Posts Tagged ‘Witch Hunts’

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

November 1, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

Zionist Witchhunters Attack Chris Williamson for Defending the Innocent

February 28, 2019

 

Witches Punishment Dress

Dress of accused and condemned witches, From Roger Hart, Witchcraft (Hove: Wayland 1971) p. 84.

The witchhunters have claimed another victim. This time its Chris Williamson, one of Corbyn’s staunchest supporters, who has been forced to apologise and suspended from the party by Jenny Formby. Why? Oh, shock, horror! He had the temerity to make a speech, enthusiastically applauded by his local party, in which he asked how Labour, the most anti-racist party, had now become smeared as institutionally anti-Semitic. It was, he said, because they had given too much ground. They were too apologetic. And no-one had done more to address the scourge of anti-Semitism than they had. Then, after meeting Corbyn, he issued a statement saying that the party could never be too apologetic about anti-Semitism in its ranks.

He also issued a statement that he had been an anti-racist all his life, and had been a member of the anti-Nazi league. He participated in street action againstanti-Semitism, and rejects racism ethically and morally.

But now, like the other accused, he is being investigated for ‘a pattern of behaviour’.

Mike over on his blog makes the point that Willliamson was not making any kind of anti-Semitic statement. He was saying that real anti-Semitism should be investigated and punished, but those making false accusations should also meet with an appropriate response. But this is too much for the witchunters, like the vile Tom Watson and the odious, smirking, entitled Luciana Berger. They want his head for daring to stand up for the innocent.

There may also be another factor in Williamson’s suspension. This notorious racist and bigot had booked a room in the House of Commons for a preview screening of the film Witchhunt, about the persecution of Jackie Walker. Walker is the Jewish lady of colour, with anti-racism in her blood through her mother, a Black civil rights campaigner, and Russian Jewish father. She was suspended from the Labour under another accusation of anti-Semitism because of sloppy remarks about Jewish involvement in the transatlantic slave trade, run by Christian monarchs and states. The screening had been arranged with the awesome Jewish Voice for Labour, and Williamson had no other role in organising the event.

The film is due to go on tour around selected cities in Britain with its director, Jon Pullman. It has been acclaimed by Mike Leigh and Peter Kosminski, who are both Jewish. Leigh will be familiar to cinephiles as a highly respected, veteran film director. I think it was Leigh, who made the critically acclaimed Kes. It is also strongly supported by the Israeli historian, Avi Shlaim, of Oxford University. Shlaim said of it ‘Anyone who speaks or writes in the public domain about antisemitism and the current state of the Labour Party has a duty to see this film and address the issues it raises.’ Professor Shlaim was one of the experts interviewed nine years ago in Peter Oborne’s documentary, ‘The Israel Lobby’ on Channel 4’s Despatches. Shlaim specialises in Middle Eastern history, and told how journalists reporting Israel’s atrocities in the Middle East have been smeared as anti-Semites when they have correctly and objectively reported events. Berger was also outraged that Walker was attending the event when he case hasn’t been heard yet. Mike’s response on his blog is essentially, ‘tough!’ Walker’s innocent until proven guilty, or that’s the basic principle in British law. But like all totalitarian fanatics, the witchhunters don’t believe in basic legal principles or justice. Otherwise you wouldn’t have such stupid and nebulous accusations like ‘a pattern of behaviour’.

Berger’s snivelling hasn’t gone down too well on Twitter, whose peeps duly tore her and her wretched whining apart.

It seems the showing also coincided with a debate by Paole Zion, sorry, the Jewish Labour Movement, about whether they should disaffiliate from the Labour party. Mike says the should, and the sooner the better, because of the mischief they’ve caused.

For more information, see Mike’s articles: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/02/27/intimidation-forces-cancellation-of-film-screening-about-labours-anti-semitism-witchhunt-part-one-of-two/

https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/02/27/why-has-labour-forced-chris-williamson-to-apologise-for-defending-innocent-people-part-two-of-two/

Tony Greenstein has also blogged about this disgusting episode, suggesting that it may be the end of the Corbyn project. Quite simply, Corbyn’s response to accusations of anti-Semitism is to cave, and throw his supporters to the wolves. But his opponents will not be appeased and will keep on making these accusations until they finally get him.

