The Continued Western Global Intolerance towards the Islamic Faith

It is 13 years since I first wrote this article in response to the xenophobic attack on the Islamic faith by two contributors to the conservative Australian publication Quadrant. I am publishing it again after the horrific attack on Muslim, men, women and children while they prayed during Friday prayers in the two Mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand on March 15th, 2019. There’s been little progress globally for tolerance and acceptance of difference whether it is to do with religious world views, immigration, race, and culture.  Hatred and fear of difference seem to have become a feature of the not so ‘enlightened’ technological age of the 21st century. The savage murder of so many people since the start of 2015 because of their religious belief is a blight on all of humanity. It’s an assault on the dignity of everyone on the planet, and sadly there seems no end in sight to this madness
I have spent the last 16 years of my career as teacher and educational administrator living and working in the Islamic countries of the Middle East and South Asia, as a Catholic Christian. I count among my friends many ordinary people who are Muslim, and share an abhorrence at the distorted perversion of their faith by the far right, white extremists from the Western nations of Europe, The United States of America,and Australia to name a few.  The attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand, on two mosques highlight once again, the misrepresentation of Islam through the distorted lenses of ignorant politicians, the far right and their obsession with ‘free speech’ (whatever that means anyway because in reality no speech is free, and it comes along with accountability and responsibility: two key virtues lacking in the extremist  lexicon). The terror attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand have shocked and numbed myself and my New Zealand compatriots of all faiths. Our small country at the bottom of the world has lost its innocence, through a deliberate terrorist attack, formulated and planned to create chaos, and sow discord in our country; but it failed. The tragedy is that it took the loss of 50 innocent lives (men, women and children; and perhaps more as there are many on the critically ill list) to show that love in the world triumphs over pure evil. To all my Muslim friends here in Pakistan, and New Zealand, I offer my sincere condolences at this time. Be assured of my support for your faith, and your right to live in peace, and harmony in any country of your choosing.

I was greatly relieved when my September 2006 issue of Quadrant arrived in Jeddah, in its clear plastic envelope. Moreover I was delighted that it had made its way passed the censors, particularly with its bold subheading The Growing Problem with Islam in at least a size 18 black type font, just below the magazine title. One could assume one of two reasons for this. Firstly, since the accession of King Abdullah (now deceased) there’s been an opening up of the Kingdom to some aspects of western media and its myriad forms of communication. It is not uncommon to finds books on Eastern meditation, westernized Yoga practices alongside American style self-help texts and periodicals like the Economist, Time and Newsweek, (but alas not Quadrant-at least not yet). Texts on Islam other than wahabbism are also available. I recently purchased the works of Rumi, the 13th Century Islamist Persian poet; renowned for his devout faith and mystical prayers to God; in a bookshop in Jeddah-one of chain of bookshops not dissimilar to Borders or Barns & Noble- in the Kingdom. It has a wide range of reading material from around the world. So the censors may often allow in magazines which provide some critic of the country; but they will censor anything which holds the Royal Family, and/or the Islamic faith up to too much criticism and/or ridicule (similar to Thailand and its laws governing the Royal family and Buddhism) The second reason could be that it slipped through without being noticed. This is highly unlikely given the strict scrutiny of anything coming into the Kingdom.
I read with keen interest both John Stone’s and Paul Stenhouse’s views on Islam and offer the following critical response. While a clearly well written piece it is my view that the writers do not distinguish clearly enough between the Islamic faith as practiced by over 1 billion people in the world, and malevolent, destructive anti-social behavior, along with a fundamentally conservative political ideology which has hijacked the Islamic faith for its own purposes. An ideology which I might add, is to be found in Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism and a number of other faith based belief systems.
The title of John Stone’s article is disturbing, “The Muslim Problem and What to Do About It’, given that 80 years ago we might have read in magazines of a European cultural persuasion “The Jewish Problem and What to Do About It”. It seems to me, from my perspective as a westerner living and working in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, some 30 minutes from Mecca and Medina; the two holiest places in the Islamic world, that “the clear and present danger confronting us”[1] all is a lack of choosing to distinguish between Islam as a genuine faith emanating from Abraham, and acts of terrorism in their most malevolent form as practiced by criminals who happen (by chance?) to have been born into the Islamic faith.
Stone cites a number of incidents, which have received coverage in the international media, as well as in the Kingdom through the English language newspapers, as evidence of an ‘Islamic cancer’ [2] in the body politic of Australian culture. From the tenor and tone of his writing I assume he would apply this analogy outside of Australian society too-say to New Zealand, Great Britain, Canada, France, Germany and the United States of America. For he writes “It is a problem that is similar to the Muslim problem in all Western Countries where a significant immigrant Muslim minority has been allowed to become established”[3]. The use of the medical metaphor to demonize a whole group of people has been practiced before, and once successful enabled whole sub-groups within a society to be considered less than human and eventually exterminated. Besides Nazi Germany other more recent examples exist for us to choose from; Bosnia Herzegovina, Rwanda, Darfur in the Sudan and the Palestinians imprisoned in their small pieces of land designated by some as the Palestinian Territories.

