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

Sunday, April 30, 2006

What's to be done about Iran?

Views from the weekend's papers. Rod Liddle in the Times:-

'Well, of course we must first negotiate. Of course we must, later, bring whatever pressure we can to bear from supra-national organisations such as the UN. We should beg, bully, plead and cajole the medieval Ahmadinejad. We should offer economic incentives. When these do not work, we should impose sanctions. We should bar the Iranian team from the World Cup and refuse them entry to the Eurovision song contest — that’ll teach ’em. But what on earth do we do when all that fails, as it looks as though it will? Faced with that probability, there is just silence from the politicians: the question is never answered.'

Is any enlightenment to be found in the Grauniad?

'Some argue that the best course would be to acquiesce in an Iranian bomb. That may yet happen. But there is much more to be done. What is needed is a return to the idea that a bargain can be struck with Iran, or at least with the pragmatists sidelined by the president. It can have security guarantees if it accepts UN demands. The US needs Iranian help over the mess next door in Iraq. Denouncing Tehran as dictatorial and revolutionary won't bring that. But Iran must restore confidence in its intentions. A start would be a pause in uranium enrichment - even for a brief period. Then it must allow the IAEA to mount snap inspections under the so-called "additional protocol". It must on no account leave the NPT - that would mean slamming the door shut.'

So, that's clear then. We don't 'acquiesce' in Iranian nukes - yet. Not until we have shown we mean business by lecturing Ahmadinejad on what he must do and what he must on no account do - not forgetting, meanwhile, to undermine whatever Bush does to try to put pressure on him. Then, when he has stuck up two fingers to us - then, we can wash our hands of the problem, congratulating ourselves on having done all that could reasonably have been expected of us. Israel is, after all, a good long way from where we live.

Happy, Mr Liddle? Me neither.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Un-kosher Flying Objects

The inexorable colonization of Tibet - and I don't believe the Chinese have ever offered the Tibetans a two-state solution. Stand by for divestment and boycott campaigns in the Association of University Teachers, the Church of England, the Green Party of the United States, etc., etc. Hey, just a moment - what's that I see outside my window?


Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Episcopal Simplicity

Tom Wright, Bishop of Durham, has been on my little list for a while. But now it's getting serious. I am deeply concerned that in a very real sense that he is turning into Dr Spacely-Trellis, the go-ahead bishop of Bevindon .

Here he is sounding off about The Da Vinci Code:-

'At a time like this, when the American empire is running unchecked and talking about doing to Iran what it has done to Iraq, being told that Christianity is about introspection really cuts the nerve of the Christian political critique. It is an emasculation of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Classic Judaism and classic Christianity are about a creator God who cares for the world and will do something about it. The sort of religions we see in The Da Vinci Code and The Gospel of Judas are about an escape from the world and a retreat into a private sphere.'


So there you have the heart of the Christian Gospel for today's world: no overthrowing of tyrants, and no interference with Holocaust-denier Ahmadinejad's plans to get the hardware he needs to remove Tel Aviv from the map! Seems to me Dr Wright is just as guilty of a 'retreat into a private sphere' - one where the complex, messy business of political decision-making, in situations where every choice brings bad consequences as well as good, is reduced to black-and-white simplicity.

I never thought I'd find a good word for TDVC, but forced to choose between the Gospels of Dan Brown and Dr Spacely-Trellis I'd say the former is, comparatively speaking, harmless.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Cheap peace activism and costly pacifism

[I wrote this post before Christmas but didn't publish it, partly because I had ideas for extending it which didn't materialize, and partly because I felt uncomfortable about launching this attack on the CPT four while their lives were on the line and securing their release was the top priority. Now, with three released by British troops and one pitilessly murdered by their captors, comment can and should be free.]

We wait to learn the fate of the four Christian peace activists taken hostage in Iraq. The website of their organization, Christian Peacemaker Teams says ‘We pray that those who hold them will be merciful and that they will be released soon’. There will be few Christians who will not wish to add their voices to this prayer.

