Posts Tagged ‘British Civil War’

John Wycliffe’s Pacifist Theology

December 17, 2017

I’m sick of writing about the Christian right in this country and America – their hatred of the poor, their Zionism and their insanely dangerous millennialism, in which they look forward to the last, apocalyptic war between good and evil, personified as a conflict between the Christian West and Israel on the side of good, and Communism and Islam as the armies of Satan. Here’s a bit of more inspiring theology, at least for those on the Left, from one of the seminal influences on the Reformation.

John Wycliffe has been described as ‘the Morning Star of the Reformation’. He was a late 14th-century English vicar from Yorkshire, who proposed radical reforms to combat what he saw as the corruption of the Church in his day. He was against pluralities, in which clergy held many benefices, often in widely separated parts of the country, noting that this did nothing for the Christian cure of souls. It was set up, however, partly as a way of giving the lower clergy a reasonable income because of the poverty of parts of the church at that time. He argued that the Bible should be the only source of Christian truth, and that salvation was by faith alone, not works. He demanded an end to clerical celibacy, which he said acted ‘to the great prejudice of women’ and promoted homosexuality amongst the clergy. So, not a fan of gay priests then. He also went further in his criticism of the moral right of rulers to govern us when they themselves were guilty of sin. No-one had this right, and those rulers sinning had to step down or be removed. This has been widely criticised since, as it would have made government just about impossible. But it is a severe corrective to the moral double standards of the upper classes, who saw themselves as having an absolute right to rule, often committing heinous sins and crimes themselves, while claiming their right as Christian rulers to punish and uphold moral standards to those lower down the social ladder. This attitude continued into the 17th century, when the monarchists of the British Civil War defended the monarchy on the grounds that the king, as God’s representative on Earth, was above the law, but had the duty to expound it, and so could not be tried for its breach.

He also translated the Bible into English, radical act forbidden by law in England, though perfectly acceptable elsewhere on the continent, such as France. He was not a member of the Lollards, the early radical Protestant movement that grew up around his doctrines, though he was a powerful influence on them. It was the Lollards who produced the song attacking contemporary serfdom, ‘When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?’ In the 16th century, this was taken up and inspired the German peasants in their revolt against feudal overlordship: ‘Als Adam grub und Evan spann, wer war dann der Edelmann?’ Which is an exact translation.

I got the latest Oxbow books Bargain Catalogue through the post a few weeks ago. Among the books on medieval history and culture were two of Wycliffe’s. One was on the inspiration of scripture, the other was on his pacifist theology.

The book is John Wycliffe on War and Peace by Rory Cox. The blurb for the book in the Bargain Catalogue runs:

From the writings of St. Augustine of Hippo to the fifth century, Christian justifications of war had revolved around three key criteria: just cause, proper authority and correct intention. Using Wyclif’s extensive Latin corpus, the author shows how he dismantled these three pillars of medieval “just war” doctrine, demonstrating that he created a coherent doctrine of pacifism and non-resistance which was at that time unparalleled.

200 pages, Boydell and Brewer Ltd, 2014, 97080861933259, Hardback, was £50, bargain price £12.95.

I’m not a pacifist myself, as I believe that sometimes true evil can only be combated through violence. But I’m sick of the co-option of morality to justify the terrible greed and inhuman violence of colonialism and imperialism, especially in the latest attacks on the Middle East.

I realise that many of the readers of this blog have very different attitudes to my own on religion. I’m not trying to insult anyone else’s religious views here, particularly not Roman Catholics or the atheists, who read this blog. I am simply mentioning it as many Christians of radically different denominations and confessions have over the centuries come to pacifism in disgust at the horrors of war as organised violence. I fully recognise and endorse the contemporary Roman Catholic peace movement, which I’ve blogged about before.

I’ve posted it up the news of this book, as I thought it would interest and inspire the Christian readers of this blog, who share my opinions on war. And would also act as corrective to the militant bilge coming out of the American and British religious right and their aggressive, omnicidal militarism.

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Fabian Pamphlet on the Future of Industrial Democracy : Part 1

November 11, 2017

The Future of Industrial Democracy, by William McCarthy (London: Fabian Society 1988).

A few days ago I put up a piece about a Fabian Society pamphlet on Workers’ Control in Yugoslavia, by Frederick Singleton and Anthony Topham. This discussed the system of workers’ self-management of industry introduced by Tito in Communist Yugoslavia, based on the idea of Edvard Kardelj and Milovan Djilas, and what lessons could be learnt from it for industrial democracy in Britain.

William McCarthy, the author of the above pamphlet, was a fellow of Nuffield College and lecturer in industrial relations at Oxford University. From 1979 onwards he was the Labour party spokesman on employment in the House of Lords. He was the author of another Fabian pamphlet, Freedom at Work: towards the reform of Tory employment law.

The pamphlet followed the Bullock report advocating the election of workers to the management board, critiquing it and advocating that the system should be extended to firms employing fewer than the thousands of employees that were the subject of reforms suggested by Bullock. The blurb for the pamphlet on the back page runs

The notion of industrial democracy – the involvement of employees in managerial decisions – has been around at least since the time of the Guild Socialists. However, there has been little new thinking on the subject since the Bullock Committee reported in the 1970s. This pamphlet redresses this by re-examining the Bullock proposals and looking at the experience of other European countries.

William McCarthy outlines the three main arguments for industrial democracy:
* it improves business efficiency and performance;
* most workers want a greater say in their work environment;
* a political democracy which is not accompanied by some form of industrial power sharing is incomplete and potentially unstable.

He believes, however, that the emphasis should no longer be on putting “workers in the boardroom.” Instead, he argues that workers ought to be involved below the level of the board, through elected joint councils at both plant and enterprise levels. These councils would have the right to be informed about a wide range of subjects such as on redundancies and closures. Management would also be obliged to provide worker representatives with a full picture of the economic and financial position of the firm.

William McCarthy argues that Bullock’s plan to limit worker directors to unionised firms with over 2,000 workers is out of date. it would exclude over two thirds of the work force and would apply only to a steadily shrinking and increasingly atypical fraction of the total labour force. As the aim should be to cover the widest possible number, he advocates the setting up of the joint councils in all private and public companies, unionised or otherwise, that employ more than 500 workers.

In all cases a majority of the work force would need to vote in favour of a joint council. This vote would be binding on the employer and suitable sanctions would be available to ensure enforcement.

Finally, he believes that this frame of industrial democracy would allow unions an opportunity to challenge their negative and reactionary image and would demonstrate the contribution to better industrial relations and greater economic efficiency which can be made by an alliance between management, workers and unions.

The contents consist of an introduction, with a section of statutory rights, and then the following chapters.

1: The Objectives of Industrial Democracy, with sections on syndicalism, Job Satisfaction and Economic and Social Benefits;

2: Powers and Functions, with sections on information, consultation, areas of joint decision, union objection, and co-determination;

3: Composition and Principles of Representation, with sections on selectivity, the European experience, ideas and legal framework.

Chapter 4: is a summary and conclusion.

