Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Democracy or Islam?

An interview by Age writer Barney Swartz (with Geoff Strong - 26/7 p6) with Muslim group Hizb ut- Tahrir's Australian leader, Wassim Doureihi, highlights some of the challenges we face from our admission of other cultures into our country. Somewhat naively we have assumed that immigrants would, in a generation or so, all assimilate into our society with minor and acceptable change. We believed our society was strong and our values resilient enough to handle the influx. Well that's pretty much the way it used to be. But now, think again Australia!

In an article the following day (27/7), Professor Dennis Altman of La Trobe University argues that our children should all be educated at primary level in state schools, to get used to, and to understand, other cultures. He points out that the growth of private and home education will only increase the tendency for ghetto development. Noting that ethnic differences have not been a big problem in the past, he draws attention to the more serious conflicts now being nurtured by religion. He notes that while post WWII migration has largely followed our materialistic drift from religious observance, there is a new tension in the arrival of immigrants perhaps more dedicated to their religion of Islam, although this tension arises more from the fundamentalist attitudes of some Muslim leaders, who are now openly denigrating our culture of democracy.

How far and to what degree more extreme attitudes are endorsed by most Muslims is a matter for conjecture, but the main problem is that with the authoritarian nature of Islam, that cannot be assessed with any accuracy. However we are told that fundamental Islam is 'implacably opposed to Western values and the presence of Westerners in Islamic states'.

We realise that the Muslim world is far from happy about its experience of the 'Christian' West in the Crusades, Palestine, Kosovo, and now Afghanistan and Iraq. Mr. Doureihi sees the involvement of the West as a 'campaign against Islam which is political, economic, ideological and military' which justifies Islamic violence in defence of invaded territories. We should not underestimate the determination of the more militant in Islam, who are bent on the re-establishment of the Caliphate - a fully Islamic state from Indonesia to Spain. This is really the resurgence of an old war, which will cost all the wisdom and strength the West can muster to resolve in a just and peaceful way. All else is failure and that we or the world cannot afford.

Islam has no agreement with democracy. Although its benefits suit them as a moderate minority, it would have no future in a fully Islamic state. He observes that 'with matters dealt with in halves, you inevitably arrive at a foul concoction', meaning Islam under the rule of governments under western control or influence. With 'a foul concoction' he could have been describing our pseudo democracy. It is neither fish nor fowl - an elected dictatorship.

It is now suggested that radical leaders should be deported, but this may merely aggravate without solving anything. Mr Doureihi wants to win hearts and minds to Islam(ic government). Our objection is that church and state must be separate, with all, including religious people, ruled by democratic government. We too have the challenge of winning hearts and minds - to democracy. We have a big job to do and we should be thankful perhaps for the challenge. We have been too slack about it for a long time now. We have a battle on our hands. Will we win the hearts and minds to democracy, or simply dig ourselves in further by dependence on military strategies, and ignoring the root problems? Democratic government must be fair within and between nations. If democracy is not filling the bill, and earning the respect of Muslim dissidents especially among the young, we are 'sowing the wind' and the 'whirlwind' will be our own fault.

Real democracy has yet to be realised. The Secret Ballot Party calls for the dedication of the Australian people to the challenge ahead - a true multiculture, with religions contributing their special gifts to the wellbeing of our people as we live under just and stable democratic government.

Wake up Australia.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2005

John Howard and Industrial Relations

John Howard is right - and wrong.
He's right because the work place is a place for individual effort and efficiency, unhindered by less worthy motives.
He's wrong because party govenment creates fear and conflict - failing to provide the unifying democratic leadership which alone can take the heat out of industrial relations.

Employers are often slow to appreciate the concerns of employees, especailly perhaps in the area of work safety. Unions are the result.
On the other hand it is clear that an employer needs an efficient and profit-sustainable business. To an employer, an employee who gives diligent, intelligent attention to the business is like gold. Equally, one who does as little as he can get away with, or just puts forth a very basic effort on behalf of his employer is as much a liabiity as an asset.
But let's understand the fears that drive many to defend jobs by a less than full effort to be an efficient and valued worker. We are talking here about the trust that must exist between employer and employee.
Attitudes of both vary considerably. There are good examples and bad examples on both sides.
There tends to be the idea that there are not enough jobs. Both right and wrong - because the job-pool is not fixed. Employers are understandably not enthusiastic about creating jobs for people who have no interest in the employer's concerns. If on the other hand an applicant for a job seems a good risk then a job can be found.
I was out of work once and being sick of waiting for a reply to all the job ads, I sallied forth to a local factory. I got a job after some hesitation. When I started on a drill (a boring job!) I was soon advised to slow down. I was shifted around and eventually moved into the store. Later I drove a fork lift and cleaned up all the rubbish blocking up the tracks. The previous guy had done nothing he was not told to do. I found later that when I was hired they had been planning retrenchments. That's why they seemed hesitant when I showed up. They later sacked a dozen men. When I resigned they obviously did not want me to go.
The point is that go-slow tactics did not save jobs. In fact, those tactics could well have been the cause. they were not seen as valuable enough to hold for an upturn in business. I remember a girl a long time ago who was being helpful. When I thanked her for the help she said: "Thus I make myself indispensible!".
On another occasion I was promoted and somwhat surprised. I asked how come. The reply was: 'Well some just haven't got it, or just don't try.'
The job killer is self interest of employees and employers. If the latter care only for profits and share prices, they will not be slow to sack staff. (But it may not be that simple if business is bad.) If the former care only for their pay packets and an easy day's work, then they are not likely to be valued.
The plain fact is that the profitability of many businesses can be quite borderline. Success demands a cooperation by both sides if jobs (and businesses) are to be secure in difficult times.
Talking to some from Asian work situations, the contrast of Asian work pressure with Australian conditions is considerable. This our future and will not change for the better.
Industrial relations have too long been a difficult issue, in an industrial atmosphere contaminated by distrust, sharemarket pressures, and union antagonism. But fear and greed are the driving forces.
What is missing is the kind of democracy which can resolve these conflicts by a real involvement of the people in society's issues.
Party politics creates conflict, does not solve it. Only parliamentary government - with the secret ballot enabling the people to govern, through their representatives - can void the conflict-generating power and illegitmate government of party executives.
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Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Is it too late for democracy?

