Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Sun abandons Labour - so what?

At precisely 12.05am, while Cranmer was working frantically at his desk throught the midnight hours as he has done all week, night and day (quite literally), in order to fend off Mephistopheles and the rest of the demonic horde which presently plagues him, he received an email from The Sun.

The Sun has never before emailed His Grace, and neither would His Grace particularly wish them to again. He wondered why he was being spammed with the lastest about some D-list celebrity or scurrilous gossip about nothing worth reading.

It appears that the paper has decided to rat on Labour. Or rather, to re-rat back to the Conservative Party. And, for some reason, this is the story all over every newspaper, political blog, and on the lips of political anoraks (of which His Grace may be one: he certainly feels like such a limp garment at the moment).

It was, of course, purposely timed to detract from the Prime Minister's big moment.

Poor man. He had worked very hard on that speech. One could tell.

Years ago, The Sun was indeed influential. But that was in the age when newspapers were read by millions and the press barons were courted like one entreats the powers of divinty. They interceded between the rulers and the ruled: they received the lively political oracles from the learned and wise, and distilled them into bite-size chunks of sound-bite vernacular for the lesser-educated proletariat.

But that age has gone. The world has changed. Newspaper circulations have plummetted just as much as mass party membership has declined.

When, back in 1992, the paper boasted "It was the Sun wot won it", there was a perception that it had. It was ludicrous, of course. It had simply sensed the lack of appetite for Neil Kinnock, and backed the likely winner of that general election. The Sun did not win it for John Major. It is a commercial enterprise and was simply giving its readers (or picture viewers) what it sensed they wanted to read (or see). It follows trends and views: it does not create history or form opinion.

Cranmer has no doubt that politicians will always be invited on to the yachts of the rich and powerful. But the rich and powerful will increasingly be subsumed to those who innovate and control the new media. Rupert Murdoch and his son James will doubtless retain some influence, but the future belongs to the likes of Stephan Shakespeare and Tim Montgomerie who, while not possessing their own yachts (as far as His Grace knows), are clearly at the helm of the new age of political campaigning.

Some traditional Labour votres will this morning be spluttering over their cornflakes, feeling betrayed by the rag that brings them their morning fix of tittle-tattle, banal comment and soft porn.

They should never have relied upon it to give them their daily bread. Its influence is overrated: its self-perception of its political omnipotence absurdly exaggerated. Mr Cameron would be wise to smile over his marmite on toast this morning. But The Sun alone will not 'win it' for him.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Conservatives propose to reduce marriage covenant to a contract

The BBC reports that it is emerging Conservative Party policy to make pre-nuptial agreements binding, as they are in many EU countries. Henry Bellingham, the shadow justice minister, said: "We want to bring in a fairly wide-ranging divorce law reform bill and I'm very keen that part of it will include pre-nups and make them enforceable in law, subject to very strict safeguards."

Some 'family' (divorce) lawyers disagree: Marilyn Stowe said: "The whole emphasis is on divorce reform - and I actually think we should be looking much more at marriage. I have to say if I was asked to enter into a 'pre-nup' I wouldn't."

Marilyn Stowe argues: "I am married and I advocate marriage for those who wish to commit in that way. But I am also prepared to recognise that everyone has the right not to do so. I believe that the law should be available to all families, not just the select few – and certainly not the innocents who currently ‘make do’ with the odd CSA cheque and a hotch-potch of inadequate legislation."

Cranmer is grateful to his faithful communicant Mr Nick Gulliford for bringing this to His Grace's attention and for pointing out the manifest deficiencies of this argument:

1. Virtually all the parties to this 'debate' seem to be making a fundamental mistake of treating marriage as a 'contract' rather than a 'covenant'. Because it is a covenant it does not lend itself to the kind of legal impositions that politicians and lawyers are seeking to place upon it.

2. One consequence of this is that a divorce should only be granted when there is mutual consent by the parties which is the same as that with which they entered the marriage. Only if the marriage was forced should the courts should have unilateral power to negate it.

3. If the ‘hotch-potch of inadequate legislation’ that covers cases involving children of parents who are not married is not working, then politicians must devise better legislation. But if couples are determined not to marry, to try to impose upon them the marital commitments they have sought to avoid is silly. At present the tax and benefit systems impose penalties on poor married couples, which is equally silly. Poor people are unlikely to marry if it attracts penalties. The arguments for not making pre-nuptial agreements binding in law are even stronger than Marilyn Stowe imagines.

4. Making a pre-nuptial agreement (preparation for divorce) legally enforceable would strike a serious blow at current public policy which is to support marriage as a lifelong commitment. Anything that undermines that would alter a fundamental aspect of public policy which has been part of our tradition for centuries. Indeed, the covenant relationship between God and his people and Christ and His Church have been likened to that of the commitments of spouses, so there is a long history behind it.

5. Even the people supporting enforceable pre-nuptial agreements, like Henry Bellingham, the shadow justice minister, always add the caveat ‘subject to very strict safeguards’, which means the courts would always have the ultimate power to set aside any agreement they did not like, which is really the same as saying these agreements cannot be made enforceable anyway. If couples choose to enter into pre-nuptial agreements and they can only divorce by mutual consent, there is no need for them to be enforceable.

It seems to Cranmer that by entering the covenant of marriage and swearing before God "til death us do part" is utterly negated if a pre-nuptial divorce agreement has preceded the swearing of the sacred vow. Indeed, it is difficult to see how anyone in conscience could take the vow if there has been legally-binding preparation for "til I think it's no longer working".

One wonders how long it will be before the Lord’s covenant with His people will be undermined by Parliament and the courts – subject, of course, to very strict safeguards.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Tory Party at prayer or ‘charismatic renewal’?

The Daily Mail reports that the Conservative Party conference in Manchester next month is abandoning its opening religious observance of ‘one warbled hymn and a soapy prayer’.

Cranmer would abandon them too, if that were the sum total of the traditional opening liturgy. But it is not: it is a caricature as insidious as the Thatcherite 'blue rinse brigade'. There is in this opening ceremony all the reverence and respect one finds at the opening prayers before each session of Parliament. The hymn is fine and traditional: the prayers have form and meaning.

But instead ‘there is going to be a belter of a church service in the 500-seater town hall, complete with 5,000-pipe organ, grooved-up folk music and a massed gospel choir’.

David Cameron meets Jim and Tammy Bakker.

Cranmer is all in favour of well-populated churches and fine blasts on the organ. He even encourages the occasion ‘Hallelujah!’. But he is more than a little wary of ‘grooved-up folk music’ supplanting the church’s magnificent hymnody. Why ditch the sturdy ‘And Can It Be?’ for the modulational banalities of the theologically vacuous ‘Shine Jesus Shine’?

Happy-clappy songs are a dumbing down: they are something of a pestilence in church worship and tend to reduce God to a pixie. They demean those who sing them, and communicate little more than a Sunday School level of theology. And not even that, for Robert Raikes would have had no truck with the saccharine and cringe-worthy. It is music for the crèche: melodies for the nursery. One might as well replace The Book of Common Prayer with the Ladybird book of ABC.

Of course styles change, and the ‘Tory Party at prayer’ is not immune from liturgical developments. But Cranmer can hardly wait to see Eric Pickles swaying his hips or Francis Maude banging his tambourine to Dave’s evangelical beat while the mesmerised (if bemused) faithful irritatingly clap on beats two and four.

Worship should exalt: it should heighten, reach upwards and glorify God. It is not X-Factor entertainment.

But never mind the show. The Lord requires the heart.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Muslim women oppose Sharia councils in Britain

Meet Dr Suhaib Hasan. He is one of the UK’s Sharia judges. He reminds us that Sharia means ‘the Islamic Law’ – ‘how to live according to the Muslim teachings’, to which he has devoted his life. He says: “I am a judge with the Islamic Sharia Council, which was set up in 1982 to guide the UK community on Islamic-related matters. All its scholars and judges are graduates of the Islamic universities throughout Muslim lands, or graduates from dar al uloom, the private institutions that teach Islam in India and Pakistan.”

He has lived in the UK since 1976. As a judge (qazi), he rules on legal issues that affect the daily lives of British Muslims, especially in the realms of finance, inheritance and divorce (which, he says, now constitutes the overwhelming majority of his work).

He says: “Normally the woman comes to us. This is for one simple reason: under British law both the man and woman have to apply to the court for a divorce. Under the Islamic system, the man may end the marriage if he thinks it right. It is preferable he does this in front of two witnesses, then it is a simple exercise to say: ‘I divorce you.’ The only thing we must ascertain is that he has given the dower (dowry) to the woman. This is a marriage gift from bridegroom to bride. Unless he has paid it, the man cannot get a divorce.

“When a woman applies, the process is called a khula divorce. If the husband agrees, the matter is settled, but if not, we invite both for an interview, and we do emphasise reconciliation. If she is seeking the divorce, she has to return the dower to him, if not, no divorce.”

Issues of custody raise particular problems, but (unlike English law), the Sharia stipulates that male children are permitted to choose between their mother or father at the age of seven. For female children, the age is 14 (when Islam deems them to be ‘responsible’).

