Collective Unawareness

 

It is quiet this morning.  No howl of fast accelerating cars and trucks propelling their drivers to work.

Today we celebrate the accidental discovery of this land whose inhabitants we slaughtered and which we call our homeland.

It is not our true nature to do such things, to brutalize others.  We just have the habit of behaving that way.

So let’s change!  Let’s become who we truly are.  Let’s become more and more the good people we have often been.

We are now spending a trillion dollars a year on things we think of as defending ourselves.

We have for sixteen years been in a “war on terror” that can by definition never be won and which motivates terrorism against us.

We are at war in seven countries, none of which has declared war against us.

We are spending vast sums preventing people whose countries we help destroy from coming here.  We sing:  “This land is our land…”  We say:  “This is the land of the free” while giving up our freedoms.

This would be a particularly good day, since we will not be distracted by work, to take a deep breath, relax, and consider who we really are.

We are a people who desire happiness and often act generously but who have some very bad habits.

We entertain ourselves with spectacles of violence, we fear violence against ourselves, we think that fear justifies our own violence, and we imagine magical solutions.

Our leader told us he would build a huge and beautiful wall to keep immigrants out.  He said Mexico would foot the bill and too many of us pretended to believe him.

Our leader now tells the world we may utterly destroy North Korea.  We already did that to Iraq and Libya, just not yet with “fire and fury the world has never seen”.  I won’t go on with the litany.

What I’m saying is, we really are not bad people.  We are good people with bad habits.

So please, let’s spend some time today noticing our selfish, fearful violent habits and start to shed the collective unawareness that makes it possible for us to do terrible things.

Let’s resolve to become the kind and happy people we really are.  Let’s do it!

Innocence, Habits and Donald Duck

 

We recently remembered 9/11/2001.  We do not, however, remember 9/1/1973 when General Pinochet overthrew Chile’s popularly elected government with our very active support.

Why do we remember only when we were the victims, not when we were the perpetrators?

Ariel Dorfman reflects on that in A Tale of Two Donalds and his conclusion, “We really don’t have to leave this world as it was when we were born”, got me thinking.

Some preamble:  Why did we help to overthrow Chile’s government?   Because the Chilean people had for three years been working to build socialism via the ballot box and our leaders were afraid they might succeed, inspiring the same thing to happen here.

The focus of Dorfman’s book was Donald Duck because: “If there was a single company that embodied the overarching influence of the U.S. — not just in Chile but in so many other lands then known as the Third World — it was the Walt Disney Corporation.”

What was symbolized by Disney’s Donald Duck world?  “a belief in an essential American innocence, in the utter exceptionality, the ethical singularity and manifest destiny of the United States … the inability of the country Walt was exporting in such a pristine state… to recognize its own history”.

What history did we not recognize?  What, as Dorfman puts it, was our sin?  “[our] violence (the enslavement of blacks, the extermination of natives, the massacres of striking workers, the persecution and deportation of aliens and rebels, all those imperial and military adventures, invasions, and annexations in foreign lands, and a never-ending complicity with dictatorships and autocracy globally)”.

Why is Dorfman writing now about what happened almost half a century ago?   Because, he says:  “We are clearly in a moment when a yearning to regress to the supposedly uncomplicated, spotless, and innocent America of those Disney cartoons, the sort of America that Walt once imagined as eternal, fills Trump and so many of his followers with an inchoate nostalgia.”

Now here’s what struck me.  The innocence Disney conveyed is real.  At the same time, the violence, selfishness and greed that Dorfman points to are also real.  How can both be true?

It’s because, in the Buddhist understanding of existence, our intrinsic nature is good; we behave badly only out of habit.

What happens is, our mistaken acts accumulate into conceptual and emotional habits, then our behavior is governed by the things we always think and feelings we always have, not the unique circumstances in each moment.

Buddhists call all that programming karma.  We call the habits we share our culture.

By observing people who have studied, reflected and done Buddhist practices for long enough, we can see they are not on auto-pilot.  They are naturally kind.  The Buddhist understanding of our nature is confirmed by observation.

Buddhism is not the only way to overcome bad habits, of course, and Buddhist leaders in Myanmar are currently exterminating their Muslim Rohingya population.  We first need the right motivation, then whatever way works to train ourselves out of selfishness, greed and violence.

One of our greatest warriors was especially clear about making the right choice.  Three months into his first term President Eisenhower gave this speech:

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.  

“This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.

“The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter with a half-million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.

“This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”

Why did we not heed Ike’s words, or his warning eight years later about our emerging military-industrial complex?

And why did our current leaders just vote for another vast increase in military spending while trying to pay for it and a further tax cut for the wealthy by cutting medical care for tens of millions of other Americans?

