The Real Greens

The trouble with the terms “greenwashing” and “pinkwashing” is that those using them may (perhaps) inadvertently do what they accuse others of doing: painting over structural issues that need to be addressed.

Pinkwashing is often used to denigrate the success of the LGBT community in Israel and there have been several aspects to this accusation:

  • Denying the issues faced by LGBT people in majority Muslim countries in general and in Palestine in particular.
  • Denying the freedoms won by the LGBT community in Israel.
  • Denying the possibility of a people under oppression to simultaneously oppress a community of their own.

Countering the first denial, Mark Segal of NY Daily News is quoted as stating:

If you have a need to prove your “wokeness” by assimilating with those who support the rape and death of LGBT people, you don’t know the meaning of LGBT liberation.

Countering the third denial, Al-Qaws, a group dedicated to gender and sexual diversity in Palestinian society, has a more nuanced statement:

Singling out incidents of homophobia in Palestinian society ignores the complexities of Israel’s colonisation and military occupation being a contributing factor to Palestinian LGBTQ oppression

My point is not to reduce the socio-political complexities to which the latter quote alludes to some kind of catchy soundbite but rather to emphasise that key word. Some issues aren’t simple—but that doesn’t mean they should be painted over in pink.

Or green. Cory Morningstar, on the blog Wrong Kind of Green, has written a detailed take-down of current media environmentalism entitled The Manufacturing of Greta Thunberg. (For those who prefer listening to reading, there’s a beautifully-read podcast version.)

The reaction to greenwashing can also be rather simplistic and, similarly, has various aspects:

  • Denying the ecological issues of the planet
  • Denying the benevolent motivations of environmental protestors
  • Ignoring the possibility of both of the above co-existing with invented (or exaggerated) issues and with malevolent motivations

To stop communicating in double negatives, let me state clearly what I mean. While climatologists are divided on the question of there being a planetary temperature crisis caused by human (or animal) agency, no-one sane denies the obvious issues of air, land and water pollution by pesticides and other poisons and by plastics. Electromagnetic (high or low) frequency pollution is another source of concern.

Related issues are those of the cost-effectiveness of supposedly environmental alternative sources of energy and fuel—as well as the social impact of the market for conflict minerals (used in phones, laptops, solar panels and electric cars).

About all these issues my point is simple:

  • Unless supposedly progressive groups are prepared to grapple with the complexities of real intersectional oppression and liberation, they aren’t really progressive.

It’s not enough to pay attention to the wake-up calls of green celebrities; we also need to see beyond—to the marketisation of Africa and other repressive goals of the Great Reset.

It’s not enough to acknowledge the latter and ignore the very real problems of pollution.

It’s not enough to be aware of the dangers of Frankenfood and the sinister appropriation of the means of global food production by a very small group of plutocrats; we also need to acknowledge the unnatural and inhumane treatment of farmed animals—if not for their own sake then at least for the effect that their confinement, torture, forced assimilation of toxins and barbaric slaughter has on our own bodies and on our souls.

The so-called Green parties are allied with inhuman forces indifferent to the fate of most of the planet and its population—apart from some ecological pleasure parks strictly set aside for the elite. Let’s not pretend that meanwhile these plutocrats are all ethical vegans: they’re all guzzling meat pizza, fatty hamburgers and high sugar Coca-Cola.

In contrast, the resistance to global tyranny is full of people who eat healthily, exercise daily, participate voluntarily in various community projects and grow our own food.

We’re the real greens.

Cress growing out of soil held in a White male hand in front of the mesh cover of a plastic greenhouse.
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5 Ways to Disagree

This is a more structured version of my podcast of the same title which reflects on how we can discuss and even argue with people who hold opinions opposed to ours, irrespective of logic or empirical evidence, and so passionately, that we may be justified in calling them beliefs – and they may be justified in doing the same.

Although many of us moderns (especially White, slick urbanites) like to think of ourselves as all about science and having nothing to do with belief, there are some convictions on issues which are clearly not evidence-based and about which we are immune to rational persuasion.

