Dispatch the Arts nowhere!


On December 6, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that the Department of the Arts (then part of the Prime Minister and Cabinet PMC), would come under a new mega-‘Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications’. No mention there of the Arts.

There has been widespread dismay at this change. A petition has gathered 10,000 signatures asking that all art and music be withheld from Parliament House. That’ll show them – literally.

Here is my response to keep the issue alive:

Australians, they have made their choice,
That fruit hangs low on tree,
We now recall that Arts for all
Have gone from PMC
To Infrastructure’s hieroglyphs
To Transport’s slipshod care.
Off off the stage into a cage,
Dispatch the Arts nowhere,
Our trust so strained then let us sing,
Dispatch the Arts nowhere!

Invictus? Really?


I am troubled by the Invictus Games. Not just the strange ways the Latin participle ‘invictus’ gets used, but by the normalisation of the warrior spirit. The propaganda around the Games makes war seem good.

In a world where it has become part of the culture to thank every member of the military for their ‘service’, and the Invictus Games seems set to increase such thoughtless commentary even more, I know I need to be precise in my criticism.

War is the way of the world. And the world is divided into nation states. I would be crass indeed not to recognise these realities and fail to acknowledge the sacrifices that the military make to keep our nation safe.

I respect individual sailors, soldiers and airmen for their choice and for their part in my freedom. I am in awe of the peace-keeping that Australian forces do around the world. I recognise that much of the activity of the Australian Army in Afghanistan was building schools and hospitals, surely a good legacy.

But war is a sub-optimal activity for humanity. Partly because the nation-state is an imperfect institution – nations both create conditions for our flourishing and also create artificial divisions between human beings – and mainly because the aggression and killing war involves means that we should not consider war the final best way of relating that human beings can find. We live in a fallen world, and war is a symptom of our sinfulness and not of our glory as human beings.

Much of the lethal activity of war is sly. Drones fly invisible above their targets, and ‘clinically’ murder only the targets. Insurgents, who consider themselves patriots, leave death-dealing devices on roadsides. Proxy wars are fought in countries like Syria between the US and Russia, condemning millions of children to a half-life in refugee camps.

I look forward to a world in which nations are superseded by a common humanity and war has given way to peace, where swords are beaten into ploughshares, and the trillions of dollars we spend on armaments are diverted to the benefit of humanity.

This is why I think we should take care with the language we use, and the language we accept, around the Invictus Games. The fighting spirit that restores the wounded to purposeful lives is to be admired. The positive attitudes to disability the Games foster are to be encouraged. We should applaud the new appliances which improve the lives of those living with disability. The contributions the participants made through their service in the armed forces are to be commended.

But any implication that war itself is unambiguously good needs to be challenged. Let us ‘normalise’ disability, by all means. But let us not ‘normalise’ the fact of war. Let us in all ways and in all circumstances question its place in our common life, and decry the death, destruction and waste it brings. Let us aspire to a world without war, a world without the need for warriors, a world where we embrace, not fight, our fellow human beings.

Astrapi for kids


Astrapi is a Paris-based French-language magazine for 7-11 year olds. They distributed a two page supplement in clear language to help the kids of Paris.

It’s common sense, and although a couple of the references are specifically to Paris and France, I thought it was so well thought out that I have translated into English to help anyone respond at a personal level to the attacks. Just click on the link below.

Astrapi on Paris attacks

Buying into violence

We Christians need cool heads to not be caught up in the fear and so fuel the violence: remember André Trocmé and the villagers of Le Chambon


Russia and France have intensified their bombing of Raqqa. ISIL are rejoicing. This is the war they want, the violence they have provoked, whether or not they are the masterminds behind the bombings over Sinai, in Beirut and most recently in Paris.

 

They want violence to bring in their caliphate. When the West obliges by responding with violence to its violence, the West is playing into its hands. Fighting fire with fire means that everyone gets burnt.

 

9781742376141I’ve been encouraged in the last few days reading A Good Place to Hide, where Peter Grose tells the story of ‘How one French community saved thousands of lives in World War II’. The village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon and its neighbours in the surrounding mountainous area hid Jews and others on the run. A small regional railway was the main access to the village which boasted a number of modest boarding houses that had been built for ‘healthy Protestant family holidays’. The village was surrounded by remote farmhouses, many of whom were willing to secrete Jews in their attics or cellars or barns, sometimes for weeks, sometimes for the duration of the war.

 

Le Chambon is near the Swiss border, and the people of the village opened up a ‘pipeline’ smuggling Jews into neutral Switzerland. Teenagers became expert ‘passeurs’, people-smugglers, risking their lives for others.

 

This whole operation which saved probably 3,000 Jews, more than Schindler’s List, had its heart in the network of Protestant pastors in the Plateau area. The Huguenot people had a history of sheltering dissidents, whether they were Protestant, Catholics or Jews, and those displaced by World War II were equally welcomed and hid or smuggled out.

 

The pastor at Le Chambon, André Trocmé, made known his views on non-violence from the beginning of the war. Pastor Trocmé believed that even against the evils of the Nazi regime the only weapons allowed to Christians are the ‘weapons of the Spirit’. Even when the Resistance began to form around him, Trocmé continued to speak out for non-violent methods, including openly protecting foreign Jews and others wanted by the Gestapo. He agreed to go into hiding only when he was persuaded that staying would likely result in a violent Gestapo attack on his family.

 

The story of Trocmé, his colleagues and parishioners, is inspiring for our time.

 

We are daily being tempted to back the rush to more and more violence. Pastor Trocmé provides an example of someone who consistently refused to go along with violence as a solution to violent provocation.

