“The American role in post-war Iraq actually will be fairly minimal”: that was John Bolton, then US Under-Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs, in late 2002. “Iran will not negotiate away its nuclear programme”: John Bolton a few weeks before the international nuclear deal signed in 2015. (He believed a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities was needed).
Bolton is a firm supporter of the Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK), listed officially by the USA from 1997-2012 as a terrorist organization. He apparently sees this bizarre authoritarian “Muslim” cult as the future government of Iran once the ayatollahs are overthrown. Such were the views that lead to his appointment as National Security Adviser in April 1918 following the much decorated Lieutenant-General Herbert McMaster who opposed pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal and lasted 13 months in the job.
In the Trumpian universe disdain for facts and poor judgement are qualifications for office. And since the future US Secretary of Defence, Patrick Shanahan, is at present only Acting Secretary until Senate confirmation, Bolton ‘the moustache’ has led on US policy towards Iran. An aircraft-carrier battle group and four nuclear-capable B 52s are on their way to the Gulf on Bolton’s advice, and an Iran battle-plan updated with provision for 120,000 US troops sent to the region.
John Bolton who has been pushing for a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities for over a decade, himself has avoided any experience of war – in Vietnam - by opting for a few months service in the national guard. He has no in-depth experience outside the USA let alone in the Middle East. If he had seen the acres of graves along the road from Tehran to Ayatollah Khomeini’s large mausoleum, he might have reflected that after the Iran-Iraq war the senior ranks of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps would be experienced and tenacious in battle. He might also have perceived the significance for US diplomacy of the deep divisions over the velayat-e-faqih, the rule of the Shi’a clerics. If Bolton had put aside for a moment his belligerence, and contempt for the United Nations, he might have understood that tearing up the Iran nuclear deal, JCPOA (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action signed 15 July 2015), a hard-won international treaty, thus punishing President Rouhani for his compliance, played into the hands of Iran’s own extremists. Rouhani has complied with the world’s most comprehensive International Atomic Energy Agency verification regime to date. The IAEA reported on Iran’s nuclear facilities and production of enriched uranium on ten occasions since 2015 and verified that Iran is compliant. Rouhani took a considerable risk in signing JCPOA. He was rewarded by the US ruining the Iranian economy by ever more effective sanctions. His position has been undermined.
What is the risk now of a major war breaking out between Israel/USA and Iran? Firstly, the two key military leaders, US General Kenneth McKenzie, CENTCOM (Central Command) Commander for the Middle East region and Major-General Hossein Salami, head of the Revolutionary Guards, are both new to their jobs, appointed only a few weeks ago; both need to prove themselves in their new roles. Salami says that Iran stands “on the cusp of a full-scale confrontation”. McKenzie threatens Iran with “an experienced, ready, battle hard force with the best equipment and training in the world”. Each side has branded the armed forces of the other as a terrorist organization. Rhetoric from both sides, at the moment, but dangerous rhetoric.
On the plus side, neither the US military nor Israeli Intelligence services are keen on plunging the Middle East into a further war which might close the Strait of Hormuz to vital oil supplies. US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, has made it clear the US does not want war. General David Petraeus, former head of the CIA and CENTCOM, and Meir Dagan, former MOSSAD chief, neither insignificant voices, have made it clear that they think a military strike on Iran would lead to a regional conflagration. President Trump has on a number of occasions broadcast his intention to bring home US troops from the Middle East, to avoid another Iraq-type war, and has recently asked President Rouhani to give him a call.
Trump believes that increasing sanctions pressure on the Iranian regime by finally blocking its oil exports, together with his miraculous deal-making skills, will solve the Iran problem. But the problem has become of his own making: rejection of an international treaty signed by the USA and five permanent members of the UN Security Council: Russia, China, France, UK plus Germany and the EU. The pressure this put on President Rouhani, who is beset by supporters of the Supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, has pushed him into threatening minor violations of the treaty. For the moment we are in a classic smoke-and-mirrors game.
