"A Man's a Man for all that!" - Rabbie Burns

"Religion? No thanks. I prefer not to outsource my brainwashing."
Trying to get your average Joe creationist to understand the phrase scientific theory is as hard as getting a fish to enjoy mountaineering. Its an unimagined world for them - it requires a complete reversal of their normal modes of thinking and being. The fact that humans could explain the complexities of this world without a creating God is a world view they cannot grasp. It's like asking a tuna if it appreciates the view from the top of Mount Everest.

Sep 16, 2011

A case for the UN : Peace for Palestine and Israel

The United Nations is exactly the right body to lead the resolution of the Palestinian Israeli conflict. The UN was midwife at the birth of Israel and carries a responsibility to find a just end to a terrible conflict. The Palestinian move to seek UN recognition is a historic development and , like the Arab Spring, provides an opportunity for all sides to make moves that will heal long running sores.

When thinking about the potential for resolution of the Palestinian Iraeli conflict both in terms of those two entities and in terms of wider international relations it is important to understand what gave birth to the problem.

In essence it was collective international guilt about the Jewish Holocaust and the determination of Jews to have a safe historical homeland that drove the creation of Israel out of the land of Palestine. While the British and others were key players it was the UN through resolution 181(11) in 1947 that partitioned Palestine into an Israeli Jewish state and an Arab Palestinian state.

There is in fact a strong argument that the current Palestinian request that the UN recognise their statehood is merely asking the UN to acknowledge something it has already granted by way of UN resolution 181(11)

This is not a minor matter. In essence the UN general assembly through 181 has already in fact determined by international law the boundaries of Israel and Palestine. It is now time that the UN sought to find a way to have this will realised in a way that provides justice for all parties. Indeed the Palestinians have every right to call on the UN to help resolve a problem that it in part created.

One of the problems with the UN imposed partition of 181 was that Arab states rejected the partition. This was understandable at that time. Palestinians must no doubt have taken the view that they were not responsible for the Holocaust but were being told they must forfeit half their lands for a Jewish homeland - a hard and bitter pill to swallow.

The world has moved on though and Israel is a reality. It was right that the call for a homeland for the Jewish diaspora was heeded, but the international community has failed to live up to its responsibility to heal the damage that was caused , not least to the Palestinains, in the process.

Israel is now faced by acute challenges as a result of the Arab Spring. For a long time it has been able , with some justification, to point to its neighbours as violent repressive dictatorships and to highlight the miltary and terrorist threats against it. All of this was true, but it also provided cover for land grabs through the development of illegal settlements that attempted to change the reality on the ground.

There is much anger among Muslims in the Middle East about this behaviour but the Palestinian case was only ever damaged by its association with terror. I wrote a long time ago on this and suggested that when Muslims and Arabs moved from extremism to democracy they would find the cause of resolving the Palestinian injustice very greatly strengthened. So it comes to pass it seems.

The West has rightly thrown some weight behind demends for freedom in the Middle East and North Africa. Now the Palestinians ask for their own justice. How can that in conscience be rejected? It can't., but can resolution for Palestinians be achieved while not damaging Israel? I believe it can.

There are Arabs in Israel. Not, by some accounts, always viewed as equal citizens but nevertheless part of the state. There are of course Jewish settlers who are living in settlements in Palestine and protect themselves with guns. Finally, there are generations of Palestinians who like the Jewish Diaspora yearn for their homeland even as Israel resists the inclusion of this diaspora in a settlement.

So here is a thought. Imagine with me if you will that the parties can be brought to agree ( by some divine intervention perhaps?) that they will return to the 1947 partition as the basis for their settlement and that the refugee diaspora issue is to also be addressed.

Now here is the crunch. Each of the peoples here wants its own religiouslyt informed state but also has people of its own who feel that their home or place is in the other state. Now imagine that both states guarantee to all parties the fair and equal treatment of both peoples in both states.

The next step in a resolution would be for Isreal to give up an agreed portion of its settlements. Importanly the villages and homes would be left intact. These villages should then house some of the Palestinian diaspora as part of the solution to that problem. Israel might be seen as paying a price in agreeing this but she would of course be reminded that those settlements were in any event illegal.

The remaining Jewsish settlers in their settlements would then become citizens of the Palestinian state. A state which would legally and in practice guarantee the rights of all citizens of whatever religion. The same rights and guarantees would apply to Arab citizens and returnees in Israel. To work this would need both states to develop a good framework for bi-partite relations based on their mutual self interest in good inter-community relations. ( Jerusalem is of course a particular but solvable issue)

It goes almost ( but not quite) without saying that any settlement constructed on this kind of approach would be impossible without the clearest possible acceptance both by the Palestinians and other Muslim states of Israel's right to exist without rancour or conflict. This would be the ultimate payoff for Israel and worth, what for them will seem like sacrifices. Israel will finally be a safe Jewish homeland and have neighbours with whihc it builds productive realtions.