The section on Syndicalism gives a brief history of the idea of industrial democracy in Britain from the 17th century Diggers during the British Civil War onwards. It says

The first of these [arguments for industrial democracy – employee rights] is as old as socialism. During the seventeenth century, Winstanley and the Diggers advocated the abolition of landlords and a system of production based on the common ownership of land. During the first half o the 19th century, Marx developed his doctrine that the capitalist system both exploited and “alienated” the industrial workers, subjecting them to the domination of the bourgeoisie who owned the means of production. Under capitalism, said Marx, workers lost all control over the product of their labour and “work became a means to an end, rather than an end to itself” (see Philosophy and Myth in Karl Marx, R. Tucker, Cambridge University Press, 1961). During the latter half of the nineteenth century, Sorel and his followers developed the notion of “revolutionary syndicalism” – a form of socialism under which the workers, rather than the state, would take over the productive resources of industry. Syndicalists were influential in Europe and America in the years before the First World War. They advocated industrial action, rather than the use of the ballot box, as a means of advancing to socialism (see The Wobblies, P. Renshaw, Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1967).

In Britain, syndicalism came to adopt a more constitutionalist form with the formation of the guild socialists. They did not reject the use of parliamentary action, but argued that a political democracy which was not accompanied by some form of industrial power sharing was incomplete and potentially unstable. This was the basic argument of their most distinguished theoretician, G.D.H. Cole. In more recent times a trenchant restatement of this point of view can be found in Carole Pateman’s Participation and Democratic Theory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970).

In his earliest writing Cole went as far as to argue that socialism required that that “the workers must election and control their managers”. As he put it “In politics, we do not call democratic a system in which the proletatiat has the right to organise and exercise what pressure it can on an irresponsible body of rulers: we call it a modified aristocracy; and the same name adequately describes a similar industrial structure” (The World of Labour,Bell, 1913).

Subsequently Cole came to feel that continued existence of a private sector, plus the growth of collective bargaining, required some modification of the syndicalist doctrine behind Guild Socialism. By 1957, he was arguing for workers to be given “a partnership status in private firms, “sharing decisions” with the appropriate level of management C The Case for Industrial Partnership, MacMillan, 1957. This is very much the position advanced by Carole Pateman after her critique of more limited theories of democracy-eg those advanced by Schumpeter and others. These “minimalist” democrats took the view that in the context of the modern state, the most one could demand of a democracy was that it should provide a periodic electoral contest between two competing political elites. After reviewing examples of industrial democracy at work in a number of countries Pateman concluded “…it becomes clear that neither the demands for more participation, not the theory of participatory democracy itself, are based, as is so frequently claimed, on dangerous illusions or on an outmoded and unrealistic theoretical foundation. We can still have a modern, viable theory of democracy which retains the notion of participation at its heart.” (op. cit.)

Continued in Part 2, which will cover the sections on the pamphlet ‘Ideas’ and ‘Legal Framework’.

Fabian Pamphlet on Future of Industrial Democracy: Part 3

November 11, 2017

William McCarthy, The Future of Industrial Democracy (1988).

Chapter 4: Summary and Conclusions

This, the pamphlet’s final chapters, runs as follows

This pamphlet has concerned itself with the change required in Labour’s policies for extending the frontiers of industrial democracy. It has been suggested that the objectives in People at Work need to be given concrete expression in an enabling statute which provides for the creation of elective joint councils at establishment level in all private firms employing more than 500 workers. In the case of multi-establishment firms joint councils will be needed at both establishment and enterprise level. Similar arrangements should be introduced into the public sector.

The primary condition for the establishment of joint councils would be an affirmative ballot of the workers concerned. Employers would be entitled to “trigger” such a ballot in association with recognised unions. In the absence of employer agreement recognised unions would be able to invoke the ballot procedure unilaterally. Where there were union members, but no recognition had been granted, a union with members would still be entitled to trigger a ballot covering the workers it wished to represent. Where no union members existed a given proportion of the labour force, say 10 per cent, would also be free to demand a ballot.

In all cases there would need to be a majority of the workers affected voting in favour of a joint council under the terms of the enabling Act. Such a vote would be legally binding on the employers; and there would be suitable sanctions to secure enforcement. Worker representatives would emerge by means of a universal secret ballot. Recognised trade unions would be given certain prescribed rights of nomination. Where unions had members, but were denied recognition, appropriate unions would also have the right to make nominations. This need not prevent a given number of workers from enjoying analogous right to make nominations.

Statutory joint councils would have the right to be informed about a wide variety of subjects which would be specified in the enabling Act-eg intended redundancies, closures and reductions in labour demand. Management would also be under a more general obligation to provide worker representatives with a full picture of the economic and financial position of the firm-including cost structures, profit margins, productivity ratios, manpower needs and the use of contract labour. Information could only be refused on limited and specified grounds of commercial confidentiality in parts of the public sector somewhat different criteria of confidentiality would be specified in the Act.)

Councils would have a similar right to be consulted on all decisions likely to have a significant impact on the labour force-using words similar to those set out in the EC draft Fifth Directive. This would be complemented by an obligation to consult the joint council on a number of specified subjects-such as manpower plans, changes in working practices, health and safety matters, etc. There would be a right to propose alternatives and a limited right of delay. Worker representatives would be under an obligation to present management proposals to their constituents for their consideration. The statute would stress that one of the main objects of consultation would be to raise efficiency and improve industrial performance.

The workers’ side of a joint council would have a right to complain to a special court if any of their statutory rights were ignored or denied by an employer. This would be empowered to make orders against a defaulting firm as a final resort.

The most radical changes in established Labour party policy that are recommended in this pamphlet concern the need to modify the principles of single channel representation, as these were expressed and applied to worker directors in the majority report of the Bullock Committee on Industrial Democracy. It is argued that if Labour is to establish a positive and convincing case for industrial democracy in present day Britain it must be prepared to urge its introduction over the widest possible area. To help retain the justifiability of single channel representation at board-room level Bullock understandably felt the need to confine his proposals to a fraction of the labour force. It is suggested that this degree of selectivity would not be acceptable today.

There should also be a limited area of joint decision taking or co-determination covering such matters as works rules, health and safety policies, the administration of pension schemes and training. Joint councils should also be given rights to develop and monitor equal opportunities policies and administer various government subsidies. They could also be linked to a Labour government’s regional or industrial planning process. They should provide the final internal appeal stage in cases of unfair dismissal and discrimination.

Labour should place much more emphasis on the positive case for industrial democracy. They should focus on the extent to which workers need to feel that they have some degree of influence over their work situation. Above all, Labour should stress the well-established links between participation and improvements in industrial efficiency and performance. They must emphasise that the development and extension of industrial democracy would produce substantial benefits for the community as a whole, quite apart from its impact on working people.

By stressing these aspects of the argument, it would be possible to attack the credibility and naivety of Thatcherite assumption concerning the need to ‘liberate’ British managers from all forms of regulation and responsibility-irrespective of the effects on workers in their employ. It should also make it more difficult for Labour’s opponents to misrepresent the negative case for participation as a mere cover for union restriction and control.

