Archive for the ‘Secularism’ Category

Chief Rabbi Tells AIPAC Why He Told People Not to Vote for Corbyn

March 7, 2020

Unfortunately, Melanie Phillips wasn’t the only person this week violating the provisions of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism in Israel’s favour. So was Ephraim Mirvis, the world’s worst Chief Rabbi. Mirv appeared in the page of the wretched right-wing libel sheet, the Jewish Chronicle, talking about his speech to AIPAC explaining why he told the British Jewish public not to vote for Labour because of Jeremy Corbyn. AIPAC is one of the very largest pro-Israel lobbying organisation in America. The largest is Ted Hagee’s equally vile Christians United for Israel, but AIPAC is extremely influential. Leading American politicos, including presidential candidates like Hillary Clinton, have appeared before it, pledging their undying support for Israel and seeking the organisation’s endorsement. And its leaders include such charmless nerks as Sheldon Adelson. Adelson’s a casino billionaire, who has apparently made it public that his first loyalty is to Israel. The IHRA definition of anti-Semitism says it is anti-Semitic to accuse Jews of being more loyal to a foreign country. For the vast majority of Jews, this is undoubtedly the case – they’re loyal citizens and accusing them of such disloyalty would be anti-Semitic. But in Adelson’s case, apparently, it’s true.

Mirv’s Violation of IHRA Anti-Semitism Definition

Mirv declared that Prime Ministers of Israel and key Jewish leaders have been graciously and warmly welcomed at No. 10 under the Conservatives. As Mike points out in his article, they’ve also been welcomed by Labour leaders. One of these was Tony Blair, who received considerable backing from the Israel lobby, which is probably one of the reasons why the Blairites were able to make such an alliance with the Israel lobby in the Labour Party to attack Corbyn. He then went on to ask rhetorically “What would happen if the next incumbent was Jeremy Corbyn? What would the consequences be for Jews and Judaism and the State of Israel?” As Mike also points out, that also violates another stipulation of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism – that Jews should not be identified with Israel.

Unfortunately, Zionists do it all the time. Netanyahu passed a law nearly a decade ago making all Jews everywhere automatically citizens of Israel. Many Jews weren’t impressed. There are very many Israel critical and anti-Zionist Jews. These include ultra-Orthodox Haredi Jews, who believe it is their God-given duty to remain in exile and work for the good of the countries in which they live, until the Messiah comes to restore Israel. This cannot be the work of a secular state, which is an abomination. They’re a growing section of the British Israeli population. In a few years they will account for a third of it, and will have overtaken the United Synagogue as the largest section of British Jewry. Other Jews are critical of Israel from a belief in traditional liberal Jewish values, and despise the country for its barbarous ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. And these are also a growing part of the American Jewish population. An increasing number of American Jewish young people have no interest in Israel, or actively oppose it because of its treatment of the Palestinians. Enrollment in the heritage tours, which the Israeli state gives American school leavers so that they can visit Israel, is falling. One Jewish American, commenting on Netanyahu’s wretched citizenship law, said it was ludicrous that he, who had been born in Anchorage in Alaska, was a member of country he’d never been to, while his friend, a Palestinian, had no right to return to the country of his birth. And this opposition to Israel is shared by Jews, who have experienced genuine anti-Semitism.

Chief Rabbinate and Board of Deputies Not Representative of British Jewry

And then there’s the claim of the Zionist Jewish establishment to represent all of Britain’s Jews. Er, no, they really don’t. The Jews have never been a monolithic community. That’s a fantasy of anti-Semites. They’re as disparate and varied in their attitudes, opinions and values as every other ethnic or religious group. As Jewish bloggers like Tony Greenstein and David Rosenberg have pointed out, the Board of Deputies really only represents the United Synagogue. And its questionable how many of them it represents. Some synagogues don’t allow women to vote, others have sitting deputies whom they haven’t changed for years. And the Board’s constitution explicitly defines itself as a Zionist organisation, so non-Zionists need not apply. And needless to say, as they’re based on the synagogues, they don’t represent that third of British Jewry that is secular. But never mind. Once upon a time ’twas said that the Anglican Church was the Tory party at prayer. That was true at one time, as the Tory party stood for the monarchy, the established church and the landed aristocracy. But since Thatcher the Anglican Church has also criticised Tory policy on poverty, leading to disputes between the Tories and the Archbishop of Canterbury. It now seems that the Anglican Church is no longer such a staunch upholder of Conservatism. That role now seems to have been taken over by the United Synagogue, who can always be relied on to produce another anti-Semitism smear against Labour when the Tories are in trouble.

As for the Chief Rabbinate, as Mike has said on his blog, traditional Jewish theology and law stipulates that no rabbi’s opinion is any better than any other rabbi’s. And so when Mirvis speaks, it could be said that he speaks for himself alone, or rather, just himself and those who choose to share his opinions. The old retort Winston Churchill once gave a member of the House Lords therefore seems to apply to him: ‘The honourable member represents only himself, and I don’t like his constituency’.

Mirvis himself is a true-blue Tory, and welcomed the ascension of Tweezer as Prime Minister. He is also very much a Zionist thug. He and his predecessor, the noxious ‘Reform Jews are enemies of the faith’ Jonathan Sacks, both led British contingents to the annual March of the Flags in Jerusalem. That’s the unedifying occasion when ultra-patriotic Israeli boot-boys go marching through the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem, waving the Israeli flag around, vandalising Palestinian property and terrorising the locals. Sacks was requested by a liberal Jewish organisation not to go. He ignored them.

Jews Safe and Respected Under Corbyn

Not every Tory was happy about Mirvis’ decision to attack Corbyn. Simon Kelner wrote a piece in the I attacking it, stating that if Corbyn did win the election, nothing would happen to Britain’s Jews. There would be no riots, no pogroms. Now Kelner promoted the anti-Semitism smears as enthusiastically as all the other Fleet Street hacks. And in writing his piece he may well have been afraid that Corbyn would get in, and Mirv’s predictions of rampant Jew-hatred would have been exposed as the fearmongering it was. And as a consequence, the reputation of Chief Rabbinate would have been very badly damaged.

