The DUP: the *really* nasty party

June 27, 2017 at 9:01 am (Christianity, Civil liberties, Conseravative Party, Human rights, Ireland, misogyny, posted by JD, terror, Tory scum)

By Micheál MacEoin
(This was written shortly before the desperate deal was finalised, and also appears on the Workers Liberty website):

The Conservative Party’s loss of their parliamentary majority has left Theresa May reliant on Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), a hard-right organisation which has 10 MPs in the House of Commons. So who are the Tories’ new unionist bedfellows?The DUP has its roots in a politicised form of evangelical Protestantism which arose again in the 1950s and 60s, but has a long tradition in the Protestant areas of Ulster. In these years, the future DUP leader Ian Paisley was involved in a myriad of fringe loyalist organisations, which existed to protect Protestant supremacy in Northern Ireland.

In March 1963, a slightly more liberal Unionist Party leader, Terence O’Neill, became the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland. His aim was to adopt a more moderate course in order to undercut support for the Northern Ireland Labour Party (NILP) and absorb sections of the Catholic middle class into the Northern Ireland state.

Paisley came to the fore as a rabble-rousing preacher, acting as a pole of attraction for discontent within working-class Protestantism. He articulated a form of religious-based Unionism with a more plebeian character than the aristocratic or business-oriented ruling Unionist Party. As O’Neill’s reforms encouraged the growth of a Catholic civil rights movement in Northern Ireland, Paisley helped set up the Ulster Constitution Defence Committee (UCDC), to co-ordinate street protests, rallies and counter-demonstrations against any moves towards liberalisation, ecumenism or attempted rapprochement with the Republic of Ireland.The UCDC had an arms-length paramilitary section, the Ulster Protestant Volunteers (UPV), led by Paisley’s longstanding ally, Noel Doherty.

Doherty was later jailed for his involvement in a bombing campaign in 1969 designed to undermine O’Neill, which was carried out with members of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF). Paisley implausibly denied knowledge of Doherty’s paramilitary activities. This is a pattern repeated by the DUP leader during the Troubles, of fraternising with violent loyalists while maintaining enough of a distance so as to deny knowledge of illegal or murderous acts. For example, in 1974, Paisley would sit on the so-called “Ulster Workers’ Council”, along with representatives of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) and other armed loyalist groups. It organised a general strike against the short-lived power-sharing executive, which in reality was initially more of a lock-out enforced by paramilitary intimidation.

Again, in 1986, Paisley was present at a huge meeting in the Ulster Hall in Belfast to establish Ulster Resistance, a vigilante group set up to oppose the Anglo-Irish Agreement which promised Dublin more of a say in the running of Northern Ireland. Paisley was famously recorded calling for a paramilitary “Third Force” to oppose Irish republicanism, before placing a red beret on his head and standing to attention. In 1987, the UVF and the UDA proceeded to smuggle weapons for Ulster Resistance from Lebanon in to Northern Ireland with the aid of Apartheid-era South African state agents. Most were intercepted, but some of the Ulster Resistance arms cache has never been found. By the late 1980s, pressure mounted on Paisley to condemn the group’s activities, which he did in 1989. Presumably, after calling for a paramilitary “Third Force”, Paisley only ever intended it to attack republicans peacefully, without weapons!

As the peace process took shape in the 1990s, the DUP came to the fore in opposing any agreement between unionists and republicans. They campaigned against the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, when even the UDA was formally in favour. This placed the party on the side of dissident anti-Agreement loyalists such as Billy Wright’s Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF). Indeed, in 1996, DUP representative Rev William McCrea shared a platform with Wright, mere months after the LVF murdered Catholic taxi driver Michael McGoldrick near Lurgan.

Support for the Good Friday Agreement fatally undermined Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble in the years after 1998. Unionist support for the Agreement was already weak, and the UUP could not stand the pressure from the DUP, who attacked them for sharing power with republicans while there were continuing delays in the decommissioning of IRA weapons. By the 2003 Northern Ireland Assembly election, the DUP had overtaken the UUP as Northern Ireland’s most popular unionist party, a position they further cemented in future European, local government and Westminster elections.

2007 marked a watershed for the DUP. Having effectively destroyed their electoral competitors, the road was open for Ian Paisley to cut an agreement with Sinn Fein, and share power with republicans for the first timeThe DUP, then, has its roots in an evangelical fringe of Ulster loyalism. What does it stand for today?

