The European Court of Human Rights backs blasphemy laws

Yesterday, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that defaming the Prophet Muhammad “goes beyond the permissible limits of an objective debate” and “could stir up prejudice and put at risk religious peace”. This, according to the Turkish Anadolu Agency. The case arose as a response to an Austrian woman claiming “that Muhammad had pedophilic tendencies”.


Mohammed and his wife A’isha freeing the daughter of a tribal chief. From the “Siyer-i Nebi. (14th century) In the Topkapi Palace Library, Istanbul. Courtesy:


Of course, the ECHR has now inserted a blasphemy clause into European culture just as Eric Idle’s “Always look on the bright side of life” becomes the most popular song at funerals in the U.K. One does not hear of many Christians nowadays, unlike Malcolm Muggeridge, complaining that the ditty goes beyond the limits of discussion: still, the votaries of Islam seem to think that it is special and its omnipotent god warrants protection against naughty schoolboy humour.

Even if the Austrian woman were wrong about Muhammad, surely she should have the right to say it and we could have a good barney about the sources in Islamic literature. One problem is she is actually right. I have written about Islam’s attitude to women here. So, it is not surprising to discover the catalogue of Muhammad’s relations with his 17 wives does not reflect well on the man.

Let us look at Muhammad’s wives, via wikiislam through Islamic sources, and whether they were “widows and divorced women who had no means to survive on their own” as Islamic apologetics often tells us. We see, first of all, 17, not 11, wives as the tradition normally has it. The list below omits the 2 most famous, Khadija and Aisha, and includes a concubine.

Sawdah bint Zamaa (married in 620) was a tanner and perfume-mixer. Hafsah bint Umar, who could write, could easily have earned a living. Or her father, one of the richest Qurayshi men, could have kept her. Zaynab bint Khuzayma had many male relatives who could and did look out for her in the 7 months between her widowhood and marriage to Muhammad. Hind bint Abi Umayya was a tanner and evidently reluctant to remarry: one can assume that she thought she could earn a living.

Zaynab bint Jahsh gave away all her profits from her leather-craft job in alms. Rayhanah bint Zayd was a poor widow, because Muhammad had killed her husband and appropriated her property. Juwayriyah bint Al-Harith also had her husband killed by Muhammad’s troops: yet, she was rich and Muhammad declined the ransom offered by her father. Ramlah bint Abi Sufyan shows no signs of being destitute: she came with a huge dowry of 400 dinars.

Safiyah bint Huyayy was a widow because Muhammad had killed her husband and expropriated her wealth. Maymunah bint Al-Harith was the guest of her brother-in-law, a banker, and one of the richest of his tribe: she was comfortably off. Mariyah bint Shamoon was an Egyptian slave whom Muhammad could have sent back to Egypt: instead he used her as a concubine, to the evident distress of his official wives. Mulaykah bint Kaab, whom Muhammad divorced after a few weeks, received a marriage offer from someone else. This indicates that she was not at destitution’s door.

Fatima bint Al-Dahhak, the daughter of a minor chief, had not been poor. Divorced quickly by Muhammad, she subsequently eked out a living as a vendor of camel-dung. Asma bint Al-Numan was a wealthy Yemeni princess. Amrah bint Yazid was divorced on the first day. Tukanah al-Quraziya was a Qurayza POW: her poverty was caused by Muhammad killing its men and confiscating their property. A’isha and Khadija were of course famously well-off.

Of note is that the vast majority of the claims derives from the earliest references to Muhammad’s life, albeit that they are about 150 years after his traditional death. Nevertheless, the hagiographic source tells us that the community from which it came approved of this behaviour.

The Austrian woman claimed that Muhammad showed paedophilic tendencies towards A’isha, to whom he was betrothed when she was six years old and the marriage consummated when she was nine. Sahih Bukhari, commonly called the most reliable hadith in Muslim circles, tells us that. Here it is:

Volume 7, Book 62, Number 64:

Narrated ‘Aisha:

that the Prophet married her when she was six years old and he consummated his marriage when she was nine years old, and then she remained with him for nine years (i.e., till his death).

This had barely been controversial in Islamic history until critics of Islam pointed it out and as usual with Muslim apologetics one can find whole websites devoted to denying the plain writing on the page. Perhaps this would not matter if ordinary Muslims did not habitually and vehemently repeat the denial in public conversations: now it seems that their upset trumps any claim, right or wrong, that one can make about Muhammad’s morals.

The ECHR’s ruling is a dreadful day for freedom of expression, and woefully ignorant of the facts. It has handed the censor’s veto to those with the morals of Tamerlane and the tech nous of Steve Jobs.

Was Islam ever progressive?

Muslim apologists often claim that the Koran is progressive for women: the fall-back position is that it was a step forward for its time. Neither assertion bares scrutiny. Aside from the fact that it is anachronistic to speak of the seventh century Mediterranean basin and the Middle East in terms of progressiveness and regressiveness, we can at least look at the history and the theology of the question.

To assert the “sanctity and beauty of marriage in Islam”, as a fellow scholar of the Koran once said to me, is to substitute the wish for the facts. The Koran recommends the social immuring of women. 24:31 tells them to “lower their gaze” and “not reveal their adornment” and 33:53-5 orders them to be screened off except to family and slaves. Islamic women are enjoined not even to make eye contact with men who are not relations. It says women are worth less than a man in inheritance (4:11), court testimony (2:282), unclean (5:6), available to men for sex at any time (2:223), unequal in marriage (4:3), used as a means to demean much like the word “bitch” (53:27), sex slaves (33:50), to be scourged by husbands (4:34), subject to instant divorce (Sahih Muslim 9:3493), subject to men (Koran 66:5) and mathematically unequal to men in Islam’s toleration and promotion of polygamy. If this is the best of all possible worlds for women, what are the others like?

