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.

Advertisements

As the Yazidi face extermination by ISIS: Where are the Western Left?

August 7, 2014


Vian Dakheel Saeed Khadher MP making an impassioned and emotional plea in the Iraqi Parliament for humanitarian solidarity in confronting the extermination of the Yazidi population by ISIS.

Where are the protests in the streets of London and beyond for the people trapped on Sinjar? Where is the Western outrage? Where is the solidarity movement? Where are the angry demands for the right to return for the thousands displaced from their stolen lands? Where is Mehdi Hasan (currently Tweeting his distaste at ‘Conservative Friends of Israel’)? Where is Owen Jones (currently blaming the slaughter of Christians in the Middle East on the war in Iraq, obviously)? Where are the Ministerial resignations from a government remaining silent on constant torture, beheadings, and mass slaughters? Where are the ‘Free Iraq’ banners? Where is the pressure on the UN to uphold its human rights declaration and protect the most vulnerable? Where are the constant stream of images showing the grotesque result of what is slowly turning into a genocide? Where is the solidarity with the Kurds resisting ISIS? Will the Galloway’s of the World be cynically using the slaughter of the Yazidi people as a badly masked pretext to express how much they dislike Blair again? What use is a modern left that traditionally transcended international borders, if it now picks and chooses its relentless fight for basic human rights, based entirely on that population’s relation to US/UK foreign policy? The crisis in Syria and Iraq with ISIS is quickly highlighting the failures of the 21st Century Western Galloway-left’s outrage machine. It is a machine that is focused entirely on expressing its distaste for the US/Israel/Blair and will seemingly, and without a sense of shame, use any crisis to highlight that distaste. It is a left I no longer identify with.

The quickness in which the Western left springs into collective action became apparent over the past two weeks, when it responded with pictures, demands, articles, leaflets, debates, protests, and pressure over Israel’s violent incursion into Gaza and the awful human suffering that followed. This response from the Western left was admirable at times, and manipulative and slightly unsettling at others. It saw Mo Ansar try to underplay the effects of Hamas’s rockets. It also saw writers like Mehdi Hasan and musicians like Brian Eno try to justify a lack of anything close to a similar reaction to any other humanitarian crisis when that crisis doesn’t directly involve Israel or the US. A cynical attempt to justify singling out people, based on incredibly faulty, desperate logic, that may lead one to conclude that behind the poor justifications, lies the stench of bigotry. Because right now, ISIS has captured an area larger than Great Britain, controlling the lives of 6,000,000 people, whilst tens of thousands of innocent human beings – many children – from a religious minority are stuck on Mount Sinjar, threatened with starvation and dehydration if they stay, or execution for apostasy by ISIS if they leave. The women and young girls face enslavement. The men face slaughter. A further 130,000 have fled to the Kurdish north to escape death, forcing a humanitarian refugee crisis in the north of Iraq. Amnesty has noted how desperate the displaced people are for aid in the region. Unicef noted the deaths of 40 children as a result of dehydration and violence. This isn’t a crisis that the World can ignore. As ISIS spreads its net further, more human lives will absolutely fall into its hands to be crushed. It threatens to engulf the region, and beyond, and we have seen what this group is capable of. It is a crisis of massive proportions, and through it all, there is barely a mention from the Galloway, Jones, Hasan Western Left, unless they can find a way to use the human suffering to express their dislike of Blair or the US. A whole new meaning to the term ‘disproportionate response’.

After witnessing how quickly people can mobilise – especially in the age of social media – when it came to the crisis in Gaza and the constant stream of anger from protesters across the World, the quickness by which images were shared (some manipulated from previous conflicts) to create a sense of outrage, article after article, news report after news report, and international pressure rightly put on Israel for its violent incursion, I am left wondering why that Western liberal left moral compass has now been securely locked away during one of the biggest humanitarian crises in living memory.


Ten Tory MPs with less than 50% of the vote.

July 10, 2014

200101_10150108016740904_625467_n

It is true that if you were to include the number of potential voters in each constituency, no current Cabinet Minister would have received over 50% of the vote. But with the freedom to vote, comes the freedom to not vote, and with that in mind we should look more closely at the the percentage that current Tory MPs – seeking to impose voter threshold on strike action – managed to win at the 2010 general election, among actual voter turnout.

