Posts Tagged ‘Russian Orthodox Church’

Dimbleby Resigns as BBC Propagandist on Question Time

June 18, 2018

Yesterday, Mike put up a piece commenting on the resignation of former Bullingdon boy David Dimbleby as the host of Question Time. The man Private Eye dubbed ‘Dimblebore’ has been presenting the show for 25 years, and now considers it the right moment to leave. Dimbleby is another BBC presenter, who is very biased towards the Conservatives. Mike’s photograph of him accompanying his piece shows him raising two fingers, with the comment that it’s probably to a Socialist. Mike also cautions against feeling too good about Dimblebore’s resignation, as we don’t know what monster’s going to replace. He wonders whether the secret of human cloning has been found, and whether the next biased presenter of the programme will be Josef Goebbels.

https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/06/17/if-david-dimbleby-is-leaving-the-bbcs-question-time-what-horror-will-replace-him/

Last week Dimblebore was off in Russia, presenting a documentary about the country under Putin ahead of the footie there. He wasn’t the only, or even the first person to go. The comedian Frankie Boyle got there over a week earlier, presenting a two-part show about the country, it’s people and football on Sunday evening. Dimblebore was rather more serious in tone, presenting Russia as a country in the grip of a repressive autocrat, and mired in corruption which was strangling the economy.

Dimbleby first explained that Putin was most popular with young people, the generation that everywhere else is rebelling against autocrats, dictators and tyrants. He puts this down to Russians’ experience of economic collapse under Yeltsin. Yeltsin ended communism and dismembered the economy of the Soviet Union, privatising whatever he could. The result was chaos, and massive employment. At one point it got so bad that some factories were paying their workers in the goods they produced. Putin has restored order and economic stability to the country, and so has the support of the younger generation.

He spoke to a great of young professionals, an advertising branding team who were supporters of Putin, working to promote him through images and slogans. He stated that most of the media was controlled by the Russian president, with a few exceptions. He then went to speak to someone from RT’s Moscow branch. Dimbleby explained that some of the staff were British, and asked one of the Brits there whether he was presenting propaganda. The man denied it, said that there was no one watching over him, telling him what to do, and that his conscience was clear. Dimblebore then gave a knowing smirk into the camera.

He then talked to a female presenter on one of the few dissident broadcasters Putin had allowed to remain open. She said that she had not received any threats, but she knew that she could be killed for what she did. But she was still determined to carry on.

He then talked about how those, who criticised the government were arrested and jailed, interviewing a human rights lawyer, who defended them. When asked what people could be arrested and jailed for, the lawyer explained that it could be criticism of the government, or a non-traditional understanding of the Second World War. The other year Putin passed a law criminalising the view that Stalin was partly responsible for the Nazi invasion of eastern Europe and Russia through the Nazi-Soviet pact. From what I remember, I think you can also be arrested for promoting gay rights.

He then spoke to a woman, who was protesting her treatment by the state. She had already been jailed for criticising Putin, but was determined to do so again. She had not been able to get a permit to organise a protest, and so held her own, one-woman demonstration outside the court. This is permitted under Russian law. If you can’t get a permit for a demonstration, you can still protest, so long as there is only one person involved. As she stood with her placard, she was joined by an increasing number of counter-protesters determined to disrupt her protest, and possibly send her to jail. They moved closer to her, and she moved away, telling them to keep their distance. They kept coming, and their numbers kept increasing. Then the cops turned up, and started filming things as they’d been told foreigners were involved. And someone else from one of the TV companies materialised to film the protest as well. Eventually it all ended, and the police and counter-protesters disappeared.

Dimbleby then did a piece about the police’s brutal suppression of dissent, complete with footage of the cops beating what looked like a feminist protester from Pussy Riot.

He also touched on gender roles. He talked to a hairdresser, while having his haircut, who told him that Russia still had very traditional gender roles, in which women wanted a strong man to provide for them.

Putin has also succeeded in reversing the declining Russian birthrate. Instead of falling, it is now rising, with medals and benefits given to couples who have large families. He showed one woman and her husband, who were being presented a medal by Putin for having ten children.

