The Labour membership should listen to the PLP.

July 24, 2016

The chamber of the House of Commons erupted at mid-day on Wednesday with the arrival of the new Prime Minister to her first PMQs. The Tory Party, torn apart by the EU referendum, was now seemingly united behind its leader. By contrast, the chamber fell silent on the arrival of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. His own backbenches, ignored after a no confidence vote, threatened with de-selection for disloyalty, constantly attacked as red Tories and Blairites for daring to criticise the leader, were understandably quiet. And yet, Diane Abbott took to the airwaves immediately afterwards to express surprise that the PLP isn’t dancing around like cheerleaders with Corbyn tattoos and unveiling massive statues to him around the World. Abbott, Corbyn, McDonnell, and members are unable to understand that the Labour leader cannot command any Parliamentary support, and that in itself is a massive problem.

Let’s quash the myth immediately that the Parliamentary Labour Party is in any way acting undemocratically in opposing the Labour Leader. It isn’t. When Jeremy Corbyn was a backbench MP and sought to dethrone both Kinnock and Blair, he was well within his right to do so. In 1988 when supporting Tony Benn’s campaign to oust Kinnock, Corbyn said:

“By having an election, we will force a debate about the direction of the party in which it will be more difficult for Kinnock to make everything an issue of loyalty to him.”

– Quite. One when or two Labour MPs rebel against the leadership, it’s easier to put down. But think of this recent rebellion as an entire Party of 1988 Jeremy Corbyn’s. The leadership simply cannot secure confidence in that environment.

Four years later, Corbyn was supporting a challenge against the next Labour leader he had no interest in supporting. In 1992, Corbyn insisted that John Smith had shown “no real opposition“. 10 years later in 2002, he did the same when asking for a challenger to Blair to come forward. In 2003, he demanded an annual leadership election. At no point did the hard-left accuse him of undemocratic disloyalty. Now that he has hold of the strings of power, their demand is loyalty or leave. Jeremy Corbyn was not undemocratic then, and the PLP are not undemocratic now.

Let’s also quash the myth that Labour MPs are not representative of Labour Party at large. Those Labour MPs were selected, cleared, and elected by constituents for the 2015 general election. They represent the Party as it was voted on by constituents. That is the epitome of Parliamentary democracy. Members were not trying to deselect those MPs when they were winning constituencies for Labour. New members may not represent the view of the 2015 Labour Parliamentary Party. They can change that in 2020 if they want. But right now, Labour is not a hard-left Parliamentary Party, it wasn’t elected as the main opposition party on a hard-left platform, and MPs should not be betraying the message they were voted on, to suit new members.

To be clear, the PLP’s first commitment is to maintain a Labour Party in Parliament as ready for government at any moment as the only way to legislate in favour of Labour principles. This means appealing to a broader coalition of voters, than simply the hard-left. This means being able to produce a full shadow cabinet with a reserve pool of talent as well. This means a leader that the PLP is willing to fully support. Everything the PLP has done has been democratic and with the aim in mind that in order to change the country, it needs to win an election. It has used a perfectly acceptable Parliamentary procedure to issue a vote of no confidence in its leader. Shadow Cabinet members tried to work for Corbyn, and it didn’t workout. For that, his supporters have abused and attacked them. The PLP then sparked a leadership challenge and asked for clarity on the rules. It will now run a leadership challenge on the basis of those rules. That’s it. That isn’t undemocratic.

On election of the leader, I would agree that the Parliamentary Party should listen to its members. The members vote for the candidate put forward by the PLP. Indeed, at that point the members haven’t challenged the idea that the PLP decides who can stand for leader. Their lack of challenge implies acceptance. They accept that the PLP has to have a form of power over the process of electing their leader in Parliament. I’d presume they accept this premise, because the Labour Party is a Parliamentary Party within a Parliamentary democracy. So clear is this, that The Labour Party’s own rulebook, Clause 1.2 says:

“Its purpose is to organise and maintain in Parliament and in the country a political Labour Party.”

– It would seem clear to me, that if the Parliamentary Party that must be maintained and ready for an election cannot work with the leader nor has any confidence in the ability of the leader to win that election, it would relay this message back to the membership in the form of a vote of no confidence, and the membership then have a duty to return a leader that the people in Parliament – not the hard-left Parliamentarians they hope make up the majority of MPs – the ones elected on a far more moderate platform in 2015, can work with. At that point, it becomes the responsibility of the membership, to support the Parliamentary Party with a candidate they can rally behind. Continuously sending the same leader that the PLP decidedly cannot work with, implies that the membership care very little for actual political power – where societal and economic change happens – and only care for flexing hard-left muscles with the illusion of power.

At this point, it is the Labour membership that must return a Parliamentary leader the Parliamentary Party can support and unite behind. If the membership does the opposite, the membership is entirely to blame for handing the 2020 general election to the Conservative Party.


King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia: Mourning a monster.

January 26, 2015

King_Abdullah_bin_Abdul_al-Saud_January_2007

The planes carrying World leaders home from the unity march in Paris in support of free expression last week, barely had the chance to touch the tarmac before those same World leaders began queuing to offer their heartfelt sympathy and condolences to a man who ruled a country in which criticism of the King is illegal, and who spent his final days overseeing the hideous flogging of Raif Badawi for exercising his right to free expression.

On the death of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia, The British Prime Minister, David Cameron (so overcome with grief was he, that he flew especially to Saudi Arabia), said:

“He will be remembered for his long years of service to the Kingdom, for his commitment to peace and for strengthening understanding between faiths.”

– Smilarly, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby praised Abdullah for his commitment to interfaith relations. This same – laughable, if it wasn’t so horribly tarred with the blood of many innocent people – sentiment was also echoed by former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who said:

“I am very sad indeed to hear of the passing of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah.
I am very sad indeed to hear of the passing of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah.“I knew him well and admired him greatly. Despite the turmoil of events in the region around him, he remained a stable and sound ally, was a patient and skilful moderniser of his country leading it step by step into the future. He was a staunch advocate of inter faith relations.”

– President Obama added to this feeling of great anguish and woe, insisting that he:

“….valued King Abdullah’s perspective and appreciated our genuine and warm friendship.”

At first I thought I was reading condolences for someone else, perhaps someone with a record of human rights victories championing the plight of the most oppressed in society, but no, it is definitely King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia they are talking about. A man they are convinced was a wonderful ‘moderniser’ for intervening in one or two court cases that would otherwise have highlighted his regime as one of the most brutal in history (call it a PR stunt, given that he’s never indicated a preference for human rights instead of religious supremacy). Indeed, Saudi Arabia is a country that scored the lowest marks from Freedom House rankings in 2014 of civil freedoms. A country that, despite the Prime Minister’s comment that the dead King will long be remembered for his ‘commitment to peace‘ is about to continue its flogging of blogger Raif Badawi for blasphemy (having an opinion that differed from the ruling elite in Saudi), and on average beheads around 80 people a year.

