Monday 30 March 2015

Young fogeys never grow old

Young fogeys never grow old.

As I strode on my way home through a decrepit part of town a gypsy woman in peacock-colourful dress just stopped me not to ask for money but to say how much she loved what I was wearing (brown fedora, Nigel Farage covert coat, check shirt, pink woolen tie) and ask if I was 'in the opera'.

If Conor Gearty were British Prime Minister things would be even worse than they are

An article by Professor Conor Gearty from today's Independent makes a plea for an internationalist United Kingdom, a sibling in Europe not merely a good neighbour. If he were Prime Minister, he says, he would speak the truth:
that Britain is a small place that should stop pretending it is a power, much less a super-power; that the future depends on sibling and not just neighbourly relations with Europe; that immigration is what Britain is, not what Britons should fear; that the country is horribly class-conflicted with the engine of inequality being driven not by the poor but by the upper middle-class with their different schools, accents, health plans and gated communities; that the "free press" is merely the commercial tool of capitalists who trade off the worst instincts of the people for their own gain; that the green belt is a rust belt standing in the way of British homes; that re-industrialization is a fantasy but that the skills to cope with post-industrial Britain can only be delivered by the higher taxation needed to fund the better schools and colleges we need.
His ideas are utterly mistaken, topsy-turvy. The class system is one of the few things that unites Britain and creates social cohesion. Immigration, on the other hand, gravely weakens social cohesion. It acts on our sense of national community like Agent Orange did in Vietnam on forests. So, to a lesser extent, do European integration and devolution, of course.

I am told and believe that Conor Gearty, Professor of Human Rights law at L.S.E., is very clever but this stuff does not impress. As a Southern Irishman, naturally enough, he does not particularly love English national identity, sovereignty, our tradition or our ruling classes. Which goes to make my point for me about immigration and social cohesion.

He might be right, though, that we should forget about being a second rank great power. It is the case that the main threats to us come from terrorists and extremists at home. Also from nationalists who want to dissolve the union and, I should argue, from the European Union.  But if we abandon our role as an American satellite and the USA becomes isolationist what ensues? I am not sure we would like it. 

So I am torn. Perhaps we should be isolationist ourselves, though I am not sure about this one. I think we should probably leave the EU and certainly resile from the ECHR. International law is a great threat to democracy in Great Britain, but so, even more so, is the authoritarianism of the British political class and the sheepish docility of my compatriots. By authoritarianism I am thinking, inter alia, of much human rights law, which extends rather than restricts the powers of the state to tell people what to do, while giving power to foreign institutions to tell the British state what to do. 

Saturday 28 March 2015

Christianity is Middle Eastern, but Christians are being forced out of the Middle East

loved Syria so much that I extended my ticket two times and I visited Maaloula. Maaloula is one of the 5 villages in the world where Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke, is still the mother tongue. The fate of the place since I was there is very sad, as described in this
essay which Janine Di Giovanni has written in the current Newsweek.

I love so much the Christian Middle East. I lo
ve how Jewish and how Middle Eastern Christianity is. I want to do my little bit to draw attention to what is happening to Christians in the Middle East.

The story of the elimination of the Christians from the Middle East is tragic. Most people in the Middle East were once Christian and the place would be much happier were they still Christian. Even in 1900 they made up a fifth of the people in the region. As an old (Arab, of course) Greek Orthodox priest told me in Nazareth, Israel and the West Bank are the best places for Christians. Interestingly Christians are making many conversions, especially in Iran, where numbers are growing by 5% a year.

A Syrian Christian friend whom I made when I visited the country years ago and who now lives in Bucharest made this comment on my post.
Christians are being kicked out also in Europe. take France as an example. Ask what happened to the napoleon theatre in Paris. Unfortunately money talks. and it is a sad news also for Muslims not to have Christians among them. They would not be able to show their love to their loved ones in the the Christian neighbouring areas hiding from their families..they would no longer be able to flee extremism that always accompanies the correct practice of the religion. Christians of the Orient never fought nor killed . Unfortunately westerners did fight and do support fighting. they are not as Christian as they claim to be. They should at least treat Assyrians ans Ashourita and Aramites as endangered species. They are a fortune to humanity. They are the source of all your believes. Muslims never attacked alone. Anyway i have a hope that Christians would work as the yeast in the flour anywhere they are... and i still believe that some Muslims are as sad as we are for what is happening to Christians now in the middle east. We should write a book about middle eastern Christian treasures.

