Archive for the ‘Russia’ Category

Beeb’s John Sweeney Attack Parliamentary Lobby System as Source of Fake News

November 14, 2019

Very interesting article in next week’s Radio Times for 16th-22nd November 2019. John Sweeney, a former journo with the Corporation’s Panorama, has written a piece attacking the parliamentary lobby system, ‘Time to name your sources’, on page 9. The subtitle states very clearly why he objects to it ‘Why are political reporters feeding us fake news?’

The article runs

As the country gears up for a general election, TV viewers and newspaper readers are being lied to from within a secretive system that reduces political journalists and Westminster correspondents to underbutlers, protects power and poisons our democracy. It’s called the lobby and its two most powerful players are a career psychopath (Conservative) and a neo-Stalinist (Labour).

The lobby was created after an Irish terrorist bomb in 1885 caused MPs to lock out the journalists who used to mingle freely inside Westminster. Reporters complained and a permitted few were allowed back, so long as they followed rule number one: when a source says a story is on lobby terms, you don’t identify that source. 

The lobby’s most elegant defender, Andrew Marr, wrote in his book, My Trade: A Short History of British Journalism, “Sophisticated social animals are necessarily hypocrites… who really wants to know less?”

But Marr wrote that before King Brexit turned everything it touched to Novichok. So where do those political stories based on anonymous oft-quoted “sources close to…” come from?

The PMS (the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman) is a many-headed beast, but one set of jaws is snapped by James Slack, who, as Nick Cohen pointed out in the The Spectator, in a previous life wrote the words underneath the infamous 2016 Daily Mail headline “Enemies of the People”, attacking three judges. Another set of jaws are those of Rob Oxley, Boris Johnson’s press secretary, but the sharpest teeth belong to “career psychopath” Dominic Cummings. David  called him that five years ago. It was an understatement.

Cummings, Slack and Oxley jointly and separately use reporters in the lobby system to tell unattributable whoppers while the system as a whole is given coverage by BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Sky and the papers. Veteran political reporter Peter Oborne nailed a series of lies about Brexit on “lobby terms” recently. Perhaps the most poisonous was the “lobby terms” claim, reported in the Mail on Sunday in October, that Remainers Dominic Grieve, Oliver Letwin and Hilary Benn were being investigated by the government because of their involvement with foreign powers. The story was a lie. The BBC, etc, didn’t tell that lie. But they prop up the system in which the lie could be told.

That system also encourages acquiescence among political hacks. If you don’t toe the line and ask awkward questions instead you are excluded from the regular drip-feed of anonymous briefings. It was reported that Boris Johnson when Foreign Secretary was considered a security risk by MI6 because of his dodgy private life. But has the lobby asked if Boris will launch an inquiry into himself? Nyet.

Another potential security risk is Jeremy Corbyn’s spin commissar, Seumas Milne. He oversees Labaour’s lobby operation but the system shields his shenanigans behind the arras. In 2014 Milne appeared on a panel at a summit in Sochi alongside Vladimir Putin. Milne, a former Guardian journalist, has in the past bigged up both Stalin and East Germany. Creepy.

Has the lobby asked Putin’s pal Milne if he is a security risk? Again, nyet.

In these toxic times, the lobby has become a lie factory. We need to scrappy “lobby terms”. If power speaks with a forked tongue, we need to know whose tongue it is that’s lying.

Okay, Sweeney’s correct to call out the lobby system. I’m irritated myself by stories that begin ‘sources close to the Prime Minister’ or ‘Ministers are considering’, as quite often this means that the source is sounding out a policy. And that policy is quite often something monstrous. I remember a story in the Sunday Express back in the early 1980s, when AIDS first appeared and everyone really was afraid it would decimate the global population like a new Black Death. It was so strongly associated with gays that a Beeb science documentary on it had the title ‘AIDS: The Gay Plague’. In this climate of fear, the Sunday Depress announced that ‘ministers’ – who were never named – were considering a radical solution to the problem. This was the construction of an ‘AIDS island’ following the Swedes’ example, where AIDS victims could be isolated and treated. It harkens back to the location of lazarettos – leper hospitals – on islands. But it was also frightening coming as it did from a government that had very far right tendencies and a reputation for aggressive homophobia. Maggie had just tried to introduce her law banning the positive teaching of homosexuality in schools. To many people, this seemed like the beginning of a campaign against homosexuals and the left which would end up with internment camps. The nightmare Fascist Britain of Alan Moore’s and Dave Lloyd’s V for Vendetta, running in the comic Warrior, seemed all too possible.