The position of women in nearby and previous societies resembled the Koran’s strictures a lot. But to privilege these man-made sanctions as in any way exceptional or tending towards their own abolition is simply ahistorical.

My same interlocutor claimed that the Koran encourages monogamy. Once I had retrieved my jaw from the floor, I noted that it merely states that a man should settle for one wife if he cannot be just to the others. This is a last resort. And the same verse casually allots that man’s right to take slaves as “wives”. We would accurately call the latter a sex slave. So, we have no evidence that polygamy was to be restricted, nor that it was to be gradually phased out.

We have our first record of monogamous societies from archaic Greece and the early Roman period, up to 1,400 years before Islam. Monogamy may even pre-date those polities. Yet, effectively polygynous relationships occurred, like in Islam, with the man’s slaves, although these affairs, viewed as non-adulterous, were criticized heavily by Stoic philosophers. So, we have thinkers from far earlier than Islam and Christianity who actually did posit the equality of the sexes in the Greek Cynics and Stoics up to 800 years before the rise of Islam. Given that, to ascribe progressivism to early Islam would be attractive and agreeable but it does not comport with the facts.

Alexandrian family

Medallion of an Alexandrian family in Roman Egypt, ca. 3rd-4th century. Pic courtesy Wikipedia.


Jesus seems to have discussed divorce in an environment in which monogamy was the agreed norm and the roughly contemporaneous Essenes also advocated monogamy. There is no record of early Christians in the NT being polygamous, yet divorced women were anathematized by Jesus according to Matthew 5:32. The early Church Fathers often recommended chastity, and held to monogamy as a hold-over from Greco-Roman customs. We have a record of a Jewish woman initiating divorce against her husband in the second century of the Common Era. In 393 CE, the Christianized Roman state forbade Jews from entering into several marriages at the same time. Early Islam was both more and less “progressive” than Christianity. So again, we have Islam being at the back of the class in at least two cases vis-à-vis the older monotheisms: in its attitude towards polygamy and towards the right of a woman to divorce.

The spirit and teachings of Islam are entirely of a piece with its neighbours, representing tweaks, sometimes “progressive” and in other cases “regressive” to laws and practices common across the Middle East and Byzantine Rome. To try to squeeze a feminist interpretation out of the Islamic ethic on women’s rights is a quixotic exercise.

So, was the Koran the first document to guarantee property rights to women? No. By the C5th BCE, Roman women could own land by law, write wills and appear in court. Islam conquered the Sassanid Empire. Sassanid women had rights to land, to contractual agreements, trading transactions and inheritance. They had a three-tier polygamous marriage system. Islam looks to have adapted women’s rights from the neighbouring Sassanid Empire, slightly ameliorated some aspects and restricted others.


Sassanid-era artwork of a woman. Pic courtesy Wikipedia.


Of course, Islam encouraged slavery in the form of marrying into it. In this it was no different from the Palmyran Roman soldier Barates of second century South Shields who married a Britannic slave girl. Jesus does not explicitly mention slavery, but there was a strong thread in early Christianity which saw Jesus as a slave of the Lord (the word is usually translated as “servant”, but that is historically wrong, and reformation Christian apologetics). The Didache, for instance calls Jesus a slave of the Lord (9:2), and Jesus was viewed as the pattern of humanity whom one should copy: one should also be a slave – the idea is called kenosis. Islam – meaning submission – looks to have heavily plagiarized that masochistic strain in monotheism. Yes, Paul mentioned slavery but did not oppose it: he actually did recommend that a particular slave be treated kindly, but that was no more than an intelligent upper-class Roman would do anyway. Early Islam goes further: we have the account of female captives being raped before being sold on, under Muhammad’s guidance (Bukhari 34:432). There is no hint that the idea was to abolish slavery. And after all it took the Dar al-Islam 1,300 years to officially outlaw slavery: if Islam was so intent on abolishing it, it was very sluggish.

We do know that polygyny is highly correlated with inequality among men: it also correlates with women being better off in that situation where they can share a high-status male as opposed to monogamy with a low status single male. Monogamy has a much better chance of self-sustaining under conditions of modern economic development. It is one thing for the ideology of Islam merely to reflect the conditions under which it arose. It is entirely another for its votaries to claim it as a progressive breakthrough for women: God knows what that would mean for their circumstances in pre-Islamic Arabia. And he probably did not.

The declaration that Islam liberated women always strikes one as slightly absurd and a politically-inspired back-projection of current cultural debate: if it were left to in-depth comparative history, the issue would become progressively more complicated.


What do I get if I cherry-pick the Koran?

One’s first impression on reading the Koran is the vengefulness of its god Allah. Marcion, the early Christian, must have had a similar thought when reading of Yahweh in the Old Testament. For that reason, he denied that his New Testament god was Yahweh and sought to make his god a gentler character. We see no such effort by Muhammad, despite the many times he called Allah “compassionate” and “merciful”: in that case, surely Muhammad must be redefining the meaning of those two words?

When one debates with Muslim apologists, one is struck by how certain they are that Allah is indeed merciful. Try as one might to refer them to the many amoral and immoral passages in the book, they will accuse you of cherry-picking and failing to look at the broader context of a compassionate god. For them, this god is a “warner” of misery in this world and eternal hellfire in the next: he exhorts you towards him, that is the “mercy”.

Dr. Ebrahim Moosa, Professor of Islamic Studies in the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies and the Department of History at the University of Notre Dame, says we have a, “sort of hyperbolic or exaggerated language which the Quran uses for the sake of its exhortation”. He continues, “I think that the very fact that the Quran uses terms and flowery language, at times, of how compassionate God is and sometimes very angry language and to make a point, is precisely part of the inimitability that it has this kind of rhetorical effect… And it’s precisely this rhetoric in these conversations between multiple audiences that has that beauty…”, and further, “It’s not enough to isolate one phrase or one turn of phrase… without the context.”

