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

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

This really is the last for a fortnight

Israel 'trains Iraqi Kurd forces'

A jaw-droppingly, mind-bogglingly bad thing. Because the Arabs don't like it, you see. Says the Beeb's 'Arab affairs analyst'. What do you mean, it isn't an Arab affair?

Can't think why they feel they need military training, anyway. Can you?

Still Time for a Quickie

'The Pope's expression of regret is welcome, even if there is some doubt as to whether it goes far enough to soothe Muslim sensibilities. Several burnt-out churches and a dead nun have, we must hope, taught him a painful but necessary lesson. Any utterance which can be interpreted as implying that Islam is an intrinsically violent religion is as unwise and unhelpful as it is incorrect.'

(all the usual suspects)

'How many fingers, Winston?'

Update: the first quote was kindly produced for me by my personal copy of the Grauniad Editorial Generator. Whereas this is the genuine article:

'When he digs out a 700-year-old sentence that could not be more damning of Islam - "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached" - he has to know there will be consequences.'

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Time off

I'm heading back to England for a fortnight on Thursday, so probably won't manage any more posting till I get back.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Muslims in 'Pope is a Catholic' storm

Well, I'd been planning to link to the Pope's Regensburg lecture since I saw him delivering it live on TV. In my humble opinion it's a fine piece of theological reasoning. I was also impressed by the sermon he preached earlier the same day.

And, yes, I did have a feeling there was going to be trouble. Funny, isn't it, that although the lecture contains a lot more criticism of western secularism than of Islam, it somehow never occurred to me that the trouble might come in the form of enraged atheists firebombing churches? Or that Catholics would interpret the lecture as giving them the green light to shoot an imam or two?

It's one of those occasions when I look to the bloggers to preserve my sanity.

At Harry's Place Brownie simply puts the 'offending' quote in context and asks 'So...what exactly is the problem?'

Shuggy is spot on:-

'At the close of his speech he said:

'"It is to this great logos, to this breadth of reason, that we invite our partners in the dialogue of cultures. To rediscover it constantly is the great task of the university."

'It wouldn't be this task of the university - to join the general conversation of mankind - that the Islamists are afraid of, would it?

'No doubt the usual 'liberals' will, in that special pained sort of way they have, 'regret' the insensitivity of the Pope's remarks. In anticipation of this I can only insist on the following. We are not talking about a few infantile cartoons being published in a provincial European newspaper now, this shifts it to fundamentals: you either believe in free speech or you do not; you either believe in academic and intellectual freedom or you do not; and you either believe in the freedom of religion or you do not. And if you chose the censorious path, let's hear a respectable intellectual argument that does not rest solely on accusations of racism. Oh, and don't call yourself a liberal - don't you dare.'

As is Laban Tall:-

'Because this isn't about peaceful co-existence. This is about imposing one's will on the spiritual enemy. In fact, the greater the apology, the less likely it is to be accepted - because it's taken as a sign of weakness, to be exploited further.

'No religion has been mocked and vilified more in the last 40 years than Christianity. And it continues - because the consequences don't involve bodies with knives pinning notes to their chests, decapitation, explosions, burning buildings or trains.

'Faced with such things, Western society retreats, draws back, self-censors - engendering a sense among the bad hats (and among those who share the aim even while having reservations about the method) that there is no limit to the retreat - no ground on which the enemy will turn, stand and fight.'

In a situation where the Pope is simultaneously being compared with Hitler and accused of Zionism, satire is pretty much superfluous here, but Simply Jews are not to be deterred.

Thank heaven for the blogs, because without them we'd be left at the mercy of the msm.

Take, for instance, today's al-Grauniad. Not only do we have Karen Armstrong grinding out her one tune (Islam is peaceful, and if it's not it's our fault) but John Hooper is encouraging the Jews to show a bit of solidarity with the Muslims. Because now the Pope's been quoting the rabidly anti-Semitic St Paul. This must take the biscuit for cynical opportunism even by al-G standards. Mr Hooper prefers not to spoil his point by mentioning that Paul was, like Jesus, his disciples and all the authors of the New Testament, Jewish.

Ruth Gledhill in the Times claims that the Pope's Quranic scholarship is suspect. Well, that's fair enough, and he's positively inviting dialogue with Muslim scholars on that level. But let's spell out once again the precondition for that kind of conversation: all sides are free to speak their mind without facing the threat of violence. In Ms Gledhill's piece that takes a back seat to Pope-bashing.

In the real world outside the blogosphere, is there anybody manning the barricades for freedom?

