Posts Tagged ‘Anglo-Saxons’

Is the BBC Really Trying to Change the Name of the Anglo-Saxon Period Because They Think It’s Racist?

December 12, 2020

Simon Webb posted this video on his ‘History Debunked’ channel nearly three weeks ago, on the 23 November 2020. In it he discusses the BBC’s decision to stop calling the period between the departure of the Romans in 410 AD and the Norman Conquest of 1066 the ‘Anglo-Saxon period’ because the term is apparently perceived as racist. A BBC programme he was listening to on the radio referred to it as ‘the early medieval period’ and there is, or was, apparently, an article in the Corporation’s BBC History Magazine stating that there are moves to change it, as it deters Black people studying it because they associate ‘Anglo-Saxon’ with White supremacy. And in America there are moves to stop using the term altogether and simply refer to it as the early middle ages.

Webb takes this view that this is an attempt by the Beeb to rewrite the past so that it resembles the multicultural present. But he points out that his was the period when what had been Roman Britain was settled by Angles, Saxons and Jutes. ‘English’ comes from the word ‘Anglish’, for Angles, who also supplied the country’s name, England, from Engla Land, ‘Land of the Angles’. He states that this process of settlement is described in the last chapter of his book, Life in Roman London, published by the History Press, which is one of the few popular treatments of this subject. As for the term’s racial connotations, well, the Anglo-Saxons were White. Webb shakes his head in amazement at this attempt to rewrite history in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, and wonders where it will end.

The BBC wish to replace longstanding historical expressions – YouTube

I’m not sure what’s actually going on here. Historians have referred to the period between the Fall of the Roman Empire and the Norman Conquest for a long time as the early Middle Ages. It used to be referred to as the Dark Ages. Some older readers of this blog will no doubt remember Michael Wood’s great series, In Search of the Dark Ages, broadcast by the Beeb in the ’70s/’80s. However, historians and archaeologists have largely stopped calling the period that as more has been found out about it, and the period has increasingly seemed to be less dark. I think it might still be used for the couple of centuries after the departure of the Romans from Britain and the emergence of Anglo-Saxon England. Other terms used for those centuries are ‘Post-Roman’ and ‘Sub-Roman’. And the term ‘early Middle Ages’ of course makes perfect sense for the rest of Europe, which weren’t settled by the Anglo-Saxons, although northern Germany, the Netherlands and Jutland in Denmark were their ancestral homelands from which they migrated to Britain. The term also makes good sense for Ireland and the Celtic parts of modern Britain, Wales and Scotland. But in the context of English history, the period absolutely should be called the Anglo-Saxon period. That’s what the people, who founded and created England have been called following King Alfred himself. There were Black people seen in the British Isles and Ireland during this period. Round about the 8th-9th century or so the Vikings of Dublin brought in a shipload of ‘blamenn’ – blue, or Black men. I think the historian David Olusoga has also talked about the arrival of another shipload of Black people in Cumbria round about the same period. Medieval people certainly knew that Black people existed. They describe them as living in Africa and believed they had acquired their Black complexion through being burnt by the sun. But Black people in Europe at the time would have been very, very rare and the vast majority of the population would have been White. That’s not racism, but a simple statement of historical fact.

I’m afraid that racism has cast a very long shadow over this period ever since the Nazis. For many years I was a member of a Dark Age re-enactment society, Regia Anglorum. This tried to recreate the history of the British Isles round about 1066. While re-enactment in Britain is largely acceptable, except for World War II, or at least, the idiots who want to dress up as the SS, in Germany it’s regarded very much with loathing and contempt. This is because of the appropriation of the history and archaeology of the Teutonic tribes and the Vikings by the Nazis. The overtly Fascist fringe has done the same over here, harking back to the Celts and especially the Anglo-Saxons. As a result, some perfectly historical symbols were banned for very obvious reasons. Some of the pottery from migration period Anglo-Saxon graves is decorated with the Swastika, and you can find it on rock carvings in Scandinavia. But obviously no self-respecting re-enactor for the early middle ages is going to use it on their clothing or equipment because of the connections with Nazism. I can’t talk about re-enactment as a whole, as it’s a very large milieu and there were are large number of different groups, but the organisation I joined was very definitely non-racist and certainly had members from different ethnic groups. A number of the people in Regia when I was there, including some of its leading members, were Jewish. And their religion made absolutely no difference to anyone, whatsoever.

From what I can make out, there was little racism in Europe until after the Middle Ages. There was conflict between ethnic groups, states and nations, but little in the way of racism based on colour. From what I’ve read I think that modern racism really emerged through transatlantic slavery, although I think that the wars with darker skinned people, such as the Arabs and Moors during the Crusades and the Muslim conquest of the Balkans also played a part. The term ‘Anglo-Saxon’ in ‘Anglo-Saxon’ history, simply refers to a period. It has, or shouldn’t have, any connotations of racism or White supremacism.

This needs to be got across, assuming that some people genuinely feel that it is somehow racist and that this isn’t a misperception or exaggerated reaction by whoever makes these judgements after Black Lives Matter. But to stop calling that period of English history ‘Anglo-Saxon’ is in itself a falsification of history. It should go on being called the Anglo-Saxon period, but also made clear, if necessary, that it is an historical term, not one from any racial or racist ideology.

‘The Dig’: New Netflix Movie about the Discovery of the Sutton Hoo Anglo-Saxon Burial

December 12, 2020

I found this trailer on YouTube for a forthcoming movie from Netflix, The Dig. Starring Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes, this about the excavation of the Sutton Hoo ship burial in 1939. The film’s description on the YouTube page runs

As WWII looms, a wealthy widow (Carey Mulligan) hires an amateur archaeologist (Ralph Fiennes) to excavate the burial mounds on her estate. When they make a historic discovery, the echoes of Britain’s past resonate in the face of its uncertain future‎. THE DIG stars Carey Mulligan, Ralph Fiennes, Lily James, Johnny Flynn, Ben Chaplin, and Ken Scott. In Select Theaters January 15 and on Netflix January 29.

THE DIG starring Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes | Official Trailer | Netflix – YouTube

The Sutton Hoo ship burial is one of the most iconic archaeological remains of Anglo-Saxon England. One of the objects found in the grave is the richly decorated helmet, which is now one of the most famous of the objects and monuments left from that period of British history, and which has been reproduced on the covers of countless books, magazine and newspaper articles about the Anglo-Saxons.