John Bolton as Under-Secretary for Arms Control was adept during the prelude to the Iraq War at politicizing and manipulating intelligence on Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction to justify the invasion. Recent news feels like an action replay: vague reports of new Iranian threats to the US in Iraq, denied by Major-General Chris Ghika, the British deputy head of Operation Inherent Resolve (US-led against Da’esh in Syria and Iraq); a background of Revolutionary Guard activity in Syria and Iraq together with Iranian support for Hamas in Gaza and Hizbollah in Lebanon. And what should we make of those “sabotaged ships” in UAE waters, reminiscent of the Gulf of Tonkin incident in August 1964 – the supposed attacks by North Vietnam on the USS Maddox - used to justify the deployment of US conventional forces in a war against North Vietnam? Or was Iran sending a “message” about oil sanction? A surfeit of rhetoric and politicized intelligence can lead to war by accident.
A senior adviser to President Rouhani, Hesameddin Ashena, recently tweeted President Trump: “You wanted a better deal with Iran. Looks like you’re going to get a war instead. That’s what happens when you listen to the moustache”. All part of the game. But with someone as erratic and unfocussed as Donald Trump, who most commentators believe is genuinely no warmonger, it is a game in which miscalculation can happen.
Bolton has stayed true to form: he has now overreached himself. Trump is de-escalating. But the likelihood, expressed in an earlier blog, that the USA’s ever closer relationship with Israel may encourage an Israeli military strike on Iran, alongside its current bombing in Syria, remains a danger.
See also "Thanks to John Bolton Iran could be standing on the cusp of full scale confrontation" The Article.com
A large photograph of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Da’esh leader, appeared in The Times on 30 April. He looked distinctly alive and well fed, compared to his murderous followers, and was starring in a video designed to reinforce his leadership of Da’esh and to celebrate its atrocities. Then we have news of Asia Bibi’s release at last and escape to Canada reminding us of the innocent Christians suffering under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.
So this may not be the best time to declare my admiration for Muslims in their practice of Ramadan. No matter. The Islamic annual fast began on Sunday night, 5 May and will last till 4 June. It is a strenuous expression of Muslims’ aim to lead a life of self-discipline, prayer and charity completely at odds with the orgy of cruelty and hatred which is Da’esh.
Britain is far from free of prejudice against Muslims. It extends far further than the defunct UKIP, the Brexit Party and Farage, and, if Baroness Warsi is to be believed, has seeped into parts of the Conservative Party. The Mayor of London needs police protection because he is Muslim. Steve Bannon is now promoting Islamophobia in Europe. The positive aspects of Muslim faith are simply ignored. We have to fear the direction in which our society is going.
During Ramadan observant Muslims neither eat nor drink between dawn and sunset. Sunnis time sunset to be when the sun disappears over the horizon, like a coin in a slot; Shi’a when the red glow has left the sky. The fast lasts four weeks from the beginning of the ninth lunar month of the Muslim calendar until the end. It is tough going in the Nordic countries when it can last over 15 hours. In the intense heat of the Middle East fasting is shorter but punishing. Young children, the elderly, nursing, pregnant or menstruating women and travelers are traditionally dispensed.
I was in the Yemen in 1989 watching families gathered around plates of food waiting for sunset; the firing of a cannon signaled that the fast was over. In Nigeria expatriate advice was not to have your car repaired during Ramadan as mechanics were not on top form. When I broke my leg in Connemara during Ramadan, most of the surgical team in Galway Hospital came from the Middle East. With the inheritance of my expatriate prejudices, I was hoping that the consultant orthopedic surgeon in charge of repairing my multiple fractured limb, whom I learnt was Jordanian, would not be practicing even if Muslim. He appeared at my bedside in a bomber jacket and I guessed he would be the least pious of the team. If there were going to be prayers of supplication, dua, said that evening, it seemed more likely that they were going to be mine than his.
