Religion & Politics Blog

The Worlds Shortest Political Quiz describes me as a left-liberal. I consider myself a non-fundamentalist protestant. I have little time for dogmatism or sectarianism in either politics or religion, but this blog will contain opinions. Read at your peril.

Rotten Boroughs

The Government report into what’s been going on at Rotherham is damning stuff.

Casey, the government’s lead official on troubled families, said the council lacked “the necessary skills, abilities, experience and tenacity within either the member or senior officer leadership teams”.

Concluding that the council needs a fresh start, Casey’s 154-page report said: “The council’s culture is unhealthy: bullying, sexism, suppression and misplaced ‘political correctness’ have cemented its failures.

“The council is currently incapable of tackling its weaknesses without a sustained intervention.”

She also criticised the council’s deep-rooted culture of suppressing bad news and ignoring hard issues, writing: “RMBC goes to some length to cover up information and to silence whistleblowers.”

There’s a lot of blame to go round, but one root cause of these rotten boroughs is an electoral system that results in single party fiefdoms in any party’s heartlands, especially those of Labour. Don’t be distracted by the fact there are currently ten UKIP councillors in Roherham; they were only elected in 2013 after the scandal broke. Before that it was a monolithic one-party state run by the Labour Party.

You might assign some of the blame to an electorate who vote in local elections on national issues along tribal lines, without paying enough attention to what the people they elect get up to in office. But the bigger villain is the first-past-the-post electoral system, deeply flawed and anti-democratic at national level, and utterly unfit for purpose at local level. Even if Rotherham had remained firmly in Labour control, it’s difficult to believe the presence of a viable opposition group on the council would not have bought these terrible problems to light earlier.

The 2015 general election is likely to produce a second successive hung Parliament, in which the distribution of seats will bear little resemblance to the distribution of votes. Electoral reform for parliamentary elections is likely to be high on the political agenda. Does Rotherham make the case for parallel reform of local government even more important?

Electoral reform is sometimes dismissed as a pastime for political anoraks. But Rotherham demonstates why it does actually matter.

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Bolsover, a hotbed of Satanism?

According to the census results, Bolsover in Derbyshire contans Britain’s highest concentration of Satanists. But both Bolsover Council and The Church of Satan are questioning this.

Bolsover is precisely the sort of place that ought to spawn metal bands. So where are Bolsover’s Black Metal acts?

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“My Tribe, Right or Wrong” is a really bad cultural anti-pattern.

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Fox News Facts

The radical preacher who controls Birmingham

#FoxNewsFacts was a trending topic on Twitter a few days ago. The hashtag stated that the radical Islamist preacher pictured above controlled Birmingham, there was another dangerous radical cleric called Jaspur Q’rat, and people were being forced to study The Kerrang.

This was British humour’s response to the claim made by a talking head on Fox TV that the city of Birmingham was 100% Muslim, and non-Muslims were forbidden to enter.

I posted a few myself, stating that it was punishable by death to confuse Birmingham with The Black Country, but nobody outside the area knew the boundary, that the soccerball team “Wolves” were made up from werewolves, and that Prince Philip really is an alien lizard. Many of them got retweeted a lot, and a few people claimed the last of those might actually be true.

Liberal England gives some background on the talking head in question.

Steve Emerson, the soi-disant terrorism expert who told Fox News that Birmingham is a “Muslim-only city” where non-Muslims “don’t go”, has apologised for his “terrible error”.

That is to his credit, but Emerson will be a busy man if he is going to apologise for all his terrible errors.

Steve Emerson not an expert on terrorism as such. His mission is not to inform but to spread propaganda. He’s a professional charlatan, a “court prophet”, who has made a successful living telling whatever his sponsors want the gullible to hear.

His “terrible error” was not being wrong about Birmingham, but not stopping to think that such an obvious and easily-disproven lie would escape from the Fox News media bubble. Birmingham should throw his insincere false apology back in his face.

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So, American right-wingers are robustly defending a group of French Communists, while others who identify as liberals are making excuses for the religious fundamentaists who murdered them? Have I just woken up in Bizarro-World?

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Charlie Hebdo and Victim Blaming

Over the past couple of days there has been an huge outpouring of support for the ten murdered journalists of Charlie Hebdo and the two police officers who died defending then. #JeSuisCharlie and #JeSuisAhmed have both been very popular hashtags on Twitter.