He also went off to talk to a youth organisation, that was set up to get children, including boys of junior school age, interested in the army. The group’s name translates as ‘Net’, and is run by army officers. The children there wear combat uniforms and learn to shoot using air rifles, which they are also taught how to strip down. They were shown blazing away at targets, and competing with each other over who could reassemble a gun while blindfolded the quickest, with Dimblebore cheering the winner. And it wasn’t all boys. One of the youngster there looked like a girl. Dimblebore asked them if they wanted to join the army, to which they gave a very enthusiastic ‘Yes’.

He then went off to speak to a prelate from the Russian Orthodox Church about its support for Putin, where he described Putin as an autocrat attacking human rights and threatening peace in Europe. The prelate responded by saying that there were those, who did not agree with his view. And that was that.

He then went off to discuss the massive corruption in Russia, and how this was undermining the economy as more and more investors and companies left the country because of it. Russia has 144 million people, but it’s economy is 2/3s that of Britain, or about the size of Italy’s, and is declining.

Now all of this is factually true. John Kampfner, in his book Freedom For Sale discusses Russia as another state, where the population has made a deal with its leader. They have absolute power, in return for which they give their people prosperity. Except that, according to Dimbleby, living standards and wages are declining. Putin has passed laws against the promotion of homosexuality, there are massive human rights violations, including the jailing of the type of people, who would have been called dissidents under Communism. Journalists, who haven’t toed the Archiplut’s line have been beaten and killed.

Other aspects of the Russian state, as revealed by this programme, would have been immediately recognisable to the generation raised by Communism. Like the corruption. It was rife under Communism. The Bulgarian journalist, Arkady Vaksberg, wrote a book about it, The Soviet Mafia. And Gogol took a shot at official corruption under the Tsars back in the 19th century in his play, The Government Inspector. So no change there.

As for the Russian Orthodox Church supporting Putin, it was always the state church under the tsars, to which it gave absolute support. The watchword of the tsarist regime was ‘Autocracy, Orthodoxy and the People’. And its support of autocratic leadership didn’t begin under Putin. After the restrictions on religion were lifted in the 1990s, the BBC journalists interviewed some of its clergy on their shows. And the clergy had the same preference for absolute state power and total obedience from the people. Putin made the relationship between the Church and his government closer by granting them a sizable share of Russia’s oil.

The youth groups designed to get children interested in joining the army are also little different from what already went on under the Soviet system. Secondary schoolchildren did ‘military-patriotic training’ to prepare them for national service as part of the school curriculum. It was led by retired army officers, who were often the butt of schoolboy jokes. They were taught to handle weapons, complete with competitions for throwing grenades the furthest.

And let’s face it, it also isn’t much different from what used to go on over here. I’ve known young people, who were in the army and naval cadets. And the public schools used to have the CCF – the Combined Cadet Force – which the Tories would dearly love to bring back. And boys, and some girls, do like playing at ‘War’, so I’ve no doubt that if something like the Russian group was set up in this country, there would be many lads and girls wanting to join it.

Russia has also too been a very masculine society with very traditional ideas about gender and masculinity, despite the fact that most engineers were women, who also worked as construction workers and many other, traditionally masculine areas. One of the complaints of Russian women was that the men didn’t do their fair share of standing in queues waiting to get whatever groceries were in store.

And the medals and rewards to the women, who gave birth to the largest number of children is just another form of the Heroic Mother Awards under the Soviet Union. Putin’s Russia continues many of the same aspects of the country’s society from the age of the tsars and Communism, although Dimblebore said the country was going backward.

I’ve no doubt it is, but the programme annoyed me.

What irritated me was Dimblebore’s knowing smirk to camera when the guy from RT denied that he broadcast propaganda. Now I’m sure that RT does. There’s videos I’ve seen on YouTube from RTUK, which could fairly be described as pro-Russian propaganda.

But what annoyed me was Dimblebore’s hypocrisy about it.