Dr Hasan says he would like two further Sharia principles to be incorporated into ‘British law’: The first is the dower. The second is for the 12 existing Sharia councils to be recognised as mediation bodies and for the British courts to ‘enforce their decisions’. He reasons that this ‘would ease the pressure on the British legal system (because) at least one section of the community would be taking a little of the burden upon itself’.

Quite so, Dr Hasan. But what of Muslim women who are not content with your ability to ‘enforce’ rulings in which women are manifestly not treated as equal to me?

A very brave Muslim woman, Kavita Ramdya , has written in response:

Sir, I shudder to think of the repercussions for Muslim women if British law recognises decisions made by Sharia councils. Sharia law dictates that when a woman requests a divorce and the husband disagrees, the judge will “emphasise reconciliation” and “she has to return the dower to him”, whereas a man can divorce his wife by simply repeating “I divorce you” in front of two witnesses.

Muslim women who seek divorce are subjected to an interview process, pressured to remain married and risk losing quite possibly their only financial wealth by being forced to return their dower.

In the past, it was critical that individuals marry and remain married in order to preserve the safety and stability of a clan, tribe, family fortune, or even an alliance between countries.

Since then, marriage has evolved. It is now the primary method with which to pursue happiness and fulfilment. Muslim women in Britain are cognisant of the fact that they have the inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness.

For Sharia judges to question a woman’s motives for divorce and pressure her socially and financially to remain in an unfulfilling and possibly dangerous marriage is antiquated at best and deadly at worst. Decisions made by Sharia councils have no room in British law.

The former Bishop of Rochester, Dr Michael Nazir Ali, has warned us of the regressive nature of Sharia law and its irreconcilability to the English system of jurispridence. One wonders whether the Archbishop of Canterbury would agree with Dr Hasan or Kavita Ramdya.

Who now has the ultimate authority to adjudicate between them?

Friday, September 25, 2009

How Roman Catholic Blair is positioning himself to be Emperor of a secular European Union

Cranmer has been sent this very interesting New York Magazine article, which is reproduced in its entirety:

“Actually,” he says, “what’s interesting is I’ve spoken to several European leaders—I won’t name them—who I didn’t really think were religious at all, and was rather surprised. They know I’ve started this foundation. And they’ll say, ‘That’s really interesting, because you know,’”—and here he lowers his voice a bit—“‘I am actually a practicing Christian.’” Turner adds that prominent business executives have told him the same thing.

It does strike me as rather worrying that European culture is becoming so aggressively atheist that politicians feel obliged to hide their faith. As an agnostic, I’ve no desire for any kind of religious test for office or for politicians to bang on about how God told them to do this or that. But surely politicians should be able to talk, if they want to, about the role faith plays in their life?

This aggressive atheism, and you don’t need to be a psychiatrist to work out why it is so aggressive, is just as unattractive and harmful to public debate as attempts to impose religious conformity on everyone.

Tony Blair was both Britain’s Obama, transforming its politics, and Britain’s Bush, prosecuting a deeply unpopular war. But at Yale last semester, as he moved into his afterlife, he seemed oddly unencumbered by his past.

Most world leaders, like movie stars, have a certain intensity when they walk into a room. Not Tony Blair. He’s mild, light on his feet; he disarms not with seduction but with extreme agreeableness. The first time we meet, in a formal room of the president’s house at Yale University, he pulls open the door and walks in before his aide does. There’s no warning, no fanfare, no nothing. Just … boom, there he is.
“I’m so sorry to be dressed like this.” Which is to say, by Blair standards, informally: gray T-shirt, blazer, acid-washed jeans.

As it happens, today is November 5, the day after Barack Obama’s victory, and Blair seems as elated as the rest of the world. He says he spent the evening in the Caribbean flipping between the BBC and CNN (he declines to give details, but his friend Cliff Richard owns a house in Barbados). “I’ve never known an election to create so much interest and transform people’s view of America again in a positive way,” he says. “Young people out in the middle of nowhere in Palestine have said to me, ‘They wouldn’t really elect a black man to the presidency,’ and I’ve said, ‘Well, I think they would.’ But they’ve been taught for so long that America is … what it actually isn’t. And that’s why this is an enormous moment. It thrills America’s friends and sort of confuses its enemies.”

Blair is familiar with this particular sensation of political euphoria, of course. Like Obama, he was a highly pedigreed lawyer who ran as a post-partisan change candidate. Like Obama, he broke years of what seemed, to progressives, like interminable conservative rule. Like Obama, he was nonconfrontational in style, charismatic without heat (reedy frame, wide-caliber smile), and idealistic without being ideological. His speeches also inspired and rang with logic. International leaders also embraced him and saw his victory as the dawn of a new era. The weight of the world and his own country’s expectations rode heavily, too, on his shoulders. So how, I ask Blair, can Obama make the most of this moment?

“What he can do—and I believe that he will—is find an agenda that is capable of unifying the world,” he says. “An agenda that is about America leading and America listening simultaneously. That’s the key.”

All of which sounds about right. The peculiar irony of this position is that Blair’s own tenure, no matter how distinct his accomplishments—reviving and redefining the Labor Party in the manner of the Clintonian Third Way, putting money back into the ailing health and education systems, negotiating the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland, helping to halt the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo and the bloodshed in Sierra Leone—will be forever marked by his willingness to join hands with America at a time when it was not leading and listening simultaneously but boring implacably forward on its own. By the summer of 2007, when Blair finally stepped down from office, his approval ratings were hovering in the high twenties. Four ministers had resigned over Iraq; when he traveled, he found protesters carrying placards reading BLIAR. And before the war even started, his critics—in Parliament, in the press, on the street—began referring to him by a horribly trivializing moniker, one that clings to him to this day: “Bush’s poodle.

Yale, the following day. There are those in Britain who say that Blair’s presence here in New Haven—he’s teaching a course on faith and globalization, the subjects that most preoccupy him in his political afterlife—is a form of exile. But if that’s the case, he hardly seems to be experiencing it as such. As he settles into another small room at the president’s house to chat with a group of Irish journalists about the Good Friday Agreement (also the subject of today’s class), there’s no sense of dislocation or bitterness. He seems relaxed, reveling in his gifts as a communicator, untroubled by his controversial legacy. “I remember flying into Belfast for a meeting,” Blair tells them. “And Sinn Féin had just invited the Palestinians to town.”

The journalists are looking on, smiling. They’re waiting. Blair’s pretty great with an anecdote. “And they’d put up the Palestinian flag,” he continues.
He takes a sip of tea. Tea is ubiquitous in this place when he’s around. “And going back to the airport the next morning—how they got hold of these things I don’t know—but the Unionists had gotten … Israeli flags.” The journalists double up in laughter. He continues merrily along, channeling the reasoning of the Unionists: “Right! Now we know where they stand, the state of Israel is our adopted state…”

For Blair, perhaps the hardest impression for him to erase in the aftermath of the Iraq War is that he is, to use the language of Bush, a divider, rather than a consensus-seeking diplomat. But his negotiating prowess, and his powers of persuasion, were precisely what he was known for before March 2003. He sees conflict in clear, rational terms; when looking at global problems, he’s nimble at isolating common themes. One of his favorites, a leitmotif in many of his discussions—especially about the Middle East, where he’s currently the special envoy for the so-called Quartet (Russia, the U.S., the U.N., and the E.U.)—is that having an agreed-on method for solving a problem is more important than having a shared vision of the solution. In his view, it’s this crucial distinction that explains why there’s peace in Northern Ireland today but not between Israel and the Palestinians, even though both parties in the latter conflict have a shared vision of two states. “I have this conversation with Al Gore, actually,” Blair later tells me, as we ride to the heart of the Yale campus. “He believes that where there’s a will there’s a way on climate change. I believe that’s true, but where there’s a way there’s also a will.”

All of which raises a crucial question: If Blair believes so strongly that the means is more important than the end, why did he choose to invade Iraq when it was clear that the American government had only an end in mind and no plan for managing the country?

In the U.K., the reasons for Blair’s participation in the Iraq War were the source of endless hypothesizing. Some ran toward the psychologically crude—he’s a compulsive ingratiator, the type who thrills to friendships with the powerful (which would explain his warm relations not just with Bush but with Italy’s lunatic par excellence, Silvio Berlusconi). Some were much more generous, hewing to a simpler narrative of pragmatism and Realpolitik: Blair regarded Saddam Hussein as a genuine menace, and he thought that engaging a powerful country like America to depose him was better in this globally interdependent age than letting our country run rampant on its own. (His mistake was in overestimating the competence of the Bush administration.) And this generous interpretation hardly seems a stretch. Long before he was discussing Iraq with George W. Bush, the subject of how to contain Saddam frequently dominated Blair’s foreign-policy discussions with Bill Clinton, and in March 2003, Blair’s position on the Iraq War was no different from, say, that of both of New York’s Democratic senators, or John Kerry, or John Edwards, or Joe Biden. Like most liberal hawks, he made the case for war in the language of human rights, highlighting the moral urgency of ridding the world of a sociopathic tyrant who ignored the United Nations, gassed his own people, and collected—or so it appeared, anyway—weapons of mass destruction. (He too has since had to rebuff claims that British intelligence was, in the words of an anonymous official to the BBC, “sexed up” in order to make the case for war.)

