Slaughter in Pakistan: infinite sadness

March 28, 2016 at 3:32 pm (Andrew Coates, children, Christianity, fascism, islamism, Pakistan, posted by JD, religious right, terror, tragedy)

As the news of his barbarity began to come through, I found myself lost for words and incapable of writing anything worthy of the subject. I reproduce below, a post from Comrade Coatesy:

Child's funeral - 28 March

Dozens of Children were amongst the dead.

A Taliban splinter group says it carried out a suicide attack on a park in Lahore, Pakistan, which killed more than 70 people, including children.

Jamaat-ul-Ahrar said it had targeted Christians celebrating Easter, though police have said they are still investigating the claim.

There were scenes of carnage as parents searched for children amid the debris.

Pakistan’s president condemned the attack, and the regional government has announced three days of mourning.

At least 300 people were injured, with officials saying they expected the death toll to rise.

All major hospitals in the area were put on an emergency footing after the blast, early on Sunday evening.

BBC

A faction of the Pakistani Taliban, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, claimed responsibility for the explosion, saying it was targeted at Christians celebrating Easter. A spokesman for the group, Ehsanullah Ehsan, told the Guardian: “We have carried out this attack to target the Christians who were celebrating Easter. Also this is a message to the Pakistani prime minister that we have arrived in Punjab [the ruling party’s home province].”

Guardian.

2013.

Pakistan church bomb: Christians mourn 85 killed in Peshawar suicide attack

Pakistan’s worst-ever attack on beleaguered Christians prompts warning by bishop for future of minority in Muslim countries.

In Pakistan, 1.5% of the population are Christian. Pakistani law mandates that “blasphemies” of the Qur’an are to be met with punishment. At least a dozen Christians have been given death sentences,[198] and half a dozen murdered after being accused of violating blasphemy laws. In 2005, 80 Christians were behind bars due to these laws.[199]

Ayub Masih, a Christian, was convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death in 1998. He was accused by a neighbor of stating that he supported British writer Salman Rushdie, author of The Satanic Verses. Lower appeals courts upheld the conviction. However, before the Pakistan Supreme Court, his lawyer was able to prove that the accuser had used the conviction to force Masih’s family off their land and then acquired control of the property. Masih has been released.[200]

In October 2001, gunmen on motorcycles opened fire on a Protestant congregation in the Punjab, killing 18 people. The identities of the gunmen are unknown. Officials think it might be a banned Islamic group.[201]

In March 2002, five people were killed in an attack on a church in Islamabad, including an American schoolgirl and her mother.[202]

In August 2002, masked gunmen stormed a Christian missionary school for foreigners in Islamabad; six people were killed and three injured. None of those killed were children of foreign missionaries.[203]

In August 2002, grenades were thrown at a church in the grounds of a Christian hospital in north-west Pakistan, near Islamabad, killing three nurses.[204]

On 25 September 2002, two terrorists entered the “Peace and Justice Institute”, Karachi, where they separated Muslims from the Christians, and then murdered seven Christians by shooting them in the head.[205][206] All of the victims were Pakistani Christians. Karachi police chief Tariq Jamil said the victims had their hands tied and their mouths had been covered with tape.

In December 2002, three young girls were killed when a hand grenade was thrown into a church near Lahore on Christmas Day.[207]

In November 2005, 3,000 militant Islamists attacked Christians in Sangla Hill in Pakistan and destroyed Roman Catholic, Salvation Army and United Presbyterian churches. The attack was over allegations of violation of blasphemy laws by a Pakistani Christian named Yousaf Masih. The attacks were widely condemned by some political parties in Pakistan.[208]

On 5 June 2006, a Pakistani Christian, Nasir Ashraf, was assaulted for the “sin” of using public drinking water facilities near Lahore.[209]

One year later, in August 2007, a Christian missionary couple, Rev. Arif and Kathleen Khan, were gunned down by militant Islamists in Islamabad. Pakistani police believed that the murders was committed by a member of Khan’s parish over alleged sexual harassment by Khan. This assertion is widely doubted by Khan’s family as well as by Pakistani Christians.[210][211]

In August 2009, six Christians, including four women and a child, were burnt alive by Muslim militants and a church set ablaze in Gojra, Pakistan when violence broke out after alleged desecration of a Qur’an in a wedding ceremony by Christians.[212][213]

On 8 November 2010, a Christian woman from Punjab Province, Asia Noreen Bibi, was sentenced to death by hanging for violating Pakistan’s blasphemy law. The accusation stemmed from a 2009 incident in which Bibi became involved in a religious argument after offering water to thirsty Muslim farm workers. The workers later claimed that she had blasphemed the Muhammed. As of 8 April 2011, Bibi is in solitary confinement. Her family has fled. No one in Pakistan convicted of blasphemy has ever been executed. A cleric has offered $5,800 to anyone who kills her.[214][215]

On 2 March 2011, the only Christian minister in the Pakistan government was shot dead. Shahbaz Bhatti, Minister for Minorities, was in his car along with his niece. Around 50 bullets struck the car. Over 10 bullets hit Bhatti. Before his death, he had publicly stated that he was not afraid of the Taliban’s threats and was willing to die for his faith and beliefs. He was targeted for opposing the anti-free speech “blasphemy” law, which punishes insulting Islam or its Prophet.[216] A fundamentalist Muslim group claimed responsibility.[217]

On 27 March 2016, a suicide bomber from a Pakistani Taliban faction killed at least 60 people and injured 300 others in an attack at Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park in Lahore, Pakistan, and the group claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it intentionally targeted Christians celebrating Easter Sunday.

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Meet John “The Baptist” Mason: MSP and creationist

March 1, 2016 at 4:21 pm (Christianity, LGBT, posted by JD, religion, scotland, SNP)

By Dale Street (also published on the Workers Liberty website):

JohnMasonMSP20110509.JPG

Above: Mason

In January of 2015 Glasgow Shettleston’s SNP MSP John Mason tabled a motion in the Scottish Parliament advocating that creationism be taught in schools. According to the motion, which was backed by two other SNP MSPs:

“Some people believe that God created the world in six days, some people believe that God created the world over a longer period of time and some people believe that the world came about without anyone creating it.

