Thursday, 19 December 2013
'Britons back Tory obsession with Growth' according to the i newspaper of 18th December. In a survey by ComRes, 41% thought the highest priority was for the economy to grow. It is depressing that so many still believe in the religion of growth, which is founded on the myth that the way to end poverty is for the whole economy to grow. In reality the way to end poverty is to use every means possible to prevent a minority of the population from taking most of the wealth and income, but that would attack the foundation of capitalism. As a country, Britain, like other rich countries, is already using resources at far beyond the sustainable level, and gains in income since the 1970s have added little to people's satisfaction with life.
Tuesday, 10 December 2013
Israel and occupied Palestine are in many ways like Apartheid South Africa: two peoples intricately entangled, one completely dominating the other, notions of racial superiority, huge differences of income and wealth, largely segregated housing... And there is a Palestinian - Marwan Barghouti - with immense popular support, languishing in prison on five life sentences. An Israeli leader with the courage to release him might find an interlocutor capable of helping to bring about a political solution. Barghouti speaks fluent Hebrew, has many Israeli supporters and has the intelligence to realize that a solution must accommodate both parties. He was born in 1959, so it will be 2031 before he reaches the age at which Mandela was released - which is not a reason for waiting, but it does mean several Israeli prime ministers and American presidents could have the opportunity to achieve peace in this way. We shall soon see a succession of crucial centenaries: of the Sykes-Picot plan to dismember the Ottoman State, 1916; of the Balfour Declaration that Palestine would become the 'Jewish National Home', 1917; of the Treaty of Versailles, 1919; of the abolition of the Caliphate, 1924. This last event has had incalculable repercussions. The Caliphs were the only authority recognized by all Sunni Muslims - more than 90% of all Muslims. Without a Caliph there has been nobody to rule against the distortions of Islam propagated by fanatics.
Friday, 29 November 2013
Iran has at last come in from the cold. 34 years after the Islamic Revolution and the ensuing siege of the US Embassy, the 5+1 agreement with Iran should mean the beginning of the end of the absurd stand-off between America and one of the four most populous countries in the Middle East. With a history stretching back over three millennia, and a culture older than that of any other country apart from Egypt, India and China, Iran cannot be ignored or treated as uncivilized. Having failed to prevent the agreement, Israel now talks unrealistically of making an alliance with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states against Iran. What they should do is the opposite - seek for an agreement with Iran to put an end to chronic hostility. When Iranians speak of Israel "vanishing from the pages of time", they have in mind something like the disappearance of East and West Germany. A one-state solution for Israel and Palestine in a secular state, with equal rights for all its citizens, would satisfy all but the most extreme opponents
Monday, 16 September 2013
Again nearly two months since I blogged, but I must say something about the veil, now that there are proposals to ban it. For millions of years the face has been the chief means by which monkeys and apes recognize each other as individuals and communicate emotion, and the human face is the most expressive of all. To cover it up is an offence against society. Fortunately, Islam does not require women to cover their faces. The Koran says merely that the wives of the Prophet should be addressed 'from behind a curtain' - hijab (33:53), and that Muslim women in general should 'pull close to them part of their dresses' in the presence of strange men (33:59), and that 'they should draw their head dress over their bosoms' (24:31). This is just a demand for modesty, which is required of men too. It is up to individuals to decide how to comply, given the climate and the social context. So I am in favour of banning face covering, but in order not to be discriminatory it should apply not just to Muslim women but to everybody, whatever their sex or religion. Men in balaclavas are far more threatening than women in burkas. There would of course need to be discretion in the case of protection against severe weather, bandaging in the case of facial injury and so on. Men's beards might seem contentious, but their variety of form and colour means that they play a part in facial recognition, and the idea of banning them borders on the farcical. In general anyway, if we are to be fully human we need to show each other our faces.
Sunday, 21 July 2013
I haven't blogged for nearly two months. I have not commented on the ousting of Morsi, who asked for trouble by trying to change the constitution, bypass the judges and make himself into a new dictator. This week's New Scientist (20th July) has a fascinating article, 'Youthquake' about how the structure of populations affects politics. When improved health care causes a fall in infant mortality, there is usually a time lag before the birth rate falls. The consequence is a bulge in the younger age groups, and a diagram of the age classes looks like a pyramid. When the birth rate comes down, this bulging cohort moves up until eventually there is a large body of older people resting on a narrow base. The suggestion is that societies with too many young people are subject to political stresses and possible violence, with large numbers of unemployed youths, disaffected and ready to riot. In a more mature society, the large middle-aged cohort has an interest in the status quo. This could help to explain why Tunisia, with a relatively balanced age structure, has succeeded where Egypt has failed. Syria too has a pyramid that bulges at the base, but the older generation bears a heavy responsibility for the revival of the medieval quarrel between Sunna and Shia. The religious leaders of the 1920s were wiser, but the secular societies that they tried to create were undermined by British and French policies of 'divide and rule'.