Rather than identifying particular positions as irrational, I prefer to present examples of opposing beliefs, and some middle ground, without (too much) judgement. After doing so, I suggest 5 ways we can dialogue with each other, even when we disagree. The table below is not a nuanced account of any of these positions but serves to show their conflict. The middle position is not necessarily the one I consider most rational in all cases.

Issue/ Belief  Established Middle ground Dissenting
Abortion Amoral medical procedure, sometimes necessary/ human right. Cornerstone of female autonomy & modern feminism. Unborn baby is basically a bloodclot. Tragic conflict of rights in a misogynist society which still does not support female socio-economic autonomy, pregnancy, childbirth or childcare. Lucrative immoral practice of eugenics, often racist, sexist & ableist, by selfish women, authoritarian governments & doctors breaking Hippocratic Oath. Zygote is basically a baby.
AIDS HIV is the necessary & sufficient cause of AIDS (Gallo)  HIV is co-factor of AIDS but good nutrition/ clean water will flush it out (Montagnier) HIV is at least a co-factor of AIDS, oxidation may be another, but epidemiological data is so flawed & positions over e.g. poppers (alkyl nitrate) & Kaposi’s Sarcoma so entrenched, it is difficult to say anything for certain. HIV is a harmless passenger virus unconnected to AIDS – an  incoherent set of diseases caused by malnutrition & drugs including HIV meds (Duesberg)

HIV has never been proved to exist

(Perth Group)

Animal Farming Natural: humans are omnivores and animals hunt eat other for food. Factory farming & fishing bycatch/ plastic pollution unnecessary is cruel but animal welfare can be improved by a return to traditional farming/ fishing. Immoral. We are not just wild animals and traditional ecological communities of hunters & fishers do not subject animals to a (short) lifetime of cruelty.
Black Lives Matter Black people are causing racist division in our now totally equal societies. The cause of BLM is good but it is funded/ infiltrated by corporate interests with a different agenda.* It’s the 21st C. and Black people are still not safe anywhere. Defund the police!
Environment There is no environmental problem. Big business as usual! There may or may not be a relationship between emissions and global warming but plastic & air pollution is real. The Green movement is funded/ infiltrated by corporate interests with a different agenda.* The Earth is in crisis and only an immediate halt to CO2 & other toxic emissions will save humanity.  
5G/ Cashless Economy/ Cryptocurrency/ Blockchain 5G is useful, empowering, safe & efficient. It’s unconnected to the others which are just a more efficient & sanitory method of finance. We should be cautious about possible harm from any new technology, especially one using microwaves. The industry promoting it is unlikely to be impartial. The others are useful but problematic in terms of money laundering/ the Dark Web. All this is part of *The Great Reset: unelected oligarchic global governance based on citizen surveillance using biodata.
Transgender Human right if born in the wrong body. Access all areas! Confusing conflation of transsexual and transvestite people who have very different rights and present very different dangers to women and children. Attack on female safe space and sovereignty. Unnatural & especially harmful to kids who end up irreversibly mutilated, scarred & sterile for life & unable to enjoy sex.
Vaccines Totally safe. Good in general but their proliferation is worrying as is lack of legal accountability for past & future harms by pharmaceutical industry. Totally unsafe. Cause of autism etc.
Viruses: Covid-19/ H1N1 (Swine Flu) Real threat to life. Masks, social distancing, citizen surveillance, vaccines are our only hope against certain destruction of the human race. Bad (incommensurable) data; bad (incoherent) results. Censorship of dissenting experts not helping understanding of threat & solution. Scam/ social engineering with real or fake virus. Key part of another agenda operating since the 9/11 scam.*

Some of these issues line up with bipartisan politics – especially in the USA – and so some have described this as conflict of cultures. If we accept ideologies as similar to cultures, then one solution to continual argument is an approach similar to multiculturalism – which is a social strategy that has never been tried seriously in the UK (despite the political rhetoric) because, throughout our history, no culture apart from the dominant one has ever felt sufficiently safe.

In the USA it has never been tried at all, as the famous ‘Melting Pot’ is the antithesis of cultural respect. Expression of non-dominant cultural identity in the USA is only tolerated if it is folksy, touristy, commercially packaged, relegated to the past or heavily-constrained and bounded communities. When accessible, urban, vociferous and resistant to assimilation, it is severely repressed.

