Malala Yousafzai - Nobel Lecture: Bismillah hir Rahma nir Rahim. In the name of God, the most beneficent, the most merciful.
Sunday, December 14, 2014
Malala Yousafzai won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 at the age of seventeen. Malala was born July 12, 1997 in the Swat Valley in Pakistan. The Swat valley is known for its majestic beauty. The vigorous and often harsh climate of this region is very demanding upon its inhabitants. Yousafzai is a member of the Pashtuns – an expansive tribe whose members populate large areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. They are a very proud people with a powerful loyalty towards other members of the tribe. The Pashtuns live by an elaborate code of behavior. Although this code encompasses a strong sense of generosity to others even outside the immediate family, she took issue with the exceedingly narrow view of the role of women in the culture – especially the fact that young girls were not expected or encouraged to go to school. Malala’s father felt otherwise. He ran a school and felt strongly that education should be equally available to everyone.
On an October morning in 2012, Yousafzai’s life suddenly, dramatically and irrevocably changed. On that day, she was shot by a Taliban while traveling to school; her crime was that she was a young girl seeking education. Her wounds were so severe that she was flown out of Pakistan to Birmingham England to receive emergency medical treatment. From that momentous day forward, Yousafzai has been a vigorous and persistent voice for women’s rights and has lobbied passionately for equal opportunity for women in education.
Malala Yousafzai - Nobel Lecture: Bismillah hir Rahma nir Rahim. In the name of God, the most beneficent, the most merciful.
Nobelprize.org. Nobel Media AB 2014. Web. 14 Dec 2014. http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/2014/yousafzai-lecture_en.html
Bismillah hir Rahma nir Rahim. In the name of God, the most beneficent, the most merciful
Your Majesties, distinguished members of the Norweigan Nobel Committee, dear sisters and brothers, today is a day of great happiness for me. I am humbled that the Nobel Committee has selected me for this precious award.
Thank you to everyone for your continued support and love. I am grateful for the letters and cards that I still receive from all around the world. Reading your kind and encouraging words strengthens and inspires me.
I would like to thank my parents for their unconditional love. Thank you to my father for not clipping my wings and for letting me fly. Thank you to my mother for inspiring me to be patient and to always speak the truth- which we strongly believe is the real message of Islam.
I am very proud to be the first Pashtun, the first Pakistani, and the first young person to receive this award. I am pretty certain that I am also the first recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize who still fights with her younger brothers. I want there to be peace everywhere, but my brothers and I are still working on that.
I am also honoured to receive this award together with Kailash Satyarti, who has been a champion of children's rights for a long time. Twice as long, in fact, than I have been alive. I am also glad that we can stand together and show the world that an Indian and a Pakistani can be united in peace and together work for children's rights.
Dear brothers and sisters, I was named after the inspirational Pashtun Joan of Arc, Malalai of Maiwand. The word Malala means "grief stricken", "sad", but in order to lend some happiness to it, my grandfather would always call me Malala – The happiest girl in this world and today I am very happy that we are standing together for an important cause.
This award is not just for me. It is for those forgotten children who want education. It is for those frightened children who want peace. It is for those voiceless children who want change.
I am here to stand up for their rights, raise their voice ... it is not time to pity them. It is time to take action so it becomes the last time that we see a child deprived of education.
I have found that people describe me in many different ways.
Some people call me the girl who was shot by the Taliban
And some, the girl who fought for her rights
Some people, call me a "Nobel Laureate" now
As far as I know, I am just a committed and stubborn person who wants to see every child getting quality education, who wants equal rights for women and who wants peace in every corner of the world.
Education is one of the blessings of life—and one of its necessities. That has been my experience during the 17 years life. In my home in Swat Valley, in the north of Pakistan, I always loved school and learning new things. I remember when my friends and I would decorate our hands with henna for special occasions. Instead of drawing flowers and patterns we would paint our hands with mathematical formulas and equations.
We had a thirst for education because our future was right there in that classroom. We would sit and read and learn together. We loved to wear neat and tidy school uniforms and we would sit there with big dreams in our eyes. We wanted to make our parents proud and prove that we could excel in our studies and achieve things, which some people think only boys can.
Things did not remain the same. When I was ten, Swat, which was a place of beauty and tourism, suddenly changed into a place of terrorism. More than 400 schools were destroyed. Girls were stopped from going to school. Women were flogged. Innocent people were killed. We all suffered. And our beautiful dreams turned into nightmares.
Education went from being a right to being a crime.
But when my world suddenly changed, my priorities changed too.
I had two options, one was to remain silent and wait to be killed. And the second was to speak up and then be killed. I chose the second one. I decided to speak up.
The terrorists tried to stop us and attacked me and my friends on 9th October 2012, but their bullets could not win.
We survived. And since that day, our voices have only grown louder.
I tell my story, not because it is unique, but because it is not.
It is the story of many girls.
Today, I tell their stories too. I have brought with me to Oslo, some of my sisters, who share this story, friends from Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria. My brave sisters Shazia and Kainat Riaz who were also shot that day in Swat with me. They went through a tragic trauma too. Also my sister Kainat Somro from Pakistan who suffered extreme violence and abuse, even her brother was killed, but she did not succumb.
And there are girls with me, who I have met during my Malala Fund campaign, who are now like my sisters, my courageous 16 year old sister Mezon from Syria, who now lives in Jordan in a refugee camp and goes from tent to tent helping girls and boys to learn. And my sister Amina, from the North of Nigeria, where Boko Haram threatens and kidnaps girls, simply for wanting to go to school.
Though I appear as one girl, one person, who is 5 foot 2 inches tall, if you include my high heels. I am not a lone voice, I am many.
I am Shazia.
I am Kainat Riaz.
I am Kainat Somro.
I am Mezon.
I am Amina. I am those 66 million girls who are out of school.
People like to ask me why education is important especially for girls. My answer is always the same.
What I have learnt from the first two chapters of the Holy Quran, is the word Iqra, which means "read", and the word, nun wal-qalam which means "by the pen"?
And therefore as I said last year at the United Nations, "One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world."
Today, in half of the world, we see rapid progress, modernisation and development. However, there are countries where millions still suffer from the very old problems of hunger, poverty, injustice and conflicts.
Indeed, we are reminded in 2014 that a century has passed since the beginning of the First World War, but we still have not learnt all of the lessons that arose from the loss of those millions of lives a hundred years ago.
There are still conflicts in which hundreds of thousands of innocent people have lost their lives. Many families have become refugees in Syria, Gaza and Iraq. There are still girls who have no freedom to go to school in the north of Nigeria. In Pakistan and Afghanistan we see innocent people being killed in suicide attacks and bomb blasts.
Many children in Africa do not have access to school because of poverty.
Many children in India and Pakistan are deprived of their right to education because of social taboos, or they have been forced into child labour and girls into child marriages.
One of my very good school friends, the same age as me, had always been a bold and confident girl and dreamed of becoming a doctor. But her dream remained a dream. At age of 12, she was forced to get married and then soon had a son at an age when she herself was a child – only 14. I know that my friend would have been a very good doctor.
But she couldn't ... because she was a girl.
Her story is why I dedicate the Nobel Prize money to the Malala Fund, to help give girls everywhere a quality education and call on leaders to help girls like me, Mezun and Amina. The first place this funding will go is where my heart is, to build schools in Pakistan—especially in my home of Swat and Shangla.
In my own village, there is still no secondary school for girls. I want to build one, so my friends can get an education—and the opportunity it brings to fulfil their dreams.
That is where I will begin, but it is not where I will stop. I will continue this fight until I see every child in school. I feel much stronger after the attack that I endured, because I know, no one can stop me, or stop us, because now we are millions, standing up together.
