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

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.


Wednesday, 5 September 2018

The French Revolution

A historical account of the French Revolution 1789, presented here in a series of six parts.  Explains the philosophy behind it and the immediate reasons that finally made the breakthrough for the people of France in the late eighteenth century to take the law into their own hands. It resulted in massive social and political upheavals dispensing with Monarchy opening the gates for civil war, terror and bloodshed to the way making a Republic.


Part One: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.


Part Two: Chateau de Versailles


Part Three: The Tennis Court   

Part Four: Storming of the Bastille


Part Five: Death of Monarchy


Part Six: Reign of Terror


Sunday, 19 August 2018

Clash of Opinions

 The YIN and YANG, a Chinese symbol,  like Adam and Eve, together they are a perfect whole.  The logo is rooted in distinctions and an encounter between good and evil, along with other dichotomous moral judgments.  The power of its influence is natural causation for civilisation born out of man's opposing differences. 

The oldest and the most intelligent argument cluster around the controversy over the existence of God.  The greatest thinkers the world had ever known, across the centuries, religious and atheist alike have stood on opposite ends claiming their polarising beliefs.   Intellectual and Philosophical arguments for the existence of God, vary from Thomas Aquinas’s Second Way existence and order of causes (Domino effect)  to Anselm's 'Greater than which cannot be conceived', (Ontological argument), Paley’s design teleological argument (Watch), Behe’s intelligent argument (The Eye), and many more that went into arguing for the existence of God. In the course of those centuries, the flow of different opinions by such intellectual giants over that period has handed us a tapestry of knowledge.  What follows will attempt to take a brief look at how we form our opinions to project on others.  A glimpse at what makes us enshrine these ideas into our psyche energises us in our discussions, arguments and the way we exchange our differences that makes us tick. 

Photo by Pierre Metivier

Here are some explanations for arguments, claims, evidence, and reason.  An argument is produced when someone makes a claim and gives reasons for that claim; a sequence of steps may take us to the conclusion of the argument from the stated reasons or premises of the argument. The flow of the argument would arrive at the conclusion logically follows from the validity of the claims at the start of the argument.  Here we have engaged in logic; the logic is the science of valid reasoning.  In Philosophy an argument is not a conflict but a discussion for a claim in a series of statements giving reasons to believe that claim to be supported by evidence. That is all very well as far as theories go, it is very different in practice where a clash of opinions is never far away from a discussion. 

Source: Cartoonstock.com

Discussions, a sharing of ideas, should be like playing tennis responding to the each other’s statements.  Unfortunately most occasions, in many arguments there is hardly a ‘feedback’; when the output becomes part of the next input because we hardly ever listen but mostly we like to hear ourselves speak so we play with a different ball most of the time.   Sometimes, instead of a learning curve a treat to gain knowledge from an exchange of opinions, more often it boils down to who is right and who is wrong, forgetting what the claim was in the first place.  Score a point becomes all-important.    In the heat of the argument, we could be saying the same thing using different words, we neither realise what is said because we are not listening. Confusion between winning an argument or to being right. Suddenly from a gentle conversation, without warning, once a claim is made it sparks a difference urging a counterclaim so we enter into a minefield. An innocent statement or unfortunate choice of words expressing an opinion can also provoke a misunderstanding easily ensuing an argument. 

Which brings us to our addiction to the Smartphone.  The Social Media has become the principle communication platform but rarely can explore beyond superficial knowledge.  “Well, that is my opinion” sums up what most people come away from it.  With that smart gadget at hand bombarding headlines at us 24/7, we are news savvy or more precise, headline savvy.  There are so many of these tidbits of information flying about there are bound to be something that sticks.  Knowingly or unknowingly these so-called titbits are of course other peoples’ opinions some of which based on facts while others manufactured to suit a particular bias.  However, whatever spin or colours they dress up, one idea is bound to stick that we find attractive and strike us as right we can feel comfortable enough to go with and to share.  What we are sharing, of course, says nothing about what we think since we are yet another agent for WhatsApp - a messenger.  Nevertheless, whatever we share is our 'understanding' of the subject at hand and armed with that morsel of knowledge forms our deep down belief.  That off the shelf argument picked from the 'smart' phone stockroom; unsubstantiated and fabricated, for many, it remains their unshakable belief.       

