Monday, 30 September 2013
Saturday, 28 September 2013
No one of faith, whatever faith that might be, can fail to be deeply appalled by the atrocities committed in the name of religion last week in Nairobi, Kenya and Peshawar, Pakistan. In Kenya people of different faiths and none, women and children were brutally murdered by thugs claiming to act in the name of Islam. In Peshawar eighty-five Christians, men, women and children, were martyred as they worshipped God. Once again, this attack was carried out by people claiming to act in the name of Islam.
Many are now bereaved because of actions of those claiming to be Muslims. Although this must be a very difficult time for true Muslims it does not mean Muslim leaders should avoid hard and searching questions as to why evil men are carrying out atrocities in the name of God and Islam. There must be deep soul-searching and critical reflection as to how people can go so astray from true religion and a solution found as to how Islamic teachers can guide their adherents away from what can only be described as evil.
The blogger does not claim to be an expert on Islam, but as someone of Christian faith, sharing the Abrahamic heritage with Muslims, he is concerned that religion should not be hijacked by people who are doing the work of the Devil and claiming it to be the work of God!
Coming from a Christian heritage, where we are taught that true religion is to visit the widows and the fatherless, it is incomprehensible how murdering people, widowing women and turning children to orphans can be carried out in the name of religion. Surely true religion is showing compassion and love to one’s neighbour whatever their faith.
The point of this blog is not to argue any theological points: As a Christian I have different beliefs, but I am not writing this blog to win any theological arguments. I simply mean to argue about structure and governance. Looking at Islam from the outside it seems one thing that is lacking is the guidance of an institution. It seems that Sunni Islam is not really an institutional religion in the same way as Christianity. Imams do not appear to be part of a hierarchy and teaching of the Khoran is apparently on individual interpretation. That lack of structure means fanatics can claim an authority that an institution would deny them. To put it bluntly it is not clear where authority resides for excommunication or who polices the fanatics. It is often said that Muslim leaders do not speak out strongly enough to condemn evil carried out in the name of Islam. This however begs the question: Who has the authority to speak out?
Perhaps the solution for Islam in policing extremism is to build a stronger institutional framework. If the comparison is made with Christianity, one is only a Christian if he belongs to the family of the church. The Church being the Body of Christ, to act separately from that, in contradiction to the Church, means one is not a Christian. True there are schisms within Christianity, but new denominations have maintained an institutional structure in the form of the Church.
Of course it is not impossible for the institution to go astray, but it is made up of a great body of individuals, with a heritage of thought and tradition. The Church has made its fair share of mistakes through history, but being an institution it has accumulated wisdom and learnt from its mistakes. This great heritage and the authority residing in the hierarchy of the Church means that it is very difficult to claim some entirely invalid interpretation of Scripture and carry out atrocities in accordance with a very subjective and incorrect view of religion.
Roman Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox all adhere to the Nicene Creed (some accepting it with the Filioque) with its acceptance of the Holy, Catholick and Apostolic Church. The maverick is therefore generally contained within the agreed values of the institution or simply finds he cannot establish himself and leaves religion to the faithful.
Many may be tempted to blame Islam as a whole in some way for the recent atrocities. This blog is arguing that such an approach of general blame is wrong, there are many more moderate, mainstream Muslims and they must be given more authority, following the model of a more institutional structure, such as that of the Church. The blogger does not claim any theological understanding of Islam, rather it is argued Christians should put forward in a spirit of sharing something of Christian heritage and government that might in a practical way give true and moderate Muslims more authority and take away any claim to authority from the criminal thugs and murderers who claim perversely that committing the Cardinal Sin of murder leads to salvation.
Of course, with the concept of the Incarnation in Christianity, which is absent from Islam, it is easier to build the foundations of an institutional church, which can derive authority as the continuing Body of Christ on Earth. That however is a matter of theology and this blog is not looking at such matters. I cannot claim to know how a stronger institutional framework in Islam can be justified theologically, but I am sure it would help practically in ensuring only adherents to True Religion could claim to act in the name of Islam.
