Prosperity Gospel: Pastor Decries “Prosperity-Pimping”

Posted at Talk to Action.

More on Child Exorcism and Ritual Killings

Private Eye (1167) carries an interesting letter following-up on its recent report on child exorcism and alleged ritual killings (which I blogged on here):


The piece on Child Abuse – Satanic Panic, is a very interesting and valuable contribution to debate surrounding the problem of “so-called child witches”.

It is the first article which I know of in the UK, that separates the very real imported problem of “so-called child witches” or “enfants dits sorcières” as they are known in DR Congo (where the problem is most prevalent in Africa), from unsubstantiated claims of satanic abuse and “traditional” or Juju/voodoo rituals.

As your reporter correctly points out these three distinct issues were conflated by Angus Stickler’s reports for the BBC and by the Evening Standard last year. This of course risks “demonising” all Africans as “that’s what they do isn’t it” and detracts from the real problem of physical abuse of children, which is aided and abetted by (mostly) self-ordained preachers in the new evangelical African churches that have come to the UK with their refugee parishioners from countries like DR Congo and Angola.

My colleague Jonny Donovan and I have worked at first hand in DR Congo and Angola with organisations which are trying to combat the problem in those countries – Kinshasa for instance has upwards of 30,000 street children aged from three to 12, most of whom have been ejected from their families accused of witchcraft.


Nomad Productions Ltd.

The magazine also has a letter from Angus Stickler, in which he defends his reporting of the issues and states that the BBC provided “an accurate summary” of the Metropolitan Police on the subject. Apparently it did not occur to Stickler to question whether the police report itself might not be accurate, despite the fact that the police were taking advice from such dubious characters as Kobus Jonker.

Lawson is quite right to commend the Eye for separating the three conflated issues – but while we can discount the “Satanic abuse” element, the “Juju/voodoo” issue is not quite as “unsubstantiated” as he and the Eye suggest. As I blogged at the time, the Eye‘s report failed to mention the evidence of Richard Hoskins in the case of “Adam” (the dismembered child found by the Thames five years ago), and as I wrote just a couple of days ago, child-killing for magical purposes does appear to be an increasing problem in Uganda.

The danger of “demonising” Africans over the problem is also worth bearing in mind. It should be remembered that this is not “African culture”, but rather elements that have mutated in strange and harmful ways. The teratogens are decades of social breakdown, war, tyranny, disease and extreme poverty, in the context of a chaotic and globalising world.

Religious Congress Delegates Praise Nazarbayev, Denounce Extremism

Israel Chief Rabbi: Kazakh President in “the footsteps of…Abraham”

Pakistan Muslim Leader: Nazarbayev deserves Nobel Prize

Kazakhstan has just hosted the “Second Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions”, where representatives of various faiths came together in a giant glass pyramid (designed by Sir Norman Foster) for interfaith dialogue and to praise president Nursultan Nazarbayev. First up, Shantilal Somaiya:

…Nazarbayev has received Vice President of Indian non-governmental organization K.J.Somaiya Trust Dr. Shantilal K. Somaiya.

“Since 1997 we are trying to develop Christian-Hindu dialogue…I cannot withhold admiration from the way Mr. Nazarbayev leads Kazakhstan. He is a unique leader who is able to maintain peace and harmony in such a multi-confessional country. It is a palmary example of achieving harmony in poly-confessional society”…

Yona Metzger, the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, gushed in similar vein, as he addressed Nazarbayev directly:

You follow the footsteps of our common forefather Abraham…You have turned your state into the country of peace between the peoples and religions…you [are] a man of sense and moderation, a man full of noble ideas, an open-hearted man.

However, one Muslim delegate was not going to be outdone:

Dr. Mahmood Ahmad Ghazi, former President of the International Islamic University of Pakistan, suggested nominating Kazakh leader Nursultan Nazarbayev for the Nobel Prize in Peace. “I am going to put up Nursultan Nazarbayev for the Nobel Prize”, he stressed.

Delegates wisely steered clear of topics like Sergei Duvanov, the journalist who uncovered Nazarbayev’s secret Swiss bank accounts and was promptly beaten up and sent to prison for rape, or the various opposition politicians who have been arrested in recent years (such as Tolen Tokhtasynov and Galimzhan Zhakianov).

The Congress itself received a wide range of political and religious figures, including:

Abdallah Bin Abdul Muhsin At-Turki, Secretary General of the World Muslim League, Reverend Nicolas Baines, Bishop of Croydon, Sheikh Mohammed Sayed Tantaui, Imam of AI-Azhar University, Ishmael Noko, Secretary General of the World Lutheran Federation, Salman Al Husaini Al Nadvi, President of Jamiat-e-Shabab-e-lslam, Indian Muslim Organization are among the high-ranking guests attending the forum.

