Posts Tagged ‘Christopher Hill’

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.

Radical Balladry and Tunes for Toilers: The Diggers’ Christmas Carol

May 26, 2014

Ballad Seller pic

Not only has Jess provided the words to tune of the Diggers’ Song, which I posted this morning and which I’ve put up in my last post, but she also sent the lyrics for another Digger Song, The Diggers’ Christmas Carol. This expresses the Diggers’ hatred for the forces they felt were oppressing society and preventing humanity from enjoying true fraternal love, in which the Earth and its fruits and bounty would be held in common. These were priests, and the tithes which supported them, lawyers, the manorial lords and the monarchy itself. Lawyers were resented because it was felt that they were venal and exploitative, prolonging and exacerbating disputes in order to fleece their clients. Lastly, the people were oppressed by the feudal lords and the monarchy, who owed their position in society only to their descent from the Normans, who conquered England in 1066. This followed the standard 17th century liberal view that feudalism was a result of the Norman Conquest. It’s not actually true. Anglo-Saxon England was also a feudal state, though rather less developed. Nevertheless, this view of the origins of the feudal aristocracy continued as part of the Liberal view of history into the 19th century. The Diggers rejected the aristocracy and feudal rule, not just because of the injustice of elite, oligarchical rule, but also because the aristocracy’s tile to the land was based on warfare and violence, something the Diggers themselves profoundly detested.

Here are the lyrics, as Jess has given them. She also mentions the work of Christopher Hill and Andrew Hopton and his Aporia Press, who have published editions of Gerrard Winstanley and other Digger writings.

This, though, is not usually included in ‘Digger Collections

“The Diggers Christmass-Caroll.

This for a Christmasse-Caroll was invented,
Which here unto your view is now presented;
‘Twas writ at that time which you Christmasse call
And had come forth then; but this is all
The reason why it came not forth before,
Because we thought for to have added more.
Accept of this therefore with all thy heart,
Thou maist hereafter see a Second part.

To the Tune of the Spanish Gypsie.

1.
You people which be wise,
Will Freedom highly prise;
For experience you have
What ’tis to be a slave:
This have you been all your life long,
But chiefly since the Wars begun.
2.
When great Men disagree
About Supremacy,
Then doe they warn poor men
To aid and assist them
In setting up their self-will power,
And thus they doe the poor devour.
3.
Yet they cunningly pretend
They have no other end
But to set the poor Free
From all their slavery:
And thus they do the poor deceive,
In making them such things believe.
4.
Their blinde Guides will not spare,
These things for to declare;
Ye they aloud will cry,
Stand for your liberty;
The Gospel that lyes at the stake;
Rise therefore ’tis time to awake.
5.
The Priests very sensible be,
If the poor their Liberty see;
Their Tythe-plundring trade will fall,
And then farewell Tythes all.
Then would they not be finely fed,
But they must work for their own bread.
6.
The King an Army did gain,
His power for to maintain;
That Army did pretend
For to be England’s friend,
In saving of their Libertie
Which lay at stake and like to die.
7.
Another Army then
Was raised by mighty Men,
That Army to oppose,
Looking on them as Foes:
Likewise these powers did agree
To make the English Nation free.
8.
A Covenant they did take,
And promises they did make
All burthens to remove,
And to unite in love;
Yet we cannot see that good hour,
The taking down of Kingly power.
9.
The Nation willingly
Did maintain this Army,
Their Freedom for to gain;
But as yet all in vain:
For still a Kingly power doth stand
In many persons of this Land.
10.
A Kingly power I say
Doth in most men bare sway,
But chiefly in Lords of Mannors,
And in the Priests and Lawyers:
This Kingly power is their Self-will,
Which in this manner they do fulfill.
11.
The Priests they tyrannize,
By taking of the Tythes;
The poor they much oppresse
By their pride and idlenesse:
No Scripture warrant they can show,
Why any of these things they do.
12.
Therefore I pray consider,
And lay your heads together;
For you will never thrive,
Whilst Priests do gain the Tythe.
But let them work as well as you,
For Reason bids them so to do.
13.
They neither plow nor sow,
Nor do they reap or mow,
Nor any seed do finde,
But Priests the people grinde:
The tenth of all things they do crave;
And thus each man is made a slave.
14.
The Lawyers they are next,
By whom the poor are vext;
Their practice is most base,
For they will plead mens Case,
According to the length o’th’ Purse,
And so the Lawyers prove a Curse.
15.
Another trick they have,
The Nation to inslave;
Mens quarrels they’ll maintain,
Their Moneys for to gain:
Therefore if Lawyers you uphold,
They’l cheat you of your silver & gold.
16.
Therefore my brethren dear,
The Lawyers quite Cashiere;
Go not to them for Law,
For they your sides will claw;
They’l tell you that your case is good,
When they doe mean to suck your blood.
17.
Therefore be rul’d by me,
And do not Lawyers Fee,
But end your suits at home,
Lest you be overthrown;
For if Lawyers gain your estate,
You may repent when ’tis too late.
18.
Besides the Priests and Lawyers,
There be the Lords of Mannors,
Who lay claim to waste Land,
Which by blood-shed was gain’d;
For Duke William the Norman King,
By much bloodshed this land did win.
19.
When he this Land had gain’d,
He presently Ordain’d,
That his chief Souldiers should
This Land by parcels hold,
Owning him to be the Supream,
In paying tribute unto him.
20.
From hence came Lords of Mannors,
VVith Fines, quit-Rents and Heriots,
And all such cursed things,
Which are payed to these Kings:
And thus the people be broughtdown
By Lords of Mannors who wear the Crown.
21.
The Lords of Mannors, I say,
Do bear a mighty sway;
The Common Lands they hold,
Herein they are too bold:
They will not suffer men to till
The comon Lands, by their good wil.
22.
But Lords of Mannors must know,
Their title to Commons is low;
For why their title came in
By WILLIAM the Norman King.
But now the Norman successor is dead,
Their Royalty to th’ Commons is fled.
23.
Therefore let me advise
All those which Freedom prise,
To Till each Heath and Plain,
For this will Freedom gain:
Heriots and Fines this will expell,
A bondage great men know full well.
24.
For we do plainly see,
The Sword will not set’s free,
But bondage is increased,
Because our wealth is wasted
By paying Taxes and Free-quarter,
Expecting Freedom would com after.
25.
But Freedom is not wonn,
Neither by Sword nor Gunn:
Though we have eight years stay’d,
And have our Moneys pay’d:
Then Clubs and Diamonds cast away,
For Harts & Spades must win the day. ”

Robert Coster; “The Diggers mirth or, certain verses composed and fitted to tunes, for the delight and recreation of all those who dig, or own that work, in the Commonwealth of England. Wherein is shewed how the kingly power doth still reign in severall sorts of men. With a hint of that freedom which shall come, when the father shall reign alone in his Son. Set forth by those who were the original of that so righteous a work, and continue still successful therein at Cobham in Surrey. ”

Christopher Hill edited a selection of Winstanley’s work “The |Law of Freedom”, 1973. But mention should also be made of Andrew Hopton’s “Selected Writings of Gerard Winstanley, 1989.

Hopton’s publishing venture, Aporia Press, reprinted many scarce and otherwise unobtainable tracts from the Thomason Collection.
http://www.bl.uk/reshelp/findhelprestype/prbooks/thomason/thomasoncivilwar.html

One of the bizarre works of 17th century mysticism from the British Civil War, A Fiery Flying Roll, published by Aporia, was for a long time one of the items listed in the Counterproductions’ catalogue. Counterproductions were a radical London bookshop, specialising in Anarchist and radical artistic literature – Decadent, Dada and Surrealist, as well as contemporary fringe literature and general high weirdness. Another of Aporia’s items which was also included in their catalogue was a radical appeal to stop people enlisting in the army for Cromwell’s invasion of Ireland. That’s important, and it’s a pity more people didn’t take heed of it, as then the atrocities Cromwell committed against the Irish people would never have occurred, and relations between Britain and the Emerald Isle would have been just that bit better.

An Agreement of the People: The Levellers and the Beginnings of English Democracy

July 7, 2013

One of the most significant but least known political documents from the English Civil War is the manifesto ‘An Agreement of the People’, issued in 1647. It’s full title is ‘An Agreement of the People for a Firm and Present Peace, upon Grounds of Common-Right and Freedom; as It was Proposed by the Agents of the Five Regiments of Horse; and Since by the General Approbation of the Army, Offered to the Joint Concurrence of All Free Commons of England’. The Levellers have been described by the historian David Wootton as the first secular political party defending the inalienable rights of man. The Levellers were primarily concerned to advance and protect freedom of worship. They were active in Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army and were the first political organisation in English history to have a rudimentary party organisation. They initially demanded that all adult men should have the vote. In the Putney Debates with Cromwell, in which the victorious Parliamentarian Army debated what form of government the new English state should have, they retreated from this to advocate that all male heads of households should have the vote. They also advocated complete freedom of conscience, demanded biannual parliaments and an end to conscription. Their manifesto, An Agreement of the People, is the first time a written constitution, rather than tradition, was recommended as the basis for British government. The Agreement of the People appears to be mostly the work of the great radical theorist, John Lilburne. Like Locke and Hobbes later in the century, their arguments were based on Social Contract theory. While their high opinion of reason looks forward to the radical scepticism of the Enlightenment, nevertheless it was based on the right reason of Christian tradition, synonymous with Christ’s law. They did not attack the churches or organised religion, and believed that salvation was still only through Christ. Despite its specific basis in Christianity, the Levellers and the Agreement of the People remain some of the most basic foundations of modern parliamentary British documentary.

The manifesto states

‘Having by our late labours and hazards made it appear to the world at how high a rate we value our just freedom, and God having so far owned our cause as to deliver the enemies thereof into our hands, we do now hold ourselves bound in mutual duty to each other to take the best care we can for the future, to avoid both he danger of return into a slavish condition, and the chargeable remedy of another war. For as it cannot be imagined that so many of our countrymen would have opposed us in this quarrel if they had understood their good; so may we safely promise to ourselves that when our common rights and liberties shall be cleared, their endeavours will be disappointed that seek to make themselves our masters. Since, therefore, our former oppressions and scarce yet ended troubles have been occasioned, either by want of frequent national meetings in council, or by rendering those meetings ineffectual, we are fully agreed and resolved to provide that hereafter our representatives be neither left to an uncertainty for the time, nor made useless to the ends for which they are intended, in order whereunto we declare,’

Equal Electoral Districts

‘That the people of England, being at this day very unequally distributed by counties, cities, and boroughs for the election of their deputies in parliament, ought to be more indifferently proportioned, according to the number of inhabitants: the circumstances whereof, for number, place, and manner, are to be set down before the end of this present Parliament.’

Parliament to be Held Once Every Two Years

‘That to prevent the many inconveniences apparently arising from the long continuance of the same persons in authority, this present Parliament be dissolved upon the last day of September, which shall be in the year of our Lord, 1648.’

‘That the people do, of course, choose themselves a parliament once in two years, viz., upon the first Thursday in every second March, after the manner as shall be prescribed before the end of this Parliament, to begin to sit upon the first Thursday in April following at Westminster, or such other place as shall be appointed from time to time by the preceding representatives; and to continiue till the last day of September, then next ensuing, and no longer.’

The Power of the State and Its Officers Is Based on the People

That the power of this and all future representatives of this nation is inferior only to theirs who choose them, and does extend, without the consent or concurrence of any other person or persons, abolishing of offices and courts; to the appointing, removing, and calling to account magistrates, and officers of all degrees; to the making war and peace; to the treating with foreign states; and, generally, to whatsoever is not expressly or implicitly reserved by the represented to themselves.

Which are as follows

Freedom of Conscience

‘1. That matters of religion, and the ways of God’s worship, are not at all entrusted by us to any human power, because therein we cannot remit or exceed a title of what our consciences dictate to be the mind of God, without wilful sin: nevertheless, the public way of instructing the nation (so it be not compulsive) is referred to their discretion.’

No Conscription

‘2. That the matter of impressing and constraining any of us to serve in the wars is against our freedom; and therefore we do not allow it in our representatives; the rather, because money (the sinews of war) being always at their disposal, they can never want numbers of men apt enough to engage in any just cause.’

Amnesty after the Cessation of the War

‘3. That after the dissolution of this present Parliament no person be at any time questioned for anything said or done in reference to the late public differences, otherwise than in execution of the judgements of the present representatives, or House of Commons.’

All Citizens to be Equal Under the Law, Regardless of Social Station

‘4. That in all laws made, or to be made, every person may be bound alike, and that no tenure, estate, charter, degree, birth, or place do confer any exception from the ordinary course of legal proceedings whereunto others are subjected.’

Law and Government to have the People’s Welfare as their Objective

‘5. That as the laws ought to be equal, so they must be good, and not evidently destructive to the safety and well-being of the people.

These things we declare to be our native rights, and therefore are agreed and resolved to maintain them with our utmost possibilities, against all opposition whatsoever, being compelled thereunto, not only by the examples of our ancestors, whose blood was often spent in vain for the recovery of their freedoms, suffering themselves, through fraudulent accommodations, to be still deluded of the fruit of their victories, but also by our own woeful experience, who, having long expected, and dearly earned, the establishment of these certain rules of government, are yet made to depend for the settlement of our peace and freedom upon him that intended our bondage, and brought a cruel war upon us.’

The Levellers have also had an influence on Punk rock. The 1980s Punk band, New Model Army, were strongly influenced by the Levellers and their demands for a ‘Godly Reformation’. The merchandise stand at their concerts contained not just the usual rock T-shirts, but also copies of the Bible and the works of the Marxist historian, Christopher Hill, on the English Revolution/ British Civil War/ War of the Three Kingdoms. And of course they gave their name to that other rock band, The Levellers, who were originally New Model Army’s support act.