Politics – 5

Russia

As a country, it is full of contradictions.  One sees the growth of private industry and an openness to tourism.  It hosts international sports events.  Yet corruption is rife and the country has a good number of oligarchs, who are very, very rich.  It is very difficult to speak out against President Putin or his friends. Then there is the extreme poverty, especially in the eastern part of Russia.  Evangelical Christians, Jehovah’s Witnesses and other religious groups are being targeted, including the forcible closing down of churches.

These days, the Russian Government has been accused of interfering in a number of political events (the recent American election and the EU referendum).  And now there is circus that is the supposed involvement of the Russian FSB (what was the KGB) in the use of a chemical agent in the attack on an ex-Soviet spy and his daughter in Salisbury, a town in the south of England, not too far from Portondown, the UK centre for research into how to deal with chemical and biological ‘agents’.  The UK Government has said it is almost certain that the ‘attack’ on British soil was orchestrated by Russia.  As a consequence the ‘game’ of expulsions has begun.  What makes it different from previous events is the sheer number of countries that have supported the UK in expelling a number of Russian diplomats.

What do we know about the chemical Novichok?

Novichok (Russian: Новичо́к, “newcomer”) is a series of nerve agents the Soviet Union and Russia developed between 1971 and 1993.[a][2][3] Russian scientists who developed the agents claim they are the deadliest nerve agents ever made, with some variants possibly five to eight times more potent than VX,[4][5] and others up to ten times more potent than soman.[6]

They were designed as part of a Soviet program codenamed “FOLIANT”.[7][1] Five Novichok variants are believed to have been weaponised for military use.[8] The most versatile was A-232 (Novichok-5).[9] Novichok agents have never been used on the battlefield.

In 2016 Iranian chemists synthesised five Novichok agents for analysis and produced detailed mass spectral data which was added to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons Central Analytical Database.[12][13] Previously there had been no detailed descriptions of their spectral properties in open scientific literature.[14][12]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Novichok_agent


Russia’s record with Chemical and Biological Agents

The Soviet Union’s chemical weapons programme was in such disarray in the aftermath of the Cold War that some toxic substances and know-how could have got into the hands of criminals, say people who dealt with the programme at the time.

“Could somebody have smuggled something out?” said Amy Smithson, a biological and chemical weapons expert.

“I certainly wouldn’t rule that possibility out, especially a small amount and particularly in view of how lax the security was at Russian chemical facilities in the early 1990s.”

While nerve agents degrade over time, if the pre-cursor ingredients for the nerve agent were smuggled out back then, stored in proper conditions and mixed recently, they could still be deadly in a small-scale attack, two experts on chemical weapons told Reuters.

Accounts of security deficiencies at weapons facilities indicate that, at least for a period in the 1990s, Moscow was not in firm control of its chemical weapons stockpiles or the people guarding them.

When Russian banking magnate Ivan Kivelidi and his secretary died in 1995 from organ failure after a military-grade poison was found on the telephone receiver of his Moscow office, an employee of a state chemical research institute confessed to having secretly supplied the toxin.

In a closed-door trial, Kivelidi’s business partner was convicted of poisoning Kivelidi over a dispute. At the trial, prosecutors said the business partner had obtained the poison, via several intermediaries, from Leonid Rink, an employee of a state chemical research institute known as GosNIIOKhT.

The same institute, according to Vil Mirzayanov, a Soviet chemical weapons scientist who later turned whistleblower, was part of the state chemical weapons programme and helped develop the “Novichok” family of nerve agents that Britain has said was responsible for poisoning Skripal.

In a statement to investigators after his arrest, viewed by Reuters, Rink said he was in possession of poisons created as part of the chemical weapons programme which he stored in his garage. On more than one occasion, he said, he sold the substances to supplement his income and pay down a debt.

The poison in the Kivelidi case was sold in a deal brokered by an ex-policeman contact of Rink’s. Rink handed over the poison, in an ampoule hidden inside a pen presentation box, in a meeting at Moscow’s Belorussky station, according to his statement.

Rink received a one-year suspended prison sentence for “misuse of powers,” according to Boris Kuznetsov, who was a lawyer for Kivelidi’s business partner during the trial.

Kuznetsov said he believed his client was innocent, and that Kivelidi was poisoned by rogue intelligence officers acting without the knowledge of the Russian president at the time, Boris Yeltsin.

The Soviet chemical weapons programme was a sprawling operation spread across far-flung provincial cities that incorporated the world’s largest chemical arsenal, publicly declared at 40,000 tonnes.

When the Soviet Union ceased to exist, funding dried up, scientists’ salaries were in several months of arrears, staff morale slumped and facilities were left to fend for themselves with little government control or oversight.

According to a 1995 report published by the Henry L. Stimson Center, a Washington security think-tank, and based on accounts from industry insiders, physical security at the facilities was deficient.

It said railroad entrances to the facilities were padlocked but unguarded, and at some sites chemical weapons were stored in buildings with wooden doors and tiled roofs that an intruder could get into with little difficulty.

Chemical weapons were stored in silos without tamper-proof seals, making it difficult to detect if small quantities were being siphoned off.

A second report by the Stimson Center four years later highlighted the risk of Soviet chemical weapons scientists – who earned a pittance when they were paid at all – being recruited by criminals, terrorists, or rogue states.

“All the ingredients for successful black marketeering are present through the chemical and biological complexes – under- or unemployed, scientists and managers, valuable commodities at far-flung locations, and poor security,” the report said.

SATELLITE STATES

In some cases in the early 1990s, highly toxic chemical agents wound up outside Russian territory, in ex-Soviet facilities in newly-independent states such as Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan.

According to Mirzayanov, the former Soviet chemical weapons scientist, the “Novichok” family of nerve agents developed by the GosNIIOKhT institute was tested in Nukus, Uzbekistan.

