I have looked at two brief videos of Greta Thunberg, the Swedish sixteen year old who sparked off the school strikes against global warming. In one she was addressing the European Parliament and in the other meeting the Pope who gave his support to the next school strike. She had travelled by train. With her pigtails and at one point near tears about the damage to the planet, she looked more like an old-fashioned child than a 21st. century teenager. Her moving and prophetic speech was received with a standing ovation by the European parliamentarians. She spoke with a disarming and fresh moral authority.
It’s true the recent school strikes in Britain had been touching a chord but there was always a suspicion that the strikers had found a cool way to get off school for the day. There was nothing cool about Greta Thunberg. She resolutely embodied the concern of a generation that their future was being sacrificed by the inertia, irresponsibility and fatalism of the older generation.
When you think of it, we in the UK have stumbled into a common understanding of childhood and our moral responsibilities towards children. In a world in which actions are often described as neither right nor wrong, only “inappropriate” or “unacceptable”, there is an unambiguous moral condemnation of the use and abuse of power over children. A dead migrant child on a beach, an injured child in a bombed hospital, images of sexually abused children sent round the world, evoke clear condemnation, compassion and disgust. And this is one great step away from the past for mankind. But it is as if we can only be fully at ease and of a settled mind with strong moral judgements that concern vulnerability and adult power over the child.
Perhaps these reactions to the plight of children represent a residue left of the broader Christian teaching in Matthew 5: “I was hungry and you did not give me to eat….” The strong public support for international development agencies like OXFAM, ActionAid, Red Nose Day, would suggest something of the sort. But the powerful impact of Greta Thunberg’s condemnation of adult, corporate and governmental, pusillanimity, self-interest and, yes, greed, illustrates the reality that moral demands are strongest when they express the interests of children. What more uncomfortable when we are destroying the planet to have someone looking mightily like a child telling us in the British and European Parliaments that we require “permanent and unprecedented changes” “because our house is falling apart”?
It is governments who have the capacity to bring about permanent and unprecedented changes on the scale needed to address global warming. Such dramatic changes have been made in the past and not only in wartime: universal education and the Welfare State for example. But where speed has been needed war has been the context and the goal has been destruction of the enemy. The Manhattan Project gave us the atomic bomb. But there could be peace-time equivalents of the Manhattan Project with international experts corralled under pressure to produce results, to invent effective batteries to store wind, wave and solar power, when renewable sources are not on stream, enable carbon capture, and fulfill all the glamorous promises offered by governments as future solutions to impending destruction.
“I want you to act as if the house is on fire”, Greta Thunberg told the European parliamentarians. Can the movement begun by this Swedish Joan of Arc galvanise middle-aged politicians as well as young people? Will rapid, concerted action follow? Or is this just a series of photo-opportunities for Greta Thunberg’s audiences, virtue by association. There is a major global school strike on 24th May. It is the anniversary of the release of the 2015 papal encyclical on the environment, Care for Our Common Home, Laudate Si which joins concern for poverty and the environment, in a new form of solidarity. “The earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is amongst the most maltreated of the poor, she ‘groans in travail’.
We had better hope that Greta Thunberg’s impact is permanent. Meanwhile, mea culpa. Will try to do better and stop grumbling about vegetarian food.
See TheArticle.com "We had better hope Greta Thurnberg's impact is permanent"
In Rome during this Easter’s Stations of the Cross on Good Friday evening, one of the most sacred days in the Christian year, the congregation will hear the meditations written by Sister Eugenia Bonetti, an 80-year old Italian nun. This traditional devotion, in which Catholics follow the journey of Christ from Pontius Pilate’s court to the Cross and Calvary, will be held in the Coliseum where the early Christians suffered death for their faith. The Pope when he invited Sister Bonetti, a member of the Consolata Order of Women Religious (nuns), particularly wanted her experience in combatting sexual trafficking to be reflected in the meditations. She is, after all, part of the biggest anti-slavery movement in the world, which includes hundreds of Women Religious who have been trying to stem the tide of human trafficking and who lead the anti-trafficking movement today.
