Category Archives: British Society

May Calls For An Early Election

Referendums do not resolve anything the way a General Election does. With the SNP clambering for a second independence referendum, and what sort of Brexit we are going to end up with being about as clear as mud from the government since UK voted to leave the EU, Prime Minister May is right to go to Parliament tomorrow and seek a two thirds majority vote for an early election. 

It does mean we might expect to have an actual detailed plan, not the sort of fuzzy “we want a red, white and blue Brexit.” It gives the lie to the PM claims we have been coming together – the exact opposite is why we need this election. The lack of certainty is due to a lack of vision and detail from the Conservative Government about Brexit, and May suggesting it is the fault of an opposition, that could not fight its way out of a paper bag much less an election, is laughable.  As I write this post Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democratshas welcomed the early election. Corbyn, like his leadership, was absent. 

Corbyn does not have the support of his own MPs, how can he be expected to run a government or demand the public give him that trust? For his style is opposition to his own MPs, as it was to his own party when in the political wilderness. The idea that a platform should be given to the fringes of politics finds its ultimate irony when Labour MPs that did not want him to win as leader nominated him to stand for a “discussion”. Give a platform, and be prepared to be swept away on a train of thought you never wanted to get on in the first place. If the country gets taken for a ride in the process, let that be on your conscience. 

If the Conservatives come back with a stronger majority than the 17 they currently have, the fault will be on a man that the Labour membership wanted but the British electorate rejected. Labour have not advanced any vision, in what has been a hostile media climate, to change opinion polls. 

I suspect Lib Dems hopes of winning back the  south west will be short lived. There is no love for the political idea of the EU, English immigration to Cornish lands and housing is a sore point, let alone European immigration. If the Conservatives can guarantee there will be no lack of funding in these regions when leaving the EU and constraints on free movement, it will remain blue. 

As I wrote last October, an early election would be the only way out of this whole mess of a government that did not want Brexit having to implement it. That there is a political opportunity for May to increase her majority and have an election before anyone sees what a dog’s dinner Brexit might turn out to be. The right play just happens to be the right democratic one too, to get a personal mandate from the people to govern. One she has not yet shown she deserves. 

My mood right now is one of playing the violin upon the Titanic. Fitting, given the foreign secretary once said we would make a Titanic success of Brexit. Just don’t ask me where the lifeboats are. 

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Maajid Nawaz an “Anti-Muslim Extremist” according to Southern Poverty Law Center 


The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) lists Maajid Nawaz as an anti-Muslim extremist. Though if you read the extreme right they accuse Maajid Nawaz of being a jihadist, such as:

Despite his outward facade of secularism and liberalism, Nawaz is in fact a deeply devout Sunni Muslim supremacist, operating far behind enemy lines in the Dar al-Harb, the House of War

We expect that sort of nonsense from The Gates of Vienna Blog, as quoted above. What though of the Southern Poverty Law Center? Perhaps we should look at just a few of the points in what they say about Maajid Nawaz.

Secret list given to government accusing people and groups of sharing an ideology with terrorists 

As The Quilliam Foundation responded to the accusation in The Guardian:

This accusation repeated here by the Guardian is simply false. There was no ‘Terror List’. We produced a briefing document entitled ‘Preventing Terrorism: where next for Britain?’, that we sent to all government departments and not just the OSCT. This document set out reforms we felt were necessary to the Government’s counter-terrorism strategy. The Government’s strategy was eventually reformed almost exactly as we had advised. The document was sent in private so as to not play out the debate about reforming the Government’s counter-extremism strategy in the press. However, the copy we sent to the OSCT was eventually leaked by a civil servant.


Maajid Nawaz wants to criminalise the veil/niqab in many public spaces

In a great piece of quote mining, they neglect to mention that Maajid Nawaz does not call for criminalising as they  claim. In the Daily Mail article they quote from, Nawaz mentions:

Here’s my test: where a balaclava, motorcycle helmet or face mask would be deemed inappropriate, so should a niqab. It’s simple really.

It is simple, unless you want to make someone out to be an extremist against Muslims. 

Long term readers of this blog may recall Mohammed Shafiq tried to accuse Maajid Nawaz of criminalising the veil. At the time I called this a dangerous game of accusing people, that may be more liberal than yourself, of things which fundamentalists are prepared to kill you for. 

“Nawaz tweeted out a cartoon of Jesus and Muhammad — despite the fact that many Muslims see it as blasphemous to draw Muhammad.”

Being “blasphemous” makes you an extremist it seems. The Southern Poverty Law Centre is devoid of context that Maajid Nawaz said he did not find a cartoon picture of Mohammed and Jesus saying hello together to be blasphemous or a challenge to his faith. Two students at a London School of Economics student freshers fayre were ejected for wearing them to advertise their Atheist Humanist Secular society, and this was discussed on a BBC show. Hence [the] Maajid Nawaz tweet. 

