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Why 'Christian Hate?'? An introduction to the blog

Places Christians shouldn't go A quick tour of Christian Hate?'s case against Christian Aid

Christians and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict Read all my posts on this topic

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Reasonable doubt

Back at the keyboard after an excellent Christmas. You don't want to hear about it but I'm going to tell you anyway. It was preceded by a short retreat at an Anglican Franciscan friary on the Northumberland coast. We enjoyed walks along near-deserted beaches, the company of the delightful brothers, and attending Mass at dawn with the sun rising from the North Sea behind the altar.

Then we went on to join the family gathering at my sister's house a few miles outside Glasgow. On Christmas Eve we managed to fit in a walk along the fabled banks of Loch Lomond, then later we joined a small but welcoming Episcopal congregation for Midnight Mass (just one thing, folks, I prefer my carols without political corrections). Mrs Cyrus agreed to wait until Christmas Day to get at her presents rather than following the German custom of opening them on Christmas Eve, and my brother-in-law served up turkey with all the trimmings for eight with aplomb. On the 28th we returned present-laden to Berlin.

The real point of this posting is to talk about two of said presents. First off, a curiosity from the ‘old comrades never die’ department. I got a book called ‘The New Testament Through 100 Masterpieces of Art’. Right up my street, but I did a double-take when I saw who author was: Régis Debray. Régis Debray? This was a bit like discovering a hymnbook edited by Tariq Ali. Didn’t Debray take to the streets of the Latin Quarter with Danny le Rouge and company in May ’68? Not quite, as it happens, but I was warm. He missed the fun because he was in jail in Bolivia, having taken his radical principles a step further and joined Ché Guevara in his ill-fated guerrilla uprising the year before.

And what’s he been up to since? He ranked with the highest in Paris (yes, I got Life of Brian for Christmas too) at the court of François Mitterrand. He invented an academic discipline called ‘mediology’ but currently holds a chair in plain old-fashioned philosophy. Whether he is a Catholic in some unfathomably sophisticated postmodern way is a question my googling has failed to answer. As for his politics, I’d be fascinated to know whether he still believes the long-suffering people of Bolivia would have been better off if their country had been turned into a replica of Castro’s Cuba (myself, I’d say it’s a close call). What all too clearly does remain of his radicalism after all the murky realpolitik of the Mitterrand years is that latter-day socialism of fools, anti-Americanism. I enjoyed this fisk of an article he wrote for the New York Times.

Present number two: I’m not much of a film buff, but if I had to choose a favourite film Twelve Angry Men would be a strong contender. OK, it may be more of a filmed play than a film, but it’s none the worse for that, and it grips me no less powerfully because I know exactly what’s going to happen. Nearly half a century on it remains the definitive liberal creed: a statement, quite simply, of what it means to be civilized, and a warning of the need for eternal vigilance against the ways our human weaknesses – cowardice, conformism, intellectual laziness, indifference, bigotry, bullying, vengefulness, sadism – can threaten to tip us into barbarism.

So I reckon Juror Number Eight alias Henry Fonda is not a bad role model to try to live up to as I take ‘Christian Hate?’ into the New Year. The conflicts in Israel and Palestine are not simple, historically or morally. Everyone involved is human. Everyone has human rights, everyone has human failings. If you’ve assembled a collection of facts which convince you that one side has right on their side and the other doesn’t, you’re not seeing beyond your pet prejudices. Conservatives who think Israel can do no wrong, so-called liberals and leftists who think it can do nothing right: all are assigning Israelis and Palestinians their roles as goodies and baddies or vice versa on the basis of an internalized global narrative of good versus evil. Watch the film and let it remind you how persuasive the case for the prosecution can be if we’ve walked into the courtroom with our hearts already saying ‘guilty’. And instead, let us take its watchword to heart: reasonable doubt.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Let us go even unto Bethlehem

The Christian Hate? offices will now be closed until the 29th or thereabouts, and I wish all visitors to the site a happy and peaceful Christmastide. Whatever you call the season and whatever it signifies to you, may the God of your understanding draw near to you in love and peace.

How silently, how silently,
the wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
the blessings of his heaven.
No ear may hear his coming;
but in this world of sin,
where meek souls will receive him still,
the dear Christ enters in.

Or if that's not your style, you might prefer this from Stephen Pollard:-

Two beggars are sitting side by side on a street in Dublin. One has a cross in front of him, the other one the Star of David.

Many people go by and look at both beggars, but only put money into the hat of the beggar sitting behind the cross. A priest comes by, stops and watches throngs of people giving money to the beggar behind the cross, but none to the beggar behind the Star of David.

Finally the priest goes over to the beggar behind the Star of David and says: "My poor fellow, don't you understand? This is a Catholic country. People aren't going to give you money if you sit there with a Star of David in front of you, especially when you're sitting beside a beggar who has a cross. In fact, they would probably give to him just out of spite."

The beggar behind the Star of David turns to the beggar with the cross and says: "Moishe, look who's here to teach the Levine Brothers about marketing!"


Saturday, December 17, 2005

Can't kick the habit

The people who gave the world suicide bombings are on good form. No doubt their frustration and anger at the government made them do it.

The Tigers' strategy as outlined here is delightful. By intimidating Tamils into boycotting the presidential elections they have deliberately handed victory to a Sinhalese hardliner. 'Spoiling for a fight' seems the appropriate description.

Whatever genuine oppression of Sri Lankan Tamils may have given rise to the Tiger insurgency, their horrific violence now seems to serve no purpose other than self-perpetuation. They need conflict to justify their existence. Sound familiar?

Free elections? Bah, humbug!

Al-Grauniad on Iraq:-

'...the Sunnis, who have learned from their strategically mistaken boycott - partly the result, in fairness, of fear and intimidation - of last January's election for an interim government.'

I just love that pained 'in fairness'. 'OK, just this once we'll admit that the insurgents are murdering thugs rather than freedom fighters, but don't expect us to make a habit of it.'

And here's a gem from a piece entitled 'The US is now rediscovering the pitfalls of aspirational imperialism', by somebody called Linda Colley. She is apparently professor of history at Princeton, which I had always supposed was rather a classy sort of university.

'In the 19th and early 20th centuries, British imperialists too frequently sought to deploy their power to export representative government, the rule of law, women's education and the abolition of slavery, and sometimes even secured a measure of success.'

Maybe that 'too' is a typo. There again, maybe not.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse...

The thoughts of President Ahmadinejad:-

'They have created a myth today that they call the massacre of Jews and they consider it a principle above God, religions and the prophets.'

So, something to look forward to in the New Year: a Holocaust-denier with nuclear weapons, and well within striking range of Israel.

At al-Grauniad Jonathan Freedland is just about the only columnist left who is prepared to say what needs to be said here. Let's hope this will be enough to set some alarm bells ringing in Grauniad-readers' heads.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Christian Aid to consult with Chief Rabbi on Middle East coverage?

Thanks to Alexandra Simonon of Engage for drawing my attention to a recent article in the Jewish Chronicle:-

Sacks to vet Christian Aid texts
By Daniella Peled

Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks has asked Christian Aid that he be allowed to vet any potentially controversial statements it releases on the Middle East, in response to an initiative by the charity to improve its troubled relationship with British Jewry.

According to Christian Aid, in a recent meeting with its representatives, Sir Jonathan raised a number of ways he believed the charity could build bridges.

These included giving his office advance warning if the charity planned to release any contentious statements about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the opportunity to view possibly divisive press releases to try to avoid misunderstandings over the use of language.

Another proposal was that the charity liaise with Rabbi Barry Marcus, who holds the Israel portfolio in the Chief Rabbi’s cabinet.

While a Christian Aid official made it clear that Sir Jonathan would not have editorial rights or veto over press statements, his opinions would be taken on board.

“Christian Aid is taking seriously its responsibility to not cause offence to the Jewish community,” explained William Bell, the acting head of the policy unit for Asia and the Middle East. “Any recommendations [from the meeting] would be taken seriously.”

The meeting — thought to have been initiated by the charity — was held as Christian Aid attempts to rehabilitate its relationship with the Jewish community through measures that include the appointment of an interfaith liaison manager.

Past controversies have included its “Child of Bethlehem” Christmas 2004 appeal, featuring a seven-year- old Palestinian girl wounded by an IDF bullet, which the Board of Deputies condemned as “completely unbalanced” and demonstrating an obsession with Israel.

July’s recommendation by the Anglican Consultative Council for churches worldwide to reconsider investments in companies supporting Israeli policies further strained relations between the Jewish and Christian communities.

A spokesman for the Chief Rabbi confirmed that the meeting with Christian Aid took place but declined to comment further.

My reaction is going to make it look as if I'm impossible to please, but I see this as a classic case of doing the right thing for the wrong reason.

If this was indeed an initiative from Christian Aid, it is a very welcome one indeed. However, the point of my criticisms of CA's Middle East campaigning is not that I think it is offensive to British Jews - though I certainly do think it is. I would not be deterred from making what I believed to be a fair and justified criticism of Israel by the fear of offending British Jews. Nor should anyone else be. The problem with the campaign is that it has been grossly biased, giving CA supporters a false impression of the conflict which has the potential to reinforce or revive anti-Semitic prejudice.