Human trafficking is the dark underside of globalization. It is criminal big business in the same league as the global drugs and arms trade. In 2018 human trafficking and exploitative labour crimes were worth $150 billion, having grown from $32 billion in 2011. The illicit proceeds from sexual trafficking alone, amounting to an estimated $99 billion, end up in the hands of criminal networks. It brings misery and degradation to millions of men as well as women.
The work of Women Religious at the consumer end of sexual trafficking is impressive; they also are networked and work across borders and large distances, and with minimal incoming funding, and have spent the last decade refining their methods of countering the trade. In the UK, this has entailed in the last five years making over £16 million in properties available, largely for rescue and safe houses, and over £10 million in donations to support victims and to fund prevention programmes. RENATE, Religious in Europe Networking Against Trafficking & Exploitation, for example, are celebrating the tenth anniversary of their founding this year. Further details can be found in the Arise Foundation’s 2018 Threads of Solidarity report that provides data for the UK.
Impressive as this front-line work is in Europe, covering prevention, rescue, re-habilitation and re-integration, Women Religious are also active on the front-line in source countries that feature notable levels of child and exploitative labour such as India, Philippines and Brazil. The work here is an integral part of the wider anti-slavery movement. India faces similar problems to Sri Lanka and Women Religious have created a network between Religious Orders, AMRAT, that extends between the two countries (AMRAT means life giving water in Sanskrit). It has over 200 active Sisters and many other committed members. AMRAT uses regional coordinators to plan local strategy. The worst examples of labour exploitation come from the poorest Indian states, Orissa, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, and Jharkand, with sexual trafficking into Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata. Sister Dhanam, for example, recently rescued 300 children, returning them to their parents and schools from slave labour conditions making holiday greetings cards and bhindis. Seasonal workers on tea estates take on highly exploitative jobs in the off-season as domestic servants with only neighboring religious congregations to help them. There are comparable networks in Brazil working in a cell structure, Northern Mindanao in the Philippines which has an anti-trafficking secretariat and, for example, in NGOs in Albania that do pioneering work training the police.
These front-line organisations have experience, skills, personnel and proven effective methods and they are addressing gender-based exploitation. Their problem is funding. Their work does not exactly fit the ideal project for the big international development agencies. The existing human rights organisations can find working with particular religious groups problematic. There is probably the usual unwarranted fear of proselytism. On the other hand religious organisations are not used to selling their work with convincing data illustrating measurable success. The newly formed Arise Foundation, based in London, is committed to getting funding through to those who do the front-line work, documenting their successes, and refining their fundraising.
Kevin Bales, Professor of Contemporary Slavery, and Research Director of the Rights Lab at the University of Nottingham, says “Arise has spotted a gap here. The crucial work of sisters and their frontline networks have been forgotten for too long. They give their lives to this cause. Supporting their vocational commitment is a no-brainer and a fantastic bargain for those who have the eyes to appreciate its change making power. We in the academic and policy communities have been saying for decades that we can’t defeat slavery without strengthening civil society. These sisters are quietly, steadfastly showing the way”.
This Easter, as the Catholic Church is reeling from abuse scandals and their cover-up, this is a story that is unlikely to be told in the mass media. For those for whom nuns are figures of fun or stereotypes in Hollywood movies, it is a story worth hearing. I do not think Pope Francis asked Sister Bonetti to link meditation on the pain and suffering of human trafficking to that in the story of Holy Week absentmindedly. He has made the poor and excluded the constant focus of his papacy. The work of Sister Bonetti and the many Women Religious around the world are fulfilling that mission.
libya: the danger OF anarchy
Things can only get worse in Libya. The Italian government is doing deals that deliver African migrants back into the hands of their brutal people traffickers. A major civil war seems to be in the offing. Or perhaps “Field-Marshall” Khalifa Haftar is ‘just’ making facts on the ground prior to pending UN negotiations between the different factions. Haftar’s gang of pick-up truck warriors are now at the gates of Tripoli. He has been bombing Tripoli suburbs. Libya suffers grievously from militia-ruled anarchy. And you begin to wonder if on balance another dictator would offer a less fearsome future.
