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Archive for the tag “violence”

The war drums beat louder and louder

The media — print, broadcast and social — seem to be filled with war propaganda these days, so much so that other things seem to be getting crowded out.

And I see more and more of my friends being sucked in to it and by it.

In the US election campaign, there seems to be a “more Russophobic than thou” contest, and some have been saying, apparently in all seriousness, that one of the things against Donald Trump as a US presidential candidate is that he isn’t as Russophobic as Hillary Clinton. I can think of plenty of reasons why Donald Trump would not be a good person to be president of the USA, but not being Russophobic enough isn’t one of them. Yet a lot of people do seem to think that is a serious obstacle.

Hillary Clinton has herself declared that her Number One Priority is to remove President Bashir al Assad of Syria. That calls to mind the fulminations of Alfred Lord Milner against President Paul Kruger of the ZAR, at the height of Jingoism in the 1890s. Jingoism seemed to go out of fashion briefly in the 1950s and 1960s, and for a few decades thereafter took the surreptitious form of neocolonialism, but now it is out of the closet with a vengeance.

A few of my friends on social media have been urging me, in all seriousness, to sign petitions calling for “no-fly zones” in Syria. They are people whom I have always regarded as being not without a degree of common sense, but the war drums seem to have driven the common sense right out of their heads. A few years ago a “no-fly zone” was declared over Libya, and the last state of that country is worse than the first.

My question to my friends who think “no-fly zones” are the answer is: why do those calling for a “no-fly zone in Syria not also call for one in Yemen too?

And secondly, who should enforce such a “no-fly zone”? Preferably a neutral party that doesn’t have a dog in that fight, like Uruguay, say, or Botswana. Do you think Russia, or the USA, or France, or the UK, or ISIS or any of the other groups muscling in on the Syrian civil war and the Yemen civil war would pay the slightest attention to even the combined air forces of Uruguay and Botswana?

Bashir al-Assad is not my idea of an admirable ruler, but in the last 20 years or so we have had a lot of propaganda about the need to remove people like Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, and those attempts turned out pretty disastrously, because even if they were villains, those who replaced them were worse villains. And still people like Hillary Clinton are promising to apply the same quack remedy to yet another country. It seems to be the policy of “The West” in general to replace secular rulers in the Middle East with militant Islamist groups, one of whose aims is to drive out all Christians and those who don’t adhere to their own peculiar brand of Islam.

Syrian Civil War. Syria - Red. Countries that support Syrian Government, Bluue. Countries that support Syrian rebels - Green.

Syrian Civil War. Syria – Red. Countries that support Syrian Government, Bluue. Countries that support Syrian rebels – Green.

Russia for a while acted with some restraint in Syria, but is now bombing with as much abandon as the rest of the belligerents, so has come down from the high moral ground and entered pot-and-kettle territory.

Half the countries of Western Europe are bombing and shelling Syria (or supporting those who do), and yet get all uptight when Syrian refugees arrive at their borders trying to get away from their bombs.

And then, as if all this wasn’t enough, along comes this exceptionally nasty piece of war-mongering journalism Queen in row over Putin ally’s visit | News | The Times & The Sunday Times:

The Queen is to host an audience for one of Vladimir Putin’s closest allies and a key supporter of Russia’s actions in Syria, prompting protests from MPs.

The royal reception is for Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox church, who arrives for his first UK visit next Saturday. MPs and a former senior government adviser have called it a “propaganda” trip from a churchman who has described Putin’s presidency as a “miracle of God”.

In July Kirill, 69, an alleged former KGB agent, also described Russia’s operations in Syria as “noble and honest”. Last month Britain’s UN representative accused…

Not that this is not one of those fake news sits. It’s not even The Sun. This is The Times, part of the “mainstream” media, one of the self-styled “quality” papers. And here they are trying to turn the church into a political football, wanting to treat the Patriarch of Moscow as badly, if not worse than President Zuma and the South African government treated the Dalai Lama.

What they don’t mention (but I learned from a priest who receuived an invitation to the event) is that the Patriarch was going to celebrate the anniversary of the Russian Church in London. The article seems calculated to stir up hatred against the church. I think there are laws in Britain against “hate speech”, and wonder if this kind or article is perhaps in breach of such laws. But whether or not that is the case, ity does seem that it is being used to beat the war drums louder.

My concern in all this is that people seem to be increasingly sucked into to war propaganda, and to swallow it quite uncritically. I’m not a fundi on Mioddle Eastern affairs, and I’ve never been to Syria, but in my no-doubt over simplifiend and even simplistic understanding, one thing stands out: the Western media, the Russian media and the Middle Eastern media all have vested interests in the conflict, and everything they say needs to be taken with a pinch of salt, and if possible verified independently.

But it seems to be that there are two main scenarios, and perhaps both are operating at the same time.

