Archive for May, 2016


Pro-choice movement in Poland is taking on church and state

Why are so many Polish women turning their backs on the Catholic Church?

People protest in Gdansk against Polish government plans to tighten anti-abortion laws. Photograph: Michal Fludra/Gallo Images Poland/Getty ImagesPeople protest in Gdansk against Polish government plans to tighten anti-abortion laws. Photograph: Michal Fludra/Gallo Images Poland/Getty Images

On April 3rd, the Middle Ages engaged in an unusual skirmish with the 21st century in cities across Poland. During Sunday Mass in this overwhelmingly Catholic country, priests read their congregations a letter from the Polish episcopate calling for an unconditional ban on abortion.

Scores of women then walked out in protest, their exodus filmed in famous churches such as St Mary’s Basilica in Gdansk and St Anne’s Church in Warsaw.

Outside, thousands of women gathered on city streets and squares, listening to pro-choice speakers and holding up signs that flashed their opinions: “Hands off my uterus,” “No to torturing women,” “I’ll have a child when I want to.” They brandished coat hangers, an implement of dangerous self- induced abortion first politicised by American feminists in the 1960s.

These actions mark an extraordinary nationwide moment for Polish women and Polish Catholicism. I have been studying Polish culture since the 1980s, when the Catholic Church strived to be the true ally of the working class in a communist state. The 1978 election of a Polish pope, John Paul II, bolstered the rise of Solidarity, an independent trade union that eventually engendered several political parties in post-1989 Poland. The church produced martyrs for the people’s cause.

Compromise

The church wielded even greater authority over Polish society after the fall of communism, though that authority remained deeply patriarchal, with liberty and justice for some, not all. John Paul II stood tough against a corrupt communist system and initiated an important rapprochement between Catholics and Jews, but a campaign for women’s reproductive rights lay beyond his religious belief. This Polish pope subscribed fully to the Catholic doctrine that human life begins at conception. Abortion had been legal in communist Poland. In post-communist Poland, the church helped push through a “compromise” in 1993 – a law that allowed women to have abortions only in the case of rape, incest, severe foetal impairment and risk to the mother’s life.

Poland’s abortion law is one of the most restrictive in the world, yet was not ameliorated even after the country’s admission into the European Union in 2004.

Why, then, have so many Polish women turned their backs on the church in recent weeks? For six months, huge numbers of Poles have taken to the streets, protesting against an ever more repressive government. The conservative Law and Justice party, which won a clear majority in parliament last October, wasted no time pushing its nationalist agenda. It has defied the authority of the extant Polish constitution and the constitutional tribunal, placed a “leftist” public media under government control, distanced itself from the socially liberal policies of the EU and tarnished as traitors those who disagree with its anti-pluralist stance on virtually every issue ranging from sexuality to national self-criticism.

Now members of the Committee in Defence of Democracy, which numbers in the hundreds of thousands, march en masse in Polish cities almost every week, carrying signs and giving speeches.

Anti-abortion protests

Their efforts have provoked opposition, with anti-abortion protests springing up as well. Backed by the church, those protesters have called for a tightening of the abortion laws to allow abortion only when the woman’s life is in danger.

Polish Catholic women did not decide to walk out of church on April 3rd until the episcopate ordered priests to endorse Law and Justice legislation during Mass. The line separating church and state was expediently erased. A supposedly independent lobbying committee, Stop Abortion, collected the 100,000 signatures required to present the abortion ban Bill to parliament; only the church could approve such a Bill; and the all-Catholic Law and Justice party could only obey the church. Lest there be any opposition, the church enlisted its local representatives to tell the faithful how to vote.

This church-party strategy backfired, provoking rather than pre-empting opposition. A non-partisan group, Women for Women, formed on Face- book, gathering 100,000-plus members and organising protests and church walkouts. The opposition has picked up steam and plenty of left-wing political support, generating a new committee, Let’s Save Women, which proposes more radical legislative and educational reform.

Let’s Save Women has three months to collect the 100,000 signatures needed to propose its Bill “in support of women’s rights and informed parenting” – specifically, legalised abortion for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, Poles’ guaranteed access to contraceptives without a prescription, and mandatory sex education in the schools. Supporters of Let’s Save Women insist they will not accept a church-run government – the result being a contentious battle between theocracy and secular democracy in 21st-century Poland.

Beth Holmgren is a professor of Slavic and Eurasian Studies at Duke University

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We Built That – How Anti-Muslim Rhetoric Created the Very Thing We Say We Fear
 
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We Built That – How Anti-Muslim Rhetoric Created the Very Thing We Say We Fear

A recent article by retired U.S. Army General and former CIA director David Petraeus published over on Stars and Stripes hits the proverbial nail on the head when it comes to the absolute immorality of anti-Muslim rhetoric in our Armed Forces and on American soil – not to mention the inadvisability, recklessness, and downright idiocy of alienating those who are our allies.