Dear brothers and sisters, great people,who brought change, like Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa and Aung San Suu Kyi, they once stood here on this stage. I hope the steps that Kailash Satyarti and I have taken so far and will take on this journey will also bring change – lasting change.
My great hope is that this will be the last time we must fight for the education of our children. We want everyone to unite to support us in our campaign so that we can solve this once and for all.
Like I said, we have already taken many steps in the right direction. Now is the time to take a leap.
It is not time to tell the leaders to realise how important education is - they already know it - their own children are in good schools. Now it is time to call them to take action.
We ask the world leaders to unite and make education their top priority.
Fifteen years ago, the world leaders decided on a set of global goals, the Millennium Development Goals. In the years that have followed, we have seen some progress. The number of children out of school has been halved. However, the world focused only on expanding primary education, and progress did not reach everyone.
Next year, in 2015, representatives from around the world will meet at the United Nations to decide on the next set of goals, the Sustainable Development Goals. This will set the world's ambition for generations to come. Leaders must seize this opportunity to guarantee a free, quality primary and secondary education for every child.
Some will say this is impractical, or too expensive, or too hard. Or even impossible. But it is time the world thinks bigger.
Dear brothers and sisters, the so-called world of adults may understand it, but we children don't. Why is it that countries which we call "strong" are so powerful in creating wars but so weak in bringing peace? Why is it that giving guns is so easy but giving books is so hard? Why is it that making tanks is so easy, but building schools is so difficult?
As we are living in the modern age, the 21st century and we all believe that nothing is impossible. We can reach the moon and maybe soon will land on Mars. Then, in this, the 21st century, we must be determined that our dream of quality education for all will also come true.
So let us bring equality, justice and peace for all. Not just the politicians and the world leaders, we all need to contribute. Me. You. It is our duty.
So we must work ... and not wait.
I call upon my fellow children to stand up around the world.
Dear sisters and brothers, let us become the first generation to decide to be the last.
The empty classrooms, the lost childhoods, wasted potential—let these things end with us.
Let this be the last time that a boy or a girl spends their childhood in a factory.
Let this be the last time that a girl gets forced into early child marriage.
Let this be the last time that an innocent child loses their life in war.
Let this be the last time that a classroom remains empty.
Let this be the last time that a girl is told education is a crime and not a right.
Let this be the last time that a child remains out of school.
Let us begin this ending.
Let this end with us.
And let us build a better future right here, right now.
Friday, November 21, 2014
The Women's Empowerment Cancer Advocacy Network (WECAN) Recently held a summit (September, 2014) in the African country of Tanzania. This vital work certainly contributes positively towards social justice and world peace. This video provides some insight into the work of this important organization.
Thursday, September 25, 2014
It is readily apparent that many parts of the human world are in the midst of ethnic, political and economic turmoil. The chaos that such turmoil engenders results in violent aggression, terrorism and war. I attribute this behavior to what I refer to as the Stupidity Principle. The essential feature of this principle inexorably leads to behavior that runs counter to the present and future viability of the species.
The stupidity principle can be ascribed to the following attributes –
- Uncompromising adulation for the victors of war and not its needless victims.
- Sanctification of machines of cold steel and massive explosive power capable of unleashing destructive energy of immense proportions resulting in mayhem and death. This apparent love of the weapons of war seems oblivious to the financial burden that they impose upon the human community and the cost in lives and ultimately civilization that result in their use.
- Creation of tributaries of blood and needless sacrifice and mounds of shattered limbs and lifeless corpses in the hollow name of religion or state.
- Obsessive allegiance to wealth, fame and fortune while the plight of the nameless armies of the poor and dispossessed remains unattended.
- Reckless destruction of the natural environment for the purpose of the endless and often mindless pursuit of material progress and the maintenance of lives of convenience and comfort. The unsustainable “plenty” so derived may well lead to a dismal future for humanity’s children marooned upon a poisoned planet.
- Libertarian “true” belief in the absolute supremacy of the individual and the mindless pursuit of self-interest regardless of the real cost to the human community. Adherence to such a belief system is nothing but an insipid justification for the inequitable distribution of wealth and the squandering of public resources for private gain.
- Prejudice in all its forms whether it be based upon religion, political belief, racial or ethnic differences or sexual orientation – it is the uncompromising hatred that bigotry often engenders that is the root cause for so much suffering and violent aggression.
The human community needs to actively divest itself of such a principle if we hope to leave a peaceful and viable world for our children. There is no time like the present.
Tuesday, August 26, 2014
A fundamental aspect of living is the undeniable reality of individual mortality and the temporary nature of individual existence. This aspect of existence necessarily invokes fear and trepidation within the self-conscious human brain. The individual is faced with a number of alternatives when faced with this inherent truth. It can be embraced as being an essential aspect of existence or an attempt can be made either to negate its reality or soften its significance through the creation of alternative belief systems.
These alternative belief systems fall into a number of categories –
Primal Superstition – a state of mind that was particularly prevalent in early human societies when there was little scientific understanding of the human and natural worlds and everything seemed mysterious and dangerous. As a result, equally mysterious forces were invoked to explain what seemed terrifying and uncontrollable.
Religion - Within the fabric of most world religions there is a strong belief in a god(s) that is perpetually interested and involved in our own welfare in a world that is so devoid of any real evidence of divine intervention. A corollary belief that is often invoked is the existence of an afterlife – where the “soul” lives eternally once freed of the limitations of the body.
The god concept came into being when humans thought that they were the universe and that the universe was inexplicably hostile. It is an extraordinary testimonial to the human imagination, given the current understanding of the immensity of the cosmos, that there still persists the idea of a personal savior - a supernatural being that can be called upon to help to meet our worldly needs or deliver us from suffering; a savior that is intimately aware of all our thoughts and actions, needs and desires; a savior that is so caring and so powerful, yet somehow strangely unable to make the world a less bloody, less violent and a less treacherous place.
What makes religious belief especially poignant is the fact that so many have died throughout history as a direct result of differing beliefs about god. To this day, god is invoked by all sides in military conflicts. It seems that those who differ strongly enough in beliefs to kill each other are looked upon with equal favor by the creator. This makes absolutely no sense by any measure of rational and reasoned judgment.
Religious institutions, like all other human institutions, are readily corrupted by the allure of power. The powerful must dominate and coerce those beneath them in order to sustain their privileged positions. Throughout history, the so-called “houses of god” have gone down this road. It is an inescapable aspect of the human condition. The Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades, the many conflicts in Europe between differing Christian sects following the Protestant Reformation are but a few examples of the powerful influence and deleterious effects of religious institutions and beliefs. Would the Jews have ever suffered the horrendous fate they endured at the hands of the German Fascists; would the crazed ideas of Adolph Hitler have ever been listened to or followed, if there hadn’t been an extreme religious hatred against the Jews in the first place?
Gods come in all forms: the human-like gods of the Greeks and Romans, the animal-like gods of the Hindus and Egyptians, the omnipotent god of the Jews and Christians. Many of these gods have come to earth in wholly human form. According to the various mythologies, these gods are often destroyers as much as creators. They are gods of unspeakable wrath as well as boundless love.
A belief in god has not substantially advanced human progress but rather has helped to retard its development. Human civilizations have continued to go through the same cycle of birth, development, ascendancy, decline and dissolution leaving mountains of dead and incredible destruction in the wake of history, regardless of the gods they sacrificed or prayed to. This, in itself, suggests that god is either a fabrication or a very ineffectual reality.