Saturday, 25 May 2013
Random assassination is horrible wherever it happens, Woolwich or Waziristan, Boston or Baghdad, Oslo or Islamabad. But the sympathy of Westerners seems to be reserved for cases where the victims live in countries like our own. With the development of targeted assassination as a substitute for classical warfare we have entered a new era. One tragic result is that the very people who have the authority in their communities to put an end to violence are often those who are killed, for example Sheikh Yasin the blind and quadriplegic leader of Hamas, blown up in his wheelchair; he was on good terms with some rabbis, whose religion resembled his. At the moment most of the killing is by American drones or Israeli helicopters, and most of the victims are Muslims, but it won't stop there. The victims or their supporters are going to seek more and more opportunities for revenge in a tit-for-tat sequence with no foreseeable end. Sooner or later there will have to be some sort of agreement between all the states that have sponsored such assassinations: 'we shall stop killing your people if you will stop killing ours'.
Thursday, 16 May 2013
Oh dear! I haven't blogged for more than 5 weeks. Since Obama's failure to say or do anything useful during his visit to Israel-Palestine, and with the continuing sectarian violence in Syria and elsewhere, I have been unable to think of anything positive to say. I need to remind myself by reading great Jewish writers that Judaism was at the origin of many of the greatest civilized virtues. Lately, though, I have been re-reading Zarathustra (not Nietzsche's fiction, but) the extraordinary Iranian who was the source of most of the values of post-Biblical Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Writing more than 3000 years ago, he rejected the old religion of caste, warring gods, animal sacrifice and shamanistic ritual. His Gathas (hymns) praise Lofty Wisdom, Ahura Mazda, origin of the world and source of the virtues of Justice, Integrity, Devotion, Good Government, Truth, Endurance and Human Wisdom. Ahura ('Lord') is masculine and Mazda is feminine, so there is not the skewed vision that comes of having a god who is a 'He'. Despite millennia of wars between the Persian and Greco-Roman empires, and later between Muslims and Christian powers, Zarathustra's ideas were carried all around the world by the daughter religions. I am not so keen on some of his other ideas - the Devil, the End Times, the Last Judgement, Hell and Paradise. It is interesting that later Zoroastrians believed that a Saviour would be born of a virgin, impregnated with the sperm of Zarathustra as she bathes in Lake Hamun, into which the Helmand River empties itself. Perhaps there is a virgin in the British Army who will come back pregnant from a swim in that lake before the troops are brought home. But it would be better if the British stopped thinking they can save the world.
Tuesday, 9 April 2013
Our incompetent Coalition Government has just had three strokes of luck in a week to cover up their unpopularity. First North Korea goes mad, threatening to blow up the world, which enables David Cameron to claim that we need to be able to make the same threat with our Polaris-Trident bombs. Then the verdict on the abominable Philpott, father of 17 children, of whom he kills six, calls attention to the fact that a few freaks are able to use benefits to raise families in double figures, which allows our dear leaders to imply that most receivers of benefit are skivers and scroungers. And now the death of Baronness T. has brought an opportunity for days of televised hymn singing in praise of her and her legacy. Well, she herself said that her greatest creation was the Right Dishonourable Blair's New Labour, so we really are boxed in. It is still a mystery how she was able to take economics back to the 1800s. I suppose it is because she preached a simple faith - so simple that anybody can repeat the creed. How do we persuade people that a complicated world needs complex solutions to its problems? Anyway, the immediate gripe is that taxpayers are to pay part of the £8 million cost of her funeral. Her son, now Baron Thatcher, should be made to pay the lot. He is a multimillionaire, probably through dodgy arms deals with the Saudis and others, which he was able to make thanks to who his mother was.
Tuesday, 2 April 2013
Very odd! I keep getting messages telling me how many people have viewed my page on academia.edu. It is news to me that I have such a page, never having set one up nor authorized anybody else to do so. I get the impression it is yet another of these self-feeding websites like Linkedin whose ambition is to gobble up the world. Anyway, any visitors to my page will be disappointed to find that I have not published anything remotely academic for years. My next paper is not due out for another 9 months, and I don't expect any interest outside the little world of Mid-Victorian studies. I doubt very much whether academe in general is going to find out much to solve the world's problems, now that most research is paid for by big corporations, which do their best to control what gets published. For anybody who has not yet read Ben Goldacre's 'Bad Pharma' I recommend it strongly as an account of how medical research - and practice - have been taken over by private interests: not a good omen for the British National Health Service under its new management!
