23 September 2012

The Diaoyu protests, class warfare and nativism

One of the better and more penetrating articles I have read on the recent protests in China has been, oddly enough, in Comment is Free, by professor at the London School of Economics Dr Lin Chun. Her thesis is that the protests, though their explicit purpose was to reclaim the Diaoyus from Japan (and therefore to boycott Japanese goods), was actually motivated and fed by a number of other highly disparate concerns and anxieties, not all of them to do with nationalism. Class-based anxieties, for example, and mistrust of government officials played key roles; a number of people at these protests used the opportunity to critique local policies or even the government itself (these were quickly rooted out, however). Government in various levels has allowed protest in only one direction: as far away from itself as possible, preferably in a Japan-ward vein; though some observers have reverted to paranoid fantasies about the government sponsoring the protests, I prefer the more simple explanation that the CCP just wants, like any party of government, to cover its own arse, and is selectively policing against protests which could harm its interests. (It is worth noting that the day after 18 September I managed to see only one red flag the entire day in Baotou - though quite a few police vans on the streets.) However, given that a number of the protesters in the larger cities were, in fact, migrant workers (generally themselves people who live in a constant state of economic stress and insecurity), Dr Lin’s analysis strikes me as hitting fairly close to home.

Her analysis is further bolstered by the analysis from Tea Leaf Nation, which shows a rather disheartening picture, even in the online community, of comments which condone class warfare (with some going so far as to dehumanise and blame poor people), and of comments speak more to regional bigotries than to any kind of real patriotism. Though it is sad and angering to see classism and nativism rearing their ugly heads in the aftermath of the protests, it does indeed speak to the view that there is far more going on under the surface of these protests than mere nationalism. As in Japan, the issue of control of the Diaoyus serves both as a lightning-rod for, and a distraction from, other equally important issues which do not get the full airing they deserve. It is an important issue, as I have said before - but it would be a mistake to place undue emphasis on the nationalist angle of it, as has happened in both Chinese and Western media.

Chinese-language blogging at 《月氏騎士》

It has been awhile, but I hope that my visits back here may be more frequent in the future! I am currently in Inner Mongolia, and have been thrown face-first into my new job (teaching from the first day on the ground, which I have been grateful for - it was good to get some refresher-experience before my full day of teaching on Saturday). In addition to this Blogger blog, I now also have a Sina blog, The Tocharian Rider (月氏騎士) after the ‘frontier poem’ I wrote last year. The posts on that blog will be entirely in Chinese, but I will attempt to cross-post translations here (or vice-versa, depending on which version I write first). The content should be fairly similar to what is normally posted here. Please follow, my gentle readers, if you should so choose!

14 September 2012

More far-right douchebaggery

The Axis of Douchebags: Tenzin Gyatso (t, l), Babubhai Patel (t, r),
Hiranuma Takeo (b, l), Räbiya Qadyr (b, r)

This is not news, really, but I still can’t believe I found out about it only today.

As readers of David Lindsay’s excellent blog may be aware, one of the dangers of continuing to regard India as a steady ally is the rise of the Hindutva ideology in that nation, an ideology combining elements of Hindu fundamentalism and racial and caste supremacism. The proponents of this far right-wing ideology have been steadily waging campaigns of intimidation and political violence against the Abrahamic faiths (particularly Islam and Christianity) within India, and also against the Dalits (traditionally the Untouchables within the Hindu caste system; many of whom are for obvious reasons either Buddhist or Christian). In 2008 there was a tremendous surge of anti-Christian pogroms in Orissa, instigated by the far right-wing Vishva Hindu Parishad (along with its paramilitary youth wing, the Bajrang Dal) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, and aided and abetted (or at the very least ignored) by the local Bharatiya Janata Party (the right-leaning Hindu party in Indian politics). The Vishva Hindu Parishad has also been responsible for the destruction of the historical Babri Mosque in Ayodhya, which to this day remains a sore spot in Hindu-Muslim relations in India. This much is fairly common knowledge. A number of websites and blogs, such as this one, this one and this one, are dedicated to examining and critiquing Hindutva and proponents such as VHP, and other groups like Human Rights Watch have kept a careful eye on the rise of Hindu extremism.