It is my considered opinion that the practice of religion removes the responsibility for the state of the world from where it truly belongs - on the shoulders of humans. It is the human species that has made this world what it is, and it is humanity that must make it right. Religion often frees its practitioners from personal moral responsibility. Furthermore, extreme religious belief is often tied intimately to jingoistic patriotism. This was readily seen in both the Vietnam and Iraq Wars where Christian Fundamentalists were strongly in support of waging war and never displayed any qualms when millions of innocent people were slaughtered in these engagements. This is quite ironic since it is this same extremist faction that claims to occupy the moral high ground, holding all life as sacred and that looks on non-believers with such contempt and disdain. Anyone with even a miniscule understanding of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ would readily conclude that the one they claim to be their master would be utterly appalled at the actions and behavior done in his name.
Great teachers such as Christ, Muhammad, Buddha and the prophets of the Old Testament are paid mostly lip service by the vast and powerful institutions that have arisen out of their original teachings. What these advanced thinkers sought to instill in the human heart: love, compassion, understanding and generosity of spirit, has been more or less ignored by those in power, who call out the names of their gods with such purported reverence. Though millions upon millions of humans visit their houses of worship regularly, they still live their lives based on the tenets of self-aggrandizement and are more than happy to accept the gross inequities and injustice embodied in the status quo, especially since it is in their interest to do so.
Religion exploits the intrinsic fear of death in the minds of its followers, and offers up a cathartic menu of empty promises, including life eternal, heavenly rewards for their obeisance and detailed rules and guidelines regarding acceptable human behavior. Life is not possible without death and to suggest that humans are especially deserving of an afterlife that stretches into eternity establishes a particular set of expectations that are not amenable to verification. A belief in the existence of such an extraordinary reality that can never be proven does not diminish the reality that we are but another species on a biologically diverse planet, and our ascendancy can be readily explained by well-established principles of biology and evolution.
Religious Fundamentalism can be found in all of the world religions including, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism. It is an extreme form of religious belief in which the followers passionately believe that they embrace immutable truths and principles upon which not only their personal salvation depends, but also the fate of the human kind.
As a consequence of this kind of irrational and highly charged thinking, intolerance of human behavior outside of the particular belief system comes to represent normative behavior. Those individuals within groups based upon fundamentalist principles necessarily adopt conformist attitudes and lifestyles and adhere to well-delineated sanctioned behaviors. Within this myopic worldview there lies the concept of a people chosen specifically by god to embody his teachings. This concept is either implied or explicitly stated.
It is not unusual and often quite likely that ingrained thought patterns that embrace fundamental religious ideology lead to aggression and violence towards those who hold differing beliefs – such individuals are invariably seen as a threat to the existence of the constricted universe in which true believers reside. This kind of hatred has its origin in fear.
The data that continuously streams into consciousness from the external environment informs the mind that the universe is chaotic; that life is, by its nature, ephemeral; that change is ever-present and can often be abrupt and unexpected. By its nature, fundamentalist belief systems impose a constraint upon the acceptance of this reality and, therefore, demand conformity. Survival, thereby, becomes equated with belief and all who do not accept the underlying principles are feared for their existence suggests that the universe may, in fact, operate on different principles.
Politics, Race and Ethnicity - As a way of thinking, fundamentalism does not reside only within the domain of religion; it can also be found in the arena of politics, race, ethnicity and so-called, “intentional communities.”
Fundamentalists can be found fanatically embracing secular ideologies such as communism, democracy, socialism and libertarianism. Although there are many individuals who identify themselves with these various political philosophies, fundamentalists display an obsessive, extreme and blind adherence to the philosophy they espouse at the expense of reason.
Fascism, as an example, is a special case on account of the fact that its underlying philosophy embraces racial or ethnic superiority and by its very nature is predisposed to radical fundamentalism.
Regardless of the nature of the belief or system of beliefs, fundamentalism is extremist in nature and the fundamentalist mindset cannot accept compromise or ever take into account the legitimacy of opposing points of view. From this self-righteous perspective, those who believe otherwise can and often regarded as inherently dangerous. In this way, wars of aggression are readily justified and sanctioned.
Wednesday, August 6, 2014
Let me be quite blunt here – not all the data is in, but it doesn’t appear too promising. It is now the twenty-first century. The world is crowded with humans with apparently no letup in sight; this trend does not take into account the possibility of a massive and precipitous decrease in the size of the human population due in part or entirely to the inevitable environmental impact of human activity – not that unlikely a scenario.
However, let us say for argument sake that the human population continues to expand without any genuine regard for accepting the natural consequences for human activity. Honestly, living in the present in ways that will help ensure a viable existence for future generations does not seem to reside in the purview of modern human behavior.
Given the ravenous appetites of humans and the seemingly inexhaustible collective need for material acquisitions, what kind of human world will the future entail? What will the climate look like? What will be the state of the natural resources upon which human life depends? What will be the living conditions and the general quality of life for the vast majority of the members of this remarkable species? What will be the prospects for establishing a human environment where peace would thrive?
In regards to the climate, this question is not difficult to answer. With the ever-escalating rise in the levels of greenhouse gases in the environment despite all the science that has established a clear and unambiguous relationship between this increase and the deleterious impact on the environment, we can expect:
· Increasing average ambient temperature worldwide leading to increased desertification, that will lead to population shifts on a massive scale – some areas will be become virtually uninhabitable for human populations.
· Extreme droughts in certain parts of the world and extreme weather conditions in others with more violent storms, tornadoes, hurricanes, etc.
· Increased releases of dangerous and toxic methane gas, also a greenhouse gas, as a result of the melting of permafrost in the northern climes as the temperature increases. This effect produces a so-called “feedback loop” as the increased emission of methane raises surface temperature causing a further release of methane and on and on.
· Accelerated melting of land-based ice leading to an inexorable rise in sea level that over time will have a devastating impact upon those populations living on the world’s coastal areas. As land ice melts, it reduces the reflective properties of snow and ice (referred to as albedo) thereby increasing warming and further accelerating the melting process. This is yet another example of a feedback mechanism. Such dramatic changes will necessarily lead to displacement of large numbers of people that will inevitably lead to social unrest and war on a massive scale.
A thorough scientific analysis of the full impact of increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere on global weather conditions requires complex algorithms to account for all the variables involved and supercomputers to run the data. Although this remains a work in progress, the results of this approach have already shown itself to be a good predictive tool.
The examples cited above merely touch upon some of the most important aspects of the impact of climate change on human populations. This is by no means an exaggerated accounting. In spite of the massive amounts of climate data that have confirmed these trends, governments throughout the world – all too ready to accommodate corporate interests – are either proposing tepid measures to corral and decrease the release of greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels or are doing absolutely nothing to avoid future disaster. If left unchecked, the atmosphere will become so overburdened with greenhouse gases that no solution will be possible no matter how much effort and resources are thrown at the problem.
Regarding the access of humans to the resources that are necessary to sustain human life such as adequate food, safe drinking water, appropriate housing, affordable health care, meaningful employment and a good education, there is reason to believe that on account of the extreme and ever-increasing inequity in regards to income and wealth, more and more individuals will slip into an economic strata typified by poverty, desperation and hopelessness. Furthermore, as the human population on planet earth continues to grow this will necessarily place a greater burden on finite and shrinking resources.
The economic model that much of the world has come to regard as the bedrock of human advancement, presupposes that progress is equated to and dependent upon the relentless production, expansion and market share of products. The manufacture of these products depends upon finite resources, some of which are rapidly becoming exhausted.
This wholly commercial outlook of life has led to its inevitable conclusion – everything is for sale. Consequently, large numbers of people throughout the world are unnecessarily dying of starvation, have no access to safe drinking water, health care and are made homeless because they lack the economic resources to afford these “commodities.” The net impact of this fundamental aspect of contemporary economic life is the unmistakable reality that longevity is directly related to wealth – that the very small percentage of the world population that have accumulated abundant wealth are outliving everyone else. The level of individual consumption that is required to maintain the desired quality of existence in modern terms is essentially unsustainable in the long term. For these reasons, it is a model that is bound to fail and ultimately fail catastrophically.
