About OUFI

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London, United Kingdom
Welcome to my Blog. This Blog provides a platform for free expressions on issues of importance that appeal to the independent mind. Matters of political, moral and social concern, that may agree with or contravenes our free and well-intentioned thinking, have free reign on this blog. Friends and colleagues can express and respect different opinions on current or historical issues that at times may run counter to established worldview. “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it.” - Voltaire

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Despotism and Happiness: Two Sides of a Coin.

I like to make it clear this piece is non-political and non-religious and harbours no critical intentions of any religion.  Its only message is that of the Arab world and its people, Both, Muslim and Christian, not ready for Democracy or universal Freedom but in fact, the majority of its inhabitants are adverse to the idea of Parliamentary Democracy.  Their interpretation of liberty is freedom FROM and not freedom TO - by and large a negative freedom.  They prefer to be free from political entanglement preferring not taking part in the system of government.  Their profound and obscure belief is sustained by ideas to better leave politics to those who rule.  This leaves them to indulge in a daily diet of Cafe politics, trade and money-making.

This essay comes from a westernised, regenerated and redefined fellow Arab I will attempt to show the peculiarities often seem to an untrained eye a dichotomy that can exist in Arab window framing when grappling to understand or to join with Liberalism.  Arab leaders and people have on the whole over the centuries ruled so keeping hold of an archaic system where they feel happiest is more favoured than stepping into the unknown.  Despotism in the Arab world is inherited from Ottoman Despotism, brushing aside any other form of rule is natural.  Cosying up to some of the worst violators of human rights in the region, such as President Sisi of Egypt is one example.  The idea of sharing with a government is an anathema to their way of thinking. Jean Jacques Rousseau would be spinning in his grave while Voltaire would have despaired.  As for what Montesquieu would have made of this, I shudder to think.

Anyway, it all comes down I suppose to universalities.  Western universalism Islamic universalism Asian universalism all are vying for universal value.  Falling into line is a preferred option but looking at a social contract with disdain has thus weakened any ideas to emerge from the darkness of that authoritarian cave.  Remaining subjects in preference to seeing the light to be individual citizens. They find it more convenient to entrench in the old world order than to navigate the conduits of enfranchisement of liberality.  The upending cultural frame of mind that had taken centuries to embed is a struggle and remains outside the framework of resistance that has in any case, over this period become rusty.  Or it is simply happiness in a different universal sphere where tough talk, a Clint Eastwood approach in preference to Reason that "make my day" for them.

The French Revolution inspired by the notions of the Enlightenment that came to the fore grabbed Europe's attention in 1760's was by western standards an intellectual revolution that is still in progress.  Driven by Reason and rational enquiry its ultimate goal was to the happiness of the individual. Invariably, finding in its mission towards values, attitudes and beliefs inducing a culture of empiricism; to question and to reason. Challenging the status quo, why and what became one of the modernities of the age.  France in July 1789 began a process of emancipation from a society of orders to one that belonged to the people that went on to define a Nation.  A citizen's Rights was born from the seeds of absolutism- grabbing a mistake in the genealogy of evolutionary government heavily centred at the time on the nobility and patriarchy.

The recent struggles on the road to Democracy belie the nature of Islamic universalism.  In this vein, 'The Arab Spring' was an attempt to see the light in the emancipation of the individual for it to cultivate the seeds of Democracy and Liberalism.  The movements faltered and went horribly wrong as we saw in Egypt, Libya, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Tunis among other Arab countries.

As I see it, in theory, Arab people are some of the most politicised people, but in practice, most are inclined to accept the inevitable. There is often a misconception of ideas between Rule and Govern.   The difference, of course, Rule commands obedience by a show of strength,  and power. Whereas to Govern strength is entrusted to personality, consultation and acceptance since by western standard justification for a majority to sanction any Rule of Law.  Without consultation, laws remain arbitrary; there can never be synergies between the two.  Moreover, in western thinking societies, Public opinion is an important pointer to people's metrics of satisfaction.  Somehow Arabia has its politics in reverse it is where the people are answerable to the government and not the other way round and where one is assumed guilty before innocent. Laws bind the people; religion controls them, while a government is lacking in virtue, govern by propaganda, yet they acquiesce to all three and luxuriate in the delusion they are Free.

However, to stay on this point a little, the logic of Freedom is to know what it is one is free from and free to do what.  The ruling groups fail to provide a compelling indication or direction to those ends. Monarchs, Emirs and Princes stay in power on the strength of so-called utilitarian principles that they install mainly materialist, leisure and shopping malls with instructions how to enjoy.  Whatever rights given under the Constitution bear little relevance since they are limited by Laws that are subjected to religious ethics dating back to medieval time.   An enlightened view, like that in West, the treatment of International citizens, is that the European welcome is unconditional. You are welcome to join us and be like us, and you are welcome to join us and not be like us.  If one looks at the constitutions of most Arab countries as I have done, I found their laws enshrined in Sharia principles, and the welcome is conditional and only seemingly tolerant but overlapped and consistently remaining subject and unequivocally subservient to such legislation that embodies it.  Such has become the culture and Arab diaspora to the West proved no guarantee against such thinking since culture has naturally followed.

At a stroke, the UAE government, in a recent example, disbanded what took it years to build: limiting freedom of speech.  Despite the fact, all Emirates are the signatory to the International Laws of Human rights, nevertheless these signatures overridden by the law of the land.    By making it against the law to show or express sympathy towards Qatar or Qatari is wiping away the freedom of conscious as well as free speech.  Breaking these rules or questioning their values, intentionally or innocently, one could face a stiff jail sentence.  This is clear evidence of an ostensible show of democracy tolerated not the freedom of Democracy.  Themes of Critical thinking is not only about commas and semicolons but about phraseology and the linking of words to obliterate or emancipate meanings.   Ambiguity and equivocality can never lend much to modernising idioms for further understanding, moderation or toleration.  Sharia laws may allow you to have fun but by its terms and parameters are set for that end. These are a spiritually inspired monolithic statement, not for Man to moderate, reform or change.

Subject to the rule of law that originates from a bicameral system of government and laws synthesised from a system of checks and balances is a rare commodity and are viewed by many as slow, tedious and boring.  Arabs prefer their rulers like a new CEO walking for the first time into a hostile boardroom; he set the tone: a one man Government is laying out the rules of the game and won’t tolerate disobedience.  They issue warning they would not tolerate a  "hostile media" — a likely reference to programming on the Qatar-owned Al Jazeera network. 'No one allowed to doubt my word or my way of thinking, I have no deficiencies, and I know the best' - is a syndrome ever present.  In typical Arab fashion and hot-headedness, they looked at criticism, not as challenges but defiance and where objections by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International ignored. The thought there could be another way - a third way is often an admission of failure and hurt pride.  As for Freedom to chose a government, well, that remains taboo and is strictly forbidden.

Today's chess board dominated by the country with the biggest oil reserves, and the new man in line to rule the Saudi kingdom will have Iraq in his sights having nominated for the alienation of both Shiaism and Shia Iran is a priority.  Emboldened by the United States, Saudi hegemony, with Sunnism and Arabism as the carapace, is unleashing its petro-muscle for mastery on all it surveys forcing its will on the minnows.  The likely outcome is a war of Kings jostling for the highest stakes.  The ultimate prize is the dominance of the Middle East without a say of its people since as always they are the pawns, obedient servants submissively accept whatever consequences thrown at them. Sunni Arab Nationalism is on the Warpath where Shia Iran and its sympathisers have no say, and any dissent might just as well bury their heads in the sand dunes.

Jailing Democrats is one of the favourite pastimes especially when it come to members of The Muslim Brotherhood. A liberal mind that can underscore the power of the individual could be a serious misdemeanour; instead, conformity is the order, and that is an order.  An independent mind comes with a heavy baggage as an enemy of the state and frowned upon as an undesirable attribute.  Independent thinking especially in political arenas or as cultural dissonance is taken as subversive and quite likely to meet by a stint in jail ripe for remodelling. Foreigners face stiffer sentences at the end of which they are deported as unwanted goods.  Religious Dissenters, in the land of Emirs, or heaven forbid Atheists, on the other hand, could face lashes or execution.  One can rightly ask has Universalism gone bonkers? When society is looked at through the prism of logic to understand that democracy is based on Reason while despotism relies on fear, the answer is who cares. As long as people are happy Reason fears to tread.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

A Tale of Two Cities

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said a million people should “take to the streets to force Theresa May from power”. “The Tories have blood on their hands” and “Kick Theresa May out of Downing Street”.   Grayson in the 1930's; " We must break the rule of the rich and take our destinies into our own hands."  Such incendiary language goes to the heart of the Socialist movement in Britain in the 1930's.  Then as now, such poisonous language was the catalyst in efforts to bring down the government of the day to fall in line with its hard communist ideology that was fermenting in response to The Communist International, abbreviated as Comintern generated by the Bolshevik Pary in Soviet Russia.