The difference is that most liberal supporters of the Iraq War have since expressed deep regret over their decision. Blair has not. As The Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland has pointed out, Blair has shown none of the agonizing of previous leaders who supported bloody, unwieldy wars. Lyndon B. Johnson was so tormented by Vietnam one could argue it killed him; Menachem Begin fell into a depression over Lebanon. Even George W. Bush finally looks like he’s capitulated to the strains of higher office, such as he experienced them—his features are haggard, his hair is gray, he’s more checked-out than even his usual level of disengagement. Blair, on the other hand, looks positively youthful, a wholesome picture of serenity and fine health: His trademark smile stretches easily across his face; his blue eyes twinkle; during these two days at Yale, he sports a golden tan (whether it’s from a long weekend of writing his memoirs in the Caribbean or from spending so much time in the Middle East isn’t clear). And whenever he is asked about the war, he shows few traces of remorse. “When I’m out in the Middle East now,” Blair tells me, “I don’t think the region would be more stable if Saddam and his two sons were still running around.”
This may be true, I say, as many people do—this entire conversation is one he’s had hundreds of times before—but some half a million more people might be alive.
“Yeah, but you’ve got to ask who killed them.” This is another part of Blair’s argument, one he’s forever repeating: that the extremists sowing havoc in Iraq right now are the same stripe of fundamentalist warriors who’ve sown havoc across the globe, from Kabul to Mumbai. Which is true enough, but neglects to address the staggering number of Iraqi casualties who died not from terrorism but from a barely contained civil war. “There’s also a lot of people who died and who would have died under Saddam,” he continues. “The arguments are that he would have kept a check on Iran, but if you remember, there were a million casualties in the Iran-Iraq War. I mean, he invaded Kuwait. So I’m not sure he was ever much of a check.”
And this analysis is right, too, so far as it goes. But it’s a highly clinical analysis, long on rhetoric and abstraction, two forms with which Blair is quite comfortable, and short on introspection, let alone emotion.
I ask if Iraq has compromised his effectiveness as a Middle East envoy. “To be honest, I’ve never felt it was a real disabler,” he says. “The Palestinians understand that unless you can be someone who can also approach the Israelis, you can’t actually do anything for them.”

Does he still talk to George W. Bush?

“Yeah, of course I keep in touch with him,” he says. “I’m not a fair-weather friend. I say this to people all the time, even liberal people who cannot believe I can possibly like George W. Bush.”

No, I say. It’s easy enough to believe. As Blair himself told Jon Stewart, he likes George W. Bush.

“But I mean respect him, actually,” he says. “He had very difficult decisions to take after September the 11th, and I think he took the right decisions, actually. I’m afraid that if there was any collective mistake that was made, it was not understanding how deep the struggle is and how long it’s going to have to be fought.”
I’ve heard another interpretation of Blair’s war motives in the U.K. The theory is that he’s grandiose, craving for himself and for Britain a larger, more historic role on the world stage—his critics often refer to his instincts to save the world as Blair’s “messiah complex,” perhaps because he, like Bush, is a believer. But have one conversation with Blair, and it’s clear faith—he very publicly converted to Catholicism after he left office—hasn’t made him grandiose. (Indeed, Blair’s one of the best listeners in public life I’ve ever met.) Rather, it seems to have made him serene. “What I’ve observed,” says George Foulkes, the former undersecretary for international development, who himself voted for the war in the House of Commons, “is that it gave him great inner strength during some awful personal criticism and personal attacks. And I must say, when I was smarting under the criticism, I could see him … not shrugging it off, exactly, but it was less hurtful to him, because he was so fortified by that belief that he has.”

In an interview with Sky News in 2006, Blair more or less allowed as much. The ultimate judgment on his choice to send troops into Iraq, he said, wasn’t only made by the people. “If you believe in God,” he said, “it’s made by God as well.”
I ask Blair if he still talks To George Bush. “Of course. I’m not a fair-weather friend,” he says. “I respect him, actually.”

Woolsey Hall, a few weeks earlier. The place is packed to the rafters, the 2,200 tickets having been snapped up within hours of being offered. Blair sits onstage with a student, Lita Tandon; the president of Yale University, Richard Levin; and Paul Kennedy, the historian who wrote The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. Just hours ago, Blair taught his first class on faith and globalization. Tandon asks Blair the inevitable question: Knowing what you now know, would you have made the choice to invade Iraq?

He is prepared for this moment. “This is where you end up dividing the audience into me and a small number … and the rest.” It does the trick. People start laughing. When the conversation is over, the entire room leaps to its feet.

“He got a standing ovation,” marvels Drew Collins, one of Blair’s students, when asked about it later. “At Yale. And this campus was not in favor of the Iraq War.”
Because the premiership of his charismaless successor, The GORD Brown, was more or less a disaster until the financial crisis, Blair’s standing in his native country has considerably improved over the last year, with a Daily Mail poll from this summer showing that a full 53 percent of Brits regretted his departure. “The vast majority of ordinary people who opposed the war haven’t forgotten,” explains Foulkes, “but they have forgiven.” Nowhere, however, does Blair command more admiration than in the United States. Like Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher, two other Atlanticists whose policies and outlook resonated deeply with Americans, Blair finds that he is liked far more over here than in his native country, even on liberal college campuses. In part, it’s a cultural phenomenon: Blair is a better American politician than most American politicians, a creation spun straight from the looms of Aaron Sorkin’s imagination—funny, self-effacing, articulate, progressive but not excessive, Bible-thumbing but not -thumping. In part, it’s because he stood resolutely by our side during the war, even as Russia and France poked us in the eye. He dignified this questionable act of preemptive aggression, gave it articulate meaning and moral heft. In July 2004, Blair ranked as the most popular international leader in a nationwide Harris poll, beating even Pope John Paul II, and in March 2007, long after our country had soured on the Iraq War, his American ratings remained high—65 percent—while Bush’s were bumping along in the low thirties. At Yale, where the student body and faculty were rather aggressively antiwar—Harold Attridge, the dean of the Yale Divinity School, concedes that he got a few angry letters from alums, “wondering what we were doing getting into bed with this guy”—Blair’s course on faith and globalization proved so popular an offering that 300 students applied for 25 slots.

Blair still commands international influence. His role as special envoy in the Middle East may have been complicated, even compromised, by his alliance with George W. Bush, with some never forgiving him for it—“he has not done a good job there at all,” one former adviser to the Palestinians tells me, “and he was a terrible choice”—but Blair, true to form, has managed to charm those in the region with whom he’s dealing, and he’s made a point of making himself known in the streets. “He’s been to Hebron, Jenin, Jericho, Ramallah, Nablus, the refugee camps,” says Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator. “I’m sure he knows half the Palestinians by now.” (When we close our conversation, he says to me, “When you speak to him, please give him my best regards.”) There’s even talk of Blair’s being the first president of the E.U. “I haven’t heard anyone say he should sit in the corner with a dunce cap on his head and not hit the world stage,” says Kim Campbell, the first woman in Canada to hold the job of prime minister. “He has political capital and a lot to offer.”

Campbell also points out it’s hardly uncommon for former world leaders to live or spend time abroad (she splits her time between the U.S. and France). Sticking around their own countries can appear unseemly if they’ve lost and antagonizing to their successors if they’ve left on their own terms, and Blair famously had a tense relationship with Brown; surely it’s easier to steer clear of him if he’s at Mory’s in New Haven than Pont de la Tour in London. But it’s still safe to say that America is a more comfortable fit for him right now than his homeland. “Be honest—are you yet another American journalist onto a fawning profile of Tony Blair?” demands Philippe Sands, a barrister and professor of law at University College London, when I phone him. Sands was one of the co-founders of Matrix Chambers, a firm specializing in constitutional and international law, with Cherie Booth Blair, in 2000. He is also the author of the book Lawless World, which is fiercely critical of her husband. “Let’s be clear,” he continues. “For the worship in America, there’s disdain in Britain. When there was some talk that there was going to be some sort of Tony Blair Institute for International Relations at the London School of Economics, people just killed it, because it was such a joke—as someone said to me, it would have been like the Saddam Hussein Institute for Human Rights.”

He pauses, reconsiders. “I mean, to give a balanced view, he did something no previous Labor leader had done,” says Sands. “He won three elections, and that is, by any standard, a remarkable achievement. He put quite a lot of money into primary and secondary schools and the National Health Service. He gave British people the sense they were still relevant on a global stage. And Northern Ireland and Kosovo were also positive.”

Which sounds like quite a long list, actually, a modern-day version of Monty Python’s what-have-the-Romans-ever-done-for-us bit in Life of Brian (“The Aqueduct … and sanitation … and the roads…”). But Sands points out that Blair’s domestic achievements, even in the beginning of his tenure, when he had a huge parliamentary majority behind him, were small and incremental, not profound and transformative. He was too cautious, too poll-driven, just like his counterpart across the Atlantic, Bill Clinton, and he revealed a curious obsession with cozying up to big money. “When I was in the United States a week after the presidential election,” says Sands, “I was asked by a member of Obama’s transition team what they could learn from Tony Blair’s first-term failures.”

I tell him what Blair told me: He believed Obama should pursue an agenda that unifies the world. “Well, that’s just it,” says Sands. “I’d have said Obama should address the issues he cares most about.”

