Monday, December 21, 2009
'Feeling grumpy "is good for you"
'An Australian psychology expert who has been studying emotions has found being grumpy makes us think more clearly.
'In contrast to those annoying happy types, miserable people are better at decision-making and less gullible, his experiments showed.
'While cheerfulness fosters creativity, gloominess breeds attentiveness and careful thinking, Professor Joe Forgas told Australian Science Magazine.
'Next he asked them to take part in a series of tasks, including judging the truth of urban myths and providing eyewitness accounts of events.
'Those in a bad mood outperformed those who were jolly - they made fewer mistakes and were better communicators.'
Well, that's my New Year's resolution sorted, then. All jollity to be rigorously avoided. And, however grudgingly, more charity towards those whose views have me tearing my hair out. They can't help it, they're just too blooming happy!
We will be taking a blogging break over the next week and a bit, so we can perhaps risk just a little seasonal cheer. And we now unbend ourselves sufficiently to wish all readers a blessed and joyful Christmas (and/or Hanukkah) and a fruitful New Year.
Friday, December 18, 2009
'To put this comparison in perspective, remember that the Roman forces in Judea are said to have massacred tens (if not hundreds) of thousands including woman and children, literally festooning roads with their crucified victims. The Roman war against the Jews included the Romans burning Jerusalem, including the temple, to the ground.
'And of course, there was that whole Christ-killing thing… The letter goes on to subtly invoke that old standby, Jewish deicide:
"What the Palestinian community faces, Jesus knew when he walked these stony hills."'
One of the signatories links to a page on the site of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, on which we find a set of four maps purporting to show the changes in the division of land between Jews and Palestinians from 1946 up to the present. In fact they're a wicked propagandist travesty, and again Adam Holland does a great job of demonstrating this. One point he could have added is the gross dishonesty of portraying the whole of Israel as "Jewish land". In reality, of course, it's the home of a million Arabs.
This is not the first time I've seen those maps. They can be found, illustrating an equally mendacious narrative of the "suffering in Palestine", on the website of Friends of Sabeel UK, the charity (I'm inclined to put that in quotes) about whose partnership with Christian Aid I posted recently.
Here they're credited, below the extremely revealing rollcall of FoSUK Patrons, as "courtesy of Tim Biles from his book A Puppy Dies". The title tells you all you need to know, doesn't it? Now it would be a pretty amazing coincidence if this were not one and the same person as the Revd. Canon Timothy Biles, who, I find, acts as Consultant and newsletter editor to a charity called the Jerusalem and the Middle East Church Association. If he is indeed the originator of those maps they are no aberration. He's still at it.
Here is an extract from a book review by Mr Biles in the Advent 2009 issue:-
'But storm clouds gathered, the events of 1948 are described in graphic detail, the incursion of
Zionist forces into Haifa and northern Palestine, the forced evacuation of the indigenous population to southern Lebanon and the refugee camp of Shatila [...]'
The detail may be graphic but it is evidently extremely one-sided, at least in Mr Biles's reading of it. Where are the incursions of the Arab armies seeking to destroy Israel at birth, and fought off only at the cost of 6000 Jewish lives?
'The author shows how the lives and fates of Palestinian Christians and Muslims are intertwined, making it clear that it is the Israeli occupation, not Islam, that threatens Christians in the land that was Palestine.'
Curious, then, that while Palestinian Christians become an endangered species the Muslim population, equally subject to occupation, is growing by leaps and bounds. But it seems that for Mr Biles and his friends nobody other than the Israelis is ever threatening. An article in the 2008 issue quotes another priest and/or his wife as saying:-
'What is ultimately striking about Gaza is the sheer disproportionality of it all – the collective punishment inflicted on 1.5 million people is against every measure of international and humanitarian law…'
I certainly understand why people returning from Gaza in the aftermath of the invasion would say this. But we get no mention of what it is that the "collective punishment" is disproportionate to, no suggestion that lobbing missiles at civilian populations is itself a form of collective punishment "against every measure of international and humanitarian law". Still less any suggestion that Hamas, the popularly elected rulers of Gaza, bear any responsibility for thus picking a fight with a vastly more powerful enemy. As so often the H-word doesn't appear at all.
Bias is one thing, lies are another. Above this article is a heading containing the claim that "Gaza is the most densely populated place on earth". This was untrue when George Galloway said it three or four years ago (which hasn't prevented him from repeating it last year) and it's still untrue, as a minute's googling will confirm. Gaza's population density (4118 per sq km - panel on the right here) is exceeded by Macau, Monaco, Singapore, Hong Kong and Gibraltar (list here). Oh, and also (comfortably) by Tel Aviv (7604 per sq km).
It's true that Gaza may move further up the league table if it continues to have one of the highest rates of population growth on earth. It's not immediately obvious to me how this is the Israelis' fault (indeed they made a temporary dent in the population by removing 8000 settlers in 2005) but I expect Mr Biles could soon put me right.
So is this Canon of the Church of England a liar or a dupe? The latter, I very much hope, but if so, I wish he'd do a bit less politicking and a bit more priesting. If the former, it's a disgrace that he's a dignitary of my Church.
Friday, December 11, 2009
We're left with the scandal of the Vogelenzangs ever having been dragged in front of a judge in the first place. When the government created the offence they were charged with, we were assured that of course there was no intention to criminalize robust debate and the bar for bringing a prosecution would of course be set high enough to ensure there was no chance of that happening. Ha! I trust a global ban on ministerial assurances is on the agenda at Copenhagen.
Tuesday, December 08, 2009
Tuesday, December 01, 2009
It took the Emperor Constantine's say-so before churches could come with towers attached. Nelson was raised up on his Column as the very epitome of his country's ideal perception of itself.
Announce that you are going to put up a column in your back garden with Hitler on top, and you will speedily discover that it is everybody's business. And rightly so.
So the electorate of Switzerland have just made a statement about what values and beliefs they want to see affirmed by their skyline. They have seen how tolerance of intolerance has played out elsewhere in Europe, and decided to issue a symbolic warning to their cozy political elite that they will not follow it in a sleepwalking progress down the path trodden by its counterparts in countries such as Britain.
Consider this: the progressive opinion which the Swiss have so outraged is perfectly happy for Turkey to be welcomed into Europe. Turkey, a country in which it is for all practical purposes impossible to build a church, be it never so unobtrusive.
Here in Britain our Education Secretary, the never more aptly named Mr Balls, is trying to bluster his way out of the revelation that public money has been channelled to schools which are at the very least in the ideological orbit of Hizb ut Tahrir, an organization which makes Switzerland's SVP look like a bunch of bleeding-heart liberals. Hands up everyone who thinks this sets an inspiring example for observers in Switzerland or anywhere else.
And note that if, as we are constantly assured, the only problem was a tiny minority of extremists, these schools would have folded for lack of pupils. They haven't.
And yet, and yet. When the elite loses the confidence of the populace, however deservedly, and populists get their chance, the results tend not to be pretty. The SVP is evidently an unpleasant outfit which has little compunction about playing the race card. There's no escape from the principle that two wrongs don't make a right. A simple, blanket ban directed at one faith looks bigoted however valid the fears underlying it.
So how about this as a rather more sophisticated way of making the point that rights must never be divorced from responsibilities?
Tall-pointy-things-attached-to-places-of-worship-law (December 2009)
(and believe me, that will look mightily impressive translated into German)
Permission for the construction of tall pointy things attached to places of worship shall be conditional on the following:-
- All members of the worshipping community shall sign a declaration affirming their support for freedom of religion. This declaration will affirm that freedom of religion includes the right of every individual to choose their religious affiliation, regardless of any previous affiliation, without fear of punishment, reprisal or discrimination. It will also affirm the right of individuals to join together in faith communities and engage openly in religious worship. It will call for these rights to be respected in all countries of the world.
