Archive for the ‘Islam’ Category

Books of 2015: 6 January

January 6, 2016

My 3 favourite books from last year. None are new, only new to me.

Pelagia and the White Bulldog by ‘Boris Akunin’ (2000, translated 2006) An engaging, devious, intelligent, whodunit which takes Christian faith seriously as part of Russian life.

Pelagia is a young 19th Century nun, working under Bishop Mitrofani in a small rural town. She is sent to the estate of the bishop’s aunt, a fanatic breeder of white bulldogs one of which has mysteriously died. Soon there are other deaths, with multiple suspects. Sister Pelagia has to use her quiet observation, her hunches, her ‘English’ physical education training, her looks, her vow of obedience, and her sharp mind.

‘Boris Akunin’ is the pen name of a Russian academic and popular author of Georgian and Jewish origin. It is remarkable that he has chosen to write with knowledge and sympathy about intelligent likeable Christian religious people, as well as notable Christian hypocrites. His Bishop is a charismatic leader in his community who ruminates on how to lead people out of the corrupt law of the jungle and, Akunin writes, succeeds. No doubt this is intended to apply to the 21st Century as much as the 19th. Akunin depicts the Church and its leadership, within society, more than Dickens, Eliot or even Trollope.

Akunin gives us good believable drama: interesting characters in a well-paced plot. I look forward to reading the sequel early this year.

Two Brothers by Ben Elton (2012) The story of Nazi Germany (and, less so, of its Communist aftermath) seen through the story of ‘twin’ brothers brought up in a Jewish family in Berlin.

One brother is adopted and not ethnically Jewish which makes all the difference in the culture of rabid official racism. For a while we do not know which brother is which and we care for both. Elton’s page-turning plot covers all the key moments and developments in the history with painstaking accuracy and believable roles for the main characters.

Two Brothers would be a purely enjoyable, exciting, first class, thriller if the history it portrays was not so grim. At times I needed to put the book down, overwhelmed by the horrors unfolding. I was always glad then to pick the book up again and follow, to the end, the engaging story and the beloved characters.

Reading Two Brothers is the best way I know for anyone to find out what life was like in Nazi Germany. A severe, sensitive, and scintillating story.

The Islamist Ed Husain (2007) Why I joined radical Islam in Britain, what I saw inside and why I left. A fascinating personal account of the attraction, history and danger of political Islamism for a young British man.

Husain achieves the right balance between his own story, thoughts and feelings, and explanation of the ideologies, their history and official responses to them, especially in Britain. His progression from spiritual to political Islam is understandable. His concern for fellow Moslems across the world, awakened especially by searing one-sided publicity of the plight of the Kosovans, is laudable. His grasp of the various schools of thought and practice is comprehensive and he conveys the nuances well. He points out the naivety and probable superciliousness of the British Establishment who turned blind eyes and deaf ears to the growth of political Islamism in the UK. He explains calmly how some people in this country and elsewhere moved on to calling for a Caliphate, long before the emergence of IS / Daesh. He describes how the rhetoric of Islamic brotherhood is belied by the practice of Islamists and how much good, beautiful, longstanding Islamic religious practice is stamped out by the political Islamists.

Husain gives some hope that many others will, like him, make the journey away from IS but, without a stronger moderate Islam, how strong can that hope be?


Paris Attcks: We shall not be moved. Nous restons en place. 14 November

November 14, 2015

After the murderous bombings in Paris what now?

The day after the July 7 bombings I was in London, sitting on a near empty Tune train, pulling into one sparsely peopled station after another. I felt afraid, as did everyone else. There was hardly any talking between us few passengers.

From somewhere inside me came the old protest song ‘We shall not be moved.’ I sang it quietly to myself. ‘We shall not, we shall not be moved.’ The song bolstered my confidence, quietened my fear, strengthened my determination to keep travelling where the bombers had attacked. ‘Just like a tree that’s planted by the riverside, we shall not be moved.’

 The thought of singing out loud came to me. I wasn’t bold enough to do it. Apart from having a notoriously bad singing voice, I worried that the scattered few passengers would think me odd, at least.

 Now I wish I had sung out. Maybe someone would have understood. Maybe it would have helped a fellow passenger as it had done me. Maybe it would even have spread…

 WE SHALL NOT, WE SHALL NOT BE MOVED. We shall not be moved from eating out in our city centres. We shall not be moved from going to concerts and football matches. We shall not be moved from living in a free and open society. We shall not give in to the terrorists’ aim to make us terrorised. We shall act as unterrorised, as normal, as free.

