Monday, December 24, 2007
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
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).
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.
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
'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
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?
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
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
'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
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
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
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.