Ex-EDL Leader a “Surprise Guest” at Silent Conquest Showing in London

At the Spectator, Nick Cohen reports from a recent showing of the film Silent Conquest:

If you haven’t seen it, Silent Conquest is a documentary for everyone who goes along with the ‘Islamisation of the West crowd’. The producers say that it ‘offers a frightening insight into the extent to which Europe, Canada and the United Nations have already succumbed to the restrictions of shariah blasphemy laws.’

The film details how writers and politicians have been persecuted by the courts as much as by jihadis. Just because liberals don’t like them, does not make the denial of their liberty any greater.

The film thus highlights an important issue, although the trailers (here and here) suggest to me that the subject is not tackled in good faith: the “conquest” is given visible form via old footage of rantings by Anjem Choudary, while the most prominent talking-head expert seems to be the charlatan conspiracy theorist Frank Gaffney. The trailers also highlight attempts by the Organization of the Islamic Conference to introduce a concept of “defamation of religions”, which we are told will criminalize all critical comment about Islam, although no mention is made of the detail that the OIC gave up on the idea last year. A sinister air is also given to statements by Barack Obama, in which he reasonably attempts to make clear that anti-Islam rhetoric in the USA does not represent the USA.

I also doubt that the film looks at prosecutions in Europe in proper context. In 2004 a Swedish pastor went to prison for attacking homosexuality, and in 2005 French journalists were fined for the “racial defamation” of Israeli Jews. Of course, the threat of public disorder – or worse – by offended Islamists may play an improper role in making a decision to undertake a particular prosecution, but laws limiting free speech to “protect” minority groups for one reason or another came into existence for reasons other than to appease Muslims.

Cohen has his own misgivings:

…the film, like the dismal ideology it represents, cannot acknowledge that the main target of radical Muslims are liberal Muslims and ex-Muslims – not just in Iran but in the West too.

Consider the title. Muslims and by extension ex-Muslims are not a part of the West. They are outsiders, ‘silent conquerors’, who have sneaked in and torn up our rights. Nowhere can the filmmakers acknowledge that many Muslims, who have come to the West or indeed been born in the West, hope to enjoy the same rights as everyone else… The right, or at least the most vocal part of it, are as willing as the most vocal elements on the liberal-left to ignore liberal Muslims and ex-Muslims. 

Cohen saw the film at a special screening in London organised by “Passion for Freedom”, where he was panel discussant along with Douglas Murray and Anne Marie Waters. He adds:

I was uneasy about what I had seen, and became more irritable when the organisers announced a surprise guest, Tommy Robinson, formerly of the English Defence League.

It is not that I doubt the sincerity of his conversion from extremist politics. Even if I did, I think the moderate Muslim Quilliam Foundation did a superb job when it spirited him away and left the EDL leaderless. As I stared at him, I noticed another reason to stop worrying. Robinson is now a shrunken figure.

…Nevertheless Robinson’s appearance after a film that had made Muslims seem both an homogenous bloc and a conquering army summed up everything that was going wrong with the Right’s reaction to militant Islam.

Cohen’s sympathy with Quilliam’s aims means he has a tendency to regard the organisation uncritically; in fact, there’s quite a gap between Quilliam’s presentation of Robinson as a “former extremist” and Robinson’s own very clear statements that he hasn’t changed his views at all. But Cohen’s assessment of Robinson’s “shrunken” state is a useful counter-balance to concerns about Robinson’s plans for a new organisation: Robinson is articulate and can even be disarming, but it’s difficult to see what kind of constituency he could have outside the EDL (I’m also very doubtful that the access to funding streams that Quilliam seems to have promised him will come to anything – his past remains toxic, and he has a recent criminal record).

Passion for Freedom describes itself as “creat[ing] space for artists and writers who discuss subjects omitted in politically correct circles”, and it is a project of One Law For All. The film was presented as part of a festival, at which it was given the “Silver Award”; the full line-up of nominees can be seen here (the “Gold Award” went to a short art film of a naked woman swimming underwater, called The Siren; a useful choice for positioning Passion for Freedom as being broader than One Law For All’s core concerns).

Silent Conquest was created by a weirdly anonymous outfit called “Sanctum Enterprises LLC”, registered to an office in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida; however, when the film was released a year ago, Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy was given as the contact point. Presumably there’s some kind of overlap with the Clarion Project.

Reverend Paul Flowers and Satanic Panic

From the Manchester Evening News, January 2006:

SHOCK waves reverberated round the Langley estate this week as residents tried to come to terms with the revelations of the suffering of the parents and children involved in the false allegations of satanic abuse more than 15 years ago.

…This week a former Langley councillor, Robin Parker, told the Guardian that he tried to alert the then chairman of the Social services Committee, Councillor the Rev Paul Flowers, a clergyman, that something was going wrong.

Parker – a former Manchester City Council social services official – said: “I was a very new councillor in Rochdale at the time. I was approached by Langley councillors Kevin Hunt and Tony Heaford.

“They said that something was going very badly wrong and they were on the wrong track.”

He said it was apparent that the two social workers involved were fundamentalist Christians and that could be affecting their judgement.

