• First published in 2004 as Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion (BNOR).

    Previously at:

    Email me
    (Non-commercial only)

  • Archives

  • Twitter

  • Supporting

  • Recent comments

Meet Arrylad

Meet “Arrylad”… because nothing says “patriotism” like using the St George’s Flag for a tablecloth and plonking a can of cheap lager on it, right?

“Arrylad” is apparently a spokesman for the Welsh and English Defence Leagues. He has an entertaining YouTube channel here – although he may sound like some new comic character created by Ricky Gervais, he is in fact for real. A taster:

UPDATE: Alas, Arrylad has now deleted his channel; apparently he was annoyed thaat “commies had embedded” his messages. However, one message has resurfaced on the Hooligancentral channel, with the name “Arrylad” replaced with “Lee B’stard of the WDL”. In this rousing pep-talk, our man gives the Americans a stern talking-to about the need to “get off their arses”. He also explains that Nostradamus had prophesied that Britain would beat back the “Islamic hordes”.

UPDATE 2: Alas, that video has now gone, too. This one remains, though:

Libel Case against Blogger Dismissed as Abuse of Process after Three Years

Like everyone else, I’m very pleased to read that the libel case against blogger Dave Osler brought byJohann Kaschke has been thrown out as an abuse of process – but angry that he should have had to have gone through such an ordeal just to defend his right to free speech. Had Osler lost his case, he might well have been bankrupted and he would probably have lost his home – as it was, he’s had years of strain and wasted time, plus a good deal of expense. As his wife writes on her own blog:

This meant that weekends and annual leave were used up, as he was holding down a full time job. This meant that for the last two years we did not have a holiday together as he did not have the time or spare cash. It meant that he could not spend as much time with either me or his children, impacting on them and their mother with whom he shares childcare.

How much easier it would have been to have blinked: to self-censor, scape together £10,000 or so (maybe much more), and allow yourself to be degraded with a gutting public admission to being a liar when you are no such thing. Osler was only able to make a stand at great personal cost, and without eventually getting pro bono support the nightmare would probably still be continuing.

A press release has further details:

This significant case clarifies the position in respect of bloggers and the online media in relation to the liability they face in respect of old postings still available in their archives…

The Osler case arose out of a blog post written by Ms. Kaschke in which Ms. Kaschke stated that she had been wrongly arrested in Germany in the 1970s. Mr. Osler linked to, and summarised her blog post, which caused Ms. Kaschke to sue him for libel. However, Ms. Kaschke did not issue the claim form until over a year after Mr. Osler’s blog was posted on the web. Mr. Osler applied to the court to strike out the claim on two grounds, namely that the claim was an abuse of process and that there was no evidence of any publication after the expiry of the 1-year limitation period.

In the light of this decision, it is clear that real evidence of publication of such material is required, and that it will not lightly be inferred by the courts.

…Mr. Justice Eady held that there was very little difference between what the claimant had put into the public domain and what Mr. Osler had published on his blog. In the circumstances, damages could only ever be very minor and a trial was simply not worth the time and expense that would be incurred…

The full judgement can be read here. I’m not clear on a few points: I’m glad that there is less liability for old blog posts that have been “archived” – there has always been a worry that someone could keep a libel threat in reserve, to be activated if and when strategically useful (I wrote more on this here). However, Eady’s distinction between the front page of a blog and the archive seems to me unconvincing – old posts are just like any other webpage; they can be accessed directly from Google with the right search terms, and in some cases might be more easily found than a front page. A front page posting may also have link-backs. However, Eady’s judgement covers several bases, so this is not a crucial point in this particular instance. I look forward to reading Jack of Kent’s (Allen Green) analysis at the weekend.

There is hope that Kaschke will now be declared to be a lexatious litigant, and so barred from bringing further actions of this sort – she lives off benefits, and so money is not a problem for her (there is not much hope that Osler will recover his own costs). But is it really quite over? On Kaschke’s own blog, she says that she still has a few weeks to seek permission for an appeal (permission was not granted by Eady), and she’s already made a new libel threat against Jack of Kent. Her case against Alex Hilton and John Gray is also still ongoing.

Kaschke’s blog cannot be quoted directly, as she asserts her right to sue anyone who uses her words in ways she finds objectionable. However, she claims that she is the victim in all this, and that, as a German immigrant, she has suffered racism and sexism. She also believes that it is unfair that Osler managed to get pro bono advice when she did not. She further tells us that she wore a Great Ormond Street Hospital t-shirt to High Court, and she asks for other people to do the same at her next hearing, on 25 May. Make of that what you will, but don’t speculate publicly or you might get sued. I blogged on some of her previous complaints here.

The need for libel reform is urgent. We read about these high-profile cases where an innocent person is put through hell (most recently, the case of Simon Singh); but there are also cases where individuals are forced to settle just to avoid an unacceptable risk – not to mention the many instances of pre-emptive self-censorship we will never know about. Libel reform would also give the process more credibility for those who have a just complaint.

The power of the wealthy, of those with special informal access to lawyers, of those with nothing to lose because they have no assets, and of cranks to cause this sort of misery must be curbed.

(Hat tip: Harry’s Place. And apologies to Dave Osler for mis-spelling him as “Dave Ostler” in older posts, I have now fixed this.)

Ergun Caner Update

Ergun Caner, the president of Liberty University’s Baptist Theological Seminary, continues to come under scrutiny over discrepancies in his biography, and his claim to have converted from extremist Islam (see my blog entry here). A few days ago, the university issued a statement:

Following inquiries from several members of the mainstream media, Liberty decided to initiate its own investigation. “Liberty does not initiate personnel evaluations based upon accusations from Internet blogs,” Chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr. said. “However, In light of the fact that several newspapers have raised questions, we felt it necessary to initiate a formal inquiry.”

