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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

Monday, December 24, 2007

Chucking out time

A very happy and peaceful Christmas to regular, occasional and accidental readers.

If you're interested in reading a bit about what it's all about: don't go getting ideas that I'm about to follow any ex-Prime Ministerial trends, but I've been getting a lot out of Spe Salvi, the Pope's latest encyclical.

Have a good one.

Friday, December 21, 2007

New link

I've just added what looks like a very useful resource archive from the European Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism to my links list. Hat tip: Engage.

Throat clearers

So, 'throat clearing' is the correct terminology for the 'legitimate security concerns, but' syndrome, courtesy of the incomparable Christopher Hitchens. Hitch's moral clearsightedness on these issues earns him forgiveness for his unfortunate religiophobic tendencies. Thanks, Paul M, for a prompt reply to my question, and a very merry Christmas from all at Schloss Grumpy and/or a deplorably belated 'happy Hannukah' to you and all who were celebrating. Please don't take that omission too personally, I only posted my Christmas cards yesterday.

It looks like being a bumper Christmas for the many Christian throat clearers, as noted by Ruth Gledhill in her Times blog (hat tip: Liz of Christian Attitudes). They even get their own special Christmas crib (complete with security barrier, but unaccountably lacking any terrorists among its dramatis personae).

[trackback link]

Human sacrifice and weasel words

If you've read David Hirsh's impressive paper on Anti-Zionism and Antisemitism, you'll know all about the 'Livingstone formulation' (if you haven't, do). The exact wording of the formulation varies, but without ever straying very far from Ken's version: 'for far too long the accusation of antisemitism has been used against anyone who is critical of the policies of the Israeli government'.

Can anybody think up a name for the formulation exemplified over the past week or so by the following?

'None of the donors has disputed Israel's right to protect its people against suicide bombers and rocket attacks. It has every reason to point out how often those followed broken promises by Palestinian leaders. But'

'The bank acknowledges Israeli security concerns, but'

(both from here)

'The ICRC says it recognises Israel's right to take measures to defend itself.

(from here)

The first quote is actually untypical in the extent to which it calls a spade a spade. Whereas the second is absolutely typical - the bland bureaucratese of 'security concerns' ('legitimate security concerns' is another popular variant) smoothing the transition to the inevitable 'but', and minimizing any danger that the reader will be troubled by upsetting mental images of streets spattered with body parts.

Blockaded Gaza is run by people who are unashamedly at war with Israel. They're at war because they want to wipe it off the map. For want of anything more effective, they fight with home-made rockets which subject the population of Sderot to constant stress and anxiety, and now and again kill somebody. From their point of view this is better than nothing. Does anyone really need to be told what their number one reason for wanting the blockade relaxed is?

And as their groupies constantly remind us, they are the People's Choice. Hard to argue with when they can mobilize 20% of the population for a demo.

So Israel reacts with a blockade, and normal economic activity is throttled. It's an impasse from which, ultimately, only the extremists - Hamas and still worse - are likely to benefit.

How to break the impasse? There's a consensus, extending from Christian Aid via the World Bank and the International Committee of the Red Cross to Bronwen Maddox of the Times, that Israel must make a sacrifice. A human sacrifice.

There is, unfortunately, a serious case to be made that this course would really be in Israel's best long-term interests. If you want to make that case, fine. The situation is serious enough that every option needs to be examined. But your good faith will be more evident if you can make it without using weasel words.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Cognitive complexity in the home

This post from Mick Hartley follows on nicely from mine on the James Watson row. Like Mick I found Malcolm Gladwell's article in the New Yorker a particularly thought-provoking read. Here's a simple point which hadn't occurred to me before:-

'Black children are more likely to be raised in single-parent homes than are white children—and single-parent homes are less cognitively complex than two-parent homes.'

As simple as that: if there's no adult-to-adult interaction going on in the home, there's less for the children to get their intellectual teeth into. There's an obvious chicken-and-egg question which the thesis raises, given that low-IQ individuals are clearly more likely to start single-parent families. Nevertheless, it's nicely ironic to find that, if you don't fancy surrendering to genetic determinism (and why should you?), the alternative turns out to be good old-fashioned back-to-basics family values.

Whereas the left/liberal camp doesn't seem to have much to offer here. Unless you count character assassination:-

'in 1994 Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, in “The Bell Curve,” notoriously proposed that Americans with the lowest I.Q.s be sequestered in a “high-tech” version of an Indian reservation, “while the rest of America tries to go about its business.”'

It worked pretty well on James Watson, but Herrnstein and Murray evidently know some good lawyers. I claim the distinction of thinking that 'notoriously proposed' had the ring of untruth to it even before I came to this:-

'CORRECTION: In his December 17th piece, “None of the Above,” Malcolm Gladwell states that Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, in their 1994 book “The Bell Curve,” proposed that Americans with low I.Q.s be “sequestered in a ‘high-tech’ version of an Indian reservation.” In fact, Herrnstein and Murray deplored the prospect of such “custodialism” and recommended that steps be taken to avert it. We regret the error.'

Comment is superfluous.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Engaging with Sudan

Just one more teeny, weeny post on Teddy Mo.

Howard Jacobson wrote about Gillian Gibbons in last Saturday's Indie. Round here we worship the ground under Mr Jacobson's feet. And I can certainly concur with him that Ms Gibbons seems irritatingly naive, though to be fair I suspect that people possessing the kind of worldly wisdom which he finds wanting in her generally don't become primary school teachers.

What's bothering me is the attitude encapsulated here:-

'It is foolhardy in general to be unaware that a foreign country is a foreign country: that they do things differently there. And it is foolhardy in particular not to know that Islamic countries are in ferment at the moment – Sudan more than most – and that, as an English person not least, you run the risk of getting yourself into trouble whatever you say. Myself, I have difficulty understanding why, just for the fun of it, any Westerner would venture into that part of the world right now.'

This seems to me to come close to saying that anyone blessed with the faculty of premeditation would simply steer clear of Sudan. And that has to be wrong.

HJ is a friend of Engage. He was on the platform at their anti-boycott bash in London earlier this year. Good on him. And I'd like to put it to him that if there's one people who need the rest of the world's engagement, it's surely the Sudanese. A large minority, of course, are not Muslim (Ms Gibbons' school was a Christian foundation), and the Muslims are not all Islamist fanatics. Precious few of them had any hand in choosing the government (which richly deserves all the boycotts anyone cares to throw at it).

Getting down to specifics, if nothing else Ms Gibbons has left a class of children who may, sooner or later, ask themselves some questions about the way their teacher was treated.

So please think again, Mr Jacobson - you wouldn't want to be inconsistent, would you?

Did you hear the one about the Archbishop, the Muslim and the Good Samaritan?

Better late than never department: that Rowan Williams interview again. The Times report has a 'Read the interview in full' link which actually just gives you the cover of the Muslim magazine which published it. This is the correct link, though it still isn't 'in full', just a fuller version as editorialized for the mag (the link has an impermanent look to it, so catch it while you can).

Actually, I would very much like to read/hear the thing verbatim, since that would allow me to judge how far the Archbish is the innocent victim of a stitch-up by his interviewer.

For Sarah Joseph is, I fear, a distinctly slippery customer. Take her reference to:-

'the Danish legislation that banned its citizens who are under 25 from marrying a foreign national, and other such repressive moves throughout Europe'

Well, I couldn't believe that, so I googled it and came up with this, which, whilst it contains more than enough nonsense, is quite sufficient to convict Ms Joseph of not letting the facts get in the way of a good victim whine. I'd like to know whether the Archbishop, too, smelled a rat, or whether he took her claim at face value.

This is plainly pure editiorializing on Ms Joseph' part:-

'Indeed, Israel’s "security fence" is made up of a triple layer of concrete and metal, equipped with electronic sensors and patrolled by army jeeps, ostensibly to keep out the terrorists, but in effect keeping ordinary civilians caged.'

No quotes, so the Archbishop certainly didn't say it, and I have not quite abandoned the hope that, if she had said it to him, he might not have let that supercilious 'ostensibly' pass. It would be nice to think that he might have queried whether it was meant to imply (a) the absence of a genuine terrorist threat or (b) that physically keeping terrorists out is a wholly ineffective way of preventing them from killing people or (c) that the Israeli government are too depraved to be capable of a sincere concern for the lives of their fellow citizens. Hope, I remind myself, is a theological virtue.

So I also hope that this does not represent the totality of the views he expressed about the security barrier (you see, there's really no need to choose between "wall" and "fence"):-

'He condemns the wall which cuts in half that most special of places where the Christian narrative says Christ was born. "Whatever justification given for the existence of the wall, the human cost is colossal. We saw that for ourselves." He is adamant in calling it a wall and not a fence, "I haven’t seen very many fences of that size and thickness."'

