Posts Tagged ‘Religious Right’

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.

Advertisements

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

February 11, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rabbi Yaakov Shapiro Explains Why Zionists Do Not Speak for World Jewry

November 14, 2017

And the good rabbi does not mince his words, as you’ll see later.

I found this on a YouTube channel entitled ‘Jewish Bund’. I don’t know who they are, but my guess is they’re probably politically left-wing. The Jewish Bund was the Jewish Socialist organisation in the countries of the Russian Empire. Along with the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, it was one of the constituent organisations of the Russian Social Democratic Party, before it fragmented completely into competing factions, which were then overtaken and suppressed during the Bolshevik coup of 1917.

It’s a video from an organisation, True Torah Jews against Zionism. I don’t know anything about the organisation, but it is obvious that they are another organisation of Torah-observant Jews, who reject Zionism as incompatible with the principles of Judaism.

The video was posted in 2015, and was prompted by Netanyahu’s visit to America. Netanyahu, with his usual lack of any kind of modesty or self-effacement, declared that he was not only Israel’s emissary, but also that of world Jewry. The rabbi and his interviewer, who is also clearly an observant Jew, soon set about demolishing that claim.

The rabbi points out, again and again in this video, that Netanyahu’s claim is ridiculous. He makes the point that Jews are and have been resident in very many countries. It’s a religion that comprises people of different nationalities. The rabbi’s own ancestors lived in Poland for 500 hundred years. Netanyahu doesn’t speak for him. He also rejects Netanyahu’s claim to represent him on religious principles, as well as simple nationality. Netanyahu is secular. He doesn’t observe the Torah, the Mosaic code. So he clearly doesn’t speak for the rabbi and other, Torah-observant Jewish people like him. The rabbi states that it’s as if the King of Bulgaria turned up in America, claiming that he represented and spoke for the Jewish people. Not only would the claim be demonstrably wrong, but people would laugh and ask, jokingly, what right the Balkan monarch had to claim that they do. Netanyahu doesn’t represent world Jewry, just Israel.

He and his interviewer state that the majority of rabbis have condemned Zionism down the ages. How then can Netanyahu make this claim? Rabbi Shapiro states that they’ve been doing it since the foundation of Zionism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He states that one of the great pioneers of the Zionist movement used an obscure point of Roman law, which allows someone to deputise for another as their proxy, to argue that he and the Zionist movement therefore represented the world’s Jews. The rabbi then goes on to argue that they had to adopt this tactic, as otherwise, without a country of their own, no-one would listen to them.

He then attacks this piece of rhetoric not only for its obvious falsehood, but because of the danger it presents to diaspora Jews. Rabbi Shapiro states that there is a threat implicit in it. It’s to show foreign politicians that there are people in their countries, who have outside loyalties that can be mobilised against them, if Israel’s desires are not complied with. This the rabbi understandably considers a vile slur against diaspora Jews living in their countries outside Israel. The ideals of the Torah determinate that Jews should live and work for the benefit of the nations in which they are resident. But this claim, and its hidden threat, are actively harmful to Jews by making it appear that they are quite ready to work against the best interests of their home countries and their fellow citizens for the good of Israel, a foreign power.

He is also scathing about another piece of rhetoric that is used along with the claim: that of the Holocaust. He is understandably offended with the cynical way Zionists use the horrific suffering of Jews during the Shoah in order to gain sympathy.

The video also puts up that notorious statement from one of the founders of Zionism, that anti-Semites will be more useful as allies to Zionists than decent people, with no prejudices, because they share the Zionists’ goals of getting Jews to emigrate.

The interviewer then asks the rabbi what can be done about this situation, when the media seems determined to marginalise and ignore voices like theirs. The rabbi is not downhearted. He states ‘We’re Jews. We have God on our side!’ He states that the Lord, who protected Mordechai and Esther during the Persian Empire, will protect them, just as He protected Jews from extinction over the last two thousand years. He advises his viewers that they can help combat Netanyahu’s pernicious claim by talking to their gentile fellows, and telling them that the Torah does not support what Netanyahu says, and that Jews are loyal fellow Americans.

I’ve no doubt that the rabbi is correct. Historians and critics of Israel have described over and over again how Zionism was a minority viewpoint amongst the world’s Jews. For many Torah-observant Jews, the state of Israel was a blasphemy, as they believed that Israel could only be restored by the Messiah. Tony Greenstein a few weeks ago put up a piece about a book and interview by a Canadian rabbi on Jewish opposition to Zionism. He also described in a piece about one of the non-Zionist leaders of the Warsaw Ghetto, Marek Edelman, how the majority of the Yiddish-speaking Jews of Poland voted solidly for the Bund and its campaign for Jews to take their place as fellow, equal citizens of their home countries.

And the rabbi’s fear that Netanyahu’s claim to represent Jews the world over casts suspicion on diaspora Jews by implication as agents of a foreign power was shared by the majority of British Jews at the time of the Balfour Declaration. The leaders of Britain’s Jewish community were very highly integrated into British culture and society. When Balfour was devising the Declaration, they – and the only Jewish member of his cabinet – objected for the same reason the rabbi above did. They wanted to be seen as loyal fellow Englishmen and women. You can see it in the oath of the Jewish equivalent of the Boys’ Brigade, in which boys swore ‘to be a good Englishman and good Jew’. And no doubt in very many other ways, in which they expressed their pride in being British and their loyalty as equal fellow Brits.

