Posts Tagged ‘Blasphemy’

Cineworld Pull Film on Life of Prophet’s Daughter Fatima Due to Intimidating Protests from Sectarian Sunnis

June 8, 2022

I feel I have to comment on this story now going the rounds on the right-wing satellite news shows like GB News and the Murdoch-owned Talk TV, if only to provide some perspective on it. They’ve been discussing Cineworld’s decision to remove a British-made film, in which a young Muslim girl learns about the life of Muhammad’s daughter, Fatima. The film’s directed by Eli King, and was written by a Muslim clergyman, and its executive producer, Malik Shlibak, appeared on GB News talking to Nigel Farage to defend the movie. There were mass protests outside cinemas in Bolton and Birmingham, which led to the cinema chain removing the movie, first from those towns and now across the country. They stated that they were afraid that if they did not do, they could not guarantee the security of their staff.

One of the accusations against the film is that it is blasphemous, because it shows Mohammed’s face. This is frequently omitted in Islamic art, it has to be said. There’s either an oval hole left for the face, or else the face of Mohammed and other leading members of the early Muslim community are hidden behind veils. Shlibak explained to the Fuhrage that Habib, the Islamic scholar who wrote the film, was a highly respected clergyman with a following around the world. They were also very careful to base it on the historical sources. As for blasphemy in portraying the Prophet’s face, Shlibak stated that this wasn’t true, as there is a variety of attitudes towards the portrayal of Mohammed across the Muslim world.

The real issue, it appears, is sectarian. The protesters were all Sunnis, the orthodox branch of Islam, who objected to the film because it was from the Shia perspective. Fatima was married to Ali, whom the Shias revere as the first Imam and the true successor to Mohammed as the leader of the nascent Muslim community. However, he was passed over in favour of three members of the Meccan aristocracy, who had converted to Islam. Ali’s sons, Hassan and Hussein, attempted to seize power but were defeated in battle by the forces of the Caliph Muawiya. They were killed, their forces routed and the women of Ali’s family captured. Shia Muslims commemorate this event annually with processions and a passion play, in which they carry models of the Hassan and Hussein’s mausoleums.

Apart from Shlibak, the Fuhrage also talked to a Muslim who supported the protests. He denied that the film was being accused of blasphemy, because blasphemy doesn’t exist in Islam. The protests were instead against it because it caused sectarian tensions. Now the statement that blasphemy doesn’t exist in Islam is pure taqiyya, a lie to defend the faith. Technically what he said is correct – it doesn’t have quite the same concept, but has a similar idea. This is ‘insulting Islam’. There have been mob lynchings and murders of people accused of blasphemy in Pakistan. The Pakistani legal code also considers it a crime, and there are 200 people on death row in the country on blasphemy charges. When the man defending the protests repeatedly refused to answer Nige’s questions about blasphemy, Nige ended the interview ‘in the interests of free speech’.

I found an other video today in which the protests were being discussed by Leo Kearse, a Conservative comedian, who has appeared with Sargon of Gasbag’s Lotus Eaters, and another man, whom I didn’t recognise. It seems that the protesters were also recorded chanting ‘Allahu akbar’ and ‘Shia kaffir’, Shia unbelievers. Although unremarked by the three discussing the issue, this is particularly chilling. Muslims cannot enslave other Muslims under the explicit dictates of sharia law, although this was frequently violated. In the Middle Ages, however, a number of Sunni theologians and jurists ruled that the Shia were not Muslims, but unbelievers. They could thus be killed and their children enslaved. A few years ago the Grand Mufti of Mecca declared that the Shia were ‘heretics, worthy of death’, which is a call to genocide if ever I heard one. Kearse added that this was a problem of importing thousands, millions of people from other cultures that don’t share our values. He was corrected by the second panellist, who made the point that the people speaking were all born here. The problem was about parallel societies. This is a genuine problem. There have been articles in the press discussing the way White and ethnic minority communities are growing apart. There was one such in the left-wing political magazine, Prospect, a few years ago about one town in which Whites and Muslim lived in separate areas and had nothing to do with each other. The panellists stated that there wasn’t much in the way of British values on display. No, the protesters were following the traditional values of the Sunni Muslim world. They also made the point that it was similar to the teacher, who was hounded of his job at a school in Batley because he dared to show his class the French cartoons of Mohammed. This fellow and his family are still in hiding a year later. And it was for showing the Charlie Hebdo cartoons that the French teacher, Thomas Pattie, was murdered following similar protests.

Julia Harley-Brewer on Talk TV tried to put it into some kind of perspective by comparing it to Christian protests against Monty Python’s Life of Brian. And a few years before in the ’70s there were also protests against the horror film The Exorcist because of its portrayal of demonic possession. But as far as I know, these protests never included death threats, whether explicit or tacit, against those involved in the movie. The real parallels, and the source of the problem, are the protests in Bradford in the 1980s against Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses. This was intended as a critique of western racism, and the Mahound character, who was supposed to be a caricature of Mohammed, actually wasn’t at all. People I know who’ve read the book have said it’s not blasphemous. It is, however, incredibly boring. The book was denounced by the Ayatollah Khomeini as a cynical political ploy in order to gain some kind of moral leadership over the Muslim world against Saudi Arabia. In Britain there were mass protests, led in Bradford by Mohammed Akhthar, Kalim Saddiqui and other intolerant hardliners. Akhthar penned a pamphlet, Be Careful With Mohammed, which I had the misfortune to read when I was briefly trying to study Islam at postgraduate level. It’s a staunch defence of traditional Islam, which is held up as everything good and admirable as compared to western society and Christianity, which is everything inferior and wrong. And Akhthar makes very explicit the British Muslim community’s rejection of British culture and values ‘They came to Britain to work, not to become Englishmen’. These protests gave the Muslim radicals in Britain as sense of power, especially as Rushdie was forced to go into hiding for a decade or so. In 1991 or so Kalim Saddiqui was filmed in his mosque in a BBC documentary, The Trouble With Islam, telling his flock that British society was a vast killing machine, and killing Muslims comes very easily to us. When asked about this, he bleated some nonsense about a forthcoming Muslim holocaust.

But to return to the death threats, these are not confined to the leaders of the mass protests. The Muslim evangelist Ali Dawah in one of his videos told one of the ex-Muslim atheist YouTubers that when Britain becomes an Islamic state, he’d be put to death. One of the ex-Muslim atheists, Harris Sultan, appealed for donations a little while ago to pay for protection after a British Muslim put a price on his head.

I feel very strongly that we have to start pushing back against these bigots. One of the criticisms levelled against the handling of these protests is that the police didn’t turn up. I’m not surprised. They were no doubt scared of being accused of racism and Islamophobia, which may have been blown up into mass demonstrations around the globe. But I also despise the way protests like these are being ignored and played down by our politicians. I well appreciate why. They’re afraid of stoking real hatred against ordinary Muslims, who have nothing to do with the protests and who may not share these views. When Akhthar and Saddqui were organising protests in Bradford, there were counter protests against them from liberal Muslims. One of my former college’s lecturers on Islam also went up, and quote the passage in the Quran which condemns religious intolerance. I think it was probably the verse that runs ‘There should be no compulsion in religion’.

And protests carrying real or implied death threats aren’t confined to Muslims. A year or so ago Kathleen Stock, a feminist scholar, was forced out of her job following mass protests by students. She was accused of transphobia because of her stated belief that transwomen aren’t women. The university first tried sacking her for bigotry, which she successfully challenged. But she went anyway because she no longer felt safe.

I think this all needs to be stopped now. People have the right to protest but not to the extent where others fear for their lives. I wonder if it’s time to demand legislation against protests where there is a reasonable fear of threats to life and limb, and to make sure it is properly enforced. And I realise that this is an attack on free speech and the right to protest, but I cannot see any other way of defending free speech against such mobs without it.

Here are the videos I’ve mentioned.

Farage talking to executive producer Malik Shlibak:

Leo Kearse and others discussing the protests.

