Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

Culture and the Death of God. Terry Eagleton. An Atheist and Secular Critique.

with 2 comments

Review Article. Culture and the Death of God. Terry Eagleton. Yale University Press. 2014.

Xll

And who or what shall fill his place?

Wither will wanderers turn distracted eyes

For some fixed star to simulate their pace

Towards the goal of their enterprise?…

Xlll

Some in the background then I saw

Sweet women, men, youths, all incredulous

Who chimed, ‘This is a counterfeit of straw

This requiem mockery! Still he lives to us!

XlV

I could not buoy their faith: and yet

Many I had known: with all I sympathised;

And though struck speechless I did not forget

That what was mourned for, I, too, long had prized.

God’s Funeral. Thomas Hardy. (1)

Terry Eagleton introduces Culture and the Death of God by announcing, “This book is less about God than about the crisis occasioned by his apparent disappearance.” He continues, “I start by showing how God survived the rationalism of the eighteenth century, and conclude with his dramatic reappearance in our own supposedly faithless age.” (Page iix) Determined, it appears, to wrong foot one of his most cutting critics, Gregor McLennan, that his ‘theological turn’ simply sets one “static slogan, (God is back) against another (God is dead)” Eagleton turns to cultural and intellectual history (2). That is, a would-be dynamic account, “The history of the modern age is among other things the search for a viceroy for God, reason, nature, Geist, culture, art, the sublime, the nation, the state, science, humanity, Being, Society, the Other, desire, the life force and personal relations: all of these have acted form time to time as forms of displaced divinity.”(Page 44)

Culture and the Death of God is not, then an account of the wider social and individual fortunes of atheism or secularism. The “lived experience” explored by Charles Taylor, the web of changing attitudes in the “move from a society where belief in God is unchallenged and indeed unproblematic, to one in which it is understood as one option among others…” is dismissed (like – initially – Taylor himself) to a footnote. (3) Yet Eagleton is not shy of referring to the loss of “fundamental value” “moral rationales” (some of the deepest parts of feeling) – once offered by religion – in “underlying political power”.

Eagleton’s latest work is not a “sociological” history of faith and secularism at all. It is the story of the, long in coming, installation of “authentic atheism”, resting on the faithless ‘marketplace’ where the Economy is “rank atheist.” Eagleton tries to associate the ‘New Atheism’ with the ‘War on Terror’. The “alarmed liberal intelligentsia” clutching at “Reason, truth, science, progress and objectivity…” in the shape of Sam Harris, might suggest a very literal End of Faith to halt religious violence. That is by a pre-emptive nuclear strike against terrorism. (Page 202)

The Enlightenment.

Culture and the Death of God offers a rapid overview of the Enlightenment. It is informed by a number of secondary works, such as Peter Gay’s classic account of the battles for “freedom”, and its synthesis of the Christian and Pagan heritage, and by Jonathan I. Israel’s more recent studies. The latter distinguished a ‘Radical Enlightenment,” of figures like Spinoza, Bayle. Diderot, based on “toleration, personal freedom, democracy, equality racial and sexual, freedom of expression, sexual emancipation and the universal right to knowledge and a ‘Moderate’ version – Locke, Newton, Hume, Voltaire, Montesquieu, Turgot and Kant, to throw in a few names. Israel commented, “the difference between reason alone and reason combined with faith and tradition..”

Israel traced modern ideas of “personal liberty, comprehensive toleration, equality, sexual and racial and a secular morality of equity” back to this radical strain (5). Eagleton is more interested in its stand on religion. Many, the majority, classed as Auflkärer (the German word he frequently employs) were deists, who had no beef with God, only with Revealed and, institutional religion. “It was religion in this institutional sense that most of the philosphes took as their target.”(Page 7) Indeed, even the most radical sceptics and atheists were frightened of a godless, and ‘thus’ potentially immoral, populace. “The Enlightenment’s assault on religion, then, at root a political rather than theological affair.”(Page 12)

In fact Enlightenment thinkers were not really capable of killing off God even if they had wanted to. The claims of Reason – even, one assumes, Hume’s extreme scepticism ‘Pyrrhonism’ – were curbed, and their overweening ambitions, bootless. “When human reasoning becomes autonomous, it approaches divine status; but a rationalised world is also one in which its presence gradually dwindles, so that he grows remote from rationality and becomes accessible only through faith and feeling. In this sense the other face of rationalism is fideism.”(Page 34)

The French Revolution’s brief radical Dechristianisation, never struck a popular chord. The idea that “patriotism should be the new faith, the Declaration of the Rights of Man its Apostles” did not last long. The Culte de l’Être suprême that followed struck no roots, although the Constitutional Church had some support.  Eagleton does appear close to one of Robespierre thoughts that, “Atheism is aristocratic. The conception of a great being who watches over oppressed innocence and punishes successful crime, is democratic through and through.” Nevertheless, he observes, the  ‘bloodless Supreme Being” could not, nevertheless take the place of the real, and bloodied, thing. (6)

Culture and the Death of God then takes us through a whole series of thinkers – remote from popular culture. The German Idealists tried to repair any split between reason and nature, the romantics went further and reinvented God as nature of culture, incarnate in Nationalism, and by the 20th century (modernist) Culture itself (post-Matthew Arnold) had risen to the empty throne, as the new vice-regent of God. As (falsely) in Eagleton’s eyes, as a source of social cohesion, the “corporate sense of culture” of ultimate value, and transcendence, all have stumbled along, ‘surrogates’ for the divine.

It is hard to take seriously Eagleton’s claim that “None of (these) divine deputies are “graven images of the godhead.” They are “phenomena in their own right, not simply a locum tenas or camouflaged version of something else.” But nearly every page of Culture and the Death of God traces religion in “textual styles of thought, which then unwittingly help to keep divinity alive in a more clandestine way.”(Page 45) So if many ideas do not simply stand in for God, if we look beneath the disguise – from the appearance to the ‘essence’ – we will find some divine contraband.