To the agnostic and the atheist, these recent attacks could be seen as religion generally (rather than a fanatical perversion of Islam) being a cause of division and violence. People of all faiths must make clear that there is a distinction between True Religion and – to use an old fashioned concept – heresy.
For the secularist, without a clear grasp of Truth being absolutely and objectively true, it is easy to slip into the view that because someone claims to be acting for a faith, they are in fact truly acting in the name of that faith. Well that is wrong and once we accept objective Truth exists we can say that there is True Religion and False Religion.
Institutional religion is more able to police and control fanaticism. It has the authority to promote and give legitimacy to valid understanding of True Religion. To the atheist it is worth pointing out that just because someone acts in the name of faith does not mean they are doing so: Christ was tortured and crucified at the instigation of religious leaders in the name of religion. The murderers in Nairobi and Peshawar were not men of faith at all, but wicked nihilists. These fanatics are the very people whose world view those with true faith must resist with sound doctrine. Stronger institutional government would aid this goal.
Saturday, 21 September 2013
The hijab, the niqab and the burka – statements of faith are all well and good, but what if they are in breach of good manners?
There has been much political discussion recently about when and whether it is appropriate for women of Islamic faith to hide their faces. Birmingham Metropolitan College attempted to ban the full-face veil or niqab, but pulled back from this rule. The Liberal Democrat MP and Coalition Minister Jeremy Browne MP criticised the wearing of full-face veils and Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Health has asked the NHS to look at its policy on dresscode, due to the feelings of disquiet some patients have when treated by a medical professional who keeps their face hidden from them.
The matter that sparked off this debate was when a defendant in a criminal trial wished to hide her face when in the box. The judge required her to remove her veil when under examination, so that the jury could observe her facial expressions. This seems a commonsense solution. The defendant might have felt subject to unwanted scrutiny when her face could be seen, but when you are a defendant in a criminal trial that is an inevitable part of the process.
As a conservative who believes in freedom I would be very reluctant to follow the French example of banning the veil in public places. France is an avowedly secularist country and can therefore consistently ban expressions of religious faith. On these islands we are a free society with a Christian heritage. To ban expressions of religious faith goes against the grain. With an established church and Lords Spiritual in the upper house, religious faith is woven into the fabric of our constitution. And so is freedom. Not the French idea of freedom based around secularist ideology, but the freedom to be left alone – an Englishman’s home is his castle, as the expression goes.
The trouble is when a very different culture is grafted on to a longstanding society such as ours that is based on unspoken norms of behaviour, there can be cultural clashes and misunderstandings. Yes we are a free society, but we achieve that by giving each other space and not forcing our opinions on each other.
The veil adopted by some Muslim women is a strong and uncompromising expression of religious opinion. In a free society it should not be banned, but the blogger questions whether the veil is actually the sartorial equivalent of forcing your opinions on others. It creates an awkward social situation just as someone talking about religion and politics down the pub makes for an unpleasant atmosphere. It steps over a certain boundary and while strictly-speaking it is simply an individual choosing how they dress, it is really a non-verbal statement and creates a physical barrier. To put it bluntly, in ordinary every day life, the veil can be perceived by non-Muslims as crossing the boundary into bad manners.
In our culture it is good manners to look a person in the face when you speak to them. I do not condemn recent immigrants who have not yet adjusted to Western society. Rather, the fault lies with those in the political class and liberal elite who close down debate about the veil in the name of that chimera the multicultural society. This means people new to our society do not appreciate how many of us are made to feel awkward by the hiding of the face.
I am sure there are good cultural reasons in Muslim countries for the veil – I do not presume to say otherwise. The flipside of this is that to help the new immigrant societies to integrate they should be helped to understand that the hiding of the face in our culture sends a very different message.
