Monday, September 8, 2008

Iran-Bolivia Investment Deal

Perhaps amid the war cries and the warmongering, and amongst the condemning and condoning, the blockheaded blockaders and the desperate defenders of Bolivia will meet on one single point: is this the right time to introduce Mahmoud Ahmadinejad into the political mix? The energy sector is a violently dissentious issue in Bolivia - stirring US ambassador to Bolivia Phillip Goldberg to announce "US institutions should interfere in Bolivia's internal affairs." Subsequently energy is what Morales' undemocratic opposition want to target, with aims to interrupt oil exports into dependent neighbours like Brazil.

The timing from the perspective of the Iranian President is less ambiguous. There is the prospect of an Iran-Russia oil relationship. Dick Cheney, while in Kazakhstan, expressed considerable interest in building new export pipelines that bypass Russia from Central Asia. His central message, by symbolically avoiding a Russian visit, is to weaken the power of the nation, and highlight America's interests. Russia will look to relations with Iran as a prosperous investment.

As well as this possibility, Iran, keen to remain a chip on the North American shoulder, will try and drum up the support of other oil-rich, anti-imperialist nations. The oil and gas industry ties, established in September 2007, shaped by Morales and Ahmadinejad in Tehran are said to promote economic development and welfare for both nations. Their joint statement drawn up last Tuesday, declared importance to "political struggles against Imperialism."

The diplomacy with such an unsavoury political figure (to say the very least) like Ahmadinejad - whose reputation stands as being one of anti-Semitism, anti-women's rights, and not just homophobia, but one who denies the existence of homosexuality in his country - may initially cause grave concern for any ardent Morales supporter. But why, one might reflect, shouldn't Morales allow this investment deal? At least for now.

ALBA (Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of our America), the economic model set up by Hugo Chavez to resist the relentless pursuits of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) is still in its early stages, and is still reasonably small (Honduras, in Central America, recently joined making a total of 6 countries). Investment from Iran, as well as the joint loan with Venezuela for a state cement company to ease profit concentration, is necessary until ALBA can assuage reliance from foreign investment. Iran may be politically virulent, but there is nothing to suggest that it will have any ideological influence.

Despite what some sceptics may say, such as Israeli commentator Isi Leibler, the commercial relations Venezuela has with Iran has not affected the political persuasions of either country. Liebler accuses Chavez of anti-Semitism on account of favourable comments made about him by Ahmadinejad, even after Chavez's recent talks with the World Jewish Congress where he condemned "all forms of anti-Semitism, discrimination against minorities and anti-Muslim sentiment." Liebler even appeals to Chavez's opposition to Israel's foreign policy though Chavez himself has stated "criticisms of Israel aren't meant to demonise Jewish people."

Bolivia is the poorest country in Latin America, and its left wing measures have made it possible for the country to keep up to 85% of its gas profits, making it possible to redistribute that wealth to provide the basic needs of its inhabitants, who were, before Morales' presidency, very much disregarded. With the limited choices of investors who are not at the beck and call of the US, supporters of Morales will just have to resign themselves to the fact that Iranian investment is a necessary evil. And lets hope a temporary one. To be sure, Morales is not a soft touch, he is a man of equality and will not be swayed by Ahmadinejad’s disreputable ideas.

If one still finds the deal disagreeable, then it is important to remember that it is precisely this kind of economic model - where a country has to rely on the ideologically unsound for investment - which, in the final analysis, Morales seeks to overthrow. As revolutionary as Morales is, and as much as his heart is in the right place with regards to the economy, unfortunately for him and his supporters, at this moment in history, this pocket of imperialist resistance exists within the global framework of neo-liberal capitalism and will have to, to some extent, entertain this framework in order to survive. Indeed, if this settlement alleviates some domestic economic pressure, for the time being supporters should view it as a small price to pay and conditionally vindicate it.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

The God for atheists

In the latest attempt to disclose Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams' personal attitude towards homosexuality a series of letters dated from 2000 and 2001 have revealed Dr. Williams having paralleled that "[a]n active sexual relationship between two people of the same sex might therefore reflect the love of God in a way comparable to marriage, if and only if it had about it the same character of absolute covenanted faithfulness."