Sultan and Khan Attack the Islamic Preachers of Jihad and Slavery

April 12, 2022

One of the books I’ve been reading recently was Jonathan A.C. Brown’s Slavery and Islam. I did so partly to see whether there was any truth in the accusation by the islamophobic right that the Muslim grooming gangs were rooted in Muslim sex slavery. They aren’t. They’re just evil men with a racist attitude to Whites, who wanted to rape and degrade young girls. Brown states in his introduction that his book was a response to the shock he and the overwhelming majority of Muslims the world over felt when ISIS revived sex slavery. His book is also partly an attempt to answer the question why, if slavery is such a monstrous crime, did it take so long for Christians, Muslims and other religions and philosophies to ban it. His conclusion is that slavery wasn’t condemned but regulated by religions like Christianity and Islam because it was too much a part of everyday life for previous civilisations to consider outlawing it. Not even rationalist philosophers like Aristotle argued against it, because they felt it was too indispensable. Aristotle apparently said that it could only be banned ‘when looms drive themselves’. Brown therefore concludes that abolitionism arose in the west when a series of social and technological changes showed that society could still survive and prosper economically without slavery. Part of his argument is that it survived so long in Islam because Muslim slavery was more benign than western chattel slavery and even the western treatment of free workers. It was heavily regulated, slaves had rights, most could expect to be manumitted in 8-10 years and female slave concubines could rise to become powerful women, the mothers of Ottoman emperors and caliphs.

Brown’s a White American convert to Islam and a professor of the religion at one of the American universities. He amasses a wealth of information and sources to prove his point. At the same time, it strikes me that he’s producing a biased account of Islamic slavery intended to impress the reader with its comparative mildness. Others have produce much more critical studies to Islamic slavery. The White European and American victims of the Barbary pirates complained of constant beating by their masters. They were given meagre rations and expected to make money for their masters. They lived in particular fear of being pressed into the pirates’ galleys. As oarsmen they were kept chained to their benched night and day, fed little and deprived of sleep. Many were driven to ‘strange ecstasies’ – madness. Another fear was that, if their relatives and friends back home could not raise the money to ransom them, their masters would sell them on to the big Ottoman slave market at Constantinople, and they would be lost among the enslaved masses of the Ottoman empire for ever.

Nevertheless, despite the book’s bias, Brown chronicles the process of abolition in the Islamic world and the attempts by Muslims themselves to abolish slavery. Sometimes this was by sincere reformers, who felt that Muhammed had intended slavery to be banned eventually, but circumstances prevented him from doing so in his own time. Sometimes the bans were simply for reasons of diplomatic expediency. Islamic states and rulers wanted to make treaties with western nations. These wanted to ban slavery around the globe, and so their Islamic partners did so. Brown notes the existence of radical Muslim groups we haven’t heard about in the West, because their radicalism is that of left-wing opponents of racism, sexism and homophobia in the West. These include movements like the Progressive Muslims.

But unfortunately, despite the hard work put in by Islamic abolitionists, the fanatics are coming back to preach aggressive jihad and the enslavement of the kufar.

Harris Sultan and Nuriyeh Khan are two ex-Muslim atheists with their own channel on YouTube, which attacks religion in general and Islam in particular. They are very concerned about the rising intolerance in the Islamic world, like Pakistan where people have been murdered on the mere accusation that they have committed blasphemy. A few days ago they discussed a recent case in which a schoolteacher was murdered by three of her pupils, because one of them apparently had a dream in which the teacher blasphemed against Islam. It’s sheer, mindless fanaticism, though there’s also the suspicion that there may have been more mundane motives for the killing. They’ve also attacked similar trends among extreme right-wing Hindus in India and also among the Sikhs. and recently they’ve put up a couple of videos showing Muslim preachers calling for or defending aggressive jihad and the enslavement of non-Muslims.

One was an Indonesian preacher on Zakir Naik’s PeaceTV. Naik’s a Muslim anti-Christian polemicist. This delightful preacher told his congregation that in 50-60 years, Muslims would be strong enough to make war and invade the non-Muslim world. If non-Muslims allowed them to take over their countries without struggle, they would be allowed to keep their homes and property. If, however, they fought back, or continued with un-Islamic practices like nightclubs after they allowed Islam to take over their countries, they would be conquered by military force and enslaved.

The other day they put up another video of a female professor of Islam at one of Islam’s most prestigious universities, al-Uzzah, as recorded and translated by Memri TV. This woman attacked the treatment of the Palestinians by the Israelis. But she was in favour of Muslims enslaving non-Muslim women as sex slaves, because this would humiliate them. This particularly shocked Nuriyeh Khan. As a modern, liberated woman she found it deeply distressing and incomprehensible to hear another woman advocating such vile treatment of the members of her own sex. Sultan also made the point that the Israelis weren’t enslaving Palestinian women for sex. If they did, this would be a crime against humanity and would be condemned by the international community. This is probably true, but condemnations by the UN haven’t stopped the decades long process of ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians by the Israeli state, the erection of a system of apartheid or the imprisonment and torture of Palestinian children.

To show what these policies meant in practice during Ottoman history, they show clips from a Hungarian TV series about Magyar, Serb and Croat girls, who are carried off into slavery by Ottoman raiders. These kill the girls’ fiances and husbands. At the slave market they are stripped and humiliated with their breasts and buttocks prodded by prospect male buyers. This is historically accurate. Under the sharia the only legitimate source of slaves was prisoners of war, and so Muslim states were engaged in warfare and raiding for slaves to supply the slave markets. And Brown states in his book that female slaves were treated like this.

Now this TV series raises a number of issues. There’s a bitter hatred of Muslims in Hungary and the Balkans. These countries were invaded and conquered by the Ottomans. The Turks only succeeded in conquering two-thirds of Hungary, and it was later reconquered by the Austrians, hence the Austro-Hungarian empire. But Serbia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania, Albania and Greece, for example, spent five hundred years as provinces of the Ottomans. Most of the hatred, though, dates from atrocities committed by the Muslim forces during these nations’ wars of independence. A revolt on one of the Greek islands was put down with terrible massacres in the 1820s, after which 17,000 + Christian Greeks were enslaved. It should be noted too that the Christians were also capable of committing atrocities of their own against Muslims, but this received much less publicity in the west. During the Second World Bosnian Muslims united with the forces of Croatian Fascist leader Ante Pavelic to perpetrate appalling massacres on the Serbs. The Fascists wanted to have 1/3 of the Serbs converted to Roman Catholicism, a third forced in slavery and another third simply wiped out. Concentration camps like those for Jews in Nazi Germany were set up. Captured Serb women and children were thrown off mountains to kill them.

It was memory of these horrors that spurred the Serbs in their turn to commit horrific atrocities against Bosnian Muslims during the War in Yugoslavia in the 1990s. One of the paramilitary groups responsible, under a particular vicious brute called Arkan, had taken part a few years earlier in a re-enactment of the Battle of Kosovo Polje at the end of the fourteenth century in which the Ottoman forces defeated the Christian armies and conquered Serbia. However much based in fact the Hungarian TV series is, it worries me that it has the potential to inspire a similar genocidal hatred of Muslims. Hungary has attracted international criticism from the EU amongst other for refusing to admit Muslim asylum seekers. I also seem to recall that Serbia also refused to let the mass caravan of migrants from Syria and the Middle East pass through their country on the way to western Europe in 2012. But I might be wrong. At the moment Britain is going through a period of post-imperial guilt because of the enslavement of indigenous peoples during the empire. But I wonder how tolerant we would be, if we had not been the conquerors but the conquered.

But the Hungarian TV series also raises questions about TV series about the enslavement of Blacks in America and Europe, such as Alex Haley’s landmark book, Roots in the 1970s. Since then there have been a number of films, TV shows and documentaries about the enslavement of Blacks by westerners, such as Amistad and 12 Years A Slave. These are partly a response to the poverty, racism and marginalisation experienced by many western Black communities which it is argued have their basis in their enslavement. But if it is not only permissible but laudable to produce such historical dramas about transatlantic Black slavery, why shouldn’t series about the enslavement of Whites by Muslims also be shown? I doubt that any mainstream western European or American TV station would want to show such a series like the Hungarians because of the fear that it would promote islamophobia. But nevertheless, this occurred, and its legacy is felt in Orban’s Hungary and other parts of the Balkans.

But it’s also frightening to see that, after ISIS shocked decent people across the world, the preachers of hate in the Dar al-Islam by picking up their ideas and calling for jihad and sex slavery.