What is the exact problem Stone cites? Is it really a problem of the “failure of multi-culturalism” as he suggest? Is it the angst he cites from one European Commissioner who spoke to an Australian journalist? Is it the failure of Australian society’s infrastructure in supporting unity through diversity? It is none of these. Rather, Stone’s address is a veiled attack on the Islamic faith itself. The core of the Muslim problem-for the world, not merely for Australia he writes, “lies in the essence of Islam itself”.[4]
Writing like a Crusader of old John Stone uses growing social unrest in Australian society to mask a full frontal attack on one of the world’s great monotheistic religions. Moreover, the ideals and principles of both Christianity and Islam are ignored to support an argument which asserts that Islam as a religion, and those States that are a single Islamic polity are incompatible with Western culture. Stone avoids defining what Western Culture is, although the irony is that within the subtext of his writing he appears to assert that it is a culture which is just as intolerant as the Islam he thinks he knows. John Stone’s vehemence towards Islam is not unlike that of Peter the Venerable, who proclaimed the “bestial cruelty of Islam”[5] at a time when Jews and Muslims were fair game for Christians, who in turn had laid claim to their own form of Gnosis through advocating the idea that killing large numbers of Jewish and Muslim men, women and children was simply exterminating a heresy. The sad irony here is that Jesus had urged his followers to love their enemies not annihilate them. It is my understanding that the Gospel message has not changed today; despite claims that render its interpretation as too literal and threatening the political and social stability of the Western polity.
Contrary to the assertion he makes “that Islamic and Western Cultures are today, within a single polity, incompatible” [6] there are a significant number of examples where people who practice their faith through the religion of Islam are happily integrated into their new cultures and countries. These can be found in all Western countries including the United States of American Canada, Great Britain, The Republic of Ireland, the European Union and New Zealand. Singapore in particular is a model of religious tolerance and an example of Islamic compatibility in a single polity. Furthermore, although continually asserting the right to do so, the state of Turkey is a model of a secular Muslim state in which a single polity is able to affect good governance.
I would further assert through experience and example that Islam is tolerant towards other faiths. While not considered democratic within a western definition Syrian Christians and Jews (before the civil war) were able to live and practice their faiths without discrimination; as are Christian and Jews to a large extent, in Iran and Egypt. Christians in Saudi Arabia are allowed to practice their faiths (On occasions I would attend Mass in a private house on my compound) although overt displays or actively promoting conversions from Islam to Christianity are prohibited.
The simple truth for the West is that since the turn of the 21st century it has had to learn about Islam, given the scant acknowledgment of Islam in both private and public education throughout the 20th century. Moreover, the West has had to come to terms with another simple truth too, that Islam is one of the fastest growing faiths in the world, while Christianity, as practiced in the West is in decline. These are specific Western problems which Western Nations must address through education; rather than using another faith virtually unknown to average Westerners, as the scapegoat.
Although Paul Stenhouse chooses a more moderate position, he also attacks the Islamic faith, and coming from a member of the Catholic Clergy who should be better versed in theologies other than his own; if not for conversion purposes rather than anything else; his condemnation is perhaps more perfidious. He cannot take the moral high ground given his own faiths transgressions of Christ’s message of peace on earth and good will to all of mankind. Moreover to argue that the perceived trade off as interpreted by western historians, between the founders of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and the religious leaders of Islam on the Arabian peninsula; the Hanabali Wahhabis, “wreaks more havoc than malaria or dengue fever” [7] throughout Islam per se; is a dangerous and outrageous claim to make. Like Stones medical metaphor, Stenhouse uses the same approach to demonize Islamic orthodoxy. His Islamophobia is simply crusadic in essence and is very revealing from a Catholic doctrinal view point. Father Stenhouse’s claim could equally be made against those who converted Constantine to Christianity, and there’s much evidence to argue that Christianity as practiced through Catholicism and Anglicanism is simply an aristocratic religion, divested of its intrinsic message from Christ’s ‘ Blessed are the poor and the peace makers’.

