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David's Mental Meanderings
1st April 2005

The recent developments in Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, and Georgia (the republic of, not the American state of) have shown how the Marxist idea of revolution is not the only one. The first step of independence from the Soviet Union has been followed up with the idea of a president and legislature fairly elected by, and accountable to, the universally franchised population.

There are still many teething problems in these former Russian client states. Don't expect democracy of the quality of long-standing governments with long historical traditions. Sometimes we expect too much too soon.

The recent Rose, Orange, and Tulip revolutions have all happened within the bounds of countries already recognised by the nations of the world because of the relatively tidy way those parts of the Soviet Union devolved. All we have seen is regime change. That carries with it its own implications in international law, but it is fairly straightforward.

But while new government comes to old countries, there is a more serious problem with less obvious solutions. There are many ethnic groups seeking independent homelands. Every day in the news we see this in Palestine. As it occasionally pops up because of recent and ongoing events in Iraq, there is an awareness of the Kurds. These are just the tip of the global iceberg.

Getting our news from sources that need to get ratings or sell papers and do it in a fixed amount of space and time, most of the world passes us by. Sure, we notice the big events and our vocabulary may incorporate, even if for a brief time, the names of places of which we would have otherwise never heard. But unless we are involved in regular prayer for the 10/40 Window or some such other enterprise - or as a geography nut wander aimlessly around the world by internet - we just thank God we live in one of the nice mono-ethnic parts of the world and get on with our business.

Mono-ethnic? That's right. Forget all the talk of diversity and multi-culturalism. We don't experience either. In my own life, my boss is a Sikh, some of my students are Muslims, my favourite restaurant is Indian, my wife is Welsh, and I even grew up in a town with more Hispanics than Anglos. Nonetheless, in every place I've lived, we all speak English, watch the same TV programmes, have the same civil rights, and have the same opportunities.

There are many places in the world where cultural diversity means that different cultures with different languages experience very different sets of rights (or none at all) and may have no opportunities. There are situations throughout the world where people would love to be in the position of a racial minority in the US before the Civil Rights movement.

This situation raises more questions than answers, but the times in which we live demand that the questions be addressed.


The Right of Self-Government

From whence derives the right of self-government? Are the words of the American Declaration of Independence valid for all people in all places at all times, or must they be confined to their particular historical context?

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

The nation-state as chief political unit in the world is a relatively recent concept. It developed in Europe over the last 500 years and even more recently throughout the rest of the world. In some cases, it is only as recent as the break-up of the British Empire in the mid-20th century. It is not even the only concept in the history of the United States, given the nature of its colonial origins. Likewise, the US built its own trans-national empire for a brief time.

In many parts of the world over the last 15 years, the nation-state has undergone upheaval. Is a major shift in the very nature of geopolitics underway? Is this a bad thing? Are we so historically short-sighted that we are unable to see things in terms of anything other than the juxtaposition of the nation-state with a Hal Lindsey/Tim LaHaye "One World Government"? (A Meanderings subscriber once pointed out to me that this should be called a "one-government world", but good grammar seems to have been lost somewhere under all the prophecy charts.) And what would all the dispensationalists do if there was a planetary government, but no Beast, no Rapture, and no seven-year time limit before the Second Coming? I'm not suggesting I think this would be a good idea - the uselessness of the UN demonstrates otherwise - I'm just suggesting the possibility.

We have already seen realignment in post-Communist Europe. Two nations created in 1918 out of the Hapsburg empire, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, have since split into seven. In the case of the former, this was done on a handshake. In the case of the latter, it has resulted in more than a decade of very nasty wars.

However, if the multitude of the world's ethnic groups are to experience autonomy wherever geographically possible, e.g., where a single enclave encapsulates the significant majority of that people, the nation-state as we know it may not be viable. There are already mini-nation members of the UN, such as Nauru with a population of 12,000 and Tuvalu with less that 11,500. However, if several hundred more of these joined the international community, the nature of international relations would undergo significant change.

The Obligation to Help

If ethnic groups are seeking self-determination, does anyone have an obligation to help them? Or is it simply a survival of the fittest, with those groups strong enough to throw off the yoke of overlords succeeding, whilst those attempting unsuccessfully have to face the consequences of brutal retribution.

It has been the policy of the US and UK to pick and choose which of these conflicts are worthy of involvement. We (under the guise of NATO) were happy to bomb the Serbs into submission over Bosnia in 1995 and Kosovo in 1999, even though our governments were unable to comprehend the complex history of the Balkans prior to 1980. We aren't about to touch the Turks over Kurdistan. Its down to "vital interests in the region" and all that.

And what of the situation in Burma? If there was ever an example of a need for ethnic autonomy, this would be it. This was theoretically set in place when the British left in 1948, with each state comprised primarily of a particular ethnic population being given the option to leave the Union of Burma and become completely independent. However, since 1962, the country has been ruled by a succession of brutal military dictatorships. The UN passes repeated resolutions demanding the return of human rights and free elections, but no concrete action is ever taken.

So while the Palestinian issue features daily on the news and everyone gets involved to try to solve it, nothing is ever said of the Karenni issue, the Kachin issue, or the Chin issue. I mention these particular groups because the majority of each is Christian. Before 1948, the Karenni had never been under the control of any other group. Even when the British conquered Burma and annexed it to India in the 19th century, they acknowledged the independence and sovereignty of the Karenni State. After nearly 50 years of war, the recently shuffled (and even more hard-lined) junta in Rangoon is currently launching all out attacks on remaining Karenni Army strongholds. This may be their final stand.