As my past comments on the incitement to religious hatred legislation have shown, I am unimpressed by the notion that faith communities need protection from being offended. And many Christians share that point of view. So the perception that CA is censoring itself in deference to Jewish sensitivity could actually add mischief to that caused by their campaigning in the first place. It would be far better if they could admit that there has been a lack of balance that needs to be addressed irrespective of any concern to placate the Jewish community.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Europe is not a barren desert

Not quite completely off-topic department...

A little over four years ago, when I was pondering becoming more than a semi-Christian, a little book on Anglicanism which I picked up from a second-hand bookstall gave me a significant push in the right direction. So I still have a lot of time for its author, David L. Edwards. Here he writes an impressive piece for the Church Times defending European culture against the Anglican bishops of the 'global South':-

'Of course, Europe and its Churches have massive problems, as is surely true about your own situations. But please note that these are discussed freely, frequently, and expertly, to an extent not matched in any other region of our troubled world. Please also note how many nations and individuals seek admission to the European Union, despite the criticisms of it that fill Europe’s own media every day.'

And the reason why this is not completely off-topic is of course that Israel is by far the most 'European' society - in practically all of the senses suggested by Edwards - in its region. Sufficient reason, it seems, for many in the 'global South' to hate it. And a very good reason (Rowan Williams please note) why European liberals should stop singing from their hymn-sheet.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Naught for your comfort

Edge of topic department…

David Aaronovitch writes a thoughtful and lucid piece in today’s Times examining the arguments for and against the use of torture in the war against terror. And he concludes with a ringing defence of the classical liberal position:-

'But as McCain puts it now, we are in “a war of ideas, a struggle to advance freedom in the face of terror in places where oppressive rule has bred the malevolence that creates terrorists”. And we fight it — always, always, always — by being as little like those oppressors as we can possibly be. Even if torture works.'

Reading this I wanted very much to agree with him. Unfortunately there’s a gaping hole in this argument. Among the things oppressors do very well is starting wars and killing people. So being as unlike them as possible is also the basis of the classic case for pacifism – and I happen to know that David Aaronovitch is definitely not a pacifist.

The Saddam trial will certainly give us plenty of reminders of the gulf between anything the CIA may be doing and what was routine under his regime. We are a long way from moral equivalence here, whatever the Guardian may say to the contrary. That is of course true of the motives as well as the methods. Torturing a would-be murderer in the hope of saving lives is not the same as torturing anyone who dares speak out against a tyrant.

On a personal level, if Mrs Cyrus’s life were on the line I very much doubt if I would give priority to a terrorist’s right to be spared from pain.

If torture is horrifying, so too are many other aspects of modern warfare – bombing cities, for example. The implication of Christian just war theory is that if a war fulfils the criteria for being just, it becomes a moral imperative to fight it with all means necessary to ensure victory – unless those means become a greater evil than the one which the war is intended to prevent, in which case the equally clear-cut moral imperative is to lay down one’s arms. The difficulty of deciding whether torturing terrorists can be justified is in principle the same as the difficulty of determining whether it was justifiable to firebomb Dresden and thereby accelerate the ending of the Holocaust.

A pacifist response would be that the answer is to stop trying to play God. But I can’t accept this. Our capacity for moral reasoning is part of the equipment God gives us for dealing with a broken, sinful world. We have to use it, recognizing that we are not going to do so infallibly and that it is not always going to allow us to keep our hands clean.

And on that inconclusive and very uncomfortable note I end. Comments please.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Bishops and Terror

Christian Aid News No. 21 (Summer 2003)

Today I turn to the earliest issue in my Christian Aid News collection. It is two and a half years old, but on a day when a suicide bombing in Netanya has claimed at least five lives, it has lost none of its relevance.

In this issue we find one of the opening salvoes in the ecclesiastical campaign against the Israeli security fence, a campaign which is still going strong – see my letter to the Moderator of the Church of Scotland. It starts like this:-

‘Bishops blast new “Berlin Wall”

‘The new “security fence” being built by Israel to ward off suicide bombers from the West Bank is shocking and deeply divisive, said the Bishop of Exeter after a recent visit to the area.’

‘”The Berlin Wall is nothing to this,” commented the Rt Rev Michael Langrish who visited the Occupied Palestinian Territories with the Bishop of Brechin, the Rt Rev Neville Chamberlain (sic!). “I am deeply, deeply shocked that a world that fought and argued for the demolition of a wall around a city is now standing by as this greater wall is being built around a whole people”’.

I can assure the Bishop that he can scarcely have been more deeply shocked than I was, and still am, by the crassness of his analogy. Admittedly being married to someone who grew up in that walled city (fortunately for her on the West side) gives me some extra awareness here, but surely a moment’s thought should have told the Bishop he was talking through his mitre. As I have already commented:-

Christian Aid takes a bishop to view Israel’s security fence, and he tells them it’s like the Berlin Wall only worse. Hmmm, run that past me again - one built to keep in people who wanted to be free, the other to keep out people who want to commit murder. Did the Right Rev forget to pack his brain?

Lest the note of levity should suggest there is anything trivial about this, let us be clear: the Berlin Wall was built to defend a failed ideology, and nothing else. Over two hundred people with no violent intent whatsoever died trying to escape the prison it enclosed – most of them shot by border guards under orders to shoot to kill. The Bishop’s comparison is an insult to their memory.

And why has Israel built a security fence? The Netanya bombing brings to 18 the number of people who have died in suicide bombings in Israel this year. Without the fence the number would almost certainly be in three figures. In other words, the fence has saved something in the order of a hundred lives this year alone. Is the Bishop of Exeter still ‘deeply, deeply shocked’ by it? If so he is a disgrace to his Church and mine.

Also featured in this issue is an article about responses to terrorism by yet another bishop, Tom Wright of Durham. The Bishop is, I am told, a fine New Testament scholar. When it comes to politics, though, his views are standard-issue Guardianista anti-Americanism. He advocates a UN-based ‘global police force’ as an alternative to American unilateralism. I agree in principle, but if one is going to argue, as Wright does, from the self-serving agendas driving US policy, one needs to acknowledge, as he does not, that such agendas are just as likely to inform the elites of other countries. To overlook this is bad theology, apart from anything else. To take an obvious example, a majority of permanent Security Council members – China, Russia, France – opposed the invasion of Iraq. Doubtless some of their reasons were good ones, but guess which three countries supplied Saddam Hussein with 90+ % of his arms? And don’t the resolutions which the UN regularly passes against Israel have more than a little to do with the ability of oil-rich Middle Eastern states to win fair-weather friends in the international community?

The Bishop relates the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq to American ‘popular mythology’ fed by ‘the powerful Christian right and its blindly ideological commitment to Zionism’. Osama bin Laden would no doubt appreciate the confirmation that Zionist influences lurk behind US policy. Again as a matter of basic Christian theology, I would expect the fourth most senior cleric in the Church of England to be aware that ideological blindness can afflict people in more than one segment of the political spectrum. Christian Aid News offers plentiful evidence of that.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Something for the weekend

Something to get your teeth into over the weekend (what do you mean, you're too busy shopping?): Stephen Pollard's excellent and disturbing paper 'Israel, America, the Jews and the European Union'.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Ethnic cleansing?

A rather significant nugget of information from Ha'aretz (hat tip: Melanie Phillips):-

'Some 50,000 Arabs immigrated to Israel in the past five years, a student at the University of Derby in Israel found…The number 50,000 was taken from conversations with local leaders, from unrecorded data in absorbtion areas, from the Islamic movement's private education system and from human rights organizations, the researcher said. According to Nasrin, much of the immigration is an effort to achieve unity between extended family members, some of which may have lived in the territories while others were considered Arab Israelis in Israel proper.'

As Melanie comments, this is a strange sort of ethnic cleansing.

Anti-Semitic or just angry?

One from Norman Geras deserves quoting in full:-

Not anti-Semitism

This is in the 'forgive them, for they know not what they say' department:

  • When does criticism of Israel turn into anti-Semitism? Is a new anti-Semitism spreading across Europe?

  • Or are attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions a result of Muslims' anger over Palestine and western policy in the Arab world?
That's from the BBC website, flagging a discussion between Norman Finkelstein and Geoffrey Alderman on 'Have Your Say' at 1800 GMT today. Call me simple-minded, but you could just about read the 'Or' here as suggesting that, if Jews and Jewish institutions get attacked because of 'anger over Palestine and western policy in the Arab world', this isn't anti-Semitism. I just love it that my licence fee goes to support such (airhead) stuff. Anyway, follow the link if you want to know how to have your say.

That was yesterday, unfortunately. From what I know of Norman Finkelstein, it is vital that he is challenged whenever he is given a platform. A post on him is in preparation - watch this space.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Public servants and Islamic charity

Following up my last post I’ve done a little googling on the two UK charities (Human Appeal International and Interpal) involved in the case of a Hamas activist charged by an Israeli military court with diverting charitable donations to fund terror. My findings prompt some questions for two public bodies: Manchester City Council and the Charity Commission.

