in service of the
We human beings should be aware that life ebbs and flows. Rhythms of life need to be acknowledged and attended to. We are conscious that we can be extended in one direction for a while but we need to adjust back and find balance. This is the journey of life. Being pushed to an extreme position mentally, physically, or emotionally for an extended period can sometimes make the way back very difficult. On occasions even a very short but acute experience can be so severe that the way back to balance is fraught. Such is the experience of those suffering PTSD.
I have just read Maj. Gen. John Cantwell’s Exit Wounds (Melb. Uni. Press 2012). What an extraordinary book, so well written, so devastatingly honest, so revealing both of the unseen suffering inflicted by war on the combatants, but also of the futility of the war itself. It is one of the most important books I have read this year. The courage, leadership and tenacity of John Cantwell, through two Gulf Wars and then Afghanistan leaves one speechless, but I will leave you to read his story and vicariously the story of other servicemen and women with PTSD, men and women to whom the nation owes a great deal, but largely ignores. I have been left with a huge admiration for members of the armed forces, their courage, their skill and their loyalty to comrades and country.
I want however to reflect on war itself and Australia’s extraordinary addiction to joining any scrap without a clear understanding of why. Ignorance of the complexities in which we have meddled for political reasons is obvious: therefore the consequences of our actions, especially in Iraq, can rightly be described as wilful.
The Middle East is in a terrible mess. Did it need to be so? Has the military involvement of the West helped or hindered this mess?
Let us go back a century. At the beginning of the 20th century the Middle East was part of the Ottoman Empire; various Arab tribes were its willing or unwilling subjects. Their lives could almost certainly be improved, but who had the right to decide how this improvement should be delivered?
To win WW1 the allies had to defeat the German/Ottoman alliance and in particular to keep open the supply lines through Suez. A ready supply of oil was also necessary to meet transport needs that were quickly embracing diesel fuel technology. With the promise of autonomy following the war, Britain was able to encourage an Arab uprising against the Ottomans. The allies, together with the Arabs, pushed the Ottomans out of the Middle East and ultimately the last Islamic caliphate collapsed. (The battle of Beersheba, whose centenary falls in October, was part of this strategy). Following the war Britain and France carved up the Middle East on its terms with little reference to Arab hopes or needs. Palestine, Jordan and Iraq were forged with national identities under British oversight, Syria and Lebanon under French. The Arab tribes now lived within ‘national’ boundaries, boundaries that had been drawn up by European powers. It was probably not the ‘autonomy’ the Arabs had in mind. Within these national boundaries power struggles emerged that pitted neighbours against each other. In particular, Shia, Sunni and Kurds needed to work at governmental and administrative arrangements that had never been necessary before.
Britain appointed an Iraqi monarch – King Faisal, his successor was overthrown by Saddam Hussein who with his Sunni dominated Bar’th party ruled with some brutality over both the Kurds and the Shia population. The gassing of the Kurdish civilian population was a terrible example of the brutality. The long and brutal war between Iran and Iraq was essentially a battle between Sunni and Shia, a battle in which the West took the side of Iraq. The battle was very expensive and when it concluded in a stalemate Hussein owed creditors a lot of money. His invasion of Kuwait was an attempt to address this issue.
Pushing Hussein out of Kuwait (1st Gulf war) was brutally quick and could be argued as necessary to restore a status quo. The second Gulf War was a different matter all together. We know the excuse was ‘weapons of mass destruction’, but what was it that Australia thought it was achieving and for which its service men and women paid a terrible price?
Hussein and Sunni control of Iraq came to a bloody end. In its place the US enabled the appointment of a Shia government. Civil war erupted. Shia militia wreaked revenge on Sunni civilians, their neighbourhoods and suburbs. Sunni militia retaliated. Death and destruction occurred on a massive scale. The Iraqi government turned a blind eye to atrocities against the Sunni population, even protecting Shia war lords; while the Sunni population maintained a brutal attack on Shia populations, particularly in Baghdad. The balances, however imperfect, that had existed and enabled a reasonable level of co-existence were now gone.
Instead of PTSD being an infliction suffered in private by individual servicemen and women who have seen and experienced more than human beings can reasonably endure; a shared ethnic/religious/national ‘PTSD’ emerged with suffering and violence rolling into suffering and violence, without the capacity of any to stop it – least of all the US led forces. The normality of coexistence had been replaced with a new normality of reciprocal acts of death and destruction.
The latest and most horrific manifestations of this phenomenon has been ISIS an extreme ideological expression of Sunni religion, apparently with foundations in Wahibism; Islamic puritanism with roots in Saudi Arabia. Did the West create ISIS? - No. Did the West upturn a prevailing power balance creating a hiatus within which ISIS has emerged? – Yes, absolutely. Has the West’s repeated interference in the affairs of those who live in the Middle East brought about a loss of the balance which enabled Shia and Sunni, Christian and Alawites to live side by side for centuries – tragically, yes. With John Cantwell, we might well ask “what the f... are we doing here” and why have we caused so many lives to be lost – for what?
Rhythm and balance lie at the heart of the created order. Eco-systems, species, individuals and the globe as a whole depend upon this reality. A shock that disturbs the balance can take years or in the case of the meteor that destroyed the dinosaurs, millennia to correct. In the case of some forms of abuse, the individual simply never recovers.
Scientists are giving more than enough warnings that progressively, like a frog in a pot of boiling water, we are upsetting the ecological and environmental balances that have enabled the flourishing of (human) life over the period known as the Holocene.
