Saturday, August 31, 2013

Looking for a Church (part 2)

From Rev'd Dr Peter Mullen:

To His Grace Archbishop Thomas Cranmer of Canterbury –

I am desirous, My Lord, of such refuge that I might hear and receive the prayers and supplications of thy Book of Common Prayer. Many times have I sought but it availeth nothing. Last Sunday, My Lord, I did attend a church which back in the 16th century thou wouldst have called a real beaut. It betokeneth the less of decent order and the more of interior design. For where it accustometh us there be candles upon the Table of the Lord, most conveniently displayed, the one on the right hand and the one on the left, signifying and representing unto us the Epistle and the Holy Gospel, here the twain were set very delicately all upon one end, such that men might exclaim, “Behold, how dinky! Of a truth this belongeth in the Ideal Homes catalogue.”

The Minister essayed fair of speech, howbeit he was wont to intrude an exceeding loftiness of tongue which hath more of that delivered by the courtly players than that which is seemly in God’s dwelling-place, so that I did ponder in my heart what manner of salutation this might be. And when it cometh even unto that the prayer for the whole state of Christ’s church militant here in earth, he spake also sundry fancies and decorations to vex the ear, to wit, “especially the people of Syria and our economy here at home.” Other were there also among the superfluity of naughtinesses.

It is written, thy house shall be a house of prayer but these have turned it into a den of manifold and great adornment upon the pillars and even unto the roof thereof, behold gorgeous writings and upon the very walls also. So that them that were met together therein might murmur among themselves, “What abomination is this which standeth in the holy place?”

Moreover, Your Grace, I was astonied and sore discomfited for that it was proclaimed which Supper of the Lord should be upon the morrow, the “Priest” might be a woman. My Lord, how can these things be? And so I went my way sorrowing, for my soul waxed very heavy, and pondered within myself why, as scripture saith, I cain’t get no satisfaction. Then I came to myself and did anoint my face and gird up my loins and did purpose what I should do, even that I should cease not from walking up and down the earth seeking that comfort and resting place wherein the Ministers and Stewards of thy Holy Word do speak in a language understanded of the people and all things be accomplished in a decent order.

How long, O Lord, how long?

Rev'd Dr Peter Mullen is an author and former rector of St Michael's, Cornhill in the City of London.

‘Cheese-eating surrender monkeys’ deputised by the US Sheriff

From Mr Alexander Boot:

By joining the coalition with the USA and... well, the USA, François has done Americans a huge favour.

They can now resume referring to freedom fries by their original French name. They can again drink subtle wines with tannin in them, rather than the fruity products of Napa and Sonoma. They can even walk into a French restaurant without feeling guilty.

France is no longer the land of ‘cheese-eating surrender monkeys’. She’s ‘America’s oldest ally’.

That she is. Her alliance with America goes back to the insurgency against King George III, when the new friendship was first put on a firm anti-British foundation. “And the wind returneth again according to his circuits”, or what?

Britain, on the other hand, has lost her ‘deputy sheriff badge’. Dave’s Chancellor George is upset about this. Britain, he said, must undertake “national soul-searching” about her place in the world.

This shows, echo assorted commentators, that Britain is no longer a great imperial power. Right. So what else is new?

Britain lost that coveted status after the Second World War when she had to sell all her overseas possessions and gold to pay for the aid generously provided by the Americans. In fact, we paid off the last of the war-time debt only in 2006, which perhaps hints at the one-sided nature of the special relationship (American aid to Stalin came free of charge).

The Henry Jackson Society, the UK lapdog to the American neocons, bemoans the Commons vote, which they believe has damaged Britain’s reputation as a major global power. This shows that they have inherited not only the bellicosity of their American ringmasters, but also their ignorance and understated intellectual rigour.

The whole brouhaha proves yet again that the West, ably led by America, has lost its way. Cast adrift, it’s heading for the rocks, with Americans screaming ‘full speed ahead’.

To have an honourable place in the world, Dave and George, a country doesn’t have to be ‘great’. It has to be good.

In the old days, core European nations could be both. France and Holland, for example, were able to combine greatness and goodness in the 17th century, and England in the 18th. Now they more or less have to choose one or the other, especially if greatness is defined strictly in terms of riding shotgun to the USA.

Unlike greatness, goodness is a moral concept, not a geopolitical one. It involves upholding traditional values of Christendom, such as justice, respect for others, commitment to the sanctity of human life, honest work, family, pluralism, stern resolve to protect freedom.

It’s noticeable that Western nations that approximate goodness eschew greatness. Scandinavian countries, for example, last tried to pursue martial greatness in the 18th century, yet they still do have a place in the world. So does Switzerland, a highly militarised nation by the way. But the Swiss use their weapons as a guarantor of their own freedom – not as a greatness kit.

If Britain still were a Christian country, she wouldn’t be intoxicated by the heady brew of elusive greatness. She’d simply educate her children in the glory of our civilisation founded on our faith, work hard, trade with anyone wishing to do business, offer refuge to all Christians persecuted by tyrants and all Frenchmen impoverished by François.

And her statesmen wouldn’t whinge about Parliament refusing to play lickspittle to foreign socialists, congenitally committed to the characteristic belligerence of their creed, both the national and international kind.

Another endearing feature of socialists is the mendacity coded into their DNA. Desperate to express their testosteronal aggression, they are ever ready to falsify facts to suit their purpose.

Remember the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction that provided the casus belli for Tony ‘Yo’ Blair? Remember Saddam’s complicity in 11 September that got America up in arms?

Those turned out to be red herrings, and the same may well turn out to be the case with the Syrian gas attack. We’d be well advised to take any information coming out of government circles with a whole shaker of salt, especially when the information looks precise.

Any adman will tell you that seemingly exact figures can be used for all sorts of nefarious purposes. For example, John Kerry declared that the precise number of casualties in the gas attack was 1,429, including 426 children.

How did he arrive at such precision in the total chaos of civil war, with a myriad of factions fighting house-to-house? No civil war in history, in fact no war tout court, has afforded opportunities for such actuarial accuracy. Are they sure that all those people were killed by nerve gas? Have they examined every one of the 1,429 bodies? Can we see the results of the post-mortems?

Lies, of course, are a small price to pay for greatness. Goodness is something else again – it has to be paid for in the coin of honesty. For all those Baracks, Daves, Françoises and Tonies this makes it too dear at the price.

Alexander Boot is a writer on political, cultural and religious themes

Could Islam produce a Martin Luther King?

From Brother Ivo:

As we ponder the significance of Dr Martin Luther King's famous 'I have a Dream' speech, the dreadful situation engulfing the Middle East sees an increasingly grim outlook for the poor, the weak, and the non-combatant. The rich can often escape; the committed will thrill to the lure of martyrdom rhetoric; and the ambitious will climb the bloody pole of power with their eyes on a prize of their own imaginings. In this all too familiar scenario we see an echo of conflicts in other parts of the world: however dreadful, there is little we see here that has not occurred elsewhere. Yet, somehow, the Middle Eastern situation seems especially hopeless.

Europe has little basis for feeling superior. Before we had Srebrenica, we had the Holocaust, and long before that, the Thirty Years War, the Wars of Religion, and even the Hundred Years War. Many in England have forgotten - or more likely never knew - that on a per capita basis, the English Civil War was more bloody than either the American Civil War or even the First World War.

It does not make the Middle Eastern conflicts any less appalling, but all commentary needs to proceed with caution, perspective and historical awareness.

Wars end in one of three ways. One side secures outright victory; the warring factions become war weary and prepared to compromise; or an outside overwhelming force suppresses the combatants.

The resources and religious implications of the Middle East render it peculiarly sensitive and intractable. The Arab League, the United Nations and so called 'International Law' have consistently proved themselves unfit for purpose in such a context, and the world's only superpower has a leader who is either too vacillatingly cerebral, obsessed with domestic campaigning, or weak. As some have observed, at least when his predecessor drew a line in the sand, everyone knew the consequences of crossing it.

When the President went to Cairo, puffed up by his Nobel Peace Prize, and offered to grasp the hands of despots if only they would unclench their fists, they did so - only to offer two fingers. Similarly, Tony Blair has been invisible in his his 'Middle East Envoy' role. Western charisma carries no weight in the region.

And so the agony continues, and, as we have seen in Iraq and Afghanistan, even intervention does not mean the suffering ceases. One can suppress macro-scale violence, yet in the modern world the devasting micro-violence of the car bomb, the suicide bomber, and the IED can continue to wreak havoc on the innocent bystander.

We need to pray for anyone bearing responsibility or carrying expectation to improve the situation, while doing all we can to limit expectation. Confidence in our capacity to influence for the good may not be an asset.

