Policy Exchange v Newsnight Update

Six months ago Dean Godson of Policy Exchange promised to pursue the BBC for libel “relentlessly, to trial or capitulation” if Newsnight dared to raise concerns about anomalies with receipts which the think-tank had presented as evidence that certain Islamic bookshops were selling extremist literature. I blogged the dispute here, and the Newsnight blog now carries an update:

On 19th December Policy Exchange released a statement standing by their report but advising readers that “as an evidence-based research organisation, we take the allegations made seriously”. It continued: “Our investigations must be allowed time to proceed.”

Well surely six months is enough? I contacted Policy Exchange’s external relations director Dr Steven King for an update. He got back to me this week with a statement saying that the independent inquiry had been “adjourned” because “the Muslim researchers who conducted the original investigation into the mosques have gone into hiding for fear of violent reprisals after Newsnight revealed their whereabouts on air, in breach of an undertaking given to Policy Exchange. Following the Newsnight broadcast, an Islamist website denounced the undercover researchers and called for them to be hunted down. Policy Exchange takes any allegations against its research methodology seriously, and so is keeping the investigation open in case circumstances change making it possible for it to be completed.”

Just to be clear – we didn’t identify the researchers, we reported which country they were in, which was the reason why PE said they could not be contacted for interview.

Policy Exchange’s most recent statement also states that the report “does not mention the receipts or rely on them as evidence, and Policy Exchange stands by the study’s content”.

Newsnight also tells us that the “Al-Manaar Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre and Masjid” and “Madrasa al-Tawhid” are availing themselves of the services of Carter-Ruck. But why aren’t some of the other booksellers mentioned on the Newsnight exposé following suit? A report in from Private Eye from February (1203 p. 8) offers a clue:

Newsnight’s killer claim was that its hacks had organised forensic tests which proved that receipts Policy Exchange said it had collected from the Muslim Education Centre in High Wycombe were dubious. When Policy Exhange said that the centre was selling such titles as Women Who Deserce to go to Hell…it couldn’t be believed. The BBC stuck by the accusation even though the Muslim Education Centre cheerily told reporters that the books were indeed on sale.

Similarly Newsnight said receipts from thr Al-Muntada Al-Islami Trust in west London were suspicious. The implication was that Policy Exchange was lying when it said that the works of Sayyed Qutb, the intellectual father of al-Qaeda and every other supporter of mass murder by suicide bombings, were on sale. Policy Exchange also quoted from a guide for Muslims living in the west which recommended “jihad against the unbelievers and the hypocrites…”. A second guide said that Muslims in the west couldn’t “stand up to honour a national flag, or a national anthem”.

…At the time the Eye was going to press, the al-Muntada online bookshop was offering both guidebooks – while Sayyed Qutb was at number four in its bestseller list!

The Eye’s report is somewhat obtuse: it can be true both that a bookshop is selling extremist literature and that someone decided to forge a receipt for some reason, and no counter-evidence is provided against the anomalies highlighted by Newsnight. And while Sayyed Qutb may be bad news, he was an etremely influential Islamic figure and the presence of his writings in an Islamic bookshop is hardly remarkable. One can also find controversial material in a number of Christian bookshops; a sensible method would be to look at a bookshop’s entire stock, and to take note of which materials appear to be particularly promoted.

However, having said that, the presence of extremist literature ought to be noted and challenged, and it should be recalled that the Policy Exchange report gave a number of mosques and bookshops a clean bill of health – hardly consistent with a crude anti-Muslim agenda. The problem is, though, that the issue of the receipts does undermine the report’s credibility, and it cannot be restored by making libel threats. Especially if such threats turn out to be bluster.

Nazir Ali on Christian Britain

An new essay by Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali provides the Daily Mail with a sensationalist headline:

Bishop says collapse of Christianity is wrecking British society – and Islam is filling the void

The Mail explains:

It has destroyed family life and left the country defenceless against the rise of radical Islam in a moral and spiritual vacuum.

…In a blow to Gordon Brown, he mocked the ‘scramblings and scratchings’ of politicians who try to cast new British values such as respect and tolerance.

The Pakistani-born bishop dated the downfall of Christianity from the ‘social and sexual revolution’ of the 1960s.

He said Church leaders had capitulated to Marxist revolutionary thinking and quoted an academic who blames the loss of ‘faith and piety among women’ for the steep decline in Christian worship.

I suspect Callum Brown will be wincing somewhat at this polemical use of his 2000 book The Death of Christian Britain, which links secularisation with women’s liberation in the 1960s. Brown’s (interesting) argument is that British Christianity had developed a sentimental idealization of women as “angels in the house”, while men were seen as inherently wayward and in need of feminine guidance. As women found new freedoms in the 1960s (thanks in large part to the contraceptive pill), they ceased to be the domestic carriers of piety, resulting in a collapse of British religiosity. In other words, changes in family life led to the decline of Christianity, rather than the other way round.

