The Daily Telegraph and a “Fundamentalist” Iranian MP

News from Iran, via Robert Tait at the Daily Telegraph:

…A fundamentalist MP, Mohammad Ali Asfenani, has said Iran has a religious obligation to legally recognise the weddings of girls as young as nine.

“As some people may not comply with our current Islamic legal system, we must regard nine as being the appropriate age for a girl to have reached puberty and qualified to get married,” Mr Asfenani, chairman of the parliamentary legal and judiciary committee, told Khabar Online. “To do otherwise would be to contradict and challenge Islamic Sharia law.”

Presumably, “fundamentalist” means “hardliner”, although the use of the term here is so opaque as to be pointless.

The quote attributed to Isfenani was noted even before the Telegraph article. However, an organisation called the  Women Living Under Muslim Laws Solidarity Network suggests reason for caution:

Dear all,

Recently, a petition generated by thepetitionsite.com claiming that the “Iranian government is legalizing marriage for under 10-year olds” has been spreading widely. I would like to bring it to your attention that the petition is neither accurate nor credible. Our trusted Iranian colleagues have consulted Farsi media agencies and all their contacts and confirmed that the information is incorrect and misleading. Furthermore , it was confirmed that there is no such statement or anything similar in the Majlis. There is only a PANEL DISCUSSION on early marriage which was published by a News Agency Khabar Online,
(http://www.khabaronline.ir/detail/232286/society/social-damage).

The MP, Mohammad Ali Isfenani, who was quoted or rather misquoted in the petition as saying “We must regard nine as being the appropriate age for a girl to have reached puberty and qualified to get married” has in fact said the contrary. MP Isfenani’s official stance is in fact against early marriage and he actually defends the law that prohibits early marriage in Iran.

The petition has already attracted over 50, 000 signatories. It is important that we bring this to the attention of our respective networkers. Such fabrications/propaganda can undermine the integrity of our work and discredit our fight in defending the rights of girls and women in Iran and beyond!

Thank you for your support!

The panel discussion itself can be seen here; unfortunately, Google Translate is of very limited value, but the discussants appear to agree that early marriage is undesirable. Input from anyone with knowledge of Farsi would be gratefully received.

Meanwhile, a recent post by Alex Shams, who is Co-Editor of Ajam Media Collective, suggests that Tait and the Telegraph have form when it comes to inaccurate reporting on Iran:

…On August 20, Robert Tait published a bizarrely contradictory article entitled “Anger as Iran bans women from universities” in The Telegraph that suggests that women in Iran will be hereto banned from universities because of the worries of “senior clerics.” The piece’s subtitle immediately contradicts the inflammatory title, reversing the claim that women have been banned “from universities” by explaining that “female students in Iran have been barred from more than 70 university degree courses in an officially-approved act of sex-discrimination.” Tait proceeds to contradict himself again in the first paragraph, where he further explains that 36 universities had decided of their own accord to ban entrance to women in 77 undergraduate-level courses.

This article is the most recent in a series of inaccurate, misleading, and irresponsible articles about Iranian women and the fight for women’s rights in Iran published by The Telegraph. This is the same paper that last spring completely fabricated a story about Iranian women training to be ninja assassins” to defend their country against invasion (they were actually just practitioners of the Japanese martial art in their local dojo, without murderous intent)…

Which senior clerics? where? …To say that “senior clerics in Iran think xyz” is about as precise as saying “politicians in America think xyz,” which is to say that it means about nothing.

I looked at the general issue of early marriage in the Islamic world recently here and here.

Glenn Beck’s End-Times Prophet Confirms Facts “Irrelevant” When Discussing Islam

Glenn Beck’s End-Times Prophet Joel Richardson responds to my recent post deunking his claim on WND that “51 million” girls under the age of ten are being married to Muslim men in an “epidemic across the Muslim world”:

Personally, it is largely irrelevant to my primary point if it is 51 million or 1 million. Either way, its a problem, that any two vaguely morally inclined people could agree on. Which is why your article is so worrying and why SheikYermami has a somewhat valid point. I never stated a number. I only relayed what CNN stated. Again, your contention is not with me, but with CNN. My contention is with what you choose to emphasize and what you choose to overlook.

The CNN report, by Samuel Burke, cites the figure of “51 million” child marriages worldwide; Richardson conflates this with the number of such marriages in the Muslim world, and then extrapolates evidence from Yemen and Afghanistan to make his “epidemic” claim. However, Burke’s claim itself wasn’t quite accurate: the “51 million” figure is derived from worldwide Demographic and Health Surveys for marriages between the ages of 15 to 19, while Burke gives the impression that it refers to younger girls.

Richardson was too lazy to check Burke’s source, despite presumably being paid by WND for his writing.  I was able to find the relevant documentation in five minutes, despite not being paid by anyone (or living off donations from a “ministry”, for that matter). Apparently that does not mean I am more industrious or careful than Richardson – rather, it means that it is “somewhat valid” for Werner Reimann (SheikYermami) to claim that I am supporter of paedophilia who will perhaps end up “in a cell”. What should we infer from this, other than that Richardson is apparently OK with deploying paedo-smears?

Further:

Your failure to at knowledge [sic] the legitimacy of my primary point, which is that in all of the earth, the history, the example, that Mohammed left behind for his followers, is the primary source of religiously sanctioned pedophilia. This is an extremely important issue. To ignore this, while nitpicking data, in my opinion is revealing, Richard.