Furthermore, the ever- increasing population pressure upon the planet’s finite resources is placing a significant strain upon the availability of the necessary requirements for living. Not only are greenhouse gases being introduced to the earth’s atmosphere at alarming levels as discussed earlier, but a host of other poisons are entering the air and water supply. These poisons are by-products of commercial production and their ultimate impact upon the biosphere is impossible to measure.
These issues are not being adequately addressed on account of the fact that corporate interests are thoroughly enmeshed within the political systems of most world governments. Although the current economic infrastructure that predominates the vast majority of national economies is being questioned from many different sectors it is not being effectively challenged. For these reasons, real change is highly unlikely.
Extrapolating the current economic trends into the near future and examining the projections being made by climatologists from around the world in regard to the climatic conditions, the picture that is forming is not a pleasant one.
Given the growing inequality of wealth between the few that seem to possess a staggeringly large portion of the economic pie and the paucity of wealth possessed by the vast majority of the world’s population, it is patently obvious that societies around the globe will be comprised of two tiers in which the wealthy few will live abundant and lavish lifestyles within fortified and gated communities with everyone else struggling with and competing for shrinking resources – these conditions already exist in many parts of the world and the situation will grow increasingly bleak and more hopelessly out of balance.
Couple these conditions with the accelerated global impact of climate change, as discussed earlier and you have a world in which the human species is relentlessly besieged by forces that will rent and tear at human communities everywhere. A number of somber scenarios come to mind in this regard –
· As the sea levels rise due to the accelerated melting of land-based ice, human communities living by the sea at what was once sea-level will be forced to move inland on a massive scale. This kind of chaotic and forced migration will bring with it opposition by those who already live safely inland and would suddenly find themselves at risk – this kind of opposition is so bound up with survival that wars of aggression would necessarily follow.
· The sea will grow more and more acidic as the overburden of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere increases the concentration of dissolved carbon dioxide. This already is having a deleterious impact on coral populations and the health of marine phytoplankton – small plants that are an essential ingredient in the food chain. The increasing acidity of world’s oceans together with overfishing that is a direct consequence of human population pressure, will inexorably lead to the rapid diminishment of life in the sea; this process has been referred to as devolution. The implications of this eventuality on the human species - especially in regards to the supply of protein in the diet - lies beyond comprehension; for, it entails starvation at unprecedented levels.
· Yet another impact on the oceans as a result of the increased temperature of the oceans is the possible disruption of the deep water thermohaline circulation (THC) that is responsible for the transfer of enormous amounts of heat throughout the planet. Such a disruption would have major consequences for the global climate.
· Havoc caused by the unprecedented and wholly unpredictable onslaught of severe and prolonged extreme storms and weather conditions will place a heavy and relentless burden on human populations and the economic infrastructure of human communities everywhere.
· Members of the affluent class would remain insulated from these dramatic and disruptive changes for a time; however, as national economies and ultimately the global economy begin to feel the full impact of the environment devastation, no one would remain immune to the deleterious consequences of unsustainable human activity.
· Ultimately, the intricate and interdependent systems that are required to maintain the highly technical and mechanized social order of modern life would collapse under the sheer weight of the global crisis and human societies would necessarily need to adjust to a far more primitive existence. As a consequence, human populations would shrink over time as the human world is overwhelmed by war, wide-scale famine, severe deprivation and disease.
Finally, the cumulative psychological damage of these catastrophic events would necessarily have a negative impact on individual and group behavior adding to the increasingly chaotic nature of existence.
This is not a terribly sanguine look at the future. It does in my judgment, however, represent a reasonable projection of the consequences of current human activity on planet earth if nothing is done to significantly address the underlying issues that demand our full and unmitigated attention.
In answer to the question, “Is the Species Smart Enough?” in regards to insuring a viable future for the human kind, it seems that my answer is leaning towards the negative with the open possibility that this analysis can be readily updated to a more positive conclusion provided that meaningful reform in human behavior becomes evident.
Friday, June 13, 2014
Despite thousands of years of civilization during which time great strides have been made in the advancement of knowledge and the accumulation of data regarding the real workings of the natural world, the human species remains plagued by violence and war. Although science has gradually and ineluctably eroded away at ignorance and successfully undermined superstition and prejudice, there still remains a tendency for groups, tribes and nations to view “outsiders” with suspicion, distrust and fear. It is fear that has the capacity to drive forward irrational conclusions and ultimately violent behavior. It is fear that closes the mind and hinders the possibility for rational discourse between those who are in conflict. It is fear that nurtures hatred and propels the “darker” emotions within the human spirit. There is abundant evidence of this reality operating within the context of human affairs.
There are many armed conflicts raging all over the planet in the beginning of the twenty-first century. The war in Iraq has ended with the standing down of American forces of occupation; although sectarian violence and civil strife continue to plague the Iraqi people and the infrastructure of the country is still not sufficiently rebuilt to allow for reliable electric power, clean water, sanitation or public health. The War in Afghanistan continues, but the resolve on behalf of the American people to continue fighting is waning.
Human conflict continues in large areas of the world including India and Pakistan, Columbia, the Sudan and between the Israelis and the Palestinians. In addition to these, there has been renewed and unsettling violence in Egypt following a resurgence of the repressive action of the military. This is particularly disheartening given the initial gains made by the movement that was fondly described as the “Arab Spring.”
In addition, a civil war rages in Syria where the government felt so threatened and vulnerable that is resorted to the use of chemical weapons in order to derail the progress being made by the armed resistance. This revelation was met by revulsion on the part of many members of the world’s global population. The belligerent response of the developed countries of the West is of particular interest in light of the fact that these same sovereignties, especially the United States and Great Britain, have resorted to the use of such terrorizing weaponry in the pursuit of their own interests in the not so distant past. The question that continues to haunt me is, “Why is the history of human civilization so impregnated with the reality of war and the constant threat of conflict?”
The underlying source of the social and economic instabilities that are responsible for the civil conflicts that have plagued many nations in the so-called “third world” can often be traced to the disastrous effects of colonialism. The following are a few examples of the deleterious consequences of the imposition of foreign rule on the future prospects of an occupied country.
The Nobel Peace Prize recipient Wangari Mathaai described her personal experiences growing up in Kenya. She was born when Kenya was ruled by the British. She watched as the beliefs and traditions of her people gradually died away as a result of the Western idea of progress. The degradation of her local environment had a profound impact on her sensibilities.
Throughout the nineteenth century, western missionaries came to Africa followed by explorers, adventurers and fortune seekers in service of the European powers. Missionaries came to Kenya towards the end of the nineteenth century. They taught that God did not dwell on Mount Kenya, but in heaven. The missionaries and the colonial administrators who followed them introduced new methods of exploiting natural resources such as logging, clear-cutting, creating plantations of imported trees, the commercial hunting of wildlife and commercial agriculture. As a consequence of the implementation of these practices, hallowed landscapes were exploited. In 1884-1885, Britain and the other major colonialist European powers met in Berlin at the Berlin Conference to draft what came to be known as the “Scramble for Africa.” This conference formalized plans to achieve its ultimate goal - to lay claim to all of Africa within thirty years.
In Kenya, the British subdivided the country into different areas based upon the populations of different religious denominations who inhabited those regions. In Maathai’s region, there were Scottish Presbyterians and Italian Catholics. In the 1910’s, the British government encouraged British citizens to settle in Kenya, especially in the fertile highlands; these settlers received title deeds and the natives were relocated to the Rift Valley. The British settlers introduced commercial agriculture and grew wheat, maze, coffee and tea.
