Posts Tagged ‘Christianity’

Prayer for Peace between America, Iran and the Middle East

June 23, 2019

On Fridays, it seems, Trump did something unexpected and pulled back from starting a war with Iran. The past week or so he’s been blaming the Iranians for a series of explosions that have destroyed tankers in the Persian Gulf. Then the Americans shot down an American drone which they claim had entered their airspace. This is naturally denied by the Americans. Trump was all set to order retaliatory action against several Iranian military positions, but cancelled the order. He states he did so because the bloodshed involved – it’s estimated the action would have killed 150 people – was too high. His security minister, Mike Pompeo, however, is still pushing for some kind of war with Iran, and the Orange Generalissimo has said that he’s still willing to use armed force to stop the Iranians developing a nuclear bomb. There are still real tensions, and the very real danger of war breaking out.

I posted up a couple of pieces last week attacking the American right’s warmongering against Iran. As I said, it is a highly authoritarian theocracy, and I don’t doubt that the hardliners in their administration would welcome a showdown with the Americans. They have also shown themselves willing to mount terror attacks, as in the 1980s when they bombed a Berlin cafe used by Kurdish separatists. But it’s total rubbish what Pompeo was uttering about Iran sponsoring al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda are Sunni militants, who hate Shi’a Muslims with a vengeance. As Iran is a Shi’a nation, there is absolutely no chance of any cooperation between them. Quite the opposite in fact. Just like Saudi Arabia, another militant, intolerant Sunni nation, and ISIS would also like to destroy Iran.

If America does invade Iran, it won’t be to liberate the Iranian people. It’ll be for the same reasons Iraq was invaded: to seize their oil, state industries and set up the kind of extreme free trade tariff system that the Neocons want to impose on America. And the results will be the same: mass carnage, sectarian and ethnic civil war, the destruction of the country’s precious antiquities and cultural heritage, the economy will be utterly destroyed. Ordinary folks’ businesses will go under and there will be mass unemployment. Women will lose whatever rights and freedom they have, Christians, Jews and particularly Baha’is will suffer massive persecution as a reaction to the invasion. The public will lose whatever welfare and health services the state provides. And the chaos and instability will spread throughout the region. The Iraq war forced seven million people out of their homes. How many more will be turned into refugees if America starts a war with Iran?

But this won’t matter, as the American war machine will have conquered another country in the developing world. The Americans and Saudis will have stolen their oil, the multinationals the state industries and bonyads, Islamic charitable foundations, and the Israelis will have the destruction of an hostile state.

But fortunately, despite the forces pushing for war, Trump decided against it. Just as Jeremy Hunt has been calling for a deescalation of tensions in the region. And I hope this continues, and sanity prevails against the warmongers.

I found this prayer in The Methodist Service Book (Peterborough: Methodist Publishing House 1999). It’s for the Good Friday service, and calls for peace between the followers of the Abrahamic religions – Christianity, Judaism and Islam, where Abraham, known as Ibrahim, is revered as a major prophet. The prayer runs

Eternal God,

bless all who look to Abraham

as the father of faith.

Set us free from prejudice, blindness,

and hardness of heart,

that in accordance with your will and guided by your truth

our life together may be for the glory of your name;

we ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. 

Peace/salaam to everyone at this time, regardless of their religious or non-religious views.

 

 

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Radio 4 Series Challenging Stereotype that Religion and Science Are at War

June 12, 2019

According to next week’s Radio Times there’s a new, three-part series beginning on Radio 4 next Friday, 21st June, at 11.00 am, Science and Religion about the relationship between the two disciplines. From the pieces about in the magazine, it attacks the idea that science and religion are at war. The blurb for the programme’s first part, ‘The Nature of the Beast’, on page 131, says

Nick Spencer examines the history of science and religion and the extent to which they have been in conflict with each other. Drawing on the expertise of various academics, he begins by exploring what the relationship says about what it means to be human.

The paragraph about the programme on the preceding page, 130, by Sue Robinson, runs

Are science and religion at war? In the first in a three-part series, Nick Spencer (of Goldsmith’s, London, and Christian think-tank Theos) takes a look back wt what he terms the “simplistic warfare narrative” of these supposedly feuding disciplines. From the libraries of the Islamic world to the work of 13th-century bishop Robert Grosseteste in maths and natural sciences, Spencer draws on the expertise of a variety of academics to argue that there has long been an interdependence between the two. I felt one or two moments of consternation (“there are probably more flat-earthers [believing the earth to be flat] around today than there were back then…”) and with so many characters in the unfolding 1,000-year narrative, some may wish for a biographical dictionary at their elbow… I certainly did. Yet somehow Spencer produces an interesting and informative treatise from all the detail. 

We’ve waited a long time for a series like this. I set up this blog partly to argue against the claim made by extremely intolerant atheists like Richard Dawkins that science and religion are and always have been at war. In fact no serious historian of science believes this. It’s a stereotype that comes from three 19th century writers, one of whom was reacting against the religious ethos of Harvard at the time. And some of the incidents that have been used to argue that science was suppressed by the religious authorities were simply invented. Like the story that Christopher Columbus was threatened by the Inquisition for believing that the world war round. Er no, he wasn’t. That was all made up by 19th century author Washington Irvine. European Christians had known and accepted that the world was round by the 9th century. It’s what the orb represents in the Crown Jewels. The story that Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, in his debate on evolution with Charles Darwin, asked the great biologist whether he was descended from an ape on his mother’s or father’s side of the family is also an invention. It was written years after the debate by Darwin’s Bulldog, T.H. Huxley. A few years ago historians looked at the accounts of the debate written at the time by the students and other men of science who were there. They don’t mention any such incident. What they do mention is Wilberforce opening the debate by saying that such questions like evolution needed to be carefully examined, and that if they are true, they have to be accepted, no matter how objectionable they may be. Wilberforce himself was an extremely proficient amateur scientist himself as well as a member of the clergy. Yes, there was opposition from many Christians to Darwin’s idea, but after about 20 years or so most of the mainstream denominations fully accepted evolution. The term ‘fundamentalism’ comes from a book defending and promoting Christianity published as The Fundamentals of Christianity published in the first years of the 20th century. The book includes evolution, which it accepts.

Back to the Middle Ages, the idea that this was a period when the church suppressed scientific investigation, which only revived with the Humanists of the Renaissance, has now been utterly discredited. Instead it was a period of invention and scientific discovery. Robert Grosseteste, the 13th century bishop of Lincoln, wrote papers arguing that the Moon was responsible for the tides and that the rainbow was produced through light from the sun being split into various colours by water droplets in the atmosphere. He also wrote an account of the six days of creation, the Hexaemeron, which in many ways anticipates the ‘Big Bang’ theory. He believed that the universe was created with a burst of light, which in turn created ‘extension’ – the dimensions of the cosmos, length, width and breadth, and that this light was then formed into the material and immaterial universe. Medieval theologians were also often highly critical of stories of demons and ghosts. The 12th century French bishop, William of Auxerre, believed that nightmares were caused, not by demons, but by indigestion. If you had too big a meal before falling asleep, the weight of the food in the stomach pressed down on the nerves, preventing the proper flow of vital fluids.

The Christian scholars of this period drew extensively on the writings of Muslim philosophers, scientists and mathematicians, who had inherited more of the intellectual legacy of ancient Greece and Rome, along with that of the other civilisations they had conquered, like Persia and India. Scholars like al-Haytham explored optics while the Bani Musa brothers created fascinating machines. And Omar Khayyam, the Sufi mystic and author of the Rubaiyyat, one of the classics of world literature, was himself a brilliant mathematician. Indeed, many scientific and mathematical terms are taken from Arabic. Like alcohol, and algorithm, which comes from the Muslim scholar al-Khwarismi, as well as algebra.

There have been periods of tension between religion and particular scientific doctrines, like the adoption of the Copernican system and Darwin’s theory of evolution by Natural Selection, but the relationship between science and religion is rich, complex and has never been as simple as all out war. This should be a fascinating series and is a very necessary corrective to the simplistic stereotype we’ve all grown up with.

Examining Jeanette Winterson’s Ideas on AI and Literature

June 4, 2019

Last Saturday’s I for 1-2 June 2019 carried an interview in its ‘Culture’ section with the literary novelist, Jeanette Winterson, about her latest work, Frankissstein. This is another take on Frankenstein, with one strand of the book set in the contemporary world and exploring AI, the downloading of the human mind into computers and literature. Winterson’s the second literary novelist, following Ian McEwan, to turn to the world of robotics for their subject matter. I’ve critiqued both of them, based on reviews in the papers, because this comes across to me very much of another instance of ‘literary’ novelists appropriating Science Fiction subjects and issues, while disdaining and ignoring the genre itself.

Winterson’s interview with Max Liu was also very interesting in other respects, and worth reading. While I am not remotely inclined to read her book, and have real objections to some of her statements on philosophical grounds, I also found that there was much that she said, which I agreed with. Particularly about the exploitation of British communities under Brexit.

The Interview

The article, on page 49, was prefaced with the statement Jeanette Winterson talks to Max Liu about AI and why the novel could die if it doesn’t reinvent itself’. It ran

Jeanette Winterson would like to upload her brain to a computer. “It were possibl, I wouldn’t be able to resist the temptation to find out what it’s like to live without a body,” she says when we meet to discuss Frankissstein, her new novel about artificial intelligence. “I had a very religious upbringing, so to me, the idea that the body is just a house is normal.”

The 59-year-old wrote about her Pentecostal childhood in her semi-autobiographical debut novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985), and her memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (2011). For the past couple of years, she has been reading about AI and robotics at the same time as thinking about Mary Shelley’s Gothic classic, Frankenstein. In her latest novel, the young Shelley appears as a character.

“I started writing about Mary in Italy at the beginning of the 19th century then worked my way to the present,” says Winterson. “There was no point setting a novel about AI in the future, because I wanted readers to realise the future is here. We don’t know how far big money has gone in developing AI, but I suspect it’s much further than we think.”

Winterson believes “we’re living in an ahistorical world where people don’t know how we got here”, the pace of change since the Industrial Revolution leaving us bewildered. “By its nature, reading slows us down,” she says,”so I’m pushing against the acceleration of modern life, creating imaginative space for readers to inhabit. Anybody who can imagine something is in control.”

Her new novel’s present-day characters include Ry, a transgender doctor, and Winterson says: “One of my godchildren identifies as transgender and I’ve been reading a lot about that because I thought I needed to understand. The idea of identity being provisional fed into this novel. Much Western thought rests upon the idea that there is a core self that we can know and perfect, but probably there isn’t.

Ray falls in love with Ron, who is trying to make his fortune by designing sex dolls. Ron plans to exploit post-Brexit tax breaks by opening a factory in Wales. “I hate to see how my class has been manipulated by people who have no thought and no care for them,” says Winterson. “I’m ashamed of my country for turning its back on a European project and choosing nationalism.”

Were she to live for another 100 years, Winterson says she would retrain as a scientist. Does this mean she doesn’t see a future for the novel?

“The novel is only on its way out if it doesn’t change,” she says. “In the 80s, it was too middle-class and too male. Then Angela Carter came along and was so fresh, but she had a terrible time initially. The example of English literature’s conservatism that kills me is when Anita Brookner’s Hotel du Lac won the Booker in 1984 and Carter’s Nights at the Circus wasn’t even shortlisted. It was the year before I published Oranges and I just thought: “This is so dull.”

In Frankissstein, one character says the urge to write comes from vanity, but Mary counters that it’s about hope. Which is it from Winterson? “My writing is a message in a bottle. I won’t be here long enough to get my brain uploaded, so I’m chucking this message overboard in the hope it will move the conversation on.”

Moravec, Transhumanism and Max Headroom

It would be interesting to find out what Winterson had been reading as her research for her book. My guess it would almost certainly include Hans Moravec and the downloaders and transhumanists. They aim to upload their minds into machines. A little while ago they held a party at which they avowed their intention to meet each other on the other side of the Galaxy in a million years’ time. Which is some ambition. I think Moravec himself believes that by this middle of this century the technology should have been perfected that will allow a human brain to be read in such minute detail that its functions can be reproduced on computer. This was the premise behind the Max Headroom pilot, 20 Minutes into the Future. In this tale, broadcast on Channel 4 in the 1980s, Headroom, a computer-generated TV personality, is created when his human original, an investigative journalist in a dystopian future London, knocks himself unconscious going through a crash barrier to escape the villains. The journo’s body is retrieved, and used by a teenage computer whizzkid, Brice, who seems to spend his whole life in the bath, to create Headroom as an experiment. The character takes his name from the last thing his original sees before he goes through the barrier: a sign saying ‘Max Headroom’.

Sladek’s The Muller-Fokker Effect

I also wonder if she read any of the SF literature about downloading and cyberspace, including one of the first novels to tackle the subject, John Sladek’s The Muller-Fokker Effect, published in 1970. This is about Bob Shairp, a man reduced to date and stored on computer tape. I haven’t read it, but according to Brian Aldiss and David Wingrove in their history of Science Fiction, The Trillion Year Spree,

it is a deeply satirical book, homing in on the US Army, evangelism, newspapers and the like for its target, with an overall sense of fun reminiscent of the work of Kurt Vonnegut, Philip K. Dick and Sheckley. (p. 307).

Future Shock and the Global Rate of Change

Winterson’s comment that it was useless to set the book in the future, as the future is already here, is very similar to the remarks I heard about two decades ago by William Gibson, one of the founders of the Cyberpunk SF genre. Speaking at the Cheltenham Festival of literature, Gibson said that the future was already here, it was just wasn’t spread out the same everywhere, so there were parts of the world, such as the developing countries, where it wasn’t present to the same extent as the more advanced West. As for her comments about living in an ahistorical age, where people don’t know how we got here, and the pace of change is accelerating, this sounds very close to Alvin Toffler and his idea of future shock, where societal change is now so advanced and rapid that it is profoundly disorienting. But it is possible to exaggerate the speed of such changes. I can remember reading an article a few years ago, that argued that the impact of modern technology is vastly overestimated. The internet, for example, it was claimed, isn’t half as revolutionary as it is made out as it is only a development of earlier technologies, like the telegram. It’s a contentious claim, but in many ways the most rapid technological, social and economic changes were in the century following Queen Victoria’s coronation in 1937. That was when Britain was transformed from an agricultural, almost feudal country into a modern, industrial society. Britain’s empire expanded massively, communications improved allowed the rapid movement of information, goods and people across the globe. It was the period when new transport technologies like the railway, the automobile, the electric tram, dirigible balloons, aeroplanes and the rocket were created, along with inventions like the X-Ray, electric light, the telegram, telephone, radio and the first experiments in television, and, of course, sound recording and the cinema. Contemporary technological advances can be seen as refinements or improvements on these, rather than completely new inventions.

Transgender People and the Question of Core Personality

I also have objections to her comments about whether or not there is a core, human personality. I’ve no doubt that one argument against it is that many people would be very different if they had had a different upbringing. If they’d been born into a different class, or allowed to study a particular subject at school or university, or if they’d decided to pursue a different career. And, obviously, if they’d been born a different gender. But twin studies suggest that people do have some aspects of their character determined by their biology rather than their upbringing. And I don’t think she makes her argument by pointing to transpeople. As I understand it, many transpeople believe very strongly that they have a core personality or nature. It’s just that this is at opposition to their biological gender. Hence their desire to change. It isn’t simply that they simply decide at some point that they want to change their sex, which would be the case if it was simply the case that they had no core personality. But perhaps Winterson’s godchild is different.

Computers and the Existence of Self 

I’m also suspicious of the idea, as it sounds rather close to the ideas of Daniel Dennett and Susan Blackmoore that consciousness is an illusion and that the brain is simply a meat machine for running memes, discrete units of culture like genes are discrete units of biological information. On the other hand, when she says that existing as a disembodied entity on a computer doesn’t seem strange to her because of her religious background, she’s in agreement with Paul Davies. In his book, God and the New Physics, he stated that he’s prepared to accept that life can exist outside the body because of the way computers could be used to simulate human personalities. I can remember reading that the wife of one of the leading downloaders was a Methodist minister. He commented about this apparent contradiction between their two disciplines by saying that they were both trying to do the same thing, but by different methods.

The Manipulation of the Working Class

I do agree wholeheartedly, however, with Winterson’s comments about how her class is being manipulated by people, who give them no thought and no care for them. The idea that the creation of tax breaks for businesses after Brexit would allow an amoral entrepreneur to build a factor for sex robots in Wales is all too credible. Just as I agree with her about Britain turning it’s back on the EU, though I also have strong criticisms of the European Union. But Brexit has been and is being used by the Tory extreme right and its related movements, like UKIP and Farage’s noxious Brexit people, to manipulate the working class and exploit them. If you look at what Boris Johnson and Farage want, the privatisation of the NHS to American private healthcare firms is very much on the table.

Conservatism, Sexism, Literature and Literary Snobbishness

She was also right about the conservatism and sexism of the literary world in the 1980s. Private Eye’s literary column attacked Hotel du Lac for its snobbishness at the time. And the Orange Prize for literature was set up because it was felt that women were being unfairly excluded from the main literary prizes. However, the remarkable success of women writers in winning the mainstream awards has also, in the view of Private Eye a few years ago, also called into question the reason for Orange Prize. Why have a separate prize for women when that year the lists were dominated by female writers? And as for Angela Carter, I wonder if some of the problems she had didn’t just come from her writing feminist magic realist tales and fairy stories, but also because the genre SF/Fantasy crowd liked her. Flicking through an old SF anthology I found in one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham yesterday, I found a piece by her about literary theory along with pieces by other, firmly genre figures. A few years ago Terry Pratchett commented that the organisers of the Cheltenham Festival looked at him as if he was going to talk to his fans about motorcycle maintenance, and he was certainly subject to appalling snobbery by the literary critics when he started out. I think it’s therefore quite possible that Carter was disdained by those who considered themselves the guardians of serious literature because she was too genre. But I also wonder if Winterson herself, despite her deep love of Carter’s work, doesn’t also have the same attitude that sees genre fiction as somehow not proper literature, as she, Martin Amis, Ian McEwan and the others write.

I have to say that I don’t see the death of novel being anywhere near imminent. Not from looking along the shelves at Waterstone’s, and particularly not in the genre fiction, crime, horror, and SF. But it says something about the apparent lack of inspiration in literary fiction that it is turning to SF for its subjects. Winterson said some fascinating things in her interview, but to me, genre SF still did AI, robots and downloading first and better than the mainstream novelists now writing about it.

 

Jeanette Winterson’s Cyberfeminist New Tale of Frankenstein, AI and Sex Robots

May 26, 2019

A week or so ago I put up several articles criticising Ian McEwan’s latest book as another example of mainstream, literary writers’ appropriation of Science Fictional subjects. As I said in these articles, what annoys me about this is the higher respect given to these works, even though genre authors have frequently tackled the subjects much better. Private Eye in its piece describing how the literary set were turning to robots and AI said that after McEwan’s book would come one by Jeanette Winterson. This is Frankissstein: A Love Story, which was reviewed in Friday’s issue of the I, for 24th May 2019 by Lucy Scholes, on page 44 of the paper.

I realise that it’s dangerous to comment on a book you’ve never read, and that reviews can be notoriously inaccurate guides to what a book or other work is actually like. I can remember the Oxford poet, Tom Paulin on the Late Review about two decades or more ago really attacking the Star Wars prequel, The Phantom Menace, as a piece of Nazi cinema in precisely so many words. He had a point in that some groups had felt that the film was somehow racist and discriminatory, particularly in the portrayal of Jar Jar Binks. Binks, it was held, was a caricature of Blacks, Hispanics or gays. But many others didn’t find anything racist or homophobic in the movie, and Paulin’s attack was itself a grotesque misrepresentation of the movie itself.

But Scholes’ brief description of the book and its themes raise issues that deserve comment and criticism.

The Plot

The book is split between two periods. The first is that night in 1816 in the Villa Diodati on the shores of Lake Geneva when Byron, his lover, Claire Clairmont, the Shelleys and their doctor, John Polidori, all met to write a ghost story, the evening which saw the birth of Mary Shelley’s tale of the monstrous creation of artificial, human life, Frankenstein. The second is a contemporary tale about a romance between a young transgender doctor, Ry Shelley, who meets and falls in love with the charismatic Victor Stein at a cryonics facility in the Arizona desert. Stein is a leader in the field of Artificial Intelligence, who, according to the review, ‘envisions a bodyless utopia in which race, faith gender and sexuality no longer exist.’

Caught up in this tale is Ron Lord, a millionaire, who has made his fortune from advance sex robots, and his partner, the evangelical Claire, who has designed a version for Christians, and an investigating journalist, Polly D. Ron Lord’s empire of sex robots its misogynistic. His deluxe model offers three orifices and interesting conversation, in which they tell the user he’s very clever and asks him if he knows anything about Real Madrid. Looking at their names, it seems very clear to me that they’re supposed to be the modern counterparts of Byron’s party 200 years ago. But it’s a moot point how accurate this portrayal is about what they would be like if they lived now. As for Claire’s invention of the ‘Christian Companion’, this seems to be a gibe by Winterson at Christian hypocrisy. Winterson’s a lesbian, who had a miserable childhood growing up in an extreme Christian sect. This formed the basis for his book Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, which was adapted as a TV drama by the Beeb. This seems to have established the 9.00 Sunday night slot as the venue for intense dramas about gay women. It was followed a few years later by Fingersmith, a lesbian drama set in the Victorian underworld. And now there’s Gentleman Jack, now playing on BBC 1, based on a real Victorian aristocratic lady, who married her gay lover. I’m very much aware that many Christians do hate gays, and that in response many gay men and women have turned away from Christianity and religion. But this isn’t necessarily the case. I know one woman, who was brought up by her mother and her lesbian partner, who grew up perfectly well adjusted. She was deeply religious herself, and went on to marry a vicar. She also loves her mother, and respects her for the excellent way she feels her mother brought her up.

Cyberspace as Disembodied Platonic Realm

Some of the ideas in Winterson’s book also seems strangely dated. Like the idea of AI as offering a utopia in which people are disembodied entities without race, gender, sexuality or religion. This sounds like it’s based on the views of some of the cyberfeminists back in the 1990s. They hailed the internet as forum in which women would be free to participate as individuals without gender. Now there is a real issue here with misogyny on the internet. There are some sites and forums which are very hostile to women, so much so that a few years ago there were comments that there no women on the internet, as those who were seemed few and far between. But the solution to that problem is to create a culture in which women are free to participate and interact without their gender being issue, rather than forced to disguise or deny it.

It’s also vulnerable to the opposite criticism from feminist academics like Margaret Wertheimer. In her The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace, Wertheimer criticised cyberspace for being too masculine. It was a disembodied, Platonic realm of mind like the heaven of religious belief. Women weren’t interested in such ideal states, and so were put off it. This idea was influential. One of the museums and art galleries held an exhibition of Virtual worlds created by artists experimenting with the medium. One of the women artists, whose work was featured, included as part of her world the sound of the viewer breathing as they entered her artificial reality. She had done so, she told New Scientist, because the absence of any kind of physical interaction in these Virtual worlds was the product of male scientists and engineers, who made the passage through them like that of a disembodied being. As a woman, she wanted to rectify this through the inclusion of details that made it appear that the viewer was physically there.

It’s over 20 years since these arguments were made, and much has changed since then. There are now very many women on the internet, with female sites like Mum’s Net and the feminist Jezebel. And some of the online games and worlds, like Second Life, do allow their users to interact as physical entities as the games’ characters or citizens.

Robot-Human Romance and Sex

As for her view of sex robots, it’s true that the creation of an artificial woman purely as a sex slave is misogynist. At the moment such machines aren’t really much more than sophisticate sex dolls, and some of those, who use them do seem to be very misogynist. One of the denizens of the Manosphere, the Happy Humble Hermit, who really does despise women and feminism, apparently has a link on his web page to a firm making them. But despite dire warning that these machines are a threat to women’s status and real, genuine, loving or respectful sexual relationship, the existing sex robots aren’t popular. A Spanish brothel which specialised in them has had to get rid of them because of lack of custom. Women don’t have to fear being replaced by compliant, subservient female robots, as in Ira Levin’s Stepford Wives, just yet.

But science fiction also shows that there is an interest, at least among some people, for genuine romantic relationships between robots, and humans and robots. One of the Star Wars spin-off books published in the 1980s was Hardware Honeymoon, whose cover showed C-3PIO holding hands with a female robot. The robot seems to have become the subject of some women’s fantasies. One of the independent comics from California was Wet Satin, whose female creator based her stories on women’s sexual fantasies. One of these was about a robot, which looked remarkably similar to the Star Wars robot. Rather less luridly, Tanith Lee wrote a book in the 1980s about a woman having a romance with a robot in The Silver Metal Lover. You could go on. There is a desire for sex with robots, but this seems in most cases to be within the framework of a romantic relationship with a genuinely sentient being, not a mechanical sex slave.

Stein’s Disembodied Utopia Horrific

As for Stein’s idea of a post-human utopia of disembodied minds, this is profoundly unattractive, as Scholes herself says in her review, saying ‘As with all brave new worlds, though, the reality is rarely perfect’. It seems to be based on the Transhumanists hope that in the near future technology will have advanced so far that that humans will be able to download their minds into computers, so that they can exist as pure disembodied entities in cyberspace, or move into robot bodies, like the hero at the end of the South African SF film, Chappie. But Winterson’s, or Stein’s cybernetic dream of posthuman, post-flesh utopia is horrifically sterile. Part of what makes diversity and multiculturalism such powerful ideologies is that people are naturally drawn, fascinated with and treasure difference. It’s why western tourists travel around the world, to Asia, Africa and South America, to enjoy the experience of different cultures and meeting people of different races and religions. There is friction and hostility between different peoples, all too often exploding into horrific violence. But the reduction of humanity to disembodied minds doesn’t solve the problem. It doesn’t genuinely promote tolerance, equality and the feeling of common humanity so much as negates the problem by destroying the physical and spiritual differences that form the basis of human identity. It’s certainly not an idea that’s popular in SF. In just about all the Science Fiction I’ve read, people retain their gender and other aspects of their identity even after they cross over into cyberspace. When they appear, either in cyberspace itself, or conjured up in computer displays for characters in the real world, they appear as they did in life, complete with their gender and race. And I’ve no doubt that the vast majority of people would find that far more preferable to the strange disembodied existence Stein offers in Winterson’s book.

LGBTQ and Transgender Issues With Winterson’s/ Stein’s Utopia

Which also raises the question about its handling of LGBTQ issues. The inclusion of a transgender character seems to be a deliberate attempt to make the book very relevant to contemporary issues, now that transgender rights have overtaken gays as the issue of the moment. Some transgender people seem to look forward to a future without physical gender. I can remember reading an interview with the first, or one of the first, people to undergo the operation, April Ashley, in an interview in one of the Daily Mail’s Sunday supplements years ago. She looked forward to a time when humanity would have moved beyond gender, and pregnancy would become a matter of simply taking a pill. But I think such people are a very small minority. Back in the 1990s there was a demand from gay Science Fiction fans for Star Trek to tackle homosexuality and include gay characters or stories. This was several years before the new, revived Dr. Who did so, and so would have been extremely controversial. Star Trek – The Next Generation tried to make an effort in that direction with a story in which Lieutenant Riker formed a relationship with a member of an alien species, the J’Nai, who had evolved past gender. However, from time to time there were throwbacks, who were persecuted. They would be hunted down and then treated so that they were proper neuter members of their society. The alien with whom Riker has fallen in love is one such throwback, a female. She is caught by the authorities. Riker tries to free her, but it is too late. She is now neuter, and so has no interest in any sexual or romantic relationship with him. The story’s a metaphorical attempt to deal with the underlying issues around homosexuality, gender identity and forbidden sexuality, but was bitterly criticised by gay SF fans because it didn’t tackle the issue of homosexuality overtly. The Federation was, remember, an organisation in which humanity had moved beyond racial and cultural prejudice and sexism, and gay Trekkers and their supporters felt that the prejudice against homosexuality would also have no place in such a future. But they were also highly critical about how the story presented gays. They felt that it showed them unfairly as wanting to abolish gender. And Winterson’s book does seem to do the same with its depiction of a romance between the transgender character, Ry Shelley, and Stein, with his dream of an asexual disembodied world.

Conclusion

I may well be doing Winterson’s book a great disservice, but it does seem peculiarly dated for a book which is trying so desperately to be acutely relevant. And I do feel that readers would probably get a better idea of the issues about cyberspace and AI by going elsewhere. I think there’s probably a better fictional treatment of these subjects waiting to be written. And as for human-robot romance and sex, this has also been very extensively explored in genre SF. And some of this almost certainly represents what people really want from such relationships than simple sex robots.

As for the book’s inclusion of Mary Shelley, Byron, Claire Clairmont and Polidori, Brian Aldiss also did it, or something like it, in his 1970’s SF story Frankenstein Unbound. This was filmed by B-movie maven Roger Corman. It’s not supposed to be a good film, but even so, it seems far more to my taste than Winterson’s book.

 

 

 

Rees-Mogg’s Book Savaged by Critics

May 21, 2019

Here’s an interesting piece from yesterday’s I for 20th May 2019. It seems that Jacob Rees-Mogg fancies himself as a literary gentleman, and has written a book about a number of eminent Victorians. And it’s been torn apart by the critics.

The article by Dean Kirby, ‘Rees-Mogg’s ‘silly’ book torn apart by critics’, on page 5 of the paper, reads

Jacob Rees-Mogg’s new book has been panned by critics as “staggeringly silly”. 

The work by the Conservative MP, The Victorians: Twelve Titans Who Forged Britain, tells the story of 12 figures from the era. 

But, writing in the Sunday Times, historian Dominic Sandbrook described the book as “so bad, so boring, so mind-bogglingly bad”. And in a Times review, A.N. Wilson said it was “staggeringly silly”. 

Rees-Mogg clearly has literary as well as political ambitions, and it looks very much like he’s using the one to boost the other. Boris desperately wants to be the leader of the Tories, and published a biography of Churchill a year or so ago. Presumably this was partly to show how he was a true Tory intellectual – if such a creature can be said to exist – and was somehow the great man’s spiritual and ideological are. Rees-Mogg is also angling for the Tory leadership, and he’s done the same, though in his case it’s a selection of the 12 great figures from the Victorian period that he feels have created modern Britain.

I’m not remotely surprised he’s chosen the Victorians, and even less surprised by the rubbishing its received from Sandbrook and Wilson. The Victorian period was an age when modern Britain began to take shape. It was a period of massive social, economic, political and technological change, as Britain moved from a rural, agricultural society to an urban, industrial one. New scientific ideas emerged, were debated and taken up, there was rapid technological innovation with the creation of the railways and the spread of mechanised factories. Overseas, the British Empire expanded massively to take in Australia, New Zealand, the Canadian West, parts of Africa and Asia. It’s a fascinating period, and Tories and Libertarians love to hark back to it because they credit Britain’s movement to global dominance to the old Conservative principles of free trade and private property, as well as Christian benevolence. It is a fascinating period, and certainly Christian philanthropy did play a very great part in the campaigns against the slave trade and other movements for social reform, such as the Factory Acts.

But it was also a period marked by grinding poverty, misery and social upheaval. Trade unions expanded as workers united to fight for better pay and conditions in the work place, Liberal ideology changed to keep up with the movement in practical politics towards state regulation and interference, and socialism emerged and spread to challenge the dominance of capitalism and try to create a better society for working people. The Victorian period also saw the emergence of feminism following the publication of Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman in the late 18th century. And the massive unrest in Ireland caused by the exploitation of the Roman Catholic Irish peasantry by absentee landlords, and the hostile reaction by some elements of the British establishment during the Potato Famine, has created a legacy of bitterness and violence that continues to this day. I doubt that Rees-Mogg or any of the other Tories are very enthusiastic about tackling or describing these aspects of Victorian history.

I’m also not surprised that the book’s been savagely criticised. Rees-Mogg supposedly read history at Oxford, but nobody quite knows what period he studied. And his ignorance of some extremely notorious events is woeful. Like when he claimed that the concentration camps we used against the Afrikaners during the Boer War were somehow benevolent institutions. In fact, they were absolutely horrific, causing tens of thousands of deaths from starvation and disease among women and children, who were incarcerated there. And which, again, have left as lasting legacy of bitterness right up to today.

I think any book on the Victorian period written by Rees-Mogg would be highly simplified, ridiculous caricature of the events and issues of the period. Like Boris’ book on Churchill, I doubt that it’s a serious attempt to deal objectively with all aspects of its subject, including the more malign or disturbing events and views, rather than an attempt to present the Tory view. An exercise in Tory historical propaganda, as it were.

What’s also interesting is that it’s been the right-wing press – the Times and Sunday Times – that’s savaged it. This seems to me to show that Rees-Mogg’s ‘magnificent octopus’, to quote Blackadder’s Baldrick, was too much of a travesty even for other Tories, and that there is a sizable body of the Tory party that doesn’t want him to be leader. Or at least, not Rupert Murdoch. And as the Tory party and the Blairites have shown themselves desperate to do whatever Murdoch says, this means there’s going to be strong opposition to a bid from Mogg to become Prime Minister.

Programme Tonight on Israel’s Attack on Gaza Last Year

May 13, 2019

Tonight, 13th May 2019, BBC 2 are screening a documentary at 9.00 pm, ‘One Day in Gaza’, about the terrible events there last year when Israel fired on Palestinian demonstrators. The article for it on page 74 of the Radio Times runs

On 14 May 2018, mass disturbances on the border between Israel and Gaza led to one of the deadliest days in a generation. For weeks Palestinians had been protesting along the border fence, but tensions were running particularly high due to the inauguration of the new US embassy to Israel in Jerusalem, a controversial step ordered by Donald Trump. By the end of the day, as many as 60 Palestinians were dead or dying, and over 2,000 were injured, mostly by live ammunition. One year on, Olly Lambert’s film relates the events of that day using footage filmed on the ground and interviews with those on both sides of the fence.

A further piece about it on page 72 runs

Palestinians in Gaza had already been protesting Israel’s land, sea and air blockade of the territory for a fortnight when, on 14 May 2018, the situation turned from tense to bloody. While Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, and other officials of the Trump administration were in Jerusalem to inaugurate a controversial new US embassy, violence exploded at the Gaza border. The Israeli army claimed to have acted in self-defence; more than 60 Palestinians died in a day, with more than 2,000 hurt.

A year on, film-maker Olly Lambert pieces together an account of what happened, by interviewing political leaders on both sides and drawing on video footage at the time.

This follows the mass demonstration through central London on Saturday, commemorating 71 years of the Nakba, an Arabic word meaning ‘catastrophe’, which the Palestinians use to describe their own genocide and dispossession by the Zionist settlers. The protest was organised by the Palestinian Forum in Britain, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the Muslim Council of Britain and the Stop the War Coalition. The protest was also against the continuing failure of the Israeli state to honour the peace treaty it had signed with the Palestinians over Gaza, and its continuing campaign to strangle the area’s economy, fishing and obstruction of medicine and humanitarian aid. The star speaker was Ahed Tamimi, the 15 year old girl who got 18 months in prison for slapping an Israeli storm trooper after her brother was shot in the head with a rubber bullet.

Labour has committed itself to recognising Palestine as a sovereign state, which has contributed to the hysterical accusations of anti-Semitism by the Zionists against Jeremy Corbyn, despite the Labour leader’s many sincere actions on behalf of Britain’s Jews.For further information, see the articles on the demonstration by Mike at https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/05/12/pro-palestine-demonstration-in-london-to-show-support-after-latest-violence/

and Tony Greenstein at http://azvsas.blogspot.com/2019/05/15000-march-in-memory-of-nakba_12.html

This could be a really interesting documentary. But I have no doubt it will also be highly controversial. Whenever anyone, no matter how respected, reports atrocities committed by Israel or its allies, there are instantly accusations of anti-Semitism by the Jewish press and the Board of Deputies of British Jews. This happens even though the reports are accurate. Those, who have been smeared for their reportage include the very well respected Beeb foreign correspondents Jeremy Bowen and Orla Guerin, and the former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger.

The anger of the siting of the American embassy in Jerusalem was inevitable, as Israel would like to claim Jerusalem as its capital rather than Tel Aviv, despite UN recommendations that it should be shared between Israel and the Palestinians. It also raises very deep fears about what Israel intends to do with the Dome of the Rock mosque. This is the third holiest site in Islam. But it’s built on the remains of Solomon’s Temple, and Jewish fanatics like Gush Emunim would like to see it destroyed and the Temple rebuilt instead.

Israel also has a policy of deliberately bombing and closing Palestinian places of worship. While the world mourned the destruction of Notre Dame cathedral by fire, the Palestinians were also feeling the destruction of one of their holiest mosques in Gaza. This precious monument, dating from the 7th century, was deliberately targeted by the Israeli military. Else where in eretz Israel, mosques and other places of worship are vandalised and desecrated by Jewish fanatics. And this includes Christian churches and monasteries. Benzi Gopstein, an extreme right-wing rabbi in one of the Israeli settlements, a few weeks ago issued the statement that Jews had a divine commandment to destroy churches in Israel, as they were places of idolatry. It’s a statement that I know shocks genuinely liberal Jews worldwide. I am also aware that Christian churches and other monuments in Israel have also been attacked by intolerant, fundamentalist Muslims. But the respected historian of the Middle East, Albert Hourani, has pointed out in one of his articles on the history of Palestine, that traditionally Christian churches were regarded as mawsin – sacred, sacrosanct – by Palestinian Muslims, who respected them. I have also heard that quite often the doorkeeper at Christian churches is a Muslim, and that they are often instrumental in preventing attacks by fanatical Jewish mobs. But you will not hear this from the mainstream press and news, and especially not from Christian organisations like Ted Hagee’s Christians United for Israel, who want to see an Israel stretching from the Nile to the Euphrates.

This is why people do need to hear and see the truth about Israel and its ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians against the attempts to silence it by the Zionist Jewish establishment, and establishment that’s also strongly opposed by an increasing number of Jews, disgusted at what is being done in their name. As one genuinely liberal Jews has said, ‘to be a Jew means that you are always on the side of the oppressed, never the oppressor.

For Israeli attacks on churches and mosques, see also this article by Tony Greenstein, http://azvsas.blogspot.com/2019/04/should-we-set-fire-to-churches-mosques.html

 

Tony Greenstein on Zionist Anti-Semitism

April 28, 2019

Last Wednesday Tony Greenstein, a veteran Jewish opponent of racism, Fascism and Zionism, put up on his blog a piece about how Zionists resort to anti-Semitic rhetoric when attacking their Jewish opponents. He made it very clear that this was because, in his view, anti-Semitism was at the very heart of Zionism.

The Hate Mail Directed at Jenny Manson, Jackie Walker and Tony Greenstein

Greenstein began his piece with some very nasty examples of Zionist anti-Semitic hate messages sent to himself, Jenny Manson, the chair of Jewish Voice for Labour and Jackie Walker. Manson was left a vile message on her voice mail calling her a ‘f***ing Nazi bitch’, ‘Nazi cow’ and ranting that she should be burned in a gas oven, and should burn in hell, in acid. He points out that this disgusting rant mixed the Zionist accusation that non-Zionists are Nazis, with the real Nazi abuse that a Jewish person should be gassed like the innocent millions in the Holocaust. He compares this with another unpleasant message sent to Jackie Walker, which questioned whether she was really Jewish and that she should be put into a burning bin. He also put up the full text of a hate message he received, which called him a ‘traitorous b***ard’, ‘a left-liberal Jew’, ‘a cowardly traitor’, who should go back to the shtetls and ghettos under non-Jewish domination, and said that it was a pity that Hitler or the Angel of Death missed his house, that of his family, and Naturei Karta’s, the Jewish anti-Zionist organisation. Greenstein compared this with another message he’d received which denied the existence of the Holocaust. Greenstein states he passed on both of these messages to the Community Security Trust, which compiles lists of anti-Semitic incidents. They duly logged the second message, but refused to list the first, as they don’t include anti-Semitic incidents perpetrated by Jews. Discussing the reason for this omission, he quotes the Jewish American anti-Zionist, Aurora Levins Morales, who states in her book, On Anti-Semitism, that she gets anti-Semitic abuse from Zionists, because they really believe that the only way Jews can be safe is to have their own homeland where only they are the privileged people.

The Nazi Nicknames Adopted by Israeli Soldiers

Greenstein goes on to make the point that under the right circumstances, every people can become racists. It was, he states, inevitable that Jewish Israelis should develop the same mindset and attitudes as their Nazi oppressors. He cites articles in Haaretz and al Hamishmar from 1989 about Israeli army units that called themselves after Josef Mengele, the Nazi doctor, who experimented on Jews and other human victims in the concentration camps; ‘Our Nazis’, for those squaddies in the IDF who liked to beat Arabs, and ‘the Auschwitz 10’ and ‘Demjanjuks’, after a sadistic concentration camp guard, who was just being tried. He also quoted a supporter of Lehava, the Israeli group that campaigns against racial mixing, who said that it was ‘unfortunate’ that Hitler attacked the wrong nation, as Jews were the chosen race. He also describes an incident from 2012 involving Israeli schoolchildren, who had been taken to see the play Ghetto, about Jewish life in Vilna during the Nazi occupation. Instead of sympathising with the suffering of their parents’ and grandparents’, the kids instead applauded the Nazis, even cheering on a scene in which a kapo struck a Jew.

Herzl and Anti-Semitism

Greenstein then goes on to show how there always was a confluence of interests between Zionism and anti-Semitism. He quotes Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, who believed that gentile anti-Semitism contained the Divine will to good by forcing Jews to close ranks. He also quotes a piece from the Jewish paper, Davar, from the 1950s in which the writer stated he would like to select a group of ‘efficient young men’ who would be sent to countries in which the Jewish population are engaged in ‘sinful self-satisfaction’. These men would then paint anti-Semitic hate messages on walls disguised as non-Jews and demanding that they go to Palestine. He states that Zionism was never really concerned with fighting anti-Semitism. It was concerned with gathering the Jewish people together to establish a Jewish state. And so Zionists came to see their real enemies as the Jewish opponents of Zionism, who should themselves be the victims of anti-Semitism.

He states that, contra France’s President Macron, who declared that anti-Zionism was a new version of anti-Semitism, Jewish history shows that it is Zionism that actually has the closest similarity to gentile anti-Semitism. He illustrates this with a passage from Herzl’s The Jewish State, which lays the blame for anti-Semitism on the Jews themselves. For Herzl, Jews, who married gentiles were lost to the ‘Jewish tribe’ and he declared he had no quarrel with the ‘honest anti-Semites’ who would spur on Jewish emigration. He also recognised that people would accuse him of ‘giving a handle to anti-Semitism’ when he said that the Jews were one people. One of the very many Jews, who did consider Zionism anti-Semitic was Lucien Wolf, the head of Britain’s Conjoint Committee and British Jewry’s ‘unofficial foreign minister’, who is quoted as saying

‘I have spent most of my life in combating these very doctrines, when presented to me in the form of anti-Semitism, and I can only regard them as the more dangerous when they come to me in the guise of Zionism. They constitute a capitulation to our enemies.’

Herzl also admired Edouard Droumont, a notorious anti-Semite and anti-Dreyfusard, who Herzl declared was ‘an artist’ and was delighted when Droumont gave The Jewish State a glowing review.

The Zionists also agreed with the anti-Semites that the Jews were an ‘asocial’ body that did not belong among gentiles. The Marxist Zionist left, which followed the doctrines of Ber Borochov, Hashomer Hatzair and later Mapam, believed that there were too many rich Jews at the top of diaspora Jewish society and not enough workers. The reality, however, was that the vast majority of Jews in the Russian Empire lived in grinding poverty. The Zionists also agreed with the anti-Semites that Jews were either rootless cosmopolitans behind Communist agitation or the excesses of capitalism. He once again quotes Herzl, who wrote

When we sink, we become a revolutionary proletariat, the subordinate officers of all revolutionary parties; and at the same time, when we rise, there rises also our terrible power of the purse.

This is exactly the sentiments of that terrible Tsarist anti-Semitic forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which has inspired so much Nazism, Fascism and real Jew-hatred in the 20th century.

Other Zionist Anti-Semitism

Greenstein goes on to quote the Israeli novelist, A.B. Yehoshua, who said that Jews treated other people’s countries as hotels. And when Zionists described diaspora Jews, they sounded exactly like gentile anti-Semites. The first Israeli Minister of Justice, Pinhas Rosenbluth, described Palestine as an ‘institute for the fumigation of Jewish vermin’. Jacob Klatzkin, the co-editor of the Jewish newspaper, Die Welt, and co-founder of the Encylopaedia Judaica, wrote that Jews were

‘a people disfigured in both body and soul – in a word, of a horror… some sort of outlandish creature… in any case, not a pure national type… some sort of oddity among the peoples going by the name of Jew.’

Hashomer Hatzair’s Weltanschauung, first published in 1917, and then republished in 1936, also described Jews in hostile terms:

“a caricature of a normal, natural human being, both physically and spiritually. As an individual in society he revolts and throws off the harness of social obligations, knows no order nor discipline.”

Greenstein concludes

Why is this relevant? Because even today Zionism considers the Jewish diaspora as essentially worthless. Whenever a choice has to be made between the Jews and the Jewish state then the interests of the latter always take priority.

http://azvsas.blogspot.com/2019/04/why-when-zionists-abuse-their-jewish.html

The Identification of the Oppressed with their Oppressors

This is deeply shocking stuff, and it shows that Zionists have absolutely no business whatsoever accusing decent people, particularly self-respecting Torah-observant and secular Jews, of anti-Semitism. Greenstein has elsewhere argued that Zionism is a capitulation to anti-Semitism. It also reminds me of a comment the great journalist of the gogglebox, Clive James wrote way back in the 1970s. He observed in a piece about Roman Catholic children identifying with the British army in Northern Ireland, that oppressed peoples often supported and took on the views of their oppressors. I think James may have been wrong in the case of Ulster Catholics, as many of them initially supported the deployment of British troops, because they expected them to be far more impartial than the police. But it does seem to apply to many Zionists’ view of the degraded nature of diaspora Jewry following Herzl.

Israel’s Abandonment of Diaspora Jewry for Its Own Interests

And Zionists have shown themselves to be perfectly willing to sacrifice diaspora Jews to real anti-Semitism if it will benefit Israel. Greenstein has blogged about how one of the Zionist pioneers – I have a feeling it may have been David Ben Gurion – said that he would rather half of Europe’s Jews were wiped out by the Nazis, if half of them went to Israel, than all of them being saved by going to Britain. George Soros, the billionaire financier, who is cordially hated by Zionists and gentile anti-Semites, despises Zionism because of the deal Kasztner, the leader of Hungarian Zionism during the Nazi occupation, struck with the Nazis. This allowed for tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews to be sent to the death camps in return for a certain number escaping to Israel. And they’re still doing it today. David Rosenberg has written time and again on his blog, Rebel Notes, about the threat posed to eastern Europe’s remaining Jews by the extreme nationalist, anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim regimes in Hungary, Poland, the Ukraine and the Baltic states. But these have received little criticism from Israel, because they support the Israeli states and buy its armaments. Stephen Pollard, the gentile editor of the Jewish Chronicle, notoriously declared that a far-right Polish MEP wasn’t an anti-Semite, but a true friend of Israel. This was a politician, who among other things, supported legislation banning any discussion of Polish collaboration with the Nazis in the Holocaust, contrary to historical fact and ordinary, common morality.

Anti-Semitism and the Idea of a Chosen People

As for that comment by the Lehava supporter stating that Hitler shouldn’t have attacked the Jews, because they were the Chosen People, this is deeply offensive and dangerous for a variety of reasons. One common anti-Semitic accusation is that the Jews believe themselves to be superior to everyone else because they believe themselves to be God’s elect. There have been many attempts by Jews to tackle this misconception. In the 1920s, I believe, some German synagogues removed a prayer from their services referring to them as the Chosen People, because they were afraid it would give their non-Jewish compatriots the wrong idea. Other Jewish authorities have pointed out, citing the Bible, that their status of the Jewish people does not confer on them any kind of superiority. Rather, God chose the Jews because they were the smallest, weakest people, who are called upon to be a servant people.

Many Jews are uncomfortable with the idea of being a Chosen People, and some reject it outright. My guess is that some of this discomfort may also be due to the apparent similarity of the doctrine to secular ideas of racial superiority. I knew a lad at college, who bitterly hated Christianity, though he definitely wasn’t an anti-Semite nor any kind of Nazi. Quite the opposite. He believed that the roots of Nazi racism lay in the Old Testament and the idea of a Chosen People. He was wrong. Nazism grew out of western biological racism, which was founded in the 19th century by the French count, Gobineau. This also inspired Nazism, although the Nazis also took over and exploited Christian anti-Semitism. The Lehava supporter’s statement about Hitler and the Jews as the Chosen People would support the prejudiced views of the opponents of Judaism and Christianity as the origins of racism.

Zionist Silence over their Anti-Semitism

The existence of the virulent anti-Semitism in Zionism, which Tony Greenstein describes, also raises another issue. Why won’t Zionist organisations like the Community Security Trust log anti-Semitic incidents and hate speech committed by Jews? It seems to be a prohibition that really only goes one way. As we’ve seen, very many of the decent people vilified and smeared as anti-Semites in the Labour party and elsewhere for their opposition to israel’s oppression of the Palestinians have been Jewish. Their Zionist opponents have shown themselves to have no qualms about accusing them of Jew-hatred. But it seems they do not want to record instances where decent Jewish critics of Israel have been so reviled.

Not only is this a disgusting double standard, it also makes you wonder what they’re hiding. Is there so much of this vilification, that if it was recorded, Zionists would find themselves exposed as some of the worst anti-Semites?

Islamophobe Tommy Robinson Campaigning to Become MEP in Manchester

April 26, 2019

Well UKIP and Farage’s equally noxious Brexit party, both stuffed with racists and bigots, have announced their candidates for the European elections. And they’ve now been joined by that other long-term fixture of the populist extreme right, Stephen Yaxley Lennon, aka Tommy Robinson. Robinson’s past in the EDL and the BNP mean that he’s actually forbidden by their constitution to become a member of UKIP, which is why Gerard Batten has taken him on as the party’s special adviser on Islam and prisons. Because Robinson despises Islam and has spent quite a bit of time at her majesty’s pleasure on various charges, like assault, contempt of court likely to prejudice trials, that kind of thing. As he can’t be a member of UKIP, Robinson is trying to get himself elected to the European parliament as an independent.

Last week he announced that he was planning to buy his own political battle bus, equipped with screens outside and inside, so he could bring his message of hate to the British public directly without being banned by the authorities or having his videos taken down by YouTube and the other social media companies. And he’s appealed to his followers to send him their hard-earned cash so he can buy it. On Thursday he began his campaign to become the MEP for England’s north-west region in Wythenshawe, a suburb of Manchester. He chose the place because it’s where many of the support workers for Manchester airport live. He claimed that the local people had been forgotten and betrayed at every level, and the Labour party no longer represented ‘who we are’, and called for people to stop supporting them and turn to him instead. He was introduced by Ann-Marie Waters, the struggling Fuhrerin of For Britain, another far right, Islamophobic party. For Britain’s members, according to Hope Not Hate, are former BNP and EDL storm troopers, who are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with Water’s leadership.

Robinson began his campaign with a barbecue on Brownley Green, opposite the local Methodist church. And the locals really didn’t want him to turn up. He was asked not to come by the local Christian, Jewish and Muslim community leaders. Wythenshawe Community Housing Group told Robinson that the green is their land, and they were refusing him permission to use it. Madeleine Monaghan stated that the area was unsuitable for large gatherings as it was in an area of family homes, with narrow streets, children and old people. Nevertheless, Robinson ignored them and went ahead anyway.

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/04/tommy-robinson-barbecue-banned.html

In the event only 300 local people turned up. And the cops, who informed Robinson he may have broken electoral law. This forbids politicians from offering money or other gifts to induce people to vote for them. It’s a law which was passed in the 19th century to stamp out the corruption of 18th century politics, including the rotten and pocket boroughs controlled by a single landlord. Politicalite also issued a tweet stating that the event was hosted by the Australian News Network, aka Avi Yemini. Yemini is an unindicted Australian-Israeli war criminal. He boasts of having shot unarmed Arabs when he was a soldier in the IDF. He is also not a British national. It is also against electoral law for political parties and candidates to be sponsored by foreign individuals and organisations. As there was a complaint against UKIP for handing out free sausage rolls at one of their electoral rallies a few years ago, Robinson may well find himself up before the Electoral Commission trying to explain himself.

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/04/tommy-robinson-campaign-may-have-broken.html

See also this piece by Hope Not Hate, who have also started a campaign to stop him.

Stephen Lennon wants to go to Brussels

A vote for Robinson is a vote for Fascist thuggery, no exaggeration. He’s campaigned with the Football Lads’ Alliance, an organisation of football hooligans. And his method of dealing with his opponents on social media is to turn up mob-handed with his storm troopers at all hours of the day and night at the homes of his detractors and their families. He’s done it to the good blogger at Zelo Street, to historian and anti-racist YouTuber Mike Stuchbery, and to an unnamed blogger in Luton. In the latter case, Robinson drove all the way from his own home in Luton to the man’s parents’ home in Cumbria, arriving in the early hours of the morning.

This isn’t how proper, democratic politicians behave. It’s how the squadristi of Mussolini’s Fascists behaved in Italy, and Hitler’s Nazi thugs. It’s the tactics of the secret police of totalitarian states, like Stalin’s KGB, the Nazis’ Gestapo and Mussolini’s OVRA. Quite apart from Robinson’s own message of hatred against innocent, law-abiding Muslims, simply for being Muslims.

He is, along with Batten’s UKIP and Farage’s Brexit Party, a threat to democracy and the peace and safety of ordinary British citizens. In the event, only 300 local people actually turned up. Let’s hope the next time he invades an area looking for votes, local people also recognise him for what he is. And support British democracy by staying away or protesting against him.

Good Friday Greetings

April 19, 2019

Today is Good Friday, the day when Christians across the world remember Christ’s trial by Pontius Pilate, His crucifixion and death, and look forward to His glorious resurrection three days later on Easter Sunday. St. Paul calls Christ ‘the Firstborn of the dead’, as Christians since the earliest days of the church have seen His resurrection as the precursor of what will happen to everyone at the end of time. And this belief in a general resurrection came to Christianity from Judaism, where, I believe, it is called the Olam Ha-Ba, or the World To Come. And as another Abrahamic faith, this belief in the ultimate resurrection of all humanity by the Almighty is one of the fundamental tenets of Islam.

I also feel at this time we should remember prisoners of conscience across the world, regardless of the political or religious views we hold. Like the crackdown on various dissenting religious groups, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Putin’s Russia, and atheists and the other non-Wahhabi religions and philosophies in Saudi Arabia. It’s grotesque that people belonging to either of these groups should be called ‘terrorists’ simply for holding the views they do, without harming anyone.

On a more positive note, I just wish all the readers of this blog a great and happy Easter weekend, whether they are religious or otherwise.

Best wishes to you all.

Book on the Plight of the Embattled Christians of Palestine

April 13, 2019

Said K. Aburish, The Forgotten Faithful: The Christians of the Holy Land (London: Quartet 1993).

Aburish is a Palestinian, born in Bethany, and the author of several books about the Arabs and specifically the Palestinians and their persecution by the Israelis – A Brutal Friendship, Children of Bethany – The Story of a Palestinian Family and Cry Palestine: Inside the West Bank. In The Forgotten Faithful he tackles the problems of the Christians of Palestine, talking to journalists, church official, charity workers, educationalists, businessmen and finally of the leaders of the PLO, Hanan Ashrawi. Christians used to constitute ten per cent or so of the Palestinian population before the foundation of Israel. Now they’re down to one per cent. Much of this decline has been due to emigration, as educated, skilled Christians leave Israel to seek better opportunities elsewhere, and the indigenous Christian future in the Holy Land, the in which Christianity first arose, is uncertain.

Said states clearly the issues driving this decline early in his book – persecution by the Israelis, and particularly their attempt to wrest the lucrative tourism industry from them on the one hand, and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism on the other. He writes

Twenty-five years of Israeli occupation have been disastrous for Palestinian Christians. In addition to the widely known closures of schools, imprisonment and torture of children, deportation of dissenters and activists, the expropriation of land owned by individuals and church-owned property, the Christians’ primary source of income, tourism and its subsidiary service businesses, have been the targets of special Israeli attempts to control them. In other words, when it comes to the Israeli occupation, the Christians have suffered more than their Muslim countrymen because they have more of what the Israelis want.

Furthermore, the rising tide of Islamic fundamentalism is confronting the Christians with new problems against most of which they cannot protest without endangering the local social balance, indeed their Palestinian identity. Muslim fanatics have raise the Crescent on church towers, Christian cemeteries have been desecrated, the statues of the Virgin Mary destroyed and, for the first time ever, the Palestinian Christians are facing constraints on their way of life. In Gaza a Muslim fundamentalist stronghold, Christian women have to wear headscarves and long sleeves or face stoning, and Christian-owned shops have to close on the Muslim sabbath of Friday instead of on Sunday. 

These combined pressures come at a time of strain between the local Christian communities and both their local church leadership and the mainline churches of the West. The mainline churches in the West are accused of not doing enough to help them financially or drawing attention to their plight, for fear of appearing anti-Semitic and to a lesser degree anti-Muslim. The local church leaders are caught between their parishioners’ cry for help and the attitude of their mother churches and have been undermined by their identification with the latter. In addition to problems with the mainline churches, Christian evangelist groups from the United States, Holland and other countries support the State of Israel at the expense of local Christians. The evangelists accept the recreation of Israel as the prelude to the second coming to the extent of ignoring local Christian rights and feelings, a fact overlooked by Muslim zealots who blame the local Christians for not curbing their insensitive pro-Israeli co-religionists.

Two subsidiary problems contribute towards closing the ring of helplessness which is choking the local Christian communities of the Holy Land. The suffering inflicted on them by others and the direct and indirect results of the neglect of outside Christianity still haven’t induced their local church leaders to cooperate in establishing a common, protective Christian position. The traditional quarrel, alongside other disputes between the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches, continues and its stands in the way of creating a constructive Christian front. Furthermore, the Israelis make the appearance of favouring them against their Muslim nationals, a divide-and-rule policy which contributes towards inflaming the feelings of ignorant Muslims who do not understand the reasons behind the Israeli actions and use them to justify whatever anti-Christian feeling exists. (pp. 2-4).

The Palestinian Christian community has largely been middle class, assimilated and patriotic. They have provided the Palestinian people with a large number of businessmen and professionals, including a significant part of the membership and leadership of Palestinian nationalism and the PLO, as well as the civil rights lawyers working to defend the Palestinian people from persecution by the Israeli state and military. They have also been active establishing charities to provide for the Palestinians’ welfare. Said visits one, which specialises in rehabilitating and providing training for people physically injured and mentally traumatised by the Israeli armed forces. Visiting a Palestinian hospital, he also meets some of the victims of the IDF wounded and crippled by the IDF, including a young man shot by a member of the Special Forces simply for spraying anti-Israeli graffiti on a wall.

This isn’t an anti-Semitic book, as Aburish talks to sympathetic Israeli journalists and academics, but he describes very clearly the violence and bigotry that comes not just from the Israeli state and army, but also from Jewish religious fanatics. In the first chapter he describes a group of Israeli soldiers sneering at Christian Palestinians, and how he deliberated placed himself between a group of Jewish schoolboys and an elderly Ethiopian nun going through one district of Jerusalem. The boys had first started insulting her, and then began throwing stones at her and Aburish before the local, Jewish inhabitants rushed into the street to drive them away. The churches and monasteries in that part of town are close to an area of Jewish religious extremists. They’re not usually physically aggressive, but they make it very clear they don’t like Christians being there.

Nor is it anti-Muslim. The Christians community itself sees itself very firmly as part of the Palestinians. Many Christian men have adopted the name Muhammad in order to show that there is no difference between themselves as their Muslim fellow countrymen. And historically they have been fully accepted by the Muslim community. Aburish talks to the headman of a mixed Christian-Muslim village. The man is a Christian, and historically Christians have formed the headmen for the village. The Christians also point with pride to the fact that one of the generals of Saladin, the Muslim leader who conquered Palestine back from the Crusaders, was a Greek Orthodox Christian. Aburish is shocked by how extremely religious the Muslim community has become, with Friday services packed and one of his aunts traveling to the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem to pray. This, like the less obvious religious revival among the Christians, is ultimately due to Israeli pressure and the failure of secular Palestinian politicians. There is no truth in politics, so they seek it instead in Islam and the pages of Qu’ran. And behind this rise in Islamic intolerance are the Saudis. Aburish recommends better Muslim-Christian dialogue to tackle this growing intolerance.

Aburish hears from the Palestinians how their land is seized by the Israelis for the construction of new, Israeli settlements, how people are shot, beaten, injured and maimed, and the attempts to strangle Palestinians businesses. This includes legislation insisting that all tourist guides have to be Israeli – a blatant piece of racism intended to drive Christians out of the tourist business through denying them access to the many Christian shrines, churches and monuments that are at the heart of the industry. Christian charities and welfare services don’t discriminate between Christian and Muslim, but they are oversubscribed and underfunded. And the churches are more interested in defending their traditional institutional privileges than in helping their local flock. They look west, and are more interested in promoting and defending the churches’ response to the worlds’ problems as a whole, while the Palestinians are also being pulled east through their Arab identity. Senior Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox clergy are often foreigners, who cannot speak Arabic and may be to a greater or lesser extent indifferent to the needs and problems of their congregations. The Palestinian Christians are also hampered by the fact that they don’t want to acknowledge that they have specific problems as a minority within the wider Palestinian nation, partly for fear of further antagonising the Muslim majority.

Nevertheless, some Palestinian Christians choose to remain, stubbornly refusing to emigrate while they could get much better jobs elsewhere. And all over the world, expatriate Palestinian communities are proud of their origins and connection to the land. Aburish even talks to one optimistic Palestinian Christian businessman, who believes that Cyprus provides the model for a successful Palestine. There local people have built a thriving commercial economy without having the universities and educational institutions Palestine possesses. And some Palestinian Christians believe that the solutions to their crisis is for the community to reconnect with its oriental roots, reviving the traditional extensive Arab family structure, which has served Arabs so well in the past.

The book was published a quarter of a century ago, in 1993, and I’ve no doubt that things have changed since then. But not for the better. There have been recent magazine articles by National Geographic, among others, that report that the Palestinians are still suffering the same problem – caught between the hammer of the Israeli state and the anvil of Islamic fundamentalism. Christian Zionism, however, has become stronger and exerts a very powerful influence on American foreign policy through organisations like Ted Hagee’s Christians United for Israel. Netanyahu’s vile Likud is still in power, and Israeli politics has lurched even further to the right with the inclusion of Fascist parties like Otzma Yehudat – Jewish Power – in the wretched coalition. And some British churches maintain a very determined silence on the problems of the Palestinians. According to one anti-Zionist Jewish blog, the Methodist Church has passed regulations at its synod preventing it or its members officially criticising Israel. Because of the church’s leaders was friends with members of the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

I am very well aware of the long, shameful history of Christian anti-Semitism and how real, genuine Nazis have also criticised Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians and claimed that they’re just anti-Zionist, not anti-Semitic. I have absolutely no desire whatsoever to provoke further bigotry against the Jewish people. But Israel is oppressing the Christians of Palestine as well as the Muslims, but we in the West really don’t hear about it. And I’m not sure how many western Christians are really aware that there is a Christian community in Palestine, or how its members largely identify totally as Palestinians. Certainly Ted Cruz, the American politico, didn’t when he tried telling a Middle Eastern Christian group that they should support Israel. He was shocked and disgusted when they very firmly and obviously didn’t agree. He made the mistake of believing they had the same colonialist attitude of western right-wing Christians, while Middle Eastern Christians are very much the colonised and know it. Hence the fact that according to Aburish, many Palestinian Christians look for theological support to South American Liberation Theology and its Marxist critique of colonialism. And they also supported Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq, as a secular Arab state that would allow them to maintain their religious identity and culture.

The book’s dated, and since it was written the Christian presence in the Holy Land has dwindled further. Aburish describes in strong terms what a catastrophe a Palestine without indigenous Christians would be. He writes

The growing prospect of a Holy Land Christianity reduced to stones, a museum or tourist faith without people, a Jerusalem without believers in Christ, is more serious than that of a Rome without a Pope or a Canterbury without an archbishop. It is tantamount to a criminal act which transcends a single church and strikes a blow at the foundations and the very idea of Christianity.

I thoroughly recommend this book to every western Christian reader interested in seeing an alternative view of the religious situation in Palestine, one of that contradicts the lies and demands of the right-wing press. Like an article by the Torygraph’s Barbara Amiel back in the 1990s, which quoted a Christian mayor as stating that the Christian community welcomed the Israeli occupation. His might, but as the book shows, most don’t. Or that scumbucket Katie Hopkins telling us that we should support Israel, because it represents Judaeo-Christian values and civilisation, a claim that would outrage many Jews.