About OUFI

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London, United Kingdom
Welcome to my Blog. This Blog provides a platform for free expressions on issues of importance that appeal to the independent mind. Matters of political, moral and social concern, that may agree with or contravenes our free and well-intentioned thinking, have free reign on this blog. Friends and colleagues can express and respect different opinions on current or historical issues that at times may run counter to established worldview. “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it.” - Voltaire

Sunday, 5 May 2019

Brexit: Righting a Wronged Democracy

The call for the EU referendum on 23 June 2016 had all the good intentions but was naively based.  Such requests for direct democracy hardly ever work; hence their outcome is never binding but alas not so this time.  A promise made by David Cameron, the British Prime Minister at the time; a pledge to leave but not how to leave.  The consequent arguments that won most votes were based on false slogans, exaggerated claims, fear and outright propagandist reach to the masses.  The after effects have been immense not only in terms of damage to the British economy but for many the 51% decided in favour to opt out to 48% who chose to remain, has proved divisive and polarising. It has drawn a clear, uncompromising red line; a marker, for either side the divide, for brother, sister and friends, none of whom are willing to cross.   And all because Brexit chief architects brought us here on a lie.   Just need to look up the publicity that circulated before the referendum. The Red bus plastered with false slogans for starters one of many claims that I go on to outline below.

We need a new Referendum and here is why? The thrust to my claim is that the populist platform the demolishers (architects too generous) went for, was falsifiable or at best unverifiable. As politicians holders of high positions in the hierarchy, with facts and figures at their disposal, they undeniably bent these to base their argument on sentiments rather than facts. It worked. Their main target was the NHS.  We all know too well, the NHS is untouchable, increasingly seen what come to identify Britishness.  It has become almost a centre stage ideology that has superseded religion in this country. It has become ideologically ingrained, part of British culture and is therefore deemed sacrosanct and untouchable.  They created a myth it was under attack instilled a fear, especially among the older generation.

The slogan "Taking back control" a free-floating and empty headline but useful nationalistic call. 
Constitutional pluralism, one of the foundations of the EU, does not erode the power of the UK Parliament nor does it weaken the sovereignty of the British people. Our constitution built layer upon layer over the centuries will never go away. The point to remember here is that British greatness no longer anchored on its past imperialism but its modern technological replacement; progressive know-how and active voice in world political and economic affairs. Britain has for centuries been a nation of innovators standing at the vanguard of new inventions and technological achievements and none less so today. It is all very well appealing to "we want to take back control" is nothing more than smart packaging. Well, Britain had control of 25 per cent of the world population and directly nearly over one billion people (India), but it lost them - Imperialism. Britain didn't control it well.  Paradoxically, some Brexiteers today shout out they don't want to be a colony to the EU.  Rightist imperialistic language, a lingering thought.

Many of the initial claims, specifically NHS and the infamous £350 million a week paid to the EU, were demagoguery.  The claimants stood on anti-tickets propagandist agenda mainly playing on fear, false claims dressed up as facts. The fear factor is hugely important here since it is our instinct to cover or to protect; a natural no brainer reaction.  If putting an 'X' in a box on a ballot paper to ensure that outcome so be it.  These two factors more than anything else swang Brexit in their favour and my opinion, the unverifiable claims went a long way in corrupting democracy.

It may not occur to them that leaving the EU is likely to fracture the fragile United Kingdom? Scotland voted to remain in the EU at the June 2016 referendum.  What swayed its pull to stay in the United Kingdom was its expectation for England to remain in the EU. If that is out of the equation, it is more likely SNP, a nationalistic party with a mind bent on secessionist motivation could easily vote to break away. Same applies to Northern Ireland, where 44.2% of people in voted to leave the EU, while 55.8% voted to remain.

Immigration? Britain, since the Dynastic Union of 1707, has been a multicultural, multiethnic imperial State.  Brexiteers now want it to be a Nation State.  In 1940 it had 800 million people who were CITIZENS of the United Kingdom.  British Nationality Act 1948 made that so until fear of deluge from the colonies could swamp the British Isles.  The result was, the Act was repealed between 1962 and 1971, as a result of widespread opposition to immigration by Commonwealth citizens from Asia and Africa. The United Kingdom gradually tightened controls on immigration by British subjects from other parts of the Commonwealth. There was a deluge of entrants from the 'other'; creating fear and measures were taken to address the imbalance.

In an expression, the Referendum of June 2106 we saw direct democracy in action, it emphasised, with a close margin, the leave factor but did not tell the nation the course of how to deliver.   The narrow margin also meant that the Remainers' vote needs to be respected.  Towards that end, whether the translation to deliver, by some MP's, are meant to frustrate the vote is anybody's guess, but what is at stake are the likely adverse consequences.  Conscious, Responsibility, Principles and Moral imperatives have all kicked in each with different interpretations to ward off possibilities.  We have ended up with as many ideas as there are MP's bickering on the best possible means.  They represent an unpixelated view, within one chamber, of how British society thinks Britain ought to go.  Britain is hurting badly, yet these personal demonstrations are proving far too insensitive.

Here is another catch.  I think it is crucial for the Brexiteers among us to bear in mind that their decision to opt out of the EU has profound implications.  The magnitude of their choice needs to be framed within multi-dimensional considerations.

One of these is the intergenerational justice and generational sovereignty.

The issue, as I see it, is the generational dimension mainly encircles the question of legitimacy.  The impact on one generation brought about by the decision of another generation. There is one generation which will be most affected and one less affected.  If the generational issue is not considered it will question the desirability of the output.

Within this framework, which I think remains central to the argument, if Brexit was meant to determine national sovereignty; it would be reached in breach of the generational sovereignty of the future of the British people because one generation had voted on something that would not affect them. The question, therefore, is to differentiate between national sovereignty and generational sovereignty.

Those under 25 are twice as likely to vote to remain and those above 65 the picture is almost the opposite.  Sixty-four per cent of those over 65 voted to leave while 61 per cent of those aged 18 to 24 years voted for the UK to remain within the EU.  One needs to question, on the interpretation of these figures whether it is legitimate for Britain to leave the EU?

What it means that the young people will have to live with a decision made by the older cohorts to which they object today and to which they will be likely opposed in 30 years and into the future.  In contrast, those who agree with Brexit today would have a shorter time to live in the consequences.

Another question arises; what gives the right for the older generation, probably based on volatile period effect, to violate the future of a young generation?  The implication here is a life cycle effect in contrast to a cyclical election effect.

Bexiteers, also need to take into account to what I referred earlier; the illegitimate nature of the referendum illuminating the corruption of the democratic process is at least one of the aspect to which why the dilemma facing our representatives in Parliament.   Opting out is anything but linear.

My conclusion, therefore, is that the government should have prepared the ground before going for the referendum taking account of all the dimensions necessary. I would go for another but restructured referendum with multiple dimensions in mind.  To prepare the ground beforehand or at least, given my argument, for one thing, to give more weight to every vote by those between 18 -24.  Intergenerational justice must be seen to be fair one effective measure to correct a wronged Democracy.

Sunday, 24 March 2019

Israel: Nationalism and the State

"Israel is not the state of all its citizens.  According to the nation-state basic law that we passed, Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people - and of it alone."
- Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel and leader of the Likud Party

I do not intend to go into the contentious argument for a 'two-state' solution or 'the right to exist', Wars or annexations or to indulge in conspiracy theories that have proved time and again political impasse to peace.  Nor do I want to concern this essay with political implication of the growing new Anti-Iranian trend, and rapprochement between Israel and the Arab Gulf countries.  This endeavour is about Nationalism, in Israel's case ethnonationalism. Its primary focus would be an attempt to invalidate or at least assess the right of that claim; Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People.  And, to argue why in attempting to legitimise their new found name the country stops short from calling itself the Israel Nation.  As such, the state defines itself as a possible protector of rights but not a bearer of them so long as it refuses to recognise its heterogeneous makeup.  Surely, a democratic country, what Israel stresses to be, cannot claim to be for only a portion of its citizens.