My Conclusions

The pamphlet makes a strong case for the establishment of joint councils below boardroom level, which would extend workplace to democracy to a greater proportion of the work force than recommended by the Bullock report. It shows how arguments for control of the means of production by the workers themselves have been around ever since Gerard Winstanley and the Diggers in the 17th century. He also shows, as have other advocates for worker’s control, that such schemes give a greater sense of workplace satisfaction and actually raise productivity and efficiency, as well as giving workers’ greater rights and powers over the terms and conditions of employment.

This is in very stark contrast to the current condition of the British economy, created through the Thatcherite dogmas of deregulation, privatisation and the destruction of unions and worker’s rights. British productivity is extremely poor. I think it’s possibly one of the lowest in Europe. Wages have been stagnant, creating mass poverty. This means that seven million now live in ‘food insecure’ households, hundreds of thousands are only keeping body and soul together through food banks, three million children subsist in poverty. And the system of benefit sanctions has killed 700 people.

This is the state of Thatcherite capitalism: it isn’t working.

As for the proposals themselves, they offer workers to become partners with industry, and contrary to Thatcherite scaremongering that ‘Labour wants to nationalise everything’, G.D.H. Cole, the great theorist of Guild Socialism recognised not only the need for a private sector, but he also said that Socialists should ally with small businessmen against the threat of the monopoly capitalists.

Thatcher promoted her entirely spurious credentials as a woman of the working class by stressing her background as the daughter of a shopkeeper. It’s petty bourgeois, rather than working class. But nevertheless, it was effective propaganda, and a large part of the electorate bought it.

But the Tories have never favoured Britain’s small businesses – the Arkwrights and Grenvilles that mind our corner shops. They have always sacrificed them to the demands of the big businessmen, who manipulate and exploit them. For the examples of the big supermarket chains exploiting the farmers, who supply them, see the relevant chapter in George Monbiot’s Corporate State.

Coles’ support for industrial democracy was thus part of a recognition to preserve some private enterprise, and protect its most vulnerable members, while at the same time socialising the big monopolies and extending industrial democracy to the private sector, in order to create a truly democratic society.

This is another point that needs stressing: without workers’ control, democracy in general is incomplete and under severe threat. The corporatism introduced by Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, and extended by subsequent neoliberal administrations, including those of Blair and Clinton, has severely undermined democracy in both America and Britain. In America, where politicians do the will of their political donors in big business, rather than their constituents, Harvard has downgraded the countries’ status from a democracy to partial oligarchy. Britain is more or less the same. 75 per cent or so of MPs are millionaires, often occupying seats on boards of multiple companies. Big business sponsors party political conferences and events, even to the point of loaning personnel. As a result, as Monbiot has pointed out, we live in a Corporate State, that acts according to the dictates of industry, not the needs of the British public.

This needs to be stopped. The links between big business and political parties need to be heavily restricted, if not severed altogether. And ordinary workers given more power to participate in decision-making in their firms.

Kevin Logan’s Critique of Vox Day and His Summary of Alt Right Principles

October 3, 2017

Kevin Logan is a British male feminist, whose Descent of the Manosphere vlog critically discusses various members of the men’s movement and other parts of the American and British far right, and exposes them for the utterly reprehensible human beings they really are.

In this video, he attacks and criticizes the American alt-right blogger and vlogger, Vox Day. Vox Day is a former newspaper columnist, an SF/Fantasy writer, and the author of a statement of the fundamental principles of the Alt Right. The Alt-Right is a diverse and often contradictory movement, and so there’s considerable disagreement amongst its members on what it actually stands. But Day’s summary of its principles have received the approval of its leading members, including Richard Spencer.

In the video Logan takes the viewer through Day’s ideas and bizarre personality, pointing out his intellectual vanity – he keeps harping on about how high an IQ he has, and how he used to be a nationally syndicated columnist for the tech pages of a paper in Minnesota. He’s also a massive fan of Donald Trump, whom he lauds, without irony, as ‘the God Emperor’, presumably like Leto Atreides, the half-sandworm ruler of the universe in the Dune sequel, God Emperor of Dune. So enamoured is he of Trump, that he also tries to excuse Trump’s comment about sexually assaulting women, trying to tell everyone that it’s ‘alpha (male) talk’, when it isn’t. It’s simply sexual assault.

He then critiques his statement of the principles of the Alt Right. These are basically that it’s a right-wing movement, which is not traditionally Conservative, Libertarian or Neo-Con, which promotes western civilization as derived from Christianity, the European nations and the Graeco-Roman heritage. It states that every nation has the right to their own homeland, free of domination by other groups and that no race is superior to another. But he also strongly rejects free trade, because that also brings with it immigration and diversity. He quotes approvingly the ’14 Words’ – ‘We must secure the existence of the White race and a future for White children’ of the Nazi, David Lane, and is also massively anti-Semitic. He states very clearly that Jews are not members of the American people, and are working against their interests. Day states he is in favour of peaceful repatriation, but shows how peaceful he really is by talking about gunning down immigrant boats and praising the Norwegian mass murderer, Anders Breivik, whom he calls a saint. He tries to defend the Alt-Right as in favour and based on science, but notes that this accompanied by a caveat – except where its conclusion have been altered by democracy – which therefore allows him and his Nazi friends to dismiss global warming and claim that Whites are intellectually superior to Blacks. The Alt-Right also claims to be ‘anti-equalitarian’, which it dismisses as being ‘unicorns and leprechauns’, and also claims to be based on history. States have to be ethnically uniform, as proximity + diversity = war. Although it also claims to be in favour of peace between nations.

Logan shows how the liberal parts of Alt Right ideology are either unviable or contradictory – for example, the statement that each nation has a right to its own homeland doesn’t account for instances where two ethnic groups also claim the same territory, like Zionist Jews and Palestinians. He also states that there are other examples. Indeed, he could have mentioned the Hungarians and Romanians, who both claim Transylvania as the historic cradles of their peoples. He also makes the point that if the Alt Right took seriously their point about each nation having the exclusive right to their own historic homelands, then this would mean that White Americans should return to Europe, as the country they’re currently inhabiting is that of the Amerindians. As would all the European colonists throughout the former British Empire, in Canada, Australia, New Zealand etc. The statement that no race is superior to another is a sop to the Alt Right’s battered egos to get them over the fact that so many sports are dominated by Blacks and other non-Whites. In short, the liberal aspects of Alt-Right ideology mask the real White supremacy and Nazism underneath.

As for Day’s attitude to women, he fears and hates educated women to the extent that he defended the Islamist assassin, who shot Malala Yousafzai in the head simply because she was a girl, who wanted to go to school as boys did.

To be fair, Day on his blog describes himself as a ‘cruelty artist’, and I think like Milo Yiannopolis, he’s also a troll who delights in saying the inflammatory and unspeakable simply because he enjoys shocking liberals and leftists. Or simply the majority of decent human beings. But the misogyny is still very real.

