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Comments on the News 1

 

8 Aug 2005

8

2005.0048 'Is Democracy Islamic?'

 

‘ 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 them.

 

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 is forbidden.’

 

That confirms Gardner’s theory.

 

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.

 

8 Jul 2005

7

2005.0043 'Blame the Koran'

 

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. For example-

 

‘But when 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-

 

‘Kill 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-

 

‘The 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 today.’

8 Jul 2005

6

2005.0040 'London 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 faith.

 

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 FBBB121

 

Later - 11 July 2005 - 'Brave Muslim voices'

 

According to 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 number.

 

More about this, and the views of Amir Taheri, in Blog FBBB122.

 

9 June 2005

5

2005.036 'What 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.

 

Meanwhile the BBC have chipped in with the following announcement-

 

We’ve 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.

 

The so-called 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.

 

The purpose 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.

 

1 June 2005

4

2005.032 'Why say no?'

 

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-

 

His Majesty 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 last Sunday.

 

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 states.

 

And almost everyone in Europe will breathe a sigh of relief.

 

23 May 2005

3

2005.024 'Old Hat PR'

 

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 their wishes.

 

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 general election-

 

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 know.

----------------------------------------

6 May 2005

2

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 to identify.

 

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.

----------------------------------------

29 April 2005

1

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 Democrat leaders.

 

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 [2004] EWHC 2039 (Ch) at [59]).

 

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?