To cite just two cases. Nietzsche’s views on the ‘death of Man’, to pair with the ‘death of God’ are the condition for the birth of New Humanity. For Eagleton this is “orthodox Christian doctrine” – regardless of his notorious loathing on Christianity. (Page 159) Eagleton also asserts that Marx was “deeply informed by Judeo-Christian thought. It is not here, then, that an authentic atheism is to be found.”(Page 161) And “humanity for Marx is not a self-determining absolute, and so cannot scramble on to the empty throne of its Creator. If Marx is more religious than Nietzsche in some ways, he is less so in others.” (Ibid). In this – shabby – way at least one of the two most notorious atheists in history comes close to a posthumous conversion.

A Theology?

A commonplace – irritating – of some of the faithful is that people cannot really disbelieve in god. To try to do so is to end up with ersatz religion. Culture and the Death of God is not short in finding proof that we cannot do without ‘something’ to fill what Ferdinand Mount has called “an enormous empty space in people’s lives” created by the “the eclipse of a single God-centred explanation.” (7) Perhaps one of the most scathing criticisms of these “substitutes” is of George Elliot’s devotion to Duty. A.N. Wilson has cited F.W.H. Myers’ that most beautiful and humane of Ethical novelists, “I seemed to be gazing, like Titus at Jerusalem, on vacant seats and empty halls – on a sanctuary with no presence to hallow it, and heaven left lonely of a God.” (8)

In these, and countless ways, Eagleton tries to demonstrate that  ‘God’ never really died in Western culture – his shadow loomed too large.

Before looking at what Eagleton considers authentic atheism – which does not mourn these sanctuaries – what exactly is his God centred explanation? In a sense only one part of the Godhead plays a role: Christ. Christian faith, he wrote in Reason, Faith and Revolution (2009) is not primarily about whether “there exists a Supreme Being” but “the kind of commitment made manifest by a human being at the end of his tether foundering in darkness, pain, and bewilderment, who nevertheless remains faithful to the promise of a transformative love.” (9)

This is what is presented to us, “The crucifixion proclaims that the truth of human history is a tortured political criminal. It is a message profoundly unacceptable to those sunk in dewy-eyed delusion (idealists, progressives, liberals, reformers, Yea-Sayers, modernisers, socialist humanists though one which as perfectly understood by a Jew like Walter Benjamin. Only if you can gaze on this frightful image without being turned to stone, accepting it was absolutely the last word is there a slim chance that it might not be. This chance is known to the Christian faith as resurrection. To acknowledge this thing of darkness as one’s own discerning in this monstrous image a reflection of oneself and one’s historical condition, is the revolutionary act which the Gospels know as metanoia, of conversion.”(10) Repentance, acceptance of this Revealed Truth, is a commitment to the future, not a submission to the past.

This, then, is the root of a “tragic sense” of religion, “Those who hold suffering and hope most finely in balance – the true tragic protagonists, so to speak – are those who rise up because they have little enough to lose, yet for that reason have the power to transform their condition.” One might call this Faith, a leap into the world itself, through divine grace. (11)

In Culture and the Death of God we learn of the social message contained within. The New Testament “shows no enthusiasm for social consensus. Since it holds that such values are imminently to pass away, it is not greatly taken with standards of civic excellence or codes of good conduct. What it adds to common-or-garden morality is not some supernatural support, but the grossly inconvenient news that out forms of life must undergo radical dissolution if they are to be reborn as just and compassionate communities. The sign of that dissolution is solidarity with the poor and powerless. It is here that a new configuration of faith, culture and politics might be born.” (Page 208)

These images of suffering, of the crucifixion, the Passion of the Christ, or the Mel Gibson portrait of the Stations of the Cross, faced with the imminence of the passing of the world, are unlikely to appeal to many a Doubting Thomas. Creating something from what we do not see, on the basis of one writer’s Christology, beyond the range of possible experience (and with little sign of the gentle warmth and kindness of the Redeemer), and putting this at the heart of faith itself, is the purest and most virulent irrationalism. How this will end in “compassionate communities “is a mystery too deep to grasp. One suspects that not many theologians, who have their own rooted human rationality, would follow Eagleton, for all of those twentieth century writers who have made the “scandal” of the crucifixion at the centre of their thought.

Capitalism, Secularism and Fundamentalism.

“Whenever the Almighty seems safely dispatched, he is always liable to stage a reappearance in one disguise or another.”(Page 119)

The economy, for Eagleton, we have noted, is “atheist”. Culture and the Death of God explains, “The faithlessness of advanced capitalism is built into its routine practices. It is not primarily a question of the piety of scepticism of its citizens. The marketplace would continue to behave atheistically even if every one of its actors was a born-again Evangelical.”(Page 196) The coming of Postmodernism – a self no longer coherent enough to need to project itself as God onto the world, has bolstered its faithless character. There is “no Big Other, no grand totality or transcendental signifier.”(Page 190)  It is only now that the whole of Western society is undergoing the real harrowing of atheism.

Yet, “No sooner has a thoroughly atheistic culture arrived on the scene, one which was no longer anxiously in pursuit of that place-holder for God, than the deity himself was suddenly back on the agenda with a vengeance.”(Page 197) A vast list of causes, from the West’s international interventions, globalised capitalism, to social anxiety, anomie and powerlessness, has created a new surge in religion. “Western capitalism, in short, has managed to help spawn not only secularism, but also fundamentalism”. The latter, in its multiple forms, has appeared “as a refuge an a strength for those who feel crushed by its own predatory politics.”(Page 198) “The Almighty, it appears, was not safely nailed down in its coffin after all, He had simply changed address, migrating to the US Bible Belt, the Evangelical churches of Latin America and the slums of the Arab world. And his fan club is steadily increasing.”(Page 199) As a result we have a new ‘grand narrative, “the so-called war on terror.”

Is ‘secularism’ the “spawn” of capitalism? In Inventing the Individual. The Origins of Western Liberalism (2014) Larry Siedentop has argued that its liberal roots, the ‘privatisation’ of individual judgement, lie in Christianity and the importance it places on the individual, not the group, the family, the tribe or the nation. From the grace of faith, to freedom of choice to believe or not, the journey Charles Taylor describes, was not smooth. Secular states – that is not dominated by religious authorities with freedom of belief for all – are the result of a long European ‘civil war’, to establish these freedoms. The left, in the broadest sense of the term, has shouldered much of this struggle. Many believers, particularly from religious minorities, have joined. The fight was not borne forward by those uniquely dedicated to Truth of the Event of the Crucifixion but by those with more modest horizons, the love of their fellows, those dedicated to tolerance and liberty.

