Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Panorama Documentary Tomorrow on British War Crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan

November 17, 2019

Okay, I’m sure that this is something that no-one wants to see: allegations of war crimes against civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. I’m afraid I’ve only caught a glimpse of it, but there was a trailer tonight for tomorrow’s edition of Panorama, 18th November 2019, which showed that this would be the subject of its investigation.

I understand that much of the curriculum at Sandhurst is about the morality of war, and the British army has prided itself that it uses the minimum of force. And the British armed forces for centuries have been subject to the rule of law. One of the slavery documents I found in the archives when I was working at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum here in Bristol was a parliamentary inquiry into allegations of atrocities against women and children by British troops during a slave rebellion in the West Indies.

But the men and women in our armed forces aren’t moral supermen. For all their training, courage and professionalism, they are human beings under immense stress. They were sent in by Blair to fight an illegal war in Iraq, which is already a war crime, though one for which the former Prime Minister and his cabinet and advisers are culpable, rather than the troopers who fought it. There were problems with supplying them adequately with the right equipment, so much so that they were supposedly nicknamed ‘the borrowers’ by the Americans because our troops had to borrow theirs. And the enemy fights dirty. I’ve heard it said that the Taliban in Afghanistan used to smear their bullets in excrement so that people shot by them would become infected in addition to the gunshot wound. I’ve also read reports online of the allied forces coming upon individuals, who it was highly probably had been the very Taliban, who had been firing on them moments before, but who swore they were no such thing. Even when it looked like they were washing their hands to remove the cordite stains.

In the American territory in Iraq, decent conduct seems to have broken down completely. I’ve reblogged pieces from The Jimmy Dore Show and other American left-wing news shows, which described how a former American diplomat to the zone complained about what he found there. The mess of one set of American troops was adorned with Nazi emblems and regalia. The private military contractors – read ‘mercenaries’ – were out of control, running drugs and prostitution rings. They also casually shot Iraqi civilians for fun. The real-life trooper, who was the subject of the Eastwood flick, The Sniper, a few years ago, also claimed to have shot civilians, including women and children. And the American military command also collaborated with sectarian death squads.

In this chaos and carnage I can quite believe that some our troopers would also take out their frustrations and aggression on the very civilians that Blair told us he was sending them in to liberate.

I’ve no doubt that this is going to stir up controversy, and I hope that the documentary is thorough and balanced – much more so than its wretched smear job against the Labour Party. And if it is found that British soldiers and personnel have committed atrocities against civilians, it will also be remembered that the ultimate responsibility for these wars lies with Tony Blair and his fellow war criminal, George Bush.

Excellent News! Labour Plans to Abolish Fees for Dental Check-Ups

November 17, 2019

This is another really great policy from the Labour Party. They’ve announced that they plan to abolish the £22.70 fee for dental check-ups, and Corbyn has said that the ultimate aim is to abolish all fees for dentistry.

According to a piece Mike has reblogged from elsewhere, the fees were first introduced in 1951 to pay for the Korean War. It notes that one in five adults puts off going to the dentist because of the cost, and that ‘worrying numbers’ are turning to the internet for kits for scaling and makeshift fillings, which can cause serious problems.

515,000 patients a year go to A&E or their GPs for treatment for toothache, which costs the Health Service £38 million a year. Over a hundred children have rotten teeth removed in hospital every day, and decay is the leading cause of hospital admissions for children aged from five to nine. Ninety per cent of those cases can be prevented by early treatment.

In addition to abolishing the fees for ordinary check-ups, Labour also wish to remove them for oral cancer examinations, X-rays, clinical scaling and polishing and emergency treatment.

Mike adds that it would also be great if Labour could also ensure that everyone has access to an NHS dentist. He hasn’t seen one since June last year, 2018, because the dental service in mid-Wales was handed over to a private company. He concludes

Health service privatisation – it will always leave us short-changed. 

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/11/16/great-labour-election-promises-theyll-scrap-fees-for-dental-check-ups/

Mike’s right again, and this is an issue that goes back years. I’ve read a number of newspaper reports about people missing out on dental treatment because they can’t afford it. And there is a crushing shortage of NHS dentists. We’ve had problems finding suitable dentists in my part of south Bristol, as a number of them went private and immediately put their prices up. Some of this problem comes down to the profit motive at the heart of any system of private healthcare. Where it exists, there will always be the motive to charge inflated fees and concentrate on those, who are better health, rather than those who need much more treatment, because the latter aren’t as profitable.

And like the other issues with healthcare in this care, it was caused by Maggie Thatcher. I can remember how there was a massive dispute between her government and the dentists over funding, with the result that many split off from the NHS and went private. They claimed that they simply couldn’t survive with what the government was prepared to pay them. Thatcher, I remember, put the blame on them for demanding too much. I don’t know which side was right, but instinct tells me it wasn’t the Tories. Thatcher was determined to privatise the NHS in toto, but was prevented by a cabinet revolt. She carried on, however, with a campaign to encourage 10 per cent of the British population to take out private health insurance, and a programme of limited privatisation. Some of the auxiliary services for the NHS were opened up to private contractors. The department specialising in in vitro fertilisation – test tube children – was privatised. She also introduced fees for eye tests at the opticians.

The Tories are past masters at creating an industrial dispute, which will allow them to attack a particular industry and the trade unions or professional associations for its workers. We’ve seen how she did it to the miners, in order to break the NUM and close down most of the mining industry. I think she did something similar with the dentists. She manufactured a dispute with them, so that she could force some at least out of the NHS and created a private dental service.

And thanks to her, people are missing the dentist and their health is suffering.

Labour’s plan to abolish dental fees are needed. People really do need proper dental examinations. A few years ago I was diagnosed with a mouth condition that could have become serious and which needed monitoring, and I’m very sure I wasn’t alone. People are damaging their health, possibly seriously, by not going to the dentist and having the examinations and work they need done.

And it is the fault of the Tories.

Thatcher and her legacy have been catastrophic for this country, its industries and working people. But she’s still a molten idol to the Tories, Lib Dems and the Blairites. They have to be defeated, and Thatcher’s vile legacy consigned to the dustbin it deserves.

Our health, and our Health Service, cannot afford not to.

 

Ultra-Zionists’, Blairites’ and Tories’ Anti-Semitic Abuse of Labour Pro-Palestinian Activist

November 11, 2019

On the 27th October last year, 2018, Labour Left Voice put up a post about the disgusting anti-Semitic abuse hurled at their consultant and convenor, Sally Eason. Eason had been on the receiving end of abuse twitter messages from Jeremy Corbyn’s opponents in the Labour Party, whom she had outed as members of a troll network. This continued for several years without anything being done about it, even though she complained to Sam Matthews and Labour’s Compliance Unit. So she left, setting up Left Labour Voice as a support network for socialists who were in the same position as herself.

Her departure from the Labour party has not stopped the abuse, and the post reports that there is now a third twitter account parodying her. This one does so as ‘Sally the Jew’. It’s because Eason is of Sephardic Jewish descent on her mother’s side. The Sephardim are the branch of the Jewish people, who settled in the Iberian peninsula. Their vernacular language, Ladino, was a form of Old Spanish. They are named after a Biblical Hebrew term that was believed to refer to Spain.

