Archive for the ‘Portugal’ Category

Historical Ignorance and Prejudice on Sadiq Khan’s Monuments Panel

February 12, 2021

Sadiq Khan has been at the centre of more controversy this week. The Tories hate him with a passion because he’s a Labour politico, and they can’t tolerate the idea, let alone the reality, of someone from the left being mayor of London. And so he has joined his predecessor, Ken Livingstone, the head of the GLC when Thatcher was in power, as the target of right-wing hate and venom. They also dislike him because he’s a Muslim, and so in the mayoral elections a few years ago we had the noisome spectacle of Tory candidate Zack Goldsmith implying that Khan was a radical Islamist cosying up to terrorist or terrorist sympathisers to bring down Britain. All rubbish, of course, but there are still people who firmly believe it.

Following the attacks on Colston’s statue in Bristol and the campaign to remove other statues of slavers and other British imperialists elsewhere in Britain, Khan has set up a panel to examine the question of doing the same in the capital, as well as renaming streets and other monuments with dubious historical connections. The panel has fifteen members, but it has already been denounced by its critics as a panel of activists. There have been articles in the Depress, Heil and Torygraph strongly criticising its composition and the selection of its members. The Torygraph’s article complained that it contained no historians, who could set these monuments into their proper contexts or any Conservatives. This is actually a fair point, because the actions of some of the panel’s members strongly indicates that those individuals have zero knowledge of the history of slavery.

One of Khan’s choices for membership of the panel is Toyin Agbetu, who managed to cause outrage in 2007 at a service in Westminster Abbey to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade. Agbetu disrupted the service and tried to approach the queen, shouting that it was all a disgrace and You should be ashamed. We shouldn’t be here. This is an insult to us’. I think that he was outraged that the British were congratulating themselves were ending the slave trade when they should never have been involved in it in the first place.

Another appointee is Lynette Nabbossa, a business academic and head of an organisation to provide role models for young Blacks. She has claimed that White supremacy is rooted in British history. In October she wrote that the UK was the common denominator in atrocities across the world, and

‘No matter where you find examples of white supremacy, all roads lead back to my country of birth.

‘It was the UK’s racism that birthed slavery and colonialism. We say it is in the past but our schools, colleges, universities, streets, museums etc have never stopped honouring the enforcers of our oppression.’

These are statements of historical ignorance and racial prejudice which should cast severe doubt on the suitability of these individuals for membership of the panel. 

British imperialism was based on the notion that the White British were superior to the non-White nations they conquered and ruled over, and this country and its ally, America, have been responsible for propping up various horrific dictators and murderous despotic regimes around the world. But neither Agbetu nor Nabbossa seem to know or understand that slavery existed long before the British empire, and that White supremacy wasn’t just a British phenomenon. What about the Spanish, Portuguese, French and Dutch empires? Apartheid has its origin amongst the Afrikaners, who were Dutch colonists. Britain only gained Cape Colony, the founding settlement of what later became South Africa, in 1800, seizing it from the Netherlands during the Napoleonic Wars. And we were hardly responsible for atrocities in Africa committed by some of the newly independent African regimes, like Idi Amin’s Uganda, the Rwandan genocide or Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.

They also don’t seem to realise how near-universal slavery was as a global phenomenon. It was a part of many African societies before the establishment of the Atlantic slave trade. Muslim slavers transported Blacks slaves north to the Arab states of north Africa, while African and Arab traders exported slaves from east Africa across the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean to Arabia, India, and south east Asia. The first Black slaves in Europe were imported, not by White Christians, but by the Arab-Berber states of al-Andalus, Muslim Spain. And the campaign against slavery began in White, European culture. This has been stated repeatedly by western Conservatives and attacked and denounced by their opponents on the left. But it’s true. I haven’t been able to find evidence of any attempt by a non-western society to abolish slavery before the Europeans. The closest I found is a document in one of James Walvin’s books, a complaint from a Muslim Egyptian against the enslavement of the Black Sudanese. This was not an attack on slavery as a whole, however. The Egyptian objected to it in the case of the Sudanese because they were Muslims, and under sharia law Muslims are not supposed to enslave other Muslims. The author of the complaint does not object to the enslavement of non-Muslims.

Part of the rationale behind British imperialism was the campaign to stamp out slavery around the world, particularly in Africa. When Jacob Rees-Mogg made a speech in parliament claiming that BLM had shot itself in the foot and that people were now interested in the careers of imperialists like Gordon of Khartoum, he had a point. Gordon was sent to the Sudan by the Anglo-Egyptian authorities to put down the Mahdi’s rebellion. All very stereotypically imperialist. But the Mahdi wasn’t just rising up against infidel oppression. He and his followers were slavers and slaveowners. Slaving was an integral part of Arab Sudanese society and trade, and they were outraged when the British tried to stamp it out and protect the indigenous Black peoples.

Slavery was also part of the African societies further south, in what became Rhodesia and Malawi. The Kapolo slaves there, apart from other indignities, had to use broken tools when working and eat their food off the floor. And the explorer Richard Burton, writing in the 1840s, says in his book Wanderings in West Africa that the condition of the slaves on that part of the continent was so wretched and the enslaved people so starved that if Black Americans saw them, they’d give up all ideas of freedom and be glad of their lives in the west.

As for slavery being the product of White British racism, the opposite is true. According to scholars of western racism, such as Sir Alan Burns, the last British governor of Ghana and the author of Colour and Colour Prejudice, and books such as Race: The History of an Idea in the West, there was little racism in Europe before the 15th century. White racism and modern ideas of White racial supremacy arose after the establishment of the Atlantic slave trade to justify the enslavement of Black Africans. But this all seems lost on Agbetu and Nabbossa.

Now they are only two of Khan’s panel. There are 13 others, and it’s probably that the Tory press seized on them to make mischief. The others may well be more moderate and informed. I’ve certainly no objection to the inclusion of a Star Wars actor, who outraged Tory sensibilities by describing Boris Johnson as a ‘c***’. It’s not the word I would use, and it is obscene, but Johnson is a thoroughly nasty piece of work, as is the party he leads. I’d therefore say that, barring the language used to express it, it’s an accurate assessment of the vile buffoon. Tom Harwood, chief catamite at Guido Fawkes, has also been stirring with the claim that the panel was considering the removal of a 16th century statue of Queen Elizabeth. This is something he seems to have pulled out of his rear. The panel has not said anything about Good Queen Bess’s statue, and it’s just Harwood trying to cause trouble by lying. Which is standard Guido Fawkes’ practise.

