Sunday, January 5, 2020

Let's Talk About Iran

Iranian women in Shiraz wearing the chador.

Alice C. Linsley

Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was born in 1919, the son of Reza Shah, an army officer who came to rule Persia after forcing out the previous Qajar dynasty with the backing of the British. He re-named his nation "Iran" and ordered foreign diplomats to cease using the name Persia.

Iran’s strong trade ties with Germany, and Western fears of possible Nazi control of the Iranian oil fields led to a Russian-British invasion of the country in 1941. At the insistence of the occupying British forces, Reza Shah abdicated in favor of his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

Reza Pahlavi was a very ambitious leader who attempted to drag Iran into the 20th century. Modern western styles were forced upon the Iranians under the Shah who did a great deal of window dressing to gain military and economic support from the West. Along with Western styles can public drinking, nudity in movies, and an influx of foreign nationals on such a large scale that housing and food costs became impossible for most Iranians. The Shah demanded that women not wear the chador. Older women refused to appear in public because for them this was an issue of modesty. The religious conservatives greatly resented the imposition of Western style and values. They also opposed the shah granting suffrage to women and his opening of private universities.

I lived in the city of Isfahan and felt the growing resentment. I left 1 year before the 1979 Islamic revolution and the capture of hostages in Tehran.

Nomadic peoples did not fare much better under the Shah. The Bahktiari were pressured to give up migration and the men were to wear western suit jackets. The Shah imprisoned and executed some of their leaders. The Shah's government was troubled by their semi-autonomy and their agreement with the British to protect the oil pipelines and share in the profits of the Anglo Iranian Oil Company. The Bakhtiaris were ordered to surrender their weapons and some were rounded up for conscription duties away from their territory. 

Qashqai women and children in Southern Iran

The Qashqai are another nomadic people who suffered under the Shah. The Qashgais revolted during 1962–1964 due to the land reforms of the White Revolution that endangered their herds. Most of their tribal leaders were exiled. After the 1979 Revolution their leader, Khosrow Khan Qashqai, returned to Iran from exile in the United States and Germany.

There has been growing interest in Iran since General Qasem Soleimani, commander of Iran's Quds Force was killed on January 3 in Baghdad, Iraq. He was a responsible for extraterritorial military and clandestine operations and suspected of proving aid to terrorists groups in Asia and Africa.

In 2011, Soleimani's men recruited a drug dealer named Manssor Arbabsiar to attempt to assassinate Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi ambassador to Washington, DC because Al-Jubeir had publicly decried Soleimani's terror ties.

After the attack on the US embassy in Baghdad and Soleimani's assassination, some fear that the Iranians and Iraqis will join forces against the United States, seeking retaliation. That may be so, but historically, the Iranians and the Iraqis are not natural allies. They are culturally and ethnically very different and do not share the same religious beliefs. Iranians are Indo-Europeans and Iraqis are Arabs. Iranians adhere to Shia Islam and Iraqis to Sunni Islam. The two groups hate each other.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Christmas is a Sad Season for the Poor

A Short Story by John Cheever
December 1949

Christmas is a sad season. The phrase came to Charlie an instant after the alarm clock had waked him, and named for him an amorphous depression that had troubled him all the previous evening. The sky outside his window was black. He sat up in bed and pulled the light chain that hung in front of his nose. Christmas is a very sad day of the year, he thought. Of all the millions of people in New York, I am practically the only one who has to get up in the cold black of 6 a.m. on Christmas Day in the morning; I am practically the only one.

He dressed, and when he went downstairs from the top floor of the rooming house in which he lived, the only sounds he heard were the coarse sounds of sleep; the only lights burning were lights that had been forgotten. Charlie ate some breakfast in an all-night lunchwagon and took an Elevated train uptown. From Third Avenue, he walked over to Park. Park Avenue was dark. House after house put into the shine of the street lights a wall of black windows. Millions and millions were sleeping, and this general loss of consciousness generated an impression of abandonment, as if this were the fall of the city, the end of time. He opened the iron-and-glass doors of the apartment building where he had been working for six months as an elevator operator, and went through the elegant lobby to a locker room at the back. He put on a striped vest with brass buttons, a false ascot, a pair of pants with a light-blue stripe on the seam, and a coat. The night elevator man was dozing on the little bench in the car. Charlie woke him. The night elevator man told him thickly that the day doorman had been taken sick and wouldn’t be in that day. With the doorman sick, Charlie wouldn’t have any relief for lunch, and a lot of people would expect him to whistle for cabs.

