Posts Tagged ‘Pacifism’

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.

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John Wycliff’s Arguments for Pacifism

February 18, 2018

Last Sunday I put up a piece about the Lollard sermon, The Perversion of the Works of Mercy. The Lollards were the late fourteenth-early fifteenth century followers of the English theologian and reformer, John Wycliffe. Wycliffe was a kind of proto-Protestant, who denounced the corruption of the church, rejected the papacy and maintained that the Bible should be the sole authority for Christian doctrine. The Perversion of the Works of Mercy attacks the way people have turned away from performing their Christian obligations to feed, clothe, give drink to the poor, visit and care for the sick and prisoners, and instead do this all for the rich and powerful. It’s a powerful message for today, when the Tories’ official policy is to increase the tax burden of the poor, in order to give massive tax cuts to the rich. The Tories are also cutting benefits to the poor, unemployed, sick and disabled as part of this programme of making the rich even richer, while at the same time claiming that the destruction of the welfare state is all for the benefit of the poor themselves. It’s saving them from ‘welfare dependency’, and is encouraging them, in the notorious words of Norman Tebbit, to get on their bikes and look for work. It’s all part of the Tory and Thatcherite embrace of the Victorian attitude of ‘less eligibility’, which stated that conditions of state aid should be as harsh as possible in order to deter people from taking it up, and encourage them to take any job, no matter how low paid or exploitative.

Wycliffe was also a pacifist. I also blogged a month or so ago about a book I found on his pacifism in the Oxbow Bargain Book Catalogue. Wycliffe’s pacifism is also discussed by Basil Cottle in his The Triumph of English 1350-1400 (London: Blandford Press 1969). Here’s the passage where he discusses Wycliffe’s rejection of war, quoting the medieval theologian himself:

In each particular, Wyclif’s views are revolutionary, and his treatment of of war is typical of this: those who go to war cannot with justice say the Lord’s Prayer. ‘And before the seven axingis that Crist techith in the Pater Noster meneth … algatis to axe in charite, and thefore men that liven in werre ben unable to have their axinge; but thei axen ther owne dampnynge in the fifte peticioun, for ther thei axen that God for3yve hem ther dettis that thei owen to Hym, ri3t as thei for3yven men that ben dettours unto hem.’ [And for this reason the seven askings that Christ teaches in the Lord’s Prayer mean… at all events to ask in charity, and therefore men that live in war are unable to have what they ask; but they ask for their own damnation in the fifth petition, because there they ask that God may forgive them their debts that they owe to Him, even as the forgive men that are debtors to them.] But what was the situation in which the divided Church now found herself?-the Pope offering indulgences t6o those who would fight against the antipope (a subject extensively treated in a sermon on Martyrs) , and Bishop Despenser of Norwich leading his beastly and futile ‘crusade’ of 1383 against Flanders: ‘now men seyen that thei shulden, bi lore of ther feith, werre upon Cristen men, and turnen hem to the Pope, and slee ther persones, ther wyves, and ther children, and reve hem ther goodis, and thus chastise hem. But certis this came nevere of chastyment of Crist, sith Crist seith He cam not to lese lyves bu save hem. And hefore this is chastyment of the fiend, and never chastyment of Crist, that uside pacience and myraclis.’ [Now men say that they should, by the teaching of their faith, war upon Christian men, and win them over to the Pope, and kill their persons, their wivs, and their children, and rob them of their goods, and thus punish them. But certainly this kinid of punishment never came from Christ, since Christ says He came not to destroy llives to save them. And for this reason this is a punishment from the dreadful fiend, and never a punishment from Christ, who used patience and miracles.] Yet ‘blynde heretikes wanten witt as ydiotis, whan thei seien that Petre synnede not in smytynge of Malcus ere, but 3af ensaumple to preestis to fi3t’ [blind heretics lack understanding, like idiots, when they say that Peter did not sin in striking off Maclhus’s ear, but set an example for priests to fight]-though Christ prevented him from fighting further. ‘Lord, where this Pope Urbane hadde Goddis charite dwelling in him, whan he stired men to fi3te and slee many thousaund men, to venge him on the tother People and of men that holden with him?’ [Lord, did this Pope Urban have ~God’s charity dwelling in him, when he incited men to fight and kill many thousand men, to avenge himself on the other Pope and on men who belong to his side?] The friars, says Wyclif, preach to a bellicose text- that the English must get in first with their attacks on their enemies in other countries, for fear they do the same and sin be increased on both sides; a hideous doctrine of sinning so as to good.)