Of course, Likud can claim Israel for the Jews they would be adopting a very narrow definition,  but to chose to declare an 'Israel Nation', segregated and exclusive for Jews would at best ring hollow, unrepresentative of secular Zionists, fragmented and anachronistic.  It can not go further than 'The State of Israel'.  The pity of it, that by their religious exclusiveness they deny social cohesion and the adamant refusal for civic liberal nationalism.  In my opinion, so long as only the Jews remain sovereign, they also deny themselves the status of a modern 'Israel Nation' and membership of the family of Nations.  This stands in complete contrast to the diasporic Jews who claim for themselves as the Jewish Nation. In their case, they dissociated their religion from their nationality, so borders and territorial references are, in a metaphysical sense, ignored mainly to preserve the purity of the race/religion.  They remained an internationalist race without an organic connection to the "soil of nationhood." For these purposes coupled with a strict custom of non-assimilation, they rightly claimed, as people, the Jewish Nation, to project their Jewish identity.  That notwithstanding, they are still in so far as loyalty is concerned, they remained bonded to the territory of their nationality.

Leading up to the forthcoming Israeli election there are increasing signs, for many Jewish Israelis, to use words 'Palestinians' and 'Arab' as derogatory terms; battering rams held up for insulting purposes.  The incessant hammering of the wedge the deeper the fractures would run in an already divided society.    Such inflammatory language by the Nationalist elite such as Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, and by Oren Hazan, are attention-grabbing that such populist anti-language propels them ahead of their rivals.  How far these racially charged abuses are a reflection of public sentiments conditioned by the present rightist divisional policies will show in the outcome of the election.

Israel and its ruling Likud party, in particular, is pushing hard against any criticism of its repressive and Arab hating policies.  Out of imagined ideas of political anxiety, they attempt to use world sympathy associated with the horrors of the Holocaust to their political advantage.  Forcing the notion that any criticism of its policies is deemed anti-semitic while ignoring the possible implication that such motives could easily backfire; interpreting the Holocaust a repressive tool.  By proclaiming the state of Israel as the Jewish Nation-State, therefore, aside from a propagandist ploy, is an inward, separatist and nationalistic step.  It is a defensive wall to ward off criticism and to protect its imagined legitimacy which fashions its rightist racist agenda.  The hope of combining 'Jewish with 'Israel' and for both to be identified with Zionism, is tantamount to a shield-forming label. A term that has hitherto has been universally levelled against derogatory remarks specifically pointed at Jewish people. In so far as concerning Zionism, its alliance of religion with nationalism and the imagined ancient state, this only appeals to nationalist historians and has no place in Jewish culture.

A Nation, nonetheless, is not dependent upon its religious makeup but has to originate from a multidimensional construct.  The same is true for those Arab countries that identify their republic with the word 'Islamic' which at times, dressed up in Islamic nationalism, used as a repressive tool against minority rights and marginalisation of non-Muslims. Language, ethnicity, historical homogeneity and of course, harmonising the present conflicting nationalistic politics, literacy and education combined are essential ingredients for the construction of a Nation. For our model, let us take a look at the first three starting with language.

The new Hebrew language is different from the old traditional ‘sacred’ Hebrew and differs more so in pronunciation. The new modern Hebrew spoken today in Israel is not the ancient Hebrew, as in the sacred text of the Jewish religion but an edition of it and for this argument, motivated by linguistic Nationalism, subjective, self-identifying purposes. Nothing more than an adaptation from the ancient Hebrew rather than the then widely spoken literate language especially among Ashkenazi Jews- The Yiddish language, which is no longer in use because its roots lie in the medieval German language.  Important to bear in mind, because one Wills it, or voluntarism, would not create a nation unless of course, by learning Hebrew they want to read themselves anachronistically into the past.

What about Ethnicity?   The ethnic conception is not a free-floating idea but needs to be socially, historically and locally rooted.  Proclaiming an ethnic Jewish nation with almost 2.5 million of its population Arab Israeli (Palestinian), mainly Muslim Arab or 21% of the total population is nonsense.  A need for the political and national to be united and harmonious and both must be congruent to satisfy the term Nation State.  Faced with the present conflict manifested in deep, painful divisions, that is not hard to see the opposite. Therefore, to claim a country is only to a particular and exclusive is invalid. According to Eric Hobsbawm, a prominent Jewish Historian, "for purposes of analysis Nationalism comes before Nation, not the other way round." It is all very well constructing it from above but must vitally essential to understand conditions from below - hopes, needs, and interests of its people's collective belonging are essential criteria.

As for religion, it is not a sufficient criterion for Nation building but merely for grouping identification.  In so far as the triumphalist attachment to the ancient land of Israel to present Israel; is a cultural appropriation of the past and atavistic, a distinct evolutionary fossil and has no place in modern culture.  And, the idea to group all Jews to have reserved the ancestral land of Israel for welcoming the return of the Messiah, enough reason to settle and proclaim it as their land, is akin to all Muslims on a pilgrimage to Mecca, decide to settle there and therefore claim Saudi Arabia as their ancestral land. As for the migratory Jew, European and Arab, out of a theoretical attachment to claim an intrinsic connection to this land justifies him or her called Israeli while denying it to a Palestinian, indigenous holder of the land, is disingenuous and immoral. To further defend their claim by denying him citizen rights where to live or a choice of school for his children is tantamount to racial discrimination.  The ethnicity of an American Jew is American, so is a Russian, a German, or Polish. As in the UK, a person is British before he or she is a Jew after all.  To that effect, the Israeli legislative council has taken a disparaging, and malevolent action "A Nation-State of the Jewish People" discrediting the Palestinians from their intrinsic values has lead to dire consequences.

To that end violence and intimidation used by the present ult-rightist authorities, in exercising their ethnocentric and egoistic nationalism, are causing hatred and divisions, creating ever-deeper fissures in an already divided society.  I have several books about the Nazi party war machines when it overrun its neighbouring borders and continued to overwhelm Europe, in the years between 1939 and 1945. One of them is ‘The Third Reich’.  In it,  Professor Sir Richard Evans describes the brutality exercised by the German occupying forces entering, the Sudentland,Czechoslovakia (following the infamous Munich Pact), Belgium, Poland and elsewhere that led to segregation of ethnic Germans, and be encircled under the protection of the German Reich, separated from the local inhabitants and finally the Third Reich annexations of their conquests.

To me, it clearly shows an analogy between then and now, as defined by the current leaning one-kind tribalist Likud led Israeli government. Equally, in our model, there is a substrate of political sidelining, economic marginalisation and racial alienation of the Palestinian people. Among the book's chapters, there is one that specifically deals with how the Gestapo secret police flushed out the Jewish populations from all areas under their control, rounded them up and sent them to concentration camps by an overcrowded, foul-smelling, rat-infested cattle trucks guided by the military forces, a more fitting synonym: instruments of terror. It's personnel trained out of manuals produced by the high command to achieve racial utopia. The manuals to train these Israeli soldiers and those used by Nazi concentration camps officers must have idioms which overlap.

We have here, not only harsh dominating imperialism at work but a settler colonialist State hell bent on power without compromise, their occupying forces riding roughshod, over mainly Muslim inhabitants. Whom incidentally increasingly seen as guests, therefore, must abide by the laws of hospitality.  Instead of badges, they are identified for incarceration by their level of resistance to authority and to state land confiscation, rather than their genetical makeup or ancestral belonging. A war of attrition between the heavily armed group insulated by State power while the other side feeling intimidated for complete lack of power, alone, abandoned and hostage-to-fortune. In most cases, dignity is all that remains of their nationality.

Yes, I agree this other side are no angels but be that as it may compromise and tolerance stands as a duty to each state institution to exercise its moral imperatives.  For permanent consolidation of peace, equality and justice, to prioritise its aim for a clear understanding of cultural values contained in Islamic ideology and its close link to national consciousness.  That said, it is also important to bear in mind, that large sections of Palestinian people taken up western education and values to a greater extent than other Arab groups.  But, their relationship to national consciousness grows closer the more sidelined they are; from minority ideology to a mass force. I also agree the mainly less educated Arabs are prone to emotional intoxication, an agency often mistakenly used for judgments.  Understanding the Arab psyche to flare up instinctively can also be a positive asset, an opportunity towards harmony.  Part of the aims is to resist the idea that advancing the notion of one Nationalism should entail the retreat of another.  Maybe an idealistic thought, but we are short of options, but with enough resilience, the human artefacts of the Israeli intelligentsia must be tuned to cross implanted artificial borders.

From a social point of view, the alternative of pulling up the draw-bridges and to let emotions become the driver is to head towards dystopia.  Nor, such dehumanisation as I point to above is an ideal way for a sophisticated and civilised society to propel it forward.  We have run out of this bumpy political road it is time to turn an imagined, mythical democracy into a reality.  Similarly, on the political side, a one-sided peace is not peace but submission.  Instead, allow a Palestinian to have Israeli rights just as a Jewish person has with British nationality.  Though these rights are formally equal according to Israeli law, they do not translate, in fact, but contradicted in the real world, much evidenced and confirmed by the Basic Law proclaiming Israel is for the Jews only.  To take heart from the proximity that existed for centuries between the two religions of the one race. And, staying with the nineteen century, the words of Massimo d'Azeglio, come to mind, the pioneer of Italy's unification. They ring true today as they did in 1865 - 1871, during the unity of the Italian state- The Risorgimento.  "we have made Italy; now we must make Italians." Well, now we have made Israel; let's make Israelis.