But Kelner would have been right. Nothing would have happened to Britain’s Jews under a Corbyn administration, because neither Corbyn nor his supporters are anti-Semites. Quite the opposite – Corbyn has always worked for the Jewish community. And he would have continued to do so. What would have happened is that Israel would have come under pressure to obey UN resolutions regarding the treatment of the Palestinians. And the ability of the Israel lobby to smear critics of Israel as anti-Semites would be severely damaged.

Jews Historically Indifferent or Opposed to Israel and Zionism

As for the relationship between British Jews and Israel, my guess is that the situation would have gone back to that pre-1969 and the launch of the Neo-Con project. William Kristol announced it in an American Jewish magazine as a method for encouraging Americans, and that included American Jews, to support Israel. Norman Finkelstein, that redoubtable Jewish American critic of Zionism, has pointed out that Kristol launched Neo-Conservatism because American Jews weren’t interested in Israel. They had no interest going to an unknown country, when they could make comfortable lives for themselves in America. David Rosenberg has said that until World War II, Zionism was a tiny minority in European Jewish opinion. Most Jews wished to remain in the nations of their birth, as equal citizens. The slogan of the Jewish socialist party, the Bund, was ‘Wherever we live, that’s our homeland!’. My guess is that British Jews have the same attitude. The Balfour Declaration was opposed by the British Jewish establishment, as they wanted Jews to be, and to be seen as, patriotic fellow Brits. They did not want to be accused of being foreign or having divided loyalties, and felt very strongly that the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine would lead to such anti-Semitic accusations. If British Jews migrated, my guess is that most of them would have gone to the same destinations as their gentile counterparts – America, or one of the White majority Commonwealth countries – Canada, Australia or New Zealand. Jews have been dinkum  Ozzies since the 19th century. In the 1870s Rabbi Davis of the Sydney Synagogue took part in a rally against the enslavement of the indigenous Polynesians along with his Christian compatriots in the Anglican, Methodist and Presbyterian churches. According to Patridge’s Dictionary of Historical Slang, the Australian term ‘Cobber’ comes from the Hebrew ‘Cobar’, which means ‘comrade’. If Corbyn had got in, it’s possible that all that would have resulted is that more Jews would have become indifferent to Israel. An attitude that’s probably growing anyway.

Conclusion

Mike in his piece on Mirv’s wretched speech asks if the Chief Rabbi is more concerned about representing Israeli racism than Britain’s Jews. I don’t think Mirvis is able to distinguish between Judaism and Israel, so taken is he with the Zionist lie that the two are one and the same. And at present, the absolute, uncritical support he and the Board demand for Israel does mean supporting racism, apartheid and ethnic cleansing.

An increasing number of British Jews, including those who consider themselves Zionist, oppose this. But it seems that Mirvis really doesn’t represent them.

Is the UK’s Chief Rabbi more concerned with supporting Israeli racism than Jewish people?

 

 

 

A Conservative Accusation of Liberal Bias at the Beeb

February 15, 2020

Robin Aitken, Can We Trust the BBC (London: Continuum 2007).

Robin Aitken is a former BBC journalist, and this book published 13 years ago argues that the BBC, rather than being unbiased, is really stuffed full of lefties and the broadcaster and its news and politics programmes have a very strong left-wing, anti-Conservative bias. Under Lord Reith, the BBC upheld certain core British values. Its news was genuinely unbiased, giving equal time to the government and opposition. It also stood for essential institutions and such as the monarchy, the constitution, the British Empire and Christianity at home, and peace through the League of Nations abroad.

This changed radically between 1960 and 1980 as the BBC joined those wishing to attack and demolish the old class-bound institutions. Now the BBC stands for passionate anti-racism, ‘human rights’, internationalism and is suspicious of traditional British national identity and strongly pro-EU. It is also feminist, secular and ‘allergic to established authority whether in the form of the Crown, the courts, the police or the churches.’ This has jeopardised the ideal at the heart of the Corporation, that it should be fair-minded and non-partisan.

Aitken does marshal an array of evidence to support his contention. This includes his own experience working for BBC Scotland, which he claims was very left-wing with a staff and management that bitterly hated Margaret Thatcher and made sure that the dismantlement of the old, nationalised industries like shipbuilding was properly lamented, but did not promote it as ‘creative destruction’ as it should, nor the emergence of the wonderful new information industry north of the border. A later chapter, ‘Testimonies’, consists of quotations from other, anonymous rightists, describing how the Beeb is biased and bewailing their isolated position as the few Conservative voices in the Corporation. He is particularly critical of the former director-general, John Birt. Birt was recruited in the 1990s from ITV. He was a member of the Labour Party, who brought with him many of his colleagues from the commercial channel, who also shared his politics and hatred of the Tories. He goes on to list the leading figures from the Left, who he claims are responsible for this bias. These include Andrew Marr, the former editor of the Independent, and the left-wing, atheist journo and activist, Polly Toynbee.

Aitken also tackles individual topics and cases of biased reporting. This includes how the BBC promoted the Labour Party and the EU before Labour’s landslide victory in the 1997 general election. The Conservatives were presented as deeply split on the issue and largely hostile to EU membership. The EU itself was presented positively, and the Labour Party as being united in favour of membership, even though it was as split as the Tories on the issue. Another chapter argues that the Beeb was wrong in challenging the government’s case for the Iraq Invasion. He claims that in a poll the overwhelming majority of Iraqis supported the invasion. The government did not ‘sex up’ the ‘dodgy dossier’ in order to present a false case for war, and it was wrong for the Beeb to claim that Blair’s government had.