He is also strongly critical of the supposed left-wing Labour MPs, who have failed to support Williamson, such as Denis Skinner, and Owen Jones. He has also set up a petition on his blog, which I have signed, demanding Williamson’s reinstatement.

https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/02/27/why-has-labour-forced-chris-williamson-to-apologise-for-defending-innocent-people-part-two-of-two/

Tony’s not the only person predicting that this means the death of the Corbyn project. The left-wing vlogger Gordon Dimmack, who despises the witchhunt and the witchhunters, has also done so. He’s made an hour long video, which I haven’t seen, about this affair.

I regret that Greenstein is right about Corbyn in that he does not stand by his supporters. The witchhunters will never be appeased, and they will not stop until they destroy him. But he seems to believe that if he sacrifices enough people, they will.

This is profoundly mistaken. The establishment, including all the papers are determined to destroy him. The proper course would be for him to grow some backbone and start fighting back, end the false accusations, state firmly and clearly that Labour is committed to tackling racism and has done more than any other party about this. And then start throw the ball back in the establishment court. Attack the racism and rampant islamophobia in the Tory party, and the partisan bias of an establishment media determined to use this to bring him down, along with their Tory paymasters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is Margaret Hodge an Hysterical, Paranoid Lunatic?

February 21, 2019

I wonder about the sanity of some of the witch-hunters accusing people of anti-Semitism in the Labour party. Or at least their sense of proportion. Margaret Hodge, who claimed that Ruth George’s perfectly reasonable inquiry into whether the Labour Splitters were funded by Israel, is a case in point. She caused outrage and disgust a few months ago when she screamed at Corbyn in the House of Commons, and reviled him as ‘a f***ing anti-Semite’. For which she was duly suspended under Labour party rules that apply to everyone.

This was too much for her sensitive soul, and she compared the stress this had caused her with the fear Jews in the Third Reich felt, waiting for the knock on the door from the Gestapo ready to send them to the death camps. People, who really had had family imprisoned in the concentration camps were rightly outraged. Hodge was attacked for her grossly insensitive comments by Jews, whose family had been sent to these murder factories, and also by non-Jews, who had also had family members incarcerated for their opposition to Hitler’s Reich. Like a young man, whose Sudeten German grandfather was sent there because he was a Communist.

The witch-hunters were also outraged a week or so ago when Jenny Formby dared to reveal the truth about anti-Semitism in the Labour party: there actually wasn’t a lot of it, and only a very few people had actually been expelled. This was too much for them, who can’t stand the thought that anyone they’ve denounced could possibly be innocent. Hodge herself whined that this couldn’t possibly be true, as she’d denounced 200 people.

200? What party did she think she was in? The BNP, the Klan or something? The Labour party is now, thanks to Corbyn, the largest Socialist party in Europe, and as a mass party it obviously is going to include some anti-Semites. But real research shows that anti-Semitism in the Labour party has actually fallen under Corbyn, and is lower than in wider British society. Also, other Jews and Jewish groups have come forward, like Jewish Voice for Labour, and a group of Orthodox rabbis. The good rabbis said that they had absolute confidence in Corbyn, while the peeps at Jewish Voice for Labour said that although there was anti-Semitism in the party, they had never personally, or only very rarely, ever personally experienced it. These were Labour members of long standing, who had been active in their local constituency parties.

But the accusations of anti-Semitism aren’t really about anti-Semitism. Not as it is defined by Wilhelm Marr, the founder of the German Bund Anti-Semiten, who coined the term. He said that it was hatred of Jews, simply as Jews. This is the standard dictionary definition. What Hodge and co see as anti-Semitism is actually criticism of Israel. And long term Jewish critics of the Israeli state and its brutal maltreatment of the Palestinians, like Norman Finkelstein, have made the point Israel defends itself by accusing its critics of being anti-Semites. And this is what has been going on here.