In an interview with Reuters on Tuesday, Mirzayanov, now resident in Princeton, New Jersey, said though he believed the Kremlin was behind the Skripal attack.

The ex-Soviet republics outside Russia that suddenly found themselves hosting ex-Soviet chemical weapons facilities were even less equipped than Moscow to secure them.

U.S. troops who arrived in Uzbekistan after 2001 to establish an air base in the city of Khanabad came across stockpiles of old munitions that had not been accounted for, which turned out to contain chlorine and other chemical compounds, said someone who was present at the time and who spoke on condition of anonymity.

People in the chemical weapons field said security since the 1990s had improved drastically, helped by Western aid, the transfer of weapons stockpiles from neighbouring states to Russia and a stronger Russian state.

Russia’s trade and industry ministry, which oversaw the disposal of chemical weapons stockpiles, said in a statement sent to Reuters that Russia had destroyed 100 percent of the stocks in strict compliance with international commitments, and faster than the United States.

The ministry did not address questions about chemical weapons smuggling in the aftermath of the Soviet collapse.

Ukraine’s state security service, which tracks weapons proliferation, said it had no immediate comment.

The Uzbek foreign ministry did not respond to a request for comment. The state-owned Kazakh nuclear company which operates the Pavlodar Chemical Plant, a former chemical weapons facility, and the Energy Ministry, to which the nuclear company reports, did not reply to questions.

http://news.trust.org/item/20180314181331-8936f/


Vil Mirzayanov, as mentioned above, is supposed to have published the formula for the nerve agent.  If that is true, then anyone could have used it.  The issue is why was Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33 attacked with such an agent?  A possible explanation can be found here http://www.news.com.au/world/europe/the-daughter-of-former-russian-spy-sergei-skripal-was-the-real-target-of-the-nerve-agent-attack-relative-claims/news-story/5d7bb94389d882b6a41ee4afc5cc5d01 and here https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/russian-spy-poisoning-skripal-salisbury_uk_5a9fbe18e4b0d4f5b66bcd91


Gwyn Winfield—the editorial director of CBRNe World magazine, a trade publication for those dealing with chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, or explosive threats—said it’s possible that the Russians continued to develop novichoks in the years after the publication of Mirzayanov’s book. But even then, the British were probably able to reliably gather minute traces with a novichok’s unique chemical signature.

“You’d have to detect the phosphate chain, and they [mass spectrometers] are probably looking at broad families detecting something hazardous in the environment,” Winfield added, referring to a flame phytometry detector that the British Army likely used for chemical identification.

Winfield said it’s also important to note that we don’t yet have any idea what particular novichok variant hit the Skripals and the police officer who responded to them.

When Winfield first heard about the incident, he and other journalists thought it was a fentanyl overdose. “When the Salisbury Hospital shut down, [it was done so for] fentanyl poisoning,” Winfield told The Daily Beast. “That sounded right, that we were looking at two individuals who had overdosed on something.”

Fentanyl wouldn’t be out of the question: Prior to its more recent use in the United States as an opioid, Winfield said the drug has been used for assassination attempts. “It was effective and inefficient, and there was plausible deniability,” he said, pointing out that victims could be thought to have overdosed.

When Prime Minister May came out and said the culprit was novichoks, Winfield said he was surprised, particularly given that Skripal reportedly became aggressive, waved his arms, and pointed to the sky while yelling in Russian, he said. “Those don’t fit into what we know about organophosphate exposures,” Winfield explained—which means that while novichok is being pointed to as the source nerve agent, it’s possible that it was swirled with another drug that produced hallucinogenic qualities that were more similar to a fentanyl poisoning.

https://www.thedailybeast.com/sorry-i-developed-the-weapon-that-poisoned-a-russian-spy


In all the ‘fuss’ about the attempted murder, it is time to put the issue into context.  This involves a couple of people who are the centre of a political ‘crisis’.  But, what about the other more pressing issues that are happening around the world?  For example, the situation in the South China Seas (where China has claimed jurisdiction over large swathes of the area and so is at odds with her neighbours and the USA), or the Yemen (where millions are dying due to lack of food and medicine as bombing continues), or the growth of the drug cartels, human trafficking and the arms trade.  These involve a lot more people and just because some of the ‘issues’ are ‘over there’ does not mean we should treat people any different than we do in the UK, for they all have the potential of developing into wider disputes and much loss of life.  And at a time when relations with Russia over the Ukraine and Syria are at a all-time low, it is not diplomatic to accuse it until definite and corroborated evidence can be presented to them show Mrs May and Mr Johnson calling them ‘names’.

So, I call upon the media, government and the public to stop jumping to conclusions over this affair, and see it in a wider world context.

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Business – 4

What types of business model should we have in today’s society?

With multi-nationals getting bigger and bigger such that they have much power and influence over Governments with regards to employment and tax incentives, it is about time that we had another look at what models of business are best for everyone, not just the relative few millionaires.  As with the concern about companies hiding their money in tax havens, not knowing who the beneficial owners are, and issues about ethics, sustainability, the environment and provenance, there needs to be a re-think of how we do business.  Also, we need to get away from having one main employer in a town because if it closes it effects the whole community directly and indirectly.

Therefore, I believe, we should do a mixture of  models which are both ‘local’ and ‘franchised’, through employee ownership, co-operatives and social enterprises, all coming together.  Through changing to such models will help make sure that people feel part of the business, helping to make a real difference to society as well as seeing jobs becoming more interesting and satisfying, as well as better paid.  Also, most of the ‘profits’ stay in the community as they are re-invested.  It would be good also if a proportion of the income is used to help other similar organisations to get off the ground and for giving to suitable local, national and international charities that meet certain criteria.

Let us now have a look and the three models.

