Sunday, 26 May 2013

Did Muhammad exist? Yes, I think so.




I never read Robert Spencer but this review of his latest book interests me very much. I have blogged before about the complete lack of trustworthy evidence for the life of Muhammad or the origins of Islam. 

I became interested about ten years ago in this absorbing detective story (what else is history but detective work, though it should not be fiction?) when I read these two fascinating articles. Not only are they very exciting to any historian (nothing is more beautiful than the sound of an unsubstantiated, orthodox interpretation being exploded) but the story they tell is like an Indiana Jones film.

Robert Spencer, an American whose family is Lebanese Christian, is controversial. His books sell well but are not reviewed by scholars very often. His work is anti-Islam, which is fair enough, rather than anti-Islamist, whatever Islamist means. He speaks Arabic, but he did not learn Muslim history or Koranic studies at university and is a self-taught Muslim scholar. I always warm to people who annoy the academic consensus and, for some reason, almost all right-wing historians do so. (Why did history and the other humanities and social sciences move to the left in the 1960s, just as the working classes in developed countries moved the other way?) He is accused of 'being a hero of the American right' but I am not sure why this is an accusation, rather than a statement of fact. Though I do, of course, accept that the American right are sometimes very unsophisticated and bone-headed in their opinions of Islam. Americans' lack of sophistication is their country's greatest strength, but it can become wearing at times.

Spencer probably should be considered as a pamphleteer more than a historian, but he is more reliable than many who have written about Muhammad, including the very silly former nun, Karen Armstrong, whose biography of him elides the fact that the evidence for his life is extremely late. If mainstream historians have not realised this before (Gibbon drew attention to it and anyway it is very obvious) then it might be better to read Spencer first or revisionists such as Patricia Crone and Michael Cook,

Spencer is braver than Tom Holland, another populariser. Holland, from cowardice - I am talking physical cowardice - skirts the question of whether the Koran existed, as we know it today, in the early 7th century. Nick Cohen is very funny about this here, in his wonderful article 'Tiptoeing in the Mecca Ballroom'. 

By the way, what I would give to have come up with that title.

I think the Muslim accounts of the life of Muhammad are too late to have much or even any real historical value, except as evidence that a prophet of that name existed and won battles. Even this is questionable and Spencer, following other writers,  does question it. 

However, I would say, though I am no scholar, that the prophet mentioned in the Doctrina Jacobi is Muhammad, though some historians have not been convinced. The Doctrina Jacobi describes events in 634 and is dated no later than 640, shortly after the traditional date of Muhammad's death, 632. This is the key passage:


And they were saying that the prophet had appeared, coming with the Saracens, and that he was proclaiming the advent of the anointed one, the Christ who was to come. I, having arrived at Sykamina, stopped by a certain old man well-versed in scriptures, and I said to him: "What can you tell me about the prophet who has appeared with the Saracens?" He replied, groaning deeply: "He is false, for the prophets do not come armed with a sword. Truly they are works of anarchy being committed today and I fear that the first Christ to come, whom the Christians worship, was the one sent by God and we instead are preparing to receive theAntichrist. Indeed, Isaiah said that the Jews would retain a perverted and hardened heart until all the earth should be devastated. But you go, master Abraham, and find out about the prophet who has appeared." So I, Abraham, inquired and heard from those who had met him that there was no truth to be found in the so-called prophet, only the shedding of men's blood. He says also that he has the keys of paradise, which is incredible.
The author of this may well have been misinformed about the Prophet's doctrine (the Koran does not claim Muhammad proclaimed the coming of the Christ or has the keys to heaven) and about the fact that he was dead by 634. Or the traditional date for his death may be wrong. It might be that the Koran does not record the teachings of the Prophet accurately. 

There is more evidence for Muhammad from early Christian sources here. Particularly striking are the words of Sebeos, a bishop writing in the 660s.
At that time a certain man from along those same sons of Ismael, whose name was Mahmet, a merchant, as if by God's command appeared to them as a preacher [and] the path of truth. He taught them to recognize the God of Abraham, especially because he was learnt and informed in the history of Moses. Now because the command was from on high, at a single order they all came together in unity of religion. Abandoning their vain cults, they turned to the living God who had appeared to their father Abraham. So, Mahmet legislated for them: not to eat carrion, not to drink wine, not to speak falsely, and not to engage in fornication. He said: 'With an oath God promised this land to Abraham and his seed after him for ever. And he brought about as he promised during that time while he loved Ismael. But now you are the sons of Abraham and God is accomplishing his promise to Abraham and his seed for you. Love sincerely only the God of Abraham, and go and seize the land which God gave to your father Abraham. No one will be able to resist you in battle, because God is with you.

So I do not find the argument that Muhammad did not exist persuasive. The most striking piece of evidence of all is that shortly after the time that Muhammad is supposed to have been active Arabs conquered half the civilised world. But it is clear that we know very little reliably about Muhammad.


We have the Koran, it is true, which mentions Muhammad four times, but, if we do not believe that God dictated the Koran, we do not know when and where and why it was written. There is a good case for it being early 7th century, because of the reference to the war between the Byzantine and Persian Empires which was fought between 602 and 628. But we do not know how or when it came into existence, unless we have faith in Islam, and that whereof we do not know thereof must we remain silent.