To Manchester City Council: your desire to help the victims of the South Asia earthquake in their desperate plight is laudable. And it is entirely in order for you to do so by providing links to the Red Cross, Unicef and Oxfam. But is it appropriate for you as a public authority to be giving the same endorsement to charities which are clearly faith-based, not only in terms of their donor community but also in terms of their delivery of aid?

Admittedly one of the three I refer to, Muslim Aid, claims that 'Aid is given regardless of the race, creed or nationality of the recipients'. When you look at the details of their projects, though, it becomes obvious that their funds are overwhelmingly channelled via local Muslim partner organizations to predominantly Muslim countries or to Muslim minorities in other countries. Even their work in Zimbabwe, for instance, is evidently targeted primarily if not exclusively at the country’s tiny Muslim minority. These remarks apply equally to Islamic Relief and to Human Appeal International – despite the latter’s deceptively secular-sounding name.

Now I have no problem at all with people doing charitable work for the benefit of members of their own faith community. It’s their choice. There are plenty of Christian charities operating on this basis – possibly not many that I personally would wish to support, but I certainly don’t begrudge their right to exist. What I’m not happy with is the idea of such an organization, irrespective of which faith community is involved, being endorsed by a local authority. And I suspect the endorsement, if given at all, would have generated a good deal of protest if the charities concerned were Christian (or indeed Jewish).

To the Charity Commission: if Ahmed Salatna is found guilty of diverting charitable funds to support Hamas’s terrorist activities, expect some questions to be asked about your decision in 2003 to drop an investigation into Interpal. Your grounds for this were that the US authorities which filed a complaint ‘were unable to provide evidence to support allegations made against Interpal within the agreed time scale’ (source: Daily Telegraph). Given the seriousness of the charges, should you not have been a little more proactive in seeking out evidence yourselves?

The Telegraph also reported, ‘The inquiry disclosed that Interpal had received money from the Dutch-based Al Aqsa Foundation, a charity banned in Britain for its alleged Hamas links.’ Wasn’t that worth taking reasonably seriously?

Reading the report Interpal published on their tenth anniversary, I find that it quotes you as showering the organization with praise:-

“We scrutinised in detail the charity’s controls and records. They were well organised and we found no evidence of any donations that could not be accounted for or that had been given for political reasons. All of the evidence that we obtained suggests that Interpal is independent and non-profit making. Scrutiny of the charity’s publicity and documentation provided no evidence of any pro-terrorist or anti-Israeli propaganda and interviews with the trustees and staff suggested that they were motivated by faith…”

‘No evidence of any pro-terrorist or anti-Israeli propaganda’. Hmmm. Maybe you could spare the time to glance through the rest of the report…

‘Since September 2000 more than 3,899 Palestinians have been killed and over 59,000 seriously injured’

How many of these were armed terrorists? Makes no difference, they're still victims. How many Israelis, including civilian victims of terrorist attacks, have been killed? Who cares?

‘… a visit by one-time Israeli Defence Minister (and now Prime Minister) Ariel Sharon to the Al-Aqsa Mosque – one of the holiest shrines in Islam, sparked a conflict – the 2nd Intifada, which spilled out into the outskirts of the city with unprecedented levels of violence.’

All that violence, and all Sharon’s fault for showing his dirty Jewish face in the wrong place! Who needs propaganda when the facts speak so clearly for themselves?

The report is lavishly illustrated with photos taken in Palestine. Lots of cute kids, as you’d expect from any development charity. More remarkable is that of the numerous women portrayed, not one has her hair uncovered. ‘Motivated by faith’ indeed…

There is a point to be made here that applies irrespective of whether any direct funding of terrorism is established. As any competent Middle East-watcher could have told the Charity Commission, Hamas has built up an extensive civilian infrastructure which it has used with great success to win popular support for its Islamist political goals and its terror-based strategy for achieving them. [Chapter and verse can be found here – not exactly an impartial source, but its list of the projects funded by Interpal tallies with the latter’s own website.] Help fund the ostensibly humanitarian stuff and you are indirectly helping to recruit suicide bombers – and, regrettably, not a few British Muslims (and their secular fellow-travellers) would be unapologetic about doing so. If this is a connection which the Charity Commission is unable to register, that suggests that an overhaul of UK charity law is overdue.

Monday, November 28, 2005

A time for giving

It's Advent and snow is falling outside my window - time to start pondering which charities to support.

As I believe I may have mentioned on this site, some charities spend their donors' cash demonizing Israel. Others, it seems, go a step further...

And note the treatment of Marwan Barghouti, who is 'serving five life sentences in an Israeli prison' for reasons which we needn't trouble ourselves with. Suffice it to say that in his wife's opinion he is 'a leader for his people and not a terrorist'.

The BBC reported on Saturday:-

'He is serving five life terms in an Israeli jail for the killing of four Israelis and a Greek monk.'

Today it is:-

'He was convicted in 2004 of involvement in a number of attacks on Israeli civilians.'

Has somebody been having a quiet word?

Cyrus to Kirk: beam me up, Scottie!

A letter sent in response to this item (hat tip: Christian Attitudes...)

The Right Rev David W. Lacy
Moderator of the General Assembly
The Church of Scotland
121 George Street

22 November 2005

Dear Mr Lacy,

I write as a lay Christian with a particular concern about the churches’ response to the conflict in the Holy Land (a concern which has led me to set up a ‘blog’ on this topic at I am an expatriate member of the Church of England, but I can make some claim to neighbourly relations with the Kirk having been baptized in the Scottish Episcopal Church, and God willing I will be celebrating Christmas with my sister who is a committed member of the Kirk.

I have read your reactions to your visit to the Holy Land as reported by Scotland on Sunday. I treat anything I read in a newspaper with caution, and I would hope that the article does not fully represent your views, and that you have taken or will take steps to clarify your position.

I am however deeply concerned that you are quoted as saying the following:-

"I was very much in sympathy with why the Israelis built a wall here, and still am to a certain extent… But when you actually see where it is, you see that it's not for security, it's for making political statements. It's theft of land and I don't know how you can justify it on the grounds of anti-terrorism".

Are you really meaning to say that the barrier would still have been built if there were no terrorist threat to Israel? I cannot see what justification you require beyond the fact that, as the article points out, the incidence of suicide attacks on Israel has fallen dramatically since it was in place. I entirely agree that its presence is a tragedy, and I hope and pray that it will not be long-lasting, but surely the primary responsibility lies with those who organize and commit terrorist attacks.

You have every right to be unhappy about the siting of the barrier, but again this needs to be coupled with condemnation of the terrorists whose actions have led to its being built at all. It would, after all, have inflicted much hardship on ordinary Palestinians even if it had kept strictly to the pre-1967 border – the Palestinian economy is never likely to thrive in isolation from Israel. I find it particularly unfortunate that such a loaded term as ‘theft’ is used at a time when there is real movement on the territorial issues dividing the two sides, with the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and now Ariel Sharon’s decision to break with the Likud hardliners and form a new party. Christians can help matters best by encouraging those on both sides committed to dialogue and compromise.

To dismiss Israel’s security needs, which are about safeguarding the lives of innocent civilians, and infer that her primary motivation is theft is a grave slur on her people, both devaluing them and demonizing them. The fact that they are, of course, predominantly Jewish makes this doubly unacceptable. Countless Christian leaders have stoked the fires of anti-Jewish prejudice over the centuries – do you really want to join their number? I appeal to you to reflect on the wider implications of your remarks and think again.

Yours in Christ,

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

That Indie headline-writer again

He/she's at it again...

'Fears for peace plan as Sharon rejects territorial concessions'

Read the article and you'll find he doesn't do anything of the sort. In fact he doesn't say anything at all - it's 'a senior strategic adviser' (did you ever read a quote from a junior one?). And the issue is not Israel's readiness to withdraw from the occupied territories, but whether the Palestinian leadership is able and willing to deliver peace in return for withdrawal.

Or to put it another way, is there or is there not substantial support among Palestinians for the President of Iran's proposed final solution? I'd say Mr Arad's assertion that 'the doctrine of "territory for peace" had proved "false philosophically and naïve politically"' is not one that can be readily dismissed.

Muslims and Christians in Egypt

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is on a charm offensive, and naturally the Guardian is keen to help out.

‘The success of the Muslim Brotherhood should not frighten anybody: we respect the rights of all religious and political groups’ says their vice-president Khairat el-Shatir. On the other hand, ‘What we want to do instead is trigger a renaissance in Egypt, rooted in the religious values upon which Egyptian culture and society is built’. Which values would those be, exactly? Would they include those of the Coptic Christian community, whose history reaches back six centuries before the coming of Islam? I have posted on the violence which the Copts have recently suffered: I suspect they would feel a lot more reassured if Mr el-Shatir had taken the opportunity to condemn this as well as the attacks on MB supporters about which he complains.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

What's in a headline?