1 – Social Enterprises

‘A social enterprise is an organization that applies commercial strategies to maximize improvements in financial, social and environmental well-being—this may include maximizing social impact alongside profits for external shareholders. Social enterprises can be structured as a for-profit or non-profit, and may take the form (depending in which country the entity exists and the legal forms available) of a co-operative, mutual organization, a disregarded entity, a social business, a benefit corporation, a community interest company, a company limited by guarantee or a charity organization. They can also take more conventional structures. What differentiates social enterprises from other organizations is that their social mission is as core to their success as any potential profit.’

Economic criteria:

  • Continuous activity of the production and/or sale of goods and services (rather than predominantly advisory or grant-giving functions).
  • A high level of autonomy: social enterprises are created voluntarily by groups of citizens and are managed by them, and not directly or indirectly by public authorities or private companies, even if they may benefit from grants and donations. Their members have the right to participate (‘voice’) and to leave the organisation (‘exit’).
  • A significant economic risk: the financial viability of social enterprises depends on the efforts of their members, who have the responsibility of ensuring adequate financial resources, unlike most public institutions.
  • Social enterprises’ activities require a minimum number of paid workers, although, like traditional non-profit organisations, social enterprises may combine financial and non-financial resources, voluntary and paid work.

Social criteria:

  • An explicit aim of community benefit: one of the principal aims of social enterprises is to serve the community or a specific group of people. To the same end, they also promote a sense of social responsibility at local level.
  • Citizen initiative: social enterprises are the result of collective dynamics involving people belonging to a community or to a group that shares a certain need or aim. They must maintain this dimension in one form or another.
  • Decision making not based on capital ownership: this generally means the principle of ‘one member, one vote’, or at least a voting power not based on capital shares. Although capital owners in social enterprises play an important role, decision-making rights are shared with other stakeholders.
  • Participatory character, involving those affected by the activity: the users of social enterprises’ services are represented and participate in their structures. In many cases one of the objectives is to strengthen democracy at local level through economic activity.
  • Limited distribution of profit: social enterprises include organisations that totally prohibit profit distribution as well as organisations such as co-operatives, which may distribute their profit only to a limited degree, thus avoiding profit maximising behaviour.

Ongoing research work characterises social enterprises as often having multiple objectives, multiple stakeholders and multiple sources of funding. However their objectives tend to fall into three categories:

  • integration of disadvantaged people through work (work integration social enterprises or WISEs)
  • provision of social, community and environmental services
  • ethical trading such as fair trade ‘

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_enterprise

Social Franchising

‘Social franchising is the application of the principles of commercial franchising to promote social benefit rather than private profit.

In the first sense, it refers to a contractual relationship wherein an independent coordinating organization (usually a non-governmental organization, but occasionally a governmental body or private company) offers individual independent operators the ability to join into a franchise network for the provision of selected services over a specified area in accordance with an overall blueprint devised by the franchisor. Once joining the network, operators are given the right to employ previously tested incentives including: professional training, use of brands or brand advertisements, subsidized or proprietary supplies and equipment, support services, and access to professional advice. Members also gain beneficial spin-off effects such as increased consumer volume and improved reputation due to brand affiliation. Franchisees must adhere to a range of requirements including: providing socially beneficial services, meeting quality and pricing standards, undergoing mandatory education on provision of services, subjecting outlets to quality assurance mechanisms, reporting service and sales statistics, and occasionally, paying fixed or profit-share fees.[1][5] Social franchises have been used for primary health services, pharmaceutical sales of essential drugs, HIV testing and counseling, and reproductive health services in the developing world.

A second application of social franchising is as a means of enabling social enterprises and the social economy to create more employment for disadvantaged people and achieve social aims. This is done principally by enabling joint working and knowledge sharing and transfer. The European Social Franchising Network has identified over 60 social franchises of this type in Europe, which employ over 13,000 people and more recently in 2012 The International Centre for Social Franchising identified 140. The largest of these is De Kringwinkel in Flanders employing 5,000 people. Others, like the Le Mat hotel and tourism social franchise or the School for Social Entrepreneurs operate in more than one country. Social franchising provides an opportunity to rapidly grow the sector to the benefit of disadvantaged people and society more generally.

Support Organisations

The international Centre for Social Franchising (ICSF) was founded to help replicate proven social ventures to scale. They have a number of useful resources and have published papers such as Investing in Social Franchising which looks at the viability of investment into franchised social enterprise in the UK and Social Franchising: Innovation and the Power of Old Ideas which is a comparison between McDonald’s and the social franchise Foodbank.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_franchising

2 – Co-operatives

A cooperative (also known as co-operative, co-op, or coop) is “an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise“.[1] Cooperatives may include:

Research published by the Worldwatch Institute found that in 2012 approximately one billion people in 96 countries had become members of at least one cooperative. The turnover of the largest three hundred cooperatives in the world reached $2.2 trillion – which, if they were to be a country, it would make them the seventh largest.

One dictionary defines a cooperative as “a jointly owned enterprise engaging in the production or distribution of goods or the supplying of services, operated by its members for their mutual benefit, typically organized by consumers or farmers”.] Cooperative businesses are typically more economically resilient than many other forms of enterprise, with twice the number of co-operatives (80%) surviving their first five years compared with other business ownership models (41%). Cooperatives frequently have social goals which they aim to accomplish by investing a proportion of trading profits back into their communities. As an example of this, in 2013, retail co-operatives in the UK invested 6.9% of their pre-tax profits in the communities in which they trade as compared with 2.4% for other rival supermarkets.

The International Co-operative Alliance was the first international association formed (1895) by the cooperative movement.It includes the World Council of Credit Unions. A second organization formed later in Germany: the International Raiffeisen Union. In the United States, the National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA CLUSA; the abbreviation of the organization retains the initials of its former name, Cooperative League of the USA) serves as the sector‘s oldest national membership association. It is dedicated to ensuring that cooperative businesses have the same opportunities as other businesses operating in the country and that consumers have access to cooperatives in the marketplace. A U.S. National Cooperative Bank formed in the 1970s. By 2004 a new association focused on worker co-ops was founded, the United States Federation of Worker Cooperatives.

