Archive for the Politics Category

Religious Education in UK Schools‏

Posted in Opinion, Politics on January 3, 2016 by Barrie Suddery

Following a recent BBC article stating that the UK Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, had advised that schools in England do not need to give non-religious views “equal air time” and should continue to teach pupils that the UK is a principally Christian country, I have written to my local MP, Alun Cairns to express my concerns over this:

Sir,

I am writing to express my concern regarding the Education Secretary’s recent statements expressing her view that schools in England don’t need to give non-religious views equal time in the curriculum and that should continue to teach that the UK is a mainly Christian country. 

I regard this as a patently false and divisive statement given the multi-cultural make up of the nation and on-going religious tensions in various communities which will only serve to further the rise of so-called faith schools and further the divisions in our society at a time when we need to be looking for ways to unite the country. As a Humanist with nieces and nephews currently going through school, I am adamant that they need to learn about other faiths as well as non-religious Atheist/Humanist views in order that they can properly appreciate the multi-cultural and multi-faith make up of our county. In addition, they need to be able to decide of their own accord what to believe in and can only do that, with the fullest details and facts available to them in accordance with the UK’s commitments under the 1948 UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights which guarantees citizens the right to choose and/or change their beliefs.
Whilst I have no objection to Ms. Morgan holding and expressing her religious views, as is her right, I do object to her, or anyone in government, allowing policy to be governed or influenced by those views.  I therefore would like clarification from you on the following points:
  1. Whether or not these guidelines apply to Welsh schools.
  2. That the government will immediately review these guidelines to ensure that all faith/non-faith views are covered in R.E. classes.
  3. That the government is committed to the principle of the separation of Church and State.
  4. That the government is committed to the representation of all sections of the community.
  5. That Ministers are required to keep their personal views separate from their duties.
  6. Whether or not the law makes any provision for the separation of Church and State.

I received the following reply from my MP:

Dear Mr Suddery, 

Thank you very much for taking the time to contact me about religious education in schools. 

As you may be aware, much of this policy is devolved and the Welsh Government has responsibility for this area here in Wales. As a result, the UK Government is not able to intervene directly on this matter. However, I do appreciate your concern for the wider issue and have therefore spoken to other UK Ministerial colleagues to raise this issue directly. 

I agree that Religious Education is important for pupils’ understanding of the rich diversity of faiths and communities in the UK and their part in shaping the values and traditions of this country. As a result, it is rightly a statutory part of the basic curriculum, although the syllabus is not set by Government. 

Academies are free to set their own curriculum, under the terms of their funding arrangements; while Local Authorities set the curriculum for their schools through their Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education. Syllabuses must reflect that the religious traditions in Great Britain are, in the main, Christian while taking into account the teaching and practices of there other principal religions represented in the UK, including non-religious viewpoints. This model enables the needs and understanding of all cultures to develop.  I am frustrated that the Welsh Government have rejected the Academy approach.  

I hope this information is helpful and thank you once again for taking the time to raise this issue. 

Yours, 

Alun Cairns MP

Vale of Glamorgan

Please Read

Posted in Opinion, Politics, War News on August 14, 2011 by Barrie Suddery

Many of us here in Britain have long suspected that the bank bailouts combined with the MP’s expenses scandal and the general me, me, me attitude long promoted by politicians of all parties and persuasions would eventually cause some serious social upheaval.

Now it’s happened, the politicians and cops are simply using mindless platitudes like, “It’s unacceptable behaviour” and “gross criminality” to describe the recent riots and their participants.

A lot of this is simply playing to the gallery of public opinion and a lot more is to reassure the politicians financial backers that they’re still at the forefront of government concern. Obviously, if you put any of the above to any politician you’ll be immediately dismissed as either sadly misinformed, out of touch with reality or sympathising with criminals.

Fortunately, we have a long tradition of comedians and satirists holding government to account and exposing the truth of situations in a way many of us are simply unable to articulate.

With this article in the online Guardian newspaper, we can add Russell Brand to that list.

Please read: http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/aug/11/london-riots-davidcameron

Osama bin Laden: World Hide and Seek Champion 2001-2011

Posted in Opinion, Politics on May 2, 2011 by Barrie Suddery

Today U.S. special forces raided the al-Qaeda leaders’ compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan and shot him dead as he resisted capture.

I’m glad that the worlds’ number one terrorist is now dead, but I would have preferred it if he could have been taken alive instead. The reason for this is that Islamic fundamentalists will now regard bin Laden as a martyr and raise him up as a god-like figure.

