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Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Weapons of Mass Disruption

Any nation, people, or organisation has a range of 'weapons' at its disposal, ranging from those of obvious and deadly purpose, to the more subtle ones that most people do not recognise as 'weapons'. Few think of attempts to reduce, restrict or damage another countries economy as a 'weapon', or as an act of war. Yet, arguably, it is both.

Those who call for 'economic sanctions' or 'boycotts' or 'disinvestment' do so in the belief that these are alternatives to sending in the military to change a country. They fondly believe that their 'sanctions' offer an alternative to war, but is it? Is it not a weapon deployed in exactly the same manner as deploying a Trident missile would be? OK, the visible damage is not going to be as great, and perhaps you won't kill several hundred thousand people in achieving your objective  - to change a regime or a national culture - with 'sanctions/boycotts/disinvestments'. Or will you?

The unpleasant truth is that an economic blockade of a country can be just as damaging - over a longer term admittedly - as a short sharp 'little' shooting match. While bullets kill people, sanctions destroy livelihoods, they destroy opportunities, and they create hardships for the very ordinary people those who call for them claim to want to help. So those who want to impose them are, in the long term, likely to cause as much hardship as a 'hot' war will do. Why do I say this?

I have several reasons, one being that I have lived in a country under 'international sanctions'. The most observable effect was the steady increase in unemployment. Disinvestment was something of a two edged sword, many companies who did, walked away having 'sold' their holdings in local companies which simply found other sources of capital (a lot of it ironically, from the Far East and 'Communist' countries), while others simply pulled out, abandoning massively expensive infrastructures and leaving thousands unemployed in an already saturated employment market. Crime rates climbed steeply, with violent crimes such as murder and violent assaults becoming everyday.

And all the while, those imposing the sanctions talked of bringing the country to its knees economically in order to impose their vision of what the country should look like. When I had the opportunity to challenge someone who was a determined and very vocal advocate of sanctions, boycotts and disinvestment, they admitted it was a 'weapon' to be used 'for the good of the oppressed'. But when I pointed out that the 'oppressed' were suffering more than anyone else, the answer astonished me; "Well, some must suffer hardship for the good of the majority and the future."

Quite, as long as it is not the 'advocate' who suffers.

A flip through history reveals a number of interesting things about past 'sanctions' campaigns. Perhaps the most telling is the example of the sanctions against Japan in the 1930s. Intended to 'damage' Japan's ability to sustain its war in Manchuria, it actually convinced the Japanese that their only option was to go to war in order to secure the resources they needed to sustain their economy and population. Some historians still argue that the US policy may well have been deliberately designed to provoke exactly that response. At the very least, something those who advocate sanctions, boycotts or disinvestment should consider is that the response almost invariably invoked in the people on the receiving end, is a hardening of attitudes.

That can be seen today in Iran, in Russia, in Zimbabwe and in Israel.

Then there is the question of what happens once you have succeeded in destroying someones economy. Does it produce the happy smiling face you wanted to see? Or does it produce a failing state, struggling to stay afloat and unable to pay its way in the world economy? If some recent examples are anything to go by, the latter seems to be more likely. Iraq, having had sanctions imposed which ruined its currency and internal economy, then had 'regime change' imposed by a war, is a basket case. Even without the IS lunatics and all the other factions vying for power, it is a country in ruins because its economy is ruined - and it is likely to stay that way for a very long time.

Zimbabwe's economy all but collapsed toward the end of the long UDI government, so when Mugabe came to power, those who love this form of warfare, thought there would be a 'magic' recovery. There wasn't. The AID they poured in was stolen, then the banks were grabbed by Mugabe's thugs, and then the farms. Now? It is a subsistence economy at best. The same thing almost happened in South Africa, though it was better placed to survive, and the economy is at least now stable - but the corruption and white collar crime, coupled with a few other problems, is crippling any rebuilding of the economy. Yet another 'triumph' for the sanctions, boycotts and disinvestment advocates to rejoice over.

Sanctions/Economic Blockades do work. Again, if we consider history, we can see many examples. Britain's blockade of France during the Napoleonic wars crippled France's economy. Napoleon's 'Continental Blockade' of closed ports and trade bans in Northern Europe almost destroyed the British economy by smashing the Baltic Trade - worth over 42 million Pounds Sterling in 1809 and only 5 million Pounds Sterling five years later. The dramatic loss of market share almost destroyed the British economy in the middle of the war. The British blockade of German trade in 1914 - 18 smashed the German economy, and millions of Germans starved (so did millions of other Europeans caught between the 'Great Powers', what one might call 'collateral damage' today), and gave rise (as some always hope will happen when they demand sanctions) to mass civil unrest in German towns and cities. Communists seized town halls and other government buildings, but more crucially, the sanctions/blockade coupled with the demands of the Allies in the Versailles treaty, resulted in the rise of the National Socialists as a counter to the Communists.

Again and again we see the result of destroying an economy to compel regime change, and each time we see a situation resulting that is, if anything, worse than the first state. Yes, there are exceptions, but they are few and very far between.

Those who call for sanctions, boycotts or disinvestment against a country need to think very carefully about what they are doing. In essence they are declaring war on another country, another people, and they are deploying a very dangerous Weapon of Mass Disruption with the deliberate intent of destroying a people's ability to feed and house themselves.

It often strikes me as ironic that those who always advocate the deployment of this weapon are usually also anti-war, anti-military, but none I have ever spoken to seem to see the contradiction.  

Friday, 21 November 2014

Democratic Coalition?

The recent elections for the Landestags (State Parliaments) in the Federal German Republic (Seventeen 'Lände' or States, three of them more or less 'City States') produced some interesting results. First it is probably wise to explain that the German voting system permits a direct vote for a candidate, and a vote for a Party. A voter can choose to vote for a 'Party' that is not the one of his/her candidate of choice, so the voters may, for instance, elect Candidate Mustermann of the CDU, but give their 'Party' vote to the SPD! The ballots are then counted and half the seats are 'direct' candidates, the other half are assigned on the basis of a Party's share of the Ballot. Any Party that gets less than 5% of the Ballot does not get allocated any seats.

There are at least seven Parties in play, including the conservative Christian Democratic Union and their Bavarian sibling, the CSU, the Social Democrats (SPD) (Germany's oldest political party), the Greens (Bundenis 90/Grünen), Die Linke (formerly the communist/socialist SED of East Germany), the 'liberal' FDP, the AfD (the German equivalent of UKIP) and, surprisingly to outsiders, the National Socialist Party. Independents can also stand, and are often sufficiently well supported to win a seat. Currently the Bundestag and most Landestags do not have FDP or NS members since neither Party achieved the 5% threshold. Which brings me to the subject at hand.

Thüringen has been battling to form a government for some time, but has finally got one. The Coalition is a three way share, with Die Linke the largest partner with the SDP and the Greens as 'juniors'. The Coalition has a ONE seat majority over the 'opposition' Party - the CDU. The prospect of a Linke 'Ministerpräsident' (First Minister) in any of the Lande since 1990 has raised a number of eyebrows, and evoked a comment from the State President, Joachim Gauck. Die Linke are, of course, being a little triumphalist about their 'win', yet, in fact, they are, however you cut the pie, still very much a minority government. How the next four years of their 'rule' will affect them and their coalition partners, remains to be seen.

Personally I was surprised the SPD in particular (roughly equivalent to the UK's Labour Party in ideology), agreed to enter a partnership with Die Linke. There is a bad history there, since it was a coalition between the SPD and the SED in 1949 that brought the SED into power and gave the East German's the next 40 years of oppression. With the backing of the USSR, and a behind the scenes campaign against them, the SPD soon found themselves marginalised and eventually ousted. Perhaps this is why, in the opening paragraphs of the new coalition, the partners have - at the insistence of the SPD and the Greens - included a paragraph which declares that they acknowledge that the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) was a dictatorship - an 'Unrechtstaat' - and declares they all support the principles of democratic will of the people.

Seeing the expressions on the faces of the new Die Linke First Minister and his cohorts as that was read out, it struck me that they were, quite literally signing up to it only because they have no other alternative. The leopard does not, indeed cannot, change his spots. I suspect there will be many difficult battles ahead for this coalition, and it may yet cost the SPD and the Greens dearly.

The fact that three 'minority' Parties can form a government under the German system is seen by many as a weakness. While I agree that it does allow some rather strange permutations - like having the majority party unable to form a government because they haven't achieved an outright majority - in another sense it certainly keeps the politicians accountable. The situation in Thüringen is a result of voters sending a message to the ruling CDU that they wanted change. They have also 'punished' the SPD, which came in third in the election, losing its usual second place to Die Linke. None of the three Parties forming the new government enjoy, normally, a sufficient majority to do so as 'leader', but combined, they hold the majority of seats - by ONE.

As I said, the SPD and the Greens may yet come to regret trusting the leopard that is Die Linke (which has still not apologised publicly for the oppression, the judicial murders, political imprisonments, persecutions and all the other abuses they employed to keep control and their hold on power) in this. The German system may not be perfect in many people's eyes (I still think its better than the UK 'First Past the Post system), but it certainly allows the voter here a wider choice - and it does mean that every vote counts.

Die Linke know they are not popular, and I have no doubt they will be on their best behaviour in an attempt to recover their credibility, so we face interesting times here. It will be interesting to watch!  

Monday, 17 November 2014

Schadenfreude

I have to thank Josephus for giving me the smile of the weekend, and I'll share it with you.

As is his wont, Josephus was ruminating on many other matters while performing an essential, but generally menial task. Contemplating a "Use by Date" on, of all things, a packet of frozen prawns, it occurred to him that the prawns 'expired' at around the same time that the current crop of 'millennial' young people will start to enter the workforce, albeit that these will be those who, having been forced to stay in school while having little or no desire to do so, will be exiting those fun factories with only a small amount of the knowledge they could have had, and almost no usable skills.

What employment prospects await them? Not much.