This isn’t new – in 2011, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), of which I am Founder and President, helped expose the fact that for 20 years chaplains at Vandenberg Air Force Base used “Christian Just War Theory” to train those directly in charge of launching nuclear missiles (“Jesus Nukes”). New Testament scriptures were used to assure that these young, impressionable officers were willing to turn the key to initiate nuclear Armageddon for Jesus Christ. The overwhelming majority of MRFF’s clients on that matter were Christians. (In fact, for situational awareness purposes, MRFF’s client totals currently number in excess of 45,400 armed forces and veteran personnel, about 96% of whom are practicing Protestants or Roman Catholics. Additionally, MRFF represents slightly more than 16% of all Muslim-Americans in the U.S. military and 912 LGBT armed forces and veteran members.)

For we do have allies – both foreign and domestic – who are still willing to work with, and for, our country despite our “Christian” nation’s vitriolic aggression towards even our own citizens who dare choose a faith other than the narrow version of Christianity that the Evangelical Dominionists espouse. However, if the powers that be insist on condoning the daily assault – verbal, mental, emotional and often physical – of these men and women, you can count on the result being more hatred, more fear, and more schisms within the ranks of our own military and our relationships with allies abroad.

The ONLY thing that this despicable behavior accomplishes is to make the problem, which it purports so wide eyed and innocently to be against, into an even worse reality. The three E’s apply – by painting Muslims with a single brush of “other” (and all of the inherent fear we Americans tend to imbue that concept with), we do the following:

  • Eviscerate good order, morale, discipline, unit cohesion, military readiness and mission accomplishment in our own troops,
  • Enrage our Islamic allies – both foreign and domestic, and
  • Embolden our Islamic enemies, who use this hate to fuel hate in return and to recruit fresh fighters into their ranks.

In fact, the so-called “resurgence of terrorism” over the past two decades can be largely laid squarely at the feet of our own nation when it comes to extremist Islamic groups like Al Qaeda, ISIS, and the Taliban. Yes, you heard that right. So very much of what is out there, we created; either indirectly with hate speech and discrimination or directly with actual funds, tanks, and guns – and we continue to foster the hate, the fear, the distrust and the rage even among our own ranks by treating anyone who isn’t a staunch Born Again believer in the special fundamentalist version of Jesus as an automatic enemy to be despised and maligned.

What happens when all of the discourse regarding Muslims both at home and abroad is couched in terms that divide, denigrate, demean, demoralize, and degrade? It should be so incredibly obvious – any contact with Muslims then turns into a crusade. Either we can (charitably and condescendingly) “save” them, or we can call them out as “the enemy” – and in doing so, ensure the very event we predict will surely come to pass. One of the fastest ways to turn someone into a terrorist is to treat them like one, after all.

And the tenth crusade is exactly what this stultifying mess looks like. When the multitude of fervent pastors and fawning pundits and loudmouth politicians and self-serving military leaders refer to any conflict in nations with a different faith demographic as a “Religious War”, when “Jesus Rifles” are supplied with scripture inscribed sights; when the military condones, supports, and even encourages aggressive proselytizing from officers to their hapless subordinates, when a Special Forces unit OFFICIALLY recruits for a “Mission from God”; when the Pentagon sanctimoniously announces that “God is on our side”; when an area to be rebuilt in a primarily Islamic nation raises screams from those opposed to building much needed mosques, preferring erecting gratuitous Christian churches… when all of these things continue to happen, we not only cement the immoral and dangerous idea of “us and them” – we parade our false superiority and triumphalism like a brilliant banner, and we put the dignity, if not the very lives, of those who are not clones of our own ideal to the sword.

When did hate speech become patriotism? When did our nation get dumbed down enough – yes, I said it – that we are willing to accept the spoon-fed tripe from the hands of politicians who steer themselves and their families well clear of military combat and conflict, yet eagerly feed more men and women into the maw of a ravenous war fueled by religious dogma and oppression? How can we disrespect Muslims who actively serve the US in our military, but expect them to “fight the holy war” against those we lump them in with?

The only thing that this idiotic, vitriolic, and downright bile-ridden anti-Muslim bigotry accomplishes is to aid the terrorists that make up an infinitesimal percentage of Muslims worldwide. MRFF has provided testimony to the U.S. Congress on three occasions on this very fact (Written Testimony: 3/28/2011, Written Testimony 12/07/2011, Live Testimony 11/24/14). The only thing that vainglorious pandering to the idea of “Christian Warriors” in our military achieves is disastrously divisive distrust and unbridled fear within the ranks. And the only thing which the echo chamber that is the Dominionist Christian controlled, “military-parachurch-Congressional-corporate proselytizing complex” is really concerned about is constantly widening the divide between “us” and “them.”

And if it doesn’t stop and stop NOW, we’ll find ourselves facing a true foe that outnumbers and outguns us – even if they’ll never manage to out-hate us.

