Cameron’s at it again with the biblical references.
Last time it was an attempt to use Jesus’s “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” response to the Pharisees as a justification for the maintenance of the status quo, when in fact it means quite the opposite.
This time around, he’s laying claim to St Paul’s advice to the Galatians:
The Bible tells us to bear one another’s burdens. After the day I’ve had, I’m definitely looking for volunteers.
Indeed it does. Well Paul does, in his letter to Galatians.
But Galatians 6.1, immediately preceding what Cameron quotes t 6.2, makes it quite clear that Paul is referring not to material burdens, but the burden of sin:
My bothers and sisters, if someone is caught in any kind of wrongdoing, those of you who are spiritual should set him right; but you must do it in a gentle way, so that you will not be tempted too.
So either this was a mighty clever but gentle way of telling Maria Miller that she’s a right old sinner, or else it’s evidence he just googles the bits of the bible he needs and doesn’t bother with the context.
Since Friday, when white people started fighting there, it seems anyone who’s anyone in the mainstream media is an expert on Mali. Funny that.
I’m no expert, but back in April 2012, I wrote:
Meanwhile in Africa, a nascent democracy has fallen, a large part of the country is in the hands of a different number of armed groups with differing levels of affiliation to Al Qaeida, trouble is spilling over into neighbouring countries and refugees are on the move. All this is happening as a direct result of the UK’s last major military intervention.
I speak, of course, of Mali, and the vast desert area referred to as Azawad by those Tourags who seek its independence. Over the weekend the major town Timbuktu and Gao have fallen to Touareg rebels, taking strategic advantage of the recent coup d’etat. This coup d’etat was itself undertaken by a section of the army supposedly as a reaction to the civilian government’s inability to deal with armed rebellion in the North, and that armed rebellion was fuelled by the massive overspill of weaponry from Libya via Niger into the desert regions of Mali.
In the mix are various groups, with confused and confusing allegiance, and including the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), the (Islamist) Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA) , the (Islamist) Ansar al-Din and of course Al Qaeida Middle East (AQIM), present in one form or another (from bases in Southern Algeria).
More details are here, courtesy of the very excellent Kal at The Moor Next Door. There’s a handy map here. I don’t pretend to out-analyse Kal on the specifics of what are and what will be in the region, but simply ask the questions: do Cameron and Hague now accept that what seemed like a nice Boys’ Own Adventure is turning out to have very nasty consequences not just for the millions now directly affected (Mali’s population is 16 million to Libya’s 6 million) but potentially for the much of the Sahel and into the West African states?
Nine months on, we know a few more details of those “nasty consequences”. There is open war in Mali. Ansaru in Nigeria are explicitly linking their activities to Mali. Senegal is scared of what may be coming. Mauritania, in its fragile state, is unable to restrict the movements of jihadists through its territories and prey to attack on its own towns, and Niger – already beset by major ecnonomic and environmental problems, will only suffer more from the growing regional instability.
Now if I, from a backroom in Lancashire, armed with nothing more than an internet connection and a keen sense of the unintended consequence, was able nine months ago to predict pretty well how things would pan out, then it must all have been pretty damn predictable. You’d have thought, in such circumstances, the anti-war left would have had something to say in the way of prevention.
Yet by and large, none of the people or organisations now so desperate to comment on what are, by any yardstick, serious, bloody events with huge consequences for the people of the Sahel region and beyond, had anything to say as, little by little over the summer months, the groups who had been fighting for territorial independence ceded ground and towns to those with more Jihadi aims, and it became clearer that the assault on human freedoms in Northern Malian desert towns would soon be in assaults in Central Mali.
In the end, I can’t help feeling that while what is happening now in Mali is actually quite welcome news for some on the left, who are happy to use it to reinforce their anti-imperial narrative or whatever, the energies and resources now devoted to commenting on the war, might have been better used more proactively few months ago.
