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.