One of the books about the dig and its magnificent finds is Angela Care Evans’ The Sutton Hoo Ship Burial (London: British Museum Publications 1986).

The blurb for this runs:

The summer of 1939 saw one of the most exciting archaeological finds ever dug from British soil, an undisturbed Anglo-Saxon ship burial at Sutton Hoo, near Woodbridge in Suffolk. The ship, nearly 30m long, had been dragged uphill from the estuary of the river Deben to a royal gravefield and buried beneath a large circular mound. Amidships in a textile-hung chamber a sumptuous burial was laid out, unique in its glittering wealth of jewellery and unrivalled in the variety of objects that had been selected to represent every facet of the dead man’s life. Gold and garnet jewellery, silver from the Eastern Mediterranean, drinking vessels with silver gilt fittings, a magnificent helmet and parade shield, a lyre and a sceptre were amongst the spectacular finds excavated in two hectic weeks just before the outbreak of the Second World War.

Although no remains of a body survived and no personal possessions were found, the gold and garnet regalia alone implied that the burial was that of a kind. But his identity remained elusive until modern research resulted in a date of 625/30 for the latest of a collection of small gold coins found n the ship, suggesting that it may have been the grave of Raedwald, king of East Anglia, who died in 624/5.

In this new survey, the excavation of the ship and its contents are described and illustrated and the results of many years’ research at the British Museum are summarised. Angela Care Evans also brings the story right up to date, outlining current work at Sutton Hoo and the prospects for future discoveries.

The book has the following chapters, beginning with an introduction:

  1. The Early Excavations, divided into the following sections
  1. The Sutton Hoo gravefield.
  2. The first three mounds, 1938.
  3. The great discovery, 1939
  4. The ship.

2. The Ship Burial and its Treasures.

5. The burial chamber

6. Warrior king.

7. Mediterranean silver.

8. Feasting in the great hall.

9. Symbols of power.

3. Modern Times

10. Treasure Trove?

11. Restoration work.

12. Excavations 1965-70

13. The kingdom of East Anglia

14 Dating the ship burial

15. Sutton Hoo: poetry and style

16. Sutton Hoo today.

This is followed by a diagram of the East Anglian kings and their relationship to each other, a bibliography and an index.

The film looks really good, a factual depiction of a real archaeological excavation, rather than Fantasy or Horror. It’s very much the kind of period drama that Channel 4 Films used to make at one point. However, I don’t think very many people will get the chance to see it. Its cinema release is confined to a few, selected theatres and there is the continuing problem of the restrictions imposed by the new Covid wave. And then it’s on Netflix, which means that only those with that streaming service will get to see it. Which means that it’s probably only going to be seen by a very few people. But perhaps we can look forward to it appearing later on one of the terrestrial or larger cable channels, like Channel 4, Yesterday or History.

Racially, the Palestinians May Be the Real Jews

December 6, 2020

In his piece critiquing the article by Catherine Heszer, professor of Jewish Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies in the Jewish Chronicle, Tony Greenstein argues very strongly that biologically it is the Palestinians, not the Israelis, who are descended from the people of ancient Israel. Heszer had claimed that Israel isn’t a colonialist state and that it is simply the return of the Jewish people to their ancestral homeland. Greenstein disputes this, citing Israeli historian Shlomo Sand, who believes that European Jews are really the descendants of converts to Judaism. He also cites studies, including articles published in extreme right-wing settler magazines, that the Palestinians are descended from the peoples of ancient Israel and Judea. Greenstein writes

Let us leave aside the fact, as Tel Aviv University Professor Shlomo Sand has shown in The Myth of the Jewish Nation that there never was a Jewish exile from Palestine. The idea that rights deriving from where one’s ancestors lived 3,000 years ago trumping those who live there today is a product of Western Colonialism and Orientalism. The same myths of a 1,000 year Reich justified Hitler’s colonisation of  Eastern Europe and the expulsion of its inhabitants.

But in reality not even this is true. Jews from Europe and America had no physical connection whatsoever with Palestine or Israel.  Their only claim is that they profess a religion whose centre is Jerusalem. That does not confer any material rights over those living there.

The Jews who left Judea and Palestine over 2,000 years ago did so because the land would not support them. Palestine saw many peoples, among whom were the Hebrews, wander over the area. The idea that this gives people who are Jewish and living in London the right to displace the indigenous population is a fascist idea.  SOAS should not be in the business of propagating racial myths.

2,000 years ago a million Jews were living in Alexandria alone as well as other Hellenised cities such as Antioch and Seleucia. According to Jewish historian Salo Baron there was an explosion of Jews in the Middle East at the time owing to massive proselytising. He suggests there were 8 million Jews living in the Middle East. Sand suggests half that number. The Jews, like the Phoenicians before them, became a trading people.

The pastoralist Jews who remained in Palestine after the destruction of the second temple either converted to Christianity or remained speaking Aramaic. With the Arab invasion they largely converted to Islam whilst continuing to speak Aramaic, a biblical form of Hebrew.

The irony, as Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion and its second President Yitzhak ben Zvi accepted, is that the Palestinians, not the Jewish settlers, are the descendants of the ancient Hebrews. [see e.g. Dov Ivri’s Most Palestinians Are Descendants Of Jews]. Ben Gurion even sent Moshe Dayan with a rabbi to convert the Bedouin!

In Jewish-Roots Arabs in Israel in the far-Right settler news agency Arutz Sheva, Tzvi MiSinai claimed that ‘Up to 85 percent of Arabs in greater Israel stem from Jewish ancestors, it is estimated’. The article describes how

‘One Arab says his father told him the secret of his family’s Jewishness on his deathbed, while another one, on the backdrop of a photo of the saintly Cabalistic sage Rabbi Abuchatzeira on his wall, says their roots have been known in his family for generations. Wrapping what apparently used to be kosher tefillin on his arm, he says, “My father used to do this, and he taught us to do it whenever someone was sick or in trouble.”

The myth of a Jewish ‘exile’ from Palestine and the idea of their ‘return’ is a Christian racial myth born of colonialism’s desire to establish a friendly settler state adjacent to the Suez Canal. That is why the first western Zionists were Evangelical Christians like Lord Palmerstone and Shaftesbury and also why the vast majority of western Jews were hostile to Zionism when it began.  Because if Jews belonged in Palestine they didn’t belong in England.

