Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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What if it was us?

The title of this post is a question asked by our Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in her speech presented to the United Nations General Assembly this morning (New Zealand time). I chose that title as it reflects how I see my position in the world. None of us live in isolation, what harms others harms each of us, no one has the right to impose their values on others, and we do have an obligation to ensure freedom is available to all.

Her speech covers a number of topics including the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, Reform of the UN, climate change, Nuclear weapons and the proliferation of disinformation and disinformation. It’s almost seventeen minutes in length, but I encourage all my readers to listen to it or read the transcription I have included below.

Jacinda Ardern’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly

E ngā Mana, e ngā Reo, Rau Rangatira mā kua huihui mai nei i tēnei Whare Nui o te Ao.
[To the authorities, leaders and representatives gathered in this Great Assembly of the World].

Ngā mihi maioha ki a koutou katoa, mai i tōku Whenua o Aotearoa.
[Warm greetings to you all from my home country of New Zealand].

Tuia ki runga, Tuia ki raro, ka Rongo to pō ka rongo te ao.
[Unite above, unite below, unite together and listen as we come together].

 Nō reira, tēnā koutou kātoa
[I acknowledge you all]

Mr President,
Mr Secretary-General,
Friends,

I greet you in te reo Māori, the language of the tangata whenua, or first people, of Aotearoa New Zealand. I acknowledge the leaders who are here, gathered in person after a long and difficult period.

And as is tradition, in my country, I also acknowledge those who have passed.

Loss brings with it a chance for reflection.

And as leaders, between us, we each represent countries and communities who have lost much in these past few years. Through famine, severe weather, natural disasters and a pandemic.

COVID-19 was devastating. It took millions of lives. 

It continues to impact on our economies and with that, the well-being of our people. It set us back in our fight against the crisis of climate change and progress on the sustainable development goals while we looked to the health crisis in front of us.

And while we enter a period now where the crisis is subsiding, the lessons cannot.

COVID schooled us.

It forced us to acknowledge how interconnected and therefore how reliant we are on one another.

We move between one another’s countries with increasing ease. We trade our goods and services. 

And when one link in our supply chain is impacted, we all are.

The lessons of COVID are in many ways the same as the lessons of climate change.

When crisis is upon us, we cannot and will not solve these issues on our own.

The next pandemic will not be prevented by one country’s efforts but by all of ours. Climate action will only ever be as successful as the least committed country, as they pull down the ambition of the collective.

I am not suggesting though that we rely on the goodwill of others to make progress. 

We need a dual strategy. One where we push for collective effort but we also use our multilateral tools to make progress.

That’s why on pandemic preparedness we support efforts to develop a new global health legal instrument, strengthened international health regulations and a strong and empowered World Health Organization.

It’s why we are such advocates of the World Trade Organization and its reform to ensure supply chains remain open and critical goods and services are not subjected to protectionism in times of need.

It’s why we have worked so hard within the Paris Agreement to see the action we need on climate, while also doing our bit at home including putting a 1.5C warming limit into law, increasing our NDC to 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 and quadrupling our climate finance commitment.

Whether it’s climate, trade, health crisis or seeking peaceful solutions to war and conflict – New Zealand has always been a believer in multilateral tools.

We were amongst the founding members of the United Nations as governments of the day recognised that the perils of war would only be avoided through a greater sense of shared responsibility.

The basis on which this institution was formed, remains as relevant today as it was then.

But without reform, we risk irrelevancy.

There is perhaps no greater example of this than Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Let us all be clear, Russia’s war is illegal. It is immoral.

It is a direct attack on the UN Charter and the international rules-based system and everything that this community should stand for.

Putin’s suggestion that it could at any point deploy further weapons that it has at their disposal reveals the false narrative that they have based their invasion on. What country who claims to be a liberator, threatens to annihilate the very civilians they claim to liberate?

This war is based on a lie.

But I recognise, that for the people of Ukraine who have lost loved ones, their sense of peace and security, their livelihoods – these are all just words. 

They need us, as a global community to ask one simple question: “What if it was us?”

Our ability to answer that question with any confidence that we have the tools as a global community to act swiftly and collectively has been severely undermined.

In March when we most needed the UN Security Council to act in the defence of international peace and security, it could not. It did not fulfil its mandate because of one permanent member who was willing to abuse its privileged position.

