Daily Archives: August 5, 2008

God’s Politics – Jim Wallis on Kevin Rudd

How others see us, I guess you may say. A Prime Minister’s Preferential Option for the Poor, and the Planet (by Jim Wallis) just popped up in the feed in my side bar; I was intrigued. You may be too.

We sat for several hours at a lovely outdoor restaurant up in Cairns, the tropical northeast corner of the country. Security was certainly much lighter than a similar meeting with a U.S. president is, and I enjoyed how ordinary people would come up with their children to meet the prime minister. Every time, the Australian head of state would extend his hand and a warm smile to say “Hi, I’m Kevin.” Very nice indeed.

Yes, I know: Kevin Rudd is not our head of state. That honour goes to the Queen/Governor-General. But still, I do like the imagery there… Excites my Aussie patriotism almost as much as an Olympic gold medal would — well, more, actually…


Boston Review — Days of Lies and Roses: Selling out Afghanistan — Sarah Chayes

This is an Arts & Letters Daily offering.  Sarah Chayes’s Boston Review article is one of those invaluable contributions that take us away from the political and ideological into the actual world of human experience.

The other day I drove out to visit Nurallah, a member of my cooperative who had just lost his mother. His house lies a few miles outside Kandahar on the ancient road to India—the very place where Afghanistan was founded. From the sturdy beaten-earth walls of the compound, the lines of tawny Kandahar shrink to insignificance against the backdrop of the rocky hills beyond, etched in purple against the sky.

Enough children to fill a schoolroom crowded around me, clutching my hand to kiss, as I settled cross-legged on a cushion on the floor. The four strapping sons of that beloved matriarch seemed like lost children too, faces crumpled by the blow of her passing.

Nurallah’s mother died of a stroke. In a way, that was a happiness, a sign of improving times. For a woman who lost her husband and two sons during the Soviet occupation, a woman who spent 12 years as a refugee in Pakistan, a woman whose youngest son was drafted by the Taliban to fight in northern Afghanistan and almost perished when U.S. proxies there sealed him and other prisoners in a cargo container in November 2001—for such a woman to die in her bed was not a foregone conclusion…

Sarah Chayes is the founder of the Arghand, a cooperative agribusiness in Afghanistan. From 1997 to 2002 she worked as an overseas correspondent for National Public Radio. She is the author of The Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan after the Taliban.

In a context of increasing danger and violence—which reached a pitch last fall when open battles between Taliban fighters and Afghan and international troops were fought at the gates of Kandahar—the situation in this very symbolic southern capital of Afghanistan has indeed stabilized a bit. Village families that fled the fighting to camp out in the cramped homes of relatives in town have returned to their vineyards and orchards. Kandahar streets are crowded again—if somewhat tentatively—with the jolly chaos of late-model SUVs, caparisoned horse-drawn taxis, dark-green pickup trucks loaded with police officers, battered white station wagons, brightly painted rickshaws, vegetable wagons, donkey carts, dust, and smog.

And yet, after five years here I have learned to mistrust the weekly or monthly fluctuations in atmospheric pressure, seeking instead to discern the underlying pattern. And that pattern is not encouraging.

Permit me first to dispel a common misconception. This city where I live and work is Kandahar, Afghanistan, which since September 2001 has come to symbolize (at least for Americans) the forces of evil and obscurantism—enemies of our “enlightened civilization.” Kandahar, after all, was the lair of Mullah Muhammad Omar, where he cosseted his infamous “guest,” Osama bin Laden. Kandahar has arguably replaced Moscow as the ideological antipode to everything we Americans think we believe in. And yet the issues at stake here are not in the least ideological. They are practical—and opportunistic.

Ask a Kandahari what he wants from his government and you’ll get a familiar answer: not vast ideas but practical solutions to everyday problems. Most Kandaharis would put basic law and order at the top of their list, then public utilities and infrastructure, education, timely performance of administrative functions (such as delivery of driver’s licenses and title deeds), freedom from arbitrary shakedowns by public officials, and some mechanism to afford them a voice in their collective destiny.

But in more than five years in Afghanistan, the American government, which considers its presence here a part of its broad effort to “bring democracy to the Middle East,” has achieved none of these things.

Please read the whole article.