Because, despite our intrinsic goodness, we keep choosing not to acknowledge the habits we inherited — our sense that we were entitled to exterminate Native Americans and enslave people of color, the greed, fear and violence that govern so much of what we do.  We keep reinforcing those habits.

We could, as Buddhist and other teachers explain, shed our selfishness, violence and greed.  We would just have to recognize our programming then work diligently and long to get free of those habits.

Castigating others feeds our own self-righteousness, so let’s stop doing that.  Let’s each of us just work at freeing ourselves.

And let’s stop electing leaders who subvert other governments.  In 1973 we worked to overthrow Chile’s democratically elected government.  Twenty years earlier, we’d done it in Iran.   Thirty years later we did it in Iraq, then Libya.  We’re trying it now in Syria and helping Saudi Arabia do it to Yemen.

Let’s elect leaders who will inspire us to act as the good people we are.  But before that can happen we’ll have to work sincerely to overcome our amnesia and purge our programming.

Excuse Me, My Car’s On Fire

Spring had come at last.  It wasn’t cold outside and it was good driving my convertible again, but it wasn’t really warm so after a while I turned on the heater.

A mile or two down the road I noticed wisps of steam.  I drove on.  The steam grew thicker.  “It would be good to get an oil change, anyway,” I thought.  “I’ll take it to the shop now in case this is smoke.”

The cabin was full of smoke as I turned into the lot so I shifted into neutral, turned off the ignition and cruised the rest of the way.  No flames were to be seen but as I opened the door I said to the mechanic standing outside the office, “Excuse me.  I think my car’s on fire.”

There never were any visible flames, perhaps because the fire truck came quickly, but sadly, the wiring harness was destroyed and the car was totaled.  Thinking about it all later, I decided not to get into such a situation again, and to get out of the car and call 911 if I ever did.

President Kennedy came to a similar conclusion soon after he succeeded President Eisenhower who in his January 17, 1961 farewell address warned (see page 15 of his annotated reading copy or watch him deliver the speech), “we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.”

In President Kennedy’s September 25, 1961 address to the UN he said:  “Today, every inhabitant of this planet must contemplate the day when this planet may no longer be habitable.  Every man, woman and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident or miscalculation or by madness.”  (See the full speech here)

Then came the October 16–28, 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.  One thing had led to another until, very soon, the missiles would have been on their way.  Hundred of millions would have been killed outright.  Life of any kind could have become impossible.

A year earlier Kennedy had said at the UN, “a nuclear disaster, spread by wind and water and fear, could well engulf the great and the small, the rich and the poor, the committed and the uncommitted alike.  Mankind must put an end to war–or war will put an end to mankind.”

jfk war quote

Perhaps the prospect of nuclear disaster still seemed theoretical in 1961.  It became utter conviction after October 1962.  The situation in which he found himself haunted Kennedy from then on.  He strove, in secret dialog with Soviet premier Khrushchev, to wind down the arms race and end the Cold War.

Those of us who lived through the 1960s have not forgotten that lesson.  Well, many of us at least have not.  So it is bewildering and piercingly sad that presidential candidates saying things like the following could now be applauded:

Candidate Cruz: “We will carpet bomb [ISIS] into oblivion.  I don’t know if sand can glow in the dark, but we’re going to find out.”

Candidate Rubio “will destroy terrorists overseas by authorizing whatever tools our commanders need.”

Candidate Trump:  “ISIS is making a tremendous amount of money because of the oil that they took away …  I would bomb the shit out of them.”

That’s why we cannot ignore such things as President Obama’s approval of a plan to deploy a new generation of nuclear weapons, over a trillion dollars worth of them.

Perhaps we will not elect a President this year who is eager to launch such weapons.  But the way to bet is, one day we will.

I want my grandchildren and every other child to live long and happily.  That will not happen if we continue to manufacture and distribute weapons of mass destruction.

Sunni vs Shia in Context

Muslims split into two camps, Sunni and Shia, soon after Muhammad died in 632, they have battled ever since, and their violence has spread here.  Is that true?  Should we be afraid?

The Sunni-Shia divide over the succession to Muhammad obscures both what all Muslims accept and significant differences between five Sunni and three Shia schools of law as well as many schools of theology, some of which are accepted by both Sunni and Shia sects.

The seed that grew into today’s conflict was sown in the early 1500s when the Safavids, a Kurdish Sufi mystic order that turned militant, gained control of Iran and established a Shia sect as their empire’s religion to differentiate it from the previous regime, the Sunni Ottoman Empire based in Turkey (see this excellent article for a comprehensive geographic history of the Islamic states.)