The last ten days of Ramadan recall and celebrate the foundation of Islam, the anniversary of the Prophet Muhammad receiving the verses of the Qu’ran. The spiritual purpose of this abstinence, and the recommended religious practices associated with it, such as special prayers and alms-giving, is taqwa, to gain in piety, strengthening that part of human nature that seeks the good and weakens the propensity for evil, nafs (Qu’ran 2:183-185). Fasting is one of the five ‘pillars’ of Islam, some would say the strongest.
The Muslim daily fast ends with a communal meal. The fasting month ends with a big family get together like Easter or Christmas. Ramadan shares its basic rhythms and purpose with the other two monotheistic religions, though today Christian and Jewish fasting occurs in a far less robust and demanding form. Lent in the Churches of the Syriac tradition gets closest to the rigour of Ramadan. But does the Islamic fast have any significance for a secular Britain? Well, it is as counter-cultural as you can get to both individualism and hedonism, and brings concern for self-discipline and self-control into sharp focus.
Apart from a willingness to experience hunger, Muslims have also built into their religious practice a normative attempt to reduce poverty by the requirement to give an annual tithe, zakat, and practice sadaqa, charitable giving. Ramadan is a time to do both.
Thirst is a different matter. I have an African memory of coming back from the Chad border, being rescued hitch-hiking in a temperature of over 110 degrees Fahrenheit outside Maroua in northern Cameroons by a pick-up with Muslim workers in the back. It was so hot out of the shadow of buildings or trees, it hurt. The driver offered me some murky water in a dirty plastic container. I declined. It required little imagination to see the consequences of accepting. We stopped, mats out, for the sunset, maghrib, prayer. We were skirting the border with Nigeria now frequented by Boko Haram. I could feel my tongue swelling up in my mouth. I don’t recommend experiencing real thirst.
I am looking forward to going for iftar, the meal breaking the fast after sunset, with Turkish friends, several of them refugees from Erdogan’s police state. They are from the modernizing and progressive Muslim Gulen movement persecuted by the Turkish government. Some of the Gulen movement participated in the failed military coup against Erdogan who promptly designated and banned the movement as terrorists. Turkish asylum seekers, many Gulen followers, are now being sent back by Greece from the Turkish-Greek border. So this will be for several around the table an iftar and Ramadan separated from their relatives, a worrying time. And I won’t be taking up Turkish Airlines advertised invitation to visit the historic and scenic beauties of Turkey in the near future.
South Africa goes to the polls on 8 May to elect a National Assembly and Provincial Legislatures for the fifth time since the April 1994 elections that ended apartheid. This was one of the best monitored elections in Africa drawing monitors from around the world. Black voters swept the African National Congress (ANC) to power. The Party still retains some of its glory as the movement that brought freedom, though it is waning. The hope, excitement and enthusiasm of 1994 are long gone.
The advantage of monitoring the 1994 elections in one of the Ecumenical Monitoring Programme for South Africa (EMPSA) teams in KwaZulu Natal alongside President Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia was that he was our canary down the mine. If the crowd shrank away, that was an area dominated by Inkatha, the Zulu Party. If people were beaming and rushed forward to greet him, then we were in territory dominated by the non-racial ANC. You always knew where you stood and the likely dangers.
There were three in our monitoring team. Kaunda himself, a former leader of a nationalist struggle, signature white hankie in top pocket, with his immaculate Zambian bodyguard in perfectly pressed military uniform, plus me as adviser, general factotum and bag-carrier. We were very lucky. Until only a day or two before the elections began on 26 April, and our arrival in Durban, it had looked as if civil war between Inkatha and the ANC might break out in KwaZulu-Natal. Hence the presence of an influential and admired mediator and election monitor such as President Kaunda. Inkatha leader Chief Gatsha Buthelezi pulled back from the brink.
Our itinerary took us to small towns and townships north of Durban. We attended a night prayer vigil for peace in Pietermaritzburg Anglican cathedral. Archbishop Desmond Tutu was at the back of the church. The Catholic Archbishop of Durban, Denis Hurley, delivered a short address. Shortly after he spoke, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a stocky white man rushing up the aisle towards us looking disturbed. Sure enough, he blundered along our line of pews towards Kaunda. To my amazement the bodyguard moved aside to let the man past him and sit next to Kaunda.