What is not so well-known, is that one of the founding members of this far-right organisation was... guess who. Yes, the present Dalai Lama was in part responsible for founding one of the most violent and fascistic political movements in modern times. As a result, despite the strenuous claims of his supporters of his enlightened neutrality in Indian politics (which conveniently elide the Dalai Lama’s membership in the organisation), it should come as no surprise to critical observers that the VHP and the Tibetan secessionists have been fairly consistent close allies. And the fact that Tibetan extremists are likewise looking to purge Muslims from what they perceive as their own territory, and the fact that the worst spate of attacks on Hui Muslims in Tibet preceded by only a month the communal violence against Christians in Orissa ought likewise to give us pause.

The Tibetans deserve advocacy on the world stage for their economic and cultural rights, but let’s face it: the Dalai Lama simply isn’t the advocate they deserve. As I mentioned before, he is closely connected with Uyghur billionaire separatist Räbiya Qadyr, and through her to Tachiagare Nippon たちあがれ日本 (the respectable, political face of the uyoku dantai in Japan). Add to this his far-right connexions in India, and one soon discovers that even though he is no longer in any position to bring about any positive change in China, by virtue of the moral capital invested in him by Western activists who don’t bother to read up on the objects of their support, he is poised to do a great deal more damage in the rest of the world than he ought.

13 September 2012

The Ministry has spoken

Shorter concerned Very Serious Liberal Dolores Umbridge Nick Kristof, in today’s Daily Prophet New York Times:
This isn’t about the unions, and these aren’t garment workers striking against corporate bosses, this is about the children! And if you really care about the children, you will focus on firing their teachers based on their standardised test score-based teaching evaluations; that’ll straighten them all out.
Oh, yes, of course. And we all know how much you care about those garment workers and their basic labour rights, don’t we, Madam Undersecretary? Thankfully, we have Corey Robin and Erik Loomis setting the Establishment Liberal line to rights on this topic, as well as Diane Ravitch (H/T to Corey Robin for the links).

EDIT: A more thorough take-down of the standardised test-happy Nick Kristof piece here at AlterNet, by Sarah Jaffe.

12 September 2012

Off to Inner Mongolia - ‘勇敢的心’ by 顛覆M

I shall be preparing to leave shortly to take up residence and a teaching position in Inner Mongolia. With any luck, this will be only a brief au revoir rather than a permanent farewell; to my knowledge, Blogger is regrettably still blocked behind the Great Firewall, but of course there are ways over, under and around. For a send-off, here is ‘Braveheart’ [‘勇敢的心’] by Mongolian metalcore masters Ego Fall [顛覆M]!

Eleven years on

Eleven years ago, a heinous act of political violence brought to an end the lives of 2,996 people, injured more than 5,000 others and brought down the World Trade Centre. In the wake of that tragedy, much was made of the attempt of America and of the world to make sense of it, as is only natural. I was in New York City yesterday morning, standing inside the Chinese Embassy at 8:46 AM that Tuesday, on a cool, clear morning. I had spent the earlier hours that morning watching television at the Burger King opposite Port Authority on 42nd Street. There were remembrances of the victims and there were a couple of short news features, on the new tower that is being built nearby to replace the WTC in the skyline and on the museum and the reactions from survivors, family members and first responders. In our physical memory, too, we seek to make sense of human evil, to learn something and to draw strength from the wreckage.

The morning after that, I learned that the American embassies in Egypt and Libya had been brutally attacked by angry mobs, resulting in the tragic and needless deaths of four people including the Libyan ambassador, Christopher Stevens. Another heinous waste of life at the hands of violent radicals.

Unfortunately, it seems all too many people on both sides of the political divide seem bent on drawing the wrong conclusions, particularly when those conclusions are politically convenient.

Apparently, the ‘trigger’ for the attacks was a sickeningly Islamophobic YouTube video produced by an Israeli-American property developer who describes Islam as ‘a cancer’. One of the most inappropriate responses to the terrorist attacks of 11 September has been to lash out and vilify an entire religious tradition, much of which abhors political violence, war and terrorism. Reactions like this fail to distinguish the fault-lines within Islam between those who see Islam as a violent, immanently-messianic political movement, and the vast majority who refuse to capitulate to such a flat interpretation (especially the philosophically-inclined, Scholastic and Christian-leaning tendencies noted especially amongst the more thoughtful followers of Ali). Insofar as Islam as such does present a danger to the Western world, it is only because (and only to the extent that) the Western world has abdicated its own Christian, Scholastic philosophical fountainhead, and allowed Islam to articulate another version of the communitarian values we ourselves used to cherish.