By the way, this need not worry Muslims. Lack of evidence for Muhammad's life or even existence does not in any way disprove or even undermine their beliefs. Biblical scholarship is a very much harder stumbling black for Christians. Although, having often been told that there was minutely exact information about Muhammad's life, it seems that there is more historical evidence for Jesus's. 

What would undermine the Muslim religion, on the other hand, would be evidence to suggest that parts of the Koran were based on Christian hymns, as suggested by Christoph Luxenberg.

Personally, I think Islam is a false religion. If I did not think that, I would be a Muslim. Instead, I am a Christian and therefore I hope all Muslims will convert to Christianity as soon as possible, for their sakes (and I am glad a surprisingly large number are doing so). Yet I respect Islam and believe the Holy Spirit is at work in all the religions. I am not sure St Paul would have agreed, but that is what the Second Vatican Council said. In any case, it appeals to my early 21st century sensibility. I am sure we can learn much from all religions, though I am lamentably ignorant about even my own.

There is much in Islam that is austerely beautiful and all beauty comes from God. I am sure most of the ethical teaching of Islam is true. I admire its simplicity and the emphasis it puts on frequent prayer. I find a sense of God and beauty when I enter mosques, though I also start to think I detect in it something synthetic that reminds me of Communism. At any rate, it certainly feels very Protestant. 

I find the Koran seems to be a series of rules and threats of hell, interspersed with promises of Paradise. It does not contain stories and the English translation certainly does not sing, but in the Arabic it is supposed to be very beautiful. The only things I knew about the Koran, before I started to read it (I have only managed a few pages) were Carlyle's and Sebastian Faulks' opinions. 

Mr. Faulks said recently:


“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.”
He said much more and was criticised for doing so. Carlyle famously said: 
I must say, it is as toilsome reading as I ever undertook. A wearisome confused jumble, crude, incondite; endless iterations, long-windedness, entanglement; most crude, incondite; -- insupportable stupidity, in short! Nothing but a sense of duty could carry any European through the Koran.
Other Europeans have been much more polite, though. Tony Blair, for example:
The most remarkable thing about reading the Koran – in so far as it can be truly translated from the original Arabic - is to understand how progressive it is. I speak with great diffidence and humility as a member of another faith. I am not qualified to make any judgements. But as an outsider, the Koran strikes me as a reforming book, trying to return Judaism and Christianity to their origins, rather as reformers attempted with the Christian Church centuries later. It is inclusive. It extols science and knowledge and abhors superstition. It is practical and way ahead of its time in attitudes to marriage, women and governance.
This sounds like his praise for Hans Kung. Mr Blair seems to see Muhammad (and Father Kung) doing to religion what Mr Blair did to the Labour Party. To be fair to Carlyle, or to Islam, or both, Carlyle also thought that Islam was a progressive and civilising force. So in its time it was, compared to the idolatry it replaced in Arabia, though not compared to the Byzantine Roman Empire. 

Christians and Muslims should and will continue to find ways to coexist - and there are many reasons why they should be natural allies against the materialistic modern world, which replaces the sacred with welfare and the state and regards, for example, abortion, contraception and homosexual marriage as human rights.  

Note at Easter 2015: Radiocarbon of the Sana'a MS of the Koran shows something close to the modern Koran existed 70 years after traditional date for Muhammad’s death.



File:Mosque Bucharest.JPG
The Bucharest Mosque. I must go and look for it one day.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

The strange death of Christian England

St Etheldreda's, Ely Place, Holborn, London


The latest figures from the 2011 census are very important, alarming, saddening, but not really such a very great surprise. 

10 percent of British people under 25 are Muslim, which means one day Britain will be at least 10 percent Muslim. The Russian news agency RT says Islam could be the dominant UK religion in 10 years.  

Damian Thompson in the Daily Telegraph says:


For the first time, the proportion of under-25s who don’t describe themselves as even nominal Christians has risen above 50 per cent. Also, the new breakdown shows that the rate of decline in British Christianity has been masked by the presence of 1.2 million foreign believers in this country. Take them out of the picture, and we can see that home-grown Christianity has shrunk by 15 per cent in just a decade. To quote the demographer Prof David Coleman of Oxford University, “It is difficult to see whether any other change in the census could have been remotely as big.”

A drop of 15% in just ten years... 

It is partly the combination of fear of Islam with fear of being 'Islamophobic' or thinking Christian Europe superior to non-Christian cultures. It is partly because of the horrible sex scandals involving a tiny minority but nevertheless a shockingly large number of Catholic priests. It is partly because Christianity in the UK is no longer rock-like and counter-cultural as Islam is and as, before the 1960s, Catholicism was. Instead Catholic bishops worry about climate change, women's rights and, bizarrely, homophobia, like all other authority figures. But there are much deeper reasons too.



Muslims attend Friday prayers on a rainy first day of Ramadan, at the courtyard of a housing estate next to a small BBC community centre and mosque in east London (Reuters/Chris Helgren)
Muslims attend Friday prayers on a rainy first day of Ramadan, at the courtyard of a housing estate next to a small BBC community centre and mosque in east London (Reuters/Chris Helgren)

From a conservative atheist's standpoint this development is disastrous, of course.

