Saturday, December 23, 2006

Can we learn this simple lesson?

2006 saw the end of the American neo-con dream (as the BBC's Paul Reynolds describes here).

The idea of American domination of the planet based on military might has foundered at the first hurdle -- a tiny, poor country called Iraq. The world has paid a huge cost for the massive mistake made by these extreme rightwing conservatives, who have pulled Tony Blair in their wake. We can only breathe a big sigh of relief, and another huge sigh at the idea that we all have to pick up the pieces and try to carry on from where they began back before 9/11 and the Bush administration's criminal (because based on electoral fraud) rise to power.

I just want to underline one simple lesson to be learned from this unsavoury episode in global history. It is so simple that even a child understands it, and yet some politicians find it terribly hard to get their heads around.

It's just this: opposition breeds opposition. Conflict breeds conflict.

Cast your minds back to the days following 9/11 and remember the global outpouring of sympathy for America. Never has most of the world been so united in such support for the American people. Briefly, there was an idea that out of the carnage of that attack, could come a realisation that to prevent such things happening again, one could talk with one's enemies, negotiate one's way out of a crisis. That by talking to the administrations of Afghanistan, Pakistan and other neighbouring countries, one could isolate Al Qaeda and the Taliban. America at that point was in a position to call in a lot of favours. It seemed to me briefly possible to obtain a non-violent solution to the problem of Osama bin Laden.

Instead, the Bush administration wanted revenge. The Neo-cons like Donald Rumsfeld saw an opportunity not just to attack Afghanistan, but to target their number one enemy, Iraq. In a few weeks, all that sympathy and goodwill in most of the world was squandered. Hatred of America began to spread like a stain. The unjustifiable level of its violence was used as an excuse to foment anti-American activity -- and by extension, anti-British activity -- in many parts of the world. We now know what a disaster the whole episode was.

Many people saw this coming right at the start -- I'm afraid I am one of them, but it gives me no pleasure to think "I told you so" in these circumstances.

It's a simple fact; I say it again: opposition breeds opposition. Aggression and breeds aggression.

For example, just remember the Second World War. When the Nazis bombed the hell out of England, did we roll over and say okay we surrender? Does any country adopt that reaction when attacked? Of course not, they unite against a common enemy. So why is it that an attacker thinks that when they attack another country they will surrender? America may be the mightiest military power on the planet. They may have by far the largest military budget. But that counts for nothing when your enemy adopts different tactics.

Where do we learn how to deal properly and sensibly with opposition? I know where I learnt -- from martial art philosophy. Taoism, t'ai chi, kung fu -- they all explain how the soft overcomes the hard. How the hard and rigid can be easily broken, but the soft absorbs the shock and bounces back.

The bigger they are the harder they fall. Case in point -- America.

Judo explains how to use the power of your enemy against themselves. T'ai chi demonstrates how you meet opposition by moving out of the way, offering no resistance for the enemy, and then with a minimal effort help them on their way using the momentum of their own attack to topple them or let them tumble to the other side of the room.

In warfare such tactics require thought instead of brute strength. It requires wisdom and patience, not the arrogant, self-centred, narrowminded and ideologically driven madness of the neo-conservatives.

The only battle worth fighting is for hearts and minds.

To create loyalty and friendship you behave with generosity and therefore inspire thanks. You lead by example. If your democracy is so great then it will produce a well-balanced, great and prosperous country, and others will want to emulate it. How, through behaving like a bully, can you expect anyone to be persuaded that you are right?

Why should anyone want to adopt a political system which contains such injustice and inequity as that demonstrated by America nowadays? Many of its people are poor, illiterate, and live in daily terror of violence from gun crime. Hmm, that sounds a bit like Iraq.

What the world needs is not a single superpower. It did not need two superpowers. America did not win the Cold War, Russia lost it. Soviet communism and American imperialism both now belong to the past and deserve to be buried there, along with Nazism.

My hope for 2007 is that we can begin to put this behind us and move towards greater global harmony.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Tools for Tanzania

Wanted: Tools for Tanzania
We've just had a flying visit from Joseph Sekiku, who runs Fadeco, a grassroots development project in NW Tanzania. This remote area of Tanzania is informally twinned with the Dyfi Valley where i live.