I hope that he also pointed out the not insignificant human cost paid by hundreds of Israeli civilians for not having a barrier, and that this bit was quietly excised by Ms Joseph. That is to say, I hope that he is, at the level of basic moral judgment, fit to be the leader of the Anglican Communion.

I leave others to tackle his effusion of nostalgia for the Raj; this post does the job well, despite the slight whiff of Spartishness, and this one covers the same ground from a different angle. I digress, but a particular worry about Bob from Brockley's post is that a book entitled Late Victorian Holocausts has already committed a cardinal sin on its front cover. There has only been one Holocaust, and the only events which have a claim to be like it are instances of the systematic extermination of an entire ethnic group - to which Imperial Britain's guilt over famines in India, however great, does not amount.

I will just observe that, although the 100% Muslim people of Afghanistan are so far from being misty-eyed about the Raj that they still have mixed feelings about us Brits, a whopping 71% of them are glad to have American troops defending them, and the government which even more (84%) want to see running the country, against the Taliban. Does the Archbishop have any inkling that this is the case? If he does, you wouldn't guess it from the article.

And with that I pass on to one more source of annoyance - this time theological rather than (or as well as) political:-

'I ask him if Christians have become tame. He agrees, "We listen to the most extraordinary and outrageous things in the New Testament and we doze through them." He cites the example of the Samaritans, a people reviled at the time of Christ, but who we now associate with righteous deeds. "To get the full force of the parable of the Good Samaritan we have to use another word: the good asylum seeker, the good Muslim, the good teenager in a hoodie. You have got to get the sense of the unexpected, the despised. That’s what the parable is about."'

So, His Archdruidliness's idea of "extraordinary and outrageous", in the context of a cosy chat with a Muslim journalist, is to raise the suggestion that Muslims are capable of good deeds. Wouldn't it have been just a little more incendiary - if not for Ms Joseph, at least for some of the readers of Emel magazine - to have made the same suggestion about, for instance, gays or Jews?

It's a variation on a trope which one hears regularly from liberal preachers: the congregation are invited to bask in self-congratulation over their inclusiveness towards people they've never particularly felt like excluding. Which is simultaneously an invitation to construct an Other - the racists, the homophobes, the Islamophobes, the nasty, non-inclusive Christians - which becomes the object of actual exclusion.

'And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.' (Luke 18:9-11)

In the interview, likewise, there's an Us and a Them being constructed. 'All those people out there who could never imagine a Muslim doing anyone a good turn - thank goodness you and I know better!' Not just comfortable complicity between Rowan and Sarah, but encouragement to her and her readers to feel misunderstood and victimized by the Other - encouragement which (cf. Ms Joseph on Danish marriage law) tends to be superfluous.

The parable is abused here because it is not about Jesus expounding the post-ethical pseudo-ethic of multi-culti political correctness. Note first that he doesn't say that the Samaritans had a great religion that was just as valid as that of the Jews. In John 4:22 we see that, whilst Jesus has no qualms about talking to a Samaritan, he is forthright about the shortcomings of Samaritan religious practice. We need only recall how central the Psalms and Prophets are to Jesus's faith to realize how mutilated a religion which accepted only the Torah as Scripture must have appeared to him.

And the punchline of the parable is not (as reading the ABC might tempt one to suppose) "think respectful and inclusive thoughts about Samaritans". It's "Go, and do thou likewise". That's the bit that's always too radical for us. Much, much easier to think those respectful and inclusive thoughts - and tell ourselves what splendid people we are for doing so.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Islamophobia Watch

A rash of recent news items with a common theme.

First off, a particularly shocking case of Islamophobia, in which the victim has been terrorized for 15 years - just for daring to choose her own religion (via).

And this confirms that the first case is not a one-off (via). Read the article through and note the strictly limited scope of Mr Bunglawala's indignation. Give that man a knighthood!

Islamophobia is a serious problem in Iraq, too.

And in the little town of Bethlehem things are so bad that a scapegoat is required. Happily, the usual suspects are on hand.

It would be great if the hard-pressed flock could look to its shepherds to speak up for it, wouldn't it? Well, here's the Archdruid. Case Four is indeed the usual suspects' fault - of course. Case Three is George Bush's fault. Cases One and Two: not entirely clear, I wouldn't be at all surprised if he held Israel and Bush responsible here too (plus, presumably, Bush Senior in Case One), but possibly the victims are themselves to blame for working with that 'modern western definition of humanity' which is 'clearly not working very well'.

So thank the Lord for the German shepherd.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

New kid on the blog

The views expressed round here about the Grauniad are, shall we say, not uniformly favourable. But it is, after all, a house with many mansions, and it's pleasing to note that at least the paper's gossip columnist has the measure of Mad Mahmoud:-

'Possibly the world's unlikeliest blogger has been revealed by the New York Times as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, president of Iran, who has apparently promised to work on his site for at least 15 minutes a week. US readers have not been slow to post their comments - "You are an evil leader," says one contribution which would count as meek indeed on the Guardian's Comment is Free - but the site lacks a certain irony. The president apparently praised a protest against him at Amir Kabir University last year: "It was a joyous feeling to see a small group insult the elected president fearlessly amid a majority," he wrote, without adding that many of them ended up in prison as a result.'

Saturday, December 08, 2007

The turning point

Engage has had an embarras de richesse on Mearsheimer and Walt, notably Jeff Weintraub's impressive round-up of reactions. I haven't got time to read it all; Jeffrey Goldberg's article 'The Usual Suspect' in The New Republic was my random choice, and it's proved to be a good one.

It's an astonishing comment on the quality of M & W's scholarship that they dish up (see p. 6) the 'Ahmadinejad was mistranslated' myth - or would be astonishing if I hadn't already got a handle on their modus operandi.

Here's a sentence which is a poignant testimony to the intellectual gulf between America and Europe:-

'The Israel of Mearsheimer and Walt is simply unrecognizable to anyone who is halfway fair and halfway learned about the Middle East.'

But, alas, not just recognizable but familiar and uncontroversial to a a large segment of educated opinion in Europe. Including, to take a random exemplar, the Archbishop of Canterbury (more on him anon). Fairness and learnedness have long since been assumed to be beside the point.

For most of its history this stance has been driven far more by anti-Americanism than by anti-Semitism: this Israel, the demonic Israel, has to be the real one precisely because it is not America's Israel. But, to the extent that M & W's arguments are now within the limits of acceptable discourse, we stand at a dramatic turning point. We all love Jews, naturally, at least the victim Jews, the powerless minority Jews, and the brave Independent Jewish Voices. But you can always have too much of a good thing, and Europe's intelligentsia now have available to them an explanation, not just of Israel's misdeeds but of America's deplorable conduct too, in terms of too many and too powerful Jews.

Anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism collapse into a single prejudice, a Big Idea with which the enigmas of the course of world history can be made plain. The scholarship may be fifth-rate, but, as we know from history, that matters little if the idea is one whose time has come.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Theatre of Demonization

[A guest post from a member of Anglicans Friends of Israel, who, after seeing a production by the Christian theatre company 'Riding Lights', wrote this letter to their manager]

I went to watch ‘Salaam Bethlehem.’ To my dismay, it is even more one-sided than your website.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I do believe that the suffering of Palestinian Christians should be seen and heard. They are our brothers and sisters in Christ, and when one suffers, as the Bible says, we all suffer.

But ‘Salaam Bethlehem’ attributes their sufferings mainly to actions taken by Israel in its defence against Palestinian terrorists. There was no mention of the disintegration of Palestinian lives due to discrimination by its own leaders, or their inter-fighting, or the misappropriation of international funding that would make such a difference. In ‘Salaam Bethlehem’, Christian and Muslim relations are seen as happy; terrorism deplored. But the Christian minority also experiences such intimidation from Muslim Palestinians that they flee the Territories, quite often to Israel. (Have you seen recent reports on how many Arabs are applying for Israeli citizenship?)

Some mothers of suicide bombers are angry with the men who have used their sons. But there are plenty who encourage their small children to engage in militant jihad, and give parties to celebrate the murder of Israelis and the ‘martyrdom’ of their sons. Why wasn’t even a sentence given to this in the play?

We heard about Israeli soldiers mistreating Palestinians. No-one condones this. But why didn’t the play let an 18 year old IDF soldier tell us how it is to man a checkpoint knowing that the next Palestinian coming through might be the one with the suicide bomb? Why couldn’t an Israeli mother tell us what it was like to lose her child in an explosion on a school bus, or to seek counselling for a child traumatised by daily rocket attacks on his town?