Today Theresa May will present a Queen’s Speech aside from the Brexit legislative details it will be low key, and will be kept short.  Defeat will spell fall of the conservative government.  Today has also been assigned as The Day of Rage by leftist demonstrators and is quite likely will be noisy and may even turn violent.  It is understandable residents of Grenfell Tower has commanded attention since last week's devastating fire but politicising the tragedy does take away the focus from social housing and the system that failed using the inferno as a source of an attack on government.

Notting Hill where Grenfell Tower is situated sits among properties worth between three to four million pound houses and apartments and is indeed a tale of two cities.  On the back of this dichotomy, there is Jeremy Corbyn leader of the British Labour party is trying to score political points.  I know rapid increases in prices -Brexit pressures and falling pound exacerbated existing tensions, but these do not qualify a Democratic party to turn discontent into agitation seeing that such agitations easily fuelled by radicalism that is planting the seeds of anarchy.   Easy to accomplish since most of the new generation are a breed of extremists and highly politicised.

Moreover, what may appear as an unwillingness to sequestrate or appropriate empty multi-million-pound property, is what Corbyn has advocated could easily incite violence.  The government is not in support of the system that failed but announcing a public enquiry shows it is just as much on the side of the victims.

Discrediting the government at every stage and every tragedy adds to the possibility of creating upheavals which are what the irresponsible Labour leadership is evidently trying to do is not exactly conducive to reconciliation and unity.  He recently talked about unity but supporting 'The Day of Rage' is highly irresponsible.

Threatening a fragile government is straight of the history books, it never works, and if anything it plays in the hands of the Brussels negotiators.  The hard left in Britain is far harder to stomach than the hard right, and Brussels will treat it no less like a pariah state.

What we see today is not much different to the social agitation some members of the Labour party rhetoric of the 1930's when Victor Grayson advocated revolution.  Although The Independent Labour Party (ILP) a socialist political party was committed to the parliamentary road to socialism, during the election, Grayson supported a revolution. In his election address, Grayson wrote: I am appealing to you as one of your own class. I want emancipation from the wage-slavery of Capitalism. I do not believe that we are divinely destined to be drudges. Through the centuries we have been the serfs of an arrogant aristocracy. We have toiled in the factories and workshops to grind profits with which to glut the greedy maw of the Capitalist class.  That support was for a failing ideology but what is worse today is that comrade Corbyn et al. are promoting an already proven failed ideology; an anachronism to the modernity of today and at best an obsolescent thinking.  

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Grenfell Tower, a tragedy waiting to happen?

Grenfell Tower, in Kensington, west London in the early hours of June 14th, 2017. An inferno sweeping through a London Tower block trapping many residents where dozens are feared dead.  
It is a sorry state to see Britain so badly divided.  No, so much Labour and Conservatives thing any longer but have transgressed beyond socially or morally acceptable to Them and Us, a polarised society.   Fuelled more so by the press hungry for headlines going out of their way to politicise defects, mistakes and shortcomings.  Playing on the those who are vulnerable for a rating score. Matters days earlier were of no concern to them, but as a tragedy unfolded, they take the moral ground to show purported gaping holes the government played with people's safety.  Rightly or wrongly the social media, an echo chamber, goes on to amplify this reporting causing more anger and frustration to an already tearfully sad situation.

Notting Hill district, in Kensington area of West London, where Grenfell Tower is situated couldn't be more representative of this social divide, neatly separating the vulnerable from the affluent. Including, of course, those immigrants coming to this country seeking a better life.  Witnesses statements added to reports of casualties while the death toll is still rising, latest estimates speak of well over 50 people.  A very high number in a country where we thought had the highest safety standards in the world.  But for a contemporary culture of  "I followed the rules" caused catastrophic mistakes are now to blame.  Causes of fire are yet to be determined, and the Metropolitan Police have instigated a criminal investigation.

I shudder to contemplate how this government or any government can quell this anger, with more to come I am sure.  Austerity, since the financial crisis of 2003 has taken its toll as social deprivation is on the increase.  Standard of living is falling for many; job insecurity is deterring salary increases.  Adequate housing and social welfare need to focus on those in need to fuse the divide and subdue the anger where regeneration of this deprived area is often perceived as attempts on social hygiene by the wealthy.  Income distribution is therefore in desperate need for reform. UK riots of 2011; Brexit and the swing to the left in the recent general election are real markers for dissatisfaction.

Unfortunately, I see this government has temporarily lost its grip on reality one needs to ask how many wake-up calls does it need to stir it into action.  There is anger on our streets, and anarchy is spreading by those ready to exploit it and weaponising it for their own political ends.  Besides the persistent inequalities, issues such as adequate social housing need government's urgent attention.  It is also high time for the media to act responsibly in uniting British society towards a common cause; Britain, as one caring nation.   

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Islam; Religion of Peace

The Massacre at Chios (1824) by Eugène Delacroix
Turkish fleet under the Kapudan Pasha Nasuhzade Ali Pasha arrived on the island of Chios, Greece on 22 March 1822. They quickly pillaged and looted the town. On 31 March, orders were given to burn down the city, and over the next four months, an estimated 40,000 Turkish troops arrived. In addition to setting fires, the troops were ordered to kill all infants under three years old, all males 12 years of age and older, and all females 40 and older, except those willing to convert to Islam.  Approximately three-quarters of the population of 120,000 were killed, enslaved or died of disease. It is estimated that 2,000 people remained on the island after 21,000 managed to flee, 52,000 were enslaved and 52,000 massacred.Tens of thousands of survivors dispersed throughout Europe and became part of the Chian Diaspora. Another source says that approximately 20,000 Chians were killed or starved to death.

On Wednesday 27th of March, 2017, the Westminster terror saw the murder of 5 innocent people including PC Keith Palmer, also a father and a husband, guarding the oldest parliament in the world.  An attack on democracy met with British Prime Minister, Theresa May's defiant reply "We are not afraid, and our resolve will not waver in the face of Terrorism." On the 8th of April, we saw similar terror repeating itself on the streets of Stockholm, Sweden. The attacker this time hijacked a lorry belonging to the Swedish brewery Speedups and used it to ram pedestrians. On Sunday, Palm Sunday 9th of April we saw at least 36 people killed after blasts targeted Coptic Christians in a Church in Egypt. Not long afterwards saw the killing of a French police officer in a shooting incident on Champs-Élysées.  All events were attributed to directly to IS or Muslim terrorist splinter group sympathisers.  

Islam was never like this.  Despite the belief by some, then and now, the conquest of Jerusalem in 638, after a two-year siege, established a fact for Islam that both Christianity and Islam originate from the same tree, now there was no denying of Islam's status.  Over the following centuries up to the pre-Mongol period, Islam was well articulated, and its relaxed attitude gave room to both the rational, philosophical interpretation and spiritual understanding to both the Quran and the Hadith.  Baghdad, at the heart of the Abbassid Caliphate, and Cairo after it under the Mamluks were centres of learning and groundswell of knowledge.  Baghdad, in particular, was a multi-cultural city of Christians, Jews and Muslims lived and worked together.  Many of the greatest philosophers of the age of different faiths applied Aristotelian logic to Islam enriching the Arabic language in the process.  The teaching of a united faith accompanied the spread of the Muslim Empire, and that applied knowledge stretched more than any empire before it, from the far corners of the East to the Atlantic in the West.

Guarantees extended by Umar ibn-Al-Khattab of civil and religious liberty to Christians in exchange for 'jizya' largely turning Jerusalem into a vassal state.

With the onset of the Ottoman Empire, Islam I believe took on more of a political tool rather than had hitherto been both political and societal.  Misusing Islam for power and glory, and for domination of Christianity.  The Caliphate assumed by the Ottomans was a usurpation since none of those chosen was either from the Quraish clan nor a distant relative of the prophet or indeed from Mecca or Medina.  For manipulation and control of the Ottoman and the Millet societies, Islam became a tool under their auspices.  Strictly applying rules that more or less established the mythical beliefs and customs many Muslim believers today acknowledge as the word of God.  Ironically, these distortions diluted the practical meaning of religion instead gave rise to a more radical approach that has over the years culminated in further distancing from a real essence of the Faith.