When British prime ministers leave office, they generally don’t have the same profile or perks as former American presidents. They’re asked to leave at once, for one thing—imagine if Bush had been asked to leave the White House on November 5!—and their annual stipends are low, just £84,000, or roughly $130,000 per year. (In 2007, taxpayers paid $386,000 more than that for Bill Clinton’s Harlem rent alone.) The day Blair left office, a government car took him to Buckingham Palace, to formally tender his resignation to the queen, and then to the train station. That was that. He carried his own bag aboard the train back to his Trimdon home. For the next ten months, his family and a handful of advisers helped him plan his next steps. One of the first things they had to do was teach him how to use e-mail.

But Blair, a mere 55, is now hewing as close to an American model of post-political life—Clinton’s specifically—as any former European leader ever has, and his support for the Iraq War hardly seems to be getting in his way. His memoir, to be published by Random House, earned him a reported $9 million advance; he flies hither and yon to speak, reportedly making up to $500,000 per engagement. And ultimately, Blair, like Clinton, hopes to relax into foundation work. The smaller charity he founded, the Tony Blair Sports Foundation, is a modest effort, dedicated to improving the health of those in the northeast of the U.K., where he’s from. (“Whenever he goes back, it’s fantastic,” says Ruth Turner, Blair’s former director of government relations. “He wears a track suit all day.”) But in the long run, the project that will occupy most of his time, he says, and that he hopes will leave a lasting legacy, is his interfaith work at the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, dedicated to spotlighting the good that religion can do as the world knits together, and giving material support to already-successful faith groups that fight poverty and disease.
“In some sense, his interfaith work is the same attempt to do to faith what he did for social democracy,” says Matthew Taylor, Blair’s former chief strategy adviser. “Faith has given itself a bad name, and it has to turn outwards, talking to people besides its own flock, so to speak—just like the Labor Party did.”
Which is, of course, a noble goal. But what does that mean in practical terms? How does one give this idea legs? Blair emphasizes the tangible goals of the foundation, like helping religious groups dedicated to the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals to end poverty (it currently works with Malaria No More and Interfaith Youth Core to distribute mosquito nets, for instance). But there are quite a few organizations that already do that. Blair argues that his role as Middle East envoy is also an extension of his commitment to religious reconciliation. (“If you achieve something in the Middle East,” he says, “you are giving it legs.”) But his Iraq legacy could clearly limit his effectiveness in the region.

In the end, says Blair, he hopes to give religious reconciliation a platform and profile, and he believes strongly in fighting zealotry, no matter where it is. But in this way, Blair’s reasons for launching his faith foundation start to seem like his reasons for going into Iraq—defined by, if not trapped in, abstract ideals.
Which is not to say that faith isn’t extremely meaningful to Blair. It was faith, in fact, that lured him into politics: As an undergraduate at Oxford, he became beguiled by the Scottish moral philosopher John MacMurray, who believed the path to spiritual fulfillment was through helping others. His interest in faith is ecumenical, intellectual. He travels with a Koran as well as a Bible, often pointing out to Christian audiences that Islam reveres Jesus as a prophet. Though he never believed his personal views had any place in the public square—his family pastor from Sedgefield, Father John Caden, recently told me, “He was very much against abortion, but his conscience never allowed him to force others into his line of thinking”—he was steadfast in his practice. While in office, he always insisted on going to church on Sundays, wherever he was, and whenever possible.
There are those in Britain who say that Tony Blair’s presence in America is a form of exile. But he shows no signs of dislocation or bitterness.

It’s hard to convey how unusual this level of religiosity was from a British public official—and, by extension, what an unusual choice Blair’s interfaith foundation is as a post-political project. In his lectures, Blair is fond of noting that only 30 percent of all Europeans consider religion an important part of their lives, compared with over 60 percent of all Americans and 90 percent of those living in Muslim countries. Blair’s own father was an atheist. Whenever I discussed Blair’s faith with M.P.’s or former aides, they invariably said the same thing Taylor did: “His faith is a complete mystery to me—but that’s the nature of faith, isn’t it?” A number of them, and friends too, went so far as to discourage him from starting a faith foundation, even though he’d stepped down from public life. While he was in office, any discussion of religion was strictly forbidden: In 2003, when David Margolick asked Blair about his faith for a story in Vanity Fair, Alastair Campbell, Blair’s colorful communications man, famously cut in before he could answer: “We don’t do God.”

“Look, you can make the case extremely convincingly for why religion is an absolutely terrible thing, and you’ll be right in every single respect,” says Turner, now the chief executive of Blair’s faith foundation. “Except for the fact that it’s not only like that,” she says, “and anyway, it’s not going to go away.” (As she was saying this, it occurred to me that the two blockbuster books about atheism of the last couple of years, God Is Not Great and The God Delusion, were by two Brits, Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, respectively.)

Shortly after Blair stepped down from office, he finally converted to Roman Catholicism, the faith of his wife and his four children. This conversion was surely something he couldn’t have done while he was still in office; it would have been endlessly parsed by the public and the press (especially in a country where Catholics still can’t ascend the throne). After class at Yale one day, I ask if he’s relieved to be talking about faith openly now.

“Absolutely,” he says. “First of all, in our political culture … talking about religion is not a good idea”—he waves his hand in dismissal—“and secondly, it can distract. People start talking about your religious faith when they should be talking about your health-care policy. And I’d been interested in the interfaith notion for years, even prior to September the 11th.”

We can only assume that the pope's address to the Roman curia was prompted by its rivalry with Islam for the hearts and minds of humanity, that territory always susceptible of being colonised by the curiously tenacious imperialism of the hereafter.

The dominance of eternity over the temporal is an increasingly unappealing prospect in a world which offers such palpable and material joys. The afterlife appears even more pallid, even repugnant, to those who might once have aspired to its deferred blessings. Whatever the disadvantages of the here-and-now of consumerism, there is scant yearning for their replacement by a revival of the everlasting feast.
The subjective experience of human beings in the struggle over sexuality, slowly and over centuries, disconfirmed joyless teachings that consigned so many people to damnation in the next world after imposing acute misery, persecution and criminalisation in this one.

The pope's concession to the environment is perfunctory and superficial – "Yes, the tropical forests merit our protection" – and subordinated to "the human being as a creature (which) merits no less protection – a creature in which a message is written which does not imply a contradiction of our liberty, but rather the condition for it." In other words, the salvation of humanity is dependent not upon the preservation of the wasted and used-up resource base of the earth, but upon recognising the stark distinction between male and female, lest a blurring of these categories engulfs the whole world in a chaos of promiscuous androgyny and sex separated from procreation.

It is perhaps too much to expect a church obsessed with sex to place the threat to human survival with the waste and depletion of the earth, living as though there were no tomorrow (either terrestrial or celestial), but to seek to equate environmental degradation with the spoiling of the formulaic "lifetime bond between a man and a woman, as a sacrament of creation which the Creator instituted and Christ then welcomed into the story of his covenant with humanity". It is also unlikely that a religion that gave human beings dominion over nature, the conquest of which has been one of its proudest achievements, is going to contribute anything very helpful to the discussion of the relationship either between humanity and the earth, or the social and economic (as opposed to sexual) relationships between people on it.

What vision of shadowy contagion lurks in the gloomy monumentalism of the Vatican - is it some imagined proselytism of homosexuality or the erosion of the antique impermeability between male and female? What disordered fears rise up out of the dark corners of its baroque splendour, and what antique superstitions still hover around the musty documents in the museums of pontifical infallibility, that these can be disturbed from the ageless torpor in which they have dwelt, and sent out to cow and frighten a bewildered world once more?

We are living in an age where other-worldly beliefs are on the march again, rushing to fill the spaces evacuated by secular ideologies. The pope is in the forefront of a malign promise that eternal truths can relieve the intractable and highly material sorrows of the world; a project calculated to lead to fresh wars of religion, only this time, fought with weapons of a destructiveness which even the gods have hitherto forborne to us.

With whom, I ask, does he discuss matters of faith, other than Cherie?

“Actually,” he says, “what’s interesting is I’ve spoken to several European leaders—I won’t name them—who I didn’t really think were religious at all, and was rather surprised. They know I’ve started this foundation. And they’ll say, ‘That’s really interesting, because you know,’”—and here he lowers his voice a bit—“‘I am actually a practicing Christian.’” Turner adds that prominent business executives have told him the same thing.

Blair’s opening lecture at Yale. His students love him. They say he’s easygoing, schmoozy. Before class starts, he introduces himself to everyone by name; during the break, he will linger and continue chatting with students who are having a debate.
“I would identify three aspects to faith when we talk about it as an objective force,” he says. “One is that faith can become a means of self-identity: This defines my culture; this defines my political attitude.” One can intuitively understand this statement in the context of wars with religious components: I’m Sunni, and you’re Shia; I’m Catholic, and you’re Protestant.

“A second aspect,” he says, “is that it’s just part of my tradition: ‘I grew up in a certain type of society that was defined by my faith.’” My father’s father’s father practiced this faith, in other words, and that’s why I’m a Catholic/Hindu/Jew.
“And then there is a third way,” he says, “faith as spiritual awakening: faith as it defines my values and beliefs, not in a cultural sense but in a personal sense.”
And this final aspect of faith, if you think about it, best describes Tony Blair’s. His faith is personally and deeply felt, something he’s studied and thought hard about, something that’s quietly animated his life choices and provided a code of values to live by. The second aspect doesn’t describe him—he hardly had a faith tradition in his family if his father was an atheist—nor does the first: Faith couldn’t have distinguished his political identity if he couldn’t even talk about it when he was in politics.

