Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

To be utterly frank, Dear Reader, we do not even pretend to fully understand the current Middle East crisis and have even less idea what to do about it. It is times like this that we are very pleased we no longer pursue politics as a career.

This map, for example, purports to show Daesh’s view of a future Caliphate. It suggests that its ambitions stretch at least as far as the historical spread of Islam. The white lines, incidentally, do not relate to modern boundaries, but to Daesh-suggested administrative boundaries, as Daesh does not recognise modern nation states.

Daesh map

Anyhow, in the search for clarity, we reproduce in full below a long but scholarly article which first appeared in New Statesman in early March this year, and then in New Republic, because to us it has the smack of good research and commonsense.

It is a trenchant and thorough re-evaluation of the by-now famous article in The Atlantic (which we were impressed by at the time, and which we believe still has value, as regards, at least, the leadership of IS) which argued that IS – or as French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius now urges us to call them, Daesh – is an eschatological “end times” cult that wants nothing more than to provoke a wholesale invasion of Syria and Iraq by the West to usher in the return of Christ and thus the end of the world.

Both articles appear well researched and credible, revealing again (as if we really need to have it reinforced) that this is a highly complex issue that does not succumb to simplistic explanations.

In any event, we urge you to read this article as well, because it goes to the motivation of people to join Daesh and it squarely argues that it is NOT an Islamic movement, and, indeed, that labelling it as such is aiding its existence and even growth. Given recent events worldwide, that analysis is more pressing than ever.

What’s more, as the leader of the “free world” this is a live issue for President Obama, in particular, who is enduring considerable criticism for his nuanced and oft-expressed view that Daesh is not an “Islamic” or “Islamic terrorist” problem. It may be that his reasons for doing so are simply too subtle for many social media readers and posters, especially those who detest Obama anyway, but if this article is credible then his attitude thus far is completely justified.

What is more important is that this is a discussion that every community in the Western world needs to have, as non-Muslim and Muslim communities seek to live peaceably together.

Whatever the precise truth of the situation we now face – and like all situations, there are layers upon layers of meaning and evidence – this article places the responsibility for the radicalisation of Muslim and recent-convert Muslim youth absolutely specifically to the aftermath of the Iraq war, and the subsequent bias and incompetence of the Shia government in Baghdad.

And it asserts – with compelling evidence from experts working in the intelligence field – that grievances in Western societies (poor housing, perceived racism, lack of opportunity, and a desire for belonging and meaning, above all) are all merely exacerbated by the echoes of 2003 and afterwards.

In effect, the article is saying that the war in Iraq never really ended, and that it is now conflated to include Syria.

We might also note that the next domino to fall, in this regard, would be Lebanon, which puts last week’s murderous bombing in Beirut into a critical context.

Please. Take the time to read this article.

UnderstandingWe believe it is an important contribution to current discussions, and should be taken into account as we examine what on earth to do next.

And if there is ever to be peace in the Middle East, we have to start somewhere.

In that regard, understanding what is going on seems a good place to start.

Article begins:

It is difficult to forget the names, or the images, of James Foley, Steven Sotloff, David Haines, Alan Henning and Peter Kassig. The barbaric beheadings between August and November 2014, in cold blood and on camera, of these five jumpsuit-clad western hostages by the self-styled Islamic State, or ISIS, provoked widespread outrage and condemnation.

Liberation newspaper journalist Didier Francois who was freed after 10 months in captivity.

Liberation newspaper journalist Didier Francois who was freed after 10 months in captivity.

However, we should also remember the name of Didier François, a French journalist who was held by ISIS in Syria for ten months before being released in April 2014. François has since given us a rare insight into life inside what the Atlantic’s Graeme Wood, in a recent report for the magazine, has called the “hermit kingdom” of ISIS, where “few have gone . . . and returned.”

And it is an insight that threatens to turn the conventional wisdom about the world’s most fearsome terrorist organisation on its head.

“There was never really discussion about texts,” the French journalist told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour last month, referring to his captors. “It was not a religious discussion. It was a political discussion.”

According to François, “It was more hammering what they were believing than teaching us about the Quran. Because it has nothing to do with the Quran.” And the former hostage revealed to a startled Amanpour: “We didn’t even have the Quran. They didn’t want even to give us a Quran.”

The rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria has been a disaster for the public image of Islam – and a boon for the Islamophobia industry. Here, after all, is a group that calls itself Islamic State; that claims the support of Islamic texts to justify its medieval punishments, from the stoning of adulterers to the amputation of the hands of thieves; and that has a leader with a PhD in Islamic studies who declares himself to be a “caliph,” or ruler over all Muslims, and has even renamed himself in honour of the first Muslim caliph, Abu Bakr.

The consequences are, perhaps, as expected. In September 2014, a Zogby poll found that only 27 percent of Americans had a favourable view of Islam—down from 35 per cent in 2010. By February 2015, more than a quarter of Americans (27 per cent) were telling the pollsters LifeWay Research that they believed that life under ISIS rule “gives a true indication of what an Islamic society looks like.”

Yet what is much more worrying is that it isn’t just ill-informed, ignorant or bigoted members of the public who take such a view. “The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic,” wrote Wood in his widely read 10,000-word cover report (“What ISIS really wants”) in the March issue of Atlantic, in which he argued, “The religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.”

Bernard Haykel of Princeton University, the only scholar of Islam whom Wood bothered to interview, described Muslims who considered ISIS to be un-Islamic, or anti-Islamic, as “embarrassed and politically correct, with a cotton-candy view of their own religion,” and declared that the hand-choppers and throat-slitters of ISIS “have just as much legitimacy” as any other Muslims, because Islam is “what Muslims do and how they interpret their texts.”

Many other analysts across the political spectrum agree and have denounced the Obama administration for refusing, in the words of the journalist-turned-terrorism-expert Peter Bergen, to make “the connection between Islamist terrorism and ultra-fundamentalist forms of Islam.” Writing on the CNN website in February, Bergen declared, “ISIS may be a perversion of Islam, but Islamic it is.”

“Will it take the end of the world for Obama to recognise ISIS as ‘Islamic’?” screamed a headline on the Daily Beast website in the same month. “Which will come first, flying cars and vacations to Mars, or a simple acknowledgment that beliefs guide behaviour and that certain religious ideas—jihad, martyrdom, blasphemy, apostasy—reliably lead to oppression and murder?” asked Sam Harris, the neuroscientist and high priest of the “New Atheism” movement.

So, is ISIS a recognisably “Islamic” movement? Are ISIS recruits motivated by religious fervour and faith?

The Analyst

“Our exploration of the intuitive psychologist’s shortcomings must start with his general tendency to overestimate the importance of personal or dispositional factors relative to environmental influences,” wrote the American social anthropologist Lee Ross in 1977.

It was Ross who coined the phrase “fundamental attribution error”, which refers to the phenomenon in which we place excessive emphasis on internal motivations to explain the behaviour of others, in any given situation, rather than considering the relevant external factors.

SagemanNowhere is the fundamental attribution error more prevalent, suggests the forensic psychiatrist Marc Sageman, than in our navel-gazing analysis of wannabe terrorists and what does or doesn’t motivate them.

“You attribute other people’s behaviour to internal motivations but your own to circumstances. ‘They’re attacking us and therefore we have to attack them.’” Yet, he tells me, we rarely do the reverse.

Few experts have done more to try to understand the mindset of the young men and women who aspire to join the blood-drenched ranks of groups such as ISIS and Al Qaeda than Sageman. And few can match his qualifications, credentials or background. The 61-year-old, Polish-born psychiatrist and academic is a former CIA operations officer who was based in Pakistan in the late 1980s. There he worked closely with the Afghan mujahedin.

He has since advised the New York City Police Department on counterterrorism issues, testified in front of the 9/11 Commission in Washington, D.C., and, in his acclaimed works Understanding Terror Networks and Leaderless Jihad, closely analysed the biographies of several hundred terrorists.

Does he see religion as a useful analytical prism through which to view the rise of ISIS and the process by which thousands of young people arrive in Syria and Iraq, ready to fight and die for the group?

“Religion has a role but it is a role of justification,” he tells me. “It’s not why they do this [or] why young people go there.”

ISIS members, he says, are using religion to advance a political vision, rather than using politics to advance a religious vision. “To give themselves a bit more legitimacy, they use Islam as their justification. It’s not about religion, it’s about identity . . . You identify with the victims, [with] the guys being killed by your enemies.”

For converts to Islam in particular, he adds, “Identity is important to them. They have . . . invested a lot of their own efforts and identity to become this ‘Muslim’ and, because of this, identity is so important to them. They see other Muslims being slaughtered [and say], ‘I need to protect my community.’” (A recent study found that converts to Islam were involved in 31 per cent of Muslim terrorism convictions in the UK between 2001 and 2010.)

Sageman believes that it isn’t religious faith but, rather, a “sense of emotional and moral outrage” at what they see on their television screens or on YouTube that propels people from Portsmouth to Peshawar, from Berlin to Beirut, to head for war zones and to sign up for the so-called jihad. Today, he notes archly, “Orwell would be [considered as foreign fighter like] a jihadi,” referring to the writer’s involvement in the anti-fascist campaign during the Spanish civil war.

Religion, according to this view, plays a role not as a driver of behaviour but as a vehicle for outrage and, crucially, a marker of identity. Religion is important in the sense that it happens to “define your identity”, Sageman says, and not because you are “more pious than anybody else.” He invokes the political scientist Benedict Anderson’s conception of a nation state as an “imagined political community”, arguing that the “imagined community of Muslims” is what drives the terrorists, the allure of being members of – and defenders of – the ultimate “in-group.”

JJ“You don’t have the most religious folks going there,” he points out.

ISIS fighters from the west, in particular, “tend to have rediscovered Islam as teenagers, or as converts”; they are angry, or even bored, young men in search of a call to arms and a thrilling cause. The ISIS executioner Mohammed Emwazi, also known as “Jihadi John” – who was raised and educated in the UK – was described, for instance, by two British medics who met him at a Syrian hospital as “quiet but a bit of an adrenalin junkie”.

Sageman’s viewpoint should not really surprise us. Writing in his 2011 book The Black Banners: the Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-Qaeda, the Lebanese-American former FBI agent Ali H Soufan, who led the bureau’s pre-9/11 investigation into Al Qaeda, observed: “When I first began interrogating AL Qaeda members, I found that while they could quote Bin Laden’s sayings by heart, I knew far more of the Quran than they did—and in fact some barely knew classical Arabic, the language of both the hadithand the Quran. An understanding of their thought process and the limits of their knowledge enabled me and my colleagues to use their claimed piousness against them.”

Three years earlier, in 2008, a classified briefing note on radicalisation, prepared by MI5’s behavioural science unit, was obtained by the Guardian.

It revealed: “Far from being religious zealots, a large number of those involved in terrorism do not practise their faith regularly. Many lack religious literacy and could . . . be regarded as religious novices.”

The MI5 analysts noted the disproportionate number of converts and the high propensity for “drug-taking, drinking alcohol and visiting prostitutes”. The newspaper claimed they concluded, “A well-established religious identity actually protects against violent radicalisation.”

As I have pointed out on these pages before, Mohammed Ahmed and Yusuf Sarwar, the two young British Muslim men from Birmingham who were convicted on terrorism charges in 2014 after travelling to fight in Syria, bought copies of Islam for Dummies and The Koran for Dummies from Amazon prior to their departure. Religious novices, indeed.

Sageman, the former CIA officer, says we have to locate terrorism and extremism in local conflicts rather than in grand or sweeping ideological narratives – the grievances and the anger come first, he argues, followed by the convenient and self-serving ideological justifications. For example, he says, the origins of ISIS as a terror group lie not in this or that Islamic book or school of thought, but in the “slaughter of Sunnis in Iraq.” He reminds me how, in April 2013, when there was a peaceful Sunni demonstration asking the Shia-led Maliki government in Baghdad to reapportion to the various provinces what the government was getting in oil revenues, Iraqi security forces shot into the crowds.

“That was the start of this [current] insurrection.”

Before that, it was the brutal, US-led occupation, under which Iraq became ground zero for suicide bombers from across the region and spurred the creation of new terrorist organisations, such as Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).

ISIS is the “remnant” of AQI, Sageman adds. He believes that any analysis of the group and of the ongoing violence and chaos in Iraq that doesn’t take into account the long period of war, torture, occupation and sectarian cleansing is inadequate—and a convenient way of exonerating the west of any responsibility. “Without the invasion of Iraq, [ISIS] would not exist. We created it by our presence there.”

The Spy

BarrettLike Marc Sageman, Richard Barrett has devoted his professional life to understanding terrorism, extremism and radicalization.

The silver-haired 65-year-old was the director of global counterterrorism operations for MI6, both before and after the 11 September 2001 attacks, and he subsequently led the Al Qaeda and Taliban monitoring team at the United Nations between 2004 and 2013.

Unlike Sageman, however, Barrett partly sympathises with Graeme Wood’s and Bernard Haykel’s thesis that “the Islamic State is Islamic”. He tells me that some ISIS followers “are clearly convinced they are following Allah’s will” and he insists: “We should not underestimate the extent of their belief.” However, Barrett concedes that such beliefs and views “will not be the only thing that drew them to the Islamic State”.

The former MI6 officer, who recently published a report on foreign fighters in Syria, agrees with the ex-CIA man on the key issue of what motivates young men to join—and fight for—groups such as ISIS in the first place. Rather than religious faith, it has “mostly to do with the search for identity . . . coupled with a search for belonging and purpose. The Islamic State offers all that and empowers the individual within a collective. It does not judge and accepts all with no concern about their past. This can be very appealing for people who think that they washed up on the wrong shore.”

Whether they are unemployed losers or well-educated professionals, joining ISIS offers new recruits the chance to “believe that they are special . . . that they are part of something that is new, secret and powerful.”

While Barrett doesn’t dismiss the theological angle in the way that Sageman does, he nevertheless acknowledges, “Acting in the name of Islam means that, for the ignorant at least, the groups have some legitimacy for their actions . . . They can pretend it is not just about power and money.”

LouiseThis irreligious lust for power and money is a significant and often overlooked part of the ISIS equation.