This is the video that Netanyahu very definitely would not want anyone to see, and neither would the Neocons, who have been guiding American imperial policy in the Middle East since Bush’s invasion of Iraq, or the Christian religious right, who are more fervent in their Zionism than America’s Jews. These are the people the media is determined to exclude. I’ve put up videos from YouTube from other Jewish organisations showing vast demonstrations in New York, with a crowd of about ten thousand or more, which the makers have claimed have not been covered by the American media.

And it’s clear why they don’t want videos like this to be seen: it destroys the right-wing claim that Israel is synonymous with Jewry, and that those, who don’t back Israel are anti-Semites. Even if, like these guys, they are religious observant men and women guided by the Torah, the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and the Talmud.

Democratic Socialist on Thatcher, Cobyn and the Double Standards of the Right Wing Press

November 11, 2017

I’ve reblogged a number of videos from Democratic Socialist, an Aussie Leftie, who knows his stuff about capitalism’s connection to Fascism, the Nazi privatisation programme and support for businessmen as the eugenic elite, and Thatcher’s hideous support for general Pinochet in Chile.

This is another of his videos.

In it, he takes apart the double standards of the British right-wing media, and in particular the Daily Telegraph in its smears of the British Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and its absolute refusal to condemn its idol, Margaret Thatcher, for her friendship with General Pinochet. Pinochet was, as I’ve mentioned frequently before, the brutal dictator of Chile, who overthrew the democratically elected Marxist president, Salvador Allende. The Tories smear Corbyn as a supporter of the Iran, Hamas and Hizbollah, and an anti-Semite. He is in fact none of these things. But Thatcher certainly was friends with Pinochet, who was a terrorist, torturer and anti-Semite.

The Torygraph smeared Corbyn as supporting the Iranian theocracy In fact, he did nothing of the sort. The article the Torygraph refers to appears on the page of the Mossadegh Project, an Iranian group that supports and celebrates the work of Iran’s last democratically elected president, Mohammed Mossadeq, who was tolerant and secular. Mossadeq was overthrown by a British-American coup in 1953 because he dared to nationalise the Iranian oil company, then consisting of the British owned Anglo-Persian Oil, which later became BP. His fall resulted in the gradual assumption of absolute power by the Shah, who instituted a reign of terror that eventually culminated in the Islamic Revolution of 1979, when he was overthrown by the Ayatollah Khomeini.

This section of the video includes a clip of an American expert describing how he was corrected by the Iranians, when he told a group of them that their country was incapable of democratically electing a leader. ‘It was,’ they replied, ‘before the Americans came’.

Oh yes, and there’s another reason why Corbyn’s support for Mossadeq certainly does not mean he supports the current Iranian theocracy. Mossadeq was a Baha’i, which is post-Islamic syncretistic religion, that the Shi’a regime in Iran despises as a vile heresy. I’ve been told by Iranian Muslim friends, who are profoundly disgusted by the fact that expatriate Iranian Baha’is cannot go to their homeland without signing a document stating that they have renounced their faith. The regime has killed 60,000+ Baha’is in pogroms, and subjected many to the same kind of tortures that Pinochet oversaw in Chile. I doubt very much that Corbyn’s support for the former Iranian president endears him to the Iranian regime.

As for supporting Hamas and Hizbollah, and therefore terrorism, Corbyn actually didn’t say anything like that. He condemned terrorism, but said that he had to negotiate with them.

Democratic Socialist contrasts this with Thatcher and Pinochet. The head of Pinochet’s secret police, Michael Townley, was responsible for the assassination of Orlando Latelier, who served as foreign minister in Allende’s government. Latelier had fled the country and noted the construction of the prison camps in which 100,000 people were incarcerated. He was killed by a car bomb in Washington D.C.

Corbyn is accused of anti-Semitism simply through guilt by association with these groups. But Pinochet was also a brutal murderer of Chile’s Jews. There’s a memorial in Chile now to the Jewish victims of Pinochet’s regime. Pinochet also gave sanctuary to the Nazis, who fled to Chile to escape justice. One of these was Walter Rauff, an utterly despicable person, responsible for inventing the gas cars. This was the method by which Jews and the disabled were murdered by the SS before the establishment of the great death camps. They were vans, specially adapted so that the exhaust was fed back into the truck’s rear compartment, in which the victim was placed. The van was driven around until the poor soul was gassed by the carbon monoxide. Not surprisingly, Emile Zubroff, one of Germany’s great Nazi hunters, was particularly angered by Pinochet giving this man sanctuary.

And then there’s the butcher’s extensive use of terror. Here’s another trigger warning: some viewers may find this very hard to watch. This part of the video has footage of an Englishwoman describing how she was raped and tortured with electric shocks by the regime. She does not go into details, but she simply states what the shocks and rapes consisted of. As well as how one woman was caged until she went made. This section starts at c. 350 mark. And it shows how vile and subhuman Pinochet and his torturers were.

This lady was abducted and tortured because Pinochet’s thugs believed she had treated the deputy leader of the anti-Pinochet resistance, and knew where the leader was. The woman was kidnapped, despite the fact that she was living with missionaries at the time. Before they took her, they shot the maid dead. I’m emphasising this because the Christian right in America and Britain has deluded itself and others that somehow Pinochet and other Fascists like him were great defenders of Christianity against Communism.

Rubbish. Fascists all over Latin America killed, raped and tortured committed Christians, including clergy, who worked for the poor against exploitation by the elites. This included Roman Catholic nuns, and Archbishop Romero. Romero was killed in the 1980s. He was not a supporter of Liberation Theology, the mixture of Roman Catholic doctrine and Marxism that had gained ground in Latin America. However, he moved left politically on his appointment, when he saw how oppressed and impoverished the mass of the people in his new archdiocese were. Before the Fascists killed him, they sprayed on the wall of his cathedral ‘Be a patriot. Kill a priest’.