As a result of colonial exploitation, the following changes in the natural environment took place:
• Decimation of native plants for the purpose of growing so-called “cash crops” like tobacco
• Importation of exotic plants for purely commercial purposes; this practice played havoc with the delicate ecological balance
• Soil erosion as a result of extreme logging practices, especially clear-cutting
• Imposition of agribusiness methods led to over cultivation and pollution of the soil and local environment with chemicals designed to improve crop production
• Creation of commercial plantations supporting non-native trees i.e. Pine, Eucalyptus and Black Wattle, a species of Acacia normally found in Australia, for the timber and building industries - this had a profound impact on the natural ecosystem and its capacity to retain rainwater.
The impact of colonial rule on the native population was equally disastrous. In the highlands, the area where Maathai was born, large British plantations usurped the native agriculture. Although crops like tobacco brought in sizeable profits for the white settlers, native Kenyans were allowed to raise only pyrethrum as a cash crop. In addition, the British imposed an income tax to be paid in money effectively transforming the livestock-based economy to a cash-based economy. This kind of restriction imposed so much hardship; it was akin to slavery.
These practices imposed on the people of Kenya against their will solely for the purpose of exploiting the riches derived from the country’s natural resources, had a destabilizing impact upon the nation’s future.
The nation of Nigeria was, in fact, an artificial construct as a result of colonization by the British. It was created from the remains of the Niger River Trading Company. The Europeans helped themselves to vast territorial holdings in Africa as a result of the Treaty of Berlin as described above.
Northern Nigeria was populated by Muslims – the Hausa Fulani ethnic group ruled by emirs. The people of northern Nigeria were relatively easy to control on account of the hierarchical nature of their social structure. The peoples of southern Nigeria, on the other hand, were more difficult to subjugate – they were fiercely democratic. In order to subdue them, the British used religion, bribery, the influence of missionaries, and the power of the military. It was British administration driven by economic considerations that carved out the Nigerian borders. It was through the clever application of divide and conquer that the colonialists used the differences between the Hausa-Fulani in the north, the Yoruba peoples in the west and the Ibo in the east to create sharp political and social divisions within the country while busily extracting the economic resources of the region.
When the country won independence from the British in 1960, the bureaucratic and administrative organization of government created by the colonial authority remained in place allowing for future problems. Oil was discovered in Nigeria in 1958. For over 30 years oil has provided over 30 billion dollars to the Nigerian economy. However, this revenue fed corruption and enriched a small and well-connected minority of the nation’s population. The Ogoni people received no real benefit from their oil-rich land. Quite to the contrary, they had no reliable electricity, no pipe-born water and they were not the beneficiaries of any significant social or economic projects. In addition, their language was disappearing and they were effectively pushed into slavery as their natural environment was adversely impacted by irresponsible practices on the part of the oil industry. The famed Nigerian author and activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa was executed for his attempt to mobilize opposition to the economic and environmental devastation wrought by oil production in his country. Nigeria remains plagued by problems that had their roots in the practices established and employed by their previous colonial masters.
The examples cited above share numerous aspects in common with many other troubled spots throughout the world. The excesses of colonialism have effectively outlived the colonial powers such as Great Britain, Portugal and Spain whose empires are no longer extant. The idea of empire, however, has not subsided; there are many nations who currently aspire to that “ideal” of national greatness. It is imperative for the future of the species that human societies ultimately embrace the all-inclusive idea of family extending the concept to all of human kind as Desmond Tutu suggests. Otherwise, humanity will continue to view the world as consisting of irreconcilable enclaves of “us and them.”
On examining the ferocity of warfare, it is not difficult to come to the conclusion that the human species has not learned very much over its protracted history. The history of Europe from the Ancient Roman and Greek civilizations to the present, as an example, is replete with carnage that is the inevitable outcome of innumerable wars.
Within the individual human psyche there exists a constant tension between the force and power of the emotions driven by the passions embodied in territory, tribe and nation and that of reason. The more reactive emotions stem in large part from the evolution of the species in an environment that was essentially hostile and in which the forces of nature that impacted human experience were not understood and the causes of calamity were attributed to the gods, malevolent spirits or a specific enemy.
In the beginnings of the human kind, ignorance was prevalent and fear and suspicion dominated and shaped human behavior. Although the advancement of science and technology has shed light upon many aspects of the human experience that were once shrouded in mystery, the inherent tendency to strike out violently against that which is feared and poorly understood remains to haunt human societies. What is particularly unique about humanity in the twenty-first century is the inescapable reality that the application of overwhelming force against a perceived enemy is no longer a viable solution especially considering the destructiveness of modern weaponry.
Over the thousands of years of human civilization, great empires have risen and eventually fallen. The cycle of empire building and dissolution has generally followed the same inexorable path. The beginning stage is represented by the rise of a local community of common origin followed by a gradual accretion of power usually by force. Success at this initial stage leads to an ascendancy to the use of overwhelming force in order to subdue all adversaries. As power becomes increasingly concentrated within a burgeoning empire, there is a tendency to broaden the sphere of influence. This expansion ultimately leads to an exhaustion of resources both material and human. Finally, the empire contracts and ultimately dissolves. The entire process might take place over a thousand years as exemplified by the Roman Empire or hundreds of years as demonstrated by the British Empire.
In all of human history, cycles of expansion and warfare were tolerable given the low density of human populations on the planet and the relatively benign effects of the primitive weaponry on the global environment. This model of human behavior where economic, political and social differences and rivalries are settled through violent means is no longer tenable in the modern era.
The essentially tribal nature of human interactions has evolved over the generations into competing national sovereignties. The idea that each nation-state is a power unto itself is no longer compatible with the rapidly evolving global character of human endeavor. The development of technological weaponry, especially nuclear and chemical weapons, has created a situation in which warfare necessarily leads to horrific consequences both locally for the populations involved and globally due to the environmental effects as witnessed in the nuclear attacks against the civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the use of anti-personnel cluster bombs and landmines in Cambodia, the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam and the use of Depleted Uranium (DU) hardened ordnance in Iraq. The daunting issues that face humanity are no longer local but rather global in nature. The remarkable savagery of the First and Second World Wars of the Twentieth Century awakened the idea of the need for a world organization as a forum for international communication so as to foster dialog between nations and forestall the possibility of future wars of such magnitude. The first experiment in a world organization as a vehicle for adjudicating international disputes was the League of Nations that was created in the aftermath to World War I. This, unfortunately, met with limited success and was eventually disbanded. Subsequently the United Nations was created at the end of World War II. The United Nations is still extant but remains hostage to the dominance of the special interests of the powerful industrial nations that constitute the Security Council.
The will to empire is still very much with us. Apparently, no significant lessons have been learned from the horrid mistakes of the past. The absolute need for true international cooperation as a means to effectively circumvent a catastrophic future that now seems so likely is still not recognized. Many nations remain fixated on the ferocious competition for dominance and supremacy at the expense of those sovereignties that are weaker and more fragile. This competition has usually been over the resources required to fuel and sustain national economies. The need for additional natural resources such as land for expansion of national populations or energy and mineral resources has often been the focus of extreme competition resulting in the colonization of resource-rich poor nations by the more powerful states. As needed resources such as oil or water become scarce, the competition will, by necessity, grow more fierce and explosive.
This particular mindset has become problematic; the species is in desperate need of a completely new paradigm. The model must be based, by necessity, on a spirit of cooperation, compassion, generosity and a willingness to reach meaningful compromise to avert disaster. At that the very core of such a marked change in worldview is the incorporation of a non-violent philosophy in the essential character of human social interaction.