I stand in awe of these men’s dedication and courage. At the same time I am saddened to see that once again brave and principled individuals are caught up in a cause that is morally dishonest and cowardly.

Here is how the CPT site goes on:-

‘We are angry because what has happened to our teammates is the result of the actions of the U.S. and U.K. governments due to the illegal attack on Iraq and the continuing occupation and oppression of its people. Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) has worked for the rights of Iraqi prisoners who have been illegally detained and abused by the U.S. government. We were the first people to publicly denounce the torture of Iraqi people at the hands of U.S. forces, long before the western media admitted what was happening at Abu Ghraib. We are some of the few internationals left in Iraq who are telling the truth about what is happening to the Iraqi people We hope that we can continue to do this work and we pray for the speedy release of our beloved teammates.’

Fellow Christians, I am angry because even in this crisis you continue to deny the truth. What has happened to your teammates is the direct result of the actions of people who oppress the people of Iraq by inflicting mass murder on them on a practically daily basis. Make whatever criticisms you like of the US and UK governments. In not a few cases I will agree with you. But none of them remove the responsibility of those who are holding your friends and threatening to kill them.

It is a basic, inescapable truth of the war in Iraq that ordinary people are suffering at the hands of all sides. As Christians we cannot refuse to acknowledge this, whatever view we take of the rights and wrongs of the conflict. All the innocent victims of the war need our prayers for mercy, not just the ones whose victimhood fits neatly into your political worldview or mine. Your friends must take their place not just alongside the abused prisoners of Abu Ghraib but also those daily facing the risk of being blown up on a bus, or while doing their shopping at a market, or while saying their prayers at their mosque. If we pick and choose in our prayers for mercy, we have ceased to pray as Christians. All the victims challenge us to encounter Christ in them, to respond to the truth that they are made in the image of God and precious in his sight.

By the same token all those who take up the sword must be held accountable for what they freely choose to do. The call for mercy must be addressed to them all. But I find it hard to escape the conclusion that this is precisely not what CPT do. And because you do not do it, one thing that can be said about you is that you are not pacifists, whatever you may think yourselves to be.

Pacifism is a noble Christian calling. As exemplified by the Quaker tradition, it involves a readiness to ‘speak truth to power’, whatever the consequences. By ‘power’ must be understood all those who have the power to take life and use it. As countless martyrdoms testify, this is a way of the Cross. The pacifist lives by the forbearance of those who live by the sword, or dies by its absence. He or she bears witness against violence per se, not just against violence in a bad cause, in the belief that violence debases and corrupts even the best of causes. He knows that the greater the violence, the greater the cost of his witness.

In contrast it looks as if CPT activists went to Iraq hoping that the organization’s track record of criticizing the US and Israel whilst remaining silent over Islamist/Baathist violence would serve as a calling card that would protect them from the attentions of the insurgents. Certainly this has been the line of argument adopted by anti-war campaigners pleading for their release, as in the letter to the Guardian signed by Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein et al, or the statement from Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. And it must be said that this position is morally contemptible. You say CPT’s mission is to ‘get in the way’ – but only in the way of one side, and in Iraq as in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, it is the side that is least likely to react by getting you out of the way with the assistance of bullets. US and UK troops, like their Israeli counterparts, have to answer to democratic societies with a free press and an independent judiciary. That is not true of Islamic Jihad and it is not true of ‘Swords of Truth’. The misfortune of the four hostages has been that, whereas Palestinian militant groups are media-savvy enough to welcome the presence of westerners acting in effect as unarmed auxiliaries for their own armed struggle, the Iraqi insurgency’s strategy rests on violence and violence alone.