Not the trendy Christian liberals who've seized the opportunity to stick the boot into Ratzi -dishonourable mentions for Giles Fraser, chaplain to al-Grauniad, and the Pope's old antagonist Hans Küng (see the Ruth Gledhill piece). Here's a vintage Fraserism:

'For in claiming that Islam may be beyond reason, and then to claim that to act without reason is to act contrary to the will of God, is pretty close to the assertion that this religion is godless. And that's not how different faiths ought to speak to each other - especially when we all have each other's blood on our hands.'

So, Dr Fraser, scourge of the conservative evangelicals: when Iranian zealots string up gay teenagers, do they serve the living God or an idol of their own imagining? Tricky one, huh? Remember: engage brain before opening mouth.

Who's manning the barricades? In German politics, not Renate Künast, leader of the Greens in the Bundestag, who called for an apology, and thinks that the Pope has not only the Crusades but the Irish civil war (sic) and the invasion of Iraq on his conscience (German source here). Bad news for Germans who want to save the planet without surrendering their democratic rights.

You'd expect the Christian Democrats to do better and they do. Chancellor Angela Merkel has stood up for the Pope, whilst the party's General Secretary, Ronald Pofalla, says: 'All those who are now attacking him don't want dialogue, but an intimidated and silenced West'. (German source here)

Credit is due too, perhaps less predictably, to Lale Akgün, Muslim Affairs spokesman for the Social Democrats:

'Look, there are three and a half million Muslims living in Germany, over 20 million in Europe. These are not small numbers. That means we have no alternative to convincing the majority of comparatively apathetic Muslims of the need to accept and show the peaceful face of Islam. [...] We must simply ensure that those who are rather indifferent to religion, who tend to fight shy of religion, take an active stand, that we persuade them to join with us in developing an Islam in Europe which is compatible with democracy, with human rights, with women's rights. And which is also prepared to submit itself to discussion, prepared to accept other opinions or at least agree to disagree.'

(my translation, original here)

OK, it's not a great advertisement for a belief system if you have to look to the apathetic to salvage some basic decency. Never mind, he's on the right side.

Returning to the UK papers, the Observer's Will Hutton gives us a mixed bag. He's been reading a book by a progressive Muslim, and he desperately wants to believe its message:-

'Nor is Islam less able [than Christianity or Judaism] to accommodate reason or Enlightenment values.'

Well, I'd very much like to believe it too. Mr Hutton should carry on reading, and if he will add the New Testament and the Quran to his reading list he can, I hope, correct his impression that they are both equally guilty of glorifying violence (see below).

Still, he does get it to this extent...

'Aslan is persuasive, but the reaction of some Islamic leaders to the Pope's incitement belies his optimism. They can choose to ignore the pontiff, challenge him or demonstrate through reference to Islam's own teachings that he is wrong. Instead, they stress the enormous offence that has been given. There is no sense here of a commitment to pluralism or mutual tolerance.


'The principle of tolerance is one on which the West can never compromise. The Pope was right on one thing, though; the West, its religions included, accepts the grandeur of reason. So, ultimately, must Islam.'

And there's William Rees-Mogg in today's Times. 10 out of 10. I fear he may be a little long in the tooth to be manning the barricades, but then so is the Holy Father, and with so many 'liberals' deserting the cause of liberty we need everyone we can get...

'The Pope’s actual quotation is not just a medieval point of view. It is a common modern view; even if it seldom reaches print; it can certainly be found on the internet. “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and then you shall find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”

'Is it true that the Koran contains such a command, and has it influenced modern terrorists? The answers, unfortunately, are “yes” and “yes”.

'The so-called Sword Verse from Chapter 9 must have been in the emperor’s mind: “So when the sacred months have passed away, Then slay the idolaters wherever you find them.

'“And take them captive and besiege them, and lie in wait for them in every ambush.”

'This does shock many Muslims: extremists are angered by the implied criticism of those who quote it, while moderates who cannot disavow the terms of the Koran prefer more evasive interpretations. The shock it creates shows the importance of the doctrine.'

Lest the barricades stuff comes across as a mite hysterical, let a correspondent to the same paper have the final word:-

'Sir, The Pope did not give offence (reports, Comment and leading article, Sept 16): his enemies took it.

'Taking offence is a blackmail strategy and any excuse, real or imagined, will do: it is seen in the belligerent drunk, growling “What are you lookin’ at?” or the gang member who draws a knife because he has been “dissed”. It works because polite, educated respondents try to treat this as a real question, to apologise and negotiate.

'You cannot negotiate with a drunk or a knife, and you cannot negotiate with those who manufacture offence as a weapon.'

