Voices of Reason in an Age of Violence, Anti-Rationalism & Islamaphobia

BBC, CNN, Sky News, Fox News, MSNBC, Euro News and Al Jazeera all ran headline stories on the recent riots, violence and general mayhem seen across some of the Middle East, North Africa, West Asia and Australia after a former felon and obscure, unknown film maker produced a poorly made film insulting Islam and The Prophet Mohammed (Peace be Upon Him). It’s not difficult to assess genuine revulsion and authentic offence from the deliberate acts of cruelty and brutality perpetrated by opportunists who emerged out of the shadows of their own discontentment, to attack the West in general and the United States in particular, which in turn  led to the tragic deaths of the US Ambassador to Libya and several of his diplomatic colleagues. Yet, what I find disappointing and irritating from the news coverage in the West is the lack of balance and recognition given to the voices of reason, and the excessive over-reporting of irrationality, bloodshed, social carnage and savagery associated with the aftermath of this little known flick.

For example none of the major news broadcasters in the West paid any attention to the clear voice of reason in the personage of Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti,  Sheik Abdul-Aziz bin Abdullah Al Sheikh; the highest theological authority in the birthplace of Islam, Saudi Arabia. He denounced the attacks, and the violence and brutality associated with them outright, and said that attacks on embassies, diplomatic missions and their personnel are un-Islamic. He said that while the film is “miserable and criminal” in its portrayal of Islam and the Prophet (PBUH) it “is forbidden to punish the innocent for the wicked crimes of the guilty, or to attack those who have been granted protection of their lives and property, or to expose public buildings to fire or destruction…these are distortions of the Islamic religion and are not accepted by God.”

Similarly was the lack of reports in the Western media of the reasonable words of  the Grand Mufti of Lebanon’s Sunni Muslim population Sheik Mohammad Rashid Qabbani. He reassured Pope Benedict XVl that “any attack on a Christian is an attack on all Muslims”. Sheik Mohammad Rashid Qabbani, told the Pontiff that the events rocking the world at the moment will “bring us Muslims and Christians a light which will shows us a path to a better tomorrow.” It is unfortunate that his words have since been undermined through the violent anti western  hollow rhetoric of Hezbollah; who are so often out of step and out of touch with their own authentic spiritual tradition.  Their call for more angry, violent protests teaches us that anger and hatred are not holy and have no place in any genuine 21st century spiritual or religious movement. It is interesting to note how yet again Hezbollah’s oratory of “loud gongs  and clashing cymbals”  made Western media news outlets; it seems that violence and the suppressed madness of sane men really does get better televsion ratings than messages of love, peace, hope, reason and peaceful co-existence.

Another voice of reason in amidst the chaos was that of Sheik Ahmed Al Tayyeb, Grand Imam of Cairo’s Al Azhar. He called for an international resolution banning hatred towards Muslim religious symbols. Such a call is timely in an age of irrational fear towards Islam and religion in particular, along with the rise of islamaphobia in the world. I am sure too, that such a call if adopted would be extended too all religions along with the right and freedom to sacred, devout expression regardless of religion and one’s religious history. Sheik Ahmed also called on his country’s men and women to show wisdom and restraint in the face of adversity.

I’d really like Fox News, CNN and the like to pick up on some genuine rational discourse from the Middle East, rather than showing the bleak stereotyped conflict ridden region we have all become de-desensitized to in the last six decades. Today the front page of the Khaleej Times, a Duabi based regional newspaper, had a photo of young Muslims greeting Pope Benedict in Lebanon, along with pictures of an interdenominational meeting with the Pontiff, including leaders of the Muslim and Coptic communities. I haven’t seen this coverage on either Fox News or Sky News.

The world is in need of moral and spiritual leadership and guidance. This comes through voices of reason and hearts filled with compassion rather than hatred. There’s no doubt that this is where our attention should focus, not on the errant ways of misguided individuals who hide behind the ideal of freedom of expression, to offend, insult and hurt others.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Cardinal Carlo Martini: Two Clear Voices of Moral Reasoning in an Age of Deceit and Denial.

