BBC Sacranie Interview Airs

I’m back in the land of dial-up modems for a few weeks (hence one reason for the lack of recent postings), but one upside is that I was able to watch Sunday’s Panorama on the Muslim Council of Britain, which the Observer discussed last week (I blogged on their reporting here).

The programme was made by BBC journalist John Ware, and has, as expected, led to controversy. The MCB’s response can be seen here, and it makes some comments about Ware’s understanding of Islam that I would agree with (particularly his odd claim that most British Muslims are Sufis, and that this makes them non-political). The BBC has received 250 complaints, while yesterday’s Guardian carried a critical opinion piece by Madeleine Bunting:

Ware veered erratically from the McCarthyite absurd to some legitimate accusations. First on the charge sheet were examples of the former: the “conviction that Islam is a superior faith and culture which Christians and Jews in the west are conspiring to undermine”, and a “distaste for western secular culture”. This is ridiculous; I’ve yet to meet a member of any faith who doesn’t believe in the superiority of their beliefs, while fear of being undermined is similarly common. Since when has “distaste” become a cause for suspicion?

I would agree with Bunting with her point about faith, but her “McCarthyite” claim lacks balance, as does her charge that the programme was “a powerful boost for the increasingly widespread view that there is no such thing as a moderate Muslim” (Ware has responded to Bunting today). In fact, a good proportion of the programme provided a showcase for moderate British Muslim figures who deserve higher profiles: these included Taj Hargey; Mehboob Kantharia (a founder of the MCB), and Musa Admani of London Metropolitan University.

Much of the programme was focused on Iqbal Sacranie, the general secretary of the MCB who reportedly spent the days before the broadcast lobbying critical voices to withdraw from participation in the programme. Sacranie responded to numerous questions from Ware, in places putting him right about how the MCB works. From the transcript:

John Ware: Isn’t it important for you as the leader of the Muslim community in Britain to put the Imam of the Leeds Mosque right when he says that the war in Iraq is about plotting to decrease the faith of Islam.

Sir Iqbal Sacranie: Our job is not to go and monitor what every single Imam in this country is delivering at the Friday Khutbah. This is perhaps an over estimation of what we as a community organisation can do. We have representatives from across the country, organisations that take our view, it’s such a diverse group of membership that we can only agree upon.

Bunting claims this question reveals Ware’s “lack of comprehension of the Muslim community”; it seems to me a rather uncontroversial journalistic exchange. Elsewhere in the interview, Sacranie performs less well, as he is asked about Palestinian suicide bombings:

John Ware: Do you think targeting Israeli civilians is terrorism?

Sir Iqbal Sacranie: Targeting any innocent people in any part of the world, any part, is an act of terror, whether it’s carried out by individuals, whether this is carried out by groups or whether it’s carried out by states, all fits in the definition of terrorism.

But why can’t Sacranie just say yes or no? It’s not a trivial point: Islamists believe that there are no innocent Israelis, because of universal conscription (Israeli children are therefore just future soldiers). Ware presses on:

John Ware: So if Hamas is targeting civilians in Israel, that’s terrorism, is it?

Sir Iqbal Sacranie: Well, I’ve explained to you.

John Ware: No, no…

Sir Iqbal Sacranie: Hold on, whether it is Hamas, whether it is Israel, whether it’s anybody else, any part of the world, we have no distinction. Why are you making it such a difficult question? In simple answer to it, loss of innocent civilian life, we make no distinction between the life of a Palestinian or the life of a Jew.

Now, here the transcript is kind to Sacranie. In fact, on TV it seems that he was about to mention “Israeli civilians”, but this brought on a weird stuttering fit. What he actually said was:

…we make no distinction between the life of a Palestinian or the life of a of a of of a Jew.

Overall, Ware was hard on Sacranie, but no more so than such a public figure should be expected to take. Sacranie came across not so much as a fanatic (despite his wish for a law that would ban Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses), but more as a rather weak character unwilling to say things that might upset fundamentalists among his constituency.

After the interview was recorded, the MCB’s first response was to whinge about Jewish conspiracies (or “highly placed supporters of Israel in the British media”, as they put it) for subjecting Sacranie to awkward questions. They would do better to take on board the criticisms of the alternative Muslim voices that Ware has been good enough to bring to our attention.