Accordingly, I thought it would be a good idea to conduct a statistical analysis on the exhortatory language in the Koran. How often is Allah shown being compassionate? And how often, angry? It will also give us an idea of the context of the Koran, about which we read so much.


One of the earliest Koranic manuscripts: the Birmingham Koran. Courtesy Wikipedia.


Let us look at the pericopes outlining moral precepts. We have punishment or carrot passages. If we count them, that can tell us the amount of times Allah threatens or offers rewards. One’s initial thought on reading the Koran is of the overwhelming tone of God threatening the listener. Is this true? If one uses the Sceptic’s Annotated Quran, the site has usefully categorized passages into headings like “Good Stuff”, “Intolerance” and so on. Naturally, the categorization of any text is in principle sub-divisible into any number, but we do have to set some reasonable criteria.

So, we can get some data on the number of times the Koran is “angry” or “compassionate” – if we associate that idea with “good stuff”. We will also get an idea of the ratio of anger to compassion, and therefore statistics on the rhetorical techniques of the piece.

Here are the categories which I have selected as being relevant to “anger” and “compassion”. The number after them is the number of verses or passages which are examples of that category.

Under “compassion”, we have “Good stuff” – 78

Under “anger”, we have “Injustice” – 769. “Intolerance” – 537. “Cruelty and Violence” – 532. “Women” – 62. “Family values” – 28. “Sex” – 28. “Language” – 6. “Homosexuality” – 4.

Here is an example of “Good stuff”.

Confound not truth with falsehood, nor knowingly conceal the truth. (2:42)

And here is an instance of “Intolerance”.

As for the Disbelievers, Whether thou warn them or thou warn them not it is all one for them; they believe not. Allah hath sealed their hearing and their hearts, and on their eyes there is a covering. Theirs will be an awful doom. (2:6-7)

Both translations by Pickthall.

We have a total of 2,044 passages. (A caveat: some verses may be counted twice e.g. “Injustice” and “Intolerance” may share a passage). Nevertheless, we can make some preliminary statistical conclusions.

Out of 2,044 passages about Allah’s anger and compassion, 78 are about Allah’s compassion and a maximum of 1,966 are about his anger. 3.8% of the Koran exhorts potential believers using a description of a compassionate Allah. Up to 96.2% of the Koran exhorts potential believers using a description of an angry Allah.

To sum up, the rhetorical techniques of the Koran are overwhelmingly framed in a context of anger. By contrast, less than 5% of the text is framed in a context of compassion. So, when we refer to the wider context of the book that context is one of anger.

When Dr. Moosa describes the Koran as using “sometimes very angry language” he is statistically way off the mark. The Koran’s god is angry in 19 out of 20 cases on average. To describe this as “inimitable” may be true, but not in the sense that Dr. Moosa means. I am not qualified to comment on Dr. Moosa’s “beauty” of the “clear Arabic” which the Koran claims for itself. But Gerd Puin is: he is a scholar of Koranic historical handwriting form Saarland University. He says that 20% of the Koran is unintelligible. Both of them cannot be correct.

In response to Dr. Moosa’s “It’s not enough to isolate one phrase or one turn of phrase… without the context…”, one can only aver that the context is one of an angry, unjust, intolerant, cruel, violent, misogynistic, intemperate and homophobic god.

So what do “compassionate” and “merciful” mean in the Koran? They mean that Allah is warning you – literally – to convert to Islam, otherwise you will lead a life of subaltern status and in the hereafter suffer the Blaze, the Fire, the Blazing Fire, the Abyss, and other synonyms for hell which the Koran delights in listing.

When one cherry-picks the Koran, one has to misleadingly select the good parts.


How good is Islam at condemning terrorism?


You may not have heard of the Amman Declaration from 2005. Its aim was to dissociate Islam from the terrorism committed by jihadists who quoted Koranic verses as their rationale. Two hundred of the leading Islamic “scholars” signed, among whom was the Supreme Leader of Iran, Grand Ayatollah Khamenei. It was a big deal: Tony Blair praised its attempt to portray Islam as a religion of peace.

Accordingly, the Amman message quotes the Koran 5:32 thus:

Whoever kills a soul for other than slaying a soul or corruption upon the earth it is as if he has killed the whole of humanity, and whoever saves a life, it is as if has (sic) revived the whole of humanity.


Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Hosseini Khamenei, Supreme Leader of Iran, signatory of the Amman Declaration. Pic. courtesy


Unfortunately, as one often finds in Islamic apologetics, this is not 5:32. Pickthall’s well-regarded translation is this:

For that cause We decreed for the Children of Israel that whosoever killeth a human being for other than manslaughter or corruption in the earth, it shall be as if he had killed all mankind, and whoso saveth the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind…

Parenthetically, I cannot find from a database of Koranic translations the source of the Amman Declaration’s English version.

Notice that the decree applies in this and nearly all translations to the Children of Israel, the Jews, not to humanity as a whole. You can check here: Amman omits the Children of Israel phrase in order to present Islam broadly – not totally – as propounding a pacifistic criticism of killing. We can see how the message has to deliberately edit the uncreated word of God in order to criticise AQ and AQI.

Further, in line with the rule that the context of Koran always makes the passage worse let us look at the following verse, 5:33. Again, Pickthall:

The only reward of those who make war upon Allah and His messenger and strive after corruption in the land will be that they will be killed or crucified, or have their hands and feet on alternate sides cut off, or will be expelled out of the land. Such will be their degradation in the world, and in the Hereafter theirs will be an awful doom;

This is a verse which specifically states that those who corrupt the land against Allah, whatever that means, should be crucified. In other words, the Jews are told how to behave and the Koran gives the right to Muslims to kill whoever opposes them on the vague charge of seeking corruption in the land. One might observe that Muhammad recommends a more humanitarian ideal for Jews than he does for Muslims.