That led him to consider the next election, five years beyond this one. At that point the next tranche of 'millenial' young folk, this time with degrees and diplomas, will be leaving places of Higher Education and seeking work, and now the fun starts. They will enter a world of commerce and industry (and perhaps politics and the Public Services) in which they will find themselves perennially 'too young/inexperienced' for promotion. A world in which all the senior posts are held by the current crop of 'pre-millenial' types - the generation that turned my, and Josephus, age group from being 'too young/inexperienced' to 'dinosaur' and shoved us out to grass. And herein is the rub, because, having told my generation that we are the problem/undeserving recipients destroying the pensions system, they have changed the rules - and now cannot, themselves, retire as they forced us to do.

Because these now ageing 'dinosaurs' cannot retire at 60, not even at 65, but will plan to go on for another twenty years, thereby making real progress for most of the talented young guns very slow.
So the 'young guns' will plot, scheme, and undermine. Remember, that we are talking about the 'connected' generation. In collective ways, they will devise the means to overthrow the 'dinosaurs', just as they did to my and Josephus' generation. And this is where the current crop of power mongers, 'leaders' and 'thinkers' will come unstuck. They've destroyed the means for following a 'career path' in almost all services and industries, indeed they have done the same in commerce. They have 'poisoned the waters' against those with age and experience on their side, and now they will have an angry, frustrated, and above all creatively able generation snapping at their heels.

They will be discarded as we were, but with a big difference. Unlike people like myself and Josephus,  they will not be able to take any pension of any sort. They have made a trap for themselves, and soon it will slam shut behind them. They will be in their late fifties or early sixties with occupational pensions worth a fraction of their predecessors, because the erosion of those benefits in kind was one of their principle weapons, and their old age pensions are still many years in the future.

Will they be employable?  Their lifelong career will have been cut short by a revolution, so probably not. Except as 'Tescbury's' shelf stackers on the zero hours contracts they thought was such a great idea for everyone else working night shift. As another friend says - Karma is a b-1-tch!

Josephus was kinder. He wrote -
I do believe that the Germans have a word for what in English can only be rendered as "Nya-nya-na-nya-nya."
He's right, the German's do have a word for it, and it has found its way into the English Dictionary as well. The word is "Schadenfreude" - to take delight in a self-inflicted misfortune.

Sadly, those most likely to be worst affected by this bout of 'Schadenfreude' are likely to be the group caught between those who pushed Josephus and my generation aside, and the 'millenials' who will shove them out of the window. Karma is indeed a ....

Friday, 7 November 2014

Here's Another Fine Mess ...

What a mess we find ourselves in. The now ex-Attorney-General, Julian Grieves, criticised what he calls the ‘Aggressive Secularisation’ of public life in the UK some weeks ago. As a practising Anglican and member of the Church of England, he raises a concern many of us have felt for some time. As he pointed out, Christians are being marginalised, banned from showing, discussing or even ‘confessing’ their faith. Some have been sacked for wearing crosses, or discussing their faith with others in the workplace. How ironic then, that the same corporate ‘secularisers’ fall over themselves to accommodate Muslims. 

In the same newspaper that carried Mr Grieves’ article, a photograph showed a ‘senior civil servant’ sporting a wonderful example of the ‘Mujahedin’ beard favoured by some Muslims who think it makes them look ‘faithful’ or that it is ‘required’ by their faith. A Christian in the civil service who dared to wear a crucifix, or some other token of their faith, would be ordered to remove it. A nurse was sacked for refusing to remove one on the grounds it was a ‘health risk’ - while Muslim nurses are given special dispensation to wear long sleeves, and the hijab on the grounds their faith ‘requires’ it, when, in fact, it is not a requirement in the Quran at all. British Airways has sacked a check-in desk worker who wore a cross, on the grounds that it was not in keeping with their ‘corporate dress’ code, yet I have had the experience of being ‘checked in’ by a BA worker in a hijab.

Then there is the supermarket chain I will no longer shop at, which allows its cashiers to refuse to serve people who wish to buy pork products or alcohol. This is defended on the grounds it would be a breach of their faith for them to do so, but, a Christian woman who objected to being compelled to give advice on abortion is sacked because her faith may not interfere with the organisations ‘policy’ of providing the information. The list goes on. Christians who refuse to provide bed space to Gays are dragged into court, yet Muslim B&B operators are not put to the test by the same activist organisations. That there is a very deep seated and, frankly, disgraceful, double standard being applied is all too obvious, and if that weren’t enough, there is the whole matter of ‘radical Islam’ and what can only be termed as ‘hate speech’ being spread in our universities, on our streets and in public life entirely without check.

How did we get here? How did this situation develop without someone, somewhere, putting on the brakes?

Sadly, it appears that two things apply here. The first is that our ‘liberal’ society is so afraid of being accused of racism, Islamophobia or any of the other artificial ‘phobias’ invented by them over the last 40 years, they cannot bring themselves to admit it is happening. Secondly, the good old Law of Unintended Consequences has come into play. The efforts - publicly stated by certain sections of our ‘intelligentsia’ - to ‘destroy Christianity and religion’ in Britain, has produced a society with nothing but the prejudices of the elite as a ‘moral’ compass. That has created a society in which the Islamic community can see no virtue, so, they look to their own values and want to impose those. That wish, coupled with the void created by the lack of faith in the majority (G K Chesterton had it right when he said an absence of ‘faith’ did not mean the absence of ‘belief’ - just that now people will believe anything) provides a gap into which the radicals can step with their twisted and warped version of religion and find fertile ground for converts.

In another article, an Imam points to the fact that this ‘radical’ brand of Islam is, in fact, anathema to the teaching of the Quran. One Imam has shown his disapproval to his Mosque Committee, by resigning his post after they invited a pro-IS preacher to deliver a sermon. Others, including the Muslim Council itself, have condemned the radical teachers, the recruiters for IS and the organisation and its actions - but get very little notice in the media, or, indeed, from the young men flocking to the IS Banner. An Oxford based Imam and part-time lecturer at one of the colleges there, has flagged up that the harassment of Christians and Jews (and others) is contrary to the Quran, specifically, to Sura (Chapter) 2 verse 256, which states that there is NO compulsion (forcing) in religion, each individual i free to worship as they choose. This is confirmed in Sura 109 verse 6, which states that everyone has the right to follow their own faith. Even more telling, Sura 22 verse 40 states that all ‘places of worship, whether Christian or Jewish, are to be ‘respected’ and ‘honoured’. So where does the problem with a radical version of Islam arise? 

There are two distinct problems here, and it is important that they be recognised. The first is what is termed ‘political Islam’, that is the root of the ideological movement which seeks to impose secular control through the Sharia. The second part of the problem is that, particularly in Sunni Islam, there is no recognised qualification for preachers. So anyone can claim to be a ‘preacher’ and it is easy for a radical preacher to gain acceptance - especially if he’s able to attract the support of disaffected youth. These ‘preachers’ often draw on the collection of material known as the Hadith (The Sayings …) for material, and it is from the Hadith that the concept of martyrdom comes. It is from the Hadith that the concept of a martyr being rewarded with a life of ease in heaven attended by 72 ‘virgins’ comes.

The Hadith is of very questionable origins. Purporting to be the ‘sayings of the Prophet’ it was first compiled around 300 years after his death, and was condemned then by many scholars. It has gained traction since, becoming the source for justification of many barbaric practices, and a source for much that makes up ‘Sharia’ Law today, and most of that was first ‘codified’ in the 18th Century. It is also the source of the nonsense that allows men to demand and dictate that every women must cover her hair, wear shapeless clothing and in extreme cases, wander round hidden beneath the all black ‘tent’ of the Burkha. It is from the Hadith that some Sunni sects have adopted the female genital mutilation practices, which are, in fact, forbidden by the Quran itself. It is this twisting of the message of the Quran by men of what can only be termed hatred, that gives rise to the ‘radical’ version we now see spreading like a cancer through all sections of Islamic society. 

The problem in the west is that most of those who argue for giving concessions to ‘devout’ Muslims with regard to setting their own ‘cultural’ boundaries and even allowing them to set up enclaves in our cities, is that they do not understand the origins of much of what they assume is ‘in the Quran’. Nor do they understand (and sometimes give the impression that they don’t want to) that there is no such thing as a single universal ‘Islamic Culture’. What is seen on British streets is largely imported from Pakistan and Bangladesh, and would be laughed at in Iran and many other ‘Islamic’ countries. The Burkha comes from Arabia, and is not native to most countries. In fact until fairly recently, none of this was ‘enforced’ on women outside of Arabia and some North African tribal cultures. Even the silly beards sported by young men (and some who should know better) are not at all ‘Islamic’. In fact they are the mark of the likes of the Taliban and Mujahedin. 

So what is seen by ‘liberals’ and supporters of Multi-Culturalism as ‘Islamic Culture' is a sham, but the problem now is that it has become the ‘badge’ of devotion to Islam - so every young man who thinks he’s found a ‘cause’ in his religious beliefs now dresses in this mishmash of costumes and demands that all women in his circle do the same. And with this twisted baggage has come all the other abuses - the ‘honour killings’, the forced marriages, the female genital mutilations, the treatment of ‘Dhimmi’ girls as sex toys and, of course, the demands for the entire English legal system to be suspended and replaced by Sharia Law.

Now the nastier problems are surfacing, the Multi-Culty promoters are desperately denying that any of this is a problem created by their idiocy. For years we have been forbidden to criticise the hate preachers, on the grounds it is their ‘right’ to express these opinions under our cherished ‘freedom of speech’ laws. Or that to criticise them was ‘racist’ and ‘Islamophobic’ in that it was an attack on ‘the religious beliefs’ of the speaker. Anyone who dared speak out, was immediately branded a ‘racist’ or an ‘Islamophobe’ - or if they persisted, a ‘Fascist’. Even now, writers in The Guardian will go to great lengths to give the impression that the likes of the IS and the hate preachers recruiting for them in Britain, are ‘a violent minority’ who do not represent the majority. While I might accept that the majority of British Muslims (there are some 3 million of them) are not ‘violent’ and do not seek to overthrow British Society, they are funding the violent minority. They aren’t doing anything to stop the steadily increasing numbers of young men and women joining ISIS/L (currently estimated by Security Forces in Europe at between 500 and 2,000) and indulging in the murder, kidnapping and torture of Shi’ites, Eastern Christians and others. 

The use of ‘labels’ with a pejorative meaning is a deliberate ploy by those who wish to shut down any debate they don’t want held. By accusing those who dare to question anything, of racism, Islamophobia or fascism, they whip into a fury all the ignoramuses who never stop to look further than the half truths and sometimes downright lies they are fed, leading to the hounding of the inconvenient ‘target’ from the public stage. Now the tactics are coming home to roost with something of a vengeance. We are in this mess precisely because we have not been allowed to debate any aspect of the drive to impose ‘multi-culturalism’ without any regard for the very real, and very foreseeable, consequences. No one dared to challenge the poison being spread by hate preachers like Abu Hamza. We weren’t even allowed to deport them - on the grounds that sending many of them back to the countries they came from, would be a breach of their ‘human rights’.

And now, no doubt, the same ‘human rights’ lawyers are sharpening their ‘briefs’ in preparation to defend the 500 (or 2,000) British passport holders currently fighting under the IS banner. I have no doubt that when the Security Services do track down the funders, recruiters, IT experts and supporters working from inside the UK for the IS murderers, these same ‘human rights’ lawyers and organisations will rush to defend them from criminal charges. Frankly, these lawyers are a major part of the problem, and should be made to face the survivors and the relatives of their ‘client’s’ victims - if not charged with treason alongside the murderers and psychopaths of IS.

According to the Security Agencies in Europe, Britain is now the No.2 exporter of radicalised Islamic terrorists (France is currently No.1 by a small margin). We are an international joke, and our politicians and civil servants haven’t a clue what to do about it. And while they remain paralysed by fear of the consequences of speaking out, and of being accused of attempting to curb the ‘right’ to some extreme form of speech, religion or oppression. So, it appears inevitable, that we will be ‘sleep walked’ into a war for our very existence. 

Our fathers, grandfathers and their predecessors must be rolling in their graves.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Brain Drain

My thanks to Josephus for a couple of recent reports and articles on matters close to both our hearts. The first was an item on the finally published report on the tragic deaths of firefighters in Warwickshire in 2007. The report states, inter alia, that the Fire and Rescue Service training system had become limited in scope, and required significant review. It went on to say that the "Integrated Personal Development System" (IPDS) "competence based scheme" was not meeting the services' expectations as personnel were training to complete "portfolios" rather than focusing on "firemanship".

Funny that, this was exactly what both Josephus and I identified and argued when the scheme was first "rolled out" with great fanfare as the future of fire and rescue service training. The reality is that both of us were long enough in the tooth to have witnessed the failures of so-called "on station training" and "learning on the job" when not reinforced by formal progression training with examination and practical assessment. No amount of "ticks in boxes" can ever substitute for experience reinforced by knowledge, yet the champions of IPDS (all, one might add, rewarded with 'Honours' or very nice promotions and postings for their efforts) publicly declared that "knowledge of theory was unnecessary, you only had to know how to 'do' something".

Tragically, their wonderful scheme is now showing just how deeply flawed IPDS is. Deaths on duty have climbed steeply since its introduction and the scrapping of knowledge based examinations. There are other factors in play as well, however, one being played out right before our eyes at the present moment. While, on the surface, the battle over Fire Service Pensions appears to be simply about changing the retirement age, it is part of a much deeper ailment. It is now openly declared that a fire fighter should not expect to spend his/her entire career in the service. One young HR Director (in my day this post would have been filled by a crusty and battle scarred SDO or ACFO), blithely told me at a meeting that she discouraged people from thinking they could expect a 30 year career and a pension. In her view it was "healthy" for the Service to have a high staff turnover. Worryingly, at least in the meeting, the CFO of the FRS concerned, agreed with her!

Which brings me to the second article. It is rather long, and can be read here with the title "Inside the World of HR" . The author opens with the experience of Tesco, just a few years ago set to take over the world - or so it seemed - but now in deep trouble financially. The article identifies one of the major flaws that has entered business in the last 40 or so years - the haemorrhage of knowledge and experience due to high staff turnovers. The author cites several studies conducted by scientific bodies which identify that fact that any organisation actually 'owns' about 10% of its "knowledge" - the other 90% is in the heads of its employees. Now most employers will argue they "own" that as well, but the fact is they don't, and can't. Each individual has developed special and unique experience, it cannot be transmitted in any other way than the much maligned "sitting next to Nelly" system of sharing. Add to this now the most revealing findings of the studies cited in the article I've linked.

Most major organisations have a 15% per annum change of staff. The authors of the study from which that comes argue that this is a success; according to them, it makes business more flexible and less likely to be "locked into" the past. However, what they don't acknowledge is that it takes, on average, only 7 years for any organisation to undergo a complete change of staff at that rate. With that goes all knowledge of what worked and what didn't work in the past. Thus, as with Tesco, wheels get reinvented, mistakes get repeated and ultimately, a successful and healthy business ends up in trouble.

The reason is quite simple. It takes at least a year (in the FRS it is regarded as 2 years for a recruit firefighter and, in the past, a further 4 years as a firefighter before you could be considered for promotion) for a newcomer to an organisation to learn the ropes and become fully productive. Now comes another devastating statistic - in all the studies cited the maximum length of time most spend in an organisation is 5 years. So, as an employer and, if I'm lucky, my new recruit today, will have just reached his/her most useful range of knowledge and experience when they depart, taking 90% of the knowledge and experience I could use, with them. As the author of the article shows by example after example, this haemorrhage of knowledge and experience is steadily destroying organisations.

There are a number of factors at work here, among them the prominence and power of accountants who see everything in the short term and in terms of "cost". Pensions "cost" so the solution, for an accountant, is make sure you have only the minimum numbers qualifying for one. Experienced and long serving employees "cost" in terms of higher salaries, benefits and "on costs" such as pension contributions - so reduce the number you have on the books as much as possible. Then there is the whole question of "management" as a "profession" (and I'll confess that I have a number of "Management" qualifications). The academic belief that there is such a profession is, in my view, serious wrong. "Management" is a function, not a "profession", and, if one cares to look at the most successful managers in the world they are all people who have a very wide understanding and deep experience of the things they manage. If you want examples of poor management practice, look no further than an organisation which has "generalist" managers parachuting into senior roles with little or no understanding of what they are managing.

I was amused to see that the author of the article I have linked, cites the UK Civil Service as just such an example.

How does one fix this situation? I'm inclined to think it will require a major shift in thinking, and a return to the idea that a career is for life and not just a short term step on the ladder to the next "job". It will require a total rethink in what is being taught in MBA and various other "Management" courses, and it will require a complete change of direction in "Human Resources" so that the value of retaining staff, and the knowledge and experience they hold will be seen. It is perhaps too much to hope for that the "short-termism" of our western business culture can also be eroded and the longer vision held by other cultures adopted.

Answers on a post card please ...

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

The Food Bank Controversy ...

Food Banks are much in the news at present, and are something of a 'hot' topic in many people's minds. The reason is not hard to find, we are bombarded with news items about the 'rising number' of Food Banks, and the need for them. Add in a liberal mix of politicians all trying to make political capital, abuse of statistics in the media and you have a ready made subject to 'prove' that poverty is on the rise. Recently a friend and former colleague who happens to be legally qualified and does voluntary work for a number of charities who work with those in need, on benefits or in low-paid employment. He had some very interesting things to say about the misrepresentation of the figures on Food Banks, and pointed me to a website which provides even more interesting information. 

The Trussel Trust is a major provider of food banks, and there website has a range of very accessible and readable statistics. According to their figures they have provided 913,138 people with 'emergency food supplies' sufficient for three days. Note that the numbers are for 'people' NOT 'families', and one more point of note in this is that each time a person returns, that person is counted as a 'new' customer. My friend informs me that this is further complicated by the fact that the referring charities hand out the food bank vouchers to individuals, NOT families, so a single adult applying and qualifying will receive one voucher, a second for a partner and another for each child. And they will receive the same number each time they reapply. Thus, someone who comes in say every fortnight and receives five food bank chitties is going to appear in the statistics as 26 times 5 people - 130 people in the years statistics.

Of course, not everyone does that, and the suggestion from the participating charities figures is that probably fully two-thirds of those in receipt of this assistance don't. The second half of this is, of course, to put the numbers into a proper perspective. As I said earlier, we are talking individual people NOT 'families'. Next we must look at it against total population in the UK, and we find that even with the 'repeat users' it is still actually quite a small percentage of the population. 

The Trust keeps a record of why people are drawing on the Food Banks, and now we find really interesting statistics on why people are 'in need'. The top three, in order, are -

1. Delayed Benefits
2. Low Income
3. Benefit Changes.

The fourth is equally interesting. It is listed as 'Other', but this includes those who persist in believing there is a horse somewhere, that will make them rich. Unsurprisingly, Debt and Unemployment come next, with Homelessness, Domestic Violence, and Sickness in that order. Certainly, in our society, the top three may be addressable, and numbers five, six and seven should be. 

Sadly, there is little one can really do about those who spend their wages (and family's domestic subsistence) in the local betting shop, short of shutting such premises altogether. However, we need, once again, to look at this in a balanced manner. Once again, the news papers and the 'word on the street' has been somewhat misleading. What it has failed to mention when reproting the 'increase in reliance on food banks' is that there has been a change in the way certain 'Benefits' were dealt with. 

'Benefit' is probably the wrong word to describe what used to be called a 'Crisis Loan' which was issued by a Local Authority and was supposed to 'tide a family over' a temporary shortfall in income. As of 1st April 2013, a change in the law switched off these funds, but switched it to an alternative system. Crisis Loans had to be repaid, which meant that ultimately all you were doing was deferring the crunch. Under the new system most Local Authorities issue 'Food Vouchers' which are redeemable at a Food Bank and give three days worth of food. These are not 'means tested' so anyone can, in an emergency, qualify. Naturally, those who would and could benefit most are the elderly, young folk struggling to get started, the homeless and the sick. 