Muslim Council of Britain Responds to Observer

Following Sunday’s reports in the Observer, the Muslim Council of Britain makes a spirited defence (all hyperlinks in quotes added by me):

In an extraordinary attack today, The Observer (Sunday 14th August 2005) has published a front page article, a two page ‘Investigation‘ on pages eight and nine, together with an editorial, all seeking to vilify the Muslim Council of Britain.

Over three years ago, the Home Affairs editor at The Observer, Martin Bright, achieved some notoriety amongst British Muslims when he penned a cover story for the New Statesman (10th December 2001) entitled ‘The Great Koran Con Trick.’ In that piece, Bright tried his hardest – and quite miserably failed – to disprove the Divine origin of the Holy Qur’an.

Actually, that earlier article was rather weak, and annoyed some of the scholars whom Bright cited as evidence for his attack. Patricia Crone called the piece “offensive to Islamicists” (i.e. scholars of Islam); Gerald Hawting of SOAS decried “The spurious air of conspiracy and censorship conjured up in Martin Bright’s article” (Toby Lester wrote a better piece for the Atlantic back in 1999).

To give the substance of the current dispute: Martin Bright claims that the MCB has an underserved moderate reputation. Bright’s main complaint:

Far from representing the more progressive or spiritual traditions within Islam, the leadership of the Muslim Council of Britain and some of its affiliates sympathise with and have links to conservative Islamist movements in the Muslim world and in particular Pakistan’s Jamaat-i-Islami, a radical party committed to the establishment of an Islamic state in Pakistan ruled by sharia law.

…Jamaat-i-Islami activists in Pakistan have been involved in protests against images of women on adverts in public places. The organisation’s founder, Maulana Maududi, was a fierce opponent of feminism who believed that women should be kept in purdah – seclusion from male company. Although the MCB’s leadership distances itself from some of these teachings, it has been criticised for having no women prominently involved in the organisation.

The MCB disputes the lack of women involved. It also claims that:

Bright mentions that senior MCB figures have said that Mawlana Mawdudi – the founder of the Jamaat-i-Islami party was an ‘important Islamic thinker’ (and indeed he was) and that they share some of his views while disagreeing with others. The Jamaat-i-Islami party happens to be a perfectly legitimate and democratic party which through an alliance with other parties is actually in power in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan (one of four provinces in Pakistan).

Jamaat-I-Islami is, however, rather more controversial than that. The BBC reported at the beginning of this month that:

Pakistan’s Supreme Court has begun hearing a challenge to a law introducing a Taleban-style moral code in North-West Frontier Province (NWFP).

…”This is our right to reform society and its ills according to the ideology and according to the traditions and customs and teachings of the Koran,” Qazi Hussain Ahmed, leader of the Jamaat-i-Islami, told the BBC.

…The plan is reminiscent of the infamous Department of Vice and Virtue, set up by the Taleban regime in Afghanistan.

Under the new law, the principal duty of the cleric, called “mohtasib” – one who holds other accountable – will be to ensure people respect the call to prayers, pray on time and do not engage in commerce at the time of Friday prayers.

He will also stop unrelated men and women from appearing in public places together, and discourage singing and dancing.

Back in 2003, the Christian Science Monitor traced links between Jamaat-I-Islami and al-Qaeda, and noted the following assessment (tipped from Harry’s Place):

“The Jamaat has never condemned 9/11, and denies that Al Qaeda is a terrorist organization. This is a group that believes 9/11 was carried out by Jews in America,” says Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani author on terror issues. “The really scary thing is that this is also the most moderate Islamic party in Pakistan.”

Bright also notes that:

The MCB has now written to the BBC’s director general, Mark Thompson, to complain about the programme in which reporter John Ware will challenge [Sir Iqbal] Sacranie, [the MCB’s Secretary General,] to justify his boycott of Holocaust Memorial Day and clarify the MCB’s position on Palestinian suicide bombers. In the letter, Inayat Bunglawala, the MCB’s media spokesman says: ‘It appears that the Panorama team is more interested in furthering a pro-Israeli agenda than assessing the work of Muslim organisations in the UK.’