And what the witch-hunters decide is a basis for an accusation of anti-Semitism is very, very wide. One young man was accused of anti-Semitism and expelled, or suspended, because he posted a picture of a Jobcentre sign carrying the slogan ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’, the infamous inscription above the gates of Auschwitz. His accusers maintained that he was somehow denigrating Jewish suffering in the Holocaust. But he wasn’t. He was denigrating the suffering of the jobless inflicted by the DWP under Ian Duncan Smith. Who had begun an article actually quoting this infamous slogan, and saying that it should be rehabilitated because of its usefulness in getting people back into work. It was, he wrote, part of his ethos. Not surprisingly, his editors weren’t impressed, and this part of his article was removed a few hours later. But the Gentleman Ranker had said, nonetheless. And Tony Greenstein and others also pointed out that the inscription was on all the concentration camps, whose members also included the long-term unemployed, people declared arbeitscheu, or ‘workshy’, by the Nazis.

In fact Hodge’s denunciation of 200 hundred people doesn’t remind me of serious accusations, so much as the hysterical persecutions that have occurred in very repressive societies in the past. Like the witch craze in 16th and 17th century Europe, in which people could be accused of witchcraft for the flimsiest of reasons. Or the horrific purges of Stalin’s Russia, where voicing even the slightest comment, which could be considered disrespectful of the tyrant could see you arrested by the NKVD and sent to the gulags. One man was arrested simply for remarked that Stalin didn’t seem quite well when the dictator coughed or something similar during a speech. It also reminded me of all the nutters that wrote into the FBI denouncing anyone and everyone as a Communist agent during the Red scare of the Cold War. Or indeed of the quarter of the East German population that were spying on their friends and neighbours to the Stasi.

It also reminds me of a very dark joke I heard once by an American comedian years ago on one of Bob Monkhouse’s shows on the Beeb in the 1980s. This was a series in which Monkhouse interviewed other comedians, including Pamela Stephenson before she returned to psychiatry. One of his guests was an American comedian, whose act included a parody of the stereotypical, racist southern sheriff. Putting on the accent and persona, the comedian told the following joke.

‘You know, I can tell if someone’s a murderer simply by the look in their eye. And if they got that look in their eye, I hang them. Well, one day I saw this black man, and he had that look in his eye. So I hung him.’

If you know the history of lynching in the Deep South, then it’s probably not a joke. Blacks – and other minorities – were lynched for almost no reason at all, simply for being ‘disrespectful’ to Whites. And the local community would celebrate their deaths, holding a mass party and even breaking pieces off the victims bodies to take home as souvenirs. Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks has described this in one of their videos. British anti-racist YouTuber Kevin Logan has also mentioned it in one of his, complete with a photograph taken as one such lynching, showing the crowds gathering and rejoicing around two lynched Blacks. Some idea of the pressure and fear of that environment came across very clearly in the Dr. Who story at the beginning of the season about Rosa Parks.

I’m not accusing Hodge of being racist. But I am accusing her of having the same paranoia that has motivated witch-hunters and persecutors, like those in Stalin’s Russia and the anti-Communist fanatics of the ’50s.

So what did those 200 people do, that made her accuse them of anti-Semitism. Does she think she has the ability to see if someone’s an anti-Semite, just by looking in their eye? And did she accuse those 200 simply because they looked at her funny? It might not have been quite because of that, but I very much doubt that the reason she gave was much stronger.

Refuting Anti-Semitism Smears with the Reasonableness Test: Part 3

May 25, 2018

It is also possible to find parallels in the careers of individuals, which, when carefully selected, may refer to a completely different person. As an extreme example, consider the eulogy made by some of the French at the Berlin Olympics in Nazi Germany. They began praising a great national leader, responsible for aggressively including those parts of his nation, that had been separated from the main, parent homeland for centuries. Sounds like Hitler after the annexation of the Sudetenland, doesn’t it? This same national figure was also responsible for persecuting and expelling a religious minority, working against his country and its faith. Which also sounds like Hitler and the Jews.

It wasn’t.

The figure they were talking about was Louis XIV. The Sun King had begun a series of wars to annex French-speaking communities in other nations, like the Kingdom of Burgundy, which had previously been part of the Holy Roman Empire. He was also responsible for the revocation of the Edict of Nantes and the renewal of persecution and final expulsion of the Huguenots, French Protestants. Many of these fled to England, where they brought new skills in weaving and clock-making, for example, and contributed to Britain’s industrial revolution taking off earlier than its counterpart in France. People hearing the speech were intended to believe it was about Hitler until the real identity of this national leader was revealed.