A number of eminent politicians including Mahathir Mohamed, former Prime Minister of Malaysia, UN Special Representative in Geneva Sergey Ordzhonikidze, UNESCO Director General Koichiro Matsuura, PACE Chairperson Rene van der Linden.

One hopes that Mahathir controlled his tendency to rant about “hook-nosed” Jews.

High-profile interfaith events are currently the in-thing among ex-Communist authoritarian leaders; the Congress comes just weeks after Vladimir Putin hosted a similar “World Summit of Religious Leaders” in Moscow, which I blogged on here.

The Congress saw various religious leaders reflecting on their own importance in world affairs. One example:

While giving a speech at the 2nd Congress of World and Traditional Religions’ Leaders, Shlomo Amar, Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel, has declared that religious leaders were able to prevent conflicts between nations.

“Every leader may influence his people somehow, that is why he must be very careful while addressing the audience”, he mentioned.

Amar recently showed his interfaith credentials when he asked the Pope for support in his efforts to have a Gay Rights parade banned in Jerusalem.

The delegates also discussed religious violence:

Leaders representing major world religions Wednesday denounced intolerance, terrorism and the misuse of religion for political ends.

…”Religious warfare brings out the worst in people,” said Patriarch Bartholomeos I, Archbishop of Constantinople…

“Religious fanaticism is one of the thorniest aspects of the problem and this is where our efforts should focus if we want the world to change,” he said, calling for the teaching of respect and reconciliation “in every synagogue, in every mosque, in every church”.


“We should exert the unique rallying force of every religion to awaken the people’s inherent kindness, banish their evil thoughts and make shared contributions to building a beautiful and harmonious, earthly pure land,” said Jiamuyang Luosangjiumei Tudanquejinima, vice president of the Buddhist Association of China.

Although, of course, “every religion” does not include Falun Gong – which the Buddhist Association of China sees as an “evil cult” – or the Dalai Lama, who is a “separatist”.

Nazarbayev also graced the Congress with his own ideas, which include making 2007 “the Year of Religious and Cultural Tolerance”, and the creation of an “international center of cultures and religions”. He also announced plans for more religious TV:

Nazarbayev said Khazakhstan’s state TV would, beginning next year, broadcast regular one-hour programmes devoted to “a sermon of kindness and religious tolerance”, and urged other world leaders to follow suit.

The Congress eventually came up with “nine principles of inter-faith dialogue”. These include advice to “avoid prejudice and misrepresentation”; to engage in “effective listening and learning…in the spirit of tolerance on the basis of shared values”; and for dialogue to “assume equality of partners”:

Education to that end conducted by mass media would help achieve “better understanding of the importance of dialogue and thus minimize the risk of religious extremism,” it added.

The Iranian delegation immediately entered into the spirit of things:

An Arabic speaking reporter from Haaretz approached the ayatollah [Sadiki Roshed] and shook his hand, but once he introduced himself as an Israeli, the Iranian leader walked away.

The BBC, meanwhile, suggests that there might possibly be a beam in Nazarbayev’s eye:

But beyond the walls of the spectacular pyramid, there are concerns that the Kazakh government, although more tolerant than others in Central Asia, has recently itself moved to restrict religious freedoms.

Muslim groups that are outside state control and non-traditional groups like Hare Khrisna have complained about official harassment.

This is one of the reasons why critics have questioned whether the Congress was as much aimed at serving President Nazarbayev’s goal of promoting his country, as it was designed to promote world peace.

Name variations: Congress of Leaders of World Religions; Congress of World and Traditional Religions’ Leaders.

Uganda Sees Child Sacrifice Upsurge

Staying with Uganda, local media reports suggest that the country is currently gripped with fears about child sacrifice. The Catholic Information Service for Africa reported last month:

Two weeks ago, five-year old Aggrey Muguluma of Rubaga Division was killed in a suspected ritual by wealth-seeking criminals.

A woman and a traditional healer were recently arrested in the capital Kampala on suspicion of stealing a child with intent to offer human sacrifice.

…Though the number of children killed is unknown, the state-owned New Vision daily reported 15 cases of child sacrifice in 1999 alone. The number is suspected to be high in rural areas, away from the glare of the media.

One case that has received particular coverage is that of Edwin Muguluma, a five-year old who was murdered in July (three suspects have been charged today).

Concern over the issue has prompted a rush of circumcisions, as the New Vision reported two weeks ago:

THE number of parents taking their sons for circumcision to guard them against being sacrificed by witch doctors has of recent increased.