More importantly, though, such reactions are puerile, and they stem from the same trolling impulse that leads people to mock and defame the symbols of the Christian Church. If agents provocateur like Sam Bacile, Pim Fortuyn, Geert Wilders and Terry Jones really want to make a point by riling to violence those individuals who are already radical enough to be prone to it, I see no reason they should expect any sympathy from the rest of us when they succeed. Our sympathy belongs with the victims; and our condemnation with the actual perpetrators. Cartoonists, YouTube trolls, Koran-burners and opportunistic politicians who seek to instigate and capitalise on such attacks deserve nothing but our scorn, our disdain and our studied indifference.

Another wrong response to attacks like these is to automatically assume a dualistic, black-and-white view that the world is divided into ‘good guys’ and ‘evildoers’. Well, we obviously didn’t think Osama bin Laden was an ‘evildoer’ when we were supporting and arming him and his followers against the Soviets in Afghanistan, did we? Likewise, in Libya and Egypt. In Libya, we provided armed support to Islamists who had no problem with again subjecting women to polygamy and wife-beating, or with massacring blacks on the suspicion (assiduously encouraged by NATO operatives) that they might be Gadhafi supporters. (Is it any surprise that such people might be upset with a video denigrating Islam? Given that Gadhafi was emphatically not an Islamist but an Arab nationalist, do the new regime and its supporters really expect us to believe that Gadhafi loyalists were behind the attack? Do they take us for idiots? … On second thought, maybe that last question is best left unanswered.)

I believe the appropriate lesson, one which we failed to learn then and are now again suffering from the consequences, is that we need to choose our allies with extreme care. We should craft a foreign policy which enshrines non-interventionist strategies as the norm, and which favours political stability over incidental economic benefit and especially over ideological agreement. As Daniel Larison put it, ‘military interventions don’t necessarily produce gratitude from the people that benefit from them’. Sadly, one of the public faces of our current dysfunctional foreign policy in the Arab world has now had to suffer the highest cost of that ingratitude. Requiescat in pace, Mr Stevens. My condolences and prayers go out to your family, just as they did to the victims of 11 September.

10 September 2012

A small thought-experiment

Imagine, if you will (though God forbid it should ever actually happen), that there had been an outbreak of vandalism and arson against synagogues and Jewish community centres throughout some central European country (it doesn’t really matter which). It might be the case that these vandals and arsonists would take to spray-painting crude and violent messages and epithets like ‘Moses is a monkey’ and ‘Death to the Jews’ on the walls of synagogues, leaving next to no doubt that their motivations were anti-Semitic. Now imagine that the people suspected of perpetrating this crime were in favour of redlining and covenants that would segregate Jews into separate neighbourhoods and ghettoes, and were committing these hate crimes because they were upset that such policies were not being supported. Pretty ugly picture, right?

Now, suppose that the police, the government and the civil society of this central European country were turning, perhaps not a blind eye but a highly complacent one toward all of these acts. It may, for example, be the case that in the large cities of this country, Jews are often spit on in public. Suppose that in the parliament of this country, one of the legislators called for the Torah, the rabbinical literature and other Jewish writings to be burnt, and that another symbolically threw Jewish symbols into a rubbish bin and proclaimed that those following the Jewish faith should be relegated to the ‘trash can of history’. Suppose that yet another legislator called for activists who are aiding Jews (and other minorities) to be rounded up and sent to detention camps. Now suppose that although these legislators may have gotten some symbolic wrist-slaps from their colleagues in private, they were faced with no other substantive punishment or public censure for their hateful actions.

We would very rightly issue condemnations of such a government. Human rights groups would, of course, be livid. Perhaps we would apply diplomatic and economic pressure against them until their treatment of their own Jewish population improved.