Stenhouse also confuses those who use, to quote the late King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, a ‘heresy’ to promote a political cause. Yes, there are radical groups in the Middle East, Northern and Western Africa and throughout the world who advocate the violent overthrow of Governments and the persecution of non-Muslims. At the same time all governments are working together to defeat these usurpers and nowhere is this more evident than in Saudi Arabia, where the efforts of the Government has seen a period of stability and calm return to the Kingdom.
There are also simply historical errors and theological problems with Father Stenhouse’s argument. His claims that the alleged tolerance enjoyed by non-Muslim minorities in Spain from AD711 until 1492 is “propagandist urban myth along the lines of alligators in the New York sewers” [8] is simply clever sophism and not true. Jews who had suffered persecution under Roman and Christian occupation on the Iberian Peninsula were the first to experience religious freedom after the Arab-Muslim conquest of Spain. Jews were given their freedom while Christians were allowed to maintain their customs in an effort to maintain local order. It is well known that educated Christians and Jews learned Arabic and contributed significantly to the multi-cultural Arab-Muslim society. The same cannot be said of the Catholic reconquest of Spain from about 1085 where options given by Ferdinand and Isabella were “exile, conversion to Catholicism or death” [9]. All religions have a history of proselytization too-not always by peaceful means either.
Islam does encourage theological debate and argument within its religious world view. And like the office of the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, central to protect Catholic dogma and Doctrine, Islam looks critically at any academic enquiry which focuses on its central tenet of faith-that Mohammed was the last prophet sent by God. There’s nothing to stop Muslims or non-Muslims to debate or discuss this point.
As an educator I am deeply concerned about the growing intolerance developing in the world towards people of different religions. While I found the articles by John Stone and Paul Stenhouse disturbing because of the overt anti-Islamic tone, and the writer’s confusion between a religious faith on the one hand and a destructive ant-life ideology spawned through political and social discontent on the other; the more worrying aspect for me is the inability of a Stone and Stenhouse to distinguish between these two points for their audience, along with the composite view that all the problems evident in North Africa, the Far, Near and Middle east are sourced in Islam as a religion, rather than the more apparent social, economic and environmental problems facing these people, regardless of their faith.
I have worked and traveled in the Middle East for six years (now 16years) I am taken with the integration of Islam, Christianity and Judaism in, Egypt, Jordan and Iran. I respect and understand from my own deep spiritual experiences the way the peoples of the Muslim communities live their spiritual lives through being called to prayer 5 times a day, yet being able to live a social and commercially based life which successfully cooperates and competes with the West and its neighbors.
I teach students who several generations on are part of the Palestinian Diaspora, along with those who recently fled Lebanon during the summer war of 2006. They are children of the Islamic faith and like their western counterparts, regardless of their religious beliefs, wish for a world of peace and tolerance. They struggle to understand the attacks on their faith; yet are politically aware and understand the problems they face in a world which has apparently grown indifferent to their histories and points of view. When well-educated individuals, including writers, Popes, political and religious leaders invoke images and arguments that have laid dormant in the annals of history we may well ask wherein lies the future for our children? The answer is that we must stand strong together –Kia Kaha-and demonstrate love and unity together and that in difference we celebrate our humanity.