The only thing I disagree with here is Logan’s opinion that Christianity isn’t fundamental to western civilization. Logan states that it isn’t, because western civilization pre-dates Christianity, going back to Greece and Rome, and America is a secular country, while in recent centuries western Europe has also moved significantly away from Christianity. This is true. But historically Christianity has formed one of the major influences on European culture. It was through Christian writers and intellectuals that the ancient legacy of classical Greece and Rome was passed on and expanded, and which also mediated influences from other civilisations such as Islam, India and China. American secularism also has its origin in the demands made for religious toleration first articulated during the British Civil War by the Nonconformist sects. Again, there are other influences. Some of the atheist commenters on this blog have pointed to recent works arguing that the first radical democrats in Europe were influenced by Baruch Spinoza. It’s probably true, but that doesn’t mean there also wasn’t an influence from radical Christianity. See the collection of writings from the British civil war published by Penguin Classics as Divine Right and Democracy.

Dr Gerald Horne on Trump as the Product of the Racist History of the US

September 10, 2017

This is another fascinating video from Telesur English. It’s from an edition of the Empire Files, in which the host, Abby Martin, interviews Dr. Gerald Horne, the chair of History and African American Studies at the University Houston. Dr. Horne is the author of 20 books on slavery and black liberation movements. The blurb for the video on YouTube states that his most recent work is The Counterrevolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States.

The video is just over half an hour long, and it completely overturns the entire myth of the founding of the United States, in which the Founding Fathers were noble idealists, intent on bringing about a truly democratic state in which all men would be free. In fact the opposite was true. The Founding Fathers were either slave-owners, or else otherwise deeply connected to slavery and slave trade through their business interests. Instead of noble liberators for everyone, they were deeply opposed to granting Black Americans their freedom.

Dr. Horne argues that they were the products of British imperialism and its slave trade, which was first introduced into the Caribbean and then shifted north to the English colonies in North America. He traces the history of Black enslavement and anti-Black racist movements from the American Revolution to the American Civil War, and thence to the formation of successive waves of the Klan. His intention is to show that Trump is not an historical aberration, a strange historical throwback on America’s long progress to freedom and liberty, but a product of America’s racist history and the mass support anti-Black movements have enjoyed and exploited throughout it.

The programme begins by explaining the background to the Confederate monuments, which the Unite the Right stormtroopers marched to defend in Charlottesville the week before last. These were not simply memorials to great generals or valiant soldiers, as the myth around them says. Most of the Confederate monuments in the US were erected in two periods – the period of Jim Crow in the 1920s and ’30s, when the segregation laws were being introduced, and the 1950s when the Civil Rights movement was beginning. They were set up to convey a very specific message: that while Black Americans were technically free, the ‘Negro’ had better know his place beneath the White man. Or else.

He then goes on to describe the emergence of slavery in the US. He states that Britain at the end of the 16th century was ‘a failed state’. The British Civil War of the 1640s between Charles I and parliament was a quasi-bourgeois revolution, which gave some rights to the British merchant and middle classes. The real bourgeois revolution was the Glorious Revolution of 1688, which allowed the middle classes to exert more political control, and allowed British merchants to wrest control of the slave trade away from the Crown as a royal monopoly.

The most important part of the British empire in the New World at the time was the Caribbean, and particularly Jamaica. These colonies became immensely profitable due to sugar. However, in the 1720s there was an economic crisis in Caribbean slavery, so some of the major Caribbean slaveowners moved north, to Carolina and other parts of the US. It was from these slave-owning families that the Founding Fathers were descended.

Horne also briefly discusses the role north American slavery played in the definition of White identity. Back in Europe, the different European peoples saw themselves as members of separate nations – English, Irish, Scots, French, Germans and so on. it was only when they crossed the Atlantic to America that they created an overarching racial identity to differentiate them from their Black slaves.

Horne then goes on to argue that the major catalyst for the American Revolution was the American colonists’ frustration at the British governments attempts to limit slavery and stop further colonial expansion beyond the Alleghenies. One of the critical moments in this was the Somerset Case, which ruled that slavery was illegal in England. The ruling was expanded to Scotland a year later. The taxes against which the Boston Tea Party was staged included those levied on slaves. They had been imposed by the British government as a deliberate anti-slavery measure. The British government was also tired of expending men and treasure in the various wars against the continent’s indigenous peoples. This angered the colonists, who longed to expand and seize native American land to the west. One of those, who stood to make a profit from this, was George Washington, who was a land speculator. As indeed, in a curious historical parallel, is Donald Trump. The Founding Fathers also feared and hated Black Americans, because the British had given their freedom to all Black Americans, who remained loyal. As a result, the Black Americans were solidly behind the British against the emerging independence movement.

Dr. Horne then goes on to talk about the American Civil War, and Lincoln’s emancipation of the slaves held by the Southern states. Horne points out that it was felt at the time that Lincoln had somehow broken the rules of war, and done the unthinkable by arming the slaves. As for Lincoln himself, he didn’t have much sympathy with them, and was considering deporting them after the end of the war. Horne goes on to discuss how the deportation of Americans of African descent continued to be discussed and planned at various periods in American history afterwards. It was yet again discussed in the 1920s, when there was a movement to deport them back to Africa.

After the ending of slavery in American following the defeat of the South, many of the American slave-owners and traders fled abroad, to continue their business overseas. Several went to South America, including Brazil, while others went to Cuba.

After the Civil War came the period of reconstruction, and the foundation of the Ku Klux Klan in the late 19th century. Horne also talks about the lynching movement during this period of American history, which continued into the early 20th centuries. Not only were these intended to terrorise Black Americans to keep them in their place, but at the time they also were also almost like picnics. Photographs were taken and sold of them, and White spectators and participants would cut the fingers off the body and keep them as souvenirs. Dr. Horne remarks that, sadly, some White homes still have these digits even today.

He also talks about the massive influence D.W. Griffith’s viciously racist Birth of a Nation had on the Klan, boosting its membership. Klan groups began to proliferate. In Michigan, one branch of the Klan concentrated on fighting and breaking trade unions. Later, in the 1950s, the Klan entered another period of resurgence as a backlash against the Civil Rights campaign.

Horne makes the point that in this period, the Klan was by no means a marginal organization. It had a membership in the millions, including highly influential people in several states. And the Klan and similar racist organisations were not just popular in the South. The various pro-slavery and anti-Black movements also had their supporters in the North since the time of the Civil War. He also argues that the campaign against segregation was extremely long, and there was considerable resistance to Black Americans being given equality with Whites.

He also states that one of the influences behind the emergence of the Alt-Right and the revival of these latest Fascist and White supremacist movements was the election of Barak Obama as the first Black president of the US. Obama was subject to rumours that he was really Kenyan, with the whole ‘birther’ conspiracy theories about his passport, because he was Black, and so couldn’t be a proper American. And it is this bitter hostility to Obama, and the perceived threat to White America which he represents, that has produced Trump.

Watching this video, I was reminded of Frederick Douglas’ great speech, What To the Slave is the Fourth of July? Douglas was a former slave and a major voice for abolition in America. His speech noted how hollow the rhetoric about the Founding Fathers protecting Americans from slavery under the British, when they themselves remained slaves in reality.