 The public response after the Charlie Hebdo killings was the same. People took to the streets, holding pens. We shall not be moved from publishing and reading satire, of anything and everything.

 Now the French Government is calling people to stay indoors. Communal events are closed. No street demonstrations are allowed until Thursday. Is this the right response?

 I understand the need to keep people safe. Parisians must be stunned by shock. Eating out now, celebrating over food, could feel disrespectful to the many dead and injured.

 Yes, let those who need to stay at home and mourn do so. But, please, let those who want to go out, who want to find and create solidarity, who want to sing ‘We shall not be moved…’ also do so, as they did in Paris and other towns at the beginning of this year.

Please keep the friendly football match between England and France on Tuesday. Maybe the stadium will resound, maybe even in French as well as English: ‘We shall not, we shall not be moved!’ ‘Nous restons, nous restons en place!’

Roger Harper

PS I’ll be at Wembley on Tuesday for the match!

The Qu’ran vs. Jesus: 18 January

January 18, 2015

The Qu’ran has always been at odds with Jesus. We need to live Jesus’ way

Sebastian Faulks wrote in the Times a while ago, as I have quoted before:

‘With the Koran there are no stories. And it has no ethical dimension like the New Testament, no new plan for life. It says “the Jews and the Christians were along the right tracks, but actually, they were wrong and I’m right, and if you don’t believe me, tough — you’ll burn for ever.” That’s basically the message of the book.’

The claim that Mohammed is the last and greatest prophet is in clear contradiction to the claim that Jesus is the prophet who is more than a prophet, God’s Son. The Qu’ran was written partly to correct or contradict the Jesus of the Gospels.

The opposition is clear.

The Qu’ran is intolerant of mockery.

Jesus accepted people mocking Him. Jesus said ‘Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.’ Jesus taught people to invite more slaps on the cheek!

The Qu’ran’s enemies are ‘the infidels / unbelievers:’

Jesus’ enemies are not flesh and blood, but unclean spirits, ideologies, systems, ‘principalities and powers in the heavenly places.’

The Qu’ran is militaristic. Before receiving the messages recorded in the Qu’ran, Mohammed was a trader. Afterwards, he became a warrior chief. In the last 10 years of his life, Mohammed either led or sent out 65 military campaigns (according to the Introduction to the English rendition of the Qu’ran published by the UK Islamic Mission Dawah Centre.)

Jesus led no military campaigns. Jesus refused to use violence. Jesus instead allowed himself to be a victim of violence.

The Qu’ran teaches retaliation: ‘There is life for you in retaliation , O men of understanding, that ye may ward off (evil.)’ (2:179) ‘And fight not with them at the Inviolable Place of Worship until they first attack you there, but if they attack you (there) then slay them. Such is the reward of disbelievers.’ (2:191) ‘and fight them until persecution is no more and religion is for Allah.’ (2:192) ‘And one who attacketh you, attack him in like manner as he attacked you.’ (2:194) (Surah 2 is seen by Moslems as a summary of the whole Koran.)

Jesus teaches no retaliation – ever. He tells his followers to love enemies, to pray for those who persecute them, to look to God to bless enemies, change them.

Looking at the history of Christianity and Islam you wouldn’t know that their origins are so different. Christianity followed Jesus faithfully for about 350 years. Then came the great compromise between Christianity and the Roman Empire. Christianity embraced, and restricted, militarism and retaliation. When Islam emerged, it copied and countered a State Religion with a powerful army.

The Christianity of the Crusades, of military retaliation, was far from following the teachings of Jesus. The ‘Christianity’ of the invasion of Iraq, the bombing of IS etc. is far from following the teachings of Jesus.

Christians need to return to the teaching and Spirit of Jesus, especially in responding to terrorist attacks:

No retaliation, ever.

No military response. No relying on weapons, on the ‘security’ industry.

No deeming people evil. People can be infected and misguided by evil but there are no ‘evil people.’

No giving up the freedom to mock and be mocked.

No further restriction on the welcome we give to strangers, despite the differences and the dangers.

Christians need strength, inner strength, not to retaliate, to keep loving. We need strength to fight fear and anger / vengefulness etc. etc.