Richardson doesn’t care a damn for truth or falsity: because child marriage is a real problem, challenging inaccurate data about it is apparently blameworthy. It doesn’t matter that he’s misled his readers: the data ought to be correct because of what he thinks Muslims ought to believe and how he expects them to behave. Even if they don’t.

I should clarify that I don’t rule out the possibility that some Islamic ideologues might seek to justify child marriage by referring to the example of Muhammad. However, while this would certainly hamper efforts to end the practice, such a self-conscious rationalisation does not appear to be the main reason why early marriage occurs: those who have studied the subject (in particular, the International Center for Research on Women) highlight factors such as gender roles and a lack of alternatives; the value of virginity and fears about premarital sexual activity; marriage alliances and transactions; and poverty. This is why the problem appears to be worst in Afghanistan and Yemen.

Such factors are also cited in a recent piece in the Daily Telegraph by Robert Tait, noting an upsurge of child marriage Iran:

An Iranian NGO, the Society For Protecting The Rights of The Child, said 43,459 girls aged under 15 had married in 2009, compared with 33,383 three years previously. In 2010, 716 girls younger than 10 had wed, up from 449 the previous year, according to the organisation.

Its spokesman, Farshid Yazdani, blamed deepening poverty for the development, which he said was more common in socially backward rural areas often afflicted with high levels of illiteracy and drug addiction.

“Financial poverty of the families leads to children’s marriages. However, cultural poverty and ignorance is also an element,” Mr Yazdani told the semi-official Mehr news agency.

Of course, this context does not mean that we should overlook why the Iranian authorities have failed to act, and the report also suggests a religious factor:

The statistics will fuel criticism that Iran’s Islamic legal code allows children, especially girls, to be married at an inappropriately early age.

While Sharia law states that females can be married as young as nine, a 2002 ruling by the powerful Expediency Council laid down that girls below 13 and boys younger than 15 could only wed with their father’s consent and the permission of a court.

The Society For Protecting The Rights of The Child has highlighted a real problem – but the practice does not appear to be normative.

This is not the first time that I’ve documented Richardson’s sloppiness: in 2008 he claimed that the backdrop to Obama’s podium at his nomination acceptance speech was based on a piece of classical architecture described in the Book of Revelation as the “Throne of Satan” (it wasn’t, and Richardson backed down by claiming that he didn’t really mean it); prior to that, he relied on a  typeset version of a fifteenth-century manuscript to make the palaeographical argument that the word “666” in the Book of Revelation is in fact the Arabic for “In the Name of Allah”.

UPDATE: I’ve edited the above to remove some extra discussion of the Telegraph article. I’ve now posted this in a separate entry.

Sentences from Wikipedia Used in Error-Strewn Daily Telegraph Obituary for Biblical Scholar

Mark Goodacre’s NT Blog has the details:

I commented yesterday on the error-laden obituary of Marvin Meyer in The Telegraph.  It turns out that the errors are not the worst of it.  Chunks of the piece have been plagiarized.

Meyer’s specialism was Gnosticism, and the errors in the obituary include the false claim that “The Gospel of Mary suggests a sexual relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene”.

Particularly egregiously, the plagiarism includes sentences lifted from Wikipedia. Goodacre adds:

I think that it is disgraceful that The Telegraph‘s obituary of Marvin Meyer is a patchwork of passages plagiarized from different electronic articles and I would like to suggest that they acknowledge what they have done, issuing a full apology, and replacing the plagiarized piece with something that appropriately honours Professor Meyer’s memory.

Indeed.

This is particularly shocking given that the Telegraphs obituaries have a reputation for being the best in the business, thanks to a distinctive approach developed in the 1980s and 1990s by the late Hugh Massingberd, who died in 2007. Massinberd’s own obituary in the New York Times noted his reputation as “the father of the modern British obituary”:

Mr. Massingberd transformed the paper’s obituaries from ponderous, sycophantic eulogies into mordant, warts-and-all profiles of the delectable departed…

In Mr. Massingberd’s hands the newspaper obituary became unabashed entertainment, and the page attracted a passionate following that endures to this day. It also helped to set a benchmark for newspapers throughout Britain, where obituaries are now far more irreverent, more editorial and more prurient than their American counterparts.

…There was this much-quoted line… from 1988, which appeared in The Daily Telegraph’s obituary of John Allegro. A once-renowned scholar of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Mr. Allegro later advanced a theory that Judaism and Christianity were the products of an ancient cult that worshiped sex and mushrooms. His obit in The Daily Telegraph pronounced him “the Liberace of biblical scholarship.”

(Emphasis added) What a shame that a shabby and botched obituary of another Biblical scholar has seen that reputation squandered overnight.

And the rot appears to go deep: a recent Tweet on the Telegraph‘s dedicated obituary Twitter feed, @telegraphobits, consists of the following notice:

Apologies for the erroneous tweet earlier regarding Neil Armstrong, which contained some text from a previous obituary for Sally Ride.

In a now-deleted Tweet with provoked widespread mirth and derision across the Twittersphere, @telegraphobits had shortly beforehand announced the death of “Neil Armstrong: First American woman in space”.

WND and Joel Richardson Mislead on Child Bride Data

From Joel Richardson, last week at WND:

An article featured last week on CNN’s website by Samuel Burke highlighted the epidemic of child brides throughout the Islamic world. Burke’s article begins by discussing the marriage of Faiz, an 11-year-old girl, and Ghulam, a 40-year-old man, in Afghanistan.

…According to Burke, there are approximately 51 million such child brides in the world today.

…The report continues to show that while Muslim men are supposed to wait until their child brides reach puberty before consummating the marriage, the private testimony of many women is that few Muslim men, once married, actually wait.

