Hope Not Hate Claims that Paul Golding Used to Attend James McConnell’s Church

From Matthew Collins at Hope Not Hate:

Much news in Northern Ireland today about the outrageous comments made by Belfast’s Pastor James McConnell and then the support he received for his comments by the First Minister, Peter Robinson.

James McConnell described Islam as “heathen” and “satanic”, during an address at the Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle Church over a week ago…

Well, it will come as no surprise to people who have followed the rise of Britain First that the leader of the street gang, Paul Golding, who turns up uninvited in Mosques to hand out bibles, is a regular attendee at the church…

 Although Golding no longer resides in Northern Ireland, when he was living there for nearly two years working under his paymaster Jim Dowson, he became something of a born-again Christian, but obviously not a very nice one.

As I noted in February in the wake of Britain First’s “Christian Patrol” in East London, Dowson – formerly of the BNP – is a “Reverend, and the group was set up in 2011 to protect “British and Christian morality”. The group’s website shows an active interest in promoting Christianity as an aspect of traditional values: Golding writes of a “Holy Crusade” and of “Christian soldiers and fellow patriots”; there is a “Sunday Sermon” section “on the fundamental role that Christianity played in our long and glorious heritage”; and the site includes attacks on a “sordid” sex education video and on Boris Johnson for vetoing “an advertisement from two Christian groups regarding homosexuality”. However, until I read the above, my assumption was that the group’s Christianity is not likely to go deeper than a half-remembered collection of romantic cultural motifs. It’s still difficult to picture Britain First Bible study or hymn-singing sessions.

The Tabernacle, meanwhile, is a mega-church (reviewed by Ship of Fools in 2010), and McConnell attracts a congregation from across Northern Ireland; there is no reason to suppose that he has ever personally met or had anything to do with either Dowson or Golding. Also, it should be noted that the church self-consciously avoids the kind of Ulster nationalism associated with Ian Paisley; as the sociologist Steve Bruce wrote in 1994 (Edge of the Union: The Ulster Loyalist Political Vision, p. 35):

In 1986 unionist-controlled councils signalled their attitude to the Anglo-Irish accord by displaying large banners which read ‘Ulster Says No’. Pastor James McConnell’s Metropolitan Church of God in north Belfast put up a similar-sized banner which used the same design style to say: ‘Ulster Needs Christ’. When, two years later, the councils replaced the first banners with ones reading ‘Ulster Still Says No’, McConnell changed his to read ‘Ulster Still Needs Christ’!  

And journalist Marcus Tanner observes (Ireland’s Holy Wars: The Struggle for a Nation’s Soul, 1500-2000, 2001, p. 428):

Pastor McConnell has discarded the baggage of history and divorced nationalism from worship. McConnell may have started out preaching to an audience of ten in an Orange hall but Orange or Union flags are seen in the Tabernacle and there are no slogans about God and Ulster on the walls. When Pastor McConnell claims, as he did the evening I was there, that ex-IRA people sit in that vast throng, I feel inclined to believe him.

McConnell is a Pentecostal – Tanner says his biography includes “frequent encounters with devils and a direct meeting with an angel in September 1973” – and his theology is fundamentalist (in the broad sense) and focused on the need for urgent evangelism in the end times. His views on Islam are what you might expect them to be, although his sermon failed to make the fine distinction he is careful to draw when it comes to Catholicism; in 2011 he responded to claims of anti-Catholicism by telling Radio Ulster that “he criticises the Catholic Church and its priests, he does not criticise Catholics.” But in contrast, when it comes to Islam and Muslims:

 …People say there are good Muslims in Britain. That may be so, but I don’t trust them. Enoch Powell was right, and he lost his career because of it. Enoch Powell was a prophet. He called it that blood would flow in the streets, and it has happened…

The reference to Powell is utterly gratuitous, and is actually more striking than his archaically-formulated attack on “heathenism”: Powell’s “prophecy”, made on 20 April 1968, was about race relations rather than religious fanaticism, and it included the claim that:

That tragic and intractable phenomenon which we watch with horror on the other side of the Atlantic but which there is interwoven with the history and existence of the States itself, is coming upon us here by our own volition and our own neglect. Indeed, it has all but come. In numerical terms, it will be of American proportions long before the end of the century.

