Archive for the ‘Ethiopia’ Category

History Today on the UN, the Holocaust, and Post-1945 Genocides

October 12, 2016

I found the definition of Genocide according to the UN’s Genocide Convention, and a list of genocides that have occurred since 1945 in an article by Ronnie Landau, ‘Never Again?’ in the March 1994 issue of History Today, pp. 6-8. Landau was the head of Humanities at the City Literary Institute, and the author of The Nazi Holocaust, published by I.B. Tauris in 1992. Her article traces the origins of the word and the concept of genocide, coined by the international jurist Raphael Lemkin in 1943, examining and criticising the repeated failure of the international community to stop genocides recurring and to bring the perpetrators to justice. The article is worth discussing here, as it deals with many of the issues involved in the latest anti-Semitism smears against Jackie Walker.

Landau notes in the article that Lemkin was concerned not just with the punishment of existing crimes against humanity, but also with prevent further atrocities. The UN responded three year later, in 1946, by setting up a committee to consider drafting a convention on such crimes. The committee’s provisional definition of genocide declared it to be ‘deliberate acts committed with the intent to destroy a national, racial, religious or political group on grounds of the national or racial origin, religious belief or political opinion of its members.’ This led to the final Convention, which left out the references to economic and political groups. (p. 6).

The UN Convention on genocides states that

Genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy in whole or in part, a national, ethnical racial or religious group, as such:

A) Killing members of the group;
B) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
C) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
D) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
E) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Landau goes on to describe how various nations attempted to eviscerate this convention. The Soviets did so by stating that genocide, like the Holocaust, was the result of decaying imperialism and implied that the convention would be inapplicable in the future. In the Soviet bloc, the Holocaust was considered part of the wider crimes by the Nazis against the peoples of eastern Europe. Furthermore, the UN caused massive popular outrage around the world by failing to invoke the Convention against Pol Pot and the vile Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. This has resulted in many believing that the UN has lost its right to be regarded as a serious preventative force against such mass murders.

The article goes on to list the post-1945 atrocities, which may be defined as genocide according to the UN Convention as follows:

The Bengalis, 1971;
the Hutu of Burundi, 1972;
Ache Indians of Paraguay, 1968-72;
Kampucheans, 1975-79;
East Timor Islanders, 1975-present;
The French against the Algerians, 1945-62;
Governing Sudanese against Black Christians in South Sudan, 1955-present;
Post-Sukarno regime against Indonesian Communists, 1965-70;
General Pinochet in Chile against political opposition 1965-67;
Nigerian army against Ibo people in Biafra, 1966-70;
Guatemalan army against Mayan Indians, 1980-present;
Ethiopian regime against Tigre and Eritreans, 1980-present;
Iraqi government against Kurds, 1988 and 1991;
Pakistan, later Bangladesh, against Chittagong Hill Tract tribes, late 1940s-present;
Brazilian and Paraguayan governments against Ache and other Amerindians, 1960s-present.
Communist China against Tibet, 1959-present;
Indonesia against West Papua, 1969-present.
Stalin’s regime against the Communist party and selected elements of the population, up to 1953;
Macias government of Equatorial Guinea, 1968-79;
Idi Amin against the Ugandans, and particularly the Ugandan Asians, 1972-85;
the Argentinian junta against the ‘Left’, 1978-79. (p. 7).

The article then discusses the issue of whether aging Nazis should be tried for their complicity in the Holocaust, especially as those responsible for other horrors, such as Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein et al have never been hunted down or punished. It also notes that the Nuremberg Trials were remarkable in that they were ever held at all. When Landau was writing, there had been no further international trials either of Nazis or other genocides. She also states that there is a clear difference between the treatment of homicide and genocide. Those responsible for individual murders know that this is a crime, and that the police and other authorities will attempt to arrest and punish them. This is in contrast to genocides, who, as people in authority, rarely feel remorse, or are found guilty and punished.

She also discusses the difficulties in treating each genocide as equally serious, and not privileging the extermination of one group over others. She states

How can the international community show even-handedness i9n their investigation of such monstrous crimes, and thus avoid the construction of a hierarchy of suffering which condemns some genocides and atrocities to virtual oblivion, while others remain at the forefront of our consciousness? While preserving the distinctiveness and unique character of each genocide, are we prepared to make ‘connections’ between different genocides- identify common features – which may enable us to establish early warning systems to prevent the continuing abuse, persecution and destruction of groups, and the possible obliteration of cultures? (p. 8).

She goes on to discuss some of the features common to genocides, which may allow for its effective prosecution and prevention.

She also raises the question of whether it is possible to formulate a new code, based on previous conventions and what has been learned from the Nazi Holocaust, to set up systems for the international monitoring of potential genocides, with, if necessary, the deployment of UN forces. She then goes on to criticise current international inactivity over the war crimes in Bosnia, and compares it to the dilatory stance the international community took to the Holocaust, which led to the deaths of 6 million Jews and 5 1/2 million other innocents before the Nazi regime was wiped from the Earth.

The Holocaust, Jackie Walker and the Anti-Semitism Allegations

This article is acutely relevant to the latest smear against Jackie Walker, the former vice-chair of Momentum. Walker was accused and dismissed from her post because she had behaved ‘insensitively’ at a Labour party training day on Holocaust Memorial Day, because she had raised the issue of why it should not include other Holocausts. The organisers have claimed that it does, but this is refuted by the fact that it does not cover genocides committed before 1945. The definition of anti-Semitism they used also considers as anti-Semitic criticism of Israel, because of which it is not generally accepted. Furthermore, her Jewish supporters in Momentum have pointed out that the Israeli authorities and academics consider the Holocaust to be an experience unique to Jews. This list shows that this is clearly not the case, and that Walker was quite right to question the unique focus on the Jewish Holocaust.

This sole focus of the Israelis on the Jewish Holocaust also raises the issue of whether Israel can be considered an enabler of genocide. Israel is certainly guilty of the mass murder of Palestinians, and has followed a policy of ethnic cleansing of its indigenous Arab population since its foundation. In that sense, it would be guilty of genocide. But as Landau notes, the formulation of the whole concept of genocide by Lemkin was intended to prevent it from recurring. In this, the Jewish experience of the Holocaust was seen not just as unique in itself, but also an example of the horrors perpetrated against multitudes of others. By stressing the uniqueness of the Shoah, the Israeli authorities are undercutting part of the historical framework for the prosecution of other, similar crimes.

Finally, the initial smear against Jackie Walker as an anti-Semite came from a very selectively argued complaint about a conversation she was having on Facebook several months previously with two others. There she discussed Jewish complicity – but crucially, not complete responsibility – in the slave trade. But her point was to do exactly what Landau also raised in her article – make the point that there should be no ‘hierarchy of suffering’ which privileges some groups over others.

Tony Greenstein, one of the others, who was suspended from the Labour party by the Blairites for unspecified thoughtcrimes, has written an excellent article in the Weekly Worker demanding that Walker should be reinstalled as Momentum’s vice-chair and criticising Lansman, Momentum’s leader, for caving in to the Zionists. Mike over at Vox Political has reblogged Mr Greenstein’s article, with his own comments. He notes that Mrs Walker has a case for prosecuting those involved in the smears for libel and invasion of privacy under the data protection act. And as I’ve mentioned in a previous piece, far from being anti-Semitic, Mrs Walker’s discussion of the involvement of some Jews in the slave trade is certain not unique. Other historians have also, including several mentioned by Mrs Walker herself in her statement clarifying her comments.

The Israel lobby, as I have said before, are smearing decent people as anti-Semites, simply because they dare to criticise Israel and its ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. In doing so, and insisting on the Holocaust as an experience unique to Jews, they are obstructing its application as a template of what constitutes genocides to other cases, and are therefore weakening the ability of the international community to protect other groups. This is to be resisted, as is the smearing of individuals.

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The Pre-Fascist Solution to Corporate Influence in Parliament

September 3, 2016

I had the bizarre experience of finding that something I’d written about getting rid of the problem of the corporate corruption of parliament was right. I was reading through Adrian Lyttelton’s book on the rise of Fascist Italy, The Seizure of Power: Fascism in Italy, 1919-1929. There’s a section, where he discusses the way Mussolini used partly-nationalised industries to develop those sectors of the economy, that private industry couldn’t. In this case, I think it’s probably one of the very few areas where Mussolini was doing something right. This does not make his dictatorship, with its beatings, torture and murder of dissidents, the imperialism and the organised massacres of Arabs, Ethiopians, Yugoslavs and the deportations of Jews to the death camps any less the disgusting. It just means that occasionally, even the worst regimes can do something right, on the principle that a broken watch is still correct twice a day.

But the use of partly-nationalised industries predated Fascism. It had been started by the Liberals as a response to the entry of businessmen into the Italian parliament, wanting something to be done for their companies. Now in a previous blog post, discussing how we should deal with the corporate corruption of parliamentary politics, I suggested that we should have a workers’ chamber to balance the influence of the businessmen in the House of Commons, and nationalise their companies, as well as the outsourcing firms. And now I’ve read, that part-nationalisation was same solution – more or less – that Italian liberalism adopted.

So all I can say is, it seems I was right! Or if not, at least that others tried the same solution. Viva Italia, and a basta Thatcherismo!

Mussolini Vs. the Banksters

April 2, 2016

Mussolini was a thug and a mass murderer, who took a nation of poets, thinkers, writers, musicians, scientists and philosophers and tried to turn them into goose-stepping butchers like himself, and their country into a cross between a vast open-air prison and an army camp. Ultimately he failed, and the best thing that happened to his regime was that it more or less completely evaporated after he was overthrown by his own Fascist Grand Council.

But he knew how to handle the banks. After the Great Crash of 1929, he nationalised them. New Labour bailed them out, and then both New Labour and the Tories have allowed the bankers to go on as before, making the same kind of dodgy financial deals and awarding themselves massive pay rises and bonuses far beyond the percentages given to ordinary workers. When these workers are given pay rises at all, thanks to the government’s austerity programme and the repeated insistence on fiscal responsibility, combatting inflation and all the other rubbish.

This is a post that would shock American Republicans. Glen Beck, one of the loonier characters in right-wing broadcasting, cried on his show about Obama’s totalitarian Nazi oppression of the banksters. He really did carry on as if he believed that the heads of Lehmann Brothers, Goldman Sachs and the like had been carried off to some gulag in the wilds of Alaska or somewhere. He made a speech in which he paraphrased, yet again, the Martin Niemoller poem, ‘First they came for…’. He altered it to, ‘First the came for the bankers’. Tears and histrionics followed.

But Obama didn’t imprison or even punish the bankers. He bailed them out, and the world has effectively continued to bail them out, and has been subsidising their profligacy and lavish lifestyle ever since.

This attitude comes from the deliberate Republican and Conservative conflation of Fascism with Socialism, in which any criticisms of financial capitalism are automatically equated with Hitler’s attacks on Jewish bankers. Hitler did indeed make speeches attacking Jewish capitalists and bankers, including one in which he said that when he came to power, he would throw their coffers into the street. It’s vile stuff, and Hitler did carry out his threat. Jewish shops and businesses were smashed during Kristallnacht, and signs were put up ordering gentiles to boycott their businesses. They were watched, and any gentile going into one was photographed. And then during the Holocaust they seized the property of the people they murdered, though they continued to exploit skilled Jewish artisans to produce luxury items in a grotesque merchandising operation in the concentration camps. The SS even produced a catalogue of goods available from them, which were made by the Jewish artisans they had imprisoned and were working to death.

But Hitler wasn’t against capitalism or the banks per se. Indeed, in the next part of his speech he went on to declare how he would not treat good gentile German capitalists and employers the same way, as they treated their German employees well and worked for the good of Germany as true members of the Volksgemeinschaft – the racial community. The head of the Nazi big business organisation was the head of Allianz Insurance, and Hitler himself was very careful when on the verge of power to win over big business. And Hjalmar Schacht, a banker, who was at one time the Nazis’ economics minister, told Hitler to tone the rhetoric down about attacking big business and the capitalists.

Mussolini was also a vile anti-Semite. He wasn’t originally. When he started his career on the Right, he was merely ultra-nationalist. This was bad enough. It led the Italians to commit terrible atrocities in Africa, where they gassed and bombed civilians in Libya and Ethiopia. In Libya they also used massacres of the civilian population and mass rapes to terrorise the population. My guess is that memories of these war-time atrocities were responsible for Gaddafi’s expulsion of the Italian population after he seized power. I don’t know, but I strongly suspect that they’re still being used by the Islamists to whip up hatred against Europe. But it was only after the rise of Hitler that he became anti-Semitic. In 1937 he passed anti-Semitic legislation that was modelled on, but rather weaker, than those in Nazi Germany. At the end of his career, when he was ostensibly keep to introduce a quasi-Socialist regime in the Nazi puppet republic of Salo, he still insisted on keeping anti-Semitism as a key component of Fascist ideology. Because the Italian anti-Semitic legislation was weaker than that of Germany, however, 80 per cent of Italian Jews were able to survive, though this should not detract from the fact that 20 per cent were still murdered, along with all the other Italians the regime butchered.

Mussolini’s nationalisation of the Italian banks, however, wasn’t based on racial theory. It was based on the same entirely practically considerations that also led the Labour government to nationalise the Royal Bank of Scotland. This, however, has since been privatised in what I think was another deal that left the tax-payer out of pocket.

Musso was a tyrant and butcher, but in this instance, he was right. Unlike the New Labour and the Tories, who prefer to bail the banks out, let them continue as before, and then punish the country’s working people for their failings, under the guise of necessary financial restructuring, and the idiotic mantra ‘we’re all in this together’. They fact that the bankers and big businessmen are still giving themselves massive bonuses makes it very clear that we aren’t.

The Language of Ancient Sheba in Yemen

January 14, 2016

Sheba Solomon Islam

Persian painting of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, from the poems of Farid al-Din Attar, 1472.

Yemen is the location of the ancient kingdom of Sheba, whose Queen is mentioned in both the Bible and the Qu’ran as having visited King Solomon. In the Bible, he tested her with hard questions, which some commenters believe were riddles. In Islam, Solomon wished to know whether she and her people worshipped God – Allah – or the sun. The kingdom of Sheba itself was located at Marib. Archaeologists have excavated a pre-Islamic religious sanctuary, the Mahram Bilqis, which is named after her. Bilqis is the name given to her in Muslim legend, though she is not named in the Qu’ran. The sanctuary, mahram, has been associated with her since the rise of Islam in the 7th century AD.

In addition to the remains of its buildings, and great feats of architectural engineering, such as a magnificent dam intended to provide the country with much needed water, archaeologists have also uncovered a number of inscriptions, and have been able to reconstruct this ancient civilisation’s language. It’s
Semitic, and so is related to Hebrew and Arabic, and was part of a family of languages spoken in the five or so different kingdoms that existed in south Arabia before the rise of Islam. As a South Arabian language, it is one of the ancestors of Ge’ez, the ancient literary and religious language of Ethiopia, which was colonised by settlers from that part of Arabia. In Ethiopian legend, Solomon and the Queen of Sheba married, and the Queen later travelled to Ethiopia, where she became the founder of the Abyssinian monarchy, according to their national epic, the Kebra Nagast, or ‘Glory of Kings’.

The linguistic remains have been so complete, that a dictionary of the Sabaic language, by A.F.L. Beeston, W.W. Muller, M.A. Ghul and J.Ryckmans, was published by the University of Sanaa in Yemen in 1982.

Sabaic Dictionary Front

Sabaic Dictionary Arabic

Here’s a short list of some words from that ancient tongue. As a Semitic language, like ancient Hebrew and Arabic, on the consonants were written, so the actual pronunciation is unclear.

Affair, matter, undertaking, ‘kln
Blood, Dm
Body, person, grbt
Camel, ‘bl
Cattle, Bqr
Cultivated field, Dbr
Famine, ‘wfy-n
Father, ancestor, ‘bw
Folk, people, community, ‘hl
Garden, orchard, gnt
To give, to grant, ‘dw
Goats, ‘nz
God, ‘l
Goddess, ‘lht
Grain crops, corn, meal, ‘kl
Grandchild, Hfd
Health, prosperity, Bry
Land, territory,
country, cultivated Ground, ‘rd
Man, male, ‘ns
Mother, ‘mm
Place, occasion, Brt
Sea, coast, plain, Bhr
Servant, serf, ‘bd
Sheep, D’n
Son, daughter, child,
descendant, family member, Bnw
To take, to seize, to capture, ‘hd
Woman, female, wife, ‘nt
World, ‘lm.

My fear is that the war in Syria will lead to the destruction of Yemen’s ancient monuments and its invaluable archaeological remains, either through ordinary military action, or a deliberate act of destruction by ISIS. Daesh have done their best to destroy the ancient pre-Islamic heritage of the other nations they’ve taken over, in part of Iraq and Syria, as well as the religious shrines, monuments and mosques of Muslims they judge to be of the ‘wrong’ faith, like the Shi’a and ordinary, moderate Muslims. Quite apart from the horrors and death inflicted on the Yemeni people themselves in this conflict. Remember, the civilian casualties in the Saudi drone strikes, aided by America, are 50% +. The Yemeni people have a brilliant, fascinating past, and like its people, it needs to be protected.

Commemorating Christian Martyrdom: The Armenian Genocide

April 24, 2015

Armenian Gospels

Armenian Gospel Book from the Monastery of Gladjor, c. 1321

Today is the centenary of the beginning of the Armenian Genocide. This was a series of massacres carried out by the Ottoman Empire against the Armenian people. The Armenians had risen up, like the other, majority Christians subject nations in the Balkans across the Black Sea to gain their freedom from the decaying Turkish empire. To counter this, the last Turkish sultan, Talat Pasha issued a firman ordering that the Armenians should be rounded up and slaughtered. 1.5 million Armenians, men, women and children were butchered.

The Pope caused controversy earlier this week when he marked the massacres, calling it the first genocide of the 20th century. I’m not sure if this is quite true, as I think about ten years or so previously the German colonial authorities in East Africa had also organised a genocide of the indigenous Herrero people. The occasion has a wider, European significance than just its attempt to exterminate the Armenians. Hitler noted the way the other European powers remained silent and did not act to stop it. This convinced him that they also wouldn’t act to save the Jews when the Nazi state began to persecute and murder them in turn. As he said ‘Who remembers the Armenians?’

Denial of Genocide by Turkish Authorities

Unfortunately, the genocide is still controversial. Robert Fisk in his article in Monday’s Independent discussed the Turkish government’s refusal to recognise the massacres as a genocide. Pope Francis’ comments sparked outrage amongst the Turkish authorities, and the Vatican’s ambassador to Turkey was summoned to meet the prime minister. Fisk himself recalled the abuse he had received from Turks outraged by his discussion of the genocide. He stated he began receiving mail about the issue when he personally dug the bones of some of the Armenians out of the sands of the Syrian desert in 1992. He stated that some of the letters were supportive. Most were, in his words, ‘little short of pernicious’.

In Turkey any discussion or depiction of the Armenian genocide as genocide was brutally suppressed. A few years ago, the Armenian journalist, Hrant Dink, was killed for writing about them. Liberal Turks, who wish their nation face up to this dark episode of their history, have been imprisoned. The great Turkish writer, Orhan Pamuk, was sent to jail a few years ago. His writing on the genocide was judged to be ‘insulting to Turkish nationhood’, a criminal offence.

Fatih Arkin, Turkish Director, on Movie about Genocide

Dink’s assassination has, however, acted to promote a greater discussion and awareness of the genocide, and a large number of both Armenians and Turks are now pressing for the Turkish government to recognise it as such. Indeed, the Turkish-German film director, Fatih Arkin, made a film about the genocide, The Cut which premiered in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, in January.

In the interview below, Mr Arkin talks about he was moved to make the film following Dink’s assassination, and the number of Turks, who also join with the Armenians in demanding their government officially recognise the atrocity. Among those is the grandson of one of the leading perpetrators. What is interesting is that the film received a wide release in Turkey with no opposition or move to ban it.

Fisk on Turks Who Saved Armenians

This seems to show a new openness amongst the Turkish people as a whole about the genocide. And Fisk in his article notes that there many courageous and humane Turks, who refused to comply with Sultan’s orders, and saved Armenians. He stated in his article that these included at least one provincial governor, as well as lesser Turkish soldiers and policemen. Fisk felt that the Armenians should compile a list of these heroes, not least because it would make it harder for politicians like Erdogan, the country’s prime minister, not to sign a book of condolences, which included their names.

And these men were courageous: they risked their lives to save others from the carnage. There is absolutely no reason why they should not also be commemorated. In Judaism, I understand that righteous gentiles, who save Jews from persecution, are commemorated and believed to have a part in the olam ha-ba, the world to come. There is a section of the Holocaust Memorial at Yad Vashem, which displays the names of such righteous gentiles, who saved Jews during the Third Reich.

Syriac Evangelistary

The Miracle at the Pool of Bethesda, from a Syriac Evangelistary

Massacre of Syriac Christians as Part of Wider Pattern of Massacres

The massacre of the Empire’s Christian minorities was not confined to the Armenians, although they are the best known victims. Other Christian peoples, including the Syriac-speaking churches in what is now Iraq and Syria, were also attacked and massacred, in what has become known as ‘the Day of the Sword’. The massacres also spread into Iran, where the Christian communities there also suffered massacres. They too deserve commemoration.

Peaceful Relations between Christians and Muslims Normal in Ottoman Empire

Historians of the Turkish Empire have pointed out that the Armenian genocide, and similar massacres committed by the Ottoman forces in the Balkans during the nationalist wars of the 19th century, were largely the exception. For most of the time Christian and Muslim lived peacefully side by side. Quite often Muslims and Christians shared the same cemeteries. And in one part of Bosnia, at least, the local Roman Catholic church stood bang right next to the local mosque. There were even a small group of worshippers, who seem not to have differentiated between Christianity and Islam.

There’s a story that one orthodox priest, while officiating mass at his church, noticed a group of people at the back wearing Muslim dress. He went and asked them why they were attending a Christian church, if they were Muslims. The people replied that they didn’t really make much difference between the two faiths. On Friday, they prayed at the mosque, and on Sunday they went to church.

Historical Bias and Nationalist Violence by Christians in 19th century Balkans

Historians of the Balkans have also pointed out the dangers of religious bias when discussing the various nationalist wars in the 19th century. In the 1870s the Ottoman Turks committed a series of atrocities suppressing a nationalist uprising in Bulgaria. This outraged public opinion in England, and provoked the Liberal prime minister, Gladstone, to demand that the Turks be ‘thrown out of Europe, bag and baggage’. Other British and American observers noted that atrocities were hardly one sided. Christians also committed them, but these were ignored by the West. One author of a book on the Balkans I read back in the 1990s argued that the various atrocities committed in this period were caused not so much by religious differences, but from nationalism, and so were no different from other atrocities committed by other countries across the world, and in western Europe today as part of ethnic and nationalist conflicts, such as Northern Ireland.

British Empire and Atrocities in Kenya

Other decaying empires have also committed horrific atrocities, and attempted to cover them up. It was only after a very long legal campaign, for example, that the British government admitted the existence and complicity in the regimes of mass murder, torture, mutilation and internment in Kenya to suppress the Mao Mao rebellion. See the book, Africa’s Secret Gulags, for a complete history of this.

ISIS and the Massacre of Christians

The commemoration of the genocide of the Armenians, and by extension the other Christian subject peoples of the Ottoman and Persian Empires at the time, has become pressing relevant because the persecution today of Christians in the region by the resurgent Islamist movements, like ISIS, and Boko Haram in Nigeria. Yet these groups differ in their attitude to the massacre of non-Muslim civilians from that of the Turkish government. The official Turkish attitude has been silence and an attempt to suppress or rebut the genocide’s existence. This points to an attitude of shame towards them. ISIS, which last Monday murdered 30 Ethiopian Coptic Christians, shows absolutely no shame whatsoever. Far from it: they actually boast about their murder and enslavement of innocent civilians.

Conversion of Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians by Force, and Murder of Civilians Contrary to Muslim Law

I was taught at College that their actions contravene sharia law. Islamic law also has a set of regulations for the conduct of warfare, which rule out the conversion of the ‘Peoples of the Book’ – Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians – by force. Nor may women, children and non-combatants be harmed. And this has been invoked by the ulema in the past to protect Christian and other minorities in the Ottoman Empire. In the 17th century one of the Turkish sultans decided he was going to use military force to make the Christians in the Balkans convert to Islam. He sought approval for his course of action from the majlis, the governing assembly of leading Muslim clerics, who issued legal opinions on questions of Muslim law and practice. They refused, on the grounds that it was un-Islamic. The sultan backed down, and his planned campaigns against his Christian subjects were abandoned.

ISIS Also Butcher Muslims and Yezidis

Nor do ISIS, and similar Islamist movements limit themselves to attacking Christians. We’ve also seen them butcher and enslave the Yezidis, as well as other Muslims, simply for being the ‘wrong’ type of Muslim. For ISIS, they, and only they, represent true Islam. The rest are part of the ‘juhailiyya’, the world of darkness and ignorance, who must be fought and conquered.

Need to Commemorate All Victims of Atrocities

The Armenian genocide and its victims should rightly be remembered, as should so many other holocausts since then. Not only is this owed to the victims and history itself, but also to stop similar massacres occurring. And we need to remember that the capacity for such evil is not confined to particular nations, but can be found throughout history and humanity.

ISIS Atrocity in Yemen

March 21, 2015

Yesterday came the news that a suicide bomber had killed forty people at a mosque in Yemen. The country is currently torn in a civil war between its Sunni population and government, and the Houthi tribe, who are Shia. It was first feared that the bomber was a member of the latter. He wasn’t. Nor was he a member al-Qaeda, who were also initially suspected of involvement.

It was ISIS, yet again.

This is extremely disturbing. It’s not just that forty innocents were murdered and a house of worship desecrated for no other reason than that they and it belonged to a different faith, though this is bad enough. It’s because ISIS also attempts to destroy the very culture, including the ancient monuments, of the peoples it conquers and rules. I’ve blogged several times this week, including today, about the cult’s destruction of the Assyrian antiquities in Iraq, their smashing of art treasures in a museum in Mosul, the bulldozing of the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrod and their destruction of the mosques and shrines to the Patriarch Seth, revered in Islam as the Prophet Sheth, St. George, also revered in Islam as Jerjis, and the Prophet Jonah, known in the Qu’ran as Yunus. They also attempted to demolish one of the earliest minarets built in Iraq, but were fortunately prevented by the local people.

Yemen is also vulnerable to this destruction. It is, like the rest of the Middle East, a country with ancient and rich history. The city of Marib was the capital of the ancient South Arabian civilisation of Saba, known in the Bible as Sheba, whose queen visited King Solomon to test him with ‘hard questions’. This episode is also mentioned in the Qu’ran, and the Muslim name for the Queen is ‘Bilqis’. According to the chapter in the Qu’ran, the Surat al-Naml, which means ‘The Ants’ in English, Solomon could understand the language of birds. He was brought news of the Queen of Sheba by the hoopoe. the same sura also describes the destruction of the town’s great dam, the remains of which are still extant. The South Arabian languages spoken in the Gulf are also the origin of the modern majority languages of Ethiopia, Amharic, Tigre, and Tigrinya, which are all descended from the medieval language, Ge’ez. And the Ethiopian people themselves in their national epic, the Kebra Nagast, or ‘Glory of Kings’, traced their descent from King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.

The British Museum has a gallery devoted to the ancient cultures of Yemen, and a little while ago they staged an exhibition of its antiquities and the archaeology of this rich and ancient country. Any attack on these would be yet another blow against adab and the culture, not only of Islam and the Arabs, but of the world.

Fascism and Big Business on Man as Predator

February 23, 2015

Historians and political theorists have observed that one of the key features of Fascism is that it views human relationships very much as a kind of Hobbesian ‘war of each against all’, and sees humans really as another form of rapacious predator. Hitler and the Nazis were fond of Nietzsche’s celebration of the ‘blond beasts’, while at the same time censoring the other parts of the philosopher’s oeuvre that directly contradicted the foundations of the regime.

Critics of the Neo-Cons, such as the authors of the book Confronting the New Conservatism, also note that the Neo-Cons have an essentially Hobbesian view of humanity as a collection of alienated social atoms, each competing and struggling with the others. They also observe that the Neo-Cons extend this principle to foreign affairs. All countries are engaged in a struggle for supremacy, so there is little point in establishing international alliances. Rather, as superior civilisations, America and the West should be free to impose their will and standards by force.

Brady makes the same point in his book, The Structure of American Fascism. He makes the point that American businessmen have exactly the same views. This has resulted in the invasion and plunder of other countries, in which justification for the military action has been secondary.

The inner face of fascism considers man as a beast of prey. Scientists, artists, the rank and file of the people, may recoil from this doctrine: the leading figures in the business world of Italy, Germany, England, France, and the United States do not. In 1938, Spengler, then approved by the Nazis as a prophet of the New Germany, wrote:

“Man is a beast of prey. I shall say it again and again. All the would-be moralists and social-ethics people who claim or hope to be ‘beyond all that’ are only beasts of prey with their teeth broken, who hate others on account of the attacks which they themselves are wise enough to avoid. Only look at them. They are too weak to read a book on war, but they herd together in the street to see an accident, letting the blood and the screams play on their nerves. And if even that is too much for them, th4ey enjoy it on the film and in the illustrated papers. If I call man a beast of prey, which do I insult: man or beast? For remember, the larger beasts of prey are noble creatures, perfect of their kind, and without the hypocrisy of human morale due to weakness.”

In this view man is arrayed against man. The only code of behaviour which has any real meaning for the species is that “might makes right”. Where only strength counts, the strong are those who have taken; who have the power to have and to hold. The weak are those without holdings – of station, or property, or power. It is a doctrine that human society is nothing but organised “piracy”. Is there any fundamental difference in appreciation of human values or in general outlook on life between a stockbroker and a pirate? So far as the specific activity is concerned there is no difference, not even in the methods of sharing the spoils. What on the open seas is thought of as an outlaw and “piratical” raid of group on group, is in another setting played as a legitimate game in which each man is pitted against every other man for all he can “get by with” short of a snarl with criminal law.

That businessmen in the United States hold this view is beyond question. They hold it axiomatic in describing the character of their own kind, and they hold it to be valid for the human race at large. Anyone who has taken the trouble to interview stockbrokers, captains of industry and finance, advertisers, public relations counsellors, or other participants in, and apologists for, the business system will soon learn that this view of human nature governs their actions and their behaviour in practically all things, and that it is regarded as so obviously true as to require no comment, explanation, or justification.

Thus there is not the slightest objection to using all the armed forces of the state in a war on India, on Morocco, on Manchuria, on Abyssinia, on Nicaragua, Spain, or Mexico. If you are big enough, strong enough to take it, the rule is: take it. Take the country, take its resources, take its wealth, take the lives, health and happiness of all its inhabitants. “Realities rule”; the justification can be concocted later.

Nor, on the other hand, is there the slightest objection to using the troops against strikers, hunger-marchers, share-croppers, or any other group which for any reason whatsoever wants a little of what the insiders may have. All the emphasis on war, all the promotion of the army and the navy, of “national defence,” of that curiously bellicose frame of mind commonly known by the euphemistic term “patriotism,” is born of the same view of life, of human nature, of civilisation and culture.

And this same attitude is very much alive in modern politics. The invasion of Iraq took place not to oust Saddam Hussein as a dictator and threat to world peace. It was so that the Americans and Saudis could control the vast Iraqi oil industry. At the same time, western companies wanted to acquire Iraqi industries, which were to be privatised and sold to them. And the Neo-Cons wished to turn the entire country into a low taxation, free trade utopia. Even more sinister, the GM companies were also lined up to patent the rare crops indigenous to the country, as part of a scheme to force the Iraqi people to use their products.

Back in Britain, we have the Tories passing legislation banning protests and political lobbying close to elections. Just in case these sway the voters and the Tories lose the election. Tebbit has emerged again to urge the government to pick a fight with the unions. And Boris Johnson, the major of London, doesn’t have enough money to pay his firefighters, but he did have enough cash to buy two armoured cars for the police.

As for the character of the international business class, one of Lobster’s contributors wrote that he had asked one of his friends, who had attended a meeting of international financiers, what they were like. ‘Worse than you can possibly imagine’, was the reply.

Evolution, Race and African Civilisation: A Remedial Course for Kippers

June 27, 2014

A few days ago I reblogged a piece from Still Laughing At UKIP, reporting the massive racial abuse and vilification directed against the Labour MP, Chuka Umunna, by the Kippers on Facebook after he had the audacity to observe that they weren’t actually very good at spelling and grammar. The article’s ‘Racism. Uncontrolled, Mass Racism’, and it’s at http://stilllaughingattheukip.wordpress.com/2014/06/23/racism-uncontrolled-mass-racism/, if you want to check it out for yourself. The racist remarks reported by the Kipper Smoker include the crass, racial insults of ‘monkeys’ and ‘spear chuckers’ to describe Blacks, as well as remarks that people of ancient African extraction are ‘uncivilised’. So let’s go through a few facts about evolution and African civilisation, just to straighten the record.

Archaic Features in First Human Colonists in Europe Compared to Africa

The comments about ‘monkey’s recalls the daft and dangerous racial hierarchies Europeans drew up in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, which placed White Europeans at the top of the evolutionary ladder as the apex of human evolution, and Blacks at the bottom. The lowest rung was occupied by Aboriginal Australians. Below them were Orang-Utans, which Europeans were originally unsure whether they were human or apes. Science has overturned this classification, and I cannot see any modern, ethical archaeological department ever endorsing such claims that certain sections of the human species are inferior to Whites, no matter what the authors of the infamous ‘Bell Curve’ may claim about innate differences in cognitive ability between different ethnic groups.

It is true that physiologically Aboriginal Australians have many archaic features, such as a pronounced brow ridge. This is hardly surprising considering just how ancient these people are, having colonised the continent about 40,000 years ago. They are, however, just as human as every other part of the human race. Their facial features are also very close to those of the ancestral humans that colonised Europe at about the same time. Skeletons showing Australian Aboriginal characteristics from that remote epoch have been found in Southern France. A little while ago I went to a seminar at Uni taken by an American professor, who was one of the world’s greatest authorities on early man and the Neanderthals. He pointed out that the skeletons of the early modern humans – Homo Sapiens Sapiens recovered from that period have archaic features, and are less gracile than African skeletons from the same period. If you want to put it crudely, at that stage the ancestors of modern Europeans were less evolved than their cousins in Africa. Despite their physiological differences, they were still Homo Sapiens Sapiens. Their appearance does not saying anything about their essential humanity.

Ancestral Skull

Ancestral Modern Human Skull from Broken Hill, South Africa. The first humans to colonise Europe 30-40,000 years ago had similar features

Africa: Continent of Many Cultures and Civilisations

Now let’s deal with the claims that Africans are somehow ‘uncivilised’. For a start, Africa is a continent, not a single country, and contains a plethora of cultures and peoples, whose lifestyles can vary considerably. The Bushmen of South Africa – the Khoisan peoples – are hunter gatherers, while many of the peoples of East Africa were traditionally nomadic pastoralists, herding their cattle across the Savannah. Others have long been settled in village as settled farmers and agriculturalists. And some of these peoples have developed highly advanced civilisations.

Ancient and Christian Nubia

The Nubians of the Sudan took over much of the culture of ancient Egypt, and for a time even ruled the ancient Land of the Nile. Regardless of the claim that the Ancient Egyptians themselves were Black, there was a dynasty of Black pharaohs, whose empire stretched into the Ancient Near East. One of these was the pharaoh Taharqa, who is mentioned in the Bible for his part in struggling with the Assyrians for the control of the various minor, Near Eastern states dominated by these two superpowers, like ancient Israel. The Nubians later converted to Christianity, and had a literate, Christian civilisation with strong links to Egypt and the Byzantine Empire until the country was conquered by Islam in the 14th century. Archaeologists have been studying the remains of their ancient culture since that part of Africa was opened up to Europeans in the 19th century.

Ethiopia

Further east is the equally ancient culture of Abyssinia, now Ethiopia. This too is also extremely ancient. There were early centres of civilisation at Meroe and then Aksum. Although Meroe was a literate civilisation, they spoke a language completely unrelated to any other, so that although their inscriptions can be read, scholars at still at a loss to know what they mean. The main languages of modern Ethiopia, Amharic, Tigre and Tigrinya, are descended from Ge’ez, which in turn is descended from the South Arabian languages, such as Sabaic, when colonists from these civilisations conquered and settled there well over 2,000 years ago. It converted to Christianity under its king, Ezana, in the fourth century, before the Anglo-Saxons had managed to over-run Roman Britain.

The Swahili in East Africa

South of Ethiopia, the great Muslim civilisation of the Swahili emerged later in the Middle Ages. They adopted not only Islam, but also other features of Islamic and Arabic life and culture. They built impressive cities from blocks of coral taken from the east African reefs, which were covered with a kind of lime wash produced by burning the same coral. In their time, they created some of the most outstanding examples of Islamic architecture, some of which can still be seen today in places like Zanzibar.

Nok, Benin and the Great Civilisations of West Africa

On the other side of Africa, other civilisations emerged which reached an extremely high level of civilisation. Africans in what is now Nigeria began smelting iron early, long before Europeans, in c. 1800 BC, due to the natural iron bloom available in the region. The earliest African artistic culture outside ancient Egypt, the Nok, appeared in Nigeria in the 3rd century BC. This is known for its highly stylised sculptures, the artistic skill of which has drawn admiration from modern art experts and connoisseurs. Other West African cultures also have been the subject of considerable scholarly interest for the high standard of their art, such as Ife and Benin. Both of these cultures produced extremely naturalistic metal sculptures. The Benin bronze heads, produced to form part of a shrine to the rulers’ life-force, are justly famous and are found in many European collections after they were looted by punitive raids by the British in the 19th century after they expanded into the region.

Ife Sculpture

Sculpture of a king of Ife. Similar works have been found in terracotta dating from before the 12th century.

Benin Bronze

Benin Bronze from Shrine to Ruler

These cultures also impressed European observers and traders when they first encountered them in the 16th and 17th centuries. They commented on the size of the cities they encountered, as well as the chastity of the indigenous women, which they considered to be far greater than their own. These civilisations did practise much that struck Europeans as barbaric, such as human sacrifice. What surprised them about this, however, was that such a cultured and civilised people should actually engage in such horrors. Captain Denman of the West African Squadron, charged with suppressing the slave trade between Africa and America, stated this in his evidence to a parliamentary inquiry in the 1840s. When asked whether mass human sacrifice really existed amongst the peoples of Dahomey, Ashanti and other cultures in the region, he replied that it did, and that it ‘was remarkable, given the achievements they have made in most of the arts of civilisation’. In other words, what shocked Europeans wasn’t that the Africans committing these atrocities were barbarous savages, but actually the complete opposite: they were highly civilised, and so the massacres they committed were even more shocking and horrifying by contrast to the rest of their civilisation.

Akure Place

Plan of the palace of the Deji of Akure, showing how complex great African buildings may be.

Benin pic 2

View of the City of Benin, published 1668 by the Dutch explorer, Dapper

North of these pagan civilisations was the great Islamic empire of Mali. Access to a plentiful supply of gold made it one of the richest civilisations in West Africa. So rich, that when its ruler passed through Egypt in the 12th century on the hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, the amount of gold he and his retainers carried was so great that it actually through the country into a recession. Mali was also an important religious and intellectual centre, in which the scientific literature of the Muslim world also circulated. Scholars have uncovered vast libraries of ancient manuscripts preserved in the empire’s mosques from the Middle Ages. Amongst the treasures of this civilisation are manuscripts of the heliocentric system, showing the Earth and planets moving around the Sun, which Muslim scholars discovered independently of Copernicus about two centuries earlier.

Non-Ptolemaic Moon

Non-Ptolemaic Model of the Moon’s orbit, produced by the Turkish astronomer Qutb al-Din al-Shirazi in 1285. Similar works were copied and circulated amongst scholars in Mali.

Further south, in Zimbabwe, is the great stone fort from which the country takes its modern name. This vast structure is so impressive that previous European scholars could not believe it had been built by Africans, and instead attributed it to the Arabs or Chinese. I’ve got a feeling that some of the Ufolks may well believe it was built by ancient space aliens. Examination of the ruins themselves, however, show that it is indeed African in design and construction, similar to the way wooden houses are built by the peoples of the area.

Zimbabwe Fort1

The Temple at the Great Fort of Zimbabwe

There may also have been many other African civilisations, of which we currently know little, simply because the evidence for them has not survived. Africans tend to build in wood, rather than stone, a material that is particularly vulnerable to the continent’s climate and attack by termites. We only know of those civilisations that have either survived to the present day, such as Dahomey, Ashanti and the other contemporary Nigerian cultures, or who built in stone. Other civilisations may have existed which built in wood, the evidence for which perished over the centuries. However, merely because the evidence has not survived, does not mean that such civilisations weren’t there in the first place.

The Kippers racially abusing and insulting Umunna thus reveal just the extent of their own vile bigotry, but also how little they know about human evolution and African culture and civilisation. While these are fairly exotic topics, they’re not so arcane that only a few scholars know about them. There have been some excellent TV series on them, aimed at the general public. These include The Incredible Human Story on the BBC, presented by Time Team’s own Dr Alice Roberts. The BBC also produced a series on human evolution, presented by the avuncular, moustachioed Dr Robert Winston. Further back in the 1990s, Channel 4 also screened a series on human evolution, which presented the case that the early human colonist of Europe were actually Black. Again, an entirely respectable viewpoint, considering that all modern humans arrived out of Africa.

As for African civilisation, there have been a number of blockbusting series. Back in the 1980s there were a couple, one on BBC 2, presented by the Black African scholar Dr Ali Mazrui, and another on Channel 4 presented by the White afrocentrist historian, Dr Basil Davidson. More recently, BBC 4 and 2 screened a series, Lost Kingdoms of Africa, presented by a Black British art historian. I’m afraid the only thing I can remember about this chap’s name is that he was Gus somebody, and his name was double-barrelled. And that, like all archaeologists and intrepid explorers, he wore the de rigueur Indian Jones felt hat. This was also well worth watching, and there was a book to accompany the series. It’s great series like that which provide the strongest argument for retaining the BBC, and keeping television out of the mitts of Murdoch.

Africa’s Problems those of Human Evil, Corrupt International Economic and Political System

Terrible atrocities and crimes against humanity are being committed in Africa, by kleptocratic dictators and army generals, who are a blight on the human race. These have gained power partly through the profound economic and social problems of their nations, but also through the complicity of Western politicians, industrialists and financiers. The difference and superiority of western, scientific and industrial culture is only very recent. Western Europe only began to overtake Islam scientific and technologically in the 17th century, and there were still areas in which the Muslim world was superior in the 18th. Well into the 19th century, much of western Europe was ruled by absolute monarchs, whose societies rested on serfdom, the effective enslavement of their peasants. One American historian of the Balkans has pointed out that while the Turks in the 19th century were seen as barbaric for taking the heads of those they slew in battle, this was actually common amongst American bounty hunters out West. Before the development of cheap, efficient photography, the only way you could prove that you had successfully hunted down and killed a dangerous criminal was to take their heads.

Africa is beset by many severe problems, but this is not because its people are somehow less ‘evolved’ or ‘uncivilised’. Indeed, for much of human history, the opposite has been true. The continent’s problems come from a number of causes, which include the legacy of colonialism, a corrupt and unfair international economic system, and simple pure, unrestrained human evil. The last knows no difference in colour, and affects every culture. Including the upper echelons of the Tory party, and even now clouds the judgment of Kippers towards their fellows.

A Portrait of a Black Romano-Briton

May 29, 2014

Black British Roman

The above picture is of a wooden scoop handle from the site of the Thames Exchange in London. It’s about 10 inches long, and the end has been carved into the face of a Black man. It’s now part of the collection of the Museum of London. It’s part of the evidence that Black people have been present in Britain since the Roman Empire. In some ways, it should be unsurprising, as the Roman Empire stretched from Britain to North Africa, and had trade connections extending across the Sahara, and down the Red Sea and Nile to Ethiopia. Before the rise of the Roman Empire, Ethiopians were also present in Greek Art.

The European elections were marked by the victories of anti-immigration and overtly racist parties all over Europe, from UKIP in Britain to the Front National in France and the Nazi Golden Dawn in Greece. I felt it was therefore necessary to post this up, just to show that there is a long history of Black people in Britain as a response to the racist rhetoric we can now expect from politicians, not just of the extreme Right, but also ostensibly more liberal parties. They are attempting to regain some electoral popularity by promising a more harsher stance on immigration. Such rhetoric will lead to more racial tension and bigotry. In this case, it’s timely to post the evidence that Black people have also lived and worked in Britain as part of the British people since 2000 years ago. The picture itself can be found in Patrick Ottaway, Archaeology in British Towns: From the Emperor Claudius to the Black Death (London: Routledge 1992) 66.

Tory Councillor Told To Resign after Criticising David Attenborough – But Attenborough Does Believe in Doing Nothing for the Starving

September 19, 2013

Late yesterday evening there was a story on the MSN News about Phil Taylor, a Conservative councillor in Ealing, who had been told to resign for his comments on Twitter about David Attenborough. According to the article, Taylor had been angered by a statement by Attenborough on the need to curb the growth of the world’s population. He tweeted ‘I do wish this silly old fart would practice what he preached and take a one-way trip to Switzerland’. The leader of the Labour Party in Ealing Council, Julian Bell, condemned Taylor’s comments, and demanded that he should either apologise or resign. Taylor was also criticised by Scott Freeman, from the anti-bullying charity, Cybersmile, for setting a bad example and encouraging cyberbullying.

In reply to these criticisms, Taylor said in an email “My tweet reflected my frustration with Attenborough repeatedly using his ‘national treasure’ status to promote a set of views that see people as being a problem. His prescriptions seem always to apply to other people.

“My view of the world is that we have to work out how to make sure that the 9 billion people who will populate the world by 2050 all have a good life. They all have hopes and dreams and don’t need to be told what to do by Attenborough.”

The article concludes with the simple statement that ‘Sir David said in a radio interview this morning that he recognised that population controls were a controversial area and emphasised that he felt more strongly towards a human baby than any animal.

However, it is important to have a debate over what we do about the rising pressures on natural resources, he said.’

The full article can be read at:
http://news.uk.msn.com/uk/david-attenborough-should-kill-himself-says-tory-councillor.

Right-Wing Opposition to Green Politics

Now the Right does not like Green politics. In America Green politics are criticised as a Left-wing strategy for increasing taxation, regulation and enforcing income redistribution. The last means Republicans don’t like it because the Greens want to take money from the rich and give to the poor. Conservatives in America and Britain believe that Big Business has an absolute right to exploit, pollute and destroy the environment and its flora and fauna. In response to pressure from Green politicians and environmental groups, they have set up astroturf organisations, like ‘Wise Use’ to counter such criticism and present Conservatives as advocating instead a responsible approach to the environment in line with a policy promoting the proper exploitation of the natural world.

Attenborough: UN Should Not Give Food to Famine Victims

Now the suggestion that Attenborough should go and end his life in a Dignitas clinic is extreme, and it does set a bad example when so many children have ended their lives through abuse on the Internet. Taylor’s comment is not, however, quite as bad when you read what Attenborough himself had said. This is truly monstrous. According to the Daily Telegraph, Attenborough told their interviewer about his fears about overpopulation and appeared to suggest that the starving of the developing world should be left to die. The great broadcaster apparently said:
“What are all these famines in Ethiopia, what are they about? They’re about too many people for too little land. That’s what it’s about. And we are blinding ourselves. We say, get the United Nations to send them bags of flour. That’s barmy.” According to the article, he stated that overpopulation was a problem, and that if we didn’t tackle it, nature itself would, as it had done for a long time in the past. He also believed that the major obstacles to managing the world’s population was the attitude that having children was a human right, and the Roman Catholic Church’s prohibition on contraception. He also acknowledge that his statement about Ethiopia and its starving could be ‘misconstrued as an attack on poor people as the issues of major concern were in Africa and Asia.

The article about his comments can be read here:http://news.uk.msn.com/articles?cp-documentid=257478670.

India Starvation Photo

The victims of a famine in India. David Attenborough doesn’t want the UN to give food to people like these.

Attenborough and Atheist Attacks on Religion and Christianity

Now Attenborough has shown himself with these comments to be monstrously ignorant and callously indifferent to global suffering. I have been extremely unimpressed with Attenborough for several years now, ever since he added his voice to that of Richard Dawkins in sneering at religion. That’s a different issue, but I found his remarks then ignorant and uninformed, as countless people of faith, and particularly Western Christians, did contribute to the rise of science. For a more complete discussion of how Christianity laid the basis for modern science, see R. Hooykaas, Religion and the Rise of Modern Science (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press 1971). I was also not impressed by his attitude, which suggested that Darwin’s Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection had somehow disproven the existence of God. I’ve blogged several times on this issue. For a proper discussion of this issue, see Own Chadwick, ‘Evolution and the Churches’ in G.A. Russell, ed., Science and Religious Belief: A Selection of Recent Historical Studies (London: The Open University/ University of London Press 1973)282-93. These are separate issues. Attenborough’s comments here also seem woefully ignorant and misinformed.

Traditional Attitudes towards Large Families in Western History and Modern Developing World

Let’s take his comment about the Roman Catholic church’s stance on contraception being part of the problem. In actual fact, many cultures and religion advocate large families. In tradition Moroccan society, a family with fewer than 12 children was described as ‘unfinished’. The pagan religions in Africa also lay great stress of large families and the fertility of their flocks and herds. As for attitudes to the environment and animal life, Nigel Barley in his account of his fieldwork amongst the Dowayo people of Cameroun, The Innocent Anthropologist, noted that they had very little knowledge of the animal life around them, and were quite prepared to exterminate any creature they disliked, such as lions. He states that family planning is so unpopular that there is a joke that the only thing that will not be opened and misappropriated when you send it through the post in West Africa is a packed of condoms.

He also does not seem to know, or understand the reasons why the developing world, and indeed Britain and the West before the twentieth century, had large families. These were massive infant mortality rates and to provide support for the parents in their old age. Barley himself says that one of the most moving demonstrations of the tragically high rate of death in childhood in Africa is a question in the Nigerian census form. This asks you how many children you have. After this is the question ‘How many are still living?’ In traditional societies, such as Britain before the establishment of the welfare state in 1948, there is no or little state provision for citizens in their old age. People therefore have large families in order to support them when they have become too elderly to manage for themselves.