'Israel finally agrees to give Palestinians control of border' says the Independent. 'Palestinians finally agree to meet Israeli security needs at border crossing' just wouldn't have the same ring to it, would it?

And why all the fuss about security, anyway?

'James Wolfensohn, the former chairman of the World Bank and the international envoy on post-disengagement Gaza, had expressed deep frustration in private that Israel's preoccupation with security details, while valid, threatened to prevent measures which could contribute to longer term stability and therefore security.'

So a few of your kids might get blown to pieces en route to longer term stability. What's the big deal?

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Gerard Menuhin, anti-Semite

Sad that a great man has a son like this...

Rowan Williams: a difficult posting

The Archbishop of Canterbury has had some stick on this site, most recently over his sermon at the memorial service for the victims of the London bombings. I’ve just been reading something in a very different register: his lecture to the European Policy Centre in Brussels. This is the one-time Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity in his element, treating an audience of wonks to some heavy-duty intellectualizing. A man who can wrap Europe since the fall of the Roman Empire into one lecture with this much assurance has some serious brainpower. It’s well worth a read.

And yet, and yet…

I complained that his sermon airbrushed out the ambivalences in British Muslim reactions to 7/7, presenting an idealized view of a community united in unequivocal rejection of terrorism.

Drawing on the work of Tariq Ramadan, the Brussels lecture argues that Western Muslims are able to draw on a tradition of adaptation to non-Muslim majority cultures which would encourage them positively to embrace a Western cultural identity.

‘There is, says Ramadan (Western Muslims and the Future of Islam, p.53) no single “homeland” for Muslims: they can be at home in any geographical and political environment, and they need to avoid “self-ghettoization”, becoming “spectators in a society where they were once marginalized” (55). They need to be arguing and negotiating in the public sphere. But the acceptance of such argumentation is undoubtedly a development, as Ramadan agrees – a necessary recognition of distinctions between primary and secondary concerns in social life, a following-through of principles rooted deeply in classical Muslim thinking about ijtihad, the labour of interpretation (43-48). In modern conditions, this labour is something needed not simply in the context of jurisprudence within Muslim society, but in relation to an irreversibly plural and complex environment.(65-77).’

So the Archbishop does not here deny what is plain to all with eyes to see: a ‘development’ and ‘labour’ are required to break down the walls of the self-created ghetto in which too many Western Muslims live. But how, in the meantime, is the non-Muslim majority to manage its relationship with communities which have benefited from European ‘cultural hospitality’ but remain deeply suspicious of the liberalism in which it is rooted? As the Archbishop says, ‘while [Europe] is essentially hospitable to the stranger and the migrant, it has to confront the risk that it may find itself being hospitable to some sort of bid to alter the foundational idea of Europe as a sphere of “liberal” interaction between communities within the frame of law’. Well, it is actually a lot more than a risk. How do we confront it in a way that does not undermine the very traditions of tolerance and pluralism which we want to protect for the sake of all the other groups which need to be able to rely on them? Ramadan provides the Archbishop with some good ideas about which way we should be heading, but there is not even the sketchiest roadmap here.

Another complaint was widely made about the sermon, and drew a speedy apology: listing groups who had fallen victim to terrorism, the Archbishop omitted the Jews. There was some scepticism about the explanation that this was 'inadvertent’.

In his lecture, the players shaping European culture are Christianity, secular liberalism and Islam. Is there any absence which strikes you here? I wanted to be sure I hadn’t missed anything. I called up the source code and searched for ‘Jew’. Then I searched for ‘Judaism’. Nada.

I can just about believe that the contribution of Jewish thought and culture to the shaping of modern Europe was considered by the Archbishop to be too marginal to merit a mention in his ‘breathless tour’ of European history. But when the Jews figure neither as a force shaping European culture nor as an exemplar of a religious minority negotiating its relationship with it, it all begins, in the words of Oscar Wilde’s Lady Bracknell, to look like carelessness.

What on earth is going on here? I feel embarrassed to be raising this issue in relation to the spiritual head of my church. Surely this wise and holy man wouldn’t be influenced by something so crass… But perhaps it is time to take him down from his pedestal and see him as a fellow human being.

Before Auschwitz, it was not unusual, and quite acceptable in polite society, for heavyweight intellectuals to declare robustly that they just didn’t like Jews. That notable Anglo-Catholic T.S. Eliot was one instance. Since 1945 shame has largely silenced these voices, but shame does not in itself transform feelings. What is suppressed will find some means of expression. It will invent rationalizations – righteous anger over the uniquely appalling behaviour of Israel, as articulated in the Anglican Consultative Council resolution which the Archbishop disgracefully supported. Or it will simply manifest itself in what is not said - and of course a case from significant omissions can never finally be proved.

This is part of the trouble with attempts to outlaw ‘incitement to religious hatred’, and the culture of politically correct inoffensiveness generally. The less space is left for plain speaking, the less we know where we are and what we have to confront. If Rowan Williams really doesn’t like Jews much, he should feel he is free to say so, and leave the rest of us to decide what we want to do about it. Heaven knows I have enough gut prejudices of my own to deter me from casting the first stone.

And if anyone can demonstrate that I’m barking up the wrong tree altogether, please get writing.

Another day, another Guardian leader

‘And just as Rabin broke the taboo of dealing with the PLO (though the PLO had changed by accepting a two-state solution), future Israeli leaders may have to talk to the Islamists of Hamas. Dismissing them as irredeemable enemies on the wrong side of a global "war on terror" will not do. And Hamas, seeking legitimacy by participating in Palestinian elections, will have to convince Israelis that it can accept the existence of their state.’ (the rest here, if you're really interested)

OK, here goes…

  1. In fact the PLO Charter has still not been revised to affirm the legitimacy of Israel.

  2. Hamas may or may not be irredeemable, but they are on the wrong side of Israel’s local war on terror until they give up, er, terrorism.

  3. Participating in elections does not confer legitimacy. The Nazis stood for election saying they wanted to put an end to democracy, and – who’d have thought it – that’s exactly what they did. If Hamas want legitimacy they could make a start by saying that they can accept the existence of Israel instead of saying that they want to destroy it, and by pulling the plug on their Nazi-inspired hate propaganda.

  4. Talking to the people who are trying to kill their children may be a pragmatic imperative for the Israelis. It is not for the Guardian or anyone else to lecture them as if it were a moral imperative.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005


A fascinating glimpse into history via the very different Guardian of 1917. Of course, the biases of its time are very evident: the views of the non-Jewish population of Palestine seem to concern the author not at all, reflecting the unspoken assumption that the Arabs were a degenerate subject nation who could simply be transferred from one empire to another – a misconception with whose consequences we are still living, I guess. But I don't think it's any worse than the relentless anti-Israel spin of today's paper.

'...the declaration of policy by the British Government to-day is the security for a new, perhaps a very wonderful, future for Zionism and for the Jewish race.'

Tragic irony! How many lives might have been saved if Britain had followed through consistently, and a state able and willing to offer sanctuary to Europe's Jews had come into being before Auschwitz, not after?

Spam! Lovely spam!

To regular commenters: greetings, and apologies for making you jump the extra hurdle of word verification from now on. I've started getting spam comments and I don't want any more. Please don't be deterred!

A breath of Auschwitz

It was Saturday evening and I was waiting for a train at Berlin’s (in)famous Zoo station. A train came in going the other way, and among the crowds getting off were a lot of helmeted riot police. I vaguely assumed they must be coming away from the Hertha game, though it did seem an unusually heavy police presence – surely a bit over the top for a game against bottom-of the-table Kaiserslautern.

Suddenly I found myself surrounded by young white men wearing black Harrington jackets and jeans and very little in the way of hair. It’s illegal to display any form of Nazi regalia in Germany, but the faces and the body language told me everything I needed to know. These guys had not just been enjoying a football match.

I later discovered they were returning from an attempt to march in Potsdam, which had been frustrated by thousands of counter-demonstrators. There were at least two policemen to each of them, so they weren’t likely to start anything, but I moved away swiftly.

The strength of the impression this made on me doubtless shows what a sheltered life I lead. I got a fat lip courtesy of the Young National Front on my way home from an Anti-Nazi League march circa 1979 (when the Socialist Workers Party used to organize against Nazi-inspired reactionary bigots instead of forming coalitions with them - remember?), but since then things have been pretty quiet. Nevertheless: for a second or two I felt I was breathing the air of Auschwitz. Count me in on the next counter-demo.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Weasel words

'Only last month, the port city of Alexandria saw some of the worst sectarian disturbances the country has ever seen.'

This is from the BBC's 'Arab affairs analyst' Magdi Abdelhadi, comenting on the Egyptian government's attempts to rein in the Muslim Brotherhood's inflammatory rhetoric (read it here).

Let's run through those 'sectarian disturbances' again, shall we? As reported by... the BBC. A Muslim man stabbed a Coptic Christian nun. Then a couple of days later 5000 Muslim extremists tried to storm a Coptic church, and in the course of pitched battles with the police three of them got themselves killed.

