Archive for the ‘Biblical History’ Category

Ronald Reagan, the Republican Party and the Rise of Militant Zionism in America: Part 1

May 11, 2017

One of the points made by Jewish supporters of the Palestinians is that there at more Christian than Jewish Zionists in America. Indeed, Prof. Norman Finkelstein has pointed out that support for Israel amongst Jewish Americans was marginal until the late 1960s, when Conservative activists worked hard to engineer support for the country after its victories against the surrounding Arab nations. Mike made a similar point in his defence of himself and his commenter, Paul Mabbo, against the accusations of anti-Semitism flung by the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism. Not everyone making the accusations was necessarily Jewish.

In fact there has been an alliance between right-wing American Christian groups and militant Zionists since before the election of Ronald Reagan as president in 1980s. Reagan’s election was partly due to his support from these right-wing Christian groups, brought about by the fundraisers and PR men Richard Viguerie, Terry Dolan, Howard Phillips and Ed McAteer. These men founded, led or advised a slew of conservative Christian organisations such as Conservative Caucus, Religious Roundtable, National Conservative Political Action Committee, Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress, Christian Voice, Young Americans for Freedom and the Moral Majority. The term ‘Moral Majority’ was coined by either Weyrich or Phillips when McAteer arranged for them to meet Jerry Falwell. McAteer was then the head of the Christian Freedom Foundation, which was funded by money from the Pew and DeVos families, who owned Sunoco and AmWay respectively. It isn’t surprising that Betsy DeVos has now popped up as Trump’s Education Secretary, with a militant right-wing plan to privatise all American public schools into Charter Schools with an explicitly right-wing Christian curriculum. Weyrich was also a member of the right-wing Heritage Foundation, which was financed by money from the Coors and Richard Scaiffe. As well as being a member of Young Americans for Freedom, Phillips had also been a minor member of Nixon’s administration. They chose Falwell because he had helped Anita Bryant defeat the Dade County Gays Rights Bill in 1977.

Falwell was one of the most notorious of the right-wing televangelists of the 1980s. He was actually the least popular of them, became the most influential through his contacts with Ronald Reagan. He first came to public attention for his 1965 speech denouncing Martin Luther King. However, it was the series of rallies he conducted in 1976 and ’77 which brought him to the attention of the leaders of the American Christian right. In 1983 Reagan allowed Fallwell to attend National Security briefings on the possibility of nuclear war with Russia, and discussed theology and nuclear war with him in his presidential limousine. Fallwell was also active establishing links with the Israeli leadership to the point where he became the most influential gentile lobbyist for Israel and Israeli expansionism.

As part of this, Falwell began arranging tours to the Holy Land. One of these was attended by a journalist, Grace Halsell, in 1983. She noted the prominent role apocalypticism played in the tours, with many of her fellow tourists believing that Christ’s return, and the end of the world were imminent. These tours also had an explicit agenda in drumming up support for Israel. The Israeli guide referred to Palestinians as Arabs, following the official Israeli line set by Golda Meir that there were no Palestinians. He then went on to state that the ‘Arabs’ preferred to live in poverty, had repeatedly refused Israeli friendship and bluntly stated that ‘all Muslims were terrorists’. When the tour bus stopped at Nazareth, it was only to use the toilets there. Halsell suspected that they were being prevented from speaking to any Palestinians or Christians living in Israel. This is not unlikely. One of the ministers at our church said that if you go to Israel, you will be kept from meeting Palestinians, including Palestinian Christians. The tour finally met Falwell at a hotel in Jerusalem, where they were treated to a speech by the Israeli defence minister, Moshe Arens, boast about Israeli victories in the invasion of Lebanon.

Falwell was richly rewarded by the Israelis for his services to them. A forest was named after him, he was showered with free trips to the country, and was also given a private jet by the Israeli government. He became the only gentile to receive the Jabotinsky medal, named after the Zionist leader, who advocated waging a war of extermination against the Palestinians in order to set up an Israeli empire that straddled both sides of the Jordan. It was Falwell who turned Jesse Helms, another prominent Reaganite, from a militant anti-Zionist into an enthusiastic supporter of Israel.

Falwell also visited the West Bank, where he had his photo taken with a Jewish American family, who had recently immigrated there. He set up a convention in Annapolis in 1983 to organise support for the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. This was attended by James Watt and Richard Allen, two members of Reagan’s administration; Yehuda Hellman and other Jewish leaders; Viguerie, Phillips and Weyrich; and former presidential sleazebag Richard M. Nixon. Falwell also told a Texan newspaper that same year that Israel had a divine mandate, through the covenant between the Lord and the patriarch Abraham, to parts of Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Sudan, and that the whole of Lebanon, Jordan and Kuwait should also belong to Israel. This would have to be achieved through force. Falwell stated that ‘good intentions are acts of stupidity’.

Extremist American Christian groups have also given support to Jewish terrorists, such as Gush Emunim, who have attempted to blow up the Dome of the Rock mosque in Jerusalem in order to restore Solomon’s Temple, whose site they believe the mosque occupies. In 1984 18 members of the terrorist group were convicted of trying to blow up the mosque, with the covert support of the Shin Bet and other members of the Israeli army and police. The group also attacked three Palestinian mayor, wounding them.

The terrorists were received as popular heroes in Israel, including by the judge who sentenced them. There were pleas for mercy from Yitzhak Shamir, and American right-wing Christians and Jews began sending money to finance their defence. Wealth American Jews also fund Gush Emunim and Meir Kahane’s extreme right-wing Kach party. Gush Emunim is also funded by Marcus Katz, a Mexican arms salesman, who made immense profits from selling guns and other armaments to Iran and various South American countries. Ruben Mattus, the head of the ice cream firm Haagen-Dazs, is one of the major backers of Kahane’s Kach party in Israel and his Jewish Defence League in the US.

The foremost Christian supporter of Israeli terrorism, at least in the 1980s, was the Jerusalem Temple Foundation, headed by the self-declared new Nehemiah, Terry Reisenhoover. Reisenhoover’s an Oklahoma speculator in oil and land, and styles himself after the Biblical Nehemiah, who was the first governor of Jerusalem after the return of the Jewish exiles from Babylon. The land Reisenhoover has speculated on, along with his Israeli partner, Shony Braun, includes land taken from Palestinians on the West Bank. Reisenhoover appointed as secretary Stanley Goldfoot, once implicated in the Stern gang’s 1946 bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.

The Jerusalem Temple Foundation aimed to raise $100 million annually to rebuild the Temple and establish a yeshiva to teach the future priests the correct way to sacrifice animals there. They also supplied funds to Gush Emunim’s defence lawyers after the 1983 attack.