There was no mention of Arab refusal to acknowledge the legitimacy of the Jewish State. Instead, Salaam Bethlehem said Palestinians are ‘paying the price for the European holocaust’; the creation of Israel was the ‘Naqba’ or catastrophe; there is no ‘Chosen Land’ as we ‘all live under the New Covenant now’; Jews are ‘ethnically cleansing’ Palestinians’ . Notwithstanding the Israeli view - there was no mention of the Biblical declaration of the land of Israel. This is the ground that Christians take, and as a Christian presentation, I would have expected ‘Salaam Bethlehem’ to have acknowledged. Does Riding Lights believe that the State of Israel exists solely as the result of the Holocaust?
The programme notes make no mention of the 1920 League of Nations mandate to create a Jewish homeland alongside its Arab neighbours. The account of the 1948 War of Independence implies that Israel started it, when the fact is that she was attacked by five neighbouring Arab States. The Yom Kippur war, begun by Israel’s neighbours was omitted completely. Why was this? How can the suppressing of historical fact to present a case be helpful in opening up a wider debate?

I was interested to see, too, that the only publications on your bookstall were from Naim Ateek’s Sabeel organisation, famous for its anti-Israel stance. Where were other publications, giving a wider view – the one that you say you are keen to promote? How can one side of any debate be said to be the basis for an open, honest forum for discussion? ‘Truth’ is only truth when it is whole.

If ‘Salaam Bethlehem’ was publicised honestly for what it is - the Palestinian case against Israel - it would at least be open about its intent. And I would not be taking the trouble to write to you, accepting it simply as Palestinian propaganda

To sum up:
1. ‘SaIaam Bethlehem’ omits much historical fact, which hugely skews the paradigm it presents.

2. It omits many of the very real reasons behind the suffering of Palestinian Christians in Palestine.

3. By omitting these facts and reasons, and ignoring the Israeli voice, it fails to present a balanced view for debate and discussion.

4. It ignores the Scriptural discourse concerning the modern State of Israel.

5. Accompanying literature gives voice to only one organisation, known to be anti-Israeli.

As a Christian company, Riding Lights could do better than this.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

A woman's right to choose

Laban saves me the trouble of writing an update on this post.

Positively the last word on Teddy Mo...

...unless anyone can top this.

Hat tip to Dumb Jon. To paraphrase Jon's point, what's so illustrative of the bankruptcy of multiculturalism is the way Mr Gray can shift, in the course of a week, from respecting Islam because, like all religions, it is cute and cuddly to respecting Islam because it turns people into deranged fanatics who might kill him if he doesn't watch his step (thereby, of course, implicitly tarring all Muslims with the same lunatic brush) - and give no sign of having noticed any difference.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Bears of little brain

'This sad little Sudanese tale is part of a larger story, from the Rushdie affair to the storm over the Danish cartoons, in which some Muslims, and some Muslim governments, seem to be almost searching for slights and fights, to be almost determined to be insulted, pushing aside those ready to take a more tolerant and relaxed view.

'There are objective reasons why Muslims are now more prickly about their rights and about what non-Muslims say about them than they used to be. But the resulting process is one in which the lines which non-Muslims must not cross are being repeatedly redefined, always more restrictively, at times with dire penalties threatened. The majority of Muslims may be much less concerned than the activists and radicals, but it is the activists and radicals who often set the pace. This constant raising of the bar does not increase respect for Islam but instead makes it appear coercive and threatening. In Sudan, it is not the bear which is of little brain.'

You can push even the Grauniad (for that, believe it or not, is the source of the above) too far. Norm comments perceptively.

A major reservation: the last sentence only follows from the one before on the assumption that the Sudanese government's concern is with increasing respect for Islam. On the contrary, it is very happy to appear coercive and threatening, because that is precisely what it is.

Happy Anniversary

Yesterday was the 60th anniversary of the UN vote that created the state of Israel. It did not go unmarked by Hamas:-

"Palestine is Arab Islamic land, from the river to the sea, including Jerusalem... there is no room in it for the Jews." (from the Jerusalem Post via Norm)

...or in still more emphatic form here, from a source evidently close to the horse's mouth:-

'Hamas affirmed that Palestine is an Arab, Islamic country since time immemorial and Jews have no right whatsoever in the land of Palestine, and stressed that Palestine is an inseparable whole that is not for partitioning.'

Not exactly nuanced, is it?

These people want Hamas to be involved in 'dialogue and reconciliation' and granted the freedom to acquire more lethal firepower so they can kill Israeli civilians. Whether the reconciliation takes place on the basis of the Fatah line or the Hamas line (see above) doesn't seem to matter particularly.

You may like to note that CAFOD and Oxfam, though a lot closer than they should be to Christian Aid on this issue, are at least not signatories to this deplorable document. Oxfam has stated:-

'For its part, Hamas has failed to stop armed Palestinian groups from undertaking indiscriminate rocket attacks on Israel. These attacks are unacceptable and must end.'

It's bad enough that this credits Hamas with wanting to stop the rocket attacks; if anything still worse that the statement that the attacks are 'unacceptable' is immediately cancelled out by the demand that Israel end its blockade of Gaza, and thus 'accept' not just these attacks, but also attacks using the far more deadly weaponry which the attackers could then acquire; but it's still more change than you'll get out of Christian Aid at present.

In the deepest and truest sense

As my spiritual leader speaks out, the Teddy Mo affair continues to render satire redundant:-

'ABC: Well as I’ve said I don’t think the Sudanese government has done itself any favours with this, as indeed with other policies of theirs in recent years. It would be very good if this sentence were in some ways set aside, if Julie [sic] Gibbons were allowed to return home promptly. I think everyone here is bound to be thinking with enormous compassion and sensitivity, and indeed some indignation about her situation. I hope she knows how strongly she’s supported and how many people are bearing her in mind at this time.'

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Bear Named Mo

I keep pinching myself, but I really do seem to be awake and registering the real world.

Good news from the Beeb, though...

'Inayat Bunglawala, assistant secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, also said it appeared to have been a "quite horrible misunderstanding" and Ms Gibbons should never have been arrested.

'There was no apparent intention to offend Islamic sensibilities or defame the honour and name of the Prophet Muhammad, he said.'

So there are circumstances when it would have been a non-horrible correct understanding, but - apparently, at least - they don't apply. Thank you for setting our minds at rest, Mr B.

Also, don't miss the Beeb's po-faced disquisition on the theology of soft toy naming.

As ever, the defaming of the honour and name of poor old Mo is in the capable hands of folk who call themselves his followers. Memo to Ed Husain: when things like this happen nobody needs Ayaan Hirsi Ali or Martin Amis to tell them that there's a problem. I have great respect for you, Ed; how much I respect your religion depends on how representative of it people like you are. Please don't go down the blind alley of trying to blame its image problem on a conspiracy of Islam-bashers.

The tyranny of hurt feelings

"What oft was thought but ne'er (not often,anyway) so well expressed"

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Mearsheimer and Walt: an Anglican footnote

Coming upon a stack of Mearsheimer and Walts (in English) in Berlin's top bookshop, I wanted to check whether a particular passage in their London Review of Books article had made it into the book. It had, and thanks to it I am able to save myself a lot of time and expense. It seems reasonable to say that if you find you can't trust what a book says about a subject you know something about, you've no reason to trust what it says about anything else. So I have made up my mind about The Israel Lobby. It stinks.

Here is the offending passage from the article; I did not notice any significant alteration in the book:-

'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.'

So: a church takes a perfectly innocent stand on a human rights issue, and a couple of rabbis make wild accusations of anti-Semitism in a transparent attempt to morally blackmail non-Jews into silence over Israel's crimes. Should we not applaud Mearsheimer and Walt for their courage in exposing this for the racket that it is?

As a member of the Church of England who took a close interest in these events when they happened, the only thing I feel like applauding is the authors' skill in cramming so many half truths and misrepresentations into four sentences. Apologies to readers pushed for time for my inability to produce an equally concise refutation, but I must crave your patience...

Critics of critics of critics

The claim that there is a new anti-Semitism abroad may indeed be made by some people who treat all criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic; it is certainly made by a great many people who do nothing of the kind. If you doubt this, spend some time at the Engage website; to represent Engage's position as 'criticise Israeli policy and you are by definition an anti-semite' would be a straightforward lie.

The smear against those sincerely concerned about the new anti-Semitism is followed by the sentence quoting the two rabbis' warnings of anti-Semitism in response to a particular campaign against Israel. The unwary reader is being invited to assume that the Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, and Rabbi Tony Bayfield take the 'criticise Israeli policy and you are by definition an anti-semite' line. In both gentlemen's cases this is, once again, totally untrue.1

Who's complaining?

A further assumption to which our unwary reader is implicitly invited: since it was just a couple of rabbis who attacked the Synod resolution, Zionist special pleading must have been the only possible grounds for making such a criticism. Why do the authors not see fit to mention that (among other non-Jewish critical voices) the resolution was also sharply condemned by no less an Anglican than the former Archbishop of Canterbury? Lord Carey said it made him 'ashamed to be an Anglican'. Should we ascribe this omission (which has certainly not been corrected in the book) to sloppy research, or deliberate misrepresentation?