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Being Progressive: the universal declaration of human rights v the ten commandments

Written by: The AIM Network

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By James Moylan

Ignorance is our default setting

Ever since the enlightenment the various religious and totalitarian forces scattered about the globe have fought a constant rearguard action in defence of their turf. ‘Yes’, they argue, ‘these new-fangled scientific ideas might explain how things work, but we remain the final custodians of why things are the way they are’. ‘You anti-theists and heretics can have the physical world, but the spiritual among us will retain control of all things moral and political’.

In a world of simple questions, small populations, and limited technologies, this mixture of rational physical technologies and irrational social systems did suffice to keep society chugging along. Even if many aspects of our living arrangements were not working in everyone’s interests, when we were small scattered communities and there were still wide open horizons available, then irrational decisions and motivations were only really consequential to just that particular small grouping of humanity. But now not so much.

It is becoming ever more apparent that our ways of understanding ‘who’ we are – as individuals and as a society as a whole – have simply failed to keep pace with our scientific and industrial progress. Where we have cleared away the detritus of our mythologies and irrationalities when it comes to our discussions regarding the natural world, our political and cultural realms remain littered with medieval ideas and outright bigotries.

When our society was at a much smaller scale this habit of irrationality was of no great consequence. When we were only a small population any idiosyncrasies of thought cultivated by any individual group tended to impact only the members of that group. So by the dawn of the modern scientific age, while there were lots and lots of weird ideas about, they generally only caused discomfort for a very few individuals in each grouping. All of human history is nothing else if not a chronicle of many wildly diverse and whacky communities with all sorts of crazy ideas.

However the general consensus among the better educated was that as our various societies continued to mature, then the wackiness would likely decrease. That our growing sophistication in science and philosophy would eventually act to supplement and inform the development of our social sciences. That the many irrationalities embedded within our many cultures would simply fade away, allowing us to jointly and peaceably address the problems we face as a multitudinous mass inhabiting a finite globe.

Unfortunately it appears that even the pessimists in our midst were being a tad over-optimistic.

The more that we come to consider culture in detail, and so contemplate the ways in which we talk about things and communicate with each other, the more we begin to understand that we do not communicate in rational or probabilistic terms at all: rather we tell stories to each other. We know lots and lots of disjointed and often mutually incongruous stories that explain why things are the way that things are. The more that social scientists work to unpick ‘culture’ the more it becomes apparent that the cultural import of any idea or concept rarely has much of a relationship with its scientific veracity, logical consistency, or probability.

We are illogical and irrational because to be otherwise requires self doubt, self discipline and self awareness. Rationality requires a constant re-ordering of the apparent messages available. So the more rational you become the less certainty you enjoy. And we all let our guard down when we are enjoying ‘cultural’ pursuits.

Yet in the modern world many of the imperatives and obvious outcomes which are dictated as being culturally appropriate are no longer of any ultimate benefit to either a particular culture or the species as a whole. To be wise in the modern age now requires that our politicians and leaders be able to think in a counter-intuitive manner – because our cultural commonsense can no longer lead us in a mutually beneficial direction. Our cultural common-sense is what has got our species into this global warming pickle in the first place.

The cultural common-sense of each of the countries on our earth indicates that they should wrest both military and financial control of their region from all others. Whereas a modern global perspective indicates that cooperation is far more advantageous. The cultural common-sense of countries indicates that, in the main, global warming is not a problem of great import. Cultural and spiritual domination are the most important aspects of society. Whereas the modern global perspective regards this focus on belief systems to be arcane and entirely unhelpful.

So we come to an odd juncture in history where the cultural conceits of our many groupings of citizens across our globe are continually arguing against the best interests of the majority of the human beings on the globe. For while many citizens do not share the prejudices and bigotries enshrined in their own particular cultural grouping – they do share in the benefits accruing to the ruling class in these cultures. They know how to manipulate and inflame local prejudice for their own benefit. So the majority of the ruling politicians in our world are also happy to engage in the hypocritical manipulation of the views of an ignorant majority whose beliefs and values they do not share.

So now we come to a fork in the road. Either our modes of organising ourselves politically and socially undergo a revolution or we fail as a species. We have become scientifically and technologically sophisticated. Now we either learn to become socially sophisticated as well or we will cook the planet and destroy our incipient global community in a matter of decades.

Our continued obsession with a range of outmoded and sometimes positively harmful medieval mentalities is simply getting in the way. Christianity, Islam, Séances, Astrology, Bigfoot, UFO’s, Miracles, Magic and Homeopathy still explain the world for the majority. Ghosts and ghouls, witches and fairies, saints and demons, angels and devils, still walk the earth in the minds of the mainstream consumer. It might seem merely interesting and odd if it weren’t so very dangerous.

