A Note on Some Religious Activists and the Alfie Evans Case

From the Guardian:

The Christian campaign group that acted for the family of Alfie Evans could face an investigation by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), the Guardian has learned.

Three court of appeal judges criticised the role of supporters who may have “infiltrated or compromised” the legal representation of Alfie’s parents, Tom Evans and Kate James.

…The high court judge Mr Justice Hayden was particularly critical of the role of Pavel Stroilov, a Russian-born law student who appeared to have taken the lead in representing Alfie’s parents for the Christian Legal Centre (CLC).

BBC Panorama Reveals Police Complacency on Non-Disclosure of Digital Evidence

From BBC News, January:

A man who had a rape conviction overturned after spending two years in prison has said he feels “devastated” and “let down” by the justice system.

Deleted Facebook messages were found by Danny Kay’s sister-in-law leading to the Court of Appeal quashing the conviction.

He said he fears people will always have “doubts” about his innocence.

Derbyshire Police said its investigation will be independently reviewed so “lessons are learned”.

The case has now featured in a BBC Panorama documentary about the late disclosure and non-disclosure of defence evidence in criminal trials – and Derbyshire Police are no longer talking about the need to learn lessons. As summarised in the Sun:

Derbyshire Police told the programme that using only the complainant’s Facebook messages was a proportionate response and that its investigation into Danny wasn’t criticised by the Court of Appeal.

Anyone who has made a complaint about how a police force has handled a matter will instantly recognise this stonewalling attitude. There is no attempt to engage with the substance of a complaint – instead, members of the public are fobbed off with a complacent and dismissive statement that everything has been done correctly, in the face of overwhelming evidence of serious failings.

The Panorama programme also highlighted the case of Clive Steer, a Surrey businessman who recently went on trial accused of bribery; as was reported by Get Surrey in February:

By the time the case was dropped, it had become clear the police officers had failed to examine Mr Steer’s laptop, despite him telling them 18 months previously it contained key evidence.

…Eventually, Mr Steer’s barrister, Julia Smart, obtained a court order requiring the CPS to release his laptop so the defence could examine it themselves.

…Mr Steer said: “I had to do the police’s work for them. We found 246 examples proving my innocence and sent them to the CPS.”

…A CPS spokesmann said: “Following a review, the CPS decided the evidential test in this case was no longer met and offered no evidence against the defendant in January 2018.

“The CPS complied with its disclosure obligations in this case. There were more than 110,000 emails retrieved from the defendant’s hard drive.

“The defendant did not submit a defence case statement but in November 2017 highlighted a small number of emails as being potentially undermining of the prosecution case…”

Note there the gratuitous reference to “more than 110,000 emails”, implying a huge cache that it would be unreasonable for officers to have to wade through – and the police response in Panorama was to emphasise the general problem of dealing with huge amounts of digital data.

This supposed obstacle, though, disappears when the context is taken into account. In the Kay case, the prosecution relied on a doctored Facebook message thread provided by the complainant: the police needed only to check the same thread in Kay’s Facebook archive, not trawl through all his messages. And in the case of Steer, he could have “highlighted” the “small number of emails” months previously had he not been deprived of his laptop. Presumably it was impounded to prevent the potential deletion of prosecution evidence, but this does not explain why the laptop could not have been brought to an interview room and Steer allowed to guide an officer to the crucial 246 messages.

I would advise anyone who has come to police attention as a suspect to be on their guard. Do not assume that an obviously vexatious or trivial allegation will be recognised as such, or that a misunderstanding will be ironed out with an informal chat. Instead, take it that the police are interested only in building a prosecution case, however flimsy or constructed in bad faith.

Excursus

Although not discussed in Panorama, Steer’s case also brought to light evidence of police misconduct in a different context, after unrelated material was mistakenly sent to his defence. The story is covered here.

Franklin Graham Endorses Bible Book by Birther Joseph Farah

From WND:

Can the gospel literally be found in every book of the Hebrew Scriptures?

Joseph Farah says it can and systemically, book by book, reveals the clear redemptive passages found in all 39 books of the Old Testament.

…Farah, a lifelong journalist, applied the skills he developed as an investigative reporter to do what Bible scholars had not previously done—systematically explore all 39 books of the Old Testament for the good news fully revealed in the Greek Scriptures. The book [The Gospel in Every Book of the Old Testament] is not releasing until September, but you can help spread the Good News.

… it demonstrates the miraculous nature of the Bible. It reveals the singular, cohesive message through all 66 books of Scripture, including all 39 of the Old Testament.

