At the end of June 1971, I found myself in ward 52 of Royal Melbourne Hospital, prescribed complete bed rest and given heavy duty drugs to help my back pain. At the same time, the Moratorium Movement was planning its third march to protest against the Vietnam War. My hospital regime allowed visitors for an hour a day, between 7 and 8 p.m. Several of my fellow-theological students were involved in the Moratorium and were keen to recruit me. It was my first opportunity to march: I had been in country WA for the previous two marches and had not been required to make a decision.
‘We could put you in a wheelchair and push you down Swanston Street,’ my friends said, as though it was a student lark. But it was far more serious than that. I was torn, but in the end, when June 30 came around, I was too unwell to participate. At 7 p.m. that night I saw the black and white images on TV and heard my friends’ first-hand reports of the 100,000 citizens who marched to the Shrine on St Kilda Road.
In the late 60s and on into the 70s many people, particularly those of us who were students, had to decide whether or not to take part in protests. These were not easy or automatic decisions. We saw people arrested and locked up at protests and knew prison was a possible consequence of civil disobedience. We heard of students in Queensland being jailed simply for gathering. ‘Don’t bother applying for a march permit,’ premier Bjelke-Peterson told potential protestors, ‘You won’t get one. That’s government policy now!’
We read about Martin Luther King Jr and his time in Birmingham City Jail in 1963. Founder of the Plowshares Movement, Catholic priest Dan Berrigan, who had been a leader in the anti-Vietnam war movement went to jail for trespass on and damage to the General Electric nuclear missile facility in Pennsylvania.
A prototypical West Australian protestor was elegant and wealthy Mrs Bessie Rischbieth J.P., O.B.E. Mrs Rischbieth, a theosophist and feminist, was a grande dame from upmarket Peppermint Grove. I remember her in 1966 aged 89 wading into the Swan River in front of the bulldozers as her attempt to prevent the filling in of the river for the building of the Narrows Bridge. While she did not succeed there, her direct action earlier stopped the construction of a swimming pool in Kings Park. In court Mrs Rischbieth was haughtily defiant, but paid her fines. I don’t recall if she was ever sentenced to prison. it’s unlikely. No judge in small town Perth would have risked the fuss!
I learned two things from these protest movements: protestors should expect the normal consequences for their illegal actions. Just because their protests are morally right does not excuse them from the normal legal accountabilities. In fact, doing time is a way of demonstrating moral seriousness. Secondly, protestors need to be part of an organisation, people who can keep them honest, protect them in ugly situations and support them through the processes of court and prison. Solo protestors are extremely vulnerable to early burnout.
I am encouraged by the new round of protests this century, including by groups working to protect the environment. Sea Shepherd and Greenpeace clearly know the history of the anti-Vietnam War and anti-nuclear protests, and like Bessie Rischbieth and Old Testament prophets, take symbolic actions in the very places where the environment is at risk.
We are poorly served by some of the correspondents writing reports of Sea Shepherd and Greenpeace. They seem ignorant of the history of protest. They seem to believe that the protestors think they should be above the law. For the ‘Arctic 30’ (those detained by Russia for their protests against the Gazpron oilrig), the media have been strident in condemning Russia for their over-reaction, but they have not praised the protestors for the legal risks they ran. They have not even appraised their moral stance. The end result is that they denigrate the moral seriousness of the protestors.
Greenpeace provide strong support to those detained and to their families publicly and it would seem privately, but parts of the media don’t get the process.
I’d like those reporters to read about Bessie Rischbieth, about the Berrigan brothers, Martin Luther King Jr, the Palm Sunday marches, Harvey Milk, all the heroes who have made ours a freer society. Maybe then they could more accurately evaluate the efforts of those who put their lives on the line today to make the world a better and safer place.
I am presumptuously early in congratulating you both on your election, the Coalition’s accession to Government and your appointment as our Foreign Minister. But I do wish you well in representing all of us in the wider world.
Like you, I am appalled by the use by the Assad regime of chemical weapons. I am appalled that they should use such inhumane weapons and I am dumbfounded that they should use them against their own people.
I agree that the rest of the world cannot sit by and by silence condone their use.
However, I cannot see the logical step by which President Obama and the Australian Government believe that the appropriate punitive response is a response of force. A military response, apart from the illegality of attacking a sovereign nation that is not attacking us, reduces us to the level of the Assad government.