See: If SOAS Cares For Its Reputation It Should Send Racist Professor Heszer, Head of the Jewish Studies Centre, on an Unpaid Vacation to learn what Zionism means for the Palestinians – Tony Greenstein

Sand’s is an extreme view. I’ve also come across the argument that European Jews were the descendants of Jewish merchants rather than political exiles. The impression I had of Israelite history was that after the failure of the Bar Kochba revolt in the 2nd century AD, the Jews were forcibly expelled from Jerusalem. This became a Roman colonial city and the Temple desecrated and dedicated to Zeus. The Jewish religious leadership moved to Galilee, which thus became the centre of the Jewish faith. However, there were still Jewish communities in Israel. I believe that there was conflict between Jews and Christians and Jewish revolts against Roman imperial persecution when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire.

It also would not surprise me in the slightest if genetics showed that the majority of Palestinians were descended from the ancient Israelites. Archaeologists and geneticists have been studying the genetic makeup of the British people since the 1980s. This has overturned some of the traditional views about the origin of the English. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the English are descended from Germanic invaders, the Angles, Saxon and Jutes, who conquered the country from across the North Sea in the 5th-7th centuries AD. But genetic studies of the modern English doesn’t show a comprehensive replacement of the existing Romano-British population. Furthermore, recent archaeological studies of migration period human remains have shown that the vast majority of the skeletons of people buried with Anglo-Saxon grave goods were from people, who had been brought up in this country. There were very few continental invaders. It now appears that instead of a full-scale invasion and replacement of the indigenous population, the conquest simply consisted of the Romano-Brits and their leaders adopting continental Germanic customs and language in a rejection of Roman identity as Roman rule collapsed.

Genetic studies also show that there was no replacement of the indigenous British population. It now appears that the British, including the English, are largely descended from the Bronze Age population of the British Isles and Ireland. At the level, the English are genetically the same as the Irish. When this was revealed to one Irish personality on TV a few years ago, he remarked that it must be galling for the English to find that they’re the same as the peeps of the Emerald Isle. Well, at one time, when the Irish really were looked down upon and there were crazy racial hierarchies being devised to show how they and the Blacks were at the bottom of human evolution, perhaps. But not now, when so much British popular culture comes from Ireland.

My guess is that the racial history of Palestine is pretty similar. I doubt that there was any replacement of the indigenous Jewish population. Many of them would have converted to Christianity. I’ve seen it estimated that about a third of the Jewish people would have converted to Christianity during the late Roman Empire. These were Greek-speaking Jews, whose conversion was assisted through theirs and the Christians’ use of the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament/ Hebrew Bible. The remaining Jews probably did speak Aramaic. It was the popular language of the Jewish people at the time of Christ. It’s the language of the Targums, paraphrases of the Hebrew scriptures to help people, who couldn’t understand Hebrew, and the Talmud, the compilation of the rabbinical oral law and the debates and opinions of the sages. I also think that Aramaic would have been the language of some Christians as well. Syriac, the language of some eastern Orthodox Christians in Lebanon and Syria, developed from the form of Aramaic spoken by those communities in the fourth century AD.

As for the Arab conquest and the adoption of Arab culture, this seems to be the result of a conscious policy by the caliph Mu’awiya in the 8th century AD. The Arabs were a tiny minority amongst the subject peoples of the new Islamic empire, who had retained their languages and customs. Greek continued to be used as the language of the imperial civil service in the western half of the empire. Mu’awiya was afraid that the Muslim Arabs would lose their ethnic identity through being absorbed by the non-Muslim population, so that their only distinction between them and the peoples they ruled would be their Islamic faith. He therefore passed a series of legislation designed to strengthen Arab ethnic identity, such as changing the language of the civil service to Arabic. This set in motion the process of Arabization which saw the majority of the population of that part of the Roman Empire adopt the Arabic language, culture and Islam.

I’m not sure about Sand’s argument that European Jews are descendants of proselytes and aren’t racially Jewish. That’s an extreme view. But Greenstein’s right about the size of the Jewish population of the Roman Empire. It may have been as large as 8 per cent and there were huge synagogues in places like Alexandria and Sardinia.

I therefore consider it highly likely that the vast majority of Palestinians are descended from the Jewish people of ancient Israel and Judea. I’m also not surprised that many Muslim Palestinians have more recent Jewish ancestry. There were large Jewish communities in Palestine before the establishment of the state of Israel, and many Jews preferred to live under Muslim rule as there wasn’t the restrictions there they faced in Christendom.

From the genetic perspective, they’re probably as Jewish as the Israelis, and so from that perspective also have an absolute right to remain on their ancestral lands against the attempts to expel and cleanse them by the Israeli state.

History Debunked on Anglo-Saxon Slavery in Bristol

September 7, 2020

Yesterday there was another Black Lives Matter protest in Bristol. The demonstrators walked through Cabot Circus, and there was a speech by one of the Green party councillors for the city calling for Bristol to apologise for its part in the slave trade. She told the news teams that it was about reparations and would send an inspiring message to the community in Britain and around the world.

In fact, as this video from History Debunked shows, the slave trade in Bristol dates from long before the transatlantic slave trade which began in Britain from the 16th century onwards. Bristol was a major centre of the slave trade in the 11th century, exporting White English slaves to Dublin, from which they were exported further abroad. He states that about 10 per cent of the population of Bristol during this period were slaves. He also goes on to say that Dublin, Waterford and other Irish towns were founded by the Vikings as slaving centres and tells the old story of how Pope Gregory came to send missionaries to evangelise the English. The Venerable Bede recounts in his History of the English Church and People how the pope was passing through the slave market in Rome. He saw two beautiful, blond children for sale. When he asked the slave dealer who they were, he was told, ‘Angles’. The Angles, along with the Saxons and Jutes, were one of the Germanic tribes that came to form Anglo-Saxon England. It’s from the Anglo-Saxon form of their name that the world ‘English’ is derived. Gregory then replied with a pun in Latin: ‘Non Angli, sed angeli’ – ‘Not Angles, but angels’. He also makes the point that St. Patrick was also a slave. He was English, and was captured and taken to Ireland as a slave by pirates. This is also correct, though I don’t think Patrick was English. He would have been British, coming from part of the British Isles that hadn’t yet been conquered by the advancing Anglo-Saxons, and may well have spoken a form of early Welsh. Certainly one of the places which claims him is in Wales.