That was wrong.

We will not give up on the ability of our multilateral institutions to stand up against this illegal war or to take on the many challenges we face. 

These institutions are the ballast we need but it’s a ballast that requires modernisation, fit for the tumultuous waters we all face.

That is why New Zealand was pleased to champion the Veto Initiative. Not only does it provide an opportunity to scrutinise the actions of the permanent member who cast a veto, the Veto Initiative gives the whole UN membership a voice where the Security Council has been unable to act.  

But we continue to call for more than that.

For the United Nations to maintain its relevancy, and ensure that it truly is the voice of the breadth of countries it represents, the veto must be abolished and Permanent Members must exercise their responsibility for the benefit of international peace and security, rather than the pursuit of national interest.

There are other battles that we continue to wage as a nation, including our call for a global response to the use of nuclear weapons.

Our history of championing not just non-proliferation, but a prohibition on nuclear weapons is grounded in what we have witnessed, but also what we have experienced.

We are a nation that is both of the Pacific and within it. 

It was in our region that these weapons of war were tested. Those tests have left a mark on the people, lands and waters of our home.

The only way to guarantee our people that they will be safe from the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons is for them not to exist.

That’s why Aotearoa New Zealand calls on all states that share this conviction to join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

Some will call such a position naive. Some believe that we are safer as a result of nuclear weapons. 

In New Zealand, we have never accepted the wisdom of mutually assured destruction.

It takes one country to believe that their cause is nobler, their might stronger, their people more willing to be sacrificed. None of us can stand on this platform and turn a blind eye to the fact that there are already leaders amongst us who believe this.

Nuclear weapons do not make us safer.

There will be those who agree but believe it is simply too hard to rid ourselves of nuclear weapons at this juncture. There is no question that nuclear disarmament is an enormous challenge. 

But if given the choice, and we are being given a choice, surely we would choose the challenge of disarmament than the consequences of a failed strategy of weapons-based deterrence.

And this is why we will continue to advocate for meaningful progress on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Progress and consensus that was recently blocked by Russia – and represented a backward step to the efforts of nearly every country in the world to make some even limited progress on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.

None of this will stop New Zealand’s advocacy.

We will remain a strong and passionate advocate for efforts to address the weapons of old but, also, the weapons that are new.

The face of war has changed. And with that, the weapons used. The tools used to challenge the statehood of others are hidden and more complex.

Traditional combat, espionage and the threat of nuclear weapons are now accompanied by cyber-attacks, prolific disinformation and manipulation of whole communities and societies.

As leaders, we have never treated the weapons of old in the same way as those that have emerged. And that’s understandable. 

After all, a bullet takes a life. A bomb takes out a whole village. A lie online or from a podium does not.

But what if that lie, told repeatedly, and across many platforms, prompts, inspires, or motivates others to take up arms? To threaten the security of others. To turn a blind eye to atrocities, or worse, to become complicit in them. What then?

This is no longer a hypothetical. The weapons of war have changed, they are upon us and require the same level of action and activity that we put into the weapons of old.

We recognised the threats that the old weapons created. We came together as communities to minimise these threats. We created international rules, norms and expectations. We never saw that as a threat to our individual liberties – rather, it was a preservation of them.

The same must apply now as we take on these new challenges

In Aotearoa New Zealand, we deeply value our right to protest. Some of our major social progress has been brought about by hikoi or people power – becoming the first country in the world to recognise women’s right to vote, movement on major indigenous and human rights issues to name but a few. 

Upholding these values in a modern environment translates into protecting a free, secure and open internet. To realise all of the opportunities that it presents in the way we communicate, organise and gather.

But that does not mean the absence of transparency, expectations or even rules.  If we correctly identify what it is we are trying to prevent.

And surely we can start with violent extremism and terrorist content online.

On March 15, 2019, New Zealand experienced a horrific terrorist attack on its Muslim community. 

More than 50 people were killed as they prayed. The attack was live-streamed on a popular social media platform in an effort to gain notoriety, and to spread hate.

At that time, the ability to thwart those goals was limited. And the chances of Government alone being able to resolve this gap was equally challenging. 

That’s why, alongside President Emmanuel Macron, we created the Christchurch Call to Action.

