Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Syria Bleeds-What Is Our Role?

The ME is an area where nation states-necesssary for a firm grounding of democracy, don't really exist, no matter what lines there are on a map. IS, al Nusra & the rest are only a major threat if they succeed in collapsing the whole setup in the region and are able to build a large trans-border Caliphate. Containment 'works,' therefore, of course at the price of suffering. Could IS be smashed and simply incised without knock-on effects?

John Redwood in his blog (25/11/15) raises the question of who our enemies are. For example, theTaliban are courted as part of the democratic process in Afghanistan. It ts necessary to tease out (with difficulty) what motivates its fighters: Islamism or Pathan interests, and how Pakistan in the shape of the ISI still intervenes in Afghanistan. We should remember that the Taliban did not spring fully-armed from the head of Zeus, but fully armed by the machinations of the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence Service)-whose head was one Pervez Musharraf. He then played both ends against the middle posing as our ally in the War on Terror.' a terror he helped to create. With Erdogan it's the same thing; he's our 'ally' but doesn't have our interests at heart. He is, after all, a man who started a war to win an election.

Where can we actually help positively? Perhaps Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt-rather than Syria and Iraq. If these countries are destabilised, then the consequences are incalculable.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Causes of Suffering

"Love is a cause of suffering; so too are freedom, judgement and choice. Hence these things too will disappear from the Brave New World."
(Roger Scruton)

Toleration & Respect: A Confusion & A Misunderstanding

All too ofren the concepts of tolerance and respect are confused. An illustrative example concerns Professors Tariq Modood (one of the chief promoters of Multiculturalism) and Ted Cantle (author of the report into the 2001 ditsturbances in northern towns) who have comprehensive websites about their work, which are well worth a visit. Tariq Modood's site posts a debate between the two-on Multiculturalism against Interculturalism. As often happens no definite conclusion was reached at the end of this debate.

Right at the end of the session, and almost as a throw-away remark, Tariq Modood referred to tolerance as merely putting up with things we object to-which can change when we eventually get fed up. Ted Cantle in effect agreed with him and then said that, for example, he did not tolerate or respect Scientologists and would confront them. These are two leading researchers who are not just academics; over the years they have both had a great deal of input into public policy.

So what is tolerance (although I prefer the term toleration)? It derives from the Latin root tolerare-to endure; as in to endure pain. In a free and open society if we hear or experience something that wounds us, we endure it although we object to it vociferously. When we do that, we perhaps understand a little of how our remarks and actions harm other people. That does not mean that we refrain from expressing our opinions fearlessly. On the contrary, we continue to do so as an absolute requirement of a free and open society.

We can learn at least a little humility from the realisation of mutual endurance of pain-and from this perhaps respect. This, rather than forced respect demanded as an entitlement, which of course is no respect at all, is real respect and is worth having. It can involve respect for an opponent and thus lead to co-existence and peace. This is not mere toleration.

What are 'British values'? It's a mystery!



I recently attended an ESRC sponsored event on the subject 'What is Britishness' in St George's Church, Westbourne Road, Birmingham (which provided very welcome refreshments afterwards). It was introduced by Dr. Chris Allen from Birmingham University who posed the question-