But I bet the nun was acting really disturbingly.

Chilled and shaking

Meanwhile, Clare - deep throat/deep-thinking - Short has decided to tell us that American support for Israel is the biggest single factor in global violence in the world today. Well, that really is timely. It also clears up any worries we might have had about the causes of violence in Darfur in western Sudan, Zimbabwe, Burma, Chechnya, Rwanda, Northern Ireland ... shall I go on? Is there a conspiracy theory to follow, Clare? I'm shaking in my shoes. No, I really mean it, I am. Chilled and shaking. The causes of global violence are global extremism, of any creed, in any guise.

The divine Maureen Lipman writes in the Guardian: read it all.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Martin Luther and the Disappointing Jews

Monday was Reformation Day in Germany, when Lutherans commemorate the founder of their church. This year, however, one church in Berlin has been focussing on the great man’s dark side. The Tagesspiegel reported:-

‘At the end of his life Martin Luther wrote some appalling things about the Jews, says Peter von der Osten-Sacken, a theologian at Humboldt University. He will be preaching about this in the Reformation Day service at the Auenkirche. It culminated in the 1543 text “On the Jews and their Lies”, in which Luther calls on the German nobility to drive out the Jews. First they should “burn their synagogues and raze them to the ground and destroy their houses”, “completely abolish their right to travel on the roads” and “force the strong young Jewish men and women to work with flail, axe, spade, distaff and spindle”.

‘“There you have the full programme which the Nazis put into practice” says von der Osten-Sacken. In his earlier writings Luther showed a lot of sympathy towards the Jews, because he was optimistic that he could convert them to Christianity. The reformer’s thinking was that if he showed them how to interpret the Bible correctly, they would realize that Jesus was the Messiah. When he discovered that the Jews were not impressed, his esteem for them turned into hostility and hatred, says von der Osten-Sacken.’

The church is also mounting an exhibition on the Jews in Wittenberg, the “Luther town”, under the Third Reich, showing how the town and its clergy colluded in the Nazis’ exploitation of the Lutheran heritage. Visitors have been commenting that they never knew about this side of Luther. It is not mentioned in the film “Luther”, which was shown on German TV on Monday (I thought Joseph Fiennes was ludicrously miscast, but Mrs Cyrus reckons he did well considering he doesn’t look remotely like Luther). The Auenkirche’s initiative has been welcomed by the head of the German Lutheran Chuch and the President of Berlin’s Jewish community.

I’m intrigued by that raging disappointment of Luther’s. Doesn’t it ring some bells when we turn to today’s ‘progressive’ anti-Zionism? ‘We wanted to give you a place of honour as the ultimate innocent victims – but look how you’ve abused your victimhood by stealing other people’s land and subjecting them to a brutal occupation. You’ve turned into Nazis yourselves! If your children get blown up in buses and cafés you’ve only yourselves to blame!’ So short, for a certain cast of mind, is the distance between absolute innocence and absolute guilt.

The Archbishop’s sermon part 2

‘It does not matter to the killers if their victims are Christian or Muslim, Hindu or Humanist’

Well clearly it’s meant to be a representative list rather than an exhaustive one, and I was inclined to give the Archbishop the benefit of the doubt here. But I can’t blame Melanie Phillips for feeling that the absence beginning with “J” is a rather significant one. Let’s just agree with Melanie that one would like to know what was going through his mind.


Anglicans for Israel report that Lambeth Palace has apologized for the omission of 'Jews' from the phrase above, which is said to have been 'inadvertent'. Citing an earlier Melanie Phillips piece, they suggest, however, that the Archbishop has 'form' when it comes to ignoring Jewish terrorism victims.

I'd like to ask how widely this absent-mindedness is spread. When the Archbishop of Canterbury writes a sermon for such a high-profile occasion, doesn't he get members of his staff to check it over? Don't Buck House and No. 10 expect to get a preview? How many people read this sermon and didn't say 'hang on, what about the Jews?'

And I can't help being reminded of the letter I sent to the Archbishop about Christian Aid's anti-Israel bias, which Lambeth Palace acknowledged but then mislaid before they could produce a proper response. My second attempt at writing to him did elicit a considered reply, but the writer was 'unable to confirm' whether the Archbishop knew that Christian Aid News had quoted him out of context so as to make him seem critical of Israeli security measures but not of Palestinian terrorism. Still less did the letter confirm whether he was bothered about it.

I still cling to the hope that all this really reflects is Lambeth Palace's desperate need for an organizational shake-up. But I badly need Rowan to restore my faith.

Al-Grauniad trumps Indie ace

I might have known that the Indie wouldn’t have the definitive take on that Pentagon body count report. What could beat running it under a headline which doesn’t mention that the count is of the insurgents’ victims? Of course! Don’t mention it anywhere in the story!!

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

7/7: Remembering and Forgetting

Preaching at the memorial service for the victims of the 7 July London bombings at St Paul’s this afternoon, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, referred to ‘the powerful and consistent responses of all our faith communities’ (full text here).

Also present at the service was Mayor Ken Livingstone, who read a lesson from Isaiah. Now Mayor Livingstone has, since 7 July, faced a lot of criticism over his relationship with the Muslim scholar (some would put the word in quotes) Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi. You can sample this here and here, but for my present purposes the salient points are firstly that Livingstone justifies the relationship by arguing that Qaradawi is widely respected among British Muslims; and secondly that Qaradawi unashamedly defends the right of Palestinians to engage in terrorist attacks on Israeli citizens:-

‘Palestinian suicide bombings in Israel, he insists, are a form of jihad. "The actor who commits this is a martyr because he gave his life for the noble cause of fighting oppression and defending his community," he says. "These operations are best seen as the weapon of the weak against the powerful. It is a kind of divine justice when the poor, who don't have weapons, are given a weapon which the fully equipped and armed-to-the-teeth powerful don't have - the powerful are not willing to give their lives for any cause."’ (read the rest of this interview here)

And there can be little doubt that many British Muslims do indeed agree with him. Even the leadership of the supposedly moderate Muslim Council of Britain has been deeply equivocal on this issue.

So whilst it may seem absurdly obsessive to pick one small phrase out of the Archbishop’s sermon, I do believe it is both significant and troubling. How are we to understand it in the light of the Qaradawi factor? Was it intended as the kind of emollient half-truth appropriate to a big civic event? Is it an instance of Dr Williams’s use of poetic language, so that I am missing the point if I inquire into its truth value? Is he indulging in wishful thinking, responding to an imagined ideal Muslim community which he can no longer differentiate from the reality? Or finally, and this is of course where I get really worried, does he see no contradiction between a ‘powerful and consistent response’ to suicide bombings in London and apologetics for suicide bombings in Tel Aviv?

Dr Williams began his sermon with these words:-

‘There is one thing that is always common to any sort of terrorist action, wherever it happens and whoever performs it. It aims at death – not the death of anyone in particular, just death. It does not matter to the killers if their victims are Christian or Muslim, Hindu or Humanist; what matters is that they show that they can kill where they please.

‘And the shock of terrorist violence is just this sense of arbitrariness. It really doesn’t matter who you are, what you have done or not done, what you think and believe, you are still a target just by being where you are at a particular time. The terrorist is the enemy not just of a system or a government but of the whole idea that we are each of us unique and responsible and non-replaceable. If it were true that one victim would be as good as any other, which is what the terrorist believes, the human world would be a completely different place, unrecognisable to most of us.’

This all sounds very wise and profound until you start unpacking it – in which it is not untypical of Dr Williams’s utterances, I fear. For is it really true that terrorists don’t care who they kill? It might have been true of the 7 July bombers. But for Palestinian suicide bombers there is one characteristic of their victims that is irreplaceable. They have to be Jewish.

So is the Archbishop simply talking through his mitre, or is he somehow suggesting that if you select your victims by race you don’t quite count as a terrorist? In which case he and Qaradawi really do have some common ground to explore, and I become a very unhappy Anglican.

Monday, October 31, 2005

One of my heroes

A truly great man writes for today's Guardian, modestly omitting to mention his 1996 Nobel Peace Prize. Jose Ramos-Horta spoke tirelessly for the people of East Timor all through the nightmare years of occupation and genocide until they at last won independence - and all without resorting to a single suicide bomb.

We don't hear an awful lot about East Timor these days, do we? And even less about Western Sahara. I can't remember the last time anyone called for Morocco to be wiped off the map.

Stopper Headline of the Year

Every editor knows there's nothing like a competition to keep the punters interested, so today I launch my very own little awards ceremony. And it hasn’t taken long for the first nomination to come in. It’s for the Independent:-

US admits it has counted 26,000 Iraqi dead

So, at last they’re coming clean about all those massacres they hush up so well that even al-Jazeera doesn’t know about them, eh? Well, not exactly. Turns out we’re talking about 26,000 Iraqis ‘killed or wounded in attacks by insurgents’. ‘Killed or wounded', note – the headline doesn’t even get that right. But these are details – the real story, clearly, is that those Americans pretended they weren’t counting and really they were all along. Can you believe that people can be so uncaring?