By “accusations from Internet blogs”, Falwell means serious evidence and links provided by various people – some of whom are well-known Christian speakers and writers themselves – which cast serious doubt on Caner’s alleged past. The fact he would try to spin the story in this way does not bode well.

However, one defender has apparently stepped forward – a statement has been posted on-line at this Southern Baptist blog, attributed to Jamal Jivanjee, another ex-Muslim Christian:

My name is Jamal Jivanjee, and I was born and raised in the greater Columbus Ohio area. My mother is an American & my father was born and raised in East Africa and is of Asian Indian decent. My father was a devout Muslim and we attended functions at the same mosque/ masjid that Ergun, Emir, & his family attended on east Broad street in Columbus, Ohio. Ergun & Emir’s father, Mr. Acar Caner, was a very prominent leader within the Islamic community that we associated with and was very involved with this mosque. As a result, I remember as a young child going to their home with my family to have dinner with their family. Mr. Acar Caner was also the acting landlord of the apartment community where my family and I lived for a number of years…

Curiously, the owner of the blog does not explain why the statement has been passed to him, and there is no reference to it on Jivanee’s “Illuminate” ministry website.

While Southern Baptist bloggers are hailing this as an exoneration of Caner, not everyone is convinced – a Reformed blogger named Francis Turretin writes:

It would be interesting to know what approximate year Mr. Jivanjee remembers visiting the Acar house. From what I could find on the Internet, Mr. Jivanjee is about 35 years old, meaning he was born about 1975. As such, in November of 1982 (the date Caner indicates as his conversion), Mr. Jivanjee would have been about 7 years old.

…Notice that Mr. Jivanjee doesn’t say he or his family regularly attended or worshiped at the Broad St. Islamic Foundation, but just that they “attended functions” there… Notice as well that Mr. Jivanjee does not claim to have personally known Ergun and Emir, but just to have dined once with Mr. Acar Caner and “his family” (which may well have referred to Mr. Caner’s second wife and daughters).

Some of Dr. Caner’s fans seem to think that Mr. Jivanjee’s comments above prove that Dr. Caner was not just from a Muslim family but a devout Muslim, and that this evidence exonerates Dr. Caner from all the accusations of dishonesty that have been swirling around him. The problems are (1) that’s not what Mr. Jivanjee says and (2) it doesn’t appear that Mr. Jivanjee, being only about 7 years old and in a different branch of Islam at the time Dr. Caner apparently converted, would have been in a position to know whether Dr. Caner was a devout Muslim.

Jivanjee was in the news last summer, as part of the Rifqa Bary saga. He was her pastor in Ohio, and claims that supernatural power manifests through her:

Each time we met with her, I left a changed person. This young girl not only lived out the kingdom of God in word, but in deed! The Lord has used her to physically and spiritually heal people, and bring people into a relationship with God everywhere she has went. She has done this in places like high school, summer jobs, and more recently…jail cells. I do not say these things to brag about her, but to brag about the reality and power of Jesus in her!

He also went to Florida, where he was interviewed by Pamela Geller.

Caner also contributed to the Bary story, with a bit of commentary about Sri Lanka in September:

Liberty Theological Seminary president Dr. Ergun Caner told Christians attending the Values Voter Summit in Washington Saturday that if Bary is returned to her parents and they move back to Sri Lanka, she will be killed because “Sri Lanka puts my people to death.”

This is revealing. When someone comes to prominence as an authority based on their supposed private histories, if they are genuine they will keep to what they know about.  By contrast, chancers tend eventually to over-reach themselves by pronouncing on subjects about which they have no expertise at all – I saw this in relation to Walid Shoebat here.  Sri Lanka does not put Christian ex-Muslims to death – insofar as there is religious discrimation, the country favours Buddhists. There’s no real risk of an honour killing there, either.

Phyllis Chesler Complains about Critical Article

Rachel Tabachnick has an article on ZEEK about Jewish support for the Christian Right on the issue of Islam:

In “Leftist Anti-Semitism” [Phyllis] Chesler decries the European doctrines of multicultural tolerance and adds, “a similarly dangerous, multi-cultural tolerance also exists in America. So far, however, it has won support mainly among our intellectual elite and our liberal and progressive media.” The article was billed as a symposium sponsored by FrontPage, an extremist, rightwing online magazine founded by David Horowitz who is also founder of the “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week. The event has now been held at over 100 campuses around the nation and featured speakers such as former Senator Rick Santorum, Ann Coulter, Robert Spencer, Nonie Darwish, Wafa Sultan, Michael Medved, Daniel Pipes and Dennis Prager.

In this single-minded zealotry, the struggle against Islam appears to be seen as a zero sum game – whatever is bad for Muslims, must be good for Jews. But what is the cost of this attack on multiculturalism? Is it possible that some Jewish leaders are hacking away at the very same foundations which have provided a peaceful existence for Jews in the U.S. and elsewhere over the last several decades? Is attacking multiculturalism really beneficial to Jews?

…Chesler has become an unlikely star in some sectors of the Religious Right world, most recently for her interviews and commentary concerning Rifqa Bary, the 17-year old girl who ran away from her Muslim family in Ohio after converting to Christianity.

Rachel goes on to use various players in the Bary case as a lens through which to explore the Christian Right. She concludes:

Perhaps the ramifications of promoting the Religious Right and its Christian nationalism as a deterrent to the “new anti-Semitism” is shortsighted.