I'm chair of Friends of Fadeco, which i and some friends started eight years ago after I visited the region and met Joseph.

Joseph is a beautiful man after my own heart, a total inspiration, modest and visionary, and supremely resourceful as Africans have to be.

He is one of three people in an area the size of Wales with a population of 500,000 that have a degree. Most are illiterate and subsistence growers.

I am fully aware of the dangers and ambiguities of much so-called 'development', but we support Joseph's work because it is appropriate, sensitive, and necessary.

In particular we are now supporting the building and fitting out of a training centre - The Eden Centre for Sustainability. They need equipment to train people so they can become self-reliant, and gain an income.

Tools for Self-Reliance is making a delivery to the area in January 2007. We want to get as many tools as possible on this trip. The tools they need are:

Sewing machines: treadles, hand or even electric; carpentry sets: saws, planes, etc; mechanics tools: spanners, car jacks, ladders, wielding tools, soldering tools; masonry tools: brick making machines, trowels, squares, tape measures. etc. A 4X4 motor cycle which can pull a small trailer.

Please donate anything you can.

If you're local perhaps you can leave them at in Machynlleth: Peter Harper/Andy Rowland's houses (21 Heol Pentrahedyn, Machynlleth) or Taliesin: Flic and Richard's /Temperance House or Corris: mine (Glanydon, by the bridge). Or we can pick them up. Someone can then take them all down to TFSR Crickhowell (Is anyone going that way in January?).

If you're not local, TFSR has many local branches. Or go to the FoF web site - link above - and join/make a donation.

We're also supporting a radio station - Joseph has just got a licence from the govt. If anyone has a transmitter, or can donate £1000 to buy one. This would allow the broadcasting of vital health and ecological information to an illiterate and rural population otherwise unreachable.


Monday, December 11, 2006

Origins of the modern Christmas

Why December 25? Because The Romans held a festival on December 25 called Natalis Solis Invicti which marked the birth day of a solar deity called Sol Invictus or Mithras. There's a beautiful temple of Mithras, in Merida, Extremadura, Spain.

Sol Invictus is Latin for The Sun Undefeated - as he survived the shortest day, the Winter Solstice.

In the Vatican is a 3rd century mural of Christ as Helios, the Sun God.

Who is Father Christmas? The traditional Father Christmas was neither a gift bringer, nor associated with children. He has his roots in Paganism.

By the time of the Anglo-Saxons in England (around the mid-5th century AD), it was customary for an elder man from the community to dress in furs and visit each dwelling.

At each house, in the guise of "Old Winter" (or "King Frost" or "King Winter"), he would be plied with food and drink before moving on to the next. It was thought he carried the spirit of the winter with him, and that the winter would be kind to anyone hospitable to Old Winter.

The tradition was strengthened when the Vikings invaded Britain (during the period from the late 8th century to the 11th century) and brought their own midwinter traditions with them; these involved the god Odin, traditionally represented as a portly, elderly man with a white beard.

The custom was still kept in Medieval England, after a decline during the Commonwealth under the Puritans.

Christmas itself was banned by Puritans between 1647 and 1660.

The custom became widespread again during the Restoration period. Father Christmas was also a significant character in Christmas Mummers' Plays.

A book dating from the time of the Commonwealth, The Vindication of Christmas, depicts Father Christmas advocating a merry, alcoholic Christmas and being cynical about the charitable motives of the ruling Puritans.

During the Victorian era, he was merged with "Old Winter", "Old Christmas" or "Old Father Christmas", and the charitable Saint Nicholas, a Greek Orthodox Saint (or Dutch one, depending on the version). This character did give gifts to children.

In 1863, a caricaturist for Harper's Weekly named Thomas Nast gave Santa a "flowing set of whiskers" and dressed him "all in fur, from his head to his foot." Nast's 1866 montage entitled "Santa Claus and His Works" established Santa as a maker of toys; an 1869 book of the same name collected new Nast drawings with a poem by George P. Haddon identified the North Pole as Santa's home.

In 1931 Coca Cola helped popularise this already existing, portly, sack-wielding image of Santa in a successful advertising campaign, but did not create the image, as they would have you believe.

Perhaps it's time to return to the roots of Christmas, and away from the modern consumer frenzy, which is hardly compatible with either Christianity, paganism, or sustainability.