Christians need to encourage and strengthen each other:

We shall not be moved…

We shall not give up our civic freedoms. We shall not give in to the fear of strangers, of immigrants. We will not cower behind more and more security, more weapons. We will go out into the streets and squares of our towns, lighting candles, carrying pens. We will not be moved from being an open, democratic, welcoming, fair, just society.

Just like a tree that’s standing by the waterside…

To have the strength not to be moved, we need a river to feed into our roots. Europe has never seen a wholeheartedly Christian country, rather various compromises between the State and Jesus. Yet there has been a river flowing from Jesus which has watered, influenced, the roots of Europe. We need to keep drawing from that river.

The Qu’ran has always been at odds with Jesus. We need to live Jesus’ way, now more than ever.

Parliament Endangering British Security: 29 September

September 29, 2014

Bombing IS in their own territory will inspire more bombs on UK territory. Our Government now count IS as enemy combatants, a rival to Great Britain. Our Government thereby makes them heroes in some people’s eyes. More young men will want to join this IS army which is proving a challenge and a match for the UK and the US.

We will have more airport security, more expensive surveillance equipment, more taxes spent on people to monitor the threat of terrorism, more detention without trial. The defence and security budget will grow like a cancer, while social care is cut back inexorably.

‘But we can’t just do nothing! We have to challenge IS and try to stop them from expelling, kidnapping, beheading more people!’ Yes indeed we need to challenge IS but bombing them will not work. Bombing may subdue them for a while, but, when they later come out of hiding, they will be fiercer than ever. Bombing will destroy too many homes, roads, farms. Decent ordinary people will have no resources to stand up to the militants. (The UK Government is not committed to repairing our bomb damage should IS go into hiding for a while.) Bombing has made society worse in Iraq and in Libya. Bombing IS will, in the long run, make things much worse, not only in Iraq and Syria, but also in the UK.

We need to challenge IS through the Law. Bring cases to the International Court of Justice against the IS leaders and all who support them substantially. Issue arrest warrants against IS leaders and their supporters, especially those who supply their weapons. Strengthen Interpol and give them new powers to search for weapons trails and weapons payments across countries and within banks. Track down and close all bank accounts with any connection to IS. Arrest the account holders. Search for the ideological supporters of IS, arrest them and bring them trial. Treat IS as a criminal gang not as an enemy army.

‘But this will take too long.’ Yes it is not a quick, knee jerk response. It is an effective long term strategy. Immediately we care for the victims of IS. We give them new homes and new livelihoods.

‘But this will never be 100% effective. Some weapons and money will still get through.’ Bombs also will never be 100% effective. IS will go into hiding and wait for the bombs to stop. In the end the Law will be more effective.

‘But we are only doing what the Iraqi Government are asking us to do.’ The Iraqi Government were installed through UK and US bombs and troops. Of course they think they need UK and US bombs. We need to work with them to find a better way.

Challenging IS through the Law will take as much, if not more, commitment from a range of countries than bombing IS. Countries will need to invest money and people in the legal battle. Countries will have to forge new agreements, maybe new institutions. With this long term commitment to challenging and containing militant extremism, the world will become more united, more civilised, more secure.

Great Britain needs to take a lead. We have experience of challenging the IRA through the Law. We did not bomb IRA bases in Eire or IRA leaders in Northern Ireland. We did not dignify the terrorists as enemy soldiers but imprisoned them as criminals. We need to return to the same, effective, tactics. Stop the international bombing. Send in the international police.

Roger Harper

Israel and Gaza – Outlaws: 2 August

August 2, 2014

To write about Israel and Gaza or not to write? My few words will make no difference to the war. They may, though, provoke an angry response from some of my wider Jewish family, in Israel and America. My brother has posted ‘Enough Already!’ on Facebook, critical of the Israeli government. He has been taken to task by family members. Now, I want to keep good relationships with my family. A sunny photo of related Israelis, Americans and Brits is above my mantelpiece. I am writing an account of our grandfather’s life and want their assistance. My daughter’s wedding is next year and I want their presence. Good reasons to keep quiet.

And yet… My Muslim friend from a Pakistani family says that if I keep quiet, how can anyone expect any Muslim in a more oppressive society to speak up about the stupidity of Hamas firing tin pot rockets at a country they know will retaliate with F15s?

My aunt used to say that our family is a mini United Nations. (When we gathered in Israel we included Mongolians and an Egyptian.) In the United Nations there is bound to be disagreement, but also a common commitment to keeping relationship, keep talking. It would impoverish the family, especially a Jewish family, if we refrain from speaking because we know others will disagree.