The chasm that currently exists between the so-called “haves” and “have-nots” both within and between sovereign states is helping to sustain the extreme level of violence that continues to plague humanity. Fundamental issues of social and economic justice need to be uppermost on the agenda. Such a focus would require a serious implementation of the role of social responsibility and conscience in the behavior of governments. The idea of belonging wholly to one nation must be superseded by the idea of being a member of the world community. This, of course, represents a momentous leap in understanding, tolerance and compassion; it requires an obligation to act in the best interests of all humanity.
To continue down the current path in which domestic and international behavior is dictated by a passion born of fear and ignorance is to take a journey leading into a horrific future.
This is not the only possible destiny of the human species. There are other more benign and desirable alternatives. There is a way out of the madness. Humans are quite capable of using intelligence to direct and guide their behavior and plan for a future in which all of humanity can share in the benefits of collective action for the good of all people. To do this, however, old patterns of behavior and thinking need to be discarded and replaced by a new paradigm that envisions all of us as being of equal worth and understands that we depend on a fragile planet with limited resources. Beneficial change demands that fear, and the suspicion and hatred that necessarily follows, be replaced by compassion, understanding and a determination to work for true social justice and freedom. These goals cannot be achieved by an imposition of a particular set of values by brute force or economic coercion. Imperialism represents a viewpoint that depends and thrives upon a world out of balance and it is an idea that is no longer viable. The urge towards empire is not yet dead, but is has become completely ineffectual, dangerous and counter-productive.
I believe I can say with some assurance that all people desire a world for their descendants in which peace is a reality and a future in which the planet retains its natural beauty and the majesty of all of life. To achieve this result, a great deal of work is required. This is a wholly different kind of work, since it requires profound self-examination and a will towards significant change. The question remains as to whether the species has the wherewithal to take on this challenge. I hope for the sake of future generations that this is so.
The first images of the planet taken from space clearly demonstrated that for all human beings and for all of life, for that matter, the earth is our only home. This conception has, in my judgment, become such an integral part of human consciousness that the current and obvious threat posed by climate change may offer some impetus for reform. The time may be right to open more effective channels of communication between nations with the focus of developing sustainable economies that would help insure a livable planet for future generations of not only the human species but all the magnificent creatures that constitute the living world. Simply moving through life with self-interest as the guiding principle is not enough to forestall a major calamity that only concerted human action can avert.
These thoughts do not, by any means, represent new concepts or ideas. Quite to the contrary, throughout human history there have been voices putting forth the idea of peace and suggesting methodologies to achieve this elusive goal.
In spite of the destabilizing and destructive effects that wars impose upon the human population, staggering amounts of financial and human resources are currently being expended worldwide to prepare for and conduct wars. Should one, therefore, conclude that aggression is a natural proclivity of the human condition or does it represent abnormal behavior? There is, at this time, no unambiguous answer to this question.
The scientific disciples embodied within neuroscience and neurobiology are currently making great progress in understanding the intricate structure and function of the so-called “normal” human brain and, therefore, shedding light upon the underlying organic origins of aberrant human behavior. In spite of these advances, human societies, through law and custom, continue to harbor significant prejudices and suspicion regarding the area of mental illness and dysfunction. These reactionary attitudes have a significant bearing on the course of human societal development.
There is a tendency to use the life of deranged yet charismatic historic figures such as Adolf Hitler of Germany, Saddam Hussein of Iraq and Idi Amin of Uganda as repositories for evil. This is a simplistic view of human history and fails to take into account the real political, social and economic forces that shape events. Although these individual were wholly responsible for incredibly evil acts of wholesale violence and death, we must not ignore the fundamental reality that their policies could not have been implemented without a loyal and obeisant following. They could not have assumed their powerful positions if it were not for the existing historic realities that made their crazed and distorted beliefs seem plausible. Societies built on a model of true social and economic justice and equality would make such historic developments highly improbable. This is the lesson that should be learned from history.
Although the news we are constantly subjected to regarding the state of human affairs around the globe gives us cause to be pessimistic about prospects for the future viability of the species, there are also trends that may suggest a different future. I have come to this conclusion not out of unfounded optimism or purely wishful thinking but rather out of the realization that there exists an insatiable hunger within the vast majority of the world’s people for a more peaceful world grounded in true human equality and social justice.
The desire to satiate this longing is evidenced by the multitude of voices around the globe that are not only insisting upon changes in the status quo but also actively pursuing paths towards the peaceful transition to a sane and viable future. These voices are everywhere, and cannot be silenced. This conclusion can be readily verified by simply searching the Internet for those organizations built upon the premise of creating the conditions for a more peaceful and equitable world. Such organizations focus their attention on human rights abuses and the often intolerable conditions that are the daily reality of hundreds of millions of individuals; these kinds of organizations literally stretch around the globe and are often deeply intertwined.
It might be argued that there are also very powerful forces of oppression focused on limiting human freedom and social justice either for personal advantage or in order to conform to a particular political ideology. In addition, these forces often use overt violence and aggression as the means to maintain the status quo. This is no doubt true; however, this type of repressive social paradigm is not sustainable over the long term. It is not counter-violence that will subdue these historic realities; it is the power of ideas embedded within the bedrock of social harmony and universal justice that will ultimately prevail. As we have seen in the history of many civil rights movements, true and viable social progress is a painstakingly slow endeavor – the struggle for women’s suffrage worldwide, the abolition of slavery in the United States and the demolition of Apartheid in South Africa are additional examples.
In my judgment, the lesson here is not to give up hope and yield to despair – as enticing as that might seem at times – but to persist in the ongoing struggle for sanity in this exasperatingly human world. There are many ways to contribute to the interdependent causes of peace and social justice. May the beginning of every new year bring inspiration, hope and renewal to us all.
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was only thirty-nine years old when he was executed at the Flossenburg concentration camp in the South of Germany on April 9, 1945. He was a pastor and theologian of some renown. His open opposition to the Third Reich was considered to be a formidable enough threat to the fascist ideology that the leadership determined that he needed to be eliminated. It is interesting to note that this occurred at a time when the war was reaching its disastrous conclusion in regards to the ill-conceived aspirations of Adolph Hitler.
Bonhoeffer was born on February 4, 1906 in Breslau, Germany – a city that is now Wroclaw, Poland. He had a twin sister, Sabine, born ten minutes after him. They were the sixth and seventh children born to Paula and Karl Bonhoeffer; there would be eight children in the family. Karl Bonhoeffer was an eminent and practicing psychiatrist. His specialty what was referred to as “intuitive psychiatry.” This psychiatric approach depends upon intuition rather than analytical reasoning as a way to bring the elements of the subconscious mind into consciousness. His contemporaries in the field of psychoanalysis were such notables as Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. As a parent he was insistent upon expecting high intellectual standards from all his children.
Bonhoeffer’s maternal great-great grandfather was a well-known and respected theologian and professor at the University of Jena. His maternal grandmother had studied music under Franz Liszt. Musical ability had been passed down to Bonhoeffer’s mother who was a talented pianist and singer. Paula Bonhoeffer was also a highly literate, intelligent and fiercely independent woman; she was also a teacher – an unusual profession for a woman in Germany at the time. Bonhoeffer was also a talented musician. Although his father was ambivalent about religion, – not surprising given his profession – his mother took on the spiritual education of her children and Karl did not interfere.
Even at a young age, Bonhoeffer was admired for his gentleness and kindness of spirit. Although he was athletic and was vigorously competitive, he remained notably fair and measured in his judgment. He mastered the piano by age eight and when he was ten years old, he could play Mozart sonatas. At the age of six, his family moved to Grunewald so that his father would be close to the University of Berlin where he secured a prestigious position. The year was 1912 and two years later was the beginning of World War I. In that horrendous conflict, Bonhoeffer lost three cousins and another was blinded. He was personally devastated when his brother left for the front in April of 1918 and was killed two weeks later. His mother was deeply stricken with grief. This left a lasting impression on the young boy.