For one thing, the DUP’s position as the largest unionist party, with support rooted in both the working-class and the Protestant business class, has led it to adopt a pragmatic blend of neoliberal pro-business policies such as corporation tax cuts, with an often populist approach. Its opposition to Tory plans to cut winter fuel payments, for example, will allow the Tories an excuse to reverse on some of their more unpopular proposals to attack universal benefits.The DUP combines this right-wing economic pragmatism with a ferocious blend of religiously-inspired social conservatism, including opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion in all circumstances. One-third of DUP members are drawn from the evangelical Free Presbyterian Church, founded by Ian Paisley, which accounts for only 1% of the Northern Ireland population. Half of its elected representatives are members of the Orange Order, a virulently anti-Catholic Protestant fraternal organisation, and some are connected to pressure groups such as the Caleb Foundation which exists to promote “the fundamentals of the historic evangelical Protestant faith”, including support for creationism.

The DUP voter base, however, which is now larger and more varied, does not necessarily share all of these sentiments, at least not to the same degree.Since becoming the dominant partner in government in Northern Ireland, the DUP’s time in office has also been plagued by a number of political and financial scandals, which will undoubtedly receive more UK-wide attention in light of recent events. These include connections between senior DUP figures and the sale of properties owned by the Irish National Asset Management Agency (NAMA), and an ongoing investigation into DUP leader Arlene Foster’s role in the botched Renewable Heating Incentive (RHI) scheme.

Despite the DUP’s reactionary positions on social issues, it is most likely that the party will push for financial concessions for Northern Ireland as the price of any confidence and supply deal.A 2015 DUP position paper outlined its priorities as being more capital spending for Northern Ireland, more funding for hospitals and schools, and cuts to air passenger duty. The DUP realises that social issues, such as same-sex marriage which it has repeatedly blocked, are devolved to Stormont. The party will gain little or nothing from drawing attention to these issues as part of a UK-wide deal with the Tories, and wants to present unionists as acting in the British “national interest”.

This does not, of course, mean that we should ignore the DUP’s social positions, or cease to condemn the Tories for cutting a desperate deal with such a reactionary party.It is possible, too, that the DUP will come under pressure from its own base, including the Orange Order, to push for concessions on contentious issues, such as parading, flags and other areas of symbolic cultural importances to unionists.

The DUP supported Brexit in 2016, but opposes a hard Border in Ireland because of the economic damage that customs duties between Northern Ireland and the Republic would inflict. However, its demands for a soft Border will be tricky to reconcile with its insistence that there be no new checks at ports and airports in Great Britain on citizens travelling from Northern Ireland into the UK after Britain exits the EU.

The increased importance of the Irish dimension will, then, serve to further complicate the already chaotic state of the UK’s negotiations with the EU over Brexit.Finally, the prospect of a Tory government propped up by a confidence and supply arrangement with the DUP puts profound strain on the already faltering power-sharing institutions at Stormont, and challenges some of the tenets of the Good Friday Agreement. The Agreement rests on the conceit that the British government is a “neutral broker” in the peace process. Republicans already deny that the Tories are in any sense neutral, and Secretary of State James Brokenshire has been widely attacked for showing a pro-unionist bias on issues such as the prosecutions of soldiers for activities during the Troubles. The fact of the Tories relying on DUP support for their parliamentary majority will complicate Brokenshire’s role in the ongoing negotiations between the parties at Stormont, especially if a condition of the DUP’s support for May is a statement ruling out any prospective vote on Irish unity.

Ironically, however, the DUP’s influence over the British government could hasten the return of Stormont’s power-sharing executive. Sinn Fein repeatedly rubbished any claim during the general election that Northern Ireland parties could wield any influence at Westminster. With the alternative to Stormont being direct rule from London by a DUP-backed Tory government, many Sinn Fein voters would understandably prefer Stormont as a lesser-evil. Republicans now too have reason to avoid a further Assembly election, as the DUP made a stunning comeback last week, increasing its support to unprecedented levels.

Any deal between the DUP and the Tories will be a limited one, restricted to votes of confidence such as the Queen’s Speech and the Budget. On individual issues, the Tories will be weak, and open to attack. The labour movement, in the UK and Ireland, should drive a wedge between May and her DUP allies, using parliamentary and extra-parliamentary means to drive the Tories out of office.

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Tatchell: ‘gay cake’ verdict is defeat for freedom of expression

October 24, 2016 at 7:35 pm (Christianity, Civil liberties, Free Speech, gay, homophobia, law, LGBT, Peter Tatchell)

Peter Tatchell once again demonstrates his fairness, generosity of spirit and commitment to freedom of expression:

web-gay-cake.jpg
Ashers Baking Company refused to make this cake

The law should not compel businesses to aid political messages

London & Belfast – 24 October 2016

The Appeal Court in Belfast has today ruled that a local Christian-run business, Ashers Bakery, was wrong to refuse to decorate a cake with a pro-gay marriage message.