Pie in the sky? Perhaps; but major changes are abroad in the Middle East and in such times major opportunities arise and must be grasped by statesemen who desire to be the agents of resolution and peace.

The Palestinians have made an astute move going to the UN to highlight the issue of their status even as other Muslims demand their freedom and democracy. The UN has the responsibility to treat their demands with great consideration and not to lightly dismiss them. At the same time the UN also has a responsibility to safeguard the Israeli state. The Arab Spring and the Palestinian UN move has shaken the dice and its now game on for change. The important question is wether politicians who represent the Palestinian and Israel peoples can be astute enough to grab the chance of just resolution and be bold and imaginative enough in finding solutions,  with the help of the UN.

Aug 25, 2011

Libya and the prospect of post-Islamist reform and renaissance

If the events over the last months in the Middle East have been an Arab Spring then the final days of the revolution in Libya may prove to be a period of  April thunderstorms and showers - something you wouldn't want to be caught up in but a sign , nevertheless, that summer is on its way.

As popular revolutions have rolled through Arab countries, some in the West have been doom-sayers; urging us to stick with the devils we know, those crazed dictators who murdered their own people, rather than embracing the people who were rising to throw of the yoke of tin-pot tyrants.

Some of this anxiety was understandable. Extremist Islamism has been a destructive force around the world inspiring terrorism that has  casued death and destruction to Muslim and non-Muslim alike.

But one thing became clear as these revolutions sputtered into life - while people were drawing inspiration and identity from their Islamic religion they were not rising up in order to demand Islamist solutions. They have on the contrary raised calls for political freedoms that have great resonance in the democratic world.

Suddenly the old argument that Arab populations are unsuited to democratic governance started to seem a little hollow. These people were now demanding a say in running their countries and they werent it seemed demanding to be ruled by Mullahs.

The Libyan revolution has been the most bloody and posed a challenge to players on the world stage. There seems little doubt that the US led Nato intervention prevented  a massacre of the rebellious east of Libya but it has come at a cost - and not just in money.

Only a minority of NATO countries actually put their shoulder to the wheel and participated in the action in Libya and NATO as a result will soon need to be re-thought. Is there a point in having members of a military alliance who stand on the sidelines when things get tough?

The more important issue though is the revolutionary upsurge among Arab peoples across North Africa and the Middle East that has bubbled up in recent months like champagne from an uncorked bottle. The pent up frustrations of people living under dictatorial regimes finally burst out in revolutionary mass demonstrations that have profoundly shaken the former status quo. In Arab countries and in North Africa  people now know that they have the potential through mass action to assert their right to democracy and freedom in the face of autocratic regimes.

This is all still a strange experience for many in the West, not least those who viewed Islam and Arab nations in particular as being culturally incompatible with notions of democracy and freedom. They observed Islamism in action and it was almost invariably hostile, violent, intolerant and anti-democratic.

But there is now another possibility - that we are seeing the emergence of something we might call post-Islamism were people want islamically informed states but states which are not Theocracies and which are more pluralistic and tolerant than we have come to expect from many Islamic countries in that part of the world.
They may of course emerge with more restricted freedoms than we now associate with democracy but that doesnt mean that such countries could not be decent neighbours and essentially controlled by their peoples.. Many European countries have been religiously informed democracies in their past..

Equally significant changes may also take place in the way that we in the West view the Israeli Palestinian conflict. If Islamic nations in the Middle east and North Africa show themselves capable of taking a democratic path then Israel  will find less excuse for its policy of suppressing the Palestinians by controlling and annexing their land.

These recent and ongoing revolutions have shown that there is a real appetite for freedom and democracy on the arab "street" and oppressive Islamist theocracies now seem by no means the only or even the most likely alternative to oppressive dictatorships.

On that view it is possible, just possible, that we might be seeing the first twinkling of a sort of combined Arab reformation and enlightenment - a time when democracy and rationality flower , a time of renaiscance, albeit in countries which are fundamentally Islamic.

That would be a huge step forward , not only for the people in those countries but for all of us.
Much depends on Libya and the Libyan people now. If the Libyan people can overcome these final bloody days and hold their untiy through what will no doubt be very difficult months ahead then the prospects for such a benign Islamic renaissance seem good.

Feb 25, 2011

Libya - send in the drones

There was never much doubt that Muammar Qaddafi of Libya was a deluded narcissist but the incredible violence he has unleashed on his own people this week has now established that the man is a raving lunatic who will happily see his country descend into complete chaos and destruction rather than release his group on power.

Qaddafi still has loyal armed forces at his disposal despite the rapidly growing defections from within the Army and Air force. These forces, some of whom are lead by one of his sons, are bolstered it appears by large numbers of African mercenaries and together they have been engaging in seemingly wanton killing of civilians.

Many countries had large numbers of their citizens working in Libya and there is a scramble to get  the remainder of these people out of the country. Western leaders have been slow to take action against the Libyan regime and this might be seen as at least in part due to the fact that they are still playing catch-up with fast moving events in Mediterranean Africa and the Middle East.  However it also seems likely that they are only just now beginning to take firm positions on such matters as sanctions because of a fear that their citizens in Libya might be taken hostage by the regime.  That fear should now be rapidly passing though and the time has come to consider what further actions might be taken to support the Libyan peoples revolution.

