Monday, November 23, 2015

Lord Pearson's memorandum

About ten days ago I wrote about Lord Pearson's Memorandum, Shall We Talk About Islam?, and promised to put up a link as soon as there was one. It is now up on the website Can We Talk About Islam? and you can read find either through that site or just go directly to the document here.

This is a paper for discussion and people are encouraged to respond. Should any of this blog's readers want to do so on it, they are very welcome to do so. Obviously, courteous and rational comments are more welcome than the other kind. In fact, anything truly courteous and rational will be passed on to the authors.

Meanwhile, Lord Pearson has also been active in the House of Lords, as have a number of those pesky unelected members. On November 17 a Statement was made in both Houses about the G20 meeting and the Paris attacks, which took in various measures that HMG is proposing in order to deal with the problem of Islamic extremism that all too often leads to terrorism. It is probably worth reading the whole Statement and the subsequent debate. Naturally, these are only proposals and none of us can predict with any accuracy which, if any of them, will be implemented.

Lord Pearson asked:
My Lords, in that vein, I welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment to inspect and shut down any educational institutions which teach Islamist intolerance and, I presume, violence. Can the noble Baroness confirm that this policy will include all evening madrassahs and, indeed, our mosques, where so much of the poison is spread?
To which HMG in the form of Baroness Stowell of Beeston replied:
My Lords, it will include any establishment where this kind of extremism — non-violent and violent — is being pursued. We can no longer tolerate a situation where it is okay for somebody to espouse extremist views and stop short of inciting violence. Because of that, we are committed to taking all necessary steps. As the noble Baroness said a moment ago, we have to ensure that people are not in a position where they are influenced by or attracted to this kind of ideology, which is so damaging and dangerous.
I am not quite certain what is meant by non-violent extremism but, as I said above, we shall have to see what is actually achieved.

There is no virtue in doing without things that are unavailable

Some time ago I wrote a blog about the ridiculousness of claims that the West is more materialistic and, therefore, somehow less virtuous than the old Communist system was.
Let us look at the argument: at least they are not obsessed with materialism and consumerism. To start with, what is the basis of Communism and Marxist Socialism but materialism, dialectic or otherwise? The whole political ideology, the whole basis on which state and society are to be built, purport to be materialistic, discarding religion, spiritual entities and "empty" intellectualism. Not only were the ideas discarded and banned, their proponents and practitioners were arrested, exiled, murdered or forced to convert to the worship of Materialism. Socialist Realism from which the artists in this exhibition fled one way or another is the glorification of materialism in art and its apotheosis heralded (or was meant to herald) the trampling down of all non-realist, non-materialist expression.

So much for the underlying ideological basis of Communism. The problem was that it could not provide the material goods that materialism promised to all. While theoretical materialism remained a good thing, its practical assumption had to become a bad thing since it did not exist in the workers' paradise. In particular, it had to be pronounced as bad by Western supporters (at a distance) of that non-materialistic materialist workers' paradise as they could not hide indefinitely behind the lie that consumer goods in the West were available to very few people. In fact, there is an odd correlation between growing contempt for consumerism and materialism and the wider spread of the actual goods.

Were people in Communist countries really not interested in consumer goods? Were they heck. No-one who has ever lived in those countries especially the Soviet Union and managed to communicate with the indigenous population can forget not just the queues for goods that might appear or might not but also the obsessive discussions of what might be available and where, what might be acquired at home or - blissful idea - abroad.

In Soviet cities directions were given by shops. Get off the bus at such and such a shop, turn right, walk to another shop, then right again and it's the second entrance. That sort of thing. Naturally, one had to ask the driver where such and such a shop was, which would cause great excitement on the bus: why were you going to that shop? Was there anything being sold there?
There is another aspect of the question that I recall explaining to a few people who talked rubbish about consumerism was one I recalled when reading a book entitled Medieval Tastes by the eminent Italian historian of food and food culture, Massimo Montanari. (One cannot spend one's entire time on the EU and Russia.)