Criticism versus demonization

So why did a disparate coalition of Jewish and non-Jewish voices speak out against the resolution? 'But the Church was guilty merely of protesting against Israeli government policy', the authors tell us with affected artlessness, as if that was enough to dispose conclusively of any possibility of anti-Semitism. It wasn't about Jews, it was 'merely' about a state which 'merely' happens to be the only Jewish one in the world.

This is not about analysis or persuasion, but about playing to the gallery - a gallery where 'it isn't anti-Semitic to criticize Israel' is a mantra for keeping minds closed and terminating debate.

And it won't do. It really, really won't. Criticism of Israel can be fair and justified. It can also demonize Israel and in demonizing Israel demonize the Jewish people. It does this when it applies double standards - as General Synod did with a 'protest' which was certainly anything but 'mere'. I distinguish two types of double standard; one might describe them as local and global.

The local double standard: telling one side of the story

Mearsheimer and Walt themselves apply the first category of double standard in exactly the same way that General Synod did. Caterpillar bulldozers were 'used by the Israelis to demolish Palestinian homes'. Well, any particular homes? Any particular Palestinians? Any particular reason? Or just randomly, for the sheer hell of it?

The answer is, of course, that the Israeli government had a policy of demolishing the homes of suicide bombers who had attacked Israel. Call it illegal, call it vindictive, call it counterproductive - fine, so long as you acknowledge that a terrorism which demolishes not just real estate but lives is part of the equation. That simple acknowledgement is too much for Mearsheimer and Walt, just as it was for General Synod.

The global double standard: singling out

It so happens that the demand for divestment from Caterpillar displayed the second category of double standard with a particularly stark clarity. General Synod met in February 2006. During 2005 the government of Zimbabwe had carried out a demolition programme which, according to UN estimates, left some 700,000 people homeless - people whose crime was, essentially, being poor.

As I wrote at the time, Synod failed to show '[a]ny interest in finding out who provided Robert Mugabe with technical backup for a house demolition campaign which dwarfed all the Israelis’ efforts.' Well, I can now answer my own question thanks (ironically, given my views about the magazine's Middle East coverage) to Christian Aid News, which published a photo of a bulldozer demolishing a shack which had been a family's home. The bulldozer was bright yellow, and the maker's logo was somewhat blurred but clearly began with a 'C'.

Has there been a campaign within the Church of England to persuade Caterpillar that it should not sell its products to Zimbabwe? No, there has not - let alone a divestment campaign.2

A historical thought experiment

If it's still not clear what this has to do with anti-Semitism, let me offer an analogy from - surprise, surprise - Germany. Under the 1918-33 Weimar Republic there were a number of financial scandals in which wealthy Jews were implicated. Let's imagine how different newspapers might have covered these stories.

A paper of the radical Left might have used them as illustrations of the rottenness of the capitalist system. So long as it gave equal prominence and similar treatment to scandals where no Jews were involved, it would have had no case to answer if anyone accused it of anti-Semitism.

A Nazi paper, on the other hand, would obviously have highlighted just those scandals involving Jews, and made sure its readers couldn't overlook the fact that they were Jewish. There would be no room for doubt as to what its agenda was.

But what would we make of a paper which consistently highlighted only the scandals involving Jews, but which, if taken to task over this, insisted that it was just a critique of the excesses of capitalism and nothing whatever to do with anti-Semitism? Would we not be forced to see this either a peculiar form of moral blindness or simple bad faith? Would we want to defend the editors indignantly against any suggestion that they were not perfectly good socialists, good liberals or good Christians?

In search of real anti-Semitism

But I'm not sure that it's much use arguing this point with Mearsheimer and Walt. As regards their attitude to anti-Semitism, there's a sentence from the previous paragraph in the article which gives the game away in glorious Technicolor. I certainly won't be the first fisker whose attention this has attracted:-

'No one would deny that there is anti-semitism among European Muslims, some of it provoked by Israel’s conduct towards the Palestinians and some of it straightforwardly racist.'

So there you have it: there are two kinds of anti-Semitism, and one is racist, but the other has been provoked. Any Jew in London, Berlin or Paris who gets beaten up by Muslims infuriated by Israel's conduct towards the Palestinians can take comfort in the knowledge that his/her assailants were not straightforward racists.

If authentic, 'racist' anti-Semitism has to involve a complete absence of provocation, we can pretty much say that it has rarely, if ever, existed. Jews have provoked Gentiles by being responsible for capitalism, communism, anarchism, Germany's defeat in the First World War, the Black Death and the killing of Christ... The list goes on. And now Israel. If only they would behave themselves!

Imagine that Mearsheimer and Walt had suggested that hatred of black people in general, or Arabs, or Muslims, is sometimes 'provoked' and therefore not 'straightforwardly' racist. Can you also imagine them being able to make a triumphal progress round Britain's universities, propounding these views to adoring audiences of left-wing students and academics?

Lobby (UK section) exposed?

Let's come back to the Synod resolution. What is the relevance of this story to Mearsheimer and Walt's central thesis? The Chief Rabbi had a spat with the Church of England over Israel - what's that got to do with the price of fish? It's pretty clear that the authors would like very much to include Britain in the picture they paint of America - a Britain under the thumb of the Lobby, in which would-be critics of Israel are silenced by the wielding of the 'anti-Semitism club' (as some people in Germany see fit to call it). But it's equally clear that to offer the case of the Synod resolution as evidence for this is absurd. For the resolution was indeed easily carried. Those voting for it were evidently not deterred by the fear of accusations of anti-Semitism, and I know of no evidence that any of them has since been cowed by the Chief Rabbi's strictures.

Perhaps we are meant to think that this was a bold, maverick action on the part of General Synod. But that's plainly nonsense, too. For a start, it's just not the C of E's style, and never has been. These days the established church is about as cosy in its relationship with the left-liberal establishment as it used to be with the landed gentry (only the ever-infuriating Evangelicals disturb the harmony).

No, as I hardly need to inform British readers, the vote reflects a media environment, both secular and Christian, in which hostile coverage of Israel is routine and pervasive. You'd be safe in guessing that among the Synod members who voted for the resolution there was a healthy majority of Guardian and Independent readers. Neither paper displays the slightest reluctance to criticize Israel. Most will also have been exposed to Christian Aid's persistent propaganda campaign against Israel. And practically all of them will have been consumers of the not exactly Israel-friendly BBC's news and current affairs programming.

Tony Blair and the logic of the Lobby thesis

My impression, then, is that Mearsheimer and Walt are not particularly well-informed about Britain. That's fair enough - I certainly don't know as much as I could know about the USA. But Britain is nevertheless crucial to their thesis. They need Britain to be, like America, firmly in the grip of the Lobby. For how, otherwise, is the Blair government's decision to join in the invasion of Iraq to be explained? On the principle of Occam's Razor, the explanatory force of the Lobby thesis depends on the assumption that Bush's decision to go to war was so perverse, irrational and immoral that only the malign influence of the Lobby can satisfactorily account for it. And if Blair's choice - irrespective of whether it was right or wrong - was truly his own, then that assumption falls. So he, no less than Bush, must be a pliant creature of the Lobby.

And that, I think, is why the General Synod of the Church of England makes its brief appearance as a heroic resistance movement against the intellectual reign of terror exercised by Jonathan Sacks and Tony Bayfield. Conclusion of my footnote: this book is toxic.

Footnotes to the footnote

1. From the Chief Rabbi's Address to the Board of Deputies of British Jews, 21 September 2003:-

'Is criticism of Israel anti-Semitism? No. Are false accusations against Israel anti-Semitism? No. Is Britain an anti-Semitic country? No and no again. This is a good, decent and tolerant country, a society of chessed which we love and to which we have loyally contributed for 350 years.

'But we say to every responsible citizen of Europe - Zakhor, remember. Remember how one thing leads to another. Remember how centuries of prejudice against Jews were captured and turned to evil by evil men for evil ends. Remember that the road to hell begins with a single step. For the love of G-d, or for the love of humanity, stand up and say "No".

'You do not have to support the current or any other Government of Israel in order to protest the demonisation of Zion and the Jewish people. You do not have to take sides in the current conflict in order to be able to say to people, "You are stirring up hatred which is wrong, dangerous and unacceptable."'

Rabbi Tony Bayfield, writing in Comment is Free on 26 June 2007:-

'I am a moderate when it comes to Israel but not, I hope, vacuous. It is an uncomfortable position with traffic coming at me from both sides. I am a Zionist and define Zionism as a non-negotiable commitment to the right of the state of Israel to exist and an equal commitment to the pursuit of peace as the highest value, to democracy and human rights. That exposes me to the rage of Israel's critics on the one side and to the Jewish "realists" and cynics on the other.'