That radicalism has in recent history taken a more malignant transformation; from Al Qaida, the world's foremost terrorist organisation to ISIS; a transnational terrorist group formed in Iraq post the 2003 American invasion.   Its proclamation of the Khalifa has enabled it to gather around its organisation Sunni followers from both Syria and Iraq who are disenchanted, disillusioned and disenfranchised but radicalised and violently militant.  Both organisations have also managed to attract young volunteers from around the world to strengthen their infrastructure while internationalising its reach in the process.  Isis, in particular, having assumed the Khalif in Mosul, though its authority remained unrecognised by most Muslim countries around the world, has nevertheless, became a fighting force spreading its ideology in Europe and elsewhere by terrorism.

Take Al Qaeda for instance once the driving force of Global Jihad has built a network of multinational operations across the Arab world and Northern and Central Africa. The message that comes across from this militant and violent organisation is one of terror, killing, slavery and beheading.  These brutal warnings are often accompanying Muslim slogans with excerpts taken out of the Koran justifying its actions.  Nothing there that suggests Islam's peace messages or its true essence on the contrary we see frightening figures that in Charlie Hebdo terrorist case in France 27% of British Muslims sympathise with Paris gunmen.  One wonders whether their principle message is to spread fear or their faith or both.  More often the message that is increasingly coming across is both; hence we see Islamophobia as well as sympathies on the increase.  In the absence of contrary peaceful messages from its legitimate individual leadership across the Muslim world, their discourse of Islam a "religion of peace" sounding more and more hollow.

Neither Isis nor al Qaeda will be going away anytime soon despite IS's loss of territory in Mosul, Iraq and Raqa, Syria.  The cutting of beards and tearing off face veils are only a temporary respite in false dawn of final liberation from the Islamic State menace.   A retreat is happening, but as a terrorist organisation, they are far from finished.   They are definitely on the back foot, coming on the back of a military onslaught started in October 2016 with the main thrust coming from air power of coalition forces, supported by the Iraqi Government army (Iraqi Special Forces) charged in penetrating deeper into the IS-held territory.  A generally held belief that by the end of 2017 IS would renounce their Khalifa and retreat into the desert, but that does not spell the end of the movement by any means. Though many of its fighters return to Britain, France, Holland, Belgium, etc.  it is estimated at that stage, they would still have 10,000 or so loyal hardcore fighters and mainly Sunni Muslims who believe enough in the Salafi ideology prepared to cross the bridge into Europe and cause further mayhem.  Just as the  Iraqi Army has regrouped to fight another day so will IS, supported by its sympathisers in Europe and elsewhere who will do their bidding.  It will be a beginning of a new story as an organisation moving from soldiers to insurgents.  The more they shrink militarily, the more attacks, suicide or otherwise, they will commit to civilian targets especially in countries currently engaged in offensives against it.

Since the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and with it the last Khalifa in the shape of Abdulmecid II, described in 1922 as "a historic relic", Islam has lacked a universally accepted leadership and has ever since remained rudderless.  Influences of Islamic State and Al-Qaeda is spreading, and their militancy, intolerance and ideology can inspire people all over the world to carry attacks in their name.  The Social Media, a cost-effective tool serves an excellent conduit to recruit new volunteers to their cause who find comfort in its propaganda.  They may have lost territory and operatives and currently are on the run but are they likely to run out of steam? Not yet!  The third stage will be a change of tactics using a different strategy which means entry into the social fabric, a twenty-first-century strategy of networking within the Islamic societies around the world.

The brand will change, but the ideology of Salafi Jihadism remains the same hellbent to establish the Islamic States, and ultimately impose their own Khalifa and encouraging global jihadism and the Sharia Laws.  Once the enemy, the common cause infesting Mosul is eliminated the geopolitical terrain will need new cartography to define the new Mosul propagated from the new conflict that will attempt to devour it. That will leave IS, to put together new low maintenance ideological hubs, infiltrating Europe and elsewhere since ideological warfare is not a zero sum game of winning or losing. Unless there is one universally recognised Khalif, a legitimate central authority to defeat this spread, Salafi radicalism, intolerance is bound to grow. High time for a central authority to emulate Khalifa Umar humility who showed the meaning of tolerance and generosity in victory and strength. It is a challenge to the Muslim world that currently faced with a vacuum of ideas to contradict the spread of toxic fundamentalism that is doing untold damage to the Islamic character.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

The Arab Peoples

WHAT or WHO is an Arab? It must be one of the most difficult Ethnic terms to define.  There are as many definitions as there are dictionaries.  When “Arabic” people are asked this question one hears of definitions and opinions that etymologically brackets the terms within Christian, Muslim as well as Jewish context.  The Oxford English Dictionary has the following defining terms: Araby: a native of Arabia, and Arab: one of a Semitic race inhabiting Saudi Arabia and neighbouring countries.  Both definitions leave the questioner none the wiser.  Are Palestinian Christians Arabs? Are Jewish Iraqi Arabs?  Although Arabs collectively maybe a nation but there is no Arabic nationality in the legal sense.  A man who calls himself an Arab could hold Syrian, Egyptian, Saudi or any number of the “Arabic” countries passport but none of them identifies him as an Arab national.  

Is she an Arab, confident, liberated and revealing? A Lebanese maybe.  
Any more or less than her? A true Arab?
This guy is most probably an Arab nomad according to this article a true Arab.
… while this once famous Egyptian singer was a townie which makes him an Arab by association

Since there is no legal status for an Arab citizen, we are confronted by a quandary.  Nevertheless, it is assumed an Arab has many bonds that bind him towards other Arabs living or dead.  We can start whether the Arabic language is a binding factor. There is Arab speaking Jew of Iraq or Egypt or the Arabic speaking Christian of Lebanon. Are they Arabs?  I am sure there will be as many different answers as there are questions from these people and more from their Muslim neighbours.  I can even ask whether the Arabic-speaking Muslim of Egypt and Algeria an Arab?  Many of those questioned do consider themselves Arab but not all, especially some Lebanese who think they are Phoenicians.  Is a Christian Lebanese of equal Arab status as the Muslim Shi’a Hezbollah fighter from Southern Lebanon both could be holding Lebanese passports? If looks can tell us anything, looking at the above photos can it solve our conundrum?  These questions are not meant to be rhetorical only but also to encourage any brave souls to volunteer a reply.  

If we turn to culture for help, we find there is hardly a pan-Arabian culture we can identify. Digging deep in the sands looking for what the BBC calls high-brow, middle or even low-brow culture I find the desert is almost barren.  Except for minor literary culture in Egypt and Lebanon, the binding Arab culture is Islam, but that had inadvertently imprisoned and stifled individual excellence in Art, Science and Humanities.  The effect of which caused by anarchic and subjective morality coupled with a shift from reason to sentiments and passion.  

Further complications arise when, in Iraq for instance; colloquially, people distinguish the Bedouin from indigenous peasantry by name “Arab”; classifying and separating their ethnicity from the rest of Iraqi people. Perhaps then this suggests that speaking Arabic is not the criteria.  Since speaker of Arabic or Semitic or a native of the Arabia (Where ever that is defined) is not enough a criteria.

Yet we see The Arab League has under its wings the following countries: Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, the Palestine Liberation Organization, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. They can not be serious so no wonder as an organisation hardly anyone takes it seriously more of a dysfunctional unrepresentative organisation that cracks under the mildest strain.  More than likely Arabism is what divides all these countries.

Some Arab leaders defined an Arab in these words: "Whoever lives in our country, speaks our language, is brought up in our culture and takes pride in our glory is one of us." We may compare with this a definition from a well-qualified Western source, Professor Gibb of Oxford: "All those are Arabs for whom the central fact of history is the mission of Muhammad and the memory of the Arab Empire and who also cherish the Arabic tongue and its cultural heritage as their joint possession." Both definitions give the meaning both cultural and religious significance without getting into the “heart” of the word.  Our search must now be both historical and linguistic so we can we arrive at the meaning of this elusive definition.  We need to go back to biblical time and come forward. 

