Tag Archives: peace

Remembrance and Inevitability of War

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I recommend the film “Waterloo.” Released in 1970 there is no CGI that makes you feel disconnected from the men fighting. The tens of thousands of extras used produce a spectacle worthy of the term epic. Not least when from above you see the red coats formed into squares as French Calvary run around and into them. After the battle there is no victory to savour, as Wellington (Christopher Plummer) trots slowly through the thousands upon thousands fallen. The hills are alive with the dead, one of them crying out why were we killing each other?

The modern day narrative is “for whom?”

Those questions echo still, where at my school the final double history lesson was watching “Blackadder Goes Fourth” and the English Literature exam was on Great War poetry. There is a hatred not just of conflict, but of those that led the carnage.

The First World War is seen as a senseless war, caused by diplomatic miscommunication (“37 days”) and railway timetables (AJP Taylor). Let alone Industrial Age mass butchering of people, done by all sides in the name of advancing imperialism and capitalism. With the patriotism of the working class masses manipulated, their blood oiling mass production of war.

Beware history used to fuel such a political philosophical narrative. Historian Dan Snow wrote debunking myths around the Great War 100 years ago.

By late September 1918 the German emperor and his military mastermind Erich Ludendorff admitted that there was no hope and Germany must beg for peace. The 11 November Armistice was essentially a German surrender.

Unlike Hitler in 1945, the German government did not insist on a hopeless, pointless struggle until the allies were in Berlin – a decision that saved countless lives, but was seized upon later to claim Germany never really lost.

The English Civil war had a greater proportion of the population killed than WW1, and the death toll proportion of those serving was higher in the Crimea War. 200 generals were killed or wounded, the posh officer class were more likely to be killed than the serving working class soldier, and technological warfare changed rapidly in those four years.

Fifty years before WW1 broke out, southern China was torn apart by an even bloodier conflict. Conservative estimates of the dead in the 14-year Taiping rebellion start at between 20 million and 30 million. Around 17 million soldiers and civilians were killed during WW1.

This Remembrance Sunday we remember the fallen in the UK’s bloodiest conflict that started 100 years ago. It is honouring those that served to end German imperialist aggression in Europe, and those that served to destroy fascism in Europe in the Second World War. Let alone all who served their country.

The idea that they should have been wars to end all wars is regrettably a hope which previous wars should have indicated was unlikely. War will be a part of the human experience as long as there is a humanity. That is summed up in this familiar quote on WW4:

“Unless the free people of the earth unite to avert World War III,” he said, “it is probable—as some sage recently prophesied—that World War IV will be fought with bows and arrows.”

Or even rocks, as Einstein suggested. Warfare has been part of our history. The carnage and horror has never been enough to prevent it.

(Who originally said a version of this quote is investigated here).

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The British Empire, achieved by military conflict, is rightly no more. The achievements of colonialism built on oppression and the foul stench of long since rotted corpses. The legacy for generations that were not alive when these offences were given, is something we have to come to terms with now.

Some cannot. The poppy for them is accepting the loss and carnage of war, therefore allowing it never to stop. Assed Baig made those sentiments clear when mentioning why he never wears a poppy:

Most of all, I don’t wear a poppy, hoping that people will move away from jingoism and realise that it is not a symbol of respect and honour for the dead, but by wearing it and accepting the current narrative, it does the opposite – it glorifies and promotes war.

(My Post on wearing poppies can be read here)

Regrettably neither ISIS nor Russia see a problem in going to war to carve out territory for themselves – four thousand have died in the Ukrainian conflict while now an uneasy ceasefire holds. With ISIS the need to fight clerical fascism is pressing, however there is a hesitancy with Russia as a new Cold War looks likely to be firmly in place this coming winter. The appeasement of Putin as he annexed other territory formerly in the Soviet Union should have made it clear a showdown of some sort would eventually come.