All around the globe conservative forces work hard to continue to oppress minorities on behalf of the majority. They do not believe that these minorities have any rights worth considering. And our habit of authorising a range of medieval mentalities allows these vested interests across the globe to continue to usurp the authority of the many. Under the banner of ‘ religious’, ‘traditional’, ‘sectarian’, or ‘commercial’ rights they continue to engage in bigoted and discriminatory practices against particular segments of their own population in a particularly self-aware manner. Yes sometimes the populace might be described as being deluded – but rarely the leaders. The leaders generally engage in their demonising and discrimination in a very wide-eyed and considered manner.

The modern national political ambition is to retain power and gain further influence, not on behalf of the good of the many, but rather on behalf of the good of a deserving majority at the expense of an obviously evil few. These same people also continually seek to monopolise scarce resources and pollute to such an extent as is legally permissible. Always without regard to the rights of the many nor the needs of the environment. For neither of these ambitions are likely to be shared by any self-interested ruler of an individual nation state.

These are not ‘evil’ people. They are just self-interested and misguided. They are thinking like cave-men because they are encouraged at every turn, by all their social peers, and all the social pressures they ever experience, to continue to think like a cave-man.

They might be driving a Lexus and talking on a mobile phone but they are still knowingly focussed on how they might best pander to the bigotries of the many so as to enrich the few. Manipulation rather than education is the order of their day. This applies in virtually all of the nation states across our planet. So even while we aspire to being a global culture, virtually every element in our societies still actively endorse arcane belief systems and traditional bigotries. There is also a false equivalence constantly being asserted by reactionary conservative forces that equates ‘religious and traditional practice’ with leading a morally wholesome and socially desirable lifestyle. Thinking individuals know this is bunk. Yet still the mythology persists.

The shortest time spent considering the many conflicts and oppressive behaviours that are motivated and authorised by religious and ideological obsession demonstrates that there is no equivalence. In fact, traditional cultural practices and theologies almost always incorporate and promote unacceptable inequities. Moreover, they usually promote the idea that the environment itself is a simple by-product of the human experience. After all; why worry about a dying planet when you will live forever in an everlasting paradise with a loving and forgiving god?

So thinking individuals from time immemorial have argued that arcane religious beliefs and inequitable traditional practices need to be replaced by considerations relating to human rights – not supplemented by them. As a result, over the last two centuries, wise people have come together to define not only the universal properties of nature but also to work out what are the minimum acceptable ways for treating human beings. By drawing on the traditions of all of the cultures on our earth the universal declaration of human rights seeks to distil this wisdom. It lists in a very straightforward way the behaviours which are acceptable and those that are not – universally.

Yet despite this, in the vast majority of countries, various bigotries continue to be enshrined in law and supposedly ‘moral’ and ‘conservative’ voices continue to argue in favour of retaining these ongoing discriminations. Right now many millions of human beings are being woefully oppressed on behalf of religion and tradition. Yet still in our politics it seems that professing a belief in the mystical and impossible is perfectly acceptable. In our contemporary age the modern political creed seems to be exactly the same as the ancient one: as long as my discrimination is the same as the one my father employed then it is not only acceptable – it is desirable.

Until it is no longer satisfactory for our politicians to argue on behalf of irrational beliefs or continued discrimination then it is unlikely we will be able to address the great challenges that face our global community in any effective manner. Until we match our scientific enlightenment with a corresponding social enlightenment we will continue to march, eyes open, towards environmental disaster. We must banish magical thinking from our social discourse and punish our leaders whenever they pander to irrational and bigoted elements in our society. We must begin to think like global citizens.

Becoming a global citizen

What is the difference between being a national and a global citizen? The former believes they are a member of a culture, first and foremost, and so their primary allegiance is to ‘god and country’. Whereas a global citizen understands their principal allegiance must always lie with the environment and the wider public interest. Instead of ordering their priorities to accord with the dictates of a particular culture, the global citizen considers the individual and corporate human rights of those involved in any interrelationship. Where the national citizen thinks traditionally and patriotically, the global citizen thinks rationally and globally. So for the global citizen the Universal Declaration of Human Rights acts as the fundamental guide for how we might best order our cultural interactions. Not tradition, pragmatism, majority opinion, or religious dictate.

In the same way as science does not entertain different sorts of ‘gravity’ for different parts of the globe, human rights are conceived of as being universal. Tradition, pragmatism, majority opinion, and religious dictate simply have no bearing. The rights listed in the declaration contemplate our cultural interrelationships in the light of the experience of all the different cultures across the entire face of the globe. They distil our joint experience as a species across the span of our joint remembering.

This global perspective is significant. For as certainly as the arcane beliefs of a distant region will likely appear foreign to your own cultural understandings, so your traditional beliefs are likely to be considered by others in distant parts to be decidedly odd. So if we are to ever forge a modern global consensus, then we need global and universal rules for how we should treat each other. The universal declaration of human rights lays bare the phoney aspirations of ‘religious moralities’ to being universal by listing only those aspects of cultural behaviour that really are acceptable to all persons at all times.