Islamic States 1550

Today’s battles do reflect sectarian differences but they are primarily about worldly power.  I’ll say more about those differences and what every Muslim accepts, then review events in the recent past that made the early 1500s split newly relevant.

The Quran, Allah’s words to Muhammad, is the foundation for all Muslims.  There are also Hadiths, reports on Muhammad’s words and actions that correspond to the gospels about Christ’s words and actions.  Some Hadiths are followed by both Sunni and Shia, others only by one or the other.  The major Hadiths happen to have been collected by a Persian Muslim.

The Hadith of Gabriel is the most important and is accepted by both Sunni and Shia.  It includes the mandatory Five Pillars for all Muslims — faith in Allah and Muhammad, five daily prayers performed in a prescribed way, charity (because all things belong to God), fasting (to purify worldly desire), and pilgrimage to Mecca.

The mode of prayer is essentially the same for all Muslims and although the prayer leader in any mosque belongs to one of the Sunni or Shia schools, unlike Catholic or Protestant churches where the fundamentals of practice are different, Muslims of any school can pray in any mosque.

The main Sunni schools of law are Hanafi, Hanbali, Maliki and Shaf”i.  They are associated with different territories as with any organized religion:

  • Hanafi has the largest number of followers and is dominant in Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Egypt, parts of Iraq, India and Bangladesh, and a vast area to the east and north that includes most Russian Muslims
  • Hanbali is strictly traditionalist and is dominant in Saudi Arabia and Qatar.  The Saudi regime enforces a harsh, fundamentalist form of Hanbali known as Wahhabism
  • Maliki is in Kuwait, Bahrain, Dubai and NE Saudi Arabia
  • Shafi’i was the most popular school but was superseded by Hanafi under the Ottoman Empire

The major Shia traditions are the Fivers, Seveners, and Twelvers who differ on which of Muhammad’s successors are legitimate.  The Twelvers’ Jaʿfarī is the school of law for most Shia Muslims because Twelvers are a majority in Iran and among the Shia Muslims in Bahrain and Iraq.  They are also a significant minority in Lebanon.

Overall, around 85-90% of Muslims are Sunni, 10-15% Shia.

Sunni Shia Map

Now the events beginning in 1979 that made the Sunni-Shia split newly relevant.

The leading political movement in the Middle East in the 1950s and ’60s was Arab nationalism.  Sunni-Shia distinctions were almost irrelevant then.  The important issues were shared Arab ethnicity, which is different from Turks and Persians, and their long suffering under colonial powers who divided them.

What changed all that was Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution overthrowing the pro-Western shah.  Iran’s theocratic revolution was both popular and anti-monarchist, and the new regime encouraged uprisings in other Middle Eastern nations.  That threatened Saudi influence and their monarchy itself.

Then came the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.  The Saudi regime supported Iraq’s 1980s war against Iran to preempt revolution by Iraq’s Shias, but Saddam Hussein considered both Saudi Arabia and Iran enemies.  Removing him disrupted the balance between the powers and left a power vacuum in Iraq.

Next the Arab Spring, starting in Tunisia in 2010, spread to Syria and other Middle East nations.   Saudi Arabia and Iran, in rivalry for influence, amped up Sunni-Shia sectarianism.  Their power plays, the Saudis’ heavily supported by the US and Israel, greatly increased the violence.

In Syria protests grew into rebellion then civil war.  Rebels, encouraged by US policy to oust President Bashar al-Assad, were armed by the Saudi regime and Qatar.  The Saudi regime wants Assad replaced by a Sunni government because Assad is Alawite, a Shia sect.  They fear a potential “Shiite crescent” from Iran through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon.  Seeing the civil war recast as anti-Shia, Iran’s regime encouraged Shia militias from Iraq and Lebanon to battle the Sunni rebels.

Those rebels include Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham (funded chiefly by Kuwait), and Al Qaeda’s spinoff, the Islamic State.

Israel shares the Saudis’ fear of Iran.  Shia group Hezbollah in Lebanon, one of whose chief goals is the elimination of Israel, gets substantial support from Iran.  Sunni group Hamas, an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, also seeks to establish an Islamic State in what is now Israel.

Meanwhile in Yemen, where civil war also rages, Saudi bombing, justified by greatly exaggerating Iran’s support for Houthi Shia rebels, has greatly worsened the humanitarian disaster.

And meanwhile in Iraq, changes there illustrate how Sunni-Shia strife is not the norm.  Iraq’s population is 75%-80% Arab and almost all Muslim, half to two thirds Shia.  Saddam’s regime was Ba’athist, a movement aiming for a single Arab state that would be Muslim by tradition but more importantly, socialist (see comment.)  Most of Saddam’s government were Sunni.  Shia were oppressed by them, but there was little conflict between Sunni and Shia people until we made Iraq essentially lawless.