Nazir Ali’s essay appears in the first issue of Standpoint, the new magazine published by the right-wing Social Affairs Unit. It’s a strange piece; in some places subtle and academic, in others bombastic. Nazir Ali traces British values and identity to Christianity: “systems of governance, of the rule of law, of the assumption of trust in common life all find their inspiration in Scripture”. As a “descending theme”, Christianity “produced a network of divine, human and natural law which was the basis of a just ordering of society”, while as an ascending theme Christianity (helped by Aristotle) developed ideas of “personhood”, creating a “dual emphasis on conscience and consent”. This then joined Enlightenment ideas:

While the Evangelicals drew inspiration from the Bible for their humanitarian projects, such as the abolition of slavery, universal education and humane conditions of work for men, women and children, the Enlightenment provided them with the intellectual tools and the moral vision of natural rights so that they could argue their case in the public sphere. It was this Evangelical-Enlightenment consensus which brought about the huge social changes of the 19th and early 20th centuries and which came under sustained attack in the second half of the 20th century.

Nazir Ali then uses Peter Mullen to give Brown’s thesis a polemical and conspiratorial edge:

Peter Mullen and others, similarly, have traced the situation to the student unrest of the 1960s which they claim was inspired by Marxism of one sort or another. The aim was to overturn what I have called the Evangelical-Enlightenment consensus so that revolution might be possible. One of the ingredients in their tactics was to encourage a social and sexual revolution so that a political one would, in due course, come about. Mullen points out that instead of the Churches resisting this phenomenon, liberal theologians and Church leaders all but capitulated to the intellectual and cultural forces of the time.

This is just crude red-baiting; on the whole, people in the 1960s had freer sex (and talked about it more) because they could, rather than because they wanted Marxist revolution. Brown is surely right to emphasise technological advances in contraception, and Nazir Ali’s approach ignores wider sociological processes at work; we find similar increases in sexual freedom in other modernized countries. To bring in another sociologist, Steve Bruce has observed that:

…the decline of the traditional nuclear family had very little to do with the writings of the enemies of the family. Rather than being a cause, is is far more likely that such propaganda was a symptom of changes already in progress. Changes in the family cannot be separated from changes in the structure of the economy, the expansion of the idea of rights, and increasing affluence…The world turns out as it does not because anyone wants it like that, because actions engaged in for one purpose have unanticipated consequences…Especially if we can find some group of people who did want [a] change, we can readily (but mistakenly) suppose it happened because they wanted it and it can be reversed by us wanting something different. (1)

Nazir Ali/Mullen complain that Christian leaders “all but capitulated” to the cultural changes of the 1960s, but how well have those churches that refused any engagement with those changes fared? And why is not Mullen’s famous enthusiasm for Thatcherism not similarly a “capitulation”, or the American Christian Right’s unquestioning support for George Bush and his national security doctrines? And just because Marxism played a role in 1960s student unrest, that hardly means that Marxism created that unrest, or that the things it critiqued should not have been challenged, even though Nazir Ali takes it for granted that the “Evangelical-Enlightenment consensus” amounted to the best of all possible worlds, and could only be undermined by malignant outside forces. From here, the Bishop gets even sillier:

It is this situation that has created the moral and spiritual vacuum in which we now find ourselves. While the Christian consensus was dissolved, nothing else, except perhaps endless self-indulgence, was put in its place. Happily Marxism, in its various forms, has been shown to be the philosophical, historical and economic nonsense that it always was. But we are now confronted by another equally serious ideology, that of radical Islamism, which also claims to be comprehensive in scope. What resources do we have to face yet another ideological battle?

Now, there’s plenty to criticise in Marxism, but it remains a serious academic tool of analysis and it has provided some useful insights. Often it can be crude and one-note, but to suggest that it is somehow “equal” with Islamic fundamentism is not a statement to be taken seriously.

Unsurprisingly, the “resources” to which Nazir Ali wants us to turn are the “Judaeo-Christian tradition”, since the “the ‘thin’ values of respect, decency and fairness” are inadequate. And it’s not enough simply to acknowledge this historically:

While some acknowledge the debt which Britain owes to the Judaeo-Christian tradition, they claim also that the values derived from it are now free-standing and that they can also be derived from other world-views. As to them being free-standing, the danger, rather, is that we are living on past capital which is showing increasing signs of being exhausted. Values and virtues by which we live require what Bishop Lesslie Newbigin called “plausibility structures” for their continuing credibility. They cannot indefinitely exist in a vacuum.

Therefore Christianity ought to have a continuing role in public life – although how this in itself will shore up the “plausibility structures” of Christianity is not explained.

Nazir Ali goes on to contrast Christian and Islamic values, suggesting that Islamic values might take over:

Instead of the Christian virtues of humility, service and sacrifice, there may be honour, piety and the importance of “saving face”.

But what makes honour, piety and “saving face” particularly Islamic? These traditional values have also loom large in Western history. Any how would they come to dominate in a generally irreligious Britain anyway? Although Nazir Ali dismisses secular values as “thin”, the fact is that a generally secular and irreligious lifestyle appears to be attractive to most people in Britain. Nazir Ali sees a “spiritual vacuum”, but most people don’t, and most of those who do can chose between a range of religious options. And among some immigrants from Muslim countries, Western secular living has attractions. I discussed this point in the very early days of this blog, when Cal Thomas wrote an alarmist piece on Islam taking over the UK, based on conversion figures. As I asked then: how many conversions are purely nominal, for marriage reasons and such? How many converts backslide or move on to something else? And how many Muslim immigrants become secular, or at least nominalist?

However, Nazir Ali improves a bit as he heads towards a rather pedestrian conclusion:

Every temptation to theocracy, on every side, must be renounced. There is no place for coercion where the relationship of religion to the state is concerned.

