Posts Tagged ‘Poetry’

Channel 4 Report into Italian Hipster Fascists

March 5, 2018

After the Fascistic policies and behaviour of the Israeli state and its advocates over here, there’s the return of Fascism proper to Europe. I found this Channel 4 report into the Italian Fascist party, CasaPound, on YouTube. CasaPound is a miniscule Fascist party, which takes its name from the American Modernist poet and Fascist, Ezra Pound. Casa is Italian for ‘house’, so I suppose you could translate the party’s name as ‘Pound House’ or ‘House of Pound’. They seem to have been founded by an extreme right-wing rock singer, shown growling out his wretched songs at one of his concerts. The party holds rallies, at which their squadristi respond with the Roman salute. And the iconography of Italian Fascism – the Fasces – the bundle of sticks with the axe projecting from it – and Mussolini’s ghastly fizzog are everywhere.

The reporter is shown round their headquarters by a woman. On one wall, when you go in, are the names of various prominent Fascists, written in different colours and sizes. The reporter’s guide tells him that they have this put there, as their counterpart to the Roman household gods that guarded their homes. One of the names on the wall is that of the notorious British Fascist, Oswald Mosley. The building also acts as a hostel, putting up the homeless – but only if you’re Italian. By which, presumably, they mean ‘White Italian’. The party also runs food banks and provides free medical care, such as health check-ups and electro-cardiograms. Again, only for Whites. As the woman explains in the video, only full Whites can be members of the organisation. A White person married to an immigrant cannot be a member, each of whom pays a subscription to the organisation. Along with the names of prominent, infamous Fascists, there’s also their flags and insignia, including that of the infamous Golden Dawn, responsible for the beatings and murder of immigrants and leftists in Greece.

The reporter comments that the place is very military, like a barracks. And it almost goes without saying that Casapound is viciously anti-immigrant. There’s a clip of a rally at which one of their speakers states he wants two ships in the Mediterranean to intercept the migrant vessels and send them back to Libya. The reporter also makes the point that they are trying to exploit the death of a young girl for their political gain. It’s not certain whether the girl died of a drug overdose, or was murdered, but three immigrants were arrested in connection with her death after her dismembered body was found deposited in two suitcases. The next day, a man with very extreme right-wing views opened fire and killed six migrants. The stormtroopers of CasaPound state very clearly that they don’t want immigrants coming to Italy bringing drugs and crime, and that if they had been in power, the girl would still be alive.

At the moment, CasaPound are politically negligible. They need to get three per cent of the vote before they get anywhere the Italian parliament, and there are many other Fascist parties. But the video does show the return of the blatantly Fascist right into Italian politics, even though it’s currently at the fringes.

The video’s important, not just for showing the re-emergence of proper Fascism in Italy, but because it also shows and confirms some of the observations the American radical journalist, Chris Hedges, has made about the way Fascism returns after the liberal elite abandon the working class. Hedges stated that the new Fascism in America took the form of complete little worlds, in which a person could become completely immersed. He was talking about the religious right, and the megachurches, which provide a more-or-less complete environment separate from the secular world outside. CasaPound offers much the same. It’s a lifestyle, as much as a political party.

As well as watching the emergence of Fascism in America, Hedges himself saw it appear during the civil war in Yugoslavia. He states that when the liberal elite abandon the working class to pursue neoliberal policies, which benefit only the business elite, the working class not only turn against them, but against the liberal values of multiculturalism, anti-racism, feminism, gay rights and so on. And again, you can see that here. The welfare services provided by CasaPound for the racially pure show this clearly. Healthcare has been cut, so that many Italians cannot get a doctor. So CasaPound provides one. The party’s squadristi state that the Communist party used to do this, but they don’t appear in the communities any longer. And so their place has been filled instead by CasaPound. Again, the organisation is providing a total social environment, including welfare support, that the state and the supposed parties of the Left have retreated from under the assault of neoliberal free trade dogma. This also affected the Communist Party in Italy, which in the 1980s began to explore other paths to power rather than the methods dictated by Russian experience. In doing so, they became much less radical, despite their Marxist ideology. I can remember the Financial Times in the 1990s stating that they were no more left-wing than the SDP in Britain, the right-wing Labour splinter group that amalgamated with the Liberals to form the Lib Dems.

I don’t know how much of a threat Fascism actually poses in Italy. It’s certainly there, at the margins. But CasaPound are nowhere near as powerful as the Alternative fuer Deutschland, who are also real Nazis with a bitter hatred of Jews and immigrants, and which have just managed to get themselves into the Bundestag. At the moment the major populist force in Italy seems to be Beppe Grillo’s 5 Star Party. But this does indicate the way the country could move, if something is not done to bring down the rise in xenophobia and anti-immigrant hostility on one hand, and destroy the neoliberalism that is impoverishing people across the world, and creating such anxieties on the other.


Andrew Marr Praises Steven Pinker’s Book on Science, Rationality and Free Markets

February 28, 2018

Mike has posted a number of pieces on his blog commenting on the right-wing bias displayed by Andrew Marr on his Sunday morning show. One recent example of this was his comment to a Tory guest, who came on immediately after he had given a hard interview to someone from the Labour Party. His interview of the Tory was softer, and at the end of it he leaned over to tell her that she had done ‘very well’. Or something like it.

I’m not surprised by this bias. Marr is a fan of the free market, the sacred ideology at the heart of Thatcherism, against which no-one is allowed to blaspheme or question. He was in the I newspaper a few weeks ago praising Steven Pinker’s new book, which argues that the world has got immensely better due to science, reason and markets. Pinker’s a neuroscientist and atheist polemicist. The book’s a successor to his previous work, The Better Angels of Our Nature. This was written to refute the claim that the 20th century was the bloodiest period in human history. This argument has been made in defence of religion, as much atheist polemic is based on the violence and bloodshed that has been generated by religion. But the 20th century is a problem, as the massacres and genocides there took place within an increasingly secular world, and in the case of the horrors committed by Communist regimes, were perpetrated by aggressively atheist regimes. And in the case of the Fascist regimes, it’s questionable how religious they were. General Franco in Spain believed that he was defending Christianity from secularism and materialism when he launched his attack on the Republican government, and horrifically many Christians did support the Fascist regimes against the supposed threats of Communism and Socialism. I’m well aware that Hitler claimed that he was doing ‘the Lord’s work’ in persecuting the Jews in Mein Kampf, but in his Table Talk he has nothing but contempt for Christianity, and wants astronomical observatories set up near schools as part of a scientific campaign against the religion. Hitler’s own religious beliefs seem to have been a kind of monistic pantheism, possibly not that far removed from those of the Monist League, who also sported the swastika as their symbol. As for Mussolini, the Italian dictated signed the Lateran Accords with the papacy, in which the Pope finally recognised Italy’s existence as a state in return for Roman Catholic religious education in schools. But il Duce had started out as a radical socialist, and many members of the Fascist party still were vehemently atheist. Much depended on the religious opinions of the local Fascist ras whether Roman Catholic religious education was taught in the schools in his area. I don’t wish to go into this argument now, whether these regimes were really atheist or not, or if the 20th century really was the bloodiest period in human history. I just wish to make the point that this was the issue at the heart of Pinker’s previous book.