Studying a huge portrait of Colonel Gadaffi in the foyer of a Tripoli hotel in 2007, I almost laughed. That seemed a bad idea in front of the sinister figures lounging around in armchairs simulating relaxation. How thoughtful of tyrants to look the part: brutal, dangerous and barking mad. Yet Muammar Gadaffi’s brand of tyranny during his reign of 42 years kept the lid on Libya, gluing together with fear or adulation three historic regions, Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and Fezzan. Gadaffi was killed on the 11 October during the Arab Spring uprising. The lid came off.
I went to Libya with the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, the Vatican’s official body for relations with other faiths. We were there to dialogue with the World Islamic Call Society (WICS) whose headquarters were tucked away in a middle-class suburb in south Tripoli. Dawa Islamiyya was Gadaffi’s answer to Saudi Arabia’s World Islamic League which exported ultra-conservative Wahabism and large amounts of money to be spent on training Muslim scholars and building mosques around the world. WICS’ major focus was Africa.
Dialogue, allegedly, was not the only thing WICS did. It had an annual budget of $45 Million, and, as I recently discovered, is now believed to have been laundering money to Gadaffi’s latest international political projects including destabilizing – Christian-led - African governments which he disliked. According to Reuters and the Quilliam Foundation, a London based anti-extremism think-tank, a clandestine unit within WICS, known as the World Islamic Popular Leadership, allegedly contained and worked with Gadaffi’s Intelligence Services. I wonder who knew then? I didn’t. Nor, I’m pretty sure, did the Vatican even if they might have had suspicions.
Once through the non-descript gates of WICS, our group which included a savvy Archbishop and Catholic scholars were on a sizeable campus. We were told that WICS was an international Muslim University and were shown huge rooms with wall-to-wall desk top computers and ranks of African students. The WICS Director was amiability itself. Uncertain polite applause followed my paper about Muslim-Christian relations in the UK. It looked like being a dull couple of days. Had we discovered that we were in the hub of one of Gadaffi’s many interesting covert operations, it might have proved more interesting.
I soon escaped and found a shop where I could buy some Attar of Roses. Behind the counter was a Brummie immigrant, perfume pipette at the ready. He had done well in Tripoli; delighted to speak English, he sang the praises of the city. It was hard to get away. A sadder experience was to see in a park near the Cathedral a considerable number of the people sleeping rough, mainly sub-saharan African migrants. The Cathedral was a migrant centre with masses in their different languages and lay workers trying to help. The bishop an Italian, Giovanni Martinelli, through sustained diplomacy had managed to keep the Catholic community safe. But the church in Benghazi had been attacked the day previously. The staff hid or would have been killed. I was told that Gadaffi had no real control over Benghazi. But elsewhere he afforded a degree of fragile religious tolerance that we had come to encourage.
Looking back, I wonder about the plight of the voluble Brummie from the perfume shop, and the dedicated Cathedral workers caring for overwhelming numbers of migrants. Despite the perseverance of the UN and the mediation of a number of different countries, including the UK’s contribution of experience gained from negotiating the Good Friday agreement, chaos reigns. And chaos is never kind to the poor. What you wonder after Iraq and Libya is worse? Living under tyranny or the consequences of a successful uprising and military intervention against it? Intervention or inaction?
Without any civil society associations, public space is occupied by rival political factions and their militias. Without law there is only the authority of the gun and money. Only Tunisia validated the description “Arab Spring” though it is not without its problems, not least the hundreds of Tunisians that joined Da’esh. And Tunisia escaped any military intervention.
Like boiling water poured into a cup with old cracks, countries in violent transition and turmoil fall apart along their historical fault lines. The question is will the contents of the broken cup that is Libya come to include extremists that cross the Mediterranean. Italy was the major colonial player in the region and remains a negotiating partner with Libya a far as refugees and trafficked migrants are concerned. Cyrenaica with its capital Benghazi has always looked east to Egypt in times of trouble, and it is mainly President Sisi and Egypt along with the UAE and recently the Saudis, who are bankrolling and arming Haftar with support from Russia and France. Tripolitania in the north-west declared itself a Republic independent of Italy for four years after the end of the First World War. Fezzan in the south-west, under French military control 1943-1951, was and remains a wild region of desert transit, home to exiles, bandits and Bedouin and latterly oil wells. A fractured Libya contains a toxic mixture of militias and weapons unhelpfully supplied by parts of the Arab world.