References:
1. Stone, J The Muslim Problem and What to Do About It, Quadrant, September 2006, p. 11
2. Op.Cit
3. Ibid, p.12
4. Ibid, p.14
5. Armstrong, K, We cannot afford to maintain these ancient prejudices against Islam The Guardian, September 18th, 2006.
6. Stone, J, The Muslim Problem and What To Do About It Quadrant, September 2006, p 15.
7. Stenhouse, P, Standing Up To The Islamists Quadrant, September 2006, p 23
8. Stenhouse, P. Ibid, p.22
9. Renard, J, Responses to 101 Questions on Islam, p. 28

The United States of America cannot see the ‘Bullets for the Guns’

The attack on Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Wednesday February 14th is the 17th school shooting in the U.S. within the first 45 days of 2018. 17 victims; teachers and students, were slain and 14 hospitalized, in this massacre.  Several of the deadliest mass shootings in modern U.S. history have occurred in places of learning. Such tragedies give us pause for reflection in any community.

The aftermath has brought with it the usual recriminations and justifications from US authorities and politicians, including the NRA and the President of the United States. The latter have suggested that teachers should carry guns, and the NRA has promised free training and support for teachers who do so. This is the suppressed madness of sane men. It seems that some of the wealthiest individuals and lobby groups in the United States cannot see the “bullets for the guns”.

However, their voices are being drowned out by the righteous anger and intelligent indignation of the friends of the slain; the young people who survived, and the parents of the deceased. They are calling for legislation which will reform and limit gun ownership, and bring the 2nd amendment of the United States Constitution into the 21st century, rather than leave it in the quagmire of 18th century militia rivalry and lawlessness.

Here is what they have had to say:

We all offer our condolences to the families of the young people and adults, who lost their lives so tragically on the 14th February, 2018.

Réquiem ætérnam dona eis Dómine; et lux perpétua lúceat eis. Requiéscant in pace.

 

 

The 21st Century Digitized Panoptican

Humanyze is a data analytic company. Its mission is to monitor employee’s work day through the use of digital technology. Designed at MIT, The Humanyze Badge Platform allows employers to monitor their employees every second of every minute of every hour whilst employed in their company, collecting all kinds of data related to their work and personal and professional communications. Humanyze’s ideas are nothing new. The digitization of Taylor’s flawed theory of ‘scientific management” is already used by corporate technology companies (Google, Amazon, Facebook etc.) to gather personal data, bother them with annoying, irrelevant advertising as well as to monitor their employees. But now it has gone mainstream in the workplace.

Taylor (1856-1916) was a determinist who believed that everything a human is and does can be measured or quantified. Taylorism attempted to analyze and measure workflows in the early days of manufacturing and corporate industrialism. I recall it in the 1970’s while working in a company who instituted a “Time and Motion Department”.  It wasn’t to monitor the washrooms. Its main focus was on measuring product output and meeting targets-if the target was met employees were doing their job-if it wasn’t the people from the ‘Time and Motion’ Department marched in with their clipboards, observed the means of production, took copious amounts of notes, then departed. A week or so later a new machine or a few more employees appeared or disappeared.

While Taylorism diminished as a theory in the quarter half of the 20th century, other theories grew around it-these incorporated the deterministic ideas of scientism along with behaviorism, logical positivism and a crude form of rationality theory.

Humanyze has taken these de-humanizing theories and turned them into a kind of digitized quasi- moral argument for protecting both employers and employees through “a commitment by a company to continuous improvement” (Humanyze, 2016) while in reality it is the intrusive monitoring of employees in the workplace.

Humanyze’s Badge platform, by its own admission “is at its most powerful when adopted company wide” (Humanyze, 2016) It is a somewhat naïve and cynical argument to claim that the badge “empowers employees to benchmark themselves against career path goals and take actions to achieve those goals” It is misleading. In actuality all kinds of data may be collected about employees without their full knowledge and informed consent. They may not know the nature of the data collected and how it will be used.

Humanyze is the digitization of the Panoptican (Bentham 1748-1832). The concept of Humanyze’s design is to allow all employees of a company to be observed and monitored by a single person or piece of technology without them being able to tell whether or not they are being observed or monitored.