Pinker’s new book apparently tells us that everything’s getting better, including the environment, and Pinker marshals an impressive arrays of facts. But all this said to me was that people and governments have become more ecologically conscious. It does not mean that we aren’t facing the devastating loss of an extraordinary number of this planet’s animal and plant species, or that we face catastrophic global warming which may make the Middle East uninhabitable.

But even more questionable is Pinker’s and Marr’s assertion that modern, post-Enlightenment society has been immensely improved thanks to the science, reason and markets. In the case of science and reason, at one level the statement is obviously true. Human life has benefited immensely from scientific advance, particularly in medicine. But the view that science and reason didn’t exist before then is one that many Medieval scholars would strenuously reject. In contrast to the stereotypes, the Middle Ages actually wasn’t anti-science. There are poems from the 12th-13th centuries celebrating it, and the new knowledge that was flooding into Europe from the Islamic world. The 15th century English poem, The Court of Sapience, lists the various branches of knowledge known to the medieval world, and celebrates them as the area of ‘Dame Sapience’, an idealised personification of wisdom. As for superstition and the occult, historians have also pointed out that the Middle Ages were also an age of scepticism as well as faith. Medieval theologians wrote texts arguing that visions of demons were more likely caused by a full stomach interfering with the correct functioning of the nerves, and so causing bad dreams. Others doubted whether the seers, who claimed to be able to identify thieves through peering in bowls of water or other reflecting surfaces, had any such powers, and were simply using common knowledge to put the blame on notorious thieves. And in contrast to what Marr apparently thinks, free market capitalism did not suddenly emerge in the 18th century with the French Physiocrats and then Adam Smith. In fact, some Christian theologians were arguing for free trade as far back as the thirteenth century.

As for free market capitalism benefiting humanity, the evidence today is that it really doesn’t. The neoliberalism ushered in by Thatcher and Reagan has done nothing but make the lives of the poor much poorer across the world, and in so doing has increased international tension and political violence. The Korean economist, Ha-Joon Chang in his book 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism, shows how the strong economies of the world’s developed nations were all created, not by free trade, but by protectionism.

This is very clearly not something any true-blue Thatcherite wants to hear. But it also shows the strange, cult-like nature of the ideology of free trade capitalism. A number of writers have pointed out the apparently illogical, absolute belief its supporters have, even when they are shown the plentiful evidence to the contrary. They still go on believing and demanding free market solutions, even when it is abundantly clear to everyone else that not only do they not work, they are even causing immense harm. And Marr is clearly one of these true believers. He also seems to have uncritically accepted the view that science, reason and free market capitalism were all products of the Enlightenment, when academic historians have been pushing the origins of science and capitalism further back to the Middle Ages, and demonstrated that the Age of Faith was also one of Reason, however irrational it now seems to us.

Marr’s praise of the book and its promotion of the free market also gives more than an indication of his own political beliefs, and why he is much less sympathetic to left-wing guests on his show than those from the right. He’s another member of the cult of neoliberal market capitalism, and this has to be protected at all costs from unbelievers. Even when he and the Beeb swear impartiality.

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.

The Painter of Cyberspace: The Art of Jurgen Ziewe

January 20, 2018

Earlier this week there was a piece in the press announcing that the Turner Prize Committee had decided to go public early about which artworks and artist they were considering. I have strong feeling, like many people, about the Turner Prize. Many of the works seem simply designed to shock, with nothing more substantial underneath. Those that aren’t, are simply banal. It’s highbrow kitsch, which says nothing while claiming that it actually does. And I think modern fine art has reached a dead end. it’s anti-art, which constantly raves about Duchamps’ urinal nailed to a piece of canvas. Duchamps did it to make the point that whatever the artist claimed to be art, was art. It’s over a century old, and the joke’s well past it’s sell-by date. It was always an adolescent, childish prank anyway. To some of these art experts, it’s a hallowed artistic statement that must not be blasphemed in any way. You remember those Chinese guys, who were arrested when they jumped up and down on Tracey Emin’s ‘My Bed’? The same two were planning to urinate in Duchamps’ urinal. Which I feel is in keeping with the piece itself, but the mere thought horrified the keepers of official art.

The real artistic boundaries are being pushed, in my opinion, not by the fine artists, or at least, not by those fine artists currently pushed by the very small clique that defines what ‘official’ art is, like Nicholas Serota. Rather, they’re being pushed by commercial artists and film makers, often inspired by the worlds of Fantasy and SF, using computer graphics. One of the foremost of these, in my opinion, is the German artist Jurgen Ziewe. Ziewe lives over here, and has an English wife. And we are fortunate to have such a talented artist. I do wonder what will happen to other talented EU migrants like him after Brexit, who can’t stay in this country because they aren’t married. We’re going to lose a lot of very talented people.

Ziewe uses computer graphics, including Virtual models of humans and objects, and fractals, to create prismatic, Virtual, interior worlds full of robots, strange creatures, synthetic humans, fairies, wizards, witches, priestesses and temples. He started out making cards showing dolphins under cosmic skies. He’s a very spiritual guy, in a New Age-y sense, and his work is inspired by concepts from Theosophy and C.G. Jung. Here’s some of the picture from Nigel Suckling’s book about his art, New Territories: The Computer Visions of Jurgen Ziewe (Paper Tiger, 1997).

The Fairy Queen

Picnic In Cyberspace

Journey of a Virtual Traveller

Apart from Ziewe, other artists working in film and television have also been using the concepts of computer graphics. One of the features of the BBC TV version of the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy that most impressed me in the late ’70s or early 1980s were the, ahem, computer graphics for the pieces of information provided by the Book. In fact, they were hand drawn, because the computers at the time simply weren’t up to the task of creating pictures that detailed. But the art produced as ‘computer graphics’, was superb, and those, who watched the show were deeply impressed. As an example, here’s a piece from YouTube of the Book describing Vogon poetry.