If the U.S. had been able to take him alive, he could have been put on trial and shown to the world as the pathetic man he really is. He could have had his day in court and in doing so discredit al-Qaeda with his fundamentalist ranting. I’ve often said that it’s not enough for us to say we’re better than them, we have to be better than them. Giving bin Laden the full rights guaranteed him under the law, ensuring he had a free and impartial trial would have been a great way to prove that our ways do work. Even though our ways are far from perfect, they’re far better than those offered by the fundamentalist cause; whether it’s Muslim, Jewish, Christian or other religious fundamentalism.

Having said all of that, I offer my sincerest congratulations to the U.S. special forces who carried out this spectacular operation with no casualties on their side and removed one of the biggest threats to world peace to have arisen since the fall of Communism.

Tony Blair: Traitor or Fool?

Posted in Opinion, Politics on January 21, 2011 by Barrie Suddery

I’ve just seen a report on Channel 4 news about Tony Blair’s second appearance before the Iraq War Inquiry.

During the session, Mr. Blair reiterated his belief that the removal of Saddam Hussein was a good and necessary thing and that while he felt regret for the lives lost on all sides, it didn’t change his fundamental attitude towards the war and its outcome.

I wasn’t in the least bit surprised by this as Mr. Blair hasn’t shown any indication of self-doubt nor has he accepted even the possibility of his having made a mistake. Furthermore, in a written statement to the Inquiry, Mr. Blair stated that the removal of the Hussein regime was a moral act that transcended international law and that military intervention was often a moral requirement of the civilised world.

A typical messianic attitude.

This last strikes me as particularly hypocritical as Mr. Blair never argued for the removal of Robert Mugabe or for the liberation of Tibet, or for the removal, by force if necessary, of Russian troops from Georgia. Instead, he limited himself to simple platitudes about Human rights and the right of sovereign nations to independence. In all of these cases, and in a great many others, the argument has always been that nations must behave toward one another pragmatically and that the West isn’t the policeman of the world. Obviously, part of this argument stems from the fact that both the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China are nuclear powers.

The fact that the cases above involved countries that are of  little to no military, political or economic interest to the West, I believe, also played a large part in the lack of any punitive action. As stated in my previous post, when faced with a choice between adhering to moral principles and making money, most governments will come down on the side of economics every time.

A cynical attitude? Yes, but one based on the actions of western leaders from both sides of the political divide since the dawn of Human civilisation. Money has always trumped morality.

During his testimony, it became clear that Mr. Blair committed the U.K. to war even before the U.N. weapons inspectors had finished their work, telling George W. Bush that Britain would stand by them in the event of war. Now, some might say that this is exactly what a good ally would say and others that such a statement simply helped to convince the Bush administration (which was leery about committing the U.S. to going to war alone because that brings up memories of Vietnam for the general public and would therefore be politically unacceptable) that they didn’t need to wait and that pushing for a second U.N. resolution was something to be done simply for show. In any event, it’s yet another example of Mr. Blair forgetting, or not caring about, the fact that he was supposed to be working for Britain’s best interests, not those of the U.S.

From 2001 on, it seemed as though Mr. Blair was working as the American prime minister instead of as ours. One example is the (now thankfully defunct) 2003 extradition treaty between the U.K. and the U.S. The main thrust of this revised treaty was that the U.S. would no longer have to provide prima facie evidence of a crime having been committed; they would simply have to ask for someone and they’d get them. This treaty was supposed to have worked both ways which would have allowed the U.K. security services to finally question the many U.S. citizens they suspect of having provided funds for the I.R.A. over the last 30 years,  however while the U.K. parliament moved quickly to ratify this treaty and make it law, Congress in America just couldn’t seem to find the time to do the same.

Now that’s all well and good, but for some reason the Blair administration decided to proceed with the extradition of British nationals under the terms of this treaty, which I find confusing as it is my understanding that, under international law, treaties between nations do not become legally binding unless and until said treaty has been ratified by the legislative body of all of the treaty’s signatories. In other words, we would have been well within our rights to do what our new coalition government has done: suspend this treaty until the U.S. congress ratifies it into American law and levels the playing field for American and British citizens alike. Mr Blair and his administration chose not to do that effectively reducing us to the status of second-class citizens in our own home.

If that’s not treason, then what is it?

Also it must be stated that the U.S. rush to war with Iraq is one of the main reasons for the subsequent disastrous occupation that followed in which looting was rampant and massive amounts of weapons and explosives were cached ready for use by insurgents. The Iraqi army was not defeated, they simply put up a token fight to buy time for the insurgency to prepare. During all of this, there were many disturbing statements being made by top officials in the Bush administration, about how they expected to be greeted as liberators and that Iraqi democracy would immediately come into being. They clearly didn’t know or care that Iraq has almost no history of democracy and that, as I stated in my previous post, most people in Islamic countries tend to pay more attention to their religious leaders than their political ones. Most notable was a statement by then Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld, who said that he expected the coalition army to be “in and out in a couple of weeks.”