The implication is that from Morocco to Malaysia, “51 million” prepubescent children are being raped by Muslim men, under the sanction of either law or custom.

Burke’s article refers to the work of Stephanie Sinclair, a photographer who has documented child brides. Here’s what he actually says, in context:

Before their wedding ceremony begins in rural Afghanistan, a 40-year-old man sits to be photographed with his 11-year-old bride… She is one of the 51 million child brides around the world today. And it’s not just Muslims; it happens across many cultures and regions.

Sinclair says while many Afghans told her the men would wait until puberty, women pulled her aside to tell her that indeed the men do have sex with the prepubescent brides. 

…In a Christian community in Ethiopia, she captured the image of a 14 year-old girl named Leyualem in a scene that looks like an abduction…

As regards Muslims, Burke’s anecdotes are drawn exclusively from Afghanistan and Yemen – two particularly underdeveloped parts of the Muslim world. Burke does not claim that there is an “epidemic… across the Muslim world”, and the “51 million” figure does not refer just to Muslims.

Further, it should be noted (and is this a point that Burke also fails to make clear) that the “51 million” actually refers to older adolescent girls rather than to younger children; the relevant source is a report from the International Center for Research on Women, entitled Too Young to Wed: The Lives, Rights, and Health of Young Married Girls:

Worldwide, there are more than 51 million adolescent girls aged 15–19 who are married and bearing the burden of domestic responsibility and the risks associated with early sexual activity, including pregnancy… Rates of early marriage are highest in West Africa, South Asia, and East and Central Africa, where approximately 30 percent or more of girls aged 15–19 are already married. Rates are also relatively high, but more moderate, in Central America and the Caribbean, where 20 percent of girls aged 15–19 are married, compared to 2–4 percent in North America, East Asia, and Western Europe.

A footnote explains that “figures provided on early marriage and related trends are from national Demographic and Health Surveys conducted in the corresponding country”. Also:

…It is difficult to obtain data on marital status or age at marriage among adolescents aged 10–14 because of the legal norms surrounding marriage and the fact that official statistics do not document illegal behavior; in some societies, the proportions of girls who are married when they are younger than 15 may not be insignificant.

The report considers the various causes of early marriage. The authors cite gender roles and a lack of alternatives; the value of virginity and fears about premarital sexual activity; marriage alliances and transactions; and the role of poverty. Richardson, however, sees no need to take any serious research on the subject into account; it is enough to assert that Muslims are simply emulating the behaviour of Muhammad in his marriage to Aisha:

…Why is the left so enraged when anyone mentions the truth with regard to Muhammad, who is so clearly the primary source of the child-rape-as-marriage practiced throughout many quarters of the world?

When given the option of offending Muhammad’s followers or standing with the most innocent little lambs this world knows, there is no option. People of moral courage simply cannot be silent any longer.

Of course, Richardson makes no mention of age of consent laws in Muslim countries, as that might dilute the disgust anger we should feel against “Muhammad’s followers”; George Readings drew attention to these laws in 2009:

…Marriage to a pre-pubescant child with whom consummation occurs upon reaching puberty is not a model most people would be happy with in the modern world (although Bolivia sets the age of consent at puberty).

Which is probably why nearly all Muslim countries have reformed these rules beyond recognition. The age of consent in Algeria and Malaysia is 16, in Indonesia it is 19 for males and 16 for females. In Egypt it’s 18 for both and Tunisia 20. Reform has not, however, come to Saudi Arabia. Back in April the world followed the case of a mother trying to obtain a divorce for her eight-year-old daughter who had been married off by her father to a friend he owed a debt. In the end she succeeded and now there is even talk of Saudi Arabia preventing marriage before the age of 18.

What a shame that Richardson appears to put less energy into providing truthful witness than he does into trying to discern signs of the coming Muslim Anti-Christ.

As an aside, it should also be remembered that a central story of the New Testament concerns a young teenage girl (in fact, perhaps as young as 12) who is allowed no control over her own fertility, and who is then married off to a man traditionally thought to be somewhat older than her. Is that something Christians should emulate?

UPDATE: As pingbacks indicate, the above post has caught the attention of the well-known Australian troll Werner Reimann (“Sheikh Yer’Mami”). Writing on his Winds of Jihad website, he claims that pointing out the above means that “Obviously, Richard (or is it ‘Dick’) supports pedophilia”, and that I might very soon end up “in a cell”. He also posts a photo of a Muslim girl which has been used previously as evidence of a mass child-wedding in Gaza; that story has been so thoroughly debunked that even WorldNetDaily made a minimal effort at damage control.

Four-Day Islamic Event Near York Cancelled: Conflicting Reasons Given

From an anonymous “Guest Post” at Harry’s Place:

The Islamia Village event that was to take place at Thorpe Underwood Estate this Bank Holiday weekend (24th— 27th August) has now been cancelled.

Readers of this blog were first alerted to this event by The Islamic Far-Right in Britain, reposted at Harry’s Place on the 13th of July. Further coverage of the hate-preachers set to headline the event were subsequently posted at Hope Not HateHarry’s Place, and Student Rights.

As reported by The Islamic Far-Right in Britain several days ago, anti-extremist activists have been in negotiation with Thorpe Underwood Estate since the event was reported at Harry’s Place in July.

The Islamic Far-Right in Britain highlighted numerous quotes which show that several of the advertised speakers have a history making of hateful and extremist statements. The promotion of such views may or may not have been the specific purpose of the Islamia Village event, but it is certainly reasonable to be concerned and to take the view that any involvement by such persons would be pernicious.

