Thursday, February 04, 2010
  Beautiful but deadly: Urgent action needed
We took this photo of the beautiful area where these people have fled for safety just weeks ago
It's not biblical studies, nor digital academy, but it matters to me, and I hope to you!

According to the Burma Campaign (UK) the Thai authorities are threatening to force the return starting on 5 February 2010 of the 3,000 Karen refugees who fled to an area north of Mae La in June following a military offensive by the Burmese Army in Karen State, Eastern Burma.

The area they would return to is under the "control" of the DKBA and heavily mined they would face mass torture, harrying by military forces and many deaths if forced to return.
Although the Thai Government and local authorities have officially stated that they will not force people to return, in practice they are applying significant pressure on the refugees to return.

Until now the refugees have been kept in two temporary camps close to the Thailand-Burma border. Many of these refugees have already been forced to flee their homes four or more times.

If forced to return to Burma, the refugees face possible death, slave labour or forced recruitment as soldiers.

The area in Karen State where the refugees would be made to return to has many landmines. In addition, the area is now under the control of the DKBA, an organisation allied to the military dictatorship, which is guilty of committing horrific human rights abuses against civilians, including widespread use of forced labour, executions, torture and mutilations, forced recruitment of soldiers, including child soldiers, theft and extortion.
So PLEASE write to the Thai authorities to urge them not to force the refugees back to Burma. There is a simple form you can use here:

I have already written, editing the form letter in the hope that this will make it weigh more, but simply adding your name and address and clicking send is all that's needed. If the Thai authorities realise that many people outside care enough to post an email they may see this issue as one that impacts their tourist industry!

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Monday, January 18, 2010
  The law of unintended consequences
Burma's military leader General Than Shwe at a camp for cyclone victims on the outskirts of Rangoon, 18 May 2008. Autumn Kelly with her father and bridesmaids. (Montage by sugarexpletive)
I have commented before on how the most significant changes technology brings (especially on a long view) are often unforeseen and usually unintended. The same is often true of military and political decisions.

I doubt the Great King Nebuchadnezzar, or even the far greater and probably more admirable Emperor Cyrus, intended to turn the tribal religion of a peripheral hill country people into a faith that changed the religious outlook of the world. (Judaism being mother to Christianity and later perhaps Islam.)

On another blog I tell how the evil intentions of Sen. Gen. Than Shwe and his fellow kleptocrats in Burma have also had unintended but perhaps profound consequences.

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Friday, January 15, 2010
  Google, politics and diplomacy
Commenting on my "Has Google gained a conscience?" post below Bill said:
Timing is so critical. I suspect it's a good thing that Google waited as long as it did to make this a line in the sand. The Chineese people are more likely to notice, now.
This is a really interesting comment, and even more striking are the thoughts it provokes. For Bill is likely spot on. If enough people in China have become Google-dependent, especially families of people with influence, then this new hard line of Google's could be effective.
Image from La Gaceta
If it is, it could also be the point from which future historians date the beginning of the state of Google, Google's definitive entry into politics and diplomacy. Already de facto if not de jure Google controls a huge proportion of the global access to information. It also wields significant economic power, if it adds to that an active use of its "hearts and minds" power Google has the potential to significantly impact global politics and diplomacy. For many years people have worried about the monetary "clout" of large corporations (though these worries may be due more to miscalculations than reality), perhaps though the information barons pose the real threat to democracy, as well as or after the threat they pose to tyranny.

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Thursday, January 14, 2010
  Has Google gained a conscience?
Tank Man — This famous photo, taken on 5 June 1989 by photographer Jeff Widener, shows the PLA's advancing tanks halting for an unknown man near Tiananmen Square.
A while back lots of people complained when Google caved in to Chinese pressure and began systematic censoring of political information on (the example most often used was image searches for "Tianamen Square" which allover the world, except in China, showed most prominently a lonely activist facing down a tank - in China only innocuous tourist photos.

At last thanks to "someone" attempting to unearth information (in part from their Gmail accounts) about Chinese political activists Google has got a conscience and is changing its policy. As a result the Google blog says:
We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down, and potentially our offices in China.
A moderately large step for a corporation, a giant leap for humanity!

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Friday, January 09, 2009
  Responding to systematic brutality
How does one respond to a state that systematically uses its power in the most brutal ways seeking to subdue a people.

When one is partisan the answer is simple. Outrage, anger and protest. Since visiting the Karen people on the Thai-Burma border that's how I respond to each month or day's shocking new episode. (If you want the last month's atrocities read the latest "Last Month in Burma" but be ready for the contents, the rape and murder of a seven year old, a political prisoner comits suicide...)