But given that it is Israeli vandals, Israeli arsonists, Israeli civilians and Israeli legislators doing all of these things to the Christians and Muslims who happen to call home what is now the State of Israel, and the Israeli government which seems to be shuffling their feet on the issue, I suppose a different standard must apply. Of course, much to their credit, not all people seem to think so. A Vatican representative is attempting to give these recent issues a proper airing. Many American Jewish groups (like the Simon Wiesenthal Centre and the Anti-Defamation League) have called for apologies and action where they are needed.

The question is, will our government follow suit?

09 September 2012

Nationalism and the Diaoyu Islands

This dispute is only one of many recent territorial and sea-space disputes involving the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, China and Japan. But it is an incredibly intriguing one geopolitically, as it involves citizens in both mainland China and Taiwan protesting in favour of (at this point) Taiwanese control of the Diaoyu Archipelago 釣魚台群島. Getting into the historical minefield of whose the islands actually are would be a tricky, messy, postmodern-revisionist sort of business (much like anything to do with Tibetan or Taiwanese history) and, though interesting for several unrelated reasons, ultimately only a diversion. Equally interesting and more à propos is the role that nationalism is playing in the entire dispute, as well as the legacy that imperialism continues to play. The fact that the State Department is also involving itself is likewise a matter for some concern.

Torrents of ink have already been spilt on the Scylla-and-Charybdis problem that Chinese nationalism presents for the (still-formally Marxist-Leninist-Maoist) Chinese government. China’s citizenry tend, by and large, to be more patriotic than the CCP; that same Party is wont to view that patriotism as a potential tool for legitimating itself (as one may witness in the editorial pages of news outlets like The Global Times), but is also incredibly careful not to encourage it too far, and indeed tamp it down when it gets too rowdy and jeopardises the geopolitical interests of the CCP. The same may not be said, however, of the Japanese or even the Taiwanese government: the recent (controversial) attempt by the government of Tokyo to buy the Diaoyu Islands from their private owners for ¥2.05 billion, and the recent Taiwanese Coast Guard escort of its protesters to the islands.

Japanese nationalism is, sadly, almost exactly the same fascistic beast which we had to slay during the Pacific theatre of the Second World War. The uyoku dantai 右翼團體 combine radical nationalism with what is for all intents and purposes the equivalent of Holocaust denial (essentially, the denial of war crimes committed by the Japanese military against Chinese and Korean civilians during the Second World War), territorial revanchism and a fanatical opposition to organised labour and public-sector unions, particularly the Japan Teachers Union. Some groups take it even further and seek to publicly lionise as martyrs the war criminals enshrined at Yasukuni and seek to rewrite the history of the Second World War in its entirety. As a matter of historical irony, however, the current American government is obliged to turn a blind eye to such groups, and take the Japanese government’s claims practically at face value on the international stage as a result of its military obligations for Japan’s defence. (It doesn’t hurt, of course, that these Japanese right-wing groups have influential friends with a fair amount of ideological clout in the West.) The fact that even political moderates in Japan have been using the island disputes as a CYA strategy may be a troubling indication that such malign nationalism has an increasing amount of mainstream pull.

I did say that I wasn’t going to talk about claims, but there is one aspect which is intriguing and illuminating about Japan’s claim. It dates to the signing of the same Treaty of Shimonoseki which prompted the Japanese to invade and annex Taiwan, and thus carries with it the broader significance of a legacy of Japanese imperialism which has not yet been concluded. The wise course of action would be to focus upon the implications of this legacy, and question the role which we want the US government to continue playing in world affairs; as Mr Bambery puts it, there is much going on here that warrants ‘saying rather more than a “plague on both houses”’.

07 September 2012

Pointless video post - ‘Ashes’ by Threshold

New album March of Progress by British prog-power metallers Threshold comes out in four days, and I am stoked. After the loss of vocalist Andrew McDermott (may he rest in peace \m/), this will be their first album with original vocalist Damian Wilson since Extinct Instinct, but from what I can tell from ‘Ashes’ he hasn’t lost a single erg of his former power. As far as progressive metal bands go, Threshold have had a pretty unique formula that they have stuck to faithfully, and I’m glad to hear that they are continuing solidly in that vein: the heaviness is pretty much all in the instrumentation, and the vocals, even though they do hit home hard, are pitched (with a few exceptions) in a more soft-rockish direction (with more than a few vocal effects deployed, not that they need them). They are also, along with Hammers of Misfortune, one of the few metal bands I have heard who are able to pull off liberal use of the Hammond organ (not on this song, though). The subtly political, Lewisian overtones of ‘Ashes’ are another reason to love the band; as I have remarked before, the band has a superlatively talented songwriter in Richard West.