Pakistan Contraception Photo

Women in Pakistan receiving contraceptive advice.

Fall in Birth Rate throughout the World

Attenborough also seems to have ignored the fact that globally, birth rates are dropping. Governments throughout the developing world have launched campaigns to control their populations through family planning and contraception. This includes the developing world. The French anthropologist, Richard Tod, has pointed to the fact that, although families in the developing world may be much larger than in the West, there has been a dramatic decline. In some Middle Eastern nations, such as those of the former Soviet central Asian republics like Azerbaijan, for example, the birth rates are comparable to those of Western Europe. In Britain and much of the developed world, including Germany, Italy, Russia and Japan, the birth rate is actually below replacement levels. The population in Britain has grown only because of immigration. The Japanese are so concerned about their demographic decline that Japanese newspapers have run stories predicting that in a thousand years’ time, the Japanese people will be extinct. One of the reasons why the Land of the Rising Sun is putting so much resources into developing robots is to create a suitable workforce. The Japanese are unwilling to permit mass immigration to provide the country with labour, and so have turned to cybernetics and robots instead. In fact the global decline in the birth rate has alarmed some demographers, anthropologists and economic planner. In mid-1990s New Scientist carried an interview with a scientist, who believed that population growth had peaked or was peaking. He believed that by the middle of this century there would be a population crash. The result would be increased strain on the welfare state due to the cost of caring for an aging population. The economy would also contract, and countries would have to compete with each other to attract migrants to join their nations’ workforce. He also believed that the high mortality rates in some African nations coupled with a low birth rate would cause their populations to shrink. He believed that the first nation that could be so affected would be Ethiopia. We are here looking very much at the kind of dystopian future predicted by the film Children of Men. This portrayed a Fascistic future Britain, in which no children had been born for 18 years.

Racist Fears over Campaigns to Limit Population

Attenborough’s comments here also threaten to increase racial tension and spur on the rise of the racist Right. IN Britain and America the Fascist and Nationalist Right see demands by the ruling elite that we should limit the size of our families as part of a policy of racial extermination directed at the indigenous White population. They believe that there is a deliberate policy by the liberal elite of wiping out Whites, and replacing them with Black and Asian immigrants. Attenborough’s comments will be seen by them as another example of this policy. Black Nationalists may also see it as a racially motivated attempt to exterminate them. Private Eye a few years ago reported the outrageous comments by a Black leader in South Africa, telling people not to use contraception to stop AIDS as this was really another racist attempts by Whites to limit the Black population. Such statements have some verisimilitude due to the fact that BOSS, the South African secret service, had at one time been active trying to develop diseases that would specifically target Blacks. Attenborough might fear that his comments may be ‘misconstrued’ as an attack on the poor of Africa and Asia, but given the highly mixed legacy of European colonial administrations, one cannot reasonable blame them for doing so. About ten or so years ago a history book came out. It was entitled ‘Third World Holocausts’, or something like that. I can’t remember the exact title. I do, however, remember what it was about. The book described the way European colonialists had committed terrible atrocities in their African and Asian possessions from the political and economic ideologies of the time. In the 19th century, for example, there was a terrible famine in one of the Indian states. I believe it was Bengal, during which millions starved to death. The Raj refused to import and distribute food to its victims from the belief that this would undermine the principle of free trade they were trying to adopt across the Empire.

Attenborough’s Comments and the Irish Potato Famine

Irish Famine Photo

Irish victims of the Potato Famine queuing to emigrate.

Much closer to home, Attenborough’s comments recall the attitude of British politicians and civil servants during the Irish Potato Famine. The head of the British civil service, Trevelyan, stated that the victims of the famine should be left to starve. It was, he stated, their fault due to their improvident and irresponsible lifestyle. The result was the legacy of bitterness and hatred which further fuelled Nationalist demands for home rule under Charles Stuart Parnell and violent revolution from the Fenian Brotherhood and later Irish Republican groups. Attitudes like Attenborough’s have partly contributed, however, remotely, to the rise and persistence of terror groups like the IRA.

Fascism and the Green Movement

Attenborough’s views are also similar to some other, viciously misanthropic, extreme Right-wing views found in certain sections of the Green movement. In the 1990s one of the anarchist groups became alarmed at the Fascist tendencies then entering the Green movement. Murray Bookchin, a leading anarchist intellectual, who advocates Green, post-scarcity Anarchism, walked out of a Green conference in Germany when one of the speakers, a former East German dissident, declared that they needed a ‘Green Adolf’. Private Eye, in ‘Ape Sh*t’, its May 1988 review of Brian Masters biography of John Aspinall, The Passion of John Aspinall, remarked on the thuggishness of Aspinall’s political opinions. Aspinall has stated that humans are ‘vermin’, and stated that he favours a policy of ‘beneficial genocide’. He believes Britain’s population should be reduced from 54 to 18 million. He also has explicitly Fascist political sympathies. He supports ‘a right-wing counter-revolution, Franco-esque in spirit and determination’. See Francis Wheen, ed., Lord Gnome’s Literary Companion (London: Verso 1994) 226-7 (p,. 226).

Now I don’t think Attenborough is a Nazi. He has not advocated a Fascist dictatorship nor has any racist views. Indeed, quite the opposite. His programme, Man Alive, in the 1970s brought anthropology to British television and he was always polite and courteous to the primal peoples he spoke to and whose lives he explored. It’s a pity that this respect has not been extended to their children or grandchildren forty years later. Attenborough himself has been responsible for some of the very best of British television. He has delighted and educated the British public with his programmes on animals and wildlife for about sixty years. The BBC’s Natural History Unit in Bristol has brought from fame and honour to the city for its achievements in wildlife broadcasting. When he was controller of BBC 2, he was responsible for bringing some of the most innovative ideas to British television. Who now remembers Brass Tacks, a programme which allowed members of the public to talk about their political views? Unfortunately, Attenborough’s views in this instance less resemble those of an enlightened, genuinely liberal educator, but that of a loudmouthed bigot.

Attenborough’s Comments and the Macc Lads

Attenborough’s view in this instance resemble those of the Macc Lads. This was a northern punk band, which specialised in deliberately offensive lyrics. These could reasonably be described as misogynist, homophobic, and racist. I don’t know if the band themselves actually were. One of their songs describes them listening to the Band Aid global fundraising concert to help the famine victims of Ethiopia and Africa. The song ends with the lines

‘But I didn’t send money
t’ starving n*ggers
Because I’m a fookin’ Nazi’

I’ve been told that the Macc Lad’s songs were not meant seriously. Sadly, Attenborough here appears to have joined them, and this time meant it.

I would hope that Attenborough reconsiders his position in this matter, and issue the apology for his comments that they demand.

Overpopulation in SF Cinema

Apart from this, problems of a vastly overpopulated world has been portrayed in two films, Soylent Green, starring Charlton Heston, and ZPG (Zero Population Growth), starring Oliver Reed. The future in ZPG is one in which, due to population pressure, even domestic animals, such as dogs and cats, have become extinct. The plot involves the attempts by the hero and his wife to preserve their child after the government outlaws having children.

Here’s the trailer for Soylent Green.

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And this is the movie trailer for ZPG.

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