None of these positions can be proved or disproved by science and all are valid beliefs for people to hold. … Children in Scotland’s schools should be aware of all of these different belief systems.”1

There was nothing surprising about Mason’s decision to table a pro-creationism motion. He had already expressed his belief in creationism in an earlier debate In Holyrood:

“We believe that when God made the world he had a close relationship with human beings, that that relationship was broken, and that the reason why Jesus came was to restore that relationship.”2

In fact, according to Mason, creationism is a defining tenet of Christianity, Islam and Judaism:

“The idea of a God that creates the world is a very central belief to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. … Christianity would unravel if creationism was proved wrong. I don’t see how you could be a Christian, Muslim or Jew and not believe that God created the world.”3

And just as the Bible provides Mason with an ‘explanation’ of the origins of the universe, so too it dictates his views on gay sex and gay relationships:

“I am a member of Easterhouse Baptist Church. I believe that the Bible is the word of God and its teachings are God’s direction as to how I should live my life. … The Bible’s teaching is that a follower of Jesus should not have a sexual relationship with someone of the same sex.

I see it as very much secondary whether the relationship is called a civil partnership, marriage, or anything else. … As someone seeking to follow Jesus Christ, I can say that I am clear that people following Him should not be in same-sex marriages.”4

When legislation on gay marriages was progressing through Holyrood (2011-14), Mason claimed – some would say: dishonestly and hypocritically – that he was “relaxed” about such marriages and that his only concern was ‘discrimination’ against opponents of same-sex marriages:

“[My concern is] the legal protections that can be given to those in positions like ministers or priests as well as to public and private sector employees, the third sector, and even volunteers.  I am still not sure whether these protections can be guaranteed.”5

The high point of this tactic of counterposing possible ‘discrimination’ against opponents of same-sex marriages to support for LGBT equality came in a letter sent by Mason to constituents who backed gay marriages.6

It began: “I also support full equality for LGBT people in Scotland.” It ended: “I also want a fairer and more equal Scotland and for that reason I plan to vote against the Bill.” The leap in ‘logic’ from professed support for equality to voting against actual equality was the argument:

“This Bill introduces the likelihood of further discrimination against religious people. Amendments were introduced which might have given some comfort for Christians and those of other religions.

Unfortunately, the Government and the [Equal Opportunities] Committee refused to accept any of these amendments. So we are left in the position that discrimination may well switch from LGBT people to religious people.”

Although Mason has written that “church and state are separate and neither should control the other,”7 he has repeatedly used Holyrood as a platform to promote his religious beliefs and the politics which flow from them.

His pro-creationism motion and his parliamentary campaign against gay marriages legislation are two instances of this. And there are plenty of other examples. Read the rest of this entry »

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Have yourself a dreary little Christmas

December 25, 2015 at 7:39 am (Christianity, Christmas, literature, Rosie B)

Christmas is the season for potted histories of the festival. Bolted on to the pagan solistice, celebrated for twelve feasting days in the middle ages, half stamped out by the Puritans under Cromwell, which caused pro Christmas riots.  Christmas was fading from the scene under the Georges and then revived by the Victorians.  Prince Albert brought the Germanic Christmas with him, the emphasis being on a family celebration.  Charles Dickens turned it into the season of “hospitality, merriment, and open-heartedness” via A Christmas Carol and the country Christmas among snow in The Pickwick Papers.  The commercialising civilisation of the Victorians invented crackers and Christmas cards and left us with the mish-mash of goodwill and purchasing, feasting and family we enjoy today.

The 12 days of Christmas have been extended to 30 or so of less concentrated celebrations with pantomimes, Nativity plays, concerts, work dos and Christmas jerseys. I took part in all of these this December and thoroughly enjoyed them.

The awful family Christmas, bleakly comical or merely bleak – the antithesis of Slade’s cheeriness in Merry Christmas Everybody – has become a tradition in its own right (a very recent example of the genre is Tom Wrigglesworth’s A Christmas Not Special).

It turns up in literature a good deal, Christmas being a time when characters get together and do their worst.

1861 Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

As well as exalting the ideal Christmas, Dickens could show an unhappy one at the Gargeries with the bully Mrs Gargery, and her victims, her husband Joe and her orphaned brother Pip.

We were to have a superb dinner, consisting of a leg of pickled pork and greens, and a pair of roast stuffed fowls. A handsome mince-pie had been made yesterday morning … and the pudding was already on the boil.

It is a ceremonious occasion. Guests come through the front door – locked for the rest of the year– and sit in the parlour – in wraps for the rest of the year.

Pip is kept very much in his place as an orphaned dependent, nagged and lectured by the rest. He is also sick with anxiety because he has stolen food for Magwitch the convict:-

Among this good company I should have felt myself, even if I hadn’t robbed the pantry, in a false position. Not because I was squeezed in at an acute angle of the tablecloth, with the table in my chest, and the Pumblechookian elbow in my eye, nor because I was not allowed to speak (I didn’t want to speak), nor because I was regaled with the scaly tips of the drumsticks of the fowls, and with those obscure corners of pork of which the pig, when living, had had the least reason to be vain…..

Joe, his ally, does his best:-

he always aided and comforted me when he could, in some way of his own, and he always did so at dinner-time by giving me gravy, if there were any. There being plenty of gravy to-day, Joe spooned into my plate, at this point, about half a pint.

Greatexpectations

Pip’s misery is interrupted by soldiers who visit the house when searching for Magwitch, and this chance of a hunt enlivens the company:-

As I watched them while they all stood clustering about the forge, enjoying themselves so much, I thought what terrible good sauce for a dinner my fugitive friend on the marshes was. They had not enjoyed themselves a quarter so much, before the entertainment was brightened with the excitement he furnished.

