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Category: Religion

Afghanistan- a Callous debacle

26 August 2021

A brief history of Afghanistan. 

It was a monarchy where the British and Russians had striven for influence for centuries. 

The British had invaded in 1838 and installed King Shah Shujah, who was assassinated in 1842.

The second Anglo Afghan war was 1878-80 and gave Britain control of Afghan foreign affairs.

In 1919 Emir Amanullah Khan declared independence from British influence and tried to introduce social reforms, in particular education. He flees after civil unrest in 1926

King Muhammad Shar came to power in 1933 and tacitly supported the Germans in WW2 as the Afghans did not acknowledge the 1893 Durand Line, the British-initiated border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and he wanted to unify the Pashtun nation, which straddled the border.  His government came under pressure from an increasingly educated younger population. He voluntarily created a Constitutional monarchy in 1964, but this did not lead to significant reform and his government lost prestige due to its mismanagement of a drought in 1969-72. There was a coup by another Royal, Prince Muhammad Daud in 1973. 

The People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan led by British-Indian-educated Nur Muhammad Taraki staged a coup in April 1978 and formed a secular leftist reformist government.  It was relatively pro-Russia and anti-religious.  It was more brutal than had been anticipated, and had internal infighting and resistance from conservatives and Muslims.  Taraki unsuccessfully appealed to Russia for help.

The Cold War

It might be noted that US President and Russian Chief Secretary Leonid Brezhnev met in June 1979 to discuss SALT 2 (the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty). 

(I read somewhere near that time that Afghanistan was mentioned and Carter, being somewhat naïve, said words to the effect that Afghanistan was in the Russian sphere of influence.  Carter’s horrified minders corrected him after the meeting, but Brezhnev took this to mean that the US would not interfere if Russia took action there.  I have been unable to confirm this story despite several efforts since, which either means that I imagined it or that it has been expunged from any written history that is available online).

The US began to help the mujahedeen in July 1979 to overthrow the Taraki government.  Taraki was overthrown and murdered by his protégé, Hafizuzullah Amin in September 1979.  The Russians invaded in December 1979.   The Russians were in some economic trouble, and it has been said that their government wanted a military victory that would distract attention and shore up the state.

President Carter refused to sign the SALT11 treaty and boycotted the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow. The US also increased training and weapons to the Mujahideen. President Zia-ul-Haq of Pakistan insisted that all this aid go through him and hugely favoured a more radical Islamist agenda, also getting aid from Saudi Arabia to set up large numbers of Islamic schools.  The Mujahideen guerrillas overthrew the Russians.  The USSR was falling apart when the Russians, now under Mikhail Gorbachev, departed in February 1989.

The Russian Legacy

The Najibullah government, installed by the Russians lasted until 1992, when here was a civil war with the Northern Alliance fighting the Mujadiheen, which was not a united force, but a number of warlords, each with their own territory.

The Taliban

Taliban means ‘student of Islam’.  The Taliban emerged in 1994 from the Pashtun nation who straddled the Afghan-Pakistan ‘border’, considerably helped by the money from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.  They were seen as less corrupt than the Mujahideen. 

In 1996 the Taliban got control of Kabul and controlled two thirds of the country. 

In 1998 the US launched air strikes to get the Taliban to hand over Osama Bin Laden.

In 2001 Ahmad Shah Masood, the leader of the Northern Alliance was assassinated.

9/11 Leads to the US Invasion

The US was shocked by the 9/11 (11th of September 2001) attack by Al-Qaeda on the Twin Towers in New York and invaded Afghaistan, ostensibly to get Osama Bin Laden. Some have said that the US hawks wanted to invade and 9/11 merely gave them the excuse.  They won militarily in 3 months, but were always an occupying force.

Interestingly in 2007 the UN stated that opium production reached record levels.

The Allied occupation was by many different national forces, and each country had different rules for the area it controlled.  It seems that some countries simply paid the Taliban not to make any trouble.  The Australians went in because the US did and cited our national interest.  The only way that this was our national interest was in pleasing the Americans.

Exit Wounds 2013

The book ‘Exit Wounds’ by John Cantwell, the Australian commander from both Iraq and Afghanistan was written in 2013. He had been on the short list to be the supreme head of the Australian Defence Force, but withdrew to treat the PTSD that he had hidden but had been suffering.  He stated that the war could never be won and it was his opinion that every Australian life lost there was wasted.  The pointlessness of the exercise was what caused his PTSD, and probably led to the feral actions of some of the forces, as is being uncovered. We might note that in a story on the ABC (26/8/21) a witness known as Captain Louise who was going to give evidence to the Brereton Inquiry into Australian War Crimes had her house bombed.  Her former husband is an SAS operator who told her of unauthorised killing and is under investigation after 4 Corners broadcast footage of him killing an unarmed Afghan in 2012 (Killing Field 16/3/20).  Clearly the hearts and minds of Afghans were not won. 