This troll account attempts to dox her and reveal her location as well as intimidate her. Labour Left Voice also notes that it’s stolen their logo.  It’s followed by a number of the anti-Semitism witch-hunters, including the head of the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism. It lists those following the troll account as

*Emma Feltham (Picken) Lewisham East CLP Labour currently under investigation JLM

*Euan Philipps (AKA @Bellatrixlittle) Tonbridge & Malling CLP Labour currently under investigation JLM

*Labour Against Antisemitism – Official

*Tracy Ann Oberman – Actress Ex Labour

*Simon Myerson QC Ex Labour

*Saul Freeman @nudderingnudnik – Ex Labour – LAAS

*Mark Hopkins – @lifeonacanal Conservative

*Professor David Hirsh – Ex Labour

*Matthew Ravenhilll – Chair Taunton West branch Labour Party.

*Steve Silverman – Head of Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA)

*Dan Fox – Ex Director of Labour friends of Israel

*Jonathan Hoffman – Consultant and activist LAAS – member of Herut UK

*Labour Intl CLP Moderates – AKA TheGreenKnight200 / RosalieJulius / JewsagainstJC – Jessica Jacobs-Schiff Ex Intl Labour / JLM LAAS

*Rosemary Emery – LAAS, Llanelli CLP JLM

*Chris Evans JLM, Labour and LAAS

*Zoe Kemp (78Soylentgreen) LAAS, JLM – formerly Hampstead & Kilburn CLP

*Denny Taylor – Current Labour member LAAS JLM

*Karen Bradley (RedTory2016) Ex Labour

*Gnasherjew – David Collier, Richard Millett, Simon Cobbs, Joseph Elfassy, John Arnott, CAA.

How anti-Semitic are the posts? Very. This is an example.

The post quotes Buddy Hell, of the Guy Debord’s Cat blog, as saying looking at them is like ‘bathing in sewage’. It makes this observation on the membership of this troll network and their objectives: to get rid of Jeremy Corbyn and his leftist Jewish supporters.

What is clearly obvious here is that rather than the left being antisemitic. We have a mix of Labour Right, Tories and the Far-Right who are working together to ATTACK leftist Corbyn supporting Jews. Their common interest: Ultra Nationalism and the fear of Jeremy Corbyn recognising Palestine. Jonathan Hoffman is a Conservative and member of Herut UK, a Far-Right organisation and can be seen marching with the EDL on protests but is also bizarrely the consultant for the outfit Labour Against Antisemitism, whose non Jewish operators Euan Philipps, Emma Feltham and Denny Taylor also follow the above parody.

It also reproduces a number of anti-Semitic tweets attacking her from various sock accounts connected with the Gnasherjew troll farm. Like the one below.

Some of those sending Eason abusive twitter messages were Euan Philipps and Mandy Blumenthal of the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism. The post goes on to describe the problems Eason has had combating these troll accounts. It says

Sadly Twitter has been no help at all despite continuously reporting the problem for 2 years at least. The previously Twitter suspended Gnasherjew brags of being reinstated by the CAA and CST and that they have a ‘human handler’ at Twitter. The problem is as shown above, that the CAA are part of the abuse. There is a conflict of interest. The CAA is worryingly also a police agency – although we suspect that the current Met police investigation into the CAA incitement of death threats to Corbyn will alter that relationship.

Another problem here is that Twitter is US based and the extremely Pro Israel Anti Defamation League (ADL) took over as Account Managers in around February of this year as monitors for antisemitism across all of America’s Social Media. Many times the UK police have said that US Twitter refuse to pass over details of the troll accounts. There is a political impasse.

The post states that the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism are – or were – under investigation for inciting death threats against Jeremy Corbyn. LLV reiterate that their mission is to help Left Labour/ Pro-Corbyn members, who were under attack for their beliefs by the above accounts and their superiors at CLP level. They ask victims of such attacks to get in touch with them and share their stories, whether its of vexatious claims or targeted attacks by the above, and give the email address which can be used to do so. They also conclude

We will keep you informed of the progress in the current police investigation as and when we are updated with any major news. As for now, we encourage all socialists to block the above accounts, be careful of the tone and language used in your posts and deprive these agenda driven accounts of a target.

At the time of writing JLM, CAA, BoD and the Labour Party have not responded to our tweets.

See: https://lableftvoice.co.uk/your-shout/f/october

Eason’s not the only one to receive anti-Semitic abuse, simply because she’s a person of Jewish heritage, who supports Corbyn. It’s been dished out to Jackie Walker and Tony Greenstein, and I’ve no doubt any number of others. Just as gentiles like Mike have also been abused and smeared as an anti-Semite for the same reason.

What is particularly interesting is that among the abusers from the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, Labour Against Anti-Semitism, Jewish Labour Movement and Labour Friends of Israel are our old friends Tracy Ann Oberman, Jonathan Hoffman Karen Bradley – the one from The Apprentice?  – and David Collier, John Arnott and chums from Gnasherjew.

These scumbags have, in my opinion, no call whatsoever to accuse anyone else of being anti-Semitic. Not when they appear to be posting vile anti-Semitic abuse themselves. And anyone wondering if there’s any truth to any of their claims should take a look at the abuse they produce and spread and then ask themselves the following:

Who is going to be more trustworthy – decent, genuinely anti-racist people, both Jews and gentiles, who are targeted for abuse, like Eason, simply because they support Jeremy Corbyn? Or a bunch of vile, abusive right-wing trolls, who fling around anti-Semitic smears while hypocritically claiming to combating it? 

Because that’s how I view them.

John Bercow Denies Jeremy Corbyn Is Anti-Semitic

November 9, 2019

More evidence to add to the plentiful pile of it showing that Jeremy Corbyn isn’t a Jew-hater was given by John Bercow the other day. Bercow, who has just stepped down as Speaker of the House of Commons, was interviewed by Alistair Campbell for GQ magazine. Campbell told him that he realised Bercow was a Jew, and asked him about the issue of anti-Semitism in the Labour party. Bercow responded cautiously and diplomatically, pointing out that racism was a problem across society. He said that anti-Semitism was an issue in the Labour party, and that it needed to be dealt with and that he respected those, who were concerned about it. But in all his time in parliament he had never encountered it from a member of the Labour party, and in the 22 years he had known and worked with Corbyn he had never experienced it from him either. This was not even when Bercow was a right-winger. Campbell joked with Bercow about Corbyn, as a long-time opponent of New Labour, probably voting with the Tories more often than he voted with the Labour party. Bercow chuckles, and admits that he always got on well with Corbyn, and found him personally very supportive.

Okay, it’s not a refutation of the lie that anti-Semitism is rife in the Labour party. It most definitely isn’t anywhere near as serious as the Tories and the right-wing media are making out. Anti-Semitism has actually dropped in the party since Corbyn became leader, and he himself has led numerous initiatives to root it out. But Bercow has said that Corbyn isn’t anti-Semitic, which contradicts what Stephen ‘Goysplaining’ Pollard of the Jewish Chronicle and Rabbi Jonathan Romain in the Torygraph have been telling people this week.

Tory Fibs has put a short clip of this part of Bercow and Campbell’s discussion in a tweet, which Mike posted on his blog yesterday. Along with twitter comments from other people supporting the Labour leader. Many of these messages came from Jewish Labour supporters, who have also found themselves abused as anti-Semites by those taken in or responsible for these lies.

Also, Mike and another twitter commenter, ‘Paul’, point out that Corbyn rarely voted with the Tories. The Conservatives mostly voted for New Labour policies, which is hardly surprising as both groups were Thatcherites. Corbyn, as an old-fashioned Socialist, would have opposed them.