The West started the current war in Iraq and by removing Saddam and Gaddafi bears very much of the responsibility for what has happened, though by no means all of it. Westerners are not as Christian as they claim to be? I don't think the West any longer considers that it is Christendom and in thirty years or so it no longer will be, which is incredibly sad. 

Wednesday 25 March 2015

Short story set in London

Ernest Hemingway’s friends bet him that he couldn’t write a complete story in just six words. He wrote:
“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”
They paid up. Hemingway said it was his best work.

Facebook statuses can have  a similar terse brilliance, rather like haikus. This is a status posted today by a beautiful, very right-wing Romanian girl, who recently graduated from the University of London. It's much better than Hemingway's six worder, but it does use 105 words.

So I'm sitting next to a middle aged couple having their first date. The lady, which is dressed very well, is a single mom with a newborn in her arms. I sit next to them and I admire the baby, we start talking she says 'oh just have him' and she placed him in my arms continuing her date. He is continuously on his phone texting while she is ignoring her baby and asking her date if he had a prenup with his ex wife... Then he suddenly leaves and she pays the bill and takes the baby away... I am loosing hope in love.
Someone asked me if this were an urban legend (I have experience of those) but my friend, an honest woman, promises me she heard this yesterday.

Talking of haikus, dreary things we had to write at school when I was reading Byron in my spare time, it is one of the semi-religious duties of the Emperor of Japan to compose these. I always have in mind this one of Hirohito who sat on the throne when I was in my twenties.

We had intended

To visit the flower show at Kyoto

But were prevented by ill health.

Tuesday 24 March 2015

Christianity and European Culture

I keep coming back to this quotation, which seems to have more meaning and a different meaning from what it had years ago when I first came across it. Suffixed with the terse word 'Discuss', it would make a good question in a history general paper.

“It is in Christianity that our arts have developed; it is in Christianity that the laws of Europe--until recently--have been rooted. It is against a background of Christianity that all of our thought has significance. An individual European may not believe that the Christian faith is true, and yet what he says, and makes, and does will all spring out of his heritage of Christian culture and depend upon that culture for its meaning...I do not believe that 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. If Christianity goes, the whole culture goes.”

T.S. Eliot, Christianity and Culture: The Idea of a Christian Society and Notes Towards the Definition of Culture (1940)

Monday 23 March 2015

Had Richard III won at Bosworth, would England now be Catholic?

Yesterday King Richard III was given, as he would have wanted, a Catholic Requiem Mass, his body having been discovered under a car park in Leicester, not far from where he died on Bosworth field. His body was taken to the church where he will be buried this week, the procession being attended by thousands. As one man said,
You don’t go to a king’s funeral every day.
Richard III will be buried in a Church of England church, despite having been a Catholic. He was given a Requiem Mass, naturally, by the Catholic Church but his funeral (actually reinterment, because he was given a very perfunctory funeral in 1485) should have been Catholic, sung and in Latin.

Had he won at Bosworth, Henry VII's son, Henry VIII, would not have been king. Would England still be Catholic?

I'm glad that the fact that Richard III was a child murderer and usurper does not prevent his receiving royal honours. There is a majesty doth hedge a king, even one who kills a king. When I was a boy, King Edward V, the boy-king whom Richard had murdered, was my favourite king and he still is, poor boy.

Thank God the monarchy and the class system do something to keep England, or rather Great Britain, united - I wish residual Christianity did, but I am not sure it does.

Archaeologists are to start digging for another of Britain’s ‘lost’ kings, King Stephen, under a school playing field in one of England's most beautiful towns, Faversham in Kent. Henry I is also missing..

Stephen was always another one of my favourite kings when I was a young boy. No idea why. I learnt about them all aged four from a wonderful book written between the Golden and Diamond Jubilees which my father gave me and which his father had bought him second-hand called The Royal portrait Gallery. So I have them all fixed in my mind with their portraits. It was exactly the sort of thing Sellars and Yeatman lampooned in 1066 and All That.
HENRY I was famous for his handwriting and was therefore generally called Henry Beau-geste. He was extremely fond of his son William, who was, however, drowned in the White City. Henry tried to console himself for his loss by eating a surfeit of palfreys. This was a Bad Thing since he died of it and never smiled again.
Do people today even get those jokes? Shakes head wistfully.

