Monday, December 29, 2008
'There is a tendency to reduce the Middle East to a simplistic morality play where Good battles Evil, projecting our own victim politics on to other people's complex conflicts.
'The Israelis I met bear no comparison with the caricature of expansionist “Zio-Nazis”. [...]'
- Mick Hume reports on a visit to Israel, and puts the concerns actuating this blog into a nutshell. The tendencies he describes continue to find an echo in the churches.
Simplistic morality plays have an enduring appeal for Christians of a certain sort, and the traditional view that the festive season is incomplete without some Jewish baddies is enjoying quite a comeback - as I noted in my post on Christian Aid's 2004 Christmas Appeal. This year we've had priests saying it with carols - either by banning them or, worse, rewriting them.
There's not much to be added to this post from a couple of years ago. It's been a year in which innocent civilians in Israel have been blessedly secure from the attentions of suicide bombers. It's also been a year in which innocent civilians in Bethlehem have continued to suffer misery resulting from the Israeli security barrier. These facts are not unrelated (that the will to butcher Jews is alive and well has been gruesomely confirmed in Mumbai). The world is complicated, and surely nowhere more so in the Middle East.
To left-leaning Christians whose emotional response to the conflict has been reinforced by a pre-Advent pilgrimage: I don't want you to be silent about what the people in Bethlehem are going through (though I would like you to revise the silent assumption that Darfur, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zimbabwe are of lesser concern simply because you don't choose to take your holidays there). I do want you to give it a basic level of context, to hear and tell the Israeli story too, to acknowledge that it takes two to make peace. When you fail to do that, whatever blend of naivete, political dogmatism and - just possibly - prejudice it is that actuates you, you hand the terrorists a propaganda victory to compensate them for their lost opportunities for slaughter.
One or two further messages. To Mr Stephen Hugh-Jones: thank you for your comments; be assured that I'm not ignoring you, and will have my say in due course. To the little band of regulars who have appreciated my posts, apologies that you've been having a thin time lately. It's been something of an annus horribilis for Mrs Cyrus and myself, and I've often felt blogging is the last thing I want to do after a day in front of the computer. I hope for rather better things in the New Year.
To all readers, peace and joy over the remainder of the Christmas season and in the New Year, and (I need hardly add) please continue to pray for peace in the Holy Land.
Saturday, December 06, 2008
We're still very much in the same territory as Grumpy's post on Astrid Proll (not that Dr Lucas has ever been a terrorist herself, I hasten to add). A Green Party ought to be a very good thing indeed. This one won't be getting my vote as long as we carry on hearing this kind of thing from its leader.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
You kill because you are fascists, we kill because we care. The definitive voice of romantic leftism: Astrid Proll, 61, still doesn't get it.
The RAF aka Baader-Meinhof made this unfair and oppressive world a little more unfair and oppressive. That's all. There's still time for Ms Proll to read Albert Camus' The Rebel.
Monday, November 10, 2008
'One industry expert says: "In a lot of city centres it has replaced the donor kebab shop as a place where people go to get food and hang out after the pub."'
I always did wonder what went into those kebabs.
Sunday, November 09, 2008
The initiative has the support of politicians across the spectrum from Christian Democrats to Left Party members, plus sundry academics. Names with a resonance outside Germany include Matthias Küntzel (see my links section), Benny Morris and Nobel Literature Prize winner Elfrida Jelinek (something of a surprise to me - I evidently need to revise my perceptions of her politics).
You don't have to be German to sign! Germany is Iran's leading European trade partner, and that should concern everyone.
Oh, and by the way. Yes, of course Israel has the Bomb. What it doesn't have is leaders who talk openly about wiping nearby countries off the map (and, no, that wasn't a 'mistranslation'). Or who host conferences for genocide-denying racists. I haven't been celebrating Obama's triumph, but I'll start partying retrospectively if and when he convinces me that he has the measure of the seriousness of the Iranian threat.
Monday, October 27, 2008
- Rafael Behr reviews Labour MP Denis MacShane's new book Globalising Hatred: The New Anti-Semitism for the Observer (hat tip: Engage). MacShane is, as Behr notes, not Jewish - a notable glimmer of hope.
Sunday, October 26, 2008
Maybe Norm would consider a small donation.
UPDATE: Norm finds my analogy "stretched". I'm unrepentant. The specific provocation here was that Norm conceded that adverts on buses probably wouldn't convert anyone, but thought they were still worth doing just on a "Look, everyone, we exist!" basis (aka "registering an atheist presence in the public domain"). My feeling is that to seek visibility and public validation for an identity defined by a shared lack of belief is pretty much a reductio ad absurdum of identity politics.
Another attempt at making the point by analogy. I have a lot of time for the proposition that our public space is grossly oversexualized. But the last argument I would think of supporting it with is that people who aren't interested in sex are unfairly marginalized. It's precisely because sex is interesting and important that the claims of privacy and modesty deserve attention.
It seems reasonable to expect that people who aren't interested in sex will not in general spend a lot of time advertising the fact, simply because they're busy getting on with whatever does tickle their fancies. If you don't do God, do whatever it is you do do. Be a socialist, be a Zionist, be a cricket-lover, be a country music fan. If that's enough, fine. If it's not, the first thing to be clear about is that unbelief won't fill the hole however much noise you make about it.
The right not to believe is certainly worth making a noise about. But that's a different matter entirely. Actually, atheism is only interesting so long as it is contested. When the battle for the right to be an atheist has been won, all that's left is - literally nothing. The victory is doomed to be a Pyrrhic one. And so, it seems to me, the militant atheist (and I'm not getting at Norm now - he's not really as militant as all that) can't, after all, do without belief. The belief he clings to is that the battle is still raging - even if the battlefield is a public space so comprehensively secularized that even the - until recently - most powerful believer in the land "didn't do God". Every expression of belief must be an affront, an implicit threat to freedom of unbelief - so the struggle continues and the void need not be faced.
Someone very dear to me finds himself unable to believe in God because of Auschwitz. He has no illusions that doing away with God does away with Auschwitz. Not for him atheism as happy pill. Tragic atheism I can readily respect. The kind that splashes itself over the sides of buses is a different animal.
Monday, October 20, 2008
Which group now constitutes a large and growing segment of the prison population: conservative Catholics, or radical Islamists?
And which group is more likely to be told by the BBC it must put up with being fictionalized as a bunch of crooks?
Saturday, October 18, 2008
Having given the Torygraph's God correspondent George Pitcher something of a roasting not long ago, it's only fair to commend something of his of which I agree with just about every word: his reaction to the secularist witchhunt against Professor Michael Reiss.
This was my effort in the same direction, submitted unsuccessfully to the Times:-
'It is hard to recall a more shameful recent instance of intellectual scapegoating than the one which has brought about Professor Michael Reiss's resignation from his post at the Royal Society, following his call for biology teachers to be prepared to discuss creationism. A moderate and rational Christian has been branded an apologist for know-nothing fundamentalism by a campaign of misrepresentation which has shown that secularist zealots can be just as intolerant as the religious variety.
'That large numbers of children now arrive at secondary school already committed to a pre-scientific view of the origins of life is a predictable outcome of political decisions taken over several decades. It is manifestly not Professor Reiss's fault. His 'crime' is simply to have pointed out that we have to deal with classroom reality as it is and not as we would like it to be, and to have argued that we will not succeed in changing these children's minds if we refuse to engage with their existing beliefs.
