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Billy King


Nonviolence News



These are regular editorials produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent News.

Number 194: November 2011

[Return to related issue of Nonviolence News]

A bad time to be a dictator or oligarch?

So is it a bad time to be a dictator? Muammar Gaddafi was shot after he was already captured, and Saddam Hussein was hanged. If you think back almost seven decades to Adolf Hitler, he committed suicide, and while Josef Stalin died in his bed he did so friendless and not well attended to regarding his personal or medical needs – everyone was too scared to intervene. For some reason ‘the West’, which had most recently been cosying up to Gaddafi via Tony Blair and others, decided to back the rebels in Libya, with NATO deliberately misreading a UN resolution to protect civilians as a charter to oust Gaddafi but mainly by the cowards’ way of bombing the hell out of the country’s pro-Gaddafi forces and state installations. While there may have been genuine concern for the wellbeing of people in Libya, and the Arab Spring had changed views of the countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), other strategic interests will have played a part in NATO getting involved, and oil would have been one of these.

But Libya is a bad example of how change should happen. NATO is not going to bomb the corrupt, autocratic regimes of the MENA countries and if it did so it would be bombing its staunch allies such as Saudi Arabia. This is exactly the point. If you are an autocratic regime which backs the West consistently then it is not going to intervene, in fact it will continue to reward you. So much for morality.

However military revolutions against dictators are a long shot, so to speak, as said dictator is likely to have nearly all the weapons (supplied at great expense - and with very considerable profits accruing to the West). The Libyan revolution, once it went in the direction of violence – which had been first instigated by the state – was not going to win militarily without the massive firepower that NATO brought to bear on Gaddafi’s military and installations. Clearly the military route is the wrong one to take. That said, conducting a nonviolent campaign in the face of great state oppression and violence requires great courage and tenacity, as well as imagination.

The country at the origin of the Arab Spring, Tunisia, has been making progress with free and successful elections hopefully leading to a new constitution which will safeguard people’s rights and democracy. But the regimes in other MENA countries, such as Syria, have been more successful in resisting change. However it will be difficult if not impossible to put the genie back in the bottle. These countries will not be the same again and the dictators will not sleep so soundly in their beds, whatever the result. People have started to stand up in a new way and they will continue to do so when they can; but they may suffer for doing so.

There are debates about the links between the Occupy/Occupy Wall Street movement and the Arab Spring. Some people think of the Arab Spring as heroic and western protests as simply disaffected youth with nothing better to do. But the West is not currently treating its young people well; youth unemployment is chronic. While the West may claim, to some degree legitimately, that it has democracy, it has to be analysed as to what that democracy entails. The decision to go to war in Iraq and Afghanistan was not made by ‘the people’, it was made by a few politicians in different countries who did not listen to their people. The decision to bail out the banks, in many countries, was not made by ‘the people’, and while the ramifications of such bail outs may have been unknown they could, if analysed, have been guessed at; massive cuts to all sorts of social, educational and welfare programmes. If the truth were known then ‘the people’ would have made different decisions.

In other words, democracy has not delivered for the ordinary people of the West. Vested interests – banks and the rich – have been protected while ordinary people have been let go to the wall. The general level of freedom enjoyed in the West compared to MENA countries may be very different but if ‘the will of the people’ is ignored by politicians then the effects may be the same. And if democracy does not deliver for ordinary people then is it any wonder that disenchantment sets in? The Occupy movement may not have a clear set of demands, and it is probably much more difficult in the West to have such a set of demands compared to MENA countries where basic freedoms need to be established. As time goes on, then the Occupy movement may have to make clear demands in particular countries and situations but the fact that it has not, and has not had to do so to date, is probably in its favour since it cannot be quickly written off by those who like to take apart any alternative.

Democracy can go stale. Politicians can ignore the people who elected them except at election time. It is not just the dictators of the world who should wake up and heed the will of the people that they govern. The same needs to happen in ‘democratic’ states where there needs to be an evolution of thinking in relation to democracy which does not assume that elections every four or five years makes everything wonderful, just – or ‘democratic’.

- - - - -

Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –

Eco Responsibility

Belief in immortality, with the focus on qualifying for a place in Heaven, gives believers a sense of meaning and purpose. Religions tell us that entry into Heaven can be assured through following certain codes of conduct, such as the Ten Commandments or abiding by teachings outlined in a Holy Book. If one lives a life beyond the religious call of duty, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and visiting the imprisoned, then the believer can expect a five-star experience in the afterlife. Although this paradigm is not supported by science it has elegance and order.

Except for Buddhism and Jainism none of the world religions has traditionally taught that humankind has a duty of care towards nonhuman nature. When for example Europeans, many of whom had strong religious convictions, arrived in the Americas, Australia, New Zealand and Africa they systematically decimated biodiversity and altered landscapes in the name of progress. The murder of indigenous people was not thought to bar one from entry into Heaven.

As the religious widely hold that nonhuman nature is inanimate, and therefore of no spiritual / divine value, they see no reason to protect it other than for economic gain. This view is an integral part of the global economic system as borne out by the example of Malaysia’s intention to clear fell 75,000 hectares of primary rainforest on the island of Borneo in order to grow palm-oil. As palm-oil is used as an ingredient in innumerable food and non-food products it makes shoppers party to this ecocide.

For the atheist death is oblivion, which means that life has no divine or cosmic purpose. As atheists don’t find succour in the idea of legacy, which can provide a sense of meaning and purpose, they don’t have any obvious self-serving reason to feel responsible for nonhuman nature. Why then should atheists, who don’t have an avenging God to fear, not cause ecological mayhem in order to meet their needs and satisfy their greed?

If the global economy is the personification of our values then it is clear that as a species we have opted for a mode of living that has little regard for the welfare of nonhuman nature or structural justice. With regard to nonhuman nature this is verified by our response to climate change. The New Scientist, 22 October informs us that:
“Our current emissions trajectory is close to the worst-case scenario of the intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. If we continue on this path, CO2 levels could hit 1000 ppm by 2100 – or perhaps even higher.”

Knowledge of the global dimensions of our negative impact on nonhuman nature has been a part of common consciousness for almost two decades, yet we behave as if how we live does not have an impact on the world around us. This suggests that we see no rationale, no self-gain, in living in a compassionate and ecologically sustainable way. Yet, the paradigm of self-gain, short-termism and societal well-being as measured by GNP is one that has failed as judged by key ecological indices, the number of people living in extreme poverty and the cycle of boom and bust economics.

The rationale to care about the environment and injustices has nothing to do with religious constructs. This is for two reasons. Firstly, social scientists have shown that above a certain income level there is no casual relationship between wealth and happiness. This means that there is no need for endless economic growth, but rather a need for a more equitable distribution of wealth. (The Spirit Level, 2010, by R. Wilkinson & K. Pickett) Secondly, we live in a web of economic, ecological and social relationships, which means that when we harm the Earth and live without regard for others we harm ourselves.

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