New Years eve is not just for looking ahead, but for looking back, and trying to learn from the highs and lows of the previous year. In the news, a few themes stood out for me, and here they are:
Syria. In 2013, the world's most serious conflict just got worse and worse, and the humanitarian disaster just keeps deepening. Much more needs to be done to create a peaceful solution, and it would be possible if Russia could be pushed into forcing Assad's hand. Pressure before the Winter Olympics is a possibility, but it would need a lot more political will. Despite the growing displacement of millions of people, it was also distressing to hear Britain saying it would not take in refugees from the situation. Assad's Government is happy to devastate huge sections of its country and starve entire cities. Islamic extremists are taking over the rubble, enforcing fundamentalist rules on a once liberal Islamic population. The only good news in 2013 was the dismantling of Assad's chemical weapons capability, and that the West did not make the situation worse by bombing Damascus. Syria needs our attention in 2014, the problem will not just disappear. As the 'Arab Spring' looks increasingly under attack in Egypt and throughout the Middle East - we need to support the brave voices of democracy and liberalism that are struggling to be heard.
Extremism. As Jeremy Scahill's documentary 'Dirty Wars' shows, we have successfully created 1000's more violent Muslim extremists by the violence of our interventions throughout the Islamic world. Since the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the killing of 1000's of innocents in drones strikes from Pakistan to Yemen, the West has managed to increase the threat of terrorism world wide. From bombings in Boston and Volgograd, to Supermarkets in Kenya, this has arguably been the worst year for terrorism since September 11th 2001. In Britain, 2 crazed fundamentalists tried to behead a British soldier, creating a flourish of attacks on innocent Muslims and on mosques throughout the country. The glimmer of hope was the decision of Tommy Robinson to expose the increasing racism and violent extremism of the EDL, bringing about the effective demise of both of them as a force in British politics. Oh, and we got rid of Di Canio here in Sunderland.
The Ghost of Thatcher. Thatcher's death did not see me celebrating, as her legacy continued to grow. 2013 saw increased attacks on the poor and on those surviving on benefits. We saw further privatisations and attacks on trade unions. In 'Food Bank' Britain, the gap between 'the haves and the have nots' increased throughout the year, especially within those forced to take on the growing number of low wage jobs on offer. Signs of Hope: Welby's attacks on banking culture and support for Credit Unions, Christian Aid's effective campaigning on Tax Justice (particularly at the G8) and the beginnings of the campaign renationalise the Energy companies. Much more needs to be done.
Surveillance Culture. Edward Snowden is definitely my man of the year (just pipping Pope Francis to the post!) who, despite knowing what the US will do to him, (poor old Bradley/Chelsea Manning) was willing to expose the full might of US and UK political and economic surveillance operation. From European Presidents to Unicef, from peace campaigners to anyone using the internet, we had proof of what we long suspected; nothing is private, we are all distrusted by our governments. In the UK, anti-drones protesters had their houses searched, and it came to light that family and friends of murdered Stephen Lawrence were monitored and, when needed, had their reputations smeared. Anti-racism campaigns were infiltrated by undercover police officers. In Russia things were worse, with the terrible incarceration of the Greenpeace 30. (Even their release along with the 2 brave women of 'Pussy Riot', was just politically expedient) To work for peace, or for human rights, or for racial justice, for environmental protection, all are treated as 'criminal' by our wayward states. Hope? Well, the exposure of these abuses of power at last gives credibility to our complaints, this might offer limited protection in the future.
There is so much more, and there are signs of hope all over. From people power in Brazil and Turkey to the way Venezuela resisted the attacks of the right wingers after Chavez's untimely death. For me as a priest, I am hopeful about the appointments of a new Pope and the new Archbishop of Canterbury, both of whom are looking promising as listeners and reformers.
Let's learn from 2013 and get ready to work for a better 2014!