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Christians and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict Read all my posts on this topic

Friday, September 17, 2010

A warm welcome to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI

At least that's what I call him. What Stephen Fry and friends call him is "Pope Ratzinger".

Isn't the oafishness of that the most revealing moment in their letter? It reminds me of nothing so much as the Koran-burning antics of Pastor Terry Jones. The same gratuitous bad manners, betraying the same inability to deal on a human level with the existence of persons who sincerely hold different beliefs from oneself - in a word, intolerance.

Unlike Jones, though, Fry and Co. are members of a cultural and intellectual elite who have no excuse for ignorance. Also unlike him, they have not and will not trigger a frantic damage-limitation exercise. They will not need to lose any sleep over the possible consequences of sticking two fingers up at a billion Catholics.

Well, it ought to have at least one consequence. The ayatollahs of secular liberalism have it in for all Christians who are not prepared to swallow their agenda whole; the Pope is just a particularly potent symbol. Deo volente I'll be in the West End tomorrow evening to wave to him, and I hope to have plenty of non-Catholics for company.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

NO POPERY: a liberal fatwa

With the round robin letter published in today's Guardian, the anti-Pope campaign cranks up to a shrill crescendo (I'm sure there's worse to come over the next few days, though). That not just the likes of Stephen Fry and Johann Hari but so many of the Great and the Good have deemed it worthy of their signatures is a depressing commentary on the state of intellectual life in Britain.

Practically every sentence cries out for fisking, but I'll be selective.

Among the misdeeds laid at B16's door is...

'Opposing the distribution of condoms and so increasing large families in poor countries and the spread of Aids.'

So if you come from a large family in a poor country, you can rejoice in the knowledge that all these movers and shakers consider you surplus to requirements.

Here, of course, we have plenty of condoms and plenty of Aids. Is it too much to ask for just a little humility from the ayatollahs of secular liberalism?

Another grievance, and a decidedly bizarre one:-

'In any case, we reject the masquerading of the Holy See as a state and the pope as a head of state as merely a convenient fiction to amplify the international influence of the Vatican.'

Riiight. So how, exactly, do we identify proper states? By the blushing diffidence with which they surrender any claims to international influence?

This one goes without saying:-

'Failing to address the many cases of abuse of children within its own organisation.'

Now because this is a debate in which no benefit of the doubt is ever extended to anyone who speaks up for the Pope, let me say at once that this is a serious matter which has been dreadfully mishandled by the Church. However, the accusation that he has failed to address it is simply untrue.

And let us take a look at the glass house from which the stones pour forth. Did I mention that Peter Tatchell is one of the signatories? Did I need to? In fact I strongly suspect that the wording is his. Now in 2008 Mr Tatchell had an article published in an Irish paper in which he argued that the law should allow adults to have sexual access to fourteen year olds. As he points out in the article, this is an issue on which he has campaigned since the 1990s. In 1997 the following appeared in a letter to the Guardian from Tatchell (at least Peter Hitchens says it was a letter, I remember it as an article):-

'The positive nature of some child-adult sexual relationships is not confined to non-Western cultures. Several of my friends – gay and straight, male and female – had sex with adults from the ages of nine to 13. None feel they were abused. All say it was their conscious choice and gave them great joy.

'While it may be impossible to condone paedophilia, it is time society acknowledged the truth that not all sex involving children is unwanted, abusive and harmful.'

I'd really like to see some of the Professors, Baronesses and Lords who have signed the round robin letter confronted with this quote and asked to defend their association with its author in a campaign ostensibly motivated by concern over child abuse. If this happens on the BBC or Channel 4 (which recently screened a hatchet job on the Pope fronted by... Peter Tatchell) I'll eat my hat. Mr Tatchell is Teflon Man incarnate.

Doubtless the Professors, Baronesses and Lords would, if put on the spot, counter by asking what this has to do with children being raped by priests. But that would be sophistry. The roll of shame of priestly rapes (and however much exaggeration of the figures has gone on the real ones are shocking enough) includes every case where a child was subjected to penetrative sex. Consent is irrelevant since the law deems children incapable of giving it.

Change the law, though, and you convert large numbers of priests from abusers to legal lovers. For example, in one of the US cases which was talked up in the hope (I use the word 100% advisedly) that the Pope could be incriminated, one of the victims recalled that he hadn't liked to say no because the priest was such a nice guy. Well, consent is consent. Plenty of adult sex happens on the same basis. Of course he had subsequently regretted it, but you can't have it both ways. If consent is valid you can't allow those who have given it to retrospectively cry "rape".

I would not dream of suggesting that Peter Tatchell has ever had nefarious designs on fourteen year olds. If he had, though, he could hardly have supplied himself with a more perfectly self-serving argument than this one (from the Irish Independent piece):-

'This sexual disempowerment of young people [by an age of consent set at 17 in Ireland] plays into the hands of adults who want to abuse them. Guilt and shame about sex also increase the likelihood of molestation by encouraging the furtiveness and secrecy on which abuse thrives.

'One way to protect young people against unwanted sexual advances is by promoting sex-affirmative attitudes which challenge the idea that sex is something sordid, and by empowering teenagers to stand up for their sexual rights. Sexually informed and confident youngsters are more likely to resist sexual exploitation.'

So the way to protect kids from abuse is by redefining it so that adults who succeed in persuading them that they want sex aren't guilty of it at all.

Sexual empowerment is for adults. Children have one sexual right and it is the right to be protected from sex. Blur that distinction and you start sliding towards the rationalizations of the paedophile in denial.

To sum up: I'm not the only person who remembers reading the Guardian in 1997. You can bet that 80-90% of the signatories to the letter did. If the campaign against the Papal Visit was really about protecting children, they'd have quietly ensured Peter Tatchell wasn't invited to sign. My suggestion is that they didn't because it isn't.

I have more on the letter but this is already a longish post. Another to follow, time permitting.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The rules for them and the rules for us

A senior Islamic cleric is about to pay Britain a visit, so the BBC marks the event by polling British Muslims on whether their faith has been shaken by the scale of Islamist terrorism. You can just see it, can't you?

Monday, September 06, 2010

Nein, danke!

What have I done to deserve this? Here's the latest offering that is trying to interest me in:-

Can't help feeling the title comes over as ever so slightly sinister in German. That and the author's choice of shirt colour...

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Grave Concerns, or the Jobsworths Who Make a Vase Difference

Bad news and good news on the hazards of life here in Curmudge. The local paper reminded us last week of an incident earlier this year in which the police took eleven hours to respond to an alleged rape. We also learned that the average speed cameras which have dramatically reduced deaths on the notorious A14 are threatened with the spending axe.

Thank goodness, though, that staffing levels at the City Council are adequate to protect us from the Invasion of the Killer Flower Vases...

'Cambridge City Council has introduced “rigorous” new rules to enforce a ban on glass and pottery containers left as memorials. Now the council is sending letters to relatives ordering them to remove flower vases which may pose a danger.


'Cllr Tim Bick, the authority’s communities chief, said there has been a “significant reduction” in memorabilia after the order was made.

'He said: “We recognise what remains might be because our notices have been missed or relatives may not have been able to visit, so we expect and hope that a direct reminder will help us complete this as sensitively as it is intended.”'

So no unkind comments, please. This being handled sensitively. And the risks here are plain for all to see:-

'The crackdown came after a child cut her hand on a broken glass vase in the grounds of Cambridge Crematorium – even though it had been damaged by a council worker.'

Always nice to see the folk who spend our taxes getting their priorities right. I'll let you know when my Curmudge City Council-issued regulation cotton wool suit is delivered.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Something completely different

I defy anyone to be grumpy after watching this.

Or for the even more unashamedly sentimental (and for added entertainment watch out for the pianist's haircut - made in Germany)...

He's great in Bach too.

The lie that keeps creeping into the mainstream: now Israel is accused of genocide in the Big Issue

'During the trial Osmond cited cited the words of Rachel Corrie - the US activist who was killed by an Israeli bulldozer in Rafah in 2003 - as inspiration, specifically her diary entry: "I'm witnessing this chronic, insidious genocide and I'm really scared, this has to stop. I think it's it's a good idea for all of us to drop everything and devote our lives to making this stop."' (the emphasis is mine; for the trial in question see this and - deserving a companion post in its own right - this)

Let's keep this simple. First point: Corrie's words are simply untrue - still as untrue now as when she wrote them. Untrue by any definition of the word "genocide" that does not reduce it to a Zimbabwean dollar of political discourse, that does not leave us needing a new word to describe the gas chambers of Auschwitz.

Second point: it is no small matter to make a false allegation of genocide specifically against a state founded as a home for a people who have suffered the real thing. "Offensive" is a grossly overused word which I do not resort to lightly, but if ever there was a case to which it was appropriate, this is it.

Third point: the quote is from an article in The Big Issue (July 26 - August 1 2010, p. 25).

There is nothing in the article that questions the truth of Corrie's allegation. On the contrary, the passage quoted is immediately followed by allegations of war crimes committed against civilians by Israeli forces in Gaza. And let us be absolutely clear about this: I am not denying that any war crimes were committed in Gaza, but even if it were true that the Israelis had deliberately attacked a hospital and UN compounds, "genocide" is not a synonym for "war crimes".

The article is also notable for containing not the slightest hint that anyone other than Israel and its allies bears any responsibility either for the fighting in Gaza or for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a whole. The only points at which it provides anything remotely resembling balance are where it concedes that there is actually no proof that the arms firm EDO MBM supplies Israel at all, let alone supplying kit for use in war crimes. I suspect we have the magazine's lawyers to thank for this.

None of this is surprising given that one of the co-authors is Richard Purssell. He is a long-standing member of the International Solidarity Movement, the group to which Rachel Corrie belonged. In fact, he was with her when she died. I know this because I have googled him, not because The Big Issue told me. Evidently the reader was not meant to think that the article was partisan. The other co-author is a journalism lecturer and evidently knows a trick or two.

Let there be no misunderstanding: whilst I think that diary entry paints Rachel Corrie in a very unattractive light, and I see no reason to doubt that the primary cause of her death was her own foolhardiness, her death was untimely, unmerited and tragic. However, it doesn't make her use of the "g" word any whit more justifiable. Or rather, it shouldn't do - but it's always fascinating to see how religious patterns of thought persist among the theoretically most secular-minded of people. Corrie, we are to understand, speaks from beyond the grave with the moral authority of the martyr (as the early Church knew, the best martyrs are young and female).

A good gauge of how justifiable the charge of genocide is the fact that even the ISM don't - at least officially - make that accusation. They prefer the still highly contestable but comparatively speaking reasonable charge that Israel has created an apartheid system.

So have they written to the Big Issue dissociating themselves from Corrie's claim? Are they moving to expel Richard Purssell? If they have, it will give me great pleasure to withdraw what follows. But I'm not expecting anything of the sort before the inauguration of porcine aviation.

If you hold an extreme and irrational belief which you would like to insert into the mainstream of political discourse, what is the best way of going about it? Guerrila tactics are likely to serve you better than conventional ones. Don't issue a manifesto and get imbroiled in arguments in which the weakness of your case will be exposed. No, let Rachel the martyr state your case for you, for nobody can start an argument with a martyr. Dress up your propaganda as an objective news feature, and get it published in a magazine sold by homeless people. For who will want to hear that the Big Issue is not on the side of the angels?

The lie is worthy of Der Stürmer (for, huff and puff as you may, it is a lie specifically about Jews). But was Der Stürmer ever half as a slick?

As for the Big Issue, I would hope they could be induced to feel ashamed of themselves. My fear, though, is that we have already passed beyond that point.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

More unsaintly remarks concerning a great Catholic man of letters

Thank you Ross, this has made my day.

In which Mr Grumpy blows his chances of canonisation

Light posting of late, so how about a sideswipe at a really easy target to get back into the swing of it? Oh, look, Cristina Odone's at it again. Today's pearl of wisdom:-

'I’m afraid Cardinal Newman was just too bitchy to be made a saint.

'The Catholic Church’s great intellectual convert was a magnificent writer, a bold thinker, a rigorous Church historian. But his Apologia Pro Vita Sua leaves no doubt that he was also supremely catty and precious, guilty of the self-absorption of a latter-day celeb.'

So no hint of bitchiness there, then. Pretty much a case of "takes one to know one", might one say (miaow)?

I've read the Apologia twice and it changed my life. Self-absorbed? Well, he was after all defending himself against a savage assault on his integrity. What he was he supposed to write about if not himself? If you really don't like the autobiographical slant, there is an abundance of other works to choose from. No doubt Cristina will be giving us her reactions to the Grammar of Assent in due course (miaow no. 2).

And what makes the Apologia unexpectedly unputdownable is, quite simply, the fact that Newman had a mind worth being absorbed in. Unlike some people (miaow no. 3).

Oh, and one other thing. Few Victorian English gentlemen would have doubted that the Italians were dirtier and more superstitious than the English. Certainly not Charles Kingsley. Might this view not, at the time, have contained a grain of truth? I'm not aware, though, that Newman ventured any predictions about comparative hygiene standards in the early 21st century - as Cristina's aggrieved present tense implies. Oh well, I suppose 1 September still counts as the silly season (miaow no. 4).