The Beeb and Dimbleby himself has also broadcast it share of propaganda supporting western foreign policy interests, including imperialism. Newsnight has finally got round, after several years, to covering the Fascists running around the Ukraine under the present government. But the Beeb has emphatically not informed the British public how the pro-western regime which was put in power with the Orange Revolution, was created by the US State Department under Obama, and run by Hillary Clinton and Victoria Nuland. Far from being a grassroots movement, the revolution was orchestrated by the National Endowment for Democracy, which has been handling the US state’s foreign coups since they were taken away from the CIA, and one of George Soros’ pro-democracy outfits.

Putin is also presented as the villainous aggressor in the current war in the Ukraine, and some have compared his annexation of Crimea and invasion of eastern Ukraine to the Nazi annexation of the Sudetenland. But Crimea had been a part of Russia before 1951, when Khrushchev, a Ukrainian, gave it to that state. And Putin is not looking to take over the country either. The population of Russia is 144 million. Ukraine’s is a little over a third of that, at 52 million. If Putin really had wanted to annex it, he would have done so by now. And under international law, as I understand it, nations are allowed to intervene in foreign countries militarily to defend members of their ethnic group that are being persecuted. That was the pretext for the Nazi annexation of the Sudetenland, and it’s also the reason why Putin’s invaded eastern Ukraine. But it’s legal under international law. And I don’t doubt for a single minute that Russians, and Russian-speaking Ukrainians, were being persecuted by the new, pro-Western government.

In his documentary, Dimbleby met a very angry, patriotic Russian, who told him that the British had tried to invade Russia three times in the past three centuries. Once in the 19th century during the Crimean War; then in 1922 during the Russian Civil War. And now we were preparing to do the same. He angrily told us to ‘get out!’. Dimbleby looked shocked, and said to him that he couldn’t really believe we were ready to invade.

This was another continuation of the Soviet paranoia and hostility towards the West dating from the Communist period and before. Russia has always felt itself encircled by its enemies since the tsars. But the man has a point. We did invade Russia in 1922 in an effort to overthrow the Communist regime. Pat Mills has talked about this in his presentation on comics he gave to the SWP a few years ago. He tried to get a story about it in Charlie’s War, the anti-war strip he wrote for Battle. This is another piece of history that we aren’t told about.

And when Gorbachev made the treaty with Clinton pledging the withdrawal of Soviet troops from eastern Europe after the collapse of Communism, Clinton in turn agreed that these state would not become members of NATO. He broke his promise. They now all are, and NATO’s borders now extend to Russia. At the same time, western generals and NATO leaders have been predicting a war between Russia and NATO. One even wrote a book about it, 2017: War with Russia. Thankfully, 2017 has been and gone and there has, so far, been no war. But with this in view, I can’t say I blame any Russian, who is afraid that the West might invade at any moment, because it does look to me like a possibility.

And there are other matters that the Beeb and the rest of the lamestream news aren’t telling us about. They’re still repeating the lie that the invasion of Iraq was done for humanitarian reasons, whereas the reality was that western corporations and the neocons wanted to get their hands on Iraqi state industries and privatise the economy. And the American and Saudi oil industry wanted to get their mitts on the country’s oil reserves.

The civil war in Syria is also presented in simplistic terms: Assad as evil tyrant, who must be overthrown, and Putin as his bloodthirsty foreign ally. Assad is a tyrant, and one of the causes of the civil war was his oppression of the Sunni majority. But we are constantly being told that the rebels are ‘moderates’, while the fact is that they still have links to Islamists like the al-Nusra Front, the former Syrian branch of al-Qaeda, and ISIS. Nor have I seen the Beeb tell anyone how the Syrian rebels have also staged false flag chemical weapons attacks against civilians in order to draw the west into the war.

And objective reporting on Israel is hindered by the pro-Israel lobby. Any news item or documentary, which shows Israel’s horrific crimes against Palestinian civilians is immediately greeted with accusations of anti-Semitism from the Israeli state and the Board of Deputies of British Jews. I’ll be fair to the Beeb. Some of their presenters have tried to give an objective reporting of events, like Jeremy Bowen and Orla Guerin. But they’ve been accused of anti-Semitism, as was Dimblebore himself when he tried to defend them. In this instance, the bias isn’t just the fault of the Beeb. But it is there, and newsroom staff have said that they were under pressure from senior management to present a pro-Israel slant.