'Those who genuinely disagree on the latter point should calm down now that they have his head on a plate and tell us what constructive alternatives they have to offer.'
From the unbelieving camp approval of the Royal Society's stance was far from unanimous. Norman Geras was commendably unimpressed, as was Brownie of Harry's Place (Brett of the same address please note).
On the other hand, a disgraceful post from Oliver Kamm, now of the Times, reeks of an implacable religiophobia which will let nothing stand in the way of the satisfaction of claiming a believing scalp. Kamm quotes at length from all and sundry (not least from the obiter dicta of O. Kamm) but Professor Reiss is permitted only the eight-word soundbite which, wrenched from its context, could at a stretch be interpreted as evidence that he is soft on Creationism. It's hard to resist the conclusion that Kamm knows very well that if the words were restored to their context the case for sacking Reiss would vanish into thin air. Is this not precisely the kind of economy with the truth for which Kamm has so often savaged the likes of Noam Chomsky?
And no, Kamm has not a word to say about the very concrete pedagogical issues facing biology teachers. Except, implicitly, that they should inform young fundamentalists that their views are worthy of nothing but contempt. That should work a treat.
You, dear reader, will of course wish to see the full context in order to reach an informed judgement: it's here.
Can you spot the one significant difference between my take on the affair and Mr Pitcher's? It doesn't come as a great surprise: despite having several times more words to play with than a mere letter writer, he's managed to avoid even an indirect allusion to the fact that most of the little Creationists in the biology classroom have not got their ideas from a literalist reading of the Book of Genesis. Yes, it's the Religion With No Name again. And when liberal Anglicans like Mr Pitcher engage in this kind of denial it's no wonder if the Oliver Kamms of this world feel confirmed in their religiophobic prejudices.
Monday, October 06, 2008
How it happened: on Wednesday I read a post on Christopher Howse's Telegraph blog, with the title 'Salman Rushdie taught liberals to hate Islam'. Mr Howse is a man whose writing I have on occasion admired. On this occasion I thought to myself 'this man has taken leave of his senses'. It was that bad.
The following day my browser history told me the address was wrong, and I was struck by a sudden illumination: suppose Islamists had somehow hacked into the paper's site and passed their views off as Howse's? The more I thought about the contents of the post the less plausible it seemed that they could really be the thoughts of a senior Torygraph hack, and the more plausible my conspiracy theory became.
But, finding a day later that the post was still there, I was left with the maginally more prosaic explanation: Christopher Howse of the Telegraph has taken leave of his senses.
If you're after rational thoughts on the same subject, I would encourage you to read George Weigel's appreciation of Pope Benedict in Standpoint magazine. What I have to say in response to Christopher Howse really ought to be obvious to anyone still in possession of their marbles. But evidently it does need saying, not to speak of the therapeutic benefits to myself.
'Muslims are denied the right to take offence when their most holy emblems are deliberately pilloried'
Of course Muslims have the right to be offended by what others say about their faith, as I - like Mr Howse no doubt - am regularly incensed by Christian-baiting in the media. Being offended, however, does not give them or me the right to commit murder. There really cannot be the slightest hint of compromise on this point. Bearing in mind that the threats breathed against Salman Rushdie were not idle, and though he escaped with his life others were not so fortunate.
'Now, Salman Rushdie has declared that he has nothing against true believers until their faith spills over into the public sphere and becomes "my business". That, he must know is a fallacious distinction.'
Islam, like Christianity, has a public dimension and, indeed, that is not in itself bad. But you can't have it both ways. If your religion has public consequences you must expect to be accountable to collective, public standards of morality - standards expressed in laws saying, for example, that you can't kill someone just because you don't like a book he has written or a film he has made.
'So why not, the film-maker [Theo van Gogh] thought, project the holy words of the Koran on to the exposed body of women? Tee-hee, he chortled in his Dutch way.'
One of the less endearing traits of some religious believers is the arrogance which assumes that only believers ever act out of passionate moral conviction. Theo van Gogh's film may have been deliberately provocative, but he surely knew the risk he was taking (as did his collaborator Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who is less easily dismissed as a clown), and he took it because he was genuinely outraged by the contempt shown for Dutch liberal values by Moroccan immigrants.
And, as a good liberal, he managed to find a way of taking offence publicly which did not involve killing Muslims. So even if you take the dimmest possible view of his motives, that is not, repeat NOT, an excuse for condoning a do-it-yourself death sentence.
Hirsi Ali has in common with Salman Rushdie a Muslim background, of course. So what Howse is effectively demanding is that Western states should take on the task of policing dissidence within Islam at the behest of its most intolerant and reactionary representatives.
'The secularist haters of Islam pretend that that they have a sacred principle of their own, which is freedom of speech, freedom to publish.
'In Britain this is a very lowly idol, since the most unenlightened fly-by-night businessman can stop the mouth of the press with a libel suit.'
This argument, if you can call it that, falls at every possible fence. Three objections will suffice. First, two wrongs don't make a right. Second. arguments against free speech always have a double standard built in: it is never my speech which should not be free; my declaring that I find Christopher Howse's views offensive will not, I suspect, suffice to silence him. Third, free speech is not just some arbitrarily selected idol. It is a good because it serves the cause of truth, and for Christians truth must be an absolute good.
Christians have sincerely believed that truth was best served by lighting bonfires under heretics and their books. Then, after the passage of untold amounts of suffering, came the Enlightenment, which was not just a reaction against Christianity but also a recognition by Christians that the way of the bonfire had actually been fundamentally un-Christian. Pope Benedict sees this with tremendous clarity. Christopher Howse may, we must hope, catch up with him once he has been reunited with his marbles.
So: Salman Rushdie must be heard - as Muslims must be heard - because his voice, his unique experience, has its part to play in the unending conversation through which we inch towards the truth. Here's the Pope, quoted in the George Weigel article:-
"On the one hand, one must counter a dictatorship of positivist reason that excludes God from the life of the community and from public organizations ... On the other hand, one must welcome the true conquests of the Enlightenment, human rights, and especially the freedom of faith and its practice, and recognise these also as being essential elements for the authenticity of religion. As in the Christian community, where there has been a long search to find the correct position of faith in relation to such beliefs - a search that will certainly never be concluded once and for all - so also the Islamic world with its own tradition faces the immense task of finding the appropriate solutions to these problems. The content of the dialogue between Christians and Muslims will be at this time especially one of meeting each other in this commitment to find the right solutions. We Christians feel ourselves in solidarity with all those who, precisely on the basis of their religious convictions as Muslims, work to oppose violence and for the synergy between faith and reason, between religion and freedom..."
'Since that day there has been a creeping racialist antipathy towards Muslims, by the Left.'
If Howse believes that 'liberals hate Muslims' he should get out more and try reading some liberal papers. You would need to be psychic to divine any such sentiment, since, transcending all Left liberal feuds, there is an absolute taboo against identifying Islam per se as a problem.
Beyond that unifying principle, the Left liberal camp splits into three: the well-meaningly woolly, the rationalists and the romantics.
Little needs saying about the woolly variety. Of course they don't hate Islam. They are in no doubt that if they are nice enough to it, it will turn out to be as nice as they are. That is the assumption on which multiculturalist liberal orthodoxy has beem founded. Hope continues to triumph over experience.
Among the rationalists there may indeed be varying degrees of hostility towards Islam per se, but what gets articulated is hostility to religion in general. Some may indeed loathe Islam as such, but find it imprudent to break the taboo. Others have 'issues' with religion generally - usually with special freference to Christianity - and find Islamist excesses a useful stick to beat it with. The obvious irony here is that nothing confirms the rationalist religiophobe's prejudices more perfectly that seeing Christians like Christopher Howse take it upon themselves to defend the indefensible in the name of 'faith'.
