Shaheryar Ali

 

Understanding the issue of Gay liberation in Islamic Republic is a theoretically difficult and problematic notion for a variety of reasons!  Whilst the level of historical development as with other post-colonial states, ensures incomplete modernization, the existing union with international capital, forces a post modern sensitivity through out urban centers of Islamic Republic. It is still theoretically problematic to assert the existence of either “Gay” community or Gay liberation in the country. The pattern of “Men Having Sex with Men” and their women counterparts remains largely “pre-Modern” in the sense which Foucault elaborates as an “aberration” rather than “specie” (as is the case in industrialized societies). The pattern which exists mostly in the Islamic Republic takes form of Man/boy, Senior/junior and Macho/effeminate polarities and enjoys a level of social acceptability in almost all parts of Islamic Republic especially outside major urban centers but it could be dominant pattern even in these. The practice does not seem to induce “gay label” on the participants, which is especially true for the dominant polarity (man/senior/Macho). A common binary opposition which has been defined in these contexts is the one based on “performance” (Active vs Passive) where the “active partner” appears to enjoy a level of societal approval as this role is understood to be enshrined in the “Masculine identity” in many parts of the country. This also seems to suggest the “gay” label is only extended to receiving partner. This is the argument that one listens most from the urban gay activists but have always been a problematic notion for me to understand. Urdu has no word for “Homosexual” or “gay” nor does any of the regional language. “gando” the word commonly referred to in this context denotes some thing else. It does not strictly or exclusively denotes a passive partner. In Pre modern pattern “bacha” and Londa” are more important in this context. One can argue the extant of specificity these terms have as londa in vernacular denotes simply a “lad”but has been used in sexual context as well. Mir the foremost Master of Urdu poetry said “ Mir bare saada hein jis sabab bimar hue! Ussi Attar ke “londe” se dawa lete hein! Moreover there are no words for “Top” in in Urdu as such apart from words coined by urban chatters. Which represent more of constructed jargon than language! Language has been understood as “house of being” so I am not very convinced about this binary opposition. The trap here is too fall for what West has taught us.  The discourse on these matters is heavily laden with orientalist connotations. What is very conveniently forgotten In this regard is the fact that the same sex relations historically were more socially acceptable in East than in West. The Baghdad which is frequently alluded too by our moslem romantics was not only rich in philosophy science and Jihad but also in hedonism. Mutawakil had herm of thousands of castrated Roman lads and one Caliph had to explain to a visiting Mufti who was astonished to see his highness surrounded by cute youth that “he has never untied his trouser cord for what has been forbidden”. The European travelers to Ottoman empire were horrified to observe the openness of same sex relation in baths of Consentinople. Europe of middle ages remembered the Arabs and muslims as “sodomites”. Literature is full of such episodes. One ironic example is that of a Austrian lad who went to a handsome Turk prisoner of war and was utterly disappointed on his refusal failing to understand how a Turk not be a sodomite! Kohat observed frequent same sex wedding in Raj. Photographs exist in private collections. The “modern gay scene” is limited to only a handful of people mostly exposed to European society and westernized or semi westernized families. They are not representative of most of the “People who have sex with Same Gender” (PSSG) in the Islamic Republic. In absence of gay community the efforts to “liberate gays” might reduce the “social immunity” which a wide number of PSSG seem to have in Islamic Republic.

The so called pride event in USA embassy has in my opinion exposed these people to risk of death, social alienation and torture. The behavior which is indigenous will now become “western disease” which needs to be eradicated. Any one who is properly integrated in Pakistani society (not the isolated modern or semi modern Islands in Islamabad Lahore and Karachi) knows that homoerotic behavior is a significant part of local discourse and is not noticed or bothered much unless it crosses over from its designated sphere ie It is not worn on ones face or pumped up as a pride event.  Rather is often a matter of laugh, taunt or dislike by friends and usually does not lead to much serious consequences. (Apart from few cases in recent past which are result of more Gay visibility and emergent homophobia). The strategy of modern gay liberation in a society where modern lifestyles have not been universally accepted can be counterproductive. The orientalist approach in this regard must be discarded. The movement must be integrated with movement to secularize the country. The queer activists need to integrate themselves to the wider political struggle in the country. They need to be part of the rank and file of the resistance movement.  Winning the respect and acceptance of their colleges and comrades they need to introduce the agenda of sexual liberation in the emerging political leadership of the country. Not only this, they need to become part of this leadership.

The example of 20th century has explained to us the limitations of the identity politics in general. Whilst African communists and ANC were able to end apartheid in South Africa at level of the bourgeois state, the segregation in the society has not been abolished. The overwhelming number of Africans still lives in abject poverty without any access to the social standards which a White South African enjoys. Xenophobia has emerged as a dangerous consequence of the discontent which the “liberated” Africans feel. Same could be said about USA where the historic civil rights movement apparently ended the legal segregation but failed miserably to achieve social integration. An African American has become president of USA but the socio-economic and health indicators of the most advance nation of the world demonstrate a divergence which is startling to say the least! The poverty and health indicators of parts of USA are comparable to African states. African Americans are still more likely to have no access to health care and are more likely to be in prisons than the white Americans.

Though Gay rights have been granted in Europe and USA, Homophobia in the society effectively nullifies these gains. Homosexuals still face discrimination, exclusion and violence in USA and Europe. The most problematic aspect of this is the fact that these legal reforms tend to discriminate on a class basis. Where more socially advantaged classes seem to get benefit from these reforms but those from under privileged classes suffer exclusion. From the perspective of a social activist who is interested in emancipation it presents itself as an existential dilemma , where one tends to stand at the same point where he started before the “victory”. The criticism we are offering to the “liberal” model here is frequently misunderstood and sometimes described deliberately by our liberal friends as “deference” of the Question of Rights! This essentially is not the case!  This is essentially is a criticism of the political approach which deferred the question of “Human emancipation” indefinitely in favor of certain legal protections which practically have favored a small minority of oppressed communities thus resulting in actual increase in discrimination and social segregation. This is a criticism of the fragmentation of progressive movement which plays one oppressed community against another! Jews vs Blacks Vs Hispanics in USA.  Women vs Gays etc and favors the dominant sections of society to effectively remain in control. This is the criticism of the approach which sees “reforms’ as the endpoint of the struggle rather than emancipation. Reforms are certainly desirable and should be encouraged but only in a context of a holistic political agenda which seeks to unite people in struggle for socio economic emancipation or we will keep having “victories” without effect and ‘changes” without change!

Though it has become a general fashion in the liberal intelligentsia to curse Marxist analysis , it’s simply astonishing to note  that it has been very accurate in explaining the complex perspectives totally missed and unresolved by liberal analysis. Global Economic Crisis and Arab Spring are just two most outstanding examples, while BBC published a leading middle east expert testifying that Egypt will not follow Tunis on the road to revolution , the masses were flexing their muscles as Marxists were telling us since last year. While a lot as been said about the politics in the Islamic Republic , the text unfortunately has a Derridian flavour of  ever “said” is “unsaid”. Whatever has been said for past few years by our great anchors, intellectuals, key opinion leaders turned out to be simply rubbish. One really feels in awe about the job description of these great men and women who get paid in million for saying and writing rubbish. On the contrary it’s again astonishing that since the day PPP government took office , Pakistani Marxists have been very successful in explaining the complex perspective with a relative ease. They were accurate in their description of nature of judicial movement, the futility of black revolution , the coalition between PPP and PML N, the imperialist nature of war on terror ,and the ” relationship of mutual deception between USA and Pakistan military establishment. The parent descendant relationship between establishment and Islamists,  the sharpening of national question by establishment etc. Now that every one is talking about the great vision of Imran Khan i had the pleasure to read this great piece on him by leading Marxist intellectual Lal Khan. The article explains in concrete terms the phenomenon of Imran Khan and so-called civil society. If one reads carefully it will be a treat as it provides one with tools needed to analyze the fluid political perspective of Islamic Republic. Whats he says explains Khan superbly:

Imran Khan is no Oedipus in this crime infested politics of a rotten state and system. His odd admixture of Islamic crusades, western liberalism and a redundant nationalism can only add to the prevailing political confusion. The ideology of Pakistani national chauvinism he propagates withered away in the paddy fields of East Bengal drenched in blood forty years ago. The justice he vows to impart is unaffordable in market economics. The corruption he decries is not the cause of the crisis but the need and product of debilitated capitalism. Black money and corruption run the economic cycle that is prodding the country. The British parliamentary system he espouses is still a monarchy and increasingly facing revulsion by the British masses. The Pan-Islamism he idealises is in contradiction with the Pakistan nation state that he harps upon. The American police system he wants to impose has bred more crime than anywhere in the advanced world. The US he wants to befriend on an “equal basis” will not stop leeching off Pakistan as long as capitalism exists here. (LK)

Shaheryar Ali

 

Pakistan: Passions without truths – the myth of Imran Khan

Lal Khan. www.Marxist.com

It is often said that history repeats itself, but the truth is that it never does so in exactly the same way; it repeats itself but on on a higher plane. The general consciousness of the masses in any society is neither static nor eternal. It is in a state of constant change, flux and motion. Betrayals and defeats push it back but with the new resurgence of the class struggle it rises to new heights.

However, the temperament and moods of different classes in society can vary according to the conditions and the epoch through which it is passing. In general terms the social psychology of the middle classes or the petit bourgeoisie is empirical and suffers from bouts of impatience reflecting its social and economic base. This, in times of crisis, puts it in a state of permanent insecurity, discontent and unrest, swinging from one extreme to the other – trying to ape the bourgeoisie in ordinary times and jump into the proletarian bandwagon in revolutionary situations.