Kibuli Hospital administrator Siraje Mbulambago said the number had increased tremendously in the last few weeks. Parents, especially mothers, are more concerned and accompany their sons for circumcision.

Maama Ssenyonjo, 27, a mother of two, said she was forced to take her son for circumcision after hearing stories of kidnappers and witch doctors.

“For girls, you can pierce the ears, but boys are safer when they are circumcised. We are told that when a child has shed blood, they cannot be sacrificed,” she says. Ssenyonjo believed that circumcision works against child sacrifice when kidnappers abandoned her neighbour’s circumcised son…

One man, Rogers Mwebembezi, believes that his son Julius narrowly escaped being murdered for just this reason. He gave his story last week to the Weekly Observer:

In 1995, Julius, then 4 years old, was visiting his grandmother at Nkokonjeru in Mukono district. Without being noticed, a 28-year old neighbour, Resty Mbulabalungi, took him away, ostensibly to accompany her to the market. He was not seen for the next five days…The search led to Bukoba and a shrine owned by one Nyoka.

“When we finally got there,” Mwebembezi recalls, “I saw a wide dark hut from which echoes of strange voices came. The villager who had come with us told us that the voice was saying that the spirits had rejected the sacrifice because they don’t shed blood twice.”

Moments later, something wrapped in black sheets was tossed out of the shrine. Immediately the detectives accompanying the search party fired three shots in the air, and took charge of the scene.

On unwrapping the mysterious package, there was Julius. Naked. Semiconscious. His body smeared with what looked like herbs.

However, this is more complex than just a resurgence of tradition, and many Ugandans blame outside influences. Mbulabalungi had consulted a Tanzanian witch-doctor before abducting Julius, and local traditional healers are keen to disassociate themselves from such practices. Back to the New Vision:

Appearing on WBS TV recently, the Ndeeba-based Maama Phina, the chairperson of traditional healers, condemned the act of child sacrifice as evil.

That practice is not part of our profession. It is common among those doctors who come from Tanzania and Congo and normally tag onto themselves very scaring names like ‘Mutulakungo’ (one who can sit on a leopard’s back),” she says.

Phina pledged to work with The Police to stamp out child sacrifice, claiming it was a disgrace to the profession.

Local leaders in the Buganda region also blame foreign healers, as WBS notes:

The Kingdom of Buganda has called on local leaders to start registering foreigners and other new comers in their respective areas in a move aimed at eliminating Child Sacrifice.

…This was during a meeting with Local Leaders in the Mengo government to discuss ways of fighting the evil of child sacrifice at Bulange Mengo.

The Minister for local government in Buganda Kingdom Jolly Lutaaya urged local leaders to be vigilant and to step up efforts in order to stamp out Child sacrifice from Buganda and Uganda at large.

He said that it’s disheartening to note that Child Sacrifice is common in Buganda, a thing that could tarnish its norms and culture that are admired world wide. He said that in Buganda’s Culture and Norms Human Sacrifice is never heard of and even the fore fathers never practiced it.

Meanwhile, a recent op-ed in the Monitor by a Ugandan Christian blames wider foreign cultural influences for the murders – particularly Nigerian films, and, rather more surprisingly, the Rich Dad, Poor Dad books:

There are several belief systems, which have been adopted by different classes of people. Among the uprising aristocrats, The Rich Dad, Poor Dad philosophy is becoming rife. It has its good points but it has also fuelled a lot of corrupt practices. I hold it accountable for Uganda’s junk helicopter purchases, the ridiculous property sales in Kampala; the land grabbing in northern Uganda and now the oil-rich Bunyoro.

…The other besieging force is the increasing popularity of the Africa magic movies mainly from Nigeria. What they promote as reality is pure witchcraft even with those that hold Christian labels.

Men have been enticed to dabble in dubious dark deeds to gain power over others and riches. Since the majority of Uganda’s business population watches these Nigerian movies, reinforced by the commonly shared stories during idle time, it comes as no surprise that children are being sacrificed for riches.

The author believes that the Bible is the answer, since it “promotes beliefs that protect life and leads to true prosperity”.

Meanwhile, police in the UK are still attempting to track down those responsible for the murder of “Adam”, an unidentified west African boy whose dismembered torso was found by the Thames five years ago. I blogged on the ongoing investigation here.

Gay Crackdown Warning in Uganda

More news from Uganda, where key Bush ally and evangelical favourite Yoweri Museveni presides over an increasingly repressive country. Human Rights Watch reports:

In a country where a sodomy conviction carries a penalty of life imprisonment, a Ugandan tabloid’s decision to publish the names of alleged homosexuals is a chilling development that could presage a government crackdown, Human Rights Watch said today.

