Debates about Islam: Two UK Videos

Several websites have drawn attention to the YouTube video of a recent debate in London on “Muslims in the West: What Is the Way Forward?”, featuring Paul Armstrong (Association of British Muslims), Tehmina Kazi (British Muslims for Secular Democracy) Mubin Shaikh (billed as a Canadian National Security Consultant – see here), and – representing a more conservative viewpoint – Abdullah al-Andalusi (Muslim Debate Initiative). The moderator is billed as “Allegra Mowen”, but is clearly Allegra Mostyn-Owen, who was recently announced as a member of Boris Johnson’s proposed “Muslim Engagement Task Force” (this has received some press attention as she is Johnson’s ex-wife, although a report in today’s Independent suggests some confusion on the issue of the “Task Force”).

Unfortunately, it was not an event where I would have been welcome: the billed organiser, a man named Charlie Flowers, is a vigilante who engages in on-line harassment, and he has threatened me with violence for daring to criticise his behaviour. I still sporadically receive abusive messages from him, usually late on Saturday nights; the full story is outlined here and here.

Armstrong and al-Andalusi also recently appeared on a programme called Hotseat, on the VoxAfrica channel. Here, they debated “Tommy Robinson” (Stephen Yaxley-Lennon) of the EDL and Carlos Cortiglia of the BNP on “Is Islam synonymous with Terrorism?”

Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb of Oklahoma “Grateful” for Apocalyptic Paperback

A man named Joe Esposito has distributed an apocalyptic paperback to members of the Oklahoma legislature. WND reports:

Esposito also told WND that while he hasn’t heard much response from the Legislature, that’s to be expected, because the lawmakers were under an intense deadline to get the state’s budget passed.

He did, however, get a personal phone call a week later from Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb.

“He was real grateful for my efforts,” Esposito told WND. “We visited, and I made the comment that it’s important the Legislature comes up with resolution or statement referring to ‘The Harbinger’ and the prayer of 2 Chronicles.”

Enthusiasm for The Harbinger is currently widespread within American evangelicalism: Charisma News reported in January:

The Harbinger, a book warning of God’s judgment on America by Messianic rabbi Jonathan Cahn will debut at No. 10 and No. 28 respectively on the New York Times best-seller list in the print paperback category and the combined print hardcover and paperback list for January 22.

Subtitled “The Ancient Mystery That Holds the Secret of America’s Future,” The Harbinger is published by FrontLine, an imprint of Charisma House. The book traces a series of detailed parallels between what has happened in the United States since the 2001 terrorist attacks—including the economic collapse—and Israel’s history after it turned away from God. Told in fictional narrative, the book unfolds how nine signs concealed in recent events reveal God’s progressive judgment.

…Cahn recently appeared on CBN’s The 700 Club, and Pat Robertson called The Harbinger a “fascinating” book and told viewers it was a prophetic word to the nation and “a read you need to make.” Scheduled additional media appearances include The Jim Bakker ShowIt’s Supernatural with Sid Roth, Daystar Network’s Celebration, LeSea Network’s The Harvest Show, and several radio interviews.

WND has also put together a related documentary, The Isaiah 9:10 Judgment.

The book’s thesis is straightforward enough, as summarized by WND:

Isaiah records that Israel had known God and yet turned away from Him. Following a devastating attack by Assyria, rather than returning to God, the leaders declared “with pride and arrogance of heart” (NIV) a defiant pledge: “The bricks are fallen down, but we will build with hewn stones: the sycamores are cut down, but we will change them into cedars” (Isaiah 9:10 KJV).

“The Harbinger” reveals the startling reality that beginning the day after 9/11, several American leaders began repeating that 2,500-year-old vow, word for word, in speeches across the country.

The story, though, is not “politicians pluck Bible verse out of context”; rather, Cahn appears to claim that the speeches have unleashed a supernatural force which will doom the USA:

“Having no idea what he was doing, the majority leader of the U.S. Senate [Tom Daschle] was declaring America as under the judgment of God,” Cahn gives as just one example. “It was the reenactment of an ancient mystery – and bore the most grave of consequences.”

The presence of pine trees at the redeveloped Ground Zero site is supposedly further confirmation.

Of course, we can’t know whether Todd Lamb was merely humouring a potential voter, or whether he’s truly impressed by Cahn’s book. Back in 2009, a man named Jim Barfield claimed that he had met with Oklahoma senators about a plan to find the lost treasure of the First Jerusalem Temple, and that they had given him their support.

Needless to say, whether Daschle’s ill-chosen Bible quote was simply just that, or whether it was indeed “the reenactment of an ancient mystery”, is a matter of personal opinion. However, Cahn’s book serves two purposes: it gives extra meaning to the events of 9/11 by linking them to a Biblical narrative (just as Pat Robertson and Daniel Lapin tried to do last year, with unhappy results), and it resurrects the idea that 9/11 was a judgement by God against the USA for being too liberal. When Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell took this line in the days after 9/11 they were widely repudiated; but that was a long time ago, when the reality of the massacre was still raw, and when the president was a Republican evangelical.

Glen Jenvey Describes Meeting EDL Members

A couple of weeks ago I noted that former “terror tracker” Glen Jenvey had recently begun writing articles for a (dubious) Sri Lankan website called the Asian Tribune. Jenvey wrote two opinion pieces (here and here) in the wake of the underage “sex grooming” scandal in Rochdale, in which he railed against “Muslim drug gangs, Muslim sex gangs and Muslim supporters of terrorist groups”, as well as the “commie Guardian”. The articles express Jenvey’s resentment that media supposedly dubbed the Rochdale perpetrators as “Asian”, rather than highlight their religion as “Muslim men who had strong links to their local mosques” (details of these alleged “strong links” are not described).