That there are those opposed to this ideal, ‘fundamentalists’ is all too clear. The problems they cause, above all from political Islam, are with us now. Eagleton wrote in On Evil “Had the West acted differently in its treatment of certain Muslim nations, it might have escaped at least some of the aggression that is now seeing visited upon it.”(12) But is less than obvious that extremist Islamism would have been killed in the egg, if ‘justice’ to their calls – that is, their demands for a theocracy – a Caliphate – had ever been met. The killers in Pakistan are those whose “radical innovation consist of bringing chaos into being, thus putting creation into reverse. By blowing a black hole in what God has fashioned, he tries to catapult himself into equal terms with him.” (13) What possible ‘justice’ could slake their murderous “death drive”?

Culture and the Death of God is stitched together from a patchwork of intellectual texts. It folds up when it’s placed over the real, the mundane real not the Lacanian Real. It is Eurocentric. The ‘war on terror’ is a thin enough doctrine, but it covers something much deeper. As Fred Halliday pointed out (in 2002), there is an “enormous, long and very violent clash within the Muslim world between those who want to reform and secularise and those who power is threatened or who want to take power in the name of fundamentalism.” (14) Comments about the decentred self of Western capitalism and a “new form of Western cultural supremacism” are, frankly, trivial in comparison with the depth of these clashes. (Page 202)

A Marxist stand, a democratic socialist position, would be to side with the secular intelligentsia, defending religious pluralism, and the working class against the pious Islamist bourgeoisie and the genociders of the Caliphate and Al-Qaeda. But I leave that, vast, issue, hanging.

Eagleton never bothers to distinguish between agnosticism – hard (it is impossible to know that god exists or not), or soft (there is no reason to believe or not to believe in god) – and atheism – god does not exist. Many people who hold to these views simply do not feel the need for religion, have no “religious experience” and have no more divine gaps in their lives than they have a Third Eye. Believers are right to smart at ‘New Atheist’ charges that they are “are thick and/or uneducated “(Ferdinand Mount). There is a great deal of kindness carried out by religious people and we should glory in these acts. To be told that our ideas are either ‘really’ religious and/or Western examples of Western ‘supremicism’ is equally condescending. And we observe that Eagleton’s particular New Left Church stands, on the evidence, with few followers and empty of newly converted sceptics

References.

(1) Cited in God’s Funeral. A.N. Wilson. John Murray. 1999. This is a much more humane and intelligible account of the loss of faith, and the ‘bereavement ’ felt by Victorians at this, than Eagleton’s lofty pamphlet.

(2) Mr Love and Justice. Gregor McLennan. New Left Review Second Series. 64. 2010.

(3) Page 3. A Secular Age. Charles Taylor. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. 2007.

(4). The Enlightenment: An Interpretation. Vol. 1. The Rise of Modern Paganism. Vol. 2. The Science of Freedom. Peter Gay. W.W.Norton. 1977 (1966). Page 4 Enlightenment Contested. Philosophy, Modernity, and the Emancipation of Man 1670 – 1752. Jonathan I. Israel. Oxford University Press. 2006

(5) Page 869. Jonathan I. Israel op cit.

(6) Page 266. Fatal Purity. Robespierre and the French Revolution. Ruth Scurr.Chatto and Windus. 2006. See also Religion and Revolution in France. 1780 – 1804. Nigel Aston. Macmillan. 2000. For Aston Robespierre and the Jacobins’ Supreme Being did have supporters but for the majority, worshiping this deity was “like taking an ice-maiden for bedfellow…”(Page 274)

(7) Page 215. Full Circle. How the Classical World Came Back to us. Ferdinand Mount. Simon & Shuster. 2010.

(8) Pages 151 to 152. A.N. Wilson. Op cit.

(9) Page 37. Reason, Faith and Revolution. Reflections on the God Debate. Terry Eagleton. Yale University Press. 2009.

(10) Pages xxvii – xxviii. Terry Eagleton Presents Jesus Christ. The Gospels. Verso 2007.

(11) Page 272. The Trouble with Strangers. Terry Eagleton. Wiley-Blackwell. 2009.

(12) Pages 157 – 8 On Evil. Terry Eagleton. Yale University Press. 2010.

(13) Page 97 Holy Terror. Terry Eagleton. Oxford 2005.

(14). Page 46. Two Hours that Shook the World. Fred Halliday, Saqi Books. 2002

See also: Eagleton, Terry (19 October 2006). “Lunging, Flailing, Mispunching. London Review of Books.

Written by Andrew Coates

December 19, 2014 at 12:56 pm

Isis Beheads Four Children for Refusing to Convert to Islam.

with 14 comments

ISIS Behead Four Children in Iraq - File Photo

ISIS Behead Four Children in Iraq – File Photo

British ‘Vicar of Baghdad’ claims Isis beheaded four children for refusing to convert to Islam

Isis have beheaded four Christian children in Iraq for refusing to convert to Islam, a British vicar based in the country has claimed.

Canon Andrew White, who is known as the ‘vicar of Baghdad’,told Orthodox Christian Network that the killings happened in a Christian enclave close to Baghdad which has been taken over by Isis (formerly known as Islamic State).

He spoke of how Isis has “hounded” the Christians out of Iraq, and how “they killed in huge numbers, they chopped their children in half, they chopped their heads off, and they moved north and it was so terrible what happened”.

He told the network that militants “came to one of our people the other day, one of the Christians”.

“They said to one man, an adult, ‘Either you say the words of conversion to Islam or we kill all your children’.

“He was desperate, he said the words. And then he phoned me, and said, ‘Abouna [Father], I said the words, does that mean that Yeshua doesn’t’ love me anymore?’ I said, ‘Yeshua still loves you, he will always love you”.

Canon White claimed that the children who were beheaded had refused to “follow Mohammed”.

“Isis turned up and said to the children, ‘You say the words that you will follow Mohammed’.”

“The children, all under 15, four of them, said no, we love Yeshua, we have always loved we have always followed Yeshua, Yeshua has always been with us.