The chapter ‘The Despised Tribes’ argues that there are certain ethnic or religious groups, who were outside the range of sympathy extended to other, more favoured groups. These include White South Africans, the Israeli Likud Party, Serb Nationalists under Milosevic, the Italian Northern League, Le Pen and the Front National in France, the Vlaams Blok in Belgium, American ‘Christian Fundamentalists’, conservative Roman Catholics, UKIP ‘and other groups who have failed to enlist the sympathies of media progressives’. These include the Orange Order and Ulster Protestants. He then claims that the Beeb is biased towards Irish Republicans, who have successfully exploited left-wing British guilt over historic wrongs against the Roman Catholic population. He then goes on to claim that Pat Finucane, a lawyer killed in the Troubles, was no mere ‘human rights’ lawyer but a senior figure in the IRA.

The chapter, ‘The Moral Maze’ is an extensive critique of a Panorama documentary claiming that the Roman Catholic condemnation of premarital sex and contraception was causing needless suffering in the Developing World through the procreation of unwanted children and the spread of AIDs by unprotected sex. This is contradicted by UN evidence, which shows that the African countries with the lowest incidence of AIDS are those with the highest Catholic populations. The Catholic doctrine of abstinence, he argues, works because reliance on condoms gives the mistaken impression that they offer total protection against disease and pregnancy, and only encourages sexual activity. Condoms cannot offer complete protection, and are only effective in preventing 85 per cent of pregnancies. The programme was deliberately biased against the Roman Catholic church and the papacy because it was made from the viewpoint of various groups with an explicit bias against the Church and its teaching on sexuality.

Aitken’s evidence is impressive, and I do accept part of his argument. I believe that the Beeb is indeed in favour of feminism, multiculturalism and human rights. I also believe that, the few remaining examples of the Beeb’s religious programming notwithstanding, the Corporation is largely hostile to Christianity in ways that would be unthinkable if applied to other religions, such as Islam. However, I don’t believe that the promotion of anti-racism and anti-sexism is wrong. And groups like the Northern League, Front National and other extreme right-wing political and religious groups, including UKIP, really are unacceptable because of their racism and should not be given a sympathetic platform. Their exclusion from the range of acceptable political and religious views is no bad thing.

But the book also ignores the copious documentation from the various media study units at Cardiff, Glasgow and Edinburgh universities of massive BBC Conservative bias. Jacky Davis and Raymond Tallis have a chapter in their book on the gradual, slo-mo privatisation of the NHS, NHS – SOS, on the way the media has promoted the Tories’ and New Labour’s project of selling off the health service. And this includes the Beeb.  The Corporation was hostile to Labour after Thatcher’s victory, promoting the SDP splinter group against the parent party in the 1983 election, as well as the Tories. This pro-Tory bias returned with a vengeance after the 2010 Tory victory and the establishment of austerity. Barry and Savile Kushner show in their book, Who Needs the Cuts, how the Beeb excludes or shouts down anyone who dares to question the need for cuts to welfare spending. Tories, economists and financiers are also favoured as guests on news shows. They are twice as likely to appear to comment on the news as Labour politicians and trade unionists.

And we have seen how the Beeb has pushed the anti-Labour agenda particularly vigorously over the past five years, as it sought to smear Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party as institutionally anti-Semitic at every opportunity. Quite apart from less sensational sneering and bias. The guests on Question Time have, for example, been packed with Tories and Kippers, to whom presenter Fiona Bruce has shown particular favour. This has got worse under Johnson, with the Beeb now making it official policy not to have equal representation of the supporters of the various political parties in the programme’s audience. Instead, the majority of the audience will consist of supporters of the party that holds power in that country. Which means that in England they will be stuffed with Tories. Numerous members of the BBC news teams are or were members of the Tory party, like Nick Robinson, and a number have left to pursue careers at No 10 helping Cameron, Tweezer and Boris.

The evidence of contemporary bias in favour of the Tories today is massive and overwhelming.

With the exception of particular issues, such as multiculturalism, feminism, a critical and sometimes hostile attitude towards the monarchy, and atheism/ secularism, the BBC is, and always has been, strongly pro-Tory. The Birt era represents only a brief interval between these periods of Tory bias, and I believe it is questionable how left-wing Birt was. Aitken admits that while he certainly was no Tory, he was in favour of free market economics.

This book is therefore very dated, and overtaken by the Beeb’s massive return to the Right.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Board of Deputies of British Jews: Tory, Rich, Fanatically Zionist, Unrepresentative and ‘an Affront to Democracy’

January 15, 2020

Mike has put up several pieces this week commenting on the decision of all five contenders for the Labour leadership – Lisa Nandy, Keir Starmer, Jess Phillips, Rebecca Long-Bailey and Emily Thornberry – to sign a series of ten pledges devised by the Board of Deputies of British Jews on how they will tackle anti-Semitism in the Labour party. This has outraged Mike and a very large number of other Labour supporters and members, because it is a capitulation to the Board. It effectively cedes to the Board extremely wide-ranging and draconian powers over who can be accused of anti-Semitism, and how they should be tried, judged and punished. Mike and the other commenters, bloggers and activists on this issue have extensively criticised the document and how it represents a very serious breach of natural justice. For example, those accused of anti-Semitism are more or less to be treated as guilty simply through the accusation, and expelled promptly. I’ve made the point as an historian with an interest in the European witch hunts of the Middle Ages and 16th and 17th centuries that accused witches could expect a fairer trial than the kangaroo courts set up by the Labour party, and which are demanded by the Board and their satellite organisations within the party, like the Jewish Labour Movement. Some of the demands made by the Board very much resemble the way cults and totalitarian states exercise total control over their members’ lives. For example, another of the provisions demands that existing members do not have anything to do with those expelled for anti-Semitism. This is exactly like the way cults and less extreme religious sects demand that their members have nothing to do with those outside them, thus cutting ties with family and friends.