T.S. Eliot wrote in The Idea of a Christian Society:


‎'An individual European may not even believe that the Christian Faith is true, but what he says and makes and does will all spring out of this history of European culture and depend upon that culture for its meaning. Only a Christian culture could have produced a Nietzsche or a Voltaire. I do not believe that the culture of Europe could survive the complete disappearance of the Christian Faith. And I am convinced of that not merely because I am a Christian myself, but as a student of social biology.' 


When Eliot wrote those words in 1948, which is pretty recently, he had in mind that Europe would lose belief in Christianity, but did not contemplate that Hinduism, Islam and other  religions would come to Western Europe or England. Nobody did.


He saw, rightly, paganism as the enemy. 

(Elsewhere in The Idea of a Christian Society he says:


The more highly industrialised the country, the more easily a materialistic philosophy will flourish in it, and the more deadly that philosophy will be. Britain has been highly industrialised longer than any other country. And the tendency of unlimited industrialism is to create bodies of men and women — of all classes — detached from tradition, alienated from religion and susceptible to mass suggestion: in other words, a mob. And a mob will be no less a mob if it is well fed, well clothed, well housed, and well disciplined. 

 But the age of Ford has passed. Mass suggestion is rather out of date in the internet age and we are de-industrialising. Is there still a mob?)

Romanian men have the smallest penises in Europe, according to survey



Romanians have the smallest penises in Europe, figures show. Please don't attack me about this. I just read it in the paper and am posting it for information. 

This is a very chaste blog, but since this was on the front page of the Independent it must be acceptable. It would not have been in the papers some years ago.

While on this subject, which I shall not revert to in this blog, in case anyone does not know this, during the war Winston Churchill agreed to supply condoms to Soviet troops with the proviso that each box should be stamped with the words "EXTRA SMALL".

Eurovision





I thought the English stopped watching the Eurovision Song Contest in about 1978. It went out before Mr Callaghan left office, I'm pretty sure. Who was that lady with the nice speaking voice? And, always, 'Norvege, nul points'

But Eurovision, the Royal Variety Performance and Miss World were at one time special events everyone watched. Thoroughly uncool but popular. My grandmother enjoyed them all and my great-aunts.

That Eurovision was popular in Romania seemed a sign of how charmingly provincial and old-fashioned Romania was  but Eurovision seems, judging from my Facebook, a very mixed bag, to have made a comeback over in Britain, that semi mythical isle from which I come but rarely visit.

Here is the full length Eurovision Song Contest 1972 

Here is the full episode of Father Ted "A Song for Europe". It might be the funniest Father Ted episode of all, which is to say a great deal. Do watch it, people.

This song by Zdob and Zdub, representing the Republic of Moldova in 2011, is almost as bad as Father Ted's and Father Dougal's. It is I imagine possibly the worst entry of all time. 

I should get my television set to work one of these days, as i always say. I did not watch Eurovision last night or the Romanian entry but the reviews were not great. The Guardian said:


"Then there was Romania's Cezar. Dressed like a vampiric Elvis, Cezar sang in an alarming falsetto surrounded by men and women dancing in tight lycra."
Here it is. 

Oh dear. What an odd song from a country where old-fashioned masculinity is where it is at.

Here are Mark Steyn's thoughts on Eurovision and the dread Abba.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

A very few yards from my flat



This house, just over a hundred yards from where I live in the old town, fell down yesterday afternoon. Of course I learnt about it from Facebook. Shamefully I forgot when I came home last night, entering from the other direction, to go and have a look nor did I remember this morning.

The foreman in charge of builders working on the building felt vibrations, called the Bucharest City Council, the men left and cars nearby were moved. When the building fell no damage was sustained by people or property, according to the papers, except for the shop next door. And I forgot to mention this last night in the terrace outside my building where I bought my wine.

 

I thought houses only fell down in Havana.It reminded me of Juvenal, complaining of


 'falling houses and the thousand perils of this terrible city.' 


Time for me to move before the earthquake, if I am quick.




Wednesday, 15 May 2013

A Churchill Reminder



This is a very interesting article by Richard Jencks from yesterday's Wall St journal. It is worth reading. I enjoyed it but do not agree with it.

There is a grotesque stereotype that he [Churchill] was a buoyant and bellicose man who had simply found his time. What really differentiated him from the pragmatic foreign secretary, from the hero-aviator, from the ambivalent philosopher, and from the Indian apostle of non-resistance, was that Churchill's moral judgment of evil was more acute and implacable than theirs.
Churchill was absolutely right to recognise, far better than the over-intelligent Halifax or many others, that Hitler and the Nazis were evil and could not be trusted. It was also true that 'the old bastard' as WH Auden called Churchill, the 'semi-American adventurer' as R A Butler called him, was bellicose, buoyant and a born war leader. But we did not go to war with Germany because her rulers were evil, though they were, or anti-Semites or fascists, but because they threatened the vital interests of the British Empire. Germany was defeated but the British Empire was defeated too and, unlike Germany, never recovered. The question is whether maintaining the balance of power in Europe, and Britain's export markets on the Continent, was as vital as rulers from Pitt the Elder onwards had believed. My answer? I am not sure. I tend to think not.