Of course it’s a big ‘if’, but if leftie commentators, journos and politicos had been demanding answers from the government back in the summer about how it intended to deal with what was unfolding in Mali, then it might just have hit the Cabinet agenda, and it might just have kickstarted an international process of support for regional intervention. As it was, it was December by the time ECOWAS came to a tentative agreement on use of its regional forces to support the Malian government, and by that time it was too late; French military intelligence clearly saw both that the route South was open to the jihadists, and that the jihadists had the capability and desire to take that road, and that if it didn’t strike now Bamako itself would be under threat (of course it may still be, but in a different way).
Of course the anti-war left is not responsible for what’s going on now – Cameron and co must bear some responsibility for that given that we now know how well briefed they were, or at least should have been, on the likely consequences for its southern neighbours of a changed regime in Libya.
But if the anti-war left is going to get serious about anti-imperialism/promoting the long-term advisability of stopping these continued interventions – we can be sure enough there’ll be another one along in the non-too-distant future - it had better start by getting serious about its analysis.
The appalling gang rape and murder of a young woman in Delhi has created the usual, and somewhat predictable, divisions in the left commentariat.
On the one hand you have Owen Jones:
But, in the West, Damini’s death has triggered a different response: a sense that this is an Indian-specific problem. “The crime has highlighted the prevalence of sex attacks in India,” says the Daily Telegraph; “India tries to move beyond its rape culture,” says Reuters. Again, it’s comforting to think that this is someone else’s problem, a particular scandal that afflicts a supposedly backward nation. It is an assumption that is as wrong as it is dangerous.
On the other there’s Sunny Hundal:
I despair with well-meaning people who say India’s endemic violence against women doesn’t have cultural roots. Desperate attempt to be PC. The debate will go on into the night. Nothing will be resolved, mostly because both are (only) half-right.
Owen is right to state the obvious – that violence against women remains a massive, under-recognised problem in Western Europe, but Sunny’s argument – that to ‘dilute’ the issue by suggesting that India is no worse than the UK, does a disservice to Indian women – is also reasonable. (Like Sunny, I’ve spent plenty of time in Indian (and Bangladeshi) houses/shanties/huts and support his view that, quite simply, women have a lower status in many households). Sunny’s probably also right to suggest a reluctance to pin the blame on Indian ‘culture’ stems, at least in part, from a wariness on the part of lefties of being taken as making racist assumptions about the cultural norms of brown people.
The problem with Sunny’s argument, though, comes in his essentialist use of the word ‘culture’. For Sunny, culture appears to be a thing, which you have, or you don’t have. Such a conception leads almost inevitably to the conclusion that, if the position of women in India is to be improved, Indians must lose a bit of their culture. That, I suggest, doesn’t lead us very far. Indeed it creates the condition in which the PC-gone-mad lefties like me, and maybe Owen, are tempted to reach for the safety of the ‘violence is everywhere’ argument.
I have a different conception of culture, and one which I think helps us through the current analytical impasse.
For me, culture is the product of a historical process of power struggle. It is dynamic, and consistently evolving in response to those power struggles. The biggest power struggle in the history of modern India was British Imperial rule, and this colonial rule had a very large impact on the position of women in India today. The best analysis of this that I know of is in Varsha Chitnis and Danaya Wright, The Legacy of Colonialism: Law and Women’s Rights in India, 64 Wash. & Lee L. Rev. 1315 (2007), in which the authors argue that the unequal status of women in India today has its roots in the power struggle between
the native elites and the colonialists [which] was fought on the backs of Indian women because it was the alleged degraded position of Indian women and the barbaric actions of Indian men that justified the colonial mission in the first place. This brings into the picture a third group, British feminists, who claimed a moral imperative to reclaim for Indian women the dignity and rights of Western women (p.1318).
As a consequence, argue the authors:
The condition of the Indian woman, particularly within the home, became the battleground on which the contests of power between Indian and British men and between British men and women were fought…… [O]ne of the post-independence legacies of this complex tussle for power is that even secular laws for women today are either protectionist and patriarchal, or else modem Indian women are not in a position to exercise their legal rights in meaningful ways. Victorian notions of womanhood (chastity, innocence, self-effacement, and passiveness) continue to pervade some laws, and certainly the traditional training of lawmakers and judges in the British legal system allows them to bring their often patriarchal understanding of the historical foundations of these laws to bear as precedents and jurisprudential principles, even when the laws are facially egalitarian (p.1319).