“I went to the chairman of Social Services and said the two social workers were on a mission and could not be objective when they believed Satan was at work, but he rejected this.”

False accusations against parents in Rochdale were just one example of an international “Satanic panic” hysteria whipped up by Christian fundamentalist paperbacks and supposed experts, as I discussed here. Other reports describe Flowers as having been the “vice-chairman” rather than the chairman, but the context of the above suggests that it was Flowers who “rejected” the concerns that were raised.

Rev Flowers, however, was not a member of the “fundamentalist” Christian wing; rather, he seems to be a man of liberal religious views, openly gay and involved with drug- and HIV-related charities. Flowers emerged from the fiasco unscathed and went on to build a career within the cooperative movement, and his profile has been somewhat raised in the past few days (link added):

West Yorkshire Police officers have searched the Bradford home of former Co-op Bank chairman Paul Flowers.

…Mr Flowers, who chaired the bank from April 2010 until June this year, was filmed allegedly ordering cocaine and boasting about his use of other illegal drugs in a video published by the Mail on Sunday.

The Mail said he had been filmed earlier this month – days after being grilled by MPs on the Treasury Select Committee.

The former Bradford councillor, who has been suspended from both his church and the Labour Party, said he had been “wrong” and “stupid”.

Questions have been raised about Mr Flowers’ appointment as chairman of the Co-op Bank in 2010, and banking regulators will be questioned by MPs on the issue.

BBC business editor Robert Peston said that when Mr Flowers appeared before the committee of MPs on 6 November, he appeared to have “no grasp” of “basic” facts about the bank.

Twitter in the UK is currently awash with “Crystal Methodist” jokes. More pertinently, however, Flowers led the bank to disaster, with knock-on effects for the rest of the Cooperative Group. It seems that he was woefully unqualified for the job, and his blurb for a 2012 article in Brand Republic glosses over his lack of knowledge with meaningless PR-blather about “Thought Leadership credentials“.

Peston has a detailed account of his rise within the Co-op here, and it’s come to light just today that he resigned from a position as a trustee with the drugs charity Lifeline in 2004 due to an expenses probe. His appointment seems to have been the kind of insider-network stitch-up that so often determines senior appointments within the social sector and related businesses, and which allows incompetents to blunder from one position to another.

Benjamin Netanyahu, Elie Wiesel, and Rupert Murdoch Praise John Hagee at Dinner Event

From Charisma magazine:

With more than 1.6 million members, pastor John Hagee’s Christians United for Israel (CUFI) has become a powerful force in pro-Israel advocacy in American politics.

…But despite the efforts of Hagee, who is arguably the face of Christian Zionism today, many Jews remain skeptical of evangelical support for Israel.

Can’t think why:

(Full details on that clip, derived from a recent Trinity Broadcasting Network Praise The Lord prophecy special, at Right Wing Watch)

Charisma’s profile of Hagee comes in the wake of “major dinner with Jewish leaders in his honor on Nov. 7 in New York”:

…Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, addressing the dinner in a video message, spoke about his long friendship with Hagee. Nobel laureate and noted Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, sitting next to Hagee, lamented that if there were more Gentiles like him, history might have turned out differently. In a video message, News Corporation CEO and Chairman Rupert Murdoch praised Hagee for standing up for democracy and freedom.

Murdoch is also listed as a member of the event’s “gala committee”.

As some readers may recall, Hagee was at the centre of controversy in 2008 when it came to light that he had opined that God had sent Hitler as a “hunter” to persuade the Jews to create Israel. Hagee was subsequently repudiated by a hapless John McCain, who against his better instincts had sought support from the evangelist and other Christian Right figures.

Murdoch’s had a busy time with evangelists lately – last week he took a prominent position in a group photo with Billy Graham during the evangelist’s 95th birthday.

Fallout From Parliamentary Standards Commission Report into Nadine Dorries MP

Nadine Dorries MP has featured on this blog previously for two broad reasons: firstly, because of her (semi-detached) associations with a political activist evangelical group, and secondly, because of her willingness to launch vicious smears – in conjunction with other players who seek to manipulate public discourse – against anyone who offers a critical perspective on her public statements and self-presentation.

Dorries has been a reasonably-well known national media figure for several years, but she became a true household name exactly a year ago, when she abandoned her parliamentary duties to participate in I’m a Celebrity. At the time, she explained that she was going on the programme “because 16 million people watch it. If people are watching I’m A Celebrity, that is where MPs should be going.” Her decision caused her to be temporarily suspended from the Conservative Party, although her relationship with the party leadership had by this time broken down anyway.

In fact, Dorries was the first person to be voted off the show by viewers, but although she didn’t have the time do much political consciousness-raising while engaged in sitting in a pit full of bugs or eating an ostrich cloaca, her efforts did at least have the side effect of establishing “Nadine Dorries” as a brand: further media appearances and columns followed, and in September we learnt that she had been rewarded with a six-figure publishing deal by Head of Zeus for “a moving and autobiographical trilogy of novels set in 1950s Liverpool about Irish Catholic families struggling against poverty, hardship and abuse”, beginning with a book entitled The Four Streets (referring to a district in the city). Perhaps significantly, the word “Nadine” on the book’s sentimental and generic cover appears larger than “Dorries”.

