Posts Tagged ‘Genocide’

The Eugenicist Attitude to the Coronavirus: the Buck Stops with Boris

March 25, 2020

Earlier this week, I got a message from Labour leadership hopeful Lisa Nandy urging everyone to put their political differences,including trade unions and employers, and unite to tackle the current emergency. I’d agree with her, if I had faith in the current government. If I believed that Boris Johnson was a competent Prime Minister, who was also deeply concerned to protect the lives and livelihoods of everyone in this great nation. But I cannot honestly say that he is. And one of the reasons that he isn’t is that he let the government’s policy to the virus outbreak be determined by his pet polecat, Dominic Cummings. 

The Sunday Times astonished the British public last Sunday by revealing that the government’s attitude to the spread of the virus had been decided by Bojob’s favourite polecat, Dominic Cummings. And Cummings had decided that it should be tackled by allowing the British public to develop herd immunity. The virus was to be allowed to spread throughout the population, so that people became naturally immune. Biologists, doctors, and epidemiologists warned instead that this wouldn’t work. It has only ever been achieved using vaccination, and if the virus was allowed to spread, it could result in the deaths of a quarter of million people. Its victims would be chiefly the old and the already sick. Tragically, as we’re seeing now, its victims also include young, previously healthy people in their 20s and 30s. Cummings had told people privately that his chief concern was to protect the economy, and if a few old people died, too bad. It’s a disgusting attitude, and Zelo Street was exactly right in his article about it when he says that it places Cummings’ beyond the pale, and that he has to be removed and a public inquiry held afterwards.

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/03/dominic-cummings-fan-hits-shit.html

Cummings’ attitude is rooted in eugenics. This views humans in very coarse, crudely Darwinian terms. For the race to improve, superior stock must be allowed and encouraged to breed. The inferior are to be weeded out through natural selection – they are either to be allowed to die through disease or their own mental and physical handicaps, or sterilised. In the 19th century, the American corporate elite advanced eugenicist arguments to prevent the government passing what would now be called ‘health and safety’ legislation. It was worse than useless to try to improve the condition of the poor with public welfare. The poor were sick and disabled not through poor working or living conditions, but simply because they were biologically unfit. Any attempt to improve their conditions would only result in the biologically inferior breeding, and so contaminating the rest of the human stock. By the 1920s, about 25 American states had passed legislation providing for the compulsory sterilisation of the disabled. The policy was enthusiastically adopted by the Nazis, who boasted that they were making absolutely no innovations. They took it to its horrific conclusion, however, with the SS’ murder of the insane and mentally handicapped in special clinics. A policy that prepared the way for the Holocaust and the wholesale murder of the Jews with cyanide gas.

And the Tories seem to be permeated through and through with eugenicist attitudes. They were forced to sack Andrew Sabisky as one of Bojob’s aides because he held similar noxious views. Toby Young, the Spectator journalist and media sleaze, lost his job on Tweezer’s board, set up to represent students, after it was revealed he was also a eugenicist. Tobes had attended conferences at University College London on eugenics, where real anti-Semites, racists and Nazis gathered. And Maggie’s mentor, the loathsome Keith Joseph, caused outrage in the 1970s when he declared that unmarried mothers were a threat to ‘our stock’.

This doesn’t mean that the Tories actively want to round up the disabled and long term sick. But it does explain their absolute complacency about 120,000 deaths or so that have occurred through their austerity, including their obstinate refusal to abandon a policy that is killing people. Cummings should not, of course, have ever been allowed to decide that the government should favour the economy at the expense of ordinary people’s lives. But as Mike also pointed out in an article he posted on Monday, the buck ultimately stops with Bojob. It was Bojob who told the British people that many of them would lose loved ones before their time, when he had not then taken the ‘social distancing’ measures he’s now been forced to adopt to slow down the virus – the closure of schools, pubs, clubs, leisure facilities and social gatherings. And so while the media talked about the Polecat’s horrendous attitude, other peeps on Twitter knew where the real culpability lay. And one woman, MrsGee, probably spoke for many when she said Johnson should resign.

Bid to blame Tory coronavirus strategy on Cummings is baloney. The buck stops with Boris

There’s no question that people’s lives should come before the economy. They were debating precisely this kind of situation in the 19th century. The great Norwegian playwright, Henrik Ibsen, even wrote a piece about it. In one of his plays, the leaders of a spa town are faced with a dilemma. The spa is in the grip of a cholera epidemic, but they are unwilling to close the spa down because of the income it provides the community. Perhaps we would be better governed, and our leaders had been truly prepared for this crisis, if sometime during their education they’d actually read Ibsen or seen the play performed.

But I don’t think Johnson is any too interested in modern Continental literature. He’d rather see what the classics have to say about things and compare himself to Caesar and Churchill.

Farage and Charlie Kirk Stir Up Racial Tensions with Accusations of Chinese Responsibility for the Coronavirus

March 20, 2020

As if the disease itself, and the fear and uncertainty caused by the measures by the measures countries all across the world have been forced to adopt to combat the Coronavirus aren’t enough, certain figures on the British and American political right have decided to make the situation worse by throwing around groundless accusations about responsibility for the outbreak. Nigel Farage, owner of the Brexit Party Ltd, and the odious Charlie Kirk, have declared that the Chinese are responsible for it. Zelo Street put up a piece about this latest revolting development, as Benjamin J. Grimm, your blue-eyed, ever-lovin’ Thing used to put it, yesterday.

Almost predictably, it appears to have begun with a comment Trump put out over Twitter. In flat contradiction to everything he had previously said, Trump declared that he had always taken ‘the Chinese virus’ very seriously. One Twitter commenter, who went by the monicker of BrooklynDad_defiant, told Trump that the disease was called the Coronavirus or Covid-19 if he found the first name too difficult. He was endangering Chinese-Americans, and had dismissed the virus as a hoax, claimed it was down to zero and that it had been contained. None of this was true.

Then the Fuhrage decided to put his oar in. He tweeted that corporate America was standing with their President in this emergency, unlike the UK, and that Rishi Sunak’s relief measures were in line with those of France. Which ignore the fact, as Zelo Street reminded us, that the French government isn’t offering loans to help out businesses. And then Farage went to his default position of blaming foreigners, and claimed that the Chinese were responsible. He tweeted “It really is about time we all said it. China caused this nightmare. Period”. And then followed this with “It is time we all challenged the Chinese regime. Enough is enough”. He followed this up by retweeting an approving tweet from Charlie Kirk, the poster boy for the right-wing organisation, Turning Point USA, who said

In the age of Trump -we’ve learned that the media is hellbent on spreading disinformation and lies. So if we don’t speak the truth, who will? [Nigel Farage] is right and its time we all listen: China caused this pandemic. They should be forced to pay”.

Zelo Street remarked about this display of racism that Farage and Kirk wouldn’t know the truth if it kicked them squarely in the crotch. They are good, however, at screaming ‘liar!’ and ‘Fake news’ at media organisations they dislike in order to rile up their bases. The Sage of Crewe concluded

‘The situation with Covid-19 is serious. It is serious enough that no responsible politician should be going anywhere near leveraging it to whip up the mob.

That Nigel Farage is doing just that tells you all you need to know about where he’s at.’