But sadly there has also been some unpleasant mealy-mouthed victim-blaming. Some comes from the usual suspects on the religious right, both reactionary Catholics and fundamentalist Protestants. But there’s also some coming the culture warriors of the left, and this repellent piece by Arthur Chu is one of the worst. If you’ve never heard of him, Arthur Chu is a one-time game show contestant who has more recently become “internet famous” in the back of his public opposition to GamerGate. His line on Charlie Hebdo is “Murder is terrible, but…” using the conjunctive in the same way as the infamous “I’m not racist, but…”. It’s classic victim-blaming in the same way as “She shouldn’t have worn that skirt if she didn’t want to get raped”.

I’m hearing a lot of accusations of racism directed towards Charlie Hebdo from self-appointed experts who are quick to judge but understand little of French culture or French politics. Most of these people are American, and many of those seem ignorant of much beyond the American suburbs. They give the impression they understand French culture about as well as Post-9/11 warbloggers understood Arab culture. The idea that you can’t judge any cartoon without understanding its context seems to escape them.

The BBC obituaries of the twelve who died paints a very different picture, and doesn’t leave you with the impression that the victims were in any way racist or right-wing.

Satire is supposed to mock the powerful, the pompous and the self-important, so we shouldn’t be surprised when social authoritarians of the right ot the left have a problem with it. But if you really think mocking violent extremism is “punching down”, you moral compass urgently needs recalibrating.

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Freedom of Speech

Either you believe in freedom of speech or you don’t.

In recent years too many small-l liberals have been sitting on the fence on this issue. If you believe that there is any “right not be offended” or the principles of “safe spaces” should be applied to the public square rather than to private spaces, you don’t actually believe in freedom of speech. Yesterday’s events have thrown such beliefs into sharp relief. And the bloody murder of cartoonists ought to put an end to the ridiculous weasel-speak idea that it’s not censorship if it’s anyone other than the government doing it.

Freedom of speech means does freedom for speech you or others will find offensive and objectionable. But democracy and freedom depend on the ability to speak truth to power. Allowing bad speech is always going to be lesser evil than censorship which, even in enforced for the noblest of intentions, will inevitably end up serving the interests of the powerful.

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Sharpening Contradictions

Juan Cole on Why al-Qaeda attacked Satirists in Paris

Al-Qaeda wants to mentally colonize French Muslims, but faces a wall of disinterest. But if it can get non-Muslim French to be beastly to ethnic Muslims on the grounds that they are Muslims, it can start creating a common political identity around grievance against discrimination. …

Most of France will also remain committed to French values of the Rights of Man, which they invented. But an insular and hateful minority will take advantage of this deliberately polarizing atrocity to push their own agenda. Europe’s future depends on whether the Marine LePens are allowed to become mainstream. Extremism thrives on other people’s extremism, and is inexorably defeated by tolerance.

So far I’ve seen this atrocity bringing out the worse in people, from the predictable Islamophobia (No, that attention-seeking clown Anjem Choudary does not represent British Muslims, and I have to be suspicious of the agenda behind the sections of the media that keep giving this repellent man a soapbox) to the authoritarian security-state control freaks demanding even more restrictions on civil liberties. These things must be resisted not just because they are bad things in themselves, but because they’re playing right into the terrorists’ hands.

He said very similar things in the aftermath of 9/11. He was not listened to, and the US & UK’s ill-conceived military adventures in the Middle East and their disastrous fallout meant 9/11 succeeded beyond Osama Bin Laden’s wildest dreams. If the French terrorists are indeed connected with Islamic State, then what happened in France was a direct consequence of ignoring Juan Cole back in 2001.

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The Sneakiest Way Prosecutors Get a Guilty Verdict – Yet more proof that PowerPoint is responsible for the decline in Western Civilisation.

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Katie Hopkins vs. Police Scotland

Yes, Katie Hopkins is an attention-seeking professional troll and bigot, and there is no way anyone can pretend that her Tweet about the Scottish ebola case wasn’t offensively racist. And no, I won’t link to it because that will only serve to spread her hate.

But hateful as it was, it fell short of direct incitement to violence. So is there any real justification for Police Scotland to get involved?

Liberal England feels the same way

I am not surprised that the police have picked up on the modern fashion for claiming offence. They know a good repressive ideology when they see it.

But I wish there were more on the left who would stand up for free speech – or at least for common sense.


Judging from some comments I’ve seen on social media it seems that too many people aren’t willing to make the distinction between supporting someome’s freedom to say something and supporting what they actually said.

If you do not support the freedom of bad people to say bad things in spaces you don’t own or control, you don’t really believe in freedom of speech. Many on the left do not, although a lot of them aren’t intellectually honest enough to admit it.

If you support a “right not to be offended”, where do you draw the line? Who decides which groups nobody is allowed to offend?

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