Sunni and Shia lived side by side in much of Baghdad, even in 2005.  But as chaos grew, Sunni and Shia began to form self-defense militias, then saw each other as threats.  Neighborhoods in Baghdad that had been mixed were starkly divided two years later.

Baghdad Shia-Sunni Map

The Sunni-Shia split is real enough to excite support for political leaders, but it is their contests for power that are the root of today’s Middle East violence.  Our military interventions to prop up or topple these autocrats are counter-productive and greatly increase the suffering of the people.

Middle East conflict has spread to the USA only in the sense that we replaced the 20th century British and French Empires as the power whose actions aim to dominate the Middle East.

Should we be afraid of the variously named ISIL, ISIS or Islamic State?  It is famous for beheading opponents and now controls most of Syria, but we do not condemn the Saudi regime for beheadings.  Should we then support Syria being ruled by ISIL, a regime similar to Saudi Arabia’s?

No, we should stop being afraid, and we should stop compounding violence.

The Pathetic Fallacy – Race and Religion

Bad results come when concepts obscure reality.  It is individuals who decide what corporations and nations will do, and it is not Arab, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim or other aggregate entities but individuals who act in the name of race and religion.

Power-seeking leaders use our delusion that religious and other institutions make decisions to trigger our fears about “other” groups.  It is all too easy to persuade us to fear people we do not know, and fear sparks hatred.  The massacre when India was partitioned is a chilling illustration.

When its ownership changed in 1947, what had been British India was reconfigured into three territories operating as two nations, (1) India, (2) East Pakistan which later became today’s Pakistan, and (3) West Pakistan, which became today’s Bangladesh.

British India was a collection of 565 semi-sovereign principalities.  Those directly governed by the British are shaded pink in the map below.  The yellow shaded ones were subject only to British control over their relations with each other.  You’ll notice the British considered Nepal part of their empire.  Nepal’s kings did not.  They kept Nepal closed even after India became independent.

Indian Empire 1909

Arab and Persian Muslims began coming to the Indian subcontinent almost immediately after Mohammed’s death in 632.  There were military expeditions and trading, and some soldiers and traders married local women, but it was not until the 13th-14th centuries that Islam became an important force in India.

Many principalities became tributary to Islamic sultanates and then, from the early 16th to the mid-18th centuries, almost the whole subcontinent was ruled in prosperity and religious harmony by a Muslim administration, the Turco-Mongol Mughal Empire.

Next came a Hindu warrior regime, the Maratha Empire from southern India.  At that time, Hindu just meant people in India who were not Turks or Muslims.

The mix of Hindus and Muslims varied.  The highest concentration of Muslims was in the West close to Persia and the Ocean route to Arabia, and in the East close to Calcutta, Britain’s primary ocean port.

You might expect a Shia Muslim majority since the greatest number of Muslims is closest to Persia, but 70% – 75% of Muslims in India and 80% – 90% in Pakistan are Sunni.  That’s because the Mughal emperors happened to be from the Sunni tradition.

India Muslim Population 1909

In the late 19th century, many people on the Indian subcontinent were starting to think of themselves more as Indian than as members of one of the local kingdoms.  The British, who followed the Marathas, had begun allowing them into the administration of the continent as a whole.

The 565 semi-sovereign kingdoms still existed when British rule ended in 1947 and there were starkly different views about whether they should be unified into one or two nations.  Gandhi, who was assassinated by a Hindu nationalist the following year, was relentlessly against violence and for a single nation with Hindus, Muslims, and Christians in unity.

But Hindu leader Savarkar had written in 1923: “We Hindus are … a nation” and by 1937 he was saying: “Indian Hindus and Muslims are two distinct nations, regardless of ethnic or other commonalities.”  Then in 1940, Muslim leader Jinnah told cheering crowds: “[We Muslims] are not a minority (but) a nation.”

So, driven by their leaders’ quest for power, India and Pakistan became separate nations.  Appalling riots broke out.  As many as two million people were killed and over fourteen million fled for their lives, half of them Muslims from India to Pakistan, the others Hindus and Sikhs from Pakistan to India.

The Indian subcontinent’s highly diverse population — the 2001 census found 122 major languages and 1599 other languages in India alone — had suddenly been conceptualized as two nations, India with a secular government, Pakistan as an Islamic Republic.

Individuals pursuing power had aligned race and religion with nationalism.  Tellingly, Hindu leader Savarkar was an atheist and Muslim leader Jinnah did no Muslim practice.  It was too late when in 1947, Jinnah called for a secular and inclusive Pakistan.  He had gotten himself a nation by inflaming religious hatred.  Then he could not bring the hatred to an end.