…”For years, President Yoweri Museveni’s government routinely threatens and vilifies lesbians and gays, and subjects sexual-rights activists to harassment,” said Jessica Stern, researcher in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Program of Human Rights Watch.

And as with recent developments in Ghana and Nigeria (which we blogged here and here), even talking about gay rights can bring down the wrath of the state:

…The government has also silenced discussion of gay and lesbian rights and lives. The Broadcasting Council, a board of government censors, fined a radio station 1.8 million shillings (more than US$1000) for hosting a lesbian and two gay men on a talk show, where they protested against discrimination and called for repeal of the sodomy laws. In February 2005, the Media Council – a state censorship board – banned a staging of the play, “The Vagina Monologues,” by the U.S. author Eve Ensler, because it “promotes illegal acts of unnatural sexual acts, homosexuality and prostitution.”

The report comes just days after Museveni’s prime minister, Apolo Nsibambi, praised the efforts of religious groups in opposing homosexuality:

“There is a lot of international pressure for Uganda to back down from its position on marriage between one man and one woman,” Nsibambi said on Wednesday.

This was at the opening of the 18th Provincial Assembly of the Church of the Province of Uganda at Uganda Christian University in Mukono.

…”Importing values from the western world is inimical to our culture. I am glad to mention that the Church of Uganda, the Catholic Church and the Muslims joined hands to resist homosexuality in Africa,” Nsibambi said.

The Anglican meeting where Nsibambi spoke also discussed formally breaking links with parts of the Anglican Communion that hold more liberal views on homosexuality. The Living Church Foundation reported:

In his presidential address to the biennial assembly of the Church of the Province of Uganda held Aug. 30 at Uganda Christian University in Mukono, Archbishop Orombi asked the assembly to revise its constitution to state the Church of Uganda “shall be in full communion with all churches, dioceses and provinces of the Anglican Communion that receive, hold and maintain the Canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the Word of God written.”

…Delegates to the meeting last month were also given copies of California mega-church pastor Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose-Driven Life, with a commendation from Archbishop Orombi.

Warren is a well-respected and influential figure in Uganda, where he has worked to improve AIDS awareness and treatment. As someone who is known for his various development plans for Africa, will he be willing to suggest to Museveni that persecuting people for their sexual orientation is not the right way to go about things?

UPDATE: No, Warren most certainly will not.

Teaching English as a Missionary Language

As the proud owner of a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) Certificate, the idea of missionaries posing as language teachers is of particular interest to me. The phenomenon of TEML (Teaching English as a Missionary Language) is the subject of my latest post at Talk to Action.

BNP Church Sets Out Agenda

A twitch of activity from the website of British National Party’s religious front group, the Christian Council of Britain. Readers may recall that I blogged on this organisation several times earlier this year, and follow-ups from Ekklesia resulted in wider media attention. Its public face is “Reverend” Robert West, a ex-Tory councillor turned BNP member, while the organisation’s president is Clive Potter, a well-known BNP activist who also heads the party’s new trade union. The CCoB’s website has been “under development” for months, and I had pretty well given it up for dead.

The site now carries the CCoB’s “Minutes of Formation” (1), backdated to April (I don’t known when it was actually posted, since I stopped checking the site a couple of months ago). Hopefully this is just a final pathetic spasm rather than a foreshadowing of any sort of future activity, but I’ll overview it anyway. The organisation claims to exist

to counteract cultural and ideological challenges and threats from extremes (of Left, Centre or Right).

Two predictable targets are identified:

Islam was especially noted as a cultural and political challenge as much as a religious one, inasmuch as Islam – in its mainstream form – runs contrary to the principles which make for a free nation…The same was also noted about the Far Left or Marxian version of contemporary ‘political correctness’ with its hatred for, and attacks upon, everything that is normal, moral and natural on this side of the grave, such as: the Nation, the family, private ownership, the male and female distinction, natural sexual relations within a wedded relationship of male and female; and the natural authority of parents over their children.

…It was resolved, therefore, to keep a watch on these two totalitarian creeds with a view to educating and teaching the populace of the fundamental issues which they raise…

West goes on to assert his masculine side, as he turns to gender issues:

…women must not intrude themselves into the male headship role or into roles fitted to the male mind and physique (1 Peter 3:7; Eph 5: 22-24); and, in particular, that families need fathers; that mothers need husbands; that the ordained ministry is a front-line ministry for men only, and not for women (1 Tim 2: 9-15) nor for the effeminate or sodomites (Roms 1: 24-32; 1 Cor 6: 9)…

And then on to a theory of racial origins:

The Christian Council of Britain resolved that it recognises that all men are of one blood or proto-race in Adam through to Noah; and that from that one race divergent sub-races have emerged (Gen 11: 1-9) – Russian dole-like [sic] – so that we are now different…

Generously, however, “United Kingdom citizens, of non-British descent-groups” are allowed to join the gang.