He’s exactly right, as he began the article with a quotation from the South Korean Foreign Minister, Kang Kyung-wha on the Andrew Marr Show, expressing her concern about a rise in racially motivated attacks on Asians in other countries in response to the crisis. She naturally wanted governments to crack down on it, because it was helping the spirit of collaboration the world needs to combat the crisis.

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/03/farage-uses-crisis-to-whip-up-mob.html

She isn’t alone in these fears. A few days ago I received a message from the anti-racist, anti-religious extremism organisation, Hope Not Hate, describing what they were going to do as a response to the virus. They aren’t just trying to help combat the virus itself, as very many other organisations and charities are also doing, but are trying to expose and tackle the way the crisis is being exploited by Fascist groups. The email said of this part of their work

For example, we’ll be releasing new content on how extremists use the messaging app Telegram to promote terrorism next week. At the same time, we’re adapting our work, conducting research on how the far right are responding to COVID-19 and any way in which they may be weaponsing it. Because of the nature of the virus we are also increasing our research into conspiracy theories. We hope that these areas will allow us to counter how forces of hate are seeking to use this global pandemic.

Now you would have thought that Trump would have been more careful before he blamed the Chinese for the virus. I can remember how George W. Bush during his tenure of the White House 12 years and more ago made an official apology to Japanese-Americans condemning their internment during World War II. It was an apology Japanese-American activists like Star Trek’s George Takei had fought long and hard for. The last thing Trump should be doing is trying to reopen old wounds about his country’s treatment of Asian Americans, and no politico on either side of the Pond should be trying to stir up racial tensions at this time anyway.

The Chinese Communist regime is responsible for any number of atrocities and horrors, from the invasion of Tibet, the genocide of the Uighurs, the suppression of democracy in Hong Kong and the mass deaths of the Cultural Revolution. But it is definitely not responsible for the Coronavirus. The Chinese have made massive efforts to contain and eradicate it, even isolating the province in which it emerged, Wuhan. I’ve also heard nothing to suggest that they have been nothing but entirely collaborative with other nations in the global attempts to combat this disease.

I think Trump called the Coronavirus the ‘Chinese disease’ simply out of stupidity and laziness. He couldn’t remember, or couldn’t be bothered to remember, what it was really called. But Farage and Kirk just seem to have blamed the Chinese out of sheer racism.

This is immensely dangerous, when people are as isolated, vulnerable and fearful as they are now, and Farage and Kirk are to be condemned for their inflammatory, bigoted remarks.

Cartoon: Michael Gove – Idiocracy

February 22, 2020

Here’s another of my cartoons, in which I lampoon the Conservatives and their horrendous government. This piece is based on that photograph taken when Cameron decided to make Michael Gove education minister, or something like it. It showed Gove looking somewhat depressed and forlorn in front of a crowd of primary schoolchildren, as if he had suddenly twigged that a group of five or six years olds were far brighter than he was.

It reminded me of the Jack Black SF comedy that came out a few years ago, Idiocracy. Based on the William Tenn short story, ‘The Marching Morons’, this was about an ordinary, average American joe, who wakes up two hundred years in the future to find out that he’s the cleverest man on the planet. It’s a future where people irrigate their crops with Gatorade, what monster truck rallies on TV and where the most popular comedy programme is where men get hit in the crotch called Ow! My Nuts! And unfortunately, thanks to the Tory media, this does seem to be the future we’re heading for. I am convinced that the Murdoch press is actually diminishing intelligence, rather than enhancing it. Just like a media monitoring survey in America found that you were far better informed about the world if you watched no news at all, than if you watched Fox News.

Tenn’s story is a classic, but it makes me very uneasy. Like one or two other stories from the same period, it’s based on an article of eugenics ideology. This is that the less intelligent are more fertile, and will outbreed the intelligent, thus causing average intelligence to drop over time. It’s the thinking behind the sterilisation programmes in America, Sweden and most notoriously, Nazi Germany, against those considered mentally unfit, and which during the Third Reich led to their murder. In the story there’s an intelligentsia, who have preserved their own intellects through rigid interbreeding. They ask the man from the 20th century how they can raise intelligence back to its former level. He suggests that they pack them into faulty rockets with promises that they’re going on holiday to Venus. The rockets won’t get there, and will instead fall apart, killing their retarded occupants. Then the man, who devised this plan, finds that he himself is put on one of the same rockets to kill him for his ruthless cleverness.

As I said, it’s a grim story, and mercifully human evolution doesn’t actually work like that. Although morons like Andrew Sabisky and Toby Young clearly think that it does, and the racist currently ensconced in No. 10 seems to agree. Or at least he and the polecat, Dominic Cummings, have no problems employing men whose disgusting views should mean that they should be nowhere near government.

But enough of these disgusting people with their depressing, sordid views. Here’s the cartoon to cheer you all up.

 

Therese Coffey: Another Tory Minister Who Thinks Food Banks Are Brilliant

January 30, 2020

Yesterday the Canary reported that the Labour MP Zahra Sultana, who called food banks a ‘national disgrace’, wrote to Coffey about the obscene injustice of nurses having to use food banks while fat-cat bosses are rewarded with massive payouts. Sultana was understandably upset that there were now more food banks in the UK than branches of McDonald’s and that the British boss of the fast food firm had received a settlement of £30 million after they had fired him.

She got this bland reply from Coffey:

I visited a similar food bank in my own constituency that has been working together with food redistribution schemes. Marrying the two is a perfect way to try to address the challenges that people face at difficult times in their lives.

Coffey also called the people using food banks ‘customers’, thus giving the misleading the impression that they had some kind of choice over whether or not to be there.

Sultana wasn’t impressed, and neither were other commenters on twitter. She commented

I just asked the Secretary of State for Work & Pensions about the gross injustice of nurses relying on food banks while the rich get richer.

Her response? She called food banks a “perfect way” to meet the challenges of those in poverty.

The Tories are totally out of touch.

The article goes on to report that BristolLive had also said that they’d been told by one volunteer at a food bank that four or five nurses had visited a food bank in one week.

The Canary’s article also criticised Coffey for not mentioning that food banks run by volunteers are supported through donations. They’re there to help poor people struggling to feed themselves and their families because of ten years of Tory austerity, welfare cuts and Universal Credit. And Coffey certainly wasn’t going to tackle the problem of bloated salaries for fat-cat bosses and widening inequality.

The Canary further reported that the Trussell Trust had stated in April 2019 that food bank use had reached a record high point. Between 1st April 2018 and 31st March the charity had distributed 1.6 million food parcels. This was a rise of 19 per cent from the previous year. About half a million of them were given to children.

Sabine Goodwin, the head of the Independent Food Aid Network, commented that Coffey’s remarks showed how food bank use had been normalised in the UK, and that they were now the fourth emergency service.

The Canary concluded:

The DWP is not fit for purpose. And Coffey’s latest response highlights just how dangerous it truly is.

See: https://www.thecanary.co/trending/2020/01/28/dwp-minister-thinks-foodbanks-are-a-perfect-solution/

This is just the latest scandal in which a Tory minister has made a bland, evasive statement praising food banks and ignoring the underlying problem of the massive suffering the Tories themselves have caused. I think the last one was Jacob Rees-Mogg, who was similarly blasted for his complacency. In fact, food banks and the volunteers who run them are doing an excellent job. I know that two of the great commenters on this blog are involved with those in their communities. That isn’t the point. The point is, they shouldn’t be needed. There should be no benefit sanctions nor false or falsified fitness for work tests throwing people who are too ill or disabled to work off benefits. The unemployed and disabled should be given benefits at a level that allows them to live properly, paid the moment they request and need them. They should not have to wait a few days, let alone five weeks, before receiving a payment. Working people should also be paid a decent wage, so that they also can afford to feed, heat and clothe themselves and their families.