After the Rwandan genocide, Canada promoted the Responsibility to Protect in the UN General Assembly. But Western intervention in Iraq and Libya, military might, bombing and Special Forces, without adequate plans and manpower to fill the vacuum left by a departing tyrant, show how virtuous intentions can have catastrophic consequences. Putting the lid back on the cauldron that is Libya will take many more years. And Da’esh has already had one try at settling in. The peace-making perseverance that he UN manages to sustain in the face of failure is the only way forward.
See “Putting the lid back on the cauldron that is Libya will take a very long time indeed” in TheArticle.com 15/04/19
THE EU: obituary or elegy?
Thinking about what might happen to us post-BREXIT has become obsessive. But do we care what effect Britain’s departure would have on the European Union in the future? What is, and will be, the impact of BREXIT on the EU?
There are significant Eurosceptic, populist minorities in most member states so the EU has every reason to make BREXIT as unenticing as possible. Yet the EU Commission has waived firm deadlines and negotiated in good faith. Under the circumstances, the EU’s negotiators to date have shown remarkable forbearance. Cast in the British press and portrayed by Brexiteers as the wily or intransigent enemy, threatened with disruption by the ERG, they have handled parliamentary chaos and delusional policies in the UK with patience and civility.
British negotiators took nearly three years to grasp that freedom of movement, goods and capital, are fundamental values underpinning the Single European Market, so non-negotiable in the withdrawal negotiations. The EU’s cumbersome structures need this scaffolding of shared values. Flows of migrants create divisions and tensions putting unbearable pressures on Schengen’s open internal borders. As Greece illustrated, the Eurozone’s fiscal rigidities remain a pressing problem in the face of approaching recession and debt crises. Current conflict and uncertainty intensifies the EU’s need to assert and support its values, a fact British negotiators were slow to grasp.
David Cameron discovered the significance of the EU’s basic principles in 2016. He came away from Brussels with humiliatingly small concessions with which to satisfy British public opinion. Worse, he arrogantly believed that he could win a Remain vote in the face of an aroused British public. The EU Commission swallowed the myth that Remain would win. The Prime Minister’s efforts to appease her Right wing through erosion of the EU’s core principles would have appeared then, and appear now to the Commission, as a potential existential threat.
Financial services represent 45% of UK exports. To continue benefitting from growing access to the EU 27’s markets, Britain had to stay open to the free movement of labour as well as capital. Ditto if the UK wanted frictionless trade in goods. But from day one Theresa May’s idea of British pragmatism and democratic accountability was to make ending free movement one of her non-negotiable red lines. Simon Fraser underlined in The Times of 4 April the lack of any serious debate about the future of financial services and the part played by the EU in their steady growth.
Perhaps during negotiations the EU’s repeated emphasis on co-operation with the UK contained elements of regret that they had not conceded more to Cameron. The EU leaders’ general failure to connect with Europe’s 500 million people and share an appealing vision of the future pre-determined far more the result of the referendum. Who in Britain ever heard a balanced presentation of the importance of the EU and its achievements? The first time I heard stirring and inspiring speeches about EU values and vision was at the Vatican in October 2017 during a meeting of European bishops, politicians and political scientists led by Pope Francis. A case of literally preaching to the converted though an antidote to John Rowley Gillingham’s book, The EU: an Obituary - nicely timed for publication in 2016 - which dwelt at length on the EU’s failings.
Containing some jargon, some futurism and several non-sequiturs, Gillingham’s book is an neo-liberal academic rant. A big step up from the daily stories of straight bananas and Boris Johnson’s casual lies, the book primarily blames the EU for over-restrictive regulatory measures and for not effectively promoting a European copy of the Pre-Trump neo-liberal US economy. It also chronicles egregious sums of money going missing in the past. The critics of the EU, like the devil, have all the best tunes.
