Tuesday, February 28, 2006
The Synod acted in solidarity with the vulnerable. To call this anti-Semitism is facile nonsense.
- the Revd. Dr. Giles Fraser, writing in the Church Times
Dr. Fraser, I am very happy to accept that you are not an anti-Semite. Just to put the point beyond all possible doubt, will you show your solidarity with the vulnerable of Israel by putting on record your support for the security fence which protects mothers and children from terrorist bombs?
Of course there's a case for seeing the Adjudication Panel for England as a typical product of New Labour control freakery. But hands up anyone who thinks the Graun would have taken up the cudgels on behalf of Councillor Miles of Wellingborough's democratic right to use the "n" word.
It's humbug but what kind of humbug, exactly? Is it about special pleading on behalf of Ken, or special pleading on behalf of anti-Semitism? As Shalom Lappin makes clear in his posting on normblog, it really comes to the same thing. We've heard ad nauseam that it is inconceivable that Ken should do or say anything anti-Semitic, since he is anti-racist to the very core of his being. I believe this is an instance of something known as essentialism, upon which the best authorities frown. It's becoming increasingly clear that anti-racism doesn't quite protect Jews in the unconditional way it protects other groups. Ken is indeed a doughty fighter against anti-Semitism - so long as the anti-Semites are the right kind of anti-Semites and the Jews are the right kind of Jews. And in this the Grauniad is clearly right behind him.
The right kind of anti-Semites are the ones who wear jackboots and swastika armbands, and not the ones who sport keffiyahs or long beards. And the right kind of Jews? Not Oliver Feingold, whose entitlement to elementary human decency is forfeit because of his employers' shameful fascist sympathies seventy years ago (support for contemporary tyrants somehow doesn't have the same impact on Ken). Not the Board of Deputies, who are not entitled to receive a simple apology. Not any Jew living in Israel, since, as Ken's honoured guest Sheikh al-Qaradawi has made abundantly clear, they are justly under sentence of death for being in the wrong place - a sentence passed by a jurisdiction which does not recognize a minimum age of legal responsibility.
But if you've proved yourself to be a Good Jew who acknowledges that Israel is the most evil state in the world, and you get any aggro from the BNP, no doubt Ken is your man.
And, as all the Grauniad pieces remind us, all this a distraction from the real issues in London. His congestion charge has been an outstanding success. If only he is allowed to get on with his job he will make the trains run on time and make a triumphant success of the Olympic Games!
Talking of which, if Mayor Wowereit of Berlin had compared a Jew to a concentration camp guard, he could have started clearing his desk on the day the story hit the newsstands. They take anti-Semitism seriously here. It's a pity they don't in London.
Monday, February 27, 2006
When the Anglican Consultative Council passed a divestment resolution in June 2005 I wrote this in response. The follow-up was an open letter to Rowan Williams.
My initial reaction to the General Synod vote is here. I then took satirical aim at Rowan Williams here, with a follow-up here.
To balance things up a little, here is Rowan Williams saying the kind of thing he ought to be saying a lot more often.
This longish post on the singling out of Israel was written in response to an article by a Jewish leftist, but is no less pertinent to the Anglicans' stance.
Good stuff from other blogs:-
Ruth Gledhill of the Times
Melanie Phillips, and again quoting the Church of England Newspaper's editorial
Oliver Kamm on Paul Oestreicher (see especially the link to an earlier post at the end)
Norman Geras responding to Paul Oestreicher
Another, very personal, reaction to Paul Oestreicher (via)
September 2006: Rowan Williams' signing of a joint Declaration with the Chief Rabbis of Israel marks an important change for the better. I covered it here.
Saturday, February 25, 2006
Of course I've made all this up. Well, no, actually I haven't. I've just changed one detail. This was the case of Councillor Miles of Wellingborough District Council. Ken got one month's suspension for comparing a Jewish journalist with a concentration camp guard.