“This verdict is a defeat for freedom of expression. As well as meaning that Ashers can be legally forced to aid the promotion of same-sex marriage, it also implies that gay bakers could be forced by law to decorate cakes with homophobic slogans,” said human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation.

“It seems that businesses cannot now lawfully refuse a customer’s request to propagate a message, even if it is a sexist, xenophobic or anti-gay message and even if the business has a conscientious objection to it.

“Although I strongly disagree with Ashers opposition to marriage equality, in a free society neither they nor anyone else should be compelled to facilitate a political idea that they oppose.

“Ashers did not discriminate against the customer, Gareth Lee, because he was gay. They objected to the message he wanted on the cake: ‘Support gay marriage.’

“Discrimination against LGBT people is wrong and is rightly unlawful. But in a free society, people should be able to discriminate against ideas they disagree with. I am saddened that the court did not reach the same conclusion.

“The judgement opens a can of worms. It means that a Muslim printer could be obliged to publish cartoons of Mohammed and a Jewish printer could be required to publish a book that propagates Holocaust denial. It could also encourage far right extremists to demand that bakers and other service providers facilitate the promotion of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim opinions.

“What the court has decided sets a dangerous, authoritarian precedent that is open to serious abuse.

“Discrimination against people should be illegal but not discrimination against ideas and opinions,” said Mr Tatchell.

Read Peter Tatchell’s detailed reasoning as to why he changed his mind on the Ashers case (he initially supported the verdict against them) and why he opposes the new legal ruling:

Why I changed my mind on the Ashers gay cake row

The law should not require bakers to aid the gay marriage campaign

By Peter Tatchell

Like most gay and equality campaigners, I initially condemned the Christian-run Ashers Bakery in Belfast over its refusal to produce a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan for a gay customer, Gareth Lee.

I supported his legal claim against Ashers and the subsequent verdict, which last year found the bakery guilty of discrimination. My reasons for supporting Gareth’s claim were:

1. Ashers had falsely advertised their services, saying they were willing decorate their cakes with any message that a customer wanted. They did not say there were any limits on the designs or wording.

2. I feared that Ashers actions could open the flood gates to allow sectarian loyalist-republican discrimination and discrimination against women, LGBTs and other minorities – and their points of view.

But I later changed my mind. Much as I wish to defend the LGBT community, I also want to defend freedom of conscience, expression and religion.

While Christian bed and breakfast owners and civil partnership registrars were clearly wrong to deny service to gay people, this case is different. It is about the refusal to facilitate an idea – namely, support for same-sex marriage.

I will continue to oppose the proposed “conscience clause” in Northern Ireland. It is intended to allow discrimination against LGBT people. I do not accept that people of faith should be permitted by law to deny service to LGBTs – or anyone else. Discrimination against people is never acceptable.

The whole saga began in 2014 when Ashers said they were not willing to ice a cake with the words “support gay marriage” and the logo of the equality group, Queer Space; claiming it was contrary to their Christian beliefs to promote homosexuality and gay marriage.

This struck many of us as discrimination based on religious-inspired homophobic prejudice. Ashers believe that the relationships of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people are wrong and should not be eligible for the status of marriage. They translated these beliefs into action and declined to make the cake. Ashers would have decorated a cake with a message celebrating traditional heterosexual marriage and promoting a Christian organisation. Surely this was an example of clear-cut anti-gay discrimination?

Gareth Lee’s legal case against Ashers was backed by the Equality Commission of Northern Ireland. It argued that the bakery’s actions breached the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006 and The Fair Employment and Treatment (NI) Order 1998, which prohibit discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services on the respective grounds of sexual orientation and political opinion.

A Belfast court last May agreed and found Ashers guilty of discrimination on both grounds; ordering them to pay Gareth £500 compensation.

I profoundly disagree with Asher’s opposition to same-sex love and marriage, and support protests against them. They claim to be Christians and followers of Jesus. Yet he never once condemned homosexuality. Moreover, discrimination is not a Christian value. Ashers’ religious justifications are, to my mind, theologically unsound.

Nevertheless, on reflection, the court was wrong to penalise Ashers and I was wrong to endorse its decision.

For sure, the law suit against the bakery was well intended. It sought to challenge homophobia. But it was a step too far. It pains me to say this, as a long-time supporter of the struggle for LGBT equality in Northern Ireland, where same-sex marriage remains banned.

The equality laws are intended to protect people against discrimination. A business providing a public service has a legal duty to do so without discrimination based on race, gender, faith, sexuality and so on.

However, the court erred by ruling that Gareth was discriminated against because of his sexual orientation and political opinions.

His cake request was not refused because he was gay but because of the message he wanted on the cake. There is no evidence that his sexuality was the reason Ashers declined his order.