According to a press release by the Estate quoted in the Harry’s Place post:

A spokesman for Thorpe Underwood Estate said that there had been problems in accommodating some of the key speakers in the event and that the Trustees had had no choice but to cancel.

However, comments from an unnamed trustee of the Estate (also added to the Harry’s Place post) suggest other factors:

The threat to “burn the buildings down with everyone in them” was made in a “comment” on a “Casuals Unlimted” blog site page.

AND for clarity the event was NOT cancelled because the organisers would not agree to what was being asked of them. It was a myriad of reasons – some very “sensitive” from a security point of view. The Police did not advise cancellation. The organisers at one point would have been willing for EVERY one of the speakers, highlighted as previous “hate-preachers,” to not even attend, let alone not speak. In the end it was a whole combination of reasons that made the Trustees believe they had come to the end of the line in attempting to host a non-controversial event that would have been safe for all concerned attending.

…This booking WAS checked out with ALL the relevant Government bodies possible and opinion sought as to whether the booking should have been refused. Rather than say, suggest or even infer that perhaps it would be sensible to say “no”, the responses were given as “positive to proceed”. The issued press release is correct “there were problems accomodating the key speakers”. Our earlier post was to give clarity as to the facts. Safety of those attending probably accounted for 80% of the decision making process. 

A website run by the “Casuals United Female Division” issued a “call to action” on 22 August, under the heading “Hate speech conference in #York this weekend action required #edl #bnp #ukip”; this was followed with

Well done all who helped get the #York hate festival cancelled #edl [English Defence League] #nwi [North West Infidels] #cxf [Combined ex-Forces] #nei [North East Infidels] #sdl [Scottish Defence League]

Working together we can apply massive pressure and stop these scumbags getting their message of hate out there. Well done everyone from various groups who sent emails or phoned. The Manager told me he was seriously not happy about the prospect of a demo outside his venue and promised he would cancel it which he has….

Further:

Well done everyone who called or emailed the venue and the York press. This is how to get results. The threat of us disrupting was enough to get the venue cancelled. Job done. Forget pointlessly standing in carparks, we frustrate them every time they announce a conference. Commies can only dream of being able to do this to us LOL.

The EDL, meanwhile, have posted to Facebook a “A massive thanks to the EDL and Casuals who got this event stopped.”

Such posts, along with the Trustee’s comments, tends to undermine the claim made at Harry’s Place that the cancellation

should be seen as a victory for peaceful campaigning and reasonable negotiation over hatred and extremism, whether the latter comes from Islamist fanatics or anti-Muslim hooligans. The latter will not, on this occasion at least, be claiming a victory for themselves on the back of others’ hard work.

There are two very obvious points that I shouldn’t need to state, but which it may be prudent to do so: the fact that Islamia Village may have been cancelled due to fears of aggressive protests – or worse – by anti-Islam groups does not mean that it was wrong to highlight, and to challenge, the involvement of hate preachers. However, concerns about hate preachers do not mean that we should gloss over why exactly the cancellation occured. Casuals United and the EDL may be trying to take credit for an outcome which was achieved by “reasonable negotiation” undertaken by others, but the Trustee’s comments appear to support their version of events.

It is odd that the Harry’s Place post is anonymous, and that that the “anti-extremist activists” who “have been in negotiation with Thorpe Underwood Estate” are unidentified . The person who runs The Islamic Far Right in Britain has left comments on this blog in the past (some of a goading nature), and he is clearly “Harry Burns” of the “Anti-Extremism Alliance”; the event’s cancellation is noted on a new Tweet on the AEA’s infrequent Twitter feed.

I discussed Burns and the AEA last year here; the group presents itself as being opposed all forms of extremism, and organisations such as the Quilliam Foundation are associated with it (perhaps this explains by the Islamic Network, which organised the Islamia Village event, in part blames the Quilliam Foundation for the cancellation; Quilliam does not appear to have made any public statement about the events). However, opposing political extremism is not the same thing as opposing extreme personal behaviour, and the AEA is quite willing to indulge thuggery: also involved with the group is Charlie Flowers, who has recently taken to writing deranged and violent fantasies about shooting people and who threatens to deploy paedo-smears against anyone whom he dislikes.

UPDATE: “Harry Burns” has added comments below, identifying himself as Andy Hughes and confirming that although he was previously a member of the AEA, he is now not currently part of the group. Meanwhile, Islamophobia Watch has noted the above post, and have highlighted his past involvement with the EDL. Harry (to use his preferred pen-name) now writes at The Islamic Far-Right in Britain:

IW is not exactly on the ball here, or purposely likes to juice his info up a bit. Yes, my ass was there at the start of the EDL in London back in 2009. There was a lot of good lads involved in EDL London at the beginning, in those days it really did what it said on the tin – demoing against Islamic extremism and believe it or not, Muslims joined us at the early demos in London. By the time we hit 2010 it had become a constant battle to keep anti-Muslim sentiment at bay and by mid 2010 I’d had enough and done a bunk.

…Google is your friend IW. “This from a man who until recently was himself an activist in the nationalist far right” < there’s the juice. Richard Bartholomew could/would have told him that EDL had been history for me for a long time. It obviously suits IW to add a bit of hype, there’s no boom!