Can we now expect to see Ken standing up for Councillor Miles' democratic right to call people niggers? And just what is it that makes Councillor Miles' outburst eighteen times more offensive than Ken's?
Monday, February 13, 2006
The Archbishop, bless him, continues his attempt on the world record for number of directions faced simultaneously. He has now written to the Chief Rabbi to reassure him that when we said disinvestment we didn't really mean disinvestment and of course we're all desperately concerned about terrorism even though we didn't feel it necessary to mention it in our resolution.
'No-one in the Synod would have an instant’s sympathy with any such hostility to the Jewish people or the State of Israel as such'
'I must repeat that no-one in the Synod would endorse anything that could even appear to endorse terrorist activities or anti-Semitic words or actions. But there is a real concern which we hope our Jewish and Israeli colleagues will help us address honestly and constructively.'
I'm not sure exactly how many hundred delegates attended Synod, but I'm impressed that the Archbishop knows them all so intimately. Or is it simply inconceivable - and certainly unprecedented - that these nice, well-meaning Christians should harbour anger and hatred towards Jews in their hearts?
Melanie Phillips calls the letter weaselly. Terribly uncharitable of her, but you might like to have a read anyway.
Saturday, February 11, 2006
But it was the secret speech and Hungary that together, as Judt says, shattered the mirror in which the European left had always seen itself.
But it shattered something else too. After 1956 it was no longer intellectually honest or true (if it had ever been) to use the cold-war syllogism that my enemy's enemy is my friend. Those who saw history as a long war between good (the left, socialism, the future, the Soviet Union) and evil (the right, capitalism, the old order, the United States) were no longer entitled to swallow their doubts. It was no longer sweet and noble to kill for the cause. A few, of course, still said it was. Even to this day one occasionally encounters the old lie that the Hungarian rising was a counter-revolution.
But the cold-war syllogism lives on today in a new guise. Too many haters of capitalism and the United States still cram everything into the frame of untruth and self-deception that says my enemy's enemy is still my friend because, even if he blows up my family on the tube, murders my colleagues on the bus or threatens to behead me for publishing a drawing, he is still at war with Bush, Blair and Berlusconi. It is 50 years this month since that simplistic view of the world lost whatever moral purchase it may once have had. It is time such thinking was, to choose a sadly appropriate word, purged. Too long, my brothers and my sisters, too long.
The trouble is that however much moral purchase it may have lost, its appeal is perennial. And of course the logic is extensible: if my enemy's enemy is my friend, my enemy's friend is inevitably my enemy, and my enemy's friend's enemy is my friend. Insert the words America, Israel and Hamas (or Ahmadinejad) in the appropriate slots and you have the left's orthodoxy on the Middle East.
Friday, February 10, 2006
- Rowan Williams, Speech at the opening of the International Bonhoeffer Congress, University of Wroclaw, Poland, 3rd February 2006.
Tuesday, 24th January. Be Nice to Muslims Day. This new festival is already one of the PM’s favourites, and rightly so! On this day we remember the Muslim world’s sense of vulnerability. Bearing this in mind, we avoid any possible unpleasantness by not using that ‘J’ word.
Thursday, 26th January. Be Nice to Jews Day. One of the special ways Muslims like our friend Mr Bunglawala show how much they love God is by boycotting this festival, so it gives us a chance to say some things that might be offensive in other contexts. We remember that Jews are really great and that what Hitler did to them was dreadful, and we deplore the nasty things that are happening to them now, though of course it would be unfair to single anyone out for blame.
Sunday, 5th Febrauary. The Dietrich Bonhoeffer centenary. An all-round good egg, and what a wonderful example he set by standing up for the poor Jews when so many Christians sided with their enemies. Let’s all try to follow his example, and if there’s any more Hitler-assassinating to be done, let there be no doubt where the Church of England stands!