However, an angry response from Chesler has been appended by ZEEK‘s editors:

…Rachel Tabachnick is saying that young, politically progressive Jews should stay away from cases where potential honor killings are alleged or involved because those who support such cases are right-wing Christian zealots. Neat trick. This certainly scapegoats right-wing Christian zealots for the considerable crimes of Islamic/Islamist gender and religious apartheid, including honor killings.

Why would ZEEK want to publish such a view and at such length? Why would ZEEK wish to demonize me, not only for my stated views, but to find me guilty by association with other demonized thinkers?

For the record: I have had absolutely nothing to do with the activism around the Rifqa Bary case and do not know and have had no contact with the various people whom the article names…

This reply is also reposted at Pyjamas Media, along with an introduction in which she writes that

I purposely stayed far away from Bary’s supporters—not because they were Christians or conservatives but on the off chance that my academic studies about honor killings might become part of the legal record in this case.

Chesler’s public involvement with the Bary case occured last summer. As she boasted on her own site:

Yesterday afternoon, my living room was filled with lights, cameras, and two very friendly ABC crew men. We were taping an interview for Good Morning America which appeared today and which is preserved at theirwebsite. We talked about honor killings and the plight of Fathima Rifqa Bary, the Muslim teenager from Ohio who converted to Christianity and who ran away from home because she knows her father will kill her.

…Weeping, the very frightened teenager from Sri Lanka knows that most western journalists (and the police who turned her over to the state and forced her into a public trial), do not believe this can be true. How quickly they forget Salman Rushdie’s plight.

…Rifqa may be “forced” to return to Islam. Her family may place her under house arrest, and bring in the mullahs to reason with or to brainwash her; her mother may beg her to relent so that the family may remain together as before. If all else fails, Rifqa may be sent back to Sri Lanka either to be killed or to be confined to a lunatic asylum. She may be killed here. What absolutely cannot happen is for her religious Muslim family to remain close to her as she follows another religious path very publicly.

…Of course, these are Rifqa’s allegations, and what the truth is in this case remains to be explored.

And, by the way: the weeping and terrified Rifqa has possibly been coached for the interview, she is slightly “hysterical,” she seems somewhat auto-hypnotized. And yet, she also makes perfect sense. She is quite in touch with reality.

Those caveats are tokenistic; her piece is entitled “Honor Killing Averted”. I wrote a number of posts myself on the topic; of course, we don’t know what kind of man Bary’s father is, but her account was problematic and certainly did not “make perfect sense” . In particular, Bary stated that her father wanted to kill her because it would bring him “great honour” in the eyes of Allah. In other words, she appears to understand honour killings as some kind of human sacrifice – where did she get that idea from? Chesler also repeats Bary’s claim that a lunatic asylum awaits in Sri Lanka, although there is no evidence for this: although Muslim family law has some authority over the Muslim minority, Sri Lanka is a Buddhist country (not Muslim), and women have civil rights. There was reason for caution, but Chesler was happy to jump on an increasingly hysterical bandwagon.

Meanwhile, former Washington Times assistant editor Robert Stacy McCain sees a conspiracy:

Which brings us to the important question, “Who is Rachel Tabachnick?” She is a prodigious contributor to the Web site Talk2Action.org, whose raison d’être is to “expose” the Religious Right. TalkToAction was founded in February 2006 by Bruce Wilson and Frederick Clarkson.

…Beyond what she says about herself at Talk2Action, however, it is nearly impossible to learn anything else about Mrs. Tabachnick… We do not know, for example, how Talk2Action is funded, or how it was that Mrs. Tabachnick “began collaborating with Bruce Wilson.”

Bruce, it should be recalled, in 2008 sought out a number of taped sermons by Pastor John Hagee; what he discovered led to John McCain repudiating Hagee’s presidential endorsement. The other McCain continues:

…The goal of Talk2Action is to defeat Republicans by discrediting conservative Christians, portraying them as dangerous, intolerant kooks.

Chesler’s column about Rifka Bary, and her general work in discussing the oppression of women in Islamic societies (Chesler was once married to a Muslim and lived in Afghanistan), were rather disruptive of the “American Taliban” message that Wilson and Mrs. Tabachnick have been relentlessly promoting.

This is why Chesler was attacked in the pages of the Forward.

We have solved that mystery, Scooby-Doo, and it’s time for the Mystery Machine to roll on, leaving others to pursue the nagging question: Who’s paying the bills at Talk2Action.org?

McCain pads out his article with a few personal details about Rachel’s husband, even though this has nothing to do with anything, and there’s the revelation that she and her husband donated to the Obama campaign. It’s a bizarre attack: Tabachnick doesn’t claim personal authority or to have inside information – readers can follow the links she provides and decide for themselves whether she has fairly characterised the Christian Right figures she discusses. Her personal background and unsurprising progressive political views are not of wider interest.

But what about TTA‘s funding? I also write the occasional piece for the website – has Bruce been keeping back brown envelopes stashed full of Soros dollars that I’m owed? Alas no, as Bruce explains here:

Let me clear up the mystery, as to Robert Stacy McCain’s breathless question, “Who’s paying the bills at Talk2Action.org?”

The answer is rather dull, really. I’ve paid the bills for most of the web site’s existence. The hosting fee is about $26 a month, and Talk2action contributors aren’t paid for their contributions.