Powell’s “intractable phenomenon” diagnosis came just two weeks after the assassination of Martin Luther King; things at the time may have looked bleak, but history has proven that it was the man who had the dream who saw the future, and not the supposed “prophet” over here. But there’s no need for me to rake over an infamous subject that others have tackled with more acuity than I could ever muster – this post by Oliver Kamm is a good starting point.

Apparently, McConnell is now being investigated by police for “a hate crime motive”; I’d very surprised if that goes anywhere. However, UK Christian Right  lobby group are on the case; according to a statement:

Andrea Williams comments: “Islam does not provide a coherent basis for peaceful coexistence. Pastor McConnell is right to recognise the danger that Islam represents not just in places such as Sudan but here in Britain. For the sake of society, it is vital that the freedom to critique is maintained and freedom of speech safeguarded.”

Williams recently addressed a rally in Jamaica, where she reportedly urged a crowd spread the word that homosexuality is linked with paedophilia. Christian Concern’s statement makes no reference to McConnell’s enthusiasm for Powell.

“World Civilizations” Conflab Held in China

From China Today:

The Third Nishan Forum on World Civilizations was held in Ji-nan in Shandong province over three days last week. The conference, with a theme of “common human ethics amid different beliefs,” attracted some 130 experts and academics on philosophy, theology, religious and cultural studies from different cultural backgrounds.

…Xu Jialu, president of the organizing committee, says the root cause of the crisis shared by human beings nowadays is the distortion of moral values and overlooking of the importance of ethics.

…Fred Dallmayr, a US professor from the University of Notre Dame and co-chair of the World Public Forum, says that since the Renaissance, there has been a tendency in the West to emphasize individualism.

Meanwhile, in Confucian teaching, there is no isolated being, and people live in all kinds of relationships. This sense of interaction can foster the merits of tolerance, generosity and respect, which can help people overcome their hostility toward others, Dallmayr suggests.

Dallmayr and the World Public Forum have featured on this blog a number of times: the organisation was co-founded by Vladmir Yakunin, a devoutly Orthodox member of Putin’s inner circle and the head of Russia’s railways. As I’ve noted previously, the WPF has made links with an extraordinary array of top-tier academics, religious leaders, and emeritus politicians (along with some rather more eccentric figures), who have spoken at conferences in Rhodes and Vienna and written for WPF publications. Dallmayr and other figures associated with the WPF recently signed a letter calling on the USA to rescind sanctions against Yakunin.

The WPF’s full name is the “World Public Forum: Dialogue of Civilizations”, and the “Nishan Forum on World Civilizations” seems to serve the same kind of “soft power” purpose for China as the WPF does for Russia. An article by a China scholar named Andrew Chubb and Fairfax Media’s Asia Pacific editor John Garnaut notes an unexpected overlap with an NGO called the China Energy Fund Committee:

The “NGO” was granted Special Consultative Status with the UN Economic and Social Council which, in turn, enabled it to segue away from oil and war in order to co-host a “dialogue between Confucianism and Christianity” at United Nations headquarters in New York, in November 2012.

CEFC’s partner in that venture, the Nishan Forum on World Civilizations, is another new and mysterious Chinese organisation that describes itself as an NGO.

Its personnel and aspirations overlap with those of CEFC.

The interests of the Nishan vice chairman, Xing Yunming, reach far beyond Confucius and religion and might provide a clue to what lies behind the CEFC think tank.

…Mr Xing is in fact a lieutenant-general in the People’s Liberation Army and, according to isolated, and perhaps inadvertent, reports in provincial media, he is director of the military’s secretive political warfare agency – the Liaison Department of the PLA General Political Department (GPD).

In 2011, according to the authors, the CEFC caused some alarm when its “strategic analyst”, Colonel Dai Xu (using the pen name Long Tao) wrote a newspaper op-ed suggesting that China ought to wage war against Vietnam and the Philippines in the South China Sea in order to scare away the USA. The CEFC is headed by a certain Ye Jianming; Ye is also CEO of the China Huaxin Energy Company, which “came from nowhere in 2010 to claim revenues of more than US$30 billion last year [2012].” Further, “Huaxin’s English name, China CEFC Energy Co, is almost identical to that of the CEFC think tank and until recently it listed the think tank as one of its charitable ventures.” One nice detail:

Despite his tender years, he has won the admiration of global statesmen from King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to Henry Kissinger, who apparently addresses him as “Chairman”.