A believer in a particular theological perspective, a non-believer, and all those who are unconcerned, are similarly protected. The declaration is designed as much to protect people from the impositions of other people’s arbitrary and illogical belief systems as it is to allow the right to profess a particular belief. This is why ‘Freedom of Belief and Religion’ and ‘Freedom of Opinion and Information’ are listed as being significant but minor elements of a much more comprehensive set of rights.

A right to equality of treatment, freedom from discrimination, life, liberty, personal security, recognition before the law, freedom from slavery, and arbitrary arrest. Also the freedom to marry, and travel, or change nationality or religion, are all considered far more significant and pressing requirements than any right to profess a belief in a religious or ideological supposition. In this manner the universal declaration of human rights reflects the ‘big picture’ thoughts that might run through the mind of any human viewing the earth through the porthole of a spaceship.

The preamble begins:

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,

Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law.

Who could possibly disagree? Unfortunately most of our politicians and almost all of the inhabitants of our globe disagree with the idea that we must forgo all forms of discrimination.

Despite these fine sentiments creationism based non-rational theological explanations still rule in all of our political and cultural discourses. Who will deny that the vast majority of the world’s population, and all our politicians, still cling to arcane theological explanations for ‘why’ we are here on this earth and how we got here? The sorry reality is that just because we live in a world chock-full of modern marvels, nobody should remain blind to the fact that most of our governments are still run by people who profess a belief in quaint medieval notions about the nature of the world and also the likely fate of all of its inhabitants.

Even in the largest (supposedly) secular democracy on the earth – America – the majority still firmly believe in a world created by an interested god, especially for human beings, and that everything will be pretty soon wrapped up again in accord with the divine wishes of a mystical creator. In the US this view is predicated on a Christian form of deity. In other parts of the globe it is a variant on the Christian God, or a Judaic one, or an Islamic one, or the population believes in a range of different gods. However regardless of the particular brand of theological devotion these forces are all united in their defence of bigotry and social exclusion. They just happen to advocate for different types of bigotry and exclusion.

So while rational and humane forces are constantly fighting on behalf of public rights and environmental concerns, we schizophrenically also entertain a widespread conviction that if your personal belief system encompasses socially indefensible ideas then you are still allowed to argue in favour of these ideas. Moreover, when a secular humanist points out that an argument is bigoted and indefensible – they are very likely to be accused of being intolerant!

Until we all aspire to be global citizens and also demand the same level of ethical sophistication from our leaders, we will continue to fail in our attempts to craft a global response to the pressing existential threat that is posed by climate change. We must abandon our old nationalistic and patriotic habits. They no longer assist in fulfilling our joint aspirations. The biggest challenge we face is whether or not we can learn to govern ourselves effectively before we destroy the environment irreparably.

When we see the thirty articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights instead of the ten commandments of the Bible, chiselled into stone monuments across our planet, then we will likely be on the right track. It is hard to be pessimistic about the prospects of any species that can craft such a noble set of guidelines.

The next time someone advocates to you on behalf of a Medieval or Stone Age concept then just point them towards the Universal Declaration and ask them to just read the index. Then ask if they disagree with any of these rights.

This might only prompt an interesting conversation. But then you might just end up sitting next to yet another global citizen, viewing the earth as if from a space station, as a fragile blue globe spinning in the inky vastness of space.

The articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

1       Right to Equality

2       Freedom from Discrimination

3       Right to Life, Liberty, Personal Security

4       Freedom from Slavery

5       Freedom from Torture and Degrading Treatment

6       Right to Recognition as a Person before the Law

7       Right to Equality before the Law

8       Right to Remedy by Competent Tribunal

9       Freedom from Arbitrary Arrest and Exile

10     Right to Fair Public Hearing

11     Right to be Considered Innocent until Proven Guilty

12     Freedom from Interference with Privacy, Family, Home and Correspondence

13     Right to Free Movement in and out of the Country

14     Right to Asylum in other Countries from Persecution

15     Right to a Nationality and the Freedom to Change It

16     Right to Marriage and Family

17     Right to Own Property

18     Freedom of Belief and Religion

19     Freedom of Opinion and Information

20     Right of Peaceful Assembly and Association

21     Right to Participate in Government and in Free Elections

22     Right to Social Security

23     Right to Desirable Work and to Join Trade Unions

24     Right to Rest and Leisure

25     Right to Adequate Living Standard

26     Right to Education

27     Right to Participate in the Cultural Life of Community

28     Right to a Social Order that Articulates this Document

29     Community Duties Essential to Free and Full Development

30     Freedom from State or Personal Interference in the above Rights
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The road to a police state: how ‘anti-terrorism’ is destroying democracy

In 1956, science fiction author Philip K. Dick wrote the short story “Minority Report”. In it, a shadowy government agency known as “pre-crime” arrests people in anticipation of crimes they suspect individuals will commit in the future. What appears as a dystopian fictional nightmare in 1956 has become a reality in Australia 60 years later.