These frankly, naive or ignorant (take your pick) statements should have made the Blair administration nervous about what they were getting our troops into. They should have double-checked to make sure the U.S. had a post-invasion plan and they should have made one for themselves in any event just in case.

The fact that during the last Gulf War a fifth of British casualties were caused by friendly fire incidents perpetrated by U.S. forces should also have made them think twice, especially since such incidents in Afghanistan would seem to suggest that the U.S. military hasn’t changed any of its procedures or attitudes. Granted, there’s a great deal of confusion inherent to any battlefield, but we British have managed to almost stop blue-on-blue incidents through the implementation of strict rules of engagement which require our forces to hold their fire until they have:

  1. Checked to see if the target is a legitimate one as defined by Queen’s Regulations, the Articles of War and whatever operating procedures are governing the particular operation they’re on.
  2. Checked to see if their weapon fire will hit the target and only the target. If they’re not positive they are under standing orders to “bring the weapons home.”

It should be noted that the above rules of engagement were quoted to a T.V. reporter by an R.A.F. pilot on duty in Iraq.

U.S. forces it seems, are still operating under the doctrine of force protection, implemented after the Vietnam War and which requires them to put their own safety first. This strikes me as cowardice masquerading as strategy; surely soldiers are supposed to protect other people, not themselves?

All of this should have made Mr. Blair ask some searching questions of his American colleagues and yet all we got out of him was one rousing defence of the U.S. after another.

Are Mr. Blair’s religious beliefs playing any role in this constant groveling?

A devout Catholic, he has frequently stated his belief that America is a force for good in the world and that any missteps by the U.S. are easily compensated for by the benefits the U.S. brings to the world.

The question is what are the benefits? What is Britain getting out of this alliance anymore?

Aside from an increase in Islamic fundamentalist terrorism, it’s difficult to see why Britain shouldn’t start distancing itself from the U.S. as we did during the Vietnam War. The atrocities committed by the U.S. in Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib and the fact that the Americans seem to regard the law as a flexible construct to be used only when it suits their purpose and tossed aside when it does not (the justifications used by Dick Cheney for waterboarding for example) seem to indicate that our two nations no longer have anything moral in common.

That being the case, maybe we should get well clear of the U.S. while we can before people start tarring us with the same brush.

It is obvious that time hasn’t cooled Mr. Blair’s fervour either. During his testimony he called on the West to stop its “wretched posture of apology” toward Iran and be prepared to use force to deal with the current Iranian regime.

“At some point, and I say this to you with all the passion I possibly can, the west has got to get out of this wretched posture of apology for believing that we are responsible for what the Iranians are doing, or what these extremists are doing.

“We are not … they are doing it because they disagree fundamentally with our way of life and they will carry on doing it unless they are met by the requisite determination and, if necessary, force.”

I agree that al-Qaeda would still be committed to a global jihad, but I simply cannot accept that our actions over the last decade in the Middle East haven’t contributed to the anti-western hatred felt by Muslims the world over. It’s obvious to everyone, except Mr. Blair, that our actions have stoked Muslim anger and that by refusing to acknowledge this, we’re simply making things worse.

Tony Blair has always struck me as a particularly intelligent man and yet when I listen to him make statements like the one above, I have to wonder if that first impression was completely wrong. It’s clear that I was swept up by his smooth talking and optimistic rhetoric and that if the British electorate had known then that he was himself a religious fundamentalist like George W. Bush and Osama bin-Laden we’d have never voted for him.

Now I begin to understand how the people of 1930’s Germany were swept away by Hitler’s rhetoric and promises. It sounded all so good at the time and we’re only now realising just how badly we’ve been duped.

But duped by whom?

Does Tony Blair truly believe, as he seems to, that America is the ordained of God?

Does he truly believe that they can do no wrong and that we should all think, feel and be like them? That we should at all times and in all cases do as they do?

Or has he himself been duped? By his religion, which requires total obedience to what the Vatican says is the will of God? By the Americans whose optimism is, I can tell you from my own – admittedly limited – experience,  enthralling and extremely appealing?

Or could it be that he really is that stupid?

Is Tony Blair a traitor or a fool?

Democracy Abroad

Posted in Opinion, Politics on January 20, 2011 by Barrie Suddery

I just saw an interesting report on Channel 4 news here in the U.K. by their International Editor Lindsey Hilsum on contemporary Chinese students views of themselves, their country and what they think of the way China is viewed and treated by the rest of the world.

You can read the report and see the footage shot on the Channel 4 news World Blogs’ post, but I want to take this time to express my opinions on China, the value of democracy and how (and indeed if) the West should be trying to export it to the rest of the world.

