Countering Extremism and Extreme Responses



A counter extremism speech by the Prime Minister, concerning Islamists or nationalists, is no substitute for effective government policies that will combat extremism while still living up to the liberal principles that they seek to defend. Coherence seems to be absent – a few weeks ago Cameron was telling us not to say “Islamic State”; instead use the Arabic “Daesh” abbreviation. Now he uses ISIL where Islamic State is part of the abbreviation (as it already was with Daesh). The impression given is a Prime Minister whose opinions reflect the last person he spoke to about extremism. Someone that is prepared to do U turns after seeing which way the wind blows. Considering the storm that Islamists and their apologists will whip up, this is not reassuring. When the Home Secretary in a memo raised the prospect of pre approving public broadcasts, the worry is that authoritarian policy will be used and justified as defending freedom.

David Cameron’s speech on extremism recognised that the politicising of Islam through non violent extremism is a threat to civil society. It recognised civil society had to counter it, though what must end is “passive tolerance”. We need debate that enforces British cultural norms on issues like forced marriages, FGM etc. Nationalistic extremism needs countering too, as Cameron mentioned challenging conspiracy theories that Muslims seek to overthrow government, “or that Islam and Britain are somehow incompatible.” Apologists for extremism, and those with extreme responses to extremism, are ones any secular liberal should be concerned with. In turn, I deal with two recent examples of that.

The Apologists For Islamists

Regarding apologists, Open Democracy wrote a fine example when discussing CAGE. Discussing Asim “Jihadi John was a beautiful man” Qureshi views on adultery and stoning, and the need for four witnesses before carrying out the death sentence, the academic writers admit:

“Whilst hardly an unequivocal condemnation, this is a rather more complex picture than that recognised in the [media] headlines.”

The refusal by Quershi to condemn unequivocally stoning etc was why Amnesty International broke their relationship with CAGE. As Amnesty stated:

“the refusal of a Cage spokesperson to condemn violence such as FGM and stoning – themselves examples of torture and degrading treatment that we are campaigning for an end to – is of huge concern to Amnesty and has made any future platform sharing with Cage impossible.”

The criticism of CAGE is that without standing against Hudud punishments incorporated into Sharia, nor against cultural norms like FGM, claiming to be a human rights organisation is dubious. Terrorist suspects require their legal rights to be upheld, but one would hope their extremist views were condemned. If not, the mantle of human rights organisation cannot be claimed.

The Open Democracy piece shows how such views are excused, as just being conservative Islam. Recalling the interview Quershi had with Andrew Neil:

On the BBC, Andrew Neil confronted Qureshi about the views of Sheikh Haitham al-Haddad, a Muslim scholar who Neil claimed was Qureshi’s ‘spiritual mentor and guide’. Qureshi responded that Haddad was just ‘one scholar in the UK that I think has an important contribution to make’.  Neil stated that Haddad:

believes in the following: Female Genital Mutilation is not only acceptable, it is probably obligatory; that you should not question a man’s right to hit his wife; that non-Muslim prisoners should be taken as slaves; that Jews are descendants of pigs; death by stoning is OK for adultery and homosexuality is a crime against humanity.

He asked Qureshi if he had ‘been guided to believe’ these things, to which Qureshi responded: ‘I’ve never been guided to believe any of those things’. Pressed further, Qureshi stated, ‘I am not a theologian’, and when asked directly about his comments to Julian Assange on stoning stated: ‘I do a lot of work, actually, against the death penalty’. ‘What I am about,’ he continued, ‘and what my organisation is about is due process of the law.’

There is no doubt that Haddad expresses a conservative strand of Islam, in particular on the appropriateness of punishment fitting the crime (Hudud) and on questions of sexuality. It is not clear, though, that the other views attributed to him are accurately rendered. Much of the substance of the question from Neil appears to be based on a report from the Council of Ex Muslims, an organisation close to the ‘new atheist’ movement which enjoys the ‘generous support’ of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, amongst other benefactors. Their 2014 report Evangelising Hate: Islamic Education and Research Academy (iERA), was drawn to Andrew Neil’s attention on Twitter in advance of the programme.” [Emphasis added]

The concerns about Haddad are entirely justified, especially if you are an ex Muslim. In the video below, Haddad explains the rationale for an Islamic State killing them. They are traitors, ones who will threaten the Islamic way of life of those around them. For Haddad, they are enemies of the people and the state. “Islam is political allegiance.”

Still, do not let the public record of Haddad get in the way of your apologia. There are way too many examples in the article like this, but I will end on this bit where they state:

“Begg may have voiced support for armed resistance to occupation and oppression, but where is the actual evidence that he opposes women’s rights, for example? Neither Sahgal, nor her supporters, nor the array of reactionary forces determined to undermine Cage’s work have to our knowledge produced any.”

We are “reactionary forces” for calling for explicit condemnation of the islamist ideals of killing ex Muslims, homosexuals and adulterers. As opposed to someone like Begg, who moved himself and his family to Taliban Afghanistan to live the Islamic life.

“He took his family to Afghanistan in 2001, when it was in the grip of the inflexibly dogmatic rule of the Taliban. They had adopted the narrowest version of Sharia law, banning music, most games, and severely restricting the education and medical treatment of women as well as dramatically extending the use of the death penalty. Osama bin Laden was given full protection by the Taliban as he planned the destruction of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the White House.” [Daily Telegraph]

We are through  the looking glass, where liberals and feminists are the reactionaries and those that will not condemn stoning but want their family to live under Taliban rule are not.

Extreme Reactions To Extremism

Meet Paul Weston of Liberty GB. He is so concerned with Islam that his political party campaigns for Muslims to be legally banned from holding public office. Andrew Neil asks why Weston made a video introducing himself as a racist:

Geert Wilders is the Dutch politician that wants to ban the Koran, having stated: “The Koran is a fascist book which incites violence. That is why this book, just like [Adolf Hitler’s] Mein Kampf, must be banned.” Recently, he wanted to find a common platform with far right European parties.