Through carefully selecting parallels and facts, you can make almost anyone appear as something they are not. Which is something the Israel lobby and the people making those smears know very well, as they twist and deny facts, and take words and comments out of context, or simply make them up.

But to return to the subject of racial insults and the subjective evidence of how they may appear to other people, this reminds me of two notorious cases in America where people were falsely accused of racially insulting Blacks.

One of these concerned a Black staffer working in the US Treasury department during Clinton’s presidency. He was responsible for setting or estimating the funding levels. A Black colleague tackled him on his figures, criticising them for being too low. The staffer rejected this, and said, ‘No, I’m not being niggardly’. His interlocutor then sued him for his use of racist language. Presumably this was because ‘niggardly’ sounds like ‘n888er’. In fact, the two words are etymologically distinct. The modern English term ‘niggard’, comes from the Middle English word ‘nig’, meaning a miser or worthless person. It has absolutely nothing to do with later racist terms for people of colour. But it’s similarity to that term was enough to anger his opponent, who doubtless sincerely felt that it was a derogatory term, and that he had been insulted.

The case was much discussed in the press, because of its similarity to a novel that had recently come out by one of America’s great literary giants, The Human Stain. This is about a man in a well-paid, responsible job, who is also brought low and sued for racism, when he uses an ambiguous term, which his accusers believe is racist, but which really isn’t.

And then there’s the case of the Jewish student at one of the American colleges, who was sued by a group of Black sorority girls. The poor fellow had been revising for an exam he had the next day. Unfortunately, right outside his window and below him there were a group of young Black women very loudly celebrating some sorority even. At last, driven to exasperation by his inability to concentrate due to the noise they were making, he threw open his window and shouted out, ‘Shut up, you water buffalo!’ The girls decided they’d been insulted, and so took him to the college authorities. And the court proceeding there seem almost farcical. One member of staff turned up to give evidence that water buffalo were African animals. They aren’t. They’re East Asian. The accused student himself defended himself by saying that he was using ‘water buffalo’ to translate the Hebrew word ‘behema’, which has no racial connotations. In fact, as I understand it, the word ‘behema’ simply means ‘beast’, of any kind.

Both of these are stupid, wrongful accusations, that should never have come to court, although I’ve no doubt the people making the accusations sincerely believed they’d been terribly insulted because of their race.

And they clearly show the terrible dangers and miscarriages of justice which occur when subjective impressions are taken as the yardstick for assessing whether a comment or statement is racist or not.

And subjective impressions, and the rule that something may be racist, if another person thinks it is, regardless of whether it really is, or was intended to be, must not be allowed to become the standard for upholding the anti-Semitism smears against Labour party members. Or anyone else for that matter.

As this article has shown, it privileges emotion, ignorance and pernicious urban myths against truth and fact. It is also of a piece with the ‘paranoid style’ animating the Fascist right, and which has resulted in the creation of real, terribly evil conspiracy theories, which are a danger to Blacks, Jews, left-wingers and members of new religious movements, like practising occultists, who were accused of Satanic ritual abuse in real witch hunts back in the 1990s. Quite apart from ordinary people, who also found themselves accused of Satanism because of false memories and the coaching of those utterly convinced that a Satanic conspiracy exists.

Subjective impressions don’t lead to truth. They lead to witch hunts, false convictions and massive injustice. Which is why the Israel lobby and is collaborators in the Labour party are determined to use it. It has to be stopped, and the real yardsticks – impartial fact – used instead.

Refuting Anti-Semitism Smears with the Reasonableness Test: Part Two

May 25, 2018

The claims that some of the comments made by critics of Israel are anti-Semitic because of their imagery and language used also reminds me very strongly of the claims made by some of the paranoid conspiracy theorists themselves. For example, Israel has constructed a wall around itself designed to keep the Palestinians out. This is very controversial, and the great British caricaturist, Gerald Scarfe, drew a cartoon of the Israelis building it using the blood of the Palestinians as mortar. The picture was published either in the Independent, or the I. The Israeli ambassador, an odious creep called Mark Regev, immediately declared that the cartoon was anti-Semitic. The inclusion of blood in the picture was a reference to the Blood Libel, the murderous lie that Jews kill Christians and use their blood in the matzo bread at Passover.