Read it all here.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Anxiety About New Poverty Guidelines

Steve Liss's photo reveals the abject poverty of the most vulnerable Americans. 

Though difficult to measure, poverty debilitates and robs people of a sense of value. How will the poor fare under new policies that are coming?

The Trump administration has been exploring alternative inflation measures to deal with the problem of poverty. Under a better measure of inflation, the poverty level would grow slightly less each year.

Writing here, Senator. Bob Casey and Indivar Dutta-Gupta point out:

The National Center on Children in Poverty created the Family Resource Simulator to illustrate the impact of work supports, including income tax credits and child care assistance, offering a more complete picture of how family resources change as earnings increase. NCCP suggests families typically need nearly twice as much as the official poverty level to make ends meet thanks to factors like rent and utilities, child care, health insurance premiums, out-of-pocket medical expenses, transportation, debt and payroll taxes. The Economic Policy Institute’s Family Budgets, MIT’s Living Wage Calculator and the University of Washington’s Self-Sufficiency Standards all came to similar conclusions.
Simply put, the common, necessary expense categories not fully accounted for in the official poverty measure means the costs we all face are substantially higher than what it implies.

The US Census Bureau dropped its annual load of statistics on American poverty and the data shows Americans were no better off in 2018 than they were in 2017. 2.3 million more people snagged full-time jobs and the official poverty rate fell half a percentage point. However, fewer people have health insurance, there is still not parity between men and women's earnings, and middle-class incomes hardly budged.

During President Donald Trump’s second year in office, income from safety net programs such as food stamps and housing subsidies kept 47.7 million people out of poverty. That’s 2.8 million more people compared to 2017.

Whatever policy and guideline changes come, poverty will continue to haunt many Americans, especially the most vulnerable. Relying on the government does not dispel anxiety. More service organizations, churches, synagogues and mosques should consider should identify the poor in their communities and befriend them in a way that restores dignity. As Mother Teresa advised, "Do not wait for leaders; Do it alone, person to person."

Related reading: Paid Parental Leave for Federal Workers; A Cynical Way To Make People Poor; A Cynical Way to Make People Disappear; US Government 2019 Poverty Guidelines

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Motivation to Serve the Poor

The December topic at Ethics Forum is poverty and serving the poor, for as it is said, "Tis the season of giving."

During the holiday season we are asked to donate to charities and many good causes. On "Giving Tuesday" we are solicited online. The Media reports on projects to feed the hungry and clothe the homeless. Charles Dickens' novella "A Christmas Carol" appears in various renditions on television to remind us not to be greedy and to take care of the less fortunate.

Sadly, the focus on caring for the poor is rarely sustained beyond December. Perhaps this is why Jesus said, "The poor you will always have with you." (Matthew 26:11)

Helping others requires motivation beyond the cheery mood of the holidays. It needs to be profitable in some way to the giver. What profits you depends on what you value.

In monastic communities that are called to serve the poor the reward is knowing the community's mission is being fulfilled. In corporate environments with charitable foundations a similar reward can be felt. However, most of us do not live in monastic communities, nor are we in the position to endow through charitable foundations. Many of us live on the edge of survival ourselves and sharing with others can be a true sacrifice.

Sacrificial giving can be a reward to those who recognize the value of sacrifice. Those who do not recognize the value of sacrifice usually defer to government agencies to take care of the poor. That is the attitude of Mr. Scrooge who was approached by the charity collectors.
"At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge," said the gentleman, taking up a pen, "it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and Destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir."
"Are there no prisons?" asked Scrooge.
"Plenty of prisons," said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.
"And the Union workhouses?" demanded Scrooge. "Are they still in operation?"
"They are. Still," returned the gentleman, "I wish I could say they were not."
"The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?" said Scrooge.

Later, the Spirit of Christmas Present mocks Scrooge's insensitivity by hurling his own words back at him. That is part of Scrooge's transformation. Sometimes we need a mirror held up before us to reveal our true selves. May December show us what we need to be more caring toward our fellow human beings.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Churchill and the Clash of Ideologies

Stalin, Truman, and Churchill before sessions of their meeting in Berlin in July 1945. 
Photograph: Bettmann Archive

World War II was precipitated by economic troubles and the clash of ideologies. Winston Churchill was well aware of the contributing factors and had to make difficult choices. He had been a prisoner in the Boer War, a controversial strategist in World War I, and instrumental in Britain's survival during the World War II. He was not stranger to war and a man of great determination. In 1925, he wrote, "The story of the human race is war."

Churchill's perceptions of Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and even Mahatma Ghandi tell the story of good guys and bad guys. Churchill was the sort who assesses a person's character based on actions, and doesn't change his mind.