Yet even if we were able to end the more appalling expressions of violence, it would probably prove temporary, for it is not guns or bombs or even chemical weapons that wage war, but men (usually men). And so, whatever the secularists may think, the key to creating peace in that region lies not politically, diplomatically, legally, or rhetorically. It is theological.

This is a region that runs on God-talk. The secularists may not care for it and bemoan that reality, but they need to lay their prejudices aside, recognising that not only do we have to start where we are, but that in this context Richard Dawkins has a readership of about 4 and dares not transpose his ideas into an Islamic context. Unlike Dr King, he fears to follow his beliefs into the areas of maximum danger, even from the comparable safety of England.

It may be that a similar fear grips the theologians of the region and one cannot altogether blame them, although in a region seemingly awash with martyrs for war, it is disappointing to have so few in authority willing to risk it for peace.

This leads us to ask why this might be.

Hinduism has its Gandhi, Buddhism its Dalai Lama, Christianity its Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela. Does Islam have the capacity to bring forth its Martin Luther King?

Brother Ivo poses the question in that specific way for a reason. There is no doubt that Muslims - the vast majority at home and abroad - want to live in peace for themselves, their families and neighbours every bit as much as those of other religions and none. There are war-zone junkies in the ranks of fanatics, mercenaries, the press corps, and some politicians, but exposure to the reality of such conflict cures most of the malady.

It is one thing to speak in the abstract about wishing for peace, but it is quite another to hew it from the rough stone of entrenched opinion, self-interest and fear which are found on the ground. It is often through digging deep to find common foundation that lasting progress is made.

The key to ending the social acceptability of racial segregation in America's Deep South was the grasp of religious texts common to both the black and white communities, who had long tolerated the lop-sided doctrine of 'separate but equal'. Both sides had long simply accepted the status quo. Unlike the Middle Eastern situation, the problem was chronic but not acute. A gradual, measured destabilisation was possible in a calculated way.

A crucial part of the measured destabilisation was the use of the scriptures accepted by both sides of the racial divide.

The wisdom of Dr King, which was the reason for the success of the movement, lay in his selection of theological role model. He did not invoke the strength of Samson, the wisdom of Solomon or the victories of Gideon or Joshua. Inspired by the more recent successful example of Gandhi, he invoked the power of the suffering servant, and, like Gandhi and Christ himself, he laid down his life for his people.

Mohammed didn't.

That is a simple historical fact, and Brother Ivo does not mean it to be offensive but to make plain that this does make a difference in the way these things may have to be worked out.

Jesus and the Moor of Venice might have counselled their followers to 'keep up your bright swords, for the dew will rust them', but Mohammed offered a very different role model. He was not only a religious leader but became a warrior prince. Brother Ivo has seen the sword of Mohammed; it is on display in Istanbul. Nobody ever saw the sword of Jesus Christ. He may have used a sword metaphorically; Mohammed was more practical.

Furthermore, the message of Mohammed was submission - not spiritually in the quietness of one's heart, but publicly, practically, overtly and politically. It is submission to a God distanced from the grubbiness of this world, untainted by the all-too-human blood, sweat and tears of Calvary. Jesus was the willing victim, never God's executioner.

Mohammed is also presented as the very model of how a Muslim should conduct himself and rule his family. This makes it very tempting and easy for the less-than-humble and the less-than-peaceful to take up arms and demand of his enemy not compromise, but submission.

Matters are made more complex by the divisions within Islam of its divergent understandings of authority, which were fought early within Christian history but remain even more acute within Islam. Today, Roman Catholics and Protestants generally find much common ground in the modern world. They do not range against each other in power blocs anymore. We may witness this at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem where the competing Christian zealots have entrusted the keys to a Muslim family. Generally we view this as absurdist theatre; not as a casus belli.

We are likely to find an ecumenical mixture of Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Protestant Evangelicals and Anglicans on both sides of theological disputes of the day.

It is therefore an easier context in which to seek the theological bedrock on which to establish discussion and arrive at a modus vivendi if not agreement.

Gandhi's gift to Martin Luther King was the insight that civil rights might be advanced against some civil authorities by disobeying law, but that disobedience had lawful consequences. The civil disobedience of Gandhi and Dr King was predicated upon an acceptance of suffering: it was the suffering which transformed the rebellion from crime to moral act. This is frequently unknown or overlooked by current protesters, who frequently resent and deny the legitimacy of the exercise of law against them.

Common ground and respect for the established basis of law was and is a sine qua non of successful civil disobedience.

Whatever the many and varied faults of the British Raj and 1950s America, both were philosophically capable of being shamed by the unjust conviction of the leader making peaceful claims for a morally just cause.

The prospect of an Islamic Martin Luther King arising in the current Middle East has many hurdles to overcome, not least of which is context. There is a relative paucity of regimes that would respond robustly but peacefully to such a figure - at least in the way the British and US governments did in these instances. There is still a sharp sectarian divide rubbed raw by recent atrocity on all sides.

Brother Ivo is therefore sceptical that we shall see such a figure arise any time soon. He cautions himself that it took a very long time for figures of the stature of Gandhi, Dr King and Nelson Mandela to arise, even in cultures where the necessary conditions were emerging. We must therefore not lose heart, but remind ourselves that, with God, nothing is impossible.

Brother Ivo is the Patron Saint of lawyers.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Kairos chaos in the Church

From Rev'd Nick Gray:

This year’s August Bank Holiday Greenbelt Christian festival saw the launch of “Kairos Britain”, a new and avowedly pro-Palestinian Christian organisation. Drawing its inspiration from a 2009 document produced by the Sabeel ecumenical movement of Palestinian churches, Kairos Britain joins a number of prominent Christian groups that have in recent years bought into the international boycott movement (Boycotts, Divestment & Sanctions, or “BDS”) calling for action against Israel.

Where some Christian groups working in the Middle East have added political activism to their existing projects and policies in the region, Kairos Britain has its very foundation in a pseudo-religious political movement (Sabeel) that is more anti-Israel than pro-Palestinian.

In 2005, Palestinian activists put out a call internationally for a campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel. The stated aim is to force Israel to withdraw both soldiers and settlers from the area known as the West Bank (biblical Judea and Samaria). The inspiration for this campaign was the success of similar international sanctions against South Africa, which led to the ending of apartheid. Of course, in order to join up the dots, the BDS movement seeks to paint Israel as an “apartheid state” - something only a little objective research shows to be manifestly untrue.

The BDS campaign has proved to be a complete failure in terms of economic pressure on Israel. Trying to stop shoppers buying a few items of produce from Israeli settlements hardly measures against the billions of dollars of trade carried on with Israel by the international community in Israel’s high-tech, medical and agricultural developments! What the BDS movement is good at, however, is affecting attitudes negatively towards Israel. Regrettably, BDS output is marked by bias, distortion of history and deceptive assertions that have no foundation in truth or reality.

In their desire to fight for justice for the oppressed, some Christian organisations working in the Middle East have absorbed the language, attitudes and tactics of the secular BDS groups. This dangerously compromises Christian standards and witness. The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), for example, is one of the most prominent of the British BDS groups. Stand For Peace, an inter-religious (not Christian) anti-extremist website, has produced a detailed analysis of the PSC and says,
“the PSC is an extremist, racist organisation, which tolerates homophobia and other forms of illiberalism. Well-meaning organizations that collaborate with the PSC on the basis of a presumed mutual belief in human rights, democracy and peace, should be informed of the PSC’s true nature; all political and human rights organisations that wish to demonstrate probity should take steps to distance themselves from the PSC’s anti-peace and counter-cohesive message.”
Why would any “well-meaning” Christian organisation want to be identified with such a group? Yet several are and Christians can often be seen at PSC rallies and supporting them in different ways. Rev Stephen Sizer is a prominent pro-Palestinian evangelical minister and has been a speaker at a number of PSC events. It is a dilution of the Church’s witness to be identified with such an extremist, secular group.

Christian groups that have allied themselves with the secular BDS movement also show a disturbing degree of imbalance in the way they approach issues concerning the Palestinians and Israel. Commonly much is made of alleged Israeli mistreatment of Palestinians, to the extent that Israel is accused of “ethnically cleansing” whole areas Palestinians (with no convincing evidence). No mention is made, however, of the suffering inflicted on Palestinians by their own leaders; of the massive corruption, misuse of international aid, torturing of prisoners or the incitement of a whole generation to hatred against the one nation the Palestinians are supposed to be making peace with! Nor is mention made of the thousands of rockets that have been launched against Israel from the Palestinian enclave of Gaza.