Gillingham is thin on EU politics. But he highlights the line from Jean Monnet to Jacques Delors, the two promoters of European integration and advocates of a European army, a federal constitution and high levels of sectoral and political consolidation. But, with the exception of President Macron in his more Napoleonic moments, this is no longer the dream of the governments of most of the 27 member states.
Eastern European enlargement after the re-unification of Germany has been, by far, the most important structural change in the EU. Britain’s role in pushing for an extensive rather than an intensive Europe, a ‘widening’ rather than a ‘deepening’, illustrates its former importance in influencing EU policy and frustrating integration. The access of eleven Eastern Europe countries during the last fifteen years brought both diversity and problems. Not least immigration.
It is easy to take the high ground on refugee questions, to pour moral opprobrium on the Hungarian, Czech, Polish – (and now the new Frankenstein populist Italian governments). It is merited. But some consideration needs to be given to their painful historical memories too. Their experience of the foreigner, Ottoman, Russian, or Nazi, has been dismemberment, occupation, fear and resistance. A survivor nationalist trauma has infected the bloodstream emerging in a xenophobic way in the circumstances of the 21st. century. Such nationalism does not sit easily with EU values.
The Monnet/Delors quest for European political integration is surely doomed to failure. Maintaining a single market and currency is hard enough with this level of East-West diversity, not to mention North-South Europe economic differences. From the beginning Britain rejected Monnet’s vision and Britain’s voice was an important brake on an unrealistic political project, most of all during a time of rising nationalisms. The much denigrated two-track Europe seems an obvious answer to this unmanageable diversity. Both Britain and Denmark chalked up major opt-outs in the past and could find their place in a second tier.
After BREXIT it will certainly not be business as usual for the UK. Nor will the accumulated problems of the EU’s structure and diversity be solved by business as usual. The solidarity amongst the 27, induced by Britain’s antics, will be short-lived. Fissures caused by history, economics, and politics will reappear. If an EU first tier develops, it needs to reduce its democratic deficit and to reform in order to achieve a modest and workable political dispensation. And even this would create its own divisions.
Britain has had an important voice in Europe but after the current political collapse, it will be temporarily discounted. The patience of Tusk, Barnier and Juncker reveals their awareness that Britain’s departure will diminish the EU. At a time of overlapping crises for the European Union, BREXIT will be more than an economic loss. Though for Presidents Putin and Trump it will be a significant gain.
Posted in TheArticle.com 9/4/19 as “Post Brexit, the EU won’t be going back to business as usual”
Twenty-five years ago, at 8.25 pm on 6 April, a Dassault Falcon 50 business-jet was making its approach to Kanombe International Airport in Kigali, Rwanda. On board were six Rwandans, three Burundians, and a French crew of three. The passengers included the President of Rwanda, Juvenal Habyarimana with his Army chief of staff and the President of Burundi. They were returning from high-level talks in Dar-es-Salaam aimed at ending a four year-old war between Rwanda’s Hutu government and a Tutsi military force, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) assembled, equipped and trained in Uganda.
Two SAM-16 ground-to-air missiles were fired at the incoming flight. One missed. The second hit the fuel-tank on the left hand side of the plane which exploded. Witnesses reported a fire-ball. There were no survivors. The assassinations were the trigger for the Rwandan genocide. There followed 100 days of slaughter in which some 800,000 Rwandans, mainly Tutsi, the rest opponents of the Government, were killed by a savage militia known as the interahamwe (those who fight together) alongside the Rwandan army and ordinary civilians.
Kigali airport housed a military base for the Presidential Guard and an anti-aircraft battalion under the command of a colonel later convicted of genocide by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. But despite prolonged French investigations, where the SAM-16s were launched from, who launched them, and under whose orders, remains unclear and politically murky. France, which had troops embedded with Rwanda’s military, had a stake in finding evidence that implicated the Tutsi RPF which had entered Rwanda from Uganda in 1990, and gained control of much of the north by 1993. Hutu extremists also had reason to kill President Habyarimana. He had finally agreed to implement the peace agreement of 4 August 1993, the Arusha Accords, by forming a transitional government incorporating five RPF Ministers, an equal number to the ruling Party. Fear was also aroused by looking south to Burundi where tens of thousands of Hutu had been killed, or sought sanctuary in Rwanda, after a military coup on 21 October 1993.