So here’s a quick list of ten:

  • Sajid Javid – MP for Bromsgrove and Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and Minister for Equalities – 43.7%.
    – A man who is in control of the state’s involvement in culture, media, sport, and has the key responsibility for equality in the UK, was elected with less than 50% of the vote in Bromsgrove.

  • David Jones – MP for Clyde West and Secretary of State for Wales – 41.5%.
    – A Secretary of State for an entire country, elected with a little over 40% of the vote.

  • Oliver Letwin – Minister of State at the Cabinet Office and Chairman of the Conservative Party’s Policy Review – 47.6%
    – Letwin – after winning less than 50% of the vote – insisted that public sector workers require “discipline and fear”. On a completely unrelated note, Letwin used £2,145 in Parliamentary expenses to fix a leaking pipe on his tennis court.

  • Mark Garnier – MP for Wyre Forest -36.9%
    On his website, speaking of strikes in November 2011, Garnier writes:

    “These strikes, which will cost the economy up to half a billion pounds, were not voted for by a majority and will hit ordinary working people hardest.”

    – Replace the words “strikes” with “Tories” in this massively ironic statement, and you have a far more honest sentence.

  • Jessica Lee – MP for Erewash & Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Attorney General Dominic Grieve – 39.5%.
  • Stephen Mosley – MP for the City of Chester – 40.6%
    – On his website, Mosley says:

    “The strike action undertaken by PCS union members in June highlighted the unconsidered approach that appears to be the default setting for many unions.
    Less than 20% of their members voted for the industrial action and less than half walked out on their responsibilities that day.”

    – Interesting admiration for majority votes, when almost 60% of Mosley’s own constituency doesn’t want him representing them.

  • Nicky Morgan – MP for Loughborough – 41.6%
    – Elected with a minority of the vote, and yet voted in an attempt to ensure same-sex couples couldn’t get married. She believes with less than 50%, she gets to regulate the love lives of others.

  • Edward Garnier – MP for Harborough, Knight Bachelor and former Solicitor General – 49%.
  • James Morris – MP for Halesowen & Rowley Regis – 41.2%
  • Paul Uppal – MP for Wolverhampton South West – 40.7%
    – Uppal voted in favour of a change to striking laws that would prohibit strikes in the transport sector unless a majority of the workforce voted in favour and not merely a majority of those voting. This same principle, if applied to Parliament, would mean every Cabinet Minister would not have been elected. The closest would have been Theresa May, though she’d still have fell short by 7%.

    – If a Conservative Party wishes to impose a 50% voter threshold on strike action, then I see no reason why there should not also be a 50% voter threshold on the ability to propose legislation and vote in Parliament. Indeed, if MPs with less than 50% of the vote in their own constituency can vote to restrict pay and pensions for public sector workers, I see no reason why those same public sector workers can’t then strike with less than 50% of the vote.


  • Trolling UKIP: #WhyImVotingUKIP

    May 21, 2014

    It’s a day before the European election, and the #WhyImVotingUkip Twitter trend has spectacularly backfired on the Party this morning. Once you make your way through the three pro-UKIP tweets, you find yourself in a forest of wonderful satire. And so, here are a few of my favourite #WhyImVotingUKIP tweets so far:

    btfd

    fff

    ddddde

    fffffg

    nhgnr

    rfrr

    trey

    untitled1

    Untitled-2

    Untitled-2d

    Untitled-2e

    Untitled-2r

    Untitled-3

    Untitled-r2

    At least, I think these are satire. Given the frequency by which Tea Party-esque comments are publicly made by UKIP members, all of the above tweets could just as easily be actual UKIP comments.
    Tomorrow is election day. Get out and vote!


    What secularism isn’t…

    March 30, 2014

    I’ve always been ever so slightly bemused by the term ‘militant secularist’. It is generally used by two groups primarily; those who wish to oppress the rights of the religious and presume secularism is a backdoor for Sharia. And ironically, the religious sects who think secularism is out to destroy their religion. From both sides, it’s an odd attack.

    Secularism is particularly easy concept to grasp. It is quite simply the denial of religious supremacy and privilege – through the power of state – over the lives of others. Civil rights and protections come first. Religious belief is not inherently permitted to interfere with this. And so the term ‘militant secularist’ seems to be an attempt at a slur by religious sects unhappy that their institutional privileges – gained through centuries of erecting hideous barriers to equal civil rights – are increasingly under scrutiny. What is it that constitutes a ‘militant secularist’? Someone who militantly wishes the same protections for you, as for they? Baroness Warsi gave us her unique interpretation of the phrase, whilst completely misrepresenting what secularism actually is:

    “For me, what I define as a secular fundamentalist is somebody who says that there should be no public space for faith.”