One of the major legal transformations associated with the introduction of the various anti-terror acts in the 15 years since 9/11 has been the normalisation of the idea that you can be charged with a crime that you have yet to commit.

The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) has the right to seek warrants that allow the detention of someone suspected or someone related to someone suspected of considering a terror offence. This person can be detained in custody with no right to confidential legal counsel and no right to see the evidence brought against them.

Furthermore, the Terrorism Act 2002 makes it a crime to “provide or receive training, to possess a ‘thing’, or to collect or make a document, if (in each case) that conduct was connected with preparation for, the engagement of a person in, or assistance in a terrorist act”.

In 2010, these laws resulted in the conviction of three men for “preparing to prepare” an attack on the Holsworthy Army Base. One of the men visited the barracks and another had a phone conversation with a sheikh, seeking religious counsel about the moral virtues of possibly committing an act.

The sheikh eventually answered in the negative and advised the men against any action. Even the Victorian Supreme Court judge responsible for sentencing the men, justice King, admitted that “the conspiracy was not that much further along than just sitting and thinking about it”. She nevertheless sentenced them to 18 years’ jail. For thought crime.

What’s more shocking is that, legally, these “preparatory” offences are committed if the person either “knows or is reckless as to the fact that they relate to a terrorist act”. Being “reckless” can mean a whole range of things. It can mean that you say or write something that may inadvertently encourage someone else to engage in terrorist activity.

For instance, Division 102 of the Criminal Code imposes a maximum penalty of life imprisonment “where a person provides or collects funds and is reckless as to whether those funds will be used to facilitate or engage in a terrorist act”. This means that someone who donates money to a charity that turns out to have some putative involvement in terrorism could be imprisoned for life.

Anti-government activity

The definition of terrorism is suitably broad for a ruling class looking to criminalise a wide range of anti-government activity. Section 101.1 of the Criminal Code defines terrorism as “conduct engaged in or threats made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause”. The conduct or threat must be designed to coerce a government or population by intimidation. It must involve “harm” – broadly defined.

Added to this is “urging violence”. For example, it is an offence punishable by seven years’ imprisonment to “urge the overthrow of the constitution or government by force or violence, or to urge interference in parliamentary elections”.

Such definitions are disturbing. Again, “interfering in parliamentary elections” could involve encouraging voters to cast donkey votes or rip up ballot papers. Left wing newspapers regularly run pieces on the necessity of overthrowing many and various governments. The fact that such laws have been penned indicates how far we have come.

Under such legislation the United States Declaration of Independence, with its claim that “it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish [the Government], and to institute new one”, could be deemed a terrorist document.

Crime by association

A law introduced in 2014 that prohibits the advocacy of terrorism extends this issue of incitement into even more alarming territory. An organisation can be listed as terrorist if it “directly praises the doing of a terrorist act in circumstances where there is a substantial risk that such praise might have the effect of leading a person … to engage in a terrorist act”.

If these laws had been enacted in the past they would have meant that the author of an article supporting the actions of Nelson Mandela in his struggle against apartheid in South Africa would become liable if someone might have read that article and acted upon it in a manner deemed terrorist by the state.

Today, the organisation of any author who is accused of “praising terror” can be listed. Being a member or even associated with a member of a listed terrorist organisation can incur up to 10 years in prison.

The mutability of what constitutes a “terrorist organisation” was revealed in the trial of 13 Muslim men in Melbourne in 2005-09. These young men were arrested after more than a year of intense surveillance of conversations between them and a radical Islamic preacher, Abdul Nacer Benbrika.

An extraordinary 27,000 hours of police surveillance revealed nothing more criminal than discussions about the morality or immorality of revenge actions against Australians for the government’s crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. No specific or concrete terror actions were planned, and they were never charged with planning a terrorist attack.

Nevertheless, the state charged them with membership of an unspecified, unlisted, unnamed terrorist organisation. The attorney-general declared it so – and a few more men who had had some association with Benbrika were charged with “supporting or providing funds” to a terrorist organisation.

Greg Barns, one of the defence lawyers in the Barwon 13 trial, pointed out the absurdity of the situation: “An organisation can be a terrorist organisation even if it has no terrorist act in mind”. Such realities call to mind Alice in Wonderland. “‘When I use a word’, Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less’.”

Punished for being Muslim

The Barwon 13 trial also brought to light a number of other disturbing aspects of the anti-terror legislation. One of the most shocking revealed the prejudice against giving terror suspects bail.

This meant that from 2005 until 2008, when the judge handed down a decision, the defendants were held in the maximum security Barwon prison. Here, some as young as 19 were kept shackled in isolation for up to 18 hours a day. During their trial, they were strip searched every day and transported back and forth on the hour-long journey with their arms shackled to their waist and their ankles tied together.