- The place of worship shall not be used for any preaching, teaching or dissemination of literature which contradicts the declaration on freedom of religion.
- The worshipping community shall be responsible for expelling any member who makes any public statement or commits any act contradicting the declaration.
- The worshipping community shall demonstrate that it does not receive funding from persons or organizations which do not uphold freedom of religion, or from citizens or domiciles of countries which do not uphold it.
- Any contravention of the above points shall result in a warning. A second contravention shall result in demolition at the worshipping community's expense.
And then let a thousand Alpine minarets blossom. Or not.
Of course there are those in the Occupied Territories who are very happy for the sacred music of Bach not to be heard in Bethlehem at Christmas. And they are by no means short of friends in the PSC. Pity the shrinking Palestinian Christian community, caught in the firing line and getting it from all sides. They could do with a return date from the angelic choir - if permission can be obtained.
Friday, November 13, 2009
Admirable as much of their heritage is, if they can't be consistent about their pacifism they don't amount to much more than the SWP with quieter meetings.
Saturday, November 07, 2009
Yes, and I hope that in due season George will be offering his advice on appreciating the true meaning and spirit of Advent to the turkey community.
More wisdom from George:-
'Lord Sacks was ostensibly attacking our secular, consumerist culture. But a regular canard of European racists is that the Muslim immigrant population is “out-breeding” other ethnicities. They usually add that the name Mohammed is now the most popular boy’s name in some cities. The truth is that immigrant birth-rates settle down to mirror local trends.'
Well, I really don't see why he shouldn't have meant what he said - or is it only the Established Church that is licenced to attack secular, consumerist culture? But, George, let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London... Over the past few weeks I've had conversations with a young Algerian taxi driver who is here because his uncle is here, and a young Bangladeshi waiter who is here thanks to an arranged marriage. Nice guys, both of them, but how is anything supposed to settle down so long as immigration keeps breeding more immigration, and second generation immigrants are so little assimilated that they are prepared - or required - to submit to an arranged marriage with a stranger from another continent?
And yes, George, a rise in the levels of anti-Semitism in Britain - and specifically in the levels of abuse, vandalism and violence suffered by the Jewish community - is an entirely predictable by-product. I dare say Lord Sacks is indeed worried, and if he isn't he ought to be. But it's funny how it seems to be acceptable for participants in the Michal Kaminski debate to talk as if the entire population of Poland is infected with anti-Semitism, yet you can't mention Muslim anti-Semitism without arousing the suspicion that you're about to join the BNP.
Sunday, November 01, 2009
Jonathan Hoffman is clearly partisan, but some of Amnesty's claims do seem inherently dubious. 90-95% of Gaza's water unfit for human consumption? There are parts of the world where that really is true, with public health consequences which in Gaza are conspicuous by their absence.
Being a Palestinian propagandist must be a dream of a job. The people you can fool all of the time are legion.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Christian Aid have produced briefings for the URC on the countries which its donations benefit. The one for Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories is here, and it starts like this:-
'The past year has been dominated by the conflict in Gaza and its aftermath. On 27 December 2008 Israel launched an aerial bombardment of the Gaza Strip, followed by a ground invasion a week later. The violence continued for 22 days, until a temporary ceasefire was put in place on 18 January. Christian Aid’s partners wasted no time in responding to the crisis, with the provision of medical relief, food distribution and counseling for children. But Israel’s continuing blockade of Gaza’s borders – which even before the conflict was severely exacerbating the poverty and suffering of the people of Gaza - continues to hamper the humanitarian response.'
Needless to say, it was entirely appropriate that Christian Aid should respond to the humanitarian emergency created by the fighting in Gaza. But humanitarian is never just humanitarian where Christian Aid's involvement in the Middle East is concerned - as the passage above demonstrates perfectly.
In this version of events there was no conflict, no violence until an Israeli bombardment began on 27 December. The rockets that fell in their hundreds in and around Sderot simply aren't part of the picture; apparently they fall outside Christian Aid's working definitions of 'conflict' and 'violence'. So, once the rockets have been excluded, Israel's actions in first blockading, then bombarding and invading Gaza become totally unprovoked, gratuitous acts of cruelty.
Argue that an invasion was the wrong response to the rockets and you potentially have my sympathy. Ditto if you argue that it took an unnecessary toll of civilian life. But if you present the invasion as unprovoked you've crossed the line in the sand. On the right side of the line what happens is the proper holding to account of all the parties in a long and complex conflict in which nobody has a monopoly of right. On the wrong side is the demonization of that state and the promotion of prejudice and hatred towards the people whose state it is. That there are a lot of people on the wrong side these days is no excuse for Christian Aid to be among them.
When you're looking from the wrong side of the line, you can see the children of Gaza need 'psycho-social support', but it doesn't occur to you to wonder what it's like to be a child in Sderot. You feel a need to support people who 'provide a supply of credible and up-to-date information to counter biased or misleading accounts in the Israeli media' - no need to worry about Gaza's media, which thanks to their Hamas minders always tell the truth, don't they?
And whilst you will be happy to associate Zimbabwe with images like this...
...("A man surveying his crops with pride" from this leaflet) your preferred imagery for Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories will be like this...
...accompanied by text like this:-
'It is 6am and Rasheed Mohammed’s hands grip the metal bars at the main checkpoint between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Like the 2,000 other Palestinian workers coming through this morning, his short commute to work is now far longer and far more difficult. It takes him through these bars; past Israeli soldiers with rifles; through two ID checks; and a metal detector.'
(from this leaflet)
You will graciously concede to Israel 'the right and the duty to protect her citizens', but will have nothing to say about the cost of her pre-barrier inability to do so.
From the wrong side of the line in the sand you will not see any soldiers with rifles in Zimbabwe, and only your passing reference to 'bad governance' will hint at the realities of a country terrorized and reduced to penury by a despot. So you will have no thought of sending volunteers dressed in high-visibility jackets to monitor the country's human rights record. Save that for the evil Israelis.
I sometimes wonder whether 'Christian Hate?' was an overly provocative title for my blog. But not when I see material like this. And, yes, even the gentle souls of the United Reformed Church can be led to hate in the end, if they're fed enough lies. The evidence is for that proposition is in the long, bloody history of Christian anti-Semitism. If you don't believe me, it's time to do some reading.
I fear it's no use telling her that she'll be rubbing shoulders with Hamas supporters. We already know that that's not a problem for her. Will she have second thoughts, though, on learning that she'll be sharing a platform with one of Nick Griffin's chums? My breath is baited.
Sunday, October 25, 2009
Who said that?
'[T]he pro-Israeli lobby has got its grips on the western world, its financial grips. I think they've probably got a grip on our party.'
Who said that? Answer: a former Trustee 0f Christian Aid, and current Patron of a Christian Aid partner charity.
'International law accepts that people living under illegal military occupation are entitled to fight against the occupiers with whatever means they have at their disposal. If the world does not like, for example, “terrorist suicide bombing” in Palestine (a weapon neither unique to the Palestinians nor invented by them), then, as one Palestinian exile said at a conference in December 2003, “Give us F-16s, Apache helicopters, missiles tanks and heavy weapons, and we’ll have a fair fight”.'
Who used these words to justify the deliberate killing of civilians? Answer: another Patron of the same Christian Aid partner charity.
Also on the roll of Patrons are a bishop who is currently a Trustee of Christian Aid; another bishop who was Chair of Christian Aid from 1998 to 2008; and his predecessor in that post. The organization claims that it 'works for a just peace for the people of Palestine and Israel' and 'promotes non-violence and reconciliation'.
I'm a Christian and a one-time Christian Aid donor who believes there's a problem here. I started this blog to make the point (in 2005, having first raised the subject in a letter to Christian Aid in 2002 - the problem is not a new one). This is an update on these concerns which I've been encouraged to write having received an e-mail from a reader who belongs to a Liberal synagogue. He and others in the Liberal Judaism movement are unhappy that the movement is linking up with Christian Aid to campaign on climate change. They're not against the link in principle, but they do think Christian Aid should clean up its Middle East campaigning act first.