This last might be a bit confusing to some readers but, I’ve always believed that if a people want a democratic regime in their country then they will eventually force their old leaders out and institute democratic reforms through a popular uprising such as happened throughout the former Eastern Bloc countries after the collapse of Russian communism and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Granted, such uprisings are invariably bloody affairs, but I believe that such events are an accurate gauge of just how badly the people want a change. After all, if they give up at the first sign of a government crackdown then the regime in question will never be changed. Governments in all countries tend to operate only in matters of convenience, not conscience even in democratic countries with purported beliefs in Human rights; witness the total lack of any prospect at intervention or regime change in Zimbabwe or the refusal to criticise Russia too much for its aggression toward Georgia or the fact that western nations complaints about Chinese Human rights violations tend to vanish into thin air whenever trade comes up.

By continuing their disobedience, even in the face of a police or army crackdown, the people are demonstrating their determination and desire for change and that they will not be easily silenced eg. the uprising in Tunisia. But if they back down at the first sign of trouble, we in the West can take it as a sign that democracy isn’t something they really want and that military intervention on our part would be a waste of time.

For example, in Iraq and indeed a great many Islamic countries, religion matters more to them than democracy. For example, the coalition forces in Iraq have spent a great deal of time trying to win the support of the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani knowing that if he were to publicly support the U.S. led occupation most, if not all of the insurgents would cease fighting. However, if he were to publicly oppose the coalition armies, then things would get much worse indeed. Simply put, Muslims tend to value the word of their religious leaders more than their political ones which is why in Islamic countries the idea of the separation of church and state is widely ridiculed.

Also, it must be said that democratic countries haven’t exactly been doing a good job of living by the principles they preach.

Firstly, George W. Bush and the Republican party stole the elections which gave him his two disastrous terms of office and even after the facts about this were revealed, nothing was done. Indeed, the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court intervened in the Florida state recount and ordered the democratic process to be stopped and that there was hardly any public outcry, pretty much makes a mockery of the American people’s supposed love of democracy. Also, the fact that in the last 20 years, election day turnout in the U.S. has plummeted to around 23-25%, raises a serious question.

In a country whose system of government is based on the premise of majority rule, how can any administration, Democrat, Republican or otherwise claim to have a mandate from the people if the majority didn’t vote?

Secondly, the fact that the majority of people here in Britain were, and still are, opposed to our involvement in the 2003 invasion of Iraq and were completely ignored by the Blair administration again makes a mockery of the central premise behind democracy: majority rule.

At the time, Tony Blair justified his actions with platitudes such as, “Leaders have to lead and do what they think is best for their country.” Sorry Tony, but democracy means doing what the people think is best because this is our country and we elect governments to represent us and what we want to the rest of the world. I do hope the Iraq War Inquiry takes him apart tomorrow but I doubt it. As journalist and satirist Ian Hislop pointed out about Mr. Blairs’ last appearance before the Inquiry, “The only man trained in the cross-examination of witnesses was the one testifying!”

That last isn’t a direct quote from Mr. Hislop, but it conveys what he was saying at the time.

I would also like to point out that the main reason the British Empire collapsed is because we spent centuries forcing our views and beliefs on to other people who weren’t in the least bit interested. We did this because, at the time, we thought we were the be-all-and-end-all of Human civilisation and couldn’t imagine any other nation overtaking us.

Sound like anyone we know today?

The Americans have yet to learn that there is no such thing as a benevolent empire and whether they like it or not, hardly anyone sees things the way they do, or cares about the things they do. That’s why they’re almost always being out voted in international bodies such as the U.N.

From the collapse of Empire, we British have learned, if nothing else, how not to treat people; that it is not our place to tell others how to live, think, feel or what to believe. At least that’s what I’ve learned.

I remember my father telling me about the time he was living in Iran working in a power station northwest of Tehran. He told me that Iran does have elections but that, “they’re not exactly free and fair.” Now this shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, nor should the fact that many Iranians want to change to a democratic system of government. What may surprise you, is that my fathers’ co-workers often said the West should intervene as they did in Iraq to which my father replied, “No. This is your country, you have to do it yourselves. Every time we get involved it just turns to shit.”

That pretty much sums up my philosophy. If the Chinese or any other people want to overthrow their current system of government, then they must do the work themselves. Partly so that everyone else can see that it’s what they truly want, as stated above, but mainly because it’s not our place to tell others what to do and whenever we try, it pretty much always blows up in our faces. Obviously that’s not always the case; Bosnia and Kosovo spring immediately to mind, but these seem to be the exceptions proving the rule.

If todays’ Chinese are content to keep their current system of government and politics then that, ironically, is a democratic decision they’ve made that we in the West should respect. If they don’t care, if they believe (as I’ve heard some Chinese students say) that the protesters at the Tiananmen Square protests were wrong because democratic reform would jeopardise China’s economic growth, then all we can do is wish them well.