Should England have made peace with Germany in 1940? Alan Clarke thought we should have made peace after not before the Battle of Britain. Richard Jencks thinks Germany would have won her war with Russia had England stayed out but I think Russia would have probably done so.


Had England and France not gone to war in 1939 would Germany have attacked France or Russia?


I used to assume that the Jews would not have been sent to gas chambers had England and America been non-belligerents but on reflection there is no means of knowing.


It's impossible to guess what would have happened, but it is hard to imagine that the outcome of an alternative history could have been very much worse than what happened. Certainly the Second World War ended Britain's great power status and the British Empire, which we went to war to preserve. Britain, who in 1939 dominated the world, became a satellite of the USA. Eastern Europe suffered under Stalin. In total, between 50 and 70 million died


Between 50 and 70 million died. 

Bad news for Britain in Romanian papers, 1941

Monday, 13 May 2013

'David Cameron had the mien of a prime minister in his first year'

David Frost in an interview today in the Telegraph said of David Cameron: 
“He had the mien of a prime minister in his first year. He talked, he walked, like a prime minister. Then things got difficult… He no longer makes that impression.”
Like actors, television people notice these things. You could say that they have the quality of their defect, superficiality, although that's a bit unfair and Frost is a pretty penetrating political observer.

How far away and out of touch I am I who once breathed and ate politics. It looks like the coalition was not the inspired idea it seemed in 2010. I am told too that the Conservatives negotiating with the Liberal Democrats in 2010 were delighted to be able to throw over conservative policies.

There were times when I entirely gave up hope in the Conservative party.  I half wanted AV to give UKIP seats in the Commons, but now it is clear to me that, however half-hearted a Conservative government may be, a non-Conservative government is much worse. This is why we had four million immigrants after 1997 or was it more? Was that net immigration? And why we had devolution, draconian equality legislation and loss of civil liberties, the Social Chapter and gave away so much power to the EU. We may have taken part in the unjust Iraq War under a Conservative government but no-one knows. Not if Ken Clarke had been prime minister, though he would have been no slouch at giving away powers to the EU.

Votes for UKIP in local and European elections are very useful, but in the general election they presage disaster. This is a VERY tasteless analogy but the IRA used to say, 

'You have to be lucky every time, we only have to be lucky once.'

This is how I feel about Labour - when they get in, as they always will one day, they do incalculable damage every time. Think of all the terrible things they did 1997-2010 which can never be put right.

I suppose things might have been worse had the Conservatives won in 2007, as Michael Howard expected. That would have been followed by Gordon Brown sweeping to power by a landslide. A sobering thought. But could this, in fact, be any worse than a Labour-Lib Dem coalition or Ed Miliband's party governing alone? 

I came to Romania purely for love of Romania, not dissatisfaction with England, but how lucky I am to live here far from Labour, Liberal Democrats, left-wing librarians, Marxist social workers, post-colonial guilt, Catholic schools that teach about condoms and all the rest of it. Only former Communist countries are really conservative, although via the EU the spores of the PC virus are beginning to be dispersed.




A few yards from my flat: 2




Living in the Old Town is great fun though on its way to becoming a museum/Disneyland.The modern age only wants old things if they can be commercialised. The world is becoming one shopping centre with traditions relegated to theme parks.

A few yards from my flat 1

The old town so recently was just me and some gypsies...eh bien.. it's still much better than Athens or Budapest or points west...

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Gormenghast, mon amour

I love Gormenghast, my spiritual home. This article by John Gray is worth reading for those who share that love or want to know about the castle/city/earldom/state/world over which Titus, 77th Earl of Groan, reigns.




This is why I love dusty, decrepit, deeply old-fashioned Bucharest. My other Gormenghast was the House of Lords where I had my first job, in the days when it was mostly hereditary peers.

I always thought John Gray intellectually second rate - I considered that I could drive a coach and horse through the arguments in his articles in the New Statesman = but I think more of him now I know that he likes Gormenghast. 



Saturday, 11 May 2013

Review of 'Margaret Thatcher: Not For Turning' by Charles Moore





Consule Planco. (Horace)

I did not like Mrs Thatcher at the time but now I do. I like her for all the things she did not do - and which Labour subsequently did. And for some of her achievements. 

I received yesterday Charles Moore's life of Lady Thatcher from Amazon and have already got through most of its almost 800 pages, though skipping quite a lot. I am reading it avidly because I love Moore's writing (at 56 this is his first book, though he wrote it years ago), as much as from interest in his subject. I have to say his prose and his insights are not quite as good as I expected, because my expectations were very high, though there is much to enjoy and learn from. My abiding impression is that Margaret Thatcher was a very dull person. As were Harold Wilson, Ted Heath, James Callaghan, Clement Attlee and most prime ministers.

This was something we knew about Margaret Thatcher at the time, of course. With very few exceptions it is only the biographies of writers that are interesting as biographies, as opposed to history.  Writers are interesting because we have their words and because they reflect on their lives and the human condition, which Margaret Thatcher never did. Even the good looks of Anthony Eden, the war, Suez, his adulteries and drug addiction do not make him interesting. He remains as dull as his speeches.