The view of this British Christian with Jewish and Israeli relatives is:

Israel started this war by going after Hamas in the West Bank under the pretext of searching for missing Israeli teenagers, knowing that Hamas are bound, under their own ideology, to retaliate. No evidence has been provided that Hamas were responsible for the teenagers’ death. Hamas had ensured for a few years that rocket attacks from Gaza were considerably less than previously. (‘Rocket firings, averaging 240 per month in 2007, dropped to five per month in 2013.’ ) Israel would have known that rocket attacks are the most likely response to Israeli aggression.

Israel attacked Hamas because Israel, for some time, has given up on relying on the Law, relying on military might instead. When a crime is committed, such as the abduction and eventual murder of three Israeli teenagers, the legal response is to investigate, find evidence, apprehend the perpetrators, determine their guilt and apply the previously agreed penalty. This is the rule of Law. It takes determination, time and patience. The military response is to kick the hell out of ‘them’ for what they have done, coming to quick conclusions about who ‘they’ are and pragmatic conclusions about how much kicking to administer – mostly as much as we think we can get away with / enough to teach them a lesson they will not forget.

The rule of Law is a great Jewish contribution to human civilisation. In the Jewish, Old Testament, tradition, kings are not above the Law. If kings violate the law they are taken to task and warned by prophets and, eventually, they, and the whole nation, can lose the LORD’s support. The rule of Law was made plain by the very first king being disowned by the LORD. The Israeli government has not just flouted the rule of Law, of Torah, they have thrown it in the rubbish bin.

Israel has been encouraged to do this by the US, Britain and other countries who also decided after 9/11 not to apply the rule of Law to terrorists but to kick the hell out of them and anyone who supports them.

Israel is acting like Austria-Hungary 100 years ago. The Austrians insisted on sending their troops into Serbia to ‘get’ those who had assassinated the Archduke, using the military, not the law. The outcome was the death of hundreds of thousands all over Europe. The US and Britain did the same after 9/11. Israel has done the same now. When will people stop repeating the mistakes of history?

Israel has retaliated for Hamas rockets and continues to retaliate, in huge disproportion to the damage inflicted by Hamas. The great Jewish principle of equivalent response, ‘one eye for one eye..,’ is being horrendously flouted.

Israel believes it can stop future war by fighting hard now. Once Israeli security is established, Israelis will carry on with life. The truth is that even the war to end all wars only created another war. Wars do not make peace. Wars only create quiet through intimidation for a while. Especially when there is no attempt to make peace in other ways. The Israeli blockade of Gaza is like the demand of France and Britain for heavy reparations from Germany after the First World War – fuelling future war.

Israel is right to regard Hamas as an outlaw organisation which needs to be combatted. The way to combat Hamas is to use the Law, including international law and especially Torah, and, when necessary, to respond to violence with violence only with an equivalent effect. The US, Britain and other countries also need to return to the rule of Law.

Israel is losing respect and friends across the world. Israel is fortunate at the moment to have sympathetic governments in Egypt and the Gulf. For these governments combatting Islamic terrorism is one of their high priorities. In a few years, the priority will swing towards addressing the grievances which lead to support for Islamic terrorism, one of which is the Israeli Occupation of the West Bank and ‘de facto’ of Gaza.

Israel is named after Jacob. Jacob lost God’s blessing and had to the leave the land when he allowed his sons to retaliate against a local tribe with massacre. (Genesis 34 onwards.)

Israel needs to hear old words afresh: ‘Not by strength, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts.’ (Zechariah 4:6) If Israel continues to ignore the ways of the LORD, what future can it have?

Jesus weeps for his people, as He did before.

Roger Harper

For a good Jewish view see

For a good Christian view see

The Koran: more detail – 28 April

April 28, 2011

More detail on Surahs 2 and 3 of the Koran, as promised.

These first two chapters of the Koran make it plain that Allah wants, first and foremost, believers. Believers are promised blessings now and beyond death. Disbelievers are heading for Hell. ‘Disbelievers’ is the word in my official Moslem translation, which probably could equally be translated ‘infidels.’

The call to believe in Allah is often repeated, far more than the call to lead a righteous life. Good deeds and just dealing are commended, but are not given anything like the prominence of right belief. Right belief is to lead firstly to right worship. There is much, especially in Surah 2, about the importance of worship and pilgrimage. Living morally takes third place.