Co-operative principles

Cooperative principles are the seven guidelines by which coops put their values into practice, often called the seven Rochdale Principles:[28]

  1. Voluntary and open membership
  2. Democratic member control
  3. Economic participation by members
  4. Autonomy and independence
  5. Education, training and information
  6. Cooperation among cooperatives
  7. Concern for community

Co-operatives values, in the tradition of its founders, are based on “self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity.” Co-operative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others.’

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cooperative

3 – Employee-owned businesses

‘Benefits for Business

The employee owned business sector in the UK is growing because co-owned companies tend to be more successful, competitive, profitable and sustainable.

Because they’re co-owners, staff in employee owned businesses tend to be more entrepreneurial and committed to the company and its success.

Because they have high employment standards, involve staff and give everyone a stake, employee owned businesses are better at recruiting and retaining talented, committed staff.

Because they’re run in an open way, employee owned businesses tend to have a strong commitment to corporate social responsibility and involvement with the communities they operate in.

Independent research suggests that a combination of shared ownership and employee participation delivers superior business performance.

Employee owned companies are more innovative because managers go out of their way to consult, share information about the company, and give staff responsibility.

Benefits for the Economy

Successive Governments have promoted employee ownership because they recognise its potential contribution to the economy. A range of factors combine to make employee owned businesses an asset to the UK economy:

Independent research suggests that a combination of shared ownership and employee participation delivers superior business performance.

The employee owned business sector adds to the diversity of Britain’s economy by offering a vibrant and different model for achieving business success.

Companies which are employee owned, or who have large and significant employee ownership stakes, now contribute £30 billion to GDP.

The sector is growing because employee ownership is proving to be a durable, successful business model that’s extremely well suited to the challenges of 21st century management.’

http://employeeownership.co.uk/what-is-employee-ownership/employee-ownership-benefits/

Types of employee-owned businesses

‘Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs)

The main vehicle for broad-based ownership in the U.S. is the employee stock ownership plan (ESOP). An ESOP is a type of retirement plan that invests primarily in company stock and holds its assets in a trust, in accounts earmarked for employees. Plan participants do not directly own the stock and are, for the most part, paid out after they leave the company. Most ESOPs are in privately held companies, not companies that trade on the stock markets.

Equity Compensation Plans

The other main category of employee ownership is equity compensation, which refers to a grant of stock or its equivalent from the employer. A stock option plan grants employees the right to buy company stock at a specified price during a specified period once the option has vested. An employee stock purchase plan (ESPP) is a little like a stock option plan. It gives employees the chance to buy stock, usually through payroll deductions, and most often at a discount. Restricted stock plans grant or sell employees stock that they can possess only once certain restrictions (such as vesting) are met. A company may also offer an unrestricted direct grant of shares.

Creating an Ownership Culture

Companies that adopt employee ownership plans do not have to treat employees any differently than before, but it will be to their advantage if they do. Many employee ownership companies have found, and research confirms, that a more participative approach to management makes for a workplace that is not only more pleasant but also more productive; see our article Employee Ownership and Corporate Performance.’

https://www.nceo.org/employee-ownership/id/12/

Concluding Remarks

It would be great if all businesses were to become small and local with employees, locals, and customers all having a say in the way a company is operated.  That way, there would be an increase in accountability, hardly any corruption, ethics and sustainability would be central, and the impact on the environment vastly reduced.

This form of business (incorporating all three of the models above) could be used in all forms of enterprises including ownership of land and property.

For this to happen, would require a huge change in our culture, but I believe it is achievable if councils and governments got together with those that already involved in the three models to formulate a plan which would include funding and legislation to make sure standards are met.  I am sure it would also help those disadvantaged and possibly reduce the poverty that exists here and overseas.

Is there anyone out there who is willing to be a ‘champion’ for this to take place?  It will involve taking on multi-nationals and many other business owners, as well as engaging thousands of individuals who hopefully will believe in such a campaign.

 

Discrimination – 4

I have briefly touched on some of the various forms of discrimination in other blogs.  Today, I want to look at why we need legislation governing discrimination.

One of the earliest forms of discrimination for which we have legislation, is that of the area of being a man or a woman sex.  Men and women are equal in the eyes of God.  Both have overlapping functions, like in the area of conception, but apart from that, there is no difference.  Therefore, it is logical that both sexes should be empowered to realise their full potential as an individual, and to see how they fit into the community and the world.  For, it should not just be about ‘oneself’, but also others, as we all are part of a ‘jigsaw’, and we need both men and women to do that.  If one part is not fully functional, then the other parts are not at their peak.  Of course, there are exceptions.  There may be situations where only one sex can apply for employment, but these are not many.  The problem is that many women are not given the opportunity to shine in certain positions or sector.  Solving that issue is difficult without changing the culture of an organisation.  And that starts in the schools, especially in the ‘posh’ schools like Eton.  They should be setting an example.   In all subjects, both boys and girls should be given a rounded education including how to run a home, cook and manage budgets.  In the Church there is much misunderstanding of the Scriptures over the role of women in leadership.  The Bible quite clearly states that all are given various spiritual gifts and natural talents, including leadership, to fulfil a ministry, whether it be a minister or a CEO.  Within a marriage, the Scriptures also says they are equal, but the husband is the ‘head’ of the family (in that he has the responsibility to provide and protect).  One other aspect of gender discrimination is when a woman becomes pregnant.  Some businesses discriminate against women because they worry it will cost them more money when she goes off on maternity leave.  Even though, it is illegal, the discrimination exists.  Maybe, there should be a system where firms have to give reasons why a male is employed and not a woman and sent a report to the Equality Commission.