The group—often described as messianic and uncompromising—had no qualms about demanding a $200m ransom for the lives of two Japanese hostages in January; nor has it desisted from smuggling pornography into and out of Iraq, according to Louise Shelley, director of the Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Centre at George Mason University in Virginia. (Shelley has referred to Isis as a “diversified criminal operation”.)

Then there is the often-ignored alliance at the heart of ISIS between the so-called violent Islamists, led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and the remnants of Saddam Hussein’s secular Ba’athist regime – an alliance that Barrett has referred to as a “marriage of convenience.” If ISIS is the apocalyptic religious cult that Wood and others believe it is, why was Baghdadi’s deputy in Iraq Abu Muslim al-Afari al-Turkmani, a former senior special forces officer in Hussein’s army? Why is Baghdadi’s number two in Syria Abu Ali al-Anbari, a former major general under Hussein? (Welthisiswhatithink note; al-Anbari was reported killed in Libya in June.) 

“The Ba’athist element was certainly very important . . . as it gave the Islamic State military and administrative capability,” Barrett says. “It also made it possible [for ISIS to] take Mosul so quickly and cause defections and surrenders from the Iraqi army. There was and continues to be a coincidence of interest between Islamic State and other anti-government Sunni groups.”

Here again, it seems, is the fundamental attribution error in play. We neglect to focus on the “interests” of groups such as ISIS and obsess over their supposedly messianic and apocalyptic “beliefs.” The “end of times” strain may be very strong in ISIS, Barrett warns, but: “The Ba’athist elements are still key in Iraq and without them the Islamic State would probably not be able to hold on to the city of Mosul.”

Baghdadi’s appointment as leader of ISIS in 2010 was orchestrated by a former Ba’athist colonel in Hussein’s army, Haji Bakr, (killed in January 2014) according to another recent study produced by Barrett, in which he noted how Bakr had “initially attracted criticism from fellow members of the group for his lack of a proper beard and lax observance of other dictates of their religious practice”. Nevertheless, pragmatism trumped ideology as Bakr’s “organisational skills . . . and network of fellow ex-Ba’athists made him a valuable resource” for ISIS.

Apparently, Baghdadi’s supposed caliphate in Iraq and Syria was less the will of God and more the will of Saddam.

The Theologian

Perhaps the most astonishing achievement of Isis has been not the sheer size of the territory it has captured, but the way in which it has united the world’s disparate (and often divided) 1.6 billion Muslims against it.

Whether Sunni or Shia, Salafi or Sufi, conservative or liberal, Muslims – and Muslim leaders – have almost unanimously condemned and denounced ISIS not merely as un-Islamic but actively anti-Islamic.

Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh, the Saudi grand mufti.

Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh, the Saudi grand mufti.

Consider the various statements of Muslim groups such as the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation, representing 57 countries (ISIS has “nothing to do with Islam”); the Islamic Society of North America (ISIS’ actions are “in no way representative of what Islam actually teaches”); al-Azhar University in Cairo, the most prestigious seat of learning in the Sunni Muslim world (ISIS is acting “under the guise of this holy religion . . . in an attempt to export their false Islam”); and even Saudi Arabia’s Salafist Grand Mufti, Abdul Aziz al ash-Sheikh (ISIS is “the number-one enemy of Islam”).

In September 2014, more than 120 Islamic scholars co-signed an 18-page open letter to Baghdadi, written in Arabic, containing what the Slate website’s Filipa Ioannou described as a “technical point-by-point criticism of ISIS’ actions and ideology based on the Quran and classical religious texts.”

hannityYet buffoonish right-wingers such as the Fox News host Sean Hannity continue to refer to the alleged “silence of Muslims” over the actions of ISIS and ask, “Where are the Muslim leaders?” Meanwhile, academics who should know better, such as Princeton’s Bernard Haykel, insist that the leaders of ISIS “have just as much legitimacy as anyone else.”

MuradLegitimacy, however, “comes through endorsement by religious leaders. If Sunni Islam’s leaders consider ISIS inauthentic, then that is what it is,” says Abdal Hakim Murad, who teaches Islamic studies at Cambridge University and serves as the dean of the Cambridge Muslim College, which trains imams for British mosques. The blond-haired, 54-year-old Murad is a convert and is also known as Timothy Winter (his brother is the Telegraph football writer Henry). Murad has been described by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in Jordan as “one of the most well-respected western theologians”, whose “accomplishments place him amongst the most significant Muslims in the world”.

The religious world, whether Muslim, Jewish or Christian, is “packed with fringe and fundamentalist groups that claim the mantle of total authenticity,” Murad tells me. To accept those groups’ assertions at face value is “either naive or tendentious.”

He continues: “Just as Christianity in Bosnia 20 years ago was not properly represented by the churchgoing militias of Radovan Karadzic and just as Judaism is not represented by West Bank settlers who burn mosques, so, too, Islam is not represented by ISIS.”

Contrary to a lazy conventional wisdom which suggests that a 1,400-year-old faith with more than a billion adherents has no hierarchy, “Islam has its leadership, its universities, its muftis and its academies, which unanimously repudiate ISIS,” Murad explains. For the likes of Haykel to claim that the ISIS interpretation of Islam has “just as much legitimacy” as the mainstream view, he adds, is “unscholarly,” “incendiary” and likely to “raise prejudice and comfort the far-right political formations”.

As for ISIS’ obsession with beheadings, crucifixions, hand-chopping and the rest, Murad argues: “With regard to classical sharia punishments, the religion’s teachings in every age are determined by scholarly consensus on the meaning of the complex scriptural texts”—rather than by self-appointed “sharia councils” in the midst of conflict zones.

Many analysts have laid the blame for violent extremism among Muslims at the ideological door of Salafism, a regressive and ultra-conservative brand of Islam, which owes a great deal to the controversial teachings of an 18th-century preacher named Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab and which today tends to be behind much of the misogyny and sectarianism in the Muslim-majority world. Yet, as even Wood concedes in his Atlantic report, “Most Salafis are not jihadists and most adhere to sects that reject the Islamic State.”

Salafists tend to be apolitical, whereas groups such as ISIS are intensely political. Even the traditionalist Murad, who has little time for what he has deemed the “cult-like universe of the Salafist mindset”, agrees that the rise of extremism within the movement is a consequence, rather than a cause, of violence and conflict.

“The roots of ISIS have been located in rage against . . . the 2003 occupation of Iraq. Before that event, Salafist extremism was hardly heard of in Syria and Iraq, even though the mosques were full in those countries,” Murad says. “Angry men, often having suffered in US detention, have reached for the narrowest and most violent interpretation of their religion they can find. This is a psychological reaction, not a faithful adherence to classical Muslim norms of jurisprudence.”

In the view of this particular Muslim theologian, ISIS owes a “debt to European far-right thinking.” The group’s “imposition of a monolithic reading of the huge and hugely complex founding literature of the religion is something very new in Islamic civilisation, representing a totalitarian impulse that seems closer to European fascism than to classical Islamic norms.”

The Radical

Raised in Toronto, the son of Indian immigrant parents, Mubin Shaikh went from enjoying a hedonistic teenage lifestyle involving drugs, girls and parties to embracing a militant and “jihadist” view of the world, full of hate and anger.

CSIS and RCMP informant Mubin Shaikh at his Toronto home on February 6th, 2007. Shaikh's information led to the arrest of dozens of terror suspects in the summer of 2006.

CSIS and RCMP informant Mubin Shaikh at his Toronto home on February 6th, 2007. Shaikh’s information led to the arrest of dozens of terror suspects in the summer of 2006.

He felt as though he “had become a stranger in my own land, my own home,” Shaikh told PBS in 2007, referring to an identity crisis that helped spark his “jihadi bug.” After 11 September 2001, he wanted to fight in Afghanistan or Chechnya because: “It felt like the right thing to do.”

It is a familiar path, trodden by the likes of Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the brothers accused of bombing the Boston Marathon, as well as Chérif and Saïd Kouachi, the Charlie Hebdo attackers in Paris. (A former friend of Chérif said that the younger, pot-smoking Kouachi “couldn’t differentiate between Islam and Catholicism” before he became radicalized by “images of American soldiers humiliating Muslims at the Abu Ghraib prison”, as the New York Times put it.)

Yet Shaikh eventually relinquished his violent views after studying Sufi Islam in the Middle East and then boldly volunteered with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service to infiltrate several radical groups in Toronto.

The bald and bearded Shaikh, now aged 39 and an adviser to Canadian officials, tells me it is “preposterous” to claim that the killing of Christians and Yazidis by ISIS is rooted in Islamic scripture or doctrine. If it was, “Muslims would have been doing those sorts of things for the past 50-plus years. Yet we find no such thing.”

YAZIDIS(Wellthisiswhatithink insert: This becomes a particularly trenchant comment as a mass grave believed to contain the remains of more than 70 female members of Iraq’s Yazidi minority has been recently discovered east of Sinjar town after Kurdish forces claimed victory over Daesh militants in the area, the mayor and locals have said.

The insurgents overran the Yazidi heartland of Sinjar in north-west Iraq in August 2014, systematically killing, capturing and enslaving thousands of its inhabitants in what the United Nations has said may have constituted attempted genocide.

The mayor of Sinjar and local Yazidis who visited the site of the mass grave said last Saturday that they saw clumps of hair, bones, money and keys which they believed belonged to older women from the village of Kocho, whom the militants separated from younger women during their onslaught.)

Shaikh offers three distinct explanations for why ISIS should not be considered or treated as an “Islamic” phenomenon. First, he argues, “The claim that ISIS is ‘Islamic’ because it superficially uses Islamic sources is ridiculous, because the Islamic sources themselves say that those who do so [manifest Islam superficially] are specifically un-Islamic.”

He points to an order issued by the first and original Muslim caliph, Abu Bakr, which declared: “Neither kill a child, women [nor] the elderly . . . When you come upon those who have taken to live in monasteries, leave them alone.”

Takfiris are those who declare other Muslims to be apostates and, for Shaikh, “It is the height of incredulity to suggest that they [members of ISIS] are in fact ‘Islamic’ – an opinion shared only by ISIS and [Islamophobes] who echo their claims.”

As for Baghdadi’s supposed scholarly credentials, Shaikh jokes, “Even the devil can quote scripture.”

Second, he argues, it is dangerous to grant ISIS any kind of theological legitimacy amid efforts to formulate a coherent “countering violent extremism” (CVE) strategy in the West. “It is quite possibly a fatal blow in that regard because, essentially, it is telling Muslims to condemn that which is Islamic.” It is, he says, a “schizophrenic approach to CVE which will never succeed”.

Third, Shaikh reminds me how the former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld often included verses from the Bible at the top of the intelligence briefings that he presented to President George W Bush. “Could we say [Iraq] was a ‘Christianity-motivated war’? How about verses of the Bible [reportedly] engraved on to rifles for use in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars?”

The former radical points out that highlighting only the role of religion in the radicalization process to the exclusion of, or above, other factors is short-sighted. “Fear, money . . . adventure, alienation and, most certainly, anger at the west for what happened in Iraq . . . [also] explain why people join [ISIS],” he tells me.

Shaikh therefore wants a counterterrorism approach focused not merely on faith or theology, but on “political, social and psychological” factors.

The Pollster

What Dalia Mogahed doesn’t know about Muslim public opinion probably isn’t worth knowing. And the former Gallup pollster and co-author, with the US academic John L Esposito, of Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think, based on six years of research and 50,000 interviews with Muslims in more than 35 countries, says that the survey evidence is clear: the overwhelming majority of the world’s Muslims reject ISIS-style violence.

DaliaGallup polling conducted for Mogahed’s book found, for instance, that 93 per cent of Muslims condemned the terror attacks of September 11, 2001.

The 40-year-old Egyptian-American scholar tells me, “In follow-up questions, Gallup found that not a single respondent of the nearly 50,000 interviewed cited a verse from the Quran in defence of terrorism but, rather, religion was only mentioned to explain why 9/11 was immoral.”

The 7 per cent of Muslims who sympathised with the attacks on the twin towers “defended this position entirely with secular political justifications or distorted concepts of ‘reciprocity’, as in: ‘They kill our civilians. We can kill theirs.’”

It is thus empirically unsound to conflate heightened religious belief with greater support for violence. Mogahed, who became the first hijab-wearing Muslim woman to hold a position at the White House when she served on Barack Obama’s advisory council on “faith-based and neighbourhood partnerships”, says that she was “surprised” by the results, as they “flew in the face of everything we were being told and every assumption we were making in our counter-terrorism strategy.”

As for Haykel’s claim that Islam is merely “what Muslims do and how they interpret their texts”, Mogahed is scathingly dismissive. “If Islam is indeed ‘what Muslims do’, then certainly numbers should be a powerful factor dictating which Muslims we see as representing it,” she says.

“ISIS is a tiny minority whose victims are, in fact, mostly other Muslims.

“By what logic would this gang of killers, which has been universally condemned and brutalizes Muslims more than anyone else, get to represent the global [Muslim] community?”

The former White House adviser continues: “Any philosophy or ideology, from Christianity to capitalism, has normative principles and authorities that speak to those norms. Each also has deviants who distort it to meet political or other goals. If I deny the existence of Christ but call myself a Christian, I’d be wrong. If I say the state should usurp all private property and redistribute it equally among citizens but call myself a capitalist, I would be wrong. Islam is no different.”

Echoing Murad, Mogahed points out, “Islam’s authorities have loudly and unanimously declared ISIS un-Islamic.”

Because of this, “Making a claim that violates normative principles of a philosophy, as defined by those with the authority to decide, is illegitimate.”

What about Haykel’s claim that ISIS fighters are constantly quoting Quranic verses and the hadith, or traditions from the life of the Prophet, and that they “mug for their cameras and repeat their basic doctrines in formulaic fashion and they do it all the time”? Why do they do that if they don’t believe this stuff – if it isn’t sincere?

“The Quran [and] hadith according to whom?” she responds. “As interpreted by whom? As understood by whom?”