While the toiling classes can endure hardships for long periods of time and from an empirical outlook sometimes they seem to be infinitely dormant and docile. There can be decades of lull and yet these working classes can explode into volcanic eruptions that can transform the politico-economic systems and change the course of history through revolutionary insurrections. Such periods are historical exceptions. Most bourgeois experts and intellectuals cannot contemplate these tremors in advance as they are mentally blocked from doing so by their philosophy of logical positivism and methods of so-called pragmatism.

At the present moment in time, apart from some sporadic struggles, Pakistan is passing through a period of relative lull as far as the mass movement is concerned, yet society is immersed in a terrible social and economic crisis that has pulverised it. This contradictory state of affairs gives rise to a political vacuum where there is no visible force on the wider political horizon that can present an economic and political way out of this misery and distress. Nature abhors vacuum, however. Hence we see peculiar phenomena that arise to fill this vacuum with rhetoric that touches upon the burning problems but has no real solutions to avert the impending catastrophe. The ostentatious nature of the petit bourgeoisie or the so-called civil society makes them feverishly attracted to these “liberators”. As a class it is the petit bourgeoisie that provides the social base for religious fundamentalism, vulgar liberalism, national chauvinism and other metaphysical and sentimentalist tendencies in periods of social stagnation. The latest episode of this series of petit bourgeois binges is the “rise” of Imran Khan.

He has been hyped up by the media and sections of the ruling oligarchy and the state as a substitute, in a situation where yet another attempt by the ruling classes to attack the working classes through a democratic façade is being foisted onto the masses. After the failure of direct rule and the loss of the cohesion of the army’s apparatus that would permit it to impose its rule once more, this weary and weak attempt to salvage a redundant system, shows the pathetic state of Pakistan’s ruling elite.

Looking at the democratic political circus in Pakistan one is reminded of the celebrated words of the 18th century British conservative politician Edmund Burke: “The tribe of vulgar politicians are the lowest of our species. There is no trade so vile and mechanical as the government in their hands. Virtue is not their habit. They are out of themselves in any course of conduct recommended only by conscience and glory. The calculators compute them out of their senses. The jesters and buffoons shame them out of everything grand and elevated. Littleness is the object and in means, to them appears soundness and sobriety.”

Imran Khan is no Oedipus in this crime infested politics of a rotten state and system. His odd admixture of Islamic crusades, western liberalism and a redundant nationalism can only add to the prevailing political confusion. The ideology of Pakistani national chauvinism he propagates withered away in the paddy fields of East Bengal drenched in blood forty years ago. The justice he vows to impart is unaffordable in market economics. The corruption he decries is not the cause of the crisis but the need and product of debilitated capitalism. Black money and corruption run the economic cycle that is prodding the country. The British parliamentary system he espouses is still a monarchy and increasingly facing revulsion by the British masses. The Pan-Islamism he idealises is in contradiction with the Pakistan nation state that he harps upon. The American police system he wants to impose has bred more crime than anywhere in the advanced world. The US he wants to befriend on an “equal basis” will not stop leeching off Pakistan as long as capitalism exists here.

He is playing the part of a right-wing populist trying to console a beleaguered people with the rhetoric of reforms that the system has no room for. The Balouch and other oppressed nationalities he wants to negotiate and patch up a deal with, have  since long rejected the two nation theory that Imran Khan is trying to resurrect as its new Messiah. He may be the establishment’s black horse, but who can be in the ring without the blessings of the hierarchy of the state.

The Chinese alternative of time tested friendship is a hoax. Whenever have they made a policy not coherent with their interests? China is today the biggest exporter of capital. And capital is invested to extract profit, not to be eulogised. The workers’ rights he talks about can only be slashed in the present day investment that is capital intensive. Revolutionary parties and leaders are not built by media “exposure” and pampering, but conversely the revolutionary victories are snatched from the jaws of the hostile and belligerent media by rousing the masses against it.

Imran Khan is offering everything to everybody, that means that the status quo is retained and the rich will get richer and the poor will be impoverished even more. That is the only possible fate under capitalism in decline. But the most insidious aspect of the mobs around Khan is that as in the lawyers’ movement the ideological differentiation is being scorned. The ideological divide between the left and right is not a theoretical synopsis. It stems from the nature of the class divisions in society and the struggle for the surplus of labour that is in the last analysis the struggle of life and death. As long as class exploitation exists the ideological fight will continue to rage on. It is a line drawn in the blood of the generations of the toilers. Imran khan is rousing the petit bourgeoisie with passions sans truth. Once the mass movement erupts again, no deception will suffice. Class war will have to be fought to the finish.

Indian Supreme Court

 

Shaheryar Ali

 “…people do not take arms, in an organized fashion, against the might of the state, or against fellow human beings without rhyme or reason. Guided by an instinct for survival, and according to Thomas Hobbes, a fear of lawlessness that is encoded in our collective conscience, we seek an order. However, when that order comes with the price of dehumanization, of manifest injustices of all forms perpetrated against the weak, the poor and the deprived, people revolt    Supreme Court of India

