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Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Let's stop kidding ourselves about Libya

Up until 6 months ago - we were arming Gaddafi to the hilt. Now we are apparently sending in our SAS snatch squads to bring him to justice. We are trying to make ourselves and the Nato Allies into the heroes of the hour, when in fact it was us who had strengthened this dictators grip of power of the people of Libya.

In the years following his renunciation of nuclear technology, we happily gave him whatever weapons we could sell him, to help him torture and suppress the Libyan people.

And by encouraging a 6 month civil war, we have helped again to destabilise an oil producing nation, hoping to put in compliant new rulers.

The world was told that Nato's weapons would only be used to 'protect' civilians from Gaddafi's troops. The extensive bombing of Tripoli and now of Sirte shows this to be a complete fiction. As with Baghdad, the civilian infrastructure has been devastated, leaving millions without electricity, water and basic supplies.

Perhaps as many as 50,000 are dead.

There must be better ways of getting rid of dictators than this? O, I know, lets resist the urge to sell them whatever weaponry they need to suppress their own people in the first place!

Be down at the DSEi arms fare in London docklands, 13th September. Let's not allow some companies to get filthy rich with the blood of so many people on their hands

'A Just Church' at Greenbelt 2011!

What a weekend! Greenbelt is an incredible experience, and sums up for me all that can be wonderful about Christianity in the UK. It can be poetic, mystical, adventurous, challenging, inclusive and prophetic. The scriptures can come alive and faith can become a joyful explosion of experience and relationship. 25,000 people camp in Cheltenham Racecourse and share food, music and stories. It is awesome.

It was spoilt a bit by the fact that I was speaking. This made me extremely nervous, and I spent far too much time worrying about it. On Sunday evening, I was pleasantly surprised to see a huge line of people developing outside the tent I was speaking in. It turned out to be the queue for 'Pie Minister', a food stall. Never mind.

The first talk was a bit rambly, but it was certainly a good introduction to my book, and I hope that it encouraged a few to flick through it at the bookstall. My second talk, on the Monday, went much better - mostly because I decided to listen to the voice of Paulo Freire, (Brazilian radical educationalist), and be as dialogical as possible. I spoke for only 30 mins, to allow for 30 minutes of discussion. This was a wonderful chance to be more spontaneous and hear from some of the extraordinary people who had come to hear the talk 'Dancing in Millbank'.

The plea was that Christianity must be visibly present in the modern struggles to protect the welfare state. We must demonstrate the reign of God's love and peace, even in uncomfortable places that involve protest against war, environmental degradation and devastating inequalities. I think it struck a chord, and certainly the questions and statements were helpful.

Thank God for Greenbelt, and all who make it possible. Thanks to Billy Bragg, and Mark Thomas and the myriad of contributors and campers who made Greenbelt 2011 so memorable. Thanks also to all who came and encouraged my quest for a more 'Just Church'!

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Big Society = Big Riots

Don't get me wrong - I'm angered and outraged by the violence and looting of the past few days. I want those who set fire to buildings brought to justice. They do not care if people die through their actions, and they need to feel the full punishment of the law. Those who attack shops and restaurants, deliberately wanting to terrify customers, deserve whatever we can throw at them legally. These people do not give a damn about the family of Mark Duggan, they care about the thrill and profit of the riot. But if we simply leave all the blame with the rioters, we are making a huge mistake.

If you allow massive youth unemployment to go unabated, (Tottenham having one of the worst levels in the country) if you take away the opportunities for people to go on to further and higher education (and the massive increase in fees has certainly done that) and if you treat the young people of the black community with contempt (of which the stop and search policy alone gives clear evidence) then you are creating the conditions for a riot.

Criminality is not a condition people are born into. It is created. The policies of this Government, especially the cutbacks to local authority spending, but also the whole 'big society' agenda, is slowly eroding the civil life of this country. If you suddenly slash funding for youth groups, educational opportunities, local amenities - and add to that virtually no prospect of getting a job - then you create a ticking time bomb of crime and resentment.

I'm fearful that there is much more to come in the months ahead. Other cities and towns are bound to follow London, Birmingham, Manchester etc. It does not take long to create the right conditions for a riot. It will take many years to rebuild our fragmented society, and it has to start by challenging policies that tear down the fabric of local communities. Lets make sure we hold to account all those responsible for the terrible scenes we have seen on our streets, from the arsonists and looters to those whose policies are wrecking our society.