Actually, I’m just going to go ahead and post another of their songs - this one’s from their 2004 album Subsurface. Enjoy both; they are truly inspired!

Twin blunders

This week, the Democratic National Convention made two egregious (related) blunders in the constitution of their party platform. The first, removing the word ‘God’ from the party platform, was (thankfully) swiftly corrected. The second, affirming Jerusalem (in its entirety) as the capital of the secular state of Israel, has not yet been.

The Democratic Party, the party which has traditionally had my support in elections past, appears to be stuck in a mode of thinking which is becoming anachronistic as a result of its intrinsic contradictions, partly out of reaction to the contradictory fusionist stance of the Republican Party. The question of what the public function of religion ought to be, combined with the normative and political content of religion, is a pressing question elided in the current Democratic (and Republican) worldview in a way which may not be sustainable in the near future. It is an uncomfortable question, true: the easy (and therefore false) answers provided by the Religious Right and the evangelical wing of the Republican Party made it easy for the Democrats to adopt a sort of soft laïcité as a winning strategy, making an effort to welcome those who benefit from a secular platform into the big tent.

Unfortunately, secularism does not sit easily alongside the rest of the Democratic platform. The most aggressive proponents of political secularism (that is to say, the disciples of Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett) tend, as a rule, to adopt a hardline hawkish view of foreign policy. Backed (in their view) with an ironclad logic from which even the slightest dissent is an indication of either childish wilfulness or mental illness, they likewise see dissenters from the Washington Consensus on the international stage as either childish or mentally ill. As such, they see little value in reaching across the aisle to religious folk, particularly in the Middle East, Africa (even sub-Saharan Africa), Eastern Europe, Latin America and Central Asia whose values may not always overlap with modern neoliberal secular democratic capitalism, but who nonetheless abhor political violence, war and terrorism. They are the natural allies of the neoconservatives (as Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris were explicitly), whose likewise Manichaean, crusading worldview tends to view the international realm in similar terms. Though the Democrats would obviously do well to retain as many reasonable atheists and agnostics as they can, they oughtn’t bend over too far to accommodate these nouveau atheist hardliners – particularly if they wish to disavow the Bush-era foreign policy which has proven so disastrous.

On economic issues as well, those Democrats who value a populist model which supports safety nets for the nation’s poorest, which advocates economic patriotism and a set of basic protections for US jobs, which supports the necessary role of organised labour and which asserts a muscular and positive role for government in the nation’s economic life generally, would do well not to adopt a line which bends too far in the secular direction. The mainline Protestant churches have historically served as the nation’s conscience, whether on matters of economic justice, women’s rights or civil rights for people of colour (though it is worth note that they had to be prodded very hard in that direction by the black churches). The splintering of the churches after the civil rights era led to the rise of the Religious Right as a force in American politics, the retreat of the mainline churches from the public consciousness and the onslaught of ‘privatisation’. As went religion, so went government: the privatisation of religion led to the steady erosion of the gains of the New Deal (itself drawing strong support from the religious mainline, notably Monsignor John A Ryan and Dr Reinhold Niebuhr). Those calling for a rollback of welfare and social security on the grounds that it should be the job of the Church to care for the destitute, the infirm and the elderly, are usually the same people who want to rewrite the Gospel to support laissez-faire economics (as parodied here). For this reason, those wishing to further restrain or remove the Church in its public and political life should be courted with caution (if at all) by the Democratic Party. Certainly they should not be courted at the expense of the Catholics and mainline Protestants whose politics (both economic and social) are informed by the Gospel and by the Epistles of St Paul. The fact that the language of God, especially in the context of the dignity of labour and the status of working people, was reinstated ought to be a great comfort: it was and should remain an homage to the labour movement, supported as it was by mainline Christian (particularly Catholic) activism.