Friday, 29 March 2013
Where are the great religious leaders? We have the absurd spectacle of Christians fighting each other over all things sexual, Muslims killing each other over a quarrel that should never have arisen 13 and 1/2 centuries ago, rabbis for Zionism and rabbis against Zionism, Hindutva leaders preaching Hindu 'fundamentalism', Buddhist monks fighting over which lama is the right one... Well, I suppose the Buddhists come out best with their Dalai Lama, and perhaps the new Pope will untie some sexual knots (but I doubt it). Is it because all the brightest people have been repelled by these petty conflicts and devoted themselves to the sciences? I see no necessary contradiction between the scientific approach and the true foundations of religion; science is about what you can observe from outside and religion should be about what you see from within. Perhaps the problem is with the business of leadership; people expect a leader to tell them what to think or do, when what is needed is leaders who will ask people to see for themselves. I am reading How to Live: a Life of Montaigne by Sarah Bakewell - a wonderful book - and it has made me want to read 'On Voluntary Servitude' by his friend La Boétie, which is about people's insane readiness to be led by fools.
Sunday, 24 March 2013
It would have been better for me if I had never studied Arabic and Hebrew. What a miserable part of the world! I stupidly hoped Obama would try to do something, but he just made empty speeches - all he's good at. He still imagines a viable 2-state solution is possible with half a million extremist Zionist settlers on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem. He seems no more concerned with international law than his predecessors. And the Arabic-speaking states are not helping themselves by resurrecting the millennial quarrel between Sunni and Shia. Don't watch this space; nothing good is coming. What a contrast with Harold Macmillan! As British Prime Minister he went to South Africa and told its Parliament on 3rd February 1960:'The wind of change is blowing through this continent. Whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact.' It was the beginning of the end for Apartheid there, though Maggie Thatcher did her best to protect the old regime, calling Mandela a terrorist. Now we have apartheid in Israel and its occupied territories, and no leader dares says a word.
Saturday, 9 March 2013
Nothing to do with Israel, but again I need it in the title to get readers. I suppose the only connection is that, like backers of Israel, I write lots of letters to newspapers. Most of them get published, as I have learnt the knack: make one good point and keep it short. Sometimes I regret that I toss them off so lightly. For example I was incensed by talk about "the next David Attenborough" so I wrote to the Radio Times. What I should have said was simply that there cannot ever be a next Sir David. He is unique: a highly knowledgeable biologist who has spent fifty years pioneering what was a novel genre, the wildlife film, and doing it at a time when much of what he recorded is likely to disappear in the near future. Instead, after briefly making that point, I let myself get diverted into a complaint about Brian Cox being billed as the new Attenborough, before I had even seen his series (actually it bored me to sleep, but that's not the point). That was a bit mean to Cox, whose astronomy programmes were wonderful. I suppose I was partly put out because the BBC is not making fuller use of the excellent wild-life experts it has, such as Saba Douglas-Hamilton and Charlotte Uhlenbroek. Anyway, they published it as 'letter of the week' and I won a Chinese portable radio, but I did miss the point.
Sunday, 3 March 2013
Oh dear! A fortnight since I blogged! Difficult to keep it up if so few people read it. I have to put Israel in the title in order to get more readers - probably not the ones I want. I have an idea for the new Pope, the most exciting thing he could do is move the Papacy back to Jerusalem, where it started (if we are to believe that Simon Peter was the first Pope). That would be a glorious re-affirmation of the international status of the once-Holy City, which was part of the partition resolution of the United Nations in 1947. Israel would be forced to acknowledge the illegitimacy of the attempt to make it a wholly Jewish city. Incidentally, the name Peter is a translation of an Aramaic joke; Jesus gave Simon the nickname of Kefah ('Cephas'), meaning Rock, which is Petros in Greek and Petrus in Latin. Perhaps the new Pope could take the name Kefah the Second, to recall the Semitic roots of Christianity. And by overlooking a few obscure points of doctrine, perhaps he could reunite the Catholics with the Oriental Orthodox churches, which broke away in the fifth century. Dream on!
Friday, 15 February 2013
I was not born until the end of the 1930s, but from what I have read of that dark decade, the present is remarkably like it. Not only are we five years into the most depressed economic times since then, but the coalition government seems bent on destroying the great achievements of the post-war Labour Government. A recent cover of Money Week carried the cover story: 'Profit from the education boom', and now we learn that 'The full extent of Michael Gove's plans to revolutionise education are revealed today in a secret memo showing he is considering outright privatisation of academies and free schools.' At the same time, the Health Minister, Jeremy Hunt (Murdoch's great friend), is working to bring more private companies into health care. If shareholders are to profit from health and education it can only be by making them more expensive to the taxpayer or the 'customers'. I was educated in the 1950s, and I know that the products of State schools were every bit as well taught as anybody from public schools, and the NHS worked better then than it does now, at least in the quality of nursing. These services had not yet been taken over by tier upon tier of administrators and accountants. Of course we don't have what the 30s had - Adolf Hitler; but David Cameron is determined to build up the Al-Qaeda bogeyman into a threat worthy of a decades-long war.