2. The C of E's brand of anti-colonialist anti-racism evidently makes it less reluctant to vilify the Jewish state than to take a stand against a black African despot - even though his victims are also black Africans.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

A religious sort of guy

'"if he sees a very attractive woman his eye will wander and all that stuff, he doesn't look like your classic religious sort of guy,"'

- Alastair Campbell on Tony Blair.

Oh boy, do we religious guys have an image problem.

I admit that Origen is said to have castrated himself in obedience to an over-literal reading of Matthew 19:12, but these days it's optional. Honestly.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Scholarship, truth and Middle Eastern politics

Another aspect of the politics of Near Eastern archaeology - though in fact one which complements the one I covered the other day rather neatly...

'Is this Columbia University? A professor of anthropology calls for a million Mogadishus, a professor of Arabic and Islamic Science tells a girl she isn't a Semite because her eyes are green, and a professor of Persian hails the destruction of the World Trade Center as the castrating of a double phallus. The most recent tenured addition to this rogues' gallery is to be an anthropologist, the principal thrust of whose magnum opus is the suggestion that archaeology in Israel is a sort of con game meant to persuade the unwary that Jews lived there in antiquity.'

More details here; read all three articles, or at least the one by James R. Russell, from which I've taken the quote above.

I suppose get more or less worked up about most of what I write about, but there's something peculiarly nightmarish about this. At Columbia, which is not just any old university, you can get tenure for writing a book about a subject you basically know sod all about (David Rosen asks 'How can a work that apparently demonstrates an impaired understanding of the archeological sciences be regarded as good anthropology?'). All you need is to know plenty about 'discourse', and to have a thesis which lends itself to approved political uses.

You'd only need to shift the boundary a little further to enable Holocaust denial to come in from the cold and become an acceptable 'anti-imperialist narrative'.

I once browsed a book in which Holocaust denial was subjected to a Postmodern analysis. Its triumphant conclusion was that, whilst one couldn't meaningfully insist that the Holocaust had really happened, one could at least confidently assert that denying it was racist. Phew!

But such a judgment is an eminently movable feast. It assumes, on the one hand, that Jews enjoy unchallenged victim status and, on the other hand, that Holocaust denial is the preserve of scary white men with drastic haircuts and jackboots. If, however, a group with a higher victimhood rating than the Jews should appropriate Holocaust denial as a convenient weapon against the legitimacy of Israel, nothing could be easier than to stand the verdict on its head. Nothing, after all, is real except politics.

(hat tip: Engage)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Muslim dead

'This is not the only manner in which [Ronan] Bennett gives himself away. He refers to the "Muslim dead from Iraq to Afghanistan" and conscripts them for what he imagines is his side. How dare he? Has he even begun to tot up the number of Muslims murdered by the Taliban? Or the total slaughtered in Iraq since al-Qaida began its campaign to level the Shi'a mosques? Does he think that the forces of the Northern Alliance, or the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, who fight on "our" side against barbarism, are somehow inauthentic Muslims because they prefer Bush and Blair to Mullah Omar or Abu Musab al-Zarqawi? Something in his tone makes me suspect that this may well be his problem, just as I might have preferred him to mention that it was also the Provisional IRA, and not just the 1974 Prevention of Terrorism Act, that left "the Irish community in Britain feeling like a suspect nation".'

- C. Hitchens in cracking form in the Guardian. Read it all.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Christian Aid accused on anti-Israel bias

Dr Irene Lancaster had a meeting with Christian Aid heads in Jerusalem last week. Here she reports on it, and here she follows up with a memo to CA. Required reading.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

‘Help Me I’m A Socialist’

"We know a lot of bloggertarian bullying goes on. A report we commissioned showed that nine out of 10 people with leftist beliefs have been fisked," he said. "Anything which makes it more difficult to do that is good."

Read more about the latest legislative proposal for making us all better people.

Two states: a North European parable

A short frontier runs across the Jutland peninsula, dividing the former Duchy of Schleswig between Germany and Denmark. The region's mixed population is not altogether neatly divided by the borderline; there are Danish-speaking people on the German side and German-speaking people on the Danish side.

The members of both of these minority communities enjoy full citizenship rights, and official recognition for their languages. Which is obviously as it should be.

Would anyone dispute that Denmark exists to provide the culturally distinct group of people called Danes with their own state? Would anyone argue that it has no right to be any more Danish than German? Isn't it clear that anyone who feels their identity is unacceptably compromised by living in a Danish state rather than a German one has only to cross the border and take up residence on the other side?

These are reflections prompted by a piece examining the small print accompanying some versions of the two-state solution. Palestine must have no Jews living in it because it is to be an Arab state; Israel must not be a Jewish state because it has Arabs living in it. Even though there is no shortage of Arab states, but (like Denmark) only one Israel for Jews to call their own.

The Third Destruction of the Temple

An aspect of conflict in the Middle East which is completely new to me: allegations that the archaelogical evidence proving the Temple Mount in Jerusalem was a Jewish holy place long before it was a Muslim one is being systematically destroyed. But how can that be, you may be wondering - hasn't Israel run the whole of Jerusalem since 1967? In fact the Israelis left control of the Mount in the hands of an Arab Muslim body, the Wafq, and it is they who are charged with responsibility for the vandalism.

Melanie Phillips has more details.

Would I have remained ignorance for so long if the roles were reversed, and it was Jews trashing Muslim stuff? Somehow I doubt it.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Left that Doesn't Learn

Mitchell Cohen's article in Dissent magazine, 'Anti-Semitism and the Left that Doesn’t Learn' has been noticed by a lot of the blogs I read, and deservedly so. It contains some leftist assumptions which I no longer share, but I guess that makes it all the more of a must-read for folk who do share them. Mick Hartley has the concluding money quote.

Ken the Unrepentant

I promised more on Mayor Ken, and I just know you've been waiting with bated breath.

Well, we're still on the Oliver Feingold case, about which I blogged here and here. Pandora of the Independent suggested that he had wasted a substantial amount of public money (£198,000, to be precise) by his failure to apologize for comparing a Jewish journalist to a concentration camp guard.

Ken's reaction in full:-

'Sir: Pandora (31 October) fails to mention that I won my High Court appeal because the judge found that I had not brought the office of Mayor into disrepute and the decision to suspend me was wrong. Mr Justice Collins found that the Adjudication Panel for England had misdirected itself. The sole reason therefore that there is now a cost to the public purse is that the Adjudication Panel launched an action against me that was proved totally without merit. Your complaint about cost should therefore be directed against the Adjudication Panel.'


Which is being interpreted, f*** off. So the mayoral lips still refuse to form the magic word 'sorry', and Oliver Feingold is still like a concentration guard. If you're Jewish and offended, f*** off. If you think that, whatever the letter of the law may say, Ken's unrepentant tailoring of personal abuse to the ethnicity of the abusee brings him and much of what he professes to stand for into disrepute, f*** off.

That 'sorry' might have enabled me to regard Ken's commissioning of a report on Islamophobia as something more than a piece of cynical vote-grabbing. Though it would still have been difficult, given that one of the report's authors is Inayat Bunglawala of the MCB. Mr Bunglawala, of course, could do a lot to counter Islamophobia by simply keeping his trap shut.

I'd still like to see Ken quizzed on the contrast between his fate and that of Councillor Miles of Wellingborough, but nobody other than yours truly seems to have picked up on it. Doesn't anybody do any research these days?

As I wrote last year, if Ken had been mayor of Berlin he'd long since have become the ex-mayor. Not because Germany is under the thumb of the Lobby, but because the country which produced concentration camp guards has managed to learn a thing or two from its history. Unlike Ken.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

To church with Einstein on Remembrance Sunday

During the years following the First World War Albert Einstein was a committed pacifist, campaigning for universal disarmament and encouraging conscientious objection. In 1933, however, he immediately recognized the Nazi regime in Germany as a threat to peace which could only be countered by the threat or use of force. He appealed to the democracies to take preventive action before it was too late.

In a speech in 1940 Joseph Goebbels taunted the defeated French with their failure to march into Germany and overthrow Hitler as soon as he had come to power. They had avoided conflict until German rearmament had put them at a decisive disadvantage. It was exactly what Einstein had said.

To many of his former comrades in the pacifist movement Einstein was a traitor. But who really did more for the cause of peace?

In fact his commitment to peace was undiminished, as demonstrated by the final decade of his life, during which he campaigned for the prevention of nuclear war by bringing all nuclear weapons under the control of a world government.

