Westminster Attack Reveals Weakness of Terror Groups

Today’s appalling terror attack in Westminster should not have come as a surprise to us. The UK’s terror threat level has been assessed as “severe” since August 2014 meaning that “an attack is highly likely”. It is to the immense credit of our police and security services that they have foiled so many potential attacks in recent years, but we have long been warned that they cannot prevent every attack, especially those undertaken by “lone wolf” assailants.

The attack on Westminster Bridge and even inside the grounds of Parliament today is clear in its symbolism. Westminster is the heart of UK democracy and is therefore a high value target for terrorist groups. Despite the tragic deaths we have seen today (three deaths not including the alleged attacker at the time of writing), this attack serves to underline the continuing strength and resiliency of UK democracy and our institutions while simultaneously laying bare the weakness and moral bankruptcy of those who deliberately target civilians as part of their “cause”.

Terrorists have not succeeded and are highly unlikely to succeed in destroying our democracy. However, they can succeed in generating fear amongst our communities and dividing us. The increasing popularity of right-wing demagogues in parts of Europe is surely a sad reflection of this.

Groups like Islamic State have long been encouraging attacks on civilians in the West. They offer false hope to young Muslims of re-establishing a just Islamic order. Instead of a just Islamic order, what they actually promote is religious bigotry and unbridled hatred of non-Muslims and even others whom they deem not sufficiently Muslim. That is no formula for success in the modern world and hopefully it is only a matter of time before the so-called Islamic State is dismantled.

Posted in Extremism | Tagged | 3 Comments

Consigning “Blasphemy” to History

This week, the Pakistani Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, signalled that he intended to crackdown on allegedly blasphemous content on the internet, calling it an “unpardonable offence.”

We have been here several times before, of course, most notably during the Satanic Verses affair in 1989 and the Dutch cartoons in 2006. It is understandable, though gravely misguided, to seek to protect the holding of one’s cherished beliefs from insult or ridicule.

Looking back on the controversy over Salman Rushdie’s book I have previously said that it simply did not occur to many of us who were marching against the book just how preposterous our position really was. Not only were we protesting against the book, we also wanted the Satanic Verses to be pulped/banned – thereby seeking to prevent others from reading it too. It was an incredibly damaging episode for Muslims and left an indelible impression on how Islam is viewed around the world by non-Muslims. Regrettably, the issue of blasphemy still remains today a clear example of how so many Muslims are having problems adapting their understanding of faith to the modern world.

If we don’t like what someone is saying then there is no obligation to listen to them. In a world with many faiths and very different beliefs it is the only way we can peacefully live together without constantly treading on each others toes. I regard the Christian belief in the Trinity as a relic of paganism and I am horrified at the disgusting racism and genocide preached in parts of the Jewish Old Testament. And I am immensely grateful to be living in a society where the state will not punish me for holding these views and stating them publicly.

This is not to say that many Muslims alone are thin skinned when it comes to attempting to try and protect their beliefs or opinions from ridicule and/or scrutiny. However, for a community that seeks to aspire to the Qur’an’s description (3:10) of being the “best community” raised for humankind, we should be willing to be more critical of ourselves and seek continuous improvement.

Over twenty-five years ago, after being forced into hiding due to the very real – and deeply shameful – threats against his life, Salman Rushdie remarked “What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.”

Rushdie -who sadly remains widely reviled amongst Muslims – was actually way ahead of many of us in recognising the real value of a secular state and the repressive dangers posed by any kind of religious state.