…At the same time, government will have to be increasingly open to religious concerns and to make room for religious conscience, as far as it is possible to do so. Religious leaders, for their part, will seek to guide their peoples in the light of their faith and to seek to make a contribution to public life on the same basis. The integrity and autonomy of public authority and of the law will also have to be recognised, and it would be best if religious law in its application were left to the communities and to the free obedience of their members. Public law, however, should continue to provide overarching protection for all…At the same time, it should be possible for Muslims to contribute to the development of a common life by bringing the maqasid, or principles of the sharia, to bear on the discussion. These have to do with the protection of the individual and of society and can be argued on their own merits without attempting to align two quite different systems of law.

That last sentence is obviously a jibe at the position which was recently ascribed to Rowan Williams regarding Shariah, but the sentence preceding it will hopefully disappoint the Melanie Phillips crowd.

In fact, though, Britain is quite good at “making room for religious conscience”, having from 1689 onwards slowly removed various impediments against first Dissenters, and then Catholics and later non-Christians. One great British virtue – not found in the Bible – is compromise and a willingness to amend the rules to accommodate special needs. At times accomodation may go too far, and at times modern secular values may clash with religious values, but Britain is not France, and if Christianity’s role in British public life has diminished it is not because it has been generally suppressed in some way.

Nazir Ali doesn’t appear to have many answers, and it seems to me that the spectre of Islamization has been thrown into to the mix of the essay simply because he’s the Bishop of Rochester and this is what he does.

I last blogged on Nazir Ali a few days ago here. The Social Affairs Unit also promotes Creationism.

****

(1) Steve Bruce, Sociology: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford 1999), pp. 91-92

Ukraine Link to Patriarch of Constantinople Upsets Russia

RISU reports:

On 20 May 2008, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko met with a delegation of the Constantinople Patriarchate (CP) of the Orthodox Church. At the beginning of the meeting, Yushchenko expressed his gratitude for the efforts of the CP to consolidate Orthodox Churches.

…”Both the Ukrainian religious community and the state are convinced that we should promote closer relations with the mother Church of the Constantinople Patriarchate,” said Yushchenko. “Ukraine is going [down] this road.”

Yushchenko also invited the Patriarch of Constantiople to come to Ukraine in July. However, the nascent alliance has provoked criticism from the Russian Orthodox Church, which is is bitterly opposed to a Ukrainian Orthodox Church independent of Moscow (I blogged that issue here). A second report adds:

21 May 2008, the secretary of the Department of External Church Relations of Moscow Patriarchate, archpriest Mykola Balashov told “Interfax-Religion” that Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople could only participate in the celebration of the 1020th anniversary of baptism of Rus in Ukraine only upon an appropriate invitation from Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and All-Rus.

“The head of a particular Church may visit the territory of another Church only upon invitation in accordance with established Church tradition,” said the archpriest.

The ROC is also keen to sideline the the Constantinople Patriarchate more generally; ROC theologian Andrey Kurayev comments on the meeting:

“In those times when Kiev metropolitans were appointed in Constantinople, Constantinople was an Orthodox center of Orthodox Empire and it was natural to depend on Constantinople patriarchs, but today it is a bit strange, to put it mildly…how strange Ukraine’s fate is as it faces the same choice in various centuries: to be under Russia or under Poland and Turkey…this strange dream to be subordinated to the Turkish Patriarch,” Deacon Kurayev said.

In fact, this is only “a bit strange” in a purely worldly sense: spiritually, the Patriarch of Constantinople is regarded as “first among equals” among the Orthodox Patriarchs, despite the fact that his city has been under Turkish rule for centuries, and that the Greek population of Turkey declined markedly during the 20th Century. The sneering dismissal of Patriarch Bartholomew as “the Turkish Patriarch” throws away centuries of tradition, and the idea that the link would amount to Ukraine being “under Turkey” is absurd. Patriarch Bartholomew may need to be politically cautious, but he is hardly an instrument of the Turkish state – in sharp contrast to the ROC, which, as Time has put it, is the Russian government’s “vital foreign policy instrument”.

As I blogged a few months ago, the ROC has also for a long time challenged the authority of the Patriarch of Constantinople, and in 2007 Russian church spokesman Vsevolod Chaplin called for “All-Orthodox meetings” despite reluctance from Constantinople. As I noted then, the subtext seems to be that Moscow ought to be taking the lead here, as it did back in the Tsarist days when the city was known as the “Third Rome”.

The ROC is also keen to establish its Orthodox primacy in the Middle East; earlier this month I noted Kurayev’s description of the Patriarch of Jerusalem as the “local Greek Patriarch”, and his suggestion that the Moscow Patriarchate ought to be targeting Russian Israelis for evangelization. Theofilos, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, in turn has complained of Russian “nationalism” and “aggressive policy”.

Christian Concern PR Man Calls for Evangelization of Muslims

Various news-sites have reported on this; here’s the Church Times:

A private members motion about evangelism amongst those of other faiths is set to be debated at the Church of England General Synod. The motion, from Paul Eddy, has the support of the Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali. Many bishops are strongly opposed and have apparently urged Mr Eddy to desist. The text of the motion is as follows

‘That this Synod request the House of Bishops to report to the Synod on their understanding of the uniqueness of Christ in Britain’s multi-faith society, and offer examples and commendations of good practice in sharing the gospel of salvation through Christ alone with people of other faiths and of none.’