I’m afraid I can’t remember off the top of my head in which country this was – Nicaragua, Guatemala or El Salvador. What I do remember is that he was murdered by the type of people Ronald Reagan hailed as ‘the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers’, as he called the Contras in Nicaragua. And nearly all of these thugs have been trained by the American intelligence establishment on one of the military bases then called the ‘School of the Americas’.

This is followed by one looks like a BBC report, which shows Thatcher, already looking frail, congratulating Pinochet on having peacefully stepped down. This is true, but ignores the fact that the thug didn’t want to. He was forced out of power by a referendum he wanted to ignore, but his generals chose to enforce. Put simply, he was pushed.

Democratic Socialist then asks what the press would do if Corbyn really was like Thatcher, who was friends with a Fascist dictator, who ruled by terror, rape and torture.

He concludes by stating that he likes Corbyn, but doesn’t see him as being able to withstand the assaults on him by the British press.

Democratic Socialist put this up two years ago in 2015. And I am very glad to say that since then, Corbyn has gone on from strength to strength, not just despite, but because of the hostility of the British press and media.

And the moral character of the hacks in the British right-wing press is appalling. I remember reading a story in Private Eye back in the 1990s about the reaction of some of the journos in the British right-wing press, who were sent down to one of the South American countries to cover its transition from Fascism to democracy. I think it was El Salvador. On their visit, they met members of the El Salvadoran opposition before meeting General Noriega. Later talking about the meeting with the opposition leaders, one of the hacks said to the other that if he were the dictator, he’d shoot them.

Just let that sink in. This hack said that he was in favour of a Fascist dictator, responsible for appalling crimes against humanity, killing the very people, who wanted to lead their country to a new, democratic, better life. Now I dare say it was probably meant as a joke, but it’s a sick one. Especially as the Times and other establishment newspapers a few years after Pinochet seized power in Chile were demanding a coup in 1975 to oust the minority Labour government. The Times didn’t, it is fair to say, want a right-wing government. They wanted a ‘Government Of All the Talents’, containing right-wing Labour as well as Tories to govern after a military uprising. If you want some of the details, see Francis Wheen’s book Strange Days: Paranoia in the 70s. ‘Red’ Ken Livingstone also revealed in his book, Livingstone’s Labour, how MI5 also had plans to round up British leftists in a coup and imprison them in camps in the Hebrides or somewhere else remote.

This is the political background behind Alan Moore’s and David Lloyd’s graphic novel and film, V For Vendetta, starring Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, John Hurt, and Stephen Fry. I don’t like the movie because of its pronounced anti-Christian bias. But it does depict a chillingly plausible view of what a future fascist Britain would look like, based on what really happened in Nazi Germany. With the exception that the victims of biological experimentation in the Nazi camps never developed superpowers, and single-handedly inspired the masses to revolt and topple Hitler.

The right-wing press just loved Thatcher. They still do, but did not condemn Thatcher for her friendship with Pinochet. They were candid about the nature of his regime, or at least, some where. And some of the hacks, who supported Thatcher maintain that they would have loved to have killed Pinochet. Julie Burchill, a long-time staple of the Mail, went on about what would happen to the Chilean Fascist if she and him were in a locked room with her having a gun. Well, I’m very sceptical about that. Not least because in another of her articles, La Burchill vilified the idealistic young men and women, who went to Spain to fight for the Republicans against Franco during the Civil War as the equivalent of the bloodthirsty tourists, who go to watch a bullfight. So she was quite prepared to support the Spanish Fascists against the anti-Fascists, who risked and lost life and limb against him.

Burchill hates the left, and probably thinks that the Republicans were all Communists and Anarchists, but they also included POUM, which was roughly the equivalent of the British Labour party at the time, and liberals. They were a coalition of forces, united against the threat of Fascism. As the ‘Red’ Duchess of Atholl pointed out at the time.

Now it seems to me that if Britain had suffered a military coup in 1975 against the Labour administration, it would have not differed much from the Fascist regimes in Latin America. We would still have mass incarceration, the suspension of traditional British constitutional freedoms and rape and torture.

And I have no doubt that the Tory press, which lauds Thatcher and vilifies Corbyn, would have been 100 per cent behind it all.

RT: Transport for London Bans Posters Attacking Balfour Declaration

October 28, 2017

This video from RT over here in Blighty discusses the controversy surrounding the plans to commemorate the centenary of the Balfour Declaration. This was the pledge by the British foreign minister, Arthur Balfour, that the British would support the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. There have been protests and demonstrations by Palestinians in London, who argue that the Declaration should not be celebrated. Instead, the centenary should be used to apologise for the historic crimes and injustice meted out to the Palestinian people.

Eisa Ali, one of the presenters of this piece, then discusses how the Palestinian Mission here commissioned a series of posters to show the oppression and ethnic cleansing suffered by the Palestinians under what critics, like the Palestinian ambassador Manuel Hassassian, have rightly described as an apartheid regime. These show a series of ‘before’ and ‘after’ images. One is of a thriving Arab town, full of homes and with its mosque, as it was before the Israeli occupation. After the creation of Israel, it becomes ruins, containing nothing but rubble, although the mosque still stands.

These posters were banned by Transport For London, which didn’t want to put them up. However, some individual black cabs are showing them. The Palestinian ambassador states that he believes that there was pressure on TFL from two sides, including the government, not to show these posters. He states that to add insult to injury, Theresa May has also invited Benjamin Netanyahu over for a meeting.