But the inclusion of Agbetu and Nabbossa does cast severe doubt on the panel’s expertise as a whole and the suitability of its other members to make informed judgements on controversial historical monuments. But the ignorance and racial prejudice of the two also shows that we really need to have the global aspects of slavery taught. The deeds of the past should not be covered up, but they should be placed in context. It needs to be made very clear that slavery is a global phenomenon, that it was not invented by White Europeans preying on Black Africans and that it was also deeply ingrained in many African societies and practised by the Islamic states and empires as well as Hindu India. Such knowledge might be a shock to people like Agbetu, who seem to labour under the illusion that Africa was somehow free of it before the European invasions, but that is no reason why it should not be taught.

Otherwise you get bad history and the politically correct anti-White racism these two promote and demand.

African History in Maps

July 5, 2020

Colin McEvedy, The Penguin Atlas of African History (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1980).

This is another book which I though might be useful for those with an interest in African history and archaeology. Colin McEvedy wrote a series of similar books, showing the progress of history through maps. They were on ancient, medieval and modern history, as well as an Atlas of World Population, with Richard Jones. This does the same for Africa, using maps of the continent from geological times through to 1978. The earliest is of the planet 175 million years ago, when Africa was part of a single supercontinent, Gondwanaland. Subsequent maps show how this had split into the modern continents by about 50 million years ago. This is followed by a map showing the development of the Great Rift Valley and Lake Victoria. The book then goes on with maps showing the early pre-human and human sites, the emergence of the different racial populations and language groups, and the various African peoples and the great states and civilizations, beginning with Nubia, Egypt, and Carthage. It shows the great migration and movements of peoples and their dispersion across the continent, and its population at various points in history. The maps also show Africa with southern Europe and the near east to illustrate how the empires from these areas expanded into Africa, such as Rome, Persia and the Arabs. Sometimes the movement of conquest was in the other direction, such as Carthage, whose territory included part of modern Spain, and the Almoravids, who rule Islamic Spain and part of northwest Africa. Some maps are of the continent as it was known to the ancient and medieval geographers in 1350, as well as the travels of Ibn Battuta, the Portuguese voyages of 1482-8, Vasco da Gama’s voyage to India of 1497-8, population and trade routes c. 1600, the foundation of European enclaves and trading forts, the population in 1800 and the European geographer’s view of the continent the same year and then in 1856, the European exploration of the east African lakes, and their invasion and conquest of the continent. The emergence of the newly independent African states is shown in a series of maps from 1960 onwards. The last map is of the African population as it was expected to be in 2000.

The blurb for the book runs

This is a succinct account of civilisation in the continent that gave birth to the human species.

It is a fragmented and turbulent history in which the movements of peoples contrast with the creation of permanent states – Egypt, the earliest organized kingdom in the world; Carthage, the trading city that built an empire to rival Rome; Nubia; Abyssinia; Mali, the land of gold; Benin and Zimbabwe. Seamen probe its coast, traders cross its deserts and gradually the exploiters move in; and then, in the twentieth century, Africa finds the leaders it needs to re-establish its independence and create the nation-states of today.

Using the formula successfully established in his previous historical atlases, Colin McEvedy outlines this progress with the aid of fifty-nine maps and a clear, concise trext. Though his synthesis will be especially useful to those involved in the teaching of African history, its broad perspectives will undoubtedly appeal also to the general reader.

This is obviously a dated book, and I’m not sure if some of the anthropological language used to describe some of the African races would be acceptable today. For example, the book distinguishes between Negroes, Pygmies and Bushmen. Obviously much of the book is very much as Africa was seen by outsiders, such as Arab travellers like Ibn Battuta, and the European explorers and conquerors. This is doubtless partly because many African cultures did not possess a written language before the appearance of Europeans. They did possess their own oral histories, and the Islamic empires of north Africa and Christian Abyssinia/Ethiopia were literate. In the case of the Islamic states, this was in Arabic, which served as the official language in the same way Latin did in medieval western Europe.

Despite its limitations, I still think this might be useful for people with an interest in African history. The texts accompanying each map are short, often no more than two pages, so the book should be accessible to ordinary people and not just university students.















































The Reasons for the Toppling of the Statues of Columbus and King Leopold of Belgium

June 13, 2020

It isn’t just in Bristol that people are pulling down the statues of those, who were racist, imperialist or connected to slavery. In America protesters have pulled down more statues of Confederate generals. According to the Beeb, they also pulled down a statue of Christopher Columbus. Back across the Pond in Belgium, a statue of King Leopold II was also attacked.

Columbus and the Genocide of the Amerindians

Many people are no doubt surprised and shocked that Columbus should be the centre of such controversy and anger. Again, this is because most people largely don’t know much about him. All most people are taught are that he discovered America, as in the rhyme ‘In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue’. He was an Italian in the service of the king of Spain. Many may also believe the myth begun by Washington Irving, that until Columbus found the New World, everyone believed that the Earth was flat and you’d fall off the edge if you sailed far enough. In fact people at the time had know perfectly well that the world was round, and had done since at least late antiquity and the early Middle Ages. Columbus himself was seeking a new route to the wealth, and particularly spices, of India and China. The overland trade routes had been blocked by the Turkish conquests, so Columbus was seeking a new route to these countries by sailing around the world. In doing so, he failed to realise that the world was actually larger than he believed. When he landed in the Caribbean, he thought he had landed in Asia. It was only towards the end of his career that he began to suspect that he hadn’t, and had discovered an entirely different, new continent instead.