Apparently, however, Eddy and Nazir-Ali both have Islam in particular in mind, and this has given Eddy some extra media publicity. The Christian Post notes that:

The Church of England is divided over a proposed motion for it to proclaim Christianity as the only way to salvation and offer strategies on how to evangelize Muslims.

Senior church leaders as well as some Muslim figures have voiced anger at the motion proposed by Paul Eddy – a lay member of the church’s General Synod, according to BBC.

“Most Muslims that I’ve talked to say, ‘I really wish that Christians would stop watering down their faith and expecting us to do the same,'” Eddy said on BBC Radio Four on Sunday. “Until we start really saying what we really believe in our faith, there will be no respect.”

This is actually quite clever: on one level Eddy is calling for Muslim evangelization, while on another he is calling for the church to be more like Muslims, defining non-evangelical forms of Christian faith as “watering down”. Eddy doesn’t appear to have any “examples and commendations of good practice” of his own (door-to-door, perhaps, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses? Or what?), and one suspects that this is merely a bit of PR to put non-evangelical Anglicans on the spot.

Indeed, Eddy’s background is in PR, and he works closely with Andrea Minichiello Williams of Christian Concern for our Nation on a number of issues (I blogged Williams a week ago here) – Unity at Ministry of Truth has dubbed him as “God’s own Max Clifford”. Williams, it should be recalled, promotes the views of a man named Sam Solomon, who warns that Muslims are motivated by hatred and that even moderate Muslim neighbours will turn into killers in the right circumstances.

Eddy’s motion has in fact been kicking around for a while; as the Church Times notes, the Telegraph reported on it in 2006:

Mr Eddy, from the Winchester diocese, has now tabled a private member’s motion aimed at forcing the Church to clarify its position on what is potentially a highly sensitive issue.

The motion, which requires a minimum of 100 signatures to secure a Synod debate, has already garnered the general approval of more than 80 members even though it has not yet been posted on the Church’s website.

“My Muslim friends say they can’t understand why we Christians don’t evangelise more, especially as they have a strategy to convert Britain,” said Mr Eddy.

…The last time the Synod debated a similar motion four years ago, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, was forced to assuage fears among Muslims and others that the Church had decided to launch a heavy-handed campaign to convert them.

The motion, which was overwhelmingly carried, demanded that the “good news of salvation in Jesus Christ must be shared with all, including people of other faiths or of no faith.”

The support of the Bishop of Rochester has now brought extra notice:

Pakistan-born Dr Nazir-Ali told the Mail on Sunday that, while Church leaders had rightly shown sensitivity to British Muslims, “I think it may have gone too far.”

He added: “Our nation is rooted in the Christian faith and that is the basis of welcoming people of other faiths. You cannot have an honest conversation on the basis of fudge.”

Since he was passed over [for Archbishop], he has felt able to speak more freely about his inter-faith views and has become a talisman for hard-line evangelicals who see Islam as a threat to culture and religion.

In fact, a desire not to be seen to be aggressively targeting other faith groups does not just apply to Islam, and in the 1990s Archbishop George Carey declined to become patron of the Church’s Ministry Among the Jews. CMJ was founded to evangelize Jews, and Archbishops of Canterbury were traditionally its patron. For some reason neither Eddy nor Nazir-Ali have spoken out about this particular bit of “watering down”.

Nazir-Ali caused controversy some months ago when he raised the spectre of “no-go” areas for non-Muslims in British cities, without providing any specific examples.

Incidentally, among his various roles, Nazir-Ali is “spiritual protector” of the UK Grand Priory of “The International Knightly Order Valiant of St George”, a charitable organization founded by a Hungarian dissident from 1956 now based in the UK. From the names given on its website, the “Deputy Grand Master” and the “The Grand Chancellor” are both individuals who were part of the 1980s “libertarian” Young Conservative scene.

Another UK Libel Discussion

A few days ago Tim at Bloggerheads kicked off what will hopefully be a wider discussion on the Brit blogosphere about the problem of UK libel law. He kicked off with the notorious Laurence Godfrey vs Demon case of 1999, which has resulted in immortality for the name of a physics lecturer. Since then:

…it has been generally accepted that ISPs and other providers of web hosting services can under UK law be sued for libel over material transmitted through a largely automated carrier service.

Things are different in the US; Section 230 protects the providers of carrier services and instead puts the legal onus on the true publishers; those who consciously present, arrange, edit, coordinate or create content for publication (e.g. the submitters of comments, the authors of blogs, the editors of portals, etc.)

The practical upshot of this is that libel threats made against ISPs in the UK usually result in the ISP shutting down websites that are the subject of complaints. The most famous example of this was last year, when the billionaire Alisher Usmanov managed to have several blogs (including Tim’s) taken off-line when one made allegations about his past business practices in Uzbekistan; Usmanov happily admitted that he preferred this route to that of going after the author of the allegations, as this way he avoided the publicity of a court case.

Another case, from 2006, deals more specifically with authorship. As the Times reported at the time:

A prominent member of the UK Independence Party won an unprecedented £10,000 in libel damages today from a woman who waged an abusive campaign against him on an internet bulletin board.

Michael Keith Smith, who contested the Portsmouth North constituency at the last general election, brought High Court proceedings against Tracy Williams, who was a contributor to the same Yahoo! discussion board.

Ms Williams, of Tomlinson Close, Oldham, Lancashire, used a pseudonym to post claims that the 53-year-old chartered surveyor was a “nonce”, a sexual offender, a racist bigot and a Nazi.