Most people place the Rwandan genocide under the heading tribalism and its consequences. And they aren’t entirely wrong. But the social identities of Tutsi (12% of the Rwandan population) and Hutu (85%) originally distinguished a cattle owning aristocracy from an agricultural peasantry, bound together in something akin to a feudal relationship. In 1959, a Hutu jacquerie, involving pogroms and killing of Tutsi, ushered in a Hutu government under Grégoire Kayibanda with Belgian support. Many Hutu intellectuals saw the French Revolution as the model.
I interviewed Grégoire Kayibanda, Rwanda’s first, Hutu President after Independence in the capital Kigali on 3 July 1973 for research on a book Church and Revolution in Rwanda. He seemed tense, worried and pre-occupied. Two days later he was deposed in a military coup which brought the Hutu General Juvenal Habyarimana to power. The General’s excuse for the coup was to end attacks on Tutsi Rwandans. By then, during Belgian Trusteeship, a fluid socio-economic distinction, Hutu-Tutsi, had mutated into a hard-edged tribal identity based on physical differences.
Other socio-economic factors lay behind the genocide. Rwanda was a nation of farmers. Coffee was Rwanda’s one major export and its value dropped drastically on the world market after 1987. A World Bank Structural Adjustment Programme aggravated problems of rising unemployment and rural poverty in the early 1990s. Two devaluations halved the value of the Rwandan currency and put essentials such as cooking oil out of reach of many. Rwanda was densely populated with 293 people per square kilometre; in the past they had been free to emigrate. But in the early 1990s neighbouring states became inhospitable to Rwandan migrants. Economic and demographic stresses created a pressure cooker for a divided society accustomed to violence.
There was organization and preparation for the genocide. It was not an eruption of spontaneous racial hatred and tribal violence. Parish priests were asked to hand over their baptismal registers; lists of names of those who were to be found and killed were circulated. The interahamwe were trained and armed. They recruited bystanders, often on a kill or be killed basis. Others came voluntarily. Radio Télévision Libre des Milles Collines (Free Radio/TV station of the thousand hills), taken over by the Hutu extremists, poured out racist broadcasts with echoes of Nazi propaganda, building up fear of the consequences of an RPF victory; the Tutsi were described as inyenzi, cockroaches. Fear and racial stereotypes generated violence. Churches assumed to be sanctuaries turned into death-traps.
The killing could have been stopped. Because the General Assembly’s Genocide Convention of December 1948, genocide required international intervention, every effort was made by the Clinton government to avoid describing the systematic killing of over three-quarters of the Tutsis as genocide. The killing of ten Belgian troops in the UN Assistance Mission, UNAMIR, there to oversee the implementation of the Arusha Accords, reminded the Americans of the fiasco of US intervention in Somalia when eighteen US combat troops, tasked to protect aid workers, had died. After two weeks of relentless slaughter by the army and militia, the Security Council reduced the UNAMIR presence in Rwanda from 1,700 to 270 with a mandate to oversee a ceasefire between the RPF and the Rwandan army, neglecting the obvious reality that only the RPF could stop the genocide. As in Srebrenica, the UN stood aside as preventable mass killing continued.
There is a glimmer of light at the end of this profoundly dark chapter in human history. An International Criminal Tribunal tried génocidaires. And we can thank the African Union and the Canadian Government for an historic international response to these dreadful crimes and failings. On 15 September 2005, the UN General Assembly unanimously endorsed a “Responsibility to Protect (R2p)”: “to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner, through the Security Council, in accordance with the Charter, including Chapter VII, on a case-by-case basis and in cooperation with relevant regional organizations as appropriate, should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities manifestly fail to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity”. Military intervention is the last resort.
Appeals to a Responsibility to Protect can be misjudged and misused. The obligation was soon contested. Nonetheless, twenty-five years on, R2p makes slaughter on the scale of the Rwandan systematic genocide less likely in the future.
First posted 2/04.19 https://www.thearticle.com/rwandas-genocide-lest-we-forget