In fact, the cartoon contained no reference to this vile libel. There were no references to either the Passover, matzo bread or ritual murder. It was purely about the wall, and the Israelis’ butchery of the Palestinians. But the accusation had the intended effect. The I or Independent caved in and made an apology. But blood and its imagery is a very common image used to portray the brutality of oppressive, violent regimes and groups of all types around the world. It is certainly not confined to Jews. Regev was, of course, making the accusation of anti-Semitism to close down a graphic portrayal of the Israeli state’s brutality, as the Israel lobby has been doing to its critics since the 1980s. But his accusation bears less relation to objective fact than to some of the really paranoid theories that have circulated around America about secret cabals of Satanists plotting to destroy American society from within.

One of these, which surfaced c. 1982, concerned Proctor and Gamble and their logo, as shown below.

As you can see, this shows a ‘Man in the Moon’ surrounded by thirteen stars. According to the rumour, which was boosted through its inclusion by several Southern fundamentalist Christian preachers in their sermons, the imagery reveals that the company is run by Satanists. The thirteen stars represent the thirteen members of a witches’ coven, and the ‘Man in the Moon’ is really Satan himself. Especially as the curls of the figures hair is supposed to show the number 666, the number of the Beast, the Antichrist, in the Book of Revelations. See the illustration below, where I’ve circled where I think these ‘Satanic’ curls are.

Now if you applied the rule adopted by the lawyers for the Israel lobby to the imagery here, you could argue that it is fair to accuse Proctor and Gamble of Satanism, because that’s how its logo and its imagery has struck thousands of Americans. But you be ill-advised to do so, because the company vehemently denies any Satanic connections. It’s actually a patriotic symbol, with the thirteen stars representing the thirteen founding colonies of the USA. The company has also redesigned the logo to iron out those curls, so that they no longer appear to show 666, and engaged the services of other right-wing fundamentalist preachers, like Jerry Falwell, to show that the company is not run by Satanists. They also have a very aggressive legal policy, so that if you do claim that they’re a bunch of Satanists, they will sue. And I very much doubt that the court will be impressed by claims that the company must be Satanic, ’cause somebody can think that looking at their logo.

This is real, Alex Jones, tin-foil hat stuff. And stupid rumours of Satanic conspiracies have real consequences for ordinary people, just like the smears of anti-Semitism have been used to damage the lives and reputations of decent people. We have seen people falsely accused of child sacrifices and abuse, based on no more than fake recovered memories, in scenes that could have come out of the Salem witch hunt back in the 17th century. Some of them have even gone to prison. This is why it is absolutely important that people are always considered innocent until proven guilty, and that accusations of Satanic ritual abuse, and anti-Semitism, should always be held to objective, not subjective standards. The rule that such accusations must be believed, because somebody may think that a person is a Satanist or racist, simply on the way a comment subjectively strikes them, only leads to terrible injustice.

The Israel lobby here are showing the same paranoid psychology that permeates the racist, anti-Semitic extreme right. The type of people, who search the newspapers and other texts looking for proofs that the Illuminati really do run the world. Or that the Zionist Occupation Government really has taken over America and the West, and is attempting to destroy the White race through racial intermixing. Or that Communists have burrowed into the American government.

One of the proofs of this last conspiracy theory was the tiny lettering on the Roosevelt dime. Just below FDR’s neck and extremely small, were the letters ‘JS’. According to the rumour, the letters stood for ‘Joe Stalin’. This rumour first appeared in the Cold War, in 1948, when the scare about ‘Reds under the bed’ was just beginning. But it’s completely false. Oh, the letters are there, but they don’t stand for Stalin. They’re the initials of the coin’s designer, John Sinnock. You can claim all you want that the claim is subjectively true, because liberalism and the welfare state = Communism, or some such similar right-wing bilge. But it wouldn’t stand up in a court of law.

And some Christian fundamentalists in America have also seen in the colours used by state roads signs evidence of a conspiracy to put them in concentration camps. Back in the 1990s there was a rumour panic going around about the colours used in spots adorning the highway signs in Pennsylvania. These were supposed to show the location of the concentration camps, in which true Christians would be incarcerated when the Communists or one world Satanic conspiracy came to power. In fact they showed no such thing. The state’s highway department used the dots as a colour code to mark the year the sign was first painted. This was to show how old the sign was, and so indicate when it should be repainted.

