A Lesson in Political & Community Leadership for World Leaders

New Zealand PM House Statement on Christchurch mosques terror attack (Ardern, 2019)

RT Hon Jacinda Ardern Prime Minister of New Zealand

Mr. Speaker,

Al Salam Alaikum

Peace be upon you. And peace be upon all of us.

Mr. Speaker the 15th of March will now forever be a day etched in our collective memories. On a quiet Friday afternoon a man stormed into a place of peaceful worship and took away the lives of 50 people.

That quiet Friday afternoon has become our darkest of days.

But for the families, it was more than that. It was the day that the simple act of prayer – of practicing their Muslim faith and religion – led to the loss of their loved ones lives.

Those loved ones, were brothers, daughters, fathers and children.

They were New Zealanders. They are us.

And because they are us, we, as a nation, we mourn them.

We feel a huge duty of care to them. And Mr. Speaker, we have so much we feel the need to say and to do.

One of the roles I never anticipated having, and hoped never to have, is to voice the grief of a nation.

At this time, it has been second only to securing the care of those affected, and the safety of everyone.

And in this role, I wanted to speak directly to the families. We cannot know your grief, but we can walk with you at every stage. We can. And we will, surround you with aroha, manaakitanga and all that makes us, us. Our hearts are heavy but our spirit is strong.

Mr. Speaker, 6 minutes after a 111 call was placed alerting the police to the shootings at Al-Noor mosque, police were on the scene.

The arrest itself was nothing short of an act of bravery. Two country police officers rammed the vehicle from which the offender was still shooting. They pulled open his car door, when there were explosives inside, and pulled him out.

I know we all wish to acknowledge that their acts put the safety of New Zealanders above their own, and we thank them.

But they were not the only ones who showed extraordinary courage.

Naeem Rashid, originally from Pakistan, died after rushing at the terrorist and trying to wrestle the gun from him. He lost his life trying to save those who were worshipping alongside him.

Abdul Aziz, originally from Afghanistan, confronted and faced down the armed terrorist after grabbing the nearest thing to hand – a simple eftpos machine. He risked his life and no doubt saved many with his selfless bravery.

There will be countless stories, some of which we may never know, but to each, we acknowledge you in this place, in this House.

For many of us the first sign of the scale of this terrorist attack was the images of ambulance staff transporting victims to Christchurch hospital.

To the first responders, the ambulance staff and the health professionals who have assisted – and who continue to assist those who have been injured.

Please accept the heartfelt thanks of us all. I saw first-hand your care and your professionalism in the face of extraordinary challenges. We are proud of your work, and incredibly grateful for it.

Mr. Speaker, if you’ll allow, I’d like to talk about some of the immediate measures currently in place especially to ensure the safety of our Muslim community, and more broadly the safety of everyone.

As a nation, we do remain on high alert. While there isn’t a specific threat at present, we are maintaining vigilance.

Unfortunately, we have seen in countries that know the horrors of terrorism more than us, there is a pattern of increased tension and actions over the weeks that follow that means we do need to ensure that vigilance is maintained.

There is an additional and ongoing security presence in Christchurch, and as the police have indicated, there will continue to be a police presence at mosques around the country while their doors are open. When they are closed, police will be in the vicinity.

There is a huge focus on ensuring the needs of families are met. That has to be our priority. A community welfare center has been set up near the hospital in Christchurch to make sure people know how to access support.

Visas for family members overseas are being prioritized so that they can attend funerals. Funeral costs are covered, and we have moved quickly to ensure that this includes repatriation costs for any family members who would like to move their loved ones away from New Zealand.

We are working to provide mental health and social support. The 1737 number yesterday received roughly 600 texts or phone calls. They are on average lasting around 40 minutes, and I encourage anyone in need to reach out and use these services. They are there for you.

Our language service has also provided support from more than 5000 contacts, ensuring whether you are ACC or MSD, you are able to pass on the support that is needed, in the language that is needed.  To all those working within this service, we say thank you.

