The first task of a new Prime Minister is to write the official sealed orders of last resort which immediately go into the safes of Britain’s four Vanguard Class submarines. That should make us think before we vote. These missives determine what happens in the event of a nuclear attack on the UK: every submarine carries sixteen Trident missiles each with six nuclear warheads targeted at an aggressor capable of causing millions of casualties and destroying many cities. When asked in a 2015 BBC interview shortly after becoming leader of the Labour Party, Mr. Corbyn said he would not authorise their launch. Or what he did not say, he refused to contribute to the destruction, or near-destruction, of human life on this planet in a thermonuclear war.
The Parties’ Manifestos appear to differ on Trident. The Conservatives’ says in a single line “we will maintain our Trident nuclear deterrent”. It might have said “our independent Trident nuclear deterrent will continue to be maintained by the US Navy at Kings Bay, Georgia”, but Mr. Johnson’s Party is never one for too much detail. The Labour Party Manifesto says it “supports the renewal of the Trident nuclear deterrent” and will actively lead multilateral efforts to create “a nuclear-free world”. The replacement of the four submarines would initially cost c. £35 billion and, over their lifespan of forty years c. £100 billion for maintenance as a viable deterrent, a lot of money for a weapon Mr. Corbyn would never use.
Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), inevitable nuclear retaliatory strikes, is considered the best way to ensure security and avoid nuclear conflagration in the future. The justification for this perilous belief is that MAD has “kept the peace” and that, since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, use of nuclear weapons in warfare has been avoided. This conclusion is at best wishful-thinking projected into the past, at worst Mad is mad.
The Cuban Missile confrontation of 1962 showed MAD to be false. We have luck to thank for avoiding nuclear conflagration then, not possession of a nuclear deterrent and threat of its use. Nuclear war has to date been avoided because prudent people were in the right place at the right time, and responded well to the miscalculations and mistakes of fallible people in the wrong place at the wrong time.
In October 1962, in international waters off Cuba, the Soviet and US navies confronted each other as the US imposed a naval blockade. On 27 October 1962, the US Beale destroyer and a formation of eleven US warships which had located a “Foxtrot” class B-59 Soviet Delta patrol submarine and had been shadowing it for hours, dropped signalling depth charges to indicate that the submarine should surface.
The Soviet captain, Valentin Savitsky, hiding at depth, had lost communications with the Soviet Union and had received no order to turn back. The temperature in the submarine soared, peaking at over 50 degrees centigrade. Crew members were fainting. Under great stress, Savitsky concluded that war must have broken out, and gave the order to arm his nuclear-tipped torpedoes ready for firing. The vessel’s deputy political officer who was the second half of the dual authorisation needed to launch the nuclear weapons agreed. From that moment only one man stood between a Soviet nuclear weapon being fired at a US warship. By sheer luck, Commodore Vasili Arkhipov who commanded the submarine flotilla of which the B-59 was a part was on board. Though not in command of the vessel he outranked the captain and vetoed the decision to launch, almost certainly avoiding a thermonuclear war.
This was not the only incident that could have sparked an escalation to thermonuclear war. That same day, Black Saturday, Fidel Castro gave an order which resulted in the shooting down of an American U-2 spy plane over Cuba killing its pilot. Then a few hours later, another U-2 pilot, unsighted by an intense aurora borealis, strayed into Soviet airspace over the Chukotka peninsula in Siberia. MIG-19s were scrambled. Fortunately, the pilot found his way back to international airspace where two F-102s escorted him to an Alaskan airfield. Everyone involved, from MacMillan in London with nuclear armed Vulcan bombers in the air to Khrushchev in Moscow, desperately recalibrating his not-so-clever plan of putting nuclear facts on the ground in Cuba, Operation Anadyr, and fearful Castro was out of control, were on a knife edge.
In retrospect it was luck that events such as these did not escalate into a nuclear war. By good fortune the Soviet and American leaders were both rational and capable of accurately calibrating the risk of a nuclear conflagration. John.F. Kennedy had the self-confidence, born of an almost aristocratic disposition and the wise support of his brother Bobby Kennedy, to resist pressure from his military chiefs immediately to bomb the Cuban missile bases and invade. Nikita Khrushchev, wily, brash, from peasant stock, had a clever gambler’s ability to see when it was time to fold on a bad hand. The US Jupiter missiles in Turkey, proved a crucial bargaining chip. Kennedy secretly traded the removal of US Jupiter missiles for the removal of Soviet missiles in Cuba. By one of those quirks of history Kennedy’s offer of a swap-deal was made before he knew Khrushchev had already ordered his vessels to withdraw.
Huge questions arise from the Cuban missile crisis. Does deterrence work? Had Trump been in the White House, and Putin in the Kremlin, would there have been a happy ending? If Arkhipov had been in another submarine would Savitsky really have launched? We will never know.
But if the future of humankind and the planet actually depends on happenstance, luck, and having political leaders with common-sense, we should urgently be taking a lead in seeking multi-lateral nuclear disarmament. Only in an ideal world led by rational, prudent statesmen, a world devoid of mistakes and miscalculation where we always get lucky, would humanity be safe. Is that the world we are looking at today. I don’t think so.
See TheArticle.com 10/12/2019
Secular States like religion to be a private matter. Religious leaders are perennially warned “not to meddle in politics”. So how come the Chief Rabbi writing in The Times last week, widely described as ‘unprecedented’ in his attack on the leader of a political party campaigning in a general election, didn’t receive the customary treatment? The simple answer is the intervention came from the leader of Britain’s Orthodox Jews, and, however outspoken the attack on the Corbyn Labour Party by Ephraim Mirvis, it expressed genuine concern that was widely considered legitimate.
More can be said. The charge of anti-Semitism that has bedevilled the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn, emerged in the context of denunciations of Israel felt as a threat by British Jews. For many, the land, Eretz Israel and the State of Israel, are at the same time both a cherished theological and political reality. Many view their future looking back over the rim of an historic abyss, the Holocaust. This is not a place for measured conversation. Least of all when the other interlocutors denounce the human rights violations of the State of Israel. These have been shocking: for example when live fire from Israeli troops at the Gaza border killed over fifty Palestinian demonstrators with 1,000 hurt on 14 May 2018, many with life changing injuries. Events such as these are known to increase incidents of anti-Semitism.
The term “Zionism” lies at the intersection of radical disagreement and profoundly conflictual positions centred on the right to self-determination. Neither side in the war of words bothers to define what is meant by Zionism nor notice there have historically been several brands. So the word itself has become an empty container to be filled positively, indicating the State of Israel and Jewish redemption, or pejoratively, indicating State Terrorism and Jewish culpability. By elision with – one kind of - Zionism, anti-Semitism rears its ugly head. And ‘Zionism’ then moves to the centre of highly charged debate and becomes a word so tainted by accusations that it is a disguised anti-Semitic term wise speakers avoid using it.
I have had some experience of how such a process happens. During the last decade of apartheid regime in South Africa, the young black ANC supporters with whom I was acquainted would often report killings by the South African military, a conscript army like Israel’s, as “the Boers have killed ...”. I may have done the same myself. Were we being racist when we spoke of the Boers? Shorthand? Sometimes perhaps. In more reflective moments the words used were “the system” was blamed. Is all British anti- Semitism the result of elision of this kind? No. But quite a lot of it is on the Left and in today’s Labour Party, I suspect. That does not make it any the less insensitive or troubling. And just to be clear I’m not claiming that Israel is a facsimile of the 1980s apartheid State, just saying that words can become freighted with racial significance while having a purely descriptive political-historical meaning.
Full-frontal Anti-Semitism has not gone away. Think of the Nazi-style cartoon put up in Tower Hamlets, which the Council had removed. Jeremy Corbyn supported the artist, without bothering to look at the cartoon properly, so he claimed in a later apology. Jewish MPs have been ‘hounded out’ of the Party. Is it any surprise the Jewish community is worried? Anti-Semitism remains a persistent theme of the extreme Right. There have been repellent versions of it from the Left in social media.
What exactly has been going on in the Labour Party will emerge but after the Election. We have to wait for the report from the independent Equality and Human Rights Commission enquiry. A variety of anti- Semitism has clearly manifested itself within the Labour Party: often in the form of sometimes passionate, sometimes sententious, support for the Palestinians, or in careless use of social media. And with an uncontrolled influx of some 400,000 members to the Party, the number of such cases has mounted up. Here the weakness of Corbyn’s leadership becomes obvious. Weeding out offenders started too slowly and took too long. The buck stops at the top. Mr. Corbyn was never going to be given the benefit of the doubt.
Given all this, does it make Mr. Corbyn himself anti-Semitic? The Chief Rabbi justifiably worries about the soul of Britain, but the warning about looking into men’s souls, Mr. Corbyn’s soul anyway, should apply. Better to focus on what he has, and hasn’t done. He has clearly shown a lack of political and prudential judgement, with little empathy for Jewish feelings and sensitivity to the impact of their historical experience.
Fellow religious leaders, sensitive to the growing persecution of religious minorities around the world, have shown Rabbi Mirvis great solidarity. The Archbishop of Canterbury underlined the “deep sense of insecurity and fear” in the Jewish community. But the Chief Rabbi risks being seen, inappropriately for a religious leader, as overly politically partisan.
It might be wise for him now to give an equally timely warning to Mr. Johnson. The following wisdom from the Talmud recommends itself as good counsel: “The liar’s punishment is that even when he speaks the truth, no-one believes him”.