The death on August 31st of the Roman Catholic Cardinal Carlo Martini may have passed unnoticed in the largely secular world of quick buy and sell materialism. But, it deserves significant attention because the late Cardinal was not only a champion of liberal causes within the Catholic Church; he was also honest and forthright in expressing his views of its corrupt, outdated and often arcane practices. Of the ongoing sexual abuse scandals he wrote that it “obliged the Church to undertake a journey of transformation” and of its arcane rituals devoid of genuine spirituality-the kind Jesus practiced and urged others to undertake- he remarked that “The Church is tired, our prayer rooms empty…our religious rites and the vestments we wear pompous”.  The kind of scandals and avarice within the Catholic Church today is reminiscent of its state in the 12th century when Francis of Assisi attempted to reform the corrupt, aristocratic practices of his day when he founded his Order in 1209. Some 800 years later even the Franciscans struggle with their own largesse, vast palatial properties (I stayed in their 5 Star Hotel in Santiago de Compostela recently), wealth beyond the ordinary person’s imaginings and its collection of vineyards world wide.

Cardinal Martini is that voice of reasoning and inspiration in the 21st century. His message is clear-the Church needs repair: morally, theologically, politically and economically. Firstly, it needs to review its doctrine of compulsory morality and admit that its dichotomy of soul-redemption versus sinful-flesh hasn’t worked and has done more to pervert the natural drive of human sexuality throughout history than many other (though not all) secular or religious ideologies. It needs to allow its clergy to marry, embrace divorced people as Jesus would have done, rethink its concept of family, permit the use of contraception and accept that homosexuality is a natural attraction for those of same sex orientation. Secondly, it should review its theological position on original sin, purgatory and the nature of Hell-to instill such fear and paranoia in the minds of children from preschool age is tantamount to emotional and psychological abuse. There are more humane ways to instill a sense of the good, and care and compassion in the young. Thirdly, it should deregulate its internal political hierarchy and eschew the aristocratic nature of its titles, like Bishop, Pope, Cardinal (Princes of the Church indeed), Father, Reverend and so on, and revert to simples names as the Apostles had: John, Paul, Peter and so on. It should lead by example in more humble and gentle self-effacement practices in how to address each other. Finally, it should sell all of its gilded works of Art, properties, and other vestiges of its princely aristocratic lineage, and practice Jesus’ retort that “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” The life of a tenant is more in keeping with Gospel values I think. It is my view that aside from the Dali Lama there’s a lack of overt genuine spiritual and moral guidance in the world today. It’s not too late for the Roman Catholic Church to undertake a “radical transformation, beginning with the Pope and his Bishops” as the late Cardinal Carlo Martini urged shortly before his death.

In the realm of the living, still alive and expressing sound moral reasoning which we ought to heed is the great Bishop Desmond Tutu. The Nobel Laureate’s call for the International Criminal Court in The Hague to indict Tony Blair and George W Bush for War Crimes is timely. Bishop Tutu argues cogently that double standards are being applied to Western Leaders. The death toll from the Iraq war continues to climb today with bombings and sectarian killings becoming the accepted threshold for what Blair and Bush refer to as a “new democracy”. I recently spoke to a colleague of mine who returned to Mosul for the summer to see his family, and he reported that “life was a struggle for ordinary people”. I have argued elsewhere that up until 1991, Iraq had a 100% literacy rate, and had one of the best educational systems in the region. (Al-Azzawi, 2011)

However, the devastation and destruction inflicted upon Iraqi society, leading up to and including  the USA and UK led invasion in March 2003, is still a tragedy unfolding.  Souad Al-Azzawi, Associate Professor at the University of Baghdad, described the complete annihilation of the education sector under USA and UK occupation, and it is worth quoting in full here:


Looted Facilities

Burned Facilities

Bombed Facilities


Universities & Colleges





Technical Colleges





Secondary Schools & related services










 More than 738 secondary schools and educational centers were occupied by military invading forces…the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) took control of Iraq under occupation. In opposition to all international laws and norms which call for the preservation and national ownership of education and culture of the occupied country, the CPA abolished the national education curriculum by decree in July 7, 2003. “ (Al-Azzawi, 2011)

Such actions contravene the Geneva Convention and in themselves would be enough to prosecute those responsible.  I agree with Bishop Tutu that Western leaders 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. “ Mr. Blair remains in a state of denial and his tired, recurring self-defense that the intelligence was correct is simply a lie and a denial of the facts. I have lived in the Middle East since 2001, and it is, as Bishop Tutu says, on the precipice. It didn’t get this way through poor local polices and decision making. The conditions were created on that fateful day of March 17th 2003 when in a publicized television address George W Bush gave the Iraqi leader and his family an ultimatum- ” leave your country in 48 hours or we will attack”. The outcome as Bishop Tutu explains has made the world more unstable; yet those responsible for this instability and mayhem have never been brought to account.

Mitt Romney, Telegenics and the Soft Sell Gullibility in American Politics.

I am not an American. I am a New Zealander -from that small south pacific country which in the 1980s banned American nuclear powered and nuclear armed warships from its ports; a ban which is still in place some 28 years later-despite pressure from the United States to influence the New Zealand government’s legislative processes and revoke the ban. But, like many people throughout the world I watch with a keen eye the developments on the U.S political scene. Why? Well it doesn’t take a 5th grader to tell us that the economic and foreign policies of the United States of America have profound affects and effects on the rest of us.

On the one hand, when I listen to the current political debate leading up to the US general election on November 6th I yawn with astonishment at the marketing of the Republican candidate as an ordinary man who is loyal to the ordinary people of his country, and a protector of the free world (whatever this term is meant to mean).  Recently, I watched clips of that party’s political convention, and its soft sell of a multi-millionaire as a man of the people, begot from humble ordinary folk, who when married ate meals off an ironing board as a substitute dining table, and used a door on two saw-horses as a desk. I shed no tears on hearing this and was incredulous at the audacious script writing and the theatre of it all. Similarly every key-note speaker used a storyline of humble, struggling origins, and proclaimed how they survived on a pittance in an attempt to become successful in life. Perhaps there were resonances of truth in their stories; but in the glamorous, privileged world of the US political elite each tale seemed disingenuous when measured against those who genuinely attempt to make it in today’s cut-throat world of advanced capitalism, to etch out a living for themselves-the unemployed, the homeless, the disillusioned working and middle classes, the poor and disenfranchised; and the 58% of the US population who will probably exercise their right to vote. Moreover it desensitizes the rest of humanity to the day-to-day suffering and struggles of ordinary people, and reinforces the Ann Rand myth of selfishness as a virtue where the individual should “exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself”.

On the other hand, this great example of democracy at work is full of bizarre paradoxes.  For example, the US Supreme court ruled that Corporations are people paving the way for unlimited expenditure and corruption in political campaigning. Elections and how they are financed are unregulated through these kinds of judicial decisions and lead to media monopolisation and manipulation by rich and influential US oligarchs. In another ruling, the US Supreme court overturned a California Supreme Court State ruling and decreed that violent video games should be available to children under 18 and are protected under the first amendment as free speech. This was in the face of mounting evidence suggesting that violent behaviour on television and in other forms of violent entertainment contribute to a decline in care and compassion between children and adults who watch, use and participate in them, towards their peers who do not.  And, the second amendment of the US Constitution declares the right of every citizen to bear arms; yet the number of guns per capita in the US is one of the highest in the world along with figures suggesting a correlation between freely available high powered weapons and gun crime massacres. The homeless number up to 900,000 yet the number of empty houses, flats, apartments, office buildings and other dwellings are almost treble that number. Abortion on demand is marketed as a fundamental right and a form of contraception while there are waiting lists for adoptions from couples, straight and Gay who have a genuine wish to have children of their own and are unable to do so. Art and entertainment imitate life or vice-versa, and celebrities drive social issues and often undermine informed rational and intellectual debate. Nowhere was this more apparent in Clint Eastwood’s recent rambling monologue to an empty chair at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida. And science is eschewed in favour of various forms of outdated superstitious belief that when it enters the public discourse to review essential moral issues like abortion, leads to the most insane conclusions. The Republican politician Todd Akin’s scientific and moral ignorance on rape astounded and shocked the world.

Yet, throughout its short history the United States has continued to contribute significantly to Western Civilisation. It gave us a blue-print for non-monarchical constitutional democracies. It rebuilt Europe after World War 2.  It led the way for social change through the Civil Rights movement, the Gay rights movement, and political organizations for social and political justice like Human Rights Watch (whose primary donor incidentally is the George Soros Open Society Foundation). It has given us one of the most fascinating, endearing and entertaining Art and Film industries ever-which is mimicked throughout the rest of the world.  Intellectuals like Mary Daly, Barbara Ehrenreich, Susan Faludi, Noam Chomsky, Michael Apple, Henry Giroux and the late Edward Said, and Gore Vidal among many more have contributed significantly to the US local and global narratives, and political discourse on human rights, social justice, science and education.

One of my favourites from my primary school days was on science history and Benjamin Franklin’s experiments with electricity. Thomas Morgan Hunt’s seminal work on fruit flies in the 1930s led to him receiving a Nobel Prize, and paved the way for the extraordinary human genome project and the mapping of the human DNA sequence.  Edwin Hubble’s contributions to Cosmology and the study of astronomy have lead to many theories on the origins of the universe. NASA’s pioneering missions into space and to the moon gave us a fresher, newer and more humble perspective on our place in the universe and helped us to appreciate the personal and public sufferings and struggles of Galileo a lot more! The current Technology revolution sweeping the world grew out of collaborative work between the US department of Defence and the National Science Foundation in the 1960s. And then there was the late Steve Jobs and his vision of telecommunications which has forever changed the way we now communicate with one another in both a formal and informal setting. There’s no doubt we have a lot to be thankful for through the positive contributions the people of the US continue to give to the world in the fields of Education, Science , Technology and the Arts.

However, in politics the picture is not so rosy. For the first elected African American President, the odds for re-election are stacking up against him. In the wake of Enron, Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers and the staggering financial mayhem of September 2008 history is being rewritten for the US electorate; the man who promised change yet tough times ahead is being cast as the Darth Vader of economic, social and political reform. He is the antagonist in a cast of neo-saintly telletubby characters (minus Tinky Winky who Jerry Falwell once cast as Gay and a bad influence on children-sigh), like Carl Rove and David and Charles Koch who will do everything in their sphere of vast financial and political influence to return to a nexus of power which disenfranchises the middle classes, working classes, poor, homeless and disenfranchised, and favour a small clique of the rich and elite who are intent on pushing a neo-conservative social,  economic and political agenda.

In 1961, President Dwight Eisenhower issued a warning about what he described as a threat to US democratic government. He coined the term military-industrial complex, and described a closely guarded nepotistic union between defence contractors and the armed forces. In the early stages of the 21st century; the Bush-Cheney years continued to be an enduring testament to this. The cosy relationship between the military industrial complex and the corporate world bought us Gulf Wars, the Iraq Invasion, and deregulation of the corporate banking sector which precipitated the worst economic crisis the modern world has faced since the great depression of the 1930s. And this isn’t about to change too soon unless the current White House incumbent and Nobel Laureate  is re-elected, and given more time to defend America’s fine achievements within its liberal and progressive traditions especially in Politics, Economics, the Arts, Science and Education and to pursue the continuing need for Social Justice in the world.