Monday, 6th February. It’s Synodtide, so it must be Hate Israel Day. We sometimes get quite cross with each other during this season, so it’s good to have this opportunity of joining together and reminding ourselves that we’re all one big family. No, of course it’s not about Jews. We really, really, really love them. It’s just that some of them still haven’t learnt what Jesus taught about turning the other cheek. Bulldozers and fences and all that sort of thing, it’s just not on, is it? Let’s pray that they learn from the example of their Palestinian neighbours and become civilized and law-abiding like the rest of humankind (well, maybe not the Americans!), and above all that they come to realize that the Church of England will always be there for them.
Do you remember the character in the Fast Show who, when his mates in the pub were having an argument, always agreed with the last one to speak? I wonder if by any chance he and our Archbishop could be related.
Thursday, February 09, 2006
This was always his goal. “Open a window that would allow Western and Eastern Churches to exchange gifts, rediscover the sap that flows from the Jewish roots into the Christian tree, encourage a genuine and respectful dialogue between Christianity and Islam, and enable him to bear witness with his life and feelings, above all through prayer, the study of the Holy scriptures, friendships based on listening, talking, simplicity, his sincere believing and the way he lived.”
Every so often some commentator affects to see no moral distinction between suicide bombers and Christian martyrs. Some of them are even paid to write this stuff.
For anyone suffering genuine difficulty on this score, this may provide some helpful clarification (via CaNN).
I don’t have much to add to what I said last year when the Anglican Consultative Council paved the way for this decision (here is my initial reaction and here is my open letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury). Though we have moved on from the ACC resolution, appalling as that was: now there is not even a pro forma allusion to ‘violence against innocent Israelis’. Israeli house demolitions have become totally contextless acts of gratuitous beastliness.
Can anyone explain to me what is going on inside the Archbishop’s head? He showers sympathy and solidarity on Muslims faced with assault by cartoon. Jews under attack from terrorist murderers get exactly the reverse of sympathy and solidarity: an attempt to make life easier for the people who want to kill them.
Well, today is the last day of business, and it’s wall-to-wall navel-gazing: ‘Women in the Episcopate’ and ‘The Church’s Built Heritage’ So I think I am safe in predicting that the following will not have emerged by close of play:-
- An equivalent gesture of practical opposition to Palestinian terrorism.
- Any interest in finding out who provided Robert Mugabe with technical backup for a house demolition campaign which dwarfed all the Israelis’ efforts. That’s Africa, and any condemnation of a black African ruler by General Synod would be neo-colonialism, a revival of the attitudes which led to the export of the vile Hymns Ancient and Modern. Our role in relation to Africa is strictly limited to banging on about unfair trade rules, and forking out for humanitarian assistance after Mugabe and Co. have screwed up sufficiently to leave their subjects facing starvation.
- Any move to complement the apology for the slave trade with disinvestment from countries in which Africans are still being enslaved by other Africans. Or any concrete measures whatsoever to put pressure on their governments. Or even the naming of the countries concerned. See above remarks re Africa.
- Any resolution, even of the purely hand-wringing variety, on the human rights catastrophe in Sudan. See above remarks re Africa, and add concern to avoid Islamophobia.
Oliver Kamm has a quote from the late Canon Ronald Preston:
“It is impossible to conceive of any particular moral or Christian responsibility in politics . . . without involving ourselves in technical problems which are rarely simple and clear.”
Are there still people in the C of E who understand this? The most optimistic view one can take is that they just don’t make it to Synod. It’s the old Labour Party Conference syndrome, of course: who volunteers to sit through four solid days of tedious speeches? There tends, let us say, to be an over-representation of self-righteous souls eager to peddle their simple and clear solutions to the world’s problems. Cue T S Eliot quote, ‘The best lack all conviction’ etc. etc.