“They said: ‘Say the words.’ They said ‘No, we can’t.’ They chopped all their heads off. How do you respond to that? You just cry.”

Canon White said that Isis were threatening to kill him, and that he is now living in Israel, following orders from the Archbishop of Canterbury to leave Iraq. He said that most of his staff are still in the north of Iraq trying to look after displaced Christians.

Independent.

Hat-Tip Lamina.

 

Before Being Killed, Children Told ISIS: ‘No, We Love Jesus’

0 replies215 retweets103 favorites

Reply
Retweet215
Favorite103

Canon Andrew Wright (Blog)  is amongst the most beloved of all progressive humanity.

Those clamouring for an amnesty for those who joined the genociders should consider acts like these.

Written by Andrew Coates

December 9, 2014 at 5:11 pm

Returning Jihadists should be employed as “spokesman for their communities”.

with 7 comments

Our Beloved Comrades the Jihadists are out to Murder. 

“Rather than banning fighters from coming home, governments should consider employing them as spokespeople in their home communities.”

Hat-tip DM.

No this does not from the Guardian Comment is Free or from those see some elements of ‘progressive’ politics in the battle for the ‘Caliphate’.

It’s by “Josh Cohen …a former US State Department project officer. He currently works for a satellite technology company, contributes to a number of foreign policy-focused media outlets and tweets @jkc_in_dc. “

And it appears on Now.

It must rank, and it certainly ranks, as the most willfully vile suggestion that’s floating around.

Those most susceptible to recruitment into violent extremism frequently feel excluded by society.

We make a sharp distinction between attitudes and actions. All attitudes must be dissected and debated. This is the lifeblood of a democracy.”

One obvious question, then, is where the West’s Syrian jihadists — and would-be jihadists — land if prevented from returning home. Stateless and now rejected by their home countries, many will likely wind up in tertiary countries such as Yemen or Libya, where they are much more likely to come into contact with groups such as Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) or Ansar al-Shariah, and in turn potentially become part of a core of angry, “professional” jihadists dedicated to bringing destruction to Europe and the West.

Another important fact to consider is that many Westerners who have joined ISIS in Syria have become disillusioned with the organization upon discovering its brutality towards its fellow Muslims — not to mention the fact that jihad is not quite so glamorous when you are pulling washing duty and your iPod doesn’t work. One example of this phenomenon is the 30 British citizens with ISIS who have expressed a desire to return home but are stuck in limbo due to fears of long prison sentences when they arrive back in the UK. Rather than banning them from coming home, the UK government should consider employing them as spokespeople in their home communities as the perfect antidote to the tremendously effective social media recruitment campaigns with which ISIS targets young Western Muslims.

Finally, stripping returning jihadists of their citizenship may actually violate the UN Convention on Reducing Statelessness, as well as international human rights law. Referring to the UK’s revocation of citizenship, Dr. Christophe Paulussen, of the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism at the Hague, noted that “it becomes dangerous when measures are slowly eroding [international] law principles that we have cherished for so long and that we stand for.”

In Denmark, by contrast,

the municipality of Aarhus has implemented a unique program that focuses on inclusion rather than punishment.

And while implementing a de-radicalisation programme in the country,

…not all radicalization can be prevented, so Aarhus has also established a comprehensive reintegration and de-radicalization program for those returning from Syria. “The program’s core is that we have one entry point to help, but that help can have very different characteristics depending on the individual situation. It can be debriefing or psychological help; it may be in the form of a mentor, assistance with housing or something else. The program is rooted in the police, but includes many different disciplines,” Agerschou noted.

While some believe the Aarhus program is too soft, so far it is working. In 2013, 30 people travelled from Aarhus to Syria to participate in the conflict. As of August, however, only one person had been recorded travelling from Aarhus to Syria in 2014. Aarhus is also working with numerous returnees, most of whom are now engaged in work or education rather than the conflict in Syria. Word of Aarhus’ focus on rehabilitation and dialogue has spread in Syria, impelling many Danish Muslims — most of whom have also become disillusioned with jihad — to seek a way to return to Denmark and leave the jihadi life behind.

While there is no single anecdote for homegrown jihadism, Aarhus offers a model that Western governments would be wise to at least consider.

 In our view those fighting with the genociders of Da’esh (Isis) and Al Nusra (also guilty of persecution, torture and mass murder) and should be investigated for war crimes.

They should indeed be excluded from society.

Written by Andrew Coates

December 8, 2014 at 1:52 pm

Kobane: a fight for Democracy (L’Humanité).

leave a comment »

Photo : Frédéric Lafargue

In their Hour of Need Progressive Humanity is with the Kurdish People.

Editorial of l’Humanité Jean-Paul Piérot. 1st December. (Extracts)

The latest news…

“Self-defence groups of men and women, lacking arms and munitions, continue their battle. They are engaged in a fight, against all odds, and with heroism, to drive out, house by house, the terrorist forces. The town of Kobane has become a symbol of popular resistance against obscurantist barbarism.”

…….

“The Town has held out – its defenders have forced the aggressors to abandon their positions – courage and solidarity have changed the course of events. Victory is not assured, there remains a degree of anti-Kurdish complicity between Erdogan (Turkish President) and Isis which could still permit dangerous developments.The Turkish government is strongly suspected of having let a Isis commando attack a Syrian border post. In these decisive hours, the Kurdish people, who have lived for years under a repressive dictatorship, and who today oppose this criminal “caliphate”, are fighting for democracy –  a value all too rare in this region of the world.

The French Communist daily, l’Humanité,  has a special reporter on the ground, Pierre Barbancey.

This week the dispatches from this comrade, from Kobane itself, are essential reading.

They merit the attention of the whole world.

Kobané : des combats rue par rue, maison par maison

Written by Andrew Coates

December 3, 2014 at 1:12 pm

New Trojan Horse Scandal as school accused over allowing Islamist influence.

with 3 comments

Three words that go together, though not apparently in some UK schools. 

Top London CofE school ‘failed to safeguard pupils from Islamic extremism’.

The BBC states,

A Church of England school previously graded outstanding is expected to be put into special measures over concerns about a sixth-form Islamic society.