For the last few years Pakistan has experienced a lot of debate on the doctrines of liberal democracy, the role of judiciary and civil society. These tenants were repeated in the form of mantra again and again by the network of corporate controlled media monopolies and a section of western funded NGOs who have chosen the label of civil society for them. The major emphasis of their resistance model for Pakistan was strengthening of a section of Pakistani establishment represented by superior judiciary. Instead of focusing on the new “democracy in transition” these groups choose to support an institution which had a long history of collaboration with military junta in Pakistan. Over-emphasizing the cleft which emerged between Chief Justice of Pakistan and the ruling section of Pakistani establishment as “change of heart”, they put their full force behind the unelected institution which had a clear right wing agenda. As the “Black Revolution” took hold over Pakistan things started moving in the direction which was being predicted by a minority of analysts including our selves. The superior judiciary instead of attacking the legal barriers which prevent the subalterns of Islamic Republic from achieving the status of “equal in front of Law” re-affirmed those very legal standards which form the basis of legal and cultural apartheid in the Islamic Republic. This was made clear by their re affirmation of Objective Resolution, Two nation theory and infamous and murderous Blasphemy law. In a move highly unusual for British legal tradition the superior judiciary even restrained the parliament from reviewing the infamous Blasphemy law. The total lack of interest in the state sponsored reign of terror in Balochistan clearly defines the superior judiciary of Islamic Republic which was presented as Liberal Messiah by the liberal spokespersons of establishment. The court has never questioned the colonial and post-colonial policies of Islamic Republic in Balochistan, her continuation of Divide and Rule the province applying on the Pashtun section of the population especially the Frontier Constabulary which has been accused by Independent Human Rights groups and Left wing activists of implementing a silent genocide of the Baloch people. “Dr. Nandini Sundar In comparison the supreme court of India has recently passed a judgment which is land mark to say the least. In the judgment of “Dr. Nandini Sundar and others Vs State of Chhattisgarh and Union Government” The supreme court of India declared the state government sponsored “Salwa Jadum” as unconstitutional. The honorable court also prohibited the deployment of local tribal community as SPO (special police officers). The Indian state of Chattisgargh was deploying the British policy of divide and rule and arming the local tribal as militia against the Nexal and Maoist rebels to stop the Left Wing insurgency which is affecting many states of the Union. These Left wing insurgencies have been declared as “single most important threat to Union of India by the Union Government” and multiple operations have been launched. Despite this the honorable court has disregarded what which judiciary of Islamic Republic considers as “National Interest” which prevents them from interpreting the law in “pro-people” way. The Supreme Court of India remained within the scope of Law unlike our Judiciary which has been criticized by president of Supreme Court Bar Association for exceeding its mandate in giving decisions which only have political implication and no pro-people value. The Indian Supreme court in one of its best decision compared the situation in Dantewara, portrayed in Joseph Conrad’s classic “Heart of Darkness”. It then squarely contextualizes both the neo-colonial nature of the Indian state and the fundamental tenets of classical liberal democracy, all the while sticking to the law in its entirety. There is a lesson for Pakistan especially the activists, to understand the difference between the “real” and the “fake”, one cant carve out an Independent pro people judiciary from core of a totalitarian state , it can only come from a process. The difference is the stated objectives of two states, one committed to liberal secular and socialist state and other to an Islamic utopia. “What is important but obviously outside the scope of a judicial review is the cause of violence, the paramount question in the discussion on violence is “exclusion”. Its exclusion which leaves no other option for a human other than violence. When one is reduced ans dehumanised to extant of non human and non entity he transforms to what he is being “described as” the monster, the lesser being the evil incarnate. This is true for the Nexilite, the failure of communist party of India to address the question of revolution and its persistent failure to distance itself from the discourse of Indian Bourgeois and the failure of development of a genuine revolutionary socialist party in India pushed new untouchables of Indian Union to depths of heinous violence. But the Irony is that even the most deplorable violence committed by these groups testifies the genuine need for change. The desperate cry of the people for solution to emerge from the very heart of darkness!!. The very fact that a superior court which in final analysis is nothing but an instrument of state build to maintain the rule of the privileged classes hints at the cause of violence must be seen as signal to ruling classes of India that India is not as shining as portrayed in global posters! But for some one who is used to judiciary of the Islamic Republic its very refreshing. The case of Baloch resistance is similar, the despicable violence being committed against the immigrant working class in Baloch areas, the murder of Punjabi, Siraiki and Kashmiri labourers and chokidars is clearly the result of dehumanisation which Baloch has suffered. The failure of Bloch nationalist leadership, their ambiguous stand on right of self determination, their alliances with Punjabi chauvinists and Islamic Republic’s ruling elite had left no option for these young men and women to loose human Essences! I say human essence because Emanuel Levinas in his post-Holocaust studies has recognised the “first philosophy”, the duty to protect the other, and the first thing human perceives before even cognition is to recognise the need to protect other! , Baloch are killing because it’s what we want them to do. Its what we demand from them, They are the Jew, RAW agent, Infidel , the Jahil out of religion of peace out of the reign of submission , the rebel of Islamic Republic , Rebel to cause of Islam. The sons and daughters of Ignorance. Their daughters are not worth anything, Shazia Marri can’t be Aafia Siddiqi. If brother of Marri take up arms its heinous, it’s despicable yet its understandable! When a court of law recognises the plight of those who are abandoned to violence its heartening, its a living experience like creation of Adam from clay!” If only we can open our eyes and start the process unless it will be a never ending series of black revolutions which but the results will be counter revolutionary. Below is the report by Asia Human Rights Commission on the said judgment An Article by the Asian Human Rights Commission. INDIA: Supreme Court – ‘Salwa Judum’ is unconstitutional by Rolly Shivhare “People do not take arms without reason” — Supreme Court Salwa Judum The recent judgment of the Supreme Court of India in Dr. Nandini Sundar and others Vs State of Chhattisgarh and Union Government indicates that the country’s judicial system is alive, and a citizen can hope for justice from it. In the decision rendered on 5 July 2011, the Supreme Court declared the Chhattisgarh government sponsored Salwa Judum to be unconstitutional. The Court prohibited deploying members of tribal communities as Special Police Officers (SPOs) in any counter-insurgency operation by the state against the Naxals or Maoists, or against any extremist leftist groups operating in the state and/or region. The Court’s decision to prohibit civil militias is a landmark step in protecting marginalised communities from ongoing human rights violations. In essence, the judgment underlines that certain duties of the state cannot be subcontracted out, and further, that the state has the unalienable duty to protect its citizens. The Constitution of India mandates law and order to be the state’s responsibility. When the protector becomes the violator however, it is a threat to democracy. This is exactly what is happening in Chhattisgarh. Chhattisgarh is one of India’s three states–the other two being Manipur and Jammu and Kashmir–where the government formed private militias to combat anti-state movements. When this was challenged publicly as well as in the court, the government argued that it is its constitutional privilege to adopt modes it sees fit to deal with Naxalite and Maoist activities within the state. In essence, the government was arguing that it has a right to perpetuate, indefinitely, a regime of human rights violations, by adopting the same modes deployed by Maoist and Naxalite extremists in combating them. It is this argument that the Court has thrown out, holding it as unconstitutional. The government of Chhattisgarh had deployed 6500 tribal illiterate people as SPOs in the state. The government provided arms to these men and women and let them fight the leftist extremists, an act which within days turned neighbour against neighbour. The state took refuge in the century-old Indian Police Act, 1861, which provides for the appointment of SPOs to perform duties as guides, spotters and translators. SPOs can work as a source of intelligence, and sometimes are also allowed to carry firearms supplied to them for their self-defense. However, in Chhattisgarh, the government appointed SPOs to fight Maoists and Naxalites. It must be noted that the government even recruited minors as SPOs. In actual fact, the government created a division in the community. By identifying persons as either with the extremists or with the government, neutral space in the community was reduced. SPOs, like the Naxalites and Maoists, used their new power for everything, from settling private disputes to silencing political opposition. According to media reports, the number of cases of rape, murder, and other atrocities increased. The Supreme Court judgment noted that the Chhattisgarh government was appointing SPOs without following any legal process, and without evaluating the capacities of appointed tribal youth in undertaking counter insurgency activities. In 2010 the number of SPOs was 3000, but this year it increased to 6500. Unfortunately, these are the persons who become the first target of the Naxalites/Maoists. The Court also held that appointing a civilian as an SPO was a threat to his life, and in violation of article 21 of the Indian Constitution, which guarantees the right to life, with dignity. It must be mentioned here that this is one of the best judgments of the Supreme Court. It begins with a comparison of the situation in Dantewara, portrayed in Joseph Conrad’s classic “Heart of Darkness”. It then squarely contextualises both the neo-colonial nature of the Indian state and the fundamental tenets of classical liberal democracy, all the while sticking to the law in its entirety. As far as Chhattisgarh is concerned, it is rich in natural resources, with 32 percent of its population made up of tribal people, who believe the trees and rivers to be their Gods. These tribal people are forcibly evicted from their ancestral land however, so that their land can be given to private companies and state interests for their gain. When such communities resist eviction, they are tortured to the extent where the only choice left for them is to take up arms. This was humanly acknowledged by the Court when it stated that …people do not take arms, in an organized fashion, against the might of the state, or against fellow human beings without rhyme or reason. Guided by an instinct for survival, and according to Thomas Hobbes, a fear of lawlessness that is encoded in our collective conscience, we seek an order. However, when that order comes with the price of dehumanization, of manifest injustices of all forms perpetrated against the weak, the poor and the deprived, people revolt. A milestone in Indian democracy, this heartening judgment sees the Supreme Court render a brilliant exposition of the rule of law in the context of the violence unleashed by the Maoists, which has completely distorted the mindset of the state administration. Moreover, the judgment does not end with Chhattisgarh; it has wider implications where similar myopic and irresponsible tactics are employed, like in Manipur and Jammu and Kashmir. About the Author: Ms. Rolly Shivhare is a staff member of Vikas Samwad, a partner organisation of the AHRC, working in Madhya Pradesh. The author is currently interning at the AHRC’s office in Hong Kong and can be contacted at rolly.shivhare@ahrc.asia Courtesy: Asian Human Rights Commission About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong based group was founded in 1984

Written by Marie Frederiksen Tuesday, 08 March 2011

With thanks: International Marxist Website

“I really believe the revolution has changed us. People are acting differently towards each other.” These are the words of Ms Kamel, 50, one of the many women who were out on Tahrir Square, actively participating in the revolution.

Cairo, February 4. Photo: 3arabawy

Arab women have once again shown that women play a decisive role in revolutionary events. In Egypt women have been participating actively in the revolution, in the same way that they played an active role in the strike movement in the few last years, in several cases pressurizing the men to join the strikes.

In earlier protests in Egypt, women only accounted for about 10 per cent of the protesters, but on Tahrir Sqaure they accounted for about 40 to 50 per cent in the days leading up to the fall of Mubarak. Women, with and without veils, participated in the defence of the square, set up barricades, led debates, shouted slogans and, together with the men, risked their lives.

Another view on women

Probably the most important motive force so far has been ordinary people’s striving for respect and dignity (something that was also clear in the Russian revolution and in France in May 1968). The dictatorial regimes, the police and the bosses don’t treat people as human beings, but as animals. That goes for all workers and poor, but especially for women.

Women’s perception of themselves has been changed through the struggle. “We have suffered the taste of teargas, but we are not afraid. The women who are afraid to leave the house, even they see us and gain courage,” explained English teacher Riham Muntaz, 25, to the newspaper The National on February 14. (Women make their power felt in Egypt’s revolution 14.02.11)

The idea that men and women should be different was removed during the revolution. Mozn Hassan, the director of the Nasra Feminist Studies Centre in Cairo said, “No one sees you as a woman here; no one sees you as a man. We are all united in our desire for democracy and freedom.” She explains that it was the freedom women experienced at Tahrir Sqaure that made them return again and again bringing along their friends, sisters and mothers.

The revolution also changed the relation between the sexes. “(…) In the square, you had people from different classes, both men and women, mixing, talking and debating. They [men] were seeing that women are strong, that they can look after themselves. They were seeing women work hard for the revolution, leading protests, and their response [not groping] is their way of saying, ‘I respect you’,” explained Ms. Hassan. Sexual harassment has been a large problem in Egypt. More than four out of five women have been sexually assaulted at some time, and the police has used this also to intimidate women, but it has been completely absent in the struggle against the Mubarak regime.

Women’s liberation through class struggle

Arab women are now showing the way forward. The right-wing bourgeois parties have used the oppression of women in many societies where Islam is the main religion to campaign against the so-called “Muslim world” and legitimize the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. Unfortunately in this they have had help from intellectuals and so-called left-wingers that have been complaining about the “Muslim view on women”. Other left-wingers has swung to the opposite side and even made concessions to religious forces in the Arab world. The Arab revolution shows that as Marxists we were absolutely correct when we insisted that the struggle for women’s rights is part of the class struggle and that these two are inseparable.

The Arab masses have shown that the class divide is the only decisive division. In the united struggle of the masses neither religion, gender or race play any role, and prejudices are overcome in practice. Marx explained, “it is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence but their social existence that determines their consciousness”. When the material conditions are no longer tolerable for the great majority and the masses are forced to fight for better conditions, through this struggle their consciousness and ideas are changed dramatically.

Freedom to what?

The Egyptian women who have come out massively onto the streets did not do so in the name of some abstract women’s liberation. They took the streets in order to create a better life for themselves and their families.

English teacher Ms. Muntaz explains how she struggles to make ends meet. “I get paid 400 [Egyptian] pounds a month… I have no health insurance, if I need an operation I have to pay for it myself. I have no contract, no job security. We want a better life for us and for our children. We deserve a better life.”

The struggle of the Arab masses has just started. The Arab women have shown enormous courage and have shown that the struggle for women’s liberation only can be carried out as part of the struggle for a general liberation of the whole of the working people. They will realize that genuine women’s liberation does not flow from formal freedom and formal democracy, but that it requires a real social revolution.