Jenvey has now progressed from punditry to journalism, with a gushing article about the English Defence League:

I was amazed at the grass root support of EDL and the British Freedom Party which is a new political party which has been now merged with the EDL leadership…

Other members are serving members of the British armed services who I also met in a English pub for a drink in Salisbury, a British army town in Wiltshire. 18 local members turned up 15 were serving members of the armed forces who told me how they cannot attend demonstrations because of fears of being thrown out of the military.

I then invited the EDL to send some Asian members to my home for a meeting and 25 turned up and spoke about their concerns about how radical Islamic groups have given the whole British Asian community a bad name, some said that they want no part in the attacks on the British public by Muslims…

Two days later I interviewed the EDL leader Tommy Robinson a who tells me he has to wear a bulletproof vest due to threats on his life and family, a man who has been attacked many times by Muslim gangs in his home town of Luton .

…I then asked him why he came out in public about the Asian Tribunes campaign ‘MUSLIM SEX GANGS NOT ASIAN’ and he said because its right, these sex gangs were Muslim…

The article has received some attention on Twitter, including a link by “Tommy Robinson” (Stephen Yaxley-Lennon) himself. However, the notion of 25 Asian EDL members descending on Salisbury to talk to Jenvey is difficult to envisage, and critics have expressed scepticism by focusing on Jenvey’s troubled history.

Much of this history has been charted on this blog: Jenvey originally made a name for himself as “terror tracker”, monitoring Islamic websites for evidence of extremism and even creating a jihadi website as a honey trap. He claims that evidence he uncovered played a role in prosecutions, and, as part of a group called the “VIGIL Network” in 2006, he had a line to Patrick Mercer MP, at that time the Shadow Minister for Homeland Security.

In early 2009, Jenvey claimed to have discovered evidence of a Muslim plot to target British Jews (most notably, Alan Sugar), which  provided the Sun with a front-page splash. Unfortunately, however, it was quickly discovered by Tim Ireland of Bloggerheads that the “evidence” consisted of postings to a Muslim website which Jenvey had himself made, under the name of “Abu Islam”.

Jenvey’s initial response was to attack Tim through anonymous smears, which simply made matters worse: he was repudiated by Mercer, and his deception was referenced in a Daily Mail article. Shortly thereafter, Jenvey announced his conversion to Islam and he appeared publicly with Islamic extremists as “Omar Hamza Jenvey”. This seemed suggestive of fit of pique and symptomatic of instability,  but three months later he announced that it had all been an undercover ploy. He did, though, confess to his fabrications, and was interviewed by Tom Mangold for a BBC Radio 5 Live documentary about fake spies. At the end of the year he was arrested on suspicion of “inciting racial hatred against Jews”, but the charges were eventually dropped.

Jenvey claims to have played a role in exposing the terror links of Abu Hamza, and he made a formal statement on the subject for lawyers in early 2009. During his “Omar” period he made a revised statement on behalf of Hamza, which he later repudiated in a third statement, dating from the end of 2011:

I can confirm statement two was only made due to threats against me by british bloggers towards me and my family.I wish to with-draw statement two from the court leaving statement one and this statement in place.

This statement was posted by “Glenn” (sic) to an EDL forum.

Jenvey’s story overlaps with that of a number of other individuals who have appeared on this blog: Dominic Wightman, Charlie Flowers, and Paul Ray (known as “Lionheart”). Jenvey and Wightman worked together at VIGIL until there was a falling out in 2007; in 2009, Wightman concocted a fake document in Jenvey’s name in an attempt to manipulate Tim Ireland and me into attacking a (completely innocent) third party. Wightman also dispatched Flowers to Jenvey’s home in the guise of a journalist to gather further information; during Jenvey’s “Omar” period, Flowers’s friends posted messages to a Muslim extremist forum with personal details likely to put Jenvey in physical danger.

Ray, meanwhile, spoke out in support of Jenvey after the Sun story first appeared; oddly, he has refrained from any further mention of Jenvey since then, despite maintaining a voluminous blog. Ray subsequently became known as one of the founders of the EDL, although he was quickly sidelined and he has since written bitterly about Tommy Robinson and the EDL leadership. Ray’s views on Islam and use of the name “Lionheart” brought media attention in the wake of the Utoya massacre, as I discussed here.

UPDATE: Jenvey’s article has been commended by British Freedom; Casuals United also reposted it, under the headline “Oh deary me, I reckon several Commies/Marxists/Expose freaks will keel over when they read this lol”, but deleted the post shortly afterwards.

Indian Evangelist KA Paul Arrested for Murder

From the Times of India:

HYDERABAD: The Andhra Pradesh police on Monday arrested evangelist KA Paul, president and founder of Global Peace Initiative (GPI), and two of his associates in a case of conspiracy to murder.

They are accused of conspiring to abduct and murder Paul’s associate Koteswara Rao. Rao is the main accused in the murder of Paul’s brother K David Raju, who was found killed in Mahaboobnagar in 2010.