1916  A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

It is one of the most powerful scenes in the English novel, that Christmas dinner at the Dedaluses. Present:- Mr and Mrs Dedalus, Dante the aunt, young Stephen Dedalus, Uncle Charles and Mr Casey. Mr Dedalus carves, of course (always the man’s job).

the warm heavy smell of turkey and ham and celery rose from the plates and dishes and the great fire was banked high and red in the grate and the green ivy and red holly made you feel so happy and when dinner was ended the big plum pudding would be carried in, studded with peeled almonds and sprigs of holly, with bluish fire running around it and a little green flag flying from the top.

The green flag is for Irish nationalism. Tension starts rising between the devoted followers of Parnell and the devout Catholic Dante:-

Mrs Dedalus laid down her knife and fork, saying:

—For pity sake and for pity sake let us have no political discussion on this day of all days in the year.

(As the host carves, the hostess tries to keep the peace).

He heaped up the food on Stephen’s plate and served uncle Charles and Mr Casey to large pieces of turkey and splashes of sauce. Mrs Dedalus was eating little and Dante sat with her hands in her lap. She was red in the face. Mr Dedalus rooted with the carvers at the end of the dish and said:

—There’s a tasty bit here we call the pope’s nose. If any lady or gentleman…

He held a piece of fowl up on the prong of the carving fork. Nobody spoke.

It ends with Dante angrily leaving the table and the two Parnellites, Mr Casey and Mr Dedalus, weeping over the disgraced Parnell.

1964 The Soul of Kindness by Elizabeth Taylor

An atheist, Elizabeth Taylor had no time for Christmas at all, regarding it as something Christianity forced on the rest of society.

Richard, the young businessman, trapped with his wife and mother-in-law wishes despondently Christmas might be over. On Christmas Day he walks through the dull village “Lighted trees in the little houses, holly wreaths on front doors already looked old stuff. Christmas was petering out.”

He has a glum time while his wife has a childish enjoyment for Christmas including a stocking by her bed. Meanwhile their friends are depressed in London. Patrick waits in for his capricious boyfriend, “it should be possible.. to ignore the dismal Christmas scene outside, groups of people homing fast, back to Mother and Father, until they were all cooped up in their families, leaving the streets deserted. . . the deadly silence of the day.”

The boyfriend turns up, with a present of a tie that his uncle had given him, and he has his own memory of deadly family Christmases .. “It was a true sacrifice to this spirit his mother tried to foster when he, year after year, offered his cracker to his cousin. Taking one end, she would turn her head away and screw up her eyes, ready to give a little cry of alarm at the bang. Playing her part too he guessed. Wearily, but wearing his fixed, Christmas grin, he would read out the motto, put the paper hat on his head.”

1976 Ending Up by Kingsley Amis

It was adapted for television in 1989 and the Christmas scene starts at 31:00. (H/t JD)

The five main characters would in an allegory be called Malevolent; Boring; Affected; Put-upon; and Drunk. They live together in a cold cottage. Their accumulated years are strangling their bowels and hearts and brains. The grand-children and great-grand-children of Affected have turned up for a much begrudged duty visit. They sing carols and then:-

.. they had the presents. Those from the guests to the hosts were chiefly a disguised dole: tins or pots of more or less luxurious food, bottles of hard liquor, wide-spectrum gift tokens. Hosts showered guests with diversely unwearable articles of clothing: to Keith from Adela, a striped necktie useful for garrotting underbred rivals in his trade; to Tracey from George, a liberation-front lesbian’s plastic apron…

Christmas dinner was something of a success; it passed off, at any rate, without bloodshed.

Then there are parlour games which bring out the vicious hostility or bewildered stupidity of Malevolent and the rest. This grinding celebration is seen mostly from the point of view of the young relations who experience it as “boredom – a poor word, for the consuming, majestic sensation that engulfed him, comparable in intensity to a once-in-a-lifetime musical experience”. The young are full of repulsion and fear of the sight of “age, and then the only end of age.”

2001 Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections is structured around whether the mother Enid will manage to gather her grown up children to enact the rituals of Christmas. I haven’t got the book to hand, but here’s a summing up:-

The fetish she makes of Christmas has uncomfortably recognisable comedy and pathos. (Her seasonal round-robins – laboriously written out on hundreds of cards, doing their best to spin the family’s numerous disasters into sunny good news and looking forward to a “heavenly” family celebration – are a classic example of the transparent denial so common in these missives.) When she finally wheedles her reluctant brood into attending, the event is hobbled by the accelerating decline of her husband and the cross-currents of resentment and misunderstanding between the family members. Mistletoe and wine this is not.

Any other examples of the bleak Christmas in literature?

Is that you all organised then? Have a nice Christmas!

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Giles Fraser: the Rev JC Flannel meets Dave Spart

August 9, 2015 at 6:53 am (Beyond parody, Christianity, Guardian, Islam, islamism, Jim D, plonker, relativism, religion, secularism)

Giles Fraser: smug, banal idiot

If asked to nominate the most annoying commentator presently to be heard and read in the British mainstream media, I think I’d go for Giles Fraser – the Guardian‘s ‘Loose Cannon’ and regular contributor to Radio 4’s ‘Thought For Today’ and ‘The Moral Maze.’ I am, of course, ignoring right-wing scum like Toby Young, Rod Liddle and Katie Hopkins: they’re simply beyond the pale and so don’t really annoy me. Liberals and leftists with whom I’m supposed to be on the same side, are the ones who infuriate me – and none more so than Fraser.

What I object to most about Fraser is not so much his sanctimony (after all he is a priest of some sort), nor yet his evident stupidity. It’s his smugness – his wheedling, self-righteous tone (to be heard on the radio and sensed from his Guardian columns), implying that he’s got something really profound to tell us, when all it is, is a load of half-baked relativist bollocks from someone whose political education stems from a brief passage through the SWP at university. He really is a caricature comes true – or rather two caricatures, both old favourites from Private Eye: the Rev JC Flannel and Dave Spart.

