April 24th 2004

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Articles from this issue:

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Islamic militants threaten to derail Iraq hand-over

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Defence reserves crisis looms

FAMILY: AFA report shoots hole in lower fertility theory

National superannuation (letter)

Whither farming? (letter)

True samurais (letter)

UNITED NATIONS: Kofi Annan and the Rwanda genocide

FAMILY: The solution to today's fatherhood crisis

FEEDING TUBES: Pope condemns 'euthanasia by omission'

BOOKS: The Long Truce: How Toleration Made the World Safe for Power and Profit, by A.J. Conyers

COVER STORY: Federal inquiry puts brakes on river flow plans

COVER STORY 2: Report vindicates farmers over Murray-Darling Basin

EDITORIAL: Family Congress confronts new challenges

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Budget - next test for Federal Government

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Pumpernickel politics / Latham's folly / George Carey

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Pumpernickel politics / Latham's folly / George Carey

by Max Teichmann

News Weekly, April 24, 2004
Pumpernickel politics

Not many people in Australia may be aware that the Schröder Government - and the Social Democrat/Greens coalition - is moving to raise Germany's working week from 38 to 42 hours, without compensation for the extra time worked. The conservative opposition will support this remarkable proposal. The unions are talking of unleashing big mayhem: but German employer spokesmen are saying, "Better a little trouble now than much more later".

They cite high, inflexible wages and conditions and low productivity as the causes of Germany's long malaise, and her yet again exceeding the budget deficit line drawn by the EU (three per cent of GDP). The economic growth rate of the European Union is 1.7 per cent as against three per cent for Japan, four per cent for the USA and four-plus per cent for Australia. Germany's is below one per cent.

Schröder is also cutting welfare payments. Germany, no matter who is in power, has no alternative. The carnival is ended - as it could so easily be ended here by populist politicians with radical cargo cults.

Given its social, economic and political problems, it is extraordinary that Germany still wants to play the role of a big brother in Europe. As soon as the new ex-communist states were admitted to NATO, in a ceremony where they all expressed support for the US and the coalition in Iraq, Schröder rushed off to Moscow to connive with Putin, followed by Chirac. Their problem - a wedge of countries, new to the EU and/or NATO, who, having bad memories of past German and Russian domination, and French deviousness, are pro-American and want NATO and the EU to help the USA - not to try and screw them up. They have told the Franco-Germans to just forget about a new EU Constitution which would entrench "Old Europe" as the agenda setters in the future, as they were in the past.

So ... Schröder and Chirac have pilgrimaged to that Mecca of hope, economic success and the good life for the little man, Russia! The pretext? To assure Moscow that it has nothing to fear from an expanded NATO and EU. True, but Paris and Berlin have.

As a welcoming gesture to the newcomers of the EU, older European states are starting to increase the time which EU citizens, choosing to work in other Western countries, have to wait before accessing welfare payments. The time spans range from two to seven years. Germany is one of these restrictionists.

In fact, Eastern Europeans and Balts may have to wait longer for welfare access than arrivals from Africa or the Middle East. Some Community.

But Germany and Russia are trying to play on the subliminal fears of the ex-satellites of another Nazi/Soviet pact. A respectable version, of course, with a new Vichy cheering the big brothers on. But, as before, the Anglo-Americans stand in the way. So ... they must be deterred by whatever means. This is one motive - but not the only one - for Franco-German and Russian behaviour over Iraq and Afghanistan. These three rogue states are playing for high stakes with little in the kitty.

Latham's folly

"Politics was showbusiness for ugly people," Mr Latham said in the House a few weeks ago adding that, if we were all oil paintings we'd be in the movies and the like. Leaving aside Mr Latham's concerns about his physical appearance, what really came out, in what must be the most disastrous start to a leadership career we can remember, was the sheer political immaturity and the infantile nature of his parliamentary invective. Screeching: "He's got a ladder in his stocking; a ladder in his stocking" (this of Alexander Downer) and "An old man at the end of his career" (this to John Howard).

Upon consideration, one remark comes over as homophobic, the second ageist. And earlier remarks about columnist Janet Albrechtsen, while offending most women, would have offended nearly as many men.