As an MP, Dorries is obliged to register outside earnings with Parliament. One would have thought this would be a straightforward matter: after all, media work can hardly go unnoticed, and there’s nothing untoward about it. Yet Dorries instead set upon a bizarre course of action that has led to censure by the Parliamentary Committee for Standards and to a newspaper story linking her business partner and landlord to a “glamour model”.

Unity at Ministry of Truth has an extensive and critical account of the Committee’s report, and of the evidence that Dorries gave to it. The very short version is that Dorries argued that because her earnings were being paid into Averbook Ltd – a company which she controls –  she did not have to declare them. Instead, she insisted, she only needed to declare payments received to her personally from the company. It was explained to Dorries that she had misunderstood, but she was having none of it – rather than comply, she decided not to cooperate with the Committee and attempted to intimidate the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner, Kathryn Hudson, with an extraordinary threat to sue her personally if she persisted

Dorries was also late in registering Averbrook itself, and the report included the detail that:

…I have no evidence that the apparent late registration of Ms Dorries’ interest in Averbrook Ltd was other than inadvertent… However, I consider that the serious breaches of the Code of Conduct and the rules of the House entailed by Ms Dorries’ omissions from the Register and her refusal to co-operate with my inquiry require me to report my findings formally to the Committee….

In a very brief apology in the House of Commons, made on the instruction of the Commissioner, Dorries seized on the word “inadvertent” to explain away what had happened, and in a subsequent interview with Amanda Devlin at the Leighton Buzzard Observer she downplayed the matter even more:

…Ms Dorries said she was actually apologising for being bolshie towards the parliamentary commissioner for standards, Kathryn Hudson.

Ms Dorries, who represents Woburn, said: “I have only done what every other MP does, but the new Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards justified it to put a different interpretation on the role and has used my profile as a way of informing all the other MPs that this is the way it is now.”

The story is accompanied by an old photo of Dorries in her “jungle” hat, again emphasising her brand as a “game for a laugh” celebrity rather than an accountable public servant.

Averbrook also has a minority director, Andy Rayment; indeed, it was a moribund old company registered to him before Dorries took it over. Dorries explained to the Committee:

 My business partners, who have nothing to do with me personally—he is just a business partner, with his wife—were very clear that, in going into business, they did not want to be brought into the public domain via my political position. 

Alas, however, Dorries efforts here appear to have backfired slightly. Here’s Vincent Moss in today’s Sunday Mirror:

Controversial Tory MP Nadine Dorries shares her landlord with a Romanian glamour model who seeks out sex on the internet.

The maverick politician and I’m A Celebrity star lives in a house owned by Conservative bigwig Andy Rayment, her millionaire business partner.

…Mr Rayment is a business partner as well as landlord for both women.

Bizarrely, the “glamour model” (who claims that website profiles were created by someone else) is reportedly saying that Dorries is her “best friend”, while Dorries told the paper that she does “not believe” the quote and has passed Moss’s email on to her lawyer. But that’s just one oddity; Dorries also told Moss that:

“Andy and Ann Rayment are two of my closest friends. They own a large number of properties in Bedfordshire which they let out.”

That’s in direct contradiction to her “nothing to do with me personally” evidence given to the Committee, but it fits better with the Rayment’s involvement with Conservative politics in Bedfordshire and with the fact that Rayment bought the house in which she now lives at a time when Dorries was looking for new accommodation.

This is not the first time that Dorries has made a public statement that contradicts evidence given to the Committee – in 2010 she explained away discrepancies between content on her blog and some of her expenses claims by stating that her blog was “70 percent fiction”, only to later retract the explanation. The Parliamentary Commissioner at the time, John Lyon, was not minded to re-open the investigation; one wonders if Hudson will take a more robust approach.

The Mirror and other papers also note that:

Figures show Averbrook had an income of £142,000 and made an £82,000 profit.

Dorries told the Committee that Rayment was the “copy-editor for her books.”

Meanwhile, her evidence to the Committee also references another sum of money:

In my last statement I informed the committee that I am frequently reported to various authorities. I thought it worth clarifying that this has been as a result of my own campaign to reduce the upper limit at which abortion takes place from twenty four to twenty weeks.

The purpose of the reporting, on the basis of spurious claims, is to undermine my credibility and to distract and preoccupy both me and my office from the issue I have pursued since I became an MP.

Following the reporting to the police I had need to instruct a solicitor as the investigating officers would not discuss the case with me directly—even though the Standards Commissioner had investigated the very same complaint and had made no finding against me.

The bill was in fact, £67,000 not £62,000 as I quoted…

That’s an extraordinary amount, and one wonders why she hasn’t made a fuss about the injustice of it. Although (as a commentator below reminds me) the police did at one time refer Dorries to the CPS over a matter on which the CPS eventually said there was “insufficient evidence” to proceed, she was never arrested or charged with anything; interaction with police would have been relatively low-key and probably confined to some correspondence and perhaps an informal interview. I know lawyers are expensive, but £67,000?