Domestically, the Beeb is very biased. I’ve discussed before how Nick Robinson in his report on a speech by Alex Salmond about Scots devolution carefully edited the SNP’s answer, so it falsely appeared that he had been evasive. In fact, Salmond had given a full, straight answer. Salmond’s reply was whittled down further as the day went on, until finally Robinson claimed on the evening news that he hadn’t answered the question.

And numerous left-wing bloggers and commenters, including myself, have complained about the horrendous bias against the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn in the Beeb’s reporting. Dimblebore himself has shown he has a very right-wing bias on Question Time, allowing right-wing guests and audience members to speak, while silencing those on the left. Not that he’s alone here. Andrew Marr has done exactly the same on his programme on Sundays.

Dimblebore is, quite simply, another right-wing propagandist, with the Beeb backing current western imperialism. His smirk at the RT journalist’s denials of doing the same is just gross hypocrisy.

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UKIP: No Fear in Whitchurch and Hengrove

May 5, 2016

The anti-racist, anti-religious extremism organisation, Hope Not Hate, has a list of the 1,530 extreme Right-wing candidates standing in today’s elections. Some of them are members of the various declining Fascist and Nazi grouplets. The vast majority of UKIP. Three of them are standing in my part of Bristol, Whitchurch and Hengrove.

This has worried me, as I don’t think there’s very much racism locally, and definitely don’t want any. Bristol has always been quite a diverse city. Apart from Black and Asian people, Bristol has also had a large number of citizens from other European countries, including most notably Italy, Poland and Russia. There’s a Russian Orthodox Church in Clifton on the road leading up to Bristol University past the City art gallery and museum. There is also a Polish church elsewhere in the City. And in south Bristol, in Knowle and along the Wells Road, there are shops catering to the new immigrants from eastern Europe, along with the other businesses. And Bristol’s Italian community goes back at least to the 1920s, if not long before. The last thing this city needs is an increase in ethnic and national tensions created through anti-EU tub-thumping, especially as Nigel Farage said a few days ago that the Brexit campaign should concentrate more on the question of immigration.

A few weeks ago we had a leaflet through the door for one of the Kippers standing in our ward. He was amusingly called Fear, a suitably appropriate name for a scare-mongering party. At the last council elections, one of the Kippers in Hengrove apparently did manage to scrape in.

I don’t know, who this particular Kipper was, just that he was not a success. Apparently, once he took his seat in the council, he then failed to vote for just about anything, but presumably just turned up and then collected his allowance at the end of the month. He also managed to alienate his constituents thoroughly. He’s supposed to have bad-mouthed them, before calling on the police to protect him from them.

So you have people with absolutely no interest in representing their constituents, and who treat them with absolute contempt, who are apparently just there in the council to show their hatred of the EU and foreigners. Bristol, and particularly my part of it, deserves far better.

Which is why I hope that after today, the Kipper election campaign will have failed, hope will have triumphed, and there will be No Fear in this part of south Bristol.

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

January 24, 2016

Tolstoy Law Love

(Santa Barbara: Concord Grove Press, no date)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Russia Persecutes the Jehovah’s Witnesses

December 18, 2015

Religious persecution has returned to Russia again after the collapse of Communism. It was reported a few weeks ago in the I that a judge in a region about 600 miles away from Moscow had decided that the Jehovah’s Witnesses were an illegal sect, and sentenced a small group of mainly elderly believers to jail. The leader of this band of dangerous religious zealots was Koptev, a man in his 70s. Putin’s regime, at least in that part of the Russian Federation, has decided that the JWs are a dangerous and subversive organisation. They have put them on a list of such dangers to the post-Soviet state as ISIS, al-Qaeda, the mafia, and Neo-Nazi organisations.