However convivencia was a key virtue of much of Al-Andalus (Moorish Spain) during the years when Christians and Jews lived securely under Muslim rule. Out of their dialogue came many literary, philosophical and scientific riches.

So what are my thoughts on a more convivial way of engaging with people of different persuasions? I suggest 5 ways to disagree:

  • Acknowledge the benevolence of people on the other side – they may truly believe what they do in good faith, with the information, cultural identity, emotional investment and relationships they have at this time.
  • Find shared values & goals: e.g. Pro-Life & Pro-Choice women can at least agree on supporting women who want to give birth and face social & economic obstacles, without giving up their opposition over the morality & legality of abortion.
  • Agree on a basis of evidence. This may be a legal or religious text that one or both parties holds as authoritative, a set of scientific studies, a certain database, etc.
  • Explore coherence – using logic, the value system each claims to uphold, and perhaps one of the above, this step may serve to demolish an opponent’s argument but may also enable it to be expressed more intelligibly, enabling better mutual understanding.
  • Agree to disagree. If you agree on nothing else, at least acknowledge the legal right to freedom of expression/ freedom of speech and resist attempts by others to censor this fundamental value of democracy.

argument-silhouette
Silhouette of older White man & younger Black man arguing

Thanks to Mohamed Mahmoud Hassan for releasing his image Argument Silhouette into the public domain.

 

5 Ways to Disagree (podcast)

Rather rambling reflections on possible strategies taken from interfaith dialogue between people committed to opposing secular ideologies they believe in and both claim to be rational and factual. Mention of: failed multiculturalism in UK and (especially) USA contrasted with success in Moorish Spain; opposing views on:

Abortion

AIDS

Animal Farming

Black Lives Matter

Environment

5G/ Cashless Economy/ Cryptocurrency/ Blockchain

Vaccines

Viruses: Covid-19/ H1N1 (Swine Flu)

(And I completely forgot about transgender ideology, which is another case in point)

https://www.podbean.com/eu/pb-zegba-e23cab

Muslims @thecathedral

[Trigger warning for Evangelicals: have hot sweet tea on hand and keep breathing]
Have you ever planned scripture readings for a wedding? The conversation usually goes like this:
– Right, flowers done, what’s next? Readings. Thoughts?
– Em, how about The Good Wife, then 1st Corinthians then the Wedding at Cana?
– Sorted. Next. Top Table placings. It’s a nightmare!
Okay it’s not exactly careful discernment of liturgical appropriateness but if you get the readings wrong no-one will shoot you. However, if you mess up who sits at the Top Table…
The stage after this is to run the readings by the vicar/priest/minister who will look them up in the lectionary. Because (surprisingly to some) when we read from the Bible in church we don’t actually read from the Bible. Readings in the lectionary are read as edited chunks of verses of scripture (missing out, for example, Biblical verses referring to the size of the male member of your enemies and those that compare an unhappy woman to a bear in the corner of the attic). I’m not making this up, you know!
This gets more complicated, still on the theme of weddings, when another language is involved. Usually Latin. Now like many Roman Catholics [I did warn you and there’s more to come] I can get through Adeste Fideles without a hymnbook and once asked a woman making a wedding video why she’d backed it with Miserere Domine. However, stop most Roman Catholics halfway through reciting the Credo from a service sheet and ask what the next sentence means and you may get a rather vague reply.
My point is that we tend to do things conventionally. Proverbs 31:10-31 is an acrostic composed of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet so it fits into the lectionary perfectly; 1 Corinthians 13 comprises 13 verses but the last verse of the previous chapter gives it context and it may be shortened to end with ‘love does not come to an end’; verse 12 of John 2 may be missed out as it links the Wedding at Cana to the next story. These textual decisions are usually made with the presiding minister in much the same way that an actor will discuss cutting lines with the director. For some weeks after the Epiphany, social media was full of Evangelical hatred against St Mary’s Cathedral, Glasgow; against the Very Rev Kelvin Holdsworth and against a young Muslim woman who was invited to read at an interfaith service.  None of these ‘Bible-defenders’ followed the clear Biblical instructions regarding raising concerns with a brother in faith (kindly, gently and in private) and the ultra-rightwing backlash (some of which had to be reported to Police Scotland) is sufficient evidence of the precarious state of love, peace and understanding in the USA and UK in recent months – which was the motivation for the inclusive service.