Further examples can be seen in pop videos. Like this one from the American electro-pop band, Information Society, which uses scrolling alphanumerics to suggest passage through cyberspace in a computer game, made for their track, ‘The Prize’.

Other artistic explorations of medically or cybernetically enhanced vision can be seen in the films Pitch Black and The Chronicles of Riddick and the last of trilogy, entitled simply Riddick. Richard Riddick, the anti-hero in these movies, is a violent criminal, a murderer, who somehow ends up doing the right thing. While in slam for his crimes, he paid the prison doctor 20 menthol cigarettes to have his eyes surgically altered, ‘polished’, so that he could see in the dark. In these flicks, we so bits of the action through his eyes. The scene in Pitch Black, where he sees the predatory aliens pouring out of their underground lairs after the marooned crew of a crashed colony spacecraft, is awesomely beautiful. This is the trailer for the movie.

And this is the trailer for The Chronicles of Riddick.

In this movie, the Necromongers use visioners, cybernetically adapted humans, to seek and visually examine areas that are difficult or impossible for normal human eyes to see clearly. And the brief scenes, in which the audience is shown what they see, are also stunning.

But this is low, commercial art, and so unlikely to find any praise by the High Art people, no matter how popular it is, or how technically sophisticated and visually inspired. The best comment on this kind of artistic snobbery comes from the American SF/Fantasy artist and book illustrator, Bob Eggleton.

Being a commercial artist is itself a kind of pigeonhole in the art world, but it is not a label that troubles him. ‘Commercialism for the sake of commercialism is not a sin. What I hate is commercialism packaged as fine art. That’s what Abstract Expressionism about, you’re buying into a trend much of the time. There’s nothing wrong with any kind of art, provided the artist believes in what they’re doing.’

From Nigel Suckling, with introduction by Gregory Benford, Alien Horizons: The Fantastic Art of Bob Eggleton (Paper Tiger, 1995) page 83.

And the YBAs, such as Damian Hirst, Tracey Emin and Chris Offili, were very commercial, as was Salvador Dali long before them. This was pointed out on a programme on the great surrealist on Radio 4 several years ago by Malcolm MacLaren, the genius – well, he obviously thought he was – behind the Sex Pistols.

And here’s Eggleton’s picture of Great Cthulhu, painted for Weird Tales magazine, for all the Lovecraft fans out there.

I realised I’ve digressed a little way from the central topic of this post, the fantastic computer art of Jurgen Ziewe. But these are related issues, showing the way computers, robots, space and high technology – the stuff of Science Fiction – is pushing artistic boundaries in ways that the official fine art of Conceptualism really isn’t doing. I’m also exploring a few ideas here for a much longer article, or series of articles, I intend to do on this sometime.

Press TV: Palestinian Authority Calls on Britain to Apologise for Balfour Declaration, Recognise Palestinian State

November 17, 2017

This is a very short video from the Iranian state news service, Press TV. It’s about a couple of minutes long. It was put up on the 2nd of November 2017, just a couple of weeks ago, and reports the call by the Palestinian authority for Britain to apologise for the Balfour Declaration, and recognise an independent Palestinian state.

It was the Balfour Declaration that pledged Britain to support the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine ‘without prejudice to the Arabs’. This part of the Declaration was soon broken, and while Britain tried to give at least the appearance that it was maintaining an even hand between the Jewish settlers and indigenous Arabs, in fact it favoured the European Jewish colonialists.

In fact the British government has refused to apologise for the Declaration, and said that it was ‘proud of it’. This little bit is accompanied by everyone’s favourite braggart, Old Etonian, and lethally incompetent ego maniac, Boris Johnson. He’s shown chuntering away, but it’s silent so normal folks don’t have to put up with his god-awful braying, blustering voice.

The clip also includes a brief interview with Richard Silverstein in Seattle, who notes how the Declaration led to the disinheritance of the Palestinians, and describes the recognition of an independent Palestine as ‘a no-brainer’. He believes that the importance of the Balfour Declaration was overstated, and says that there isn’t much of a case for paying reparations to the Palestinians, as Britain didn’t pay the Israelis for what they had suffered under the Mandate either. He also puts Palestine into the wider context of colonial politics and oppression, saying that Britain treated the Arabs in Palestine the same way it treated its other colonial possessions in India, across the Middle East and Africa.

Political and Corporate Corruption in Iran

I’ve previously refrained from putting material up from Press TV, because I heartily despise the Iranian government. It’s an extremely authoritarian state, which oppresses ordinary working people and its constituent ethnic minorities for the benefit of the mullah-merchant princes. These are members of the ulema, who also have extensive links to the merchants of Tehran bazaar and their own business interests. There’s a special term in Farsi, the ancient language of Persia, for the merchant-mullahs, and the ulema currently running the country definitely don’t like. I think they had the last journo or political dissident jailed for using it. There is also a massive underground Christian church in Iran, which, unlike its Chinese counterpart, is very much unknown in the West. It’s very heavily persecuted, contrary to various Hadith and passages in the Qu’ran, where Islam’s Prophet states that ‘there should be no compulsion in religion’. And I shall blog about that little injustice further, as it says as much about the cynical use of religion by the American military-industrial complex to advance their interests.

Iran Diverse and More Tolerant than Expected

I am also very much aware of the bloodcurdling nature of the Iranian rhetoric about Israel, and how former president Ahmedinejad’s speeches have been very plausibly interpreted as advocating the complete destruction of the state of Israel. However, Iran’s remaining Jewish community is quite well treated. I also understand that the country’s ancient Zoroastrian community, who were the country’s official religion under the Persian Empire, is also tolerated and respected. About three per cent of the Iranian population are Armenian Christians, who historically took refuge in Iran to escape persecution elsewhere in the Middle East.

It’s a very diverse country ethnically. Only 51 per cent of the country speaks the official language, Farsi. Other ethnic groups include Kurds, Baluchis, Arabs, Reshtchis and various tribes speaking languages related to Turkish. The Iranians I’ve met have been very relaxed and matter of fact about the different religious monuments and places of worship that are scattered across their ancient nation. I was asked a few years ago by a Shi’a Muslim Iranian friend if I’d ever seen the Christian churches, that had been built around the Black Sea. There is an Anglican church, whose membership is composed of indigenous Iranians in Tehran, and I personally know people, who have been sent Christmas by Muslim friends, which they purchased in this church.

