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Sunday, July 26, 2015

What a Wonderful World

I'm sure most of us around the world, not busy fighting for their freedoms or their lives, will have heard the announcement by NASA about the discovery of a planet almost identical to Earth.

Putting aside the Nazi origins of NASA (heck, if we were to boycott every American-Nazi link we wouldn't watch films churned out by Hollywood), I value its determination to discover some evidence to show we are not alone in the universe. I can also understand why so many people are freaking out about this new discovery, because it's the closest match - akin to a twin - discovered thus far.

But before we all hitch our wagons to some star, it should be noted that with our current speed capabilities it would take us nearly 26 billion years to reach it. I'm sure the planet (over a billion years wiser than our own) is glad of the distance, though; it's not like we are having a party down here.

Finding a planet inhabitable for life as we know it during a time we show little respect for our own has a crooked sense of serendipity about it. It marks a wonky little detour from the normal thoroughfare of political machinations and murders, shootings and war.

It's unknown whether this "first" Earth ever nurtured a species such as ours, but if it's now extinct, it raises some questions pertinent to our current situation: Did they jump through the hoops of fire humanity has had to contend with, set up by their own vices? Or united, enlightened and peaceful, did they simply fall at evolution's final hurdle? And which one awaits us?

Down here, in the United Kingdom, there's not much union - between politicians at least. It seems that Prime Minister David Cameron has been gathering intelligence on his fellow members of Parliament in Scotland. Cameron has been too busy to respond to the accusations, however, as he is on the warpath to nuke Islamic extremism from British streets - by babysitting. As part of his government's anti-extremism prevention programme, a three-year-old child from London has been tipped as a potential future radical.

It will at least clear a path for other extremists, like the British teenager accused of plotting mass murder recently at his former college in Newcastle. Liam Lyburd spoke of his desire to kill and had referenced Norwegian killer Anders Breivik, as well as Jaylen Fryberg who shot high school five students in the United States.

In the land of the bald eagle, the Pentagon has urged US citizens not to carry out armed patrols outside military recruitment centres, since 24-year-old lone gunman Muhammed Youssef Abdulazeez attacked two military facilities in Chattanooga, Tennessee, killing five US service members.

Arguably, rather than the idiocy of protecting bases that are - well, already armed - the efforts of gun-toting Americans may be better spent in discovering who is burning black churches in their nation of the brave and free. This recent spate of KKK-type arson in the American south needed to be pushed onto the news agenda by a small group of activists, although it's unclear whether the incidents are linked or what the motivation is behind them (to silence blacks protesting against the Confederate flag, perhaps).

The climate has been blamed in some instances; the south has seen some turbulent weather, but lightning sure does strike more than once. Across just one week, starting late last month, eight black churches across America became a different shade of black, each of them charred by flames.

Black churches have always been the favoured targets of lone wolf actors or organised hate groups in America. Historically, African-Americans have used their churches for religious purposes, but also to advance political goals like escaping to freedom.

While we're on the subject of freedom from persecution, I wonder why there isn't this type of animosity between black Muslims and white Muslims? Oh wait, they're too busy throwing their own children off tall buildings for being gay, when they're not warring between their Shia and Sunni sects or trying to bomb the world in a major sulk because no one understands them.

Back to freedom, then: Or if conscientious American civilians don't feel the need to protect churches, how about they patrol the cinema theatres? It may mean shooting one of their own, though, as the recent shooting in a movie theatre in Alabama was by a far right-wing wacko. Or to heck with it, just have armoured neighbourhood watch squat teams. It's not like it isn't needed: Two teenagers have been taken into custody after five relatives were found stabbed to death inside their home in Oklahoma.

As an added bonus, it might also be a quicker way to get the coloured population down (Donald Trump should make this a part of his presidential campaign). The way American policing is going, averaging only a few black deaths a week, it could do with all the help it can get for its euthanizing drive. But putting America's ethnic cleansing trends to one side, when we read about the atrocities committed by some of our species, it makes even the enlightened mind wonder whether there isn't an argument for ethical cleansing, at least.

In England, six men involved in a child sex ring in Buckinghamshire have been found guilty of abusing two schoolgirls on a "massive scale". Among the horrific details - they passed one girl around to 60 others, in a human form of pass-the-parcel - what also struck me (I was there) was the amount of translators needed for the different languages the defendants spoke. Pakistanis, Sikhs and Indians - all historic enemies and of different faiths - had found a common theme aside from continent of origin.

It's a theme they share with the Catholic Church, and the privileged classes (especially celebrities and politicans), and a lot of child sex rings that have been busted by us in Ireland and the UK. It seems our perversions can jump over and unify differences like none other. And it's not the sole prowling ground of the male of the species, a lot of women are involved, too.

