“March for Free Expression” Planned for London

Nick Cohen writes in The London Observer:

Next Saturday at 2pm in Trafalgar Square, there will be a rally for freedom of expression. I think it’s fair to say that previous generations would be astonished that their descendants would have to take to the streets to demand such a basic right, but after the death threats against cartoonists, it seems we do.

Fortunately, the British National Party is nowhere to be seen and the rally will be filled with democratic leftists, Liberal Democrats, secularists and Iranian and Saudi Arabian dissidents.

With the white far right out of the picture, the brown far right has barged in and Islamic fundamentalists are proposing to hold demonstrations against free speech away from central London. So, if you want to protest on Saturday, you have a choice: for free speech or against? Come on, it’s not that hard a choice. All will be welcome in Trafalgar Square. Dress? Danish.

Cohen is referring to two competing events, both of which are currently being furiously blogged by their supporters: The March for Free Expression and the Muslim Action Committee‘s Campaign for Global Civility. The latter is asking for the Press Complaints Commission Code of Practice to be amended to include guidelines against “reckless and malicious” attacks on religion, and for the press to “avoid prejudicial, insulting or pejorative” attacks on people based on their religion. They also want the Jyllands-Posten to give a full apology and

To publish one saying of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) every day for 1 year, promoting civility, as selected by the Muslim Action Committee.

However, Cohen’s portrait of the group as “the brown far right” is excessive. The MAC add:

If people want to be critical about Islam or what to debate it with us that’s fine, but a civilised debate does not involve the need to abuse your opponant. Those who resort to abuse and insult to win their arguments are those who are devoid of true intellectual arguments and evidence. We want to civilise our debates and discussions to facilitate understanding, instead of this name calling that everyone is engaging in now.

That’s a long way from the “death to the infidel” crowd, and it reflects poorly on Cohen that he chooses to elide the difference.

Meanwhile, the March for Free Expression asserts that:

This campaign is not specifically directed at Islam…There has been a pattern of attempts to restrict freedom of speech and expression from a number of religions and from secular sources as well…For the organisers of this campaign, the Danish cartoons affair was merely the straw that broke the camel’s back.

It’s a shame that there couldn’t have been a rather more noble “straw” than a handful of inflammatory cartoons published by a hypocritical newspaper which had previously refused to print cartoons satirising Christianity. Where was the support two years ago when Alaskan composer Philip Munger was bullied into cancelling the premiere of his cantata about Rachel Corrie? And what about now, when a play on the same theme has apparently been forced to cancel in New York?

But that’s all as may be – the fact is that, thanks to the bloody reaction of Islamists to the cartoons, a campaign is now underway, and is gathering support from a number of impressive organisations and individuals. These include: the Christian think-tank Ekklesia, the anti-LGF site lgfwatch, the New Humanist Magazine, Peter Tatchell, and the Nigerian Humanist Movement (whose leader, Leo Igwe, has been featured on this blog before). The priorities and focus of whatever movement emerges out of this (if any) will be determined, as ever, by the people who show up – and the organisers have asked “white nationalists” to go elsewhere. Therefore:

march-for-free-expression

(although I won’t be there myself, what with being in Japan just now…)

UPDATE: One of the organisers has now issued the following statement (emphasis in original, link added):

At the outset, we said that displays of the Danish cartoons would be welcome on Saturday. No, let me rephrase that: At the outset, I, Peter Risdon, said the cartoons would be welcome. I am going to take full responsibility for this. I now think that was a mistake.

In practice, Muslims who wholeheartedly endorse our statement of principle, as quoted below by Peter Tatchell in his superb essay, who abhor the threats made against Danish cartoonists and believe people should have the right to publish things they themselves find offensive or abhorrent would be UNABLE to come to our rally on Saturday, because to be surrounded by these cartoons, now, in the present context when the BNP are using them as a rallying point, would be intolerable.

So I now appeal to people not to bring the cartoons on T-shirts or placards.