The MCB notes that the letter is on its website, and complains that Bright did not explain their concerns properly. From the letter itself:

Remarkably, nearly all the questions that were put to Sir Iqbal Sacranie by the Panorama team were directly or indirectly about Israel. These included questions to do with the Holocaust Memorial Day, Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi and Shaykh Ahmad Yasin (the former leader of Hamas who was assassinated by Israel in 2004) and statements that have been made by the MCB affiliates, the Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith, The Islamic Foundation and the Muslim Association of Britain concerning Zionism and the struggle for Palestinian rights.

The BBC should not allow itself to be used by the highly placed supporters of Israel in the British media to make political capital out of the July 7th atrocities in London.

Maybe the Panorama interviewer was unbalanced (although we expect tough interviews in the UK); but one would have thought Sacranie would have welcomed the opportunity to put the record straight – unless, of course, he recognises a conflict between his own views and creating a palatable public image. The MCB’s rebuttal to Bright also declines to clarify its stance on killing Israeli civilians, although it talks vaguely about “Palestinian rights” (a cause to which I am committed, by the way). However, back in July the MCB’s Inayat Bunglawala (the author of the letter) agreed with a BBC interviewer that Israeli occupation cannot justify Palestinian suicide bombings, although the MCB would not cut off an affiliate who supports such attacks.

The MCB response continues with this most curious paragraph:

Meanwhile, The Observer’s editorial, condemns the MCB’s refusal to attend the Holocaust Memorial Day while notably neglecting to mention the reason why the MCB has taken this stance since the Holocaust Memorial Day was instituted in 2001. The MCB has called for a more inclusive ‘Genocide Memorial Day’ to be commemorated and believes that this would make the ‘Never Again’ subtext of the Day more effective and pertinent to today’s world. By singling out the Holocaust Memorial Day as a central reason to demonise the MCB, The Observer has, unwittingly, thereby served to confirm the MCB’s argument that there is indeed an ‘Israel test’ to which British Muslims are being subjected to.

So, the BBC asked Sacranie awkward questions because of “highly placed supporters of Israel”. Attending a Holocaust memorial is an “Israel test”. The Jamaat-i-Islami reportedly blames Jews for 9/11. This is going down a very unfortunate route…

One place where the MCB has a point, though, is here:

Martin Bright holds that the depiction in pictorial form of the Prophet Muhammad is only opposed by ‘some strict Muslims.’ This is a complete misrepresentation of the actual position which is that the vast majority of Muslims throughout the world regard any pictorial depiction of the Prophet as forbidden.

Bright may be a good politics journalist, but he does show a certain weakness when it comes to the details of faith. Perhaps he ought to run his copy by the Observer‘s religious affairs correspondent in future.

Musical Interlude

I don’t usually use this blog just to plug stuff, but for those not in the know, the CD producer Naxos has one of the best sites on the whole web: for just , you can stream thousands of their classical music recordings, which range from Gregorian Chant to modern Japanese composers, with pretty much everything else in between (including such obscure sub-genres as “Model Operas of the Cultural Revolution”).

Among their new releases for this month is the amazing Passio et Resurrectio by Sergio Rendine. From the notes:

This music is made of flesh, as well as spirit; nerves, as well as spirit; anxiety, uncertainty, fear, pain and confusion, as well as spirit.

…The Easter cantata Passio et Resurrectio is a musical setting of the feelings expressed by ordinary people about the most important event in the church calendar. It takes its inspiration from local folk traditions (themselves rooted in ancient rituals) which survived until very recently in the rural areas of Abruzzo, Campania and Puglia.

And from a review:

Where do I start to try to tell you what to expect? At one moment it returns to sacred music dating back in the Baroque era; the next it is in a raucous North African folk idiom; then some haunting minimalism. I hear Puccini and a flute solo in Stabat Mater that would form a beautiful backdrop to a sentimental Hollywood scene, with a serene choral passage that follows. The Agnus Dei – the work’s most extended movement – opens with a soprano solo that could have come from somewhere around Verdi’s time. And so the music progresses, with ‘pop’ music added for good measure. Bernstein’s Mass springs to mind as a previous venture into such mixed media. Try two short tracks 5 and 6 to sample its varying moods. It is a unique experience, and I can only comment that the performance has tremendous impact.

It’s really quite incredible – and the disk itself only costs five quid (that’s about $10)!

The Gatumba Massacre One Year On

A letter in the Guardian that deserves some wider dissemination (links added):

On August 13 2004, 152 Congolese Tutsis were shot, hacked and burned to death, by members of the Hutu-extremist group Palipehutu-FNL at the Gatumba refugee camp in western Burundi. The attack was the largest of a series of FNL atrocities. In December 2000, my sister Charlotte Wilson was among 21 people killed in an attack on a bus close to the Burundi capital. When the FNL claimed responsibility for Gatumba, they boasted the international community was powerless to stop them. A year on, it looks as if they were right.

The UN launched an investigation and passed two resolutions urging that the killers be brought to justice. The Burundi government produced an arrest warrant for the FNL leader Agathon Rwasa and declared its intention to refer the case to the international criminal court. Yet the UN investigation has now been suspended and the US has blocked efforts to refer the case to the ICC. When Rwasa appeared in Tanzania earlier this year, the Tanzanian president shook his hand, declaring that the FNL leader’s emergence was a great step forward for peace. At the end of May, the FNL signed a ceasefire with the Burundi government. Days later, the FNL launched mortar attacks on the Burundi capital.

The FNL has repeatedly attacked civilians since my sister was killed. The UN’s policy of quietly forgetting such crimes has not worked.

Richard Wilson

A blog devoted to bringing Rwasa to justice can be seen here, and it has an article about Charlotte Wilson’s death here. A full account of the attack on Gatumba can be found on the website of Human Rights Watch. HRW includes this detail:

The attackers came across the marsh from the direction of the border…Then they moved towards the refugee camp, playing drums, ringing bells, blowing whistles, and singing religious songs in Kirundi. At least two local residents heard them sing, “God will show us how to get to you and where to find you.”36 One other heard shouts of “Ingabo Z’Imana,” “[We are] the army of God.” Many reported hearing attackers sing choruses of “Allelluia” and “Amen.”37

Rwasa is reportedly a minister of religion, but details are weirdly vague. Early in 2003 United Methodist Bishop J. Alfred Ndoricimpa addressed a cross-party group of British MPs on the subject of Burundi; the meeting included the following exchange:

Mel McNulty: In order to move forward with the peace process, the Palipehutu-FNL need to be brought in [Remember, this was before the massacre – RB]. Is Agathon Rwasa a 7th Day Adventist? Are the FNL religious in ideology or is religion simply used to motivate the troops? Can the Inter-Religious council help to reach the fighters?

Bishop Ndoricimpa: Rwasa says that he is a Roman Catholic, the Burundian Government say that he is a 7th Day Adventist.

(Ndoricimpa died just a few days ago, as it happens. This obit notes that he “repeatedly had been denied a visa to enter the United States”)

The Global IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) Project claims that the FNL is “driven by a Protestant Christian ideology claiming that the Hutus have a divine right over the country”. Quoting the International Crisis Group (from a 2002 document), it adds that:

There is also a strong suspicion that millenarist religious movements as well as some local adventist churches fund the FNL, which claims to be fighting to realise a millenarist prophecy of liberation from Tutsi oppression.”

In December 2003 Archbishop Simon Ntamwana (himself a Hutu) accused the FNL of the fatal shooting of Monsignor Michael Courtney, the Papal Nuncio (and an Irish citizen) – which the FNL denied, while simultaneously ordering Ntamwana to leave the country (an order he has ignored); Hutu rebels had murdered his (Tutsi) predecessor, Joachim Ruhuna, in 1996 (later, a captured rebel claimed the Courtney killing had been an accident).


HRW footnotes:

[36] Human Rights Watch interviews, Bujumbura August 19 and Gatumba, August 22, 2004.

[37] Human Rights Watch interviews, Gatumba, August 18, 2004.

WND’s Favourite Kahanist Linked to Shfaram Killer

A couple of days ago I blogged on Aaron Klein’s WorldNetDaily coverage of the recent shooting incident in Shfaram, Israel. Eden Natan-Zada, a 19-year old army deserter from the West Bank settlement of Tapuach, killed four Arab Israelis before being lynched. Klein described the lynching as murder, but declined to be so judgemental about Natan-Zada’s own actions. His reports also contained gushing tributes to the dead killer, which I speculated were arranged through Klein’s links with the Israeli far right, particularly David Ha’ivri. Many of Klein’s Israel reports are little more than press releases for Ha’ivri, a Kahanist who organises regular protests at the Temple Mount.