He considered Roosevelt a strong leader. After meeting with Roosevelt in Washington in January 1942, Churchill reported to the War Cabinet how "the last thing the President said when he came to see me off was 'To the bitter end, trust me.' We are suffering heavy blows but the United States is setting about the war with great vigour. They have jumped right into it. There is a sense of resolve to fight it on. They have tactical ideas of war, Hitler is the enemy, they will do what can re: Japan, but nothing will get in the way of defeating Hitler."

Many of Churchill's thoughts and actions were recorded by a young secretary to the deputy secretary to the War Cabinet which met in Whitehall between 1939 and 1945. Lawrence Burgis was to have destroyed his notes, but historians are glad that he secretly kept them.

Winston Churchill told the War Cabinet on 10 December 1941 that it faced an entirely new situation due to the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. He believed in the possibility of Japanese control of the vast areas between Cape Town in South Africa and Vancouver in Canada.

Burgis recorded Churchill's confrontation with Field Marshal Jan Christian Smuts over his handling of Ghandi, saying, ‘You are responsible for all our troubles in India – you had Gandhi for years and did not do away with him.’ Smuts replied: ‘When I put him in prison – three times – all Gandhi did was to make me a pair of bedroom slippers.’ 

When Ghandi went on hunger strike during the war, Churchill told the Cabinet: "Gandhi should not be released on the account of a mere threat of fasting. We should be rid of a bad man and an enemy of the Empire if he died."

Sir Edward Grigg, the joint parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for War, reported that Gandhi was getting glucose in his orange juice, and another cabinet minister said ‘he had oil rubbed into him which was nutritious." Churchill, who considered Ghandi "a bad man," responded "it is apparently not a fast merely a change of diet."

Presentation of the Sword of Stalingrad on 29 November 1943.

Churchill's initial impression of Joseph Stalin was that he was "jocular" and predisposed to work toward some good, especially in Poland. He welcomed Soviet help in the war against Nazi Germany, but he recognized that the marriage of convenience could not hide the differences between the capitalism and communism.

At the 1943 Tehran conference, Churchill presented Stalin with the ceremonial Sword of Stalingrad, specially forged and inscribed by command of King George VI as a token of homage from the British people to the Soviet defenders of the city during the Battle of Stalingrad.

Churchill summed up the Tehran proceedings in these words: “There I sat with the great Russian bear on one side of me with paws outstretched, and, on the other side, the great American buffalo. Between the two sat the poor little English donkey, who was the only one who knew the right way home.”

Churchill's attitude toward Stalin changed after the Potsdam Summit. He felt that Stalin asked too much.

During his second premiership, Churchill opposed the United States' nuclear approach to the Cold war and said, "I do not believe that the immense problem of reconciling the security of Russia with the freedom and safety of Western Europe is insoluble..." Of the U.S. policy Churchill remarked, "If you go on with this nuclear arms race, all you are going to do is make the rubble bounce."

In Great Britain Churchill became increasingly outspoken in his opposition to socialism. In a speech delivered in Perth, Scotland on 24 May 1948, he said, “Socialism is the philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy.” (Europe Unite: Speeches 1947; 1948, London: Cassell, 1950, p.347.)

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Anarchy and the Elites

“You've got that eternal idiotic idea that if anarchy came it would come from the poor. Why should it? The poor have been rebels, but they have never been anarchists; they have more interest than anyone else in there being some decent government. The poor man really has a stake in the country. The rich man hasn't; he can go away to New Guinea in a yacht. The poor have sometimes objected to being governed badly; the rich have always objected to being governed at all. Aristocrats were always anarchists.”― G.K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare

Friday, November 8, 2019

Living in a Post-Human World

The parish church of St Mary Magdalene at Little Whelnetham, Suffolk

R.R. Tarsitano writes, "No institution (Government, Academia, Media, etc.) is coming to save us. In fact, they will use our hope in them against us, gladly taking our time and treasure to sell us back a mess of pottage for our birthright. In a post-human world, men and women are merely objects to be manipulated for maximal pleasure until we all march into the darkness.

Tarsitano is an Anglican priest who directed this article to his fellows Anglicans. In "Outline of an Anglican Parish in the Post-Human West" he says, "As traditional Anglicans, the rest of our lives should be spent opposing these two ways to die by sacrificing ourselves for a Christ centered community."

This article is an "in-house" conversation among Anglicans. However, one need not be Anglican or even religious to apply many of Father Tarsitano's suggestions for loving humanity. These can apply in many contexts.