The gloomy view is that on Monday the C of E definitively ceased to be either a national or a catholic church - that the ‘broad’ church I thought I had joined has turned into a narrow sect for Guardian Readers who like their political certitudes laced with a little spirituality. On that reading, the Church richly deserves to be split in two over gay priests, and split again over women bishops. As an institution it is not worth defending.
Tuesday, February 07, 2006
It’s easy to talk about these things abstractly so I’ll end by quoting to you a story I came across recently from a most unlikely quarter. The book I’m reading from is an excellent book by Brian McClaren, an American Evangelical, pastor of a large independent church in the Washington DC area. The sort of Christian pastor who arouses a certain amount of anxiety in the breasts both of Muslims and of more liberal Christians, not to say columnists in some of our newspapers. The book is entitled, though, ‘A Generous Orthodoxy’ and it ahs a long and extraordinarily moving chapter on his approach to people of other faiths. Towards the end of this chapter McClaren quotes from another writer from the same background telling a little story about an encounter in the Washington DC area not long after September 11th. One day my daughter saw a woman walking towards us covered in a veil and asked the inevitable ‘What’s that, Mummy?’ ‘Emma,’ I answered, ‘that lady is a Muslim from a faraway place and she dresses like that and covers her head with a veil because she loves God. That is how their people show they love God’. My daughter considered these words, she stared at the woman who passed us, she pointed at the woman and then pointed at my hair and further quizzed ‘Mummy, do you love God?’ ‘Yes’, I said, ‘I do; you and I are Christians and Christian ladies show their love for God by going to church, eating the bread and drinking the wine, serving the poor and giving to those in need. We don’t wear veils but we do love God’.
After this Emma took every opportunity to point to Muslim women during our shopping trips and telling me ‘Mummy, she loves God’. One day we were getting out of our car in our driveway at the same time as our Pakistani neighbours. Emma saw the mother beautifully veiled and pointed at her and shouted ‘Look Mummy – she loves God’. My neighbour was surprised, I told her what I had told her what I had taught Emma about Muslim ladies loving God, while she held back tears this near stranger hugged me saying, ‘I wish all Americans would teach their children so, the world would be better’.
Reading this in the context of the cartoon affair, my feelings are profoundly mixed. I have no doubt that this woman ‘wrought a good work’, defusing the potential for distrust and fear created by an encounter with a disconcerting Other. And yet I can’t help feeling that the Archbishop’s retelling of the story in this context exudes a sickly odour of wishful thinking, if not plain dishonesty.
Of course there is such a thing as innocent deception where children are concerned. ‘Because traditional patriarchal authority allows her no choice’ would have been an unsatisfactory reply even if it could have been made comprehensible to the little girl. Who, after all, can say which explanation, or what combination of the two, applies to any given veiled stranger we pass in the street?
But when the story is retold for an audience of adults, Tony Blair included, who are thus being invited to agree with the Archbishop that ‘we have to get out of any remnants of a mindset which thinks in terms of a clash of civilisations’, naïf surely becomes faux naïf. Everyone in the audience will have been perfectly well aware that in a Western context the hijab crystallizes complex and deeply controversial issues to do with Islam and the status of women. But here is the Archbishop dropping a broad hint to the Christians present that in the name of dialogue they must pretend they know only what Mummy told little Emma. It is as if the precondition for dialogue which he has accepted is that the Christians take, or behave as if they took, the Muslims at their own self-estimation. There is more of diplomacy here than of true dialogue. There is no chance of a robust and meaningful dialogue developing when dishonesty is built in from the start. It is more like the forced smiles of warring relatives submitting to their annual close encounter at Christmas.