If Fraser has any consistency, its’s his admiration for Islam and – indeed – politicised Islam or Islamism. We’ve had cause to take him up on this before, when he endorsed Lady Warsi’s suggestion that criticism of Islam is the last acceptable  form of racism, but his most recent swooning in the Graun over Islam is perhaps his most preposterous yet – comparing militant, politicised Islam (ie Islamism) with … the Levellers (a movement, you may recall, that was rather keen on democracy). He also doesn’t seem to ‘get’ the point that it is quite possible to encourage violence yourself, whilst remaining personally uninvolved in any acts of violence: for Fraser the concept of non-violent extremism is, by definition, not a matter of concern and he goes on to suggest that to to attack it “is simply an attack on thinking big, thinking differently and arguing passionately.”

Presumably, as a C of E priest (albeit a turbulent one), Fraser has no theological sympathy with Islam. What seems to excite him about it (and he’s not alone amongst Christians and other non-Islamic religious people here) is its militancy, assertiveness, and willingness to engage in politics. How he wishes the dull, inoffensive, middle class C of E would show just a little of Islam’s virility! He spells it out in his piece for the Graun, entitled “I believe in an authority greater than David Cameron’s. Am I an extremist?”:

“And then along comes Islam – and, thankfully, it disrupts this absurd game and refuses to play by the rules. Its practitioners want to talk about God, sex and politics rather than mortgages, school places and the latest Boden catalogue. And good for them.”

To be honest, when I read Fraser’s ridiculous piece I felt annoyance and frustration that such rubbish gets published in a ‘serious’ newspaper. But I couldn’t be arsed to write a reply. Life’s too short to respond to every example to half-baked nonsense spouted by prating prelates. So I’m happy to hand over at this point to the author of a new blog, Exit Pursued By Bear:

Giles Fraser’s recent defence of radical Islam from what he sees as David Cameron’s assault on it – has grown to become the focus of the piece. What’s interesting about this article is that both on its surface, and on every level underlying the surface, it’s nonsense confected with absurdity: a liberal Christian minister writing in defence of the most totalitarian and oppressive interpretations of a faith he doesn’t belong to. Nowhere does Fraser indicate that he finds the views obnoxious, but nevertheless wishes, Voltaire-style, to advocate their right to be expressed. Quite the opposite: he seems enraptured by the audacity of asserting, frankly, medieval ideas as – at the very least – worthy of consideration, and caricaturing those who hold qualms about this type of approach as not just opponents of free speech but the modern-day equivalents of those who would shoot the Levellers. The interesting question then becomes: what explains this monumental myopia on the part of somebody who is clearly well-educated and whose heart, broadly speaking, appears to be in the right place?

Read the full piece here

And has the wretched Fraser even considered where the exciting “refusal to play by the rules” by people who “want to talk about God, sex and politics” can lead in, say, Bangladesh?

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RMT and Morning Star – backed “Solidarity with the Anti-Fascist Resistance in Ukraine” link to anti-Semites

June 21, 2015 at 7:01 pm (anti-semitism, Christianity, conspiracy theories, Racism, reactionay "anti-imperialism", Russia, stalinism, strange situations, thuggery)

Мозговой – он уничтожен ко дню Торы (Шавуот). Выпуск…

By Dale Street

Aleksei Mozgovoy – the recently assassinated commander of the Prizrak Batallion, which controls the town on Alchevsk in the so-called ‘Lugansk People’s Republic’ – was killed as a Jewish blood sacrifice.

That’s the claim made by a post on a Facebook page created by the British ‘Solidarity with the Anti-Fascist Resistance in Ukraine’ (SARU) campaign, much of which is given over to RMT member Eddie Dempsey reminiscing about his recent trip to Alchevsk (as he’s also done in the Morning Star):

https://www.facebook.com/events/262079037295964/?ref=3

The post on the SARU Facebook page links to piece on YouTube entitled “Mozgovoy – He Was Eliminated for the Day of the Torah (Shavuot)”, produced by the “Voluntarily United Union of Christian Liberation”.

According to the 45-minute recording on YouTube:

– The killing of Mozgovoy was a “ritual offering” (sic) for the Day of the Torah (which began in the evening of the day on which he was killed).

– Ukraine is run by two Jews (Poroshenko and Deputy Prime Minister Groysman).

– The Russian media are run by the Chabad (a Jewish religious organisation), which explains why they talk about Nazi fascism and Banderite fascism, but never about Jewish fascism.

– A helpline, set up by an organisation called Shalom, for Jews who are victims of anti-semitic acts in Ukraine, is really some kind of undercover organisation set up to ‘punish’ their opponents.

The YouTube recording also emphasises Mozgovoy’s adherence to the Russian Orthodox Church, and concludes with a lengthy reminder of the tenth-century wars between the Khazar Empire and the Christian rulers of Kievan Rus’.

(This is code for: The struggle between the Russian Orthodox Church and Jews is a timeless one.)

The YouTube piece is one of a series produced by Eduard Hodos, Ukraine’s answer to Gilad Atzmon. Hodos was once the head of the reformed Jewish community in Kharkhov, but subsequently converted to Russian Orthodoxy.

According to a favourable review of one of his books from about ten years ago:

“In this sensational series of books entitled The Jewish Syndrome, author Eduard Hodos, himself a Jew (he’s head of the reformed Jewish community in Kharkov, Ukraine), documents his decade-long battle with the “Judeo-Nazis” (in the author’s own words) of the fanatical hasidic sect, Chabad-Lubavitch.

According to Hodos, it’s become the factual “mastermind” of the Putin and Kuchma regimes. Chabad also aims to gain control of the US by installing their man Joseph Lieberman in the White House.