Robert Stacy McCain and I have had a bit of back and forth at The American Spectator. In the exchange, he accuses me of unfairly saddling John McCain with John Hagee. I respond. And, R.S. McCain suggests that my highlighting of Lou Engle is unfair because he’s a very obscure evangelist. I respond. Your readers can find the exchange in the comment section here:

Bruce Wilson

Chesler shares McCain’s view that noting the excesses of the Christian Right actually means that one supports extremist Islam (I’ve been accused of the same thing):

Perhaps that is the point: To rile your audience up against right wing Christians so they will forget all about Islamist hatred of infidels, opposing Islamic sects, women, and the general practices of Islamic gender and religious apartheid.Perhaps that is the point: To rile your audience up against right wing Christians so they will forget all about Islamist hatred of infidels, opposing Islamic sects, women, and the general practices of Islamic gender and religious apartheid.

My view – if anyone’s interested – is that some people are complacent about Islamic extremism. Legitimate concerns might be dismissed as racism, and some on the “anti-imperialist” left even go so far as to support Islamist groups, either for reasons of political expediency or because “solidarity” has become an unreflecting dogma (not something of which I approve either way). But as with the anti-Communist hysteria of the 1950s, we know that other kinds of extremists and opportunists will seek to use the situation for their own purposes. It makes sense to keep a critical attitude.

Chesler’s poor judgement was in evidence in 2008, when she wrote in support of the British anti-Muslim activist Paul Ray (“Lionheart”). However, she did change her mind once the easy-to-find evidence of his pro-BNP views was brought to her attention. I see that her post on the subject has since been deleted.

Alabama Education Association Funding Attack on Politician for Believing in Evolution

According to its website, the Alabama Education Association

is the largest education association in the state of Alabama. The AEA is an advocate organization that leads the movement for excellence in education and is the voice of education professionals in Alabama. Our mission is to promote educational excellence.

…AEA is an affiliate of the 3.2 million member, National Education Association (NEA) – the nation’s largest professional employee organization. The NEA is committed to advancing the cause of public education and believes every child deserves a quality education.

The AEA is also apparently indirectly funding an attack on a gubernatorial candidate on the grounds that he believes in teaching the theory of evolution and is not a Biblical literalist. Here’s the ad:

The “LiberalBradleyByrne” website which features in the advert is “paid for by True Republican PAC”. The Montgomery Advertiser reported last month:

The state’s powerful teachers union has given $500,000 to political action committees that contributed to an effort to attack Republican gubernatorial candidate Bradley Byrne.

…True Republican PAC, according to a review of campaign finance documents filed with the Alabama secretary of state’s office, has received most of its funding from PACs heavily funded by the Alabama Education Association.

The Birmingham News added:

While the money funneled to the True Republican PAC was obscured by a series of PAC-to-PAC transfers, now that it is out in the open, [AEA Executive Secretary Paul] Hubbert had no hesitation in talking about it.

He said AEA worked with a Marengo County Republican, Andy Renner, to set up the PAC…

But this isn’t just a tale of Republican fundamentalism; Hubbert is co-chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party, while the AEA’s assistant secretary is chairman of the Alabama Democratic Conference. Hubbert and Renner

…worked with Denver-based Media Strategies and Research on the Byrne ads. Media Strategies commonly works for Democratic candidates and for the National Education Association.

The “LiberalBradleyByrne” website goes into further detail about Byrne and religion :

It is hard to know where Bradley Byrne stands when it comes to his belief about the Bible. As noted in the Book of James, chapter 3, verse 11: “Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?”

In the Mobile Press-Register on November 16, 2009, Bradley Byrne stated that “there are parts of the Bible that are meant to be literally true and parts that are not.” (1)

…Some insight is offered from when he served on the State Board of Education. Back then Mr. Byrne stated that “evolution is clearly the dominant theory that best explains the origin of life on earth.” That doesn’t sound like someone who believes in the literal interpretation of the Bible.

…when Mr. Byrne served in the state senate, he voted against the establishment of “Christian Heritage Week,” a program designed to spend 30 minutes per day for one week studying the influence of Christianity in American history. Mr. Byrne said it would be too difficult to schedule. (4)

Mr. Byrne has stated these positions in the public on the record. In the weeks ahead as we get closer and closer to the election, watch politician Bradley Byrne deny what he has already publicly stated.”Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” Matthew 7:15

(Hat tip: Pharyngula)

UPDATE: Byrne has issued  a statement insisting that the advert is a lie:

As a Christian and as a public servant, I have never wavered in my belief that this world and everything in it is a masterpiece created by the hands of God. As a member of the Alabama Board of Education, the record clearly shows that I fought to ensure the teaching of creationism in our school text books. Those who attack me have distorted, twisted and misrepresented my comments and are spewing utter lies to the people of this state.

That’s from his official campaign website – i.e. not an Onion spoof.

Ryszard Nowak and the Committee for the Defence Against Sects

The Telegraph reports on Polish pop singer named Dorota Rabczewska, who has been charged with blasphemy after opining in an interview that

she believed more in dinosaurs than the Bible because “it is hard to believe in something written by people who drank too much wine and smoked herbal cigarettes.”

Rabczewska, known as “Doda Elektroda”, could be jailed for two years:

“It is clear that Doda thinks that the Bible was written by drunkards and junkies,” said Ryszard Nowak, chairman of the Committee for the Defence Against Sects, an organisation dedicated to protecting Christian values. “I believe that she committed a crime and offended the religious feelings of both Christians and Jews.”