He’s right about the rule of the sugar economy in saving the British colonies in the Caribbean, though from my own reading about slavery in the British Empire, what saved these colonies first was tobacco. It was the first cash crop, which could easily be grown there.

The role opposition to the British government’s refusal to allow further colonial expansion in provoking the American Revolution has also been discussed by a number of historians. One book I read stated that British colonial governors were encouraged to intermarry with the indigenous peoples. Thus, one of the governors on the British side actually had cousins amongst one of the Amerindian nations. The same book also described how the British granted their freedom to Black loyalists. After their defeat, the British took them to Canada. Unfortunately, racism and the bleak climate led them to being deported yet again to Sierra Leone. There were also Black loyalists settled in the British Caribbean colonies. One report on the state of colony instituted by its new governor in the early 19th century reported that the former Black squaddies were settled in several towns, governed by their own N.C.O.s under military discipline. These Black Americans were orderly and peaceful, according to the report.

As for the former American slave traders, who emigrated to Latin America, this is confirmed by the presence of one of the witnesses, who appeared before the British parliament in the 1840s, Jose Estebano Cliffe, who was indeed one of the émigré merchants.

Cenk Uygur and The Young Turks have also described the horrors of the lynchings in the Deep South, including the picnic, celebratory aspect to these atrocities. They made the point that if news reports today said that similar lynchings had been carried out by Arabs in the Middle East, Americans would vilify them as savages. But that attitude doesn’t extend to those savages in the US, who carried out these atrocities against Blacks.

It’s worth mentioning here that Blacks weren’t the only victims of lynching. Tariq Ali in an interview in the book Confronting the New Conservatism about the Neocons states that in Louisiana in the 1920, more Italians were lynched than Blacks.

The video’s also worth watching for some of the images illustrating Dr. Horne’s narrative. These include not only paintings, but also contemporary photograph. Several of these are of the slaves themselves, and there is a fascinating picture of a group of Black squaddies in uniform from the Civil War. I found this particularly interesting, as the photographer had captured the character of the soldiers, who had different expressions on their faces. Some appear cheerful, others more suspicious and pessimistic.

There’s also a very chilling photograph of people at a lynching, and it’s exactly as Dr. Horne says. The picture shows people sat on the grass, having a picnic, while a body hangs from a tree in the background. This is so monstrous, it’s almost incredible – that people should calmly use the murder of another human being as the occasion of a nice day out.

This is the history the Republican Party and the Libertarians very definitely do not want people to read about. Indeed, I put up a piece a little while ago at a report on one of the progressive left-wing news programmes on YouTube that Arizona was deliberately suppressing materials about racism, slavery and segregation in its schools, and making students read the speeches of Ronald Reagan instead. As for the removal of Confederate monuments, right-wing blowhard and sexual harasser Bill O’Reilly, formerly of Fox News, has already started making jokes about how ‘they’ want to take down statues of George Washington. Nobody does, and the joke shows how little O’Reilly really understands, let alone cares about the proper historical background behind them. I’ve no doubt that Dr. Horne’s interpretation of history would be considered by some an extreme view, but it is grounded in very accurate historical scholarship. Which makes it an important counterbalance to the lies that the Republicans and Libertarians want people to believe about the country and its history.

Reichwing Watch: Trump Spokesman Cites Japanese Internment to Justify Muslim Registry

November 18, 2016

This is terrifying. It’s another clip from Reichwing Watch, from a news programme in which a spokesman for Trump tells Megan Kelly, the news anchor, to her face that Japanese internment during World War II has set a precedent for Trump’s proposal to have all Muslims entered in an official register. To her credit, Kelly tells him that he cannot use this as a precedent, and reproaches him for using it to get people frightened. The Trump surrogate laughs this off, but says that the president still needs to protect America. She argues back that the protection extends the moment you enter America.

This should terrify everyone, who is sincerely worried about the march of Fascism, including anyone with a knowledge of Roman civilisation. Firstly, the internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II as enemy aliens led to horrendous suffering and deprivation, and is still naturally resented by Americans of Japanese heritage decades later. George Takei, I understand, the actor who played Mr Sulu in Star Trek, was particularly active in Japanese-American civil rights organisations. American politicos have denounced the internment, and I think the government has paid the victims reparations. And it certainly was deeply unjust that when many Japanese-American servicemen were giving their lives for America, their families, friends and other members of their community were being herded into camps. It is repulsive that Trump’s spokesman should cite this as a precedent, and it does raise the issue of what Trump will do next. If he’s prepared to cite Japanese-American internment as a precedent, is he also considering interning Muslims as well, despite his mouthpiece’s smiling denials?

The American Constitution famously promises Americans freedom of religion. And religious freedom has been at the heart of American democracy, ever since Richard Baxter argued for it, including not just Christians, but also Jews, during the British Civil War. Baxter afterwards emigrated to the nascent US, and the proud, American tradition of religious toleration begins with him in the 17th century. Now Trump’s threatening to reverse this.

Trump’s proposal for Muslims to be officially registered reminds me very strongly of the ancient Roman attitude to religion. The Roman Empire was religious pluralistic, but retained a system of religious suppression. Because the Romans were afraid of the threat of insurrection and rebellion from clubs and other associations, including religious gatherings, they operated a system in which only those religions, which were not considered dangerous to the state, were officially tolerated. The Romans persecuted Christianity because it was not one of the religio licitas – permitted religions. Christians were seen as subversive, because they worshipped Christ as God, instead of the Roman Emperor. Hence the determination to make Christians sacrifice to the Emperor’s numen, his divine spirit, and the statements in the early Christian apologists that, although Christians didn’t worship the emperor, they nevertheless were good citizens, who prayed for him and the other authorities in their services.

Trump is threatening to inflict on American Muslims the type of system that led to the terrible persecution of Christians in ancient Rome.

And where America goes today, Britain and other nations follow tomorrow. I’m not a secularist, but this threatens religious tolerance and freedom right across the modern, democratic West.

And apart from the real danger it poses to Muslims, it also threatens to give the radicals a weapon to use against us. The Islamist bigots, going all the way back to the radicals demanding the suppression of the Satanic Verses and Rushdie’s death, whipped up opposition and hatred towards non-Muslims and the secular state by telling them that they were in danger from White and non-Muslim persecution. Way back in the 1990s the Beeb filmed one of these preachers of hate, Kalim Siddiqui, in his mosque, telling his congregation that ‘British society is a monstrous killing machine, and killing Muslims comes very easily to them’. When the team questioned Siddiqui about his words, he started ranting about how the Satanic Verses was the first step towards a ‘holocaust of Muslims.’ This is sheer, poisonous bilge. The book wasn’t blasphemous, and it certainly wasn’t published in preparation for such an monstrous atrocity.

But accusations like this were used to motivate British Muslims, or some British Muslims, into political involvement and opposition to British secularism. And you can bet that ISIS and al-Qaeda will use Trump’s wretched registry to whip up support amongst Muslims by citing it as proof that western society really is intolerant and that we really do have a genocidal hatred of Muslims.

We don’t. Regardless of individual religious affiliation or lack thereof, we need to stand united against this. We can’t let Trump divide us and make the denial of our collective freedoms seem respectable policies. Because it won’t just be Muslims. After them, it’ll be other groups. No-one will be safe from this type of intolerance.

Chris Sterry on the Democratic Need to Prosecute Blair for War Crimes

July 9, 2016

I’m sorry if this seems a bit incestuous, and rather narcissistic, but I thought Chris Sterry’s comment on his reblog of my post from this morning also deserved to be posted over here. Chris Sterry is one of the many great commenters on my blog. This morning I put up a piece about three videos by the American left-wing comedian Jimmy Dore, in which he gives a line-by-line commentary on Blair’s speech responding to the Chilcot report. This has damned him for waging an unprovoked war, launching hostilities before the available peaceful solutions had been explored. The British people were lied to about Saddam Hussein’s military ambitions and capabilities. There was no proper consideration of how order and peace were to be restored after the conflict was won. And Blair, his minions and allies, were warned that the result of the invasion would be ethnic and religious violence and trouble from Iran.

And Blair remains completely unrepentant. He acknowledges, casually, that ‘mistakes were made’ – in the passive voice, note, as if they just happened with no-one being responsible for them. He then claimed that all the carnage that followed could only be known with hindsight, despite having been told at the time. Michelle, another of the great commenters on my blog, remarked on how sickening this was.

I’m flattered that Chris decided to reblog the piece, commenting:

I thank Chilcot and Jimmy Dore for their condemnation of Tony Blair. It as all been said, no one can be unaware that Tony Blair is the biggest liar in the world and he created the current situation in the Middle East and was the creator of modern radicalisation. This does not mean that George W Bush is an innocent, for he is as guilty as Blair, but that is for the people of America to comment on.

For Blair what should the next step be, there needs to be a process started to bring him to court for being a ‘War Criminal’ for if there is not, we are all complicit in being war criminals.

So be warned Presidents and Prime Ministers in waiting you are accountable for your action both now and in the future. Any atrocities created by these actions are on your shoulders and your shoulders alone for which you will suffer the consecquences.

See: https://61chrissterry.wordpress.com/2016/07/09/the-videos-by-jimmy-dore-on-tony-blair-and-the-chilcot-report/

Chris is right. Democracy means that our leaders are ultimately accountable to us. They govern us through our consent, which we can withdraw at elections by voting for another party or candidate. Democracy means the rule of law, from which our leaders are not exempt. In normal society, criminality is prosecuted and punished. Murderers are tried and sent to jail. Tony Blair lied to the people of one nation, and committed mass murder to the people of another. The Iraqis, and the surrounding Middle Eastern peoples were direct victims of his aggression. But we have also paid the price. The British taxpayer has been forced to fund a war for which there was no legal or moral justification. Morally, our country has been sullied through the atrocities and violence committed through the invasion. And our forces and people have also suffered. Blair sent courageous and capable men and women to die, or return home mutilated and mentally scarred. Their families have lost husbands, wives, sons and daughters. British Muslims have also lost family members, radicalised through the violence they have seen against their co-religionists in Iraq. Some of them have gone on to destroy themselves and others in acts of the most appalling violence.

Blair has said that he takes ‘full responsibility’. In the videos, Dore remarks that it won’t re-animate all the dead killed through his war. The only way he can take full responsibility is by going to jail. Absolutely. Full responsibility means just that. It means more than words, and must entail due punishment for crimes committed. For democracy to mean anything, leaders and governments have to be tried when they commit offences. The great thinkers of the Enlightenment, like Voltaire and Kant, were against cruelty, mass murder and arbitrary government. Kant reformulated the Golden Rule ‘Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you’, in the words of Christ, though the maxim was known long before Him in the Middle East, as ‘If you legislate for one, you legislate for all’. Laws have to apply to everyone, rulers as well as ruled. The execution of Charles I by the Roundheads after the English Civil War shocked England and Europe. He was executed for crimes against the British people. This was a dangerously radical idea, as until that point it was universally accepted, and continued to be so for centuries after, that the king was above the law as the ultimate lawgiver. But no more. Our leaders have to be subject to the same laws as their citizens. This means us, as well as the tyrants we have tried for war crimes, like Ratko Mladic, Slobodan Milosevic, and the other butchers from the former Yugoslavia. Like the Nazis at Nuremberg and Richard Nixon after Watergate. And now Blair should be taken to the dock to face justice for all the horror and violence he has unleashed.

And after him, who knows – Maggie? It would, naturally, be posthumous. Something like Khrushchev’s 1956 secret speech finally attacking Stalin’s ‘Cult of Personality’, and the true vileness of her policies and minions listed and enumerated. As for the charge, well, to quote Marlon Brando in The Wild One, or is it James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause: ‘What’cha got?’

William Penn on the Need for a European Parliament

March 26, 2016

I’ve probably blogged about this before, but as the issue is now of major importance once again, I’ll carry on talking about it.

The debate about whether Britain should leave the EU has been raised again, with both Boris Johnson and Ian Duncan Smith giving their support to the leave campaign. David Cameron, on the other hand, supports staying in, and has forced his cabinet to take an oath of personal loyalty to him about it. Actually, I wonder if this was the real reason IDS walked out of the cabinet, rather than any of the bunkum he spouted about working age people being hit too hard by Osborne’s benefit cuts. IDS has never voiced any opposition to cutting wages or benefits before. Indeed, he’s been frantically for them. And Tory opposition to the EU is focussed on the Social Charter, which guarantees European workers certain minimal rights. This seems far more likely as a reason for IDS choosing to walk out than him suddenly developing a social conscience. Though it might be that he was genuinely frustrated at not being able to vent his malevolence and hatred of welfare scroungers at the elderly.

Euroceptic attacks on the EU frequently argue that it’s a development of the policies of Napoleon and the Kaiser. Both of these monarchs wanted to create a free trade zone in Europe. However, the demands for a European parliament weren’t confined either to Napoleon, and can be traced back centuries earlier. Kant wrote a trace, On Perpetual Peace, arguing for a federation of states that would outlaw war, and Mazzini, the Italian patriot and revolutionary, also held the same views.

And one of the first pieces arguing for the benefits of a European parliament was written by the great Quaker writer and founder of Pennsylvania, William Penn, in 1693 pamphlet An Essay towards the Present and Future Peace of Europe, by the Establishment of an European Diet, Parliament or Estates.
This is divided into several individual sections, such as ‘1. Of Peace, and its Advantages’, ‘2.Of the Means of Peace, Which Is Justice Rather than War’, ‘3. Government, Its Rise and End of All Models’, ‘5. Of the Causes of Difference, and Motives to Violate Peace’, ‘6. Of Titles, Upon Which Those Differences May Arise’, ‘7. Of the Composition of these Imperial States’, ‘8. Of the Regulation of the Imperial States in Session’, ‘9. of the Objections that May Be Advanced against the Design’, ’10. Of the Real Benefits that Flow from the Proposal About Peace’, and a Conclusion.