Evil breeding evil: neo-Nazis on the march

The local election results in Germany send a shiver down the spine. The fears voiced here have proved justified, with the neo-Nazi NPD repeating their success in Saxony two years ago by picking up over 7% of the vote in the coastal state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.

For the benefit of those unfamiliar with German politics, it should be stressed that this is not (at least not yet) a German problem. It is an East German problem. So far the NPD's derisory showing in the West has ensured that they're kept out of the Bundestag. But in the East they are doubly the beneficiaries of four decades of communist misrule. Firstly, because they're benefitting from the economic collapse which the communist regime engineered - unemployment is running at over 20%, and people are looking for scapegoats. And secondly because, in stark contrast with the West, the regime suppressed honest discussion of the Nazi past, instead presenting themselves as the heirs to a mythical mass anti-fascist resistance movement - and in doing so succeeding in glamourizing Nazism in the eyes of many young people. Everyone knew they were being ruled by congenital liars, so it was a natural reflex to believe the opposite to whatever the official propaganda said. The more the rhetoric of international solidarity was prostituted to deny the reality of the country's status as a Soviet colony, the more credibility was lent to the opposite extreme of aggressive nationalism.

Thus does evil breed evil.

It's Religion of Peace time again

'You can bet your life that by the time you read this, some Catholic priest toiling away in a godforsaken, dusty hellhole — Sudan, perhaps, or Turkey — will have been smacked about a bit, or had his church burnt down or been arrested without charge. The Pope should have been aware that Islam always reacts to western allegations that it is not a peaceful religion by mass outbreaks of vituperation, denunciation and acts of jihadic violence.'

- Rod Liddle in the Sunday Times.

It was Somalia, actually. She was an elderly nun. The scene was a children's hospital. She was shot three times in the back. The burnt down churches hardly seem worth mentioning - they can be rebuilt, after all.

This is what Christians understand by the word 'martyrdom'. If you think it is islamophobic to suggest that the Muslim understanding is somewhat different, I respectfully recommend that you go and read the Quran.

And Muslims who sincerely wish to demonstrate that theirs is a religion of peace have now really got something to protest about, haven't they?

The gunmen knew not what they did, I dare say. Somalia is among the most brutalized societies on Earth, and the average level of education is not high. Those who have been orchestrating the protests from more comfortable locations know very well what they are doing. May God have mercy on their souls.

More soon.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

A letter to the Independent

Published today. Provoked by the letters here and here...

'Sir: I find your letters page increasingly disturbing. It seems you have no problem with publishing letters accusing Israel of being a genocidal Nazi state provided you balance them with a roughly equal number of letters pointing out that this is nonsense. Thus does a notion that belongs on the lunatic fringe creep stealthily into the mainstream. The 'Nazi' tag appears to require no justification beyond evidence that injustice has been done and the writer's feelings of indignation.

'Meanwhile the butchers of Khartoum go about their business undisturbed by censure from your readers. If you publish this letter it will be the second containing the word "Darfur" in the last three months.'

The second paragraph got the chop. I suppose I must be charitable in view of the fact that the paper ran a major Darfur feature today, but I can't help feeling that was all the more reason to leave it in.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

School's out, there's a war on

'Education in Southern Sudan is almost non-existent,
due to over two decades of war. More than 1.5 million
people have been killed and about four million forced
to flee to the north or to other countries. Many of
them have still not been able to return.The education
system and infrastructure have been totally destroyed.

'Over the last ten years, ad hoc education programmes
have been set up by local communities, NGOs and
faith-based organisations, but the Ministry of Education
is run by volunteers and teachers are untrained, unpaid
and often have had very little schooling themselves.
Going to school, for those children who do, means
sitting under a tree or in a grass hut, with no water
or toilets, without even the most basic teaching and
learning materials.

'The children of Southern Sudan have the least access
to primary education in the world. Around 20 per cent
of children enrol in school, with only 2 per cent
completing primary education.The situation is even
worse for girls. In a population of between six and
seven million, 500 girls finish primary school each year.

'Now that a separate government has been set up
and a fragile peace negotiated, people are beginning
to return to the south, placing an even greater strain
on a non-functioning education system.'

- from Save the Children's report 'Rewrite the Future: Education for children in conflict-affected countries' (pdf via StC and the BBC)

My gloss on this, which StC might or might not agree with, concerns the mainstream-media-eye view of the world. These are forgotten victims of a forgotten conflict - except that 'forgotten' is the wrong word since it was almost totally ignored by the media while it was raging.

Probably most of what I know about Darfur comes from the blogs I read regularly (honourable mention to Mick Hartley), but over the last few months the msm have finally started to wake up. The BBC website is reasonably good (I suspect the Nine O'Clock News is a different story, though) and the Telegraph's David Blair is outstanding (I never thought I'd live to see the day when I put 'Telegraph' and 'outstanding' into the same sentence).