Nation = State = People

In compiling this essay, I have mined some of the best brains on the subject of Nationalism. Any mistakes in my narratives or argument are entirely mine.

Sources: They come from different backgrounds in the fields of Philosophy, History, Anthropology, and Sociology:
'Nations and Nationalism since 1780', Eric.J. Hobsbawm
'Nationalism', Elie Kedourie
'Imagined Communities', Benedict Anderson
'Nationalism and the State', John Breuilly
'Nations and Nationalism', Ernest Gellner

Tuesday, 19 February 2019


The Wall

It is a political call for civic and racial nationalism, identifying his territorial rights by skin colour. White Nationalism comes in many shades: racism, walls, tariffs, prejudice etc. lumped together to protect rightist deluded ideas of purity of the race and white supremacists outlook.  Also, in this case, vital protection against possible tipping of the voter scale heaven forbid, should this 'other' vote or dare to breed more Democrats.

For the white supremacist outsiders or the 'other' are classified under headings of invaders and according to Trump Jr's recent description as animals.  Many it seems among the American white people, including those considered hillbillies among the rural communities and hardcore section of Evangelicals believe in trademarking ethnicity, religion, language, of those darker shades as a primitive society, soiled and as corrupting influences. They would rather subscribe to such a catalogue of bigotry triumphing in their ignorance.  No allowance is to be giving to tolerance for a pluralistic multi-culturalism or diversity; instead, they would rather borrow from Trump Jr's, a rather repugnant language, better to leash or tamed them into subordination. Such is the acerbic doctrines and themes of Trumpism serving as a requisite framing device for holding his followers together. "Ignorance has many forms and all of them are dangerous."

Besides, there are other unsettling issues to be sorted out.  Should the ‘other’ is accepted in the white American Nation, for the next barrier is class prejudice. It is no exaggeration to say, Trump’s white supremacist ideology stuck in a groove of ethnic Nationalisms and eugenicist reasonings. Insofar as in this case, the racist overtones emanating from the mainly White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASP) community does not transcend the prejudices of religious undertones.  More or less a purposeful effort to revive tribalism but on a much larger and artificial scale.

If one happens to be a Muslim or a Christian, Arabic speaker with Mulato colouring or for that matter a South American, easily identifiable by colour and or religion, you better stay this side of the fence. Linguistic uniformity or class pretentiousness is not enough to save you.

American citizenship gives a right to belong to a group of common people but to white supremacists, those newcomers especially those of darker shades remain foreign and alien only accepted conditionally.  Holding  US nationality does not buy an automatic entry to the American (white) Nation nor is it an open entry to their social club.

Inalienable right; a constitutional right no longer a hedge against prejudice. What is at stake here is the white chauvinistic nation as a political entity trying to protect its genealogical purity and any other colour is defacto disfranchised. It is evident that this America has forgotten its roots distinctly profligated among what has become over the last couple of centuries a multiculturalist society.  For the modern state, as I profoundly accept, American union is one and indivisible, its sovereignty comes from its people of all shades and colours as rightfully phased out in its constitutional principles. Its constitution is enshrined in these principles as well as in the mix of its people. For those who advocate the inequality of races are the ones becoming a hybrid or at best possessors of a confused identity.  Cultural, ethnic, social or other differences are not there to be subtracted since equality means identical leading to a unitary and homogenous relationship.  I firmly believe John Adams, Thomas Jefferson et al. in their attempt at Liberty, they intended to raise the individual above religious, ethnic and other forms of communal consciousness but unfortunately, we now see a blurred image of these courageous presuppositions.

What seems to be happening today is a redefinition of the Modern State by introducing features set in prejudice, discrimination and political bigotry.  It represents a dangerous trend for a new  American cultural identity more in line with a model fifteenth-century feudalism when states were beginning to emerge out of the darkness, only distinguished by its way of life as a primary object of loyalty.  While modernity as the greater part of American society undoubtedly represents and enthralled by its progressiveness holding its racial doctrines within the scope of its evolutionary civic nationalism and multi-culturalism.

Two years ago one would never believe it possible for anyone could describe this side of America in the tone as I have done.  Unfortunately, the malignant signals that emanate today from an adverse party of the Presidency make it so.

An unacceptable but sad chapter in US history.

Monday, 31 December 2018

Sunday, 16 December 2018

Iraq; A Stillborn Nation

Modern Iraq covers almost the same area as ancient Mesopotamia, which centred on the land between the Tigress and the Euphrates.  Mesopotamia, also referred to as the Fertile Crescent, was an important centre of early civilisation.  Iraq was the name of an Arab province that made up the southern half of the modern day country. The today's Republic of Iraq, where Islam is the state religion and claims the beliefs of 97 per cent of the population, the majority of Iraqis identify with Arab culture. That is not necessarily true of the Kurdish, Turkmen or some Christian population occupying different provinces and who make up at least a fifth of almost forty million people.  Baghdad, was the name of a village that the Arabs chose to develop; it was founded in the 8th century and became the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate.  In the early twentieth century, the region was reformed and redrawn along geographical, political, economic and strategic lines.  People’s demography mattered very little, neither their ethnicity nor religious beliefs.  Kurds, Assyrian, Turkoman, Chaldean, Armenian, Yazidi, and Jewish Plumbed together de facto later became Iraqi citizens.

Sharif-Ali was chosen by Britain' Lawrence of Arabia fame to help in the Arab Revolt.
Ibn Saud,  recommended by Captain W. H. I. Shakespeare (known to Arabs as “Skaishpeer”)
would have a made a better choice.

The making of Iraq under the British Mandate in 1923, was a mistake that need not have happened, it stands contrary to an ideological blueprint for country formations at the time when it had no unified nation to call its own.  It was a collection of debris from the fallout of the Ottoman Empire early in the twentieth century.  Made up from a selection of Ottoman-inspired ‘vilayets’ or provinces, largely ignoring people's unique cultural and religious affiliations. Britain inherited land with a tapestry of people to whom they gave a hollow label. A combination of people living in different and alien provinces to be grouped together under an umbrella called Iraq who were utterly devoid of national identity.  It was an imperialistic adventure.  A highly camouflaged White man’s burden but principally motivated by a high-minded desire of whites to uplift people of colour including Arabs who were seen unable to rule by themselves.  That may have a ring of truth; when seen through the light of chaos in today’s the Middle East. As it happened, it was to Britain’s interest to control and add to its burgeoning Empire.

It was a case of Realpolitik bastardised and strictly Machiavellian to suit the powerful; one for me and one for you and none for them.   As the seams of the Empire were beginning to fray, and in the face of religious backlash, Christian Britain felt it was time to relinquish or at least release the reigns for its domination of a mostly Muslim population.  In 1932 Iraq gained its independence but that did not diminish people's bitter hostility towards the British or to one another but in fact, it marked the beginning of political and social turmoil leading to a dysfunctional state Iraq is today.  The modus operandi was ‘unity in diversity’ or ‘unity in fragmentation’, both on a flimsy veil of tolerance.
King Faisal I, son of Sharif-Ali.  A foreign import advocated the wearing of the
'Sidara' in an effort to bring unity.  It did not work.

This essay will underline the process on countrification that in design achieved a dislocated society or at best very little in harmonising the different ethnic groups and the fragmented tribes across the country to bind into one whole robust nation.  The existence in a lack of cohesion in a society that has paradoxically proved time and again intolerant of its shortcomings but ironically wishes to remain ignorant of its salvation.  Although different ideologies abound, they mostly concentrate on privilege and wealth accumulation and preferring to live on the right side of superstition; belief in the evil eye in preference to reason. A most comfortable way out from any sign of civil strife or political trouble has come to mean attaching the blame on foreign pressure and interference instead of reaching out to a demographic curriculum from within.   Aside from wishing to posit political turbulence for social action to curb flourishing personal avaricious tendencies, a significant reason for distrust between its citizen,  and reason to blame for imploding the country today, I ask why Iraq has not intellectually studied the ideological connection of causes. An inductive argument can help to give some insights on reasons and conclusions for such chronic disunity In the least, it will undoubtedly create chances in uniting the different religious and tribal division that has effectively left Iraq a State without a Nation.