What is it about us as a species that despite the capacity to understand these things, a desire for revenge, or advantage, or wealth or simple bloody mindedness drives us into actions which are so destructive? John Cantwell is of the view that what has been achieved in Afghanistan has not been worth the cost of human lives lost there. This is clearly the case in Iraq.
It is not in Australia’s interest to enter battles simply because the US does. To enter a battle is to lose, no matter the outcome. It is in Australia’s interest to understand the balances that enable life to flourish in many different and complex environments and to invest in supporting them. This requires a vastly different foreign policy to the one we have been used to with its often hypocritical alliances and it requires us to see foreign aid as a far more productive strategy for harmony peace and security than defence expenditure.
All of us should be students of history so that mistakes are not repeated: but we don’t. History warns that, long term, dire consequences flow from treating one race as inferior to another. Perhaps the most awful event, of modern history, an event remaining in the memory of the most elderly amongst us, is the holocaust. Millions of European civilians, mainly but not exclusively Jews, went to the gas chamber. It is an event so horrendous that it should never be forgotten.
An event as horrendous as this affects the individual and corporate psyche of those who remain. For those who survive and their descendants there is good reason not to trust others, least of all for security; but to work tirelessly for absolute control so that one’s own life and its safety does not depend upon the decisions of others. Getting a nuclear bomb as Israel has long since done and North Korea is currently attempting to achieve, is one tactic along this path.
All of this is understandable. It is background to the philosophy and ideology of modern day Israel. But the consequence of walling oneself into a cocoon in which the morality of one’s action is self-justifying and closed to the critique of others is dangerous, and worse, could be calamitous.
It is dangerous for those who are now treated as those in Germany and Poland were once treated, inferior and expendable, and ultimately it is very dangerous for the perpetrator - Israel. (I am not in any way inferring the holocaust is happening again, but I am saying that a culture of superiority and entitlement has developed which in turn imposes expendability on others). A victim does not remain a victim in perpetuity, a line is crossed when the victim, in choosing to remain a victim, becomes the abuser and the cycle of violence, like a sling-shot, makes other victims in another generation and place.
Such is the situation in which modern day Israel under the leadership of Benjamin Netanyahu has now placed itself.
The situation is brilliantly and movingly portrayed in John Lyons, Balcony over Jerusalem, a diary of his posting as a journalist to the Middle East. This is a must read for any who would genuinely seek to understand the Israel/Palestine crisis and particularly for those who have the responsibility of forming Australian policy in relation to this crisis.
Reading the book one encounters the reality which is Israel/Palestine in 2017 through the eyes of one who lived and worked there as a professional journalist, one who sought to be balanced and not biased, but who was deeply shocked by what he saw. Even for those who visit the West Bank for a few days it is a shock to discover the appalling day by day treatment of the Palestinian people through increasingly discriminatory legislation enacted by the Israeli government; through humiliation and at times outright cruelty meted out by the Israeli occupying army; and by the brutality and hatred of the ideologically driven illegal settlers. For those of us from the West who have lived with a narrative that Israel is really a western country that shares western values it is indeed quite shocking.
However, equally shocking is to discover that to speak of this situation, particularly to speak outside Israel, is to court aggressive denial and abuse from supporters of Israel. Such is the aggression, Lyons asserts, that the majority of journalists from anywhere in the world self censor rather than convey the full naked truth. Such is the influence of Israeli supporters within western power structures, governmental and beyond, that the cost of telling the truth is too high.
At a personal level Lyons testifies to the various attempts made against him both through senior management at his employer, the Australian and through other influential Australian figures. The pro-Israel lobby is highly professional, well resourced and adept at targeting those who it believes will do its narrative harm by telling the truth. In Australia the pro-Israel lobby is proportionately amongst the most aggressive in the world, sometimes even exceeding the narrative of the Israeli government itself. To the Lobby, no action however wrong and distorting of truth it might be appears to be ruled out if it can present a picture of Israel as the only free, democratic and morally acceptable regime in the Middle East: would that this were true. Sadly it is so far from the truth.
Israel is a legitimate nation; it needs and deserves secure borders. It needs its legitimacy to be acknowledged and recognised by friend and foe alike. Unfortunately Israel undermines its legitimacy through its greed and refusal to live within its own borders. The ambitious policy of ‘greater Israel’ is now pretty well transparent. Under Netanyahu there is a clear ambition to annex the whole of the West Bank. The settlement programme (which Israel insists is not the main stumbling block to peace) has already made a contiguous Palestinian State virtually impossible – as was clearly always the aim. Where does this leave Palestinians? Every attempt is being made to make life so horrendous for them that they will disappear, migrate to Jordan or some other place. But they are not going anywhere – nor should they. The future looks like a collection of disconnected Bantustans and a permanent state of apartheid. This is what the Israeli government is forcing not simply on Palestinians but also on its own people. As history shows apartheid in which a minority control and subjugate a majority, is a very dangerous place, with violence as an almost inevitable outcome. This is the legacy Netanyahu is bequeathing his people.
It is little wonder that in increasing numbers moderate Jews are migrating out of Israel, leaving behind an increasingly hardline constituency, often recent migrants from Russia and the US. The migration policy into Israel is hardly keeping pace with the emigration out of Israel.
The current situation in Israel/Palestine appears close to a point of no return. If the two-state solution is now beyond delivering, a truth that seems very hard to argue against, then Israel has to choose between democracy and a Jewish State. (That the Arab population is and will exceed the Jewish population seems an incontestable fact). As Lyons says, this is an awful choice with consequences that are far reaching not simply for others, but for Israel itself. Many retired members of the Israeli armed forces and it security arm now warn Israel of the dangerous path it is treading. It appears deaf to this warning.