Much is made of the evil of Israeli “illegal settlements” on alleged Palestinian territory with no mention of the 96,000 Palestinians earning good wages working in Israel (including 20,000 working in West Bank settlements). Demands are made for the cessation of settlement activity by Israel with no thought to the employment vacuum and suffering that would be left by their removal. Ignored also are inconvenient counter-arguments by top legal minds that Israeli occupation of the West Bank is completely legitimate.

In November 2012, Christian Aid held a conference in Gateshead on “Peace And Justice In The Holy Land”. A non-Christian commentator (Denis McEoin) who is an expert on Middle East affairs, wrote a detailed account of the proceedings. In his opening paragraphs he says,
“The conference was, from beginning to end, a total travesty of those ideals [of peace and justice]; it was in all respects one-sided, often dangerously so. One after another, the speakers all presented the pro-Palestinian narrative and arguments derived from Palestinian political theory. Not once was an Israeli or Jewish narrative even mentioned, where such a narrative would differ in substantial terms from the Palestinian one, yet Israel was on several occasions ridiculed and condemned.”
Just before this conference was held, a coalition of 22 cross-Europe NGOs released the report Trading Away Peace: How Europe Helps Sustain Illegal Israeli Settlements. The report was basically an encouragement for Europe to increase boycotts and other sanctions against Israel until she lifts her “illegal occupation” of the West Bank. NGO Monitor condemned the coalition in a strongly-worded response to the 35 page paper entitled How Biased Political NGOs Fuel Conflict. This from a well-respected international organisation, going on to say,
“...this political advocacy NGO network, which receives massive funding from European governments, markets a selective and one-sided narrative in order to demonize Israel. This is part of the “Durban strategy” of using highly distorted versions of the conflict and allegations of “war crimes” in order to isolate Israel – a strategy that these NGOs and their allies have employed for more than a decade.”
We should be very concerned at this because the 22-strong coalition of “Biased Political NGOs” includes Christian Aid, The Quakers and the Methodist church. This again reveals Christian groups identifying with un-biblical values and attitudes and is damaging to our Christian witness to the world. Christian NGOs should surely not allow themselves to be in a position where they are the objects of such severe censure from a secular organisation!

The launch of Kairos Britain at the weekend was accompanied by an “occupation game” for children invented by Embrace The Middle East (used to be The Bible Lands Society), a Christian charity that does some amazing educational work among the Middle East’s poor. Using a simulated board game to take children through “checkpoints” and other barriers to their movement, the game presented by CEO Jeremy Moodey abuses a very serious subject and only serves to trivialise the experiences of ordinary people while demonising Israel once again. No mention here of Muslim persecution of Christians in Bethlehem or of the consistent suppression of free speech by the Palestinian leaders; just “nasty old Israel” at it again. Children should be allowed to grow up at least, before people try to indoctrinate them!

The same imbalance in treatment of the two protagonists in this conflict can be seen in the output of the World Council of Churches’ “Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme to Palestine and Israel” (EAPPI). While claiming not to take sides, their practice of hovering around Israeli security checkpoints in tasteful coloured vests is solely with the aim of capturing examples of brutality by Israeli soldiers. Why not stand outside the Palestinian prison in Jericho and complain about the torture of prisoners there, or show support for Baptist Pastor Naim Khoury in Bethlehem whose church has been fire-bombed by fellow Palestinians?

Kairos Britain sadly follows in well-trodden paths; distorting history, making emotive claims without supporting evidence and, on a theological level, supporting a Palestinian interpretation of “Liberation Theology” that only sees itself as a victim. (What happened to “more than conquerors”, Romans 8)? For example, their website page on the history of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict includes the statement:
“In 1967, during a war with the neighbouring Arab states, Israel conquered the West Bank and Gaza Strip...”
This is an unbelievably skewed interpretation of known historical facts. Presented with a number of unequivocal actions showing that an attack was imminent from Egypt and Syria, Israel carried out pre-emptive attacks on both in June 1967. Frantic diplomatic pleading with Jordan not to join the conflict failed and Jerusalem was attacked by Jordanian forces from the (illegally occupied) West Bank. Fighting back defensively on three fronts and massively out-numbered, Israel succeeded in securing strategically defensible borders against her three attackers. After the dust settled, she held the Golan Heights, the West Bank and the whole of the Sinai peninsula.

Besides this, the Kairos Britain website inevitably excludes Israel’s immediate offer to return all the territory she had taken in the war in return for peace. It also excludes the vital fact that this offer was categorically refused by the whole Arab League with the statement, "no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it." Please tell me, then, who is responsible for Israel’s continued hold on the West Bank and the Golan Heights; who is refusing to make peace with whom?

Kairos Britain, Amos trust, Christian Aid and the other “pro-Palestinian” Christian organisations draw their inspiration (and most of their catch-phrases) from the Kairos Palestine Document: A Moment of Truth, published in 2009 by the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem. This groups speaks for the traditional Christian denominations, but includes no representation from the newer Palestinian Evangelical churches. It is an expression of a Palestinian version of Catholic Liberation Theology, which politicises the plight of the poor and oppressed and almost sanctifies their victimhood.

The Kairos Document is more political than spiritual in its tenor and places the whole blame for the difficulties of Palestinian Christians on Israel. Never once in the document is the Palestinian Authority censured for its human rights abuses, its incitement to hatred of Israel and Jews or its provocation of security restrictions by sending terrorists to attack Israelis and rockets from Gaza. These are high on the list of causes for the problems faced by both Christian and Muslim Palestinians. For a comprehensive breakdown of discrepancies in the Kairos Document, see this Christian blog post, published as the Document was fresh off the press.

If there is a “Kairos moment” for the Church in this arena it is to commit to presenting a more balanced face; engaging compassionately and genuinely with both sides in this seemingly endless conflict that has brought so much pain and death to both Palestinians and Israelis and acknowledging that both sides have a story to tell.

Rev Nick Gray is a Pentecostal minister of nearly 30 years standing. Previously, he was an Army Officer and served three tours in Northern Ireland. He travels frequently to Israel and the disputed territories and writes for several online publications on Middle East issues.

Christian Middle East Watch is dedicated to presenting an objective and factual perspective on the Middle East, and particularly on the long and seemingly intractable conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs. Most current CMEW output is on their blog.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Christians may be bombed, for that is convention. Muslims may not be gassed, for that is taboo

While the Prime Minister does his parliamentary arithmetic and establishes that there's no majority appetite for immediately launching cruise missiles into Damascus, the Archbishop of Canterbury focuses on the plight of Syria's Christians, who are already paying the price for being strangers in a foreign land.

They have, of course, been there since.. well, the time of Christ. But so have they in Bethlehem, Benghazi, Homs and Cairo. A century ago, Christians constituted 20 per cent of the regional population; now it is nearer five per cent, and falling. Each time 'the West' intervenes, it is the indigenous Christians who pay the price - often with their lives. We crushed Saddam; the Christians paid. We ejected Gaddafi; the Christians paid. We supported ousting Mubarak; the Christians paid. After Assad..? Well, Archbishop Justin has already spoken:

"It's absolutely clear that Christians in Syria are being persecuted," he said, speaking at 'Save Syria', hosted by Open Doors last month at the Church of England's General Synod in York.

Yes, even before the heinous use of chemical weapons captivated the world's attention, Syria's Christians were 'being chased out in large numbers'. But HM Government was not overly concerned about that. And by 'chased out', the Archbishop meant systematically slaughtered - one by one; cleansed utterly from the region by warring factions of Islamists. But the Prime Minister was content to 'stand by' and 'do nothing'.

"I would encourage people to pray very strongly," the Archbishop said. "Continue to pray and to support this kind of campaign and to write to MPs asking them to think very carefully about the wisdom of supplying further weapons to an area of such complex and extreme violence."

Alistair Burt, Foreign Office Minister for the Middle East and North Africa, said: "What the petition tells us is that not one side or the other should win, just that the killing has to stop for normal life to return and it is the biggest determination of the UK government to do all we can to assist that."

Not one side or the other should win? That is HM Government's foreign policy as far as it relates to Syria? That'll work.

The Archbishop promised to speak out about the plight of Syrian Christians in meetings with government figures. But nothing happened until President Assad (ostensibly) used Sarin nerve gas against women and children. Whether he did or not is a matter of some conjecture. He may have done; it is perhaps even highly likely that he has. And it is a grievous moral offence against God and humanity. It isn't that the death of Syria's Muslims is somehow less acceptable than the death of Christians: it is the manner of their dying. Christians may be bombed, beaten and hacked to death, for that it convention; Muslims may not be gassed, for that is taboo.