UPDATE: Dorries has responded on Twitter to a hostile question about the discrepancy between her evidence and her statement to the newspaper:

@Shaker_Chizzle: @NadineDorriesMP why did you lie to the PSC? Rayment “one of your closest friends” yet also “nothing to do with me personally”?
5:13 PM – 17 Nov 13

@NadineDorriesMP: @Shaker_Chizzle as in related to me , ie, connected obviously but so what and who cares? Blocked for thinking my business is yours!
5:21 PM – 17 Nov 13

In an attempt at further clarification, she has added:

Er, no. I was speaking in the context of IPSA definition ie, personally connected=related. My friends are my business.
9:41 AM – 18 Nov 13

It is true that the IPSA guidelines do indeed use the phrase “connected party”, defined as a relative or as “a body corporate, a firm or a trust with which the MP is connected as defined in section 252 of the Companies Act 2006”; but this is in the specific context of staffing. Here are Dorries’ words in context:

Q2 Chair: I will open up the questioning and then other members may want to join in. Was Averbrook Ltd a way of concealing earnings from media appearances and articles?

Nadine Dorries: Absolutely not. In fact, that is probably evidenced by the fact that on the very day that Averbrook existed [i.e., reactivated from its moribund state], the first thing that I did was ring the Registrar to say that I wanted the company to be registered. My business partners, who have nothing to do with me personally-he is just a business partner, with his wife-were very clear that, in going into business, they did not want to be brought into the public domain via my political position.

The question was not “do any of your relatives have an interest in Averbrook?”, and her reply does not use the “connected party” jargon. Further, a reply of “my business partners are not by relatives” would not be a sufficient answer to the question that was asked.

Perhaps Dorries chose her words deliberately for just this eventuality, but it’s clear that she was speaking in a general way and that she intended the Committee to understand that she had no personal association with the couple she now describes as being “two of my closest friends”.

Britain’s “First Counter-Extremism Interfaith Organisation”

Here’s one from last week; a press release published on Harry’s Place (links added):

THE ALL FAITHS NETWORK – “Britain’s first counter-extremism interfaith organisation”

You are cordially invited to a special parliamentary event to mark national Inter Faith Week:

…Religiously-motivated violence and extremism pose a challenge for interfaith organisations – many of which are heavily funded by the taxpayer. What is the best way for faiths to work together to challenge such extremism, and are we talking to the right people?

Has interfaith gone wrong, and how can we make it work?

The Inter Faith Network for the United Kingdom, and its member organisations, including the Muslim Council of Britain, Islamic Foundation and Board of Deputies, have been invited to take part on this important panel, and to offer Muslim and Jewish and representatives to speak at this important event.

…If you would like to attend or for further information, please write by e-mail to events@allfaithsnetwork.org.uk or call 020 3411 7596 or 07979 750293.

Speakers included Revd Peter Colwell, of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, Douglas Murray of the Henry Jackson Society, Sam Westrop of the Gatestone Institute, and Sheikh Muhammad Al-Hussaini of the Westminster Institute; the release ends with a link to an anonymous-looking website – entitled Don’t Fund Extremism – which commends a report by Westrop on what he describes as the “Interfaith Industry”. Follow-up pieces at Harry’s Place state that the purpose of the “special parliamentary event” was actually to launch the report, and note that it was chaired by Baroness Cox.

Westrop’s report, actually published by Stand for Peace, can be seen here; according to the executive summary:

Interfaith dialogue initiatives have been extensively in?ltrated and exploited by extreme Islamist groups aligned with Jamaat-e-Islami and the Muslim Brotherhood… Taxpayer-funded interfaith groups willingly provide extreme Islamists with a platform. Senior interfaith of?cials include Manazir Ahsan, who coordinated the riots against Salman Rushdie and directs the Islamic Foundation, a Taliban-linked publisher of radical Islamist tracts in the UK. Groups such as the Joseph Interfaith Foundation work closely with extremist organisations, one of whose of?cials was a signatory to the Istanbul Declaration, a document that advocated attacks against British troops and Jewish communities. Interfaith umbrella groups include members such as the Al-Muntada Al-Islami Trust, a Wahhabi charity accused by Nigerian media of funding Al Qaeda; Engage, an Islamist lobby group which harangues Muslim anti-Islamist activists; and the Islamic Forum of Europe, a Jamaat-e-Islami lobby group accused by former Labour Minister Jim Fitzpatrick of “in?ltrating the Labour Party”.?

…Interfaith groups and government of?cials have encouraged discrimination against smaller faith organisations, including Ahmaddiya groups, in order to placate the larger faith groups. Interfaith advocates who dissent from the of?cial interfaith line have suffered harassment.?

…Soft Islamism has embraced interfaith dialogue because it affords extremist groups moral legitimacy, access to political in?uence and public funds. Other interfaith leaders, meanwhile, tolerate fundamentalists in order to preserve the interfaith idea.