Power-seeking individuals are using the same dark tactics today.  Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi melded the ideas of nation and religion into the Islamic State.  In response, US Presidential candidates Trump, Cruz and others exhort us to condemn every Muslim as a potential terrorist.

We don’t have to fall for these spurious calls for mass hatred.

 

Let’s Stop Being Terrorized

A year ago we were exhorted to close our borders against Ebola.  Some State Governors went ahead and did so, taking action, they said, when President Obama would not.

Then a friend posted this appalling and spurious image.  What we should really fear, she thought, is Islam.  One in three conservative Republicans already believed President Obama to be a Muslim.

Although fear trumps facts, that particular lie did not have legs.  Islam does not allow such behavior and Ayatollah Khomeini, who died a quarter of a century ago, is not the “current leader of Iran.”

Fear is a helpful survival instinct — we’re safer taking automatic fight-or-flight action with intellect engaging only later.  But there’s a downside.  Because it closes our mind, instilling fear is a powerful way to control us.

Knowing that, politicians are now instilling fear of a much more potent terror, ISIS.  They say it is the true face of a religion that commands its followers to kill all others.  And some Americans think they know exactly what to do about that nightmare.

Mainstream media eagerly participates in the fear-mongering.  Ten days after the recent San Bernardino massacre, the New York Times claimed one of the attackers had years ago publicly committed to terrorism.

The allegation is false, said FBI Director Comey, and the Times provided no evidence, but presidential candidates claimed it as a catastrophic Obama administration failure.

Voters want someone to blame for their struggles, politicians want us to have an enemy because they will get more power if we are fearful, and mainstream media amplifies our fears so we will consume more.  Our emotions are being manipulated.  We are being misdirected.

As I wrote a year ago, while we cannot eliminate infectious disease, a health care system that encourages all with symptoms to get treatment right away would minimize the spread of disease.

And while San Bernardino was horrific and likely was inspired by ISIS publicity, the odds of being killed by terrorists in America are extremely small. Depending on how you define them, there have been 40 mass shootings since 9/11/2001 but only a few were terrorist attacks.

Mass Shootings Map

We cannot anticipate all future mass shootings or other kinds of massacres.  We could not have anticipated Timothy McVeigh killing 168 people with a homemade bomb in Oklahama City twenty years ago, or the drivers who mass murder pedestrians.

We could eliminate many mass shootings, however, including San Bernardino and the massacre in my home town, by removing assault weapons and semi-automatic handguns with high-capacity magazines from our society.

And we could go further.  We could start eliminating the future equivalent of this year’s 355 shootings  in which four or more were injured or killed, and this year’s 33,000 individual deaths and 80,000 hospitalizations from gunshots.

Police work will not end hatred of blacks, Muslims, our government, fellow workers, shooters’ families or others, desire for fame, other people’s money or ending one’s own life, or just plain foolishness.

But we could start eliminating the easy way to kill by removing not only assault weapons and semi-automatic handguns with high-capacity magazines from our society, but all hand guns.  We could even restrict rifles and shotguns.

I do not expect our society will make that choice.  I expect our freedom to own a wide range of weapons will continue to outweigh its costs.  We will choose to continue having mass shootings.

Perhaps we will get a universal health care system one day because our present approach costs far too much.  But our freedom to own guns does not seem something about which we can make conscious choices.

Beset by all these nightmares and more, is there anything we can do as individuals?  As this wise Christian leader wrote when we faced immediate nuclear extinction, we can pull ourselves together and meet our fate doing sensible and human things.

Let’s stop being terrorized by politicians and media people.  Let’s summon the courage to live in the happily generous American way.

Things we do out of fearfulness with which we’ve been infected frustrate and sadden people like this Muslim family that we would not allow to come on holiday and enrage those in other countries like our own “Overpasses for America” people.  That rage is why some want to kill us.

So let’s each of us do the deeply human thing.  Let’s learn how to help each other overcome fear.

TCN, Episode 11 – Corruption and Government

Saddened when I went trekking by all the hardships I saw, I thought: “I know how to devise strategies, what’s a good one for Nepal?”  It was only after many more trips that I saw the root of the problem.

It is easy to see a good strategy for Nepal.  It has over 80,000 MW of hydro-power potential, much of which it could export, and its near neighbor, Bhutan, has made good deals with India to do exactly that.

But Nepal has failed to make such deals and has developed less than 1% of its potential.

Why the difference?  Corruption.  Corruption is when someone uses a position of authority for their personal gain.