The Board is also not a credible judge of what constitutes anti-Semitism. They have been extremely bad on the issue on anti-Semitism in the Labour, acting in bad faith and deliberately falsifying its extent, supporting evidence and maligning and smearing decent women and men. 

Their motives throughout their pursuit of this issue has certainly been not to defend Jews against anti-Semitism. Rather, like their counterparts elsewhere in the Jewish establishment – the Chief Rabbinate, the Jewish press and the Jewish Leadership Council – it has been extremely party political. The goal has been to oust Corbyn as leader of the Labour party, purge it of his supporters and prevent it coming to power. Not because Corbyn is an anti-Semite – he isn’t by any objective standard – but because he is a staunch anti-racist and a critic of Israel’s slow-motion ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. And as Tories, like the rest of the Jewish establishment, they were also frightened by a movement within the Labour party that would restore power and dignity to working people, including Jews. David Rosenberg has made the point on his ‘Rebel Notes’ blog that the Board and its ilk do not represent Jews, who are working or lower-middle class – yes, they exist! – they don’t represent the Jewish disabled, the Jews who work in or use the public services. And they don’t give a damn about racism and real anti-Semitism. He has described how, when he was a young activist in ’70s and ’80s, the Board did its level best to stop Jews going on anti-racism demonstrations and gigs like ‘Rock Against Racism’. Ostensibly this was to protect the young and impressionable from anti-Zionist propaganda. But others suspected the real reason was that they had zero interest in joining protests against discrimination and hate against Blacks and Asians. And Tony Greenstein, another staunch Jewish critic of Israel and fierce opponent of racism and Fascism in all its forms, has described how, in the 1930s, when British Jews were in real existential danger from Mosley and other genuine Fascist and Nazi groups, the Board did nothing to encourage them to resist. When Mosley and his storm troopers marched through the East End of London to intimidate and terrorise the Jews and other minorities there, the Board meekly told them to stay indoors. Fortunately there were Jews, who didn’t believe in passively tolerating the BUF, and joined with the Communists, unions and other left-winger to give Mosley’s thugs the hiding they richly deserved.

The Board claims the authority to dictate the Labour party’s policy towards anti-Semitism as the organ representing the Jewish community as a whole. This is a lie.

Mike today put up a statement by Jewish Voice for Labour – a far more representative Jewish organisation than the Board – about this issue. And the simple answer is: they aren’t. The JVL said

The Board’s claim to be democratic is, however, distinctly tenuous. There are no British Jewish elections, no direct way for all British Jews to directly elect the board’s 300 Deputies. To be involved in electing Deputies, one must be a member of one or more of approximately 138 synagogues, or be connected to one of 34 ‘communal organisations’ (such as the UJIA or Reform Judaism) that are affiliated with the Board, all of which elect one to five Deputies—anyone not involved with these institutions does not have a vote, despite the Board still claiming to speak on their behalf. Inevitably, some individuals may be represented multiple times, through being members of more than one organisation.

The biggest problem, however, is with the elections held by affiliate organisations to select their deputies—it is these that justify the Board’s claim to be a representative democracy. Transparency is a fundamental requirement of democracy—there needs to be openness as to who the electorate is and how many of them turn out in order for any election to be considered legitimate. Despite its own constitution obliging it to receive the data (Appendix A, Clause 3: “the election shall not be validated unless the form incorporates… the total number of members of the congregation… and the number who attended the election meeting”), the Board does not release a list of the membership size or the numbers voting in each affiliate organisation, and claims to have no idea what the numbers might be. The Board’s spokesman explained to me that, “While we do need to be more thorough in collecting statistics, these figures wouldn’t add anything—they don’t speak to the democratic legitimacy of the organisation or to anything else.” This seems extraordinarily complacent—can we imagine a British election in which the size of the electorate, the list of candidates standing, and the turnout remained secret? It would be regarded as an affront to democracy.

The anti-democratic nature of the Board is confirmed by other Jewish critics, like Tony. They point out that the Board really only represents the United Synagogue, which is believed to have 40,000 members out of a total Jewish population in the country of 280,000 – 300,000. They don’t represent that third of the Jewish people, who are secular and don’t attend synagogue. Neither do they represent the Orthodox, may represent as much as a quarter of all Jewish Brits and are set to overtake the United Synagogue as the largest section of the Jewish population in a few years. Some synagogues haven’t had elections for years, and so have sitting candidates. Others don’t allow women to vote. And the Board also defines itself as a Zionist organisation, and so excludes Jews, who do not support Israel.

So it seems that the Board represents, at most, 1/3 of British Jews. That’s hardly a majority and gives them no mandate to issue their demands.

As for the Board’s manifest lack of democracy, it all reminds me of Britain before the 1833 Reform Act, with its pocket and rotten boroughs. But these are the people claiming to have the moral authority to speak for the British Jewish community!

I fully understand why the Labour leadership candidates signed the Board’s wretched pledges. They hoped that this would end the Board’s interference in the Labour party and their continued criticism. But it won’t. The Board and other Zionist organisations that use allegations of anti-Semitism as a weapon against their critics will not be satisfied. They see such capitulation as weakness, and will always press for further concessions. This is what Corbyn and his advisers, like Seaumas Milne, failed to understand. Instead of caving in, Corbyn should have fought back.

My own feeling now is that the only way to settle this issue decisively in Labour’s favour is to attack and discredit the Board – to show how biased and unrepresentative it is, to reveal how it lies and libels decent men and women, and particularly self-respecting Jews.

That would be a long, very hard, and perilous struggle, especially as the media and Tory press would be on the side of the Board all the way.

But until it is done, the Board as it stands now will always be a politically partisan threat to British democracy and genuine Jewish security and anti-racist action.