The idea that drugs have played a role in the development of western religion has been raised before – most famously by John Allegro – but the speculation not received much scholarly support. According to a quote posted here, Nowak apparently hopes the singer will be made to work in a hospice or as a street-sweeper rather than jailed. Her manager, Maja Sablewska, tried to argue that non-alcoholic wine was meant.

A 2001 article posted online by CESNUR has some background on Nowak and his organisation:

The Committee for the Defence against Sects in Poland is the only entirely non-church related association that works to stop the introduction of sects into Poland. It was established by Ryszard Nowak, a former member of parliament from the political left who was pushed out of political life for creating this organization. This past year, he organized a press release, claiming to have an alarming report on children in ‘sects,’ which proved to be very controversial. It also proved very difficult to get a copy of.

In Polish, the organisation is known as the “Komitet Obrony przed Sektami“; it does not appear to have a website. Nowak – now with the populist Self-Defence Party and a councillor in Jelenia Gora – is known in particular for his opposition to certain forms of music which he considers to be Satanic. He warns the promotion of Satanism goes beyond just “Black Metal” material; in particular, he accuses Jerzy Owsiak, who runs a regular “Woodstock” pop festival event, of being a “thinly disguised” Satanist (Owsiak, in turn, calls Nowak a “complete idiot”). Nowak also claims that there have been at least 400 Satanic concerts in the country since 1986.

In 2007 he produced a report on the subject, which was apparently embraced by government departments. According to an article here,  Joanna D?bek from the Ministry of Justice said that the report would be helpful for amending the penal code to prevent the spread of sects and Satanism. The Ministry of Interior passed the report on the police. However, the report itself remains private, to stop “young people” copying practices described in it.

Nowak is also currently gunning for a performer named Adam Darski, who uses the stage name “Nergal” and whose band is called Behemoth [UPDATE: And who is also Rabczewska’s fiancée]:

The case concerns a concert in September 2007 in the club “The Ear” in Gdynia, during which Darski tore up the Bible and scattered its fragments among the audience. Then the [fragments] were to be burned by fans of the band. The singer of Behemoth also [said] that the Catholic Church is “a criminal sect.””…

The first proceedings in this case were officially initiated in February 2008 based on reports about the Behemoth concert to the media by Ryszard Nowak, President of the National Committee of Defense Against Sects.

…Investigators from Gdynia again took up events at a Behemoth concert in January of this year, after the prosecution filed an application in this case [from] four Pomeranian PiS (Law and Justice Party) representatives.

..In the ongoing case the prosecutor is also investigating another [matter] connected with the Behemoth leader … on the report of Ryszard Nowak, related to a work of Adam Darski’s named “Praise to the killers of St. Adalbert” [in Polish St. Wojciech]. Nowak accuses the musician of “publicly praising the killing of St. Adalbert”…

Adalbert was speared and beheaded by Prussian pagans in 997; Wojciech (or Voytech) had been his birth name, and he took the name “Adalbert” from his teacher; the pagans may have been annoyed by missionaries damaging sacred groves.

Last year, Darski sued Nowak for calling him a “criminal”, and won. Nowak – who had to make a donation to an animal charity as compensation – complained that this was giving a “green light” to Satanists.

(correction: in a fit of confusion I originally wrote “Morton Smith” when I meant “John Allegro”)

Japan: Unificationists Accuse Christian Pastors of Participation in Forced “Deprogramming”

From a press release:

A respected Buddhist priest in Japan has called for Japanese authorities to prosecute those responsible for kidnapping and imprisoning members of the Unification Church. In an official letter to a Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution assisting the state prosecutor dated March 14, Rev. Dohki Mihara, a Sotoshu Buddhist priest, wrote:  “Getting to know about Mr. Toru Goto’s case of religious kidnapping and confinement that lasted for 12 years and 5 months, a case which was clearly based on a purpose to break his faith in the Unification Church, I felt deep despair and grief to find out that Japan, although calling itself a cultured nation, has not acquired human decency, common sense in respect for human rights, or the basic attitude of democratic nation.”

Mr. Goto’s case was dismissed by Tokyo prosecutors with no indictments but will now be considered by a citizens’panel empowered to re-open the case.

..Rev. Mihara is the former president of the Religionists Forum, an ecumenical association of Buddhist, Christian, and Shinto religious leaders in Miyazaki Prefecture on the island of Kyushu. He was speaking to the fact that since 1969 more than 4,300 members of the Unification Church have been kidnapped and confined by misguided relatives and opponents of the church. As has been reported, some of the victims have been beaten, sexually assaulted or tortured while in captivity.

Goto’s story was included in the 2008 US State Department Report on International Religious Freedom:

According to representatives from the Unification Church, a member of their congregation was abducted by his family and held in captivity for more than 12 years in an attempt to “deprogram” him. Four months after his escape, police had not opened an investigation into the case.

…According to representatives of the Unification Church, approximately 10 to 20 practitioners were forcibly “deprogrammed” by concerned family members during the reporting period, and in most cases, the believers “quickly gave up their faith.”

According to a Unificationist website:

Toru and several other victims of kidnapping and psychological torture were quoted in a series of articles in Sekai Nippo during the last week of June 2009. Despite many cases in Japan having been reported to the police over the last decade or more, no cases have been prosecuted yet. …Toru was kidnapped and suffered faith-breaking efforts twice, first in 1987 and again in 1995, he told the newly formed Association to abolish Deprogramming in February. Alarmed by hateful accusations and claims against new religions, his parents had hired Mr. Shun Miyamura, a professional kidnapper who called himself a “deprogrammer.” In the first episode of kidnapping Toru pretended to recant his faith. …Soichiro Kobayashi, 37, says he was abducted and assaulted three times since he joined the church in 1992. …Dr. Hirohisa Koide, 46, a physician, told Sekai Nippo how he had been abducted and held in confinement for two years, also by Miyamura, beginning in June 1992. His book, Escaping the Kidnappers, was published in 1999 but was shunned by book distributors influenced by intolerant critics of the church.