It looks like my hunch was correct. From the Forward:

In April, Natan-Zada participated in a march to the Temple Mount — banned and blocked by the Israeli police — that was led by a right-wing Tapuach rabbi, David Ha’ivri. Both men were among the 30 or so people arrested at the event, according to Israeli Defense Ministry officials.

And here’s something else of interest about Ha’ivri (links added):

Ha’ivri, a student of Kahane, is one of a number of Tapuach residents with ties to American organizations. He was hosted during a fundraising tour last fall by a number of Chabad-Lubavitch synagogues in the United States as well as by Americans for a Safe Israel, the organization that has led the most prominent anti-disengagement rallies. The tour came just six months after Ha’ivri was arrested by Israeli authorities for “incitement to violence.”

…In terms of ideology and fundraising, “there’s a pretty thin line between the Americans for a Safe Israel and the Kahanists,” said University of Pennsylvania political scientist Ian Lustick, one of the few scholars who has studied Jewish extremist groups in depth.

Americans for a Safe Israel has been noted on this blog before. It is run by Herbert Zweibon, and has played in prominent role in rallying Christian Zionists (whom Zweibon appears to believe are anti-Semites beneath the surface) on behalf of Greater Israel. Gary Bauer, the late Ed McAteer and the Apostolic Congress’s Robert Upton have been particularly involved with it.

(story tipped from Failed Messiah)

UPDATE: Terry Krepel of ConWebWatch charts the whole history of Klein’s reporting on the Israeli far-right. His conclusion:

…perhaps…WND should explain why a person who appears to be little more than a PR man for an extremist movement with a history of violence is working as its Jerusalem reporter.

Abstinence in Africa

ASSIST Ministries has another interesting profile (link added):

Professor Dick Day, founder of Sub-Saharan Africa Family Enrichment (SAFE), and co-author with Josh McDowell of the bestselling book “Why Wait? What you need to know about the teenage sexuality crisis”.

Day apparently first came to notice for teaching abstinence in Malawi:

Day happened to be in Malawi on a one-year teaching sabbatical in 1990 when he and his wife Charlotte observed the magnitude of the African crisis firsthand. Horrified, they knew the “Why Wait” message was desperately needed there and decided to remain in Malawi to address the problem.

Word about their Christian-based approach stressing abstinence and faithfulness spread to leaders in surrounding countries. President and Mrs. Museveni of Uganda had particularly receptive ears for the message. Museveni already was bucking the prevailing tide of world opinion by refusing to embrace condoms as the solution to his country’s woes. “I don’t support the idea of condoms myself,” he told the VII International AIDS Conference in 1991.

Instead, Uganda adopted an A-B-C approach to fighting AIDS: Abstinence, Be faithful, use condoms—in that order. “Museveni came out and said there is a place for condoms, but they’re not the solution to the problem,” Day notes.

In 1992, Mrs. Museveni of Uganda invited Day to be the principal speaker at a newly organized youth forum in Kampala. His “Why Wait” message seemed to resonate. “The response from the parents and youth was so positive we did a national one the following year,” Day says. The Uganda Youth Forum became a national event attended by thousands of young people each year.

Museveni has been lauded for his successful results, most famously by George Bush, although there is debate over the official Ugandan statistics, which put the infection rate at 6%, and concern that the role of condoms is being downplayed and marginalized under pressure from the US (see these reports from Human Rights Watch and the Alan Guttmacher Institute).

Back in Malawi, successes have been rather more modest and uncertain. In 2003 UNAIDS reported that

The urban adult prevalence is 23% compared to 12.4% in rural areas. The average life expectancy has dropped to just 39 years. However, there is evidence indicating that HIV prevalence has stabilized over the past seven years at 14–15%. Lilongwe [the capital city] has demonstrated a decline in HIV infection rates among young women (15–24 years) attending antenatal care from 26% in 1996 to 17% in 2003 and among all attendees from 26% in 1998 to 17% in 2003.