The great exceptions, of course, are Disraeli and Churchill - but these are exceptions that prove the rule, as both were very good writers. Wellington is another exception, but he was first and foremost a general. Another possible exception is Lloyd George but he led the British Empire in a world war and was a remarkably flamboyant figure anyway. Yet he lacked the introspection which makes the subject of a biography truly interesting. As Keynes said of him,
When Lloyd George is alone in a room, the room is empty.
This is why biographies of the Bloomsbury Group are so much more interesting than lives of politicians, even though the Bloomsbury Group did more harm to their country than the politicians.

Palmerston and Pitt the Younger are interesting, because of what they did. I have not read Lord David Cecil on Melbourne but imagine it is fun. Of the politicians who did not achieve the top job, John Wilkes and Charles James Fox, of course, are very compelling. Joseph Chamberlain and Sir Oswald Mosley also come to mind. But the diarists Sir Harold Nicolson and Sir Henry Channon will interest our grandchildren much more, of course, than the politicians they write about, Churchill excepted. 

Will the politician, diarist and satyromaniac Alan Clarke interest them more than Lady Thatcher? I do not think he is in the same league as Nicolson or Channon but yes, he probably will. Ironically, she, who said she hated feminism like poison, will be remembered as a feminist heroine. History is like that.

I always thought the right length for biographies is the length Plutarch, or  many biographers who wrote before Boswell, such as Izaak Walton, used- about fifty pages or so. However, this will not do for an official biography of a Prime Minister and certainly not for this Prime Minister, the most important since Churchill. (Attlee was a brilliant chairman, who achieved much, but he did not make the weather and he was incredibly dull.) Congratulations to Mr Moore for keeping to two volumes, rather than stretching it to three, as Norman Sherry did for his disappointing life of Graham Greene. I always suspect writers who do that of doing so to increase royalties. Even so, Mr. Moore's book is rather too long and too detailed.

By chance, I see that in this week's Spectator Mr. Moore has a very interesting revelation:


On Tuesday night, at a Spectator readers’ evening, Andrew Neil interviewed me about my biography of Margaret Thatcher. He asked me if, after leaving office, Lady Thatcher had come to the view that Britain should leave the European Union. I said yes (I think it happened after the Maastricht Treaty in 1992), although advisers had persuaded her that she should not say this in public since it would have allowed her opponents to drive her to the fringes of public life. I had believed this was widely known, but according to Andrew, it is a story. My revelation, if such it was, came on the same day as Nigel Lawson’s piece in the Times saying that he would now vote for Britain to leave the EU. How things have changed. Even the BBC treats Lawson’s view as respectable. In this year, the 25th anniversary of the Bruges speech, people can see much more clearly that, far from living in ‘a ghetto of sentimentality about the past’ (© Geoffrey Howe), she was thinking harder than her contemporaries about the future of Europe.

Mr. Moore has found many gems, especially in the footnotes. I liked, for example,  Mrs Thatcher's right-wing Jewish adviser, Sir Alfred Sherman' impatience with talk of Britain's Judaeo-Christian heritage. 'It's not Judaeo-Christian, it's Christian.' And her having to looking  after her not very socially elevated Uncle Harold,  who gatecrashed the count the night she won her seat, Finchley, for the first time. He had no means of getting home and Mrs Thatcher's father, Alderman Roberts, was very cross with him for embarrassing the new MP.

I always thought Margaret Thatcher was a very religious woman, although she rarely spoke of it and Carol Thatcher told me that her mother was not religious at all. Thatcherism was essentially a religious outlook. As she said,  
'Economics are the method: the object is to change the soul'.
Margaret Thatcher came from an  extremely, almost oppressively, religious family. Her father was a Methodist lay preacher (and notorious lecher, but this the book does not mention). The theme of the book is that Margaret Thatcher's Christianity was what drove her and there are moments in the early chapters when this feels almost like a devotional book (her devotion to work, etc). She had this in common with the Queen whom she served.  Like Enoch Powell, Margaret Thatcher was a better theologian than many of the clergymen (clergywomen had not yet been invented) who disapproved of her.

Her period in office will be remembered for increasing numbers of women having careers, which contributed to male unemployment; social liberalism (easy divorce, more illegitimate births, falling church attendance, increased acceptance of homosexuality); the Single European Act and high unemployment. Also: council house sales, privatisation, reducing the power of the trade unions (mostly because unemployment rose)  and ending the dreary business of prices and incomes policies. She failed in her attempt to reduce the number of immigrants and in her time over half a million immigrants came to the UK, mostly wives in arranged marriages from the Sub-Continent. Her administration encouraged the use of condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS, rather than abstinence. 
I was glad that Moore agrees with the view I took at the time that by announcing that HMS Endeavour would be taken out of service she probably is responsible for the Argentinians invading. Callaghan, old naval man, would not have made this mistake. The Falklands War was however her greatest hour and the Labour Party's worst.
She made two fatal mistakes: the poll tax and entering the European Monetary System (forerunner to the euro).  The first lost her the premiership in 1990, the second lost the Tories their majority in the House of Commons in 1997 and their reputation for economic competence. They have never recovered either to this day.

