Tuesday, December 27, 2011
The Queen reminds us of the power of family
The Queen's Speech focuses on the families that support us in times of crisis. A reflection on her Christmas Day message
When Her Majesty the Queen chose to focus her Christmas message on the importance of family, she was unaware that her own closest relation would be taken from her side. As it was, there was a special poignancy – for those watching on television – to the images of husband and wife on screen, given that Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh have been separated by illness at this least appropriate time of year.
Studying that broadcast, it would be hard to think of a better illustration of how dedicated a servant the Duke remains to his wife and Sovereign, even in his 90th year. Elsewhere on these pages, Philip Eade sets out the many ways in which he has strengthened and supported Her Majesty over the years, greatly to the benefit of his adopted nation. As the Duke recovers from his operation, both he and his wife will be able to draw similar strength from the family around them, this year enlarged with the marriage of two of their grandchildren. Indeed, it was appropriate that this was the very theme of Her Majesty’s Christmas message: the way that family, and the support of those we love, enables us to cope with times of hardship, and how such trials often draw out “the most and best” of the human spirit.
Her Majesty was not just talking about our immediate families, however. As she reminded us, “family” can define more than simply those related to us by blood. She cited the example of the Commonwealth that she has done so much to hold together – “a family of 53 nations, all with a common bond, shared beliefs, mutual values and goals”. Similarly, her definition of hardship was a broad one, encompassing not just the natural disasters that struck Queensland in Australia and Christchurch in New Zealand, but also being separated from loved ones serving overseas, or the more mundane pressures of austerity.
It is, of course, a cliché of the festive season to talk about the importance of family and community, and of being supported by those we love. But it is a cliché for a reason. Our families, our friends, our communities – and yes, our faith – are what sustain us in difficult times, and make life about more than simply the accumulation of wealth (or, in times such as these, the protection of what wealth we have).
This was a theme taken up in the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Christmas sermon, too. Next year is the 350th anniversary of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, and the temptation will be to concentrate above all on the ways in which it has shaped our language. Yet as Dr Rowan Williams argued, the book also matters because it is of common prayer, offering a shared experience and shared devotion. Our society, the Archbishop suggested, all too often lacks such anchors: as a result, “bonds have been broken [and] trust abused and lost”, making space for the misbehaviour both of “mindless” urban rioters and irresponsible fiscal speculators.
In difficult times, with the future all too uncertain, it can be tempting to harden our hearts as we tighten our wallets. Yet if we lose our connection to those around us, we become – as Dr Williams put it – merely “atoms spinning apart in the dark”. And as the Queen reminded us yesterday, “finding hope in adversity is one of the themes of Christmas”. Jesus himself, she pointed out, was born into a world “full of fear”.
Over the next 12 months, Britain will witness a series of truly grand occasions. Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee promises to be a marvellous celebration of a monarch who has served her people with dignity and dedication for so long. The Olympics will bring the world to London and many other parts of Britain. Yet of equal importance to such national spectacles are the humbler moments of familial or communal pleasure. Just as the Duke of Edinburgh will be aided in his recovery by having his family around him, so are the rest of us supported by those we care for. If we can hold on to that sentiment, it might make the new year happier for us all.
Hunting ban? Tally-ho!
This is the seventh Boxing Day since the ban took effect, the sport has never been more popular
Hunting ban? What hunting ban? Today, more than a quarter of a million people are expected to turn out at some 300 hunts, on what is traditionally the biggest day of the hunting calendar. Even though this is the seventh Boxing Day since the ban took effect, the sport has never been more popular.
For supporters of hunting, this presents a difficulty. Ever since the Labour government pushed the ban on to the Statute Book, using the Parliament Act to overcome the objections of the House of Lords, there has been a campaign to reverse the decision. The Coalition Agreement promised a free vote in Parliament, though the addition of the words “when time allows” was a convenient get-out clause.
The Hunting Act is a bad law, not least because it is almost impossible to uphold. Last year, 36 individuals were convicted under its provisions; yet only one of those individuals was associated with a registered hunt. Yet, while bad laws should generally be repealed, the House of Commons – as we report today – would be unlikely to do so, even if ministers were inclined to hold a vote. In any case, any legislation to overturn the ban would reignite a fractious debate, at a time when Parliament has serious economic matters to consider.
What we see at work today, therefore, is a classic piece of British pragmatism. The Act is wrong, does not work and should be scrapped. But an uneasy compromise has been achieved that allows many thousands of people to carry on hunting. The time will come when a sensible Parliament will reverse one of the most illiberal and pernicious laws of recent times. Until that day arrives, tally-ho!