Continually acting as ombudsman between progressive and traditional Anglicanism he is susceptible to hostility from either direction. But while two opposing sides of the Anglican church battle it out among each other over who has rightful understanding and belief of their holy script, an argument is impending which supposes that belief should not be maintained for the conventionally religious at all. Or rather, put with a hint of grandiloquence, it is only atheists who can truly believe.

For a complete history of an atheists relationship with God, or, God for atheists would be far too monumental to print here. As an important component of it certainly one should consider the rationalist philosopher Spinoza's use of the word God as synonymous with nature, rather than keeping with the orthodox view as directly in the image of man. Such a subversive view subsequently led to Spinoza's cherum, or excommunication by the Jewish community. To liken someone to Spinoza was to liken them to an atheist.

The Jewish-atheist psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, influenced greatly by the works of Spinoza, himself tried to change the conventional manner in which Judeo-Christianity was perceived, most notably in what was to be his last major work entitled Moses and Monotheism. The fact that it appeared in 1939, at a time of great ferment for Judaism was given careful consideration by Freud. The premise of the text revises the history of Moses including the formerly neglected detail that Moses was not a Hebrew but an Egyptian priest of Akhenaten (Effective spirit of Aten). He goes on by saying that the Jews killed him in despair of his monotheism, later remorsing and formulating a religion acknowledging him. Freud declared that guilt has since remained core in the Jewish faith (guilt, also, is a key feature of psychoanalysis, a deeply religious tinted practice).

Materialist re-readings of the bible have been a commonplace in the texts of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris recently. Works focusing on the place Christian ethics has in radical politics has been a feature of authors such as Terry Eagleton, Frederic Jameson, Giorgio Agamben and Alan Badiou. Ken Schei, a self-confessed "atheist for Jesus" and founder of the group "Atheists for Jesus" argues for a denial of any deity, but to follow the ethical teachings of Jesus exemplified by his sermon on the Mount. Against the kernel of Paulist interpretation, Schei is influenced by the Ebionites who were followers of the original apostles, and unlike Paul had met Jesus in person. Here it is stressed that Jesus was a teacher of moral and ethical guidelines without contradicting the great knowledge we have, and will increasingly improve in the future, of science.

The current most prominent philosopher reinterpreting Christian ethics against today's New Age and Gnostic religious vista is Slavoj Zizek. As the title of his 2001 study poses, Why is the Christian Legacy Worth Fighting For? he details why it is imperative that atheists consider the legacy of Christianity for themselves. Zizek's human subject in today's religious landscape battles with a conflict in what he knows and what he believes. He elucidates this religious problem with a comparison found in the oncoming global warming scare; we know of the earth's warming, but we cannot really believe it. He asks that the materialist reading of the incarnation be considered the same way, that man is forever condemned between knowledge and belief. To use the more familiar experiment shown by Richard Dawkins, a spectrum of ideas ranging from 1 - Strong Theist (I know God exists), 2 - short of 100%, 3 - higher than 50%, 4 - exactly 50%, 5 - lower than 50%, 6 - short of 0%, 7 - Strong Atheist (I know God does not exist). Since knowledge is trapped in a parallax (another Zizek book title) then belief is vital.

One common element to the above efforts is to retrieve religion from less generous hands, namely the fundamentally religious or the politically far right. Freud's motive was to, rather than join the resistance and speak out for Judaism, suggest the true legacy of the Jews. Yielding an indirect jab at the Nazi's, for whom the message is you think you know your enemy, you don't. For Ken Schei we should acknowledge Paul had never met with Jesus and his so-called vision of Jesus' teachings on the road to Damascus to arrest Jesus' followers, was wrong. A rather more difficult position to summerise is Zizek's, who insists for the materialist and atheistic core of Christianity whilst also exposing a creationist's initial problematic trying to pass off what has hitherto been a faith system as science - for someone of faith Zizek argues - the language of the enemy.

As a response, these atheists may respond to Archbishop Williams that Christian love is not a reflection of God, but God is a reflection of Christian love, or that our ethical imperatives are borne in the world, and not from a divine intervention in our souls.