Social workers remained leftists and Marxists, as did many council officials. The 1980s saw the  consolidation of the left's hold over culture, academia and teaching (O Levels were abolished, grammar schools were not restored). What was in her time called 'the Loony Left' have  now in many respects taken over the British establishment.

She moved economics a long way to the right (in 1979 Tony Benn was saying that the victory of socialism was inevitable). She raised Britain's self-confidence, presided over de-industrialisation, failed to see the danger posed by the European Union to the UK. She did not repeal the anti-discrimination legislation brought in by Labour. She reduced the role of the state, in the economic sphere, but the EU undid her work and made the state even more powerful. She alienated the Scots and the Conservative Party lost most of its seats in Scotland (in 1955 the Conservatives had, for the only time, a majority of Scottish MPs). She was therefore indirectly responsible for devolution. She signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement that led eventually to the end of terrorism in Northern Ireland. Opinions differ on whether that was a good thing. She said her greatest achievement was New Labour.

Enoch Powell, who was introspective, said that 
All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure, because that is the nature of politics and of human affairs.
Margaret Thatcher was a Powellite in her economic policy, and one wonders how much Powell would have achieved in the unlikely event that he had been Prime Minister. Her reaching No 10 was equally unlikely.


She will be principally remembered by history, I think, for the following four things: as the first woman Prime Minister, for inventing privatisation, for signing the Single European Act and for admitting around 50,000 immigrants a year into the UK, mostly wives from the Indian Subcontinent, who contracted arranged marriages with British subjects. 50,000 was very much fewer than the annual numbers under Tony Blair but it was the number which led Enoch Powell to declare in his famous Rivers of Blood speech in 1968:


We must be mad, literally mad, as a nation to be permitting the annual inflow of some 50,000 dependants, who are for the most part the material of the future growth of the immigrant descended population. It is like watching a nation busily engaged in heaping up its own funeral pyre.

I think Peter Hitchens is very good in his analysis of Margaret Thatcher as a tragic failure, here.

My thoughts when she died are here



Friday, 10 May 2013

Europe Day and King's Day in Bucharest







A man stretches a giant flag of the European Union in front of Romania's parliament building in Bucharest on May 9, 2013. A private TV station installed the flag, weighing over 1,750 pounds and measuring 459 feet by 328 feet, to mark Europe Day. The stars were sewn on by hand after the giant flag was laid out at an aerodrome near Bucharest.   Romania joined the EU as part of its most recent expansion in 2007. -- Agence France-Presse

Europe Day? The first time I heard of it. 


As Dorothy Parker put it, what fresh hell is this?


10 May is King's Day - the anniversary of independence and of the arrival on Romanian soil of Prince Carol/Charles the future King Carol or Charles II. But this today passes by almost unnoticed in Romania. Romanians care about even Europe Day, it seems, more than they do independence or their monarchy. 


In 1880, at the Congress of Berlin, England, meaning Disraeli, wanted Romanians to be punished by losing territory for rebelling against their legitimate sovereign, the Sublime Porte. Gladstone, who was very anti-Turk, was on the opposition back benches. The European Great Powers agreed to do so by allowing Russia to annex three counties from Southern Bessarabia. Later, in 1916, going to war with England and France proved a disaster for Romania, although a very good thing for Germany,  who was thereby enabled to continue the war for two more years. So, at least, asserts Norman Stone.

It is unfair to blame England for Yalta and Europe could not be said to exist in 1945. There was nothing England could do to prevent Russia dominating Romania. I never tire of pointing out this obvious fact and Romanians never tire of ignoring me. Yet though they consider they were betrayed by England, who guaranteed their independence in 1939, and by America, they still look hopefully towards Europe. I suppose for fear of the alternative, if there is one.

Leaving aside the importance of independence, the monarchy and Europe, it is foolish to have 1 December as the Romanian National Day, not 10 May, as it was until Communism. December 1 is very cold, people. There is nothing to do on 1 December but go to the mountains, eat too much, drink too much and take a walk in the snow, which is what Romanians who can afford to go to the mountains do. There is, however, a better way.

I liked this from today's Nine O' Clock, the Romanian English language newspaper:


Approximately 18 per cent of Romanians now say monarchy is the best form of government, according to an April INSCOP survey conducted for Adevarul.  An interesting fact is that, while in the early 90s the monarchy was mostly supported by elderly people, old enough to have experienced the inter-war period or to whom it had been told in the family about the Royal House, in 2013 the supporters are made up of young people with ages between 18 and 35. Those who lived directly or via proxies the golden age of the monarchy have become fewer in the meantime, on the other hand the preference for monarchy has grown among young people, first of all because of their aversion to politicians. I don’t believe Romania will choose to go back to monarchy any time soon, but the complexity of the times we live in, the lack of predictability and security in everyday life certainly turn not just our sympathy, but also a well-deserved respect in the direction of the monarchy. Political deals, unkept promises, nepotism, political migration would disappear from Romania entirely if we had a King in the lead of this country, whose sole interest is the welfare of his nation, his private interest confounding itself with the general interest. Today we do have a King: Mihai I of Romania, a King who, by the power of his personal example of verticality, grace and humbleness, love of his nation and compatriots, continues to inspire new generations of Romanians who, although did not have the chance to live in a monarchic regime, are longing for it. Who else in the history of this country has had a commensurable achievement? A bon entendeurs salut…

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Romania's hospital scandal: Babies left to die as doctors refuse to work without bribes


A telling story from today's Independent, by Alison Mutler, the AP woman here, about bribery in Romanian hospitals.
Dr Catalin Cirstoveanu runs a cardio unit with state-of-the-art equipment at a Bucharest children's hospital. But not a single child has been treated in the year and a half since it opened. The reason? Medical staff he needs to bring in to run the machinery would have expected bribes. 