Hodos sees a Jewish hand in all the major catastrophic events of recent history, from the Chernobyl meltdown to the events of September 11, 2001, using excerpts from The Protocols of the Elders of Zion to help explain and illustrate why.

Hodos has also developed a theory of the “Third Khazaria”, according to which extremist Jewish elements like Chabad are attempting to turn Russia into something like the Great Khazar Empire which existed on the Lower Volga from the 7th to the 10th Centuries.

Much of this may sound far-fetched, but as you read and the facts begin to accumulate, you begin to see that Hodos makes sense of what’s happening in Russia and the world perhaps better than anyone writing today.”

Yes, indeed – much of this does sound a trifle far-fetched.

So why has SARU not deleted the post from its Facebook page, even though it has been visible for all to see for the past three weeks, and new material has been added to the page by SARU since then?

Even if SARU were to claim that none of its members speak Russian – something of a shortcoming for such a campaign – this is no answer to the fact that the image in the Facebook post (and the Youtube clip at the top of this post) is a Torah scroll set against the Star of David.

Shouldn’t that have alerted someone? Or did SARU simply not care?

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James P. Cannon on the separation of church and state

January 22, 2015 at 6:02 pm (atheism, Catholicism, Christianity, Civil liberties, class, Free Speech, From the archives, Human rights, James P. Cannon, Marxism, posted by JD, religion, socialism, trotskyism, United States)

In view of the craven capitulation of sections of the “left” before religion in recent years (and, notably, following the Charlie Hebdo murders), it seems timely to reproduce the views of the great US Trotskyist James P Cannon. This article, entitled ‘Church and State’ originally appeared in the Militant (paper of the US Socialist Workers Party) of November 19, 1951. It was later republished in Notebook Of An Agitator (Pathfinder Press, 1958).

James P Cannon

It’s a fairly safe bet that President Truman didn’t know exactly what he was doing when he announced his decision to send a US. ambassador to the Vatican, nominating General Mark W. Clark to the post. Inhibited by training and constitutional disposition from seeing anything more important or farther in the future than the next election, he probably thought he was just firing off a cap pistol to attract “the Catholic vote in 1952. He didn’t know it was loaded.

But the recoil of the gun and the noise of the explosion leave no doubt about it. The shot heard ’round the country has had results undreamt of in the philosophy of the Pendergastian politico in the White House. A bitter controversy, long smoldering, has burst into a flame that brings both heat and light into American politics. Sides are being chosen for a fight. In my opinion, it’s a good fight worth joining in.

The First Amendment

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” So reads the first clause of the first amendment to the U;S. Constitution, adopted under the pressure of the people to protect their rights and freedoms. The meaning of this constitutional provision is quite clear to all who have no special interest in muddling it. It is the doctrine of “the separation of church and state.”

Read the rest of this entry »

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Pope agrees with Seymour and Mehdi on insults to religion

January 17, 2015 at 12:43 pm (Beyond parody, Catholicism, censorship, Christianity, Free Speech, Islam, posted by JD, religion)

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/charlie-hebdo-pope-francis-says-those-who-ridicule-others-religions-should-expect-a-punch-9980192.html

Ed Maltby writes:

Press briefing on the Papal jet. The Vicar of Christ is sitting at the head of the compartment, head resting on fist. Alberto Gasparri is half-standing out of his seat, waving for the press corps to sit down. When silence has fallen the Pontiff slowly unfolds himself out across his big chair until he’s sitting upright.

‘I wanna tell you this thing. I’m a modern guy. I’m in favour of this… whaddaya say, “Freedom a Speech”.

‘But what does that mean? Take my associate, Alberto Gasparri here.” Nodding to Alberto, “Now, if Gasparri were to insult my mother,” Alberto’s eyes widen a little, he breathes in, “heaven forbid – if he were to say a bad word about my mamma,’ Francis I leans across his seat to swing a vicious upper at his aide, who flinches back. Press corps smiles freeze. Silence on the plane until the punch stops short, silver pectoral cross swinging on its chain. The Pope relaxes, leans back into the red leather, ‘he’d get a little slap. Capisce?

‘Now this Charlie guy. Wise guy. He wants a make a joke out a religion? You know, for some people, religion is very serious. For me, it’s a business, my line a work. He wants to make a joke out a this? Make it a game? You wanna make religion a game’, finger jabbing the air, voice raised to a crescendo, ‘you gotta be ready to PLAY.’ Bergolio lets that sink in for a second, then, stretching back with a smile adds, softly, ‘Cos I am.

‘This Charlie guy, I guess he wasn’t ready.

‘Maybe not so wise after all.’

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Christmas, Christianity and the rise in antisemitism

December 22, 2014 at 5:16 pm (anti-semitism, AWL, Christianity, Christmas, Islam, israel, Judaism, Middle East, New Statesman, palestine, posted by JD, religion, stalinism, zionism)

A Palestinian man wearing a Santa Claus costume is confronted by an Israeli soldier during a demonstration in village near Bethlehem, 19 December. Photo: Getty

A Palestinian wearing a Santa Claus costume is confronted by an Israeli soldier at a demo near Bethlehem

Christmas is, at its best, a time of good will to all peoples regardless of creed. But it is also, unfortunately, an excuse for antisemitism – a form of bigotry that Christianity has fostered for over 2000 years and successfully passed on to Islam.

Mehdi Hasan (who I do not believe is consciously antisemitic), for instance, uses Christmas as an opportunity to launch into one-sided and in some respects, factually inaccurate attack on Israel (tracing its original sin back to its creation in 1948),  in an article for the Huffington Post (where he is political editor), also carried in the current New Statesman.

Sean Matgamna wrote about this sort of Christian-inspired antisemitism fifteen years ago, in a piece introducing an excerpt from Karl Kautsky’s The Foundations of Christianity. I reproduce Sean’s 1999 piece below:

2000 years of anti-Jewish lies

In the last few years, undisguised anti-semitism has again become a force in Europe, especially in Russia and the east. It has re-emerged both in its racist, zoological, 19th century form, and in its earlier Christian, “native Russian”, form.