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This month we also commemorate the 25th anniversary when the Berlin Wall fell. Obama has talked about remembering the lessons of Berlin with regard to Russia and Ukraine (see above). We will never know how many lives were saved by avoiding a direct confrontation, let alone mutually assured destruction, during the first Cold War. Too many died in the proxy wars that took place in their stead.

Sometimes wars have to be fought to end conflict. There is nothing just about the means of war, which require hot metal at high velocity enter another’s body. There is, just like death, an inevitability that wars will happen throughout human history. We can dream otherwise, but somewhere in the world people are waking up to bombs. Or forever sleeping because of them.

It calls to mind Alan Seeger’s poem “I have a rendezvous with Death” with which I close. An American fighting in the French foreign legion, he died July 4th 1916 during an attack on Belloy-en-Santerre, like the warrior poet he was.

“I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple-blossoms fill the air —
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.

“It may be he shall take my hand
And lead me into his dark land
And close my eyes and quench my breath —
It may be I shall pass him still.
I have a rendezvous with Death
On some scarred slope of battered hill,
When Spring comes round again this year
And the first meadow-flowers appear.

“God knows ’twere better to be deep
Pillowed in silk and scented down,
Where Love throbs out in blissful sleep,
Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,
Where hushed awakenings are dear . . .
But I’ve a rendezvous with Death
At midnight in some flaming town,
When Spring trips north again this year,
And I to my pledged word am true,
I shall not fail that rendezvous.”

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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Video: Hitchens and Ramadan Debate: Is Islam a Religion of Peace?

The video of Hitch and Ramadan is further down, and what follows is a report not only on that but the Oxford Union debate recently uploaded, and how they contrast. You can watch the Oxford Union debate here which had the same motion: Is Islam a religion of peace?

Watching the Oxford Union debate it felt opponents of the motion were holding something back in their vigour, with the exception of Daniel Johnston who made clear a need to speak against the motion without hesitation.

The real reason may have been the events in Woolwich only the day before, and fear of repercussion for suggesting that Islam was in total not a peaceful religion. Totality matters because just like any other religion Islam makes universal claims on everything and claims absolute authority to be followed. Adam Deen (Islamic theologian) for the motion made clear that the Koran and Hadith had something to say about just war, social justice and living in peace – with a right to defend itself justly from repression and extermination (pacifism morally wrong he claimed). He could have said it also covered eating, banking, the bedroom and the art of going to the lavatory as well in how Islam advises in total on all things.

It was thinking of the “total” aspect of religion which reminded me of Christopher Hitchens opening his debate at 92Y in New York 2010 on the same worded motion as at the Oxford Union. I realised his main points were not coming through from the opposing side at Oxford (except Johnston). It was like Peter Atkins and Anne-Marie Waters had never seen his debate. I recommend all do watch.

Hitchens V Ramadan video

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Hitch

It was left to Mehdi Hasan at Oxford to point out atheism by its nature had an issue with all religions. It was a point not mentioned by the two/three atheist opponents – that atheists would claim religion makes demands on followers that do not promote peace. Hitchens used this well at 92Y saying before the debate was underway that he mentioned where Christian churches had been used in the Rwandan genocide. Christopher opened with Christendom and the misery it had caused, and the freedom to study Islam in contrast was lacking. Daniel Johnston used that line at Oxford using academic scrutiny of Christianity and how that could not be done in Muslim countries for Islam.

Hitchens argument at 92Y is no book and no man is perfect and flawless. Cannot happen. Once you start claiming it is you demand people to believe the impossible. When you achieve believing the impossible then everything becomes possible. It is a matter of life and death what you believe on these things, with heresy, and apostasy to follow. We are stuck with a perfect text set in stone with 7th century thinking. The golden age to return to.

