Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Gathering storm

"The people of Nuremberg voted overwhelmingly in 1930, in a referendum proposed by the Nazi Party, not to submit to Jewish Law." Did it really happen? Probably not, but what has happened is that the good people of Oklahoma have voted overwhelmingly not to submit to Islamic Sharia Law, although nobody has ever suggested that they should.

Islamophobia seems to rise and rise in America, peddled quite openly by the Republican Right. The Oklahoma vote shows how fear, disgust and rank ignorance can be exploited to become a mass movement. In theory the U.S. Constitution should make this impossible, but we have already seen what a fragile protection it offers when the Government decides to authorize secret surveillance, torture by extraordinary rendition and imprisonment without trial in on off-shore prison camp.

The occupation of Iraq continues by another name. The war in Afghanistan is clearly unwinnable. Pakistan is in a state of undeclared civil war. Egypt is edging towards a North-Korean type of succession. How many more Islamic-majority countries will America try to control before admitting defeat, and what will be the consequences for the world? As Muslims say "Allah alone knows".


Five Church of England bishops have gone over to Rome under an arrangement offered by the Pope while he was on his state visit at the expense of the British taxpayer. A nice irony that something that would have got their heads chopped off under the first Elizabeth is sponsored by the Government of the second Elizabeth. They have done well: shining careers and the support of their wives, and now they can be Catholic priests and keep their families!

I find it amusing that the chess pieces that stand next to the King and Queen are called bishops. In the original Indian game of Chaturanga they were elephants - one of the four corps in Indian armies. In Arabic that became 'fil', which the French heard as 'fou' - madman! So a confusion between bishophood and madness goes back several centuries. In the current instance, the problem was with women bishops. I wonder what is so special about possessing a Y chromosome? And what about women who have a Y chromosome but suffer from androgen insensitivity syndrome? Could they be bishops, and if not why not?

However, the original folly was surely to think that the message of Jesus needed a hierarchical structure to put it into effect. Where in the gospels is there an unambiguous statement that there should be priests to come between disciples and their God, and bishops to control the priests? But perhaps it is just human love of authority. Muhammad never said that there should be Sunni caliphs or infallible Shiite Imams, and yet his followers very quickly instituted them.