This leaves Palestinians with no choice, human subsistence is intolerable and diabolically dangerous for Israel; humans cannot and should not tolerate existence without freedom.
‘Cruel’ and ‘morally reprehensible’ are not accusations one should lightly throw around, especially if they are aimed at the actions of others (People who live in glass houses etc...) But I am using these words in relation to actions taken by those with delegated authority through the ballot box to act on my behalf. I am not using the words in relation to ‘another’, but describing actions which, at least notionally, reflect my character and moral view of the world as an Australian citizen. I have the right, no, the obligation, to call out actions which impute a standard that diminishes me and my fellow citizens.
I am of course referring to the actions and intended actions of the Australian government in relation to detainees on Manus, Nauru and those who have been transferred to Australia for medical treatment.
The news in the last couple of days that the meagre assistance provided to approximately 100 of the 370 detainees who had been transferred to Australia for medical reasons is to be withdrawn, is cruel and it is morally reprehensible. The actions currently underway on Manus to have the Detention Centre closed without any clear provision being made for those held there is also in this category: so too is the charade of pretending we have an agreement for a significant number to be settled in the US.
It is the obvious intention of the Australian government to force asylum seekers (including children), back to Nauru or Manus or preferably back to the country from which they came. These are not illegals as Mr Dutton would have us believe. Seeking asylum is not illegal, it is a basic human right, indeed most have been declared refugees by UNHCR
That the action is cruel is obvious. Hopes are dashed, mental distress is heaped upon mental illnesses and the real prospect of torture in the country from which they came looms as an almost inevitable reality.
The action is morally reprehensible because it is politically motivated and self serving and totally unnecessary. Naomi Klein in her recent book No is not Enough argues that governments the world over manipulate crises, or in the absence of crisis concoct one, in order to enforce outcomes that without the crisis would be totally unacceptable. One can hear this tactic daily in the tweets of Donald Trump. But nearer to home we hear it every time the Minister for Immigration opens his mouth. He would have us believe we are in dire trouble. Thousands of displaced people are waiting on shore lines to invade us. Giving a cup of cold water to someone on Manus or Nauru will restart the people smuggling. Caring for the sick is misplaced compassion by ‘do-gooders’.
What a lot of mischievous bunkum this is. The message is already loud and clear. Anyone leaving for Australia in a boat will simply not arrive, period. There is ample evidence to demonstrate the veracity of this statement. It is simply not necessary to heap cruelty upon cruelty on a group of asylum seekers, caught in a time warp, to fulfil a commitment to the Australian population that our borders are secure. These are people who set out on a boat during a previous administration, when arriving on Christmas Island was a very risky but nevertheless a real option. It is no longer an option.
Are we going to keep these men women and children forever in this time warp with no hope: existing without living? What kind of people are we that we can do this, and do it with a sense of righteousness? We are encouraged to feel righteous every time Mr Dutton uses the language of ‘illegals”. It is not illegal to seek asylum
We are all severely diminished by these actions. How can we possibly see ourselves as a morally progressive nation and yet do this?
It is never right to solve a problem by inflicting pain on someone else. That there are unethical people smugglers who prey on the lives of innocent and vulnerable people for profit, there is no doubt. That is a problem with which we have to contend. But to punish innocent people, people seeking sanctuary, who arrived looking for safety, is not acceptable to a nation that prides itself on values of fairness.
Mr Dutton, you do not act in my name, indeed your words and actions diminish me. Nor do I believe you act in the name of any fair minded Australian. I will not accept your artificial crisis construct to justify your policies. As a people we are better than that, the settlement of these folk in Australia is what should happen, it should have happened long ago. The consequence for people smuggling, such as it might be, is clearly within your capacity to deal with.
On Wednesday the Minister for Finance spoke at the Sydney Institute equating personal wealth with success, deploring tax as a ‘culture of envy’. Defending neoliberal economic policy, he belittled public ownership as ‘socialism’ and by inference declared everything to be for sale. Given every civilisation has a finite life I argue the Minister’s philosophy, universally applied, will bring forward the end date of ours. A poll of the ‘centennials’ indicates they expect themselves to be the first generation to ‘enjoy’ a poorer life style than their parents
The address by Matthias Corman to the Sydney Institute deserves debate and conversation for it touches on the very foundations of what it means to live in a sustainable, meaningful, and life giving world. Where are we in the life cycle of western civilisation and will equating wealth with success lengthen or shorten its life?
What does the minister mean by success? ‘Success’ is a value laden word. He appears to equate it with siloing as much material advantage as possible in private barns. In other words, to the Minister the most successful people in society are the people with the most money and who have the capacity through their toys to demonstrate the most glitter.
I strongly beg to differ. Success is meaningless if it is simply associated with wealth. Material wealth must serve well being; often it seems to diminish it. Because ‘success’ is value laden, its context must relate to virtue. The most successful people are those who have faced difficultly and triumphed. Successful people are those whose esteem and sense of worth has grown through the empowerment they have been able to build in others, their family, their community and nation. Successful people are those who have contributed to a harmonious world.
Now, many wealthy people are successful people, but sadly statistics show that the connection between wealth, community building, or virtue cannot be assumed or taken for granted.
Nor indeed can it even be assumed that wealth has contributed to the wellbeing and contentedness of those who have achieved it.