Such a claim, of course, is grandiose to the point of absurdity. Farah – whose “skills as an investigative journalist” mostly consist of promoting alarmist conspiracy theories about Muslims and Barack Obama’s birth certificate (a subject he advised Donald Trump about) – is just the latest crank to approach the Bible with a pet theory that of course he is then gratified to find confirmed in what he reads. The blunder is called eisegesis.

Certainly, a proper understanding of the New Testament requires knowledge of the Hebrew Bible. It is also the case that Christians have historically understood the New Testament as providing a fuller understanding of the “Old Testament”, although this is contested – obviously, followers of Judaism reject the idea that their holy text prefigures the New Testament, and the “Old Testament” is perfectly comprehensible without reference to a collection of Greek texts written centuries later.

Farah’s supposed discovery of “the singular, cohesive message” – here framed as a supernatural phenomenon – relates to what he refers to as “the Gospel of the Kingdom”:

When most of us think about the Gospel, we think about the message of personal salvation. When we witness to people, when we evangelize, we share that precious message of repentance, Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection and the gift of eternal life. But what we don’t typically share is the message of what Peter called in Acts 3 “the restoration or restitution of all things,” the redemption of the whole world – the new world Jesus will restore when He returns, a world, the prophets Isaiah, Ezekiel and Joel all say, will be like “the Garden of Eden.”

The term “Gospel of the Kingdom” is familiar enough, although it’s not very clear from the above what exactly Farah is bringing to it. Nevertheless, endorsements have poured in from Christian Right figures – most notably, Franklin Graham, whose blurb appears on the cover:

Don’t miss the true adventure of seeing God’s perfect plan of redemption from beginning to end.

There is also praise from the likes of Mike Hukabee, Greg Laurie, Ray Comfort and Dinesh D’Souza, as well as that well-known Biblical scholar Mr Chuck Norris. Also on board is General Patrick Brady, “Medal of Honor recipient, most decorated living soldier” (“I hope this book will help bring it back by uniting both books into one gospel and one message for salvation for all”).

We’re also told that

…ministries around the country are eagerly awaiting the release of the book, which has already been approved for sale by Franklin Graham for the Billy Graham Library and being considered now for sale in the Museum of the Bible…

Farah is an important link between the Christian Right and right-wing conspiricism, equally at home appearing with Jim Bakker and chatting with Alex Jones. His name on display at the Billy Graham Library and the Museum of the Bible would be triumph of self-promotion, but also a sign of malaise within US evangelicalism.

However, we’re not quite there yet – although the cover has been designed, funds are required:

WND and WND Books does not have the financial resources to print the first 100,000 books, which will cost over $200,000.

…Can you help WND raise at least $200,000 right now with your tax-deductible contributions or your free-will non-deductible gifts directly to WND so we can help spread this vital Gospel message?

Would you like to help bring this message to the whole world? Isn’t that just what Jesus asked us to do, saying that accomplishment would precipitate His return?

(H/T ConWebWatch)

A Media Note on the Toronto Suspect’s Facebook Page

BBC News reports:

A van driver accused of killing 10 people in Toronto posted to Facebook minutes before the attack to praise killer Elliot Rodger and refer to the misogynistic “incel” Reddit group.

Alek Minassian, 25, was charged on Tuesday with 10 counts of murder and 13 counts of attempted murder.

…Mr Minassian’s Facebook post, which the social network has confirmed as real, praised Elliott Rodger, a 22 year old from California who killed six people in a shooting rampage through Isla Vista, California in 2014 before turning the gun on himself.

Tom Winter of NBC News announced on Monday evening that “Multiple law enforcement officials in Canada and the U.S. say the preliminary theory is that Minassian may have had mental health issues and had an online discussion about Eliot Rodger”; the Facebook page was posted to Twitter just over an hour later by Catherine McDonald, a crime reporter with Global News Toronto. McDonald said “We’ve just obtained this Facebook post from the accused Alek Minassian”, and an accompanying photo (taken in daylight) showed the post as displayed on a mobile device. However, it was not clear whether reporters had accessed the Facebook page for themselves, and it appears that the photo was cropped from a larger version that had already appeared on social media.

McDonald received a number of replies cautioning that the Facebook profile may be fake: this was reasonable, given that fake profiles do sometimes appear in these situations (I discussed a previous example here). One potential flag was that the Facebook page was somewhat sparse – an archived copy of his page shows that he had no banner image, and his photo and educational details were already publicly available on LinkedIn. The profile photo had apparently been uploaded on 10 March, but the date could have been manipulated.  No friends were visible in this saved version either, although a screenshot published by ABC News shows that he had 11 Facebook friends.

