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.

 

Advertisement

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

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

The Other Refugees

On Saturday I attended the “Refugees Welcome” rally in George Square, in my native Glasgow, with my mother who was herself a refugee in time of war when for five years she forsook the banks of the Thames for the shores of the Irish Sea. My father’s people had crossed that sea three generations before and while my mother’s mother was from the West Highlands, her father’s father crossed the English Channel from Germany and his Hebrew surname dates back to an old story about an enslaved people fleeing for their lives across the Red Sea.

This isn’t the usual ‘everyone comes from somewhere else’ memo, true as that reminder is. This is about another group of refugees. Their cause cannot be proved to be as urgent as that of the millions who now face religious death squads, famine, disease, and the torturous labyrinth of the asylum process, should they be fortunate enough to even be admitted into it. Their cause is not, now, so urgent, not now, not at the moment but it has been so before and many of them fear that it may be so again. Not urgent, but important, and not just for them.

I, still, call myself a Roman Catholic, yet no-one blames me for the deaths of slaves and Christians in the Roman amphitheatres. No-one blames me for the blind spot the present pope has (for all his humility, simplicity and courage) about sexual ethics. No-one, at least no-one who knows my continued criticism of them, even blames me for the continued pastoral stupidity of the Roman Catholic hierarchy in Scotland or for the vile outpourings of blatant prejudice of its clergy-fawning press. In short, the people of my country do not hold me accountable for the evils of the rulers, past and present, of the political State most closely associated with my religion and not even for the continuing evils of some of my coreligionists.

Why are some Scots not using the same common sense with the Jews?

I know racist people and I know those who hate Islam because they hate religion (usually because of vile prejudice that stems from the influence of White, Christian missionaries). Such people do not convince anyone of goodwill or who has any grasp at all of European history. I am not going to argue against racism or against Islamophobia because there is no need: they are indefensible.

Apparently some Scots don’t feel the same way about anti-Semitism.

‘I am Jewish’ and ‘I am Israeli’ are not identical statements; neither are ‘I am Israeli’ and ‘I support the policy of the Israeli government’. I do not ignore the atrocities carried out by Israeli soldiers; neither do I ignore those carried out by British or American soldiers. I do not ignore the deadly game of chess that the colonial powers, notably Britain and France, played in 1948 in the Near East (no, the Levant is not the Middle East) nor the atrocities carried out by the Christian hordes of the Middle Ages (on Muslims, on Jews, on women) nor those carried being out today by Daesh. All this must continue to provide a context for the fear (is it paranoia?) of being ‘swept into the sea’ while the surrounding powers-that-be do what they have always done for the protection of the Jews: nothing.

My Roman Catholic coreligionists who display such culpable and malevolent stupidity are stuck in the past. When the four Scottish banks wouldn’t employ a Catholic. When you had to change your school name on your CV. When you had to be guarded with your surname. This clannish fortress mentality sees the compassion and common sense that caused a country to declare that ‘it’s time’ for equal marriage as a personal attack on all they hold dear. As if G_d were not Merciful and Compassionate!

But no-one blames me for that.

Can we please stop blaming the Jews?

Do I have to mention the cultural impoverishment that happens (not ‘would happen’ yes, disgracefully, we Europeans have experience of this) when the Jews are no longer here? Do I have to recall the eminent Jewish men and women who with clear-sighted intellect have graced our progress as a civilisation? The empresarios? The entertainers? The artists, novelists? Our friends, lovers and family?

Can we, together, as Scots, realise that knowing someone’s ancestral religion gives no clue as to their current political position in regard to the ideology of another country? If anyone wants to know my position as regards Ulster/ Ireland/ Eire/ The Six Counties they had better be prepared for an intensive course in history and cultural studies, if they have the temerity to ask me, or worse to presume to know what my position is without asking. Will it surprise anyone to know that my basic view is: it’s complicated?

What isn’t complicated is to stop making assumptions. A good friend this evening told me that he is thinking of leaving this country. My country. His country. He’s thinking of becoming a refugee. No, he’s not poor, he’s healthy and he has a UK passport. He won’t starve and he won’t be homeless. But if he goes, to Manchester, to London, to the USA, to Canada, to Israel, he will be a refugee. He will be fleeing from our refusal of Scottish hospitality, from our lack of canny commonsense, from our ignorance of kinship. My father fought and suffered years of imprisonment in a war waged by those who tried to wipe out the Jews and eradicate them from Europe. I cannot but take up his cause. Times have changed since the crossing of the Red Sea. These people are our people. These people are my people. Don’t let my people go!