This is the rub Minister, no one in their right mind will envy people with wealth, unless that wealth contributes to common good; nor will those with sense envy wealth if it has not issued in contentedness. If one is to envy anyone, don’t waste the envy, envy those who have achieved a life of contentedness, such a state does not have direct bearing on wealth, indeed, except for those who live in extreme poverty it is statistically more likely that the contented are not particularly wealthy.
Minister, I do not hold a candle for any political party so my criticism of neoliberal economic policy is not motivated by left or right, but by the simple truth that neo-liberal economics, into which capitalism has morphed in recent decades, has failed and is failing society in the same way that communistic socialism failed societies in the past. Communism failed because it diminished individual well being and incentive. Neo-liberal economics fails because it does not value or undergird societal values upon which we all depend.
Any economic or social policy has to be judged on the outcomes it achieves in wellbeing both for individuals and for society as a whole. The chair of the reserve bank put it very neatly when, in describing the neo-liberalism you clearly support, he said of the banks “sales have replaced service’.
The problem with neo-liberal economics is the entirely fallacious assumption that everything is for sale, everything has a monetary value first, and a social value second. This error is compounded by the assumption that regulation in favour of societal good should be wound back, allowing individual greed to triumph. This ideology assumes everything should be privatised and that nothing or at least very little should be held in public trust for somehow this is ‘socialism’.
It is frequently the case that the very wealthy are not wealthy because they produce anything, or because they contribute anything, but they are wealthy because of the assets they control and the political influence they are able to wield. In many cases these assets have been stripped from public ownership.
I am not entirely sure the percentage of wealth that is garnered from the ‘finance industry’ but it is substantial. Wealth that is gained by short selling, by gambling on shares or currency going up or down contributes absolutely nothing to a sustainable civilisation and should be taxed to the hilt.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with being wealthy, unless it is ill-gotten. However, what is done with wealth makes it worthy or unworthy, a cause for admiration or a source of pity.
Those who make the greater contribution to the wellbeing of society are often those who are least rewarded materially. The problem with the economic ideology that you espouse is that it appears they are ‘losers’, people who have not really understood the game. Well I think they have. They have understood that ultimately good is only good if it is common. Success that is measured in terms of wealth is extremely fleeting, but worse, siloed into private hands it can cripple the entire human enterprise. Any student of history knows that the accumulation and squandering of wealth is very high on the list of reasons why the human enterprise so often trips itself up and kingdoms fall.
Minister, the applause you gained from your address at the Sydney Institute, from those who share the same mindset as yourself may have given you a warm inner glow, but I challenge you to a public debate, in a place like the Sydney town hall where matters of this gravitas can be flushed out in an open arena; and where ideas that contest your economic ideology cannot be so easily passed off as the undermining of the socialist left. The challenge to your economic ideology comes from the lesson of history that exalting wealth as the chief measure of success leads in equal measure to the collapse of the human enterprise as socialistic communism.
This week the Royal Commission made it clear that it would like a law passed through our federal parliament mandating priests who hear a confession relating to child abuse to pass the information on to appropriate authorities. While Francis Sullivan, CEO of the Truth, Justice and Healing Council has signalled sympathy even support for this request, the Archbishop of Melbourne, Denis Hart, says such a requirement would be an infringement of ‘freedom of religion’; and Fr Frank Brennan, in an Opinion Piece in the Fairfax papers, has said if this became law he would simply disobey or cease hearing confessions.
The general population and perhaps even a significant proportion of the catholic community will find this response very hard to understand or accept given the gravity of the situation in which the Church finds itself.
Neither the Archbishop nor Father Brennan have given a considered argument to defend their position, probably because of the reality that an argument based in theology or canon law would not be easy reading in the secular press!
Let me have a shot at it. I assume both Archbishop Hart and Father Brenan are coming from a traditional catholic position that the sacerdotal ministries of the Church are not incidental but necessary and effective conduits of grace to eternal salvation. That is to say, to deny the seal of the confessional to a person in mortal danger who wishes to confess the crime of child abuse is to potentially deny that person their opportunity of salvation. It has been the Roman Catholic position that the capacity to forgive sins, given by Christ to his Church, is facilitated through a sacerdotal priesthood that for more than a thousand years has been expected to be male and celibate.
Five hundred years ago this October Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church, heralding the European Reformation. Luther considered many practices of the Roman Church to be abuses, most notably the practice of indulgencies as effective instruments of salvation. But significantly he upheld the importance of confession and it is believed went regularly to confession himself until his death. (Some might suggest his rather florid language should have made this a necessity)!
However, after a struggle in which he wanted to uphold the importance of confession, he considered confession to be a ‘pastoral’ sacrament (along with marriage, unction etc) and not of the same standing as the dominical sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Eucharist or Mass). In large measure the Anglican Church, which has retained catholic practice, has adopted Luther’s position.
As a pastoral sacrament, confession, including its seal of confidentiality should be honoured and protected.
Traditionally the sacrament of confession and the absolution that flows from it comprises three parts.
· Contrition - genuine sorrow or penitence of heart
· Confession – the declaring of the fault
· Sanctification – the performance of certain acts, usually of a pious nature.
Luther was critical of the place of sanctification, not in the general sense, but in the specific sense of being a means through which absolution could be achieved. He of course argued that forgiveness is an unwarranted gift of grace, not placated or warranted through any act of ours other than the contrition itself.