King Ghazi, not a British sympathiser, loved speed, killed in road accident driving his flashy car
along with his two girl companions.  The British were suspected of manufacturing the accident.

Looking back at the sociological layering of Iraq it is evident that although the different cultures were quite distinct under the foreign Ottoman rule, nevertheless there was, by the Turks, an emphasis on the cohesion whether through pan-Islamisation or other in uniting these cultures.  It is therefore in the interest of this essay to establish reasons for disunity present when new borders created after WWI that had gravely come to underline sectarianism as manifested by the stream of savagery that has escalated in recent years. Given this opening summary, I stress, the coming of Iraq was a stillborn birth, its formation lacked the necessary cohesiveness within a demographic structure, and British political efforts at reconciliation were severely wanting.

Iraq: A State so wealthy that could have put the 'Gardens of Babylon' to shame.
An unlucky country!
It is interesting to note the reasons for such divisions.  Is it because as we will see below developments in communication and transportation; attempts at homogeneity that must have brought regions and towns closer together only to see cultures overlapping and prejudices exposed. Objection to them may have triggered a rift exposing cultural cleavages hitherto unknown.  Or was it culturally imbued by British imperialism, their emphasis on class structure overshadowed local customs inevitably caused class resentment?  Or was it during the period of Saddam Hussein’s 35-year rule which had not only exposed and exaggerated the differences but used them as instruments for suppression thus pushing them to the forefront of ideological thinking?

Prince Regent Abd-Al-Illah, (on the right) he was more English than the English. He loved his Saville Row suits and
to cruise the Baghdad streets in his Rolls Royce with a string of mistresses attached.
Educated in a British School in Cairo where Omar Sharif (the actor) schooled at a later date.

On the other hand, it could also be an inherent characteristic within the people of the area, stems from insecurity to distrust one another.  This latter point on individual citizens, if it stands, makes it even more impossible to bring about a political compact which Iraq desperately needs to eradicate sectarian identities.  It is also possible these dogmatic ideas and rifts between the populations had always been a natural phenomenon that recent experiments in Democracy unleashed with such ferocity.  Level of animosities hitherto unknown but remained latent during the Ottoman period in the 1860s or during Saddam Hussein's authoritarian rule.

King Faisal II with Queen Elizabeth.  Assassinated on 14th July 1958 at the age of 23.
The year marked the coming of The Republic of Iraq.

It is therefore not surprising for the Ottomans to realise the area was difficult to govern because of the various distinctive cultural and ideological ideas embedded within the psyche of the populations.  The developments of roads and communication, a sign for progress was undertaken under great financial strains with the aim of bringing some unity and some semblance of homogeneity.  The backlash of course as I have shown to have worked the opposite way.  The population then and now cannot accept a difference.
Nouri Al-Said, Iraq Prime Minister.  He was assassinated in 1958,
and the frenzied crowd dumped his mutilated body in the Tigress river to swim with the fishes. 
In the 1970s an educational campaign was launched to influence a national consciousness based on Iraq's history, including the pre-Islam era and the former glory of Mesopotamia and Babylon. The goal was to focus on a new cultural life for modern Iraq and to emphasise Iraq's uniqueness, especially in the Arab world. Archaeological museums were built in several cities, which held exhibitions and educational programs especially for children so that they were made aware of the historical importance of their culture and nation. To promote this centre of attention on history, several ancient sites from the city of Babylon were reconstructed, such as the Ziggurat of Aqarquf, the ruins of Babylon, the temple of Ishtar, the southern Iraq fortress of Nebuchadnezzar, and the Greek amphitheatre. Unfortunately, such aesthetics failed to serve any purposeful outcome.

Rashid Ali Al-Ghelani, Prime Minister of Iraq in 1941, Nazi sympathiser seized control following
a coupe despatching the British contingent along with this writer's father, Kamel Oufi to prison in Mosul.
Released a month later which saw the annihilation of the Iraqi forces by the British. 

The area called Iraq has suffered a cruel history under the relentless watchful eye of tyranny. The span of centuries after the Mongol invasion, that destroyed Baghdad in 1258 and Turkish conquest and rule that soon followed, coupled with lawlessness in the region left the inhabitants vulnerable and insecure.  The insecurity of the Shia community was bad enough until efforts of Pan-Islamisation in the nineteenth century, trialled after centuries of oppression eased their plight.  In this context, it was even worse for the Jews and Christians and other minorities identified as second class citizens.  Throughout the Ottoman period, they were deemed subordinate defined by a mode of dress to tell them apart. Then and now suffering a string of violations, hardly ever enjoyed a sense of belonging.  The Ottomans did exercise freedom of religion, the mode of which not far off those tinpot gulf states that flag wave the same today, only to see their constitution is enshrined by Sharia laws.  Freedom was and is no more than what it says on the tin.    Such levels of mistrust created over the centuries stretched their insecurity beyond reason. 

The whole population fared no better under the British with Nouri Al Said as Prime Minister nor during the thirty-five-year rule of Saddam Hussein.  Throughout the period since independence, the Iraqi government have been guarded against subversive activities by spying on its people.  Such actions were taken to an extreme under Saddam Hussein.  The oppressive regimes over the centuries have left the Iraqi people with vulnerability so ingrained their empathy today hardly reaches beyond the filial core.  Thus with such a frame of mind, it is hard to imagine if there can be a unity among the citizens to weave into the fabric of a nation any time soon.  

Abu-Ghraib Prison showing suffering Iraqi detainees. Human Rights violations at the hands
of American forces 

On the grand scheme of things, nothing much matters to Iraqi people today except looking after your own. In consequence, Iraq is housed by people not by society made up of individuals each an island ocean apart from one another. Instinct is their only guide, they are driven by their own inertia fuelled by desire rather than by causes. A land where help for one another and philanthropy is mainly left to aliens.  It could be their instinctive repulsion of one another more potent than the nearness brought about by communication; tried over a century ago to encourage if not guarantee cohesion.  Years of oppression, denials and marginalisation have taken their toll.  For such people abandoning hope comes easy and delving on wishful nostalgia is easier still.

A naked Iraqi detainee at the Abu Ghraib prison is tethered by a leash to prison
guard Army Pfc. Lynndie Rana England. In 2012, following her release, 
after only three years in prison, she stated that she did not regret her actions. 
           “They’re trying to kill us, and you want me to apologise to them? 
                                    It's like saying sorry to the enemy."

However, from such a rock-bottom level of negativity, progress needs to evolve.  Time to reach out for reconciliation and to extend the reach of loyalty beyond family, self interest and avarice.  The country is endowed with a rich heritage around which to build on a Nation with a common culture.  The rivers of Babylon from the distant foothills of Turkey, share a rich history with their people they go back together thousands of years sharing innovations and achievements.  Also true, the multi-ethnic society that grew around them are brutally and culturally divergent averse to accepting a difference but time reaches a point, however, when they have to meet.

The Poverty is existing in Iraq mainly due to the failing infrastructure a
result of chronic political instability.
A failed nation is lacking in honesty and empathy of its people towards
one another. 

Similarly, the Tigers and the Euphrates eventual confluence at Al-Shat Al Arab, so one would hope the differences have ebbed and would converge as trust grows.  For its survival as a Nation State, Iraq depends on unity, faith and accommodation.  The Greeks named the land Mesopotamia, the area of two rivers, and left them separated but the flow of time should erode the mistrust.  And staying with this metaphor, Iraq people should learn to cultivate the rich and fertile sediment to create the nation fit enough to claim Babylon's greatness as a significant chapter in their great history.

Ishtar Gate, Pergamon Museum, Berlin. from Babylon,
the ancient Mesopotamian city in what is today Iraq. 

Idealist, I may be, but that is an outlook hardly ever failed to be the first step to reality.  So, time for new Politics of National Identity to flag up, to proudly claw back, 'Gate of the Gods'; Babylon, the source of civilisation that they can rightly claim as theirs.  Time to reconnect to the country's history and a time for Nation Branding.  

Saturday, 24 November 2018

Dictatorship of the Proletariat

At his trial [for treason], Alexander Ulyanov Lenin’s older brother), refused to be represented by counsel and carried out his own defence. In an attempt to save his comrades, he confessed to the acts he had never committed. In his final address to the court, Ulyanov argued: "My purpose was to aid in the liberation of the unhappy Russian people. Under a system which permits no freedom of expression and crushes every attempt to work for their welfare and enlightenment by legal means, the only instrument that remains is the terror. We cannot fight this regime in open battle, because it is too firmly entrenched and commands enormous powers of repression. Therefore, any individual sensitive to injustice, must resort to terror. Terror is our answer to the violence of the state. It is the only way to force a despotic regime to grant political freedom to the people." He stated that he was not afraid to die as "there is no death more honourable than death for the common good"   - John Simkin, Spartacus Educational.  