It is simply madness that any human being should lose their life, due to the religious beliefs of someone else. Talking to BBC News back in 2003, Muhammad Saad al-Beshi – a Saudi executioner – worryingly said:

“It doesn’t matter to me: two, four, 10 – as long as I’m doing God’s will, it doesn’t matter how many people I execute”.

– The power structure of Saudi Arabia & those it privileges relies heavily on convincing otherwise decent human beings, that brutally murdering other human beings, is part of a plan designed by an invisible being. It is simply a horror story. We as humans are permitted such a brief time on this Earth as it is, it is so sad that others believe they have the express right to decide whether we live or die, according to religious beliefs. It seems to me that if you are going to claim ownership over the life of someone else, you must first offer irrefutable proof for the existence of your God, and then the rest of us must freely accept that we are to be ruled according to His principles. Otherwise, you are simply a murderer.

The Prime Minister’s insistence that King Abdullah would be remembered for ‘strengthening understanding between faiths‘ and Blair’s insistence that Abdullah was ‘a staunch advocate of inter faith relations‘, along with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby’s defense of the flags lowering to half mast, is entirely negated by the fact that Abdullah’s Theocratic Monarchy expressively forbade public practice of any religion but Islam, insists that children born to Muslim parents must be considered Muslim themselves, and has a legal system – for non-Muslims as well as Muslims – based entirely on Islam. From the moment you are born, until the moment you die in Saudi Arabia, you are a possession of the religion of state. You have no liberty. You are owned by one royal family, and their religious beliefs. You must not utter words they disapprove of, nor live according to your own beliefs. You are chained. If you happen to be gay, female, or you simply don’t believe in the faith that the state insists that you must, your life is not yours, your beliefs are not yours, and you are banned from falling in love with someone that the religion of someone else disapproves of. If you attempt to break free from such a hideously oppressive cage, you are likely to be flogged or beheaded. This was a system upheld and perpetuated by King Abdullah. Indeed, here are a few more examples of the innocent victims of the idea that human rights and civil liberty matters little, when it clashes with preserving religious privilege and supremacy.

Amina bint Abdel Halim Nassar was beheaded by the Saudi state in 2011 for:

“…the practice of witchcraft and sorcery.”

– In the 21st century, a life, filled with memories, loves, passions, childhood friends, family…. so violently cut short for the ridiculous offence of ‘sorcery‘. There was no outpouring of grief from massively disingenuous political elite of Western nations, for her.

Also in 2011, 45 year old Mansor Almaribe – an Australian man with back problems – was sentenced to 500 lashes on the back, for blasphemy. His crime? Praying with fellow Shi’ites in a country run by Sunni extremists. After intervention from the Australian government, the great Saudi ‘reformer’ managed to get the sentence down from 500 lashes, to 75 lashes and a year in jail.

In 2005, Muhammad Al-Harbi was sentenced to 750 lashes for teaching children about other religions. For daring to teach children to think for themselves, that they are entitled to believe something other than what the state demands, the state violently tortured Al-Harbi and threw him in prison.

In 2014, Loujain al-Hathloul, and Maysa al-Amoudi were leading a campaign to allow women to drive in Saudi Arabia when authorities arrested them on ‘terror’ charges. In fact, terror charges are a new weapon of the religious supremacists in Saudi Arabia. So dedicated to ‘progress’ was the late Royal thug, that in 2014 a royal decree includes violent punishment for:

“… calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based”

– Atheism is now classed as terrorism in Saudi Arabia. The leader of the family that believes it has the inherent right to chain every last citizen – and their short lives, with much promise and hope – to their sociopathic dictates based solely on their personal religious beliefs, is the same leader that both Blair & Welby insist did so much for inter-faith relations. Further reducing the comments of Western leaders to at best an insincere round of grovelling, is the knowledge that whilst they insist Abdullah did much for inter-faith relations, in Saudi Arabia all faiths other than the one he personally believed in are largely prohibited, and questioning the fundamentals of – a very insecure – faith, apparently gives the King the right to violently harm other human beings. Saudi Arabia’s Monarchy is not content with owning your sex life, you love life, your words, it also requires you submit your own mind to their religious cage.

In 2007, the General Court of Qatif sentenced a woman to 90 lashes, for “illegal mingling” with a man who – with his friends – then raped her. She had the courage to speak out about the attack, and so the court more than doubled her sentence to 200 lashes, for, and I quote:

“….her attempt to aggravate and influence the judiciary through the media.”

Similarly, In 2009, a 23 year old Saudi woman was hideously raped by a gang of rapists. She was then arrested and sentenced – yes, she was sentenced – to a year in prison and 100 lashes by more men, more abusers, for ‘committing adultery‘ and seeking an abortion. The White House issued no statement over this, instead, they sent their condolences upon the death of the King of a land that seeks to further harm victims of rape. The perpetuation of a religious settlement that is misogynistic by its very nature, requires the complete oppression of women for its survival.

As with misogyny, homophobia is never too far behind when it comes to religious power structures. The ironically named ‘Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice‘ sentenced a man to 450 lashes for Tweeting in the hope of meeting other gay men a couple of years ago. He was also sentenced to 10 years in prison. In 2007, two men were sentenced to 7000 lashes each, for being homosexual. We cannot imagine the fear that gay men and women must face every day in Saudi Arabia. Sexuality discrimination in Saudi Arabia is not surprising, given the utterly repulsive nature of just what Saudi Arabia teaches children about sexuality. One simple paragraph from the Saudi Ministry of Education Textbooks for Islamic Studies: 2007-2008 offers a prime example of just why politically religious folk should never be allowed power over the apparatus of a State, nor over the lives of its inhabitants especially its children, in an enlightened World. The barbaric nature of their law:

“Homosexuality is one of the most disgusting sins and greatest crimes…. It is a vile perversion that goes against sound nature, and is one of the most corrupting and hideous sins…. The punishment for homosexuality is death. Both the active and passive participants are to be killed whether or not they have previously had sexual intercourse in the context of a legal marriage…. Some of the companions of the Prophet stated that [the perpetrator] is to be burned with fire. It has also been said that he should be stoned, or thrown from a high place.”

– Last week, Downing Street, The White House, and other World leaders abandoned the lives of so many who have suffered, continue to suffer as you read this, and will suffer at the hands of religious thugs in Saudi Arabia in the future, and instead those leaders chose to send heartfelt condolences upon the death of the victims’ chief abuser; a misogynistic, homophobic, violent, abusive, religious supremacist who terrorised so many, and who worked hard to ensure civil liberties and human rights never got a foot in the door of Saudi Arabia. His reign should be viewed as a warning of the kind of hideous human rights abuses – that begin with the psychological abuse of children via religious indoctrination – that inevitably occurs when the religious are permitted power. The World should not mourn the death of such a monster.


France’s March for Unity: A who’s who of global oppression.

January 12, 2015

jesuischarlie, world leaders at french unity rally

It has always bewildered me the level of hypocrisy necessary to demand curbs on expression deemed ‘offensive’ to an Islamist ideological World-view that itself daily offends apostates, non-believers, women, Muslims that aren’t considered Muslim enough, and the entire LGBT community. Nevertheless, Paris was at the centre of the World last week when three gunman brutally murdered 17 human beings for publishing cartoons. France – including all sections of society – reacted in a show of unity, strength and respect for the fundamental right to free expression. But among the marchers were those who seem so entirely out of place. Indeed, Islamists were not the only ones to display hypocrisy this week in France.