There was also a tweet from RedCountessa, who said that there were plenty of left-wing Jewish people, who support Corbyn, but it was also very noticeable that they were rarely interviewed by the lamestream media to get the other side of the argument.

And Jill Gore showed a twitter response from a Mark Fleischmann to show the odious response some individuals have towards Jews, who support Corbyn. So convinced was Fleischmann that no true Jew could ever support the Labour leader, that he was demanding the Jews who did to prove their Jewishness. I’m not Jewish, but this strikes me as a form of anti-Semitism itself. It’s as racist as Richard Spencer ranting about ‘octaroons’ to smear Blacks and people of mixed race, and in my opinion, anti-racist Whites, ’cause he can’t understand how real White people don’t hate Blacks.

And there were other tweeters attacking Ian Austin, who was in the news yesterday telling everyone to vote for Boris.

Pauline Lane retweeted a message from Children’s Poet Laureate, Michael Rosen, asking the Tory party to stop using the Holocaust and the threat of anti-Semitism to attract people to the party of Windrush, the Hostile Environment Policy, the anti-refugee and 20 years of austerity.

There was also a tweet from ‘Norman’ of Austin interrupting Michael Rosen’s testimony before the Education Committee for Holocaust Education. Norman states that he was aware of Austin, because of his support for Phil Woolas. Woolas was a ‘moderate’ Labour candidate, who got deselected because he ran a dirty campaign designed to get White voters angry and smearing the rival candidate, a Muslim, as a supporter of terrorism. But his interruption of Rosen showed how really horrible Austin is. Rosen testified that when the Nazis invaded the Channel Islands, all nine Jews were deported. Austin says something about how we cannot know what would have happened in Britain, because we fought back and stood alone against the Nazis. Rosen corrects him about this, stating that we had the support of two major powers, the US and Russia.

Rosen is quite correct. We didn’t stand alone. We not only had the support of America and Russia, but we were also supported by the entire resources of the British Empire. If we hadn’t, I gather that we too would probably have only lasted a week. As for what happened on the Channel Islands, Norman states that his grandfather evacuated from Jersey, and that Austin ‘is wrong’.

Absolutely right there, too. The Nazis did invade UK/ Britain, as the Channel Islands are part of it. And the people there were starved, they saw Russian P.O.W.’s worked to death as subhuman slaves, as they were seen by the Nazis, as well as the deportation of the islands’ Jewish citizens. And we can be sure that what happened there, would have happened elsewhere in Britain if the Nazis had invaded. Years ago Anne Applebaum wrote a piece in the Spectator saying that Brits would have collaborated with the Nazis, which I think was probably based on the evidence of the collaboration of the island authorities with the Nazis. This comes from the Speccie, which is the arch-Tory magazine.

And Josh tweeted a clip from Question Time, in which a Jewish lady stood up and attacked the Tories and the Conservative media for using anti-Semitism to smear and demonise Corbyn and the Labour party. The lady states that she and all her family are Jewish, and they’re not scared of leaving the house because of anti-Semitism. The Tories and the press take quotes of context to vilify Corbyn. But only 7 per cent of the time do they discuss his policies. 80 per cent of the time, she says, they’re just attacking his character, because his policies are right.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/11/08/never-mind-the-newspapers-bercow-buries-claims-of-anti-semitism-against-corbyn/

Clearly, not all Jews buy this rubbish about Corbyn being an anti-Semite by a long chalk. Ken Livingstone, who has now resigned from the party because of the smears and suspensions, said in an interview with George Galloway that he had Jewish people walk up to him in the street and tell him that they know he’s not anti-Semitic.

Perhaps that explains the desperation of the Tories to keep repeating the claim. Because now more and more people don’t believe it!

‘I’ Article on McDonnell Receiving Death Threats

November 7, 2019

Also in Tuesday’s I was a brief article by Patrick Daly reporting that McDonnell had told a meeting of NHS workers that he receives death threats weekly. The article ran

Labour’s shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, said he regularly receives two death threats a week, as he called for calm as the general election campaign gets under way.

He said politicians had “exploited” the Brexit result to “unleash forces” that were “dividing society”.

He made the comments after being told by a migrant NHS worker how he and a surgeon colleague had been verballed abused following the 2016 referendum decision.

Speaking to London NHS workers at Unison’s headquarters, Mr McDonnell said he wanted more politicians to “follow the advice” given by the Archbishop of Canterburty. The Most Rev Justin Welby warned the Prime Minister and MPs last week that it was “extraordinary dangerous to use careless comments” in what he described as a “very polarised and volatile situation”S.

Mr McDonnell said: “We’ve all had continual death threats. I usually get about two a week now.

“That’s the sort of politics we have got at the minute.”

This potentially explosive situation has been fanned by Johnson’s own highly inflammatory rhetoric and that of the Tory press towards anyone, who dares to oppose Brexit, or their version of it. Remember how the Fail slandered the judges, who declared one of their Brexit initiatives illegal, ‘enemies of the people’. Which mirrors exactly the rhetoric used by the Nazis against the democratic Weimar authorities before they seized power in Germany.

But it’s also a notable for a number of other reasons. The first is that it contradicts the Tory, Blairite and media narrative a few years ago that Corbyn’s followers were evil, raging misogynists sending abusive messages to ‘moderate’ – read Thatcherite – Labour women. Like Luciana Berger and the rest. This gave the misleading impression that only these ladies received abuse. But as the I also revealed a few days ago, half of the abusive messages sent to Labour politicians go to Diane Abbott, a close ally of Corbyn. And while I’ve no doubt that some of they did receive abuse and threats, some of the messages they claim to have received, on examination, didn’t exist. But I have no doubt that McDonnell’s statement is absolutely true.

As is the statement by the migrant NHS worker about the abuse he and a surgeon colleague received after the 2016 Brexit referendum.

Not everyone, who voted for Brexit are racist or xenophobic by any means. Some Labour voters did so in some communities because European policies has harmed their industries. The British fishing industry is a case in point, and used as an example of destructive EU policies by the Times sketchwriter, Quentin Letts, in his book Fifty People Who Buggered Up Britain. Some Old Labour voters no doubt voted for Brexit because of the way neoliberalism and privatisation are written into the EU constitution and economic structure. But many others did. They were lied to by the Tories and UKIP, told that by leaving the EU there would be less foreigners taking their jobs and pushing down wages. And that meant Black and Asian immigrants. One of the most noxious examples of this was Nigel Farage and his wretched UKIP poster showing a line of immigrants from Syria and North Africa, which exactly matched Nazi posters against Jewish and eastern European immigration.

Last year I went into hospital for treatment for a form of blood cancer here in Bristol. I received excellent care, as I have done through the process generally, from the doctors, nurses and other medical and ancillary staff. Very many of these are foreign workers, not just from other parts of Europe, but also Africa and the Caribbean. They were conscientious in their care, and in my experience, had an excellent and supportive attitude towards the patients. We are very fortunate to have such people working for us.

But they are being abused. There was a piece on the local news for the Bristol region, Points West, the other day, reporting that one of the city’s hospitals in Southmead has been forced to put in place a zero tolerance policy because of people abusing staff, including, I believe, threats of violence. Threats and abuse to hospital workers and medical professionals isn’t new. There have been posters up warning patients against it for years, as well as reports and denunciations in the press and media. But now it seems it’s becoming particularly serious.

This is disgraceful. It needs to be stopped, now. Before there’s another assassination like that of Jo Cox.

 

Zionist Bigot Jonathan Hoffman Disrupts Humanist Meeting because of ‘Anti-Semitism’

November 5, 2019

Jonathan Hoffman is a fanatical Zionist activist, who regularly protests against and tries to disrupt pro-Palestinian meetings and events because they are, to him, ‘anti-Semitic’. Even when the events are organised by Jewish and other organisations, who are very careful to exclude real anti-Semites and neo-Nazis. He and his bizarre antics have been all too frequently discussed and documented by Tony Greenstein, not least because of the extreme right-wing company he keeps. Tony has many times put up photographs showing Hoffman parading around in the company of extremist, islamophobic outfits like the EDL and Britain First. He was photographed outside demonstrating against one pro-Palestinian meeting next to Paul Besser, Britain First’s intelligence officer. Which must surely be a contradiction in terms, coming from that organisation. A few months ago Hoffman and one of his mates, to my recollection, lost a court case and were convicted of harassment. According to Tony’s article today, it was of a Palestinian woman. But Hoffman evidently hasn’t learnt his lesson, because he’s been out disrupting meetings again.

This time it was the turn of East London Humanists, who are affiliated to the National Secular Society, who felt his ire. They’d committed the heinous crime of inviting David Rosenberg, of the Jewish Socialist Group, to speak about anti-Semitism. Hoffman duly lost his fragile mind once again, and turned up with six other ‘vigilantes’ as he describes them, to disrupt the meeting. Tony has a photo on his blog of him with a couple of them standing next to two Israeli flags. Why the anger? Because David Rosenberg’s another Jewish critic of Israel’s barbarous treatment of the Palestinians. Thus, according to Hoffman, he’s an anti-Semite and a ‘renegade Jew’, and the East London Humanists are guilty of anti-Semitism for inviting him there, apparently. Hoffman complains that as the Humanists actively oppose religion, they are a pain to the Jews. As Tony himself points out in the article, the Humanists oppose all religions, not just Judaism. I certainly don’t support either Humanism or the National Secular Society, who, in my opinion, can be extremely intolerant in their attempts to force religion out of the public sphere. But I don’t think you can accuse them of racism. Nathan Johnstone’s book on New Atheist myths, which I reviewed a few days ago, attacked Dawkins and co. for their vitriolic rhetoric, which he believed could all too easily spark vicious persecution. But he acknowledged that Dawkins and the others, including Sam Harris, were actually humane people, who genuinely sympathised with the oppressed and marginalised. I also have the impression that there’s a split between the old-fashioned Humanists and the New Atheists about their rhetoric. Many Humanists and atheists are disgusted with the New Atheists because of their intolerance, which they associate with religion. So while I don’t doubt that Humanists object to Judaism as a religion, along with Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and the other faiths, I’m sure that they’re genuine supporters of the Jewish people’s right to live in peace, equality and safety, along with people of other races and ethnicities.

Also, David Rosenberg himself is very far from being any kind of ‘renegade Jew’ or anti-Semite. I’ve blogged about several articles from his excellent blog, Rebel Notes. Rosenberg is, like Tony, a very firm opponent of racism and anti-Semitism. He has spoken at meetings in Britain and abroad against racism and Fascism. He was in Warsaw a few months ago, attending a ceremony commemorating the heroes of the Jewish uprising against the Nazis. This included children from the local schools singing one of the rebels’ songs in Yiddish. He also posted another piece on his blog about the speech he gave at an anti-racism meeting in Manchester, in which he praised the local Jewish, Socialist, Communist and trade union activists in that great city for sticking it to Mosley and his stormtroopers when they tried to goosestep around it. He has also posted pieces about an exhibition at the London Jewish Museum on Marxism and Jewish identity, in which he viewed Marx as in the line of Jewish prophets and campaigners against oppression and exploitation. It’s glaringly obvious that Rosenberg wouldn’t do any of this, if he were a genuine anti-Semite.

But Hoffman and his fellows have decided Rosenberg is a Jew-hater, because his socialism is informed by the stance of the pre-War Jewish Bund. This was the Jewish socialist party in eastern Europe and the former Russian Empire. They saw the Jewish people’s homeland as whichever countries they lived in. They had no intention of supporting a separate Jewish state, and actively campaigned against Zionism. They demanded instead that Jews should live as equal fellow citizens with their gentile neighbours. This was by far the majority view of European Jewry at the time. But it runs counter to the right-Zionist message, which is that true Jews have always wanted their own state. And so Zionist extremists like Hoffman smear activists like Hoffman, Tony and Jackie Walker, as anti-Semites.

Hoffman is also upset ’cause he doesn’t like Tony mentioning how he keeps company with people, who could be described as Fascists. So Tony’s put up photos of him marching around with the EDL and their Jewish division, the JDL, as well as Paul Besser and a few other extreme right-wing Zionists.

Don’t be misled. It’s people like Hoffman and other extreme right-wing Zionists, both Jewish and gentile, who are behind the anti-Semitism smears against pro-Palestinian activists. Those they attack and smear are very frequently genuinely anti-racist opponents of anti-Semitism. Tony states that he has never seen Hoffman protest against genuine racists and Fascists. He has pointed out over and over again that the Zionist right will collaborate with real anti-Semites in order to advance their goals of getting more Jews to emigrate to Israel. Which is why the Conservative Jewish establishment in this country, like the Conservative establishment generally, has done everything it can to smear Corbyn and his supporters in the Labour party as anti-Semites, even when Corbyn and they have a proud record of combating racism and supporting the Jewish community. And they can be especially vicious in their attacks on genuinely left-wing Jews, who support the Palestinians.

The real fanatical bigotry here didn’t come from Rosenberg or the East London Humanists. It comes from Hoffman and those like him. They’re responsible for smearing decent people, and their lies are being used by a right-wing political establishment and media to prevent a Corbyn government getting into power. Because it would actually do something for British working people, who naturally include Jews.

Don’t believe their lies.

http://azvsas.blogspot.com/2019/11/another-feather-in-cap-of-jonathan.html

Review of Book on New Atheist Myths Now Up on Magonia Review Blog

November 1, 2019

The Magonia Review of Books blog is one of the online successors to the small press UFO journal, Magonia, published from the 1980s to the early part of this century. The Magonians took the psycho-social view of encounters with alien entities. This holds that they are essentially internal, psychological events which draw on folklore and the imagery of space and Science Fiction. Following the ideas of the French astronomer and computer scientist, Jacques Vallee, and the American journalist, John Keel, they also believed that UFO and other entity encounters were also part of the same phenomenon that had created fairies and other supernatural beings and events in the past. The magazine thus examined other, contemporary forms of vision and belief, such as the Satanic Ritual Abuse scare in the 1990s. It also reviewed books dealing with wide range of religious and paranormal topics. These included not just UFOs, but also the rise of apocalyptic religious faith in America, conspiracy theories, ghosts and vampires, cryptozoology and the Near Death Experience, for example. Although the magazine is no longer in print, the Magonia Review of Books continues reviewing books, and sometimes films, on the paranormal and is part of a group of other blogs, which archive articles from the magazine and its predecessor, the Merseyside UFO Bulletin (MUFOB), as well as news of other books on the subject.

I’ve had a number of articles published in Magonia and reviews on the Review of Books. The blog has just put my review of Nathan Johnstone’s The New Atheism, Myth and History: The Black Legends of Contemporary Anti-Religion (Palgrave MacMillan 2018).  The book is a critical attack on the abuse of history by New Atheist polemicists like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and so on to attack religion. He shows that the retail extremely inaccurate accounts of historical atrocities like the witch hunts and persecution of heretics by the Christian church and the savage anti-religious campaign in the Soviet Union in order to condemn religion on the one hand, and try to show that atheism was not responsible for the atrocities committed in its name on the other. At the same time he is alarmed by the extremely vitriolic language used by Dawkins and co. about the religious. He draws comparisons between it and the language used to justify persecution in the past to warn that it too could have brutal consequences despite its authors’ commitment to humanity and free speech.

The article is at: http://pelicanist.blogspot.com/2019/10/believing-in-not-believing-new-atheists.html if you wish to read it at the Magonia Review site. I’ve also been asked to reblog it below. Here it is.

Nathan Johnstone. The New Atheism, Myth and History: The Black Legends of Contemporary Anti-Religion. Palgrave Macmillan 2018.

The New Atheists is a term coined to described the group of militant atheists that emerged after the shock of 9/11. Comprising the biologist Richard Dawkins, the journalist Christopher Hitchens, the philosophers Daniel C. Dennett and A.C. Grayling, the neuroscientist Sam Harris, the astronomer Victor Stenger, and others, they are known for their particularly bitter invective against all forms of religion. The above claim to stand for reason and science against irrationality and unreason. But while they are especially protective of science, and who gets to speak for it or use its findings, they are cavalier regarding theology and the humanities, including history.
Johnstone is appalled by this attitude. Instead of respecting history and its scholarship, he compares Dawkins, Harris et al to hunter-gatherers. They are not interested in exploring history, but rather using it as a grab-bag of examples of atrocities committed by the religious. In so doing they ignore what historians really say about the events and periods they cite, and retail myth as history. These he regards as a kind of ‘Black Legend’ of theism, using the term invented in the early twentieth century by the Spanish historian Julian Juderas to describe a type of anti-Spanish, anti-Roman Catholic polemic. He states his book is intended to be just a defence of history, and takes no stance on the issue of the existence of God. From his use of ‘we’ in certain points to describe atheists and Humanists, it could be concluded that Johnstone is one of the many of the latter, who are appalled by the New Atheists’ venom.
One such religious doubter was the broadcaster John Humphries,  the author of the defence of agnosticism, In God We Doubt. Humphries stated in the blurb for the book that he considered himself an agnostic before moving to atheism. Then he read one of the New Atheist texts and was so shocked by it he went back to being an agnostic. The group first made its debut several years ago now, and although New Atheism has lost some of its initial interest and support, they’re still around.
Hence Johnstone’s decision to publish this book. While Dawkins’ The God Delusion was published almost a decade ago, the New Atheists are still very much around. They and their followers are still on the internet, and their books on the shelves at Waterstones. Dawkins published his recent work of atheist polemics, Outgrowing God: A Beginner’s Guide a few weeks ago at the beginning of October 2019. He accompanied its publication with an appearance at Cheltenham Literary Festival, where he was speaking about why everyone should turn atheist.
The events and the atrocities cited by the New Atheists as demonstrations of the intrinsic evil of religion are many, including the Inquisitions, the witch-hunts, anti-Semitism, the Crusades, the subjugation of women, colonialism, the slave trade and the genocide of the Indians, to which they also add human sacrifice, child abuse, censorship, sexual repression and resistance to science. These are too many to tackle in one book, and it confines itself instead to attacking and refuting New Atheist claims about the witch-hunts, the medieval persecution of heretics, and the question of whether Hitler was ever really Christian and the supposed Christian origins of Nazi anti-Semitism and the Holocaust.
The book also tackles historical movements and figures, that the New Atheists have claimed as atheist heroes and forerunners – the ancient Greek Atomists and two opponents of the witch-hunts, Dietrich Flade and Friedrich Spee. It then moves on to examine Sam Harris’ endorsement of torture in the case of Islamist terrorists and atheist persecution in the former Soviet Union before considering the similarity of some New Atheist attitudes to that of religious believers. It concludes with an attack on the dangerous rhetoric of the New Atheists which vilifies and demonises religious believers, rhetoric which could easily provoke persecution, even if its authors themselves are humane men who don’t advocate it.
Johnstone traces these atheist myths back to their nineteenth and pre-nineteenth century origins, and some of the books cited by the New Atheists as the sources for their own writings. One of the most influential of these is Charles MacKay’s 1843 Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. In many instances he shows them to be using very dated, and now refuted texts. With some of the modern works they also draw on, examination shows that often they ignore the authors’ own conclusions, which may differ considerably, or even be the complete opposite of their own.
In the case of the witch-hunts, Johnstone traces the oft-quoted figure of over nine million victims to an early nineteenth century German author, Gottfried Christian Voigt, who extrapolated it from the murder of the thirty witches executed in his home town of Quedlinburg from 1569 to 1683. He assumed this was typical of all areas throughout the period of the witch-hunts. The figure was picked up by the radical neo-Pagan and feminist movements of the 1970s. But it’s false. The real figure, he claims, was 50,000. And its intensity varied considerably from place to place and over time. The Portuguese Inquisition, for example, only killed one witch c. 1627. In other places, the inquisitors were conscientious in giving the accused a fair trial. Convictions for witchcraft were overturned and evidence was taken to prove the accused’s innocence as well as guilt. The Roman Inquisition also demanded the accused to provide a list of their enemies, as their testimony would obviously be suspect.
In regions where the discussion of witchcraft had resulted in the mass trial and execution of the innocent, the religious authorities imposed silence about the subject. Johnstone rebuts the statement of some Christian apologists that the Church was only complicit in these atrocities, not responsible for them. But he shows that they were an anomaly. Nearly all societies have believed in the existence of witches throughout history, but the period of witch-hunting was very limited. The problem therefore is not that religion and belief in the supernatural leads inexorably to persecution, but how to explain that it doesn’t.
He shows that the Church moved from a position of initial scepticism towards full scale belief over a period of centuries. The witch-hunts arose when maleficium – black magic – became linked to heresy, and so became a kind of treason. As an example of how secular and political motives were also involved in the denunciations and trials, rather than just pure religious hatred, he cites the case of the priest Urbain Grandier. Grandier’s case was the basis for Aldous Huxley’s novel, The Devils of Loudoun, which was filmed by Ken Russell as The Devils. Here it appears the motives for the trial were political, as Grandier had been an opponent of the French minister, Cardinal Richelieu. Johnstone also considers that as secular societies have also persecuted those they consider to be politically or morally deviant there exists in humanity a need to persecute. This means finding and identifying an anti-group, directly opposed to conventional society, whose existence and opposition demonstrates the value of that society.
KEN RUSSELL’S ‘THE DEVILS’ (1971)
The medieval persecution of heretics may also have been due to a number of causes and not simply due to the malign attitudes of religious believers. There was a period of nearly 700 years between the execution of the Roman heretic, Priscillian, in the fourth century and the revival of persecution the early eleventh. This arose in the context of the emergence and development of states and the expansion of papal and royal power, which involved church and crown extending their power over local communities. At the same time, the papacy attempted reforming the church, at first in response to popular demand. However, it was then faced with the problem of clamping down on some of the popular reform movements when they threatened to run out of its control.
As the case of the Waldensians shows, the line between orthodoxy and heresy could be an extremely fine one. Johnstone also raises the question here of whether one of the most notorious medieval heretical groups, the Cathars, ever existed at all. It is possible that their existence is an illusion created by the categories of heresies the inquisitors had inherited from the Church Fathers. These were forced onto a group of local communities in the Languedoc, where popular piety centred around the Good Men and Women. These were highly respected members of the community, who were believed to live exemplary Christian lives. They were therefore due proper respect, which to the inquisitors looked like heretical veneration.
Hitler’s Christianity is also highly debatable. The little reliable testimony states that he was indeed Roman Catholic, but doesn’t provide any evidence of a deep faith. He certainly at times claimed he was a Christian and was acting in accordance with his religious beliefs. But an examination of some of these quotes shows that they were uttered as a rebuttal to others, who stated that their Christian beliefs meant that they could not support Nazism. This raises the question of whether they were anything more than a rhetorical gesture. There is evidence that Hitler was an atheist with a particular hatred of Christianity. This is mostly drawn from his Table Talk, and specifically the English edition produced by Hugh Trevor-Roper. The atheist polemicist, Richard Carrier, has shown that it is derived from a French language version, whose author significantly altered some of the quotes to insert an atheist meaning where none was present in the original. However, Carrier only identified a handful of such quotes, leaving forty requiring further investigation. Thus the question remains undecided.
Johnstone also examine the Nazi persecution of the Jews from the point of view of the theorists of political religion. These consider that humans are innately religious, but that once secularisation has broken the hold of supernatural religion, the objects of veneration changes to institutions like the state, free market capitalism, the New Man, Communism and so on. Those who follow this line differ in the extent to which they believe that the Nazis were influenced by religion. Some view it as a hydra, whose many heads stood for Christianity, but also Paganism in the case of Himmler and the SS. But underneath, the source of the real religious cult was the race, the nation and Hitler himself. If these theorists are correct, then Nazism may have been the result, not of a continued persecuting Christianity, but of secularisation.
He also considers the controversial view of the German historian, Richard Steigmann-Gall, whose The Holy Reich considered that the Nazis really were sincere in their Christianity. This has been criticised because some of the Nazis it examines as examples of Nazi Christian piety, like Rudolf Hess, were minor figures in the regime, against vehement anti-Christians like Alfred Rosenberg. He also shows how the peculiar views of the German Christians, the Nazi Christian sect demanding a new, Aryan Christianity, where Christ was blond and blue-eyed, and the Old Testament was to be expunged from the canon, were similar to certain trends within early twentieth century liberal Protestantism. But the German historian’s point in writing the book was not simply to put culpability for the Nazis’ horrors on Christianity. He wanted to attack the comfortable distance conventional society places between itself and the Nazis, in order to reassure people that they couldn’t have committed such crimes because the Nazis were different. His point was that they weren’t. They were instead uncomfortably normal.
DEMOCRITUS
The New Atheists celebrate the ancient Greek Atomists because their theories that matter is made up of tiny irreducible particles, first put forward by the philosophers Epicurus and Democritus, seem so similar to modern atomic theory. These ancient philosophers believed that these alone were responsible for the creation of a number of different worlds and the creatures that inhabited them by chance.
Some of these were forms that were incapable of surviving alone, and so died out. Thus, they appear to foreshadow Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection. New Atheist writers bitterly attack Aristotle, whose own rival theories of matter and physics gained ascendancy until Atomism was revived in the seventeenth century. The natural philosophers behind its revival are credited with being atheists, even though many of them were Christians and one, Pierre Gassendi, a Roman Catholic priest. Their Christianity is thus seen as nominal. One also takes the extreme view that Galileo’s prosecution was due to his embrace of the atomic theory, rather than his argument that the Earth moved around the Sun.
But scholars have shown that the ancient atomic theory grew out of particular debates in ancient Greece about the fundamental nature of matter, and cannot be removed from that context. They were very different to modern atomic theory. At the same time, they also held beliefs that are to us nonsense as science. For example, they believed that the early creatures produced by atoms were fed by the Earth with a milk-like substance. They also believed in the fixity of species. Even where they did believe in evolution, in the case of humanity, this was more Lamarckian than Darwinian. Aristotle’s views won out over theirs not because of religious narrow-mindedness or ignorance, but because Aristotle’s had great explanatory power.
The scientists, who revived it in the seventeenth century, including Boyle and Newton, were sincere Christians. They believed that atoms created objects through divine agency because the ancient Greek explanation – it was all chance without a theory of momentum – genuinely couldn’t explain how this could occur without God. As for Galileo, the historian who first suggested this extreme and largely discredited view, believed that he was a victim of papal politics, and that there had also been a party within the Vatican and the Church, which supported his theories.
Discussing the two witch-hunters celebrated by the New Atheists as atheist, or at least, Sceptical heroes, the book shows that this was not the case. Dietrich Flade seems to have been accused because he had fallen out with an ecclesiastical rival, Zandt, for being too lenient on the accused witches. But he also appears to have been protected by the church authorities until the accusations of witchcraft by accused witches became too many to ignore.
The other Sceptical hero, Friedrich Spee, was a Jesuit priest, who became convinced of the innocence of those accused of witchcraft through attending so many to the stake. He then wrote a book condemning the trials, the Cautio Crimenalis. But he was no sceptic. He believed wholeheartedly in witchcraft, but considered it rare. The use of torture was wrong, as it was leading to false confessions and false denunciations of others, which could not be retracted for fear of further torture. Thus the souls of the innocent were damned for this sin. But while good Christians were being burned as witches, many of the witch-hunters themselves were in league with Satan. They used the hunts and baseless accusations to destroy decent Christian society and charity.
But if the New Atheists are keen to ascribe a wide number of historical atrocities to religion without recognising the presence of other, social and political factors, they deny any such crimes can be attributed to atheism. Atheism is defined as a lack of belief in God, and so cannot be responsible for inspiring horrific acts. Johnstone states that in one sense, this is true, but it is also a question about the nature of the good life and the good society that must be constructed in the absence of a belief in God. And these become positive ideologies that are responsible for horrific crimes.
Johnstone goes on from this to attack Hector Avelos’ statement that the Soviet persecution of the Church was only a form of anti-clericalism, which all societies must go through. Johnstone rebuts this by describing the process and extent of Soviet persecution, from the separation of church and state in 1917 to the imposition of atheism by force. Churches and monasteries were closed and religious objects seized and desecrated, religious believers arrested, sent to the gulags or massacred. These persecutions occurred in cycles, and there were times, such as during the War, when a rapprochement was made with the Orthodox Church. But these periods of toleration were always temporary and established for entirely pragmatic and utilitarian purposes.
The goal was always the creation of an atheist state, and they were always followed, until the fall of Communism, by renewed persecution. The wartime rapprochement with the Church was purely to gain the support of believers for the campaign against the invading Nazis. It was also to establish state control through the church on Orthodox communities that had survived, or reappeared in border areas under Nazi occupation. Finally, the attack on the clergy, church buildings and religious objects and even collectivisation itself were done with the deliberate intention of undermining religious ritual and practice, which was considered the core of Orthodox life and worship.
Sam Harris has become particularly notorious for his suggestion that atheists should be trusted to torture terrorist suspects because of their superior rationality and morality compared to theists. Harris believed it was justified in the case of al-Qaeda suspects in order to prevent further attacks. But here Johnstone shows his logic was profoundly flawed. Torture was not introduced into medieval judicial practice in the twelfth century through bloodthirsty and sadistic ignorance. Rather it was intended as a reasonable alternative to the ordeal. Human reason, and the acquisition of evidence, was going to be sufficient to prove guilt or innocence without relying on supposed divine intervention. But the standards of evidence required were very high, and in the case of a crime like witchcraft, almost impossible without a confession.
The use of torture was initially strictly limited and highly regulated, but the sense of crisis produced by witchcraft resulted in the inquisitors abandoning these restraints. Similarly, Harris’ fear of terror attacks leads him to move from reasonable suspects, who may well be guilty, to those who are simply members of terrorist organisations. They are fitting subjects for torture because although they may be innocent of a particular offence, through their membership of a terrorist organisation or adherence to Islamist beliefs, they must be guilty of something. Finally, Harris also seems to see Islamism as synonymous with Islam, so that all Muslims everywhere are seen as enemies of the secular Western order. This is exactly the same logic as that which motivated the witch-hunts, in which witches were seen as the implacable enemies of Christian society, and so exempt from the mercy and humane treatment extended to other types of criminal.
From this Johnstone then goes on to consider how the New Atheists’ image of atheism and the process of abandoning belief in God resembles religious attitudes. Their belief that atheism must be guarded against the dangers of falling back into religious belief mirrors Christian fears of the temptation to false belief, such as those of the Protestant reformers towards the persistence of Roman Catholicism. At the same time, their ideas of abandoning God and so attaining the truth resembles the Christian process of conversion and membership of the elect. And the vitriol directed at the religious for continuing to believe in God despite repeated demonstrations of His nonexistence resembles the inquisitors’ attitude to heretics. Heresy differs from error in that the heretic refuses to be corrected, and so must be compelled to recant by force.
The book also shows the dangers inherent in some New Atheist rhetoric about religious believers. This runs in contrast to much New Atheist writing, which is genuinely progressive and expresses real sympathy with the marginalised and oppressed, and which advocates trying to see the world through their eyes. But no such sympathy is granted religious believers. They are described as children, who may not sit at the same table as adults. Or else, following the logic of religion as a virus, proposed by Dawkins, they are described as diseased, who do not realise that they have been infected and even love their condition.
Bringing children up religious is condemned as child abuse. A.C. Grayling is shown to have a utilitarian attitude in his own advocacy of secularisation. He first states that he supports it for creating multiculturalism, but then contradicts himself by stating that he looks forward to it undermining religion. This was the same attitude the Soviets initially adopted towards religion. When it didn’t disappear as they expected, they resorted to force. Peter Boghossian wants atheist ‘street epistemologists’ – the atheist version of religious street preachers – to attack believers’ religious beliefs in public. They are to take every opportunity, including following them into church, in order to initiate ‘Socratic’ discussions that will lead them to questioning their faith.
Johnstone states that this is an implicit denial of theists’ right to conduct their private business in public without atheist interference. It’s in line with the New Atheist demands that religion be driven from the public sphere, into the churches, or better yet, the home. The metaphor of disease and infection suggests that what is needed is for religious believers to be rounded up against their will and forcibly cured. It’s the same metaphor the Nazis used in their persecution of their victims.
He quotes the atheist philosopher Julian Baggini, who is dismayed when he hears atheists describing religion as a mental disease from which believers should be forcibly treated. As for the statement that religious upbringing equals child abuse, the seriousness of this charge raises the question of how seriously the New Atheists actually see it. If Dawkins and co. really believe that it is, then their lack of demand for state intervention to protect children from indoctrination, as they see it, from the parents shows that they don’t treat child abuse seriously.
The New Atheist rhetoric actually breaks with their concrete recommendations for what should be done to disavow believers of their religious views, which are actually quite mild. This is what Johnstone calls the ‘cavalierism of the unfinished thought’. They may not recommend coercion and persecution, but their rhetoric implies it. Johnstone states that he has discussed only one of several competing strands in New Atheist thinking and that there are others available. He concludes with the consideration that there isn’t a single atheism but a multiplicity of atheisms, all with differing responses to religious belief. Some of them will be comparably mild, but most will involve some kind of frustration at religion’s persistence. He recommends that atheists should identify which type of atheist they are, in order to avoid the violent intolerance inherent in New Atheist rhetoric. This agrees with his statement at the beginning of the book, where he hopes it will lead to an atheist response to religion which is properly informed by history and which genuinely respects religious believers.
The book is likely to be widely attacked by the New Atheists and their followers. Some of its conclusions Johnstone admits are controversial, such as the view that the Cathars never existed, or that the persecution of heretics was an integral part of the forging of the medieval state. But historians and sociologists of religion repeatedly show that in the persecutions and atrocities in which religion has been involved, religion is largely not the only, or in some cases even the most important reason. Johnstone’s views on witchcraft is supported by much contemporary popular and academic treatments. His statement that the figure of over nine million victims of the witch-hunt is grossly exaggerated is shared by Lois Martin in her The History of Witchcraft (Harpenden: Pocket Essentials 2002). The Harvard professor, Jeffrey Burton Russell in his Witchcraft in the Middle Ages (Ithaca: Cornell University Press 1972) also shows how Christian attitudes towards witchcraft passed from the scepticism of the Canon Episcopi to belief as the responsibility for its persecution passed from the bishops to the Holy Office.
Early law codes treated maleficium – black or harmful magic – purely as a civil offence against persons or property. It became a religious crime with the development of the belief that witches attended sabbats where they parodied the Christian Eucharist and worshiped Satan. A paper describing the scrupulous legality and legal provisions for the accused’s defence in the Roman Inquisition can be found in the Athlone History of Witchcraft and Magic In Europe IV: The Period of the Witch Trials, Bengt Ankerloo and Stuart Clarke eds., (Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press 2002). Other writers on religion have noted the similarity between the late medieval and early modern witch-hunts and paranoid fears about Freemasons, Jews and Communists in later centuries, including the Holocaust, Stalin’s purges and McCarthyism. They thus see it as one manifestation of the wider ‘myth of the organised conspiracy’. See Richard Cavendish, ‘Christianity’, in Richard Cavendish, ed., Mythology: An Illustrated Encyclopedia (London: Orbis 1980) 156-69 (168-9).
The Soviet persecution of the Russian Orthodox Church is described by Rev. Timothy Ware in his The Orthodox Church (London: Penguin 1963). Ludmilla Alexeyeva also describes the Soviet persecution of the Orthodox Church, along with other religions and national and political groups and movements in her Soviet Dissent: Contemporary Movements for National, Religious and Human Rights (Middletown, Connecticutt: Wesleyan University Press 1985). R.N. Carew Hunt’s The Theory and Practice of Communism (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1950) shows how leading Communists like Lenin believed atheism was an integral part of Communism and the Soviet state with a series of quotations from them. An example of Lenin’s demand for an aggressive atheism is his speech, ‘On the Significance of Militant Materialism’ in Lenin: Selected Works (Moscow: Progress Publishers 1968). 653-60.
It is also entirely reasonable to talk about religious elements and attitudes within certain forms of atheism and secular ideologies. Peter Rogerson in many of his well-reasoned articles in Magonia pointed out how similar some of the sceptics’ attacks on superstition and the supernatural were to narratives of religious conversion. His attitude is shared with some academic sociologists, historians and political theorists. Peter Yinger’s section on ‘Secular Alternatives to Religion’ in The Religious Quest: A Reader, edited by Whitfield Foy (London: Open University Press 1978) 537-554, has articles on the ‘Religious Aspects of Postivism’, p. 544, ‘Faith in Science’, 546, ‘Religious Aspects of Marxism’, p. 547, ‘Totalitarian Messianism’ 549, and ‘Psychoanalysis as a Modern Faith’, 551. For some scholars, the similarities of some secular ideologies to religion is so strong, that they have termed them quasi-religions.
While some atheists resent atheism being described as religion, this term is meant to avoid such objections. It is not intended to describe them literally as religions, but only as ideologies that have some of the qualities of religion. See John E. Smith’s Quasi-Religions: Humanism, Marxism and Nationalism (Macmillan 1994). New Atheism also mimics religion in that several of the New Atheists have written statements of the atheist position and edited anthologies of atheist writings. These are A.C. Grayling’s The Good Book and Christopher Hitchens’ The Portable Atheist. The title of Grayling’s book is clearly a reference to the Bible. As I recall, it caused some controversy amongst atheists when it was published, as many of them complained that atheism was too individual and sceptical to have a definitive, foundational text. In their view, Grayling’s book showed the type of mindset they wanted to escape when they left religion.
The fears of the terrible potential consequences of New Atheist rhetoric despite the avowed intentions of its authors is well founded and timely. There have been sharp complaints about some of the vitriolic rhetoric used to attack particular politicians in debates about Brexit which has resulted in assault and harassment. At the same it was reported that anti-Muslim hate crimes spiked after the publication of Boris Johnson’s column in which he described women wearing the burqa as looking like letterboxes. Neither religion, nor secularism and atheism should be immune from criticism. But Johnstone is right in that it should be correctly historically informed and careful in the language used. Otherwise the consequences could be terrible, regardless of the authors’ own humane feelings and sympathies.