During the course of these centuries, the significance and meaning of the word have steadily changed with a standard usage completely lost.  Some people think the etymology of the word has Semitic roots meaning “West” for individuals who come from west of the Euphrates River but I consider this to be highly improbable. By connecting it with the Hebrew word for dark or Steppe-land “Arabha” or “Erebh” meaning disorganised seems a more plausible proposition.  “The association with nomadism is borne out by the fact that the Arabs themselves seem to have used the word at an early date to distinguish the Bedouin from the Arabic-speaking town and village dwellers and indeed continue to do so to some extent at the present day” The Arabs in History, by Bernard Lewis,  In fact, the first account of Arabia and Arabs found in the tenth chapter of Genesis calling many tribes of the area as "Arab" Also “Arab” makes its appearance in an Assyrian inscription in 850 BC. From then on there is frequent reference to Aribi, Arabu and Urbi indicative of a nomadic and desert origin when giving Camels or tributes to their Assyrian lords.  From the Syrian historical records, we deduct that these areas do not include the flourishing sedentary civilisation of south-western Arabia. The inhabitants in later books of the Old Testament would, however, identify them around 530 BC when the terms Arabaya begin to appear and later as commanders in Xerxes’ Persian army.

From now this argument will become messy - very messy and I blame the ancient Greek for this! 

We learn from early Greek writings, around 400 BC when the word Arabia was first used combining all the Semitic people of the peninsula, analogues to Italia and Germania and later Britannia.  Under the same heading, they included the people from the eastern desert of Egypt between the Nile and the Red Sea. Contact between Romans and Arabs was so close, Philip of Arabia “the Arab” (Syrian) became Caesar who even presided in Rome over the capital’s millennial celebrations. We had to wait for the rise of Islam to learn more about the use of the word from information gathered mainly from central and northern Arabia.  We can also detect that the concentration of Islamic activities was in the Northern half of the peninsula in the Syrian/Iraq borders. As a historical source, The Qur’an also confirms that the exclusive use of the term Arab was the Nomads and never the townsfolk of Mecca and Medina.  Yet the language of Mecca and Medina and other towns, as well as the Qur'an itself, is described as Arabic. 

It was the Arab-speaking Muslim world which conquered the lands of the Parthian kingdom and was to dominate right across Northern Africa reaching the edges of Europe and the Iberian Peninsula.  With this hegemony came Muslim religious influences as well as Arabic ethnical Culture.  The Jews and the Christians accompanying this warring army were to have an acculturative effect in the Arabic way of life without proselytising into the Muslim religion. The confluence of a vast number of varieties of people with different race and languages the Muslims exercised their influence as rulers and masters.  The distinction between Nomads and townsfolk became blurred and Arab gradually came to identify all those who spoke the Arabic language. With the increasing number of people converting to Islam, Arabism gradually transgressed to more of a universal Islamic ideology identified by faith.    Culture and administration were to later effect a change to a heterogeneous race with the wars of conquest coming to an end.

Contribution to "Arab medicine", "Arab philosophy", etc. of those who were of Arab descent, however, was relatively small. The architects of these particular cultures were the Christians and Jews while gradually becoming “Islamic” associated more with culture as much as with religion. The variegated culture of that Empire produced by men of many races and religions, but in the Arabic language and conditioned by Arab taste and tradition. The spread of Islam, however, also meant the spread of Arabic whether colloquial or classical as in the writing of the Qur’an. This was to take further hold with the arrival of the Turks when all marginal languages, such as Aramaic, west of Persia ceased their significance.  This would effectively blend further the different backgrounds and religious affiliations effectively harmonising the heterogeneousness of the communities.  This meant that definition of Arabic identity split into two.  One bearing the Nomadic origin of the Bedouins as the true Arabs and the other was becoming a social rather than an ethnic term.

As one can imagine, however, that with such an austere and dominating majority as the Ottomans, the minority faiths were organised along religiopolitical lines with their own leadership and laws - the Millet system.  The majority belonged to the Ummat al-Islām, a primarily Muslim Turkish community.  Sometimes these were subdivided into Egyptian, Syrian, Iraqi or even townsman and peasants.  The Arab was also applied to non-Arab nomads (of Kurdish or Turkoman extraction were ethnically termed Arab.  Abnā al-'Arab or Awlād al-'Arab applied to the Arabic-speaking townspeople and peasantry to distinguish them from the Turkish ruling class on the one hand and the nomads or Arabs proper on the other.  Since the start of the Ottoman rule of the Arabs in 1517 this ethnic division, especially in colloquial Arabic, has remained unchanged although its singnificancy has diminished.

To sum up then: As I see it the terms Arab was the cumulative terms used by the Greeks later Romans to combine the whole of the Semitic people under one label.  In Arabia itself, it seems to have been limited to the nomads although the common language of sedentary and nomad Arabians was called Arabic. In my opinion, despite the fact that the Nomadic Arabs spoke Arabic they were illiterate as it was an oral language only.  Although according to a later, but still controversial claim, Hira, on Jabal al-Nour, a tribal settlement, where Mohamed received his first revelations, was where the Arabs learnt to put their language in writing.  Staying on this theme, in the following six to seven centuries the Arabic language ‘matured’ along with the articulation of Islam using mainly Aristotelian logic and rationality.  By the time of Mongolian invasion of Baghdad and the consequent destruction of the Abbasid dynasty, the Arabic language was by then recognised by its rich poetic stanzas and highly stylised opulence entrenching further the Arab speaking population in Arabism since government and institutional language was Arabic. To fit in with the system, Arabism meant both acquiring Islamic culture as well as its language. 

 Therefore, many people who are true Arabic irrespective whether they are Muslim, Christian or Jewish are Arabic only through inherited social association with their old masters, as a result of their demarcated and social testimonials given to them by the Turks.  Although drawing this conclusion may cause many raised eyebrows, but with the current knowledge at my disposal, I firmly believe that to be the case.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Life, Abortion and Human Right

Abortion or rights to abortion or the right to kill a human being can they ever entail justifiable moral right? Considering abortion from a moral perspective must be one of the most contentious issues society has ever come to deal with.  So I am not sure why I choose to write about this challenging subject, but still, I must be a glutton for punishment attempting to weave through this minefield. Some people hold the moral beliefs that their conscience tell them they are right. While others choose to believe that killing an embryo is morally wrong, but such opinions are not subject to proof.  I shall, therefore, approach this difficult topic from several directions, legal and biological, in determining whether it is morally or immorally right to abort a child and to terminate the right to life. Then on to consider the importance of any implications that these points may raise such as contraception and of course cutting short a ' future'.  The essential feature, however, is religion strictly to remain outside the domain of this article.  

To consider the moral case for Abortion, it is vital I would have thought to disengage emotionally from the subject but to start with the definition of 'Human' and to dismiss any possible confusion between the moral sense and the genetic sense.  Taking this into account it makes it easier to decide as and when a human is a being acquiring full and equal moral rights and whether a foetus is considered enough of being a person to be a member of the community, hence possessing moral obligations.  On the point of genetic formation, however, it is worthwhile to bear in mind that although a fertilised egg has all the genes code necessary to a human being but so do all cells of the body.  Moreover, the beginning of biological life does not necessarily mean the foetus has an ipso facto the right to life nor from a moral perspective to decide what stage does an embryo becomes a being enough to acquire the right to life remains unexplained.  Conversely, Pro-life supporters would argue that abortion is immoral and that the foetus is never anything other than human from conception.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary Human is  "designating a person who takes on the appearance or form, or who performs the function of a specified...thing; (also) designating an individual who assumes the appearance, role, or abilities of a specified creature." With that in place, the community also stipulates that it is wrong to kill innocent human beings, and fetuses are innocent human beings.  It begs the question whether judgment here is prescribed in the moral sense or the genetic sense.?  Since there is a difference or argument to differentiate between moral humanity and genetic humanity many would feel it is not essential to attach moral sense to an entity for merely possessing a human genetic code.  

It is generally accepted, a moral worth is attributed to people, so it is essential to determine when and if a fetus is a person. For this we use several criteria to decide:

A) Consciousness, in particular, the capacity to feel pain.
B) Reasoning, the ability to solve new and relatively complex problems.
C) Self-motivated activity. 
D) The capacity to communicate
E) The presence of self-concepts and self-awareness.

Even the anti-abortionist would agree that an entity which satisfies none of the above is not deemed to be a person.  To think otherwise they would be confusing between the genetic and moral sense of being 'human'.  To determine personhood, therefore, for this argument at least, it is essential to consider the above five points as central, because the concept of people to have full moral rights hinges on their determination.  In consequence, recognition of personhood is enough to recognise its moral right and indeed for the community to attach a moral right to it.  