"The historian Linda Colley says that traditionally, ‘Britishness’ had four foundations: warfare, Protestantism, industry, Empire. Today, given the Empire no longer exists and that Britain is rather more diverse than Protestant, what might the contemporary foundations of Britishness be?"
The event publicity concluded-"The conversation will be informed by the research findings of social scientists from the University of Birmingham." This was not quite the case, for although Dr. Allen did allude to Linda Colley's Britons: Forging the Nation 1707-1837 (1992) he focused on the values to be taught in schools and subject to OFSTED inspection, namely-
·       
  •      democracy 
  •       the rule of law 
  •       individual libert
  •       mutual respect for and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs (and for those without faith)
It is common that those academics involved in diversity/migration research refer to these as 'universal' values rather than being specifically British. In the subsequent discussion I pointed out that:
       It is true that these values are enshrined in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. But looking round the world, they are often observed in the breach rather the observance. Interestingly, a Chinese student present said that university lecturers in China were forbidden to speak of 'Western values' and students were encouraged to inform on any who did. An alternative system has been proposed by the OIC (Org. of Islamic Co-operation) in the Cairo declaration that proposes values of ;'true religion' that are not against the principles of Islamic Sharia.
A   Dr. Mohammed Sidique Seddon concentrated on Britain's imperial past at a time when hundreds of millions of people all over the world could call themselves British subjects with the implication (I gathered) that this was a different kind of 'Britishness' from that of today. He referred to the Linda Colley thesis that Britain, and therefore by implication British values, could not have existed before the 1707 Act of Union in effect created Great Britain, although of course England and Scotland were united under the Stuart monarchy from a century earlier. He stressed that Britain had always been a diverse country, although Poll Tax records show that the foreign-born population of England and Wales in the mid-14th century was 1% and by the 1901 census again 1% (4.5% in 1951; probably 17-19% now).
I regret I did not catch the next presenter's name. But she had the annoying  style of throwing out questions such as "what was the origin of the idea of the Welfare State?" (the Islamic system of Caliph Umar of course). I resisted the temptation to call out facetiously in reply to the origins of freedom of religion (the Abrahamic faiths), freedom of thought (Socrates), care for others and laws (Hammurabi I think). However, when she got to Magna Carta (cited by the PM) and how it couldn't be part of Britain's values because Britain did not exist at that time, I did interject the long history of development of the Common Law in contrast to the Code Napoleon on the Continent.

Magna Carta is significant because, even though it was the baron's initiative in their interest, it has been continually reused and reinterpreted ever since to oppose arbitrary government action. Habeas Corpus is a British invention. In the 1630's opposition to Divine Right rule, the post First Civil War debates on representation, through the Chartists even to today the Great Charter is cited as an inspiration. The 1640's Putney Debates about governance and representation and the equally important, though neglected, Westminster Debates concerning Toleration of belief are seminal in the foundation of British values. Freedom of speech increasingly became one of the tenets of the Protestant religion on these islands.
In diverse modern Britain freedom of conscience is as important as it has ever been. We have permitted  parents to dress their children in outward symbols of religion-in effect labelling a child a Muslim, Sikh or Jew. And I don't think we are going to change that anytime soon.  Therefore an educational framework which includes acknowledgement of those of different and no faiths is essential if young people are to benefit from a modern educational environment. But this must include challenge and the freedom to give offence. "Liberty, if it means anything at all is the right to tell others what they don't want to hear" (Orwell) is truly a British value.
"This realm of England is an empire" declared Parliament at Henry VIII's instigation.The UK is a (semi-detached) member of the EU (but for how long?). But it resists 'ever close union' and insists on remaining a nation state. The Common Law is unique to Britain and our uncodified (not unwritten) constitution means that however governmental legislation is passed, carefully worked through precedent cannot easily be overturned at one fell swoop. It marks us out as different. Democracy means British people electing British MP's to act in the British interest. Moreover, people have always been able to nestle under the overall arch: English & Scottish & Welsh & Northern Irish and British without losing the individual identity of their nations. Britishness is not simply Englishness writ large or confined in effect to England.

SHOW US YOUR TROUSER LEG! -EXTREMISM THROUGH CLOTHING (From 2011)



Sounds bizarre, but the 'Dispatches' expose of Islamist tendencies in the classroom included the strictures that a beard and trousers above the ankles were de rigeur for the pious. Roll your trousers down and dire punishment would ensue.

Extremists bind their followers to them by separating them from ordinary behaviour. If you think that it's all right to be punished for having rolled down trousers, then you'll accept anything. Not as daft as it sounds, then.

RESPECT ME-OR ELSE! (from 2011)



What have hoodies (hugged or not) got to do with Sayeeda Warsi's latest speech? The most annoying thing about yobs is the way they aggressively look you in the eye and demand respect. Of course they are the same people who will out of the blue say to a perfect stranger, "Who are you looking at?" They demand 'respect' not for having accomplished anything worthy of it, but for merely existing.