Sunday 22 March 2015

More gang violence in Sweden, racism and deprivation to blame

There's another story about gang killings in Sweden today in the Guardian.

Sweden used to be a country with extremely low levels of violent crime and a great deal of social cohesion. Now, because of immigration, this has changed.

When crimes are reported from Sweden the link with immigration is often not mentioned. The English language press reported widespread rioting in Sweden in 2013 without for some time mentioning that the rioters were Muslim.

Now two people have been shot in Gothenburg and the Guardian hint that the 

deprived borough where Wednesday’s killings took place... has high levels of recent immigration and overcrowding.
The Guardian is able to imply that ethnic minorities are responsible for these crimes by providing what is nowadays called a narrative and the narrative is this:
Poverty, racism and segregation are driving young men from immigrant backgrounds into gangs and gun crime.
I imagine there's much more poverty in their parents' countries. Is it really the fault of the racist Swedes?

Yes, if you begin with the assumption that people are basically good, unless things happen to them to make them bad, and that people of different religions and ethnicities are basically the same and should be able to live happily side by side, given reasonable goodwill. In other words, if you are a liberal, which is a kindly, high-minded and, in the face of history and of human wickedness, a foolish thing to be. 

The strange thing is that priests and clergymen, who should have a strong belief in original sin, are often the most liberal people of all.

Back in 2006 a Swedish sociology student, Petra Åkesson, found that 90% of all robberies reported to the police in Malmo were committed by gangs, not individuals. These gangs are said to be largely composed of Muslims. She interviewed gang members, one of whom told her
When we are in the city and robbing we are waging a war, waging a war against the Swedes.

22% of the population of Gothenborg are not ethnic Swedes, much fewer than in Malmo where 30% of the population was born abroad and another 11% of the population was Swedish-born to foreign born parents. Most of the newcomers in both cities are from the Middle East or the Horn of Africa. It is very possible that in twenty years Malmo will have a Muslim majority, as may other cities in Europe, probably including Brussels.

A report on immigrant-related crime in Sweden in 2006 by Ann-Christine Hjelm from Karlstads University found that 85% of those sentenced to at least two years in prison for rape in 2002 were foreign born or second-generation immigrants. A 1996 report by the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention said that immigrants from North Africa were 23 times as likely to commit rape as Swedish men. 
Men from the rest of Africa were 16 times more likely and Iraqis were 20 times more likely to commit rape. Men from Bulgaria and Romania were 18 times more likely to rape. 

I am surprised by the high number of Romanian rapists, as rape is uncommon in Romania, or so I thought.

The Swedes count many things as rape that other countries don't and have a very high rate of reporting rapes. This is why Sweden has one of the highest numbers of rapes per head of population in the world. Nevertheless, the numbers of rapes by immigrants is astonishing and outrageous. 

Then there are the increasing number of attacks on Jews in Sweden.

Tony Blair and other leaders whose careers have been blighted by the Middle East

An interesting article in today's Independent by Patrick Cockburn compares Tony Blair with three previous British leaders whose careers were wrecked over the Middle East: Churchill, Lloyd George and Eden. 

This is inaccurate. Turkey is in the Near East not the Middle East. It was war in Turkey that caused Lloyd George to fall and caused Churchill's resignation after the Dardanelles campaign (the admirals, not Churchill, were in fact to blame for that debacle).

However, I agree with Patrick Cockburn on this.
The invasion of Iraq by the US and Britain in 2003 was in some respects a re-run of the Suez crisis, except that this time it was the US that had outrun the limits of its power. 
And this:
.....Blair complains to this day that Iranian intervention destabilises Iraq, as if it was likely that Iran would ever again accept its Iraqi neighbour being ruled by an enemy. Bush and Blair destroyed the Iraqi state and nobody has succeeded in putting it together again. The doors began to open for Islamic State.
Had the USA not prevented Britain and France seizing back the Suez canal in 1956 the history of the region would probably have been much happier and we might have been spared Gaddafi and Saddam. What bad imperialists the Americans have made compared to the British and French. 