Surprisingly, it would also be safe to say that genetic formation is not essential if the five primary criteria are present.  To demonstrate, I borrow from Mary Anne Warren Report On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion,"Genetic humanity is not necessary or sufficient for establishing that an entity is a person.  Some human beings are not people, and there may well be people who are not human beings.Without significant mental capacity, as with some human being, kept alive but with consciousness permanently obliterated is no longer a person", a foetus may have human life form but not yet a person.  

So when do we consider a foetus developed enough to have acquired the necessary qualification for the community to attribute to it moral rights? Would it be when fully a person or being like a person and becomes sufficiently human to have the right to life?  Here we are in deep water since neither medicine, philosophy or indeed theology has come up with agreed summation when life begins.  In a landmark ruling by the United States Supreme Court on the issue of abortion, the court recognised for the first time that the US Constitution provides enough right to privacy.  That it is  "broad sufficiently to encompass a woman's decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy", (Roe v. Wade, 1973). Such recognition also stresses a time limit, for protecting the potentiality of human life by tying permissibility for abortion to not later than the start of the third semester of pregnancy (27-40 weeks), a stage of pregnancy after which date abortion is unlawful. To recognise, the potentiality argument that by this date, the foetus more than likely feels pain so presumes the right to Life.  However, even though abortion was governed by a time limit, the ruling has unfortunately also come to be known by many as the case that legalised abortion nationwide.  

On this subject, there are also other twists and turns in store, since the moral question on Abortion does not end with concern for the foetus but it also ought to consider a pregnant woman's right to protect her own life.  Some people would argue to abort a pregnancy to protect the life of the mother in the same way as in the circumstances for ridding the threat to human life.  This concern must also evaluate the dilemma from a pragmatic perspective perhaps a severely mentally handicapped foetus or pregnancy a result of a woman raped.

This challenging question, the right to abortion, must also take on board the pro-life argument, to boldly underscore why abortion is immoral. It would help to consider this side of the argument from a starting point of  'it is wrong to kill' (although this does not include the act of self-defence).  Killing is depriving life or future life of the victim.   To lose a life whether by an adult or a future life by a foetus must be one of the most heart rendering experience one can suffer.  Depriving an embryo of life is to rob it of all the future values of life that entity might later enjoy.  The embryo may be biologically or genetically not human enough but nevertheless, it is of human species with future moral worth, and some believe personhood.  The wrongness of killing a foetus stands identical with the killing of adults that also deprives them of a value of their futures.  By all assessment, this is a compelling argument, however, below in my conclusion, to some extent, I attempt to mitigate its force. 

Future value of life argument need not put a spotlight on family planning which for many can also seem to deny a future by contraception.  The short answer for this must be before conception, there are millions of sperms. Hence there is no identifiable subject of the loss. 

In conclusion, I must admit by the limited tenets presented here I am no nearer in resolving this issue. However, reluctantly I go on the side of the gradualist or moderates abortionists providing certain provisions are met  Considering, the difficulties as presented here deciding when the right to life starts one can assume that the progress to personhood and the right to life increases with the period of gestation.   Taking into account that although the foetus may be of a human life form, it is not yet a person, so the gradual argument therefore largely determines the justifiability or the none-justifiability of having an abortion.  The alternative view of pro-life proponents would be unwanted pregnancies, illegal abortions and the risk of death for mother and the unborn.  Therefore, the legislators in their effort to ward off any subjective principles they have shown they are morally bound to take a consequentialist approach to ethics.  Moreover, given that the risk of death increases with the length of pregnancy on health ground for both and hopefully keeping on the right side of the moral argument the judgment of Roe v Wade sums it about right.  Since part of the merit to this ruling must be the idea of the foetus has reached a particular stage of development when it is liable to be hurt, an unconsented hurt, they then must acquire moral right.  

Photo of pregnant woman by the sea shore: Dan Evans, https://pixabay.com/en/pregnant-beach-sunset-mother-422982/

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Tradition & The Catholic Church

I’m Tibetan, I’m Buddhist, and I’m the Dalai Lama, but if I emphasise these differences it sets me apart and raises barriers with other people. What we need to do is to pay more attention to the ways in which we are the same as other people - The Dalai Lama

The Catholic Church needs to come to terms with its past.  Though the term 'Catholic' is a 2nd century all-embracing and universal, the idea of a universal church is anachronistic, and its dwindling congregations are a case in point. Traditional beliefs within the Catholic Church are no stranger to challenges or disagreements either from within or from the outside.  It has over the centuries overcome state interventions, Wars, revolts and splintering beliefs mostly targeting it to reform.  The most severe were the Lutheran movement middle of the sixteenth century that gave birth to Protestantism.   At the turn of the twentieth century, more challenges aspired byLiberal Theology to its absolutist policies contrived by the Nation States namely France and Italy.  Following its right wing approaches in the Dreyfus affair, 1906, antagonised the Third Republic and its antipathies, following the Lateran Treaty to Mussolini's Fascist regime in 1929, respectively.  Problems facing the Catholic Church today are, in many ways similar; impositions by progressive societies demanding change, but as always with any reforms usually meet stiff resistance.  The call for change is silent but profound, and judging by the falling congregation is very telling.  Irrespective of the Doctrine of Infallibility, Pope Francis is doing his best to pull 1.2 billion Roman Catholics in the world into the 21st century, attempting to reform church dogmatic ruling, while taking on Catholics, both priests and followers to shed ideas of the past and adopt the new. 

The gradual drift towards the Long Reformation that came about in the Sixteenth century when finally Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses on the church door in Wittenberg also marked a pivotal movement in European history.  It also underlined the start in the transformation of social order.  It imperatives was mainly to bring back into focus the word of God as prescribed in the Bible and to shift the religious leadership’s focus away from fees and payments and hoped to restore and clarify the core principles of the faith – pristine state of primitive Christianity.  As a living body of Christ, the Catholic Church “guided through the history of the Holy Spirit, [love], and thus whatever new traditions it establishes serves merely as continuing expressions of the Kerygma, the original model of Christian Life in the Bible.” (Peter G. Wallace, ‘The Long European Reformation’.) To re-establish the bonds with the historical past of the apostolic church and preparation to the historical future of Christ’s second coming. 

The universality of the Catholic Church comes packaged with ribbons of questionable colours in the shape of Lorenzo Valla’s, in 1440 what came to be known as ‘Donation of Constantine’ revelations.  Apparently, an alleged forgery written around 800 AD, it freed Rome from Byzantine control and was the beginning of what was known as the papal states. The Donation also granted to Rome “supremacy... over the four chief seats Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople and Jerusalem, as also over all the churches of God in the whole world.”  However, the Catholic Church established and sought to maintain orthodoxy in matters of Christian doctrine (the beliefs about God and salvation that it accepted and taught), ceremonial (ritual), morals, and religious observance (worship). The late medieval churches were organised as well as ordered through the courts of their own law.  European and subsequent Eastern churches owed allegiance to the papacy a power broker in the early and central Middle Ages.
Similar spirited advances, Pope Francis today is zealously attempting to reconcile with Liberal Theological climate widespread attitude in society concerning Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) orientations. This is just one example of many such as Abortion, Divorce, celibacy amongst the Clergy and other issues in his attempts to break away with outmoded traditions and carry the Catholic Church into modernity; injecting real contemporary universal human values. It appears, he vehemently believes religion, as an institution, to rehabilitate into the modern world, while assuring a balance between the Vatican's infallibility and "I am the truth" as perceived by the Gospels, are not tempered by traditional monolithic approaches.  Need to offer society a new concept to religious values rather than remain enshrined in 'universal' Catholic values which no longer rhyme with human liberal perceptions.  There is a dire need for religion within the Catholic Tradition, in particular, to integrate it into the fabric of society and keep abreast with the challenges that a changing society periodically represents.  Like Morality, so Tradition; though the word has remained the same over the centuries, its substance has changed many times over that period. So Tradition, self-reflexive, reformulating the mood of the prevailing attitudes of the time, establishing new underpinnings of reformed values, in Harold Rosenberg words “the tradition of the new.”

Pope Francis is like a breath of fresh air encouraging constructive change, presenting ideas as window frames through which we view the landscape.  Hitherto this traditional pixelated view Pope Francis attempts to bring back to see the broader picture within one large focused frame. 