The counter to perfection is to freethink for yourself, to meet with other freethinkers and work out what is the best way to deal with issues like war and peace, social justice and human rights but no one book or person reigns large as sacred or holy. It seems a better shot than suggesting the main ideas are solved by a man spoken to by an angel, and a book based on an oral tradition of these encounters. Scholarship becomes the law maker, not the people. Theocracy is the system rather than democracy.

It felt watching the Oxford debate as if it was lost before it was won. Daniel Johnston mentioned himself that there was no Islamic theology to back up death to apostates (just hell in after life) but Islamic states nevertheless did it. There they either agreed violence is not the true Islam, or a reflection of extremists. That islamic states had their own culture and Sharia. The motion was therefore a lame duck.

Hitchens’ rebuttal to this is that there is no authority on what makes someone a Muslim, or what is Islam. The Taliban, or Saudi scholars claim a version which is counter to Mehdi Hasan. Both would condemn each other as having lost the true interpretation of Islam as understood by the prophet. The Sunni Shiite schism plays out in bloody retribution and religious claims in the Middle East. No need for a one unifying leadership of a Muslim pope to sort this out, rather the text the faith was based on clearly did not lend to all a peaceful interpretation of living but was used for anything but peace in daily life.

We need to get beyond one text, one totalitarian system way of thinking. Pluralism the idea at 92Y by both speakers to change this way of thinking.

Tariq Ramadan

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It takes two to tango, so I must bring in Tariq Ramadan, the proponent at the 92Y debate – the man that Johnston at Oxford calls a wolf in sheep’s clothing for islamism. Where at Oxford, Hasan was good with the fire of a true believer turning on those blaming his faith for all evil in the world done by Muslims, Ramadan was softly spoken talking about the human condition. That religion was about dealing with human issues rather than for him about divine sanctions. Islam dealt with violence and peace because that was innate in human beings. The thing was to examine what was written rather than use to justify bad things. Ramadan also said the problem was not the text but the reader; tell me what you think, I will know how you will read the text.

Ramadan mentioned If he said Islam said something good critics say well he would say that would he not? If on the other hand he said Islamists do something bad then everyone believed that must be Islam – if so then he was defeated before he began to make a case. He accused Hitchens of closing the debate before it had started by framing it that way.

Then through the debate he mentioned other islamic scholars that spoke for democracy. Towards the end of the debate mentioning Sharia, he said that the US clearly had a body of law with which a citizen could obey and use so no need for sharia. Hitchens was not so sure and mentioned Anjem Choudary as an example of attempts to supplement secular law.

The two debates

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I appreciate the format at the Oxford Union did not give time for the developed answers, exchange and interaction that 92Y did. The point of information at Oxford for interruptions was denied by both sides to the other when talking, and Hasan was the only one to take on board what the other side said to push his own line home. Hasan was not challenged on suicide bombings – even if we said they were all about foreign occupation their targets went against what Adam Deen claimed were innocents. Nor how using those with learning difficulties by the Taliban and others as remote control bombs was legitimatised by fighting a foreign power.

Someone should have at a minimum mentioned the Islamic idea of martyrdom in the training and thinking of deliberate suicide bombers. Could a religion of peace so easily be used to manipulate people if the message is clearly against violence, a golden thread running through it? Deen’s counter was that pacifism was worse but there were clear rules how to resist. If only he had been asked about suicide bombers and whether the Taliban had a moral right to kill our soldiers and Afghanistan soldiers in Islam.

The most common theme in both debates was disagreeing with the motion question simply because the practise of Islam is not homogeneous. It was therefore destined to fail, because rejecting the motion would mean Islam was an incitement to violence for all believers across the world, a threat that could not be tolerated. A paranoia confirmed no less than by Oxford University that would destroy religious freedom and human rights if we ever accepted that idea. Hasan in closing the debate stated that majority of Muslims are peaceful – do not vilify them opposing the motion.