So, I will end this little blog with a quote from the man himself who has been much misunderstood. Maybe it will encourage more people to purchase his books and to perhaps reconsider some of their views:

“Literature is the one place in any society where, within the secrecy of our own heads, we can hear voices talking about everything in every possible way. The reason for ensuring that that privileged arena is preserved is not that writers want the absolute freedom to say and do whatever they please. It is that we, all of us, readers and writers and citizens and generals and godmen, need that little, unimportant-looking room. We do not need to call it sacred, but we do need to remember that it is necessary.
‘Everybody knows,’ wrote Saul Bellow in The Adventures of Augie March, ‘there is no fineness or accuracy of suppression. If you hold down one thing, you hold down the adjoining.’
Wherever in the world the little room of literature has been closed, sooner or later the walls have come tumbling down.”
Salman Rushdie, Is Nothing Sacred, 1990, (Essay contained in Imaginary Homelands)

Posted in Books, Extremism, Islam | Tagged , | 1 Comment

The Folly of Funding the Community Security Trust


 The Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, delivered a speech this week at the annual dinner of the Community Security Trust (CST) – the Jewish charity that works to ensure the safety of the British Jewish community. During the speech, Rudd announced that the government would once again be giving millions of pounds, £13.4 million to be precise – to the CST to “provide for security measures at Jewish schools, colleges, nurseries and other locations.”
It is unacceptable to see attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions. Official figures from the Metropolitan Police Service reveal that there were 512 anti-Semitic incidents reported in the year to Jan 2016. One cannot help wondering though why on earth the government is handing over taxpayers’ hard-earned money to a Jewish communal organisation when the responsibility for ensuring the security of citizens and religious schools and nurseries etc. is surely that of the police forces? If Jewish citizens and institutions are under threat then it is the duty of the police to devote the necessary resources to ensure their security. That is why we have a police force instead of leaving each community to defend their own places of worship and institutions.
Let’s reflect for a moment about the current government policy of providing huge sums to an organisation such as the CST that is not accountable to taxpayers. The very same Metropolitan Police crime figures show that for the year to Jan 2016 there were 1204 anti-Muslim incidents reported. That is 2.35 times the number of anti-Jewish incidents. Is the government now going to provide £13.4 million times 2.35 (over £31 million) to a Muslim communal organisation to help ensure the security of British Muslims, their mosques and institutions? And what about the Hindu, Sikh and other minority groups? Do we really want to see the creation of multiple faith-based security organisations that perhaps have a self-interest in exaggerating the number of alleged hate crime incidents in order to secure their government funding? That way surely lies the encouragement of identity politics, greater division and madness. How long would it be before parts of the media began referring to those defending mosques as Muslim vigilantes? We are one country and that is why we as taxpayers fund the police to provide the necessary protection and work towards ensuring the safety of all of us, regardless of our faith or background.
This very point was made in the Jewish Chronicle several years ago by Professor Gilbert Kahn who was visiting from the USA.
It cannot be sensible to encourage people to report hate crime incidents to third-party organisations like the CST or any other third-party organisation instead of going directly to the police. At the very least, if people make up hate crime incidents when reporting them to the police they can face prosecution for wasting police time.
It cannot be recalled too often that we are very fortunate to be living in a country which proudly prohibits discrimination based on religion, colour, ethnicity or sexuality. These are important achievements. We should build on them by encouraging the reporting of crimes directly to the police, not to separate third-party communal organisations each with agendas of their own.
Posted in Government, islamophobia | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

The Redemption of Tony Blair?


Could this perhaps be the beginning of the rehabilitation of Tony Blair following the disastrous invasion of Iraq and its hideous aftermath? At Open Britain earlier this morning the former PM used his formidable oratorical skills to call upon those who oppose Brexit to rise up and convince those who voted for Brexit about the merits of remaining in the EU.

He made a number of telling points. He pointed out how the PM Theresa May and the Chancellor Phillip Hammond:

 “…were telling us that leaving would be bad for the country, its economy, its security and its place in the world.  Today it is apparently a ‘once in a generation opportunity’ for greatness. 7 months ago, AFTER the referendum result, the Chancellor was telling us that leaving the Single Market would be – and I quote – ‘catastrophic’. Now it appears we will leave the Single Market and the Customs Union and he is very optimistic.”