But the whole point of having a position of authority throughout Nepal’s history was personal gain.

And that motivation has not changed — see Electricity and Corruption.

Nepal never had what we understand by “government”.  Its administration never was intended to provide services to the people.  It existed to operate a tax farming business owned by Hindu kings and run by a high caste Hindu family.

That ruling elite was a tiny minority within the high caste groups that make up less than a third of Nepal’s diverse population where over a hundred mutually unintelligible languages are spoken.

As these charts from a good article on the topic illustrate, Chhetri and Hill-Brahmin people make up 29% of the 28 million population.  Doma’s Tamang people are one of the larger non-Hindu tribal groups.

Nepalese population by jat

Since Nepal was owned and operated by high caste Hindus for 240 years and the Hindu monarchy fell only seven years ago it is no surprise that the government is still dominated by high caste Hindus.

Nor is it surprising, given the enormous over-representation of high caste men in the government, judiciary, journalism and other positions of influence, that they would have engineered the new Constitution to maintain their privileged position.

Voting in Nepal is along ethnic lines unless that’s trumped by who pays most for your vote.  Brahmin and Chettri subsistence farmers who live in the hills will vote for wealthy Brahmin and Chettri politicians simply because of their caste.

That is why the electoral districts defined in the new Constitution were jerrymandered to include a sufficient number of hill people.

Nepalese Leadership by Caste

Can this culture of “corruption” that makes it impossible for Nepalis to have “government” be changed?

When the new Constitution was announced, Dr. Baburam Bhatterai, Prime Minister from August 2011 to March 2013, split from the Maoist Party that had led the monarchy’s overthrow.  He is forming a new party.  To replace exploitation with government, he says, it is necessary to start anew.

Baburam’s leadership will have some effect but much more will be necessary, and while legislation can sometimes be enacted quickly, cultures only ever change slowly.

Nepal’s politics-for-profit culture will not be changed by those it benefits.  I’m hoping the protests by the Madhesi that make life even harder for all but the privileged few will turn out to have been the equivalent of our civil rights protests half a century ago.

Beyond the Media Hype: Iraq

A stony plain west of the Euphrates inhabited by a few pastoral bedouins covers almost two-fifths of Iraq, which overall is about the size of California.  Rolling upland between the upper Tigris and Euphrates is also largely desert.  Highlands in the northeast provide Kurds with some grazing and cultivation but three quarters of all Iraqis live on an alluvial plain from north of Baghdad to the Persian Gulf through marshland from where the Tigris and Euphrates meet.    Crops are increasingly limited south of Baghdad by salinity from river-born and windblown sand.

Iraq Topography

Three-quarters of Iraqis are Arabs, most others are Kurds.  Most sources say two thirds of Iraqis are Shia, one third Sunni.  But some claim there’s a Sunni majority.  Kurds (17% of the population) are mainly secular Sunnis as are most Turkmen (around 5%).  What is disputed is how many Iraqi Arabs are Shia or Sunni.

Christianity was brought to Iraq in the first century by the Apostle Thomas and Christians were in 1950 as much as 10% of the population.  Many have fled and there are fewer than 1% now.  The majority of Jews also fled after riots in 1967 when Israel captured Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.

The forces at work in Iraq now have deep roots in the past.  Centuries of battles between Persian and Eastern Roman empires that exhausted both paved the way for the Arab-Muslim conquest and the Sunni Abbasid Caliphate to be established in Baghdad in the 8th century.  It soon dominated the Middle East, North Africa and Spain, and Baghdad became the leading city of the entire Arab and Muslim world.  It was for five centuries Islam’s center of learning.

Umayyad Califate

That glorious age came to an end in 1257 when Genghiz Khan’s Mongols swept in from the far northeast and sacked Baghdad.  Sunnis had dominated throughout the Abbassid caliphate but Shia were able to convert others when it fell and more importantly, Sufi mystical Islam became popular in Iran, preparing the way for a subsequent Shia regime.   In the mid 1300s, the Black Death halted recovery in Iraq and throughout the Middle East where fully a third of the population died (45-50% in Europe).   Then in 1401, another Mongol warlord came, sacked Baghdad again and massacred the Assyrian Christians in northern Iraq.

The Shia Safavid Empire that arose next in Iran began with a battle in 1499 led by their first ruler when he was twelve.  He captured Tabriz two years later, declared independence from the Ottoman Empire (see below) and held most of present-day Iran by 1510.  He set up a well administered theocracy that brought a nomadic society under control and financed an army that soon conquered much of Iraq, Turkey, the Caucasus, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Iran Safavid Empire 2

The Safavid Empire ruled for more than two centuries, and enforced conversion to Shia under penalty of death.