The Call community has worked together to address terrorism and violent extremist content online. As this important work progresses, we have demonstrated the impact we can have by working together collaboratively.

We’ve improved crisis reactions, stymieing the ability to live stream attacks, we have crisis protocols that kick in to prevent proliferation.

We are also focused on prevention – understanding the interactions between online environment and the real world that can lead to radicalisation. 

This week we launched an initiative alongside companies and non-profits to help improve research and understanding of how a person’s online experiences are curated by automated processes. This will also be important in understanding more about mis and disinformation online. A challenge that we must as leaders address.

Sadly, I think it’s easy to dismiss this problem as one in the margins. I can certainly understand the desire to leave it to someone else. 

As leaders, we are rightly concerned that even those most light-touch approaches to disinformation could be misinterpreted as being hostile to the values of free speech we value so highly.

But while I cannot tell you today what the answer is to this challenge, I can say with complete certainty that we cannot ignore it. To do so poses an equal threat to the norms we all value.

After all, how do you successfully end a war if people are led to believe the reason for its existence is not only legal but noble? How do you tackle climate change if people do not believe it exists? How do you ensure the human rights of others are upheld, when they are subjected to hateful and dangerous rhetoric and ideology?

The weapons may be different but the goals of those who perpetuate them are often the same. To cause chaos and reduce the ability of others to defend themselves. To disband communities. To collapse the collective strength of countries who work together.

But we have an opportunity here to ensure that these particular weapons of war do not become an established part of warfare.

And so, we once again come back to the primary tool we have. Diplomacy, dialogue, working together on solutions that do not undermine human rights but enhance them.

For those who have not sought out the Christchurch Call to Action, I ask that you consider it. As with so many of the challenges we face, we will only be as strong as those who do the least.

In these times, I am acutely aware of how easy it is to feel disheartened. We are facing many battles on many fronts.

But there is cause for optimism. Because for every new weapon we face, there is a new tool to overcome it.

For every attempt to push the world into chaos, is a collective conviction to bring us back to order.

We have the means; we just need the collective will.

Mai i tōku ukaipo Aotearoa, karahuihui mai tātou, nō reira, tēnā tātou kātoa.
[From my homeland, my source of sustenance, to yours, let us come together, all of us].

Nō reira, tēnā kotou, tēnā kotou tēnā tatou kātoa.


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Guitars, not guns

In Afterword, following this morning’s Quaker Meeting for Worship, some attending expressed their frustration of feeling so powerless in the light of the Ukraine invasion, when another mentioned the part Aotearoa New Zealand and its military played in not only bringing a brutal war to an end but the bringing of long lasting peace. It was brought about without a shot being fired, not because they had overwhelming power but because they were powerless – no weapons whatsoever, even for self defence. Instead they armed themselves with guitars and the haka.

After Meeting, I located the documentary titled Soldiers Without Guns, a documentary thirteen years in the making, produced by TMI Pictures, directed by Will Watson, and narrated by Lucy Lawless. Strictly speaking most of the narration is by participants and victims of the conflict and those attempting to bring peace, principly New Zealand military personnel, and the women of Bougainville. Lawless helps tie it all together and informs the viewer of the history that led to the conflict.

The war in question was waged on the island of Bougainville, ran for ten long years, and cost the lives of one sixth of the population. It was as brutal as that currently waged by Russia in Ukraine and previously in Syria, with civilians being targets and victims. Sure it was not on the same scale as those wars, as the populations and resources of Papua New Guinea and Bougainville are tiny in comparison to those of Russia and Ukraine. But the methods were just as brutal. It seems to be that this pattern of warfare that is becoming only too common.

The 2019 documentary is long at 96 minutes but fortunately avoids the graphic gore and brutality of the conflict. It brings to the fore the pain and suffering experienced especially by the women and children, but also the hope, faith and strength of those who suffered the most. It show that there are alternatives to the use of violence to end violence.

At its heart I feel the documentary demonstrates how aroha (bringing together in peace, love, giving and forgiving) can be more effective than brute force in ending conflict that results in a genuine peace (not simply a lack of violence), the role women can play in bringing conflict to an end, and how forgiveness can be more effective than retribution.