The young woman, who received abuse from vile racist trolls for weeks, had the task of not only reading a portion of her sacred scripture (Surah Mary 19:16-33) and of reading it in a language not her own but also of singing it. This she did beautifully and we, the congregation, were much moved. Subsequently, Bishop Nazir-Ali (sensitive to the very difficult interfaith situation in Pakistan where he served for years) praised the good intentions behind the service but expressed concern over a reading from the Qur’an in a Christian place of worship. This comment contained no racist or other vile language and was in no way derogatory to Islam, to the reciter or to the clergy of St Mary’s Cathedral.
Sadly, the good bishop’s erudite words on the meaning of the Arabic verb yattakhida were misquoted by an online UK Evangelical site, by the BBC and by an ‘alt-right’ (we know what that means) site in the US. Ironically, not only does it remain unclear whether the ayah (verse) referred to was actually included unaware in the recitation (the angry monoglot WASPS who claim it was have been unwilling to name their ‘non-Christian Arabic-speaking source’ to me) but even were it so, the literal translation is of a denial of adoptionism. And a previous verse may be understood (by Christians) to refer to the resurrection. In other words, the Arabic recital (of that verse all the fuss is about) is in fact more Christian-friendly in terms of orthodoxy than the usual English translation would be.
Notwithstanding the good intentions of all, the already fraught interfaith climate and the fact that the literal meaning of the Arabic verse (that may not even have been recited) is orthodox for Christians, we (congregation, clergy, reciter, Muslim guests, online supporters) have all been accused of single-handedly bringing the reign of Satan down on Earth. All of us together. Single-handedly.
Well, admittedly, there are signs that we just must be in the Last Days (notably so after the 20th of this month) but for people of faith that’s where we always are. Because the Kingdom of God is always close at hand. [Like that cup of tea, go on, take a sip, you’ll need it]
Surah Qâf 50:16 informs us that God is closer to us than our jugular vein. St Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews 13:2 enjoins hospitality to strangers upon us, reminding us that thereby some have entertained angels unaware.
It is our way in Glasgow, when vile people try to divide our united community, to run out to embrace each other. I was moved to tears by an Imam, in George Square in the centre of our dear city, when in another time of fear he recited the complete motto of the city of Glasgow attributed to our patron Saint Mungo:
Let Glasgow flourish, by the preaching of God’s word and by the praising of God’s name.
And we will flourish. Our loving, inclusive, united community will flourish because we trust in the promise that love wins. And even our atheist friends online have encouraged us to hold fast to that love. One woman said that she would not have come to a service but she understood why we celebrated the Epiphany together – because it was a sign of peace.
Lord of love, unite us in this sign.

(Thanks to Tony Melena for releasing his image “Unconquerable Love” into the public domain)

 

Wave After Wave: Immigrants Both Sides The Wall

Walking along the Forth & Clyde Canal the other day, I was twice passed by a young man of Levantine appearance happily cycling up and down the towpath. The Canal often follows the line of the Antonine Wall (the Roman Wall built before Hadrian’s) and a small post-industrial town on the outskirts of Glasgow shares the prestige of this piece of World Heritage with other sites of Roman forts. The town’s museum records:

After the wall was built the legionaries returned to their headquarters in the south of Britain. Those left to man the forts were called auxiliary troops. They were soldiers who came from the occupied countries in the Roman Empire such as Syria, Germany, Spain and Gaul (part of France).

(Auld Kirk Museum display)

Having grown up in the vicinity of the Wall, reading the urgent prose of George R.R. Martin (“We should start back,” Gared urged as the woods began to grow dark around them. “The wildings are dead.” – is the magnificent start of A Game of Thrones) I immediately associate his Wall with ours. Which makes me one of the wildings. I assure you we are not dead but alive and well and living in Kirkintilloch – and all over the globe.