Why does this happen? Why, again and again, in one form or another, time after time, does Jew-baiting become a force in history? There are always “immediate” historical reasons, but one central, continuous, underlying “cultural” reason is this: anti-semitism is threaded into the very fabric of Europe’s 2000-year-old Christian civilisation.

Christianity is saturated with anti-semitism. The Christian New Testament is one of the main documents of historical anti-semitism.

As the classic Marxist writer Karl Kautsky shows in the excerpt from his book The Foundations of Christianity […] the New Testament writers set out, deliberately and systematically, to demonise the Jews and foment hatred against them as the murderers of Christ. They did it by inventing fantastic and self-contradictory tales about the death of Christ.

The events he analyses are set 2000 years ago in Roman-occupied Judea. The vast Roman Empire united Europe, much of North Africa, and parts of Asia. The Judeans resisted Roman rule fiercely. While the upper classes tended to make peace, the people refused. The Jews were divided into parties and factions – Sadducees, Pharisees, Zealots. Eventually, in 70 AD, the Romans razed the city of Jerusalem to the ground, completing the dispersal of the Jews, who already had settlements all over the empire.

The early Christians were one sect of Jews, feeling sectarian hatred towards the others. As time wore on, the dominant Christian faction, led by Paul of Tarsus, ceased to be Jews, no longer, for example, requiring converts to be circumcised. By the time the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were written, decades after the events they purport to depict, the antagonism between Christian and Jew was very bitter.

Christianity grew stronger in the next 300 years, until it became a mighty power in the ossifying Roman Empire. At the beginning of the fourth century Christianity became the official religion of the empire, and its priesthood merged with the immensely powerful bureaucracy of the Roman state. Over time it got to the position of not having to tolerate other religions, or Christian factions other than the dominant one.

Thereafter, the New Testament and its stories, ideas and motifs became, for well over a thousand years, the main subject of art and literature.

Many dozens of generations of children were drilled in the New Testament’s malignant tales, presented as the word of God. “Who condemned Jesus Christ to death?” went the question in the Catholic catechism which, until recently, children from the age of five or six learned by heart. The answer? “Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, did it at the desire of the Jews.” Recently the Catholic Church has “exonerated” the Jews of guilt for Jesus Christ’s death – 2000 years and many millions of victims too late. An imaginary parallel will make the point clearer. Suppose that our own civilisation has broken down, as that of Rome did in the fifth and sixth centuries in Western Europe. Most of the survivors regress to subsistence farming. Literacy is almost lost, becoming the special expertise of ideologising monks and priests.

Most of our great books of learning and science are lost. Those we have saved acquire great authority in a world where scientific observation and experimentation have gone out of fashion, and where venerable authority is again, as in the Middle Ages, considered sufficient. One of the books which survives, preserved by its devotees, is The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. This book purports to be a Jewish account of Jewish plans to take over the world. It was forged early this century by the Okhrana, the political police of ultra-Christian Tsarist Russia.

It recast the traditional Christian Jew-hatred, with which Tsarist Russia was saturated, into a venomous modern political fantasy. It has had immense influence in this century. It has rightly been called a “warrant for genocide”.

Suppose then that in our imaginary world, thrown back to the level of barbarism, a new religion takes shape, a sort of primitive evangelical neo-Christianity, organised by a powerful caste of priests. It worships, as one of its central “holy books”, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

And then, as society evolves and develops over many hundreds of years, slowly redeveloping a civilisation, generation after generation would learn the divine truth concocted by the Okhrana policemen. It would form the subject of paintings and literature and drama. When a new Enlightenment arose, and drove this nonsense off the highways of intellectual life, it would survive as prejudice and folk-wisdom. Living Jews and their behaviour would be judged not according to everybody else’s standards, but according to the patterns of malevolence outlined in the Protocols.

This fiction is horribly close to the true story of our civilisation and its development. The New Testament – with whose vicious anti-Jewish libels we are so familiar that they can and do go unnoticed – has down the centuries been the warrant for generations and ages of anti-semitism in Eastern Europe and Russia.

The Stalinist rulers did not fight anti-semitism but fomented it. They took Christian anti-semitism and wove it into their “Protocols”, according to which the great evil conspiracy is not Jewish exactly, but “Zionist”, and centred on Israel. Many on the left, misled by their justified and proper sympathy with the Palestinian Arabs who are in conflict with the Jewish state of Israel, uncritically accept this Stalinist reworking of the old anti-Semitism.

Karl Kautsky’s detailed analysis of the anti-semitism threaded into the New Testament, and therefore at the heart of 2000 years of European civilisation, is part of the necessary antidote to this poison, which, in its “anti-Zionist” mask, still infects much of the left today.

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Time for a secularist challenge to all faith education

July 15, 2014 at 10:47 am (Christianity, Education, humanism, Islam, islamism, Judaism, posted by JD, reblogged, relativism, religion, secularism, television)

By Andrew Coates (reblogged from Tendance Coatesy):

Humanists Show the Way Forward.

Faith Schools Undercover: No Clapping in Class  (Monday 14th July at 8pm on Channel 4) revealed:

  • Exclusively that even before the so-called anonymous ‘Trojan Horse’ letter came to light the Prime Minister’s office had been warned of what was going on
  • Claims by current and former members of staff at Park View – one of the schools implemented in the ‘Trojan Horse’ allegations – that male pupils were given worksheets saying women couldn’t say no to sex with their husbands and also girls at the school were sent home from a sports event because only a male coach was present
  • The ultra-Orthodox Haredi Jewish schools in the London Borough of Hackney ‘operating illegally and without the most basic health, safety and child welfare checks’. Channel 4 Dispatches has shocking evidence that Hackney Council, the Department for Education and Ofsted have all known about the schools for years

The programme began with concerns at  Oldknow Academy Birmingham. A parent had complained at Christmas not being celebrated and got short shrift. He wrote to the PM.