It seems that McDonald did not initially consider the possibility of a fake profile – thus, several hours after her first Tweet on the subject, she gave “thanks for the feedback”, and belatedly announced that “We are working on verifying this facebook post to confirm if it was written by the Alek Minassian or by someone else trying to mislead the public.” Some hours after that she was able to announce that “Facebook has confirmed to @globalnewsto that the post I tweeted last night allegedly written by Alek Minassian was authentic.”

So – no harm done, but the initial information ought to have been flagged as provisional, and the confirmation ought to have been sought from the beginning. It would also be useful to know the basis on which Facebook has formed its assessment of authenticity. In this instance, it may be obvious and clear-cut, but the methodology ought to be transparent.

The Facebook post is discussed further by another Global News reporter, Patrick Cain, who explains its military references and “incel” jargon. He also notes:

The archived copy includes a non-operative “see more recent stories” fold at the foot of the page.

Inevitably, however, some of the responses to McDonald’s initial Tweet were scathing rather than just doubtful, especially from those invested in the idea that the attack must have been an instance of Jihadist terror. The mainstream media usually waits until some facts have been established before attributing motive; this leaves open a space for anti-Islam activists to pronounce that the media is engaged in a “cover up” (some prominent social media figures who pronounced prematurely in this instance are discussed here on Zelo Street). If in due course a Jihadist motive is confirmed, such activists then crow that the media has been forced to concede the truth; but if it turns out that their guess was incorrect, they simply move on without consequences.

The most egregious allegation was probably made by Rebel Media’s Ezra Levant, who in a now-deleted Tweet suggested that McDonald may have deliberately cropped out the mobile device’s clock in the photo in order to hide evidence showing that the profile had been concocted after the suspect had been apprehended. Levant wrote:

Here’s the full version of your photo, from @4chan: http://i.4cdn.org/pol/1524522652750.png … The time on the phone is 3:15 p.m. The attack was at ~1:30 p.m. So this would have been posted after he was arrested. Is that why you cropped the picture? #FakeNews

It appears that Levant had failed to understand the latitude involved when Facebook marks a post as having been made “1 hr” ago. But the allegation was obviously wild: a mainstream journalist resorting to such a trick in these circumstances would very quickly have come unstuck. However, his contemptuous suggestion is worth noting for what it tells us about his own mindset.

UPDATE: The National Post notes some “jihad” conspiracy theorising on the subject. Alex Jones has insisted that “Minassian” is a Turkish/Iranian name (true insofar as those countries have historic communities of ethnic Armenians, but that’s also the case for a number of other nations), while Robert Spencer has seized on the vagaries of court sketches to suggest that the van driver may have been someone other than the person who was charged in court (“we have to wonder what the Canadian authorities are trying to hide”).

New Bible Edition Aims to Encourage Christians to Support Israel

From the Religion News Service:

 A new Hebrew-English Bible with a distinctly Israeli flavor will be published in honor of Israel’s 70th anniversary.

…The Israel Bible “is the world’s first Bible centered around the Land of Israel, the People of Israel and the unique relationship between them,” according to Israel365, the organization that produced it in conjunction with Menorah Books, a division of Koren Publishers Jerusalem.

…Maayan Hoffman, vice president of marketing and brand strategy at Israel365, wrote in The Jerusalem Post that the aim of the new Bible is “to convince a divided Jewish people, Christian Zionists and what sometimes seems like an anti-Israel world that Israel belongs to the Jewish people.”

The director of Israel365 is Rabbi Tuly Weisz, who founded the Breaking Israel News website (previously blogged here). The site acts as a conduit by which news stories that supposedly relate to the End Times from a Jewish perspective find their way onto Christian Right and conservative US websites (1): the site is frequently quoted on Charisma News and WND, and WND‘s CEO Joseph Farah – infamous for his promotion of anti-Obama birther conspiracy theories, among much else – appears on the Israel Bible‘s website endorsing the product.

Charisma News has also reported on the new Bible:

For nearly 2000 years, an undeniable tension between Christians and Jews has pierced the religious landscape. While some factions have followed paths that resulted in in the expansion of the gap—replacement theology—others have spent efforts to bridge the gap between the two groups.

…Rabbi Tuly Weisz, founder and director of Israel365 and publisher of Breaking News Israel, says that with the publishing of The Israel Bible, the Bible is “no longer source of disunity but unity between Jews and Christians.”

“We’re certainly living in critical times where support for Israel is more divisive than ever, and solidifying biblical support for Israel among the Christian Zionist community is more important than ever,” Weisz said. “The writers of the New Testament left us with a text that is not anti-Semitic. It does not put forth a replacement position. It’s amazing how that text became more misrepresented by some once the church became more Gentile.”

The Israel Bible, of course, does not contain the New Testament, and Weisz is not a believer in Jesus.

