The militant, violent non-violence of love

Reflection on Jesus' call to jihadists and us: the militant, violent non-violence of love

News of jihadist brutalities in establishing an Islamic State (Isis) in Iraq and Syria has impacted me deeply.  Beheadings of American and British prisoners, reports of violence against Kurds, Christians and even fellow Muslims with differing views is appalling and invites response.  How do we respond to the current climate of terror and unrest in the Middle East that is in alignment with Jesus’ teaching and example of suffering, saving love?

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Referendums, re-engaged voters and the demise of the spin doctors

Alan Staff takes a look at the political landscape post the Scottish referendum and asks "is honesty the new pragmatism?"

From whatever political starting point you come from in Scotland there is no doubt that the overwhelming sentiment expressed at referendum was for some sort of change, whether within or without the Union.

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How to vote on air strikes - a brief guide

Once again, Parliament is to debate military action in the Middle East. MPs (and peers) will debate the case for action in Iraq against ISIL. The government’s position on military action and its motion before Parliament outline its case for action in Iraq. They emphasise the nature and activities of ISIL. The government has ruled out action in Syria without additional debate in Parliament.

In contrast to the Syria debate last year, there appears to be more support for action by the UK. Nevertheless, the government’s case for action still needs to be assessed. MPs should use Just War criteria to do so. Here is a brief guide.

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A More Just Scotland, In A More Just World

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It would appear from newspaper adverts that there is a Christian view on the Scottish independence referendum.  A group of Church of Scotland Ministers signed an advert supporting a yes vote and only this week a group of Catholics have also put their names to an advert.  Are they right and is theirs the only voice which should be heard? 

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Belle - standing together

Dr_G_Giles.jpgCoalitions of Conscience

As the second reading of the 0.7% Aid Bill takes place, Dr. Graham Giles MBE encourages us to stand together seeing international development as a "hot issue" not a "hot potato". 

Labour Affiliates can punch above their weight on matters of moral responsibility by standing together, not least on the future aid budget.   ‘Christians on the Left’ are providing resources to help local church groups up and down the country to become more active in local and national politics.  ‘Labour Campaign for International Development’ has launched its door-step guide to give PPCs a really positive narrative about the values of British aid.  In his ‘CotL’ blog Rev Graham Hunter reminded that our historic heroes built coalitions of conscience to speak up for the interests of the downtrodden, marginalised and powerless.   We seek, he wrote, ‘to build a broad coalition to campaign for the goals of historic Christian Socialism, namely, equality, justice, the fight against poverty, and the battle for human dignity’.  On this LCID and CotL stand shoulder to shoulder.

I took two hours out recently to watch the movie “Belle”.  Dido Belle was the 18th  Century illegitimate mixed-race daughter of Lord Chief Justice Mansfield's nephew Admiral Sir John Lindsay and an African slave Maria Belle. Set at a time of legal significance when a court case is heard on what became known as the Zong massacre.  Children, women and men were thrown overboard from a slave ship and the owner filed with his insurance company for ‘cargo’ losses. Lord Mansfield ruled on this case in England's Court of King's Bench in a decision which contributed to the abolition of slavery in the British Colonies.  After the first trial, freed slave Olaudah Equiano brought news of the massacre to the attention of anti-slavery campaigners, who worked unsuccessfully to have the ship's crew prosecuted for murder.

An 1839 book on coalitions of conscience that achieved the Abolition of the African Slave Trade, included an account of the Zong killings.  This influenced the artist Turner, who displayed a painting The Slave Ship at the Royal Academy 1840 summer exhibition.  Turner depicted a vessel from which slaves had been thrown into the sea to be devoured by sharks. Details in the painting, such as shackles worn by the slaves, were influenced by illustrations in the book.  Gilded frames in English galleries contain uncomfortable truths.  Johann Zoffany’s portrait of Dido Belle with her white cousin Lady Elizabeth, and Turner’s ‘The Slave Ship’ both demonstrate that progress in social behavior and international convention have not been easy voyages for Britain.  The fight goes on, not least to stem the tide of human trafficking, racial intolerance and social isolationism.

Dido Belle was obliged to dine alone in a mansion to avoid offending guests at the Earl’s table.  We still need vocal alliances for social justice, to challenge conscience, humble hubris, and energise international economic ethics.  Nationalism and white-supremacy are not quite silent yet.  An English Boadicea was caught on the evening news declaring ‘they should remember who puts food on their tables’. Our political messengers cannot preserve public favor by means of ambiguity.  International Development is a hot issue it’s not a hot potato.  Overseas aid and enlightened internationalism require coherent collaboration between Labour movement affiliates to guarantee that our leaders do not stand silently by.  Boat people and victims of exploitation in 2014 need our British better conscience to behave generously.  When good people remain tight-lipped evil euphemisms triumph.

Graham Giles is a member of LCID Executive Committee

 

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WIN/WIN: SOME POSITIVE THOUGHTS ON THE REFERENDUM

Writing on the Scottish referendum, Tom Carty looks at the broader question of the UK as a recent construction and the changing nature of the political landscape.

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Child Benefit - A Christian Social Policy

Why is it so important as Christians that we defend Child Benefit?

