Friday, April 29, 2016

Edward Said on Intellectuals Who Turn Away

Following on from my 27/4/16 post on John Haldane, it's worth recalling these words of the late, great Edward Said, as quoted by Omar Barghouti:

"Nothing in my mind is more reprehensible than those habits of mind in the intellectual that induce avoidance, that characteristic turning away from a difficult and principled position that you know to be the right one, but which you decide not to take. You do not want to appear too political, you want to keep a reputation of being balanced, moderate, objective. Your hope is to remain within the responsible mainstream. For an intellectual these habits of mind are corrupting par excellence. Personally, I have encountered them in one of the toughest of all contemporary issues, Palestine, where fear of speaking out about one of the greatest injustices in modern history has hobbled, blinkered, muzzled many who know the truth and are in a position to serve it. For despite the abuse and vilification that any outspoken supporter of Palestinian rights and self-determination earns for him or herself, the truth deserves to be spoken, represented by an unafraid and compassionate intellectual."

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Forgive Her Lord, She Knows Not What She Says

Another of Monday night's Q&A Christian panelists, Tiffany Sparks, is described as a "progressive Anglican minister."

Here is her response to the same question dealt with by John Haldane:

"I think for us, as Australians, it's (ie, our Middle East interventions) really exposed a rift in our inter-faith understanding. There's a real problem with us understanding each other's faith. I don't know, there's some sort of stumbling block."

Tiffany's clearly out of her depth here. She continues:

"I'm a pacifist. I'm a really proud daughter of a returned serviceman that did three tours of Vietnam and I think my father's a pretty amazing person. So I have a great respect for our military and for people who do have the courage to be able to do those sort of things, that I certainly couldn't do."

Let me get this straight. Although she's a pacifist, she's proud of her Dad because he just couldn't resist popping over to 'Nam and popping assorted Vietnamese Dads and Mums and...

"I mean all of that being said, I think it's probably an interesting thing to raise is that most Palestinian Christians are actually pacifists in this whole thing. We had a wonderful presenter, Reverend Dr Greg Jenks, who is now the dean of St George College over in Jerusalem and that was something that he took great pains to really point out, that that's where the birthplace of Christianity was and they, even in all of this, are still pacifists."

Better to have held her tongue than to have uttered such nonsense.

Baby steps for Tiffany Sparks:

1) Palestinians are Palestinians are Palestinians. Whether they're Christians or Muslims is irrelevant.

2) They're all in the same trench against Zionist colonisation and dispossession. (In fact, the very first organisational manifestation of Palestinian resistance to Zionist colonisation and dispossesion came in the form of Moslem-Christian Associations, which arose in 1918 and coalesced to formed a national body, the Palestinian Arab Congress, which called for immediate independence from the Britain, and opposed the Balfour Declaration and Jewish immigration.)

3) Palestinian resistance to Zionist colonisation and dispossession has oscillated between armed struggle and non-violent resistance. You never get to hear about the latter because, by and large, the mainstream media is simply NOT INTERESTED in reporting it.

4) Palestinians, moreover, have a right under international law to resist "by all available means, particularly armed struggle," (UNGA 33/24) and "by all available means, including armed struggle" (UNGA 3246).

Interesting, though, her mention of Dr Gregory Jenks. I looked up his website, While I have real problems with many of Jenks' concepts and statements, which I won't go into here, I must say that I was pleasantly surprised by the relative sophistication of his analysis in the following paragraph:

"In the late nineteenth century, European material interests colluded with an emerging sense of nationalism among European Jewry, to cultivate the dream of the Zionist colonisation of Palestine. All of the people of Palestine, whether they identify as Arab or Jewish, continue to suffer from the tragic consequences of European colonialism; as do their neighbours in Iraq and Syria, where international borders drawn up by imperial bureaucrats in London and Paris continue to diminish the lives of people across the Middle East." (A Palestinian Jesus, 30/12/16)

Of course, he should have mentioned a) that Zionism at this time was very much a minority movement among Jews; b) that the interests and rights of the indigenous Palestinians (90% of the population of Palestine) were completely disregarded by the British and their Zionist collaborators; and c) that the odious and outrageous Balfour Declaration of 1917, which he inexplicably leaves out, constituted nothing less than a crime against the Palestinian people. Nonetheless, the general thrust of what he says is undeniably correct.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Forgive Him Lord, He Knows Not What He Says

The illiteracy of public intellectuals and pontificators on the subject of Palestine in particular, and the Middle East in general, never ceases to amaze.