Part of me thinks it might be time to let Iran sort out Iraq and Syria, perhaps with Vladimir Putin's help - he might be good at that. But Iran is backing the Assad regime and therefore is responsible for its barbarities. General Petraeus and the Americans think Iran more frightening than IS and, much as I wish we had never intervened in Iraq and wanted us to get out, I see no alternative to our intervening against IS.

Saturday 21 March 2015

E.M. Forster predicted the internet in 1909

What would the great writers have made of the internet? It's impossible to know, except in the case of E.M. Forster, who wrote about them in this story in 1909
I started reading this long ago, in my teens when I read most things, but can't remember if I finished it. Now I read it with fresh eyes.

On the subject of dystopias, this article tells how in 1949, George Orwell received a curious letter from his former high school French teacher, Aldous Huxley, comparing 1984 to Brave New World.

Friday 20 March 2015

Petraeus: The Islamic State isn’t our biggest problem in Iraq

This analysis by General Petraeus, who  took charge of the US 'surge' in Iraq, is worth taking the time to read. He says, inter alia,

I would argue that the foremost threat to Iraq’s long-term stability and the broader regional equilibrium is not the Islamic State; rather, it is Shiite militias, many backed by — and some guided by — Iran. 

....I am also profoundly worried about the continuing meltdown of Syria, which is a geopolitical Chernobyl. Until it is capped, it is going to continue to spew radioactive instability and extremist ideology over the entire region.

I don't quite understand why General Petraeus fears the Shia militias and Iran more than IS or ISIS, since once it was decided to remove Saddam it was inevitable that Iraq would be Iraq's satellite. 

Perhaps we should leave Iraq to Iran to sort out, possibly with the help of Russia?

Had we not toppled Gaddafi would Assad have contained and defeated the Syrian rebels? I wonder. But that is in the past. 

As AJP Taylor said, we learn from the mistakes of the past how to make new mistakes.

Thursday 19 March 2015

The first European Union

My chum Andrew MacDowall has allowed me to copy this, his latest Facebook status. He is a journalist based in Belgrade.
Chat with a Belgrade taxi driver today: "We [Yugoslavia] were the European Union before the European Union!" He has a point, but perhaps not a reassuring one.

No more Muslim prayer services in churches, says bishop

A bishop has investigated the Muslim prayer service that took place in a Church of England building in London and has pledged that no such service will take place again.

I should like to know what the prayers were. The bits of the Koran I heard on TV being chanted in Zanzibar - I remember 

'God loves those who fear Him' 
did not sound like the God I believe in - though the hotel concierge watched spellbound. But Allah is simply a word for the same God all monotheists worship and Muslim prayers might be ones in which Christians can join. I wonder whether Muslim's would object to saying the Lord's Prayer.

Still I sympathise with the clergyman quoted in the article who said

"At a time when Christian men, women and children are being slaughtered in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Nigeria and elsewhere for their belief in the unique salvation delivered by Christ Crucified it is a scandal and an offence that a clergyman of the Church of England should embrace an act of islamic worship in a consecrated building dedicated to the glory of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit."
Interestingly, I have a friend, an Episcopalian layman, who spent years in Nazareth instructing Muslims who were converting to Christianity and he told me half of them said the Muslim God is not the same as the Christian God.

Bishop Richard Holloway of the Episcopalian Church once described people protesting against an inter-faith service as 'the distant cousins of the National Front.' What an unpleasant man he is.

Tuesday 17 March 2015

A footnote to the history of tattoos

I once met a Canadian when I was sharing a dorm in a youth hostel whose arm bore a tattoo and who told me middle class Canadians went in for them. So do many Romanian women of gentle birth. Perhaps it is only in Great Britain that tattoos are a specifically working class thing, usually an unskilled manual worker thing. But it was not always so, even in England. King Edward VII's entire 
body was covered in them.

Admiral Lord Charles Beresford, according to legend, had a tattoo on his back of the Waterford Hunt in full cry, of which the notable feature was the fox. All that could be seen of it (and only by Lady Charles, one imagines) was the fox's brush disappearing into what Americans would call his Lordship's ass cleavage.

'Gone to earth'. Quite droll, in a rather naval sort of way.

Andrei Vasilescu pointed out to me that in 1881, visiting a port in Japan as a midshipman in the Royal Navy, the future King George V of England had a blue and red dragon tattooed on his arm. Andrei says that in Romania before the 1989 Revolution only convicts and sailors had tattoos. 