Ahmad Rashid rose to prominence after the Marxist-leninist insurgency in Baluchistan. He was part of the marxist nucleus which was fighting in Baluchistan. Another young man in this group was Najam Sethi who along with Tariq Ali are considered first of the “New Left” in Pakistan. Those who introduced Trotsky’s writings for the first time in Pakistani Left wing (which was hard core Stalinist and Maoist in those days). Both Rashid and Sethi soon quit being revolutionaries and emerged as seasoned political commentators and analysts operating in the “Post-marxist” paradigm. Amongst them Rashid is more academic, his work on Taliban and United States policy towards Afghanistan and central Asia is considered authoritative. He is perhaps the most objective analyst on Afghanistan and Pakistan. In the following article he puts Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti’s murders in perspective . While its fundamental to criticize the role of military establishment the abject surrender by Zardari regime should never be underestimated. Its the vacum being left by the weaker “political establishment” which is being filled in by the proto-fascist elements.  This sense of proportion is lacking in most progressive analysis coming from Pakistan but Ahmad Rashid’s highly analytical mind superbly achieves this balance. This is without any question one of best writing on recent crisis of Islamic Republic.

Shaheryar Ali

 

Ahmad Rashid : New York Review of Books Blog (With Thanks)

The assassination on Wednesday of Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s Federal Minister of Minorities, killed in broad daylight in Islamabad by four gunmen, is one of the most shameful acts of political violence committed by Pakistani extremists. That it comes just two months after the murder of Salman Taseer, the Governor of Punjab and one of the country’s leading liberal voices makes it all the more chilling. Yet the government and state’s reaction to the two killings has been even more shameful—raising the disturbing possibility that extremism is still being used by the security services in its efforts to oppose Western policies in the region.

The 40-year-old Bhatti was a Roman Catholic and the only Christian member of the cabinet of Prime Minister Yousf Reza Gailani. It was a death foretold. Taseer had been assassinated for his courageous struggle to amend Pakistan’s blasphemy law, which has been used to persecute minorities—a struggle to which Bhatti had also dedicated himself. Bhatti made a videotape some months ago that he wanted released to the BBC if he was killed. In it he said he would carry on the campaign to amend the blasphemy law.

“I will prefer to die for the cause [of defending] the rights of my community rather than to compromise on my principles,” Bhatti said in the tape. “The forces of violence, militants, banned organizations, Taliban and al-Qaeda, want to impose their radical philosophy in Pakistan and whosoever stands against it, they threaten him.”

Bhatti knew his life was in danger; he had been threatened repeatedly in recent weeks and had asked the government to provide him with security and a bulletproof vehicle. But even after Taseer’s murder, the government did nothing. Like Taseer, he ended up riddled with machine gun fire—though it is unclear whether a security detail might have helped, since Taseer was shot dead by his own bodyguard, a highly trained police officer. In both cases, the killers have come from a culture that has grown increasingly intolerant in recent years, abounds in conspiracy theories, and wrongly interprets Islam solely in terms of jihad and violence.

As leaders worldwide—from the Pope to Hillary Clinton to Nicolas Sarkozy—strongly condemn Bhatti’s murder, the reaction of the Pakistani government has been vapid. No action has been taken or promises made to curb the freedom of violent extremist groups, who have hailed both murders and who have meanwhile been staging daily street demonstrations in Lahore to demand the death sentence for Raymond Davis, the American CIA agent who is now in Pakistani custody after killing two Pakistani men believed to be agents for the army’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). (Davis was part of a secret team working in the country; the exposure of his activities puts further strain on the uneasy alliance between the US and Pakistan.)

For its part, the army has so far failed to express regret about either Bhatti’s murder or Taseer’s. The army chief General Ashfaq Kayani declined to publicly condemn Taseer’s death or even to issue a public condolence to his family. He told Western ambassadors in January in Islamabad that there were too many soldiers in the ranks who sympathize with the killer, and showed them a scrapbook of photographs of Taseer’s killer being hailed as a hero by fellow police officers. Any public statement, he hinted, could endanger the army’s unity.

Behind this silence lies something more sinister. For decades the army and the ISI have controlled the extremist groups, arming and training them in exchange for their continuing to serve as proxy forces in Afghanistan and Kashmir. But in recent years, the army has lost control of them and they are striking targets of their own. Yet the army has refused to help crack down on its rogue protégés—despite the fact that extremists have increasingly attacked the army and the ISI itself, and at least 2,000 military personnel have died at their hands in the past five years. This is all the more ominous in view of the resources the military commands: half a million men, another half a million reserves, 110 nuclear weapons (according to US media estimates) and one of the largest intelligence agencies in the world, the ISI, which has an estimated 100,000 employees.

If the army has now surrendered any willingness to take on the extremists, the political establishment had already given up long ago. Prime Minister Gailani and President Asif Ali Zardari head the Pakistan People’s Party, the largest national party in the country—some would say the only national party left. Zardari, as the husband of slain leader Benazir Bhutto, is no stranger to extremism himself, and his populist base has traditionally voted for the party’s anti-mullah, anti-army and pro-people policies. Unfortunately those principles were abandoned by a series of corrupt and ineffectual leaders, and the PPP today is not even a shadow of what it once was.

Zardari has backtracked on foreign policy goals such as improving relations with India and Afghanistan, as well as on domestic efforts to curb the power of the extremists and impose new taxes—on almost everything that may have helped Pakistan move towards becoming a modern state. There is no doubt that the army has tried to thwart the civilian leaders at almost every turn—but rather than resist or resign, the politicians have just been brow beaten into compliance and abject submission.

As a result, there is a vicious double game playing out in the streets, fueling the tensions that resulted in Bhatti’s death. The security agencies have unleashed Lashkar-e-Taiba (LT)—the largest and most feared extremist group in Pakistan, which was behind the 2008 Mumbai attacks—on to the streets of Lahore. The group has been banned by the US, Britain and the United Nations and supposedly by Pakistan too. LT stalwarts have been demonstrating daily outside the US consulate to ensure that Raymond Davis—who was apparently charged with monitoring their activities—hangs. By giving free reign to such banned groups the security agencies may have inadvertently signaled to all extremist groups, including the sectarian groups who hate Christians, that they are free to take the law into their own hands. What is behind this complex and mind-boggling strategy? It is all part of a wider cat and mouse escalation between the US and the Pakistani military. The army wants to control any future peace talks that the US may have with the Taliban, so that the army’s aims for a future pro-Pakistan Afghan government in Kabul are met. Its leaders also want to make doubly sure that any long-term American arrangements do not leave Pakistan’s rival India in a stronger position in Afghanistan.

So far the US seems unmoved; and it has already circumvented the ISI to start indirect peace talks with some Taliban. One consequence is that the military are allowing extremist groups considered anathema to the US on the streets. This is also why Davis is not being freed, and why US-Pakistan relations are at their worst in many years. In the meantime, the army and the government continue to receive about $3 billion a year in US military and economic aid.

On March 3, Senator Bob Corker, who recently visited Islamabad, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he found Pakistan “the most disheartening place in the world to be, where you are talking the type of relationship that we have.” He added, “I think that in many ways we get played like a piece of music” by the Pakistanis.

The ISI may well be playing the Americans, but it does so at the cost of steadily ceding ground to the extremists. Right now Pakistan is becoming a place where there is an army without a country.

 

Source: http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2011/mar/04/army-without-country/

Dr Ayesha Siddiqa is one the most brilliant academic of Pakistan. Daughter of noted Urdu novelist and recipient of prestigious Adam Gee Award for literature Jamila Hashmi she rose to popular fame with the publication of her book “Military Incorporated” a brilliant theoretical contribution on Pakistan Army. She also stands out for distancing her self from anti government rhetoric of most liberal intellegentsia of Pakistan. She has frequently drawn attention to Pakistan’s collaboration with Islamist militancy. She along with Hassan Askari Rizvi was first to point out the principle contradiction in present bourgeois state set up. The conflict between  President Zardari and GHQ. Amongst the liberal academics she was also first to question the Lawyers Movement’s intentions and changing nature of Judicial activism in Pakistan referring  to it as “Judicial populism”. Yet the  persistent capitulation by president Asif Ali Zardari and his failure to give face to liberal and progressive political legacy of PPP has forced almost all of his well wishers to question their perspective. General Zia’s railway minister is Mr Zardari’s prime minister , son of Zia’s governor has  just left the government in an embarrassing situation. The unfortunate irony is that he was not stopped when he was changing the direction of Pakistan’s foreign policy to the favour of Pakistan Army. The conflict exploded in form of Raymond Davies incident. His prime minister publicly declared Zulficar Ali Bhutto’s socialist educational policy as wrong. PPP’s secretary information Fauzia Wahab criticized very core of Bhutto’s economic policy and lectured every one of privatization and economic liberalism and that when even Sarkozi was forced to condemn it after Global Financial Crisis. When Salman Taseer was murdered in cold blood in Islamabad his home minister who had long ties of Begum Shafiqa Zia and Chaudharies of Gujrat commented “I would personally shoot a blasphemer” . This despite the fact that Benazir Bhutto was strongly against Blasphemy law and so far  we believed that Mr Zardari was too. His Law minister , one reputed to enjoy his trust   pledged  to support the infamous ziaist Blasphemy Law even if costed him his life. His home minister Mr Rehman Malik also speaks language of IsI when it comes to Balochistan. He too is reputed to be a Zardari’s partisan. Yet another his  confidant is Mr Jamshaid Dasti who has strong ties with Sipah e Sahaba. It’s a total right-wing regime on whose top is sitting Chairperson of Pakistan Peoples Party , the largest socialist Party of Pakistan which is member of Socialist International as well. One simply fails to understand where is party’s co-chairman? Why there is a complete capitulation to right? Why all of chairman’s confidants  are Ziaist? I have frequently drawn parallels from history Zardari should start looking at pictures of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto of 1977. He too became hostage to “loyalists”. Those who were sitting on his right and left during negotiations with PNA. Those too were his most vulgar of partisans those who led him to capitulate to right. Those were first to ditch him after 5th July. Zardari should always remember Kosar Niazi