George W. Bush may also experience faith as spiritual, a force that defines his values and beliefs. We should grant him that. But faith absolutely distinguishes him politically. Though he may never have said outright that he’s the leader of a Christian nation, he reportedly told Palestinian leaders that he believed God told him to end the tyranny in Iraq, and he has described, now infamously, the war on terror as “a crusade.”

“I call it ‘thick’ and ‘thin’ religion,” says Miroslav Volf, Blair’s co-teacher at Yale this past semester. “‘Thin’ is a cultural resource that provides a canopy over who we are, and it functions to legitimize, to sacralize, what we would have done in any case. Whereas a ‘thick’ religiosity has commitment, a sense of values, a sense of historical depth. And my theory,” he says, “is that when you have a thinning out of religion, it’s more likely to promote violence.”

Both Blair and Bush took their nations to war in Iraq. And we’ll never know how, or if, their faiths played a role in making their decisions. Blair chafes whenever anyone suggests it did, noting that outsiders can choose to interpret all choices made by a believer through the prism of his faith, even if other principles were in fact guiding the way. “The reasons for the conflict,” he told me, “were the reasons that were given.”

But at the very least, Blair’s analysis does show how two very different kinds of politicians who call themselves Christians can get to the same place. Blair believes in just wars. It was he, ultimately, who convinced Bill Clinton to intervene in Kosovo and halt the ethnic cleansing of Albanians. “You can put it this way,” says Volf. “Blair is standing at the center of faith, and he’s asking, ‘How can this faith and the good of that faith be socially promoted?’ Whereas Bush stands almost at the boundary of the faith, meaning, ‘How do I defend from incursion from the outside?’”

It’s this distinction that perhaps explains why so many of us, myself included, still have affection for Tony Blair, and manage to see him as different from George W. Bush. But if God is the ultimate judge, will He factor in good intentions, when so many lives were lost in Iraq? For now, Blair believes he did the right thing, and as a leader he was obliged to make a choice. So he continues to explain that decision to us with articulate precision, just as he continues, with CinemaScope vision and a thousand-watt smile, to explain the wide array of forces now shaping the world. But how he’ll move through that world—at cruising altitude or with his long legs planted firmly on the ground—will be something to watch in the years ahead, just as it will with Obama, whose high-flown oratory now needs earthbound translation. Bush will vanish without a trace, and good riddance to him. But Blair will not. If he figures out how to make real amends—to contribute something to the world that goes beyond the lovely pageantry of words and ideas—he may, at long last, have found the true Third Way.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Vatican: Tony Blair is ‘probable future president of the European Union’

The visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the UK next year will not only invigorate his flock and shed a little holy aura on his ‘soulmate’(?) Prime Minister Cameron. It will be of immeasurable use to Tony Blair in his quest to be President of Europe.

In an interview with L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican's daily newspaper, he reveals that his new-found faith had become the driving force in his life. He said he considers Pope Benedict's belief that God is central to politics, society, economics and culture to be ‘brilliant’.

Simple things.

But the Vatican also let it slip that they believe him to be the anointed one: the heir to Charlemagne; the future President of Europe.

Mr Blair has become increasingly popular with the Vatican in recent months, and Cranmer is not entirely sure why. A packed conference in Italy gave him an ovation for his speech about the ‘universality of Catholicism’ (well, there’s a mind-blowing revelatory tautology). The Pope's newspaper has been quite effusive in a superficial kind of way, calling the former prime minister ‘a gentleman, educated, smiley, courteous in a way few know how to be’.

All the qualifications necessary for modern political discourse.

Mr Blair spoke about his conversion and how important his new faith was to him. He recalled how, when he was a child, ‘in one of her rare moments of lucidity, during an illness, my great-grandmother – who was in many ways fantastic – told me, “Do whatever you want but don't marry a Catholic”. Which is exactly what I did.’

Mr Blair’s great-grandmother’s advice is, of course, still heeded by the Monarch.

He further revealed that his conversion was ‘a path I have followed for 25 years’, assisted, he added, by a crucial private mass held by Pope John Paul II in 2003. He said: "It was an episode which really struck me." He added, “Catholicism's universality is its appeal. If you are Catholic you can go anywhere in the world and take part in mass in any country."

The last people to understand this, he complained, were British journalists, who are still unprepared for religious, let alone Catholic, politicians.

"It's a shame but that is how it is. However, I can say that for normal people, as opposed to those who speak on TV or write in newspapers, it was never a problem."

It is interesting to read that Mr Blair considers journalists to be abnormal.

Cranmer knows one or two.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Pope to visit Britain in 2010

It is reported that Pope Benedict XVI is to visit the UK in January 2010 (that was the BBC's first reported date: it has since been amended to 'details to be announced').

It will be the first papal visit to Britain since 1982, when Pope John Paul II's six-day tour drew them from the four corners of the state to touch the hem of his garment.

This visit will doubtless coincide with the beatification of Cardinal Newman, and Gordon Brown will also hope to use it as a useful prelude to an April(?) general election.

Nothing like a bit of feel-good fervour to mesmerise the masses and induce acceptance of the status quo.

Christians face trial for criticising Islam

Cranmer has been contacted by a personal friend of Ben and Sharon Vogelenzang, Christians and members of the Bootle Christian Fellowship who run the Bounty House Hotel in Liverpool. He has written that ‘they are the most inoffensive people you could meet’.

Yet they were arrested and charged under Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 and Section 31 (1) (c) and (5) of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, for using ‘threatening, abusive or insulting words’ that were ‘religiously aggravated’. They face prosecution for defending the Christian faith and for criticising Islam. A criminal trial has been set for 8th and 9th December at Liverpool Magistrates' Court. If convicted, they face a fine of up to £5,000 and a criminal record.

It transpires that a Muslim guest complained that she was offended by comments allegedly made on 20th March, during a discussion about whether Jesus is the Son of God or just a minor prophet of Islam. Although the facts are disputed, the Muslim says that Mohammed was referred to as a ‘warlord’ and that Islamic dress for women is ‘a form of bondage’.

As a result, a major client of the couple's hotel has ceased referring guests because of the incident. This has led to an 80 per cent drop in the hotel's income, leaving the couple in financial difficulty. They have been forced to lay off staff and run the nine-bedroom hotel by themselves, leaving them exhausted and demoralised. Their business may now fail altogether.

In another country, such economic persecution might be termed ‘cleansing’.

Mr and Mrs Vogelenzang say that when the Muslim woman in question realised they were Christians, she kept trying to provoke them and start arguments about religion. They were wary of her and kept trying to change the subject but were always measured in tone and reasonable in the defence of their faith. They deny that they were threatening, abusive or insulting. Then, on her final day in the hotel, the Muslim woman emerged from her room in a burkha and started ranting at them about their Christian beliefs in an abusive and insulting fashion.

Nothing provocative there, of course. No crime was committed. No prosecution will ensue. One cannot say that Mohammed was a ‘warlord’, but one can say that Jesus was ‘only a prophet’ and insist that he was not crucified.

Both assertions may be offensive to adherents of the respective religions.

The problem is that the Quar’an and Hadith rather confirm that Mohammed was indeed a warlord. The Bible states that Jesus was rather more than a prophet and was most certainly crucified.

This case raises very important issues of religious liberty. It only ever seems to be Christians who suffer unjust treatment because of their faith. Time and again, public bodies in particular misapply the law in a way that seems to sideline Christianity more than any other faith.

The purpose of the Public Order Act is to prevent violence, yobbish abuse or disorder. Is it designed to protect the peace and security of the realm; to guard private property and people’s safety. But it is increasingly being used by the police in cases where someone complains about being ‘offended’, the result of which is that they enforce the ideas and beliefs of a self-regarding and dogmatic elite.

It is bizarre that it should be used as a result of a private conversation in which personal views are expressed.

Could a schoolteacher now be prosecuted for suggesting that Mohammed was a warlord?

Could a Protestant be arrested for saying the Pope's a Catholic?

The police have a legal duty under the Human Rights Act to defend free speech, but this is apparently subsumed to their overriding concern to appease religious minorities, and one minority in particular.

The Public Order Act of 1986 was passed by Parliament to control public processions and assemblies and to deter manifestations of racial hatred. The Crime and Disorder Act of 1998 was similarly designed to prevent racial harassment.

Cranmer has said this a million times: Islam is not a race. It is a religio-political construct expounding a doctrine of life in complete submission to the will and purposes of Allah, mediated by the teachings and actions of Mohammed who is believed to be a prophet, and who fought the indigenous tribes of Mecca for eight years, finally defeating them with his 10,000 strong army. He told his followers to make war on non-Muslims (9:5,29). Sura 9 was one of the last Suras given by Muhammad. Initially, when Mohammed's forces were weak, he ordered his followers to form treaties and engage in diplomacy. When they had attained positions of power and strength, he ordered them to spread Islam by force. Abu Bakr, Umar, and Uthman continued his wars of aggression. One of Mohammad’s actions includes the massacre of approximately 800 Jewish male captives (Sura 33:26).

Ergo, he was a 'warlord'.

In the United Kingdom, one is at perfect liberty to say this or to disagree with it.

Some Muslim women may wear the hijab or burkha out of choice, but very many indeed are obliged to do so through domestic oppression or community expectation. Some Muslim men hold literally to the exhortation of Sura 4:34, which speaks of the treatment of women: 'As those you fear may be rebellious, admonish, banish them to their couches, and beat them.'

And Muslim women may indeed suffer such abuse if their hair, necks or faces are seen by men other than their family members.

Ergo, it may be perceived by women in particular as a 'form of bondage'.

It is curious indeed that the Crown Prosecution Service has seen fit to bring this case, when they are so utterly and inadequately silent on the persecution, threats, abuse or insults increasingly being borne by Christians.

Cranmer awaits a knock on the door.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Trust in Labour evaporates

According to The Guardian, The Conservative Party now enjoys a 17 point lead over Labour.

Cranmer is not a psephologist, and has little time for polls, but he was struck by the headline: Voters believe Labour is not telling truth...

That is to say, the Government is lying.

It is damning indeed that even Labour supporters do not trust their party: only 36 per cent of current Labour supporters, and just 26 per cent of its 2005 voters, think the government is telling the truth about the nation's finances.

Truth, trust, integrity, honesty, authenticity have all been eroded under this government. It is not only time for a change: it is time for a miracle.

Locke believed trust to be central to consensual government: trustworthiness is inherent to the success of our institutions. Government brings forth truth by its sentences, statements and propositions. It is permitted the occasional noble lie, but Labour's entire discourse has become a lie. A decade of indoctrination which has yielded nothing but doubt.

There is no legitimacy in a government which makes a virtue of deceit.

If Cranmer were not so depressed, he would write more. But his spirit is the lowest it has been since he faced death. And for that, he cannot blame Labour.

Monday, September 21, 2009

"But the things which come out of the mouth come from the heart"

In a New Statesman article over the summer Mehdi Hasan (Senior Political Editor) firmly rebuts any accusations of his being an Islamist or Islamic extremist, even though he was never accused of being such.

Touchy people, these New Statesman journalists.

Mr Hasan had made a speech at the The Islamic Unity Society, in which he implied it was correct to call “The kaffar, the disbelievers, the atheists who remain deaf and stubborn to the teachings of Islam, …. a people of no intelligence, … like ignorant cattle …”

Harry’s Place took him to task over this, which seemed a reasonable thing to do as he is a senior editor of a national magazine seeking to inform and influence its readership. One was therefore perfectly entitled to ask why he used those phrases and what he understood by them. A veritable blog war ensued between Harry’s Place and various supporters of Mr Hasan.

His supporters accused Harry’s Place of taking the words out of context; it was really the whole speech that he should be judged by.

So, what of the speech?

The greater part of it is an exhortation for Muslims to seek knowledge, especially from non-Muslims. Mr Hasan quotes instances of how Islam and Islamic teaching in the past have been a strong force for education and literacy. He explains how the Qur’an is full of encouragement for individuals to expand their knowledge even from non-Muslims, even from as far away as China. In fact, ‘knowledge’ is what Islam itself is really all about.

The offending words emanated from the Mr Hasan’s mouth and suited his rhetoric perfectly. And it was the style which some found disconcerting. It is a fiery sermon – the speaker’s voice is raised and one can picture him banging the podium and gesticulating. The audience cannot but participate, responding in unison with religious incantations to the speaker’s cues, as they are heard to do whenever Mohammed is mentioned by name.

He condemns the backwardness of the Islamic world in respect of science and he provides figures for how little Islamic countries spend on research and development compared to other countries. They spend far too much money on bombs, he says. He quotes the well-known statistic for Nobel prizes, with Muslims having a pathetic handful for all their 1.2 billion adherents worldwide.

In a brief anecdote to illustrate the ignorance of Muslims of the non-Muslim world he tells how he challenged a well-educated young woman at a conference on Palestine for saying that Fox News could not be trusted because it was controlled by Jews. He mocks the Taliban for calling themselves ‘students’.

Like many Muslims, he compensates for his stinging criticism of the Islamic world by referring to its past glories. He says Islam had a significant if not decisive influence on Western science. He names an Islamic scholar whom he describes as the father of modern chemistry and physics.

Such claims are dubious, to say the least.

But about 40 minutes into the speech, the style and rhetoric undergo a dramatic transformation.

The turning point is the speaker’s reference to the Imam Ali and how he is or represents a gateway to knowledge.

He goes on to a mouth-foaming rant about the trials and tribulations of Muslims and refers to specific cases. This continues for the remainder of the sermon – a further 20 minutes of fanatical hyperbole. He whips his audience up into an emotional frenzy – the whole room is crying or moaning.

Mr Hasan exhorts Muslims to go out and seek knowledge from others, non-Muslims, even to China. But a pre-requisite in the search for knowledge is an open mind: to be prepared to let new information and new knowledge change one’s understanding. Mr Hasan appears to display little of this quality.

He may not be an Islamist, he may not be an extremist, but he is undoubtedly vulnerable to accusations of being a Qur’an-thumping believer.

Cranmer would like to ask him:

(1) Does he believe that democracy with man-made laws is the best form of government?

(2) What is his position on Freedom of Speech? In particular, what is his view on the Salman Rushdie fatwa? Was it right or wrong? And what about those Danish cartoons?

(3) Is he in favour of integration or multiculturism? Is he in favour of the growing use of Shari’a courts to settle Muslim domestic affairs and business-related disputes?

(4) Given the British distaste for covering the face, what does he think of Muslim woman in this country who wear a burkah?

(5) Should women be treated as equal to men in all marriage, family, and legal matters such as divorce and inheritance?

(6) What, if any, does he believe should be the punishment for apostasy?

Perhaps the New Statesman might interview him, for his appointment as political editor raises more than a few concerns. This speech, available for all to hear, is no different from the Islam of Abu Hamza, Abu Qatada, Ayman al Zawahiri, Anjem Chaudary, or any of the other ‘moderate Muslims’ who believe that Islam must dominate by whatever means are at its disposal.

If, as the magazine avers, the Conservative Party is 'institutionally racist', is the New Statesman becoming occupationally Islamist?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Education, education, education – cut, cut, cut.

The Prime Minister conceded at the TUC conference that the recession meant he would have to ‘cut costs, cut inefficiencies, cut unnecessary programmes and cut lower priority budgets’. And now his ministers are putting flesh on the bones, or rather identifying where they will unleash the necrotising fasciitis to remove some flesh from the bones.

And it transpires that more than £2 billion will be cut from the schools budget.

£2 billion?

With 22,337 state schools in England, this represents a cut of £90,000 per school – roughly equivalent to three teachers or £275 per pupil.

Since there is an assurance that ‘front-line’ services (whatever they are) will be protected, Ed Balls wishes to axe up to 3,000 senior school staff, including headteachers and deputies. He is using the budget crisis to force schools into federations – multiple schools run by a single team under a ‘Super Head’ – which are presently merged only to assist underperforming schools.

The enforced federation of successful schools is a back-door strategy to achieve universal comprehensive education. When headteachers of grammar schools become ‘Super Heads’ and lead secondary moderns and other schools in their area, there can be no denying that the result is a monolithic structure for the provision of comprehensive education under a single director. Over time, courses at one school will be offered to pupils at another, and mixed-ability teaching will become the norm in order to sustain a viable pupil-teacher ratio.

But what does the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families think these manifestly dispensable senior school staff do?

Does he not realise that their interminable days are occupied dealing with ‘initiatives’ from his department for literacy, numeracy, ICT, inclusion, the Gifted and Talented, Work Related Learning, Every Child Matters, Extended Schools, Specialist Schools, workforce remodelling, changes to curricula, qualifications, inspections and buildings?

And all of these programmes have only succeeded in breeding a culture of mind-numbing, box-ticking mediocrity. Schools do not now so much inspire learners to a genuine life-long love of intellectual discourse; they produce citizens who are able to regurgitate bite-sized snippets of pro-forma answers which subscribe to the state-decreed orthodoxy.

And some leave school without even the ability to do that.

Many teachers are profoundly disillusioned with the extent of the Government’s failure. And it is not only teachers who have had their eyes opened to the vapid emptiness of Labour’s perpetual boast that it has revolutionized provision and raised standards. The OECD have shown that British pupils have a poorer grasp of literacy and numeracy than most other children across the developed world. Their report reveals that in the past six years, the United Kingdom has fallen from eighth to 24th place in the international league table for maths, with British 15-yearolds said to be ‘below average’ in comparison with their peers in other countries.

When it comes to education, the choice is now clear: it is between Labour cuts and Tory reform and investment.

Eid Mubarak!

As Muslims in the United Kingdom and around the world (and Mayor Boris) complete the month of Ramadan and celebrate Eid-ul-Fitr, Cranmer would like to extend his personal greetings on this joyous occasion. Eid is a time to celebrate the completion of 30 days and nights of devotion. But even on this festive occasion, Muslims remember those less fortunate, including those impacted by poverty, hunger, conflict, and disease. Throughout the month, Muslim communities collect and distribute zakat-ul-fitr so that all Muslims are able to participate in this day of celebration.