Others have also challenged the very close relationship between the press and the political class. When David Cameron was PM, it was pointed out that many leading journos, including editorial staff at the Guardian, I believe, also lived in Cameron’s village of Chipping Norton. Over on the other side of the Pond, some of the left-wing news shows on the Net, like The Young Turks, Sam Seder’s Majority Report and the David Pakman Show, have also commented on the way the press is content to parrot stories and claims by right-wing politicians, because they’re afraid that if they start challenging them, those politicians will simply stop talking to them and they’ll lose their stories. The result has been a decline in journalistic standards, as papers no longer attempt to hold politicos to account, but simply repeat their lines and lies. I’ve no doubt that this also partly accounts for the utter complicity of the press in repeating the claims and assumptions of the neoliberal right over here.

But this also doesn’t exonerate the Beeb. Despite the protestations of its political editor, the Beeb does platform right-wing figures over the left. Mike put up a graphic from Tory Fibs a few days ago, which showed very clearly how massively biased the Beeb was in its inclusion of figures and spokesmen for the right on its news shows and panels. Its newsroom is stacked full of Conservatives, like Nick Robinson, and Fiona Bruce and her producers on Question Time scarcely hide their right-wing bias. And the Beeb is still under investigation for the massive bias in its Panorama documentary on anti-Semitism in the Labour party.

The lobby system is a major part of the problem, but not the whole. The whole journalistic system and its cosy relationship with right-wing politicians is rotten, and needs to be overturned. And the Beeb is very much part of it.

BBC Replaces Footage of Boris at Cenotaph with Ceremony from 2016 to Avoid Embarrassing Him?

November 11, 2019

Here’s another reason not to trust the BBC’s news coverage. Boris Johnson’s performance at the Cenotaph yesterday, when he formally laid the wreath to commemorate all those, who lost their lives fighting for this country, was shambolic. Our clown Prime Minister was caught looking around during the Two Minutes’ silence. He then walked out to the monument two earlier, and laid the wreath upside down. This was picked up by Royal Central and the Mail Online yesterday, which both commented on it, according to Zelo Street. But you could be fooled into believing that it didn’t happen by the media coverage. There’s no mention of it on the front pages of the papers. Instead, the rags concentrate on trying to claim that our economy is thriving under BoJob’s wise leadership and there is absolutely no mention of it in the Scum, which is just wall to wall Tory propaganda. Zelo Street comments

The Bozo Cenotaph shambles encapsulates the sheer venality of our free and fearless press. It is airbrushing of reality that would have made the editors of Pravda and Isvestiya blush. And it demonstrates the challenge for Labour in the upcoming General Election.

We have a press desperate to put an inept, philandering, mendacious, bigoted, uncaring clown into Downing Street. Because he’s one of theirs. I’ll just leave that one there.’

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/11/press-cenotaph-hypocrisy.html

The comparison with the Soviet manipulation of the news is also appropriate when it comes to our state broadcaster. Mike posted up a piece earlier today about how the Beeb had decided to replace the real footage of BoJob laying the wreath with a clip from 2016. This was discovered very quickly by the good folks on Twitter, who were rightly massively unimpressed and wanted to know why the Beeb had done it. The Corporation tried to wriggle out of it by saying that it was a production error, for which they apologised. This, as our parents used to say, is a likely story. The peeps commenting on the switch weren’t convinced, and neither am I. Simon Maginn, who has put in an official complaint about the Jewish Chronicle’s latest smear of Corbyn being in breach of electoral law, spoke for very many when he said

You’re liars and we know you are. You lie about things big and small, but always to Tories’ advantage.
We don’t believe a word you broadcast, because we have no reason to.
You’re corrupt, rotten and dishonest, and everyone knows that now.
Labour will reform you.
Bring it on.

Others, who didn’t believe it either included the author and scriptwriter Stephen Gallagher, and the ex-Beeb/Sky/Reuters/ PA journo Julian Shea. Evolve Politics stated that it was very unlikely that it could have been a genuine mistake, as the Beeb would have had to look through their archives to find footage from that far back. They also pointed out that the 2016 footage had obviously been substituted, because it included appearances from politicos, who have since left government. Like the former Prime Minister, Tweezer.

One viewer, Gayle Letherby, sent a written complaint to the Beeb. This ran

“I cannot accept that this was a ‘production mistake’ not least because it is clear in the 2016 footage that Theresa May and not Boris Johnson was the Prime Minister. Additionally, it surely takes some ‘skill’ to mix up footage from yesterday with footage from three years ago. I, and I know many others, can only conclude that your intention was to present the PM as more statesmanlike, more respectful, than yesterday’s performance showed him to be.

“Bias.”

Mike comments that he hopes everyone sending complaints to the Beeb like this will also post them to Ofcom, which is still investigating whether the Beeb breached its own rules on impartial coverage. He also watched Politics Live to see if they would cover this story and issue an apology. They didn’t, so he sent them this tweet to the editor, Rob Burl.

@RobBurl I was looking for the apology for BBC Remembrance Day coverage showing images from 2016 rather than yesterday, which someone clearly had to go and find, to use it instead of the shots of @BorisJohnson showing contempt for our veterans. Where is it please?

So far, he has received no reply, and thus concludes

The BBC has outed itself as a propaganda arm of the Conservative Party. Its election coverage – and other news output – should therefore be avoided on the basis of prejudice, and should be reported to Ofcom.

BBC digs out Remembrance Day clip from 2016 to avoid showing up Boris Johnson. What happened to impartiality?

Both Mike and Zelo Street compare this with the outrage the media tried to work up against Corbyn’s appearance at the Cenotaph, when they falsely accused him of wearing a blue coat to the ceremony.

But what makes this very obvious media bias to BoJob and the Tories is the complete lack of care he and they have for the real veterans. The Mirror covered the story of the death of  an 82-year old veteran, who had been evicted from his squat in Manchester along with 12 other ex-squaddies. Mike reports that they were just 13 out of the 13,000 former servicemen and women, who are now living on the streets. Mike points out that almost all of them suffer from PTSD, which often leads to drug and alcohol addiction. They receive no help from the government, which means that the Armed Forces Covenant – that those who serve or have served in the armed forces are treated fairly, which became law in 2011, is a sick joke. He quotes Chris Barwood, of the Salford Armed Forces Veterans Network, who said

 “We are turning our backs on our troops who have taken the Queen’s shilling, sworn the oath of allegiance and offered up their lives to keep us safe and yet in return we do nothing to ensure that they have a roof over their heads and food in their bellies for their remaining years.”

The only help these courageous people receive comes from charities.

Mike concludes

The crowning irony is that most members of the Armed Forces are ardent Conservatives.

I hope they reconsider that position.

Why should they vote for a party that throws them into pointless conflicts, then throws them onto the streets when they get PTSD, and whose leader shows nothing but contempt for those of their comrades who have died defending their country?

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/11/10/boris-johnsons-contempt-for-the-forces-goes-much-further-than-laying-a-wreath-wrongly/

This problem comes round regularly, whenever the Tories get into government. I remember how, nearly 30 years ago, there were reports of homelessness, unemployment and poverty amongst ex-service personnel during John Major’s government following the first Gulf War. The army was being cut, and so thousands of squaddies were turned out onto the streets with no preparation or support for civilian life. Just as Maggie inflicted drastic cuts on the armed forces after the Falklands War. Spitting Image/Private Eye made a very bitter comment on the cynical use of British servicemen and women in their book Thatcha! The Real Maggie Memoirs, which spoofed the former Prime Minister’s own when they were published. This featured a parody of a boy’s war comic, whose hero is a Falklands veteran. Proud of serving his country until he’s shown the door, the strip ends with him gunning down a bus queue in rage and despair. This was also, obviously, a comment on the mass shootings that were just then appearing across the Atlantic and elsewhere.

I don’t know of any shootings like that, which have been done over here by former servicemen and women. I hope there hasn’t and will never be one.

But the Tories’ treatment of men and women, who have served their country with pride, honour and courage is utterly, utterly disgraceful. And Mike is quite right to ask members of the forces to reconsider their allegiance to a party that treats them so cynically. 

 

John Bercow Denies Jeremy Corbyn Is Anti-Semitic

November 9, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kay Burley’s Non-Interview with James Cleverly and an Empty Chair

November 9, 2019

Tory chairman James Cleverly was due to appear on Sky this week to be interviewed by Kay Burley. But he didn’t turn up. She was understandably annoyed – HIGNFY last night played a clip of her saying that she was ‘fizzing’ with anger about it. And so she carried on with the interview. Cleverly was replaced with an empty chair as Burley told viewers about the questions she wanted to ask him.

I found this short video about the incident on Christian Tonnies’ channel on YouTube. Here it is.

Burley begins by saying that she has an empty chair that was supposed to be filled by the Conservative chairman. Where is he? She replies that he’s probably 15 feet away from where she is at the moment, and that she’s been in to see him during the break. He said he wasn’t due to come on and talk to them today, although they had said that they would. She says that she wanted to ask him about things like this, like the front page of the Telegraph, ‘The tragedy of the modern Labour party and its boss’, comparing Jeremy Corbyn to Stalin persecuting the kulaks. She puts the paper down in order to show people the empty chair again.

She also wanted to ask him about the Grenfell incident and the comments by Jacob Rees-Mogg about the people in Grenfell, suggesting that he was smarter than they were, which is why they stayed in their properties. She says to the audience that they’ll remember how many people sadly died, and asks why on Earth Mogg is still a member of the Cabinet. She goes on to show the empty chair again. She also wanted to ask him about the Welsh Secretary and the calls for him to resign of a former aide. She also wanted to ask him about a row over whether the transition will be extended if we don’t have a deal by the middle of 2020. She also wanted to ask him about a different row over attempts to get officials to cost Labour policies. Another issue she wanted to ask him about was the row over the failure to publish the report into Russian interference. She also wanted to ask him if she thought the Tories were having a good day. She also wanted to ask him about his or his boss’ suggestion that Jeremy Corbyn was demonising billionaires and whether or not it was a good idea to defend billionaires at the very start of the campaign.

She goes on to say that she knows Number 10 watches the show and she also knows that the spin doctors at No. 10 had absolutely reassured her via text that when many politicians were doing the rounds in the morning they would do this programme. And yet we have an empty chair. She repeats the rhetorical question about his location, and answers it, saying his 15 feet away from her, and says that he, James Cleverly, will not come on the programme to answer all the of the allegations.

The clip ends with a message from the Labour Party saying its time for real change, and that Labour stands for the many, not the few.

Quite. 

It would appear from this that Cleverly is a coward, who has absolutely no answers to the questions Burley was going to ask him. But he’s not alone in this. We saw with Tweezer how very carefully stage-managed her appearances were. They were all here done before selected audiences from which the public were excluded, crafted to make it seem the opposite. The Tories can’t stand probing interviews, and the moment someone asks them a question they can’t answer without lies and spin, they go to pieces and start ranting about how unfair it all is.

Of course Cleverly has not answer to Burley’s questions, just as his party has no answer to the poverty and misery they’ve inflicted on working people. Because they’re responsible for it.

Get them out, and a party in that does have real solutions: Labour.

BoJob Covering Up Report into Russian Activities?

November 5, 2019

Zelo Street published a very interesting piece on Sunday about our buffoonish Prime Minister’s signal lack of action in passing a report on possible Russian interference in British election. This report was prepared by the Commons Intelligence and Security Committee, chaired by Dominic Grieve, who appeared on Sky News to give an interview about it. The Committee is cross-party and non-partisan, considering topics like espionage, actions against our partners and subversion. The report was passed to Johnson to sign off on the 17th of October. The Prime Minister should have taken a maximum of ten days to clear it. He still hasn’t, which means that it will have to wait until April or May 2020 for publication. Downing Street replied that the process usually took six months. This was flatly denied by Grieve, who reiterated that it was only programmed to take 10 days, and added

The suggestion that six weeks are needed is just astonishing. I really begin to worry about what the No 10 spokesmen are saying nowadays. They’re going out with things which are quite simply whopping untruths”.

What makes this particularly suspicious is that Johnson was not passed to see certain confidential information when he was our disastrous Foreign Secretary. And questions have been asked about his, Dominic Cummings and Matthew Elliott, Cumming’s former colleague on Vote Leave, connections to Russia.

The Sage of Crewe writes

From there, one has to ask why Cummings, and perhaps Elliott and Bozo, want to stall the publication of that report. If there are credible accusations of interference by Russian state actors, let’s see them and see how they stand up. Likewise claims of interference by other foreign states in UK affairs – and especially elections.

For the report to be stalled, and a pack of lies advanced to excuse the stalling, merely compounds the suspicion that one or more of Dom, Matt and Bozo may not come out of publication smelling of roses. It could, of course, be leaked next week. Just a thought.’

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/11/bozo-russia-report-cover-up-busted.html

But hold on! Isn’t Corbyn and the Labour party, who are evil subversives working for the Russians? Wasn’t there that allegation that Corbyn was a Czech spy, and that Michael Foot was the KGB agent codenamed ‘Comrade Boot’? Yes there were, and they were both lies. As was the deranged belief amongst the CIA, including the chief, James Jesus Angleton, that Harold Wilson was also a KGB agent, which Maggie also believed.

Now it seems that perhaps it’s the Tories and Boris, who are really in league with the Russians and have something to hide. Just like the allegations against Trump, whom BoJob resembles more and more.

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

November 5, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t believe their lies.

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

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

November 1, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

Prof Simon on B2 Stealth Plane and Anti-Gravity Technology

October 31, 2019

I was discussing the possibility of anti-gravity technology with Trev, one of the great commenters to this blog, in the comments below a previous post about space technology. I understand that the vast majority of physicists believe it’s impossible, but that hasn’t prevented rumours circulating that it really exists.

In this video, Professor Simon Holland talks about the possible use of electro-gravitic technology in the B2 Stealth Plane. The aircraft apparently uses the Byfield-Brown effect to give itself lift. The effect was first discovered in the 1920 by Thomas Townsett Byfield, who was experimenting with X-rays. He found that a very high electric charge sent across an object reduced its weight. In the B2 a very high electric charge also runs across the leading edge of its wings, according to material released in 2003. This ionises the air around the plane, which becomes very hot and generates extra lift. Prof Simon shows footage of a Russian experiment which purports to show it working in a test model. But the American Army Research Laboratory tested the effect, and found that it was at least 3 times too weak to work. But other researchers claim that it does, and electricity is somehow related to gravity.

Some of the supposed information about the plane comes from Minutiae, which from the picture in the video appears to be a New Age magazine or blog. It’s claims about the technology may therefore be highly questionable.

However, experiments last year or so with a model plane showed that ionised air can be used to give aircraft extra lift and to fly further. That experiment stated that this was a technology that could be used in the future, indicating that it wasn’t being used on existing craft. This video suggests otherwise, at least in the case of the Stealth plane.

17th Century Quaker Statement of Right to Freedom of Religion

October 30, 2019

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

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

(p. 256).