Anyone with a serious interest in the text traditionally known to Christians as the Old Testament ought to have a Jewish edition of the Bible, such as the Jewish Study Bible published by Oxford University Press. It’s also important that Christians should have a proper appreciation of Judaism, both as it existed during the Biblical period and afterwards. However, an edition of the Bible specifically pitched to Christians by a non-Christian with a view to influencing Christian theology seems to be a rather curious endeavour.

Christianity is not distinct from Judaism just because of “replacement theology” – the idea that Christianity has superseded Judaism – but because Judaism (with the exception of Messianic Judaism) does not accept that Jesus was the Messiah, and regards the idea of the Incarnation as incompatible with Judaism’s concept of God. US Evangelicalism, however, seems to have developed a compromise in which Judaism and Christianity are somehow essentially different perspectives on the same religion. In practical terms, this means there is no urgent need to evangelise Jews about Jesus – indeed, it seems to be more important for Jews to evangelise Christians about why they should identify with the modern State of Israel.

The Israel Bible comes with a slip-cover that shows David Ben-Gurion announcing the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, Israeli soldiers at the Western Wall in 1967, and an image of the Jerusalem Temple. It contains “commentaries that highlight verses that relate to Israel, including relevant quotes and perspectives from prime ministers”, as well as “contemporary commentary highlight[ing] the role of the modern State of Israel in the fulfillment of biblical prophecy”.

Note

1. Prophecy articles on Breaking Israel News include “End of Days Yellowstone Volcano Prophesied in Zechariah“; “Disaster Comet Nibiru Coming to Cleanse the World, Says Jewish Academic“; “Global Warming Prophesied as Punishment for Not Building Temple“; “The World is Facing the Final War of Gog and Magog Says Rabbinic Scholar“; and “Bible Codes Reflect What Brexit Wrought for Europe“. Its most recent contribution – inevitably – is “An End-Of-Days Guide to the Current Conflict in Syria“.

The Times Highlights “SyriaHoax” Academics

Satuday’s front-page splash at The Times:

Apologists for Assad working in British universities

Top academics claim chemical attacks were fake

Senior British academics are spreading pro-Assad disinformation and conspiracy theories promoted by Russia, The Times can reveal.

They are founders of a self-styled Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media (SPM) and hold posts at universities including Edinburgh, Sheffield and Leicester.

Members of the group, which includes four professors, have been spreading the slur, repeated by the Russian ambassador to Britain yesterday, that the White Helmets civilian volunteer force has fabricated video evidence of attacks by President Assad, who is backed by the Kremlin…

The Times has here “revealed” the the existence of a group that publicises itself via its own website, and which was subjected to effective critical scrutiny by Brian Whitaker on Medium in February. The group is certainly of journalistic interest, but the decision to make it the lead item seems to me to be to be overkill, and to describe the “four professors” as “top academics” is sensationalising.

Given that the article was published on Friday night, just as western airstrikes on Syria were about to get underway, one has to suspect that the intention was not so much to “reveal” the group as to set up a contrast between support for the strikes and dubious and invalid reasons for opposing (or being wary of) them. Thus a follow-up item was headlined “Academics accused of speaking for Assad condemn Syria raids”, and consisted mainly of Tweets and blog posts by members of the group.

The academics highlighted by the Times coverage are Dr Tara McCormack, a lecturer in international relations at Leicester University; Piers Robinson, professor of politics, society and political journalism at Sheffield University; Paul McKeigue, a professor of genetic epidemiology and statistical genetics at Edinburgh University; and Tim Hayward, professor of environmental political theory and also at Edinburgh University. The quotes provided in both Times articles (and a third) are not to their authors’ credit: Hayward has promoted a claim by Vanessa Beeley that the White Helmets had kidnapped and drugged children in order to fabricate the earlier gas attack on eastern Ghouta, while McCormack described the White Helmets as “basically Al [Qaeda]”. However, the print edition of the newspaper apparently contained one quote from another member, Louis Allday, that Allday has credibly shown to have been a misattribution.

Overall, the group comes across as dismissive and smug rather than critical and enquiring, and it is unlikely that any evidence of Assad’s culpability for gas attacks would be sufficient.This impression is strengthened in particular by Hayward’s uncritical use of the “SyriaHoax” hashtag (1), and by the group’s enthusiasm for Vanessa Beeley; as The Times notes:

Professor Hayward has written for the alternative news website 21st Century Wire, whose associate editor is Vanessa Beeley, daughter of the late British diplomat Sir Harold Beeley. She claims that the White Helmets are al-Qaeda-affiliated and, as “terrorists”, are a “legit target” for Assad’s forces.

Beeley, as I’ve noted previously, has attacked the White Helmets in the US on Infowars and in the UK on Brian Gerrish’s UK Column and the David Icke-affiliated Richie Allen Show.