In short, whatever I think of the mullocracy, the country itself has always struck me as modern, tolerant and cultured. The last should come as no surprise. This is the nation that produced the great poets Firdowsi, who composed the epic history of the Iranian nation, the Shah-Name, and Saadi. Looking through the library, I found an English translation of the latter illustrated by none other than Private Eye’s Willie Rushton. Iran’s government are not its people.

The Balfour Declaration against Wishes Diaspora Jews

But I’ve decided to reblog this piece, because what it has to say about the Balfour Declaration is important. With the Declaration, Britain gave away land, which was not ours to give, and which we had absolutely no right to give away. I’ve already blogged about the way the majority of Britain’s Jewish community at the time were dead against the Declaration. They had absolutely no wish to move once again to another foreign country. They wanted to be accepted for what they were – Brits, like everyone else. The only difference is that they were of a different religion, Judaism.

I’ve also read the same thing about Hungarian Jewry, in a book I borrowed on the history of Judaism a couple of decades ago from one of my aunts. The book’s author, if I recall correctly, was a Christian priest, who admired the Jews and hated anti-Semitism. It stated there that most Hungarian Jews in the late 19th and early 20th century considered themselves ‘Magyars of the Israelitish religion’. You can see that by the way Stephen Fry talks about his Jewish grandfather. He was a Hungarian Jew, but Fry always talks about him as a ‘Magyar’ – the ethnic Hungarians’ term for themselves. Georgy Ligeti, the avant-garde composer, whose weird pieces Lux Aeterna and Atmospheres formed part of the sound track to Stanley Kubrick’s epic 2001: A Space Odyssey, is also of Hungarian Jewish heritage. He has said in an interview that his family’s surname was originally something very German or Yiddish, but that they changed it to a Hungarian equivalent out of patriotism and national pride. Which disproves so much of that awful, vile bilge Viktor Orban and his wretched Fidesz party are either claiming or insinuating about the country’s remaining Jewish population.

And I’ve blogged before about how Tony Greenstein, one of Zionism’s greatest critics, has pointed out that the Yiddish-speaking Jewish masses in pre-War Poland supported the Socialist Bund, and wanted to be accepted as equal citizens with the same rights as their gentile Polish compatriots. Britain’s Jews were not isolated in wishing to remain in their ancestral European countries. They were part of the mainstream. A mainstream that the Israel lobby in the Tories, the mainstream media, and spurious anti-racism groups like the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism and the squalid, malicious libellers of the Jewish Labour Movement in the Labour Party, are desperately trying to conceal and obscure. Heaven forfend if you try to mention this, or that the Zionists occasionally collaborated with Nazis and their fellow-travellers to persecute diaspora Jewry. They get terribly upset and start ranting that you’re an anti-Semite.

Suppression of Alternative Media by Western Neoliberal Elite

I also reblogged this because it was from Press TV. I despise the Iranian government, but I also heartily despise the way the American political-military-industrial caste is now trying to suppress alternative news sources. This means going after RT, because, er, they actually do their job as journos and cover issues like racism, growing poverty, the crimes of empire and the exploitative nature of capitalism. And so they’ve created another Red Scare, in which RT is the secret hand of Vladimir Putin corrupting American politics. And the Tories over here are doing exactly the same.

The Censorship of Alex Salmond by the Beeb

Alex Salmond now has his own show on RT in Britain. I can’t think of a single reason why he shouldn’t, and at least one good reason why he should: the Beeb heavily censored and deliberately misquoted and then edited out his own words at the Scots independence referendum t’other year. Nick ‘Macclesfield Goebbels’ Robinson asked Salmond if he was worried that the big financial houses would leave Edinburgh for London if Scotland got its independence. Salmond gave him a full answer, stating that he was not worried, and was confident that this would not happen. He quoted various sources from within the financial sector.

Oops! Salmond wasn’t supposed to do that. So over the course of the day, the footage was carefully edited down so that it first appeared that Salmond gave only a cursory reply without much substance. Then it was edited out completely, and ‘Goebbels’ Robinson blithely told the camera that Salmond had not answered his question.

Which was a sheer, blatant, unashamed lie.

Apart from this, Salmond as the former leader of the Scots Nats is in a particularly good position to take up a job for RT. Scotland has always had particularly strong links with Russia. I can remember attending an academic seminar on this when I was hoping to do a degree in Russian at one of the unis in Birmingham. That went by ’cause I didn’t get the grades. I can also remember being told by an aunt, whose husband was Scottish, and who had very pro-Soviet opinions, that the Russians were particularly keen on the works of Rabbie Burns. It was part of the curriculum when they learned English.

This has not stopped Theresa May urging Salmond not to take up the job. Which just follows all the Tories, like Boris Johnson’s equally demented father, who criticised the Labour party because some of their MPs and activists appeared on RT. While conveniently ignoring the various Tories, who had.

So more hypocrisy and scaremongering. No change, there then!

Galloway and Press TV

George Galloway also has, or had, his own show in Press TV, and is an outspoken supporter of Palestinian rights. I’ve been wary about him ever since he launched the Respect party, and the way the media monstered him when he saluted Saddam Hussein for his indefatigueability. But I’ve developed a considerable respect for him since then, because so much of what I’ve heard him say about the neoliberal elites and their warmongering attempts to start a conflict with Russia is absolutely correct.

The Anti-Muslim Right and al-Jazeera

The Republicans in America and the anti-Islamic right also hated Al-Jazeera. The Qatar-based broadcaster is supposed to be another source of evil propaganda and disinformation, this time covering for ‘radical Islam’. I think this might be because Al-Jazeera, like RT and Press TV, are showing us in the West what we are doing in the Middle East. Like the hundreds of thousands our bombs are killing, and the millions, who are being thrown out of their homes and forced into refugee camps and exile. The masses, who don’t have food, water, electricity and medical care, because the secular welfare states that have provided this have been destroyed in pursuit of big profits by the multinationals. Just like their people are being persecuted and butchered by sectarian killers, and their women and children enslaved by those savages in ISIS as Daesh tries to roll back the gains they have made. And yes, there has been a Muslim Feminist movement. Just like there has been one in Christianity and Judaism. But you count on Tommy Robinson and the English Defence League not to tell you that. Just as you can count on ISIS, with the backing of the Saudis, in trying to destroy it. Or at least leave it severely restricted.

