Kenan Malik, always worth reading:-
There appears, nevertheless, to be something especially potent about Islam in fomenting terror and persecution. Contemporary radical Islam is the religious form through which a particular kind of barbarous rage expresses itself.
So, to understand why jihadis have been drawn into a moral universe that allows them to celebrate inhuman acts, we have to understand why political rage against the West takes such nihilistic, barbaric forms, and why radical Islam has become the primary vehicle for such rage.
Jihadis view themselves as warriors against western imperialism. Yet few anti-imperialists of previous generations would recognise jihadis as ideological kin.
There is a long history of popular struggles against colonialism and empire. While such movements often used violent means to pursue their ends, they were rarely “anti-western” in any existential sense. Rather they worked within a universalist moral framework that stressed freedom and emancipation for all humanity.
Over the past few decades these anti-imperialist traditions have unravelled. The new movements that have emerged in their place are often rooted in religious or ethnic identity, and are sectarian or separatist in form. This shift is linked to the wider decline of progressive social movements, the loss of faith in universalist values, and the replacement of ideological politics with the politics of identity. Moral norms have increasingly become tribal rather than universal. Political struggle for a better world has given way to inchoate identity-driven rage.
Guest post by Pink Prosecco
A few days ago it was reported that nearly a third of Londoners – 31% – felt uneasy at the prospect of a Muslim mayor.
Some responded to the poll result with cries of bigotry – others applauded the 31% for being Islamorealists. It seems probable that people who registered unease did so for a range of reasons, and with different degrees of certainty.
It’s useful to compare that 31% figure with the percentage who would be made uncomfortable by the idea of a mayor from an ethnic minority – 13%. Presumably almost all of the 13% were also part of the 31%. Clearly such people are bigots. But what about the 18% who would be happy with a non-white mayor but not with a Muslim one – and indeed the further 13% who didn’t feel able to give a decisive answer when asked how they’d view a Muslim mayor?
You don’t have to be a racist to be an anti-Muslim bigot (though it probably helps). Although white nationalists tend to be anti-Muslim by default, many of the most prominent counterjihadists are non-racist, and of course not all of them are white.
Someone like Ali Sina would never vote for a Muslim mayor. He has said:
“It is time to put an end to the charade of “moderate Islam.” There is no such thing as moderate Muslim. Muslims are either jihadists or dormant jihadists – moderate, they are not.”
Treating Muslims as a monolithic bloc is an obvious marker of bigotry. But some of those who felt they couldn’t unreservedly say they were ‘comfortable’ with the idea of a Muslim mayor might not have meant to imply that under no circumstances would they vote for a Muslim, just that they’d want to know more. With so much debate around Islam and extremism, people are becoming increasingly alert to the sharp differences of opinion within Muslim communities. Television programmes such as The Big Questions return to the topic of religious extremism and conservatism obsessively. Those taking the survey may have felt wary about such illiberal views.
However even those actively anxious about Islamism are likely to have favourable views of Muslims who call for reform or adhere to more liberal interpretations of Islam – I bet a fair few of the 31% would have been more than happy to vote for someone like Maajid Nawaz or Sara Khan. And some of them, at the last election, were probably rooting for Muslim Naz Shah to beat her non-Muslim rival George Galloway.
And there are likely to be similar differences of opinion amongst the 55%, those who said were fully comfortable with the idea of a Muslim mayor. Some may just be easy-going types who would see any Muslim mayor as a positive symbol of multiculturalism and diversity. Others might be more actively politically engaged, perhaps opponents of the Prevent programme and of the comparatively tough approach Cameron is taking towards radicalisation. Would such Londoners welcome a Muslim mayor who disagreed with them on these issues? Probably not. Maajid Nawaz, in particular, would be the last person some Muslims would vote for – and non-Muslims from some sections of the left –Nathan Lean for example – would most likely go along with them.
In other words, at least a few of the 55% are likely to have particular questions for Muslim candidates, questions which relate specifically to their Muslim identity, not simply (as would be the case for any candidate) to their political views. In this they are no different from some of the 31%. Whereas a liberal might want to be reassured that the Muslim candidate shared their secular values (and Muslim liberals will probably be particularly vigilant) others, by contrast, will want to check that the candidate is not a ‘sell out’, an ‘Uncle Tom’. Right across the spectrum, for different reasons, people will want to be sure that a Muslim candidate is the right kind of Muslim – but their definitions of what the ‘right kind’ are will differ.