We must also look at the sudden increase in the number of these food banks. Once again, it goes back to the changed legislation. The rise in the use of the food banks directly correlates to the rise in the number of these facilities. Did they increase due to demand, or did usage increase due to availability. It would seem to be a bit of both, not least due to the removal of a 'cash loan' system and its replacement with the vouchers redeemable only in food. As my friend put it, the loans had to be repaid, and there was no guarantee that the money handed out wouldn't wind up attached to a betting slip in the local bookmakers. Now, at least, those who receive the vouchers, get food on the table. 

Yes, it is a great shame that we need them, but the fact is we do. Almost 70 years of political meddling to 'lift people out of poverty' haven't achieved it, nor are they likely to. Human nature is, by nature, inclined to certain behaviours, and some of those tend to drive people toward poverty. So we have food banks, and more food banks are being opened, but it doesn't mean more people are 'falling into poverty' because the usage is increasing. Changes to the benefit of 'Emergency Loans' mean food vouchers, not money for the betting shop or the pub. 

Unfortunately, the stigmatising of Food Banks by the ignorant is putting off many who should be making use of them. That is something that concerns my friend very deeply - to the point it makes him extremely angry when he encounters those he considers 'numpties' who are grinding ideological axes founded on complete ignorance of the subject. As my friend wrote to me - 
Finally with all the do gooders shaking their heads in disgust at the foodbank, they have by default made them unavailable to many folks who wont accept the vouchers (my experience), because there is a now a stigma about them, thanks to all the best meant criticisms. Many are too proud to be seen going to them. They are usually the proud OAPS and genuinely most needy.
Yes, it's sad we need them, but they, like many things in life, are a necessary evil, and I plead with everyone to be careful when ranting about them that they don't by accident stigmatise them and the people who need them.
And the next person I hear using foodbanks as a cheap political point scoring tool “wull get their heed pood aff”


For those who don't speak Glaswegian, that bit in parenthesis translates as - "will get their head pulled off". In my view, they will deserve it.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Turkey 'Aiding and Abetting' ISIL?

One gets the strong impression that Turkey is covertly aiding and abetting the Islamic State murder machine. Reading the argument over support for the Kurdish fighters defending Kobani, and how 'porous' the Turkish border with the territory now controlled by ISIS/L is, one wonders what all those Turkish troops are actually there to prevent. I suspect their orders are not to stop ISIS/L, but to prevent any Kurdish fighters from escaping IS thugs.

The Turks have watched this tragedy unfold, and they have made no effort whatsoever to stop the steady flow of 'Jihadis' rushing to join ISIS/L. One can only speculate on how much in the form of weapons, munitions and 'materiel' for the fight is being supplied directly to the ISIS/L fighting machine by the Turkish Army and across this border. If I were a NATO Commander, I would be seriously looking at how much 'Intelligence' material I gave my Turkish 'Ally' about anything planned against ISIS/L.

Turkey does have a problem with this little war, one which will come back to bite them very, very hard I think. A large part of their reluctance to do anything to prevent the slaughter on their border is that the victims are, largely, Kurds. Roughly a quarter of the existing 'territorial area' of modern Turkey is populated by Kurds who have long cherished the desire to have their own 'nation state'. This would include the area of Iraq and the portion of Syria that includes two major cities - one of them Kobani - and the Turks have fought a long and very bloody campaign to prevent this. It now sticks in their collective craws, that their 'enemy', the Kurdish PKK, is the only force that seems to be having any success against ISIS/L. Should the Kurds win, the Turks will face a battle hardened, rearmed and very determined army of Kurds who will want their independence from an oppressive regime that is currently prepared to see their people sacrificed in order to prevent just this scenario from arising.

Both ways the Turks face a major problem here. If they aid the Kurds - as other NATO members are doing - they will have to address the political ambitions of their 'enemy within'. If they allow the Kurds to be defeated, and allow the genocide to go unpunished and unchecked that will follow, they will, within a short time, face the ISIS/L Jihad to include their country in the 'Caliphate'. If the Kurds win ... Well, I don't have to paint a picture.

One thing is very clear, Turkey faces a 'no-win' situation of their own manufacture, and now the only thing they can think of doing is to prevent the Kurds from winning. So the are covertly helping the 'enemy of my enemy' in the hope the venomous ISIS/L will not turn and bite them when their objectives in Syria and Iraq have been achieved.

If the rest of NATO and the world have any sense at all, they will not allow this to continue. And they will not allow ISIS/L or their supporters anywhere in the world, to continue, to receive arms, or to 'fade back into the crowd'. Those that wave the black flag of ISIS/L anywhere must be hauled into court and face the full penalty of the law for their support, encouragement and participation in mass murder, genocide and religious oppression. Make no mistake, if the ISIS/L win in Kobani, they will not stop there, and the Turks know it, but are paralysed by their fear of a Kurdish 'settlement'.

It will destroy them. Watch this space.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Meet the Archbishop of Canterbury

A fascinating interview with the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury, ++Justin Welby.

It is just over an hour, but well worth spending the time listening to his responses to the questions from Canon Jeffrey John. Humour, humility, confidence, faith, personal tragedy ... The making of an Archbishop for the present.

So much he says in this accords with my own experience of faith, it is almost frightening.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Race or Religion?

Listening to a discussion yesterday on the conflict and tensions between 'Palestinians' and 'Israelis' one of the debaters, an earnest young woman, clung to her theme that 'Jews' are simply members of a 'religious movement' and not a distinctive 'race'. Her argument is the familiar secular/humanist one that revolves around the diversity of Jewish genetics, and the relative comparison with 'Palestinian' Arabs. Both, it can be said, are 'Semitic' peoples, and therefore, it is argued, the only distinction is 'religion'. This argument misses a key element of 'Jewishness' - which is that the 'religion' does not, as Shakespeare would phrase it, 'a Jew make'.

Anyone can 'convert' to Judaism, but that does not make them a 'Jew'. To be a Jew, you have to have been born of a Jewish mother. In typically pragmatic fashion, the Jewish 'Law' of inheritance states that 'a man may have many fathers, but only one mother' and therefore inheritance is through ones mother, not your father. As the admirable programme for the BBC by Simon Sharma on the History of the Jews explains, they are a very diverse population. A true 'rainbow' nation, and Judaism (the religion) is just as diverse. It is a monumental mistake to claim they are 'just followers of a religion' and not a 'people' of distinct lineage, whatever the 'genes' indicate. Unless one is completely isolated from contact with other human tribes for, I suspect, at least a thousand years, the chances of retaining one particular 'pure' genetic lineage are pretty remote.

One has only to look at the modern human population of Europe to see this. What makes anyone English, German, French, Scottish or Swiss? Genetic samples of any population with produce matches across the entire spectrum. Does this make us all members of some Pan-European 'tribe? Are all Scots inflicted with red hair and blue eyes? Of course not, but those who argue that 'Jews' are not distinct as a racial group try to advance that argument. In fact, they are misled by their own propaganda, since whether a Jew has his most recent roots in Europe, the steppes of Russia, or the US, there are a number of particular 'markers' in their genes that link them. Once again, that simple statement of 'many fathers, only one mother' comes into play. It is something that should be far more carefully considered - especially in relation to the Jews, who, as Simon Sharma so ably points out, have been the world's 'whipping boys' since the beginning.

So, if their genes are as diverse as everyone elses' (barring the already mentioned unique markers) why is their religion such a unifying force? After all, there are probably as many Jews who do not believe or practice it, as there are those who do. Why, as Simon Sharma tells us, do even those who do not believe or regularly 'practice' the religion, still call themselves 'Jews' and why do they still mark the major festivals following the timeless rituals? That is what seems to confound the secularists, because the 'religion' is a product of the 'race'.

What we call the Old Testament is a remarkable document. Though much of it is allegoric narrative, particularly the first five books, parts are a historical narrative of folk memory, and later parts are the moral discourse on the abuse of power and wealth by the political classes that lead, eventually, to the dispersal, it is a remarkably cohesive story. It is the story of the creating, the welding together, of a people, 'The Jews', as a single unit even in a worldwide 'diaspora'. Few, if any, people on Earth have such a cohesive identity as the Jews. It is far more than their genes, and it transcends their religion, but it is a mistake to attempt to categorise the one without the other. The Bible underpins both the Jew as a race, and the 'Jew' in religion, but, once again, one has to realise that the 'religion' and the 'race' are not just intertwined, but are both badges of 'indentity'.

Yes, they are, by and large, a Semitic people, but that is simply a 'category', a 'label' for those who love to force large issues into small pigeonholes so they can ignore the more complex matters in dealing with them. That, I suspect, is why we have so many problems politically in the world today. By reducing everything to the 'lowest common denominator' those in power, and those on the peripheries who love to voice an opinion on such things, try to ignore and suppress the very real, and far more complex issues such actions are intended to hide. By denying the Jews a distinctive 'Racial Identity' the 'problem' of Israel/Palestine can be reduced to one of 'religion' and from there, the belief can be advanced, that 'religion is the cause of the conflict'.

Convenient, but far from accurate, and a major reason that no solution is likely to be found anytime soon. When those who bandy about the idea that 'being a Jew' is the same as 'being a Muslim' finally realise their assertion does not stand up to scrutiny, we may perhaps begin to find solutions to many more problems in this post 20th Century world.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

A Reaction of Revulsion

In recent days I have read a great deal in the media about the average Muslim's response to ISIS, and listened with interest to a number of Islamic scholars explaining why they reject the 'Caliphate'. Their response to the excesses of the psychopaths of ISIS/ISIL/IS and one or two other fundamentalist groups is interesting. In fact it suggests, strongly, that the many followers of Islam are getting tired of the agenda being set by those on the extreme conservative end of their Faith. One item which leaped out at me this morning provides a case in point.

A Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet in Leicester (which is one of the 100 or so branches experimentally using 'Halaal' chicken) had banned its staff from issuing alcohol based finger wipes on the grounds this 'might offend their Muslim customers'. Islamic scholars there have reacted strongly, pointing out that their faith does NOT forbid the use of alcohol as a disinfectant, in medical preparations and one or two other applications. They were quite upset that someone, presumably not themselves a Muslim, would make that decision as it simply lends fuel to the fires of anti-Islamic feeling in many quarters. Unfortunately, they are the victims of Politically Correct attempts to meet what outsiders perceive as 'requirements' of their faith. The same thing happens again and again with health and safety matters, and with the same result. All such pettiness does, is stir up antipathy toward what is perceived as a 'killjoy' problem.