Mogahed, who served as the executive director of the Gallup Centre for Muslim Studies until 2012 and who now works for the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) and runs her own consulting firm based in Washington DC, argues that ISIS uses Islamic language and symbols today for the same reason as Palestinian militant groups used the language of secular Arab nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s.

“Any organisation uses the dominant social medium of its society,” she says. “Today, the dominant social currency in the Arab world is Islam. More than 90 per cent of Arab Muslims say religion is an important part of their daily life, according to Gallup research. Everyone, not just IS, speaks in Islamic language, from pro-democracy advocates to civil society groups fighting illiteracy.”

For Mogahed, therefore, “a violent reading of the Quran is not leading to political violence. Political violence is leading to a violent reading of the Quran.”

In a recent despatch from Zarqa in Jordan, birthplace of the late AQI leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and “one of the country’s most notorious hotbeds of Islamic radicalism,” Foreign Policy magazine’s David Kenner sat down with a group of young, male ISIS supporters.

“None of them appeared to be particularly religious,” Kenner noted. “Not once did the conversation turn to matters of faith, and none budged from their seats when the call to prayer sounded. They appeared driven by anger at humiliations big and small – from the police officers who treated them like criminals outside their homes to the massacres of Sunnis in Syria and Iraq – rather than by a detailed exegesis of religious texts.”

It cannot be said often enough: it isn’t the most pious or devout of Muslims who embrace terrorism, or join groups such as IS. Nor has a raft of studies and surveys uncovered any evidence of a “conveyor belt” that turns people of firm faith into purveyors of violence.

Religion plays little, if any, role in the radicalisation process, as Sageman and countless experts testify.

It is an excuse, rather than a reason. ISIS is as much the product of political repression, organised crime and a marriage of convenience with secular, power-hungry Ba’athists as it is the result of a perversion of Islamic beliefs and practices.

As for Islamic scholars, they “unanimously repudiate” ISIS, to quote Murad, while ordinary Muslims “universally condemn” Baghdadi and his bloodthirsty followers, in the words of Mogahed.

The so-called Islamic State is, therefore, “Islamic” in the way the British National Party is “British” or the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea (DPRK) is “democratic.”

No serious analyst considers the latter two entities to be representative of either Britishness or democracy; few commentators claim that those who join the BNP do so out of a sense of patriotism and nor do they demand that all democrats publicly denounce the DPRK as undemocratic. So why the double standard in relation to the self-styled Islamic State and the religion of Islam? Why the willingness to believe the hype and rhetoric from the spin doctors and propagandists of ISIS?

We must be wary of the trap set for us by Baghdadi’s group – a trap that far too many people who should know better have frustratingly fallen for. A former U.S. State Department official who has worked on counterterrorism issues tells me how worried he is that the arguments of the Atlantic’s Wood, Haykel, Bergen and others have been gaining traction in policymaking circles in recent months. “It was disconcerting to be at [President Obama’s Countering Violent Extremism summit in February] and hear so many people discussing the [Atlantic] article while the president and others were trying to marginalise extremist claims to Islamic legitimacy.”

Mogahed is full-square behind her former boss’s decision to delink violent extremism from the Islamic faith in his public pronouncements.

“As [Obama] recently remarked, giving groups like IS religious legitimacy is handing them the ideological victory they desperately desire,” she says. This may be the most significant point of all to understand, as politicians, policymakers and security officials try (and fail) to formulate a coherent response to violent extremism in general and IS in particular.

To claim that IS is Islamic is egregiously inaccurate and empirically unsustainable, not to mention insulting to the 1.6 billion non-violent adherents of Islam across the planet.

Above all else, it is dangerous and self-defeating, as it provides Baghdadi and his minions with the propaganda prize and recruiting tool that they most crave.

 not afraid



Do not weep for the dead,
They do but sleep. See?

See. They float on a river of dreams,
gently rocked by ripples and currents.
Warmed by sun, cooled by zephyrs.
Do not even weep for their lost futures.
For their future is peace. And
when they awake, it will surely be to you.

Weep now for the sisters, leafing sadly through albums.
Touching a face, here and there.

Weep for the mothers, who hold their empty bellies.
Rocking with horror, a life unraveled.

Weep for the fathers, lips bitten through in inchoate rage.

Weep for the brothers, with no one left to tease.

Weep for the grandparents, dreams of second carings shattered.

Weep for the friends, struck suddenly dumb.

Weep for family celebrations with one chair always empty.

Weep for all who are
mesmerised by pictures,
strangled by sirens,
crying in bathrooms,
staring into emptiness,
fearful for the children,
losing perception,
casting this way and that,
picking flowers
in case it mattters.

Do not weep for the dead.
They would not wish it.
Think on them, because
you know it is true.

Weep now for the living.
The left behind.
Bind their wounds.
Listen in silence.

And weep for the world.
Wash it clean. And cleaner, still.
Make that their memorial.
And let it stand forever.


Pamela Smedley with her mother Betty in 1990

Image copyrightP amela Smedley Pamela (right) reunited with her mother in 1990.

Up until the late 1960s the UK sent children living in care homes to new lives in Australia and other countries. It was a brutal experience for many.

In the winter of 1949, 13-year-old Pamela Smedley boarded a ship to Australia with 27 other girls. She had been told by the nuns from the Catholic home she lived in that she was going on a day-trip. In reality, she was being shipped out to an orphanage in Adelaide and wouldn’t see England again for more than three decades.

“We thought it would be like going to Scarborough for the day because we were so innocent and naive,” says Pamela, who is now in her 70s and still lives in Adelaide.

“The nuns said that in Australia you could pick the oranges off the trees, and I was very excited because I loved oranges.”

Pamela’s unmarried Catholic mother had been pressured to give her up as a baby and so she was sent to live under the care of nuns at Nazareth House in Middlesbrough, Teesside.

Pamela Smedley at Goodwood Orphanage, 1952

Image copyright Pamela Smedley. Pamela Smedley at Goodwood Orphanage in 1952.

The place was cruel and joyless, according to Pamela, and she remembers that when the Reverend Mother asked who wanted to go to Australia, every girl in the home put their hand up.

Once the SS Ormonde set sail for its six-week voyage, the girls soon realised this would be no day-trip. Instead they were allowed to believe there would be families waiting to adopt them.

“We arrived wearing our winter coats and hats and I remember being hit by this stinking 100-degree heat,” recalls Pamela. “I hated it and when we found out we had travelled 10,000 miles just to be put in another orphanage we all just cried and cried.” Anyone who has ever been in Adelaide – a desert city – during summer will have the greatest sympathy with the new arrivals.

Children en route for emigration to Australia

Image copyright Molong Historical Society. Children en route for emigration to Australia, the subject of a new exhibition at the V&A Museum of Childhood in London.

Pamela would spend the next two years at the Sisters of Mercy Goodwood Orphanage, an imposing redbrick Catholic institution, home to about 100 children.

She was one of as many as 100,000 British children to be sent overseas to Canada, Australia and other Commonwealth countries as child migrants between 1869 and 1970.

Run by a partnership of charities, churches and governments, the schemes were sold as an opportunity for a better life for children from impoverished backgrounds and broken homes. In reality, an isolated and brutal childhood awaited many of them.

Pamela was one of an estimated 7,000 children to go to Australia, some as young as four. They were often given the false status of “orphans” to simplify proceedings – and most never saw their homes, or their families again.

Boy on ship

Image copyright Molong Historical Society An estimated 7,000 children were sent to Australia, like this boy

“Child migrants were actively solicited in Australia as a way of building up the white Anglo-Saxon population and to give the growing economy there a boost,” explains Gordon Lynch, Michael Ramsey Professor of Modern Theology at the University of Kent.

This was not something which happened under the radar – the vast majority of children were sent to Australia with government funding.

“It is sometimes easy to assume childcare continuously improves and becomes more enlightened, but by the time Pamela went out [to Australia] the child migration schemes were really running against the grain of accepted childcare practice in post-war Britain,” explains Lynch, who is also a contributing curator to a new exhibition around the subject at the V&A Museum of Childhood in London.

Upon arrival at Goodwood, all the children’s personal mementos – photographs, letters, toys – were taken from them and they were left with just a Bible. Everyone was terrified of the Reverend Mother, even the other nuns, says Pamela. She recalls the big strap the nun had around her waist which her rosaries would hang from.

“It is what she’d use to beat us – at night she would walk up and down the dormitories and if you so much as twitched in your bed you’d get the strap.”

Child migrants picking peas at the Fairbridge Farm School in the 1950s

Image copyright Molong Historical Society. Picking peas at the Fairbridge Farm School in the 1950s.

When she arrived, Pamela remembers defiantly shouting out “God Bless England!” during morning prayers, rather than saluting Australia, for which she received “the thrashing of her life” from the Reverend Mother. Eventually, the nun retired and was replaced with someone much kinder and more progressive, according to Pamela.

Daily life at Goodwood consisted of early prayers, chores and then school, followed by more chores, prayers and an early bedtime of 6pm.

A few hours a day would be spent making the strings butchers use to hang their meat. “It was very coarse string and it made our fingers bleed,” says Pamela. “If you did anything wrong the penalty was an extra 100 strings and the nun in charge would hit us with her walking stick.”

Forced child labour helped schemes like the one at Goodwood to be financially viable, according to Lynch.

Boys working on building site at Bindoon Boys' Town

Image copyright Molong Historical Society The migrant children were often used as cheap labour.

“It would often be presented as an opportunity for children to learn useful skills or a trade but it was much more about providing some economic contribution,” he explains.

Pamela also remembers working in the laundry room and would spend school holidays living with a family and being worked hard throughout her stay. “The two daughters in the family were very good to me but their mother just saw me as free labour,” she explains.

Pamela says that every now and then a priest would come to check up on how the children were getting on. “The nuns would stand right beside us when we were asked questions and toys would appear in time for his inspections, but as soon as he left they were taken away,” she says.

One of the biggest failings of these schemes was that staff were often poorly trained and poorly resourced and very few follow-up checks were made, explains Lynch. Eventually, the Ross Report came out in 1956, as the result of a visit to Australia by a British team of inspectors, commissioned by the Home Office.

“It made grim reading and said that children who’d already had disruptive backgrounds and been subjected to traumatic experience in the UK were really the last people who should be sent overseas,” says Lynch. Reflecting the sensitivity of the subect, confidential appendices, containing the worst of the findings, were not publicly released until 1983.

But despite the report, children continued to be shipped overseas. According to Lynch, the reality became “an uneasy truth” – the Home Office weren’t prepared to publicly go against the Commonwealth Relations Office (who were in charge of the schemes) so they tried to discourage local authorities from continuing to send children overseas instead.

A diary of the voyage to Australia written by one little girl, Maureen Mullins

Image copyright Molong Historical Society. Pages from the diary of 12-year-old Maureen Mullins, who emigrated to Australia on SS Otranto in 1952.

“Furthering the British Empire was still very much a priority and there was also a fear of going up against not only the Australian government, but the Catholic Church,” he explains.

The Australian government soon countered the Ross Report with its own glowing review of all the homes under criticism.

Sexual abuse was a harsh reality for many of the children under the care of these schemes, including Pamela, who was assaulted while on the voyage over to Australia and while working at an isolated shearing station, aged 15.

“We were taught never to let a man touch you and that was all I knew- so I believed I was a sinner and would go to hell for it,” she says. When it happened for the first time on the boat, the nuns in Pamela’s charge insisted she was just dreaming. “I was terrified and I still go to sleep with my hands guarding between my legs,” she says.

At the shearing station Pamela had just one weekend off every six weeks and spent her entire first pay on a ceramic miniature English house. “I bought it to remind me of England,” she says.

Desperate to break free of the scheme’s clutches, she got married three days after her 18th birthday. In 1989 she was connected with the Child Migrants Trust, who helped her to be reunited with her mother Betty. For 40 years Betty had believed Pamela was adopted by a loving family in England.

They kept in touch until Betty died, and in 2010 Pamela was one of 60 former child migrants to be flown over to England to hear an official apology from the then prime minister, Gordon Brown.

“I still have nightmares about what happened but hearing the apology gave me a little bit of peace,” says Pamela. “It showed that finally somebody cared about what happened to us.”

Pamela Smedley meeting Gordon Brown after the British government apologised for the migrant programme, 2010

Image copyright Pamela Smedley. Pamela Smedley meeting Gordon Brown after the British government’s official apology in 2010.

(Story from the BBC)

Along with the “Stolen Generation” of aboriginal kids removed from their families and their attempted “whitiefication”, the forced expatriation of British children remains one of the most shameful episodes in British history.

That so many of those children have gone on to be stalwarts of their community is entirely besides the point – so might they have become had they been left with their birth parents or cared for empathetically in their home country. The stagering cruelty of the Churches and the Governments of the time beggars belief.

The same question occurs again and again – “What on earth did they think they were doing?”

And what similar lunacies are still being pursued around the world?

A fascinating story has emerged from Syria of the way IS chose to treat a Christian priest and his community, reported by the BBC.

Father Jack Murad

Father Jack Murad spoke to BBC Arabic about his ordeal

Fr Jack told BBC Arabic what happened. He remembers how he and Botros Hanna were blindfolded and had their hands tied, before the car they were forced into sped away to an unknown destination “in the mountains around al-Qaryatain”.

After four days, the two men were blindfolded and handcuffed again, before being forced on a much longer journey.

They ended up in a cell somewhere in Raqqa, IS’s stronghold, where they were kept for 84 days.

The captives were well-fed, given medical treatment and never tortured, Fr Jack explained. But what stood out, he said, was the verbal abuse.

Fr Jack and Botros Hannah were repeatedly called “infidels” and told that they had strayed from the true religion of “Islam” – in particular, “Islamic State’s interpretation of Islam”.

Intriguingly, though, Fr Jack says his captors all seemed curious about his Christian beliefs.

“They would ask about my theology – God, the Holy Trinity, Christ, and the Crucifixion,” he said.

But he thought it pointless trying to answer.

“What’s the point of debating with someone who’s put you in prison and pointing their rifle at you?” Fr Jack asked rhetorically. “When I was forced to respond, I’d say ‘I’m not prepared to change my religion’.”