Unfortunately, the same President responsible for correcting and reaffirming the status of God in the Democratic platform (with the aid of Ohio governor Ted Strickland), with the same breath prevented another error from being fixed, namely: that of unequivocally recognising an undivided Jerusalem as the capital of the secular state of Israel. This explicitly goes against precedent US policy in Israel and may actually undermine the peace process. The territory of what once was British Palestine (itself historically part of the Kingdom of Jerusalem) is home not only to Jews but also to Christians and Muslims, and the city of Jerusalem is holy to all three faiths. It has been forcibly claimed in its entirety as a capital under a law which to this day goes unrecognised outside of Israel; and Israel’s claims that there is no basis in international law for the Corpus Separatum status proposed by the UN show that the State of Israel’s logic – and now, apparently, the logic of the Democratic Party platform – devalues the importance of Jerusalem. It is seen merely as a political instrument for the prestige of Israel as a nation, rather than as holy ground for each and every one of the Abrahamic faiths.

If the selection of Paul Ryan as the vice-presidential nominee by the Republican Party should have taught the Democrats anything, it is that the political realities are shifting. Paul Ryan’s religiosity is not particularly deep – though he pays lip service to Catholicism in his speeches, the values of Catholicism are not reflected in the Republican political value-system. Is it to be honestly believed that Paul Ryan’s commitment to Catholic social teaching is any deeper than Mitt Romney’s commitment to his newfound pro-life positions? For the Republicans, God is a tool – mention him often enough, the logic goes, and more and more religious people will swing their way at the ballot box. To their credit, the Democrats do not as often resort to this sort of sacrilege, but they more often run the risk of damming up the fountainhead (yes, the wordplay is intentional) of the principles many of their habitual voters, including myself, hold dear. They would do so at their own political peril. As the religious right falls into an increasingly petulant obsolescence only to be replaced by the Tea Party (with their emphasis on economic and personal libertinism), and as serious philosophical questions arise over the role of the American government both at home and abroad, the debate is no longer the traditional one between left-liberal ‘progressives’ and right-authoritarian ‘conservatives’, but between communitarians and libertarians. A debate which in philosophy is now entering its thirties has begun to surface in the broader public imagination.

At this point, what remains to be said is that as a traditionally Democratic voter, my support for aggressively generous interventionist economic policies; for a more humble and realistic foreign policy; for a society which supports communities and healthy two-parent families; for a public mythology which favours charity toward the destitute, the infirm and the elderly, rather than positing a meritocracy where none exists and blaming the poor for their own conditions – all of that comes out of my Christianity. The danger of my voting Republican is infinitesimally slight, but if the Democratic Party wishes to retain me (and others like me – you know, ‘social justice Christians’ and Jews and Muslims), they may be well-advised to tread carefully.

05 September 2012

The best case I have yet seen for Obama

Comes, oddly enough, from a self-described ‘conservative’ who attacks him as a feudalist. The article is not quite in the grand sloganeering style of Mao Zedong and the anti-rightist campaigns of the Cultural Revolution, of course, but the sentiment is the same (even if it is lacking in pithy iterations of ‘to rebel is justified’ and ‘Criticise Lin, Criticise Confucius’ - or is that ‘Criticise Obama, Criticise Burke’?), and it does even mimic to some extent the resentment present in L’Internationale towards the Old World, and its derision toward saviours, deities and emperors. The primary difference, of course, is that the cultural revolution desired here is an explicitly inegalitarian one, for the benefit of the capitalist class rather than for the peasantry they claim to champion. In short, though it appears on a blog called The Imaginative Conservative, it is an article about current American politics whose argument is, in essence, about as far from proper conservatism as one is likely to find.