As these lines will show terrorism was not the answer, but Lenin at this point was reported as saying "I'll make them pay for this! I swear it." As a tool, instead of terror, he chose Marxism.

This essay is about the man and the circumstances both of which at a different time and in different locations created the opportunities that heralded him into the limelight of power.  We shall find out whether the Revolution of October 1917 was already underway and on the last leg in achieving its goal, for the overthrow of Russia’s Tsarist Monarchy, or was it Vladimir Lenin who seized the opportunity at that point and usurped an ongoing revolutionary movement already in progress to assume the leadership?

It is worthwhile to pause at this point to know more about the man.  This is how Victor Chernov, Lenin's fellow revolutionary and political rival described him "Lenin's intellect was penetrating but not broad, resourceful but not creative; a past master in estimating any political situation, he would become instantly at home with it; quickly perceive all that was new in it and exhibit great political and practical sagacity in forestalling its immediate political consequences.   Lenin was a great man. He was not merely the greatest man in his party; he was its uncrowned king, and deservedly. So he was its head, its will, I should even say he was its heart were it not that both the man and the party implied in themselves heartlessness as a duty. Lenin's intellect was energetic but cold. It was above all an ironic, sarcastic and cynical intellect." Moreover, Lenin was the only Russian politician to regard revolution as his sole purpose in life. A Menshevik called Pavel Axelrod summed Lenin up by describing him as "the only man for whom revolution is the pre-occupation 24 hours a day, who has no thoughts but of revolution, and who even in his sleep dreams of nothing but revolution."

The year 1917, was a revolutionary year in Tsarist Russia which saw the Romanov Dynasty coming to an end after three hundred years of rule, at the first revolution in March of that year.  The immediate causes of World War I brought in the second, the October Revolution that made way to the Lenin led Bolshevik Communist Party to government, and eventually to a communist dictatorship.  Both revolutions were driven by a political power culminating in forcible regime change.  The two revolutions however, were parts in a series within a revolutionary period, that had started as early as the 1860’s emancipation of the Serf.  It stretched to a time when the peasants who remained in the countryside, as well as those who had filled the squalid, overcrowded and disease-ridden towns and cities of Russia’s industrial growth, during the 1890s, and the immediate pre-war years. This powerful conjunction of events served to strain Russia’s old order beyond breaking point.

The mounting unrest against the war and the ruling regime, had deep-rooted grievances and injustices.  On the one hand, the Monarchy perceived threats arising from contradictions between their divine justification due to their outdated Orthodox Church with its steadfast hostilities to western heresies, and the Industrial Western technology.  Such contradictions failed the ruling elite, The Bourgeoisie of Russia from reaching out in bringing down the old order that would have helped Russia to share in the limelight of power status on the European stage.  At the same time, the Russian people were being pressurised by the monarchy’s autocratic rule. Despite the emancipation in the mid-nineteenth century, there were still numerous social stresses on the vast peasant masses, which remained impoverished, resentful and land-hungry.  Such social extremes aggravated the relationship between the peasants and landowners, manifested in the many uprising that began springing up against landlords before the breakup caused of the war. 

It was around this time that many of the political parties were formed in rural Russia and later joined by the industrial workers in cities across the country.  Factory workers, sailors and soldiers were typically peasants mostly coming from their native villages to live in squalid, overcrowded dormitories. There was a massive concentration of disaffected and alienated subjects were to play a decisive part in the revolutions of 1917.

Such breeding grounds gave rise to the germs of radicalism, socialism, Marxism and forces advocating the eventual overthrow of the Romanov Regime.  The communist party that formed within these groupings was, split between the Menshevik (Minority) party and the Bolshevik (Majority) party led by Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, (otherwise known as Lenin) his revolutionary name).  Lenin advocated a Marxist political movement fired up by intellectuals of the party, to do the thinking for the masses and the eventual overthrow of the Elite and the Monarchy.  Briefly, Bolshevism was an adaptation of Marxism to Russian conditions, for a quick and immediate overthrow of Capitalism.  It differed from the Menshevik approach which advocated a process of gradual integration of socialism, into the industrial cities and heartland of Capitalism, to set the stage for the ultimate revolutionary change to Communism.

February and March of 1917 were two crucial months in Russia’s history in many ways.  The interacting forces, internal and external, long-term and short-term created fertile ground for political agitation. The anger of the masses was brewing finally coming to a head in February. Declaring war on Germany served only a limited uniting force on the Russian people, but a year into the war cracks started to show.  Russia was beginning to experience many defeats on the battlefields, retreat by soldiers and refugees were on the increase; food, and in particular bread, shortages were causing severe social unrest.   Whilst, the bulk of the Russian army was committed to war, factories were fully engaged in war production (but without some clear direction), the Russians risked a national catastrophe.

The Winter Palace (Getty images)

Tsar Nicholas II assumed personal rule much against the advice of his ministers and the weak Duma (Russian parliament), at the Winter Palace, to rule along the lines of a military dictatorship.  Notwithstanding the spread of secret police across the country, strikes were on the increase in Petrograd, (previously called St Petersburg and in 1924 named Leningrad but in 1991 back to Saint Petersburg).  The flashpoint in February was when troops sided with the crowd and fired at the police.  At this point, the army mutiny spread, and the authorities lost control of the city, and the target of people’s anger was the monarchy.  The Tsar's hold on power collapsed by default.   The presence of a weak government emboldened the rural communities, by now growing more militant started to encroach on the landed gentry privileges and demand land sharing. In the cities, workers were demanding higher wages and shorter working week and the employers were forced to concede on all their demands. 

By now the state was collapsing 1917 and Lenin sensing this weakness returned to Petrograd from exile in Switzerland, via Germany, to take the reins of the social revolution, determined to overthrow the present regime and to seize power as outlined in his "April Thesis".  He knew full well his supporters were concentrated in the crucial areas of the major cities and within military units of northwest Russia.  Soon enough, he had persuaded his fellow members that the Bolshevik party was ready to take power; from that point in July and August membership and support of the party snowballed
 Revolutionary workmen and soldiers robbing a wine-shop (1917)  Spartacus-educational.com

These militant forces were springing up from ordinary working citizens; what Karl Marx, Prussian Philosopher and co-founder of Marxism, had called 'The Proletariat', demanding social justice, joined by sailors and soldiers, whose main issues were peace and to see an end to the war.  Formed Soviets (councils) took direct action for seeking self-representation. Polarising was the mainstay for two opposing ideologies; to be present at one time meant disaster is not far off.  To counteract the agitation by these committees the government, what was left of its authority, initiated severe repressive steps by rounding up their leaders targeting the Petrograd Soviet.  Also, in attempts to bring law and order, it applied Marshall Law on railway and factory workers introducing the death penalties on army deserters.   Many of the Bolshevik party members were arrested. Lenin fled to a safe house in Razliv, Finland, where to kill time, he worked on a book " State and Revolution", initiating steps for the Proletariat to overthrow the regime.  Government troubles did not subside but only went to show that central authority was cracking up at the pressure.  

By October 10th armed uprising was on the agenda which saw the Bolshevik Party’s Military Revolutionary Committee (MRC), converted against policing the city from possible German invasion into an organ for the seizure of power.  On a show of strength, on 24th October government troops shut down Bolshevik offices and their printing press and aimed to take back control of the strategic places that the party occupied.  At this point defence turned into attack and countermeasures were the order.  On the 25th of October, the MRC by persuasion and by force retook those vital strategic offices infiltrated the Winter Palace, and arrested the ministers, 'The Bourgeoisie.'  The Social Revolution by the Proletariat was on its way and On 7 November – or 25th October by the Russian calendar, the Bolshevik Party came to power.

On 24th October 1917, Lenin wrote a letter to the members of the Central Committee: "The situation is utterly critical. It is clearer than clear that now, already; putting off the insurrection is equivalent to its death. With all my strength I wish to convince my comrades that now everything is hanging by a hair, that on the agenda now are questions that are decided not by conferences, not by congresses (not even congresses of Soviets), but exclusively by populations, by the mass, by the struggle of armed masses… No matter what may happen, this very evening, this very night, the government must be arrested; the junior officers guarding them must be disarmed, and so on… History will not forgive revolutionaries for a delay when they can win today (and probably will win today), but risk losing a great deal tomorrow, risk losing everything."   