Although UNAIDS mentions that “A State Faith Task Force on HIV/AIDS was established with UNAIDS facilitation to enhance the involvement of religious organizations”  in “the fight against HIV/AIDS”, the improvements are put down to anti-corruption efforts, testing, treatment, and information. More recent reports are less optimistic: in February this year the health minister said the county was “increasingly unable to cope”.

Day explains his own approach further in another document (link added):

“WHY WAIT? Africa” was initially presented in 1992 at the first annual week-long Uganda Youth Conference, hosted by First Lady Janet Museveni. In 1993, the Malawi Ministry of Education requested Sub-Saharan Africa Family Enrichment (SAFE) to develop an African-oriented curriculum addressing sexual abstinence, life skills and character development that could be used in schools to help address the HIV/AIDS pandemic. The first draft of the WHY WAIT?/Family Enrichment curriculum was drafted by University of Malawi Professor Moira Chimombo. In 1994, the first teacher training and training of trainers (TOTs) workshops were conducted. The WHY WAIT? programme was launched nationally at a convocation of 3,000 students and 500 teachers hosted by State President Bakili Muluzi at Sanjika Palace in 1995.

Day also claims some concrete successes:

…The year prior to the introduction of the WHY WAIT? programme in Ndirande Primary School, 121 girls dropped out due to pregnancies. After the implementation of the WHY WAIT? programme, for two years in Standards 4 through 8, the pregnancy drop-out was reduced to zero.

Meanwhile, a report from Rob and Patricia Williams describes the involvement of Campus Crusade for Christ in what appears to be a complementary program (link added):

In the country of Malawi in Africa in the late 1980’s, Dick Day and Josh McDowell (authors of “Why Wait”) were touring and ministering on the topic of abstinence while presenting the Gospel. The Minister of Education in Malawi approached Dick Day and asked if curriculum could be created based on this message to be taught in the schools. Campus Crusade responded and the ministry CrossRoads was born.

CrossRoads exists to equip national leaders to connect with their target audiences to share the gospel through this AIDS-based curriculum. But its uniqueness is that it involves parent-student involvement, peer involvement, school-community outreach, and teacher-student connection.

CrossRoads exists to equip national leaders to connect with their target audiences to share the gospel through this AIDS-based curriculum. But its uniqueness is that it involves parent-student involvement, peer involvement, school-community outreach, and teacher-student connection.

Day also (not surprisingly, given his association with Biblical literalist Josh McDowell) appears to link his anti-AIDS campaign to anti-evolutionism. Back to ASSIST:

Your world view determines your values, which determines your behavior,” Day notes. “We’re engaged in ideological warfare,” he says. “Are we evolving animals? Or is there a God-given dignity that can be expressed in our sexuality?”

The implementation of Day’s educational curriculum in these countries faces some obstacles. “IF we can keep kids in school we have 10 years to build a biblical world view,” he says.

It seems that for Day, the war against HIV/AIDS is also a war against science itself on behalf of the Bible.

UPDATE: More on HIV in Uganda today.

Ian Paisley to Advise Queen?

The Daily Telegraph 1998:

Ian Paisley, Democratic Unionist Party leader, criticised the Queen for welcoming the deal struck in Ulster on Good Friday and hit out at reports that the Queen was considering a visit to Dublin.

He said: “She is very foolish to do what she is doing, I don’t think the people of Northern Ireland will take kindly to it. She has become a parrot…”

The Irish Times 2005:

DUP leader the Rev Ian Paisley is being tipped for elevation to Queen Elizabeth’s Privy Council…The Privy Council goes back to the earliest days of monarchy, when it comprised those appointed to advise the king or queen on matters of state.

Just goes to show that it’s not all fun being Queen. Ian Paisley, it should be remembered, also denounced the Queen’s mother and sister for committing “spiritual adultery and fornication” by visiting the Pope; decried the Ulster Unionist Party for running a Jewish candidate; described Northern Ireland Catholics as multiplying “like vermin”, and ran a “Save Ulster from Sodomy” campaign. But we can be hopeful that Elizabeth will know how to handle the old bigot: any nonsense and she can retaliate with one of her famous impersonations of him.