    – And so begins my ‘what secularism is not…’ rant. Secularism is not seeking the outlawing of faith-based arguments in the public space. If someone wishes the state to punish those who argue from a position of faith in the public sphere, they aren’t secularists. For example, every argument against same-sex marriage in the Commons in 2013, was based on faith to some degree. This isn’t banned, nor do secularists wish to ban it. We do not advocate the state punishing anyone for arguing a principle according to their beliefs, nor, even, to stand for election according to those beliefs. I am absolutely fine with The Christian Party existing, with The Islamic Party existing, and I’ll always defend their right to exist. Progress and knowledge derives from free debate and inquiry, on a framework protecting all from oppression. Secularism protects free expression, inquiry, and belief for all. What you are not allowed to do, is force others to live according to the dictates of your religious beliefs only. To do so, is by its nature advocating the supremacy of your individual faith over the freedoms of those who do not subscribe to your beliefs. It presumes the superiority of your beliefs. You’re entitled to this belief, you just have no right to enforce the rest of us to accept it.

    In 2012, Peter Popham – foreshadowing Warsi two years later – writing for the Independent, published a curious article entitled “No secularism please, we’re British“. A horrid title that presupposes those of us that hold secular principles dear, are not to be considered British. In it, Popham goes on to misrepresent – or simply misunderstand – secularism, and conflate it with a plethora of completely unrelated ideologies and concepts:

    “But the fanaticism of the Islamists has provoked an equally intolerant and intemperate reaction from secular and other quarters, with the ban on headscarves in France and on mosque-building in Switzerland and the rabid anti-Islam rhetoric in the Netherlands; while in Britain it has produced a sudden lurch of opinion among our noisiest public intellectuals against any and all religion. All religions are wrong, goes the argument, everyone knows they are wrong, and their time has expired. As Dawkins put it at the Jaipur Literature Festival last month, faith is “a virus”; he looked forward, he said, to the “complete death of organised religion” in his lifetime.”

    – This brings me to my next point on what secularism isn’t. Secularism is not anti-religious oppression. Indeed, for secularists, the idea of the state punishing people for their choice of clothing is grotesquely anti-secular. Whether the state punishes someone for choosing to wear headscarves, or the state punishes someone for choosing not to wear headscarves, for secularists it is equally as oppressive. It is not secularism. Secularism does not grant certain faiths privileges over others. To deny others the right to worship freely where they choose, and to develop property that they are as entitled as me to develop, denying them purely on the basis of what they choose to believe is an act of supremacy and oppression. This is not secularism.

    The second point to take from the quote above, is that Popham apparently sees no difference between the French state banning religious garments, and criticism of religion in Britain in general. The two are entirely different concepts, and both have nothing to do with secularism. The former is the state interfering with the private lives and choices of its citizens through threat of punishment – a clear violation of the separation of church and state principle – whilst the latter is individual expression and critique of religion. Secularism ensures an individual the right to wear whatever she or he chooses, without fear of punishment, as well as ensuring the right of the individual to criticise all ideologies. Thus, Popham conflates secularism, with atheism. This ridiculous conflation ignores the myriad of religious secularists, like the wonderful ‘British Muslims for Secular Democracy’. We atheists do not have a monopoly on secularism.

    Popham then goes on to rewrite history, in justifying his anti-secular, pro-religious supremacy position:

    “What is staggering about the secularists is their arrogance and the shortness of their memories. The materialist utopianism of the Communists and Nazis is to blame for all the worst atrocities of the past century.
    Dawkins may appear to make sense, but it is incredible that we should be ready to pay serious attention to a prophet whose message is the same as those whose schemes led straight to the hells of the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, Mao’s Cultural Revolution and the Khmer Rouge.”

    – It is difficult to know where to be begin with this, given the amount of misrepresentations to appear in such a short paragraph. I’m choosing to ignore the ridiculous comparison of Richard Dawkins, to every major dictator of the 20th century, because it’s pathetic. I will address the premise of the argument itself. Here, Popham – again conflating secularism with atheism, and both with anti-religious oppression – is entirely wrong. Secularism ensures equal protection for all, regardless of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, or belief. No single ideology allowed a privileged position to oppress at will. Here’s the wonderful thing about secularism; you can be a secular Christian, a secular Muslim, a secular Atheist, a secular Communist, a secular Fascist. You’re beliefs still are not permitted a place of privilege above any others. You are equally protected, equally free from oppression. The right of Christians to publicly say that homosexuality is unnatural, the right of Wahhabi Muslims to insist that Sharia is greater than secular democracy, is protected by the same laws that protect my right to blaspheme and mock religion. What secularism doesn’t allow for, is a Nazi-esque extermination of an entire religious sect based on the dictates of one ideology (despite Popham’s claim, I am yet to see Richard Dawkins advocate this). For that, a state requires centuries of religious propaganda:

    In Germany in 1543, Martin Luther produced his work “On the Jews and their lies“. In it, Luther calls for Jews to be put to work as slaves, for Jewish schools to be burnt to the ground, that Jewish people are the enemy of all Christianity. Johannes Wallmann writes:

    “The assertion that Luther’s expressions of anti-Jewish sentiment have been of major and persistent influence in the centuries after the Reformation, and that there exists a continuity between Protestant anti-Judaism and modern racially oriented antisemitism, is at present wide-spread in the literature; since the Second World War it has understandably become the prevailing opinion.”

    – Nazi policy toward Jewish people was not a new thing. It was the conclusion of 2000+ years of hideous Church sponsored anti-semitism. Luther is vicious in his criticisms and his ideas for the future. But it wasn’t just Luther. The Nazi precedent of forcing Jewish people to wear something that makes them identifiable as Jews, and inferior to the Christian population, was not a Nazi precedent at all. It began much earlier. The Nazis simply appropriated it. Pope Paul IV issued Papal bull Cum nimis absurdum in 1555. The bull states:

    “Moreover, concerning the matter that Jews should be recognizable everywhere: [to this end] men must wear a hat, women, indeed, some other evident sign, yellow in color, that must not be concealed or covered by any means, and must be tightly affixed.”

    – The Bull also insisted that Jews be moved to Jewish ghettos:

    “…all Jews are to live in only one [quarter] to which there is only one entrance and from which there is but one exit.”

    – To suggest that the concept of separating church from state – ensuring freedom of, and freedom from religion – is responsible for the terrors of the 20th century, is so incredibly short sighted, and requires a complete rewrite of history. Indeed, if you need to rewrite history to make your case; you’ve already failed.

    As is usually the case when an argument fails on so many logical standards, Popham predictably then gets insulting:

    “… religious faith can do what secularism cannot: open doors on to areas of human experience – compassion, altruism, serenity, even enlightenment – which have no meaning for the secularists.”

    – Here, Popham has decided not to conflate atheism with secularism anymore, because it suits his purposes not to. For Popham, secularism is now soulless. Divorced from all ethical standards. A big grey wall blocking human compassion and enlightenment. And so again, here is what secularism is not. Secularism is not and does not claim to be a ‘moral anchor’ (as Hamza Tzortzis likes to call it) to one specific time and place (1st century Palestine, or 7th century Arabia). It makes no moral judgement. It isn’t trying to be a system of morality. This is why it isn’t an atheist concept. It appeals to all concepts. It rightly presupposes that the state has no right to claim religious truth and force uniformity through it. It acknowledges that you do not get to force the principles and beliefs that guide your life, onto me, and vice versa. Equal protection on a line of equality, ensuring that no ideology be granted special privilege. How you frame your individual moral compass, is then up to you. I see no example of state power combined with religious power, that ended in anything but oppression of those that did not fit its dogmatic heavenly vision.

    Indeed, over the centuries compassion, altruism, serenity and enlightenment were strangely absent from religious societies (unless you observed the state religion as instructed). Prevalent in non-secular states; forced conversions, state murder for anyone deemed to say something heretical, forced payment to uphold the state faith, rampant homophobia (see Uganda). Most of those, still occur in nations whose institution of state is shackled by faith. For this, Popham has no basis by which to tell me, as a secularist, that compassion, altruism, serenity, and enlightenment have no meaning for me. I decide that, not him. Further, I believe Popham has the same right by which to decide what compassion, altruism, serenity and enlightenment mean for himself, as I do for me, without fear of state interference.