The document also links Robert West with a mysterious “Grace Covenant Fellowship, Lincolnshire”, which has no internet presence and which we strongly suspect is based in the Rev’s sitting-room.

Meanwhile, aside from when someone tipped a bucket of water over him, West’s media presence has been reduced to a few BNP press statements.

robert-west-3Robert West giving a BNP audience the benefit of his male mind and physique


Middle East Peace Deal Success

Asia News provides the epilogue to a story that’s been running for several years:

The Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land yesterday published the following statement: “On Saturday, 2 September, 2006, by prior arrangement, the lock was put back in the Main Door of the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem – which had been illegally removed from it in the spring or summer of 2002…”

The lock had been removed by Greek Orthodox monks, in alleged defiance of the “Status Quo” – the old Ottoman law which decrees which Christian groups can control which parts of the various Christian holy sites. Monks and priests squabbling over their respective claims had kept local Muslims amused for centuries, but the fun had to end when great powers such as France and Russia began making demands with menaces on behalf of their particular confessional groups. The result was the “Status Quo”, issued in 1862 and re-confirming the situation as it stood in 1757. One of the best-known consequences of the decision is that the outside of the Holy Sepulchre now features an Armenian ladder on a Greek ledge that cannot legally be moved.

The “status quo” gave the Greeks control over the door to the Church of the Nativity, but also gave keys to the Armenians and Catholics. The Ecumenical News Service reported:

Archbishop Aristarchos said that the decision was triggered after the door was opened, by either (Roman Catholic) Franciscan or Armenian monks, without the permission of the Greek Orthodox Church.

“We insist on our rights,” said Aristarchos in a reference to the Greek Orthodox claim to be the only group with the right to take such an action.

Now, what possible reason might the others have had for opening the door?

A group of Palestinian militants fleeing from Israeli troops took refuge in the church and refused to give themselves up for weeks, before the two sides reached a negotiated settlement to the incident. Several of the Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces during the siege, and their bodies were taken from the church by Franciscans. Unable to find their keys at the time, the Franciscans turned to the Armenians who lent them their own.

But the Greek Orthodox monks objected to the doors being opened without their permission to remove the corpses.

The Greek Orthodox monks were also reported to have been furious that their Franciscan counterparts allowed Muslim prayers to be recited over the dead Palestinians, within a section of the church that is controlled by the Greek Orthodox.

Hostility between the groups has also had other consequences, as the Telegraph reported last year:

Squabbling over crucial roof repairs between the three Christian communities who share custodianship of Jesus’s birthplace is endangering the 1,500-year-old basilica.

Large holes in the 500-year-old lead roof have let rainwater flood inside for years. It streams down the walls and threatens to wash away Crusader-era murals and destroy Byzantine mosaics.

Spokesmen for all three communities admit that the roof is in a deplorable state but talks on the issue have broken down, angering archaeologists and historians.

The dispute over the keys was blamed by the Armenian Patriarch on the Greek Patriarch Irineos, whom he described as “capricious and self-serving”.

Irineos – described by Asia News as “violently anti-Catholic” – was later deposed by his own synod. As I blogged at the time, the patriarch had orginally been held in suspicion by Israel and had been excoriated for anti-Semitism in Front Page (telling Arafat of his “disgust and disrespect…for the descendants of the crucifiers”). However, last year he was found to have been responsible for the sale of church property to a right-wing Israeli group which was attempting to increase the Israeli presence in Palestinian parts of Jerusalem. Irineos blamed his treasurer Nicholas Papadimas, who promptly went missing. The upshot was that Irineos, now supported by Israel (well, why let a little “disgust and disrespect” get in the way of things?), was fired and replaced by Theofilos. This turn of events was decried by WorldNetDaily‘s Jerusalem correspondent Aaron Klein – whose benign accounts of the Israeli far-right have been documented by both myself and ConWebWatch – on the predictable grounds that Theofilos’s unwillingness to sell property on Palestinian land to the Israeli occupiers was simply anti-Jewish.

Asia News gives a bit of political context to the return of the old lock:

The happy resolution of this affair, after more than four years, is significant for a number of reasons: It will encourage Catholics (and Armenians) everywhere to support even more emphatically the right of the Greek Orthodox to religious freedom in electing their own leaders; in fact, the Government of Israel is still refusing to “recognise” the canonical election of Theophilos.

…The Palestinian Authority, for its part, has gained merit by recognising in this case its obligations concerning the Holy Places, under the ‘Basic Agreement’ with the Holy See, and has thereby given a positive signal concerning the prospects of the Catholic Church in reference to the future Palestinian republic.