On this last point, I believe that the decision not to prosecute war crimes, irrespective of who carried them out, was the correct decision and, in my opinion should be considered in the Ukrainian conflict. The reasoning was simple: Those who are guilty have nothing to lose and everything to gain by extending the war in order to avoid or delay punishment. Justice comes in many forms, and in my mind, retribution and punishment are poor forms of justice at best, and are outweighed by the process of restorative justice and the saving of lives that would have otherwise been lost by an extended conflict, not to mention the reduction of pain and suffering that could have continued for years, perhaps decades.

Some may say that forgiveness is not the Western way. Perhaps, but isn’t it a central tenet of Christianity? If Western history can teach us anything it’s that retribution is usually planting the seed of the next conflict. It hasn’t worked for the West in the past. There’s no evidence that it will work in the future. As is eloquently spoken in the documentary, “Human beings are only mistake makers. The only real mistake is the one we learn nothing from them”.

In some ways, the documentary emphasises the influence of Māori culture on NZ society and the NZ military as a significant factor in helping bring an ending to the conflict – that no other nation was capable of doing so. Perhaps in this specific example it might be true because of our awareness and valuing of non-Western culture, but I would like to think that other nations – including large, powerful and wealthy ones – are also capable of doing the same: bringing peace without the use of force. All that is required is a willingness to take the risk. I think it’s worth it. What’s your opinion?

I have located two sources of the documentary: NZ On Screen and Vimeo. WordPress will not allow me to embed the NZ On Screen video but did allow the Vimeo version. It is a powerful and moving documentary and illustrates an alternative non-violent method of resolving conflict – one that’s no less risky, but potentially with immeasurably better outcomes.

Soldiers Without Guns (2019)


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Speaking silently

Advices and queries E:4 “Obey the laws of the state, except when they conflict with your inner conviction“. My thoughts go out to those in Russia, who have chosen to protest the invasion of Ukraine, knowing the sure consequences – arrest by an authoritarian regime. Choosing to put oneself in harm’s way by the state when they could remain silent takes much courage. I can understand those who wish to defend their family and way of life, after all, they are directly affected. But to take stance on a matter of moral conviction knowing the inevitable consequences takes a special kind of courage. Let us hold them in the light as well as the people of Ukraine.

Ministry offered at Meeting for Worship 27 Feb 2022

Today I have been having one of those migraines that affect my ability to string together a spoken sentence that will be comprehensible to others. Nevertheless I can still have an urge to communicate. That happened this morning during Meeting for Worship. Usually when I have an urge to offer ministry I resist. In perhaps the last 30 years I’ve offered ministry no more than a handful of times.

My resistance is not because I feel I have nothing to offer. It’s because experience has taught me that by expressing myself I make myself vulnerable and open to misinterpretation. A fact of life that every autist is painfully well aware of, but of which the non-autistic community write off as rudeness, stupidity, or social ineptitude on our part, worthy of being written off as inconsequential or ignored at best, or worthy of ridicule and/or retaliation at worst.

Experience should have also taught me that there are exceptions to that rule – whānau and Friends (Quakers) in particular don’t jump to the conclusion that I might have some ulterior motive such as malice, ego, selfishness or an intent to offend. Whānau because they have known me all their lives, or for seventy plus years (whichever is the shorter), and Friends because they tend to be more considered in their communications – in “Quakerspeak”, seeking, and speaking to that of God in every person.

Before I continue, I’m convinced there is “that of God” (which I usually interpret as being a spark of good or a spark for good) in everyone – no exceptions – but I will admit that there are a few individuals where it seems so well hidden that I have been unable to find it.

Often when I have an urge to speak, beit during Meeting for Worship or any other time, I carefully construct the concern into a series of sentences that I feel are adequate, and then articulate those sentences silently. Unable to overcome the fear of what I want to say being devalued, but needing to speak nonetheless, I speak my words silently, with no movement of jaw, lips or tongue.

Speaking silently like this does ease the urge that has built up, but in practical terms it doesn’t do much in the way of communicating my thoughts or concerns to others. And yet so many times I when I do this at Meeting for Worship, someone will later stand and speak on the very topic I chose to be silent on. Perhaps if I believed in the existence of a divine being then I might explain it away as being the hand of God at play, but my rational self explains it away as more likely that within the community of Quakers, Friends have similar values and concerns, even if our experiences are different. Whatever is concerning me is probably concerning other Friends as well.