In Bentham’s time it was physically impossible for a single person to observe and monitor everyone at once, the fact that those in the Panoptican could not know when they were being observed or monitored meant that everyone had to act as though they were being observed and monitored all the time. Humanyze’s product allows for the continuous monitoring of employees and the mass accumulation of data on every single employee of a company. The sinister ‘buy in’ sought from employees according to big data analytics, is that they have access to their data. However, they’ve no control over how their data is to be used.

Humanyze’s products are marketed “to leverage internal digital communication and to identify risks within their organization” (Humanyze, 2016). This is simply the obfuscation of the real goal which is to gather employee data and use that data to bring to realization the Orwellian concept of compliant citizen workers. The risks to an employee’s privacy are subjugated to the crude theories of managerialism whereby “Managers can proactively understand disruptions to their teams or can be warned of potential project failures based on communication gaps and  senior leadership can understand the behavior profiles of high performing teams and target training to raise the performance of all teams” (Humanyze, 2016). The potential misuse of data and the ethical consideration which should underpin the mass gathering of employee data (or anyone’s for that matter) are missing.

Humanyze declares unashamedly the extent to which an employee’s privacy will be invaded: “As part of the Digital Platform, Humanyze offers fully automated extraction services to enable ease of deployment. Our extraction tool, DGGT (pronounced “dig it”), will allow your technical staff to configure and automate extractions for most major email, calendar, and chat platforms (Humanyze, 2016).

Humanyze hasn’t considered all  the legal and ethical implications of its products. For example there’s the potential for discrimination. The use of data analytics by the public and private sector may be used by governments and companies to make determinations about our lives and our own right to self-determination. The use of predictive analytics makes decisions and judgments about people and will have a negative impact on individuals because it is devoid of any value based social communicative process. Humanyze potentially and in all likelihood legitimizes covert discrimination of employees through its data analytics. It will be very difficult for any employee to detect and prove they are being subject to any kind of discrimination based upon their age, race, creed, color, sex, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, marital status or socioeconomic status.

In addition there is the potential for massive breaches of personal data. Already we’ve seen the exposure of millions of employees and private citizen’s personal details through hacking.  (Armerding, 2014).

There is also the risk of big data being used by second and third parties for research purposes without legal and ethical consent from those whose data has been collected. It isn’t possible to securely anonymise all data. Individuals and groups can always be identified.

If Humanyze’s products are to have integrity then individual employees should have control over what data companies collect on them and how it is used.

Unlike Europe and the UK, data protection in the United States is complex when it isn’t used randomly by Government agencies and their surrogates. Sotto and Simpson describe US data protection laws like a ‘patchwork quilt” (Sotto & Simpson, 2014) and reading through the complex laws at a federal and state level it seems that “…in regulated contexts…individuals are provided with limited choices regarding the use of their information”. This is perhaps something everyone knows-but a digitized Panoptican isn’t going to reverse this or for that matter change anything in favor of the individual in the foreseeable future.

 

 

 

 

References

Armerding, T. (2014, December 8). The 5 worst Big Data privacy risks (and how to guard against them). Retrieved from CSO: http://www.csoonline.com/article/2855641/big-data-security/the-5-worst-big-data-privacy-risks-and-how-to-guard-against-them.html

Humanyze. (2016, September 14). Humanyze: How It Works. Retrieved from Humanyze: http://www.humanyze.com/products.html

Sotto, L., & Simpson, A. (2014). Data and Privacy Protection. London: Law Business Research.

 

 

 

Forgive Us Our Trespasses, 私たちの罪を赦し, Rimetti a noi i nostri debiti, আমাদেরকে ক্ষমা করে দাও আমাদের পাপ, हमें माफ कर दो हमारे अपराधों

peace 2peace

Please forgive me for lumping together the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme with this year’s (2016) terrorist attacks in Europe, North Africa, the United States, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. But the news is all gloom and history has a way of catching up with us. I use the term terrorist and war loosely, and may be criticized-but death is death and the slaughter of innocent people is just that: slaughter of the innocence. The battles fields of Europe, Asia, the Middle East are often lumped together as historical manifestations of past wrongs (with blame shifting according to different interpretations) and we feel somewhat removed from these tragedies; but  cafes, schools, movie theatre , airports, beaches, night clubs – the places where we go to celebrate the joy and happiness of life have become the battlegrounds of the 21st century.