Irineos, meanwhile, has slipped into obscurity, and whether he now accepts his demotion to simple “monk” is not known. And as far as I can tell, his treasurer remains missing…

UK Anti-Semitism Report Out

Manchester school forced to pay for own security

House of Lords member told Jewish peer that getting rid of “your lot” would be next

Former Home Office Minister suggests downloading racist material should be illegal

The UK’s Report of the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism has just been released. The 56-page report is divided into 8 short sections, which survey recent anti-Semitic incidents and discourse in the UK and offer recommendations as to what ought to be done about it. The inquiry was chaired by Denis MacShane, whom I found rather less than impressive when he spoke in advance of publication on BBC Radio 4 last week. However, despite that – and some problematic parts – the report is temperate and highlights some important developments.

The section on anti-Semitic incidents is largely a depressing but familiar log of human baseness and cowardice, as we read about Jews being attacked and cemeteries desecrated. It also, however, highlights a situation in Manchester which is nothing short of a scandal:

In the course of a visit to Manchester members of the panel visited the King David School, which more than one thousand Jewish children attend, and saw first hand the kind of security measures judged necessary based on advice from the police and the [Community Security Trust]. The campus is surrounded by reinforced fencing and monitored by CCTV cameras. The windows are fitted with anti-shatter glass and the wall nearest the road is reinforced. Access is controlled and limited to two entry points staffed by full-time security guards and parents are also asked to participate in a security rota. Bomb drills are conducted I addition to the standard fire drills. These measures cost the school around £130,000 annually and it receives no extra allowance from the Department for Education and Skills or the Local Authority. Parents are asked to make a termly contribution towards security but this does not cover the entire cost. We saw similar security precautions during our visit to Merkaz haTorah School in Paris, which was firebombed in 2003, but the French government contributes towards the school’s security costs.

The report also notes a low level of prosecutions, and recommends that the Crown Prosecution Service investigate the reason for this.

The section on anti-Semitic discourse, meanwhile, contains a report of an extraordinary incident:

Lord Janner of Braunstone submitted evidence describing some antisemitic remarks directed against him in Parliament including an incident after the arrest of Saddam Hussein. Lord Janner was approached by a fellow peer who said, “Well, we’ve got rid of Saddam Hussein now. Your lot are next.” In response to his questioning her use of “Your lot”, she said, “Yes, you cannot go on killing Palestinians for ever, you know”.

The name of Janner’s antagonist, though, is not provided.

There is also a foray into the world of the British far right:

A representative from Searchlight told us that the far right has started to use the language of ‘Zionists’ as a euphemism for ‘Jews’ in order to disguise its antisemitic agenda, a phenomenon that also occurs on the left and among Islamist extremists. We received numerous examples of this including an article in the BNP Voice of Freedom speaking of soldiers risking their lives in Iraq because “Tony Blair swapped British blood for donations from a clique of filthy-rich Zionist businessmen”…In its 2005 General Election manifesto, the BNP included a promise not to go to war for “neocon adventures on behalf of the Zionist government of Israel”.

BNP leader Nick Griffin’s notorious anti-Semitic statements are also highlighted, which, although always worth reminding the public about, are a bit old now. Islamists are also considered:

Extremist groups such as Hizb ut-Tahrir and the now disbanded Al-Muhajiroun have a long history of publishing vicious and violent antisemitic propaganda…The activities of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee, MPACUK, have given cause for concern. Although its rhetoric is often extremist, MPACUK identifies itself as part of the mainstream British Muslim community, describing itself as “the UK’s leading Muslim civil liberties group, empowering Muslims to focus on non-violent Jihad and political activism”…MPACUK has been criticised for publishing material on its website promoting the idea of a worldwide Zionist conspiracy, including the reproduction of articles originally published on neo-Nazi and Holocaust Denial websites, and is currently banned from university campuses under the [National Union of Students’] ‘No Platform’ policy.

Worrying links with some left-wing groups are also noted.

On the other hand, the report also notes efforts by religious groups to improve relations with Jews:

On our visit to Manchester we were told that the Lord Mayor, a Muslim Councillor, had taken a lead in promoting interfaith dialogue and was joint chair of the Manchester Muslim Jewish Forum…We received constructive written submissions from the Catholic Church, the Church of Scotland and the Church of England, all of which support a range of interfaith forums…The Catholic Conference of Bishops also submitted evidence that they try to combat antisemitism through education by presenting Jews and Judaism in a positive light.