In the chapter on monastic cooking (a fascinating subject) Professor Montanari discusses the question of fasting and ascetic rigour, explaining:
It should immediately be made clear that deprivation does not mean absence. On the contrary, one can only deprive oneself of that one has, of what one is accustomed to having: "privatio praesupponit habitum", Rabelais ironically remarks. On this, monastic culture is in agreement: there would be no value or merit in a renunciation that was obligatory in some way because of circumstances; it is necessary to renounce an available pleasure so that the choice acquires value and meaning. 
There is no virtue in eating nothing but cabbage and potatoes by way of vegetables with pickled cucumbers and tomatoes in the winter if the shops have no other vegetables.  This would be a virtue if people, say all those people who are advocating the consumption of nothing that is not local and seasonal, did it by choice. I have noticed that they do not ever do so; I have also noticed that as soon as it became possible in former Communist states to eat a more varied diet people immediately started doing so. Of course, they still pickle and salt cucumbers, tomatoes and mushrooms for winter but I do that quite often as well, adding jars of chutney and other home-made preserves. I happen to think they are better to eat than most shop-bought stuff but the important thing is that it is  my choice to do so.

Well now, which of all the economic systems that have existed throughout history in the world has made the making of those choices possible?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Baroness Morgan gets her Amendment through

Yesterday was the first day of Report on the EU Referendum Bill in the House of Lords. I have not yet read the Hansard record right through but anyone who wishes to get ahead of me, it is to be seen here. However, I do know that Baroness Morgan, whom I already described as being quite exceptionally stupid did put her Amendment to give 16 and 17 year olds the vote to the House and carried it (Col. 180), 293 to 211. It is absolutely necessary to give those children the vote, according to her,"[t]hey will have to live with the consequences of the result for longer than anyone". Well, not anyone, surely. If we assume that they will all live longer than anyone who is old enough to be in Parliament now and anyone who votes in the General Election now (something of a stretch) then we have to assume that 14 and 15 year olds will live even longer with the results and 12 and 13 year olds even longer than that. Why not give them the vote?

Just to recap, if this Amendment is accepted by the House of Commons, which seems unlikely, we shall be giving the vote in this referendum and no other election to people whom we do not consider to be old enough to buy alcohol or tobacco, old enough to decide whether to continue with their education or old enough to be interviewed by the police without a responsible adult present. In fact, apart from having sexual relations we do not consider them to be old enough to make any decisions on their own since even joining the army can be done only with their parents' or guardians' agreement.

Possibly that is why Baroness Morgan and her cohorts are so anxious to give them the vote - they are not old enough to make a decision for themselves so are more likely to be influenced by the pro-EU garbage they hear at school. That may be a miscalculation but in the meantime we are left with a constitutional mess thanks to the Labour and Lib-Dem parties' anxiety to increase what they perceive to be the pro-EU electorate.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

What François did next

There is not much one can say about les événements on Friday in Paris that is not being said by many people in various forms. Immediately after President Hollande had spoken about an attack on the French state I wondered out loudly (i.e. on the much derided social media) whether he was now going to invoke NATO Article 5, which would be somewhat ironic, given France's historic ambivalence about that organization. To date he has not done so. Instead he has called for a meeting of the UN Security Council and has vowed to step up French attacks on ISIL. He has also proposed to extend the state of emergency for another three months and introduce some very sweeping reforms into the French Constitution. At present the only concrete proposal he has made is to have the right not to allow back "French citizens who also hold citizenship in another country ... if it's believed they are connected to terrorism", in itself not a very radical idea. What of French citizens who do not hold another citizenship but have gone to fight with ISIS?

I saw some discussion of whether France will invoke Article 5, mostly on the part of Americans who were wondering what President Obama's response will be if that happens, given his less than stellar performance at various press conferences since Friday. There is also a discussion of the alternatives in the Jerusalem Post. My own opinion is that, given France's ambivalent attitude to NATO throughout its history, Article 5 will not be invoked.

I wrote that yesterday but thought I'd not post till today though I did spend some time on other sites arguing just that - France will not invoke Article 5 as they will not want to have NATO fighting the battle.

Today it is clear: President Hollande is trying to use the EU though most probably he will require American fire power at some stage. But not through NATO. Oh no. That is not at all what France wants to see.

EurActiv tells us that France 'at war' inaugurates EU mutual defence clause, the one whose purpose it was to supplant NATO in defence matters. After all, who wants to be told endlessly that it was not the EU that kept peace in Western Europe all these decades but NATO, US troops and the nuclear umbrella?
President François Hollande said he will invoke the European Union's ‘mutual defence clause’ for the first time to combat the perpetrators of the Paris attacks, betting on EU support over NATO in the country's fight against the Islamic State.