Although I may have some ancestors among the aboriginal Picts north of the Wall (who themselves migrated here in the wake of our Neolithic ancestors) most of my paternal and maternal ancestors can be traced back to the Scots who at that time were across the Irish Sea and so more of a threat as occasional raiders than as native people resisting foreign occupation.

Which means that, in all probability, there were Syrians in Caer Pen Tulloch (the fort on the hill in Brythonic Celtic – yes the ‘Welsh’ were here before we were) before there were Scots. The name change, from ‘fort’ to ‘church’ on the hill, did not occur with the centuries’ later migration of the (Irish) Scots, who spoke Goidelic Celtic – or Gaelic – but with the migration of the Angles from the south centuries still later. ‘Kirk’, and its variants, means ‘church’ in many branches of Germanic language, including Scots.

Take out the dragons, suspend disbelief on the magic, and the bloody and beautiful world that Martin describes reads remarkably like ours. An anachronistic mixture of High Middle Ages and Renaissance to be sure, but still more like than not. Refreshingly free of Tolkein’s tendency to treat all women as embodiments of the Eternal Feminine, Martin depicts a spectrum of agency for good and ill irrespective of gender. He also shows up the tragic irony of wave after wave of incomers claiming sovereignty and aboriginal rights.

There were Syrians in Kirkintilloch before there were Scots. There were Syrians and other Levantine, European and North African people living south of the Antonine Wall all the way to the Channel, before there were English people here.

20 centuries later, the English and the Scots, and those colonised by our descendents, brought the doom of modern dragonfire to the cradle of civilisation in the Near and Middle East, for oil.

Syrians have returned to Kirkintilloch and may be seen cycling happily along the canal following the path of the Wall their ancestors built and manned so many centuries ago.

Fàilte gu Alba a-rithist: welcome back.

hadrians-wall

Thanks to George Hodan for releasing “Hadrian’s Wall” into the Public Domain.

 

Rape, Hospitality and the Sin of Sodom

A friend seeking asylum walked into the Home Office one Monday morning to discover that his new caseworker was the random guy he’d got off with, in a gay club on the Saturday night, and whose boyfriend (as he’d found out later that night) was a former flatmate! The granting of his refugee status took a week. After years of ineffectual campaigning to prove he was gay, my friend snogged his way to freedom.

I think it’s a funny story but when I recounted it to a friend who is a very traditional Muslim, his only response was: “That is condemned in the Book of Lūt.”

Here I must say that, technically, I’ve never read the Book of Lūt. It forms part of Arabic sacred scripture that is regarded as authoritative only in the original language and I’ve only read an authorised English translation, regarded as simply giving the ideas of the original. The unnamed place is only alluded to, by the mention of the people of Lūt, and the sin condemned is a failure of duty towards God and Messengers of God. The idea in the Book of Lot (to give it its English title) is not, necessarily, that the sin of the people was homosexuality. That idea turns up as a certain interpretation of the text, in sidebars, footnotes and endnotes (or even in brackets, especially in online versions). That interpretation depends on a certain interpretation of the Sodom (and Gomorrah) story in Ch. 19 of the Book of Genesis, which forms part of Hebrew sacred scripture.

In Arabic, Hebrew and Greek (the language of Christian sacred scripture), ‘messenger’ also means ‘angel’. This meaning is included in the Arabic word ‘alamin (“mankind, jinn and all that exists”) which, interestingly, the second time it’s used in this story, is glossed by the (online) interpreter as only “mankind”, in order to give this certain interpretation.

My Arabic is practically non-existent, my Hebrew is decidedly shaky and my Greek, well, at least I try! However, I have lived in lots of countries, including very hot ones, and so I don’t dismiss the ‘hospitality’ interpretation of the sin of Sodom as most conservative ‘Anglo-Saxon’ interpretation is inclined to do. Anyway, I’m not Anglo-Saxon, I’m Celtic, and in terms of interpretative heritage, that does make a difference.