A case in point was Monday night's all Christian Q&A panel. The panel dealt with a question, among others, about Australia's Middle Eastern involvements - Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, with a questioner asking, "are we not reaping the seeds we have sown?" Well, talk about sorting the sheep from the goats!

Now you would think that a bloke who doubles as a professor of moral philosophy and director of a centre for ethics, philosophy and public affairs might have something sensible to say on the subject, right? Wrong.

The bloke in question is John Haldane, here on a visit to Australia's Catholic University of Notre Dame from Scotland's University of St Andrews. The main part of Haldane's answer to the above question ran as follows:

"I do think that there is one thing that probably needs to be understood... the deep sense of humiliation that's felt in the Arab Muslim world, going all the way back to the end of the caliphate at the end of the First World War. And it was interesting in the period when, after 9/11, I happened to be in Washington when those attacks took place and Osama bin Laden issued a statement about the shame and humiliation that our people have suffered all these years and he saw this as a kind of just retaliation. Well, that humiliation was the dismantling of this great Islamic empire, the caliphate. I think that there is a burden of shame that is felt, that plays a very major role in reactivating the sentiments of militant Islam in various parts of the world and we don't necessarily help that at times, behaving in ways that look as if or can be interpreted as sort of carrying on the business of the continuing humiliation."

Haldane was possibly referring to bin Laden's October 7, 2001 statement, The Winds of Faith:

"What America is tasting today is but a fraction of what we have tasted for decades. For over 80 years our umma has endured this humiliation and contempt. Its sons have been killed, its blood has been shed, its holy sanctuaries have been violated, all in a manner contrary to that revealed by God, without anyone listening or responding. So when God Almighty granted success to one of the vanguard groups of Islam, He opened the way for them to destroy America utterly. I pray to God almighty to lift them up to the highest Paradise. When these men retaliated on behalf of their poor, oppressed sons, their brothers and sisters in Palestine and in many of the other lands of Islam, the whole world cried out, and the hypocrites followed them." (Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama bin Laden, Ed. by Bruce Lawrence, 2005, p 104)

In all of bin Laden's statements which follow in Lawrence's compilation, there is only one solitary reference to the concept of the caliphate:

"So I say that, in general, our concern is that our umma unites either under the Words of the Book of God or His Prophet, and that this nation should establish the righteous caliphate of our umma, which has been prophesied by our Prophet in his authentic hadith: that the righteous caliph will return with the permission of God" (p 121)

By contrast, bin Laden's statements fairly throng with references to the injustice of Palestine.

Despite this, our eminent visitor, a Scot no less, as was Lord Balfour who issued the eponymous Declaration which created the Palestine problem, makes no reference whatever to the subject, let alone Britain's role in its creation. (Keep in mind, that but for Britain's creation of that problem almost 100 years ago we would not likely be involved militarily in the Middle East today.)

Had Haldane addressed the issue elsewhere, I wondered? Despite an exhaustive Internet search (John Haldane/ Palestine/ Israel) I could find nothing on the matter save a YouTube video of our august authority speaking to a packed & rapt house at Sydney's Notre Dame University on March 23. There he was saying pretty much the same as he said on Q&A... only worse:

"There is a sense of humiliation among many Muslims, principally among Arab Muslims, because they see themselves as the inheritors of a great tradition represented by the Ottoman Empire but going back beyond that, and then they see themselves as suffering a tremendous humiliation. This is actually analogous in a way to feelings you get in Russia because the Russians were humiliated by the West and there's a great deal of resentment..."