The most important item was on Park View school,

A former teacher said, on camera, but anonymously that,

“about 60 male pupils were given a worksheet saying women couldn’t say no to sex with their husbands.

She says: “The work sheet categorically said that you know the wife has to obey the man. Well I think it makes the boys feel that they have got that power over girls. The east Birmingham area has one of the highest rates of domestic violence in the country.”

This was flately, and not very convincingly, denied, by the school.

Local MP Khalid Mahmood  says: “I am not talking about here extremism in schools although ultimately it could lead to it, and that’s my fear, is that when you are grooming young people into that sort of a mind-set then its very easy once they leave school is to go that extra additional step.”

He also dismissed suggestions the controversy smacks of Islamophobia.

“Over 200 people complaining to the local authority about what’s gone on and you can’t really claim that it’s a witch-hunt,” said Mahmood, whose own actions have shown him sensitive to the difficulties raised by racist attacks on Birmingham Muslims.

There was a report on Olive Primary School in Blackburn.

During this there was evidence that  music in school was discouraged, that clapping was not encouraged, and that other “un-Islamic,” practices were frowned on.

Olive Primary  is run by the Tauheedul Education Trust, with two other secondaries in Blackburn.

The Lancashire Telegraph draws attention to one feature of the Trust’s activities,

The programme revealed trust schools hosted lectures by three extremist preachers, including Mufti Ismail Menk banned from six UK universities for preaching same-sex acts were ‘filthy’.

It showed him saying of gay people: “With all due respect to the animals, they are worse than animals.”

In Hackney illegal Jewish religious schools (for the ultra-orthodox) exist,

Channel 4 Dispatches discovered that more than 1,000 boys aged 13 to 16 have disappeared from registered schools in the London borough of Hackney.

Instead they are being sent by their parents to be educated in yeshivas – fee-paying schools where the curriculum is solely religious.

We have identified more than ten unregistered, illegal, schools.

And what’s really shocking is that Hackney Council, the Department for Education and Ofsted have all known about these schools for years.

We’ve seen internal government briefing documents that reveal as early as 2008 the Department for Education was aware of the issue. One document states the Department knows a number of schools are ‘operating illegally and without the most basic health, safety and child welfare checks’.

In 2012 the Department acknowledged those running the schools were breaking the law, but said they preferred to work cooperatively with the community.

There were shots of a school, including a room where Hasidic instruction and disputation was taking place. Students went in an out till late in the day.

The conclusion of this section was very unsettling.

Dispatches contacted the schools featured but have received no response.

Hackney Council, Ofsted and the Department for Education told Dispatches their concerns date back many years and they are aware of all the schools on our list.

They say they’ve been working to get them registered.

The Department for Education, who Ofsted and Hackney say have the power to take action against the schools, told Dispatches that ‘where applications for registration are still not forthcoming we will press for a prosecution as it is a criminal offence to operate an unregistered illegal schools.’

The programme seemed to suggest that the Council, out of concern for religious and cultural feeling, was unwilling to act.

Andrew Gilligam reports,

Government documents obtained by Channel 4’s Dispatches and the Jewish Chronicle newspaper say that many of the schools are “operating illegally and without the most basic health, safety and child welfare checks”.

Many boys in the Orthodox Jewish community in Stamford Hill, London, “will stop secular studies at the age of 13 or 14 and start attending ‘yeshivas’ where the curriculum is solely religious,” the documents say.

Between 800 and 1000 boys aged between 13 and 16 are “missing” from the school system in the borough of Hackney alone, the papers add.

Undercover filming by Dispatches in and around the schools shows the boys packed more than 50 to a classroom in dirty, run-down buildings, some converted houses. More than a hundred boys were filmed going in to an illegal school in Lynmouth Road, Stamford Hill, arriving from 7.30 in the morning and leaving late at night. The establishment is believed to be one of twelve illegal schools in the neighbourhood.

In 2011, about one third of the 20,000 state funded schools in England were faith schools, approximately 7,000 in total, of which 68% were Church of England schools and 30% were Roman Catholic . There were 42 Jewish, 12 Muslim, 3 Sikh and 1 Hindu  faith schools.

The British Humanist Association says,

“Around a third of all state-funded schools are schools ‘with a religious character’ – the legal term for ‘faith’ schools. This number has grown in recent years as successive governments have increased the influence of religious groups in the state-funded education system.”

That is, with the introduction of Academies and Free Schools, this percentage is believed to have risen.

Faith Schools Undercover noted their role in encouraging  ethnic and cultural segregation.

The idea that parents have the right to run, publicly funded, education that promotes their religion, is fundamentally wrong.

Some liberals seem unable to respond to the issues raised (Harry’s Place for example).

There are those who claim to be on the left who find excuses for these arrangements.

They claim that criticisms of, notably, the Birmingham schools, are an ‘Islamophobic’ conspiracy.

This completely fails to look at the problems religiously-run schools create – as indicated by the Channel Four Dispatches documentary.

It indicated that concerns had a solid basis.

The National Secular Society sets out a much better position that those wishing to sweep the subject of Faith education under the carpet.,

Rather than facilitating the segregation of pupils along religious lines, we would like to see steps taken to ensure children of all faiths and none are educated together in a respectful but religiously neutral environment.

As long as faith schools are publicly funded, we campaign for an end to exemptions from equality legislation that allow them to select pupils on the basis of the religion, or religious activities, of the child’s parents.

We are concerned that the Government’s desire for greater proportion of academies and free schools, which are independent and self-governing, will see more and more control of state funded education handed to religious organisations.

Dispatches showed more than enough reasons to back this stand.

The author of many of the pro-religious education policies, Michael Gove, is now Chief Whip.