Having experienced for themselves just how indiscriminate and unscrupulous the violence of the insurgency is, did the four plead for mercy on behalf of all its innocent victims? Or, deciding that discretion is the better part of valour, did they continue trying to convince their captors that they were on their side? That would be entirely understandable, but it would underline how totally false were the premises on which they chose to go to Iraq.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

The Archbishop, Sudan and Israel

"The mechanisms by which international aid is delivered are so slow that the people of war-torn Southern Sudan, even a whole year after the peace agreement, are still waiting for basic aid, and too few voices are raised in the wealthy world to protest."

“In Darfur, neither national nor international forces have found a way of breaking the cycle of brutal violence and terror. Too many of us human beings, it seems, are content that death should be at work in others so long as our own life is unaffected.”

I suppose you could just about detect a criticism of the Sudanese government wrapped up in the second sentence. Though the implication that they are interested in even trying to break a cycle which they are in large measure responsible for setting in motion gives them a wholly undeserved benefit of the doubt. And though the really clear-cut denunciation is reserved for the 'rich world', charged with failing to throw enough money at a problem for which it bears essentially no direct responsibility at all. And though the last sentence promptly lets the Khartoum regime off the hook by expanding the sphere of blame to embrace human nature in general. We're all to blame!

Any reader enjoying even a passing acquaintance with the Church of England will not be surprised to learn that the quote emanates from an Anglican prelate. To be precise, it's from an Eastertide Letter from the Archbishop of Canterbury.

How should the C of E react corporately to the injustices of this world? Far be it from me to deny it its historic prerogative of well-meaning hand-wringing over human frailty. Equally, there is a place for fearless denunciation of specific misdeeds on the part of specific organizations, even accompanied by the threat of sanctions. But every time the horrors of Darfur call forth the former response, the singling out of Israel's war against terrorists for the latter approach becomes still more grossly offensive. Is there somewhere in the Archbishop's formidable brain an ethical big picture in which this contradiction is reconciled? If so, it really is time he shared it with the rest of us.

Judas Iscariot: a seasonal digression

That still leaves me wondering whether there isn't something theologically problematic about seeing those who do great evil as the agency of divine providence. Are there not other, better ways?

- from normblog, a follow-up to this posting prompted by a news item about an apocryphal 'Gospel of Judas'. This is a fairly big question for someone who is at best an amateur theologian to take on, but as Norm is evidently genuinely interested I couldn't resist trying to come up with a posting-sized answer of sorts.

First, a word about a media phenomenon. The great frustration facing biblical scholars is that most of the time the most honest thing they can say is 'we know sod all'. Which is of course not what the media want to hear. So there's always the tempatation to give them what they want, i.e. the secret document that tells the Real Truth About Jesus (otherwise known as What The Pope Doesn't Want You To Know About Jesus).

There is limited information about Judas in the four canonical gospels, some of it almost certainly mythical. On the other hand, anyone wanting to dispute the basic claim that Jesus was betrayed by one of his chosen disciples needs to explain why his followers would have made it up. The gospels which are no more than a generation from the eyewitnesses to Jesus's life are likely to remain the most reliable sources we have. A document written 100 years later holds about as much promise of supplying us with better information as the latest offering from Dan Brown (the Archbishop of Canterbury's Easter sermon is good on this, and indeed generally).

Now for the theology. I take it Norm would agree that, whatever his historical status, Judas represents a truth about the human condition. So the question becomes one about whether the Judas in all of us is necessary to God's plan.

I start from the belief that God has created humans as beings who are free to make morally significant choices - that is, choices between good and evil, where the wrong choice means that people get hurt. He didn't have to - he could have made the human condition akin to eternal infancy - but in fact he created freedom, and it was good. So the possibility of evil is a facet of something which is itself good.

