Hopes for 2017

A New Year should bring hopes of decisions by governing and other influential bodies which will improve lives and avoid conflict. Perhaps the most hope comes from the election of Donald Trump as US President and the end of the regime run by an Obama who failed so badly to support political systems based on what have become known as western values. His attempt to “capture” opponents of those values simply by recognising their views revealed the paucity of his understanding of history and the need for western leaders to explain the virtues of those values as well as at times being prepared to fight in their defence and, in the case of the President, even outside the USA as a leader supporting values whose overturn would be threatening.  Obama seems now to be spending the latter days of his presidency by exacerbating his errors rather than ameliorating them. His claim that he could have won a third presidency if the US Constitution had allowed it is but one example. Another is the US treatment of Israel in the Security Council, involving the abandonment of the long standing veto by the US. Worse than this is the report that Obama is considering declaring that the “women of the century” should include Jane Fonda, the American actress who not only supported North Vietnam in the Vietnam war with the US but falsely accused US airman of telling lies about being tortured when captured. John Kerry, appointed Secretary of State by Obama, was also an opponent of that war that was supported by the Soviet Union and China and in which Australia was an active participant.

Trump may not be the ideal replacement but he shows an understanding of their main virtues and of the need to proselytise  them. He  has also indicated a preparedness to fight.

Our own leader has very recently moved to rejecting the extremist element in Islam (the latest reference is in the New Year Messages by Turnbull/Shorten). As this is a reversal of his earlier attitude, it may be confusing to the electorate, particularly as he continues to argue the importance of multi-culturalism rather than the pursuit of western values and individual rights rather than “rights” defined by governments.

Of course, some who believe in those values take them for granted and one wonders whether they realise how extensive they are and how important each is as a part of the whole. One way of realising that is to look at how a non-believer was converted and how he then expressed those values.  Such an expression by a Muslim Apostate is attached (see Western Values) and the following captures the essence of his view:

“The great ideas of the West—rationalism, self-criticism, the disinterested search for truth, the separation of church and state, the rule of law, equality before the law, freedom of conscience and expression, human rights, liberal democracy—together constitute quite an achievement, surely, for any civilization. This set of principles remains the best and perhaps the only means for all people, no matter what race or creed, to live in freedom and reach their full potential.[1] Western values—the basis of the West’s self-evident economic, social, political, scientific and cultural success—are clearly superior to any other set of values devised by mankind. When Western values have been adopted by other societies, such as Japan or South Korea, their citizens have reaped benefits.

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness: this triptych succinctly defines the attractiveness and superiority of Western civilization. In the West we are free to think what we want, to read what we want, to practice our religion, to live as we choose.  Liberty is codified in human rights, a magnificent Western creation but also, I believe, a universal good.  Human Rights transcend local or ethnocentric values, conferring equal dignity and value on all humanity, regardless of sex, ethnicity, sexual preference, or religion. At the same time, it is in the West that human rights are most respected.

It is the West that has liberated women, racial minorities, religious minorities, and gays and lesbians, recognizing their rights. The notions of freedom and human rights were present at the dawn of Western civilization, as ideals at least, but have gradually come to fruition through supreme acts of self-criticism.  Because of its exceptional capacity for self-criticism, the West took the initiative in abolishing slavery; the calls for abolition did not resonate even in black Africa, where rival African tribes took black prisoners to be sold as slaves in the West.

Today, many non-Western cultures follow customs and practices that are clear violations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948).  In many countries, especially Islamic ones, you are not free to read what you want.  Under sharia, or Islamic law, women are not free to marry whom they wish, and their rights of inheritance are circumscribed.  Sharia, derived from the Koran and the practice and sayings of Muhammad, prescribes barbaric punishments such as stoning to death for adultery.  It calls for homosexuals and apostates to be executed.  In Saudi Arabia, among other countries, Muslims are not free to convert to Christianity, and Christians are not free to practice their faith.  The Koran is not a rights-respecting document.

Under Islam, life is a closed book. Everything has been decided for you, the dictates of sharia and the whims of Allah set strict limits on the possible agenda of your life.  In the West, we have the choice to pursue our desires and ambitions. We are free as individuals to set the goals and determine the contents of our own lives, and to decide what meaning to give to our lives.  As Roger Scruton remarks, “The glory of the West is that life is an open book.”[2] The West has given us the liberal miracle of individual rights and responsibility and merit. Rather than the chains of inherited status, Western societies offer unparalleled social mobility.  The West, Alan Kors writes, “is a society of ever richer, more varied, more productive, more self-defined, and more satisfying lives.”[3]

Of importance in assessing the state of western values may be developments not necessarily reported in the media or only judged to be of passing interest. I have previously made references to reports by the Gatestone Institute, whose President John Bolton was US Ambassador to the UN and has been reported as a possible appointee  by Trump. This institute publishes developments in a wide range of countries on issues that have implications for US defence and foreign policy, with particular reference to the threat from Islamic extremism. Of course, there are many think-tanks in the US which publish on such issues  but Gatestone publishes openly on what can only be described as “sensitive” issues. In this article on The EU vs the Nation State? it refers to the top two concerns of Europeans as being mass migration (45%) and terrorism (32%) and the increasing support for a break away from the EU, which will be tested in the forthcoming elections in France and Holland.

It also refers to the increasing influence of  the Islamic Association of Sweden, whose chairman was the leader of a major party in the Swedish Parliament for 4 years and who appears to support an extremist interpretation of the Koran. The author of the article argues that the greatest threat comes less from bombs than from quiet infiltration of traditional organisations in Sweden. There is a lesson here for Australia.

One other interesting threat not widely recognised arises from the report that there has been a Russian hacking of a major US electricity grid (see Possible Russian Hacking of US Electricity Grid, also reported on SBS news this evening). While it appears that this relates to action of which the US grid was aware and that the hacking technology used is now dated, it highlights the potential threat to a country’s infrastructure from either terrorist organisations or other countries which are hostile. For Australia the recent experience with blackouts in South Australia shows the potential extent of disruption to our infrastructure and our defence forces.

Leave a Reply