Although it opened up a whole new world for Europeans, and especially the Spanish, it was a catastrophe for the indigenous peoples. Columbus described the Caribbean peoples he met as ‘gentle and mild’, and they welcomed their strange, new visitor. After Columbus returned to Spain, the situation changed with the Spanish conquest. The indigenous peoples – the Taino, Arawak and Caribs were enslaved and worked to death mining the gold that the Spanish and Europeans craved. If they failed to produce enough gold for their European masters, they were killed and mutilated. One of the contemporary sources for the conquest of the New World states that one of the punishments was to amputate their hands, and then hang them around the victim’s neck. Indigenous women were raped and sexually exploited. Indigenous populations were also devastated by the diseases Europeans brought with them, such as smallpox. The population of the Americas had reached several million before Columbus’ arrival. I forget the estimated number – it might be something like 8 million. That number had dropped considerably after the European conquests. The Spanish pushed further, overthrowing the Aztec and Inca empires and conquering the Mayan city states. And across the continent the indigenous peoples were devastated by disease and war, and enslaved on the vast estates carved out by the conquistadors. Other Europeans followed them, who were equally brutal – Portuguese, French, Dutch and ourselves.

The carnage of the European conquests means that Columbus is very definitely not a hero to the New World’s indigenous peoples, nor to the Black populations who succeeded them. Transatlantic slavery emerged because Europeans replaced the Indian workers they’d exterminated with African slaves. Nearly thirty years ago, in 1992 there were demonstrations and denunciations by indigenous Americans and Blacks at the celebration of the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of America. For the Amerindian peoples, the festivities were a celebration of their genocide and enslavement. Black Americans also condemned them as a celebration of slavery, an accusation that was repeated by Black Britons three years later when this country celebrated John Cabot’s discovery of Newfoundland.

Leopold of Belgium and the Congo Atrocity

Centuries later, at the end of the 19th century, Leopold was also responsible for genocide on a scale comparable to the Nazis in Zaire, the former Belgian Congo. He’d acquired the area as his own personal property, and decided to exploit his new territory through rubber production. He set up his own, private police force, the Force Publique, and forced the indigenous peoples to cultivate and produce it. The indigenous Congolese were given quotas, and if they failed to produce the set amount of rubber, they were beaten, mutilated and killed by the thugs of his private police. Tony Greenstein in an article he has published on his blog a few days ago estimates the number of killed at 10 million. I don’t know if that’s the generally accepted number, as it seems he prefers the upper end of the estimates of European genocide. But it wouldn’t have been far off. There’s a very good popular book on slavery produced by Buffalo Books. I think it’s called just Slavery, and covers all of its forms, including the infamous Coolie Trade in Indian indentured migrants and the enslavement of Pacific Islanders to serve on the plantations of Fiji and Queensland. This also covers the Congo atrocity. It’s profusely illustrated with contemporary pictures, cartoons and photographs. I came across the book when a copy was given to the Empire and Commonwealth Museum, where I was doing voluntary work cataloguing the Museum’s holdings on slavery. One of the photographs was of a Congolese man forlornly looking at his severed feet. Slavery is an horrific subject, and there were a number of very graphic illustrations. But that was one that definitely made me feel ill.

The horror stopped because of the public outcry created by its exposure by several brilliant, crusading European and American journos. The Belgian government took it out of Leopold’s hands and turned it into a state colony. For many years the whole subject was something most Belgians wished to forget. However, in the late 1990s or early part of this century, Belgium began reexamining its relationship with its colonial past. There was an exhibition at the country’s national museum around the exhibits from the Congo. This included new works from contemporary artists and performers about the exhibits and the issues they raised.


For most ordinary people, at least in Britain, the attacks on these statues are astonishing. They’re yet another example of the violent iconoclasm and assault on history and White identity of the BLM movement. I doubt many people in Britain know enough about Leopold and his personal crimes against humanity to care what happens to his statue. But there are good reasons why Blacks, the American First Nations and their sympathisers should hate these statues and want their removal. Columbus and Leopold were monsters, and like Colston brought suffering to unimaginable millions. The attacks are shocking because we aren’t taught about the consequences of the European conquests in school history, although it is certainly not hidden or covered up. You can read about the Spanish conquests and the genocide of the Amerindians in books on South American history, as well as the classic treatment of the dispossession and genocide of the North American peoples, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.

It’s why the BLM and Black and Asian activists are justified in calls for the dark side of British and European imperialism to be taught in history.


Racial Politics and the Toppling of the Statue of Slaver Edward Colston

June 9, 2020

On Sunday Black Lives Matter protesters in Bristol pulled down a statue of Edward Colston from its plinth in the city’s centre, and threw it in the Floating Harbour. It’s been both local and national news. The local news interviewed a White woman, who had been part of the protest. She was married to a Black man, and as the mother of a half-Black child thoroughly approved of the statue’s maltreatment. In fact, she felt a bit teary and overcome with emotion.

Colston, Slavery and Charity

It’s not hard to see why. Colston was a 17th-18th century slaver and president of the Royal African Society. He made a colossal fortune from the enslavement of Black Africans. As historians and Black activists have pointed out, millions of the enslaved died en route to America and the Caribbean due to the appalling conditions on board the slave ships. Slavers like Colston also responded brutally to slave mutinies aboard ship by throwing their cargo overboard, chains and all, to drown. They also did this if a storm threatened to sink the ship, and they needed to lighten it. That’s shown in the classic 19th century painting of a ship at sea facing an oncoming storm. It was based on a real incident, that of the Zong, and the painting shows the struggling Blacks drowning as a detail.

Anti-racism activists have been campaigning for the statue’s removal for over forty years, ever since the St. Paul’s race riots of the 1980s. Mike wrote a long piece about it yesterday. He, and the peeps, whose tweets he cited, viewed the statue’s fall as good riddance to bad rubbish. He wondered why it hadn’t been done years ago. Some of those commenting were Blacks, like the awesome Kerry-Ann Mendoza of The Canary. They compared the statue to those of Hitler, and described how it had tore them up to go past it. If Colston had only been a slaver, the statue’s removal wouldn’t have been an issue. What complicated the matter is that Colston, who actually spent most of his life in Mortlake in London, gave very generously to charity. He endowed several schools in Bristol, one of which was Colston Girls School. As Mike explains in his excellent article, we also had Colston Day at school. This was a one-day holiday. Some pupils were also called upon to attend a special service at St. Mary Redcliffe church, and received a Colston bun. Mike had that experience. So did I.