Goto’s testimony can be seen here. It includes the following:

…my brother started working for the company that was managed by Shun Miyamura, the professional deprogrammer who de-converted him. Together, with Miyamura, my brother came to work vigorously to “deprogram” members. He eventually married a woman, who like him, was a former-member and had been de-converted through abduction and confinement.

…As I examined the room, all the windows were equipped with a special lock on the inside and were securely locked so they could not be opened… A few days later, Minister Matsunaga Toridechi of the Niitsu Evangelical Christian Church brought several former Unification Church members and they repeatedly criticized and denounced the UC movement.

A report here has the same details, alothough names have changed slightly: the deprogrammer is “Takashi Miyamura”, and the evangelical minister is “Yasutomo Matsunaga” of the Japanese Alliance Christian Council and the “Niizu Good News Christian Church”.

A further report has the testimony of Sayuri Hara:

In early June 1992, two former members of the Unification Church visited my parents and persuasively spoke to them for many hours saying, “Please cooperate in converting Sayuri.” My mother went to see Pastor Shikae Kurotori and was introduced to Pastor Kyoko Kawasaki of the Tanimura Church, in a Japanese Christian denomination. On June 24, 1992, I visited my home in Yamanashi. After eating out, we were about to go home, and I was seated in a back seat of a vehicle. My father drove the car… I was taken to the Yoshida Business Hotel, to room 307, and held hostage there… By overhearing my parents’ conversations, I learned that my parents contacted and received directions from Pastor Kyoko Kawasaki on numerous occasions during the day. In the hotel room, Pastor Kyoko Kawasaki pressed me to withdraw from the Unification Church for four days, for over 10 hours a day.

Members of the church have been holding protests to hightlight their complaint. In February, there was a march in Ogikubo in Tokyo. The location was significant:

The late Pastor Satoshi Moriyama, who came up with the idea of abduction, confinement and forced disavowal towards Unificationist members, was the Pastor of Ogikubo Eiko Church located in Ogikubo, Suginami Ward. Therefore, this area is where it all started, and Mr. Toru Goto was also confined in the Ogikubo area and Niigata for 12 years and 5 months from Sept.11, 1995 to Feb. 10, 2008. Mr. Shun Miyamura, one of the masterminds of Mr. Goto’s confinement case, manages a company in the vicinity of Ogikubo as well.

There was also a protest in April in Okayama; according to a report here:

On April 18, 2010, over 150 members of the Unification Church and supporters of religious freedom marched in Kurashiki City in Okayama Prefecture, near Japan’s west coast, to publicly accuse a local Japanese minister of complicity in the kidnapping and unlawful confinement of members of the Unification Church in often failed attempts to force them to abandon their faith.Unification Church Website in Japan, Pastor Masaharu Takayama, the head of the Kurashiki Grace Christian Church, attempted without success to break the faith of a Unification Church member last year.

…”Christian ministers usually receive a payment from the parents of victims when they are asked to de-convert the victims,” according to Shunsuke Uotani, an official of the Universal Peace Federation in Japan. The faith-breaking victim was a young lady from Tottori Prefecture…

Three days later, some female Japanese members held a press conference in Seoul. The New York Post has some pictures here; according to the commentary:

Japanese members of the Unification Church who are married to South Korean men take part in a news conference in Seoul April 21, 2010. The Unification Church members want the South Korean and Japanese governments to ensure they are safe to return to Japan as they fear their relatives might forcibly detain them and make them renounce their religion. The Korean characters on the yellow sash read,”Please free us from fears of detention and kidnapping”.

Some purported historical background is given here, although this is a partial account which conflates kidnapping with other aspects of Christian opposition to the movement (as well as Communist opposition); one would like to see some actual evidence, or at least an authoritative reference, to support the claim that Moriyama – a fierce critic of Rev Moon – supported kidnapping:

The first period began in 1966, when Rev. Satoshi Moriyama labeled the Unification Church “heretical” from his perspective as an evangelical Christian, and began using abduction and confinement as tactics to force individual Unification Church members to renounce their faith. On July 7, 1967, the evening edition of Asahi Shimbun, a major Japanese daily newspaper, published an article titled, Unification Movement Brings Tears to Parents. The article fanned the anxiety of parents with adult children in the Unification Church, and some sought out Moriyama for advice. This led to an increase in forced renunciation attempts. In March 1976, Rev. Moriyama held a four-day seminar at the Hachioji University Seminar House in Tokyo titled “Seminar on Counter Measures against the Unification Association” to instruct other Christian ministers on his method of confining Unification Church members and convincing them to renounce their faith. 

During the second period, from 1976 to 1987, many Christian ministers, primarily from evangelical churches, joined Moriyama’s efforts, leading to a sharp rise in forced renunciation attempts. These ministers included Rev. Takeo Funada, Rev. Mamoru Takazawa, Rev. Shinya Waga and Rev. Hisoka Murakami. 

…Hiroko Tomizawa, who was abducted during the storming of the Tottori church [in 1997] and confined for a year and three months, and Rie Imari, who was abducted off the street, brought civil suits against the ministers involved in their respective cases. Following this, the number of attempted forced renunciations gradually declined. 