What other living species in the animal kingdom does this to their young, with such awareness of their depravity? Some even cite Biblical justification. But our choice of reading can sometimes be the safe place from the evil in the world: It's no coincidence that a recent list of young children's books selected by 500 teachers are not full of joy and mirth but are instead dark and full of horror - tales of ferocious monsters, abuse, abandonment and even death.

Human history is filled with horror bibles

The world is filled with real cautionary tales aplenty, and maybe being attracted to dark tales in youth is a survival mechanism for some of the harsher realities of our world, where dark and unsettling themes can be glimpsed and then shut within their pages. Yet, all too often we do this with our history books, when keeping the book shut on our human history - the definitive horror bible - is a mistake few can afford to make.

For instance, history shows we can't protect people by killing people. But our politicians tell us we need to protect our security by killing. So they continue to send brave soldiers to their death, or their insanity, or to come face to face with their inhumanity, and we feel no safer. It's arguable how safe we are supposed to feel if protection is murder of those with different desires - even if those desires are murderous - while the only freedom won is the freedom of politicians to spout more war rhetoric.

The simple reality is that the destructive one percent of a seven-billion-plus global population is never going to be a serious threat to our existence, unless we become part of the problem. If we keep telling people they are murderous, they will pretty soon conform to the type set them. If we take advantage of the destructive tendencies of a few to put the fear of God into the many, we won't discover a more pliable electorate, only a monster we've created out of our control.

And so we come to the open-air lunatic asylum that call themselves the Islamic State, and which I prefer to call the 51st state of the US. Where to start with this one? BBC Arab affairs analyst Magdi Abdelhadi has offered a personal view on the difficulties presented by trying to tackle Islamist extremism in the Middle East. The article covers what I've been blogging about: The American sponsored Saudi Arabia's ultra-conservative monarchy and its own brand of the Islamic faith - known as Wahhabi Islam - is barely distinguishable from the one practised by the militants in Syria and Iraq.

It is this historic American protection of the Saudis that has meant its enormous oil wealth has been used to export its own brand of the faith to the whole world - from Pakistan to north Africa and to Muslim communities in America and Western Europe. It features the strict separation of the sexes, the obligatory covering of women from head to toe, public executions and a virulent hatred of Shia Muslims and all other forms of Islam. It also contains a visceral animosity to Christianity and Judaism, the two Middle Eastern religions which predated Islam and whose followers should be, according to the Koran, respected and protected.

Sound familiar? And having allowed our national interests to give so much rope to such evil, we, in the West, are now finding ourselves hung with it. When it comes to the IS, it's too late in the game to use anything but violence, or win any sort of higher moral ground. The more extremely authorities go after the extremists, the more they will grow, even on continents at the other end of the world from their cause. The number of Australian IS sympathisers is growing, especially amongst its disenfranchised minorities, as a direct result of new Foreign Fighters legislation in Australia that has made it a crime to assist militant groups in the Middle East.

Australia has always had an interesting statute book: Until the 1960s, Aborigines came under the Flora And Fauna Act, which classified them as animals, not human beings. Although I have yet to find any Turkish legal code that classified human beings as animals, it hasn't stopped Turkish administrations in the past or present from inhumane treatment. With such a bad reputation, it's no surprise that today's elected Turkish officials come to the fight against IS a little too late, and only when it's politically advantageous - pushing foreign correspondents to question what Turkey's game really is.

Within a week, the Turkish administration has gone from reluctant observer to full player in the IS fight, and all it took was the massacre of 32 people in the Turkish town of Suruc by a Kurdish IS member and an unprovoked deadly attack against its military. The NATO member had been dodging a full role in the US-led coalition fighting IS militants for so long that the Turkish administration had been accused of colluding with IS extremists, in the hope they might further Ankara's aim of toppling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (I mean, come on, even American foreign policy hasn't gone that far).

The recent attacks put an end to those claims and Turkish ambivalence, but wouldn't it have been better to enter the ring because it was morally right, not because the reluctance to assist militant Kurds fighting the IS put your nation's security at serious threat? Turkish military strategists could have used it to try and unify with historical enemies - but can they really be blamed?

Alican Vural: The photo that came to symbolise a deadly attack in Turkey

Even though there had been a ceasefire since 2013 with militant Kurdish extremists (the Kurdistan Worker's Party, or PKK) in southern Turkey, militant fighters have refused to disarm to further the peace process, and their political arm has refused to disassociate themselves from extremist violence that takes the law into their own hands. Picture it: Would Australia's government one day side up with the IS sympathisers they've outlawed if it meant the protection of their national security?

This is why BBC correspondent Mark Lowen writes that critics believe Turkey is only striking the jihadists as cover for going after its real enemy: (drum roll please) the Kurds. Lowen fails to differentiate between the Kurds as a race, and those who have been kidnapping, killing and torturing in the name of their struggle for decades now, or that there are Kurds in the IS. Or that Turkish administrations have changed since they found God. They only go after journalists, gays and the indocile today, don't they? Anyway, Ankara's reluctance to hit IS earlier, the argument goes, was actually a reluctance to help Kurds fighting IS militants. Now both can be bombed, Turkey is willing to get involved.