And the romantics? Well, this is the strain of leftist on whom violent radicalism exerts an irresistible fascination. They've been fellow-travellers with Stalin, with Che, with Mao (not with the Dalai Lama, of course), with the Provisional IRA, and what could be more natural than that Hamas and Hezbollah should take their turn? Hatred of Islam? You must be kidding. Even Comrade Seumas, of the Grauniad and the Communist Party of Britain, has got religion now that religion is globally the most popular reason for killing Americans. There's no solidarity with Rushdie or van Gogh on offer from this quarter.
Three dead ends, three reasons why I don't belong on the Left. Woolly liberalism respects only half of our Lord's injunction to be 'wise as serpents and harmless as doves'. If there are wolves at large it's no good pretending they are really sheep. I've got romantic leftism out of my system by the simple expedient of growing up a little. I have considerable sympathy with the rationalists, but their religiophobia is deeply objectionable and leaves them ultimately without a leg to stand on in defending liberal values againt trendy relativism. There is a fixated irrationality about it which is itself the best proof that reason on its own cannot be enough.
If the Left liberals don't get it, who does? The Pope, for sure. Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali does (would that he were a less lonely figure among the purple shirts), and so does Dominic Grieve (an Anglican), who told the Guardian this about multiculturalism:-
"In this vacuum, both the BNP and Hizb ut-Tahrir rise. They are two very similar phenomena experiencing a form of cultural despair about themselves and their identities. And it's terribly easy to latch on to confrontational and aggressive variants of their cultural background as being the only way to reassure themselves that they can survive."
Returning to our starting point, it seems there's another variation on the theme of cultural despair to be included in the equation. One which loathes liberals so much that it would love to see the Sharia boys come and sort them out. It's the kind of conservatism that helped Hitler to power, preferring him to liberal democracy (vide Alfred Hugenberg). It may be somewhat exotic at present, but it'll bear watching.
Monday, September 15, 2008
Safeguards for women etc, etc? Errrm, well, you'll doubtless recall how crucial it is in the fight against domestic violence that the decision to prosecute be taken out of the victim's hands. Did you perhaps think the principle was universal? Off to re-education camp with you!
Sunday, September 07, 2008
Comment is more or less superfluous, but I do have a couple of questions. If the Board of Deputies wields such immense power, why has it failed to suppress Christian Aid's Israel-bashing campaign altogether? Why do Jews bother writing those letters to their MPs that the Baroness finds so wearisome if they can just pull a string or two and have them removed from office?
PS I wrote in a previous post that the Baroness's attitudes matter because support for them now reaches deep into the mainstream. To be more precise, the mainstream of the liberal elite - and in its own estimation that's all that counts. If you think I exaggerate, read Stephen Pollard's account of a metropolitan dinner party.
While Holocaust denial is too useful a stick for beating the BNP with to be discarded entirely, the comrades would evidently prefer not to go so far in their Holocaust affirmation as to identify the group which contributed the overwhelming majority of its victims. For Jewish victimhood is out of fashion; the comrades have read their Finkelstein - or at least heard his claims at third hand - and know that Jews use their victimhood to manipulate, exploit and oppress. And in any case there are alliances to be forged with those for whom the thought of Jewish victimhood is anathema.
Talking of which, it's clear that we won't be seeing any of the comrades waving 'we are all Georgians' placards. With the bigots in Lebanon and Iran applauding the bullying of that tiny nation by the heirs to the Tsars it wouldn't do for the comrades to find themselves on the opposing side. So they're washing their hands of the whole business and hiding behind a 'clash of imperialisms' neutrality which, like most neutralities, really means tacitly siding with the winners (I can't bring myself to link to Socialist W**ker, so google it if you feel the need).
Infantile leftism is a rite of passage which many will embark on this autumn, just as a very naive Cyrus did when he went along to Freshers Fair and got signed up by a Labour Club which turned out to be a Militant front. But was it ever such a dismal, hopeless business as it is now?
This from her Comment is Free piece rang bells:-
'But when my father died in 1999 and my mother in 2000, I stood in the same church twice in two years and felt the same sense of what I can best describe as joy as I watched the two coffins move away from me. While all around me wept, I was filled with the absolute certainty that they were on their way to a better place. It was all I could do to keep from laughing out loud, both times.'
This will certainly sound bonkers to many. But - well, my mother died in the faith of Christ a few weeks ago and, whilst I certainly wouldn't say I've felt like laughing (it might indeed be logical but my emotions don't obey logic), I can say that my faith has never felt stronger.
One reason why this might be comes from a passage I've just read in one of C S Lewis's letters, to a woman whose father had just died:-
'And for those who are left, the pain is not the whole thing. I feel very strongly (and I am not alone in this) that some good comes from the dead to the living in the months or weeks after the death. I think I was very much helped by my own father after his death, as if our Lord welcomed the newly dead with the gift of some power to bless those they have left behind; His birthday present. Certainly, they often seem just at that time, to be very near us.'
(from Paul F. Ford (ed.), 'Yours, Jack: The Inspirational Letters of C. S. Lewis', London: Harper Collins, 2008, p.163)
It may also simply be because of the overwhelming, humbling kindness and gentleness I have experienced from innumerable other people. People who, whether or not they consider themselves believers, instinctively recognize that when you say farewell to one of the lives that gave you life you are treading on holy ground.
Saturday, September 06, 2008
Believe me, it will happen, and the fact that most of them aren't Christians is neither here nor there. Many/most are not Muslims, but that has not saved them from being instructed to observe Ramadan. Don't knock it. By the time they've worked their way through all the fasts required by all the faiths represented in their diverse community, they should be very holy people indeed.
Stephen Pollard is of course right: what renders satire wholly redundant here is the fact that the unelected jobsworth who has taken it upon himself to tell elected councillors what religion to practise goes under the label 'Head of Democratic Services'.
'La Voz editors Salvador Duarte and Marta Consuelo Hernández included lengthy quotes from a notorious and long-discredited anti-Semitic tract, Protocols of the Elders of Zion, to buttress their arguments. They proclaimed the legitimacy of Hitler’s National Socialism. They echoed Nazi lies that the Russian Revolution was financed by Jews for Jews and denounced Leon Trotsky, a leader of that revolution and founder of our political current, for his Jewish heritage.'
The kind of thing I can do without is HP's attempts to prove its leftist credentials by smearing for Barack. Naturally Sarah Palin is an irresistible target, and naturally it's Brett who leads the charge against her faith. Her Pentecostalist pastor talks about spiritual warfare, and that makes him 'the flip-side to Islamism' . So that'll be 'flip-side' as in the side that doesn't go around murdering randomly selected civilians but apart from that small detail is just the same. Typical Brett.
Gene manages to do even better, though:-
'It appears that Palin did not officially support Buchanan’s 2000 campaign for president, although as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, she did wear a Buchanan button when Buchanan visited the town. She wrote in a letter to the editor of an Anchorage newspaper: “As mayor, I will welcome all the candidates in Wasilla.” (I can’t help wondering if this would have applied to David Duke if he had run for president and visited the town. After all Buchanan’s and Duke’s views on a number of issues– immigration, race, “Jewish power” and Israel– are not a million miles apart.)'
