then George Bush combines his addiction to power with the belief that he hears God calling him to war.  Not even God knows how to combat that Machiavellian double. So we have to face the fact that with this kind of decision making process in the highest places of the only remaining superpower, we are in trouble.  Changing things is the genius of a democracy – but we have to be awake.  In this climate of fear we have a dumbed down democracy – the curtailing of democracy in Australia is the most serious consequence of the war on terror and its consequent legislation and fear mongering which has limited participation in the debate.

Iran’s citizens need our support to deal with the many regional and global problems which are - by nature of the global fishbowl - also our regional and global problems.  We must oppose the use of war and violence by all governments of all persuasions and ideologies.  The use of war and the weapons of war is always the last resort and in today's climate must be considered at best, a severe risk. From a Christian perspective it is untenable because the collateral damage, that is the killing of women and children and civilians, cannot be justified under any definition of a just war.  The biggest problem Australia faces is that we have disqualified ourselves as participants in this important endeavour because we are perceived as aggressors in the region; we are poor global citizens in respect of refugees and asylum seekers and we no longer have credible moral authority from which to act.

So we must begin at home and try to regain some self-respect by changing our own attitudes; forming our own communal conscience; redesigning policy; changing the political landscape and demanding more accountability at the political and economic levels of our society. Let’s keep thinking creatively and imaginatively.

Fr Peter Maher is the Catholic Chaplain at the University of Technology, Sydney, and Multifaith chaplaincy representative at the University of Technology. He is chaplain to the Australian Catholic Movement for Intellectual and Cultural Affairs and is on the Council of St John's College, within the University of Sydney. Fr Maher is Parish Priest at St Joseph's, Newtown.


He gave this speech at the Don’t Attack Iran gathering in the Sydney Town Hall, Sydney, on Saturday, May 6.

Another recent article by Bob Burnett is What can we do about Iran and Iraq?

 

Meanwhile, in Manhattan, 18 women of granny age, full of wit and wisdom, have just won a court case and sent their protest story around the world… Last fall, these women descended by foot, cane, and walker on to an armed forces recruitment centre in Times Square. Inspired by groups such as the Tucson Raging Grannies, they demanded -- ''we insist / we enlist" -- that the Army take them rather than their grandchildren.  When the soldiers locked them out, 91-year-old Lillian Runyon banged on the door, singing: ''If I had a hammer . . . " The women of the Granny Peace Brigade then staged a sit-down until the police, rather more gently than is their wont, took them to jail in handcuffs.  Their cry against the war's dishonorable conduct came up against the government's claim of their disorderly conduct. But on April 27, a mere whippersnapper of a judge -- 46 years old -- declared them not guilty. Whereupon Joan Wile, lyricist and grandmother of five, promptly then told the courthouse crowd, ''Listen to your granny; she knows best."  (Granny power)

 
 
 
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