I wish the heirs of the great Islamic abolitionists every success in combating these intolerant fanatics, and the continuation of an international order marked by peace, respect and dignity for everyone, regardless of their colour or religion.

I haven’t posted the videos by Harris and Sultan here, because they make harsh comments about Islam as a whole. I’m not an atheist and genuinely don’t wish to upset Muslim readers of this blog. This is a time when the Conservatives are forcing working people of all religions into ever greater poverty. European Muslims are, in general, the most impoverished group after Blacks. See the book The Crisis in Islamic Civilisation. It shouldn’t matter what our individual religious faiths are or their absence thereof. We all need to stand together against genuine intolerance wherever it is found, and the Tories’ and neo-liberals to drive us further into poverty and despair.

If you want to see their videos, please look for them on YouTube. Their titles are

Sheikh Assim Al-Hakeem unveils the GRAND plan of Islam

Female Islamic scholar says Muslim men have a right to humiliate infidel women

Just remember, these monsters don’t speak for all Muslims.

Macron to Regulate French Islam in Campaign against Islamism

February 15, 2022

The ex-Muslim atheist Harris Sultan discussed the plans of French president Emmanuel Macron to tackle radical Islamic preaching in the country’s mosques in video with his co-host Nuriyeh Khan on their channel a few days ago. France, like Britain, has suffered a series of Islamist terror attacks, one of the worst being the Charlie Hebdo massacre. Macron has therefore decided to start clamping down on preaching in the mosques. He intends to set up a board that will monitor and censor the imams’ sermons. At the same time the importation of imams from abroad will be restricted and an emphasis placed instead on creating and promoting home-grown Muslim clergy. Sultan approves of these measures. He states that they were doubtless going to be greeted with shouts of ‘islamophobia’, but thinks that’s just BS. He also approved of the fact that Macron wasn’t trying to outlaw the wearing of the hijab. This became a major cause of Muslim outrage in France a few years ago when the government tried to ban it in schools because it was against the French state’s official policy of laicism, secularism. Out of a Muslim population of five million, only a few thousand women wear the headscarf and any ban on it would have the danger of pushing Muslims into the hands of the Islamists, not away from them. As for the proposed board, Harris states that French Muslims can’t really complain as such a board exists in Saudi Arabia, where every sermon has to be passed by the state censors. In his own country of origin, Pakistan, no such board exists and as a result the country has become increasingly radicalised.

Sultan is particularly appalled at religious intolerance and violence, not just in Islam, but also in Hinduism and other religions. He’s posted very many videos about blasphemy cases and lynching in Pakistan. The laws against blasphemy were first enacted by the British as a way of preventing inter-religious violence as they applied to all religions. However, General Zia imposed the death penalty for it and made them really apply only to Islam during his dictatorship in the 1970s. As a result there are 200 or so people on death row because of the law. It’s used against Christians, Hindus and other religious minorities, but also against other Muslims of different sects. Sometimes the accusation is levelled as a cynical means of getting rid of the opposition in a dispute over property. People have also been murdered and mass lynchings carried out of others, who’ve been accused of blasphemy. Hence Sultan’s desire to see the bitterly intolerant, fanatical preaching that fuels such hatred and violence curtailed.

I’ve also seen the other two proposals put forward nearly a quarter of a century ago in the ’90s by a liberal British imam in the pages of the Financial Times. He was felt it was also necessary to restrict the importation of foreign imams. At the time, and it may well still be the case now, there was a shortage of imams for British mosques. As a result foreign imams from countries like Pakistan were given greater preference when immigrating to Britain. And many of them shared the vicious intolerance present in their home countries. He wanted to see the education and promotion of imams from the already settled Muslim community, who shared the British values of pluralism, multiculturalism and tolerance.

I have mixed feelings about the idea of a board of censorship. It looks like another infringement of the right to free speech, one of the very cornerstones of western liberal democracy. But unfortunately I can also see that it may well be necessary, not just in France but also over here. Way back in 2007 Channel 4 caused a storm of controversy with an edition of its Despatches documentary, ‘Undercover Mosque’. The producers had secretly sent in their journalists to film the preaching in a hundred or so British mosques. In doing so they recorded the imams preaching violent hatred against Christians, Jews and gays. However, instead of outrage at the intolerance of the preachers, there was a storm of protest against the programme itself. It was accused of being islamophobic and one police force considered and finally decided against prosecuting the producers. I am very, very much aware that not all Muslims by any means hold these views, and it may be the case that rather than be influenced by them, their congregations listen politely before going back to work and forgetting all about it. But I do believe that such violently intolerant preaching is far more common than is realised. And while there’s a tendency to think that such a measure is only needed in France, I can also see it being demanded over here.

However the creation of a board to censor sermons may not work. In Egypt, Islamism has emerged in opposition to official, state-regulated Islam. Official Egyptian Islam has been more or less liberal since the early 19th century., when the Muslim clergy realised how far behind the west their country was in science and learning. They thus went on trips to Europe to research European advances in order to introduce them and their benefits back home. I have a feeling that the Egyptian state also closely monitors what is taught in the mosques. But the radical groups demanding the return of sharia law and the creation of a Muslim state, and which have carried out terrorist attacks on foreigners, has emerged outside and in opposition to mainstream Egyptian Islam. There’s a danger that this could also occur in France, and that the fanatics and terrorists will set up their own, underground, parallel set of mosques.

There’s also the problem that many of the terrorists are self-radicalised. They often don’t go to the local mosque, and the congregation there haven’t seen them in years. Instead of getting their weird, vile ideas from the local imam, they’ve got them instead from the net. Macron’s proposals aren’t going to help tackle this type of fanaticism, though the creation and expansion of a domestic French Muslim clergy may change the culture to such an extent that such lone wolf terrorists really are seen by everyone as total outsiders, whose views and actions violate a native French Islam.

The article from which Harris gets the report also states that Macron may well be putting these proposals forward in order to take votes away from the extreme right and boost his centrist party. He approves of this, stating that the centre and the left should be tackling this problem rather than the far right. And he’s correct. The far right uses such issues to create further hatred and division in order to legitimise the further persecution of ethnic minorities. You can see that with Tommy Robinson and his exploitation of the outrage over the Muslim grooming gangs. But unfortunately the left tends to be silent when it comes to anti-White racism. Some of this comes from a desire not to be accused of racism, some of it to avoid making a common cause with the right and people who really are racist, but also partly because they find anti-White racism literally unthinkable. This is shown in the attempts by Critical Race Theorists to redefine racism as abuse plus institutional power. This clearly criminalises White racism, but exempts it from marginalised Black and ethnic minority groups.

Macron’s proposals show that French politicians are taking an increasingly firm line over Islamic preaching, and it’s better that democrats like Macron do it than the country suffers a military coup. Which is what a group of ex- and serving army officers and men threatened a year or so ago.

The Apostate Prophet on Popular Support for the Taliban and Islamic Law in Afghanistan

August 16, 2021

The Apostate Prophet is an ex-Muslim atheist YouTuber, who posts videos criticising and attacking Islam, as well as religion in general and occasionally other faiths such as Christianity and Hinduism. His main concern is the human rights abuses committed in the name of Islam in places such as Pakistan, where blasphemy carries the death penalty, for which people have been arrested and murdered. I am very definitely not an atheist, and I don’t support his farewell at the end of each video, ‘Stay away from Islam’. Islam isn’t my religion, but it’s by no means monolithic and not all Muslims by far are fanatical supporters of Islamic theocracy. I don’t want Muslim readers of this blog to feel unwelcome, or to spread even more baseless fear of perfectly innocent people because of their religion. But he has today posted a video explaining why the Taliban have had such success retaking power in Afghanistan.

He argues that the western occupation has failed because the majority of Afghans favour Islamic law, citing Pew research and polling by the Asia Foundation Survey. A Pew poll in 2017 found that 99 per cent of Afghans questioned supported sharia law. In similar research four years earlier in 2013, the pollster found that only 30 per cent of Afghans believed that women should decide for themselves if they wanted to wear the veil. In other words, 70 per cent felt that it should be compulsory. The polls also found that 96 per cent felt that it was obligatory to spread Islam to others, 79 per cent wanted apostates from Islam to be punished with death, and 85 per cent wanted stoning as the punishment for adultery. The Asia Foundation Survey of 2020 found that 65 per cent of those polled were willing to accept a peace deal with the Taliban in which they formed the majority government.