Looking at Mr. Hassassian’s name, it seems to me that he might be a Christian, or of Christian descent. It should be remembered that 25 per cent of Palestinians were Christian before the establishment of the state of Israel. That proportion has gone down to one per cent. The American religious right has claimed that this is due to Muslim intolerance. That’s certainly there, as Christians have been victimised by Muslim Palestinians as suspected collaborators. But it’s also because they’ve also been subject to massacre and expulsion as Arabs, just like their Muslim friends, relatives and neighbours. As for Jewish Palestinians, they were tolerated only because their labour was needed. The leaders had inherited all the racist assumptions about Arab inferiority of the European countries they came from, and they believed that the Mizrahim, Jewish Arabs, like Arabs generally, were culturally if not racially inferior. In the 1960s tens of thousands of Jewish Palestinians were officially expelled from Israel, because they were held to be Arabs, not Jews, on the grounds of their cultural assimilation.

I mention the decline of the Christian Palestinian population simply to put the matter straight, not to stir up any more Christian anti-Semitism, which I absolutely condemn.

I just want to make the point that Christians in America are being deliberately given a very distorted view of events in order to bolster western colonialist attitudes towards the Palestinians as a whole, and generate Islamophobia against the Muslim population, in order to manufacture support for what is a White, imperialist settler state.

Theresa May has also said in the Commons that the Balfour declaration should be celebrated.

No. It shouldn’t.

This doesn’t come from any racism towards Judaism or the Jewish people. This country has benefited immensely from the contribution of its Jewish people in just about all areas of life, culture and endeavour.

It simply comes from the fact that Palestine was not ours to give. Its indigenous people had been there for millennia, even if Arabs were relative newcomers, having conquered the region in the 7th century AD. Palestine contained not only Muslims, but also Arabs and Jews, as well as the Samaritans, who are mentioned in the Bible, and who are gaining in numbers.
The result of the Balfour Declaration was their massacre and expulsion from their historic lands. Those that remain are forced into what have been described, with more than a little justification, as ghettoes, and are subject to a form of apartheid. This has all been described by many highly courageous Jewish and Israeli journalists, writers, and activists, as well as by the Palestinians themselves and others.

It has also resulted in immense harm to the wider Jewish people. At the time of the Declaration, the majority of Britain’s Jewish community, including its leading families, who had been here since the 17th century, were resolutely against it. They wanted to be accepted as fellow Brits, and were afraid that the passage of the Declaration would mean that they would be suspected of dual loyalty. The businessman and presenter of the British version of The Apprentice, Sir Alan Sugar, said in one programme that he had been a member of the Jewish version of the Boy’s Brigade. He didn’t mention it, but the lads enrolled swore an oath ‘to be a good Englishman and a good Jew’. You can also see the pride in British citizenship in paintings such as David Blomberg’s modernist depiction of the interior of a Jewish bath house, which is painted in the red, white and blue of the Union flag.

Similar views were held by the Jewish communities elsewhere across Europe and the world, in Germany, where there was originally much less anti-Semitism than Britain, and Poland. But the Declaration has contributed to anti-Semitism through the fear that Jews, or an influential portion of them, have more loyalty to Israel beyond that of the other nations in which they live. And Zionist groups have at time collaborated with the real anti-Semites, in the hope that rising persecution of Diaspora Jews will result in more of them emigrating to Israel. Tony Greenstein and others have shown on their blogs and writings, over and over again, using and reproducing contemporary documents, that this was the case. But simply repeating this historical fact will get you smeared as an anti-Semite.

This should not be to condemn Israelis. Professor Ilan Pappe, an Israeli historian, now at Exeter University, who was driven from his homeland because of his courageous defence of the truth against official lies and persecution, has defended his former compatriots as decent people. In one interview he described how he opened his house up, every Thursday night, to anyone, who wanted to visit him to hear his side of the story. He shortly found that his front room was full of people wanting to hear what he had to say, and find out for themselves whether he was the terrible anti-Semite the officials claimed.

It should be to condemn the actions of successive Israeli governments, in constructing a racist, genocidal state. And the actions of Britain itself, and our officials and politicians, for their part in the massacre and dispossession of an entire people.

The Young Turks on Pizza Delivery Drivers Being Replaced by Driverless Cars

September 3, 2017

This is probably going to be the reality behind the driverless cars the car industry and the media have been hyping. In this short clip from The Young Turks, the hosts Ana Kasparian and Brett Ehrlich report and comment on the story that Domino’s Pizzas are planning to replace their pizza delivery people with driverless cars.

It’s only a trial run at the moment. They intend to go through their customers at random, and ask them if they’re happy with their pizza delivered by a driverless car instead. The vehicle will take a maximum of four pizzas to them. To get their orders, the customers will have to punch in a code into a keypad on the car.

After a bit of silly banter about the number of pizzas people usually order, they get down to discussing what this really represents. Kasparian says that when they usually talk about American jobs being lost, they’re usually reporting on corporate outsourcing. But automation is the other way in which people are losing their jobs in America. Kasparian she states that she isn’t against technological innovation, but points out that not only are people going to lose their jobs as pizza delivery staff, but they’re also going to lose an opportunity to acquire useful skills to succeed in a very competitive jobs market. She also states that we also need to give young people proper, affordable college education as well.

Domino’s has released a statement saying that they have at the moment 100,000 pizza delivery people. They hope that when this comes in, they will be able to find other positions within the company. The Turks end by saying that they hope so too.

To be fair, the BBC has carried news and documentary programmes, which forecast that in the coming decades, 1/3 of all retail jobs will be lost to automation. Nevertheless, whenever you see driverless cars appear, the overwhelming message is one of boundless enthusiasm, with the presenters raving about the technology. Clarkson went on a driverless truck on Top Gear, and went almost berserk with excitement when it started to make its way without human guidance.