    Another description of constitutes a ‘militant secularist’ comes to us via Mo Ansar:

    mo8
    – If opposing the ritualistic genital mutilation of children is to be considered ‘militant secularist’, I am happy to wear that badge. No one has a right – under any pretext, including ‘religion’ – to mutilate anyone else, especially children. There is no other area of life where this would be considered even slightly acceptable, and it doesn’t get a free pass simply for being shrouded in ‘faith’.

    Secularism, coupled with democracy, is the only system that has an inbuilt mechanism by which we progress. Since its inception, we have slowly worked to break down oppressive barriers (most, originally erected by the parties of faith). I cannot imagine that states with an enshrined religion are ever likely to accept they have no right to viciously oppress sexuality. For this, secular democracy is necessary.

    Secularism protects us equally. It is a system that allows for the religious to believe and express the violent notion that we non-believers are cursed to spend eternity burning in the unforgiving flames of hell. That is your right to believe and to say. Similarly, I have a right to say that I find that to belief to be horrific, outdated, and worthy of nothing but ridicule and condemnation. I have no right to censor that belief, in much the same way as you have no right to censor my expression.

    It is secularism that protects religious minorities. No longer are Catholics permitted to utilise the power of state to oppress Protestants or vice verse. Sunni Muslims are not permitted the power of state to dictate how Shia Muslims observe Islam according to their own conscience, and vice versa. The secular state cares not for whether you believe the Pope to be the authority on Christianity, nor whether Abu Bakr, Omar and Uthman were rightful Caliphs. That’s up to the individual believer to decide. Evangelical Christian sects in the 1770s aligned themselves with the secularists in public life, in the hope of enshrining secular protections for all religious denominations. Within a century, the US was filled with a variety of denominations, from Catholics, to Mormons, none having power over others to enforce uniformity through privilege and oppression. The playing field is level. This is secularism.

    The prominent arguments against secularism seem to follow the same underlying logic, regardless of how it’s presented. Firstly, the argument tends to be a misunderstanding of secularism as anti-religious oppression. Perhaps this is derived from fear of retribution for centuries of religious oppression. But it isn’t actually true. If indeed a state pursued policies designed to oppress the religious, it would follow that the state lost its secular title the moment the oppressive policies were instituted. Secondly, the arguments – especially from the Christian right in the US, and the more Wahhabi Muslim sects in the Middle East – tend to be nothing more than a child-like refusal to accept that their faith does not inherently deserve a place of privilege to interfere with the liberty of others. The former argument, is often an obvious mask for the latter.

    It is perhaps worth remembering that had religion not so horrifically abused state power through grotesque persecution when it had it, there would be no need for ‘secularism’. The concept would almost certainly be considered a natural societal condition. The fact that we need a specific ‘ism’ to protect basic individual rights, speaks volumes of the history of religious oppression that preceded it, and how fast and loose they tended to play with human lives. Today, secularism must be the starting point. No one gets to claim their personal religious belief is more worthy of privilege and supremacy, over any other. A line of neutrality, on a framework of civil rights regardless of sexuality, gender, ethnicity and belief, is the only natural and reasonable position for a state to observe. If you wish to impose your personal religious principles on a population, you need to (not be forced to) accompany it with a reasoned argument. Your personal belief is not an adequate reason in itself. If the argument stands up to scrutiny, then it will stand by itself. If you wish your faith to be granted specific institutional privilege – as with the institution of marriage, for example – you’re going to have to provide a reasoned argument as to why the rest of us should accept your inherent right to a position of superiority, and live according to the dictates of your personal faith. If your argument doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, it would be prudent not to take this as a green light to claim oppression. To do so, comes across as one big child-like tantrum.

    Secularism isn’t anti-religious oppression. Secularism isn’t the wish to ban religious folk from the public sphere. Secularism isn’t a system of anchored morality. Secularism isn’t Atheism. In short, secularism isn’t anything that anti-secularists seem to believe that it is.


    The Frackers of Downing Street.

    January 17, 2014

    There are very few more pressing issues on the planet right now than climate change, and sustainable energy. For that reason alone, throwing dangerous chemicals down a well and splitting rocks to extract gas, leading to complaints of contaminated water supplies in Texas, and earthquakes in Blackpool, was always going to be a controversial topic. Without getting into the pros and cons of the industry and the practice, I thought I’d focus on the names and faces attached to fracking in the UK, who seem to be extraordinarily close to a government that is now suddenly fully embracing fracking.