Many would argue that it is up to us to be tolerant of this choice of dress. In terms of the law I agree; it is not for the state to criminalise dress. It is however, the role of society to nurture good manners. To give a less controversial example - Perhaps in some cultures the physical contact of a man’s and a woman’s hand through the handshake would be unacceptable. In our culture to decline the handshake would seem bad manners.
A blanket ban, outside of the workplace, is not right in a free society; however, the blogger cannot see anything wrong with requiring employees or students to dress in a way compatible with those institutions' dress codes. In the health service, when people are often feeling vulnerable and are unwell or in pain it seems very sensible to ban the full-face veil.
Interaction between people is enhanced by facial expressions. You can tell how someone is reacting to what you say. It is about being able to engage fully. If immigrant communities dispensed with the veil it would make it all the easier for stronger bonds to be built with individuals of the indigenous community.
Friday, 20 September 2013
Friday, 13 September 2013
In the light of the recent case of a well-known actor being found not guilty of rape and other charges, the decades-old question of anonymity in rape cases has again risen its hoary head. In 1976 victims and defendants in rape cases were granted anonymity. The relevant statute was the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1976. The purpose of anonymity for victims was to encourage them to come forward when the offence committed against them meant the victim often had feelings of shame and did not want to suffer further indignity of their violation being made public.
The defendant was also originally granted anonymity for the purposes of avoiding stigma for innocent defendants and ensuring equality between complainants and defendants. In 1988 this provision for anonymity for defendants was repealed.
There has been much comment that the present arrangement is inequitable. The defendant can be wrongly accused and even if found not guilty will forever suffer under a cloud of suspicion. Meanwhile the complainant who has made a false complaint does not suffer any stigma. This seems inequitable and even unjust.
In 2010 the new coalition government indicated it would look at reintroducing anonymity for the defendant. It reneged on this because it took the view that there was not enough empirical evidence to justify the reversion to the earlier law.
Recent events, particularly the revelations about the BBC employee Sir Jimmy Savile, demonstrate that when accusations are finally made other witnesses gain the confidence to come forward. It is argued that anonymity for the defendant would mean those who did not have confidence to bring further accusations against a serial offender on their own initiative would be discouraged from doing so.
The trouble with this situation is that there is not sufficient deterrent for false accusers and the outcome of the Le Vell case shows false accusations clearly occur. The defendant in that case not only suffers the stigma that the jury might have got it wrong, but also suffered his whole personal life and peccadilloes being paraded to the public through constant media commentary.
This is inequitable, but it seems to the blogger there is no easy solution. Revert to the 1976 law and we end up with virtual secret courts, which is inimical to the founding principles of British justice. Allow one party to have anonymity and there is minimal risk to making false accusations.
Rape is a crime, but it is not only a very heinous crime, it is also of its own type. The victim must have suffered a deep personal violation, different from ordinary injury. On the other hand, it is often difficult to know whether a crime has been committed. Due to the often intimate-situations in which these crimes can take place, with no witnesses, it is difficult to prove the crime has occurred beyond reasonable doubt. Unlike a murder, there is no body. Unlike a burglary, there is no missing property. The flipside of this problem means false allegations can be brought too.
One very straightforward way of making the situation equitable and discouraging false allegations is to do away with the complainant’s automatic right to anonymity. That would restore full open justice and mean that we had reverted to the usual way of prosecuting crimes, whereby allegations of a serious crime could not be made secretly. This would accord with principles of natural justice. Such a move would not affect the position of children or other vulnerable witnesses.
However, this could deter genuine victims from being willing to enter the witness box for the prosecution. Our adversarial system, important as it is in reaching the truth and particularly when a criminal act so serious is concerned, is not welcoming to the victim.
This is a situation that must be addressed and far greater minds than this blogger’s should and will cogitate this. The matter must not be left to rest though, for the current state of affairs is inequitable. The only solution the blogger can see is whereby both parties retain anonymity, but the defendant loses his right to anonymity if found guilty (as would inevitably be the case on conviction) and the complainant loses their right to anonymity if the jury finds the allegations to be false or at least not provable beyond reasonable doubt. This may not be the answer, but this is an area that must be looked at and not left to rest.