He therefore argues that it has been a useless waste of time and money trying to impose a western way of life on a country and its people, who simply don’t want it. He states very clearly that he believes that America should keep out of Islamic countries that don’t want western values and government. He states that in the case of Afghanistan, he’d change his mind if the majority, or even less than half of the population, actually wanted western style freedom and democracy. But they don’t. As a result, the Taliban has been successful because the Afghan people have largely been very close to them in their religious views and support for strict sharia law.

As horrific as the Taliban are, I think that he is correct. Afghanistan has been an Islamic state for centuries, and secular government is only very recent and fundamentally opposed by many of the country’s own people. As a result, the democratic government set up by the west was always dependent on the west’s military support, which explains its collapse the moment the American troops left.

We should not be invading other nations to impose our values and style of government on peoples that don’t want them. Especially, as I believe, when the construction of such democracy is merely a pretext for the looting of these nations simply for the profit of western multinationals.

A 17th Century Anglican Plea for Religious Toleration

November 21, 2020

Jeremy Taylor was the chaplain of King Charles I and the rector of Uppingham. After the royalists were defeated in the British Civil War, he fled to Carmarthenshire in Wales, where he wrote his book arguing for religious freedom, The Liberty of Prophesying. After the Restoration he was appointed bishop of Down and Connor. He was also the author of a number of devotional works and sermons, but it’s his defence of religious freedom that I find particularly interesting. He said ‘they were excellent words which St. Ambrose said in attestation of this great truth, that the civil authority has no right to interdict the liberty of speaking, nor the sacerdotal to prevent speaking what you think.’

See the article on him in John Bowker, ed., The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions (Oxford: OUP 1997) 958.

I’m very much aware that throughout Christian history there has been very little freedom of religion and conscience, and that the Anglican church’s toleration of Dissenters was very limited until the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts in the 19th century. Until then Protestant nonconformists were excluded from the grammar schools, universities and government, and could only hold their services five miles away from towns. Atheism and Roman Catholicism were illegal again until the 19th century. But it was clergymen like Taylor and his fellows in the Nonconformist churches, like the Quaker William Penn and a number of Presbyterian ministers, who laid the foundations for the British and American tradition of religious tolerance. The most famous of the works calling for religious freedom from this period is Milton’s Areopagitica.

Despite the passage of the centuries, their message is still acutely relevant. Many countries still don’t have freedom of conscious or religious liberty in the 20th century. The Communists attempted to destroy religious and viciously persecuted people of faith, while the Nazis, apart from trying to exterminate the Jews, also sent their other religious opponents, especially Jehovah’s Witnesses, to the concentration camps.

We have recently seen a French teacher murdered for showing schoolchildren the Charlie Hebdo cartoons of Mohammed in a class about free speech, and mass demonstrations against France for permitting the cartoons in Muslim countries. To many people, their calls for legislation against such disrespect seem like demands for Muslim blasphemy laws. Christians and members of other religious minorities, such as Shia and Ahmadiyya Muslims have been murdered in Pakistan as well as orthodox Sunni Muslims because of supposed blasphemy. This is banned in Pakistan and punishable with the death penalty. The only permitted religion in Saudi Arabia is Wahhabi Islam, and a few years ago the Saudis declared that atheism was terrorism. This was just atheist unbelief itself, regardless of any act of genuine terror, such as killing people or destroying property.

I’m sympathetic to Muslims regarding the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. I don’t like the way Christianity and Christ are mocked by certain sections of the media and the entertainment business either. I’ve also heard the argument that Charlie Hebdo is a nasty rag. It’s not left-wing, but right, apparently, and its targets also include Roman Catholicism and immigrants.

But there’s a greater principle of free speech and the sanctity of human life here. All religions and ideologies, including atheism, should be up for debate, with people free to choose as they will. They’re fundamental human rights, the violation of which either leads or is part of tyranny.

Blasphemy Laws and the Muslim Protests Against France

November 3, 2020

Over the past week or so we’ve seen mass protests across the Islamic world, including the Islamic community in Britain, over the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. These have followed the assassination of school teacher Samuel Paty for simply showing his class the cartoon as part of a lesson about free speech. It’s been pointed out in articles in the I that Paty was far from a racist or Islamophobe. He had taken lessons in Islam in order to understand his Muslim students better, and had warned the Muslims in his class what he was about to do so they could leave to avoid being offended. One girl remained, told her father, her father told the local mosque, the mosque told the community. And a Chechen Islamist heard them, and took matters into his own hands. Other Islamists have carried out further attacks on innocents, who had absolutely no part in the affair. Three people, including a priest, were stabbed to death in a church, simply for being Christians, and there have been shootings in other nations.

The murders of these innocents has not been denounced by the Muslim protesters, however. Instead we have seen former cricketer Imran Khan, now leader of an Islamic party and the president of Pakistan, denounce Macron for the publication of the cartoon. He has been joined by Turkish president Erdogan, another leader of a Muslim party Who wouldn’t know free speech if it came up and bit him on the elbow. Tunisia has also denounced France, and when I looked online last night, Islamists in Bangladesh were giving their government a few hours to sever links with France.

It’s been reported that Khan has been complaining about the hurt felt by Muslims around the world about the publication of the cartoons. Supposedly the right to free speech does not mean the right to offend. But others have pointed out over and over again that that is precisely what it means. The type of free speech that only permits what is inoffensive is no free speech at all.

At the heart of this are the Muslim blasphemy laws. This is an attempt to impose them on France and, by implication, other western nations. However, Muslim are a minority in Europe and so the only arguments Khan and the others can use against Europeans is that their feelings are hurt, and that there will be political repercussions.

I looked up the article on blasphemy in The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, ed. by John Bowker (Oxford: OUP 1997). This provides information on the concept of blasphemy in Christian, Judaism and Islam, its punishments, and the problems of enforcing such laws in Britain. It runs

Blasphemy (Gk: ‘speaking evil’ ). Impious or profane talk, especially against God; and in many western legal systems , the offence of reviling God or Jesus Christ or an established church. To be blasphemous a publication must be intended to shock and endanger the moral fabric of society; one that is merely anti-religious (e.g. denying the existence of God) is not. In England in 1977 the editor of Gay News was convicted of blasphemous libel for publishing a poem which portrayed Christ as a practicing homosexual. This was the first successful prosecution for blasphemy since 1922, and showed the difficulty of objectively applying the common law definition. The appearance of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, raised the issue whether blasphemy should be extended to become a more general offence (in the UK), or whether it is an offence in the domain of inciting unrest.

‘In Judaism, ‘blasphemy’ is speaking scornfully of God (Heb. gidduf, heruf) and is described euphemistically as birkat ha-shem (‘blessing the name’, i.e. God). According to Leviticus 24. 10-23, the penalty for cursing God is death, but in discussing this passage, the rabbis defined blasphemy in such a way that it became an improbable crime-and thus the death penalty did not need to be invoked. Excommunication (herem) became the punishment in any case once legal autonomy had been lost…

‘The nearest equivalent in Islam is sabb, offering an insult to God. Qur’an 9.74 condemns those who sear by God that they said nothing but in fact spoke a word of rejection (kalimat al-kufr) after they had become Muslims. This relates blasphemy closely to apostasy (ridda). The expression of contempt for God, the Prophet Mohammed, the angels, or the traditional explications of revelation constitute the offence. Accidental blasphemy is not usually excusable (though Malikites allow it if it is expressed by a recent convert to Islam).. The punishment varies between different Schools of Islamic Law -e.g. the Hanafites remove the offenders legal rights, declare his marriage invalid, and declare any claims to inheritance or property void; the Malikites demand immediate execution of the death penalty.,’

The British prosecution for blasphemy mentioned in the article was brought by Mary Whitehouse, who made it her professional duty to be offended about everything. The gays on the opposite side took this as an attack on them, and launched their own protests against Whitehouse. There’s a comic aspect to this, as Whitehouse recalled that she woke up one morning to find militant gays marching about her garden waving placards.