I reckon this is a strong contender, but I know you can give it a run for its money. And why not tell your friends, too?

Please note that, whilst the contest is open to any publication, including Socialist Worker, nominations for allegedly serious newspapers are particularly welcome.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Berlin round-up

I didn't think of taking my camera to the anti-al-Quds Day demo, but fortunately there were wise virgins as well as foolish ones present: see Harry's Place here and here. The first of these has a comment from yrs truly and a very interesting response. Somebody reckons I must have been waving an Israeli flag, and we all know what that means, don't we?

Some coverage from the German press: the Berlin 'Tagesspiegel'; the FAZ, which notes that the Central Council of Muslims in Germany has condemned the Iranian president's remarks; and the taz, which says that the numbers on the al-Quds Day march have declined dramatically over the years (and also has an interview with the counter-demo organizer).

Something for Everybody

After a busy day counter-demonstrating against the local Al-Quds Day march, I've just been catching up with the BBC news.

Here's something for the Jews.

Here's something for the Christians.

Here's something for the Buddhists.

Here's something for the Hindus.

Here's something for the wrong kind of Muslims.

And here's something for Muslims with black skins.

If you checked out the first link you may not have understood much, but you will have seen an Islamist woman holding a placard. It says 'Israel is the greatest threat to world peace'.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Anti-Semitic Hate For Sale in Germany

Hat tip to just about everyone in my corner of the blogosphere for the news that the Iranian state publisher is hawking anti-Semitic hate literature at the Frankfurt Book Fair (so in a country where it is illegal to sell such material - will there be a prosecution?). The one I've picked to link to is a very interesting English-language survey of the German media: go to it here.

Just in case any of us should be thinking that this stuff is being produced by over-zealous underlings, Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad comes up with a timely reminder as to what the official line is:

"There is no doubt that the new wave (of attacks) in Palestine will wipe off this stigma (Israel) from the face of the Islamic world," Ahmadinejad told students Wednesday during a Tehran conference called "The World without Zionism."

"Anybody who recognizes Israel will burn in the fire of the Islamic nation's fury, any (Islamic leader) who recognizes the Zionist regime means he is acknowledging the surrender and defeat of the Islamic world," Ahmadinejad said.

Ahmadinejad also repeated the words of the founder of Iran's Islamic revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who called for the destruction of Israel.

"As the Imam said, Israel must be wiped off the map," said Ahmadinejad, who came to power in August.

(source: here)

I haven't written much about Christian Aid lately. When Christian Aid's Director Daleep Mukarji responded to my first letter to him, he wrote 'Israelis have the right to live in peace and without fear of violence, in a viable state with secure borders.' CA's International Director, Roger Riddell, wrote an article for the Jewish Chronicle (23 May 2003) in which he stated 'Christian Aid is unequivocal in its support for the security of Israel and for the rights of all Israeli people to live securely in their own state.'

Fine words, but what CA consistently refuses to do is admit that Israel's security and existence are in question. With people like President Ahmadinejad (who, let's not forget, aspires to own nuclear weapons - who do you think he would point them at?) at large this is really inexcusable.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Life of George

Continuing the train of thought from my last post...

What utterly different cultural universes we are dealing with here. A spiritual leader who not only admits to laughing at his own faith but thinks it is good for him. And the people who riot, or worse, if they sense an insult to their faith. What would the would-be executioners of Salman Rushdie make of Lord Carey? The successful murderer of Theo Van Gogh? The theatrical censors of Birmingham’s Sikh community?

The bill’s backers are simply not, in my opinion, being honest about whose hatred is the problem. The more clear-sighted of them must know the business they are in is not integration but appeasement. And because the bill has this basic dishonesty at its heart, I am anything but reassured when I am told that a politician will decide whether to prosecute. What happens when people expect the Attorney General to take action in the kind of situation which, we are assured, the bill is not meant to cover, and his/her party needs their votes?

Before the state takes upon itself the job of policing faith communities on behalf of the orthodox, the intolerant and the humourless, let’s not forget that it is above all the subversive voices from their own communities that these want silenced. Like Rushdie. Like Theo Van Gogh’s collaborator, the Somali woman Ayaan Hirsi, now living permanently under police protection. Like the young Sikh woman whose play was forced off the stage by a bunch of male bullies.

I don’t often think of myself as a patriot. Didn’t Dr Johnson say that patriotism is the last resort of scoundrels? But when I picture an Evangelical archbishop laughing heartily as the crucified Brian breaks into the chorus of ‘Always look on the bright side’ I feel he embodies something profoundly precious in the culture that has shaped me. Yes, let’s not mince words, it makes me proud to be British. I want that culture to be open to people who want to be part of it, and I hope that that will include many Muslims. I want it to retain precisely this capacity for self-criticism and self-mockery. But I don’t want it messed about with to placate those whose reaction to the laughing archbishop is uncomprehending contempt.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

The Bright Side

More on the House of Lords debate on Racial and Religious Hatred Bill. Quite apart from his sound good sense on this crazy piece of legislation, Lord Carey goes up several notches in my estimation for revealing himself to be a Life of Brian fan:

"They say: 'Why as a Christian don't you condemn the Life of Brian?' I said: 'I love the film and I think it is good for religion to be knocked, to be criticised, to be challenged because we have done a lot of damage in the past'."


Hat tip to Laban Tall for the latest entry in my blogroll: The Free Copts.

Reading what is going on in Alexandria my thoughts are with the delightful bunch of Copts who run my favourite restaurant and catered at our wedding. Mrs Cyrus still gets greeted as 'our bride' two years later.

Although Laban has posted about this on the Biased BBC blog, the Beeb site is actually exemplary in its coverage of the Copts' plight compared with those champions of the oppressed, the Guardian and the Independent. Searching these for 'Copts' is an eye-opener: the Guardian, which devoted a third of a sentence to the Copts in a leader in 2001, will ask if you really meant to search for 'copouts'. Well, yes, maybe I did...

Friday, October 21, 2005

Some human beings named Rachel

'Thaler is by no means the only Jewish Rachel whose violent death has been entirely ignored by the British media. Other victims of the Intifada include Rachel Levy (aged 17, blown up in a grocery store), Rachel Levi (19, shot while waiting for the bus), Rachel Gavish (killed with her husband, son and father while at home celebrating a Passover meal), Rachel Charhi (blown up while sitting in a Tel Aviv cafe, leaving three young children), Rachel Shabo (murdered with her three sons aged 5, 13 and 16 while at home) and Rachel Kol, 53, who worked at a Jerusalem hospital and was killed with her husband in a Palestinian terrorist attack in July a few days after the London bombs...

'The International Solidarity Movement (ISM), the group with which Corrie was affiliated, is routinely described as a ‘peace group’ in the media. Few make any mention of the ISM’s meeting with the British suicide bombers Omar Khan Sharif and Asif Muhammad Hanif who, a few days later, blew up Mike’s Place, a Tel Aviv pub, killing three and injuring dozens, including British citizens.'

It's worth signing up with the Spectator to read Tom Gross on Rachel Corrie (hat tip: Norman Geras).

Some of Gross's robustness would not come amiss over at Engage. Memo to the good people there: it's fine to respect Cindy and Craig Corrie's grief, but you're not going to win the argument if you concede this much reverence to the mythology of anti-Zionism.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Here we go again

Nothing out of the ordinary about this article from the Independent; just a textbook example of how the orthodox left-liberal narrative of Israel and Palestine is perpetuated.

I’m not particularly shocked to find a Palestinian writing a strongly partisan account of the conflict. Goodness knows there are plenty of equally one-sided narratives emanating from Israel and its supporters. What does appall me is the uncritical collusion of the author of the article.

I can well believe that her experience as a child in Jerusalem in 1948 was extremely frightening. The Jewish experience of having their state attacked on the first day of its existence can’t have been any too comfortable either. Donald Macintyre should know better than to write of ‘the war that ended with the creation of the state of Israel’. Israel had already been created, by resolution of the United Nations. The war was about the determination of the state’s Arab neighbours to strangle it at birth.

Ghada Karmi evidently has at her fingertips all the horror stories of the Palestinian victim narrative – date, location, number killed. And she produces the standard victim-wail:

"The Jewish problem is a world problem; not our problem. We were not responsible for Hitler, World War II, the pogroms. We had done nothing of this kind. But the Western powers, the European powers and later the United States joined in and decided that we would foot the bill. How on earth can anyone be expected to accept that?"

So what exactly do you mean by ‘the Jewish problem’, Dr Karmi? It seems to me that the only real ‘problem’ there has ever been is the one Jews have with all the people who keep wanting to oppress, exclude and kill them. And by ‘people’ I don’t just mean ‘Europeans’. ‘We had done nothing of the kind’ is a statement that will be accepted by Independent readers because they are hardly ever told anything different. In fact there certainly were pogroms in pre-war Palestine (and, yes, retaliatory violence from the Jews, for whom flight was scarcely an option – where were they supposed to go?). During the war the Palestinian leader, the Mufti of Jerusalem, was an adoring fan of Hitler who fully approved of the latter’s solution to the ‘Jewish problem’ and did everything in his power to ensure that Jews fleeing from Europe would be turned away from Palestine. Again, does Mr Macintyre not know all this, or did he feel it would be bad manners to challenge Dr Karmi?