Corruption was rife in the Afghan government, and some of the 2009 UN election observers were killed in a bomb blast in their Kabul hotel. The UN could not insist on an independent investigation and the head of the UN team, who was not killed in the blast, was hurried out of the country. The re-elected government did the inquiry.  So much for democracy!

Australian Embassy Closed May 2021

The Australian Embassy was closed on 21 May 2021, 3 days before the last Australian troops left. Clearly our own intelligence was that things would not go well.  It made the investigations of war crimes more difficult and put the interpreters who had helped the Australian troops in much more danger.  An Australian digger who has tried to get his Afghan interpreter and his family since 2013 has been blocked and been unsuccessful, despite seeing Minister Dutton’s senior adviser 3 years ago.

Taliban Victory

The Taliban won a victory in a few weeks as government forces that we had been training simply declined to fight. Now there is a cordon around the airport and the Taliban are stopping people getting through to the Kabul airport, where the allies are trying to do an airlift of Afghan civilians.  The UN has been most desultory in not looking after locally recruited Afghan UN staff, who are at risk and do not even have foreign passports to allow them to leave.

The Europeans have asked the US to extend the deadline for evacuations, which is 31 August- 4 days away. The US has declined to extend the deadline.  Presumably this is because they are unable to even if they wanted to.  The Taliban surround the airport, and could easily shoot down any planes they chose or bombard the whole crowded area with huge loss of life.  American hubris would be very clearly shown.

The Debacle

It is a debacle- even when the Russians left the government that they established lasted a couple of years.  What is wrong with US intelligence- did they have no idea that the whole country would collapse?  It is hard to know why the Americans went into Afghanistan and why they stayed there.  One wonders if the arms industry is happy to have a war somewhere and really do not care very much how much damage it does or who wins.  One must ask what Australia is doing there and why we are so uncritical of the Americans.  Sadly, Australia does not have a Peace Movement worthy of the name and seem to follow the US blindly. But when the Australian military commander says we cannot win and we continue there for another 8 years, there is something absurd.

The fact that the Labor opposition said nothing is also a worry- does  our government work for us or the US?

The Fate of our Interpreters

Many people will be left behind outside the Taliban-controlled Kabul airport perimeter, or unable even to get near the city.  The Taliban have been searching them out and killing not only those who helped the foreigners, but also their families.  The idea that they have reformed seems very unlikely; the schools that taught them were radical Saudi Islam.  It is a horrible story that has not yet ended. 

www.smh.com.au/national/he-could-have-done-something-why-diggers-feel-let-down-by-scott-morrison-20210820-p58kks.html

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The 2021 Census- Why you should put ‘No Religion’

4 August 2021

I thought that Australia was one of the least religious countries in the world in terms of church attendance.  When I was in Uruguay a tour guide claimed that his was the least religious country, and I said that Australia was. Looking at church attendance statistics we were both wrong. 

Here are some figures from Pew Research in 2018: China 1%, Sweden 6%, Russia 7%, Norway 7%, UK 8%, Germany 10%, France 12%, Uruguay 14%, Spain 15%, Greece 16%, Australia 17%, Chile 19%, Canada 20%, Israel 30%, the US 36%, Bangladesh 58%, Indonesia 73% (From comparecamp.com)

Church attendance is declining everywhere in the developed world, but their influence here is rising due to their systematic entry into politics.  Scott Morrison is fond of saying ‘God helps those that help themselves’ and seems to live by this, getting Pentecostals into Parliament and into Cabinet, (not to mention helping himself with sports rorts and car parks).

The religious agenda of subsidies to religious schools to the detriment of State schools, the huge subsidy by tax exemptions for Church-owned land and businesses, the continuation of religious education in supposedly secular schools to the exclusion of secular ethics classes,  the exemptions to the Equal Opportunity laws that allow churches not to hire gays, the right to continue to smack children, and even demands to have special rights with the 2019 Religious Discrimination Bill which may have unintended consequences are examples enough.