  1. There is a Sunni Shia conflict
  2. There is a conflict over gas and petroleum products.

President Bashir al Assad of Syria has the support of Shia groups in Syria, and those who support him, both locally and internationally, are either supporting Shia interests, or are perceived by otghers as doing so. These include such groups as Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The West, Saudi Arabia and most of the Gulf states support Sunni Islam, and and so the conflict can be described, simplistically, as a Sunni-Shia conflict, with the West o9n  the Sunni side and Russia on the Shia side, and if the conflict keeps escalating there is a danger that it could end up as World War 3.

Tjhere are also economic interests involved, especially as they relate to gas pipelines between the Middle East and Europe, which pass, or are planned to pass, through Syria. Those opposed to Bashir al Assad may have mixed motives, but among them could be that he leans towards Shia and he may oppose their favourite pipeline project. And those who prop him up may have motives that include his support for their pipeline project, and oppiosition to rival projects that may threaten theirs. For more on this, see here: Syrian war explainer: Is it all about a gas pipeline?. And no, I din’t believe it’s all about the pipelines, but I do believe that some of it may be. Take this article with just as big a pinch of salt as any other.

And as a reminder, here’s a kind of timeline of the conflict: Syria: The story of the conflict – BBC News:

More than 250,000 Syrians have lost their lives in four-and-a-half years of armed conflict, which began with anti-government protests before escalating into a full-scale civil war. More than 11 million others have been forced from their homes as forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and those opposed to his rule battle each other – as well as jihadist militants from so-called Islamic State.

And it too needs to be filtered for bias.

Tshwane burns: Mbeki’s unheeded warning

Back in 2007 we listened to President Thabo Mbeki’s speech at the national  conference of the ANC at Polokwane. We listened to it avidly all the way home all the way home from church on Sunday. It seemed much better than most political speeches, not full of platitudes. Now the Rand Daily Mail website has republished it, and I quote one of the bits that made a vivid impression on me at the time, so vivid that I can still remember where I was at the time, driving north on the N1 passing the mint and driving under the old Johannesburg/Pretoria Road bridge Mbeki’s chilling warning in 2007: A virus is eating up the ANC from the inside | Politics | RDM:

I would like to cite a vitally important observation our Secretary General made in his Organisational Report to our 51st National Conference, five years ago.

He said: “We have also reported to the NGC (held in 2000), on the challenges being in power has on the structures of the movement. We found that the issues dividing the leadership of some of our provinces are not of a political nature, but have mainly revolved around access to resources, positioning themselves or others to access resources, dispensing patronage and in the process using organisational structures to further these goals.

“This often lies at the heart of conflicts between (ANC) constitutional and governance structures, especially at local level and is reflected in contestations around lists, deployment and the internal elections process of the movement. These practices tarnish the image and effectiveness of the movement.

“The limited political consciousness (among some of our members) has impacted negatively on our capacity to root out corrupt and divisive elements among ourselves. For the movement to renew itself as a revolutionary movement, we have to develop specific political, organisational and administrative measures to deal with such destructive elements.”

Nelson Mandela also drew our attention to this challenge when he opened our 50th National Conference in 1997. Among other things he said: “One of these negative features is the emergence of careerism within our ranks. Many among our members see their membership of the ANC as a means to advance their personal ambitions to attain positions of power and access to resources for their own individual gratification.

“Accordingly, they work to manipulate the movement to create the conditions for their success.”

Far from heeding the warning, the ANC national conference rejected Thabo Mbeki, ended his presidential term early, and elected as its new president Jacob Zuma, who encouraged the very tendencies that Mbeki had warned against.

The problem Mbeki warned against has manifested itself in the 2016 municipal elections, where people protesting against the official ANC candidates have sometimes become violent, and the protests have been accompanied by the burning of buses and other vehicles, and the looting of shops, especially those owned by foreigners.

News24 reports burning and looting in Tshwane townships

News24 reports burning and looting in Tshwane townships

As one news report put it Looting, burning of buses continues in some Tshwane townships – As it happened | News24:

Protests that began on Monday evening over the announcement of Thoko Didiza as the ANC’s Tshwane mayoral candidate continued throughout Tuesday. The situation became so volatile that by the end of the working day, commuters were left stranded as buses and taxis lessened their services in fear of violence.

How all this happened in the case of the City of Tshwane is spelt out in this article TRAINSPOTTER: The murder of an Ordinary Member, the anointing of Thoko Didiza, and the battle for the soul of Tshwane | Daily Maverick:

The story goes like this: ordinary branch members had handed over a list of three names to the Regional Executive Committee, which, in order to fulfil its constitutional obligations, duly handed the list over to the PEC. The committee perused the list, and found that Sputla’s name was noticeably absent, while deputy mayor Mapiti Matsena’s name was written in day-glo orange. (Not the day-glo orange part.) As for the other two members, the ANC was keeping shtum. Regardless, none of the names was acceptable, because signing off on the list would have meant entrenching the factional divide, resulting in the upgrade of a long simmering conflict into a full-blown nuclear war.