Taking a broader view, life as a minority in the Arab world was admittedly not the low point of the Jewish experience – but of course that isn’t saying much. Constantly at the mercy of whatever was the current take on the Quran’s profoundly ambiguous attitude towards them, they could by no means take their physical security for granted, and anything resembling equal rights was out of the question. How many Independent readers, I wonder, know that there was a pogrom in Baghdad in 1941, in which between 100 and 200 Jews perished?

Dr Karmi’s experience of diaspora life in England seems, comparatively speaking, to have been idyllic. She congratulates her family on their tolerance of their Jewish neighbours in Golders Green. Whether she gives the latter any credit for their reciprocal acceptance is unclear. Her worst experience in England seems to have been finding herself in a minority in her reaction to the Six Days War. Well, that is always a danger in a democracy, but she presumably does not have so many worries of this kind nowadays. Certainly not where Donald Macintyre is concerned. He writes of ‘triumphant Israeli forces overrunning’ the territories they occupied, effortlessly evoking the standard anti-Zionist stereotype of the Rambo Jew. The fact that the Arab forces were poised to ‘overrun’ Israel in order to wipe it off the map has no place in this narrative.

On one point I do agree with Dr Karmi. The Palestinians in Gaza need to stop being being aid junkies and revive their own economy, for which trade and contacts with Israel are indispensable. She seems to have forgotten, however, that the border crossings are closed to stop them being used by terrorists. And if it’s not even safe for the Israelis to open their borders, how can there possibly be a case for forcing them into a Palestinian-dominated single state? History gives them not the slightest grounds to expect that they could enjoy their present democratic and civil rights within such a state – or even, indeed, that the Palestinian majority would enjoy such rights. To take one example, would this hypothetical state be guided in its approach to gay rights by the example of liberal Israel, or by the bigotry and the brutal oppression that prevail across the rest of the Middle East?

The road to acceptance

An attempt at a reply to Neal's last comment on this post...


Thanks for the response, and I’m very happy to retract any suggestion that you didn’t read the Nick Cohen article properly.

I entirely agree that there are powerful forces within Palestinian society working against any prospect of peace. One of my main aims in this blog is to try to communicate this to at least a few of those who believe all the bad guys are on the Israeli side.

What I think is dangerous is to move from that contention to the view that they are the only significant forces at work.

Can I offer you a parallel to try to illuminate my point about Palestinian aspirations? Spain was forced to cede Gibraltar to Britain at the end of a war 300-odd years ago. Today the Rock has a population reputed to be more British than the British. To this day, however, the demand for its restitution is both official Spanish policy and a common denominator of Spanish patriotism right across the political spectrum. Various ways of making life difficult for the Gibraltarians have been adopted in support of this claim. This all tells us that memories tend to be long where lost territory is concerned. BUT nobody in their right minds wants or expects Spain to mount an invasion, and the dispute does not prevent Britain and Spain from being partners in the EU and NATO.

I’m certainly not suggesting that an accommodation like this between Israelis and Palestinians is going to be on the cards any time soon. The point is simply that nationalist aspirations do not necessarily generate violence.

Next I’d like to put forward a schema of four points on the continuum of possible Palestinian responses to Israel:

  1. Israel is illegitimate. It must be destroyed by whatever means necessary and its Jewish population driven out or at least subjugated in order that the integrity of the Caliphate may be restored.

  2. Israel is illegitimate. There should be a single state in which Palestinians and Jews enjoy equal rights. There can be no compromise on this, and all necessary force must be used to accomplish it.

  3. The creation of Israel was a disaster for Palestinians and we look to a single-state solution to fully rectify the wrong done to us. Nevertheless Israel is a reality which we have to deal with. Specifically we must recognize that a single-state solution is dependent on peace and the building of mutual trust. We cannot demand it as their precondition. Therefore we must work towards a negotiated two-state solution as an achievable goal for the foreseeable future and acknowledge that terrorist violence brings us no nearer to our ultimate aspiration.

  4. Israel is a fully legitimate state whose status we have no right to challenge. Our aspirations should be limited to the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside it.

The question now is: where is the threshold at which serious talking can begin? We’re clearly agreed that position 1 gives Israel nothing to talk about. Position 2 also gives Israel no incentive to talk. To concede a two-state solution on this basis would simply be rewarding Palestinian violence without gaining any guarantee of security beyond fine words.

Position 4 is evidently where you would like the Palestinians to be, and I can quite understand that. I just think that if Israel and the world wait for the Palestinians to come round to this point of view they will wait forever, and in the meantime the extremists will be the winners. Whereas I believe position 3 is the hinge on which real progress turns. It doesn’t involve Palestinians thinking as Israelis would like them to think, but I return to my contention that that isn’t a realistic expectation.

Now for a second parallel: Northern Ireland. The Provisional IRA/Sinn Fein waged their campaign of terrorist violence from the late 1960s through to the 1990s on the basis of an official ideology like position 2 – the Protestant majority in Northern Ireland had a place within a united Ireland, but so long as they rejected reunification their resistance must be broken down, and the British ejected, by whatever force was necessary. In practice purely sectarian attacks on Protestants by the IRA and other Republican groups often suggested their real goals were closer to position 1.

What has happened in the peace process of the last few years has been a move towards the equivalent of position 3. The goal of a united Ireland has certainly not been abandoned, but there is a recognition that terrorism is counter-productive. The focus now is on working peacefully within the institutions of Northern Ireland, and the more farsighted Republicans look to this as a means to begin building bridges with the Protestant community.

Things are not perfect. The political situation is fraught with complications. Sectarian bigotry regularly flares into violence. But the bombings have stopped, and the IRA has at last disarmed.

Of course the parallel is not exact. But I am sure it is equally true that peace-building between Israelis and Palestinians is going to need messy, risky compromises that start from where both sides really are - the sort that Arafat wouldn’t make. Abbas may have his faults, but he isn’t Arafat. Sharon is no angel, but he really did pull out of Gaza. Whilst I don’t claim there are any grounds for easy optimism, it seems to me your expectations lead to the conclusion that there is even less hope than there really is.

Saturday, October 15, 2005


Nick Cohen of the Observer has started his own site. It only has one article so far (from the New Statesman last week) but give it time and it will be a valuable resource. (hat tip: Norman Geras)

Order of the Brown Nose

Not content with serializing its star Middle East correspondent (such a star that you don't get to read his reports without paying - thanks but no thanks) Robert Fisk's magnum opus, the Independent now gives us an OBN-style review.

'Fisk's critics complain that he is not objective and detached. This is right. He is subjective and engaged. What's wrong with that?' enquires Philip Knightley. Well, quite a lot actually, it would appear, since critics who lose their cool and say unpleasant things about Mr Fisk are branded as 'vicious' (and guess what, Americans are the worst, though I believe Mark Steyn actually hails from cuddly Canada) - so deplorably different from the 'devout, shy, thoughtful' Osama bin Laden whom he finds so easy to talk to.

Sorry, Mr Knightley, but I like my foreign correspondents objective and detached, as far as they can be. That leaves me to decide where anger and passion are called for. When I read Robert Fisk these days I just want to shoot the messenger.

Free Speech - How Much Longer?

A mail from regular contributor Huldah - written last week, and unfortunately I only picked it up yesterday, so the House of Lords debate has already happened (you can read the Hansard transcript here). But I agree totally with Huldah that this is an appalling piece of legislation and should be thrown out.

Dear Cyrus

I know you are living abroad at the moment, but many of your regular readers and contributors live in Britain. You may not be aware of the provisions of the Religious and Racial Hatred Bill, but I thought I'd let you know about the post I put on Biased BBC website just in case.

If your British readers don't DO something about this then our freedom of speech will be curtailed without anyone noticing - except when the police turn up at the door!

Here's what I posted


Contributors to this blog may need to be aware of the forthcoming Incitement to Racial and Religious Hatred Bill and its effect on blogs such as this which, from time to time, contain criticisms of faiths which their members might find, ahem, inciteful (no pun Particularly intended!). Under the provisions of this Bill, successful prosecutions could result in a stay at HM's expense for up to 7 years. The Lords are debating it on 11 October and threw it out last time. But the Government has threatened to use the Parliament Act to force it through.

If you don't want your freedom to criticise religions as a philosophy to be curtailed, then get writing to your MPs and the Lords. We could at least stand up and fight. Probably the Panorama programme on Muslim extremism would have had to be different if this law had been in place. Iqbal Sacranie regretted the lack of such a law to suppress "Satanic Verses".