The fate of disbelieves is clearly specified as hell – the ‘awful doom’, ‘evil resting place’, ‘fire – they will abide therein.’ Surah 2 warns of hell in 28 out of 286 verses, Surah 3 in 24 out of 200 verses.

The disbelievers are simply those who do not believe in Allah. Most wrath is promised for those who refuse to believe, but those who have never had the opportunity to believe, never heard the Moslem message, are in the same category.

It is mostly for Allah to deal with disbelievers. The Koran calls on Moslems to see disbelievers as cursed and to be careful in their relations with disbelievers. There is no call to kill or torture disbelievers – this is Allah’s role. ‘There is no compulsion in religion.’ (2:256) It is not for Moslems to force people into believing. ‘It is of no concern at all of thee (O Muhammed) whether He relent toward them or punish them, for they are evil-doers.’ (3:128)

There is, however, also a continuing sense of struggle, of battle, between Moslems and disbelievers, which some people could take as a general call to arms against disbelievers. Surah 2 ends ‘give us victory over disbelieving folk.’ Surah 3:151 says ‘we shall cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve because they ascribe unto Allah partners…’

Surahs 2 and 3 are very clear that warfare is necessary and to be embraced, especially in retaliation. Those who refrain from fighting are castigated. (2:246, 3:167) ‘There is life for you in retaliation , O men of understanding, that ye may ward off (evil.)’ (2:179) ‘And fight not with them at theInviolable Placeof Worship until they first attack you there, but if they attack you (there) then slay them. Such is the reward of disbelievers.’ (2:191)

‘and fight them until persecution is no more and religion is for Allah.’ (2:192) ‘And one who attacketh you, attack him in like manner as he attacked you.’ (2:194)

It seems that the very worst that can happen to a Moslem is that they become a disbeliever, for this ensures them eternal torment – as opposed to dying a martyr’s death which ensures them eternal pleasures. So ‘persecution is worse than killing’ (2:217) and is to be met with a violent response.

The call to arms is made, as is all the Koran, to men. Women are mentioned but are not addressed. Women can maybe listen in, but the message of Allah is given directly only to men.

After right belief and the willingness to fight for the cause of Allah, righteous dealing between men, and between men and women, is commended:

‘Those who break the covenant of Allah after ratifying it, and sever that which Allah ordered to be joined, and make mischief in the earth, those are they who are the losers.’ (2:27)

‘Confound not truth with falsehood, nor knowingly conceal the truth.’ (2:42)

‘Shed not the blood of your people nor turn your people out of your dwellings.’ (2:84)

‘And each one hath a goal toward which he turneth; so vie with one another in good works.’ (2:148)

‘Righteous is he who believeth in Allah and the Last Day and the angels and the Scriptures and the Prophets; and giveth his wealth, for love of Him, to kinsfolk, and to orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and to those who ask and to set slaves free, and observeth proper worship and payeth the poor-due. And those who keep their treaty when the make one, and the patient in tribulation and adversity and times of stress. Such are they who are sincere. Such are the God-fearing.’ (2:177)

Roger Harper

The Central Message of the Koran: 16 September

April 16, 2011

Is burning paper a violent act which justifies people responding with murderous violence? Only, apparently, when the paper has the Koran printed on it, and the speaker is a weasally UN official keen to justify those who murdered his colleagues. We should be saying more clearly ‘Killing people because someone has burned paper with words that are important to you is criminal over-reaction.’

Not that burning the Koran is a good thing. I would not want anyone publicly to burn the Bible, so I will not publicly burn any other holy book. It is not good to aggravate even the nastiest criminals. Burning the Koran is too much like retaliation for Moslem extremists burning the Stars and Stripes. Even this non-violent retaliation is against the teaching of Jesus.

John Simpson, whose books I am reading, describes in detail the burning of the Stars and Stripes in Peshawar shortly after 9/11 when theUSwas planning revenge on and inAfghanistan,  at which he was present. These pictures were shown repeatedly as evidence that ‘Moslems’ were ‘against Americans’ and other Westerners. Simpson is clear that extremist religious leaders orchestrated and fuelled the burning, with the crowd going along but not sharing the hatred. This was not a spontaneous crowd but the congregation from one mosque which had been whipped up into fervour. There was no hostility at all to the Western news crews. It was a piece of theatre which should not have been taken so seriously.

Rather than burn the Koran we should publicise it.