A post by Russell L.C. Hsiao on Nottingham University’s China Policy Institute Blog places the CEFC in the context of “political warfare”:

In general, political warfare in the Chinese context seeks to undermine the legitimacy of Taiwan, challenge the liberal democratic order, shore up CCP authority domestically, challenge international rules of the road, and promote alternatives to widely accepted universal values.

…The CEFC recently hosted a high-profile Sino-U.S. colloquium, which was billed as an “intercultural dialogue” between China and the United States, at the heart of the nation’s capital in Washington, DC. The title of the conference was “Core Values and World Order” A panel in the conference presented arguments from Chinese academics who called for a paradigm shift from the Westphalian nation-state system to a civilizational system to avert a potential “clash of civilization.” 

This it a very nice fit with Yakunin’s grumblings about “hegemonic ideology and unipolar power”; it looks to me that Ye and Yakunin are made for each other.

Kazakh Atheist May Face Seven-Year Sentence

Euasianet draws attention to the predicament of Kazakh atheist Aleksandr Kharlamov, currently living on bail in the town of Ridder:

…Kharlamov, a staunch atheist, is accused of stoking religious tensions in a Kafkaesque case which could see him jailed for seven years.

Kharlamov has already spent six months behind bars, some of it in a psychiatric ward, broadening the controversy over religious freedom into a row over the alleged misuse of psychiatry.

“My criticism of religion was interpreted as incitement of religious enmity and strife,” said Kharlamov… “There’s no crime. There’s no incitement of religious enmity. I criticized all religions – I didn’t choose just one.”

…The chairman of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, Robert George, cited Kharlamov’s case last year as grounds for believing that “Kazakhstan, once a leader in Central Asia on freedom of religion or belief, is a leader no more.”

George’s comment suggests decline; but Kazakhstan as a “leader… on freedom of religion or belief” was always a con. Certainly, President Nursultan Nazarbayev has promoted inter-religious dialogue, both within Kazakhstan and internationally, but his purpose has always been to strengthen his domestic position and international reputation: in 2006, then-Chief Rabbi of Israel Yona Metzer gushed that the autocrat is following “in the footsteps of Abraham”, while the former President of the International Islamic University of Pakistan opined that he should receive a Nobel Prize. However, religious groups that seek converts – such as the Hare Krishna movement or the Jehovah’s Witnesses – have suffered repression.

The justification for Nazarbayev’s restrictions on religious freedom is that they help prevent the rise of inter-religious strife and extremism: but that’s the perennial apology for “necessary” authoritarian measures, and difficult to take seriously given that Nazarbayev has been in charge since 1989. I’m sure the aim keeping good order in the country was also served at the end of  2011, when unarmed protesters were massacred by armed police in Zhanaozen.

Nazarbayev expressed his personal opposition to atheism, termed as “militant godlessness”, in 2012; of course, it’s not surprising he would react against the anti-religious indoctrination that was formerly imposed on his homeland when it was part of the USSR, but his claims verged on hysteria:

Nazarbayev believes the increase of moral crises in the world is indicated by “instances of aggressive campaigns against clergymen and attempts to remove religion from social processes.”

“Facts of blasphemous treatment of religious holy things are observed in many countries in virtually all religions. This involves public burning of holy books, desecration and arsons of mosques, synagogues, and other religious buildings, discreditation of the clergy, and beatings and killings of the flock,” he said.

“We condemn such things and express our support for all religious leaders and all religious in their resistance of the outbreak of militant godlessness,” Nazarbayev said.

Nazarbayev famously employs Tony Blair as a consultant, and Blair in turn has arranged for Alastair Campbell to work with the dictator. Another western adviser is Alfred Gusenbauer, the former Chancellor of Austria; Gusenbauer is also involved with a Russian initiative called the World Public Forum. The head of the WPF, a Putin confidant and Orthodox activist named Vladimir Yakunin (who featured on the blog just yesterday), presented Nazarbayev with a WPF award just before elections in 2011, for “outstanding achievements in the preservation of historical and cultural heritage in Eurasia and for the implementation of the principles of dialogue of civilizations into practice.”