Addressing him as “Lardarse” or “Lardbrain”, she also alleged that he had sexually harassed a female co-worker, had been charged with soliciting boys and cottaging and that he was a sexual deviant of the most perverted kind.

…[The judge] said that although the libels were available to the whole world through the internet, it was likely that few people had read them and many of those who did would have dismissed them as “ramblings”.

Nevertheless, he awarded Mr Keith Smith £5,000 general damages plus £5,000 aggravated damages to reflect the way Ms Williams – who had met a request for an apology with contempt – had behaved.

The result was hardly surprising, but it did mark a precedent and received considerable media attention: write libellous comments on a discussion board, and you are liable. Even though the readership may be limited, discussion boards are like publications, rather than like private conservations down the pub. One positive outcome of this case, it seems to me, is that the judge set a reasonable sum for damages, rather than the absurdly large figures that have been seen in the past. However, the report does not make clear if everything presented by Keith-Smith was accepted to be libellous: obviously, calling someone “Lardarse” is rather less serious than labelling someone as a sex offender.

Although Williams chose not to defend herself in court, she has made some statements about the case on a new discussion site which she runs. According to her version of events – which is supported by another group member, Ed Chilvers – the libellous comments appeared in the context of a forum in which various members all hurled abuse each other while discussing politics, and the judge was not fully aware of this. If this is in fact the case, then a ruling from 2007 which I blogged here may be of some significance. This was the case of several directors of a football club, who were seeking a court order to reveal the identities of abusive posters to a football discussion forum. The judge ruled that:

“I do not think it would be right to make an order for the disclosure of the identities of users who have posted messages which are barely defamatory or little more than abusive or likely to be understood as jokes,” he wrote. “That, it seems to me, would be disproportionate and unjustifiably intrusive.”

Among the statements regarded by the judge simply as jokes was the claim that the directors had spent club money on prostitutes. This defence of “little more than abusive” can also be seen in relation to US libel law, where insults with criminal overtones such as “traitor”, “phony”, and “chicken-stealing idiot” have been recognised as “incapable of defaming because they are mere hyperbole”. Of course, against this it can be argued that comments which are obviously jokes when seen in context may take on a different complexion when seen by someone else months later, perhaps in isolation on the results page of a Google search. And while this defence might cover “racist bigot” and “Nazi”, sliming someone as a “sex offender” can have such serious consequences that even as a joke it ought not to be accepted (Tim rightly denounces Paul Staines and his various commentators for this tactic).

Although the media has since lost interest in the case, Keith-Smith and Williams have continued their dispute on their respective discussion forums. To avoid possible legal hassles, I’ll decline to link to the sites, but neither one is particularly edifying: Williams’ site has some useful information about Keith-Smith’s political activities and associates, but one has to wade through pages of abuse (both against Keith-Smith and against other posters) to find anything of substance, while Keith-Smith’s is mainly a collection of right-wing screeds against the modernisation of the Conservative Party and on the evils of immigration and such.

Keith-Smith has also since the court case reportedly tried to get Williams’ new website shut down on criminal grounds: Ed Chilvers says that in 2006 he was investigated by the police following a complaint by Keith-Smith of “malicious communication”, and Williams just a few days ago reported that she had recently been arrested but that no charges were brought. Indeed, although the site contains much that is abusive about Keith-Smith, I haven’t seen anything that seems to me to be either threatening or an invasion of privacy, particularly given Keith-Smith’s position as a public political figure (another distinction more developed in US libel law than in the UK). The police decisions in these cases may be of wider significance and interest.

Following her defeat in court, Williams declared bankruptcy, and she maintains that Keith-Smith has not received any money from her. This loop-hole in the law allows bankrupts to pretty much say what they like; the Tory MP Julian Lewis – who was in the receiving end of libellous articles by the late Simon Regan, who published Scallywag magazine while bankrupt – has called for more extensive criminal libel laws to be introduced.

As another bit of incidental background, it should be noted that Keith-Smith is known to be rather litigious, and in one previous case he brought the defendant pleaded provocation. This was reported in 1997:

A Tory has admitted throwing a bucket of water over a former colleague in an election day bust up. Mike Keith-Smith, who campaigned for the UK Independence Party, brought the private prosecution after Conservative councillor Frank Worley threw a large bucket of water through his car window. At the time Mr Keith-Smith was shouting four-letter insults against Tory leader John Major through a hand-held megaphone, Portsmouth magistrates court heard. Mr Worley’s defence lawyer said the councillor had faced “enormous provocation”…Worley, a councillor on Portsmouth City Council, pleaded guilty to the assault. The Chairman of the bench said it was a “foolish incident” and gave Worley a conditional discharge for six months.

Why was “Scientology is a Cult” Sign Confiscated in London?

Claim of Crown Prosecution Service advice contradicted

A conundrum: I reported this a few days ago, quoting SchNEWS:

At 11.20, two [City of London police] officers approached one 15-year-old who was wearing a huge-nosed mask and holding a sign saying “Scientology is not a religion – it is a dangerous cult”. He was handed a pre-printed warning by a WPC stating, “The sign you are displaying commits an offence under Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986. you are strongly advised to remove the sign with immediate effect”.

