Thursday, January 26, 2017

Australia Day

I have spent 28 years of my life as an Australian citizen. Occasionally I join the crowd celebrating Australia Day in the West Pymble Bicentennial Park, a near perfect intersection of middle class multicultural Australia. It is great to see smiling adults and children buzzing around who give me that strong sense of belonging. I don’t necessarily associate myself with nationalist sentiments, but I like being part of this peaceful, secular, highly educated, and egalitarian society.

I sat between an area where sheep shearing was displayed and a stage where various gigs were taking place. Suddenly I saw two men in bright yellow clothes, with a ’Falun Gong’ label on their shirts. Then I saw packs of them queued up behind the big tent covering the stage.

From Los Angeles Daily News, 14 July 2014:

’Falun Gong (also called Falun Dafa) arose out of the so-called "qigong boom" of the late '80s.

Qigong is an umbrella term for a number of practices involving meditation, slow-moving exercises and regulated breathing.

Falun Gong differed from most qigong groups in that it combined exercises with moral and spiritual teachings. Adherents aim to cultivate "truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance" and refine their "xining," or moral character.’

Heather Kavan, a researcher at Massey University in New Zealand, in an otherwise sympathetic ethnographic study of the movement, argues that Falun Gong "could be described as a cult."

Kavan draws a comparison between Falun Gong and Maoism, writing that "like Mao, Li (their leader) has activated millions of people with his rhetoric. His ideology is similarly characterised by moral superiority, defining others as absolute evil, dehumanizing enemies by labeling them snake spirits and possessed by ghosts, extolling the virtues of selflessness and sacrifice, emphasizing the necessity of enduring physical hardship, harassing critics, and denigrating science in favor of his purportedly infallible truths."

When sheep shearing started, a yellow dragon made of Falun Gong members stormed the stage with throbbing drums, followed by loud march songs in Chinese.

Multicultural tolerance should not mean tolerating ’I am free and I can do whatever it takes, patronising others with my cult’s noisy propaganda in a day exclusively reserved for a peaceful celebration that has nothing to do with racial or religious segregation.’

I have no religious affiliations. I do however respect individual rights of others to practice their religion peacefully in their private homes or in dedicated worship places. In return I expect to enjoy public life free of religious shows especially in a day reserved for unity of citizens.

This incident pushed the limits of my tolerance, and I had to leave the area in distress.

I would seriously doubt the capacity and competence of organisers for making such a poor call regarding boundaries of multicultural tolerance, giving a free ride to one obscure foreign cult, whereas completely ignoring expectations of majority.

Whomever was responsible for this blunder, you ruined our very precious day by misusing public trust; you should accept your wrongdoings and publicly apologise from citizens.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Arguably, Essays by Christopher Hitchens

The author Ian McEwan, a close friend of Hitchens, described him as representing the anti-totalitarian left. His numerous editorials in support of the Iraq War caused some to label Hitchens a neoconservative, although he insisted he was not "a conservative of any kind.”

We have to ask, why the coalition of the willing, mainly Anglo-sphere countries tailgated behind the United States, raged war against Saddam Hussain. I always find anti-totalitarian rhetoric grossly unconvincing. Iraq was still governed by the same despicable totalitarian regime and Saddam was still torturing his own people when US aids were pouring into Iraq between 1986 and 1990 during Iran-Iraq War (IIW). We were all told at the time Iran was the “axis of evil”. Let us also remember, later on the Weapons of Mass Destruction makeshift case turned out to be false too.

The real reason why West turned against Saddam in the decade following IIW was not Saddam's notoriety but he had increasingly become a threat for the Gulf states, vital oil suppliers of the West. Everyone knows rich Gulf states are governed by totalitarian regimes too, in them Human Right abuses, corruption and torture are common. But of course West always put its noble arguments selectively, excluding crucial trade partners from their anti-totalitarian radar.

Much has changed since Hitchens died in December 2011. Most notably Arab Spring movement collapsed under its own weight.

Arab Spring’s flagship riots in Tahrir Square led to Islamist Morsi seizing power between June 2012 and July 2013. Shortly after Morsi came to govern, he asked for unlimited powers via referendum. Violent protests followed. Eventually the old world order came back, and a military coup led by general Sisi threw him out. Back to square one.

Since the Libyan Civil War of 2011, in which the rebels were supported by NATO, Libya has experienced a period of instability. At least two political bodies claim to be the government of Libya. Parts of Libya are outside of either government's control, with various Islamist, rebel, and tribal militias administering some cities and areas. The United Nations is sponsoring peace talks between the Tobruk and Tripoli-based factions. Human trafficking networks predominantly operate in Libya, contributing to huge influx of illegal migrants pouring into Europe from Africa.

Islamic State gained global notoriety in early 2014 when it drove Iraqi government forces out of key cities in its Western Iraq offensive, followed by its capture of Mosul and the Sinjar massacre. As of January 2017 the Battle of Mosul between Iraqi forces and Islamic State is still ongoing. None of the atrocities, public beheadings and alike conducted by Islamic State were known to Hitchens, because he was long dead when they began.

In 2013 according to the Failed States Index, Iraq was the world's eleventh most politically unstable country. Transparency International ranks Iraq's government as the eighth-most-corrupt government in the world.

In Syria Assad regime is still holding power, albeit the entire country turned into a rubble. Russia, no doubt will not leave its Mediterranean stronghold. Millions of refugees and tens of thousands of fleeing IS militants created havoc in the West and in neighbouring Turkey. There are over 3 million refugees living in Turkey, and 1 million refugees in Germany. Not to mention after shocks, populism and far right political movements gained enormous traction in the West, including Trump becoming the president of the US.

These developments are all direct consequences of Iraq War. Put another way, all of this is a direct outcome of interventionism Hitchens supported, albeit for a different (alleged) reason. Hitchens began his break from the established political left after what he called the "tepid reaction" of the Western left to the controversy over The Satanic Verses. Nevertheless history is unforgiving and has its own agenda. No-one is immune from being inflicted by poor judgement including Hitchens.

Ironically West, upholding a war against Baath Party regimes in the Arab Middle East, ended up collaborating with Islamists. What Hitchens failed to see was, in Arab Spring countries secular liberals and political left against totalitarianism had never been powerful enough to pull strings of any kind, nor these countries ever had established democratic traditions to give voice to them, whereas Islamists always had financial, organisational and ideological advantage to turn power vacuums to their gain. As such Morsi’s Egypt and the rise of Islamic State are signs of a dream turning into a nightmare.

I think anti-theist Hitchens would have despised anti-totalitarian Hitchens for having a pinhole view. If he lived a little longer, he would have seen, what really followed Arab Spring were in fact the collapse of secular order as well as old regimes paving the way to inevitable rise of political Islam. What followed a short lived spring appears to be a long winter.