Melanie Philips Criticised by Board of Deputies for Islamophobia Article in Jewish Chronicle

December 18, 2019

Oh the irony! Melanie ‘Mad Mel’ Phillips, Daily Mail hack, author, and determined opponent of anti-Semitism and Islamism, has been slapped down for an article she wrote in the Jewish Chronicle denying Islamophobia. According to her highly informed opinion (sarcasm), islamophobia is simply a made-up term used to close down criticism of the Islamic world, including Islamic extremism.

According to Zelo Street, without any trace of irony or self-awareness,  Phillips started the piece off by conflating anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism. Anti-Zionism, she declared, was merely the latest mutation of anti-Semitism. The two, according to her, share ‘the same deranged, obsessive falsehoods, demonic conspiracy theory and double standards. It is furthermore an attack on Judaism itself, in which the land of Israel is an inseparable element.’ This is twaddle. Zelo Street points out that Zionism and Judaism certainly aren’t the same, because how else can you explain Christian Zionism? It’s a good question, especially as Christian and non-Jewish Zionism often stemmed from anti-Semitism. Many genuine anti-Semites and Fascists supported the foundation of a Jewish state as a way of clearing Jews out from their own countries. This attitude was so strong that, when one German aristocrat was approached by the Zionists c. 1920 and asked why he didn’t support the creation, he replied that he did, but didn’t want to make it public in case people thought he was an anti-Semite. The Nazis and other European Fascists considering setting up a Jewish homeland in Madagascar, and the were similar schemes among British Fascists for Uganda. This was succeeded by the infamous and short-lived Ha’avara Agreement between the Zionists and the Nazis, in which the Nazis smuggled Jewish settlers in Palestine, then under the British Mandate. But mentioning this, according to the Israel lobby in this country, means that you’re an anti-Semite. Look what happened to Mike when he did in his long piece defending Ken Livingstone, The Livingstone Delusion.

The identity of Zionism and Judaism is also highly dubious. Ultra-Orthodox Jews, such as the Haredi and True Torah Jews, passionately reject the state of Israel for religious reasons. They believe that Israel can only be founded by direct divine action through the Messiah. Modern Israel was founded by secular atheists, and so to them is an abomination. Before the Second World War, most Jews throughout the world, whether in America or Europe or wherever, simply wanted to be equal citizens of the countries, where they had lived for centuries, if not millennia. They regarded these as their real homelands.

As for the accusation that anti-Zionism is based on conspiracy theories, well, there is a mass of very strong evidence showing that the attacks on anti-Zionists and critics of Israel as anti-Semites are very much instigated and supported by the Israeli state through its Office of Strategic Affairs. And recognising that is very different from believing idiotic, murderous myths about the Jews controlling capitalism and trying to destroy the White race.

Philips then went on to declare that ‘Islamophobia’ was invented by the Muslim Brotherhood to mimic antisemitism’. Er, no. Zelo Street states that the term was invented before 1923, citing the article in Wikipedia, which suggests that the term was first used in a 1918 biography of the Prophet Mohammed by the painter Alphonse Etienne Dinet and the Algerian intellectual Sliman ben Ibrahim. The Muslim Brotherhood wasn’t founded until 1928. Philips then went on to claim that  “‘Islamophobia’ appropriates to itself the unique attribute of antisemitism – that it is deranged – in order falsely to label any adverse comment about the Islamic world as a form of mental disorder”. Zelo Street succinctly demolishes this absurd claim by stating that the term is simply used to describe anti-Muslim bigotry. Which is correct. I haven’t heard of anyone seriously suggesting that anti-Muslim prejudice is a form of mental illness, or demanding that those who allegedly suffer from it should somehow need psychiatric treatment to cure them. Philips then continued “The concept of ‘Islamophobia’ is thus profoundly anti-Jew. Islamophobia’ is not equivalent to antisemitism. It facilitates it”.

The Board of Deputies found these sentiments to be unpalatable, and issued the following statement in professed solidarity with Muslims and others suffering racism. the Jewish Chronicle’s “fearless journalism has been at the forefront of tackling antisemitism & its denial. The publication of this piece was an error. Anti-Muslim prejudice is very real & it is on the rise. Our community must stand as allies to all facing racism”.

The Muslim Council of Britain also wasn’t impressed. Zelo Street quote a tweet by Miqdad Versi, describing how the Jewish Chronicle has a lot of previous in stirring up anti-Muslim sentiment, especially with articles by Philips. Versi said

We should not be surprised by the Jewish Chroncile – it’s not the first time. When many Muslims were reeling after the massacre in Christchurch, they published a similar hate-filled piece by Melanie Phillips.They lied about the [MCB] & had to correct their lie … They lied about a Muslim charity, falsely linking it to terrorism, necessitating an apology and paying libel damages … When Baroness Warsi speaks up against Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, its editor tries to slur her … In one of a *number of articles* intending to undermine the definition of Islamophobia, it made false claims of links to extremism, about Professor Salman Sayyid, which it had to retract … This latest article is not a one-off but part of a pattern of behaviour – an editorial line on Muslim-related issues as the thread shows”. 

Zelo Street concludes that at least the Board of Deputies has called the Jewish Chronicle out on this one. It’s just a pity that it won’t have any effect on either Philips or the editor, Stephen Pollard.

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/12/board-of-deputies-calls-out-jewish.html

I also find the Board’s statement somewhat hypocritical.

David Rosenberg of the Jewish Socialist Group stated in one of his articles that when he was growing up in the 1980s, the Board of Deputies did not want Jews such as himself attending any of the anti-racism marches or protests by organisations like Rock Against Racism. The ostensible reason was that they were trying to stop Jewish youth from hearing anti-Zionist propaganda. But others on the Left thought the real reason was simple racism on their part. Whatever the reason, some of the meetings held by Jewish anti-racists had to be held in non-Jewish venues, like Quaker meeting houses and church halls, because the Board forbade synagogues to allow them to meet there.