But how to respond when one has friends and aquaintances among the aggressors, or at least among the citizens of the aggressor state, wh are not disenfranchised or in open rebellion? That's my problem as I read the reports from Gaza. I respect and like so many of the Israelis I have met, I've enjoyed their hospitality, and sympathised with their fear of terrorist attacks and their worry about sons and daughters in the army. I have no Palestinian friends, to provide "balance", I have not eaten in Palestinian homes... I am non-partisan, or through the chains of friendship implicated in the actions of the Israeli state.

Should I respond to the indiscriminate brutality of the current attack with silence? After all Israel has suffered Hamas attacks for years... My colleague George sent me a short paper by Alex Awad, Dean of Students, Bethlehem Bible College. Alex offers a compassionate appeal, one which recognises the pain of Israelis, accepts their right "to live in peace and security" but claims the same right for the innocent inhabitants of Gaza.

I emailed Alex and he has given me permission to reproduce his text here:

Regarding Gaza

By Rev. Alex Awad, Dean of Students, Bethlehem Bible College
December 31, 2008

One hundred tons of bombs are Israel’s way of saying to the captive citizens of Gaza, Merry Christmas, Happy Eid (feast) and Happy New Year. These “gifts” that were showered from US-made F-16 fighter jets demolished government buildings, mosques, a university, hundreds of homes and snuffed out many lives – among them scores of children. Like many in this part of the world and around the globe my heart aches when I read and see pictures of the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip and likewise when I see Israelis killed or injured by Qassam rockets. However, I have a special love for Gaza and its people. Before the strict closure of Gaza, Bethlehem Bible College used to have an extension there. I went to Gaza once every Thursday to teach our students and often I stayed the night there. Interacting with Gazans in class, in church and in the community, I learned much about the kindness and the hospitality of the people of Gaza, both Muslims and Christians. The majority of the people of Gaza are not Hamas militants. They are people like you and I who long to live in peace day in and day out. Regretfully, everyone in the Gaza Strip--men, women, children, civilians and fighters alike—is now feeling the horrible impact and devastation caused by the newest and deadliest Israeli incursion over the Strip in many years.

There is no doubt that the Qassam rockets launched against the western Negev and Ashkelon by Islamic militants linked to Hamas cause great pain and anxiety for many Israelis. Most people agree that Israel, like any other country, has the right to defend itself from outside attacks. However in this unequal conflict between Israel and Hamas, Israel, as usual, has overdone it. When it comes to dealing with its enemies, Israel has a pattern of being extreme. “An eye for an eye” does not satisfy. It has to be more like one hundred eyes for one eye and one hundred teeth for one tooth. When the Israelis attacked Lebanon in June 2006, they sprayed the country with millions of cluster bombs (which are internationally banned) and these bombs continue to kill innocent people even today. What troubles me most in this current war is that most of the victims of this Israeli incursion on Gaza are average people-men, women and children--who are struggling to just to survive under the extreme and harsh conditions that the Israeli siege has created. For 40 years the Gaza Strip has been under Israeli occupation and during the last few years, although the Israelis redeployed their troops from Gaza, they never withdrew the symbols of their dominance and occupation. They continue to control the borders, which mean controlling food, medicine, fuel and goods going in and out of the Strip. In essence, they have turned Gaza into the largest open-air prison in the world.

If the Israeli leaders assume that they can assure the security of their citizens by the might and the power of their superior army and air force, they are mistaken. The outrage caused among the peoples in the Arab and Islamic world by these horrible attacks will most likely blow dark clouds over the skies of Israel or elsewhere in the world.

Israel should learn to negotiate with its neighbors in good faith. Negotiating in good faith means implementing UN resolutions, ending the occupation of the West Bank, opening the borders of the Gaza Strip to the rest of the world and stopping military incursions into the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The rise of Hamas and militancy in Gaza is directly related to a vacuum that Israel and the United States have created by dragging their feet in never-ending and fruitless peace negotiations with moderate Palestinians. As long as Israel continues to place obstacles on the path of the peace process and as long as the US continues to allow it to do so, we can expect new outbursts of violence in the Middle East that will cause more horrors and waste more lives on both sides of the political divide.

The Israelis have the right to live in peace and security and so do the people of Gaza. I call on you, friends, to pray for the civilians on both sides who are caught in this nightmare. In addition to praying, let us protest these lethal bombs with a barrage of our own letters to our elected leaders calling for an end to this human tragedy.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008
  Elections and Poverty
NZ is in the middle of a General Election - though we sometimes forget, especially online, because of all the fuss about dirty tricks and slanging matches overseas where some characters called Michael Palin and Barak O'Bama (a British comedian and an Irish-Arab terrorist) are competing to rule the richest nation on earth.