So, the Grand Ayatollah Khamenei, Supreme Leader of Iran, signed this document, a few years before he funded and directed the systematic genocide of Syrian Muslims. It is entirely believable that he knows that 5:33 sanctions the murder of non-Muslims. This is the depth of cynicism with which the document was signed.

From a literary-historical point of view, it gets worse for 5:32. A key point in Islamic theology is that the Jews “corrupted” the Bible, although the Koran is characteristically vague on where it occurs, who corrupted it and when. It is one example, in which it is Muhammad himself who was “corrupting the Bible”. It is a famous passage.

We know that this passage refers either to the Babylonian or Jerusalem Talmud (the Oral Law). But Muhammad, by saying “we decreed for the Children of Israel” in Koran 5:32 (my italics), tells us it is from the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. He was wrong. He presents the wrong source for a quote from God. He was arguing against something that the Torah does not say. He was therefore arguing against a straw-man. He was, as a critic of Islam once wrote, “never providing any reasoned argument that engages with the actual beliefs of (his) opponents”.

It gets even worse for Muhammad. The Jerusalem Talmud does not refer at all to the “Children of Israel” and only some copies of the Babylonian Talmud do. In other words, the majority of Talmudic opinion would go like this.

Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.

Muhammad, by applying this idea only to the souls of the children of Israel, made this idea less universal. And he explicitly sanctioned Muslim killing of “corrupters”. 5:32 makes clear that the poetic idea of killing one person equating to killing all humanity does not apply to Muslims.


A page from a tenth century Talmud manuscript. Courtesy


This is one of the best examples I can find in favour of Muhammad’s accuracy, as it is the most famous instance of his taking Jewish thought. But still he got it wrong. It is quite possible that Muhammad did not understand the difference between the Law (the Torah) and the Oral law (the Talmud), and a commentary by a Jewish exegete.

Briefly, Muhammad so often mischaracterized Jewish thought and 5:32 is one more instance.

Now, if I, a non-Muslim, can point all this out about the Amman Declaration’s deliberate misquoting of 5:32, what do you think that Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi would think of it? This is why an honest reflection on the text is important in the discussion on the link between Islamist terrorism and Islamic doctrine.

One cannot just go around making things up.

Thoughts on “Darkest Hour”


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In 1934 there were two statesmen past their prime who warned of the danger of Hitler. One was Trotsky and the other was Churchill. They were both right. Churchill had actually read Mein Kampf, unlike the German newly-weds in the Nazi régime who were presented with a copy of Hitler’s treatise and who presumably discarded the unreadable tract. I think it was the historian of Hitler, Ian Kershaw, who pointed out that the diatribe prefigures all of Hitler’s decisions and acts. Churchill took Hitler at his word and he was right to do so.

The film Darkest Hour, written by Anthony McCarten and directed by Joe Wright, covers the period from 9th May 1940 to 21 days later. In other words, from the eve of Churchill being appointed P.M. until the evacuation of Dunkirk. It is not a war film. It is a movie about decisions and choice. And the moral agony of taking action.

The meat of the film centres on the dispute between the British war party, Churchill and Attlee – who is somewhat of a cipher, assumed, but not overtly presented, to be a backbone of British resistance – and the anachronistic but politically credible appeasers, Viscount Halifax and the still influential former P.M. Neville Chamberlain, whom the French wittily called “J’aime Berlin”.

churchill halifax spartacus educational

Churchill and Halifax: Photo courtesy Spartacus Educational.

Darkest Hour follows the disasters of May 1940: the invasion of France on the 10th, the surrender of the Netherlands on the 15th, of Belgium on the 28th and the near-extermination of the British Army in the Dunkirk pocket. Little screen-time is taken up with guns, bombs and planes: instead, the film effectively uses drone-like camera shots looking down to hint at how prone civilians are to the bomber. This vertical shot contrasts with the horizontal tracking shots of the workaday London street. Despite the shock of Guernica and the Japanese bombing raid on Chongqing in 1939, no government was sure about the psychological effects on civilians of those raids. Would morale collapse or not? If, as seemed likely, there was no prospect of beating the Germans in Europe, what was the point of Britain remaining at war with the Nazis? If Hitler was true to his word on his disinterest in the British Empire, why not let them have the continent? This, as the film has it, was the debate.

McCarten, the script-writer, has an ambivalent military, and Halifax and Chamberlain urging negotiation with Hitler in May 1940. He has the latter two this close to persuading Churchill: I do not know if that is true and mightily doubt it, but it makes for very good drama. There is a truth in McCarten’s interpretation, however. Had there not been a Churchill, it is possible that Britain would have negotiated in 1940 and left Europe to Nazism. Sometimes, as Trotsky pointed out about Hitler, individuals make all the difference in history. I think it was Richard J. Evans who averred that the holocaust could not have happened without the charismatic Hitler: even Himmler could not have set it in motion.

The French and British states were the only ones to declare war on Nazi Germany. One was defeated and the other, if it did not win in 1940, did not lose and was only capable of a battle victory over its enemy after three years, in El Alamein. Churchill, for all his faults, and they were many and egregious, was right about the most pivotal and consequential questions of the twentieth century. Should we live with Nazism? Or destroy it?

Darkest Hour addresses that conundrum in the position of a man who could only imagine what Nazism would become. It is about a man who takes another man who says terrible things at his word: and about other men, who do not have the imagination to believe that powerful men can do murderous things or who are happy to live in that world.  For that reason, it is better than most world war two movies you will see. It is about how to decide: and we face that every moment of our lives.