Returning to the subject of the response to ISIS, I have noted with considerable interest the assertion of an Oxford based Imam, who points out that the Qu'ran actually forbids forced conversion. Chapter 2 verse 256 is quite specific on this, and is reinforced in Chapter 109 verse 6 which makes clear that everyone should be free to worship as they please. Chapter 22 goes further, and states that Christian and Jewish 'Places of Worship' must be respected and honoured. According to Dr Taj Hargey, the Qu'ran actually forbids killing 'unbelievers' and provides only two reasons a Muslim may take up arms to defend themselves. These are, to 'resist religious persecution' and because they are being driven from their homes. Since no western country 'persecutes' Muslims for their faith, their 'jihad' against the West is rendered invalid.

The Council of Muslim Scholars in the UK has recently issued a 'fatwa' - essentially a 'legal opinion' in Sharia Law - which is echoed by similar declaration from Grand Muftis in several other countries (the Grand Mufti of a country is the senior 'law' expert in Sharia Law) and condemns the beheadings and the war on other Muslims and faiths.

I note too, that there are many younger Muslims commenting in 'social media' that they do not think they should have to continually 'apologise' for their religion, yet that is, in itself, a reaction to the excesses of the extremists. A case of 'they are not acting in my name, therefore I should not be associated with them'. In one way, this is an encouraging sign, but it should also flag up the fact that many in the west do make that association, and think that every Muslim is an extremist. Let's be clear, the vast majority of decent, law abiding, Muslims are not potential terrorists, just as the vast majority of those who belong to and practice the Christian Faith, Buddhist, Hindu or any other religion are likely to become militant terrorists because of their beliefs.

In an excellent article in The Guardian, entitled The myth of religious violence, the author, Karen Armstrong, traces the rise of the present trend in Muslim communities to adopt a 'puritan' style in dress, eating and so on, is a reaction against attempts to push religion out of the public domain by secularists. She mentions Kemal Ataturk's 'secularisation' of Turkey, with his bans on headscarves, burkhas, face veils and so on, citing these as one reason there is now a reactionary swing to the opposite extreme. Western 'imperial' powers fell into the same trap in Muslim lands they occupied, often imposing western models and ideals on cultures completely at odds with them - and no we reap the backlash. You cannot 'impose' change - you have to persuade a populace, and often that takes a lot longer than the 'modernisers' like. So they impose their ideas, riding roughshod over traditions, heritage and cultural issues - and are then surprised when the meet resistance, or outright rejection.

In Ms Armstrong's view, the attempts to impose westernism and liberal secularism in Iran (Persia), Egypt, Libya, Syria, Iraq and elsewhere, gave the fundamentalists the opening they needed to seize the 'moral high ground' from the moderate voices within their faith. ISIS is the ultimate extreme of that.

The one ray of hope in this is that their extreme behaviour, their blatant use of murder, rape and torture to achieve their ends is turning more and more of their coreligionists away from such behaviour and belief. No, we will not see the collapse of Islam as a world faith as a result of this, but we may, just, have reached what Sir Winston Churchill would have described as 'the end of the beginning'. More and more I see Muslim Scholars sticking their heads above the parapet and denouncing violence, denouncing some of the more fundamentalist utterances and preaching against such actions. Among those who practice that religion there are wider debates beginning to take place as well. Among them many of the practices that have developed under the umbrella of Islam in places such as Eritrea, Sudan, Somalia and others.

Among the things that caught my eye this morning in the article concerning 'alcohol' in Islam, is the fact that many Muslim scholars argue that the Qu'ran does not forbid drinking alcohol - it forbids drunkenness. Many people will not know that until the late 1950s, alcoholic beverages were freely available in almost every Muslim country. Indeed, wine lovers will be familiar with the wonderful flavour of wine made from the Shiraz grape - and Persia was one of the largest wine producing countries in the Middle East. Much of the beautiful poetry of the great 12th Century Persian poet, Umar Khayyam, celebrates wine and the pleasure of drinking it.

If the opening of this and other debates is anything to go by, we may well be seeing the first tentative budding of a refutation of Salafism, Wahabi-ism and other brands of fundamentalist Islam. All I can say, is thank the Lord!


Monday, 8 September 2014

A step too far ...

The German people are, I find, generally pretty tolerant. Politically, they tend to bend over backwards to try not to be 'oppressive' and to tolerate the little foibles and quirks many immigrant communities bring with them. But there are some things they will not give ground on, and one of these is the law of the land.

Like many other European nations, Germany finds itself host to a growing Muslim population, and is quite comfortable with their presence. However, in recent years, a group known as 'Salafisten' have come to prominence, actively driving people to 'convert' to Islam, and agitating for a very strict and conservative form of Islam to be practiced. Where, a few years ago, Muslim women living here hardly ever wore the Hijab or the Burkha, these are now becoming more visible, as are the little 'gazebo' tents at weekends in public squares and shopping centres manned by obviously European young men in Arab dress, sporting the de rigeur Mujaheddin beard, and enthusiastically handing out 'free' copies of the Qu'ran.

However, they haven't confined their activities simply to that. The 'Salafists' are the chief recruiters for the ISIL it appears, with over 400 known 'jihadis' having 'gone East' to fight in Syria, most converts or with strong ties to the 'Salafisten'. Finally, however, according to the Interior Minister of the Bundes government, action is to be taken. The trigger was the appearance on the streets of Wupperthal of orange tabard wearing 'Sharia Police' organised by the Salafists. There declared aim is to enforce Sharia Law on all Muslims in the city - or at least their version of it. This includes women being fully covered, a ban on touching, handling or consuming alcohol or any 'non-Halaal' product, and on 'music'.

Now the Germans are pretty touchy about 'Polizei'. Only someone carrying the authority of the Landestag Ministerium, or a part of the Bundespolizei may use that title, or 'enforce' the law, and, as the Minister made very clear over the weekend, Sharia is NOT the law of Germany, and any attempt to impose or enforce it will meet the full force of German Law head on.

As I said at the beginning, the Germans are generally pretty tolerant, and they pride themselves now on the fact they have developed a system that embraces many different ideas, cultures (to an extent) and religions - but they will not tolerate someone bringing a foreign and alien legal system to their country and imposing it on anyone, Muslim or non-Muslim. Perhaps that is something the UK government and all the various local authority dictators of matters 'tolerant' would do well to emulate.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Recognition of the problem?

It is encouraging to read in recent days that the Grand Mufti of Mecca, the British Council of Muslims, the Saudi King, and now the UAE's government have all come out against the Islamic State terrorists. The Muslim Council and the Grand Mufti have both issued 'Fatwas' (Opinions) condemning the terrorists as engaging in 'Un-Islamic' activities, but, as is always the problem, a 'fatwa' is essential 'advice' and not something 'enforcable'.

It is, however, encouraging, precisely because they set out in detail the fact that the Qu'ran actually forbids many of the things they are doing, including forcing people to convert, murdering them for refusing and desecrating churches, synagogues and shrines. Murder, rape and pillage is forbidden in the Qu'ran, but therein lays a bit of a problem. The two other sources which are often used to 'clarify' the Qu'ranic injunctions, the Hadith and the 'commentaries' however contain passages, and ideas which are frequently used to justify some of the more unacceptable issues in the west, such as the 'Islamic Dress' and forced marriage, etc.

The British fatwa itself is interesting. In setting out their 'opinion' the Scholars review several passages from the Qu'ran, then state inter alia 
5. Based on all of the above: IS is a heretical, extremist organisation and it is religiously prohibited (haram) to support or join it; furthermore, it is an obligation on British Muslims to actively oppose its poisonous ideology, especially when this is promoted within Britain.
The opinion expressed by the Grand Mufti of Mecca has a similar clause, and I note that this theme has been continued by others. Will it stop the IS? There I must express doubts. As other Islamic scholars have stated recently, the Muslim mythology of the 'Caliphate' is a rather idyllic and alluring one, but hardly factual. The original Caliphate was riven with intrigue, several Caliphs were assassinated and internal corruption and abuses were rampant. Nor is there much comfort to be drawn by looking at places like the Yemen, Pakistan, Bangladesh and several other 'Islamic States' in our world today. Part of the problem is that 'interpretation' is highly individual, as there is no hierarchy with authority over all preachers and teachers.

Nor is it helped by the fact that for the last century at least, many of today's Muslim countries have supported, promoted and encouraged 'insurrection' in one form or another to achieve political, territorial or religious aims. Saudi Arabia would look very different had the political power gone, as the British hoped, to the coastal city and agricultural dwellers, and not to the Berber tribesmen of the interior. The first were progressive, and their religious views more liberal than the Berbers who belonged to one of the more fundamentalist wings of the Sunni strand. In the end, the Berber Sauds  got the kingship and the result is the country we see today.

Equally interesting is the fact that most of the Gulf States, have Sunni rulers, but largely Shia populations. Should the IS prevail, there could be some interesting problems arising from that as well. It is therefore very encouraging to have the UAE's rulers calling for an 'International Anti-Terrorist Force' to deal with ISIL and, presumably, one or two of their close relatives. I think it will be even more interesting to know who they would put on the list of 'terror' organisations. I rather think there might be a small clash of ideas on that one.

In my view ALL 'terror' organisations are a threat to everyone. I'm sorry to say that however 'justified' the cause may be, those who join them inevitably include the sort of psychopaths we've seen beheading people in Iraq and Syria, and, if they actually succeed, seldom usher in a free and fair society. What is worse, their activities invariably impact on their neighbours, and destabilise those countries. Possibly worse, since terrorists have, to an extent been 'glamorised' in certain societies, they tend to incite others to try an emulate them, so starting a vicious cycle such as the one we currently see.