Building on the sediments of past centuries yet refusing to recognise the social role of religion would be the antithesis to the true teaching of the faith.  Fragile compromises and tolerance, and being non-judgmental ought to be the essence what being religious mean.  Tradition is not foundational in Catholicism but layered by centuries-old custom and cultural habits and myths, some of which take hold and survive. Truth does not lie there but in the teaching and the substance of the Gospels and Jesus way of life.  Jesus judged the sinner not the sin, this is well established through the love he showed to Mary Magdalene, (Luke 8:2), from whom he had exorcised seven demons.  Teachings of the Catholic Church needs to reflect on the dynamism of social engineering of how people come to understand and would want to position it. It ought to allow for a social and spatial contextualization because it requires the analysis of religion as a socially embedded phenomenon.  Its concept is bridging the divide between the traditional history of worship and the broader perspective of the history of a society which provides the continuity between the two.  For any counter-reformation must also reflect the prism of Faith, enacting the word of God to a 21st-century frame of mind to attract not only those inside its boundaries but also those outside.  Sociology can at times play just as an important part in doctrines of Catholicism as Theology or creedal teachings.   The Catholic Church should not be members only exclusive club, but its progressive policies are made attractive enough to new members.     

Pope Francis’s Amoris Laetitia (Joy of Love), has called for the Catholic Church to update its outlook on modern family life, striking a delicate balance between a more liberal tone towards gay people as well as the defence of traditional church teachings on issues such as abortion but noticeably not yet on divorce. Towards fragile compromises, he pointed out, that “Each country or region, moreover, can seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive to its traditions and local needs." Further adding in efforts to reach out to modernity. “In certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments. “I want to remind priests that the confessional must not be a torture chamber, but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy[…]I would also point out that the Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.” 

The pope’s speeches and conferences a clear pattern was beginning to emerge.  This is not a superficial approach to Vatican or Catholic reform but comes from deep conviction inspired in the man from the long years spent as Arch Bishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina. He has witnessed first-hand at the downward spiral of church attendances, the different makeup of society and antagonistic intolerance the church can generate.  His subsequent revitalising visit to Brazil where three million people pack Rio's Copacabana beach attending mass, “Preaching to the converted”  is a clear testimony of his popularity, confers an aura of credibility to his teachings, framing his arguments. Context is as important as the individual faced with obstructions and dissent to his authority. Especially so when such dissent is fenced ostensibly by the defence of the faith.   Not only has he thrown the gauntlet of reform but also for the sake of preservation of the Catholic Church, threw away fear commonly associated with those who aspire to leadership often find the seeds of their downfall sown as they rise to the top.

I don’t think Socrates would mind if I borrow his quote “The unexamined life is not worth living” so with the Catholic Church it needs to examine itself before yet another reformation is forced upon it.  Pope Francis is reinterpreting what dynamic Christianity and with it, the Catholic faith that weighs heavily on its directions. "He who believes in Me” (John 11:25), needs to be the ingredient that stirs the spiritual conscience of the Church, embodying it in its sermons to establish the conditions for its audience to uphold thus to examine direct relationship between the work it has created and its creator.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

The Teutonic Embrace

Bernhard von Bülow (1849-1929), who served as Reich Chancellor from 1900 to 1909, gave his famous speech on Germany’s “place in the sun” when he was foreign minister. His vision of Germany as a colonial power became the ideological foundation of German naval expansion, which began shortly after that.

German industrious zeal over the last hundred years despite the experiences of two world wars had never deserted the German sense of achievement.  German dominance in Europe, until recently was thought a thing of the past, but recent economic activities raised eyebrows in many political circles and suspicions abounds that the resurgence of German hegemony is casting its shadows over Europe yet again. This essay will focus on the historical evidence that contributed to this thinking and the evidence we have today.  This piece will attempt to demonstrate that with careful monitoring by Berlin of German fiscal and banking policies, Germany has protected its currency behind the Euro where German capital is dominating Europe and profits from the misery of the austerity measures it helps to impose.

Von Bulow though he presented himself as the guardian of Bismarck’s heritage was no Bismarck.  In 1865 serving as Chancellor under Kaiser Wilhelm I, it was the genius of Count Otto von Bismarck with the aid of unifying force; Prussian military power and success in the war against France in 1870–71 brought together the Deutsche Zollverein a federation of 25 states.  Then he went on by alliances to achieve for the German industrial powerhouse, political and economic superiority in Europe. Then came, Weltpolitik, the Wilhelmine Keiser foreign relations idea was to transform Germany into a global power through aggressive diplomacy, the acquisition of overseas colonies, and the development of a large navy. The origins of the policy can be traced to a Reichstag debate on 6 December 1897 during which German Foreign Secretary Bernhard von Bülow stated, "...We wish to throw no one into the shade, but we demand our own place in the sun."

As before, at the turn of the Twentieth Century, modernization and globalisation for Germany so today means domination.  Chancellor Otto von Bismarck seized colonies for Germany in the mid-1880s to exploit class antagonisms created by industrialisation and to build a strong foundation of support for the new Reich so is the present Chancellor of Germany Angela Dorothea Merkel attempts to control European currency for continued industrial expansion unhindered.  As before German leaders operating from The Reichstag thought they can dictate terms to a prostate enemy so today German Bundestag dictated austerity measures against an almost bankrupt Greece. 

Mitteleuropa; a concept for middle European economic union under German hegemony, was the brainchild of Friedrich Naumann in 1915. Naumann’s concept envisaged economic and cultural cooperation of the region’s inhabitants in the formation of a free trade zone.  Mitteleuropa denotes both a direction in German economic and political thought and the title of the most popular wartime (WWI) utopia.  It was a replacement to the slowing down of imperialist colonial expansion to provide alternative markets for continued German industrial development.  It was also a divisive policy providing an impetus to the nationalist movements among the ethnic structures in Europe to look at Germany for leadership.  Soon enough early into the Great War in 1916, it took on imperialist colours in the shape of territorial expansion starting with Poland.  Mitteleuropa prioritised the displacement of Poles and Jews to resettle Russian Germans in the newly acquired areas fusing initial economic ideas with the ideology of the German Lebensraum (Living Space).

Fast forward to 1933 we find Hitler’s growing fascination with the United States and increasing efficiency.  Its success, together with concern that Europe in general, and Germany in particular, would be relegated to an inferior status primarily because they lacked American dynamism and the massive internal market provided by the North American landmass. Germany’s expansion to the east to gain Lebensraum would provide a source of raw materials and create an internal market of American proportions while building an upwardly mobile workforce educated enough to achieve that aim. The Nazi views were “that a superior people (German) always have the right to conquer and to own the land of an inferior people.”

 And so we see the dominance of Germany in Europe once again in 2017 taking hold using the Euro as a tool for subjugating its ‘partners’ but within its entrails a mechanism for global domination. The new American administration has already indicated that it is preparing for global economic and currency war. The White House claimed that Germany is using its money to “exploit” its neighbours, particularly southern European neighbours and the United States. The White House evidently thinks of the European Union and the monetary union that established the euro currency, as essentially a mechanism to protect German interests and extend German power.  It holds German capital domination of Europe responsible, in the event, it has placed in its crosshairs the Deutsch Mark. 

To find out what got us here we take a quick short look at recent currency history.  Before the emergence of the Euro, we had the European Monetary System (EMS).  In the 1970's the American Dollar was weakening with much of world capital going to Germany which propped up the Deutsche mark exerting inflationary pressure on the German economy, weakening scopes for German exports.  Linking the Deutsch mark within a union of other European currencies hedged its currency from extreme evaluations either way. In a sense, the Euro is akin to a European German currency standing in opposition to the Dollar, an international currency underpinned by unlimited printing.   Since wage inflation in Germany was much lower than the rest of Europe, it stood to gain most than other European countries.  Distrusting the Dollar was no longer an option but imperative, so releasing the European currencies from a monetarist straitjacket was essential to minimise the volatility.  While protecting its industrial powerhouse, the Euro today maintains Germany’s grasp for European economic primacy where it had failed a century earlier. 

What this means, of course, Germany is able to build massive exports and current account surpluses. In recent years this has become of great concern to the American administration since they believed that such German under consuming of goods and services placed a brake on the world economy as a whole.  The IMF estimates Germany’s 2017 surplus as 8.1 percent of GDP with a policy of keeping the Euro low, in an export-driven economy, is no more than keeping the Deutsche mark lower than it should be.  The new American administration is distraught because it can not get at the Deutsch mark since it is fenced in by the Euro.   
Here is the catch.  Germany, easily biggest economy in the euro area keeps building up its reserves through its exponential exports drive and growth, holding steadfast to the Euro from disintegrating while through a system of money transfers it props up failing economies.  The German central bank, The Bundesbank today holds almost €1 trillion euros (see chart) of claims against the troubled economies of Greece, Ireland, Italy and other EU ‘partners’ in what is termed TARGET2 system of claims. At the same time, such unrelenting financing has become too big for it to go backwards if that happen claims on German banks can cause a severe breakdown to German economy posing real threats to the German industrial powerhouse. However, the position is firmly grounded by politicians and academics, who say that if the European Central Bank (ECB) interferes it would be an illegal monetary financing that violates German law. Germany today enjoys an economic utopia chiefly of its own making the rest of Europe could only envy.  If Angela approves then, Europe endorses this is how it is going thus far, but could Mittleuropa last?