I think the enforcement of the blasphemy laws is more or less impossible. They’re a dead letter, if they haven’t been repealed. As an example, just consider how many TV comedians since then have expressed their own contempt for Christ and his followers. The comedians Lee and Herring regularly did so on their BBC 2 programme, Fist of Fun. It came as a surprise to me a few years ago when Muslims around the world were again up in arms demanding the execution of blasphemers because of something Pope Benedict said about Mohammed in a speech when one of the two appeared on television attacking Islam. When they were interviewed by the short-lived mag Comedy Revue in the 1990s, they were asked about their attacks on Christianity and whether they would do the same to Islam. They laughingly made it clear that they definitely wouldn’t because they were afraid of violence and attempts on their lives. And thought themselves very clever for doing so. Which shows the British media establishments general attitude to Christianity.

The Muslim blasphemy laws are extremely dangerous. At the moment there are 200 people on death row in Pakistan on charges of blasphemy. Most of these are probably entirely spurious. They’re brought for entirely cynical reasons, such as getting rid of an opponent in a dispute over a completely unrelated issue. Muslims have also claimed that their attacks on Christians were also motivated by the outrage they felt at blasphemies committed by their victims. But some of it seems to me to be an attempt to enforce the Pakistani caste system. Indian and Pakistan Islam has a caste system like Hinduism, only not as severe. Most of the Christian community in Pakistan are of the lowest caste, and many are bonded labourers in brickyards, effectively slaves. One of the Christian women accused of blasphemy was accused after she brought water from a well to a group of Muslim women. Along the way she took a sip of the water. It looks to me that the real crime here was that she broke their laws of caste purity, and that the accusation of blasphemy was added on after this offence.

The ex-Muslim vloggers the Apostate Prophet and Harris Sultan have also pointed out the hypocrisy in Khan’s denunciations. When western countries have criticised Pakistan for human rights abuses, Pakistan has simply told them to mind their own business. But when France defends the publication of cartoons Pakistan and its Islamic leadership find offensive, suddenly he’s justified in interfering in their affairs. He has also denounced the closure of radical mosques and the expulsion of extremist imams as an attack on Islam. It isn’t. It is simply France protecting itself against Islamist violence, in the same way right-wing terrorist groups are banned. And Khan is again being hypocritical in his denunciations. When the Taliban made a series of bloody attacks in Pakistan a few years ago, the armed forces and security services cracked down hard. According to the two above vloggers, they went from house to house in the province of Waziristan arresting anyone with a beard. I haven’t linked to the two because I don’t want to offend any Muslims reading this blog. But you can Google the articles on YouTube if you want to find out more.

Macron should stand firm against all this. Blasphemy laws are a severe attack on free speech, and the penalties inflicted for it and the flagrant abuse of such accusations are particularly dangerous. Freedom of speech and conscience, including that of Muslims, is far too important to be sacrificed because of hurt feelings and outrage.

American Imperialism Aiding the Saudi and Israeli Ethnic Cleansing of Indigenous Middle Eastern Christians

December 9, 2017

There’s been some coverage here in the west of the underground Christian church in China. China’s a Communist state, and although religion has been allowed to re-emerge after its ferocious persecution under Mao, it is heavily regulated. There’s an official church, which has to agree to and abide by the various conditions set down by the Communist authorities. Alongside this is a growing underground church, that meets in secret and is heavily persecuted because it is outside the control of the Communist party.

Fewer people, however, are aware that there’s also a growing underground church in Iran. The Anglican church in Tehran, which is recognised and tolerated, is remarkable for a Christian church in a Middle Eastern, Islamic country, in that most of its members are indigenous Iranians. About three per cent of the Iranian population is composed of Armenian Christians, who have their own churches. But outside these official, tolerated churches, there is a secret church of indigenous Iranians, who are turning from Islam to Christ. Apostasy is banned under Islamic, sharia law. The penalty has traditionally been death, although some law schools were of the opinion that the death penalty could only be imposed if the apostate then blasphemed against Islam. Other legal scholars stated that the apostate from Islam should be imprisoned for three days so that they could reconsider their decision to abandon Islam. If they repented during this time, they would be spared. This means that those Iranians converting to Christianity do so at the risk of their own lives. They are savagely persecuted and imprisoned. At the same time, the Iranian authorities surround the Armenian churches with armed police to make sure that only Armenians go there to worship. The Armenians have adopted a series of tactics to help their Iranian co-religionists avoid the police. One of these is teaching them a few words or phrases of Armenian, so that they can pass themselves off as Armenian Christians, and so avoid arrest, imprisonment and torture.

This isn’t widely known in the West, and I don’t think this is an accident. America is a profoundly religious country, but I think the support of religious freedom by the American military-industrial complex is, and has always been, cynically utilitarian. There was a massive campaign of Christian evangelism and preaching in America itself during the Cold War. You think of all the extreme right-wing Christian movements that emerged in the 50s, like Moral Re-Armament, and so on, that were dedicated not just to spreading Christianity, but also combatting Communism. Or, for that matter, just about any other left-wing, progressive movement. Even if it was led by other Christians. Communism is an aggressively materialistic political system. Marx actually wrote little about religion, beyond his famous words that it was ‘the opium of the people’, but he certainly believed his system was an extension of the materialist doctrines of the ancient world and the Enlightenment philosophes. He took over their critique of religion and that of Ludwig Feuerbach, which viewed religion as a projection of humanity’s own alienated essence, and extended it. Lenin himself was bitterly anti-religious, and the persecution of religious believers – Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Taoists, the followers of indigenous shamanic religions and so on – was state policy in many Communist countries.

Hence the promotion of Christianity and the defence of religious freedom against a persecuting, literally Satanic, evil empire was a useful ideological tool for the capitalist leaders of society during the Cold War. Thus much of the religious literature published during the Cold War stressed the anti-Christian nature of Communism to the point where this overshadowed the other atrocities and crimes against human rights committed by these regimes. Such as the artificial famines Stalin created during the collectivisation of agriculture, the deportation of ethnic minorities to Siberia and the persecution of dissenting socialist and Communist intellectuals.

But very little is said about the persecution of the underground Iranian church. And I don’t think this is an accident. I think it’s because it doesn’t serve American geopolitical interests, and those of its allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia. China’s a Communist country, and so atheism is the official state dogma, even if it is not as rigorously enforced as it has been. But Iran and the other Middle Eastern countries are religious states to a greater or lesser degree. And American foreign policy in the Middle East has consisted of supporting theocratic and Islamic fundamentalist regimes and movements against secular Arab nationalism or socialism, as these are seen as too close to Communism. Hence the hostility to Gamal Nasser’s Egypt, which was socialist, but not Communist. In the case of Saudi Arabia, America and the West forged an alliance that goes back to the 1920s. In return for the right to exploit the country’s oil, America and the West pledged themselves to support the country and its rulers. Saudi Arabia is an extremely intolerant state, where the only permitted religion is Wahhabi Islam. No other religions are tolerated. There are indigenous Shi’a Muslims, but they are also savagely persecuted. Their villages do not have running water or electricity, and their religious literature and holy books will be confiscated if they are discovered by the authorities. A few years ago the Grand Mufti, the religious head of Saudi Arabia, declared that the Shi’a were heretics ‘worthy of death’, a chilling endorsement of religious genocide. And the Shi’a aren’t the only non-Wahhabi community to be subjected to his prayers for pious violence. The other year he also led prayers calling on Allah to destroy Jews and Christians.

Saudi Arabia is one of the main sponsors of Islamist terrorism. It is not Iran, nor Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9/11. 17 out of the 19 hijackers were Saudis, and the trail from them goes all the way to the top of Saudi society. They were active sponsors of the Mujahideen in Afghanistan, which became the Taliban. The current Saudi king and his head of intelligence were also responsible for funding and aiding al-Qaeda and ISIS in their attacks on the other Islamic nations of the region. In continuing to support Saudi Arabia, America, Britain and the other western countries are supporting a viciously intolerant state that persecutes other religions, including Christians.

The other pillar of western interests and foreign policy in the Middle East is Israel. Israel is a White, European/American settler state, and it looks towards Europe and America rather than the Middle East. And it’s also religiously intolerant. The official state religion is Orthodox Judaism. Israel defines itself as the Jewish state, and the Law of Return stipulates that only Jews may become citizens. The Israeli government has also repeatedly refused calls to allow the Palestinians, who fled the country in 1948 fearing massacre by the Israelis to return, as this would upset the ethnic composition of the country. At the same time the Israeli state has pursued a policy of ethnic cleansing, expelling and massacring the indigenous Palestinian population. And this includes Christians.

Before the foundation of Israel in 1948, 25 per cent of the population of Palestine was Christian. Now it’s only one per cent. The literature on the dwindling Christian community states that this is because of pressure from both Israel and Islam. The Christian community has suffered persecution from Muslims, as they are seen as traitors, even though many Palestinian Christians are as bitterly opposed to the Israeli occupation as their compatriots. However, other historians have also pointed out that traditionally, Muslims and Christians coexisted peacefully in Palestine. In one of the papers on Israel and Palestine in Albert Hourani’s book, The Modern Middle East, it is stated that Muslim Palestinians traditionally regarded Christian churches as mawsin, an Arabic term which means holy, sacrosanct, and were thus treated with respect. Palestinian Christians, however, have complained about their treatment by the Israeli authorities. Special permits are required before new churches may be built, and the authorities are not keen to give them.

And like Muslims, Christians have also been attacked by Israeli racist extremists. A little while ago a Christian monastery in Israel was the subject of a price-tag attack by Israeli extremists. The price-tag attacks are acts of destruction in retaliation for Palestinian attacks on Jews or Jewish property. They’re called ‘price-tag’ because the attackers leave a mock price-tag behind giving some cost for the damage done. The Israeli authorities were keen to distance their country from the attack, and tried to present it as somehow unique. But I got the distinct impression that this is far from the case. About ten or so years ago Channel 4 screened a programme by a Black presenter, in which he went to Israel and covered the maltreatment of Christians there. This included an attempt by a group of Orthodox Jews to terrorise the members of a church of Messianic Jews. In fact, the Messianic Jews were saved by the Muslim doorman, who effectively blocked the Orthodox posse from coming in. And the programme gave the impression that this was actually quite common, and that it was frequently Muslims, who saved Christians from violence at the hands of Jewish settlers.

This is all kept very hidden from the American Christian public. The tours of Israel arranged by right-wing Christian Zionist groups in America and the Israeli authorities will not allow American or western Christians to meet their Palestinian co-religionists. And while there’s a considerable amount of information on the web about Israeli intolerance and persecution of Christians, in the mainstream western media it is always presented as the fault of Muslims. And the right-wing press, such as the Times and Telegraph, have published any number of articles presenting Israel as the protector of the region’s Christians, often with quotes from a Christian Arab to that effect. Thus the Christian Zionist right in America are supporting a state, which has expelled the majority of its indigenous Christians from its borders and continues to limit their freedom of worship. Just as it does Muslims.

Some of the motivation behind this Christian Zionism is based in apocalyptic theology. Christian Zionism started in the 19th century, when some Christians decided that they wanted to refound the ancient state of Israel in order to bring about Christ’s Second Coming. This now includes a final battle between good and evil. This used to be between the forces of capitalism and Communism, but has now morphed into the forces of the Christian West and Israel versus Islam. At the same time, the American Conservatives started supporting Israel in compensation for the defeats America had suffered in the Vietnam War, so that American Christian leaders declared that the Israelis shared their values.

I also think there’s an element of religious imperialism here as well. In the 19th century British explorers to other parts of the Christian world, including Greece when it was dominated by the Ottoman Empire, and Abyssinia, declared that these nations’ traditional churches were backwards and obstacles to their peoples’ advancement. They therefore recommended that they should be destroyed, and the Greeks, Ethiopians or whoever should embrace one of the western forms of Christianity instead. it wouldn’t surprise me if the same attitude permeated American Zionist Christian attitudes towards Middle Eastern Christians. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if the same kind of Christian fundamentalist pastors, who rant about how ‘Satanic’ Roman Catholicism is, also don’t believe that the ancient churches of the Middle East – the Syriac and Coptic Churches – are also not really Christian.

Thus American imperialism, and the Christian Zionists in the case of Israel, are supporting states dedicated to removing the indigenous Christian communities from their parts of the Middle East.

And American Christians are more fervent in their Zionism than American Jews. Norman Finkelstein has repeatedly stated and demonstrated how American Jews were traditionally uninterested in Israel. And Tony Greenstein, a Jewish British critic of Zionism, has also shown that the majority of Jews around the world wished to remain in the Diaspora, but live as equal, respected citizens of the countries in which they were born. There are a growing number of Jewish Americans, who despise Israel because of the way it persecutes its indigenous Arab population. This includes Jews, who have suffered genuine anti-Semitism abuse and violence.

Within Israel itself, there is opposition to the official religious policy of the state. There is a sizable minority that would like a total separation between synagogue and state. Other Israelis don’t go this far, but do want Israel to become more secular. And there is tension between Reform Jews, and the Orthodox, who do not regard their theologically more liberal co-religionists to be proper Jews, and may even regard them as anti-Jewish.

But American Conservatives are unable or unwilling to understand Middle Eastern Christians, or why they would not want to support Israel. A few years ago Ted Cruz addressed a meeting of Middle Eastern Christians in America. This went well, until he started urging them to support Israel, at which point he was surprised to find that he was being booed. Part of his speech urged them to support the Israelis, because of the terrible persecution of Jews in the past. But the Palestinians have repeatedly rejected this argument, pointing out that they are being persecuted by the Israelis because of the way Europeans persecuted Jews. Cruz walked off, making comments about anti-Semitism, if I recall correctly. He failed to understand that to his audience, the Israelis were those doing the persecuting.

And this ignorance and the views and political situation of indigenous Middle Eastern Christians seems to be common to elite America. It’s shown by Trump’s decision to relocate the American embassy to Jerusalem, which has been supported by the leader of the Democrats in Congress, Chuck Schumer, and Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton. All of whom will stress their identity as Christians when it suits them.

It isn’t just rising Islamism and Muslim intolerance in the Middle East that is a threat to the indigenous Christian communities there. It is also American imperialism, and the country’s alliance with the ethnic and religiously intolerant regimes of Israel and Saudi Arabia. Thus, the media only covers Christian persecution when they can blamed it on Islam, But when it’s awkward for the American, and western military-industrial complex, the media is silent about it.

Secular Talk on Conservatives Getting Annoyed when Saudi Arabia Compared to ISIS

January 3, 2016

The big news today has been the protests around the world, and particularly Iran, over the execution in Saudi Arabia of political and religious prisoners, most notably the Shi’a cleric Nimr al-Nimr. David Cameron is facing criticism because he has turned a blind eye to these executions. Mike’s covered this story on Vox Poltical at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/01/03/david-cameron-criticised-for-turning-blind-eye-to-mass-executions-in-saudi-arabia/. He’s also posted a number of stories on his blog, about how Cameron is all too willing to provide material aid to Saudi Arabia, despite the country’s appalling record on human rights.

It should be no surprise to anyone that Shi’a Muslims throughout the world are upset about this. Saudi Arabia is profoundly religiously intolerant. Not only are non-Muslim religions, such as Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism banned, but also all varieties of Islam except the official Wahhabi form of the faith. There are Shi’a Muslims in Saudi Arabia, but they are very heavily discriminated against. They live in villages without electricity or running water. They are not allowed to build mosques to worship, and their religious literature, if discovered, is immediately confiscated. They are far more intolerant than the Islamic regime in Iran, which at least reserves four seats in the country’s majlis (parliament) for non-Muslim minorities.

I’m reblogging this clip from the American atheist news show, Secular Talk, as it gives an American secularist perspective on the issue. Here the show’s presenter, Kyle Kulinski, discusses an edition of the British current affairs discussion programme, Question Time, where a Conservative MP gets very angry while denouncing ISIS’ butchery, when Mehdi Hassan makes the point that Saudi Arabia do exactly the same. He states that despite their vicious intolerance, we are even aiding Saudi Arabia bomb Yemen, one of the poorest nations in the world. Kulinski makes the point that the bombings in Yemen have a civilian death rate of 50% +. Most of the people we are helping the Saudis to kill are civilians. Kulinski also makes the point that the Saudis are actively spreading Salafism – Islamic fundamentalism – throughout the world. They have also refused to take in any Syrian refugees. They will, however, build mosques for them in Europe. Mosques that preach the Saudi intolerant fundamentalism. Kulinski also points out that the Saudis have banned even moderate, reformist interpretations of Islam, quite apart from sentencing bloggers and others to death for apostasy or ‘insulting Islam’, as well as crimes like drug offences. But the West does not criticism, or doing anything about them, because of massive corporate and oil interests in Saudi Arabia.