 …Police said Paul, who was in Ongole to inaugurate the office of his political outfit Praja Shanthi, wanted to eliminate Rao, fearing that he might expose the real plot behind the killing of David Raju. The police have been suspecting the role of Paul behind the murder of his brother since both had differences over the control of huge properties of his organisation.

Paul claims a politically-inspired conspiracy against him. He has been refused bail and is currently in custody. Paul’s father  – also an evangelist – has spoken out:

Father of KA Paul and deceased David Paul, Barla Basu has said his younger son KA Paul was sent to jail as a part of the conspiracy hatched by political leaders and some vested interests ready to grab the organisation run by the family.

…He said one of the accused in the David Paul murder case, Koteswara Rao has been blackmailing for no reason and demanded huge amounts of money. He and Paul lodged a complaint with the Ongole police. 

The police took into custody Koteswara Rao and immediately a plan was hatched and Paul was sent to jail, he alleged.

A semi-coherent statement has also been issued in Paul’s name:

Dr.Paul Has Challenged Polices in that night if you can prove any audio, Video the murderer has I will pay you 1 crore rupee that have killed my brother, the police has fabricated and modified as Dr.K.A.Paul is offered 1crore if they kill Koteswara Rao, such a false and fabricated motivated by political story.

…there is no plan no one killed, no one hurt, no blood shud and no fighting only police fabricated story and there is no vitneces, no evidences was found and Yesupadam in the media demanded CI to SP Range people to be suspended because of the fabricated story and false arrest of Dr.K.A.Paul.

Paul has featured on this blog a number of times, due to his knack for inserting himself into bigger stories: in 2006 he turned up giving advice to Dennis Hastert about the “congressional page sex scandal”, while in September 2010 he popped up in Gainesville, acting as a mediator between Pastor Terry Jones and Muslims. In August 2011 he appeared in Libya alongside Walter Fauntroy as part of a “peace mission”. Paul also claims to have persuaded Liberian President Charles Taylor to step down, and he is reportedly “incensed that Condoleezza Rice and Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo” took all the credit. Taylor has apparently confirmed Paul’s version of events. I gave a full background profile here.

(H/T to a reader)

Don Feder at Christian Concern Marriage Conference: Same-Sex Marriage a Marxist Plot

Wednesday saw the Christian Concern/World Congress of Families conference on marriage in London; after bookings at the Law Society and the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre were rescinded, the event eventually took place at a nearby Thistle hotel.

Pre-publicity for the event gave billing to various mainline commentators, such as Cristina Odone and Phillip Blond. However, a late addition to the line-up was Don Feder, who serves as the WCF’s Director of Communications; given the WCF’s co-organising role at this event, one wonders why his attendance was confirmed only at the last minute. As ever, it seems that Feder’s presentation consisted of boilerplate 1950s-style red-baiting. According to a Tweet from Christian Concern during the conference:

Don Feder explaining enduring influence of A Gramsci – move for ss ?#marrage? = attack on targets of Marxism: Church & family

This is par for the course. Feder is an all-purpose right-winger; according to his own profile from a few years ago:

I’m to the right of Sharon on Zionism, to the right of Pat Buchanan on immigration and Americanism, to the right of Mother Angelica on abortion, to the right of Chuck Heston on Second-Amendment rights, and generally make the legendary Atilla look like a limousine liberal.

Back in early 2010, he was defending Uganda’s planned anti-gay legislation:

Point of information: The legislation under consideration does not impose the death penalty, but life in prison for certain offenses. Punishable “behavior” includes rape, pedophilia and knowingly spreading AIDS, all of which are crimes in the United States, even in the era of Kevin Jennings. 

First, the Bill does in indeed include the death penalty. Second, note Feder’s use of the word “includes” – this glosses over the fact that “punishable behavior” also encompasses other things besides the crimes against persons listed above. As has been demonstrated, the most severe penalty would be applied to a “serial offender” against any of the provisions in the Bill, which makes it illegal for adults to engage in any homosexual activity, for anyone to facilitate such activity, or for anyone “in authority” (vaguely defined) not to report such activity to the police.

Christian Concern may also have encountered Feder last year; he is also project coordinator for the “Shariah Awareness Action Network”, which was the original organiser of an anti-Islam conference held in Tennessee in November. Christian Concern’s Paul Diamond spoke at this event, and Diamond reportedly used his visit to make links with the Tennessee Freedom Coalition.

PATCON and the Investigation of a “Sovereign Order”

Last month’s Foreign Policy has an interesting article by J.M Berger on PATCON, an FBI investigation from the early 90s:

Starting in April 1991, three FBI agents posed as members of an invented racist militia group called the Veterans Aryan Movement. According to their cover story, VAM members robbed armored cars, using the proceeds to buy weapons and support racist extremism… Code-named PATCON, for “Patriot-conspiracy,” the investigation would last more than two years, crossing state and organizational lines in search of intelligence on the so-called Patriot movement, the label applied to a wildly diverse collection of racist, ultra-libertarian, right-wing and/or pro-gun activists and extremists who, over the years, have found common cause in their suspicion and fear of the federal government.

Berger discovered PATCON as the result of a Freedom of Information request in 2007; he has also published a fuller account through the New America Foundation. Despite PATCON investigators making links with a number of individuals, Timothy McVeigh “apparently flew under the radar”, and no arrests ever resulted from PATCON’s activity.