The subsidies to religion through tax exemptions are principally a historic legacy of when secular law replaced church law.  No government has been brave enough to repeal them and in the 1960s ‘State Aid for Church schools’ was a catch cry that allowed governments to win elections as the Church claimed that parents who went to Church schools were paying twice in school fees and in taxes. When I was in Parliament I asked the then Treasurer, Michael Egan, what the cost of the Church tax exemptions were and he replied that it would be too expensive to cost these so he was not going to answer the question!

Another little gem that turned up during the NSW Upper House inquiry into Social Housing (Report No 7/53 2006) was that the NSW government was building houses on Church land.  I asked who would own the houses?  The answer was that it was a ‘joint ownership’ in which the State owned them at first but over a decade the ownership transferred to the Church, so that in 10 years the Church fully owned them.  From Day 1 the Church managed them. How were the tenants selected?  Anyone who was on the Housing waiting list could apply.  We visited one of the houses, a 3 bedroom one with a retired couple in it.  ‘Please notice the garden, they are very proud of it ‘, we were told. The lady of the house was also very proud of her Royal Doulton tea set from which we drank.  We asked how she got the house. She said, ‘We heard the Church was going to build some houses so we started going to Church and we were on the list so we got one’.  The children and grandchildren come and stay occasionally.

I asked the Church facility manager if he ever had tenant problems.  ‘Not often’ he said, ‘As we usually choose the tenants’.   ‘But we had one tenant, a blind lady with a little girl, who had a boyfriend and they used to have huge fights and disturb the neighbours’.  ‘She had to go’.  He showed us a round hole in the plaster where the boyfriend had opened a door roughly and the door handle had punched through.  The house was vacant.  Blind single Mums with boyfriend troubles get the boot. 

This level of detail is not in the final report.  No doubt the Church managed properties have fewer tenant problems than the government managed ones, as this why the Housing Dept with limited stock ends up with ghettos of social problems.

The assumptions are that the Church is basically a charity, which does work that no one else would do, and that its right to prosthetise is tolerated as the majority agree with its teachings.  We have not reached the stage of the USA where school boards try to stop science teachers teaching evolution, but the religious influence is strong in education.  I recall happily singing, ‘All things bright and beautiful, All creatures great and small, All things wise and wonderful, The Lord God made them all’ and several similar verses to follow. It was many years later before I wondered if it was good that this was how it was.

The Church has tried actively in Australia to get people to fill in the census form by how they were brought up, which naturally creates a massive lag in the statistics.  I find the church attendance figures above hard to believe and wonder if new migrants of non-Christian faith have swelled the number of church goers.  In our area the Presbyterian Church, with a congregation of 2 or 3 closed and was sold a couple of decades ago.

The Christian Churches’ prestige has declined massively all over the developed world, with the paedophile scandals, and now most recently with the scandals  at the Vatican Bank, which were alluded to in David Yallop’s 1983 book ‘In God’s Name’ which alleges that Pope John Paul 1 was murdered at least in part because he tried to reform the Vatican Bank.

So it is important that those who do not believe write ‘No Religion’ on the Census form, which is to be filled out for the night of Tuesday 10 August.  We need to demonstrate how many non-believers there are, and to work towards the secular state that is supposedly guaranteed in the Constitution.

www.smh.com.au/national/lapsed-catholics-need-to-reflect-their-beliefs-in-the-census-20210730-p58edo.html?fbclid=IwAR3i2ewer_sI58oFyfjHztjKIuNJOQmLFFjeufKFhJGEAWaoSJFn1MGQOf8

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71% of Australians say religion is not important to them.

11 June 2021

But it seems the religion lobby wants the ‘Religious Freedom’ bill.Atheists need to be active to stop this attack on equality, equal opportunity and often science. We need to stop the subsidies and tax exemption that keep religion having the excessive influence that they have had since the Middle Ages, which seems to be reviving because of the political activism of the religious minority.

www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jun/11/australians-are-very-skeptical-michael-kirby-warns-against-excessive-protection-of-religious-freedoms?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other&fbclid=IwAR0DTQlobEQrou8BBmfOjdjMBZyzw9qbjKWhpHstpNBo8QZ4uXSis1VmISw

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The Answer to our Problems is not More Religion

27 March 2021

Here is an article in the AIM, drawing attention to the political savvy and militancy of the Christian Right. They have been historically powerful with tax deductible status since the Middle Ages. In the 1960s they got State Aid (i.e.subsidies) to religious schools, and this has allowed them to take an ever greater percentage of the children, effectively entrenching an elite class.


The well-off have ‘choice’ and those who are residual do not, so rather than schools unifying a childhood experience they create two sets of parallel but different experiences in two different groups, and those in the privileged one will grow up with little concept of the other as they inherit the right to rule over it. The organised religions consciously going for temporal power will accentuate this, and the idea that you hide your religiosity until you have power is no less than deceitful.