I feared an assassination. But no. The man broke into wracking sobs. Kaunda held his hand and took out his handkerchief. Between sobs the man explained that as a member of the South African Special Forces he had raided the ANC HQ in Lusaka, the Zambian capital. He had come to ask forgiveness for the killings. He and Kaunda talked quietly. I asked the bodyguard later how he knew it had been safe but he just smiled. This election time seemed filled with some kind of enchantment. The wonder of the 1994 elections was that they were conducted peacefully, and were in themselves part of a process of reconciliation, and, looking at the faces of the black voters in winding queues, waiting to cast their first vote, a moving expression of hope and human dignity.
25 years later the contrast is striking. This time some 50 different parties are contesting the 400 seats in the National Assembly. The atmosphere of euphoria and expectation of major change has gone. Half the population remains below the poverty line in a country with one of the world’s most unequal societies and spectacular income inequality. Over a quarter of the labour force are unemployed. Youth unemployment is running at around 50%. Judging by the very low electoral registration levels for young people, hope that the political Parties will improve their lives has disappeared. The fiery populist, Julius Malema, former leader of the ANC Youth League who appeals to angry youth, is likely to see his Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), currently at 6.25% of the popular vote, make gains.
In 1994 Nelson Mandela led the ANC to a resounding victory in the country’s first national democratic election. But for people born since then the heroic past is just that, the past; the ANC has gradually become for them just another political Party. Since Thabo Mbeki’s time as President 1999-2008, the ANC’s share of the national vote has been declining, though only by a few percentage points, (the 2004 elections, when the economy was growing at 4.5% annually, gave the ANC a record 69% of the vote). After Jacob Zuma’s de facto coup in 2008 and the rampant corruption he brought, steady decline set in. This year some commentators are predicting the ANC will only get between 50-60% of the popular vote.
President Cyril Ramaphosa is, in comparison with his predecessor, good news. A lawyer who rose up the ranks of the ANC to become its secretary-general, starting from his base as leader of the powerful National Union of Mineworkers, he is credited with deploying his negotiating skills, playing an important part in reaching a settlement with the apartheid regime. Worth $550 million through his former business acumen: franchises in McDonalds, chair of the Board of the telecoms giant MTN, and time on the Board of Lonmin (platinum mines), he is well placed to know what is going on and to reflect on endemic corruption in the Party and the country’s inequality.
The question is not so much will voters continue to walk away from the ANC, but will they support it enough to give Ramaphosa the mandate and the authority he needs to pursue his proclaimed reformist programme, break out of the corruption/stagnation syndrome, and reverse South Africa’s inevitable decline. He faces considerable difficulties, not least the vexed and politically explosive issue of land reform. During his fourteen months in office, the Rand has dropped in value by 19% . Ramaphosa has tried to get rid of the most corrupt brakes on economic progress represented by ANC place-men. But protests and riots about corruption, housing, water, electricity and other failures of service delivery have been increasing.
A white Cape Town social worker, dismissing my support for the ANC in the early 1980s, said to me: “They will simply displace a corrupt and greedy white elite with a black one”. Jacob Zuma and his clique certainly proved her right. Let’s hope President Cyril Ramaphosa, who has some genuine achievements under his belt, proves her wrong. And that on 8 May South African voters will prove the commentators wrong, and give him the votes for members of the National Assembly and Provincial Legislatures that provide him with a mandate to do so.
See TheArticle.com “In 1994, the ANC swept to power on a wave of hope. 25 years on, the mood in South Africa couldn’t be more different”
President Trump’s visit to London in early June is going to cause a lot of trouble, cost a lot of money and generate acres of newsprint. But the State visit does raise interesting questions about what are our legitimate expectations of people in public office, in the professions and in the arts. What behaviour ought we tolerate before shunning an individual, and who should do the shunning? These questions, important though they are, are now being raised merely as weapons in current partisan political battles.