Following Germany’s ignominious defeat, the German economy was plagued by horrendous problems including, unemployment, malnutrition, and disease. The plight of Germany was further exacerbated as the Great Depression of 1929 swept through Europe. Furthermore, the draconian provisions of the Treaty of Versailles (1919) – the treaty that ended the war - drained the country of its economic resources. The cumulative impact of these conditions would ultimately make the German population susceptible to the disastrous fascistic policies and fantastic promises in regards to the future of the “fatherland” that would become the hallmark of the Third Reich.
Following his brother’s death, Bonhoeffer made the momentous decision to become a theologian. Given the severe hardships endured by the German people, Bonhoeffer was acutely sensitive to his family’s privileged position. This may have been a contributing factor in his ultimate decision regarding the career he chose to pursue. He was fourteen years of age (1920) when he brought this decision up with his family. His father was somewhat disappointed with his choice; for, his family had a long tradition of pursuing professions in law and science.
Bonhoeffer went to the University of Tubingen where he studied religion, philosophy and Hebrew. He actively pursued sports being endowed with both strength and agility. As a first year student - during the winter of 1924 – he had a terrible fall while ice skating and suffered a severe concussion. He spent his eighteenth birthday confined to a hospital bed. After his recuperation, he spent a term studying in Rome where he taught himself Italian. During his visit, he was impressed by the strong sense of community he witnessed among Italian Catholics. This reality had a profound impact on his view of religion; he began to see religion as having a strong communal component. He began to see the Church as community.
Bonhoeffer pursued further studies at the University of Berlin and focused on liberal theology. He read Martin Luther assiduously. He became interested in the Swiss theologian, Karl Barth who was a professor at the University of Gottingen. He was drawn to Barth’s ideas that were in marked opposition to the thinking of liberal theologians that relegated scripture to an accounting of religious experience, and that focused upon Jesus from an historic perspective. For example, Barth claimed that in scripture we find “divine thoughts about men, not human thoughts about God.”
Bonhoeffer became somewhat of a theological rebel who was able to express his ideas brilliantly and was gifted with a natural charisma. Given his propensity towards community, he became interested in parish work rather than becoming an academician. He enjoyed working with young people who found him to be open, receptive, generous and mostly a good listener.
On October 18, 1925 he had the opportunity to give his first sermon. The following is a brief excerpt from that address - “Christianity means decision, change, denial, yes, even hostility to the past, to the men of old. Christ smashes the men of the past into total ruin. He smites and cuts through with his sword to the innermost nerve…where the apparently most noble feelings meet with a satisfied morality.”
In 1927, Bonhoeffer received his doctorate in theology. His dissertation was entitled, The Communion of Saints. In it, he elaborated upon his idea of Church as community working together to fulfill God’s will on earth. Following his graduation, he was offered an assistant minister position at a church in Barcelona; he accepted the position. As part of his post-graduate work he studied, lectured and worked in Berlin, New York and a German congregation in London. His thesis was eventually published as a book in 1929 as well as his post-doctoral thesis entitled, Act and Being in which he proposed that the Church should not only function as a community but should also be involved in outreach to the community in response to urgent social need. Bonhoeffer was influenced by Gandhi’s use of non-violent resistance in response to state-sanctioned oppression.
In September of 1930, he was offered a Sloane Fellowship to study at the Union Theological Seminary in New York, a prestigious position. At first, Bonhoeffer did not expect to learn anything from his stay in America. However, much to his surprise, he became quite taken with the strong sense of community he found within the Afro-American Church in Harlem. In addition, he befriended a French scholarship student, Jean Lasserre, who was an outspoken proponent of pacifism. His arguments were so compelling to Bonhoeffer that he began to reconsider his own position in this regard. Although he did not entirely embrace pacifism, he was to become a powerful advocate for peace.
During his stay in America, the National-Socialist German Worker’s Party (NSDAP, Nazi Party) had begun to make serious inroads into the political leadership within Germany. The likelihood of the leader of the Nazi Party, Adolph Hitler, becoming the nation’s chancellor was becoming increasingly more likely.
Upon his return to Germany, he was deeply troubled by the political situation and entered a period of intense prayer and meditation. He promoted small group meetings with students that became involved with intense and open theological discussions. In 1931, he was officially ordained as a minister. The political atmosphere was rapidly becoming hostile to the churches as the National Socialist Regime was taking steps to control them; some of the Nazi Party leaders wanted to ban the churches entirely. The Party was skillfully exploiting the economic uncertainty that had gripped the nation; a central pledge of its leadership was to pull the country out of its profound economic depression.
Bonhoeffer was deeply disturbed by these events. In November of 1932, he delivered a sermon at the Kaiser Frederick Memorial Church in Berlin. The occasion of this talk was Reformation Sunday that was the traditional celebration of the legacy of Martin Luther. In this sermon, Bonhoeffer issued the first of his many warnings regarding the perilous situation that the church faced in Germany. The following is a brief excerpt from that sermon – “Our Protestant Church has reached the eleventh hour of her life. We have not much longer before it will be decided whether she is done for or whether a new day will dawn.” Two months later on January 30, 1933, German President Paul Von Hindenburg appointed Nazi Party leader, Adolph Hitler, as the Chancellor of Germany.
As if to confirm Bonhoeffer’s dire warning, Hitler immediately instituted the following measures that made abundantly clear the repressive nature of his regime –
• The German Parliament, the Reichstag, was dissolved
• Through a series of executive mandates, Hitler declared himself Fuhrer (leader) and Reich Chancellor of Germany.
• Extreme censorship was imposed upon the country
• Public disagreement with Hitler or his policies was considered to be tantamount to treason.
In defiance of these developments, Bonhoeffer issued a provocative radio address – that had been cut off from broadcast – and distributed copies to students and friends. The following is an excerpt from this address – “If the leader tries to become the idol the led are looking for–something the led always hope from their leader–then the image of the leader shifts to one of a mis-leader, then the leader is acting improperly toward the led as well as toward himself. The true leader must always be able to disappoint. This, especially, is part of the leader’s responsibility and objectivity.”
A mere four months after Hitler assumed his post, the Reichstag building was burned down to the ground. Although a leading communist leader was accused of arson and beheaded for this alleged crime, there is a strong suspicion that the Nazis were involved. Following the destruction of the Reichstag building, emergency decrees were put into place including the suppression of habeas corpus – the right of the accused to due process of law. Finally, on March 23 of that year (1933), a law was enacted that essentially put an end to German democracy; that law was the Enabling Act that essentially gave Hitler the right to enact laws without the necessity to adhere to the German constitution.
The Nazi regime claimed that the German people had two enemies – the Jews and the Communists. In order to “protect” the people from these combined threats, the following strategies were employed by the State –
• Arbitrary search of homes
• Indiscriminate tapping of phone lines
• Seizure of property
• Arrest without probable cause.
As a result of these measures, 26,000 Germans were arrested in 1933 and more than 50 concentration camps were secretly established. On April 1, Hitler proclaimed a nationwide boycott of all Jewish-run businesses. Nazi storm troopers used this opportunity to harass and assault Jews. Bonhoeffer’s ninety-one year old grandmother refused to be intimidated and purposefully shopped at the Jewish business she habitually frequented. A few years later, the Aryan Clause was promulgated that barred Jews from civil service jobs. This latter decree personally impacted Bonhoeffer’s sister, Sabine. Sabine’s husband, Gerhard Leibholz was a Christian of Jewish descent. As a result, he lost his teaching position at the University of Gottingen and the family immediately became subject to threats.