Naturally, some have condemned the “appeal” as an act of censorship, when what they mean is that Risdon shouldn’t have been allowed to express his judgement. Risdon defended his request in a second post:

To answer a couple of emails collectively, I don’t care what [the Muslim Action Committee] or anyone else says about this; I haven’t even bothered to look. It became plain to me from talking with a couple of British Muslim journalists over the past few days that even the most secular, cosmopolitan British Muslim seems incapable, at the moment, of accepting that a display of the cartoons might not be a racist attack on them. That being the case, it had become clear that Muslims who agree with this campaign would have felt unable to attend the rally. That’s why I have asked people not to display the cartoons and it is the only reason why.

Interestingly, while I have been the focus of a lot of anger from some Muslims over my stance on these cartoons, my first death threat came as a response to the post below, obviously from a non-Muslim.

To those who are annoyed, I ask what part of this did you not understand:

This will be a march in favour of free expression, not a march against Muslims

Intelligent Design Turns Orange

Pro-Intelligent Design blog Uncommon Descent links to news from Northern Ireland, courtesy of SecEd:

Secondary pupils in Northern Ireland are spearheading a campaign to introduce a scientific concept, banned in the United States, into the curriculum.

Later in the article the hapless hack explains that by “banned in the United States” he actually means

the federal courts having ruled as unconstitutional a public school district’s endorsement of the theory as an alternative to evolution in science.

He goes on:

No examinations body offers intelligent design but it is understood to be offered by the small number of the province’s [i.e. Northern Ireland’s] Independent Christian Schools.

That was the case when this report was published (2 March), but since then there’s been a bit of a development. On 10 March The Times reported that

AN EXAMINATIONS board is including references to “creationism” in a new GCSE [General Certificate of Secondary Education] science course for schools.

The OCR board admitted that a biology course due to be introduced in September encourages schools to consider alternative views to Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.

…A second exam board, Edexcel, included a reference to creationism in a draft lesson plan for teachers as part of preparations for a new biology GCSE. But a spokeswoman said that it had not been included in the final specifications for the course.

The “Independent Christian Schools” referred to by SecEd are the ten or so Protestant Fundamentalist private schools attached to Ian Paisley’s Free Presbyterian Church denomination (see this article; I blogged Paisley himself here). But the campaign for ID in high-schools is broader-based:

Pupils in mainstream schools are, however, compiling a petition which they will forward to education minister Angela Smith, arguing that intelligent design should be offered.

…The petition reads: “I agree that intelligent design should be taught as science in schools in Northern Ireland as part of the curriculum from key stage 1 to university level alongside the theory of evolution.”

Unfortunately, however, no details are given as to who these students are. However, they enjoy some political support:

“It’s clear that in our schools the faith of many thousands of pupils is being actively denigrated on a daily basis and that the schools system is being used by education authorities to indoctrinate people against their own religious convictions. This must stop,” Upper Bann MP David Simpson says.

Simpson is an MP with the Democratic Unionist Party, which was founded – like the FPC – by Paisley, and its description on Google introduces it as “The most religiously fundamentalist of all The Unionist Parties”. Simpson’s theme of science education as religious persecution also inspired him to pen a question to Angela Smith, in which he asked

what redress is available to parents of a child removed from a class in Northern Ireland for expressing a belief in intelligent design.

Never mind that this has never happened. Smith replied:

I would not expect such a situation to occur, as schools should show respect for the beliefs of every pupil. If it did, as with any issue of concern, parents should discuss the matter with the principal and Board of Governors of the school. If this did not resolve the issue, parents could seek redress from their Education and Library Board’s Curriculum Complaints Tribunal.

Simpson is apparently less worried about the fate of any similarly hypothetical pupil in one of Paisley’s schools who might dare to call ID (or any other form of Creationism) “junk science”.

The spread of Creationism in British schools has been blogged by me before – see here and here.

BNP Christian Group Forming in Lincolnshire

NB: This entry has been amended. Contrary to the report that appeared on Ekklesia, Rev. Robert West is not a member of Lincolnshire Community Council. In fact, he is a councillor in Lincolnshire’s South Holland District Council. The Robert West who sits on the boards of the Community Council and of Lincolnshire Enterprise is a different  person. Thanks to Cllr Chris Burke for bringing this to my attention, and sincere apologies to that Robert West.