Yakunin Denounces “Vulgar Ethno-Fascism” Of Eurovision At Russia–Germany Conference

I’m a few days late with this one; Reuters has the latest from Vladimir Yakunin:

A confidant of Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the West on Thursday of trying to impose decadent values on the rest of the world, saying the bearded drag queen who won the Eurovision Song Contest last weekend symbolized its “ethno-fascism.”

…He said the United States spoke about fighting for democracy but wanted to impose its values on others. He cited sanctions slapped on the initiator of a Russian law against homosexual “propaganda” and Conchita Wurst’s Eurovision win last weekend.

“A vulgar ethno-fascism from the distant past has once again become part of our lives,” said Yakunin at the German-Russia Forum in the German capital.

The conference was called “Europe: Lost in Translation”, and it was jointly organised by the Deutsch-Russisches Forum E. V. and Yakunin’s World Public Forum. The event ended with a pious “Berlin Declaration”:

[Participants] agree that the current crisis over Ukraine requires a profound rethink of the wider European space. Isolation, confrontation and conflict will only lead to losers on all sides. What is needed is a renewed commitment to the shared Europe, common ground rules and values, as well as novel forms of cooperation that can break down barriers old and new.

The past two decades have seen the rise of a hegemonic ideology and unipolar power that have the effect of undermining both the unity and diversity of the wider Europe. Conventional categories such as ‘globalisation’, ‘post-industrial society’ or ‘values-based foreign policy’ cannot address the twin crisis of increasing inequality and atomised identity.

…The cooperation between the World Public Forum and the German-Russian Forum is based on the principle of mutual respect and reciprocity, recognising the ‘other’ – or the counterpart – as an equal interlocutor with his unique cultural specificities. Grounded in the continual conversation of civil society actors, only such a dialogical approach can open up the “value ??highways of civilisations” (Vladimir Yakunin).

Sounds nice enough, although the subtext would have been obvious even if Yakunin had managed to restrain his urge to fulminate against the Eurovision winner: Russia’s clampdown on sexual minorities and turn to religious nationalism is a “unique cultural specificity” that should be respected from the “hegemonic ideology” of liberalism, which is conflated with American power.

Yakunin was particularly explicit in a previous speech, made at the end of 2011, in which he opined that there is an “incompatibility between the neo-liberal interpretation of the system of human rights and the system of human values”, and that “the universal urge to have the ‘freedom’ to say ‘anything and in any form’ has a temporary character and is beginning to fade away”. The WPF is also very supportive of the World Congress of Families, which supports and promotes religious right activists around the world.

The conference schedule can be seen here; Yakunin’s speech kicked off the proceedings. The list of participants includes company presidents, media professionals, and emeritus politicians, several of whom have long-standing associations with the WPF and recently signed a letter criticising US sanctions against Yakunin. Yakunin’s patronage of academics serves the interests of Russian power and his own vanity: in 2013, the New York University Press published a book that lists Yakunin among “the world’s foremost thinkers”.

I looked at a previous WPF event in Berlin in 2011.

No, Babylon and the Tower of Babel are Not in Saudi Arabia

From Jim FletcherWND columnist and “now director of the apologetics group Prophecy Matters

A prominent Bible-prophecy teacher claims the true site of the biblical Tower of Babel is in Saudi Arabia and the concept of “Mystery Babylon” actually refers to Mecca, not the Vatican, as some researchers of Scripture claim.

As I’ve mentioned before, there’s no such thing as a “Bible-prophecy teacher”; there are Biblical scholars, some of whom work on Biblical prophecies in historical and literary context, and there are hucksters who instead impose meanings on the texts for their own purposes. In this instance, Fletcher is referring to Walid Shoebat, whose “Bible prophecy” sideline perhaps the most preposterous – although not the most vicious – aspect of the “ministry” through which he collects funds from undiscerning churchgoers:

…Traditionally, many scholars have placed the tower built in an attempt to reach God, recounted in Genesis 11, near Baghdad, Iraq. Some scholars believe “Mystery Babylon” will be located there. Other Bible prophecy teachers insist “Mystery Babylon” refers to the Roman Catholic Church. Shoebat claims these views are incorrect.