A reminder that this led to death threats for Maajid Nawaz. No mention of that by the SPLC. 

More on this can be read in my Huff Post article. 

Nawaz went to a strip club for his stag do

Let us recap. You are an extremist if you give evidence to government departments, if you share a cartoon of a prophet saying “How Ya doin'” and if you go to a strip club on your stag  do, according to the Southern Poverty Law Centre.

Is this meant to be a joke? Problem is this is no laughing  matter – where muslim activists challenge fundamentalism and extremism that tries to impose a religious Islamic orthodoxy, this is not just dangerous. It is reprehensible.

There is no fact checking, or counter view. This is a hatchet job. The sort to defame and have circulated by people who cannot be bothered to check the context for themselves.

Regarding the intro to Maajid Nawaz, yes the government gave seeding money to help the Quilliam Foundation get set up – an issue was how quickly that should end. Not everyone has $300 million in funds to keep their civic action going in the future as the SPLC has. It should also be noted Quilliam has not received ongoing taxpayer money for a number of years.

Maajid Nawaz began leaving Islamism during his incarceration in Egypt. He was not the finished liberal secular product when he came back to the UK. He has mentioned that, and how in a short time after being released he realised he had to make a clean break from his former politics and religious affiliations, in his book Radical.

There had been hopes Tommy Robinson might go on a similar journey when he left the English Defence League. That has not happened, but that is for Tommy Robinson to answer. He had the opportunity, he did not take it.

None of what the Southern Poverty Law Centre has said points to Maajid Nawaz being an extremist. Let alone anti-Muslim. The bar set by this report will make any liberal activism by Muslims as being against all Muslims. 

If you are the “wrong” sort of muslim you are to be branded an extremist. You will be declared a blasphemer. This is irresponsible, and dangerous. It also shows why The Quilliam Foundation and the work Maajid Nawaz does is necessary. 

We expect the fundamentalists and extremists to declare people blasphemous or to be traitors of the faith. For others to act as their willing mouthpiece brings shame to the Southern Poverty Law Centre. 

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Demons Do Not Help Explain Terrorism or Mental Illness 

Theo Hobson latest piece is “Secularism’s view on violence is less humane than Christianity’s.” How the separation of church and state, the liberty for us all to live by our conscience in matters of faith without being subject to any violence by anyone, has anything to do with this misses his purpose. That you need faith to be more humane, being a humanist cannot match it, is the claim.

The use of the word secularism here is to attack the secular minded society as less caring. Hobson does this without obvious irony by using what is one of the most cruelest ideas that exists in the New Testament. The idea that people are possessed by demons. “I think that the old-fashioned language is still largely fit for purpose.” We will come to how it is not in a bit, but he goes on to conclude about those killing for terrorism or because of mental illness:

We should see them as possessed by demonic forces. In fact, this New Testament view of the matter underlies the vague orthodoxy I have just described. And this model can also be applied to terrorists – they are possessed by a demonic idea. The French priest whose throat was slit knew this – he died saying ‘Get away from me, Satan’ – he understood the terrorists not as intrinsically evil but as agents of evil. The old religious view of these things is actually more humane than any newer one: it sees the human agents of these horrors as redeemable, but the acts as utterly evil. A secular view either denies the full scale of the evil or, in tabloid headline fashion, over-identifies it with the perpetrator, who is human like us.

If you remember the New Testament, the people possessed by demons were not inherently evil. They had the hallmarks of epilepsy, learning disabilities and mental illness. Jesus did not bring a secular understanding to these things. He cured a few people, sometimes casting the supposed demons into the nearest pigs, but the science or care these people needed (the modern “secular” approach if  we must) was not part of his plan when saving others. So for hundreds of years, exorcisms and treating them as possessed was very much a Christian perspective. 

I would have to call this evil – exorcism really was not the way forward in caring for one another. We might excuse a primitive people; the Son of God playing to that ignorance (or to be more accurate, the gospel writers) a little less so. 

There is no excusing Theo Hobson on this. In trying to defame humanists and secularists (who are not necessarily the same thing) he reminds us that ideas can be evil in the Good Book. Possession is one of them, an idea in the bible we need to move away from rather than a language to make use of to convey ideas today. If we are going to understand why people take the lives of priests and others while shouting “God Is Great” we are going to have to use an investigative approach.

That might suggest looking at the link between violence and religion as a starting point. We should not need violence to make us give the care and attention the most vunerable  in society need. The risk is more often from society, as the President of The Royal College of Psychiatry said in the wake of the Russell Square knife attack today in London:

 

No Amen is necessary to take that advice.  