Palin the Osama lookalike meets Palin the David Duke groupie, thanks to the magic of the 'what she's actually done isn't quite awful enough, so let's invent something worse and suggest she could have done it' technique.
OK, there won't be many people on either side playing fair in this campaign. But you could always try setting a precedent, guys...
PS on Palin: this is substantially a fair cop. But then so too is this.
Wednesday, September 03, 2008
Monday, September 01, 2008
I don't suppose any of these political onanists, these self-important tossers (angry? You bet.) has ever thought for a moment of disrupting a concert by Chinese musicians. Or Russian musicians. Or North Korean musicians. Or Burmese musicians. Or Serbian musicians. Or Sudanese musicians. Or Iranian musicians. Or Cuban musicians. Or Zimbabwean musicians. But of course, of course, of course nobody must in their wildest dreams imagine that they are in any shape or form, in the slightest of slight degrees, anti-Semitic. Goodness me, no. Nobody is these days, are they?
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Telling, isn't it, that the 'you can't criticize Israel without being accused of anti-Semitism' brigade turn out to to be the ones who react to criticism by trying to gag the critics?
I've not infrequently had wistful thoughts about an academic career, but I'm very glad I'm not one of those faced with the decision whether to stay and fight in this increasingly vile snakepit or turn their backs on it. Good luck to all the fighters for left-wing decency, whether they're carrying on the struggle inside or outside.
Sunday, August 17, 2008
Was she pushed? Of course. But by whom? Not, for sure, by Christian Aid's own mandarins - not, at least, unless someone else was leaning on them. Instead of disowning her appalling views on terrorism they ducked the issue with the breathtakingly disingenuous claim that her remarks were 'outside the remit of a development organisation which deals with issues of poverty and humanitarian relief'. My reaction to this piece of bovine manure is here.
It seems the Baroness may have recently given us a clue to her own views about who did the pushing. Here she is, speaking in a House of Lords debate on 2 July:-
“I am beginning to understand the power of the Israel lobby, active here as well as in the USA, with AIPAC, the Friends of Israel and the Board of Deputies. They take vindictive actions against people who oppose and criticise the lobby, getting them removed from positions that they hold and preventing them from speaking — even on unrelated subjects, in my case. I understand their methods. I have many examples. They make constant accusations of antisemitism, when no such sentiment exists, to silence Israel’s critics.”
(from Engage; the whole speech is in Hansard).
Whether she is talking about her exit from Christian Aid or her earlier enforced exit from the Lib Dem front bench (or both), the issues are the same, so let's for the sake of convenience assume the former.
The phrase "the Israel lobby" has of course acquired its place in "respectable" political discourse thanks to Mearsheimer and Walt's eponymous book. It may have been a shoddy piece of work but it has done its job: like a virus the phrase has entered our collective bloodstream.
A telling insight into the quality of Mearsheimer and Walt's analysis came from their insinuation that the Lobby had "got its grips" (to use the words applied by Baroness Tonge to her own party) into the Church of England. My extended riposte to this claim is here. Clearly, though, it has explanatory force for Baroness Tonge: Church leaders got her kicked out of her Christian Aid trusteeship because they go in fear of the Board of Deputies.
What is the reality here? So far from the Board being an omnipresent, omnipotent lobby with its grips in every institution, it has been savaged by Rabbi Sidney Brichto in the latest issue of the excellent new magazine Standpoint for its timidity in making the case for Israel in an environment where anti-Israel sentiment is ubiquitous.
I surmise that the reasons for Baroness Tonge's exit from her trusteeship were eminently straightforward. Namely that in the upper echelons of the Churches there are to be found decent and reasonable Christians who uphold Israel's right to exist and her citizens' right to life, and that they were not prepared to accept that an apologist for terrorism should hold a post in an official agency of the Churches. My guess is that CA's bosses privately sympathized with the Baroness but were not willing to stick their necks out for her. A public row with Church leaders could easily damage the charity's standing among ordinary churchgoers - and thus its income. That, by the way, is the parameter within which it plays at radicalism. In a way I have more respect for War on Want, which makes no bones about its politics and raises its cash from those who think as it does.
And what role did Jews, inside or outside the Board of Deputies, play? Well, Jews have good reason to be well-informed and concerned about the Baroness's views, and I can well believe there were some who alerted their Christian contacts to her track record and argued that she was not an approriate person to hold such a position. You can call this lobbying by all means, but it is not, repeat not, an instance of The Lobby at work, pulling the strings of those nominally in authority. It is - need I say it - a normal way for human beings to conduct their affairs. It bore fruit because decent and reasonable Christians found themselves in agreement with it - through persuasion, not through intimidation.
There are, I fear, two factors which would make it hard for Baroness Tonge to give this scenario credence. The first is that she appears to be so totally convinced of the rightness of her cause that she cannot conceive of anyone - especially a Gentile - disagreeing with her in good faith. In this she exemplifies the almost cult-like character of the anti-Israel movement. If they will not acknowledge how evil Israel is there must be sinister forces at work.
And with that we arrive at the second factor. My scenario assumes that Jews are ordinary human beings who feel, think and act in the way ordinary human beings feel, think and act and have ordinary human powers. For someone who sees the Board of Deputies as the local branch of the Lobby, and bishops and Lib Dem leaders alike as its abject puppets, that assumption has already ceased to be self-evident. And the reason for devoting a longish post to a person of no huge importance in herself is that these attitudes now reach deep into the mainstream.
Saturday, August 16, 2008
Sorry if I'm doing them an injustice, but I can't picture any of these characters as innocents abroad who, expecting to encounter 'Europe’s largest celebration of Islamic culture, tradition, innovation and art', were horrified to discover they had stumbled into a Hamas/Muslim Brotherhood rally. If I discover that any of them used it as a platform to denounce Hamas as an anti-Semitic terrorist organization, he/she will get a fulsome apology from me. But I'm not expecting to have to take the trouble.
I certainly won't in the case of the speaker who said this:-
“I would like to say a thank you to the three speakers before me…I hope you (audience) realise how much guts it takes to speak like they have…they are very brave and deserve a tribute from all of us.”
The immediately preceeding speaker was Azzam Tamimi, Hamas's Special Envoy and as such, unsurprisingly, an open supporter of suicide bombers. The tribute came from former Christian Aid trustee Baroness Tonge. Stephen Pollard, from whose blog the quote comes, comments:-
'Let there be no doubt now about what Baroness Tonge believes. She no longer even bothers hiding behind the ambiguity of ‘understanding’ why people become suicide bombers. As her remarks at IslamExpo show, she now thinks that those who explicitly praise and honour suicide bombers “are very brave and deserve a tribute from all of us.”'
David T of Harry's Place says simply 'He's right, isn't he?' He is indeed.
More about the Baroness to come.
'WoW is George Galloway's former outfit, of course, so there are no surprises here. If you do a search for 'Palestine' on their website you'll currently get 314 hits. Hits for 'Darfur': 0. Yes, honestly, zero. If you don't believe me, try it.'
- which you can do with minimum effort by clicking here and here.
Sunday, August 10, 2008
Saturday, August 09, 2008
So I claim above-average qualifications for fishing the red herrings out of the water in the latest self-censorship affair. Notably, any suggestion that one of America's leading publishers pulled the plug on a new novel because, having taken scholarly advice, they reaIised it was crap.
HELLO. Big publishers (and most little ones) are publishing crap all the time. Indeed one may fairly safely say that most of what they publish is crap. It's publishing crap that enables them to fund those occasional worthy volumes that advance the cause of human knowledge, wisdom and culture and barely break even.