Neither of these positions are ones a secular liberal could support. A religious test for public office, censorship of illiberal religious texts, a platform with far right groups – they would be an anathema.

Or so you would think.

New: The LSS is right to share a platform with Geert Wilders and Paul Weston

Sacrilegious caricature or art – whether blasphemous, crude, or offensive – is part of free speech. The event mentioned above is a Mohammed cartoon exhibition organised by Sharia Watch UK and Vive Charlie.

The Law Secular Society defends sharing a platform with Wilders and Weston, as free speech is a bigger cause than whether or not Weston or Wilders are secularists:

‘Another accusation against Wilders and Weston is that “they’re not secularists” or that they don’t share the other goals of secularists. I don’t even know whether they describe themselves as secularists and you know what? I don’t care.

We can’t restrict the people we share platforms with to those who describe themselves as secularists or who sign up to the entire “shopping list” of secularism causes (faith schools; Bishops in the House of Lords; council prayers, etc). Expecting to achieve goals in this way is politically stupid. It restricts secularists to sharing platforms with people they already agree with on everything and it consigns us to an eternal echo-chamber of mutual back-slapping where we mark our own homework. This strategic naivety is sadly the “Pause Button” on which I believe many secularists seem happy to remain in perpetuity. My view is that secularists should take a “Venn Diagram” approach, co-operating with people where any of our interests intersect – even if it’s only one (and especially the most important one, free speech) – while exercising our judgment on a case by case basis.

The LSS’s priority should be to defend free speech and to support this event as fully as possible, and not to guard itself against baseless accusations of “racism”.’

The naivety of this approach can be seen that this was the argument that Amnesty International used for so long in their relationship with CAGE before they recognised CAGE’s views were incompatible and detrimental to what Amnesty stood for.

How do you stand for free speech with people who are against free speech themselves? Banning the Koran and Muslims from holding public office – these are not positions compatible with free speech. Not all the Venn Diagrams in the world will square that circle.

Vive Charlie is a magazine that the twitter persona “Jihadist Joe” is behind. I discussed their conspiracy views on Muslims here. I wrote about the account:

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.

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]

All of which David Cameron warned about in his speech.

“Sharia Watch UK” emerged when Anne Marie Waters split from “One Law for All.” In an article about the split, One Law for All mentions why not sharing such a platform with the far right is important:

Since its establishment last month, Sharia Watch has publicised links like “Muslim Rape Culture” from the ghastly Frontpage Magazine, given updates on the far-Right Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller and the English Defence League, publicised videos like “Sacrificing our Daughters: On the Psychology of Islamic Rape Gangs”, and written a piece on how halal meat funds terrorism!

We want to make very clear that we have no links with Sharia Watch, UKIP or Anne Marie Waters and will oppose their brand of racist hate politics every step of the way.

One Law for All is proud of the broad-based coalition of secular Muslim, ex-Muslim, non-Muslim, atheist…  groups and individuals it has helped shape over nearly 6 years of organising and activism. As is very clear from our work, our fight is not just a fight against Sharia; it is first and foremost a fight against Islamism and the religious-Right as well as countering racism and for equality, universal and citizenship rights, international solidarity, and secularism. [My Emphasis]

I have been to enough events where my life was potentially in danger without needing to be lectured to on that score. I will defend the right of bigots to gather freely, discuss what they want, to freely associate with others who might not be bigots, and for all to go home safely. Do not expect me to join the far right on a solidarity platform on free speech, when they are opposed to free speech. More fool anyone else that does, and let them show their idiocy when they claim that for free speech they can work with those that are against free speech.

Secularism needs defending not just against religious extremists but also from nationalist extremists. For when it comes to banning publications or religious tests for public office, they can be seen as two sides of the same coin. They are the enemies of liberty, and free speech exists so that we can know this for ourselves.

There will be those that debase themselves by using bigotry, calling for partial rights rather than for universal rights. Expediency, or the perceived threat, will be used to justify such reactions. Civil society will be nothing if it is not prepared to challenge government, islamists, and the far right, when liberal values are threatened.

Freedom, equality, secularism – those values are worth standing for. In doing so, it matters who you stand with.


Just after publishing became aware that Tom Owolade has written a specific rebuttal to the Open Democracy article, here.

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Tim Farron tweet on homosexuality “disorientation is caused by chemical leaching … check out the fish and frogs”

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The above tweet was sent using the Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron’s official twitter account.

Three people including Tim Farron and his spokesperson Paul Butters have access to his twitter account. I spoke to Paul tonight. He noticed the above tweet when he was at home this evening, and deleted it. He then called Tim to confirm he had not written the tweet, knowing it would still become public, to which he replied “No.” Paul said “I assume he has been hacked” and added: “I know Tim, I have nearly worked for him for ten years. It wouldn’t be his views; its bonkers, its mental.” As a precaution passwords have been changed, with “no idea where this has come from.”

I asked if anyone might have got hold of the devices with which they access the official twitter account, to which Paul said he could only “talk for his own.”

I then discussed with Paul the Cathy Newman interview, and how they would be dealing with public perception that secularism was being pushed to cover for Farron’s Christian views and past statements:

“Tim is going to be what Tim is. Tim has his faith, it is his personal faith. He will do exactly what Charles Kennedy did; he will keep his faith personal and lead the party. What he was saying to Cathy, if people ask him about Government he will answer but if people want to ask about faith they should talk to a faith leader.”

Could someone on Farron’s staff have tweeted using the wrong account? In case you think it is impossible someone with such views might work for Tim Farron, an intern was once supplied by the “gay cure” Christian Action Research and Education (CARE) group for his office.

Regarding that intern programme, a number of MPs were caught out, including new Labour leader candidate Liz Kendall. She responded at the time:

‘I am a long-standing and passionate supporter of LGBT equality. When I became involved with the CARE internship program in December last year, I had no idea CARE had co-sponsored a conference in which “therapeutic approaches to same sex attraction” appeared on the agenda.