The SPM’s advisory board includes “Mark Crispin Miller, who was said to have called the US government’s account of the 9/11 attacks a ‘conspiracy theory'”, and “David Blackall, an Australian academic who tweeted ‘CIA stages gas attack pretext for Syria escalation’ with a link to a blog article”.

The group’s activities appear to be extra-curricular, although participants use their academic credentials to promote their credibility. However, as Whitaker notes:

Last November the group set up a non-profit company called Organisation for Propaganda Studies (OPS)… The group also operates a website – propagandastudies.ac.uk – which is registered in the name of Sheffield University and is hosted on the university’s servers.

Note

1. According to The Times, the hashtag “went viral after being used by alt-right figures in the US, including Mike Cernovich, a main proponent of the ‘Pizzagate’ conspiracy theory… [and] was said to have been promoted by a Russian cyberoperation”. This seems to me to be stretching a point – most people use hashtags without delving into their origins. More on Cernovich and Pizzagate here.

A Note on US Evangelical Support for Efraín Ríos Montt

From the New York Times obituary of Efraín Ríos Montt:

In the panoply of commanders who turned much of Central America into a killing field in the 1980s, General Ríos Montt was one of the most murderous. He was convicted in 2013 of trying to exterminate the Ixil ethnic group, a Mayan Indian community whose villages were wiped out by his forces.

…In the late 1970s, after returning to Guatemala, General Ríos Montt reinvented himself. He took a Dale Carnegie course in human relations, abandoned Roman Catholicism, became a preacher in the California-based Church of the Word, and struck up friendships with American evangelists, including Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.

Ríos Montt’s links to Christian Right figures has long been notorious; here’s a discussion by Virginia Garrard-Burnett, as published in her 2010 book Terror in the Land of the Holy Spirit: Guatemala Under General Efrain Ríos Montt (p. 161-162):

…Mere days after the March 23 [1982] coup, Pat Robertson lauded Ríos Montt on The 700 Club as an anointed man of God for whom Americans should pray “day and night without ceasing.” Robertson also pledged that American evangelicals would donate $1 billion to his fledgling government, a contribution which, had it materialized (it did not) would have directly helped to circumvent the federal ban on U.S. military aid to Guatemala.

North American evangelicals who were outside the inner circle of the Moral Majority, in the thrall of new emerging evangelical news media, regarded Ríos Montt from afar with wide-eyed and naive optimism. (“Terrorists fear ‘New Source of Intelligence'” boasted one evangelical tabloid, “Holy Spirit Reveals Whereabouts of Guerilla [sic] Forces.”) This sector of true believers refused to be dissuaded by news of human rights violations, which many evangelical U.S. Christians dismissed, as one evangelical magazine put it, as “either totally wrong or totally perverted.” This media-victim perspective runs like a rich vein throughout Joseph Anfuso and David Sczepanski’s fawning 1983 biography of Ríos Montt, a work in English published by an evangelical press before it was translated into Spanish.

Meanwhile, one Church of the Word (“Verbo”) pastor allegedly told some visiting Pentecostals from California:

“The Army doesn’t massacre Indians. It massacres demons, and Indians are demons possessed; they are communists. We hold Brother Efrain Ríos Montt like King David of the Old Testament. He is the king of the New Testament”

The “evangelical tabloid” referenced above was The Forerunner, which was produced by the controversial Maranatha Campus Ministries; and after Ríos Montt was ousted in 1983, he was a keynote speaker at a conference sponsored by Maranatha’s Dennis Peacocke. Ríos Montt also held a speaking tour in the USA, organised by Ben Armstrong of the National Religious Broadcasters, which included appearances on Robertson’s 700 Club and on Jimmy Swaggart’s TV programme (1).

A little more can be said about the “fawning 1983 biography”, titled Efrain Rios Montt: Servant or Dictator?, for which Robertson provided the foreword. It was published by Vision House, of Ventura in California. The imprint was “a division of GL Publications” – “GL” here stood for “Gospel Light”, a company that was started by Henrietta Mears in 1933 specialising in Sunday School curricula. Mears also created GLINT (Gospel Literature International), which translates GL books and other evangelical works into other languages.

The book’s authors were members of Gospel Outreach in Eureka, California, which was the Church of the Word’s umbrella body. The two men featured in a 1983 New York Times profile of Gospel Outreach, which explained that the group had emerged out of the Jesus Movement; apparently “hundreds of ex-hippies” formed an initial commune in the town under the direction of one James Durkin, “now 58 years old, a real estate agent who had had an off-and-on career as a part- time minister for the Assembly of God Pentecostal church”.