Specifically, Berger discusses how in the 1980s the FBI had became interested in “The Order”, a right-wing and racist group inspired by a fictitious organisation of the same name in the Turner Diaries. In 1992, the investigation included a focus on John L. Grady, “a doctor and an outspoken opponent of abortion” based in Benton, Tennessee:

Grady was head of a dues-paying organization called the American Pistol and Rifle Association (APRA), based at his Benton compound, which included a church, a firing range, and a handful of additional buildings, including a residence.

From the same location, Grady led the “Sovereign Order of St. John of Jerusalem,” or simply the Order of St. John, a fraternal organization with a “prophetic mission” that claimed to trace its roots to a Roman Catholic religious order from the Middle Ages…

It should be noted that the “Sovereign Order” is distinct both from the group called “The Order” and from other organisations using the “St John of Jerusalem” name (see below).

…An informant reported that Grady claimed “to have been a founding member of The Order”… In turn, several members of The Order had been members of APRA. (In a 2012 interview, Grady denied being a member of The Order).

…In meetings between Grady and  [Civilian Materiel Assistance] members earlier in  1992, discussions were held about creating six-man terrorist cells that would carry out “acts of violence” including attacks on “microwave, radio, telephone, electric and TV towers and then nuclear power plants,” FBI reports said. Assassinations would be carried out against “Congressional leaders, Jewish leaders and neighborhood leaders of black gangs.”

…Excerpts from several FBI documents containing these allegations were e-mailed to Grady, who responded in a telephone interview. “Every statement that you’ve shown me is false,” Grady said. He disputed the contention in FBI documents that the Order of St. John and the APRA were linked except by virtue of his role in each and denied that the groups were white supremacist in nature and that they were aligned with CMA.

Berger’s account includes details of an APRA convention in the wake of Ruby Ridge at Grady’s compound in 1992, where several speeches were videotaped:

On the third day of the conference, Grady took the stage to introduce Bo Gritz, pausing to praise [Thomas] Posey for his efforts with Civilian Materiel Assistance in support of the Nicaraguan Contras.

On the final night of the conference, Grady rose to speak,  immediately following a speech laden with racist, anti-Semitic, and homophobic themes by John Rakus of the National Justice Foundation, whom Grady introduced as an APRA member and a member of the group’s national advisory board. In steady tones, Grady described the coming “chastisement” of America by God, while carefully invoking the shadow of violence without explicitly calling for action. He told the rapt crowd that they should hope for the opportunity to “die as martyrs” and urged them to prepare for death.

…Whether misremembered or misconstrued, the FBI report portrayed Grady’s speech as a clear call to violence when in reality it was carefully worded to avoid incriminating language.

Berger is concerned that “aggressive infiltrations can even reinforce extremist narratives that claim the government targets communities because of their fundamental identities rather than in pursuit of illegal activities”, and that “the ripple effects of perceived overreach can also make it more difficult for otherwise friendly community partners to encourage cooperation with law enforcement.” He notes that this is today applicable to the infiltration of Muslim groups – a subject which I discussed (with reference to the USA and other countries) here.

Excursus: Background to Grady’s OSJ

There are a number of groups that use the name of the “Order of St John”, the best-known and largest of which is the mainstream Roman Catholic group called the Sovereign Military Order of Malta (SMOM). The order’s history was disrupted 1798 when Napoleon invaded Malta and the Russian Tsar became the organisation’s Grand Master; Catholic control of SMOM was reasserted a few years later, but competing groups began to appear elsewhere, including eventually in the USA. One such group was incorporated by a certain Charles Pichel in 1956, which he linked to a dormant US group from 1908. His order was based in Shickshinny, PA, and is often referenced as the “Shickshinny Knights of Malta”.

A purported historical overview on a website run by Grady’s group (he’s now the “Emeritus Grand Master”) discusses Pichel’s political associations from the 1930s – take a deep breath:

….Paul Winter, OSJ, long time associate of Grand Chancellor Pichel and former KKK leader from New York and Philadelphia, was involved with the American Nationalists. In 1933, Pichel contacted Germany through Hitlers’s friend Putzi Hanfstaengel in an effort to become the German Chancellor’s personal representative in the United States.

This account goes on to claim that in the 1960s the order’s anti-communism brought it establishment support:

The SOSJ membership roles during this time included Generals Lemuel Shepherd, Pedro Del Valle, George Stratemeyer, Charles Willoughby, Ralph Smith, Terry Morrison, Bonner Fellers, Admirals Charles Cooke, RL Porter, Herbert Howard, Richard Black, Francis Spellman and Prince Michel Sturdza of Romania, Congressman Larry MacDonald and Senator John Ashcroft. Well known leaders of the American intelligence community accepted various positions in the SOSJ.

In 1986, the Covert Action Information Bulletin (1) speculated that these intelligence links might be connected to the order’s decision to recognise “controversial defector Michael Goleniewski to be Aleksei Romanoff, heir to the Russian Imperial House of Romanoff.”

According to information on the St John of Jerusalem Research Web Site, Pichel’s group received the endorsement of a Tridentine Catholic priest, Fr James F Wathen:

Fr. Wathen had gained a very keen layman who supported the tridentine Catholic cause – John Grady. In 1982, following the loss of Pichel and other Leaders in the Shickshinny Order, who had been close to Fr. Wathen and John Grady, Grady sought to create what would have been essentially an autonomous branch of the Shickshinny Order, by way of a license to use the Corporation’s trademark… Although this was refused, Grady continued independently and in 1991 the breach was complete by Grady being elected the “75th Grand Master” and starting yet another self-styled Order.