Death threats

Despite otherwise treating them well, the militants he met would scare prisoners, telling them they would be killed if they refused to convert.

‘For them, my fate for refusing to convert to Islam was death. To frighten us, they would even tell us in detail how we would die. They are truly gifted at using words and imagery to terrorise,” Fr Jack recalled.

The priest said the experience only strengthened his faith, although at the time he expected to be beheaded.

“On Day 84, the last day, an emir arrived, telling us “the Christians of al-Qaryatain have been pestering us about you and want you back, so come on, move.”

Ruins of Mar Elian Monastery (August 2015)

IS militants destroyed Fr Jack’s ancient monastery

‘We went past Palmyra and Sawwaneh, then the car disappeared into a tunnel. We were taken out of the car, and the emir took me by the hand towards a large iron door. He opened it, and I saw two guys from my parish standing there.”

They hugged and then Fr Jack looked up to find an astonishing scene.

“All the Christians of al-Qaryatain, my whole parish, my children were there. I was in shock. They were surprised and happy. They all came to embrace me.”

During his captivity, the town of al-Qaryatain had been captured by IS.

All of them were held captive another 20 days.

Finally, on the 31 August, Fr Jack was summoned before several IS clerics.

They wanted to convey what IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had decided about the fate of the Christians of al-Qaryatain.

Various options were on the table, including killing the men and enslaving the women.

Instead the IS leader chose to give the Christians the “right to live as citizens in territory held by Islamic State”, which meant returning their land, homes, and money in return for conditional IS protection.

‘Land of blasphemy’

Fr Jack told them everything he was asked about the churches and the monastery in al-Qaryatain, but omitted to mention Saint Elian’s grave, hoping he could spare it from destruction.

But it was difficult to fool the IS militants.

“They know everything, every detail.” Revealingly, the priest added “We tend to think of them as uncultured Bedouins. The opposite is true. They’re clever, educated, with university degrees, and meticulous in their planning.”

During his captivity the monastery had been confiscated by IS as a spoil of war during the battle for al-Qaryatain and was destroyed.

The IS clerics read out to him the terms of an agreement between the Christians of al-Qaryatain and Islamic State.


Under the deal, they could travel anywhere inside IS territory as far away as Mosul, but not to Homs or Mahin (which are closer, but outside IS control), “because to them, this is the land of blasphemy.”

Still, Fr Jack managed to leave the IS-held territory. Botros Hanna, the volunteer, also escaped with him.

“The area is a battlefield. On the one hand, the air force is shelling. On the other, we are not safe staying in al-Qaryatain. I felt that as long as I was there, the people would stay. So I felt I had to leave to encourage others to do the same.”

But not many more followed him afterwards.

“In fact many want to stay because they have nowhere else to go. Some can’t accept the idea of being displaced and would rather die at home. Others are convinced the Islamic State, with which they have a contract, will protect them.’

Fr Jack says 160 or so Christians are left in al-Qaryatain.

“They have stayed because they want to. We ask God to protect them because our town is a dangerous battlefield. There is no shelter, nowhere is safe.”

What does this story tell us about IS? On the surface, it tells us that their reality may be more nuanced than we might assume.

Or is that simply what they want us to think?

Did their leadership – who appear to have an excellent grasp of publicity, especially via social media – think that sparing the Christians would receive approving coverage in the rest of the world? Perhaps.

And yet their motivation for such a move is unclear. The “end times” cult that is IS positively welcomes the invasion of their Caliphate as the precursor to the Second Coming of Christ and their eventual triumph over the whole world. In short, they don’t care what we think of them, and have an agenda to provoke us.

Then again, maybe IS is like all organisations, made up of different strands of opinion, and on this occasion a less belligerent faction prevailed.

It is impossible to say, as we can’t ask them. And meanwhile, the slaughterhouse grinds on, and neighbouring countries struggle to deal with millions of people fleeing all the combatants, none of whom are innocent of terrible human rights abuses.

The failure of the world to prevent this entirely predictable mess, and our apparent inability to resolve it, is sobering indeed.

Reporting of Father Jack’s story by BBC Arabic’s Assaf Abboud and Rami Ruhayem

deadstate faith healing couple

An Oregon couple who chose prayer over doctors will go to prison for their child’s death.

Dale and Shannon Hickman don’t believe in doctors. Because of this religious conviction, set forth by the cult the couple belongs to, Oregon City’s Followers of Christ Church, the Hickmans let their premature infant die after being being born at home rather than seek medical help. As a result of this decision, the couple was convicted of manslaughter in 2011.

The little boy, named David Hickman, weighed just 3 lbs, 7 ounces at birth. His tragically short life was only 9 hours long. According to reports, the Hickmans went to Shannon’s mother for help when she began having contractions more than two months prior to her due date. The couple says they didn’t notice anything was wrong with the baby until just minutes prior to his death — a claim which an expert on this subject has called a lie. Instead of calling a hospital like most rational people, they prayed over the dying baby and “anointed” his head with oil.

Both halves of the Hickman couple will spend a minimum of 6 years and 3 months in prison for their actions, which is light, considering the fact that their child lost his life over their idiotic beliefs. The judge in the case, Robert Herndon, called one of the cult’s midwives “one of the most dangerous people in Oregon.”

Apparently, this cult is not just in one small congregation in Oregon, either. They have outfits operating in Idaho, Oklahoma, and California. The Idaho branch of the cult has suffered a string of easily preventable deaths as well. The same is true of a similar faith healing cult called General Assembly Church of the First Born.

The Hickmans’ lawyer said that there was no way to prove that the Hickmans acted “knowingly,” and that they knew their refusal of medical help would result in the baby’s death. The court shot that down:

“The inquiry was not whether defendants’ religiously motivated conduct was reasonable. Instead, the inquiry was whether a reasonable person would have been aware of the risk of David’s death.”

Of course they knew, and they’ll go to prison for it.

This cult and their brainwashing has been responsible for 78 child deaths and 10 women, all of whom died in childbirth.

Reproduced from

Believing something does not absolve you from being a reasonable and aware person or from your duty of care. An important legal principle, we believe.

Pope Francis says he didn’t have the time because he already had a date eating with the homeless. In fact, he is not only going to be eating with them, but serving them. The meal will take place at St. Patrick’s Church in Washington, D.C.

Rather than try to write some great prose about this situation, we will simply quote Eric March from the website Upworthy, because he nailed it:

Unlike some of his predecessors, Francis has reminded journalists and world leaders time and time again that the church is for the poor, blasted the global financial system which causes so much poverty in the first place, and called on Catholics across the globe to take action and start lifting up the most vulnerable among them.

He’s also spoken out forcefully against economic inequality.

Including some of the worst, most exploitative labor practices in the world, which create conditions that allow hardship and desperation to thrive.

Blowing off John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi to serve the homeless is pretty much the kind of badassery we’ve come to expect from this pope when it comes to speaking up for the world’s most hard-up.

“Pope Francis is the ultimate Washington outsider. His priorities are not Washington’s priorities,” said John Carr, director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University.

“We think we are the centre of the world. We are not the centre of Pope Francis’ world. He is frankly more comfortable in the slums of Argentina than in the corridors of power.”

Frank is also very comfortable trying to get the politicians of this world to understand that Climate change is real, and that it is caused by humanity, and that screwing the planet is not the sort of stewardship God intended us to follow.

We really like this guy. Really like him. He’s our type of Christian, and our type of leader.

We sincerely hope someone doesn’t shoot him, or that he doesn’t have a very convenient heart attack. And no, we’re not kidding.



Wandering around the worldwide interwebs can bring up a clutch of conspiracy theories, to be sure, but this link offers some of the more interesting UFO and “ghost” sitings recently captured on video.

Are these UFOs? Ghosts?

If you have five minutes spare, click the link, have a look and tell us what you think.

Have you ever seen what you consider to be a UFO? Or a ghost?

We happen to think, based on no evidence whatsoever, that sometimes universes in the “multiverse” bump into one another in a way we don’t understand, and we see shadows of what’s going on there.

We recently watched one of those brain-snapping TV speculative science shows that argued there was an infinite number of number of universes in which with every action – in every moment, for the whole of time – the universe continually splits. Turn left walking down the street, one universe is created. Turn right, a different one is. Both then exist side by side, interminably, constantly re-splitting.

Apparently the maths works. And no, we don’t pretend for one instant to understand it.

Are these UFOs? Ghosts?


We also think that in the future conquering time travel is inevitable, and in the universe as it stands right now, we can’t possibly be alone. So the idea of future beings or aliens checking us over doesn’t scare or surprise us at all.

Hey. Other recent research argues that aliens will look like us, pretty much. And if all the aliens look like Scarlett Johansson, frankly we say they can invade tomorrow.


Pope Francis. Photo: 14 June 2015

Pope Francis will call for swift action to protect the Earth and fight global warming, according to a leaked draft of the pontiff’s encyclical. Pope Francis puts much of the blame for global warming on human activities.

The document – published by Italy’s L’Espresso magazine – says global warming is directly linked to human activities and the intensive use of fossil fuels.

The Vatican called the leaking of the draft a “heinous” act. It said the final version would be released on Thursday as planned. However it will once again confirm this Pope as one of the most reforming and progressive in the Church’s history, and given the Roman church’s attitude to the infallibility of the Pope’s utterances, swing hundreds of millions of Roman Catholics behind the movement to combat man-made climate change. The Pope’s rumoured attitude has already brought attacks from right-wing Protestant Republican politicians in America.

One, Rick Santorum, argued the Pope should leave science to scientists, somewhat idiotically ignoring the fact that the Pope is, in fact, a scientist. Back when Pope Francis was still going by the handle of Jorge Bergoglio, he earned a master’s degree in chemistry from the University of Buenos Aires.

The pope’s career path isn’t all that unusual. His Jesuit order has a history of producing men with one foot in the spiritual world and another in the scientific realm. Czech astronomer and Jesuit Christian Meyer did pioneering work studying binary star systems in the 18th century. Bavarian-born Jesuit Franz Xaver Kugler did triple duty as a chemist, priest, and researcher of cuneiform tablets. And modern-day science writer and Jesuit Guy Consolmagno studies asteroids and meteorites at the Vatican Observatory.

“Doing science is like playing a game with God, playing a puzzle with God,” Consolmagno once told the Canadian Broadcasting Center. “God sets the puzzles, and after I can solve one, I can hear him cheering, ‘Great, that was wonderful, now here’s the next one.’ It’s the way I can interact with the Creator.”

Gregor Mendel was the founder of the science of genetics.

Gregor Mendel was the founder of the science of genetics.

Significant Roman Catholic contributions to science aren’t limited to the Jesuit order, though. The Augustinian friar Gregor Johann Mendel bred pea plants in the garden of his monastery and discovered the principles of genetics.

In 1927, Belgian priest Georges Lemaitre discovered the “redshift” phenomenon that describes how the farther away a galaxy is from Earth, the more of its light is shifted toward the red end of the visible spectrum. This was two years before the more widely reported discoveries by Hubble.

‘Enormous consumption’

The 192-page draft of the new encyclical – which is the highest level of teaching document a pope can issue – is entitled “Laudato Si: On the care of the common home”.

In the paper, Pope Francis presents both scientific and moral reasons for protecting God’s creation.

He puts much of the blame for global warming on human activities, mentioning the continual loss of biodiversity in the Amazonian rainforest and the melting of Arctic glaciers among other examples.

The draft also says that developing countries are bearing the brunt of the “enormous consumption” of some of the richest.

The pontiff calls on all humans – not just Roman Catholics – to prevent the destruction of the ecosystem before the end of the century and to establish a new political authority to tackle pollution.

The encyclical has been months in the writing, and the Pope is said to be keen for it to set the tone for the debate at a UN summit on climate change in November in Paris, the BBC’s Caroline Wyatt says.

(BBC and others)

At least 5,000 women are subject to honour killings every year, although it may be many more.

At least 5,000 women are subject to honour killings every year, although it may be many more.

A Turkish mother, 36, shot dead her daughter, 17, after finding out that she was three months pregnant, media reports said on Saturday.

The mother, named as Emine A., found out that her daughter Meryem A. was pregnant during a visit to neighbours, the Hurriyet daily reported.

She then went back home to find a gun and returned to shoot her daughter — who worked as a cashier in a market — five times, it said.

Bystanders outside the apartment block in the Selcuk district of the southern city of Nigde rushed to help and took Meryem to hospital but she died on the way.

The mother was detained by police but then had a nervous collapse and was hospitalised. The investigation is continuing.

Turkish authorities acknowledge there is a grave problem of violence against women in the country, although the vast majority of cases involving attacks perpetrated by men.

According to the non-governmental Platform to Stop Violence Against Women, 286 women were murdered in Turkey in 2014 and 134 so far in 2015.

(From AFP)



The days must be drawing in, thank the Good Lord, on famed televangelist and former Republican Presidential candidate Pat Robertson, who recently told a grieving mum that God allowed her son to die because he may be the next Hitler.

A woman wrote into his show “700 Club” seeking comforting words for her friend who’s mourning the loss of her 3-year-old child. She admits she cannot believe in a God who could watch the child die.

“I told her that I don’t know why her child died, but God sees the whole picture, we see only in part. What can I say?”

Robertson could have answered anything – he could have said, for example, the standard Christian response to suffering for over 1800 years, to wit, “God didn’t design the world so that everyone lives for exactly 70 years and then drops dead, because that would make life pretty terrifying. That’s why some people live for three days, three years, thirty years, or a hundred and three years.”

What Robertson failed to explain, however, is why God didn't in that case "remove" the original baby Hitler. Or Stalin.

What Robertson failed to explain, however, is why God didn’t in that case “remove” the original baby Hitler. Or Stalin.

However, Mr Robertson bizarrely took the chance to say that God might have saved the world from the second coming of Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin.

“As far as God’s concerned, He knows the end from the beginning and He sees a little baby and that little baby could grow up to be Adolf Hitler, he could grow up to be Joseph Stalin, he could grow up to be some serial killer, or he could grow up to die of a hideous disease,” he said. God sees all of that, and for that life to be terminated while he’s a baby, he’s going to be with God forever in Heaven so it isn’t a bad thing.”