Clearly, the war had a massive effect in weakening the state.  The anachronistic rule by the Monarchy did much harm to the social fabric; laid grounds for grievances and opened the floodgates of militancy.  The resulting direct action, was inevitable especially when there was the need by the people to end the damaging war.  For the ruling bourgeoisie, that was not on the agenda since Russia was committed to continuing fighting with its allies, Britain and France; ending the war would also have meant surrendering to Germany.   In fact, that is what eventually did happen in 1917 at the Peace Conference at Brest-Litovsk (now Belarus) between Germany and Bolshevik Russia.  Although other socialist groups, the central committee were ready to cooperate with the Central authority in drawing up a new constitution, the thirst for Soviet power was on the increase.  However, there were no apparent signs for these talks to mean much and the likely hood that they end in a bloodbath, was not far away.  The government had consistently failed to deliver on its promises for improving living standards and turned a deaf ear to ending the war. 

“The Bolsheviks’ success was the work of thousands. It was a matter of hard graft at the grassroots. It was also fostered by creative propaganda – newspapers, speeches and posters – and those were funded handsomely by German gold. The Bolsheviks would always deny this – it would have looked like treason – but when it came to German cash, Lenin had a most original excuse. His ultimate aim, after all, was to "destroy capitalism.”

Bolshevik Poster (1917).  Spartacus-educational.com

“All Power to the Soviets” was Lenin’s drive for power. In true demagogue style, he zeroed in on grievances of the masses and weakness of the government in ending the war.  He exaggerated the powerlessness of the Bourgeois provisional government led by Kerensky followed by the abdication of the Tsar, and promoted the anti-feelings around it.  It is, therefore, no exaggeration to say, by bypassing the Central Committee, the October revolution would not have occurred without Lenin.  He also had a knack for good timing; he knew when to push his advantage and when to ease the pressure to act.  He began writing ‘The State of Revolution’, while he was in his haystack, calling on the Bolsheviks to destroy the old state machinery, to overthrow the bourgeoisie, destroying parliament, for the revolutionary “Dictatorship of the Proletariat.” 

Of Lenin - 
‘His sympathies cold and wide as the Arctic Ocean; his hatreds tight as the hangman’s noose; his purpose to save the world; his method to blow it up.’

                                                  - Winston Churchill


Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Crucible of War

Looking back it was ironic it took a peace process to wage another war.  A war of another kind, thankfully, this time a war of words, carried condemnation by the victors for finding Germany to blame for the start of the War.  With equal zeal, Germany was determined to disprove the war-guilt ruling and the penalties imposed upon it at the peace treaty in Versailles at the end of the war in 1918.  This Sunday, November 11th 1918 celebrates its centenary, Armistice Day.  What concerns this piece is not so much about the war itself or remembrance of the millions of men and women who died. It is to discuss the underlying trends and some of the more immediate, specific, short-term events in circumstances that lead to a war, which helped to set the belligerent nations on a yet new warpath.   We examine the occurrences that might unravel the puzzle of who started the War.  What country must carry its share of the blame that led to unprecedented destruction and changed the map of Europe?

The second half of the nineteenth century was the age of Imperialism, Colonialism and vying for political power and the economic globalisation that came with it. By the turn of the century, much of the world had been carved up; in its last decade, almost all of Africa was shared among Britain France and Italy.  The rising star was Germany, as a latecomer who also wanted a share of the pie.  European Governments from the same period shared a strong tendency to employ the standard narrative of modernisation as a framing structure to economic success which also meant an explosion of imperial rivalries in the industrial age of pre-war period. Late nineteenth century was also The Belle Époque a time of economic prosperity, new ideas in Art, Music and Theatre as well as innovation in technology and science.  Indeed by comparisons to the horrors of World War I, it was the “Golden Age”.

To understand why Europe and the world went to war is the subject of this essay.  It is essential to bear in mind, however, that people at the time regarded war not as they do now with the benefit of hindsight of two destructive wars. But, wars then, were the legitimate course of action as the continuation of politics or to settle differences when politics fail.

World War I, 1914 – 1918, was not only a turning point for Europe but the Entire world and for many people, it brought them into contact with a globalised world.  It reshaped the geography of Europe and the Middle East bringing an end to Empires while creating new countries.  It also marked the beginning of decolonisation in Africa and the Indian Subcontinent and the 'third world'.   The complete breakup of the multinational Austro- Hungarian Empire, The Ottoman Empire and The Russian Empire while placing a greater emphasis on Nationalism in creating the new countries to comprise of national homogeneity.  The eve of the war brought an end to three hundred years of the Russian Romanov dynasty with double abdications of Nicholas II and his brother, Grand Duke Michael II in March 1917.   That year also meant Marxism was no longer a theory left to remain embodied in Karl Marx's imagination, but Lenin’s Russian October revolution brought it to life, capitalised on such ideas bringing in Dictatorship of the Proletariat that took hold in the formation of the Soviet Union.  With that came Communism which was to influence the Geopolitical World for the next 80 years.

Aside from death, destruction and atrocities such as rape, looting and genocidal violence, committed by soldiers, there were good things that emerged from the war.  Modernity; whether a blessing or a scourge resulted in the development of new ideas; in Armaments and technology, although often disparagingly referred to as the science of destruction.  Also, inspiration in medical advances such as the 'Thomas Splint'and 'shell shock trauma' treatments, also Anaesthetics, for example, both made a significant impact on injured soldiers.  Mass Communication and production, Political ideas, Art and Architecture, Propaganda and of course the emergence of America's superpower status.

The crucible of War was a chain reaction raised from fear of the Arms potential of one’s neighbour.  A build-up to an arms race; where one country increase in military and naval hardware led to another to do the same.    A sense of fear and insecurity was setting in among both the people and governments alike especially Germany and Russia, each of which was racing in a desperate bid to keep its armed forces and armaments ahead of the other. By 1913 their annual spending was 78 million and 73 million pounds respectively in their race for dominance.  In 1914 the British Royal Navy remained the largest in the world.  Although efforts of Germany's Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, supported by Kaiser Wilhelm II, had attempted to create a German navy that could match Britain’s; the British had comfortably maintained their lead.

As if that is not enough underlying reasons for triggering the war, controversies persist to this day, especially amongst historians as to what were the real reasons that led to war by those key players that were to take a global dimension and it's catastrophic geopolitical and social consequences.  To borrow from Lord Grey, the British foreign secretary at the time, "The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime"; indeed around twenty million people, never did.

The unfolding events were many, but no doubt what mainly unleashed this war of unprecedented scale was the assassination of Arch Duke Ferdinand, the heir to Austro-Hungarian Empire and his wife, Sofie, in Sarajevo that hot summer day of June, 28th 1914 by Gavrilo Princip.  A terror attack perpetrated by a Bosnian Serb nationalist as an act of defiance.

That terror attack was not the cause, but the trigger since preparation for war had been going on and anticipated by many for some time.  A relationship existed between states primarily built upon realism, an International relation based on Politics and Machiavellianism, that includes suspicion, doubt, mistrust, security and power.  To fill more of this background, the principal actors in this theatre forged two opposing alliances; one between Britain, France and Russia called the Anglo and France Russian Entente.  The other was made up between Germany, Italy and Austria-Hungary called the Triple Entente.   A study of the map shows the Triple Entente were encircled but with Italy in the fold, opened the route to Suez and the Middle East, left the passage to India vulnerable, the jewel in the British crown.


In the background to this dangerous military build-up, there was belligerency and resentment and pent-up tensions by all concerned.  France attempted to extend its North African territories continuing the African carve-up of the time without consulting the other powers.  In reply, Germany wanted its ‘place in the Sun’ led to two Moroccan crises in 1905 and 1911.  Ironically this brought Britain to the side of France, the affair was, in fact, a diplomatic defeat for Germany, whose leaders were becoming increasingly worried that the country was diplomatically becoming isolated. Britain and Germany were engaged in Naval supremacy while France resented Germany for the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine in 1871.  Russia meanwhile in 1905 emerged from its war with Japan defeated and weakened by revolution and in desperate need of allies.  Austria was highly suspicious of Russia for its support for its fellow Slavic countries such as Serbia.  Italy, on the other hand, had disputes with Austria over the South Tyrol, Trentino and Trieste.  Also, the side issue to all this was ideas of Social Darwinism and the master race for each European country to perceive individually for itself, such accolade.  Given such bellicose and combative situations, war was expected and many would fight willingly and voluntarily for such a defensive war.