But this is precisely what Tories like Coffey do not want to happen. They are dismantling the welfare state because they wish to relieve high earners – the rich – of the tax burden of supporting the poor. They originally tried justifying this with specious arguments about ‘trickledown’. The money the rich saved would trickle down to the poor as their social superiors opened new businesses, employed more people and paid higher wages. But they don’t actually do any of that. It just stays in their banks accounts, accumulating interest while they boast about how many hundreds of K they’ve trousered. I also believe the Tories actually like food banks because they see them as the British counterpart to the American system of food stamps.

They also have absolutely no problem with rising inequality. In fact, I remember them openly being all for it. Right at the beginning of the Thatcher project in the 1980s, various Tories appeared on BBC documentaries about benefit cuts and wage restraint raving about how wonderful it was. They believed that conditions should be made worse for the poor, as this would encourage them to ‘do well’. Thatcher herself was a fan of the less eligibility system of Victorian poor relief. Like them, she believed conditions should be made as humiliating and oppressive as possible for those on welfare in order to make them get a job as quickly as possible. He successors have weaponised it further, and now see it as a means of culling the sick and poor. 130,000 people have been killed so far by austerity in a campaign described by Mike and other bloggers and welfare commenters and organisations as the genocide of the disabled.

Food banks are not a perfect solution for people people at a difficult point in their lives. They are a severely inadequate attempt to ameliorate some of the worse effects of Tory austerity and welfare cuts. It is great that people are there, trying to do something for the poor.

But it is a glaring disgrace that they should be needed in first place. Coffee is a smooth, smiling dissembler trying to put a good front over utterly disgraceful, murderous Tory policies. She and the wretched government she serves can’t fall soon enough.

Trump’s Climate Denial Is a Danger to Post-Brexit Britain

January 23, 2020

Yesterday Mike put up a piece reporting and commenting on Trump’s denunciation of Green activists at the Davos summit. He called them ‘prophets of doom’, who were trying to dominate, control and transform the lives of everyone in the world, and announced that he would not change his country’s high carbon economy. He would, though, sign up for planting, restoring and conserving a trillion trees.

This didn’t impress Greta Thunberg, who was also there. Mike quotes her as saying

“Our house is still on fire. Your inaction is fuelling the flames by the hour, and we are telling you to act as if you loved your children above all else,” she said.

“You say: ‘We won’t let you down. Don’t be so pessimistic.’ And then, silence.”

And she asked: “What will you tell your children was the reason to fail and leave them facing… climate chaos that you knowingly brought upon them? That it seemed so bad for the economy that we decided to resign the idea of securing future living conditions without even trying?”

Beeb wildlife presenter Chris Packham also made a speech about the climate emergency at the BAFTA’s, warning that unless we act to solve the environmental crisis, future generations may look on Trump, Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, Vladimir Putin and Australia’s Scott Morrison in the same way as mass murderers like Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot, because of the millions killed through climate change.

Mike also makes the point that while the world’s leaders are doing nothing about climate change, Boris is moving closer to a trade deal with Trump, one that will also make him deny the danger. Mike states that our clown of a prime minister has missed opportunities to make a difference, and asks if he will sell us down the river again for the sake of a few American dollars.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/01/22/trumps-prophets-of-doom-speech-suggests-the-uk-should-not-enter-trade-deal-with-him/

The answer is yes, yes, he will. And it’s for the same reasons Trump and the rest of the Republican party are denying climate change: powerful corporate interests. The Republicans received very generous campaign funding from big industrialists like the Koch brothers and the other heads of the fossil fuel industry. These big businessmen also sponsor fake grassroots organisations and biased scientific think thanks in order to lobby against and discredit climate research and laws to protect the environment. The results have been disastrous. Since he took power, Trump has gutted the environmental protection agency and forbidden it from publishing anything supporting climate change or environmental decline in America. Koch money has seen universities close down proper climate and environmental research and their replacement with laboratories and organisations funded by the brothers and others in the fossil future industry. These present as fact the false information they want the public to hear: that climate change isn’t occurring, and the coal and oil industries ain’t wrecking the landscape. But these industries are. There are a whole sections of the Louisiana swamps that is heavily polluted by oil. The oil pipeline through indigenous people’s land in Idaho that made the news a few years ago was opposed because the indigenous people of the area feared that there would be spillages that would pollute the water they use for drinking and which nourishes their wildlife. They were right to do so. There have been a large number of similar spillages, which have not garnered so much media attention, which have similarly contaminated vast acreages of land. And then there’s the whole fracking industry, and the damage that has also caused the water table in areas where it has been allowed.

These are the industries funding Trump’s campaign. They’re part of the reason why there were right-wing jokers all over the internet yesterday sniggering at Trump’s put down of Thunberg. Trump and his supporters really do believe that environmentalists are some kind of crazy apocalyptic cult with totalitarian aims. There’s a section of the American right that really does believe Green activists are real, literal Nazis, because the Nazis were also environmentally concerned. And the corporate interests sponsoring Trump are the same industries that want to get a piece of our economy and industries.

The Tories have already shown that they are little concerned about the environment. They have strongly promoted fracking in this country, and the book The Violence of Austerity contains a chapter detailing the Tories’ attacks on the environment and Green protest groups. David Cameron’s boast that his would be the greenest government ever vanished the moment his put his foot across the threshold of Number 10.

If Boris makes a Brexit trade deal with Trump, it will mean that our precious ‘green and pleasant land’ is under threat from highly polluting, environmentally destructive industries. It will mean further reductions in funding for renewable energy in favour of oil, gas and coal, attempts in this country to discredit and silence respectable, mainstream climate research and scientists in favour of corporate-sponsored pseudoscience. And there will be further laws and state violence against environmental protesters.

Trump’s climate denial is a threat to the British environment, industry, the health of its people, democracy and science. But Boris depends on him for any kind of successful trade deal.

He will sell out and wreck this country and its people for those dollars offered by Trump and his corporate backers.

Architect of Soviet Terror Loathed Himself for His Crimes. What About the Tories for Theirs?

January 20, 2020

Bhaskar Sankara’s book, The Socialist Manifesto, contains a very interesting quote in its chapter on the rise of Soviet communism and its transformation into the brutal, repressive, murderous state under Stalin. It’s from Felix Dzherzinsky, the founder of the Soviet secret police after the Russian Revolution. Dzherzinsky became so disgusted with himself for all the tens of thousands of people he’d had arrested, tortured and murdered that he declared, ‘I have so much blood on my hands that I don’t deserve to live’. Unfortunately, this didn’t prevent the Soviet state from continuing to kill and torture, so that the victims of Stalin’s purges amount to over 30 million.