‘I find this deeply offensive to members of the LGBT community. I completely disagree with such extreme views, and have therefore pulled out of the CARE internship program with immediate effect.’ [Source]

Searching twitter, I could find no record of Tim Farron ever tweeting the British Humanist Association before, and the only tweet still viewable was regarding the “fish and frogs” tweet.

So what happened? I share the skepticism that the BHA has over the tweet being written by Tim. As Paul Trollope, Tim’s press and campaigns officer, once tweeted:

I have spoken to religious believers who are very pro gay rights and equality, who nevertheless view homosexuality as a choice, or as some kind of defect as that tweet suggested. The question “why do you think people are gay?” becomes a question to ask.

If it was a staff member using the wrong account, or not securing their device, then it may be a disciplinary matter. If hacking, it seems too easy to happen on twitter. Whatever actually happened, hoping personal faith can be kept separate from public scrutiny may be as long a shot as the Liberal Democrat fightback.

Nick Cohen has recently written about Tim Farron. It highlights reasons I supported his candidacy, like not being from the Oxbridge southern bubble. Nick mentioned regarding Tim’s beliefs:

Whatever else I may think of his doltish credulity, I do not think Farron is a danger to gays or that his public statements hide a malevolent purpose. He is just making an argument for tolerance, which anyone can make regardless of their beliefs. We don’t hear it too often because modern culture insists that we ‘passionately’ endorse the ‘life choices’ of others. Farron’s case is less phoney, and more likely to convince doubters because it does not ask them to lie, and feign an enthusiasm where none exists.

A phoney tweet has not helped at all, as it reminds us of the difference between what Tim Farron may personally believe and what he must passionately advocate in public as leader of the Liberal Democrats.

My thanks to John Matthews for alerting me to this with his screenshot, as reproduced above, and to Tim Farron for getting his office to contact me. I have invited Farron to write for the blog on liberalism and secularism. 

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Is Tim Farron A Secularist or a Fundamentalist Christian?

The new Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron refused to say whether homosexual sex was a sin according to his theological views, in an interview. Whilst his statements regarding secularism were welcome, it felt more like a smokescreen to obfuscate his own views on homosexuality. There are past statements of his, which I consider after looking at the interview, which strongly suggest he holds fundamentalist views regarding the Christian faith, from the efficacy of Christian faith healing to Christianity being the complete and only truth with no middle ground. It adds up to someone whose appeal was being outside the coalition government, but was not the right person to lead a liberal political party in modern Britain if he still holds these views.

Tim Farron should be used to questions regarding his views on homosexuality. He even chatted to me on twitter regarding them.

Cathy Newman Once, Twice, Three Times

Since then he has been duly elected leader of the Liberal Democrats on the 16 July 2015 – by one third of eligible voters. He went off message the next day, deciding to talk vaguely about what faith meant to him and accusing the media of fixating on him in a way other leaders had not been. Rather than hitting the floor running, he hit the deck on the evening Channel 4 News programme.

The question was whether homosexual sex was a sin. The wording is important; because some will stress being a homosexual is of itself not a sin (neglecting to say the sex is). He started well enough – religious views are one thing, but secularism and freedom mean they should not be imposed on others via law. As a political leader, his public liberal values matter more than his personal religious views – that is liberalism. A much stronger argument would have been sin is never a reason to legislate or how you should vote in parliament. It is the welfare and freedom of the people that should matter when voting. Not imposing your personal religious conviction via the law on others.

Cathy Newman pushes him a second time to answer the question personally as a Christian: is homosexual sex a sin? Warning lights should have been flashing in his brain – any answer he gives will still be seen as the leader of the Liberal Democrats.

Isabel Hardman had already sounded the alarm that very morning, blogging on Farron’s Radio 4 Today interview with John Humphrys, regarding prayer:

“A sensible approach might be to assume, even if it seems unkind, that every worldview is worthy of suspicion and scrutiny, and that it’s not just some chap in the Lib Dems talking to someone who may or may not exist in the sky who should be grilled about his fundamental assumptions, but everyone who expresses an interest in making big decisions on voters’ behalf. Yes, we should be suspicious of Tim Farron’s Christian worldview – but only in so far as we suspect everyone’s funny jumble of beliefs and assumptions.”

Farron’s answer to Cathy was that as a Christian, whether you think someone is committing a sin is irrelevant given we all are sinners.  Matthew 7:3-5 is referenced:

 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

His answer also suggested that homosexual sex is a sin no more than other sins. Cathy Newman asks a third time her question, referencing Leviticus 18:22 how serious a sin it is:

“Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is [an] abomination.“

This is the same bible book that also calls eating prawns and “every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth shall be an abomination; it shall not be eaten.”

They are literally abominable commandments, but you might be left thinking it is simply do not do – if you have not read it. The real kicker which Cathy Newman could have referenced in full is Leviticus 20:13:

If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.

Farron tries to distance himself from answering any particular verse in the bible, saying his Christianity is based on him believing what Jesus claimed to be. This leaves more questions regarding who Jesus is for Tim. Was Jesus the one to judge us, as he said, and how will homosexual sex be judged, even within the context of same sex marriage?  Or the one that said he did not come to break the law but to fulfil them, ones like in Leviticus?

When Newman counters, pushing for a third time the question, that Leviticus is not exactly Liberal values (it helps to mention why: because it says you must kill people for gay sex), Farron argues that a previous leader, the late Charles Kennedy who was a Roman Catholic, did not go through the sort of questions he is regarding his faith. I will mention in the next section he has himself to blame because he has made plenty of faith claims regarding public policy to make such questioning legitimate.