Of course, blaming the unequal position of women in India on colonialism doesn’t get us very far in itself. India has been independent for 70 years, and while the effects of colonialism are certainly longlasting and path-dependent, there are of course many other influences. My point is simply that, if people in Britain are to support in any way, shape or form, the liberation of women in India and elsewhere in South Asia, it will be important to engage in any such action not on the basis of judgment about the inadequacy of Indian culture when compared to Western freedoms for women – that would be, after all, neo-colonialism writ large – but on the basis that we’re doing what we can to help Indian women gain the power Britain arguably denied them in the first place.
There is a significant statement of intent by the Church of England in the Daily Telegraph letters page this morning.
Heading up a letter from more than a dozen other signficant investors from both religious organisations and secular charitable trusts, the First Church Estates Commissioner for the Church of England makes the following commitment:
The problem of excessive executive pay has become so serious that we have resolved to work with our investment managers to ensure that the remuneration policies of the companies we invest in are aligned with our interests, transparent, linked to performance, and appropriate in the context of each company.
Putting these letters together – agreeing the text and the subtext – doesn’t happen overnight. the term ‘resolved’ means that it has gone off to more than a dozen sets of trustees for review and comment*, and the text is carefully worded to ensure that it’s firm but flexible.
In particular, the phrase “the companies we invest in” leaves room for interpretation: that the Church and others will not just vote against excessive remuneration, but will disinvest in cases where such remuneration packages are voted through anyway.
The commitment to “work with our investment managers” is also important. The investment managers being used by these trusts and groups are also used by a huge range of other investors, meaning that the managers themselves will need to agitate not just on behalf of this core group, but in effect on behalf of a much wider group. The proof of this will, of course, come during the approaching AGM season.
So why is this happening now?
In part, I suspect that there is some genuine cooperation between this group of investors and some of the more ethical investment managers (yes, there are some), who have seen the opportunity to shift the balance of power between one bit of capitalism and another, and decided that now is the time to make the move.
But, while it’s not acknowledged in the letter, I think we should also recognise that this move – not massive in itself, but a step in the right direction – is down to the work done by the Occupy movement.
As a socialist, conscious of how the 1986 movement paved the way for neoliberalism, I think there are significant problems with the Occupy movement, however well-intended. But proto-comradely hats off to them on this one. It’s not exactly what I had in mind here, but it’s welcome nonetheless.
One last thing: my sources tell me this letter is only with the Daily Telegraph (who also accord it an article) because it was refused by the Financial Times. Why, I wonder, would the FT refuse a letter from a set of organisations with roughly £7 billion invested in the City of London?
* I bet the Baptists especially, with their tradition of removal from ‘wordly affairs’, met long into the night on this one.
I just hope this photograph does not become widely identified with the #occupylsx movement, or in a very short space of time the protestors will become very unpopular amongst a signficant section of the population.
So, also, may Kevin Maguire in the Mirror, who opines on twitter:
Jesus drove moneylenders from the temple but Bishop of London wants anti-capitalists away from St Paul’s. Christianity turns full circle?
Clearly both Kevin and the pictured protestor missed a lot of Sunday school, because Jesus did not drive moneylenders from the temple.
What Jesus did in the temple is recorded in all four gospels:
Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves (Matthew 21:12);
On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves (Mark 11:15);
So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables (John 2:15);
Then he entered the temple area and began driving out those who were selling [translated in other versions as 'merchants'] (Luke 19:45).
This isn’t a Bible Studies blog, but the difference between money changers and money lenders is an important one, rooted in the obligation of the time for temple goers to pay their devotions in temple money.
Jesus is expressing anger, not at the concept of lending money, but at people using their position of power in the temple hierarchy to exchange money at exorbitant rates, especially with those coming from afar.
This is not Jesus acting against the whole concept of credit and debt, but against racism in the temple.
As such, there may be a fairly oblique reference to Deuteronomy (23: 19-20), which appears to authorise different repayment schedules, depending on race.
Do not charge your brother interest, whether on money or food or anything else that may earn interest. You may charge a foreigner interest, but not a brother Israelite, so that the LORD your God may bless you in everything you put your hand to in the land you are entering to possess.
The protest movement, I suggest, should steer clear of a campaign against the fundamentals of credit and debt as a way of making the world work. As David Graeber has shown, such concepts may well be hardwired into human existence, and what we really should be campaigning for is some form of democratic control of banking institutions and the power to create money, rather than an end to the whole idea of banking itself. Debt can be a social good, and the new protest movement should be wary of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Over the centuries, religion has torn society apart over the concept of what is and what is not usury, and who should be allowed/forced to engage in it. There is a strong argument that attempts by organised religion to resolve this dilemma - between the desire for religious righteousness and the need for some kind of lending system – have been the key longterm cause of the oppression of Jewish people.
And that’s really not somewhere I want to see #occuplylsx go for the sake of a snappy poster.
I have a post up on the LSE blog reviewing Michael Dillon and Andrew W. Neal’s recent book Foucault on Politics, Security and War.
Read it by following this link:
This is a guest (re-)post by Bob From Brockley.
I originally posted a version of this post last Autumn. I have asked TCF to re-post it for me (slightly edited) because I posted it at a very busy time at my blog, so it got very little debate, and I wanted to test it out away from my comfort zone. But I am asking now because I think the situation is becoming more and more critical for anti-fascists. The continued decline of the BNP is a positive but it has opened the space for the re-emergence of more emphatically Nazi sects, while its ideas and narratives have infected the political mainstream as authoritarian xenophobic politics spread beyond the fascist fringe. Meanwhile, the English Defence League has seen a continued violent rise based on a style of politics the BNP long ago abandoned, and could well form the nucleus of a new far right alignment. These changes pose the questions of militant anti-fascism more urgently than ever.
Waterloo Sunset has published a very helpful critique of Searchlight’s announcement of a brave new era for anti-fascism. Searchlight call for a re-thinking of the reality of fascism, and a step away from some of the old orthodoxies of militant anti-fascism. Like WS, I agree that there is some truth in the analysis of the changing situation put forward by Nick Lowles and Paul Meszaros, and like WS I am far from convinced of either the newness or the wisdom of the new course they chart. But I am far from sure what the right course is.
As WS points out, the aspects of the new Searchlight analysis which are correct were actually set out very clearly a decade and a half ago by London Anti-Fascist Action (AFA) in its Filling the Vacuum document, which led eventually to the self-dissolution of AFA and a turn to community politics. In short, the battle against the BNP on the streets had been won by the early 1990s, but the BNP were winning a cultural war in the communities where white working class people felt let down and abandoned by mainstream society, and in particular by the left and the Labour movement.
But, as WS also points out, the way to engage those communities is not to enter the political mainstream, or to do the Labour Party’s business and re-connect the electorate in those communities with the political machine which abandoned them. That only further sacrifices our credibility.
The way to fill the vacuum, instead, is to build the grassroots initiatives that take seriously the real concerns of such communities – especially now, in an age of rising unemployment, financial crisis and unfairly imposed austerity. (These grassroots initiatives look different in every locality. The relationship with the Labour Party, trade unions and so on will be negotiated differently depending on local circumstances. Meszaros and Lowles are right about the need for flexible, local solutions informed by local knowledge.)
Related to this is the issue of who the constituency of this sort of activity should be, something which, as WS notes, is skirted around in the Searchlight text. They talk about “the community”, “real people”, “real communities”, “ordinary people”, “real ordinary people”, “the mainstream”, “the anti-BNP voter”, “Mr and Mrs Smith”, “the public mood”. But this vagueness contrasts to the more specific constituency identified in the analysis of the BNP’s growth: “The BNP was building inside communities and tapping into widespread discontent with the political system. More significantly, and often ignored by many, the BNP was engaging in a cultural war that was successfully drawing upon a loss of identity and meaning among many white working class people. By carefully nurturing an image of itself as victim and speaking up “for the silent majority” the BNP could offer a new white nationalist identity to people who felt let down and abandoned by society.” Those who are experiencing a loss of identity and meaning, who feel let down and abandoned by society, are a very specific constituency, and it is them, and not “Mr and Mrs Smith” that anti-fascists need to engage with.
But where does that leave militant anti-fascism? Is its job over? The key problem with the Searchlight analysis of militant anti-fascism is to reduce it to the philosophy of “No Platform”. In my view, this is simplistic and misleading.
“No Platform” is a policy that relates primarily to student unions and trade unions. For a student union, for example, No Platform means using the power of the union to keep fascists off campus – denying them a platform in the college or university. For council workers, it might mean stopping council premises being used by fascists.
No Platform is sometimes counterposed to “free speech”, but No Platform is not historically a policy of calling upon the state to ban fascists, but rather of using one’s own resources to deny them a platform in one’s own institutions. If I tell someone that in my house, in front of my kids, they should refrain from swearing, I am not infringing their free speech in general, just saying what the rules are in my house. No Platform, historically, was never about bans and police actions; it was about people setting the rules in their own houses.
What happened was that No Platform took on the status of a fetish, an absolute value, and a life of its own, in ways that had absolutely nothing to do with the wider ethos of anti-fascism. We see this reflected in two very different ways. For many anti-authoritarians, anti-fascism became a lifestyle choice; the hoodie and scarf became a uniform; and anyone outside the charmed circle of the antifa milieu was not trusted.
On the authoritarian left, in the white collar unions and student unions dominated by the SWP, we see calls for BNP teachers to be sacked, or agencies like the EHRC taking the BNP to court over its membership rules – meaningless, bureaucratic, legalistic interpretations which rely on the state and disempower citizens, while allowing the BNP to paint itself as the heroic victim of censorship.
Meanwhile, in the real world – in the world of the internet and YouTube and Facebook, where platforms for hate endlessly proliferate; in the a period when the BNP have achieved a wider support base of people who are in no sense fascist; and in an age of increasingly sophisticated policing and surveillance – the ideal of No Platform has become meaningless.
Ironically, coinciding with the concept’s irrelevance, the SWP front Unite Against Fascism (UAF) has re-discovered it with a vengeance, probably noting that they can gain competitive advantage in the anti-fascist market by making “militancy” their USP. Hence childish actions like throwing eggs at Nick Griffin, which might be fun but have zero or negative effect.
Militant anti-fascism, however, never meant just street fighting. AFA, for example, saw it as a two-track strategy: physical and ideological confrontation, the latter less spectacular but taking up at least much of the organisation’s energy. To list just a few examples I can recall, in London and elsewhere, we did a huge amount of work with football fans, organised carnivals and local history workshops, developed a political response to knife attacks in London, did estate-based work in issues like housing transfer and anti-social behaviour. This approach was also that of our predecessors, as you can see if you read the autobiography of Joe Jacobs for instance.
Another challenge for militant anti-fascism is how to deal with forms of fascism that don’t look like the old NF did – forms of fascism that fester among “oppressed” minorities, among people that hate the BNP. When this challenge was recently posed by Carl, it was totally failed by both UAF and Searchlight. But when it was posed in the East End in the summer of 2010, more positive results were seen. Whitechapel United Against Division mobilised working class white and Bangladeshi local people to protest both the Islamists and the EDL. And the statement “Against fascism in all its colours”, condemning both, was signed by a wide range of local organisations, from the Bangladesh Welfare Association to the Brick Lane Mosque to the Whitechapel Anarchist Group.
This points to a neglected part of the militant anti-fascist story. A large part of the history of militant anti-fascism in Britain, from the Jewish East End in the 1930s to Southall and Brick Lane in the 1970s and 1980s, has been communities defending themselves from violent attacks. With the BNP’s turn in the 1990s from the battle for the streets to the battle for the ballot box, that sort of violence was less common. But with the rise of the EDL since 2009, Asian communities are once again under attack. If anti-fascism is to have any credibility with these communities, and especially their youth, an appeal to “Mr and Mrs Smith” is not the right approach. And this opens a space that reactionary jihadi groups are happy to move into. Anti-fascism, then, needs to fill the vacuum in white working class communities, but also drive a wedge between angry Muslims and the far right Islamist political entrepreneurs appealing to them. Doing both at once will be no easy task.
In conclusion, I agree with Meszaros and Lowles that we urgently need to re-think the old dogmas in new times. But I don’t think they offer us the tools to do so.
2 Peter 3:6-8 Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished: But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgement and perdition of ungodly men. But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
“What could God be telling us”, the eBible Fellowship asks, “by identifying 1 day along with 1000 years?”
Possibly that in the Kingdom of Heaven time is meaningless? Or that 1 day feels like a 1000 years? No they don’t like that option, instead plumping for the following:
Since we recently have discovered the Biblical calendar of history on the pages of the Bible, we find that the flood of Noah’s day occurred in the year 4990 BC. This date is completely accurate (for further information on the Biblical timeline of history, please go to: http://www.familyradio.com). It was in the year 4990 BC that God revealed to Noah that there would be yet 7 days until the flood of waters would be upon the earth. Now, if we substitute 1000 years for each one of those 7 days, we get 7000 years. And when we project 7000 years into the future from 4990 BC, we find that it falls on the year 2011 AD.
May 21 2011 also falls on the end of the 23-year tribulation period, which marks the end of the period from Pentecost in 1988, 1955 years after the church began in 33AD. This date just so happens to fall on the day promised for judgement.
The rub is only believers will be saved:
1 Thessalonians 4:16,17 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. (my emphasis).
So it’s no good being Pascalian about this, because only those who are really dead in Christ will meet with the Lord in the air – though you could apply Pascals wager to the whole Rapture thing. Sure it is believable that for the next 5 months all “the waters [will] prevail … upon the earth [for a] hundred and fifty days” (Genesis 7:24), but just in case it is all bollocks (which, I’m afraid, it is), just act as though it isn’t real; that will save you looking like a right mug when on May 22 nothing happened!
Phillip Blond said on his twitter feed last night (re Ann Widdecombe’s programme Does Christianity Have a Future?):
Great programme but no idea why ann didn’t do the global figures – more christians than ever before in raw numbers and world percentages
The answer to this is that such figures would not perhaps fit her narrative.
In answer to the question “is the growth of secularism a worry”, put to the former British Conservative Party politician by Alyssa McDonald for the New Statesman, Ann replied:
Secularism has no central goal, it’s just promoting endless relativism. That’s why there is a huge moral drift in the country. Everybody is infallible except the Pope, if you like. Crazy.
Strictly speaking, the UK does not have secularism*, or more specifically laicism, since the head of state is also the head of the church, but certainly the state does not assume the role of religious imposer and in this regard Britain may be considered soft secular.
Amazingly however, some assume that the state, in not imposing one religious discourse to those it governs, has become morally neutral or relative, and one consequence of this is moral decay or drift.
In 2007 Widdecombe said:
“Most of our social ills are down to loss of authority; in schools, by the police, in the home, in organised religion.
“There is a slow descent into anarchy. We are in moral anarchy. In some estates it is already there. To change things, you must start to restore authority to the police.”
In some part, Widdecombe believes that today’s moral anarchy is to do with loss of authority in organised religion.
In 2010, she put it bluntly:
if today we still tried to follow the Ten Commandments we would be a better society
There is no doubt about it, for Widdecombe moral decay in our society is down to the fact that religion is less important to people.
So to return to Blond’s question “why … didn’t [Ann] do the global figures”? Perhaps because if she had noted a global growth in religiosity, particularly with the Christian religion, then given her logic of these matters, we could expect to be on some sort of road to moral harmony soon.
*Ms Widdecombe knows Britain is not secular, indeed she once said “Britain is “a Christian country. There is one established church here. The law does follow that.” But does she know what secular means?