A trademark dispute followed. According to a 1997 Opinion by the United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit:

The defendant, John L. Grady, joined the Order in 1979 after having started the “American Christian Church and Order,” which he hoped would become a legal affiliate of the Order. In 1982 Grady proposed to Salvatore T. Messineo, the President of the Corporation and Lieutenant Grand Master of the Order, that the Corporation issue a license for Grady’s organization to use its trademark. Messineo denied the request because of Dr. Grady’s alleged participation in para-military and white supremacist groups, and the Corporation’s board of directors expelled Grady from the Order in 1983. Despite his expulsion, the defendant continued to use the trademark, name, and other symbols of the Corporation and Order on, among other things, his letterhead and a newsletter that he published. He also claims to have represented the Order in such activities as signing a “Treaty of Amity” with a person alleged to be the exiled president of Poland…

This “exiled president of Poland” is not named, but was perhaps Count Juliusz Nowina Sokolnicki, who died in Colchester, UK, in 2009 (as I blogged here).

Michael Cuneo’s book The Smoke of Satan: Conservative and Traditionalist Dissent in Contemporary American Catholicism (1999) includes information, supplied by Grady, that “currently based in Benton, Tennessee, the organization operates about fifty chapels (or traditionalist Mass centrers) and three elementary schools across the country” (p. 196). According to Grady’s site, there are also links with Joseph Mar Thomas, Bishop of Bathery in the Syro Malankara Catholic Church.

Another group, which I have discussed on this blog a number of times, is the “Knights Hospitallers of the Sovereign Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Knights of Malta, the Ecumenical Order”; this organisation is of interest to me because some influential US Christian Right figures (in particular, Rick Joyner and Jerry Boykin) are involved. This group lists the following Grand Masters:

Grand Duke Alexander of Russia Grand Master Russian 1913-1933
Crolian Edelen de Burgh Grand Master American 1960-1973
Prince Roberto Paterno Grand Master Italian 1974-1993

These names also appear on the Grady OSJ site, and Edelen de Burgh and Paterno were both associated with Pichel.   However, Grady’s OSJ states that Paterno stepped down in 1983, not 1993, and the period from 1934 to 1966 (mostly missing in the above) is filled by some other names. According to the Research Website, Paterno also split from the Pichel order. The Ecumenical Order and Grady’s group thus have shared origins, although different characters; the Ecumenical Order does not have the kind of “Patriot” links which Grady has fostered, and it appears to operate on a larger scale.

(Hat tip to a reader)

(1) ‘Knights of Darkness: The sovereign Military Order of Malta’, in Covert Action Information Bulletin, 25, Winter 1986, pp. 27-38.

Taxpayers’ Alliance Report Marshals Religious Arguments for Lower Tax

As has been widely noted, the Taxpayers’ Alliance, which lobbies for lower taxes in the UK, has produced a 400-page report entitled The Single Income Tax. Somewhat unexpectedly, there are two sub-sections on religion, as part of a larger section entitled “Under a range of philosophical perspectives, taxes become unethical beyond a certain level”. Graeme Leach, Chief Economist and Director of Policy at the Institute of Directors and the author of a foreword to the whole report, gives us his interpretation of the Biblical view:

…Scripture clearly teaches God’s heart for the poor, but it does not teach a large redistributionist welfare state…

In the Biblical model the welfare state is internalised to the family, extended family and church. Also, the architecture of the economic system (ownership structure and property rights), most notably in the restoration of land under Jubilee, included an in-built resistance to extreme poverty or wealth.

In the Biblical model welfare policy is handled through individual responsibility – an individual responsibility for the poor to work and an individual responsibility for the wealthy to give. A wide range of poverty alleviation mechanisms existed (interest free loans, bonded service, debt cancellation, gleaning laws and the role of kinsman redeemer) and they all required personal effort (the grain must be gleaned, the loan repaid etc.)

…The concept of the tithe is also equitable in that it is proportional, requiring the same percentage contribution regardless of rich or poor. From a Biblical perspective progressive taxation is not equitable.

This being the UK, the presence of such material in a report about tax reform has occasioned some bemused derision.

In the USA, there is a whole school of thought which links Biblical law to economic libertarianism, represented by organisations such as the Chalcedon Foundation and the Acton Institute. Some of these groups are socially authoritarian, although this does not appear to apply in Leach’s case:

The idealised Biblical model faces significant challenges. The 21st Century UK is not an Old Testament theocracy. Moreover there are significant transitional issues that arise even if one did attempt to apply Biblical principles to current fiscal policy. The most obvious being the risk that in a secular society, after a century of state provided welfare, any withdrawal of government provision might not trigger an expansion of philanthropy and personal giving.

Leach’s religious views have been noted by the media previously; in May 2001 the Telegraph reported:

Graeme Leach will argue in a speech tonight that for Britain to adopt the euro would be against the “Biblical model of government” and against God’s wishes. As the general election nears, Mr Leach has decided to speak about his personal fears for Britain’s future in an address to the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship in London.

“We really do need to seek the Lord’s guidance on the euro since it is likely to be the single most important economic and geo-political question facing the UK in the 21st century,” he said. He said Biblical government was “minimalist, decentralised and supportive of a Christian world view,” while EU governance is “expansive, decentralised and supportive of a humanist world view”…

“After much prayer over many years I am convinced God is opposed to the UK’s participation in the euro,” said Mr Leach, 36, who is a member of an evangelical church in Reading, Berks. 