    Lord Browne is the Managing Director of Riverstone – a private equity firm that backs Cuadrilla Resources (of which Lord Browne in the Chairman). Cuadrilla is a Shale Gas operator that was found to be the likely cause of two minor earthquakes in 2011 through its drilling in Lancashire. Lord Browne is lead non-executive director – a Coalition advisor – at the Cabinet Office and a crossbench member of the House of Lords.

    Also at Riverstone was Ben Moxham. Moxham was a vice President at Riverstone – the equity firm that backs a company responsible for a small earthquake – until 2011. Moxham was then a lead advisor for the Coalition on climate change issues, and a senior policy advisor for energy issues, to the Prime Minister. Moxham, like Lord Browne, was also at BP for a time.

    The Senior Independent Director of of BG Group PLC is Baroness Hogg. BG Group is a British oil and gas company with interests across the planet, including shale gas in the US, where it claimed to be wishing to produce 80,000 barrels a day by 2015, growing up 190,000 barrels a day by 2020 through its shale production. Baroness Hogg was appointed Lead Non-Executive Board Member to the Treasury.

    Sam Laidlaw is the CEO of Centrica. He was also Lead non-executive director on the board of the Department for Transport, and a member of the Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Group . Also at Centrica for a time, was Tara Singh. In May 2013, Number 10 announced that Ms Singh would be the Prime Minister’s personal advisor on energy and climate change. This is the same Tara Singh whose previous role was Public Affairs Manager at Centrica – owner of British Gas. A few weeks after Singh was appointed to a government advisory role, Centrica – her former employer – bought a stake in Lord Browne’s Cuadrilla for its shale gas production. Singh has also worked for PR firm Hill & Knowlton, a firm that represents the Norwegian energy giant Statoil, a company with investment in fracking in North America.

    Lord Green, the Minister of State for Trade and Investment, was also non-executive director of chemical giant BASF. BASF supply gas-based chemicals for the fracking industry.

    The Windsor Energy Group in March 2013 discussed, according to its own documents:

    “…the energy revolution from shale gas and tight oil and other game-changers so far looking east, west and south…”

    – This excitement was echoed by the Chairman of the Windsor Energy Group – Lord Howell – who told Parliament that the former colonies were ripe for picking:

    “…wake up and realise where our future and our destiny lie…the new range of Commonwealth countries coming into the prosperity league either side of Africa, as they find through the shale gas revolution that they have fantastic raw energy resources and prospects.”

    – Lord Howell – the Chairman of the W.E.G – also happens to be the father-in-law of Chancellor George Osborne. The Windsor Energy Group takes time on its website to thank Shell and BP for its support. It is unsurprising that two of the biggest players in the oil industry might choose to be close friends with an organisation whose chairman is the father-in-law of the Chancellor. Lord Howell was also former energy advisor to William Hague.

    Lord Howell – the Chairman of the W.E.G and father-in-law of the Chancellor – is also the President of the British Institute of Energy Economics. The BIEE is sponsored by Shell and BP. In 2013, Howell was appointed President of the Energy Industries Council.

    It comes as no surprise then, that in July 2013, Howell’s son-in-law Chancellor George Osborne announced a massive tax break for the fracking industry, setting the rate at 30% for onshore shale gas production, as opposed to 62% for new production of North Sea Oil. Echoing the wording by his father-in-law, and the Windsor Energy Group that his father-in-law Chairs, Osborne referred to fracking as a revolution:

    “This new tax regime, which I want to make the most generous for shale in the world, will contribute to that. I want Britain to be a leader of the shale gas revolution”

    – But it isn’t just Osborne. Vince Cable, whose Party spent the best part of the last decade insisting it was the party of green energy, took to TV news to defend the tax breaks. The fact that Cable here suggests that fracking would have to be heavily regulated and watched, must raise eyebrows as to its potential dangers. It is worth noting that Vince Cable was the former Chief Economist at Shell (supporters of the W.E.G, and financial backers of the BIEE, both run by George Osborne’s father-in-law) and that Malcolm Brinded – the former Chief Executive of Shell Upstream International – referred to Cable in a letter to the Secretary of State as the “Contact Minister for Shell”. Here:

    shell
    – Shell is positioning itself to be a major player in the UK Fracking industry. It’s also worth noting that William Hague worked for Shell UK before entering Parliament.