There is the old slogan, “Fascism means war”. Any glance at Hitler’s book will confirm that. Yet the war was there to install the slave economies and totalitarian empire state which was the Nazi ideal. It is by no means clear that Churchill’s refusal to submit was historically inevitable. There is no reason to believe that the comforting adage, “Cometh the hour, cometh the man” is necessarily true. One hesitates to compare every instance of horror with Nazism, but we can say that Ba’athism means mass-murder of one’s own people plus as a client state the submission to, and complicity of, the USSR or Russia. That experiment has been run twice, in Iraq and Syria. In only one case did a man – or even any international organization – cometh in time to halt the atrocities.

Darkest Hour teaches the capriciousness of history. The dice are cast and it is a matter of chance how they fall. Take the pivotal battle in the Pacific theatre, the Battle of Midway. The Americans won largely because of the inferiority of Japanese radar. Yet, German radar was as good as that of the US and UK: had the Germans and Japanese shared the technology, it is likely that the eastern Pacific rim and the hinterland would have been enslaved by the Japanese Empire for many more years. This looks like the arbitrary failure of Hitler and Tojo to coordinate their technologies and self-interests. Luck, in other words.

You can play the game further. Imagine if the UK and Hitler had come to an agreement in May 1940. Hitler would have been free to invade the Soviet Union without diverting resources against an attack from the west, and the Japanese could have resumed their war against the U.S.S.R coming from the East to ensnare the Russians in that huge pincer movement. And all the northern latitudes of the Eurasian landmass could have been under Axis control by, say, the end of 1942, with no prospect of a second front opening up from the Atlantic against the totalitarian states.  Britain would eventually have fallen as the sole potential problem for thousands of miles, the southern Asian landmass would have submitted to Japan, and the U.S.A. would have been left as an island of democracy fortifying its western coast against the Japanese Navy.

Perhaps it is too much to assert that the decision by Churchill and the majority of Parliament to continue defying Hitler turned the war but it does look like it was a necessary but not sufficient condition. War films, from Midway to Star Wars are usually tedious affairs: Darkest Hour is an intelligent attempt to analyse a crucial decision.




A Christmas Carol Service



My local Protestant church held an evening carol service this week. My wife and I decided to go along. It is a Victorian Gothic pile, a slim steeple points to the heavens, several Byzantine-style icons, gold paint gleaming behind the saint. There the crowded congregation stood before the high iron rood screen, the lights lowered, the Christmas tree sparkled, many menorahs of candles glimmered along the aisles and colonnades. The worshipers, wrapped warm against a helm wind darkening, held their own candles in one hand, the order of service in the other. The audience itself helped create the theatrical tone. A middle-aged, middle class man, dressed in a frock padded the nave and transept, now smilingly benignly and now correcting minor scene-shifts, like an urbane and poised director touring a provincial theatre company.


The Virgin and Saint Joseph register for the census before the Governor Quirinius. Byzantine mosaic at the Chora Church, Constantinople, 1315-20. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH.

The church was dark and full. One forgets how female the congregants are, perhaps two-thirds, and surprisingly many were in their 30s and 40s: the teenagers had occupied one pew and the odd pre-teen, a Christmas cracker primed to embarrass its parent, was dotted around the space. The choir began. The organ and mini-orchestra accompanied it. Here was a High Anglican drama, reasserting its plot to place itself at the centre of English culture, and narrating a pretty good case.

The service was made up of carols led by the choir stood before the rood screen facing the rest of us, readings from the Nativity story, excerpts from the poetic and socialistic part – if one is reading it anachronistically – of the Sermon on the Mount and a homily from the prelate delivered from the pulpit, set off to our left. We had the classic carols like “O come all ye faithful” and a disappointingly Cliff Richard happy-clappy swinging hymn, as melodically workaday as the dullest era of rock ‘n’ roll, say, between 1958 and 1962. My inner conservative bristled as the gaggle of teens whooped at the climax, such as it was, of the musical doggerel.

As a non-believer, I was obliged several times to suppress a gasp of shock at the nonsense to which intelligent people are expected to submit at church. Mark and John say nothing about Jesus’ birth. All we have comes from Matthew and Luke. Those two evangelists describe discrepant and sometimes contradictory Bethlehem stories. In the Gospel according to this church, we were repeatedly informed that Jesus was born in a manger. Not according to Matthew: Jesus was born at home. This church thinks that Jesus was born in the time of the Governor of Syria, Quirinius. That was 10 years after Herod’s death. That is because Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts differ in historically significant ways. So, Matthew thinks that Jesus was of Judean stock: Luke thinks his family was Galilean. We were told the story of the shepherds. This is Luke. Matthew does not mention shepherds, but kings. Luke does not refer to kings. Neither of them agree on when or where Jesus was born, nor on who was present. Yet, in a mish-mash of a Gospel which does not exist, the vicar presented this story as if all elements were true, and from one source. The service, in its liberal Christian fashion, emphasized the shepherds. This is the only claim in the New Testament to date the time of year of the birth of Jesus: in Judea, flocks were tended outdoors from March to November. It always surprises me that Christians celebrate the birth of their saviour at the one time of year when the New Testament says it did not happen.

Liberal Christians often object that one should not take these stories literally, that there is a poetic truth in the tale. Yes, we were invited into a theatrical space, the low lighting, the candles, the blackness of winter night through the stained-glass windows. Yet, we are never told where the poetry ends and the history begins. One cannot help but conclude that this is deliberate obfuscation on the director’s part. Imagine claiming, as the director-vicar did, that Judeo-Christian history is 4,000 years old. Had he claimed this at a Conference of historians or archaeologists, his every subsequent utterance would be ignored. It is not true. Written Jewish history is about 2,700 years old, with some fragments slightly older. This liberal Christian was asserting a more literalist interpretation to his flock, based on the chronology within the Old Testament of Abraham dating back to about 2,000 BCE. There is no evidence for that at all, and none for the emergence of a Jewish culture before about 1,200 BCE. The good prelate knows this. That is what divinity degrees cover. Yet he presented the nativity story as something true, occupying an ill-defined space somewhere between poetry and history. I wonder what the teens thought of the veracity of the whole charade.