That’s just the comfort the people involved needed. In news to hand, as he’s now 85, the Good Lord tells us that it can’t be all that long now till he gathers Pat Robertson to Himself so that he can enjoy his eternal reward. Or whatever God has in store for him. Thank you, God.

Other Robertson controversies you may care to contemplate. Please note, these are sourced from other media and Wikipedia and we have not cross-checked them (we do not have the capacity to do so, even though we are aware of some of them already). Accordingly, we would, of course, remove and apologise for anything that is demonstrated to us as not true. But we do not expect to have to do so.

Banning inter-racial dating should remove your tax exempt status

Mr Robertson also made headlines this year after stating that Christian schools who ban inter-racial dating (really?!) should remain tax exempt stating that it was “chilling” to see the Internal Revenue Service punish Bob Jones University for their ban.

America is run by “termites” and “anti-Christian destroyers”

In an August 1986 New York magazine article Robertson was quoted saying, “It is interesting, that termites don’t build things, and the great builders of our nation almost to a man have been Christians, because Christians have the desire to build something. He is motivated by love of man and God, so he builds. The people who have come into [our] institutions [today] are primarily termites. They are into destroying institutions that have been built by Christians, whether it is universities, governments, our own traditions, that we have… The termites are in charge now, and that is not the way it ought to be, and the time has arrived for a godly fumigation.”

Sex before marriage

During Robertson’s unsuccessful presidential bid in 1987, Robertson told a Wall Street Journal reporter that his wedding date was actually five months after the date he had always maintained. Reporters said that the actual wedding date meant that his first son was conceived out of wedlock and that Robertson had lied about the date of his marriage in an attempt to cover the truth up. While conceding the reports were accurate, Robertson said that conceiving his son out of wedlock occurred before Jesus Christ had entered his life. Robertson denounced the media choosing to report on the issue as “outrageous” and “reprehensible.” Or good journalism, depending on your point of view.

Other Protestants are the spirit of the AntiChrist


"Go on ... let's have women bishops. I dare you."

“Go on … let’s have women bishops. I dare you.”


On January 14, 1991, on The 700 Club, Pat Robertson attacked a number of Protestant denominations when he declared: “You say you’re supposed to be nice to the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians and the Methodists and this, that, and the other thing. Nonsense. I don’t have to be nice to the spirit of the Antichrist.” You might not have realised you were praying to the Antichrist if you’re a member of those denominations.

Only Christians and Jews should hold Government roles

Robertson has frequently criticised other religions. In his book The New World Order, Robertson wrote: “When I said during my presidential bid that I would bring only Christians and Jews into the government, I hit a firestorm. ‘What do you mean?’ the media challenged me. ‘You’re not going to bring atheists into the government? How dare you maintain that those who believe in Christian values are better qualified to govern America than Hindus and Muslims?’ My simple answer is, ‘Yes, they are.'” David Cantor, Senior Research Analyst of the Anti-Defamation League, points out that such “religious tests for office are unconstitutional. It’s not just a purely a religious statement. It’s a political statement.”

On Feminism

Unsurprisingly, Robertson is opposed to abortion and same-sex marriage.

He has described feminism as a “socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.”

Wow. You might not have realised wanting equal pay and life opportunity means that, but there we go.

That’s why we need Pat Robertson, we suppose.

Deceptive appeals

Mark Earley

Mark Earley

An investigation by the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Office of Consumer Affairs determined that Robertson “willfully induced contributions from the public through the use of misleading statements and other implications” and called for a criminal prosecution against Robertson in 1999.

However, Virginia Attorney General Mark Earley, a Republican whose largest campaign contributor two years earlier was Robertson himself, intervened, accepting that Robertson had made deceptive appeals but overruling the recommendation for his prosecution.

Support for Liberian dictator guilty of “aiding and abetting as well as planning some of the most heinous and brutal crimes recorded in human history”

Robertson repeatedly supported former President of Liberia Charles Taylor in various episodes of his The 700 Club program during the United States’ involvement in the Second Liberian Civil War in June and July 2003. Robertson accused the U.S. State Department of giving President Bush bad advice in supporting Taylor’s ouster as president, and of trying “as hard as they can to destabilize Liberia.”

Robertson was criticised for failing to mention in his broadcasts his US$8,000,000 investment in a Liberian gold mine.


Charles Taylor


Taylor had been indicted by the United Nations for war crimes at the time of Robertson’s public support.

Prosecutors also said that Taylor had harboured members of Al Qaeda responsible for the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. According to Robertson, the Liberian gold mine Freedom Gold was intended to help pay for humanitarian and evangelical efforts in Liberia, when in fact Wikipedia reports that the company was allowed to fail leaving many debts both in Liberia and in the international mining service sector. Regarding this controversy, Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy said, “I would say that Pat Robertson is way out on his own, in a leaking life raft, on this one.”

As regards Charles Taylor, in 2006, the newly elected President of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf formally requested his extradition, after which he was detained by UN authorities in Sierra Leone and then at the Penitentiary Institution Haaglandenin in The Hague, awaiting trial. He was found guilty in April 2012 of all eleven charges levied by the Special Court, including terror, murder and rape. In May of 2012, Taylor was sentenced to 50 years in prison. Reading the sentencing statement, Presiding Judge Richard Lussick said: “The accused has been found responsible for aiding and abetting as well as planning some of the most heinous and brutal crimes recorded in human history.”

Politicians’ stroke and assignation “judgement by God”

The lead story on the January 5, 2006, edition of The 700 Club was Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s hospitalization for a severe stroke. After the story, Robertson said that Sharon’s illness was possibly retribution from God for his recent drive to give more land to the Palestinians. He also claimed former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s 1995 assassination may have occurred for the same reason.

Anyway, we could go on – there is much, much more – but we feel that adequately demonstrates just who exactly this thoroughly disreputable man is.

CBNThe 700 Club is part of the Christian Broadcasting Network.

On its website, CBN describes itself as “a global ministry committed to preparing the nations of the world for the coming of Jesus Christ through mass media. Using television and the Internet, CBN is proclaiming the Good News in 147 countries and territories, with programs and content in 62 languages.” The CBN website also proudly announces:

The 700 Club can be seen in 96 percent of the homes in the U.S. and is carried on ABC Family cable network, FamilyNet, Trinity Broadcasting Network, plus numerous local U.S. television stations, and is seen daily by approximately one million viewers. CBN International maintains 15 television production centers around the world that create indigenous versions ofThe 700 Club and other Christian programs in 39 languages.  CBN International programs are broadcast in 138 countries to an estimated yearly viewing audience of 360 million people.



all is well

This is how I want it to be when I go. Beautiful, and apposite.

I posted it on Facebook this morning, and later on got a message from one of my oldest friends saying he was about to fly home to his mother’s funeral. His distress was somewhat alleviated; he now felt all is well.

God moves in a mysterious way, his wonders to perform.

I was so taken with the words that undertook to find out who wrote them. The writings are actually a poem written by Victorian churchman and academic Henry Scott Holland.

Holland (27 January 1847 – 17 March 1918) was Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Oxford. He was also a canon of Christ Church, Oxford. The Scott Holland Memorial Lectures are held in his memory.

He was born at Ledbury, Herefordshire, the son of George Henry Holland (1818–1891) of Dumbleton Hall, Evesham, and of the Hon. Charlotte Dorothy Gifford, the daughter of Lord Gifford, and educated at Eton where he was a pupil of the influential Master William Johnson Cory, and at the Balliol College where he took a first class degree in Greats. During his Oxford time he was greatly influenced by the philosopher and political radical T.H. Green.

In 1884, he left Oxford for St Paul’s Cathedral where he was appointed canon.

He was keenly interested in social justice and formed PESEK (Politics, Economics, Socialism, Ethics and Christianity) which blamed capitalist exploitation for contemporary urban poverty. In 1889, he formed the Christian Social Union.

In 1910, he was appointed Regius Professor of Divinity, a post he held until his death in 1918. He is buried in the churchyard of All Saints church, Cuddesdon near Oxford. Because of his surname, the writer, secretary and political activist Mary Gladstone (daughter of Prime Minister Gladstone) referred to him affectionately as “Flying Dutchman” and “Fliegende Hollander”.

While at St Paul’s Cathedral Holland delivered a sermon in May 1910 following the death of King Edward VII, titled Death the King of Terrors, in which he explores the natural but seemingly contradictory responses to death: the fear of the unexplained and the belief in continuity. It is from his discussion of the latter that perhaps his best-known writing, Death is nothing at all, is drawn: the frequent use of this passage has provoked some criticism that it fails to accurately reflect either Holland’s theology as a whole, or the focus of the sermon in particular. What has not provoked as much criticism is the affinity of Holland’s passage to St. Augustine’s thoughts in his 4th Century letter 263 to Sapida, in which he writes that Sapida’s brother and their love, although he has died, still are there, like gold that still is yours even if you save it in some locker.

Which is another sweet thought to end on.

Panorama of Dushanbe

Dushanbe – next stop for IS?

This article by Deidrie Tynan from the impeccably credentialled makes sobering reading. In the West we have been focused on the IS threat to Syria and Iraq and some other concerns about the ideological cover they give other extremists in North Africa, Nigeria and the Arabian peninsula. But were the eschatological lunacies of the jihadists – obsessed with their “end of days” interpretation of Islam – to also take root throughout central Asia then the cataclysmic effect on their weak civic societies could be catastrophic. And then they will also be cheek by jowl with China, too.

This fearful tide is digging its roots deep into the disposessed and desperate minds of the young in many areas. It will only be rolled back by a whole of world effort. The world’s superpowers must immediately co-operate to crush the group and return the areas it now controls to normality. And then, crucially, economic aid must flow in to rebuild the countries and provide legitimacy for the removal of IS.

Tajikistan commander Gulmurod Khalimov, chief of Tajikistan's paramilitary police unit (OMON) appeared on an ISIS propaganda video released on 27 May 2015.

Tajikistan commander Gulmurod Khalimov, chief of Tajikistan’s paramilitary police unit (OMON), appeared on an ISIS propaganda video released on 27 May 2015.

The appearance of Colonel Gulmurod Khalimov in an Islamic State (IS) propaganda video on 27 May has sent a chill across Central Asia. The head of Tajikistan’s Special Assignment Police Unit (OMON), a key element in President Emomali Rahmon’s security apparatus, had disappeared shortly before. In the video he promised to return to Tajikistan to wage violent jihad.

A trained-in-Russia-and-America veteran of brutal Tajik government operations, Khalimov has the qualifications. And Tajikistan, a desperately poor country ruled by a venal elite, is a vulnerable target. As I drove to its capital, Dushanbe, last summer through the ancient city of Khujand and the rickety, fume-filled, Iranian-built Shariston tunnel, I saw poverty and isolation that eclipses the worst pockets of deprivation in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.

Khalimov has been an intimate of that elite, but at 40 years old he is relatively young and forceful, unlike the elderly, usually corrupt figures who have previously promoted themselves as Islamist guerrilla leaders in Tajikistan. His defection is a blow to Rahmon’s regime on many levels. He speaks to the parts of the elite not yet bought off and to the alienation of a substantial segment of society.

His message may be draped in Islamic fundamentalist rhetoric, but it is based on some of the potent, more worldly aspects of IS appeal. “Going out to work every morning, look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself: Are you ready to die for this state or not”, he said directly to the underpaid, overstretched Tajik security forces. “I am ready to die for the Caliphate – are you?”

More than one million Tajik migrants work low-paid jobs in Russia. The remittances they send back make up more than 40 per cent of its GDP. But the value of the remittances is plummeting as Russia veers toward economic crisis. Nearly 200,000 of the migrants went home to bleak prospects in the second half of 2014 alone.

To Tajiks still in Russia, the police commander’s message was “you have become the slaves of non-believers. Why do you humiliate yourself working for non-believers while they must work for you? Join us, brothers … there are no nationalities or states in the Islamic State and our nationality is Islam”.

The eight million people of Tajikistan have known much violence already in their quarter-century of independence since the Soviet Union’s collapse. Rahmon, the only president the country has had, consolidated his power in a civil war against Islamists that ended in 1997. By side-lining the relatively moderate Islamic Renaissance Party earlier this year, he further alienated the devout and gave plausibility to those who argue that with other options closed, extremism is only the politics of last resort.

IS and other foreign fighters, probably the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, are already operating on Tajikistan’s southern border, but that is not the only fault line. Gorno-Badakhshan, high in the Pamirs – a twelve- to fifteen-hour drive when roads are passable – is inhabited by ethnically distinct Pamiris, who were with the rebels in the civil war and barely accept central power today.

Badakhshan has a long, open border with Afghanistan to the south, Kyrgyzstan to the north and China to the east. The Taliban are already active on the immediate Afghan side of that border. It may only be a matter of time before IS is there too.

The Tajik-Afghan border already attracts Russian attention. Even two years ago, an official of the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) of a half-dozen ex-Soviet republics told me it was uncontrollable and deadly. This year a Russian diplomat said privately that if the Tajik government requested it, Russia would return troops to it.

The apprehension does not stop there. Neighbouring Uzbekistan – Central Asia’s most populated and most authoritarian state – and chaotic, coup-prone Kyrgyzstan, would be deeply troubled by serious unrest in Tajikistan.

International Crisis Group has been in Central Asia for fifteen years, arguing that the West, particularly the U.S., is building a dangerous debit sheet here. To gain logistical help for war in Afghanistan, it has partnered with dictators like Rahmon and Uzbekistan’s Karimov, accepting excesses excused as counter-terrorism, including repression of peaceful Islamic manifestations.

If other security figures follow Khalimov’s lead, the bill to pay could be steep, and there will not be credit left to pay it with.

Surrounded by blackness on all sides, in utter impenetrable silence, and for a very, very, very long time, it did nothing.

There was nothing to see, so it did not see. Nothing to hear, so it did not hear. Nothing to feel, so it did not feel.

There were simply vast, unconscionable amounts of entirely nothing.

So – most importantly for our story – it thought nothing, either. With no external stimuli to provoke it, it simply did not concern itself with anything; it merely peacefully existed.

And incredible as it might seem in light of what happened later, for some handfuls of millions of years it did not even notice itself.