We’ve been fortunate on this country in that since the beginning of the pandemic there has been only six or seven weeks when covid mandates have prevented Quakers from holding Meetings at the Meeting House. During those times, Meetings were held via Zoom. That platform has since become part of the local Quaker environment, beit Meetings for Worship, Meetings for Business or discussion groups and seminars. Those who are unable to attend in person can now attend via Zoom. More often than not I’m the only person attending local Worship by that platform, but occasionally I’m joined by one or two others.

Today during Worship I had one of those urges to speak. Today I didn’t need to suppress it because the migraine prevented me from uttering much more than intermittent slurred monosyllabic words. I felt more frustrated than fearful. Then it occurred to me – Zoom has a chat facility. I could speak via the medium of typed words. So I did.

I practiced what I wanted to say, then typed those words into the chat box. Now that the migraine has somewhat abated, I can see that the spelling and grammar were atrocious, but nonetheless after Meeting Several of those attending asked if they could have permission to quote me at other events, so it seems my message spoke to some Friends today. Let’s hope they tidy it up before sharing it 🙂

From my perspective, the experience was liberating. I was able to express myself at my own pace instead of the pace that most people expect of the spoken word. In many ways today’s experience has been even more liberating than discovering the blogosphere. There, I’m more or less anonymous but communication is at a pace that suits me. Within local communities I’m not so fortunate, but at least now, within my Quaker community I have an alternative means of “speaking” when I’m motivated to say something.

The quotation at the top of this blog post is a slightly tidied up version of what I typed into the Zoom chat box this morning. I wonder if I would have the courage to make such a stand if I was a Russian resident?


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Musical Monday (2021/10/04) Parihaka

I intend to publish a music themed blog post on Mondays, hence the title. I doubt that it will be every Monday – I want it to be a pleasure, not a chore. We’ll see what eventuates. Here is the first Musical Monday post.

Parihaka

Tomorrow, the 5th of November marks the 140th anniversary of the invasion of Parihaka by government troops, armed constabulary and militia volunteers. It’s a shameful blot on our history and shouldn’t be forgotten. It still seems that many, perhaps most, Kiwis are unaware of the event . Is Aotearoa New Zealand the only nation where the teaching of its history is considered optional?

That a community founded on Christian pacifist ideals should be destroyed because it was an impediment to the goals of European settlers and the government of the day speaks volumes to the attitude of most settlers at that time. Parihaka was a large town (for that era in NZ), thriving, modern (the first town in NZ with street lighting, the second with pumped water reticulation), very open, the centre for a large, mainly Māori, community. And that seems to be it’s major “problem”. It wasn’t “for the settlers, by the settlers, of the settlers, and to hell with the Māori”.

I learnt of Parihaka’s history as a child in the mid to late 1950s. I guess I was seven or eight at the time, perhap nine. My sources were from my school teacher, a Pākehā with a keen history of New Zealand, and An elderly Māori Woman who lived on the section (property) behind ours. She would have been well into her nineties, perhaps older, and had lived through the Taranaki Land Wars – another shameful blot on our history that preceded the incident at Parihaka, and many ways a precursor of what was to come.

Wikipedia provides a reasonably accurate although impersonal story of Parihaka, but fails to capture the “essence” of the story as I heard it, especially from our neighbour. After some sixty-five years, my memory of the details I learnt at that time are incomplete at best, but I do remember what I felt. It’s often claimed that autistic people are unable to be empathetic, but I can assure you that they way I heard the story told, it was as though I had personally lived in Parihaka in the months and years before and after the the destruction of that community.

WordPress, in its “wisdom” will not allow me to embed and publish my preferred version music video of Parihaka. I can embed it in draft mode but not publish it. It’s a 1989 music video performed by the writer/composer, Tim Finn, accompanied by The Herbs. You can view it here:

https://www.nzonscreen.com/embed/dd4667b3c374d53f

I’ve also embedded a Youtube video clip below the lyrics for the benefit of those who prefer to remain on this WordPress page. There seems to be a few minor changes in the lyrics, including the dropping of the name of one of the Parihaka leaders, Tohu, pepper has become salt, and dreamed has become watched, but the essential message remains the same.