The sullied; those driven by an evil nihilist ideology and a hate for life and an extreme odious revulsion for the simple delight and exhilaration of others  kill for pleasure.

May be all war is like this? Historians will disagree-explaining in minutia the causes and effects, actors etc…and rightly so; but for me it is the consequences of this madness which affects me.

I’ve traveled to 40 countries of the work, lived and worked in 9 countries, including 14 years within Islamic humanity, and in a variety of different cultural contexts. I’ve always met engaging, hospitable, kind and welcoming people who have grown  numb with the incredulity of the madness of the death cults enveloping the planet and claiming allegiance to Islam.

People sitting in a café enjoying camaraderie and banter are slaughtered in the most perfidious and unimaginable way including a 33 year old woman, 7 months pregnant, working in a country where aid is desperately needed and providing that aid. In Baghdad ordinary people enjoying their recreation during the Holy month of Ramadan, chatting imbibing refreshment before beginning their fast are blown up by madmen. In Lahore families enjoying a Sunday out together a blown up. Men and women in a night club are gunned down, and people celebrating Christmas are shot and killed. Young police cadets deciding to serve their county are slaughtered by those old enough to be their fathers. What is this insanity? What hope for humanity?

The Unreturning by Wilfred Owen

Suddenly night crushed out the day and hurled
Her remnants over cloud-peaks, thunder-walled.
Then fell a stillness such as harks appalled
When far-gone dead return upon the world.

There watched I for the Dead; but no ghost woke.
Each one whom Life exiled I named and called.
But they were all too far, or dumbed, or thralled,
And never one fared back to me or spoke.

Then peered the indefinite unshapen dawn
With vacant gloaming, sad as half-lit minds,
The weak-limned hour when sick men’s sighs are drained.
And while I wondered on their being withdrawn,
Gagged by the smothering Wing which none unbinds,
I dreaded even a heaven with doors so chained.

May-You-Rest-In-Peace-quotes-images-pictures-download-1

 For those slain though this lunacy may you rest in peace- because the living are not.

 

There are many paths to God as there are Stars in the Universe: In Memory of the Sufi Mystical Qawwal Musician Amjad Sabri

multifaithThe ineffability of the mystical state isn’t known to many. Across all the major and minor religions we can find reference to a ‘consciousness of the Oneness of everything’; it’s an innate knowing that one is an integral part of existence, beyond just knowing through the external self-it’s an extraordinary experience but they seldom last for long unless one chooses to practice along the path and follow a particular way of life to enter the state again, again and again. It requires self-discipline, dedication and commitment.

In the West we have the history of the Christian Mystics-long lost in the 21st century- today found mainly in the cloistered corners of the lives of contemplative monks and nuns-very few left now. Mysticism’s secular counterpart is sometimes found in the works of poets like Wordsworth:

A motion and a spirit, that impels

All thinking, all objects all thoughts,

And rolls through all things

Or in the lines of Shelley:

That light whose smile kindles the Universe

That Beauty in which all things work and move

In the East among other religions is the deep insight and beauty of the Islamic Sufi mystics, poets and musicians. Amjad Sabri’s soul based mystical renditions of Qawwal crossed sectarian religious lines in Pakistan-he was much loved by the population. His assassination in Karachi on Wednesday is another deep wound in the psyche of this culturally rich and diverse nation.

I must utter what comes to my lips by Bulleh Shah

Speaking the truth creates chaos.

Telling a lie saves one scarce.

I am afraid of both these.

Afraid I am both here and there.

I must utter what comes to my lips.

He who has this secret known.

He must peep into his own

Lives He in the shrine of peace

Where there are no ups and downs

I must utter what comes to my lips.

It is indeed a slippery path.

I take precautions in the dark

Look inside and see for yourself

Why this wild search afar?

I must utter what comes to my lips.