…Some urge me to swallow my outrage: bribery and corruption are the Afghan way. I refuse to accept such stereotypes. Every society is composed of diverse tendencies, and it is specific historical events that bring one or another to the fore. In this case, the historical event was America’s post-9/11 intervention in Afghanistan—our effort to transform an entire society without bothering to understand it in the first place.

Our first error was to subordinate every other concern to a cowboys-and-Indians-style hunt for al Qaeda and the Taliban leadership—a hunt that has thus far proved singularly fruitless…

I was reminded too of one of my “blogmarks” — who has been silent lately, now studying in the USA: Ahmad Shuja. Reading his back entries is still an education for anyone seeking to understand life in Afghanistan.

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Posted by on August 5, 2008 in current affairs, human rights, humanity, Middle East, South Asian, terrorism


Personal Reflections: Andrew Forrest’s 50,000 indigenous jobs

Jim Belshaw noted this yesterday; I was intrigued by  the presentation of the idea on Lateline last night. You may also read an interview with Andrew Forrest on Radio National’s PM, where there is a link to an extended interview you may listen to.

MARK COLVIN: Already there have been critics within the Aboriginal community and Reconciliation Australia has suggested, least implied, that there maybe a level of unrealism in what you’ve done, there’s been criticism that you’re overly ambitious. How do you answer that?

ANDREW FORREST: We would expect that because we’ve had 150 years of failure and there’s all, you know as the great man said to me yesterday, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” We’ve never had before, and Reconciliation Australia and all these other excellent organisations have never had before, an Australian employment sector, a corporate sector, which is simply had enough of watching the welfare system fail, and it said to me, en masse, let’s do something about it.

MARK COLVIN: Over the last few days, you’ve heard people talking about some of the barriers to all this that it’s very difficult to get people to move out of their traditional communities to go to work. Those have been barriers in the past, both for Aborigines and for employers. How do you overcome them?

ANDREW FORREST: I would like to live where I originally grew up in the Pilbara, and certainly I would one day like to have a house in Thredbo. But I’m not just going to go and live in Thredbo because it happens to suit me, I’m going to have to get a job, get real employment, earn the money and pay for it. Then I’m very happy to have my holiday house in the Pilbara or at Thredbo.

But in the meantime, like every other Australian, I’ve got to be prepared to work for it. As Noel Pearson says, “If you give people a small grant like, you know, the ability to catch a train to go and train.” And he coins it, “Train to train”, then we have a situation where people know the practical reality of employment, even necessarily choosing that you live exactly where you want to. You need to go to where the jobs are.

That is the situation and Aboriginal people who I have spoken to, have said to me, “Well, we’re prepared to move, Andrew, but why would we move when we actually don’t have a guaranteed outcome. We will go somewhere, we’ll leave our home, we’ll leave our families, or we’ll risk taking our families with us, but why would be take that risk and relocating our families to where the employment is, if there’s no jobs there?” Well now we can answer, “Yes, there will be a job for you, yes, you can come with your families, and yes, you can take control of your own life.”

MARK COLVIN: In business, you set yourself targets, actually you set yourself very big targets, but you’re also, you accept being benchmarked to being judged on how well you’ve reached those targets. You were talking about 50,000 jobs. When are you prepared to be judged on results?

ANDREW FORREST: Well I have to admit to you that my original target was a little higher than that and I worked with industry economists, my own colleagues, people in the Aboriginal employment industry, and we settled the target of 50,000 because it was, while it was very seriously outside all our comfort zones, we believe because of the expression of great will and wonderful heart, the generosity of Australian spirit, which we’ve seen in the corporate and the national employment sector, that 50,000 was achievable now.

I’ve shared with the Prime Minister privately that we would have crack at this as an internal target within two years. But I would say to you, that is a very steep target, and if we did it in longer than that, I’d think the result would be outstanding. We would have changed as an Australian nation of employers, the course of social history for our Indigenous brothers and sisters.

It does seem that Kevin Rudd may be on side. It may be a way forward; let’s listen carefully.

There’s a 2002 interview on Four Corners: Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on August 5, 2008 in Australia, Australia and Australian, current affairs, Indigenous Australians, Jim Belshaw, Kevin Rudd, Sirdan