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

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.