This is all fact. Bristol was a centre of the slave trade in Anglo-Saxon England. In the 11th century the Anglo-Saxon bishop Wulfstan visited the city to preach against it. He was so successful that the citizens turned on the slavers, beat them and threw them out. However a hundred years later it was still dangerous to visit the Irish ships in the harbour alone at night. In the 12th century a team of French clergy went on a tour of England to raise funds for rebuilding one of their cathedrals after it fell down in a disaster. One of the places they visited was Bristol, where one of them had dinner one evening with an Irish ship’s captain aboard his vessel. When the visiting clergyman told his host, he was warned that it was very dangerous. The ship’s captains would invited the unwary aboard to have dinner, but then kidnap them, slip anchor and sail off. The cleric wisely didn’t go back for a second visit the next night.

History Debunked seems to be a man of the right, and many of his videos are arguments against some of the fake history that is being told as part of the anti-racist campaign. In one video, for example, he refutes the claim that the Black inventor Benjamin Banneker built the first clock in America. He didn’t. Banneker did make a wooden clock, but these were also being made in the US long before him. While this is obviously going to be controversial, as far as I can make out the history is absolutely sound.

I’m putting the video up here because I really honestly don’t believe that Black Lives Matter in Bristol and its marchers are aware that slavery and the slave trade in Bristol predated that of Black Africans. I think they want a simplistic narrative in which slavery is just something that racist Whites did to Blacks. But slavery existed all over the world, and while Black African slavery is a crime and holocaust, White slavery existed in Europe, and White Europeans were enslaved by north Africans from the Middle Ages right up to the French conquest of Algeria in the early 19th century. This is also part of the history of slavery, and needs to be included and remembered in any discussion.

‘I’ Article on ‘Bardcore’ – Postmodern Fusion of Medieval Music and Modern Pop

August 5, 2020

I’m a fan of early music, which is the name that’s been given to music from the ancient period through medieval to baroque. It partly comes from having studied medieval history at ‘A’ level, and then being in a medieval re-enactment group for several years. Bardcore is, as this article explains, a strange fusion of modern pop and rock with medieval music, played on medieval instruments and with a medieval vocal arrangement. I’ve been finding a good deal of it on my YouTube page at the moment, which means that there are a good many people out there listening to it. On Monday the I’s Gillian Fisher published a piece about this strange new genre of pop music, ‘Tonight we’re going to party like it’s 1199’, with the subtitle ‘Bardcare reimagines modern pop with a medieval slant. Hark, says Gillian Fisher’. The article ran

“Hadst thou need to stoop so low? To send a wagon for thy minstrel and refuse my letters, I need no longer write them though. Now thou art somebody whom I used to know.”

If you can’t quite place this verse, let me help – it’s the chorus from the 2011 number one Somebody That I Used to Know, by Gotye. It might seem different to how you remember it, which is no surprise – this is the 2020 Bardcore version. Sometimes known as Tavernwave, Bardcore gives modern hits a medieval makeover with crumhorns a plenty and lashings of lute. Sometimes lyrics are also rejigged as per Hildegard von Blingin’s offering above.

Algal (41-year-old Alvaro Galan) has been creating medieval covers since 2016, a notable example being his 2017 version of System of a Down’s Toxicity. Largely overlooked at the time, the video now boasts over 4.4 million views. Full-time musician Alvaro explains that “making the right song at the right moment” is key, and believes that Bardcore offers absolute escapism.

Alvaro says: “What I enjoy most about Bardcore is that I can close my eyes and imagine being in a medieval tavern playing for a drunk public waiting to dance! But from a more realistic perspective , I love to investigate the sounds of the past.”

In these precarious times, switching off Zoom calls and apocalyptic headlines to kick back with a flagon of mead offers a break from the shambles of 2020. Looking back on simpler times during periods of unrest is a common coping mechanism, as Krystine Batcho, professor of psychology at New York’ Le Moyne College explained in her paper on nostalgia: “Nostalgic yearning for the past is especially likely to occur during periods of transition, like maturing into adulthood or aging into retirement. Dislocation or alienation can also elicit nostalgia.”

The fact that Bardcore is also pretty funny also offers light relief. The juxtaposition of ancient sound with 21st-century sentiment is epitomised in Stantough’s medieval oeuvre, such as his cover of Shakira’s Hips Don’t Lie. Originally from Singapore, Stantough (Stanley Yong), 35 says: “I really like the fact we don’t really take it very seriously. We’re all aware what we’re making isn’t really medieval but the idea of modern songs being “medievalised” is just too funny.”

One of Bardcore’s greatest hits, is Astronomia by Cornelius Link, which features trilling flutes and archaic vocal by Hildegard. It’s a tune that has been enjoyed by 5.3 million listeners. Silver-tongued Hildegard presides over the Bardcore realm, with her cover of Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance clocking up 5 million views. Canadian illustrator Hildegard, 28, fits Bardcore around work and describes herself as “an absolute beginner” with the Celtic harp and “enthusiastically mediocre” with the recorder. Her lyric adaptations have produced some humdingers such as “All ye bully-rooks with your buskin boots which she sings in rich, resonant tones.

HIldegard, who wishes to remain anonymous, believes the Bardcore boom can be “chalked up to luck, boredom and a collective desire to connect and laugh.”

In three months, the Bardcore trend has evolved with some minstrels covering Disney anthems, while others croon Nirvana hits in classical Latin. While slightly absurd, this fusion genre has ostensibly provided a sense of unity and catharsis.

The humming harps and rhythmic tabor beats evoke a sense of connection with our feudal ancestors and their own grim experience of battening down the hatches against the latest outbreak. Alongside appealing to the global sense of pandemic ennui, connecting to our forbears through music is predicated upon the fact that they survived their darkest hours. And so shall we.

While Bardcore’s a recent phenomenon, I think it’s been drawing on trends in pop music that have happening for quite long time. For example, I noticed in the 1990s when I went to a performance of the early music vocal group, the Hilliard Ensemble, when they performed at Brandon Hill in Bristol that the audience also included a number of Goths. And long-haired hippy types also formed part of the audience for Benjamin Bagley when he gave his performance of what the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf probably sounded like on Anglo-Saxon lyre at the Barbican centre in the same decade.