It is not the priestly absolution that secures forgiveness and restitution, but grace that flows from genuine contrition, the desire for amendment of life and where it is appropriate or possible, action which heals or restores the hurt and damage caused. Absolution is the outward confirmation of the inner movement of the heart, through the grace of God.
Religious confession (like the oath taken on the bible in a court) assumes the one taking the oath or the one confessing ‘fears’ the judgement that flows from their action, and recognises accountability to God.
No human being alive is immune from the need for ‘amendment of life’. Being able to confess a mistake or misstep to another is one sure path of preventing such an error becoming a pattern, a habit, or a way of life. For those with faith in God, to confess to one appropriately authorised (priest) is a gift of grace.
There are times in most lives when regret or remorse becomes a burden. Often the reason for remorse was not an intended action but an unintended consequence. The relief of this burden is an absolute necessity for a healthy life to be able to embrace the present. For those with religious faith, again the sacrament of confession is a channel of grace.
The capacity to talk in the strictest confidence to another is essential if a person is to be enabled to negotiate troubled pathways and to reveal what needs to be revealed for health wholeness and forgiveness. The seal of the confessional is essential.
All of these and many others are pastoral needs met through confession.
However, a person confessing a crime, especially a crime of the gravity of child abuse, cannot expect the assurance of absolution unless the consequences of that action are faced. The facing inevitably means facing consequences in law. Christian practice has always recognised the legitimacy and obligation of civil law. If hurt has been done to another, especially hurt caused through violation of laws of the state, then the consequences of that violation have to be met. It is one matter for a person to seek and receive forgiveness, it is quite another for the consequences of the act or behaviour to be properly addressed. The one does not mitigate the other. Even today it appears there are many, some in Church leadership, who have not properly understood the lifelong damage done through abuse of children.
Biblical teaching as well as state law recognises that violation or hurt of a child is most grievous.
For Archbishop Hart of Melbourne to argue that if child abuse revealed in the sacrament of confession has to be mandatorily reported it would be a violation of ‘freedom of religion’ is absolute nonsense. For the one making the confession to genuinely be restored, for their sake as well as for the sake of the one who has been damaged, meeting the consequences of their action according to law is a necessity. It would of course be wrong for a person to be ‘entrapped’. It needs to be made clear that evidence of this crime has to be reported. It would also be wrong for the person who has had the courage to come to confession is abandoned. The priest or another acceptable person should accompany the penitent on the long and tortuous journey ahead, giving outward and tangible evidence of divine grace and redemption which never ceases to be on offer.
‘Freedom of Religion’ will be seen as having no place within Australian society if it appears, even by default, to protect an abuser from the consequences of their criminal behaviour. Nor will it be seen as a right worth protecting if it gives clergy an immunity not enjoyed by teachers or people of other professions who have a mandatory obligation to refer information relating to abuse, even if that information is uncertain.
Freedom of religion should not and cannot protect any from the application of civil law unless that law is clearly immoral.
It is my hope and prayer that the request of the Commission becomes law and that Father Brenan will hear confessions for a very long time to come, without doubt his ministry is and will be a blessing to the many who are fortunate enough to benefit from his profound wisdom and counsel.
Centre for Values Ethics and Compassion
What do Holly Ransom (Chair of G20 Youth coalition), Mark Tedeschi (crown prosecutor and promoter of civil rights), Michael Sheldrick (eliminate polio campaigner, WA youth of the year and Global Citizen), Richard Stirzaker (CSIRO scientist and soil chameleon inventor), Toby Gunn (save the children advocate and Nauru detention centre whistleblower), Yasmin Abdel – Magied (civil engineer, Sudanese born Muslim), Sarah Bachelard (philosopher and theologian) and Sam Bailey (Pilot, farmer, author and quadriplegic) have in common? They were all speakers at this year’s Radford College (Canberra) Dirrum Festival run by its students and Chaplain.
How did they pull off a line up like that? I have no idea!!
Would the speakers be speaking into values which could boldly be described as ‘Australian values’? The public recognition already afforded them screams yes - unequivocally. Each in their own way has been acknowledged, applauded, recognised, through awards in the media and at a regional, state, national or international level. Why have they been so recognised: because they stand out from the pack in terms of compassion, integrity, imagination and sheer tenacity for good?
What are those values? The simplest way of describing them is to say that they all live a version of the principle that for good to be good it has to be common.
While many of the speakers would not be described comfortably as ‘Christian’ – and one is obviously Muslim – are their values Christian? Absolutely yes! Why? Because belief in a God who is revealed in the human face of Jesus requires the believer to stand for justice, equity, and equal opportunity, indeed to stand for the common good.
And could their values be described as Australian or rather, do Australian values work for the common good? Is the good of ‘Australian’ values limited to the Australian border?
Our soldiers have been engaged in conflicts abroad, fighting against Nazism and keeping peace BECAUSE our values take us there, fighting alongside others on the premise that freedom, dignity and justice are common and worth sacrificing for, beyond even our borders. Asking as Yassmin did (albeit naively on ANZAC day) if those values are being upheld on Nauru and Manus, would thus be a traditionally ‘Australian’ thing to do.
In my hearing I gained some clear messages from the stories and initiatives of these (mostly) young men and women about the nature of the good, of Australian values. They – and also their young student hosts – challenged how common and broad our values should be applied. From them I heard a very clear affirmation that if there is such a thing as Australian values, then they must work for what is common, global, human, and when they don’t, they have become un-Australian. With this logic, I clearly heard:
· It is un-Australian for this country to manipulate our common border with Timor-Leste that Australia might gain the lion’s share of gas and oil – which is what we have done.