Monday, 9 September 2013
The instruments have been put back in their cases, the flags have been furled and the prommers and orchestra have all gone home for another year following that great British party to celebrate the end of the BBC Proms – the famous Last Night.
The Last Night is one of the British traditions that is so well loved by people that its programme should be sacred. The BBC is the custodian of this great party of an institution and yet you can’t help but feel the BBC is somehow uncomfortable with something it should be very proud of.
Much as the Last Night of the Proms was once very establishment – with God Save the Queen and all the patriotic songs, in today’s Britain to enjoy this night is an act of proud rebellion against the shackles of political correctness. It is the one night of the year when real people get the chance to celebrate being British in a good-humoured, but unambiguously patriotic way.
It is light hearted and fun, it is patriotic and very British. So the BBC ought not to tinker, yet it cannot help itself. The sacred canon is of course opened with Sir Henry Wood’s Fantasia on British Seasongs and then we move into the unapologetically nationalistic Rule Britannia and the rest. Everyone gets the chance to wave the flag and it is so enjoyable. It is even more enjoyable because it is a forbidden pleasure. One can almost feel the political and media class trembling in their boots as “Land of Hope and Glory” reverberates around the dome of the Royal Albert Hall. Today patriotic songs are virtual protest songs against the new, insipid, politically-correct establishment.
Perhaps that is exactly why the BBC constantly tries subtly to change the programme. Have you noticed how the Fantasia on British Seasongs has been removed from the evening? I don’t think sophisticated BBC types can comprehend the sheer good fun of bobbing to the Hornpipe or the mock-weeping to “Home Sweet Home”. What about the orchestra playing Jack the Lad faster and faster? These are all great traditions that we all hold in real affection. Bring them back BBC! Remember how they tried to water down Rule Britannia too?
Meanwhile, Radio 3 commentator Sean Rafferty every year appears desperately to play down the patriotic fervour, by constantly mentioning the small number of foreign flags and how international it all feels. Can you imagine him saying: “Isn’t it great to see all those Union Jacks? What a patriotic event!” Sadly that just seems impossible. Of course it is good to see foreigners who feel they belong enough to wave their flags, but is it not even more heartening to see good-hearted patriotism alive and well?
The BBC just cannot do patriotism. Patriotism is not in its DNA. Is this why it is always trying to ensure that the conductor is no longer British? The message is we are international – this is not actually a patriotic event. Well BBC yes it is and that is why we all love it so much! The conducting is of course about the musical ability, but on the Last Night it is also about entering into the spirit, getting the tone right and understanding our national sense of humour. A British conductor like Sir Andrew Davis got the humour of the moment just right – no pompous speechifying, just entering into and enhancing the spirit of the event.
The BBC is a custodian of the Last Night, not the owner. It should allow us to enjoy the fun and patriotism and not try and impose its own misplaced guilt about being British. To criticise such a great fun event such as the Last Night of the Proms seems churlish, but that is how the BBC is getting away with watering it down. We all feel so cheerful after singing Rule Britannia and Land of Hope and Glory, we turn a blind eye to the creeping political correctness.
Saturday, 7 September 2013
Nothing is more likely to turn the already sceptical British public towards outright hostility to the European Union than immigration from new accession states. When it becomes clear that they no longer have any control over their borders in terms of immigrants from accession countries Rumania and Bulgaria, there will be real anger – is the political class ready? If there is one power that indicates sovereignty it must be the right to control your borders. Of course the power was ceded before this, but now the European Union is made up of countries with very different standards of living. The incentive of freedom of movement to migrate in large numbers from poor to rich countries is therefore great. Parliament cannot change the law easily as it no longer has the right to do so under European treaties.