Casting Obama in the role of a feudalist is, whilst flattering to him from a traditional conservative point of view, perhaps more than a bit of a stretch. Insofar as feudalism was a decentralised ‘system’, as distinguished distributist economist John Médaille describes it in the comments, ‘of mutual rights and obligations’, and insofar as President Obama plays up the communitarian angle in his speeches about how healthy human experience is neither dependent nor independent, but rather interdependent, he is reflecting a healthy form of conservatism which recognises right and obligation as equally important. Likewise insofar as he espouses a civic-minded noblesse oblige which demands as a point of honour that the wealthy give back more to the society rather than less, and insofar as he notes the role of government as a guarantor of justice beyond legal minimalism. That would be feudalism at its best. Unfortunately, there has been little indication so far that our President has any interest in following through on this philosophy (of interdependence rather than dependence) in any meaningful way, particularly in the realms of foreign policy and of the role of religion in the public sphere. If one were to vote for him, it would be on the hope that the left-conservative ideas he espouses in his speeches might be taken seriously in the public discourse, particularly amongst his supporters, in decades to come.

03 September 2012

The Catholic dimension of Labour Day

Very good article here, on the Catholic News Agency website, about Fr Sinclair Oubre and his call to remember Catholic social teaching on Labour Day, which he describes as a Catholic holiday. He also uses the occasion to express worry about some of the hyper-individualist elements in American culture which are contributing to erosions of labour rights, and to encourage careful reading, reflection and action on Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum. I agree wholeheartedly with the material thrust Fr Oubre’s stance; there’s never a bad occasion to read Rerum Novarum, and this is speaking not just as an Anglo-Catholic but also as a student of public policy. But Labour Day is an especially good occasion for it.

EDIT: Also, remember:

02 September 2012

The Most Reverend Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, calling out the neocons in The Observer

As a radical Anglo-Catholic, I have always had a great deal of respect and admiration for His Grace Desmond Tutu, and he has just provided us all with yet another reason why that respect and admiration is wholly justified. His Grace recently withdrew, after much prayer and consideration, from the Discovery Invest Leadership Summit where one Anthony Blair was also to be in attendance. His reason? He could not bring himself to sit alongside someone ‘who had justified the invasion of Iraq with a lie’. He then proceeded to pointedly lambaste the former Prime Minister in The Observer, saying that both Bush and Blair should face trial at the International Criminal Court for the consequences of their actions:
The immorality of the United States and Great Britain's decision to invade Iraq in 2003, premised on the lie that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, has destabilised and polarised the world to a greater extent than any other conflict in history.

Instead of recognising that the world we lived in, with increasingly sophisticated communications, transportations and weapons systems necessitated sophisticated leadership that would bring the global family together, the then-leaders of the US and UK fabricated the grounds to behave like playground bullies and drive us further apart. They have driven us to the edge of a precipice where we now stand – with the spectre of Syria and Iran before us.

If leaders may lie, then who should tell the truth?


Last year, an average of 6.5 people died there each day in suicide attacks and vehicle bombs, according to the Iraqi Body Count project. More than 110,000 Iraqis have died in the conflict since 2003 and millions have been displaced. By the end of last year, nearly 4,500 American soldiers had been killed and more than 32,000 wounded.

On these grounds alone, in a consistent world, those responsible for this suffering and loss of life should be treading the same path as some of their African and Asian peers who have been made to answer for their actions in the Hague.


Leadership and morality are indivisible. Good leaders are the custodians of morality. The question is not whether Saddam Hussein was good or bad or how many of his people he massacred. The point is that Mr Bush and Mr Blair should not have allowed themselves to stoop to his immoral level.

If it is acceptable for leaders to take drastic action on the basis of a lie, without an acknowledgement or an apology when they are found out, what should we teach our children?

My appeal to Mr Blair is not to talk about leadership, but to demonstrate it. You are a member of our family, God's family. You are made for goodness, for honesty, for morality, for love; so are our brothers and sisters in Iraq, in the US, in Syria, in Israel and Iran.

I did not deem it appropriate to have this discussion at the Discovery Invest Leadership Summit in Johannesburg last week. As the date drew nearer, I felt an increasingly profound sense of discomfort about attending a summit on "leadership" with Mr Blair. I extend my humblest and sincerest apologies to Discovery, the summit organisers, the speakers and delegates for the lateness of my decision not to attend.
I have little else to add, other than that this is another courageous telling of truth to power, and acting on that truth, from a man of conviction whose entire career has been an exercise in precisely such courage and truth-telling. All the more so when one considers that very few people in our own news media or public service have made the same kind of stand. Our Lord bless and keep you, Your Grace; and long may you yet bear witness for him!

