Comments on the News
2005.0048 'Is Democracy
‘ The last al-Quaeda
militant I met gave me a big smile, said “Peace
be upon you”, then took out a pistol and shot
me, leaving me for dead on the streets of Riyadh.’
Thus Frank Gardner,
writing in the Sunday Telegraph (7 August
2005). He was referring to the incident on 6 June
2005 when he was severely injured in Saudi Arabia.
Gardner, a fluent Arabic speaker, has made a good
recovery and returned to his work as a BBC journalist. The
article from which the above extract is taken should
be read by everyone concerned with the threat posed
by al-Quaeda. Gardner knows what he is talking about.
The BBC’s Vin Ray says of him on the BBC website: ‘He
is an expert on the Middle East, al-Qaeda and the
underlying causes of the War on Terror and, because
of his deep expertise, his work always reflects
the true complexities of the stories he reports’.
For this piece
I will pick out Gardner’s opinion that what
al-Quaeda is mainly concerned with is the presence
of western troops in Muslim lands such as Saudi
Arabia. His theory is that much current Muslim unrest
springs from the idea that there are Muslim lands
in which the west has no business to be, and from
which it is a Muslim’s religious duty to eject
This led me to
do some research, and I dug up the following choice
extract from an article in my Encyclopedia Britannica (11th
edition, 1911) about the Moors of Morocco-
‘ They are fanatical
Mahommedans, regarding their places of worship as
so sacred that the mere approach of a Jew or a Christian
There are arguments
about which are the so-called Muslim lands. A large
part of Spain was once occupied by the Moors. Is
that one of the Muslim lands, to be recaptured by
the faithful? Perhaps that is beside the point.
The point is
I think that to the devout Muslim many parts of
the world, including Afghanistan and Iraq, undoubtedly
are Muslim lands in which the west has no business
to be. The same goes for parts (or perhaps the whole)
of what is now Israel. That is why al-Quaeda will
not easily be defeated.
It is possible
it will never be defeated, and that the west should
change its policies and cease to meddle in Islamic
countries. The philosophy of Islam is that it provides
not just religious principles but binding rules
for the entire conduct of human life. That may leave
no room for democracy, which President George W.
Bush is so keen to impose on Iraq.
There are ominous
signs that those planning the new constitution for
Iraq are determined that it shall be an Islamic
state. When I drafted the first constitution for
Pakistan after it became independent I was instructed
to the same effect. My constitution accordingly
began: ‘Pakistan shall be a Federal Republic
to be known as the Islamic Republic of Pakistan
. . .’ The same may apply in Iraq.
My brief research
into the history of Islam left me with the feeling
that, as Sherlock Holmes used to say, ‘These
are deep waters, Watson’. I fear we are in
what President Reagan used to call deep doodoo because
those responsible for our affairs, from Bush and
Blair downwards, are ignorant of what is a tangled
and complex history going back over a thousand years
and affecting large areas of the globe.
Of three things
we can be sure. The United Kingdom is not part
of the Muslim lands. The west cannot ignore the
fact that a large proportion of the world’s
vital oil supplies are located in Muslim areas.
Muslim countries like Iran must not be allowed to
possess nuclear weapons.
So it seems that
the west must to some extent meddle in Muslim lands.
But it is doubtful if that goes so far as seeking
to introduce the non-Islamic concept of democracy.
The BBC Radio
Four programme Sunday is usually of high
quality, particularly when the presenter is Roger
Bolton, as it was yesterday (17 July 2005). Yesterday’s Sunday excelled
itself in giving a clear account of the reasons
for the 7/7 London bombings. Two Islamic scholars
explained that the basic trouble is with the Koran
itself (I prefer that old English spelling, rather
than the BBC’s fanciful Qur’an). Sheikh
Ibrahim Mogra, an Imam in Leicester who is responsible
for Mosque and community Affairs at the Muslim Council
of Britain, and Professor Malise Ruthven, a leading
writer on Islam, explained that some texts in the
Koran appear to instruct believers to kill unbelievers.
the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay
the Pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them,
and beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in
every stratagem of war, but if they repent, and
establish regular prayers and practise regular charity,
then open the way for them.’
The problem lies
in the complexity and textual confusion of the text
known as the Koran. Every word of it cannot be taken
literally, but needs to be interpreted by scholars.
For example these hold that some apparently inflammatory
texts applied only in the circumstances of a past
era, and should not be regarded as current today.