That awakening never happened in twenty years of carnage in the South.

Darfur is Muslim on Muslim. The South was Muslim on non-Muslim. 1.5 million dead (some say 2 million) are quite a lot of exceptions to fit into the theory that the West is engaged in an anti-Muslim crusade. But you couldn't know that if you never read about them or saw them on TV.

The StC report mentions Palestine once for the sake of form - well, you have to keep the lefties happy. Of course the education problem exists there, but since it isn't isn't quantified you can be sure that it pales into insignificance in comparison with vast swathes of Africa. Vast, reporter-free swathes of Africa.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Christian Aid and the Hindu vicar

From the Times comes the curious story of the Church of England priest who thinks he should keep his job - despite having become a Hindu. I'm reminded of the late Alan Watts, counter-culture guru of 1960s California, who was ordained as an Episcopalian priest when he was already a convinced Buddhist (it's probably relevant that America was at war with Japan at the time, so that openly embracing one of that country's national religions was not likely to be a popular move).

This would belong in my off-topic blog were it not for the fact that there is a Christian Aid connection. Naturally it would be unreasonable to conclude anything about the organization from one individual who once held a post in it. Let's just say that if one was already wondering quite how Christian CA really is, one might not find this episode particularly reassuring. One might also ask whether the step taken by Mr Hart is not a logical conclusion of a mindset which rules out anything as culturally imperialistic as preaching the Gospel to the poor. I say that in full awareness of the issues raised when comparatively rich and powerful people proselytize poor and vulnerable people. But there is such a thing as throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Anglican news, mostly good

Anglicans for Israel bring the wondeful news of the joint Declaration signed by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the two Chief Rabbis of Israel. AFI have issued a statement welcoming the Declaration which I heartily endorse. It is enormously to the Archbishop's credit, notwithstanding my past criticisms of his stance.

It is tempting to write that one of the best things about the declaration is that it has made Bishop Riah Abu al-Assal hopping mad. The temptation is to be resisted because actually it's pretty tragic that the Bishop of Jerusalem, of all people, can't be looked to to play a positive role in Anglican-Jewish dialogue. But his reaction makes it very clear why it was right and necessary to bypass him.

It would be good to hear a more welcoming response from Anglicans across the pond. The Episcopal Church's history of anti-Israel bias is documented here (via). Once again I'm staggered by TEC's double standards. This the church which is prepared to risk schism in the name of a stand of principle on gay rights. And yet it is repeatedly laying into the one country in the Middle East where gay rights exist in any shape or form.

A country where they emphatically don't exist is Iran. But that's apparently no reason why former President Mohammad Khatami shouldn't be an honoured guest of Washington's National Cathedral. I'm glad to see that some TEC liberals have drawn the line at this.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Lebanon latest

Remember how stable and democratic Lebanon was before the wicked Israelis trampled on its sovereignty?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Question of Zion

The latest issue of the journal Democratiya has a devastating, and very informative, review by Shalom Lappin of Jacqueline Rose's book The Question of Zion.

We hear complaints that in America serious criticism of Israel is silenced by kneejerk accusations of anti-Semitism. Yet here is one of the country's leading academic presses publishing a polemic against Israel by someone who is unaware that 'Pentateuch' and 'Torah' are two names for the same thing. This would seem to suggest that the real problem is quite the opposite.

(via Harry's Place)

Monday, September 04, 2006

People in glass houses

Every so often a certain member of the South African government pops up in the Guardian to help beef up the campaign to brand Israel as an apartheid state (here's a sample of his writing for the domestic audience, and here's a fisk of a previous article by a SA blogger who earns immediate inclusion on my blogroll). Well, next time an article by Ronnie Kasrils appears in al-Grauniad, perhaps some readers will remember what the paper's man in Jo'burg had to say about the glass house from which Mr Kasrils throws his stones.

How many lives have been lost as a direct consequence of the criminally incompetent handling of the HIV/Aids crisis by Thabo Mbeki and his 'health minister'? Tens of thousands? Or more? Some might feel this is in itself sufficient grounds for a boycott.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Cluster bombs

'Still, I cannot find a way of justifying Israel's widespread use of cluster bombs, especially in the final days of the war.'

- writes Gene of Harry's Place, who is no Israel-basher. I read this shortly after being challenged by Mrs Cyrus to post on this topic. So, very simply: I agree with this and with everything else in Gene's post. Defending Israel against unfair criticism does not entail denying that any criticism is ever justified.