For the one thing, the drums of the currency war are not about to miss a beat, and the Dollar is far too arrogant to let an upstart such as the Euro to spearhead world economies. The second point, I believe to be far more damaging is the drum roll of history. Envy, jealousy or the pressures of austerity has produced resentment and claims for past wrongs need to be justified.  Germany’s insistence that loans from Berlin…must be repaid in full – and with interest” – says the German chancellor, Angela Merkel.   A Christian Democrat, no less, as are the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker.  Such monolithic sounding statements stands in stark contrast to the American and other European countries approach to wave away the hefty war reparation payments imposed on Germany after the two world wars. With the modern dystopia, of a North - South divide in Europe, I don’t see a way out for the troubled economies of the southern region.  Without easing the austerity measures, the disparities of income will widen, and the resulting anger will prove to be the primary cause that will eventually see the fragmentation of the European Union.  

Sunday, 12 February 2017

The Emotional Reason

Illuminating Morality Part 2 (Concluding)

The judgment that something is morally wrong is an emotional response. It doesn’t follow that every emotional response is a moral judgment. 

Doing right for the wrong reason or doing wrong for the right reason.

This is the second part of an essay on Illuminating Morality a continuation of part one from last week which said that Cultural inferences, Biological or innate part of our human nature, as well as language, combined determine our moral decisions.  More often than not, rationality or reason hardly influences our moral decisions putting them on the second tier of cognitive reasoning. With that in mind, I here argue, taking one of the three, that Cultural conditioning is the mainspring for our moral decisions gives us the ability merely observe to pass judgment.  This, incidentally, contradicts what many believe the potential to observe without judgment is one of the highest forms of intellectualism. 

Still, having gone on the side of Cultural conditioning as the primary source for our moral induction, we are immediately confronted by the notion of relativity which I shall examine in this essay.  Relativist, believe that conflicting moral beliefs can both be true. The staunch socialist and righteous Conservative are both equally right; they just occupy different moral worldviews. Both, take into account a comprehensive view of the adamant conviction that each is correct and that the conversation partner is mistaken where both assume the other is making the blunder. 

Such moral misconception mostly embedded in the positive illusion that makes us take the moral high ground to what makes us think we are special and right.  We convince ourselves that we know we have authority to tell others they are wrong. That we are juster and more knowing and we are even better drivers and better at making sandwiches or other trivia.  A flourishing dogmatism oblivious to alternative facts or considerations but merely backed by an unshakable conviction of being right is the only presupposition grounding our moral justification.  Balancing a vainglorious self-righteous conviction carries their emotional statements simply based on culturally induced preferences  A conclusion based on the rather flimsy belief that if we were all acutely aware of the totality of consequences and implications, as he or she sees them, we would not be in disagreement about moral objections. 

The decision as to whether drug consumption or prostitution is inherently malignant or such matters as abortion, euthanasia, gun control, same-sex unions, pornography, all differ in value conflicts and entails decisions about  ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ taken irrespective whether our values we attach to them are valid. Many rest their judgment on all the above on the firm belief of right or wrong on emotive impulses.  They are ‘just not right’ or ‘just wrong’.  Many of us often fail to distinguish between value judgment and a moral or emotional expression. 

David Hume, prominent Scottish Eighteenth century thinker, supports a ‘Passivist’ view.  This is “beliefs are established for us by the state of affairs around us and only by that;  we have no input into that belief.” What you observe then you believe in what you observe. No need for rationality but conditioning that induces you towards that belief.  “Reason is always a slave to the passions.”  Whereas Rene Descartes, a French philosopher expressed an ‘Activist’ view where belief is an intersubjective understanding derived from reason. As you may have gathered, I lean on the ‘Passivist’ view.

Our attitude to morals dramatically changes over a period.  What society accepts today it did not accept 300 years ago and vice versa.  This variation spans time as well as regions.  Take cannibalism, a practice, Anthropologists tell us, was widespread in many parts of the world surprisingly in over 34% of cultures at one time or another. Take blood sports when in Roman society human being killing each other was fun to see considered pleasurable pastime. Rather similar to bull killing (fighting) in Spain today.   Head hunting a culture among Celts warriors, the ancient Britons decapitating and hanging the heads of their enemies over the neck of their horses, and until the eighteenth century in Benin City near River Niger in what is now Nigeria, the collection of skulls and human sacrifice was part of life.  Or, even the painful footbinding of young girls in China, a culture that lasted for 1,000 years.  Variation in attitudes towards violence is paralleled by variation in attitudes towards sex and marriage. Arranged marriage is also common, and some cultures marry off girls while they are still pubescent or even younger. In parts of Ethiopia, half the girls are married before their 15th birthday. It is morally wrong to deny others what we do not accept as we will not accept to deny us what we think is right.  One reason being who is to say that our contemporary outlook on marriage change to run along Ethiopian line in the future and look back at our culture as regressive and ‘uncivilised’.  Also, with such dominating attitude, we are in danger of smugly supposing superiority. Each culture assumes it is in possession of the moral truth. The practice of sending elderly relatives to nursing homes is considered wrong by one and right by another culture.

There is another argument that suggests cultural inferences caused by variations in circumstance and the need to adapt to the environment otherwise people everywhere agree on similar values.  For example slave owners natural tendency to believe that slaves were intellectually inferior. Or, for Inuits, because life was hard and constant shortage of food they practised infanticide.   Such arguments would also seem to suggest it is right to enslave those with low IQ’s and it is right to kill off impoverished children.  But it is spectacularly implausible that all moral differences can be explained this way. Differences in circumstances do not show that people share values; rather, they help to explain why values end up being so different.  When societies converge morally is usually because one has dominated the other, as with the missionary campaigns to end cannibalism.

In conclusion, moral judgment is an emotive reaction, conditioned and osmotic devoid of the reason for its reaction.  Reason is only reactionary to bring attention to value- value judgment as opposed to emotive judgment.  ‘Don’t do this’ has a greater resonance that ‘do this’ a child had already internalised a moral value since parents correct antisocial behaviours for example; spanking, withdrawing love, ‘go to your room’, to experience a negative emotion to learn.  Reasoning with children on what is a moral value so often fail since by definition all moral responses are emotional attitudes. Some of us within seconds go from having no idea what something is, to developing strong feelings about it, to being outraged when anyone disagrees.  What makes us feel bad must also be wrong.  Is that right?

I leave you with this thought experiment:

Bank error in your favour

When Richard went to the ATM, he got a very pleasant surprise.  He requested £100 with a receipt.  What he got was £10,000 with a receipt - for £100

When he got home, he checked his account online and found that, sure enough, his account had been debited by only £100.  He put the money in a safe place, fully expecting the bank swiftly to spot the mistake and ask for it back. But the weeks passed, and nobody called.

After two months, Richard concluded that on one was going to ask for the money.  So he headed off to the BMW dealership with the hefty down-payment in his pocket.

On the way, however, he did feel a twinge of guilt.  Wasn’t this stealing? He quickly managed to convince himself it was no such thing.  He had not deliberately taken the money, it had just been given to him.  And he hadn’t taken it from anyone else, so no one had been robbed.  As for the bank, this was a drop in the ocean for them, and anyway, they would be insured against such eventualities.  And it was their fault they had lost the money – they should have had safer systems.  No, this wasn’t theft.  It was just the biggest stroke of luck he had ever had.

Are people naturally immoral? What if it was not a bank but another human being? Are we judging by a peculiar sense of justice?

The reason why Richard was so easily persuaded by his own argument, he is prone to self-serving bias in his thinking.  It is very difficult to disable this bias and think impartially, after all, why should I?