Regarding Charles Kennedy, he was absent for the repeal of Section 28 (which forbade the intentional promoting of homosexuality by local authorities, and forbade promoting the acceptability of homosexuality in schools) in March 2003. In 2008, he voted against a bill which would have boosted access to IVF treatment for lesbians.  He did though vote in favour of same sex marriage and equalising the age of consent. Both he and Tim Farron are considered to have voted moderately for equal gay rights, according to “They Work For You” website. Just as Norman Lamb, the other contender for the leadership this month, scored. Due to being absent from certain stages of the bill on Same Sex Marriage (Lamb away working in a Ministerial capacity, Tim Farron choosing to abstain having voted previously for Same Sex Marriage as wanted trans issues considered), their rating ended up being scored as moderate.

Farron ends his interview with Newman calling for religious tolerance, and that promoting liberal values is compatible with being a Christian. Thing is, as Hardman wrote earlier, we need to be suspicious about any underlying assumptions and beliefs politicians have. No one gets a free pass; maybe Charles Kennedy should have been asked about missing the Section 28 repeal vote (even Pink News misses mentioning that in their obituary of him).

Pink News have noticed what The Times claimed about “illiberal” Tim Farron: “An evangelical Christian since his teenage years, he believes that every word written in the Bible is literal truth, that God has a precise plan for all of us and that heaven and hell are physical entities to which all of us are consigned after death. … Mr Farron’s consistent failure to embrace the quintessentially liberal idea that every person has equal moral worth should trouble his party.”

Which is why presumably he did not want to focus on Leviticus – for every word is literally true. Why did Cathy Newman not mention those having gay sex “shall surely be put to death,” and asking was this sanctioned by the God Farron prays to? For what matters to me is not that the bible considers it a sin, or even an everlasting reason to be in hell.  It sanctions you being killed because of it right now.

We live in a world where Gay people are still killed, tortured, and imprisoned. This was a chance for Tim Farron to shout from the rooftops that no holy text can ever justify throwing gay people off them to their deaths. He failed miserably to do so, having said in his acceptance speech the day before about standing up for minorities.

I am not for one second suggesting Farron thinks gays should be killed – he has campaigned against Uganda’s treatment of homosexuals for example, and I think he has changed his political views on gay marriage possibly because of his liberalism (just in time for the leadership). This line of questioning all matters because of past statements by Tim Farron that suggest he holds Christian Fundamentalist views.

When Religious Views Impacts Politics

Abortion is wrong. Society has to climb down from the position that says there is nothing morally objectionable about abortion before a certain time. If abortion is wrong it is wrong at any time.”

“Christianity, I am convinced, is not ‘a bit’ true. It is either not true, or it is so compellingly utterly true, that almost nothing else matters … There is no middle way.”

You can read more statements like those above by Farron, that last one in 2013, in Catherine Bennett’s article  “When politicians do God, no wonder we have doubts” where she made the observation “Are liberals soon to be represented by a man who can make the average Anglican bishop sound like late-period Christopher Hitchens?”

It is a fair comment, when you consider that Tim Farron said that the Advertising Standards Agency should not rule on the efficacy of faith healers claims to heal the sick.

With two other MPs in 2012 he demanded: “the Advertising Standards Authority to produce ‘indisputable scientific evidence’ to say that prayer does not work – otherwise they will raise the issue in Parliament.” Read Martin Robbins for a thorough roasting of the MPs letter

The saving grace perhaps for Tim Farron is that he is not tainted by association with the coalition government of 2010-15. He called himself an outsider – to rebuild the party I still feel this gives him an advantage over Norman Lamb with the electorate. That is why I think he won despite all these things being mentioned during the leadership campaign. The problem is his past views place him on the outside of rationality. That calls into question his leadership on policy issues where his fundamentalist views may be at odds with those of a liberal party leader.

My twitter feed suggested a few secularists that had voted for Farron had been unaware of his past views. I must confess, it was news to me too, and I had not seen people discussing it on twitter till after the post election interview with Cathy Newman. Maybe Lamb would have benefitted from a longer campaign, but he was unable to bring it up himself without countering Farron’s charge that this was intolerance of religious people in public life.

During the 2015 leadership, the question of Tim Farron’s Christian views came up on LGBT issues. Andrew Page asked:

“In January 2007 Tim Farron told the Salvation Army newspaper, “The War Cry” that “the Bible is clear about sexuality of all sorts” and “the standards that define my personal morality as a Christian are not the standards of public morality”. This seems to suggest that he thinks homosexuality is a sin, but that his personal view shouldn’t stand in the way of pro-equality legislation.”

Tim Farron:” I would say – for all minorities in the UK – equalities legislation passed in the last 10 to 20 years has been a huge step forwards. Whilst I am and will remain a committed Christian, I take the same approach as Charles Kennedy did – I hold my faith firmly but impose it on no one. I am running to be leader of the Liberal Democrats, not to be Archbishop of Canterbury (which is lucky given that I believe in disestablishment of the Church of England!).”

Norman Lamb: “…As liberals, we should always be consistent in arguing for the separation of Church and State – both structurally, and in the way we make our laws. As a political party, and as individuals, we must consistently champion liberal values – values which enshrine our freedom to worship as christians, as muslims, or indeed to believe in no god at all.”

In a tolerant and open society, individuals should always be free to talk about their faith (or lack of one) as long as they make very clear the distinction between their personal view, and the approach they take as a Liberal Democrat political figure. But in doing so, we should never imply that Christianity is somehow illiberal, or that Christians are not welcome in our party.”

A Born Again Secularist?

Norman Lamb raised treating distinctively a Liberal Democrat political figure from their personal Christian view, the wearing of two distinct hats at different times. The fear is wearing would be made easier by being two faced (Copyright Yes Prime Minister). How can you lead wholehearted on liberal issues when you personally are against them. I want someone that believes in liberalism, not someone that has to compartmentalise them before they can lead their party on liberal issues. It is legitimate to ask what someone in public life believes, for belief can shape the political agenda they will advocate and how they will react to one set by the government.

When I mentioned his past voting record on gay marriage and the need to prove himself, he replied to me “so I have since then to show through deeds too.” As the new leader of the Liberal Democrats he is now best placed to visibly show by deeds. He will need to do a lot better than that Channel 4 interview. The honeymoon period on his election is already over before the consummation of the marriage ever took place. Yet he still feels he has been screwed by a fixated media.