CNS News added the detail that

He is also concerned it may weaken the UK’s links with the United States, a country whose Christians still have an impact on public policy.

The Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship was formerly represented by Andrea Minichiello Williams, who today heads the Christian right lobby-group Christian Concern; last year, Leach took part in a Christian Concern/World Congress of Families “Future of the Family in Coalition Britain”, alongside speakers who included Nadine Dorries, Benjamin Bull of the Alliance Defense Fund, and Peter Hitchens (more on the WCF and CC here).

Leach’s contribution to the TPA report is followed by a section from Bilal Sambur on “Islam and the immorality of high taxation”:

…There is neither the concept of state, nor a theory of taxation in the Qur’an. The Qur’an does not say anything about paying taxes to the state. There is no such thing as Islamic tax. There is no Islamic foundation for sales taxes on goods and services. Instead, Islam encourages people to help others voluntarily and work very hard. There is no way to mystify or sanctify taxation, because there is nothing sacred about taxation. It is only a policy of the state, which can be immoral, oppressive and inhuman. Imposing taxes on an individual’s property without his or her consent is haram (forbidden) in Islam.

…People must know how to help. Islam does not show the state how to help, but commands the wealthy to help others through zakat and charity. Islam encourages personal responsibility; it rejects collective responsibility. People must help the needy people in a personal way, rather than simply remaining passive and allowing the state to take their money and give it to the needy in an impersonal way.

Sambur is with the Association for Liberal Thinking in Turkey, and based at Yildirim Beyazit University in Ankara. The association’s head, Atilla Yayla, was given a suspended prison sentence in 2008 for having suggested “in academic discussion that the early Turkish republic was not as progressive as portrayed in official books”.

WND Smear Piece on Obama and Boko Haram

banner headline on WND:

Obama: Slaughter of Christians a Misunderstanding

Those unfamiliar with WND‘s yellow journalism practices might be led to infer from this that Obama had made a statement in which he claimed that the slaughter of Christians was a misunderstanding – obviously suggestive of a dismissive attitude towards terrorism and its victims. However, WND hack Steve Peacock delivers rather less:

The violence in northern Nigeria is mistakenly viewed as a religious conflict rather than simply a tribal dispute over land, according to the Obama administration.

Despite the ongoing Muslim destruction of churches and the slaughter of Christians – including many murdered during worship services – the U.S. Agency for International Development claims that the misunderstandings make it difficult to administer aid programs.

USAID, therefore, has launched a program titled Project PEACE – an acronym for Programming Effectively Against Conflict and Extremism.

PEACE says it will hire contractors to help the agency analyze the “true” causes of conflict and consequently provide more effective humanitarian and conflict-resolution assistance, according to planning documents that WND located via database research.

…Nigerian media have reported that the Muslim jihadist group Boko Haram has pledged to “eradicate Christianity.”

The USAID documents, however, contend that Boko Haram simply shares with other groups anger “over the nation’s poor governance.”

Efforts to “improve state service capacities and working to enhance the service delivery capacity of local governments” would help reduce such anger and resultant conflicts, the agency says.

…Attempts to focus on the theological nature of the fighting have failed to halt the ongoing clash, since those parties purportedly ignore the underlying motivation for feuding, according to USAID: “Those who perceive the conflict as a religious war have been unable to gain traction in resolving the conflict because, at its root, it is more about the governance of contested resources.”

The implication is that USAID is denying the role of Islamic extremism in Nigeria, as a matter of policy at the behest of Obama. Inevitably, reader comments below the article rail against “Hussein… the militant muzzie” and such. Careful readers will note that headline, as well as being factually misleading, is not even consistent with the text that follows: the headline has Obama claiming that Christians have been killed as the result of a misunderstanding, while the text claims that USAID believes that the reason why Christians have been killed has been misunderstood.

The exact document quoted above is a pdf titled the USAID Conflict Assessment Framework, revised version 2.0. It carries the notice “Draft for circulation as of February 21, 2012”, and a statement that it “does not represent final guidance from USAID”. The document is 55 pages long and somewhat technical; the passages discussed above are as follows (emphases added):

…in Jos, Nigeria, Christian and Muslim communities frequently clash in episodes of violence. Yet, although the symptom of conflict is intercommunal violence along sectarian lines, the source of the conflict will not be found in theology. Rather, the conflict‘s source competition for land between a group that perceives itself as indigenous to the area and another seen as more recent settlers. Those who perceive the conflict as a religious war have been unable to gain traction in resolving the conflict because, at its root, it is more about the governance of contested resource.

…In Nigeria, for example, the conflicts around Jos are frequently characterized as being between largely Muslim settlers and Christian ?indigenes, but, in fact, there are important distinctions among the Berom, Afizere, Anaguta, and other Christian groups. Similarly, the conflict in the Niger Delta hosts a bewildering array of armed groups and, although the conflict is ostensibly against the Nigerian state, in reality it is a complex system of inter-connected conflicts over the distribution of resources, political power, and even simply turf. Whether the salient identity is religious, tribal, regional, or politically-based depends on the context, as well as on how the various armed groups are framing the issue. There is nothing inherently conflictual about particular identities, but, under certain conditions, identity can turn from a relatively neutral organizing principle into a powerful tool for mobilizing mass violence.