The Anglican priest who thought Stalin was a saint
BOOK REVIEW: Charles Moore reviews 'The Red Dean' by John Butler (Scala)
As Canterbury Cathedral this week marks the anniversary of the death of its most famous “turbulent priest”, Thomas Becket, it is a good moment to study the life of its second-most famous one. Hewlett Johnson became the Dean of Canterbury in 1931, when he was already getting on for 60, and clung on to the post, despite numerous attempts to get him out, until 1964.
Over those 33 years, Johnson devoted the bulk of his astonishing energy to proving that Soviet Communism, especially as practised by Stalin, was heaven on earth: “While we’re waiting for God, Russia is doing it.” In his bestseller The Socialist Sixth of the World, which was published not long after Stalin’s most extensive programme of mass murder, he wrote: “Nothing strikes the visitor to the Soviet Union more forcibly than the complete absence of fear.”
No Communist outrage could put Johnson off his stride. He supported the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939. In the face of all evidence, he praised the Soviets for their toleration of religion, excitedly reporting, after a private audience with Stalin, that the great man favoured freedom of conscience. He always refused to condemn Stalin. Neither would he condemn the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956.
His methods, too, were sometimes unscrupulous. He repeatedly accepted free trips from VOKS, the Soviet cultural front organisation which suborned Western writers and intellectuals, never questioning its itineraries or facts. When he wrote his books, he copied out the economic statistics that VOKS sent him, without inquiry or even comprehension. The uncritical tribute he published on Stalin’s death was in large part plagiarised, without acknowledgment, from an existing piece of Soviet propaganda. The British intelligence services may well have been right to consider him an “agent of influence”.
Johnson did well from his views. In 1951, he was awarded the Stalin Peace Prize, for which he received £10,000 (roughly £230,000 in today’s money). The sales of his books were made enormous by the print runs which Stalin decreed for them. His stupendous vanity was gratified by meeting the dictators (including Mao, Fidel Castro and Rakosi in Hungary). He became a world celebrity, and regarded his main book as “dynamite, the most powerful war weapon, that starts factories working”.
He was also, arguably, a hypocrite. Although certainly not personally luxurious (he liked nothing better than rolling in the snow in the Deanery garden rather than wallowing in a hot bath), he was pretty rich and employed several servants. He came from a prosperous Northern industrial family (Johnson’s Wireworks) and his first wife was richer still. When she died, she left him Chippendale, Sheraton and Hepplewhite furniture, silver, jewellery, fine carpets, Chinese and Japanese sculptures, a Broadwood grand, tapestries, paintings, glassware etc. By 1952, he owned 11 houses and garages, and plenty of shares, including some in Lonrho.
In 1937, when the pupils at the King’s School were making too much noise for his taste, he grabbed some of the school’s land for his garden to keep them at a distance. Criticised by the Archdeacon, he told him sharply that he should not be “worrying over small matters when so great things were at stake in the world”. He was off to the Soviet Union, he said, because “I ought to use all my spare time for bigger things” – without surrendering his horticultural conquest.
During the war, it distressed Johnson that the servants were getting uppity. He was angry when his handyman got a bigger boiled egg for breakfast than he. Writing to his second wife – who, in wartime exile in Wales, was having trouble with her maid – he advised her: “Let her see that you are a lady and if she cannot rise to the privilege of comradeship then the older relationship of mistress and maid must continue… It is moral training. Russia has had to do this.”
What makes this book so interesting, however, is that the author wants us to see the good in Johnson. While never concealing or excusing his politics, John Butler draws on personal archives never before seen to paint an attractive picture of the private man – vigorous (his second wife was 32 when he married her at the age of 64), affectionate to his children (he first became a father when he was 66), brave in staying in Canterbury all through the war. He was popular with the people, though not the Chapter, of Canterbury. With his domed pate, long white hair, tall, imposing figure and old-fashioned decanal gaiters, he was a “character”. He worked relentlessly and preached often and well. In an odd way, he kept alight the beacon of the Anglican world at a time of great trial.
I am glad that Mr Butler has approached his task in this way, because it makes the book much fresher than a work of character assassination. But its effect is to point up how extraordinary it was that a free country like ours could excuse people who defended mass murderers so long as they were from the Left. If Johnson had spoken of Hitler as he did of Stalin, no one would have received him in polite society.
For his unusual views, Johnson suffered nothing worse than a few cross letters from the Archbishop and semi-successful attempts to dislodge him from various Canterbury positions (“Ominously, the governors began to plot Johnson’s removal as Chairman of the Governing Body”). By contrast, the victims of the man he worshipped died in their tens of millions. His speeches and writings helped legitimise this. Johnson was told by Raul Castro (who, replacing brother Fidel, rules Cuba to this day) that people believed his pro-Communist writing because he was a priest. That is a terrible thought.