Speaking on Monday (16 November) during a joint session of both houses of parliament in Versailles, Hollande said that "France is at war" and that the jihadist group is “not only an enemy of France but an enemy of Europe”.

Following the killing of 129 people on Friday (13 November), Hollande said that France is committed to “destroying” Islamic State.

In a surprise move, he told lawmakers that France will invoke article 42.7 of the EU Treaty during a meeting of EU defence ministers on Tuesday (17 November). The article “provides that when a state is attacked, all member states must bring their solidarity to address the aggression”, Hollande reminded.
Quite what that solidarity will consist of is not clear at this stage but it will be a famous victory (perhaps). It is possible that the various arrests that are being conducted in connection with les événements in Germany and Belgium and, soon, in other countries will be described as an example of Article 42.7 at work.

The story is picked up by EUObserver who also say
"The enemy is Daesh," he said, using the Arabic name for the Islamic State group.

"We shall not just contain it, but destroy it," he said, adding that France will "intensify its operations" in Syria following Monday's raids.

Hollande also wants to build "a large and unique coalition" against the terrorist group.
A coalition of the willing, in fact.
He announced that France has asked for a meeting and a resolution from the UN Security Council.

He also said that he will soon meet US and Russian presidents, Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin, "to join our forces and reach a conclusion that has been too long overdue."
Does that mean that the sale of Mistrals will go ahead after all?

So, not NATO but the UN Security Council and the EU with American and Russian lifting power and France in charge.

There are also reports of NATO and EU promising to work together though why that should be necessary, given that the EU member states who are likely to do anything are also members of NATO is unclear. But it makes everyone seem important.
NATO and the European Union must work closely to prevent more attacks like those in Paris, the head of the Western military alliance said on Monday, underscoring the risks of unconventional warfare such as cyber attacks and radicalism.

European officials are struggling to provide quick answers on how to counter the threat from Islamic State and other militant groups at a time of falling defense budgets, the lack of a common EU security policy and an overlap with NATO.

"We will redouble our efforts and work even more closely ... to counter the rise of extremism, which can inspire such horrific attacks here at home," said NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.

Speaking alongside EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, Stoltenberg said NATO and the EU could no longer afford to develop parallel policies towards similar ends. They should work together "hand-in-hand".
This is not the first time France has tried to use a crisis to undermine NATO, push forward the EU and position herself as the lynchpin between Europe, the US and Russia (it used to be the Soviet Union). This time the stakes are very high, especially for France, who experienced the second organized terrorist attack in ten months.

Monday, November 16, 2015

But it's Brexit that pitches us into the unknown

The world goes on despite the horrors in it and, to  be fair, this decision was taken by the members of the Toy Parliament on the 12th that is a day before les événements in Paris. One of the biggest arguments of the europhiliacs is fear of the unknown - Brexit will plunge us into outer darkness and bring back the ten plagues that had been  inflicted on Egypt ... oh sorry, I seem to have been carried away. Well, anyway, if not the ten plagues then many other bad things and, above all, UNCERTAINTY. Life is full of uncertainty and so is politics as long as it is more or less free and democratic. (Actually there was not that much certainty under Stalin either but that's another story.)

What we say in return is that there is absolutely no certainty about staying in the EU. The recent crises, first the eurozone then the migrants, have been described as  being more or less existential for the European project but they happened. Could they have been predicted? To some extent yes; in detail no. That's just the way it is.

More to the point, the EU is always on the move - it is not a stationary project but an evolutionary one and, should the people of Britain vote to stay in, they will speedily find that once again they were in something they did not vote for.

That brings me back to the Toy Parliament.
MEPs endorsed a proposal on electoral reform Wednesday (11 November) that would have citizens vote for the EU Commission president and Europe-wide party lists in 2019. If member states sign up to the idea, the reforms to the 1976 EU electoral law would mean the EU-wide "top candidates" for the Commission presidency would have to stand in the European Parliament election.

MEPs voted by 315 votes to 234 in favour, with 55 abstentions, on a proposal designed to strengthen the European character of the EP elections.

“The European Union today, and the European Community back in 1976, are two different worlds. Europe has changed. The world has changed. The European Parliament has changed dramatically. We needed to change this law,” Danuta Huebner, a Polish centre-right MEP who co-wrote the report, told press Thursday.