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?
By Pink Prosecco
Last year the Lawyers’ Secular Society was instrumental in persuading the Law Society to withdraw its ‘practice note’ offering advice on Sharia compliant wills. Now it is supporting another venture, a Mohammed cartoon exhibition organised by Sharia Watch UK and Vive Charlie. In response to criticism, the LSS President Charlie Klendjian has written a long post defending the decision to share a platform with Geert Wilders and Paul Weston, Chairman of Liberty GB.
In the ‘about us’ section of the LSS site it is asserted:
‘The LSS is not anti-religious, and we are equally opposed to the religious or the non-religious being discriminated against.’
It is difficult to square that policy with having anything to do with Paul Weston. Although Klendjian is right to insist on the importance of free speech, there is no reason why one can’t defend this and other secular values robustly without getting involved with dubious individuals and organisations. It is implied that Weston is controversial because of his views on immigration, but this only scratches the surface of the problem.
Klendjian makes this passionate appeal to his readers:
“If Mohammed can’t be depicted then Islam can’t be challenged, at which point democracy dies a horrible death.”
But what kind of ‘democracy’ does Paul Weston support? The answer, according to his party’s manifesto, is one in which Muslims are barred from public office. And whereas some gloomily fret about a future ‘Eurabia’, dominated by Muslims, Weston is openly preoccupied, not just with religion, but with race:
“In England we only have 45 million whites and we have 11 million non-whites, and again we have to look at the fact that only 10 percent of that is aged under 16 on the white European side; and on the non-white side we’re looking again at figures of 30 percent aged under 16. So if you look at those figures we see that we today have under the age of 16 4.5 million whites in England and 3.3 million non-whites.”
Klendjian points out that the LSS used to share platforms with ‘an open communist’ (Maryam Namazie of the Worker-communist Party of Iran). But whereas many evils have been carried out in the name of communism, I can’t imagine Maryam Namazie condemns these any less strongly than the rest of us. She is also an uncompromising anti-racist.
Klendjian goes on:
“Another accusation against Wilders and Weston is that “they’re not secularists” or that they don’t share the other goals of secularists. I don’t even know whether they describe themselves as secularists and you know what? I don’t care.
“We can’t restrict the people we share platforms with to those who describe themselves as secularists or who sign up to the entire ‘shopping list’ of secularism causes (faith schools; Bishops in the House of Lords; council prayers, etc).”
This (at least if he knows the full extent of Weston’s views) is disingenuous. It’s one thing for ardent secularists to allow a bit of leeway to liberal allies who don’t oppose ritual slaughter and don’t lie awake worrying about Bishops in the House of Lords. But – barring Muslims from public office? This discriminatory policy is the very reverse of what secularists should stand for – ensuring that people from all faiths and none are treated equally.
And here’s another bad argument:
“The LSS’s priority should be to defend free speech and to support this event as fully as possible, and not to guard itself against baseless accusations of ‘racism’.
“In any case, as we have seen over the years, such accusations will be thrown no matter what.
“Look what happened to Charlie Hebdo. The Charlie Hebdo corpses are still regularly smeared as ‘racist’.”
This is like a BDS supporter saying there’s no point condemning Holocaust denial or even the Holocaust itself because some will see any opposition to Israel as anti-Semitic.
At one point in his post Klendjian states (and I’m not making this up – check it for yourself): “It is no exaggeration to say that fear of being called racist could quite easily dismantle the superstructure of western civilisation as we know it.”
And what about racism itself – is that not a threat to our values too, or are Paul Weston’s supremacist views acceptable?
Klendjian ends by quoting at length from Douglas Murray. Here’s just one paragraph of Murray’s argument.
“The organizers at the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, are not left-wing journalists but conservative activists; and because the Dutch politician Geert Wilders spoke at the opening of the exhibition, that added a layer of complexity for people who like labeling actions with political valences, rather than just seeing actions as apart from them. It seems clear, however, from the pattern of condemnations on one side and silence on the other, that a cartoonist may be worthy of defense if he is associated with a left-wing organization, but not if he is associated with a right-wing one.”
Murray is also being disingenuous in suggesting there’s a hypocritical distinction between attitudes to secularists from the left and right. Plenty of Conservatives have no time for Geller and Spencer. Those who dislike them don’t do so because of their views on fiscal policy or the size of the state. As for Weston – I’d expect Conservatives to oppose his horrific views as strongly as left/liberal types.
And I’m sure there are many on the left – like myself – who would be quite prepared to put differences aside to work together with centre right allies against theocratic fascists – or against Weston and his ilk.
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Sarah AB has written this thoughtful and nuanced piece over at That Place. I have not been able to contact her to obtain her express permission to re-blog here, but I’m confident she’ll have no objection and I think it deserves to be read as widely as possible:
By Sarah AB
I agree with plenty of Hope not Hate’s blogs and campaigns, but have some reservations about their latest report on the UK’s counter-jihadist movement and a planned exhibition of Mohammed cartoons in London this September.
The first thing to note is the cover. This depicts red ink splattering from a pen nib, and thus conflates those who draw the Prophet Mohammed with those who react violently to such drawings. People will have different views about the various Mohammed cartoons but neither they nor their creators are responsible for others’ violent reactions.
This choice of image reflects the main thrust of the report – the claim that the organisers of the planned exhibition are concealing a sinister agenda behind the banner of free speech – a wish to provoke violence, even ‘civil war’ (p. 2).
It’s possible that some of the organisers and their allies may both want to provoke some kind of reaction and genuinely care about free speech. I don’t agree with the counter-jihadists’ analysis or strategy, but that doesn’t mean their concerns aren’t sincerely held. I can imagine some of those backing the exhibition might welcome a clearly illiberal and intolerant demonstration against it as that would help prove their point and attract more supporters. But that’s very different from actively wanting to spark violence and civil war.
However the report alleges that just this scenario was discussed earlier this year by Anne Marie Waters, Alan Lake and Tommy Robinson. Yet the only source for this claim is the decidedly dubious Knights Templar blog (p. 6 and p. 20) The views of Anne Marie Waters are certainly increasingly vehement, but I’d want to see more evidence to support such a serious claim.
Although I agree with much of the analysis of individual counter-jihadists contained in this report, there is a tendency to downplay the threat posed by Islamism and focus almost all criticism on the counter-jihadists. One example of this is the account given of the attempted murderous attacks against Pamela Geller (pp. 10-11). Another problem is the failure to consistently discriminate between those on different parts of the counter-jihadist spectrum. The report’s executive summary ends by asserting that the counter-jihadists are as dangerous as their Islamist foes and that they want to bring society to its knees (p. 2). This is a pretty sweeping claim. Some – including, as far as I know, Waters and Klendjian – are prepared to accept secularist Muslim allies, for example.
It is not always easy to tell which counter-jihadists are implicated in the report’s various claims – such as the assertion that some want to see genocide. There is no evidence that all counter-jihadists want to see any such thing, though they may be bigoted or blinkered. Yet on p. 25 it is claimed that ‘they’ all have as apocalyptic a view of the world as jihadists and are willing to use equally violent means to achieve them. This claim is distractingly hyperbolic (certainly with regards to some of the people featured in this report) and draws attention away from the serious problems with counter-jihadism, with the completely appalling views of Fjordman for example (p. 26), rather as the counter-jihadists themselves distractingly overegg the very real problem with Islamism and often fail to distinguish between liberal and extremist Muslims.
I completely agree that, assuming the exhibition goes ahead, the best response will be to ignore it, and not to engage in direct counter protest (p. 28). But I don’t agree that it would be wise or right to ‘change the narrative from free speech to incitement’ (p. 28) in order to get the exhibition banned. ‘Incitement’ really isn’t the right word in this context, whatever one thinks of the exhibition and the motives behind it. And to ban the exhibition would be just the step to play into the hands of any counter-jihadists who do want to stir things up as it will prove their case perfectly.
However, if Hope not Hate haven’t quite got their line and length right here, neither – although I do agree with some of his points – has Raheem Kassam writing (twice) in Breitbart. Hope not Hate is hardly ‘hard-left’, and this is a very misleading summary of the report:
Hope not Hate … has come out against free speech, mocking the counter-jihadist claim that Islamism “is a supremacist and expansionist ideology”, despite recent evidence at home, and abroad, through groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir, and ISIS.