Westrop’s survey is a synthesis of material already in the public domain (mostly websites and news articles), and its purpose is polemical rather than discursive. But the primary evidence assembled amounts to a case that needs to be answered – as I’ve said before, that it’s not necessarily the case that a group or individual should be reduced to the least creditable thing they’ve ever said or done, but it is reasonable to press their associates to clarify exactly where they stand and how they justify a maintaining link. Peter Colwell, according to reports, appears to have been dismayed.

Westrop’s report must stand on its own merits, but some may see an element of “glass houses” in an event devoted to exposing discreditable associations: Baroness Cox infamously invited Geert Wilders to the UK Parliament, while the Gatestone Institute recently hosted him in the USA. And when it comes to controversial religious groups, it should be noted that the “All Faiths Network” recently scrubbed some pertinent information from its website:

Since its legal establishment on 30 August 2011, the All Faiths Network has operated continuously from its headquarters in the City of London

The All Faiths Network for the United Kingdom
c/o Religions Working Together, 146 Queen Victoria Street
London EC4V 4BY

“146 Queen Victoria Street” is better known as the London base of the Church of Scientology. Also, one of the two phone numbers given in the press release published by Harry’s Place belongs to a Church of Scientology Community Affairs Officer.

According to Charity Commission documentation, the All Faiths Network (charity number 1145611) has three trustees, named as Petar Grigorov, Iftikhar Ayaz (OBE), and Clarence Thompson MBE. None of these are Scientologists, although Ayaz (who is known as an Ahmadi human rights activist) and Thompson (who has been involved in race relations in south London for decades) have been involved with some Scientology events. Grigorov, meanwhile, is actually Petar Grigorov Grammatikoff (1),  a Bulgarian Orthodox hierodeacon who is also involved with the European Interreligious Forum for Religious Freedom; this group has a French Scientologist minister as its primary contact.

However, official documentation for the All Faiths Network gives a different address from Queen Victoria Street: PO Box 67481, London NW3 9RN. Several other groups share the same contact address, including the Christian Muslim Council and Abraham House. The Christian Muslim Council is headed by Patrick Sookhdeo (previously blogged by me here) and Sheikh Mohamed Elsharkawy; Abraham House is run by al-Hussaini, who is noted above as attending the parliamentary event on behalf of the Westminster Institute (with which Sookhdeo is also associated). Al-Hussaini is also Secretary of the Imams and Rabbis Council of the United Kingdom, which along with the Christian Muslim Council and and a group called Scriptural Reasoning (tagline: “Better quality disagreemeent”) are described as “sister” organisations to the Interfaith Alliance UK, which is also associated with PO Box 67481. Meanwhile, the phone number for the All Faiths Network on the Charity Commission Website is the same as that of the UK branch of Al-Azhar University, where Elsharkawy is dean.

Unexpectedly, the Interfaith Alliance UK is a supporter of the Occupy movement:

Occupy Faith UK is the operational name of Interfaith Alliance UK, a charity dedicated to the promotion of religious harmony for the public benefit, striving for social and economic justice for all God’s children.

Occupy Faith UK stands in solidarity with Occupy Faith in the United States and the global Occupy movement, comprising people of many faiths and beliefs working together to build God’s Kingdom, where women and men of all economic, ethnic, religious and other backgrounds are cared for with parity of esteem.


(1) Name variations: Petar Grigorov Gramatikov, Petar Gramatikov, Petar  Gramatikoff

UK Christian Bookseller Chain Pulls To Train Up a Child, Apologises

British parenting blog Lulastic reports that Christian bookseller chain Wesley Owen has apologised to a reader for selling To Train Up a Child by Michael and Debi Pearl:

This is not a book we would ever stock or would ever want to stock, and I can only apologise that it has been mistakenly listed on our website. We will deal with this as soon as we can.

Once again, thank you for brining this to our attention. I can only apologise for the presence of the book on our website.

The book, which was published in 1994 by the Pearls’ “No Greater Joy”  Ministries, has been notorious for years, but it came under renewed scrutiny last week following the conviction in Washington State of Larry and Carri Williams for abuse and neglect that led to the death of their Ethiopian adopted daughter Hana; the Williamses were reportedly guided by the book.

Kathryn Joyce – who has written about authoritarian family structures among fundamentalists in Quiverfull and about troubling aspects of international adoption in The Child Catchers – has provided a very full account of the tragedy at Slate; she notes:

The book has been implicated in the beating deaths of two other adoptees—an American boy in North Carolina and a Liberian girl in California; the prosecuting attorney in the latter case, Michael Ramsey, called it “truly an evil book.”

Pearl appears to be a monomaniac on the subject of spanking children in the same way that Fred Phelps is obsessed with homosexuality (although in a recent BBC interview he claims it’s only a “very small part” of his child-training teaching); a 2006 post at Talk to Action highlights some grotesque child-raising advice from the book, such as the suggestion of using a PVC “chastening rod” to discourage thumb-sucking.

Writing in Quiverfull (page 77), Kathryn adds that the book

has sold more than half a million copies… But Michael’s unabashed promotion of switching [i.e. hitting with an implement] children has led to boycotts of homeschooling magazines that publish No Greater Joy advertisements, and British homeschooling groups have protested a Pearl speaking tour due to their methods.