To attend or not to attend the State Banquet in honour of President Trump has become a signal of personal and political virtue. The Speaker of the House of Commons and leaders of opposition parties have hastened to declare that they won’t be there, a decision which as private individuals they might make without exciting comment. But they are not private individuals. And one at least aspires to be considered prime minister in waiting.
Most of us believe that a moral line should be drawn somewhere, but where it should be drawn is a tougher question – especially when we’re talking about those in public office. The President of China leads a State which has crushed Tibet and now interns millions of Uighur Muslims, determined to obliterate their identity. Only a minority protested during his visit to Britain. Public opinion seemed reluctantly to accept that British interests demanded that Xi should be received with honour. Perhaps Jeremy Corbyn, Vincent Cable and others believe that the expression of racism and misogyny trumps – excuse the pun – all other moral dereliction. Or maybe they all, except Corbyn, think they will never have to take responsibility for British foreign policy.
The unpalatable fact is that one of the duties of public office is to put national interest, or international peace, first – and to accept the unpleasantness of associating with the loathsome characters who strut on the global stage. The latter comes with the job description. Winston Churchill in wartime, all cigars and bonhomie, did a good job of working with Stalin. Tony Blair spent some unpleasant but successful hours with Gadaffi to eliminate what was believed to be his nuclear programme. Heads of state and prime ministers, as their name tags at international conferences suggest, represent their states not themselves (someone should tell this to Mr. Trump). International relations, particularly in a complex multi-polar world, require that we relate to, and sustain good relationships with other states. Ergo, our national representatives have to work with some very unpleasant characters. It is almost as simple as that.
But does the general public have the same responsibility? Obviously not. As private individuals we have every right to protest at the personal and public conduct of a visiting head of state. But we ought to think about the reason for our protest and its likely effectiveness, especially as the cost of policing and security will be heavy. And we as private citizens should also think about the national interest. Do we seriously think that protest on our small island, however large the demonstration, will dent Mr. Trump’s vote next year? Or are protesters still living with the illusion of a continuing “special relationship” with the USA, 75 years after D-day; a relationship that would mean having an effect on the USA’s foreign policy or even ours? Probably not. It looks very much as if anti-Trump protesters will be expressing their own powerful ethical identities, as they have every right to do, precisely because they are private individuals and believe, as private individuals, that they ought to make a visible moral stand.
Turning now to members of the professions. They are held to quite stringent moral standards in addition to the expectation that they will always act legally. While we accept that holders of public office may be forced to a tolerate violations of ethical norms, the same does not apply to members of the professions. For doctors, barristers, teachers, accountants and social workers, misconduct which is not criminal (such as breaches of confidence or sexual misdemeanours) still result in heavy penalties and possible expulsion. Professional relationships are deemed to be governed by much the same standards as those of private life. The difference being that the standards are enforceable and are enforced. Impeachment of a president, for example, is deliberately and constitutionally quite another story.
The work of creative artists also throws up interesting moral questions, especially as much of the work we so much admire is centuries old. Lovely Roman temples were built by slave labour. The innocent sounding circus was a festival of cruelty. Caravaggio was a violent man and a murderer. Wagner was an anti-semite. Writers, like Charlotte Bronte, whom we still much enjoy were bigots. Picasso was a sexual predator. So was Eric Gill. Yet their work is part of our heritage and even when we fear it is tainted we continue to admire it. Despite the occasional outbursts of protest, we decide not to boycott because the work has taken on alife of its own. We view these objects of beauty separately from the conduct of their creators.
Back to the dilemma which faced Mr Corbyn. He decided to refuse to take part in the official hospitality offered to the American head of state. When further ethical dilemmas present themselves, as they will, he must reflect and decide whether he is a future prime minister who will be responsible for safety and prosperity of the state or something more akin to a private citizen. Then he must act accordingly. Perhaps he knows already.
TheArticle.com “Private citizens have every right to protest Trump’s visit. But what about those in public office?”
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.
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
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