Four of the 13 were found not guilty of any charges but were held in Guantanamo Bay-like conditions for, one can only suspect, being Muslim and associating with other Muslims. Four of the 13 were convicted on such spurious grounds that Michael Pearce from Liberty Victoria told reporters that they were victims of one of the “most sustained assaults on civil liberties in 50 years”. “Their treatment is an affront to the most basic principle of the rule of law”, he said.

The current targets of the anti-terror laws are Muslim. Nineteen of the 20 proscribed organisations are Muslim, and of the 46 people charged under the laws, all, with the exception of a couple, identify as Muslim. Not one of these people has been charged with actually committing a terrorist offence. All are offences of association, of planning or planning to plan.

State representatives claim that nipping terrorist actions before they happen is more important than civil liberties. But such claims are bogus when most of the terrorist atrocities they claim to be thwarting were never even in the planning stages.

One young man, Faheem Lodhi, was sentenced to 20 years in prison despite the fact that, according to a lawyer in his trial, he “had not yet reached the stage where the identity of the bomber, the precise area to be bombed or the manner in which the bombing would take place had been worked out”.

As civil liberties lawyer Rob Stary told Katherine Wilson in an interview for Overland: “They talk the talk, and it’s dangerous talk. But I can say whatever I like about who the real Iraq or Palestinian war criminals are, and how they should be brought to justice, and I won’t be imprisoned for it. Not unless I convert to Islam”.

When Muslim kids mouth off, they can be locked up for decades. If anything is likely to prompt feelings of hatred, anger and frustration that lead to the desire to commit terrorist acts, it is this kind of systematic legal persecution.

Islamophobia is the ideological mechanism through which the state has managed to get through such draconian legislation. Concerted public media campaigns vilifying Muslims – representing them as medieval barbarians intent on bringing down Western civilisation – has had its effect. Opposition to the anti-terror laws is minimal – the conflation of Islam with terror has been achieved.

Fifteen years in the making

Prior to 9/11, politically motivated violence was dealt with under criminal law. This all changed after 2001. In March 2002, federal attorney-general Darryl Williams introduced the first package of anti-terrorism legislation to parliament. He said the laws were “exceptional” but that “so too is the evil at which they are directed”.

Hyperbole abounded. Australians were told to be alert to shadowy internal threats and to report any “suspicious” activities they might witness.

From 11 September 2001 to the fall of the Howard government, the federal parliament enacted 48 anti-terror laws. In other words, on average a new anti-terror statue was passed every seven or so weeks under the Liberal government. The Labor Party supported the overwhelming bulk of these laws.

When Labor came to power, the pace of lawmaking slowed but the fundamental approach remained the same: use the terror threat to usher through increasingly draconian laws. Indeed, the Rudd government actively opposed independent reviews into the passing of its own anti-terror legislation.

Abbott came to office with an open and aggressive agenda. He was unabashed in 2014: “Regrettably, for some time to come, Australians will have to endure more security than we are used to and more inconvenience than we would like … the delicate balance between freedom and security may have to shift”. The scales now well and truly have tipped.

Under Abbott and Turnbull, the existing anti-terror legislation has been strengthened and expanded, most dramatically with the introduction of astonishingly extensive data retention laws.

All of this frantic legislative activity has been accompanied by regularly staged anti-terror raids.

The Australian state has far exceeded the UK, the USA and Canada in the number of laws enacted. UNSW professor George Williams argues: “It would be unthinkable, if not constitutionally impossible, in nations such as the US and Canada to restrict freedom of speech in the manner achieved by Australia’s 2005 sedition laws”. US author Ken Roach describes Australia as engaging in “hyper-legislation”.

Normalisation

While initially introduced as “emergency legislation” to deal with imminent terror threats, anti-terror legislation has not only stuck, but has crept into other legislative areas. Laws recognised as exceptional, even by their proponents, are now used against groups and individuals who have nothing to do with the “war on terror”.

Bikie gangs and their members are subject to laws virtually identical to anti-terror legislation. The Rann Labor government in South Australia began the trend, drawing dramatic comparisons between bikies and terrorists. In 2008, Rann said, “Organised crime groups are terrorists within our communities” and described bikies as “an evil within our nation”. The laws passed almost without a whimper of opposition.

In Queensland, bikie gangs have been “declared” in the same way that so-called terrorist organisations have – which means anyone associated with a gang can be arrested and charged. If you are a member of a gang you cannot be seen with one or more “criminal associates”.

Bikies are also subject to something very similar to control orders – one of the most controversial aspects of the anti-terror legislation. They can be placed under house arrest, and have their movement and their oral and electronic communications limited. These restrictions can be decided in a secret court hearing, and the person will discover if they are subject to an order only after their arrest. All states have introduced similar laws.

The depth and breadth of the anti-terror legislation provided the perfect precursor to the use of equally (if not more draconian) laws against construction workers in the Howard government’s Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC).

Turnbull is now preparing to fight an election over the reintroduction of the body. The ABCC’s coercive powers mirror ASIO’s. It has the right to hold secret interviews and jail those who don’t cooperate. Habeus corpus is out the window. Construction workers will again have no right to silence and no right to be represented by the lawyer of their choice. The terror bogey was simply the thin end of the wedge.