If the subject is about race, then our attraction depends on our cultural background or how near to our social compass.  If the issue is about acceptance or tolerance towards gender orientation, its traction depends on our religious belief as well as cultural accommodation that tune our liberal or conservative antenna towards it or away from it respectively.  Even when the words used are the same, the cross-cultural meaning in language could be quite different. Communication without cultural understanding can add fuel to the confusion and would bar the clarity with which either reason or rationality can exert the required influence on a conversation. Contradicting the same point may even jeopardise the relationship we try to establish.

In many of such cases nowadays there is no such thing as making up one’s mind because such matters involve thought but in this case, thinking gets in the way and cumbersome when our instincts will do.  What is surprising at this stage is the rigidity people hold on to a view so acquired that when pressed on its validity they show aversion to the point they will deem it rude.  To question their claim is interpreted as an attack on them therefore out of order and malicious. When confronted with specific, concrete examples or data that contradicts their claims there is hardly a change of opinion instead, a rebuttal “that is my opinion, anyway.” Sadly, in the worst scenarios when disagreeing with a claim, people take it as an affront to their dignity which they shield by personal challenges provoking ad-hominem they resort to offensive language.  

A good example where confusion sets in, on the question of tolerance.  What is tolerance? A reasonable explanation is to help keep diversity a wellspring of strength to have respect for people whose abilities, beliefs, culture, race, sexual orientation, or other characteristics are different from our own. A religious fanatic would immediately object to this definition that includes “sexual orientation”; that such a declaration of tolerance can not include tolerance for everyone.  Suddenly we have a problem, we are coming up with intolerance of something against the state of tolerance. A good reminder here is that many of their kind are intolerant of sin and consider homophobia as sin but remain happy tolerating racism and other forms of bigotry that many would consider sin.  The argument, therefore, revolves around what we call sin: so when deeming homosexuals as sinners but racists are not sinners the answer must lay not so much with intolerance therefore but with respect for the other people’s orientation and opinion. 

Source: Cartoonstock.com

Which brings us nicely to the questions to what is moral and to what is natural since there is a tendency to accept a natural state of events.  Accepting unfair discrimination or earthquakes – or even the common cold – by saying that such things have always been around and are ‘perfectly natural’, we should be unimpressed.  Just because suffering and injustice are natural and widespread, it does not follow that it is wrong to oppose them. Accepting as natural is a wish for drawing the argument to a conclusion on the account just because something is widespread is accepted. Such an argument carries no reasoning but anchored by self-interest rather than critical understanding.  To argue that meat-eating is natural and the conclusion that meat-eating is therefore not morally wrong is invalid; just because something is natural it does not automatically make it right.  In such cases, it is interesting to find the linkage between what makes something natural therefore accepted and right versus unnatural and wrong.  Some may confuse the difference between lending support to the idea of 'natural' with that which they approve.  While many others find a link in only that which does not involve changes brought about by a person’s will.

Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky in the 1980s, summarised in Kahneman’s bestselling Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011). There, Kahneman divides the mind into two allegorical systems, the intuitive ‘System 1’, which often gives wrong answers, and the reflective reasoning of ‘System 2’. ‘The attentive System 2 is who we think we are,’ he writes; but it is the intuitive, biased, ‘irrational’ System 1 that is in charge most of the time.  The psychologist Jonathan Haidt calls the idea that reason is ‘our most noble attribute’ a mere ‘delusion.’ The worship of reason, he adds, ‘is an example of faith in something that does not exist.’ Your brain, runs the now-prevailing wisdom, is mainly a tangled, damp and contingently cobbled-together knot of cognitive biases and fear.

Then there is the Relativist theory of what is right for you may be wrong for me and vice versa.  People might even contemplate by claiming that there is no non-relative right or wrong in the assessment of any reasoning, no non-relative truth or falsity.  Say, for instance, coming against polemical issues that involve ethics of Cannibalism or the argument for The Death Penalty as examples. But, what is right for you could be wrong for me; such a relativist claim itself is true or false – or is it just right for the relativist?  I leave this hanging for you to think about.

Source: Cartoonstock.com

In conclusion, I hope you agree we all have inbuilt biases, we continually argue by these hard-wired biases, that tune us towards a tendency to seek out or notice information that supports our pre-existing ideas, rather than to look for unbiased information that would otherwise draw us nearer to the truth. But judging from current trends to reason by evidence is losing its power.   One point worth mentioning is one man's bias is another man's truth where nowadays there are 'alternate facts' in place of truth, and in current lexicon, the truth is only in the eye of the beholder. 

'Agree to disagree' may be an empty phrase but is nearest we have to Yin and Yang.