Bristol and the Slave Trade

I should also point out here that, like Mike, I also grew up believing that one branch of our ancestral family tree, the Haberfields, had been slavers. That was dispelled last week by the historian David Olasuga on the Beeb’s programme, A House Through Time. Olasuga stated instead that the Haberfield’s made their money as wine merchants. There may have been other branches of the family that were slavers, however. I don’t know. I’ve heard stories that one ancestor was the captain of a slave ship, and that the City Museum has his log. But when I talked to people from the City’s museums, they denied they had any such thing. Bristol did benefit immensely from the slave trade, but, contrary to popular belief, most of the slaves were taken to the Caribbean. Those few that came back to the City were trusted personal servants. As a result, there is precious little in Bristol, apart from the luxurious homes the slavers built for themselves, that is directly connected to the slave trade. When the City Museum held an exhibition on Bristol and the slave trade there were so few objects left over from Bristol’s slave trade, that they had to borrow some from elsewhere. There are written documents, like contracts and ledgers, but museums don’t like putting them on display. Not because they’re trying to hide anything, as some people have alleged, but simply because visitors don’t find them interesting.

Anti-racist Politics in Bristol

There have been petitions over the years to remove the statue. It’s remained, because these campaigns did not achieve a majority. At the last poll, Bristolian opinion was divided half and half. Roughly the same proportion of people wanted the statue to stay as those, who wanted it gone. And not all Black anti-racism activists wanted it removed. Paul Stephenson was one of the leaders of the Bristol bus boycott in the 1960s and 1970s. This was against the colour bar operated by the local bus company, which refused to employ Blacks. When he was interviewed about racism and the slave trade in the city a few years ago, he felt the statue should be kept, but with a plaque pointing out that he was responsible for enslavement and genocide. As it is, the statue is going to be fished out of the harbour, and put on display in the M Shed. One of the arguments for keeping it up is that it serves to educate people about this aspect of Bristol’s history, but as one of the tweeters Mike quotes also says, this comes from people, who really don’t want schoolchildren talk about the dark side of the British empire.

I’ve also no doubt that some of the resistance to tearing the statue down and to some of the initiatives by the local authorities to commemorate Bristol’s involvement in the slave trade and its millions of victims comes from the highly emotive and divisive racial politics in the city. Although Britain has had a Black presence since the Roman Empire, and Bristol has had a Black population from at least the 16th-17th centuries, there has only been a large Black community in Bristol since the mass immigration of the post-War years. The Black community in the inner city has, like those elsewhere, a reputation for drug dealing, prostitution and violent crime. St. Paul’s was a district Whites from outside the area drove through with their windows up and doors locked. Furthermore, some of the demands and accusations made by the community’s representatives were less than tactful.

It’s often asserted that Bristol was built on the slave trade. That’s true, but only up to a point. Bristol did profit very well from the trade, as did many other ports. But Bristol was great trading city before the slave trade took off in the 17th century. We traded with France, Spain and Portugal, as well as Ireland and across the Channel to Wales. And the first slaves sold by Bristol were White Anglo-Saxons bought by Irish merchants. The Anglo-Saxon cleric St. Wulstan visited the city to condemn the trade in the 11th century.

There’s also the problem that some anti-racist activists make unwarranted assumptions about racism and Whites. There’s an automatic assumption by some that if you’re White, you must be racist. That naturally gets peoples’ backs up. One of the Conservative blogs I read years ago quoted an American study that found that police officers tended to become more racist after anti-racist training than previously. I don’t know if that’s true, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it was. The automatic reaction of anyone accused of racism, whatever their colour, is going to be resentment and defensiveness. And in the 1980s the Tory papers explicitly claimed that the riots were caused by Black racism. Some Black leaders didn’t help their cause either. I remember an article in the Absurder c. 1984/5 attacking one Black politician – it might have been Paul Boateng – for suggesting that Blacks should have their own autonomous areas. The writer correctly pointed out that this was a demand for segregation and apartheid. Fortunately, the call for separate Black communities went unheeded.

There has also been the problem that the city has devoted funds and resources in combating the poverty, unemployment and crime in the racially mixed inner city areas of Bristol, at the expense of the White majority areas further out. South Bristol was promised a local hospital back in the 1970s, but it was only built a few years ago. Positive discrimination schemes also give more funding to those areas with a large ethnic minority population. This has caused some resentment.

As a result it has seemed at times that the demands for Colston’s statue to be pulled down, and for the slave trade to be commemorated in Bristol, has come from a position of anti-White racism, rather than a desire for racial justice in itself.

Black Separatism and the Name of the Malcolm X Centre

And if you’re talking about the official commemoration of racists, there is the whole issue of the name of the community centre in St. Paul’s. It is, or was called the Malcolm X Centre, after the American civil rights leader. The problem is that Malcolm X’s organisation, the Nation of Islam, is racially separatist. They want a separate Black state, to be formed from a group of Black majority states in the US. In the 1960s they used to hold joint rallies with the American Nazi party. There was an article on this in the Sunday colour supplement for the Independent back in the 1990s. It contained an article written by a White American female photographer, who followed, interviewed and photographed Malcolm X at the time. The article reproduced some of the photos shed’ taken of these rallies. Now Malcolm X didn’t remain a separatist. He later converted to orthodox Islam, and supported integration after he went on the Hajj to Mecca, during which he found that people of all races were fundamentally the same. I think he also took an orthodox Muslim name. There is therefore the problem that if it is wrong to commemorate a slaver like Colston, then why should a Black activist, who also stood for racism and separation, be commemorated?


Colston’s statue had its time long ago. It’s removal, one way or another, was pretty much inevitable. It won’t be missed. The argument for its retention was weakened when the Americans began pulling down the statues of Confederate generals. At the same time, it’s right that Bristol’s involvement in the slave trade and the slaves transported should be commemorated. There’s a whole gallery devoted to this at M Shed on Bristol’s docks. There’s also a slave walk, and a commemorative plaque. Black Lives Matter still has an urgent point. Racism still exists in this country, and Black communities as a rule are underprivileged, poorer with higher rates of unemployment and underrepresented in large parts of industry, society and the arts.