The Board of Deputies is a Zionist organisation. It’s in their constitution. And as such, it has absolutely no qualms accommodating real Islamophobes. Let’s take their mass demonstrations with the Chief Rabbi and the Jewish Labour Movement against Jeremy Corbyn last year or so. The former Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, has led a group of British Jews to participate in the annual March of the Flags in Jerusalem. This is when Israeli super-patriotic bovverboys parade through the city’s Muslim quarter waving the country’s flag, vandalising Arab property and terrorising the neighbourhood’s people. Liberal Jewish organisations asked Sacks not to go. But he went anyway. As far as I am aware, there was not a peep of criticism from the Board, and they were happy to join the attacks on Corbyn by Sacks and his successor, Ephraim Mirvis, who may also have participated in the March. I also remember that among the protesters was one young man wearing a Kach T-shirt. Kach are an Israeli far-right organisation, which was banned under their terrorism laws. I am similarly aware of no criticism of this man by the Board.

In my experience, the issue of the Palestinians looms very large amongst this country’s Muslims. I studied Islam at College in the 1980s and early ’90s. I once came across the equivalent of a Christian parish magazine put out by one of the mosques. Among its articles was coverage of the closure of a mosque and a nearby church by the Israeli authorities. The Israeli state has a policy of closing down unauthorised non-Jewish places of worship as part of the general pressure and discrimination against the Palestinians. And certain sections of the Muslim community in this country were very aware of it. My guess is that the mosque that published the article wasn’t alone in its concern for its coreligionists in the Holy Land, and that this attitude is general and persists to the present day. That does not mean that they all hate Jews or want to see Israel destroyed and its people massacred. It does mean, though, that they want the religious and ethnic persecution of the Palestinians stopped. But the Board of Deputies flings around accusations of anti-Semitism in order to stop criticism of Israel for its actions against the Palestinians.

If the Board of Deputies is really serious about standing in solidarity with Muslims against racism, then one excellent place would be to start protesting against the treatment of Muslims – and by extension Christians – in Israel.

Until that happens, the Board is just being hypocritical.

PoliticalJOE Shocks Brits with the Cost of Healthcare in America

December 8, 2019

From their name, I should think that PoliticalJOE are a branch of JOE, those merry funsters responsible for the videos in which they poke fun at politicos and other celebs by editing their speeches and public appearances to make them look stupid. In this video an interviewer simply walks around a street asking ordinary Brits what they think is the cost of certain services and items we get free with the National Health Service. He then leaves them shocked and horrified when he tells them the real prices. They are:

Ambulance call out – $2,500

Inhaler – $250-350

2 Epi pens – $600

Cost of childbirth – $10,000-30,000

If you give birth by Caesarian section and want to hold your baby, it’s another $40

The contraceptive coil – $1,300.

He then concludes the video by asking the people answering his questions what they think of the NHS. One woman describes it as ‘the gift that keeps on giving’ and that she doesn’t want it to change. A young Black man agrees with him when he asks him ‘how grateful are you for the NHS’. He says he didn’t know just how much free healthcare we have, that $30,000 for a baby is outrageous and thanks the NHS. A young woman states that she’s speechless, and had no idea how expensive healthcare was in the US. She says ‘If you don’t have money, you’re fudged’. When the interviewer asks her what she thinks of the people, who are profiting off the sale of these medicines, she replies , ‘Ya bastards!… I think they should be stopped. Fuck Trump!’

One of those spoken to is a young Black American, who’s aware we get everything free over here. Well, not quite – we still have to pay for prescriptions. But he says that he’s fortunate to have health coverage through his parents’ insurance. He has to use an epi pen, but even with insurance it’s a couple of hundred dollars. And his condition is severe, but not quite life threatening. When he’s asked why the pens are so expensive, he replies that he doesn’t know, but there are only a few companies making them, so they can charge what they like.

The video’s been discussed on the American left-wing news sites Secular Talk and the Ring of Fire, because it’s such an indictment of the current American healthcare system based on private insurance. Those sites back the awesome Bernie Sanders and his campaign to give America Medicare for All, so that all Americans have free healthcare. Bernie describes some of the horrors of the American healthcare system in his book, Our Revolution. 40,000 people in the US die annually because they can’t afford medicine. In Virginia, people sleep over in the cars for that weekend in the month when the dentists offer free treatment.

A few years ago, the American private healthcare system nearly collapsed entirely. But the American public is still told that their healthcare system is the best in the world.

This is the system that Johnson and Trump wish to introduce to the UK.

Don’t be deceived by the lies. They do. Trump actually said that he wanted it on the table when negotiations started under Tweezer. And even without Trump, the Tories and the Blairites in the Labour party have been privatising the NHS by ensuring that more and more services are given to private healthcare providers. Johnson even made a speech in 2003 denouncing the monopolistic NHS, because of the way it discouraged private health insurance and refused to admit private healthcare. And he is’t the only one. Margaret Thatcher wanted the complete privatisation of the NHS. Daniel Hannan, the Tory MEP for Dorset, would like it privatised. And the Tory right has several times tried to vote for increasing the number of NHS services for which charges would have to be paid.

And Nigel Farage has also said openly that Britain may have to move to an American healthcare system funded through private insurance.

The Tories are determined to privatise the NHS. This is why you cannot let them into power.

Before you vote Tory, think: can you afford the equivalent of $2,500 for an ambulance? And then vote Labour.

 

 

Corbyn Demands Change to Foreign Policy to Stop Fuelling Terror

December 3, 2019

This is another story from yesterday’s I that I’ve no doubt is going to alarm some people in certain places. Corbyn has said that it is ‘time to end bad foreign policy fuelling terror’, according to the headline of an article by Will worley.

The article runs

Successive governments have too often fuelled, rather than reduced, the threat of terrorism-with UK leaders having made the wrong calls on security for “far too long “, Jeremy Corbyn said.

Speaking in Yorkshire, the Labour leader said the war on terror has “manifestly failed”, adding that security requires “calmly making the right calls at moments of high pressure”.