Shitting themselves, the PEC axed the list.

Time to sniff around for a parachute candidate. The name floating around Tshwane on Sunday belonged to a member of parliament named Thoko Didiza, a former Mbeki protege turned Cabinet minister who submitted her resignation to the ANC’s new president in the fateful year of 2008. (See: battles, factional.) She nonetheless regained her parliamentarian job in 2014, was well liked, and had a general air of competence about her. According to the ANC, she even harboured vague ties to Tshwane, which is to say that she was born in Durban.

Presto: the perfect fly-in candidate.

The notion of Didiza shifting resources out of the hands of those who had semi-patiently waited for them greatly displeased ordinary members of the regional structures, many of whom were gathered outside the Tshwane Events Centre on Sunday night. Shots were fired. Bullets hit male human beings. Several were injured, one “passed away”, to use the ANC’s euphemistic term for internecine murder.

The whole article is worth a read. It describes exactly how we got into the position that Mbeki warned against. The big question is, how do we get out of the hole that Zuma’s ANC has dug for us?

Around the time of the previous municipal elections in 2011 there were “service delivery” protests in various parts of the country. We went on holiday at the time, and passed through several towns where such protests had taken place, and in some cases the reason for the protests was obvious. One of the towns was Balfour, where the roads were all in poor repair (and they still were last year, when we passed through it again).

Back in 2011 the remedy seemed obvious — revive the civic organisations that flourished in the 1980s, and put up candidates who would drive the under-performing councillors out. That would be far more effective than singing songs and burning tyres in the hope that someone else would notice and do something.

But this is something different. These are not popular protests of ordinary people dissatisfied with underperforming city councillors. If the Daily Maverick article is right, these are rival factions fighting for the right to underperform in order to be able to skim off the cream for themselves. This is rival factions within the ANC protecting their own vested interests.

And if that is the case, it won’t be easy to stop it.

Twenty-five years ago there were turf wars in KZN between the ANC and Inkatha in the run-up to the first democratic elections in 1994, and more than 700 people were killed. It stopped when Inkatha agreed at the last minute to take part in the elections, and its leader was given a role in the Government of National Unity. Back in those days the ANC was led by people who wanted to liberate the country, and part of that was the desire for ubuntu, to get the people working together and sharing power to build the nation. The aim was to exclude no one, and include as many people as possible.

But when the ultimate object is to gain power to control resources for one’s own benefit, then there can be no compromises for the sake of the greater good, because the main object is not the greater good, but the good of a small group or faction. The aim is not to be inclusive, as it was back in 1994, but rather to be exclusive, because the more there are participating, the less there is available for those who want to control it for their own benefit. And it was those who wanted it that way who had gradually infiltrated and wormed their way into ANC branch structures who got rid of Mbeki. I doubt if many of them played any part in the liberation struggle.

And people who encourage the destruction of municipal property are hardly suitable candidates to be elected to look after it — people who make comments like this, for example SUNDAY TIMES – ‘We will burn the whole of Pretoria if needs be’: an ANC regional executive committee source‚ who asked not to be named‚ appeared to contradict this‚ saying: “This new mayor is being imposed on us. We didn’t ask for her and we wont accept her. We will burn the whole of Pretoria if needs be.”

Can you imagine him presiding as mayor over a council meeting held under an awning in the gardens next to the burnt-out shell of the city hall? Is that really what he wants? Is that the sort of person anyone would want to vote for?

As for what one can do about it, I don’t know. The only thing I can think of is to rotate the municipal councillors and mayors by voting for a different party in each election, so that they don’t stay in office long enough to get their snouts in the trough. Vote for the EFF or the DA, and hope that together they will outnumber the ANC, but that neither has an absolute majority. That way they’ll be watching each other like hawks for the slightest misstep, and that would be to the benefit of ordinary citizens.

 

Mass killings by lone gunmen

Everyone and their auntie seem to have been discussing the latest mass murder in Orlando in the USA, apparently the biggest yet, and speculating about the motives of the killer.

I wasn’t going to comment on it, as it seemed that everything that could be said had been said, except that three days later it seems that two obvious questions still weren’t being asked, or at least I hadn’t heard them being asked.

Most of the questions seem to have been on the lines of: Was he a member of a terrorist group? What radicalised him? Did he hate gay people? Was he gay?

Some have asked whether he had received terrorist training because he shot so many people in such a short time. But the fact that he had been a security guard should answer that. Most security guards are trained in the use of firearms, and anyone with an automatic or semi-automatic rifle in a crowded nightclub would have no difficulty in hitting someone.

