Tag Archives: Tom Holland

Tom Holland on ISIS and others on the Yazidi 

Tom Holland’s “ISIS: The origins of violence” aired this week on channel 4. Through out the film Holland made clear how Muslims were outraged by the violence perpetuated by ISIS. That Koranic, Hadith and Sharia were interpretated in ways most would never dream as an ideal, let alone one to be envisaged in their lifetime. 

When it comes to ISIS, strategies to minimise their importance or any link between them and the Islamic faith are made. Mehdi Hasan described them as “a bunch of thugs” that must not be considered a state, Islamic or a military power in the region. This when they controlled territory the size of England. In the face of global terror attacks organised and inspired by ISIS, this was more than thugs that make you cross the road on a Saturday night. 

The beheadings and crucifixions of ISIS are designed to make us not only appalled and frightened by their savagery, but to remind us of a history closer to the lifetime of Mohammed. As Tom Holland mentions, ISIS justification is that what they do were either done by Mohammed or are justified by appeal to Islam. Whilst a theological context can be made to counter this modern interpretation, a far simpler one is that these were the tortures and punishment of the age when Islam originated. Hence the more shocking they are today.

A reminder of today: mobile video footage of the Paris attack, with people running for their lives as a pregnant woman hanged out of a window at the bataclan. The faces of Yazidi people in Lalish, facing a genocide because they are considered devil worshippers and thus ISIS intend to purge them from the land. For there is one God, and Mohammed is His Prophet. When fanaticism meets monotheism, horrors will terrorise the land as a howling wind blowing over the red soaked dunes. Such acts against a people must not be forgotten, and when being carried out the reasons for not ignored.

In a critique of Tom Holland’s documentary in the Middle East Monitor by Alastair Sloan, the Yazidi are missing. Holland is criticised as being a propagandist for ISIS. Yet I would describe people saying this more like ISIS propagandists:

“ISIS demanded jizya (tax for non-Muslims under an Islamic state) from the Yazidis, who refused to pay, and as a result, were forced to retreat to Mount Sinjar in western Mosul.”

The denial of genocide by Dilly Hussain in the Huffington Post above was called out by me at the time. Yet to ignore there is even an issue involving what ISIS want to do with the Yazidi – cultural genocide by forced conversion or genocide by mass extermination by ISIS – that needs telling and how such the Yazidi are looked at via Islam – as tax dodgers or devil worshippers? The silence is itself a propaganda coup for ISIS. When people refuse to call out genocide, there is a complicity in the actions of others that should make us nauseous. 

Where does Alastair Slogan views on the Yazidi place him? Twitter gives us a glimpse. 

No wonder the Yazidi are not mentioned in the review. It’s “Yazidi hyperbole … hugely exaggerated” used as a “ruse” by America. When you are downplaying the atrocities of ISIS, no wonder it’s Tom Holland you want to focus on.  

Mehdi Hasan though is mentioned in the above critical review, mentioning his view of how ISIS are not religiously observant nor theologically knowledgable. The thieves who have their hands cut off by ISIS would applaud such a sleight of hand if they could at missing the obvious. The reason for ISIS fighting is that they claim to have the right way of living the faith. Jihad comes first, after conquest comes their sharia and Islamic way of life. This you could hear them chanting in the documentary. 

The simplicity of calling Tom Holland an anti-Islamic ideologue for pointing this out does not bare scrutiny. If you are to call anyone who does not believe Mohammed is a prophet, or for believing that the Koran is a text composed by human mammals rather than the whisperingings of an angel, as being anti-Islam, then take a closer look at ISIS. For there is the divide that they wish all Muslims to make between themselves and non-Muslims. If you as a  Muslim do not feel about Islam as they do, you are an apostate. As the destroyed Shia mosque Holland visited bore out, and the graffiti marking where Sunni, Shia and Yazidi had once lived together in peace. 

The Battle for Ideas

Western colonialism was mentioned in the documentary via Napoleon and the bloody French Revolution. How an uprising against monarchy unleashed an imperialism to bring the enlightenment not just to Europe by force, but to Muslims via the invasion of Egypt to plunder its riches as Alexander the Great once did. Religion was meant to be the past, reason the future. Instead what we have seen played out over generations is a battle of ideas, which once had gullitones on the ground and now drones in the air, making their deadly point. Potentially we are all in the cross hairs thanks to the past and how it is reimagined today by all sides. 

Stature in history is measured by some as the height of a statue on a plinth, the western idea of a great man of history by how quickly people will defend what can only be described as savage. One day perhaps, instead of heroes standing on a pile of corpses to deliver their version of a better world, we might look to others as a model to follow. Yet too many are tied  to the idea of an apocalypse to solve humanities woes. One which some pray for, some kill for. 