Over 70% of the 1.5 million Chins are Christians - rising to 90% of those in Chin State. Like the Kachins, most of these are Baptists. Nonetheless the junta is doing everything it can to persecute them and uses the army to promote Buddhism. In January, the 50-foot concrete cross that had been erected by locals on Mt Boi near the town of Matupi was demolished by the army. It had been built at a cost of 3.5 million kyats. The average monthly income of a professional worker in Burma is 10,000 kyats. (The same level of personal contribution in the UK would have raised over £650,000 or over $1,070,000 in the US.) This is the second cross obliterated near Matupi, in as many years. In April 2004, a similar cross on Mt Lungtak-tlong built by the local Assembly of God church was destroyed. The sites of these and the more than a dozen others removed in this area of Chin State since the early 1990s are now reserved for Buddhist pagodas.

Nations like Tuvalu and Nauru highlight one of the great weaknesses of an organization like the UN. Everyone wants an equal vote, but not everyone has to pull the same weight. Tuvalu is almost entirely dependent upon foreign aid and companies that want to register .tv domain names. Independent ethnic mini-nations will have to look somewhere for protection and military support. In cases like Tuvalu and Nauru this may not be a major issue, but in the emergence of nations out of ethnic conflict, it may be essential.

Righting Wrongs

Do we have an obligation to undo sovereignty acquired by conquest? The first Gulf War was triggered by a conquest attempt, so recent history says acquisition by conquest is no longer considered valid. It could be argued that the founding of the United Nations established once and for all this principle in international law. It could also be argued that apart from the occasions when the US spearheads the effort, the UN has done a terrible job of enforcing this principle.

One example is Tibet. The UN has repeatedly refused to address the issue of Tibet's sovereignty, after it was invaded and annexed by the Chinese in 1950. But which countries have introduced resolutions in the General Assembly? El Salvador, Malaya (as it was then), Ireland, Thailand, Nicaragua, and the Philippines. The most recent was in 1965.

This is due in great measure to the American tendency to isolationism. If we take an isolationist position, as those conservatives who opposed the first Gulf War did, do we just shake our finger and say "naughty, naughty" and then let the invaders get on with their business? We did with Tibet.

Thanks to the high profile of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan issue is at least known to the those who take an interest in international affairs. Another of China's acquisitions, East Turkistan, is virtually ignored. This despite the fact that while Tibet has a population of 2.6 million spread over an area of 474,000 square miles, East Turkistan (otherwise called Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region) has over 19 million people and an area of over 641,000 square miles. (West Turkistan is now Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan.) As an independent country it would be the second most populous in Central Asia after Uzbekistan. East Turkistan is also sometimes called Uyghurstan even though only 45% of the population is Uyghur (pronounced "WEE-gur").

It used to be almost entirely Uyghur, but now thanks to Beijing's forced relocation programme, it is 40% Han (ethnic Chinese). (Without the Han, it would still be the third most populous country in the region.) The Uyghurs have become second-class citizens in their own homeland, as Beijing provides economic incentives for the Han. Uyghur language and culture is suppressed. Even referring to the area as East Turkistan is a serious crime resulting at the very least in lengthy prison sentence.

Their Muslim religion is as persecuted as Christianity is elsewhere in China. China now uses the post 9/11 anti-Islamic feelings in the West as an excuse to slam even harder on the Uyghurs. The Chinese know that as long as the Uyghurs are accused of terrorism, however speciously, the West will turn a blind eye to the kind of mass murder and political imprisonment that the Chinese have developed into a fine art.

Of course this then raises the question of how far back conquest should be undone. Return the American West to the Indians? England to the Saxons? Wales to the Welsh? Perhaps not this far, though Plaid Cymru (the Party of Wales) would beg to differ. I'll leave this question for another time before I digress too far.


This is My Father's World

Isolationism is convenient. It says I only have an obligation to those people who speak my language and through Divine Providence were born under the same civil government of the day. But isolationism is not true Christian patriotism. The root of "patriotism" is "pater" - father. It only means the love of one's country because it is the land of one's fathers. But a Christian knows who his Father is and where His land is. "The earth is the Lord's and all its fullness, the world and all those who dwell therein."

Perhaps there was a time when the world was a bigger place and the criteria of the Last Judgement could be applied in a localised way. What does it mean now to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, receive the stranger, clothe the naked, look after the sick, and visit those in prison? I would suggest that to whom much is given, much is required.

What is the extent of our obligation to address the suffering in the world? Is it merely sending donations or sponsoring a child with Compassion International? Do we say, "Be warmed and filled," giving the things which are needed for the body for a day, a week, a year, when we can deal with macro-economic issues of supply? When we are called to visit those in prison, do we have any obligation when it is within our collective power to demolish those prison walls?

For too long conservatives (of both the political and theological kinds) have stepped back from issues of social justice, particularly those issues on an international scale. It has been the province of liberals who have tried to take biblical prescriptions of personal responsibility and holiness and shift them onto some sort of social action. Are international social justice issues only for liberals and a baptised Marxism?

The changes in geopolitics require us to take a fresh look at the world. Questions must be asked and answers sought.

Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean;
Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes.
Cease to do evil,
Learn to do good;
Seek justice,
Rebuke the oppressor,
Defend the fatherless,
Plead for the wi
Isaiah 1:16-17

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