In the UK, the issue of the book’s sale on the British branch of Amazon was raised in Parliament last week by Nadine Dorries MP, in a question to Leader of the House Andrew Lansley:

…Will the Leader of the House use his good offices to apply pressure on an issue that has come to my attention over the past 24 hours? A book for sale on Amazon, “To Train up a Child” by Michael and Debi Pearl advocates the beating of children under the age of 12 months, using a switch. The book recommends that a switch be cut from a willow tree, and be no longer than 12 inches in length and 8 cm in diameter. It advocates the use of paddles, rulers and other means to beat children from four months onwards. I have written to the Secretaries of State for Culture, Media and Sport and for Education, and to the Prime Minister’s Office and Amazon. Given that this issue has come to light only in the past 24 hours, will the Leader of the House advise how we can bring this issue to Parliament and apply pressure on Amazon to remove this book from sale?…

According to the Huffington Post, Dorries raised the subject at the behest of a bereavement charity (Saying Goodbye); Lansley said he would speak to colleagues and hoped for a “proper response” from Amazon. Amazon in the UK has now stopped selling the paperback edition, although, as Lulastic notes, it’s a “gesture that seems slightly token as it is still available in other formats.” According to a campaign called Stop Spanking, Dorries has also agreed to contact Senator Patty Murray of Washington State to suggest the same approach with Amazon in the USA (regrettably, although not surprisingly, Dorries is also now citing her involvement in an attempt to occupy the moral high-ground amid media interest in other matters).

To Train Up a Child seems to be in a league of its own, although it’s not the only American Christian book on child-raising to attract controversy due to its readers. In 1997, there was a high-profile murder case in the UK which a man (a former deputy headmaster) was accused of having killed his foster-daughter in a fit of rage; and although he was eventually cleared after three trials due to ambiguities in the evidence, his former wife claimed in 2006 that he was a violent and controlling man with an interest in religious justifications for spanking. According to the Daily Mail:

At the church they both attended, the couple were introduced to a book called Dare to Discipline and went to a series of talks by the author, James Dobson. On their recommended reading list was a similar book called Spare Not The Rod.

“Some families in our church had started smacking their children, which I thought was appalling. Sion decided we had to discipline out daughters to the point of making them the most perfectly behaved children. He became what I would term violent, but always justified his behaviour with this “spare the rod” theory.

Spare Not the Rod, by Robert L. Olivier, was published in 1976 and is obscure; however, Dobson (profiled here) is a major figure within American conservative evangelicalism and his book is a well-known best-seller.

(Some links H/T Why Not Train a Child?)

Rupert Murdoch: At the Left Hand of Billy Graham

At Patheos, Fred Clark casts a critical eye over a photo celebrating Billy Graham’s 95th birthday, in which the evangelist shown sitting beside Rupert Murdoch and surrounded by the likes of Sarah Palin and Donald Trump:

The scowl on the old preacher’s face may reveal his recognition that this is what has become of his legacy — that everything he did and worked for has led only to this, to the empowerment of lying hucksters and the politics of resentful privilege.

…But just look at that horrifying photograph. Soak it in.

This is evangelical Christianity in America in 2013.

White. Rich. Right-wing. Dishonest. Predatory. Outwardly pious, inwardly corrupt.

Graham’s birthday party itself doesn’t seem to have been any kind of conservative rally, but the photo – presumably engineered by his son Franklin, who lacks his father’s disarming personal qualities – works against Graham’s long-standing positioning as a non-sectarian preacher whose vision transcends the sub-cultural agendas and obsessions of the religious right and the Babbittism of the business elite.

Murdoch’s prominence at Graham’s left hand was probably unintentional: perhaps Murdoch required a chair for health reasons, and this is why he was brought to the front. However, it reminds us that that Murdoch is a major player in Christian media, as I discussed here (the Murdoch-owned Christian imprint Zondervan is Palin’s publisher);  and that Graham owes a great deal to sentimental and non-critical media coverage that’s been constant ever since William Randolph Hearst first put out the word to “puff Graham”.

George W. Bush and the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute

This one is getting wide attention; Sarah Posner writes at Mother Jones:

Next week, former President George W. Bush is scheduled to keynote a fundraiser in Irving, Texas, for the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute, a group that trains people in the United States, Israel, and around the world to convince Jews to accept Jesus as the Messiah. The organization’s goal: to “restore” Israel and the Jews and bring about about the second coming of Christ.

Sarah subsequently appeared on the Rachel Maddow Show by way of follow-up, and programme’s website has screen-captures about Bush’s participation that have now been removed from the MJBI event site. According to the scrubbed blurb, by “Alisa Stephenson, MJBI Director of Events and Partner Relations”:

A few years ago there was a dream, a discussion, and prayer which resulted in an invitation extended from the MJBI to President Bush’s office. We knew it was a long shot, but still felt this was the direction God wanted us to go. Unfortunately, it did not work out that year, or the next. It looked like it was not going to be in God’s plan to have President Bush after all. But then, the email came that invited us to dialog about the possibility of an event in 2013.