Non-violent response to the use of chemical weapons makes a more powerful and far more ethical statement. The rest of the world should not bomb, strafe or murder Syrians. Rather we should
° firstly state our opposition and disgust in response to the Assad regime’s actions through diplomatic channels.
° Secondly the West should better target humanitarian aid so that the real victims of the civil war can at least survive in safety. Standing by the least powerful Syrians, whether in refugee camps or cowering in suburbs in Damascus or Aleppo is a strong condemnation of the war.
° Thirdly the world can use mass media and social media inside and beyond Syria to condemn the actions of the Assad government. Humiliating a tyrant with words is more effective than killing his cousins, which only inflames the situation.
As our future Foreign Minister, Ms Bishop, please avoid adding to blood-shed by urging the world to act ethically and non-violently.
(The Rev’d) Ted Witham
Episcopal theologian Frank Kirkpatrick has a similar take on Huffington Post.
Michelle Cohen Corasanti, The Almond Tree, Reading, UK: Garnet Publishing
Paperback from $AUD 11.22 (online) or Kindle E-book: $US 3.49
Reviewed by Ted Witham
I wept frequently while reading this outstanding first novel.
The Almond Tree tells the story of Ichmad Hamid, a gifted Palestinian boy whose family home is destroyed to make way for Jewish settlers. They lose their orchard and, after some years in a tent, are able to build a one-room cement-block house on the tiny patch of land the Israelis leave for them. Ichmad’s beloved Baba is sent to prison for 14 years after 12-year-old Ichmad helps radicals bury weapons in their backyard. Their small home and all its possessions are again destroyed by Israeli soldiers.
In his father’s absence, Ichmad takes on the role of provider for his family, working on Israeli settler construction sites for far less wages than the suspicious Iraqis and Russians who work with him. Following his father’s advice Ichmad tries to choose always the way of peace, and despite endless provocations, not to return hatred for hatred.
Teacher Mohammad offers to tutor the gifted boy every evening after work. Ichmad wins a scholarship in Maths and Physics to Hebrew University, and sets out on a stellar academic career. He collaborates with his Professor, a bitter Jew whose family was murdered in Auschwitz. Eventually the two become close friends and win the Nobel Prize jointly for their work on nanotechnology.
Ichmad continues to support his family on his Professor’s wage at Harvard, and maintains close contact with his village. He identifies with their life-giving almond tree with its roots deep in Palestinian soil. At every turn in his story he encounters tragedy, much of it caused by the brutality of Israeli occupation, and Ichmad’s desire to choose peace almost always – eventually – turns the tragedies into something deeper and positive for his people and his family.
This is a powerful first novel by a courageous Jewish-American woman. I did not need to be persuaded that the occupation of Palestine is anything but a disaster for the Palestinians. It would be wonderful if this novel helped others to see the human cost of providing a secure and secular state for the Jewish people. It may just be sufficiently powerful to do so.
The Farmer and the Greenie Should Be Friends …. But…
I am sitting in my brother’s farm ute. My brother is driving. His best dog keeps his distance from the slow-moving mob of pregnant ewes. We are taking them to a paddock where they’ll have more room for lambing. It’s a slow progress across the paddocks. It’s important not to stress these sheep: by the time their lambs are born they will need to be in top condition with the best pastures easily accessible to them.
This care for animals is not only prudent business: my brother treats the animals on his farm well for their own sakes. I know many farmers like him. Farmers in general are unlikely to be cruel to animals, or allow others to be cruel to their stock coming from their property.
Like many others over the last few years, I have become concerned about the way some animals are treated. I was too distressed to watch to the end the Four Corners program on the slaughtering of cattle in Indonesia. I worry that cattle and chickens are force-fed in smaller and smaller pens. I wish we could always buy free-range animals and eggs.
But one thing I am sure of is that farmers are not enemies to animals. Most do what they can to look after sheep, cattle, dogs, pigs and hens. I am angry at activists who call for radical changes to farming practices without investigating how the majority of farmers do things. Often activists ask people to rally around causes that are based on old or incomplete information.