But anti-racist campaigns also need tact and sensitivity. Accusations that Whites in general are racist, or that Bristol must somehow be intrinsically racist because of slavery, just cause more division and resentment.

It leads to embittered Whites giving their votes to the Tories, who will just use them to justify their own racism and destruction of state aid for the disadvantaged regardless of their colour.




Boris Sentences More People to Death from Coronavirus

June 3, 2020

On Monday our murderous clown Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, casually sent more people to their deaths from the Coronavirus. Ignoring all the scientific advice to the contrary, he has decided to lift some of the lockdown restrictions. He’s insisting that some schools should reopen, and has allowed some nonessential business to do the same, provided they observe some measures on social distancing.

It’s far too early in this country for the lockdown to be raised, even partially. Both Mike and Zelo Street have published articles showing how Boris’ decision is yet another catastrophically wrong move in his halfhearted and utterly inept attempt to deal with the disease. Mike in his article reported that, according to the DEFCON type scale Johnson had invented for dealing with the disease, we were still at level 4. This means that the virus is not contained, the R level – the rate at which the virus is infecting new people – is above 1 in some regions, but hospitals aren’t overwhelmed. However the recommendation is still that the lockdown should be maintained. But as he points out, Boris is behaving as if we’ve reached level 1 and the crisis is over and everything can be reopened. But this won’t happen until a vaccine has been developed.

Mike’s put up a series of Tweets from people condemning his decision. One Tweeter, TheLockdownHeron, contrasts the situation in Spain and Britain. In Spain, 96 new cases were reported. In Britain, we had 8,000. But Spain is still determined to keep their lockdown in place, while we lift ours. Zelo Street’s article quoted Derek James, who tweeted that Spain had also had only fourdeaths from Covid-19 in the previous three days. Britain had had over 1,000. And the country was massively behind the rest of Europe as well. Bryan Smith tweeted out these figures for other European nations and his comments on them:

Deaths yesterday across Europe: Spain 2 … Italy 87 … Germany 24 … France 52 … Turkey 28 … Belgium 42 … Sweden 84 … Portugal 14 … Ireland 6 … Poland 13 … Romania 13 … Hungary 8 … Netherlands 28 … UK … 324 … There’s no way we are ready to ease lockdown & open schools”.

Professor John Edmunds, a member of the SAGE advisory group, stated that the decision to ease the lockdown was political and that many scientists would have preferred the incidence of the disease to have declined to lower levels before doing so. His colleague on the committee, director of the Wellcome Trust Jeremy Farrar said that the disease was spreading too fast for lockdown measures to be lifted.

Of course Boris’ decision to raise the restrictions is political. He has never liked them, and put off imposing the lockdown for as long as possible in order to ‘get Brexit done’ and preserve the economy, all while indulging in lethal, eugenicist fantasies about the British people acquiring herd immunity. His poll ratings have plunged, so that Labour’s Keir Starmer has an approval rating of +21 while BoJob’s is -1. Labour’s also risen five points in the polls and the Tories had dropped four, so that from a lead of 15 points ahead they were down to six.

Some parts of the British public are already chafing at the bit, hoping for some return to a semblance of normality. That was shown by masses of people heading off to the coast at the weekend to enjoy the summer sun. BoJob and the Tory media are trying to defend his decision partly by pointing to some of the foreign countries lifting their restrictions, like Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany. But these all have much lower incidences of the disease. When France tried it, there was a spike in about 90 new cases across la Patrie. And many people in this country are afraid of the same when the second wave of infection hits. Another of the Tweets Mike shows on his page is this ominous prediction:

Sarah 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿🏍️@Frecklechops

Who else thinks we’ll have a second wave in a few weeks and be back in full lockdown in July?

BLACK LIVES MATTER@socialistbangrs

Second wave but no lockdown, they just let it kill everyone it will kill and infect everyone as originally planned because they’re Tories

Absolutely. Cheltenham hospital is already sending its routine cases to Gloucester in preparation for a new wave of Coronavirus.

As for the Tories, Black Lives Matter is right: the Tories will let it kill and infect everyone because it is destroying the ‘useless eaters’, who use the NHS and are supported by the welfare state, two institutions they want to dismantle for the sake of themselves and their wealthy donors.

Johnson does not care about people’s health, only about corporate profit. And so by passing this decision, he has condemned countless people to an unnecessary death.

Sky News Poll Shows Trust in Media at Near Abysmal Levels

April 24, 2020

Zelo Street this afternoon has posted the results of a very interesting poll conducted by Sky News. The channel took a survey of 1,652 Brits, asking them about the lockdown, whether they trusted BoJob and Starmer, and also if they trusted the media, among other questions. Zelo Street’s article concentrates on the results for politicos and the media. Which are, ahem, interesting. And not good news for any parties, but especially not the ladies and gentlemen of the fourth estate.

The channel reported that although they were increasingly anxious and sadder, the British public were emphatic that the lockdown should continue. 51 per cent of the public trusted Johnson to tackle the Coronavirus, but 39 per cent don’t. This gave our clown prime minister a score of +12.

Only 25 per cent of those polled trust Starmer, while 34 per cent don’t, meaning that he has a score of -9.

Trust in journalists was very low. Zelo Street began its article by stating that the British press has been at the bottom of the league in Europe in the esteem in which it is held by the public. It’s trusted even less than the press of countries that have, within living memory, been dictatorships, like Spain, Portugal and the eastern European nations. Only 24 per cent trust TV journos, while 64 per cent don’t, giving them a net score of -40. Only 17 per cent responded that they trusted newspaper journalists, compared to 72 per cent who didn’t. They therefore had a score of -55.

Ian Dunt, a broadcast hack, tweeted that it was hard to overstate what a disaster those results were. A tweeter identifying him- or herself as the CEO Antifa answered him with “Remember when Peter Oborne tried to warn you all about this and got blacklisted by most publications?”. Zelo Street reminds us that Oborne, a journo of immense integrity, has warned for some time of the tendency of some in the broadcast media simply to repeat the claims of anonymous government spokespeople. He named Laura Kuenssberg and Robert Peston as two serious offenders. Zelo Street concludes

‘Now has come the public’s verdict. Don’t say you weren’t warned, media people.’

It’s shocking and dispiriting that just over half of the British public trust Johnson to battle the Coronavirus. This is despite the long list of his failures, beginning with the Tories’ underfunding of the NHS, their refusal to update the plans for a pandemic emergency and take on board the lessons from wargaming such an emergency way back in 2016, to Johnson’s refusal to heed medical advice back in January and impose a lockdown. It ignores the way Johnson, and some in the Tory ranks even now, pushed a pseudo-scientific commitment to herd immunity, which could leave up to 200,000 – 250,000 dead, in favour of the economy. And then there is the continuing failure to order sufficient supplies of PPE for the front line medical and care workers. The FT has now stated that the official figure of 18,000 deaths is an underestimate. It does not include those dying in care homes or at home. The real figure is 41,000. Some of these people could have been saved if Johnson had acted sooner. If he’d actually gotten off his Eton-educated arse and attended the Cobra meetings. If he really had worked all hours round the clock, instead of just having his shills tell us that, while he bunked off at weekends. If he actually took the work of government seriously, instead of simply acting out his power fantasies.

Nevertheless, the stats also show that trust in Johnson is falling. When Hope Not Hate did a similar poll a couple of weeks ago, they put trust in Johnson at 64 per cent. It’s down 13 per cent. No wonder that the Tory spin doctors are putting up fake twitter accounts and Tory front organisations are putting up spurious signs, all telling us how wonderful Johnson is and how the emergency services and NHS staff love him. He and his followers are afraid, because if the trend continues, after a couple of weeks trust in him will be as low as Starmer’s.

As for the public distrust of the Labour leader, some of that is a successful hangover from the vicious media campaign against Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party. But some of it may well be due to his own background in the Labour far right, his lack of response to Johnson and his failure to act so far against the plotters and intriguers that deliberately sabotaged Labour’s election campaign. As has been pointed out, Starmer was a participant in one of the coups against Corbyn. He managed to score points earlier this week against Dominic Raab at Prime Ministers’ questions, but mostly he’s been quiet. He has taken zero action against the plotters, racists and intriguers named in the leaked report, instead seeming determined to find and punish the whistleblowers. Members are considering suing the party and asking for a return of their subscriptions on grounds of breach of contract because of the antics of the Labour plotters. If enough people did this, it would wreck the party.

Starmer could regain public trust by acting decisively against the plotters in the leaked document. The media now consider it a non-story, because it doesn’t conform to their predetermined desire to paint Corbyn as an anti-Semite. But he could make it the story and, if properly advised, actually do something Corbyn couldn’t do and take control of the narrative. He could also gain more trust by actually increasing his public profile. By taking the lead and publicly criticising Johnson. The way is open for him to succeed and gain the trust of the public.

But I fear he won’t, because that means acting against the very same right-wingers who worked hard to put him, or someone like him, in place as leader of the party.

But the media are in a marginally worse position, as their venality and bias has meant that public confidence in them, and especially after their massively biased reporting of Corbyn and the Labour party, is now at a record low.

If this continues, then, when the lockdown is lifted, the press will still see a collapse in readers because by that time people will have worked out that they’re missing nothing by not buying them and their lies.

Viktor Orban Uses Pandemic to Become Dictator of Hungary

April 2, 2020

The onward march of the extreme right in eastern Europe takes another fateful goosestep. Viktor Orban, the already very authoritarian president of Hungary, has used the Coronavirus crisis as the pretext to pass legislation destroying the last vestiges of the democracy there, establishing him as the country’s virtual dictator.

On Monday, Zelo Street posted a piece based on an article in the Groaniad, reporting that Hungary’s parliament, dominated by his xenophobic Fidesz Party, was expected to grant him sweeping powers. These will give Orban the ability to rule by decree. Elections will be banned. The speaker of the Hungarian parliament and parliamentary groups will be informed of the government’s actions. However, spreading false information will become a criminal offence punishable by a long prison sentence. It will be prerogative of Orban’s Fidesz MPs to decide when the emergency is over. Orban has said that when it is, he will surrender all his powers without exception. However, there’s absolutely no guarantee of this, as the laws he passed in 2016 against asylum seekers, which were also supposed to be temporary, are still in place. It’s therefore possible that a compliant parliament will allow Orban to hang on to some or all of them.

Zelo Street stated unequivocally that the EU should expel Hungary because of this seizure of power. The Sage of Crewe pointed out that when the EU was the EEC, and only consisted of France, West Germany, Italy and the Benelux countries – Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, the dictatorships to the east and west of the bloc stood absolutely no chance of getting. This meant the Fascist dictatorships of Portugal and Spain, Greece under the military rule of the colonels, Ceausescu’s Romania and the DDR (East Germany) under Erich Honecker. He remarks that Hungary’s continued membership of the EU has been a test for its remaining member states, one that they have so far failed to tackle. He concludes

‘Viktor Orbán may be more Chaplin than Hitler. But if the values of the EU are to mean anything, the Union cannot permit a dictatorship within its club. So expel the SOB.’


Zelo Street describes this legislation as an ‘enabling law’. The reference is to the Enabling Act which formally made Adolf Hitler dictator of Germany and suspended parliamentary democracy. And the Nazis, and the Italian Fascists before them, also seized power in response to a crisis. Fascist governments are crisis regimes. In the case of Italy and Germany, the crisis was first of all the breakdown in parliamentary democracy, as the pillars of the liberal regime in those nations stopped cooperating. In Germany this led to the president, Hindenburg, ruling by decree. This was succeeded by the recession caused by the Wall Street Crash and the massive uncontrolled inflation that saw the Mark as worth far less than the paper it was printed on. This discredited capitalism for millions of Germans, leading to a surge in votes for the Nazis and the Communists. And finally there was the Reichstag fire, which allowed the Nazis to declare a state of emergency and begin rounding up subversives. Which meant anybody who didn’t cede power to Hitler, and particularly Communists and the democratic socialists of the SPD.

Fidesz is extremely xenophobic and, like many political parties in the former eastern bloc, in particular anti-Semitic and islamophobic. I’ve no doubt Orban would be overjoyed if he could somehow blame the pandemic on Gypsies, Jews, homosexuals and Muslims. And I’m afraid that where Orban’s gone, other countries will follow, such as Poland under the Law and Justice Party. Or even Britain, where Boris has also passed legislation granting him extraordinary sweeping powers to deal with the pandemic emergency.

The EU’s failure to do so is an indictment of the hypocrisy of its leading politicos. Years ago Private Eye published an account of the EU’s dictatorial attitude towards the states then seeking membership in its ‘Brussels Sprouts’ column. The terms and conditions were very detailed and were not open to negotiation. Or at least, not very much. One of the countries joining was the Czech Republic. It’s president, Vaclav Klaus, was so outraged by his country’s dictatorial treatment, and told the EU negotiating team that his country had not suffered such treatment for nearly 30 years. This was in the late ’90s – early 2000s, so he was probably referring to the Russian invasion which ended the Prague Spring, the attempt by Czech premier Anton Dubcek to make Communism popular and democratic. This infuriated two of the EU’s team, the French former radical, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, and a German MEP. They immediately climbed on their high horses and started angrily shouting about how the EU was the opposite, and was the champion of democracy. And I can remember how, about ten years ago, the EU managed to leave many people highly unimpressed when it sanctimoniously awarded a peace prize to itself, claiming that it had successfully kept the peace in Europe. Well, possibly. But I also think NATO and a general fear across the continent of another war had played a major party. If the EU is unable, or unwilling, to do anything about Orban’s seizure of power, then all the verbiage about defending democracy is simply empty, vacuous nonsense. As readers of this blog will know, I am absolutely no supporter of Brexit. But it is true that EU is an immensely flawed institution.

It’s too much to claim that the EU is some kind of authoritarian superstate, an EUSSR, as the Kippers and Brexiteers liked to describe it, or some kind of successor to the Third Reich or Napoleon’s empire. But with Orban seizing dictatorial power, it is true to say now that the EU is no bulwark of democracy either.


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: 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.
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.
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.

Bolsonaro – The Fascist Destroying the Brazilian Rainforest and Threatening Human Survival

August 24, 2019

Mike’s just put up a post this evening urging his readers look at an article on the Open Democracy website about the burning down of the Amazon rainforest by Brazil’s Fascist president, Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro is a right-wing extremist, who defends Brazil’s military dictatorship. He also backs the campaign of the logging companies and the ranchers to open up the Amazon to exploitation and cultivation.

Except that, as Mike’s article points out, the soil is so poor that it only lasts for two harvests after the trees have been cut down. I can remember studying the problems of the Amazon, and similar parts of the planet, in the ‘A’ level geography class at school. Part of the course involved the Third World. The Amazon is a precious global resource, because its vegetation soaks up something like 20 per cent of the world’s carbon dioxide. That’s why it’s been called the ‘lungs of the world’. It’s also the home to countless precious and endangered species of animals and plants. And biologists are also interested in it because some of the plant species may possess medicinal properties, and so be immensely valuable in the creation of new drugs and treatments for disease.

The indigenous peoples of the Amazon do practise a form of agriculture, ‘slash and burn’. They cut down an area of forest to cultivate, but only do so for a fixed length of time before moving on to another area and leaving that part of the jungle to regenerate. It’s sustainable as it doesn’t exhaust the soil, as Western-style agriculture does.

It’s also an outright attack on the Amazon’s indigenous peoples themselves. The ranchers and loggers are very jealous of the extensive lands allotted to the Amerindian tribes as their reservations. These peoples have suffered a long, miserable history of European persecution. Following the European invasion of the New World, they were enslaved by the Portuguese settlers. Those that survived the devastation brought about by European diseases, that is. Conquistador accounts of journeys through the Amazon describe cities and communities that were wiped off the map. These accounts were thought to be just legends until archaeologists began discovering the house platforms and other remains belonging to these now vanished communities. These civilisations were vast, and it seems that the Amazon may have had a population of several millions before the catastrophe of European contact.

These sites are also of interest to ecologists, as the ‘black soil’ there has the power to regenerate, and restore its fertility.

Despite being protected under Brazilian law, the persecution and maltreatment of Amerindians continued into the 20th century. Encroaching farmers shot them as troublesome pests on their land. A few years ago, attacks by a group of loggers left one tribe virtually extinct. Although there were survivors, they are too few to form a viable breeding group. When they pass, so does their ancient people.

This is what is threatened by the actions of Bolsonaro and his backers in big business by the mass destruction of the rainforest. And if it goes, it may mean that the rest of the world goes with it as climate change becomes even more massive.

I realise that the subject of the Amazon is immensely touchy with patriotic Brazilians, who feel that it’s a resource they should be allowed to exploit. And I’m very aware that if the world declared that Britain should not be allowed to cultivate, or should be forced to rewild some of its forests, our people would similarly be indignant.

But this goes beyond the rights of individual nations. This is a catastrophe that threatens the world. The international community must join forces and aid the left-wing activists and ecological opposition in Brazil, if we are to preserve the rainforest and ourselves.


Sam Seder of Majority Report fame has also put up a video on YouTube in which Michael Brooks and his team identify Bolsonaro as the Human species’ greatest threat to survival. Here it is.

The Tories and the War on Drugs

June 16, 2019

There’s been some amusement to be had this past week with various leading Tories coming out and admitting to having used drugs. Michael Gove confessed to having snorted cocaine, and Rory Stewart admitted that he’d smoked opium once, 20 odd years ago, when he was backpacking around Iran. It was at a wedding. He claimed that it couldn’t have affected him much, as he was walking 25 – 30 miles a day. My guess is that in reality he’d have been stoned out of his tiny patrician brain. It’s generally the lean, fit people, who are most affected by intoxicants, as you can see by all the tales about champion marathon runners and other athletes, who become massively drunk when they celebrate with half a pint of booze afterwards. Then there’s Paul Staines of the Guido Fawkes blog. He hasn’t come out of the stoner closet, but he was notorious as a Libertarian for taking and advocating DMT as a mind-expanding drug. My guess is that he’d need it. As a member of an organisation that was so right-wing, it invited the leader of one of Rios Montt’s death squads from El Salvador to be their guest of honour at their annual dinner, Staines would need some powerful hallucinogenics to convince himself he was a decent human being.