When can we expect similar remorse from the Tories? Their system of welfare reform, work capability tests and benefit sanctions have resulted in 130,000 deaths at least. When do we get to hear something like Dzherzinsky’s cry from Iain Duncan Smith, Esther McVey and the other grotesques in the DWP? When will we hear expressions of sadness and regret for Maggie’s friendship with General Pinochet, a real Fascist, who also had tens of thousands rounded up, raped and tortured after the overthrow of the democratically elected socialist president Salvador Allende? When are we going to hear Paul Staines, of Guido Fawkes, express contrition for his membership of a Libertarian Tory outfit, that made the head of a central American death squad their guest of honour at one of their annual dinners?

We aren’t. Not ever. Because the Tory party will not, not even personally, feel sorrow for its complicity in death and terror, not even in private.

It will just hide it, and carry on lying to people that it stands for freedom and humanity while continuing to support mass death.

 

Austerity and Prison Violence

January 15, 2020

A week or so ago Mike put up a piece reporting and commenting on the death of a disabled man in prison. From what I remember, like many such instances the man’s own special needs had been ignored and he was actually in prison for a minor offence. At least, one that should not merit his murder. Mike connected this to the Tories’ ongoing campaign of mass murder against the disabled.

In fact, violence, including self-harm, has risen massive in British jails since the Tories launched their wretched austerity. Joe Sim has authored an entire chapter on it in Vickie Cooper’s and David Whyte’s The Violence of Austerity. Sim has his own particular view of the crisis. He considers that prison violence hasn’t itself been created by austerity. It’s always been there, and is part of society’s brutal maltreatment of the poor and marginalised. But it has been massively intensified by the Tories’ cuts.

The stats are horrifying. Between 2011 and 2016, sexual assaults almost doubled. In 2014-15 there were over 400 serious incidents requiring the intervention of the specialist National Tactical Response Group, In 2015 an average of 160 fires were started each month. Self-harm rose by 40 per cent in two years, so that in 2015, 32,313 incidents were recorded.

321 died in the year to June 2016, an increase of 30 per cent on the previous year. 105 of these were self-inflicted, a rise of 28 per cent. Deaths by natural causes rose by 26 per cent to 186. Between January 2010 and December 2016, 1637 prisoners died, 542 of which were self-inflicted.

In 2015-15 there were nearly 5000 assaults and acts of violence against the different groups of people working in prisons. These included 423 on prison officers below the rank of principal officer, 828 on nursing auxiliaries and assistants, 640 on nurses, 535 on care workers, and 423 on welfare and housing associate professionals.

Sim states that to many commentators, including the media, Prison Officers’ Association and mainstream politicians, the cause of this increased violence are the cuts to the prison budget. These amounted to £900 million between 2011 and 2015, or 24 per cent of its overall budget. The Prison Reform Trust said that it was

[n]o mystery that violence, self-harm and suicide rise when you overcrowd prisons, reduce staff by almost one third, cut time out of cell and purposeful activity. The backdrop is a more punitive climate, increased injustice and uncertainty which have sucked hope out of the system for prisoners and staff.

I’m not disputing that very many of those incarcerated are guilty of the most heinous offences, and fully deserve their incarceration and punishment. But it is very clear that austerity has resulted in a massive deterioration in conditions which fueling violence in prisons against staff and prisoners. There’s obviously a long and complicated debate about the purposes of prison – to punish, reform, or even both – but it is clear that neither staff nor prisoners deserve the maltreatment and violence the cuts have generated.

This isn’t reformative. It isn’t proper punishment. It is carnage.

But the Tories just love killing and death when it’s directed against the poor and powerless.

Identity of Monster Behind Uighur Concentration Camps Revealed

November 26, 2019

The I today has published a piece revealing the identity of the Han Chinese minister behind the concentration camps used to imprison and torture China’s Muslim minority, the Uighurs, simply for practising their own culture, language and religious identity.

The article by Jane Clinton, titled ‘Revealed: man behind Uighur camps’, runs

After bloody race riots rocked China’s far west in 20089, the ruling Communist Party turned to a rare figure in their ranks to restore order: a Han official fluent in Uighur, the language of the local Turkic Muslim minority.

Now, newly revealed, confidential documents show that the official, Zhu Hailun, played a key role in planning and executing a campaign that has swept up a million or so Uighurs into detention camps.

Written in 2017, the documents were signed by Mr Zhu, as then head of the powerful Political and Legal Affairs Commission of the Communist Party in the Xinjiang region.

Mr Zhu joined the party in 1980 and moved up Xinjiang’s bureaucracy. By the 90s, he was so fluent in Uigher he corrected his own translators during meetings.

“If you didn’t see him, you’d never imagine he’s Han Chinese, he really spoke just like a Uighur, because he grew up with them,” said a Uighur businessman living in exile in Turkey, who declined to be named for fear of retaliation.

The Han are the majority Chinese population.

From what I understand, this is at heart all about the Chinese development of Xinjiang for its resources of coal and iron. This has led to massive Han Chinese immigration, which is resented by the indigenous Uighurs, as they fear they are becoming a minority in their own homeland. The concentration camps are part of a policy of forcibly suppressing Uighur national identity, including the use of their language and the practising of their religion, Islam. According to an article in the ‘Letter from…’ column in last fortnight’s Private Eye, even after release, Uighur former inmates are not free from surveillance and to pressure to abandon their national identity. Han Chinese spies may be billeted in their homes to make sure they don’t return to their old customs and identity. The policy’s similar to the way General Franco in Spain tried to stop the Basques speaking their own language, and the Soviet Union’s campaign to eradicate religion and religious practices.

By international law, Zhu Heilun and the Chinese government responsible for this policy are guilty of crimes against humanity, as I believe that attempts to suppress an ethnic group’s national identity is considered genocide.

Zhu is a monster, and his government deserves criticism and contempt for this policy.

Sargon of Akkad Exposes Lib Dem Lies

November 7, 2019

Remember Sargon of Akkad, otherwise known as Carl Benjamin, the Sage of Swindon? Sargon was the internet personality who, along with Mark ‘Count Dankula’ Meechan and Paul Joseph Watson, managed to destroy UKIP at the last elections. The party’s head decided that he could revive its flagging fortunes by inviting these three people aboard. He was counting on them bringing their audiences with them, but instead everyone with reasonable political opinions fled. Much of the rest went over to the Fuhrage’s new Brexit party, which is really just a corporate cult of personality pretending to be a party. Which left UKIP with a derisory membership and even more internal feuding, culminating in the resignation a few days ago of their Fuhrer, Richard Braine. Yes, Dick Braine was running the party.

As I’ve pointed out, Sargon has some extremely right-wing opinions. He’s anti-feminist, anti-immigration, and a ‘classical liberal’. Which means he’s a 19th century free trade liberal, who would now be an extremely right-wing Tory. He wants complete privatisation and an end to the welfare state, including the privatisation of the NHS.

So why give one of his videos a platform here?

Because on the subject of the Lib Dems, he’s right.

Sargon begins by talking about how the Fib Dems are doing extremely well in the polls, especially in Wokingham, Dominic Raab’s constituency, where they are only a few places behind the Tories. Jo Swinson, their leader, claims to be running a cleaner campaign, opposing the Trumpian politics of political deception. But as he goes on to prove, she and her party are using very Trumpian tactics.

He talks about the Fib Dem leaflet, that claimed that the Lib Dems were the leading party behind the Tories in Bath and North East Somerset. But this was in answer to a very specific polling question. Those polled were asked which parties they’d vote for, if the Tories and Lib Dems were neck and neck. The real opposition to the Tories in that part of Somerset, just south of me, is Labour.