Bardcore also seems connected to other forms of postmodern music. There’s the group the Postmodern Jukebox, whose tunes can also be found on YouTube, who specialise in different 20th century arrangements of modern pop songs. Like doing a rock anthem as a piece of New Orleans Jazz, for example. And then there’s Orkestra Obsolete, who’ve arranged New Order’s Blue Monday using the instruments of the early 20th century, including musical saws and Theremin. There’s definitely a sense of fun with all these musical experiments, and behind the postmodern laughter it is good music. An as this article points out, we need this in these grim times.

Here’s an example of the type of music we’re talking about: It’s Samuel Kim’s medieval arrangement of Star Wars’ Imperial March from his channel on YouTube.

And here’s Orkestra Obsolete’s Blue Monday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hindu Nationalist Persecution of Christians in India under Modi’s Government

July 4, 2019

One of the ladies at our church gave a talk on Wednesday about the growing persecution of Christians in India by Hindu extremists, aided and abetted by President Narendra Modi and his squalid Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government. This is an important issue for a number of reasons, and needs to be discussed. It’s naturally important to Christians concerned with the persecution members of their faith face in many other countries, but there are other reasons why it is important. It contradicts the view being pushed by the islamophobic right, that Christians are only, or primarily persecuted by Muslims. This is being particularly promoted by the neocons and Christian Zionists, like Ted Hagee’s Christians United for Israel, who, it seems, are using it to work up support for Israel and for further western imperialist wars in the Middle East. Although the article was written for Christians, the laws criminalising Christian conversion and the mob violence they face are also part of a general persecution directed at other non-Hindu religious minorities, such as Muslims and Sikhs. Discussing the resistible rise of the BJP two decades or so ago, Private Eye’s ‘Letter from India’ described how the BJP was connected to the militant RSSS, a militant Indian nationalist organisation which was partly modeled on Mussolini’s Fascists, and which was responsible for attacks on Muslims, Sikhs and Christians.

I am also certainly not blaming all Hindus for the actions of the BJP, or trying to attack Hinduism generally. Hinduism is a religion with a bewildering number of deities and sects, and thus has an impressive reputation for pluralism and tolerance. The extremists encouraged by the BJP also target moderate, liberal or secular Hindus because of their support of Gandhi and Nehru’s vision of India as a religiously tolerant, secular nation in which people of different faiths could live together in harmony and peace. The Hindu extremists not only reject this, they also passionately and vehemently despised its founder. A week or so ago one of the columnists in the I published a piece about how shocked they were when they first met a Hindu, who hated Gandhi. The Hindu extreme right despise and vilify Gandhi because they wanted India to be a Hindu state, and believed he had done too much to appease the Muslims.

I am also very much aware that Christian has also been spread through imperialism and military force, and has persecuted non-Christians. I don’t approve of or justify this. Religious persecution is wrong, no matter which religion is doing it.

Christianity in India is very ancient. Before Europeans arrived, there was already an indigenous Indian, Syriac Christian church. The Mar Thoma Christian church of Kerala believe that Christianity was brought to India in 50 or 52 AD by the apostle Thomas, who was martyred in Chennai in 72 AD. In 883 AD Sighelm, an ambassador to Kerala from the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex, visited his shrine to present thank offering from King Alfred. Another apostle, Nathanael (Bartholomew) also visited India in the first century, who brought with him a copy of Matthew’s Gospel in Hebrew. Documentary evidence suggests that Christianity had reached India by the early third century AD. By 225 there was a bishop in Baith Lapat, now Shahabad in Northern India, caring for the souls of a Christian community that had been converted by missionaries from Persia and what is now Iraq. The following century, Bishop John the Persian signed the Nicene Creed, which had been drawn up as the formal statement of the Christian faith “on behalf of (the churches) in the whole of Persia, and in the great India.”

The Indian Christian population is 65 million., and comprises about 2% of the population of India, 80% of whom are Hindus. In 2016 there were 348 incidents of persecution in India recorded by the Evangelical Fellowship of India. In 2017 this increased to 736, of which 351 were violent. Many incidents probably haven’t been recorded, and so the true number is probably higher.

The BJP has also passed a series of laws, ostensibly against forced conversion, as part of their campaign against Christianity. These forbid the use of force, fraud or allurement in conversion. I’m very much aware of the term ‘rice Christianity’, dating from the 19th century. This came from the supposed tactics of some missionaries, who promised the starving a bowl of rice if they converted. The use of such inducements to get people to convert is clearly immoral. But the laws brought in against them allow Christians to be falsely accused of these tactics. In September 2017 the Jharkhand state government passed a freedom of religion law, which punishes those guilty of using ‘coercion’ to convert Hindus with three years in prison. Anyone, who wishes to change their faith, has to obtain prior permission from a magistrate. Christians have been subjected to violence and arrest, and churches disrupted because of accusations that they are breaking these laws. But the BJP is determined to roll them out nationally. The opposition party has also moved rightward to compete with the BJP, and there is fears that this will also lead to greater intolerance of religious minorities.

The tactics used against Christians not only include social exclusion, but also assault and attacks and sabotage of church buildings and private homes. They are also subject to boycotts, and a campaign, “Ghar Wapsi” (homecoming) to force Indian Christians to renounce their faith. Two years ago, in January 2017, a 50 year-old Christian convert, Bartu Urawn, and his wife were immersed in a pond by a mob for 17 hours by a mob from their village in order to force them to recant their faith. Urawn refused, dying afterwards from his ordeal. The police, however, recorded his death as ‘natural causes’. Rural Christians are especially vulnerable, and all too often the police arrest the victims instead of the perps.

Many Christians are also Dalits, formerly the untouchables, the lowest-rung of the Hindu caste system, and are considered impure and polluting by the higher castes. There is a quota system to give them access to education and employment, but these quotas don’t apply to Christians or Muslims. They’ve also suffered attacks on their homes, churches, and water sources.

See ‘Courageous faith: India’s pressured christians’ in barnabasaid, March/April 2019, pp. 6-7.