Nick Lowles very clearly (and accurately) states that the counter-jihadists think that Islam, not Islamism, is a supremacist and expansionist ideology (p. 3). In sharp contrast with UAF, Hope not Hate has helped draw attention to some Islamist groups and individuals – and come under attack from the usual suspects for doing so.
habibi adds: have a look at this from Hope not Hate’s key source:
In the context of the cartoon plot, however, ISIS and Al Qaeda are merely bystanders. The biggest beneficiaries would – unsurprisingly – be the group directly behind the proposed operation. And, while HopeNotHate are unwilling to use the Z-word, it is a simple fact that the common denominator in every single one of the plotters is that they either are themselves hardcore Likud extreme nationalists or are funded by ultra Likud Zionists.
For the record, I’m not sure what to make of this, or how significant it is – JD.
From Political Scrapbook:
The Daily Express appear to have deleted a story suggesting that 1.5 million British Muslims support terror group Islamic State — based on polling which apparently did not ask respondents their religion or state clearly that ISIS was a terror group.
The headline for the online version was …
“Half of British Muslims ‘support ISIS’ as fears grow over influence of terror group”
… with the strapline:
“HALF of Britain’s three million Muslims could support the Islamic State terror group, a shocking new survey has revealed.”
While Scrapbook cannot locate the new polling, the 2014 ICM survey on behalf of Russian news agency Rossiya Segodnya only asked a single question about ISIS — which used a formulation recently condemned precisely because it conflates the beheading enthusiasts with a legitimate nation state:
“From what you know, please, tell me if you have a very favorable, somewhat favorable, somewhat unfavorable or very unfavorable opinion of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant otherwise known as ISIS?
While the piece is still available in search engine caches, visitors to the original link are now greeted with ‘Page Missing Mystery’:
What is more of a mystery is how the Express can justify such a headline.
The French revolutionary socialist Yves Coleman (of the group Ni patries, ni frontières), has written a lengthy and detailed piece on anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim racism in Europe. This is one of the most comprehensive and important articles on these closely interconnected subjects to have been published so far this century. It appears in a 12-page pull-out in the present edition of the AWL’s paper Solidarity. Comrade Coatesy has already commented on supplementary article by Coleman that also appears in Solidarity: About the ambiguities of the “Islamophobia” concept. We reproduce Coleman’s main article in full below:
Protest in Greece in memory of a Pakistani immigrant murdered by ‘Golden Dawn’ fascists
Anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim racism in Europe
Around 1.1 millions Jews live in the European Union and 19 million Muslims. It’s obviously very difficult to compare the situation of an ethnic/cultural/religious minority living in Europe for centuries with the situation of religious and/or national minorities whose importance has massively grown after the Second World War, and in some cases only during the last 40 years.
Nevertheless, many militants (inspired by left academic researchers) compare anti-Semitism in the 30s to the situation of Muslims in Europe today.
This comparison is flawed1, for many reasons, but it remains a fact that the anti-Islam paranoia which dominates Western media, and the long and complex relations between the Islamic world and Western powers nourish extended racist discrimination and social exclusion against Muslim workers, “alien” or not, living in Europe.
For definitions of anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim racism this text mainly uses those provided by the European Fundamental rights Agency (FRA) with a few additions. Obviously they have not been conceived by so-called “revolutionaries” and do not have a great theoretical significance. They are clearly focused on discrimination: this legalistic and multiculturalist perspective deliberately neglects, or even completely erases, social inequalities, the division of society into classes, and refuses to take into account discriminations if they are not based on ethnic, racial, religious, or gender pecularities.
In addition, if you study in detail, from a historical and anthropological point of view, anti-Semitism and all the issues linked to the cultural, religious, economic and military contacts between Islam and the “Christian West”, contacts which have given birth to today’s anti-Muslim racism in Europe, then the differences between anti-Muslim racism and anti-Semitism appear so huge that you can no longer engage in any comparison – or only so from a purely demagogic angle. The too famous “competing memories” can lead you to compare the statistical figures of the Armenian, Jewish, Gypsy, Cambodian, Tutsi genocides with the number of victims of the transatlantic slave trade or the number of victims of colonialism; and then you will be inevitably led to establish a dangerous hierarchy between these evils. Or you can even go as far as suggesting that capitalist Europe is preparing a “muslimicide” analogous to Hitler’s Judeocide, as if European Muslims in 2015 are in a similar position to European Jews in the mid 30s …
This article deliberately takes a minimalist focus: the issue of democratic rights for all human beings, whatever are their origins and philosophical or religious beliefs. In this limited frame, the great advantage of the FRA definitions is that they focus on concrete, identifiable, phenomena, which we want to fight and defeat today, even if they don’t cover their more general socio-economic causes.
The polemics which have been launched between social scientists – and by extension between radical left activists – around the content of these two definitions often hide ideological issues (“Zionists” against “anti-Zionists”, secular Republicans against supporters of “multiculturalism”, sectarian atheists against intellectually dishonest believers, partisans of a binational State in Palestine and supporters of two separate states, etc.) and their main effect is to divide and paralyse the militants concerned with an efficient struggle against all forms of racism, here and now.
Anti-Semitism is an ideology based on the conscious, or unconscious, hostility to the “Jews”2 for religious, social, national, racial and/or economic motives. “Jews” may be actually Jewish by religion or culture or not. It does not matter for the anti-Semite; what matters for him is to attribute them negative or even sometimes positive qualities3 in order to discriminate and exclude them.
To this very general definition, one can add that anti-Zionism can sometimes, not always, lead to anti-Semitic conclusions4: when Jews are accused of exaggerating the Holocaust; when they are denied the right to self-determination, granted to all the other peoples living on this planet; when classic anti-Judaic and anti-Semitic clichés are used to characterise Israel or Israelis; when Israeli policy is systematically compared to that of the Nazis; when Jews are considered as a “fifth column”, a “lobby” of “cosmopolitan” people who are only loyal to Israel, etc.
Anti-Muslim racism (“Islamophobia” for the European Union and Organisation of Islamic Cooperation) is an ideology which sees Islam as a “monolithic bloc”, sharing “no common values with other cultures”, “inferior to the West and barbaric”, more “sexist” than all the other religions, “supportive of terrorism” and of an agressive politics leading to military conflicts and war.
Anti-Muslim racists justify “discriminatory practices towards Muslims and their exclusion from mainstream society”, practices which they want to enshrine in laws.
To the elements of this FRA definition, one can add that anti-Muslim racism is often mixed to (and fuses with) anti-Asian, anti-African, anti-Arab or anti-Turkish racism, up to the point it’s difficult to distinguish between them.
Today in the Western world, anti-Jew racism and anti-Muslim racism are not, most of the time, religiously motivated. They can mobilise “anti-capitalist” or “anti-imperialist” plot theories which denounce the role of “the Jews”, or present Islam as the main threat to human civilisation today. Anti-Semites and anti-Muslim racists hide their political agenda behind all sorts of radical, leftish or pseudo-humanist reasoning: some pretend they are particularly moved by the sufferings of the Palestinians; others that they only want to defend women’s rights and democracy; some pretend European Muslims should not be blamed for what happens in the Middle East and North Africa, but constantly blame European or American Jews for what happens in Israel; some consider Europeans Muslims should spend all their time condemning Daesh (ISIS), Boko Haram or al-Qaeda, but defend any military aggression of Tsahal, any “targeted murders” with their inevitable “collateral damages5”, or find lousy excuses for racist Israeli settlers or Israeli far right politicians. It’s rather easy to unmask these discourses, including in our own ranks, provided we open our eyes and are ready to lose… some “friends” or “comrades”.
Before analysing these phenomenon and their extent today, one has to recall some of the important political changes which started in the mid-1970’s and set the context for anti-Semitism and Muslim racism today. Read the rest of this entry »
Cover Story: “How Islamic is Islamic State?”
Mehdi Hasan argues that the Quran cannot be blamed for violent political extremism
No true Scotsman
is an informal fallacy
, an ad hoc
attempt to retain an unreasoned assertion. When faced with a counterexample
to a universal
claim (“no Scotsman would do such a thing”), rather than denying the counterexample or rejecting the original universal claim, this fallacy modifies the subject of the assertion to exclude the specific case or others like it by rhetoric
, without reference to any specific objective rule (“no true
Scotsman would do such a thing”
A simple rendition of the fallacy:
- Person A: “No Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.”
- Person B: “But my uncle Angus likes sugar with his porridge.”
- Person A: “Ah yes, but no true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.”
Mehdi’s article is here … so you can judge for yourself
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.’
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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