He goes on to show the clip from Sky, where Beth Rigby tries to question Jo Swinson about this. Rigby rightly says it’s misleading. Oh no, denies Swinson, they tell you what the figures refer to. Yes, they do. In very small print of the type that people don’t read. Swinson then bangs on about how Labour voters, who don’t want Brexit, have been deceived and are turning to the Fib Dems instead.

And this isn’t the only instance where the Fib Dems were lying. Kate Burley also tried to tackle New Labour defector Luciana Berger on the subject of the Fib Dem’s mendacity. Berger is standing for them in Golders Green. Burley tries to pick her up on their election pamphlet, which quotes the Groaniad and Sky News as saying that the party’s ready to win the election. In fact those quotes don’t quite come from those sources. They come from Jo Swinson, as reported by the Groan and Sky News. But Berger denies any deceit. She just carries on with a spiel about how the Fib Dems have taken over from Labour as the opposition to the Tories in Golders Green, and that people are looking for a new type of politics.

And then Sargon shows just how Trumpian their election material is. Their pamphlets are all about Swinson, and how she’s going to be the next PM. It’s exactly like Trump, because like his campaigning, it’s all about the leader.

He also attacks another lie from the Fib Dems, where they claimed they were ahead of Labour and neck and neck with the Tories in Putney. Except that it was another lie. They’d never even polled in Putney.

The video ends with him attempting to rebut their stock rhetorical argument by saying that people should vote for them, as they are the only party that stands for Remain. But as Sargon reminds us, most people voted for Brexit. He has nothing against Trump and Trumpian politics, but they can’t say they’re opposed to it when they’re actually doing exactly that. They’re whole campaign is a good way of discrediting themselves.

This is all completely true, unlike just about everything Swinson says.

Mike put up a piece on his blog a few days ago showing how the Fib Dems were lying about their putative lead over Labour in BANES and elsewhere. But this is just one in a long line of porkies they’ve been spewing. Remember a little while ago, when Swinson was complaining that when all the other leaders were doing their best to campaign for Britain to remain in the EU, Jeremy Corbyn ‘was nowhere to be seen’? The truth was actually the reverse. Corbyn had been crisscrossing the country and travelling from city to city campaigning. It was Swinson who hadn’t. Except for one, halfhearted tweet.

Where were you, Swinson, when Remain needed you?

As for the image she tries to give of her party being full of ardent europhiles, keen for us to remain in the EU, only two per cent more of their membership are in favour of staying than the Labour party’s.

And Swinson has pointedly refused to say whether or nor she’d go into coalition with the Tories in the case of a swung parliament. Which means, to me, that she does. Which makes all the guff about her standing for Remain just so much electioneering rhetoric.

And Berger is also a liar. 

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Fib Dems have overtaken Labour in Golders Green. It’s because Berger and the rest of the Blairites, the Tories and the Israel lobby have been trying to scare Jewish Brits witless by telling them that Corbyn and his supporters are genocidal anti-Semites. The reverse is true. Corbyn has always stood up for Britain’s Jews, just as he has done so for all of Britain’s diverse communities. What Berger and her colleagues in the Blairites and the rightwing Zionist organisations found absolutely intolerable is the fact that he wants a genuinely just peace between Israel and the Palestinians. And hence the accusations of anti-Semitism and the hysterical screams that a Britain under his government wouldn’t be safe for Jews. Piffle.

Berger herself has genuinely received death threats and abuse online. But I think that some of her other claims of abuse by Labour party members have been shown to be false.

Berger is a liar, from a party of liars, led by a liar.

And you can tell the moral squalor of the party when someone as right-wing as Sargon points it out and almost looks good in comparison.

Review of Book on New Atheist Myths Now Up on Magonia Review Blog

November 1, 2019

The Magonia Review of Books blog is one of the online successors to the small press UFO journal, Magonia, published from the 1980s to the early part of this century. The Magonians took the psycho-social view of encounters with alien entities. This holds that they are essentially internal, psychological events which draw on folklore and the imagery of space and Science Fiction. Following the ideas of the French astronomer and computer scientist, Jacques Vallee, and the American journalist, John Keel, they also believed that UFO and other entity encounters were also part of the same phenomenon that had created fairies and other supernatural beings and events in the past. The magazine thus examined other, contemporary forms of vision and belief, such as the Satanic Ritual Abuse scare in the 1990s. It also reviewed books dealing with wide range of religious and paranormal topics. These included not just UFOs, but also the rise of apocalyptic religious faith in America, conspiracy theories, ghosts and vampires, cryptozoology and the Near Death Experience, for example. Although the magazine is no longer in print, the Magonia Review of Books continues reviewing books, and sometimes films, on the paranormal and is part of a group of other blogs, which archive articles from the magazine and its predecessor, the Merseyside UFO Bulletin (MUFOB), as well as news of other books on the subject.

I’ve had a number of articles published in Magonia and reviews on the Review of Books. The blog has just put my review of Nathan Johnstone’s The New Atheism, Myth and History: The Black Legends of Contemporary Anti-Religion (Palgrave MacMillan 2018).  The book is a critical attack on the abuse of history by New Atheist polemicists like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and so on to attack religion. He shows that the retail extremely inaccurate accounts of historical atrocities like the witch hunts and persecution of heretics by the Christian church and the savage anti-religious campaign in the Soviet Union in order to condemn religion on the one hand, and try to show that atheism was not responsible for the atrocities committed in its name on the other. At the same time he is alarmed by the extremely vitriolic language used by Dawkins and co. about the religious. He draws comparisons between it and the language used to justify persecution in the past to warn that it too could have brutal consequences despite its authors’ commitment to humanity and free speech.

The article is at: http://pelicanist.blogspot.com/2019/10/believing-in-not-believing-new-atheists.html if you wish to read it at the Magonia Review site. I’ve also been asked to reblog it below. Here it is.

Nathan Johnstone. The New Atheism, Myth and History: The Black Legends of Contemporary Anti-Religion. Palgrave Macmillan 2018.