We tolerate all kinds of people whose dress taste is questionable, manners apalling and views objectionable. But we are not bound to respect them, or indeed anybody. It is a huge mistake, one made by Baroness Warsi, and unfortunately many others regarding religion, that we are entitled to respect. We are not. We are obliged to tolerate people's beliefs, but not to respect them. Nor is there any right not to be offended. Indeed, isn't it odd that anyone who believes that they are personally right with god and have a faith that is grounded in truth feels threatened by criticism?

Of course it is not quite as simple as that. Satire and mockery are powerful weapons (and often the only weapon open to the powerless). To have our cherished beliefs criticised is one thing, for them to be mocked quite another. However, religious satire has a good pedigree. When Luther was challenging the pope Protestant pamphleteers had a field day-the 'Whore of Babylon,' the pope as a crocodile and much much worse!

"Criticise our religion, but don't mock our prophet," is often heard. But fundamental criticism of a religion must necessarily concentrate on its founder. In Jesus' own lifetime the claim was made that he was the bastard child of Mary, who had allegedly been raped by a Roman soldier. Was he the Son of God, "the only way to the Father," "the only name by which we may be saved," "who holds the whole of creation together by the power of his word?" Or was this all an invention of the apostle Paul, and the Church Fathers such as Origen who put the Christian Bible together? Is Muhammed an "excellent example" and the recipient of Almighty God's word, which has always existed, uncreated, with Him? Or was he a bandit who invented scripture for his own benefit (and worse)?

"There is a plot against our religion!" Of course there is-many of the values of the modern world are antithical to those of the religious. The sincerely religious person, whether Jew , Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Hindu, Buddhist or Bahai faces many challenges and dilemnas. The Christian religion is a plot against all other belief systems because Christians proclaim that salvation is only available through the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Muslim religion is a plot against Christianity because it declares that ascribing divinity to the Prophet Jesus is blasphemy. Indeed, Jesus will return as a judge at the end of time and break all the crosses-Jesus himself will destroy Christianity.

We are obliged to tolerate, but we choose who to respect. That is the foundation of a modern democratic country. It would help a lot if Sayeeda Warsi and others said that.

20 01 2011

TOPSY TURVY- Fleeing Persecution (from 2011)



I'm an immigrant from officially Christian Pakistan. In my home country the constitution stated "no law shall be made that is against the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ." Because I am a Mormon, the official Church of Pakistan declared that I was not a proper Christian and barred me from employment appropriate to my qualifications. I and my co-religionists often fell foul of the blasphemy laws which make it a crime "to deny Christ's Lordship."

So coming to largely Muslim Britain where mosque and state have been separate for a long time has been a blessed relief. However, I have noticed, fearfully, that if I want to convert to Islam my family and elders in the Christian community will threaten me and I'm not completely confident that the police understand this kind of situation.

When I look round the world I'm worried. The Middle East is a Christian region, with small Muslim minorities. There used to be more, but Christian extremists claiming to act in my name are driving many out of Iraq. It's not as if the Iraqis don't have enough problems with the massive sectarian division between Porotestants and Catholics which has often led to violence. Christian leaders govern countries without a free press, independent judiciary, free trade unions or proper democracy. It's risky to convert to another religion and prosetelysing is impossible.

The only Muslim state, Palestine, with its capital in Jerusalem is hemmed in by hostile states which abhor "the Mahometan Entity." I feel sympathy for the refugees of our faith who suffered when the Muslims finally got a safe home after years of persecution. But they were betrayed by our own leaders who thought that since god was certainly with us, they didn't need to train and equip the Christian armies properly. Since then Egypt, Syria and Lebanon have not allowed the refugees to become citizens or to enter the professions. Instead they have forced them to stay in refugee camps. They are a useful tool to use against Palestine to suggest they are going to do something for the Palestinians. Actually, we all know that they are afraid of the Palestinians' education and spirit of nationhood. Christian brotherhood means nothing in reality.

Here in England we can breathe free and make a much better life for the family. But I'm amazed how many of "our people" cling to the traditional ways. And when it comes to election time the native English vote according to their individual conscience and judgement, while we decide family by family and trade votes in return for promises by the politicians. They rarely keep them anyway.

