Posts Tagged ‘Blasphemy’

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.

Advertisements

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.

Dave Allen: God’s Comedian

April 30, 2013

Last night the BBC screened a documentary about the late Anglo-Irish comedian, Dave Allen. It was ironically entitled, ‘God’s Comedian’ as Allen was an outspoken atheist, who took a certain delight in mocking religion and particularly the Roman Catholic church. The show began with the great man himself saying ‘I’m an atheist – thank God!’ Despite his lampooning of the Church, he didn’t really sneer at its adherents. He always ended his show with the farewell, ‘Goodnight, and may your God go with you’. You can’t imagine any of the loudly anti-religious comedians who have emerged over the past decade, such as Paul Sina, uttering such a farewell of goodwill to the theists in their audiences. Allen’s wife stated that he wasn’t against religion. In fact, he had enormous respect for it. He just hated bigotry and being told what to think.

Allen’s Early Career in Australia and British Independent Television

The son of an English nurse and a Dublin journalist, Allen’s family moved to England after his father’s death. Allen’s father was a talented story-teller, and Allen hoped to follow in his father’s footsteps as a leading gentleman of the press. When this didn’t happen, he became a Butlin’s redcoat. His television career began when he was given a job hosting a chat show Down Under in the 1960s. Moving to England with his new wife, Allen was fortunate enough to get a similar job for ITV. This involved performing all manner of daft, and potentially lethal stunts in the studio. In one edition he demonstrated how to get out of a car underwater. To show how to do this, a car with him in it and the cameraman were dumped in a tank. Luckily nothing went wrong, and the show even helped to save the life of a young boy. A family wrote to him to say how appalled they were when their parked car fell into the sea with their son in it. Fearing that the boy was dead, they were amazed when he reappeared on the surface alive and well. He told them he knew how to get out of the car after watching Allen’s programme. Allen said that he was still in touch with the family.

Dave Allen At Large and Anti-Religious Sketches

He then moved over on to the BBC to star in his own comedy show, Dave Allen at Large, which ran from 1971 to 1976. Allen had turned against religion and the Church because of the cruelty he experienced at the hands of the Carmelite nuns who taught him at school. The show had a clip of Allen, sitting on his trademark bar stool, saying ‘I was taught by Carmelite nuns – the SS in drag!’ This contrasted strongly with the love and warmth he was given at home by his parents and siblings. As a result, he lampooned the Church and its clergy in sketches that were shocking in their day. Several of these involved sex, such as the sketch in which the crozier held by a seated bishop straightens out when his ring is kissed by an attractive nun, only to collapse again when it was kissed by a plainer, older nun. One sketch was particularly shocking and generated outrage and denunciations by the Roman Catholic church. This involved Allen, dressed as the Pope, doing a striptease in front of a chorus line of priests and nuns in front of St. Peter’s. The BBC was inundated with letters condemning the sketch and the Roman Catholic church boycotted his show. He even received death threats from the IRA and Provisional IRA. Various commentators described just how extremely shocking the sketch was at the time. Ireland in the 1970s was an extremely conservative society, and in the villages in the south and west of Ireland the priest was the most important person in the community. At the same time Allen caused further religious outrage by starring in a controversial play, A Pagan Place, by Edna O’Brien. Footage was shown of Allen stating that the BBC took the death threats very seriously. Mercifully, the terrorists never carried out there threat, and Allen carried on to entertain and provoke Britain.

Documentary Work and Controversy for Swearing on ITV

The programme noted how, when alternative comedy emerged in the 1980s it didn’t really affect Allen. His material was very different from the other comedians of his generation against whom the alternative crowd, Alexei Sayle, Clive Anderson, Rik Mayall and Adrain Edmondson, reacted. Indeed, it’s been remarked before on a BBC arts show a long time ago in the 1980s that these angry, Politically Correct comics, actually like Allen and his observational humour. Allen also continued his career as a straight actor, appearing in a drama about a man undergoing a mid-life crisis who takes up home in an office block. He also tried his hand at making documentaries. One of the first was about British eccentrics, some of whom were very bizarre indeed. One of the eccentrics interviewed effectively lived in what looked like the main chassis of an old-fashioned coach. This tiny room was so small he couldn’t lie down, so he had built a small, box-like compartment bolted on to it in which he could put his feet when he wanted to sleep. Another wore a red top hot with white mice scurrying on its brim. This fellow lived only on what he grew himself, which seemed to be mostly cabbages. Allen and the other producers had decided beforehand not to interview anyone who was insane. The commentators – Allen’s wife, children, and writers – said how Allen didn’t judge them. Indeed, he seemed to like an admire the passion with which they lived their lives without giving a dam’ about what anyone thought about them. In his quiet questioning of these eccentrics and non-judgmental approach to their lives, the programme said, Allen paved the way for later explorers of the weird like Louis Theroux. I also remember that sometime in the 80s he appeared in a straight role as the title character in a production of Checkhov’s Uncle Vanya on Radio 4.The programme noted that Allen was off the air for many years during the 1980s, concentrating on his career as a stand-up comedian. In 1990 he returned to television, this time to ITV. This show lacked the music, actors and sketches of his BBC shows: ‘Let’s face it’, he joked, ‘it’s cheap’. He then managed to outrage public opinion again during a monologue in which he used the ‘F’ word. The actual subject was clocks, and Allen joke was about how, after forty years of doing everything to the clock, when you retired they gave you ‘an f===ing clock’. The letters poured in condemning Allen’s foul language.

I remember this incident from when it happened. A Conservative MP got involved and attacked ITV for broadcasting such filth. Contemporary comedians are far more foul-mouthed, so it’s hard to remember just how shocking this was over twenty years ago. In the early 80s Jools Holland’s career on the great Channel 4 pop show, The Tube, ended after he said the ‘F’ word on air. He was suspended, but returned after a couple of weeks, only to say it again. This time the ban was permanent. In Allen’s case, I wondered if the attack by the Tory MP weren’t actually because of something else he’d said earlier in the show. 1990 was the tail end of the Thatcher administration. Just before the clock monologue, Allen had told another monologue attacking the Leadereen and her policies. It struck me that this was what really outraged the Tory MP. He couldn’t criticise Allen for that, however, without appearing humourless and an opponent of free speech. He could, however, join in the outrage at Allen’s foul language. Allen more or less retired from television after this. He devoted his life to his family and hobbies. He was, amongst other things, a talented painter. He died in 2005 at the age of 68.

Allen’s Anti-Religious Material Reconsidered

Watching the documentary about Allen I was impressed by his great talent, but also felt unease at his constant attack on religion and the Roman Catholic church. I’d seen some of his ant-religious sketches along with the rest of the programme when I was younger, and I never found them particularly blasphemous or shocking, though I was very much aware of his reputation. Some of this was simply denominational. I’m Protestant, and Allen was attacking Roman Catholicism, and so it didn’t really affect my church or offend my faith. Another reason was simply because many of the sketches simply didn’t have any relationship to the Catholic Church or doctrine, except that it was simply another group of authority figures who were shown behaving ridiculously. For example, in one of his sketches Allen plays a priest. Coming into the church, he kneels down and leans against a pillar. This falls over and knocks against the next pillar, setting off a chain of pillars falling over like dominoes until the entire church collapses. Is it blasphemous? Not really. The programme showed a later, but similar sketch in which a tourist leans against one of the great trilithons at Stonehenge, only to topple that and the entire monument over in a similar domino effect. Others seemed inventive, and based on rather mundane and inoffensive truths. In another sketch, a bishop is shown dozing off during a particularly boring sermon. His crozier then gives a beep, and he takes it off like a telephone to receive a wake-up call. Now sermons can be notoriously boring, so that sketch is actually a rather playful treatment of a simple reality, and the perceived similarity between the shape of a crozier and a telephone handset. Another reason why I wasn’t really concerned by the anti-religious content of his show at the time was because of the political background in Northern Ireland. This was at the height of the Troubles when bombings and assassinations occurred regularly. Against this backdrop of sectarian violence between Roman Catholic and Protestant, one could sympathise with his anti-religious stance. Speaking on Radio 4 in the early 90s, Allen said that he had played in Lebanon, and was critical of the role religion there played in dividing society and the country’s civil war.

Legacy of Anti-Religious Material in General Attitude of Contempt for Religion and Christians in General

Looking at his material now, however, I feel rather more uneasy. Church attendance has declined dramatically since the 1970s and there is, in certain sections of society and the media considerable hostility to religion and Christianity. While much of Allen’s material is actually far less offensive than it was considered to be at the time, I do feel that it contributed to the modern climate of indifference and hostility. It can produce a superficial familiarity with religion, a feeling that one knows all about it and is free to sneer at it, based on something a few comedians have said on TV or the radio. This extends to Christianity as a whole, not just to the Roman Catholic Church. I feel strongly that against the bitter attacks Christians now face, the churches – Roman Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox, need to support each other.

The way to combat these attacks on Christianity should be through good humour, and polite and witty rebuttal. No-one deserves death threats for their religious or political opinions, no matter how offensive they may be. The only decent way to combat anti-religious attacks, like those you can hear regularly on the Beeb or Channel 4, should be through rational counterargument. The churches are capable of this, and should use it more to rebut their critics. It doesn’t have to be very difficult. Quite often all the New Atheist crowd do is trade in prejudice and received opinion, without any background in philosophy, theology or history.

Dave Allen: One of the Great British Comic Geniuses

As for Dave Allen, it was brilliant being reminded just how good a comedian he was. One of his younger writers said that it was Allen’s monologue about explaining how to tell the time, in which the comic master was shown saying, ‘And the third hand on the watch is the second hand’ – that really he couldn’t teach Allen anything about comedy in a million years. Much of Allen’s material is about how absurd life can be. In one of his monologues he talked about how he went past a building. Painted on the door was the sign, ‘This is neither an entrance nor an exit, and should be kept closed at all times’. ‘Why then, ‘ asked Allen rhetorically, ‘don’t you just brick the dam’ thing up!’ Some of the sketches are simply morality plays on greed and vanity. There’s one which features Allen as a city gent. Walking past a car, he notices a ten-pound note jammed under its wheels. This sketch was made in the early 1970s, when ten pounds was worth far more than it is today. Unable to pull the note out, the gent spots a cafe over the road and walks to it to wait for the car to drive away. The gent is shown sitting in the cafe, ordering more and more cups of tea, having false starts when it just looks that the car is about to be driven away, only for the supposed driver to continue walking past. Finally the driver comes back, gets in the car and drives away. At last the commuter sees his chance, gets up to go to the door, only to be beaten by everyone else in the cafe. Another sketch was set during the Russian Revolution. Against a backdrop of stirring music and a map of Russia in flames, the streets are full of rioting mobs. The limousine of one of the capitalist masters and his chaffeur pulls into one of these streets, only to be halted. The two are pulled out of the vehicle and lynched. Two of the mob, played by Dave Allen and his long-time supporting star, Peter Vincent, take the duo’s clothes. Amid mocking cheers Allen puts on the capitalist’s fur coat and monocle, while Vincent dons the chauffeurs hat and jacket. Amid shouts of applause from their fellow workers they get in the car and drive off. They then turn a corner into the next street, where they meet another band of revolting workers, who take them out and lynch them in turn.

Despite his mockery of religion, Allen was indeed a comic genius. Nearly three decades later, I still find him far funnier than some of the comics who replaced him. Goodnight, Dave, and I hope the Almighty was with you in the end.