Cottle goes on to observe that ‘This new pacifism may have distasteful to readers who still enjoyed the memory of Crecy and Poitiers and to the old soldiers who must have figure among the 1381 malcontents’ (the Peasant’s Revolt). (pp. 235-6).

This hatred of war was shared by Sir John Clanvowe, soldier, diplomat, courtier, poet, crusader, and the author of the Boke of Cupide. This was so similar to Chaucer’s works, that for a time it was accepted as that great poet’s own composition. Clanvowe himself died in a village near Constantinople. Clanvowe wrote

‘The world holt hem worshipful that been greet werryours and fi3teres, and that distroyen and wynnen manye londis, and waasten and 3even muche good to hem that haan ynou3, and that dispenden oultrageously in mete, in drynke, in clothing, in building, and in lyuyng in eese, slouthe, and many oothere synnes.’ [The world considers them honourable who are great warriors and fighters and destroy and conquer many lands, and waste and give much property to them that have plenty, and spend outrageously on food, drink, clothing, building, and living in ease, sloth, and many other sins.] (Cottle, op. cit., p. 253).

Cottle himself says of this passage that ‘the attack here is almost on rank, and Clanvowe is disgusted that it is of these proud and vengeful people that ‘men maken books and soonges, and reeden and singen of hem for to hoolde the mynde of here deedes the lengere here vpon erth’. [Men make books and songs, and recite and sing of them so as to keep the memor of their deeds the longer here on earth.] (p. 254).

As I said with my earlier post about the Perversion of the Works of Mercy, I’m not putting this up to attack Roman Catholicism. I despise religious intolerance and don’t want to provoke any more sectarian religious hatred. I’m also deeply impressed with the various Roman Catholic organisations, clergy and lay people that genuinely work for the poor and those in the needy, and radical groups like Doris Day’s Catholic Workers. My point here is to show merely that religious radicals, like Wycliffe and Clanvowe, despised the way the poor were ignored and treated by the rich, and condemned war as fundamentally unchristian.

This is an attitude that attacks and refutes the vicious opinions of the religious right, with their prosperity gospel – that Christ wants everyone to be rich, and if you’re poor, it’s your fault – and is solidly behind the wars in the Middle East and elsewhere. These wars aren’t being fought to protect America, Israel or anyone else. They’re fought purely for the profit of immensely rich multinational corporations, who hope to profit from the theft of these nations’ state industries and oil reserves. As the above texts show, they would have been thoroughly condemned by Wycliffe and Clanvowe.

John Wycliffe’s Pacifist Theology

December 17, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vox Political on the Continuing Relevance of Kirsty MacColl

December 18, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has written a short piece, remembering how it was 16 years ago today that the world heard the sad news of the death of the singer and songwriter, Kirsty MacColl. Mike states that listening to the lyrics of her 1989 track, Free World, it seems that very little has changed, and that we need more singers like her.

See his article at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/12/18/kirsty-maccoll-died-16-years-ago-today-but-her-music-is-as-relevant-as-ever/#comment-92400, where there’s a video of her singing this.

I’m not surprised that MacColl was politically engaged, as I think her father was the folk musician, Communist and conscientious objector Ewan MacColl. And Mike’s right – we do need more musicians like her. The 1980s were a very bleak time, with Maggie in No. 10 shutting hospitals and schools, among too many other closures. But it was also a time of very politically engaged music by the very talented musicians that emerged in the decade. UB40 took their name from the unemployment benefit form. There was Billy Bragg, singing his ‘urban folk’ songs about the miners during the Miner’s Strike. And Joanna, one of the commenters on Mike and this blog, also notes in her comment that the Style Council’s ‘Walls Come Tumbling Down’ is also acutely relevant, as song of resistance to everything Thatcher and the Tories represent. That had the lyrics

‘You don’t have to take this cr*p,
You don’t have to sit back and relax
You can try and change it…
Lights go out,
Walls come tumbling down’.

Here’s a video of Paul Weller explaining why he puts his politics into music, and the band playing that same track.

Chunky Mark on the Very Undemocratic Labour Coup

July 16, 2016

Blair Purge Cover

Here’s another video from Chunky Mark, the Artist Taxi Driver. In this one, Chunky Mark delivers his rant, which is nevertheless very acutely observed, on the Labour coup. He describes why the coup plotters hate Jeremy Corbyn, and how absolute undemocratic they are.

He observes that the right-wing – the Tories and the media didn’t want Corbyn from day one. The Labour MPs hated his anti-war stance, including his rejection of Trident, his rejection of austerity, his support for building ‘not-for-profit homes’, nor for standing up for free education and holding the wretched vulture capitalists to account. The Right and the Labour MPs hate everything he stands for and his supporters. And the forthcoming Labour election, the Chunky One declares scathingly, is a fraud.

He states that the coup started with the resignation of Hilary Benn, but Angela Eagle had already bought and paid for a website with the title ‘Angela Eagle for Leader’. The Coup Plotters have raised the membership fee from £3 to £25, and excluded 130,000 new members. The NEC – the head council of the Labour party – has also banned constituency parties from holding meetings. They’ve suspended the largest local Labour party, that of Brighton, and launched an algorhythm to search social media to make sure that Labour party members do not use words like ‘traitor’. If they do, they are suspended. Corbyn’s supporters have been denounced as ‘Trots’ and ‘rabble dogs’.

Chunky Mark says that somebody observed that they’re living under a Tory government, they didn’t vote, going through a Brexit, that they didn’t vote for, and have a Tory prime minister, that nobody voted for, but that’s democracy. Now the one person, who could be democratically electable, has to be voted for again, because the Labour MPs don’t like him, and want to get rid of him. Chunky Mark rightly points out that we should be fighting the current, extreme Right Tory government, which is attacking people’s rights. The Labour Coup, however, have sent this country backwards. He states that the Coup Plotters’ dream seems to be to suspend the membership, leaving only the Labour MPs and their donors. He quotes the journalist, John Harris, who said, ‘There is a fetid cloud of acrimony over Labour, and it is the reek of death.’ The Chunky One observers that the plotters would rather see people’s vision of an alternative, better world die than attack the status quo. It’s all gerrymandering, backed by lies and smears. The massive increase in membership fee discriminates against the low waged, the unemployed, students and the elderly.

This is the Labour election fraud.

Chunky Mark’s right. This is the parliamentary Labour party, the official Labour party wedded to Tony Blair’s neo-liberal vision, the ‘New Labour’ that came into being with the removal of Clause 4, the article providing for nationalisation of the means of production, trying to defend itself from Old Labour, now that the neoliberal vision is being increasingly found to be bankrupt. New Labour came to power impressed with Thatcher’s popularity, and convinced by her own threadbare ideas. State control and planning was rejected, along with all but a minimal welfare state. The rich, private industry and the media barons were to be courted and won over, as without them, Labour, it was held, was unelectable. And besides, only private industry knows best how to run the economy.

Except that it’s become blindingly evident that they don’t, and more and more people are aware of this. But it runs against everything the Blairites have instilled in the party for the last quarter of a century. And I wonder, in some of this, how much simple careerism plays a part. There was already a revolving door between business, senior civil servants and ministers under John Major. It became wider, and even more sleazy and corrupt under Blair. And now MPs see the promise of a nice, lucrative career in the industries they helped to privatise, and win government contracts after their parliamentary careers have ended, disappearing.

Berthold Brecht once remarked of the East German Communist party, when they clamped down on their people after they dared to demand democracy, that the Communist party had voted democratically to dissolve the people and elect another. This is what an authoritarian and careerist Labour party machine is trying to do to its membership. They want to destroy the party, rather than see themselves and neoliberalism and its horrors fail.

Tolstoy’s The Law of Violence and the Law of Love

January 24, 2016

Tolstoy Law Love

(Santa Barbara: Concord Grove Press, no date)

As well as being one of the great titans of world literature, Leo Tolstoy was a convinced anarchist and pacifist. The British philosopher and writer, Sir Isaiah Berlin, in his book, Russian Thinkers, states that Tolstoy’s anarchist beliefs even informed his great work, War and Peace. Instead of portraying world history as being shaped by the ideas and actions of great men, Tolstoy’s epic of the Napoleonic Wars shows instead how it is formed by the actions of millions of individuals.

The writer himself attempted to put his own ideas into practise. He was horrified by the poverty and squalor, both physical and moral, of the new, urban Russia which was arising as the country industrialised, and the degradation of its working and peasant peoples. After serving in the army he retreated to his estate, where he concentrated on writing. He also tried to live out his beliefs, dressing in peasant clothes and teaching himself their skills and crafts, like boot-making, in order to identify with them as the oppressed against the oppressive upper classes.

Tolstoy took his pacifism from a Chechen Sufi nationalist leader, who was finally captured and exiled from his native land by the Russians after a career resisting the Russian invasion. This Islamic mystic realised that military resistance was useless against the greater Russian armed forces. So instead, he preached a message of non-violent resistance and peaceful protest against the Russian imperial regime. Tolstoy had been an officer during the invasion of Chechnya, and had been impressed by its people and their leader’s doctrine of peaceful resistance. Tolstoy turned it into one of the central doctrines of his own evolving anarchist ideology. And he, in turn, influenced Gandhi in his stance of ahimsa – Hindu non-violence – and peaceful campaign against the British occupation of India. Among the book’s appendices is 1910 letter from Tolstoy to Gandhi. I also believe Tolstoy’s doctrine of peaceful resistance also influence Martin Luther King in his confrontation with the American authorities for civil rights for Black Americans.

Tolstoy considered himself a Christian, though his views are extremely heretical and were officially condemned as such by the Russian Orthodox Church. He wrote a number of books expounding his religious views, of which The Law of Violence and the Law of Love is one. One other is The Kingdom of God Is Within You. Tolstoy’s Christianity was basically the rationalised Christianity, formed during the 19th century by writers like David Strauss in Germany and Ernest Renan in France. In their view, Christ was a moral preacher, teaching devotion to a transcendent but non-interfering God, but did not perform any miracles or claim He was divine. It’s similar to the Deist forms of Christianity that appeared in the 18th century in works such as Christianity Not Mysterious. While there are still many Biblical scholars, who believe that Christ Himself did not claim to be divine, such as Geza Vermes, this view has come under increasing attack. Not least because it presents an ahistorical view of Jesus. The Deist conception of Christ was influenced by the classicising rationalism of the 18th century. It’s essentially Jesus recast as a Greek philosopher, like Plato or Socrates. More recent scholarship by Sandmel and Sanders from the 1970’s onwards, in works like the latter’s Jesus the Jew, have shown how much Christ’s life and teaching reflected the Judaism of the First Century, in which miracles and the supernatural were a fundamental part.

In The Law of Violence and the Law of Love, Tolstoy sets out his anarchist, pacifist Christian views. He sees the law of love as very core of Christianity, in much the same way the French Utopian Socialist Saint-Simon saw universal brotherhood as the fundamental teaching of Christianity. Tolstoy attacks the established church for what he sees as their distortion of this original, rational, non-miraculous Christianity, stating that it’s the reason so many working people are losing their faith. Like other religious reformers, he recommends his theological views, arguing that it will lead to a revival of genuine Christianity. At the same time, this renewed, reformed Christianity and the universal love it promotes, will overturn the corrupt and oppressive rule of governments, which are built on violence and the use of force.

Among the other arguments against state violence, Tolstoy discusses those, who have refused or condemned military service. These not only include modern conscientious objectors, such as 19th century radicals and Socialists, but also the Early Church itself. He quotes Christian saints and the Church Fathers, including Tertullian and Origen, who firmly condemned war and military service. For example, Tertullian wrote

It is not fitting to serve the emblem of Christ and the emblem of the devil, the fortress of light and the fortress of darkness. One soul cannot serve two masters. And besides, how can one fight without the sword, which the Lord himself has taken away? Is it possible to do sword exercises, when the Lord says that everyone who takes the sword shall perish by the sword? And how can a son of peace take part in a battle.

Some scholars of the Early Church have argued that its opposition to military service was based on opposition to the pagan ceremonies the soldiers would have to attend and perform as part of their duties. As believers in the only God, these were forbidden to Christians. Nevertheless, despite his condemnation, Tertullian admits elsewhere that there were Christians serving in the Roman army.

Other quotations from the Church Fathers make it clear that it was opposition to the bloodshed in war, which caused them to reject military service. Tolstoy cites Cyprian, who stated that

The world goes mad with the mutual shedding of blood, and murder, considered a crime when committed singly, is called a virtue when it is done in the mas. The multiplication of violence secures impunity for the criminals.

Tolstoy also cites a decree of the First Ecumenical Council of 325 proscribing a penance to Christians returning to the Roman army, after they had left it. He states that those, who remained in the army, had to vow never to kill an enemy. If they violated this, then Basil the Great declared that they could not receive communion for three years.

This pacifism was viable when the Church was a small, persecuted minority in the pagan Roman Empire. After Constantine’s conversion, Christians and the Christian church entered government as Christianity became the official religion. The Church’s pacifist stance was rejected as Christians became responsible for the defence of the empire and its peoples, as well as their spiritual wellbeing and secular administration. And as the centuries progressed, Christians became all too used to using force and violence against their enemies, as shown in the countless religious wars fought down through history. It’s a legacy which still understandably colours many people’s views of Christianity, and religion as a whole.

This edition of Tolstoy’s book is published by the Institute of World Culture, whose symbol appears on the front of the book. This appears from the list of other books they publish in the back to be devoted to promoting mysticism. This is mostly Hindu, but also contains some Zoroastrian and Gnostic Christian works, as well as the Zohar, one of the main texts of the Jewish Qabbala.

Pacifism is very much an issue for your personal conscience, though it is, of course, very much a part of the Quaker spirituality. Against this pacifist tradition there’s the ‘Just War’ doctrine articulated and developed over the centuries by St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and other theologians and Christian philosophers. This examines and defines under which circumstances and for which reasons a war can be fought, and what moral restrictions should be imposed on the way it is fought. For example, combatants should not attack women, children and non-combatants. Despite this, the book is an interesting response to the muscular Christianity preached during the days of the British Empire, and which still survives in the American Right. Many Republicans, particularly the Tea Party, really do see Christianity as not only entirely compatible with gun rights, but as a vital part of it. Bill O’Reilly, one of the anchors on Fox News, has stated that Christ would fully approve of the shooting of violent criminals, even in circumstances others find highly dubious. These include some of the incidents where teh police have shot unarmed Blacks, or where such resistance from the suspect may have been the result of mental illness and the cops themselves were in no danger. In the Law of Violence and the Law of Love, you can read Tolstoy’s opinion of the official use of lethal force, and his condemnation of the capitalist statism O’Reilly and Fox stand for.