It is instructive on this Blog Action Day (or should I use the TLA which is BAD?) with its theme of "poverty, to notice how often providing a decent chance in life for the poor crops up in the candidates' and leaders' speeches. It does not matter whether the poor are local or foreign, the frequency count so far is the same - zero.

That's right I have not heard a single reference to giving a chance to those whom birth or circumstances have pushed down, though once or twice there have been references to protecting those with savings in the bank, and everyone is determinded to bid for the students vote, and law and order get ritual mentions... Many of the issues on which the politicians proclaim proud policy are important, a few are really important, not least the question of trust ;) But so far none of them have addressed poverty - it seems to have replaced sex in NZ as a topic one does not mention in polite company ;)


Wednesday, September 03, 2008
  Letter to my MP
I have only written to my MP a very few times in my four decades as a voter, so you could hardly call me a political activist ;) But this morning I have written to the Hon Phil Goff who is the MP for my constituency. I reproduce the letter here, in the hopes that others might want to write something similar to their representatives.

Email to my Representative the Hon Phil Goff MP

Dear Mr Goff,

I am writing to you, as you are my constituency MP, and a previous Foreign Minister, and because I imagine that the Prime Minister who is (I believe) standing in as Foreign Minister currently is probably even busier than you are ;)

I am puzzled that a Labour-led government (who I would expect to be concerned for basic human rights and dignity) does not seem to have been at all active in taking steps to encourage a resolution to the twenty year old conflict in Burma where a military junta, which assumed power in the wake of protests at a previous military government, has been systematically and brutally suppressing all dissent, refusing to negotiate with either the current opposition or with the political party elected by an overwhelming majority in the last free elections, and instead setting up a bogus process which is intended to cement their own rule. The junta is guilty of documented crimes against humanity, including the use of forced labour and rape as a weapon, in their suppression of ethnic minorities.

I have not written to a politician on such a topic before, but the latest case just seems so disgusting (see the account below this message) and comes only days after we signed a free trade deal which includes the Myanmar (Burma) Junta among its beneficiaries, that I felt this time I could not simply stand by and ignore my country's complicity in these crimes.

[Account of the rape of Nhkum Hkawn Din from Sarah Armitage, Partners UK & Childcare Projects Coordinator.

On 27th July 2008 near Nam Sai village, Kachin State, Nhkum Hkawn Din left her house to take food to her brother who was working in a paddy field on their parent's farm. When her brother returned home later that day not having seen her, the family realised that something was wrong. After searching most of the evening, she was reported missing.

Towards the end of the third day of searching, her clothes and shoes were found alongside the basket she had been carrying to her brother. Her body, naked and mutilated, was finally found only 200 metres away from a Burma Army checkpoint. According to family members she had been gang raped and then further violated with knives. Her skull had been crushed beyond recognition and her facial features obliterated. Her eyes had been gouged out and her throat was cut. She had also been stabbed in the stomach and on her right side.

Local witnesses say that they saw Nhkum Hkawn Din being followed by Burma Army soldiers on her way to the paddy field and that they saw the soldiers, one of who was recognised as a Colonel, leave the area a little later on.

The local army commanders have admitted that one of their lower ranking soldiers, Soe Thu Win, carried out the attack. He was recognised by witnesses during a line-up and later confessed under interrogation. It has been stated that he will be sentenced to 20 years in jail without trial. The Colonel was not interrogated and has since been relocated.

The family have been offered $500 plus some food (1 bag of rice, cooking oil, 5 cans of milk and some sugar) as compensation.

There has been no official investigation and once again the Burma Army are getting away with murder.

Rape is systematically used as a weapon of war against ethnic minorities in Burma, more than a thousand cases have been documented. There is also a culture of impunity, where no action is taken against soldiers who rape. On June 19th The United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1820 noting that rape and sexual violence can be described as a crime against humanity.]

Yours faithfully,

Tim Bulkeley

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Sunday, July 29, 2007
  On Satire and precious politicians
Jim West drew my attention (in his post Oh Those Crazy New Zealanders) to the absurd "new parliamentary rules which ban using images of MPs in the debating chamber to make fun of them" (NZ Herald). With a (sadly) few (but notable) exceptions politicians have no sense of humour. But this rule is ridiculous. The TV networks have no need to ignore the rule, they just need to broadcast selected highlights of the parliamentary debate with no comment. Depending on the level of idiocy achieved in the selection broadcast we'll all either fall asleep, or perceive the deep and biting satire of human life that is politics.

As for Anthony Flannery's claim that

The public has a right to see how their elected representatives behave and perform in Parliament -- warts and all.
That is one right that I am happy to fail to exercise 99.99999% of the time - I have better things to do.

Please note the photo and caption on the right (taken from Scoop) are in NO WAY intended to satirise our respected PM, who will no doubt continue to defend her errant minister to the bitter end!

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