It is the section ‘4. Of a General Peace, or the Peace of Europe, and the Means of It’, that contains Penn’s basic description of the European parliament he proposes to provide the means by which the various princes and leaders of the various European states at this time could settled their differences peacefully through negotiation. He wrote:

In my first section, I showed the desirableness of peace; in my next, the truest means of it; to wit, justice, not war. And in my last, that this justice was the fruit of government, as government itself was the result of society, which first came from a reasonable design in men of peace. Now it the sovereign princes of Europe, who represent that society, or independent states of men that was previous to the obligations of society, would, for the same reason that engaged men first into society, viz. love of peace and order, agree to meet by their state deputies in a general diet, estates, or parliament, and there establish rules of justice for sovereign princes to observe one to another; and thus to meet yearly, or once in two or three years at farthest, or as they shall see cause, and to be styled, the sovereign or imperial diet, parliament or estate of Europe; before which sovereign assembly, should be brought all differences depending between one sovereign and another, that cannot be made up by private embassies, before the sessions begin; and that if any of the sovereignties that constitute these imperial states, shall refuse to submit their claim or pretensions to them, or to abide and perform the judgement thereof, and seek their remedy by arms, or delay their compliance beyond the time prefixed in their resolutions, all the other sovereignties, united as one strength, shall compel the submission and performance of the sentence, with damages to the suffering party, and charges to the sovereignties that obliged their submission: to be sure Europe would quietly obtain the so much desired and needed peace, to her harassed inhabitants; no sovereignty in Europe, having the power, and therefore cannot show the will to dispute the conclusion; and consequently peace would be procured, and continued in Europe.

The full text of Penn’s work, and his other writings, can be found in William Penn: The Peace of Europe, the Fruits of Solitude and Other Writings, ed. Edwin B. Bronner (London: Everyman 1993).

Penn was writing in the late 17th century, after a series of terrible religious wars had raged across the continent, of which the British civil war was just one. The French in the 16th century had suffered the Wars of the Religion, while in the German Empire a fifth of the population had died of starvation as armies had raged across the country from the borders of France to Russia. As a Quaker, Penn was committed to peace, and saw the creation of a European parliament as the correct means through which peace could be achieved, and justice and prosperity return to the suffering peoples of Europe.

There’s a lot wrong with the EU, from bureaucratic wastefulness and corruption to the massive, economic mess that’s the Euro and the Troika ruling Greece, Italy and the other countries that have suffered severely from the economic effects of the single currency. But the idea of creating a single European community of nations, in which international disputes can be resolved without violence, and nation can truly speak peace unto nation, is the dream of centuries. It should not be thrown away, and especially not because IDS, BoJo and Priti Patel want to turn Britain into an unregulated sweatshop outside EU control.

Secular Talk on the Iranians Raising the Bounty on Salman Rushdie by $600,000

February 27, 2016

Private Eyatollah

The cover of Private Eye for Friday 13th March 1989. If you can’t read the caption, one mullah is saying to the Ayatollah, ‘Have you read the book?’. He replies, ‘Do you think I’m mad?’

Kulinski in this clip discusses a report in the Guardian that a group of 40 newspaper and other media companies in Iran have clubbed together to raise the money offered under their government’s fatwa for killing Salman Rushdie by a further $600,000. The fatwas was imposed way back in 1988 by the leader of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the Ayatollah Khomeini, for Rushdie writing the book, the Satanic Verses, which the Ayatollah considered blasphemous against Islam. Kulinski points out that it hasn’t just been Rushdie whose life has been put in danger by the fatwa. The book’s Japanese translator, Hitoshi Kirigashi was fatally stabbed in 1991. That same year, the Italian translator, Ettore Caprioli, was also the victim of a stabbing, though mercifully he survived. Aziz Nessin, the Turkish translator, survived an arson attack on an hotel in which 37 other people died in 1993. William Nyegard, the Swedish translator, was also attacked in 1993. He was shot three times in Oslo, though thankfully he too survived. And last year, 2015, Iran withdrew from the Frankfurt book fair because they had announced that Rushdie was speaking.

Kulinski states that the Iranians have the attitude that they’re being oppressed, because of their offence at Rushdie’s book. He points out that for civilised people, the solution to such a difference of opinion is to argue about it, and then move on. He states very strongly that the reason why the Iranians aren’t doing this is because they know their arguments are weak. This is why they have to force it on children when they’re young. He also points out that the younger generation in Iran is also disgusted by this. Iran is a very young country, and most of them are much more liberal than their elders. ‘Tick tock,’ he says, ‘the clock is ticking. Times running out for you.’

I’m reblogging this as there’s much more going on here than simply a revival of anti-Rushdie feeling in Iran. In fact, the evidence points the other way. If these media companies have decided to band together to add even more money to the fatwa, then it shows very effectively that few people in Iran are interested in killing the author. Again, thankfully.

The book has been a source of tension between Islam and the secular West almost from the first. Not all Muslims are as extreme as the Ayatollah, but many, perhaps the majority, do resent what they see as an attack on their religion. The book’s Islamic opponents have also pointed out that Viking Penguin was also ambivalent about publishing the book. The publisher’s advisors told them three time that it would result in serious trouble, including mass protests. These were eventually ignored and overridden. Roald Dahl, the renowned children’s author, speaking on Radio 4 several years ago, also felt that the book should not have been published given the hatred and violence that this had caused. He did not consider it great literature, and felt it should be pulped.

The outrage caused by The Satanic Verses is also a major cause of the current surge of anti-western and Islamist Muslim activism. Outrage at the book prompted Muslims to band together for pretty much the first time in protest, organising demonstrations and book burnings. And the preachers of hate used it as a pretext to attack Britons and British society in general. I can remember Kalim Saddiqui speaking in his mosque on a documentary shown late at night on the Beeb, The Trouble with Islam, in which he described Britain as ‘a terrible killing machine’ and stated that ‘killing Muslims comes very easily to them.’ When the documentary-makers picked him up on this, he blustered that it was about the Satanic Verses, which had been published in preparation for a ‘holocaust of Muslims.’ He was, of course, talking poisonous rubbish.

In fact all the people I know, who’ve actually read the book, tell me that it’s not actually blasphemous. I know a lecturer in Islam, who actually got his students to read the book when he was teaching in Pakistan. They’d been talking about how the book was blasphemous, so he asked them if they’d read it. When they said they hadn’t, he asked them if they would, and gave copies to them to read. They carried them home in brown paper bags so no-one would see them. When they’d read the book, he asked them again if they thought it was blasphemous. They said, ‘No’.

There were very cynical, political reasons for the Ayatollah’s decision to put a price on Rushdie’s head. He was afraid he was losing Iran’s position as the premier Islamic revolutionary regime to others, like Colonel Gaddafi’s Libya. In order to try and whip up some more popularity, he resorted to that classic Orwellian technique: the five minute hate. This is the episode in Orwell’s classic 1984, where ‘Big Brother’ orchestrates a wave of hatred against a traitor figure for about five minutes. It’s very, very much like the way Stalin whipped up hatred in the Soviet Union against Trotsky, who was accused of all kinds of treachery and perfidy against the state and its people. Khomeini was doing the same here, but with Rushdie as the hate figure.