Driverless trucks are due to be trialed on roads in Britain, according to a report in the I newspaper. They’re going to be tested in groups of three. I talked about this technology and its threats to jobs with a friend a little while ago. He told me that there are about 40,000 truckers in Britain, so that’s 40,000 people, who stand to lose their jobs.

Counterpunch has run an article on this, stating that there’s no desire for the cars from ordinary people. They’re being hyped and pushed by the insurance companies, who hope that their appearance and promotion as being safer than human driving will allow them to put up their premiums for people, who won’t use them.

What also struck me was how cold, lonely and impersonal the future represented by this type of automation is. In much SF depictions of an automated future, the machines performing human jobs also have something like human cognitive abilities and personalities. Long term 2000 AD readers will remember Dredd’s little robotic companion, Walter the Wobot. The character had a lisp and was a gentle soul, providing a contrast with the brutal machismo of Mega City 1’s toughest lawman. Or the robots in the Robohunter strip. These were extremely strong characters with all the traits, foibles and psychological failings of the human creators, including stupidity, thuggishness and all-round criminality. Like the God-Droid, the automatated underworld boss, a machine version of Marlon Brando with a sign stamped across its stomach reading ‘Omerta’, or the incendiary temperament of Molotov, the automatic cocktail-shaker and head of the Amalgamated Androids’ Union, who lectures Spade on the evils of human exploitation. Or Ro-Jaws, a chirpy, bolshie, foul-mouthed sewer droid, and his more dignified mate, the war-robot Hammerstein, and the moronic and sadistic Mek-Quake, the main characters in the Robusters strip, and its spin-off, ABC Warriors.

These fictional machines all had real, authentic characters. They had minds and characters like human beings, even if their bodies and brains were of metal and plastic. And so the strips’ writers could use them to make serious satirical points amidst the cartoon violence and mayhem. From the first, the ABC Warriors strip included a bitter commentary on the horrors of war, and the way soldiers lives were sacrificed by an officer and political class insulated from the actual fighting. The fact that robots were machines, with no rights, also allowed 2000 AD to explore real issues like slavery, racism, and institutionalized discrimination with deliberate, and sometimes very obvious parallels to the experience of Black Americans before Civil Rights.

But the real machines taking our jobs won’t even have personalities, friendly or otherwise, with which we will interact. Admittedly, there isn’t much social interaction with the mail and other delivery people, who turn up at our doors. The conversation is naturally very limited. But with these machines, we won’t even have that. Just a car turning up, following by the customer trudging out to punch in a code to open the doors.

Silent, efficient, and coldly impersonal.

And this is going to make the atomization and despair of contemporary western, and particularly American society, much worse. I’ve also come across a series of videos Chris Hedges has also made, in which he talks about the new American Fascism, and specifically the Religious Right. I think Hedges is probably an atheist, from some of the things he has said about the religious right promoting magical thinking. But he has a divinity degree, his father was a politically radical Presbyterian clergyman, his mother was also a divinity student, and so Hedges doesn’t hate religion or regard the antics of the religious right and the frauds and bigots leading it as normal. Indeed, he is at pains to show that, for all that they scream that they represent traditional values, they don’t. He states in one video that they’re as far from traditional Christian religious doctrine and practice as the religious liberals they despise.

One of the points he makes in these videos is that these bigots have been assisted in their rise to power by the social atomization of modern American society. In places like LA there are no pavements, so people can’t walk down the street. You have to drive. And so people drive straight to work, and then straight home. They don’t really meet or interact with anyone else. And the religious right has exploited this atomization, this alienation, by offering people a community in the ideologically enclosed space of their megachurches. And the people they target are those who have suffered from the attacks of neoliberalism – people in the rustbelt, who have seen their jobs decline and their communities fall into poverty along with them.

Other observers of the American Right have said the same. One of the essays in the book attacking the Neo-Cons, Confronting the New Conservativism, states that these b*stards are able to get away with promoting bigotry and racism, because of the decline in genuine, working class communities. The jobs are going, and White flight has meant that Whites have moved out of racially mixed areas in the centres of town to the suburbs. Community centres have also closed, and the attack on trade unions has also destroyed this pillar of working class community. The result is that the individual is left isolated from both people of other ethnic groups, and similar people to him- or herself. He or she goes to work and comes home. This isolation leaves them vulnerable to the vile propaganda spewed at them by bigots like Jerry Falwell and the rest of the rightwing televangelists that were thrown up by the 1980s.

This atomization and alienation is one of the fundamental characteristics of totalitarian societies of the Left and Right. In the Soviet Union, society was arranged so that people were deliberately isolated from each other. The only way of keeping in contact and forming communities and relationships, at least officially, was through the party organisations. Ditto with the Third Reich. Hitler boasted that they would never leave the individual alone, not even in a poker club.

And the driverless cars also remind me of another dystopian vision of the future, that of Ray Bradbury’s The Pedestrian. This is a tale by one of the great masters of SF, in which a man walking late at night is stopped and picked up by a police car. The car’s not crewed. It’s entirely automatic. Bradbury describes the computer punchcards being processed as the machine thinks. The machine asks the man why he’s on the streets so late at night. He replies simply that he just wanted to take a walk.

Already there are places in some American cities, where you can’t walk. Mike found this out a few years ago when he visited friends in California. You had to drive everywhere, even down to the local stores. Which means that the cold future of The Pedestrian really ain’t that far away.