British Christian think-tank Ekklesia follows up on my blog entry about Reverend Robert West, the front-man for the far-right British National Party’s new Christian Council of Britain. Ekklesia noted my efforts (and those of MediaWatchWatch) a few of days ago; now it provides some more information (link and correction added):

A clergyman has confirmed that the British National Party (BNP) is helping in the establishment of a new church in Lincolnshire.

In an interview on Three Counties Radio tonight (Thursday) ‘Reverend’ Robert West…said that the BNP were ‘facilitating’ the establishment of the church going under the name of the Christian Council of Britain (CCOB).

West was speaking on “G Focus”, a gospel music programme. He complained that mainstream churches were no longer faithful to “holy scripture”, then added:

“…the BNP has encouraged and facilitated the formation of the Christian Council of Britain. They are working as facilitators. They are supporting what we do” West said.

He denied however that he himself was a member of the BNP. But, he said, the church “arose in connection with the Nick Griffin trial.”

That was the recent trial in Leeds in which BNP leader Griffin was cleared of charges of inciting racial hatred (although he faces a retrial over two counts). West went on to speak in favour of voluntary repatriation, and informed his listeners that “the mixing of races challenges the glory of God”

However, despite this closeness to the BNP, West himself is a member of the Conservative Party, and he serves as a councillor in Lincolnshire’s South Holland District Council.

Meanwhile, a November Indymedia UK report on one of the Leeds protests includes the following detail:

The most amusing character served up by the master race was a man in a dog collar claiming to be some kind of clergyman. He entertained the waiting journos with some of the most bizarre semi religious political ranting ever heard. Whether he was a real priest or some nutter who has bought his qualifications and outfit off the internet was unclear. He refused to say what denomination if any he was of even where he preached.

The text is accompanied with a photo of a man whom we can now identity as West:

 robert-west

UPDATE 1: A bit extra on West’s background, from a Peterborough Today article of last November:

A TEACHER who lost his job at Peterborough Regional College in a staff shake-up is bringing a claim for unfair dismissal against it.

Robert West taught law and history at the college for 10 years, but lost his job when the summer term ended, and the college made a raft of redundancies.

…Mr West, a liberal Christian [?!], believed he was pushed out because of his religious beliefs and as a result of the school’s equal opportunities policy, which, he claims, favours ethnic minority teachers.

…”I’d always encourage students to grapple with issues and genuinely think about and understand their meaning, and to apply their own educated values – and that went against what the college wanted.”

UPDATE 2: Since the above, West has finally joined the BNP, after having been suspended by the Conservative Party. See my entry here for more details.

Death Threat for “Manifesto of 12” Signers

From Muslim Refusnik, the website of reformist Muslim Irshad Manji:

Friends: By now you know about the Manifesto of 12: Together Facing a New Totalitarianism. I signed it, along with Salman Rushdie, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Taslima Nasrin and several others. On March 11, we received a serious death threat from a chat thread on ummah.com, an Islamist website in Britain. The text is crystal-clear:

“Excellent – makes killing the kuffar [infidel] all the bit easier… Now we have a hit list of a ‘Who’s Who’ guide to slam into. Take your time but make sure their gone soon – oh and don’t hold out for a fatwah it isn’t really required here.”

Unlike daily threats, this one comes from a place of ‘authority,’ since ummah.com has a large, radical following. That’s why the Manifesto signatories need you to fight back with us. If you support freedom, pluralism and secularism, click here and put your name on our petition. We’ll publish the petition in the coming days.

The “Manifesto of 12” was published in the wake of the violent backlashes to the Danish cartoons depicting Muhammad, although wisely it focuses on the problem of Islamism more generally.

The short text of the petition, which I have signed, is brought up by clicking on the link. It reads:

I wish to express my unequivocal support for the twelve signatories and my outrage at the Islamist movement’s attack on them. I stand firm with the 12 against this reactionary movement. I join in their call to resist religious totalitarianism and to promote freedom, equal opportunity, human rights and secular values for all.

I haven’t felt the need to bore readers with my own views on the cartoon dispute, but I believe that the most sensible and informative commentary on the subject has come from Danish political scientist Jytte Klausen. A couple of her articles can be seen here and here.

(Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan)

Moscow and Jerusalem United In Homophobia

Interfax-Religion carries an interview with acting Mayor of Jerusalem Yigal Amedi, who is currently visiting Moscow. Amedi gushes over his hosts, shrugging off reports of resurgent anti-semitism in Russia and offering some authoritarian-homophobe solidarity with his Moscow counterpart:

What do think about the idea of holding a gay parade in Moscow?

– Last year, some planned a similar event in the streets of Jerusalem. They were going to make it international at that. But Jerusalem is the cradle of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. And as soon as the information about the holding of a gay parade was made public, representatives of all the religious and public organizations in our city council expressed their opinion unambiguously. We said this: if you want to organize this event, then do it in some private facilities. But you cannot arrange it in public places since it may not correspond with the outlook of many people.

– That is to say that the authorities in Moscow and Jerusalem are in agreement on this issue…

– You see, don’t we have very good relations with Russia! But it is easier for Mr. Luzhkov in Moscow in this respect because it is winter here now and they cannot come out for a gay parade in fur coats! But generally, it is a nice city; there are different people in it, so why something like this should be arranged here? Let them get together somewhere in the country and hold it out there.

A very nice basis for Russian-Israeli relations, I’m sure…

Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov had dismissed an application for a parade out of hand back in January. Gay.com provides a bit of context:

The mayor of Moscow said Thursday his government will not approve of a Gay Pride parade in the city, citing “outrage” from influential religious leaders.

…The move by the government followed a public diatribe by a Russian Muslim leader, Chief Mufti Talgat Tadzhuddin, which called for violent protests if the Pride parade went ahead.

“If they come out on to the streets anyway they should be flogged,” he said. “Any normal person would do that — Muslims and Orthodox Christians alike…[The protests] might be even more intense than protests abroad against those controversial cartoons.”

The Russian Orthodox Church called a possible Pride parade “the propaganda of sin.”

The decision was of a piece with other authoritarian moves in Moscow in recent years, such as the banning of Jehovah’s Witnesses and arrests over religiously-offensive art.

In Jerusalem, meanwhile, attempts to ban a gay pride march last year were overturned, but three participants were stabbed by an ultra-Orthodox protestor. A second, international, gay pride event called World Pride was scheduled for August 2005, but was postponed due to the Gaza withdrawal; it is instead due to take place later this year.

Amedi is himself apparently secular, and he belongs to the Likud party. However, Jerusalem has a large ultra-Orthodox voting block, which he is evidently keen to court. But he’s also very aware of the large numbers of American Christian Zionists who offer unconditional support for the Israeli right, but who are also offended by the thought of homosexuality in the supposed “Holy City”. In fact, the top Google result for Amedi is a picture of his meeting with Rice Broocks, a neo-Pentecostal leader I’ve blogged on before. There was also this report last October:

JERUSALEM – Last Thursday, in front of the Western Wall of the Old City of Jerusalem, high-ranking Israeli representatives of both city and state government presided over the first-ever “Watchmen Commissioning” of Christian pilgrims.

Deputy Mayor Yigal Amedi and Knesset Member (MK) Dr. Yuri Shtern joined religious leaders in recognizing nearly 100 Christians gathered at the Wall, for their dedication and support for the nation of Israel. Many of those recognized were also commissioned – under the sanctioning of the city of Jerusalem – as official “Watchmen on the Wall.”

“These watchmen are a new breed of Christians,” Robert Stearns said from the ceremonies in Jerusalem last week. “With the full weight of the government of the city of Jerusalem behind us, we are witnessing the fulfillment, in a new dimension, of ancient biblical prophecies.”

(Robert Stearns is another player I’ve looked at previously)

The newly-commissioned representatives are members of Watchmen on the Wall, a program organized by Eagles’ Wings, which trains believers to be informed intercessors and articulate ambassadors by completing both the required training curriculum and a “prayer pilgrimage” to the Holy Land. These semi-annual pilgrimages bring to life not only the Biblical roots of Christianity, but also the current situations in the land that need our united prayer.