The fatwa didn’t work as well as the Iranians hoped it would, though I have Iranian friends who feel that the Satanic Verses was deliberately published by the British government to sever relations with Iran. After about a decade or more, the Iranians announced that, while the fatwa couldn’t – or wouldn’t – be lifted, they weren’t going actively going to enforce it.

Then a few years ago, more money was placed on the price. This was after the rioting around the world against the film, The Innocence of Muslims, which was a genuinely blasphemous attack on Mohammed. The film, however, was the group of expatriate Egyptians and nothing to do with Salman Rushdie. Again, it looked like a cynical attempt by the Iranian revolutionary authorities to gain some kind of political advantage, which they felt they had lost.

And now this. And everything about this says exactly the same to me: that this is nothing but a cynical attempt to exploit Rushdie’s notoriety to marshal support for the regime. Except that I don’t know how successful they’ll be. Not very, is my guess. They weren’t before, despite the vicious attacks on Rushdie’s publishers and translators. After all, they had to drop it as a dead letter for several years. And Kulinski is right about the Iranian population. They are on average very young. Most of the population is under 30. This generation doesn’t remember the Shah or the Islamic Revolution, and Rushdie to them is nothing but decades old news.

Now I don’t share Kulinski’s atheism. I think that people have the right to bring their children up and have them educated in their faith, and I don’t see it as brainwashing. But I do share his feelings that if the Iranians are resorting to violence, or advocating it, then it does mean that they don’t have confidence in their own ability to confront and overcome Rushdie in the realm of ideas. Which is itself astonishing, considering the rich heritage of Islamic philosophy. But then, I don’t think combating Rushdie’s ideas are what the fatwas is intended for. As I said, I think it’s an appeal to raw emotion simply to bolster the regime.

So why would the Iranian state and authorities need this renewed campaign against Rushdie? It might be because the young general is much less religious, and more secular. Atheism is expanding across the Middle East, including Iran. This is pretty much what you’d expect when religion, or indeed any ideology, becomes oppressive and the source of violence instead of peace and prosperity. Christopher Hill, in one of his books on what he called the English Revolution, his term for the British Civil War notes that the religious violence in Britain in the mid-17th century led to a similar growth in atheism and unbelief. And Iran many people resent their lack of political and social freedoms, and the immense corruption of Islamic clergy, who have enriched themselves through backhanders from commerce, industry and control of the bonyads, the religious trusts, which manage about 50 per cent of the economy, including the oil industry. All this growth in atheism is very, very clandestine. Atheism and apostasy are capital crimes in many Islamic countries, and so people have to be very careful about who they talk to about this issue. Even social media is very carefully monitored. ISIS in Syria kept the facebook and twitter accounts of a female anti-Islamist activist open long after the woman herself had been captured and murdered by them, as a honey trap to catch other anti-Islamist dissidents. And Nokia sold software across the Middle East to the despots and autocrats enabling them to hack into people’s mobiles in order to spy on them. So it’s still incredibly dangerous. Nevertheless, atheism and general disaffection against these regimes is growing. So I’m very sure that the Iranians have raised the fatwa bounty once again, because they hear the ticks of the clock sounding out the final moments of their regime only too well.

Secular Talk on Ben Carson Advocating Free Gun Classes

February 21, 2016

In this fascinating clip from Secular Talk, Kyle Kulinski critiques a speech by Ben Carson, one of the Republican presidential candidates, in which the great surgeon lays out why he opposes gun control.

Carson’s a neurosurgeon, and his skill as a physician is certainly not in doubt. On everything else, however, he talks rubbish. For example, he’s been telling everyone that he used to be a real teenage tearaway. He claims he was violent, once trying to stab one of his friend in the stomach. The belt, apparently, stopped the knife. Everyone who knew him says the opposite. His friend can’t remember the incident, there’s no account of him being at all violent, and the people who knew him at College say he was extremely hard-working. You’d have thought hard-work, perseverance and a normal family background would be more than enough for a politician. But apparently it’s not what Republicans expect of a Black man. And so he has to invent all this complete bullshit about being a violent thug, who was eventually turned from crime by the grace of Jesus. I don’t decry or disbelieve people, who have genuinely turned away from lives of crime because of the Lord’s grace. I just don’t have much time for the tale when it’s simply being cynically used as a marketing tool by someone desperate to ingratiate himself with the electorate.

Carson says he’s not in favour of gun control, because of the 2nd Amendment guaranteeing gun right and ‘a regulated militia’ and so on. He says that instead of gun regulation, he’s in favour of free classes to instruct people on proper gun use and safety. His argument for not depriving Americans of their guns is the usual argument about the public needing to have weapons to protect themselves against government tyranny.

Kulinski points out that this interpretation of the 2nd Amendment is simply erroneous. The Founding Fathers inserted that clause into the Constitution because they did not want a permanent standing army, as such military forces were a threat to the government. They had been used throughout history to overthrow governments in coups. As a compromise, they allowed Americans to keep their guns and form militias to protect themselves and their nation. So, he remarks, it’s actually the opposite of what Carson is talking about. The people are allowed to keep their weapons, but it’s to prevent the existence of a standing army, which could overthrow the government.

Kulinski is exactly right. The Founding Fathers in their opposition to standing armies were part of a tradition of political thought going back to 16th and 17th century Britain. The collection of 17th century political texts from the British Civil War, Divine Right and Democracy, contains a number discussing the issue of militias and standing armies. Standing armies were resented as a threat to traditional English liberties. They were the mark of foreign despotisms like France and the Turkish Empire. As for militias, I got the impression that they were like the Home Guard and Territorial Army in modern Britain. They were semi-professional soldiers, who could be mobilised by the authorities against the threat of invasion, such as the Spanish Armada, rather than unregulated bands of citizens.

Kulinski states that there is another aspect to the 2nd Amendment. It was put in to placate Virginia and encourage it to enter the new United States by allowing it to set up slave patrols. Virginia was a state where slaves were in the majority. Its rulers feared that if it joined the US, the slaves would escape north to their freedom in those states, where slavery was in the minority. So in order to reassure Virginia that slavery would be protected, the 2nd Amendment was inserted to allow them to set up slave patrols in the north of the state to capture runaways. Kulinski therefore says that there is considerable irony in a Black American defending gun rights and the 2nd Amendment.

He also makes the point that the Republicans are just plain wrong when they say that the Democrats are against gun rights. What the Democrats are for is some moderate legislation restricting the ownership and purchase of certain types of weapons. They aren’t going to confiscate everyone’s guns, as that would be illegal and unconstitutional. They are in favour of buy-back programmes, where the state purchases them from individuals, and takes them out of use that way.

And finally, he also makes the point that there is no way an ordinary individual with his firearm can possibly take down the government, with its armoury of highly sophisticated firearms, tanks, planes and missiles.