Next: it is a matter of fact that humans consistently choose evil over good. Theologyspeak for this is sin. The fact that, whilst social deprivation, poor parenting etc. certainly can exacerbate this phenomenon, it can't ultimately be explained away in those terms, is what is meant by original sin. [At this point I should bring in Norm's query about the Holocaust, and stress that I see its perpetrators in no way as the agents of divine retribution, but quite simply as sinners. The Jewish Holocaust-as-retribution theology to which Norm refers is an understandable attempt to make sense of the incomprehensible, but it seems to me to have forgotten the story of Job, who suffered in spite of his righteousness. I am convinced that God can and will right the wrongs of the Holocaust. I just don't know how.]

Next: although sin is an expression of human freedom, since God is omniscient he must have created us in knowing that we would in fact exercise our freedom this way. This is a hard one to grasp, and I think one simply has to accept that there are things about God which we can't expect to understand. The best I can come up with in the way of an analogy is this: when a baby is born, it is predictable that twelve or so years later it will start to be interested in sex and to engage in behaviours that express that interest. But, whilst the parents know this, it is obviously not the case that their foreknowledge is what makes the child behave this way.

So God faces the paradox that something bad - sin - predictably results from something good - freedom. And as for us, we tend to want it both ways. We reproach God for failing to prevent Auschwitz and at the same time cling jealously to our freedom to be 'transgressive'. But God is not prepared to resolve the paradox either by laissez-faire acceptance of sin or by turning us into automata. Either way the relationship with God for which he created us is broken.

The core of the Christian faith is that God resolves this paradox by incarnation - by total involvement in the human condition. Christ lives out human freedom in a way that makes him completely open to God's purpose, and in doing so faces the full force of the human capacity for evil. He allows it to nail him to the Cross, and in doing so breaks its power, overcoming it with a love stronger than death.

And the role of Judas's betrayal? Remember that he is not the only one - Peter too betrays Christ, denying him three times. But the difference is that Peter's repentance and readiness to accept forgiveness frees him to preach the new gospel, eventually at the cost of his life. Thus he models the way good can be brought out of our sin. Judas's despair shuts him off from these possibilities.

But maybe even for Judas the suicide that sets the seal on his betrayal is not the last word. These are the closing lines of Edwin Muir's poem 'The Transfiguration':-

But he will come again, it's said, though not
Unwanted and unsummoned; for all things,
Beasts of the field, and woods, and rocks, and seas,
And all mankind from end to end of the earth
Will call him with one voice. In our own time,
Some say, or at a time when time is ripe.
Then he will come, Christ the uncrucified
Christ the discrucified, his death undone,
His agony unmade, his cross dismantled--
Glad to be so--and the tormented wood
Will cure its hurt and grow into a tree
In a green springing corner of young Eden,
And Judas damned take his long journey backward
From the darkness into light and be a child
Beside his mother's knee, and the betrayal
Be quite undone and never more be done.

'A small bunch of people'

I may eventually get round to finishing my post on the Euston Manifesto. In the meantime, the Grauniad's Martin Kettle has amused me by devoting his column to telling us that the EM is really not particularly important. Actually, quite a lot of what he says is sensible, as I'd expect.

Observing terror

An unpublished letter to the Independent, responding to a typical contextualization-of-terrorism effort published here:-

Sir: It would have been helpful if Dr Rod Walters (letter, 19 April) had made it clear that the 'UN's Permanent Observer for Palestine' is a Palestinian spokesperson who observes the UN rather than a UN official who observes Palestine. Readers who supposed him to occupy a position requiring a degree of impartiality would, I hope, have been surprised by the rhetorical inflation of his accusation that Israel seeks to 'inflict maximum pain, suffering and loss on the Palestinian people', and by his failure to mention that recent Israeli attacks themselves have a context, in the shape of repeated rocket attacks launched against Israel from Gaza.

Yours faithfully,


Thursday, April 20, 2006

Lack of space prevents...

The Grauniad reports on a trial in progress in Istanbul:-

'Sakka made the confession while being questioned about his alleged role in suicide bomb attacks against four targets in Istanbul, including the British consulate general and the local headquarters of the HSBC bank, in which 61 people died and more than 600 were injured.'