The Christian minister involved in Mrs. Tomizawa’s case admitted in court that she had been confined involuntarily, and the court ruled in her favor. The minister involved in Mrs. Imari’s case refused to make such an admission, and the court ruled against her.

Some Election Results

Election results are now in for the various figures I’ve taken an interest in over the past few weeks.

In Lincoln, the BNP’s “Rev” Robert West came fourth place with 1,367 votes (3% of the total), while in Croydon Central  his former cheerleader Pastor James Gitau, who switched at short notice to the Christian Party, managed 264 votes (0.5%), taking eighth place. Meanwhile, Christian Party leader George Hargreaves came sixth in Barking, with 482 votes (1.1%). In the Western Isles (Na H-Eileanan An Iar), the affiliated Scottish Christian Party candidate Tom Selfridge stepped down for an independent named Murdo Murray, who came a distant third with 1,412 votes (9.6%). The Christian Party of Wales’ David Griffiths came sixth in Clwyd West with 239 votes (0.6%) – a result that means Wales will keep its dragon flag, despite his warning that it is “a symbol of defeat and Satan”.

Among mainstream candidates, Philippa Stroud came second place in Sutton and Cheam, receiving 1608 votes fewer than the Liberal Democrat winner. Nadine Dorries won comfortably in Mid Bedfordshire, with 28,815 votes (52.5%, and more than twice the number of votes than her nearest rival).

Philippa Stroud: Lawyers Send Letters, Supporters Speak Out

The PinkNews has a further article on Philippa Stroud, the neo-Pentecostal Conservative Parliamentary candidate who is claimed to have been involved in prayer sessions to expel demons from gay people a few years ago. Stroud has apparently been waving lawyers around:

…John Rubinstein, of law firm Rubinstein Phillips, is representing Mrs Stroud and confirmed that the company has contacted a number of media outlets reminding them of their duty under Section 106 of the Representation of the Peoples’ Act.

This makes it illegal to publish any false statement of fact in relation to the candidate’s personal character or conduct, unless the publication can show that they had reasonable grounds for believing that statement to be true.

A political activist fell foul of this law in 2007 after smearing a gay opponent; the lawyers in this case, though, seem to be cautioning against extrapolating from the Observer article to making excessive claims about Stroud, rather than seeking to suppress the story itself (it is apparently also distinct from “criminal libel”, which was used by the MP Julian Lewis against the late Simon Regan in the 1997 election campaign). Sunny Hundal suggests that this warning resulted in the story receiving less media coverage than it would otherwise have done.

A posting on Pam’s House Blend raised the same issue in rather more dramatic terms on Tuesday:

According to Kacey Jones… one of the people interviewed for the original article, “They [the BBC) will get sued by there [sic] lawyers if they do… [the] bbc would have got sued if they ran the story… They went all the way to Brighton to see AJ, and I did mine over the phone. Then the lawers jumped on it and stopped it.” This was confirmed independently by AJ Patterson, who said on Facebook that she has “been gagged. Did apiece with BBC, but they cant run it. They have lawyers I guess. What happened to justice…….what happened to peoples voices???????” In a later private message AJ said the line she received from the BBC was that “[Stroud] got lawyers and it come from quite high up.” Benjamin Cohen, the gay Channel 4 journalist, said yesterday on Twitter that he and colleague were fighting to get story out but there were “complications” – which implies that Channel 4 News are facing the same threats of legal action as the BBC.

In fact, Cohen wrote that his editor

said it was a good story but is rather hampered by the fact that Mrs Stroud hasn’t given interviews on the subject. We also haven’t been able to interview the people quoted in the Observer’s original investigation. All we have is an rather obscure book and claims by individuals who assert that Mrs Stroud had contact with them more than 10 years ago.

Meanwhile, Andrew Brown has highlighted a couple of messages from members of Stroud’s church, as an important counterbalance to the other reports:

…In my church I see a loving welcome to people from all cultures and backgrounds and determined efforts to serve the local community offering free no-strings attached English classes. If I witnessed a negative reaction to an openly gay attendee from some members I would question my place in the church and I would talk to leaders about it.

… I checked about praying for release from demons in my church and the guess is this has maybe happened four times in ten years, none of these related to homosexuality. Exorcism is practiced across Christian denominations including Church of England and by Muslims and Sikhs but it’s not something I’ve personally ever witnessed.


…As one who knows the church that the Strouds established, is a christian, worked on the social action project that supported the rough sleepers of Bedford and is bisexual i can CLARIFY that the church does not / has never cast demons out of gay people – I am loved and accepted in my church. I know 3 of the gay people who are quoted in the article and all 3 are using this 15 min of fame to air their anger and personal issues .

This all seems reasonable enough, although the situation may have changed since the early 1990s, when John Wimber’s “Power Evangelism” was all the rage and “spiritual warfare” was more strongly stressed across middle-class neo-Penteocostalism: the new movement had enjoyed remarkable rapid growth in the 1980s, and phenomena such as the “Toronto Blessing” prompted huge enthusiasm about God’s power to bring revival through miraculous interventions. But the growth spurt turned out to be temporary, as the pool of recruits from other, older, churches dried up; the supernatural interventions became less convincing (the nadir was perhaps the “God turned my fillings gold” craze of 1999); and the “deliverance ministry” was implicated in a series of excesses and scandals (see Roland Howard’s book Charismania and Stephen Parsons’ Ungodly Fear). There’s now more caution about supernatural interventions, and an understanding that  “deliverance” has many pitfalls.