    The tax breaks must have felt like a wonderful victory, not just for Shell and Osborne’s father-in-law, but for everyone’s favourite soulless lobbyist Lynton Crosby. The Prime Minister’s election advisor and strategist founded the lobbying firm Crosby Textor, which lobbies on behalf of The Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association, and fracking is one of its main objectives. One of the members of The Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association is Dart Energy, whose UK subsidiary holds a fracking licence in the UK.

    So to summarise, Lord Browne from Cuadrilla is a coalition advisor, and Tara Singh from Centrica who own a stake in Cuadrilla is a coalition advisor, and Sam Laidlaw – the CEO of Centrica – was a coalition advisor. Baroness Hogg – a lead non-exec. board member to the Treasure – is Senior Independent Director at a company with huge interests in fracking in the US Ben Moxham – an advisor to the Prime Minister on climate change and energy – was at an equity firm that backed Lord Browne’s Cuadrilla. Lynton Crosby whose firm lobbies on behalf of the fracking industry is a key strategist to the Conservative Party. George Osborne’s father-in-law is the President of a group financially backed by BP & Chairs another organisation supported by Shell among others that pushes for the fracking industry at the same time that his son-in-law announces incredibly generous tax rates for the fracking industry. And the Business Secretary is referred to as the “Contact Minister for Shell” by a former Shell CEO. It is an incredible state of affairs.

    Those who are in a position to be making a very large amount of money from fracking, also appear to be at the centre of a government that will make the key decisions on the future of the industry including its regulations and safety procedures. By contrast, there don’t appear to be any members of local communities close to proposed fracking sites, at the centre of government. For a Tory Party needing to shed its image as the Party of big business, this isn’t helping. The fracking industry hasn’t even taken off in the UK to any great extent, and yet it would appear its representatives are well placed right at the very heart of government.


    Operation Christmas Child: The Cult of Franklin Graham.

    November 18, 2013

    operation christmas child, atheists north carolina school, samaritan's purse, franklin graham, atheism,

    It is around that time of year again when the cries of “Keep CHRIST in Christmas!” spring up, the same time of year we hear that there is some sort of conspiracy of Atheists and Muslims trying to ban Christmas. The persecuted Christians (who oddly, are in all major positions of power in the US) spring to life in an attempt to conceive of an anti-Christmas Atheist agenda that doesn’t actually exist. Sarah Palin has already used the phrase “The War on Christmas” this year and it isn’t even December yet.

    This week saw a new apparent example of heartless Atheists attempting to undermine the spirit of Christmas whilst simultaneously impoverishing children further. The story is brought to us across the evangelical blogs and news sites. For example, WLTX reports that due to the big bad Atheist bullies, East Point Academy in Cayce South Carolina had cancelled its toy drive after being threatened by the American Humanist Association, simply because it was a Christian concoction. That’s the story posted. They even include a back up quote from the Principle Renee Mathews here:

    “There’s no religious literature tied with it. There’s no speakers who come. There’s no religious affiliation at all.”

    – The problem is, this isn’t true. It isn’t a case a benevolent charity giving gifts to the needy, for benevolent reasons, with no religious affiliation at all, as Mathews claims. Quite the opposite, and rather sinisterly so.

    Operation Christmas Child, ran by Reverend Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse is an evangelical program designed to bribe the most vulnerable people into converting to Franklin’s particular brand of Christianity. They openly state their goal is:

    “…the advancement of the Christian faith through educational projects and the relief of poverty”.

    – Relief of poverty for the sake of itself is not good enough for this organisation, it must be linked intrinsically to the spread of the cult of Franklin Graham.

    The cult preys on US school children by inviting them to give to what is believed to be an honest charity dedicated to helping the poorest children in the World, but before delivering those gifts, they slip in Reverend Franklin Graham’s propaganda material. Your children are not sending toys to vulnerable children, the toys are just a marketing technique for a cult that wishes to spread to message.

    As chairman of Samaritan’s Purse, Franklin Graham is given around $400,000 a year. Graham is as Tea Party-esque as the Christian Right gets, having once claimed:

    “The Muslim Brotherhood is very strong and active in our country. It’s infiltrated every level of our government. Right now we have many of these people that are advising the US military and State Department on how to respond in the Middle East, and it’s like asking a fox, like a farmer asking a fox, “How do I protect my henhouse from foxes?” We’ve brought in Muslims to tell us how to make policy toward Muslim countries. And many of these people we’ve brought in, I’m afraid, are under the Muslim Brotherhood.”