There are sites out there campaigning against the Law, and for what it's worth, I used one of them to gain information for the small offering below which I sent off to rather a lot of Lords and Ladies recently

Incitement to Religious Hatred BillI write to express my concern about this bill and my hope that you will vote against it on 11 October.This legislation is unnecessary. It is already a criminal offence to incite a crime against another person (for example violence). We already have religiously aggravated offences in the criminal law. The obvious immediate result of such a law will be the curtailment of our hard-won tradition of free speech. Even if people undertaking ordinary religious debate are not prosecuted, they will censor themselves by keeping quiet. Furthermore, there is every possibility of malicious prosecutions under the legislation. This was the result of a similar law passed in Victoria, Australia. A convert from Islam to Christianity was successfully prosecuted for quoting verses from the Qur’an which advocate the execution of people who convert out of Islam. This man had been forced to leave his country of origin for fear that he would be murdered for becoming a Christian, and is now facing prison for telling a Christian congregation about his experience! Those who say that such prosecutions would be impossible under the proposed legislation are mistaken. Some Muslim websites already contain postings which state that the legislation should be used against those who criticise Islam. Sir Iqbal Sacranie made it clear in a recent Panorama programme that he was sorry no law existed under which Salman Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses” could have been suppressed.In short this law will at least suppress free speech, and at worst, will be used as a weapon by one section of the community against another. The State legislature in Victoria, Australia, is already considering amending or scrapping their version of this law. Let us profit from their experience by refusing to pass such an inflammatory and unnecessary law.

Yours sincerely

FOLKS IF WE DON'T DO SOMETHING our freedom of speech is going to go!

Best wishes


Thursday, October 13, 2005

US Episcopalians backtrack on divestment

Welcome news from ECUSA: divestment is out, "positive investment" is in (hat tip: CANN).

(Incidentally, I'm enjoying my mental images of the clerical worthies gathering in Las Vegas. I suppose the precedent for supping with publicans and sinners is a pretty good one, but I just hope they didn't blow all the collection money in the fruit machines;-))

I'm disappointed, though, that there's little or no progress to be discerned in the ideological assumptions underlying the decision. The basic problems are understood to be firstly "violence", for which both sides are taken to task, and secondly "the Occupation", which unequivocally puts Israel in the frame and implicitly supplies an excuse for Palestinian violence. Entirely missing is any reference to the third leg of the conflict: intransigent hostility to the existence of Israel which feeds on explicitly anti-Semitic premises and legitimizes the systematic targetting of violence against Jewish civilians.

Melanie Phillips is an ever more essential read on these topics, and I'm not just saying that because of her generous plug for Christian Hate? Here she takes aim at an Ivy League academic whose disinformation campaign against Israel doesn't deserve a pass degree from the fabled University of Neasden. She comments 'I am forever meeting Arabs and Muslims who are otherwise perfectly fine people but whose view of Israel is founded on precisely such terrible distortions. ' I suspect she could have added 'Anglicans' to that sentence.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Petition against Anglican divestment

Thanks to Anglicans for Israel for the link to an on-line petition which their sister organization in the US is running:-

A petition addressed to the Episcopal Church of the United States of America

We, the undersigned, members and friends of the world-wide Anglican Communion, urge responsible authorities in the Episcopal Church of the United States to reject all proposals to remove church investments from companies that do business with, or in, the State of Israel. We direct this proposal not only to members of the hierarchy of the Episcopal Church, but to lay leaders as well.

We make this proposal for the following reasons:
  1. Divestment has been recommended to all churches belonging to the World Council of Churches, in a statement issued earlier this year (2005). It is therefore an idea that is likely to receive a respectful hearing among the leaders and many lay members of the ECUSA.

  2. However, divestment is a policy that places exclusive blame for the Arab-Israeli conflict on Israel, a conclusion that is entirely inconsistent with the actual history of this long and tragic conflict.

  3. Furthermore, by placing exclusive blame on Israel, the divestment campaign ignores the complex realities of the Middle East, and seems to justify the tactics of terrorists. This would only encourage the very violence that the church hopes to end, and the continued suffering of Arabs and Israelis for years to come.

  4. At a time when there is at last some sign of progress in the Middle East, the Episcopal Church is being urged to take one side in the conflict, rather than encouraging all sides to negotiate in good faith.

  5. We urge the Episcopal Church to affirm that, as Christians and as Americans, we are commited to a peaceful resolution of the claims of both sides in the Arab-Israeli conflict; that we support a two-state solution for the lands of the former Palestine Mandate; and that we reject all efforts to demonize and destroy the State of Israel.

In my opinion the wording is impeccable. Sign it here.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Saint and Martyr

The Guardian again. On Friday we got the ‘George Bush takes orders from God’ story, which turns out to be two years old as well being based on distinctly questionable evidence.

Risible though the paper may find the notion of a world leader seeking to know and do the will of God, martyrology is right up its street. On Saturday the relics presented for veneration were those of Rachel Corrie, the pro-Palestinian activist killed bv an Israeli bulldozer in March 2003. The circumstances of her death remain controversial (here is one view). So who better to give us a balanced and objective assessment than… her parents?

I won’t attempt to adjudicate between the accounts of her death. What I do know is that she was acting under the aegis of an organization which claims the mantle of Gandhi and Martin Luther King whilst endorsing Palestinian terrorism. Its activists seek to obstruct the Israeli army’s anti-terrorism operations. They don’t try to make any difficulties for the terrorists.

A stock in trade of war propaganda is the portrayal of the enemy as brutally destructive of the domestic and the familial. I’ve noted this in Christian Aid material (e.g. the Child of Bethlehem Christmas appeal, or the photo spread juxtaposing an armed Israeli soldier with Palestinian mothers holding their babies), and here it turns up as an insistent theme in the Guardian. Soldiers invading a family home and defiling it with their waste products (see the last posting). The brave young activist trying to save another home from demolition. And the grieving parents.

Did that policeman killed by Hamas have a home and a family? Has the Guardian paid a visit?

My opening salvo against Christian Aid was a letter I sent them early in 2003. I also circulated this to some of my friends, one of whom replied disagreeing strongly with my criticisms. It may be pertinent that she works for another major aid agency. Not long afterwards Rachel Corrie died, and extracts from her letters home were published in the Guardian, prompting my friend to send me an emotional e-mail asking what I thought Jesus would say. I sent her a reply, but in retrospect I prefer this more strongly-worded version which I drafted but never sent:-

‘Dear ***

‘Please re-read my letter to Christian Aid if it has left you with the impression that I condone Israeli actions in Gaza and the West Bank. I honestly don't. As for Jesus, I think he gives us more questions than answers, and I certainly have no hotline to his opinions. But he did say "love your enemy", and it's the hardest of hard sayings.

‘For the Israelis it means understanding (as Rachel Corrie did) how the conditions she describes can lead people to feel justified in blowing teenagers up in restaurants and buses. For the Palestinians it means understanding how the Jews' experience has led them to be uncompromising in defending the security of their state. Did Rachel understand this too? I'm reluctant to speak ill of the dead, but you have asked my opinion about her e-mails. They make manifest her courage and sincerity; they also reveal the type of mind in which there was room for only one evil. That is an entirely understandable failing in an idealistic 23-year-old. When such an outlook grips an entire region and a global faith community, I think that in the name of reason and tolerance it should be challenged.

‘She says that her experiences were causing her to revise her belief in the goodness of human nature. Did she learn nothing about the Holocaust at school? Did she not inform herself about Saddam Hussein's record before setting out for the Middle East?

‘The whole Middle East question has clearly exposed raw nerves in you and me and countless other people. What touched on one of mine in Rachel Corrie's e-mails was the section where she suggests that the repression of the Palestinians should be called genocide. I'm strongly reminded of Howard Jacobson's in my opinion brilliant pieces in the Independent, where one of his themes is the importance of maintaining distinctions.

‘The word 'genocide' was coined in response to what must surely be the most profoundly and unequivocally evil crime in human history. It is properly applied to a relatively small number of comparable crimes. There is a reasonable case for applying it to the 5000 unarmed civilians killed at Halabja (and yes, to our shame we were arming Saddam at the time). It is not reasonably applied to the 2000-plus Palestinians killed in the course of a conflict in which terrorism has been used without restraint against Israeli civilians.

‘To paraphrase Jacobson's argument, bad things are bad but worse things are still worse, and they are not the same. Bulldozing houses is awful and gassing their occupants is worse.

‘If we're looking for evidence of western double standards we could perhaps ask what is being done about the civil war in the Sudan, in which two million people are thought to have died. But of course that's not a question much asked by the people demonstrating in Cairo or Sana.’

Quis custodet?

I don’t often get the hard copy Guardian – the international edition doesn’t come cheap. I did see last Tuesday’s, and was reminded why I increasingly begrudge them the money.

On the front page, this emotive story of beastliness on the part of the Israeli troops in Gaza who left last month. It may all be true even though it is almost entirely based on hearsay evidence coming from one side of the conflict, and if so it’s a crying shame…

…as was the killing of a Palestinian police commander and two civilians by Hamas thugs, which moved policemen to storm the Gaza legislature in protest. Unlike the former story this was hot news on Tuesday. We find it nestling on page 6. Well, we wouldn’t want to spoil our Respect comrades’ breakfasts by giving Hamas too much bad press, would we?