I am also very much aware that the Christian right in several American states is trying to pass ‘freedom of religion’ laws with the same intention as the Hindu extremists in the above article: to exclude religious and secular minorities from political involvement. It hasn’t quite reached the level of the Hindu extremists as described in the above article, but the intolerance of parts of the American Christian right is similar in intensity.

The BJP is, if not Fascist, then certainly fascistic in its extreme nationalism. Indeed, a prayer used by one of the BJP’s allies or constituent organisations is included in an academic textbook on Fascism to illustrate Fascism’s mystical component. The BJP is part of the growth of religious and ethnic intolerance throughout the world. And as the book, Falling Off The Edge shows, a major cause of this tension and conflict is neoliberalism. The doctrine of absolute free trade without any form of government interference means that conditions for ordinary working people across the globe, whether in the developed West or the developing world, has got worse. And as conditions of grinding poverty have increased, so people have turned on minorities as scapegoats for their rage and desperation.

It’s what’s behind the growth of fascism in working class White communities in Britain. And I’ve no doubt it’s also behind the growth of Hindu extremism in India, all encouraged and promoted by Modi. It’s one of the classic tactics of the wealthy elite everywhere to divert opposition away from themselves by claiming that mainstream society is perfect. It’s only ethnic or religious minorities, who are behind all societies problems. Minorities like Jews, Muslims, Christians, Blacks, Asians or gays, depending on the society.

But one thing is absolutely certain: Fascism and intolerance has to be fought everywhere, along with the neoliberal economics that force people into poverty, despair and racism or religious extremism, whatever the colour or creed of the persecutors or their victims.

Without America, Israel Would Be A Liberia for Jews

May 26, 2018

Israel is very strongly supported financially by America. I don’t know the precise figures, but annually tens, if not hundreds of millions of US dollars goes in aid to it. And the Iron Dome anti-missile shield was actually given to the Israelis by Obama’s regime. But the Israel lobby in America, AIPAC and the other organisations, continually press for more money and continued financial support. And I have heard of incidents where the suggestion that aid money to Israel must be scaled down is greeted within Israel by angry protests and cries of ‘anti-Semitism!’

But Israel isn’t the first colonial state founded as a refuge for persecuted minorities in the West. The first modern such states were Liberia and Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone was established in the late 18th century by British abolitionists as a homeland from freed slaves. Like Israel, there was also a utopian element in the scheme. Sierra Leone was to be self-governing, and non-feudal, based on contemporary liberal English historians’ conception of Anglo-Saxon English society and government before the Norman Conquest. Many of the Black colonists sent there were literate, and they were joined by a number of poor Whites, who also wanted to set up a new home in the Continent.

In fact, the colony was troubled almost from the outset. It was beset with agricultural problems, disease and sickness were rife, and there was conflict with the indigenous peoples, from whom the Abolitionists had purchased or leased the land. It eventually passed under the control of a colonial company and thence became a British colonial possession. Due to friction with the colonial authorities, the Black colonists rebelled. This was quashed with the arrival of a number of Maroon – free Black – soldiers from Jamaica.

After the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire in 1807, Sierra Leone became the centre of one of the naval courts in West Africa, that judged whether or not captured ships were slavers. The enslaved people in these vessels were also settled there, after they were given their freedom. It also became a major centre of Creole – Western Black – learning and culture. Much of what we know about the culture and languages of West Africa comes from Sierra Leonean travellers and missionaries. It was through working in Sierra Leone that two non-conformist missionaries presented evidence to British parliamentary committees that Black African children were not just as intelligent as White European kids, but at certain stages seemed to be more advanced. This is obviously very controversial, but it is true that Black babies tend to be more alert earlier than Whites. There is also a connection to the world of British classical music. The father of the 19th century British composer, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (not to be confused with the poet of almost the same name) came from Sierra Leone. Coleridge-Taylor was the composer, amongst other things, of a Clarinet Quintet, and a cantata based on Longfellow’s Hiawatha. This is still performed today by British choral societies.

America also founded a similar colony for its freed slaves in the same part of West Africa. This was Liberia. The American abolitionists, who founded the colony, were proud of the achievements of the Black colonists, their political involvement and the colonies’ economic development. They praised, for example, the growth of craft and artisan industries and the colonists’ manufactures, and predicted it would be a major centre of civilisation in Africa.

Sadly, this has not been the case, either in Sierra Leon or Liberia. Both remain impoverished developing nations, dominated by kleptocratic elites. Sierra Leone was rent by a devastating civil war in the 1990s over control of its vast diamond reserves. In Liberia, the descendants of the Western Black Colonists dominate and oppress the indigenous peoples. When one of the Afro-American presidents deigned to make a tour of the indigenous peoples and their lands in the 1960s, this was hailed as a major democratic move.

Western settlers dominating the indigenous people, in a country founded so that the settlers could be free from persecution in the West – that also sounds very much like Israel.

Critics of Zionism have pointed out that many of the gentile supporters of Zionism were anti-Semites with their own reasons for supporting a Jewish homeland. Quite simply, many of them simply wanted to clear Jews out of Britain, and dump them somewhere else in the world. Jewish Zionism was also predated by Christian Zionism, which wanted to re-establish the ancient kingdom of Israel in preparation for the End Times predicted in the Book of Revelation.

And one of the reasons for the foundation of Sierra Leone and Liberia was the belief that Whites and Blacks would never mix in Europe and America. There would always be prejudice against Blacks. And many of the supporters of the scheme, at least for Sierra Leone, also wanted a place to put British Blacks and clear them out of England.

Israel is a prosperous country, and is now supporting itself through its arms trade. But recently it has been hit with a massive corruption scandal surrounding Binyamin Netanyahu. It therefore seems to me that, for all the promotion of Israel and its undoubted achievements in the West, if it wasn’t so heavily supported by America and the Europeans, it would decline very swiftly to the same level as Sierra Leone and Liberia: dominated by kleptocrats and brutal, corrupt dictators, which oppressing the indigenous peoples. Which the Israelis are doing already to the Palestinians.

Ancient Christian Apologist Tertullian on Human Damage to the Environment

July 15, 2017

Some of the most vocal opponents of environmentalism and climate change in the US are politically Conservative Christians. They object to it, not just on the grounds that they believe it to be wrong scientifically, but also because they are highly suspicious of it on political and religious grounds. It is argued that the Green movement is really a pagan movement, or else a way of sneaking Socialism in through the back door through stressing the need for legislation and the regulation of industry to protect the environment. It’s also denounced as a form of Nazism, because the Nazis were also eager to protect the German environment.

It’s true that Green politics has strongly influenced some contemporary neo-Pagan religious movements, particularly Wicca, whose deities consist of an Earth mother and horned god. However, the scientific evidence on which the Green movement is based is separate and independent from any one particular religious or political group. And modern Green politics began with books such as Silent Spring in the 1960s and the Club of Rome, a gathering of concerned scientists, in the early ’70s, and not with Hitler and the Nazis.

Furthermore, writers and philosophers long before the Nazis were also acutely concerned with the threat of overpopulation and the damage humans were doing to the environment. One of them was the early Christian apologist, Tertullian, who wrote

‘Most convincing as evidence of populousness, we have become a burden to the Earth. The fruits of nature hardly suffice to sustain us, and there is a general pressure of scarcity giving rise to complaints. Need we be astonished that plague and famine, warfare and earthquake, come to be regarded as remedies, serving to prune the superfluity of population?’

This quotation was dug up by Adrian Berry, a fellow of the Interplanetary Society, Royal Astronomical Society and Royal Geographical Society. Berry is very much a man of the right, who used to write for the Torygraph. He used it to argue that people have always had exaggerated fears about the threat to society. Or alternatively, they could also be extremely complacent, such as the 2nd century AD Roman writer Pliny. Pliny wrote of the enduring splendor of the Roman Empire just before it began to collapse. Jonathan Margolis also cites in his chapter on predictions of environmental catastrophe, ‘Global Warning’, in his A Brief History of Tomorrow: The Future, Past and Present (London: Bloomsbury 2000) 89, where he also discusses the possibility that predictions of environmental collapse may be wrong.

At the moment, the majority of the world’s scientists are convinced that climate change and environmental damage caused by humanity are real, and a genuine threat to the planet, its flora and fauna, and ultimately humanity itself. Furthermore, archaeologists become increasingly aware how global changes to the environment have caused civilizations to collapse. The early Viking colonies in Greenland were destroyed in the 14th century, when the environment in the northern hemisphere became colder, making it impossible to practice European-style agriculture so far north.

Similarly, the highly developed Pueblo Indian cultures in the Chaco canyon in what is now the southwestern US collapsed and were abandoned when the climate became hostile in the 13th century. The cultures existed in an arid region of the US, using extensive irrigation canals to water their crops. The area suffered an intense drought, and unable to support themselves, the inhabitants moved away.

As for ancient Rome, one of the causes for the barbarian invasions may well have been climate change. The environment became colder from the 3rd century onwards. Central Asian tribes, such as the Huns, moved west, crossing the steppes into Europe and moving south to attack China. This displaced other tribes, such as Goths, who were settled around the Black Sea. The sea levels began to rise, so that the Frisians and other Germanic tribes settled in what is now the Netherlands, were forced to abandon low-lying farms and villages on the coasts. This may have been one of the causes of the Anglo-Saxon migrations to Britain.

In the Greek-speaking eastern Roman Empire, towns shrank, while in the west there was a movement away from the cities, partly through economic grounds. Historians have argued whether the Roman population was decimated by disease. Certainly in Rome itself, located amidst swampland, malaria was endemic, and the sheer size of the population meant that it was periodically subject to outbreaks of other diseases. And the city depended on a steady influx of new immigrants to replenish its population. And there was a constant threat of starvation. The free Roman masses depended on shipments of grain from Egypt and north Africa, and one of the elected officials in the city was responsible for securing the grain supply. Amongst the graffiti found scrawled on walls in Pompeii are election slogans urging men to vote for a particular candidate because ‘he gets good bread’.

Tertullian may well have been absolutely right about the dangers of overpopulation. And regardless of whether he was or wasn’t, the fact that he, one of the great defenders of Christian faith and doctrine in the Roman Empire, was prepared to accept and argue that overpopulation and environmental damage were a danger, shows that there is nothing inherently anti-Christian in the Green movement. This was shown a few weeks ago when the current pope, Pope Francis, criticized Trump’s government for ignoring science and failing to tackle climate change. There’s an irony here in a religious figure attacking the elected leader of a supposedly secular state for having an anti-scientific attitude. And it remains true that there is nothing fundamentally contrary to Christianity about Green politics regardless of the support for Green politics amongst peoples of other religions or none.

Lobster Review of John Strafford’s Book on Un-Democratic Britain

September 24, 2016

Anthony Frewin wrote a review of a fascinating political history in Lobster 59. This was Our Fight for Democracy: A History of Democracy in the United Kingdom, by John Strafford, and published by the author. A history of the development of democracy in Britain from the Romans and Anglo-Saxons onwards, Frewin praised the book for its readability and the fact that it was able to say something new in area which has been extensively covered by other historians. For example, unlike the conventional Whig narrative, which sees the emergence of democracy and representative government as a smooth progress from the middle ages to today, Strafford is quite clear that not only was this process not inevitable, it had to be actively fought for. Frewin quotes him in an introductory chapter as saying that ‘riot and revolution are the mother and father of democracy’ and ‘Our history shows that nearly all the advances towards democracy were accompanied by violence.’ He notes that Strafford’s is a critical history, and so does not automatically greet the great milestones in the development of democracy, like Magna Carta, the Great Reform Act and votes for women with uncritical admiration. And the book also contains much information on how un- and indeed anti-democratic political structures and institutions have survived into the present day.

Like the business vote. Under the old political system, business leaders were also granted a number of extra votes in local elections. This was not abolished with the Great Reform Act of 1833, but survived for another 136 years before finally being removed in 1969 from all of Britain with one exception: the City of London. Indeed, 14 years ago in 2002 16,000 new business votes were created.
Strafford states that the justification for non-resident voting in the centre of the metropolis is that the real population of the City is the 45,000 people who just work there in the daytime, and not just the mere 9,500 who permanently live there. A Private Act of Parliament passed the same year doubled the number of voters to 32,000. The actual captains of industry don’t even have to vote personally. They can nominate employees to do so, and the number of votes businesses receive depends on their size. He makes the point that wealth shouldn’t be allowed to buy votes, and that non-residents of the City of London should be deprived of the franchise in the City. If that means that the City’s electorate then becomes too small to be practical, the City should either be amalgamated with another borough or split up.