The War on Domestic Alternative News

And once the elite have finished with the alternative news networks, they’ll try and finish off domestic American and British alternative news sources. Like The Young Turks, the Jimmy Dore Show, the David Pakman Show, Sam Seder’s Minority Report and Democracy Now! in the US. As well as the alternative, left-wing bloggers and vloggers, Google and Facebook are trying to marginalise as ‘fake news’. They’ve even developed algorithms to take traffic away from these sites. I’ve a very strong suspicious Mike’s been hit with it over here, as have several other bloggers. If I remember correctly, they’ve even tried to censor Tom Pride of Pride’s Purge, claiming he wasn’t suitable for children as his material was ‘adult’. It was, but only in the sense that you had to be a mature adult, who actually thought about the issues, to read it.

And once the people at the margins are suppressed, the elite are going to go for the mainstream.

And all we can expect from the mainstream broadcasters is more propaganda denying the reality of poverty, of climate change, of the misery created by the destruction of the welfare, the privatisation of the NHS over here and the refusal to implement single-payer in America, and the sheer, catastrophic lies about how climate change isn’t really occurring.

And as the media gets censored, the brutality of the police and the military will get worse. Black Lives Matter has raised the issue of the cavalier way some cops kill Blacks for the slightest of reasons. But recent arrests and brutalisation of White protesters have also demonstrated that this casual thuggery is also moving towards the White population as well. Counterpunch a few weeks ago put up a piece about a secret US forces report, which predicted that in the next couple of decades, US policing would become more militarised. The army would be used to quell the riots and disturbance that would break out thanks to poverty and increased racial friction.

Orwell’s going to be proved right. In 1984 he asks what the future will be like. The chilling, famous reply is: a jackboot stamping on a human face. Forever.

Without any alternative media to protest, because they’re all in jail or hiding on trumped up charges of treason.

Instead, we’re going to be treated to the lies of shills and hacks like ‘Goebbels’ Robinson and ‘Arnalda Mussolini’ Kuenssberg. And fed racist, Tory drivel by the Murdoch media, the Weirdo Barclay Twins and Paul Dacre.

Jewish Labour Movement Attempting to Ban Criticism of Israel in Labour Party as Anti-Semitic

August 30, 2017

Tony Greenstein, a veteran Jewish socialist, anti-racist and anti-Zionist, has put up a very important piece on his blog reporting that the Jewish Labour Movement is attempting to insert an amendment into the membership clause of the Labour party’s constitution, which would make criticism of Israel illegal. Greenstein is a proud, secular Jew, and opposes Zionism precisely because it is racist, and venomously genocidal in its treatment of the Palestinians and Arab Jews. He has paid the price for his commitment to anti-racism and human dignity. Like other anti-Zionists and critics of Israel, Jewish and gentile, he has been smeared as an anti-Semite. Many Jews, who are critical of Israel, believe that they actually receive worse vilification for their stance than their gentile comrades. In Greenstein’s case, he’s been suspended from the Labour party, like hundreds of others, received hate mail and been physically assaulted.

The hate messages he has received are hardly distinguishable from the vile screeds of gentile Nazis and anti-Semites. A few weeks ago he posted one such message he got from an outraged Jewish Zionist, which called him a ‘traitorous Jew’ and mocked him for his entirely accurate statement that the majority of European Jews wanted to stay in the land of their birth, the countries that were their homelands, as equal citizens, rather than emigrate to Israel. He was told he should try living in a shtetl – the segregated Jewish village in eastern Europe with the gentiles ruling over him. The writer concluded his message with the statement that he didn’t really like saying this to another Jew, but he wished the angel of death had taken him and his family during the Holocaust.

It’s deeply unpleasant, racist stuff. Greenstein put it up on his blog as an example of Zionist anti-Semitism, to make the point that instead of Jewish critics of Israel being anti-Semitic, it was the Zionists. It’s a good point. The Zionist’s message is racist and anti-Semitic. It abused Greenstein because he was Jewish. As for being a ‘traitorous Jew’ – that’s the language the Nazi and Fascist anti-Semites employ when they claim that Jews and people of Jewish heritage are really foreigners, outside the nation, and secretly plotting its downfall. Like the stupid and murderous ‘stab in the back theories’ that circulated in Germany after the First World War, which claimed that Germany had been defeated because of Jewish treachery. These were monstrous lies. Jewish Germans had been extremely patriotic in their response to the war, serving their country with pride and honour. The captain of Hitler’s unit during the War, who had put the future Nazi leader up for an Iron Cross, was Jewish. And the Jewish ex-servicemen’s league was a real problem for the Third Reich, as these old soldiers couldn’t easily be accused of treachery.

This is the same type of language we heard from the Nazis marching at Charlottesville, chanting ‘the Jews will not replace us.’ One component of contemporary Nazi and White supremacist ideology in the states is the sick notion that the Jews under the Zionist Occupation Government are engaged in a vast conspiracy to destroy the White race through racial intermixing and the promotion of Black civil rights.

As for physical assault, Mr. Greenstein in his blog has also described how he was assaulted on the street by an irate Israeli. But because Greenstein fought back, he – not his attacker – was charged with assault, although this was later dropped. It’s a clear, manifest injustice.

Now he reports the Jewish Labour Movement are attempting to define racism, anti-Semitism or islamophobia as whatever is perceived as such by a member of the affected groups. He points out that it’s based on a skewed reading of Shami Chakrabarti’s citation of the McPherson report into the death of Stephen Lawrence.

If implemented, this would outlaw criticism of Israel on the grounds that a Jewish Zionist could simply say that it was anti-Semitic.

I’ve no doubt that this will happen. Mike said that after the sorely misnamed Campaign Against Anti-Semitism libeled him as an anti-Semite, he had Zionists turning up on his Facebook page complaining that his comments about Ken Livingstone were anti-Semitic, because they felt they were. And that was sufficient.

I’ve also seen debates between Zionists and anti-Zionists in which the latter included Jewish and Israel anti-racism activists – where the Zionist has accused his opponents of anti-Semitism, simply because they did not share his belief that Israel has a divinely given right to the Occupied Territories.

This is a deeply hypocritical, and very dangerous game. When New Labour under Blair and Brown wanted to introduce tougher legislation against hate speech, the Tories went berserk and accused them of introducing the same assumption into its definition. That something constituted a racist offence, if the victim thought it was, including racial abuse.

This adds a dangerous element of subjectivity into the argument. Of course, in the case of the JLM, it’s intended to rule out of bounds any criticism of Israel or Zionism, because as soon as anyone raises the subject they’ll scream ‘anti-Semitism’. Even though this may consist of nothing more than the truth: that Israel is an apartheid state, that it is engaged on a decades-long campaign to cleanse its territory of Arabs, and that Arabs in the Occupied Territories can be killed, attacked, have their drinking water fouled, and their homes and other property seized with impunity. They may also be jailed for no other reason than publishing a poem urging their brothers and sisters to resist, as occurred to Dareen Tatour.

