The Conservative Friends of Israel Election Letter May 2017

The letter above – posted to an address in the constituency of Ilford North – reminds me of a documentary that aired back in 2009. The journalist Peter Oborne presented a highly informative Channel 4 Dispatches documentary called “Inside Britain’s Israel Lobby” in which he discussed – amongst other matters – the role played by the Conservative Friends of Israel in our electoral process. The documentary – which is 48 minutes long – can still be viewed here.

Oborne also co-wrote an accompanying pamphlet which still makes for very interesting reading.

Let’s hope that other organisations are also doing their best to lay out policy concerns to UK voters.

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The Tragedy in Manchester … and in Islam?

At the time of writing, the Police have issued a statement that they are treating the deadly attack at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester as terrorism-related. It remains to be seen whether this was related to specifically AQ or IS-related terrorism or something else, so my comments below are necessarily tentative.

We know that AQ/IS-related terrorism is a phenomenon we will have to sadly deal with for a number of years to come before it is finally defeated. It is still worth asking, however, whether there are actions we can take now that can hasten the coming of that day. Some actions may well make the problem worse – just think of US President Trump’s grotesque $110 billion arms deal at the weekend with the reactionary Saudi regime – the same regime that internally is an absolute monarchy that represents a human rights disaster zone and externally actively finances the spread across the world of perhaps the most intolerant and narrow-minded strain of modern Islam.

But are there actions that we could take that may help reduce the allure of terrorist groups? Have our own policies in the UK been the most appropriate ones to protect young people from being seduced by AQ/IS propaganda? The UK government for several years now has been leaning on Internet Service Providers to block AQ/IS-related websites. This is reminiscent of the counter-productive and ultimately futile efforts in the 1980s by the Thatcher government to block Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams from appearing on the television. We should ask whether it might be more fruitful to be willing to openly allow – and even to encourage – debate and critical thinking about AQ-IS and their vision of an “Islamic State”. The government’s Prevent agenda – which sounds defensive and rather defeatist – might more effectively be re-named and re-fashioned as Expose or Engage.

At the same time, Muslim leaders must hopefully realise by now that they have a duty to disavow the idea of an “Islamic State”. It cannot be a good idea to teach children and young adults that a state that would necessarily discriminate on the grounds of religion is something that could benefit the world in the 21st century. A secular state that treats every citizen equally regardless of their faith is by far a better proposition. This is not a call for jingoism or anything like it, but rather, to appreciate the good we enjoy in the UK and the West in general.

There is little point in denying that much of the Muslim world is having enormous problems adapting to modernity. Freedom of religion, freedom of association, women’s rights, gay rights – these are areas where the vast majority of Muslim majority countries have been left far behind most of the rest of the world. A key reason for this appears to be the baleful influence of religion.

Religion, which at its best can be a force to inspire humility, wonder and to rouse our curiosity about the world and our place in it, has generated a lethal mutant form within parts of the Muslim community and it needs much more focused attention.

 

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India’s “Cow Protection Vigilantes” Lynch Muslim Man

This week, a group of five Muslims were badly beaten up by a 200-strong Hindu “cow protection vigilante” mob in India and one of the Muslims, Pehlu Khan (who can be seen in the above shocking video of the attack), later died of his injuries.

According to the Guardian:

Gangs of “cow protectors” have been implicated in killing at least 10 people in the past two years as the welfare of the animal has become an increasingly charged issue in Indian politics.

It is horrifying that people can still be killed in 2017 in this barbaric manner. India’s increasingly assertive Hindu political groups have been very bad news for secularism in that country and very bad news for minority groups.

The above news highlights why secular states which do not discriminate on the basis of religion, ethnicity, gender or sexuality, are to be preferred above any type of religious state, Hindu, Islamic or otherwise.

It is surely better to live in a state where you can freely eat a beef burger if you wish and can avoid eating it if you wish, instead of that choice – or indeed your life – being taken away from you by religious groups.

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A Walk Around Westminster After The Attack

 

After completing some upgrades of networking kit earlier today, I went for a walk around Westminster. I wanted to see what effect the terrorist attack eleven days ago had had on the area.

I saw additional bollard-type barriers on the pavement on Westminster Bridge which I don’t recall seeing previously. Presumably these were added almost immediately after the attack on the pedestrians on the Bridge that tragic day.

However, as can be seen from the pics above, the Bridge was thankfully just as busy as ever with tourists and visitors. If it wasn’t for the flowers and bouquets you would never know that this was the scene of a horrific attack less than two weeks ago.

It was lovely to see that normality had returned. There were many hijabis in the area – just as you would expect in an incredibly diverse city and tourist-magnet such as London.

I did get into a discussion with a Moroccan guy who gave his name as “Anis” who said that the UK’s democracy was fake. He said he knew someone close to him who was in Belmarsh prison without charge for a number of years now and had developed serious mental health issues as a result. Over a decade ago, the Blair government did introduce what was in effect indefinite detention without trial for those non-British nationals who were suspected of involvement in terrorism. It was an incredibly draconian and illiberal piece of legislation which has now been replaced by TPIMs. I told him that the UK had many failings – and the fact that Blair and his shameless cheerleaders in the UK press had not paid a price for the travesty that was the Iraq invasion was clearly high on that list – it was still a wonderful place to live. It is true that recent months have seen a rise in tensions as far right elements seek to exploit the nasty anti-immigrant and racist sentiment that accompanied the Brexit vote, but this remains a strongly functioning liberal democracy and that should be a cause for hope, not despondency.

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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.

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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)

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The Folly of Funding the Community Security Trust

cst

 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.
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