Another right-wing Christian group funding Israeli terrorism is the International Christian Embassy, who lobbied their governments to move their embassies from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This group were also financed by South Africa.

Andre Vltchek’s Pictures and Plea for Understanding for Syria

April 13, 2017

On Wednesday, Counterpunch contributor Andre Vltchek published some of the pictures and comments about Syria from Yayoi Segi, a foreigner, who has been living and working there for three years, and is passionate about the country and its people. Segi states

“Syria is not what the mainstream media wants us to believe it is. One has to see it, to understand. Seeing is believing! It is an extraordinarily exceptional country. All that we have been told about Syria and its people is a lie.”

She talks about how the Syrian people are decent, warm people trying to get on with their lives despite the horrors and inconveniences of the war. She is also impressed by their manners and respect for education and culture.

“Syrians are the most hospitable, gentle people. When we meet, we never talk about the war, the conflict. It is a tremendous civilization… They always talk about their life, the future. They discuss their poets and their thinkers. People in Syria are very well educated. They know what is going on, on our Planet. Despite what some parts of the world have done to them, they are extremely respectful and polite to everybody. I never heard them speaking ill of others. They appreciate that you come and work with them, and they are confident.”

She also remarks that all of the international conferences and debates about the situation in Syria have carried on without reference to the wishes or ideas of the Syrians themselves.

“There have been so many seminars, conferences and meetings on Syria, yet the Syrian people are very rarely invited. All these events are ‘about them’ but without even inviting them, and without listening to them.”

Segi works for the national education system, and describes the system’s resilience and high quality compared to other nations.

“On the education front, the system was one of the best in the region, before the crisis began. Now, despite more than 6 years of horrendous war, the system is still standing and strong. Syrians know exactly what they want, and they have the capacity to implement their aspirations. Like in Aleppo; after the victory, the government immediately moved in and began opening schools.”

Her photographs show the devastation caused by war. But they also show people enjoying themselves in cafes and restaurants, as well as one of the great medieval fortresses and a sculpture, which looks like it may well come from the ancient past. Several of the photos are of schoolchildren. These show a mixed class of little boys and girls, smiling and dressed in western style clothing. There’s also what looks like a crowd of sports fans – football? – heading towards a match, and a sign with spells out in coloured letters ‘I heart Damascus’.

There is much that Vltchek writes with which I disagree. He’s of Czech-Russian ancestry, and is a film maker specialising in the Developing World. His fierce attacks on western exploitation of the undeveloped world is well meant, but sometimes he goes too far in attacking the Developed World and the needs and desires of its ordinary citizens. It’s also struck me several times that he has a far too optimistic view of the Soviet past. Russia and the eastern bloc did make some truly vast, impressive achievements under Communism, but this was at the cost of a vicious political repression which under Stalin resulted in deportations, massacres and a system of forced labour, which claimed tens of millions of lives. The Soviet Union also dominated and exploited the satellite countries conquered by Stalin from the Nazis during World War II.

But Vltchek’s article is in this case exactly right, necessary and welcome. Syria is a repressive state. Even in the 1980s it had something like eight different secret police agencies. But under the Ba’ath party it is a modern, secular state, where Christians and Muslims live in peace. As for its education system, a few years ago the BBC screened a documentary about the Syrian school system, following the pupils in one particular school through a school day. At the end of the documentary the Beeb informed viewers how they could join a scheme that would link schools in this country with those in Syria.

As for the high regard for its poets and intellectuals, several of the books I’ve read on Islam and the Arabs have said that poetry has a very high status in the Arab world, to the point where newspapers may be written in a distinct, half-poetic style. As for its antiquities, you can still walk down the Street called Straight, mentioned in St. Paul’s Epistles in the Bible. The country has monuments from a succession of ancient civilisations, such as Palmyra, going all the way back to the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. The tombs of some of the kings mentioned in the Bible have even been found.

It’s people are not monsters, and while Assad is a dictator, his government is surely better than the Islamist regime, which the rebels – al-Qaeda and ISIS – hope to impose. This would mean the destruction of ancient monuments, as has happened in Iraq and those parts of Syria, which fell under ISIS’ rule. Women’s rights would be attacked and withdrawn, the secular education system and rule of law swiftly dismantled. The country isn’t quite as tolerant in the religious sphere as it could be. From what I’ve heard on programmes about the country and its history on the Beeb, the Sunni Muslim majority is oppressed. But the Ba’ath party in Syria was founded as a secular, Arab nationalist party, which included both Christians and Muslims. If it is overthrown, the country’s tolerance of peoples of different sects and religions will also go, to be replaced by the type of vicious, genocidal persecution ISIS carried out in Iraq. Dan Snow’s programme on the country, broadcast by the Beeb, featured chilling footage of a foaming rant by an Islamist mullah calling for the genocide of the Alawis, the ruling Muslim sect. And as we’ve seen in Iraq, the Islamists not only persecute non-Muslims, they also viciously terrorise and butcher other Muslims for their religious beliefs. Historic mosques as well as Christian churches were destroyed and desecrated by ISIS in Iraq, and ordinary Muslims, whose only desire was to live in peace with their fellow Iraqis, were also murdered for not being what the Islamists considered proper Muslims.

I and many other bloggers have said repeatedly that the American regime and its western allies and lackeys aren’t interested in punishing Assad for his war crimes. This is all about geopolitics. It’s about making sure a Qatari oil pipeline goes through Syria, not one built by the Russians, and about removing a key ally of Russia and Iran. The American military-industrial complex has done its level best to overthrow secular Arab nationalist governments in the Middle East from the 1950s, as they were seen as being too close to Communism. Quite apart from the challenge they posed to western imperialism and its attempts to dominate and exploit the Middle East and its oil.

I therefore urge anyone, who has doubts about the justice of Trump’s attack on Syria, and the sabre-rattling of the western political class demanding regime change, to go and read Vltchek’s article and look at the pictures of Syria and its people. And look at the faces of the people, who will suffer if the oil lobby and the military-industrial complex have their way, and send American troops in. These are ordinary, decent people, who will be massacred by the hundreds of thousands, just like the people of Iraq.

The article’s at: http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/04/12/reflecting-on-syria/

Secular Talk on UN Condemnation of Illegal Israeli Settlements

January 4, 2017

Last week, the UN voted 14 to none against the construction of further illegal settlements by the Israelis in occupied Palestine, with America abstaining. As you can expect, this sent Benjamin Netanyahu into the petulant rage he and the Zionist authorities in Israel adopt whenever the international community dares to criticise them. Netanyahu attacked President Obama for apparently betraying Israel to its enemies, and told the UN ambassador for New Zealand that his country had virtually ‘declared war’ on Israel. Which is an utterly preposterous statement. I’m very much aware of the poverty and marginalisation experienced by New Zealand’s Maoris, the racism against them and other indigenous Pacific peoples, that have immigrated to the country. But in many ways, New Zealand is also a profoundly liberal society. I can recall reading in one of the old encyclopedias we used to have at school that a certain number of seats in the New Zealand legislature were reserved for the Maoris. I also think that Kiwi women had the vote in the late 19th century, decades before women in Britain had it. I can also remember looking through the prospectus of one of the universities in New Zealand when I was doing voluntary work for one of the museums here in Bristol. Many of the courses were very ‘right on’, explicitly tackling racism and the brutalisation of Black people. It seems to me that, despite its problem, NZ is very far from being any kind of racist, Fascist state.

Secular Talk have put up a couple of videos about this, pointing out the glaring, risible and grotesque faults in Netanyahu’s entire position and response. Kyle Kulinski, the host, makes the point that the UN has not attacked Israel as a country or denied its right to exist. It has merely demanded that Israel should abide by international law. He notes that whenever Israel is condemned for its human rights abuses, they make a great play of demanding that Israeli should only be condemned the same way other nations are condemned. Which is Kulinski’s position exactly. Kulinski also goes further, and makes the point that by ignoring the UN’s resolution on this, which he recognises is toothless, Israel will be breaking international law, and, by definition, be a ‘rogue state’.

He also criticises Barack Obama for taking a far too indulgent line towards Israel on this matter. Obama has not condemned Israel. He merely abstained from voting, which is hardly any kind of strong criticism. Despite Netanyahu’s ranting, America has always strongly supported Israel. Obama has given billions of dollars in aid to the country, and supplied the Iron Dome missile defence system. At one point, Kulinski says that what is needed is for Obama to cut off all aid the next time the Israelis accuse America of not doing enough for them. He also makes the point that the UN condemnation of illegal Israeli settlements would actually make the country safer, as it would remove one of the major objects of Palestinian resentment.

They also put up another video commenting on an interview on American TV with the Israeli minister of education, Naftali Bennett. Bennett was asked about the illegal settlements, and responded by flatly denying there were any. He also claimed that the Israelis weren’t violating international law by taking over the Palestinian part of the city and making it their capital, because it had been Israel’s capital for 3,000 years.

This is wrong, and a grotesque rewriting of history. Yes, Jerusalem was the capital of ancient Israel after it was conquered from the Jebusites by King David. Before then, it was a Canaanite city state under Egyptian suzerainty. Diplomatic letters from its mayor, requesting Egyptian aid against the other city states, have been preserved along with other documents in the Amarna archive from that time.

But for most of the past 2,000 Israel simply didn’t exist, and Jerusalem was not the capital of a Jewish state. After the Bar Kochba rebellion of the 2nd century, the Jews were expelled from their capital, and it was refounded as a pagan city. The seat of Jewish government moved to Galilee. After the Fall of Rome, it was part of the Arab Islamic caliphate. For a brief period in the Middle Ages it was conquered by the Crusaders, and became a Christian kingdom amongst the other Crusader states of Outremer. It was then reconquered by the Muslims, and up until the British mandate was part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire.

Bennett’s statement shows the Israelis’ determination to erase Palestinian history and that of the last 2,000 years. Last year, 2016, Counterpunch carried an article about the Israelis’ attempts to destroy every trace of the Palestinians’ own connection to their land through attacks on their education system. The article pointed out the high number of schools that have been attacked by Israeli forces, and the constraints placed on the Palestinians and the teaching of their culture in Israeli schools. It is illegal, for example, to teach anything about the Palestinians’ connection to their homeland, such as poems celebrating this aspect of Palestinian life.

In his desire to remove an entire people from history as well as dispossess them of their own land, Bennett shows precisely the same attitudes towards history and conquest as the Nazis and Communists under Stalin. He and Netanyahu are utterly disgraceful and should be thrown out of office. And the construction of further illegal settlements on the West Bank should stop immediately.

Patrick Moore on a Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn as the Star of Bethlehem

December 18, 2016

The Christmas season is definitely upon us, so I thought I’d post something seasonal. Patrick Moore was sceptical of some of the explanations offered for the Star of Bethlehem, which led the Magi to the infant Jesus. In the 1983 edition of the Yearbook of Astronomy, he dismisses the idea that it could have been an particularly bright appearance of Venus, noting that the planet was far too well known to appear new. He also noted that no new stars were recorded in the astronomical records of the time.

However, in the 1981 Yearbook of Astronomy, he speculated that an extremely rare triple conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn occurred in 7 BC, and that this could be the basis of the Star of Bethelehem because of the immense significance this would have had for contemporary astrologers. He wrote

If we regard the periods [time taken for planet to complete one rotation around the Sun – Beastrabban] as 12 and 30 years approximately, we see that Jupiter covers about 30 degrees a year, while Saturn moves through 12 degrees. Thus, Jupiter gainis 18 degrees a year on Saturn, and conjunction of the two planets can only occur at an interval of 20 years. If both planets travelled in circular orbits it can be shown that only one in six of these conjunctions could possibly be triple, and we should then expect to have a triple conjunction every 120 years. However, both of these giant planets have accentric orbits, and both are subject to severe perturbations, so tyhat this average is never realized. the last three tiple conjunctions of Jupiter and Saturn occurred in 1452, 1683 and 1940, and the intervals here are more than double the 120 years. In all of these cases, the time between the two oppositions was of the order of a day or less.

One tripole conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn has received a great deal of attnetion. This is the conjunction of BC7 which, it was suggested, could be the explanation for the Star of Bethlehem. This old idea had been rejected in many quaarters because the two planets were well separated in latitude and were, in any case, familiar objects to the Magi. In recent times the subject has been revived, but now the astrological significance of the even has been emphasized. This seems a more reasonable suggestion, though it does not explain all the details of the story. Certainly the rarity of this triple conjunction (which the Magi would never have witnessed before) would give added significance to the event. (p. 83).

Jesus in the Food Bank Queue

December 9, 2016

I’ve been attending the Advent course run by one of the ministers at our local church. The theme is hospitality in the Bible and the early church, and the obligation this lays upon modern Christians to live and work for the poor, the marginalised and strangers. Last night one of the texts studied was Christ’s words ‘For as you do to the least of them, you do to me’. Christ made clear that the people, who will be saved at the Last Judgement, will be those who fed, clothed and tended Him when He was in need. By which He meant the poor, the hungry, the sick and the outcast.

He talked about how he had visited a church in Washington D.C. He pointed out that not all of the city is like the White House and the government buildings. Beyond this well-kept, affluent area is are districts of the most desperate poverty. The church he’d visited had maintained a food line for the area’s poor. He stated that these were people, who were forced to use it to make ends meet until their next paycheque came. He was particularly impressed by one of the women serving at this food bank. Every morning she prayed to serve Jesus when she saw him again in the queue that day. She didn’t mean she literally saw Him, but as He was present in the poor peeps, who turned up for their food. It was a powerful, modern application of Christ’s teaching.

He also produced quotations from the Early Church Fathers about the Christian duty to work for the poor, even when personal charity was being undermined somewhat by the institutional charity – hospitals, hostels, orphanages and monasteries of the late Roman Empire after Constantine’s conversion. Hippolytus, for example, advised that every citizen, who was able should build a guest chamber on to their house. And one of the other Church Fathers described one of the hospitals as a city for the poor, by which they could meet the rich as equals.

These are very strong, challenging demands for Christians to practise the charity taught in the Bible, and to seek out, identify with and support ‘the fatherless, the widow and the foreigner’, and bring to their feasts ‘the poor, the lame and the blind’.

Unfortunately, Contemporary neoliberal politics since Thatcher and Reagan has demanded that the institutional care provided by the state should be cut back, with disastrous results. They believed that this would strengthen the Church by forcing people to fall back on private charity. Hence we now have the spectacle of various charities actively seeking out government contracts, and fully supporting the hideous policies of sanctioning and marginalisation that are forcing more people into poverty, misery, starvation and, in extreme cases, death. And the charities themselves are under threat. The figures provided by the Trussell Trust of the numbers of people using their food banks have been attacked by the Tories for the simply reason that they give the lie to their propaganda that austerity – meaning benefit cuts and wage freezes – have somehow made people better off.

I fully support the charities and their workers, who do genuinely work for the poor. One of the most acute accounts of what it is like to work at the sharp end trying to aid those pushed into need by the government’s policies comes from the blogs and vlogs of people working in food banks. I’ve reblogged some of these. But private charity isn’t enough. We need the support of the state, and active welfare policies to empower the poor, disabled and marginalised, including the working class.

As for Theresa May, and her claims to be guided by her Christian faith, before she does so, she should meditate very much on how Our Lord is present in the poor. She may well do so. But I’ve seen no evidence of her doing anything genuinely to alleviate poverty.

Secular Talk: Candidate for Trump’s Secretary of State Wants War with Iran

November 19, 2016

Unfortunately, the Neocons demanding war with Iran, along with just about every other opposing, or simply independent country, in the Middle East didn’t die with Killary’s campaign for the presidency.

In this piece from Secular Talk, host Kyle Kulinski talks about how John Bolton, one of the potential candidates for Trump’s secretary of state, has made a speech demanding ‘regime change in Tehran’. Bolton blames the Iranians for destabilising the Middle East. Kulinski points out how ludicrous and hypocritical Bolton’s views are. He begins with the point America and the West are now at war with seven countries in the Middle East, including boots on the ground. Bolton was one of the worst of the warmongers. Unlike many others, he still supports the Iraq invasion. Kulinski states ironically that Bolton never met a war he didn’t like. Kulinski goes on to explain how we, America and the West, have destabilised the Middle East. As for Iran, it’s a Shi’a theocracy, but Kulinski accurately states that it is far more liberal and progressive than Saudi Arabia. He doesn’t like the horrific Islamic theocracy in Iran, but also explains that the majority of the population is much younger, under thirty, and more secular than the dinosaurs that rule over them. Again, true.

Kulinski also explains how the Shi’a are a tiny minority in the Middle East, and are under attack everywhere. They have the Israelis on one side of them, and the Saudis on the other. And what about countering their destabilisation of the region? Israel, for example, invaded Lebanon in order to expand its influence, and continues to build illegal settlements to push out the Palestinians. The Saudis have invaded Yemen to attack the Shi’a there. And Qatar and the other Sunni states are funding al-Qaeda, so that they will overthrow Assad in Syria. But no, according to Bolton, it’s the Iranians, not these, who are primarily responsible for the chaos and carnage in the region.

Kulinski also describes how Bolton has blithely made this demand for war with Iran, without even thinking about whether the American people themselves want another war. Usually governments need to build up a propaganda campaign to prepare the public’s mood for war. But no, not this time. Bolton and his friends simply aren’t bothered about that. They’ll just steal Americans’ money through taxation to fund yet another war that no-one except them wants.

Kulinski concludes by stating that if Bolton is picked by Trump as his secretary of state, or even remains in Trump’s circle of advisors, it means that Trump wasn’t serious about keeping America out of further conflicts. Of course, there’s a chance that Trump may keep him as an advisor, but not listen to him. Similarly, if Trump doesn’t pick him, or anyone like him, to be secretary of state, then perhaps there is a chance for America to avoid going into another war.

This is another stupid, horrendous pronouncement by yet another Republican fossil. Again, it ultimately seems to go back to the Neocon plans under Bush, to overthrow a series of regimes in the Middle East, including Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya and Somalia. The result has been an unmitigated disaster. Iraq is now a warzone. As we saw this week, ISIS is determined to smash as much of the regimes precious heritage as it can. After destroying immeasurably valuable antiquities from the dawn of civilisation in Syria and Iraq, it carried out another assault on the Iraqi people’s ancient civilisation by levelling one of the country’s ziggurats. These barbarians have been funded by Saudi Arabia, in its campaign to spread its extremely repressive, intolerant brand of Islam across the world. The Iraqis weren’t responsible for 9/11: it was Saudi Arabia. But the Neocons and Likud wanted Iraq invaded. The Likudniks despised Saddam Hussein because he supplied the Palestinians with guns, while the Saudis and Neocons just wanted to the loot the country of its oil industry and other potentially valuable state assets.

Now, apparently, they want to do this to Iran. The mullahs are unpleasant. They’re extremely corrupt, intolerant and repressive. But they aren’t as corrupt and intolerant as the Saudis. Unlike Saudi Arabia, the Iranian theocracy does include a democratic element. Every so many years, the Iranian people vote for a president. I got the impression that in many respects, it’s pretty much Hobson’s choice, in that there’s little ideological difference permitted between the candidates. Nevertheless, the Iranian people enjoy a measure of popular sovereignty that is denied the peoples of the Sunni absolute monarchies in the Gulf.

I also need hardly say that Iran is also an ancient land with an immensely rich cultural and artistic heritage. This was demonstrated a few years ago when the British Museum lent the Cyrus cylinder for exhibition in Iran. The cylinder records the conquests of the great Persian emperor, Cyrus, over the Babylonians. It’s valuable because it documents how he freed the Israelites from their exile, and allowed them to return to Israel and Judea. This heritage would also be seriously threatened if the Americans decide to invade, just like the heritage of Iraq.

One of the causes for the present chaos in Iraq is the fact that the country is an artificial creation of the imperial powers, in this case, Britain during the Mandate in the 1920s. It does not have a uniform population, but is composed of different tribal groups and sects, including Kurds, Shi’a and Sunni Muslims, Christians and the Mandaeans, a small Gnostic sect that reveres John the Baptist as the true messiah. Iran similarly is composed of a multitude of different peoples. Just over half – 52 per cent – speak Farsi, the language derived from ancient Persia. There are also a number of other different tribes, speaking languages related to Turkish, Arabs in Khuzistan in the West, and Kurds, Lurs and Bakhtiars in their homelands. Three per cent of the population are Armenian Christians, and there are also Parsees, the followers of the ancient religion of the Persian Empire, Zoroastrianism, a monotheist faith centred around the teachings of the prophet Zoroaster. The Kurds have been fighting a war for their independence since the 1970s, just as they have in Iraq and Turkey. Iran was also the birthplace of the Baha’i faith, which claims that Baha’ullah, an Iranian religious of the 1920s, was a prophet. Baha’ullah and his followers were exiled to Haifa, in what is now Israel, when it was still part of the Turkish empire. Because of this, the Baha’i’s are under considerable pressure and suspicion as agents of Israel, intent on destroying Islam and Iran. It’s nonsense, but it has been strongly promoted by the authorities, with the result that there have been terrible pogroms and persecution against them.

There is also a massive underground Christian church in Iran. Although its comparable to the underground Christian churches in China, you’ve probably never heard of it. This is made up of Iranians, who have secretly converted from Islam. They too are under immense persecution as apostates. I’ve heard that the situation has go to the point, where the government is posting guards at the Armenian Christian churches to try and keep the Iranians away. If America invades, it will result in the same ethnic conflict and civil war that has turned neighbouring Iraq into a bloodbath. And just as the Christian populations of the Middle East are being massacred and cleansed from the regions by the Islamists, along with other, non-Muslim religions like the Yezidis and moderate Muslims, who want tolerance and peaceful coexistence, so my fear is that if the West attacks Iran, it will intensify the brutal persecution of Christians there.

Apart from this, Iran is a modern, relatively developed and sophisticated country. It was the most developed economy in the Middle East during the Shah’s reign. He tried to industrialise the country. One of his aims was for Iran to equal France as a producer of cars. The Iranians had their own car, the Payhan, and he very nearly pulled this off. Even now Iran is significantly involved in scientific research. I was surprised looking at some of the videos on YouTube on robotics to find that, alongside Britain, America, Japan and China, the Iranians have also developed a humanoid machine. Perhaps I shouldn’t be too surprised. The Middle East was the homeland of the Banu Musa brothers, who in the 11th century created a hundred or more automata and other ‘ingenious desires’. The country is also far more tolerant artistically than Saudi Arabia. More than a decade and a half ago, about the turn of the century, the Iranian government staged an exhibition of the works of the YBAs, including Damian Hirst and Tracey Emin.

Just as the invasion of Iraq wasn’t about liberating the Iraqi people and giving them democracy, this isn’t about bringing peace and freedom to the beleaguered people of Iran. This is just another, cynical excuse for us to grab their oil. We did it before. In the 1950s Mossadeq, the last democratically elected Iranian prime minister, nationalised the country’s oil industry, which had previously been in the hands of foreigners, principally us, the British. BP used to be Anglo-Persian Oil, and was set up to exploit the Iranian oil fields. And we did exploit them and the Iranian workers. They were paid less than British workers, and worked in appalling conditions. After Mossadeq nationalised the oil companies, America organised a coup, which we also backed, to overthrow him. I think Mossadeq was a Baha’i, and this was used to mobilise suspicion against him. His removal from power resulted in the Shah assuming total, autocratic control, complete with a secret police, SAVAK, who were brutal thugs. This in turn created rising discontent, which eventually culminated in the Islamic Revolution in 1979. The regime renationalise the oil industry, the date of which is now an official state holiday.

Bush and his fellow Neocons deluded themselves that they would be welcomed as liberators in Iraq. They weren’t. Corinne de Souza, one of Lobster’s contributors, whose father was Iraqi, made the point that one of the consequences of the invasion was that there were fewer Iraqis willing to cooperate with the British intelligence services. This was for a simple reason: they were like everyone else, and loved their country. They were prepared to help us, as they believed that we would liberate them from Saddam Hussein. But they did not want to collaborate with an occupying force. I’ve no doubt that the same will be true of the Iranians, if Trump goes ahead and appoints this idiot as head of state.

A few years ago, before Obama’s election, Bush and his circle of mass-murderers were indeed considering invading Iran. Shirin Ebadi’s book, Iran on the Brink, which describes rising discontent in Iran against the mullahs, strongly argued against her country’s invasion. Protest groups were also being formed. There was one organising meetings in Clifton in Bristol, as I recall. For a few years, that threat seemed to pass. Now it is come back.

There are now so many wars being fought by America and its allies in the Middle East, that one of the ghastly monsters from Bush’s cabinet actually lost count when he was asked that very question in an interview on American television. And the disgusting so-and-so even had the gall to laugh it off and chuckle about it, as if the murder of whole nations was some kind of joke.

And this comes just as NATO is moving more troops and missiles into Estonia, just in case Putin invades. Killary looked all set to start a war with Russia by stoking tensions there up to levels where some feared we were at the same point the great powers were just before the First World War. I think that threat receded slightly when Trump became president. Trump is a disgusting monster, but he does seem to be friends with Putin, and I’m sure that has helped defuse some of the tensions.

Now we have this despicable moron demanding more carnage. I do wonder where it will all end. How many countries have to be invaded, how many millions murdered, how many people forced out of their homes, to live in camps as refugees? How many of our brave young men and women have be sacrificed to the greed of the oil companies before this all stops? Is there really no end to these politicos’ lust for others’ blood?

This is a situation that will have to be watched very carefully. And I’ll keep an eye out also for any groups being formed to stop war with Iran.

On Gender, Misogyny and the Word ‘Mouthy’

August 21, 2016

I was astonished to hear today that somebody had called Mike from Vox Political a ‘misogynist’ because he had called someone ‘mouthy’. Mike’s accuser was under the impression that ‘mouthy’ was a term that was only used against women.

Now I’m aware that a staple of misogynistic abuse and jokes down the centuries have been about women’s supposed greater predisposition to talk and gossip. There’s even been some scientific evidence presented for this. Supposedly, women on average talk so many more thousand words per day more than men. On the other, it’s also been claimed that male and female brains are biologically different, and this explains why women are better at language skills, while men have better spatial skills. This has also been challenged by neuroscientists, who’ve said that, except for people at the extreme ends of the scale of gender characteristics, there’s no difference between the brains of men and women. So that fact – that women talk more than men – may be another factoid.

But the term ‘mouthy’ is different. In my experience, it’s most definitely applied to both men as well as women. When I was at school, I can remember other boys being described as ‘mouthy gits’. And there’s the phrase, ‘all mouth and trousers’, which is certainly applied to men, who like the sound of their own voices. Similarly, noisy, ignorant men are described as ‘loudmouths’. And so on.
I also distinctly remember how this got into an RE lesson at school, when they teacher wanted to stop one of the boys from talking during class. She had just been teaching us about the appointment of Aaron as Moses’ spokesman in the events leading up to the Jewish Exodus from Egypt. The Hebrew term for ‘spokesman’ in the Bible literally means ‘Chief Mouth’. One of the lads was continuing to talk over the teacher, so she shouted out his name, and then said, ‘You Chief Mouth’, to the lad’s embarrassment and the hilarity of the rest of the class.

Mike ain’t a misogynist by any means, and neither is ‘mouthy’ a gendered term of abuse.

Norman Finkelstein on the Coming Break-Up of American Zionism: Part 2

May 28, 2016

What changed Jewish attitudes to Israel was the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. The Americans saw Israel very much as a kind of outpost of American interests in the Middle East, and identified its people with great American heroes like Davey Crockett, and the struggle of the Texans for independence from Mexico. There was an equivalence between Israel’s soldiers and the heroes of the Alamo. The Israelis were invested with all the heroic values Americans believed characterised themselves, and from it being unpatriotic to support the Israelis, it became the reverse. It was super-patriotic to support them.

Crucial to this was the Israeli claim to have practised ‘purity of arms’. Unlike Vietnam, where the Americans were losing and committing terrible atrocities, the Israelis were winning without committing massacres and other breaches of human rights. This record has gradually darkened as the wars between Israel and its Arab neighbours continued. The classic case of the ‘bad war’ was Lebanon, where the Israelis killed tens of thousands of people, the majority of whom were civilians. But as historians like Benny Morris examined Israeli’s own history and war record, it became increasingly clear that Israel at its foundation had not practised ‘purity of arms’. In fact, if anything, the record of the Israeli army had actually improved and become cleaner over time.

And just as more was known and published about Israeli massacres of Palestinians and ethnic cleansing, so more information appeared about the regular use of torture by the Israelis. Previously the very few people writing and reporting on this were a Communist, a Trotskyite and an industrial chemist. They were marginal figures, whose work it was easy to shrug off and dismiss. But more and more Jews and Israelis brought to light information on torture. As Jews began their investigations, so it encouraged international groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International to become involved. These had originally remained aloof from examining Israel’s record in this regard, partly from entirely noble reasons: accusing Jews of torture was too much like the accusation made against the Jews by the Nazis during the Holocaust. And then the use of torture reached truly epidemic proportions of tens of thousands of detained Palestinians in the 1990s during the Second Intifada.

At the same time, Israeli politics has also become more corrupt and sleazier. Finkelstein states that Israel’s founders were idealists, who believed in the Jewish state as an ideal, and lived austere lives. They were not concerned with their own enrichment. As a result, Israel was one of the most transparent – that is to say, not corrupt, countries. Yitzhak Rabin, for example, was forced out of office in the 1980s because his wife was found to have an American bank account. There was nothing in it, but the simple fact that she had it was enough to torpedo Rabin’s stint in office. Now, Finkelstein states, hardly a day goes by without an Israeli politicians appearing in the papers because of a financial or a sex scandal.

The views of the Israelis as the injured party in the conflicts with the Palestinians, who were always provoked into war, has also been reversed. The previous received wisdom was that it was the Israelis who always made peace overtures, which were rejected by the Palestinians, ‘who never missed a chance to miss a chance for peace’. In fact, the historical reality is the exact opposite. Finkelstein quotes a book, 800 pages in length, by an Israeli scholar at one of the country’s institutes for military strategy. This academic went through everything that was written on the various Arab-Israeli wars and their causes, and found that in all of them it was the Israelis, who were the aggressors, and the Palestinians, who wanted peace. Which was nearly always rejected.

And the views of the New Historians, like Benny Morris, about how Israel from the first advanced a programme of ethnic cleansing – ‘population transfer’, in the coded jargon of the generals and politicos – and apartheid against the Palestinians has gradually entered mainstream Israeli scholarship. The lie that the Palestinians were ordered to flee their villages by the invading Arab armies was exposed by Benny Morris, who found that no such call actually took place. Finkelstein makes the point that you can now read a mainstream Israeli history school textbook, and it’s very little different from what left-wing, dissident historians have been saying. At the same time, it’s now accepted that what the Israelis are inflicting on the Palestinians through their systematic discrimination is indeed apartheid. It’s actually been described as such by the Israeli paper of record, Ha’aretz. And when Ha’aretz uses the term, you know that attitudes have changed.

As a result, American Jews, and especially young American Jews, have been increasingly indifferent and distanced from Israel, despite the AIPAC and the official Israel lobby.

Finkelstein’s talk lasts for about 1 hour and 22 minutes, or thereabouts. After this is there’s about another hour or so where he answers questions from the audience. These cover topics such as the religious dimensions to the Arab-Israeli conflict, the historical friendship between Muslims and Arabs, and Finkelstein’s work exposing the ‘Holocaust Industry’ – the exploitation of the suffering of the Jewish people during the Nazi genocide for the profit of the campaign’s leaders and the Jewish organisations. This is particularly odious to Dr Finkelstein, as it demeans the real human suffering of the true victims, who all too often don’t see a penny.

One of those asking the questions is a young woman from a very Christian background. She states Dr Finkelstein has not tackled the spiritual motives at the heart of Zionism. She admits she does not know much about the conflict between the Israelis and the Arabs, but is impressed by the strong similarities between Judaism and Muslim, Arab culture. She understands from the people at her Presbyterian church that the Jews have a very strong urge to settle in the land of their ancestors, based on the Covenant between the Lord and Abraham. Finkelstein replies to this by saying that the reason he did not discuss it, as once you start invoking religion you put it beyond the possibility of reaching a political solution. He states that if someone came up to you and said that, according to the Bible, you should move out of your house because it was of great spiritual significance to them, you would not do so. At this point, some of the audience clap and cheer. He shuts them up, stating that although he’s an atheist, he has no wish to damage other’s faith. He also states that she must be aware that during the period of slavery, the Southern lawyers defending the institution did so using tracts from the Bible about Ham, whose descendants were forced to serve Noah’s other sons, because he saw his father naked when drunk. Finkelstein states that the justices, who ruled against slavery did not tackled the religious arguments, but simply ruled according to secular law.

The girl responds by making a comment about Arab terrorism. This is answered in turn by an Arab member of the audience, who understandably denies that his people are terrorists. He states that they are loving people, and advises her to read the book L’Amite Judeo-Arabe by a French author, which details the long friendship between Jews and Muslims. It was the Islamic world, he states, which took the Jews in and protected them after they were expelled from Europe. Later, another audience member, a Palestinian, adds further information to this. He is a Palestinian, and states that in his village there were Jews, who had Arab names, just as there were throughout the Arab world from Yemen to Iraq. There was no spiritual animosity between them. Indeed, he states that the desire of the Jews to possess the land seems to start in the Bible 3,000 years ago, and then absolutely nothing until the foundation of Israel. He argues very strongly that the conflict between the Isrealis and the Palestinians is not religious.

More On Trumps Cynicism and Exploitation of Veterans and Christians from The Young Turks

February 2, 2016

Okay, I realise that I’ve already posted three blogs in a row about Trump, and this is a further piece to the one I’ve already written about his cynical and exploitative attitude to veterans. But this stuff just keeps coming, and Trump’s still out there.

Trump organised a special event on the 28th January, a few days ago, for US veterans, and has been very loudly proclaiming that he’s raising funds for them. But when it comes to paying out, the reality seems to be somewhat different. A year or so ago, a charity for homeless ex-soldiers, Veterans in Command, wrote to The Donald asking for a donation. They finally got their reply last week. It was a bumper sticker, come through the post, with a handwritten note saying that he wasn’t going to make a donation.

The piece’s anchors, Cenk Uygur and Ana Kasparian, point out that this isn’t the first time Trump’s done something like this. In 1991 and 2004 he tried to get the food stand run by veterans cleared off the street in Fifth Avenue. The stands had been there for over a century, and had been expressly set up to give former soldiers jobs. But Trump wanted them to go, as they gave the area ‘the wrong image’.

Of the five million or so Trump’s fund for veterans has actually spent, only 73,000 came from Trump’s own pocket. So, he’s not exactly generous with his own money when it actually comes to supporting America’s wounded and poverty-stricken ex-warriors.

He’s also trying the same trick with the Christians in Iowa. There’s no evidence that Trump’s religious or has ever been a Christian, or gone to church. Someone wrote to the evangelical churches in NYC, and none of them had record of Trump attending. But he’s trying to pass himself off as a devout believer. He attended church in Iowa. When the communion plate was being passed around for the bread and wine of Holy Communion, Trump thought it was the collection plate and placed a wad of notes there. Uygur himself states he’s not a Christian, and wasn’t raised a Christian. He’s an atheist, who was raised a Muslim, and so he jokes that he doesn’t know what goes on in church services. But he does know that Trump is precisely the kind of person Christ threw out of the Temple. Exactly. Christ in the Gospels attacks the Pharisees for their hypocrisy, and the way they made much of their own piety and lavish donations to the synagogue, while all the while having absolute contempt for the genuinely pious, but not socially respectable poor. Again, this reflects the social situation of the time. The Pharisees did indeed look down on the poorer classes, particularly in Galilee, as the ‘amma ha-aretz, or People of the Land. One of them even declared, ‘Galilee, Galilee, thou hatest the Torah’. And the Prophet Amos centuries earlier in the Hebrew Bible, the Christian Old Testament, attacked the rich, who gave lavishly to the temple, provided rich sacrifices, but who did not really observe the spirit of the Law of Moses, and who had nothing but contempt for the poor. There’s even a special sin – simony – named after Simon Magus in the Acts of the Apostles – for people who try to buy positions in the church, almost like Trump has tried to buy Christian support.

Uygur states that it’s a problem why Evangelical Christians, who claim religion is at the centre of their lives, support Trump, considering he’s not a Christian and just seems to be posing as such to get their support. He believes it’s just simple racism. They share his hatred of Mexicans and Muslims, and are voting for him because of this. I think it’s a fair point, although I would not care to say that this was true of all American Evangelicals. A book written a few years ago, The Truth about Evangelicals, actually said that about half of all theologically conservative Christians were political left-wing, and some even more so than American Roman Catholics. But it is very true of the type that listen to Pat Robertson and the rest of the televangelists that suddenly appeared during the Reagan era. It’s these people Trump’s trying to impress.

Well, Trump and the Republicans actually don’t give two hoots about the real problems faced by working class people in America, including Christians. There’s an entire chapter in the book on Neo-Conservatism, Confronting the New Conservatism, on how the Republicans and Neo-Cons cynically exploit these people’s religious fears, while giving them nothing in return. They make a lot of noise about sex and violence on TV and the cinema, the teaching of evolution, gay rights and so on, but this is generally just verbiage to describe their true agenda: cutting welfare programmes, and giving the rich massive tax cuts. Both believing Christians and old soldiers – who in many cases are no doubt one and the same, pilgrims – could do worse than face, front, stand square, and show this fraud the door.

Tolstoy’s The Law of Violence and the Law of Love

January 24, 2016

Tolstoy Law Love

(Santa Barbara: Concord Grove Press, no date)

As well as being one of the great titans of world literature, Leo Tolstoy was a convinced anarchist and pacifist. The British philosopher and writer, Sir Isaiah Berlin, in his book, Russian Thinkers, states that Tolstoy’s anarchist beliefs even informed his great work, War and Peace. Instead of portraying world history as being shaped by the ideas and actions of great men, Tolstoy’s epic of the Napoleonic Wars shows instead how it is formed by the actions of millions of individuals.

The writer himself attempted to put his own ideas into practise. He was horrified by the poverty and squalor, both physical and moral, of the new, urban Russia which was arising as the country industrialised, and the degradation of its working and peasant peoples. After serving in the army he retreated to his estate, where he concentrated on writing. He also tried to live out his beliefs, dressing in peasant clothes and teaching himself their skills and crafts, like boot-making, in order to identify with them as the oppressed against the oppressive upper classes.

Tolstoy took his pacifism from a Chechen Sufi nationalist leader, who was finally captured and exiled from his native land by the Russians after a career resisting the Russian invasion. This Islamic mystic realised that military resistance was useless against the greater Russian armed forces. So instead, he preached a message of non-violent resistance and peaceful protest against the Russian imperial regime. Tolstoy had been an officer during the invasion of Chechnya, and had been impressed by its people and their leader’s doctrine of peaceful resistance. Tolstoy turned it into one of the central doctrines of his own evolving anarchist ideology. And he, in turn, influenced Gandhi in his stance of ahimsa – Hindu non-violence – and peaceful campaign against the British occupation of India. Among the book’s appendices is 1910 letter from Tolstoy to Gandhi. I also believe Tolstoy’s doctrine of peaceful resistance also influence Martin Luther King in his confrontation with the American authorities for civil rights for Black Americans.

Tolstoy considered himself a Christian, though his views are extremely heretical and were officially condemned as such by the Russian Orthodox Church. He wrote a number of books expounding his religious views, of which The Law of Violence and the Law of Love is one. One other is The Kingdom of God Is Within You. Tolstoy’s Christianity was basically the rationalised Christianity, formed during the 19th century by writers like David Strauss in Germany and Ernest Renan in France. In their view, Christ was a moral preacher, teaching devotion to a transcendent but non-interfering God, but did not perform any miracles or claim He was divine. It’s similar to the Deist forms of Christianity that appeared in the 18th century in works such as Christianity Not Mysterious. While there are still many Biblical scholars, who believe that Christ Himself did not claim to be divine, such as Geza Vermes, this view has come under increasing attack. Not least because it presents an ahistorical view of Jesus. The Deist conception of Christ was influenced by the classicising rationalism of the 18th century. It’s essentially Jesus recast as a Greek philosopher, like Plato or Socrates. More recent scholarship by Sandmel and Sanders from the 1970’s onwards, in works like the latter’s Jesus the Jew, have shown how much Christ’s life and teaching reflected the Judaism of the First Century, in which miracles and the supernatural were a fundamental part.

In The Law of Violence and the Law of Love, Tolstoy sets out his anarchist, pacifist Christian views. He sees the law of love as very core of Christianity, in much the same way the French Utopian Socialist Saint-Simon saw universal brotherhood as the fundamental teaching of Christianity. Tolstoy attacks the established church for what he sees as their distortion of this original, rational, non-miraculous Christianity, stating that it’s the reason so many working people are losing their faith. Like other religious reformers, he recommends his theological views, arguing that it will lead to a revival of genuine Christianity. At the same time, this renewed, reformed Christianity and the universal love it promotes, will overturn the corrupt and oppressive rule of governments, which are built on violence and the use of force.

Among the other arguments against state violence, Tolstoy discusses those, who have refused or condemned military service. These not only include modern conscientious objectors, such as 19th century radicals and Socialists, but also the Early Church itself. He quotes Christian saints and the Church Fathers, including Tertullian and Origen, who firmly condemned war and military service. For example, Tertullian wrote

It is not fitting to serve the emblem of Christ and the emblem of the devil, the fortress of light and the fortress of darkness. One soul cannot serve two masters. And besides, how can one fight without the sword, which the Lord himself has taken away? Is it possible to do sword exercises, when the Lord says that everyone who takes the sword shall perish by the sword? And how can a son of peace take part in a battle.

Some scholars of the Early Church have argued that its opposition to military service was based on opposition to the pagan ceremonies the soldiers would have to attend and perform as part of their duties. As believers in the only God, these were forbidden to Christians. Nevertheless, despite his condemnation, Tertullian admits elsewhere that there were Christians serving in the Roman army.

Other quotations from the Church Fathers make it clear that it was opposition to the bloodshed in war, which caused them to reject military service. Tolstoy cites Cyprian, who stated that

The world goes mad with the mutual shedding of blood, and murder, considered a crime when committed singly, is called a virtue when it is done in the mas. The multiplication of violence secures impunity for the criminals.

Tolstoy also cites a decree of the First Ecumenical Council of 325 proscribing a penance to Christians returning to the Roman army, after they had left it. He states that those, who remained in the army, had to vow never to kill an enemy. If they violated this, then Basil the Great declared that they could not receive communion for three years.

This pacifism was viable when the Church was a small, persecuted minority in the pagan Roman Empire. After Constantine’s conversion, Christians and the Christian church entered government as Christianity became the official religion. The Church’s pacifist stance was rejected as Christians became responsible for the defence of the empire and its peoples, as well as their spiritual wellbeing and secular administration. And as the centuries progressed, Christians became all too used to using force and violence against their enemies, as shown in the countless religious wars fought down through history. It’s a legacy which still understandably colours many people’s views of Christianity, and religion as a whole.

This edition of Tolstoy’s book is published by the Institute of World Culture, whose symbol appears on the front of the book. This appears from the list of other books they publish in the back to be devoted to promoting mysticism. This is mostly Hindu, but also contains some Zoroastrian and Gnostic Christian works, as well as the Zohar, one of the main texts of the Jewish Qabbala.

Pacifism is very much an issue for your personal conscience, though it is, of course, very much a part of the Quaker spirituality. Against this pacifist tradition there’s the ‘Just War’ doctrine articulated and developed over the centuries by St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and other theologians and Christian philosophers. This examines and defines under which circumstances and for which reasons a war can be fought, and what moral restrictions should be imposed on the way it is fought. For example, combatants should not attack women, children and non-combatants. Despite this, the book is an interesting response to the muscular Christianity preached during the days of the British Empire, and which still survives in the American Right. Many Republicans, particularly the Tea Party, really do see Christianity as not only entirely compatible with gun rights, but as a vital part of it. Bill O’Reilly, one of the anchors on Fox News, has stated that Christ would fully approve of the shooting of violent criminals, even in circumstances others find highly dubious. These include some of the incidents where teh police have shot unarmed Blacks, or where such resistance from the suspect may have been the result of mental illness and the cops themselves were in no danger. In the Law of Violence and the Law of Love, you can read Tolstoy’s opinion of the official use of lethal force, and his condemnation of the capitalist statism O’Reilly and Fox stand for.