Americans Christians were perhaps the most vocal opponents of the gay pride march in 2005 (as I blogged at the time), and news of the 2006 World Pride event has not gone down well either. As is required these days, the current complaints employ the language of victimisation – Agape Press reported last month:

Rev. Leo Giovinetti, an American pastor who has longtime connections to Israel, informed the religious community of last year’s planned WorldPride event scheduled for the Holy City…James Hartline, a former homosexual and a member of Giovinetti’s church in San Diego…contends that Jerusalem represents the very foundation of his faith. He cannot understand “why anyone would want to engage in sodomy and pornography at the holy sites of our religious heritage.” Hartline says that people in his church are heartbroken about the news of this event.

“Christians are crying at the sight of our Jewish brothers and sisters being beaten and removed by force from their homes in the pullout from their settlements,” Hartline says. “Then to see, in the midst of this tragedy, nearly naked homosexuals and pornographers march through the city is a cruel display.”

Amedi no doubt understands that Christian Zionist support for Israel is not based on Israel as it is in reality, but is rather the product of a religious imagination that puts Israelis and Palestinians into divinely pre-ordained roles. This imagination has already been strained by Israel’s strategic withdrawal from Gaza; the problem with a gay rights event in Jerusalem is not only that homosexuality is believed to be immoral, but that it shows that the city is really just a part of the mundane universe after all, despite its “Holy City” label. If banning an event because it may “not correspond with the outlook of many people” is what it takes to ease their cognitive dissonance, Amedi more than willing to do it – and to boost similar efforts in other countries.

Intellectual Degradation of Isfahan

A few days late, I read about a conference in Iran, via Arutz Sheva:

At the initiative of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, a state-run Iranian university held a Holocaust-denial conference this week.

The conference, reported by Iran’s official IRIB radio, was held at Isfahan University. It was entitled Holocaust: myth or reality, and was attended by students and faculty. According to the report, it was organized by Khamenei’s Isfahan office.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had called for such a conference in January (bizarrely inviting Tony Blair), and I noted then that an academic at Teheran’s Neda Institute had been in contact with French Holocaust-denier Robert Faurisson over the possibility. Only one person was named in relation to the conference – a certain “Alireza Soltanshahi”, described as “Head of the Presidential office on studying the Palestinian issue”.

Recent details about Isfahan University in English are far and few between, and the English sections of the university website make no mention of the conference (are they ashamed or something?). However, Iranian dissident website Roozonline reported the following last October:

The atmosphere of intimidation against dissidents and critics of the government is getting darker. The promise of silencing 3 to 4 percent of the critics and the threat of executing 210 journalists are the latest examples of the intimidations that were published just yesterday.

The threat of silencing critics was made by Dr Ramshet, the new president of Isfahan University. This news was published by two websites, Entekhab and Emrouz, and neither carried his first name or his background.

…Reports indicate that some 40 individuals have been given new posts at Isfahan University, confirming Ramshet’s claim that only “insiders” will be given posts in his school. Ramshet was speaking to a group of ideologues who share his interpretations of Islam and history.

And why the need to silence only 3-4 per cent of the critics?

“According to an American theory by a White House aide, if 25 percent of the population supports you, another 50 percent will automatically sympathize with you. Another 10 to 12 percent can be bought off, another 10 to 12 percent can be intimidated and the remaining 3 or 4 percent which cannot be brought into the circle can be suppressed with rapid response forces,” according to this university chancellor.

Nice talk from a man running a university based in the city that was once the intellectual and cultural centre of the Islamic world.

Far-right Links of Anti-Abortion Group Targeting UK Documentary Maker

Twice in row now, MediaWatchWatch points me in the direction of religious opportunism dressed up as Christian activism by the British far right. Yesterday I looked at the Christian Council of Britain; today it’s notorious anti-abortion group UK LifeLeague (“UKLL”). Citing the Observer, MWW draws attention to the targeting of a well-known journalist:

Rod Liddle’s documentary last Monday, The New Fundamentalists, was about how Christian creationists were taking over “foundation schools” to propagate their primitive world view to children in the UK.

The UK Life League, an anti-abortion campaign group, took such exception to this “grotesque attack on some of Christian morality” that they sent an email circular out to supporters attacking Liddle. They included his home address.

The schools Liddle discussed on his TV documentary were blogged by me some time ago; the programme also looked at British Christian fundamentalism more generally.