The political reason for this bitterness? In June's general election, the governing AK Party lost its majority - many believe because of the stalled peace process. Militant Kurds believed it didn't go far enough, while nationalist Turks saw it as going too far. Lost votes all around. Now the AK Party are in coalition talks to form a government. If that fails, new elections would have to be held, and the AKP would hope it could win back nationalist voters who had drifted away.

By hitting the PKK and potentially ending the peace process - despised by nationalists and extremists alike - it could well achieve that and regain the AKP majority that has provided Turkey with economic stability for a decade, or bring back the bad, bad old days and destabilise it. If this is indeed lying in the minds and machinations of political strategists, then picking two simultaneous fights with both the IS and the PKK is a really difficult game to play - but one where they hope to kill two birds with one stone.

Ankara has also, finally, given the green light to US forces for the use of its Incirlik base for air strikes against the IS group in Syria and Iraq, according to American and Turkish officials. So, it looks like this could be one turkey America pardons for this year's Thanksgiving, with Stratfor's predictions about strengthening ties being fulfilled sooner than expected.

Oh, the pitfalls of civilised man. Having to dirty his hands by dealing with barbarians. I wonder how the Ancient Greeks would have handled it? Where are those 300 Spartans who massacred all those pesky Persians when you need them? But if the PKK need to take a history lesson away from this, it's that it needs to stop its violent rhetoric, because it's hurting the minority it believes it represents.

A violent faction cannot speak for the peaceful whole. The difference between IS and other activists is that IS will not survive without a war. It will disintegrate if it ever achieved peace because it is a vessel of hate. They need to constantly attack others to reinforce their existence, because causing violence is their only reason to exist.

There are displaced people - like the Palestinians - where their cause can be won peaceably, but whose cause has been hijacked by violent extremists. The IS are just wacko extremists bound together by an ancient mediaeval ideology that has been kept burning with Saudi oil, and like a parasite, found a home in Syria's bloody civil war, sparked off by a defunct Arab Spring. The Palestinians are a people looking to live in peace in their own land; I have witnessed many Palestinians reject violence outright in place of peaceable resolutions.

Nowhere is this more clear than in the village of Susiya, home to some 350 Palestinians in the West Bank, where daily existence here has long been caught up in a complicated political situation. Now, for the third time in three decades, villagers are facing the threat of another forced displacement. It has become the focus of an international campaign, drawing in European diplomats, the US state department and pro-Palestinian activists.

The villagers have deeds to the land going back to the Ottoman era, but the Israeli authorities say their current structures were built without the necessary permits. Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this. Yet, instead of violence, diplomatic pressure is being used against the move, and Israeli and foreign activists are camping out in Susiya around the clock to try to prevent demolition orders from being carried out.

Will they win their small cause? Who knows? But as long as it doesn't descend into violence, there is no loss of dignity, no shame in a lost cause. In many ways when we refuse to resort to violence, it's a cause we've won. Or was that in another world? I'm often asked what is the solution to the problems we face today, I say the solutions were obvious ten years ago. But that world is over: We have to face the reality that world is dead, and the solution to prevent this world from rising will no longer work, now it's here.

In a time where we have descended into a world of extremes, there is no place for subtlety. All we can do is pick a side we deem right or wrong and fight for it - while hoping we don't lose too much of ourselves and what truly makes us human in the process. I've chosen freedom and non-violence, but I realise these are times where you cannot use one to defend the other. Even those who are trying, like in the little village of Susiya, are tiny stars in an ever expanding dark sky.

There was a time, when I'd blog about the bad news in the press and then balance it out with feel-good stories. Like the gutsy British Second World War Muslim heroine you'll have never heard about, or the mother who smuggled her gay son out of IS to safety, or the surfer who left the race to save his Australian rival from a shark attack, or the two boys who ran into a neighbour's burning house to rescue two young children in Florida.

I used to share these stories, because I believed they made up the majority of us. It was my way of saying that we are more good than bad. I still believe it; I believe in us, but I feel the global balance has shifted: We are reciting out of a bible of horror, and for some time to come we must focus on the fight ahead. A little bit of deferential humour with the seriousness always comes in handy, but the order of the day is to face the reality the brave, new world we dreamed of will not be ours.

If we work really hard, it might be the world we leave our children, but we don't have a choice: We can't hitch our wagons and get the hell out of Dodge - as the news of finding a twin planet to Earth shows.

Possibly the most mind-troubling suggestion provoked by NASA's telescope is that the distant discovery makes Earth appear more alone than ever, not the reverse. More reason, then, to learn to get on with one another, I would have thought, and not look to the skies for help.

Besides, the solution for the fault in ourselves is not in the stars. It's in our hands. But in our increasingly bloodied hands, we have dropped the ball.

It will take time for us to pick it back up.

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