One of the main reasons why the Anglo-Saxons, in the land now known as England, made the transition of mercenaries to monarchs so quickly is their repeated ruse of the murderous abuse of hospitality. This is not an aspect of their character that the Venerable Bede, in his political propaganda, dwells on and to their Celtic hosts it was unthinkable. Still today in Scotland, out of all the evils of inter-clan conflict, the Massacre of Glencoe, ordered by the English King, is considered to be the most shameful. Generations of English literature, and politicians, have trumpeted the English virtues of fairness and sang froid; it’s only fair that other cultures are accorded praise where due and you can’t have everything.

English culture has never been famous for its hospitality and what you don’t value in your own culture you may find it difficult to value in another but, despite the appropriating sentiments in the song, Jerusalem, England is not the promised land and the Biblical events took place somewhere else and to another people. They took place in a desert culture where to offer or refuse hospitality was to offer or refuse life.

Other cultures which do prize hospitality highly, such as that of the ancient Greeks, also have stories of divine beings being placated or offended as they are offered hospitality – or not. Yet the physical climate of Greece is itself hospitable. A traveller refused hospitality there, at least in ancient times when the land was more fruitful, was less likely to perish than someone out of doors without provisions in more southern desert climes – or in the Arctic north.

As I make clear in Only Say The Word: Affirming Gay and Lesbian Love, the men surrounding Lot’s door and demanding that his (angelic) visitors be brought out to be raped were, in this ancient patriarchal desert culture, sinning on several counts:

  • By abusing hospitality
  • By abusing men
  • By attempted rape

Lot’s offer (to throw his virgin daughters out to be raped by the mob) and the parallel story in Judges 19-21 (of the murderous gang rape and dismemberment at Gibeah of an unnamed female concubine, when this kind of offer was accepted) show that the homosexual interpretation of this story was the least of the concerns of its ancient authorship. For that rape and murder, a tribe is almost entirely wiped out. However, the Gibeah story is hardly first wave feminism: the tribe of Benjamin survives only by the abduction (i.e. rape) of 600 women.

It is said of Arabic sacred scripture that it has seven layers of meaning; the same may be said of its sister scriptures. One of the insights of a kind of interpretation called ‘hermeneutics’ is that the meaning we see may depend upon our perspective. Some truths, as my friend found out, take a while to be accepted; but truth, as his home office caseworker realised, will out!

Some have decided that these terrible tales should form no part of our modern life, and this is a choice I respect. Others, like myself, do battle with their continuing narrow and life-denying interpretation in order to open them up to new insights and to remember what is valuable about ancient cultures while we throw out the trash.

So what I remember, from my own Celtic tradition, is a rune of hospitality, which comes with a Christian interpretation but is open to any human or divine being:

I saw a stranger yestre’en, I put food in the eating-place, drink in the drinking-place, a bed in the resting-place, and in the morning the stranger was gone; and the lark, in her clear song, sang, ‘often, often, often, goes the Christ in stranger’s guise’.

plant-growing-in-desert-112846474926AEg

Thanks to Petr Kratochvil for releasing his photo ‘Plant Growing in Desert’ into the Public Domain

Beetroot bleeds too

In my series of inclusive mystery novels, the protagonist Bruno and his boyfriend have just acquired a puppy called Max and he is struck by the resemblance of the discourse of master-dog with that of master-slave. ‘He’ being Bruno. I have yet to extend my storytelling insight into the mind of an animal.

A blog post this week by the Very Rev and very jolly Kelvin Holdsworth (whose Episcopal Cathedral welcomes dogs and once yearly turns into a blessed menagerie) discusses Christian-Jewish relationships and in particular Christians celebrating Jewish Seder services. It reminded me of a lecturer at teacher training college telling us that vegetarian/ vegan Jews wishing to avoid lamb, at the Seder, substitute beetroot. Because it’s the only vegetable that bleeds.

I know vegetarian/ vegan Jews (and Christians) who have eaten lamb at the Seder out of respect for the tradition and because this death at this time serves a higher purpose. One of these friends is a Jewish atheist whose belligerent politics are so far to the Left she could have served as the inspiration for ‘Milly Tant’ of the comic book, Viz. She now eats beetroot instead and is grateful for the info (so do pass it on).