It was at the Treaty of Versailles, at the end of the War in 1918 that debates started on the origins of the war.  A dispute arose when the new German Government, the Weimar Republic, were not invited come before the victors were later obliged to conform under pressure of renewed hostilities.  They were outraged on the conditions being imposed and disputed the blame clause they were the guilty party in starting the war.  The guilt question would later arise and hence the debate that has gone on ever since.  One significant condition in the treaty was the ‘war-guilt clause’, which placed the blame on Germany and its allies, and suggested that Germany accepts this blame.  That also meant that Germany had to pay 20,000,000,000 gold Marks in reparations and was forced to sign the peace treaty- effectively an admission of guilt.

A massive task by the Germans was then undertaken to prove Germany was not guilty and the penalties were wholly unjustified and aimed to establish a collective responsibility for starting the war.  There was an urgent need to revise the Treaty, and to a certain extent, it succeeded.  Following the Dawes Plan (1924), the Locarno Treaty (1926) and the Young Plan (1929), the reparations were reduced to a fraction.  The outlook in the 1930’s was beginning to change a new orthodoxy was emerging.  In his memoirs British wartime Prime Minister David Lloyd George summed it up “all nations slithered over the edge of the boiling cauldron of war in 1914”.  That became widely accepted as an inevitable accidental outcome to the rivalries that preceded it.  Allocating blame to any one nation would be unwise.  Nevertheless, 1933 saw a new Nazi Government in Germany, under Adolf Hitler, ignored the Versailles findings, stopped reparations payment altogether and embarked on a further military build-up contravening the impositions of the Peace Treaty.

The orthodoxy that was established in the 1930’s, however, was shattered in 1960 by an eminent German historian by the name of Fritz Fischer, putting the blame squarely on Germany. He went on to say that Hitler was not an aberration in German history but his war aims were similar to those of Keiser Germany leading up to 1914.  In fact, the war had been designed by German policymakers and the German ruling elite to grasp at world dominance and power.  He did not, however, focus on the fact that Austria’s ultimatum and the subsequent declaration of war on Serbia perpetrated by the Balkan crisis since 1908 plagued this troubled region; or, the part played by any of the other key players.  His interpretation was not so much of conflict awareness by an eagerness as by to go to war.  The mainstream, however, still interpreted the pre-war circumstances as a consequence of carelessness caused by overconfidence and back to the David Lloyd George argument.

The Domino effect that spiralled the events out of control had also its roots in the short term effect in what came to be called the July Crisis.   The immediate crisis that resulted following the assassination of Franz Ferdinand meant that the war that finally began was far less the product of lousy fortune than the result of intention sparked by the event. Vienna and Berlin instigated the crisis while Britain, France and Russia had an observer role until a combination of obligations and alliances lured them into taking an active part.  Following the assassination, Austria’s German ally encouraged Vienna, giving it a ‘blank cheque’ (German promise of support), a momentous assurance to wage war on Serbia.  Despite the expectation that Russia might express a hostile attitude in response, it was perceived too weak to take military action to protect its fellow Slavic country.  Austria issued an ultimatum to Serbia to stop all nationalist activities, the suppression of anti-Austrian propaganda and to allow Austrian authorities to investigate the killing of the Arch Duke.   Britain was eager to solve the issue on the conference table, but both, Berlin and Vienna would have none of it.  Only when it became apparent that Britain would become involved did the German Chancellor exercise restraint but his mediation proposals were too little too late.

By then it transpired Germany had prepared for the invasion of neutral Belgium of which both France and Britain had guaranteed its neutrality in a treaty.  Austria declared war on Serbia on July 28 and mobilisation were set in motion.  Deterred by Britain’s naval power, Italy realised the threat it presented having a long shoreline, it declared neutrality until 1915 came on the side of the allies.  The Domino effect by the key players was taking hold and mobilisation orders, and declarations of war by Europe’s major powers went ahead, that was to engulf the rest of the world for the next four years.
Those decision makers that took their respective countries to war are blamed for misinformation, misjudgement, ego--strength and weak nerves.  In the end alliances and treaties are defensive policies they do not oblige the country to resort to war and Vienna declared war independently.  The end, however, couldn't come soon enough. There was no surrender, but Germany sued for an armistice on the basis of US President, Woodrow Wilson's seemingly liberal Fourteen Points.  The Great War finally came to an end on 11th November 1918. 


Sunday, 23 September 2018

War at the Vatican

Pope Francis is the best thing that has ever happened at the Vatican.  He is also just about the most hated figure by some of the inner circles, the Curia, to walk through its corridors.  After centuries of corruption at the very top here comes a reformist who is trying to dislodge old and worn out traditions to meet the social demands of the twenty-first century.  By some Cardinals he is likened to Caligula emperor of Rome who was made famous by his cruelty, sadism, extravagance, and sexual perversion.  Since the inner circle cannot dislodge him, some priests go so far as waiting for Pope Francis to die.  His only mistake is attempting to reform and liberalise the church of Rome from the cobwebs of millennia and more.  Outside Rome and especially by non-Catholics and Atheists he is the most popular keeper of the Keys of Heaven.

Since Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio became Pope in 2003, he has created many enemies the conservatives who disagree and fear that his spirited approach will divide the church. At the outset, he made it clear to do away with the pomp surrounding the pontificate, supported migrants, his attacks on global capitalism and, most of all, his moves to re-examine the church’s teachings about sex.  The last point, as detailed by a document 256 pages long, written by him, 'Amoris Laetitia', (The Joy of Love), has scandalised the college of Cardinals some of whom now think he is flirting with heresy- the willful rejection of an established doctrine of the church, a sin punishable by excommunication.   He takes a distinctive liberal look at divorce, gay marriage, abortion and sex education.  According to an Archbishop from Kazakhstan though, such views allows “the smoke of Satan” to enter the church.

The issue that has been the subject of most contention is the question of divorce.   Pope Francis is trying to encourage priests to give communion to divorced, remarried and cohabiting couples.  Such an act stands in complete contrasts to over a thousand years of Catholic doctrine.  Many Cardinals are trying to persuade him to abandon the idea before it becomes official policy.  His refusal to abandon such notions as seen by many of his cardinals likely to divide the church, so the idea of accusing the Pope of Heresy has moved up a gear, the battle has taken an aggressive turn.  The problem, however, is shrouded by a complication that a pope can do no wrong.

For the infallibility of the vicar of Christ to remain as such Pope Francis must not be allowed to go on with his ideas, it would otherwise suggest that all popes before him were wrong.      In practice and away from official policy, communion to divorced couples is a matter of routine.  If the rules were literally applied, no one whose marriage had failed could ever have sex again, but more of that later. A further complication at this crossroads is, the priest who is, unknowingly, giving communion, to divorced couples who have remarried, would de facto be sinning.  But, reversing traditions raises a further problem; here Catholicism rests on eternal truth, without, conservatives would argue then what is the point.  The Keys to heaven, therefore, would seem at a loss, to unlock this conundrum, to proclaim what is sin and what is permitted remains for St Peters Church pressing need to decide. For now, this has plunged the Church of Rome in a crisis, and with that, a schism is forming between conservatives and liberals.  As with the introduction of reform in the Second Vatican Council in the 1960’s resulted in splinter groups is also happening today causing many hardliners to break away adamantly refusing to recognise how people behave nowadays.

 Pope Francis does realise for Catholicism to survive it must come to terms with the way people live these days, that to continue standing against the sexual revolution is no longer an option.  To hold an absolutist position against contraceptives and to realise that one lifelong marriage for many is both untenable, priests no longer should be pretending otherwise.  It is time to recognise that to obey official doctrine is unachievable in practice, and a decision needs to be made for some guidance and semblance to normal among the oppositions to prevail.  Whichever side is allowed to win would likely result in a divided church, so a reconciliation between theory and practice is a must to avert a probable fracture.  Since many followers of the faith are divorced or unmarried parents, they need to believe in what they worship but to know they are sinning when receiving communion, for example, the number of churchgoers will further dwindle.  To reconcile these opposites, however, may not be to all the Cardinals advantage since many of them believe the difference between the church and its congregation gives meaning to the faith and church continuity. They argue for the church must always set the agenda to its followers and not the other way round.  According to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, or CDF, the role of the church is to teach the world, and not to learn from it.  To expect followers of Catholicism to obey without question may be possible for the former but proving increasingly difficult for the latter, for such a status quo to preside, will not help future generations of Catholics, and the church pews will empty faster.