I should perhaps make clear that I have never had any direct or private communication with Islamophobia Watch. The site often draws attention to news items that I find to be of interest, and I have sometimes been quoted by them. However, that does not mean that we share the same perspective: I’ve previously criticised the site for apparently suggesting that protesting against a particular event amounts to a wish to suppress free speech, and I don’t always agree with its interpretations of groups and individuals. I’ve always acknowledged that an element of the early EDL was anti-Islamic extremist rather than anti-Muslim (despite receiving threats and abuse from a member of that element), and I’m sparing about using labels such as “far-right”. Indeed, I tend to avoid using the term “Islamophobia” altogether, as vague and lacking in explanatory force.

John Willke and John Smeaton

From Jon Swaine at the Telegraph:

Mitt Romney met John Willke, the doctor credited with popularising Todd Akin’s controversial views on rape and abortion, during the current election campaign and told him they agreed on “almost everything,” Dr Willke said.

Dr Willke, a prominent anti-abortion campaigner, claims to be an authority on the theory espoused by Mr Akin that victims of what the Republican congressman called “legitimate rape” do not become pregnant because their bodies “shut down” due to the trauma.

…The doctor said that he had also met Mr [Paul] Ryan, who sits in Congress for the Wisconsin district in which one of his sons lives, several times. He said that after listening to Dr Willke’s views on abortion during their last encounter, Mr Ryan replied: “That’s where I’m at”.

Other journalists have drawn attention to a 1999 essay by Willke, in which he explains “why rape pregnancies are rare”. Much of the article consists remarkably crude number crunching that should make a sociologist weep (“One-fourth of all women in the United States of childbearing age have been sterilized… the miscarriage rate is about 15 percent” etc), but he also – now notoriously – raised the issue of emotional stress:

Hormone production is controlled by a part of the brain that is easily influenced by emotions… So what further percentage reduction in pregnancy will this cause? No one knows…

This speculation does not appear to have been a major theme in Willke’s thinking, although the Akin controversy has inspired him to expound on his theory further. This time, though, the role of hormones is supplemented by the – also now notorious – concept of “spastic tubes”. The New York Times reports:

“This is a traumatic thing — she’s, shall we say, she’s uptight,” Dr. Willke said of a woman being raped, adding, “She is frightened, tight, and so on. And sperm, if deposited in her vagina, are less likely to be able to fertilize. The tubes are spastic.”

The media has noted Willke’s role as former president of the National Right to Life Committee. However, he is also president of the International Right to Life Federation, where a former vice-president (and current board member) is none other than John Smeaton of the UK’s SPUC. The two men were profiled in 2010 by The Interim (“Canada’s Life and Family Newspaper”):

Two leaders of the international pro-life movement, who have more than three-quarters of a century of pro-life experience between them, will be in Ottawa Oct. 28-30 for the Building a Global Culture of Life conference.

Dr. Jack Willke, president of the International Right to Life Federation, began working in the pro-life movement in 1971. John Smeaton, national director of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, joined the organization in 1974.

Smeaton himself adds:

In Ottawa, I welcomed delegates on behalf of International Right to Life Federation (IRLF) which was co-sponsoring (in a purely honorary way) Campaign Life Coalition’s Congress. I was standing in for our IRLF president Dr Jack Willke (who arrived after the opening ceremony).

In recent months, SPUC has broadened its remit to include other Christian Right issues; in January, the group “resolved to defend human life by defending marriage from the [UK] government’s proposed redefinition to include homosexual couples”. A few weeks later, it held a meeting on “Sex Education as Sexual Sabotage”, at which several MPs were treated to one of Judith Reisman’s monomaniacal diatribes against Alfred Kinsey. The MPs present did not include Nadine Dorries; despite Dorries’ close links with the UK Christian Right, she regards herself as regards herself as a pro-choice reformer, and she has abused Smeaton as being “shameful and cowardly”.

Marko Attila Hoare on Douglas Murray and the Henry Jackson Society

Marko Attila Hoare has published an account of his reasons for severing his association with the Henry Jackson Society, citing concerns about leadership, procedure, direction – and the involvement of Douglas Murray:

Murray was and is also the director of another outfit, the ‘Centre for Social Cohesion’. Or rather, he is the Centre for Social Cohesion… In April 2011, the Centre for Social Cohesion merged with the HJS… The merger was incongruous, since whereas the HJS was intended to be a bi-partisan organisation promoting democratic geopolitics, Murray’s interest lay in opposing Islam and immigration.

…I was shocked that someone with such extreme views about Muslims and Islam should be appointed Associate Director of the HJS. I published an article on my blog… condemning his views on Muslims and Islam… After this article was published, [Executive Director Alan] Mendoza phoned me to try to pressurise me to remove it, claiming that Murray would otherwise sue me for libel. By way of warning, he pointed out that Murray had previously threatened legal action against Sunny Hundal, editor of Liberal Conspiracy, forcing him to remove a reference to him on Hundal’s website. On another occasion, he had apparently pressurised the Huffington Post into removing references to him as well. In the words of The Commentator, the website of senior HJS staff-member Robin Shepherd: ‘Murray warned the Huffpo that its time in Britain would be short if it persisted in libeling people in this manner. At which point, the Huffington Post agreed to remove references to Murray from the story.’

I refused to delete or substantially alter the content of my article, but I agreed to make some minor changes. I had quoted some not entirely unambiguously negative comments that Murray had made about the English Defence League (EDL), and at Mendoza’s express request, I agreed to insert into the text a somewhat more negative statement that Murray had previously made about the EDL. The modified article therefore balanced the less-than-negative statements that Murray had made about the EDL with a more negative one, so did greater justice to his vacillating opinion on this organisation. Mendoza also asked me to delete my description of Murray’s views on Islam as ‘bigoted and intolerant’; I agreed to delete ‘bigoted’ but refused to delete ‘intolerant’…

…Murray’s behaviour, in this instance and in the others mentioned above, was somewhat hypocritical, given that he has appeared as a speaker at entire conferences dedicated to attacking Muslims for employing libel ‘lawfare’ to silence criticism of Islam.