MIGRANT WORKERS (from 2011)




I was a migrant worker once-well, actually twice. First to Helsinki, briefly to Frankfurt am Main and then back to Finland-finally to Kuwait (before Saddam's invasion).  What persuaded me to go abroad was what motivates many guest workers, finding a job. I completed my training in 1980 and looked enthusiastically for my first teaching post. Those were the days when schools still let you know if you had not been short-listed: "120 people applied for this post."

So I ended up in Helsinki teaching English as a Foreign Language-long hours for low pay at a private language school. Why did I choose Finland and not somewhere warm and sensible like Spain? I was at a YC international conference in the south of France, met some Finnish students and having learned just a little about their country chose to go there. Looking back, I can't quite understand why I made that choice!

Finland was interesting, though. A cold winter (-25) and the ability to walk on a frozen sea was better than the damp cold of England. And walking home at 4 in the morning under a pink sky was fascinating. I never got a grip on Finnish I'm afraid, a Finno-Ugric language with 15 case endings. The men were serious and, well, manly (they had 'Sisu'), the women were wonderful. These were the days when Finland was still in the Soviet orbit. The president was a man called Urho Kekkonen. All my students told me what a good man he was and how good relations with Russia were essential. The next day after he died they all remarked how Finland needed to be independent and Russia was useless. Public opinion in a tyranny can never be relied on, and it seems not in a small nation next to a large one either. When I arrived in Finland there were no English signs or adverts. When I left, MacDonalds had arrived.

A few years later I took a trip by double decker bus across Europe to India and was seriously broke when I got back. So it was off to Kuwait for a tax free salary, free appartment and health care, and a travel allowance from which we made money because transport was cheap. It didn't take me long to learn the pecking order. The Kuwaitis were supervisors only. There were more guest workers than native Kuwaitis, including over 300,000 Palestinians. We could eat out sampling a different nation's cuisine every night. We educated Brits were regarded as above most Muslims outside the Gulf, and certainly nowhere near the Indians, Pakistanis and Philpinos who did the manual jobs. On one occasion the management of the oil industry language school decided to save money by putting the support staff in a camp in the desert rather than in appartment blocks in town. We teachers protested to the British management. Whether this had any effect on the Kuwaiti bosses I don't know, but the move was cancelled.

The Iraq-Iran War was raging. Occasionally a 'stray' scud missile fired by Iran landed somewhere in Kuwait. The Saudis & Kuwaitis were aiding Saddam with billions of dollars and weapons convoys heading north via the Matla Ridge (hardly a ridge at all, a small gebel with the remains of British dragons teeth tank traps from the threatened Iraqi invasion in the 60's). One day a colleague drove up to Bubiyan Island (now a military base). He saw hundreds of dead sheep with no external wounds, so wisely turned around. North-west of where we lived on the coast the Iranians had captured the Faw Peninsular. At Easter I went to Egypt for a break. While I was away the Iraquis counter-attacked. My flatmate told me that even 35 miles south the earth shook with the sound of the Iraqi guns. They also used poison gas.

Having made enough in eight months to put down a deposit on my first flat and got a job, I returned home. For us Brits that's the point. Many of us have qualifications and the support of families back home. Nowadays we can choose to find fame and fortune in Dhubai and elsewhere. Later, after the invasion I learned that because Yassir Arafat backed Saddam, the Kuwaitis expelled the Palestinians-all of them. And now people come to our country to improve their lives, including a lot of Poles and Balts who are basically doing the jobs our own people won't do (while we are paying them benefits of course). I have been reading 'Factory Girls' about migrant workers from the Chinese countryside working in the factories of the south-long hours often for the equivalent of £50 a month. But there are thousands of Chinese illegals in this country working in this country, in debt to the human traffickers and the gang-masters. Forty such strivers for a better life suffocated in the back of a smuggler's lorry. Cockle pickers trapped by the rising tide in the night phoned home, "Mother, goodbye, I am going to die." Meanwhile, students who buy £1,000 shirts, probably made in China, demonstrate for their entitlements.

* [a little known fact: thousands of Chinese labourers built fortifications in France in WW1 and some of them are buried there].