Then, during one instant which it would remember – well, forever, actually – a small, shiny proton appeared momentarily.

Over there. In what it would later come to know as “left”. And also “down a bit”.

Later – much, much later – it would come to understand that the lonely proton had flared into being for a few hundredths of a second as the result of a random and unpredictable thermo-dynamic fluctuation in the void in which it itself floated.

Like the last dying ripple of a stone cast into a pond uncountably many leagues away, space and time had broken upon the shores of its awareness in the form of one of the smallest building blocks of the Universe. And then it had immediately ceased, for with nothing around it to cling to the proton instantly had broken down into its components and they had dissipated into the nothingness almost too quickly to be observed.

Except the brief, evanescent burst of the proton was seen by the being – which, without even realizing it was doing it, had been peacefully observing nothing, and everything, with absolute and immediate accuracy.  And that was why, despite its apparent slumber, it could not miss the arrival, and near-simultaneous departure, of the pretty little particle.

The glittering sub-atomic appearance, brief and unthreatening though it was, nevertheless troubled it greatly.

Contradictions and nervousness rippled through it. It shook with excitement. Seething with speculation, for untold millennia it considered one critical and shocking question.

Not, as one might have imagined, wondering “What Was That?” No, no. What first occupied its attention was a much more pressing problem than the transitory proton.

What nagged away at it insistently was the question: “What am I?”

“What am I?” it wondered. “What am I?”

With no previous consciousness, and with no terms of reference whatsoever, it marveled at itself, and at this new sensation of existence, without, in truth, the slightest understanding of what was going on.

Casting frantically this way and that to work out what it was, it looked about itself, systematically, but in utter confusion.

Up and Down. Side to Side. In and Out. Backwards and Forwards. Along every plane and from every angle. Indeed, from many different perspectives simultaneously.

(If it did but know it, it actually looked for all the world like a large mahogany gentleman’s desk inlaid with a rather dinky line of shell marquetry around its edges and its drawers. Lots of drawers, in fact, with little pressed-metal knobs, that held promise of all sorts of treasures hidden away inside, and a couple of attractive glass paperweights adorned its leather-inlaid heart. But it wouldn’t understand all this until much later.)

Time passed. Lots of it. Loads and loads and loads of time.

Soon enough, and in a neat twist of reasoning that we can ascribe to what it actually was – which for want of a better term we could describe as “a really, really, really clever thing” – it soon realized that its own sudden and shocking existence was perhaps most easily understood by reference to what it was not. And in a miraculously short time after that, (for its powers of perception were, indeed, remarkably unconstrained), it had consequently separated the Universe into two orderly halves.

One half of everything it perceived to be it fittingly called “Me”.

The other half, it called “Not Me”.

The Me was pleased and much relieved by this development. Its jarringly unexpected coming-into-being seemed much less troublesome now that everything was neatly broken down into itself and … something else.

Thus reassured, it settled down to make a full and patient examination of itself.

Driven by insatiable curiosity, it first tried to work out why it had suddenly become conscious of its inherent Me-ness in the first place.

Time passes. Listen. Time passes. – Dylan Thomas

By dint of absence of any other observable data at all, it almost immediately decided that the sheer,ineffable thrill of the proton’s appearance had awoken its knowledge of itself. It could remember nothing before that, and so it seemed perfectly practical to place this sudden awareness of itself and its surroundings to that startlingly incandescent moment.

Next it spent a few million years pondering the proton. Was the Me somehow related to it? Connected to it in some way? Should it search for it? Was it coming back? Was it important? Indeed, as the only thing it had ever experienced, were the Me and the proton all there was to consider?

For what seemed like a very long time indeed, but in the scheme of things was merely a blink of the Me’s eye, the Me looked around and wondered why no other protons had appeared to disturb it, before or since.

But after an æon or two of this, it happened on a thought that occupied it even more deeply.

Surely, it reasoned to itself, what the proton was could not be nearly as important as another question that bothered it constantly – like the buzzer on a motel clock radio after too many drinks the night before – and that question, of course, was why, for goodness sake, had the Me not been aware of anything before the proton?

Beyond the awful, inky nothing that surrounded the Me, (which was, in fact, only three billionths of an inch thick, but being so thoroughly enmeshed in its musings it hadn’t actually noticed that yet), the Not Me pressed inwards. It edged silently towards the Me, as if holding its breath for the answer to this one. Not Me quaked and tightened around the Me, just by a fraction, and whispered silently to itself, listening, wondering, waiting.

And then – perhaps somehow alerted by the new-found excitement in the Not Me – the Me saw to its wonderment that far from being empty as it had assumed, the Not Me that was near it was actually jam-packed with innumerable billions and billions of particles crowding nearby, just beyond the layer of darkness, vibrating slowly – so slowly, in fact, and in such tiny increments of space – that the Me hadn’t even realised that the Not Me was moving at all!

Gazing in amused wonderment, the now insatiably inquisitive Me was straight way tempted to investigate further the gentle quadrille of the miniscule particles that swirled around it.

But without an answer to the nub of its problem, to wit: why it had not perceived its ownself at some point before what it had recently decided to call “Now” – or indeed, why it had not noticed the crowded, quivering Not Me earlier, which after all was only just over there outside the Me, so close at hand – the Me was frankly too troubled to do so.

So after trying and failing to find any concrete answers by simply looking about a bit, and drawing on hitherto unsuspected intellectual resources that spontaneously delighted it, the Me resolved – for it was nothing if not a very practical being, as we shall see – that it would simply have to run with what would eventually become known in another place as an assumption.

In short: the Me decided that in the absence of observable empiric data, it made good sense to “make up something that fits, until you can prove it’s wrong”.

(And thus it brought into being that delightful hobby for people with staring eyes and strange haircuts who listen to Laurie Anderson CDs on repeat known as Theoretical Physics, but of course it didn’t know that then.)

In this wise, the Me plumped for the conclusion that – before what it now called “the Me moment” – it had simply not been necessary for it to be self-aware.

For want of a better explanation, it assumed that although it had existed, it had not needed to know of its existence – and so, post hoc ergo propter hoc, as it were, it did not know.

The Me patiently examined this conclusion from all possible angles, and could not fault it.

(You might imagine that it would also have paused to wonder how it could so instinctively express its cogitation in obscure Latin phrases, a language that had not been used anywhere in existence yet, but that was just one of innumerable trifling considerations that would have to wait until more important questions had been answered.)

Ploughing remorselessly on now, the Me then painstakingly worried away at another thought that had occurred to it, from amongst the untold trillions of thoughts that it had every second. And this one was a real biggie.

That not just “it” but “Everything” must have some purpose, if only to take its natural place in the scheme of things.

This first and most painful bout of existential angst was very intense, but quickly resolved. Yes, yes! It must surely be true! Even if the purpose of a thing was merely to lie passively next to some other Me-ness, like a compliant jigsaw piece fitting neatly into another, purpose there had to be. Pointlessness was surely pointless.

And just as it now observed that the endless particles around it in the Not Me were somehow interlaced seamlessly with one another, and that to remove even one from its place would cause a cataclysmic rent and collapse, so therefore it, too, the Me, must be where (and when) it was for a reason. For if the Me held no inherent purpose, no relationship with something, even if it did not yet know what that something was, then why would it exist? But it did exist, so therefore it must have some role to play. “I exist, therefore I should exist” it trilled.

The next thought arrived a nano-second later. “So what am I for?” it demanded of itself. “What am I for?”

Breathlessly rushing on for a few million years, the Me rifled through the arguments available to it like an over-excited burglar happening on a fortuitously open bank vault.

It reasoned that it must have begun at a particular point, and at some stage it had become needed by … well, something, or because of something … and so – of course! – before that moment self-knowledge would have served no purpose, because – and the Me raced effortlessly forward to its conclusion! – to be aware, but purposeless, would indisputably have no point at all, as mere awareness, it was sure, affected nothing else, either positively or negatively. And, indeed, might be intolerably boring.

(Thrilled with this reasoning, it made itself a mental note: ““Quod erat demonstrandum: we all do what we can.” It was not sure why this thought was important, but felt convinced it was, and promised itself that it would return to nut it out, one day.)

So. Conclusion: the Me fitted in somehow as well. Because it must!

It rippled and rang with the sheer orgiastic delight of its logic. Very well, it mused, it didn’t yet know what the reason for its own existence was, but it felt distinctly less alarmed now it had deduced that a reason must exist, and soon enough, if it continued to concentrate, it was confident it would work out what it was.

Having now been on the job for what seemed to it, suddenly, as an awfully long time, the Me paused for a well-earned rest. Happy with where it had got to so far, it rather liked the sensation of not doing much thinking for a while.

It added another note to its rapidly growing list of things to remember. “Take a break from thinking now and then. Maybe about 14.2857 recurring percent of the time,” it advised itself portentously, along the way inventing Sunday, the decimal system and a few other useful concepts without even noticing. Meanwhile, the Not Me crept ever closer, and waited anxiously for the whole complex tangle to be sorted out on the Me’s mental blackboard.

Lolling around in the dark, approvingly noticing the inlay around the edges of its drawers for the first time, the Me now began to dimly recognise the awesome deductive capacity it could marshal with such little effort.

It was as if it already knew anything it needed to know; all it had to do was turn its attention to a problem and the resolution would eventually become clear, like mist clearing on a beautiful, still lake of knowledge. And with this awareness, the tensions within it settled somewhat. There was a reason why. Because there had to be. So now, the Big One. What could that reason possibly be?

Here, the being’s deductive process – which was rigorous and invariably accurate, if for no other reason than it had an innate ability to consider all probabilities simultaneously and ascribe correct values to them – nevertheless slowed down just a little, because the number of possible reasons why it existed were so vast as to tax even its own seemingly inexhaustible computational capacity.

It spent some time, for example, wondering whether it was supposed to be a forty-seven inch flat-screen hi-definition television, an item with whose innate angular beauty it was instantly infatuated, and which was tremendously thrilling and desirable and perfect for viewing something it decided to call “sports”, and it would have been really quite content to be a television forever were it not, obviously, for the complete absence of anything to be watched on itself, at least until about a trillion years from then.

It thus followed, the Me reasoned carefully, that whilst it might become just such an item at some stage in the future, it was highly unlikely that it was supposed to be a flat-screen TV just yet. It similarly rejected being a “V8 Supercar”, “Designer Fragrance”, or “Hollywood Red Carpet Interviewer” for the same reason.


For a long time it was quite taken with the idea of being a conveniently-sized ball of dung, stationed outside the home of every industrious little dung beetle, so that their existence would not be so miserably dominated by scouring the desert for poo of all shapes and sizes and then spending hours in the hot sun uncomplainingly prodding it into an easily-maneuverable shape and size.

The Me felt very compassionate towards the tireless little beetle. He reasoned that even as he extended compassion to the Least so he extended it, by proxy to the All. The idea amused the Me, and it made a point to remember it.

Not entirely au fait, as yet, with the niceties of mass marketing, the Me even nevertheless drafted a quick advertising jingle to promote the idea that went something like this.

“Poo, poo, just made for you,

 yes, do do do, choose ezy-poo

 delivered to you, you’ll be glad too

 with A-may-zing easy-roll Poo-poopy-doo!”

Being a ball of poo would, it felt sure, would be a selfless and meaningful reason to exist.

But sadly, once again, the fact that no dung beetles would be around for quite some time stymied that line of enquiry, too. Then in quick succession, it considered and rejected, for various reasons, the proposition that it was a field of daffodils enlivening the surface of a small rocky planet in the Lamda Quadrant, a very obvious cure for Malaria merely waiting to be discovered, or whether it was a rather nasty virus that caused the four-winged, Greater Blue Flerterbee to fall out of the sky unexpectedly and in alarming numbers on a rather nice globe circling two twin suns in a galaxy with a rather curious Coke-bottle shape, thus leading to the extinction of all life-forms on that planet within a couple of generations.

None fitted.

Last, but by no means least, and with an aesthetic sense that it found delightfully unexpected and artistic, it wondered whether or not it was merely supposed to fill the space around it with floating three-dimensional pyramids made of delicately scented orange seaweed and sparkling Tarl Tree blossoms.

(And that one nearly won, actually. Which would have been interesting.)

Yes, able, now, to roam its growing understanding in all directions at one and the same time, the Me patiently examined of all these intriguing options, and more.

It considered alternative reasons for its own existence to the value of 10 x 10²°. Which really was an awful lot of reasons. And sooner or later, as a direct result of its nascent omniscience, and with a rather annoyed snort of surprise – in light of its previous lack of wakefulness – it was very soon after additionally confronted by a growing certainty that it had always existed. Putting it at its most simple, the Me realised it had always been there.

Always, and forever.

This was an unexpectedly Big Thought. In fact, to be frank, it was a Big Thought And A Half.

Wandering up and down the timeline now, watching itself, it very quickly also correctly surmised that it always would exist, too. Right up until, well … forever, really. And once it had occurred, this new Thought seemed entirely appropriate and natural and comfortable.

Until, that was: until it observed – with some further distress – that all around it other things were coming into being and then moving into non-being with astonishing regularity.

Indeed, it rapidly deduced that moving into non-existence was much more common than moving peacefully through existence with no apparent end, and, indeed, after a few more millennia, it observed that it could find no other beings that shared its own notable, distinguishing, essential never-endingness.

This latest discovery intrigued it mightily. In fact, so mightily was the Me intrigued that it stopped worrying about what it was for a moment, and started looking around with more interest.

It was simply fascinated by the sheer … dyingness … of all it saw around it.

The Me wasn’t sure where it had got that word from, and there was something about it that it didn’t like all that much, but it didn’t have time to worry about trivia. Not when it observed that unlike itself, everything around it seemed to be in the process of discharging tiny amounts of energy, and in doing so, declining to entirely predictable, unavoidable nothingness.

There was an alarmingly vast amount of this decline going on. All around it, apparently spontaneous changes were going on all the time to smooth out differences in temperature, pressure, density, and chemical potential. In fact, the more it went on, the more it went on. Yes! There was no denying it. The process was accelerating.