Now I’ve reblogged material from Secular Talk before. I don’t support their atheism or secularism, but agree with much they say on non-religious topics. And they’re right here. Saudi Arabia is brutally intolerant, and is active promoting its extreme interpretation of Islam. It is also actively involved in the promotion of terrorism, funding and directing al-Qaeda through its intelligence minister, Turki al-Faisal. But because they control the oil economy, and are the biggest market for British arms, we don’t utter a word against them.

As for Mehdi Hassan, he’s very much a bête noir amongst the Islamophobic Right, including American Republicans and Canadian Conservatives. He’s a Muslim, and so they present him very much as a kind of secret Islamic subversive, burrowing into the European political system in order to overthrow it. I think the real reason they hate him with a passion is not so much his religion, but simply the fact that he is left-wing and articulate. His opponents genuinely despise his religion, but I think they also find it a useful tool with which to attack him. They can simply play on their supporters’ religious prejudices and not have to bother with the troublesome business of having to refute his political arguments.

Back to Censorship with the Tories

June 6, 2015

One of the reforms now being mooted by the Tories is the introduction of legislation to allow the Broadcasting Standards Authority to intervene in a possibly controversial or offensive programme before broadcast. This is, of course, censorship, and the Tories are well aware of what a hot potato this issue is. Mike’s already reported on his blog over at Vox Political the reaction of Sajid Javid, who has apparently raised some objections to it. It’s ‘apparent’, as Mike considers that Javid’s objections are merely cosmetic formalities. The decision has already been made, but the Tories are presenting a façade of objections in order to stave off criticism that they are all in favour of it.

In fact, sections of the Tory party have for some time now bitterly objected to what they see as appallingly lax, permissive standards on television and the theatre. A few years ago, one of the High Tories with either the Daily Mail, the Spectator or possibly the Telegraph, wrote a piece declaring that British society had been wrecked by the evil Roy Jenkins. Why Roy Jenkins, of all people? After all, Woy was hardly some Marxist or other radical Left firebrand, determined to destroy capitalism. He was one of the founders of the SDP. Some idea of his character can be seen in Gerald Scarfe’s description of him as having ‘a good claret face’.

Nevertheless, the Tory right despises him as the personification of the very worst aspects of the Sixties. It was Woy Jenkins as home secretary in the 1960s, who ended censorship in the theatre, legalised homosexuality and removed the property qualification for jury service. This meant that all kinds of ‘orrible filth was allowed on stage, to the consternation of Mary Whitehouse and the other members of her Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association. The judiciary became soft of crime, because the great unwashed now allowed to judge whether defendants were guilty in the courtroom were not respectable householders, and so had no interest in defending property rights. And most heinous of all, gays were allowed the freedom to indulge their sexuality in the privacy of their own homes, instead of being arrested and properly punished for the threat they posed to society.

Looking back, the restrictions on what was considered suitable for performance, either broadcast, or on stage, was quite severe. Michael Bentin, one of the Goons, said in his one man show, From the Sublime to the Paranormal, way back in the 1990s that the Beeb’s regulations forbade them from making jokes about the following:

The monarchy

Disability

The colour question

‘Effeminacy’ in men

and they couldn’t blaspheme.

They remembered all this through the mnemonic ‘My God, said the Queen, I do believe that one-eyed N*gger’s a poof’. According to the regulations, this would be the single most unbroadcastable sentence possible.

Of course, this censorship became increasingly untenable as popular attitudes changed and traditional authority came under increasing questioning, not least during the satire boom. Ways could be found for entrepreneurs to get round the statutory requirement for theatres to submit their scripts to the Lord Chamberlain for approval before they were staged. And the restriction’s became increasingly anachronistic and absurd. Peter Cook in an interview with Clive James back in the 1990s gave an example of just how absurd and unworkable they were. One of the plays he staged at his club, The Establishment, began with the line ‘Enter three terrible old queens’. Obviously, this violated the prohibition against the portrayal of homosexuals. The script came back covered in blue pencil. They then changed the line to ‘Enter three aesthetic young men’. This, however, was deemed completely accepted and duly passed.

The lifting of those restrictions thus prepared the way for the portrayal of racism and discussions of racial issues in Til Death Us To Part, with Alf Garnett on TV and the extremely camp characters, Julian and Sandy, on the radio comedy series, Round the Horne. Their sexuality was never clearly stated in English, but they spoke in Parlary, the language of actors and the gay underground. And if you understood that, then it was. There were numerous lines about men being ‘omee palones’. ‘Omee’ is the Parlary word for man. ‘Palone’ meant woman, and ‘Omee palone’ was the term used to mean a gay. So, provided you knew the lingo, it was pretty much in front of you all the time, even if the BBC never dared to say it quite outright.

As for the increasingly questioning attitude towards authority, this appalled members of the older generation to the extent that twenty years after it was broadcast, the BBC’s foremost political journalist and broadcaster, Robin Day, still declared That Was The Week That Was ‘deplorable’ in his autobiography, Grand Inquisitor, when it was published in the 1980s. The Tories would dearly love to drag the country back to situation before 1968/9, when there was due to deference to the monarchy and established authority, and the airwaves were full of clean, wholesome family entertainment without the sex and violence that they feel is destroying the British family and sending crime figures shooting up.

It’s highly debatable how far the reactionary Right can turn the clock back to the 1950s. Homosexuality is still bitterly opposed and hated in some sections of British society, but it’s been so widely accepted elsewhere since the 1980s that the Tories have been forced to support gay marriage. Weirdly, even UKIP, which has viciously attacked gay rights, has now gone so far as to want to take part in a gay price march in London. Society generally has accepted premarital sex and the depiction of nudity and some sexual activity on TV – as long as it’s broadcast after the watershed, that it’s hard to see how an outright ban on this could ever be possible or be seen as anything other than ridiculous. Quite apart from the fact that viewers are able to see sexually explicit and violent movies on DVD or the internet in their own homes, and in films at the cinema.

This doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be some standards, especially when dealing with sex and extremely controversial topics like race. It does mean that the standards have moved so far since the days of censorship that its return would be difficult, unpopular and probably so riddled with complications, contradictions and exceptions as to be unworkable. One example of the latter was the prohibition of the Thatcher government against directly broadcasting statements by terrorists in their own voices. It was introduced to prevent organisations like paramilitaries in Northern Ireland and their associated political parties, like Sinn Fein, from gaining ‘the oxygen of publicity.’ So the TV companies simply resorted to voice actors imitating their voices while quoting their statements. The policy then had to be abandoned, because some of the impressions of the terrorists and their politicians, like Gerry Adams, were so good that they were actually indistinguishable from the people themselves.

And even before the policy was finally abandoned, it was spoofed and something of a laughing stock. The Day Today, the BBC spoof news show, which was the precursor to Chris Morris’ classic and highly controversial comedy, Brass Eye, sent up the restrictions in one edition. This featured an interviewed with a supposed Irish Republican politician, who, ‘in accordance with government broadcasting requirements’, was required to breath helium to make him sound as ridiculous as possible when giving his statement to journalists.

Moreover, any mention of censorship by that very term is extremely controversial. Way back in the 1980s or ’90s the British Board of Film Censors decided to change its name to the British Board of Film Classification as something that sounded much better and far less authoritarian. It’s interesting that the new legislation to allow the Broadcasting Standards Authority to intervene before broadcast has not been described as such. Nevertheless, censorship is what it is.

There is, of course, a much more sinister aspect to the Tories’ planned reintroduction of censorship. They’d like to have complete control over the news before its broadcast, to manipulate its content and control public attitudes. News analysts and media watchers have already noted that the BBC in its reportage is biased towards the Tories, but this isn’t enough for them. Any criticism, not matter how mild, is always denounced as evidence of the Beeb’s liberal bias. This is particularly self-serving when one considers how many of those making the denunciations have connections to Murdoch, who would dearly love the BBC to be reduced, privatised or completely abolished so he could grab some of its broadcasting action.

Private Eye have also published pieces pointing out just how many journalists from the Right-wing press, and associated in particular with Cameron, have gone off to work for the Beeb, contradicting the claims of the Telegraph and Times that there is a revolving door between the Beeb and the Labour party. This is, apparently, shown by the appointment of Andrew Marr as one of the Corporation’s leading political journalists. He is a member of the ‘left-wing’ establishment, as he was editor of the Independent, before taking up his position at the Beeb way back in the 1980s.

Thatcher’s government in particular acted at least twice to try and prevent the broadcast of critical programmes, or destroy the broadcasting companies that did. These were the programmes, ‘Maggie’s Militant Tendency’, an edition of the Beeb’s documentary and current affairs series, Panorama, and the ITV programme, Death on the Rock. ‘Maggie’s Militant Tendency’ annoyed the Tories because of its claim that they had been infiltrated by members of the extreme Right, such as the National Front, in order to radicalise it further, similar to the way the Labour Party had been infiltrated by the Marxist Militant Tendency. They therefore tried all they could to stop it being shown. Death on the Rock was about the shooting of a squad of IRA terrorists in Gibraltar as they were preparing to attack a British army base. The programme alarmed and angered Maggie as it showed that there was no need for the shooting of the terrorists. They had been under observation at almost every point in their journey to the Rock, and could have been picked up and arrested safely, with the minimum of violence, at a number of times before their final battle with the British army. This wasn’t a defensive battle, but a staged execution of the terror squad, intended to punish the IRA and send a clear message that future attempts at terrorism would be dealt with the same way. It also seems to support the allegation of Colin Wallace and others, published by Lobster, that special SAS squads had been embedded in the British army in Northern Ireland in order to carry out similar executions of Nationalists.

Thatcher, however, denied that the shooting of the IRA terrorists in Gibraltar was anything of the sort. She and her cabinet were so annoyed at the programme that the ITV broadcaster lost its licence, and was replaced instead by Carlton. The very name of that company recalls the Tories’ Carlton Club in London, and suggested their political allegiance, or at least compliance, with Maggie’s demands. Despite Maggie’s denials, Lady Olga Maitland later gave the game away in her biography of the Iron Lady published later, where she said that the terrorists were shot as a punishment, rather than killed from self-defence.

And if the Tories were upset and tried to ban hostile programmes, they also harbour long grudges about programmes supporting them which the Beeb didn’t broadcast. Every so often you can read one of the Tory journos griping in the Daily Heil or one of the other rags about the Beeb’s bias in not broadcasting a play about Maggie and the Falklands War. This had a pro-Thatcher perspective, and included a scene showing her crying about the squaddies, who had been killed by the Argentinians in the conflict. I find it hard to believe that Maggie shed any tears for anyone, except herself and her immediate family, but this might be right. Either way, it was not broadcast, and the Tories have bitterly resented this and used it regularly as a cudgel to beat the BBC for its supposed left-wing bias ever since.

If the Tories manage to get their way with the new broadcasting bill and its provisions, you can expect their control of the media to be more or less absolute. Mike and many of the other left-wing bloggers have pointed out how protests are not reported by the BBC, or given minimal, grudging coverage. This included a massive demonstration of tens, if not hundreds of thousands, outside the Beeb’s own doorstep. This will only get worse with the Tories’ plans for the Broadcasting Standards Authority to act before broadcast. There will be even less hostile or oppositional coverage of the Tories and their policies, and instead much more programming supporting them. Of course, this could ultimately damage the established broadcast media, as more people would turn to the internet, and foreign news channels to get an idea of what was going on here. It’s happened already, in that Russia Today and the Iranian Press TV have already given extensive coverage to protests and demonstrations against the Coalition and their cuts, which the Beeb and British broadcasters have done their best to ignore as far as possible.

The political dimensions to this new censorship won’t be introduced explicitly. Instead, it’ll be like Cameron’s proposed legislation trying to censor the internet. It’ll be promoted and set up under the pretext of protecting impressionable Brits from porn and other objectionable material. The Daily Mail will no doubt celebrate it as the return of proper protection for the vulnerable children watching TV. Nevertheless, it will come in. The Tories will do what they normally do, and lie and deny that it is censorship, but this will be exactly what it is. And another British freedom will have been destroyed to make the world safe and profitable for them and their corporate backers.

David Bowie: Pop Blasphemy and Big Bucks

May 13, 2013

David Bowie was in the news again last week. According to the Independent, the video for his latest track features a gangster-priest and Bowie himself as a messianic figure. The article on it concluded that whatever the reception the song has, pop music will continue to mock Christianity. Now I’m aware that in writing this post I’m playing into Bowie’s and his promoters’ hands. There’s no such thing as bad publicity, as the saying goes. And as Oscar Wilde, whose trial was very bad publicity indeed, wrote, the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. Bowie’s foray into Christian imagery and pop blasphemy nevertheless needs to be critiqued and criticised.

Bowie is an icon of pop ‘cool’. The androgynous look he pioneered in Ziggy Stardust went on to influence Goth and certain forms of Heavy Metal. A veteran of the pop world, it seems that he resurfaces every decade or so to release another album to critical acclaim. He is, or was, the subject of an exhibition at the V&A. Yet in the use of Christian imagery to provoke, amuse or offend, he seems definitely behind the ball. Other pop stars have been doing it for years. Madonna’s more or less built her entire career on it, and it’s part and parcel of various Goth, Industrial and Black Metal bands, like Cradle of Filth. In fact the use of blasphemous or anti-Christian imagery in some pop and rock music is now so much part of the genre, that it’s hardly shocking. Indeed, it’s almost boring. Whatever the dangers of using such images were in the early days of rock’n’roll, it now seems quite safe and calculated to boost sales rather than harm them. The use of imagery from other religions wouldn’t have the same effect. It would either be seen as irrelevant, racist and even dangerous. In the case of Islam, it could result in diplomatic incidents, mass riots and people dead, including the singer. And so it’s easier to pick on Christianity. As countless scandals have shown, a bit of outrage can always be guaranteed to boost sales. And Christianity is a safe target. It might lead to the odd condemnation during a sermon, but that’s about it. You can also count on such anti-Christian images being defended as free artistic expression, or justified comment on an archaic and corrupt institution. The days when such things were really controversial are long gone. Anti-Christian imagery and shock tactics are now pretty much traditional across much of popular culture. In the case of the Heavy Rockers, it’s pretty much a stereotype. Rather than a true revolt against society, it’s now just an empty gesture. It gives the fans the sensation that they’re doing something daring and rebellious, while in fact what they’re doing is simply repeating and rehashing yet another pop cliche. They don’t even have to do something that would genuinely require a little thought and determination, like going on a protest march, joining a political party or activist group, or even standing on the picket lines protesting against the latest library or school closure. Now I’m not saying that Bowie necessarily isn’t politically aware, or that his fans aren’t. I am merely saying that the use of anti-Christian imagery can, and frequently is a substitute for any deeper message. Before Barack Obama’s election galvanised, and continues to polarise, American political opinion, people were increasingly turning away from politics. In Britain membership of the main political parties is in decline, and fewer and fewer people were turning out for elections. Some of this was due to cynicism, a belief that all political parties are the same, and all politicians are self-centred hypocrites and ego-maniacs out to deceive and exploit the electorate. It also has to be said that many people just can’t be bothered to vote. Politics can be boring, as anyone who’s ever attended any kind of committee meeting knows. It can also be highly emotive and confrontational. In addition to this, some of the issues can be arcane and difficult to follow. It’s not for nothing that economics has been ‘the dismal science.’ Why bother being bored and angry, when you can be entertained instead? Just skip the news and watch a pop video instead.

As for Bowie, for all his critical acclaim and adulation, his own heyday was in the ’70s and, to a lesser extent, the ’80’s. I’m not sure what proportion of the public actually buys his records, but my guess is that most of his fans are at least in their 30s or 40s. I doubt he has much impact on the teen market, except as someone held up to them by older connoisseurs as a true icon of pop. And as far as weird and disturbing imagery goes, he faces some extremely stiff competition, like that veteran self-publicist, Lady Gaga. Next to her, Bowie’s anti-Christian posturing looks decidedly old hat. And so once again Christianity is attacked by another publicity-hungry rocker, hoping to make more millions out of album sales.