The Daily Mail and Milliband: Proof You Can Tell He’s Doing Something Right

October 2, 2013

The Daily Mail’s attack on Milliband’s father suggests that the leader of the Labour party must really have them rattled. They can’t, it seem, be content to attack the man’s policies, but have to launch an ad hominem attack, not just on the man, but on his father. Ralph Milliband died in 1994, and so can’t answer back, nor sue for libel. As Milliband said in his right-to-reply piece, reproduced on Kittysjones’ blog, ‘You can’t libel the dead, but you can smear them’. Now Ralph Milliband was a distinguished Marxist intellectual, and this intellectual legacy appears to threaten the Conservatives, even if his sons, as members of New Labour, don’t share his views.

Milliband states that the Mail’s article is purely based on a single entry his father made in his diary when he was an adolescent. I can well believe this. From what I understand about the experience of Jewish immigrants to Britain of Milliband’s senior generation, rather than hating Britain, many of them were extremely patriotic. The office of ‘Chief Rabbi of the British Empire’ in British Judaism was modelled on the position of the Archbishop of Canterbury as head of the Anglican Church. The motto of the Jewish equivalent of the Boy Scouts was ‘to be a good Jew and a good Englishman’. One of the paintings by the 20th century avant-garde artist, David Bomberg, shows the interior of a Jewish bath house. The colours used are red, white and blue, those of the Union flag. I have the impression, though I’m no art historian and know next to nothing about Bomberg, that this was a genuine expression of his love for his country.

What many European emigres didn’t like about Britain was its anti-intellectualism and ‘boy’s club’ atmosphere. Many of them were extremely highly educated and cultured men and women, and they disliked the philistinism they found in British society. Those raised in the Continental intellectual culture, regardless of their religion or ethnicity, have often commented on its comparative absence over this side of La Manche. One British Jewish intellectual, Steiner, compared Britain with France. In France, he said, they’d fight duels over disagreements about Hegel. In Britain the attitude is simply, ‘Oh, don’t be so silly’. I think Steiner liked the British attitude as showing far more common sense, while being aware of just how hostile British culture could be to intellectual debate. The Daily Mail, however, has over the years done its level best to keep this tradition of fierce anti-intellectualism going. Way back in the 1990s Paul Johnson, one of the Mail’s columnists, wrote a book Intellectuals. This took a number of leading intellectual figures, such as Karl Marx, Kenneth Tynan, Hans Christian Andersen and so on, and examined not their ideas, but their own personal lives. Most of them were shown to fall far below the standards of correct behaviour and bourgeois decorum demanded by the Daily Mail. As did Johnson himself, who all the while he was pontificating on British moral decline and the evils of today’s lax sexual behaviour was regularly getting a good spanking by his mistress. Private Eye wrote a mock hagiography for him in their ‘Lives of the Saints’ column, in which the great man said to his mistress ‘You must spank me on the botty and show me no mercy!’ Now it’s pretty true that many great men had feet of clay, and some of them were pretty horrible human beings. As Private Eye pointed out in its review of Johnson’s book, the shoddiness of their private lives no more invalidates their work than the second-best bed negates the beauty and value of Hamlet.

And some of the pieces written by the Daily Mail’s writers over the years are bizarre, if not absolutely bonkers. JUlie Burchill once wrote a piece in the Mail of Sunday, which, through several turns of highly convoluted, and indeed, sheer lapses of logic, attacking the sincere anti-Fascists, like Orwell and Steven Spender, who went to Spain to fight Franco in the Civil War. They were not motivated by heroism and the desire to see a Europe free of Fascist tyranny, according to Burchill. No, they were just like the tourists, who go to Spain to watch the bullfights. Burchill has said of her writing before now that she starts with a drink in front of her, which by the time she’s finished is all gone. She has also boasted of taking enough cocaine to stun the Colombian army. Reading pieces like that, I believe her. As for attacking the anti-Fascist veterans of the Civil War, this raises once again the spectre of Conservative hypocrisy. Orwell in one of his articles described how the Stock Exchanged cheered General Franco when he launched his revolt against the Republic. The leader of the National Front in the 1960s, Fountaine, was a former Tory, who had fought for Franco during the Civil War. he was thrown out of the Conservative party after making anti-Semitic comments about Jewish influence at one of the party’s meetings. He wasn’t the only Tory to admire the Spanish dictator. Martin Pugh in his book on British Fascism between the wars also notes that Winston Churchill also admired him for his authoritarian leadership. Churchill was certainly not an anti-Semite, but his opposition to Nazi Germany came from a conviction that a strong, militarised Reich threatened the British Empire, not from an opposition to Fascism per se. Hence Orwell’s comment in another of his articles that the run-up to Second World War hade produced some truly remarkable turns of events, ‘such as Winston Churchill running around pretending to be a democrat’. In the Tory party, Anthony Eden was a much stronger, and far more determined opponent of Fascism.