Ezra Levant, one of the brains behind the Far Right Canadian media group, Rebel Media, once argued in one of his videos against legislation outlawing hate speech. Levant’s Jewish, and he argued that Jews had long learned from experience that the weapons you give the state to protect you, can also be turned on you. So if you give the state the power to censor or ban certain types of speech, they can use those same powers to silence you. He argued that this was the case with Nazi Germany.

Levant’s part of the Islamophobic ‘counter-jihad’ movement, and what he was really worried about was western countries – Europe, Canada and America – passing legislation to ban speech or writing inciting the hatred of Muslims. But he does have a point regarding the treatment of Jews.

One of the elements in anti-Semitism has been the belief that Jews believe themselves to be superior to and despise and sneer at gentiles. Since the Haskala, the Jewish Enlightenment, western Jews have taken great care to show that they don’t have this attitude. Indeed, in 1920s Germany I believe one traditional prayer was dropped from the synagogue service, in case it gave gentiles this idea. Jewish theologians and writers have also made the point that God gave the Torah to Israel and made them a people for His own possession, not because they were superior or stronger than the neighbouring peoples, but because they were weaker. Israel was to be a servant nation, acting as moral exemplars, and therefore ‘a light to lighten the gentiles’. Mr. Greenstein has also put up another piece on his blog about a Canadian rabbi, whose book on Jewish resistance to Zionism makes precisely this point against Zionism.

But if you introduce the idea of subjectivity into the definition of hate speech, it means that Jews are also vulnerable to unfair accusations of racism. A chance comment or remark, which may only just be a case of bad phrasing, may become a case for prosecution, simply because the person hearing it thinks they are being insulted, whether they are or not.

The insistence of the subjective perception of anti-Semitism also shows how close the Zionist lobby is coming to outright Fascism. Irrationalism was one of the formative components of Fascist psychology and ideology. Rational belief didn’t matter. They were just rationalisations used to justify a pre-existing belief or act. What mattered was how something felt, and this meant primarily one’s passionate commitment to the ethnic group and its character according to nationalist and racist theories. The JLM and the Zionists can’t argue against facts, and so their attempting to use the subjective perception of whether something is anti-Semitic to justify their attempts to close down discussion of Israeli racism and human rights abuse instead.

As for the Jewish Labour Movement, Greenstein makes the point that this is a sister organization to the Israeli Labour party, which is racist to the core. Recently, one of their MKs expressed his disgust that 61 other members of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, were Arabs, and made it very clear that he despised Arabs and wanted them expelled from Israel.

He also discusses the example of the far right Israeli leader, Gopstein, a member of a racist nationalist group, Lehava, who made a speech encouraging Israelis to burn down churches and mosques. Despite calls from the Vatican that he should be arrested, Gopstein’s still free.

And Jewish Arabs have also been subject to discrimination and monstrous human rights abuse. Greenstein and Counterpunch have published several articles describing how the Zionist pioneers, as European colonialists, believed they were inferior, and wanted to destroy their Arab character. This even included forcibly taking the babies born to Yemeni Jews away from their mothers and giving them to rich, childless European Israelis or American Jews.

This is not only a crime against humanity in itself. It is also included in the UN definition of genocide, which includes the forcible removal of one part of an ethnic group to another. This also occurred during the Third Reich, where the Nazis sought Aryan bloodlines amongst the conquered Poles. Polish babies with blonde hair and blue eyes were declared to be of German stock, and were taken from their parents to be brought up as Germans.

The JLM are apologists for a viciously racist, genocidal state and political order that is ruthlessly intolerant of its critics, vilifying anti-racist gentiles as anti-Semites, and making the same, or even anti-Semitic insults at decent, self-respecting Jews. If Labour is serious about tackling racism and inequality, this amendment should be thrown out. At the very least, by introducing the element of subjectivity, as the Ezra Levant has pointed out, they have given a potential weapon to the real anti-Semites. And they won’t hesitate to turn it on them.

Jimmy Dores Show Tears Into Rapturously Enthusiastic Journo for Air Strikes

April 13, 2017

This is more about Syria, I’m afraid. But I feel I have to write about this, no matter how tiresome it might be, because I’m afraid that the British people, as well as those of America and Europe, are being dragged by the political class and the military-industrial complex into another illegal and genocidal war. The last time it was Iraq. This time the imperialists and profiteers have their sights set on Syria.

In this clip from the Jimmy Dore Show, the American comedian and his co-hosts, Steffi Zamorano, Ron Placone and Bob Reinitz rip into Brian Williams, a news presenter on MSNBC. As you know, a few days ago Trump launched a missile strike against a Syrian air base under the pretext of punishing Assad for his poison gas attack. A gas attack that has all the hallmarks of an al-Qaeda false flag attack, with the bodies of the victims those of people, who had been kidnapped and then butchered from a pro-Assad village.

Williams showed the footage of the missiles’ launch from an American warship, and then went into raptures about it. Literally. He waxed lyrical, describing them as ‘beautiful pictures’. At one point, he even had the audacity to quote Leonard Cohen, ‘I am guided by the beauty of our weapons.’ One of the team on the programme makes the comment that Cohen wrote one of the most beautiful love poems, but Williams just wants to rave about weapons.

Dore makes the point that Williams is hardly an unbiased observer. He worked for General Electric, which is a major defence contractor. And General Electric used to own NBC. Williams was a cheerleader for the Iraq Invasion, bringing on generals, who would demand that the situation required more armaments and personnel. Of course they did. These generals were also in the pay of the armaments companies, so it was in their interests, and those of their corporate paymasters, to push for war. Williams, however, kept silent about all this. Which, in Dore’s view, constitutes journalistic malfeasance. Williams also lied about his own military exploits. He claimed to have been aboard a military helicopter when it came under fire. That was revealed as lie in an article in one of the New York papers. But it didn’t stop Williams carrying on with the pretence.

Dore points out the obscenity of Williams’ remarks, but makes the point that he’s no different from many other ‘leftie’ journalists, all repeating the same chorus of demands for war. These include Rachel Maddow, another supposedly liberal news presenter, who supported Killary against Bernie Sanders. Dore states that all the journalists on television are doing it. He then points out the difference between American coverage of the weapons’ launch, and al-Jazeera’s. American television shows them being launched. But only al-Jazeera show the chaos and bloodshed when they land. He also points out that the rebels America is fighting with against Assad are al-Qaeda and ISIS, and that the war is for the profit of the oil industry, the Saudis and the Israelis. He reminds his viewers how the media does not show the victims of American bombing in Iraq, where millions have been killed, Yemen or Libya. He states that an American bombing attack killed 150 people in Raqqa. They were told to stay in their homes for safety, but were killed anyway. As for American support of Islamist terrorists, he points out that this has not worked well In Libya, which is a failed state. He goes on to quote one of the members of The Young Turks, Steve Oh, who talked about how the media was able to get away with this because Americans didn’t know much about these places.

Here he was challenged by Steffi Zamorano. She stated that she believed Americans did understand what was going on in the Middle East, and did not like it. There were, she pointed out, countless peace demonstrations and protests going on all over the US, but these were being deliberately ignored by the mainstream media in order to make the protestors feel isolated.

Wartime Conference on Science, Philosophy, Religion and Democracy

March 12, 2017

I found a copy of the 1942 book, Science, Philosophy and Religion: Second Symposium, over a decade ago now in a secondhand bookshop in Totnes in Devon. As the above title page states, this comes from a conference on science, philosophy and religion and their relation to the democratic way of life, held in New York in 1942. The conference was held at Columbia University and was the successor to the first symposium, held a year earlier. The book was a collection of papers by leading members of the above disciplines, edited by Lyman Bryson and Louis Finkelstein. These were intended to show how these areas of research and experience supported democracy against the advance of the totalitarian regimes in Europe.

The volume has the following contents

I Democracy’s Challenge to the Scientist, by Caryl P. Haskins;
II Democracy and the Natural Science, Karl F. Herzfeld;
III Some Comments on Science and Faith, Hudson Hoagland;
IV The Comparative Study of Culture of the Purposive Cultivation of Democratic Values, by Margaret Mead;
V The Basis for Faith in Democracy, Max Schoen.
VI Pragmatism, Religion and Education, John L. Childs;
VII Liberal Education and Democracy;
VIII A Philosophy of Democratic Defense, Charles Hartshorne;
IX The Role of Law in a Democracy, Frank E. Horack, Jr.
X Pluralism and Intellectual Democracy;
XI, Empiricism, Religion and Democracy, Charles W. Morris;
XII Philosophical Implications of the Prevalent Conception of Democracy;
XIII The Spiritual Basis of Democracy, by the Princeton Group;
XIV Thomism and Democracy, by Yves R. Simon.
XV Democracy and the Rights of Man, Paul Weiss.
XVI The Stake of Art in the Present Crisis, George Boas.
XVIII An Approach to the Study of History, William G. Constable;
XIX Literature and the Present Crisis, Joseph Wood Krutch.
XX How Long is the Emergency, Mark Van Doren.
XXI Democratic Culture in the Light of Modern Poetry.
XXII Democratic Aspirations in Talmudic Judaism, Ben Zion Bokser.
XXIII Democracy in the Hebrew-Christian Tradition; Old and New Testaments, Millar Burrows;
XXIV Christianity and Democracy from the Point of View of Systematic Christian Theology, Nels F.S. Ferre;
XXV Philosophical Foundations of Religion and Democracy, Willliam O’Meara;
XXVI The Patristic Christian Ethos and Democracy, Albert C. Outler.

There is also a section of addresses. These are

I The Faith and Philosophy of Democratic Government, A.A. Berle, Jr.
II The Function of Law in a Democratic Society, Charles E. Clark.
III The Artist and the Democratic Way of Life, Walter Pach.
IV Democracy in Our Times, M.L. Wilson.
V The Religious Background of Democratic Ideas, Simon Greenberg, Clarence Mannion, Luther A. Weigle.

I’ve dug it out again as I believe very strongly that this symposium and its wisdom is needed again with the current stagnation of democracy and the rise of Trump in America, UKIP in Britain and the parties of the extreme right in Europe. The basis of democracy in the West has been gradually undermined over the last 30-odd years, ever since the election of Thatcher and Reagan. Successive governments in Britain and America have been determined to work for the benefit of rich, corporate paymasters against the poor and middle class. There has been a massive redistribution of wealth upwards, as welfare services have been slashed and outsourced, industries privatised and closed down, and public utilities sold off. As wages have stagnated, the corporate elite have seen their pay grossly inflated. Their taxes have been cut, while those for the poor have actually been increased.

As a result of this concentration on the demands of corporate political donors, recent studies by Harvard University and the Economist have concluded that America is no longer a full democracy. It is a ‘flawed democracy’, or even oligarchy.

At the same time governments in Britain and America have also supported the massive expansion of the surveillance state under the pretext of countering terrorism. At the same time, the rights of workers to strike, and ordinary people to protest, have been curtailed. David Cameron’s Tory administration tried to introduce a series of reforms to block street demonstrations and protests under the guise of preventing residents for suffering the nuisance caused by them.

We also have Tory and Republican administrations that insist that only their view of history should be taught in schools. Michael Gove a few years ago made a ridiculous speech complaining about the ‘Blackadder’ view of the First World War taught in schools, while the educational authorities in Arizona withdrew studies of slavery and the civil rights movement from the school syllabus. Instead, pupils in that state were to be taught the speeches of Ronald Reagan.

Donald Trump’s administration is overtly anti-immigration, particularly of Latinos and Muslims. It includes members of the Alt Right, like Steve Bannon and Curtis Ellis, who hold bitterly racist views. Many of Trump’s supporters are White supremacists and Nazis. UKIP and Brexit in Britain have also led to an increase in racism and racist violence against ethnic minorities. At the same time, these movements have also promoted hatred towards gays and the transgendered. And similar movements are attempting to take power or increase their gains across Europe, from Marine Le Pen’s Front National in France, the Alternative Fuer Deutschland in Germany, Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement in Italy, Jobbik in Hungary, and other extreme right-wing parties in Switzerland, Austria and Scandinavia.

Democracy, tolerance, pluralism and the rights of the poor are under threat. The threat in America and western Europe isn’t as overt and violent as it was when the Fascists seized power from the 1920s onwards. But it is there, and desperately needs to be resisted.

Sufi Poem on the Value of All Religions

January 23, 2016

I found this poem by the Arab Sufi poet, Ibn Farid, who lived from 1182 to 1235 in the anthology of religious texts, Sacred Books of the World, by A.C. Bouquet (London: Pelican 1954). The Sufis are Islamic mystics, like the Whirling Dervishes of Turkey. There are a number of different Sufi orders, rather like the monastic orders and lay brotherhoods of Christianity, and the Whirling Dervishes are just one of them.