The charge of hypocrisy is arguable; it is quite possible be opposed to “lawfare” while continuing to assert that the law should protect reputations from false accusations. However, it is troubling to see that libel threats have apparently been made quite so aggressively.

The dispute with Sunny refers to an incident which occurred in 2009, when Robert Spencer visited the UK along with activists from the Christian Action Network. CAN’s schedule included an interview with three balaclava-wearing EDL leaders (this was before Stephen Yaxley-Lennon became the public face of the group), and the activists decided to invite them along to a pre-arranged meal at a restaurant involving Murray and Spencer. After I wrote about this, I received a clarification from the Centre for Social Cohesion:

CAN asked Douglas to do an interview with them – upon seeing the presence of the EDL at the CAN discussion he refused to deal with them and left the venue. He did however give an interview to CAN at another location on the water front. He didn’t actually know who the CAN were, and always says yes to interviews, hence his appearances on other dubious channels such as the Islam Channel.

Murray apparently felt that Sunny had misrepresented his position on this point. Robert Spencer was also unhappy, and made noises about libel in the USA when a reference to the dinner appeared on Charles Johnson’s Little Green Footballs website.

But three years is a very long time: as well as Murray’s subsequent “not entirely unambiguously negative comments” about the EDL (one of which was publicised by Spencer as “Douglas Murray defends EDL against guilt-by-association smears”), Spencer has recently entered into a full-on alliance with with EDL.

Of course, it should go without saying that just because there are controversies over Murray’s opinions and actions, that certainly does not in itself invalidate the CSC’s reports and studies. However, I am aware of one CSC report co-written by Murray which is tainted by association with the now-defunct “VIGIL Network”. This was a self-described on-line “terror tracking” organisation, and was run run by a man who has subsequently shown himself to be dishonest and irrational at a personal level. This man’s association with the CSC goes beyond mere opinion-mongering, and raises concerns over matters of fact; it would be helpful if Murray could clarify to what extent he retains confidence in VIGIL-sourced information.

(H/T Sunny Hundal)

Nick Cohen vs Patriarch Kirill of Moscow

Also: Bishop of London is “silly and faintly disgraceful”

In the wake of the Pussy Riot sentencing, yesterday’s Observer saw Nick Cohen draw attention to the book Freedom and Responsibility: A Search for Harmony, by Patriarch Kirill of Moscow:

If its Amazon ranking is a guide, hardly any English reader has glanced at it, which is a pity because although the cleric’s arguments are drear when they are not repellent, they provide as a good an illustration as any of how opposition to human rights can be covered with smells and bells.

“The most fundamental conflict of our present era is the clash between the liberal mode of civilisation on the one hand and national culture and religious identity on the other,” Kirill begins…. I must emphasise that by liberalism the patriarch does not mean rampant individualism but any human society that tolerates “sin” providing sinners “remain within the law of land and do not harm others”. No charge is too wild to throw at such hell holes. “The human rights concept is used to cover up lies, falsehood and insults against religion and national values,” Kirill fumes. Secularism is diseased – “infected with the bacillus of self-destruction”. Secular countries allow women to control their fertility and tolerate homosexuality. They are nominally free “but defenceless against evil”.

The cleric barely makes an effort to disguise how Russia’s dark traditions of occidentalism and antisemistim have influenced his thought. Universal values are the product of a malign, alien ideology that comes from the western “protestant” theologians and – but, of course – “Jewish philosophers”.

…The English translation of Kirill’s fulminations carries a foreword by Richard Chartres, the silly and faintly disgraceful Anglican Bishop of London. He offers no criticism of the patriarch. Instead, he praises his “acute intelligence”.

Freedom and Responsibility is published in the UK by the respected mainstream religious publishing house of Darton, Longman and Todd. The Russian Orthodox Church website carries a notice about the book’s launch:

Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk and Bishop Richard Chartres of London joined forces at the London Book Fair today to launch the first-ever book in English of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia. Entitled ‘Freedom and Responsibility, a Search for Harmony – Human Rights and Personal Dignity’, it is also a first joint venture between the English religious publishing house Darton, Longman and Todd and the Publishing House of the Moscow Patriarchate. 

…Welcoming guests to the event, Metropolitan Hilarion, who heads the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Affairs expressed the Patriarch’s and his own delight at this publication, which clearly articulates the mind of the Russian church on the key issues of the place of religion in organized social life, and of the religious and moral values which are essential to the maintaining of civilized society. The current global debate on these issues is one which the Russian Orthodox Church feels compelled and entitled to join. Having had first-hand experience of the disastrous consequences of the curtailment of religious expression in society, the Patriarch is fearful of is fearful of this situation being repeated in Western Europe.

…Dr Richard Chartres, who as Anglican Bishop of London is the third most senior bishop in the Church of England, with a close relationship to the British Parliament and the monarchy, expressed his admiration for Metropolitan Kirill, as a man of courage and clear-sightedness, who has played a key role in bringing the Russian church into its front-line position in Russian society and into the wider debate on the Christian role in contemporary society. He recommended the book as one of the best introductions to the contemporary Russian religious mind, and hoped that there would be more such publications in English to follow.