We are in a downward spiral of religious conflict, with extreme elements grabbing the agenda.
False religion has always been a notorious base for dogmatic opnion and the exercise of illicit power. The fact that it is false religion has never hindered its destructive force in the affairs of men - notably by men, but occasionally by women.
The second commandment: "Love your neighbour" is obviously the only religious dictum which can be said to have any legitimacy in the processes of civil society and governance. All else centres on pride, self importance and hatred of those with whom there is disagreement.
My attention has been drawn to the early years of the island of Iceland, first peopled by the violent Vikings during the tenth century when a recession of the ice age freed land for the taking. The independent and adventurous Norse people of Norway were fed up with their authoritarian King.
Like many another primitive society they found a way to govern their society by face-to-face arguments over problems, neighbourly support and the practicallity of seeking concensus rather than settling into powerful factions and warfare.
One could compare the early settlement of America's West - fierce independence married to a recognition of the need to live and let live.
For some years I have been propagating the notion that democratic governance in the large, and larger societies in which we now dwell must be governed by the secret ballot. There has no other way been found to diffuse and liquidate the tendencies to power accumulation that have developed in the rule by factions, parties and pressure groups, generally centering on powerful leaders.
The people no longer rule as we slide, too easily, and inexorably toward warfare. How many were startled by the recent admission by President Bush that Iraq could have triggered World War III.
Oddly enough, as Vietnam proved a while ago, the greatest military power can be useless when faced by determined guerilla warfare, as is now the case in Iraq.
If we hope for the success of America's attempt to create 'top-down democracy' in Iraq, we are tacitly opening the door to total hegemony for another world power dominated by its leader's religious dogma and conviction, which surely renders the second great commandment, of none effect - and genuine democracy a dream.
Perhaps it is too late for democracy to recover lost ground, turning to a new devotion to justice within and between countries.
There is something sinister in the recent remark of Prime Minister John Howard: 'I am a nationalist'. This elevation of the national interest seems a denial of that 'goodwill toward men' that would be much more consistent with our politicians' 'Christian conviction' - and a quite archaic attitude in this shrinking world.
Critism of government by some tends to produce bitter responses from others. If dissidents are intimidated and remain silent then democracy is indeed dead.
The essence of the problem is that, government becomes 'personal', and the less important issues get the most prominence, as they best suit the leader's purposes, the real issues being relegated beyond public sight, understanding and participation.
So leaders quarrel, the public is bemused and the progress that government should be securing is lost in the dust of conflict. And instead of the long term plans to resolve the issues which will bedevil our descendents, we are fed 'progress' - which means the rapid dissipation of the resources which those same descendents will sorely miss in the future.
Perhaps we are too late - too late for democracy!
It all reminds me of the pop-song I heard years ago: 'Walking backwards down the stair, trying to get higher'.
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Saturday, July 09, 2005

Cleaning the Aegean Stables

Thinking about the state of our world and the mess the politicians are making, I thought of the mythical old story of Hercules and his challenge to clean out the massive filth in the Aegean Stables in one day.
So the story goes, he diverted two rivers through them and swept out all the manure.
Our politics needs a similar attention. The mess is so thick with error, corruption and stupidity that only a river of change has any hope of fixing our problems.
The meally-mouthed responses of the so-called Christian leaders to the London bombing reveal that they have no clue how to resolve the dangerous world they have created, not do they even see that they are to blame.
For more in-depth notes on the Middle East mess, check - and search 'A Troubled World'. It's not complete yet, of course.
Keep up the hope of a better, more sane world.
Only the expansion of the secret ballot, into all the parliaments of the world, can get rid of the evil of party-power politics'.

God bless
Basil Smith - email: