Posts Tagged ‘Evangelicals’

Quakers and Airbnb Boycott Israeli Occupation of Palestine

November 22, 2018

I found this video from RT which was posted yesterday, Wednesday 21st November 2018 on YouTube. It reports that the Quakers have banned investing in companies which profit through Israel’s occupation of Palestine. The Quakers stated that

Our long history of working for a just peace in Palestine and Israel has opened our eyes to the many injustices and violations of international law arising from the military occupation of Palestine by the Israeli government.

With the occupation now in its 51st year, and with no end in sight, we believe we have a moral duty to state publicly that we will not invest in any company profiting from the occupation.

This is, apparently, the first time a British church had made such a move, and the Quakers have been criticized by Jewish groups, which claim that it is a reference to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction movement. the Board of Deputies of British Jews called the Quakers decision ‘appalling’ and said that it must be reversed. Quaker leaders, however, state that the decision recalls protests against apartheid South Africa and the slave trade.

The video then moves into a discussion about the decision with Les Levido from Jews For Boycotting Israeli Goods and Rafi Bloom, co-chair of Northwest Friends of Israel.

The Quakers are, of course, absolutely right. Israel is an apartheid state, and the West Bank is under military occupation. The Quakers are rightly famous for their pacifism. One of our aunts was a member of CND in the 1980s, and I got the impression that among the religious groups supporting the movement were the Quakers and Roman Catholic Franciscan friars. As for the Slave Trade, they were one of the main groups behind the Abolitionist movement when it first appeared in the 17th and 18th centuries. One of the great Quaker campaigners against it in the British Caribbean was Woolmer, a hunchbacked dwarf, who used to carry around with him a hollowed-out Bible filled with blood. When he saw a planter approaching, he used to stab the knife into the Bible, sending the blood spattering as a visual protest of the blood spilt through the infamous trade. Philadelphia, the city founded by another Quaker, William Penn, was also the home of many of the American Quaker campaigners against the slave trade. Later on they were joined by the Methodists and the evangelical wing of the Anglican church in Britain. I’ve also got a feeling that many Quakers may also have been involved in the legalization of homosexuality in Britain. Gerard Hoffnung, the musician and cartoonist, was a Quaker and a supporter of this movement to end the persecution of gays.

It’s to be expected that Jewish groups like the Board of Deputies of British Jews were going to be outraged at the church’s decision, but I note that the reporter does not say that they denounced them as anti-Semites. As the Quaker’s have always promoted peace and tolerance, such an accusation simply wouldn’t be credible.

I haven’t watched the debate, however, because I’ve no respect for the North West Friends of Israel. From reading Bookburnersrus, Martin Odoni’s and Tony Greenstein’s blogs, it’s very clear that they’re another bunch of thuggish bully-boys. Martin describes a meeting at a Quaker meeting house in Manchester, when the Jewish American reporter and activist Max Blumenthal was speaking about his latest book on Israel and its crimes. The Zionist activists there first tried to stop him entering, and then loudly heckled, sneered and guffawed throughout his talk until they were finally turfed out by the rozzers. And of course, they made the ridiculous claim that they were being silenced because they were Jews, when in fact they were thrown out because they were just there to disrupt and prevent other Jews talking and hearing about what was really going on.

Tony Greenstein described some of their members in one of his blogs. At least two were failed businessmen, one of whom was a lawyer, who’d been struck off. Quite apart from the usual contingent of Islamophobes and supporters of the EDL. They’re in no position to lecture the Quakers or the Jewish Israel-critical peeps, who have to suffer their anti-Semitic abuse, about morality.

The day before that report, the 21st, RT posted another piece discussing Airbnb’s decision not to list homes in the occupied West Bank, which also enraged the Israeli state. The company’s press room stated

We concluded that we should remove listings in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank that are at the core of the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians.

About 200 homes were to be removed from the list. The Palestinian authority welcomed the move, as they had previously requested the company to remove such listings. The Israelis, however, condemned it, and used the time-worn tactic of screaming racism.

Yariv Levin, the Israeli tourism minister, declared

This decision is completely unacceptable. This is pure discrimination, something that is taken only against Jews that are living in Judaea and Samaria. This is actually a racist decision – and more than that, I do believe that it is a double standard that is taken only against Israel, against Jews that are living here in Israel.

The anchorwoman then goes on to talk to Mustafa Barghouti, the General Secretary of the Palestinian National Initiative, about the issue, as well as a former commander in the Israeli air force. Barghouti states that the UN resolutions say that the settlements in the West Bank are completely illegal, they are discriminatory, as they are built on land stolen from the Palestinians, and any relationship with these illegal settlements are a violation of international law. He says that Airbnb has taken the right decision, as they stood to lose a lot due to the boycott against them. And what is really racist and discriminatory is the apartheid system the Israelis have created, which favours Israelis over Palestinians.

The Israeli spokesman, Reuven Berko, cited simply as ‘Middle East expert’, rants about Airbnb being ‘cowards to Islamic terrorists, I don’t know what’, accuses them of anti-Semitism and ignoring the right of the Jews to their homeland in Judea and Samaria and asks how many Christians are angry about this. He states that this is an awful step against history, against fate.

It’s the usual specious rubbish. The Biblical state of Israel certainly existed, and was the homeland of the Jewish people in antiquity. But it has not existed for centuries. For many Jews, their real homeland was the country in which they and their forebears had lived in the Diaspora. And the Bund, the Jewish Socialist movement, made that very clear in their slogan ‘Wherever we live, that’s our homeland’. And many Orthodox Jews feel that Israel cannot be restored except by the hand of the Almighty and the Messiah. Until that happens, modern Israel is to them nothing but a blasphemy.

As for appealing to Christian anger about this, the lead Christian Zionist movements, like Ted Hagee’s Christians United for Israel, are millennialists, who believe that the restoration of Israel will usher in the End Times and Christ’s Second Coming, along with the destruction of those Jews, who won’t convert to Christianity. In fact, the indigenous Christians of Palestine have almost been completely cleansed from Israel. The Christian population before 1948 was 25 per cent. Now it’s only one per cent. American Zionist Christians put this down wholly to persecution from Muslims. Now Muslim Palestinians have persecuted their Christian fellow countrymen, whom they see as collaborators. But Palestinian Christians have also and are being persecuted by the Israeli state and the settlers. The Israelis have closed churches as well as mosques, and both churches and mosques have been attacked and desecrated by mobs of Israeli settlers.

In my somewhat limited experience, Muslim Brits are better informed about this than British Christians. I studied Islam when I was at College as part of my Religious Studies minor degree. I can remember reading the equivalent of the parish magazine from one of the British mosques. It contained an article attacking the closure of one of the mosques in Palestine and its conversion into a disco. The article also noted that a nearby Christian church had also been closed by the Israelis.

A few years ago Channel 4 also screened a programme about the relationship between Christianity and other faiths, in which the presenter travelled to Israel. There he encountered an Israeli ‘shock jock’ radio host, who ranted about Christians. The programme also covered a march of militant Israelis on a church used by Messianic Jews. These are Jews, who have accepted Christ as the messiah, but still observe the Mosaic Law. This is my opinion, but I think they’re very similar to the Christian community of which the Gospel writer St. Matthew was a part, as this is traditionally regarded as the Jewish Gospel, and St. Matthew is concerned to assimilate Christ’s teaching to that of the Jewish sages. The settlers were stopped at the church entrance by the Muslim doorman. And apparently, it was actually quite common to have Muslims at the door of Christian churches protecting the worshippers from religious violence from outside.

And if we are going to talk about racism and discrimination, a friend of mine, who studied Judaism at College also told me that in the 1960s the Israelis threw out tens of thousands of indigenous Jewish Palestinians, because they were culturally Arab. There have been articles in Counterpunch by the magazine’s Jewish contributors, which have pointed out that Israel is a European/American Jewish colony, whose founders had a despicable racist contempt for the Mizrahim, Jewish Arabs, or Arabicized Jews.

The Quakers and Airbnb are right to boycott Israel’s occupation of Palestine. And the real racism and apartheid is by Israel against the indigenous Arabs, who have been Jewish, Christian and Muslim, and have suffered discrimination, persecution and ethnic cleansing by the Israeli state.

Advertisements

May’s Speech to Rich Tory Donors: This Is What the Lollards Warned You About

February 11, 2018

Sunday is the Christian holy day, so I thought I’d include here a particularly relevant piece of radical Christian polemic against the rich and powerful and their neglect and oppression of the poor from the 15th century.

A few days ago Mike put up a piece reporting Theresa May’s speech at a fundraising banquet for rich Tory donors. To get in, you had to pay £15,000 for a ticket. The long reign of Thatcherite neoliberalism in this country has led to a massive transfer of wealth from the poorer sections of society – the working and lower middle classes – upwards to the extremely rich. Thatcher, and her fanboys and -girls – have cut and privatised benefits and services to the poor, with the specific intention of making the bloated rich even richer, though tax cuts, massive subsidies, and exploiting the very state industries, that they have privatised and sold to them.

The Lollards were a proto-Protestant sect of the late fourteenth and early fifteenth century, who followed the teachings of the Yorkshire priest and reformer, John Wycliffe. Wycliffe was disgusted by the corruption of the church and society in his day. He advocated the Bible in English, holy scripture as the only source for religious authority, clerical marriage and proper concern for the poor. And he and his followers were bitterly critical of the friars, as they were generally perceived to have neglected their vocation of teaching and preaching Christianity to focus on serving the rich for their own material gain.

The text here is ‘The Perversion of the Works of Mercy’, which inveighs against the way Christ’s commandment to feed, give drink, and clothe poor people, and visit those in prison, as well as other holy works, have been so corrupted so that those, who feign moral rectitude and Christian charity now spend their time doing this for the rich and powerful instead. Here’s an extract. You should be able to understand the late medieval spelling and vocabulary.

Hou Sathanas [Satan] and his children turnen werkis of mercy upsodoun and discyven men therinne and in here five wyttis.

First Crist comaundith men of power to fede hungry pore men. The fiend and his techen to make costy festis and waste many goodis on lordis and riche men and so suffer pore men sterve and perishe for hunger and other myschevys. Ye, men that feynen hem [them] ful of charite and religion gadren proper goodis to hemselven and festen dlicatly lordis and laides and riche men and suffer here pore brethren begge for meschef and fare ful harde.

Crist comaundith to yeve drynk to thrusty [thirsty] [men] and wymmen. The fiend and his techen to puveye high wyn and spised ale and strong for riche men and lordis to make hem drunken and chide and fighte and foryete God and his lawe, and to suffer pore, that han nought of hore owene and may not labore for febilnesse or sikenesse and blyndenesse drynke water and falle in feveris or ellis perische.

Crist comaundith to clothe nakyd men and wymmen whanne thei han noght of here owene. Thereto the fend and his techen to yeve costly clothis and manye to riche men and mynstralis and shavaldours {Northern slang for robbers] for worldly name and suffer pore men have nakid sidis and schakynge lippis and hondis for cold that woo is hemwith the lif. Ye, prelatis and men singular religion, that taken the charge to ben procuratouris and dispenderis of pore mennus liflode, clothen fatte horsis with gaie sadlies and bridles and mytris and croceris with gold and silver and precious stonys, and suffren pore men and children perische for cold. And yit these prelatis and newe religious comen in staat of Cristis povert and his apostlis, and techen and crien that whatever thei han is pore mennus goode. Yit riche men closen dede stockis and stonys with precious clothis, with gold and silver and perlis and gaynesse to the world, and suffren pore men goo sore acold and at moche meschefe.

Crist trechith to herberwe [harbour, accommodate] pore men that han non houses ne penby to peye for here innys [inns, lodging]. The fend and his techen to herberwe riche men and lordis with grete cost and deyitte for worldly worschipe and suffer pore men wander in stormys and slepe with the swyn and many tymes suffer not hem come withinne here yatis, and so to fynde many excusacions and coloure this doynge, Ye, ypocritis of privat religion maken grete houses and costy and gaily peyntid more than kyngis and lordis bi sotil beggynge and confessions and trentalise and mayntenynge of synne, and herberwe lordis and riche men, and namely ladies, and suffer more men lie withouten or geten houslewth at pore men or ellis perische for wedris and cold.

Crist techeth to visite sike men and counforte hem and helpe hem of sustenaunce. The fend and his techen to visiten riche me, lordis and ladies in here prosperite and lykynge to be holden kynde [high born] and curteis, and to comforte eche other in synne and to have lustis of glottonye, lecherie and other schrewidnessis; but of pore men that ben beddrede and couchen in muk or dust is litel thought on or noght. Yit ypocritis of feyned religion vistien not fadirles children and modirles [motherless] and widewise in here tribulacion, and kepe not hemself unbleckid fro this world as Seynt James techith; but visite off riche men and wymmen and namely riche widewis [widows] for to gete world muk by false deceitis and carien it home to Caymes’ {Cain’s] castelis and Anticristis covent [convents] and Sathanas children and marteris [martyrs] of glotonye.

Crist techith to visit men in prison and helpe to delyvere hem in good manere and counforte hem bi almes-yevinge. The fend and his prresonen pore men for dette whanne thi ben not at power to paie and traveil night and day and liven ful harde and toylen with trewthe and susteynen wif and children…

From Middle English Religious Prose, edited by N.F. Blake (London: Edward Arnold 1972) pp. 239-41.

Clearly, this is a piece of sectarian polemic, and isn’t entirely fair. Historians have pointed out that the church was suffering serious poverty and neglect the time, which affected many of the lower clergy and monastic institutions, so that they simply weren’t in any position to perform their Christian duties of aiding the poor themselves.

And my point here is not to attack the Roman Catholic church, as I know many ordinary Catholics and Roman Catholic clergy are deeply involved in caring for the poor. But simply to make the point that the issues the Lollards inveighed against are still present and embodied in the Tory party and people like Tweezer. In the Middle Ages, it was the church that had the function of providing whatever welfare services there were to the poor, as well as the personal charity of great lords. But since Thatcher, public institutions and the welfare state – the modern, secular equivalents of these religious institutions, have been run down for the profit of the rich.

And there’s also a distinct religious parallel here too, though it’s with the evangelical Christian Right and their prosperity gospel. Tweezer is a vicar’s daughter, who claims that when she was a child she was a ‘goody two-shoes’. Lobster has pointed out just how many right-wing Christians gathered around IDS and now Damian Greene in the DWP. The evangelical Right in America believe that God doesn’t want you to be poor, for whom they have nothing but contempt. One particularly self-righteous Republican politico – it might have been Ted Cruz – even declared that the poor should be taxed more. ‘Because it’s what Christ would have wanted’. No, and this moron should read the Gospels before opening his mouth.

And I’m still furious at the way a large number of right-wing pastors made it clear that they didn’t care if one Republican candidate was guilty of molesting underage girls. He stood for their values, which were for the rich, and against the poor. And, of course, gays. Which shows how selective their concern over changes and violation of traditional sexual morality is.

These hypocrites have done as much harm to Christianity as Dawkins and the militant atheists. Many of the atheist polemicists are socially conscious people, whose rejection of religion is partly based on the way the religious don’t live up to their ideals. And as history has shown, and these pratts continue to show, all too often the atheists have been right in this criticism.

And in there moral condemnation of the fawning over the rich at the expense of the poor, the Lollards were right. And this text from six hundred years ago shows up the Tory party and its hypocritical supporters in the Christian religious right as it is today.

Book Review: The Great City Academy Fraud – Part 1

July 13, 2016

Academy Fraud Pic

By Francis Beckett (London: Continuum 2007)

This is another book I managed to pick up from a cheap bookshop, in this case the £3 bookshop in Bristol’s Park Street. Although published nine years ago in 2007, it’s still very acutely relevant, with the plan of the current education minister, Thicky Nicky Morgan, to try to turn most schools into privately run academies. According to the back flap, Beckett was the education correspondent of the New Statesman from 1997 to 2005, and also wrote on education for the Guardian. The book’s strongly informed by the findings of the NUT and other teaching unions, whose booklets against academies are cited in the text. And its a grim read. It’s an important subject, so important in fact, that I’ve written a long review of this book, divided into four section.

Academies: Another Secondhand Tory Policy

Much of New Labour’s threadbare ideology was just revamped, discarded Tory ideas. This was clearly shown before Blair took power in the early 1990s, when John Major’s government dumped a report compiled by the consultants Arthur Anderson. This was immediately picked up, dusted off, and became official New Labour policy. Similarly, PFI was invented by the Tories man with a little list, Peter Lilley, who was upset ’cause private industry couldn’t get its claws into the NHS. This again was taken over by New Labour, and became the cornerstone of Blair’s and Brown’s ideas of funding the public sector. Academies, initially called ‘city academies’, were the same.

Basically, they’re just a revival of the City Technology Colleges set up in the mid 1980s by Thatcher’s education secretary, Kenneth Baker. Baker decided that the best way to solve the problem of failing schools was to take them out of the control of the local education authority, and hand them over to a private sponsor. These would contribute £2 million of their own money to financing the new school, and the state would do the rest. Despite lauding the scheme as innovative and successful, Baker found it impossible to recruit the high profile sponsors in big business he wanted. BP, which is very active supporting community projects, flatly told him they weren’t interested, as the project was ‘too divisive’. Another organisation, which campaigns to raise private money for public projects, also turned it down, stating that the money would best be spent coming from the government. It was an area for state funding, not private. The result was that Baker was only able to get interest for second-order ‘entrepreneurs’, who were very unwilling to put their money into it. From being a minimum, that £2 million funding recommendation became a maximum. And so the scheme was wound up three years later in 1990.

After initially denouncing such schemes, New Labour showed its complete hypocrisy by trying out a second version of them, the Education Action Zones. Which also collapsed due to lack of interest. Then, in 2000, David Blunkett announced his intention to launch the academy system, then dubbed ‘city academies’, in 2000 in a speech to the Social Market Foundation. Again, private entrepreneurs were expected to contribute £2 million of their money, for which they would gain absolute control of how the new school was to be run. The taxpayer would provide the rest. Again, there were problems finding appropriate sponsors. Big business again wouldn’t touch it, so the government turned instead to the lesser businessmen, like Peter Vardy, a car salesman and evangelical Christian. Other interested parties included the Christian churches, like the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church, and evangelical educational bodies like the United Learning Trust. There were also a number of universities involved, such as the University of the West of England here in Bristol, and some sports organisations, like Bristol City Football club. Some private, fee-paying schools have also turned themselves into academies as away of competing with other private schools in their area.

Taxpayers Foot the Bill

While the sponsors are supposed to stump up £2 million, or in certain circumstances, more like £1.5 million, in practice this isn’t always the case. The legislation states that they can also pay ‘in kind’. Several have provided some money, and then provided the rest of their contribution with services such as consultation, estimated according to a very generous scale. For Beckett, this consists of the sponsors sending an aging executive to give his advice on the running of the new school. This particular individual may actually be past it, but the company can’t sack him. So they fob the new school off with him instead. Sometimes, no money changes hands. The Royal Haberdashers’ Society, one of the London livery companies, decided it was going to sponsor an academy. But it already owned a school on the existing site, and so did nothing more than give the site, generously estimate at several millions, to the new academy. Other companies get their money back in different ways, through tax rebates, deductions and the like.

But if the private sponsors are very wary about spending their money, they have absolutely no reservations about spending the taxpayer’s hard-earned moolah. An ordinary school costs something like £20 million to build. Academies cost more, often much more: £25 million, sometimes soaring to £37 million or beyond. Several of the businessmen sponsoring these academies have built massive monuments to their own vanity, using the services of Sir Norman Foster. Foster was, like Richard Rogers, one of the celebrity architects in favour with New Labour, whose ‘monstrous carbuncles’ (@ Charles Windsor) were considered the acme of cool. One of these was called ‘The Learning Curve’, and consisted of a long, curving corridor stretching across a quarter of mile, off which were the individual class rooms. Foster also built the Bexley Business Academy, a school, whose sponsor wanted to turn the pupils into little entrepreneurs. So every Friday was devoted exclusively to business studies, and the centrepiece of the entire joint was a mock stock exchange floor. The school also had an ‘innovative’ attitude to class room design: they only had three walls, in order to improve supervise and prevent bullying. In fact, the reverse happened, and the school had to spend more money putting them up.

Unsuitable Buildings

And some of the buildings designed by the academies’ pet architects are most unsuitable for the children they are supposed to serve. One academy decided it was going to get the local school for special needs children on its site. These were kids with various types of handicap. Their school was not certainly not failing, and parents and teachers most definitely did not want their school closed. But closed it was, and shifted to the academy. The old school for handicapped youngsters was all on the same level, which meant that access was easy, or easier, for those kids with mobility problems. The new school was on two floors. There was a lift, but it could only be used by pupils with a teacher. The parents told the sponsor and the new academy that they had destroyed their children’s independence. They were greeted with complete incomprehension.

HM School ‘Belmarshe’

In other academies, conditions for the sprogs are more like those in a prison. One of the schools, which preceded an academy on its site, had a problem with bullying. The new academy decided to combat that problem, by not having a playground. They also staggered lunch into two ‘brunch breaks’, which were taken at different times by different classes. These are taken in a windowless cafeteria. The result is a joyless learning environment, and the school has acquired the nickname ‘Belmarshe’, after the famous nick.

Book Review: The Great City Academy Fraud – Part 3

July 13, 2016

Academy Fraud Pic

Francis Beckett (London: Continuum 2007)

Academies and the Curriculum

There are also major concerns about what academies actually teach. Beckett writes from a secular viewpoint, and is very sceptical about the involvement of the churches and evangelical groups in running schools. He states that there may be a democratic argument to be put forward in favour of handing schools over to religious organisations, but this has not been made. Instead, he cites quotes from Peter Vardy and the Roman Catholic spokesman for education in Scotland, McGrath, who regret that the churches have relinquished schools to the state. He shows how the churches, including the Church of England, are trying to get into education with the aim of indoctrinating a new generation of believers. Beckett isn’t entirely opposed to religious involvement in schooling. He has nothing against the traditional compromise, in which schools offered religious education and an act of daily worship, but were otherwise left to get on with things. But the religious character of some of these schools does become a problem, such as their refusal to employ staff of a different faith, or when most of their pupils are non-Christians, such as Muslims. Or when the Christian ethos is expected to get down into lessons like pottery. Peter Vardy and his organisation are a matter of considerable concern, because of Vardy’s determination to teach Creationism as an acceptable scientific theory, which has been criticised by the Royal Society, amongst others.

It is not just the religious organisations that present problems with the subjects taught at academies. Sponsors are also able to set the curriculum, and so this reflects the particular interests of the businessman or organisation sponsoring the academy. In academies run by particular firms, the emphasis may be on those skills the firm requires, even though several of them have denied that they are in fact doing so. Beckett makes the point that these firms are effectively training ‘the worker bees of industry’ for tomorrow. Where the sponsor is a sports club, the academy, naturally enough, specialises in sport. The result is that subjects like technology and business are favourite subjects with sponsors, but ordinary, valuable subjects like English, Maths and languages, for which there is also a need, are much less well represented.

Driving Down Other Schools

Beckett also describes how academies also work to drive down the other schools in their areas. Academies may received massive funding from government – like £37 million – while something like £2 – £6 million may be granted to maintain the other state schools in the area. Academies thus may become the favoured choice for parents. They are also highly selective. There is evidence that very many of the academies expel difficult pupils, thus passing them on to the conventional state sector. Many of them also opt to select 10 per cent of their intake according to ability. Or they may choose to take them by banding. In this instance, children are divided into three bands of above average, average, and below average educational performance/ capacity. Schools following this method of selection take equal numbers of all the above bands. However, as academies were designed to raise standards in areas where there may be considerable deprivation, the lowest bands may fill up very rapidly, because of the way poverty brings down educational performance and expectations. So the new academy doesn’t take on all the ‘failing’ pupils in its deprived areas. Several of the academies in deprived inner cities targeted not local parents, but those further out in the leafy suburbs, who could be expected to be more affluent and send brighter, more capable pupils to their schools.

The Poorer Performing Schools Doing well In Spite of Disadvantages

And some of the schools that were declared ‘failing’, and slated to be turned into academies, actually were performing very well under circumstances over which they had no control. One of these schools, for example, was in an area where there was a large number of refugee children, none of whom were fluent in English. This school, however, had high staff morale, and provided value for money in the considerable improvement it made on these children’s grades from a very low base. This was before ‘value’ was taken into consideration, however, and Blair and his minions decided that the school wasn’t performing well enough.

No Improvement over State Schools

It is also very unclear whether academies provide any value for money or improvement over conventional state schools. Beckett presents a number of stats, which show that at one time, 11 out of 14 academies were in the bottom 200 schools. Where they did improve, it was quite often through transferring the less academically able pupils from GCSEs to GNVQs, which count as four GCSEs in the stats. When this is accounted for, the supposed superior performance of academies simply vanishes. And some of the improvements are simply achieved because vast sums of money were thrown at a failing school. Any school would have improved under these circumstances, and it’s a good question whether these schools would have improved more, if they had been under proper LEA control.

Academies and Cash for Honours (and Tony)

One of the book’s chapters is on the individuals, that Tony Blair took on board to sponsor the academies. As with so much of Blairite New Labour, there was more than a whiff of corruption about this. Money changed hands, so that sponsors could get a seat in the House of Lords or some other honour. One member of the department dealing with setting up the academies found the full force of the law, when he was caught in a sting operation by the Sunday Times. He had supposedly offered a lady journalist, posing as potential sponsor, the possibility of various honours. He was then arrested at 7.30 in the morning, and flung in jail on potential corruption charges, his career in government at an end. Meanwhile, the Blairite spin machine went into overdrive, with various Blairites, including David Miliband, declaring that no such sale was taking place. But politics was deeply involved, as many of those sponsoring academies had made generous donations and loans to the Labour party. Several of these were under investigation by the rozzers.

The Young Turks: Trump Refuses to Release Tax Returns as Being Persecuted by Tax Office for his ‘Strong Christian Faith’

February 29, 2016

More bullshit from the Goebbels of reality TV. Donald Trump was asked during in an interview by American television’s Chris Como why he hadn’t released his tax returns. Trump stated that he wasn’t able to release them, because they were still being audited. When Como asked him why that was, he said, ‘I dunno, perhaps because of my strong Christian faith’. The Turks point out how hypocritical that is, as Trump in his mind was thinking that he doesn’t have any Christian faith.

Indeed he doesn’t. There’s no record of him attending any evangelical church in New York. And when he did attend one in Iowa, he mistook the communion plate for the collection plate and slapped money on it. But his allegation that he’s being persecuted for his Christianity is likely to resonate with that section of the American Christian right which does feel that Christians are being persecuted in an increasingly aggressively secular America. It’s a very cynical lie by Trump. Even Como was visibly taken aback by it.

Now I’ve worked for the Inland Revenue, the British tax office. I was nothing important – just a lowly filing clerk. Most of my duties were just taking the files to the people, who actually made the decisions, and then filing the paperwork afterwards. It was a pretty boring job. The Inland Revenue is very careful about its image, and making sure that the public have confidence that their taxes are dealt with in a proper, professional and conscientious manner. And this is true. They are also completely uninterested in what religion a person is. All they’re interested in is sorting out how much tax the citizen should pay. My guess is that it’s exactly the same in America.

The IRS has also made a statement saying that while it cannot comment on a person’s private tax accounts, there’s nothing to stop them doing so. So Trump could still hold up his tax returns and talk about them. And one of the American newspapers pointed out that one reason tax audits can go on for longer than expected is if there’s something irregular and suspect about them.

Surprisingly, the Young Turks in this segment have some respect for Mitt Romney, one of the other Republicans in the presidential race. Trump had accused Romney in a previous election campaign of showing his tax returns late in the cycle. Now Romney is doing something very few of the other candidates have done, and actually challenged Trump on his own terms. He’s pointed out that Trump could still show and talk about his tax affairs, and has tweeted that he thinks that Trump ‘doth protest too much’ when he claims he’s innocent of any irregularity and being persecuted by the tax office. He’s also questioned why Trump hasn’t released any of his tax returns from further back, if his returns for the last four years are also being audited, as he claims. Indeed, he suspects there’s something Trump’s hiding.

Which strikes me as very true. If Trump is unwilling to talk about his tax affairs, and show that everything’s above board and in order, it does rather suggest that there’s something suspicious going on, like some kind of tax dodge. That’s a far more likely explanation than stupid accusations about being persecuted because he’s a Christian.

Praise the Lord! Pope Denounces Trump

February 20, 2016

And now a piece of good news from the Roman Catholic church, for a change. The new Pope, Francis, was in the news the other day for criticising the Tousled Gauleiter of Trump Tower. According to the Holy Father, Trump ‘is not a Christian’. The Pope said he couldn’t really comment on politics, ‘but anyone who talks about building a wall instead of bridges between people is not a Christian’.

Well, he’s right. Trump isn’t a Christian, despite his claims to the contrary. None of the evangelical churches in New York have any record that he’s attended services. When he did go to church in the Iowa Primary, he mistook the Communion plate, on which was the bread and wine Christians take in this part of the service, with the collection plate and slapped money on it.

It also shows how important the Developing World is to the Roman Catholic church, as well as other Christian denominations, as church membership falls in the West.

This isn’t the first the Pope’s said something to upset the Republicans. They got very angry a little while ago when the Pope endorsed the doctrine of climate change and attacked its critics and opponents. One of the Republicans then went on the offensive and tried to school his Holiness on Christianity. Somehow, I think the Pope, for all that Roman Catholic theology can be very different from Protestant, Evangelical religious views in certain areas, probably knows far more about Christianity and the basic doctrines of the faith than a Right-wing blowhard.

I’m not a Roman Catholic, and I’m quite aware that not all the readers of this blog will be religious. But here I think the Pope’s done something unequivocally right, regardless of one’s beliefs in God or religion or whatever. The Vicar of Christ 1, Donald Trump Nil, as they say on Final Score.

More On Trumps Cynicism and Exploitation of Veterans and Christians from The Young Turks

February 2, 2016

Okay, I realise that I’ve already posted three blogs in a row about Trump, and this is a further piece to the one I’ve already written about his cynical and exploitative attitude to veterans. But this stuff just keeps coming, and Trump’s still out there.

Trump organised a special event on the 28th January, a few days ago, for US veterans, and has been very loudly proclaiming that he’s raising funds for them. But when it comes to paying out, the reality seems to be somewhat different. A year or so ago, a charity for homeless ex-soldiers, Veterans in Command, wrote to The Donald asking for a donation. They finally got their reply last week. It was a bumper sticker, come through the post, with a handwritten note saying that he wasn’t going to make a donation.

The piece’s anchors, Cenk Uygur and Ana Kasparian, point out that this isn’t the first time Trump’s done something like this. In 1991 and 2004 he tried to get the food stand run by veterans cleared off the street in Fifth Avenue. The stands had been there for over a century, and had been expressly set up to give former soldiers jobs. But Trump wanted them to go, as they gave the area ‘the wrong image’.

Of the five million or so Trump’s fund for veterans has actually spent, only 73,000 came from Trump’s own pocket. So, he’s not exactly generous with his own money when it actually comes to supporting America’s wounded and poverty-stricken ex-warriors.

He’s also trying the same trick with the Christians in Iowa. There’s no evidence that Trump’s religious or has ever been a Christian, or gone to church. Someone wrote to the evangelical churches in NYC, and none of them had record of Trump attending. But he’s trying to pass himself off as a devout believer. He attended church in Iowa. When the communion plate was being passed around for the bread and wine of Holy Communion, Trump thought it was the collection plate and placed a wad of notes there. Uygur himself states he’s not a Christian, and wasn’t raised a Christian. He’s an atheist, who was raised a Muslim, and so he jokes that he doesn’t know what goes on in church services. But he does know that Trump is precisely the kind of person Christ threw out of the Temple. Exactly. Christ in the Gospels attacks the Pharisees for their hypocrisy, and the way they made much of their own piety and lavish donations to the synagogue, while all the while having absolute contempt for the genuinely pious, but not socially respectable poor. Again, this reflects the social situation of the time. The Pharisees did indeed look down on the poorer classes, particularly in Galilee, as the ‘amma ha-aretz, or People of the Land. One of them even declared, ‘Galilee, Galilee, thou hatest the Torah’. And the Prophet Amos centuries earlier in the Hebrew Bible, the Christian Old Testament, attacked the rich, who gave lavishly to the temple, provided rich sacrifices, but who did not really observe the spirit of the Law of Moses, and who had nothing but contempt for the poor. There’s even a special sin – simony – named after Simon Magus in the Acts of the Apostles – for people who try to buy positions in the church, almost like Trump has tried to buy Christian support.

Uygur states that it’s a problem why Evangelical Christians, who claim religion is at the centre of their lives, support Trump, considering he’s not a Christian and just seems to be posing as such to get their support. He believes it’s just simple racism. They share his hatred of Mexicans and Muslims, and are voting for him because of this. I think it’s a fair point, although I would not care to say that this was true of all American Evangelicals. A book written a few years ago, The Truth about Evangelicals, actually said that about half of all theologically conservative Christians were political left-wing, and some even more so than American Roman Catholics. But it is very true of the type that listen to Pat Robertson and the rest of the televangelists that suddenly appeared during the Reagan era. It’s these people Trump’s trying to impress.

Well, Trump and the Republicans actually don’t give two hoots about the real problems faced by working class people in America, including Christians. There’s an entire chapter in the book on Neo-Conservatism, Confronting the New Conservatism, on how the Republicans and Neo-Cons cynically exploit these people’s religious fears, while giving them nothing in return. They make a lot of noise about sex and violence on TV and the cinema, the teaching of evolution, gay rights and so on, but this is generally just verbiage to describe their true agenda: cutting welfare programmes, and giving the rich massive tax cuts. Both believing Christians and old soldiers – who in many cases are no doubt one and the same, pilgrims – could do worse than face, front, stand square, and show this fraud the door.

The Young Turks on Republican Willingness to Kill Families of Terrorists

December 23, 2015

This is another fascinating piece from The Young Turks showing the brutality and thuggishness in the Republican candidates Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Ted Cruz. I’ve already put up a piece by the Turks on the Gallup poll that shows fewer Muslims in Muslim majority countries support the killing of civilians – 14% – than in Britain and America – 33% and 50% respectively. This section of the debate amongst the Republican candidates shows just how far we in the West are losing the moral high ground.

The Turks on commenting on the candidates’ answer to a question whether they would support the deliberate killing of the families of terrorists. If they did, would this not violate the international treaty demanding that civilians should not be targeted in war. Rather than take a decent, moral position that they would not target the terrorists’ families, Trump, Carson and Cruz nearly fall over each other stressing their willingness to murder non-combatants. Trump starts ranting about how we need to be ‘firm’ with them, and makes entirely spurious comments about how the mother of two Islamist killers in San Bernardino must have known what they were doing. Carson seems to believe killing civilians is a necessary evil, and compares it to removing a tumour from a child’s brain. At first the child is resentful about having his head opened up, but afterwards they’re grateful. And Cruz doesn’t seem to know the difference between targeted bombing and carpet bombing. Here’s the clip:

Now the Turks are exactly right when they state that this is the mentality of the mob, and Islamist butchers like al-Baghdadi, the head of ISIS. They are also right when they state that it contradicts the teachings of Christ in the New Testament. They are absolutely right. Apart from the teachings of Christ, St. Paul himself states in his letters that Christians are not supposed to compete in evil with the wicked. So we are definitely not supposed to sink to their level. It was medieval theologians in the Roman Catholic West who formulated the modern rule of justice that the families of criminals should not be punished for the crimes of their relatives if the other family members themselves were innocent. The rule of collective guilt, that the families of criminals should be punished along with the criminals themselves, was revived by the non- and actively anti-Christian regimes of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. Hitler revived it on the grounds that it supposedly came from ancient Germanic law. And Stalin revived it because he was an amoral thug and butcher. In his case, it supposedly comes from the tribal and clan warfare practised in the Caucasus. Either way, it’s a step backwards. Trump, Carson and Cruz’s support for lumping the families of terrorists in with them put them on exactly the same level as the North Korean regime and its persecution of Christians. Under the latest Kim, not only are Christians themselves arrested and executed in North Korea, but also their parents and grandparents, even if they’re atheists. Trump, Carson and Cruz have got the same vicious totalitarian mindset.

As for the willingness to prosecute war ruthlessly, without concern over civilians deaths being somehow Churchillian, this neglects how controversial Britain’s carpet bombing of Germany is, particularly in the case of Dresden. Dresden was hit so hard that the whole city was just about razed in the fireball. Many of the victims died without a mark on their bodies, suffocated because the fireball consumed all the breathable oxygen. Kurt Vonnegut, the satirical writer, was so profoundly affected by his experience of it as a prisoner of war near the city at the time, that it coloured his entire worldview, inspiring such novels as Slaughterhouse 5. The novel’s title is a reference to the abbatoir in which he and the other American POWs were incarcerated. Ironically, it was this that saved them.

The bombing of Dresden has become a stain on the Alllied conduct of the War. And while modern Germans are pleased that Hitler and the Nazis defeated, and their country liberated to become one of the most prosperous and democratic in Europe, they aren’t pleased about the destruction of Dresden. Far from it. One German playwright in the 1960s wrote a play about it, arguing that it showed Churchill as a war criminal, because Dresden at the time was not a centre of military operations. The bombing took place apparently purely as an act of terror.

There was intense controversy under John Major’s government back in the 1990s when the Tories decided to put up a statue commemorating ‘Bomber’ Harris, the head of the British airforce, who launched the carpet bombing of Germany. Many liberals in Britain felt it was entirely inappropriate to celebrate a man, who had deliberately caused so many civilian deaths. And the carpet bombing of Germany, the deliberate bombing of civilian areas, was controversial at the time. One Anglican churchman, a bishop, if I recall properly, resigned in protest. It’s probably this action by a man of faith and conscience that provided the inspiration for a Christian priest in the 1980s Dr Who serial, ‘The Curse of Fenric’. Played by the veteran actor and panel show host, Nicholas Parsons, the priest is a man, who has lost his faith thanks to his nation deciding to kill civilians in bombing raids. It clearly seems to have been inspired by the example of the real clergyman.