As expected, a large chunk of the report also deals with Israel and the Palestinian conflict. The report treads carefully, explaining that

The committee unanimously recognised that criticism of Israel should not, in itself, be regarded as antisemitic but equally recognised that anti-Jewish prejudice in any context should not be overlooked.

Fair enough, and there’s also an attempt to get more than one perspective:

Some witnesses felt that it is misleading to characterise as antisemitic any contemporary attacks on Jews deriving from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They regard it as unhelpful to see such manifestations of anti-Jewish sentiment as a direct continuation of historical anti-Jewish prejudice…Rather than explaining the distinctions between legitimate and illegitimate criticism of the actions and policies of the Israeli government, we took the view that anti-Israel discourse can, at times, become polluted by antisemitism and it is more important in each case to identify whether or not this has occurred.

However, this is where the report becomes problematic:

The EUMC Working Definition of Antisemitism, quoted in full on page 6, identifies some of the ways in which antisemitism manifests itself with regard to the State of Israel:

  • Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, for example by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.
  • Applying double standards by requiring of it a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
  • Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (for example claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterise Israel or Israelis.
  • Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
  • Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

The EUMC Definition goes on to state that criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.

But how exactly do we define “double standards”? What does “self-determination” mean? For example, I support the right of return for Palestinian refugees, but I’m told by some that that would dilute the Jewish character of state, and therefore undermine Jewish “self-determination”. I think that’s probably the case, but I don’t see why justice for Palestinians should therefore de denied, since I would not accept this as a legitimate ground for my own dispossession. Does that make me an anti-Semite? And the “double standards” complaint is often no more than a smokescreen. Rather than deal with a criticism of Israel, the response is often: “ahh, but what about Islamist terrorism and anti-Semitism? Why do you criticise Israel when China occupies Tibet? etc. etc.” Yes, those injustices should also be opposed, and on some sort of scale may be “worse” than Israel’s behaviour. But why should it be necessary to reel off a litany of all these other ills before one can reasonably expect a complaint about Israel to be taken seriously?

The report goes on to quote Shalom Lappin:

Professor Shalom Lappin submitted to us that the conflict itself is not reported with the detachment applied to other areas of conflict such as Darfur or Chechnya:

“The Israel-Palestinian encounter has been largely denaturalised and removed from its political and regional context. It is no longer seen as a political and military struggle between two nations with a long and complex history…Instead, it has been endowed with the peculiar status of an iconic clash between good and evil. Israel has increasingly come to be construed as the purest embodiment of imperialism, racism and oppression whose sole national purpose is to dispossess the Palestinians.”

Such interpretations of the conflict no doubt do exist, and are regrettable – but shallow and “denaturalised” approaches do not, of course, invalidate analyses critical of Israel that do not share this flaw. And if we transpose the words “Israel” and “the Palestinians” in the last sentence, we have a reasonably useful description of the same vice as it appears a fair bit of pro-Israel discourse.

There’s also a section on the academic boycott debate, where all attempt at discursive discussion goes out the window. The inquiry takes the line of the “Engage” anti-boycott organisation, without seeking any input from academics such as Steven or Hilary Rose, the Jewish academics who first proposed the idea of breaking links with Israeli institutions (bold in original):

We conclude that calls to boycott contact with academics working in Israel are an assault on academic freedom and intellectual exchange. We recommend that lecturers in the new University and College Lecturers Union are given every support to combat such selective boycotts that are anti-Jewish in practice. We would urge the new union’s executive and leadership to oppose the boycott.

The boycott is termed “anti-Jewish in practice” because it would supposedly have its biggest impact on Jewish academics, and on the discipline of Jewish studies. But a bit more context is needed: one issue raised by the debate was links between Israel’s higher education system and the infrastructure of the occupation. The motion that was passed by the (now defunct) union NAFTHE was in the context of “academic responsibility”, and

invites members to consider their own responsibility for ensuring equity and non-discrimination in contacts with Israeli educational institutions or individuals, and to consider the appropriateness of a boycott of those that do not publicly dissociate themselves from such policies.

I think this formulation was flawed, and I would certainly have much preferred a more impersonal approach asking academics to consider how their links with particular institutions or projects might be ethically compromised through association with the occupation. But this is hardly “an assault on academic freedom”. Rather than deal with the text of the motion that was actually passed, the Inquiry instead relies on lurid accounts from Engage about Jewish academics facing the prospect of having their emails to foreign universities monitored.

There is also a more general discussion of the availability of racist and anti-Semitic material on the internet, and a disturbing suggestion from a former minister:

The former Home Office Minister Paul Goggins MP gave evidence of a model which could possibly be applied to racist material on the internet. In the case of child pornography it is now an offence to download images from the internet, and it may be possible to develop a similar law in regard to material which could incite racial or religious hatred.