Lyrics to Parihaka

My friend, My friend, I hate to see you suffer,
Events conspire to bring us to our knees,
My friend, my friend, you've taken this the wrong way,
Rise up, defend yourself, never give in,
Look to the sky, the spirit of Te Whiti,
The endless tide is murmuring his name.
Tohu, Te Whiti will never be defeated,
And even at the darkest hour,
Their presence will remain.
I'll sing to you the song of Parihaka.

Te Whiti he used the language of the spirit,
Then stood accused, the madman and his dream,
They saw the train go roaring through the tunnel,
They heard the voice travel on the magic wire,
But they loved the silence of the river,
They dreamed the dog pissed on the cannon's wheel.
Tohu, Te Whiti they'll never be defeated,
Not even at the darkest hour,
Their presence will remain.
I'll sing for you the song of Parihaka.

One day you'll know the truth,
They can't pull out the roots,
Come and take me home,
To weep for my lost brother.

They gather still, the clouds of Taranaki,
His children's children wearing the white plume,
So take me for the sins of these sad islands,
The wave still breaks on the rock of Rouhotu.
And when you taste the pepper that's on your pudding,
And when you taste the sugar in your soup,
Tohu, Te Whiti, they'll never be defeated,
Even at the darkest hour,
Their presence will remain,
I'll sing for you the song of Parihaka,
Come to Parihaka,
Weep for my lost brother,
The spirit of nonviolence,
Has come to fill the silence,
Come to Parihaka.
Parihaka – Tim Finn with The Herbs

It’s kind of ironic that we Kiwis commemorate Guy Fawkes Day as enthusiastically as the English, perhaps more so, but most of us fail to realise that we have something more significant to remember on that date – the courage of all those at Parihaka who in the face of hatred and violence stood firm to their principles of peace and love. Even now, more than a hundred years later, we are yet to truly understand that might doesn’t mean right. It’s too important to forget. Parihaka is a powerful reminder.


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Getting what one deserves

Over the last few hours I have read a number of blogs pertaining to the situation in Afghanistan. Many of those blogs are blaming the rapid fall of the nation to the Taliban on the inhabitants, often implying that it must be what they really want, otherwise they would have fought. What the bloggers seem to forget is that the West had already reached the conclusion that it was inevitable that the Taliban would eventually take control – perhaps in a few years. Long enough to appear that their withdrawal appeared “honourable”.

Think for a moment. If the West had reached that conclusion doesn’t it seem feasible that the Afghanis themselves, being so much closer to the ground, also reached the same conclusion. A sense of hopelessness coupled with a fear induced by the barbarity of the Taliban is more than enough for most people to become resigned to their inevitable fate. Few folk will fight, whether by way of arms, civil disobedience or the pen where there is absolutely no hope of a different outcome.

One writer suggested that as women are at least as numerous as men and have more to lose, they should take up arms, and if they don’t the implication was that they deserve (or want) what they get. History has proven time and again that a sense of powerlessness, hopelessness and fear can be used by the few to control the many. How is the situation in Afghanistan any different than the rise of fascism and naziism in Europe between the two world wars, the rise of Stalinism, Maoism, Pol Pot, Apartheid, and in the US, slavery, Jim Crow and McCarthyism? How many nations and communities fell to colonial rule/occupation for similar reasons? Military might was not the only tool used.

It’s not only minorities that can feel a sense of hopelessness, it can exist in significant majorities for exactly the same reason: loss of hope. A hope that they might escape Taliban authoritarianism has led to some people taking stupid risks such as attempting to cling to the undercarriage of departing aircraft. In their mind, the risk was worth the effort whereas the risk of remaining and opposing the incoming regime seemed futile.

The advantage with fanatical beliefs is that they are separated from reality. While they are often religious in nature they don’t have to be. Taliban fighters are confident in their belief that their efforts will be rewarded, if not in this life, then in the next. Their blind faith that their cause is just and will prevail just as surely as night follows day gives them all the will needed to continue fighting regardless of what the true situation is at any given moment.

Meanwhile back in reality, the typical, man, woman, father, mother, son, daughter, uncle, aunt has to weigh up the consequences of their action. Would opposing the Taliban pose greater risks of harm to themselves and to those they care about than doing nothing – especially if they perceive their opposition is doomed to failure? I don’t think I need to remind readers, that the inhabitants of Afghanistan will be only too well aware of the atrocities that the Taliban are capable of inflicting on not only those who oppose them, but on their families and communities as well.