(Tipped from New Humanist)

Hal Lindsey’s Cartoon Jews

Following on from my previous entry, a titbit from WND‘s other Kahanist fellow-traveller, Hal Lindsey. The funny thing is, while Lindsey is as about as pro-Israel and anti-Palestinian as they come, it seems he has a bit of a soft spot for Bible-based anti-Semitism. At least, if I’m reading the latest Hal Lindsey Orifice Oracle Cartoon correctly, in which fat hook-nosed Jews scowl as Jesus tells them they will one day receive the anti-Christ. The artist, John Rule, seems to be a bit protective of his copyright, so I’ll just reproduce an extract here:


WND Chai!

ConWebWatch gets to grips with WorldNetDaily’s Jerusalem correspondent Aaron Klein, a man whose constant shilling for the fringes of the Israeli far right has been discussed on this blog before. The topic concerns the 4 August shooting incident at Shfaram. As Klein described it at the time:

A mob of Palestinians tonight murdered a Jewish Israeli man in a police uniform…

What, they killed a policeman?

…after he opened fire on a bus and killed four Arabs, allegedly in protest of the Gaza withdrawal plan.

The word “murder” does not appear again. Klein briefly mentions the police designation of the shootings as “Jewish terrorism” before giving us some background to the killer’s home settlement in the West Bank (or “Judea and Samaria”, in WND house style):

[Eden Natan] Zada’s hometown of Tapuach is well-known for its high-profile activist residents, most of whom are former members of the Kahane-Chai movement and its various off-shoots. Rabbi Meir Kahane, assassinated in New York in 1990, was founder of the Jewish Defense League. Kach and Kahane Chai, the Israeli branches of his organization, were outlawed in 1994 following statements in support of Baruch Goldstein, a Kach member who carried out a shooting attack against Arabs at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron.

A “shooting attack” that left 29 civilians dead, Klein doesn’t bother to add (and while Klein is elsewhere happy to discuss “Palestinian terrorists”, when Palestinians and Israeli-Arabs are the victims they become merely “Arabs”, as ConWebWatch notes). Of course, Klein knows all about Kach – one of his favourite informants is David Ha’ivri, whose regular rallies at the Temple Mount, designed to stir up Palestinians and cause difficulties for the Gaza disengagement, can always count on a lot of free publicity from WND (in fact, there’s a new one of these just now).

The New York Daily News describes Ha’ivri as “cited by Israel as one of the Kahane movement’s central figures”; one suspects he arranged for Klein to meet Zada’s friends and acquaintances, whose tributes and excuses for the shooting precede cursory coverage of condemnations.

The Ark-Eologists

Vendyl Jones has now disassociated himself from claims reported in May that he will find the Ark of the Covenant by August 14. As explained on his website:

What he actually said was that it would be very appropriate IF he could discover the Ark by Tisha B’Av [14 August]. At this time it is obviously not going to happen. However, as soon as the funding permits, he will be in Israel to drill the bore hole and proceed with the dig to uncover the Tabernacle and the Ark. We are hoping that this will be in September.

So all those months of massive publicity were just some misunderstanding. His website also contains the following titbit:

It may be hard to believe but Vendyl has no connection with the popular motion picture character [Indiana Jones].

So was this also a misquote?:

Jones’ escapades and explorations were the inspiration for the blockbuster movie ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ of the ‘Indiana Jones’ trilogy. The man who wrote the first draft of the film, Randolph Fillmore, was one of the volunteers who worked with Jones in 1977.

“I agreed to help him write the movie,” Jones said, “as long as – number one – he wouldn’t set it here (In Israel). Some people believe the ark is in Ethiopia or Egypt, some believe its in Constantinople or Rome. I just didn’t want it to be portrayed as being here. The second thing was, ‘Don’t use my name.’ So he didn’t. My name is Vendyl – V-E-N-D-Y-L. So he just dropped the first and last letters and it ended up Endy Jones.”

(Actually, this site dedicated to the movie gives a very different account:

…while Lucas was still trying to complete the script of his space adventure now called Star Wars, he met with director Philip Kaufman and the idea of the adventurous archaeologist emerged during a conversation…Kaufman, remembering a story he had heard by his dentist when he was a child, introduced the Ark of the Covenant as the story’s plot device.