Passing resolutions at the UN and throwing Libya out of international Human Rights organisations is all very symbolic but is likely to have little effect on the decisions taken by a madman. Neither is the imposition of sanctions likely to have any impact in the short term on the murderous behaviour of Gaddafi's regime. Threats that members of the regime will be taken to an international court might work for a sane leader but probably wont work with Qaddafi.

Qaddafi it seems has decided that if he cant rule Libya then he and his country have reached their Gotterdamerung. This man is mad enough to want to go out in an orgy of blood and destruction rather than step aside.

The only question then at this stage is whether a way can be found for Qaddafi to meet his fate without him taking the lives of many more thousands of Libyans with him.

A no fly zone wont really deal with this situation and there will be little appetite in the west for any intervention on the ground.  Western armies do now though have access to remote technologies that could be used to target Qaddafi and either kill him or weaken him enough to allow the Libyan people to complete their revolution.

One solution to this present situation might be for the security council to recognise the madness of this dictator and to authorise the use of cruise missiles and /or drones to target Qaddafi's known centres of power and known loyal armed force bases.

It would not be wise for any group of nations to do this without UN backing of course but with UN security council support this would be a legitimate act.  The problem is that the security council has on it nations who themselves are autocratic states such as Russia and China who will not wish to authorise actions against a tyrant - even a mad tyrant - when they themselves are little better and may now themselves be feeling vulnerable to this wave of people revolutions. So the cruise missiles and drones will probably stay in their bases. More the pity.

Feb 23, 2011

Airgun shooting at Auchinleck Academy

The Ayrshire village of Auchinleck was shocked today when a shooting incident at Auchinleck Academy resulted in injuries to nine pupils. The shooting took place at around 1:30 today in the Church Street area of Auchinleck and some reports suggested that two people were involved in shooting the young people. More recent reports have suggested that the police have now arested an 18 year old man in connection with the incident.  The nine injured children were taken to Crosshouse Hospital in Kilmarnock were eight discharged quickly but one was kept in for further treatment.

Reports suggested that the pupils had been shot in the legs or the back. The school appeared to act quickly and called in the police.and notified parents. East Ayrshire Council has indicated that it is working with the school to arrange apropriate support for the pupils involved.

This incident comes hard on the heels of of a riot at a recent local football match between Auchinleck Talbot and Cumnock Juniors which made the national news and it does further serious harm to the reputation of the area.

Feb 16, 2011

Iran regime seeks conflict as distraction from protests

Reports suggesting that Iran may be about to try to send warships through the Suez Canal to Syria have produced a predictable angry and threatening response from Israel. This is entirely what the Iranian regime is looking for - conflict with Israel which will distract from the protests in Iran.

The Iranian regime tried to claim that the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt were Islamist revolutions inspired by Irans own Islamist revolution but nothing could be further from the truth. The revolts started as protests against economic and social conditions but quickly morphed into wider demands for an end to autocracy and demands for democratic freedoms. The revolts had an Islamic flavour of course - that is to be expected and is not an unreasonable thing in countries which are essentially Islamic. But the slogans of the revolutions were not Islamist - people were not on the streets demanding that the dictatorship of Mubarak be replaced by a dictatorship of the Mullahs.

In a dictatorship as tightly controlled as Iran though the religiously minded autocrats thought that they could fool their own people by claiming that the Pan Arab revolutionary atmosphere supported their own Shia Islamist world view. The Iranian regime immediately started a campaign of misinformation and intimidation intended to frighten the pro-democracy movement in Iran from attempting anything similar to what as happened in Egypt.

The Iranian thugocracy has perhaps even less scruples than the Mubarak regime. They are likely to be less troubled by firing on their own citizens given their shameful record of executing dissidents.

There is a wind blowing in the Middle East though that can't be stopped. People clearly are fed up with autocracies of any form and they want the freedom to express their views and choose their own rulers. They want freedom from the threat of secret police and religious police.

The regime is showing signs that it is worried by the protests and there are calls for the leaders of the opposition movements to be executed. Protesters are being decried as agents of foreign powers and the media is under tight control with little access for foreign journalists. The Iranian regime is wheeling out all the same tired tactics that dictatorships do when their people revolt and cry "enough" !

Not only should  we expect the Iranian regime to be more violent in its response but we should not be surprised when we hear them take actions which provoke conflict with Israel and the West. The regime will be desperate to create headlines for its people which give them something to rally around other than calls for proper democracy. It's in that context that Iran is now perhaps about to send ships through the Suez Canal.

The regime will figure that whatever the outcome it will gain. If Israel responds firmly and harshly then the regime will have a cause to rally the Iranian people. If Israel does not respond then Iran has shown that it can exert naval; power and influence in the Mediterranean right next door to Israel.
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