Anfuso was the son of  Victor L. Anfuso, who was Democratic Congressman from Brooklyn in the 1950s, and he told the New York Times reporter that “he found a meaning to his life after climbing the Himalayas and discussing Eastern religion with Indian gurus.” In 2010, he published a memoir, Message in a Body, which came with a cover blurb by William Paul Young, author of the The Shack, and endorsements from the likes of James Goll and the president of World Vision US. A foreword was provided by Kevin Palau, son of the Argentinian-born evangelist Luis Palau.

Sczepanski, meanwhile, is the pastor of Durkin’s old church, now called the Gospel Outreach Reformational Church.

Note

1. Some details here are from Sara Diamond’s 1990 book Spiritual Warfare. This book is also cited by Garrard-Burnett as the source for the “Army doesn’t massacre Indians” quote, referring in turn to Sectas y religiosidad en America Latina, October 1984, produced by the Instituto Latinamericano de Estudios Transnationales. Diamond and Garrard-Burnett also both refer to support for Ríos Montt in Christianity Today.

Diamond further mentions the work of “Gospel Outreach, the Wycliffe Bible Translators/Summer Institute of Linguistics… and the Berhorst Foundation” among the Ixil; a PBS documentary called “The Gospel in Guatemala”, produced by Steve Talbot and Elizabeth Farmsworth; and, a few years later, Ríos Montt’s “Operation Whole Armor”, in which he and a Verbo missionary named Ronny Gilmore partnered with Bible Literature International of Ohio to distribute copies of the New Testament in Guatemala (pp. 167-168).

A Note on the Oldham “Trojan Horse” Libel Claim Outcome

From the website of Rahman Lowe Solicitors:

Rahman Lowe Solicitors have represented Mr [Nasim] Ashraf and Mrs [Hafizan] Zaman in their defamation claim against Associated Newspapers Ltd over MailOnline articles, which has been concluded successfully today.

MailOnline published a number of articles which falsely suggested that the couple were involved an Islamist campaign of intimidation to take over Clarksfield primary school in Oldham with the aim of imposing an aggressive and separatist Islamic agenda on the school. They now accept that such allegations are wholly unfounded and have apologised to Mr Ashraf and Mrs Zaman and have agreed to pay substantial damages and costs.

…Zillur Rahman of Rahman Lowe Solicitors and Mark Henderson of Doughty Street Chambers acted for the Claimants in this case. They have also acted for the Claimants in defamation claims against News Group Newspapers (“NGN”), Mirror Group Newspapers (“MGN”), and Telegraph Media Group (“TMG”) which have already concluded with payment of damages and published retractions and apologies for similar articles in The Sun, Daily Telegraph, and Mirror. Claims continue with respect to articles in The Express, The Times, and Sunday Times.

The articles were published on 19 and 20 February 2017, and the story originated with two pieces by Andrew Gilligan in the Sunday Times. The ST headlined one of its articles as “a new ‘Trojan Horse’ plot”, recalling allegations that emerged in March 2014 in relation to schools in Birmingham. The two stories, though, are quite separate, and should not be conflated. The term “Trojan Horse” was given in quote marks because the comparison had been drawn by the school’s headteacher, Trish O’Donnell.

Gilligan’s story was based on a confidential council report produced a couple of weeks earlier, which actually rejected any comparison with the Birmingham “Trojan Horse” claims. This is acknowledged in Gilligan’s reporting, but downplayed in relation to promoting O’Donnell’s view that the situations were comparable.

Ashraf gave an interview to the Guardian in September, in which he said that “he and his wife were accused of being at the centre of the conspiracy after they raised concerns about teaching and safeguarding issues.” According to the article:

Trish O’Donnell, who is on long-term sick leave, complained she was being subjected to “harassment and intimidation” in the form of “aggressive verbal abuse” from people allegedly pushing conservative Muslim values.

…However, the documents stated that while council officers believed Ashraf and his wife Hafizan Zaman were trying to undermine the headteacher, there was no evidence of a Trojan-horse-style plot. They added that Ashraf was not an extremist and “not part of any wider conspiracy”.

This, though, sidesteps the claim as reported by Gilligan that the same documents specifically refer to Ashraf as having been “extremely problematic”. Perhaps the documents were wrong to make this assessment, but if they are going to be cited in his favour then readers surely ought to have been given the full picture. Other specific claims in Gilligan’s report are unaddressed.

Gilligan referred to a 2014 Ofsted report which noted the “strong leadership” of the headmistress; by contrast, the Guardian reported Ashraf’s claim to have been vindicated by a 2017 report that found the school to be inadequate. Both Ofsted reports can be seen here.

Note

Gilligan’s articles are still online, although with a note added stating “This article is the subject of a legal complaint from Mr Nasim Ashraf and Mrs Hafizan Zaman”. For potential liability reasons I am not providing a direct link at this time.