We need something more than religion or the enlightenment. The drones in the sky and the crosses of ISIS on the ground, are not going to deliver that brave new world. Rather being sick at the destruction humanity is capable of delivering in the name of their vision, is what we need.  

The world is worth fighting for, and so the fight for what makes it a better world goes on. If history shows us anything, it really does matter who wins. 

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Tom Holland Is The New Spiderman 


Regrettably, the Tom Holland I know has been overlooked for the role of Spiderman. I hope to show, using the old Spiderman theme, that he was clearly born for the role.



Spiderman, Spiderman,

Does whatever as a historian

Spins a tweet, any size,

Uses history to open eyes

Look Out!

Here comes the Spiderman.



Is he strong?

Listen bud,

He’s got vampire blood.

Can he swing into a thread

Then hit a six overhead

Hey, there

There goes the Spiderman.



In the chill of night

At the scene of misinformation

Like a streak of light

He arrives to save the situation



Look out Mr Ansar!



Spiderman, Spiderman

Friendly neighborhood Spiderman

Wealth and fame

He’s ignored

His Savile suit is it’s own reward.

Look out!

Here comes the Spiderman



To him, life is a Roman big bang up

Wherever there’s a Viking hang up

You’ll find the Spiderman.

On a more serious note, there is a poem celebrating Tom’s aim to raise funds for children to be schooled in India. These charitable endeavours: “Never before will rank incompetence have been put to such a noble cause” go by the name of BatAid. Armand D’AnGour penned:


Let us sing of the sound of leather on wood,

As our hero strides out for a cause that is good,

To support orphan children who need to be taught:

From Tom’s bat to the book every pound must be sought!


If you have enjoyed our poetry efforts, or feel British pluck against the odds deserves support, then do please donate via this link.


Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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Hay Festival: Tom Holland Gives Christopher Hitchens Lecture


Bumping into Peter Hitchens after his General Election discussion, and Tom Holland delivers the inaugural Christopher Hitchens Lecture on Deradicalising Mohammed.

It’s like a book camp holiday at Hay, as you look to see what talk you haven’t booked, rush to get a ticket, listen then queue to get your book signed. Collapsing drunk on words whirling through your mind, inside your tent, at the end of the day. An intelligentsia assembly line has been constructed on a welsh field. What motivates the workers here to unite is the inspiration of ideas and personality of the speakers. 

I bumped into Peter Hitchens having bought his “The Rage Against God” and mentioned our conversations on twitter. His bug bear is people not engaging with what is said, and the block button will follow if they do not. His analysis of British politics explains why I do not belong to a political party – it’s not about what citizens or activists think. Money and interests talk over us, and the Conservatives are playing New Labour so well Labour did not have much to say – while all turn a blind eye to mounting debt (national and private) that may lead to another financial crisis on the horizon.

One festival goer remarked feeling dejected by such talks. Yet the truth helps us see what may come, and at least puts things in the proper perspective. She had just come out of Tom Holland’s talk on deradicalising Mohammed. Forget the reformation Ayaan Hirsi Ali talks of – the salafists are that historical parallel and the internet has taken on the role of the printing press. If we wish to deny Jihadists the role model of a violent warrior prophet we have to acknowledge that the historical Mohammed hardly exists. Instead we rely on bibliography and sayings collected two hundred years after his death.

This is not without challenges – it questions a literal interpretation of Mohammed’s life. It suggests that accounts may be wrong, unreliable or deliberately bogus. Or as Tom put it: rather than treated symbolically they started in modern times to be taken literally. An academic understanding can reveal and centre Mohammed in his time – and if we can get over the “Great man” idea of historical figures with him – we might end Mohammed as the pin up for bloody jihadists to emulate.

Yet the real catalyst for peace and the transformation of ideas in the Middle East will have to be a despair of bloodshed. A point which might take way too many lives in the years to come. Tom mentioned the thirty years war. Where I differ, he does not think ground troops would help the situation against ISIS. In the thirty years war great powers got involved, but the bloodshed escalated rather than helped. Hearing Tom speak you can feel the emotion as he talks of the people being killed, and historical sites threatened. After the talk people spoke about his gentility. They warmed to him during the talk.

In the social media and blogosphere exchanges to do with Islam, I cannot help but feel that is the spirit we need more of, even if we disagree with each other.  

I spared a thought for Christopher Hitchens – this was the first memorial lecture in his name at Hay. Two completely different personalities are Holland and Hitch. Yet neither shying away from a controversy. 