Religious people behave no better than others. All this in Parliament House has been with a Christian cabinet in control of a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy and the priggish piety that surrounds sex with guilt and makes adolescence that much more difficult has made no positive contribution. It is likely to obstruct the sex education that seems the best way to tackle the situation.


Edmund Burke said ‘The only thing needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing’. And Richard Dawkins said more recently that atheists have to become more militant. Amen to that.

https://theaimn.com/mere-men-are-not-godly-beings/?fbclid=IwAR3uGlSDPeKaHwCLDlEk3m9GWiuzXByP6JPboue2I-ceQchwMl4kWUcBGlo

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Sex, God, Anger, Mental Health, Guns, and Racism

20 March 2021

In a recent article about a mass shooting in a number of brothels in Georgia, USA, the Police were criticised for saying that the alleged killer had ‘had a bad day’.  Obviously his day was not as bad as those who were shot.  The Police were in trouble for not being condemnatory enough in their statement.  There was a lot of discussion whether the shootings were racially motivated as they were in Asian massage parlours.  An alternative explanation was that he was getting rid of the outlet for his temptations.

The study of accidents or ‘adverse events’ is a somewhat neglected science.  The legal system has graduated from ‘guilty or not guilty’ to ‘at fault or not-at-fault’, as this makes it simple to dispense justice.  The more nuanced study of adverse events has been mainly done in the aviation and oil industries where a number of small errors or omissions may magnify each other.  The oil industry has tried to quantify the probabilities, which of course is much beloved by the insurance industry, which wants to set its premiums on some sort of rational basis. (How many valves are there in the plant? What percentage of valves leak? What percentage of the valves control volatile liquids?  How many areas can form explosive clouds? What sources of ignition are there? etc.)

A common analogy used for major accidents is that there are a series of discs with a hole in each of them all revolving at different rates, and if all the holes line up, something can get through.  So if each disc is something that can fail, the combination of failures leads to the disaster.

There is then discussion of the environment, the primary, secondary and tertiary causes and the immediate precipitant.

So the headline of this article was an attempt to put some discs in line to look at why the shooting happened.  It is obviously a tragedy and totally unethical, but it is still helpful to discuss its elements coldly and logically.

Sex is a primal drive. An explanation offered for many species is that the males try to reproduce as much as possible, with the females acting as ‘quality control’ selecting who they will mate with and when.  Male libido is rarely discussed except as an embarrassment to harmony or a non-justification for unwanted sexual advances.  The Christian churches have generally had a very negative attitude to sex.  It seems that sex is defined as only acceptable in a monogamous relationship, the alternatives being states of either abstinence or immorality.  The word ‘morals’ has come to mean sticking to a sexual code, rather than behaving ethically in business, commerce or anywhere else.

This attitude to sex has made it an exceptional act.  When a baby girl first rolls over, everyone claps. When she first sits, stand, walks, talks or rides a bicycle everyone is similarly delighted.  But when she first has sex, the world seems terrified.   With boys it is similar, but there is much less terror.  Christian-ethos-based  societies do not seem to have come to terms with our basic humanity and its natural functions.  In consequence prohibitions and guilts are major elements in our society.

In Shakespearean society the serfs had nothing to inherit, so were not really concerned who fathered the village children. The middle class had money to inherit, so were very fussy who slept with who, and the kings staffed the Court with eunuchs just to be on the safe side.  In some Asian societies the men visit the brothels on the way home so that they will leave their wives alone. This also occurs in Western societies, but with the sex industry more marginalised. 

So if a man is at the extreme end of the libido spectrum, but due to personality characteristics is continually denied sex, he may become angry and frustrated.  This is unsurprising.  If his libido is then defined as abnormal, he may be termed ‘sex-addicted’.  Is this then a psychiatric diagnosis?  Probably not.  There is no real connection between psychiatric diagnoses and physiological brain function, and mental illness is often a question of definitions, which change significantly with time.  The diagnosis ‘nymphomaniac’ has gone out of use.

In the US with guns readily available, killing people is much easier; uncontrolled anger is much more dangerous.  Obviously an angry man is far more likely to kill 8 people if he has a gun that if he does not.

In that brothels tend to be staffed by people who are marginalised either by race or income, it is observed that many are staffed by Asian women.

If one accepts that there were 6 discs that had holes in them, one could argue which causative factor was the most important.  The Police may have been keen to play down the racist element.  They may assume that the guns and the ‘moral framework’ are not able to be changed, hence not worthy of mention.