It is a matter of good form

A norm to which we all conform

It’s God in every soul you see

If he is in me why not in you?

I must utter what comes to my lips.

The master is not far from me

Without him there none could be

That explains the suffering and pain

But mine is not the eye to see

I must say what comes to my lips.

Rest In Peace Amjad Sabri

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5dppCsWFTsc

Rest in Peace our Brothers and Sisters in the LGBT Community of Orlando, Florida, USA.

Rainbow flag

On the Pulse of Morning by Maya Angelou

A Rock, A River, A Tree
Hosts to species long since departed,
Marked the mastodon.

The dinosaur, who left dry tokens
Of their sojourn here
On our planet floor,
Any broad alarm of their hastening doom
Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.

But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,
Come, you may stand upon my
Back and face your distant destiny,
But seek no haven in my shadow.

I will give you no more hiding place down here.

You, created only a little lower than
The angels, have crouched too long in
The bruising darkness,
Have lain too long
Face down in ignorance.

Your mouth spilling words
Armed for slaughter.

The Rock cries out today, you may stand on me,
But do not hide your face.

Across the wall of the world,
A River sings a beautiful song,
Come rest here by my side.

Each of you a bordered country,
Delicate and strangely made proud,
Yet thrusting perpetually under siege.

Your armed struggles for profit
Have left collars of waste upon
My shore, currents of debris upon my breast.

Yet, today I call you to my riverside,
If you will study war no more. Come,

Clad in peace and I will sing the songs
The Creator gave to me when I and the
Tree and the stone were one.

Before cynicism was a bloody sear across your
Brow and when you yet knew you still
Knew nothing.

The River sings and sings on.

There is a true yearning to respond to
The singing River and the wise Rock.

So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew
The African and Native American, the Sioux,
The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek
The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheikh,
The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,
The privileged, the homeless, the Teacher.
They hear. They all hear
The speaking of the Tree.

Today, the first and last of every Tree
Speaks to humankind. Come to me, here beside the River.

Plant yourself beside me, here beside the River.

Each of you, descendant of some passed
On traveler, has been paid for.

You, who gave me my first name, you
Pawnee, Apache and Seneca, you
Cherokee Nation, who rested with me, then
Forced on bloody feet, left me to the employment of
Other seekers–desperate for gain,
Starving for gold.

You, the Turk, the Swede, the German, the Scot …
You the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru, bought
Sold, stolen, arriving on a nightmare
Praying for a dream.

Here, root yourselves beside me.

I am the Tree planted by the River,
Which will not be moved.

I, the Rock, I the River, I the Tree
I am yours–your Passages have been paid.

Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need
For this bright morning dawning for you.

History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, and if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.

Lift up your eyes upon
The day breaking for you.

Give birth again
To the dream.

Women, children, men,
Take it into the palms of your hands.

Mold it into the shape of your most
Private need. Sculpt it into
The image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts
Each new hour holds new chances
For new beginnings.

Do not be wedded forever
To fear, yoked eternally
To brutishness.

The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.
Here, on the pulse of this fine day
You may have the courage
To look up and out upon me, the
Rock, the River, the Tree, your country.

No less to Midas than the mendicant.

No less to you now than the mastodon then.

Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister’s eyes, into
Your brother’s face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope
Good morning. (Angelou, 1993)

Angelou, M. (1993, January 20). Inaugural Poem. Retrieved from The e Server Poetry Collection: http://poetry.eserver.org/angelou.html

The end of education- as we know it?

Education in the 21st century is a multi-billion dollar business. It wasn’t always that way. Ancient cultures provided an education based on the foundations of literacy (writing, reading & numeracy) underpinning further studies in languages, culture, religions, philosophies, the sciences and the mathematics of their era. The Islamic world in particular contributed significantly to developments in mathematics and the sciences, yet this was seldom widely acknowledged in the western intellectual traditions from the late Middle Ages through to the mid-20th century. This has changed today with a growing understanding of the interconnectedness of all intellectual traditions and the contributions made to the growth of modern civilizations. The Middle East, the Indian sub-continent (inclusive of the modern state of Pakistan), China, Europe, Greece, Rome and the cultures of the Americas, Melanesia and Polynesia all made significant contributions from a cultural, religious, sociological and anthropological perspective to modern civilizations. Humanity has grown and developed through the combined wisdom of the ages.