How can anyone look at the cartoon affair, with its burning embassies, and deny that a clash of civilizations is going on (or at least a clash of value systems, which to my way of thinking is ultimately the same thing – for the record I don’t mean a clash between ‘the West’ and ‘Islam’, but between those who believe in the freedom of the individual to believe and speak as he/she chooses, and those who don’t)? If this isn’t such a clash, what else has to happen before we admit that we have one on our hands? There is one easy way to keep up the Archbishop’s stance of denial, and that is to say ‘well, free speech was never really such a big deal for us anyway’. There are doubtless plenty of individuals who can say this with perfect sincerity (and the Guardian is always happy for them to say it in its comment pages), but I do not believe that the Archbishop is one of them. To bow to violent intolerance in the name of tolerance is to uphold no value at all, and he surely knows that very well. Is he simply in denial? The more likely explanation, I suspect, is that he really means ‘the idea of a clash of civilizations is appalling, so let’s all say it isn’t happening and then maybe it really will go away’. Well, he was in Berlin over the weekend for the Bonhoeffer centenary (his German is impressive, by the way), and one would hope that has given him a reminder or two that evil does not go away when it is not confronted.
The way Rowan Williams could exercise genuine Christian leadership is not by pretending that there is no clash of civilizations, but by drawing a clear line between that clash, which surely cannot be avoided, and a war between peoples, which we must all do our utmost to prevent. There really are incompatible value systems at war here, but no human being can be reduced to a robot driven by a fixed ideology, good or bad. The West has many faces and Islam has many faces. The encounter between the two is being processed in innumerable different ways by Muslims in the West, and our concern that some of those ways are manifestly unacceptable must never lead us to forget that they are not the only ones.
How times change. It seems the student newspaper at the University of Cardiff will need to find a new name as well as a new editor.
Of course we intrepid revolutionaries at Reading had the luxury of being able to take it for granted that the Christian Union were Christian enough not to resort to violence.
Incidentally, I bought a pack of Arla cheese today. Readers please do likewise.
'[T]here are dangers in championing free speech to the point where it approaches the affirmation of a right to hate. Moreover, current laws which punish violence, after the fact, are little help to the victims and may or may not deter further violence. We need to create a society where the hatred, which breeds violence and division, is unacceptable even if it is not always illegal, and where no group or institution is exempt from the ethic of mutual respect.'
Don't you worry about freedom of speech, we know exactly what ought to be said and what ought not to be said. And what ought not to be said should not be legal to say. It's not enough to make it illegal to do bad things, in our brave new world it would be illegal to think bad things or have bad emotions (OK, OK, we said not always, we're being realistic here).
So, having driven a coach and horses through orthodox Christian theology (original sin? nothing that a few good laws can't fix) let's all practice the ethic of mutual respect on (a) the folk who burned down the embassies over the weekend and (b) the British National Party.
From a report in the Times on a poll of British Muslims (via Harry's Place).
So it is not true that violent extremism is representative of the majority of British Muslims. At the same time, this man is plainly something considerably more than an isolated maverick. So long as that remains the case, there is simply no case for excluding the suggestion of a connection between the Muslim faith and terrorism from the sphere of public debate.
'Two thirds of voters think Muslims must accept the principle of freedom of speech and the right of papers to publish such cartoons', says the report. Hopefully this represents a solid majority who would agree that violent protests and incitement to violence are precisely not the way to refute the cartoons' message.
Talking of which, for Brits living in the West Country, Laban Tall has a suggestion for an experiment.
Sunday, February 05, 2006
Saturday, February 04, 2006
O God, early in the morning I cry to you.
Help me to pray and gather my thoughts to you, I cannot do it alone.
In me it is dark, but with you there is light;
I am lonely, but you do not desert me;
my courage fails me, but with you there is help;
I am restless, but with you there is peace;
in me there is bitterness, but with you there is patience;
I do not understand your ways, but you know the way for me.
Father in Heaven, praise and thanks be to you for the night’s rest,
Praise and thanks be to you for the new day.
Praise and thanks be to you for all your loving-kindness and faithfulness in my past life.
You have shown me so much goodness, let me also accept what is hard to bear from your hand.
You will not lay a heavier burden on me than I can carry.
You make all things serve for the best for your children.Lord, whatever this day brings, your name be praised. Amen.