Still somewhat uncomfortable with “dyingness”, the Me hastily coined the term “entropy” to describe this apparently calamitous force that it observed in the Not Me all around him.

The Me took a step back, and thought for a while.

It took a step back, and carefully considering all the observable phenomena, it came up with something rather like this to define what it was seeing:

Quantitatively, entropy is defined by the differential quantity dS = δQ / T, where δQ is the amount of heat absorbed in an isothermal and reversible process in which the system goes from one state to another, and T is the absolute temperature at which the process is occurring.

Encouraged by this understanding, the Me now also understood that more precisely:

In any process where the system gives up energy ΔE, and its entropy falls by ΔS, a quantity at least TR ΔS of that energy must be given up to the system’s surroundings as unusable heat (TR being the temperature of the system’s external surroundings). Otherwise the process it was observing would not go forward.

And in a rollicking fever of enthusiasm, it also realized that:

The entropy is defined as the number of microscopic configurations that result in the observed macroscopic description of the thermodynamic system, or:

where kB is something that would become known as Boltzmann’s constant 1.38066×10−23 J K−1 and   is the number of microstates corresponding to the observed thermodynamic macrostate calculated using the multiplicity function.

And that was how, after all this feverish figuring, that the Me finally came to know what its reason was.

There was no doubt. The terrible, incontrovertible fact was that – all around it, wherever it looked – the Not Me was dying.

Inexorably, undeniably, because of its own nature which it could not escape, the Not Me was destined, finally, to become perfectly smooth and calm, in a state of utter non-ness, untroubled by thermo-dynamic fluctuations, and unutterably silent and quiet. It was a fate from which there was no return, for once reached, there was nothing to rekindle the energies expended.

The Not Me would simply cease to exist.

And then, the Me mused, what would become of Me?

Would I exist alone? With nothing left to observe, perhaps, but nonetheless awake?

And in a fraction of a millisecond, it knew that this outcome was too awful to contemplate. Utter knowledge, surrounded by utter nothingness, would be unbearable to it now.

Driven back to the fundamentals by its own ruthless logic, the Me considered again the beginning of its own awareness. It saw clearly now – “How could it not have known?” it berated itself angrily – that the tiny, scintillating proton had been a desperate cry for help from the Not Me. It was so obvious! Aware of its own inherent, inexorable non-ness, it had turned to the all-knowing Me to find a solution. And perhaps, even, the Not Me had known – somehow – that the Me needed the Non-Me too. That once awoken, it would have to act, for not to act would leave it, ultimately, alone and perfectly brilliant, transfixed in horrified eternally silent and motionless despair.

And as it divined its purpose, the Me also saw that it was capable of decisive action. In an instant of perception, it was transformed. It became action personified.

Surging forward through the darkness that surrounded it, the Me spoke with a voice that resonated through the umpteen layers of reality.  For the first time in history, it spoke effortlessly and in chorus to the largest perfect number of particles of all kinds that it could see … crying out to the 232,582,656 × (232,582,657 − 1) tiny building blocks that it somehow instantly knew made up the Not Me.

“I Am!” it thundered, for the whole Not Me to hear.

The words echoed through all of existence like nothing had every done before. (Which was literally true, as it had just invented sound.) And the ever more confident Me really liked the phrase. It felt appropriate and proper, somehow. So it repeated it.

“I Am … The I Am!”

It rolled the phrase round and round, enjoying its profundity and orderliness. How it was so perfectly Beginning and End-ish. The Me made a jotting in the margin of History to use the phrase again when it felt the need to explain itself to someone.

It stretched, and stretched, pushing its boundaries outwards, tearing away at the darkness that clung stubbornly to it like wet serge shorts on a schoolboy’s leg. Yes, it knew its reason for existence now, and faced with such a cause, its course of action was as clear to it now as a shining new dawn.

It must act at once to end the dreaded entropy: for it was the Me’s job to banish this awful dyingness and save the Not Me, before it became quiet and flat and silent and the Me was left to stare at where it had been, alone and mad.

And now it also knew with perfect understanding that this task would become something of a recurring leitmotif for its own existence. A struggle – just beginning – which it could now see with terrible clarity would last until the end of Time.

“Listen! Everything!” it cried, in a voice that brooked no opposition. “Listen to me!”

The Not Me took a firm grip on itself and held on tight. It waited, hushed and expectant, for what it knew had to come, and what had come before, and what would come again, impossibly far into the future.

With a giant, convulsive gasp, the Me cried out in a great and terrible voice.

“Let … there … be … Light!”

And lo, there was Light. And man, it was good.


Screenshot of Mutlu from YouTube


Last weekend the world thrilled to the fun of the Eurovision Song Contest. But now the shooting of a 19-year-old woman following an appearance singing on TV is bringing violence against women in Turkey to light. Mutlu Kaya was shot in the head southeastern Turkey’s Diyarbakir, in what is the most recent in a string of high-profile attacks on women in the country. Her crime? Singing. That’s it.

Such cases have brought attention to a rising tide of violence against women in Turkey. According to Bianet, a Turkey-based NGO and news source, there was a 31 percent increase in murders of women by men between 2013 and 2014. Researchers place the number of women murdered in 2014 at nearly 300.

According to local media, Kaya began receiving death threats from her extended family after being selected to appear on national TV in Sesi Cok Guzel, a talent competition in the vein ofAmerica’s Got Talent. Kaya was shot in the head while at home early Monday morning. She was rushed to a local hospital before being moved to a larger hospital in Diyarbakir, where she remains in intensive care.

 Although it has yet to be confirmed, it is reported that Kaya was threatened by her extended family for going to Istanbul to participate in the contest — there is speculation that the attack was motivated by Kaya’s choice to step outside of traditional gender roles.
Degir Deniz

Degir Deniz

Kaya’s shooting comes on the heels of two other high-profile murders. On May 5th, the body of a popular 39-year old singer-songwriter, Deger Deniz, was found strangled in her Istanbul home.

And on February 11th, Ozgecan Aslan, a 20-year old psychology student in Mersin, was brutally assaulted and murdered after resisting a rape.

Her burned and mutilated body was later found in a creek outside of town.

Aslan’s murder sparked an outcry against violence against women in Turkey. Protesters – including men wearing miniskirts to show solidarity – took to the streets.

Ozgecan Aslan

Ozgecan Aslan

Hundreds of thousands women tweeted their experiences with sexism, gender-based violence and harassment under the hashtag #sendeanlat, which translates to “you tell your story too.”

In the aftermath of Ozgecan’s murder, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated that violence against women is Turkey’s “bleeding wound.” However, the AKP has repeatedly placed a paternalistic emphasis on women only within their context as mothers and daughters. Erdogan went on to call on men to protect women, based on their relationship to men: “I call on gentlemen occupying most of the important decision-making positions: This could have happened to our daughters as well.”

Erdogan’s conservative Justice and Development party (AKP) has been widely criticised for its stance on women’s issues. The party renamed the Ministry for Women and Family as the Ministry of Family and Social Policy, positioning their focus not on women’s rights but on women as just one of many at-risk social groups. And in 2014, one of the party’s most senior members, Bulent Arinc, said that women should “be humble and protect their chasteness. They should not laugh out loud in public,” prompting an avalanche of tweets of women doing just that.

At a women’s conference in Istanbul in 2014, Erdogan said that to put women as equal to men is “against nature” because they are “delicate.”

Speaking on a BBC podcast, The Inquiry: Is Life Getting Worse For Women In Erdogan’s Turkey? in March, Professor Deniz Kandiyoti, who specializes in gender relations in Turkey at the University of London, said of the AKP’s rhetoric: “what trickles down of course is that some women are worthy of protection. Other women: it’s open season.”

To see this happening in what was always touted as the most Westernised and secular Muslim state in the world is especially distressing. To be sure, familial violence against women is a cultural issue not a primarily religious one – it occurs in Christian and Hindu communities too – but it would be hoped that the fitfully modernising trend of a country like Turkey would reduce its prevalence and set an example of tolerance to the rest of the region.

Sadly, apparently not.

(From Think Progress and others)

Girls at Islamic school banned from running over virginity fears: report

Vic Islamic college allegedly bans girls from running over virginity concerns.

The principal of an Islamic school in Melbourne’s west has allegedly banned girls from running in sporting events out of concerns it may cause them to lose their virginity, causing a huge community blowback at the worst possible time for local Muslims.

Female students at Al-Taqwa College, in Truganina, were also barred from playing soccer as a sports injury could make them infertile, Fairfax has reported.

School’s regulator, the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority, is reportedly investigating the claims levelled at principal Omar Hallak, who earlier this year courted controversy when he suggested Islamic State was supported by western countries.

In a letter sent to education ministers and published by The Age, a former teacher at the college said:

“The principal holds beliefs that if females run excessively, they may lose their virginity.

“The principal believes that there is scientific evidence to indicate that if girls injure themselves, such as break their leg while playing soccer, it could render them infertile.”

The teacher claimed Mr Hallak stopped the female cross country team from participating in a 2013 and 2014 district event, Fairfax reports.

The girls had been training hard for the competition when Mr Hallak realised they were set to compete and cancelled it.

The girls were reportedly distraught by Mr Hallak’s intervention and penned hand written letters of complaint in which they expressed their disappointment.

“It was really shocking to find out it had been cancelled because the excuse girls can’t run,” one student wrote.

The teacher claimed she had worked at another school where both boys and girls had equally been encouraged to take part in sporting activities.

“I look back on my time at Al-Taqwa with frustration and anger, which is how I felt most of the time while I was working there,” she said in the letter.

“I did my best to stay committed to the students however in the end, I was unable to provide the same opportunities to students that I was given when I was at a primary school, more than 20 years ago.

“It was really shocking to find out it had been cancelled because the excuse girls can’t run,” one student said in her complaint to the principal.

Education minister James Merlino has told 3AW the reports are concerning and the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority is investigating.

“If true these are very concerning reports and I have asked the VRQA to investigate and report back to me,” Mr Merlino has told 3AW on Thursday.

Mr Hallak courted controversy earlier this year when he reportedly told some students IS was backed by western countries as part of a plot to control Middle Eastern oil supplies.

Merlino labelled those comments ‘reckless and dangerous’.

“They’re reckless. They’re dangerous and it leads to confusion in young people … the best way to tackle radicalisation is through education of young people. The worst thing you can do is put reckless and dangerous ideas into their heads,” he told reporters at the time.

Wellthisiswhatithink doesn’t feel the need to comment further: frankly, we are speechless. In pursuit of fairness, we will provide a response from Mr Hallak if one is forthcoming and we are made aware of it.

(Yahoo and 7 News)

As we approach Easter – for most people just a long weekend when they can regroup and rest – for some people the spiritual highlight of the year – we can often forget, when contemplating his deeper spiritual messages and the agony of his personal journey, that the historical Jesus Christ was a dangerous man who subverted the ruling status quo in his country, and that, above all, is why he was put to death.

This Facebook meme reminded me.




As we approach Easter, we should dwell on the fact that Jesus fought against the institutionalisation of religion, fought against its co-option as a business enterprise, and talked of how the Kingdom of Heaven resided in all of us, and not in buildings, if we could but find the key.

He also detested the brutalisation of society by economic forces, and the obsession with accumulating personal wealth and how it diverts us from what really matters.

But in cleansing the temple, Jesus did not argue against public worship. Quite the opposite. He wanted the Temple reserved for its rightful use.

And worship definitely serves many valuable purposes, not least sharing information and insights on complicated spiritual matters, building community, showing spiritual respect, and bringing peace and joy to people.

But he did argue against hypocrisy. When religion is reduced to mere pomp and circumstance, or when it mindlessly supports the bastions of conformity, he was on the other side of the metaphorical barricade.

He told us to become like little children in our understand of the world and our role in it, and in relation to what we perceive as God. Simplicity, innocence and trust. And a trenchant opposition to anything which reduces the world to a mere monetary exchange.

Jesus the Revolutionary. Coming soon to a Church near you. We hope.

Happy Easter.


It is a nightmare of Kafkaesque proportions.

Raif Badawi received the first 50 of his lashes in January

His family now say that Raif Badawi, already sentenced to a vicious public flogging and appalling ten years in prison, could also be tried for apostasy, which carries the death penalty.

The case attracted worldwide condemnation when he was publicly flogged in January.

Now his family say they have been told he is to be tried for apostasy.

“Apostasy charge is punishable under Saudi law with the death penalty by beheading,” they said in a message posted on Facebook.

“We also received confirmed information that the Supreme Court has referred Raif case to the same judge, who sentenced Raif with flogging and 10 years imprisonment.This judge is biased against Raif.”

Background to the case:

In July 2013 human rights activist Raif Badawi was sentenced in Saudi Arabia to seven years in jail, and 600 lashes, for insulting Islam. His sentence has now been increased to ten years and 1,000 lashes.

Raif and his children in happier times: one can hardly imagine how his family are suffering.

Raif and his children in happier times: one can hardly imagine how his family are suffering.

Badawi, founder of the Saudi Liberal Network, was convicted of “creating a website insulting Islam” and criticising the role of the notorious religious police. Before his arrest, Badawi’s network announced a “Day of Liberalism” and called for an end to the influence of religion on public life in Saudi Arabia. He has been languishing in jail since June 2012.

According to this report, the lawsuit against him was instigated by Saudi  by clerics. An appeals court overturned the original sentence and sent the case back for the case back for retrial, which culminated in the even harsher sentence.

A further court upheld the 10-year jail sentence and 1,000 lashes – also ordered him to pay a fine of one million riyals ($266,666).

The rights group’s co-founder, Souad Al Shamari said:

The only hope now is an amnesty from the king or a swift move by the justice minister to form a fair judicial committee. Even the worst terrorists have not received such a harsh sentence.

Mr Badawi, 31, received the first 50 of his 1,000 lashes in January. The rest of his punishment has been postponed because of injuries he sustained.

The flogging was surreptitiously filmed on a mobile phone, with footage uploaded to the internet.

It was conducted with a flexible stick, in front of a large crowd in the public square by the al-Jafali mosque in the Red Sea city of Jeddah. Mr Badawi was allowed to keep his shirt on, as is normal in Saudi Arabia, lessening the effects somewhat, but he can still be seen to flinch.