The idea is that introverts such as the conservatives want more than the sterile religion on offer by Protestantism for instance.  Its liberality no longer offers the intellectual stimulant by conforming to the society around it.  In contrast, the extroverts such as Pope Francis wants to move away from the traditionalist patriarchal rigidity but more to a common sense approach.  The problem with introvert approach must surely be that no religion can survive if it goes against the will of its worshippers.    Similar concerns were taking place at the second Vatican council in 1962 when trying to reconcile the Catholic church with the modern world -  replacing the introverted priest facing God at the altar with the extroverted figure facing his congregation.  Then, dropping Latin as the official mass liturgy was the time when nuns discarded their habits and priests discovered women and threw away the shackles of introverted orthodoxy. But somehow, even though an overwhelming majority of Cardinals voted for the use of Contraceptives Pope Paul VI overruled them in 1968. He could not admit that his predecessors had been wrong, and the Protestants right. This intransigence marked a new chapter in resistance to change which is staring us in the face today.

For the introverts, they now have another argument up their sleeve, that is;  “what comes from the Enemy cannot and must not be assimilated. You can not join Christ and Belial! What Nazi-Fascism and Communism were in the 20th century, Western homosexual and abortion Ideologies and Islamic Fanaticism are today.” Chief among Francis opponents is Cardinal Raymond Burke, United States’ most influential Catholic in Rome, who is also using his position within the walls of the Vatican to re-legitimise extremist forces that want to bring down Western liberal democracy the church had fought against since the eighteenth century.  In Steve Bannon style, the Vatican is facing a political war between the modernising Pope Francis and a conservative wing that wants to reassert white Christian dominance.  “capitulating to Islam would be the death of Christianity...the Islam that wants to conquer the world, the black flags that point to Rome".  Burk's words stand in contrast to Pope Francis washing and kissing the feet of Muslim migrants.

Cardinal Burke does not exactly come in with proper moral credentials.  Aside from his racist remarks and Breitbart like extreme right-wing views supporting a holy war firmly believing we are at the beginning stages of a global war against Islamic fascism … a very brutal and bloody conflict … that will completely eradicate everything that we’ve been bequeathed over the last 2,000, 2,500 years … if the people in this room, the people in the church, do not … fight for our beliefs against this new barbarity that’s starting.” He also has a hatred of women, an advocate of wars in the Middle East and a firm supporter of white supremacy.  All of that Pope Francis hates.

Pope Francis also believes there is “a stream of corruption” in the Curia which has been the bane in his pontificate since he was elected.  Historically, of course, corruption at the Vatican has been a cultural institution starting with  Donation of Constantine, Latin Donatio Constantini and Constitutum Constantini, the best-known and most important forgery of the Middle Ages, the document purporting to record the Roman emperor Constantine the Great’s bestowal of vast territory and spiritual and temporal power on Pope Sylvester I (reigned 314–335) and his successors, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Donation-of-Constantine .  After the death of Charlemagne, the first Holy Roman Emperor, the Church of Rome became a Sovereign State, boundlessly rapacious, distributing land for ecclesiastical profit and feudal Tithes.  The greatest schism was between 1378 - 1417 when there was not one Pope, not two but three Popes, three obediences and three sets of cardinals competing over the Keys to Salvation.  Over the years that followed the Reformation, Renaissance Popes indulged in hedonism, sex, mistresses, illegitimate children and parts of the Lateran Palace became a place for orgies. The so-called Apostolic Church was eventually succumbed to its present status and location after receiving 750 million Liras (old money) in 1929 Lateran Treaty, effectively ending Catholicism as State Religion in Italy and creating the Vatican as an independent State.  Today, Money laundering is still rampant despite a warning from the US Treasury and the process of making saints in the words of Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi estimated the going rate for canonisation at €500,000 per halo.

As for Homosexuality, Pope Francis famously said: "Who am I to Judge", which puts the objective moral 'truth' in perspective. His way of showing religious tolerance and mutual respect in the hope it will eventually encourage peaceful coexistence, as morality demands.  Christianity, a revealed religion, is an open religion, was built on tolerance since the days of Paul of Tarsus, ruling over objections by James half-brother of Jesus, famously said "you don't have to become Jewish to become Christian", referring to circumcision.  With time the faith became a polyglot Christianity flexible enough to absorb a diversity of practice that gave it vitality. "Judging All Men, Judged by None" is not for Pope Francis.

On the question of divorce, the Catholic fact is that marriage is for life is absolute and indissoluble so long as both parties baptised.  The reality in lived faith is also that Catholics divorce and remarry at about the same rate as none Catholics.  The vast majority of them see nothing wrong with that comfortably attend mass and take communion.  Actually, it is not so much divorce that the Roman Catholic Church objects to as it is remarriage after divorce.  The church certainly does not approve of divorce.  A divorced Catholic can still be an active member of the church, can still receive the sacraments.  The only provision is that the divorced Catholic does not remarry while the first spouse is still alive.  If a divorced couple happens to be cohabiting and their first spouse dies then either can rush to marry in a church and leave the adulterous life behind.

Here is the irony, however, is that rich people can hire lawyers who can prove the marriage was wrong in the first place or somehow prove the marriage not been consummated, to have it annulled.  Steve Bannon, a Catholic, ex-White House Chief Strategist, has managed to divorce all three of his wives.  Newt Gingrich, a former speaker of United States House of Representatives, broke up with his first wife while treated for cancer, and while married to his second wife had an eight-year affair with Callista Bisek, a devout Catholic, before marrying her in church. She is the new US ambassador to the Vatican.  I suspect Cardinal Burke while policing the faith,  had a hand in these arrangments right under his good nose, but I fear accompanied by a moral shortcoming.  The number of annulments granted by diocesean tribunals to divorced Catholics rose from 368 in 1968 to around 40,000 in recent years. The idea of no sex in a second, third or fourth marriage is ridiculous, but that is how Catholic doctrine stands. Yes, consummation is a big word here.  It seems to me that a promise to Love does not so much recognise matrimonial Covenant in the Catholic Church, or Cherish and Obey but by the Sexual Act.  If the sexual intercourse is coerced or unconsented, it can all get very complicated.  Cruelty, infidelity, abuse or just a failed marriage are all subordinate to the sexual act, are not a reason for annulment.

Room in this essay has not allowed a place for Abortion, human rights, outlook on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT), child-abusing priests while also not acknowledging the fact that a large proportion of the priesthood is gay.  Reflecting on the leading causes of War at the Vatican, the main battleground is on divorce, so this contribution ends with it.  Matrimony for the first thousand years of Christianity not considered a sacrament, but doing so, around 1435, Christianity sought to restructure Christian society through godly law such as the blessing of crops was at one time; for a fee of course.  Marriage along with Baptism was another form of humanising spiritual association a barometer of the spread of Christian piety.  The church also sought to curb some of the traditional contractual and sexual rituals associated with marriage and eventually to define a marriage ceremony in a church as a sacrament and gifts of rings as prophylactic magic.

In conclusion, Pope Francis extends a helping hand to divorced and remarried people, extending mercy and forgiveness rather than seeing them as sinful people.  At a time of going through great emotional stress, the church needs to provide them with a sort of refuge to piece their lives together again.  Against that view and still determined, stand the introverts conservatives who are today outnumbered by the extraverts.  Francis says “... I would also point out that the Eucharist ‘is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak’.”  He goes on to add “By thinking that everything is black and white, we sometimes close off the way of grace and growth.”  For Cardinal Burke, such a passage was an anathema. Sacked first from his position on the Vatican court along with another handful of Cardinals questioned Amoris Laetitia whether it contravened previous teachings and threatened to go public accusing the Pope with Heresy.  Although he currently leads a minority of objecting Cardinals, nonetheless it is growing looking increasingly ominous.  Among Pope Francis supporters, there is doubt whether convinced how the Church of Rome is lead or it is a show of piety and humility to God's representative on Earth. I fear it is the latter and cannot help, but if history is anything to go by, I see Pope Francis walking on thin ice.  The College of Cardinals is famously traditionalist if not introverts and change at the speed Pope Francis is advocating, they will likely get out of breath. There are ominous doubts ahead all shrouded in secrecy but resistance to change growing more potent among the Cardinals. Pope Francis argument however compelling in its effort to drag Catholic doctrine into the modern world, currently supported by only two-thirds of the College on whom the future of the Catholic church now hangs, in the meantime, the Keys of Salvation, are in safe hands.