In this the Koran
resembles the texts assembled in what we know as
the Holy Bible. Christians and Jews have to deal
with what has been called the ‘Dark Side of
the Bible’, for example God’s instructions
to Moses to kill every male of the Midianites. When
the Israelites spared the children, Moses was ruthless.
In Numbers, chapter 31, Moses says-
every male among the little ones, and kill every
woman who has known man by lying with him. But all
the young girls who have not known man by lying
with him - keep alive for yourselves.’
The Roman Catholic Church used to hold, and to some extent still does today,
that the Bible ought not to be put into the hands of lay persons because
they are likely to misunderstand its texts. These need mediating by the knowledge
only possessed by priests. The Church of England shared this view to some
extent. What was known as the Higher Criticism (German inspired) was applied
to biblical texts in the nineteenth century. The Catholic Encyclopedia says-
name higher criticism was first employed
by the German Biblical scholar Eichhorn, in the
second edition of his Einleitung, appearing
in 1787. It is not, as supposed by some, an arrogant
denomination, assuming superior wisdom, but it has
come into use because this sort of criticism deals
with the larger aspects of Bible study; viz., with
the authorship, date, composition, and authority
of whole books or large sections, as distinguished
from the discussion of textual minutiæ, which
is the sphere of the lower, or textual, criticism.’
Those who carried
out the suicide bombings in London on 7/7 appear
to have believed they were acting in accordance
with the Koran, and that they would be rewarded
in Paradise. The two Muslim clerics on Sunday told
us that they and militants like them misunderstand
the true teaching of the Koran because, like the
Bible, it can be correctly understood only by scholars
who have spent years studying the whole subject.
Even then there are doubts and arguments, as illustrated
by the fact that modern Islam has warring sects
such as the Sunnis and the Shi’ites. The latest
is the Deobandi cult. According to Salman Rushdie
(The Times 18 July 2005) the Teleban were
trained in Deobandi madrassas. He goes on to say
of the Deobandi cult: ‘It teaches the most
fundamentalist, narrow, puritan, rigid, oppressive
version of Islam that exists anywhere in the world
bombed - And this is why they did it'
While a vestige
of freedom of speech remains in Britain before the
Government forces through its religious hatred Bill,
I want to speak out about the Islamic origins of
the bomb attack on London which occurred on 7 July
2005, coinciding with the opening of the G8 Summit.
As I write on the day following that event it is
reported that 52 people were killed and 700 injured
in the attack. No doubt these figures will rise.
After the attack
the Archbishop of Canterbury spoke of ‘the
faith communities hanging together’. This
is strange coming from the head of the Christian
Church of England. If faith means anything, what
should concern him is surely that the Christian
communities hang together. Prime Minister Blair
said: ‘The vast and overwhelming majority
of Muslims here and abroad are decent and law-abiding
people who abhor these acts of terrorism every bit
as much as we do”. This may be true, but we
should recognise that it is not the whole story.
The whole story lies in the nature of the Islamic
I opened my Times
this morning to find that what I was about to write
had been said for me in an authoritative way by
Amer Taheri, an Iranian commentator on the so-called
Middle East (what happened to the Near East, familiar
when I was young?). Under the same heading I have
given this piece, he puts concisely what I have
been arguing in books, speeches and articles over
many years. I have summarised the arguments in Blog
Later - 11
July 2005 - 'Brave Muslim voices'
the Sunday Telegraph (10 July 2005) Tariq
Al-Humayd, editor of Al-Sharq Al Awsat,
a leading Arab newspaper, has attacked ordinary
Muslims in Britain for funding terrorists. He said
that collections are frequently held in Arab areas
of London for jihadi causes disguised as charities.
It is also reported that 3,000 young British Muslim
men have passed through al Qaeda training camps
in Afghanistan and elsewhere. That is not a negligible
More about this,
and the views of Amir Taheri, in Blog FBBB122.
next for Europe?'
In Comment on
the News 4 I wrote about the failure of the French
referendum on the proposed EU Constitution. In response
to this failure, coupled with the similar failure
of the Dutch referendum held shortly afterwards,
Mr Blair has sensibly suspended preparation of the
change in British law needed to enable us to hold
our promised referendum. What to do next will be
discussed at the summit of EU ministers to be held
on 16 June.
BBC have chipped in with the following announcement-
asked Conservative MP David Heathcoat Amory to
come up with an alternative text. Mr Heathcoat Amory
was a British representative on the convention on
the future of Europe, which drew up the constitution.