Would it be impossibly nitpicking of me to ask whether it would have been so very hard to squeeze in a mention of the fact that the other two targets were synagogues?

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Are you blind, ref?

Is there any sphere of life free from fashionable Israel-bashing? Now the opportunity to stick the boot into Israel has prompted the football bureaucrats of FIFA to turn human rights activists. Mick Hartley points out some of the things that haven't moved them to speak out in the past:-

When Saddam Hussein's son Uday had Iraqi soccer players tortured in 1997 after they failed to qualify for the 1998 FIFA World Cup Finals in France, FIFA remained silent. Uday, who was chairman of the Iraqi soccer association, had star players tortured again in 1998. And in 2000, following a quarterfinal defeat in the Asia Cup, three Iraqi players were whipped and beaten for three days by Uday's bodyguards. The torture took place at the Iraqi Olympic Committee headquarters, but FIFA said nothing.

Again, FIFA simply looked the other way while the Taliban used U.N.-funded soccer fields to slaughter and flog hundreds of innocent people who had supposedly violated sharia law in front of crowds of thousands chanting "God is great." (Afghan soccer coach Habib Ullahniazi said that as many as 30 people were executed in the middle of the field during the intermissions of a single soccer match at Kabul's Ghazi Stadium.

Compared with which the bombarding of an empty football pitch which has been used for training by terrorist organizations is really, really bad.

Terror in Bethlehem

On March 12 ARD (the first German TV channel) scheduled a documentary “terror against Christians – the threatened minority in Bethlehem”. However it was not transmitted. Today “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” informed its readers why not. Those Christians, who gave interviews to the German TV were afraid of being killed, if the documentary was shown.

Read more at Engage, where I've posted the following comment:-

'Bishop Riah: “In the first place, Arab Palestinian Christians and Arab Palestinian Muslims lived side by side for the past 14 hundred years…for anybody to say that the Arab Palestinian Christians have been persecuted recently by Muslims is absolutely another big lie, like the big lie that spoke of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq.”'

- from the PNA site.

And if you think that's bad, read this interview with the bishop (you may have to register but it's worth it). A sample:-

'We were not party to persecuting the Jews in modern-day times. They lived among us from 70 A.D. until recently. We became enemies because some Western powers had a hidden agenda – the whole question of oil in the Arab world. They allowed Israel to come. They persecuted the Jews in Europe and made the Palestinians pay.

'But the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem was allied with the Nazis. He went to Berlin and met with Hitler, and he did inspire anti-Jewish pogroms. That did happen.

'That's recorded by Westerners, the way Westerners write about Islam. I'm a student of Islam.

'So he was never allied with the Nazis?

'He was never allied with the Nazis. He did visit Germany, no question, but he was never allied with the Nazis.'

All too many UK Christians are hearing this kind of thing and taking it at face value - Bishop Riah was the star speaker in the synod debate that ended with the passing of the infamous Caterpillar resolution. So long as the liberal media they consume carry on whitewashing Hamas, it's not going to occur to many that they're listening to someone who is effectively a Hamas collaborator.

I must admit to astonishment at seeing the bishop denying the Grand Mufti's well-documented relationship with the Nazi regime. I draw the obvious conclusions about his credibility when he denies that Palestinian Christians are being persecuted by Muslims.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Hurrah for Michael Gove

Bush whacking

What’s wrong with us in a nutshell. A series to be continued. Item one. Iran sponsors terrorism, and its leadership is pledged to the elimination of another nation. It’s trying to acquire a nuclear weapon. Its leaders explain that the Holocaust never happened. But, never mind, they’re going to make good where the Nazis left off by obliterating the Jewish people. Meanwhile, the American President asks his top team what can be done to stop this. And then the entire media-political consensus allocates their time not to analysing Iran but to worrying about what America might do. Moral? The key to being respected in British life, when faced with any tough question, is always blame George Bush.

