Thursday, January 22, 2015

Tamil priest sees hope in Pope’s Sri Lankan visit

January 21, 2015

Visit of hope: Pope Francis greets the disabled before celebrating the canonisation Mass of St Joseph Vaz at Galle Face Green in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Photo: CNS

BRISBANE Tamil priest Dominican Father Pan Jordan has hailed Pope Francis’ recent visit to Sri Lanka as a potential inspiration to the country’s new government.

The Pope arrived soon after Maithripala Sirisena was elected president after Mahinda Rajapaksa failed to secure a third term in office.

“His visit could be a source of strength to the new government at a time of freedom from autocracy and (being) on a new path,” Fr Jordan said.

He said the visit was also hopefully a source of healing for the country as it recovers from decades of civil war.

“Pope Francis called on the Tamils and Sinhalese ‘to rebuild the unity which was lost’ during the war,” he said.

“Thus, the Pope on his visit was a peacemaker and peace-builder.”

Fr Jordan said the Pope’s visit had also offered the people of Sri Lanka and the country’s different religious communities the opportunity to show their goodwill to each other.

During the pontiff’s two-day trip earlier this month to Sri Lanka – which is about 70 per cent Buddhist, 13 per cent Hindu, 10 per cent Muslim and seven per cent Catholic – he stressed the role of religion to help ongoing reconciliation after the 26-year civil war that ended in 2009 and killed up to 100,000 people.

Pope Francis’ canonisation of Sri Lanka’s first saint, the 17th Century missionary Joseph Vaz, his visit to the remote shrine of the Virgin Mary in the northern Sri Lankan town of Madhu and his visit to a Buddhist temple were seen as significant events.

“When he visited the shrine, the Pope said: ‘No Sri Lankan can forget the tragic events associated with this very place’,” Fr Jordan said.

“This sentiment has touched the hearts of the Tamil community since the political leaders of Sri Lanka have denied the catastrophe that took place in and around the shrine during the war.”

The Madhu shrine, containing a 400-year old statue of Our Lady, is the most venerated Catholic site on the island.

Fr Jordan said Pope Francis explained the road to reconciliation was about more than repairing infrastructure.

“A lot of money was spent on restoring the physical infrastructure in the north,” Fr Jordan said.

“But, as the Bible says, ‘Man does not live by bread alone’.

“Human beings value freedom and want to be treated as equals by the state and society.

“Even though the war is long over, the damage caused by the war still continues to exist in the form of displaced people still awaiting to be resettled, missing persons to be found, civilian rule to be restored and political rights to be obtained.”

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Charlie Hebdo And Politeness In Multi-Ethnic Societies

John Scales Avery Countercurrents January 9, 2015
The attack on Charlie Hebdo, in which 10 people were killed, claimed massive media attention worldwide. Everyone agreed that freedom of speech and democracy had been brutally attacked, and many people proclaimed ‘Je suis Charlie!’, in solidarity with the murdered members of the magazine’s staff.
In Denmark, it was proposed that the offending cartoons of the prophet Mohammad should be reprinted in major newspapers. However, in the United States, there was no such proposal, and in fact, US television viewers were not even allowed to see the drawings that had provoked the attack. How is this difference between Denmark and the US to be explained?
Denmark is a country with a predominantly homogeneous population, which only recently has become more diverse through the influx of refugees from troubled parts of the world. Thus, I believe, Denmark has not yet had time to learn that politeness is essential for preventing conflicts in a multi-ethnic society. On the other hand, the United States has lived with the problem for much longer………..
………. Globally, we are in great need of a new ethic, which regards all humans as brothers and sisters, regardless of race, religion or nationality. Human solidarity will become increasingly important in the future, as stress from climate change and the vanishing of non-renewable resources becomes more pronounced.
To get through the difficult time ahead of us, we will need to face the dangers and challenges of the future arm in arm, respecting each other’s differing beliefs, and emphasizing our common humanity rather than our differences.
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Sunday, January 11, 2015

Breaking faith with foreign aid partners is unkindest cut Barbara Deutschmann The Age January 4, 2015