A Note on Byline, “Freelance Demonstrators”, and Vote Fair’s Supposed “Link” to Max Mosley

From the Mail:

Freelance demonstrators protesting against Brexit were paid thousands of pounds by an organisation linked to Max Mosley, it emerged yesterday.

The campaigners, from a group called the Fair Vote Project, were hired to increase support for a second EU referendum during a protest in Parliament Square.

But it has emerged the group received a £25,000 donation from an organisation called Byline Festival in which Mr Mosley, the former F1 owner accused of printing a racist leaflet [in 1961], holds shares.

The obvious implication in the first two paragraphs is that the protest was a concocted stunt involving fake “protestors for hire” rather than being a genuine expression of a point of view, and that Mosley was behind it.

However, this initial impression is not substantiated by subsequent text further down the page:

[The Fair Vote Project] is reported to have hired up to 30 people to target thousands travelling to work to convince them of the need for a second referendum.

The teams, armed with megaphones and placards handed out leaflets in Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham and London. They urged people to join a protest in Parliament Square to call for a second and ‘fair’ vote.

This is advertising ahead of the protest, not something that happened “during” it, as implied above. Further, there is now a significant discrepancy when compared with the start of the article: first, we were told that Byline had “hired” the Fair Vote Project; now, it is explained that the Fair Vote Project hired someone else.

This last point probably reflects the fact that the article is a hurried re-write and abridgement of a piece that appeared in the Daily Telegraph, which was itself less than clear. Here’s an extract from the Telegraph version:

Freelance flash mobs have been paid thousands of pounds by a company linked to Max Mosley to target commuters at major cities to drum up support for a demonstration calling for a second EU referendum, The Telegraph can reveal.

The Fair Vote Project, founded by a consultant who worked for the anti-Brexit group Best for Britain that was set up by prominent Remain campaigner Gina Miller and part funded by George Soros, hired up to 30 people to target thousands of people travelling to work.

…The Telegraph has established that the Fair Vote Project received £25,000 funding from organisers of Byline Festival, a company in which Mr Mosley, the son of the British fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley [who died in 1980], hold shares.

…Peter Jukes, a director of BylineFest and its sister company Byline Media, said Mr Mosley owned a total of four percent in those companies, worth around £40,000. He is one of a about 13 investors.

As for the hiring, Fair Vote’s Kyle Taylor

…said his company had paid the events specialists, Coalition, £3,066 to help with “event management and safety” at the “emergency rally” in London.

That fee included paying the hired hands, freelancers Coalition hires for such events, £60 plus £10 travel expenses to leaflet and shout slogans through the megaphone from 6am to 10am in the four cities.

This clarifies that although the Fair Vote Project may have received £25,000 from Byline, only a fraction of that amount was used to promote the rally via a third party.

The emphasis on Max Mosley in both articles is obviously overegged and polemical. To say that the Fair Vote Project is “linked” to Mosley implies communication between them, and that Mosley has a direct and active interest in Fair Vote’s activities. In fact, though, Mosley is just one shareholder in Byline, and he paid no part in the decision to provide financial support to Fair Vote:

“He would have been unaware of the £25,000 invested and may even be a Brexiter,” Mr Jukes, 57, said.

Certainly, another figure associated with the Byline Festival, John Cleese, is pro-Brexit.

The polemical and distorted reporting above reflects not just the two newspapers’ support for Brexit, but also a pre-existing hostility against Byline and Peter Jukes over criticism of press practices in the UK and support for Hacked Off. Both papers previously targeted Byline after the Byline website wrote about John Whittingale, as I discussed here.

A Note on “Mear One” And Jeremy Corbyn

From California, a distress call on Twitter from street artist “Mear One”:

A UK politician has reignited a smear campaign against me and a mural I painted in Shoreditch over 5 years ago depicting a group of banksters playing a game of monopoly on the backs of the working class. @Lukewearechange @davidicke @DollarVigilante

Reaching out to David Icke for help is perhaps not the most sensible move for someone credibly accused of anti-Semitism, but “Mear One” – aka Kalen Ockerman – shares Icke’s view that the world is full of shadowy elites and supernatural powers, clues to which he sees in phenomena such as the ancient elongated skulls of the Paracas culture.

Thus it is not a great surprise that the artist’s critique of capitalism is conspiratorial, and fixated on the idea of particularly malign individuals manipulating the world through secret networks. Mear One’s Shoreditch mural  appeared to portray generic “greedy bankers”, although he has since clarified that the figures are “Rothschild, Rockefeller, Morgan, Aleister Crowley, Carnegie & Warburg” – only two of these are Jewish, but his caricatures focus on physical features that obviously recall anti-Semitic cartoons.