It was a honour to have heard all three men above speak in person in my lifetime. For what gives me hope in these times are people facing the issues and using their intelligence and humanity to get through them. 

If you want to debate ideas, Hay is the place to come.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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Why Banning Extremists Is Wrong


The British Government thinks we are children. Easily led by those that know the art of oratory. Gullible. To be twisted round the finger of any subversive sectarian megalomaniac. Theresa May, British Home Secretary, wants to ban people for subversive speech. We the people, cannot be trusted to act responsibly based on what we hear. Our elected representatives can filter for us. Long live big brother.

If we are really concerned about the likes of Anjem Choudary poisoning minds to take up violence to overthrow democracy, banning him from our television screens is the wrong way. Britain tried that with Sinn Fein. We ended up with either subtitles but no sound; and then an Irish actor lip synching when they were talking.

Ian Hislop, editor of satirical Private Eye, remarked he wanted to hear Gerry Adams to see if he smiled when asked about the people the IRA had killed. There really is no better way to hold anyone to account by knowing exactly what someone has said, how they said it, in what context.

We make much of the liberty to think and voice our opinions. The line that most free speech advocates draw is an incitement to kill. For which laws currently exist, along with counter terrorism legislation. The Home Secretary risks making Choudary a victim for Islamists to rally for with the new proposals. Young people, with radical religious notions of changing the world, will have an officially state stamped underground movement. How nice of us to signal that for them.

We should be concerned that the Conservative Coalition Government’s first instinct is to gag people to save democracy. Rather than to tackle the ideology from the ground upwards – with education and a direct path to civil society engagement. In an internet global communication age, ideas spread. Force people underground, the darkness becomes less penetrable. Beware what grows down there.

Personally I like knowing who the extremists are and what they are saying. It allows for a counter narrative. Civil society knows how to respond to people who are anti-pluralistic, hate filled, loathsome parasites. Who feast on the freedoms we offer, in order to try and destroy it.

Responding with utter contempt and derision. We need to promote people engaging with the wider community and adopting values of pluralism. That we can disagree about religion, and many things, yet live together in peace. That democracy is not weakened by individuals having many different thoughts in the market place of ideas. It makes us stronger.

This is not about tolerating the intolerable. We have laws designed to deal as I have said with counter terrorism. We are now moving to where certain insensibilities will be made illegal. A democratic government will always try to undermine human rights with a populist move. Anjem Choudary banned from the airwaves would be popular. As would banning neo-nazis.

Except I have not seen skinheads with swastika tattoos on Newsnight. I have seen plenty of Islamists being interviewed. Crucially also, seen them challenged. Giving a platform for sensationalism and ratings is irresponsible. I would argue however, that the media are the ones revealing what Islamism is, and countering it.

The government is not. It will state Islam is a religion of peace. It will not publicly countenance that within Islam is the seed of theocracy, violence and intolerance. As it exists in all religions. The rise of religious extremism – that even Buddhists are massacring Muslims in Burma with monks approving – should be a wake up call.

The need for a counter narrative is there. That though means challenging such concepts as divine revelation, the infallibility of scripture, that human discourse has moved on since angels took their place on the battlefield with men. That though makes people like Mo Ansar call Maajid Nawaz an extremist, and accuse Tom Holland of trolling Islam.

The government recognises the problem, but not the solution. One of the reasons is preciously because it is the government. A body of conflicting needs to be met: electability, foreign relations and domestic public relations. Let alone conflicting ideas how to meet these challenges.

There is however agreement that you, dear citizen, cannot be trusted to act responsibly. It is not that the government distrusts Anjem Choudary. Rather, the government distrusts you to react correctly.

That should concern you as much as the media giving a public platform to fanatics. You have a right to listen, to speak, and think for yourself.

Never let anyone take that away from you. Or else democracy has been overthrown.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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Dawkins Has Been Culturally Christian For Ages

The faithful are rejoicing. Praise be that the arch nemesis is on the road to Damascus! For Richard Dawkins has said at the Hay Festival 2014 that he is a secular Christian:

“I would describe myself as a secular Christian in the same sense as secular Jews have a feeling for nostalgia and ceremonies,”


[Daily Telegraph]

Before we start suggesting this is a journey to religion or signs of the professor going dotty in old age, he has described himself in this way ever since he started his Foundation. Here for example in 2007:

Prof Dawkins, who has frequently spoken out against creationism and religious fundamentalism, replied: “I’m not one of those who wants to stop Christian traditions.