The Sufis have a reputation for religious tolerance and syncretism. The teachings and practices of various orders may include elements drawn from the other religions around them. It’s also been claimed that where Islam has been spread peacefully by their preaching, rather than jihad, relations between Muslims and the non-Muslim population are much more peaceful and amicable.

The poem below is on the value of the other, non-Muslim religions, and illustrates this spirit of tolerance and syncretism.

Virtually no hand but mine tied the infidel’s girdle: and if it be loosed in acknowledgement of me, ’twas my hand that loosed it.

And if the niche of a mosque is illuminated by the Qu’ran, yet is no altar of a church made vain by the Gospel:

Nor vain are the books of the Torah revealed by Moses for his people, whereby the Rabbis converse with ~God every night:

And if a devotee fall down before the stones of an idol-temple, there is no reason for religious zeal to take offence;

For many a one who is clear of the shame of associating others with God by means of idolatry, is in spirit a worshipper of money.

The warning from Me hath reached those whom it hath sought, and I am the Cause of the excuses put forth in every faith.

Not in any religion have men’s eyes been awry, not in any sect have their thoughts been perverse.

They that heedlessly fell in love with the Sun lost not the way, forasmuch as its brightness is from the light of My unveiled splendour. And if the Magicians adored the fire – which a history tells us was not quenched for a thousand years –

They intended none but Me, although they took another direction, and did not declare the purpose they had formed.

They had once seen the radiance of My light, and deemed it fire, so that they were led away from the True Light by the rays.

And but for the screen of existence, I should have said it out: only my observance of the laws imposed on phenomena doth keep me silent.

So this is not aimless sport, nor were the creatures created to stray at random, albeit their actions were not right.

Their affairs take the course according to the brand of the Names; and the wisdom which endoweth essence with diverse attributes caused them to take that course in consequence of the Divine Decree.

ISIS really hate the Sufis, considering them part of the juhailiyya, or age of non-Muslim darkness and barbarism that afflicts everyone except them. The Sufis are especially despised for their fatalism, their believe that whatever happens is due to the Will of Allah, and Daesh are doing their level best to exterminate them, along with other persecuted religious groups, in Iraq and Syria.

And no wonder, if their great poets offer a way of religious dialogue, mutual understanding and peaceful coexistence. All ISIS and al-Qaeda have had to offer is hate, repression and bloodshed. A hatred that’s also expressed in the racism and bigotry of Western clowns like Donald Trump.

Let’s hope the way of peace and tolerance, like that expressed by Ibn Farid, prevails against the people of violence and butchery.

Sneck! Mutant Bounty Hunter In Radio 4 High Culture Shock!

April 7, 2015

Strontium Dog

Mutant Bounty Hunter Johnny Alpha, AKA Strontium Dog, from 2000 AD, drawn by Carlos Ezquerra

I’ve published a few pieces recently about comics, and particularly 2000 AD. Last week it was reported that Judge Dredd was going to be taking on Nigel Farage in the form of a hate-mongering politico, Bilious Barrage, in Mega-City 1. Now in today’s Radio Times there’s also news that another favourite from 2000 AD will get a mention on radio: Johnny Alpha, the mutant bounty hunter and hero of the strip Strontium Dog. He’s due to get an appearance on a programme about a new cycle of poems about the element, from which he and the other Search/Destroy Agents took their name The (Half) Life of Strontium.

The blurb in the Radio Times says Strontium is the 38th element in the Periodic Table and was discovered in 1792 by miners in the Scottish village of Strontian. Robert Crawford’s new suite of poems elaborates on the connections between the village in Argyll, the bomb that dropped on Nagasaki and the mutant bounty hunter, Strontium Dog.

The programme’s on at 4.30 pm. on Radio 4 on Sunday, 12th April.

The strip took its name from Strontium 90, one of the radioactive elements in nuclear fall-out. The Strontium Dogs were mutants, who were legally prevented from holding any other jobs on Earth except as bounty hunters because of their mutations. The strip combined detective adventures in a kind of future galactic Wild West, as the strip’s hero, Johnny Alpha, and his norm partner Wulf Sternhammer, roamed space bringing criminals to justice.

Alpha took his name from the alpha particles emitted by his mutant eyes. In the strip these gave him X-ray vision and the power to read minds. In practice they’re very weak. You can block them with a sheet of paper. Not that science fact necessarily gets in the way of a good tale. 2000 AD generally had a strong satirical edge, and wasn’t averse to tackling serious issues. In Strontium Dog the strips’ creators used the mutant hero and his deformed friends and enemies to explore issues of racism, prejudice and the British class system.

Alpha’s father was a ruthless right-wing politicians, Nelson Bunker Kreelman, who was determined to carry out a policy of mass murder to cleanse an irradiated Britain of its mutant population. Alpha’s own mutation was carefully hidden in order to safeguard his father’s reputation. In the event, Alpha rebels against his father, and leads a mutant revolt from one of the ancient symbols of British identity, Stonehenge.

The mutant’s victory is limited, however. Although they are tolerated, their opportunities are very limited. They are segregated into mutant ghettos, and are very much second-class citizens. When Alpha and Wulf travel, they are forced to find accommodation in the hold or in the second class cabins, as mutants very definitely may not travel first class with ordinary humans. And the discovery of mutant relatives, especially offspring, is still a major source of shame for respectable middle class Brits.

In one strip, the king of Britain, Clarkie II, attempts to bridge the divide between norm and mutant by marrying a young mutant lady with a duck’s bill from the Milton Keynes mutant ghetto. This is a step too far for his subjects, and the idealistic king is hounded, forced to abdicate, and flee into space.

It’s a slightly irreverent, but also curiously sympathetic look at Prince Charles’ actions at the time. This was before his marriage with Lady Di fell apart, and the Prince was still popular with many Brits. He also appeared to be genuinely and deeply concerned with the plight of his poorer subjects as Maggie’s recession threw millions out of work. And so the strip’s creators, Aaln Grant and Carlos Ezquerra, were able to present a fantastic version of the Prince of Wales showing his social concerns in the future. In this case, it was marrying well out of his class with a mutant girl from the wrong side of the tracks.

And what Crawford’s poem also shows us, is that apart from great literature, the major figures of British arts also started off like the rest of us: reading and enjoying the four-colour funny papers. They’ve now grown up, and Dredd, Alpha and the rest are heading upmarket alongside . At least on the radio.

Reagan Dog

Never afraid to treat authority with the amusement it deserves: Strontium Dog and his partner, Durham Red, rescue a Ronald Reagan kidnapped by time-travelling aliens.