He has been replaced by even more faith-influenced minister, Nicky Morgan, a Tory MP who voted against same-sex marriage, as  education secretary. She “continues as minister for women and equalities”.

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Matgamna: take all religion out of schools!

June 12, 2014 at 10:56 pm (AWL, Brum, child abuse, children, Christianity, Education, Islam, islamism, misogyny, posted by JD, religion, religious right, secularism, Tory scum)

Above: Park View School hosted this ultra-reactionary bigot as a speaker to its pupils

By Sean Matgamna (re-blogged from Workers Liberty)

A group of three academies, one other academy, and one council-controlled school in Birmingham have been put into “special measures” by Ofsted government inspectors for allegedly acting like “faith schools”.

Ofsted complains that Park View school has weekly “Islamic-themed assemblies”, with invited speakers “not vetted”, and that from year 9 onwards religious education is almost all Islamic. Faith schools are explicitly allowed to have their assemblies, and their religious education, organised around their chosen religion, and to imbue other subjects with religious ideology.

Over 35 per cent of all state-funded schools in England are “faith schools”. They can freely do all or most of what Ofsted complained of in Birmingham.

The furore about an alleged “Muslim plot” to turn the Birmingham schools into indoctrination centres for “extremist” Islam rips the covering right off one of the great scandals in British life.

The scandal is not about Muslims, but goes right across the spectrum of the religious indoctrination of children in Britain. The huge majority of faith schools are Christian. Some of them are bland about their religion, and some of them militant.

It is not only about the Tory/Lib-Dem coalition administration. Faith schools increased under Labour from about a quarter to over 35% of schools.

The Government’s answer is that faith schools should continue, but they must be obliged to teach “British values”.

That is dangerous nonsense. The real answer is that all schools must be secular. Religious preaching of all sorts must be taken out of them.

The problem is in part the marshmallow language the Government uses — “extremists” and “moderates”. It is also that much of the Government’s talk about “British values” is “spin” rather than something that has or will have substance to it.

The government lists among those values “tolerance” and “respect” for those of different faiths.

When a school is run by vigorous, convinced, ardently religious people, mandating “moderate” values is either an infringement on religious freedom, or a nonsense, or both.

All serious religious people believe, and in the nature of religious belief must believe, that their own faith is the one true faith. All of them teach that. Explicitly or by implication, they believe that other religious beliefs and practices are wrong, pernicious, even the work of the Devil.

When a religion ceases to think it bears the only real truth, it is on the road to self-weakening and dissolution, at a quicker or faster pace. Anglicanism is an example. Serious belief in the truth and godly inspiration of one’s own religion implies intolerance and contempt for, and desire to subdue, the false religion.

Now the Government says that devout Muslims — often the most convinced and most militant of contemporary religious people — must be “moderate”, and must have “respect” and “tolerance” for those whom their religion tells them are mistaken and sinful.

No doubt the majority of British Muslims do not hold the “extreme” positions, but those who do have the moral high ground, appealing to precedent, age-old tradition, and sense of historical identity and affinity.

Governments should enforce the law against, for example, those who plot religiously-motivated bombing campaigns. And governments have a right and a duty to interfere with what religious people do when they break the social code — for instance, ill-treatment of children by Christian sects, such as the one Victoria Climbie’s murdering religion-crazed aunt belonged to, or mutilation of the genitals of young girls.

But there is no way a government can tell a religious community what to think and believe and pass on to young people. How can a government eradicate the belief of its devotees that a religion or a sect is the only right one, that its devotees are the only “saved” people? It cannot, not without enormous repression; and that would not succeed either. The opposite: it would drive adherents of the faith being targeted into the camp of the “extremists” and “martyrs”.

What follows? That we should “defend” those who might want to indoctrinate children with beliefs and practices that are foul and might point some of them towards jihadism? That we should focus on the demand for “extremist” Muslims to be treated not with suspicion but like bland school-running Anglicans?

That would be absurd.

In the name of religious freedom and the equality of all religions before the law and the state, it would be to “defend” vigorous religious education of all stripes, at whose heart is the systematic and long-term psychological abuse of children. Religious education implants intense emotions, fears, and beliefs in children who as yet have little power of reason and judgement. It is vicious child abuse.

No, the Government has been drawn onto the dangerous ground of threatening to impinge on the freedom of religious belief because its scheme makes no sense.

The real solution is to make all schools — including those now Catholic, Anglican, Jewish, etc. — into secular schools, places where religion is studied only in the cool comparison of different religions, their histories, the origins of their sacred books, the derivation and evolution of their core beliefs, etc.

That would give the children some secular space to retreat to in face of bullying, insistent parents or religious officials, and give them different values to counterpose to the religious values of homes which may be spiritually from a different age and very different societies.

The children of religious parents are entitled to the protection of society and the social institutions.

In some faith schools today small girls go about covered from top to toe in Islamic religious dress. A society that does not win children freedom from such impositions is obscene, and if it does not use the law to stop them will be convincing neither to itself nor to the serious religious people who have contempt for modern commercial society and for those who would regulate and “moderate” them.

The possible social consequences of the continued development of faith schools are dreadful to contemplate. Faith and ethnicity here often go together. Faith schools are also often race-segregated schools. Instead of schools being a force for integrating communities, they entrench social, ethnic, and religious antagonisms. Children are moulded and narrowed in one outlook.

Faith schools in Northern Ireland played an important part in maintaining, reinforcing, and perpetuating Protestant-Catholic sectarianism. It was the Catholic Church, the church of the most oppressed people in Northern Ireland, which insisted on faith schools — or rather, on its own right to indoctrinate children with its beliefs.

At the height of the Troubles, a small group of people started “mixed” schools, as a means of helping to destroy sectarianism. The movement has so far had little success. It would have been better to have had “mixed” schools before sectarian conflict had ripped the society apart.

What all this means for Britain now and for what sensible people should advocate for Britain now is plain: take religion out of our schools. Make education public and secular. Make religion a private matter.

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