Blair correctly identified immigration as “the issue” which most persuaded those who voted for Brexit. However, the facts regarding immigration did not support a case for leaving the EU:

“Net immigration into the UK was roughly 335,000 in the year to June 2016.
But just over half was from outside the EU…And for many people, the core immigration question – and one which I fully accept is a substantial issue -is immigration from non-European countries, especially when from different cultures in which assimilation and potential security threats can be an issue.”

As for those immigrants from the EU:

“Future historians will be scurrying to investigate the antecedents of these migrants from Europe for whose restraint, we were willing to sacrifice so much.
What will they find – that they were a terrible group of people who threatened the country’s stability? They will find that on the whole they were well behaved, worked hard, paid their taxes and were a net economic benefit.”

He ended his speech with a rousing call for those who want to remain in the EU to stand up and work with others to persuade those who voted for Brexit to change their minds.

“The one incontrovertible characteristic of politics today is its propensity for revolt.
The Brexiteers were the beneficiaries of this wave; now they want to freeze it to a day in June 2016.
They will say the will of the people can’t alter. It can.
They will say Leaving is inevitable. It isn’t.
They will say we don’t represent the people. We do, many millions of them and with determination many millions more.
They will claim we’re dividing the country by making the case. It is they who divide our country – generation from generation, North from South, Scotland from England, those born here from those who came to our country precisely because of what they thought it stood for and what they admired.
This is not the time for retreat, indifference or despair; but the time to rise up in defence of what we believe – calmly, patiently, winning the argument by the force of argument; but without fear and with the conviction we act in the true interests of Britain.”

It was good to see this version of Tony Blair back again. It reminded me of the 1997 Blair who was voted in to power offering hope of progressive politics following 18 years of Tory rule. It is a tragedy that the current Labour team is unable to perform its duty as an effective opposition to the current government. If they continue to be unable to break through and win the centre ground, there will remain a massive gap just waiting to be filled. Blair could yet redeem himself of the disaster of Iraq.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

President’s Obama’s Farewell Speech – Science and Reason Matter

President Barack Obama’s farewell speech last night in Chicago took a look at some of his positive achievements in the past eight years – and there have admittedly been quite a few. In his own words, his Presidency helped:

…reverse a great recession, reboot our auto industry, and unleash the longest stretch of job creation in our history — if I had told you that we would open up a new chapter with the Cuban people, shut down Iran’s nuclear weapons program without firing a shot, take out the mastermind of 9/11 — if I had told you that we would win marriage equality, and secure the right to health insurance for another 20 million of our fellow citizens…we’ve halved our dependence on foreign oil; we’ve doubled our renewable energy …

Those are impressive achievements particularly when one remembers that there were many influential players, not least the Israel lobby, who were eagerly pushing for war against Iran. Who can forget the former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon who said “the day the United States finishes with Iraq, it should start with Iran” or Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s comical antics at the UN where he shrieked about the imminent danger of a nuclear capable Iran? Little wonder that Netanyahu has so warmly welcomed the election of Donald Trump.

Obama praised the spirit of the Enlightenment, the spirit that insists that “science and reason matter”, the spirit that:

… made us an economic powerhouse — the spirit that took flight at Kitty Hawk and Cape Canaveral; the spirit that cures disease and put a computer in every pocket.

He urged people to value their democracy and its values and be vigilant in protecting them:

I learned that change only happens when ordinary people get involved and they get engaged, and they come together to demand it…we are all created equal, endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It’s the insistence that these rights, while self-evident, have never been self-executing…If something needs fixing, then lace up your shoes and do some organizing. If you’re disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office yourself.

He added that these Enlightenment values deserve to be spread around the world and that it was necessary to make the world a better and more safer place:

That’s why I reject discrimination against Muslim Americans…That’s why we cannot withdraw from big global fights — to expand democracy, and human rights, and women’s rights, and LGBT rights. No matter how imperfect our efforts, no matter how expedient ignoring such values may seem, that’s part of defending America. For the fight against extremism and intolerance and sectarianism and chauvinism are of a piece with the fight against authoritarianism and nationalist aggression. If the scope of freedom and respect for the rule of law shrinks around the world, the likelihood of war within and between nations increases, and our own freedoms will eventually be threatened.