…For example, the overwhelming source of vulnerability to conflict in Nigeria remains the poor performance of the Nigerian government itself at all levels, and its corrupt neo-patrimonial overlords. Pro-violence groups from Boko Haram to militias in the Niger Delta all share a common narrative of anger over the nation’s poor governance. Thus, a natural response would be to infuse USAID’s overall country strategy for Nigeria with adherence to principles for good engagement in fragile states. Two illustrative goals include continuing and expanding the USAID state-focused strategy to improve state service capacities and working to enhance the service delivery capacity of local governments in lead states. However, a technical approach may also be complicated by political factors that might resist and prevent positive change (i.e., a ‘negative resiliency’). A systems approach would help assess any negative resiliencies that may hinder the effectiveness of a USAID program and set appropriate expectations for change.

Nowhere in the document is violence against Christians dismissed as “a misunderstanding”.

In any case, it’s unclear why WND is attempting to discern Obama’s attitude to conflict in Nigeria from phrases extracted from an obscure USAID draft document for potential contractors. Most likely, it’s a strained attempt to jump on a bandwagon with some new material; in April, Front Page complained of “Christian blood on Obama’s hands“, and attacked Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson for claiming (drawing on an AFP report) that “despite Boko Haram’s repeated statements about its goals and its very name… this conflict was not driven by religion, but by social inequities”.

It seems sensible to take account both of fundamentalist ideology in itself and socio-political factors; Carson and USAID would certainly both do well to pay more attention to the former. However, the claim of “blood on Obama’s hands” is excessive, given that the US is providing practical assistance to Nigeria; Carson recently explained to African journalists that the country had been offered

a wide variety of training to help them to improve their investigation skills, their ability to collect information on the Boko Haram threat, on forensics, to be able to do investigations on post-blast situations.  We have also offered them advice on how they can better defend against car bombs and IEDs, and we have worked with their security services, the police, and the military.

In April, Daniel Benjamin at the State Department’s Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism stated that:

In Nigeria, elements of the group known as Boko Haram (BH) have launched attacks in northern and central parts of the country, including one in August against the United Nations headquarters in Abuja, signaling their ambition and capability to attack non-Nigerian targets… Boko Haram is not a formal AQ affiliate, but is rather a loosely organized collection of criminals, and militants, and terrorists. BH has historically focused on local Nigerian issues and exploits long-standing political and socio-economic grievances in the north. We remain concerned by reported communications, training, and weapons links between AQIM, Boko Haram, al-Shabaab, and al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula, which may have strengthened Boko Haram’s capacity to conduct terrorist attacks. Through border security and other assistance efforts, we are working to disrupt the ability of these groups to share information and training.

Long-standing and still neglected political and socio-economic grievances are some of the drivers feeding the violence in the North. Eliminating this threat requires us to address these issues. U.S. counterterrorism strategy is closely linked to the broader strategy of support for the Nigerian government’s reform efforts, and increased respect for human rights. Through high-level engagement, including through the established U.S.- Nigeria Bi-national Commission, we are working to strengthen the Nigerian government’s resolve and capacity to address the broader issues and to press for a change to its heavy-handed approach to the security threats in the north. We are also providing limited law enforcement training assistance to the Nigerian government under the auspices of the Trans Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership… The goal of this training is to increase the professionalization, enhance interagency communication and expand the capacity of the police to more effectively prevent and respond to terrorist attacks.

In the light of this, it is perhaps strange that the State Department has not yet added Boko Haram to the official list of “foreign terrorist organizations”, despite coming under pressure to do so. According to Reuters:

A senior State Department official said the department was “very concerned about violence in Nigeria” and added that it was “looking at this very carefully.”

The official insisted the department was “not stalling or dragging our feet.” But he noted that adding a group to the sanctions list is a “rigorous process which has to stand up in a court of law.”

This is certainly frustrating, and one could make reasonable criticisms – but it does not amount to a dismissive attitude towards Boko Haram.

For other examples of WND‘s distorted journalism see here and here, plus on-going work from Terry Krepel at ConWebWatch.

TPM Notes Survival Products from Jim Bakker

At TPM, Nick Martin has some fun with Jim Bakker:

The disgraced televangelist is now hawking survivalist gear and books about the apocalypse on his website… For just $500, you can get “Jim’s All American 4 Star Vegetable” buckets. A cool two grand will get you the “Jerry Jones Special,” which promises “over 3,300 servings of food and enough fuel to cook 480 meals.”

…”Pastor Jim,” as he calls himself now, published a book in 1998 called Prosperity and the Coming Apocalypse, which he sells on his site for $20 and proclaims: “This is not just a book of prophecy, it is a book of survival.”

I’m surprised to see that Prosperity is still available; like the late Grant Jeffrey’s Millennium Meltdown (see yesterday), the book was  part of the Y2K bandwagon (Y2K being “a highly plausible explanation for what the Bible refers to as the black horse of famine and economic chaos”, according to Bakker). However, Bakker’s blog has plenty of new material which plays on more contemporary fears. Here’s a typical extract, from 29 February:

It is an amazing time to be living as the Bible’s Last Days events are taking place on a daily basis. Earthquakes have increased and even tornados have quadrupled!  This should not scare us but reassure us that the Bible is true!

…Lori and I are not only storing more food at Morningside and doing more to help our friends and faith partners get ready, we are adding to our personal storage for our family! The Bible even says that a person is a fool who sees trouble coming and does not prepare!