Bonhoeffer was so disturbed by the cumulative impact of these policies that he gave a talk to fellow ministers entitled, The Church and the Jewish Question in which he claimed that it was the duty of the church to oppose any government that abused basic human rights and that the church had the responsibility to help the victims of Nazi repression. Some attendees were so appalled and probably frightened that they walked out of the talk. This represented the first public opposition to the treatment of the Jews. It was Bonhoeffer’s stated conviction that Christianity and National Socialism could not coexist. Furthermore, it was his strongly held belief that by not speaking out, churches were, in fact, undermining their own moral authority.
By 1933, the Christian church in Germany had become split into two essentially irreconcilable groups – the German Christians that had a clear Nazi affiliation and the Young Reformers of which Bonhoeffer was an influential member. He was urged by this group to compose a confession - a statement of faith. He agonized over the composition of this work that was entitled, The Bethel Confession. In it, he urged the church to remain true to the bible, to be concerned with the plight of the Jews and to be willing to endure persecution rather than abandon the Jews or any suffering people. To Bonhoeffer’s great disappointment, this document was so severely watered down after review by twenty theologians that he could not put his signature to it. Following this personal debacle, he left Germany and traveled to London accepting a position there. He spent eighteen months abroad where he found some comfort and solace.
Karl Barth, the famed theologian, had become so unnerved by Hitler’s claim that his “mission” was in accord with God’s plan that he issued the Barmen Declaration that was published in June 4, 1934. At the core of this declaration was the claim that the Christian message cannot be adapted to suit any political agenda. This statement of principles became the founding document for the Confessing Church.
In the spring of 1935, Bonhoeffer returned to Germany to the Berlin-Brandenburg District Seminary in Fickenwalde – now in Poland - where he was offered an administrative post; he arrived on April 15. He used this position to train young clergy on the path of the Confessing Church that focused on the church as community and emphasized Christian responsibility in regards to the issue of social justice. This viewpoint was in direct opposition to the German Christian church that was aligned with the Nazi Party. All through 1935, the Nazis tried to dislodge the Confessing Church from any prominent role in church affairs. The Nazi social agenda was temporarily sidelined, however, in 1936; for, that was the year the Olympics was hosted in Germany. It was Hitler’s desire to use the Olympics as a showcase of Germany’s alleged superiority as a nation and a people.
Fickenwalde was finally shutdown in 1937 and 800 hundred of its clergy were arrested in that same year. In spite of this setback, Bonhoeffer continued to secretly train the clergy. He did so in his house and at secret German locations in Koslin, Schlawe and Gross-Schlonwitz. He periodically returned to Berlin communicating using secret coded messages and secret mailing addresses. On April 20th, Hitler’s birthday, the German churches prepared an oath of allegiance that pastors were expected to take. Bonhoeffer refused; he was chagrined to learn that many of the confessing church pastors felt compelled to take the loyalty oath.
The situation had grown so dangerous in Germany for Jews that by 1938, 300,000 Jews had fled the country. On departure they were required to sign over all property to the State. On September 8 of that year his sister Sabine and her family fled to England. On November 9, Hitler ordered a massive nationwide event tailored specifically to terrorize the German Jewish population. This event was referred to Kristallnacht – the night of broken glass. On that horrific occasion, storm troopers dressed in civilian clothes burned 200 synagogues to the ground and burned and looted more than 7,000 Jewish-owned businesses. Hundreds of Jews were killed in the ensuing chaos and many were attacked and killed by lawless mobs. Following that event, 30,000 Jews were sent to concentration camps.
In 1938, Bonhoeffer briefly traveled to England to stay with his sister. While there, those that were concerned with his continued safety managed to help get him secure a lecturing position in New York at the Union Theological Seminary. He left for New York on June 4 but stayed only briefly feeling that he had abandoned his country at a time of desperate need. He returned to Germany on July 7.
Even in the face of the terrible events that gripped Germany, the nation’s churches remained silent including the confessing churches. This became a turning point for Bonhoeffer; for, he made the momentous decision to become actively involved in the German resistance. He was introduced to several army generals and Admiral Wilhelm Franz Canaris who were well entrenched within the resistance movement. Canaris was the head of Abwehr, Germany’s intelligence service, and led the opposition to Hitler’s rule. He was ultimately executed at Flossenburg concentration camp for his efforts.
World War II began on September 1, 1939 when Germany attacked Poland on a pretext in which German troops, disguised as Polish soldiers, attacked a German radio station on the Germany-Poland border. In this alleged attack a Jew wearing a German uniform was killed. Using this sham as a reason for retaliation, Hitler launched the massive German war machine on its unsuspecting neighbor. In response, England, Australia, France and New Zealand declared war upon Germany.
It was also in September of that year that the Nazi’s were contemplating the mass extermination of the Jews. Between 1936 and 1939, doctors were required to register all children with birth defects. By edict, all these children became wards of the State. They were subsequently killed by poison gas or lethal injection. Between 1939 and 1941, more than 70,000 children and disabled adults were murdered in this way. The experience gained from this “study” was used to perfect the machinery for mass extermination. Bonhoeffer followed these developments very closely. He ultimately was enlisted as a spy for the resistance using his position as a minister to travel freely and gather information.
The situation worsened for the resistance when on June 17, 1940, France surrendered to Germany. This was soon followed by the surrender of Belgium and Holland. Bonhoeffer was effectively leading a double life and between 1941 and 1943 he was constantly on the move. No one knew of his involvement in the resistance.
In the meantime, the situation for Germany’s Jews grew progressively worse. Jews were required to wear yellow stars to signify their ancestry. It was not long before their forcible removal to concentration camps became a matter of national policy. In July of 1942, Nazi party officials and the Gestapo collaborated to formulate the Final Solution to the Jewish Question. General Heydrich proposed that all the remaining Jews in Europe and Germany be deported to special death camps in Germany. Just prior to this, Bonhoeffer got involved with a surreptitious activity called Operation 7 that was engineered to safely get Jews out of Germany with the help of Admiral Canaris. The plan succeeded over the short term; however, the Gestapo would ultimately uncover the plot and its conspirators by following the trail of money that was used to finance the operation.
With Germany’s situation worsening and drawing to its disastrous conclusion, with the Russians making inroads on the Eastern front and with the mass extermination of Jews well under way, the resistance was primed to move quickly. In March of 1943, two attempts were made to assassinate Hitler and a final attempt was made on July 20, 1944. All of these attempts failed. Although Bonhoeffer was not directly involved in these plots, he was aware of them. His rationale for this involvement was that the death of Hitler would lead to the saving of millions of lives.
On April 5, 1944, Bonhoeffer was arrested for his involvement in the conspiracy. During his time in prison, he had an opportunity to think, pray and meditate. It was within this period of incarceration that he came up with the concept of what he called, “religion-less Christianity.” A collection of his prison letters was ultimately published. The following are excerpts from some of these communications -
“The great masquerade of evil has played havoc with all our ethical concepts. For evil to appear disguised as light, charity, historical necessity or social justice is quite bewildering to anyone brought up on our traditional ethical concepts.”
“Subservience and self-sacrifice could be exploited for evil ends.”
“Civil courage, in fact, can grow only out of the free responsibility of free men.”
“We must take our responsibility for the molding of history in every situation and at every moment.”
“Folly – moral rather than intellectual defeat.”
“Nothing that we despise in the other man is entirely absent from ourselves.”
“We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do and more in the light of what they suffer.”
On April 9, 1945, Bonhoeffer was executed. He lived a remarkable life. He ultimately sacrificed his life for the sake of his strongly held beliefs at a time when the world was enshrouded in such inexplicable darkness.