Another form of discrimination is in the area of  race and ethnicity. Race seems to focus on the colour of your skin, whereas ethnicity concerns where one comes from.  They usually overlap.  We all seem to discriminate in this area, particularly when comes to nationalism.  A lot of discrimination is against people who have a darker skin.  Yet, many Indians, for example, will discriminate against those not part of their ‘caste’, especially if the person is from a lower ‘caste’.  (We also forget the indigenous peoples of the world who are often victimised or simply excluded from any benefits a country may have in terms of its resources (eg the Native Indians in the USA and Aborigines in Australia) Discrimination also happens the other way like the attitudes of Blacks towards White people – they have a ‘chip on their shoulder about being a ‘victim’ of the system.  A lot of the discrimination stems from the colonisation of the lands of many different peoples as well as the slave trade.  Most of it though is all about power, having control over others, and not seeing them as equal.  The issue of honour and shame also comes into the equation.  For example, a woman marrying outside her religion or ethnicity or caste could bring dishonour to either side’s family name.  This sometimes will lead to violence.  This is because of our superior/inferiority complex and thus we are always seeking to protect our culture from outside influences instead of being enriched by others.  We also think that because of a bad experience with a group, the whole group is tarnished in negativity.  Some of this is done to history, instead of looking at today, and giving the other the benefit of doubt.  Here again, it is all about changing the ‘culture’ of discrimination, not necessarily the society of the people concerned.  Here, we need small groups of people from many different backgrounds to come together to discuss common issues like housing, led by a knowledgeable facilitator.  And yet again, it is also about empowering all people to live out their full potential.

Next, we look at age discrimination. With people living longer, we need to re-think our whole approach to age.  In many Western countries, the fertility rate is such that we will get to a stage where we will not ‘produce’ enough children to replace those who die or even to pay for the pensions of those living past 70, causing economic hardship. Part of that is due to the easy availability of abortion where we are missing 8 million people since 1967. Though the UK no longer has a ‘retirement’ age, some people argue that older people should ‘retire’ so younger people can apply, or  because they are not open to change or the increasing pace of business.  Then there is the issue of young people never having enough ‘experience’, and if they are taken on, they are only paid the ‘young person’ rate which is less than the current legal minimum wage.  This works out cheaper than employing an older person.  It also does not help when there are generational gaps where each age group does not have anything to do with other and therefore there is much mis-understanding.  Part of the problem is a lack of respect for, and patience with, each other and not thinking of others, only yourself – the cause of the breakdown of family, community and authority.  Businesses, Education and each community need to come up with ways to integrate all age groups through doing activities and being taught listening skills.  This is also a cultural thing.  In the past young people where very much ignored and had to listen to strict parents.  But then, after the war discipline broke down as young people asserted their ‘independence’.  So we went from one extreme to the other.  We need a ‘middle road’ between the two where everyone is empowered to be their best, and everyone is involved such that people will self-discipline themselves after a certain age (say, 10 years), or parents will discipline them in an appropriate way.  If there is no discipline, there is no respect.  But discipline must be done in creative ways to build the child up through continuous love shown to them.  It is important that we find time to be with others, especially in the wider family.  An example of this is primary school children visiting an old people’s home and doing activities with them.  Or students can have free lodging if they spend lots of quality time with an old person (The Netherlands).

And what about ‘class‘ discrimination.  This is similar to the ‘caste’ system in India.  In the UK we have the Upper Class, Middle Class and the Working Class.  Even though the lines between them are blurred, there is till that attitude that one does not ‘mix’ with other classes.  Some of this is down to ownership of property and goods.  Many ‘posh’ people own large properties, often inherited from many generations.  It is interesting to note, whether these properties were ‘lawfully’ obtained when in history, the King or Queen could allocate land as the Monarchy owned virtually the whole country.  Today, many ‘posh’ people are those who have made their millions through business, not always ethically.  (For example IBM helped the Nazis in developing a sort of computerised filing system to keep tabs on all the Jews in Germany.)  When one comes to the tax system, Governments often help ‘rich’ people and their Corporations’ to avoid tax altogether through tax havens.  The UK has many of these as does Switzerland, the USA and a few other places.  Because of inequality in the class system, we need to really change the whole financial system we have so that the benefits of income generation is distributed more fairly, and part of that will be achieved by abolishing all tax havens whether onshore or offshore.  Also, communities need to be built with many types of housing so the various ‘classes’ can live together and encouraged to form community groups so they can learn from each other and share resources to make each other’s lives fulfilling.

In a slightly different vein, there is economic discrimination.  This tends to apply to trade between countries, and how a country’s budget is allocated to different regions.  One of the main culprits in this type of discrimination is the uncertainities caused by commodity and currency trading.  The other is the ability to find ways to produce goods where labour is cheap, like it is in India and Pakistan or in various African countries.  Because of this, many poor workers are paid a pittance, with hardly enough to live on, and work long hours in appalling conditions devoid of any health and safety practices.  Most businesses and leadership of some countries cream off any profits, leaving the workers and communities no better off from before the overseas companies starting working in the country.  Take for example, the Democratic Republic of Congo.  The Kabila clan has deposited many millions in Swiss bank accounts, and the western companies put any profits they get into their tax havens and pay their executives huge salaries.  We are all part of this because we are the end of the supplier chain of a product mined by locals who work with basic tools and in unsafe conditions.  This situation is beginning to change with people being concerned about supply chains and the well-being of workers in Africa, Asia and South America in particular, and are becoming activists through many campaign groups.  Hopefully, all businesses will begin to take responsibility for people throughout the supply chain, and stop exploiting customers to make a select few becoming disgustingly rich.  In fact, I would say that, not only should the rich be heavily taxed, but they should also be giving much of the wealth away to causes that help humanity survive and thrive.