Mr Corbyn accused Boris Johnson of being “the world’s leading sycophant” towards Donald Trump.

Mr Corbyn said he warned against the invasion of Iraq. “I said it would set off a spiral of conflict, hate, misery that will fuel the wars, the conflict, the terrorism, and the misery of future generations. It did and we are still living with the consequences.”

He’s right, and the 1-2 million people who marched against the Iraq invasion also knew it. I’ve read again and again on left-wing news and comments sites that studies have shown that what motivates Islamist terrorists isn’t some kind of jealous resentment of western freedoms or the western way of life – though I don’t doubt that this is a factor for many terrorist atrocities – but anger at western foreign policy. The Iraq Invasion had nothing to do with stopping al-Qaeda. It was a cynical ploy by the American military-industrial complex to overthrow Saddam Hussein and seize his country, and particularly its oil reserves and state enterprises. The Iraqi oil industry is now firmly in foreign hands, and likely to remain so: it’s been written into the country’s constitution. It has also been part of a wider neocon strategy of overthrowing seven different states in the region. These include Libya, Somalia, Syria and Iran. It’s also been suggested, citing documents written by various members of Bush’s cabinet and his advisers, that it’s also part of an American strategy of showing the world where the real military power lies. In the terms of the people who wrote this document, that meant picking up a country every once in a while and shaking. The American military manufactured a foreign policy crisis in order to use it as the pretext for a show of force in order to impress other nations not to buck their global authority and interests. Bush keenly denied that the invasions and wars in the Middle East are against Islam – which is true, as they’ve also been allied to Saudi foreign policy goals of also seizing other nations’ oil wealth and fighting and destroying rival Shi’a and secular Muslim and Middle Eastern states. But nevertheless, this how many Muslims see it, and especially after the flagrant islamophobia spewed by Johnson and the Tories, and their press.

It’s nearly 20 years since 9/11 and British forces are still fighting in Afghanistan, if not Iraq. Instead of pacifying the region, they’ve exacerbated it immensely. And if the neocons have their way, there may be more to come, as they’d dearly love to invade Iran. Which would have exactly the same consequences as the Iraq invasion, if not worse.

Corbyn’s words won’t be welcome to the neocons and certainly not to the Israelis, who are also profiting and seeking to foment wars with some of the Muslim states around them, like Iran. But they’re exactly right. The old foreign policy isn’t working. Perhaps, as John Lennon sang so long ago about the Vietnam War, it’s time we gave ‘peace a chance’.

Boris Johnson Declared Islamophobia ‘Natural Reaction’ to Islam

November 28, 2019

Mike also put up another excellent piece, pointing out that while the Tories are misdirecting people to look for massively over-exaggerated anti-Semitism in the Labour party, they have been actively promoting hatred against Muslims. According to the magazine Business Insider, in 2005 our comedy prime minister wrote in the Spectator that

To any non-Muslim reader of the Koran, Islamophobia — fear of Islam — seems a natural reaction, and, indeed, exactly what that text is intended to provoke. Judged purely on its scripture — to say nothing of what is preached in the mosques — it is the most viciously sectarian of all religions in its heartlessness towards unbelievers.

This was in the wake of the 7/7 London bombings, and Johnson questioned the loyalty of British Muslims and said that the country must realise that ‘Islam is the problem’.

Mike concludes ‘He’s not my prime minister. He is racist filth.’

Boris Johnson believes Islamophobia is a ‘natural reaction’ to Muslims. Let’s vote this racist OUT

No argument there from me, especially after Mates Jacobs has released a dossier of rabidly islamophobic, racist and anti-Semitic comments from the supporters of Jacob Rees-Mogg and our buffoonish Prime Minister. Not after Sayeeda Warsi has repeatedly demanding investigations into islamophobia in her party, and been condescendingly told that there’s little to worry about. Not when an inquiry into it has been pushed back after the General Election – presumably so that it won’t embarrass Johnson when it uncovers massive prejudice and hatred.

Now let’s put Johnson’s comments into their context. Many Brits understandably were worried about the possible danger from Islam after the 7/7 bombings on the London Underground and on buses. This was also a period when alienated Muslim youths marched through the street waving placards against the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions, proclaiming that Islam would dominate the West and promising more violence and terrorism. But it is a mistake to claim that this alienation and rage represents true Islam, or comes from the pages of the Qu’ran.

In fact Islamism is the product of a distinct set of social and political circumstances. This includes the economic and political stagnation of Islamic societies, rising poverty and the bewilderment and dislocation felt by many Muslims to rapid modernisation. Some of the problems are due to the adoption of neoliberal economic programmes by secular Arab and Middle Eastern states, like Algeria, which have massively increased poverty. Some of it is a reaction to western colonialism and cultural and economic hegemony. And some of it is a response to real oppression by non-Muslim states around the world. Like there is massive discrimination and organised violence against Muslims, as well as Sikhs and Christians, by Hindu ultra-nationalists in India.

I studied Islam as part of my religious studies minor degree at College. Yes, Islam has expanded through violence and conquest, just as Christianity has. But it has also spread through peaceful contact and conversion. And the problems Islam is experiencing as it modernises aren’t unique to it. Christianity and the West experienced the same process in the 19th and 20th centuries. There were reactionaries in the Anglican Church in the 19th century, who were frightened of the extension of the franchise and political rights to Protestant Dissenters, Roman Catholics, and other religions. In the middle of the century the Papacy placed on its index of forbidden doctrines the idea that Roman Catholic countries should allow freedom of religion and conscience to non-Catholics. But now the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches as a whole very definitely are not anti-democratic, despite the attempts of General Franco and Roman Catholic clerico-Fascists during the Second World War. And aggressively atheist states like the Soviet Union have their own bloody history of intolerance. Religion was viciously persecuted in the USSR, and millions of people of faith, whether Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist or shamanist, were killed or imprisoned in the gulags for simply holding their beliefs. Nathan Johnson, surveying the vicious intolerance across secular, atheist as well as religious societies in his books on the mythology of New Atheism, has suggested that such intolerance may be part of human nature, rather than just unique to religion or a specific religion.