(Also, if you will permit me a brief moment of cinematic nerdiness, I would pay good money to see a biopic with Samuel Jackson portraying Archbishop Tutu. That would be completely worth watching.)

Wielding the Lightsabre of Radical Anglo-Catholic Awesomeness

01 September 2012

O quam mira res es…

Very interesting take on Saint Hildegard of Bingen’s elevation to the status of thirty-fourth Doctor of the Church next month by Pope Benedict XVI, here. Though, yes, he is (as he himself declares) projecting twenty-first century modernist values back onto Saint Hildegard’s artistic work, as I have been wont to do at times (and all of the problems and caveats which come with that), I believe he makes an excellent point. Saint Hildegard may have been incredibly diffident, humble and self-effacing in her prose, but she was favoured with insights into the nature of God and creation through her visions, which were not always convenient or favourable to those in positions of power, whether princes or priests. She was relentless in proclaiming a return ‘to the first dawn of justice’, and indeed, much of her language - even when writing to exalted churchmen, Cardinals and Popes (such as Eugenius) - takes on a subversive, apocalyptic tone. I am sadly not familiar with her artwork or music at all, though from Mr McColman’s descriptions and interpretations they seem to have had a similarly subversive edge. Saint Hildegard in particular displays the bipolarity remarked upon by Chesterton when he spoke of Christian saints and soldiers, that she could be at once meek and militant, humble and hard-line, reverential and revolutionary: rather than staking out a mushy and uncertain middle ground, she was (like many of her fellow saints) most at home on the ragged edges.

Already Saint Hildegard enjoys recognition by both the Catholic Church and by the Church of England in the Calendar of Saints. I am not particularly surprised by Pope Benedict’s choice to elevate Saint Hildegard to the status of Doctor of the Church (his admiration for the Teutonic prophetess is well-documented), but I am quite gratified by it. As a saint, she may have been easy to dismiss (as Dorothy Day once put it), but as a Doctor of the Church, her intellectual and artistic legacies may come to be more thoroughly appreciated among the Catholic laity (and, hopefully, the Anglo-Catholic laity as well), and that will be all to the good.

Another ‘pivot’?

Now this is interesting.

At a time when there is so much focus on the China ‘pivot’ (see here and here) in American diplomacy (not to mention on the presidential race, which does concern China to a degree), there has been another, not-very-subtle ‘pivot’ in Sino-German relations which has not gone unnoticed, either by the United States or by Germany’s news media themselves.

Naturally, the way the European news media tend to think about issues relating to China is as wrongheaded as much of American news media tends to be, not least in assuming that the best way to stand up for basic dignities for China’s poorest is to support the Dalai Lama (who has no influence over Chinese policymakers whatsoever, and who certainly doesn’t give a damn about anyone who is not ethnically Tibetan - particularly those who happen to be Muslim). Further, I think that the ‘rising Euroscepticism’ in Germany is understandable, given that Europe’s politicians and economic priesthood have been so heavily invested in ideologically bolstering a failing system which has paupered the ‘neighbours’; and Germany was also quite right to attempt to forestall NATO involvement in Libya (though if you ask me, the ‘debacle’ was that the intervention happened at all, to put it politely, particularly as regards Mali). Thirdly, I believe this situation serves as one more empirical nail in the coffin of the ‘authoritarian axis’ model, since it demonstrates that China is willing to work with ‘democratic’, Western powers at the possible expense of Russian interests - China’s leadership are nothing if not pragmatic.

All the same time, I do not necessarily think that China’s ‘counter-pivot’ toward Germany is something to be celebrated. I believe that the Global Timescrowing over the fading influence of Old Europe is more than slightly premature, for one thing. On the contrary, I cannot help but wonder if this ‘counter-pivot’ may end up being the means by which the old neoliberal order in Europe has its lifespan artificially lengthened through an influx of Chinese credit and investment. On the other hand, the Atlantic Sentinel article shows a deep worry about ‘[a]n informal league of Eurasian continental powers that at least passively opposes American domination’. Though I will believe it when I see it (Germany still being institutionally very heavily connected both to the EU and to NATO), such a development would be quite welcome if it helps to prevent another debacle like Libya!