Friday, 4 December 2015

Respect For (All) Life


Dear Reader,

In 1965, fifty years ago this year, two of the world's most renowned individuals of that era died, both of them at the age of 90. One was Sir Winston Churchill: the other was Dr. Albert Schweitzer.

There are those reading this who will wonder why I bracket Schweitzer with Churchill as a great name, and I suspect the cause for that is down to the media attention that Churchill received over many years, particularly in both World War One and World War Two, which seem to place him high in the western mindset. In the latter period in particular he was constantly in the limelight, and then he was returned as prime minister of the UK between 1951 and 1955. He was greatly feted in both the UK and the USA.

The two men were, in some ways, an antithesis of one another. Churchill had the reputation (somewhat unfairly, I believe) of being a 'warmonger', while Schweitzer (for all of his life) tried to find life-affirming positives in creation and to bring them to the forefront. However, Churchill was an artist, both with his usage of the English language and his interpretation of the landscape on canvas, while Schweitzer was the artist as a musician (organist) and philosopher, firstly theoretically and then practically, with the last 50 years of his life effectively dedicated to the development of his hospital in the Congo. He wanted to demonstrate that philosophy could be lived out - that the way he conducted his life was his real message.

Both men suffered in certain ways, Churchill taking himself off to fight in the trenches of the front line in France after taking complete responsibility for the disaster of Gallipoli and then left out on the fringe of politics for a long period, while (in the same War) Schweitzer was interned by France as a German national. It was during that internment that his wife began to lose her health and from which she suffered seriously for the remainder of her life.

In their own ways, both men were extraordinary characters. Churchill's exploits are more well known, while Schweitzer's life is more vague to most. Certainly, I remembered reading about him as a child when the focus was purely on his life in the Congo, but it was not until recently that I found that he was such a profound philosophical writer and one who was open-minded enough to not only search deeply into the teachings of Jesus (he was a trained theologian amidst all his other professional qualifications as a musician, philosopher and medical doctor), but also to embrace eastern teachings, being particularly impressed by the Indian doctrine of ahimsa - non-violence. And it was in his living non-violently and pro-actively that underpinned his life's undertakings.

Schweitzer's message was orientated towards giving respect to all life.

It was Schweitzer (though it is a fact that is little known) who opposed the development of nuclear armaments in the 1940s and 1950s, and it was his considerable effort in that arena that led to the creation of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) of which Sir Bertrand Russell was such a figurehead in Britain in the 1950s and 60s.

So, if Churchill and Schweitzer were still alive, I can imagine Churchill's speeches leading us on and forward when coming to the question of the military incursions into the Middle East in the last 25 years, and Schweitzer making pleas for the opposite and for peaceful negotiation.

I can't help thinking that Schweitzer's approach would have negated the effect of the terrorist. Indeed, his approach would have allowed them no excuse for action: we would never have come to know about Daesh.

Love ever; hurt never. A Vedic ideal worth striving for, I suggest.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Labouring Towards a Split?


Dear Reader,

Yesterday's debate on Cameron's proposal for air strikes on Daesh made for compelling viewing - in parts. I didn't watch the whole thing - just the first hour and the last hour (of 10 hours) but what I did see and hear largely impressed me as committed parliamentary debate. A lot of people were definitely speaking from the heart - but therein perhaps lay the problem: too much emotion and lack of reason.

A good deal of the Labour support for the motion was in support for the French. "If the atrocities had been committed in London [and not Paris] wouldn't we be upset if France didn't support our retaliation?" - was a main theme. Also, "strikes have done their part in Iraq, so why not Syria?" - another theme. The fact that Syria is such a complex and rich cocktail was largely ignored by the emotionalists.

Perhaps the most telling speech was the penultimate one - by Hilary Benn (Labour shadow foreign sec). His speech has been lauded as one of the most brilliant on record. But was the content so impressive?

Here's what someone on reddit.com wrote...
I've just listened to this, and personally found it totally unconvincing. It was a well crafted speech, but more of an appeal to emotion than an appeal to reason.
Hilary Benn talked a lot about the threat to the UK and the atrocity in Paris, but failed to make the case for air strikes having any effect whatever on this.
He also talked up the less than stellar successes in Iraq. In reality there is a lot more work to be done in Iraq, and he didn't disclose the reasons for shifting our focus to Syria.
And his point about the 70,000 (or however many) men fielded by supposed allies was technically correct: there will indeed be less people on our side as time goes on. This is a campaign that has a terrible attrition on infantry. But he can't dismiss the uncertainty about their numbers, composition or allegiance: this is absolutely key.I regret to conclude that Hilary Benn is playing his own game here, and it's not a game I have much sympathy with.
Agreed. The speech - for me at least - sounded more like one from someone who was out to make a name for himself, perhaps as a replacement for Jeremy Corbyn?

I sense a split in the Labour Party fairly soon.