I now come on to the subject of religious discrimination.  This can be a sensitive issue, especially as some followers of a number of religions become very violent if they do not get their way. Virtually all the sovereign states of the world have signed up to the UN Charter which includes the right to freely congregate to worship, the freedom to change one’s religion, and the freedom to disseminate ones beliefs in a way that is not coercive nor involves monetary persuasion.  In some countries, the discrimination is between the different persuasions of a religion (eg Sunnis and Shi’ite Muslims) or  it could be against another religion, especially if it is a minority one (eg Muslims been discriminated by Hindus in India).  But the main religion which is being persecuted virtually everywhere is Christianity.  This usually takes various forms – using blasphemy accusations (by Muslims against Christians in Pakistan) which often leads to the death penalty; employers refusing to employ Christians or people refusing to buy from them; or are beheaded for simply being a Christian, especially if you converted from another religion (in particular Islam).  Even if you belief that your religion is the only religion, I cannot understand why people get so up in arms about any conversions from their religion; surely one should have a strong enough faith that your God will deal with those who leave your religion.  Of course some of it is about ‘honour’ and ‘shame’.  It is shameful because it taints one’s family, community or religion.  That often leads to violent action to uphold one’s honour and thus disavowing that person. Another aspect of this is when a missionary religion like Islam in countries where it is a minority, try to use deceit to ‘take over’ various parts of a society, like the schools, and able to persuade Governments to find favour with them and not other groups.  Of course, it is not just religious discrimination Christians face in many countries, it is in the area of secularism and humanism/atheism.  It is in this area that the Christians are mainly being undermined.  For example, a Christian nurse asked a patient if she would like to be prayed for.  The patient could just say no, but instead she complained and as a result the nurse was disciplined.  Christians are not allowed to be a conscientious objector, yet Muslims are – this is not equality.  Governments need to wake up and see the subtle ways society is being eroded with many values fast disappearing in such things as respect, sexual mores, marriage and a whole list of others.  Of course, it does not help that many Christians, because they are not taught to practice what the Bible commands, many are falling into the trap and are not any different from anybody else.

It is interesting that there is much discrimination when it comes to having differing points of view.  Now, I am not advocating that anything goes, but freedom of speech exists to critique a different viewpoint of from one’s own.  One could call this viewpoint discrimination.  I find it difficult to understand why people say one cannot have a different viewpoint, even if it is wrong or not helpful.  It is difficult sometimes to know where to draw the line between helpful and hateful criticism, because we all respond in different ways.  That is why we need a better understanding of the belief/value system of the person giving criticism.  By actively listening and learning from each other in an attitude of love and care for the other person, there would be less acrimony.  At the same time we all have to stop over-reacting to statements made.  This is where the media comes in.  It needs to be better informed of the different groups of people and stop tarring a whole group based on the actions of one or more people.  They need to be far more objective and balanced in their reporting.  Take for example the issue of the abortion debate.  The media are usually, however subtly, pro-abortion without really thinking through the issues and therefore anti-abortionists are seen as the enemy.  Then there is the discussion about immigration where the ‘facts’ are distorted and thus not objective and therefore this leads to alarmist reactions by the public.  Another area of contention is when it comes to criticism of another religion.  Here, unfortunately, some Muslims take offence when this happens, especially if done by a street preacher.  It is seen as ‘hate’ speech.  Unfortunately, the police do not seem to understand the law of freedom of speech.  If people are arrested for stating Islam is wrong, then people who criticise Christianity should also be arrested.  This, of course, is ridiculous.  People need to learn to take criticism and learn from it, especially if it is constructive and said in a caring way.

We also have marriage discrimination where there is much resistance from mainly family, but also some communities, to a joining together between someone from one community to another from a different one.  It can also happen in the public sphere.  An example of this was when JF Kennedy ran for President.  The Protestant community were not sure about him because he was a Roman Catholic.  Other areas where this happens is between different races, religions and classes (or castes).  Most of this discrimination is about bringing dishonour to the community and especially the family, instead of rejoicing that two people have found love and happiness.  Of course, it is not as simple as that because often two cultures are involved and people worry that each couple’s background may cause tensions in the marriage over the years.  That is why it is essential that there is understanding of the commonality in each culture as well as the differences and how that will be reconciled in the marriage.  There can also be discrimination when it comes to arranged marriages whereby a marriage takes place because it is expected and there are political reasons for it.  An example of this is found in many royal marriages.

Disability discrimination comes in many forms – accessibility (being able to use facilities eg public transport and cinemas), attitudes (seen as ‘odd’; talking as though they are stupid), healthcare (not being seen as important – eg life support equipment turned off earlier than is necessary), and opportunities (difficulties to get a job or play sport because of lack of adaptions or expectations that a disabled person is still capable of doing a job, with adjustments).  The biggest discrimination is in the womb, where a disabled baby is often aborted.  (There is a Bill going through Parliament to stop this discrimination.)It is good to see legislation that is making sure that accessibility is in existence, yet on the other hand, businesses have not really thought this through.  Take trains and other similar forms of transport.  There are low level entrance/exits, but they are not level, so there is still some obstacles, mainly because platforms and train carriages are not at the right heights.  Another example is of a cinema which has an external door which can be opened by pushing a button, but then the internal doors do not have a button.  And whilst many wheelchair owners have had improved accessibility, those who are blind or deaf, there is not much in the way of aids, like braille signs.  The biggest issue is changing one’s perspective about disability, seeing them as people, who just happen to have the odd issue stopping them doing certain things.  That is why disabled and non-disable people need to work together to help each other to be empowered to live to their full potential.