“Raif told me he is in a lot of pain,” Mrs Haidar said in an earlier statement released by Amnesty International, which has campaigned on his behalf. “He said that when he was being flogged he took the pain silently and rose above it, so that history will know that he did not react to their punishment.

Badawi was also given a jail sentence and a fine of £175,000 after being convicted of insulting Islam on a liberal online forum he created.

His family said he could not originally be charged with apostasy – abandoning his faith – because the criminal court could not deal with crimes that carry the death penalty. That changed with a new regulation passed last year.

Ensaf Haidar, wife of Raif Badawi, takes part in a news conference calling for the release of her husband in January (Reuters)

Ensaf Haidar, wife of Raif Badawi, takes part in a news conference calling for the release of her husband in January (Reuters)

They asked that Mr Badawi be pardoned and allowed to travel to Canada, where his wife and three children are now living.

“We call on the world citizens and governments not to leave Raif dragged by such bigots to death,” they added.

The death penalty is the standard penalty for apostasy in the Muslim world, though it is rarely carried out, even in Saudi Arabia which still carries out regular executions.

The Prince of Wales is believed to have raised the case during meetings with King Salman during a visit to Saudi Arabia in February.

How long will this courageous man be permitted to suffer?

How long will this courageous man be permitted to suffer?

We can only hope that the gale of protest around the world at the treatment of this entirely innocent man can cause the new Saudi regime to release him. These are our ALLIES, after all, with whom we have a huge trade relationship. That should count for something in asking them to listen to our concerns.

If you wish to do something, why not tweet your call for Badawi to be immediately released, using the hashtag ‪#‎Raifbadawi‬ ?

Alternatively, or as well, sign the petition? Click below, and thank you:

Or perhaps you could simple share this blog on your blog, or on your Facebook page?

Whatever you can do to help, thank you.

In a story that really will cause all fair-minded people to pause and wonder, a photograph has captured what is believed to be the ghost of a little girl who drowned at a popular swimming hole in Queensland 100-years-ago.

The image shows three children and two adults playing in the water at Murphy’s Hole near Helidon in 2014. But a strange fourth child’s face appears to be in the picture, too.



The bizarre image was posted to the Toowoomba Ghost Chasers Facebook Page. The eerie white figure can be seen in the water between two women swimming with their children.

It is thought by some to be the face of 13-year-old Doreen O’Sullivan, who drowned in that exact spot in 1915.

Jessie Lu, who is one of the subjects in the photo, said the image had been examined by experts.

“At the time of taking this photo there was nothing between us,” she said.

“There was only three children there on that day. Two adults in the water and two adults on the bank.”

Oddly, Ms Lu added: “The older girl had trouble in the water on two occasions that day.”

Doreen’s death was reported in a local newspaper in 1915 and a grave belonging to a 13-year-old girl by the same name has been found.

Was Doreen returning to the scene to warn the children of the dangers of the spot? Is it a trick of the light? What’s your opinion, Dear Reader?

And do you have any real life ghost stories of your own to share?

The White Rose

Sophie Scholl and members of White Rose

One of the most disturbing, heart-rending and thought-provoking films we have ever seen was “Sophie Scholl – The Final Days”.

The movie covers the efforts of a resistance group fighting the Nazis called “White Rose” Although the White Rose is well known in Germany, it is not well known overseas.

Der Weissen Rose was a group of mostly students at the University of Munich in Bavaria. Some were studying philosophy. Most, but not all, were religious in some way. Some of the boys had done military service but were allowed to do stints at university between stints on the Eastern Front. This experience provided them with more knowledge of what was actually going on than the average person living in Germany at the time, and it appalled them, but in their courageous resistance they still come across as young and somewhat naïve. It is this naivety that has made the White Rose so appealing. The operated from “pure” theological and philosophical intellectual opposition to National Socialism, to fascism, to dictatorship, to the war, and to the slaughter of Europe’s Jews.

To believe that there was very little resistance to Hitler inside Germany is a serious misunderstanding. Resistance to the Nazis began, of course, before they even came to power, and continued during the thirties and throughout the war.

Serving members of White Rose

Serving members of White Rose

Resistance came from political groups of the left, centre and even conservatives, from unions, from churches and religious people, from within the government and branches of the military. Several attempts were made to assassinate Hitler both by groups and individuals. Although it did not succeed in overthrowing Hitler or ending the Nazi tyranny, the resistance did have an impact on the war and the ultimate defeat of the fascist regime.

Why does it seem otherwise? Well, the Nazi regime set out systematically and ruthlessly to destroy all opposition. Thousands of the people who would have been part of an even more effective resistance movement fled into exile soon after Hitler came to power. Many more were perfectly understandably frightened by the danger and sank into silence and inaction.

Sophie Scholl was guillotined, as was her brother, another brother was lost on the Eastern front. In a final meeting, Scholl's father told her he was proud of her and not to regret her sacrifice. She replied that she would see them again in Heaven.

Sophie Scholl was guillotined, as was her brother, another brother was lost on the Eastern front. In a final meeting, Scholl’s father told her he was proud of her and not to regret her sacrifice. She replied that she would see them again in Heaven.

Yet many did not and paid the price. At least 5,000 were executed and many more spent time in prison. Some were simply murdered.

There was a feeling within Germany that people really shouldn’t undermine the government during wartime

Many ordinary Germans saw members of the resistance as traitors because that was what almost every source of information available to them told them they were.

Unlike in the countries Germany tried to conquer, the resistance had to assume that much of the population actually supported the government and would report their activities from a sense of duty or from totally justified fear, thus making their actions even braver. Nevertheless, their writings struck a chord with many in the community.

The nations fighting Germany during World War II also decided not to publicise the German resistance to Hitler during or after the war. The insistence on unconditional surrender and the strategic bombing raids which caused so many civilian casualties made it necessary to see Germany as guilty as a nation rather than as itself a victim of Nazi tyranny. The allied armies knew about the resistance and benefited from it but did not want to praise it, at least initially.

MovieSophieSchollSo the story of Sophie Scholl and her family and friends remained almost un-talked about until about the 1970s, when the German community started to discuss the war years more openly, and then again in 2005 when the remarkable film about the events was released.

You can watch the entire film, in its original German, with subtitles, below.

If you haven’t seen it, we cannot recommend it highly enough, but we warn you that it is gut wrenching.

Nevertheless, if you haven’t seen it, find a couple of hours, pour yourself a strong drink, and watch it. Those that died deserve to be remembered.

When people discuss the White Rose it has been suggested they were a brave but ineffective resistance movement. That is, in fact, not true. When they were active they caused the regime considerable annoyance. Although many who received the leaflets in the mail handed them in to police, many did not, and the regime had to deal with the fact that those who handed them in may have read them.

Sophie Scholl was an ordinary girl - devoutly Catholic, she fell in love with one of her fellow conspirators, she loved the countryside, she adored her parents. She was very ordinary, just very, very brave.

Sophie Scholl was an ordinary girl – devoutly Catholic, she fell in love with one of her fellow conspirators, she loved the countryside, she adored her parents. She was very ordinary, just very, very brave.

They managed to establish branches in Berlin and particularly Hamburg where sadly many of Hamburg White Rose met the same fate.

The White Rose also had a role in a student uprising in Munich— which was quickly suppressed.

After their execution graffiti appeared on walls in Munich: “Ihr Geist lebt wieter” “Their Spirit Lives On”.

Others carried on the fight. Copies of the leaflets were smuggled out to the Allies and later dropped in their tens of thousands by bombers over German cities.

An example of the leaflets (there were a total of five) is produced below. The courage of young people who could make these arguments against the might of the Nazi Reich simply beggars belief. Especially as they operated in the sure and certain knowledge that one day they must be caught, with their horrifying deaths as the inevitable result.

Many brave people died during the Second World War. These young Germans were amongst the bravest.


Salus publica suprema lex (Public safety is the supreme law)

All ideal forms of government are Utopias. A state cannot be constructed on a purely theoretical basis; instead, it must grow and develop in the same way an individual human being matures. But we must not forget that at the beginning of every civilization the state already existed in a rudimentary form. The family is as old as man himself, and out of this initial bond man, endowed with reason, created for himself a state founded on justice, whose highest law was the common good. The state should reflect the divine order, and the highest of all utopias, the Civitas dei, is the model it should ultimately resemble. We will not compare the many possible states here—democracy, constitutional monarchy, monarchy, and so on, but one issue needs to be made clear and unambiguous; every human being has the right to a just state, a state that safeguards the freedom of the individual as well as the good of the whole. For according to God’s will, man should be free and independent, while fulfilling his natural duty of living and working together with his fellow citizens, and strive to achieve earthly happiness through self-reliance and self-motivation.

But the present “state” is the dictatorship of evil. “Oh, we’ve known that for a long time,” I hear you object, “and it isn’t necessary to bring that to our attention again.” But, as I ask you, if you know that, why do you not rouse yourselves, why do you allow these men in power to rob you step by step, both openly and in secret, of one of your rights after another, until one day nothing, nothing at all will be left but a mechanized state system presided over by criminals and drunkards? Is your spirit already so crushed by abuse that you forget it is your right—or rather, your moral duty—to eradicate this system? But if a man can no longer summon the strength to demand his right, then he will definitely perish. We would deservedly be scattered over the earth like dust in the wind if we do not marshal our powers at this late hour and finally find the courage we have lacked up to now. Do not hide your cowardice behind a cloak of expedience, for with every new day that you hesitate, failing to oppose this offspringof Hell, your guilt, like a parabolic curve, grows higher and higher.

Many, perhaps most, of the readers of these leaflets cannot see clearly how they can mount an effective opposition. They cannot see any avenues open to them. We want to try to show them that everyone is in a position to contribute to the overthrow of this system. Solitary withdrawal, like embittered hermits, cannot prepare the ground for the overthrow of this “government” or bring about the revolution at the earliest possible moment. No, it can only be done through the cooperation of many convinced energetic people—people who agree on the means they must use to attain their goal. We have few choices as to these means. The only one available is passive resistance. The meaning and the goal of passive resistance is to bring down National Socialism, and in this struggle we can’t shrink from any means, any act, wherever it is open to attack. We must bring this monster of a state to an end soon. A victory for fascist Germany in this war would have inconceivable and terrible consequences. The first concern of every German is not the military victory of Bolshevism, but the defeat of National Socialism. This must be the first order of business; its greater imperative will be discussed in one of our forthcoming leaflets.

And now every resolute opponent of National Socialism must ask himself how he can most effectively fight against the present “state”, how he can inflict the most damaging blows. Through passive resistance, without a doubt. We can provide each man with a blueprint for his acts; we can only make general suggestions, and he alone will find the best way to achieve them.

Sabotage armament industries, sabotage every assembly, rally, ceremony, and organisation sponsored by the National Socialist Party. Obstruct the smooth functioning of the war machine (a machine designed for war that is then used solely to shore up and perpetuate the National Socialist Party and its dictatorship.) Sabotage in every scientific and intellectual field involved in continuing this war—whether it be universities, technical colleges, laboratories, research stations, or technical agencies. Sabotage all cultural institutions that could enhance the “prestige” of the fascists among he people. Sabotage all branches of the arts that have even the slightest dependence on National Socialism or serve it in any way. Sabotage all publications, all newspapers, that are in the pay of the “government” and that defend its ideology and help disseminate the brown lie. Do not give a penny to public fund-raising drives (even when they are conducted under the guise of charity), for this is only a cover. In reality the proceeds help neither the Red Cross nor the needy. The government does not need this money; it is not financially interested in these fund-raising drives. After all, the presses run nonstop, printing as much paper currency as is needed. But the people must never be allowed to slacken! Do not contribute to the collection of metal, textiles and the like. Try to convince all your acquaintances, including those in the lower social classes, of the senselessness of continuing, of the hopelessness of this war; of our spiritual and economic enslavement at the hands of the National Socialists, of the destruction of all moral and religious values; and urge them to adopt passive resistance.

Aristotle, Politics: “Further….[a tyrant] should also endeavor to know what each of his subjects says, or does, and should employ spies everywhere…and further, to create disunity and division in the population: to set friend against friend, the common people against the notables, and the wealthy among themselves. Also he should impoverish his subjects; the maintenance of guards and soldiers is thus paid for by the people, who are forced to work hard and have neither the time nor the opportunity to conspire against him…Another practice of tyrants is to increase taxes, after the manner of Dionysius at Syracuse, who contrived that his subjects paid all their wealth into the treasury within five years. The tyrant is also inclined to engage in constant warfare in order to occupy and distract his subjects.

Please make as many copies of this leaflet as possible and pass them on!

An activist group which secretly documents life inside the Islamic State-controlled Syrian city of Raqqa has reported that militants publicly executed 13 teenage boys for watching the Asian Cup football match between Iraq and Jordan.

Syria Being Slaughtered Silently, quoting Jordanian news agency Petra and other unspecified Iraqi media, reported that the teenagers were rounded up and shot by firing squad in the IS-stronghold of Mosul, in northern Iraq.

According to the report, the boys were caught watching the match and were being accused of breaking Islamic principles.

In a response to IBTimes UK, the group has confirmed the executions have taken place after corroborating the information with local Iraqi activists.

“The bodies remained lying in the open and their parents were unable to withdraw them for fear of murder by terrorist organisation,” the group also wrote on their website.

Before the victims were executed, their ‘crimes’ were announced on the streets of Mosul on a loud-speaker, the activists said.

The report has not been confirmed by international news agencies or Iraqi authorities and IBTimes UK cannot independently verify it.

The activist group secretly documents the executions carried out by the Sunni Islamist group in various places controlled by them.

The latest chilling execution emerges alongside the threat made by an IS militant, suspected to be “Jihadi John”, to behead two Japanese hostages if their ransom demands are not met.

The masked man – who is believed to be the same militant who appeared in earlier videos executing western hostages James Foley, Steven Sotloff, David Haines and Alan Henning – has asked for $200m (£132m) within the next 72 hours to free the Japanese captives.


Wondering how God could have got all this into such a short Tale

Well, This Is What I Think

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