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Agents for change - Christians on the left makes an impact at Greenbelt

Haydon Spenceley writes from Greenbelt where the motion “This House Believes The 2015 Election Will Make No Significant Difference to the Future of Britain” was being debated. Haydon reminds us of the importance of the coming election and that however broken the system, it is better to be involved. 

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Lessons from Africa

Alan Staff reflects on his experience as part of a mission and fact finding team to Rwanda and Burundi, asking whether our approach to and perceptions of aid are quite what we might think.

Having recently returned from a working visit to Rwanda and Burundi I was struck by how the two different political systems have a direct effect on their respective populations, and the different attitudes expressed by residents concerning leadership.  While there is no doubt that most people in the UK would feel that Central African politics has little to teach and everything to learn from us, I think that there are some very obvious lessons which we might learn.  If there is one point that the National Genocide Museum/memorial in Kigali makes very strongly it is that human rights atrocities and welfare crises are invariably predictable, understandable, potentially preventable and yet repeated with a savage inevitability.  It is the belief that ‘it couldn’t happen here,’ which allows us to detach from or take a morally superior view of the issues which we would rather avoid dealing with.

Rwanda is beyond doubt a success story in developmental and economic terms.  Everywhere there is evidence of investment, infrastructure improvements and productivity, especially around the capital. A significant presence of aid organisations and corporate investors suggests that this country, so recently torn apart by politically engineered genocide is taking rapid steps toward prosperity.  Those benefitting from this new optimism are positive in their view of the future and very supportive of the Government for the benefits of infrastructure, agriculture and a sense of national pride.

In Burundi however we saw little sign of investment in infrastructure, a strong sense that corruption in both government and business was crippling the country, and a level of social tension and overt aggression was evident on the streets.  Huge numbers of disaffected unemployed young men congregate on roadsides and the presence of armed military, police and security guards everywhere merely increased the sense that this is an unstable society barely able to control its own fears.

Is all what it seems?  In Rwanda we were aware that there is sense that it is dangerous to criticise the government and that the apparent prosperity is at the price of living with a potentially repressive political system conscious of its country’s recent history and of the potential for political coup or of influential political movements emerging.  Political language, for all its modernised appearance still has elements of guarded violence and the further you go from Kigali the less evidence there is that the ambition of those in power is able to extend into the desperately poor rural communities.  This is not to say that the intention is not there but there is a difficult juxtaposition between the building of prestige projects ostensibly to increase the sense of national pride, and the chronic need of those for whom the growth offers no benefits as yet.

Burundi, facing elections next year, has a government which appears to be openly criticised by many of the population and has a long history of coups and corruption at the highest level.  It was very difficult to find anyone whose attitude towards the government was positive, and there was a degree of fatalism around the likelihood of social or economic conditions changing.  We spoke with a number of people who had lived and worked in both countries and there is a clear drift of employees from Burundi to Rwanda which is being replaced by relatively uncontrolled migration from the DRC into Burundi, usually with little in the way of resources or usable skills.

These two nations, in many ways so alike, offer a dangerous and highly flammable cocktail in an area already surrounded by civil disputes and ideological conflicts.  The combination of a marked contrast in the fortunes of the two countries, the presence of so many unemployed young people looking for a cause or point for their existence and the socio-political history of the area make this a seriously volatile region despite the world political view that at least one of the two countries is prospering and offers potential return on investment.  The impact of one country thriving and its neighbour declining presents huge problems in managing socio-economic migration causing increasing pressure on the one hand to control and marginalise those migrants, and on the other a skills drain from an area which most needs those workers.  To what extent do we consider these practicalities when we consider where we place aid, support or investment? Are there reasons to consider the effect of economic exploitation dressed in investment clothes into one area we like because they say the right things, but not into a neighbouring state which we fear to be less stable?  What are we actually learning from our political history in the world’s conflict zones if it is not that economic support which is given on ideological grounds rather than simply on the basis of need and humanitarian consideration has a very nasty habit of biting us on the tail.  This is especially the case where arms and associated supplies are included in the package.

Is cross border economic migration a natural balancing effect in international resource management or is it the precursor to cultural and social tensions which inevitably breed nationalistic and protective social change?  It is easy to look at places like Rwanda or Burundi and pretend that we are so much more advanced in our thinking and yet even the most cursory glance at our own socio-political landscape must send out warnings.  Most specifically these warnings will relate to a growing sense of or search for national or social cohesion leading to social fragmentation and a backlash against multi-culturalism.  This is frequently coupled with a reduction in trust in the government and law, concerns about transparency not only in public conduct but in economic practice and policy, and the impact of uncontrolled manipulation of populations and government by corporate entities including the press. Political responses to this tend to be predictable and most frequently based less upon rational or humanitarian principles and more upon appeasement of populist trends or vested interest.  Actually Africa looks a lot like us, just with less clothes!

Alan Staff is CEO of Apex Scotland, a charity working with offenders and those at risk of offending, and is an elder at St John’s Evangelical Church, Linlithgow.  He has a background in community development, mental health care and social policy.

 

 

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Thinking about the Scottish Referendum

In his article on the Scottish referendum Charles Litster examines the campaign and encourages us to think and pray about what happens after September 19th. 

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