State Department 'Panders' to Islamists on Free Speech
The Obama administration is drawing fire for yielding what critics see as a huge propaganda victory to Islamist regimes seeking to curb American speech deemed "offensive" to Muslims.
The State Department hosted a three-day, closed-door meeting last week with representatives of the Saudi Arabia-based Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) on measures to fight religious "intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization."
In her closing remarks, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton portrayed the conference as a sign that Washington and the OIC are working together to protect religious freedom around the world.
"We have to get past the idea that we can suppress religious minorities, that we can restrict speech, that we are smart enough that we can substitute our judgment for God's and determine who is or is not blaspheming," Clinton said. "I think if we do our work right, in years to come, people will look back and say this was a great step forward on behalf of both (sic) freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and our common humanity."
But according to the Hudson institute's Nina Shea (who attended portions of the conference as an observer), the event was actually a step backward for religious liberty. The meeting seemed to be an exercise in "moral equivalency and pandering to Sunni tyrants in the Middle East," she said.
"The general theme seemed to be that the U.S. has problems just like Saudi Arabia with religious tolerance," she added. "There was a total absence of perspective on all counts."
Pointing to familiar events such the Muhammad cartoon violence, Quran burnings and Muslim objections to the film "Fitna," OIC Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu argued that his organization regarded bigotry as a primarily Western phenomenon. He wrote that "no one has the right to insult another person for their beliefs or to incite hatred and prejudice," and that "freedom of expression has to be exercised with responsibility."
Zamir Akram, Pakistan's permanent representative of the OIC before the U.N. Human Rights Council was more emphatic. He claimed that Resolution 16/18, which expressed concern about "negative profiling" and religious "stereotyping," was driven by Western discrimination against Muslims. Akram also questioned whether Muslims engaged in discrimination, and said Muslims would not compromise on permitting "anything against the Quran, anything against the Prophet."
Given these comments – and Saudi educational materials that encourage the spread of Islam through jihad and demonize Jews, Christians and polytheists – Shea believes U.S. officials are "naïve" to think there will be reciprocity from the OIC when it comes to combating discrimination.
Despite Saudi Arabia's abysmal record of persecuting non-Muslims, the Kingdom received a note of dubious praise from the United Nations General Assembly, which on Monday passed a resolution condemning religious intolerance. According to Shea, the UNGA resolution – passed by consensus with U.S. support – singled out for praise a single program: A Saudi-built "religious dialogue" center in Vienna, Austria.
Given Saudi Arabia's relentless persecution of non-Muslims, the praise is "Orwellian," Shea told the IPT. "They don't dare establish such a program on their own territory."
OIC member states spearheading the anti-blasphemy campaign include Egypt, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia – all of which jail or execute "blasphemers." In nations like Egypt and Iraq, Christians are attacked and their churches torched while Muslim-dominated governments are unwilling or unable to protect them.
"In these countries, you have 'cleansing' tolerated by the authorities," Shea noted. "Religious cleansing [of Christians] is underway right now in Egypt and Iraq. It's been completed in Saudi Arabia. Jews have been cleansed from the Sunni Muslim world."
By any measure, Muslims and other religious minorities in the United States face no dangers comparable to religious minorities in the Muslim Arab world. Indeed, like the Bush administration preceding it, the Obama administration has gone to extraordinary lengths to court American Muslims and portray their situation in a very favorable light.
Clinton's Dec. 14 remarks included a rebuke to Islamists who seek to silence people of other faiths. "But is our religion so weak that statements of disapproval will cause us to lose our faiths?" Clinton asked. She added that there is nothing wrong with "hav[ing] good debates with others."
But Shea emphasizes that the behavior of OIC participants like Saudi Arabia gives no indication that they are interested in dialogue with minorities in their countries. She said that at the conference, participants largely ignored the vast differences between the United States and OIC member nations in protecting religious minorities.
One legal official (State Department confidentiality rules barred observers from identifying him or his country) gave a "one-sided depiction of American bigotry against religious minorities, including Muslims" in his opening keynote address, Shea said, telling representatives of some of the world's most repressive regimes that America can learn from them about protecting religious tolerance.
But the official never bothered to explain that, when compared with other countries, America has an extraordinary record of "upholding individual freedoms of speech and religion," Shea told the Investigative Project on Terrorism. "The tolerance of the American people is misrepresented by omission."
Pointing to mounting reports of atrocities and intimidation against Middle East Christians and mass slaughter by the Islamist regime in Khartoum, Shea didn't mince words in characterizing the attitudes of the American conference participants toward their OIC counterparts.
"It's the equivalent of saying to Hitler: 'Well, you have a real problem with the way you treat minorities and we have a problem with limiting the rights of Aryans here.'"
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when blogger.com is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.