As my wife and I left at the end, I remembered a family friend who once said to his Catholic priest at a similar service, “Long time, no see, Father!” I mumbled semi-deferential words of thank you and was surprised at the counter-stereotypical firmness of the cleric’s grip. Perhaps he thought how rare it is to see a Celtic ginger-nut at an Anglican gathering. I wondered how this intelligent man could spend his life lying about and for Jesus.

Lincolnshire Police produce video extolling Islam

On 20th October James Peck of Lincolnshire Live reported on the controversy generated by a video released by Lincolnshire Police. Apparently titled “British Muslims” it was a clumsy attempt by the Force to counter anti-Muslim bigotry which in the opinion of this writer crossed the line into promotion of Islam as an idea. You can view the 13-minute video embedded below in the “Lincolnshire Live” link.


I am unsure of the law in the UK, but had this video been produced in the US I believe it would almost certainly be illegal. Accordingly, I wrote the following letter to the Deputy Chief Constable of the Force, Craig Naylor who robustly defended the video. I have not received a response.


Craig Naylor


Deputy Chief Constable Craig Naylor of Lincolnshire Police (photo courtesy:


“Dear Deputy Chief Constable Craig Naylor,


I refer to your recently released video which I assume is titled “British Muslims”, about which I saw this report.


It is commendable that the Force should be addressing anti-Muslim bigotry yet I have criticisms of the video and would like you to address them.


At 1:03 we read, “British Muslims. How are they portrayed? Terrorists? Jihadis? Islamic State?” It’s true that they are portrayed like this because some British Muslims are as described. It does not seem to be a good start to imply that a plain statement of fact is not true. No data is shown as to how Muslims are portrayed. We are being presented with anecdote rather than scientifically-determined fact.


At 2:12, Hafez Abusammad Mulla claims that, “Coins from Muslim countries dating back to the C8th were used in Great Britain.” (sic) This is not true. He refers to a coin minted in England as the British Museum link shows. It does not inspire confidence when the first substantive claim made in the video is untrue.


At 2:46, much is made of Muslim membership of the modern British Army. It is a sad fact that more British Muslims (ca. 850) joined IS than the 600 or so in the Army. This is quite a commonly-known statistic and it does no good to pretend that there is not a problem when quite clearly there is.


At 3:50 Hafez Abusammad Mulla states, “…’so-called’ Muslims have been responsible for terrorist attacks but these people do not represent the views of normal Muslims like me in this country or abroad.” There is no doubt that, say, IS are a Muslim group. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has a PhD in Islamic Studies and several Islamic clerics are embedded with their fighting groups. To call IS “so-called” is to privilege the wish over the fact. On terrorist attacks, according to Pew Research in 2013 8% of Muslims worldwide said that suicide bombing was often or sometimes justified: that makes about 128,000,000 worldwide. That is not insignificant. The numbers are here:


At 7:15 Yasmin Qureshi MP, states, “(I) try to disassociate these terrorist attacks away from Islam.” (sic) It is normal practice for IS terrorists to claim their allegiance to Islamic State and to give a Koranic verse as justification. There is no means in reason for asserting that they are any less Muslim than Ms. Qureshi. This is evangelizing on behalf of a religion.


At 7:59 Khalida Ashrafi says, “When the Charlie Hebdo attacks… happened, the number of hate crimes that were being talked about…were through the roof…” No statistics are produced to confirm the claim. This is anecdote. We know that TellMama’s statistics about serious hate-crimes following Islamist atrocities did not show spikes in the few weeks after. A professional approach to this claim would have detailed statistics, breaking them down into types: speech on social media, verbal attacks in the street, assault etc. A chance to produce firm data was lost.


At 8:30 Bana Kora of the Muslim Women’s Council declares, “For us our religion is a peaceful religion.” This may be a commendable wish, but it is not a statement of fact. Since 9/11 there have been approximately 31,000 jihadist attacks globally. As a matter of pure fact it is not true. The Koran itself contains at least 109 verses of violence and a distressing amount of anti-Semitic invective. Again, we have proselytizing on behalf of a religion.


At 11:45 Hafez Abusammad Mulla avers that “(Muhammad) said ‘The best of mankind are those who benefit mankind’”. A nice thought but again highly unlikely to be true. The quotation comes from al-Daraqutni who flourished in the tenth century, 300 years after Muhammad. Al-Daraqutni could not have known that Muhammad said it – and it sounds nothing like Muhammad as recorded in the Koran. Hafez Abusammad Mulla is making things up.


This was a most disappointing video. It features no statistics on anti-Muslim bigotry, no case studies apart from verbal anecdote, no numbers on the tolerance or otherwise of British society – nor does it compare it with other countries or with other groups such as Jews. It gives a platform to Muslims to deny the link between the scriptures of Islam and violence and to state historical untruths. I would suggest that it is not the role of the Police to produce, and presumably pay for, such da’wa – evangelizing for Islam.


I would suggest that you should make the case statistically and in a secular, professional manner for privileging the fight against anti-Muslim bigotry over other forms (anti-Semitism, anti-Polish, anti-Rumanian). The video does not address this. The case should rather be that one doesn’t attack Muslims because they are fellow humans, not because of any peculiarity of their religion. That is what equality under the law means.