The piss-poor soft porn with a shag on every third page in which one of my former employers (also a leading player in the evangelical Christian market, as it happens) specialises. The assorted quackery in the Mind, Body and Spirit section of your local bookshop, which mostly emanates not from collectives of Tuvan shapersons but from Big Ink. The countless unreadable academic tomes which exist solely because the authors' careers require that they be Published... I could go on, but must call myself to order. OK, not before I've mentioned Jeffrey Archer.
I'm thus quite prepared to believe that The Jewel of Medina is indeed crap. I must shamefacedly admit that the mere fact that it is written by a person named Sherry inclines me towards the view that this may not be the Satanic Verses of the Noughties.
But that's not the point, is it?
Do you suppose that when Bloomsbury were sent a manuscript about a school for wizards they forwarded it to half a dozen Associate Professors in Magic Studies to make sure it had got its facts right?
There's a feminist novel which recounts the life of Jesus from the perspectives of Mary Magdalene and other female dramatis personae. Frau Grumpy once encountered it in a women-only reading group, and came home fuming over the author's invincible ignorance of New Testament scholarship. Fuming Christian theologians were not sufficient to prevent the publishers getting the thing onto the bookshelves. They thought it would sell and it did.
No, next time you read a really bad book, don't just sit there fuming. Threaten to kill or maim the author, anyone who works for the publisher, anyone who sells it, translates it or gives it a good review. Might take a bit of getting used to, but the nice thing is that once you've done it a few times you won't even need to utter the threats, as the mere perception that you have form will suffice to effect the pulping of the offending volume.
At least Random House are up front about their cowardice. What's really scary is the way the intellectual climate has changed since the Satanic Verses affair. In the early Nineties the liberal intelligentsia still had something resembling a backbone; the appeasers, though vocal, were a minority. But now... Consider this specimen if you will.
'It was in that same professional capacity that I felt it my duty to warn the press of the novel's potential to provoke anger among some Muslims.
'There is a long history of anti-Islamic polemic that uses sex and violence to attack the Prophet and his faith. This novel follows in that oft-trodden path, one first pioneered in medieval Christian writings.'
- says the Assoc. Professor of History and Middle Eastern Studies University of Texas at Austin.
Well, I'm no apologist for the cruder manifestations of medieval Christianity. But I think one can uncontroversially note that the Prophet was neither a pacifist nor a celibate; that, moreover, he permitted himself more wives than any of his followers and that one of them, Aisha, was distinctly on the young side.
It's true: this was and is fuel for polemic. So what's your problem, Associate Professor Spellberg? Polemic between competing belief systems is what happens in free societies. Passions flair, unfair and hurtful things are said. Offence is taken, and given in return. Polemic, one would hope, is the lifeblood of any university worthy of the name.
'I do not espouse censorship of any kind' declares Associate Professor Spellberg with smooth piety, and moves on without expanding on whether, specifically, she considers self-censorship in response to naked intimidation to be a particularly deplorable phenomenon.
What we have instead from Spellberg, of course, is the Bunting-Armstrong thesis which is now Guardianista orthodoxy. It is not enough that we are cowed into silence by fanatical thugs. We must declare them to be men of peace who have been provoked into violence only by the outrageous suggestion that their creed is a violent one. We must knuckle under, flagellating ourselves as aggressors the while.
George Orwell, you should be living at this hour.
Sunday, July 13, 2008
Before I lay into Mr Pitcher, though, let me accentuate the positive. Firstly, he is one of the few journos who appear to advantage in the photo adorning their by-line (most would be well advised to remain faceless, since they contrive to look almost as hideous as I do on my driving licence). A handsome dog indeed: I bet he gets ladies' underclothing hurled at him all the way through the sermon. And since I'm sure he runs an inclusive church, it may not only be ladies' underclothing.
Secondly, he is to be be congratulated for bagging the name "Faithbook" for his blog. Others in the same line of business must be kicking themselves. How much trendier can a vicar get? I only hope he won't find himself charged with a hate crime against people with speech impediments.
I digress. What's so awful about his post? Mr Pitcher's "scoop" is to have identified the church to which the two evangelists belong and to reproduce an excerpt from its credo. And it is, indeed, the kind of church which I would only visit whilst under heavy sedation.
But what, exactly, is Mr Pitcher's point? "Not much evidence of tolerance there", he comments. Well, sorry, Mr P, but I don't see any particular evidence either of tolerance or its opposite. These folk think everyone except themselves has got it wrong and and will burn everlastingly in consequence. But there's no sign of a desire to speed unbelievers on their way to the bonfire. I see no evidence at all that they favour the execution of apostates, something which could be a very real concern for any converts they succeeded in making in the Alum Rock Road area.
Mr P expands his point thus:-
'Now, for those who suggest that religious trouble arises in Britain from the threat of Islam, try this test: In the Birmingham church's web-page above, try replacing the words "Bible" with "Koran" and "God" with "Allah".
'Of course it doesn't work in some of the specifically Christian passages, but I respectfully suggest that in most of it you end up with precisely the sort of statements for which we accuse Muslims of being so intractable and fundamentalist.'
I might start by pointing out that the change from "God" to "Allah" fazes me not at all, since "Allah" is simply the Arabic word for "God", as used by millions who read their Bible in Arabic. As for changing "Bible" to "Koran", one answer would be that you end up with something as different from the original as - well, as the Koran is from the Bible. Possibly Mr P feels that that is not a very big difference.
I take Mr P's basic point that the theology is unappealingly crude and narrow either way. But what follows from that? That Muslims with similarly deplorable beliefs are not, or should not be, entitled to propagate them by handing out leaflets in places where Christians live? Stuff and nonsense, Mr P! Or, conversely, that the Grace Bible Fellowship Church would like to blow me to Kingdom Come next time I travel on the Tube? Stuff and nonsense again.
How many times must the point be made: fundamentalists can be accommodated in a pluralist society, just as long as they aren't violently intolerant fundamentalists. And, however much Mr P may wish to erect neat moral/theological symmetries, and however much he may need a stick to bash the Bible-bashers with, the threat of violently intolerant fundamentalism with which our society is faced still does not come from conservative evangelicals.
And if the GBFC's pitch is not to Mr Pitcher's taste, can we expect to see him out and about in Alum Rock Road or Whitechapel, distributing literature that expounds the true Gospel? It seems not. In a subsequent post we read:-
'Readers of this blog will know that I have little sympathy with aggressive or coercive campaigns to convert non-Christians.'
Well, yes, he's certainly made it clear how little sympathy he has with the aggressive and coercive handing out of leaflets by Arthur Cunningham, 48, and Joseph Abraham, 65 (my goodness, don't they look scary). Has it ever occurred to Mr P that if St Paul had taken the same attitude, and taken care to avoid offence to worshippers of perfectly adequate deities like Apollo and Pallas Athene, it is most unlikely that he (Mr P) would ever have heard of Jesus of Nazareth?
A cynic might suggest that a man who sees the holding of a decided opinion as in itself conclusive evidence of dangerous intolerance is so perfectly fitted for the liberal Anglican priesthood that he ought to be the next Archbishop of Canterbury. I try very hard not to be a cynic and I wouldn't want to be in a church without liberals, but please, Lord, let at least some of them be muscular liberals!