    – He also claimed that the Japanese tsunami may have signalled the beginning of Armageddon. He publicly maintains that President Obama is not a Christian – which he deems to be unacceptable – has said that the President was born Muslim, is influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood, and he recorded a public message insisting that same-sex marriage should be banned, with no same-sex union recognised by the state at all. Graham, therefore, has a very political agenda. A very public agenda. Whilst pushing this public agenda, he also have a right winged Christian agenda, that Samaritan’s Purse manipulates school children into being an unwitting part of. Why not agree to send those toys without any mention of religion, or Jesus, or God, as defined by a right-winged American evangelical?

    When they seek out donors, Operation Christmas Child usually downplays its evangelism, so as to attract funding. So much so that South Wales Fire Service here in the UK halted their involvement with Operation Christmas Child after discovering the true nature of the ‘charity’. Director of Corporate Services for South Wales Fire Service, upon discovering the real motives of Operation Christmas Child wrote:

    “Our involvement in Operation Christmas Child has been on the basis that the project was no more than a charitable event. We do not lend support to any political or religious organisation in their own right, neither do we wish to be associated with anybody whose activities would bring the brigade into dispute.”

    – It seems Samaritan’s Purse completely manipulated the fire service, and abused their generosity.

    In 2001, in response to two earthquakes in El Salvador, Samaritan’s Purse received $200,000 of federal aid money to provide relief in the country. They then proceeded to hold prayer meetings, before showing people how to rebuild their homes. Franklin Graham wrote:

    “When we go into these villages and help people get back into their homes, we hope we’ll be able to plant new churches all over this country”

    – The use of US aid money, to spread a cult defined by the Graham family, is not a cause that the US government should be funded, nor should it be allowed in US schools.

    In 2003, Samaritan’s Purse released a report, which seems to boast of their manipulative efforts to bribe children. This is the case of a 13 year old boy who’s enticed into the stranger’s ‘house’ with gifts:

    “Every day, Ramakrishna’s work route took him in front of a Christian church. As he picked up trash from the gutter, a woman invited him into the church. He always refused. Then one day the woman asked him inside to receive a gift. He was still wary of Christians and their strange beliefs, but the offer of a gift was too tempting. He accepted.”

    The report then goes on to give us the real reason they use shoebox drives. To get around anti-conversion laws:

    “India can be a difficult mission field. Many states have anti-conversion laws that make it hard for Christians to work. But Operation Christmas Child breaks down barriers and provides a way to reach the children. More than 325,000 shoe box gifts were distributed in 2003, and 265,000 children were enrolled in follow-up Bible study programs.”

    – The imperialist cult of Franklin Graham.

    Operation Christmas Child sends its propaganda to places that are mainly Muslim; they sent 30,000 Arabic Bibles out to Iraq after the first gulf war. They also aim their propaganda at poorer Hindu communities. This, after Franklin Graham once said of Hinduism:

    “… hundreds of millions of people locked in the darkness of Hinduism… bound by Satan’s power”.

    “… no elephant with 100 arms can do anything for me. None of their 9,000 gods is going to lead me to salvation”

    – This isn’t about giving gifts to vulnerable children, this is about spreading a Biblical cult through any immoral means necessary; including the spread of bribery and bigotry. Visiting struggling countries, and offering food and aid, along with a Bible, is not something I am at all comfortable with, and it is not something that should be allowed to infect secular schools.

    As a private organisation – regardless of how dubious and politically motivated their aims are – we cannot stop them. But it is entirely irresponsible and wrong to be manipulating state school children, in a secular society, to give up their belongings to a cause they believe is innocent whilst at the same time using that innocence to help spread the message of a fundamentalist cult, and the power of a very unlikeable evangelist.

    For the cult of Franklin Graham, poverty and war are very profitable. Viewing poverty and destitution as a way to spread a religious agenda by preying on the most vulnerable, is so horribly wrong, it’s difficult to know where to begin.

    It is not giving that is objectionable to non-believers. It is the use of propaganda in order to convert the most vulnerable, alongside the giving. I would encourage anyone who is worried that their good will and generosity may be the victim of a group like Samaritan’s Purse, to give to far more reputable sources. Oxfam Unwrapped for example, or Link To Hope’s shoebox appeal. Neither of these will include any form of political or religious propaganda, nor the spread of the message of a cult. Your gifts will be safe.

    This hideous group should not be allowed anywhere near children.

    It’d be nice for the news media to tell the full story.