I am convinced that all 'terrorists' must be suppressed, but, as Mr Hammond has said, it is not just a matter of military action. We have to address and counter the ideology as well - and that will take decades. Still, we have to take one step at a time, and an 'international' anti-terror effort may be a very good start. 

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

A Day To Remember.

Seventy-five years ago today, Neville Chamberlain finally admitted that apeasement had failed, and failed miserably. Britain joined France in declaring war on Hitler's Nazi dominated Germany over the invasion of Poland. Historians will always be sharply dividied over whether or not it could have been avoided had Britain and her allies shown more determination in 1938 over the Südetenland question. The fact is that from 1920 up to 1936 we'd built almost no new warships, cut our armed forces to the bone and even scrapped our tanks. To crown it we'd not invested a great deal in developing what we had - so in 1938 we weren't in a position to make a stand.

Not that we were in much better case in 1939, but at least we'd made a start at re-arming.

War makes very strange bedfellows. Hitler's invasion of Poland was facilitated by the now infamous 'Non-aggression Pact' he'd made with Stalin, a feat that caught western negotiators completely by surprise. But it didn't last and barely a year later, he invaded his 'ally' and thrust the Communists into an alliance with Britain, a perhaps even less likely 'friendship'. I suspect that few realised, on this day as they listened to Chamberlain announcing the failure of diplomacy, that it would engulf the whole world, or that it would take five long years to destroy the evil cancer of Nazism.

Ironic that we now face an ideology as evil, as destructive and as vicious - and are just as unprepared.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Repeating History?

I wonder sometimes at the irony of history. Yesterday marked the 75th anniversary of the Nazi invasion of Poland. It began with the bombardment of key installations in Gdansk (Danzig as it was then known) by the pre-dreadnought battleship KS Schleswig-Holstein, actually berthed in Gdansk on the grounds of 'protecting' the German 'minority' living there. Her 12 inch main armament did enormous damage, and her secondary 5.9 inch guns did even more, while in a co-ordinated thrust the army overran border posts and stormed into Pomerania and Poland's western provinces.

My local newspaper yesterday published photographic representations of the front page headlines of several newspapers published that day, and ran editorials pointing out how the propaganda of the period had mislead everyone. Thus, the irony. Reading some of the opening statements beneath those headlines (my abilities with the Sütterlin-style script make it a challenge!), one could be reading the pronouncements currently being made by Mr Putin concerning the 'obligation and need to protect Russian minorities' in former vassal states of the USSR. One could be excused for thinking they were written by the same speech writer.

History has a nasty habit of repeating itself, though not necessarily in the same places, or with the same outcomes. There is almost a feeling of 'here we go again' as western governments desperately try to ignore the rearmament that has been going on in Russia since Putin first came to power, and the naked aggression he has shown in 'reclaiming' parts of the so recently freed countries. Georgia was a trial run, the Crimea showed him just how toothless we have become. Now he's after the eastern half of Ukraine - with almost all the industrial development and the oil, gas and minerals. His air force makes an almost daily habit of entering Finnish airspace, and there are indications he's got his eyes on 're-absorbing' the Baltic States.

All of it using the same excuse used by Hitler in 1939 - to 'protect' the interests of his 'people' living as a minority in a 'hostile' country. The fact that his 'people' are being stirred up by his own agents to provoke a response, and that many of the 'leaders' of their 'popular resistance' movements are officers from the Russian Army is, of course, never mentioned.

That forces me to wonder; if the Ukraine/Crimea is to be Putins 'Südetenland', what will be our 'Poland' trigger to respond? What will be the likely outcome? Mr Putin has already openly warned that he will not back down, and that he will use his nuclear arsenal. Have we the guts to call his bluff? Or will the 'better Red than Dead' mindset hold sway and lead us into a spineless surrender?

Not a pleasant thought at this time of tension ...

Thursday, 28 August 2014

The Never Ending Conflict ...

The good news is that we have a new ceasefire in the war between Hamas and Israel at the moment. It is an incredibly fragile one, and it isn't clear why Hamas have suddenly accepted the terms they rejected less than a month ago. One does wonder just who they think they're fooling celebrating 'victory' on what remains of the streets of Gaza. Their campaign has seen the destruction of their tunnels, the demolition of hundreds of homes, the waste of lives and the misery visited on their people. In return they have killed a few Israeli soldiers, a tourist to Israel, a baby and a small number of civilians. Gaza lies in ruins. If this is 'victory' in Arab eyes, it is a travesty of it. It isn't even a 'Pyrrihic Victory'.

I have some very strong views on the debate over the Israeli action against Hamas, which does not mean an automatic endorsement of Israel's actions, nor of those on the Hamas side. In part this is because I have friends in both camps, and I know that my support for Israel has alienated some in the UK. I am a firm believer in the fact that Israel has the right to exist, and to defend itself against those that wish to deny her that right. There have been a lot of 'wrongs' on both sides, but there is something far more sinister at work here as well. The main stream media seldom mentioned, until forced to (and then usually qualified by words such as 'alleged' and, 'unverified sources'), the daily bombardment of Israeli towns and cities from Gaza. They make even less mention of the humanitarian efforts the Israelis are making 24/7 in Gaza and in the 'occupied' West Bank, such as food supplies, medical supplies or the supply of fresh water and electricity to 80% of Gaza. Yes, the Israelis are blockading Gaza, and they have good reason to do so. Why should Hamas and the other terror groups be given carte blanch to import missiles, munitions and other war materials unrestricted? How is that likely to produce peace?

Listening to the likes of Jon Snow and others calling the Israelis war criminals, murderers and 'apartheid' promoters simply makes me angry, since it also betrays the fact that these people find they can excuse anything and everything Hamas, Fatah and all the other Jihadist groups do against Israel, but the dirty, nasty, land stealing, baby killing Jews deserve no sympathy, no justice and definitely no homeland. The insistence on a 'return to the 1967 boundaries' is a recipe for yet another conflict, yet another attempt to annihilate Israel. East Jerusalem is the very heart of ancient Judea. It has no direct connection with either the Prophet or the Quran (it is mentioned only once in the entire Quran), and though under the terms of the 1949 UN Agreement, Jews were assured access - that was very quickly denied.

Jewish visitors to the Wailing Wall were subjected to abuse, harrassment and stone throwing. The Jordanian Army turned the Old City and the Temple Mount into an armed camp. Their 'engineering' works destroyed huge amounts of archaeologiocal evidence of the old Judean city, Christian remains and, in particular, surviving parts of the Temple itself. All of this is a matter of record, as is the use, prior to 1967, of the Golan Heights to fire random artillery, rockets and missiles into Israel by state supported terror groups. Gaza is the site of the ancient Philistine cities and settlements, and it is also the site of the tombs of several of the Old Testament prophets. Once again, devout Jews wishing to visit those sites - again a 'right' enshrined in the 1949 Agreement - found themselves harrassed, excluded on flimsy grounds and eventually denied access completely.

There are two ironies here. First that had the Arabs accepted the proposal by the 1947 UN Commission, they would today have the West Bank, a larger 'Gaza' and all of the Negev. The Jews accepted the proposal, the Arabs did not, and prepared to 'throw the Jews into the sea'. Despite all the odds, and even the fact the British had armed the Arabs, and blockaded the Jews - the Jews won, the Arabs lost. And the second irony is that they are unable to recognise that their own unwillingness to find a solution is what continues the conflict.

Suporters of 'Palestine' (a fiction dreamed up in Whitehall and now perpetuated for ideological purposes) like Mr Snow et al refuse to actually read Hamas and Fatah literature. If they did they would have to confront the fact that it clearly states these organisations have only one goal - the total annihilation of Israel. So, in the meantime, they continue to play the propaganda game, promoting the 'genocide of Palestinians' at the hands of those evil Jews. In their minds Israel has no right to exist except as a 'province' of greater Palestine under the total control of Hamas or Fatah.

Were I Jewish, I know what my response would be.

The longer this conflict continues, the worse it gets. Hamas and Fatah are funded by the same shadowy figures who funded the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and who are funding the ISIS thugs in Iraq and Syria. Mr Snow obviously doesn't read either the Hamas or the IS website either. Hamas is committed, in its charter, and in every publication, to the destruction of Israel, and the 'eradication of Jewish settlement' in ALL of Israel. The IS website declares categorically that the new Caliphate is to be 'cleansed' of Jews, Christians and Apostates. Perhaps Mr Snow, and his fellow supporters of 'anti-Zionism' (which seems to mean anything to do with Israel), would care to live in this Islamic 'paradise' when it is created. He may get the chance, since their long term objective is the reconquest of all the lands held by the Ottoman Turks at the height of their power - and that included most of Eastern Europe, the Ukraine, Crimea, Georgia, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, what is now Slovakia and a lot of what is now the southern parts of the Russian Federation, all of North Africa - and lately they have added Spain, Portugal and Sicily to their list.

The level of destruction the Israelis have gone to in Gaza does concern me, but I am equally concerned by the fact that UNWRA premises are being used to store rockets by Hamas and by the very biased presentation of anything supporting the Israeli case. Worse, each time the UNWRA people find munitions, instead of having them impounded or destroyed, they pass them back to the Hamas leaders. Reports from Asian news agencies (now excluded and barred by Hamas) reported that Hamas had its military command posts set up inside hospitals, and beneath schools - all carefully NOT reported by the sycophantic western 'anti-Zionist' media and the UN's 'people on the ground'.

This is not the behaviour of 'neutrals' which the UN claims it is. I am also deeply concerned by the fact that Hamas fires its rockets from children's playgrounds, from schools and from hospitals. We have recently seen footage on TV taken from a helicopter of armed terrorists commandeering an ambulance and using it to reach their target. There are other reports, of captured and killed terrorists caught in or emerging from their tunnels on the Istraeli side of the border, armed with suicide vests, and with tranquiliser darts and drugs. The plan, apparently, being to get behind Israeli lines and kidnap civilians - no doubt to be beheaded on YouTube as ISIS do.

When will the likes of Mr Snow admit the truth of the fact that Hamas is using women and children as human shields, knowing full well that as soon as their 'shields' are killed by a counter strike, Mr Snow and his media pals will be on TV wringing their hands and crying that Israel makes war on women and children? Why do they not report that the last ceasefire was broken by Hamas continually while the Israelis held theirs? Israel offered an extension - Hamas replied with rockets, and then cried foul when their own missiles fall short and hit a hospital and two other targets on their own side. Why do the Western 'Liberal' media insist on holding Israel to a higher standard of conduct than the terrorists they are fighting? No matter what Israel does to try and ease the situation, or to provide humanitarian aid, the western media either ignore it, or downplay it. The Israelis are always reported as 'alleging' something (if not actually being accused of lying), and anything and everything the Hamas or Fatah spokesmen say, is absolute 'truth' - even when it can be shown to be manifestly false.

If talks break down, it is always Israel's fault, never the 'Palestinians'. It is always reported that 'Israel refused to negotiate' when, in fact, there were never any 'negotiable' points on the table from the other side either. If Israel does concede anything it is reported that 'it wasn't sufficient' or it 'doesn't measure up to expectations'. One could be excused for thinking that nothing other than the total surrender of the Israeli government, and the handing over of everything to the Palestinian Authority-Hamas will ever satisfy sections of the UK Media in particular. Their reasoning is that Israel has no right to exist at all, and this stems from the often quoted statistic that in 1920 'only' 6% of the land was owned by Jews. What that statistic does not show is that under the Ottomans, Jews were severely restricted in buying or owning land, and it got worse under the British Mandate. It also does not cover the fact that  many Jews 'rented' land from Arab neighbours, nor is there any mention of the fact that from 1919 onwards there was a massive migration of Arabs to 'Palestine' as the British had named it.

Much is made of the claim that Jerusalem is the third holiest site in Islam. Yet it is mentioned ONCE in the entire Quran, and the supposed visit of the Prophet - on a winged horse, on the night of his death so he could 'ascend' to heaven from the Temple mount is a later 'tradition'. By contrast, it is the site of the Jewish capital until 77AD, and despite the best efforts of the Romans, the Arabs, Byzantines, Crusaders, Abbasids, Ottomans and just about everyone else, there has always been a Jewish presence here. This is verifiable by tax records (Dhimmi taxes), by orders from various governors and sultans and a long archaeological record (where it hasn't been deliberately destroyed by 'Palestinains' desperate to conceal it). An interesting comment from the Peel Commission, appointed to look into creating a 'Jewish Homeland' under the Hashemite Kingdom then being created to have control over the whole of what is today Israel and Jordan. The report states that the Arabs objected to the fact the 'Jews occupied all the best farmland' and wanted it confiscated and reallocated to them. The Commission felt obliged to point out that, until the Jews bought the land, it had been desert and sand dunes, and that the Jews had built irrigation systems, improved the soil and turned it into viable land for agriculture.

It is also forgotten that the UN Commission drew up plans to create a 'Two State' solution following the Arab uprising of 1936 - 39 against the British, and the conducting of a terror campaign against the Jewish population. This proposed dividing the country to create a long narrow 'Israel' along the coastal strip with a bulge inland toward Jerusalem, with a much larger 'West Bank' and a 'Gaza' double the present size. The 'West Bank' section would have included all of the Negev and Israels Gulf of Eilat port. Jerusalem would have belonged to no one and everyone, and would have been managed by an international council as a 'free city'. The plan was accepted by the Jews, and rejected by the Arabs - resulting in the 1947 - 48 war which saw the Arab side lose almost everything. The Egyptian army barely held onto the present area known as Gaza, and only the British Commanded and led forces of the Jordanian King succeeded in holding what is now the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Disgracefully, they immediately turned East Jerusalem into an armed camp and set about denying access to archaeological sites - many of which they destroyed. Until 1967 Jews had no access at all to their Holy sites in the West Bank, or the holiest of all - the Temple Mount.

It was recently said to me that 'someone has to tell the 'Zionists' to stop teaching their children to hate Palestinians'. Sadly, it isn't the Jews who actually teach this in their schools, that is what goes on in Palestinian schools - even those run by UNWRA.  While I can understand the 'Palestinian' people's frustration and anger, the solution does lay in their own hands. If they genuinely want peace, they have to be prepared to make a few concessions themselves. Only by reining in the hotheads who see killing Jews as a national sport, can they hope to bring an end to retaliation. Only when the PLA and its police actually start treating those who murder Jews as criminals instead of heroes can they expect the Jews to take them seriously. We have to bring down the levels of hatred between to the two groups, and that has to start with dropping the labels. Not every Jew is a 'Zionist'. In fact, I doubt any of them are, but it is a term certain parts of the Western Media, and all of the Arab media, have come to equate to 'Nazi'.

As I see it, we are all the losers, whoever wins this battle. As long as the 'Palestinians' think they can get away with playing the 'victim' card to the sycophantic western media gallery, supporters and politicians, they will continue the struggle, and prolong the agony. Israel will not give up Jerusalem, regardless of whether the British Foreign Office calls it Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. The Israelis know that Mr Obama, with his Islamic sympathies, will soon be gone, and they will deal, as they always have done, with the realities and whoever comes next. They know they can depend on no one in the West, least of all the US and UK governments, both of whom have, at various times, tried to sell them down the river. They will not give up the Golan Heights either, since with an enemy occupying those, almost all of Israel is open to shell and rocket fire. Just today, there is new doubt cast on the UN 'Peace Force' stationed there, as the 'border crossing' has been seized by an al Qaeda splinter group affiliated to IS. I suspect the next move will be by IS to attempt to 'seize the Heights' for the Caliphate.

Then there is the question of 'settlements' - always portrayed by Hamas and the Western Media as being built on land 'seized' from Palestinians. In fact the 'settlers' have been buying this land from Palestinians (despite a decree from the PLA declaring this to be 'treason'), many of whom have taken the money and gone elsewhere (sometimes into Israel!) abroad. Many of those who have sold are Christians, desperate to leave because they are being persecuted by their Muslim neighbours and know what awaits them if Hamas or Fatah win. The best analogy with this is to consider a situation in which someone in England buys a house in North Wales and wants to live there. Suddenly his neighbours don't speak English, he can't get served in the local shop, his children are bullied, his pets terrorised, his rubbish bins go unemptied. Now, if he is a determined man, he finds other properties for sale in the area, invites, and assists, his friends to buy them, and soon the locals are complaining their land is being stolen and their country invaded. Who is to blame?

Something else never acknowledged in the western media is that Israel is the ONLY democracy in the Middle East. It is not a 'Theocracy' and everyone, Jew, Muslim, Christian, Arab or whatever, has a vote. There are even 'Palestinians' in the Knesset. Show me another Middle Eastern country where Jew, Christians and members of other faiths, or 'non-native' Muslims, have the same protections and rights. There isn't one. Much is made of the falling numbers of Christians in the 'occupied' territories - but the Israeli census shows that the numbers of Christians and other faiths is growing in Israel. The reason is not that hard to find when one looks at how Christians are treated elsewhere in the Middle East.

As with so  much else in today's world, the whole conflict in Israel/Gaza has become completely polarised.  Everyone is playing a game of all or nothing, and everyone - except, remarkably, the Israelis - is demanding that Israel must surrender security, land, peace to satisfy the 'Palestinians'. No one seems to be saying that peace negotiations are a two way affair, and that said 'Palestinians' must come to the table prepared to put aside their rhetoric and their weapons. Until they do accept that, I cannot see anyone achieving anything better than a stand-off.

As long as the supporters of 'Palestine' (which never existed between the Roman Empire's demise and the British occupation and Mandate) continue to foster the "Israel must surrender" rhetoric, there can never be a peaceful solution or settlement. As long as it continues on this path, we will continue to see these horrendous scenes, and as long as Hamas et al receive the acclamation and support of the Western Media and its 'Liberal' supporters, we will never see a willingness to negotiate. As long as that situation continues, we will all lose.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Big Bang ...

Yesterday a stretch of the A3 (Autobahn A3, not the UK one), was closed to traffic in both directions near Frankfurt-am-Main. The reason was the six metre (18 feet) wide and four metre (12 feet) deep hole in the southbound carriageway, the result of the detonation of a WW2 500kg (1,100 lb) bomb that was exposed during routine repairs.

Attempts to defuse it were stopped when it was discovered that the chemical fuse was so badly corroded it could not be done with any hope of safety. So the decision was taken to detonate the bomb and hope for the best. Traffic on the A3 was stopped overnight, the bomb prepared by the Bundeswehr Bomb disposal team and the area evacuated for a considerable distance. Then the thing was triggered. Reports say the nearby town of Offenbach felt the blast, flights had to be stopped at Frankfurt Airport as it was on the approach path and there has generally been a bit of a stir.

Now the dust has settled, from the blast, not the ramifications, the Autobahn is being repaired. The northbound carriageway has reopened, but the southbound one will not open until the repairs are completed. That is expected to be at the weekend. But now it begs a major question. THis is just one of the bombs found this week. Another, in Marburg, also had to be destroyed by detonating it, and it is well known there are hundreds more of these unexploded weapons buried, some of them in densely populated areas, in Germany.

The stretch of the Autobahn beneath which this particular bomb has lain since around 1944, is one the Monk has travelled more than once. So have millions of motorists over the years, and repairs to the carriageways regularly uncover these things. Recently, a widening of the A3 autobahn saw several workers killed and injured when a mechanical digger hit a similar bomb and it detonated. The Head of Bomb Disposal admitted on television and radio that a large part of the problem is the chemical detonators, used by the British in the 1,000lb bombs, frequently failed, is difficult to remove even when it is undamaged, but impossible when they are corroded. And that is what is now happening. The damned things are corroding quietly and can trigger a detonation without warning. He states that he knows of 40 'spontaneous detonations' occuring since he took office.

A part of the problem is that in the post war clear-up, a lot of these bombs were simply buried, some of them under concrete, many lie under roads, railways and car parks. More are under buildings and even new housing estates built since the 1970s on 'greenfield' sites are turning up unexploded bombs that missed targets by a wide margin. Scarcely a week goes by without someone digging one up, and though they are sometimes lucky, and the bomb can be defused and removed, often, as in Marburg and on the A3 at Offenbach, they can't be.

The reactions of people here to them 'turning up' is interesting. There is a sort of collective shrug, and well oiled preparations go into play in preparation for yet another big bang. I expect it is a result of knowing the danger and dealing with it. Many of my elderly neighbours actually lived through the events that made Germany the most heavily bombed country in history, and they are quite relaxed about it. The general feeling is 'Thank God it was found before ...'

It does make one grateful for the fact that, living well outside any of the target zones, we have no known ordnance beneath our feet!  

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Dealing With A Cult Of Death.

Recently I have read an article by a Jewish Rabbi who makes a very good point on the subject of religious fundamentalism. In essence, once a person becomes so fixated on attaining ‘heaven’ they lose contact with reality, and with the essence of almost every religious teaching  - which is to live THIS life to the fullest possible extent, no matter how impoverished or hard it may be. The problem is that if we focus to intently on our vision of ‘heaven’ we very quickly find that it is a justification for every kind of evil act - in pursuit of the ‘greater good’.

This is what drives groups like Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and, I suspect, some elements of groups like Hamas, the Taliban (an ironic title if ever there was - it is said to mean ‘scholars’), Al Qaeda and others. It certainly motivates some Christian groups as well, fortunately, at this time, not to physical violence. The ISIS group, at present, provides us with the most visible evidence of what a group motivated by such a self-righteous ‘vision’ can produce. They justify their actions by arguing that the ‘final days’ and the return of ‘heavenly peace’ promised in the Quran can only be achieved by the recreation of the Caliphate. They further argue that the original Caliphate ‘failed’ because it allowed ‘kufars’ to continue practicing their ‘false’ faiths and live among the faithful.

Their solution is simple - forcibly convert the ‘kufars’ or kill them. Each death in the name of this programme is presumed to earn them brownie points in the heaven to come. Plus, of course, since it is a ‘holy’ war, if you die fighting for this cause you are a ‘holy’ martyr and assured of a place in ‘paradise’.

Interestingly, both Judaism and Christianity (mainstream, not the sectarian versions) have a very ‘physical’ view of the life hereafter and that is shared by Islam. Mainstream Christian teaching since early times has suggested that the ‘second coming’ and the ‘resurrection of the dead’ will be a physical event - with everyone restored to their physical bodies at the age that Jesus was when he died. The Jewish view is similar, and in Islam this is the leading concept as well. The Bible probably has the least to say on exactly what form the ‘life to come’ will take. While it contains many defences to a life after death, it uses a lot of allegorical descriptions to illustrate to the point. The problem comes down to trying to describe something outside of human understanding or experience, in human terms and within parameters the human mind can grasp. It is my understanding that the Quran follows a similar route - many references to ‘paradise’ or a ‘new Eden’ and to ‘the faithful’ populating it - but not a great deal on the details. Most of the teaching followed by extremists in that faith comes from something called the Hadith - a collection of ‘sayings’ attributed to the Prophet. It’s provenance is somewhat open to challenge since it was first written down a long time after the Prophet’s death.

The problem with obsessing about attaining the ‘life hereafter’ is that you stand a good chance of becoming insufferably ‘religious’ and ignoring the real tenets of the faith you supposedly follow. This was Christ’s problem with the Pharisees and the Sadducees, both groups obsessing about ‘The Law’ or ‘The Ritual’ (the Sadducees were the Temple priests) to the point they forgot, or perhaps ignored, the real teachings of their faith, which is, as Augustine of Hippo put it, to ‘Love God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your being - and then do as you please.’ The truth is that if you really do the first, it is impossible to do anything ‘evil’ in the second part. In essence, this is what Jesus meant when he gave us the ‘Great Commandment’ (which Augustine paraphrased) and the second to love everyone else as we love ourselves. Follow those two commandments - which actually sum up the Ten Commandments very succinctly - and you cannot do what ISIS, Hamas or any other terror group are doing.

So where has it all gone wrong? Why are we seeing these black clad jihadis shooting, bombing and beheading their way across the Middle East? 

In part we have to acknowledge that Islam has historically a pretty dire record of conquest and forced conversion. Many today do not know that North Africa, the Middle East, most of modern Pakistan and the southern areas of what are now independent states of the former Soviet Union and Russian Empire, were Christian. They were converted to Islam by force or coercion after being overrun by Arab, and later Seljuk, Ottoman and other Islamic conquerors. The Caliphate was centred on Baghdad and flourished - ostensibly liberally - until it was sacked by the Mongols in 1326 AD. While it is often described as ‘tolerant’ it depends on your viewpoint. Certainly it allowed alcohol and was fairly relaxed about the practice of other faiths - Jewish or Christian. But, what is less well known, is that Jews and Christians were banned from holding government office unless they converted, and that they paid a punitive ‘tax’ to retain their faith. Later this was extended to a requirement to provide the first born son to the Caliph as a ‘servant’. These boys were forced to convert, and in some cases were castrated as well. The Ottoman Empire was still practicing this in the late 19th Century in Bulgaria and the other Balkan states under their control. 

The Mongol invasion shattered the Caliphate, but the new rulers didn’t bring a new religion with them, and were themselves gradually converted to Islam. It is an unacknowledged fact that Islam has been the reason underlying more invasions and conquests than any other religion, and while Christianity has certainly had its moments - especially during the Reformation - it hardly holds a candle to Islam in this regard.

Why the difference? 

Judaism grew up in a world dominated by religions that glorified death. Some practiced human sacrifice, most practiced animal sacrifice, and some had some rather strange combinations of both. Perhaps the most shocking of all was the sacrifice of male infants by the Phoenicians (and some reports say the Philistines) by tossing the living child into the stylised maw of a furnace, still, according to the Roman histories, practiced in Carthage at the time of the Punic Wars. Many had fertility rites that today would shock even the most open minded ‘liberal’. This is where some of the Levitical strictures against certain practices and activities arise and though these are carried over into the Quran (which draws heavily on the Old Testament, parts of the New and on a huge amount of Gnostic literature now known as the Pseudepigraphica (False Books) - so called because they are not written by the claimed ‘authors’ and are even verifiably not from the period they are supposed to have been written in), their origin is not acknowledged by the adherents of the extremist groups - and sadly, by some of the ‘scholars’ who support them.

Christianity, for the first hundred or so years, remained closely linked to the Synagogue and the Jewish worship and even teaching. It did suffer, to an extent, from a ‘martyr complex’ in some areas, where, if one reads the history of some of the early martyrs, they deliberately sought martyrdom in the belief that Christ would return within their (curtailed) lifetimes. While this re-emerged during the Reformation, and is still marginally visible among the more fundamentalist branches of the Christian family who fixate on the prophecies they read into the Book of Revelations. Once again, the problem is the fixation on gaining ‘the next life’ and frequently a loss of the need to live the present one to the fullest extent.


One possible explanation for Islam’s more entrenched ‘martyr complex’ is that it has no ‘centralising authority’ structures like the ‘church’ hierarchies of Christianity. Thus everyone is able to place their own interpretation on the teachings they have inherited, and many are drawn to the question of bringing about the arrival of the promised ‘paradise’. It is this focus that gives rise to the unhealthy mindset that says no amount of suffering, no limit to the number of casualties, is too high to achieve the desired end. Thus Hamas can have no shortage of volunteers willing to sacrifice their lives in this world, to destroy the ‘enemy’ and attain ‘paradise’ where they can live in a state of bliss while awaiting the final call to rise with the faithful and take over the earth.

In focusing their thoughts on a ‘martyr’s death’ they lose the true message of faith which is, simply, to live, and to live well. Once again, turning to the teaching of Jesus and the Old Testament Prophets, the essence of the faiths they taught, is to live life to its fullest. Their teaching is simple, by following the simple instruction to love God, and to treat everyone you encounter with respect and kindness, you will reap the same treatment from them. Everything in the Bible - both Old and New Testaments is about living, not about dying, and, as I understand it, the same applies to the Quran. By turning that on its head, and focusing on death, those who do, create a ‘death cult’ whose purpose is no longer about love and life, but about power, murder and enslavement.

I would venture to suggest that this is one major reason we cannot hope to see peace in Gaza or the West Bank at any time in the near future. The Jewish state is founded on the ideals of Judaic teaching about ‘life’, while their opponents seek to destroy them, their faith and their state - and are prepared to die themselves to achieve it. Hamas, Fatah and the other factions are all members of what has become a Cult of Death. In their mindset death in achieving their aim will guarantee a place in Paradise. Their ‘holy’ struggle justifies anything and everything, even bringing death and destruction to those they love.


Islam has descended into being a ‘cult of death’ and, as such, sows the seeds of its own ultimate failure. The Huffington Post columnist, Mehdi Hassan, himself a follower of Islam, points out in a recent article (The Hand Choppers Of ISIS Are Deluded), that Islam as a ‘political’ movement has failed at every attempt to create an ‘Islamic State’. Look about you - all the ‘failed states’ causing problems in the world today are ‘Islamic’, and all of them try to impose the Sharia and the thinking of the 7th Century to government - with predictably disastrous results. In every attempt to create such a Utopia, all too rapidly power becomes entrenched in the hands a small and usually corrupt clique. Law and order break down as people find themselves compelled evade certain strictures and corruption spreads as policy is increasingly left in the hands of those who blind themselves to suffering or see only their own very narrow vision of 'heaven'. It is in this cesspit that the radical preachers, the haters and the violent find a ready field to develop and expand their perverted theology. 

It is the failure, among western ‘thinkers’, politicians and campaigners for ‘secularisation’, and their fellow travellers of humanism and atheism, to understand this difference between Judaism, Christianity and Islam that will bring hardship and disaster to us all. Their constant assault on Christianity, and their open bias against Judaism, has created a vacuum, the perfect breeding ground for this radicalised and twisted version of Islam. The demonstrations over the last weekend in the UK, with hate filled slogans being chanted, and placards waved that should, frankly, have resulted in arrests, are a warning. We are not dealing with a movement that promises hope, peace or love - we are dealing with a cult that sees death and destruction as desirable ways to achieve their aims. Peace doesn’t stand a chance against that mindset.