I would be grateful if you could explain how this evangelizing on behalf of a religion is legal and what, if any, further research you have in place to measure the effectiveness of the video. While it is true that the role of the Police should be to promote cohesion, this should not be done at the expense of enabling groups to make up untruths on taxpayer-funded time. Social cohesion can only come if we talk openly and honestly about ideas. No serious security analyst on earth denies the link between Islam and violence: your video attempted to repudiate that. And there, I fear, is the video’s weakness: its editorial decisions render it untrustworthy in the public debate.


I invite you to comment, should you have the time to reply.


Yours sincerely etc….”

An ABC of Islamic State murders

I found this e-mail in my inbox: obviously, I got on some IS mailing list by accident. I think this guy used to run their European Branch from Syria.



Subject: European bombing campaign

Status: Top Secret

From: al-Shami

To: External Ops Council Members

Date: 8-Shawwal-1435 (08-04-2014)


As-salāmu ʿalaykum,


ISIS is settling in to a good few years of European bombing campaigns. I thought I’d save PR a few minutes. The boys from Raqqa are welcome to copy and paste a few excuses for the latest atrocity. Stop the War contacts may consider several hundred words around these themes with the usual stuff – Sykes-Picot, Balfour Declaration, western guilt, blah, blah, blah. Allah (pbuh) willing, we’ll bomb the countries below. But hey, beyond, Muslim ghettoization, mental illness, naff jails and intimidation by the spooks there are always grounds besides killing them all wherever you find them. (pbuh! Lol!)


When we suicide bomb the following countries, this is the line. Cc. all IS and StW – and Simon Jenkins – oh, and Peter Hitchens. (Any other suggestions?). (Apart from the mass-murder quotations from the Koran or the Hadith). For administrative purposes, we present Europe in alphabetical order.


  • Decapitate a few Albanians – the ‘Tirana, sore as necks’ op – point out that it was the only European country occupied by the Nazis ending up with more Jews at the end of WW2 than at the start. Unacceptable. Obviously. Duuurrhh!


  • Blow a few Andorrans to bits, and here’s the rub. Payback for 5,000 of the imperialist bastards bigging up Charlemagne in 788 (171 Islamic Calendar) in his ruck with the lads in the Vall de Carol. In Andorra.



Abderrahman Mechkah, suspect in the Turku stabbing attack with his lawyer (right). Photo courtesy  Newsweek.


  • Another Armenian genocide is a good idea. To encourage the others, as the old Islamophobe, Voltaire, used to say. Let’s have a few more of ‘em enslaved in our army. Just like the Ottoman Empire used to do. (Too serious? Tone?)


  • Austrian infidels stopped us conquering Europe at the gates of Vienna in 1683. Unforfuckingiveable. We never forget. (Won’t take comments on tone. This one’s serious).


  • Azerbaijani oil burning is gonna be apocalyptic: who founded the Caspian and Black Sea Oil Industry and Trade Society in 1883? The Rothschilds. Jews. Need I say more?


  • Run a truck down a Belarus High Street. The only country to jail a newspaper editor for publishing the Danish cartoons of Prophet Mohammed (pbu etc.). That’s our job. How dare they? (To discuss: maybe go easy on infidels doing our job for us? Come prepared with well-attested hadith, brothers. OTOH…jail?: bit liberal).


  • Belgian kufr. In 1974, they recognized Islam as one of the subsidized religions in Belgium. One of…? ONE OF…? Lob a Walloon off a roof-top.


  • Bosnian apostates: not acceptable. Too many Christianized after the Ottoman Empire was thrown out. Munafiq for youse lot: the kindling for the fires of hell. In the meantime we’ll help you along the way. Into the cage. Fire!


  • Bulgaria: this land is our land, as Woody Guthrie said. 5 centuries of Ottoman rule down the pan after the Russo-Turkish war. Choice: slavery, super-tax or a knife to the gizzard. (Video?)


  • Let’s bomb a few Croatian tweenies: settlement for all those Ottoman Croatian Pashas. Splitters.


  • Let’s rape a few Cypriots: the Prophet’s (pbuh) aunt fell off her mule and died there. Murdering bastards.


  • Wikipedia tells me that,” traditionally, influence of Islam on culture of Czech lands has been small.” This has to change. Bomb the Islamophobes.


(Discussion document: for Shura Council eyes only. Comments welcomed on excuses, pretexts, reasons). Remember, brothers, if you can’t think of a cover story, scripture will always provide. The brothers will provide alibis for Euro (E.) countries beginning with letters D to Z. Please come prepared with drafts for all countries. For list of E. states, Google is your friend.


Signed: Abu Mohammad al-Adnani (deceased) Chief of External Operations (IS).


From a certain angle, if Corbyn were being consistent, he might consider supporting the DUP. Yes, they are creationists, misogynists and have history in defending terrorism.


Portrush, Northern Ireland, everyone smiles as the semi-naked bathers drift past the scriptures. Photo courtesy, Alamy.


Rather like JC did in the House of Commons when he defended Imam Suliman Gani of the Tooting Islamic Centre against Cameron’s wrong allegation that the good Imam was an IS supporter.

The facts on Gani, who was the centre of the London mayoral elections in 2016, are that he is a woman-hater, apocalypticist, theological liar, sectarian, creationist, evolution-denier, anti-Semite, Caliphate supporter, defender of ‘Lady al-Qaeda’, friend of Jihadi John’s advocate and AQ supporter. I know because I spent a week researching him.

gani mcdonnell

The Islamist al-Qaeda supporter Gani and Labour Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell. Courtesy, Socialist Worker.


JC led the attack on Cameron as some Labour backbenchers, to their shame and mine, as I have never not voted Labour, yelled, “Racist!” at the PM in the chamber.