Read about Bonhoeffer here.
Friday, February 03, 2006
From one of two good letters on Israel in today's Independent.
Incidentally, if the possibility of offence to members of ethnic minorities is going to determine what is fit for newspapers to print, I expect sweeping changes in one or two papers' attitudes to criticism of Israel.
20 February 2003
Dear Mr Mayes
Last Thursday you published the following under 'Corrections and Clarifications':-
'The publication of a "picture" of the prophet Mohammed, page 4, G2, yesterday, caused considerable offence to Muslim readers for which we apologise. In Islam it is absolutely prohibited to sketch, construct or publish a likeness of the Prophet, one of the historical reasons being fear that it would lead to worship of the prophet rather than of God alone.'
Whilst I'm aware of the particular sensitivities surrounding Islam at present, I find this puzzling and somewhat disturbing. If it is simply an apology for an unnecessary discourtesy to your Muslim readers, it is perfectly reasonable. But it seems to imply something more than that, namely that you expect non-Muslim contributors to a non-Muslim newspaper to be bound by a tenet of Islam. This seems to me to be both an excessive measure of self-censorship and one which you are unlikely to apply consistently to all faith groups.
Suppose, for the sake of argument, that archaeologists working somewhere in the Middle East dug up a contemporary image of the Prophet. Are you really saying the Guardian shouldn't publish a photo of it?
If, on the other hand, enough Roman Catholics tell you they are offended by yesterday's Steve Bell cartoon of Tony Blair and the Pope, will you apologize and tell him not to do it again? What is the difference?
[One additional point: a central plank of the Guardian's case for self-censorship is that it is particularly unacceptable to offend European Muslims because they are an oppressed minority. Could we perhaps agree that there will be no further publication of the cartoons in Europe once they have appeared in national newspapers in Riyadh and Tehran?]
Thursday, February 02, 2006
After getting all of Pope Benedict's luggage loaded into the limo, the driver notices that the Pope is still standing on the curb.
'Excuse me, Your Holiness,' says the driver, ' Would you please take your seat so that we can leave?"
'Well, to tell you the truth,' says the Pope, 'they never let me drive at the Vatican when I was a Cardinal, and I'd really like to drive today.'
'I'm sorry, Your Holiness, I can't let you do that. I'd lose my job! And what if something should happen?' protests the driver, wishing he'd never gone to work that day.
'Who's going to tell? Besides, there might be something extra in it for you,' says the Pope with a smile. Reluctantly, the driver gets in the back as the Pope climbs in behind the wheel. The driver quickly regrets his decision when, after exiting the airport, the Pontiff floors it, accelerating the limo to 105 mph. (Remember, he's a German Pope.)
'Please slow down, Your Holiness!!!' pleads the worried driver, but the Pope keeps the pedal to the metal until they hear sirens.
'Oh, dear God, I'm gonna lose my license - and my job!' moans the driver. The Pope pulls over and rolls down the window as the cop approaches, but the cop takes one look at him, goes back to his motorcycle, and gets on the radio.
'I need to talk to the Chief,' he says to the dispatcher. The Chief gets on the radio and the cop tells him that he's stopped a limo going a hundred and five.
'So bust him,' says the Chief.
'I don't think we want to do that, he's really important,' said the cop.
The Chief exclaimed,' All the more reason!'
'No, I mean really important,' said the cop with a bit of persistence.
The Chief then asked, 'Who ya got there, the Mayor?'
'Well,'said the Chief, 'Who is it?'
Cop: 'I think it's God!'
The Chief is even more puzzled and curious:'What makes you think it's God?'
Cop: 'He's got the Pope as a chauffeur.'
More at Harry's Place.
Rather a lot depends on this majority becoming a visible and vocal one. I look forward to seeing this become a top-priority project for NGOs and peace activists in the Occupied Territories, and for their supporters in the churches. I mean, they all want peace, don't they?