If Einstein could have shared a pew with me at my church's Remembrance Day service on Sunday, he would have heard many reminders of the pity of war and the imperative of peace-making, and unquestionably he would have approved. But I suspect he might have missed the note of gratitude towards those who, when fighting was the least evil, gave everything that others might live. He might have sensed a certain halfheartedness about the proceedings, as if we resented the annual invasion of our space by these uncouth outsiders with their uniforms and medals and flags (in fact most of our regulars simply didn't show up). He might have wondered at the Christian left's reluctance to acknowledge that, if there is ever such a thing as a just war, there are therefore times and places in which the martial virtues become Christian virtues.

(my information on Einstein comes from an article by Prof. Wolfram Wette of Freiburg University in the September issue of the German history magazine Damals)

Monday, November 12, 2007

Six dead, liberal love affair with Hamas unharmed

Deadly clash at Arafat Gaza rally

Six dead after shootout at Arafat rally

Five killed during Arafat rally

Security forces open fire on stone-throwing Palestinian protesters, six killed. Stand by for global outcry over disproportionate use of force by Israel.

Or, as it happens, not. Even if you didn't already know, there'd be a whopping great clue in the coyness of the headlines above about who was doing the shooting. Can you guess which major British media outlets they come from? (Compare and contrast with this and this)

One of the three economy-with-the-truthers redeems itself somewhat by carrying another piece of news from Gaza which is fairly difficult to blame on the Israelis. Not a dicky bird from the the other two, however.

Is it any wonder that well-meaning liberal Christians are prejudiced against Israel?

What's on a man's mind

'Brown needs big beasts in his lame menagerie'

- thus the link to a comment piece in the Sunday Times.

It took me a second or so before I realised that the fourth word did not contain an 'r'. I need new glasses. Or something.

PS If you're disposed to take this seriously, maybe I was thinking along the right lines after all.

¿Por qué no te callas?

Don't be lost for words next time you bump into a ranting demagogue and befriender of Holocaust deniers and pogromists who does his ranting in Spanish.

Worried about the pronunciation? Watch the video here and listen along with a monarch who has just acquired hero status at Grumpy's place.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

A little mediaeval theology

Big day for the Grumpies: five years since eyes met over the spag bol, etc, etc, etc. Five years which have done little to cure me of my romantic tendencies, says he with insufferable smugness.

But you don't want to know about that, so I'm handing the rest of the post over to a fifteenth century German monk - for no better reason than that it's something I happened to read today and which moved me.

We Should Offer Ourselves and All That We Have to God, Praying for All

The Disciple
ALL things in heaven and on earth, O Lord, are Yours. I long to give myself to You as a voluntary offering to remain forever Yours. With a sincere heart I offer myself this day to You, O Lord, to Your eternal service, to Your homage, and as a sacrifice of everlasting praise. Receive me with this holy offering of Your precious Body which also I make to You this day, in the presence of angels invisibly attending, for my salvation and that of all Your people.

O Lord, upon Your altar of reconciliation, I offer You all the sins and offenses I have committed in Your presence and in the presence of Your holy angels, from the day when I first could sin until this hour, that You may burn and consume them all in the fire of Your love, that You may wipe away their every stain, cleanse my conscience of every fault, and restore to me Your grace which I lost in sin by granting full pardon for all and receiving me mercifully with the kiss of peace.

What can I do for all my sins but humbly confess and lament them, and implore Your mercy without ceasing? In Your mercy, I implore You, hear me when I stand before You, my God. All my sins are utterly hateful to me. I wish never to commit them again. I am sorry for them and will be sorry as long as I live. I am ready to do penance and make satisfaction to the utmost of my power.

Forgive me, O God, forgive me my sins for Your Holy Name's sake. Save my soul which You have redeemed by Your most precious Blood. See, I place myself at Your mercy. I commit myself to Your hands. Deal with me according to Your goodness, not according to my malicious and evil ways.

I offer to You also all the good I have, small and imperfect though it be, that You may make it more pure and more holy, that You may make it dear and acceptable to You, and raise it continually towards perfection, and finally that You may lead me, stubborn and unprofitable servant as I am, to a worthy and blessed end.

I offer You also all the holy desires of Your devoted servants, the needs of my parents, friends, brothers, sisters, and all who are dear to me; of all who for Your sake have been kind to me or to others; of all who have wished and asked my prayers and Masses for them and theirs, whether they yet live in the flesh or are now departed from this world, that they may all experience the help of Your grace, the strength of Your consolation, protection from dangers, deliverance from punishment to come, and that, freed from all evils, they may gladly give abundant thanks to You.

I offer You also these prayers and the Sacrifice of Propitiation for those especially who have in any way injured, saddened, or slandered me, inflicted loss or pain upon me, and also for all those whom I have at any time saddened, disturbed, offended, and abused by word or deed, willfully or in ignorance. May it please You to forgive us all alike our sins and offenses against one another.

Take away from our hearts, O Lord, all suspicion, anger, wrath, contention, and whatever may injure charity and lessen brotherly love. Have mercy, O Lord, have mercy on those who ask Your mercy, give grace to those who sorely need it, and make us such that we may be worthy to enjoy Your favor and gain eternal life.

- Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, Book 4, Chapter 9 (source here, though I've made a few changes where I prefer the Penguin translation; the Latin original is here)

My sins burnt away to nothing in the fire of God's love, and all I have to do is place them on the altar. I find it a very reassuring image.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Rubbish plans flawed, says mayor

Thus a BBC headline. So I was a little disappointed not to find a report on a tense meeting of Ken's election campaign team. Boom, boom! OK, sorry, but please understand that Grumpy is still a child at heart. And he does have perfectly serious reasons for not trusting Ken further than he can throw him - more on that anon.

The way we were

A perfect inter-generational stand-off. First off Johann Hari (enough material for an entire blog, but have no fear, I'm not volunteering), reminding us that his generation is the most righteous and enlightened ever to have inhabited our planet:-

'In the contempt for these shows, there is also a disguised longing for the age of emotional repression, when British people didn't cry or shout or scream on television. But that world had horrible flaws that far outweigh ours. Watch the 1945 film Brief Encounter now and it seems like the record of two deeply mentally-ill people. Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson meet on a train, fall in love and realise they are perfect for each other – but they are so deeply repressed they can't even bring themselves to touch, and return to miserable, wasted lives, wondering what might have been. This squalid stoicism made women feel obliged to stay with men who beat them too: the stiff upper lip was intimately connected to the bruised upper lip.'

But then there was Helen Maclenan, a decidedly atypical Indie reader whom I take to be of a certain age:-

'Sir: Johann Hari entirely misses the point of Brief Encounter, where the characters make the choice to return to their responsibilities and not to destroy the lives of their families.

'This may seem odd to Hari, as a member of the "me" generation, but there was a time when it was considered reasonable to consider the needs of others before one's own desires.'

Now, ain't that the truth? While we still can, we must cherish those who can tell us how it was before the Great Cultural Revolution. One day we will only have the films, their strangeness confronting us like Stonehenge or the writings of the Etruscans, and the Haris to interpret them for us (when they're not too busy designing Superpersons).

PS I don't want to gild Ms Maclenan's lily, but I do think it's revealing to chart the evolution of the concept of repression. It starts with Freud, of course, and for him it means the ways we prevent urges which we feel to be unacceptable from becoming conscious. But even Johann Hari surely cannot believe that the hero and heroine of Brief Encounter are unconscious of their feelings for each other. No, what he is saying is that their emotional health depends not merely on being aware that they're dying to shag each other, but on acting on that awareness. As if the point of psychoanalysis was not just to bring your Oedipus complex into the light of consciousness, but also to put it into practice. In Hariland morality only ****s you up.

Word of the Week

Indie reader Calvin Aitkin has coined the delightful portmanteau word 'talismatic'. Blending 'talismanic' and 'charismatic', it admirably describes what tigers are. When viewed from a safe distance, of course.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Something for the weekend

This may not quite be the last word in bizarre sports, but it can't be far off.

Friday, November 02, 2007

A candle for Rami

Depending on where you are, you may still have time to act on this suggestion from Christian Friends of Israel, and mark All Souls' Day by commemorating a martyr to religious intolerance. If not, do it a day late!

Wishful thinking

In my programme of Koran reading I've recently covered Surah 4, verse 34 (I've actually read a lot more than that would suggest - I took the short surahs at the end in reverse order, for which a stern punishment must await me, I've no doubt).

'What's all this about Surah 4, verse 34?', I hear you cry.

In N J Dawood's splendid Penguin translation, which I'm reading:

'Men have authority over women because God has made the one superior to the other, and because they spend their wealth to maintain them. Good women are obedient. They guard their unseen parts because God has guarded them. As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and send them to their beds and beat them. Then, if they obey you, take no further action against them. God is high, supreme.'

