In observing the current and on-going ethno-religious turf ‘war’ between Israel and the forces of Hamas in the Gaza strip, who can blame Gaza? Well, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks apparently, who let slip on air that he believed the violence has ‘got to do with Iran, actually’, proceeding to immediately contradict this statement by insisting ‘no one gains from violence, not the Palestinians and not the Israeli’s’. If the latter were true then what would Iran gain from getting involved, or as Sacks is probably implying, providing Hamas with weaponry?
The common remark in the press by all sides is that a nation of peoples has the right to defend itself against attack. One of the many problems with this dispute though begins when we try to assess who, in playground terms ‘started it’, and whether they were justified. Another problem is that the more a population of displaced Palestinians grows, according to Wikipedia by 3.2% each year, the more tension and bloodshed the overspill will cause, as will almost certainly happen on the West Bank over the next few years. A further complication is that the international bodies of the UN and the EU do not want to be seen as supporting Hamas, the Sunni Islamist political party regarded as a terrorist organisation, who in all likelihood would create an Islamic Muslim Brotherhood state if they gained the appropriating land – even if their current ‘plight’ is a political one. See, it’s hard to even know which terminology to use.
I believe this last issue is a problem shared by many commentators who cannot bring themselves to condemn the Zionist occupation of Israel against a militant Islamist regime, the likes of whom are damaging the prospect of cultural peace and progression in Syria, Egypt, Pakistan, often forgetting the poor (literally) Palestinian citizens in the process. In these matters Israel is clearly not the liberal peaceful, terrorist-fighting secure state it claims to be, shown by its obsession to retain the Holy Land of Jerusalem as pure from the Arabs and often use ancient history to justify their occupation (evidence which is, anyway, inconclusive as far as archaeology is concerned. This is testified through my sister’s own experiences in Israel and this senior Israeli archaeologist: http://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/2705-senior-israeli-archaeologist-casts-doubt-on-jewish-heritage-of-jerusalem). Far from a liberal agenda, Israel always conscripts its teenagers to fight for the Army in constant preparation.
Another furry aspect surrounding this battle and the Jewish Question at large, is the ethnic versus religious debate, which is why I suspect observers are so hesitant to condemn the Zionist Jews (if they don’t). Unlike Islam which claims to be universal (and Hamas would probably like to see Islamism in place right across from the ‘Jordan to the Mediterranean’), Judaism is for a place and a people. We need to be sure this is a political quarrel and not just a religious one and meanwhile condemn the abhorrent idea of a state designed for only one ethnicity and religion based on Biblical folk tales, which date back thousands of years.
Again, one can’t over-emphasize that it is the citizens who suffer eternally in this despicable conflict, with Sky News claiming that over 20 Palestinians have been killed since Wednesday, with 3 Israeli deaths. The reckless retaliation of Hamas to the initial Israeli attack a few days ago is certainly going to further harm the citizens of Gaza, whilst underground bunks are being prepared in Tel Aviv (a city which is very culturally developed). These problems which I’ve outlined detail partly why this issue is so contentious; the war within the war in Gaza, the citizens of which are constantly punished and degraded at ‘home’ and in ‘Jewish’ territory – read Chomsky’s recent account – the confusion over the Zionist conquest, who started the fight this time round, who is supplying all of the weapons, etc. It is a desperate situation which may require a desperate solution. As someone I follow on WordPress stated a week before the latest outburst, ‘The violence between both parties has become so cyclical it shows no sign of stopping unless there is a radical change in dialogue between them’ (http://ozkaterji.wordpress.com/2012/11/08/94/).
I can’t profess to say much more on this news because I feel as though I don’t know anything like enough about it, nor do I have friends or any colleagues in Israel or Gaza to provide insight. Hopefully the communities keep going. I am tempted to quote former British PM David Lloyd George on the First World War, that ‘If people really knew the truth, the war would be stopped tomorrow’. As we continue to search for a solution which evidently won’t be a two-state one, the dark smoke clouds will also continue to obscure the horizon in this small part of the middle-east. Symbolic, or what?
The question ‘can philosophers make a difference in the world?’ is overbearing in its demand for a simple or common empirical explanation. In truth, the question should be rephrased as whether ‘thoughts’ can make a difference and as anyone could tell you, they surely do to an unquantifiable extent, particularly when actions are determined by these thoughts. One such zeitgeist in social philosophy was personified through Bertrand Russell in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, who led marches with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament to Trafalgar Square and personally sent telegrams to President John F. Kennedy and senior Soviet Communist leader Nikita Khrushchev, warning them of the potential domino effect a full scale confrontation between Cuba and the USA would have worldwide. The ‘anti-nuclear war’ stance was finally accepted as the best condition by the parties concerned after a two week standoff, achieving victory for Lord Russell’s political premise and ending the first serious nuclear incident since Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
A generation on and fifty years of globalization later, we are faced with a new global predicament. The advancement of technology has rendered the rarefied cable communication via telegram redundant, making the Russell’s of the world significantly quieter in an electronic media frenzy of Twitter, instant messaging and information uploading. But these transformations have also undoubtedly helped increase the rate of production and trade, including in the energy, arms and weapons department. Long term, nations will have to work together for the slightly daunting prospect of combating climate change (regardless of its source), but in the short term we must work on the nuclear question which has almost come full circle, with the increasing threats of war between the US and Iran and Israel and Iran. The idea that the dark armies of theocracy are constructing such a monstrous threat whilst we are asleep almost permeates our deep soul, if we can profess to have such a thing, and it’s hard to not feel lost in a wave of helplessness or passivity.