Interestingly, this churchman remains an inspirational figure to at least one, highly independent member of the British Christian Right: Peter Hitchens. Hitchens has some bizarre and vile views. He believes – wrongly – that Britain shouldn’t have entered the Second World War. But he is also an opponent of the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. His reasoning here seems to be that these latter wars have sent good, brave men to die unnecessarily simply for the political advantage of the man he terms ‘the Blair creature’. So, contrary to Carson, Churchill’s bombing of civilians isn’t the action of a great war leader that Carson seems to think it is.

I differ with the Turks’ comments about the Repug candidates’ advocacy of killing terrorists’ families being part of the psyche of fundamentalist Christians. A little while ago a Jewish researcher published a book on theologically conservative Christians. He found that conservative religious views did not necessarily coincide with Conservative political views. In fact, he found that about half of Evangelical Christians were politically liberal, and tended to be more so than American Roman Catholics. See the book The Truth about Evangelical Christians. The Turks themselves have also noted that in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, people who make their religion the centre of their life, whether Christians, Muslims or whatever, tend to be far less in favour of attacking civilians. In the case of America, the willingness to kill civilians as well as terrorists seems to be due to other, shared cultural factors common to both people of faith and secular people.

Swedish Church Threatened for Supporting Muslims

February 13, 2015

Religious Freedom Card

French Revolutionary Card celebrating religious freedom.

There’s been a lot of alarm recently about the massive growth of the German anti-Islamic organisation, Pegida. The group’s name is an acronym for ‘Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West’, in German, Patriotische Europeaer Gegen der Islamisierung des Abendlandes. In Germany the groups boasts tens of thousands of members, and has staged mass demonstrations and marches across the country. These have provoked in their turn large counterdemonstrations from liberal Germans fearing a return of the xenophobia that plunged their country in the Third Reich and culminated in the genocide of the Jews and the projected extermination of other groups judged genetically or racially inferior, like the Slavonic peoples of eastern Europe, Gypsies and the disabled. Angela Merkel herself has denounced Pegida and its bigotry. Pegida is not content to confine itself to Germany, however. It is expanding across Europe and plans to stage a rally in Newcastle on this side of the North Sea.

This story comes from Christian Today, a Christian news website, from the 10th a few days ago. The pastor at St. Petri’s church in Malmo was so alarmed at a Pegida demonstration in his city, that he staged a service the previous night (the 9th) supporting the city’s diverse population and its Muslim citizens in particular. Andres Ekhem, the Pastor, stated that he wanted to express solidarity with them and also “express joy for our city and our Muslim friends”.

“There is strong support for diverse cultures in Malmö and it is important that the church is there to support that,” he said.

“You can choose to stay silent and let them give a voice to something you don’t accept. Or, we can choose to show what we believe in, which is a multi-religious society where everyone is given the freedom to preach their own religions.” Pastor Ekhem received some criticism for his service, including ‘more or less clear threats’, according to an interview he gave with Sydsvenkan.

Pegida’s Cant about Kant

One of Pegida’s slogans is Kant Statt Koran: ‘Kant instead of Qu’ran’, referring to the great 18th century German Enlightenment philosopher, Immanuel Kant. Kant is one of the most brilliant European philosophers, and his ideas are still very influential today. He was one of the first to suggest that the Earth and the solar system were formed by condensing out of a primordial gas, an idea that has been confirmed by contemporary science and the study of the evolution of stars. He also believed that the human conscience pointed to the existence of God. The pangs of conscience one felt, he argued, were like someone knocking at your door. The implication is that in the case of the human soul, that someone is the Almighty.

You wonder what Kant, a man of the Enlightenment, would think of Pegida. Many of Enlightenment philosophers were religious sceptics, either Deists, like Voltaire, or outright atheists, like Mably and Diderot. The philosophes were revolted by the horrors committed by the Wars of the Religion in the 16th and 17th centuries, which pitched Protestant against Roman Catholic, and the adherents of Protestant sects and denominations against each other. They strongly argued for religious freedom and toleration.

The philosophes’ hostility to revealed religion eventually led in turn to the abolition of Christianity and its vicious persecution in the name of the Goddess of Pure Reason during the French Revolution. When the Revolution broke out, however, its supporters believed it would usher in a new age of complete freedom of conscience. The new rights, liberties and virtues inaugurated by the Revolution was celebrated in a series of playing cards. These included the card right at the head of this article. It says ‘Liberty of Cults’, and includes some of the holy books of the great Abrahamic faiths. Along with the Christian Gospels, there is the Talmud for Judaism, and the Qu’ran for Islam.

This pack of cards was also way ahead of its time in celebrating racial equality. Both rationalist philosophes and evangelical and reforming Christians, like the Quakers, Methodists, and the evangelical wing of the Anglican Church, were revolted by the cruelty inflicted on Africans by the slave trade. The French Revolutionaries initially freed the slaves in their colonies, only for it to be put back by Napoleon. This card is entitled ‘Egalite des Couleurs’ – Equality of the Colours, and shows a Black man with a gun. Alongside is the word ‘Courage’. The message is clear. Far from being degraded savages, who deserved their enslavement, Black people were every bit as courageous and deserving of freedom as Whites.

Race Equality Card

These cards together show the new ideas of racial and religious liberty and equality, which were part of the intellectual ferment of Kant’s age. Looking at them, I doubt whether Kant would have had much time for the bigotry and xenophobia of groups like Pegida.