Or if you prefer, this is from a lavish edition (gold leaf and all) which Frau Grumpy acquired second-hand the other day, presented to its previous owner with the compliments of the late King Fahd:

'Men are the protectors
And maintainers of women
Because Allah has given
The one more (strength)
Than the other, and because
They support them
From their means.
Therefore the righteous women
Are devoutly obedient, and guard
In (the husband's) absence
What Allah would have them guard.
As to those women
On whose part ye fear
Disloyalty and ill-conduct,
Admonish them (first),
(Next), refuse to share their beds,
(And last) beat them (lightly);
But if they return to obedience,
Seek not against them
Means (of annoyance).
For Allah is Most High,
Great (above you all).'

Well, the pseudo-Jacobean English is more than a little cheesy for my taste, but it's obviously nice to see the beating qualified as 'light'; a footnote amplifies this into 'some slight physical correction', and observes that 'all authorities are unanimous in deprecating any sort of cruelty'. Can't say fairer than that, can you?

You might like a third opinion. So here's a brand-new paraphrase from a non-Muslim celeb:

'It is not laid down in the Koran that women can be beaten by their husbands'

So this is not, surprising as it may seem, a Muslim-bashing piece - though it is certainly a reminder of the limits of 'moderation' in those whose theology remains ultimately fundamentalist. Goodness knows, there's some decidedly pre-feminist stuff in the Bible (though, religiophobes please note, nothing about wife-beating being OK). No, this outburst has actually been provoked by the spectacle of someone who earns untold squillions wearing a funny wig being apparently too addicted to wishful thinking to get a basic fact right. Guess who.

She has some sensible things to say too, I admit, but as Damian Thompson says,

'I’m sorry, but that is exactly the sort slippery misinterpretation of the Koran produced by Western liberals who are embarrassed by what the Islamic scriptures actually say.'

...and who imagine that if we keep on pretending that it doesn't say what it does say, we will somehow magically induce Muslims to pretend it says what we would like it to say. A conviction which (I submit, M'Lud) suffers from the disadvantages of being (a) grossly patronizing and (b) wrong.

PS My source, the 'blood-crazed ferret' Damian Thompson, now takes his rightful place in my blogroll.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Talking of religious intolerance...

Scenario: you've just written a swingeing exposé of Muslim fundamentalist bigotry. Your satisfaction is mixed with a certain unease: suppose your friends or your boss accuse you of Islamophobia? What to do? Easy - have a go at the Christians too! Can't think of anything to have a go about? Well, make something up, for goodness' sake!

'If Christian fundamentalists were doing this – as they used to, and would like to again – none of us would hesitate in erupting in rage.'

We're talking here about women being stoned to death and ex-Muslims receiving death threats. I would indeed erupt in something as close to rage as a well-meaning woolly Anglican can permit himself, and what's more I'd like to erupt here and now against the folk who hold these disgracefully un-Christian sentiments. So, go on, tell me more. Some names, some damning quotes. A Web address for Christians for the Execution of Apostates.

The writer who (you will perhaps not be too surprised to learn) fails to provide any such details is not merely some crazed blogger who's been overdosing on Dawkins, but Johann Hari of the allegedly liberal Independent.


Saturday, October 27, 2007

Charity, politics and Christian Aid

Gosh, haven't posted on Christian Aid since July. Shame on me. Here's a letter I sent to the Times the other day. The background is here, here and here. They doubtless thought the topic had had enough of an airing after all that. Or else they just didn't like my letter.

'Sir, Earlier this year Christian Aid produced a policy report entitled "Israel and Palestine: A Question of Viability", which continued the charity's long history of biased campaigning against Israel. Replete with criticisms of Israel, it mentions Hamas only once - as a victim of Israeli actions.

'Christian Aid, 22% of whose income comes from government grants, describe the document as being "aimed at UK and European Union policymakers". To complete the symbiotic picture, we need only recall that a well-trodden career path leads from the aid charities to the largesse-dispensing Department for International Development.

'Where such relationships exist between big business and the state, I imagine that someone like Baroness Kennedy would have little difficulty perceiving them as undemocratic, lacking in transparency and potentially corrupt. At the very least, the law should insist that charities choose between being the kind that collect state handouts or the kind that seek to twist elected legislators' arms over contentious political issues. They should not expect to be both.

'Yours faithfully,


(sources here, here and here; I first raised this issue here)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

More on James Watson

I see the Health Editor of the Times agrees with me about the meaningfulness of IQ testing. He should go far.

Before leaving the Watson theme, I shouldn't omit to mention one of the reasons why the liberal commentators have been passing round the smelling salts: his reported suggestion that, if it becomes possible to identify foetuses which are carrying the 'gay gene', women should have the option of aborting them.

This is a scandalously immoral reason for killing a child, is it not? Not a bit like the humane, caring reasons for which abortions can be legally performed on the NHS.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Indie refutes James Watson: could do better

Fair dos to the Indie. True, Steve Connor does his rather less than convincing best to patronize James Watson. And once again, the paper's readers are invited to misunderstand Watson at the most basic level: the crucial qualification 'on average' is missing when Connor says he has made 'remarks implying that black Africans are less intelligent than white westerners'. But at least Connor robustly defends Watson against the charge of racism - a charge which has been quite unashamedly (and successfully) levelled with the intention of silencing him.

Why does the patronage fail to convince? I must first reiterate that I'm totally unqualified to say whether Watson is right or wrong. But take this old chestnut from Connor: 'people who are good at IQ tests are merely demonstrating little more than they are good at IQ tests'. Then, a couple of sentences on, we discover that, where Chinese Americans are concerned, high scores in IQ tests correlate impressively with an ability to get into the top universities. It's politically OK to point this out, you see - and, no, I'm pretty sure it's not because Harvard and Stanford select their students simply by giving them IQ tests.

I suspect we can infer from this that, whatever it is exactly that IQ tests measure, it correlates rather strongly with skills which are crucial for societies seeking to lift themselves out of poverty. Like, say, China, or like, say, sub-Saharan Africa. Not that it's all you need (Koreans are near the top of the league, but that's little consolation for Kim Jong-Il's subjects), but you've got problems if it's in short supply. If we're going to dismiss IQ testing as an arbitrary construct, we could just as well say the same about our perception that Africa is poor, and save ourselves a lot of worry. But I doubt if a postmodern logic as consistent as that would commend itself to Mr Connor.

And what of environmental influences on IQ? Only responsible for 30% of the variation (and that admission by Mr Connor is an indication of how far the nature v. nurture battle lines have shifted over the last 30 years), but you can certainly do a lot with that 30%. What you can't do is eliminate the variation. So, whilst it's true that abundant food has made today's westerners far taller than the half-starved peasants we're descended from, we obviously haven't all become equally tall.

Suppose (to keep the argument on safe and neutral terrain) the braininess gene was more abundant in Scotland than in England. There would be plenty of environmental things the English could do top up their IQ levels, but if the Scots were simultaneously doing the same things the gap would remain.

These are not points I would dream of making for James Watson's benefit. They're not rocket science, let alone genetics. But it strikes me that Mr Connor would be well advised to do a little more thinking before he makes so bold as to accuse the co-discoverer of the double helix of being simplistic.

Another case for the Thought Police

If a priest writing about religious affairs in his parish magazine can be 'looked at' by the boys and girls in blue, it's but a short step to 'looking at' a Nobel laureate talking about his own scientific field.

He may be right, he may be wrong. Biology was never my strong point, and when it started to involve cutting up rats I baled out at the earliest opportunity, so clearly the world does not need to hear my opinions on the subject. If he's hopelessly, absurdly wrong, let's have the reasons splashed over the front page of the Indie (they could even offer Stephen Rose a chance to teach rather than preach, just for a change). And please believe me, I hang on Keith Vaz's every word, I really do. It's just that I would like the option of hanging on a word or two from James Watson before I make up my mind.

If may I be permitted a little recycling, this (and its follow-ups here and here) will save me the bother of repeating myself.

And I'll tell you what really gets me about the article. It's the sheer sanctimoniousness of it. Affecting moral outrage and a high-minded concern to rebut a racial slander, it is actually a piece of gross character assassination in itself. Does Watson really think that 'black people [a]re less intelligent than white people', with the implication that he considers himself entitled to automatically treat every black person he encounters as a dimwit? Of course not. So is the Indie scribe too stupid to understand that propositions about group averages (however misguided they may be) provide no basis whatsoever for prejudging or discriminating against individuals? Or too set on making mischief to be interested in pointing it out?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Home Thoughts from Abroad

What kind of Britain will I be coming back to next year?

Look on the bright side: one where the Thought Police aren't too happy in their work. Though I'm sure that, given time, new recruitment and training strategies can be devised to transform the canteen culture appropriately.