Sir John Cass Foundation and Redcoat school, in Stepney, east London, is believed to have failed for not safeguarding and monitoring pupils.

It is believed the society’s Facebook page had links to a radical preacher.

Ofsted has carried out a series of unannounced inspections in Tower Hamlets.

The education watchdog will publish reports on seven schools in the borough on Friday, which is expected to include a numbe

Exclusive: Playground segregation and failure to protect against radicalisation blamed.

One of the country’s most successful inner-city state schools is to be failed by inspectors for neglecting to safeguard its pupils from extremism in an echo of the Birmingham “Trojan Horse” affair.

Sir John Cass’s Foundation and Red Coat Church of England school in Tower Hamlets, east London, will be placed in special measures by the education standards watchdog Ofsted for failing to monitor the activities of an Islamic society set up by sixth-formers at the school.

In particular, a Facebook site set up by the society contained links to hard-line Islamist preachers – a move which could have made pupils vulnerable to radicalisation. The society also set up its own YouTube channel which was not monitored.

The Guardian states,

Ofsted found that sixth formers at Sir John Cass secondary school in Stepney had posted links to Islamist extremist material via a Facebook page claiming to be associated with the school, and that the school’s leadership had failed to act appropriately after being informed.

Then there is this,

SJC ISOC Facebook

And this,

SJC ISOC EVENT

Now there is the claim that this is not extremist Islamism but, well just Islamism.

Hummm

It is worth pointing out that having religious schools in the first place is a breach of the principles of equality and freedom backed by secularists.

Written by Andrew Coates

November 20, 2014 at 12:42 pm

Back the FBU Statement in Support of the Kurds and Why We Don’t Back ‘Labour Solidarity with the Kurds’.

with 2 comments

Defend the Kurds: But How? 

In response to the attack by Isis on Kobane one the most respected trade unions in Britain, the Fire Brigades Union, issued the following appeal a few days ago.

The FBU Executive Council is appalled by the ongoing siege of the predominantly Kurdish town of Kobane in northern Syria by ISIS forces.

The Executive Council notes:

  • The ISIS attack on Kobane and resistance of Kurdish and other local forces.
  • The role of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE (all UK/US allies) in building, assisting and encouraging the growth of ISIS.
  • The particular role of the Turkish government in allowing money, arms and fighters across the border to build support for ISIS.
  • The role of Turkey at various times in obstructing the flight of Kurdish and other refugees and in blocking any support for predominantly Kurdish defenders of Kobane, thereby increasing the power and influence of ISIS and likelihood of collapse of opposition to it.

As the union of firefighting humanitarian professionals, we believe it is right to warn of the prospects of a massacre and to demand that governments (including the UK government) act to prevent atrocities. As professionals who have to deal with international humanitarian disasters as well as the effects of terrorism on our own doorstep, we cannot passively fold our arms and do nothing in the face of a likely massacre.

We send our message of solidarity to the workers’ organisations in Turkey, Iran and Iraq, including the Kurdish workers’ organisations. We believe these are the progressive forces that can oppose oppressive governments and reactionary and sectarian forces of all types, and can best guarantee workers’ rights and ensure democratic relations between the peoples of the region.

We support the right of Kurdish people across the Middle East to self-determination, including their right to defend themselves against attack from ISIS.

We oppose the horrific brutality of ISIS and its sectarian and murderous behaviour towards peoples of the region.

We condemn the Turkish government’s comments equating Kurdish fighters (including the defenders of Kobane) with ISIS.

We have no confidence in a US/UK/French bombing campaign against ISIS, based on the bitter experience of such efforts in the last decade and on the appalling role played by the Turkish government and other key western allies in the region.

We demand that:

  • The Turkish government lifts border obstructions to refugees.
  • The Turkish government allows relief efforts, including by opening a relief corridor to the Kurds and other forces defending Kobane.

We call for the TUC to raise these matters urgently, including with the Turkish embassy, the UK government and with trade unions in Europe and elsewhere. We call for international trade union solidarity and support for the defenders of Kobane.

Best wishes.

Yours fraternally

Matt Wrack
General Secretary

This appeal was also issued last Saturday,

WE SAY NEVER AGAIN

Labour Solidarity with Kurds.

“And all of those who’ve been the victims of genocide and crimes against humanity. We honour their memory, we remember their persecution and their suffering and we say never again”

Ed Miliband, Leader of the Labour Party, Holocaust Memorial, January 2014

An open letter to the Labour Movement

We, non-Kurdish members of the British Labour Party and Trade Unions, are calling for an urgent and significant increase in the support from Britain and other countries to the people defending the world against the onslaught of the so-called Islamic State (ISIS). The Kurds of Kobani, Rojava and the Kurdistan Region, including Yezidis, Christians and other minorities, are on the front line of a global battle against the vilest fascism of our age. We must help them, we must call on the world to help them, and this help must be given by whatever means necessary. The Labour movement is an internationalist movement which understands deeply the plight of those who suffer at under tyranny. We must now stand united in our efforts to secure changes to current UK government policy in this conflict.

The images of grandmothers and grandfathers fighting, and often dying, alongside their younger families is something almost impossible for us in Britain to comprehend. The tales of beheadings, the abandoned dead bodies of women with their breasts cut off, men with their eyes gouged out, sex slavery, genocides and mass executions, and reports of the burning skin of possible acid attacks are too horrific for the British Left to give a half hearted response, or worse.

These atrocities are real, they are happening right now, and those suffering them are real too. They are real women, real men, and real children. They are workers and trade unionists, they are nurses, doctors, teachers and other public servants. They are farmers, electricians, chefs, politicians, and they are fathers and mothers, sons and daughters. They are the same as us, they are our international sisters and brothers and they desperately need, and profoundly deserve, our support.

We pay huge respect to those who have fought and continue to fight so courageously against ISIS. The role of Kurdish women fighters and leaders has been widely reported and had added a further poignancy to a battle which, if lost, would be a victory for an ideology which degrades, silences and enslaves women as a matter of principle. Many of the women on the front line are mothers. They are fighting for the lives and futures of their sons and their daughters. We must help them.