Tories Planning to Sell Out NHS to Trump

October 31, 2019

Mike covered this story a few days ago, but it’s another one that bears repeating: the Tories want to privatise the NHS and sell it off to American corporations.

This was revealed on Monday night’s Dispatches programme on Channel 4, broadcast at 8 pm. The description of the programme in that day’s I ran

Earlier this year, Donald Trump sparked a row when he said that the NHS would be “on the table” in any future trade talks between the UK and America – swiftly performing a U-turn over his comments. Now Antony Barnett shows that US drug giants are busy lobbying trade negotiators in Washington and London to make the health service pay more for their medicines and to ban cheaper alternatives.

This is another story which Mike covered on his blog, reproducing the tweets issued by Dispatches showing that there had been six secret meetings in both London and Washington about this, and that they began under Tweezer. See https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/10/29/shock-revelation-liar-boris-johnson-has-been-secretly-selling-out-the-nhs/

This should come as no surprise. The Tories voted against Labour’s bill setting up the NHS, even after claiming that they welcomed it. A few years later under Harold Macmillan, the Tory Right tried to privatise it on the grounds that we could not afford it. And Thatcher wanted to privatise it, but was prevented by a cabinet revolt. Since then there has been an encroaching privatisation of the NHS by both the Tories and New Labour. It’s described in Ray Tallis’ book, NHS – SOS, and I’ve self-published a book on Lulu and a small desktop pamphlet discussing this. There have also been a series of short videos presented by Stephen Fry on YouTube against the Tory attempts to sell out our NHS to the Americans. In one of them, the former presenter of QI tells you that under the American private healthcare system, simply being taken to hospital in an ambulance can cost you £200. The Tories have been lying for years that the NHS is safe with them, but the truth is that they have consistently run it down, closing hospitals and A&E departments, all while claiming that they are doing no such thing. Or are actually going to reverse this policy. Remember when Dave Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith were running around protesting against Blair’s hospital closures when they were in opposition? Soon as Cameron got his foot in the front door of No. 10, that policy was reversed and they went on closing hospitals and outsourcing services to private healthcare companies.

You cannot trust the Tories with the NHS – not now, not ever. If you want to continue having a National Health Service that provides everyone in Britain with healthcare, free at the point of service, you have to vote for Corbyn and Labour.

If you vote for the Tories, you are voting for a private system, which will profit the big healthcare and pharmaceutical companies, but will be unaffordable to a large part of the British people. Can you afford private health insurance?

 

Happy Halloween, Folks!

October 31, 2019

It’s October 31st, Halloween, the day when it was traditionally believed that the dead returned to Earth, and people dressed up as witches, wizards, ghosts and ghouls and went to parties. It was believed that the festival was based on the pagan Irish feast of Samhain. Research by folklorists suggest that it did start in Ireland, but the historian Ron Hutton published a piece in the folklore/ Earth Mysteries magazine Third Stone back in the 1990s disputing the idea that it was based on any pagan Celtic festival.

I had a book of ‘spooky verse’ as a child, which contained all manner of poems about ghosts and witches and so on, some funny, some tragic and some genuinely creepy. One of these was

Hey, ho, for Halloween,

And the witches to be seen.

Some black and some green.

Hey ho for Halloween.

Which is great when your a child, but hardly Ted Hughes.

However, I hope whatever you’re doing tonight, you’ll have a great evening, and best wishes to all. And just rejoice – Boris hasn’t got his way, and we haven’t left Europe!

17th Century Quaker Statement of Right to Freedom of Religion

October 30, 2019

I found this Quaker declaration of the freedom of religion in Documents of the Christian Church, selected and edited by Henry Bettenson, 2nd edition (Oxford: OUP 1963). It’s taken from The Chief Principles of the Christian Religion, as professed by the people called the Quakers, drawn up by Robert Barclay in 1678, and published in his Apology for the Quakers. Proposition XIV, Concerning the Power of the  Civil Magistrate in Matters purely Religious and Pertaining to Conscience, runs

‘Since God hath assumed to himself the power and dominion of the conscience, who alone can rightly instruct and govern it, therefore it is not lawful for any whatsoever, by virtue of any authority or principality they bear in the government of this world, to force the conscience of others;… provided always, that no man, under the pretence of conscience, prejudice his neighbour in his life or estate; or do anything destructive to, or inconsistent with, human society; in which case the law is for the transgressor, and justice to be administered upon all, without respect of persons.’

(p. 256).

It’s almost incredible to think that this was written in the 17th century, and that nearly 3 1/2 centuries later there are still countries in this world that don’t recognise it. Countries like Saudi Arabia, North Korea, China and Russia. In Saudi Arabia only Wahhabi Islam is permitted, and Shi’a Muslims viciously persecuted. A few years ago they also passed a law declaring that atheism was terrorism even without any violence or threats of violence being made. Russia is far more tolerant of religion than it was under Communism, when it was a persecuting atheist state. But even now, some religions are declared to be illegal. This includes not only extremist sects and beliefs, like Islamism, but also the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I admit they can be a pain when they come knocking on your door sometimes in their zeal to spread their version of Christianity, but a dangerous, radical extremist group? When, and to whom? The Nazis also persecuted them, because they wouldn’t accept Hitler as a secular Messiah.

It’s a disgrace that in the 21st century, freedom of religion and conscience still needs defending from persecutors across the world.