Australia has no gun problem like this, but sexual consent is certainly the topic of the moment. A more natural and secular approach to sex education would seem to be necessary, and an obvious approach is to put it into a civics and ethics class into schools.  The crunch question will be whether it displaces scripture, which increasingly seems an anachronism.

www.smh.com.au/world/north-america/alleged-killer-says-sex-addiction-not-racism-motivated-atlanta-shooting-spree-20210318-p57bqb.html

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Subsidies for Inequality

5 March 2021

As a child our family moved to Port Kembla, and we lived on Hill 60, just above the rocks where a lot of people have drowned recently.

I went to Port Kembla Infant’s School, which was overcrowded but interesting.  Half the kids there came from the migrant hostel in the old WW2 army camp where ‘displaced Persons’ (as WW2 refugee families were called) lived.  These kids arrived in kindergarten without a word of English. This was taken as normal by the teachers, who just plugged on. The kids from the hostel were called ‘Hostels’, but it was a descriptor rather than a pejorative.  By the time we got to 2nd class in our 4th year (Kindergarten, Transition, 1st Class, 2nd Class) there was no difference between Aussie borns and Hostels.  There were 46 in my 2nd class and girls filled the top 6 places.  There was minimal racism in kids leaving this school.   

There was no anti-discrimination legislation or bureaucracy in the 1950s but all the parents had jobs in the steelworks or associated industries and the Housing Commission was building suburbs full of affordable housing as fast as it could.  If you had a go, you got a go. The ABC Radio had an awkward segment before the news called ‘Learn English with us’ where some somewhat stilted practical speech exercises lasted about 2 minutes.  I used to wonder how the new migrants all tuned in for this little segment if they could not understand the rest.  But the intention was there.

In 1966 there was a movement demanding ‘State Aid for Church Schools’ on the basis that they had paid their tax, and now they had left the state system they were paying twice.  The government wanted to win the election, and this was seen as critical for the Catholic vote. The Democratic Labor Party, which had split from the ALP were the champions of this and still represented a significant threat to the ALP as they preferenced the Libs.  State Aid came in.

Some time later there was a lot of emphasis on ESL (English as a Second Language) classes at TAFE, which were held during school hours.  Their target was migrant women and their objective was to encourage English speaking to allow the women both to meet each other and to participate in society more easily.  John Howard defunded the programme; ‘user pays’ was the new paradigm.

I now live in Sydney in a relatively central affluent suburb. Each morning 8 private school buses start near my door ferrying students to 8 private schools.  No public transport needed- the school takes care of it all.  Others students in private school uniforms catch subsidised public transport to the schools of their parents’ choice.  But the cost of ‘choice’ is ‘residualisation’.  Schools where there are a lot of ethnic students suffer from ‘white flight’, and so have concentrated social disadvantage and a lack of native role models. One school I visited in Western Sydney had had a stabbing in the playground about 25 years ago.  The school photos in the foyer had no white face for the last 20 years. That was as far back as the photos went.

When we wonder if the Cabinet have any idea how the poorer folk live, my opinion is that they do not.  These social dynamics have now been going for long enough that it is possible to be old enough to be in Cabinet and have no idea how the other half live.  Some think that people without jobs have ‘wasted their opportunities’ or have alcohol or gambling problems.  Add a little self-ri ghteous religion, ‘the poor are always with us’, a touch of arrogance and a peer group that thinks the same, and you have policies that are increasingly dismantling the fair go and equity that should be at the heart of our culture.  It may be that you cannot make all people equal, but you can give all children equality of opportunity, and all adults enough to live on. We have to change direction and do just that.

Here, at the risk of being repetitive, is an article on Christian Porter.

www.themandarin.com.au/150633-christian-porter-the-unshakeable-belief-of-a-white-man-born-to-rule/?fbclid=IwAR2PbktE5jzTIgIjcL4orzdW1TO8ax03VpOBCFDTzDbRUepQnigaB1WG24Q

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The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, a review and comments

22 December 2019 ‘The God Delusion’ had been on my ‘to read’ list for years.  Having been through years of boarding school I had heard all the arguments about the existence of God debated ad nauseam I was a bit chastened that I had not written the book myself and I assumed that I knew […]

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Religious Freedom in Perspective

31 May 2019 Roosevelt in 1941 spoke of the 4 Freedoms, freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. This was before the UN Declaration of Human Rights. I spent 10 years in boarding schools from the age of 8 where religion was most definitely in charge.  Many of the […]

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