He told WND the key is understanding the ancient place names that correspond to modern sites in Saudi Arabia.

…”When it comes to the destruction of end-days Babylon, Scripture makes no mention of any of the ancient Babylonian cities: Nineveh, Ur, Babel, Erech, Accad, Sumer, Assur, Calneh, Mari, Karana, Ellpi, Eridu, Kish, or Tikrit. All of the literal references in Scripture are in Arabia.”

…”Isaiah says, the burden against Arabia,” said Shoebat. “They [other teachers] most of the time look at the traditions – it’s a traditional interpretation – that doesn’t encompass the entire oracle of Scripture.

This builds on Shoebat’s earlier claim that “666” is actually a misreading of the Arabic “in the name of Allah”, and his son’s suggestion that Allah is a Babylonian god of “violence and revolution”.

First, the Tower of Babel: according to the Bible story, Babel is in the “a valley in the land of Shinar”, which had been colonised by people who had moved eastwards. The previous chapter mentions Nimrod’s empire in “Babel, Erech and Accad”. These locations are all in ancient Iraq, and the author may also have been thinking of Mesopotamian ziggurats.  There is absolutely no reason to transpose the story to the peripheral location of Arabia.

Second, “Babylon” in the Book of Revelation: Chapter 17 of the text is an obvious reference to the Roman Empire: the prostitute who bears the name “Babylon the Great” sits on a seven-headed beast: “The seven heads are the seven hills, on which the woman is sitting. The seven heads are also seven emperors”, says the text. Rome, of course, sits on seven hills, and its pagan emperors at the time of writing had begun to persecute the Christians. That’s the context in which the text was written, and the context in which its first readers and listeners would have found it meaningful. The big mistake of “prophecy teachers” is to assume that a difficult text’s full meaning can be discerned only by interpreting it through later events – resulting in a subjective, idiosyncratic, and unhistorical mess.

Third, the “burden against Arabia” in Isaiah 21: this is tacked onto the end of a prophecy about the fall of ancient Babylon (perhaps reworked from a prophecy against Assyria), and a short and obscure passage about Dumah, an oasis in northern Edom. The text urges the inhabitants of Tema to welcome refugees from Dedan: the context is local and specific, and there’s no reason to extrapolate from this short passage to the idea that Arabia is actually a central concern of the author, or to infer that the passage refers to eschatological matters.

Shoebat thinks that “nukes” should “take care” of the Muslim world; and he just so happens to have discovered that the “real” meaning of Bible texts is to warn of the wickedness of a religion that came into existence hundreds of years after the author of Revelation had died. What an amazing coincidence!

Turkey Provides Gambia with 10,000 Korans

From The Point (Banjul, Gambia):

The Turkish Embassy in Banjul Thursday handed over 10,000 Quranic copies to the Gambia Supreme Islamic Council (GSIC), at a ceremony held at the Council’s head office in Kanifing. Speaking at the ceremony, Ergin Soner, Turkish Ambassador, said he was very happy to be associated with such a prominent Islamic council.

He said both the Islamic Council in The Gambia and that of Turkey are the same, adding that the gesture would add on strengthening the relationship between The Gambia and Turkey. He said both countries are very much enjoying the political relationship they share as nations…

He thanked President Yahya Jammeh, who he said had long been in support of the council.

Actually, it’s more the case that the council has “long been in support”of the president  – a few years ago, the council bestowed the title of “Sheikh” on the dictator, and the body supports his continuing emphasis on opposing homosexuality (although the President of the council, Alhaji Momodou Lamin Touray, has generously opined that [reported speech] “Gambia has not yet reached a stage where capital punishment can be used on suspected gays and lesbians”). One opposition source reports “rumours” that the council has engaged in animal sacrifice on Jammeh’s behalf, “to appease the Djinns traditionally believed to be allied to the Darboe clan”.

A 2012 piece in the Gambia Echo judges that:

Yet since the coming into power of President Yaya Jammeh it has become overtly evident that Gambians do not fear God but fear the man – Jammeh. The statements, actions, denials, subterfuge from persons in leadership including religious leaders are a clear manifestation that Gambian leaders and the general public fear Jammeh more than they fear their Lord and Maker.