The new Labor leader is out of his depth, very badly advised and promoted far too early. A measure of Labor's desperation, as was the Liberals' production of John Hewson.

It all stems from the belief in the omnipotence of spin, especially when supported by a few media companies and opinion pollsters. Perhaps five years from now, but not just yet. We are living in troublous times.

"Bringing home the troops by Christmas" was an impossible albatross for Labor to carry. Even the 2000 Melbourne Palm Sunday demonstrators blanched as they shouted it sotto voce. And, although I doubted the Liberals when they first said this, I now think that this jackass cry has increased our chances of being targeted by al Qaeda.

As to the porkies about the intelligence briefings, the expressions on the faces of the Labor frontbench as their leader ranted on, said it all. No public servant, no foreign dignitary and bureaucrat will henceforth be prepared to take Mr Latham into their confidence, though the US Democrats will gladhand him with the best of them.

Mr Rudd and Mr Crean, now released from their confinement, seem strangely diminished - walking wounded - and why should they try to bolster up an ingrate who appears to consult no one except Bob Brown? Labor must get off foreign policy and defence and let the conservatives find their way through the labyrinth. Domestic politics is what most Australians want to hear discussed, and it is Labor's best bet.

Meanwhile, Latham is basing his foreign policy on a cut-and-run strategy, founded in turn on Labor hopes for a US defeat or withdrawal, and likely subsequent Iraqi descent into murderous chaos. Ditto Afghanistan. And, the return of John Kerry.

A dishonourable policy - but how long has it been since New Labor used such terms?

George Carey

Former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, has just given us a succinct and courageous account of the present and past contributions of Islam to world culture and world order, in a lecture which he delivered recently in Rome.

Our Sydney Morning Herald reported the gist of it; The Age ran some salient remarks; but few here or in the overseas media seemed eager to look at what Carey said.

He said that Islamic culture comes over as authoritarian, inflexible and under-achieving; and he denounced moderate Muslims for "failing unequivocally to condemn 'the evil' of suicide bombers". In many places, it takes a brave cleric or rank-and-file Muslim to do this. I remember working with Jewish peace groups, first in London then here - groups that co-operated with like-minded Palestinians and Muslims from other Middle Eastern countries - sometimes being able to invite them over to speak.

The pressure from the Muslim radicals, even then, the threats and marginalisation, would emerge almost immediately. Some of these friendly, peace-making Muslims over time simply disappeared.

But Carey's right - too few Muslim religious leaders have denounced terrorism root-and-branch. (But then neither did the UN Security Council the other day, thereby forcing the US to veto a patently one-sided resolution.)

As to Muslim clerics ... whether it be through fear, or whether they half-agree with the terrorism, or whether they lean on the device, "I am your leader, I will follow you anywhere", depends, I suppose, on circumstances.

Carey pointed to the glaring absence of democracy in Muslim countries. "Throughout the Middle East and North Africa, we find authoritarian regimes, regimes with deeply-entrenched leaderships, some of which rose to power at the point of a gun and are retained in power by massive investments in security forces."

As he says, "Whether they be military dictatorships or traditional sovereignties, each ruler seems connected to retaining power and prestige."

Is this some accident, or a permanent aversion to democracy built into Islamic culture from the beginning.

Carey thinks that Christian churches which share many moral values with Islam - such as respect for the family - must protest against the persecution they routinely suffer in many Muslim countries.

And Muslims who have been welcomed to live in the West, with its accompanying liberty to worship freely and build their mosques, should join in calling for reciprocal rights for Christians and non-Muslims in Islamic lands.

Carey thinks that the West still has much to be proud of, and should say so. And that we should be encouraging Muslims living among us to also be proud of their adopted societies' achievements; and spread the word to their brothers and sisters living elsewhere.

And, just as Westerners should be aware and proud of the heights the West has scaled - and the fact that we still command those heights - so should Islam be greatly concerned that they have not produced a really significant invention or intellectual breakthrough in a thousand years.

We owe Muslims an enormous debt in transmitting Greek culture and intelligence to an uncouth and almost backward West ... but that was nearly a thousand years ago. And so on.

George Carey has pulled back a few curtains for Christians and Muslims alike. Shall their spokesmen investigate and discuss ... or go into denial and still more paroxysms of political correctness?

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