Andrew Brown also offers this assessment:

The New Frontiers church to which Philippa Stroud belongs and where her husband is a major star is the fruit standard of fruit loopiness among English evangelical Christians. It was at a New Frontiers church in Brighton that I once went to hear the New Zealand evangelist Bill Surbritzky [sic], a man who believes that not merely homosexuality but smoking and swearing are caused by demonic infestation.

I have a copy of Bill Subritzky’s book Demons Defeated, and it is certainly one of the strangest items I have in my possession. Among much else, there’s an anecdote about guy who manifests a seagull demon after reading Jonathan Livingston Seagull, and there’s an incident in which God reveals to Subritzky – through a vision – that a woman has been indulging in oral sex.

Nadine Dorries’ “Stalker” Smear used by Cyberbully as Justification for Harassment of Tim Ireland

Back in February, I sent an email to Nadine Dorries MP. Here’s the content:

Dear Ms Dorries

I see from a post that you made today on Twitter that you have forwarded certain emails etc. to the Metropolitan Police concerning Tim Ireland and a man named Charlie Flowers. As you may or may not know, Mr Flowers has made threats of violence against Mr Ireland, and when asked why he has claimed that he was acting on your behalf because Mr Ireland supposedly sent you a death threat. By this, Mr Flowers is refering to the incident in which you posted a Tweet about sitting in a churchyard, and Mr Ireland responded with a Tweet to you linking to a YouTube video clip taken from the film “The Omen”, in which a priest is killed in a churchyard by a supernatural entity.

I understand that you considered this joke by Mr Ireland to be offensive, and that you have had on-going disputes with him that have spilled over into personal animosity. However, I am sure that you cannot agree that his Tweet amounted to anything close to a threat of any kind, or that a self-styled vigilante should be harassing him as a consequence.

I have had dealings of my own with Mr Flowers and his associates (a gang calling itself “The Cheerleaders”), and I have seen first-hand how they have harassed Mr Ireland and other people. They have a dispute with Mr Ireland on a different matter, but they are using his disputes with political figures such as yourself and Iain Dale as opportunistic cover for their harassment. Regrettably, Mr Ireland’s complaints about this are now being mischaracterised as some sort of “conspiracy theory” on his part, although he has never claimed that you or his other political opponents are connected with Mr Flowers.

I have extra information about this matter, and I would like to add a statement of my own to the police investigation. I would therefore be grateful if you could give me contact details for whomever you have passed your materials on to.

Yours sincerely
Richard Bartholomew

The background to this letter was that Tim had been suffering a sustained campaign of harassment from Flowers and certain other individuals hiding behind fake IDs – his home address had been published on-line in attempt to force him “to go back to Australia”, and there were direct threats of violence. In February, Sunny Hundal chanced upon Flowers at a public event and challenged him; Flowers reportedly “claimed he was doing it on behalf on Nadine Dorries and had informed her and Paul Staines and Iain Dale about it”. Tim asked Dorries about this, and she posted a Tweet:

I have fwd all emails etc to the Met Police who are reviewing with the harassment unit

This seemed encouraging – she seemed to be confirming that she had received a message from Flowers and had realised it was appropriate to pass it on. But why was she being so vague about it? As Tim observed, with some frustration:

 …she does not specify who those emails were from, who she reported them to, or when she reported them (my money’s on yesterday, if at all).

I think my letter conveyed the importance of the situation succintly enough, and there was no reason why my name should have put her off. However, my email was not acknowledged, and it now appears that Dorries in fact used the incident for her own purposes – not to help Tim shake off a bully, but to have Tim himself investigated by the police for supposedly stalking her. This was revealed last night, when Dorries made a remarkable scene in public at hustings in the village of Flitwick when she discovered that Tim was filming the event (Flitwick is pronounced “flittick”, as someone else helpfully points out in this video):

And sure enough, Flowers is using the incident as a justification for acts that a man of any decency would find shameful:

Tim has a post on the Flitwick debacle here. It’s of particular interest that Dorries mentions Patrick Mercer MP at the end of her harangue – it shows that she has been paying close attention to Tim’s situation, so she can’t simply claim that his dispute with Flowers was a detail beneath her concern. Mercer, it may be recalled, is the MP who for a long time endorsed Glen Jenvey, an “anti-terror expert” who generated a front-page splash for the Sun by posting a fake message to a Muslim website in order to concoct a terrorism scare. Tim discovered the deception, and Mercer disassociated himself from Jenvey once the evidence of manipulation was indisputable – but he wasn’t too keen to make much of a public thing of it.

Flowers and his friends turned against Tim last autumn; the attacks began after Tim discovered that an associate of Flowers named Dominic Wightman – another self-styled “anti-terror expert” with past links to Jenvey – had been feeding Tim and me false information in the hope that we would write blog entries attacking another man, against whom Wightman has a grudge. However, Wightman and the “Cheerleaders” deny any link to each other. Flowers regards himself as some sort of “anti-jihadi” activist, and he has made links with both British Muslims for Secular Democracy and the English Defence League (at the Westminster demo he held a loudspeaker for the Sikh EDL leader Amit Singh, whom I blogged here). One of his “Cheerleader” friends is not above dipping into Redwatch to fish out personal details about someone else whose private life they want to disrupt.

It seems that Tim’s problem is that certain of his political opponents don’t like his persistence in debate and his willingness to dig deeply to get information. Their answer is simply to suggest that pressing a point which they would prefer to shrug off is evidence of mental instability, and to complain of “stalking”. Any appeal for them to show a bit of decency when things get out of hand is simply used as further evidence of mental instability, and perhaps serves as source of amusement. One might expect this from bloggers – but from an MP?