Boris is also widely suspected of having done drugs, and it’s almost certain that the allegations are true, and of continuing to use them. But he hasn’t confessed to it. When asked whether he had at a press conference about his candidacy for the Tory leadership, he brushed the question aside by claiming that he thought the British public were more interested in what he intended to do as politician than whether he took illegal substances. He might be right for some people. We’re so used to public figures, like actors, rock stars and other media celebrities, coming forward to admit that they took drugs some time in their lives, that it almost seems unremarkable. In some parts of the entertainment industry, it’s even to be expected, as with tales of pop musicians, which have become part of the general pattern of rock excess. However, Boris’ own political career isn’t any recommendation for him as Prime Ministerial material either. He’s been so egotistical and massively incompetent that many people would have to take large amounts of illegal chemicals to be persuaded otherwise.

Author’s impression of Theresa May with potential voter.

There’s more than a little fun to be had out of all this furore. Some wag with a better grasp of video editing than yours truly could provide us all with a laugh by cutting their speeches with bits from notorious films about drugs from the past. Like the 1950s anti-cannabis film, Reefer Madness, or David Cronenberg’s ’90s flick, The Naked Lunch, based on the notorious book by William S. Burroughs. This latter film is roughly based on Burrough’s own life, and is about a pest exterminator, who gets high on the ketamine he’s using to kill the insects. As the drug takes effect, he hallucinates that he’s some kind of SF spy, and has to make his report to Interzone before flying to Morocco after accidentally shooting his wife while they were playing William Tell. The hallucinations include the hero seeing everyone in a bar as mugwumps – humanoid lizards – and a gay talking typewriter-beetle. You could have some fun showing Boris sitting down to type his statement for the leadership election, but showing the hands of Cronenberg’s hero typing away at the beetle creature. Though as the beetle-typewriter then goes on to declare how wonderful homosexuality is, this scene might not be appropriate. The Tories have declared themselves at ease with the gay community, and no-one could ever accuse Boris of it. Another excellent film candidate for mixing with the Tory leadership speeches would be Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, based on the book by Hunter S. Thompson, illustrated by Ralph Steadman. Which also has a bar full of hallucinatory lizards, bats coming down out of the desert sky, and Richard Nixon erupting out of a TV set, amongst other bizarre visions.

But there’s also a very serious side to all this. The great commenters on Mike’s blog, when he covered this story, made some very good points about these people’s hypocrisy. They’ve all done drugs, and got away scot-free, in contrast to more ordinary users, who’d been to jail. One commenter told how he had a friend, who now suffers from PTSD because of what he’d experienced in prison after being convicted of a drugs offence. And the whole affair also seems to me to be a replay of a similar scandal back in 2004, when a number of other Tories confessed to having used cannabis.

The furore was started when Anne Widdecombe announced that she wanted harsher sentences for drugs, quite at variance with the party stance on the issue at the time. A number of Tories then came forward to announce that they’d taken it. Matthew Parris then gave his view about it all in an article he wrote for the Spectator. One Tory revealed that he had smoked cannabis at Oxford. This didn’t shock Parris, who was far more outraged by the way the august gentleman had consumed it. Parris declared that he could have been smoking cowpats for all he cared. What offended him was that the pretentious so and so had put it in his pipe. He smoked a pipe! It’s something you can imagine Rees-Mogg, the MP for the 18th century, doing. If he were inclined towards the substances used by Thomas De Quincy and Coleridge, of course.

This came at the time the government was considering changing its policy towards drug abuse. Much had been in the news about the success the Scandinavian countries, Portugal and Switzerland had achieved in their battle with illegal drugs, in contrast with Britain’s failure to combat or contain its growing drugs problem. These nations had a softer approach to tackling drug abuse. Addicts were treated not as criminals, but as sick people, who needed to be helped. But this was too namby-pamby for Widdecombe and those like her. Parris wrote that this had also been the policy in Britain, and had been giving positive results. But it all changed with the election of Ronald Reagan. Reagan wanted a war on drugs, and as American’s ally and the Special Relationship, we had to follow suit. The result was harsher sentences for drug offences, which actually had a negative effect on what they were trying to achieve. Treating drug addiction as a sickness makes sense, as no-one wants to be sick so they seek help. Criminalizing it, however, gives it a kind of glamour. You ain’t sick, you’re gangsta! Public enemy No. 1. And so far from deterring people from using drugs, the policy actually helps to promote it.

And then there’s the racism of the War on Drugs. Hillary Clinton deliberately played on White American fears of Black criminality when she announced Clinton’s new, tougher policies on drugs back in the 1990s. She talked about ‘superpredators’ – at the time, a term that was only used about Black men. The laws were also framed so that it targeted Blacks rather than Whites. Although studies have shown that Whites are just as likely to use drugs as Blacks, the majority of those arrested and convicted are Black. And I suspect that the situation is similar over here. Certainly it’s been clear to me from talking to Black friends that they believe that Blacks suffer disproportionately harsher punishment than White drug abusers. I know many Blacks, who won’t touch the stuff, and they make the point very clear to Whites trying to encourage them to do so.

It seems very clear to me that we need a return to a saner, more effective drugs policy. One that discourages it as it helps the victims by treating it as a disease, rather than giving it a spurious glamour it doesn’t deserve by criminalizing it. A policy that punishes and cures White and Black equally, instead of playing to White fears and racism.

But for me, the most toxic drug not mentioned in the Tory leadership contest is Conservatism. This has destroyed whole communities, and comprehensive wrecked Britain, creating poor healthcare, unemployment, despair, depression and general poor mental health, all while fostering racism, bigotry and bitter resentment against the poor, disabled and marginalised. It has done this while creating illusions of prosperity and national greatness. It’s time it was stopped. The pushers of this vile drug – Johnson, Gove, Leadsom and the rest of them – should be properly punished by losing any and every election they take part in. And the literature that encourages this vile drug – the Times, Torygraph, Mail, Sun and Express, should be binned at once and readers should turn to proper news outlets.

Only then can we look forward to a saner society, less afflicted by drugs.