So Dr Cirstoveanu has launched a lonely crusade to save babies who come to him for care. He flies them to Western Europe on budget flights so they can be treated by doctors who don't demand kickbacks. That's what he did last week for 13-day-old Catalin, who needed heart surgery. Dr Cirstoveanu packed a small bag, slipped emergency breathing equipment into the baby carrier and caught a cheap flight to Italy, where doctors were waiting to perform the surgery.


Wednesday, 8 May 2013

'Constantinople: City of the World’s Desire' and other titles

Looking forward to going to Smyrna, a.k.a. Izmir, with a friend, in October. 

Levant is the book we both must read, by Philip Mansel. Mansel is the genius who wrote 'Constantinople: City of the World’s Desire', a book very nearly as good as its wonderful title. 

It could not possibly be absolutely as good. As a title, 'Constantinople: City of the World’s Desire' is comparable with William Morris's 'The Well at the World's End' - though that book, though pleasant, is not nearly as good as its sublime title.

Are there any other books with titles so good?

The only other one I can think of is also by William Morris, The Wood Beyond the World. Not a good book but a great title.

'The Unbearable Lightness of Being', a book I could not get through, also has a pretty good title. Are there others?




"A nation is a group of people united by a common misunderstanding about their origins."

"A nation is a group of people united by a common misunderstanding about their origins." 

(Ernest Renan). 

The current misunderstanding held by the English does not relate to Hengist and Horsa but to the mistaken idea that they were always an immigrant nation. In fact, there were few immigrants between 1100 and 1940. 50,000 Huguenots came and later about 50,000 Jews. The Irish  among them my forebears, were moving from one part of the UK to another. A useful summary of the figures is here.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

I never liked Tarby



I never liked Jimmy Tarbuck, who has been arrested charged with sexual crimes. He summarised, in fact, everything in England I did not like. 


Well, apart from feminism, socialism, Scottish and Irish nationalism, business taught at Oxford and Cambridge .. calling strangers by their Christian names ....double glazing, mock Tudor bungalows....those beige coats drivers wear...dice in car windows ...


To be continued..

Easter in Athens


I never wanted to visit Greece, had made up my mind against the place before I first came here in 2002, but I hoped I might like Athens, which everyone told me I would hate. I like shabby capitals with many nineteenth century public buildings and I thought Athens could not be less appealing than Sofia, but in fact Athens, which seemed the 1970s incarnate, terribly polluted, traffic choked and boringly first world depressed me utterly in 2002. 

This year, for the first time, I got to like the town. Last year I managed the same feat with Istanbul - one grows tolerant with age. Athens has its charm, despite affluence and post 1960 property development, which have made the whole world dull. 

Athens under Ottoman rule was a very small place of between five and ten thousand inhabitants, half Christian, half Muslim. Bucharest was bigger (with no Muslims), Sofia even smaller. All these Balkan capitals were effectively created when their countries were invented, but though Athens does not have much Byzantine architecture it has some absolute jewels.

Especially, I loved the frieze on the wonderful eleventh century church of Agios Eleftherios,  a tiny church which used to be the cathedral and stands next door to and is completely overshadowed by the preposterously large nineteenth century cathedral. The latter is in the midst of repairs.






I stayed a couple of days with an American friend of mine and his wife, who have lived here for a couple of years and before spent five in Bucharest. They both think Athens is pretty much the same as Bucharest, beneath the Western European veneer, and they do not mean this as a compliment. Buildings are jerry built, people are an hour late for meetings, nothing is efficient. Personally, I don't see why foreign countries  should be as efficient as England or America and find problems give a place texture. that elusive thing that makes life interesting.

I remember another American, years ago, who split his time equally between Romania, Turkey and Greece. He was asked in my hearing how Romanians Greeks and Turks compared in terms of honesty. His answer was that Romanians were far more honest than Greeks and Turks, but that ''Turks are sometimes too proud to cheat you. A Greek never is.' I repeat this to my host who said this was exactly right.

Athens then is something like Bucharest would be had it not been for Communism. Greeks apparently go to great lengths to be ingenious and sometimes crooked, when being straight would actually be easier. That sounds familiar. But there are two big differences: the Greeks are very proud of their history, which Romanians are not, really, having been conquered and exploited for most of it. And Greeks still believe in socialism and often Communism. After all, they were prevented from having a Communist government by the UK and the US, while in Romania until 1944 the Communist party was miniscule. Though there are now plenty of true believing Communists in Romania among the older generation.



An evzone and I. I was told evzones can have all the girls they desire. This is why they become evzones, it seems. I wonder if they have as much success as Etonians.