And so our intervention is paused, awaiting Parliamentary assent. In the meantime, the Church of England warns with one voice. Raining missiles on Damascus may 'send a message', but it will not save innocent people. You only have to consider the plight of Egypt's Copts to see the future for Syria's Christians. Churches burn, homes are looted, men abducted, girls raped, and mobs armed with axes hack them to pieces.

The more we 'intervene', the more Christians are marginalised. In Syria, they are happier living under the the Shia Alawite dictatorship of President Bashar al-Assad than under those we call the 'rebels' or 'opposition forces', who are, in fact, disparate groups of Al Qaeda-affiliated, Wahhabi-Islamist jihadists.

There used to be 80,000 Christians in Homs. The last one was murdered almost a year ago. Only five months ago in Benghazi, Libya, 60 Christians were rounded up by extremist vigilantes. Some were tortured; one was murdered. The media didn't stream the horrors live into our living rooms: HM Government 'stood by' and 'did nothing'.

We liberated Iraq for Christians to be cleansed. We bombed Libya for Christians to be persecuted. We 'stand by' and watch a military coup in Egypt for Christians to be oppressed and exiled. We 'send a message' to Syria for the exodus to continue.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The road to bombing Damascus

If I speak, I am condemned.
If I stay silent, I am damned!
So sings Jean Valjean in Les Misérables, as he contemplates the consequences of action and inaction. Foreign policy fallout similarly fluctuates between condemnation and damnation, that is to say you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't. Intervening in Syria may agitate a complex web of interconnectedness with unknown and unknowable consequences. Not intervening in Syria may do precisely the same.

The problem we have is that President Obama warned President Assad that there would be 'serious consequences' if he crossed a red line in his civil war; that red line being the use of chemical weapons. It appears that such weapons have been deployed, so, having threatened a serious consequence, the US would look rather foolish, not to say impotent, if it chose now not to act. Indeed, it sends a message to tyrants and dictators all over the world that Obama's bark is worse than his bite. Indeed, he doesn't bite at all; his gums just suck.

And yet it has not been established beyond doubt that Assad was responsible. We know the 'rebels' possess and have already deployed sarin nerve gas to devastating effect. It is not clear at all that Assad's regime has done so. And before we blow him to kingdom come we really ought to make sure that the intelligence report hasn't been cribbed from Saif Gaddafi's PhD thesis at the LSE.

If those who oppose Assad are prepared to used chemical weapons against innocent civilians - women and children - they are at least as morally repugnant as Assad's regime, if it be found culpable. William Hague keeps talking about 'moral outrage' as the basis for 'proportionate' military retaliation. The fact that 100,000 Syrians have already died is presumably less of a moral outrage than the hundreds who died a few days ago as a consequence of nerve gas. Morality and outrage are slippery things. In an age of emoting relativism, they are not the most reliable justification for declaring war.

So, in the words of Jean Valjean, if we speak to Assad with cruise missiles, we risk condemning hundreds of innocents to death (for missiles are just as indiscriminate as nerve gas, and the Christians are bound to be systematically 'cleansed' in retribution). We also risk the possibility of Assad turning his formidable Russian-stoked firepower on Israel, in the hope of widening the conflict and uniting the Ummah against the pariah Jewish State.

Yet, if we stay silent, hundreds and possibly thousands more Syrian women and children are damned.

'By faith Abel, though dead, still speaks,' wrote the author to the Hebrews (11:4), alluding to Genesis where we are told that Abel's blood 'cries out from the ground' (4:10). The reason he still speaks is that God did not heed the cry: He did not exact from Cain the full satisfaction that nature demanded - He sent him to live in exile. alienated from his culture and shielded from judgment. Every judgment passed in Cain's new civilisation leaves Abel crying out: its justice will never be true justice, but a form of satisfaction intertwined with bouts of of guilt and regret.

Offended society cries out for satisfaction, and is damned with guilt when it acts. The mark of Cain is symbolic of our perpetual disquiet about a so-called civilisation which depends upon uncivilised violence as a means of satisfying the cry for justice. We cannot let Abel remain unvindicated.

Syria is a killing field. But it is not our civilisation: it belongs to the children of Ishmael and the followers of Mohammed. It is not clear why other Muslim nations are prepared to 'stand by' and 'do nothing' while their brothers and sisters are being slaughtered by their brothers and sisters. Why is the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation not leading a response to this? Where are the declarations of condemnation? Why are they waiting for a display of 'Western' power and might?

For the 'West' to command moral assent, it must embody a formal commitment to righting wrongs. Barack Obama and David Cameron appear persuaded of the fact that Assad has committed a grievous crime, and so must be punished. They have the intelligence report: we do not. And so the economic powers will bomb the ancient City of Damascus - irrespective of whatever contrary voices are raised in Parliament - in order to defend honour, justice and freedom. Innocents will die horrific deaths, but 'collateral damage' is to be expected; it is justifiable.

Abel cries out from the ground, and must be avenged.

Not in His Grace's name.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

God is a Liberal Democrat?

From Mr Alexander Boot:

Whenever complacency sets in and one begins to think one has heard everything, our politicians provide an instant cure. Especially when God Almighty comes up in conversation.

Exponents of vile political creeds have always tried to co-opt the deity to their cause. For example, in1794, having murdered hundreds of thousands, France’s Committee of Public Safety decreed worship of a Supreme Being.

This wasn’t the personal God of the Christians, you understand, but the Cartesian clock-winder, the hands-off chap who got the world going and then lost all interest. He then regained some of it when, according to Robespierre, the time came to do mass murder:

“Is it not he whose immortal hand, engraving on the heart of man the code of justice and equality, has written there the death sentence of tyrants?” Of course it is. Who else could have possibly inspired Robespierre and his friends to drown the Vendée in blood and wipe out whole social classes?

Then back in the ‘60s we were told that Jesus was a revolutionary, a sort of Che Guevara of Galilee. Didn’t Jesus say, “I came not to send peace, but a sword”? There you go then: Jesus came with a sword, so did Che. What other proof do you need? They are both revolutionaries.

Yet the contemporaneous flower children disagreed. Jesus, according to them, taught making not war, but love. God is love, isn’t he? So is sex. Ergo, syllogistically speaking, God is sex. Every time we go at it like rabbits we assert our faith.

Hopeless reactionaries among you may feel that such lines of thought are somewhat remiss in theological subtlety. But that only goes to show that you (and, regretfully, I) are fossils who don’t belong in the modern world.

If you have doubts on that score, the point was made abundantly clear by Minister of State for Pensions Steve Webb. In his introduction to the book Liberal Democrats Do God, Steve claimed God is a fully paid-up member of his party.

“The most fundamental reason why Christians should feel at home in the Liberal Democrats is that the character of God, as revealed in the Christian Gospel, would suggest that God must be a liberal,” wrote Steve. “This assertion will shock or offend some, but I believe that there is no other conclusion that can be drawn from a reading of the New Testament.”

Much as I hate to disappoint any of our rulers, I feel neither shocked nor offended. My feeling is more akin to that of stepping into something disgusting on a pavement, especially on a hot day.

The stench became even stronger when the Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg countered that “God is a Somerset Conservative”. At least some of his tongue was in cheek, which wasn’t the case with Steve Webb.

What’s really worrying is that he was dead serious when writing this drivel: “Those who recognise in the Gospel a deep reverence for human freedom and self-determination will find a natural home in the Liberal Democrats.”

Supporting this vulgarity even on its own terms would require all the mental agility for which our politicians are so justly famous. Even that faculty would come up short without the help of another one with which they are so richly endowed: mendacity.

The LibDems are, not to cut too fine a point, socialists. As such, they support and preach the very opposite of “human freedom and self-determination”.

The defining urge of all socialists is to increase the power of the state over the individual. To that end the LibDems have always come out in favour of extortionist redistributive taxation and ad infinitum growth of government bureaucracy (Steve Webb, for example, voted for increasing the rate of VAT).

At the same time the LibDems are doctrinally committed to undermining England’s ancient constitution, the time-proven guarantor of the very freedom Webb extols. Thus he voted for removing hereditary peers from the House of Lords and making that chamber wholly elected.

While they are at it, the LibDems seek to destroy every institution on which our liberties and “self-determination” rest. The family, for example, is the traditional first line of defence against tyranny. Hence our champions of the Christian notion of freedom (including Steve Webb!) supported the anti-family homomarriage bill with unrelenting enthusiasm.

At the same time, the LibDems express their commitment to national self-determination by scheming to turn Britain into a province of the European Union. Given half the chance, they’d draw us into the euro even now, when the calamitous consequences of this are clear to anyone without obvious learning difficulties.

It’s no wonder that the party is led by a proud, self-proclaimed atheist. What is somewhat surprising is Steve Webb’s sheer bold-faced effrontery.

Do what you must, chaps, go on destroying everything that makes England England. You have the power to do so, and no one who reads the papers will deny you have the inclination.

But please, please leave God alone. He operates in a realm infinitely higher than the one in which you play your silly little games.

This isn’t something you can understand, so concentrate on things that come naturally. Like talking gibberish on every subject in His creation.

Alexander Boot is a writer on political, cultural and religious themes

Monday, August 26, 2013

Assad is a devil but his opponents are all demons too

From Rev'd Dr Peter Mullen:

If this nice sunny weather holds up for a few more days, it will be just perfect for Armageddon. Is that crackpot Obama really about to fire Cruise missiles at Syria? Is this past-master of slippery prolixity – by the side of whom Neil Kinnock himself was a pathetic amateur - at last going to stop talking and actually do something? This is the bloke, you remember, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize barely two minutes after coming down from his Inauguration podium. Syria is a ball game several leagues higher than Libya, Iraq or even Afghanistan. And Damascus is not far from Megiddo and the Bekaa valley, the prophesied scene of the Last Battle.

Many commentators say that, for its own reasons, the USA has been itching for a small war for years. They tried to have one with North Korea earlier this year, until they were told to back off by the Chinese. Obama seems about to plunge them – and us all – into a very big one. But why should any international statesman embark on such irresponsibility? “The use of chemical weapons is a red line,” he replies. Well, chemical weapons are very nasty indeed, but so are all weapons. When did you last come across a friendly hand grenade or a genial cluster bomb? But already 100,000 people have been killed in the Syrian civil war, so surely any red lines were crossed months ago? Assad is armed to the teeth with sophisticated missiles supplied by Russia and he has the declared support of that country which has strategic interests in Syria, including the use of a warm water port by its navy.

Everyone agrees that Assad is a nasty piece of work and guilty of terrible crimes against his own people. But take a look at the people opposing him. These number thousands of barbaric terrorists, jihadists, Salafists, members of psychopathic Sunni sects, would-be martyrs for Islam, more than half in love with uneaseful death. And if Blair was Bush’s poodle, Cameron and Hague are Obama’s lapdogs. When Vladimir Putin visited London recently for talks with David Cameron, he asked a pertinent question: “These people murder their opponents, cut them open, remove their livers and eat them. Are these the sorts of men you seek to supply with arms, Mr Prime Minister?”

The consequences of an attack on Syria are incalculable, and there is no rational foundation for such a reckless exploit. Assad is a devil but his opponents are all demons too. Leave them to it then, for if Satan be divided against Satan, how shall his kingdom stand? We need to examine the realpolitik background to this perilous scenario. All over the Middle East, North Africa, Somalia, Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan there is a militant Islamic insurgency. In Syria this is at its most intense and dangerous because it is the proxy likely to provoke a colossal war between those regional rivals Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Iran. The Saudis are already sending military aid and fighters to depose Assad, while the Iranians are supporting him through the machinations of that barbarously and wonderfully named organisation, Hizbollah, the party of God.

Add to this nice little prospect Russia and the USA, world powers armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons, and apocalypse cannot be left off the agenda. It’s been a lovely, long hot summer – just like 1914.

Rev'd Dr Peter Mullen is an author and former rector of St Michael's, Cornhill in the City of London.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

"I Have a Dream" - 50 years on

From Brother Ivo:

Every generation carries into its future defining attitudes from its formative years, which continue to mould their lives. For some it would have been the Spanish Civil War, for others, the fall of the Berlin Wall, or the Miners' strike. Various wars will be foremost for some, or maybe the rise of Feminism. 

For those of Brother Ivo's years, the life-forming events were unquestionably those of the Civil Rights movement, which is why the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I have a Dream" speech will produce a full range of reminiscences and interpretations, not least because many of those who shape the media agenda will be of that same generation.

We shall be told what it means by those who were not there, or of those times and the battle to frame the narrative will doubtless deform Dr King's legacy. If the commentators are not anchoring their interpretation of the speech in Christian witness, do not believe them.

If you have never heard the speech in its entirety, or have not heard it for some time, it richly repays the 10 short minutes it takes to listen to it (HERE).

It still brings a tear to the eye.

Brother Ivo's youth was punctuated, appropriately enough, with black-and-white images from America's Deep South in newspapers and on television. He saw the dignified peaceful demonstrations of soberly dressed black men walking with sandwich boards declaring simply "I am a man".

He watched the police riot on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma Alabama, and those images and the peaceful responses to them have proved highly influential throughout his life. Politically and personally the lessons of those times became foundational.

This is not to say that he is uncritical of Dr King who had his human failings, as do we all, yet this is not the time to dwell on those. He was an important moral leader and he should be studied and honoured for that.

Brother Ivo's long standing respect led him to Atlanta Georgia, to Dr King's grave, home, and the Ebenezer Baptist Church where he ministered. For his 50th birthday, he travelled the Deep South visiting and worshipping with the Dexter Ave Church from which the Montgomery bus boycott was organised. It stands in the shadow of the Alabama State Capitol building and was constructed with bricks discarded from the construction of the road leading up to it. There is much symbolism in that.

He stayed with a retired priest who told of leading a Montgomery church in those days where the congregation was split equally between segregationists and integrationists. This gave meaning to Dr King's insistence that segregation held black and white alike in bondage and put it in human context.

The Dexter Ave Church is not at all that one might expect for such a radical powerhouse. The gospel was preached without politics. The gentlemen all wore dark suits; the ladies wore hats and white lace gloves. Each child was well behaved and in his/her Sunday best. One could have been in Worcester circa 1955.

When Brother Ivo first visited to find the times of services, he witnessed a remarkable illustration of the true nature of Dr King's legacy, if properly understood. Below the church is a mural commemorating inspirational figures of the Civil Rights movement.

As he looked at this, the church secretary arrived and began explaining its symbolism to a young group of mainly black schoolchildren who were visiting from out of town. She asked if any of them truanted from school, and when some of them admitted to it, she suddenly rounded passionately on them. Did they not realise, she insisted, that they were betraying Dr King's legacy?

"You all want a $1000 suit and $400 trainers," she said. "But what if you have them, but have no education? You're just a dummy walking around in a $1000 dollar suit and $400 trainers!"

Dr King would surely have approved. His father had brought him up with highly conservative values within Atlanta's black middle class: from his earliest years he had urged his son to get himself "an education, a mortgage and a vote".

If one listens to the speech, its only sense of entitlement is an entitlement to a fair participation within civic society. Not only is it steeped in the Exodus narrative, but also plainly rooted in Christian ideas of justice, peace, judgement and redemption - even of one's enemies. MLK's dream is to see the fulfilment of the promise for all people which was set forth in the US Constitution by those who knew that those ideals embodied the promises of our Creator God.

The pursuit of happiness is promised; the automatic achievement of it is not. MLK specifically values the good character of a person, and accepts that our characters can and should be judged. There is no compromised cultural relativism here. He insists upon good order and self discipline the better to win over his opponents.

There is so much paradox in Dr King's legacy today. Many of those celebrating his speech will have departed from his Christian witness and taken the path of polarisation, confrontation and disrespect. Conversely, though he never lived to see it, some of his fiercest opponents lived to change their hearts and minds - notably Governor George Wallace who toured the South to express open repentance of his defence of segregation. The Rev'd Jesse Jackson subsequently met with Gov Wallace and has publicly acknowledged his repentance (see HERE, 28mins in).

The key to such redemption is to be found within the "I Have a Dream" speech itself.

Where the conservative Dr King differed from subsequent leaders was in his profound understanding that the way to resolve conflict lay in locating what was good in his opponent. He treasured the US Constitution and made white America live up to its - and their - values. He used what was good about his opponent to reform where he was lacking.

When he wrote that "a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a moulder of consensus", he identified a critical attribute of leadership - one frequently missing in today's polarised politics on both sides of the Atlantic. Those who seek to gain and retain power by triangulating voting blocs - the better to force through their policies with a majority of one - are the antithesis of Dr King's brand of leadership, which sought to find common ground and community of interest. Often this was discovered within a biblical frame of reference.

Dr King insisted on non-violence for both moral and practical reasons. It preserved the possibility of moulding consensus, and that necessarily implies engagement with and adapting to an opponent's legitimate fears and interests. He believed that all our futures depended upon harnessing the good rather than unleashing the evil.

Because the speech is so iconic, it is too easily and cheaply referenced. It was the speech which broke segregation in its formal sense, but its deeply religious methodology has been overlooked in the admiration of its rhetoric and the tragic fact that Dr King perished soon afterwards.