IOW, today's Arabs are just miffed because they're no longer top dogs a la the Ottoman sultans!

But that claptrap was as nothing compared to what followed:

"I think a very significant aspect of all of this, of course, is the whole position with regard to Israel and the perception in the Arab world that Israel has been sustained particularly by the US, and some have capitalised on that and seen it as part of this ongoing, as they see it, humiliation of the Arabic [sic] and of the Muslim world more generally. Now I think all of that is wrong, but it is part of what has to be engaged with."

IOW, Israel is not really sustained by the US (or Britain before that), it's just a deep-rooted, irrational "perception" hard-wired in the Arab mind. And, of course, the Arabs are just plain "wrong" here, but, alas, we, the West, have little choice but to deal with their mental-as-anything paranoia, right?  If only we could convince them that the US has nothing to do with Israel, and that anyway Israel is the best thing that could ever have happened to them, and that...

Oh, and to return to Q&A, here's our moral philosopher pronouncing on the woes of those poor blighters, Bush and Blair:

"I would not want to be in the shoes of someone in the White House or in Downing Street who has to make these big decisions. They're not easy and I'm reluctant to criticise them."


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Inside Baird's School Chaplaincy Program

The investigative journalist, David Marr, has described NSW premier Mike Baird as a "Bible-basher."*

What we do not know, however, is whether his particular brand of Christianity embraces the kooky heresy known as Christian Zionism, the belief that the modern day state of Israel is the fulfillment of biblical prophecy and should be supported as such. Certainly, Australia has never had a more Israel-focused premier. In fact, Baird spent a week there last month, the first day of which he devoted to visiting religious sites. Whatever the exact nature of the premier's theological beliefs, however, or the degree to which they inform his politics, the buck surely stops with Baird when it comes to the following, quite disturbing state of affairs:

"Evangelical Christian groups continue to dominate funding granted in the National School Chaplaincy Program,** earning millions of dollars... Generate Ministries has been given $4 million to provide chaplains to 202 of the 438 NSW schools participating in the scheme in 2016... Generate Ministries has historically dominated the NSCP in NSW, earning $3 million last year, and had hoped to double its funding with aggressive marketing to 2,000 schools... Although funding of $20,000 per school comes from the federal government, it has been allocated by the NSW government since 2015." (Evangelicals lead chaplains scheme, Kirsty Needham, Sun-Herald, 24/4/16)

So what are Generate Ministries - to name but the most prominent of these evangelical groups - foisting on our kids?

We can get some idea from their "SRE Curriculum Teacher's Outline," titled "Our SRE."

Among its "expected outcomes" for Year 7 students we find that students "will... comprehend God's character, purpose and action from before recorded time until the present and into the future," "appreciate the historical context of the Bible, its purpose, construction and claims," and "recognise that God and his message (in the Bible) are relevant to current society."  Take note of those highlighted words.

IOW, critically, the content of the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, is viewed and presented, contrary to all available archaeological evidence and contemporary scholarship, as history.

In Year 8, for example, students are taught the following fictions as fact:

"Abraham obeys God and moves his whole clan to a promised land where God will give him many descendants and land."

"Moses is chosen by God to lead His people out of Egypt to the land God promised to Abraham."

"On the death of Moses, Joshua leads the people across the Jordan River into the Promised Land and after many battles takes hold of the land."

"The nation of Israel grows..."

Fertile soil, indeed, for a false understanding of today's settler-colonial, ethnographic, apartheid Israel.

Then there's this on the Crusades:

"From the 6th Century, Islam spread rapidly..."  Islam, in fact, arose in the 7th century.

"Subsequent crusades were needed to retake Jerusalem from other Muslim invaders."  Muslim, not European Christian, invaders?!

Would that this were merely a case of snouts in the trough. Whatever happened to the separation of church and state?