In the case of Pussy Riot, the observation that “Patriarch Kirill appeared annoyed by calls for leniency” should be balanced against church statements urging clemency; however, church figures do have a tendency to cry “hatred” when faced with satire or criticism. Back in June, church spokesman Vsevolod Chaplin suggested “that people who kindle hatred should feel the tough power of law rather than pay fines”; this was prompted by a stage show that made fun of the incident in which an expensive wrist-watch was photoshopped out of an image of the patriarch on the church’s website.

Kirill has also come under criticism for referring to Putin’s rule as a “miracle of God”:

Kirill called opposition demands to “ear-piercing shrieks” and said the protesters represented a minority of Russians. He said Western consumer culture was admired by many of Putin’s opponents and was a major threat to Russia.

This partisanship could perhaps be indulged as the view of an older man who remembers the grim days of Communist terror and post-Communist chaos, and who is thankful for a bit of apparent stability; but what excuse can there be for his gushing enthusiasm for Alexander Lukashenko, the brutal dictator of Belarus?

As regards the Patriarch’s book, there is no Amazon or Google Books preview, and I’ve learned to be wary of polemical reviews that reduce a book to a few unhappy quotations. In particular, I’d like to see rather more context for the reference to “Jewish philosophers” – I’ve seen no evidence that Kirill is anti-Jewish, and I find it difficult to believe that DLT would allow material of that sort.

However, the general authoritarian strand that Cohen detects is certainly very present in current Russian Orthodox thinking; I’ve noted it myself in the person of Vladimir Yakunin, a layman who is close to Putin and who runs Russia’s railways. Reports describe him variously as an “Orthodox Christian Chekist” and as “the Kremlin’s model Orthodox businessman”. Yakunin’s authoritarianism was in evidence back in January, when he denounced anti-Putin protestors as having “no connection with democracy”. Last year, as co-chair of the World Public Forum (alongside – oddly – a Greek-American businessman with close links to Gen William “Jerry” Boykin and other figures in the US Christian Right), he opined on the “incompatibility between the neo-liberal interpretation of the system of human rights and the system of human values”, noting that “the universal urge to have the ‘freedom’ to say ‘anything and in any form’ has a temporary character and is beginning to fade away”.

End-Times Thriller Author Published By Glenn Beck’s Mercury Ink Elected to Congress

A July article in Roll Call (“The Newspaper of Capitol Hill”) profiles Chris Stewart, who will be a Congressman from Utah from November:

Stewart… is a conservative Republican who surprised political observers by winning Utah’s 2nd district nominating convention with more than 60 percent of the vote, thereby avoiding a primary.

…While in the USAF, he started writing, and his list of books includes a Latter Day Saints-like version of Tim LaHaye’s and Jerry B. Jenkins’ apocalyptic Christian fiction series “Left Behind,” as well as historical novels.

Stewart’s website notes that his latest book, “The Miracle of Freedom: Seven Tipping Points that Saved the World,” was a New York Times bestseller. Conservative media personality Glenn Beck praised the book, which might explain its popularity.

The Miracle of Freedom is published by Shadow Mountain, but his “Latter Day Saints-like version” of the Left Behind series is published by Glenn Beck’s Mercury Ink. The series is entitled Wrath and Righteousness, and ten “episodes” are due to be published over the course of one year. Here’s part of the blurb for episode three:

The death of the Saudi King has removed the final barrier between peace and chaos. Prince Abdullah al-Raman, a pawn of Lucifer and the Forces of Darkness has taken over the throne and is now in a position to draw Israel and the United States into an unprecedented war.

…Against the backdrop of torn-from-the-headlines Middle Eastern drama, theWrath & Righteousness series is a fast-paced thriller that explores man’s role in the eternal battle between good and evil.

The books also come with a quote from Tim LaHaye:

“It really grips you… I lost a lot of sleep reading it.”

Beck has himself enthused over the books as “the Left Behind series for a new generation”; this may perhaps have annoyed Left Behind publisher Tyndale House, which posted an article to its website last year announcing “Tyndale Repackages ‘Left Behind’ Titles for New Generation of Readers” (new features include “test your prophecy IQ”).

The quote from LaHaye is a comment on Stewart’s literary style rather than a theological assessment, but it perhaps shows that LaHaye has mellowed over the years: back in 2004 he railed against his own publisher for publishing a novel that took a different theological perspective from his own, yet here he is now endorsing a book by a Mormon! However, the New York Observer reported in May that the books have been de-Mormonized. The original version was a series by Stewart called The Great and Terrible, which was published from 2003 to 2008 by the Deseret Book Company:

Mr. Beck rewrote them, removing references to Mormon scripture and gospel beliefs from the books, which the Wall Street Journal otherwise described as a blend of “Middle East politics, techno high jinks, and end-of-the-world derring-do.”

One difference from Left Behind is that although the Saudi “pawn of Lucifer” is perhaps not the same thing as the Antichrist, the series appears to be exploiting the popularity of the “Muslim Antichrist” theory, as expounded on Glenn Beck’s TV show by Joel Richardson (who occasionally stops by this blog to make a comment). LaHaye’s Antichrist, by contrast, reflects 1990s Christian Right anxieties: he’s an Eastern European, and the post-Rapture Secretary General of the United Nations. Christian Right arguments over the identity of the Antichrist can be bitter.

Mercury Ink was established last year, and its website showcases a few other books: there’s a science fiction series for young adults, by Richard Paul Evans, that “teaches important life lessons without ever preaching”; a non-fiction book by Paul Kengor on how Barack Obama’s ideas are derived from Frank Lloyd Davis’ communism; and We Are Brothers, billed as “The Official RESTORING COURAGE Photo Book” (more on “Restoring Courage” here).