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

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

Canadian Space Medic Celebrates International Cooperation in Space

October 27, 2019

As I discussed in an article last week, the I carried several stories about the Asgardia conference in its edition for Wednesday, 16th October 2019. Asgardia is an international organisation dedicated to the colonisation of space, and its establishment as a new, independent nation on the High Frontier. It’s somewhat like the artificial nation created by Laibach and their parent artistic collective, NSK earlier this century. Fans of the group were encouraged to join, receiving a special passport identifying them as citizens of the new state when they did.

The organisation was founded by Igor Raufovich Ashurbekli, the former director of one of the Russian state armament companies. However, Asgardia seems to aim at the peaceful, civilian conquest of space. At the conference Ashurbekli denounced Trump’s intention of establishing a military Space Command, pointing out that this violated the 1967 international treaty against the militarisation of space.

One of the other speakers at the conference was a Canadian medical doctor and astronaut, Dr. Robert Thirsk, who had conducted research in space and hailed space research’s role in bringing people of different, competing nations together in peace. This was reported in an article by Michael Day, ‘Space has to be for everyone’, in the same edition of the newspaper. This ran

As an astronaut who s pent six months on the International Space Station, Canadian medic Dr Robert Thirsk, achieved major medical breakthroughs in zero gravity and survived the thrill of take-off and re-entry. But his greatest satisfaction was working in harmony with colleagues from states that were once Cold War foes.

“I still think that the ISS is a research platform with no earthly peer,” he told Asgardia’s Paving the Road to Living in Space Conference.

“It’s brought together former Cold War enemies to pursue a common vision of extending human capability in space and of inspiring the public to take on some of these tough social problems that we still face today.”

The Asgardia micro-nation, which aims to swell to 150 million citizens within 10 years, is committed to including all nations in the development of space. It’s leaders note that only 20 nations now have space capability.

“At the moment you either have to be a billionaire, friendly with a major space agency or you join Asgardia,” said the space nation’s parliamentary speaker, the former Lib Dem MP Lembit Opik. “Space has to be for everyone.”

As a medical researcher, owrking with American, Russian, Japanese and German colleagues on the ISS, Dr Thirsk achieved breakthroughs in protein chemistry that could lead to new treatments for Duchenne muscular dystrophy, and robotic advances that have helped hundreds of cancer patients.

Britain’s first female astronaut, Dr Helen Sharman, made the same comment back in the 1990s after her historic mission with the Russians to their space station, Mir. The Russian station’s name translates as ‘world’ or ‘peace’ in English. Her mission was intended to be a landmark breakthrough in international space cooperation following Mikhail Gorbachev’s glasnost campaign and the attempts to end the Cold War.  In an interview following her mission, Dr Sharman drew attention to the positive benefits of space research in fostering peaceful cooperation between countries. Because of this, astronauts were the least racist people.

It’s interesting to see that Lembit Opik is now Asgardia’s parliamentary speaker. It’s fitting. Opik was not only a Lib Dem MP before losing his seat a few years ago, he’s also the grandson of an Estonian astronomer and himself has an intense interest in space. He was one of the many space experts concerned about the threat of world destruction from asteroid strikes. I met him well over a decade ago at an event on ‘Asteroid Armageddon’ at the Cheltenham Festival of science. He was part of a panel of astronomers and representatives of space corporations, who made it very plain that the threat to our world from rogue asteroids is very real. However, Opik’s justified concern was a source of amusement to the press, who naturally dubbed him ‘the minister for asteroids’. He’s clearly moved into space activism after he lost his seat. I don’t know if he’s still a member, but he’s probably better off with Asgardia than with the Lib Dems, who are now transforming themselves into the Europhile wing of the Tory party.

I also found a plea for the peaceful exploration of space as an alternative to war in a book I read on space technology years ago. This stated that space research provided an outlet for the desire for danger, competition and sacrifice without the mass carnage of conflict. This is true, and regardless of what you make of Asgardia, it has helped bring nations together, and its should be open to everyone, of all nations, in the world.

We don’t need Trump’s – or anyone else’s – dangerous and idiotic space command. We need more peaceful cooperation and the opening up of space and its immense resources and opportunities for all humanity.