Thought experiment extracted from a book by Julain Baggini ‘The Pig that Wants to be Eaten’, (p. 40), Granta Publications, Copyright 2005 Julain Baggini, ISBN 1 86207 7487

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Illuminating Morality

Many people easily confuse Morality with Ethics, so let us get that out of the way for starters. I will also hastily say you will not find right or wrong in this essay but it can if taken seriously enough give you food for thought as I try to shine a light on the sources for moral behaviour.  Consciously or unconsciously what are sources that would trigger our moral decisions?  What factors can go to formulate our moral action leads us to certainty, a convinced assessment, irrational or reasoned.

This chapter is a first of a two-part essay.  Next week I shall deal with the intricacies of Morality why be moral and whether morality is relative.  The changing attitudes that constitute our moral beliefs. Is it right to be judgmental?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary; it is the quality of morals or morality of a person or group of individuals’ moral principles or conduct. The definition also encapsulates moral qualities or endowments. While we are at it, Moral virtue is behaviour conforming to a moral law or accepted moral standards,  And according to OED, Ethics is a branch of knowledge dealing with systems of moral principles.

With that over, I also hope to show in this essay how we perceive feelings; altruistic or immoral that forms our ethical principles that emanate from within our inner thoughts.  It is interesting to note that our moral principles do not necessarily come from codes or book of laws. So many people acknowledge that we quarry our morality trends and formulate individual moral applications from some fixed points such as Mosaic laws etc.  Here I shall endeavour to explain this is not necessarily so since we can also instinctively excavate our right and wrong metrics from biological tributaries that are at work in our cognitive or mental impulses directing our sense to an ‘acceptable’ behaviour. 

There has recently been a move away from the traditional belief of two opposing sides for the originality of Morality; biological and cultural.  For many, the cognisant of impulses accounted from a hybrid set of factors such as language which constructive cultural interferences then modifies, but such signals triggered by biological impulses towards judgment and reasoning of errors.  The likely event is that in turn, moral judgment will then influence the free will that eventually points to intentions.  Neuroscientific techniques have led to new discoveries about the functional organisation of the ‘moral brain’ and the transmission of impulses for a final moral judgment.  

If we start with the premise that moral judgment is aimed at discovering moral truth, then psychology can find our senses unreliable like say faulty instrument.  The other premise is that every one of us has this intersubjective justification of knowing things to be morally right, but that can also prove defective.  This begs the question can we ever believe anything to be universally right? Well, yes, I posit that these two sound premises are not conflicting views but can run parallel. They can also contribute to one another to reach an understanding as subjective and verified true belief,  at the same time accept to establish human, and moral judgment is innate complimented from cultural factors.  As you will see below, there is another factor that directs our moral judgment such as language.  Indeed language has a significant role to play. In effect, none of these three factors works in unison but in a tripartite inclusion to arrive at an opinion.  Such is the fusion that fashions our conviction that can in extreme cases polarize or highlight disagreements, so we arrive at an almost unshakable conviction to our ‘true’ belief.

What seems to be clear at the outset there are two most important principles sources from which we extricate our moral directions.  On the one side, our moral judgments rooted in natural factors (biological) but that in all cases on appearance they are socially conditioned into a pattern of behaviour.  Additionally, since the turn of the twentieth century, psychologists have placed much less emphasis on the role of reasoning in moral judgment.  An audience were presented with a story where a brother and a sister performed acts of incest and were told beforehand; the pair went to extraordinary precautions to avoid conception.  Their moral judgments did not extend beyond “I don’t know why it’s wrong, it just is.” Such reasoning was later called ‘moral dumbfounding’ since a moral judgment arrived at spontaneously and in flashes and thinking probably would only follow much later if at all.  So this leads us to ask are moral judgments produced through conscious thought or unconscious psychological mechanisms. At the end is the belief rational is it reliable.  Yes, since spontaneous mathematical answers are no different, though correct does not mean arrived at in a rational way.  So defining spontaneity as flawed can at times be incorrect. See below where reasoned and reasonable judgments may not be reliable.

Here is a spontaneous judgment being, 

Wrong for the Right Reason.’

Get rich quick schemes. 
Most people who use email will receive message virtually every day promising huge riches for a ‘small’ capital outlay.  Because these are almost without exception frauds and it would take too much time to investigate their credentials one by one, the only rational course of action is to ignore them all.  However, that means it is possible that one day you will ignore a genuine opportunity and forgo great wealth.  That particular email would not be a fraud, yet in an important sense, you would still have reasoned correctly when you concluded it probably was.

And very briefly; moral judgments can also be affected when hungry or following a hearty meal, by the phrasing of questions, by the environment such as cleanliness and comfort of the surroundings. A likely wrong or biased decision made where the floor is littered with empty pizza boxes or if you have been drinking or expressing attitudes following an enjoyable movie or a day out. Moral orientation goes into overdrive when say going into a courtroom feeling vulnerable at a plaintiff’s attempt to chisel away some of your millions your biggest hope is for the judge to come back from an enjoyable lunch preferably downed with a glass of wine.  Interestingly, your cognitive impulses would instinctively direct your moral judgment towards an appeal to his moral bias. 

Some popular line of thoughts among Scientists and Psychologists that nearly all human morality is embedded in evolutionary biological factors of human nature. Recent experiments made on the cognitive responses of babies before application of language suggests there is strong correlation towards behaviour at a very early age:

The babies, seated on their parents’ laps, watched a puppet show in which a character trying to climb a hill was helped up by one puppet, but pushed back down by another puppet. Offered the opportunity to reach out and grasp one of the two puppets, babies showed a preference for the helping puppet over the hindering puppet.

Of course, this is a long way from a full proof experiment, but at the outset, it seems to suggest how human morality comes about; it builds upon innate preferences for pro-social behaviour.
In the cases of adults where the minds of human adults lead to display an evolutionary specialisation for moral judgment that compels most people to make persistent and predictable mistakes in evaluating abstract inferences. What this means is people’s natural tendency to perform much better judgments when applied to social norms rather than evaluating linkage between numbers and colours.  

For instance, rather than being asked to assess an abstract rule linking numbers and colours, people have been invited to evaluate a rule prohibiting those below a certain age from consuming alcohol. Participants in these studies made the common mistakes when looking for violations of abstract rules, but made fewer errors in detecting violations of social rules.

This experiment would suggest that moral judgment evolved as a domain-specific capacity, either Abstract or Social, rather than as an application of domain-general reasoning- a broad brush application. Preferences are dependent on the cultural uptake and where reasoning is either deemed less important or is a later addition.  If this is right, then there must be at least an innate (Biological) core to moral judgments.  This category also embraces causing harm, sharing benefits, resources, and respect for authority, etc.  This phenomenon also marked by regional geographical differences that can significantly affect judgments.  A prime example is where people from Eastern and Western hemisphere can differ in their views by engaging or prioritising one over the other.   

However, it is believed whatever brings the two principles Biological and Cultural together to mutate into judgment is language.  According to Noam Chomsky’s (1965) generative linguistics, “the capacity for language production […] functioning grammar is innate, but the enormous diversity of human languages comes about through myriad cultural settings and pruning within the evolutionarily allowed range of possible grammars.” In other words, the capacity of making moral judgments is within the grammar used in a particular language, but depending on the diversity of cultural presence it colours the decision to produce distinct local morality.

We also find that moral judgment is more a matter of emotion and affective intuition than deliberate reasoning.  For many, this means people decide without going through any reasoned or rational judgment in balancing a thought but appearing suddenly and effortlessly in consciousness that can take the form of an unshakable bond yet remain without foundation.  In such cases, there is never need to reorganise the mind to least searching, weighing evidence, or inferring a conclusion to confirm or deny their first line of thought.

The conditioning exposes the bias in our thinking and opinions obviously unable or unwilling to accept the presence of such biases. Our honest thoughts right or wrong drives our ethical principles and rational thinking hardly ever get a look-in.

I leave you with this:
When no one wins

Private Sacks was about to do a terrible thing.  He had been ordered to first rape and then murder the prisoner, whom he knew to be no more than an innocent civilian from the wrong ethnic background.  There was no doubt in his mind that this would be a gross injustice – a war crime, in fact. 

Yet quickly thinking it over he felt he had no choice but to go ahead.  If he obeyed the order, he would make the ordeal as bearable as possible for the victim, making sure she suffered no more than was necessary.  If he did not obey the order, he himself would be shot and the prisoner would still be violated and killed, but probably more violently.  It was better for everyone if he went ahead.

His reasoning seemed clear enough, but of course it gave him no peace of mind.  How could it be that he was both going to do the best he could in the circumstances and also a terrible wrong?

From a book by Julian Baggini (p. 19), ‘The Pig that Wants to be Eaten’