As for Paul Johnson, he himself is also capable of making bizarre, distorted attacks on the character of great men. A decade ago now he attack the great Russian novelist, Tolstoy, in the pages of the Spectator, for being responsible for the rise of Stalin. This is such a gross distortion of Tolstoy’s views and character that, as with Burchill, you wonder if he was drunk or on drugs when he wrote it. Tolstoy was a communist, who believed in the collective ownership of property. He was not, however, a Marxist, but Christian, as well as a vegetarian, pacifist anarchist. Unlike Marxism, which holds that society is formed and progresses through inexorable social and economic laws, Tolstoy believed that history was made not through impersonal processes, but through the actions of millions of individual people. He expressed his distinctive view of history as formed by countless individuals, rather than the actions of great men, in his masterpiece, War and Peace. He got his idea on passive resistance from the tactics used by a Chechen Sufi leader, who was captured and exiled to Russia after the Russian invaded his country. Tolstoy himself wrote pamphlets denouncing violence, and in turn influenced Gandhis own conception of the Hindu doctrine of ahimsa – nonviolence. As an anarchist, he also hated the state for its violence and oppression. In contrast to Stalin, who demanded absolute devotion, constituting a form of secular worship, Tolstoy himself lived simply. Despite being a member of the aristocracy, he wore a peasant’s smock and taught himself their skills, such as sewing boots. There is absolutely no comparison whatsoever between Tolstoy and Stalin, and the great novelist would have been repelled and revolted by everything Stalin stood for.

The vicious, mean-spirited attack on Ralph Milliband is just another demonstration of the Heil’s abysmally low standards of journalism: bizarre, ad hominem rants with little basis, or even concern, for factual accuracy.

Now both Pride’s Purge and Kittysjones have written excellent pieces, which I’ve reblogged, on how the Mail supported Mosley and Hitler. In fairness to the Daily Mail, they did run pieces critical of him after his organisation’s intolerance and thuggery became very clear. Nevertheless, there still remained some respect for the man even after he had been discredit and revealed as an anti-Semite and would-be fuhrer. One of his biographers, Skidelsky, maintained that Mosley was not actually anti-Semitic, and only became so after he encountered opposition from the Jewish organisations. skidelsky points out that Mosley’s notorious ‘biff boys’, the uniformed stewards at his rallies, were trained by the Jewish boxer, Ted Lewis. According to Skidelsky, Mosley was far more influenced by Mussolini than Hitler. This view has now been rejected by later historians. Martin Pugh points out that Mosley’s BUF contained a large number of anti-semites, and that Mosley quickly turned to Hitler and the Nazis when Mussolini’s leadership of international Fascism began to wane. After Hitler’s seizure of power, Mosley changed the BUF’s name to ‘the British Union of Fascists and National Socialists’. Mosley was indeed a Nazi, and so shares their guilt for the horrors they committed.

This has, however, only been recognised very recently. When Mosley died, the newspapers all printed sympathetic, even glowing obituaries. The BBC’s satirical sketch show, Not The Nine O’clock News sent this up at the time in their song about him. If you listen to it right to the end, you’ll find that the point of the satire isn’t so much Mosley himself, but the fact that the newspapers all wrote obituaries praising him. Here it is: