The Rapprochement That Never Quite Comes

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How do you forgive a mother who blames your childhood self for the religious fundamentalism she had taught to you as a kid? Reminiscing on my childhood, reading the leaked Peter Clarke report on Birmingham “Trojan Horse”Schools”

Recently my mother asked why I am interested in, and write, about religion. I pointed out that us studying with Christian fundamentalists like the Jehovah’s Witnesses for six years helped. False religion needed to be understood. It was also grounded into me the separation of church and state – and for us to be no part of this world.

Her response floored me. It was apparently all my fault. I had asked, at the age of eight, why it rained in the UK but not in Africa. A question she posed to Jehovah’s Witnesses. Their answer led to us studying with them.

By the time I was thirteen, she said she was having doubts. I told her demons were trying to take her away from the Truth.

How my adult self wanted to reply. It was not me that invited my personal weekly study with them for two hours each week from age of eight to fourteen at the family home. Or the other three meetings we went to each week. Where I was taught how demons can tempt you, and influence other people. That almost everyone, save us, were going to die.

End of the World

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A constant refrain: the end of this system of things would be soon. In late 1980s the people that had seen 1914 were nearly dead. Armageddon had to come in their lifetime. As the Governing Body proclaimed to the faithful. With a disabled brother, a paradise earth seemed the best chance for him. He was there automatically. I had to make sure I was with him. By following Jehovah to the letter, as dictated by the Watchtower and Bible Tract Society.

My mother pulled me out of school so I could study more. We watched the first Iraq War as a sign of the impending Second Coming. Elders saw prophecies of Daniel, and Revelation, in these unfolding news events. In the end, the aerial was pulled off the roof to protect us from satanic propaganda and evil broadcasts. We hankered down, calling on the name of Jehovah.

Indoctrinated

I know my mother regrets having studied with them. She romanticises the period. But I am blamed for believing everything I read and was told by the adults that had access to me. A product of my environment, I was the ultimate fundamentalist. The promise of a new world made me hide away from the outside world. My private study reinforced what I was being taught. Faith was absolute, dawn to night, by thought and deed.

Instead of being prepared for the real world, I was ready for the spiritual war that was sure to come. Absorbed in a monoculture doomsday cult, which I gave myself completely too. No one stopped me taking what these adults said seriously. Religious freedom seemed to allow my interactions to be almost solely confined to the Kingdom Hall congregation. As “bad associations spoil useful habits.”

I had the mind of a sponge, soaking up the theology of the Jehovah’s Witnesses as proclaimed in their books and magazines. I broke myself free only by realising science and not the bible would have to prove a creator was necessary or not. Which led to reading old publications that showed the Jehovah’s Witnesses had regularly made up things which never happened. Or changed belief, while still quoting scripture to justify a position, now at odds with previous teaching.

Mercifully my mother was already of a mind to leave when I realised at 14 how duped we had been. So we left as a family. But I have to draw the line at a child being blamed for their own indoctrination. One that very nearly destroyed my life chances in a world that through it’s misery, conflict and strife, keeps turning.

Whatever our beliefs or none, we need to work together to make the world a better place to wake up to then it was when we went to bed. One aspect is the separation of church and state. I would add also, separation of church from classroom.

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Trojan Horse Plot

Reading Peter Clarke’s report into attempts to impose religious orthodoxy in state schools in Birmingham, I hear parallels with my upbringing. How women are seen as temptresses. Students becoming religious prefects of their own accord, a limited education on other faiths and promotion of their own.

[Peter Clarke] also found evidence of a “co-ordinated, deliberate and sustained action to introduce an intolerant and aggressive Islamist ethos into some schools in the city”.

The agenda would have confined “schoolchildren within an intolerant, inward-looking monoculture that would severely inhibit their participation in the life of modern Britain,” the leaked report says. [BBC]

No indoctrination should be happening to children. Nor can they be blamed as they reinforce what they are taught. They are a product of their upbringing. They are innocent. Needing an education, which includes academic religious studies to understand diversity, prepared to live as a well adjusted adult. Not religious instruction to reinforce a narrow understanding of the world to limit their interactions with society.

I have forgiven my mother – but I have not forgotten.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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Gaza, Israel and Palestine

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Empathising with all sides in a conflict usually is seen as an abhorrence for war. Dismay at the horrific scenes of bloodshed and mayhem. Anger, at the dehumanising used to justify atrocities.

My humanism denounces mentalities that see people as less than human. Both sides in Gaza and Israel have failed on this score. The failure is death and destruction. The murder of kidnapped children rather than bringing communities together, showing solidarity with one another, has led instead to each side bombing one another.

Hamas are evil theological thugs that deny freedom to Palestinians in daily life, let alone any chance for a two state solution. Launching rockets that send Israelis running for cover achieve one thing. The invitation for Israel to respond militarily. Hamas human shields are in place to increase the civilian death toll in an already compact, densely populated area.

Somehow the destruction of disabled centres, and the killing of a Hamas police chief with 17 members of his families included in the attack, are made viable by some. This is what demands for security do. Israel has the right to defend itself from attacks, rather than just rely on the Iron Dome missile defence system. Yet the retaliation goes beyond the concept of legitimate military targets.

Airstrikes oblige Hamas with the pictures that reverberate around the world. The horror is visual. Charred flesh, bloodied infants. The deflection is that Israel should not live in fear and Palestinians must stop Hamas. Or else this will be the response. Get a backbone I am told, and accept collateral damage is inevitable and a price worth paying. Never mind this appears as collective punishment on the innocent. Because it is.

There is an iron dome to criticism of Israel playing into terrorist hands, and the delay of a peaceful solution. A proportionate response is replaced with shock and awe. So forget the illegal settlements, because people in Tel Aviv are running for their lives as sirens ring out. Netanyahu will get a poll bounce as a hawk defending the State of Israel, against backdrop of countries that wish to annihilate it. If they could.

The dove of peace is cowed once again. The peacemakers are in hiding as people run for cover. Those cheering on the bombardment from either side will denounce this piece as naive and giving succour to one side.

Those kidnapped murdered children have been failed twice, once in life and now in death. The world watches. But we should not be silent. A ceasefire must be called by all sides, a way to peace must be found. That gives dignity to Palestinians and security to Israel.

How to achieve? Only by goodwill and abhorrence of violence on all sides talking to each other. At present that is a pipe dream buried under the smouldering rubble in Gaza.

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Video: Karima Bennoune’s “When people of Muslim heritage challenge fundamentalism”

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Standing in a corridor with a parrying knife, waiting for the door to be smashed in by fundamentalists wanting to kill your father for teaching evolution. Thankfully, they did not get in, but the experience set Karima Bennoune on a journey to promote not just human rights, but to show the struggle of Muslims against fundamentalism. By telling their story of living in the face of violence and intimidation.

I had heard of the title of her book “Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here” but having watched the TED video it has jumped to the front of the next one to buy. Too often, I am asked where are the Muslims challenging fundamentalists? That I am on the left apologising for violence blaming anything other than islamism. That I am on the right using examples of Muslim fundamentalists to suggest at it’s heart this is the real isalm.

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Karima Bennoune’s talk “When people of Muslim heritage challenge fundamentalism” is the thing to listen to about going beyond this left/right response. By telling stories of the sheer horror of what fundamentalists do, and of the people standing up against them. We hear about the murder and the madness. Much less about the people who are in the firing line taking them on.

Worth twenty minutes of your time.

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What Joanne Harris Actually Said About J K Rowling

Often I think there is a book inside of me, but at the moment the Doctor suspects it may be kidney stones. If there really is something of literally value inside you the prospect of fame, and fortune via the written word may be illusory for most of those hoping to make a living off it. Perhaps some at least know not to enter X Factor with their vocal talents. But maybe, with a few Retweets by authors of your blog posts you might think yes – I have what it takes. Maybe you do – but even so:

According to a survey of almost 2,500 working writers – the first comprehensive study of author earnings in the UK since 2005 – the median income of the professional author in 2013 was just £11,000, a drop of 29% since 2005 when the figure was £12,330 (£15,450 if adjusted for inflation), and well below the £16,850 figure the Joseph Rowntree Foundation says is needed to achieve a minimum standard of living. The typical median income of all writers was even less: £4,000 in 2013, compared to £5,012 in real terms in 2005, and £8,810 in 2000. [The Guardian]

Still, perhaps it is only a matter of handing that manuscript to the right person at the right time. Like JKR …

Joanne Harris, best selling author of Chocolat, made this observation:

The general public has been led to believe by success stories like JK Rowling’s that authors are fabulously well-paid for doing a job that’s easy and fun. But stories are always more than they seem to be. Those people who assume that it’s just a little story about wizards are completely missing the point.

It is a fair point. Writing a book that can hold someone’s attention for two, three hundred pages is not as easy as it sounds. The amount most writers have to live off is pitiful compared to most jobs. Living off your royalties in luxury is most unlikely. You will be exceedingly lucky if the advance pays you the minimum wage for your efforts.

What Joanne Harris said has been lost in translation by media headlines, and it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. The Independent:

“JK Rowling’s ‘little story about wizards’ distorts truth about authors’ pay, says Joanne Harris”

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Which is not what she said at all. The Daily Telegraph had:

“Author attacks JK Rowling’s Huge Wealth for ‘a little story about wizards’ “

The Daily Telegraph has since changed the headline – but the previous title still appears on a google search.

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It has led to such comments as these by Kate Hopkins:

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It is important to set the record straight for what Joanne Harris said. Not just for accuracy, but the message. Making an income to live off writing is becoming increasingly hard despite being in a technological age where it has never been easier to get your written work out there. In a drowning sea of digital e books, blogs, and established print media making professional material available for free.

Books are more than a collection of printed words. They are portals to other worlds. To another time whether past or present. A gateway to a place beyond imagination. You always remember a page turner. It is like a pet on the book shelf, where just seeing the spine sends tingles up your own as you reminisce about the story that wrapped you up in another universe.

In this media age people think they can be celebrities with no noticeable talent, and live off being a sensation from their 15 minutes of fame. We are also in an age where people expect to get content for nothing.

Joanne Harris needs to be heard on this. If we cannot give a lifeline to writers, rewarding their talent, then our literally culture will be in poor health.

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Unity and Pluralism by Muslim Council of Britain – Unless Ahmadi

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The billing is “British Muslims Sign Historic Intra-Faith Unity Statement: Intra-Faith Unity Statement Aims to Provide Common Ground Between Muslims of All Traditions.” Tonight at an event, special guests of the Muslim Council of Britain were invited to sign the statement that calls for among other things:

“no group or individual shall use, propagate or tolerate the rhetoric of takfir (charge of unbelief) for anyone.”

“We shall respect each other and our differences”

“We shall avoid hate and condescending speech”

“attacks on these places of worship are attacks on us all,”

“We call on our Ulama from all traditions to form a positive space for reconciliation and cooperation.”

“to campaign in an inclusive, non-sectarian manner.”

“Above all, we shall emphasise areas of commonality, the virtue of compassion and empathy”

The question though that came to my mind: were the Ahmadi invited to take part? Because when I think of love for all hatred for none, pluralism and stressing non sectarianism, I think of them as the face of Islam the world needs to see more of on our TV screens. Whilst many Muslims think of them as heretics. In some states like Pakistan they are legally discriminated against, and generally terrorised by assassination or mass killing in a mosque. Not that they are allowed to call it a mosque.

In the UK on this blog I mentioned an occasion when Muslims made a local paper side with their theocratic judgment that the Ahmadi were not actually Muslims. The paper even apologised to those offended for running an advert celebrating the Ahmadi Muslims. Despite David Cameron publicly thanking them for their contribution to Britain during the celebrations.

Here was a chance for the Muslim Council of Britain to include the Ahmadi and show they really did mean this:

“British Muslims from a diverse range of faith traditions came together today to affirm their commitment to Muslim unity and pluralism.”

The press secretary of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association UK informed me on his personal twitter account:

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This led to a follow up question – and I hope like me you find his shocking.

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So Muslim Council of Britain. You want to end sectarianism, bloodshed, murder and hatred among Muslims. You want to promote pluralism, in a spirit of unity that no one should judge other Muslims?

Then invite the Ahmadiyya to sign, and show solidarity with them when their places of worship are burnt down, their members murdered and work with them to end the persecution they suffer in the world.

Till you do, this document is a worthless piece of paper and a public relations exercise. Your actions will lack credibility and no one deserves to take you seriously as an organisation for the umma. Let alone dedicated to pluralism, which is more than just a word to use in a press release to sound tolerant.

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Jehovah’s Witnesses At Train Stations

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Knocking on a door, your senses try to pick up any vibration that someone is coming. Especially elderly; might take their time. Not just indicating to wait long enough, but to tailor your message. That article on crime in the magazine – yes that might start a conversation.

Ministry work – going door to door – is part of being a Jehovah’s Witness. Spreading the good news that virtually everyone is going to die in an apocalypse, you too unless heed the message. Though the end of the world was meant to happen in the lifetime of those that saw 1914. Those people I spoke to who had witnessed the Great War have departed before that promise of interpretation by the Watch Tower and Bible Tract Society was shown to be a lie. One I shared with others.

Just as teachings change to circumstances that catch you out – or God revealing what we need to know at that moment if you prefer – so do methods. Door knocking and hoping someone is in has given way to trying to be where people are.

Volunteers are targeting train stations, as well as shopping centres and other busy places, in 14 cities across Britain and Ireland – Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Dublin, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Sheffield.

In London alone, the movement says it has 1,000 people giving away literature – and they get through about 6,000 brochures, 20,000 books, and 100,000 magazines every month. [BBC News]

Rather like a spider on a web, they stand there with a collection of books and magazines. Waiting for the fly to come to them. At least you can be sure they do not want your blood. Refusing blood transfusions is one thing most people are aware they do even for kids in critical condition. Just your complete obedience to what the Watchtower believes. They will do their best to assimilate you on that journey, gradually, starting with the offer of a bible study.

Sincerity is not something they lack. They really do believe God would be angry if you had a slice of birthday cake (it’s moon worship). That a child should not be playing with a transformer doll as it suggests life exists independent of the only creator, Jehovah (and magic powers a big no). Books to read on theology are by the Society; the devil’s work is false religion so beware of them. Those ancient philosophers will lead you to paganism, even to doubt. Probably best to leave well alone.

The relationship with Jehovah is that of a loving father who does not think twice at killing people that displease him. When the Israelites demand some variety to their diet in the wilderness, fish meat rain from the sky. It’s a test. Those that ate them die (Numbers chapter 11).

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You do get to read the bible at least with them. I still remember the audio tape dramatisation and the noise of those choking on the fish meat, dying in agony. And those stories – which are real to you as a kid – rather put you off birthday cake if Jehovah is like that. He is a jealous God – even his chosen people did not escape his wrath. And judgment day was waiting like a thief in the night.

At least at a train station you can escape them much easier than a knock at your door. Or a child finally reasoning this cannot be true.

I have written more on the past teachings of the Jehovah’s Witnesses here.

My childhood experience can be read here.

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Dawkins Endorses Anti-Muslim Twitter Account

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Richard Dawkins promotes following @jihadistjoe on twitter. The following screen grabs are from the same day Dawkins endorsed, but just before he tweeted his endorsement.

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Jesus and Mo cartoons strike the balance between humour and biting satire by tackling outrages religious ideas and thinking with irreverence. @JihadistJoe however plays on Muslim streotypes, using far right propaganda that all Muslims are a danger to society. Regrettably the cartoons @jihadistjoe uses hark back to the dark days of caricature designed to make bigotry and prejudice acceptable by being regularly seen.

Treating Muslims as extremists or their supporters because they follow Islam is anti-Muslim bigotry. The insidious suggestion is secretly (without being honest or duped) they work to undermine democracy and society. To point out believing this is a crazy conspiracy mindset that goes against everyday experience with Muslims in the UK, is to be met with the suggestion you are a willing dhimmi or a useful idiot.

Secularism is about promoting rights for all as equal citizens. Religion does not have preferential treatment in public space over others, citizens are free to believe or disbelieve without penalty or favour. The state does not control faith, and promotes a pluralistic society where individual rights are paramount. We are truly free to think for ourselves and understand God or the world around us, and form our own moral compass, as law abiding citizens.

People deliberately overlook the contributions against extremism by Muslims who champion secularism. Dismissing the concern secularists have against anti-Muslim bigotry. Just two examples of pluralism and secularism in action: Maajid Nawaz chairman of Quilliam anti-extremist think tank, has recently mean made an honorary associate of the National Secular Society. While atheist Peter Tatchell has become a patron of Tell Mama, the anti-Muslim bigotry charity.

When Richard Dawkins endorsed the account, he accused one person that pointed out how bad the account was of lacking humour and judgment. Yes Richard, humour might be down to personal taste, but if you cannot see what the account is promoting (at odds with secularism) then your own judgment has to be called into question.

We cannot let the extremists define us nor should we side with them. We can stand for human rights without using prejudice and bigotry.

    Update 6 July 2014:

Whilst most people seemed to get that suggesting Muslims “breeding” and having places to worship as part of “Jihadist support team” (the iceberg beneath the surface) are anti Muslim sentiments in line with extreme right wing views on Muslims, a few remain unconvinced or see this as isolated bum notes of an otherwise funny account. Whose aim is to use humour to target hatred at terrorists not Muslims. The other is how dare I be concerned about this account when people are being killed and oppressed in the name of Islam?

We need to fight bigotry and dehumanization of people by anyone.

On that note here are a few more tweets to see the focus is not on terrorism by islamists but Muslims too.

When discussing these things with @jihadistjoe online he said the context was “The Project” by the Muslim Brotherhood. A coordinated effort, to penetrate all levels of society with a “cultural invasion” with the aim “to progressively infiltrate, confront, and eventually establish Islamic domination over the West.” [Link he provided via twitter]

@Jihadistjoe did not explain where he was getting the cartoons from or where they were originally published. He also declined to reply on this blog.

A global conspiracy believer who uses it to justify his use of bigotry against Muslims has been promoted by Richard Dawkins. That saddens me as a fan of his work and as someone that writes about secular issues.

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