He was reported as having visited the nightclub several times before, and that, to me, raises the first question that no one seemed to be asking: Had he quarrelled with anyone there? Had he quarrelled with the management? Did he bear a grudge against someone, perhaps because of something that had happened on a previous visit?

What radicalised him?

Could it have been reading something like this?

Afghanistan 2015 onwards

Most recent strike: June 8 2016

Total strikes: 324-329
Total killed: 1,546-2,044
Civilians killed: 75-103
Children killed: 4-18
Injured: 163-169

We are told that his parents came from Afghanistan, so an obvious question to ask would be whether any of his relatives had been killed or wounded since the American invasion in 2002, as a result of American military action. But if anyone has been asking it, I haven’t seen it in any of the media reports. Either it has not occurred to the media to ask it, or else they are keeping very quiet about it.

I know that it is very politically incorrect in America right now to say that “All lives matter”. American lives matter, yes. But Afghan lives? Not so much.

Yet people do get worked up about such things even when they are not directly involved, and I’ve seen 2nd generation children of Cypriot immigrants marching to the Turkish embassy chanting “Turkish troops out of Cyprus” even though the Turkish troops went into Cyprus before many of them were born.

I’ve sometimes marched with them myself, because I think the Turkish invasion of Cyprus was a bad idea, just as I think the US invasion of Afghanistan was a bad idea.

In most countries that’s as far as it goes, an annual protest march, like the French commemorating Bastille Day, or South Africans commemorating Youth Day.

But only in America can someone who is worked up about such things just walk into a shop and buy a military semi-automatic weapon with a high rate of fire and act out his fantasies of revenge.

sig_sauer_mcx

The answer to these questions may be no.

No, he didn’t have relatives killed in Afghanistan.

No, he hadn’t quarrelled with anyone at the nightclub.

But it’s strange that nobody seems to be asking them.

 

 

So who do I vote for now?

Put not your trust in princes, nor in any child of man, for there is no help in them, says the Psalmist.

So we should know by now that one can never trust a politician. Entrust them with the government of the country, yes. But don’t trust them. So one is always looking for the least of many evils to vote for.

I was beginning to think that the least of many evils might be the EFF, but, as they say in the clickbait cliches, nobody expected this, South Africa’s Julius Malema warns Zuma government – AJE News:

South African politician Julius Malema says the opposition “will run out of patience very soon and we will remove this government through the barrel of a gun” if the ruling African National Congress (ANC) continues to respond violently to peaceful protests.

Malema is the commander-in-chief of the Economic Freedom Fighters, an opposition party he founded in 2013 after being expelled from the ANC, where he had served as president of the Youth League.

We fought for democracy all those years, only to abandon it now? Come off it, Juju!

Julius Malema Launches EFFBut then who can one vote for? What are the alternatives?

For a long time now I’ve never considered voting for the UDM because its leader, Bantu Holomisa, actually did what Julius Malema is only talking about — he staged a coup in the former Transkei “homeland”.

There’s the DA, born of crosstitution, whose former leader, Tony Leon, was urging us to “fight back” against democracy only five years after it had been introduced.

There’s Agang, which staged a coup against its own leader so a couple of non-entities could get parliamentary emoluments and pensions even if no one ever voted for them again. I suspect that a lot of people voted for Agang because they thought that its founder, Mamphela Ramphele, had things to say that needed to be heard in parliament. Well, we can see how that worked out, and perhaps that’s something that the people now saying “Thuli Madonsela for president” need to bear in mind.

Neither Mamphela Ramphele nor Thuli Madonsela have what it takes to be a successful political leader — the infighting, the backstabbing, the wheeling and dealing. Jake the Fake has that in spades, and comes out of the same mould as P.W. Botha — something worth remembering when people blame our electoral system of  proportional representation for the calibre of political leaders who rise to the top. We didn’t have proportional representation in P.W.’s time, but we still got him, even though the media voted for the other Botha, Pik.

One of the great theoretical advantages of proportional representation  is that if gives one a wider choice, and every vote counts equally. You are not disenfranchised because you happen to live in a constituency that sends the same unopposed member back to parliament year after year.

But even under proportional representation, once you’ve crossed off all the people you don’t want to vote for, there’s not much left. I think I’ll just have to learn to COPE with that.

Better the Congress of the People party than the Congress of the Guptas party.

The new Cold War

This morning a friend asked on Facebook what I thought of this article, and I will try to reply here. BREAKING NEWS – PUTIN EXPOSES OBAMA’S PAID ISIS MERCENARIES IN MIDDLE EAST AND SYRIA! | THE MARSHALL REPORT:

(Putin speaking): First point. I never said that I view the US as a threat to our national security. President Obama, as you said, views Russia as a threat, but I don’t feel the same way about the US. What I do feel is that the politics of those in the circles of power, if I may use those terms, the politics of those in power is erroneous. It not only contradicts our national interests, it undermines any trust we had in the United States. And in that way it actually harms the United states as well.