The unity march – including 1.4 million people – through the streets of Paris included over 40 World leaders, some of whom, are not too keen on the fundamental human right to free expression:

Queen Rania of Jordan.
Linking arms with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the Queen of Jordan presides over a country that is far from an advocate of free expression. In Jordan, if you happen to dislike the King, and you express that particular dislike, you can face up to three years in prison. Similarly, if you ‘insult’ Islam, you may face up to three years in prison (predictably, you may use the Qur’an to insult non-believers with threats of eternal torture). In 2006, two Jordanian journalists were imprisoned and fined for reprinting the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons. In 2003, the newspaper Al Hilal was closed for two months and three of its journalists arrested for publishing an article discussing Muhammad’s sex life. In February 2009, student Imad al-Ash was arrested for sharing “controversial religious opinions” online, and sentenced to two years in prison.

Prime Minister Davutoglu of Turkey.
Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code makes it an offence to insult ‘Turkishness’. In 2008, this was changed from “Turkishness” to “The Turkish Nation”. It brings with it a two year jail sentence. Internet regulation from 2014 allows the Telecommunication and Transmission Authority to ban websites it deems inappropriate. This includes websites that ‘insult’ the state. In 2007, Turkey banned YouTube, for a video that insulted Ataturk. They demanded YouTube remove the video. Rightfully, YouTube refused. In 2008, richarddawkins.net was blocked in Turkey. In 2014 Tayyip Erdogan insisted he’d “wipe out Twitter”, and subsequently, Twitter was blocked.

Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban.
In 2013, the Hungarian Parliament passed a Bill that includes three years in prison for ‘harming another person’s dignity‘ in a video or voice recording. This includes political satire. The law further makes it an offence to harm “the dignity of the Hungarian nation or of any national, ethnic, racial or religious community.

Algerian foreign minister Ramtane Lamamra.
Algeria – that enshrines Islam as its state religion, and bans anyone from spreading any other religious idea, punishable with three years in prison – is run by its longest serving President, Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Under his rule, the newspaper ‘Le Matin’ was censored and closed down, and its journalist imprisoned for exposing corruption. Journalists can be fined for insulting foreign diplomats or politicians, under reforms the media law of 2012.
Article 144 ratified June, 2001:

“It is punishable by imprisonment from 3 to 5 years, and by a fine of 50,000 to 100,000 Algerian Dinars — or, one of these two punishments only — whoever insults the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), any of the other Prophets, or denigrates the practices or rituals of Islam, regardless of whether it is through writing, drawing, declaration, or any other means.”

In 2006, 26-year-old Samia Smets was arrested and imprisoned (later overturned) for blasphemy for accidentally dropping a Qur’an into some water. At the 2008 Algiers Book Fair, the Ministry of Religious Affairs banned over 1000 books that they deemed to contain blasphemy. Al Jazeera was banned in 2004. Web services providers can be fined for granting access to sites that are “incompatible with morality or public opinion.” It is bizarre to me that the Algerian government believes it has a monopoly on morality, and that ‘public opinion’ is a static concept free from challenge.

UAE Foreign Minister Shaikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
In 2008 three Filipino workers were imprisoned for ripping out a page of the Qur’an. Their right to work in UAE was revoked. Further, The Censorship Department of the Ministry of Information and Culture bans any books, leaflets, or in fact, any form of written literature, if it is deemed offensive to Islam. Access to websites supportive of democracy & secularism is prohibited.
Article 312:

“Shall be punishable by confinement and by fine or by one of these two penalties any individual who commitsany of the following offences:
1. Offence against any of the Islamic sacred things or rites.
2. To insult and revile any of the recognized divine religions.
3. To portray disobedience in a positive light, to incite thereto, to promote it or to procure any meanssusceptible of tempting people to disobey.
4. To knowingly eat porkmeat while being a Muslim.
Where any of the above offences is committed in public, the punishment shall be either confinement for aminimum period of one year or a fine.”

– Whilst UAE’s foreign minister marched in unity in France this weekend, back home it is illegal to dare to speak your mind, if your mind does not conform to the religious dogma of those who have taken it upon themselves to declare their beliefs supreme.

Prime Minister Jomaa of Tunisia.
The interim Prime Minister joined the march, and also signed the book of condolence at the French embassy in Tunisia on Saturday. This, despite the fact that Tunisian blogger Yassine Ayari was tried for insulting state officials and sentenced to three years by the military, for criticising the military on Facebook. Article 91 of the Code of Military Justice makes it an offence to criticise the “dignity, reputation and morale” of the army. In 2012 Jabeur Mejri was jailed for posting ‘insulting’ pictures of Muhammad on Facebook… or, as the the courts in Tunisia call it; “transgressing morality, defamation and disrupting public order“. He was released in 2014 after two years in prison.

Whilst it was pleasing to see so many people stand together in defence of free expression during the Paris march for unity, it is equally worrying that so many World leaders linking arms that day operate incredibly oppressive restrictions including violence for criticism they can’t handle, perpetuating the notion that ‘blasphemy’ should be restricted & punishable, enshrining one religion into the framework of state, whilst so shamefully out in a show of unity for that same free expression they can’t themselves handle.


The nature of religious privilege…

December 29, 2014

On BBC local radio here in the UK after the Sydney cafe siege, the presenter had a conversation with a local Imam on the subject of religious extremism. The Imam reiterated that the attacker was a lone nut, who didn’t represent Muslims. The conversation was one of damage limitation and worry for Muslims who may be abused and attacked in the aftermath. The rise of anti-Muslim hate must be addressed – one would hope with the promotion of civil rights & protections for all – but I was unsure that the conversation on BBC local radio that day was particularly helpful, when at one point, the presenter insisted that ‘all religions promote peace and love‘. To begin from that uncritical premise – as if it is a matter of undeniable fact – is just as problematic as beginning from the premise that all religions are violent and oppressive. The problem of religious dogma – that is, the chaining of morality to a single time and place (usually very patriarchal, middle eastern tribal squabbles) – is suddenly dismissed, and other explanations for extremism take its place. The rise of ISIS was blamed on Blair, Bush, and the Iraq war, sometimes on Israel, but little attention payed to religious dogma. It is almost as if it is too uncomfortable to accept that such ingrained religious traditions & much loved religious ideas may present issues within themselves and autonomous of surrounding context. And so it is a distinct religious privilege, to free its problematic dogma from shouldering any blame for extremism, instead blaming everyone else for its problems. No other ideological framework of power has that privilege. But it isn’t the only privilege religions currently enjoy…

When the debate over same-sex marriage came up before Parliament last year, the only dissenting voices – and those who believed themselves to have the privileged right to tell others whom they can and can’t marry – were those of the religious. It is as if “it’s unnatural, because Leviticus says so” is a legitimate argument in a 21st century that has extensive knowledge of the natural spectrum of sexuality. It is therefore a religious privilege for Christians to believe that firstly they own the institution of marriage; Secondly, that they and they alone have the right to tell others whom they can and cannot marry based on discredited myths; and thirdly, that breaking the barriers to equal rights and freedoms regardless of sexuality, is an assault on Christianity.