The idea is for citizens to have two votes, one for national lists of candidates and one for an EU-wide list of European parties. Leading the European lists would be the candidates for the presidency of the Commission.
The chances this will not go through or not this time. But it is there, on the agenda, and it will not be mentioned by those who assure us that staying in the EU is knowing exactly what we sign up for. EU-wide party lists? Hmmm.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Other news from the House of Lords - 2

Meanwhile, Lord Pearson of Rannoch is conducting his own campaign, which consists of two aspects: firstly, it is time we started talking about Islam seriously and without fear and, secondly, the moderate or anti-extremist Muslims should be drawn into that discussion. The campaign has not advanced very far as yet but it is moving forward slowly.

On November 5 (one wonders whether the powers that be recognized the appropriateness of the date) the noble Lord had a Starred Question:
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether, as part of their counter-extremism strategy, they will encourage a national debate about the nature of Islam, including whether the Muslim tenet of abrogation remains valid today.
Sadly, I have to report that the brief debate that followed the Question was not on a particularly high level, consisting largely of statements disguised as questions about how shocking and divisive such a suggestion might be.

While this blog agrees with the notion that the state has no place in organizing religious debates and discussions, the Question refers to "encouragement" rather than "organization". There are many debates going on about major and not so major religions and nobody thinks that they are divisive. Why exactly should Islam be excluded?

As to why it might be a good idea to include such a debate or discussion in the "counter-extremism strategy", it would be hard to deny that the terrorist threat we face at the moment is tied in with certain groups in the Muslim community. For that very reason the many other Muslims should have a chance to take part in such a discussion and distance themselves from the extremists, their supporters and propagandists and not just the terrorists.

As it happens, I do know that there are many Muslims in this country who are actively fighting the good fight and they are not given nearly as much support either by HMG or by the media, especially not the BBC, though they are often in real danger.

Lord Pearson has also, with the help of a couple of experts on the subject, produced a paper, entitled Shall We Talk About Islam?, which, I am assured by his office, will be on-line very soon. As soon as that happens, this blog will link to it. In the meantime, let me quote the introductory paragraphs:
Have you noticed that when we try to discuss Islam, we are immediately accused of stirring up religious hatred or of being Islamophobic bigots etc? But we can say what we like about any other religion?

We are surprised by how little our friends and acquaintances know about Islam, which contains perhaps the greatest threat facing our Judaeo-Christian civilization.

So here is a memo on some of the basic facts about Islam. It may be controversial, but we hope it will encourage a long overdue national debate.
What follows is a number of points about Islam and the Qur'an, with references to the accepted texts.

The memo has been sent to members of the House of Lords and to Opinion Formers with a suggestion to the Guardian newspaper, in particular, given their previous attacks on Lord Pearson that they preside over a serious debate. It does not have to be the Grauniad. Any other media outlet could do it.

Other news from the House of Lords - 1

Indeed, there are many other subjects that are debated in the Upper House but I neither can nor want to follow them all. It is, however, time to turn to something else apart from the EU Referendum Bill to which I shall, no doubt, return.

Baroness Cox's Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill is back in the House. I mentioned it in the past here and here. That time it did not go beyond the Second Reading so I did not do a further direct report. I also mentioned it here and wrote:
At the heart of the Bill is the need to make it legally clear that Arbitration Tribunals are not law courts, that there is only one legal system in this country and that an alternative system, which discriminates against women must not be allowed to exist, let alone flourish.
This is absolutely vital for our understanding of what is going on. Arbitration Tribunals in themselves are a reasonable addition to the legal system (though if any qualified lawyer will explain that they are not I am prepared to listen and maybe accept arguments) but they must stay within the framework of English or Scottish law as, let me add, Beth Din courts do. Sharia Tribunals are steadily encroaching on family and criminal matters and claim the right to use traditional Sharia instead of English or Scottish law. Their intention is to create a legal apartheid and separate as many of the Muslim community as they can from the rest of this country and society. Then there is a question of inequality between men and women and between Muslim and non-Muslim in Sharia law, which is wholly contrary to our laws.

Since that time the Bill was reintroduced into the House at every possible opportunity but did not get very far. But the times, they are a'changing. Among the various counter-extremism proposals the Home Secretary, Theresa May mentioned Sharia courts, deemed unacceptable, and promised to tackle them. There will be a commission set up to study the subject, which sounds like an excellent idea until we ask ourselves who might sit on that commission. So far we do not know.