The Ottoman Empire had been expanding in stages from the early 1300s.  Their siege of Constantinople in 1453 brought the Byzantine Empire to an end and left them in control of trade with the Far East.  They took Iraq from the Safavids in 1533.

Ottoman Empire

Iraq remained a battle zone between the Sunni Ottoman and Shia Iranian empires from then until the Ottoman Empire finally fell at the end of WW1.

The result of those centuries of turbulence is a Sunni population where Iraq borders Turkey, Kurds in the northeast, and a Shia population where Iraq borders Iran in the south.

Iraq Ethic and Religious Groups

The British got control of Iraq when the Ottoman Empire fell and established a Sunni government with a king from French Syria.  Iraq gained independence in 1932.  In 1941, Britain invaded to protect oil supplies following a military coup and reestablished the monarchy.  There was another military coup in 1958, and that regime was overthrown by the Ba’ath Party in 1968.

The Iraqi Ba’ath Party formed in 1951/2 was Arab Nationalist, socialist, and primarily Shia but it slowly became Sunni and dominated by the military.  When General Saddam Hussein gained control in 1979, he welcomed the fall of Iran’s Shah, but Ayatollah Khomeini, wanting the Islamic Revolution to spread, armed Shiite and Kurdish rebels in Iraq, so in 1980 Iraq declared war.  After some initial success, its forces were driven out in 1982 and for the next six years, Iran was on the offensive.  The war ended in stalemate with half a million to 1.5 million dead.

The US had broken with Iran when the Shah fell and supported Iraq in the 1980-1988 war, but when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, US-led forces quickly drove them out.  The Iraq/Kuwait border had been fixed by the British in 1913 and accepted at first by independent Iraq but it was disputed since the 1960s.  In 2003, claiming  that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, the US reversed course and led an invasion.  Saddam Hussein’s government  was replaced by a Shia-led one that excluded many former officials and disbanded the mainly Sunni army, then chaos and intense violence ensued between Sunnis and Shias.

US leaders assumed a Shia government would be pro-American because Saddam Hussein had oppressed Iraq’s Shias.  Instead, it cautiously allied with Shia Iran, which the US, Saudi Arabia and Israel saw as a great threat.  VP Cheney warned of “a nuclear-armed Iran, astride the world’s supply of oil, able to affect adversely the global economy, prepared to use terrorist organizations and/or their nuclear weapons to threaten their neighbors and others around the world.”  Jordan’s King Abdullah warned of an Iranian-led imaginary crescent that would stretch from Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait through Iran to Syria and Lebanon.

sunni shia middle east

Those fears were fanciful.   There is much more in common between Sunni and Shia Iraqis than between Iraqi and Iranian Shia.  Iraq’s Shias are chiefly Arab while only 2% of Iranians are Arab, the majority being Persian (60%+) while those in the north are mostly of Turkish heritage (20%+) and Kurds (10%).  The conflict between Sunni and Shia in Iraq is chiefly about the right to rule.  It results from the Shias’ long suppression by Sunni governments in Baghdad.

Now Iraq’s leader since last September is trying to build trust with the Kurds and Sunnis who were alienated by his divisive Shia predecessor.  His view of Iran and Iraq’s strategic imperatives is clear.  He says he will “take any assistance, even from Iran” against the Islamic State that, in the aftermath of our destruction, now controls large parts of Iraq.  Iran began providing direct military aid to Iraq in mid-2014 and an Iranian General now appears to be commanding both Iraqi and Iranian forces against the Islamic State.

Iraq Military Situation

So…  Our government at this time finds itself supporting Iraq’s Shia government, increasingly less committed to overthrowing the Shia regime in Syria as its Sunni Arab allies want, and seeking to end its estrangement from Iran.

Confusing as that is, it is good to stop escalating bloodshed by arming adversaries whose allegiances keep changing.  I will explore what to do about the Islamic State in a future post.

The chaos in Iraq now is very far from new.   Its future will continue to be determined by its position between powerful rivals, and whether it can establish an effective government for all Iraqis.

Surprised by Jingoism

In 1971, the year Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal was born, my neighbor introduced me to a man he thought I would like to meet because “Gustaf was a U-boat captain.”

I experienced instant visceral dislike, which Gustaf seemed to share.

My parents did not hate Germans.  They lived very much in their own world and neither of them hated anyone.  But most English people did hate Germans when I was growing up.  Propaganda instilled hatred in WW1 and WW2 then blaming continued because so much was destroyed.

But my life in 1971 was terrific.  I was so lucky!  I’d moved to America, always my dream, and I was being well paid to develop a precursor to the Internet for an exciting young business that offered what we now call cloud computing.  I never imagined there was jingoism in my mind.

