My book Why Religions Work explores religious tolerance issues. It could not be more relevant at the moment with the world in its present state.
This blog has concentrated recently on the wonderful pilgrimages I have been on - to the Holy Land and to Turkey and more recently to Holy Georgia , Greece "In the Steps of St Paul" , Ethiopia and most recently my experiences in Iran.

"If I was allowed another life I would go to all the places of God's Earth. What better way to worship God than to look on all his works?" from The Chains of Heaven: an Ethiopian Romance Philip Marsden

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Peace in the Middle East - start with Economic Justice

Sometimes an idea comes along that just does not get the airing it deserves. And sometimes books likewise. I thought this as I listened the other day to a talk given by Julia Foster of the Olive Tree Reconciliation Fund to a group of Christian “ladies who lunch.” The premise of the Foundation is that “Only Jesus can reconcile Jews and Arabs, and He is doing it” and it “aims to build bridges of understanding and support in a spirit of reconciliation between believers (both Jewish and Arab) in the Holy Land (Israel and the Palestinian Areas) and Christians worldwide.” I was uneasy with this. Perhaps that is why one lady walked out? In my research into religious tolerance for my own book I am rather favoring the idea of respectful dialogue between faiths, not requiring conversion of all to Christianity that the Olive Tree Fund seems to be advocating?

"If you want Peace, work for Justice" was the message of his Holiness Pope Paul VI
for the celebration of the day of peace 1 January 1972.

And I thought back to the book Seven Steps to Justice, by Rodney Shakespeare and Peter Challen, which I had read some while back now. So as soon as I was home again I found it and reread it. (It is a delightfully small volume and very easy to read and digest).
The basic theme of the book is the proposal of a new financial system that will give two basic incomes for all, capital ownership for all, a proper deal for women, and a solution to the Middle East (and Kashmir). A lofty aim!

Economists, philosophers, theologians and more have contributed to the debate on the way forward for our economy in the context of addressing the world’s often seemingly insuperable problems. Our economic system is certainly not serving us well at the moment in its present form. Perhaps this is the opportunity to consider other options that address some of the present flaws.
We do urgently need a system that promotes human justice and that stresses the importance of the long-term sustainability and protection of our planet. Where can we find this? (I’ve written about this quite a bit before so those who are regular readers bear with me for a short while).

The Global Justice Movement and Binary Economics
One such organization that works within these parameters is The Global Justice Movement (1). The essence of this movement’s message is an inclusive justice for all. It promotes policies that will provide a new, stable, just, global monetary system that will protect the environment by its sustainability, address poverty and the present rich–poor divide, and focus on real productive economy. It starts with the idea of national bank-issued interest-free loans that have a real link to productive capacity and the spreading of that productive capacity, arising from within society. It is opposed to interest bearing loans which are created without any link to production, which have no regard as to whether the needs of society are met and which are controlled by those with no concern for society. It takes up the line of Pope Paul VI: Global justice, it believes, ends with global peace.

So what monetary system is proposed? Binary economics (1) is a system developed in the 1990s by Rodney Shakespeare with Robert Ashford that fits well within the aims of the Global Justice Movement. It is based on the principle that both capital and labor should physically produce wealth and that all individuals should have access to such capital, provided for them if necessary using interest free money. This could produce a secure source of income for everyone, regardless of age, ability or occupation. This is the new and refreshing idea that has been woven into a complete re-thinking of economics and politics, expressed in a most extraordinary vision in Seven Steps to Justice.

So what is that vision for the Middle East?
The vision is of economic justice first and foremost in the region, and then trading on the fact of a historic Abrahamic bond between Jew and Arab, which can be built upon. It then uses the idea of the biblical Sabbatical and Jubilee years, designed for “ensuring that all individuals were regularly restored to positions where they could produce for, and produce enough for, themselves. In simple terms, it was a periodic renewal of economic justice.” (p. 95 Seven Steps To Justice). And it draws upon the binary economics of Ashford and Shakespeare.

And all this is to be implemented within a new entity that Shakespeare and Challen call The Abraham Society. The Centre for Economic and Social Justice (CESJ) in Washington D.C. had already proposed The Abraham Federation, and through the CESJ representatives of the Palestinians and Israelis have apparently already reacted in an open-minded and constructive way to this whole idea. How far has this come? Has Tony Blair read these books and papers? I have to assume he has. I would like to know how far, if at all, this idea has progressed?

For much more background I recommend starting with the paper from the CESJ: 
From which I quote:
“Building a just and pluralistic nation is, of course, a complex undertaking. But by focusing on the limitless possibilities of industrial growth, rather than on endless confrontation over scarce land resources, Arab and Jewish settlers of the Abraham Federation can take a new look at their common problem. Under the mantle of Abraham, they can step back into the past in order to leap forward into a more just and hopeful future.”

Given that tensions and strife in the Middle East affect the whole world, Seven Steps to Justice (2) is then one of the most potentially and profoundly life changing books I have come across. Its methods appeal.

1. Robert Ashford and Rodney Shakespeare, Binary Economics: the New Paradigm (Lanham MD: University Press of America, 1999).
2. Rodney Shakespeare and Peter Challen, Seven Steps to Justice, London: New European Publications Limited, 2002.

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