Thursday, 14 February 2013
I was going to write that I thought Pope Benedict was past retirement age when he was elected, aged just over 78, but then I remembered that John XXIII was nearly 77 at the time of his election in 1958, and he was by far the most memorable Pope of my lifetime. Everything about him was singular. He was remarkable in particular for his aid to Jews in the time of Mussolini. He was elected to his own great surprise as a stop-gap to keep the throne warm for Giovanni Montini (later Paul VI), who was not a cardinal at the time of the election. He took a name which had last been used by an Antipope, one of the three claimants to the Papacy in the Western Schism (which ended in 1415 with the last resignation of a living Pope). He immediately seized the affections of the world, including many non-Catholics, by his warmth and openness. He set about organizing the Second Vatican Council, which opened full of hopes for new thinking on contraception, priestly celibacy, worker priests, even perhaps Papal Infallibility?! Alas, John died in June '63 before the Council had finished its work. Paul VI was like a shower of cold water and he stopped talk of reform. John-Paul I took a promising name but died after a few weeks. John-Paul II was charismatic but very conservative. Benedict XVI is a great theologian no doubt, but totally lacking in charisma. More than half the cardinals are his nominees and the rest are John-Paul's, so don't expect any surprises, but it would be exciting if we could have a John XXIV.
Sunday, 10 February 2013
As a vegetarian I can't understand why people are so horrified at the idea of horse-meat. It is very bad to sell it as beef, but if it were correctly labelled would that not be all right? (Selling it as halal or kosher is a different matter). Both kinds of meat are the muscle of large mammals, and if people don't mind eating bits of dead cow, why carp at bits of dead horse? Are horses more noble than cows, just because they let us ride them? Cows surely suffer as much as horses. My own reason for eating neither is that it takes a lot of land and water to feed livestock, and there just aren't the resources on our planet to provide meat for everyone. I have been a vegetarian for fifty years, so I know that one can be healthy and active without eating meat. I don't expect everybody to give up meat, but it would help the world if more people ate less of it. Another way to help would be not to buy food that you don't eat. Supermarkets are very guilty, because they reject any food that is not "perfect", and they push food at people with offers of "buy one get one free", "three for the price of two". My local authority has distributed special bins for waste food to all households, inciting people to feel comfortable about throwing food away. A recent study by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers suggests that up to half the food grown in the world never reaches a human stomach. At that rate we could feed up to twice the present world population of seven billion without using any more resources. So have I not refuted my own argument for eating less meat? Well I believe we have already taken more land than we should from wildlife, so I shall continue to be a vegetarian.
Wednesday, 6 February 2013
Was any policy ever introduced with less basis of information? We do not even have agreed statistics about how many people it is aimed at. Activists claim that 10% of people are homosexual, but the biggest survey ever conducted found about 1% (Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles, Johnson, Wadsworth, Wellings and Field, 1994). We know this study was important, because Margaret Thatcher blocked public funding for it. Thousands of anonymous interviews were conducted with a randomized sample of people. We do not know, either, how many homosexuals want the straitjacket of marriage - or is it all about the glamour of having a wedding? How many have taken advantage of the possibility of civil partnerships, and what proportion of partnerships have broken down? It is difficult not to feel that this is a desperate move by Cameron to make himself look 'progressive' (Some hope! Progressive taxation would help a lot more). Meanwhile, what about the people who want to live as threesomes or more? Christians consider marriage to be a sacrament between two people, but Muslims see it as a contract, and the Koran allows a man up to four wives; when will they cease to be discriminated against? And before you protest that polygamy is unfair to women, consider the fact that a Muslim co-wife has rights; a mistress in Western society has none.
Monday, 4 February 2013
Well, new to me anyway. The fisher writes to owners of domain names such as chemicalgalaxy.com and tells them that a whole lot of applications have been made for your domain name with a suffix like .asia, .in, .cn, .hk, .tw... The phisherman then offers to buy up these names at your expense. Even if I hadn't already guessed that this was phishing, I would know it because they also offered the .com name, and the only reason I didn't take it in the first place was that somebody else had already bought it. I wonder how many spurious websites are floating around cyberspace. As for Chemical Galaxy, I should get round to producing the third edition, as three more elements have been named since the second edition. But I needn't hurry; there are still six possible new elements up to no. 120. These ultra-heavy elements will never play any part in real life anyway, as they exist only as single atoms for a fraction of a second before decaying. They could only be stabilized if somebody found a way of adding many more neutrons, and even then they would not be likely to last more than a matter of seconds or minutes. Dreams of creating new elements are like fantasies of colonies on Mars. Much better to focus on reducing infant mortality - the best way of halting human population growth and saving what is left of our planet.
Friday, 1 February 2013
Young David has gone to pay his respects to the Algerian Government, only days after telling them off for acting without his agreement, and to the Libyan Government, which he helped to put in place. He should reflect on what the Romans did when they had provinces in North Africa. They wisely decided to make no effort to control the Sahara. Instead they built a line of defences along the edge of the desert, on the same principle as Hadrian's wall, to keep out the barbarians. In practice the nomads managed very well, earning their living by organizing transport between North and West Africa. The French and British, who added the Sahara to their empires, foolishly tried to include stretches of desert in the various countries that they carved out. The result was that the nomads found fictitious frontiers across their territory, and officials from the settled peoples to North and South interfering with their way of life. Once oil and gas had been discovered, outsiders came uninvited to pipe them out and keep the proceeds. It may be too late to redraw the frontiers, but at least we should recognize that it is virtually impossible to govern a desert.