Donald Trump’s Horrendous Contempt for Family Values

February 8, 2016

The Republican party are very big on ‘family values’. They’ve been so ever since Ronald Reagan brought the Christian fundamentalists in from the political cold in the 1980s. Before then, many of what is now the Religious Right did not vote on the grounds that American society and politics were too decadent and fallen for good Christians to become involved with. Reagan and his party machine changed all that by explicitly appealing to them and campaigning on politically and morally Conservative Christian issues. These are now so much a feature of the Republican political landscape, that they’re practically stereotypical of the American Right-wing mindset – abortion, homosexuality, and the family.

Most Christians, and in fact probably most people, regardless of their religious beliefs or absence thereof, were alarmed by the massive growth in divorce and the apparent collapse of the traditional family in the ’70s and ’80s. I can remember the various grim children’s books and adult dramas on the TV dealing with the issue of family break up. In RE at school, one of the subjects covered was ‘relationships’. The textbook for this part of the curriculum included discussions of burgeoning teenage sexuality as well as divorce. This depressed me no end. Instead of the ‘happy ever after’ myth of traditional marriage, it presented a grim world of broken homes where confused children wondered why their mummies and daddies weren’t living together any more. It was a prospect almost calculated to put any romantic or vaguely idealistic young person off the idea of getting hitched altogether by showing them the terrifying prospect of the lifelong-relationship burning out after a few years into a domestic hell of hatred and despair.

Modern Britain has since come somewhat to terms with this. The divorce statistics still cause some concern, especially amongst Tories, but they’re much less in the news than they were. Most children in this country are born outside of marriage, but the ideal is still some kind of committed relationship. Where once neighbours dropped their voices when it came to mentioning ‘cohabiting’ couples, now hardly anyone takes any notice whatsoever. Instead of referring to them as ‘spouse’ or ‘husband’ or ‘wife’, those in a committed relationship not blessed by either the church or the Record Office are simply referred to as ‘partners’.

But family values remain very big in America. There’s a hilarious video by one of the current Republican candidates – I think it might be Ted Cruz- in which the politico steps forward to declare that he believes that the bedrock of American society is a solid family. It’s so stereotypical of Conservative rhetoric that it’s almost unintentionally hysterically funny. Trump, however, will probably not be pursuing that approach to appeal to Conservative American voters. I’ve no doubt that Trump would probably like to appeal on that point, but his own family values and relationships are horrendous.

Mike over on Vox Political has posted up an obituary by Thomas P. Trump, The Donald’s cousin. This Trump, who passed away aged 88, is described as a brilliant chemist and philanthropist. He also insisted that the obituary included a plea for people not to vote for his ‘mucus bag’ cousin. The older Trump was afraid that if The Donald became president, he’d be responsible for a ‘holocaust-level’ atrocity. See Mike’s article at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/02/08/obituary-leaves-mucus-bag-donald-trumped-by-his-own-late-cousin/.

The Young Turks also reported on a feud in the Trump family over the in heritance left by Donald Trump’s father, Fred Trump snr. When Trump pere died in the 1990s, he cut one of his sons, Fred Trump jnr, out of his will on the grounds that the man was an alcoholic. This was done at the instigation of his other son, yes, you guessed it, Donald. Fred junior’s children therefore took the issue to court to contest the will. At which point, the Tyrant of Trump tower really wigged out and decided he wasn’t going to play ball any more. One of his nephews was a small boy, who suffered from seizures. Trump had generously been paying for the child’s treatment. Once the lad’s parents and their siblings decided to defy him about the inheritance, he decided that he wouldn’t pay for the lad’s medical care any more.

In the video below, the Turks’ anchor, John Iadarola, discusses this family affair, and comes to the final judgement that Trump’s family values are horrible. Most people would probably agree that it is horrendous for him to withdrawal vital medical care from an innocent child, simply because he couldn’t get his own way with the parents.

And if you take the rhetoric about family values seriously – that a man’s private affairs are also a good indication of whether he’s morally suitable for the high office for which he’s campaigning, then Trump is manifestly unsuited for something as absolutely important as the presidency. Not that anybody needed to know the details of Trump’s family affairs to realise this. He could have had an absolutely model relationship of perfect harmony with his siblings, and it still wouldn’t change the fact that he’s a walking monster, who shouldn’t be let anywhere near high office. This just confirms what many people know, or have guessed already.

But if Trump has absolutely no scruples about so effectively screwing his own family over for money, including a terribly vulnerable little boy, it also shows that he will have absolutely no remorse about destroying the lives, families and children of others if he becomes president. And certainly not if they’re Hispanic, Muslim, or indeed, ordinary blue-collar American worker.

UKIP, Islamophobia and the Loud Atheism Website

April 18, 2015

On Thursday, Hope Not Hate published a piece UKIP’s Stretford & Urmston Candidate Thinks Islam is “Despicable” reporting that Kalvin Chapman, the UKIP parliamentary candidate for Stretford and Urmston, Kalvin Chapman, had posted a comment on the ‘Loud Atheism’ Facebook page attacking Islam. He described it as a ‘despicable’ and ‘f***ed up’.

The article’s at http://www.hopenothate.org.uk/ukip/ukip-s-stretford-urmston-candidate-thinks-islam-is-despicable-4397, if you want to see it.

Now I have the impression that this is pretty much par for the course for much of the ‘New Atheist’ movement. This is the form of organised atheism that emerged in late decade, led by Richard Dawkins, Sue Blackmore, Christopher Hitchens and Daniel C. Dennett. The movements critics have pointed out that by and large the New Atheism didn’t have any new arguments, except perhaps an extension of Darwinian theory to try and explain religious belief. In the case of Sue Blackmore and Daniel C. Dennett, it had an extremely reductive view of human consciousness that saw it as being nothing more than a series of biological computer programmes. Sue Blackmore in particular took this to its most logically absurd extent and denied consciousness actually existed.