Despite this, Judge Isobel Brownlie said refusing the pro-gay marriage slogan was unlawful indirect sexual orientation discrimination because same-sex marriage is a union between persons of the same-sex and therefore refusing to provide a service in support of same-sex marriage was de facto sexual orientation discrimination.

I disagree. Refusing to facilitate a message in support of same-sex marriage is not sexuality discrimination. It is discrimination against an idea, not against a person.

On the question of political discrimination, the judge said Ashers had denied Gareth service based on his request for a message supporting same-sex marriage. She noted: “If the plaintiff had ordered a cake with the words ‘support marriage’ or ‘support heterosexual marriage’ I have no doubt that such a cake would have been provided.” Brownlie therefore concluded that by refusing to provide a cake with a pro-gay marriage wording Ashers had treated him less favourably, contrary to the law.

This may be a case of differential treatment. However, it was not discrimination against views held or expressed by Gareth but against words he wanted on a cake. Moreover, the law against political discrimination was meant to protect people with differing political views, not to force others to further political views to which they conscientiously object.

The finding of political discrimination against Gareth sets a worrying precedent. Northern Ireland’s laws against discrimination on the grounds of political opinion were framed in the context of decades of conflict. They were designed to heal the sectarian divide by preventing the denial of jobs, housing and services to people because of their politics. There was never an intention that this law should compel people to promote political ideas, such as same-sex marriage, with which they disagreed – let alone on a cake.

The judge concluded that service providers are required by law to facilitate any “lawful” message, even if they have a conscientious objection to it.

This begs the question: Will gay bakers have to accept orders for cakes with homophobic slurs? I don’t think LGBT people should be forced to promote anti-gay messages.

The court judgement also leads me to ask: Should a Muslim printer be obliged to publish cartoons of Mohammed or a Jewish one a book that propagates Holocaust denial?

If the current Ashers verdict stands it could, for example, encourage far right extremists to demand that bakeries and other service providers facilitate the promotion of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim opinions. It would leave businesses unable to refuse to decorate cakes, print posters and emblazon mugs with bigoted messages.

In my view, it is an infringement of freedom to require private businesses to aid the promotion of ideas to which they conscientiously object. Discrimination against people should be unlawful but not discrimination against ideas and opinions.

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To the memory of père Jacques Hamel

July 26, 2016 at 4:25 pm (Andrew Coates, Catholicism, Christianity, France, islamism, poetry, posted by JD, RIP, terror, tragedy)

By Andrew Coates (reblogged from Tendance Coatesy):

A photo of Priest Jacques Hamel taken from the website of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray parish

In the memory of père Jacques Hamel.

I love my work and my children. God.

Is distant, difficult. Things happen

Too near the ancient troughs of blood.

Innocence is no earthly weapon.

Geoffrey Hill. Ovid in the Third Reich. *

Two attackers killed a priest and seriously wounded at least one other hostage in a church in northern France on Tuesday before they were shot dead by police. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack.

The two assailants entered the church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, near Rouen, during mass, taking the priest and four other people hostage, including two nuns.

Police said the men killed the priest, named as 84-year-old Jacques Hamel, by slitting his throat.

An interior ministry spokesperson said a second hostage was “between life and death”.

Le Monde says that the local Muslim leadership immediately reacted by showing their love and friendship to the victim and all those affected.

Le président du Conseil régional du culte musulman de Haute-Normandie, en charge de la mosquée de Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, inaugurée en 2000 sur une parcelle de terrain offerte par la paroisse catholique, s’est dit « effaré par le décès de [son] ami ». « C’est quelqu’un qui a donné sa vie aux autres. On est abasourdis à la mosquée », a-t-il ajouté. Le prêtre et l’imam faisaient partie d’un comité interconfessionnel depuis dix-huit mois. « Nous discutions de religion et de savoir-vivre ensemble », a précisé Mohammed Karabila.

The President of the Haute-Normandie Regional Council of Muslims, which oversees the Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray Mosque, built on a plot of land offered by the Catholic parish, has said he was “in agony” at the death of his friend. “He was somebody who devoted his life to others. At the mosque we are utterly devastated” he added. For a year and a half the Priest and the Imam had both been part of an inter-faith committee. Mohammed Karabila talked of their activity, “We discussed our faith and how we can get good community relations.”

I cite Geoffrey Hill above because the attack on a early day mass immediately made me think of seeing a priest celebrating Morning prayers  in a place the poet wrote about, the ancient St Michael the Archangel – ‘In Framlingham Church’. *

It was a weekday morning about five years ago and there was only a handful of people there.

But it was solemn and of great dignity.

Goodness is far more important than anything else. 

 

* Both in: Geoffrey Hill, Broken Hierarchies. Poems. 1952 – 2012. Oxford. 2013.

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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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