Without wishing to stray into theories of atonement and supersessionism (I just learned that word, from the same blog, and am practicing using it) I think it behoves Christians at Easter and Jews at Passover to think about animal sacrifice. It’s a word that, nowadays, we use only in reference to Voodoo and to vivisection. Having lived in Brazil, and having more university degrees than sense, it is clear to me that the pious practitioner who sacrifices an animal in order to attract a blessing has more claim to serving a higher purpose than the callous ‘researcher’ who just wants in-vivo on her CV. Especially when the sacrifice is proceeded by torture of the animal and when the products being tested are cosmetics.

Biblical animal sacrifice, in both the Hebrew and Greek scriptures, was a merciful alternative to human sacrifice. Which was always in the background and on one occasion came to the fore. One does not have to believe that Christianity is the more ethical continuance of Judaism in order to affirm that people of good will (which may include many atheists and exclude many theists) have a duty to find increasingly merciful alternatives when faced with an apparent need to cause pain and death to either humans or animals.

The substitution of a ram for Issac (for Ishmael in the Qur’an) is the sacrifice of something extremely valuable, especially in a nomadic herding community, in place of a human being. The callous contempt with which we treat animals as only instrumentally valuable – caged, tortured and killed for our gluttony and our vanity – when merciful alternatives are plentiful, cannot be called good will; it is not benevolent but malevolent. It is evil and not less so for being so bland, so everyday, and so unthinking.

This Easter, this Pesach, when we meditate on the lamb that was slain, let’s think about the humble beetroot and ask ourselves if enough blood has already been spilled in the name of religion and if we really need to be so bloodthirsty.

baby-lamb

‘Baby-lamb’ by Petr Kratochvil in Public Domain

Am I my brother’s keeper?

The case of the Swedish Foreign Minister, her critique of the situation of Saudi Arabian women and the subsequent, inevitable, backlash, strikes me as worthy of deeper reflection than that involved in a choice of placard with which to take to the streets. ‘Down with Islam!’, ‘Up with Women!’, ‘I am [add name]!’, ‘Death to Infidels!’ lack nuance, and omit the historical context of the overlapping and competing discourses which they summarise.

Margot Wallström may indeed be seen as Woman, a being either in compliment or opposition to another known as Man; as White, a quality of a minority of beings in some kind of relationship to the majority known as Black; as Christian (by virtue of her nationality and saintly first name – whatever her personal beliefs happen to be) as distinct from Muslim. You can see where I’m going with this. She is also the Foreign Minister of a small but powerful country, with a reputation for academic excellence (Nobel Committee etc.) high suicide rates, bureaucracy (admittedly it’s only the Norwegians that call Sweden ‘the land of rules’) and a historical legacy of very lively ambassadors arriving on longboats. As you can immediately tell, I know almost nothing about Sweden and during my short time there as an interpreter for the European Social Forum held in Malmö I was struck by two things: one was ‘the ghetto’, as our guides called it, which made me laugh as it was so peaceful and pristine. I live in Glasgow which is often neither; the other was the sudden appearance of an entire blond family cycling through the city about 11pm! This last was quite normal behaviour apparently.

So when I say that I think that the ‘feminist foreign minister’ as she’s been billed, seems to have got it wrong, it’s in context of my firm (though rather uninformed) belief that Sweden, indeed Scandinavia as a whole, often seems to get it right. I think that context matters. Margot Wallström may have previously established her awareness of the agency of Saudi Muslim women, that they are not just victims. Which I believe was the essence of Audre Lorde’s critique of Mary Daly’s treatment of women in two thirds of the world in her searing exposé of global misogyny, Gyn/Ecology. In fairness to Daly, she did quite a lot of exposing of US and European misogyny too. I don’t know if Margot Wallström has campaigned against Swedish girls being put under social pressure to have breast enlargements, to have sex when they want affection, to have sex for money to get through university (or is the sugarbabe phenomenon only happening in the UK?), to have an abortion as their mum doesn’t like the colour of the father’s skin (I know the latter happens in the UK, I don’t know about Sweden). I don’t know if she has spoken out against the hidden genocide of poor African American men, in overwhelming disproportion on Death Row, or the economic pressure on African American women to be sterilised.