Wednesday, 30 January 2013
As my tribute to Genocide Day I listened to Shostakovich's magnificent Thirteenth Symphony, which commemorates the Nazi killings in the Valley of Babi Yar, in Ukraine, including the biggest single mass murder committed in one day. He sets poems by Yevtushenko to express the horror and sadness. It struck me that Shostakovich followed exactly the same sequence as Mahler in his symphonies, starting with instrumental works, then adding voices, going back to instrumental, then going vocal again (Mahler's Eighth and Das Lied von der Erde, Shostakovich's Thirteenth and Fourteenth), and ending with purely instrumental music again. Neither composer could make his mind up whether Beethoven was right to claim that the first three movements of his Ninth had taken instrumental music as far as it could go, so that the last movement must be choral. Most symphonists have disagreed with Beethoven, some after an early experiment with voices (Sibelius' Kullervo Symphony, Vaughan-Williams' Sea Symphony), and Shostakovich and Mahler seem to have turned away from the vocal element in the end. Wordless singing probably came long before language in human evolution, and I personally prefer vocal music when I don't understand the words, so perhaps the solution we evolved for is to introduce the human voice as a wordless instrument, as Nielsen did in the magical second movement of his Third Symphony. Anyway, please listen to the Babi Yar Symphony.
Monday, 28 January 2013
I was really angry with Tony Blair when he introduced Holocaust Day, not because I think we should forget Hitler's crimes, nor because I think people like Netanyahu are in the same class for criminality, but because we need a Genocide Day to remind us that people were and are capable of monstrous acts in the name of racial or ethnic or religious purity or supremacy. We have seen it again in Rwanda and the Balkans, not to mention Tibet and Western New Guinea. Singling out the Holocaust is regrettable because it is used by Zionists to silence critics of Israel (see The Holocaust Industry by Norman Finkelstein, son of Holocaust survivors). The latest instance is a LibDem MP, David Ward, who made the valid point that the Israeli government is conducing a slow ethnic cleansing. His mistake was to use the word 'atrocity', which is best reserved for things like disembowelling people or burying them alive. What some Israelis do is better described as gross oppression and injustice. Secondly, Ward blamed 'the Jews'. He has fallen for the Zionist trick, which is to persuade the world that all Jews are Zionists. Zionism is based on two ideas: that Jews are a race and a nation rather than a religious community, and that Jews will always and everywhere be in danger until they are all gathered in to Israel. In fact many people who are labelled Jewish are neither Zionist nor religious, and there are probably more Christian than Jewish Zionists (many of them keen to 'send the Jews back where they belong'). It is a vicious circle: the more Zionists identify Israel with 'the Jews', the more Jewish people will be held responsible for Israel's crimes, and the more anti-Semitism will be perpetuated, seeming to justify Zionism. Meanwhile Muslims, who for centuries protected the ancient Jewish communities of Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Iran and India, get all the stick.
Saturday, 26 January 2013
I have just read The Master and his Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World by Iain McGilchrist - a brilliant book but (I was going to write 'not for the faint-hearted', but when did anybody ever say a book was for the faint-hearted?!) but demanding. It romps through some neurology, draws out the implications, then reviews major episodes in Western history from Homer to the present day. The title is taken from a fable in which a wise spiritual master ruled a small but prosperous domain. As its boundaries spread he was obliged to use trusted emissaries to rule its outer reaches, but the most trusted emissary decided he should be the master, and so he usurped power and used it to enrich himself. The Master stands for the right hemisphere of the brain, larger and better connected than the left, vigilant over all that happens in the body and around it, quiet but emotionally responsive and musically sensitive, the seat of face recognition. The Emissary stands for the left hemisphere, with the power of speech and precise calculation but limited emotional sensitivity, manipulative in the execution of particular tasks but neglectful of the wider context. McGilchrist's thesis is that in Western culture the right hemisphere has been allowed to lead at times but that overall the left hemisphere has become increasingly dominant. He is careful to insist that both hemispheres are involved in normal behaviour; most of what we know about their differences comes from people with extensive brain damage or surgically separated hemispheres.
Thursday, 24 January 2013
My wife forwarded an e-mail to me from a French source. It says (I abbreviate): "In the Koran the word WAR is used 9 times, TORMENT 12 times, INFIDEL 47 times, KILL 65 times, FIRE 150 times and PUNISHMENT 354 times; but the verb to LOVE does not occur once. Love is not Muslim but Christian." The doubtless Christian author of this is not only a great hater but also a great liar. A quick count of the root HBB ('love') in my Koran concordance cites it 114 times. Not only that, but the Koran says something equivalent to 'Love your enemies' and 'Bless them that curse you'; sura 41, verse 34, says ‘Good and evil are not equal; repay evil with good and your enemy will be like your closest friend'. Muhammad practised what he preached: he had to fight to save his community from destruction by the combined forces of Mecca and its Bedouin allies, but when Mecca surrendered to him only a dozen proven criminals were excluded from the general amnesty.
