Tuesday, November 29, 2005
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
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?
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 www.christianaidwatch.blogspot.com). 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
'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.
‘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
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
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.
‘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…
- In fact the PLO Charter has still not been revised to affirm the legitimacy of Israel.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
'...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?
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
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.
The divine Maureen Lipman writes in the Guardian: read it all.
Thursday, November 03, 2005
‘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.
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.
Tuesday, November 01, 2005
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.