“This is historically a Christian country. I’m a cultural Christian in the same way many of my friends call themselves cultural Jews or cultural Muslims.


“So, yes, I like singing carols along with everybody else. I’m not one of those who wants to purge our society of our Christian history.


“If there’s any threat these sorts of things, I think you will find it comes from rival religions and not from atheists.”


[BBC News: Dawkins I’m a cultural Christian]


The blogger His Grace prior to this [story in Daily Telegraph] has tried to suggest that Dawkins, by belatedly adding his signature to a letter denouncing David Cameron calling Britain a Christian country, was two faced:

Not so much the attention-seeking redaction or desperate retrospective inclusion, but the fact that the eminent Professor Richard Dawkins has put his name, rather sadly, to a letter which states unequivocally that “Britain is not a ‘Christian country'”.

Because previously he has said – equally unequivocally – that Britain most assuredly is a Christian country.


Did you hear that?

[Dawkins in video:] “(The Bishop is) absolutely right – this is a Christian country: historically it’s a Christian country..”

Taking out of context what Dawkins was getting at. The extent to which we have a christian legacy impacting our politics, culturally by language, music and literature, we can describe the country as culturally Christian still. David Cameron was suggesting that our ethics and sense of morality are framed and understood by Christianity; his Easter message was one of sectarianism that has the cross in one hand and the flag in the other. That was what the letter criticizing him was getting at. Tom Holland points out that there is no real coincidence that secular countries in the world were almost exclusively Christian countries prior:

 as the historian Tom Holland pointed out recently, even our secularism is, in a way, Christian: render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s; the separation of Church and state is an idea that first gained strength in Christianity, even if several centuries’ worth of popes weren’t too keen on rendering anything to anyone. The letter-writers are absolutely correct to say that “Britain has been shaped for the better by many pre-Christian, non-Christian, and post-Christian forces”, but it’s silly to deny that Christian thinking has been the largest single religious/philosophical input over the last millennium and a half or so.

[Daily Telegraph]


Lastly the above photo is from an article by Dawkins “Atheists for Jesus” in 2006 which you can read here which tries to see if we can take the niceness of Jesus without the supernatural. The photo is missing there but I managed to find a screenshot of the article from an old post by someone here. My own essay on when is a christian not a christian can be found here.

I can only assume that the recent heatwave made the media have an early silly season. The idea that atheists are so fundamentally opposed to spiritually that holy water will scold them, the crucifix will make us cower, and a carol service bring on a brain hemorrhage is ludicrous.

Update Magnetic Pull

Talking to Tom Doran on twitter after posting reminded me of this gem from Damian Thompson’s (aka @Holysmoke) article in The Daily Telegraph “Richard Dawkins Is Moving Towards Christ” where he states:

His comments may explain claims from friends in Oxford that they’ve seen someone looking remarkably like Richard Dawkins sneaking into services. But he goes a bit further. As our science correspondent Sarah Knapton reports:

Dawkins, 73, also said that he believes humans are destined to take a certain path in life, and that if they veer from it a “magnetic pull” will bring them back to their fate.

Gosh. Is this “magnetic pull” explained by the theory of evolution through natural selection (which I accept completely, by the way, having been convinced by Dawkins’s brilliant Blind Watchmaker 30 years ago)? It doesn’t strike me that way. It sounds as if it’s inspired by the Christian teaching that human beings are endowed with a conscience.

This seems to be a misquote from Dawkins’ autobiography where he uses the term discussing whether genes, education or environment had an impact on whether the man he is and things he would do:

But perhaps life has a tendency to converge on a pathway, something like a magnetic pull that draws it back despite temporary deviations. As a biochemist, might I have eventually returned to the path that led to “The Selfish Gene,” even if I had then given it a more molecular slant? Perhaps the pull of the pathway would have led me to write (again biochemically slanted) versions of every one of my dozen books. I doubt it, but this whole ‘returning to the path’ idea is not uninteresting and I shall . . . er . . . return to it.

Taking on board the contingent frailty of the event chain that led to our existence, we can still go on to ask – as I did a moment ago – whether the course of a named individual’s life is sucked back, magnetically, into predictable pathways, despite the Brownian buffetings of sneezes and other trivial, or not so trivial, happenings. What if my mother’s joking speculation were really true, if the Eskotene Nursing Home really had muddled me up with Cuthbert’s son and I had been brought up as a changeling in a missionary household? Would I now be an ordained missionary myself? I think geneticists know enough to say no, probably no.

If you read the extract from Dawkins “An Appetite For Wonder” you can see this is again a reporter trying to make up a story by misquote, with a lack of context for a sensational “revelation.”

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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