UKLL has used this strategy throughout its existence, targeting the homes of abortion clinic workers, pro-choice politicians, and others it objects to. Like the BNP, UKLL also jumped on the anti-Jerry Springer opera bandwagon back in January, after the show was broadcast by the BBC. The Guardian reported at the time:

The anti-abortion group UK Lifeleague told the Guardian it planned to publish the home address and personal phone number of the BBC’s director general, Mark Thompson, on its website and encourage supporters to “doorstep” him.

The UK LifeLeague was previously known as Precious Life, and it is led by Jim Dowson, a man with past links to Northern-Irish paramilitaries. The BBC noted back in 1999:

Jim Dowson, 33, who has admitted previous involvement with hard-line loyalist groups in the west of Scotland…was reported to have been the organiser of a flute band in Cumbernauld which recorded a tape in honour of Ulster Freedom Fighter member Michael Stone.

Stone was a noted loyalist terrorist in the Northern Ireland conflict, and was convicted of six murders. An Irish Sunday Mirror article from 2002 archived by Ireland United Against Fascism adds:

Precious Life has threatened doctors with ‘direct action’ and is headed by ex-Orangeman and Loyalist Jim Dowson. Dowson, 35, has a conviction for a firearms offence and his heavily tattooed arms indicate his loyalist politics.

However, Dowson told the BBC that he was now born again:

“I have made no secret from the very beginning of my very, very murky past but I am a committed Christian now and certainly nobody has got any more respect for human life than myself.”

Dowson is now a “Reverend”, and in a Sunday Herald report last year he described himself as “god-fearing, Presbyterian socialist.” This conversion, though, didn’t lead him to repent of all his “murky” far-right links. One of these connections, Justin Barrett, is the main subject of the Sunday Mirror article already cited:

…Barrett has attended a number of conferences and rallies in Italy held by the neo-fascist Forza Nuova party as well as being an ‘honour guest’ at German Nazi party NPD’s ‘National Day of Resistance’ rally in Passau in May 2000.

…Barrett also fronts Ireland’s Youth Defence, the anti-abortion group which funded the establishment of the Precious Life anti-abortion outfit, which operates in Scotland and Northern Ireland… Barrett himself admits that 70,000 euro was given by Youth Defence to Precious Life for office furniture.

But bizarrely:

…Barrett extols his extreme views in his book “The National Way Forward”. In this 200 page rant, he expresses opinions on everything from Jewish influences in the US to his ideas for Irish reunification that includes the expulsion of Northern Protestants.

One would think that this would put Barrett at odds with Dowson, but such would appear to be the weird alliances to be found on the far-right.

Last June, Dowson was a speaker at the Nationalist Education Forum in London. An obscure far-right site (1) reports:

The special guest speaker was Jim Dowson, founder of the pro-life, pro-family organisation the UK Life League who gave a speech entitled Nationhood.

Mr. Dowson introduced himself by unfurling a Union Jack flag and stating that he is an unashamed Protestant Loyalist. He asserted that the decline in the nation was not the fault of other races, of the government, of some Zionist conspiracy; the fault lay squarely with us.

He pointed at Northern Ireland where Catholics were having large families whilst the Protestants were in decline. There, the Protestants could not continue to blame the Catholics for doing what they themselves should be doing! The same was true on the mainland where MTV culture and a declining population were changing the face of the country.

Another far-right site (2) tells us that the Forum was also addressed by an unnamed speaker from Final Conflict, a British far-right magazine.

There have also been claims that Dowson had links with James Kopp, who was convicted in 2003 of killing an abortion provider in Buffalo, New York. In 2000 the US newsletter Anti-Abortion Violence Watch cited a Scottish Sunday Herald report:

…According to the FBI officials quoted in the Scottish report, Kopp has evaded capture for so long because of “extended help from the international radical wing of the anti-abortion movement”. Precious Life is one of Europe’s most extremist anti-abortion organizations; it began in Dublin and now operates in Glasgow. Its leader, Jim Dowson, claims to have no contact with Kopp. The Herald report, however, states that Dowson’s group had been “contacted at one point by the Army of God” – a group that has claimed responsibility for the 1998 fatal Birmingham abortion clinic bombing and the 1999 Atlanta bombings of an abortion clinic and lesbian and gay nightclub. Kopp is believed to be the person referred to by the moniker “Atomic Dog” throughout the Army of God tactical manual.