[*The Mike Baird Story,, 23/3/15; **See my 5/11/10 post Gillard's Education Revolution.] 

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Return of the Desert God

Israeli blogger, Adam Keller (Crazy Country), begins his latest post, The Return of the Desert God (23/4/16), with a reflection on Passover, the Jewish Holiday of Liberty - based, of course, on the Biblical Book of Exodus - but, Israel being Israel, sees nothing to celebrate:

"In one particular Israeli home, this year's celebration of the Holiday of Liberty, reached a high peak. Sergeant Elor Azaria, who last month in Hebron shot a wounded Palestinian, lying on the ground, in the head and was photographed in the act by a human rights activist, was given leave from detention to spend the Passover holiday with his family. As opinion polls indicate, a majority of Israeli Jews think that anyone considered a terrorist should be killed, even if disarmed and no longer posing any threat. They concluded, therefore, that Sgt Azaria should not be charged with either murder or manslaughter. Rather, he should be released and perhaps even given a citation and a medal.

"In order to understand the deep roots of the present situation in Israel, it might be worth taking a look at another part of the Bible, a far less enticing one, the story of the Conquest of Canaan. After the great liberation from bondage in Egypt, the freed Hebrew slaves wandered in the desert for 40 years. They were reluctant to undertake the mission which God sought to impose upon them, namely to conquer the Promised Land. For that reluctance the Bible brands them cowards. The mission fell to their children, who did not remember the time of slavery in Egypt. Under the command of Joshua, son of Nun, they ferociously attacked the Land of Canaan and conquered city after city. God ordered them to slaughter all the inhabitants, men, women and children, and in some places, even the domestic animals. After they'd finished, they proceeded to divide and parcel out the land which had been emptied of its inhabitants.

"At least, that is how it is described in the Book of Joshua. Many modern historians and researchers doubt the veracity of this depiction. If so, then this Book, which gained a sacred status as part of the Jewish scriptures, must have been authored by someone with a particularly morbid cast of mind. This text was taken up by Christianity and broadcast around the world, serving as a source of inspiration for European settlers in North America and South Africa to identify with Joshua's Hebrew warriors and see Native Americans and Blacks as the new Canaanites.

"It should be noted that Judaism itself... has, over the centuries, increasingly distanced itself from this text. The distant descendants [?] of those savage nomads, they who had emerged from the desert with swords dripping with blood and destroyed the cities of Canaan, had become the quintessential urbanites in the many countries in which they lived. Above all, they admired scholars and sages, and kept their distance from warlike activities... Also, the god in which Jews believe, a universal God who holds eternal sway 'from end to end of the world', was far removed from the bloodthirsty tribal God of the ancient nomads. Jews also abandoned the blood sacrifice of animals, which had turned the temples of the ancient world into veritable slaughterhouses, and replaced it with public prayer, a custom also adopted by Christians and Muslims. But the Book of Joshua and other bloody verses remained part of the Bible. Observant Jews must not omit even one letter from the scriptures, let alone a whole book. But it is permitted to provide softening interpretations and glosses. It was also possible to put off dealing with such issues until the coming of the Messiah, when they would be irrelevant to the actual lives of Jews in the here and now... For centuries this was not the focus of Jewish faith and tradition; among the many sacred dates and holidays in the Jewish calendar no date was set to commemorate Joshua and the Conquest of Canaan.

"It wasn't until the rise of the Zionist movement in 19th century Europe, which even before reaching the Promised Land and meeting the Arabs face-to-face had already begun to cultivate dreams of a 'muscular Judaism'. In 1899, Saul Tchernichovsky... who was destined to become one of the main Zionist poets, wrote one of his most memorable poems: The people have grown old - their god with them/ Passions, stifled by unmanly folk/ Have arisen from a thousand years of slumber!/ I bend the knee to life, to beauty, to power/ To all the wondrous glories, of which/ Corrupt and degenerate walking corpses/ Have robbed the mighty God/ Of the vast, uncharted deserts/ The God of the conquerors/ Who took Canaan by storm/ But these have bound him up in straps, in phylacteries!