We in Britain are privileged to live in a peaceful, liberal, secular and democratic society, and we must never forgot that such a society had to be fought for, won and defended. It did not happen through some passive progressive evolution, but was won and preserved through progressive politics, through agitation, and most recently through war against Nazism. Now, a powerful horror is being unleashed into the world by ISIS, who believe they are carrying out divine work. They will not give up, they will not stop. They have to be taken on, and defeated, and this has to be done intellectually, spiritually, and practically. The Labour Party does not turn away from those in need. We help. And we must do so with great urgency now.

Each year politicians say “never again” as they lay their wreaths of Remembrance and at events marking the Holocaust. “Never Again” is a commitment to the men and women who fought and died in these wars that their sacrifices will be honoured and defended, through words and deeds. This surely means doing everything and anything necessary to help stop these atrocities now. To turn away from those in need at this moment would be an historically unforgivable act of abandonment to the past, the present and the future.

We on the Left have an historic responsibility to turn powerful statements about solidarity into concrete action and to give our full support to the Kurds at this moment of their greatest need. We therefore implore the entire Labour movement, the Leadership of the Labour Party and the Trade Unions and our fellow members to use our collective influence to seek and support the following:

  • The Kurds of Rojava in Syria and of the Kurdistan Region in Iraq are asking for solidarity against ISIS, which is active in both Iraq and Syria and between which there is no longer any border. We are asking that you support the use of British jets in air strikes against ISIS in both countries and urge the British government to change their position on British airstrikes against ISIS in Syria.
  • British government to send increased aid and arms, including heavy weapons, to the Kurdish forces fighting ISIS in Kobani, and in the Kurdistan Region.
  • A recognition within the Labour Movement that the Kurds and the Iraqis will play the most decisive role in ground operations to defend their homelands. They are not currently asking for the assistance of British and other western ground troops but a global fight of this kind cannot rule this out in the future.
  • To recognise that there may be future incarnations of ISIS and that this needs to be tackled by a mixture of political, economic and other measures to help increase tolerance, pluralism, and women’s rights to reduce and prevent the radicalisation of young people in the Middle East and more widely.
  • To urge Turkey to recognise the Kurds as allies in the fight against ISIS.
  • To recognise that ISIS barbarism has resulted in the flight of over a million refugees from Syria and internally displaced people from Arab Iraq into temporary sanctuary in the Kurdistan Region. The strain of this humanitarian crisis is enormous and the cold winter will mean many needless deaths unless the international community and Baghdad provide much needed support to the communities on the front line.
  • To call upon the Iraqi Government in Baghdad to end the economic blockade against the Kurdistan Region in Iraq.

People are dying every day at the hands of ISIS. They are being enslaved, raped, tortured, mutilated and brutalised and there is no end in sight. Our Labour Party and Labour movement has a duty to do justice to the anti-fascist, internationalist, courageous history of the Left and to do what is so needed now.

Yours in solidarity,

In  reporting on this appeal the Kurdish News Agency site Rudaw added this,

Nick Cohen, a prominent British left-leaning columnist who nevertheless regularly castigates the left for its compromises with Islamic fundamentalism, welcomed what he called “a glimmer of light can pass for a dawn.”Commenting on the open letter in The Spectator magazine, he wrote: “Today’s intervention by the Labour friends of the Kurds is a sign that there is not one ‘left’ but many lefts, and not everyone goes along with the  compromises of the past decade. Call me a trusting fool but perhaps, too, it is a sign that left-wing politics is becoming a little less seedy.”

Are the two appeals different?

Yes and in very important ways.

This is hard to say, and even harder to write, but there are fundamentally distinct objectives in the underlying  approaches.

Nick Cohen in the Spectator  draws out the implications of the Appeal.

Their proposals are both essential and sensible. They want the RAF to join allied air strikes against ISIS in Syria as well as Iraq; and for Labour to call on the British government to send to send increased aid and arms, including heavy weapons, to the Kurdish forces fighting ISIS in Kobani, and across Kurdistan.  Both are  desperately needed – Iraqi Kurdistan alone must cope with one million refugees and a well-armed force of clerical fascists, which could return to slaughter Kurds at any moment.

The MPs, party activists and trade unionists are too tactful to mention that an alliance between the Labour leadership and Tory right (not quite a Hitler-Stalin pact, but in the same territory) stopped British action against Assad, Cameron dare not allow the RAF to deliver the support to the Syrian Kurds they want for fear that left and right will combine again and destroy his government.

He then makes this observation: explaining why Miliband is unwilling to call for the RAF to attack Isis.

Bush, Iraq, post-colonial guilt, pacifism, parochial stupidity and the appeal of minding your own business and not wasting blood and treasure in other people’s conflicts

It would not be unfair to say that Cohen does not want intervention to stop at the defence of the Kurds.

He  has been consistently explicit in his stand on removing Assad,

As in (1st January 2012)  The west has a duty to intervene in Syria

Cohen cites Michael Weiss from the Henry Jackson Society, so-named after a virulently anti-communist American Democrat  ‘Scoop’ Jackson. He was a Congressman and Senator known for close ties to the Defence Industry and  who supported the Bombing of North Vietnam (1). Weiss had a plan for this intervention,

American, British and French air power might combine with Turkish ground forces to create a safe haven in northern Syria, where mutinous troops from the Syrian army could build a fighting force. Nato officials have studied it, while Burhan Ghalioun, chairman of the Syrian National Council, described the report as a “crucial resource for understanding how a humanitarian intervention in Syria can still be carried out responsibly.

This plan was not adopted.

Most people would not accept that it was ever viable, that interventions were bound to be botched, run up against the opposition of large numbers of Syrians,  and that the Syrian National Council was never a real player in the emerging civil war.

Cohen has not accepted this.

For him the absence of Western intervention (meaning a determined thrust to remove Assad)  in Syria was a betrayal.

He has written earlier this year (Observer).

A great evil has been done to Syria. I cannot see how any western project against Islamic State can prosper until the “conscience of the world” provides redress by saying it will not tolerate the continuation of the Assad regime. At present, however, the world won’t even acknowledge evil’s existence. We must expect evil in return.

The FBU did not back Western intervention in Syria.