Really! I never knew the Jehovah’s Witnesses were such a danger to life, liberty and property. There I was thinking the only thing wrong with them was that they turned up on your doorstep trying to interest you in joining them and offering copies of The Watchtower.

Most people probably find their religious proselytizing silly, but it’s absurd and monstrous to put them in the same category as genuine threats to life, limb and freedom like organised crime, Fascists and Islamist terrorists. Their prosecution renewed fears that Russia was returning to the bitter anti-religious campaign it pursued under Communism. Religious believers of all faiths, Christians, Jews, Buddhists and shamanists were rounded up and sent to the gulags. Their places of worship were torn down, and the few that survived the campaign were closely monitored. There was some toleration for believers practising their religion, but if you tried to explain the tenets, you would be arrested and tried. Baptists, Pentecostalists and Seventh Day Adventists in particular were heavily persecuted. If you dared to hold a religious service in your own home, you could be arrested and your house torn down. The state also promoted vicious conspiracy theories about the Pentecostalists to work up public sentiment against them. They were accused of becoming rich through taking money secretly smuggled in by an American ship in the Russian far north every year. All Soviet recruits to the army are viciously bullied under the brutal regime of the grandfathers, but the treatment meted out to Pentecostalists was especially harsh. They were beaten particularly savagely, many having to spend weeks recovering in the hospital afterwards as a result.

This looks like a return to those days, though my guess is that it’s now less about atheism than about Russian nationalism and the alliance Putin has struck with the Russian Orthodox Church. Not that this necessarily rules out a militantly atheist component in the persecution. Some of the judges and attitudes are no doubt left over from the officially atheist regime of the Soviet Union, and may see religious organisations generally as a subversive threat, just as the former Soviet state did.

And my guess is that the JWs are being persecuted not just because they’re a foreign religious denomination, but for the same reason the Nazis threw them into the camps: they don’t accept secular messiahs. They were persecuted by the Nazis as they recognised that Hitler was making a claim to be such a figure. The Nazi oath, to be recited in schools, had children swearing allegiance to ‘my Fuehrer sent by God’, and so treated Hitler as he deserved. They rejected him. This saw believers as young as 17 thrown into the concentration camps as a subversive threat to the Nazi state.

First Hitler, now Putin.

I don’t have a lot of time for the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I don’t share their religious views. But they aren’t any kind of political threat or menace to society, except to totalitarian despots. Yeah, it’s irritating when they turn up at your house to promote their religion, but that’s all it is. In genuinely free societies, people are at liberty to have and to promote different philosophical, religious and political views, as long as this does not involve force. That means that they are at liberty to knock on doors asking them if they’d like to join them, just as it also means that everyone else has the right to say ‘No’, or argue with them. Or agree, and join them, if they so wish.

This is part of what it means to live in genuinely pluralist, free society. And that’s why Putin’s persecution of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is also part of an attack on everyone’s liberties in Russia.

Putin’s Driving Ban for Pervs and Crims: Would This Man Be Allowed to Drive?

January 12, 2015

Desmond pic

Richard Desmond, porn baron, owner of Express newspapers and Hello!, and former owner of Channel 5. From the cover of Private Eye for 30th April – 13 May 2004, when he switched allegiance from Blair to the Tories.

There was a mixture of outrage, incredulity and ridicule last week, when Putin announced his new laws designed to cut down on dangerous driving in Russia. These made it illegal for transgendered people, along with ‘fetishists, voyeurs and exhibitionists’, and ‘compulsive gamblers and thieves’ to drive. Much of this outrage was directed at Putin’s bigoted view that somehow transgender people cannot drive safely. It’s in line with his regime’s continuing clampdown on homosexuality in Russia. The ban on driving for perverts and compulsive gamblers probably comes from a moral crusade to clean up Russia, intended to appeal to Russian Orthodox voters and other people of faith. The ban on thieves also probably stems from a desire to create a further disincentive to crime. The Russian psychiatric association criticised the new laws, pointing out the obvious: that few of these conditions actually affected anyone’s ability to drive. Amidst all the furore over the laws themselves, there is an interesting question: how will it affect great media moguls like Richard Desmond.