On top of the $7.6 billion in cuts to aid since it came into office, the Abbott government will take a further $3.7 billion out over the next four years.
How shall we celebrate the New Year? From where I sit, a minute's silence may be the best response.
I work for an Australian aid and development agency, one that waits to see where the latest round of cuts to the aid budget will fall.
Here is what we know: On top of the $7.6 billion in cuts to aid since it came into office, the Abbott government will take a further $3.7 billion out over the next four years, with 1 billion to be extracted from the coming year's budget alone. How much will be cut from the part of our aid that is delivered through non-government agencies like mine, remains to be seen. Wherever it falls, the impact will be brutal.
For a time, from 2004, buoyed by the commitments of Labor and Coalition governments to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the resulting increasing aid levels, we saw the maturity of the aid and development sector grow. Importantly, we saw improvements in the things that the MDGs measured: more children at school, more babies born safely, more communities with safe water systems.
Australian aid does lots of good things. It enables us to invest in regional and global partnerships with cross-border programs to stop the spread of disease, to harness and share natural resources, and to help displaced people and assist after humanitarian disasters. Working with non-government agencies, our aid contributes powerfully to removing the barriers that stop people from living healthy, productive lives, enabling them to contribute to the wellbeing of their communities and to stable civic environments………….
These latest cuts break faith with the many communities ………….which benefit from Australian aid. They break faith with global agencies and those agencies on the ground delivering these impressive results…………..
The massive cuts are also a breach of faith with Australian non-government agencies and will inevitably involve job losses and the cutting back of programs. The loss of expertise and professionalism from the sector will take many years to restore……….
We stand at the cusp of a new year and look ahead with sorrow. Those most affected are the silent ones whose water and food supplies will remain precarious, whose babies will not be vaccinated and whose girls will not go to school. By 2017, Australia will drop from contributing 34¢ for every $100 of our national income, to 22¢……….
Barbara Deutschmann has worked in aid and development for more than three decades and currently works with TEAR Australia.
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Thursday, January 1, 2015

'Stopping the boats' a fiction as Australia grows ever more isolationist on asylum

Ben Doherty The Guardian December 31, 2014 Comments 414
‘Have the boats stopped reaching Australia?’ is the wrong question to ask. A better one by which to judge the success of its policies is this: are more people safer? Or fewer?

A comic produced by Australia aimed at deterring asylum seekers. Photograph:
The boats have not stopped. They have stopped reaching Australia but people are still drowning in seas in our region and across the world.
More than 350,000 asylum seekers boarded boats in 2014, the UN has found, leaving their homeland to seek protection somewhere else. Of those, 54,000 people boarded a boat in south-east Asia – Australia’s ‘neighbourhood‘, in the words of the foreign minister.
At least 540 people died on boat journeys in that neighbourhood – starved, dehydrated or beaten to death by a crew member and thrown overboard – or drowned when their unseaworthy vessel sank.
The great majority of those travelling in Australia’s region were Rohingya, a persecuted ethnic minority from Burma, who are brutalised by their own government, denied any rights to citizenship, to education, banned from having more than two children and from work in certain industries. Regularly, Rohingya villages are torched and their occupants forced into remote tarpaulin camps, where malnutrition and disease are rife.
Australia has signed an agreement with Burma with the aim of ‘boosting Myanmar’s immigration and border control’ – essentially to prevent Rohingya from leaving.
In 2014 Australia stopped 441 asylum seekers in 10 vessels, the UN says, forcing them back to the countries they last departed.
The government regards these figures as evidence its policies are working. Thanks to boat turnbacks, offshore processing and regional resettlement, the argument goes, boats are no longer able to reach Australia. The people smugglers no longer have a product to sell: the ‘sugar is off the table’.
But that view fails to look over the horizon. It ignores – because Australia knows they are there – all the unseaworthy boats, and their desperate passengers, still looking for a safe port to land or dying in the seas to our north.
Even allowing (almost certainly over-generously) that several times that figure of 441 were deterred from trying to come to Australia, this country’s boat arrivals remain a tiny fraction of the world’s figure…………
Ordered migration and seeking asylum are separate issues, and should not be conflated, but Australia cannot fail to recognise more people are moving now than at almost any time in history. There are more displaced people in the world – 51.2 million – than at any time since the second world war: continued conflict, discordant economic opportunities, climate change – all will force more people to move, and more often.
As the world urges closer cooperation on the issue of mass and irregular migrations, Australia grows ever more isolationist. Moving the problem over the horizon is not the same as addressing it. The boats have not stopped.
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