The New Atheists is a term coined to described the group of militant atheists that emerged after the shock of 9/11. Comprising the biologist Richard Dawkins, the journalist Christopher Hitchens, the philosophers Daniel C. Dennett and A.C. Grayling, the neuroscientist Sam Harris, the astronomer Victor Stenger, and others, they are known for their particularly bitter invective against all forms of religion. The above claim to stand for reason and science against irrationality and unreason. But while they are especially protective of science, and who gets to speak for it or use its findings, they are cavalier regarding theology and the humanities, including history.
Johnstone is appalled by this attitude. Instead of respecting history and its scholarship, he compares Dawkins, Harris et al to hunter-gatherers. They are not interested in exploring history, but rather using it as a grab-bag of examples of atrocities committed by the religious. In so doing they ignore what historians really say about the events and periods they cite, and retail myth as history. These he regards as a kind of ‘Black Legend’ of theism, using the term invented in the early twentieth century by the Spanish historian Julian Juderas to describe a type of anti-Spanish, anti-Roman Catholic polemic. He states his book is intended to be just a defence of history, and takes no stance on the issue of the existence of God. From his use of ‘we’ in certain points to describe atheists and Humanists, it could be concluded that Johnstone is one of the many of the latter, who are appalled by the New Atheists’ venom.
One such religious doubter was the broadcaster John Humphries,  the author of the defence of agnosticism, In God We Doubt. Humphries stated in the blurb for the book that he considered himself an agnostic before moving to atheism. Then he read one of the New Atheist texts and was so shocked by it he went back to being an agnostic. The group first made its debut several years ago now, and although New Atheism has lost some of its initial interest and support, they’re still around.
Hence Johnstone’s decision to publish this book. While Dawkins’ The God Delusion was published almost a decade ago, the New Atheists are still very much around. They and their followers are still on the internet, and their books on the shelves at Waterstones. Dawkins published his recent work of atheist polemics, Outgrowing God: A Beginner’s Guide a few weeks ago at the beginning of October 2019. He accompanied its publication with an appearance at Cheltenham Literary Festival, where he was speaking about why everyone should turn atheist.
The events and the atrocities cited by the New Atheists as demonstrations of the intrinsic evil of religion are many, including the Inquisitions, the witch-hunts, anti-Semitism, the Crusades, the subjugation of women, colonialism, the slave trade and the genocide of the Indians, to which they also add human sacrifice, child abuse, censorship, sexual repression and resistance to science. These are too many to tackle in one book, and it confines itself instead to attacking and refuting New Atheist claims about the witch-hunts, the medieval persecution of heretics, and the question of whether Hitler was ever really Christian and the supposed Christian origins of Nazi anti-Semitism and the Holocaust.
The book also tackles historical movements and figures, that the New Atheists have claimed as atheist heroes and forerunners – the ancient Greek Atomists and two opponents of the witch-hunts, Dietrich Flade and Friedrich Spee. It then moves on to examine Sam Harris’ endorsement of torture in the case of Islamist terrorists and atheist persecution in the former Soviet Union before considering the similarity of some New Atheist attitudes to that of religious believers. It concludes with an attack on the dangerous rhetoric of the New Atheists which vilifies and demonises religious believers, rhetoric which could easily provoke persecution, even if its authors themselves are humane men who don’t advocate it.
Johnstone traces these atheist myths back to their nineteenth and pre-nineteenth century origins, and some of the books cited by the New Atheists as the sources for their own writings. One of the most influential of these is Charles MacKay’s 1843 Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. In many instances he shows them to be using very dated, and now refuted texts. With some of the modern works they also draw on, examination shows that often they ignore the authors’ own conclusions, which may differ considerably, or even be the complete opposite of their own.
In the case of the witch-hunts, Johnstone traces the oft-quoted figure of over nine million victims to an early nineteenth century German author, Gottfried Christian Voigt, who extrapolated it from the murder of the thirty witches executed in his home town of Quedlinburg from 1569 to 1683. He assumed this was typical of all areas throughout the period of the witch-hunts. The figure was picked up by the radical neo-Pagan and feminist movements of the 1970s. But it’s false. The real figure, he claims, was 50,000. And its intensity varied considerably from place to place and over time. The Portuguese Inquisition, for example, only killed one witch c. 1627. In other places, the inquisitors were conscientious in giving the accused a fair trial. Convictions for witchcraft were overturned and evidence was taken to prove the accused’s innocence as well as guilt. The Roman Inquisition also demanded the accused to provide a list of their enemies, as their testimony would obviously be suspect.
In regions where the discussion of witchcraft had resulted in the mass trial and execution of the innocent, the religious authorities imposed silence about the subject. Johnstone rebuts the statement of some Christian apologists that the Church was only complicit in these atrocities, not responsible for them. But he shows that they were an anomaly. Nearly all societies have believed in the existence of witches throughout history, but the period of witch-hunting was very limited. The problem therefore is not that religion and belief in the supernatural leads inexorably to persecution, but how to explain that it doesn’t.
He shows that the Church moved from a position of initial scepticism towards full scale belief over a period of centuries. The witch-hunts arose when maleficium – black magic – became linked to heresy, and so became a kind of treason. As an example of how secular and political motives were also involved in the denunciations and trials, rather than just pure religious hatred, he cites the case of the priest Urbain Grandier. Grandier’s case was the basis for Aldous Huxley’s novel, The Devils of Loudoun, which was filmed by Ken Russell as The Devils. Here it appears the motives for the trial were political, as Grandier had been an opponent of the French minister, Cardinal Richelieu. Johnstone also considers that as secular societies have also persecuted those they consider to be politically or morally deviant there exists in humanity a need to persecute. This means finding and identifying an anti-group, directly opposed to conventional society, whose existence and opposition demonstrates the value of that society.
KEN RUSSELL’S ‘THE DEVILS’ (1971)
The medieval persecution of heretics may also have been due to a number of causes and not simply due to the malign attitudes of religious believers. There was a period of nearly 700 years between the execution of the Roman heretic, Priscillian, in the fourth century and the revival of persecution the early eleventh. This arose in the context of the emergence and development of states and the expansion of papal and royal power, which involved church and crown extending their power over local communities. At the same time, the papacy attempted reforming the church, at first in response to popular demand. However, it was then faced with the problem of clamping down on some of the popular reform movements when they threatened to run out of its control.
As the case of the Waldensians shows, the line between orthodoxy and heresy could be an extremely fine one. Johnstone also raises the question here of whether one of the most notorious medieval heretical groups, the Cathars, ever existed at all. It is possible that their existence is an illusion created by the categories of heresies the inquisitors had inherited from the Church Fathers. These were forced onto a group of local communities in the Languedoc, where popular piety centred around the Good Men and Women. These were highly respected members of the community, who were believed to live exemplary Christian lives. They were therefore due proper respect, which to the inquisitors looked like heretical veneration.
Hitler’s Christianity is also highly debatable. The little reliable testimony states that he was indeed Roman Catholic, but doesn’t provide any evidence of a deep faith. He certainly at times claimed he was a Christian and was acting in accordance with his religious beliefs. But an examination of some of these quotes shows that they were uttered as a rebuttal to others, who stated that their Christian beliefs meant that they could not support Nazism. This raises the question of whether they were anything more than a rhetorical gesture. There is evidence that Hitler was an atheist with a particular hatred of Christianity. This is mostly drawn from his Table Talk, and specifically the English edition produced by Hugh Trevor-Roper. The atheist polemicist, Richard Carrier, has shown that it is derived from a French language version, whose author significantly altered some of the quotes to insert an atheist meaning where none was present in the original. However, Carrier only identified a handful of such quotes, leaving forty requiring further investigation. Thus the question remains undecided.
Johnstone also examine the Nazi persecution of the Jews from the point of view of the theorists of political religion. These consider that humans are innately religious, but that once secularisation has broken the hold of supernatural religion, the objects of veneration changes to institutions like the state, free market capitalism, the New Man, Communism and so on. Those who follow this line differ in the extent to which they believe that the Nazis were influenced by religion. Some view it as a hydra, whose many heads stood for Christianity, but also Paganism in the case of Himmler and the SS. But underneath, the source of the real religious cult was the race, the nation and Hitler himself. If these theorists are correct, then Nazism may have been the result, not of a continued persecuting Christianity, but of secularisation.
He also considers the controversial view of the German historian, Richard Steigmann-Gall, whose The Holy Reich considered that the Nazis really were sincere in their Christianity. This has been criticised because some of the Nazis it examines as examples of Nazi Christian piety, like Rudolf Hess, were minor figures in the regime, against vehement anti-Christians like Alfred Rosenberg. He also shows how the peculiar views of the German Christians, the Nazi Christian sect demanding a new, Aryan Christianity, where Christ was blond and blue-eyed, and the Old Testament was to be expunged from the canon, were similar to certain trends within early twentieth century liberal Protestantism. But the German historian’s point in writing the book was not simply to put culpability for the Nazis’ horrors on Christianity. He wanted to attack the comfortable distance conventional society places between itself and the Nazis, in order to reassure people that they couldn’t have committed such crimes because the Nazis were different. His point was that they weren’t. They were instead uncomfortably normal.
DEMOCRITUS
The New Atheists celebrate the ancient Greek Atomists because their theories that matter is made up of tiny irreducible particles, first put forward by the philosophers Epicurus and Democritus, seem so similar to modern atomic theory. These ancient philosophers believed that these alone were responsible for the creation of a number of different worlds and the creatures that inhabited them by chance.
Some of these were forms that were incapable of surviving alone, and so died out. Thus, they appear to foreshadow Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection. New Atheist writers bitterly attack Aristotle, whose own rival theories of matter and physics gained ascendancy until Atomism was revived in the seventeenth century. The natural philosophers behind its revival are credited with being atheists, even though many of them were Christians and one, Pierre Gassendi, a Roman Catholic priest. Their Christianity is thus seen as nominal. One also takes the extreme view that Galileo’s prosecution was due to his embrace of the atomic theory, rather than his argument that the Earth moved around the Sun.
But scholars have shown that the ancient atomic theory grew out of particular debates in ancient Greece about the fundamental nature of matter, and cannot be removed from that context. They were very different to modern atomic theory. At the same time, they also held beliefs that are to us nonsense as science. For example, they believed that the early creatures produced by atoms were fed by the Earth with a milk-like substance. They also believed in the fixity of species. Even where they did believe in evolution, in the case of humanity, this was more Lamarckian than Darwinian. Aristotle’s views won out over theirs not because of religious narrow-mindedness or ignorance, but because Aristotle’s had great explanatory power.
The scientists, who revived it in the seventeenth century, including Boyle and Newton, were sincere Christians. They believed that atoms created objects through divine agency because the ancient Greek explanation – it was all chance without a theory of momentum – genuinely couldn’t explain how this could occur without God. As for Galileo, the historian who first suggested this extreme and largely discredited view, believed that he was a victim of papal politics, and that there had also been a party within the Vatican and the Church, which supported his theories.
Discussing the two witch-hunters celebrated by the New Atheists as atheist, or at least, Sceptical heroes, the book shows that this was not the case. Dietrich Flade seems to have been accused because he had fallen out with an ecclesiastical rival, Zandt, for being too lenient on the accused witches. But he also appears to have been protected by the church authorities until the accusations of witchcraft by accused witches became too many to ignore.
The other Sceptical hero, Friedrich Spee, was a Jesuit priest, who became convinced of the innocence of those accused of witchcraft through attending so many to the stake. He then wrote a book condemning the trials, the Cautio Crimenalis. But he was no sceptic. He believed wholeheartedly in witchcraft, but considered it rare. The use of torture was wrong, as it was leading to false confessions and false denunciations of others, which could not be retracted for fear of further torture. Thus the souls of the innocent were damned for this sin. But while good Christians were being burned as witches, many of the witch-hunters themselves were in league with Satan. They used the hunts and baseless accusations to destroy decent Christian society and charity.
But if the New Atheists are keen to ascribe a wide number of historical atrocities to religion without recognising the presence of other, social and political factors, they deny any such crimes can be attributed to atheism. Atheism is defined as a lack of belief in God, and so cannot be responsible for inspiring horrific acts. Johnstone states that in one sense, this is true, but it is also a question about the nature of the good life and the good society that must be constructed in the absence of a belief in God. And these become positive ideologies that are responsible for horrific crimes.
Johnstone goes on from this to attack Hector Avelos’ statement that the Soviet persecution of the Church was only a form of anti-clericalism, which all societies must go through. Johnstone rebuts this by describing the process and extent of Soviet persecution, from the separation of church and state in 1917 to the imposition of atheism by force. Churches and monasteries were closed and religious objects seized and desecrated, religious believers arrested, sent to the gulags or massacred. These persecutions occurred in cycles, and there were times, such as during the War, when a rapprochement was made with the Orthodox Church. But these periods of toleration were always temporary and established for entirely pragmatic and utilitarian purposes.
The goal was always the creation of an atheist state, and they were always followed, until the fall of Communism, by renewed persecution. The wartime rapprochement with the Church was purely to gain the support of believers for the campaign against the invading Nazis. It was also to establish state control through the church on Orthodox communities that had survived, or reappeared in border areas under Nazi occupation. Finally, the attack on the clergy, church buildings and religious objects and even collectivisation itself were done with the deliberate intention of undermining religious ritual and practice, which was considered the core of Orthodox life and worship.
Sam Harris has become particularly notorious for his suggestion that atheists should be trusted to torture terrorist suspects because of their superior rationality and morality compared to theists. Harris believed it was justified in the case of al-Qaeda suspects in order to prevent further attacks. But here Johnstone shows his logic was profoundly flawed. Torture was not introduced into medieval judicial practice in the twelfth century through bloodthirsty and sadistic ignorance. Rather it was intended as a reasonable alternative to the ordeal. Human reason, and the acquisition of evidence, was going to be sufficient to prove guilt or innocence without relying on supposed divine intervention. But the standards of evidence required were very high, and in the case of a crime like witchcraft, almost impossible without a confession.
The use of torture was initially strictly limited and highly regulated, but the sense of crisis produced by witchcraft resulted in the inquisitors abandoning these restraints. Similarly, Harris’ fear of terror attacks leads him to move from reasonable suspects, who may well be guilty, to those who are simply members of terrorist organisations. They are fitting subjects for torture because although they may be innocent of a particular offence, through their membership of a terrorist organisation or adherence to Islamist beliefs, they must be guilty of something. Finally, Harris also seems to see Islamism as synonymous with Islam, so that all Muslims everywhere are seen as enemies of the secular Western order. This is exactly the same logic as that which motivated the witch-hunts, in which witches were seen as the implacable enemies of Christian society, and so exempt from the mercy and humane treatment extended to other types of criminal.
From this Johnstone then goes on to consider how the New Atheists’ image of atheism and the process of abandoning belief in God resembles religious attitudes. Their belief that atheism must be guarded against the dangers of falling back into religious belief mirrors Christian fears of the temptation to false belief, such as those of the Protestant reformers towards the persistence of Roman Catholicism. At the same time, their ideas of abandoning God and so attaining the truth resembles the Christian process of conversion and membership of the elect. And the vitriol directed at the religious for continuing to believe in God despite repeated demonstrations of His nonexistence resembles the inquisitors’ attitude to heretics. Heresy differs from error in that the heretic refuses to be corrected, and so must be compelled to recant by force.
The book also shows the dangers inherent in some New Atheist rhetoric about religious believers. This runs in contrast to much New Atheist writing, which is genuinely progressive and expresses real sympathy with the marginalised and oppressed, and which advocates trying to see the world through their eyes. But no such sympathy is granted religious believers. They are described as children, who may not sit at the same table as adults. Or else, following the logic of religion as a virus, proposed by Dawkins, they are described as diseased, who do not realise that they have been infected and even love their condition.
Bringing children up religious is condemned as child abuse. A.C. Grayling is shown to have a utilitarian attitude in his own advocacy of secularisation. He first states that he supports it for creating multiculturalism, but then contradicts himself by stating that he looks forward to it undermining religion. This was the same attitude the Soviets initially adopted towards religion. When it didn’t disappear as they expected, they resorted to force. Peter Boghossian wants atheist ‘street epistemologists’ – the atheist version of religious street preachers – to attack believers’ religious beliefs in public. They are to take every opportunity, including following them into church, in order to initiate ‘Socratic’ discussions that will lead them to questioning their faith.
Johnstone states that this is an implicit denial of theists’ right to conduct their private business in public without atheist interference. It’s in line with the New Atheist demands that religion be driven from the public sphere, into the churches, or better yet, the home. The metaphor of disease and infection suggests that what is needed is for religious believers to be rounded up against their will and forcibly cured. It’s the same metaphor the Nazis used in their persecution of their victims.
He quotes the atheist philosopher Julian Baggini, who is dismayed when he hears atheists describing religion as a mental disease from which believers should be forcibly treated. As for the statement that religious upbringing equals child abuse, the seriousness of this charge raises the question of how seriously the New Atheists actually see it. If Dawkins and co. really believe that it is, then their lack of demand for state intervention to protect children from indoctrination, as they see it, from the parents shows that they don’t treat child abuse seriously.
The New Atheist rhetoric actually breaks with their concrete recommendations for what should be done to disavow believers of their religious views, which are actually quite mild. This is what Johnstone calls the ‘cavalierism of the unfinished thought’. They may not recommend coercion and persecution, but their rhetoric implies it. Johnstone states that he has discussed only one of several competing strands in New Atheist thinking and that there are others available. He concludes with the consideration that there isn’t a single atheism but a multiplicity of atheisms, all with differing responses to religious belief. Some of them will be comparably mild, but most will involve some kind of frustration at religion’s persistence. He recommends that atheists should identify which type of atheist they are, in order to avoid the violent intolerance inherent in New Atheist rhetoric. This agrees with his statement at the beginning of the book, where he hopes it will lead to an atheist response to religion which is properly informed by history and which genuinely respects religious believers.
The book is likely to be widely attacked by the New Atheists and their followers. Some of its conclusions Johnstone admits are controversial, such as the view that the Cathars never existed, or that the persecution of heretics was an integral part of the forging of the medieval state. But historians and sociologists of religion repeatedly show that in the persecutions and atrocities in which religion has been involved, religion is largely not the only, or in some cases even the most important reason. Johnstone’s views on witchcraft is supported by much contemporary popular and academic treatments. His statement that the figure of over nine million victims of the witch-hunt is grossly exaggerated is shared by Lois Martin in her The History of Witchcraft (Harpenden: Pocket Essentials 2002). The Harvard professor, Jeffrey Burton Russell in his Witchcraft in the Middle Ages (Ithaca: Cornell University Press 1972) also shows how Christian attitudes towards witchcraft passed from the scepticism of the Canon Episcopi to belief as the responsibility for its persecution passed from the bishops to the Holy Office.
Early law codes treated maleficium – black or harmful magic – purely as a civil offence against persons or property. It became a religious crime with the development of the belief that witches attended sabbats where they parodied the Christian Eucharist and worshiped Satan. A paper describing the scrupulous legality and legal provisions for the accused’s defence in the Roman Inquisition can be found in the Athlone History of Witchcraft and Magic In Europe IV: The Period of the Witch Trials, Bengt Ankerloo and Stuart Clarke eds., (Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press 2002). Other writers on religion have noted the similarity between the late medieval and early modern witch-hunts and paranoid fears about Freemasons, Jews and Communists in later centuries, including the Holocaust, Stalin’s purges and McCarthyism. They thus see it as one manifestation of the wider ‘myth of the organised conspiracy’. See Richard Cavendish, ‘Christianity’, in Richard Cavendish, ed., Mythology: An Illustrated Encyclopedia (London: Orbis 1980) 156-69 (168-9).
The Soviet persecution of the Russian Orthodox Church is described by Rev. Timothy Ware in his The Orthodox Church (London: Penguin 1963). Ludmilla Alexeyeva also describes the Soviet persecution of the Orthodox Church, along with other religions and national and political groups and movements in her Soviet Dissent: Contemporary Movements for National, Religious and Human Rights (Middletown, Connecticutt: Wesleyan University Press 1985). R.N. Carew Hunt’s The Theory and Practice of Communism (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1950) shows how leading Communists like Lenin believed atheism was an integral part of Communism and the Soviet state with a series of quotations from them. An example of Lenin’s demand for an aggressive atheism is his speech, ‘On the Significance of Militant Materialism’ in Lenin: Selected Works (Moscow: Progress Publishers 1968). 653-60.
It is also entirely reasonable to talk about religious elements and attitudes within certain forms of atheism and secular ideologies. Peter Rogerson in many of his well-reasoned articles in Magonia pointed out how similar some of the sceptics’ attacks on superstition and the supernatural were to narratives of religious conversion. His attitude is shared with some academic sociologists, historians and political theorists. Peter Yinger’s section on ‘Secular Alternatives to Religion’ in The Religious Quest: A Reader, edited by Whitfield Foy (London: Open University Press 1978) 537-554, has articles on the ‘Religious Aspects of Postivism’, p. 544, ‘Faith in Science’, 546, ‘Religious Aspects of Marxism’, p. 547, ‘Totalitarian Messianism’ 549, and ‘Psychoanalysis as a Modern Faith’, 551. For some scholars, the similarities of some secular ideologies to religion is so strong, that they have termed them quasi-religions.
While some atheists resent atheism being described as religion, this term is meant to avoid such objections. It is not intended to describe them literally as religions, but only as ideologies that have some of the qualities of religion. See John E. Smith’s Quasi-Religions: Humanism, Marxism and Nationalism (Macmillan 1994). New Atheism also mimics religion in that several of the New Atheists have written statements of the atheist position and edited anthologies of atheist writings. These are A.C. Grayling’s The Good Book and Christopher Hitchens’ The Portable Atheist. The title of Grayling’s book is clearly a reference to the Bible. As I recall, it caused some controversy amongst atheists when it was published, as many of them complained that atheism was too individual and sceptical to have a definitive, foundational text. In their view, Grayling’s book showed the type of mindset they wanted to escape when they left religion.
The fears of the terrible potential consequences of New Atheist rhetoric despite the avowed intentions of its authors is well founded and timely. There have been sharp complaints about some of the vitriolic rhetoric used to attack particular politicians in debates about Brexit which has resulted in assault and harassment. At the same it was reported that anti-Muslim hate crimes spiked after the publication of Boris Johnson’s column in which he described women wearing the burqa as looking like letterboxes. Neither religion, nor secularism and atheism should be immune from criticism. But Johnstone is right in that it should be correctly historically informed and careful in the language used. Otherwise the consequences could be terrible, regardless of the authors’ own humane feelings and sympathies.