If the arguments were largely the same, traditional arguments used against religious belief and organised religion, the presentation was quite different. It was much more vicious, vitriolic and intolerant. Atheist movements in the past have persecuted organised religion. Religious belief in the former Communist bloc was severely limited and fiercely persecuted, with religious believers killed or sent to forced labour camps. In the former Soviet Union the penalty for holding a religious service in your own home would see you arrested and your house demolished.

The older, atheist tradition in the West could be much more genteel. Angry revolutionaries like the Surrealist film-maker Bunuel and his counterparts could and did make blasphemous films and art attacking organised religion in general and Roman Catholicism in particular. In the 1950s they held a mock trial of the Roman Catholic church in a disused church just outside Paris, while the Surrealists’ leader, Andre Breton, wrote an article denouncing recent attempts to combine surrealism with Christianity, entitled ‘To Your Kennels, Curs of God’.

Against this, there were atheist intellectuals like A.J. Ayer and Ludovik Kennedy, who were much less personally abusive. Kennedy when he appeared on Mark Lamarr’s chat show, Lamarr’s Attacks, in the 1990s, was courteous and polite. A.J. Ayer became friends with a Jesuit priest after having a Near Death Experience choking on a piece of fish in hospital. It didn’t make him become a religious believer, but the incident does show that people of differing and opposed religious views needn’t be personal enemies.

The New Atheism, by contrast, was much more aggressive, with a far greater use of invective. Rather than merely being attacked intellectually, religious and religious belief should be actively discouraged and given much less tolerance. Richard Dawkins has been quoted by his critics as saying that religious believers should be humiliated and shamed into abandoning their beliefs.

The result of this is that some atheist websites have a reputation for abuse and invective, like P.Z. Myers’ The Panda’s Thumb, set up to defend evolution from creationism, and Raving Atheism. I was warned off the latter by a friend, who said it was just atheists being extremely blasphemous and abusive for the sake of it.

To be fair, this approach has its critics from within the atheist movement, many of whom are genuinely shocked at how extreme and bitterly intolerant the New Atheist rhetoric is. A few years ago one atheist writer published an article in one of the papers actually saying that Richard Dawkins’ made him ashamed to be an atheist. And within the last couple of years in particular a strain of Islamophobia has emerged within the New Atheist movement. Again, this has been exemplified by Richard Dawkins, who become the subject of further controversy because of his posts and tweets attacking Islam, particularly the low status of women in Islamic countries and Female Genital Mutilation. Chapman’s comments about Islam are part of this strand of New Atheism.

And the fear of Islam, or at least radical Islamism, may have been one of the catalysts of the New Atheism from the start. I was talking to a friend of mine a while ago about the origins of the New Atheism. I thought it was a reaction to the growth of Creationism and Intelligent Design, which recognises the emergence of new species over time, but claims this is due to the intervention of intelligent agencies, rather than the mechanism of random mutation and natural selection, suggested by Neo-Darwinian theory. I also wondered if it was also due to the accession to the Presidency of George ‘Dubya’, an Evangelical Christian, and the increasing power and influence of the Christian religious right in American politics.

My friend took a different view. He believed it was a reaction to 9/11 and the rise of aggressive Islamic terrorist movements, like al-Qaeda, and radical and aggressive Islamic political movements within the largely secular West, such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir. He stated that some of Atheists’, Agnostics’ and Secularists’ Societies set up on university campus in practice were little more than anti-Islam societies.

Now I don’t know how true this is. The AAS at Bristol University did not seem to be particularly interested in Islam, only in attacking religion in general. The events and lectures it organised seemed generally disrespectful, such as a social evening in which members were encouraged to dress up as their favourite religious figure. One of their lectures was a general account of traditional, religious beliefs about the creation of the world from antiquity onwards.

Now I do believe that if you are going to criticise religion, then this should extend to all religions, rather than just Christianity as the former majority, mainstream religion of the West. However, in the case of Islam at the moment, such criticism has become extremely dangerous. It can easily lead to the persecution of innocents, including racist attacks and the demonization of Islam generally because of the atrocities committed by the Islamist militants. This in turn may fuel the alienation and resentment in Muslim communities, and further the Islamists’ goal of their further radicalisation.

In the case of Chapman, I’m not surprised that his post against Islam was particularly splenetic, given the title of the website on which it was posted. What is worrying is that it comes from a prospective parliamentary candidate for a party that has developed a reputation for racism and a bitter hostility to Islam.

Resign, Tyrant, Said the Type-Type Man

September 23, 2014

Harlan Ellison on being spied on by Big Brother in Reagan’s 1984 America

Okay, so I’ve been away from blogging for a few months now. I’ve been working on a book. It’s my doctoral thesis on the origins and growth of the town of Bridgwater in Somerset from prehistory to 1700. It’s now with the publishers, and hopefully it shouldn’t be too long before it comes out. I’ve also been taken up and somewhat distracted by a few other projects. Nevertheless, I hope to get back to blogging regularly.