In “Liberal Democrats Do God” he stated “The kind of things we do to reject God’s rule over our lives differs from person to person, but the desire to push God out of our lives is the same for everyone.”  Will the same Tim Farron put his view of God to one side when pursuing a liberal agenda or does he still think faith healers can say they have the power by God to heal those gullible enough to believe in such charlatan claims?

The Liberal Democrats need a leader with a clear vision of promoting liberal values against a majority Conservative Government. They do not need a prophet, though they may well be hoping for a miracle come 2020.

Metaphorically Tim Farron will have to move heaven and earth, and show that he can resolve the two during his leadership.

The photo above comes from this Daily Mail article on Tim Farron in March. Tim informs us that God knows every hair on our head, as the bible tells us.

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Glenn Greenwald Needs To Stop Being A Cheerleader

Glenn Greenwald likes to call people tribalists and cheerleaders. He should know, he used to be one in praise of George W Bush. Now, he is a tribalist where everything comes back to the evil of Bush and Blair. I engage with his desire to say that Tony Blair, rather than Saddam Hussein, is the one to blame for innocent people being killed.

Glenn Greenwald chose the tenth anniversary of the 7/7 bombing to write a piece criticizing the terrorism that killed over fifty people and injured over 700 civilians as they commuted on the tube and a bus in London. He also mentioned the brutal terrorist attack in Tunisia days ago where about thirty British tourists were killed by a gunman.

Well, no, he did not once mention any of that. In his piece: TONY BLAIR AND THE SELF-EXALTING MINDSET OF THE WEST: IN TWO PARAGRAPHS his focus was on Tony Blair saying he had chosen to “exploit” the anniversary “by casting blame on “radical Islam” for the world’s violence while exempting himself.”

How is Tony Blair to blame for violence like 7/7?:

[Tony Blair:] “This is a global problem … we’re not going to allow anyone to excuse themselves by saying that the slaughter of totally innocent people is somehow a response to any decision by any government” [original emphasis]

The proposition Blair just decreed invalid — “the slaughter of totally innocent people is somehow a response to any decision by any government” — is exactly the rationale that he himself repeatedly invoked, and to this day still invokes, to justify the invasion and destruction of Iraq, as in this example from December 2009:

Tony Blair has said he would have invaded Iraq even without evidence of weapons of mass destruction and would have found a way to justify the war to parliament and the public. . . . “If you had known then that there were no WMDs, would you still have gone on?” Blair was asked. He replied: “I would still have thought it right to remove him [Saddam Hussein]”. . . . He explained it was “the notion of him as a threat to the region” because Saddam Hussein had used chemical weapons against his own people.

One may be forgiven for thinking Glenn Greenwald was exploiting the tenth anniversary of 7/7 to have a go at Tony Blair. Glenn goes on:

“Excusing the slaughter of totally innocent people” — whether in Fallujah or Gaza or Yemen — is a staple of Western elite discourse to justify the militarism of the U.S., the U.K. and their most special allies. It only suddenly becomes inexcusable when carried out by Muslims against the West. It is a stunning testament to Western self-delusion that one of the prime architects and salesmen of the most destructive political crime of this generation — the invasion of Iraq — can stand up with a straight face and to applause and declare: “we’re not going to allow anyone to excuse themselves by saying that the slaughter of totally innocent people is somehow a response to any decision by any government.”

The problem we have here is that Saddam “a koran written in his blood” Hussein (worth reading, the article not the bloody calligraphy, for anyone that told you his Baathist party was strictly secular) was more than happy to invade Muslim neighbours, and launch chemical weapons at them. Deliberately targeting civilians. Shall we talk about the up to half a million muslim innocents Saddam killed? It seemed appropriate to mention, so this tweet initiated the following exchange with a link to Greenwald’s above piece..

The problem is yourself not mentioning the innocents Saddam used WMD on, tortured and killed in region

He did that while the US and the UK Governments supported and embraced him. Then they pretended to oppose it to attack him.

are you saying the US and UK governments supported the use of chemical weapons on the Kurds by Saddam?

Sorry to shatter your illusions – hope you have people around who can support you through it

Chemical Weapons

This was off the point I was trying to make – why are we not focusing on Saddam Hussein committing genocide against the Kurds, nor taking into account Tony Blair was not in political power till 1997? The sleight of hand used, how dare the US/UK support Saddam Hussein when he was a Chemical Weapon using genocide – becoming –  how dare twenty years later different leaders in US/UK think he needed removing as a danger to the region.

It was a pity that Greenwald did not use a recent Guardian piece this month on the UK Foreign Office ‘did not stop Iraq making chemical weapons’. Go beyond the headline, and the article reveals (my emphasis):

In April 1983, at the height of the Iran-Iraq war, the ambassador in Baghdad, Sir John Moberly, telegrammed the FCO and defence intelligence sections about the “manufacture and use of mustard gas by the Iraqi army”.

An internal letter pointed out that there was no “non-proliferation regime” banning chemical weapons, and noted: “Britain alone could take limited action to control exports, but this would do little good. Global action might eventually be effective but would probably require public presentation of our evidence and would be very slow. Given that the Iraqi programme is already far advanced, I am skeptical about the feasibility of effective action.”

An estimated 20,000 Iranians were killed by mustard gas and nerve agents during the war. Many more still suffer lingering after-effects. The Chemical Weapons Convention [CWC], which bans the production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons and precursors, did not come into force until 1997. International outrage over Iraqi use of poison gas was pivotal in changing attitudes.

On the FCO letter in April 1983, a senior official wrote that the UK should take no action at the UN security council or the international court of justice. The FCO did, however, begin to talk to its allies about the issue.

A later telegram to the Baghdad embassy recorded that the FCO intended to “at least slow down and perhaps frustrate Iraqi ambitions in this field”. By July that year, officials were expressing frustration about the US government’s reluctance to release intelligence on French and German companies involved in supplying chemicals to Iraq.