But I can’t reply to this in isolation. It is part of a whole string of media reports and media reporting that goes back two years or more.

Concerning the Middle East in general, and Syria in particular, we are bombarded by  increasingly shrill and decreasingly credible media propaganda from all sides that I’ve simply stopped paying attention to most of it. If there is any truth wrapped up in the all-too-obvious lies, I have no means of sifting and discerning it.

I have tended to interpret all in the light of Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” thesis, as expounded in his book The clash of civilizations and the remaking of the world order. I’ve already written about that here, so I won’t repeat much of it now, except to say that things are now much worse.

I have tended to attibute the growing American Russophobia, which strikes me as loony and entirely irrational, to Putin’s blocking of Obama’ s plans to bomb Syria. But now the Russian air force is bombing Syria.

The world... is going to hell in a hand cart

The world… is going to hell in a hand cart

Two years ago, I regarded Russia Today as  a more reliable news source than most of the Western media, especially on events in the Middle East. Now it is blatantly filled with anti-American propaganda, so I don’t watch it any more. It’s clearly playing tit-for-tat to the Russophobic line of the BBC, Sky News, CNN, and Fox news. As a result the truth suffers.

Can Al Jazeera be trusted? When reporting on other parts of the world, perhaps. But Syria? I’m not so sure. Al Jazeera’s base is Sunni, the Syrian government tends to be Shia. There could be some bias there that would be difficult for non-Muslims to discern.

Also, since I’m inclined to be pacifist, I find the increasing belligerence of warmongering politicians distressing. Obama promised “change you can believe in” but he is just as belligerent and bloodthirsty as his predecessor George Bush and the only difference is that he is more articulate about it. David Cameron is just as belligerent and bloodthirsty as Tony Blair, but I didn’t expect him to be any better. I did, at one time, and probably foolishly, hope that Obama would be better than Bush and Clinton. But it’s always naive to believe in politicians’ promises, and Obama proved to be no exception.

Jeremy Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn

If the Labour Party, under Jermy Corbyn’s leadership, manages to win the next UK general election, will it be any better? Will this, at last, be “change you can believe in”?

Not if the British media have anything to do with it. They have slammed him left, right and center, dismissed him as insane because he has qualms of conscience about annihilating millians of people in a nuclear holocaust.

And my mind goes back more than 50 years to Jeremy Taylor, a Johannesburg school teacher who sang this song:

Well one fine day
I’ll make my way
to 10 Downing Street.
“Good day,” I’ll say
“I’ve come a long way
Excuse my naked feet.
“But I lack, you see
the energy
to buy a pair of shoes
I lose my zest
to look my best
when I read the daily news
’cause it appears you’ve got an atom bomb
that’ll blow us all to hell and gone.
If I’ve gotta die
then why should I
give a damn if my boots aren’t on?

Three cheers for the army and all the boys in blue
three cheers for the scientists and politicians too
three cheers for the future years when we shall surely reap
all the joys of living on a nuclear rubbish heap.

I would fight quite willingly
In the forces of Her Majesty
but not at the price of sacrificing
all of humanity.

That expressed my sentiments when I was 21, and still does, now that I’m 74.

And, since the politicians of the world seem to be determined to restart the Cold War, and threaten to make it hot, another Cold War hymn seems appropriate.

The day God gave thee, man, is ending
the darkness falls at thy behest
who spent thy little life defending
from conquest by the East, the West.

The sun that bids us live is waking
behind the cloud that bids us die
and in the murk fresh minds are making
new plans to blow us all sky high.

Is Violence the Only Thing Power Understands?

An incident of police brutality in Baltimore, USA, sparked off rioting, leading to a media feeding frenzy, and pundits asking “Why?” And amid all this, the proximate cause of the unrest seems to have been lost, even by Counterpunch The Cry of the Dispossessed in Baltimore — CounterPunch:

The reason the dispossessed turn to violence is because violence is the only thing power understands.

Baltimore is burning, embroiled in riots and protest against the city’s horrifically racist and oppressive police. That it took the death of Freddy Gray, a young man whose spine was severed in police custody, to spark the violence is perhaps less important than the fact that the explosion was inevitable.

A similar incident in Ferguson a few months ago was followed by a decision of the justice system not to prosecute the police officers involved. The message this sends to the general public is that the police can beat up people with impunity.

Not in Baltimore, they can’t.

BaltCopsSo when the police beat up people so that they die in custody, in Baltimore, the police are punished. After what happened in Ferguson (and elsewhere), did police in Baltimore really think that there would not be a resolute reaction?

Of course this leads to all kinds of moralising about how people shouldn’t “take the law into their own hands”, but if the guardians of the law are lawless, what else can people do? In whose hands should the law be?

I recall an incident more than 30 years ago, when I met with a group of Anglican Church leaders in a chapel in a garage in Johannesburg. They met regularly for Anglican Evening Prayer, which usually includes reading from the Psalms, but this time they wanted to omit the reading of the psalm because they wanted to spend more time praying for Phakamile Mabija, an Anglican Church youth worker who had died in police custody, by defenestration, if I recall correctly, which was quite common in those days.

But it was a mistake to omit the psalm, which for that day was Psalm 93/94, and spoke to the situation quite clearly:

You never consent to that unjust tribunal
that imposes disorder as law
that takes the life of the virtuous
and condemns the innocent to death
(Ps 94 20-21)

Steve Biko had just suffered a similar fate to Phakamile Mabija, so it was not “an isolated incident” as the forces that imposed disorder as law tried to maintain.

Things are not much better in South Africa now, as the massacre at Marikana a couple of years ago clearly shows. There is much talk in South Africa about “transformation”, but the incidence of police brutality shows that there has been little transformation where it really matters.

It is surprising then, to see that Counterpunch, which often focues on aspects of issues that have been neglected by the mainsteam media, seems to be following the mainstream media in saying “That it took the death of Freddy Gray, a young man whose spine was severed in police custody, to spark the violence is perhaps less important than the fact that the explosion was inevitable.”

There seems to be a similar tendency in South Africa in relation to recent xenophoic violence, as I have noted here, and my friend John Aitchison put it in a nutshell when he said “We have to distinguish between factors that give xenophobia momentum – poverty, unemployment, inequality – and the actual precipitating mental/emotional constructs that are the tinder that is set alight and then enflames the said poverty, unemployment, inequality, etc. . start it going.”.

The tinder that set alight the rioting in Baltimore was police brutality, yet most of the articles in the media seem to be evading that. The media and Twitterati seem to go on and on about finding the causes of such violence in “black culture”, but don’t seem to see the problem that is right under the noses — they should be looking for the problem in police culture. And we should be looking for the causes of the problem in police culture in South Africa too.

And, in the USA at least, it seems that there is at least as big a problem in “white culture”, which often seems to be ignored by the media, as seen here: 11 Stunning Images Highlight the Double Standard of Reactions to Riots Like Baltimore:

The city of Baltimore has been besieged by riots Monday night — and police are on the scene ready to serve, protect and subdue.

This has become an evergreen narrative in the aftermath of reactions to state-sanctioned violence against black people. But that it persists sends a troubling message about how officials and, by extension, many of the people they serve regard rioting: specifically, when there’s white people involved versus mostly black people.

 

 

 

What’s really going on in Ukraine?

For the last year or more, Ukraine has been descending into violence. This week, we are told, a group of leaders are meeting in Belarus to try to find a peaceful solution to the problems, but nobody seems very hopeful that a solution that all interested parties can agree on can be found. Leaders locked in Minsk talks on Ukraine ceasefire | World news | The Guardian:

Russian, Ukrainian, German and French officials, as well as separatist leaders and officials from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OECD) are locked in talks in Minsk trying to smooth the way for a summit deal leading to the demilitarisation of eastern Ukraine.

The leaders of the four countries are expected to meet in the Belarusian capital on Wednesday in an attempt to secure a ceasefire in the region, where pro-Russia separatists have been expanding the territory under their control in recent weeks.

Fighting raged in east Ukraine on Tuesday as both sides tried to make territorial gains before the proposed summit, which is being billed as a last chance to prevent the conflict from spiralling out of control.

It would be nice if they could find a peaceful solution, but I doubt that they will, because no one really seems to want one. And it is also very difficult to know what is really happening there, because most of the media reports one reads are tendentious and biased to one side or the other, so one has to read between the lines, and reading between the lines is often a misreading.

So here is the picture I have.

It is probably simplistic, and possibly wildly inaccurate, but I have no way of knowing, because the news media can’t be trusted.

I tend to interpret what is happening in Ukraine in the light of Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations theory, because it seems to have predicted such clashes with uncanny accuracy, and what is happening in Ukraine seems to be almost a paradigm case.

Huntington identified nine civilizations, and compared the boundaries between them with the geological fault lines between tectonic plates. He predicted that most post-Cold War conflicts would take place along these fault lines, and that when they did, the more powerful countries in the civilizations would tend to be drawn into the conflict, and often use a local conflict on the fault line as a proxy for larger civilisational conflicts.

Civilizations and theoir boundaries, according to Huntington

Civilizations and their boundaries, according to Huntington (1996)

There is one inaccuracy in the map, however. According to Huntington’s theory, the fault line between the Western and the Orthodox civilizations should run right through the middle of Ukraine, though the map does not show that clearly.

In Western Ukraine Ukrainian nationalism is stronger, and more people speak the Ukrainian language (as opposed to Russian). In the past it was ruled by Poland and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and there were significant minorities of Poles and other peoples. In much of Western Ukraine the Roman Catholic Church was strong, either in its Latin form, or in its Eastern Rite (Uniate) form. These characteristics tend to put it into Huntington’s Western Civilization.

Eastern Ukraine, by contrast, has many people who speak Russian in preference to Ukrainian, and the strongest church is the Orthodox Church, linked to the Patriarchate of Moscow. It was never ruled by Western empires, except briefly, in the 1940s, by the German Third Reich.  This tends to put it into Huntington’s Orthodox Civilization.

The differences between east and west tend to shade off towards the centre of the country with a more mixed popularion. Eastern and Western Ukraine have tended to support different political parties, though all seem to have been characterised by corruption. The parties supported by western Ukrainians have tended to be supported by Western Europe, and have tended to favour trade and cultural links with Western Europe. The partes supported by eastern Ukrainians have tended to be supported by Russia, and to favour trade and cultural links with Russia.

Here’s my take on it:

It would be in the interests of a stable, free and prosperous Ukraine if there could be a balance between the interests of east and west, so that one would not dominate or threaten to dominate the other.

The present crisis started when President Viktor Yanukovych (whose support was mostly in the east) cancelled a proposed trade agreement with the European Union (EU) and proposed making one with Russia instead. Those in favour of closer ties with the West protested, initially in the main square in the capital Kiev, but also in other centres as well. The protests became increasingly violent, with violence being used by some protesters and the police. It was at this point that several clergy and monks were seen standing between protesters and the police, praying for peace.

Clergy and monks pray as they stand between demonstrators and riot police in Kiev

Clergy and monks pray as they stand between demonstrators and riot police in Kiev

On 21 February 2014 President Yanukovych fled from the capital, perhaps fearing a coup, and the following day the Ukrainian parliament voted to depose him (unconstitutionally, and apparently with unseemly haste). Russia gave asylum to Yanukovych, and said that his deposition was a coup, and said it would protect Russian speakers in Ukraine; the West supported Yanukovych’s opponents, and the pressure from these outside interests gave it all the marks of a classic clash of civilizations.

And now some of the eastern parts of the country want independence, and this has developed into a civil war, which is also, because of the backers of each side, a proxy war in the clash of civilizations.

If there is to be any peace in Ukraine, then it’s time for the big boys to back off, and not to back one side or the other, but simply to back peace. In other words, the civilisational leaders must stop playing a zero sum game, and must help the Ukrainians to look for a win-win solution. I suspect that the current talks will fail because the participants are not looking for peace, but victory, which would be the conclusion of trade agreements that would favour one side and not the other — in other words, a zero-sum game. But I pray that it is not so, and that there will be at leasst a glimmer of sanity.

Now my view may be ridiculously simplistic, and I have been assured by one blogger that it is based on totally wrong premises, and that there are no differences or differences of opinion between Eastern and Western Ukrainians, and they would all live together in perfect peace and harmony and unanimity if it weren’t for the evil Russians, or rather, one Russian in particular, the evil Putin.

Well, not having been to Ukraine myself, I’m in no position to refute it, but I do regard it with a great deal of scepticism, because everything I’ve read about the history of the region indicates that there is no unanimity between Eastern and Western Ukraine, though I do think they might do a better job of sorting out their problems among themselves if they weren’t being egged on by Russia and the West.

So I reject that interpretation, and still haven’t seen a better one than the one I have given above. Does anyone else have one that isn’t driven by blind nationalism or civilizational loyalty?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Martinmas: Poppies and corn

Today is the day when people, especially in the UK, tend to wear red poppies in remembrsnce of those who died in the two world wars of the last century.

But in recent years I’ve been repelled by the sight of British politicians appearing on TV wearing poppies in their lapels three weeks or more before the day, in a blatant attempt to curry favour with the voters. And it seems that right-wing politicians are particularly apt to jump on the bandwagon.

Red poppies among the corn (photo by Chris Gwilliam)

Red poppies among the corn (photo by Chris Gwilliam)

Perhaps to counter this my friend Chris Gwilliam posted a picture on Facebook of red poppies where they belong, among the corn, not in the lapels of smarmy politicians. The poppies symbolise the blood shed by the predecessors of those same politicians, and, very often, the blood shed in our day by the very politicians who wear them, who still send young people to fight in futile wars as their predecessors did a century ago.

Coincidentally, and perhaps ironically, 11 November is also the feast day of St Martin of Tours, who could be the patron saint of conscientious objectors, since when he became a Christian he resigned from the army. On being accused of cowardice by his commanding officer he offered to stand, unarmed, between two opposing armies in an impending battle.

On an altogether different tack, the picture of the cornfield reminds me that in American English the word they use for corn is “grain”, and they reserve the word “corn” solely for maize. Looking at the picture, I wondered why I would not describe that as a grainfield rather than a cornfield, since I do also use the word “grain” to describe cereal crops. And I realised that I think of it as “corn” when it is growing in the fields, and “grain” only when it has been milled.

Grain elevators in Koster, North-West Province, where grain is fouind

Grain elevators in Koster, North-West Province, where grain is fouind

So what is seen in the fields in the picture on the left is corn, and what is kept in the grain elevator in the picture on the right is grain, even though Americans might call it corn.

 

 

Been through this movie before?

I’ve just “shared” three appeals for peace on Facebook — one from a Christian, one from a Muslim, one from a Jew.

People say that “religion” is responsible for most of the violent conflict in the world, so how come it is the secular politicians who are fanning the flames of conflict in the world, while is is the “religious” people who are calling for peace?

Remember what happened 100 years ago tomorrow?

19140804I’ve just been reading about it in this book, an hour by hour account of that day, with what led up to it, and the aftermath. Come tomorrow, when I’ve finished the book, I’ll review it (now finished, review here)  but what disturbs me is that nothing has changed. While the world media’s spotlight is on Gaza this week, they haven’t stopped killing people in Syria, Iraq and Ukraine. Three civil wars and a quasi civil war in Gaza.

But what are the world’s politicians doing about it? Are they trying to urge the warring parties to get together and try to find a peaceful solution? No, they are grandstanding and making threats against each other, just as they did a century ago. Back then it was called jingoism, and it’s much the same to day.

We don’t want to fight
But By Jingo! if we do
We’ve got the ships, we’ve got the guns
we’ve got the money too.

What can ordinary people do to promote peace when the politicians of the world’s most powerful nations are in the driving seat and driving in top gear to hell?

For what it’s worth, here are some of the appeals for peace:

But what is happening?

With Syria buried in the news, hopes fade for ending world’s bloodiest war | Al Jazeera America

What are other countries doing? Supplying arms to the combatants, that’s what.

Church leaders express concern about the sabre-rattling rhetoric: Statement by the diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church in Australia regarding the situation in Ukraine:

The Church is concerned that much of the rhetoric appearing in the media is biased and ill-informed; based upon the geo-political aspirations of certain stakeholders, which can only lead to further conflict and, God forbid, outright war.

And even some retired politicians recognise the danger — Ex-chancellor Schmidt slams EU over Ukraine – The Local:

Former German chancellor Helmut Schmidt said on Friday the Ukraine standoff recalls the lead-up to World War I and blamed the “megalomania” of EU bureaucrats for sparking the crisis.

For the moment, these are separate conflicts, but remember that the Second World War started when a lot of separate smaller conflicts coalesced into one big one — Italy versus Ethiopia, Japan versus China, Germany versus Poland. And suddenly it became a free-for-all.

Can we learn the lessons of history, before it’s too late?

 

 

 

In love with a terrorist (book review)

To Kill a TsarTo Kill a Tsar by Andrew Williams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A historical novel based on the assassination of Tsar Alexander II of Russia in 1881. The assassination was carried out by members of Narodnaya Volya (The People’s Will), one of the world’s first terrorist organisations.

Andrew Williams explores the motives and the methods of the terrorists, and the use of violence as a political tool — a tool that was employed both by the terrorists and by the secret police who tried to catch them.

The story of The People’s Will is intertwined with the love story of an English doctor, Frederick Hadfield, who falls in love with one of the terrorists, and because of his association with her comes under suspicion by the secret police.

Though they were sometimes called “Nihilists”, the political reforms that The People’s Will wanted were rather mild liberal ones: representative government, freedom of speech, and things like that. In that respect the assassination was counter-productive, as the Tsar was about to introduce some of those reforms when he was killed, and the assassination led to increased state repression.

There are some parallels with South African history too.

Tsar Alexander II was a reformer, and one of the features of reform is that increases the demand for reform. Those who want reform demand that the pace of reform be speeded up, and so reform tends to encourage revolution. It leads me to wonder what would have happened in South Africa if F.W. de Klerk had been assassinated in January 1990, just before he announced his reforms, which included the unbanning of opposition parties and the release of political prisoners. It might have led to a period of even worse repression, as the assassination of Alexander II did in Russia.

I also compare The People’s Will with the African Resistance Movement, a group of South Africans from the privileged classes who resorted to using violence to bring about political reforms. The difference is that they weren’t dedicated terrorists, and lacked the dedication of the hard-crore revolutionaries of The People’s Will.

The book thus raises questions about the use of violence and terrorism to achieve political reform. It doesn’t give answers, though in this case history itself gave the answer.

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