Edward Snowden’s revelations of the sheer size and scale of the American intelligence agencies’ surveillance of their citizens, and British complicity with it, has raised questions about the gradual diminution of personal freedom and the transformation of our societies into Orwellian surveillance states. This is just part of process that has been going on for a very long time, since the 1980s. Alan Moore, the veteran comics writer and co-creator of the V for Vendetta comic strip with the artist David Lloyd, stated has stated in interviews how amazed he is by the complete acceptance of CCTV cameras on Britain’s streets. When he included them in the strip as a visible sign of the totalitarian Fascist state in which the strip was set, he was absolutely sure it would terrify everyone to the point where they simply wouldn’t accept them. Now, as he remarked, they’re everywhere. Niall Ferguson, the right-wing historian and columnist, has also made the same point. He remarked in an interview on how he first noticed them after he came back from a visit to China. He too felt that they were a threat to individual liberty, and could not understand why no-one else was alarmed by them or saw them this way.

This concerns have become more acute with the Tory and Lib Dem decision to establish secret courts, functioning as a Kafkaesque travesty of justice. In these courts, people will be able to be tried without knowing the evidence against them, nor who their accuser is. All for reasons of ‘national security’. It’s frighteningly like the corrupt and murderous judicial system of the former Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. It also bears more than a passing resemblance to Saddam Hussein’s legal code. In addition to the laws, which were made known to the Iraqi public, there were also six pieces of legislation which were kept secret. Very secret. They were so secret that even knowledge of these laws was a crime that could land you in prison or worse. For all their claims to be the defenders of personal freedom, with the establishment of these secret courts the Coalition is laying the foundations of the kind of totalitarian state described by Kafka and Moore, only in 21st century Britain. And the surveillance of citizens by the Western intelligence agencies, for merely having political views the authorities considered dangerous or subversive, goes back even further.

Looking through Youtube, I found this interview with Harlan Ellison, the veteran SF author and screenwriter, from 1984. It’s part of a discussion about the relevance of Orwell’s dystopian novel of the same name in contemporary America. When asked about this, Ellison states that he thinks it’s extremely relevant, because he’s lived through it in Reagan’s America. He described how, shortly after Reagan became governor of California, he began to hear clicks and noises on his telephone, suggesting that it was being tapped. He dismissed the idea, until he went out to empty his wastepaper basket in the trash one morning, and discovered an engineer for the telephone company outside, connected to the wire leading into his house. Checking with people he knew, who were in a position to know, he found out that it was indeed true, and his phone was indeed being tapped.

Ellison made sure, however, he had his revenge. Knowing that whatever he said on the phone would be written down and filed, he made sure that his phone conversations included some interesting and highly derogatory comments about the then leader of the free world and star of Bedtime for Bonzo, whose title character was a chimpanzee, and arguably the better actor. For example, the great author would remark that Reagan beat his mother and did not confine his romantic interests to those with the two legs, but also those with four, a wagging tail and wet nose. Here’s the interview:

It’s not hard to see why Reagan and his cohorts should view Ellison as a potential subversive. He’s an outspoken atheist and a card-carrying liberal. This was in sharp contrast to Reagan’s administration, which was strongly based on the American religious Right. Ellison had been a strong supporter of the Civil Rights movement. On one of his own videos on Youtube, he discusses his participation on the Civil Rights March on Selma with Martin Luther King. Under J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI was hostile and deeply suspicious of the Civil Rights Movement, which they suspected was a Communist initiative. So Ellison’s participation in that would have been enough to arouse the authorities’ interest and suspicions in him. In addition to writing some of the most outstanding episodes of the original Star Trek series, such as ‘City on the Edge of Forever’, Ellison was one of the major figures in the SF New Wave, whose other leading writers included Norman Spinrad, Brian Aldiss and Michael Moorcock’s New Worlds in Britain. This was markedly countercultural, and attacked contemporary literary and social conventions. In one of Ellison’s best known short stories, Repent, Harlequin, Said the Tick-Tock Man, for example, the hero is a lone, vigilante prankster. The story is set in a dystopian society in which time is rigidly controlled, the Tick-Tock Men of the title making sure that everyone perform their allotted tasks rigorously according to the time table. The hero, Harlequin, tries to subvert this by performing practical jokes deliberately intended to upset the time table, and the rigid social order that it supports. These include releasing a torrent of jelly beans all over people as they go to work in the morning. Ellison himself declared of the SF writers in the New Wave that ‘these guys is blasphemous!’ In Britain too the movement caused outcry, and questions were raised in the Houses of Parliament about Moorcock’s New Worlds. There was concern about the allegedly obscene nature of Norman Spinrad’s story, ‘Riders of the Purple Wage’, which was then being serialised in the magazine.

Eventually, Ellison says, the clicking noises simply faded away and the authorities presumably lost interest. This was probably when they realised that, no matter how objectionable they found his politics, one of SF’s greatest writers was not actually planning to overthrow the government of the US, invade Guatemala, or even deluge the sidewalk with a tide of jelly beans. They may even have agreed with his comments about Ronald Reagan. It does, however, show that under Reagan, prominent intellectuals that didn’t share the president’s highly reactionary and paranoid views could be spied upon, simply for having those views, regardless of whether they were innocent of any crime. And as Snowden’s revelations showed, the surveillance state has expanded massively since then.

We do need the security and intelligence services. According to today’s I, Isis, the Islamist terrorist organisation Iraq and Syria, has called on its supporters to attack and kill citizens of the US, Britain, France and the other coalition countries. The work of the various intelligence agencies and their surveillance is necessary to stop ISIS and other terrorist organisations from carrying out their threats. But individual freedom – freedom of conscience, speech and publication also needs to be preserved. These are also under threat from the Right, though legislation like the Coalition’s secret courts. They need to be strongly rejected, and proper safeguards against further encroachment on our civil liberties put in place. The answer to the old question ‘Who watches the watchers’ has always been: ‘The price of liberty is eternal vigilance’.