And finally, I come to gender discrimination.  This is a rather sensitive issue as there is a lot of debate surrounding it.   We are talking about homosexuality, transgenderism, and other areas involving our gender and our relationships.  On the one hand there is the debate about whether these gender ‘states’ should be recognised, and then there is the issue of how we manage teaching about it, and finally how one is to treat people as regards to areas like employment, marriage and church leadership.  As I have mentioned earlier, God made each one of us unique and special, so whatever one believes, especially in this area, everyone deserves respect and care, not hatred.  Everyone is a human being whatever their sexual orientation may be.  With homosexuality, I believe that it is wrong as God made us to be attracted to a member of the opposite sex, not the same sex.  Of course, not all homosexuals are interested in sex or marriage.  When it comes to seeking to not be a homosexual, there is much controversy over so called ‘conversion’ therapy.  Whether it works or is abusive depends on whether the individual has voluntarily asked for it and whether the therapy used is done in a loving and caring way.  Because people who say homosexuality is alright, they need to realise not all people are happy being a homosexual.  Coming to transgenderism, we are talking about a different ‘condition’ whereby someone who is born with both sets of genitalia or has female mammary glands, and male genitals, so the sex is not obvious.  Here, after much discussion between parents and doctors, a decision needs to be made as to what is the appropriate surgery is required.  Some children grow feeling they are in the wrong body and are often encouraged to change sex.  That is abuse, because their bodies are still undergoing change and generally end up becoming happy with their body without the need for action when they reach adulthood.  So, apart from exceptional circumstances, transgenderism should not be accepted.  All this applies to other situations like transvestites and other ‘confused’ genders.  Now with regard to discrimination, they should not be treated any less than as a human being.  But, there needs to be legislation that stops discrimination against them as people, but does not recognise that they have any specific rights eg in same-sex marriage or to have transgender operations on the NHS. Also, such topics should not be taught in schools as the correct lifestyle and at the same time, children are helped to treat all children and adults as human beings, whatever their background.  Also, the legislation should not criminalise people because of their belief that homosexuality is alright.  Instead, there should be a cultural understanding that these forms of lifestyle do not fulfil God’s plan for them, done in an attitude of love and understanding.  Here, the Church should be taking the lead in demonstrating the lifestyle as taught by Jesus, hence those who are ‘active’ homosexuals and those who have changed their sex (unless it was because of gender dystopia) should not be in leadership.   At the same time, homosexuals and other gender change individuals should be welcomed into the community and at an appropriate time given material that will help them understand the biblical teaching, so they by themselves can decide what to do under God’s guidance.  There should be no pressure. 

What I have said above is probably not well-put, but I hope you get the gist of what I am trying to get across on this complex subject, and which I hope comes across as loving.

There are probably other forms of discrimination I have not covered here.  But, I hope I have made clear that discrimination in itself should not be tolerated, and at the same time, we need to be open to both sides of the argument said in a balanced and loving way, ie be gentle not aggressive.

 

Blasphemy – 2

Blasphemy and Christianity
In Christianity, blasphemy only centres on God.  It is interesting that Jesus Christ is used as a swear word, yet no personage from other religions is used in the same way.
The following article will help clarify what the Bible, our Holy Book, says about blasphemy.
‘Definition. In English “blasphemy” denotes any utterance that insults God or Christ and gives deeply felt offense to their followers. Though in some countries , blasphemy is a criminal offense,  there has only been a few prosecutions in the past hundred or so years.There is no Hebrew word equivalent to the English “blasphemy, ” and the Greek root blasphem- [blasfhmevw], which is used fifty-five times in the New Testament, has a wide meaning. In both Testaments the idea of blasphemy as something that offends the religious sensibilities of others is completely absent.The Old Testament At least five different Hebrew verbs are translated “blaspheme” in English translations. Translators choose “blaspheme” when, for instance, the verbs “curse” (qalal [l;l’q]), “revile” (gadap [@;d”G]), or “despise” (herep) are used with God as the object. No special verb is reserved for cursing or insults directed at God.However, to curse or insult God is an especially grave sin. It can be done by word or by deed. There is little distinction between the sinner who deliberately abuses the name of the Lord ( Le 24:10-16 ), and the one who deliberately flouts his commandments ( Nu 15:30-31 ). For both, the death penalty is prescribed. Similarly, the prayer of the Levites in Nehemiah 9 calls “awful blasphemies” all that Israelites did when they made the golden calf (9:18).David’s flagrant sin with Bathsheba may be called a blasphemy ( 2 Sa 12:14 ), but a more likely translation is that David has “made the enemies of the Lord show utter contempt” (NIV). Instead of testifying by lifestyle to the character of the Lord, David’s action confirms the blasphemous belief of the nations that the Lord is no different from any other national god.The New Testament. The Greek root blasphem- [blasfhmevw] can be used of strong insults thrown at other people ( Mark 15:29 ; Acts 13:45 ; Eph 4:31 ; 1 Peter 4:4 ), or even unjust accusations ( Rom 3:8 ), but it is more usually used of insults offered to God (e.g., Rev 13:6 ; 16:9 ). Jesus is accused of blasphemy for pronouncing forgiveness and for claiming a unique relationship with God ( Matt 26:65 ; Mark 2:7 ; John 10:33 ).Jesus picks up the Numbers 15 passage about blasphemy in his famous saying about blasphemy against the Holy Spirit ( Matt 12:31-32 ; Mark 3:28-29 ; Luke 12:10 ). Numbers 15:22-31 distinguishes between unintentional sin committed in ignorance (for which forgiveness is possible), and defiant sin, called blasphemy, for which there is no forgiveness. Jesus teaches that the blasphemy for which there is no forgiveness is that against the Holy Spirit; all other blasphemies, particularly those against “the Son of Man, ” may be forgiven. Insults thrown at “the Son of Man” may be forgiven because they are committed in ignorance of who he really is: his heavenly glory does not appear on earth. But to ascribe obvious manifestations of the Spirit to the devil’s agency is a much more serious offense not committed in ignorance.This downgrading of the significance of blasphemy against Christ marks an important difference between Christianity and Islam. Whereas Muslims are bound to defend the honor of the Prophet, for Christians Jesus is the one who says, “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me” ( Rom 15:3, ; quoting Psalm 69:9 ). He deliberately accepts the vilification of others and prays for the forgiveness of those who insult him ( Luke 23:34 ). In this, he sets an example for Christians to follow. According to Peter ( 1 Pe 2:19-25 ), they must accept insult and blasphemy without retaliation, as he did.