To a large extent, the West has only themselves to blame for the current situation, and for this reason I was less than impressed with President Biden’s speech. He considers himself blameless. Instead much of the blame he places on Trump, the Afghan government and military. His own military advisers had predicted the inevitable outcome of a quick withdrawal, although not the speed at which it would occur. Biden, like so many others I have heard and read today imply that the Afghanis will get the government they deserve. They don’t.

With few exceptions, the occupation of Afghanistan was based on military and perhaps political objectives of the West. Humanitarian objectives have been mostly ignored except where they were an advantage to the military and political objectives. If the same effort had been put into targeting humanitarian outcomes for their own sake, I wonder whether the current situation would have eventuated. I’m enough of a realist to admit there would be no guarantee of a better outcome, but on the other hand there’s no guarantee that it wouldn’t. However, from a purely military and political perspective, I don’t think any outcome, other than the one that is currently playing out, was possible – especially in the way the allies handled the two decades of occupation.

I do not know what should be done to reduce the harm that will inevitably occur to many innocent people in the wake of the Taliban takeover, and for this I accept my share of the blame. I’ve had twenty years in which to argue for a more humanitarian approach to moderating the effects of fanaticism on populations but have remained relatively silent until now. In the words of Nanci Griffith “I am not at the wheel of control, I am guilty, I am war, I am the root of all evil“. Are any of us any different?

Feel free to substitute Belfast and Chicago with any other place of conflict of your choosing

It’s a Hard Life Wherever You Go – Nanci Griffith

I am a backseat driver from America
They drive to the left on Falls Road
The man at the wheel's name is Seamus
We pass a child on the corner he knows
And Seamus says,"Now, what chance has that kid got?"
And I say from the back,"I don't know."
He says,"There's barbed wire at all of these exits
And there ain't no place in Belfast for that kid to go."

It's a hard life
It's a hard life
It's a very hard life
It's a hard life wherever you go
If we poison our children with hatred
Then, the hard life is all they'll ever know
And there ain't no place in Belfast for these kids to go

A cafeteria line in Chicage
The fat man in front of me
Is calling black people trash to his children
He's the only trash here I see
And I'm thinking this man wears a white hood
In the night when his children should sleep
But, they slip to their window and they see him
And they think that white hood's all they need

It's a hard life
It's a hard life
It's a very hard life
It's a hard life wherever you go
If we poison our children with hatred
Then, the hard life is all they'll ever know
And there ain't no place in Chicago for these kids to go

I was a child in the sixties
Dreams could be held through TV
With Disney and Cronkite and Martin Luther
Oh, I believed, I believed, I believed
Now, I am a backstreet driver from America
I am not at the wheel of control
I am guilty, I am war I am the root of all evil
Lord, and I can't drive on the left side of the road

It's a hard life
It's a hard life
It's a very hard life
It's a hard life wherever you go
If we poison our children with hatred
Then, the hard life is all they'll ever know
And there ain't no place in this world for these kids to go


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Is the violence over? I have my doubts

As much a I prefer not to “interfere” in the politics of other nations, the influence that America has on the world due to its wealth, size and power, persuades me that I cannot in good conscience ignore events in that nation. From time to time I will share posts written by others more skilful than I on the American situation. This post by Padre Steve is one such post. With apologies to the good padre I have given the post a new title that reflects my concern.

I fear that Padre Steve is may well be correct: The great trial facing America has just begun. The violence is not over.

Friends of Padre Steve’s World, I watched the second day of Donald Trump’s second Impeachment trial transfixed by the masterful way in which the House Impeachment Managers presented the documentary evidence and connecting the dots from the election night until 6 January. I struggled to think of a title for the article because the evidence […]

The Impeachment Prosecutors Open: The defendants denounce the law under which their accounting is asked. Their dislike for the law which condemns them is not original. It has been remarked before that: “No thief e’er felt the halter draw with good opinion of the law.” — The Inglorius Padre Steve’s World


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A call for action after Covid-19

Yes, in Aotearoa New Zealand, it is now after COVID-19, although I and the rest of our nation are under no illusion that the rest of world has some way to go (some nations much further than others).