Moving from history to fiction, but staying in the same historical period, here is the story of a commercial traveller who had the Fall of Icarus tattooed on his back, thinking Icarus was a city that was captured by Wallenstein in the Thirty Years' War, but who was unable to pay the tattooist's bill.

Monday 16 March 2015

Another quotation I just came across is from Edward Norman.
Now the main difference between Catholic Christianity and Anglicanism is the nature of the Doctrine of the Church itself. It is not that Catholicism has one understanding and Anglicanism another; it is that Catholicism has such a doctrine and a very clear one and that Anglicanism does not really have one at all. Far too much was left unattended at the Reformation, when English Christianity was detached from the centre of unity and from the Magisterium of the universal Church, leaving the Church in England without a means of determining its own doctrines. No one could have foreseen at the time that the split with Rome was to prove permanent. And so for the next three and a half centuries doctrine in the Church of England was determined by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.

Saturday 14 March 2015

Why a statue in London to that humbug Gandhi?

How silly Gandhi's costume is. [Jinnah, by contrast, wore Savile Row suits. He also drank whisky and ate ham sandwiches.]

I have quite a lot of sympathy for pacifism. After our wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya who does not?  But why a statue in London to that humbug Gandhi? He was an enemy of the British Empire. His political career led to Indian independence, partition of India and up to one million dead. That puts the Amritsar massacre, which made Gandhi lose trust in Britain, into perspective.

India like Ireland was only united under British rule - indirectly because of Gandhi and Nehru we have the failed state of Pakistan. And at this historical moment it is vitally important that we in Britain take pride in our empire and know about its great achievements, rather than honour those who demolished it. On the other hand we can take responsibility for those people too - the British Empire formed them, gave them their love of parliamentary government. Unfortunately the our worst colonial legacy was socialism which held India and other colonies back for so many years.

Paedophilia and racism are the two things our relativistic society believes in persecuting hard and of course Gandhi is accused of both these things. He was racist, regarding Africans, as all Indians in his day were. I suspect many Indians of our day are too, but on that my only real evidence is a conversation I had with an Indian in his forties in a first class railway carriage going to Delhi. The same man, by the way, quoted his mother as saying
'All the good things in India were made by the British'.
He added the gloss, 
'This is not completely true but it is almost completely true.'
I suspected his mother was right. 

I think Gandhi did not do very much at all with the young girls with whom he shared his bed, but anything is much too much. 

This is all part of a tradition in England which led to George Washington's statue being placed in Trafalgar Sq close to the one of the arch-reactionary King James II (after whom New York is named). It was a gift in 1921, from the Commonwealth of VirginiaI don't know but imagine that those who placed the statue there did so, shortly after the USA entered the First World War on the UK's side, taking the (mistaken) Whig view that Washington was a great Englishman fighting for English Common Law liberties.

The same cannot be said of Gandhi  but Gandhi was a better man than the unprincipled and devious Washington, at least, and opposed war against the British. 

I prefer to think of Lord Curzon's attractive statue in Carlton House Terrace, which I know very well and love. What would he think of Gandhi and the Communist Nelson Mandela outranking him? 

I imagine Curzon would say it was 'ghastly', said with his characteristic short Midlands 'a' sound. He considered the long 'a' middle class.

I wonder what the dear Queen Mother would have had to say or Churchill. When Gandhi launched his campaign of peaceful resistance, Churchill said that he 
"ought to be lain bound hand and foot at the gates of Delhi, and then trampled on by an enormous elephant with the new Viceroy seated on its back." 
Churchill, a racist even by the standards of his day, also said, 
"I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion." 
In fact independence came not because of Gandhi or Nehru or the British educated elite who wanted to take power themselves via the independence movement, but because Japan's victories over Britain destroyed British prestige and because the economic cost of war made maintaining the Indian Empire unaffordable. British rule melted away like snow in spring.

Had Great Britain not gone to war with Germany in 1939 but we'd armed ourselves to the teeth, as some people wanted us to do, e.g. Lloyd George, we would have not been attacked by Japan and history would have been very different. It was also a mistake to end our alliance with Japan to please the Americans.