There is only one kind of blasphemy that Christians must resist: the blasphemy they will bring on themselves if they cause a fellow believer to stumble through the thoughtless exercise of their freedom ( Rom 14:15-16 ; 1 Cor 10:28-30 ).’

Slightly adapted from https://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionaries/bakers-evangelical-dictionary/blasphemy.html

Although we have had a blasphemy law in the UK, I am not sure if having one actually would have made any difference.  If we did have one, then everytime someone swears using Jesus’ name, they would be liable to be punished and thus will fill up all the prisons.  As someone said, God can take care of Himself.  But, those that blaspheme will be held accountable at Judgment, along with all their other sins, so they will not get away with it.  God does take the abuse of His name seriously, but it is up to Him to deal with it – Christians are to get on and obey Him and serve others in love.

 

Blasphemy – 1

Blasphemy in Islam

Over the past decade or so, there has been much violence in both Muslim-majority and Muslin-minority countries over the issue of blasphemy, particular over insulting their founder Mohammad and disrespect of the Quran, their holy book.  In Muslim-majority countries (like Pakistan and Indonesia) blasphemy laws are used as an excuse to target Christians and occasionally other non-Muslim faiths.  As with Sharia law and other ‘add-ons’ the cause of blasphemy is not mentioned in the Quran.  Instead such things are used to manipulate people so as to gain power.  Recently, I came across the following article in The Independent newspaper which describes the situation well.

‘Blasphemy laws began in Christian countries, and started appearing in Muslim majority countries after British imperialism. But if we go back to the Quran, we can see that what’s happening in Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Pakistan isn’t faithfully Islamic at all.

In the 1979 hit British comedy Monty Python’s Life of Brian, an elderly man is charged and convicted for committing blasphemy. His crime? Uttering the name Jehovah. He insists he’s innocent, but an angry crowd is ready to unleash a barrage of stones on him.

It seems life imitates art. Last week Ireland investigated Stephen Fry, an outspoken critic of religion, for allegedly running foul of a 2009 blasphemy law. In the United States this week, a woman was convicted of laughing at Attorney General Sessions, and faces a year in prison.

Blasphemy laws historically began in Christian Europe as a means to prevent dissent and enforce the church’s authority. They were exported to Muslim majority nations via British imperialism. Today, just about every Muslim majority nation that has blasphemy laws can trace them back to British statute from centuries prior.

Nowadays, blasphemy cases are becoming increasingly popular as a means to persecute minorities in nations like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia. In Pakistan, notable Ahmadi Muslim Tahir Mehdi was finally released after nearly two years in prison for the alleged blasphemy of claiming he is Muslim. Meanwhile another Ahmadi Muslim — 81-year-old Shukoor Ahmad — serves an eight-year prison term for the same alleged crime of blasphemy.

In Saudi Arabia, Raif Badawi is still in prison for the alleged blasphemy of being an atheist. And this week in Indonesia, courts convicted Jakarta’s Governor Aho of blasphemy: the governor, who is a Christian, faces a two year prison sentence. Ahok’s crime? He rebuked claims by clerics that the Quran mandates Muslims to vote for a Muslim over a non-Muslim.

By convicting Governor Ahok of blasphemy, Indonesia disgraces itself, violates human rights and ignores Islamic teachings. In fact, despite addressing blasphemy dozens of times, the Quran prescribes absolutely no worldly punishment.

That notwithstanding, Governor Ahok is right that the Quran does not mandate Muslims to vote for a Muslim over a non-Muslim. Instead, Quran 4:59-60 commands Muslims: “Verily, Allah commands you to make over the trusts to those entitled to them, and that, when you judge between men, you judge with justice… O ye who believe! Obey Allah, and obey His Messenger and those who are in authority among you.”

Thus, the Quran commands Muslims to judge with justice, not religion. Likewise, the Quran could have added that the faithful should only obey those in authority who are Muslim – but that notable omission speaks volumes otherwise.

So, in a twist of irony, the Christian governor accused of blasphemy cited the Quran correctly, while the Muslim clerics punishing him are themselves wrong. Thus, if such clerics are that hell-bent on blasphemy laws, they should arrest themselves and set Governor Ahok free.

But they won’t, because blasphemy laws don’t exist to protect God: they exist to protect the fragile egos of corrupt clerics. Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim nation and has long stood as a beacon of hope. But Governor Ahok’s conviction, along with the ongoing violent persecution of Indonesia’s Ahmadi Muslims, threatens this thriving democracy’s future.

The solution is embedded in a revival of true Islam based on a proven model of success and reformation of Muslims. Muslim leadership must be more accountable to protecting the rights of religious minorities in Muslim majority nations. How tragic that a Christian should be sentenced to prison for a peaceful difference of opinion, while the Prophet Mohammed instead wrote in a letter that “Christians are my citizens and I hold out against all that displeases them”.

In 2009, His Holiness the Khalifa of Islam Mirza Masroor Ahmad delivered a landmark address in Frankfurt, Germany, where he implored religious freedom, concluding: “The followers of any religion should be able to practise their religious customs freely; otherwise if the government will interfere with religion, in this civilised world, such interference will negate their claim to being secular and discharging the rights of others.”

So how did that Monty Python blasphemy scene end? Well, it ends when the judge charged with stoning the accused to death is himself stoned to death after accidentally uttering the word Jehovah. There is a lesson in this for all governments who punish peaceful difference of opinion: in doing so, you ultimately destroy yourselves.’

So Muslims need to revisit their source as to a way forward.  At the same time, we must remember that there are portions of the Quran which encourages violence, but that deserves a blog on its own