Shaheryar Ali

By Ayesha Siddiqa ( with thanks: Express Tribune)

ayesha.siddiqa@tribune.com.pk

Rehman Malik has yet again scattered his pearls of illogic by saying that the interior ministry was planning to impose restrictions on artists, journalists and students on scholarships travelling to India. They will now have to seek a no-objection certificate (NOC) from the ministry. Initially, it sounded as if he meant everyone visiting India. It seems so reminiscent of the Zia days. More important, I wonder what the president has to say in his defence when he had reminded a year ago some civil society members that, they were constantly pestering him to revoke the blasphemy law and improve relations with India. Creating space in the religious discourse and improving relations with regional states is critical for Pakistan’s own growth and development. Since the end of the 1980s, every government seems to have realised this logic. Or was it a different Asif Zardari than this one who seems to have gone in hiding and so allows his interior minister to shoot himself and the entire nation in the foot? Or is it that the president is too scared to implement what he had reminded the civil society members of? We know that his party is completely divided on supporting Taseer and may be in a greater fix on improving ties with India. Such restrictions on artists , students and journalists are ridiculous and give the country an image of a state with an iron curtain just like the one that the former Soviet Union had during the days of the Cold War. Everyone has the right to travel around freely. Unless the government employs these people, they are private citizens who sell certain services and it gives the country a good name when they perform abroad. The government may or may not have any contribution in training these artists or making them famous. In any case, why should the government care about its citizens making a fool of themselves while they are abroad when it has no qualms about great names like Mehdi Hassan living a life of poverty and in ill-health. Let’s be honest, it was only after Rahat Fateh Ali made his way to a bigger market in Bollywood that he got noticed in Pakistan and outside. Why such a show of aimless ego when the government doesn’t care about the thousands of Pakistanis that travel or live abroad? Or will Rehman Malik impose a condition on all Pakistanis travelling abroad to seek an NOC just because some are found to be involved in crimes in other countries? After all, people may or may not engage in activities in the future that would eventually put them in trouble or embarrass them. But they do not necessarily become the government’s responsibility. In any case, if Mr Malik is so peeved about the state’s honour and wants to regulate the behaviour and personal lives of citizens, he may also look into disciplining the numerous militant organisations that create trouble abroad. This might help the state’s image more than anything else. The interior ministry does not even have the infrastructure and system to impose such a law. Such restrictions at best will ensure that Pakistani artists don’t get invited abroad. The interior minister is possibly trying to make the establishment happy. But then, isn’t he supposed to take his cue from Asif Zardari? Or is it that the president himself has changed the way he used to think about peace and stability in the region and changing relations with neighbours? I am also reminded of Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s first visit to the UK as a foreign minister. The Pakistani high commissioner gathered a few individuals from think tanks and some journalists for a dinner meeting with the foreign minister. Later in the evening, the foreign minister rose to give his speech. He passionately spoke about his desire to make his first trip to India and improve relations with them. It all sounded good except that the defence, air and naval attaches sitting on my table did not see eye to eye with him. Clearly, their brief was different from Qureshi’s. It was not too long before he also started following the brief from the GHQ rather than from his party’s leadership. Now it appears that other ministers have gone the same route. A similar restriction was introduced under Zia’s rule which was fought back and removed through the efforts of Benazir Bhutto. It would help if someone saw the illogic of the above decision. Published in The Express Tribune, March 6th, 2011.

Christ of Saint John of Cross  :  Salvador Dali

“Tearing his clothes, the high priest said, ‘What further need do we have of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy; how does it seem to you?’ And they all condemned him to be deserving of death.”

Mark 14:63–64

Jesus of Nazareth was convicted by Sanhedrin, the Jewish priest court for the crime of Blasphemy. Today he is God of largest section of humanity.

Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti were murdered for the crime of Blasphemy—-

Shaheryar Ali

 

 

War and Capitalism are permanently linked, opposition to both is considered “perversion” . This explains the acts of legal violence against anti imperialists and conscientious objectors. Below is a touching narrative by one brave and conscientious man whose only crime is that he refuses to participate in organized and institutionalized violence. Asian Human Rights Commission has issued an urgent appeal on his behalf. we appeal to all progressive people to take up the cause!

SA

 

 

 

SOUTH KOREA: A man is awaiting imprisonment for his beliefs

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Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information from ‘World Without War’, a non-governmental organization that Mr. MOON Myungjin, who refused to do compulsory military service based on his beliefs and conscience, is about to receive rigorous imprisonment through legal procedure. We wish to draw your attention to the fact that his imprisonment is another example in the country where approximately a thousand young men have been imprisoned annually, which has been going on for more than 50 years. They have been criminally prosecuted and imprisoned due to the failure of the government to provide an alternative service for those who refuse to take up arms either based on their beliefs or religion.

CASE NARRATIVE: (the statement below is written by Mr. MOON Myungjin)

The reasons for my objection to taking up arms

1.
Going to jail instead of enlisting in the army has been one of the most crucial issues in my life. There is no one specific moment when I have chosen to refuse military service, nor is it easy to explain the reasons for my objection in simple terms. One thing is clear. It has become harder and harder to convince myself that I should take up arms as a soldier. So, this declaration will be a note that briefly describes my thought processes in arriving at the decision to become a conscientious objector.

I first pondered upon the state, the armed forces and war when the US-led war against Iraq broke out in 2003. I came to question what ‘national interest’ is, after having been to a protest against the Korean government’s decision to dispatch troops to Iraq. I asked myself who the national interest was meant for. I began to experience a discrepancy within my own thoughts and beliefs. I had been identifying myself with the state. I did not question the Korean saying ‘The physical strength of the individual is the strength of the nation’ learned through the national education system. I began to realize that the real world was far from what I had learned and believed it to be. This came about after experiencing the violence of the police against protestors. I had always considered the police to be ‘advocates of justice’.

I came to have firmer and clearer thoughts about my conscientious objection while engaged in the protest against the expansion of a US military base in Pyeongtaek in 2006.The villagers just wanted to spend their lives working the land on which they had grown up. Instead, the government mobilized the armed forces and riot police to evict them. In the early morning of May 4, I saw ruthless violence by the army and the police with my own eyes when their operation to crack down on the villagers as well as the protestors started. People either responded just as violently, or helplessly froze in the face of the overwhelming state violence. At that moment, on the one hand I was prepared to react in a nonviolent way in an effort not to become a devil while fighting back against the devil; on the other, I just felt a primal fear to see the armed forces, known to exist for national security, attack its own people as if they were the enemy.

For me the military is where the ability not to see a human being as human is internalized. While going through the experiences of seeing the violence of the riot police and armed forces in Pyeongtack, the candlelight vigil triggered by the import of US beef with mad cow disease and another forced eviction which took the lives of six people in Yongsan, I wondered how violence could be exerted by one human being against another. I tried to make myself understand how one person can fire a missile to where there exist people like him/her while I was watching the war in Iraq and Afghanistan on television. My conclusion was that you can point a gun only when you see others as not having the same feelings and needs as yourself. Now the meaning of being involved in the armed forces has come to me to act like a robot, there to be mobilized and to obey in favor of the state interests.

2.
Awaiting the day I will (perhaps) be put in prison, I think of the children I met during my teaching practice this spring. It was indeed a pleasant experience to realize that I did matter to them; to see the kids wanting to grab my hands while walking together to the canteen and also wanting to have meals sitting beside me. I felt truly alive to see the kids coming to play rock-paper-scissors with me to have fun, writing me a letter expressing thanks for me passing back the pencil case which had fallen on the floor, and the kids telling me they wanted to become a student teacher like me. I wanted to willingly empathize with the happiness and the pain of each child.

Pedagogy that I studied in my university years raised questions of the nature of education and how growth and development in human beings happens. The question of what education is for led me to think about how I live my life and what I value most at the moment. Although it was only a month’s experience of teaching practice, I was able to conclude that the aim of education is to learn how to love each other. I believe that although we keep facing conflicts, we could develop ourselves through knowing the extent and limits of the self from the conflicts, and connecting with each other.

I understand ‘security’ as a stage where people can live feeling safe. It does not contribute to ‘security’ at all to learn to regard other human beings as less than human, and to train killing skills. I do not want to imagine myself going into the military, which is supposed to exist for national security, and adopting the feelings of fear and hostility against what is called ‘the enemy’. I have not wanted to join the mechanism whereby militarism, like the hierarchical and male-dominated culture, to which I am subjected, neglects individual conscience, prevails and reproduces by virtue of it being the military.

3.
I remember visiting Laos PDR last month to participate in the first meetings of states parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions. In Laos, one person a day on average loses his/her life due to unexploded ordnance of cluster bombs. This means that millions of cluster munitions the US dropped during the Indochina War still remain, affecting the people’s lives. With regards to cluster munitions, which have been already stigmatized as non-humanitarian weapons within the international community, the South Korean government still argues the need for cluster bombs, allegedly referring to the importance of national security, while South Korean companies such as Hanwha and Poongsan profit by producing and exporting cluster munitions.

The government is asserting that it should take a tougher stance against North Korea in view of the recent incident in Yeonpyeong Island. At the same time, the MLRS (Multiple Launch Rocket System), of which the Korean armed forces are proud, was described positively in the Korean media. However, it is not the North Korean artillery, but somebody’s life and our humanity that is devastated by the South Korean artillery. Not only should North Korea be criticized, but also South Korea should accept responsibility for the current state of heightened tension. Just as there have been several deaths in the South, there must also have been some people injured or killed in the North during the recent military conflict. The more we develop fear and hostility against each other continuously, the more tears will be shed by those affected by the violence.