There was a lot in the media during the recent election about JC’s defense of terrorists and dictators (as Shi’a countries are mainly clients of Russia, he saves his ire for Sunni countries and his labour power for the media of Shi’a régimes). But even when I laid out the evidence to left-wing sites, commenters simply weren’t prepared to accept the evidence or would find the lamest of excuses, and worse. It certainly taught me a lesson in the power of the political lens, as well as the theological, to blind oneself to the evidence in front of one’s eyes.

The political mind is still a powerful tool enabling one to ignore facts, to reconcile inconsistencies of principle and to project onto the leader the heroic purity one would wish to see in oneself. JC captures that essence rare.

Is Jeremy Corbyn a ‘Man of Peace’?

Michael Rosen, great children’s author, supporter of Stop the War even though he wishes to deny it, and former candidate for RESPECT, the party of George Galloway, who called Saddam Hussein ‘indefatigable’, posted 5 interesting questions tonight. Rather in the style of the conspiracist who asks questions (to which the answer is always ‘No’), he sought to affirm the Christ-like purity of Jeremy Corbyn’s integrity and ability to save lives. It’s part of the ‘always-on-the-right-side-of-history’ narrative. The problem is that one needs to look at the facts. These were my responses.

‘Good questions.

Rosen: How many lives lost because of who Corbyn met?

Me: Question 1 is almost impossible to answer but it is unlikely that it would have been less than it otherwise would have been because we have no record of JC ever brokering a peace.

Corb stw independent

Jeremy Corbyn, founder of Stop the War. Photo courtesy The Independent.


Rosen: How many lives lost from wars started or supported by the Tories?

Question 2. Let’s start at 1991, the Iraq War 1 which JC opposed. It is difficult to estimate how many Kuwaitis would have died had Saddam been allowed to annex the country. Based on his previous war and genocide records it would have been some large percentage of Kuwait’s 2 million population.

1999 Kosovo intervention, which JC opposed, stopped the genocide. 1.8 million lived in the area.

2000, Sierra Leone, which JC again opposed saved that country of 4 million from further civil war. Figures on how many lives were saved are hard to come by.

2001 Afghanistan which JC opposed. Had his advice been taken, the Taliban would still rule the country and AQ would have had a secure base from which to grow, train operatives, launder money and organize world-wide terrorist attacks in complete security.

2003 Iraq. Violent death figures are disputed between 100,000 and the high and generally disregarded estimates of 1 million. The war itself was very short and relatively low in death figures. The insurgency, organised by ex-Ba’athists and the precursor group to IS, then loosely linked to AQ, was the cause of the brutality which followed: Pilger said that western leftists had ‘no choice’ but to support the insurgency. The population of Iraq in 2003 was 26 million: today it is around 34 million. So, many more Iraqis are alive, highly likely because better conditions have been created in which Iraqis can live. The size of the diaspora pre-2003 would account for only half the rise in population. Violent deaths pre-2003 outnumber by an order of magnitude those after 2003.

2011 Libya I don’t have figures.

2013 Syria. JC opposed the no-fly zone suggestion for safe areas for civilians. Assad has since killed his own people in the hundreds of thousands. Exact numbers again are difficult in the fog of war. Ca. 500,000 is often quoted but the methodologically conservative SNHR numbers about 200,000. This is not to mention the internally and externally displaced who number ca. 10 million. It is highly likely that the no-fly zones would have saved Syrian lives, cowed Assad and deterred Iran and Russia from helping Assad and his Chemical Weapons and bombing of medical facilities campaigns. JC repeats the mantra of calling for ‘talks’, yet he knows that whenever Assad and Putin agree to them, there are spikes in Assadist violence and killing of the population. JC deliberately obfuscates this recurring fact.

Homs BBC

Homs, ‘capital’ of the Syrian revolution: not CGI but obliterated by Assad. Photo courtesy BBC.


Rosen: And Corbyn is the one who is supposedly ‘dangerous’?

On question 3 given that record, yes, there are thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands and more who would not exist if JC had been the decision-maker.

Rosen: How many dictators or terrorists have the Tories one moment been against, the next moment been for, the next moment against again! (sic)

On question 4, I can’t think off-hand of 1 terrorist group which the Tories have supported, although I am happy to be proved wrong. Repulsive régimes, yes. Yet instead of grandstanding in such a morally easy way about how revolting, say, KSA is, one does have to conduct a rational, informed discussion about the implications of withdrawing arms sales. Who would KSA go to for their arms? China, Russia, USA, France, Italy? What would be the foreign policy and balance of power implications, as well as those for the UK in terms of jobs and energy security?

Rosen: And Corbyn is the one who is supposedly dangerous?

On question 5 it is not fake news to describe JC as a fellow traveller with the IRA, a shill for Iran and a man who equates the murder of 3,000 people with the lack of a trial for Osama bin Laden. He does not, or pretends not to, understand the degrees in a moral compass. Nor does he comprehend that intention with regard to action tells us what we need to know about the actor. It is an awful fact that in the world bad people will continue to do appalling things if you leave them be. And their intention will be to continue killing because, weak as their polity is, that’s what they’re good at. Sometimes terrible things have to be done to them in order to stop them, but also in order to produce a better society. It’s a simple fact that the replacement of Assad with, say, Emmanuel Macron as President of Syria would immediately lead to better outcomes for Syria. Methods and intentions matter: JC always obfuscates them.’

I could have been harsher. I could have pointed out that JC always considers who has been murdered before determining his political response to it. But that would have been blindingly obvious. Perhaps I should have. If you have the misfortune to be tortured, killed or a member of a genocided group which is tortured, killed or genocided by a client of the Soviet Union, Russia, an Islamist or anybody vaguely anti-democratic, you are not worthy of effective support. It’s a pattern of behaviour and it’s as simple as that.

If a man, even before he obtains state power, is capable of thinking that, then he is capable of thinking anything. And that is why I cannot, and I hope you should not, support Jeremy Corbyn.