Surah 1 is a short prayer of praise and request for guidance, contrasting those who worship Allah and those who ‘go astray’ and earn Allah’s anger.

Surahs 2 and 3 are the longest in the Koran. The order was copied from the Old Testament where the longest book of a prophet, Isaiah, comes first, the second longest, Jeremiah, next, and so on. Both 2 and 3 were written inMedina, later than those written inMecca, and therefore more authoritative. My official Moslem introduction says that Surah 2 ‘might be described as the Koran in little. It contains mention of all the essential points of the Revelation, which are elaborated elsewhere.’

The overall message of Surah 2, and so of the whole Koran, echoed also in Surah 3, is simple: Believe in Allah or go to Hell!

‘As for the disbelievers, whether thou warn them or thou warn them not, it all one for them; they believe not.

Allah hath sealed their hearing and their hearts, and on their eyes there is a covering. Theirs will be an awful doom.’  (2:6.7)

… The curse of Allah is on disbelievers.

… They have incurred anger upon anger. For disbelievers is a shameful doom.  (2:89,90)

‘Lo! Those who disbelieve, and die the while they are disbelievers, on them is the curse of Allah and of angles and men combined.

They ever dwell therein. The doom will not be lightened for them, neither will they be reprieved.’  (2:161,162)

… Lo! those who disbelieve the revelations of Allah, their will be a heavy doom…  (3:4)

(On that day) neither the riches nor the progeny of those who disbelieve will aught avail them with Allah. They will be fuel for Fire.  (3:10)

 Lo! The riches and the progeny of those who disbelieve will not avail them augfht against Allah and such are the rightful owners of the fire. They will abide therein. (3:116) 

Let not the vicissitude (of the success) of those who disbelieve, in the land, deceive thee (O Mohammed)

It is but a brief comfort. And afterward their habitation will be Hell, an ill abode.  (3:196,197)

“Muhammad had nothing to say to the world other than, ‘If you don’t believe in God you will burn for ever.’ ” So wrote Sebastian Faulks. “With the Koran there are no stories. And it has no ethical dimension like the New Testament, no new plan for life. It says ‘the Jews and the Christians were along the right tracks, but actually, they were wrong and I’m right, and if you don’t believe me, tough — you’ll burn for ever.’ That’s basically the message of the book.”

More detail on Surahs 2 and 3 to follow.

Roger Harper

The Arab Spring, Iraq and John Simpson: 7 March

March 7, 2011

If Saddam Hussein had still been in power at the beginning of this year, would he be in power today? Certainly not. The ‘Arab Spring’ would have swept him away along with Ben Ali of Tunisia and Mubarak of Egypt. If the Americans and the British had only waited 8 years, the change they said they wanted to see would have happened, without the immense death and destruction, madness and mutilation.

I’ve been reading John Simpson’s Not Quite World’s End a collection of ‘Traveller’s Tales’ from 2007. Having spent many weeks in Iraq, he is certain that Saddam was widely hated and feared by his own people. Commentators are now writing seriously about the possibility of change even in Saudi Arabia. Saddam Hussein, would certainly have faced an uprising. With the momentum of fellow Arabs and Iran pushing hard from the side, the uprising would have succeeded.

Simpson also explains the reasons for the invasion of Iraq:

1 Revenge for 9/11. Many Americans believed that Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11. A sizeable minority believed that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden were the same person. Other reasons, such as Saddam’s alleged weapons of mass destruction were fabricated justifications. When I marched in London against the planned invasion I carried a bed sheet reading ‘Repay No-one Evil For Evil.’

2  An army ready to be used. John Simpson writes: ‘A Saudi government minister told me, a month before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, that he had pleaded with Dick Cheney. Cheney had told him there was no alternative. “All right, then, tell me why you have to invade Iraq,” the Saudi minister said. “Because it’s do-able,” Cheney replied. In other words attacking Iraq was an easy way of demonstrating America’s strength.’ (p210f)

3  The false belief that the Iraqi population would greet the Americans as liberators. ‘Few of those who mattered once George W Bush had become president… seemed to have known anything about the deep division between Arab Sunnis and Shi’ites in Iraq… When the CIA … warned of the likely consequences of an invasion, their reports were ignored.’ (p49)

The ‘primary source’ of the false belief that the invasion would be welcomed by Iraqis was Ahmad Chalabi, a wealthy Sh’ite exiled to America after the uprisings in Iraq following the first Gulf War. He ‘was found guilty in absentia at a trial in Jordan on charges of corruption.’ ‘After 2003 it became commonplace to accuse Chalabi of having acted as a conscious agent for Iran, by persuading the American president to take out Iran’s chief enemy, Saddam Hussein.’(p49) Iran was certainly the biggest beneficiary of the invasion and could well have duped Bush’s America.

We in Britain now have to live with the shame of having gone along with this gung-ho blood-stained fiasco. We were ideally placed as the friend America needed to speak the truth – the truth about the divisions in Iraq which would erupt, the truth about aggressive armies being counterproductive when hearts and minds have to be won, the truth about the need to live with vulnerability to terrorism, as we had been doing for years with the IRA. We failed completely, God help us, and instead chose to collude with all the violent lies.

Our troops are now not in Iraq but they continue in Afghanistan. All that applied to Iraq also applies to Afghanistan. The bombing and then invasion of Afghanistan was clearly revenge for 9/11. We were told that Osama bin Laden was hiding there and the objective was to hunt him down. Today he is still at large, still broadcasting. The Taliban were attacked because they harboured Al Quaeda. After 9/11 the US Army had to hit back at someone – or else what was the point of their existence? The Taliban were an easy target. Yet the population of Afghanistan has not welcomed our soldiers with open arms. The effects of tribal divisions there too have been misunderstood and miscalculated. We have brought much extra suffering to the Afghans.

Simpson writes that Iraq is another Vietnam. Afghanistan is too – but we Brits are there alongside the Yanks. We will suffer ignominy and judgement together.

Roger Harper

Reading the Koran, Terry Jones, and Baroness Warsi: 23 January

January 23, 2011

My reading the Koran is going slowly, only 48 pages of 562. It is good to see similarities with the Bible, but so far they are few. Unfortunately, so far, the similarities are superficial but the differences fundamental.

Surah 2: 126: And when Abraham prayed: My Lord! Make this a region of security and bestow upon its people fruits, such of them as believe in Allah and the Last Day, He answered: As for him who disbelieveth, I shall leave him in contentment for a while, then I shall compel him into the doom of Fire – a hapless journey’s end.

There are similarities between this and Abraham praying in Genesis 18 for the people of Sodom. Abraham asks God not to destroy the city because of the righteous people there, bargaining with God, playing on his kindness. Abraham begins securing the safety of the city if there are 50 righteous people, and whittles God down to only 10. At this point Abraham stops, although there is no indication that God would not be willing to bargain further. The story shows God to be less harsh than Abraham first thinks he is.

In the Koran Abraham prays for blessing on the whole area and its people, but only on the believers. In the Bible neither Abraham, nor God, are concerned about what people believe, but about what they do to their fellow humans. In the Bible God wants righteous people, people who do not lie, steal, kill etc. In the Koran God wants believers. This is clear already from the 150 verses I have read. Those who suffer ultimate judgement in the Koran are the unbelievers, or ‘infidels’. According to Jesus, those liable to the ‘eternal fire destined for the devil and his angels’ are the callous, uncaring, unrighteous. Jesus does not mention their beliefs. (Matthew 25) The fire Jesus talked of is not originally for people at all, although it can become their fate if they ally themselves closely with the devil. The fire in the Koran is indeed for disbelieving humans. In the Koran there is no possibility of bargaining with Allah. This verse shows Allah to be harsher than Abraham in lulling unbelievers into false security in this world and then punishing them in the next.

The Koran’s description of Abraham is quite different from that of the Bible. Of course it is unthinkable that Abraham could have talked about believers in Allah, for that name of God was not known to him. It flies against the strict Jewish tradition that the name of God is not voiced at all; euphemisms, such as ‘The Lord’ or ‘The Name’ are used instead. More than this, the idea that Abraham would be in any way concerned about the beliefs of the people around him is alien to Old Testament and Jewish thought. Judaism does not seek converts. It makes it hard for people to convert to Judaism. Jews are not interested in changing the beliefs of others, they find it hard enough following their own religion.

The Abraham of the Bible and the Abraham of the Koran may have the same name but, from this verse at least, are different people, with different ideas and attitudes.

And now the Home Secretary has banned Terry Jones the ‘Koran-burning’ pastor from entering the UK, a sad reflection of the establishment’s inability to distinguish violent and non-violent opposition to Islam. Burning paper is non-violent, a dramatic statement of opposition to the ideology of Islam, deliberately targeting the ideology and not the people. Moslems have responded by claiming that Koran-burning is violent and threatening violence in return. Our leaders have accepted this Moslem view.