It would be unfair to accuse them of ‘tolerating’ Assad: they, like most people on the left, simply did not see Western intervention as a serious means to create a democratic Syria.

No doubt they could point to the fact that there has been intervention (if not on Cohen’s personal terms). That is there was a flow of arms from the West to (initially) a broad swathe of the Syrian opposition, and a blind-eye to the weapons and recruits to the original jihadis, were part of the reason why we now have Isis/Islamic state.

Now the FBU does not call for UK aircraft to bomb Isis .

This is part of a blanket statement.

It “places no confidence” in a US/UK/French bombing campaign.

The FBU does not oppose arming the Kurdish resistance – it simply does not state a position.

Tendance Coatesy argues for arms for the Kurds according to their own wishes.

This is both distinct from the Stop the War Coalition’s view and from the call, without asking the Kurds’ opinion, on the British Government to use air power in Syria.

If it sounds ridiculous to have a dogmatic stand on this, from our real position in the world, we certainly welcome air raids and any means possible to defend Kobane.

We will not go further.

This comment has appeared in Tendance Coatesy’s comment boxes; asking why we do not ‘go further’.

Well, the FBU have said they want the UK Govt to “prevent atrocities” but have “no confidence” in a bombing campaign against Isis. Well, what should the Govt do then?

The Kurds in Kobane, on the other hand, do have confidence in the present airstrikes against Isis and are very happy to receive arms from the Americans.

While, I am sure, the Kurds are happy for the support of Unite and the FBU, I think they would prefer Ed Miliband and the Labour Party to adopt the ideas outlined above by “Labour Solidarity with the Kurds.”

Comments Jonr R.

It is clear that amongst those signing the Labour Solidarity with the Kurds are those who consider, like Cohen, that we should go further.

A lot lot further.

That this should be a bridgehead for much wider intervention in the Syrian Civil War – a demand which was predicted would be raised.

This is so completely off the wall that it is hard to know where to begin.

Perhaps we should say, in Henry Jackson style, that one can’t get use arms in a civil war, getting intimately involved in a life and death struggle, on the basis of all the horror and outrage one can muster at Assad and the Islamist genociders.

We can take sides in a precise case where we know something of the forces pitted against each other: the PKK/PYD against Isis/Islamic State.

We do not need to underline the links between those who’ve signed this appeal to the pro-Tony Blair Progress and the Henry Jackson Society to make further points casting doubt about it.

But one thing stands out: perhaps the most prominent signatory of Labour Solidarity with the Kurds, is Gary Kent  who is intimately involved in the politics of the Middle East. (2). He has just published in Progress an account of their appeal, Taking on ‘the vilest fascism of our age’. He has also spoken at more than one Henry Jackson event (including its launch).

Kent is a classic liberal interventionist.

Well it worked so well in Iraq, why not give it a try in Syria?

(1)  “The Henry Jackson Society is a non-profit organisation that seeks to promote the following principles: that liberal democracy should be spread across the world; that as the world’s most powerful democracies, the United States and the European Union – under British leadership – must shape the world more actively by intervention and example; that such leadership requires political will, a commitment to universal human rights and the maintenance of a strong military with global expeditionary reach; and that too few of our leaders in Britain and the rest of Europe today are ready to play a role in the world that matches our strength and responsibilities.”

(2) Gary Kent, Labour member, Director, of Labour Friends of Iraq, Unite/NUJ/Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (honorary). Labour Friends of Iraq, Founding statement 2004. “Iraq is emerging from its long nightmare of Saddam’s totalitarianism, wars and privation. Iraq now has an opportunity to use its natural and human wealth to build a democratic civil society. An independent and secular labour movement is a key part of civil society and can do much to promote the unity of working people, regardless of creed or gender.”

See also: ROJAVA, IMPERIALISM AND THE ISLAMIC STATES .

And: LES COMMUNISTES-OUVRIERS ET LE « CONFÉDÉRALISME DÉMOCRATIQUE » Camille Boudjak

And: Solidarity with the Kurds, or NATO-bashing?  (Alliance for Workers ‘Liberty).

Tower Hamlets Council and ‘Communalist’ Mayor Rahman, Guilty of Major ‘Failings’.

with one comment

Tower Hamlets council guilty of systematic failings. 

The Guardian has just revealed.

Inquiry finds grants were handed out by Lutfur Rahman’s council to ‘ineligible’ organisations and criticises authority for ‘obfuscation and denial’

 A report has found systematic failings in the conduct and governance of Tower Hamlets council, and claims its approach to an inquiry into financial dealings was one of “obfuscation and denial”.

The 193-page report, ordered by the communities secretary, Eric Pickles, says the east London council, run by directly elected independent mayor Lutfur Rahman, awarded more than £400,000 in grants to “ineligible organisations” in one case after an intervention by a council member.

It was criticised for failing in its duty to acquire best value for local taxpayers.

PWC reports that the council’s response to the identification of issues raised in the report “suggests a tendency towards denial or obfuscation rather than an inclination to investigate concerns raised”.

“Despite its public assertions of support for the inspection, at various stages [the council] raised a number of obstacles to our progress which have significantly delayed the provision of information or documentation and which in large part led to our request for an extension of the timetable for the inspection.

“The authority tended to pronounce allegations to be baseless and/or politically motivated without having conducted what we would consider to be an adequate investigation into the issues raised.”

The Evening Standard summarises this:

Among key findings:

  • Poplar Town Hall, a Grade II listed building, was sold for £875,000 to a political supporter of Mr Lutfah even though the bid arrived late, and after rival bids had been opened, which created a “risk of bid manipulation”. A higher offer was rejected, contrary to independent advice, and the winner was later allowed to change his contract.
  • Grants were handed out to organisations that were “ruled ineligible”, with some £407,700 given to groups that failed to meet the council’s own minimum criteria. Council officers were over-ruled in many cases.
  • The appeared to show “a tendency towards denial or obfuscation rather than an inclination to investigate concerns raised”.  It did not properly investigate issues raised in a BBC Panorama programme that alleged Mr Rahman intervened to increase grants paid to some local Bangladeshi organisations.
  • Public money was spent “inappropriately” on political advertising for the Mayor.

The Telegraph is more explicit,

Tower Hamlets, the east London council, sold off public buildings to associates of the Mayor and handed out grants to ineligible bodies, a damning Government report has found.

The winning bidder to buy Poplar Town Hall offered a lower price than other bidders and “had an association” with the controversial Mayor Lutfur Rahman, according to an audit by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

The Mayor personally intervened in the awarding of council contracts, which lacked signed paperwork or audit trails, the report found.

Hundreds of thousands of pounds in public money were awarded to local bodies that were not eligible for the money after the intervention of elected councillors, the report found.

The audit was commissioned by Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, following allegations of cronyism, fraud and waste at Mr Rahman’s council.

Mr Rahman, who has courted the support of the borough’s Bangladeshi community, was re-elected in May. That victory is being challenged in the High Court by people who alleged the vote was riddled with fraud.

Addressing the Commons, Mr Pickles said Mr Rahman had handed money out “like a medieval monarch”. He said the report had been submitted to the police for examination of potential criminal wrongdoing.

The “rotten borough” is “at best dysfunctional, at worst riddled with cronyism and corruption,” he said.

“Executive power is unchecked and executive power has been misused.

He announced that three commissioners, answering directly to central Government, would take responsibility for all financial decisions. They would see the appointment of new permanent council officers.

Mr Pickles said there were “widespread allegations of extremism, homophobia and anti-Semitism being allowed to fester without proper challenge.”

“The abuse of taxpayers’ money and culture of cronyism reflects a partisan community politics that seeks to trade favours and spread division on the rates,” he said.

This comment is revealing,

Meg Hillier, the Labour MP for Hackney, called for Mr Rahman to resign. Mr Pickles replied: “He would not be missed.”

The Local Government Chronicle states,

The report, written by accountancy firm PwC and published today, found the council had “failed to comply with its best value duty” in relation to the way grants were awarded and property sold.

It said the authority’s governance arrangements “do not appear to be capable of preventing or responding appropriately to failures of the best value duty of the kind we have identified”.

It said: “This calls into question the adequacy of these governance arrangements.”

Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman said the report revealed “regrettable” flaws in process but had not found evidence to substantiate “wild claims about fraud” (see full statement in update below).

The report said the council had had no chief executive since July 2012, adding: “One of the authority’s corporate directors has since that time (with a short hiatus) fulfilled the role of head of paid service, as required by statute, however the head of paid service has not had the full powers of a chief executive delegated to him under clause 3.5.5 of the authority’s constitution.

“These powers have remained with the mayor. This means that, for most purposes, the head of paid service, other statutory officers (being the section 151 officer and the monitoring officer), as well as other corporate directors are all directly accountable to the mayor.”

The accountancy firm was sent in by communities secretary Eric Pickles just before last May’s mayoral and council elections after he received a dossier of allegations about abuses including governance failure, poor financial management and fraud.

Regarding the transfer of council property to third parties, the report said: “In relation to three of the four property transactions we looked at in detail, namely Poplar Town Hall, Sutton Street Depot and Mellish Street, we conclude that in those instances, the authority failed to comply with its best value duty.”

In relation to the Poplar Town Hall sale, PwC said Tower Hamlets had “accepted a late bid from the winning bidder after other bids had been opened, creating a risk of bid manipulation”.

The report said: “The winning bidder was, as a matter of fact, connected to a person with other business interests that had an association with the mayor [Lutfur Rahman].”

The report said although the difference in price was “small”, the council “did not in fact select the highest bidder, in spite of the external adviser’s recommendation to do so”.

The report added: “The winning bidder also asked for and was granted changes to the contract it had signed, which further undermined the purpose and credibility of the contract race process.”

Regarding the way grants had been awarded, PwC’s report said: “In relation to the matter of grant making, we conclude that the authority is failing to comply with its best value duty.”

It said grants had been awarded to organisations “which were ruled ineligible or which did not meet the required evaluation score”.

The report added: “Applicants [who had not met the minimum criteria for an award after evaluation] were recommended to receive, in total, awards of £407,700.”

PwC also looked at whether spending on media advisers to the mayor were “genuinely for the benefit of the authority” or “of a party political nature pertaining to the mayor” and concluded “that there is a failure to comply with the best value duty”.

The same was said of the Ofcom finding that five television channels had broadcast an advert from the council that was deemed to breach the Communications Act. PwC’s report said “the clear implication is that authority monies were spent inappropriately on what amounted to political advertising for the benefit of the mayor”.

PwC said both it and Tower Hamlets’ internal audit team had “found instances of procurement policies and procedures have not been adhered to”.

The report noted problems associated with evidence gathering when it said: “Despite its public assertions of support for the inspection, the authority has at various stages raised a number of obstacles to our progress which have significantly delayed the provision of information or documentation and which in large part led to our request for an extension of the timetable for the inspection.

As a  result the Guardian now reports,

The communities secretary, Eric Pickles, has taken over the administration of Tower Hamlets council in east London for two years after an inquiry commissioned by his department found wholesale mismanagement, questionable grant-giving and a failure to secure best value for local taxpayers.

Pickles plans to dispatch three commissioners to administrate grant-giving, property transactions and the administration of future elections in the borough.

The commissioners, who will be answerable to Pickles, will be in place until March 2017 and are tasked with drawing up an action plan to improve governance in the council, including the permanent appointment of three senior council officers including a chief executive.

The BBC adds,

The report also found that a proposal to award money to lunch clubs for Jewish, Sikh and Hindu communities resulted in £99,212 being awarded to Bangladeshi or Somali groups, none of which had applied for the money.

and

The report found that in response to the BBC Panorama programmeThe Mayor and Our Money, the authority spent £101,479 getting advice from law firm Taylor Wessing and PR consultants Champollion.

Comments

We have covered this story (and there have been many previous  posts on Tendance Coatesy), principally because of charges of ‘communalism’ against Rahman, and his declared policy of directly funding religious organisations out of public money.

It is very probable that such groups are amongst those cited by the damming report.

Having Pickles run the borough through his commissioners is no solution.

Pickles is a one-man anti-democratic foul abusive swine.

But before protesting at this those on the left should avoid saying that Rahman’s administration and satellites innocent because they say so.

Written by Andrew Coates

November 4, 2014 at 5:25 pm