Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Out of Africa

President Obama has visited Kenya, and attended a conference on “entrepreneurship”, which I take to mean a conference about individual initiative and wealth creation. It seems that the world is gradually realising that Africa has talent, which needs to be encouraged and given chance to flourish in order to make each country prosperous.

During the colonial period Europeans, armed with superior weapons, marched in and took over, telling the locals what to do. In each area, somebody was set up as a governor, with personal transport and a big house. For these people, money seemed to mysteriously arrive from Europe. Small wonder, then, that when these colonies regained their freedom – sorry, became independent – many local leaders set themselves up in the same style, with big palaces and impressive personal transport. And money still arrives from Europe (and the other “Western” countries), in the form of aid money or development funds. However, the technical term for people ensuring that they get a share of their country’s money quietly siphoned into their own bank accounts, wherever they are in the world, is “corruption”.

In most, if not all parts of the world, corruption is a problem. It may be more blatant, widespread or institutionalised in some countries than others.  However, it is now more generally realised, and more openly spoken of, as a barrier to progress. Money quietly siphoned into someone’s bank account is playing no part in the generation of wealth. Ultimately, money is only useful if it is being used – in other words, if it is circulating. And it is most useful when it helps to create jobs. Sitting in a rich person’s bank account, it is doing nothing. In areas like Africa, even if that person then decides to purchase a private plane, or a luxury yacht, that money is going straight back into the Western economy, because such things are only built in the developed countries. This is why Western countries still see giving aid money as beneficial. Even when the money goes to infrastructure projects, the machinery required is often built in Europe or North America, so the money actually helps wealth creation back in the West.

For wealth to reach the general population of the “developing” countries, trustworthiness is required on the part of all citizens, including those in government and those paying taxes. The Bahá’í writings say: “Trustworthiness is the greatest portal leading to the tranquillity and security of the people. In truth, the stability of every affair hath depended and doth depend upon it.” This should be self-evident, really, but it’s worth being reminded! Trustworthiness does not only apply to government, business and other financial affairs, it applies to every aspect of life, including justice.

Let the rest of the world now set an example to Africa by removing its own corruption. This will  encourage the people of the African nations to rid their own countries of corruption and bring Africa to the prosperity its people deserve.

Friday, 24 July 2015

To Pluto – And Beyond!

On March 13th, 1781, musician and amateur astronomer William Herschel saw a green blob through his telescope. He cleaned the lenses, but the blob was still there. He had discovered a new planet – Uranus!

But Uranus did not behave quite as astronomers calculated it should. Was there another planet pulling it out of line? They searched for another one, further out, and found Neptune in 1846. It was the same story again – was yet another planet, even further out, pulling Neptune off course slightly?

So began the search for Pluto. At a special observatory set up for the purpose, Clyde Tombaugh compared photos of the night sky taken a few days apart. If one tiny speck of light had changed position, perhaps it was a planet, and not a star. Sure enough, after looking at about “thirteen million” specks (according to him!!), he found a speck that had moved. It was given the name Pluto, but it turned out to be smaller than expected, and was eventually downgraded to a “minor planet”, even though it has moons of its own.

And now a spacecraft has flown past it and started to send back pictures of it (“Wish you were here…”). We are now learning that every planet, and every moon, is different – unique. The universe seems to be designed that way: endless variety. As a Bahá’í I find this very exciting. In the 19th century Bahá’u’lláh stated that other stars have their own inhabited planets and that each such planet has “its own creatures, whose number no man can compute”. In 1913, Abdu’l-Bahá, His son, urged that the technology should be developed to enable space exploration to begin, starting by visiting other planets.

Scientists are now starting to find likely candidates for inhabited planets at vast distances from Earth. If we are ever to consider travelling beyond our own solar system, either by probe or in person, there are a lot of technical problems to consider; but we are probably not ready in other ways, either. We need to develop a united planet, with a world civilisation, before we have a worthwhile contribution to make to anyone beyond Pluto!

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

A Great Deal to Discuss

Several of the world’s most militarily powerful nations have finally made an agreement – sorry, a “deal” – with the government of Iran. Put simply, this agreement gives the International Atomic Energy Authority the right to check on all Iran’s nuclear facilities. Result: Iran will not be able to build a nuclear weapon (well, not in the near future, anyway). But a number of the countries involved in the deal already have nuclear weapons themselves!

Writing in about 1890, Bahá’u’lláh (the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith) stated: “Strange and astonishing things exist in the earth but they are hidden from the minds and the understanding of men. These things are capable of changing the whole atmosphere of the earth and their contamination would prove lethal.” Did He have some insight into nuclear radiation? In 1911, His son (Abdu’l-Bahá) warned a Japanese ambassador: “There is in existence a stupendous force… Let us supplicate God… that this force be not discovered by science until spiritual civilisation shall dominate the human mind. In the hands of men of lower material nature, this power would be able to destroy the whole earth.” In 1945, nuclear weapons were dropped on two Japanese cities, killing about 200,000 people. In the period after World War II, the number of countries with such nuclear weapons rose, and currently stands at nine.