Education as a basic human right grew out of the charter of the United Nations, and as recently as 2011 this was reaffirmed in UN resolution 66/137 on human rights, education and training. Three key components of the resolution are worth mentioning here:
1. Reaffirming further that everyone has the right to education, and that education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and the sense of its dignity, enable all persons to participate effectively in a free society and promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations and all racial, ethnic or religious groups, and further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace, security and the promotion of development and human rights,

2. Reaffirming that States are duty-bound, as stipulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and in other human rights instruments, to ensure that education is aimed at strengthening respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms,

3. Acknowledging the fundamental importance of human rights education and training in contributing to the promotion, protection and effective realization of all human rights (United Nations)

These are noteworthy and important because the concept of a 21st century education seems to have been navigated away from such essential ideals upon which the human condition relies for its betterment. The renowned Pakistani writer and columnist, Dr. Shahnaz Khan makes a compelling case on this point when she writes:
“Education is…a fundamental human right, however under capitalism education has been converted into a commodity-just like many other necessities of life-to be bought and sold with the sole purpose of generating profit. This has led to drastic changes in how society perceives the role of knowledge in human life and how it is
imparted and acquired” (Khan)

Today the cornerstones of a 21st century education are defined and understood within the confines of a pre-determined political-economic dialectic. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills makes this very clear:
The partnership for 21st century skills has emerged as the leading advocacy
organization focused on infusing 21st century skills into education. The
organization brings together the business community, education leaders
and policy makers to define a powerful vision for 21st century education
to ensure every child’s success as citizens and workers in the 21st century
…to triumph in the global skills race that is central to economic
competitiveness for the next decade. (21st Century Skills: Education & Competitiveness)

Williamson and Payton’s argument in their handbook on innovative curriculum is not dissimilar to The Partnership for 21st Century Skills claim that a 21st century education is simply about preparing children for work and subsuming even those as young as 3-4 years old into an advanced capitalist work principle:
“It is our aim to supply a critical but practical overview of the drivers
and factors influencing curricula innovations. We look at the most
recent policy shifts, and identify how these situate the work of schools
in larger debates about equipping…people for changing economic
circumstances and conditions. The development of ‘world class skills’
twinned with the contemporary focus on ICT and on heightening
employability for a competitive economy, are all parts of the modern
educational policy discourse…” (Williamson and Payton)

Translated into the ground reality of schooling in the 21st century this means educational outcomes are predetermined before a child gets through their primary and secondary schooling. Their career pathways have been decided and the myriad possibilities of a child’s innate potential; including their ability to expresses themselves creatively and to be innovative have been predetermined. It is education as an end in itself, rather than a means to a greater end. In essence this is called the ‘global knowledge economy’ and its aims run counter to the real purpose of education:
“to gain knowledge, to enrich human life, enhance the intellectual capabilities of people, promote curiosity, and enlighten and broaden minds in order to propel human society towards achieving the goal of creating a just, fair, and equitable world free of prejudices, conflicts, want, hunger, deprivation, oppression and exploitation”. (Khan)

Today isn’t the end of education as we know it-that was yesterday. But, our schools of tomorrow can redress the balance and work towards creating a more just, fair and equitable world for future generations to come. http://www.schooloftomorrow.beaconhouse.net/

References:
Khan, S. International: The News. 29 April 2015. http://www.thenews.com.pk/Todays-News-9-315391-Education-as-commodity. 23 11 2015.
Partnership For 21st Century Skills. 21st Century Skills: Education & Competitveness. Washington: Partnership For 21st Century Skills, 2008. Print.
United Nations. United Nations Human Rights: Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights. 23 March 2011. http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Education/Training/Pages/UNDHREducationTraining.aspx. 23 November 2015.
Williamson, B and S Payton. Curriculum and Teaching Innovation: Transforming classroom practice and personalisation. Handbook. London: Futrelab, 2009. Print.