It is incredible to think stockpiling chemical weapons was fine – just do not use – in international law at the time. I found this piece by the Iran Chamber Society which states in an article on their site regarding the US (my emphasis):

One of the chemical-warfare instances reported by Iran, at Hoor-ul-Huzwaizeh on 13 March 1984, has since been conclusively verified by an international team of specialists dispatched to Iran by the United Nations Secretary General. The evidence adduced in the report by the UN team lends substantial credence to Iranian allegations of Iraqi chemical warfare on at least six other occasions during the period from 26 February to 17 March. 

The efficiency and dispatch with which this UN verification operation was mounted stand greatly to the credit of the Secretary General. His hand had presumably been strengthened by the announcement on 7 March by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) that 160 cases of wounded combatants visited in Tehran hospitals by an ICRC team “presented a clinical picture whose nature leads to the presumption of the recent use of substances prohibited by international law”. The casualties visited were reportedly all victims of an incident on 27 February. The ICRC statement came two days after the US State Department had announced that “the US Government has concluded that the available evidence indicates that Iraq has used lethal chemical weapons”. Iraq had denounced the Washington statement as “political hypocrisy”, “full of lies”, a fabrication by the CIA, and had suggested that the hospital patients examined by the ICRC had “sustained the effects of these substances in places other than the war front”. On 17 March, at almost the same moment as the UN team was acquiring its most damning evidence, the general commanding the Iraqi Third Corps, then counter-attacking in the battle for the Majnoon Islands, spoke as follows to foreign reporters: “We have not used chemical weapons so far and I swear by God’s Word I have not seen any such weapons. But if I had to finish off the enemy, and if I am allowed to use them, I will not hesitate to do so”. 

Iraq complaining about a fabrication by the CIA they had used chemical weapons when it was reported by the UN team in 1984?  The same article mentions this on why Iraq’s chemical weapon capacity was well advanced:

“whether Iraq has or has not been receiving chemical weapons from abroad, it has been acquiring a development and production capability for them of its own. An official Iranian commentry [sic] dates the beginning of this effort back to 1976, claiming that information to that effect had been provided to Iran by West German intelligence officials. Unidentified US intelligence sources have been quoted as saying that Iraq began making mustard gas in the early 1970s.”

Saddam Hussein was stockpiling chemical weapons, and international law surprisingly was at that moment in time fine with that, as long as it was not used. The genie was out of the bottle with the Iraq and Iran war. Did Iran ever use chemical weapons itself? If  it did, it was not on the scale of Iraq. Here is Stephen C. Pelletiere,  CIA  senior political analyst on Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war:

The [US Defense Intelligence] agency did find that each side used gas against the other in the battle around Halabja. The condition of the dead Kurds’ bodies, however, indicated they had been killed with a blood agent — that is, a cyanide-based gas — which Iran was known to use. The Iraqis, who are thought to have used mustard gas in the battle, are not known to have possessed blood agents at the time.

These facts have long been in the public domain but, extraordinarily, as often as the Halabja affair is cited, they are rarely mentioned. A much-discussed article in The New Yorker last March did not make reference to the Defense Intelligence Agency report or consider that Iranian gas might have killed the Kurds. On the rare occasions the report is brought up, there is usually speculation, with no proof, that it was skewed out of American political favoritism toward Iraq in its war against Iran.

It must be noted Pelletiere was sceptical of a human rights reason for war with Iraq “when there are so many other repressive regimes Washington supports?” Nor am I somehow excusing Iraq’s use of chemical weapons. There was none, though Pelletiere implies it was just an act of war.

Having been told by Glenn in a tweet “hope you have people around you who can support you” decided to repay that remark.

I said Kurds not Iranians – perhaps you could answer the question posed rather than one not asked? Ask a friend if it helps.

That US was supporting Saddam when he gassed the Kurds is the most basic history – helped protect Iraq

Greenwald links to “Halabja: America didn’t seem to mind poison gas.” The US claimed initially it was Iran, backing up Saddam, and two months later UN Resolution 612 was passed condemning the use of chemical weapons and urging that both sides refrain from future use as per Geneva Protocol. Iraq was seen as the lesser of two evils by US foreign policy. The piece concludes:

They have yet to account for their judgment that it was Iran, not Iraq, that posed the primary threat to the Gulf; for building up Iraq so that it thought it could invade Kuwait and get away with it; for encouraging Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs by giving the regime a de facto green light on chemical weapons use; and for turning a blind eye to Iraq’s worst atrocities, and then lying about it.

The Lesser of Two Evils?

Why was Iran considered worse than Iraq, and why given the evidence when collected showed it was Iraq, were both sides asked to refrain from using chemical weapons in the resolution. Rather than just Iraq? Javed Ali in his article Chemical Weapons and the Iran Iraq War: A Case Study in Non-Compliance mentions:


I cannot support the lesser enemy of humanity against the worse enemy of humanity is my friend logic – and Kuwait was of course waiting to happen. It is naive to discount those fears of Iran were genuinely based, as mentioned above. Regarding how quickly US knew it was Iraq (my emphasis):

In 1988, the U.S. was allied with Iraq, and was providing order of battle data about Iranian forces to the Iraqis, while turning a blind eye to what it knew were chemical attacks against Iranian troops, a serious and flagrant violation of international law.

“It was the only slightly better of two bad choices: stop helping the Iraqis and the Iranians would likely win the war, or continue to work with a country now using nerve agents on the battlefield,” writes Rick Francona this week on his blog. Francona was U.S. military liaison officer to the Iraqi forces in 1988.

Francona claims that the U.S. didn’t yet know that Saddam had ordered the chemical attack on Halabja, but he is now adamant that it was Iraq that perpetrated that atrocity.

However, there are still many people who believe the old U.S. argument, and the debate continues in some circles about what exactly killed, sickened and maimed the townspeople of Halabja.