What is even more worrying is that the political class does not really understand how deep a concern immigration is for voters. When canvassing myself as a parliamentary candidate it was usually one of the first issues raised by residents on the doorstep. Politicians must remember they are the public’s servants and much as they may be eager to see the nation transformed into a multicultural, confusing and sometimes threatening mixture of different nations, the British public does not want such a transformation to their home. The polls are clear: The politicians need to listen.
Before the blogger goes any further, let’s put to rest some insulting misconceptions. Being concerned about mass immigration does not make someone a racist. It is possible to have friends from different cultures and races, indeed to find that difference between you and what you have in common with your friend a matter of interest and a building block for friendship. At the same time it is not a contradiction to have that deep instinctive need to feel at home in your own country where common norms of behaviour and values are silently understood. This is human nature and when politics goes against the grain of human nature it will always lead to disaster.
For many of those voters I met when campaigning the problem is nothing to do with the individual immigrant; it is the sheer level of immigration and the way that it undermines common cultural understanding. If immigrants are fewer then they can be better integrated and the differences can be a welcome matter of interest rather than feel a threat.
Often politicians talk of the economic benefits of immigration, by which they mean immigrants taking on jobs while natives remain on benefits - New Labour's false solution to welfare dependency. But Britain is not simply an economic polity of different cultures such as Singapore. Rather, this nation owes its stability and freedom to a common understanding of its history and the legitimacy of its political institutions. Small-scale immigration can be accommodated, but a large amount of immigration in a short space of time can threaten this united view of what the nation and its values amount to.
The blogger himself confesses to feeling a stranger in some parts of London. This cannot be good. It is far easier to be a place of welcome to the immigrant, the stranger and the refugee if one’s home country is bound together by a common culture.
The most negative aspect of mass immigration has been the policy response of the political class. That policy is summed up by the concept of “Multiculturalism” – the doctrine whereby every culture however new to these shores is equally valid with the indigenous culture. This has made it all the more difficult for immigrant communities to integrate, to become accepted and to better themselves economically. Multiculturalism was as much a failure to treat the immigrant with respect, as it was to uphold the traditions of the indigenous culture, because it disadvantaged the immigrant in trying to adapt to his new home. It could only lead to a festering resentment on both sides of the multicultural divide. The problem of Political Islam growing amongst a second-generation community that has not fully integrated is a key example of the problems multiculturalism has led to.
Thankfully Anglo-Saxon tolerance and a determination on the part of many immigrants to be part of the nation has undermined the liberal elite’s aim to keep cultures separate in a new, relativist society. Most immigrants adapted to and became very much part of the home culture.
There is a strong feeling however that with new waves of immigrants with no historical affection for this country, that the British public is being taken for a ride. With Commonwealth immigration, different as many were in terms of appearance and tradition, they understood what Britain was and had a shared history through Empire. The easy movement across the European Union on the other hand means those with a very different history and culture can come here for economic benefit alone. It is not just about claiming welfare, it is about jobs too, especially in a recession. It is argued that increased demand for public services from large numbers of immigrants means more jobs. We all know in the real world it actually means creaking public services that cannot respond to increased demand. Doctors’ surgeries, schools, housing, are all under far greater pressure than they were.
The political class must show that on the issue of immigration it has stopped sanctimoniously preaching and has started listening. The question to politicians is simple: On immigration are they listening to the British voter or the European Union?
Thursday, 5 September 2013
Despite the number of MPs who were critical and despite public opinion no one actually expected that Britain would let down the United States over Syria. Since loss of Empire it has been the assumption of British politics that a world role can only be achieved through supporting as closely as possible the United States in international affairs.
Apart from fighting together against different manifestations of German militarism in two world wars, the key examples of the Special Relationship are the sharing of intelligence and the basing of nuclear missiles in this country. The importance of intelligence sharing and the trust between the two nations on intelligence should not be under-estimated. The agreement between John F. Kennedy and Harold Macmillan that Britain would have American Polaris missiles, which would be part of a multilateral deterrent albeit fitted with British warheads was a fundamental building block of the post-war relationship.