Note that I’m aware of what I don’t know. Note that when I talk about this minister and about her country, I say ‘seems’. I don’t believe Bishop Berkeley’s famous ontological maxim: esse est percipi (‘what you see is what you get’, as I’ve freely translated it in my latest novel) but in terms of media presentation, what is apparent is taken to be real. I have no evidence for this other that a hunch but I bet Margot Wallström doesn’t see herself, or Sweden, as a policewoman. I think that’s a political delusion of grandeur peculiar to the USA. I bet she sees herself as a sister. A sister to the oppressed. To the women of Saudi Arabia and to at least one man. If I’m right, and I could be wrong, then her motivation seems laudable. So why am I questioning it?

Cain, after killing Abel, is famously asked (by the Omniscient, so it’s a bit of a set-up) where his brother is and responds with ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ meaning that he obviously thinks ‘no, I’m not!’ – whereas the audience to this pantomime is obviously supposed to shout out ‘OH YES YOU ARE!’ My point is that if one is to indulge in fraternal or sororal correction, especially if one happens to represent a country that’s the 12th biggest global arms dealer (it seems) and as head diplomat one is inevitably put into the position of broker to such deals, then one must first establish kinship. And be seen to have established kinship.

People who seem to be White Christians bearing arms, with reason and God on their side, and lotsa money (mostly from persecuted European Jews but let’s not get sidetracked) have historically had a tendency to descend upon Araby with fire and sword. The recent, and they are comparatively recent, militant doctrinal and political tendencies of the wahabi, salafi and now IS (can we please stop calling it that other very pretty name?) seem to have caused a collective amnesia, in at least one third of the world, about the history of Islam. The European (this includes Russia, remember) monarchs of Christendom were by and large tyrannical to Jews and Muslims; the Moorish monarchs, by and large, were not. In 1492 the countries which welcomed the majority of expelled Spanish Jews were Morocco and Turkey. The Ladinos are in the latter to this day (I know cos I met one on a bus in Istanbul, who answered politely when I abruptly asked her about what seemed to be her mediaeval Spanish). During the Third Reich it was the same story, while Christendom shut its borders. This Jewish-Muslim thing is a set-up. It’s divide and conquer. All those Christian European politicians who read Caesar’s Gallic Wars in their private schools and decided to play at that game when they grew up.

I don’t believe that Margot Wallström is playing games. I don’t believe that the UK should be selling arms (do use your upcoming vote wisely UK voters!) and I don’t believe any other country, including Sweden, should be doing that either. I highly recommend Mary Daly’s Gyn/Ecology (read together with Audre Lorde’s critique in Sister Outsider) which, disgracefully, is not outdated. It seems to me that the treatment of women in three thirds of the world may still be categorised as global misogyny. Of that I, unfortunately, have compelling evidence. As, I’m sure, have you.

I believe that in Margot Wallström’s spirited defence of Raif Badawi there lies the conviction, the moral claims, of sisterhood. But if Margot is Raif’s keeper, then does she really know where he’s at? And would this foreign minister admit that the imprisoned campaigner may have something to say about Sweden, about Europe? Could it be that we haven’t actually got it all right and that, amazingly, we (post)Christian secular enlightened White people might have something to learn from a Saudi Arabian man? Who is not just a victim. Living in Saudi, he would know the trouble he’d be getting himself into. Did she?

We are right to condemn injustice. We are wrong to perpetrate it. Prisons and corporal punishments oppress and may kill; but perceptions may also harm. It’s not the outcry about foreign injustice which is wrong but the silence about domestic oppression, and the fuelling of foreign conflict, which accompanies it. Margot Wallström may be quite aware of this and may speak out in this way but, crucially, that is not what has been reported. Could a culturally aware diplomat not have been more diplomatic? In attempting to shame the Saudi authorities, whose reaction to criticism of their values is already violent, has this foreign intervention of critique without kinship helped – or has it made the situation of the campaigner worse?

red-no-signal

‘Red No Signal’ in Public Domain by Piotr Siedlecki