Not content with this piece of good sense, Michael Gove uses his Times column to deliver a fulsome tribute to the country and city from which I write:-

Any attempt made to engender understanding of, or affection towards, Germany gets my vote. Given a choice of any other European nation in which to holiday, I’d choose Germany every time. Better wine than Spain. Nicer countryside than France. Richer culture than Italy. My top suggestion for any weekend break would, unhesitatingly, be Berlin.

The man's judgment is impeccable. If ever I come to rest in the Surrey Heath constituency I might even break the habit of a lifetime and vote Tory.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Unlawful killing

I’m not going to attempt to detract from the grief and anger aroused by what a London coroner’s court has decided was the unlawful killing of the International Solidarity Movement activist Tom Hurndall by an Israeli soldier. Such incidents do Israel no good at all, and underline how much the country needs for its own sake to find a way of bringing the occupation to an end.

Where the political capital that will be made out of this tragedy is concerned, I am not prepared to relax my vigilance, however. Two points stand out.

First, bearing in mind that the firer of the fatal shot is serving an 8-year prison sentence, let us not lose sight of the difference between Israel, with all its imperfections, and all the countries where a soldier who shoots a civilian in the line of duty runs no risk of prosecution. And especially not in the week in which Ken Livingstone visited Tienanmen Square and was less than outspoken in his remarks on its recent history (Martin Samuels in the Times is spot on).

Second, when we read that Mr Hurndall ‘was trying to lead children out of the line of fire’, let us not forget that it was no part of his mission to obstruct those who seek deliberately to kill Israeli children. Once again this is the asymmetrical pacifism that calls itself ‘peace activism’. Terrorist violence is a regrettable but understandable reaction to oppression - ‘a tragic weapon of those who have nothing else to fight with’ as ISM say on their FAQ page. Naturally Israeli violence is never made understandable by its context.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

That LRB article again

As a footnote to the last post, thanks to Stephen Pollard for reminding me that the London Review of Books is subsidized by the British taxpayer.

The old conspiracy theorists and the new

From ‘Dangerously Subversive Dad’, via Dumb Jon, a post commenting on a rather remarkable article by British National Party leader Nick Griffin.

I wouldn’t normally link even indirectly to the BNP site, and my purpose in doing so here is in no way to rehabilitate Griffin or his party. The fact that his argument for dropping anti-Semitism is couched in terms of electoral tactics speaks volumes about the political milieu he operates in. There is no change of heart here, only opportunism. What is interesting is Griffin’s acknowledgment that for the BNP’s target constituency anti-Semitism is a non-issue at most, and mostly a positive turn-off. Middle England simply doesn’t have a problem with Jews. Its sense of national identity is infinitely more accommodating to them than to people who like to dress up as stormtroopers in their spare time.

It’s also interesting to note that Griffin is moving in the opposite direction from left/liberal circles. Lately, those theoretically committed to opposing anti-Semitism on principle always seem to be looking the other way when it is happening in practice. When the President of Iran denies the Holocaust. When the Mayor of London uses it as raw material for an insult to throw at a Jewish journalist. When Palestinians elections vote for a movement whose attitude to Jews is informed by the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. There are always excuses, always more important things to protest about. We maybe haven’t quite reached the point where the BNP is a more comfortable place to be Jewish than the SWP, but it really does look as if things are moving that way.

And while Griffin signals a retreat from conspiracy theory politics, the left is pushing at the boundaries. A new phase in the process was marked by an article recently published in the London Review of Books. Two American academics argue that the ‘Zionist lobby’ has a stranglehold over US foreign policy which consistently harms the national interest – notably in the case of the invasion of Iraq, which is said to have been prompted by Israeli interests rather than American ones. For all the authors’ disclaimers, it is essentially a conspiracy theory – and a right-wing conspiracy theory at that. Since when has ‘national interest’ – the American national interest, for heaven's sake – been a rallying cry for the left? Why shouldn’t American Jews be concerned about Jews in the rest of the world? Compare the case of Irish Americans: some may be abysmally ignorant about Irish politics, but objections in principle to their taking an active interest in the Northern Ireland question have typically come from the right, not the left. And can we not think of any reasons why international solidarity might be a particularly pressing concern for Jews?