…I will give you just a few reasons why I am storing more food right NOW!  The number one reason is that I have spent the last two decades studying the Bible and focusing on the book of Revelation, researching in the Greek each word of this amazing book one word at a time and I am totally convinced we are living in Revelation Days NOW!

…Read Rabbi Cahn’s book, “The Harbinger” if you do not know of this important warning from God to America!  2012 is not the end of the world like many are saying, but as Rick Joyner has said, it may be the end of the world as we know it!

The third reason is that Jesus says in Matthew 24, that a sign of His return is there will be “no food to eat,” and there will be earthquakes all over the place!  In case of earthquakes or hurricanes or tornadoes or lack of food or riots or power failures, do you have a plan where you will go and where will your family meet if all phone lines and phone towers are down?  Iran plans to explode an Electric Magnetic bomb over America shutting down all transportation that has motors and our electric grid system…

It’s time to prepare food and water, for this is key to sustaining life!   Look over our food offers and get ready NOW!  One day it will be too late!

I noted Bakker’s doom-mongering a year ago. In the wake of the Fukushima earthquake – which he claims to have predicted – he warned that “more earthquakes and major events are coming to Japan very soon. California and the area from Illinois and Missouri to Arkansas will have major events in the future.  Keep you eyes on the Ring of Fire.” Cahn’s Harbinger, meanwhile, is being heavily promoted by both WND and Charisma magazine – I discussed the book here. Cahn has appeared on Bakker’s show, and Bakker is offering a set of CDs entitled “Further Harbinger Mysteries Revealed”.

Bakker’s association with Rick Joyner is long-standing; Joyner’s Morningstar Ministries also runs Heritage International Ministries, which controls the Heritage Grand Hotel at the site of Bakker’s ruined Heritage USA project. The hotel was the location for an investiture ceremony of a strange “chivalric order” of which Joyner is a member, along with William “Jerry” Boykin. Joyner has also promised to turn a deserted tower on the site into a retirement community; as of December, though, that building was under threat of compulsory demolition.

Bakker claims not to be selling his survivalist products – rather (as Martin notes), they are “love gifts”, which one may receive after clicking a “give” button for a certain amount of money. Although most of the food items come without any obvious branding, they have been sourced from a company called Food for Health International; the labels can be seen here. The 2kg of Dehydrated Tomato Flakes which Bakker will give you for a $100 gift can be bought from Food for Health for $53.95; 2kg of freeze-dried corn from Bakker at $100 costs $52.95 from Food for Health. Bakker’s bulk offers, though, appear to be better value. However, don’t forget to purchase the Food Bucket Opener for $10; one is reminded of a famous Gary Larson cartoon about the lack of a tin-opener in a nuclear bunker.

Bakker is also offering a solar panel “fuel-less generator” for £1,700. Unfortunately, though, it will not be available until 15 August – do we have that long?

UPDATE: At the Atlantic, Elspeth Reeve points out that a number of survival products available from Bakker can acquired more cheaply elsewhere.

(Hat tip: Cult News Network)

Christian Apocalyptic Paperback Author Grant Jeffrey Has Died

Jim Fletcher reports at WND:

Grant Jeffrey, the Canadian teacher who took the marketing of Bible prophecy to new and unprecedented heights, has passed away. He was 63.

Jeffrey entered full-time ministry in 1988, with his wife, Kaye. Jeffrey’s communication skills quickly gained the attention of the public, and he launched Frontier Research Publications, a publishing arm that allowed him independence in distributing his message. He also worked with several mainstream publishers, including WaterBrook, HarperCollins, Zondervan, Word, and Tyndale House.

A thorough researcher, Jeffrey would go on to write 27 books, which have sold seven million copies, and have been printed in 24 languages.

In fact, Jeffrey never marketed “Bible prophecy”; instead, he used Bible prophecy to market a farrago of fear-mongering conspiracy theories, subjecting Biblical texts to the most egregious eisegesis. His books include The Signature of God: Astonishing Bible Codes Reveal September 11 Terror Attacks (“Remarkable new computer discoveries from the Bible Codes reveal astonishing details about the September 11 Islamic terrorist attack on America that were encoded in Hebrew text thousands of years ago”); The Next World War: What Prophecy Reveals about Extreme Islam and the West (“How Russia and extreme Islam will launch World War III”); and Millennium Meltdown: Spiritual and Practical Strategies to Survive Y2K (“explores the potential of the disastrous Year 2000 computer meltdown that will set the stage for the rise of the world government of the Antichrist” – Jeffrey attempted to justify his scaremongering in January 2000). Last year, he brought out The Global-Warming Deception (“How a secret elite plans to bankrupt America and steal your freedom”).

In 2009, Jeffrey bizarrely shared top billing at a rally with Karl Rove. Fletcher’s article includes statements of appreciation from his peers: Hal Lindsey (whose books, we should remember, include The 1980s: Countdown to Armageddon), William T. “Terry” James of Rapture Ready, and Bob Ulrich of Prophecy in the News. According to Ulrich:

“If Hal Lindsey’s ‘Late Great Planet Earth’ defined the prophetic landscape for the 80s and this generation, Grant Jeffrey took things to a whole new level. Heralding the pre-millennial revival, Grant perfected the art of the prophecy book in a way no one ever did before. Spectacular new discoveries; cutting edge research; timely subjects that were on the minds of the public – there was no end to the excitement he created…”