 

We are daily being encouraged to pull the welcome mat away from vulnerable asylum seekers. ‘Maybe they are more a security risk than we first thought.’ The people of Le Chambon reminds us that there are only people – not Muslims or Jews or Christians – to be welcomed to our place.

 

When the Gestapo came to arrest Trocmé, he wasn’t home. His wife offered them a meal while they waited. They looked for opportunities to see the occupiers as human beings too, even when it made them unpopular with other French people. We cannot excuse or overlook the wanton violence of ISIL, but maybe we can see that those being radicalised are gawky young men looking for a place to belong – not monsters.

 

It suits the politicians to ramp up the fear following Beirut and Paris. But it suits ISIL more. We Christians need cool heads to not be caught up in the fear and so fuel the violence: remember André Trocmé and the villagers of Le Chambon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My open letter to the Hon. Julie Bishop MHR


Dear Ms Bishop

I am presumptuously early in congratulating you both on your election, the Coalition’s accession to Government and your appointment as our Foreign Minister. But I do wish you well in representing all of us in the wider world.

Like you, I am appalled by the use by the Assad regime of chemical weapons. I am appalled that they should use such inhumane weapons and I am dumbfounded that they should use them against their own people.

I agree that the rest of the world cannot sit by and by silence condone their use.

However, I cannot see the logical step by which President Obama and the Australian Government believe that the appropriate punitive response is a response of force. A military response, apart from the illegality of attacking a sovereign nation that is not attacking us, reduces us to the level of the Assad government.

Non-violent response to the use of chemical weapons makes a more powerful and far more ethical statement. The rest of the world should not bomb, strafe or murder Syrians. Rather we should

° firstly state our opposition and disgust in response to the Assad regime’s actions through diplomatic channels.

° Secondly the West should better target humanitarian aid so that the real victims of the civil war can at least survive in safety. Standing by the least powerful Syrians, whether in refugee camps or cowering in suburbs in Damascus or Aleppo is a strong condemnation of the war.

° Thirdly the world can use mass media and social media inside and beyond Syria to condemn the actions of the Assad government. Humiliating a tyrant with words is more effective than killing his cousins, which only inflames the situation.

As our future Foreign Minister, Ms Bishop, please avoid adding to blood-shed by urging the world to act ethically and non-violently.

Yours sincerely

(The Rev’d) Ted Witham
Busselton

Episcopal theologian Frank Kirkpatrick has a similar take on Huffington Post.

Six Complaints about “Boat-People”


Asylum seekers arrive at Christmas Island

I’ve heard many complaints about boat-people in the past few weeks, no doubt fuelled by the inflammatory statements of some politicians. Here are six of those complaints with my response to them. For each of the complaints there is,  I think, an underlying and unnecessary fear. I have listed these as well because I believe that our community will not begin to resolve these issues unless we listen intently to these fears and reassure people of our safety.

Click on the link below to open a PDF file:

6 THINGS ABOUT BOAT-PEOPLE

Enough Law and Order


Politicians, particularly conservative politicians, are constantly talking up the need for more police and more prison places, and generally being tougher on crime. They are being dishonest and they know it. These campaigns are based on cultivating fear, and have nothing to do with the real situation.

The Hon. Christine Wheeler QC is a former judge of the Supreme Court of Western Australia who is trying to promote constructive public debate about crime. In a recent article, she lists these facts:

former Justice Christine Wheeler

The facts
• Most people think the crime rate is higher than it is, especially for violent offences, and overestimate the likelihood of becoming victims themselves;
• Crime is believed to be increasing, when it is on the whole decreasing;
• Rates of imprisonment in WA are very high, by world and Australian standards, and going up;
• Imprisonment costs the community a lot of money;
• Imprisonment generally does not prevent crime, and may tend to increase it;
• There are effective ways to prevent crime, and to treat many criminals, and people generally would like to see more expenditure in these directions; and
• When ordinary people, including victims of crime, are given all the facts of an offence (as opposed to a brief media report) they generally think the sentence imposed by the court is either about right, or a bit harsh. That is, current sentencing is far from “soft”.

Uniview, The University of Western Australia, Summer 2011-12, page 38

The impression that the media gives is that 50% of crimes involve violence: only about 7% do. This means that people overestimate their risk of being victims of crime. Women and the elderly are the least likely to be victims of crime, but their worry about their vulnerability is affecting their quality of life.

Imprisoning people actually increases the crime rate. When someone goes to prison, they meet other prisoners, they lose their relationships and their jobs. People who have nothing to lose are not deterred by the threat of imprisonment, so they re-offend, causing greater crowding in the prisons. The management of over-crowded prisons creates difficulties that are totally unnecessary. It seems that the more over-crowded the prison, the higher the per prisoner cost to the taxpayer. Currently according to Ms Justice Wheeler the annual cost for each prisoner is about $100,000. “In broad terms,” she writes, “for every extra year an offender is imprisoned, there is one less teacher or nurse or police officer the state is able to employ.”

Mental ill-health and drug and alcohol consumption are major issues in violent crime. There are too few treatment options for offenders coming before the courts. Investment in mental health would reduce crime, as would any measures aimed at reducing alcohol consumption.

Media reporting on crime is designed to heighten our awareness of crime, because the nature of the media is to focus on the drama. In addition, police rounds journalists report stories of three or four crimes in succession and this adds to the false impression of the quantity of crime.

Of course sympathy for victims of crime and outrage at violence are appropriate responses to individual crimes; but the next time you hear a politician claim that Western Australia has a law and order problem, call them and tell them they are lying.