Wednesday, July 09, 2008
What made this occasion different was partly the lady's somewhat unorthodox technique. She wanted to draw my attention to a small beetle she had captured in a jar. Well, it beats "come up and see my etchings", and given that Frau Grumpy is the Bumble Bee's Friend I am certainly susceptible to such approaches. After I had admired the insect she continued in rather more conventional vein, asking where I lived and pointing out her home.
The other thing was that she was rather younger than I'm used to in these circumstances. Five at most, I'd say, probably four.
And this is where it gets dreadfully serious. Did I enjoy this brief encounter? I did not. Reason: I was torn between wanting to reciprocate her friendliness and trying to get rid of her. What if her parents appeared and accused me of having nefarious designs on her? And even if that didn't happen, should I be encouraging her to talk to strange men? All this despite the fact that it was broad daylight and the patch of grass where she was playing was overlooked by several houses and flats - unpromising for any but the most reckless of predatory paedophiles.
This is a sick, perverted reaction to childish innocence, is it not? In, for instance, Germany it would be perceived as such. But not here in Blighty. Here it's normal. And it leaves me feeling there is a dark stain on my soul. How did we get this way?
Wednesday, July 02, 2008
The fun starts tomorrow, if you're interested. If you're very lucky you'll find that, as in past years, musical relief from the heavy theoretical stuff is being provided by the SWP's pet Holocaust denier.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
So, is this a tour of the Middle East and Central Asia we're planning? Nothing so adventurous, actually. The train in question is the sleeper from Brussels to Berlin.
Sunday, June 08, 2008
It couldn't be made much clearer, could it? So step forward, please, volunteers for Bombers For Jesus, and we'll get those ministers engaging with us yet! That was also a joke, by the way. But I'd find the remarks of the Rt. Hon. spokesperson more uproarious still if I were in Hizb ut Tahrir.
PS The Beeb's obligingly toned down its quote from Ms Blearyeyes, but fortunately the money quote from the original version is enshrined here.
PPS Work is the curse of the blogging classes... Having lately re-entered the ranks of the proletariat, I'm afraid my posting time is drastically reduced. I'll do what I can.
Sunday, June 01, 2008
As also might today's news. Two reasons for British Muslims to view their fellow-countrypeople with contempt, one of them (at least) also a reason why normal people are voting BNP. Or, is this why we believe in ourselves so little that we allow this to happen?
The Bish may not have all the answers, but at least he's going around with his eyes open. The full article is here.
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
1. Looking at the 'sending organizations' page of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel site, I see that Norway, Sweden, Finland and Germany are all well represented, but a small country in the middle has gone missing.
No great surprise there. This is from one of my posts last year:-
'We heard about racist Jews in Israel, but not that Hamas is an organization with an overtly anti-Semitic ideology.
'It's not as if EAPPI haven't had direct experience of the bigotry of some Palestinians. Last year, when the 'Mohammed cartoons' affair blew up, their Danish volunteers had to be sent home for their own safety, and even now, although there are several Norwegian and Swedish accompaniers, there are no Danes. But the only bigotry we heard about in church was Jewish bigotry.'
2. The Toronto Conference of the United Churches of Canada offers a page of 'Holy Land Information'. Prospective visitors are warned against using Israeli guides:-
'From our experience, the Israeli guides' versions of history -- ancient as well as current -- support the current Israeli political agenda and should not be accepted uncritically. Expect to hear about Palestinian "terrorists".'
Dear me, how tedious. Don't worry, though, there is a much more appealing alternative:-
'Witnessing Israel/Palestine with Palestinian guides will present a perspective that may be new to visitors. Palestinians will be seen as generous, kind, and courageous human beings (as opposed to abstractions).'
Unlike some other people we could name. And just to be on the safe side you can also innoculate yourself in advance against that dreadful Israeli pseudo-history. An impartial reading list is provided: it doesn't include Benny Morris but does include Ilan Pappé, Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein. Yes, him.
Don't these people love Jews?
3. While exploring the National-Zeitung, the German neo-Nazi paper to which Ilan Pappé unwittingly gave an interview, I found an article headed 'Is Islam Germany's enemy?'. It's a piece where some reading between the lines is needed, remembering that Holocaust denial is illegal in Germany. History shows that Germany and the Muslim world are natural allies, the article argues. It cites the fact that Germany and the Ottoman Empire fought on the same side in the First World War, and then there's this photo caption:-
'Tens of thousands of Muslims fought on the German side in the Second World War and millions of Muslims hoped for a German victory, as many of their leading politicians made clear even after the Second World War. Our picture shows Muslim soldiers of the Waffen-SS Division "Handschar" praying in the direction of Mecca.'
Unfortunately, though, German-Muslim relations have been poisoned by Germany's post-war alliance with Israel. Chancellor Angela Merkel is pilloried for upholding the alliance as the fulfilment of a moral obligation. On the other hand Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's claim that Holocaust 'researchers' are being persecuted is quoted with approval. Here we must supply the connection that dare not speak its name: if 'research' should prove that the Holocaust is a myth, Germany's moral debt to the Jewish people would of course be null and void.
There's another reading list at the end of the article. The titles tell their own story: 'Who is Merkel really working for?', 'The Network: Israel's lobby in Germany' and 'Blackmail'. The Holocaust denier Gerard Menuhin makes an appearance. Oh, look, there's our friend Norman Finkelstein again, too - entirely against his will, I'm sure, just like Pappé.
The Muslim Waffen-SS division was recruited mainly from Bosnians, but a prime mover in its formation was Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem. This Palestinian nationalist leader, who spent the years 1941-5 in Berlin, has now been made the subject of a biography - in German, but hopefully it will be translated.
According to a review I've seen, what the book makes particularly clear is that al-Husseini's alliance with the Nazis was no mere tactical marriage of convenience. He was a fanatical anti-Semite, well-informed about the Nazis' plans for the extermination of the Jews and an unreserved supporter of them. Indeed he played his own part in them, as when he ensured the failure of a Red Cross initiative to exchange 5,000 Jewish children for 20,000 German prisoners of war.
It's a standard pro-Palestinian propaganda trope to say that the Palestinians have become innocent indirect victims of the Holocaust. As ever, the truth behind the slogans is far more complex. I can't tell you whether the biography addresses the question of how far al-Husseini's attitudes were shared by his fellow Palestinians. Certainly he had opponents; equally certainly he was not alone. The perception of him as a hero of the anti-British and anti-Zionist resistance is doubtless what led Bishop Riah of Jerusalem to respond to a question about his Nazi connections with point-blank denial.
Monday, May 26, 2008
It begins with an anniversary: Pentecost is not far behind us, and it called to mind my experience at Pentecost last year at the church I then belonged to. How, after the celebration of one of the Church's great feasts, recalling the gift of the Holy Spirit, the sacred space was given over to a presentation of Israel-demonizing propaganda given by two volunteers from the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel.
I never did get round to finishing my write-up of this. But I did write this on the reactivation of the ancient anti-Semitic slander of well-poisoning. Also this and this.
Unfair and unbalanced criticism of Israel is a way of defaming the Jewish people. It is the way of defaming the Jewish people that is practised by many and accepted by more in the West today. It is a point of contact between anti-Semites and those who would indignantly deny anti-Semitism. And it nudges the door open for other, more 'classical', more blatant anti-Semitic themes. The poisoning of the wells is one example. More broadly, there is the sense that there must be some kind of conspiracy allowing Israel to 'get away with it'; worse still, the perception of Jews as so depraved that they could quite feasibly have invented the Holocaust. That is not, of course, a respectable point of view, but the boundaries are getting blurred in a way which would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. A Holocaust-denying musicians gets regular gigs courtesy of the Socialist Workers Party, whilst Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has plenty of apologists on the left despite his hosting of a Holocaust deniers' conference.