A typical debating ploy is if you can make the proposition or opposition to a motion a world no one would want to live in you will win whatever arguments happen. Hasan, love him or loathe him, played that to perfection and before Peter Aitkin stood to close for his side it was already game over, Peter not even mentioning that the proposition was Islam and not how Muslims in the UK live their lives. The lame duck motion had already been cooked and served to the proponents to tuck into by then.

I recommend the video here of Hitchens and Ramadan at 92Y – though Johnston and Hasan stand out for the Oxford Union one. Because whilst I think Hitchens wins, Ramadan runs him close and leaves me thinking I need to read up on his scholarship and think about it for myself. There is a battle going on within Islam and I know which version the world needs. One with human rights, liberty, secularism and a touch of humility about itself to spread.

UPDATE: Tariq Ramadan’s meanings by Kenan Malik

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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Video: Oxford Union Debate “Islam Is A Peaceful Religion”

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The motion “Islam Is A Peaceful Religion” was moved at the Oxford Union Society the day after Lee Rigby was brutally murdered in Woolwich. It has only this month been uploaded to Youtube.

    Matthew Handley opens case for the motion:
    Anne-Marie Waters opens case for opposition:
    Adam Deen responds for the motion:
    Daniel Johnston counters the motion:
    Mehdi Hasan for the motion:
    Peter Atkins concludes debate against the motion:

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    My posts that are relevant to the above debate:

Dehumanising by Islam and cherry picking of verses by extreme Islamists

A theological alternative view to change attitudes to apostasy where it is illegal can be read here, based on my discussions with Sam Harris and Quilliam Foundation.

The motion passed 286/168.

UPDATE: Write up of the debate and video of Hitchens V Ramadan on same motion can be found here.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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Malala – being on the side of the angels

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What would you do of you were not afraid?

It is such an easy question to ask, and a popular refrain of self help books to encourage people to take a chance to live your life. The sheer number of best sellers in this genre suggests a number of people are looking for not just confidence, but the conviction to be truly alive.

Malala, a school girl in a Taliban controlled part of Pakistan knew she wanted to go to school. To be educated, and be with her friends. To do so without restriction. What is more, she wanted to tell people about her frustration and share her experiences and views. This went beyond blogging about teenage life to her network of friends. Her outspoken desire to experience life, and question things, had a global audience and had come to the ear of the Taliban. Her voice was one they had already threatened to silence. And by so doing subdue parents and women that may dare to question their lot in life under their tyranny. To show outspoken critics that their life, even that of a child, meant nothing when raised against them.

To this end a man boarded the school bus taking Malala home, and shot her at close range – we can only imagine the screams and the terror onboard. This was not collateral damage, an innocent bystander in the wrong place at the wrong time. She was the target; with an assassin asking by name for a child so he could kill her. Silencing her forever.

Now we have a father by the bedside of his daughter, receiving treatment in Britain. Despite the Taliban threatening to kill her if she ever comes back to Pakistan, he wants the family to be together again in their homeland. She is making steady progress, but the road to recovery will be long and difficult one.

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Silence is so cheaply won when one attack shakes the resolve of many. That does not seem to be happening here. The world has been sickened by a child being singled out. There are moves to have her nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, let alone the children’s peace prizes which have suddenly sprung up due to wanting to honour her stand. Because she was not an unwitting victim. She knew the risks. But she looked fear in the face. For the real fear in this tragic tale was that of the Taliban that could not handle a little girl.

This is what the Pakistan Taliban said about the world’s vocal condemnation:

“made so much noise when we targeted this girl who made fun of jihad, the veil and other Islamic values on behest of the British Broadcasting Corporation.

“This attack created shockwaves in the ruling circles around the world. They issued a number of statements condemning the attack on Malala. I may ask why? Why is Malala’s blood more important than those killed by the army?”

If we have to explain why the assassination of a little school girl is wrong, then you lose your right to breathe the same air as the rest of humanity. Some things are worth fighting for but forget those which powers vie for, there is one that is a human resource, worth cherishing and enriching:

The education of a child.