The methodology lived on, however, in the witness and ministry of Dr King's father, 'Daddy King', who was, if anything, the finer man. His autobiography is warmly recommended.

At the end of his life, with both his son and wife murdered, he was able to demonstrate where his more famous son received and grasped the blessing of Christian witness and faith. He wrote:
There are two men I am supposed to hate. One is white the other is black, and both are serving time for having committed murder. James Earl Ray is a prisoner in Tennessee, charged with killing my son. Marcus Chenault was institutionalised as deranged after shooting my wife to death. I don't hate either one.There is no time for that and no reason either. Nothing that a man does takes him lower than when he allows himself to fall so far as to hate anyone. Hatred is not needed to stamp out evil, despite what some people have been taught. People can accomplish all things God wills in this world, hate cannot.

If we achieved a victory in the South it was over inhumanity. When the evil heart of segregation could beat no more it was because it had been stopped by people who did not counsel violence, who did not brutalise and bomb, who never sought to take away any part of anyone else's identity as a human being. These things triumphed over the exaggerated power of hatred. And so what part would any man who knew this choose to travel? Hatred did not win. I prefer to share triumph.
It is America's deep tragedy that 50 years after this great and moving summary of how it can achieve greatness, its first black president does not come from this deep and powerful Christian tradition. The dreams of Barack Obama's father and his community-organiser son seem to fall significantly short of these two powerhouses of Christian witness. With a strong foundation of Christian faith, great things were achieved nationally and personally by the Kings - father and son.

As America ponders how to reclaim its role in the world with all the vile hatred spilling out of the Middle East, it could do a lot worse than go back to that speech again and start asking some basic questions:

What made this so great? Where did that wellspring of wisdom come from? Where can we go to refresh ourselves and replenish our hope?

With the answers, the dream may be revived.

Brother Ivo is the Patron Saint of lawyers.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Greenbelt launches anti-Israel 'Kairos Britain' - and stifles counter debate

Greenbelt - where faith, arts and justice meet. Unless, of course, you happen to be Israeli or Jewish or sympathetic to Zionism or cognisant of the historical quest for a Jewish homeland. Greenbelt used to be primarily an arts festival: it has become acutely political, and those politics obsessed with demonising Israel - even to the point of getting young children to 'Embrace the Middle East' and play an interactive floor game called Occupation! - A Game of Life "to give a glimpse of the challenges faced by ordinary Palestinians living under Israeli occupation... Roll the dice and make your way through checkpoints and challenges, permit denials and poverty".

It is insidious propaganda - quite outrageous indoctrination-by-play - which poisons the mind of young Christians and delegitimises the State of Israel. And this year the Festival also hosts the launch of Kairos Britain - an anti-Semitic/anti-Israel mis-information and propaganda network which condemns Israel at every turn as oppressive and racist - with no mention of its right to self-defence against acts of terrorism and rocket bombardment, or even of its right to exist at all.

According to reports, Greenbelt has refused to allow any speakers - Jewish or Christian - to challenge the premises of Kairos. Young Christians will leave the Festival believing that Israel is a pariah state. This appears to accord with policies and agendas of previous years, which have been variously described as 'Israel bashing', 'Israel-hating' and portraying 'an awful image of Israel'.

Thousands of UK Christians leave Bible Weeks and Christian festivals fired up with a resolution to campaign for justice and human rights. This is a good thing. Sadly, at Greenbelt, much of what they hear targets the Middle East’s only democracy and the world’s only Jewish homeland. Since Greenbelt is unlikely to invite His Grace to redress the imbalance, by way of response, here follows a guest post from Fran Waddams of Anglican Friends of Israel:

When Revisionism leads to Rejectionism

This week’s Greenbelt festival sees the launch of yet another group hostile to Israel, Kairos Britain. Kairos Britain is the latest offshoot of Kairos Palestine, whose replacement theology is widely criticised as bordering on anti-Semitic and whose polemic has aroused concerns that delegitimising the Jewish state is as high on its agenda as support for Palestinians.

In fact it seems to many Christians broadly supportive of Israel, that the focus of opposition to Israel, is shifting from criticising Israeli policies and actions to questioning the very existence of a Jewish state in the Middle East. For example, a friend told me that a volunteer on Embrace the Middle East’s stall at a recent New Wine festival admitted in conversation, to wondering whether Israel’s creation had not been a mistake.

And at New Wine in Newark earlier this month Embrace the Middle East’s CEO Jeremy Moodey, who has welcomed the formation of Kairos Britain, said “I affirm the right of the Jewish people to self-determination, but that right cannot come at the expense of another nation’s equivalent right, which is what has happened in Israel/Palestine since 1948.”

Whilst Moodey affirms the Jewish right to self determination, the rest of his statement raises a serious question. As Israel only became a state in 1948 (having accepted the 1947 UN Partition Plan when Arab leaders rejected it) are we to infer that from its very inception, Israel has in some way compromised Palestinian rights?

A reading of the contributions and linked articles on the Kairos Palestine website might lead an uninformed reader towards such a conclusion. One is left with the impression that Kairos views Israel as a colonial insertion in the region and her Jewish citizens as alien interlopers.

Yet this narrative in which thousands of years of Jewish history in the Middle East is airbrushed out and the circumstances surrounding the birth of the modern State of Israel are fudged is not just skewed but revisionist. Israel’s friends believe that history demonstrates that Jews have a right to self-determination on their ancient homeland.

There has been a continuous Jewish presence in the Middle East and North Africa, including the Holy Land, for thousands of years. Most Jews were expelled from Jerusalem by waves of persecution - an injustice that Israel’s critics, Christian and otherwise, tend to skim over. Even the more distant Diaspora communities of Europe and Russia retained powerful links to the Holy Land through the scriptures and daily worship.

The Old City of Jerusalem had a majority Jewish population from the 1840s until 1948, a fact that might surprise Christians who have only heard a narrative that erases the Jewish presence in the city prior to 1967.

From the late 19th Century on, Jews began arriving in Ottoman Palestine from Russia and Europe, buying land from Arab landlords to build new lives far from persecution. The region began to prosper and that prosperity attracted other immigrants from all over the region and beyond - Arab, Armenian, Egyptian and others.

After the Ottoman Empire collapsed at the end of WWI, the 1920 League of Nations conference at San Remo laid the foundations of the Middle Eastern nations we recognise today –Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq etc were founded. Delegates recognised that Jews too were indigenous to the region and had a right to national self-determination alongside other ethnic groups.

Using the Balfour Declaration for guidance, the Conference set aside some of the territory on which Jews created a nation state and penned the scriptures, for a Jewish national home. The rights of others living in that land were to be protected, and Britain was granted a Mandate to oversee the League of Nations’ provisions.

Outdated as this process may appear today, no one questions the right of, say, Syria or Jordan, also conceived then, to exist. Why then should we not call objections to Jewish national self-determination alone, ‘racist’?

Under the Mandate, Britain committed herself to facilitating a Jewish homeland, and Jewish immigration. But many British officials opposed it because Arab opposition. Some British officials even encouraged Arabs to demonstrate against the Jews, resulting in violence, for example, the attack in 1929 on the 4000 year old Jewish community of Hebron where 67 Jews were slaughtered by their Arab neighbours, many other maimed and the community ethnically cleansed from the town.

Throughout the Mandate years the British severely limited Jewish immigration to Palestine before and during the war – resulting in millions of Jews being trapped in Europe to be slaughtered by the Nazis. After WWII Britain’s inhumane treatment of thousands of holocaust survivors, now homeless refugees, turned away in old, rusting ships from Haifa and Jaffa in full view of the world’s press made sickening viewing and reading worldwide.

The Mandate years were shameful, and ought to make any British Christian think twice before lecturing Jews about justice and human rights.

Jewish people needed a home in which they could live safely. That much was clear from the Holocaust and subsequent mistreatment by the British Government. In 1947 the newly created UN took up the provisions of the San Remo conference and made a partition plan that divided up the land allotted for Jewish settlement by the League of Nations Mandate (again) into a Jewish and an Arab state.

Jewish leaders accepted the Partition, whilst Arab leaders vowed that there would be no Jewish state (and no Jews) permitted in the region. So began a pattern which continues to this day of Arab leaders rejecting any plan which would acknowledge the right of the Jewish state to exist.

Arab attacks on Jews began after the Resolution was passed and the day after the British slunk out of Mandate Palestine on 14 May 1948, 5 Arab armies invading the new state of Israel.

Prior to the Arab attack, many Arab community and national leaders urged Palestinians to leave their homes and villages just until the Jews had been expelled and their property taken. Many thousands took their advice despite being begged to stay by Jewish community leaders.

When Arab invasion began it seemed to spell the end of Jewish hopes for a homeland. The world looked on, expecting the Jewish forces to be overwhelmed by vastly superior numbers and weaponry. The Jordanian Arab Legion was even led and trained by British officers.

Miraculously the Arab nations failed. Jewish forces triumphed, even taking some of the land that had been allocated to the Arabs by the Partition Plan. The ensuing 1949 ceasefire line (Green Line) is often wrongly termed ‘the 1967 borders’. But they were not borders. Those have never been worked out, and can never be until Palestinian and other Arab leaders recognise the right of Jews to a national home on part of ancient Jewish lands.

About 700,000 Palestinians were displaced as a result of the conflict. Some had left on the advice of their leaders, expecting to return after the defeat of the Jewish forces and some were forcibly displaced because their continuation in Israel was perceived to be a threat to Israeli security. Arab nations refused to absorb them, preferring instead to use them as leverage against the Jewish state.

Many of Israel’s critics now clamour for the right of not only these displaced people but also of their descendants to return and reclaim houses and land. The ensuing Arab majority would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish national home; and given the endemic anti-semitism in the region, the suggestion by some Christians that the resulting ‘One State’ with Arab and Jew living side by side in a peaceful democratic state seem irresponsibly naïve at best.

In any case, where is the precedent for people displaced by a war started by their own leaders to return en masse to a country governed by those whom they treat as enemies? 8 million people were displaced during the partition of India and Pakistan 1948. No one seriously suggests that India or Pakistan should give these refugees and their descendants the right to reclaim land and property lost during Partition. Yet in some eyes, the Jewish state should be held to a different standard. Where is the justice in this?

150,000 Arabs did remain within Israel after the War of Independence, were granted Israeli citizenship and today enjoy far superior human rights than their brothers and sisters in Arab lands. On the other hand, no Jews were permitted to remain within areas taken by the Jordanian forces including the Old City of Jerusalem.

Jews were forced from land they had owned for generations or had purchased from Arab landlords was expropriated, for example, in Gush Etzion, and were denied access to Jewish holy sites in Jerusalem and Hebron during the entire questionable Jordanian annexation of the West Bank.

Then, there were the ‘Silent Refugees’, the 800,000 Jews forced out of ancient communities across the region by pogroms and forced expulsion. Their losses in money and property far outweigh Palestinian losses. Where is Kairos’ or their UK supporters’ concern for their rights of return or calls for compensation for their huge losses?

Then there is the question of the circumstances leading to Israel’s taking of the West Bank in 1967. Again, it would be hard to understand from reading Kairos Palestines’s website along, that this would never have happened had Arab nations once again believed that they could oust the Jewish state by force.

Arab aggression continued after 1949. In 1964, 3 years before the 6 Day War, Yassir Arafat launched the Palestine Liberation Organisation whose Charter states that "Palestine with its boundaries that existed at the time of the British mandate is an integral regional unit" and sought to eradicate ".. the existence and activity" of Zionism.’ In other words, Arafat wanted the whole of the Holy Land - including Israel.

In 1967 Egypt’s President Nasser precipitated war against Israel as he expelled UN peace keeping forces in the Sinai and closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping. The circumstances leading up to this war are usually glossed over by Christian critics of Israel. And desperate attempts at revisionism have tried to shift the blame for the War onto Israel.

But there was no question of such revisionism during the Spring and Summer of 1967. I well remember newspaper, radio and TV reports of Nasser’s belligerent, anti Jewish rhetoric, and the build up of troops in the Sinai newspapers throughout May of that year. There was no doubt then in anyone’s mind what Nasser intended and what would happen to Israel if he were to succeed.

Once again aggression from Israel’s neighbours backfired spectacularly, as Israel outmanoeuvred Egypt, Jordan and Syria, defeating them in the 6 Day War of June 1967. After the 6 Day War, Israel offered to return all lands captured in return for recognition, The answer from her warlike neighbours came in the Khartoum Declaration of September 1967 – No recognition of Israel, no conciliation with Israel, and no negotiations with Israel. So another chance to build a Palestinian state was lost.

Israel therefore gained land in the West Bank in a war of self-defence in 1967, and is entitled to retain ultimate control over that land until its inhabitants stop waging war against Israel from it. Which they have not.

So why isn’t there a State of Palestine? There’s been plenty of opportunity, beginning with the Peel plan of 1937, any time between 1949 and 1967, post 6 Day War, and again in 2000 and 2008. Palestinian leaders ‘never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity’ to have their own state. Why?

Maybe there was no will to create another Arab state for Palestinians prior to 1967? Or perhaps – as statements from Arab leaders suggest – the price – which would be to accept the existence of a Jewish state in the Middle East - is a step too far? Neither Kairos Palestine nor her UK supporters seem to want to address this question, particularly as it applies before 1967. One wonders why.

History shows that heaping blame on Israel alone for the failure of the Palestinians and their allies to create a viable state prior to 1967, with all the ensuing consequences, while ignoring Arab aggression and rejectionism is grossly unjust. Yet this is exactly what Kairos Palestine and its Christian UK supporters do.

Revision of Middle East history is leading to a gradual ‘creep’ of Christian thinking on Israel towards a position way beyond criticism of Israel’s actions towards undermining the very legitimacy of her existence - drawing ever nearer to the position of some of Israel’s and the Church’s most vicious enemies. This is deeply worrying.

This creep has the potential to go far beyond the much vaunted position of Christians being ‘critical friends’ of Israel into unjustly singling out Israel’s Jews as perpetrators of a unique sin against justice and human rights. Such Christians are part of the problem, not the solution.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Syrian children gassed: is Assad a suicidal maniac?

From Mr Alexander Boot:

The civil war in Syria is imposing heavy demands on our credulity. Mine is stretched to breaking point by Wednesday’s alleged chemical attack.

Why would Assad do a silly thing like that? Let’s consider the options.

One possible answer is that, in the clinical parlance, Assad must have a screw loose. The man is positively bent on suicide.

The fortunes of civil war have begun to favour him, with the enthusiastic but poorly organised rebel forces retreating all over the place. Any sane man would be satisfied with that.

But since we now know that Assad is a suicidal maniac, he couldn’t take the situation lying down. Lacking the nerve to shoot himself, he had to rely on others to do the job. What could he do for the rebels to be guaranteed to kill him?

Assad must have looked deep into his own soul and rephrased the question to make it more specific. “What can I do to lose the war and suffer the same fate as my Ba’athist mate Saddam?”

Clearly things couldn’t be allowed to develop naturally: his army was about to rout the chaps whose dietary preferences include human organs.

Assad’s only hope for assisted suicide was to draw Western powers into the conflict. Alas, while these powers were willing to support the rebels morally and materially, they seemed reluctant to commit their own forces.

The feeling there was that, after 11 years of futile turmoil, thousands of Western lives lost and billions wasted, Western electorates wouldn’t accept yet another asinine war. Unless, of course, some cataclysmic event could mobilise the West’s public opinion.

Once Assad got that far in his calculations, he knew exactly what he had to do.

If it took a cataclysm to draw the West in, the surest way for Assad to commit suicide was to deliver such a cataclysm on a platter. All he had to do was choose the right method and the right moment.

Now what would be the right method? Oh yes, didn’t Obama say that using chemical weapons would constitute crossing “the red line”? That’s it then. Sorted. Chemical weapons it is.

And the right moment? Easy-peasy. Didn’t the UN weapons inspectors arrive in Damascus on Sunday? Well then, let’s give them a couple of days to get settled and then put on a show for their benefit.

Easier done than said. Assad patiently waited until Wednesday and then launched a Sarin attack in the Ghouta suburb of Damascus, killing, as his opponents claim, hundreds of people, including women and children.

Job done. Or is it?

Yes, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius did threaten “a reaction of force” over the chemical attacks. If proven.

Yes, the US expressed its “deep concern” over the use of Sarin. If confirmed.

And yes, William Hague said the attacks would constitute a “shocking escalation in the use of chemical weapons in Syria”. If validated.

If, if, if! How can a chap kill himself if the potential agents of his demise continue to beat about the bush? Why can’t they invade first and ask questions later? The way they did in Iraq? Assad is getting desperate.

This, in broad strokes leavened with poetic licence, is the version of the events we’re expected to accept as real. No one has actually mentioned Assad’s suicidal tendencies, but one struggles to find any other plausible reason for his action.

Oh yes, one could think of another possible explanation: no Sarin attack has actually happened. What we’re witnessing is a publicity campaign launched by the rebels who are obviously poor losers.

This is of course conjecture, but the old investigative principle of Cui bono? seems to add weight to such an interpretation.

There we have it: either Assad is a suicidal maniac or the rebels are lying. If there’s another explanation, I’d like to know it.

Alexander Boot is a writer on political, cultural and religious themes

Violence in Sweden, echoes in Britain

From Mr Alexander Boot:

On Saturday a pregnant Muslim woman was viciously attacked in a Stockholm suburb for wearing a hijab.

She ended up in hospital, while the cause of persecuted Muslims was splashed all over the papers. A group of prominent Swedish women posted on the Internet photos of themselves wearing head scarves. These were accompanied by a heart-felt statement, warning of an impending “march of fascism.”

It’s hard not to sympathise. It’s even harder not to wonder if this is a taste of things to come all over Europe.

For this is historically how fascism begins: driven by various motives, bien pensant or otherwise, a modern state creates a crisis of one kind or another, be it economic, military or social.

The state then proves impotent to deal with the crisis, clearing the way for virile individuals to cope as they see fit. The toothpaste of social unrest comes out of the tube and it can’t be put back.

Sweden is a good example. As a result of its government’s irresponsible immigration policy, about five percent of the country’s population is now Muslim, while Sweden’s third-largest city Malmö is predominantly Islamic.

Alas, many Muslims refuse not only to assimilate but indeed to integrate into the ambient society. Moreover, they routinely express hostility to it, and not just in Sweden.

Riots in the banlieues of Paris unfold to the screams of Nique la France! (the verb means f***). Sweden too was rocked by riots this year, and the battle cries were an accurate translation from the French.

Indiscriminate attacks on Christians and especially Jews have become routine, and in fact Malmö’s Jews are emigrating in droves. Earlier this year, two Iranian converts to Christianity have been stabbed to death.

Al-Qaeda’s magazine Inspire has advised Muslims to sabotage the transport sector. The call to arms has been heeded: stones are often thrown at the windscreens of speeding cars, and large rocks are being placed on the roads. As a result, a car carrying a visiting Danish family overturned and the whole family of five suffered serious injuries.

None of this will come as a shock to British, French, Spanish or Dutch readers – such incidents aren’t exclusive to Sweden and they are escalating. In fact attacks on churches and synagogues are mounting – many are desecrated by graffiti featuring a pig’s head.

This in no way excuses the criminal assault on the Muslim woman in Sweden, and I hope its perpetrators will be suitably punished. But perhaps the motivation behind incidents of this kind can be seen more clearly in the light thrown by dozens of cars burning in the background.

Thugs will be thugs, and they’ll always find an excuse for violence. But even law-abiding Swedes are aghast at what’s happening in their formerly peaceful country. Sweden got aggression out of its system in the 18th century, when it fought its last war. Now violence is being imported.

What recourse do they have? No civilised person can countenance arbitrary violence – so what are the civilised options?

Precious few, as is the case in any country where democratic secularism has vanquished to a point where no competition is allowed. Nigel Farage hinted at this the other day when he said that “The whip hand is now so firmly with the bureaucrats – they hold all the cards – that possibly violence is the only way out of this.”

He was talking specifically about the EU bureaucracy, but the same applies to any national variety. This unfortunate situation can be traced back to the very nature of modern, which is to say, total democracy unleavened by Christianity.

Unlike the traditional monarchies of Christendom, a modern democracy can’t derive its legitimacy from any transcendent origin. Its legitimacy can only come from a purely secular proposition, which, courtesy of John Locke, is usually defined as ‘consent of the governed’.

How was this consent given? Obviously this can’t be accurately traced back to any specific time and place.

Arbitrarily we can choose any past event, such as the Glorious Revolution. But this would imply that 300-odd years ago Englishmen issued an irrevocable consent to be governed by the same method of government in eternity. If so, how can they reaffirm or withdraw their consent?

Elections taking place every few years are supposed to serve this purpose. But that would imply that 30 percent of the populace (a proportion these days seen as sufficient to provide a mandate for even sweeping constitutional changes) can give consent on behalf of the other 70 percent.

That’s clearly nonsensical. I for one never agreed to successive British governments extorting half of what I earn, and neither do I recall being in a position to vote for a less voracious expropriator in the last 20 years.

Locke saw all those paradoxes clearly, which is why he issued an implicit endorsement of revolution as the only realistic way for the people to withdraw their consent. A modern, secular democracy provides for no peaceful means, especially since differences among mainstream parties are fading away.

That’s why the danger of escalating violence is real in Europe. It can be triggered off by the indigenous people feeling that their country is being taken away from them – either by a supranational bureaucracy, as Nigel Farage would have it, or by a seismic demographic shift, or perhaps by an economic collapse.

Sweden, France and other European countries are dropping hints to that effect all over the place. Is anyone listening?

Alexander Boot is a writer on political, cultural and religious themes

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Fracking and the cult of Green Gnosticism

From Brother Ivo:

For many decades we have lived with a succession of failed predictions by the Doom Sayers of the environmental movement.

1972 saw the Club of Rome publishing The Limits to Growth which looked at human population, resource depletion, industrialisation, pollution and food production, and made a series of catastrophic predictions for the world we live in today, none of which came to pass at the predicted time. In the same year The Blueprint for Survival imagined a future necessarily modelled upon a cross between tribal societies and a William Morris agrarian village of philosopher saints.

Somehow we have survived, and while nobody should be complacent about our relationship with the natural world which underpins our existence, it is plain that chance, human ingenuity, hard work, and unforeseen factors continue to reset the future in ways that seem to elude those who confidently predict that disaster is just around the corner.

Foremost in their predictive failure was the underestimation of the power of the computer, and with it the Internet. The transitions from the hunter-gatherer economy, through the agrarian model, the industrial and on to global trading economies were assumed to have run their full course, and yet the knowledge economy has superseded anything we might have known, such that massive economic gain can be built on a significantly reduced resource footprint. The ubiquity of the mobile telephone alone has created an economy and social re-organisation way beyond that which the early Green campaigners imagined.

Just as Karl Marx seriously underestimated the flexibility of market capitalism, so the Green movement has consistently failed to re-adjust its old vision of those limits to growth.

The argument that physical constraints must force societal re-organisation failed on so many levels, as new reserves of physical resources were found and  techniques to exploit them were developed. With new science and technology we can feed the multitudes, raise living standards, educate more and better, and begin to build a scientific ark to preserve endangered species. Yet still we have many who seem to regret the potential of human beings to confound the worst of their predictions.

That cause for regret was recently supercharged when the rock star Bono proclaimed at Georgetown University that 'Capitalism takes more people out of poverty than Aid'.

This is seriously bad news for the Greens.

As the assertions of physical limits were discredited, a different technique had to be adopted if the prejudices against the benefits of capitalism were to be sustained. We entered into the world of uber-catastrophe.

If we will not give up our attachment to capitalism because of physical constraints, then a super threat would need to to compel us. The list is impressive: nuclear waste storage, acid rain, GM crops, the Millennium Bug, global cooling, global warming, and the latest - fracking.

Each of these may have different attributed causes and predicted consequences, yet the solution has one common feature - we have to surrender our volition to those who know better and reconfigure society as they say.

This is by no means a modern phenomenon.

In ancient times it was the Gnostics who declared themselves possessed of secret knowledge and whose grasp thereof gave them an advantage over those dealing with everyday life on a more prosaic level.

The impulse to claim powers and immunities based upon special understanding has had a wide appeal. The Bible was kept from non-Latin speakers for centuries. The virtual unreadability of Das Kapital secured Marxists a guaranteed sense of superiority in their insistence that they alone understood the historical mechanism of dialectical materialism, and as its promise began to unravel, we were offered the even more impenetrable works of such academics as Herbert Marcuse, whose Frankfurt School of Marxism blessed the world with political correctness.

If that were not bad enough, we have the gnosis of the conspiracy theorists - those who know that the moon landings were filmed on a Hollywood backlot, aliens landed at Roswell, and the US auto industry bought up a non-existent patent that enabled cars to run on water. It is, incidentally, always the Americans who perpetrate these cover-ups; never truly secretive societies or those pesky Finns or Canadians.

These disparate movements, beliefs and creeds confer a sense of exclusivity, superiority and appeal to those otherwise lacking self-esteem. It calls to the outsider and reinforces his or her sense of frustration with their ordinary fellow citizens who will not acknowledge their special status - their gnosis.

One of the fundamental aspects of these Gnostic-lite philosophies, apart from the admiration we ought rightly to feel for those who know better than we do, is their claimed right to break the law; to enforce where they cannot persuade, for, whether we are talking roads, railways, or fracking, the ordinary rules of democracy cannot apply to them.

In this, they and the Jihadist share a common philosophical heritage: they are right and we are wrong. Our only proper response to them and their minority world view is one of submission.
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