Turkey is also providing Gambia with USD1m in electronic goods, and plans to send 30 health professionals to the country. Jammeh visited Ankara in February; according to the Banjul Daily Observer, “Since The Gambia’s first foreign mission in Turkey opened in 2010 and a Turkish embassy opened in the capital, Banjul, in 2012, bilateral relations have improved significantly.”

One reason why Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip “Israeli Sperm” Erdogan wants closer ties with Jammeh is to reduce the influence of Fethullah Gülen’s Hizmet movement in Africa. Erdogan is rumoured to have asked Jammeh to shut down Hizmet schools in Gambia; and in April, Reuters reported:

Last month, parents of the Yavuz Selim school in Kanifing, Gambia, received a letter announcing its immediate closure… 

Gulen’s Hizmet movement cites this as an example of Turkish pressure on governments to shut down Gulen schools, a key source of its influence and revenue at home and abroad, and discourage Hizmet-linked commerce from banking to construction.

Turkish Islamic lender Bank Asya, which has extensive dealings with Hizmet companies in Africa, reported it had suffered mass deposit withdrawals, weeks after a power struggle between Erdogan and Gulen erupted in December.

Convictions Against Dead Sea Scrolls Sockpuppeter Partially Upheld

Robert Cargill reports:

The NY Court of Appeals upheld 9 convictions of criminal impersonation and all 10 forgery convictions in the case of the People of NY v. Raphael Golb, in which the defendant created an army of pseudonymous online sock puppets to criticize, harass, and ultimately impersonate various scholars who disagreed with the academic findings of his father, Dr. Norman Golb, concerning the Dead Sea Scrolls.

I’ve blogged about the case several times previously: Golb was brought to justice in large part due to Robert’s careful attention to detail, which Golb’s lawyer sought to stigmatise as “obsessive” and “stalking” (an accusation that is often the first refuge when unwelcome attention is directed at internet activity undertaken in bad faith).

Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman issued a dissenting opinion, although Eugene Volokh says that “I think the majority opinion is likely right as a statutory matter, and that its analysis is consistent with the First Amendment.”

However, the court also overturned harassment and related charges, on the general grounds that the state’s aggravated harassment statute is “unconstitutionally vague and overbroad.” Inevitably, Golb’s supporters have preferred to dwell on that aspect of the Appeal Court ruling; as Howard Fredrics announced it on Twitter:

@bungarsargon NYS Appellate overturns nearly ALL charges in #RaphaelGolb #DeadSeaScrolls case. NY Harassment law OUT http://tinyurl.com/lv3smcd

Fredrics’ Tweet was directed at – and retweeted by – Batya Ungar-Sargon. Ungar-Sargon previously wrote a preposterous piece on Golb for the US Tablet, in which it appeared that Golb (described as “a brilliant young Harvard Ph.D.”, although he’s actually past 50) had been persecuted for sending one email that was obviously a parody. I picked apart her account here.

Lippmann’s dissent shows that there may be different views on the criminality of Golb’s behaviour, but there is absolutely nothing to debate over what his actions tell us about his character.

World Congress of Families Presents Award to Christian Concern’s Andrea Minichiello Williams

From J. Lester Feder at Buzzfeed:

An Australian cabinet minister, a British lawyer, and a Venezuelan activist are among those who will be honored later this year by the World Congress of Families (WCF), the U.S.-based global organization that opposes LGBT and abortion rights.

Australian Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews will be named 2014’s “Natural Family Man” by the organization… Andrews will be receiving the award alongside British activist [Andrea] Minichiello Williams of Christian Concern, who will receive an award for organizational development. Williams recently sparked controversy for urging anti-LGBT activists to argue that homosexuality is connected to pedophilia during a visit to Jamaica in December.

It was Feder who first reported Williams’ alleged comments in Jamaica; most of the media, however, chose instead to focus on another of her statements, which was that the swimmer Tom Daley had entered into a gay relationship because his father had died. Like some others, I was surprised that Williams had made comments of such virulence, but despite some subsequent controversy Christian Concern never claimed it had been misrepresented.