As someone who has trawled through a few far-right websites for research purposes, that seems to me to be a very bad idea. And surely the current offence is not so much “downloading” child pornography as possessing it, whether electronically or on paper? Are the owners of racist books (or their own manuscripts, even) also to be targeted?

Of course, these are just a few of the things from the report I happened to find the most interesting: it’s worth reading the whole thing.

Ghanaian Church Leaders and Government Oppose Gay Rights

News from Ghana:

The activities and operations of a group calling itself the gay and lesbian association of Ghana, coupled with their intention to play host to an international conference in Ghana, has met fierce condemnation and opposition from the Christian community.

At a press conference in Accra yesterday to state its position on the raging controversy, Right Reverend Dr. Paul Fynn, Chairman of the all-powerful council, condemned in no uncertain terms the activities and operations of the gays and lesbians.

…According to him, the fact that the constitution of the country guaranteed freedom of association, movement, speech, expression and worship did not mean it should provide the license and authority for people to misbehave and satanise the country, as that of the infamous Sodom and Gomorrah incident in the bible.

…For him, homosexuality, lesbianism, occultism and the raging cocaine issues that have beset this nation within the last couple of months are all signs of the bad seed sown by the devil amongst us; hence the need to uproot such acts without further delay.

(Fynn could also add “unionised workplaces” to his list of satanic influences: when he’s not running the council, or presiding as a Bishop of the Lutheran Church in Ghana, Fynn runs a fried chicken franchise; last year he was condemned by the Food and Allied Workers Union for “a strategy to frustrate trade union activities in the company by the systematic and arbitrary dismissal of workers”.)

Apostle Dr. Michael Ntumy, who could not fathom any kind of justification for such ungodly practices, said, “Homosexuality is an offence against God”, quoting Leviticus 20:13 in the Holy Scriptures, “If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death”.

Ntumy is a leader in the World Pentecostal Council. He squared off against the gay and lesbian association on the radio recently:

Over a week ago, the president of the gays and lesbians association of Ghana, one Prince MacDonalds, came under immense attack from Ghanaians when he stormed the studious [sic] of Joy FM, an Accra-based private radio station, to justify their activities.

In fact, Prince MacDonald (not “MacDonalds”) appeared on a panel at the station, rather than “storming” the building. An earlier report explains (but gets his name even more wrong):

On Joy FM’s Super Morning Show, several such Ghanaians including the man of God with nine lives [a reference to a recent murder attempt – RB], Apostle Dr. Michael Ntumy, Chairman of the Church of Pentecost Worldwide, added their voices to the condemnation of the theory and practice of homosexuality and lesbianism.

Mr. Prince Madonna [sic!], President of the Gay and Lesbian Association of Ghana, met with stiff opposition from the teeming Christian population who appeared to be shocked at his outburst.

Madonna appeared as a panelist on the live programme alongside Edmund Foli, a Human Rights lawyer of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, and another fellow of the University of Cape Coast to discuss this controversial topic.

MacDonald caused particular upset by referring to his own Christian faith. He also, according to another report, claimed that homosexuality was far from unknown in the country:

As their number in the country keeps swelling, the president of Gay and Lesbian Association of Ghana has revealed that the association has currently been registering members including some who are in senior secondary school or have just left school.

Already, there are some top men and women in society, people with diverse professions including politicians flirting with the gay fraternity, he disclosed.

“We have the majority of gay men in Accra. During some of the small programmes we organise, we get about 400 to 500 gays attending and when we have big programmes we get thousands of people coming from other regions,” Prince McDonald, the president of the association told Joy FM – a local radio station in Accra on Thursday.

He noted: “There are a lot of people with this orientation when you move all over Ghana. When you go to Kumasi there is a large population, when you go to Sunyani, when you go to Techiman, in the North, in the Central, there are whole lot of young men and old men, young women and old women who are engaged in same sex attraction.”

MacDonald planned to hold a conference which would put pressure on the government to change the criminal law against male homosexuality. The government responded swiftly, as the BBC reported:

Ghana’s government has banned a conference for gay men and lesbians due to take place there later this month.

Information Minister Kwamena Bartels said as homosexuality was illegal in Ghana the gathering was not permitted.

“Government does not condone any such activity which violently offends the culture, morality and heritage of the entire people of Ghana,” he said.

…Mr Bartels urged the interior minister to investigate and punish those who had given initial permission to the organisers.

This follows a similar development in Nigeria, after the activities of a gay Anglican activist group were reported in the US press. The government responded by banning the “staging of Gay Rallies and Associations of whatever kind”, as I blogged here.

UPDATE: Direland has more – including the interesting detail that the proposed conference was actually a hoax.