However, the Herald report was described as inaccurate by the FBI a few days afterward, and after Kopp’s arrest in France it was discovered that he had been hiding in Ireland.

*****

Far-right sites cited, but not linked:

(1) syninfo.com/ian/PRIVATE/2005/06/23/2005062322383373.html

(2) churchofthesonsofyhvh.org/forum/viewtopic.php?t=848&sid=caec614e9291bbc45f5f1ef2e9a8f3ca

British Far-Right Infiltrates Christian Protests

(updated)

MediaWatchWatch draws attention to the latest protest by the “Christian Council of Britain” – a front-group of the far-right British National Party formed to capitalise on the Jerry Springer Opera controversy. The Leicester Mercury reports:

People for and against Jerry Springer: The Opera staged demonstrations to mark the musical’s arrival in Leicester.

…Wayne McDermott, 31, a Christian from Coalville, carried a placard stating “Defend Christian Values”. He said: “I have read reports about the musical and it is blasphemous. I wanted to come and show my opposition. We are very concerned that this kind of thing is allowed to be shown.”

Worryingly, the Leicester Mercury fails to mention that the banners were printed by the Christian Council of Britain (see the photos on MWW), and that Wayne McDermott is a BNP activist (as a simple Google search demonstrates).

MediaWatchWatch, however, links to Lancaster Unite Against Fascism for further details:

The Christian Council of Britain, replete with one or two hundred rabid members of the BNP (who also happen to be Christians), was set up by the BNP as a so-called balance to the Muslim Council of Britain. They claim to represent the Christians of Britain, which of course, they don’t. They actually represent a racist though supposedly Christian offshoot of the BNP formed solely so that the party could almost-legitimately jump on the back of the anti-‘Jerry Springer – The Opera’ campaign. The real Christian group who actually are organising the campaign have stated clearly that the BNP is unwelcome.

MWW has been noting this trend since a couple of months ago, when members of the BNP in Plymouth first tried to muscle-in on anti-Springer protests being led by Stephen Green of Christian Voice.

But the Christian Council of Britain remains somewhat mysterious. There is no website, and the only individual explictly associated with it is a certain Reverend Robert West. Last month the BNP placed online a video of a speech by West (as noted by a commentator at Pickled Politics), who tells us that a multiracial society is

…a transgression of God’s will…Adam and his descendants were commanded by God to fill the earth, not to come to one part of it, namely England. The refusal of Adam’s surviving descendants through Noah to spread out led to God’s judgement at Babel, and his confusing of the tongues…The blossoming of what I call the proto-race…into many nations was to be a manifestation of God’s glory, like light passing through a prism.

The Reverend is all in favour of diversity, as long as it is a distinct diversity of God-ordained separate nations and races.

West (see pic below) is an obscure figure. He is not a Church of England clergyman; one source (see my entry here) states that he is an elder with the “Apostolic Church”. West commended two newspapers to his BNP audience: the British Church Newspaper and the English Churchman. Both are fundamentalist Protestant papers from Northern Ireland, although West’s accent places him as from the south of England.

reverend-robert-west

UPDATE (18 March): See today’s entry for more on West, including a better photo.

UPDATE 2 (29 March): More today.

Uganda Church Collapse Blamed on Rival Pastor

The death of 26 people in Uganda as the result of a wall collapsing in a church has led to recriminations:

Word was rife that the tragedy was masterminded by a powerful evil spell cast upon the church by a pastor of a nearby rival church.

…Residents said there was rivalry between the Pastor of the ill-fated church, Godfrey Luwagga and another pastor.

A survivor, who declined to reveal his identity, said a pastor of a nearby church had called one of the worshippers and threatened him before the incident.

Perhaps surprisingly, local witchdoctors do not appear to have been put in the frame. The Daily Monitor reported last year:

Concerned that too many people are going into witchcraft, Born Again churches in Kawempe have drawn the battle lines. And the witchdoctors say they will be only too happy to pay the Christians back in kind…The brain behind this fight is Godfrey Luwagga, 37, Pastor of City of the Lord Church in Kalerwe, a stone’s throw away from the scene of battle.