· It is un-Australian to hold Asylum seekers, confirmed as refugees by the UNHCR, in cruel and indefinite detention – which is what we have done.
· It is un-Australian to inflict permanent psychological damage on refugee children known only by their boat arrival number – which is what we have done. Toby Gunn, the speaker, risks two years in gaol every time he says so.
· It is un-Australian for inventive ingenuity to be focused solely on profit. It is very Australian to invent a piece of technology which enables life giving productivity to African subsistence farmers. CSIRO has been changed from an institute committed to pure science which betters the lives of all, to an organisation which focuses on commercialisation. This is what has recently happened – it is un-Australian.
· It is un-Australian not to recognise that our nation has been built on many injustices against its indigenous people including an attempt at ethnic cleansing. Mark Tedeschi’s account of the Myall Creek massacre, its aftermath, and the role played by John Hubert Plunkett the NSW Attorney General should be compulsory reading for all Australians.
· It is un-Australian for Yasmin Abdel Magied to have been pilloried because of her comments about ANZAC and its place in the Australian psyche. What was it about her that made her comments unacceptable? Is it that she is Sudanese born, that she is a Muslim, that she is female, or perhaps that she has had the audacity to put her head way above the parapet?
Now let me come to the rub. I have a feeling that values expressed at the festival would have been interpreted by some as representing an ideological position, perhaps a politically ideological position, out of keeping with the aspirations of those who presume it is their right to define Australian values. Why wouldn’t aspirations for justice, compassion and equity be apolitical? Why wouldn’t every parent expect these values to be at the absolute core of what is taught at their children’s school? Why wouldn’t all Australian politicians assume that these are the values of Australians?
Why wouldn’t these values, expressed by the causes picked up by the students, be at the very heart of the policy initiatives of the Church? Why is the Church seemingly more comfortable talking about personal piety, than the implications of that piety when it is lived out publicly in a courageous life of faith?
Students living the Dirrum values, Australian values, Christian values, you give me confidence in the future; confidence that leaders of your generation have caught a vision that good has to be common, that if it is not common it is probably not good, that independence is a mirage, but that dependence is disempowering and diminishes us. I am confident that you understand that it is mutual interdependence which gives us wings.
Palestinian Recognition - An Obligation
One hundred years ago (1917), in the final years of the WW1, and to encourage an Arab uprising against the Ottomans (part of the German alliance), a promise of Arab autonomy after that war was made and understood. Arabs fought with the allies, including Australians, to push the Ottomans out of the Middle East. The Battle of Beersheba was part of this campaign. It had nothing to do with the establishment of modern day Israel.
At the same time, to gain Jewish influence and pressure within the US and to convince President Wilson to enter the war, the Balfour Declaration was made, promising a Jewish State on the condition that the rights and customs of the pre-existing Arab community were safeguarded and respected.
Seventy years ago (1948) Palestine was partitioned with the intention that there would be two States, Israel and Palestine of roughly equal size. Because of the losses suffered through the conflict that followed partition, Israel became 78% of the territory and Palestine 22%. Palestine still awaits its autonomy on less than one quarter of the original territory. (Israel would deny them even this). Palestinians suffered what they call the Nakba or disaster, when thousands of Palestinians were summarily pushed off their land, their houses confiscated without compensation, and thousands made refugees, a state in which they have remained ever since.
Fifty years ago (1967) the six-day war was fought and decisively won. . Israel seized the West Bank including East Jerusalem, Gaza, the Golan Heights and the Sinai. The Sinai was subsequently returned to Egypt. The West Bank has remained occupied and Gaza blockaded with oppressive military force.
The obligation of the international community to safeguard and respect the rights of the Palestinian community is equal to the obligation of securing safety, freedom and autonomy to the Jewish community. The fulfilment of this obligation has waited far too long.
Fast forward to the present day:
A considerable majority of the Knesset (Israeli parliament) are on record as saying that Palestinians will never be allowed autonomy in their own State – not even this paltry 22% that they have agreed to accept.
Israel has passed a Bill authorising the stealing of Palestinian property by the settlers
The deluge of settlements on Palestinian land continues to escalate, 6000 this year alone.
Palestinian civilians are subject to the brutality of military law, the settlers live under civil law.
Israel clearly intends to extend its borders until they encompass the totality of historic Palestine. To do so is to extend and make permanent a system of apartheid, in which Palestinians will remain second or third class citizens in perpetuity
While there are significant human rights abuses in many countries, Israel is the only country claiming ‘western values of democracy and justice’ to be in such flagrant violation of these values and of international law.
Israel needs to know that maintaining the occupation and the oppressive breach of human rights that accompany it, is totally unacceptable and a price will be paid for its continuance.
One Hundred and Thirty nations have already recognised Palestine including the Vatican.
Most State Assemblies of the Australian Labor Party (South Australia, Tasmania, Queensland and NSW) have moved resolutions in favour of immediate recognition of Palestine.
Labor nationally will probably follow suit.
There are decisive moments in history when courageous leadership is called for.
Whitlam had that courage to recognise China in 1971
Howard had that courage in the recognition and defence of Timor in 1999
Turnbull and the Australian people need to express the same courage in relation to Palestine today.
Not to do so, is to ignore the obligation of history, to condone human rights violations by a country that claims the same values as Australia and to maintain ad infinitum a cause for ongoing conflict in one of the world’s most troubled regions.