Gandhi is not responsible for independence, which had been the British goal since 1913, although in 1938 Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain said he expected it in around 1980. Had Gandhi not led the independence movement somebody worse would have done. It's his sanctification on the part of my British contemporaries that I object to. That statue means public acceptance of the Liberal-Labour view of colonialism and the Empire, the view of the Fabian Society and E.M. Forster, the view that thinks independence in 1947 (with a huge death toll, remember) was the Raj's greatest moment, rather than the Delhi Durbar in 1911.

The answer to my question with which I headed this item is, of course, to win Indian votes for the Conservative Party in the forthcoming general election.

Wednesday 11 March 2015

Another regrettable mistake by Romanian diplomats

News item (AP):
The Romanian Foreign Ministry fired its spokeswoman Wednesday after Germany's foreign minister was handed a gift with a map of France instead of Germany.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier received the gift— the German flag contained in an outline of France— from Romanian counterpart Bogdan Aurescu after a news conference on Monday to mark 135 years of diplomatic relations.
No-one seems to expect the Foreign Minister to resign but he might have said something before handing the brochure over.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, left, looks at his Romanian counterpart, Bogdan Aurescu, as he receives a document celebrating 135-years of Germany - Romania diplomatic relations, during a joint press conference, in Bucharest, Romania, Monday, March 9, 2015.  Steinmeier discussed the situation in Ukraine during talks with Romanian Foreign Minister Bogdan Aurescu, along with other matters of mutual interest. (AP Photo/Andreea Alexandru/Mediafax Foto) ROMANIA OUT

I remember when the Slovenian President came and they played the Slovakian national anthem. A Slovene diplomat said, diplomatically, 
Don't worry. It happens all the time.
But equally often it happens the other way round and foreign statesman refer to being in Budapest when they mean Bucharest. The Nato Secretary General back in the 90s announced to an expectant crowd 
How nice it is to be in Budapest again 
and a little man walked across the stage and handed him a piece of paper. He read it and then corrected himself.

I knew an Englishman in his fifties who came here to head the local branch of an international law firm. Despite being a sophisticated man of the world (educated at a major public school and Oxford) and in his 50s, he told me he had never visited a European city before he came to Bucharest and had accepted the job thinking it was Budapest. He never overcame his disappointment at the absence of the Danube, goulash and Hapsburg architecture.

On the other hand, Romanian diplomats do have a lot of form. Only last month the Romanian Embassy in Paris sent invitations via email for a dinner reception in honour of President Iohannis, who was visiting, invitations accompanied by a spreadsheet with notes about the invitees in which one guest was described as “undesirable” and another as “ghastly.” Hee hee.

Shortly before that the Romanian Ambassador to Armenia was recalled after he went into a long, unwise, not very intelligent discussion on the theme that whether or not holocaust denial is right or wrong is a matter of timing - or something or the sort - it was not easy to understand. He rounded it off with a joke about a Jew, which was not in fact anti-Semitic but terribly gauche. The whole performance was slightly like Borat. I suppose Armenian-Romanian relations will never be quite the same again.

And yet would one wish that the Romanian state were less amateurish? 

Saturday 7 March 2015

My favourite historian on Islam

While on the subject of Islam, it is always a joy for me to come across anything written by Edward Norman, one of the greatest living historians and my favourite. I just found this, which I'd forgotten, from a book review he wrote in 2007.
In Britain public money is being allocated to identify and promote ‘moderate’ Islam, in the hope of discouraging the ‘extremists’ and ‘fundamentalists’ whose supposed misunderstanding of the Faith is, in fact, the version most practised in those societies where it is the majority religion. The result is not likely to be much more than the detachment of a favoured westernised coterie of leaders from the main body of believers.
A great friend of mine, now dead, a very erudite British Bengali Muslim, would have vehemently disagreed with this view and shown much learning in arguing against it. But he was a Guardian reader and Labour supporter, Oxford-educated and thoroughly westernised in many ways, despite his considering race the explanation for most behaviour and his covert antipathy to Jews. I suspect his Western education made him have less rather than more understanding of the Koran. 

Come to that, Nigerian Christians may understand the Bible better than affluent Ivy League educated American Episcopalians, but that's another story.