No one being deserves to be killed. Both South Korea and the surrounding countries should stop playing the game of spending more and more on war expenditure. It is only a few in the ruling class and the munitions industry who take advantage of constantly waging hostility and increasing armament expenditure. Violence leads to a vicious circle of another retaliation and more violence. My conscientious objection is both the least and the best stance that I can take against this vicious circle of violence.

4.
Thanks to my objection to military service, I have been able to reflect upon my own way of life. As already mentioned in somebody else’s declaration, I would have been able to deepen my thoughts on feminism and pacifism while pondering upon my conscientious objection, rather than the fact I was already pacifist before I decided to be a conscientious objector. I became a vegetarian and started riding a bicycle, having been inspired by the people I met through the peace movement group ‘World Without War’. I came to think a way of life in which I earn less, consume less and do as little harm as I could to the world. Looking back, it could be presumed that what constitutes the person I am now has come about since I started thinking of being a conscientious objector and while engaged in the peace movement.

On the contrary, it has been stressful sometimes for me to imagine the prison term which may come. At one stage, it was painful to envision myself in prison whenever I plan for the future. It was never easy to face my mother who tried to persuade me to reconsider my decision, saying I might have regrets after I finish the prison term. I was both saddened and angry to fall out with my parents who would argue it does not have to be me going to jail instead of military service, whereas I still feel some kind of guilt about going against what my parents have expected of me.

Last but not least, I would like to acknowledge the influence and the inspiration that I have received from my comrades, which have helped shape my thoughts. I believe that although it is me who has chosen to refuse military service, it is not a decision derived entirely from my own original thinking. I suppose the reason that I have been able to confirm my decision to become a conscientious objector was not because I have firm and flawless beliefs, but because I have been fully inspired by others around me who practice a nonviolent way of life. For me, it would be more accurate to say that I have come naturally to take this choice of being a conscientious objector in the context of how I live, than as a special and exceptional choice.

I hope my conscientious objection would resonate among people, and so reassess the reasons for the existence of the armed forces. I would have liked to question the militarism in Korean society, which goes beyond the matter of relativism, such as one’s freedom of conscience competing against another’s freedom of conscience. I wish my conscientious objection to enable me to still be able to empathize with other human beings, as well as remain sensitive to their pain in the future.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION:

Conscientious Objection to Military service in South Korea

For the past several decades, conscientious objectors against military service have been going to prison. Yet it was only after 2000 that the issue became known to the public. That the cumulative number of conscientious objectors who served prison sentences exceeded ten thousand at the time profoundly shocked Korean society. Long considered an issue for Jehovah’s Witnesses only, conscientious objection became a social ‘movement’ with the public declaration of the first non-Jehovah’s Witness conscientious objector, the pacifist and Buddhist Oh Tae-yang in December 2001. In early 2002, “Korea Solidarity for Conscientious Objection” (KSCO) was formed by 36 civil and social organizations. They began to raise public awareness about conscientious objection through various activities such as discussion forums, lectures, public hearings, campaigns, and written articles.

The criticism and scolding against the conscientious objection movement were tremendous at first. The idea of national security was so absolute in the anti-communist Republic of Korea that more armament was considered socially ‘good’, while any kind of counter-argument was severely repressed. In South Korea, society went through a series of militarist regimes where a 100% enlistment rate was set as a social objective and the conscription-based military system was sanctified. It was not possible to bring up discussions on probable changes in the military system. Under these circumstances, it was difficult to expect not only reflections on the military as state-monopolized violence but also different points of view based on democracy and tolerance. A movement for change, however, was slowly created by the tremendous amount of time in jail and the pain that conscientious objectors endured. This was coupled with the efforts made by both recent conscientious objectors who publicly announced their objection and their supporters.

Afterwards, the duration of the usual prison term sentence for conscientious objectors was cut down from three years to one and a half years. In 2002, a case of conscientious objection was appealed to the Constitutional Court for review for the first time, and in 2004, a conscientious objector received a verdict of not guilty for the first time. In late 2004, assemblymen Mr. Im Joing-In and Roh Hoe-Chan each submitted a Military Service Act Amendment Bill to the South Korean National Assembly. In late 2005, the National Human Rights Commission of Korea announced a recommendation to introduce alternative service. This was a first time for a Korean national institute to do such a thing. In addition, the international community, upon recognizing the situation for Korean conscientious objectors, began to apply pressure on the Korean government. For example, the UN Human Rights Committee repeatedly ruled that the Korean government should consider alternate service for Korean conscientious objectors.

Thanks to these social changes, it appeared that the imprisonment of conscientious objectors which had continued for more than 50 years after liberation might end in the very near future. On September 18, 2007, the Ministry of National Defense (MND) announced plans to allow conscientious objectors to perform alternative civilian service, which was supposed to start in January 2009. In addition, at the Universal Periodic Review held in Geneva on May 7, 2008, the Chief of Human Rights Division of MND confirmed the position of Korea to introduce alternative service for conscientious objectors. But once the conservative Lee Myung-Bak government took office, MND suddenly changed its position. Having made little effort to prepare for alternative service with an excuse of ‘national consensus,’ MND publicly announced it would ‘nullify’ the introduction of alternative service for conscientious objectors in December 24, 2008. Their supposed basis for the decision was an opinion survey which was a very small part of the research commissioned by Military Manpower Administration in which there were more responses against alternative service. While the more-than-500-page-long research paper concludes that alternative service must be introduced, MND arbitrarily chose to use only part of the survey data for their own interests. The hard-fought changes by the civilian society were so easily overturned by the regime change. Up until now, more than 15,000 have been imprisoned for their objection to military service since Korea’s liberation from Japan in 1945. And in particular, more than 5,000 have gone through imprisonment since 2000, the year when the issue of conscientious objection began to be discussed in public.

Yet it was not only the CO movement participants who thought that the situation was unjust, but the militaristic and nationalistic Korean society had been changing slowly over the course of time and as the CO movement has continued. In the summer of 2008, the National Human Rights Commission of Korea officially expressed concern and sent a statement to MND, urging it to quickly introduce alternative service for conscientious objectors. This issue has been continuously raised in the judicial branch as well. There have been a series of requests with the Constitutional Court for a determination of constitutionality of the Homeland Army Reserve Act. In the current situation where legislative solutions are very unlikely, the Constitutional Court’s possible decision for conscientious objectors remains one of the possibilities. In 2010, UN Human Rights Committee pressed the Korean government once again by having its second ruling on individual CO communications. WRI, an anti-war organization which undertakes CO activities internationally, spread the news about Korea’s situation throughout the world.

In South Korea, about a thousand conscientious objectors are presently in prison.

SUGGESTED ACTION:
Please send a letter to the authorities listed below and express your deep concerns about this case as well as the inaction of making alternative service possible.

Please be informed that we have also sent a separate letter to the UN Special Rapportuer on freedom of religion or belief.

To support this appeal, please click here:

SAMPLE LETTER:

Dear __________,

SOUTH KOREA: A man should not be punished for his beliefs

Name of accused: Mr. MOON Myungjin, conscientious objector
Case & Charges: Case no. 2011GODAHN55; First trial held on March 16, 2011 at Single Criminal Court #3, Seoul Western District Court; article 88(section 1) of the Military Service Act

I am writing to voice my deep concern regarding the case of Mr. Moon Myungjin, who would not perform military service on the grounds of his beliefs and is going to be criminally prosecuted and imprisoned as a result.

According to the information obtained, Mr. Moon Myungjin who refused to be drafted within the prescribed period of time, whereupon he was accused under article 88(section 1) of the Military Service Act, was prosecuted and the first trial is scheduled to be held at Seoul Western District Court on March 18, 2011. Following previous cases, Mr. Moon would be put under court custody as soon as the court declares the sentences against him. I am also informed that it is most unlikely that Mr. Moon will be free from criminal imprisonment by the courts as there are hundreds of accused who had received one and a half years imprisonment before him. The hard fact is that there little room left for the lower courts to convert such decisions already made.

I am aware that the Constitutional Court delivered a decision on August 26, 2004, in a case unrelated to the current case of Mr. Moon. It rejected, by a majority vote, a constitutional challenge to article 88 of the Military Service Act on the grounds of incompatibility with the protection of freedom of conscience protected under the Korean Constitution. I would like to draw your attention in this judgment, to the fact that the Constitutional Court expressed that the legislature of South Korea has the responsibility to ease the conflict between freedom of conscience and the duty of a citizen as prescribed by the law. They should therefore consider taking appropriate action.

Sadly, as more time has passed, neither legislatures nor the concerned authorities, including the Ministry of National Defense, have made efforts to amend or make a law introducing alternative military service for the conscious objectors. All the more, the youth have become criminals. Having criminal records, they have been socially discriminated against and restricted in living.

Taking this opportunity, I would like to point out that the question has arisen that persons are going to be punished for a long time due to the inaction of the government. If a person is punished for such reasons, there will be also be a time coming in which the courts have to review earlier cases. The government might then have to undertake unbearable compensation for those who have been imprisoned due to such inaction. Furthermore, the court will not be free from criticism for taking no initiatives as the Seoul Nambu District Court made a judgment of acquittal to one conscientious objector in 2004.

I urge that a person who refuses to do compulsory military service on the grounds of his beliefs or religion should no longer be punished and imprisoned. The concerned authorities, in particular the President as well as the Ministry of National Defense, should introduce alternative service in order not to wrongly imprison the youth of the nation any more.