Male headship, which is a non-negotiable article of faith amongst Sydney Anglicans and many Protestant Churches, notably non-aligned Baptist Churches, has received considerable recent attention as a result of the journalistic investigation conducted by Julia Baird. Julia is not an anti-Church polemicist, quite the contrary; she and her instantly recognisable family are themselves active in their Christian faith and Church attendance,
Julia’s investigation has shown an existential link between this article of faith and the practice of domestic violence. It is hardly surprising therefore that Church leaders, including the Archbishop of Sydney in their defence of this ‘biblical verity’ have argued that any connection between it and domestic violence is the result of a total misunderstanding. But is this defence believable? A spirited defence of headship is required by those who hold it because of their understanding that the proposition is not simply a vague doctrine amongst many others, but rather an essential pillar undergirding the very order of creation.
I have no doubt that the vast majority of Christian men who espouse this doctrine find any form of domestic violence repulsive and in their marriages are genuinely loving; practicing a principle of equality to the very best of their ability.
However, there is no getting away from the reality that the flip side of headship is subjugation. If biblical headship in fact means the one who holds this responsibility, is the chief servant and puts himself last, as the Archbishop would have us believe, then I suggest another word or metaphor should be found to express this truth. But this is not what those who espouse this doctrine mean. They mean that the male is the head in a manner that women can never be. This is expressed in the Church through insistence that women should not be licensed to preach, or teach, or hold a position of authority over men. Women are clearly subservient to men. Its implication in marriage is that men take the lead in decision making. I grew up in a conservative evangelical family where this doctrine was subscribed. It was a loving family and I consider myself to have enjoyed a blessed childhood, but it was a family situation in which my mother accepted with enormous grace and humility that subservience was her lot. It was her grace and humility that formed her children.
On the Drum the Archbishop argued his case by saying that men and women are different and there are things women can do that men cannot and vice versa. The example he gave was that men cannot have babies. Clearly there are physiological differences between the genders, but it is a very long bow to claim that as a result of physiology, relational or leadership roles are possible to one and not the other. It seems pretty obvious that marriage roles are totally reversible and that tasks or oversights undertaken by the woman in one marriage are more suited to the man in the other and vice versa.
Is the doctrine of male headship arguable from scripture? Yes of course it is. Does it therefore mean that is right? No it does not. There are many positions that can be argued from certain biblical texts. Am I inferring that scripture lacks authority? No I am not. What I am saying is that scripture speaks to scripture and the overriding character or virtue required of followers of Jesus is a lack of ambition to do anything other than to serve. It cannot, indeed it must not be the implicit or explicit teaching of the Church that anyone has the right, let alone the mandate to Lord it as ‘head’ over another.
Whether or not there is some ‘misunderstanding’ of the doctrine is not the point. The inference of headship is not acceptable because of the connotations it carries. Male headship has carried cultural accretions over the years which have taken a long time to be abandoned, sometimes requiring enormous energy. Many would argue, with justification, there remains a long way to go. It is not long ago that female suffrage had to be fought for. Traditional marriages carry symbolic images of women being passed from one male (parent) to another (husband). While this meaning is not front and centre in the minds of modern brides, nevertheless the ‘giving away’ and the veil carry the inference that female identity is derived through the male.
We in Australia have to be honest in admitting that domestic violence is endemic and that it is present across all economic, social, racial and religious communities. Sadly it is most often present when the family unit is under stress through disadvantage, crisis, change of status and inequality. Statistically domestic violence is most prevalent in indigenous communities.
Any teaching that has the capacity for gross manipulation, however wholesome it might seem to its adherents, should be abandoned. Surely the quality one might expect in a Christian home of joint responsibility and loving care expressed through and between parents does not need to be loaded with a teaching that can have, and does have some very cruel implications.
SADDAM Hussein was a brutal dictator to those who were not his own, especially Kurds and Shi’ites. Removing him, no matter what followed, was imagined to leave Iraq a better place and Iraqi citizens full of gratitude. But it has not, it has been whole lot worse for thousands and thousands of Iraqis and gratitude is the last thing they feel. While it is not helpful to point the finger of blame (who is more to blame than anyone else?), it is important to recognise that post Saddam Hussein, Iraq has been a much darker, conflict riven place than it was while he was alive.
Removing ISIS from Iraq and especially from Mosul is more obviously a step in the right direction. The world has seldom seen a more brutal regime, born out of a brutal ideology, devoid of any recognisable religious faith. But will the people of Mosul experience the days to come as better? Having now achieved its military freedom, what now for Mosul? Will Mosul now be a ‘better’ place than it was even under the ISIS thugs or will it be a place of hopelessness and squalor? If it is the latter, then one thing can be predicted with certainty, violence and the threat of violence will remain behind every pile of rubble. In helping to ‘free’ Mosul with human life and suffering commensurate with or greater than leaving them in charge, how are we better than ISIS if we now walk away and leave Mosul residents to their own devices?
Australia has played a small, but we are led to believe, a crucial role in the defeat of ISIS in Mosul, a role played out in the strategic training of the Iraqi army and in the bombing of ISIS positions in the city. The city is now in ruins and its citizens in a state of great pain and deprivation. Iraqis are clearly stoic and resilient people, but how are they to recover from this position? Does the Iraqi government have the will and determination to care for its people and restore their humanity in a truly non-partisan manner, or are we to see another stage in the ongoing struggle for one faction’s dominance over another? Equally important, even if it does have the will, does it have the capacity?