Andrews, meanwhile, is a long-time activist with the Australian Religious Right, associated with the Australian Family Association and a co-founder of the now-defunct “Lyons Forum“.

Other activists receiving awards include Christine Vollmer, of the Latin American Alliance for the Family, and Theresa Okafor, the WCF’s African representative; Right Wing Watch reminds us that Okafor has suggested that gay Nigerians may have entered into a conspiracy with Boko Haram to persecute Christians. A piece on Christian Newswire has more details of prize-winners.

WCF is controversial not just for its anti-gay views; the organisation also has significant links with Russia. In particular, the WCF’s leadership work closely with Vladimir Yakunin, a member of Putin’s inner circle who is currently under sanction. The WCF says that it “takes no position on foreign affairs, except as they affect the natural family”, although the group’s spokesman, Don Feder (presumably no relation to the Buzzfeed journalist) wrote a piece in March for the American Thinker with the title “Putin Doesn’t Threaten Our National Security, Obama Does”. This prompted Cliff Kincaid to issue a rebuke, that conservatives “do not have to ignore, excuse, or rationalize Russian aggression in Ukraine”.

Footnote: Unfortunately, J. Lester Feder misnames Andrea Minichiello Williams as “Michelle Minichiello Williams”

Daily Telegraph Highlights Exorcism Course In Rome

The Daily Telegraph reports on a course in Rome that

…aims to train about 200 Roman Catholic priests from more than 30 countries in how to cast out evil from people who believe themselves to be in thrall to the Devil.

The conference, “Exorcism and Prayers of Liberation”, has also attracted psychiatrists, sociologists, doctors and criminologists in what the Church called a “multi-disciplinary” approach to exorcisms.

Giuseppe Ferrari, from GRIS, a Catholic research group that organised the conference, said there was an ever growing need for priests to be trained to perform exorcisms because of the increasing number of lay people tempted to dabble in black magic, paganism and the occult.

This is barely news: the course has been running for nine years. Matt Baglio’s The Rite: The Making of a Modern-Day Exorcist (2009) has the background:

According to Doctor Ferrari, the idea came about in 2003 when he met with a priest from the diocese of Imola who told him that a growing number of his fellow clerics were being inundated by parishoners suffering from problems related to the occult…

Ferrari decided there was a need for a university-level course that would cover “a wide variety of historical, theological, sociological, and medical topics, in order to go beyond the superficial and sensationalist aspect of of exorcism.” One wonders what Ferrari will make of the Daily Telegraph‘s take, which is illustrated by a ludicrous and grotesque cartoon apparition of the devil as drawn by George Cruikshank.

Baglio adds that Fr Paolo Scarafoni arranged for the course to be held at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum, which is run by the (scandal-plagued) Legionaries of Christ. The course’s website shows that registration is through the university’s Istituto Sacerdos, which is turn “a program of Mission Network, Inc.”

GRIS, meanwhile, stands for Gruppo di Ricerca e Informazione Socio-Religiosa. As well as the exorcism course, it is also currently advertising a one-day conference in collaboration with the Bar Council of Acqui Terme on “Satanism, magic and destructive cults.”

However, GRIS and Ferrari are controversial; I noted one critical source in 2005, which claimed that

…on January 1997… L’Osservatore Romano (the official Vatican daily paper) started to publish a series of articles about the dangers of Satanism. This series was edited by Giuseppe Ferrari, the president of the GRIS. Ferrari himself wrote the first piece, titled ‘The Phenomenon Of Satanism In The Contemporary Society’. He described Satanism as an absolute emergency, drawing alarmist conclusions from a hopeless mess of rumours, cliches and urban myths. No specific examples, no precedents, no statistics. Moreover, Ferrari extended to excess the definition of ‘Satanism’, including ‘other groups that do not intend to present themselves as Satanists and, for example, claim to practice pagan rituals in order to harmonize with the occult powers of nature. As a matter of fact, these groups are suspect and we can include them in the multi-form world of Satanism’. Such a mysterious sentence was aimed at accusing a whole constellation of various movements, cults and philosophies.