The Thinker (4500 - 3300 B.C.) at the National Archaeological Museum, Athens. This makes it  more recent than The Thinker in the National History Museum in Bucharest which is dated 5000-4600 BC.



Wonderful sculpture of a boy on a horse, discovered underwater and pieced together in the 1970s — at the National Archaeological Museum, Athens.

The National Archaeological Museum only ten minutes from the centre is in a bad area, with many illegal immigrants who dislike the police. I like bad areas and anyway it seems fine to me but I notice how very few immigrants there seem to be. Brown-skinned ones, at least, are almost nowhere. Not a diverse society.

Muslim immigrants in Athens want to build a mosque, as is their right in a free country. I am very sorry the Muslims were expelled from Greece in 1922-1923, yet I do not want a new mosque in Athens. The making of Albanians into Greeks annoys me too. As I said, I wish Turkey were full of Greeks and Greece full of Turks. But I want countries to withstand the horrible values of the EU and ECHR.

By the way, whenever I am in Athens I go to gaze at the lovely eighteenth century mosque in Plaka. It houses a museum of Greek folk art. Why not use that?

Greek Folk Art Museum in Monastiraki 
There is a second nearby. I am always pleased that they were not destroyed by Greek patriots, as so many mosques were in Greece and as most of the mosques in Sofia were.

Fehtiye Mosque, Plaka, Athens

For the latest on this, click here. I would love Greece and Poland to save Europe from a hundred post-Christian developments. They and we should start by having more children - and I a childless bachelor am in no position to talk.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Easter on Hydra

The view from my hotel in Hydra, a Greek island where I am spending the Orthodox Easter.

I was so lucky to get a boat ticket from Athens when they had all sold out (it was Good Friday, after all). The island is a kind of Greek Sark, where motor vehicles are banned. Thankfully there are almost no beaches either, so no children. Actually, I like children, but it is parents who are hard to take.  

And actually, there is a small beach, but it is a forty minute walk away from the town of Hydra.  



No families come to Hydra, but middle aged foreign couples do come, sometimes in pairs of couples and some, I regret to say, are British. Not my ambiance. Two German couples in the taverna last night said hello to me as if I were one of their generation and it  shook me. One had a Franz Josef moustache. My parents' generation was the class I put them in, but they might have been only a year or two older than me. Might who knows even be my age. 

This hotel looks like something from the Sunday Times, again not me, and is a climb of over 350 steps from the quay. Leonard Cohen, whose poetry books in the shops I never opened was also a  musician it seems. He lived here, as did Henry Miller and Patrick Leigh Fermor. I do not recommend the hotel, the Nefeli - although it is very pretty and the owner and manager are  amiable. There far, far too many steps from the quay to here and far too many nice British middle middle class or upper lower middle class couples.

A Romanian friend of mine damningly called some people I introduced her to 'ordinary people' and I realised this is a judgment easier to make about ones own race than foreigners. There is absolutely nothing at all wrong with ordinary people, who are essential to the economy of the universe, but they make me scared that ordinariness may be infectious, which of course it is. I went to school with a lot of ordinary people. Some of the ones who were not ordinary, such as the brilliant psychotic who burgled a chemist's, made a cocktail of the drugs and thereby died, were  out of the ordinary in a way I do not find particularly interesting.

The Orthodox Easter is always spell-binding: the funeral processions of the Lord on Good Friday evening and midnight Mass the next evening. Here it is poetic beyond description. On Good Friday evening the hearses, symbolising the corpse of Our Lord, are emptied into the sea to sanctify it. On Easter Saturday late a boat arrives with a flame from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. From this flame are lit the candles of all the faithful at midnight. At midnight the cannons explode and fireworks go off. The devout continue with Mass but most of the town goes off to feast and celebrate the end of the arduous, vegan, orthodox Lent, with lamb soup. roast lamb, lamb organs. The feasting, as far as I could see, goes on in restaurants, not at home. Which pleases me - much jollier than the celebrations at home of the reserved, low-key, private English.

Most of the town goes to Mass, the girls in their finest dresses and I revise my opinion of Greek young womanhood. Many are good-looking, some beautiful. Christianity here is  social not an individual thing and it would be sad if relativism, globalisation, loss of belief and immigration change that.


Of course, Hydra was once as, as recently as the 1960s, not part of the tourist industry and now it is. I wonder what I am doing here, but I do like it here.  Except for the foreigners. People speaking Romanian cheer me up - British voices the reverse.

Vlichos, the second hamlet as you go left, forty minutes' walk along a path along the coast from the port  is like Hydra was in the 1970s, I suppose, although it has two restaurants and a beach with deckchairs. Wonderful Easter dinner, meaning lunch, traditional music, lots of offal, almost no damn foreigners. Blue, glittering, transparent sea. 

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Biblical scholarship

The only funny line in any  Restoration comedy, except possibly for Congreve -


One lady:  'We are commanded to love one another.' 

Second lady: 'Yes, but that may be a mistake in the translation.' 

I used to know which dramatist. The woefully unfunny Wycherley? How sad to realise, as Dr Johnson said, that one knew as much at 18 as at 40, or in my case more at 18 than at 50.