May your day be filled with joy and your future with peace.

Eid Mubarak!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Tesco moves to define legitimate religion

Permitted by Tesco...................Prohibited by Tesco...............

Cranmer has warned for years of the absurd consequences of religious relativism and New Labour’s obsession with ‘equality’ and its nonsensical anti-discrimination agenda which demands that every creed be treated with equal reverence and respect and that no offence may be given to anyone about anything.

This sort of incident has been looming for years, and His Grace is delighted by the legal issues which arise as a result of this appalling discrimination. Certainly, it is humorous, and, being British, we will laugh at it. But we are in a context in which the Pagan Police Association are granted holidays to practise withcraft, and in which employees may wear bangles, hijabs and turbans but not crosses.

The issue of the persecution of and discrimination against the Jedi fraternity raises very important issues relating to the definition of religion and at what point a belief system becomes legitimate and officially recognised by the state (or Tesco, which amounts to the same thing).

The reality is that Tesco does indeed permit women wearing hijabs into their stores without let or hindrance. They would probably also admit women wearing burkahs to survey the halal section, fearful of the consequences of a lawsuit on the grounds of religious discrimination and the consequent Muslim backlash which might ensue. Islam and Islamic attire are somehow ‘recognised’ and deemed to be ‘legitimate’, though there is nothing written in law which states this: they simply enjoy the religious liberties which have developed over the centuries.

Jedi, according to the last census, outnumber both Sikhs and Jews in the UK. Indeed, there are reported to be half a million worldwide, so numerical adherence cannot be the criterion upon which Tesco makes its judgement about legitimacy. Jedi are reported to possess a ‘church’ and a creed, they adhere to doctrine and submit to the ‘Force’.

It is presumptuous of Tesco to challenge Morda Hehol (Daniel Jones) the UK leader of the Jedi on the basis that ‘Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda and Luke Skywalker all went hoodless without going to the Dark Side’.

There is no stipulation in the Qur’an for women to wear either hijabs or burkahs, and Muslim women far more well-known than Obi-Wan Kenobi all go ‘hijab-less’ without joining the kuffar.

The leader of British Jedis now feels ‘victimised’ and ‘emotionally humiliated’ by the experience.

Cranmer exhorts him to pursue the matter through the courts, for although many international and regional human rights instruments guarantee rights related to freedom of religion or belief, none attempts to define the term ‘religion’. The absence of a definition is not peculiar to international human rights conventions; most national constitutions also include clauses on freedom of religion without defining it. Thus we are presented, on the one hand, with important provisions guaranteeing fundamental rights pertaining to religion, but on the other hand the term itself is left undefined. Of course, the absence of a definition of a critical term does not differentiate religion from most other rights identified in human rights instruments and constitutions. However, because religion is much more complex than other guaranteed rights, the difficulty of understanding what is and is not protected is significantly greater.

Theologians and philosophers may have the luxury of imprecision, but lawyers and judges do not.

It would greatly assist if the judiciary would establish a little case-law clarity on what now constitutes a legitimate religion in the UK, who is judged to be a messenger of God, what doctrine may be preached, what creed followed, and what liberties may be removed by Tesco.

And Cranmer would be more than happy to start a collection to assist with the Jedis’ legal expenses (and he will even put them in touch with one of the foremost legal minds in the area of religious liberty).

Rosh HaShanah 2009 / 5770 - Kisiva Vachasima Tova!

Cranmer wishes all of his Jewish readers and communicants L'SHANAH TOVAH TIKATEVU! (Literal translation: 'May you be inscribed [in the Book of Life] for a good year').

Rosh HaShanah is observed on the first two days of Tishrei. Jewish tradition teaches that during the High Holy Days God decides who will live and who will die during the coming year. As a result, during Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur (and in the days leading up to them) Jews embark upon the serious task of examining their lives and repenting for any wrongs they have committed during the previous year. This process of repentance is called teshuvah. Jews are encouraged to make amends with anyone they have wronged and to make plans for improving during the coming year. In this way, Rosh HaShanah is all about making peace in the community and striving to be a better person.

His Grace hopes that Mayor Boris will exhort all Gentiles to reflect over these 10 days leading to Yom Kippur, and celebrate the advent of the year 5770 with you - in order that Judaism may be better understood and resurgent anti-Semitism exposed and challenged.

The Prime Minister has sent greetings to the Jewish community. He said:

“Friends, as we approach Rosh Hashanah I wanted to take the opportunity to wish you a good and sweet year.

“My admiration for the British Jewish community is boundless and as you gather in homes and synagogues across the country, our thoughts are with you all and we pray for a year of peace and prosperity for all the world.

“As the shofar awakens you to reflect upon your lives, so too may it call on all of us to think about how we can be better servants of our communities. My warm best wishes extend to your family and friends. Ketiva ve-chatima tovah.”

Friday, September 18, 2009

New Statesman: ‘Conservative Party is institutionally racist’

Yeah, right.

Any apparent reserve is because Mr Cameron is English, Anglican, Eton, Oxford and heterosexual, not because the demonstrative affectionate one is of a dark hue. Here are just a few of the present and potential Conservative MPs in the next parliament:

They include: Annesley Abercorn (Hazel Grove), Kemi Adegoke (Dulwich and West Norwood), Shaun Bailey (Hammersmith), Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham), Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones (Chippenham), Helen Grant (Maidstone and the Weald), Zahid Iqbal (Bradford West), Priti Patel (Witham), Adeela Shafi (Bristol East), Alok Sharma (Reading West), Deborah Thomas (Twickenham), Paul Uppal (Wolverhampton South West. And, of course, Adam Afriyie (Windsor) and Shailesh Vara (North West Cambridgeshire).

The New Statesman is institutionally disingenuous and pathologically deceitful.

It is noteworthy that they have taken down their nasty, spiteful article, perhaps fearful of a lawsuit. It may be found here, complete with a string of damning comments and revealing defences by the author.

'Cameron is not an enigma, he’s an Anglican'

From The Spectator (no longer accessible free online, but Cranmer is persuaded that the religio-political observations in this article justify a minor breach of copyright, if such it be). David Cameron is indeed the very incarnation of the via media. His Grace was going to fisk it, but he has been ambushed by the Devil and besieged by demons, and is consequently more than a little preoccupied with tedious personal matters and distractions.

The Tory leader is not a holy man, says Andrew Gimson, but he is steeped in C of E tradition and, like the Church, he relies on an innate moral compass

The reason why so many people cannot fathom David Cameron is that he is an Anglican. This gives him considerable (some would say contemptible) flexibility as far as dogma is concerned, while making him intent on upholding a strict (if unstated) code of behaviour.

No wonder the Tory leader infuriates those in his own party who crave certainty. The hungry sheep look up and are not fed. Theirs is the predicament of Nigerian Christians who look to Canterbury for dogma, and find themselves fobbed off with liberalism.

Robin Harris, who as director of the Conservative Research Department was Cameron’s first employer at Westminster, gave memorable expression to the sense of betrayal felt by such Tories when he said of the present leader: ‘I don’t think that in any shape or form he could be described as a Conservative in philosophical terms. He has no principled sense of direction: his only sense of direction is upwards.’

Critics who demand intellectual consistency are unlikely ever to be satisfied by Cameron, one of whose merits is his refusal to confine himself in an ideological straitjacket, especially an out-of-date one. Christopher Caldwell recently defined in the New York Times the dilemma facing the three Tory leaders before Cameron: ‘They could not embrace Thatcherism, because it lost elections for them, but they could not discard it, because it was their intellectual lodestar.’

Cameron escapes this problem by not being an intellectual. This does not mean he is stupid: he is astonishingly quick on the uptake; but it means he can leave to anxious members of his staff the thankless task of discerning the coherence of his ideas. Nor would those staff get any thanks if they tried to discharge that task by telling inquirers that their boss is an Anglican: such an answer would produce a mixture of scorn and incomprehension, and would be taken as confirmation of Dave’s essential vacuousness.

The vacuum is in the imagination of those critics who assume that ‘Anglican’ is synonymous with ‘wishy-washy’. I am not a friend of Cameron’s, and reserve the right to be as rude about him as occasion may require, but I think I can see, albeit from a considerable distance, where he is coming from. He was brought up in an old rectory which stands next to a church where his father served as churchwarden and his mother did the flowers. His memory of Sundays is that ‘you spent a lot of time walking through the graveyard’, and he has also said, ‘When I think of home, I think of church.’

Cameron knows, as Gordon Brown does not, that ostentatious piety simply will not do, so when taxed with his family’s Anglicanism he plays it down. In an interview with Charles Moore, he said, ‘We didn’t all sit around reading the Bible every day,’ and when Moore pointed out that some of his family were holy and a great-uncle was a bishop, Cameron replied with a laugh, ‘Anglican and holy are not the same thing at all.’

Which is perfectly true, and from the point of view of this article there is no need to accuse Cameron of being holy. Nor is it conclusive that he sends his daughter to a church school, attached to a church where he himself worships and sometimes takes the crèche: this latter an experience which enables him to tell stories against himself about his inability to keep small children in order while explaining a biblical story to them with the help of a bucket of water and a cup.