Our security and intelligence services are receiving a range of additional information. As has been the case in the past, these are being taken extremely seriously, and they are being followed up.

I know though Mr. Speaker, that there have rightly been questions around how this could have happened here. In a place that prides itself on being open, peaceful, diverse.

And there is anger that it has happened here.

There are many questions that need to be answered, and the assurance that I give you is that they will be.

Yesterday Cabinet agreed that an inquiry, one that looks into the events that led up to the attack on 15 March, will occur. We will examine what we did know, could have known, or should have known. We cannot allow this to happen again.

Part of ensuring the safety of New Zealanders must include a frank examination of our gun laws.

As I have already said Mr. Speaker, our gun laws will change. Cabinet met yesterday and made in-principle decisions, 72 hours after the attack.

Before we meet again next Monday, these decisions will be announced.

Mr. Speaker, there is one person at the center of this act of terror against our Muslim community in New Zealand.

A 28-year-old man – an Australian citizen – has been charged with one count of murder. Other charges will follow. He will face the full force of the law in New Zealand. The families of the fallen will have justice.

He sought many things from his act of terror, but one was notoriety.

And that is why you will never hear me mention his name.

He is a terrorist. He is a criminal. He is an extremist.

But he will, when I speak, be nameless.

And to others I implore you: speak the names of those who were lost, rather than name of the man who took them.

He may have sought notoriety, but we in New Zealand will give him nothing. Not even his name.

Mr. Speaker, we will also look at the role social media played and what steps we can take, including on the international stage, and in unison with our partners.

There is no question that ideas and language of division and hate have existed for decades, but their form of distribution, the tools of organization, they are new.

We cannot simply sit back and accept that these platforms just exist and that what is said on them is not the responsibility of the place where they are published. They are the publisher. Not just the postman. There cannot be a case of all profit no responsibility. This of course doesn’t take away the responsibility we too must show as a nation, to confront racism, violence and extremism. I don’t have all of the answers now, but we must collectively find them.  And we must act.

Mr. Speaker, we are deeply grateful for all messages of sympathy, support and solidarity that we are receiving from our friends all around the world.  And we are grateful to the global Muslim community who have stood with us, and we stand with them.

Mr. Speaker, I acknowledge that we too also stand with Christchurch, in a devastating blow that this has been to their recovery. I acknowledge every member of this House that has stood alongside their Muslim community but especially those in Canterbury as we acknowledge this double grief

As I conclude I acknowledge there are many stories that will have struck all of us since the 15th of March.

One I wish to mention, is that of Hati Mohemmed Daoud Nabi.

He was the 71-year-old man who opened the door at the Al-Noor mosque and uttered the words ‘Hello brother, welcome’. His final words.

Of course he had no idea of the hate that sat behind the door, but his welcome tells us so much – that he was a member of a faith that welcomed all its members, that showed openness, and care.

I have said many times Mr. Speaker, we are a nation of 200 ethnicities, 160 languages. We open our doors to others and say welcome. And the only thing that must change after the events of Friday, is that this same door must close on all of those who espouse hate and fear.

Yes the person who committed these acts was not from here. He was not raised here. He did not find his ideology here, but that is not to say that those very same views do not live here.

I know that as a nation, we wish to provide every comfort we can to our Muslim community in this darkest of times. And we are. The mountain of flowers around the country that lie at the doors of mosques, the spontaneous song outside the gates. These are ways of expressing an outpouring of love and empathy. But we wish to do more.

We wish for every member of our communities to also feel safe.

Safety means being free from the fear of violence.

But it also means being free from the fear of those sentiments of racism and hate, that create a place where violence can flourish.

And every single one of us has the power to change that.

Mr. Speaker on Friday it will be a week since the attack.

Members of the Muslim community will gather for worship on that day.

Let us acknowledge their grief as they do.

Let’s support them as they gather again for worship.

We are one, they are us.

Tatau Tatau

Al Salam Alaikum

Weh Rahmat Allah

Weh Barakaatuh

References:

Ardern, J. (2019, March 19). PM House Statement on Christchurch mosques terror attack. Retrieved from Beehive.gov.nz: https://www.beehive.govt.nz/release/pm-house-statement-christchurch-mosques-terror-attack

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 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.