Continued in Part Three.

Torquemada: 2000 AD’s ‘Ultimate Fascist’ and a Prediction of the Rise of the Brextremists, Kippers and Trump

December 31, 2017

As you’ve probably gather from reading my previous posts about art robot Kevin O’Neill, I was and am a big fan of the ‘Nemesis the Warlock’ strip that ran in 2000 AD from 1980 through the 1990s. The villain of the piece was Torquemada, the former chief of the Tube police on an Earth thousands of years in the future. Outraged by the interbreeding between humans and their alien subjects, Torquemada overthrew the last, debauched emperor, founding an order of viciously genocidal knights, the Terminators. The construction of the linked White and Black Hole bypasses, giving Earth instant access to the Galaxy, also created terrible temporal catastrophes, resulting in creatures from even further into the future appearing in the present. These included the terrible gooney birds, giant predatory Concorde aircraft, which fed on the trains and anything else that travelled over Earth’s devastated surface. Torquemada and his Terminators blamed these disasters on aliens, killed human scientists and engineers, leading humanity into a new Dark Age. The Human race retreated underground, where the Terminators told them they would be safe from the terrible aliens threatening them. Terra was renamed ‘Termight’ – ‘Mighty Terra’, though Mills also gave it the name because the underground society resembled a massive termites’ nest. And Torquemada set up a corrupt, Fascistic, quasi-feudal society, which also included Orwellian elements from the classic 1984.

Pitched against Torquemada was the hero, Nemesis, an alien warlock. Horned and hooved, with magical powers, he resembled the Devil, and at one point, in conversation with his mad, cruel uncle Baal, he explicitly states that his powers are satanic. Nemesis is also the head of Credo, a human resistance movement dedicated to overthrowing Torquemada and restoring freedom and interspecies tolerance to Earth. Also resisting humanity’s aggressive expansion and extermination of other intelligent races were the Cabal, an alliance of various alien worlds.

The strip was possibly one of the weirdest 2000 AD had run, and was too weird for editor Kevin Gosnell, who hated it. But it was massively popular, at one point even rivalling the mighty Judge Dredd. Torquemada became British comics’ most popular villain, winning that category in the Eagle Award four years in a row. He was so popular that in the end I heard that they stopped submitting or accepting the character, in order to let others have a chance.

Torquemada speaks on the radio, in the strip that launched the character and Nemesis, ‘Going Underground’.

Looking back, I have mixed feelings about the strip. I still like it, but I’m not entirely comfortable with a hero, who has explicitly satanic characteristics, nor the villains, who are very much in the style of medieval Christian crusaders. Mills and O’Neill had had the misfortune to suffer brutal Roman Catholic education, and Mills states that where he grew up, everyone involved in the Roman Catholic establishment was corrupt. Everyone. They poured everything they hated about the bigotry and cruelty they had seen and experienced into the strip.

From a historians’ perspective, it’s not actually fair on the Roman Catholic church. Yes, medieval Christianity persecuted Jews, heretics and witches, and warred against Islam. But the great age of witch-hunting was in the 17th century, and cut across faith boundaries. Prof. Ronald Hutton, a History lecturer at Bristol Uni, who has studied the history of witchcraft and its modern revival – see his book Triumph of the Moon – has pointed out that the German Protestant states killed more witches than the Roman Catholics. And those accused of witchcraft in Italy had far better legal protection in the 16th century than those in Henry VIII’s England. You had a right to a lawyer and proper legal representation. If you couldn’t afford one, the court would appoint one for you. Torture was either outlawed, or very strictly regulated. There was a period of 50 years when the Holy Office was actually shut, because there were so few heretics and witches to hunt down.

As for the equation between medieval Roman Catholicism and Fascism, a graduate student, who taught medieval studies got annoyed at this glib stereotype. it kept being repeated by their students, and was historically wrong. This student came from a Protestant background, but was more or less a secular atheist, although one who appreciated the best of medieval Christian literature.