"One hundred and seventeen years have passed since a passionate young poet wrote those words. A hundred and seventeen years, during which the Zionist movement and the state of Israel have been engaged in the task of releasing the God of the Conquerors of Canaan from his chains. The ultimate fruit of these efforts, the visage of the rampant God of the Desert, can be seen in the video released this week containing footage from a demonstration in Tel Aviv, an enthusiastic rally called in support of the aforementioned Sgt Azaria, who had aimed his rifle and fired point blank at the head of the injured Palestinian lying on the ground. 'Muhammad is dead! Muhammad is dead!' chanted the crowd, and then 'We will burn down your village! Burn, village, burn!' and 'A Jew has a soul, an Arab is the son of a whore!' followed by 'A Leftist is the son of a whore!' and 'Fuck the media!' and concluding with a plain 'Death to the Arabs! Death to the Arabs!'

"Undoubtedly, the God of the Conquerors of Canaan is now rampaging throughout the state of Israel and the territories under its ongoing military rule. And where are we going to find, these days, someone to try binding him up again?"

Saturday, April 23, 2016

The Israeli-Saudi-Egyptian Axis

Birds of a feather:

"Mohamad bin Abdallah Zahrani, Mohamad bin Abdullah Rabia and Walid bin Abdel Rahman al-Obaidi top a list that includes the names of senior officers in Saudi Arabia. The list was part of classified documents that were leaked to make the story public: Saudi Arabia has been cooperating with the Israeli government over military training courses, joint military cooperation and management of sensitive areas in the Middle East. The 2014 memorandum of understanding was concluded on joint military cooperation between Israel and Saudi Arabia in the Red Sea, and was exposed recently as the secret documents were leaked by a senior military official linked to left-wing liberal [Israeli] party 'Meretz'. One of the most stunning details of the leaks is that the agreement was concluded to [facilitate?] Saudi Arabia and Israel['s] management of sensitive passageways such as the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, the Gulf of Aden and the Suez Canal, and the Red Sea littoral countries as well. Playing a game of mutual interest, the oil-rich country and Israel held a joint operation staff [meeting] on Tiran Island. The island will be used as the headquarters of a joint operation between Tel Aviv and Riyadh in the Red Sea..." (Saudi Arabia & Israel in joint training, mutual interests in Red Sea,, 15/4/16)

[*Tiran and Sanafir are two small, uninhabited islands in the Red Sea, recently transferred by Egypt to Saudi Arabia.]

Friday, April 22, 2016

IsrAid Points the Way

A heartwarming letter from Diane Armstrong of Vaucluse:

"Jock Keene (Letters, April 19) is hoping that the United States, Great Britain and Israel do their share to help Syrian refugees, so he'll be relieved to know that for months a team of Israeli doctors and nurses - Jewish and Arab - from the Israeli humanitarian organisation IsrAid, have waited on the coast of the Greek island of Lesbos to rescue and care for the thousands of Syrian refugees who reach these shores." (Sydney Morning Herald, 20/4/16)

How wonderful, Diane!

Who could possibly have imagined Israeli Jews and Arabs working together. Thank you so much for drawing our attention to this proven fact.

Now that, at long last, it has been established that Israeli Jews and Arabs can work together, I wonder: is there any need for an exclusively Jewish state, catering only for that rubbery Zionist construct 'the Jewish people'?

Diane, is this not a sign of what is possible?

Surely, IsrAid's fine example of Israeli Jews and Arabs working together points the way to Israeli Jews and indigenous Palestinian Arabs, including those currently under the Israeli boot, and those given the boot by Israeli forces in 1948 and 1967, working together in one, binational state from the Jordan to the Mediterranean.

I mean, if they can work together in IsrAid, why not in a future binational state?

What do you say, Diane? Or are you just trying to score a cheap propaganda point for Israel?