Technology: How much is too much?

One of the more comic technology items introduced in 2013 was the iPotty. A simple device was attached to a toilet training potty for very young children. They could play with apps and Google away while waiting for nature’s call. Now in itself it may seem harmless, yet the problem is that this key developmental stage in an infant’s life has a lasting impact on their personality. Harsh punishment during toilet training create a submissive personality. The theory being if we can control little children biologically, they’ll be equally submissive adults and seek out authority figures to tell them how to live their life. There’s some evidence for this view. In the former East Germany toddlers in State run crèches were all sat upon a toilet training bench and required to toilet on cue. Later they became submissive citizens of an authoritarian state. The theory goes that an iPotty creates co-dependence on technology. As the child grows and develops, every time it answers the call of nature, it would need access to an iPad. One doesn’t want to over analyze here, but there are obvious developmental issues as the child grows into adolescence and adulthood. In fact I’ve often wondered why so many people enter public conveniences with an iPad or digital device in hand.
There’s no doubt that the iPad and its multiple applications, along with other mobile devices have brought additional resources into the daily lives of everyone. Yet most of us are conflicted. On the one hand we argue for creating more civilized societies, becoming interconnected and building a better world; while on the other hand we embraces technologies some of which have the most devastating and alienating effects on families and communities and undermine the very concept of nurture and a duty of care towards one another.
For example, there’s evidence to suggest people behave more rudely and aggressively online. Psychologists call this the dis-inhibition effect- a name for bad-mannered, anti-social behavior. It is suggested that people feel less inhibited when not seen and can express themselves more freely and without feeling vulnerable to criticism. But the result of this kind of reasoning put into practice can have devastating and tragic consequences. One of the cruelest examples of online anonymity and the dis-inhibition effect is the tragic and untimely death of 13 year old Megan Meier. Megan began receiving nasty messages from a boy a few weeks after she met him, via her MySpace account. After many messages of kindness and support she received one telling her the ‘world would be a better place without you’. Megan believed she had been rejected by the boy and committed suicide in her home. However, the boy never existed. He was a virtual character created by Lori Drew, a 47 year old married woman and a mother herself, who lived four houses down the street. Whereas parents were once the bridge between home life and the social interaction of their children, today technology is taking on that role. The once strong, stable pillars of family and community are being replaced by bridges of aluminum and fiberglass courtesy of Apple Inc., Samsung and Microsoft et.al.
For the most part I can fully appreciate and understand the gains to humanity through the development of technologies which assist and aid us in understanding and improving the human condition. Yet, on occasion events occur which cause me to pause and reflect on where we are heading. Such a moment occurred after reading a BBC news report about a company which markets neuroscience educational kits for children. It developed a very small electronic device which is glued to the back of a cockroach. This can be controlled through a downloadable app on a mobile phone. The child is able to control the movement of the creature. The company argues that allowing children to dissect another creature, place electronic devices into it and control its movements is giving them a 5-10 year head start on those in graduate schools studying neuroscience. They further claim they are aware of the shortcomings of the kinds of experiments their peculiar equipment enables kids to perform on other creatures, but suggest they are justified due to the inaccessibility of neuroscience in our current primary, middle and secondary school curricula. It is by all accounts a misleading and false argument.
Those of my generation learned a lot in primary school about neuroscience without being asked to cut-up another creature. I recall wonderful teachers who would take us for walks and lets us smell the earth, flowers, sea, and explain why we had such a painful reaction to accidentally standing on a broken shell, or nail or piece of glass-it was all quite wonderful, intriguing and followed up with diagrams and drawings of humans and other creatures showing how the brain and central nervous system functions. It was an interactive, highly sociable communicative process which instilled in us a lifelong love of science and a mutual respect for all living creatures-even those we didn’t like-the cockroach, spider and ants to name a few. We learned their role in the wonderful complex Eco-system called life, along with the importance of a human being’s necessary moral relationship with other creatures.
To argue that allowing children to capture and mutilate then insert electrodes into the head and body of another creature will ‘create the next generation of neural engineers, scientists and physicians’ is fabricated nonsense. Humans and other creatures have an equal interest in maintaining an Eco-system – even in the digital age-which ensures the survival of all species. Humans and other creatures matter a lot. It is this key relationship between ourselves and other living things we need to understand in the digital age. So, how much is too much technology? Today we’ve gone beyond an answer to such a question. A more meaningful question is whose brave new world do we want to live in, our own or one belonging to someone else?