I loved Edward Norman since he delivered his drily funny attack on the modern Church of England in the Reith Lectures all those years ago. His The Roman Catholic Church: An Illustrated History  is a stimulating and mischievously provocative essay rather than a mere coffee table book, with an irony almost worthy of Gibbon, but deployed in favour of Christianity. He mentions modern Christians' apologies for the Crusades and comments
Perhaps, however, a balance of remorse might be achieved if the Islamic bodies were, in turn, asked to apologise for their own invasions of the Byzantine provinces and Holy Land some three and a half centuries earlier.
He says of Moorish Spain, 
All those placid courtyards and sparkling fountains, that poetry and art, rested upon the existence of one of the largest slave populations the world has ever seen.
He also tells us that the Moors developed savage techniques for extracting confessions from suspected heretics and
there is a sense in which the notorious Spanish Inquisition was a Moorish legacy.
This reminds me that I spent forty minutes with Augustine Ndeliakyama Shao, the Catholic Bishop of Zanzibar (an island which is 95% Muslim), when I was there. The Bishop asked me how people in England felt about Muslims and I told him about the widespread concern about Islamophobia and that Muslims being brown-skinned were seen as victims. The Bishop told me that
Muslims worry about victimisation when thy are a minority. When they are a majority they are very different.
A number of churches have been attacked in Zanzibar since we met. 

I must say that I have liked a great deal most of the Muslims I have known and I imagine their habit of praying several times a day is part of the reason they are attractive. They have remarkable qualities, a remarkable seriousness and depth, usually. However, John Buchan's description of Islam as a warlike creed (or rather Sandy Arbuthnot's) in Greenmantle is clearly accurate. Islam will give rise to countless conflicts in the future in Europe as well as Africa and Asia. 

I agree with a fair bit of the Muslim critique of the modern West. want there to be peace between the world's religions and there should certainly be peace between Christians, Jews and Muslims, who all worship the same God, but there will not be. 

The cantonisation of England along racial and religious lines became inevitable as soon as immigration from the New Commonweath reached several hundreds of thousands back in the early 1960s, I suppose. Here is very saddening article by Ben Judah, a fantastically gifted young journalist, about widespread anti-Jewish feeling among Muslims in Bradford. Nothing is written in the papers, as far as I know, about how Muslim communities in England feel towards indigenous white English Christians. It would be interesting to find out. Judging from what British Pakistani friends of mine say on Facebook, it might not be very positive. 

Friday 6 March 2015

Lunch with a Syrian friend

Yesterday I had lunch with the Syrian Christian friend whom - I was horrified when he told me - I hadn't seen since he bought me lunch eighteen months ago. I wrote about that lunch here and think what he said then is still worth reading.

He has not been back to Syria since moving here two and a half years ago but keeps in constant touch with the country and has an online recruitment portal serving the needs of employers in Syria (there are some, of course, and they need to replace people who emigrate or, i suppose, though he didn't say this, are killed.)

It was a great pleasure to see him again but what he had to say was very depressing. He sees no likelihood of any end to the war and, which depressed me even more, he is very alarmed that Muslims are growing ever more numerous in Europe because of migration and having many babies. 
He believes exaggerated statistics about the number of Muslims in Europe, but the true numbers are astonishing and show rapid increases.

I told him:

Christian Syrians like you should write about this.
And his reply was astute:
No-one would listen to us.
He, by the way, has very many Muslim friends in Syria and says they are good people. Their religion makes the problems, he says. He thinks Islam is incompatible with democracy.

He likes it in Romania and went on

'Romania's not very civilised but it's better that way'
and contrasts civilised France, where cartoonists are murdered for insulting Mohammed.  I agreed that ever since I first came here I have thought that in very many ways Romania is more civilised than the West.

As I write this, I remember an Austrian banker who settled here telling me years ago that the West was decadent and Romania was not. I believed that when he told me, though the word decadent amused me, sounded Spenglerian, but I see it much more clearly now how decadent the West is, because it is much clearer now.

My Syrian thinks Assad and ISIS in some occult way work in tandem. I think he is right and people who think Assad is a good guy - there are lots of these people on the net - are very foolish. 
My friend thinks, though, that the moderate rebels were not very moderate. Christians do not have illusions about the regime but prefer it to the other options. 

My friend wants the regime to be reformed rather than overthrown, simply because the alternative is chaos, but Iran, which has kept Assad in power, he blames for the crimes of the regime. Iran, he says, is the devil.