Desmond is the owner of a range of porno magazines and the Fantasy X Channel. By definition, the porn industry is full of, and consumed by,’fetishists, voyeurs and exhibitionists’. As for compulsive gamblers, the commercial TV channels after 9 pm or thereabouts are full of adverts for on-line gambling, as well as various forms of Bingo. Desmond also opened his own ‘Health Lottery’, a proportion of the profits of which would go into the NHS. As for thieves, in the past Desmond dealt with one of America’s more notorious mafia clans. They beat and tortured one of his directors after Desmond refused to refund their money after they found out that he had inflated his magazines’ circulation figures. They finally got it after they threatened to put a price on his head.

So Desmond runs a business by and for perverts of all types, as well as promoting gambling and had business dealings with organised crime. Under Putin’s new laws, it seems to me that there is absolutely no chance that he’ll be able to drive anywhere in Russia himself. If he ever goes to the land of Tchaikovsky, Stalin and Ivan the Terrible, it looks like he’s going to spending much of his time walking or getting taxis.

The Churches and Monasteries of Medieval Nubia: Part 1 – Introduction

June 21, 2013

I’ve blogged a bit before on the great Christian civilisation of medieval Nubia in what is now the Sudan. This civilisation consisted of the three kingdoms of Nobatia, Merkuria and Alwa. Nobatia was situated in the area between the Nile’s first and second cataracts, with its capital at Faras or Pachoras. Makuria stretched from the third cataract to the Butana. Its capital was Old Dongola. It was amalgamated with Nobatia in the seventh century. Alwa was centred on its capital of soba far to the south. Alwa is its Arabic name. The Greeks called it alodia. The remains of extremely small churches and a limited number of burials suggest that there may have been a settled Christian presence in Nobatia in the early sixth century before the possible conversion of the pagan temple of Dendur into a church by the king Eirpanome in 550 AD. The Nobatian church was monophysite, like the modern Egyptian Coptic Church, which believes that Christ only had a single, divine nature. The Makurian church, however, was dyophysite. Like the modern Greek and Russian Orthodox, Roman Catholic and European Protestant churches, it believed that Christ had two natures. He was both human and divine. Nubia boasted numerous churches. Little is known about Alwa, but the Armenian traveller Abu Salih described it as possessing 400 churches. Archaeological excavations in Soba have uncovered very few buildings that may have been churches, and it is possible that Abu Salih had overestimated their number. One of the very earliest churches in Nubia was in Qasr Ibrim, which was created by the local Christian community in the fifth century through the conversion of the Meroetic temple of King Taharqa, dating from the seventh century B.C.

European and International Exploration and Archaeological Investigation

After its conquest by Islam in the 16th century, medieval Nubia was largely unknown in the West until a series of European explorers and archaeologists visited the area from the early 19th century onwards. One of the first was the great Swiss explorer Jacob Burckhardt, who made two expeditions to Nubia and travelled as far as the third cataract from 1813 to 1815. Burckhardt was the first to describe the Nubians’ way of life, and their faded memories of their ancient Christian past. Two tribes even then still claimed to be descended from the ancient Christian inhabitants. He saqw the remains of two public buildings, which were probably churches at Qasr Ibrim, and came across the remains of a chapel in one of the islands of the Batn el Hajar, lying between the second and third cataract. Later explorers included Count Vidua, Richard Lepsius, the archaeologist, Somers Clarke, and many others. Most of what is known about medieval Nubia comes from the great rescue operations to investigate its archaeology during the construction of the Aswan dam. The first of these was 1899,led by Clarke, and the second, much greater series of excavations in the ‘Save Nubia’ UNESCO campaign from 1960s onwards, caused by the construction of the High Dam and formation of Lake Nasser. These were done by teams of British, American, Polish and Dutch archaeologists.