On November 14, 2013, MJBI partners will have the honor and privilege to capture wisdom and understanding on a level we have not known as we listen to President Bush share his White House experiences. For one full hour he will tell us about his life, and the situations that challenged every area of his leadership.

President Bush will also share his passion for setting people free, which is fitting for this year’s theme, “Rekindle,” taken from a passage in The Message (1 Samuel 2:6-10) that speaks about God restoring hope to burned-out lives.

Last year’s event, entitled “The Lion Roars”, was graced by Glenn Beck:

We will have dinner on the Cowboy playing field followed by a powerful program featuring representatives from Israel, as well as key leaders from our nation.

We will be honoring Glenn Beck for his tremendous efforts in defending Israel and he will be challenging us with a motivational message. This will be a night of solidarity with the Jewish people, a night to declare your support for them, and a night to defend Israel.

…Glenn Beck is like a roaring Lion for Israel and the Jewish People. Glenn holds strong support for our ally Israel and was named as the defender of Israel in 2011 by the Zionist Organization of America. During Glenn Beck’s recent tour of Israel, he gave a message to thousands in Jerusalem titled “Restoring Courage.” It was a message of hope and to show the steadfast support that he and America have for Israel. You, like many others, may not have been able to travel to Israel to attend this monumental gathering in Jerusalem, but you now have the opportunity to roar over Zion from the world-famous Dallas Cowboys Stadium. This event presents a rare opportunity to have dinner at a Table on the Turf.

There was also a “Pastors’ Meeting” with David Barton. Maddow claims that the meal took the form of a “pork barbecue”, which I find difficult to credit.

Messianic Jews express their belief in Jesus through Judaic culture and forms of worship, but – as Sarah notes – Messianic Judaism is not generally well-received among Jewish groups (indeed, I’ve previously blogged about instances of anti-Messianic persecution in Israel) and Bush’s involvement has led to criticism.

However, for some non-Jewish heritage Christians, the movement is a sign that God’s chosen people are at last coming to recognise the truth about Jesus, while Messianic ritual observance is seen as an authentic link to the world of Jesus and the early church. Messianic Judaism has become increasingly significant within wider evangelicalism: a recent apocalyptic Christian bestseller, The Harbinger, has been so popular in part because its author, Jonathan Cahn, is a Messianic pastor and as such has been able to market himself as having special insight into “Hebrew mysteries”. There is also a related Hebrew Roots movement which appropriates aspects of Judaism within evangelicalism, sometimes in highly idiosyncratic and even farcical ways.

The MJBI was itself founded by a non-Jew; according to a bio blurb (links added):

Wayne Wilks Jr. is the President of the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute (MJBI). The MJBI was birthed under the leadership and cooperation of several ministries in 1996 after the unprecedented response of Jewish people to Yeshua in the former USSR. The purpose of the MJBI is to train leaders for Messianic Jewish Congregations as well as educate the Church on Messianic Jewish understanding…

Although not Jewish, Wayne had a calling and heart to serve the Jewish people many years before the MJBI opportunity arose. Before the MJBI, he served 10 years as one of the pastors and elders of Shady Grove Church in Dallas, Texas… Wayne also serves as an Executive on the prayer initiative, Toward Jerusalem Council II.

The organization has its origins with Messianic ministries headed by Jonathan Bernis and Dan Juster, and began in Odessa in 1996. Schools have been founded in Budapest, Moscow, Brazil, and Argentina; there are also affiliates in South Korea and Mexico, and courses are held in Peru. Inroads have also been made among Ethiopian Jewish groups.

It is sometimes possible to overstate the apocalyptic element in Christian Zionism, but not so in this instance: the above video, which is embedded on the MJBI website, includes a preacher talking about “hastening” the coming of Jesus; there’s also regrettable reference to the “blindness” of the Jews.

Tommy Robinson Gives Interviews

Following Tommy Robinson’s re-endorsement by Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, the former ex-EDL leader has been busy re-affirming his commitment to the “counter-jihad” scene through interviews with Dale Hurd at Pat Robertson’s CBN and with Lars Hedeegard’s Dispatch International.

Hurd, who is CBN’s Foreign Correspondent, has interviewed Robinson previously, and this time the two discussed Robinson’s views of the future of the UK:

Lennon [Robinson’s real surname is “Yaxley-Lennon] warns that British authorities are creating the conditions for civil war by allowing the spread of radical Islam while restricting freedom of speech to criticize and protest against it.

…”Now, when [politicians] see this swing from Left to Right, it’s under way. There’s no left-wing organization that can stop it,” he said. “There’s no police force that can stop it. They’re trying to do all these tasks forces to stop what is happening. You can’t stop this.”

Citing an “epidemic of Muslim grooming gangs”, Robinson goes on to concur with negative assessments of Islam and the Koran attributed to Gladstone and Churchill, before mentioning his “new strategy of working with moderate Muslims in the hope more people will listen to him.”