…Lucas suggested that Spielberg should find a writer of his choice, so he set out to find the person who would put their adventurous ideas on paper. Spielberg proposed Lawrence Kasdan.

…The film’s main character would be named Indiana Smith after Lucas’ beloved female Alaskan Malamute dog, Indiana…Spielberg didn’t like the name Smith…Lucas then suggested the Jones name.

“Randolph Fillmore” is completely absent from the story)

As I blogged back in May, Vendyl Jones believes that the famous Copper Scroll is the key to finding the Ark. The scroll was found with the Dead Sea Scrolls, although its relationship to the other documents is disputed. It is possible that the scroll contains a guide to finding treasure taken from the Second Temple just before its destruction in 70CE, but there is no evidence that the Ark ever resurfaced after the destruction of the First Temple in 587BCE. Jones’s reading of the Scroll also seems to be based in some sort of contentious code. However, Jones believes that he has found the correct location, and that when the holy object is revealed through his Ark-hole Ariel Sharon’s government will be “history” and will be replaced by the far-right theocratic “Sanhedrin” he is associated with.

But Jones has some rivals. First off, The Jewish Press reports on one Barry Roffman, an orthodox Jew and US Coast Guard Lieutenant. Roffman believes the location of the Ark is hidden in a secret code written in the Torah, and was placed in Egypt by Jeremiah “to prevent a nuclear war between Israel and its enemies” (here’s a sample of his work). His book on the subject has a foreword by Robert Haralick of the Torah Code Society, although a 1999 report from the Jerusalem Post (reposted here) recounts the following:

…according to Barry Roffman, who worked for the US Coast Guard for 23 years as a disaster-response planner, a search of the Torah via ELS has revealed to him the longitude/latitude coordinates of the Ark’s final resting place: 31 degrees 16 minutes north, 33 degrees four minutes east, which places it in the Mediterranean 4.6 km. north of the Egyptian coast…

As convincing as Roffman sounded in his 40-minute presentation, the members of the Torah Code Society would have none of it, denouncing in no uncertain terms the methodology of Roffman’s search, as well as his conclusions.

Two further candidates are discussed by WorldNet Daily:

Some 30 explorers from the U.S., Australia, Norway and Estonia have been in a cave system north of the city’s Damascus Gate to try to determine if the Ark is indeed located there.

The group is trying to verify the claim made by relic hunter Ron Wyatt who said he actually saw the Ark there two decades ago after tunneling through a small passageway.

(I’ve been in that cave system, actually. It’s a nice cool spot on a hot day.) Ron Wyatt is now dead, but Richard Rives now runs Wyatt Archaeological Reseach Inc. Wyatt’s alleged successes rival those of St Helen:  as well as the Ark of the Covenant, he’s found Noah’s Ark, house and grave, pre-flood wood without tree rings, sulphur balls from Sodom and Gomorrrah, and much else – including Jesus’ blood, which contained 23 chromosomes from Mary and one from God. Alas, however, the ungodly (including other Christians) have been asking difficult questions (e.g. “Where is the report from the blood sample analysis of what Ron claims is the blood of Jesus Christ?”). But now Rives is about to find real proof – again, a few months from now, if everything goes according to plan.

WND also introduces Mike Sanders, creator of a number of Biblical Mysteries programmes. Sanders has a theory which is rather more sensible, if debateable:

“The Ark was certainly taken by the Egyptian King Shishak,” Sanders told WorldNetDaily. “There were obviously subsequent copies made as there were of all the other temple accoutrements which were also looted many times over the centuries. This has enabled the myth makers to come up with many wild and wonderful scenarios.”

Sanders believes the Ark’s contents – the stone tablets etched by God with the Ten Commandments – are located in the foundation deposit of an Egyptian temple he discovered in the Judean hills.

But even he can’t resist the temptation for sensationalist “it’s just around the corner” rhetoric rather than just getting on with the job:

“Hopefully we will extract the contents live on the Internet and on television sometime early next year when the situation in Israel is somewhat safer,” he says.

Israel safer by “early next year”? Seems Sanders is an optimist in all areas…

(Some links via Paleojudaica and Biblical Theology)

UPDATE: Barry Roffman responds in the comments.