Here’s a sample of the way a conspiracy theory builds its case:-

‘Israel’s advocates, when pressed to go beyond mere assertion, claim that there is a ‘new anti-semitism’, which they equate with criticism of Israel. In other words, criticise Israeli policy and you are by definition an anti-semite. When the synod of the Church of England recently voted to divest from Caterpillar Inc on the grounds that it manufactures the bulldozers used by the Israelis to demolish Palestinian homes, the Chief Rabbi complained that this would ‘have the most adverse repercussions on . . . Jewish-Christian relations in Britain’, while Rabbi Tony Bayfield, the head of the Reform movement, said: ‘There is a clear problem of anti-Zionist – verging on anti-semitic – attitudes emerging in the grass-roots, and even in the middle ranks of the Church.’ But the Church was guilty merely of protesting against Israeli government policy.’

This paragraph is a masterpiece of misrepresentation. People who raise specific objections to specific criticisms of Israel become part of a conspiracy to close down all criticism of Israel, even if they are respected spiritual leaders. The fact that the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, strongly endorsed the Rabbis’ concerns is not worthy of a mention. This is meant to be a Jewish conspiracy, you see. And we are apparently being invited (or why else is this British excursus included in the article?) to conclude that The Lobby has Britain as well as America in its grip, making criticism of Israel a difficult and dangerous business, even though the passing of the synod resolution with a hefty majority suggests precisely the opposite.

And another sample:-

'Pro-Israel forces have long been interested in getting the US military more directly involved in the Middle East. But they had limited success during the Cold War, because America acted as an ‘off-shore balancer’ in the region.'

Limited success - so actually, The Lobby doesn't have such a stranglehold over US policy that it can get its way without finding other people who agree with it. But naturally that kind of detail can never be allowed to get in the way of a good conspiracy theory.Another revealing point is that The Lobby is said to be essentially no different from purely commercial interest groups – which fits in very nicely with traditional anti-Semitic stereotypes.

So it’s reactionary crap – so much so that it gets a rave review from ex-Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. But no matter: it holds out the promise – evidently an irresistibly seductive one for the LRB - that, if only this thesis can gain a foothold in Washington, it can succeed where other arguments have failed in undermining American support for Israel. The end justifies the means.

For more on the Mearsheimer and Walt article, see the letters page in the subsequent issue of the LRB, sundry posts at Engage, and David Aaronovitch’s Times blog

Monday, April 03, 2006

CPT: Thanks for Deliverance

It seems safe to say that I was not alone in remarking on Christian Peacemaker Teams’ lack of gratitude to the soldiers who released their three comrades from captivity in Iraq. Within hours a rider had been added to their statement.

‘We have been so overwhelmed and overjoyed to have Jim, Harmeet and Norman freed, that we have not adequately thanked the people involved with freeing them […]’

Too ‘overwhelmed’ to think of saying 'thank you' to the rescuers, but not so overwhelmed that they forgot to acknowledge a ‘gracious outpouring of support from Muslim brothers and sisters in the Middle East, Europe, and North America’, or to ensure that the original statement included a denunciation of the occupation. A revealingly selective form of amnesia, one might think.

And even in the process of thanking the troops, CPT manage to slip in an insult veiled in patronage:-

‘As peacemakers who hold firm to our commitment to nonviolence, we are also deeply grateful that they fired no shots to free our colleagues.’

As if they had refrained from shooting in grudging deference to CPT principles! As opposed to behaving in a way that is, on the whole, characteristic of highly-trained professional soldiers serving a democratic state (and, yes, I am aware of the shameful exceptions) – i.e. when they can get things done without shooting anyone, they tend not to shoot people just for the hell of it.