I emphasised in my tweets the Kurds because of the Anfal counter insurgency campaigns that which are aptly referred to as a Kurdish genocide by Human Rights Watch. This occurred during and just after the Iraq Iran War ended.

This was no longer an ally in the region, no buttress. Saddam was a danger to stability. Having showed it with war with Iran, he then did so again by invading Kuwait. The international community, led by the US, declared war on Iraq in 1990.


As always, the most devoted My-Side-Is-Superior-&-Blameless Tribalists are found in UK: much historical practice

Glenn Greenwald in his article, and to me on twitter, has been using the word tribalist. He mentions in the Tony Blair article: (my emphasis):

While the leading lights of the West love to celebrate themselves as beacons of civilized, progressive rationality, their overriding mentality is just the crassest and most primitive form of tribalism: when Our Side does it, it is right, and when Their Side does it, it is wrong. No matter the esoteric finery in which it drapes itself, that is the primitive, banal formulation that lies at the heart of the vast, vast majority of foreign policy discourse in the West. So often, those who fancy themselves brave warriors for rationality and advancement by demonizing Islam are just rank tribalists whose own national, religious and cultural loyalties are served by doing so.

This is the same Glenn Greenwald who once wrote:

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I am grateful to Jeremy Duns for making me aware of this article by Glenn Greenwald. In that 2005 piece,  he defines anti-americanism:

If “anti-American” means anything, I’d say it means an inclination to blame America for every world problem, and to vigilantly search for America’s guilt while downplaying, ignoring, or excusing the guilt of its enemies.

American Hawks will give any excuse to justify war. “See, we are the good guys!”

I didn’t support the war – but Tony Blair was no Saddam Hussein nor did he give Iraq WMD. Wish go 4 those who did

You Got Mail

That more or less ended the twitter conversation between myself and Glenn on the 7 July – but he sent me this tweet and two photos on the 8 July, which he sent to my “I didn’t support the war” tweet.

Hey John. I got an email – 2 pics:

Pic 1

Pic 2:

I should be flattered, that in demolishing Tony Blair in two paragraphs, he has turned his attention to doing the same to me in two pics. Just one slight problem, is when you read what I wrote in those 2007 posts. I was against the war because Parliament was being misled, and I would have voted no, but I am committed to the overthrow of genocide chemical weapon using tyrants. I would rather hope most people would be, preferably before they get to commit genocide. That is a huge criticism of government policies: Rwanda, Srebrenica, Syria. We must add Iraq, and the resolve that we never find ourselves on the side of those that commit genocide in war again.

Pic 1

I am a humanitarian interventionist. But I prefer we take such military action with a proper debate and parliamentary approval. I do mention the Kurds and whole lot of other things on Iraq, while saying we should not have gone to war on a lie.

From the first article linked to in pic (my emphasis):

Saddam had to be dealt with. Mass genocide, flouting of international law, a quest to buy WMD from the Koreans, satellite TV punishable by the death of the whole family. It is pie in the sky to believe that Saddam was a non issue and the Middle East would be fine with him still in power until he died of natural causes. His track record, his conduct suggest otherwise.

After 9/11 one thing did change – that was the risk of doing nothing, but waiting for something to happen. That would be unforgivable for any government that could perceive a threat but did nothing to act until something happened. In the case of WMD used on civilians it needed to be shown that any state proving a threat would be subject not to appeasement, but action.

That is separate from how the case was made. It was made on the basis that Saddam had WMD and was prepared to use it/give it to groups that meant the West ill. That was an overstatement of what intelligence actually revealed – a downright lie at worst.

I mention genocide again, but far from being tribal I am downright critical of how international community are doing things in Iraq:

The law on genocide is clear – the sovereignty of a state is null and void. Saddam should have been brought down after the liberation of Kuwait – but no one seemed to be prepared for the aftermath. It took over ten years for the political will for Saddam’s overthrow to happen and rather than being prepared, there has been error after error, lack of planning, not enough international consensus to put the resources into trying to stabilise Iraq. The aftermath has been made worse than it was going to be due to this.

In 2008 post I reiterate that parliament should not have voted for war given what we were told (my emphasis):

I know that quite a few people I get on with do have disagreement with my position on Iraq. Which in a nutshell was a realisation that we were being lied to about going in, but the case should have been made on humanitarian reasons and that the world could not risk allowing tyrants that threatened peace and security to die peacefully in their sleep when they murdered whole families for having satellite television. But in all cases it should be for a society to have the facts, and agree to the aims if their children’s lives are to be sent to die.The cause must be true, and the sacrifice though painfully felt considered to the good of humanity.

Pic 2

Let us go to the second article also written in 2007, the clincher in the second photo than I am a tribalist cheerleading the west:

On the other hand I do have difficulty trying to understand what the mission is. From the USA the term “strategic relationship” is mentioned – that there will always be a USA military presence in Iraq, which will no doubt have an impact on the domestic politics in Iraq. The issue is will that be for a politically just Iraq or one that serves the foreign policy of the USA at all costs? For example that seems to [be] the basis of support for the tyrant in Pakistan – which may well actually be counter productive (a free democratic Pakistan has never chosen Islamic parties to rule; under a dictator they just might).

It is a no brainer if a matter of principle means going against my party line – the issue really is why is the USA administration making the whole darn thing a bloody mess? Increasingly it seems people like myself that want us to be involved in creating and supporting a democratic Iraq are being marginalised by those that want us out and those that want us there for our own gains (strategic and resource led).

So much for me cheering the neocons.

If parliament is going to vote on war, it has to be based on actual intelligence which include misgivings, and give an accurate representation of the situation, and we should not choose to give the benefit of the doubt or defer to government to decide if the evidence is in doubt. Unlike a certain Glenn Greenwald, who wrote in his 2006 book “How Would A Patriot Act?”