The so-called Nassau Agreement followed the nadir in the Anglo-American relationship - the Suez Crisis. Due to the United States undermining an Anglo-French and Israeli strike against Colonel Nasser’s Egyptian regime, Britain not only lost a Prime Minister, but was seen to have lost its ability to be a global player without the United States.
In the context of Suez or indeed Britain’s refusal to join America’s action in Vietnam, perhaps this recent refusal to back any U.S. air-strikes in Syria looks less serious. However, it could be indicative of a recent gradual change in Britain’s world role and its relationship with the United States.
First it must be accepted that the Special Relationship is important to Great Britain. Our reliability to the United States means we gain influence as the most trusted partner. While our interests are not identical they often coincide. We hold similar values of democracy, the rule of law and freedom. Both nations are on the whole a force for good in the world. Whereas France has defined its continuing global role in terms of independence from U.S. foreign policy, the United Kingdom has relied on closeness to the United States. To abandon such an approach would mean starting again from scratch.
The Special Relationship is special to both partners. The United States relies on British intelligence and vice versa. A common language, linked history (particularly the shared history of two world wars and the Cold War) and similar legal system all lead to a similar world-view. For many individual Americans there is a strong emotional affinity with the Old Country. The strong personal chemistry between our leaders: Churchill and Roosevelt, Kennedy and Macmillan, Mrs Thatcher and Reagan, Blair and Bush have also ensured a close alliance.
On the other hand, as demonstrated by the American approach to Suez, the cancellation of Skybolt and indeed the invasion of Grenada during the high-point of the Special Relationship when Reagan and Mrs Thatcher were out the helm, America will look after its own interests first. That should not surprise us. It is the duty of a state’s government to pursue the national interest. Likewise the British should always look first and foremost to their national interest.
The current strain in the Special Relationship goes back to when Blair stretched it to breaking point in his involvement in the Iraq War. Not only did Blair gamble on the future of our Armed Forces, by fighting a war on a peacetime budget (leading to the defeat in Basra), but he gambled on the future acceptance by the British public of the Special Relationship. Because Blair unquestioningly almost slavishly supported bad American policy, he actually undermined the future of close cooperation.
Now there is a most unpropitious situation. The Oval Office is occupied by a President with little interest in Europe – a man who sent back the bust of Sir Winston Churchill. Indeed it is sometimes doubtful Obama believes in America let alone its relationship with old allies. Meanwhile the British Government has drastically cut the nation’s military capacity, leading to concerns from the United States as to whether its closest ally would in future be able to support it.. Notwithstanding this, Great Britain, but for the Iraqi experience, would probably have supported the strike on Syria.
It would be fair to say Britain has sacrificed a lot for the Special Relationship. Would France have stood idly by if the sort of oppression carried out by Mugabe in Zimbabwe had taken place in one of its former colonies? Instead, when Mugabe was committing his worst abuses, Britain spent blood and treasure on the ill-fated Iraqi adventure.
Notwithstanding this, the Special Relationship has probably been better for both nations than worse. The Special Relationship saw off Nazism and Communism. Despite the current lack of confidence in the Anglo-Saxon economic model, the world is moving towards free markets. Anglo-Saxon values have defeated various manifestations of totalitarianism and have shown the core values that underpin our societies are robust.
Britain rightly can grumble about Suez, the delay of the U.S. entry into the world wars, the ambiguity of the U.S. response to the Falklands crisis and Grenada (who can imagine Blair having the strength of conviction to confront Reagan in the way Margaret Thatcher did?). This is outweighed though by the fact that thanks to American might, we are not dominated by a Socialist Russia or a Nazi Germany. Furthermore America may grumble about lack of support in Syria, but it should be thankful for unambiguous British support in the Cold War, our intelligence sharing and the dependability and expertise of our Armed Forces. The world as a whole can be thankful that apart from the aberration of the second Iraq War, the Special Relationship has been a force for good and a force for freedom and order in world affairs. It is important it survives.