Well worth the fight. As her father says she is everyone’s daughter now. As such we all have a stake in the future of the children of the world.

New Blog: Malala Day November 10

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Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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One World – Iraq and the cost

I know that quite a few people I get on with do have disagreement with my position on Iraq. Which in a nutshell was a realisation that we were being lied to about going in, but the case should have been made on humanitarian reasons and that the world could not risk allowing tyrants that threatened peace and security to die peacefully in their sleep when they murdered whole families for having satellite television. But in all cases it should be for a society to have the facts, and agree to the aims if their children’s lives are to be sent to die. The cause must be true, and the sacrifice though painfully felt considered to the good of humanity.

The reduction in UK troop numbers from 4,000 to 2,500 have been halted due to conditions on the ground. Violence in Basra has increased between militia and the Iraqi army. Whether we are there as a support or actually prepared to be actively involved in the fighting with full support is unclear depending on what you mean by the term “overwatch”. To get any sense of what is going on is not helped by language that is used to camouflage the facts and to smooth the fragile senses that may react in a way that may displease Her Majesty’s Government.

Yet my acid test for withdrawal remains the consequences of us leaving. Remember in France 270,000 civilians died in WW2 and 600,00 deaths were military – Iraq is far less then that and yet what we are trying to do is have a government that is accountable to the people of Iraq and does not have the fear of terrorists or tyrants nationally or locally dictating the whims by which people may live and die. I do not propose a blank cheque or believe that the blood and treasure already spent stays our hand in remaining. Containing the violence is one thing – and reducing troop numbers if it allows that to return would be real folly.

I wish we could live in a world where the power of the people to overthrow their oppressors could be assured to bring about social change and justice. However that is not always the case. On what terms will I see a French citizen of 1944 less deserving of freedom then an Iraqi of 1999? Is it the foreign imposition of power on a country that allows us to expand much sacrifice to other people’s freedom, or is the tyranny over an other’s freedom that moves us to such action – the conquest of an individuals liberty, where an unjust constitution gives no respite save for a grave that the state will prepare for dissenters.

Or are we to really say that if people are so far away it does not affect us? Such voices were to be heard in the late 1930s in the USA; that to my shame as I walked the World War Two memorial in Washington DC I saw the years 1941-45 chiseled in and thought of how many lives were lost in the preceding years before Congress finally acted. Are we only to feel for the suffering of others if it takes our fancy, and only to sacrifice when it is others on our behalf and not our blood and our treasure at stake?

Such do tyrants and evil warlords hope – that they can make enough trouble that we shall not interfere. That such problems with such obstacles and cost shall put us off even suggesting the fight. That we shall by omission not act, and by such inaction shall we declare ourselves peacemakers and by such tokens as this be glad that we shall live while others shall die and forget that our pasts often relayed on people believing that the fight for our freedoms was worth the price paid.

Some like Bertrand Russell believed that only a world government could end war, and solve the problems that impact us. But it would take something far more then a structure of government, far more then the organised labour of many, far more then the co operation of free people fulfilling an enlightened self – interest.

It will take an idea, that has forever burned in the hearts of people, but is rarely shown for fear that it’s light may be quickly blown out. From it much hope is arisen and many small deeds of compassion, charity and hope is accomplished. It is done not for personal gain, nor done under the lash, to obey a great leader or appease a thuggish god.

It is the noblest of things – that of a common humanity, a recognition that goes beyond kin ship to those close. It may not be a natural instinct. Maybe we do not look to our biology to help reinforce the idea. Yet, it is something that exists, and the more we know of what is happening in the world the more we must be prepared to help those who do not have the means to fight off disease, poverty, war and tyranny.

It comes to an idea – one where the end is the betterment of the condition we find ourselves in, thus shall we choose the means when it comes to the fight. But let us never say we are not prepared for it – for our survival depends on it.

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