Mo Ansar: Some Notes On Recent Controversies

From Jeremy Duns, on Twitter:

People asking me about Mo Ansar, here was his sockpuppet account, @The_Truthteller, originally called @MoAnsar2 [Link]

Ansar, who is known as a UK Muslim media commentator, says that he has been “smeared”; @The_Truthteller has now disappeared, although its author said before departing that he (or she) had taken Ansar’s name at one point in the past out of “solidarity”. Relevant screenshots have been assembled by Homo economicus.

Duns – who is known for his efforts in exposing online fakery and deception, particularly in the case of thriller author Stephen Leather – also summarizes some further charges against Ansar: that his supposed religious moderation is false, that he bears some responsibility for death threats against Maajid Nawaz, and that he made a vexatious complaint to police against Iain Dale.

Duns further suggests that Ansar may be running some other sockpuppet accounts; but while it looks to me that there’s a case to answer as regards @The_Truthteller, I’m not convinced by the other examples: they don’t sound like him, and the inference seems to be based purely on the fact they are supportive of Ansar. One of these accounts (@xtc_uk) has also sent Tweets in my direction, while to my knowledge there’s no indication that Ansar is aware of my existence

[UPDATE (February 2015): Duns has now triangulated some Tweets from @moansar, @xtc_uk, and an account called @creepingfascism. The evidence of common authorship is strong.]

The issue of Ansar’s moderation has come under particular scrutiny since a television exchange with Nawaz in which Ansar appeared to prevaricate on the implementation of traditional hudud punishments in Islamic states; I don’t think this means Ansar is “really” an extremist: rather, he lacks the willingness to stand up to conservatives. As the historian Tom Holland wrote last October:

I don’t for a minute thinks @moansar supports slavery or judicial mutilation – but he can’t 100% historicise Islamic scriptures, so twists.

(Holland and Ansar used to engage in banter on Twitter, although their interaction these days is simply acrimonious)

The death threats against Nawaz, meanwhile, relate to the controversy over Nawaz’s Tweeting of a cartoon from the Jesus and Mo cartoon strip, which I discussed here. The image showed Jesus and Muhammad greeting each other with “Hey” and “How ya doing?”, and Nawaz explained that “I posted that image here to explain how, as a Muslim, I didn’t find this particular image offensive.” This falls far short of an endorsement of the whole Jesus and Mo corpus, but Ansar attempted to push the issue by claiming – incorrectly – that Nawaz had linked “to a website which depicts prophets in bed together.” At a time when tempers were running high, that was at best irresponsibly careless, at worst deliberately malicious.

The police complaint against Dale followed a spat in March. Dale writes:

This all stems from a twitter exchange between Nicky Campbell and Mo Ansar on 22 March which I got involved with. It concerned the chairman of the Birmingham Mosque (who has since sadly died) who had made intemperate remarks likening gays to murderers and paedophiles. Mo Ansar appeared to be defending him on the basis he was an old man. I asked him directly if he agreed with his views, as I would have found that very surprising given his self styled “thoroughly modern muslim” stances.

Dale then presents a Storify of the Twitter exchange. Here’s part of it:

Dale: @MoAnsar @NickyAACampbell Engage with the argument. Or are you as bigoted as your mate in Birmingham?

Ansar: @IainDale @NickyAACampbell Stop trolling me, Iain. You’re boring me.

Dale: @MoAnsar @NickyAACampbell Good. I will block you then. You’ve bored me for years. Which is why you never get on my show. And never will.

Dale: …you are a gobby prick who leeches off the state while pretending to represent a “community”. Bye. 

This doesn’t present Dale in a particularly good light; his question is goading rather than challenging, and he’s clearly revelling in his status as a media gatekeeper before descending into plain abuse. But Ansar’s absurd reaction was to out-diva him:

For the record, I have reported @LBC’s @IainDale for anti-Muslim harassment and abuse relating to his behaviour on 22nd March 2014.

Inevitably, Ansar’s complaint to police went nowhere, and Dale says he was also cleared of anti-Muslim sentiment by Tell Mama. A correct outcome – although Dale himself, when it suits him, is not adverse to conflating criminal behaviour with being robustly criticised.

UPDATE: Jeremy Duns and Nick Cohen have now published comprehensive accounts examining Ansar’s background and strange rise to media prominence.