Australia was a high profile partner in the campaign to topple Saddam. That this was an ill-conceived campaign based upon a falsehood is a fact of history. What is also a fact of history is that the Allies have been entirely negligent in their strategy to support, nurture and resource an inclusive and equitable civil society in the aftermath of the military campaign.
We have again been involved militarily. Is this the end of our involvement, or indeed of our responsibility? I would strongly argue that it is not, that we must now have involvement in the restoration of the city. How that involvement and resourcing is played out is of course a matter for the Iraqis and particularly the citizens of Mosul. When a major natural disaster occurs anywhere in the world there is an expected and immediate response from the international community. Even if a country can normally be expected to look after itself; the need for restructure in the shortest possible time requires international support. In this case much of the collateral damage has been caused by the pre-emptive strikes of allies including Australia.
I fully realise the cost of involvement in the campaign to ‘free’ Mosul has been more than simply a dollar figure. But what is the dollar figure?
Already an estimate is available for how much (in billions) it is going to cost to rebuild the city. There is urgent need for the international partners involved in the campaign to sit down with the Iraqi government and municipal leaders in Mosul to determine an appropriate share of the cost of rebuilding in cash or kind. It is urgent that Australia and Australians be in the forefront of this discussion. Currently defence spending, illegal immigrant prevention, and terrorism strategy is entirely dominating the field that was once occupied by diplomacy and foreign aid. This must be reversed, otherwise Australia and Australians will run from one conflict to another, with the outcome of one campaign contributing to the next, in the self-deluding belief that we are contributing to a better world.
It should be entirely unacceptable for the Australian budget not to include a substantial figure for the re-structuring of Mosul, its schools hospitals and housing, a figure many times that spent on the military campaign. If it is not, we can only assume that Australia has entirely lost its compass, believing that military might conquers - it never has and never will. Victory is hard won and only achieved through friendship, restitution, equity, dignity and respect. The children of Mosul deserve to see a little of this so that they might grow up with hope and not become adults in the revolving door of violence.
It is urgent. House reconstruction should be a real possibility within months, schools and hospitals also. Employment must be provided first to Mosul citizens. We know we Australians are good at the military thing, it is less and less clear that we have a heart for the restitution and well being of any beyond our borders unless we can somehow make a dollar from the deal. About time there was some evidence this is not true.
Sometimes it is difficult to determine whether a vision or idea is simply a thought bubble that has prematurely escaped, or whether it was intended as a genuine contribution to debate. Christopher Pyne’s ‘vision’ for Australia as one of the world’s great weapons exporters is surely in that category. It is such a bizarre, alien and frankly such a loathsome idea that it must surely have just slipped out while he was not paying much attention.
Global arms sales now top 1$ trillion. While there has been an economic down turn in many of the indicators of human well being, there is no down turn in the industry of death. The market for death remains amongst the most resilient contributor to global ‘economic growth’. Weapons have one purpose, to maim or kill. It is in the interest of arms dealers for conflict or the threat of conflict to escalate. Little distinction is or can be made between friend and foe. Western weapons have been used in civil wars, genocides, terrorist activities and the like. The Congo has been one of the world’s most devastating civil wars in recent history. Several reports have shown the US was a major contributor of armaments to various parties involved in this deadly conflict, a conflict which caused death and destruction to more than one million civilians. Once developed and sold the manufacturer has no control over where or how the weapons are used, nor does he probably want to know.
Given conflict or the potential for conflict is likely to increase in coming decades, as shortages of water and food escalate, inequity grows and the effects of climate change force migration, it is inevitable that there will be a great demand for sophisticated weaponry, and that arms dealers will only have one consideration – selling to whoever has the money to buy.
Worse, the West has a long history of propping up corrupt and unpopular governments through the provision of armaments for the protection and exploitation of perceived Western self interests.
It is hard to imagine how low Australia’s moral standing might continue to slide. The level of Australia’s overseas aid as a percentage of GDP is approximately half the standard set for developed countries. It is pathetically mean. The Pyne thought bubble must be put in this context. He would have us further contribute to the world’s pain and distress by increasing the potential for armed combat. Apparently it is not enough that we do not wish to contribute to the alleviation of poverty and disadvantage, no, we will consider adding to it through the provision of resources for armed conflict – for our own profit. A very high percentage of all manufactured armaments are sold to developing countries. For every dollar spent on armaments in one of these countries there is one less dollar available for the development of agriculture, improving education and health care, or simply building the structures of a stable civil society. Indeed many of these countries become financially beholden as a result of the arms sales, meaning that payment of interest to the West takes precedence over basic services for their people.
Armament manufacturers have made great profit for themselves and their share holders through the devastating conflicts in the Middle East. Military ties between the US and Saudi Arabia are well known and yet Saudi Arabia is not called to account for the contribution (moral and military) that it has given to Sunni inspired terrorism in the Middle East and throughout the world. War was waged against Iraq and Afghanistan following 9/11 notwithstanding the majority of the hijackers were Saudi.
I fully realise Christopher Pyne wants more jobs in South Australia, but why not develop factories that manufacture high tech services that improve the lives of others and thus reduce the likelihood of conflict?
Finally, we clearly do have a revenue issue. Why not collect revenue for our gas exports that is at least equivalent to that being made by other cointries far less capable of maximising the benefit of their resources.
Christopher I realise your portfolio is “defence procurement”, surely the very best opportunity Australia has to defend itself is by investing in the wellbeing of other nations. Surely our greatest mistake would be to engage with others simply out of our own interest; developing arms for our own profit and contributing to the industry of conflict?