(via Laban, from whom I also learn that there is a new religious establishment in the land; evidently the C of E got disestablished while nobody was looking)

Monday, October 15, 2007

Reasons to be frightened

'If the Professor was merely prejudiced then his suggestion that Jews monopolise American foreign policy could be lightly dismissed as another manifestation of his hatred. I wouldn't be, as I said I was, frightened.

'Instead I am faced with a lucid, liberal intellectual lending his support, apparently through careful sifting of the evidence (but without any justification I can see), to a contention supported by Nazi Jew haters. And that, that I do find frightening.'

- Daniel Finkelstein on Richard Dawkins - read the rest here. Myself, I'm somewhat less impressed by the Dawk's lucidity and liberalism. However, taking him as one manifestation of a much broader trend among the lucid and liberal in their own estimation, the quote above makes an excellent summary of the raison d'être for this blog. It was frightening when I started two-and-a-bit years ago, and little has changed for the better since.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

A case for reform

Another from my trawl through Norm's recent posts.

It's not exactly news that George Bush takes a dim view of the United Nations Forum for Denouncing Israel Human Rights Council. We know who's pulling his strings, don't we?

But it's come to something when the Council's President publicly agrees with him.

Dawk v. The Lobby

Well, the Mearsheimer and Walt bandwagon has hit the road, and guess who's leapt on board:-

'When you think about how fantastically successful the Jewish lobby has been, though, in fact, they are less numerous I am told - religious Jews anyway - than atheists and [yet they] more or less monopolise American foreign policy as far as many people can see. So if atheists could achieve a small fraction of that influence, the world would be a better place.'

(via that model of thoughtful and non-triumphalist atheism, Norm)

Yes, our leading purveyor of religiophobic bigotry also has a sideline in racist mythology. What a surprise. The irony is that the Dawk's credibility is founded on the perception that he's a scientist. Which I dare say he was, once upon a time.

Monday, October 01, 2007

In Praise of Idleness?

So good old Max Weber was on to something after all with his Protestant Work Ethic. So, at least, say researchers from Bath University who claim to have found that Protestant countries have the highest employment rates.

If it's true, it's fascinating that the effect still persists in an age in which nominally 'Protestant' countries are not exactly noted for the extent of religious piety. In other words, the work ethic is still weaving its spell over people who never go near a church.

Of course, it's easy to think up 'Yes, but what about...?'s. E.g. the richest part of Germany, with the lowest unemployment rate, is overwhelmingly Catholic Bavaria. And the Catholic Irish aren't exactly doing badly now that external circumstances have at last given them half a chance.

One or two more are raised by the collection of religious spokespersons whom Ruth Gledhill feels obliged to consult. They make points of varying convincingness. Taking Irene Lancaster first, I'm sure the researchers wouldn't dream of denying the strength of the Jewish work ethic, but there is the problem that Jews have normally been in a small minority and thus not able to exercise a decisive influence on the societies in which they live.

Concerning the anonymous Catholic spokesperson's contribution, yes, I'm sure Pope Benedict has said lots of good things about work, but Catholics don't always take a huge amount of notice of what the Pope says...

I suspect Catholicism and Hinduism are alike in that they point both ways: there is a work ethic, certainly, but it is in competition with an ideal of world-renunciation which is much less strong in either Protestantism or Judaism.

Coming to Islam, our spokesperson says 'it was not possible to make an accurate comparison with Islamic countries because too many of this countries were dictatorships or monarchies, where the original values of Islam had been suppressed.' Begging a question or two, perhaps?

I confess to being a little disappointed that Ms Gledhill couldn't find a spokesperson willing to say 'our religion glorifies idleness, and jolly good too'. Maybe he/she was still in bed when she phoned.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Seeing and believing: an icon for the scapegoaters

Coming to the second Melanie Phillips post, scapegoating needs its icons as well as its legends. A boy dies in his father's arms, deliberately shot by a callous Israeli soldier. Or did he? If TV station France 2 can be compelled to release the footage it has refused to make public, we may be able to pass a definitive judgment on claim that the whole thing was a fake - a latter-day Blood Libel. The story is still live, Melanie has posted again on it and will doubtless continue to do so.

But how much difference will it make if the claims are proven? Millions - perhaps billions - have seen and believed. Neo-Nazis, Muslims and nice, liberal, Guardian-reading Anglicans united in their indignation. And the last, having seen and believed, became that much more of a receptive audience for Mearsheimer and Walt.

It's part of the price Israel pays for being a democracy. Regimes which take the shooting-innocent-civilians thing seriously take care to shoot a foreign photographer or two before unplugging their country from the Internet.

Mearsheimer and Walt: the Shove in the Back Legend

Have no fear, I haven't given up in disgust, it's just that practically all of this month has been taken up with holiday and illness. Evidently staying at home is the healthy option.

So now I'm busy trawling through about 50,000 posts on my favourite blogs. Where to start? Well, an important and frightening place to start is with a couple of posts from Melanie Phillips.

In the first she quotes the wise words of LA Times writer Timothy Rutten reviewing Mearsheimer and Walt's The Israel Lobby. Rutter in turn quotes New Yorker editor David Remnick, who says that the Iraq fiasco 'has left Americans furious and demanding explanations. Mearsheimer and Walt provide one: the Israel lobby.' Rutter then concludes:-

'In fact, if you accept the analysis put forward in this book, it’s impossible not to conclude that the United States was, in fact, tricked into a disastrous war in Iraq by a domestic Fifth Column and that the ranks of that subversive formation are filled with Jews, their friends and willing dupes.

'Mearsheimer and Walt go to great pains to proclaim their disinterested benevolence toward all and to attach the word ‘realist’ to their argument. The only adjective that comes to this reader’s mind is "sinister."'

Not only sinister, but chillingly familiar. Germany, November1918: after the failure of its last big offensive the army is on the verge of being routed on the Western Front; on the home front despair finds an outlet in a wave of strikes; the Kaiser acknowledges the hopelessness of the situation and abdicates. The power vacuum is filled by politicians of the democratic Left, who form a provisional government, grasp the nettle of suing for peace, and then draft the democratic constitution of the ill-fated Weimar Republic. A weary, humiliated, angry people look for explanations.

Now it so happens that some of the most prominent personalities among these democratic politicians are Jews. As are a significant number of the radical socialists who led the strikes.

Or does it? Could it be that this fact provides the key to what's really been going on? Namely, that the Fatherland's heroic forces were on the verge of a glorious victory, only to have it snatched from them by a fiendishly cunning plan to foment unrest behind the lines, and thus smooth the way to power for a clique of politicians, revolutionary agitators and profiteers, united beneath their superficial differences by their lack of patriotism, their unscrupulousness - and their Jewishness.

So ran the Stab in the Back Legend (Dolchstoßlegende), which began gaining adherents immediately after the events of November 1918. One man may or may not have believed in the legend, but certainly believed it had an indispensible part to play in realizing his own dreams of power. Enjoying comfortable board and lodging at the state's expense (officially a prison cell) after his first attempt at seizing power, he wrote a book setting the Stab in the Back in its wider context of Jewish bestiality. The rest, as they say, is history.

And history has a way of repeating itself. Of course, the details are different. Then, a stab in the back to cheat a nation of its victory. Now, a shove in the back to ensure that a nation fights a war which is not in its interest. And of course Mearsheimer and Walt are not Hitlers.

But the Stab in the Back Legend came in many versions, some relatively 'sophisticated' and not - at least overtly - anti-Semitic. Once the logic of scapegoating is established, however, it tends to be the most consistent and ruthless scapegoaters who reap the rewards.

For the other Melanie Phillips post, see my next.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Was your research really necessary?

A couple of gems from the social scientists.

Item one:-

'Social networking websites such as Facebook and MySpace are unlikely to help users build close new friendships, a researcher said Tuesday.

'This is because people feel they need face-to-face contact in order to develop trust, said Doctor Will Reader, from Sheffield Hallam University.'

Well, duh, as everyone seems to be saying lately.

Item two:-

'People are willing to dish out more dough to live in neighborhoods with others of the same race and education level, a new study finds.'

Yes, right across the board: both white and black, both the college-educated and (this, I admit, is perhaps not a total 'well, duh') the non-college-educated.

Rich neighbours are popular with everyone, though. Furthermore...

'Those with higher income, as well as a higher education level, also were willing to pay more to live in a neighborhood served by better schools, a factor that could lead to exclusion eventually of lower-income families from "good" school districts, the researchers stated.

'"Our estimates suggest that the improvement in a school's quality would disproportionately attract more highly educated households to the neighborhood, in turn making the neighborhood even more attractive to higher-income, highly educated households, and raising prices further," Patrick Bayer of Duke University and his co-authors said in a prepared statement.'

Who'd have thought it? Well, OK, maybe not the zealous egalitarians who gave Britain its comprehensive school system.