Lobster is profoundly Eurosceptic, and so Frewin’s reviews discusses the sheer absence of anything like democracy in the European parliament, where the MEPs’ power is severely limited and the Union governed instead by the unelected commissioners. An example of this complete absence of democracy is the career of Baroness Ashton of Upholland, who rose spectacularly from relative obscurity to become British High Commissioner in Brussels through appointment by Tony Blair and others, without once going through an election. This is an example of the way the government has increasingly adopted the practice of co-opting outsiders. One example of this was Gordon Brown’s elevation to the peerage of ten such people, who became government ministers. These included three businessmen, a surgeon, a former head of the RN, and an ex-diplomat. Frewin also makes the point that this also exemplifies the rise of Yes-men and -women, whose government preferment depends on political patronage.

The review also states that Strafford gives a list of 69 recommendations for reforms that would make the country more democratic, and includes a sample. These are:

1: Power should be devolved from central government and the higher levels of local government to the lowest practical level.
2: For all electoral purposes the City of London should be
amalgamated with the City of Westminster.
3: The Regional Development Agencies should be abolished and their functions transferred to local Councils.
10: The oath of allegiance should either be abolished or it should be changed to ‘I swear that I will bear true allegiance to the people, Parliament and democracy according to law.’
14: The whole House of Commons should elect Select Committee chairmen by secret ballot, thus ending de facto appointment of chairmen by the party whips.
18: The people should directly elect the Prime Minister. He could be removed by majorities in both Houses of Parliament or by referendum.
25: Our entire legal system should be disentangled from the nonsense that justice is dispensed in the name of the Queen. It should be dispensed in the name of the people.
28: The people should directly elect the House of Lords.
31: The European Council of Ministers should meet in public.
32: The European Scrutiny Committee of the House of
Commons should meet in public.
39: Both the Labour Party and the Conservative Party should reform themselves to become democratic bodies answerable to their membership so that members can change the Constitution of their party on the basis of One Member One
Vote.
46: Party Political Broadcasts (PPBs) should be abolished.
59: Within one month of the monarch’s death a ballot should be held of all the people to endorse the successor. Should such endorsement not be given a ballot should be held on the successor’s eldest child becoming monarch. Should
endorsement once again not be forthcoming the monarchy
would be abolished.

Frewin comments ‘Some pretty radical proposals here.’ Yes, indeed. We’ve seen how bitterly anti-democratic the Blairites in the Labour party have been about letting the membership vote in radical leaders and changes in policy that they dislike with their purges of the membership and constant campaigning against Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters.

One of the fascinating features of the book is that Strafford himself is not a left-winger. He founded a campaigning group in the Tories, the Campaign for Conservative Democracy, who have a website at http://www.copov.org.uk/. He was also one of those marching against the Iraq invasion, where he and his wife held a banner, ‘Conservatives Against the War’.

The review is at the magazine’s website on their books pages. This is at http://www.lobster-magazine.co.uk. Pick the issue from the selection at the page, and then scroll down till you get to the relevant review. This also provides the details how you can order the book from Strafford himself.

Tory Lies Alert! House of Lords Purpose to Check Taxation, Not Laws

November 1, 2015

Tory Lies Drawing

I’ve come to the conclusion that the Tory party is constitutionally incapable of telling the truth. They’re so used to lying that they’d tell the public that Paris is the capital of Luxembourg, or that Schleswig-Holstein was a type of beer brewed in Iowa, and that Boris Johnson was Qahless, Emperor of the Klingons, if they could get away with it. Or if one of their paymasters in big business paid them.

Last week they were firmly trounced by the House of Lords, which threw out their plans to cut tax credit for the very poorest families. As a result, they’ve thrown their teddies out their prams, and promised to go round the Lord’s to give them a good kicking. David Cameron started ranting about how ‘undemocratic’ the House was, and how he was going to flood it with good and loyal Tories, who would all vote his way in future, so there!

And yar, boo, sucks to the rest of us.

Have I Got News For You on Friday pointed out that the House of Lords already has 800 or so members. This is large enough without the further 100 Cameron is planning to pack in there.

They also showed a clip of a Tory official, giving his learned opinion on the constitutional origins and purpose of the House of Lords. By ‘ learned opinion’, I do, of course, mean ‘lies’.

The official stated that the purpose of the House of Lords was simply to revise legislation. It’s scope was strictly limited to taxation. The House of Lords had exceeded the scope of its functions, and needed to be reformed. QED.

Not quite.

The House of Lords is basically a remnant of the feudal grand council, going all the way back to the witangemot, in Anglo-Saxon times, which monarchs called to advise them. It is not limited to examining matters of taxation, and has always had the power to throw out legislation. It may only do this three times. It constitutional purpose is to examine and amend legislation passed by the Lower House, in accordance with the theory of the separation of powers. It is also designed to act as a constitutional check on the power of the monarchy.

It was the House of Commons that was originally set up to examine matters of taxation. It was established by Simon de Montfort during the thirteenth century. The English Crown wanted to raise taxes, and the aristocracy refused to do so unless they had a say in how it was spent. The House of Commons is basically one section of the feudal grand council, which has been amended so that its members are elected, rather than sit by hereditary right or the monarch’s pleasure. And its constitutional function was to check the oligarchic power of the Lords.

Of course, the Tories have absolutely no objections to oligarchy, and really want to bring it all back. Hence their reforms to the registration process, which will leave about ten million people disenfranchised. They do, however, have a problem with members of the House of Lords, who suddenly wake up and do their constitutional duty, rather than simply collecting their expenses and going home. Hence all the fury from the Tory benches.

Not everyone was taken by the guff the Tories have been spouting about the origins of parliament and the British constitution. On the clip shown by Have I Got News For You, the lady MP standing next to the Tory was most spectacularly unimpressed, as his lies flowed out of him. She responded by pulling faces. It’s probably the best response possible to this latest barrage of Tory lies.

Of course, they’re hoping that people will be taken in by it. After all, they’ve always considered themselves the natural party of government, and Tory clubs up and down the country have called themselves ‘Constitutional Clubs’. This assault on the constitution and the British people’s constitutional liberties shows that they aren’t. But they won’t tell you that, just more lies.