And he mentioned some of the dangers that continue to face America:

…violent fanatics who claim to speak for Islam; more recently by autocrats in foreign capitals who see free markets and open democracies and civil society itself as a threat to their power. The peril each poses to our democracy is more far-reaching than a car bomb or a missile. It represents the fear of change; the fear of people who look or speak or pray differently; a contempt for the rule of law that holds leaders accountable; an intolerance of dissent and free thought; a belief that the sword or the gun or the bomb or the propaganda machine is the ultimate arbiter of what’s true and what’s right.

Obama will have disappointed many Muslims around the world with his failure to make progress on the key issue of securing a just settlement for the Palestinians, yet it is fair to say – and perhaps particularly so given the impending handover of power to Donald Trump – that the world will miss him.

Posted in Government | Tagged , | 13 Comments

Israeli Plot To “Take Down” Tory Minister Makes UK Headlines


An Israeli Embassy official in the UK, Shai Masot, has been captured on undercover film talking about “taking down” the Deputy Foreign Secretary, Sir Alan Duncan, because he is “doing a lot of problems”. Masot also described the UK’s Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, as “an idiot” who was a good friend of Israel but “if something real happened…it would be Duncan.”

Masot was also captured on film separately with the Labour MP and member of the Labour Friends of Israel, Joan Ryan, saying that he had obtained “more than £1 million” to pay for sympathetic Labour MPs to visit Israel.

The story has been published on the front page of today’s Mail on Sunday – who also publish full transcripts of the conversations – and is also carried by a number of other major media outlets including the Observer, the Sunday Telegraph and the BBC.

Sir Alan Duncan is a well known critic of Israel’s illegal Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories and in October 2014 he delivered a speech at the Royal United Services Institute in which he was scathing about the illegal settlements. Duncan said:

“No settlement endorser should be considered fit to stand for election, remain a member of a mainstream political party or sit in a Parliament. How can we accept lawmakers in our country, or any country, when they support lawbreakers in another? They are extremists, and they should be treated as such…Many settlers are state-sponsored militia, defying international law, driving out the rightful inhabitants from their land, and creating an illegal economy at the expense of those who have been cruelly displaced”.

The undercover footage was filmed by Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit and is part of a four part documentary called “The Lobby” that is scheduled to be aired on Jan 15-18.

The Israeli Embassy has issued a statement saying that their Ambassador, Mark Regev, has apologized to Sir Alan Duncan and have added that Shai Masot “will be ending his term of employment with the Embassy shortly.”

Back in 2009, Channel Four’s Dispatches series broadcast an episode called “Inside Britain’s Israel Lobby” presented by the seasoned journalist, Peter Oborne, in which he looked at how the Israeli lobby operates in the UK. The episode can still be viewed at this link.

Update 1: Maria Strizzolo – the senior civil servant and former aide to Robert Halfon MP (who was himself previously the Political Director at the Conservative Friends of Israel) – has resigned following the release of video footage showing her discussing the “taking down” of Sir Alan Duncan. This is good news for those who are appalled at how Israel is trying to undermine British democracy. However, as Craig Murray has asked: why has the Israeli Embassy official, Shai Mosat, not yet been expelled by the UK government?

Posted in Government, Zionism | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Interview with David Deutsch

I have blogged previously about the Oxford physicist, David Deutsch, and his wonderful book The Beginning of Infinity.

There is a recent 30 minute interview with David Deutsch now posted on YouTube which explores several of the ideas he discusses in BoI. He is questioned about a number of issues including fallibilism, the value of uncertainty, moral progress and Karl Popper.

Posted in Books, Science & Evolution | Tagged | Leave a comment