Blows have been exchanged in the LJ movement's magazine (here on page 4) but so far the debate seems just a little short on facts. Naturally it's not for me to tell Jews what to think, but I do think they ought to know what they're getting into. So I offer this post as a contribution to informed debate.
The Big, Big Issue
I started off my blog with a series of posts analyzing coverage of Israel and Palestine in Christian Aid News, the charity's magazine. This is how I summed up what I found:-
'Over the last seven issues [Summer 2003 to Summer 2005] of Christian Aid News more than 17 pages were devoted to Israel and Palestine. Most of this coverage involved political criticism of Israel. The most coverage any other conflict zone got was 4.5 pages for Angola – barely a quarter as much. Sudan, scene of more than two million deaths in the civil wars of the past two decades and, in the UN’s words, “the worst humanitarian crisis in the world”, got 2.5 pages. These include a full page feature about a woman who makes perfume. It tells you her recipe.'
Has anything changed over the four years since then? You can easily see for yourself. Go to the Christian Aid website. Click on the tab marked policy. Here you'll find policy papers filed under ten headings. Nine are for general and global issues - climate change, trade, and so on. One is for a specific area of the world: the Middle East. Click on this one: there are eight papers filed here, written between 2003 and 2008. One is a 2003 expose of alleged American theft of Iraqi wealth (did CA ever publish a 'hard-hitting report' on Saddam Hussein's regime?). The other seven all deal with Israel and Palestine.
You will search in vain for even one position paper on those conflicts in Sudan (and even if there was one, you could be pretty sure it would pull its punches when it came to apportioning blame; Omar Bashir's regime is touchy about what aid agencies say about it).
Sometimes slightly more subtle ways are found of justifying a preoccupation with a region slightly smaller than Belgium. During Lent this year Christian Aid led a 'virtual pilgrimage' around the Holy Land. Now the pilgrimage is of course a venerable Christian tradition, but pious tradition is not something that usually concerns Christian Aid overmuch. In this instance the pilgrimage furnished the perfect pretext for bringing sustained political criticism of Israel to a wider audience. Given a little imagination, a virtual pilgrimage could very well range across the entire world, but Christian Aid chose to do it differently, and that choice, it can scarcely be doubted, was very much a political one.
It's hard to see how this fixation with Israel and Palestine can be understood as (in the words of Liberal Judaism CEO Rabbi Danny Rich) 'seek[ing] to fulfil a humanitarian mandate'. On the contrary, its perverse consequence is that other areas of the world suffering human rights abuses on a vastly greater scale simply get ignored. You might expect that an international development agency like CA would be concerned to redress the neglect of many such places by mainstream media and political discourse in Britain. Instead it concentrates on the tiny scrap of land that's already a focus for relentless media overkill.
The sheer volume of coverage would tend to create a false impression - of Israel as a rogue state without peer - even if it were all scrupulously even-handed (it isn't). Whenever that perception is created it gives rise to undestandable anger. Not everyone is sophisticated enough to maintain a strict distinction between anger against Israel and anger against Jews (nor indeed do the sophisticated necessarily maintain it). For some the natural outlet for anger is violence and abuse. For many more it leads to a gradual desensitization to the proposition that the Jews are a people afflicted with a fundamental moral flaw.
The Tonge Connection
I've already hinted that my objections to Christian Aid's coverage of the conflict have to do with more than its sheer volume. At this point I take up the thread begun with the two quotations at the start of this post.
The name of the Liberal Democrat politician Jenny Tonge, now Baroness Tonge, will be all too familiar to many Jews. In 2004 a comment suggesting that Palestinian terrorism was an understandable reaction to the conditions of occupation led to her being sacked by party leader Charles Kennedy from the Lib Dem front bench. Two years later her statement at the party conference that "the pro-Israeli lobby has got its grips on the western world, its financial grips. I think they've probably got a grip on our party." was denounced by Kennedy's successor Menzies Campbell as having "clear anti-Semitic connotations." She is someone who has plainly moved way beyond legitimate criticism of Israel.
Earlier in 2006 Baroness Tonge had been appointed a Trustee of Christian Aid. After her conference speech the charity sought to portray it as irrelevant to her work with them. However, her position had evidently become untenable and she resigned her Trusteeship soon afterwards. I have little doubt that this was a result of pressure put on CA by responsible church leaders, but Tonge was no less certain that the pressure had come from a different quarter. As she wrote in an e-mail to a student:-
'After criticizing the lobby in a fringe meeting at conference (just after the publication of the book I mentioned [i.e. Mearsheimer and Walt, The Israel Lobby]) I had to stand down from the board of Christian Aid because they had been warned by the BOD [Board of Deputies of British Jews], that my membership would endanger projects going ahead in the West Bank and Gaza.'
So was this the end of Christian Aid's association with this deplorable conspiracy theorist? By no means. The connection is now a little less direct, but it is nevertheless alive and well. Baroness Tonge is currently a Patron of Friends of Sabeel UK, a group which promotes the nationalist liberation theology of the Palestinian Anglican Canon Naim Ateek. Its declared aim is to work for a just peace, which it may or may not be doing; what is evident from its website is that it promotes a one-sided propagandist narrative of the conflict and its origins, and that it campaigns against the Israeli security barrier without acknowledging that the barrier is a response to the deliberate killing of hundreds of civilians.
Friends of Sabeel UK declares prominently on its website that it is a partner of Christian Aid. It can be assumed that the partnership is to FoSUK's advantage financially; Charity Commission records shows it raising barely half as much as it spends. The honour of being a Patron is one that Baroness Tonge shares with, among others, Professor Michael Taylor, former director of Christian Aid, Michael Langrish, Bishop of Exeter and a Trustee of Christian Aid, and John Gladwin, Bishop of Chelmsford and Chair of Christian Aid from 1998 to 2008.
The point of establishing this connection is that by now it would take pretty high levels of anti-Israel obsessionalism - and a pretty insouciant attitude towards anti-Semitism - to make anyone want to make common cause against Israel with Baroness Tonge. Two Liberal Democrat leaders have distanced themselves from her; the top brass of Christian Aid are doing quite the reverse.
A Connection Too Far
The Friends of Sabeel website reveals another connection that is, if anything, even more disturbing than that with Baroness Tonge. For also on the list of Patrons is Ibrahim Hewitt, "coordinator of the Palestine relief organisation Interpal".
The Harry's Place blog has made something of a speciality of researching Interpal and its relationship to Hamas. Rather than duplicate HP's efforts, I invite readers to inform themselves here and here, and specifically on Ibrahim Hewitt here. Follow the link to Mr Hewitt's pamphlet "What does Islam Say?" and note, for example, his opinions on the proper punishments for apostates (death) and homosexuals (one hundred lashes, or death). That he is comfortable with the proposition that those converting from Islam to Christianity deserve to forfeit their lives is not only ironic given that he is himself a convert with an at least nominally Christian background, but also makes him, one would think, a remarkable bedfellow for a brace of bishops.
Agreed, that is not directly relevant to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Not so the second of the quotes at the beginning of this post, also from Mr Hewitt's pamphlet and quoted in a recent Harry's Place post. Here it is again:-
'International law accepts that people living under illegal military occupation are entitled to fight against the occupiers with whatever means they have at their disposal. If the world does not like, for example, “terrorist suicide bombing” in Palestine (a weapon neither unique to the Palestinians nor invented by them), then, as one Palestinian exile said at a conference in December 2003, “Give us F-16s, Apache helicopters, missiles tanks and heavy weapons, and we’ll have a fair fight”.'