The Growing Intolerance towards the Islamic Faith

It is 9 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 because there’s been little progress globally for tolerance of difference whether it is to do with religious world views, sexual orientation, racism or the myriad other forms of hatred of difference which seem to have become a feature of the ‘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 14 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 madmen, and the misrepresentation of Islam through the distorted lenses of western media and its 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 libertarian lexicon)

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 (notwithstanding the internecine war between the Gulan movement and the current ruling party in Turkey)
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 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 “propagandistic 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 14 years) 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?

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

Wealth in an Age of Narcissistic Over Consumption

One of the more bizarre rituals of western capitalism is the group of people who burst into applause as a bell rings to start trading at the NYSE. They aren’t looking at anything in particular-there’s no curtain call-just a group of traders on the NYSE floor beginning their day to trade stocks, shares, commodities and lots of bad debt. Few things better symbolize narcissism than people standing around clapping and celebrating the excesses of advanced capitalism in an age when the syndicated capital of the wealthiest 1% of the world will see their portion rise up to 50% in 2016. The average human being shares in only 1/700th of the fortunes of the world’s grotesquely rich. In addition 1 in 9 people go hungry, while 1/7th of the world’s population live on less than $1.25 dollars a day. (Byanyima, 2015).
Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard Co., Apple, Google Inc., Amazon.com Inc. and Pfizer Inc. are among a number of US companies who collectively hold in excess of $1.95 trillion in nontaxed off shore profits; while at home, in the United States, the minimum hourly wage is $7.25 per hour.
The disparity between the super-rich and the rest is staggering and is unlikely to swing in favor of the 99% anytime soon. The chasm which exits between the rich and poor is also evident in the developing world. India is home to 156,000 millionaires and it is estimated that by 2018 the number of extremely wealthy people will double. (Barhat, 2015). India has sent a mission to Mars and holds the elite Formulae One motor racing event annually, yet 70% of India’s population live in the rural areas of the country and are poor. There are limited health facilities (the government spends as little 1% of its GDP on health care services) and 50% of Indians don’t have proper shelter; 70% don’t have access to decent toilets; 35% of households don’t have a nearby water source; 85% of villages don’t have a secondary school and over 40% of these same villages don’t have proper roads connecting them (Poverties.Org, 2013).
Like so many accounts of glamorized wealth, Barhat’s report (2105) understates the plight of the poor and disenfranchised in India in preference for a voyeuristic account of the narcissistic over consumption of the super-rich. In doing so he unwittingly affirms Marx’s claim that:
The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas.” (Marx, 1976)
As a system advanced capitalism subordinates people to profit, and of course I realize that I’m not the first to make that claim. Big business has long asserted it owns its customers and through the practice of extending credit to consumers and keeping them in debt, they not only own them, but enslave them through all kinds of small print agreements. People are born into debt and die in debt. The concept of a mortgage translated from the French literally means debt until death.
There’s no dignity afforded to a global population co-dependent on the credit-debt cycle as a means to survival in their day-today lives. Nor is there any dignity through subordinating free thought to the advertising gurus who manipulate our minds to buy more stuff. This view is supported through Apple Inc.’s recently recorded profit of $18bn, the largest recorded profit of any company in the post-industrialist age. This was made possible for two reasons. Firstly, through outsourcing-that somewhat shady and unethical idea that labor is cheaper in the developing world. Apple’s off shore operations (esp. in China) mass produces its products in factories akin to the industrial houses and sweat shops of the 19th century. And secondly, by millions of consumers who clamored for its latest iPhone. The specifications of its new product weren’t dissimilar to its previous ones-yet through slick advertising designed to subtlety manipulate the mind, and a globalized consumerist culture which brands all of as human capital-people thought they needed it either as an essential tool for communication or as a status accessory.
It seems we are all in love with money and stuff, and the acquisition of more of it is at the expense of our human dignity. And we know that the course of true love never did run smooth. Recently the daughter of the CEO of Korean Air had one of its commercial jets return to the departure gate after a flight attendants served her nuts in a bag rather than a bowl. The accounts of her rant and how she made the flight attendant kneel in front of her to apologize have been widely reported in the media. More recently it has been reported that Conrad Hilton, the not so great grandson son of the heirs to the Hilton hotel chain caused mayhem on an international flight, assaulting flight attendants and calling passengers in economy class peasants. If we take time to think and reflect on their behaviors and the course of human history, the economic and social future for all of us, looks very bleak indeed.