I had not abandoned my trust in the Bush administration. Between the president’s performance in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the swift removal of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and the fact that I wanted the president to succeed, because my loyalty is to my country and he was the leader of my country, I still gave the administration the benefit of the doubt. I believed then that the president was entitled to have his national security judgment deferred to, and to the extent that I was able to develop a definitive view, I accepted his judgment that American security really would be enhanced by the invasion of this sovereign country.

There, I rest my case, though there are more posts to see here. In the end, Saddam Hussein was hanged for his crimes against humanity, and the many hundreds of thousands of Muslims he killed. The mistakes in Iraq, sectarianism and the rise of ISIS, have been woeful. To blame Tony Blair for the murder of innocents in the way we must hold Saddam Hussein to account is nonsensical. We are though in danger of making the same mistakes if we think people like Assad or Sisi are allies against Islamic extremism that need our support and no questions asked. Much of what I have written here casts a shadow on us today: how do we deal with Assad, and the use of Chemical Weapons, how we respond to the militaristic actions and extremist religious ideology of ISIS, how can we stop people wanting to join the Islamic State, how human rights abuses are dealt with by strategic allies.

We need a debate on this. It would help if Greenwald put his pom poms away first.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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“Tim Hunt has been made a scapegoat for sexism in science”

Tim Hunt smiling

The title is from a quote by female journalist Tan Siow Chin, who was at the luncheon that Tim Hunt spoke his infamous remarks. In a blog post by Louise Mensch, which I recommend you all read here, Tan Siow Chin reports (emphasis as originally quoted):

What has not been reported, which I feel is important and adds balance to his earlier comments, is that he also added that men would be the worse off for it (if the genders were segregated).
I did laugh at his comments, because it was very obvious to me that he was saying it in a very light-hearted and joking manner. I was not offended at all, because I did not think he meant it seriously, in particular, his comments on segregating the sexes. And yes, I did applaud as well.
I did not notice my neighbours’ reactions at the table – to be honest, I had come in late from the previous session and was busy with my lunch – but I don’t remember hearing any particular comments from anyone after Tim Hunt’s little speech.
I think that the whole incident has been blown way out of proportion, and that Tim Hunt has been made a scapegoat for sexism in science. This is really sad because I don’t think he thinks that female scientists are inferior to male scientists,which seems to me to be the point of the whole situation. In addition, if you look at the programme, the parallel session that was sponsored by the European Research Council during the conference and moderated by Tim Hunt had female scientists as its both speakers – hardly the action of a real male chauvinist pig, yes?
Louise Mensch has done the due process that you would suppose a Nobel Laureate, let alone any of us, should be entitled to before being stripped of their honorary titles and their positions taken from them.
Update 9 July 2015: UCL statement on Tim Hunt: “lessons to be learned around the communication process.”
Quote and photo reproduced from Unfashionista blog post
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England’s Sexist Tweet On Women’s World Cup Performance

The England Squad for the World Cup, ranked 6th in the world, came third. It is the best result by a football squad since 1966. The Lionesses have done us proud. The backstory for many of them have been inspirational. Fara Williams, who was homeless for six years, but still pursued her goal to be a professional footballer. Katie Chapman who was dropped by the FA because she wanted time off to look after her children, but did not let them stop her. Casey Stoney as captain coming out as gay. Among the ranks: lawyers, business owners – professionals on the field of play and off.

The official England twitter account did not reflect that at all when they prepared to go back home.

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A patronising, sexist and undermining tweet or a reflection that after fifty days intensive coaching, training and playing they would be reunited with loved ones?  Twitter has been full of derision mostly reacting to the tweet as the former, and the tweet was deleted. However, I wanted to focus on one exchange which caught my eye.


Ricky Block (name a giveaway for a troll account) was called out for their language and views:



Achievements are to be celebrated, heroes are to be congratulated, loud mouth bullies taken down. No doubt the team will enjoy spending more time with their loved ones now the tournament is over. Just take care how you tweet these things, without being patronising at best, sexist at worst.

Perhaps one day we will win the world cup.

Maybe when we do, it will matter that it is England – not whether it was the men or the women.

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Maajid Nawaz: My Fellow Muslims, I Am Not Your Enemy

Maajid Nawaz in a Facebook post answers critics claims that he has not stood up for Muslims. As he states “I am not your enemy. I am not your representative. I am not your religious role-model. But I am still from you, and I am of you. I have suffered all that you suffer. And I refuse to abandon you.”

My fellow Muslims, I am not your enemy. Since co-founding Quilliam I have:

1) Opposed UK gov ministers on ethnic & religious profiling

2) Opposed Obama’s targeted killings & drone strikes

3) Opposed Senator King in the UK Parliament on his obfuscation & justification of torture

4) I have been cited by the UK PM for my view that though Islamist extremism must be openly challenged, non-violent Islamist should not be banned

5) I have spoken out against extraordinary rendition of terror suspects

6) And against detention without charge of terror suspects

7) I have supported an entire political party backing a call to end schedule 7 that deprives terror suspects of the right to silence at UK ports of entry & exit among much else.

Please understand, it is due to this very same concern for human rights that I vehemently oppose Islamist extremism and call for liberal reform within our communities, for our communities. I am not your enemy. I am not your representative. I am not your religious role-model. But I am still from you, and I am of you. I have suffered all that you suffer. And I refuse to abandon you.

Maajid Nawaz has had a discussion with Sam “Islam is the Mother lode of bad ideas” Harris, which will be released as a book at the beginning of October. That has brought its own criticism, given some of Harris’ controversial sounding positions (my essay on them can be read here). Debate is something worthwhile for its own sake, as Tom Holland mentions regarding the book.

Sam Harris has said in an interview:

“Tolerance, openness to argument, openness to self-doubt, willingness to see other people’s points of view – these are very liberal and enlightened values that people are right to hold, but we can’t allow them to delude us to the point where we can’t recognise people who are needlessly perpetrating human misery.”

I look forward to reading.

Maajid Nawaz wrote the Facebook post as a direct appeal to his son:

Ideas can move heaven and hell, let alone rip families apart.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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