…Police were clearly out to protect CoS’s reputation with one officer telling us, “Our solicitors at the Crown Prosecution Service have advised us that any signs saying ‘Scientology is a cult’ could be deemed offensive.” He added “They are being treated as a religious organisation for the purposes of today”.

But now the BBC gives us this:

A Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) spokesman said: “In consultation with the City of London Police, we were asked whether the sign was abusive or insulting.

“Our advice is that it is not abusive or insulting and there is no offensiveness (as opposed to criticism), neither in the idea expressed nor in the mode of expression.”

Was the police officer misinformed about the advice from the CPS, and if so, what was the real reason for the confiscation? Or is the CPS – still smarting from the Dispatches fiasco – backtracking? We may find out:

Human rights group Liberty has pledged to take action against City of London Police after the force tried to prosecute a teenager for branding Scientology a “cult”.

…Liberty, whose lawyers have been advising the 16-year-old, is now considering action against the force.

Hagee and Olmert

“Then God sent a hunter. A hunter is someone with a gun and he forces you. Hitler was a hunter. And the Bible says – Jeremiah writing – ‘They shall hunt them from every mountain and from every hill and from the holes of the rocks,’ meaning there’s no place to hide. And that might be offensive to some people but don’t let your heart be offended. I didn’t write it, Jeremiah wrote it. It was the truth and it is the truth. How did it happen? Because God allowed it to happen. Why did it happen? Because God said my top priority for the Jewish people is to get them to come back to the land of Israel.”

For Hagee with some other politicians, see here.

Hagee Sermon Uncovered by Talk to Action Forces McCain Repudiation


Great excitement at Talk to Action, where Bruce Wilson’s efforts at reviewing John Hagee’s many sermons finally filtered through to the MSM, obliging John McCain to repudiate the pastor. The Hagee-McCain alliance had already survived a storm when the pastor’s views on Catholicism (“the Great Whore”) had come to light; however, Hagee’s interpretation of the Holocaust were just too much to bear. Bruce dug out a sermon which Hagee explained that God had sent two people to persuade the Jews to move to Israel: a fisher, Theodore Herzl; and a hunter – Adolf Hitler. The idea that anti-Semitism is God dropping a hint to Diaspora Jews that he wants them to return to Israel is not unknown in certain strands of Christianity and Judaism, but the thought of Hitler in a divinely-appointed role is obviously going to disgust most people, and Hagee’s typically bombastic and crass delivery is guaranteed to aggravate the sensation.

However, John McCain’s relationship with Hagee is just part of a wider issue. Through “Christians United for Israel” (CUFI), Hagee has made alliances with a range of conservative figures in both the USA and Israel. Last June I blogged on a CUFI “Night to Honor Israel”; alongside McCain, participants included Newt Gingrich, Gary Bauer and Frank Gaffney. Bauer was a particular enthusiast:

Gary Bauer, who ran for the Republican Party nomination for President of the United States in 2000, also spoke at the rally, saying, “You are Ahmadinejad, Hamas, and Hizbullah’s worst nightmare, because you support Israel. They are telling you to give back land. We are telling you, don’t give back one inch.”

Max Blumenthal, meanwhile, recalls that

I watched with astonishment as [Joe] Lieberman strode to the stage, then compared Hagee to Moses (watch Lieberman’s remarks at 5:30 of my video) “I want to take to opportunity to describe Pastor Hagee in the terms the Torah used to describe Moses,” Lieberman declared. “He is an Ish Elohim. A man of God. And those words really do fit him. And I have something else,” the senator continued. “Like Moses, he’s become the leader of a mighty multitude. Even greater than the multitude that Moses led from Egypt to the Promised Land.”

Hagee himself revelled in his new-found power and status, exulting that

“the sleeping giant of Christian Zionism has awakened”

Certain Jewish leaders were also keen to share a platform:

The evening session also included greetings from President Bush and a benediction by Rabbi Aryeh Scheinberg, a San Antonio Orthodox leader who has been close to Hagee, thanking God for “giving the world community a spiritual leader of the nobility, courage and wisdom of Pastor John Hagee, who personifies God’s living words.”

Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, appearing by video, told the group that Christian Zionists laid the foundation for Jewish ones.

Hagee also claims that he receives briefings from “top Israeli government officials”, who have told him about “a nuclear showdown between Iran and Israel”.

A few souls, however, have declined to squeeze into bed with him, as I also noted a year ago:

A Minnesota congresswoman declined an invitation to attend “A Night to Honor Israel,” saying the views of the event’s evangelical founder are “repugnant.”

…”Well-publicized statements by Pastor Hagee demonstrate extremism, bigotry and intolerance that is repugnant,” U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, a Democrat, said in a two-page reply declining a form invitation from Pastor Mac Hammond.

And as for Jewish involvement, the JTA reported that:

Jewish leaders who have been critical of Jewish participation in local “Nights to Honor Israel” say they have been pressured into silence.

“The pressure has been enormous,” said a prominent Jewish leader who said he was contacted by local community officials after he raised questions about a local CUFI event. “I can’t even talk about it now; I feel a real sense of intimidation because people in our own community are saying I’m opposing something that’s good for Israel, that I’m hurting Israel.”