It is breathtakingly delusional to believe that extending rights that you have always enjoyed, to those traditionally oppressed by your faith, is oppressing you. It is even more delusional to assume that the institution of marriage is a solely Christian, unchangeable institution. Hebrew society engaged in polygamy much of the time, it certainly wasn’t frowned upon. Monogamy in a marriage is a pretty new development. We know that the Mohammad married Aisha when she was 6 years old. In Ancient Rome, marriage was civil, it was not overtly religious. In India, if the bride was born when Mars and Saturn are “under the 7th house”, she is considered cursed and could end up murdering her husband. And so to break the curse, the bride must first marry a tree, the tree is then destroyed, and the bride is free from the curse forever. In the Tidong community in Northern Borneo, after marriage, the couple must not urinate for three days. Marriage is not official within the Neur tribe in Sudan, until the bride has had two children. It was only in 1967, that the US allowed interracial marriage. By 1910, Arizona, California, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Utah had all banned interracial marriage. And what was used to justify anti-miscegenation laws in the US? Of course it was the Bible. The destruction of all other concepts of marriage, to the benefit of just one concept – the Christian concept – and then attempting to ensure that single concept reigns supreme, is wildly oppressive to say the very least.

A couple of months ago on the Bill Maher show over in the United States, in a debate on extremism Sam Harris referred to Islam as the ‘mother lode of bad ideas‘. Consequently, actor Ben Affleck- also appearing on the show – referred to Harris’ statement as ‘racist‘. It is a curious criticism and one that had me considering the unique nature of religious privilege, the language that sustains it, and its lashing out – by among other things, demonising criticism – when challenged. It is a religious privilege to be able to claim racism at criticisms of an idea. As a secular liberal, I define racism as the institutional disenfranchising and denial of equal civil rights based on ethnicity. Language can & does of course further add to the perpetual dehumanising of an ethnicity. Also as a secular liberal, I believe all ideas must be up for inquiry, criticism, satire, and mockery. Religions are not immune to this, nor should they be. Racism is not criticism, or even complete contempt for a religion. Much like racism is not criticism, or even complete contempt for a political ideology. Further, and by implication, I would argue that if words that offend a religion are to be deemed racism, then equally words that offend non-believers must also be deemed racism. And so, left-leaning commentators like Mehdi Hasan would be deemed racist, for rants like:

“We know that keeping the moral high-ground is key. Once we lose the moral high-ground we are no different from the rest of the non-Muslims; from the rest of those human beings who live their lives as animals, bending any rule to fulfil any desire.”

– I am quite certain that if Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris had referred to all Muslims as ‘living like animals’, Hasan would be the first to call racism. Further, the New Testament, Old Testament, and Qur’an would be deemed incredibly racist books. Most chapters of the Qur’an begin with God explaining how great he is (a little arrogant), followed by a lovely little description of the fate that awaits those of us who have not been convinced that a God exists:

“[10:4] To Him is your return. This is Allah’s promise that will certainly come true. Surely it is He Who brings about the creation of all and He will repeat it so that He may justly reward those who believe and do righteous deeds, and those who disbelieve may have a draught of boiling water and suffer a painful chastisement for their denying the Truth.”

– Whilst Sam Harris simply referred to a religion as a bad idea and was deemed racist for doing so, Holy Books go beyond criticism, and become threats of eternal torture for non-belief. This of course would also mean that the idea of a Caliphate – in which non-believers are barred from highest office – is institutionally racist. It would mean that South Carolina was institutionally racist when Herb Silverman ran for the post of Governor in 1992 but was discarded from the race for refusing to swear an oath to God. It took five whole years for the courts to rule in his favour. It is therefore a massive religious privilege to demand and expect respect for a book that threatens people like me, with religious institutions that disenfranchise anyone ‘outside’ of the religion, whilst yelling racism if I am to call that book the ‘mother lode of bad ideas’. If one is to be considered racism, so must the other.

Along with compulsory worship in schools, and a Monarch whom also happens to be head of the Church of England, it is a religious privilege in the UK, for over 25 Bishops to have a permanent position in the national legislature, as if they have some sort of natural right to consider legislation based solely on which invisible being it is they believe in. To be called ‘Lords Spiritual‘, as if spirituality is a supernatural phenomena consigned to the religious only. The perpetuation of privilege based on the bizarre belief that a deeper understanding of a very unproven deity somehow grants one a position to legislate above the rest of us. It is worth noting that no religious scholar has any more of an idea about what happens after we die, than the rest of us, and that filling in that gap in human knowledge with myths is a ‘science’ consigned to the history books in every other realm of human understanding, yet when it comes to this particular question, we put Bishops in the Lords for their adherence to 1st Century Palestinian myths. It is also worth noting that spirituality does not in any way require a belief in God, or an afterlife, and is a perfectly natural and human trait. Religious supremacy has no more place in a national legislature, than racial supremacy, sexuality supremacy or gender supremacy. The very fact that structures of religious supremacy are not treated with the same contempt as those of racial, or gender supremacy, is in itself, a vast privilege milked for every drop it is worth by those in positions of religious power.

Often, religious privilege is sustained by the powerful few, & the denial of many. Those who are so invested in their religion, refuse to accept that it might be flawed. Jumping back to the racism theme, not too long ago Twitter exploded in rage at Lady Gaga wearing a full face veil. The charge was that she – a white westerner – had ‘appropriated’ a cultural symbol of the Islamic east. It is a wildly hypocritical religious privilege to claim the veil for one religion, thus dismissing it from every other culture that has ever used the veil, whilst refusing to acknowledge that Islam has appropriated Christian & Pagan stories, Temple Mount, the Hagia Sofia, the Palestinian freedom cause (Palestinians are all who live there – not simply heterosexual Muslim men), every piece of land deemed to be “Muslim land” (no land belongs to a religion), and when Mo Ansar recently mentioned the French invading Muslim Tunisia in the 19th Century as an act of western imperialism, he neglected to mention that Tunisia was only “Muslim” by the 19th Century, because imperialist Arab Muslims had invaded it and established the Arab Aghlabids dynasty in the first place. It is a religious privilege to rewrite history by deflecting onto others, the often violent ‘appropriation’ of cultural symbols into its own black hole.

It is a religious privilege for Christianity to be so enshrined into state constitutions, that it requires a national constitution to protect everyone else:
Arkansas’ Constitution:

No person who denies the being of a God shall hold any office in the civil departments of this
State, nor be competent to testify as a witness in any Court.

Maryland Constitution, Article 37:

That no religious test ought ever to be required as a qualification for any office of profit or trust in this State, other than a declaration of belief in the existence of God; nor shall the Legislature prescribe any other oath of office than the oath prescribed by this Constitution.

Mississippi Constitution, Article 14, Section 265:

No person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold any office in this State.

South Carolina Constitution, Article 17, Section 4:

No person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold any office under this Constitution.

Tennessee Constitution, Article 9, Section 2:

No person who denies the being of God, or a future state of rewards and punishments, shall hold any office in the civil department of this State.

Texas Constitution, Article 1, Section 4:

No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office, or public trust, in this State; nor shall any one be excluded from holding office on account of his religious sentiments, provided he acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being.

The list of religious privileges is endless. It includes Jehovah’s Witness families torn apart if a member decides they don’t believe any more. It includes apostates dehumanised and abused for leaving Islam & then referred to as ‘Islamophobic’ if they dare to speak out. It includes women covered from head to toe so as to not arouse the apparently uncontrollable lust of men. It includes Uganda’s Christian Minister for Ethics condemning homosexuals to a life of fear, whilst insisting that the rape of young girls in his country is, and I quote:

“… the right kind of child rape. It is men raping girls and that is natural.”

– It includes Pakistan’s grotesque blasphemy laws that punishes the ‘offending’ believers, whilst institutionalises the ‘offending’ of non-believers. It includes the Boy Scouts of America prohibiting the inclusions of atheists and whose charter states:

“The recognition of God as the ruling and leading power in the universe and the grateful acknowledgment of His favors and blessings are necessary to the best type of citizenship and are wholesome precepts in the education of the growing members.”

– It includes ‘In God we trust’ and ‘One nation under God’ placed on US institutions in blatant disregard of the secular founding. It includes Iran murdering gay people because an ancient, unenlightened, out-of-date myth condemns homosexuality and is taught to impressionable young minds as truth – despite the fact that many of those young minds, will be gay – whilst neglecting to teach the actual biology and genetic base for sexuality. It includes all of these things causing little uproar, whilst a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad, or a “There is no God” billboard on the side of buses causes the religious to insist that their faith is under severe attack. It is the moment the religion of one, extends to control the liberty of another. In short, the nature of religious privilege.


For the love of the Kennedys.

September 4, 2014


If you have a job and you want to get it done, and you don’t care how it’s done, send Paul Corbin out to do it.
– Helen Keyes, A Kennedy campaigner.

It was Presidential debate night, on October 28th, 1980. Only six years had passed since a United States President had stood down from office in disgrace, for the first and only time in its history. Many of Nixon’s top staffers would end up behind bars. The waters of US politics were now murkier than ever. The smell of scandal was the last thing either candidate going into the 1980 debate could afford to become associated with.

As debate night approached, Reagan was leading in most polls by an average of three percentage points. A healthy lead, but not substantial enough to ensure a victory, as Carter regained popularity following a disastrous year. After the debate, Reagan extended his lead to take a 9 percentage point victory at the election, carrying 44 states. But all was not squeaky clean in the Reagan camp. Somehow, the Reagan team of David Stockman, Frank Hodsoll and James Baker had gotten their hands on President Carter’s briefing papers and notes of preparation for the debate, stolen from the White House. Scandal ensued.

The Reagan administration did not divulge the fact that they had access to Carter’s papers, until the story leaked in 1983. The scandal remained in the public eye, leading to an investigation by U.S. House Committee on Post Office and Civil Service’s Subcommittee on Human Resources. The investigation interviewed David Stockman, who insisted that the briefing papers only mentioned issues to discuss, rather than question and answer tactics and so weren’t of any value. Frank Hodsoll however insisted the papers did contain question and answer tactics. The investigation uncovered much evidence of vast wrongdoing, yet concluded that contradictions in the statements of key Reagan staff were the result of:

“…the professed lack of memory or knowledge on the part of those in possession of the documents”

– The case was never brought to a resolution, and no one knows who handed those documents to the Reagan team – though Baker told the investigation that William Casey (Reagan’s campaign manager) had first handed him the documents – But one name sticks out as the original source: Paul Corbin.

In his book, ‘Rendezvous with Destiny‘, Craig Shirley asserts that Corbin – a Democratic Aide to Ted Kennedy’s primary challenge against Carter – handed the documents to the Reagan camp as revenge for perceived ill-treatment of Kennedy by Carter during the Primaries. If true, it wouldn’t be the first time Corbin had a decisive hand in shaping an election from behind the curtain, in defence of a Kennedy.

Twenty years before the Carter-Reagan debates, Robert Kennedy asked all to live according to the Ancient Greek wish to ‘tame the savageness of man, and make gentle the life of this world‘, but throughout the late ’50s and into ’60’s RFK had no time to make gentle the life of US politics. In 1960, ex-Communist Party member and ex-con man Paul Corbin had been brought in by Robert Kennedy to aide the Kennedy campaign primarily in West Virginia, a state split between Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey for the necessary delegates.

The Kennedy camp – especially Bobby and Kenny O’Donnell – were growing tired of Humphrey refusing to condemn anti-Catholic sentiment in the state (a tactic Humphrey thought may win over undecided voters), using it to his advantage over the Catholic Kennedys. The goal now was to paint Humphrey as a bigot, to push liberal democrats into voting Kennedy. Suddenly, within days of Corbin being brought in, viciously anti-Catholic literature was being handed out in West Virginia, urging Catholic households never to elect an ‘agent of the Pope in Rome‘ and attributed – falsely – to the Humphrey campaign. A tactic that made Humphrey look out-dated, bigoted, and unprepared for the future of a changing Democrat Party. In his biography of Robert Kennedy, Evan Thomas calls Corbin ‘the immediate suspect‘ in the affair. The tactic – along with many others – worked. Jack Kennedy took West Virginia in the primary. Corbin had a big hand in shaping the narrative in West Virginia, through some incredibly dirty tactics, in his new found personal mission of protecting and advancing the Kennedys.

Evan Thomas notes that when Secretary of Defence Robert McNamara a few years later told RFK that he wanted Corbin to take a lie detector test over another matter, Kennedy laughed, telling the Secretary:

“Lie detector? He’d break the machine.”

– The Kennedy campaign was filled with dirty tricks leading up to the convention, not just from Corbin. At the Convention, Lyndon Johnson’s team were enraged to find their phone lines had been cut, a crime they blamed on the Kennedys. Later, when Johnson was President, Corbin was working in New Hampshire producing Kennedy-for-VP literature for the ’64 election, without running it by the President, or anyone else. Johnson was furious and demanded Corbin be fired from the DNC (a position Robert Kennedy gave him upon becoming Attorney General). RFK refused, insisting that Corbin was harmless, though Johnson had him fired anyway.

It seemed the RFK and Corbin relationship was strong, despite protests across the Democrat Party. Indeed, Joe Dolan – a Kennedy aide – referred to Corbin as ‘Robert Kennedy’s dark side‘. Back in early ’60s, the FBI released a report into Corbin’s suspected Communist ties (and conversely, his business dealings with staunch anti-Communist Joseph McCarthy) noting:

“The Attorney General seems to have completely overboard in trying to defend Corbin. He has suppressed any and all references to our report detailing Corbin’s Communist activity.”

– This is a big claim. One suspects RFK – by the time he was Attorney General – believed he owed a great deal to Corbin, which implies Corbin had a greater hand in securing the Presidency for JFK than we might ever know.

RFK’s fierce loyalty to Corbin was matched only by Corbin’s loyalty to the Kennedys, going so far as to convert to Catholicism in order that Robert and Ethel Kennedy could become his Godparents. Though even this may have had a political calculation, because at the time of Corbin’s conversion to Catholicism, he was being investigated by the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities, chaired by Congressman Francis Walter – a devout Catholic.

By 1980, both Jack Kennedy and Robert Kennedy had been cruelly slain by the bullets of single assassins, the dream of a Robert Kennedy Presidency – a dream Corbin had desired and fought for, for so many years – never had the chance to be realised, and Corbin had been out of politics for some years. Now was Ted Kennedy’s opportunity. Corbin was no Carter fan, but even if he had have been, his loyalty remained to the Kennedys, and so he worked behind the scenes to replace Carter with Kennedy. When that attempt failed, and angry at the Carter campaign’s negative treatment of Kennedy (ironically), Corbin began passing intelligence – according to a 1990 article in The Milwaukee Sentinel – on the Democrats to Reagan’s campaign manager William Casey; the man that Jim Baker had claimed passed him the Carter debate preparation papers.

He’d been a conman in the 1940s running an advertising scam, he’d helped to win West Virginia for JFK in the 1960 Primary, he’d been handed a high office at the DNC, the FBI had investigated him for ‘unAmerican activities’ for his days in the Community Party which Robert Kennedy worked to suppress, he’d done business with McCarthy, LBJ had personally ensured he was fired from the DNC, and he’d perhaps been responsible for the political scandal of 1980, aiding the election of a Republican. When he died in 1990, he was on the payroll of Merchandise Mart in Chicago; a business purchased by Joseph Kennedy in the 1940s.

The underhanded and devious brilliance of Paul Corbin’s political activities were driven by one obsession: The Kennedys. And they certainly benefited from his tactics. It’s unclear when this became such an obsession for him, when the Kennedys became Corbin’s first love, a love that he would dedicate his life to progressing, but it’s clear that by 1980 Corbin was woven so deeply into the Kennedy fabric, he was willing to create the scandal of the 1980s, to embarrass Carter, to propel Reagan to a landslide, and to leave his own unmistakable imprint on US history.


Defining Islamism.

August 31, 2014

There has been a curious holding of hands in recent years between the Western political far right and those of the Islamist persuasion, both insisting that any individual interpretation of Islam and the definition of Islamism are in fact one in the same. The rhetoric from both is eerily similar in many instances. They both do not care too much for equal secular and liberal protections, and seek to restrict liberty for those they don’t particularly like – this is clear from the Bendigo Mosque case, and the anti-secular opposition to it – and they both insist that a state controlled by the dictates of one faith, is a duty for every Muslim to work to fulfill; a narrative used to justify oppression from both sides of that aisle. The implication is that anyone identifying as a Muslim, but not subscribing to a World domination interpretation of their faith, is not a ‘real‘ Muslim. When it comes to conflating personal faith, with political ideology, both the Western far right and Islamists agree.

The implication that any Muslim not actively pursuing a Caliphate is not a ‘real Muslim’ is a weak one of course, because no single Muslim has the privilege of speaking for the entire faith, nor carrying the definitive interpretation of the faith. Belief is dependent on a variety of concepts, not least personal life experience, socio-economic status, all working in unison to produce an individual interpretation. Islam; the Qur’an and Hadith are so vast in content, anchored to a time and place we know so little about, with a long history of contradiction that no one in the 21st Century can claim a definitive interpretation. Indeed, whilst we see Islamists insisting that homosexual people must be oppressed in the most abhorrent ways, we also see a Swedish Imam blessing a Muslim same-sex marriage last week, and wonderful Islamic gay rights groups like the Al-Fatiha Foundation working to protect and advance the rights of the Muslim LGBT community. Whilst we see ISIS beheading its way across the Middle East, justifying its hideous actions with Quranic passages, we see Imam’s like Dr Usama Hasan issue religious edicts condemning the group, using Quranic passages also. The scope for interpretation is so vast, that for anyone to claim to be speaking for the entire faith, speaks only to their own deluded sense of superiority.

So what do we mean by Islamism? Some claim it is a term that is so diluted, it is indefinable. I disagree. I think it has a clear definition. I’ve had this debate on social media over the past few days, and I’m yet to come across a notable objection to the term, that offers any reason to think the term itself is indefinable.

How I define & use the term Islamism:
A desire to enshrine Islam into the mechanisms of state, with law and rights based on the Shariah. The desire to elevate Islam to state privilege and power.
You may reasonably be described as Islamist, if you believe that I should be free, until my freedom contradicts the Shariah.

Indeed, the Sudanese Islamist leader Hasan al-Turabi uses the term ‘Islamism’ as I use it, in his book ‘Islam and Government‘. Al-Turabi notes that Islamists are:

“Political Muslims for whom Islam is the solution, Islam is religion and government, Islam is the constitution and law.”

– That’s it. It’s that simple. If an individual believes my liberty should be dependent entirely on the dictates of Islam – believing Islam having any inherent jurisdiction over my life whatsoever – this is Islamism. this is Islamism. Erecting institutional barriers to freedom according to the principles of Islam (however you interpret the principles), is Islamism. If an individual believes Islam must be granted state privilege of any variety, this is Islamism. If an individual believes my right to pursue my own goals ends where the religion of Islam begins, this is Islamism. The means of achieving that end may vary between democratically elected heads of state like Erdoğan slowly de-secularising a country and privileging one faith, or violent extremists willing to go the extra mile and wipe out all opposition (note; that is not to say that all violent extremists are Islamists). Indeed, the two may vehemently disagree with each other on progressing the end goal, or may differ theologically (some may argue that apostates deserve execution, others may not; the fact that both believe they have a right to decide whether an apostate lives or dies, rather than neither a believer nor an apostate having any right to decide who lives or dies, is the point), but the end goal remains the same. Whether you parade the streets of London with a sign reading ‘Freedom go to hell!’, or you wear a suit, attend a nation’s Parliament and seek to impose Islam by restricting equal civil liberty via an outwardly respectable legislative process; the end goal is the same.

When I peer out of my window, I see two trees, both of different appearance and levels of imposition. There’s a big tree with red leaves that blocks direct sun light from entering my window after a certain time. There’s a tiny tree with green leaves that balances precariously during windy nights. The two are very similar yet contain nuances that suggest differences; we still call both a tree, because the nuances do not negate the roots. It is fair to say that all ‘isms’, though rooted to the same principles, contain degrees of nuance to the point where one may refer to another as ‘not a real…[insert ism as applicable]’. An ‘ism’ is an umbrella term for a set of ideas. Socialism has a wildly varying degree of proponents from the peaceful to the violent, all seeking a similar goal. With Islamism, the nuances – the means of achieving control of the apparatus of state for Islam; thus the lives of others – may differ, but the principle itself remains the same. If you believe the liberty of others should be chained to the religious dictates of the faith of Islam – however you see that goal achieved – this is Islamism. I am yet to understand why this is a controversial definition, though I suspect it is less controversial, and more uncomfortable for some who fall under this definition.

One objection appears to be that we do not share similar terms with those of others faiths working toward the same end. I agree with this objection to a point, though fail to see how it negates the solid definition of the term ‘Islamism’. It simply – and rightly – suggests inconsistent use elsewhere. In the past, we have used ‘Clerical fascism’ – a well defined term focused on Christianity. In the 21st Century, we tend to refer – perhaps sloppily – to those we should refer to as Christianists as the Christian-right. We don’t refer to Islamists as the Muslim-right. This isn’t a distinction without meaning. We do this largely because by the 1950s, what we should call Christianism started to become aligned to the mainstream political right wing, especially in the US, and had several successes, not least ‘In God We Trust’ placed everywhere, slowly chipping away at the principle of church/state separation. The Christian-right are to this day aligned to the Republican Party, continuing its fight to enshrine Christian privilege into the mechanism of state (particularly Oklahoma). It is a similar tale in the UK. It was unsurprising that the voices of dissent over the UK’s same-sex marriage bill, were almost all conservatives (Tory and UKIP), using a Christian narrative in order to withhold equal rights for others. Tony Abbott’s right winged Liberal Party in Australia, appears to favour Christian dogma, over secular liberalism. That relationship between Islamists and mainstream politics isn’t as clear as it has been for their Christianist counterparts and so the term ‘Muslim-right’ would be wholly inadequate. So we use ‘Islamism’ – a term that seems to have gained its rebirth as an new concept in the aftermath of the Iranian revolution through to 9/11 and beyond; and so both ‘Christian-right’ and ‘Islamism’ are founded upon a social, historical context, both with a very clear foundation in the desire to impose the faith of one, over the lives of others through the functions of state.

Perhaps our familiarity with the term ‘Christian-right’ is a reason we do not change it to ‘Christianism’, we already have an established term. Indeed, whilst the term ‘Christianism’ and ‘Christianists’ is at times used – A Time article and Guardian article use it – I would argue that it isn’t used enough (on this blogging platform ‘Islamist’ is recognised as a real word, whilst ‘Christianist’ is underlined to suggest a spelling error) and that it is an objection Muslims are right to raise, though not in the context of negating or diluting the clear definition of ‘Islamism’ (as the Chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum, Mohammed Amin implied here, whilst bizarrely questioning why the media doesn’t offer a positive image of Islamism from time to time).

As noted at the beginning of the previous paragraph, the lack of a similar word (not a lack of any word, because we absolutely do use other terms to describe them that mean the same thing) for those of other faiths progressing the same desire, does not negate the definition of Islamism as an ideological narrative that seeks to control the lives of others, according to the dictates of Islam. This is a political narrative, and regardless of what both Islamists and the Western far-right insist, is not a term to be used interchangeably with Islam. And so as far as I can tell, the definition of Islamism may be uncomfortable for some, but stands as a perfectly adequate definition.


The rights of Palestine.

July 8, 2014

palestineisrael

The history of modern revolutions is one in which – more often than not – oppressive regimes are threatened and overthrown by the forces of self-proclaimed ‘liberation’ whom themselves become the new oppressive regimes. The Cuban revolution replaced the US backed heartless and brutal regime of Fulgencio Batista, with the vicious and oppressive long lasting Castro regime. The French revolution sought to liberate the country from the excesses of monarchy, and resorted to Robespierre’s reign of terror, swiftly followed by Napoleon. The US revolution attempted to enshrine the concepts of human liberty, and the pursuit of individual happiness and did so to a great extent, whilst the Founding generation held slaves and extended democratic rights to propertied white men only (John Adams; the nation’s second President, warned against extending the vote to women). It is for this reason – the replacement of one form of deep oppression with another – that I tend to be reluctant to support a Palestinian state under its current leadership.

As a blogger on secularism and religion, I’m often asked about my thoughts on the Israel & Palestine conflict and which side I find myself on. I’ve neglected to write much on the subject, because I find it a difficult question to answer, whilst simultaneously a simple question to answer. It is a particularly difficult and confusing subject, where the balance of my opinions change from week to week.

It is a difficult question – not least because whatever you say on the subject, someone somewhere takes great offence in a way that no other subject can elicit – because I understand the grievances of both. I understand that Israel is a nation surrounded by nations that wish it extinct, that rockets are fired daily across its borders (today, a rocket from Gaza was intercepted over Tel Aviv), that its establishment (whilst poorly designed and implemented) was the result of historical oppression from Russia to Germany including centuries of anti-Jewish bigotry spewed by the Catholic Church, Mahmoud Abbas’s constant reference to Israel as Muslim and Christian only, and that the Arab press is horrifically racist in its representations of Jewish people as rats controlling some sort of hidden global conspiracy. I understand the paranoia and suspicion driving Israeli policy.

Equally, I understand that the Palestinians have a perfectly reasonable claim to the land and I find it hard to disagree with a ‘right’ to return though recognise how completely unrealistic Israeli acknowledgement of that ‘right’ is to any settlement deal. I understand that recent Palestinian history has been marred by forced removal as well as fleeing in fear from land, their chaining to a strip in Gaza and treated as prisoners, the Israeli right wing who have nothing less than viciously racist views that dehumanise Palestinians enough to make awful policy in the occupied territories palatable. Netanyahu’s deliberately provocative statements in the past, that the Palestinians suffer daily not only from the threat of Israeli bombs dropping around them, but from being used as shields by Hamas, and that the ceaseless building of settlements is a daily provocation. Indeed the average Palestinian is stripped of their natural human dignity by the political squabbles of the fanatical religious leaders of both sides of the argument. Earlier this year, Wajih al-Ramahi – a 15 year old Palestinian boy – was shot and killed by Israeli soldiers at the Jalazone refugee camp, for what seems to be no justifiable reason. This sort of crime – and the fear of this sort of crime – is a brutal reminder to the Palestinians that they are not free, and whose lives and liberty are to be treated as occupied and owned indefinitely by Israel.

However, It is an easy question, because my answer is; I take no side on this. I am critical of those who openly support Israel’s provocative policy of settlement development in the West Bank and defend their violent overreactions, and I am critical of those on the Western Galloway-left that are willing to abandon the principles of human rights, civil liberties, and freedom regardless of sexuality, faith, gender, belief and ethnicity if it means tacitly supporting any group that refers to itself as liberators fighting Israeli aggression.

I do however support the establishing of a state of Palestine. I feel I need to make that clear, because it seems that if you register concerns about the details of a future Palestinian state, you’re accused of abandoning the Palestinians in their fight for freedom, when in fact, the opposite is true. For the freedom of all Palestinians, the methods, and goals of their leadership requires thorough analysis and critique. To ignore those methods and goals, regardless of how oppressive they are, for the sake of supporting any reaction against Israel, is to abandon that freedom for a lot of Palestinians.

So, to be clear; my view is that the Palestinians have a right to be free, to self determination, to statehood, and to protection from oppression. That means all Palestinians, not simply Muslim, heterosexual Palestinians. The problem is, that isn’t what the Palestinian leadership has ever promoted. For that reason, it continuously amazes me just how willing Western ‘liberal secularists’ are to abandon their principles and overlook the stated goals and crimes of Hamas, in the quest to form a state of Palestine. The crimes of Hamas, are articulated by Amnesty:

“The human rights violations perpetrated … have included killings of fugitives, prisoners and detainees, injuries caused by severe physical violence, torture and misuse of weapons, the imposition of house arrest, and other restrictions that have been imposed on civil society organisations.”

– It is inexplicable given the circumstances, that anyone claiming to be of the left in the West, would support – in any form – the further enshrining of power for groups like Hamas. It cannot be considered an ‘ends justify the means’ situation – despite a lot of liberal secular Westerners claiming their reluctant support for Hamas is based on – because the end goal for Hamas is not a free state of Palestine, but a state as far removed from democratic, secular liberalism as possible. Indeed, Article (6) of Hamas’s charter notes:

“The Islamic Resistance Movement is a distinct Palestinian Movement which owes its loyalty to Allah, derives from Islam its way of life and strives to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine. Only under the shadow of Islam could the members of all regions coexist in safety and security for their lives, properties and rights.”

– Throughout Hamas’s charter, are references to the region being Islamic by divine right, and their goal to ensure all in the region are tied to it. Hamas’s reason for being, isn’t to ‘free’ Palestine, it is to chain Palestine to Hamas’s interpretation of a single faith. Secular liberals cannot reasonably offer any support to Hamas given their aims, methods, and public declarations. Dr. Mahmoud Zahar, co-founder and senior leader of Hamas, described gay people as being:

“…a minority of perverts and the mentally and morally sick.”

– The rights of the LGBT community are not going to be protected in a Palestinian state with Hamas allowed a say in its foundation and constituting. Any defence of Hamas – any defence whatsoever – by those claiming to be secular or liberal, is an insult to those of us who are.

As well as Hamas’s goal being the subordination of the entire region to Islam, President Abbas tends to be just as provocative and hints at religious war for Jerusalem being an obligation on all Muslims when speaking directly to Muslims in Palestine (rather than an international audience, at which point, he advocates two states). For Abbas, this is a religious conflict. In 2010, on Al-Jazeera, Abbas said:

“I say to the leaders of our Arab nation and to its peoples: Jerusalem and its environs are a trust that Allah entrusted to us. Saving it from the settlement monster and the danger of Judaization and confiscation is a personal commandment incumbent on all of us.”

– Abbas is clear with his “Judaization” anti-Semitic rant; the land belongs to Islam. A revolution to replace one oppressor, with another. Jerusalem has of course been occupied by Jews, invaded by Christians, invaded by Muslims, and should in the 21st Century be open to all to visit and enjoy, not controlled by one faith. I find it impossible to support the establishing of a state whose leadership is infected by religious supremacists. If Hamas achieved their stated aims tomorrow, I would suggest that the tacit support for their cause and defence of their actions from those Western secular liberals over the years, would shroud any future complaints of Hamas’s human rights abuses in a deep sea of hypocrisy, by those who were willing to turn a blind-eye to atrocities and Hamas’s commitment to further abuses, pre-statehood. What good is an international liberal left, if it is only willing to voice concerns over the oppressive nature of a state, after it has facilitated the establishment of the same oppressive state?

The basic law established in 2002 as a proposed constitutional framework for a future Palestinian state and enacted by The Palestinian Legislative Council enshrines one religion, and binds all who live in the proposed state of Palestine, to that one religion in some form, whilst offering the impression of freedom for all. Its authors therefore have assumed for themselves the privilege of state supremacy for one faith:

“The principles of the Islamic shari`a are a main source for legislation.”

“Arabic is the official language and Islam is the official religion in Palestine.”

“The Palestinian people are part of the Arab and Islamic nations.”

– This privilege for one faith cannot be an acceptable source of law making for anyone claiming to be a secular liberal. The implication is clear; a Palestinian state is to some degree an Islamic state. The two are to be considered inseparable. This is where I tend to part company with many of my fellow liberal secularists who seem unwilling to question, or worse, to offer tacit support to such a framework of state.

For me, Statehood must not precede human and civil rights, on a secular, liberal framework. Liberal, secular, civil rights and protections must precede statehood. The rights of all Palestinians – be they Muslim, Christian, atheist, Jewish, male, female, heterosexual, homosexual, transgender, Hindu, old, young – must be the starting point of any framework for statehood, with no privilege granted to any single faith.

Enshrining religion into the fabric of a new state brings with it human and civil rights abuses that are evident in the nations that enshrine Islam in the Middle East, and Christianity in Africa, regardless of assurances of “human rights protections”. In Jordan, the state inhibits the right to convert from Islam, does not recognise Baha’i marriages and the King has to be Muslim. In Lebanon (arguably the least oppressive Arab state in the Middle East), the right to legally change gender is prohibited, there are penalties for blasphemy, and Buddhists and Hindus are not allowed to marry. A Palestinian state must not enshrine the oppression of any group, must uphold civil rights with respect to belief, sexuality, gender, ethnicity and the basic right to expression and secular education. At the moment, the Palestinian leadership is far from a force for liberation, severely lacks respect for basic rights, and is extremely oppressive.

In 2012, the Arab Organisation for Human Rights released a report accusing the Palestinian Authority of:

“…inhumane practices and human rights violations.”

– In 2013, blogger Anas Awwad – a critic of the PNA – was arrested and charged with “extending his tongue” against the policies of the PA and President Abbas. Similarly, Ismat Abdul-Khaleq – a lecturer at a university in the West Bank – was arrested for criticising Abbas. Hamas enforced the wearing of the headscarf for all women entering government buildings. The Palestinian Education Ministry is run by Osama al-Muzayni, on his watch, schools in Gaza City have begun teaching children to speak Hebrew as the “language of the enemy”. The BBC found that at one schools in Gaza City, whilst the girls were quick to speak of the enemy of Israel and learning the language so they’ll know if an individual Israeli wishes to harm them, only one in thirty of the girls had actually met an Israeli. As well as not trusting the Palestinian leadership with the liberal and secular civil rights of all, I do not trust them with respect for free expression of the opponents of their policies, nor with the educating of vulnerable minds away from perpetual conflict and hate.

Palestinians are all who live on the land – regardless of gender, faith, ethnicity, sexuality, hair colour, eye colour – Palestinians are not a single religion or a single sect of a religion or a single history. Nor are adherents to one single religion inherently privileged above others. Nor is adherence to one particular religion enough to qualify those believers to legislate and punish others according to its dictates whilst enshrining their own privileg. For me it is simple; there can only be the illusion of human and civil rights, unless a constituted Palestinian state protects all, and privileges none. Palestinians have the right to self determination and a state of their own, with secure boarders and protected civil rights free from fear. Palestinians have a right to a state. Islam doesn’t.