Islam also has a tolerant side. Christianity survived in the Balkans after the Turkish conquest because, when the Ottoman emperor wanted to force the Christian peoples to convert to Islam, the majlis, the assembly of Muslims scholars and jurists, told him it was specifically forbidden, for example. And even after the conquest, there were many areas in which Christian and Muslim lived side by side in peace. When Mike visited Bosnia after the war in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, he saw areas where churches and mosques had been built next to each other. Not the mark of an intolerant society, at least, not at that time.

Boris Johnson is, as Mike and so many others have repeatedly pointed out, a vicious racist. This is in sharp contrast to the Labour leader, who is a determined opponent of all forms of racism. Don’t believe him when he smears Labour as anti-Semitic.

And don’t let him get away with smearing Muslims. This is what the Tories are doing and have always done: manufacture hate against an out-group in order to gain power. They are doing it against the poor. They are doing it to the unemployed, to the disabled, to anybody, even working people, who claim benefits. And in the early part of the 20th century they did it to Jews. Now they’re doing it to Blacks, Asians and particularly Muslims.

A better world is possible. Reject the Tories and their prejudice and bigory, and vote for Corbyn and his anti-racism instead.

 

 

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.

‘I’ Review of Movie About British Iraq War Whistleblower

October 25, 2019

One of the flicks coming to our cinemas, if it isn’t there already, is Official Secrets, the film about whistleblower Katharine Gun’s attempt to prevent Blair’s illegal and criminal invasion of Iraq by leaking government emails about it. The I printed a review of it by Demetrios Matheou in last Friday’s edition for the 18th October 2019. Entitled ‘Spies, lies and a drama that resonates’, this ran

Early in the political drama Official Secrets, Keira Knightley’s real-life whistle-blower Katharine Gun watches Tony Blair on television, giving his now-infamous justifcation for the impending Iraq War, namely the existence of weapons of mass destruction. “He keeps repeating the lie,” she cries. “Just because you’re the prime minister doesn’t mean you get to make up your own facts.”

There’s simply no escaping the resonance. The current occupant of No 10 isn’t the first to economical with the truth; the real shock is that we keep on putting up with it. And the power of the film resides in the fact that the idealistic, courageous Katharine Gun would not.

The film opens with Gun about to face trial for breaching the Official Secrets Act – Knightley’s face expressing the sheer terror of someone in that position – before winding back a year to explain how she got there.

Katharine is working as a Mandarin translator at the intelligence agency GCHQ in Cheltenham. One day, she and her colleagues receive a classified email from America’s National Security Agency, requesting that the Brits spy on delegates from the United Nations Security Council, with a view to blackmailing them to vote for the resolution in favour of war.

In the UK, the very idea of the war is historically unpopular with the public. And here is evidence of its illegality. Katharine secretly copies the memo and smuggles it out to a friend who is an anti-war activist, through whom it reaches Observer journalist Martin Bright (Matt Smith). 

Until now, the film has been operating on something of a whisper. Once Smith appears on screen – quickly followed by the equally energetic (nay, combustible) Rhys Ifans as fellow journalist Ed Vulliamy – there is a sonic boom. From her, the action switches urgently between the paper’s investigation of the memo’s authenticity and Katharine’s personal hell as the leak is revealed, which includes the threat of deportation from her Muslim husband, Yasar.

Gavin Hood is an intriguing director, alternating between mainstream fare (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) and issues-based dramas charting government malfeasance, such as rendition (Rendition) and the use of drone strikes (Eye in the Sky). He is on strong form here, with a film that’s gripping, righteous, relevant, moving – in short, a very good yarn that just happens to be true.

At the heart of it is Knightley, impressively commanding as a woman who is principled and defiant, but also deeply vulnerable as the government cranks up its intimidation. Around his star, Hood has assembled a comprehensively find cast, with a particularly lovely turn by Ralph Fiennes as the lawyer determined to defend Gun against the odds. 

This looks like a brilliant movie, and I’d like to see it if and when it comes to my neck of the woods. Over one million people marched against the invasion, not just Muslims, but also people of all races and religions and none. One of the marchers was a priest from my local church. I’ve reviewed a book on this site presenting a very strong case that Blair’s invasion constitutes a war crime, for which the slimy creature should be prosecuted along with Bush. According to the late William Blum, there were attempts to do just that, but they were stymied by the British and American governments. The demonstrators’ chant is exactly right: ‘Blair lied, people died’. But despite this and subsequent books exposing his venality and legal tax-dodging through a complex mass of holding companies and off-shore tax havens, he still seems to think that he’s somehow the great champion of British politics. He’s been one of the figures behind the attempts to create a new ‘centrist’ party, and every now and again he pushes his head up from wherever pit in which he’s been hiding to make some comment about contemporary politics. Usually about Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party. 

Hopefully this picture will remind people that ‘Teflon Tony’ wasn’t some kind of visionary statesman. He was a butcher, who backed the illegal invasion of a country for no better reason than the multinationals’ desire to loot their oil wealth and state industries. Oh yes, and cut off Hussein’s occasional support for the Palestinians. Thanks to him and his master, Bush, hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq and the Middle East have died or been displaced, a country has been wrecked and its secular, welfare state dismantled and reduced to chaos and sectarian violence. This bloody, illegal war has also claimed the lives of good men and women in the forces and in the civilian organisations trying to rebuild the country.

As for the reason why people like Blair keep getting elected – if government in this country had been genuinely accountable, they wouldn’t. It shows a flaw in our political system, a system in which the media must take its share of the blame. Warmongers like Blair get elected because they have the full support, with some exceptions, of the Thatcherite press and Murdoch papers. The same papers that are trying to bring down Jeremy Corbyn.