I take this opportunity to remind the government of South Korea of the need to establish a mechanism to provide the authors of the individual communications to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which South Korea is a state party, with effective remedies such as decriminalization of conscientious objectors, including compensation. In this regard, the Korean government has so far failed to establish or even discuss such mechanisms to implement the jurisprudence by the international human rights instruments including the UN Human Rights Committee. It will be nothing but a voice in the wind for the government to implement changes without having such a system in place in its domestic laws.

Yours sincerely,

—————-

PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:

1. Mr. Lee Myung-Bak
President
1 Sejong-no, Jongno-gu
Seoul, 110-820
REPUBLIC OF KOREA
Fax: +82 2 770 4751
E-mail: foreign@president.go.kr or president@cwd.go.kr or president@president.go.kr

2. Mr. Lee Gui-Nam
Minister of Justice
88 Gwanmon-ro, Gwachon-si
Gyonggi Province 427-760
REPUBLIC OF KOREA
Tel: +82 2 503 7023
Fax: +82 2 2110 3079 / 503 7046
E-mail: webmaster@moj.go.kr

3. Mr. Kim Joon-Gyu
Prosecutor General
Supreme Prosecutor’s Office
1730-1, Seocho3-dong
Seocho-gu, Seoul
REPUBLIC OF KOREA
Fax: +82 2 3480 2555
Tel: +82 2 3480 2000
E-mail: koreapros@spo.go.kr

4. Mr. Kim Kwan-Jin
Minister
Ministry of National Defense
No. 1, Yongsan-dong 3-ga
Yongsan-gu, Seoul
REPUBLIC OF KOREA
Tel: +82 2 748 1111
Fax: +82 2 748 6895
E-mail: cyber@mnd.go.kr

5. Judge
c/o Single Criminal Court #3 (ref. 2011GODAHN 55)
Seoul Western District Court
99 Mapo-ro
Mapo-gu, Seoul
REPUBLIC OF KOREA
Tel: +82 2 3271 1114

Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission

Shaheryar Ali

Today Federal Minister for minorities Mr Shahbaz Bhatti was murdered in Federal capital of the Islamic Republic. He was murdered in cold blood by the band of fascist thugs known as Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan who were swift to claim responsibility. Mr Bhatti was a life long activist for minority rights and a vocal opponent of the infamous “Qanoon-e-Toheen-e-Risalat” (Blasphemy Law). A progressive who along with Salman Taseer and Sherry Rehman was on forefront of introducing secular pro-minority agenda on national level and within PPP.

The murder is linked with that of Governor Taseer and now Sherry Rehman is the person most under threat. These murders are result of the organic crisis of Islamic Republic. A governor was murdered by his own security guards and now a federal minister is shot dead when he was leaving to attend cabinet meeting.   Federal minister was “without security”. In these kind of situations when factions of state and their proxies are in a state of chaotic warfare many murders are destined to occur and destined to remain un-resolved. Since the “Black Revolution” right wing was able to re-assert itself in the power struggle within Pakistani state. Musharraf’s purges had led to weakening of hardcore Islamist cadre in Pakistan Army; the traditional bastion of power of Pakistani Right. This had significantly weakened their power within state. This loss was compensated by Lawyers Movement who gave Pakistani right a new power center through which they can dictate their agenda. The restoration of hardcore right wing judges meant that every initiative by Zardari regime to curb Islamofascism be made ineffective. This was visible soon after their restoration when we saw statements from honorable judges who pledged their support to Blasphemy laws, Islamic statutes of constitution, the objective resolution.

Every single terrorist caught has been set free by our free judiciary. United Nation sanctions against Punjabi Taliban were made ineffective by Khawja Sharif’s court. The court has never taken notice of Taliban atrocities throughout Pakistan. When in Karachi the allies of Lawyers movement pledged to “kill anyone who mourns Salman Taseer’s murder” no action was taken. When it was said that every such person should “write his will” and “buy his kafan” no suomoto action was taken. Bars are conducting functions in support of assassin of Governor Taseer and those organizing it are those who use to chant “chief tere jaa’n nisar—–“. It simply means that it’s a “license to kill”.  Secular clowns who didn’t listened to anyone when they were marching with General Hameed Gul and Qazi Hussain Ahmad that what will be the result of radicalization of the poorly educated lawyers.  From Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan to Murderer Qadri this is what Bar has to offer to Jinnah’s Pakistan. When judges pledge support for such laws, Lawyers turn a assassin into a hero and government exist merely as ghost who doesn’t even controls Islamabad this happens what is happening.

With Rehman Malik and Babar Awan controlling Law and home ministries we can be sure that no secular man or woman will either get security or the public prosecution will ever build a case to send these thugs to gallows. With assassination of Governor Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti it has been confirmed. Sherry Rehman should be under no illusion her life is in serious danger, I strongly appeal to her that she should immediately leave the country. Don’t believe any assurances either of government or Americans. Dangers are that every progressive voice will be silenced. You have a responsibility to your life as well as to next generations to protect the progressive legacy of PPP. You can be more effective in advocacy for minorities abroad.  I am sure you will listen to voices of reason and leave.

 

Written by John Pickard Wednesday, 23 December 2009

with thanks: International Marxist website

Many of us know that the origins of Christianity have nothing to do with silent nights or wise men. So what are its true origins? John Pickard looks at the reality of how this religion came about – from the standpoint of class forces and the material developments of society, rather than by the pious fictions fed from church pulpits.

Foundations of ChristianityMy late father had a very wry sense of humour. At Christmas, whenever there was a reference to church services on the television, he would tut and shake his head. “Look at that”, he would say, “They try to bring religion into everything!”

I imagine much the same complaint may have been made by ancient celts, annoyed that the Christian priests were taking over their traditional Yule festival, celebrating the winter solstice. Or perhaps by Roman citizens, peeved at the Christians taking over their annual ‘Saturnalia’ festival in the last weeks of December.

Those complaining would have been right, because in the absence of an identifying date anywhere in the canonical gospels, Christians grafted their celebration of the birth of Jesus onto the existing pagan festivals. In one stroke they absorbed the pagan rites into the Christian tradition and softened opposition to the new creed.

Many practising Christians today are completely unaware of the pagan and sometimes arbitrary origins of important elements of their religious beliefs and practices. Many seriously believe the origin of Christianity lies in a ‘silent night’ in a barn visited by quiet shepherds and several awe-struck ‘wise’ men. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Materialism

For Marxists, who base themselves on the real, material world, there was a completely different reality. Last year marked the centenary of the publication of ‘The Foundations of Christianity’ by the German Marxist theoritician, Karl Kautsky. This was the first attempt to describe the rise of that major western religion from the standpoint of class forces and the material developments of society, rather than by the pious fictions fed from church pulpits.

Karl Kautsky’s book was deficient in many respects, but the main lines of his argument still stand the test today. What was especially significant about Kautsky’s book was that it was the first comprehensive attempt to describe the foundation and rise of Christianity using the method of historical materialism.

Karl Marx and Frederick Engels used the method of historical materialism and applied it to social and historical developments. In his book ‘Anti-Duhring’, Engels summarised what this meant:

“The materialist conception of history starts from the proposition that the production and, next to production, the exchange of things produced, is the basis of all social structure; that in every society that has appeared in history, the manner in which wealth is distributed and society divided into classes or estates is dependent upon what is produced, how it is produced, and how the products are exchanged. From this point of view the final causes of all social changes and political revolutions are to be sought, not in men’s brains, not in man’s better insight into eternal truth and justice, but in changes in the modes of production and exchange. They are to be sought, not in the philosophy, but in the economics of each particular epoch.”

Karl Kautsky, therefore, rejected the metaphysical myths behind Christianity – the miracles, supernatural events, and so on – and attempted to describe its origins and rise through the social conditions that existed in the Roman Empire.

The classical description of the origins of Christianity is as outlined in the New Testament. The gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are taken as historical accounts of real events in the first thirty five years of the first millennium: how Jesus was born miraculously, how he performed miracles and preached alongside his twelve disciples, how he was crucified for his preaching and how he arose from the dead. The gospels are taken to be eye-witness accounts by four of the disciples.

Karl KautskyKarl KautskyDespite harassment, persecution and innumerable martyrs, the superior ideas of the Christians – and particularly the offer of life after death and the redemption of human sins by the crucifixion of Jesus – led to an increase of support for Christianity until it became an unstoppable force eventually recognised by the Roman Emperor Constantine. The rest, as they say, is history.

This is the ‘official’ history of the Church…and most of it is a fairy-tale. For Marxists the question has to be asked, what were the conditions in Palestine in the first century? Karl Kautsky alludes to the fact that the Roman Empire was a slave-based system in which the vast majority of the population were impoverished and lived from hand to mouth for most of their lives.

And it is true that Palestine was a society riven with bitter class conflicts and contradictions. The characteristics of the entire period were turmoil, upheaval and revolt. Overlying the class struggle was the additional factor of the national oppression of the majority Semitic population by the Romans. Within Jewish society, the priestly caste and the nobility were propped up by the Roman regime for the greater exploitation of the mass of the population.

“The fundamental conflict was between Roman, Herodian, and high priestly rulers, on the one hand, and the Judean and Galilean villagers, whose produce supplied tribute for Caesar, taxes for King Herod, and tithes and offerings for the priests and temple apparatus on the other.” (Horsley, ‘Bandits, Prophets and Messiahs’ )

The Temple priests who were paid tithes (church taxes) by the local peasantry were not a small group – some scholars number them in the thousands. The Jewish King Herod ‘the Great’, who died in 4 BCE [Before the Common Era], left a country economically exhausted from the earlier Roman conquest and subsequent taxation.