Hewitt further underlines this position by quoting approvingly from "contemporary Islâmic scholar, Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi", who has consistently upheld the right of Palestinians to resort to terrorism.
This is not, repeat not, about Mr Hewitt being a Muslim, nor is it about the fact that he sympathizes with the Palestinians. The issue is this: his argument that Palestinians are entitled to kill Israeli civilians is one which Christians must reject as morally intolerable. The claim that "international law" vindicates terrorism is of course preposterous; far less can it be vindicated by any credibly Christian ethic. I cannot justify deliberately murdering the unarmed and defenceless by appealing to a group identity which they share with others whose military might exceeds my own. To assert otherwise is, apart from any other consideration, inherently racist where the group identity in question is a racial one, as it plainly is in the case of Palestinian terrorism.
The principle I have just stated may or may not have been infringed by members of the Israeli forces in Gaza. If and to the extent it has been, that is deplorable. Where Palestinian terrorism is concerned no 'ifs' arise. That the infringement has occurred and that it has indeed been premeditated and deliberate is beyond question, and this infringement is precisely what Mr Hewitt seeks to vindicate in the quote above. And this presents Christian Aid and Friends of Sabeel UK with a choice. Either they can claim the moral high ground for their efforts on behalf of the Palestinians, or they can argue from political expediency that their tent should be large enough to accommodate Ibrahim Hewitt. But they cannot do both.
Christian Aid and Hamas
What, then, is Ibrahim Hewitt, a Muslim with extreme religious and political views, doing as a Patron of a Christian charity? It's just possible that the Christian Aiders are not aware quite how extreme his views actually are. On the other hand, it's not necessary to assume that they are ignorant of his and Interpal's stance towards Hamas. For Christian Aid itself seems to be by no means hostile towards Hamas.
It consistently offers no criticism of Hamas to balance its repeated criticisms of Israel. It consistently avoids use of the word "terrorism"; whilst its official statements condemn "violence" in general terms, there is never any suggestion that the deliberate killing of non-combattants deserves special condemnation. Nor is there any acknowledgement that Hamas has been one of the foremost sponsors of violence of this type, nor that it is intransigently hostile to the existence of Israel, which Christian Aid is officially committed to upholding.
There is more on this theme in my response to a Christian Aid parliamentary briefing produced in 2006 and typical of an approach which has been entirely consistent before and since.
Further evidence of Christian Aid's approach can be found on Friends of Sabeel UK's website. The FAQ page starts with the question "Is Sabeel anti-semitic?" - revealing a certain defensiveness, perhaps. The answer begins with "No" and ends with criticism of Israel. It contains no mention of the explicit anti-Semitism of Hamas.
The events page lists FoSUK as one of the supporters of the "Free Palestine!" demonstration in London on 16 May 2009. Also in the list of supporters are the Muslim Association of Britain ("the British franchise of Hamas/Muslim Brotherhood", in the words of Harry's Place) and Viva Palestina, under whose auspices George Galloway made his way to Gaza to hand over a wad of cash to Hamas. Viva Palestina is under investigation by the Charity Commission following this escapade (it is, after all, illegal to fund Hamas even if you don't have charitable status) - see this Harry's Place post which also notes the organization's close links with Ibrahim Hewitt's Interpal.
The Charity Commission seems happy to grant charities a good deal of leeway for political campaigning, and only under fairly extreme provocation does it bestir itself even to launch an investigation. Personally, I believe that this degree of politicization makes nonsense of the very concept of charity; even if the Commissioners disagree, it really is not acceptable for the churches which sponsor Christian Aid to share their indulgence.
The security barrier
'Christian Aid has expressed unequivocal support for the security of Israel and the rights of all Israeli people to live safely and securely' writes Rabbi Rich. Indeed it has. The problem is that there is a large gap between what the organization says in bland official statements (largely to keep the Charity Commission and/or the Archbishop of Canterbury off its back, I suspect) and what it actually practises. For in practice its support for the security of Israel is hedged about by the equivocations that surface whenever Israel takes action to safeguard its citizens.
The homepage of Friends of Sabeel UK features a photo of what is described elsewhere as an "armed Israeli lookout tower on the ‘Apartheid’ Wall". Another photo features "A Friends of Sabeel demonstration against the continued construction of the wall".
What has the security barrier meant for Israelis? Bearing in mind that construction began in 2003, the graph here tells its own story (I would not usually rely on an Israeli - or any other - government source, but the figures are not in dispute). To bring the picture up to date, one Israeli woman was killed by a suicide bombing in February 2008 (the bomber had come across the barrier-free border with Jordan). As I write that is the most recent suicide attack to have occurred in Israel. Hamas and Islamic Jihad have both acknowledged that their attacks have been frustrated by the presence of the barrier.
When Pope Benedict visited the Holy Land he described the security barrier as one of the saddest sights of his trip, and looked forward to a future in which it would have disappeared. But he also stated clearly that this was contingent on a renunciation of violence and aggression by all sides. That was an expression of 'unequivocal support for the security of Israel' and a model for Christians. It is sadly not the view of the Christian Aiders gathered together as Friends of Sabeel.
It might sound outrageous to suggest that the Friends of Sabeel want it made easier for Palestinians to kill Jews. But in June 2006 Baroness Tonge wrote complainingly in a letter to the Independent 'It should come as no surprise to anyone that suicide bombers in Iraq are Palestinians. Israel's security wall is forcing them to export themselves to another arena [...]' (my emphasis). Lest we forget, Baroness Tonge is a Patron of Friends of Sabeel UK and a very special friend of Christian Aid.
To be continued
This long post has been too long in the writing. For this I offer my apologies to the reader who asked me to write it, whilst leaving further thoughts for a follow-up post.
Update: the follow-up is here.
Appendix 1: selected past posts on Christian Aid
My June 2005 introduction to the blog
On the appalling 'Child of Bethlehem' Christmas appeal and its invocation of ancient tropes of Christian anti-Semitism
CA as Manichaeans
Demonizing imagery, and selective quotation from Rowan Williams
CA flies two MPs to Gaza - one of them just happens to be Jenny Tonge
A pat on the back for CA, for supporting a genuine peace initiative
On a student-oriented website which earned CA an award from the New Statesman
An open letter to the Director of Christian Aid (he didn't reply)
My reply to a comment from a Christian Aid employee
On episcopal politics and the beginning of CA's campaign against the security barrier
On Christian Aid advocacy for Hamas - with an update
On CA collaboration with War on Want and the Muslim Council of Britain
On Baroness Tonge's graduation to outright support for Hamas
Appendix 2: the charitable objectives of Friends of Sabeel UK
As lodged with the Charity Commission:-
(3.) THE CHARITY'S OBJECTS ARE:
(3.1) TO SUPPORT THE SABEEL THEOLOGY CENTRE IN JERUSALEM IN ITS WORK FOR THE PROMOTION OF RELIGION FOR THE BENEFIT OF THE COMMUNITY
(3.2) TO SUPPORT AND ENCOURAGE THE CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY IN THE HOLY LAND (ISRAEL AND THE PALESTINIAN AREAS OF GAZA, THE WEST BANK AND EAST JERUSALEM) IN THEIR LIFE AND WITNESS
(3.3) TO RAISE AWARENESS IN THE UNITED KINGDOM CONCERNING CHRISTIANS IN THE HOLY LAND AND TO PROMOTE LINKS WITH THEM.
Friday, October 23, 2009
I wouldn't bore you with this everyday tale of everyday folk, only - can you believe it? - some evil fascist hag has accused us of being sleazy. Our mortification knows no bounds. Honestly, doesn't she know what century she's living in? Thank goodness the heterosexual troilist community has protested on a scale which will hopefully ensure she never works again. Let her consume away like a snail.