It would be unfair to dwell on the fact that the presentation took place in the city from which the extermination of the Jews was planned and directed, but it certainly intensified my sense of a desecration taking place, and it is legitimate to mention it as being symptomatic of the lack of reflectiveness over this issue in the Church. It's as if we've ticked the 'amends for the Holocaust' box, we can keep things ticking over by inviting a rabbi to church every so often, and can move on to fresher items on the agenda - items taken over directly from the secular left-liberal political agenda.
Others in the congregation agreed with me, but I can't pretend that they are in the majority. My latest visit to that church happened to coincide with the Sunday on which, at the end of the service, a 'commissioning' prayer was said for one of the two volunteers before his departure on another 'tour of duty' on the the West Bank. Well, I'm happy to be asked to pray for my brother in Christ - I do, though not, I fear, in the way he would want. I'm not at all happy to be told that he has a calling from God to do what he's doing. Sorry, but no 'Amen' to that from me. May it prove so - buit it will not if it results in a repeat of that Pentecost propaganda-fest. Not everyone who says 'peace, peace' is actually serving the cause of peace.
Soon after his presentation last year, I had a discussion/argument with Volunteer C in which he urged me to inform myself by reading the Israeli 'New Historian' Ilan Pappé. I had read enough about Pappé to be sceptical of this advice, and my scepticism was not diminished when I discovered that Volunteer C, though well briefed on Israeli atrocities, had never heard of the 1941 Baghdad pogrom, and when he registered surprise at my suggestion that the number of Jews displaced from Arab countries after 1947 was comparable with the number of Palestinians who lost their homes in the 'Nakba'. It didn't sound to me as if reading Pappé promoted a balanced view of the conflict.
Volunteer C's companion contributed to an article for EAPPI's magazine (PDF) listing '40 Ways to End the Occupation'. Item 9 is:-
'Ask your library to order books that show the Palestinian side of the conflict, i.e., Ilan Pappe Ethnic Cleansing'
- as opposed to books attempting to give a balanced analysis of the complexities of the conflict. Spread the word, folks!
If you do, be prepared to find yourself in some very strange company. As it happens, Pappé was in Germany recently. One of the interviews he gave duly appeared... in a notorious neo-Nazi rag.
As David Hirsh of Engage observes, it's one more in a long line of 'whoops' moments. I note in a comment on this that the one that sticks in my memory is when A N Wilson used his Evening Standard column (in 2002 or thereabouts) to plug an Israel-demonizing book by an American neo-Nazi. Wilson didn't realize. Pappé didn't realize. For both, that's all there is to be said.
It does seem extraordinary that Pappé gave a substantial interview without inquiring which paper was going to publish it. If he did ask, you might think that the name 'National-Zeitung' ought to have set alarm bells ringing. A historian with German Jewish parents (they 'emigrated from Berlin to Palestine during the National Socialist period' says the potted biography accompanying the interview, as if they'd just fancied a change of scene) might be expected to know that in Germany the word 'national' carries some very heavy historical baggage. No mainstream paper would dream of including it in its name.
For Pappé's interviewer, he was not the first left-wing 'scalp'. He's also interviewed Luisa Morgantini, an Italian Communist and Vice-President of the European Parliament (German source). She told him that 'Israel practises apartheid'. I don't know what her excuse was for giving an interview to a neo-Nazi.
Well, OK, Pappé made a mistake. It happens. It doesn't make him a Nazi. But is that really all that needs to be said before we draw a line under this unfortunate incident? Pappé fans like Volunteer C would do well to ponder the question posed by one of the commenters at Harry's Place:-
'“I would like to stress that my ideology and moral stance are in total contradiction to what this newspaper represent”
- I wonder why National Zeitung had the opposite opinion?'
And, believe me, the paper's all over him. Here's its introduction to the interview:-
'On 14 May 1948 in the then British Mandate territory of Palestine the "Jewish National Council" unilaterally declared independence in defiance of international law. Simultaneously the expulsion of large parts of the indigenous Arab majority population was started. The same fate also befell the German minority, which had already between 1939 and 1948 been systematically and forcibly resettled in Australia by the British Mandate administration. The events of 1948, which have been comprehensively described for the first time by the Israeli historian Professor Ilan Pappé, spelt the end of the era of a liberal Islam and are at the root of the still continuing Middle East conflict. In conversation with Erhard Düvel of the National-Zeitung the author expressed the view that 14 May 1948 is no cause for celebration for the international community.'
So when Pappé receives this e-mail from German journalist Gudrun Eussner (again from this article, in German but the e-mails are in English), you might think it was a challenge which he ought to take seriously:-
'Whatever you tell now about this unauthorized interview, you don´t adress the fact, that your ideas are so much in harmony with the nazis, that they are welcomed to be published by their media. Professor, you are nazi-compatible, they do love Jews like you. Be proud of it!
'As this my last word to you, i suggest you read your own email, you make a very good Nazi yourself. In fact this is the tragedy of Zionism that it turned people like you to be nazi-compatible. thank god there are other humanist Jews in the world. Otherwise it would have been a terrible Nazi success if we were left only with people like you'
Nyaah, nyaah, nya-nyaah, nyaah, Nazi yourself! Where on earth do you start with an argument like that? Eussner questions how Pappé comes to get himself published in a Nazi newspaper and by that very act shows herself to be the Nazi.
Let us turn to something a little more adult. Courtesy of another Harry's Place commenter, here are links to a review of Pappé's History of Modern Palestine by fellow Israeli historian Benny Morris:-
Morris convicts Pappé of a string of factual errors, but sees something more than sloppiness at work. Here's his 'money quote' from the book:-
'my [pro-Palestinian] bias is apparent despite the desire of my peers that I stick to facts and the 'truth' when reconstructing past realities. I view any such construction as vain and presumptuous. This book is written by one who admits compassion for the colonized not the colonizer; who sympathizes with the occupied not the occupiers; and sides with the workers not the bosses. He feels for women in distress, and has little admiration for men in command.... Mine is a subjective approach....'
Now I'm not equipped to give any kind of definitive evaluation as to whether Benny Morris is a better historian than Ilan Pappé. But I can at least say that, by his own account, he is at least trying to do the job of a historian, which is to find out as nearly as possible 'what happened back then'. And that he is really trying to do this is confirmed by the fact that, though he is a committed Zionist, he does not shy away from uncomfortable truths in the history of Zionism. That is to say, he can tolerate moral ambiguity. Doesn't necessarily mean he likes it, but he can handle it (does this review read like an account of a right-wing Zionist whitewash?). Whereas Pappé gives the decided impression that he cannot, and his appeal is to others who cannot. And I suspect that his rejection of 'objective' history results less from the belief that it is impossible than from the fear that its findings will prove irreducibly morally ambiguous. Better therefore to turn history into a narrative that unambiguously serves the cause of those who are (somehow!) unambiguously the Good Guys.
It's certainly what an awful lot of people want to hear. In March Pappé's book occupied third place on the non-fiction best-seller list in Germany (source: Gudrun Eusslen, citing the publisher's website). For Johann Hari of the Independent - backed up by a raft of readers' letters this week - Pappé is the infallible, unassailable authority on the 1948 war - Morris, Schmorris! So when Hari comes under fire it can only mean that he is the victim of a vast, malign conspiracy to cover up the truth about Israel - putting him in the company not only of Pappé but also of Norman Finkelstein. Thank God, once again, for the sanity of fellow Indie writer Howard Jacobson.
People like Pappé and his disciples (at least the ones who aren't neo-Nazis) can do great good or great harm. It all depends on whether the cause they embrace is as good as they have decided it is. The problem tends to be that they see their embracing of it as in itself the guarantee that it is good, and that makes reappraisals difficult.
And the interview in the National-Zeitung shows how self-defeating the Pappé approach to history is. He has shaped his historical narrative to serve an ideological cause, but, lo and behold, it turns out that it can serve more causes than one - including one he considers 'in total contradiction' to his own. For, after all, the Deutsche Volksunion is not fussy about historical truth either, nor is it fussy about what kind of 'useful idiots' it presses into service. Even a Jew - no, especially a Jew - will do nicely.
In trying to make history Palestinian-friendly, Pappé has made it Nazi-friendly. In trying to suppress moral ambiguity he has created it.
Conversely, the most reliable way for him to ensure that he doesn't get any more unwanted overtures from this quarter would be to start writing Benny Morris-style history, narrating human affairs as the tangled, messy, warts-and-all business that experience tells us they are. And, trusting that, in the long run, truth will serve the good better than falsehood, to follow John Donne's injunction to 'doubt wisely'.
Back to Volunteer C, for whom my hope is also that he may learn to 'doubt wisely'. He gave me an expensively-produced brochure published by the German branch of EAPPI (equivalent material in English can be inspected here). I could write a very long critique of the bias and distortions in the text - not least the Pappé-esque account of the 1948 war - but perhaps it's the pictures which carry the strongest message. Palestinians appear as civilians trying to go about their peaceful business in nightmarish conditions. Israel is represented exclusively by images of violence and oppression: coils of barbed wire, a watchtower on the separation barrier, gun-toting soldiers, settler children throwing stones. Nothing to hint that Palestinians can ever be the authors of violence or Israeli Jews its innocent victims. The technique is familiar: see what I wrote here about an issue of Christian Aid News.
It does with pictures what Ilan Pappé openly admits that he is trying to do with history. If it had been produced by the Deutsche Volksunion, publishers of the 'National-Zeitung', how different would it look?
Here is a list of the Accompaniment Programme's 'sending organizations'. What these bodies are doing is investing substantial sums of money into the propagation of the Ilan Pappé narrative of Palestinian victimhood and Israeli wickedness. This is not a peripheral spin-off from a worthy peacemaking enterprise; it is central to the whole operation: 'you must commit to doing extensive advocacy on return to your home country', prospective volunteers are advised, and anyone whose advocacy might be 'off-message' is unlikely to welcomed as a volunteer.
So, to round it off, a simple question to Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, Christian Aid, CAFOD, Pax Christi Germany, the United Church of Canada, the Episcopal Church (USA) and all the rest: if this is a project of Christian mission, how come it is so hard to distinguish from the project of the Deutsche Volksunion?
Thursday, May 08, 2008
Saturday, April 19, 2008
'But what is most striking, as hundreds of thousands observe this Pope in person for the first time, is not the visual symbolism, the crowds or the made-for-TV events, but the imposing beauty and power of his words.
'It’s already a cliché in Rome that the crowds came to see John Paul but they come to hear Benedict. Among those familiar with his career, his reputation was always that of a fierce intellectual — the theologian and author of dozens of dense tracts on Christianity. But what was missing was an understanding of Benedict’s remarkable capacity to use words to speak to the emotional part of the human brain.'
- Gerard Baker in the Times.
How true this is. I feel immensely privileged to be able read him in the original - he writes like an angel in his native tongue - but I think the clarity of his prose is such that he also translates well. Apart from his two encyclicals (read them online) I'd recommend this (the only one you're likely to find in your local bookshop, sadly), this, this, this, this and this (we make no charge to Amazon for this service). Let's face it, I'm hooked.
From the Pope's Pesah message to the Jewish community:-
'At this time of your most solemn celebration, I feel particularly close, precisely because of what Nostra Aetate calls Christians to remember always: that the Church “received the revelation of the Old Testament through the people with whom God in His inexpressible mercy concluded the Ancient Covenant. Nor can she forget that she draws sustenance from the root of that well-cultivated olive tree onto which have been grafted the wild shoots, the Gentiles” (Nostra Aetate, 4). In addressing myself to you I wish to re-affirm the Second Vatican Council’s teaching on Catholic-Jewish relations and reiterate the Church’s commitment to the dialogue that in the past forty years has fundamentally changed our relationship for the better.'
Which is important in view of the somewhat overwrought reactions there have been to the new prayer for the conversion of the Jews in the Latin liturgy for Good Friday. It's been suggested that the very idea of conversion represents a regression to the bad old pre-Vatican days.
This article makes a good job of answering these concerns. For better or worse, the Pope is indeed a Catholic. He believes in the universality of the Christian Gospel. It is Good News for everyone. The way it has been 'preached' to the Jews in the past has, of course, frequently been anything but good news. Vatican II marked a clear repentant break with that shameful history. There must be no place for any form of coercion or manipulation in converting anybody, nor for defamation of their existing beliefs. But still we need to say that the Gospel is distinct from its past abuse and that we cannot agree to throw the baby out with the bathwater, even if that distinction is extremely hard for Jews to accept. To say the Gospel can't be, or need not be, preached to the Jews is actually to say that it's not much use to anybody else.
I've recently been pointed towards a batch of German Catholic blogs. I hope the author of this post won't mind me taking the liberty of translating it in its entirety. You just need to know that 'Wir sind Kirche' ('We are Church') is a liberal Catholic pressure group. The quote from them, part of their appraisal of B16's first three years, could just as easily be from (for instance) the Affirming Catholics, fellow enthusiasts for a church as broad as the Zeitgeist - but no broader. Joseph Ratzinger's been the man these folk love to hate for a long, long time, and a rethink is not in prospect.
'Learning from Life
'"The Church and Catholics can learn from the world as well as just teaching it. Therefore they need to display a positive attitude towards encounter and dialogue, illuminated not by a rigid doctrine but by a faith which learns from life." (German source)
'Agreed, it's not altogether fair to use an extreme case against the simplifiers and muddlers of "Wir sind Kirche", and I am sure they find it just as repulsive as the rest of us. But is it not, perhaps, events like this which make it clear where we stand? The project in question received the blessing of one of the large and highly-respected institutions of the secular intellect, and thus, whilst it may be a little weird, it is evidently compatible with the mainstream of contemporary thinking and feeling.
'Aliza Shvarts, an art student at Yale University, New Haven, CT, will be presenting her senior art project in the next few days:
'"a documentation of a nine-month process during which she artificially inseminated herself "as often as possible" while periodically taking abortifacient drugs to induce miscarriages. Her exhibition will feature video recordings of these forced miscarriages as well as preserved collections of the blood from the process." - Source: Yale Daily News via Creative Minority Report)'
Tuesday, April 01, 2008
'Stourton was curious about this galère of clients, and confessed to feeling perplexed about what could possibly link Klaus Barbie and Palestinian terrorists. What on earth would unite these disparate people, and what would draw Vergès to them?'
- from an excellent piece by Michael Gove in the Times (I don't need to answer his question for you, do I?). Yes, that's right, the man's a Tory MP, boo, hiss - and would that this level of clearsightedness and decency was the norm on the Left (but here's a small reminder of what, alas, we get instead).
Nestling among the comments is my own 2p-worth.