Possibly that pressure has now eased somewhat…

UPDATE: McCain has also now repudiated Rod Parsley. Mother Jones reports:

After issuing a statement dumping Hagee, McCain told the Associated Press that he also was now refusing Parsley’s support: “I believe there is no place for that kind of dialogue in America, and I believe that even though he endorsed me, and I didn’t endorse him, the fact is that I repudiate such talk, and I reject his endorsement.” McCain and Parsley had campaigned together in February in Ohio, and at a rally McCain had hailed Parsley as “one of the truly great leaders in America, a moral compass, a spiritual guide.”

…It’s worth remembering that McCain held on to Parsley for as long as he could and that he renounced him not because of his extreme anti-Islam rhetoric–which McCain was well aware of months ago–but only because Parsley had become extremely politically inconvenient.

Meet Mikhail Morgulis

Back to ASSIST and the neo-Pentecostal “International Christian Medical Conference” I blogged a couple of days ago. A new report on the ASSIST website notes the presence of US-based Ukrainian evangelical leader Mikhail Morgulis. This site has an overview:

Mikhail Morgulis, founder of [Christian Bridge International], is a well-known writer in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and throughout the CIS countries. While still living in the Soviet Union, he was awarded the First Prize in Literature by the communist government in 1972. He underwent a spiritual transformation to become a prominent Christian leader who in 1987 was the first to broadcast Christian programs on state-owned radio stations inside the USSR. Prior to that his message was heard on many Christian radio programs in the world, and millions of believers and nonbelievers in the CIS are familiar with his voice.

Morgulis moved to the USA, where he established Christian Bridge International and developed what he calls “the Spiritual Diplomacy project”. In 1991 this project brought 18 American evangelical leaders – including Philip Yancey – to visit officials in Russia:

“…Finally, the then President of Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev invited us to the Kremlin. When we were with Mr. Gorbachev, I asked him it was would be possible to pray in the Kremlin. He told me, ‘Mr. Morgulis, the Kremlin is not a church,’ and then, after pause, he said, ‘but why not.’ So I started to pray about his mother, my mother and all people and I prayed ‘In Jesus Name!’.

No doubt this story has helped to fuel the rumour that Gorbachev is a secret Christian (as it happens, he just recently reasserted his atheism).

Morgulis has also met various other political leaders:

“So Spiritual Diplomacy is a new spiritual political concept. After meeting in the Kremlin, we were in Ukraine. We met with the president of Ukraine and also the president of Georgia, and four times with the president of Belarus. We’ve also met with the Prime Minister of Israel before Mr. Sharon. Also, I have even prayed in the Knesset in Israel.

I prayed with Palestinian Muslim leaders and this is all spiritual diplomacy. The idea is to stop any conflict religion, political, social, ethical conflict with use of the Christian message from the Bible.

Morgulis explains further in another article.

“We don’t punish or force people. We try to change the hearts of the leaders of these countries with love and respect. By changing the hearts of the leaders we change the situations in these countries.”

As the former prime minister of Israel Ariel Sharon put it, “Spiritual Diplomacy is the one last realistic chance to find peace on this earth.” Leaders of the Palestine Authority agreed that Spiritual Diplomacy proposes a practical way for reaching peace and understanding. In his presentation in front of the Knesset and the Palestinian leaders, Mikhail said that Spiritual Diplomacy will not make them love each other right away, but will teach tolerance. The flowers of love will have a chance to blossom on the roots of tolerance.

This all sounds rather like Frank Buchman and Moral Re-Armament. And as with Buchman, one wonders whether Morgulis is being used for PR by those he wishes to convert. Here he is on Europe’s “Last Dictator”, Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus:

We also try to improve the relations between the United States and Belarus. I spoke before the U.S. Congress and addressed the Helsinki Commission. I said: “If you do not like President Lukashenko, you don’t have to love him. He is not an angel; he is just like all of us. Not one of us is an angel; otherwise we would be in Paradise. I have not seen any angel-presidents. Neither George Bush, nor Vladimir Putin is an angel. To make matters worse, President Lukashenko, with his charismatic character, expresses himself in much stronger terms than he really means. You need to love the people, even if you do not care too much for the leader”…I also met with President Lukashenko several times and discussed spiritual subjects with him. He is nothing like the media wants us to believe. He has a capacity for making deep judgments. He can understand you. Lukashenko is not at all a blunt farmer, as some want to portray him. He is a historian; he majored in history and has a fine knowledge of world events and the history of religion.

In 2004, Morgulis reportedly opined that “the US president would like to enjoy the popularity rating Lukashenka has”.

Documentary Looks At UK Christian Right

We’ve heard God’s complaint this morning. His complaint is abortion, immorality, adultery, homosexuality. The issues that are leading our nation to hell. We do not want to be part of a church that sits back, afraid to speak, afraid to take action, afraid to be anti-gay. We speak to you Satan, we command you to lift your hands off God’s people right now. And Satan, you fall at the name of Jesus, now, today, Amen.

So speaks the prayer leader at small women’s prayer group in a private house in Sussex, in the south-east of England. The invocation appears in In God’s Name, a new British documentary about the Christian Right in Britain, directed by David Modell and broadcast on Monday night as part of the Dispatches strand.

The programme covered a lot of ground in less than an hour, taking in anti-gay protests, Creationist education, anti-Muslim rhetoric, and the anti-abortion lobbying efforts of the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship, which enjoys financial support and other assistance from the USA Alliance Defense Fund. The media- and politically-savvy LCF was profiled alongside some rather more homespun efforts, particularly the constant round of ineffectual public protests that make up Stephen Green’s Christian Voice organisation.