Wednesday, 23 January 2013
Poor Cameron! He is so frightened of his anti-EU Tories that he has promised a referendum on a new EU settlement yet to be negotiated. What he doesn't understand that you cannot negotiate if you have nothing to offer in exchange for what you want. It may be that most EU governments would secretly rather like to get rid of Britain, in which case there will be no new settlement to vote on. In fact Britain would lose a lot more than the rest of the EU from our exit; all those multinational companies that have invested here would want to move their operations to the Continent or to Ireland. And we would lose the prospect of joining in a pan-European project to regulate banks. Cameron has already turned down a very reasonable proposal for an EU tax on banking profits, because it would hurt the City. Could it hurt the banks more than they have hurt us?! But why look only at the economic loss to Britain? European unity is an inspiring vision after all those centuries of wars, in which Britain - and before that England - was usually involved. Mrs Thatcher turned down a visionary proposal for exchanges of language teachers, which could have revitalized our miserable performance in learning about other cultures; she haughtily said we didn't need any help. Whatever happens we can't escape the fact that Britain's geography, climate, flora and fauna, ecology, history, languages, literature, art, music and religions are all European. If we turn our backs on our fellow Europeans we shall just get drawn deeper and deeper into the American bearhug
Monday, 21 January 2013
George Bush where art thou?! Boy David has just given a speech straight out of the Bush script: 'We are in for a thirty years war against Al-Qaeda.' He clearly thinks this is a matter of sending British arms, drones and even perhaps personnel to fight in other people's countries. But the main cause of terrorism going international is our habit of trying to run other people's governments for them. Boy David's first reaction to the Algerian action was outrage that they were trying to act alone without asking Britain to help. What were they supposed to do? Negotiate? Pay ransoms? The only way to deal with ruthless fanatics is to deny them any success whatever. Hostages saved by compromise this time would just mean more hostages in the future. Every time that Western countries have interfered in Muslim-majority countries there have been unforeseen (but foreseeable) consequences, the latest example being regime change in Libya and before that in Iraq and before that in Afghanistan and before that... We need to leave people to solve their own problems. We should realize that fanatical extremists are hated and feared as much by their compatriots as by us. Nothing strengthens a dictator more than the spectacle of America and her allies attacking him. And nothing is more damaging to a government than the fact of receiving massive aid from the West.
Saturday, 19 January 2013
There was a great pair of cartoons in the period leading up to the invasion of Iraq. In both of them George Bush is standing in front of a map of the Middle East. In the first he points to Saudi Arabia and says 'Most of the terrorists who hit the Twin Towers came from here.' In the second he points to Iraq and says 'So we are going to attack here. I am not suggesting that the West should invade Saudi Arabia; but I wonder why we go out of our way to help the Saudi government, selling them arms from fighter jets to cattle prods. With their funding of madrasas all over the world they are the main exporters of so-called fundamentalist Islam 'Fundamentalist' is a ridiculous name for people who take sacred texts literally. They are not interested in the fundamental meaning underlying the words, nor in the importance of their context for interpreting them. In reality there is nothing to choose between literalist Muslims, Christians and Jews; they all believe that their own understanding of their favourite texts makes them absolutely right about whatever they do; God is on their side and anybody who stands in their way should be neutralized or even killed. This seems to be more particularly a problem of the Western religions. Has anybody heard of 'fundamentalist' Buddhists or Taoists? It sounds like a contradiction in terms. The book of LaoTse begins: 'The way that can be known is no absolute way'.
Friday, 18 January 2013
I have changed my mind about the Caliphate, which was abolished by Ataturk in 1924. In my book, Unfolding Islam, I wrote: 'Islam could exist without this venerable institution, which had long since ceased to perform any real religious function'. The trouble is that without it there is nobody with the authority to expound the teaching of Islam on terrorism, the mistreatment of hostages and the killing of innocent civilians. The Caliph was the one person who stood above all the four traditions of Sunni Islam. He was also respected by most Shia and Ibadi Muslims. The abolition caused a great outcry all over the Muslim world, and for a while there was a lively Khilafa Movement for its restoration. The events unfolding in the Sahara now show what a dangerous vacuum exists. The Koran says 'The Arabs [of the desert] are the worst in unbelief and hypocrisy and the most disposed to ignore the limits that Allah revealed to his Apostle' (sura 9, verse 97). Until the advent of nationalism, 'the Arabs' meant the nomads, and the settled people of Mecca, Medina, Baghdad, Damascus, Jerusalem and Cairo regarded the Wahhabis of the Arabian Desert as barbarians. Around the Sahara, the townspeople thought the same of the Touaregs. The British made it possible for the Wahhabis to take over Mecca and Medina, and with their oil wealth they have exported their version of Islam around the world. Now we must pay for the absence of a Caliph.
Thursday, 17 January 2013
Young David seems to be rushing Britain into a desert war without even consulting Parliament. But does he know what's in store? For a start, 'countries' like Mali, Algeria, Libya are unbounded. The Sahara is one big anarchic space, across which nomads have roamed for thousands of years without any regard for the lines on the map drawn in distant capitals. Its chief inhabitants are the Touareg, Berber tribes speaking a language akin to those of the mountains of North Africa, quite different from Arabic or any sub-Saharan language. The group that has taken hostages in Algeria call themselves Katibat al-Mulatthamin, which means literally the Brigade of the Veiled Ones. But Mulatthamin usually means Touareg, with reference to the fact that the men veil their faces. Touareg - Tawariq - means literally 'the Strikers' or 'Hitters', such is their reputation. They call themselves the Imuhagh. Nobody has ever been able to control them, and they resent the very attempt. In the past they have always been able to attack settled peoples and then disappear back into the desert. The best the Ottomans could ever do was to confine them in the desert. It remains to be seen what desert warfare will be like in the age of satellite images and drones. It could be very messy.
Monday, 14 January 2013
A short clip on television introduced me to a new kind of school in England: the 'studio school', in which children wear business suits and work from 9 to 5 to get them ready to be good wage slaves. They are encouraged to make projects with local firms to make money. There are already 15 of them, and apparently they are very popular with parents. There are now so many kinds of school in England and Wales (not Scotland, which has its own educational system). There are Bliar's academies and faith schools, Govner Gove's free schools (which taxpayers finance without having any control over them) and now studio schools, plus the surviving grammar schools and comprehensives, not to mention the public schools and a few private schools. The result surely is going to be an even more socially divided country. I am quite ready to see parents choosing a different education for their children, but it should be at their own expense; taxpayers should not subsidize them, and their schools should not have the status of charities. For the bulk of the population, the State should fund schools that are so good that only a few people would want to opt out of them, and where the education is so broad that only a few would object to their curriculum. The French do it, so why can't we?
Thursday, 10 January 2013
My wife replied to my comments on the burqa: "but it suits men when they decide that women are only half citizens." Certainly! My point was just that you mustn't blame Muhammad; he probably never even saw a burqa. Anyway, Babylonian temple prostitution led me to thoughts of Babel and I wondered how many languages have a Wikipedia edition. The answer is 285 (http://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/List_of_Wikipedias)from English, with 4.14 million articles, to Kanuri. with one, and Herero, so far with none. It was a shock to see Volapük at no. 37, with 119,030; I thought it had died with Revd. Martin Schleyer, who invented it in 1880, yet there it is not far behind Esperanto. Several dead languages are still kicking, including Latin, with slightly more articles than modern Greek, Sanskrit, Gothic and Old Church Slavonic. One can only marvel at the enthusiasts who produce all this stuff that so few people can read. People's attachment to their languages is one of the strongest human motivations and should never be under-estimated, especially when it is combined with a religion.
Wednesday, 9 January 2013
My wife sent me a quote from a French website: "The Burqa comes from the cult of Astarte in ancient Mesopotamia. To honour the goddess of love, every woman without exception had to prostitute herself once a year in the sacred groves around her temples. Upper class women veiled themselves completely to avoid recognition." I suspect that the linking of burqa and prostitution is malicious, but I shan't insist. The story comes from Herodotus, and there is no knowing how much truth there is in it. There is no direct evidence of any link with this custom and the burqa of more than a thousand years later. What is true is that upper class women in the Byzantine and Sassanid empires veiled themselves in the time of the Islamic conquests, and it is probable that the Arabs took over the practice from them. The Koran says nothing about all Muslim women having to wear a veil; it just asks them in rather vague terms to dress modestly when in the presence of strange men, 24:31 and 33:59. For the Prophet's wives only, 33:53 says that men who wish to make requests of them should do so from behind a curtain (hijab). This was simply to protect their privacy; they were, in modern terms, 'celebrities' and much in demand for their supposed influence on their husband. From the context, it is clear that hijab meant an article of furniture, not of clothing. The word burqaa does not occur in the Koran.
Tuesday, 8 January 2013
I got a surge of viewings for 'Israel Again'; now I want to see if 'the Arabs again' draws any attention. Actually, for most of Middle Eastern history 'the Arabs' meant the Bedouin of the desert. Arabic-speaking townspeople did not think of themselves as Arabs. That changed in the 19th century, when nationalist ideas were imported from the West. Because the Ottomans joined Germany and Austria in World War I, the British fought to separate the Arabic-speaking provinces from Turkey (and promised the Armenians help they could not deliver). Lawrence of Arabia lied to the Sharif of Mecca, promising an Arab kingdom based on Damascus. St John Philby plotted with the Saudi King for him to take over Mecca from the Sharif with British support. London meanwhile was promising Palestine to the Zionists and Syria to the French and even promising an Arab caliphate to the poor old Sharif (as if Britain could appoint a Caliph!) After the British had abandoned the Palestinians in 1947 one would have thought we would have hidden our heads in shame and vowed to leave the Middle East alone, but only nine years later we were colluding with France and Israel to invade Egypt. We did nothing to stop Israel from getting nuclear weapons and colonizing the territories occupied in 1967. We joined America in the 1980s in its support for the Mujaheddin in Afghanistan. We bombed Iraq in the 1990s and invaded it in 2003. Blair cosied up to Kaddhafi before helping to overthrow him. And now David Cameron is trying to involve us in the civil war in Syria. No wonder there is a problem of 'the Arabs again'! P.S. By the way, in case anybody is in doubt, Iran is not an Arab country; Farsi is an Indo-European language with a history three thousand years old. Under Cyrus, the Persian Empire was astonishingly liberal, allowing subject peoples to keep their languages and religions - as did the Arabs when they had an empire.
Monday, 7 January 2013
Islamophobia is not just an English-language business. A new book just out in France is entitled Ces Grands Esprits Contre l'Islam (Great Minds Against Islam) and it is a compilation of hostile texts, starting with St John of Damascus. The blurb says it is about "the more or less important and more or less crippling [rédhibitoires] problems posed by Islam to persons above all suspicion, which therefore deserve to be dwelt on." Rédhibitoire is used of goods found to have latent defects such that they cannot be accepted. The "great minds" run from St John of Damascus to Robert Redeker by way of Montesquieu, Flaubert and Marx. A sample of Redeker: "Pitiless war leader, pillager, butcher of Jews and polygamous, this is how Mohammed is revealed by the Koran... a book of incredible violence... Jesus is a master of love, Muhammad a master of hate." It is hard to see any point in publishing such a book other than to arouse hatred. It is the sort of stuff churned out by Anders Breivik.
Sunday, 6 January 2013
Erika Menendez says she hates "Hindus and Muslims", which means she hates brown-skinned people who look as if they might be Indian or Pakistani and might even be Muslim or Hindu (or Christian). This strange combination of racial and religious prejudice seems especially to afflict Christians of European origin and particularly Protestants. I think this must be because for centuries Christian Europe was ethnically and religiously remarkably uniform, so that anybody dark-skinned was probably a 'Saracen' or 'Turk' or 'Blackamoor'. When the Crusaders captured Jerusalem they slaughtered Christians and Jews as well as Muslims; to them all looked the same. Later on they met 'Indians' - in the Americas as well as in South Asia. After the Reformation, Protestants from Northern Europe assumed that darker skinned Europeans and their mixed-race offspring were 'Hispanics' with their dreaded 'Popish' religion. Anyway the old habits die hard, especially in America, where religion is still so influential. Ironically Erika Menendez, with a Germanic first name and a Hispanic surname may herself be subject to religio-racial prejudice. PS My blog 'Israel Again' has at latest count received 27 visits, more than all the others put together. There is a vigilant[e] community out there. I bet if I use the title 'Arabs again' I shan't get half as many hits. I'll try it next time.
Saturday, 5 January 2013
I have just read The Islamophobia Industry by Nathan Lean. With a mass of evidence he shows how a small group of bloggers, notably Pamela Geller, whose blog is significantly called 'Atlas Shrugged', after the novel by the prophetess of egoism, Ayn Rand, have promoted hatred of Muslims with an intensity worthy of medieval crusaders. She and others make great use of books and websites by pseudo-experts such as Robert Spencer. Opinion polls show that they have succeeded; fear of Islam has increased steadily after having started at a relatively low level during the months after the destruction of the Twin Towers. An example of the ghastly result came on 27th December, when a woman called Erika Menendez pushed a perfect stranger under an underground train in New York. She said 'I pushed a Muslim... [on to] the train tracks because I hate Hindus and Muslims. Ever since 2001 when they put down the Twin Towers I've been beating them up.' In fact her victim, Sunando Sen, appears to have been a Hindu, but his only offence was to look Indian. I have more to say on the confusion between religion and race, but that will have to wait till tomorrow.
Friday, 4 January 2013
Oh dear! I am not good at keeping this blog going. I have been thinking about a recent incident in which a 'Santa' lost his job; his offence, telling the truth to a child. A mother ushered her three children into his grotty grotto. After talking to all three he asked the two younger ones to leave him alone with the ten-year-old brother, then told him the truth about Father Christmas. The little boy passed on this news to his little sisters, whereon the mother had hysterics, called the management and succeeded in getting the poor man sacked. I wonder why there is this huge conspiracy to lie to children. It is not as if it were an ancient tradition. The whole business has been cooked up in the last hundred years. Christmas used to be the festival of the mother and babe, but it has been taken over by this male symbol of material abundance - an annual boost for the industrial economy. I think we should hand the 25th back to the Christians and celebrate Yule on the day of the solstice - without that old rogue in red.