He opposed the final version and helped produce
a minority report outlining a different vision of
Europe. His proposed treaty - a term he prefers
to constitution - is based on that report. In the
run-up to the summit on 16 June, we’re seeking
suggestions for amendments to his treaty.
treaty provides for a Europe of Democracies (ED)
not cemented into a union but linked merely by treaty.
I approve of this idea and have commented on it
at some length in a Blog (see FBBB120).
My chief point is that Mr Heathcote Amory has forgotten
to put in one of the prime necessities of such a
treaty, a statement of the purpose of the whole
exercise. For that I am suggesting the following.
of the ED shall be to facilitate co-operation between
the member states on matters concerning trade, finance,
communications, the environment, climate change,
immigration and asylum, policing, extradition, and
such other matters as may be agreed by unanimous
vote of the member states.
2005.032 'Why say
Why did the French
vote no in the referendum on the European Union
constitutional treaty held on 29 May 2005? The answer
lies in the very first words of the very first constitutional
document, the Treaty of Rome, entered into on 25
March 1957. I will set them out in full-
The King of the Belgians, the President of the Federal
Republic of Germany, the President of the French
Republic, the President of the Italian Republic,
Her Royal Highness The Grand Duchess of Luxembourg,
Her Majesty The Queen of the Netherlands,
Determined to lay the foundations of an ever closer union among the
peoples of Europe . . .
That was almost fifty
years ago. If during half a century countries get ever
closer there may come a moment when they get
too close for comfort. For the French, co-founders
of the association which in 1991 under the Treaty
of Maastricht changed its name from the European
Community to the European Union, that moment came
Why did it all suddenly
get too much for our French cousins? There are numerous
reasons. The influx of new countries from eastern
Europe, formerly used to the strictness of Soviet
rule, worries them. Their President’s peculiar
wish to add the huge Muslim territory of Turkey
to Christian Europe alarms them. The growing industrial
power of the Asian hordes in China, India and elsewhere
threatens to take away their jobs. The advent of
a harsh wind called free trade, and another called
market forces, terrifies the farmers and industrial
workers who have been feather-bedded for so long.
They want state socialism to continue, and what
they were suddenly being offered was free enterprise.
Their country, they noticed with distaste, was being
overrun and subverted by aliens with dusky complexions
and ways that were not French.
So Marianne revolted.
What will happen now?
Mr Blair says there should be a period for reflection.
There is bound to be that, and he will supervise
it when he takes over the running of the European
Union for the second half of this year. But what
will reflection lead to?
I predict that those
words about ever closer union, so faithfully,
heedlessly and blindly obeyed through the past half
century, will be summarily removed from the treaties
and other governing instruments. Europe will not
be driven on any longer by an unrealistic spur.
It will fall back to being a true community of nation
And almost everyone
in Europe will breathe a sigh of relief.
2005.024 'Old Hat
In Comment on the
News 2, put up on the morning after the general
election, I discussed the problem arising from
the fact that Labour gained a third term with
only 36 per cent of the votes cast and slightly
under a quarter of the aggregate votes which could
have been cast, whether they were or not. What
to do? I promised to brood on this conundrum,
and perhaps come up with an answer in a later
Comment. (Or perhaps not.)
The tired answer of
the Independent newspaper has been to run a so-called
Campaign for Democracy (in fact a Campaign for Proportional
Representation or PR). The paper is asking its readers
to sign a petition to the Prime Minister reading-
I believe that
the result of this month’s election, in which
your government was elected with a 67-seat majority
on 36% of the popular vote and with the support
of 22% of the electorate, is a subversion of our
democracy. I call on you, in your final term as
Prime Minister, to institute urgent reform of our
voting system so that the British people are encouraged
to believe that their votes count and that the result
of a general election is more representative of
This involves one obvious
fallacy, that your vote does not ‘count’ unless
it is on the winning side. This shows a basic failure
to understand choice by voting. If people vote for
or against a proposition all the votes cast ‘count’ but
the majority prevail against the minority. Simple
really. To expect every vote case to ‘count’ in
the sense of being on the winning side is obviously
absurd (except to those who are blind to the obvious).
PR is old hat, and demonstrably a failure. To show
how old hat it is I will run through, in date order,
various items on it among my writings on this website.