The difficulty is that our Government and establishment are unable to conduct a proper assessment of the Koran itself. Does the Koran promote violence against non-Muslims? That is one question in my mind as I read it. One argument that the Koran does promote violence is the life story of Mohammed. Before he received the teaching of the Koran he was a businessman. After he was a warrior prince. But this could have been a wrong interpretation of the teaching. Hence the need for a proper assessment. It is hugely encouraging that Imans in Iraq, both Sunni and Shia, have promulgated a fatwa against violence, especially outlawing suicide bombings.

For the Government the idea that the Koran might contain an incitement to violence is unthinkable. If the Government ever even hinted at such a conclusion the opprobrium heaped on it would be immense. Threats of violence and actual violence would probably ensue from extremist Moslems – unaware that thereby they would be confirming the conclusion. Even considering the question is unthinkable.

Instead the Government insists that the problem is not with the Koran but with extremists. But what if, as Baroness Warsi publicly denied, being ‘extremely Moslem’ and a ‘Moslem extremist’ are the same thing? It all depends on what exactly is the teaching of the Koran.

Roger Harper

Kings and armies: 25 November

November 25, 2010

God never wanted His people to have Kings, partly because they need standing armies. (1 Samuel 8 ) Standing armies become a burden on the people.

The British Government is cutting the expenditure of all departments by 15%, but military spending is to be cut by only 8%. The proportion of our tax that goes on weaponry and its operators will increase. Why do we need to spend more, proportionally, on the military? We used to be threatened by a massive Red Army ready to march across Europe. That threat has gone. We now face threats by small bands of terrorists who we cannot fight with large armies. There are good and effective ways of responding to terrorism and making our children and grandchildren safer – sending in the troops is not one of them.

‘If all you have is hammers, everything looks like a nail.’ Rowan Williams at his best. If you have a standing army, it will clamour to be used sooner or later. Otherwise the soldiers’ raison d’etre withers. Here’s a stark, documented, example: ‘One of the most shattering revelations about the bombing [of Laos] was discovering why it had so vastly increased in 1969, as described by the refugees. I learned that after President Lyndon Johnson had declared a bombing halt over North Vietnam in November 1968, he had simply diverted the planes into northern Laos. There was no military reason for doing so. It was simply because, as U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission Monteagle Stearns testified to the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations in October 1969, “Well, we had all those planes sitting around and couldn’t just let them stay there with nothing to do.” (p. 484)  Fred Branfman

Having all those planes and tanks and soldiers is a comparatively new American phenomenon. Alistair Cooke, the great BBC correspondent in the US, wrote:

‘… one of the most dogged traditions of the United States through its first 160 years was a distrust of a large armed force, and in the beginning an actual prohibition of a standing army, navy, and marine corps. Until the Second World War Americans looked on war not as a profession but as an emergency disruption of life; once the war was over, the soldiers got out of uniform, and all but the smallest stock of weapons was scrapped.’

‘In all former times the piling up of armaments has in itself ensured that one day they would go off. We are now told that, on the contrary, they offer us the comfort of ‘a balance of terror.’ ‘

Alistair Cooke America BBC / BCA 1973  p335, 358

Now America has joined Britain in making the military a key part of the political and financial establishment. This is a characteristic of an Imperial Power – Britain now pretending to, America relishing their global role.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, in his Farewell Address of January 1961, spoke of the ‘military-industrial complex, with a ‘total influence – economic, political, even spiritual – felt in every city, every state-house, every office of the federal government.’ He deemed this necessary: ‘We can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense’ but warned that its influence would need to be checked by an alert public. Since 1961 the influence of the military-industrial complex has only grown, despite the end of the conflict which was its justification.

There are countries whose economies do not depend on military industry – and they are not struggling as much as we are: eg Sweden, Germany, Japan. These countries are also safer from terrorist attacks. Cutting back military spending would, in the end, make Britain more prosperous and more secure.

Military spending needs to be cut drastically. Do we really want soldiers more than nurses? We cannot afford enough of both; a choice has to be made. At the moment our Government is favouring the soldiers. We, the people, we, the Church, need to press for fewer trained killers, more trained carers. It’s what God has always wanted for His people.

Roger Harper