The top photo comes from this blog post with more quotes on casting out demons.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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Bianca Jagger’s tweet on MPs that voted for Iraq War


Bianca Jagger, chief executive of a human rights foundation, invites us to read this list of MPs carefully. Doing so reveals MPs described as:

“Openly homosexual”

“Negro. Served in the Blair Cabinet”

“Created so-called Holocaust Memorial Day. Likely a Jew”

“Openly lesbian.”

“Jewess. Connected to Labour Friends of Israel”

“Previously linked to Robert Maxwell the infamous Jewish media boss.”

“Judeo-Negress hybrid.”

“Jew. Connected to Conservative Friends of Israel. Known for promoting homosexualism”

“His stepfather, Ronald Davis was Jewish. Previously the chairman of the party.”

People rushed to point out the hatred, bigotry, antisemitism the list contained, and what on earth she was thinking sharing it?

Hours after posting came her apology.



Having urged us to “please read it carefully” she states she “didn’t properly read its content.”

The point of sharing such lists is to stir up hatred against Labour MPs. The problem for Jagger, is the hatred was too openly there for all to see.

Remember, Labour apparently does not have an antisemitic problem associated with Corbyn’s leadership. Depending on how carefully you read these things. 

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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Brexit The Undiscovered Country

We apparently “have our country back” as 52% vote to leave the EU. The future is the undiscovered country. It is up to us after this referendum to fulfil the promise of our nation, however we voted. 

Everything has changed, and yet the world keeps on turning though the PM will resign, the pound crumbles, stock markets fall, and finally Labour MPs might vote to get rid of Corbyn. And the SNP will jump out of our Union for a European one.  

We British have voted to leave the EU. The result is some have disowned their British identity: they don’t recognise this country. Laurie Penny went further saying  in effect she wants to take a hammer to an envisioned David Cameron face to smash all our resulting problems. Well, at least she doesn’t want to shoot a female MP, as happened this month with Jo Cox’s brutal murder. Her alleged assassin declared his name in court as “death to traitors.” The incendiary language carries on in the wake of the referendum result, on all sides. Penny does so without apparent irony when rightly calling out Farage for saying “without a bullet being fired” in this campaign to change the status quo.

Perhaps it was too much to ask that an act of terrorism might make us come together to ensure democracy was the winner – whatever the result. Real emotion was on display in the recalled parliament for one of their own. Civil activists honoured her memory and what she stood for.

Yet people trying to tell politicians their concern about immigration were branded as bigots. Concern that multiculturalism meant a back door to extremism rather than diversity, labelled as prejudice. The real far right are out there taking advantage of a failure to identify social issues with their rhetoric of hate and racism. White supremacist influence from the US and Europe needs investigating, as does the global network of Islamic extremism. 

The everyday concerns of those with the least opportunity, on council estates and in the north, were looked down on by a metropolitan southern elite. They came out in their droves; a realisation in a tight vote that their ballot box ticked was equal to any one else’s. A level playing field with anyone that had played on the fields of Eton.

Democracy needs to be cherished, even when we disagree with the result. I fear, as a remain voter, the temptation is to ignore any lessons. Leave voters got it wrong the bigots, will be the tempted lamentations on my side. If we do not understand why people voted leave, including how prejudices and racism do sometimes feed into a legitimate grievance narrative, the division and future sectarianism will grow.

That all our votes were equal made us equal citizens in this vote. Perhaps we might yet make the ideal of equal citizenship. We can but try to discover that country together. 

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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The Lord’s Prayer Meets Star Wars and I review Spectre

Our Darth Vadar which art in heaven, 

Anakin be thy name. 

Thy Emperor destroyed. 

The force be done on earth, as it is in a galaxy far far away. 

Give us this day our light sabre. 

And forgive us our impatience, as we forgive other Jedi. 

And lead us not into fear, which leads to hate, which leads to suffering, but deliver us from the dark side. 

In the name of the father, Luke Skywalker and the force, Amen

The Church of England wanted to run an advert before the new Star Wars Film: “The Force Awakens” which featured the Lord’s Prayer. Maybe as Dawkins says, you would need to be thin skinned finding that offensive. Though if you have been brought up in the apocalyptic Christian tradition you will know that “Thy Kingdom come” is not something to want lightly. Still, I can laugh about it now. 

At the time, I really thought 99% of us were going to die horribly, with all of us wishing we were not alive to see Armageddon. How the living will envy the dead – no wonder so many focus instead on other passages in the bible. I personally avoided using the Lord’s Prayer as a child, wanting as many spared as possible before Judgment Day.

Commercial decisions mean most cinemas will not show religious or political advertising here in the UK. The same rule applies to everybody. Still, some free publicity for the church and Richard Dawkins on your side is a result for the Church narrative that secularisation has run amok. Maybe they should watch more films at the cinema to realise that society is going to hell in a gore of CGI with no soul.