Take the story on mulesing sheep. Mulesing is a drastic operation where skin is cut away from around the sheep’s backside. Before farmers mulesed, there was a high incidence of fly-strike. When flies lay maggots in sheep, the maggots eat away the flesh of the sheep while the sheep is still alive. Mulesing – with much milder consequences for the animal – reduced the rates of fly-strike considerably.
PETA and other activists groups called for the abolition of mulesing. They showed graphic pictures of a sheep’s rump after the skin had been cut. Rarely did they mention the maggots threatening the lives of sheep, and they certainly showed no gruesome pictures of half-eaten still-living sheep. The farmers could well have countered the arguments of PETA by demonstrating the benefits of mulesing. Instead, the farmers went a step further and agreed to a total ban on mulesing. An enormous research effort produced chemical mulesing.
Animals Australia tells this story with reasonable accuracy, but its concluding call to action does not follow logically from the story and is any case out-dated.
I don’t believe that a perfect solution has been worked out, but I do believe the farmers wanted the same end result as the activists. And with their first-hand knowledge, they could be honest about the situation.
Animals Australia condemns all live sheep export and describes their investigations showing cruelty against animals in transit and in market countries. It counters industry claims to improvement; but not with detailed evidence, rather with graphic photos.
Their ethical arguments begin with the assertion that raising animals to eat is wrong in itself, and therefore any instances of cruelty, however isolated, prove the point. The reality, however, is that our society accepts the use of animals for eating. Finding enough protein for a healthy and balanced diet without meat is currently an expensive challenge.
Farmers who grow animals for meat are not acting illegally, nor are they anti-social, and to claim that all their activity is unethical is at the very least controversial, and is usually insulting. Environmental concerns may well price meat out of existence over time and we will simply be forced to find replacement protein. But we are not at that place yet. Discouraging cruelty to animals makes more common sense in the short to medium term than calling for a total ban on meat.
Animal activists come over as either unrealistic idealists or deliberately undermining the livelihood of the very farmers on whom we depend for our food.
The greenies and the farmers should be friends. Both groups are genuinely working towards a world in which there is less cruelty to animals. But polarising the debate by calling for a complete ban on meat and demonising all involved in its production and transport is unwise and unproductive. It is no wonder farmers defending live sheep exports organise their gatherings off-line away from the glare of volatile social media. Their cause is so easily hi-jacked by easy and sentimental appeal of the animal activists.
I’ve heard many complaints about boat-people in the past few weeks, no doubt fuelled by the inflammatory statements of some politicians. Here are six of those complaints with my response to them. For each of the complaints there is, I think, an underlying and unnecessary fear. I have listed these as well because I believe that our community will not begin to resolve these issues unless we listen intently to these fears and reassure people of our safety.
One cheer for the Americans. It is reported that a drone aeroplane killed Abu Yahya al-Libi, Al-Qaeda’s number two. Oh, and by the way, probably six other militants were killed in the same strike.
The world is probably better off without al-Libi and his like. They plot terrorist acts against Westerners, and I have no cheers for terrorists.
But our Christian moral tradition calls this extra-judicial taking of life by its proper name. It is murder. It is a violation of the sixth commandment: “You shall not kill.” It happens that my personal Christian commitment is to non-violence, and I am against all killing including killing in war and killing by the death penalty.
But I respect those who fought in wars. I think of my grandfather and the difficulty he had in re-connecting with his children after nearly three years away on the Western front. I think of my uncle Sim, his body racked with the shakes of Parkinson’s and a fragile mind, pushed to its limits by the memory of an engagement on ‘No-Man’s Land’ between trenches.
As soldiers, they were involved in killing. But they were fighting to keep our kind of society: they wanted a free society; a society where there is due process; a society where the actions of criminals are tried before punishment is pronounced.
Killing bin Laden and killing al-Libi without a trial makes a travesty of our democratic way of life. It is the behaviour not of a true democracy, but the actions of a vigilante group. We Christians may not agree on the specifics of these targeted strikes against individuals, but we should agree on the desire for justice and the care necessary for every human being if true justice, the justice envisaged by the prophet Isaiah is to be the real experience of our society.
Do you think it was right to kill this man? And what would you say about this to President Obama if you met him … or if you decide to write to him. (Go online to http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact, or address the envelope to The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20500, USA, and (from Australia) put a $2.35 stamp on it).