References
Barhat, V. (2015, January 27). BBC World: Capital. Retrieved from BBC World News: http://www.bbc/capital
Byanyima, W. (2015, January 19). Oxfam: The Power of People Against Poverty. Retrieved from Oxfam International: http://www.oxfam.org/en/pressroom/pressreleases/2015-01-19/richest-1-will-own-more-all-rest-2016
Marx, K. (1976). Capital, Vol. 1. London: Penguin.
Poverties.Org. (2013, June). Effects of Poverty in India:Between Injustice and Exclusion. Retrieved from Poverties.Org: Reasearch for Social & Economic Development: http://www.poverties.org/poverty-in-india.html

Living In No-Where Land

Since the 1980s the use of anti-depressants has increased by 400% in the United States of America. The total sales of anti-depressants worldwide are over $20 billion. That’s making some pharmaceutical companies very rich and happy, but not many users of anti-depressants eternally happy-given the side effects of the drugs, which include outbursts of rage, deeper, more severe depression and suicidal thoughts. Yet, the global depressed population seems to increase exponentially yearly with children as young as 7 years of age being given some kind of mind altering drug to make them conform to the existential conditions of 21st century living. In a recent article on global mental health, The Guardian’s health editors (Boseley, Chalabi, & Rice-Oxley, 2013) provided an overview of the way we manage our chemical dependent lives in the 21st century. They report that:
“The use of antidepressants has surged across the rich world over the past decade, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, raising concerns among doctors that pills are being over-prescribed…Figures show that doctors in some countries are writing prescriptions for more than one in 10 adults, with Iceland, Australia, Canada and the other European Nordic countries leading the way” (Boseley, Chalabi, & Rice-Oxley, 2013)
In addition to the easy accessibility of these legal mind altering substances a number of States in the USA have legalized marijuana for medical purposes with two states-Colorado and Washington State legalizing the drug for recreational use by people over the age of 21. Here’s some of what we know about the body- mind altering capabilities of marijuana to date. The chemical ingredient of the drug THC remains in the body for weeks after any initial use. In addition regular medical studies of marijuana users indicate that one joint contains 60% more cancer causing substances than a tobacco cigarette. Long time marijuana smokers suffer from regular bronchial and upper respiratory tract illnesses. One study undertaken in Australia linked heavy marijuana usage with the development of brain abnormalities and other clinical studies link continued marijuana usage with the development of medium to long term psychosis and loss of memory. Marijuana is known to change the structure of male sperm leading to sterility as well discombobulate a woman’s menstrual cycle.
Given this knowledge why would any government or any other regularity body deem the drug suitable for recreational use? Is it too cynical to suggest a tax on marijuana sales will boost the coffers of a cash strapped government? Dulling a population’s senses through any mind altering substance is going to create a complacent and compliant citizenry living in no-where land content on going no-where.

References
Boseley, S., Chalabi, M., & Rice-Oxley, M. (2013, November 20). The Guardian-Life Style. Retrieved July 10, 2014, from The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/nov/20/antidepressant-use-rise-world-oecd