These start in 1983 with
a letter in the Times ticking off a clergyman who
encouraged direct action by PR enthusiasts. A 1989 letter
in the Daily Telegraph exposed the way Ireland has
experienced the drawbacks of PR. Another letter in
the Times in 1998 contains
a refutation of PR by reference to an imaginary election
in Ruritania. In 1999 Mr Blair set up a five-person
Commission headed by the late Roy Jenkins to look
into PR. I reported on that in a 1999 article.
In another 1999 article
I followed this up by showing how PR had failed in
the first elections to the new Scottish Parliament
and Welsh Assembly. Finally in a 2005 Times
letter I commented on the position after the recent
The Liberal Democrat leader
Mr Charles Kennedy has hailed the arrival of a three-party system.
If you have three parties you get three different manifestos.
There is unlikely to be a majority for any one of these.
Now we are threatened with a repeat
of the Jenkins Commission, unless the ghost of Jenkins succeeds
in frightening Mr Blair off. Already he has put up the schizophrenic
Lord Falconer of Thoroton (who can’t decide whether he
is Lord Chancellor or a Secretary of State, so calls himself
both) to shoot down PR all over again and dismiss the possibility
of a referendum on the subject. The Independent reacted predictably.
On 21 May 2005 their Marie Woolf said-
Lord Falconer of Thoroton,
the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, angered politicians
when he declared yesterday that the public did not want to change
the voting system - even though he acknowledged that a poll conducted
by The Independent showed that 62 per cent of people wanted a
switch to proportional representation. His comments followed
Downing Street’s assertion that there was no appetite for
reform. ‘I don’t think there is a real groundswell
for change,’ he said on Radio 4’s Today programme. ‘We
don’t, as a government, support the idea of a referendum.’
The Green Party chimed in with ‘first-past-the-post
is archaic and anti-democratic’. Just shows how much they
2005.021 'Hard Thinking Needed'
So Labour wins a third term with
only 36 per cent of the votes cast, not to mention the votes
that for one reason or another were not cast. Only about a quarter
of the electorate voted for them, yet they continue in power.
Surely something wrong? But just what is wrong? That is not easy
It doesn’t happen in elections
for the Scottish Parliament. There, they have a system of proportional
representation. Out of a total of 129 MSPs, fifty Labour MSP’s
have joined with seventeen Liberal Democrat SMPs to form a coalition
government. Would it be better if we adopted that system?
I don’t think so. There are
grave disadvantages to coalition government, which is inseparable
from proportional representation.. No elector gets the manifesto
he or she voted for. Deals over policy are done in air-conditioned
rooms (they used to be smoke-filled).
So what is the answer? I am writing
this at 9 am on the morning after the British general election,
after staying up till 2.30 last night to watch the results (when
I might have been satisfied with the exit poll, which was spot
on). I will brood on this conundrum, and perhaps come up with
an answer in a later comment.
Meanwhile yet another cup of coffee
is called for.
2005.019 'The Future of the
Human Rights Acts'
Why has there been no general election coverage about the future
of the Human Rights Act? In advertisements published on 20 March
2005, Michael Howard said that the Conservative Party ‘is
reviewing the Human Rights Act, and if it can’t be improved
we will scrap it’. Yet on 30 March the Times reported that
the Shadow Attorney General Dominic Grieve MP had expressed support
for the Act while sharing a platform with Labour and Liberal
Mr Grieve is reported as saying ‘I don’t think the
Human Rights Act has anything to do with fuelling a compensation
culture’. That is not the opinion of Mr Justice Peter Smith,
who said in a 2004 judgment that for a claimant to argue that
his human rights have been infringed ‘is becoming a catch-all’:
(Hanoman v Southwark London Borough Council  EWHC
2039 (Ch) at ).
In a speech to Scottish Conservatives last March Mr Howard said
a Conservative election victory would liberate the country. ‘There
will be a clear choice for people at the election: a Conservative
Government that will roll back the tide of political correctness,
and stand up for people who want more respect and a return common
sense to government; or Mr Blair who gave us the Human Rights
Act, who has let the rights culture rip and who has let political
correctness run riot.’
Where is this clear choice? Which of the disparate views given
above represents the policy of the party? One looks in vain for
the answer in the Conservative election manifesto, which includes
just the following paragraph on the topic-
Local communities will have
a greater say over planning decisions. We will also give new
powers to help local councils to deal with those incidents, such
as illegal traveller encampments, which breach planning laws.
Together with clear guidance for police and our review of the
Human Rights Act, this will ensure fairness for all, rather than
special rules for different groups.
Are you thinking what I’m thinking?