Are they necessary at all? Why can we not have a universal peace treaty, uniting all the nations of the world in a universal agreement? All national borders would have to be agreed, and the arms of each nation would have to be limited. At the same time, the people of the world would have to agree that *any* national government breaking this treaty would be removed from office. Unless and until we do this, the world will continue to lurch from one crisis to another, and our attention will endlessly have to switch to trying to fix the next “deal”.

Friday, 10 July 2015

Money, Money, Money

A lot of the news in recent weeks (or months, or years) has been about the Greek financial crisis. Somehow, circumstances have arrived at Greece being in the European Union, and within the €urozone, without having had its finances sorted out. (Some Bahá’í friends of ours moved to Greece in the 1990s. They had the great inconvenience of having to wait nearly 2 years to get a telephone connected because they refused to pay a bribe.) There is a need now for justice for all parties and an acceptable standard of living for ordinary Greeks, but what the financial world sees as important is something quite different – the “success” of the €uro as a currency.

Every day, huge amounts of money are being changed from one currency to another (and of course some people are making a *profit* out of it!) The currency of every country is being constantly valued and revalued by people in the “currency markets”, as people make money out of money.

But isn’t money what we use to buy food with, or clothes, or houses? Why should it be a plaything for companies and financiers? Money was invented to make people’s lives easier, but the financial markets do not treat it like that. In the nineteenth century, Bahá’u’lláh offered the idea of one currency for the whole world. Although this would necessitate certain realignments in financial arrangements, this would surely be both easier and fairer than the present system, in which the currency of poor countries is seen as worthless, while the currencies of rich countries, such as the United States of America, Japan or the United Kingdom, are sought after. The present system leaves poorer countries at a daily disadvantage.

The “€uro” currency could be seen as a step towards a world currency, but money markets prefer to see it as a “risk” or an “experiment”. The only country which has officially proposed a world currency is China, and what it is proposing is a currency for trading purposes. Each currency would be traded against this common world currency, instead of dollars, yen, Swiss francs or gold. The Chinese do not perceive it as something ordinary people could use.

So, back to Greece. Either Greece will stay in the €urozone, or it will drop out of it and go back to drachmas, or there will be some other arrangement – for example the Greeks using both currencies. This will be important to the Greeks, of course, and probably the rest of Europe, but whatever happens, useful experience will have been gained in what does and does not work with a shared currency. Ultimately, it will have helped mankind to develop what it needs: one currency for the whole world.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Ten Years Later

Ten years ago, on 7th July, my son-in-law safely took a number 30 bus between Hackney and Euston. Later that morning, a similar number 30 bus was blown up by a suicide bomber. Ten years on, so much is happening in the world, and the situation seems to be going from bad to worse. A gunman, claimed to be a “soldier of the Caliphate”, has killed 38 people on a rampage in Tunisia. When an American citizen visits his local school and starts shooting people, we shake our heads that the world seems to have so many disoriented and dysfunctional people. But in many ways, what happened in Tunisia was *worse*. The killer was not known to have mental problems, and his heartless and ruthless actions seem to have been part of a plot, and not simply the actions of a deranged person trying to go out in a blaze of infamy.

This man had support. He had been supplied with a powerful weapon and some hand grenades, and he had been trained in a terrorist camp. He tried to kill only tourists, and not Tunisians. Presumably his masters did not wish to alienate the Tunisian population. And presumably he was either targeting “westerners”, or “Christians”, at the same time as damaging, or even destroying, Tunisia’s tourist industry.

ISIS, based in Syria, published his picture on electronic media, thereby proving that they had at the very least some involvement in either his actions, his mindset, or both. The leaders of ISIS seem to have developed their own idea of how Muslims should behave towards other human beings, none of whom they seem to hold of any account whatsoever, and once again we see it all done in the name of religion. “Religion” and “spirituality” seem to have gone their own ways, somehow. By contrast, Bahá’u’lláh, the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith (which is my religion)  said we should “Consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship.”

Bahá’u’lláh also seems to have foreseen the present state of things. There are very few things he forbade, but *fanaticism* was one of them. He wrote: “Religious fanaticism and hatred are a world-devouring fire, whose violence none can quench. The Hand of Divine power can, alone, deliver mankind from this desolating affliction.” One aspect of this statement could be that the “Hand of Divine power” will provide an antidote to this affliction. People of limited insight (and no fixed morals!) seem at present to be driven by a loyalty to what they are *told* religion is for – in this instance conflict and domination. They can, however, be changed by a religion which offers them something better – a religion with a positive and loving attitude to everyone, regardless of who they are.