The Jewish Cemetery

Thanks to Carlos Sardá for releasing his photo “The Jewish Cemetery” into the Public Domain.

Lily and Steve

A light-hearted look back at the hierarchical hysteria over equal marriage in Scotland while we wait for the result of Celtic cousins over the water making up their minds.

“God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!” is a late 70s ‘Moral Majority’ gloss on Genesis 2–4 popularised by US evangelist Jerry Falwell (Sr). It’s funny, in the campy way that just about everything from the US popular media in the late 70s is (just think of cardigans and Starksy and Hutch) and is much better known than feminist thealogian Mary Daly’s queer midrash on Lilith and Eve. It’s also, if one pauses for thought, not true.

If (in line with more recent RC Magisterial biblical exegesis) we accept the compatibility of creation and evolution, and are informed about the ubiquity of homosexuality in the animal kingdom, then the fact of homosexual behaviour among early homo sapiens sapiens is incontrovertible. God made Adam. God made Eve. And God also made Steve. We’ll come back to Lily. As the gloss both includes and excludes, leaving Steve to haunt the text as ‘the other man’, Adam becomes bi, Steve gay and Eve either bi or betrayed or abandoned or (as is the lot of many lesbians in patriarchal literature) invisible. Except in feminist midrash, where she and her helpmeet leap over the wall and have other ideas.

All this marriage of fact and fancy about pre-lapsarian, pre-fraticidal, pre-civic, ante-diluvian (or even just prehistoric) partnering may seem a far cry from the hysteria going on in Scotland just now where Catholic bishops have been trumpeting the virtues of supporting exclusively heterosexual marriage (as both a civic duty and a human right) in the national press and on 100,000 pre-printed campy parish postcards. The Scottish hierarchy ignores both the repeated assurances of the Scottish Government in the Civil Partnership and Same-Sex Marriage Consultation Document that this change in civil law will not interfere with the regulations of religious bodies (‘weasel words’ says Archbishop Conti in The Herald) and the fact that even the Rev. Falwell (Sr) supported LGBT civil rights, including marriage.

The creation story that supposedly promotes exclusively heterosexual marriage doesn’t only leave out Steve (and Lily) but also the wife of Cain (Mabel?). In order for the inventor of homicide (and politics, as he founded a polis) not to marry his mum, even an American televangelist would write her into the script. And the wives of Enoch (Enid?), Irad (Iris?), Mehujael (Jael?), Methushael (Martha?) and also Seth (Beth?). With Lamech, wives finally get a mention: Adah and Zillah. The Voices Off are silent, cut out of the script. With all the glosses and biblical exegesis written since whatever committee comprising Moses (all of them unknown) first set reed to papyrus, one would expect a bit more about the unfeasibly small cast of Genesis 2–4 than the wee gloss: “…not Adam and Steve”. One would feel that Mabel and Beth (daughters-in-law to the ‘mother of all who live’) deserve more mention. And then there’s Lilith, who does get into patriarchal midrash (Daly wasn’t her creator) but only to get bad press: objecting to the missionary position she is demonised. So let’s rename her Lily.

The hierarchical hysteria in The Herald ignores the awareness of the people of Scotland that church pressure on matters of civil law is highly selective and self-interested. The Scottish RC hierarchy actively promoted ‘Section 28’ and said nothing about the recent UN decision to include homosexuality in their exceptions to a blanket ban of death penalty legislation of member states. Change on sexuality involves change on sex and that terrifies a celibate male hierarchy by threatening the status quo. Their entrenched opposition to homosexuality, despite the years of compassionate and liberating biblical and ethical investigation to the contrary, must be seen in the light of their entrenched opposition to the possibility of generalised clergy marriage and inclusive ordination.

Genesis 2–4 can only be read in the context of Genesis 1, where the Word of God repeatedly states that the original creation is good. And that means Adam and Eve and Lily and Steve.

Only Say The Word CA

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