What can be done? It seems we need more signatories to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) – something which removes us (The West) from the objective standpoint some like to take who accuse the entire world of being a sort of moral level playing field – and perhaps a louder throat-clearing from the United Nations. But then we come down to that old conundrum: can we fight aggression with aggression? Putting this aside for one moment, it seems there are some things which can be achieved to help prevent or slow down the possibility of a large scale disaster. Australia, who have one of the world’s largest natural sources of uranium (according to John Pilger a couple of weeks ago), a crucial ingredient in the development of nuclear weapons, has just done a trade deal with India (perhaps to help boost their economy which suffered a great setback in the midst of a power crisis last year) to sell them Uranium, clearly ignoring the fact that they are non-signatories of the NPT. Neither is the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, a country already harbouring large Taliban groups; the mind boggles at what Australia is playing at, or with as this case may be.
If Pakistan becomes aggressively involved with India, it seems likely that Iran and Lebanon could follow suit and trigger a nuclear arms race which would make Cuba seem like a measly thumb war, compared to the full scale arm wrestle of international nuclear conflict. The potential collision between the messianic and apocalyptic religiosity of these Islamic states and the nuclear fissions is probably the most alarming aspect and something which separates our times from the last. The Red Army had a communist agenda which was defeated in part, in Asia and the Middle-East by the forces later to become Islamic republics; I remember reading somewhere that Osama Bin Laden claimed that the hard part of their struggle was ‘defeating the red army’ and that conquering the USA would be something akin to a walk in the park. The conflict between Western Democracy and Islamist dictatorship is an ideological one fuelled by religious convictions which are universally known to be deadly strong. This is not just about the political defeat of capitalism but the implication of the caliphate and they are almost complete with nuclear threat on their side.
Literary tradition has long had it that there is some connection with writing and the nuclear issue. The first to write perhaps influentially on the subject was, predictably George Orwell who penned You and the atom bomb in 1945, and who spoke of ‘how likely we all are to be blown to pieces by it within the next five years’. Perhaps the Russell’s and Orwell’s and other humanists need to speak up in the modern age to address the issue which will affect us all in the coming years. With Barack Obama as president for the next four years (to address my last piece!), the issue should hopefully be played out gently on the world stage, but the actions and reactions of the White House seem never far from escalating. We’re all keeping cool for the time being, and this is the best we can hope for to live day by day.
Moral arguments aside for a while, the British public (the major media publications would have you believe) are more surprised than they should be at the news of Jimmy Carr’s tax avoidance last week. I suspect this ‘outrage’, in which David Cameron has now been enjoined, is either just hypocritical (likely) or laced with insincerity (even more likely). After all, isn’t an Individual Savings Account (ISA) an aspiration of most of the middle-class in this country? Using Cameron’s moral compass, his own profession ought to be dammed and disowned following the Parliamentary expenses scandal of 2009, which was recently reignited after Baroness Warsi’s claims in May. Excusing the pun, I think the words on everyone’s lips are it’s a bit rich coming from them.
Of course Carr is totally within his legal (and arguably, moral) entitlement to partake in this scheme. Another reason Cameron is wrong to denounce his behaviour is because it is his own government which allowed it to happen. The law is in place to reflect a moral consciousness, and so while it may seem an obvious point, if the law permits Carr to take part in a tax avoidance scheme, he is not doing anything wrong. Our politicians must revise the rulebook if they want to make an ethical standpoint. Somehow I feel like the British collective knows this won’t really happen; one only has to see the tax havens the Monarchy is involved in and how many of them are British jurisdictions (Isle of Man, the Channel Islands, Bermuda, etc.) The billionaires and millionaires of the country of course want to keep schemes such as the K1 and one can’t help feel it is the familiarity of Carr’s name which has spurred the lynch mob. Those who we have never heard of, perhaps earning their money through the equally morally vacant betting industry or maybe property dollars, are likely the real winners from tax avoidance. Comparatively lower earners, like Carr, are doing what countless others have since said they would do and surely, his biggest mistake was apologising. This is a point Carr could’ve have half-decently made. Resisting his usual reactionary prose, Peter Hitchens is nonetheless right when he says ‘I don’t qualify for, and so don’t use, the obvious get-outs. But am I guilty if I take out an ISA (a form of tax avoidance) or set a charitable donation against tax? Certainly not.’ Once more, as shown, hypocrisy ensues.
The moral bedrock argument – which is what the whole fuss is really about – is relevant only when discussing the ideological basis for taxation. I think it is morally right to pay tax, and the higher your earnings, the more tax you should pay. Billy Bragg makes the astute point that a comparison to tax avoiders and benefit scroungers is baseless as those avoiding tax are motivated by greed, and those taking welfare do it through a need (‘I know which side I’m on: Help the needy, not the greedy’). It must be right to disregard a consequentialist comparison between the two as the motivation and reason is the significant criteria by which to judge these two actions as moral/immoral. Carr cannot avoid being at least a schemer and naturally, avoiding these legal loopholes to get around tax is a noble path to follow. It would be refreshing to see figures such as him lead a proper and decent conduct. But David Cameron’s response of turning pink and blue is a cynical front, which we know and accept in 2012 – when really, he should’ve been turning green.