Latest posts on Christian Aid

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

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?

Friday, October 07, 2005

Don't defend Israel if your name is Cohen

'Please don't tell me that it helps the Palestinians to give the far right the time of day, or pretend that Palestinian liberals, socialists, women, gays, freethinkers and Christians (let alone Israeli Jews) would prosper in a Palestine ruled by Hamas. It's not radical, it's barely political, to turn a blind eye and say you are for the Palestinian cause. Political seriousness lies in stating which Palestine you are for and which Palestinians you support. The Palestinian fight is at once an anti-colonial struggle and a clash between modernity and reaction. The confusion of our times comes from the failure to grasp that it is possible to have an anti-colonialism of the far right. '

Nick Cohen writes on left anti-Semitism in the New Statesman. Read it (hat tip: Harry's Place).

Saturday, October 01, 2005

The imam and the FDNY

Here’s a story that I’d have found hard to take seriously if I hadn’t got it from two reasonably credible sources (here and here).

The Fire Department of New York wants to appoint a Muslim chaplain. They thought they’d found the man for the job, and were on the point of swearing him in, when it emerged that he’d given an interview in which he’d expressed scepticism that the World Trade Center could really have been demolished by a couple of jumbo jets. “Was it 19 hijackers who brought it down, or was it a conspiracy?" inquired Imam Intiqab Habib. The sources don’t say who he thinks did the conspiring, but it’s not hard to guess.

Well, New York firefighters evidently have low tolerance for half-baked conspiracy theories about the events that cost 343 of their comrades their lives. Muslim firefighters say they had no idea that he held these views. So the FDNY is still looking for a Muslim chaplain.

What this says about the state Islam is in is pretty depressing. It’s surely no coincidence that Habib studied in Saudi Arabia, and, as Irshad Manji argues in her manifesto for an Islamic Reformation, the sooner that country’s ideological stranglehold on the faith can be broken the better.

But let’s not dwell on the negative. Contemplate for a moment, if you will, what it says about the nation the rest of the world loves to hate – and which a significant chunk of the world hates particularly because of its friendship with Israel: the Fire Department of New York is looking for a Muslim chaplain.