Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Jama’at-i Islami – The Pakistani Islamic Party Pushing for Theocracy

November 25, 2020

Pakistan was founded as an explicitly Muslim country. It’s a democracy, but there is a section of its parliament, if I remember correctly, that’s made up of Muslim clergy, who scrutinise legislation passed by the lower house to make sure it accords with Islamic law. Since the 1970s and the regime of the dictator, Zia al-Haqq, Islam has become increasingly powerful in Pakistani politics. I believe the current president, Imran Khan, is the leader of an Islamic party. Pakistan was one of the nations that experienced protests against France over the Charlie Hebdo cartoons and there have been official denunciations of the cartoons and President Macron’s attempts to combat Muslim radicalism.

The force behind the growth of political Islam in Pakistan appears to be the Jama’at-i Islami, whose name translates as ‘The Islamic Society.’ The article about them in The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions runs as follows

A highly disciplined and well-organised Muslim political party, founded in 1941 by Abul al-A’la Mawdudi. it aims at establishing an observant Islamic state in Pakistan. The Jam’at’s political platform offers an alternative to teh secularists and modernists, and in this lies its appeal (especially since 1977). The Ja’amat advocates that Pakistan should be a theocratic state, ruled by a single man whose tenure of office and power are limited only by his faithfulness to Islam. The ruler should be assisted by a shura (advisory council), with no political parties and no provision for an opposition. General Zia al-Haqq, the military leader after the overthrow of Z. Bhutto (1977)., used the Jama’at as a political prop for his ‘back to Islam’ campaign. The Jama’at has influence among the military, the middle classes, and the college and university students. It publishes a monthly magazine, Tarjuman al-Quran, in Lahore that has a high circulation. On the international level, the Jama’at was on good terms with Imam Khumayni and the oil rich Arab states; the Saudis have supported the movement since the early 1970s. (p. 489).

This looks like an attempt to create a kind of caliphate, and the Dictionary notes that there is considerable support for its return in Pakistan. I also wonder about the movement’s influence in British Islam, as there has been a problem with fire-breathing radicals immigrating to Britain to supply the shortage of imams for British mosques. Which is why moderate Muslims in this country have demanded government assistance in training Muslim Brits, who have grown up in our ostensibly democratic culture, as imams and community leaders.

I’m not a secularist, and believe that people of faith have a right to have their voices heard in politics and parliament, but this is just a movement for religious tyranny. In Pakistan as it is there’s persecution, including violence and pogroms against religious minorities. We’ve seen Christians murdered and imprisoned following accusations of blasphemy. There have also been riots and murders of the Ahmadiyya. Apparently even pious Muslims have been murdered because of comments they have made, which have been interpreted by others as blasphemous. There are 200 people on Pakistan’s Death Row accused of blasphemy. Many of these accusations are spurious, cynically levelled because of other disputes between the parties concerned. If a theocracy was established in Pakistan, it would only cause more oppression and violence.

I also believe that it wouldn’t be good for Islam either. Atheist sites on the web have reported that there has been a massive increase in atheism in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia and Iran. Six years or so ago Saudi news reported that a large number of Qurans had been found thrown into a sewer. A few days ago Iranian media reported that this had also happened in their country. A poll conducted of 50,000 Iranians found that 38 per cent of the population is either atheist or has no religion. If this is true, then it’s probably the result of people becoming fed up of the repression they are experiencing from their theocratic governments. The religious violence of the Islamist extremists, al-Qaeda and Daesh, are undoubtedly another factor. A few years ago I read a book by a French anthropologist, who came to the conclusion that the Islamist movements were the response of Muslim societies as the experienced the transition to modernity. This was comparable to the way radical, militant Christian movements had appeared in Europe in the 17th century, such as those in the British Civil War. Now Islam was experiencing the same.

My guess is that if the Jama’at ever succeeded in creating a theocracy in Pakistan, it would be massively unstable as the various sects excluded from the regime’s view of what was properly Islamic were oppressed and rebelled. I don’t believe that the Jama’at and other extreme, theocratic movements have anything to offer Muslims or anyone else anything except more oppression and violence.

The Political Background to the Balfour Declaration and the Harm Done by Western Interference in Palestine

November 23, 2020

2017 was the centenary of the Balfour Declaration. This was the statement of the British government during the First World War committing Britain to supporting a Jewish state in Palestine. There’s a very interesting article on it in Bowker’s Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, which makes it very clear that our support for Zionism was hardly disinterested. It states very clearly that, enacted as it was by politicos who were ignorant of religion, it has resulted in immense harm and conflict. The article says that it was the

British declaration of sympathy with Zionism. It was made in a letter of 2 November 1917, from the British Foreign Secretary (i.e., Balfour) to Lord Rothschild: ‘His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people ….’It was qualified by a clause ‘that nothing should be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine’. But at the time, the British supported the idea of a Jewish commonwealth in Palestine under British protection in order to detach Palestine from the Ottoman Empire, and as a means of encouraging Russian Jews to pressurize the new Bolshevik government to stay in the First World War. According to Field-Marshal Smuts (in 1947), it had been passed ‘to rally Jewry on a worldwide scale to the Allied Cause’. The declaration was endorsed in 1920 by the allies at the San Remo Conference. It was, however, in apparent conflict with the McMahon correspondence, which made commitments to the Arabs. Sharif Hussein and ibn Sa’ud were ‘courted in order to secure their help against the Ottoman Turks. Thus are the seeds of conflict sown by politicians who (as almost always in post-Enlightenment countries) neither understand nor care about religions. (p. 121).

We had absolutely no business making that commitment. The British Jewish establishment, including the only Jewish member of the cabinet at the time, didn’t want it. They wanted British Jews to be accepted as patriotic fellow Brits, and felt that the establishment of a Jewish state would lead to them being accused of disloyalty. The British government may have envisaged the founding of a small canton, rather than the populous country that emerged. It has also been claimed that the British government was anti-Semitic in issuing the declaration, because they followed the anti-Semitic view that Jews had considerable power in Soviet Russia. It has been remarked that it’s one of the few times anti-Semitism has worked to the Jews’ advantage.

Tony Greenstein has written a long piece about how we courted the Saudis and other Arab leaders to get their support for Israel against the interests of the Palestinians. It’s a convoluted, violent, and sordid tale. It’s also been argued that Israel was founded and supported with the aid of Britain and America as a kind of western colony and centre for European and American imperial influence in the Middle East.

The West has frequently interfered in the affairs of the Middle East not for the benefit of its people, but for the West’s own geopolitical and commercial interests. These have been very much against those of the region’s indigenous peoples. The Iraq invasion, for example, wasn’t about liberating the Iraqi people from a murderous tyrant, but about grabbing its oil and state industries. Ditto the invasion of Afghanistan. We never went in to punish al-Qaeda for the horrendous attacks of 9/11 nor the Taliban’s oppression of the Afghan people. It was just another attempt to secure American oil interests in the region against those of Russia and Iran. And the article on ‘Anti-Semitism’ in the same Dictionary states that, in contrast to the hopes of the Zionists, ‘as a result of the Arab-Israeli conflict, Muslim anti-Semitism is today even more virulent than its Christian counterpart’. (p.77).

It could therefore be said that Zionism, or at least the persecution of its indigenous Arab population by the Israeli state, far from combating anti-Semitism has simply spread it still further.

JLM-Backed Candidate for Young Labour Chair Withdraws After Commenting on ‘Good-looking’ Nazis

November 21, 2020

Oh the irony! After years of twisting comments by their opponents to smear them as anti-Semites and Fascists, some of the folks with the JLM are getting a taste of their own medicine. According to an article in the Morning Star, Eluned Anderson, one of the candidates for the Young Labour leadership, was the regional ambassador for the Holocaust Education Trust and had the backing of the Jewish Labour Movement. However, she had to withdraw after she called two of the most notorious Nazis ‘incredibly good-looking’. This was on the Facebook page of the Young Free Speech Society, where another member had asked “Have you ever met/seen/know [sic] of a physically attractive Nazi?” She replied “Look, I know they were evil bastards, but Eichmann and a young Ribbentrop were incredibly good looking.” This naturally upset many people, most obviously Jews, whose family were murdered by the Nazis. Anderson apologised, and said there was no call for her comment. It was stupid, she said, and she was stupid to make it.

What makes it ironic is that she was one of the people, who had posted on social media that Jeremy Corbyn was an anti-Semite, and Rebecca Long-Bailey was a racist. David Rosenberg, of the Jewish Socialist Group, therefore remarked that her tweet showed how cynical that was.

https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/b/young-labour-chair-candidate-withdraws-over-comments-about-incredibly-good-looking

Hoisted by her own petard! Ho-ho! But unfortunately, she did have a point. The Aristotelian view, that one’s physical appearance reflects the state of one’s soul, so that those with beautiful souls are themselves physically beautiful, isn’t true. You don’t want to say anything remotely complimentary about these monsters, but it is a fact that some of the most horrific tyrants in history were good-looking people, and used their attractiveness in their drive to power. In his paranoia and megalomania, Stalin murdered 30 million Soviet citizens. But he had been good-looking chap in his youth, and had reputation as a seducer. As well as fancying himself, Hitler also had legions of female followers and did his level best to exploit this. This photograph of the Nazi leader is in the 1936 English translation of Mein Kampf, ‘My Struggle’, published by Paternoster Press. It clearly shows Hitler trying to pose as best he can as some physically attractive, as well as the dynamic, charismatic leader.

Years ago there was an item on Radio 4 which included a woman, who had been a member of the resistance against Hitler in either Germany and Austria. She stated that the girls in her class all found Hitler attractive with the very definite exception of herself. Historians have noted that Hitler had many aristocratic women admirers, and he deliberately reserved the first two rows at Nazi meetings and rallies for women because they would take the rest of the crowd with them when swayed by his oratory.

And it wasn’t just Hitler. Mussolini was, like Stalin, also a thug and a seducer. But he also had legions of female fans. Christopher Duggan discusses the mass of mail the Duce received from women besotted with him in his book Fascist Voices: An Intimate History of Mussolini’s Italy (London: Vintage Books 2013). The British Fascist leader, Oswald Mosley, was a promiscuous adulterer who had a string of affairs with the wives of various other aristos.

Now many of the Nazis were indeed physically repulsive. Not just Hitler, but also Goebbels, Goering and Himmler, but the sad fact is, not every murderous thug looks it. If all Nazis and Fascists were ugly bruisers with beer guts, then it would be easy to see them for what they were and fight against them. But they’re not. Monsters can be good-looking people, just as people who aren’t physically attractive can be noble, decent and good. This is why it’s important to look beyond stereotypes and superficial impressions, in order to see the real character beneath.

And it is important to remember, if just as a warning, that some people did think Hitler and the rest sexy, and so supported them. Which is why people should never judge politicos by their looks.

A 17th Century Anglican Plea for Religious Toleration

November 21, 2020

Jeremy Taylor was the chaplain of King Charles I and the rector of Uppingham. After the royalists were defeated in the British Civil War, he fled to Carmarthenshire in Wales, where he wrote his book arguing for religious freedom, The Liberty of Prophesying. After the Restoration he was appointed bishop of Down and Connor. He was also the author of a number of devotional works and sermons, but it’s his defence of religious freedom that I find particularly interesting. He said ‘they were excellent words which St. Ambrose said in attestation of this great truth, that the civil authority has no right to interdict the liberty of speaking, nor the sacerdotal to prevent speaking what you think.’

See the article on him in John Bowker, ed., The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions (Oxford: OUP 1997) 958.

I’m very much aware that throughout Christian history there has been very little freedom of religion and conscience, and that the Anglican church’s toleration of Dissenters was very limited until the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts in the 19th century. Until then Protestant nonconformists were excluded from the grammar schools, universities and government, and could only hold their services five miles away from towns. Atheism and Roman Catholicism were illegal again until the 19th century. But it was clergymen like Taylor and his fellows in the Nonconformist churches, like the Quaker William Penn and a number of Presbyterian ministers, who laid the foundations for the British and American tradition of religious tolerance. The most famous of the works calling for religious freedom from this period is Milton’s Areopagitica.

Despite the passage of the centuries, their message is still acutely relevant. Many countries still don’t have freedom of conscious or religious liberty in the 20th century. The Communists attempted to destroy religious and viciously persecuted people of faith, while the Nazis, apart from trying to exterminate the Jews, also sent their other religious opponents, especially Jehovah’s Witnesses, to the concentration camps.

We have recently seen a French teacher murdered for showing schoolchildren the Charlie Hebdo cartoons of Mohammed in a class about free speech, and mass demonstrations against France for permitting the cartoons in Muslim countries. To many people, their calls for legislation against such disrespect seem like demands for Muslim blasphemy laws. Christians and members of other religious minorities, such as Shia and Ahmadiyya Muslims have been murdered in Pakistan as well as orthodox Sunni Muslims because of supposed blasphemy. This is banned in Pakistan and punishable with the death penalty. The only permitted religion in Saudi Arabia is Wahhabi Islam, and a few years ago the Saudis declared that atheism was terrorism. This was just atheist unbelief itself, regardless of any act of genuine terror, such as killing people or destroying property.

I’m sympathetic to Muslims regarding the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. I don’t like the way Christianity and Christ are mocked by certain sections of the media and the entertainment business either. I’ve also heard the argument that Charlie Hebdo is a nasty rag. It’s not left-wing, but right, apparently, and its targets also include Roman Catholicism and immigrants.

But there’s a greater principle of free speech and the sanctity of human life here. All religions and ideologies, including atheism, should be up for debate, with people free to choose as they will. They’re fundamental human rights, the violation of which either leads or is part of tyranny.

Gotz von Berlichingen’s Account of How He Got His Iron Hand

November 16, 2020

One of the landmarks in the history of artificial limbs was the iron hand specially made for the German knight, Gotz von Berlichingen after his own was shot off by the Nuremberg forces at a battle at Landshut in Germany. Berlichingen was in born in 1480 in Wurttemberg, where his family were knights. G.G. Coulton includes his description of how got had his real hand shot off and an iron one made so that he could continue his military career, in his collection of medieval texts, Life in the Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1967), vol. 2: 135-7 along with a number of other stories from the old soldier’s memoirs. Coulton states that Berlingen has been described as the last of the robber barons. From 1541 onwards he fought for the German emperor Charles V in a series of wars, first against the invading Turks, and then against the French. The great German poet and playwright Goethe wrote a play based on his life, and Coulton claim that the romanticism of his memoirs influenced Sir Walter Scott. Von Berlichingen’s account of the loss of his hand is as follows:

I will now tell how I came by my wound. You must know that on Sunday, as I have related above, while we were skirmishing again under the walls of Landshut, the Nurnbergers turned their cannon upon friend and foe alike. The enemy had taken up a strong position on a dyke, and I would fain have broken a spear with one of them. But as I held myself still and watched for an occasion, suddenly the Nurnbergers turned their cannon upon us; and one of them, with a field-culverin, shot in two my sword-hilt, so that the one half entered right into my arm, and three armplates therewithall; the sword-hilt lay so deep in the armplates that it could not be seen. I marvel even now that I was not thrown from my horse; the armplates were still whole; only the corners, which had been bent by the blow, stood forth a little. The other half of the sword-hilt and the blade were bent, but not severed; and these, I believe, tore off my hand betwixt the gauntlet and the arm-piece: my arm was shattered behind and before. When I marked now that my hand hung loose by the skin, and that my spear lay under my horse’s feet, I made as though nothing had befallen me, turned my horse softly round, and, in spite of all, came back to my own folk without let or hindrance from the enemy. Just then there came up an old spearman, who would have ridden into the thick of the fray: him I called to me, and besought that he would stay at my side, since he must see how matters stood with me. So he tarried with me at my prayer, and then he must needs fetch me the leech. When I came to Landshut, my old comrades told me who had fought in the battle against me, and in what wise I had been shot, and that a nobleman, Fabian von Wallsdorf, a Voiglander, and been struck and slain by the same shot, not withstanding that it had struck me first; so that in this wise both friend and foe took harm alike. This nobleman was a fair and goodly gentleman, such that among many thousands you would scarce find any goodlier to behold…

From that time forth, from the Sunday after St. Vitus’ day until Ash Wednesday, I lay in Landshut; and what pain at that time I suffered, each may well imagine for himself. It was my prayer to God that, if I stood indeed in His divine grace, then in His own name He might bear me away to Himself, since I was spoiled now for a fighting man. Yet then I bethought me of a man at arms of whom I had heard my father and old old troopers tell, whose name was Kochli, and who also had but one hand, notwithstanding which he could do his devoir against his foe in the field as well as any other man. Then I prayed to God, and considered within myself that, had I even twelve hands, and His grace and help stood not by me, then were all in vain. Therefore, thought I, might I but get me some little help by means of an iron hand, then I would prove myself as doughty in the field, in spite of all, as any other maimed man. I have ridden since then with Kochli’s sons, who were trusty horsemen and well renowned. And in all truth I can think and say nought else, – now that for wellnigh sixty years I have waged wars, feuds and quarrels with but one fist,-but that God Almighty, Everlasting and Merciful, hath stood wondrously and most graciously by me and at my side in all my wars, feuds, perils

Coulton’s book also has an illustration of the iron hand, based on a engraving preserved by the family.

As you can see, it seems to be an adaptation of the gauntlet and armour for the arm. I think the great 16th century French doctor and surgeon, Pare, created similar artificial limbs, and it shows that medieval science and medicine were rather more advanced than the usual received view of superstitious ignorance. Berlichingen and his hand seem to me to be a great model for a Fantasy or SF character, and I do wonder if Michael Moorcock used him as the basis for the artificial hand wielded by his hero, Corum, who is, like far more famous Elric of Melnibone, another incarnation of his Eternal Champion.

Radio 4 Next Week Serialises Biography of Black Haitian Revolutionary Toussaint L’Ouverture

November 11, 2020

Radio 4’s ‘Book of the Week’ next week, according to the Radio Times for 14-20 November 2020, is Sudhir Hazareesingh’s Black Spartacus, a biography of Toussaint L’Ouverture. L’Ouverture was the leader of slave rebellion in what is now Haiti in the late 19th century, which threw out the French and turned their former colony into the first Black republic. The piece about the serial on page 130 of the Radio Times by David McGillivray runs

Book of the Week: Black Spartacus – the Epic Life of Toussaint Louverture

In 1791 enslaved Africans on the island now known as Haiti rose up against their French masters in the world’s first and only successful slave revolution. Their leader was the brilliant general and diplomat Toussaint Louverture, subject of a new book by Mauritian-born lecturer in politics at Balliol College Oxford, Sudhir Hazareesingh. Using correspondence and military reports in French archives, Hazareesingh brings startling new insights into the life of the man largely responsible for the establishment of the first black republic. Louverture, a real-life black superhero, fought not only the French but also the British and Spanish. “It was the greatest revolution of all time,” the author says. The serialisation is read by Adrian Lester.

The programme’s on at 9.45 each day, Monday to Friday. The blurbs for the days’ instalments are as follows:

Monday

1/5 Adrian Lester reads from Sudhir Hazareesingh’s biography of the former slave who headed an insurrection that led to the Haitian Revolution. The first instalment looks at Toussaint’s early life, his progress to coachman and his education by the Jesuits. Abridged by Libby Spurrier.

Tuesday

2/5 Following the Saint Domingue uprising, Toussaint show himself to be both a focused military leader and a man of compassion.

Wednesday

3/5 In 1798, Napoleon sends an agent, Gabriel de Heouville, to reduce Tousaint’s power in Saint-Domingue.

Thursday

4/5 Toussaint’s sweeping reforms of both public and private activity help to bring about huge rises in productivity and exports, but his authoritative leadership style inspires rebellions, led by his nephew Moyse.

Friday

5/5 Napoleon Bonaparte and Toussaint Louverture engage in a fierce battle of both wit and force over Saint-Dominge. After three months of fighting, Toussaint seeks to negotiate a truce, but is arrested and embarks on his first sea voyage – one way – to France.

Louverture was clearly a brilliant and gifted leader. His revolution was an inspiration to slaves across the Caribbean, and the sought to emulate his success in their own revolts. These also included the British West Indies, alarming the colonial authorities there and the government at home.

However, there was also a serious negative aspect to the revolution. Major Moody used the condition of the former slaves in Haiti after the revolt as part of the argument in his parliamentary report in the 1820s that slaves in the British Caribbean weren’t ready for their freedom. After the revolution, the government had been faced with a financial crisis due to possible loss of their export commodity, sugar. The country was therefore divided up between Louverture’s generals, and the former slaves were forbidden to leave their plantations. Each plantation was given a quote of sugar to produce. If they failed to produce this quota, then the generals and army moved in and started executing those workers. I believe they were burned to death. I don’t know whether this came after Louverture was removed from power, although it might have been during his rule when the book says that rebellions broke out against his ‘authoritative’ leadership.

Moody’s conclusion surprised contemporaries, because he certainly wasn’t personally racist. He lived in Somerset with a Black wife. His report is interesting because it also includes letters from a former American slave, who had been freed by his mistress in Louisiana. The former slave had travelled to Haiti, and obviously felt a strong attachment to his former mistress by writing letters to her about his new adopted country and its conditions.

The report also discusses issues that are still, unfortunately, very relevant today. He felt describes the greater numbers of Blacks than Whites in American prisons, and concluded that there is so much prejudice against Blacks in America and Britain that the only way they can possible succeed as equals would be if they had their own country. This is the view of Black radical groups like the Nation of Islam. Let’s work together to make sure it’s mistaken.

I haven’t come across this particular book before, but there have been other works recently published about the Black revolutionaries of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. One of these is The Black Jacobins. Louverture was inspired by the French Revolution, which attempted to end slavery as well as liberating the White serfs from their aristocratic masters. I don’t think the French were able to restore serfdom after the revolution’s failure, but they were successful in restoring Black slavery. This led to the growth of French anti-slavery movements like Amis des Noirs.

French Muslims Form Anti-Terrorist Group to Protect Cathedral

November 8, 2020

After the recent Islamist terrorist outrages following the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, here’s a much more positive piece of news. Yesterday’s I, for Saturday, 7th November 2020, carried a piece by Angela Charlton, ‘After Nice attack, Muslim group protects cathedral’ reporting that a French Muslim was so angered by the terrorist attacks in Nice that he got together with other local Muslims to protect his town’s cathedral. The article runs

As a French-born Muslim, Elyazid Benferhat’s stomach turned when he heard about a deadly Islamic extremist attack in Nice. Then he decided to act.

Mr Benferhat and a friend gathered a group of young Muslim men to stand guard outside their town’s cathedral, to protect it and show solidarity with Catholic churchgoers. Parishioners in the town of Lodeve were deeply touched. The parish priest said their gesture gave him hope in time of turmoil.

Mr Benfarhat said: “I am also Muslim and we have seen Islamophobia in tis country, and terrorism.” He said he always has a pit in his stomach because every time Islamic extremist violence strikes, French Muslims face new stigmatisation, even though “we had nothing to do with it”.

After the Nice attack, he said “we needed to do something beyond paying homage to the victims. We said we will protect churches ourselves.” They recruited volunteers, and after co-ordinating with police, guarded the church.

This reminds me of the ‘Don’t Touch My Mate’ protests in France a few years ago. This is the English translation of the slogan for a movement a few years ago in which French White youths marched and demonstrated in solidarity with Blacks and Muslims. It was kind of like the White marchers and protesters in the Black Lives Matter demonstrations just a month or so ago. Now Benferhat and his friends are doing something similar for the Catholics in their part of la Patrie.

I’ve also heard of Muslims protecting churches and their worshippers in other countries as well. Such as Israel. A few years ago Channel 4 screened a documentary in which a Black British priest went off examining other religion’s attitude to Christ and Christianity. He talked to an archaeologist excavating a Pagan Roman temple to Mithras, Muslims, and Hindus before going to Israel. Most of those he talked to had positive attitudes to Christ. The archaeologist talked about the supposed similarities between Mithraism and Christianity. The Hindus he met also worshipped Christalongside the traditional Indian deities, showing the syncretistic tendencies within Hinduism. And Jesus is revered by Muslims as the prophet Isa. It was when he went to Israel that he encountered hostility.

The programme showed a mob of Orthodox Jews marching on a church, which I understand was being used by a group of Messianic Jews. Messianic Judaism is a form of Jewish Christianity, in which Christ is worshipped as the Jews’ Messiah but the Mosaic and rabbinical laws are still observed. If I understand it properly, it seems to be rather like the form of Christianity practised by the gospel-writer, St. Matthew. His gospel is traditionally considered the Jewish gospel partly because, according to tradition, he was himself Jewish. But the gospel also shows a particular concern for Christ as the Jews’ saviour and assimilates the Lord’s teachings to that of the ancient rabbis. According to the historian of the early church, Eusebius, Jewish Christians also had their own bishop, Hegesippus.

The Israeli mob were prevented from causing trouble by the church’s Muslim doorman, and apparently that’s not uncommon. As well as attacks on mosques and Muslim Palestinian homes and property, Israeli fanatics and extremists have also attacked Christian churches and monasteries. These have often been protected by their Muslim staff. It’s understandable that, after centuries of Christian persecution, some Israelis have a hatred of Christianity. The inveterate Jewish opponent of all forms of racism, including Zionism, Tony Greenstein, on his blog quoted the comments of one extremist Israeli rabbi. This vile piece of work declared that Christian churches in Israel should be demolished as temples of polytheism and idolatry. The man’s clearly a member of fringe minority, but it is a minority that is closely allied with Benjamin Netanyahu and his ruling Likud coalition.

But you won’t hear about such bigotry from western Zionist groups, such as Pastor Ted Hagee’s Christians United for Israel. In terms of membership, this is the largest Zionist organisation in America. Many young Jewish Americans are turning away from Israel because, along with liberal Israelis, they despise the Israeli state and the Likudniks for its brutality and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. It’s why the Israel lobby is apparently concentrating its efforts on winning the support of fundamentalist evangelical Christians rather than Jews.

I applaud Monsieur Benfarhat and his fellows, just as I do everyone whatever their religion or lack thereof, who is attempting to reach across ethnic and religious divides to bring people together against the forces of hate, bigotry and violence. May then win against all the Fascists, butchers and terrorists.

Trump’s Accusations of Electoral Fraud and the Elections that Put the Fascists in Government

November 6, 2020

Yesterday Trump started flinging around accusations of voter fraud. He had already won, he declared, and so counting should stop. He also claimed that there was massive electoral fraud in states like Nevada and Georgia, where he’d lost to Biden, and stated that he was taking legal action against those states over the result and demanding recounts. These accusations seem to be utterly false, and his proposed lawsuit against Georgia has already been thrown out by the supreme court or whatever. There’s absolutely no basis to these accusations. They’re just an attempt by the megalomaniac man-baby to hang on to power any way he can. But it’s provoked demonstrations by his supporters up and down America, who are demanding that the authorities do exactly as he says.

This is all absolutely astonishing. It amazes me, because it’s less like the actions of an accomplished politician so much as a petulant child demanding that they’ve won a game and that everyone should therefore give in to them. Because. But it’s also a logical progression of Republican attitudes and policies towards voting. I put up a post a week or so ago reproducing and commenting on an article in the I, which reported that in some southern states like Mississippi Blacks and other sections of the population were being prevented from exercising their democratic rights by local legislation. Some of this dated from the era of Jim Crow, and was deliberately intended to limit the Black vote. A few years ago, The Young Turks put up a video attacking legislation the Republicans had put in place. This was ostensibly to combat voter fraud, but there was no real need for it. It’s real purpose was to exclude the poor, Blacks and students from voting. One southern Republican even gave the game away by saying that they passed these laws to stop the Democrats getting in.

It reminds me somewhat of the supposedly democratic election in Italy in the 1920s which saw Mussolini’s Fascists voted into power. At the time none of the parties in the Italian parliament had a clear majority. It had been hoped by Italy’s ruling liberal politicians that by inviting into government, they could form a coalition sufficiently strong to break this deadlock. But Mussolini didn’t want to be a junior partner. He wanted all of it. And so legislation was passed that defined Italy as a single constituency. Whichever party got the most votes nationally, would take something like three-quarters or so of the seats in parliament. The rest would be shared among the other parties. The Fascists won the election, though in many places they lost spectacularly. One of these, ironically, was Mussolini’s home town of Predappia, where he only got 2 per cent of the vote or less. Well, he had an obvious disadvantage there: they knew him.

But the result was that the Fascists became the overwhelmingly dominant party, and Italy began its journey towards dictatorship.

Mussolini had used constitutional methods, as well as brutal force, to gain power. Hitler did the same later in Germany, when the German president similarly hoped that he could break a similar political deadlock there by including the Nazis in a coalition government.

Trump’s wild, unsubstantiated accusations of electoral fraud and demands that voting should be stopped are an attack on democracy. They aren’t as flagrant or grotesque as the colossal gerrymandering that gave Mussolini control of Italy, but they’re definitely on the way there.

I don’t think Trump will get his way with his demands. But they do mark another stage in the gradual undermining of American democracy. And I’m afraid that if Trump does win, he will try to put in place legislation that will further further weaken it so that the Republicans can keep on winning unfairly. And the endpoint of all this, as in Germany and Italy, will be a right-wing dictatorship.

But it will be cloaked in the language of democracy, and protecting the will of the people.

Radio 4 Drama Based on Novel by First Female Labour MP

November 5, 2020

This coming Sunday, 8th November 2020, Radio 4 is broadcasting an adaptation at 3.00 pm of Clash, a political novel by Ellen Wilkinson, Britain’s first female Labour MP. The blurb for it in the Radio Times runs

Drama: Electric Decade: Clash

A dramatisation of the political romance by Britain’s first female Labour MP, Ellen Wilkinson, set during the General Strike. The story looks at the clash between North and South, work and life, tradition and emerging roles. Joan Craig bridges all these divides with energy and talent, but ultimately has to choose whose side she’s on, By Sharon Oakes. (p. 123).

An additional piece about the play on the previous page by Simon O’Hagan says

Ellen Wilkinson was the first female Labour MP yet Sharon Oakes’ dramatisation of her semi-autobiographical novel Clash is more about people than politics, with a beautifully rounded performance by Kate O’Flynn as campaigner Joan Craig. It’s 1926 and the General Strike is looming, but the heart fo the story can be found in Craig’s romance with troubled journalist Tony Dacre (Paul Ready). “She’s opened up a window,” he says of her. “She’s let the air back into my life.” This production is another winner in Radio 4’s season of 1920s-based works.

This could be interesting for those who like political fiction and Labour history. At least it’s different from some contemporary efforts, like Edwina Currie’s A Parliamentary Affair. And I don’t think it’s entirely coincidental that it’s being broadcast when the surname of the journalist hero is that of the former editor of the Daily Heil, either.

The German Communist Party’s 1931 Demands for Women’s Equality

November 4, 2020

One of the other books I’ve been reading during the lockdown is The German Left and the Weimar Republic: Selection of Documents, edited by Ben Fowkes, (Chicago: Haymarket Books 2014). The Weimar Republic was the name given to Germany for the all too brief period from the end of the First World War to the the Nazi seizure of power in 1933/4. It was a tumultuous period which saw the brief rise of workers’, peasants’ and soldiers’ council seize power briefly, the brutal suppression of soviet republics up and down Germany by the Freikorps, the rise of the Nazis, and splits in the majority Germany socialist, the SPD, which produced the USPD (Independent Socialist Party of Germany), the SAP (Socialist Workers’ Party) and the German Communist Party. The book collects a number of documents from these left-wing parties and movements, which reveal their policies and attitudes towards some of the most important issues of the day.

In 1931 the KPD proposed a law to protect and give full equal rights to working women. I’m putting this up, because while I’m very definitely not a Communist, these demands show how far ahead of their time the Communists were. Women’s right to work was attacked by the Nazis, who saw women’s proper sphere as ‘Kinder, Kirche, Kuche’ – children, church and kitchen. And although governments now are keen, or claim to be keen, to promote women’s equality in politics, culture, industry and science, the laws protection working women from exploitation and arbitrary dismissal have been and are being rolled back. This is line with the general attack on worker’s employment rights and job security.

The KPD proposals ran

We call on the Reichstag to demand that the government introduce a bill to protect and give full equality of rights to working women according to the following principles:

  1. Establishment of complete economic, cultural and political equality of rights between women and men. All laws and emergency ordinances that contradict this are to be abrogated with immediate effect.
  2. Women in all enterprises in industry and agriculture, doing the same work as men, are to be paid wages at the same level as men. The longest daily working time for women is to be set at seven hours, with full wage equality, while for unhealthy and heavy work, as well as for young females below the age of 18, it is to be set at six hours.
  3. (Similar provisions for office workers).
  4. Working women are to have a fully equal right to occupy all posts in all professions. Women workers, office employees and civil service officials are not be dismissed because they are married. All working women are to receive free professional training appropriate to their professional capacity.
  5. All unemployed women must have a legal right to full unemployment insurance payments without means testing or reference to the income of family members. Every kind of compulsory labour or compulsory re-training is prohibited. The right to receive social insurance during the whole period of unemployment is to be guaranteed.
  6. All working women employed in industry, agriculture, commerce and transport and domestic work as well as women in the so -called free professions, housewives and the female relatives or working peasants are to be included in the social insurance system.
  7. Dismissal of pregnant women is legally prohibited up to the 12th month after the birth of the child. The pregnant woman is to receive full pay and be exempt from work from eight weeks before until eight weeks after the birth. Nursing mothers are to receive half and hour twice a day for breast-feeding their children, without any reduction in wages. Maternity homes in sufficient numbers are to be made available to all working women, also creches for babies and children up to three years old, nurseries for children from three to school age. These services are to be provided free of payment. They are to be directed and supervised by control committees made up of delegates from the working population, mainly women.
  8. The interruption of pregnancy is to be permitted by law. The contrary paragraphs of the penal code (184 Section 3 and 28) are to be abolished. All persons condemned under the previous abortion paragraphs are to be amnestied immediately, and all current cases are to be terminated. Abortion carried out by a doctor and the provision of the means to avoid pregnancy count as medicate help in the national system of insurance.
  9. When entering marriage, the woman retains her right to decide independently in all legal and personal matters. She is not dependent on the husband in any of her decisions. After marriage, the women may take the name of her husband, but she may also continue to be known under her maiden name. She has the same parental power over her children as the man.
  10. All exceptional provisions dealing with the unmarried mother and the illegitimate child are removed. Every unmarried women has the right to be bear the title of ‘Frau’. In mixed marriages, the choice of nationality is left to the woman.

Obviously, abortion rights are still extremely controversial today. And one of the reasons for the introduction of zero hours contracts and firms insisting that their employees should sign documents stating that they are self-employed is deny women rights like maternity leave. And unemployed women and men are required to go for compulsory retraining and work under Blair’s wretched ‘welfare to work’ initiative. Which is another Tory idea taken from the Americans.

The reduction of the working day for women would be controversial today. More women work part-time than men because they do the majority of work rearing children and running the home. A week or so ago someone proposed that women’s working day should therefore be shortened generally for those reasons. But one of the drawbacks of this would be that women would need to be paid more than men in order to close the gender income gap. Many men on the political right already feel that they will be discriminated against regarding pay rates because of this.

The KPD made these demands nearly 90 years ago, and despite many of them having been introduced over the following decades, we still need to follow their recommendations to defend the rights of all working women along with workers generally.