However, Mercury Ink is also a “partner” with Simon & Schuster, which publishes Beck under its Threshold Editions conservative imprint. Beck announced last year that:

Mercury is also launching Mercury Ink, a new division that will discover, publish and promote books and authors that Glenn is passionate about across a variety of genres. The division will be run by Kevin Balfe, Mercury’s SVP of Publishing, who will acquire titles for the imprint. Mercury Ink titles will be co-published with Simon & Schuster.

There is at least one “Mercury Ink” title available from Simon & Schuster that does not appear on the Mercury Ink website; this is a book about Occupy Wall Street by “Buck Sexton, a former CIA counterterrorism and counterinsurgency analyst”.

There is currently speculation that Mercury Ink is the “much larger national publisher and distributor” which David Barton claims will re-publish his Thomas Jefferson book, following the book’s withdrawal from sale by Thomas Nelson. It seems likely: Beck regards Barton as “the most important man in America right now”, and the two men are close associates.

UPDATE: Publishers Weekly has confirmed (H/T Right Wing Watch) that Beck may be publishing Barton:

David Barton, author of The Jefferson Lies, which Thomas Nelson pulled from shelves last week, is in negotiations to publish a new edition of the book with Mercury Ink, Glenn Beck’s publishing arm.

…Barton said the new edition “will not include any substantive changes, but I will rephrase some things to remove any potential confusion.” He also plans to add back some of the content Nelson cut in their editing process…

Pew Forum Notes Belief in the Mahdi, Prompts Fears of Violence

Timothy Furnish of MahdiWatch casts an eye over a recent Pew Forum study on “The World’s Muslims: Unity and Diversity“, based on “38,000 face-to-face interviews in over 80 languages”:

Of the 23 countries whose Muslim citizens were polled, nine have majorities which expect the Mahdi in their lifetimes, with the overall average percentage at 41.8%–and considering the huge samples and wide geographic latitude which Pew used, it is safe to extrapolate this percentage to Islam as a whole; ergo, 42% of 1.6 billion = 672 million Muslims who believe in the Mahdi’s imminent return!

That “ergo” is dodgy: the Pew Report discusses percentages within particular countries, but does not reference the total population figures for those countries. Further, although Furnish notes that Iran is missing from the study, and that this would have perhaps allowed him to “extrapolate” an even larger percentage, the report also ignores Muslim minorities in the West and in countries such as India, China or the Philippines (US Muslims are considered in an Appendix, although they were apparently not asked about the Mahdi).

Furnish’s worry is that increasing belief in the Mahdi means an increased likelihood of messianic violence:

(An)other violent Mahdist movement(s) in the 21st century seems very likely: if even 1% of 672 million is so inclined, that makes 6.72 million potential jihadist believers in the Mahdi …Even more likely is a political consolidation movement among several Islamic countries or regions centered around a charismatic leader claiming the Mahdiyah; if just 20 or 30% of the legions who believe in the Mahdi can be convinced to put a claimant in charge, he would have between 100-200 million supporters!

That “just 20 or 30%” is also dodgy: just because someone believes in the coming of the Mahdi, it hardly follows that he or she will therefore be convinced by anyone claiming to be the Mahdi. Movements around past claimants have always either remained localized or resulted in the creation of smaller breakaway religious groups. How is this “just 20 or 30%” figure to be achieved? I suppose one could opine very generally about the potential of the mass media or the development of larger Islamic blocs in the future, but this is all highly speculative. The most obvious comparator is also unencouraging: most strands of Judaism affirm the coming of the Messiah, but Messianic claimants have  also only ever succeeded in attracting a minority of Jewish adherents.

There is also reason to be sceptical about how the Pew study has been used. First, the study tells us nothing about the extent to which belief in the Mahdi has increased, although in the case of Turkey, Furnish suggests that particular ideologues have promoted the idea:

Turkey’s population, overwhemingly Sunni, is being swayed by the “soft (and peaceful) Mahdism” of two major public intellectuals and Turkish Mahdists–Adnan Oktar (“Harun Yahya”) and Fethullah Gülen…

(I’ve blogged on both Yahya and Gülen)

Second, the nature of “belief” requires qualitative understanding. Many Christians, if asked, will affirm the imminent return of Christ, but the concept doesn’t really form a operative part of their religious identity or thinking. It’s true that some Christians are more actively interested in the subject, consuming the works of apocalyptic evangelists, just as a wider segment of the general public expresses enthusiasm for pop interpretations of Nostradamus or claims about the Mayan Calender – but this hardly ever translates into patterns of personal behaviour that make sense only in relation to an imminent divine intervention, let alone at a macro level. The same is probably true for Muslims; indeed, many Pew respondents may well have never given the subject of the Mahdi any thought before now, but decided nevertheless to give an “orthodox” affirmative answer when asked.

Certainly, there have been Mahdist movements in the past, and the possibility of new “jihadist believers in the Mahdi” cannot be discounted. However, the general principle behind this observation, that extremists are sometimes motivated by charismatic leaders, is so obvious as to be hardly worth stating. The whole approach seems to me to be putting the cart before the horse: a charismatic figure might be able to persuade a large number of Muslims that he is the Mahdi, but that would be more likely to be a confirmation of his charisma rather than a source of charismatic power.

Perhaps we should keep a special look-out for blacked-up English thespians attempting to out-ham Vincent Price:

(H/T Joel Richardson, who sees this as further evidence that the Muslim world will come under the sway of a Muslim Antichrist)