As we recover from the pain and difficulties that COVID-19 wrought, we should take the opportunity to reevaluate what we are doing to harm the planet and our fellow human beings. Most people, especially those with privilege, simply accept the status quo and seldom think that it is we who are responsible for the harm we’re causing in communities, nations and the environment.

I firmly believe that this recovery period give us a unique chance, perhaps the only chance, for us to take action, individually and collectively that will bring about lasting changes that will enable us all to live in harmony with one another and with the planet.

As a community, Quakers of Aotearoa New Zealand have published a statement calling all Kiwis to action. As much of the call is applicable to people everywhere, I’m reproducing it here in its entirety:

To the Citizens of Aotearoa/New Zealand

At this critical time in the history of New Zealand, and the world, the Quaker Community wishes to convey to you and to the broader community, some principles and values that we feel are key to the decision making that will guide the nation to a better future.

We invite you to consider the enclosed Call for Action

A Call for Action after Covid-19

HOPE

We Quakers find hope in the communal response to the Covid-19 crisis across our nation. The collective action of New Zealanders has demonstrated how much we can achieve together in a short time. We see the current pandemic as a warning which creates an unprecedented opportunity for systemic change and as a call to remodel our nation guided by the principles of sustainability, non-violence, simplicity and equity. This is a transformation that will require redistributive and regenerative economic, government and social policies that ensure all members of society benefit in an equitable manner.

VISION
Our vision is of a society that is inclusive and respectful of all people. We affirm the special constitutional position of Māori and a Treaty-based, bi-lateral system of government. We seek government which leads with integrity, shares information based on evidence, and engages with communities prior to decision-making. We oppose violence at every level and look to practices that bring peaceful dialogue and non-violent management of conflict.

SANCTITY
Quakers have a strong sense of the sanctity of creation. We are committed to the development of systems and new societal norms to rebalance climate disruption, preserve biodiversity and water quality and enable New Zealanders to live simpler lives within sustainable natural boundaries. We support the use of national resources to provide housing, low-carbon transport, and regenerative food production to benefit future generations.

CONSUMPTION 

We see that society has been putting profit and consumption above other considerations despite clear evidence that earth’s natural limits have been exceeded. Consumer lifestyles have been destroying the natural ecosystems required by future generations. Decades of neoliberal economic and social policies have allowed a few people to set the agenda and benefit disproportionately. This has condemned many to low wages, poverty and insecurity whilst also degrading the environment.

OPPORTUNITY

Quakers consider that the current pandemic offers the people of Aotearoa New Zealand a chance to reassess the situation and to create a new sense of community and purpose. The Light of the Spirit has inspired Quakers through the generations into social and environmental action. We see this experience with Covid-19 as the impetus to find a way forward based firmly on the Quaker values of peace, simplicity, and equity

ACTION

Quakers call on every person in Aotearoa New Zealand to bring about whatever changes they can to enable us to live in harmony with one another and with the planet.


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Words and actions have ‘immeasurable consequences’

Below are the UN general assembly Speeches by the president of the United States of America, and the Prime Minister of Aotearoa New Zealand. Do they even live on the same planet?

Jacinda’s speech in English starts at 1m 5s if you wish to skip her formal greeting in te Reo Māori, but out of respect for our culture, please don’t.


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There’s nothing more I need add:

The United Nations’ (UN) International Day of Peace has been celebrated on September 21 each year (since 1981)to recognize the efforts of those who have worked hard to end conflict and promote peace. This year many people’s and nations marked the day with nationwide appeals to governments to see climate change as a major existential […]

via Quaker Contributions to building a Culture of Peace in an Unpeaceful world — Kevin’s Peace Musings


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If you’re not aware, today, the 29th of August is The International Day Against Nuclear Tests. Aotearoa New Zealand has long had an anti-nuclear weapons stance, which unfortunately the Prime Minister in the 1980s declared was “not for export”, possibly to appease the American administration at that time. The following is a presentation from Kevin Clements, Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Otago, Aotearoa New Zealand.

The International Day Against Nuclear Tests -29th August 2020 Kevin P Clements Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Otago As Albert Einstein said “ A nuclear war can never be won and must never be fought”. Its vital that every generation accepts this piece of sage advice, especially when […]

via Observing the International Day Against Nuclear Tests. — Kevin’s Peace Musings