Admittedly Anglicanism is fluffy cuddly compared to the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Except when they act like them, like banning Harry Potter at one of their schools, or even deciding to have shares in Arm manufactures to help fight the good fight. Bless them, it’s all for a good cause fixing the church roof, and if the dividend does not cover the costs they can always try and get unsuspecting homeowners to settle the tab through arcane laws.

Who pays for a cinema ticket then chooses to sit through advertising as though a captive audience? Presumably those that think saying a prayer absolves them from actually doing something. Myself, I use the time instead at the bar, preparing for something thrilling but idiotic. Like Bond. 

Spectre

I loathed the new Bond film Spectre – all it needed was Daniel Craig to wink to camera at the end to make it the modern “Never Say Never Again” of Bond films. It looked good, but was as convincing as a secret organisation suddenly trying to kill a secret agent on a crowded buffet car, a woman being knocked out twice in the ensuing fight but rather than needing medical attention afterwards makes passionate love to someone who, ten minutes earlier, they said epitomised what they despised in life. 

That whole scene on a train is in the film. You might call it a spoiler, but this is a warning. There are more that could be said.

Bond nicks a prototype Aston Martin that has been allocated to 009. In a chase, rather annoyingly Q branch have not loaded any ammo, but they have loaded 009’s music library which Bond accidentally plays.  

They may as well have said, move over Grandad you are passed it. If you cannot figure out the controls to a modern car, and have not worked out that a woman knocked out twice in the last ten minutes who had made clear beforehand she did not fancy you in the slightest, probably cannot consent from a legal standpoint. The only bed you should be putting her in is a hospital one. 

As for the Bond villain – Wile E coyote had more depth. Wasted opportunity. The money was on screen, but no one seems to have bothered with making the dialogue, story and characterisation reach what Casino Royale and Skyfall managed. Even Quantum of Solace was interesting in its plot. Spectre promised so much, but strip it of the action leaves the most unintelligent and muddled of the Daniel Craig Bond films. It joins the dots like a children’s colouring in book, but that will not make a movie masterpiece to remember.

I have a bad feeling about the new Star Wars film but, for my sins, I am an optimist so will still go to see it. Hopefully it’s more Epsiode IV than Episode I. 

May the force be with you.

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My interview: Adam Deen Joins Quilliam Foundation

  


Adam Deen has joined the Quilliam Foundation. I sat down with him at the Quilliam offices to discuss why he had joined and what he was hoping to achieve.

The narrative of changing your mind is not one with a single eureka style moment he tells me. About ten years ago Adam was a member of an Islamist extremist group Al-Muhajirou, a now illegal group that once had the infamous Anjem Choudhary heading it. Such a mindset takes time to shake off, even when you leave an extremist group. If there was an idea which never sat comfortably for Deen, even during his extremism years ago, it was death for apostasy. One reason he set up the Deen Institute was to have the debate and inquiry into what Islam is. As he mentions in his reasons for joining Quilliam:

“For me, the last few years in particular have brought to light a ‘religious’ minority of Muslims whose interpretation of Islam is anti-rationalistic and at odds with basic ethical principles. These protagonists have a disproportionate stronghold on the religious community and merely provide lip service to a rational Islam.”

He goes on to mention “a forgotten rationalist heritage of the Islamic tradition” and mentioned to me how he hopes to push this issue in debates with Islamists, but also in reaching out about Islam. To pin down where Islamism is going against the Koranic teaching, thus exposing the extremism which is often “hiding behind a dogma of unity” then trying to prevent discussion and critical inquiry by holding on to a victimhood mentality. One that seeks to pass the total blame on western foreign policy rather than an irrational view of Islamic theology.

The decision to join Quilliam followed months of discussions with Haras Rafiq, who is the Managing Director of the foundation. It seems atheists like myself tweeting Deen over the years really did not help in this move from extremism to a human rights model calling for “Islam’s own enlightenment” in countering extremism. I asked how his critics might have helped at the time. He replied asking him to examine, within Islam, counter-views to his own positions would have.

In making now the counter-extremist argument, Deen emphasised universities rather than Mosques as key. With Islamic Societies on campus, often having new staff members at least every three years, the main speakers on the circuit to invite are those that promote an Islamist view. Students lacking a theological understanding of Islam makes countering it from such seasoned speakers that much more challenging. They need the tools to do so.

There needs to be Muslims not just questioning such things as apostasy killings, but pinning down other Muslims who use a “rational double-talk” in debates to obfuscate what they would admit privately as their position. Rather than this being seen as “isalmophobic” or being a “house Muslim” this is about tackling the toxic theocratic ideology that underpins extremism.

Not everyone welcomes that. But Deen feels that is what Islam needs right now, and in countering extremism joining the Quilliam Foundation for him is part of that vital work.

Talking this all over with Deen, I could sense here was a man hungry to stop the extremist manipulation of a faith he cares passionately for. Someone who wants to bring heat and light to the discussion. I look forward to seeing him in action.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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