In another version of the same work, apparently titled False Profits, the artist presents a different line-up. As listed by a retailer selling prints of the image, the figures in this version are:

BOTTOM ROW L. TO R. DAVID ROCKEFELLER, ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI, EVELYN ROTHSCHILD, JACOB ROTHSCHILD, GEORGE SOROS, NICKY OPPENHEIMER

The print version also includes another, ghostly, set of figures standing behind them:

ILLUMINATI FOREFATHERS TOP ROW L. TO R. ALBERT PIKE, MAYER CARL FREIHERR VON ROTHSCHILD, ADAM WEISHAUPT, MAYER AMSCHEL DE ROTHSCHILD.

Mear One’s mural obviously reflects his belief that the world is controlled by an elite conspiracy of Jews and Freemasons; as such, it is difficult to sympathise with his complaint that he is the victim of a “smear campaign”.

Those who propound views of this sort sometimes complain that they are not being anti-Semitic because they are not claiming that all the world’s Jews are in on the conspiracy, which is instead a “clique”. But as I’ve noted before, this distinction is meaningless. “Rothschild” conspiracy mongering emerged out of explicit anti-Semitism (as discussed by Brian Cathcart here), and as a paranoid pseudo-explanation for human affairs it is the gateway back into back it. This process is evident from Mear One himself, who when the mural was removed back in 2012 stated that “some of the older white Jewish folk in the local community had an issue with me portraying their beloved #Rothschild or #Warburg etc as the demons they are”.

As has now been widely reported, the mural is currently controversial again due to a comment about it made by Jeremy Corbyn in 2012, long before his unexpected rise to leader of the UK Labour Party. Corbyn, responding directly to a Facebook post by the artist, notoriously compared it to Diego Rivera’s lost mural from the Rockefeller Center. Corbyn has a long history of anti-racist activism, and he has never expressed “Rothschild”-type conspiracy views, but obviously this comment was not to his credit. Presumably he simply saw a generic anti-capitalist cartoon, but he ought to have been alert to the anti-Semitic caricatures, and wary of the crudeness of the image. The depiction of the pyramid and Eye of Providence behind the bankers ought to have set off a “crank radar”, at the very least.

Worse, though, is that Corbyn didn’t just miss the obvious – he knew that objections had been made, but he didn’t bother to look into them before giving the work his vote of confidence. This suggests a doctrinaire character – someone whose judgements are based on preconceptions rather than the specific evidence in specific situations. Perhaps the demands and responsibilities of being Leader of the Opposition are broadening his outlook, but if so it will be a late blossoming.

“Rothschild” conspiricism has been festering within parts of the UK Labour Party – I looked at a couple of examples here and here.

UPDATE: Mear One has now written a defence of his mural, which has been published on David Icke’s website:

I decided the only platform, apart from my own, that I will choose to speak through is this one. I thank David Icke and Gareth Icke and their team for allowing me this opportunity to offer my side of the story, uncut and uncensored, for those who are awoken.

…Mayer Amschel Rothschild once said, “Give me control of a nation’s money and I care not who makes the laws.” Using this as my ideological starting point, I chose to depict the likenesses of such early turn of the century Robber Barons, specifically Rothschild, Rockefeller, Morgan, Carnegie, Warburg, as well Aleister Crowley who was a kind of philosophical guru to the ruling elite of that time and a well-known Satanist. 

In fact, the quote attributed to Mayer Amschel Rothschild first appeared in English in 1913, a hundred years after his death, and there is no evidence of a German original – but either way, the idea that it amounts to a revelation that explains the workings of the world is a wild extrapolation.

Crowley was an anti-Semite (“Israel has corrupted the world, whether by conquest, by conversion, or by conspiracy. The Jew has eaten his way into everything”), and as such his appearance as one of Mear One’s villains might be evidence in the artist’s favour. However, within the conspiracy milieu Crowley’s “Satanism” is conflated with the Jewish mystical tradition via Hermetic Qabalah; and his role in the mural is simply as a sinister association that underscores the moral turpitude of the depicted bankers.

In reality, Crowley didn’t know these people, and if he held influence over bankers one wonders why it was that he died in reduced financial circumstances.

UPDATE 2: Mear One’s sequence of “Rothschild, Rockefeller, Morgan, Carnegie, Warburg, as well Aleister Crowley” has led to some of the figures in the mural being misidentified, as in the annotated version below. Crowley is obviously the bald character (although he’s a bit thin), but he is here mistaken for Andrew Carnegie; knocking on from this, Carnegie becomes Paul Warburg and Paul Warburg becomes Crowley. This obscures the overemphasis on Warburg’s nose.