An early part of the documentary dealt with protests in Parliament Square a few months ago against the 2007 Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations, which conservative Christians claimed would force them to act against their consciences. Many of the banners carried the CCTV logo of the now-defunct Christian Congress for Traditional Values; no mention was made of the fact that the CCTV’s leader, the neo-Pentecostal Bishop Michael Reid, just recently fled to Arizona from Essex after admitting an affair with his director of music.

One protestor expressed himself with a typical British coarseness which sounds a bit odd if you’re more used to the American Christian right:

If you look at the human genitalia, they’re not for digging the garden, or painting the wall, are they? They’re for making babies. And the bottom line is, I’ve got twenty grandchildren, and I don’t want the boys being told that it’s OK to get shit on penises, ‘cos that’s what it’s about.

The scene then moved to Bristol, and the Carmel Christian Centre. Carmel is a Word of Faith “Prosperity Gospel” church, although this was not explored in the programme, which instead focused the church’s Carmel Christian School (officially, and weirdly, written as carmel: christian school). Here, children are taught to be grateful not to be living in Old Testament times, when people were punished by God by being turned into pillars of salt, and the American science textbook expounds Young Earth Creationism. A description of the 1969 moon landing includes the detail that:

When scientists eagerly studied the moon soil and moon rocks, they found that the moon appeared to be about 6,000 to 10,000 years old.

The school’s headmaster, David Owens, was happy to accept the “fundamentalist” label, but reluctant to admit on camera that he actually believed this, instead mumbling about not being a scientific expert and there being more than one theory. He was, though, pleased with the political climate:

We’re Ofsted [the UK schools inspectorate] inspected, we’re government registered. We believe it’s the time for us – a time when people like Tony Blair opened the door in this whole debate of faith schools.

Schools such as this have been the focus of some controversy, as I noted here.

The most significant activist, however, was shown to be Andrea Williams, Public Policy Director of the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship. We saw Williams organise an anti-abortion rally next to Parliament, where her efforts to present a dignified protest were slightly thwarted by a man ranting about repentance and heckling against counter-protestors from none other than the eccentric self-styled nun Sister Ruth Augustus, who has an amazing talent for popping up in newspapers and on TV (I blogged her here). Williams also worked hard to shift away some BNP members left over from a previous protest in the same space.

Williams enjoys some political connections, and she was shown meeting Lord Tebbit and liaising with Nadine Dorries MP. Dorries is well-known for her strong anti-abortion views, and her push for the legal limit to be reduced to twenty weeks is currently under political consideration (Dorries’ reliance on emotive images has come under critical scrutiny, particularly her use of a photo which she claims shows a fetus grasping a surgeon’s hand while the mother underwent an operation). Related to this is a campaign to “defend the embryo”, as Parliament debates hybrid embryo research (as of writing Parliament has just a few hours ago rejected a ban). Protestors – again near Parliament – donned animal masks, as if the research were going to be undertaken by Dr Moreau.

With the help of Jeffrey Ventrella of the Alliance Defense Fund, Williams has also fought a few legal battles on behalf of Christians: two cases mentioned were that of Andrew McClintock, a magistrate who says he was forced to resign due to his opposition to gay adoption, and Lydia Playford, the schoolgirl who fought for the right to wear a “Silver Ring Thing” “purity” ring at school. Williams is also keen to warn Christians about the dangers of Islam, and one LCF event gave a platform to Sam Solomon, a former Muslim who teaches that Muslims are brainwashed to hate, and that the situation in Nigeria shows that hospitable Muslim neighbours are likely to become killers. However, Williams was reluctant to say much herself about Islam besides her view that it was a “false religion”, and she also only very reluctantly admitted to believing the world to be about 4,000 years old.

Throughout the programme, comic relief was provided by Stephen Green, who first gained media attention protesting against performances of Jerry Springer: The Opera. Green and his small group of followers hand out leaflets at gay pride events, and sing hymns and pray at a site in east London which has been earmarked as the location for the controversial “mega-mosque”. Green believes that Allah is Satan, and that Islam will lead to civil war in the UK. He comes across as rather unbalanced: one minute he is chatting and joking with the documentary-maker, the next moment he becomes aggressive, forcing away the camera and complaining about “persecution”. In one particularly bathetic moment in Brighton, just as he offers up a prayer a seagull leaves a prominent dropping on the front of his shirt; Green is not amused, and he demands that the documentary-maker not make fun of him – perhaps the fact that certain internet scoffers insist on nicknaming him “Stephen ‘Dog Shit’ Green” after he compared Jerry Springer to treading in dog excrement meant that this touched a raw nerve.

The documentary claimed that the fundamentalist movement has two million followers in the UK, which seemed to me rather exaggerated. Most British evangelicals do not wish to be associated with the US “religious right” or with “fundamentalism”, and the movement as a whole is better represented by the likes of moderate leaders such as Steve Chalke or Jeff Lucas. Green in particular looked like a figure from another age, his followers holding placards with Biblical slogans that were designed decades ago and doubtless baffle most people who see them. However, we also saw Williams speaking to a roomful of Elim Pentecostal leaders, urging them to become more involved in politics. The LCF has been around since 1852, and she has clearly steered it into an aggressive direction; might she not convert some other Christian groups?

UPDATE: The programme is on YouTube in five parts, here, here, here, here and here.

UPDATE 2: carmel: christian school is profiled in the Bristol Evening Post.