Dispatch International shows Robinson in conversation with Ingrid Carlqvist and Lars Hedeegard, in which he revels over his “new platform” and discusses the Quilliam Foundation; the following passage has garnered attention:

When I met the people from Quilliam, I realized that they could help me with a lot of things. I’m just a working class bloke from Luton. I don’t know how to set up and run a think tank and get donations. I asked if they would teach me and they said yes. They said: “You may have whatever opinions you like but you will get more out of expressing them in a more political way.”

Could one say that you are using them, and they are using you?

Tommy doesn’t answer but nods and grins.

This fits with a report in the Guardian from last month:

[Quilliam head Maajid] Nawaz said he would work to introduce Robinson to his own contacts in government and the Home Office in an attempt to procure government funding.

However, I find it difficult to envision Robinson ever being given public money; he’s adamant that he’s always held the same views; he’s slippery about whether his problem is with “radical Islam” or with “Muslims” (despite telling the Huffington Post that ” I think I am in a position to help separate the two”); and he has a recent criminal record relating to an act of dishonesty.

Meanwhile, Nawaz has come under a certain amount of sceptical scrutiny over Robinson’s continuing links with the likes of Geller and Spencer. Responding on Twitter, he told Sunny Hundal to “give us time & stop being a downer”, and suggested that Sunny should instead focus on Mo Ansar’s prevarications on the subject of traditional Islamic punishments. Nawaz also continues to argue that it’s better to have Robinson out of the EDL rather than leading it, even though his views aren’t all what he would wish; but it seems to me that there’s an obvious disconnect between Nawaz’s presentation of a man being slowly weened off anti-Islam views and away from extremism by Muslim moderates, and Robinson’s own assertions.

BBC Airs Searching for Exile Documentary

Sunday evening finally saw the broadcast on BBC Four of an hour-long cut of Ilan Ziv’s documentary Exile: A Myth Unearthed, under the title Searching for Exile: Truth or Myth? The programme was previously due to have been broadcast in April as part of the channel’s archaeology season, as Jerusalem: An Archaeological Mystery, but, as I discussed at the time, it was pulled from the schedule at the last moment for reasons that seem to have been related to concerns about content. Ziv himself objected to the “Archaeological Mystery” title, which he suggested had been an attempt to “sneak” the program into the schedules without attracting controversy.

There may have been an element of “sneaking” in the eventual scheduling; BBC Four documentaries on a Sunday evening are more usually repeats, and the programme was up against particularly popular shows on other channels. The BBC also decided to forestall complaints with a accompanying discussion called Searching for Exile: The Debate, in which BBC religion journalist Edward Stourton talked with Ziv and three historians.

The documentary touched on a number of issues: how to interpret and assess the writings of Josephus; evidence of a continuing Jewish presence in the Galilee after the Bar Kocha Revolt; and the use of archaeological human remains from the Bar Kocha period in modern Israeli nationalism.

Particular emphasis was placed in the programme on the city of Sepphoris in the Galilee, which took no part in the revolt of 70CE (in which  Jerusalem was destroyed), and which flourished after 135CE; its remains were subsequently subsumed under the Palestinian village of Saffuriyya, which was itself destroyed during the 1948 conflict.

However, we get to 1948 via a short discussion of Leroy Waterman’s excavation of Sepphoris in 1931; we’re told that Waterman was a “devout Christian” and that his interest in the site as location for Jesus’ sermons meant that for him the village was “barely visible”. The programme goes on to say that as the ancient city was revealed it “devoured” the village; this is an odd suggestion, given that Waterman was there for only two months and that archaeological excavation at the site did not resume until 1983. We’re also told that the history of the village is “barely mentioned” in the way the site is currently presented; that may be a legitimate complaint, but it’s not at all clear what that has to do with the excavation on 1931.

Referring to the Palestinians who were forced to leave in 1948, the narrator then asks:

Is it possible that some of these refugees are distant descendants of the Jewish population of Sepphoris who were never exiled?

No direct answer is forthcoming (although see below); instead, we move on to a short section on a nearby rabbi’s tomb that is treated as a holy site by local Muslims.

The debate that followed featured Ziv in conversation with Sacha Stern of UCL, Francesca Stavrakopoulou of Exeter University, and Joan Taylor of King’s College London. The discussants were civil and proceeded through a process of saying “I agree with you, but…”, and it turns out that the answer to the clunkily binary “Truth or Myth?” title question is actually “it depends what you mean.” Taylor in particular thought Ziv had underplayed the the impact of the conflicts in 70CE and 135CE.

Ziv’s answer to the “Is it possible..?” question posed in the documentary, though, was something of an anti-climax:

There’s no evidence, and I think anthropologically it’s crazy to make that kind of assertion.

However, Stern’s overall assessment was that:

…your film may be regarded with suspicion by some viewers, and they might consider it to be controversial or problematic; and it might well be for people coming from certain perspectives. But what I would really would invite everyone to do is to try and look at the message of your film in a positive light, as a positive attempt, not to be destructive, or not to spoil people’s narratives but rather an attempt to try and create something positive, to create some sort of way forward in the situation that we are [in] today, based on a rethink about our past… A challenge is always intended to be contrustive

Rather than the denunciations that can be found on some sites – and the BBC’s initial panic back in April – this seems to be a sensible and grown-up way to proceed.