Nubian Courts and Kings Styled on Byzantine Empire

Archaeological finds and inscriptions, including evidence from churches, indicate that Nubia had strong connections with the Byzantine Empire. Often these were stronger than its relationship with the Egyptian Coptic church to the north. Inscriptions found by J.W. Crowfoot in the region of ancient Mekuria in 1927 indicates that the Nubians used Greek and followed the Byzantine liturgy in their worship. Documents discovered and published the following year by F.Ll. Griffiths showed that the Mekurian court was also modelled on that of the Byzantine Empire. There were courtiers and officials with the Byzantine titles of meizoteros (mayor of the palace?), proto-meizoteros (premier super-mayor), domesticus, primacerius and eparchos. A graffito in mangled Greek at St. Simeon’s monastery, dating from 7th April 1322, records that the last Christian king of that part of Nubia, Kudanbes, styled himself ‘president of the Caesars’.

Construction of Nubian Churches

Nubian churches were mostly built of mud brick, which does not survive very well in the archaeological record. Otherwise churches were composed of fired, red brick on stone foundations. These were either of sandstone, or granite from the marginal areas near the desert. The roof, which could be either flat or vaulted, were supported by granite pillars. These were painted or plastered, and occasionally were covered with frescoes. Stone capitals, doorjambs and lintels were carved with a wide variety of motifs and designs which reached their zenith in the eighth century. These included fish, crosses, vine and palm leaves. Granite capitals have been found in Upper Nubia, but they are rare, and were probably robbed out for reuse after the buildings were abandoned. William Adams identified four phases in the evolution of Nubian church architecture from his work in Lower Nubia. In the first, earliest phase churches probably consisted of the Byzantine basilica type. These were rectangular buildings comprising a nave flanked by two aisles. The Byzantine influence on these churches suggest that the dyophysite Christian communities in Nubia were earlier than indicated by the historical sources. The next phase, termed Early Nubian by Adams, lasted from about 650-800. This still roughly followed the form of the classical basilica, but with some slight differences. These may have been the result of changes in the Nubian liturgy, or the deliberate creation of a separate architectural style by the churches’ builders.

The zenith of Nubian church architecture was reached in the next phase, the Classical Nubian, which lasted from roughly 800 to 1150. This was defined through the addition of a passage running across the east side of the church, leading from the baptistry in the south to the vestry on the north side of the church. These were probably constructed to allow the clergy to pass from one side of the church to the other without going through the sanctuary or heikal. In some churches of this type there was a brick wall between the sanctuary and the nave. This indicates that the ceremonies in the sanctuary was becoming more secret and spiritual, and so concealed from the view of the laity.

According to the Polish archaeologist, Wlodiemiercz Godlewski, who excavated Old Dongola, the first three phases also saw changes in the construction of the baptistry. These were usually located south-east of the nave or narthex. These originally possessed large, circular tanks into which the candidates for baptism could walk. These were gradually replaced by square fonts, which were placed on a pedestal or base, similar to those in modern western churches from the eleventh centuries onwards. It appears that there was thus a move away from large, public baptisms towards a smaller, more intimate ceremony.

During the last phase of church construction from around 1150 to 1400, churches became smaller. The earlier large tanks for baptism were not generally built in churches of this period, and the emphasis was now on the sanctuary. This suggests that the church interior was exclusively reserved for the clergy, and that the congregation were deliberately kept outside. It also indicates that baptisms were being conducted in the Nile, rather than in a special space within the architecture of the church. This may well have been produced by changes in the liturgy, or as a result of the position of Christianity in Nubia becoming increasingly endangered from Muslim and desert raider incursions from the north. It is possible that the Nubian church became increasingly orientated towards Byzantium after Muslim raiding and conquest made contact with the Egyptian Coptic church increasingly difficult.

Among the churches that have been excavated are those of West Arminna and the cruciform and granite column churches of Old Dongola. The monasteries that have also been revealed and investigated by archaeologists include those of Ghazali and Qasr el Wizz. I will talk about these in parts two and three of this essay.

Sources

William H.C. Frend, The Archaeology of Early Christianity: A History (London: Geoffrey Chapman 1996)

Niall Finneran, The Archaeology of Christianity in Africa (Brimscombe Port: Tempus 2002)