The point is that Cameron is steeped in an Anglican tradition of behaviour. This gives him an innate sense that there are certain things one simply cannot do: he too has a moral compass, though the magnetism of power is such that in years to come we may find it deviating every bit as wildly as the ancestral, brass-bound instrument which Brown carried proudly all the way from Kirkcaldy to Downing Street.

Many observers are struck by the rapidity and confidence of Cameron’s judgment. He is quick not merely because he is clever, but because the greater part of his thinking has been done for him by previous generations, and he has the sense to accept this inheritance. The Tory leader is not some rootless rationalist, as sketched in Michael Oakeshott’s sublime essay on Rationalism in Politics, who ‘with an almost poetic fancy... strives to live each day as if it were his first’. Cameron instead takes his place in a political tradition which as Oakeshott reminds us ‘is pre-eminently fluid’, though the rationalist attributes to it ‘the rigidity and fixity of character which in fact belongs to ideological politics’.

By this stage the reader may impatiently be asking for some practical example of where Cameron’s Anglicanism can be shown to have had an effect. If forced to offer an example, I would cite the Tory leader’s almost evangelical insistence on the value of marriage: ‘My view is that marriage is simply a very good institution. It’s not the only way that couples come together and stay together, but it helps people, the sense of commitment, the fact that you’re standing there in front of friends and relatives and saying it’s not just about me any more, it’s about us together, we have commitments to each other... Some people will say, you’ll sound a bit old-fashioned — I don’t care... Anyway, I think I’m in a better position perhaps than some previous Conservative leaders to make this point, because when I made it, at a Conservative conference, in front of a Conservative audience, I said, by the way, I don’t just back marriage but I also back civil partnerships.’

In the same interview, with Dylan Jones, Cameron claimed his support for the family ‘is not just some view that springs from religion or morality’, to which one may reply: not just from religion, certainly, but it is hard to imagine him talking in this way without being an Anglican.

Because the Church of England is, or has become, a way of being religious without sounding religious, it is easy for observers to overlook how stern and unbending Anglicans can still be. Cameron’s moral authority has not sprung out of thin air. As Ferdinand Mount has written of the Mount side of Cameron’s family, ‘a high moral tone came naturally to them’.

The press seldom reports on the Church of England except when that institution is beset by embarrassment: the large amount of useful and generally unpaid work done by Anglicans is almost entirely disregarded. And the Church does not blow its own trumpet, not just for fear of sounding pharisaical, but because it knows it is in many ways quite weak. It cannot remain the Established Church by being the church triumphant: it has instead to be the church tolerant and inclusive, which makes friends with anyone of good will, including not only the local Roman Catholics but the local Muslims, and which encourages women to take over those roles which were previously reserved for men. Rather like the Tory party under Cameron: an organisation which many thought to be dying — it is only four years since Geoffrey Wheatcroft published its highly enjoyable obituary under the title ‘The Strange Death of Tory England’ — but which is instead regenerating itself.

TUC votes for 'targeted boycott' of Israeli goods

Bob Crow, leader of the RMT, is a patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. Numerous trade unions are affiliated to the cause, including Andy Gilchrist’s Fire Brigades Union, which proposed the original TUC motion calling for a total boycott. After hours of acrimonious wrangling and the possibility of suspension of its Middle East debate, the TUC General Council has finally hammered out a new policy which has been greeted with euphoria by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

Is not the TUC supposed to be a union of unions to co-ordinate the efforts of skilled workers to gain recognition from employers and to ensure rights to workers?

What does this have to do with condemning sovereign nations? Why should they have a Middle East policy at all? Do they have an Africa policy? An Asia policy? A North American policy? An Antarctica policy?

Ah, no.

They have no concern for the crimes and inhumanities of China, Iran, Sudan, North Korea or Zimbabwe, all of which have appalling records in ‘human rights’.

Only plucky little Israel.

The resolution of the Fire Brigades Union was actually passed, but the TUC have issued a statement which supersedes it. The official policy of the TUC is now, ‘as a result of the Gaza offensive’ to call on the British Government to:

(a) condemn the Israeli military aggression and the continuing blockade of Gaza;
(b) end arms sales to Israel which reached a value of £18.8 million in 2008, up from £7.7 million in 2007;
(c) seek EU agreement to impose a ban on the importing of goods produced in the illegal settlements;
(d) support moves to suspend the EU-Israel Association Agreement which provides preferential trade facilities to Israel.

It is news to Cranmer that Israeli exports come with a convenient label which says 'these goods are produced on an illegal settlement'.

And since they do not, this 'targeted boycott' is nothing of the sort: it is effectively a call to boycott all Israeli exports.

But this policy is deemed by the TUC to be a moderate and proportionate response to Israel’s 'campaign of terror' in Gaza, for they insist it falls short of the total boycott demanded by Andy Gilchrist, which would have been ‘divisive and counterproductive’ They assert that this policy constitutes ‘meaningful help to the people in Israel and Palestine’ – ‘the sensible voices of the TUC have prevailed’.

But the ‘sensible voices’ have succeeded in pushing through a policy in which the TUC says it ‘will support a boycott (where trade union members should not put their own jobs at risk by refusing to deal with such products) of those goods and agricultural products that originate in illegal settlements — through developing an effective, targeted consumer-led boycott campaign working closely with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign — and campaign for disinvestment by companies associated with the occupation as well as engaged in building the separation wall’.

The statement also says it will encourage unions ‘to affiliate to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and to raise greater awareness of the issues’.

Ron Prosor, Israel’s Ambassador to the UK, has issued the following statement:

The TUC’s leaders should hang their heads in shame at this reckless call for a boycott. They have betrayed their own constituency by allowing the TUC to be hijacked as a political tool for extremists. This one sided approach subjects the State of Israel to a despicable double standard not experienced by any other nation, including dictatorships such as Libya, which recently celebrated the return of a convicted mass murderer.

The boycott statement fails to acknowledge Israel’s obligation to protect its citizens from terror and issues no calls on Gaza’s ulers or the Arab world to address Israel’s legitimate security concerns. The statement’s condemnation of rocket attacks is nothing but flimsy lip-service, and does not in any way sufficiently address the suffering of Israel’s citizens, in the face of years of terror from thousands of Hamas missiles.

Any boycott will inflict harm and hardship on workers throughout Israel, both Jew and Arab alike. Boycotts would not promote progress or understanding, but would be a slap in the face to all those who sincerely campaign for peace.
Both Prime Minister Brown and Foreign Secretary Miliband have condemned boycotts of the State of Israel. We will continue to strive to prevent such motions, in cooperation with Israel ’s friends within the TUC, who recognise the absurdity of this motion.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews have said:

We are genuinely saddened that, in passing the FBU motion and adopting elements of the General Council statement, the TUC have damaged their ability to act as an honest broker building bridges between Israelis and Palestinians. The TUC has a noble record as a positive and unifying element in British life and in international relations. This new policy will only create discord and divisiveness, masking a pro-boycott agenda behind the smokescreen of opposition to settlements.

The TUC has committed to a supporting a two-state solution. They have asked unions to fund joint Histadrut/PGFTU projects. These constructive positions are totally incompatible with the decision to work closely with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, an organisation whose own logo wipes Israel off the map.

The Jewish community has many friends in the heart of the Trade Union movement, some of whom fought for a more balanced position. We are grateful to them. However, we made it clear to TUC leaders before their conference that a ‘deal’ which retained the language of boycotts would not address our concerns.

The fact that within moments of this statement was released conference delegates voted for a another extreme hardline pro-boycott motion proposed by the FBU is evidence that our concerns are well placed, and that TUC leaders must act against the harmful influence of the PSC within their unions. We insist that TUC leaders immediately clarify that this motion does not stand as TUC policy.

Israel's strong, independent trade union movement works closely with the Palestinian trade unions to protect the rights of all workers. It is particularly ironic that implementation of the TUC’s policy will harm the employment of many of those Palestinians.

Our communal leaders will respond robustly to this policy, which risks driving a wedge between British Jews and the Trade Union movement. Our response will be threefold:

Firstly, we will be asking the TUC leadership to act swiftly and decisively to reassert their opposition to a boycott of Israel, and advise their member unions accordingly. We expect the General Council's statement to be used as a licence to boycott by anti-Israel activists.

Secondly, we will actively expose the discriminatory politics of the PSC, in order to frustrate their hijacking of Trade Unions to promote their anti-Israel and anti-peace agenda.

Thirdly, we will be encouraging members of our own community to fight back, by getting involved in Trade Unions and speaking out.

Why is the TUC not concerned with the suffering of Israelis? Where is their policy for the protection of Israelis from Palestinian terrorists? If the TUC insists that Israel has a right to self-defence, how can an arms embargo be justified?

Must be Socialist logic.

It is worth reminding the TUC that successive Israeli governments have shown that they are prepared to return land taken in the defensive War of 1967 but only in exchange for recognition of Israel and a commitment to peace. Even though neither Hamas nor Fatah has agreed to this, Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 and Sinai before that.

But Cranmer simply wants to know how a 'targeted boycott' of Israeli goods in order to increase pressure on the Israeli government to end the ‘illegal occupation’ of ‘Palestinian territories’ improves the working rights of British Firemen.

And he will now make a point of squeezing a few Jaffas.
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