Underneath the personal experiences of Mills and O’Neill, the strip’s depiction of a future feudal society was also influenced by Protestant anti-Catholic polemic, and the theories of the 19th century French liberal, anti-Christian writer, Charles Michelet. It was Michelet, who first proposed that the witch-hunts were an attempt by patriarchal Christianity to wipe out an indigenous, matriarchal folk paganism. It’s a view that has strongly influenced feminist ecopaganism, although academic scholars like Hutton, and very many pagans have now rejected it as historically untrue.

The robes and masks worn by the Terminators recalled not only those worn by Spanish Catholic penitents during the Easter Day processions, but also the Klan, who are an Protestant organisation, which hates Roman Catholics as well Jews and Blacks.

There’s also the influence of John Wyndham’s classic SF novel, The Chrysalids. This is set in Labrador centuries in the future, after a nuclear war has devastated much of the world, except for a few isolated spots of civilisation. Society has regressed to that of 17th century Puritanism. The survivors are waging a war to restore and maintain the original form of their crops, animals and themselves. Mutants, including humans, are examined and destroyed at birth. As with the Terminators, their clothing is embroidered with religious symbols. In this case a cross. Just as Torquemada denounces aliens as ‘deviants’, so do the leaders of this puritanical regime describe human mutants. And like the pro-alien humans in Nemesis, a woman bearing a mutant child is suspected and punished for her perceived sexual deviancy.

In fact, the underlying anti-religious, anti-Christian elements in the strip didn’t bother me at the time. Mike and myself went to an Anglican church school here in Bristol, though the teaching staff also included people from other Christian denominations such as Methodism and Roman Catholicism. They had a real horror of sectarian bigotry and violence, sharpened by the war in Northern Ireland, and were keenly aware that Christians had done terrible things in the name of religion. I can remember hearing a poem on this subject, The Devil Carried a Crucifix, regularly being recited at school assembly, and the headmaster and school chaplain preaching explicitly against bigotry. At the same time, racial prejudice was also condemned. I can remember one poem, which denounced the colour bar in one of its lines, repeatedly turning up in the end of year services held at the church to which the school was attached.

I also have Roman Catholic relatives and neighbours, who were great people. They were committed to their face, but also bitterly opposed to sectarian bigotry and violence. And the Roman Catholic clergy serving my bit of Bristol were decent men and women, though some of those in other areas were much more sectarian. I’ve Protestant friends, who went on to study RE at a Roman Catholic college. Their experience was not Mills’ and O’Neill’s, though I also had relatives, who were estranged from the Church because they had suffered the same kind of strict, and violently repressive Roman Catholic education that they had.

But Torquemada and the Terminators were far from being a veiled comment on atrocities committed by medieval Roman Catholicism. Torquemada modelled himself on Tomas de Torquemada, the leader of the Spanish Inquisition, whose bloody work he so much admired. But he also explicitly styled himself as the supreme Fascist. By fostering humanity’s hatred of aliens, he hoped to unite the human race so that they didn’t fight each other over differences in colour. But the character was also supposed to be the reincarnation of every persecuting bigot in European and American history. In one story, Torquemada becomes seriously ill, breaking out in vast, festering boils, because Nemesis’ lost son, Thoth, has used the tunnels dug by the Tube engineers to channel away the destructive energies of the White and Black Hole bypasses, to travel backwards in time to kill Torquemada’s previous incarnations. These include Adolf Hitler, natch, one of the notoriously murderous American cavalry officers, responsible for the butchery of innocent indigenous Americans in the Indian Wars, and finally Torquemada himself. Torquemada therefore travelled back in time to confront his former incarnation, and save himself from Thoth.

This was followed by another story, in which Torquemada himself travelled forward to the 20th century. Infected with time energy, Torquemada caused temporal disruptions and catastrophes in the London of the present. He found himself a job as a rack-renting landlord, before founding a Fascist political party. Using Brits’ fears that these disasters were caused by aliens, he became a successful politician and was elected to Number 10.

And one of Torque’s previous incarnations, recovered by Brother Mikron, his pet superscientist, using advanced technological hypnotic regression, was very familiar to British readers with an awareness of the history of Fascism in their country.

Torquemada as Hitler, and very Mosley-esque British Far Right politician. From Prog 524, 30th May 1987.

In the above page, Brother Mikron recovers Torquemada’s past incarnation as Hitler, but only after encountering a later incarnation, in which Torquemada was Sir Edwin Munday, the British prime minister, and leader of the New Empire Party. Munday/Torquemada goes off an a rant on public television, shouting

‘I’ll solve the youth problem! We’ll make our children respectable again! – with compulsory short back and sides! The return of National Service! Order and discipline’.

His name clearly recalls that of the far right, anti-immigration Monday Club in the Tory party, which was at the centre of continuing scandals during the 70s and 80s over the racism of some of its members, the most notorious of whom was Thatcher’s cabinet minister, Norman Tebbit. As a member of the aristocracy, Munday also draws on Sir Oswald Mosley, the leader of the British Union of Fascists and later Fascist movements.

Mosley unfurling his Fascist banner in the ’30s.

The rhetoric about youth is also very much that of the Tories around Maggie Thatcher, who really didn’t like long-haired liberals, hippies, punks and the other youth movements, who had sprung up at the time. They were calling for the return of National Service to stop the rise in youth crime and delinquency.

And this is now very much the attitude of the Kippers and Brextremists over here, who really do hanker after the old days of the British Empire, with all its pomp and authoritarianism. The last thing that incarnation of Torquemada says is

‘We’ll make our country great again!’

This is also based on the rhetoric of the Tories at the time, in which Thatcher was credited with turning around Britain’s decline and restoring her to her glory. In the general election that year, the Tory party election broadcasts showed old footage of Spitfires and Hurricanes racing around the sky shooting down Nazi planes, while an overexcited actor exclaimed ‘It’s great – to be great again!’

No, she didn’t make us great. She wrecked our economy and welfare state, and sold everything off to foreign firms, all the while ranting hypocritically about how she represented true British patriotism.

But it also recalls Trump’s rhetoric last year, during his election campaign. When he announced ‘We’ll make America great again!’ And he’s gone on to use the same neoliberalism as Reagan, Thatcher, and successive Democrat and New Labour leaders, backed with racist rhetoric and legislation supported by White supremacists.

Torquemada was one of 2000 AD’s greatest comments on sectarian bigotry and racism, with Torquemada as its very explicit symbol. Even after three decades, it’s central message about the nature of Fascism, imperialism and colonialism, and the western hankering for its return, remains acutely relevant.

Cartoon Satirising Modern Anti-Immigration Policies as Witch-Hunting

September 10, 2017

This is another bit of satire I found over on the SF/ weird art site, Tomorrow and Beyond. It shows a woman in a ducking stool in the 17th century. One of the people declares, ‘If she drowns, she’s a refugee. If she lives, she’s an economic migrant’, referring to the practice of ‘swimming’ suspected witches. It’s a fair comment on the militant anti-immigrant hysteria under Trump.

Tom Lehrer and the Tories’ Political Use of Smut

June 18, 2016

Also in the news this week was a report in the I that about half of all children in Britain had seen porn on the internet. There was justifiable outrage that pornography should be so available to minors, and deep concern about the skewed ideas about sex, relationships and misogynistic attitudes towards women that could result. All this is entirely right, and I do share these concerns. What also concerns me is the cynical political use the Conservatives have made of decent people’s perfectly natural fears. Remember a few years ago when the Tory-Lib Dem coalition pushed through an act, which basically defined offensive materials in such a broad way, that it gave them carte blanche to ban and censor just about anything they didn’t like, even if it had absolutely nothing to do with sex or porn. Pagans and occultists got worried because it criminalised ‘the esoteric’, which for those, who put the law together probably just meant anything weird and bizarre that they couldn’t think of at the moment, but which was probably out there somewhere. However, ‘esotericism’ is also another term for the magic and the occult, and so a community that was already fixated on persecution and the witch hunts of the medieval and early modern period once again found themselves apparently facing renewed persecution.

This legislation could also extend to political discussion. Tom Pride found access to his site blocked, after one post was deemed too ‘adult’ for general viewing. Much of the material at Pride’s Purge is adult, in the sense that it deals with adult issues, by which is meant, issues that confront adults, such as politics, poverty, unemployment, economics, privatisation and social welfare, rather than porn.

I found this piece by the great satirist and musician, Tom Lehrer. It’s called ‘Smut’, and just about describes the way I feel about the hysteria about on-line porn. There are serious issues there, but they need very careful handling rather than handing the Tories another moral panic which they can exploit.