(hat tip: the Dumb One)
Saturday, October 10, 2009
So I'm indebted to 'Fake Aid', a new report from the International Policy Network, for putting me in the picture. In an executive nutshell:-
'In 2008–092 DfID spent £140 million on
“communications” activities by NGOs whose primary
focus is often not the delivery of aid. Spending on such
communications has rocketed in recent years: starting
with an initial budget just under £38 million in 2000–01,
the total cost of these programmes will reach £1.1 billion
It's a lot of money not being spent on what one might expect to be the raison d'être of both the DfID and the charities. The Times had a piece on the report; I missed the agencies' letter in response and can't find it, but some of the comments make the noises characteristic of a vested interest being rubbed up the wrong way. There are some good samples of the oh-so-you-want-us-to-leave-starving-babies-to-die-do-you straw man tactic. Perhaps somewhat spoiling the effect of these is the contribution from someone who can't see what the problem is because he got an all-expenses-paid trip to Ghana and jolly interesting it was too. I'm glad that he had a good time at my expense, but since at present my personal finances won't run to a holiday in Ghana I can only live in hope that the DfID will decide I am a particularly urgent case for re-education.
It's not hard to work out that the IPN is a robustly right-of-centre outfit. But there's a principle at stake which one would hope had at least some lingering resonance with the non-Stalinist Left: the principle that the state is not entitled to take my money and spend it on telling me what to think. But it's hard to find any section of the Left which has not been corrupted by the power conferred by its status as the new Establishment.
A question of some interest to me is whether Christian Aid's Israel-bashing, Hamas-legitimizing political campaigning has been supported by the taxpayer. There's no direct evidence in the report, and it may be hard to disentangle the answer. As the report notes:-
'When DfID funds are bundled together with money for
aid work in the field, it is impossible to know precisely
how the money is spent by recipient organisations or
how much is spent on aid delivery rather than advocacy
and public relations.'
This, though, is anything but reassuring:-
'The NGO War on Want, for example, was issued
an official warning by the Charity Commission over its
overtly political activities which included calls for the
cutting of all cultural, academic and sporting ties with
Israeli people who they deem “complicit at worst and
acquiescent at best” in relation to the Israeli
government’s alleged “apartheid policies.” The warning
did not affect DfID’s continued funding of the
organisation, to which it granted £980,119 via the CSCF
in 2007 and 2008.'
It is, indeed, fairly hard to imagine that you could bung a million quid at War on Want and not be making a substantial contribution to the demonization of Israel. It was certainly never going to get spent on campaigning against the Sudanese regime. It's also hard to believe that the DfID's functionaries don't know this.
I'm very much in favour of schoolkids (and others) learning about development issues. They should learn through proper educational materials devised by reasonably impartial educationalists, not from consciousness-raising sessions run by political commissars. What the DPI report uncovers is that a large and growing chunk of the aid agencies' business is effectively state propaganda by proxy. It's illiberal, it's corrupt, it stinks.
Friday, October 09, 2009
I hope that in ten/twenty/thirty years' time we will look back and say they were right. Really. Though actually, on a more visceral level I also hope they will look as foolish as their predecessors who picked Kissinger. So I can't be disappointed either way.
Even the Beeb's man has to admit that the award "might be regarded as more of an encouragement for intentions than a reward for achievements". So prizes for everyone motoring down the highway to the big bonfire, then. Hurrah!
"His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world's population" saith the committee. Where do you start with that one?
Remember Tony Blair and his ethical foreign policy? Shame he couldn't have got his gong as a reward for pious words spoken in 1997. Why did the Nobelity have to hang around and pass their judgment on him after he'd quietly shelved the whole concept in favour of old-fashioned national self-interest?
No risk at all of history repeating itself, is there?
I'd say it would even have been a shade premature to pick Morgan Tsvangirai. But at least he can point to some solid achievements in hauling Zimbabwe out of the abyss. Not to mention stuff like getting his skull cracked by Mugabe's thugs and losing his wife to what may well have been an assassination attempt.
But who actually gives a monkey's about Zimbabwe and its people's empty stomachs, anyway? In a world of hype, nothing breeds hype like hype. And as of today, that's all the Nobel Peace Prize is about.
Here endeth the rant.
Friday, October 02, 2009
Saturday, September 12, 2009
After photos had been taken they piled in together with the supporting cast, and off they went. I hope they were able to plight their troths amid the splendours of OLEM, and not in the dismal new church down the road (I'm not willing to entertain the possibility that they opted for the registry office).
As we've never exchanged more than the occasional Hello it was all a complete surprise. We seemed to be the only neighbours who were registering it at all. We've left a card on the stairs and perhaps it will break the ice. All the best to them in any case.
Here on the edge of Curmudge all the world is at home. French, Germans, Poles, Hungarians, Africans, Bangladeshis, Chinese, you name it. We come and go on our bikes and in our little silver cars (except for the plumber who has something red and sporty-looking) and we each mind our own business. I've seen the future and it sort of works, but a community it isn't. Pity, really.
Thursday, September 03, 2009
While I'm doing my own research on my 'favourite' topic, here are a couple of HP titbits to provide some context for my next Big Post. First, a post on Hamas's official embrace of Holocaust denial tellingly draws on Al Jazeera to expand on what the BBC had to say on the subject, and makes plain UNWRA's wretched failure to stand up to the bigots. And secondly, lest anyone should suppose that Hamas's stance is an aberration, here's one that sheds light on the movement's ideological roots by documenting the Nazi sympathies of Muslim Brotherhood founder Hasan al-Banna.
So: what kind of Christian charity is it that would cheerfully legitimize this gang of murderous, intolerant, racist bigots by taking Hamas fellow-travellers into partnership?
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Still a lot of deaths, though - five every week in England and Wales. What do we know about them? The BBC quotes some answers that took me aback:-
'The majority of deaths were among babies of a normal birthweight - 2,500 grammes or 5.5lbs and above, and occurred between 28 days and one year of age.
'At a rate of 1.42 per 1,000 live births, the rate among unmarried mothers registering the birth alone was eight times that of babies born within marriage.
'For births inside and outside marriage - and where the baby was registered by both parents - the death rate among parents in the routine and manual occupations was twice that among those classified as managerial or professional.
'Age was also a factor: rates were highest in mothers under 20, and fell the older she became.
'There were also regional variations: the North East had the highest rate, at 0.66 per 1,000 births, and the East of England the lowest, at 0.32 per 1,000.'
Let's have one of those stats again: 'the rate among unmarried mothers registering the birth alone was eight times that of babies born within marriage'. Eight times! What on earth can that be about?
The ONS doesn't do explanations. Here's all you'll get from the Beeb-
'There is now suggestion that bacteria may have a role in sudden infant death, although the precise nature of any such relationship is unclear.'
Well, they must be exceptionally unenlightened bacteria. I hope none of them is planning a career with the BBC.
PS The ONS bulletin is here. In it I discover another differential that has been excised by the Beeb from the quote above:-
'During the period 2003–07, the unexplained infant death rate in boys was over 1.3 times
the rate in girls.'
Clearly too scandalous to be mentioned.
Sunday, August 23, 2009
You'll be convinced if you're disposed to take seriously every piece of paranoid hearsay circulating in the Occupied Territories and to believe the worst about Jews - oops, I mean Zionists, of course. If, that is, you're a not untypical member of the Guardian-reading, Fairtrade coffee-drinking classes for whom Sweden is the closest thing to Nirvana.
Challenged to provide hard evidence, the writer has backed off. But the paper's editor seems to feel no urge to publish a retraction. On the contrary. Following high-level protests from Israel, he's chosen instead to play the freedom of speech card. And since he is not an anti-Semite, there is no need even to discuss the charge that he has published something anti-Semitic. It's not anti-Semitic, you see, to feel that Israel doesn't and shouldn't have a good name to lose. So all those Fairtrade coffee-drinkers are in the clear.
That may sound terribly bitter. But based on my own experience of Fairtrade coffee-drinkers (of whom, by the way, I am one) at prayer, I don't think it's overstating the case. I'm forcibly reminded of what I wrote here about the resurrection of another mediaeval prejudice. The following, directed against an activist of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel, could just as well be applied to Donald Boström and the editor of Aftonbladet:
'I've mapped out a No Man's Land bounded on the one side by a world in which real dead chickens are fished out of a real village well, and extremism and hatred provoke real people on both sides of a bitter conflict into committing real evil deeds, but bounded on the other side by the ravings of pure racist paranoia. In this wilderness our Accompanier and many others like him seem to have no fence to stop them from drifting towards the wrong side, and they show all too little awareness of the need to build one.'
Sunday, August 16, 2009
Ms Rantzen is one of those people you either love or hate. The latter is perhaps an understandable reaction to memories of 'That's Life'. Less understandable is the view that her work with vulnerable children is informed by the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. But for some people the name alone tells a story...
'I would argue that Esther does not give a rats noddy about endangered children, as she works for the tribe that blatantly commits the most heinous crimes on the planet'
So wrote a commenter signing himself 'Noble Lord' at 11:24 AM on Wednesday. And more in the same vein. Just over an hour later I reported the comment to the Telegraph, pointing out that it was anti-Semitic and asking that it be removed.
Result as of today's date: zilch.
Now I would hazard a guess that Noble Lord is on terms of some familiarity with his local mental health services. I wonder which noble lord he supposes himself to be. The Duke of Edinburgh, perhaps? The Marquis of Bath? Lord Lawson of Blaby?
Nevertheless, those of us who have studied history know that sometimes the lunatics can take over the asylum. So it behoves a reputable newspaper not to make things easier for them. The Telegraph wouldn't dream of commissioning an article propounding these views, so why does it tolerate them in a comment - for which it is in principle just as responsible as for the output of its star columnists?
Monday, August 03, 2009
The case of the 23-year-old left paralyzed by a rugby accident seems to me to pose the issues particularly starkly. If I were in his position I'm sure I would be traumatized and depressed. These are treatable conditions. Quadriplegia is not, but neither does it have to be a bar to a richly meaningful life. That was true even in the absence of all the opportunities opened up by modern technology.
There's not much dignity in needing someone else to wipe your bum for the rest of your life, it's true, but when did the human condition ever come with a guarantee of dignity?
I have no window into the souls of the young man's parents, and accordingly pass no judgements. Nevertheless, this must be said: if, in those circumstances, I decided my life wasn't worth living, I hope I'd discover that at least one person loved me enough to tell me I was wrong. And keep telling me until I took notice.
‘I’m going to call it Gertrude,’ she said. ‘And I shall undress it every night and put it to bed, and wake it up in the morning and dress it, and put it to bed at night, and wake it up next morning and dress it –‘
I cut the pestilential infant off in mid-flow. The situation which had developed was, I realised, one to be viewed with the gravest concern and alarm. Visions of Bertram languishing in durance vile swam before my eyes.
‘Now look here, young lady’, I said, extricating myself from her grip and fixing a basilisk-like gaze upon her, ‘Are you aware that firstly you have no business wandering around unaccompanied by a carer, teacher or other responsible adult, secondly I haven’t got police clearance for contact with children, let alone conversations about naked dolls, and thirdly any form of physical contact between you and self is totally inappropriate? Don’t they teach you anything about Stranger Danger at this beastly school of yours? I suppose the next thing will be that you’ll want me to take your picture, forsooth! Kindly make yourself scarce before you get me arrested.’
[Even the most imperishable classics may need updating to make them appropriate to changed and more enlightened cultural contexts. Here Mr Grumpy (inspired partly by this) gives the Master a helping hand in The Inimitable Jeeves.]
Sunday, July 26, 2009
1. Apartheid South Africa
2. Nazi Germany
3. Labour Britain
Like all right thinking people I was disturbed by the successes of the BNP in the European elections. I will never be found among those trivializing the threat to our liberties from a party with such a deplorable political pedigree. However, whilst the threat from these still fairly marginal opponents of 'diversity' remains theoretical, the stripping away of said liberties by the left-liberal establishment - as a direct consequence of their pursuit of 'diversity' - has long since become reality.
Keep the BNP out - don't vote Labour!
It seems no time since the government was in denial over forced marriages. Not a problem. OK, maybe a teeny weeny problem in a handful of cases, but nothing that existing legislation can't deal with.
Then somehow the balance tipped, and now we're in the next phase - the one where they try to find a fix that will let them off having to come clean about what the problem is.
For we do all know, don't we, that forced marriages are not a prominent feature of traditional Canadian or Welsh culture. And the Person from the Ministry knows that we know. But in order that he and his masters and mistresses may avoid pronouncing the 'M' word and/or the name of the country that separates India from Afghanistan, two newly-weds must be punished for a crime that everybody knows neither of them has committed. And just to add insult to injury, they get a lecture from the Person from the Ministry about what an evil crime it is that they haven't committed, and how admirable it is that the government is 'tackling' it (at their expense).
No doubt Rochelle and Adam will spend large parts of the next two eighteen months celebrating diversity. Unless, that is, they're too busy organizing Adam's permanent relocation to Canada.
Here's another take on the story. Note particularly the government's forced marriage poster: does either of those shackled hands look as if it comes from that mysterious anonymous space to the left of India?
Saturday, July 25, 2009
Friday, July 24, 2009
Apart from anything else, I have no proof that the writer is who he claims to be. And I would certainly feel defamed if someone were posting comments in my name which made it look as if I was suffering from some digital variant of Tourette's Syndrome.
If the writer is indeed who he says he is, he may rest assured that an apology for legitimate and pertinent comment on material which he has chosen to place in the public domain is as unforthcoming as ever.
One last point. I recently leafed through a copy of the Economist whilst waiting to board a plane. Something rather unusual struck me about it: it's an anonymous magazine. Not a by-line from start to finish. And it is a former senior editor of the same magazine (or someone impersonating him) who repeatedly accuses me of moral cowardice for blogging anonymously. There's nowt so queer as folk.
Monday, July 13, 2009
Whilst last time I was suggesting that a little contextualization wouldn't go amiss, here we get contextualization in abundance. Six bomb attacks on Baghdad churches over a single weekend might make it appear that this is not a great place to be a Christian, but these things are relative...
'There are some 750,000 people in Iraq's Christian community. Christian targets have been attacked in the past, but are spared much of Iraq's deadly violence.
'They have been targeted in some areas of the country, mainly in Baghdad and in the northern city of Mosul.
'However, most of the violence in Iraq is sectarian in nature and targets either Sunni or Shia Muslims.'
So, no whining from you Christians. Count your blessings!
When I first read the story this morning it was even more dismissive; methinks the middle paragraph has been inserted later.
Given the small size of the Christian minority, I'm not sure whether the writer's perception that Christians have been 'spared' is based on hard statistics or on the finger-in-the-wind approach. Iraqi Christians themselves feel the wind coming from a very different direction - they're emigrating in droves, and 750,000 is already almost certainly a gross overestimate of their numbers. Odd that that's not mentioned, don't you think?
And in any case, if we're going to do odorous comparisons, 'poor Muslims bearing the brunt of the violence' isn't quite the whole story, is it? There's also the small matter of who it is that thinks other people's places of worship are legitimate targets. Number of mosques blown up by Iraqi Christians, please? Over to the Beeb's man in Baghdad... Hmmm, we're having some trouble accessing that statistic. We'll get back to you as soon as we can.
Rod Little professes to be shocked that an esteemed colleague from his BBC days has taken the mullahs' shilling and joined the One Formerly Known As Gorgeous at Press TV. Really, Rod?
Monday, July 06, 2009
The murder of a young Egyptian woman by a deranged defendant in a German courtroom is a tragic occurrence. But at the BBC there are tragedies and tragedies. If we're talking martyred Egyptians, you might think that this or this would merit a place beneath the 'SEE ALSO' heading. And you might think it a little inconsistent that only one of these three stories contains the word 'martyr'.
Sunday, March 29, 2009
I can't deny, though, that low expectations lay in large measure at the bottom of my procrastination. I also can't say that those expectations were exceeded. On this evidence the wasteland created by the trendy lefty interpretation of Vatican 2 is as dire as Damian Thompson says it is.
The church was full, mind, but that's no great achievement in a city as cosmopolitan as this one now is. A solitary parish priest is obviously grossly overstretched and, as he reminded us this morning, with blocks of flats springing up on every pocket handkerchief of empty land the parish is on track to double its population, recession notwithstanding. With a church packed to bursting-point with Africans and Poles, what chance is there that mission to the heathen natives will get a look in?
A special dishonourable mention must go to the music. It was like the drippiest variety of Evangelical happy-clappy with added Valium, a fitting counterpoint to the puke-green wall behind the altar. The fact that it was still being rehearsed at three minutes past eleven merely added insult to injury.
So it is with increased fervour that I join Damian T in his approbation of the Scots Catholic composer James MacMillan. He has proved that contemporary music need not contribute to stripping the liturgy of reverence and mystery - try his sublime Mass. And for good measure he has his head screwed on politically as well. Last week he laid succinctly into the editor of the Guardian over the paper's support for Islamism.
Support for Islamism? Some mistake, surely? You've been at the Melanie Phillips again, Grumpy, haven't you? What about this...
'It is also true that a document signed by Mr Abdullah [deputy general secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain] at a recent international conference is in many ways offensive, with sweeping threats against those who stand with Israel and a slip into racialised language in relation to the Jewish state.'
So far so good, but I reckon if I ask you to guess what the next word is you won't have too much trouble. Close your eyes, and read on when you've had a stab at it.
Well done! You'd certainly have seen it coming if you've already read this in the leader:-
'Hazel Blears, had decided to cut contact with the largest Muslim civil society group until its deputy general secretary, Daud Abdullah, was sacked - a perverse decision if the aim is building the broadest possible alliance to take on the extremists.'
So someone undeterred by anti-Semitic language from signing a call to Jihad on behalf of Hamas is an invaluable member of the anti-extremist alliance. To coin a Wodehousean phrase, this is vastly well. There seems to be genuinely no limit to what we may be enjoined to accept in order that still worse things may be warded off:-
'A month ago the Guardian revealed that the government was considering setting arbitrary criteria to define extremists, such as support for sharia law - an approach that would have branded many mainstream Muslims enemies of the people. Thankfully the idea was ditched [...]'
Get that: 'mainstream' Muslims think it is not extreme to call for the introduction of a parallel theocratic jurisdiction in Britain, therefore nobody else has any business thinking it is.
Can you imagine the Grauniad telling us that in the interests of building an alliance against the far Right we must take care not to alienate 'mainstream' BNP voters by telling them their views are extremist? Of course not - the BNP aren't nearly scary enough.
Continuing to scan the papers, Ruth Gledhill of the Times is admirably robust on Dr Abdullah. I agree with her that this quote from David T of Harry's Place is telling:-
'The exposure of one faux-moderate as an extremist creates a domino effect. You just watch for the statements of outrage, and of support for the poor maligned nutter, and you uncover their constituency.'
But then we come to Damian T's Torygraph colleague, the dashing trendy vicar George Pitcher. Barely able to contain his glee over Dr Michael Nazir-Ali's decision to hand in his mitre, he writes:-
'It is said he was disappointed not to have been made Archbishop of Canterbury, but in truth he would have been awful in that role; his comments on British Muslims alone, had they emerged from Canterbury, could have left blood on the streets.'
'Blood on the streets'. No need to ask whose blood, or who'd have spilt it. Dr Nazir-Ali witnessed how Christians were intimidated into compliance in his native Pakistan. Has he given up hope that a repetition of the process in Britain can be prevented? It would be tragic if he has, though this kind of official flannel from the C of E would make such a conclusion understandable.
'As we rejoice in the power of his Spirit,
may God grant us today the faith of the apostles,
the boldness of the prophets
and the strength of the martyrs.'
When the Society of St Francis included this prayer for Pentecost in its office book, published in 1992, being a Christian in Britain was still pretty much the same cosy business it had been for a couple of centuries. Seventeen years on, it begins to look as if the prayer ought to have that well-known warning appended to it: be careful what you pray for - you might get it. Personally, I don't have the boldness of the prophets or the strength of the martyrs, and I'm not at all sure I want them, thank you very much. But how much longer is meaningful Christian witness in this society going to be possible without them?
Monday, March 16, 2009
I am certainly always willing to apologize to anyone I have misrepresented. This post, however, is not an apology but an attempt at an apologia. I hope to place beyond any possibility of misunderstanding the reasons why Mr Hugh-Jones's letter left an unpleasant taste in my mouth and continues to do so. If the letter inadequately expresses what he meant to say, or if it reveals more about his attitudes than he meant to reveal, the fault is plainly not mine.
Please stay with me: this is rather more than an obscure blogger's defence of his integrity. First, because Mr H-J is a mediacrat of some significance. He is the former International Editor of the Economist, and still enjoys the magazine's hospitality as an occasional blogger.
And second, there are some serious issues at stake - issues of what should and should not be said to and about Jews, and what it is permissible to notice about what others say to and about Jews. Let me again commend Howard Jacobson's recent piece in the Independent as a reminder as to why this discussion is timely. It has now become a commonplace, not least in supposedly serious and reputable newspapers, to say such things as that Jews have recreated the Warsaw ghetto in Gaza, that 'Palestinian Anne Franks' lie dead there. These are not true claims in any meaningful rational sense, but they evidently have a cathartic function for those who make them. It's time for people, and not just Jewish people, to demand less catharsis and more scrupulous precision in what's said about Jews. I certainly make no apology for raising that demand myself.
Before we go any further, here is the full text of Mr H-J's letter:-
'Sir Melanie Phillips (comment, June 6) thinks the doctrines of multiculturalism and minority rights spring from “a systematic onslaught” by the elite against British identity and values.
'If so, the elite has taken its time. It is 350 years since Jews were readmitted to Britain, and some 150 since the last formal bars against Jews and Roman Catholics (and atheists) were removed. The Phillipses of the day reacted much as the present one. Does she think they were right?'
Let me begin by stressing that I did not call Mr H-J an anti-Semite. What I did want to do was point out the way he draws attention to the fact that Melanie Phillips is Jewish. Make no mistake: that fact, that 'J' word, is on the table, not because I put it there or Ms Phillips put it there, but because Stephen Hugh-Jones put it there.
Let's understand clearly how the letter does this. Having invoked two historical events involving Jews, it ends by throwing out a rhetorical question. And the rhetorical force of the question lies entirely in the phrase which the reader is left to supply: does she, as a Jew, think they were right?
Since the question is rhetorical, furthermore, it implies an assertion: Melanie the Jew is happy to take advantage of British liberties whilst seeking to deny them to (Muslim) others. It points simultaneously to her Jewishness and her hypocrisy.
I will be very interested to see whether Mr Hugh-Jones feels able to deny any of this. It's a sly little piece of innuendo; for its author to react, when someone catches him at it, by huffing and puffing about smears and libels might charitably be labelled chutzpah. It might less charitably be called humbug.
Ad hominem arguments are dubious enough at the best of times, and it's my view that an ad Iudaeam argument - or any other kind that works by putting people in a racial pigeonhole - is particularly distasteful. Mr H-J is naturally perfectly entitled to disagree with every word Ms Phillips wrote. But it cannot be the case that the article is any worse than it would have been if it had been written by someone who was not Jewish, and to imply otherwise is plain racism.
It is of course true that Melanie Phillips makes no secret of being Jewish. She frequently writes as a Jew addressing Jewish concerns. In this instance, however, she was writing about what she perceived as a matter of common concern to British citizens. Mr H-J or anybody else is free to find those concerns totally bogus. But the anti-racist principle is clear: Ms Phillips is entitled to have concerns as a British citizen, as a European, as a woman, as a member of the human race - and not exclusively 'as a Jew'. That is what being fully 'one of us' is about, and someone to whom it is denied - by having her Jewishness gratuitously and irrelevantly thrown in her face - is indeed, as I wrote in my 2006 post, being treated as 'not quite One Of Us'.
Ah, I hear Mr H-J cry, that's the whole point, isn't it? It wasn't gratuitous and it wasn't irrelevant. It wasn't just 'she's a Jew', it was 'she's a Jew and therefore a hypocrite'. The hypocrisy is the real issue, and if it can only be exposed by referring to her Jewishness then that reference is amply justified. Look how good we Brits have been to the Jews since Cromwell let them back in - and now here's Melanie wanting to deny the very benefits she enjoys as a Jew to the poor Muslims!
The first thing to be remarked on is the whiff of patronage this exudes. It puts Ms Phillips in her place, a place which is hers by virtue of her Jewishness. She must be reminded that she is the beneficiary of British tolerance so that she may be truly thankful and learn to practice the Golden Rule. This place is evidently not the place of the Hugh-Joneses of this world. Theirs is one of not needing to worry that anyone might find them intolerable. Again, I stand by what I wrote in 2006: the subtextual message to Ms Phillips is that she is not quite One Of Us.
The second point is that the charge of double standards depends on putting words into Melanie Phillips's mouth, making her an opponent of 'minority rights'. Mr H-J refers to the readmission of Jews to Britain by Oliver Cromwell, nearly four centuries after their expulsion by Edward I in 1290 (and here he is sloppy with his facts, for Edward had the power to expel the Jews from England and Wales, but not from Scotland, and the Scots never chose to follow his example). So was Ms Phillips suggesting the mass expulsion of British Muslims? Of course not - so where's the relevance?
Similarly, concerning the legal emancipation of the Jews in the nineteenth century, my original post contained this challenge which Mr H-J has signally failed to take up in his (so far) three comments:-
'Nor does he tell us what formal bars exist against law-abiding Muslims, or whatJews enjoy equal rights under the law and Muslims enjoy equal rights under the law. Where did the article say they shouldn't, Mr H-J?
formal bars he imagines that Melanie Phillips is proposing.'
Thirdly, I challenged the validity of Mr H-J's historical analogy thus:-
'A pity the writer didn't have space to elaborate on which bits of BritishHis response to the first sentence is 'None, of course: that was exactly the point I was making in my letter to the Times.' Well, that in itself is good to know, but it makes his point not a very exact one at all, and reinforces the point I make in the following sentence. Melanie Phillips's article focussed specifically on the very real challenge presented by violent Islamism (whilst explicitly dissociating the 'hundreds of thousands of Muslims [who] lead law-abiding lives and merely want to prosper and raise their families in peace' from it); Mr H-J's letter implies there is some precedent for violent Islamism in the history of British Jewry (if it doesn't mean to do so, why is that history invoked?), but he is so far unable to say what that precedent is.
identity and values were compromised by the emancipation of the Jews. The Jewish
terrorist threat in early Victorian London has somehow got left out of all the
history books I've read.'
Now that is a point of some importance. I'm currently reading Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, one of which, the Prioress's Tale, deplorably recounts the fictional murder of a Christian boy by Jews and connects it with the historical murder of St Hugh of Lincoln. The latter is, of course, also blamed on 'cursed Jewes'. I'm not suggesting that a faulty historical analogy that falsely hints at Jewish murderousness is up there with the blood libel. But it certainly deserves to be challenged. If Jews engage in violence they are, of course, open to censure on the same terms as anybody else, but inventing Jewish violence, however obliquely, is an unacceptable incitement to prejudice.
To recap, then, the charge of double standards simply doesn't stand up. In fact it doesn't have either of the legs it would need to stand on. The logical structure of an accusation of double standards is 'you say a about x and b about y, and x is like y but a is not like b'. We've seen that not only is there no a to conflict with b, but also x is not like y.
So let's strip away the misrepresentation and the bogus analogy. What's left of the letter? Nothing but the information about Melanie Phillips conveyed by a single word. We've noted that 'You're a Jew' is a problematic response to an article one disagrees with. 'You're a Jew and a hypocrite', when the charge of hypocrisy is groundless, is like 'You're a Jew' only a lot, lot worse.
I might, despite all this, have concluded that I had gone over the top in my post and should give Mr H-J the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps I was making a meal of a letter which meant to say little more than 'I can't stand Melanie Phillips'.
I might, had I not googled him and discovered one of his Economist blog posts, covering the demonstration against David Irving and Nick Griffin when they spoke at the Oxford Union in late 2007.
One of the more interesting aspects of this post was that I first discovered it reproduced in its entirety on David Irving's website (no link - google 'David Irving Stephen Hugh-Jones'). Not necessarily with Mr H-J's blessing of course. But not without reason either, despite the fun that, to give him due credit, Mr H-J pokes at Irving.
Irving's fixation with the notion that at least a substantial part of the historical record of the Holocaust was fabricated by Jews in order to screw money out of the rest of us, and Griffin's leadership of a party which keeps open house for people holding such views? All a bit of a joke. They are 'controversial', that time-honoured journalistic cop-out word. But the excoriation of the demonstrators is serious stuff. They are 'baying' demonstrators - less than human in their behaviour. Whilst Mr H-J is perfectly justified in denouncing Trotskyist thuggery, he manages to elide the various issues raised in such a way as to make it seem disreputable even to want to wave placards at Irving and Griffin, and goes on to suggest that the student Jewish society's presence was most discreditable of all.
And here we get a distinct echo of the letter to the Times. Like Melanie Phillips, the Jewish students are seeking to deny others the freedom they enjoy themselves. They are doing a bad thing which is particularly bad because they are Jewish. In one of the most bizarre and grotesque moral equivalences I've ever read, Mr H-J equates Jewish objections to Holocaust deniers with German objections to Jews wearing yarmulkas and going to synagogue.
Where do you start with that one? There's no evidence of awareness that Holocaust denial is literally a matter of life and death for Jews, a racial slur which implicitly sets them up for a new Holocaust. Or that, whilst German Jews may indeed have briefly benefitted from the Weimar Republic's liberalism, Hitler's political ambitions benefitted a great deal more. His 'unwelcome views' certainly never got silenced. By the way, if Mr H-J doesn't grasp the difference between allowing someone free speech and giving them a platform, I trust he will be willing to pull a string or two for me at the Economist. Publication in that prestigious journal is an honour in exchange for which I would gladly forego the anonymity which provokes him so...
Mr H-J doesn't much care for anti-Semites of the Holocaust denying variety, let's be quite clear about that, but he seems to care even less for the kind of people who feel strongly enough about them to wave placards at them. Oh, and he doesn't seem to like my blog either. Not just the bit where I had a go at him, not the deficiencies of my prose style or the gaps in my knowledge, but the whole idea of it. The vigilance against anti-Semitism thing. It's all about smearing people. It must mean that I don't like Palestinians. In a word, it's crap.
So, no, no apology for Mr H-J. I didn't call him an anti-Semite and I'm still not calling him an anti-Semite. On the evidence available he looks to me like a rather doctrinaire libertarian (though not, I fear, quite a consistent enough libertarian to avoid loose use of the intimidatory word 'libel') with a certain penchant for seeing Jews, specifically, as hostile to other people's liberties. To resort to my least favourite management buzzword, I'd say he has some issues. And I'm modestly pleased with myself for spotting those issues back in June 2006.