Nonetheless, the addendum is more than enough to satisfy the British ‘radical Christian think-tank’ Ekklesia, who seem to enjoy close links with CPT. So they are very cross with anyone who continues to suggest that CPT showed ingratitude. Their briefing includes this, which, if not strictly speaking untrue, is distinctly economical with the truth:-

‘Doug Pritchard of Christian Peacemaker Teams comments: "Our original statement, written an hour after we got news of the release from a member of Jim Loney's family in the very early morning of 23 March, did not thank anyone except God – because at that time we knew almost nothing of the circumstances of their release.’

Only God? Judge for yourself how much difference there is between a declaration of being ‘especially moved’ by a ‘gracious outpouring of support’ (see above) and an expression of thanks.

Isn’t the real issue here obvious: that showing gratitude in these circumstances goes completely against the grain for CPT? So why don’t they cut the sanctimonious crap and admit it? I’ll set an example by making my own admission here: I know it is right to thank God for the hostages’ release and in my mind I do so, but the fundamental dishonesty of CPT’s position makes it hard for me to feel overjoyed. One of their comrades is dead, maybe having been tortured, and they are in denial about the reasons and about who bears the moral responsibility for this and for so many other murders in Iraq. My gut reaction to that is anger. And when Jill Carroll says she is angry with the murderers of her translator - not with somebody else who was somehow the root cause of their action - I can empathize with her a whole lot more readily than I can with the CPTers.

Ekklesia have a long list of allegations against CPT which they are also cross about, although they are very vague about who did the alleging, and it looks to me distinctly like an exercise in knocking over straw men in order to deflect attention from more telling criticisms.

My point (and it is certainly not mine alone – see, for instance, Oliver Kamm’s take) about the morality of CPT’s asymmetrical pacifism is not one of the charges Ekklesia engage with. In fact they supply further ammunition (excuse the militaristic metaphor) for this critique. ‘CPT was in Iraq well before the coalition forces invaded’, they assert. ‘Well before’ turns out to mean ‘six months before’, a fact which will already have given you a big hint as to what they were up to. Bearing witness against Saddam’s regime of torture, aggression and genocide? No, of course not. This was, predictably, altogether more of a Gallowayesque presence. Let CPT describe it for themselves. From CPT’s ‘Iraq project overview’:-

October 2002
Stop the War - the team and successive delegations sought to:

  • support the UN Weapons Inspection Program as an alternative to war

  • expose the injustice and deaths from the US-led economic sanctions

  • put a human face on Iraq, helping people in the U.S. understand that Saddam Hussein was not the only person living in Iraq

In other words, they were in the country with Saddam’s implicit blessing, pursuing goals that were eminently congenial to him. On the last point, I think that people in the U.S. would have been capable of working this out without CPT’s help. They might, however, have formed the impression that Saddam was the only person living in Iraq who was free to speak his mind, and the only person with a say in how the country was run. If many now believe the invasion was a mistake, that is certainly not because they think the overthrow of an odious dictatorship and its replacement with democracy was a bad thing per se.

Of course, some people see things differently. And talking of matters Gallowayesque, Ekklesia relays a message of support for CPT from Lindsey German, national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition in the UK, and a veteran member of the Socialist Workers Party. The SWP are allied with George Galloway, who so notoriously fawned on Saddam’s regime, and when they say ‘stop the war’ what they mean is not ‘peace at any price’ but ‘victory to the insurgents’. The comrades naturally understand the difference between their position and pacifism, but as good Leninists they are always happy to have ‘useful idiots’ on board. But what about Ekklesia/CPT? Do they value an endorsement from an SWP apparatchik because they fail to understand where she’s coming from? Or because they don’t care? Or because, once you’ve stripped away the veneer of pious claptrap, the practical difference actually isn’t that great?