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.
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
raises more questions than answers, but the times in which we live
demand that the questions be addressed.
The Right of
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.
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.
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
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
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
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."
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.
make yourselves clean;
Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes.
Cease to do evil,
Learn to do good;
Rebuke the oppressor,
Defend the fatherless,
Plead for the widow.