“The Jewish agricultural producers were now subject to a double taxation, probably amounting to well over 40 per cent of their production. There were other Roman taxes as well, which further added to the burden of the people, but the tribute was the major drain.

“Coming, as it did, immediately after a period of ostensible national independence under the Hasmonians (Jewish kings), Roman domination was regarded as wholly illegitimate. The tribute was seen as robbery. Indeed it was called outright slavery by militant teachers such as Judas of Galilee, who organised active resistance to the census (record of people for tax purposes) when the Romans took over direct administration of Judea in 6 CE.” [in the Common Era] (‘Bandits, Prophets and Messiahs’)

Revolts

The only contemporary account there is of this history is that of Josephus, a Jewish general who fought against the Romans during the revolt of 66 CE and who subsequently changed sides. It is clear from his histories that this whole period was one of great upheaval. There were many occasions when revolts of peasants were led by popular anointed kings (or ‘messiahs’), all of which were viciously repressed. It was not uncommon for whole towns to be razed and their inhabitants sold into slavery.

These revolts reflected the material conditions and class conflicts of the time, but they were invariably dressed up in terms of messianic revivalism and religious aspirations. Given the tradition and scripture of the Jews, these movements inevitably adopted the mantles of scriptural leaders, including, notably, Joshua. There were, in fact, many ‘Joshua’ sects at the time. (‘Jesus’ is a Romanised name which wouldn’t have been recognised in Palestine at the time). Many of these cults had a ‘communist’ outlook with property shared in common within the community.

The writings of Josephus are the only genuine surviving works written by a participant of the events. He describes what he sees as the evil influence of seers and prophets on more than one occasion, such as: “…Imposters and demagogues, under the disguise of divine inspiration, provoked revolutionary actions and impelled the masses to act like madmen. They led them out into the wilderness…” Josephus (‘Jewish Wars’) mentions by name several of the seers, ‘prophets’ and revolutionaries who stirred up the Jews, but the Joshua described in the New Testament does not appear at any point in the voluminous work of his supposed contemporary, Josephus.

The revolutionary-minded force in this period was the peasantry, which strove time and again to throw off the national and class oppression under which they laboured.

A small selection of commentaries from Josephus illustrates the turmoil of the period:

“Many [Jewish peasants] turned to banditry out of recklessness, and throughout the whole country there were raids, and among the more daring, revolts…”

“…the whole of Judea was infested with brigands…” (‘Jewish Wars’)

“Felix [Roman governor, 52-58 CE] captured [revolutionary leader] Eleazar, who for twenty years had plundered the country, as well as many of his associates, and sent them to Rome for trial. The number of brigands that he crucified…was enormous.” (Josephus , ‘Antiquities’)

Nothing could be further removed from ‘silent night’! The revolutionary upheaval spilled over into a generalised uprising in 66 CE, against the Romans and their collaborators, the Jewish ruling class the high priests of the Temple. “…hostility and violent factionalism flared between the high priests on the one side and the priests and leaders of the Jerusalem masses on the other.” (‘Antiquities’)

Siege of Jerusalem

The siege of Jerusalem, 70 CEFor the next four years there was a bloody and protracted guerrilla war followed by a prolonged siege of Jerusalem, during which the masses, fearing betrayal by the Jewish aristocracy and high priests effectively took power into their own hands in Jerusalem. One of their first acts in the revolt was the storming of the Temple and the burning of the deeds and documents relating to the debts and taxes of the peasantry. It was not surprising that the aristocracy and the high priests fled the city to the safety of the Roman lines – including Josephus himself.

Even before this revolution, Palestine had been a whirlpool of different cults and religious sects, most based loosely on traditional Jewish scripture, but often coloured by the widespread discontent with the collaboration of the priesthood and the parasitism of the Temple culture. Among these would have been the ‘Joshua’ and other messianic sects organised by a variety of charismatic leaders.

Following the bloody suppression of the revolution and the capture of Jerusalem (during which the Temple was destroyed) in 70 CE, tens of thousands of Jews fled the region and many thousands more were enslaved. Such an enormous disaster could not fail to affect the huge Jewish Diaspora, who fled from their homeland, spread round every major city in the whole Roman Empire, including the larger cities like Rome, Alexandria and the big cities in the East.

Long before the revolutionary events, all manner of sects had taken root in the Jewish Diaspora communities in parallel to those in Palestine itself. Within this lively sectarian milieu was a Joshua cult developed by Paul, with a policy of converting non-Jews as well as Jews. This sect, in effect, became the mainspring of modern Christianity by, among other things, simplifying Jewish ‘Law’ to remove the need for circumcision and strict dietary taboos.

All of the early Christian works, which were circulating from the middle towards the end of the first century – including the letters of Paul – were significantly missing any historical narrative connecting Joshua to a real-life biography. It was only later that the gospel of Mark (on which Matthew and Luke were based) was written as an allegorical description of a life, composed to match the Joshua doctrine that was becoming established. It was an expression of the growing confidence and numerical strength of this particular sect. But it was also an expression of the growing class division within the Christian community itself as it accommodated to Roman society. Of the original communistic ideas of the Joshua cults, there remain only a few hints and suggestions in the New Testament today.

It was largely in polemics with their former co-religionists, the Jews, and against the plethora of rival proto-Christian sects that the early Church elaborated its doctrine in the first decades of the second century. In parallel with the elaboration of doctrine, the Church established an apparatus to maintain itself. The evidence of the existence of a huge variety of early Christian sects has only come to light recently precisely because this apparatus, once having established itself, did its best to eliminate all others as ‘heresies,’ in the process removing most of the evidence that other strands of the Joshua cult even existed.

The question has to be asked as to why Christianity grew over the next two centuries. It was not an anti-slavery movement: slavery was ubiquitous throughout the Roman Empire and Christians possessed slaves like anyone else. There is evidence that even bishops just like well-to-do Romans owned slaves throughout this whole period.

Theological considerations were secondary. The rigid and self-perpetuating bureaucracy which had grown within the Church reflected the class divisions in society and had become an important bulwark of the class system.

“In time the discourse and sermons of the Christian leaders came to incorporate not only the formal aspects of aristocratic status concerns but also the values and ideology of the late Roman upper class.” (Salzman, ‘The Making of a Christian Aristocracy’)

Conversion

This comment refers to the period following the so-called conversion of the Emperor Constantine in the early fourth century, but long before this the Church was playing a key social and economic role on behalf of the ruling class. Many officials of state were Christian bishops or leaders. More importantly, they play a key role in the management and organisation of local government.

In so far as it meant anything in a Roman Empire facing terminal decline, they were the local government. Bishops and Church officials collected tax, distributed alms (church-based charity) and supervised local legal and land disputes. They were an unofficial ‘civil service’ on behalf of the Roman bureaucracy long before Emperor Constantine gave them imperial sanction. The Church fulfilled a social and economic function, in managing and containing an increasing proportion of the poor and dispossessed and for that reason, not because of a ‘spiritual awakening’ within the ruling class, it was allowed to grow and develop.

The Church was able to fulfil this role because it offered a safety valve for the aspirations of the masses. It gave the peasantry their only opportunity to sit in the same building with landlords and bishops (if not the same pews) and even if there was limited hope in this world, they were at least offered the promise of equality with the rich in the next. The Christians offered a messiah and ‘life after death’, in contrast to the aloof and indifferent gods of Greece and Rome.

The Church bureaucracy consciously developed policy (and theology) in its own interests, increasingly identified with the interests of the ruling class. But in its structure and outlook, it also anticipated the development of feudal society better than the decaying slave-owning state. The Church didn’t campaign for emancipation, but offered a new arrangement for exploitation.

As for the peasantry and city poor: as long as they knew and accepted ‘their place’ in the rigid class structure, for the poorest it offered a structure of alms, and support which provided respite to the worst of their poverty and insecurity. Even if watered down, it offered a sense of community. Almost uniquely in the Roman Empire, it had a limited welfare structure, moreover one that offered belonging to a national and even international church. For these reasons it had disproportionate appeal to the poor and the oppressed; indeed it was ridiculed for being a movement “of slaves and women.”

Persecution

Once it was backed by the power of the state the Church destroyed its opponents. Roman persecution of the Church in the first three centuries is greatly exaggerated, but it pales against the terrible persecution that the Church visited on all the unorthodox sects once it was backed by imperial power. Books and heretics were burnt. Theological history was re-written. Myths were piled upon myths, century after century. So much so that today even so-called ‘scholars’ treat the New Testament like a true historical narrative and not as they should as a story, no more true than ‘The Iliad’ or ‘Beowulf’.

Within a few hundred years any evidence of the existence of other Christian sects, including their pre-history in Palestine, was all but eliminated. The Church became – and remains to this day – a powerful conservative force, politically, financially and diplomatically (and at one time, militarily).

In his introduction to ‘A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right’, Marx referred to religion as “the sigh of the oppressed”. He explained that it is not spirituality, or the lack of it, which breeds support for religion. It is the alienation of the mass of the population from the class society in which they find themselves.

The crisis of capitalism is at root the crisis of a rotten economic system, but it manifests itself also as a crisis of ideas. For millions of people their hopes and aspirations are so stunted by the limits of the capitalist world that they project their hopes on to a life after death. And just as in the first decades of the first millennium, so also in the age of capitalism, new religious and messianic movements reflect the intellectual and moral impasse of a failed and failing society. Marx continued:

“…To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.”

Thus he made it clear that it is not a question of religion being “abolished”. The idea is absurd. To combat superstition and ignorance, the task for socialists is to struggle against the material conditions upon which these things grow – and that means above all, a struggle against capitalism.

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