The conflict between the church and the witchdoctors began almost immediately, because Luwagga shared fences with three witchdoctors…After a short while, one confronted him complaining that he was ruining his business with his prayer and preaching…Eventually he moved his business elsewhere.

The witchdoctor on another side of the church died a mysterious death, while the third suffered a broken marriage and quickly moved shop, sensing that there was something not quite right about being too close to the church.

However, the witchdoctors’ stated plan was to hold rival evangelistic-style gatherings, rather than to unleash occult forces. (We saw another account of a witchdoctor coming to a sorry end after challenging a Ugandan evangelist just a couple of weeks ago)

A rival, mundane, explanation blames Luwagga himself and local government cronyism for the tragedy:

THE church was an illegal structure without an approved architectural plan, reports revealed yesterday.

City authorities said the owner of the structure, Pastor Godfrey Luwagga, defied orders to stop construction, claiming that he had been cleared by State House.

The authorities said the pastor was a close associate of Kawempe deputy RDC Kigozi Kaweesa and that attempts to enforce building regulations were met with threats that anyone who demolished the church would face the wrath of State House.

A fire officer adds:

The structure was weak and it collapsed due to heavy rain and poor construction materials…This is the third church that has collapsed since 1997 under similar circumstances…”

(Hat tip: Christianity Today Weblog)

Satanic Panic Payout in Canada

The epilogue to a Satanic panic outbreak in Canada:

The Saskatchewan government has settled the final two lawsuits outstanding from a child sexual abuse case going back to the early 1990s.

[James] Elstad and [Edward] Revesz were among nine people charged in 1992 with 180 sex-related offences against children at a day care in Martensville, Sask.

The children’s bizarre stories of murder, animal mutilation and Satanism were eventually proven to be unfounded, and the methods of investigators came under heavy criticism.

This is not the first settlement to result from the Martensville case. Canada.com reported back in November 2004 (via Religion News Blog):

Justice Minister Frank Quennell announced Monday that the province will pay $925,000 to Ron and Linda Sterling, as well as to a person who was a youth at the time the charges were laid in 1992. The Sterlings operated a home day care in Martensville north of Saskatoon. They were among nine people charged with 180 sex-related offences against children in their care. Only one of the accused was ever found guilty.

…It was later determined that investigators had elicited the allegations by asking leading questions and prosecutors had gone ahead with charges despite police misgivings about the veracity of the claims.

The latest court case also comes on the heels of developments elsewhere: late in 2005 Kyle Sapp admitted that as a child he had been coaxed by adults into lying about Satanic abuse at the McMartin preschool in California, while just two months ago it was announced that a dozen individuals in Rochdale in the UK were seeking compensation for being seized by social services as children in 1990.

However, while the courts have rightfully excoriated the investigators who were directly responsible for ruining so many lives, less attention has been given to the disseminators of the popular “Satanic survivor” paperbacks that did so much to inspire and spread the hysteria. I don’t mean so much the mentally disturbed authors themselves as those who worked with them when they should have known better – and who, it should be noted, have never tried to make amends for their errors of judgement. Two individuals in particular deserve to have their part in the fiasco more widely known. I risk repeating a point I made quite recently, but I think it’s worth re-emphasizing:

David Balsiger: Now a successful maker of Christian documentaries, Balsiger ghost-wrote the phony autobiography of Mike Warnke, a pathological liar who claimed to have been a high-ranking Satanist before becoming a Christian.

Hal Lindsey: Lindsey championed the cause of Lauren Stratford, whose bogus memoir of childhood abuse at the hands of Satanists was published in 1988. Lindsey went so far as to denounce the Christian investigators who utterly debunked her story, while Stratford herself went on to create a new, but equally false, identity as a Holocaust survivor. However, as with his prophecies about the USSR attacking Israel and the 1980s being the final decade, subsequent events did not harm Lindsey’s credibility. He is still a high-profile conservative Christian commentator, reaching a wide audience through his WorldNetDaily column.

And the hysteria is not quite dead yet: hacks like George Deutsch (he of the NASA censorship scandal) continue to milk the idea of secret Satanic cults performing unspeakable crimes with impunity, while the panic flares up periodically in other parts of the world.

(Hat tip: Cult News Network)