Generally speaking, no Private Member's Bill in either House gets anywhere unless there is a fair wind behind it from HMG. Looking at the Second Reading that took place on October 23 one can begin to see two developments: HMG is definitely more favourably inclined and there are some strong voices on all sides that are supporting the Baroness Cox.

The one voice that sounded against it was Lord Sheikh's (Col. 892). He did not do particularly well and was later told by Lord Kalms (Col. 898):
I heard all the explanations given by the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, previously and I reject them completely. I think that the noble Lord stands for views which are totally incompatible with ours in this country. 
Here is Lord Sheikh's attempt to explain certain peculiar features of Sharia law that, he insisted, no Muslim wants to substitute for English law. It just happens to be used in Sharia courts into which those Arbitration Tribunals have developed. I may add that the noble Lord's explanation of niquah leaves something out.

All religious establishments have an agreement with the civil authorities, which involve them to carry out civil ceremonies at the same time as religious ones. The Church of England, as the national church is automatically enabled to do so. The exceptions are numerous mosques that are not registered for this and, therefore, the nikuah, the religious ceremony, has no civil validity. This is not, as Lord Sheikh implies, a choice taken by the couples in question but a simple matter of omission and ignorance especially on the part of the women, many of whom do not realize that they are not married in law and have no rights as a wife. (Yes, I know all the arguments against state involvement in marriage and am sympathetic to them. But, at present, it is involved and those who remain outside that because of the activity of their religious leaders are at an enormous disadvantage.)
Some Muslims have an Islamic marriage, known as a nikah, without also having a civil wedding. Ideally, I would like to see imams performing a nikah only after a civil wedding has taken place. We should perhaps look at the possibility of amending the Marriage Act 1949 to address this issue. Having said that, if an imam receives a request to perform a nikah without a prior civil wedding, it is imperative that he emphasises to both husband and wife the drawbacks of a nikah-only marriage.

Many couples choose to cohabit without getting married and we do not pass any judgment on them—nor should we. More than 3 million couples in this country are cohabiting at the moment. When a nikah takes place, a contract is signed between the man and the woman containing the terms and financial obligations of the marriage. Under Islamic law, a man can divorce his wife by stating this. If a woman feels that her marriage has broken down and that they should divorce, she can ask the man to divorce her. If the man refuses to divorce her, she can approach the sharia council and petition for a divorce to be issued. It is therefore essential that there are sharia councils that she can approach for this to take place. I believe that all Muslims should be encouraged to use the already- drafted Muslim marriage contract, which perhaps needs simplifying.
Apart from his economic approach to the truth about nikah, the noble Lord obviously finds it a little difficult to confirm equality in Sharia law. The man can divorce his wife but a woman has to ask her husband to divorce her.

Lord Sheikh did not go unchallenged, notably by Lord Carlile of Berriew, described as one of Britain's top legal experts and a man who knows a thing or two about fighting for real human rights, as well as Lady Flather, a delightful person with an outstanding collection of gorgeous saris but one whom you challenge at your peril. I feel that the blog will benefit from the entire exchange (Col. 893):
Lord Carlile of Berriew (LD): I apologise for interrupting the noble Lord. As a matter of fact in sharia law, if a man wishes to obtain a divorce, does he have to ask his wife first, before he approaches the sharia council?

Lord Sheikh: No. Under sharia law he does not have to do that. If sharia councils make unfair decisions, these must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. I feel that there must be a mechanism to deal with such cases and that we should put in place an appeals procedure.

Baroness Flather: Is the noble Lord saying that there is equal treatment of women and men under sharia or is he saying that whatever sharia prescribes is correct? I am not sure; I think he is saying that whatever sharia prescribes is correct and proper. However, is there not discrimination against women?

Lord Sheikh: It depends on what the noble Baroness means by discrimination.

Baroness Flather: I see that the noble Lord has not found that out yet.

Lord Sheikh: That might be amusing to the noble Baroness but it is not amusing to me.

Baroness Flather: It is not funny to me—I am a woman.

Lord Sheikh: I will continue. In the same way as sharia councils cannot claim to make legally binding decisions, some religious decisions have no place in English law.
Lord Sheikh does not come out well.

Other speakers emphasised the importance of having just one legal system for all in the country, a system in which all are treated equally and individually. Let me recommend the entire debate to people.

You can also follow the progress of the Bill and other related developments and discussions on Equal and Free.