Jingoism, ”the feelings and beliefs of people who think that their country is always right and who are in favor of aggressive acts against other countries.”

Centuries of propaganda about the glories of the British Empire had made jingoism a building block in the worldview of many Brits, but surely not mine!  I was well educated and so very intelligent.

It turned out I was wrong.  I’ve always been grateful to my neighbor, Rusty, who unintentionally made me aware of that dark force lurking in my mind.

Why tell you this?  Because, as this Opinion Piece says, our media “on both left and right … present politics as a battle between the children of light and the children of darkness. Opponents become enemies. Democratic deliberation becomes difficult or impossible.”  And many politicians join in.

Bobby Jindal, the focus of the article, is especially troubling.  In a recent broadcast reported here he warns of “people that want to come and conquer us …  change our fundamental culture and our values … set up their own culture and values … if we’re not serious about this we’re going to see more lone wolf actors … just like you’ve seen in other countries — the horrific shootings in Paris.”

That’s raw meat for the media.  This piece on a Center for Immigration Studies report linked to from that article is headlined “Approximately 2.5 million immigrants from “predominantly Muslim countries” reside inside the U.S. right now.” The report’s numbers actually show a very different reality.

Why would Jindal say such things?  A cynical appeal to those who believe all immigrants with dark skin are a threat and who fear ever-growing terrorist menace?  Or does he also believe what he says?

Jindal is very smart, graduating when he was 20 with honors in biology and public policy, then going to New College, Oxford, England as a Rhodes Scholar.  But, just as programming overrode my intellect when I met Gustaf the U-boat captain, Jindal is likely programmed, too.

Jindal’s Hindu parents came to the US 24 years after the British left India, the same amount of time as since our First Gulf War.  Fourteen and a half million Indians were uprooted in 1947, Muslims fleeing to Pakistan, Hindus and Sikhs to India.  Anywhere from two hundred thousand to a million Indians, Hindu and Muslim, were slaughtered.

1909 India Hindus1909 India Muslims

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The terrifying experience when India was partitioned must have been present in Jindal’s Hindu household.  It must have lodged in his mind in the same way Hitler’s war entered mine.

All of us are vulnerable to such ancient hatreds that we may not even suspect are in our mind.  I wish we would all look for them.  They cause such great harm.

Beyond the Media Hype: Fear and Loathing

It is traditional to express a wish around this time of year.  Mine is that all of us will come to feel this truth more — we are all the same.

It is also traditional to make a personal resolution.  Mine is to continue diligently training myself to act on this truth.  If all of us did, we would “save the world” — we would end suffering.

All the sameThat’s what motivated all these posts I originally titled “Fear and Loathing of…”  Someone I love said, “I wish you’d stop with the fear and loathing” and I knew it was a distressing title but it highlighted what is so dangerous, the fear and loathing our media stimulates.  On reflection, I think it amplifies the emotion so now I’ve renamed them “Beyond the Media Hype…”

Progressives fume about Fox News.  They’re right because 60% of Fox’s statements are mostly or completely false, less than 10% are true and less than 20% are even mostly true.  But it’s not just Fox News.

Politifact Fox

Conservatives fulminate about MSNBC.  They’re also right.  Almost half (44%) of statements there are mostly or completely false, again less than 10% are true, and although the percentage is better than with Fox News, less than 30% are mostly true.

Fox News and MSNBC give us stories to feed our hatred.  Better to watch CNN because fewer than 20% of their statements are mostly or completely false and 60% are true or mostly true.

Politifact MSNBC

But nonetheless, 18% of the statements on CNN are mostly or completely false.  We must not believe everything there.

Politifact CNN

Democracy cannot work when 3 of every 5 statements on Fox News are mostly or completely false, more than 2 of 5 statements on MSNBC are mostly or completely false, and even on CNN, only 3 of 5 statements are true or mostly true.

This is not a theoretical issue.  Falsehoods in the media persuade us that we have enemies, people who are fundamentally different from us, people we must destroy.

We are so easily led  to imagine those who seem different from us in some way are our enemies.  That’s why I originally titled these posts “Fear and Loathing Of/In …”

We fear being swept aside by immigrants, especially Muslims, we fear who knows what violence from Iran, Saudis are beset by conflict with each other that exacerbates our mutual suspicion, and so on and so on and so on.

I will continue to explore Middle Eastern nations and the ethnic, religious and other rivalries that transcend their arbitrarily imposed borders to set the context for a deeper exploration of what is really going on.

But please don’t wait.  We really are all the same — we all want to be more happy.  We all will be more happy if we become more kind, and we will grow more kind as we become more happy.