It is clear over the 15 years of the “war on terror” that many legal rights have disappeared. Basic legal assumptions like innocent until proven guilty, the right to silence, the right to a fair trial and the right to legal counsel no longer exist in expanding areas of the legal system. What’s more, the state’s powers to watch, listen, detain and punish have grown dramatically, and there is no indication that the government wants to pull back.

The US whistleblower Edward Snowden said of similar actions in the USA: “These programs were never about terrorism: they’re about economic spying, social control, and diplomatic manipulation. They’re about power”.

Australia’s behemoth security state is now more powerful than even Philip K. Dick’s paranoid imagination could have dreamed.

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Evangelicals stunned that they’ve finally alienated everyone, including those in their own ‘party’

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After years of lecturing everyone about right and wrong and “family values” and attempting to statutorily impose their own beliefs on America, Christian fundamentalists are now shocked to find out that they’ve been abandoned by pretty much everyone, including the Republican party. Katie Zezima reports on fundie dysphoria in the wake of Donald Trump’s ascension to titular head of the Republican party.

“In a sense, we feel abandoned by our party,” [Pastor Gary] Fuller said. “There’s nobody left.”

Fuller and other conservatives whose voting decisions are guided by their Christian faith find themselves dismayed and adrift now that Trump has wrested control of the Republican Party. It is a sentiment that reaches from the small, aluminum-sided church with a large white cross on its front that Fuller and his wife built on the Nebraska plains to the highest levels of American religious life. Even progressive Christians — evangelicals and Catholics, among others — who don’t necessarily vote Republican are alarmed that Trump is attracting many voters who call themselves religious. […]

“This year the Republican Party has not just surrendered on the culture wars, they’ve joined the other side. And that’s a unique situation,” said Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

“This year” may turn out to be a gross underestimation of the cultural change that’s taking place within the GOP and America, frankly. Trump and his followers have mostly rejected the notion that they need to embrace the fundamentalist agenda in order to win and—perhaps more to the point—that winning on fundie terms is even worth it.

Ted Cruz’s failure to convert his demonization of transgender individuals into votes in Indiana wasn’t simply a local miscalculation, it was fundamental misunderstanding of where the nationwide electorate stands on LGBTQ issues. While the public is still learning about gay and transgender people, voters seem less vulnerable to “the sky is falling” messages that social conservatives employed with same-sex marriage, for instance. As a poll found this week, 57 percent of Americans oppose mandating which bathrooms transgender individuals should use and 75 percent support equal protection laws for transgender Americans in jobs, housing, and public accommodations.

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Anti-Gay Therapist Monsignor Tony Anatrella, a Vatican Adviser, Suspected Of Sex With Male Clients

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For decades now, young French seminarians and priests who were deemed to be “struggling with homosexuality” would often end up in the office of trusted Vatican adviser and anti-gay therapist Monsignor Tony Anatrella.

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Via Religion News Service:

Now Anatrella … is facing mounting allegations that he himself had sex with male clients under his care. … So far, European media have relayed accusations from as many as four men — only one of whom agreed to be identified by his real name — who say that Anatrella engaged in various sex acts with them during counseling sessions in his Paris office, with the activity allegedly occurring up until a few years ago.

According to Daniel Lamarca, an ex-seminarian treated by Anatrella in the late ’80s,

Anatrella told [him] he could rid him of his “pseudo-homosexuality” and sought to do so by performing sex acts on Lamarca. “I know details about Anatrella’s body that could only be known to someone who has seen him naked,” Lamarca told Nederlands Dagblad [a Dutch newspaper]. … In recent weeks, another ex-seminarian, who goes by a pseudonym in the articles, told French outlets that he was counseled by Anatrella for 14 years, from 1997 to 2011, and that after the first few years Anatrella began “special sessions” that included episodes of mutual masturbation.

The Paris archdiocese is asking other clients of Anatrella to come forward with any complaints of sexual impropriety. If it’s confirmed that the therapist had sex with young men under his pastoral and professional care, he’ll have some explaining to do — especially because he is on the record as saying that homosexuality is

“like an incompleteness and a profound immaturity of human sexuality,”

and that

gays are “narcissists” and … homosexuality is “a problem in the psychic organization” of a person’s sexuality.

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There Are No Final Solutions, There Is No Absolute Truth, There is No Supreme Leader

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“there are no final solutions; there is no absolute truth; there is no supreme leader; there is no totalitarian solution that says if you would just give up your freedom of inquiry, if you would just give up, if you would simply abandon your critical faculties, the world of idiotic bliss can be yours.

We have to begin by repudiating all such claims – grand rabbis, chief ayatollahs, infallible popes, the peddlers of mutant quasi-political worship, the dear leader, great leader, we have no need of any of this.”  – Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011)

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