See The Article 03/12/2019
It was not long before Press reaction to Friday’s tragic terrorist attack turned to seeking a culprit other than the perpetrator and his poisonous ideology. Praise for the heroism of those who tackled him, and the courage of the armed police, soon gave way to questions about the length of sentencing, problems in the probation service, and the adequacy of rehabilitation in prison. The irony was that the vile act that left two dead and three injured seems to have been perpetrated by a man who was attending a conference precisely because of his experience of rehabilitation.
It is entirely understandable to want to find out what went wrong, how a convicted terrorist was able to commit an atrocity after years in prison for terrorist offences. But what if, in such cases, in a civilised society, nothing that could be remedied had gone wrong? What if this type of lone-wolf barbarity is a fact of contemporary life and sometimes cannot be detected in advance, and if such cases suggest no obvious remedy save prevention much further upstream?
Most people will reject the idea as a kind of defeatism. It undermines our sense of security. It is a frightening thought that the State’s best efforts over more than eight years – this particular terrorist had been through a course of de-radicalisation – can be to no avail. Such a reaction would be less likely if many people fully grasped the difficulties of dealing with violent religious extremism.
At the most basic level, this recent attack poses the question how should jihadi offenders be handled in prison. Should they be mixed in with others offenders who may be vulnerable to recruitment? To keep safe in many jails you will often need the protection of a gang, and you may naturally be drawn to co-religionists. When it comes to a fight about cooking bacon in the kitchen, you know which side you are on and who is going to watch your back. My experience giving a talk in Wormwood Scrubs was that the front row was solidly Muslim, men who knew something of their faith and stuck together. Among them were one or two impressive men who had kicked a drug habit thanks to their Muslim prison chaplain.
My ANC friends in South Africa, very different prisoners, doing time for political offences in the 1970s, called their prisons “our universities”. The question is then whether religiously-motivated terrorists should be quarantined in specialist units, separated from other kinds of offenders, where a hot-house atmosphere might foment even more fanatical thoughts? No easy answer - though government seems to favour such units.
The path to violent religious extremism is varied. Profiling doesn’t work and there is no guaranteed formula for de-radicalisation. Conservative Salafist scholars who reject violence can be effective but they are rarely advocates of liberalism and pluralism. Their effectiveness stems from the very fact that they share, or once shared, ideas that the general public find repugnant. Using people of this kind to influence men convicted of terrorist offences is controversial and open to challenge.
The belief that winning the debate about the significance of certain verses in the Qur’ān is all that is needed to change minds is far from the truth. De-radicalisation is highly skilled: a matter of instilling trust, grappling with identity, belonging and passionate emotion, and then maybe hitting the right cognitive buttons. The first question should be along the lines of “can I get you a coffee” and “would you like to phone your wife before we chat”. “Do you think Allah might have another purpose for you in life other than jihad” is the last question not the first. It should come as no surprise that de-radicalisation often doesn’t work.
As prison authorities and Muslim chaplains will tell you, counter-intuitively, the aggressive man mouthing the tropes of the jihadist creed is in many ways the least dangerous. You know where you are. The quiet one, saying all the right things, apparently repentant, co-operating with the authorities, may be the most dangerous and quietly recruiting in prison, planning his next move on release. But how can you tell? You can’t. As in clever paedophiles who take years manoeuvring into key positions in schools, care homes and social services with access to children, a clever, devious terrorist is going to fool the most attentive of observers or mentors. It was one such individual who carried out the London Bridge attack.
There is no alternative to prevention. Several things need to be done. The big tech companies, Google, Facebook, ought to be spending more of their advertising revenue on blocking jihadist content and removing links to it. We need to expand the sort of community policing that encourages a Muslim parent to ask the advice of a sympathetic police officer after finding his son looking at a Da’esh website in his bedroom. Increasing the budget of the Intelligence Services while cutting the number of police is no solution. Supporting the mentors in the Channel part of the much-criticised Prevent programme is more to the point. Peer group to Peer group education in schools, even earlier, can work well.
Even if we had room in our overcrowded prisons, which we don’t, imprisonment of violent extremists for more prolonged periods without the money for intensive efforts to de-radicalise them and monitor risk better, won’t eliminate lone-wolf attacks such we have just experienced.
We are in for a long haul. It is time that the sententious attacks on our main counter-terrorism programme, PREVENT, give way to contributions towards improving it. There are many dedicated people trying to keep us safe and many different ways of doing it. Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones were two outstanding examples of them. We have lost two people who were part of the solution. Political points-scoring is part of the problem.
See TheArticle 02/12/2019
Most people have never read a Political Party Manifesto in their life. You might expect a creedal statement, a summary and explanation of a Party’s core beliefs. “We believe in transnational financial capital, maker of wealth and tax avoidance. We believe in one holy, global, market economy, the forgiveness of greed, and the resurrection of one-nation Toryism …” or something like that. Comparisons and choice of Party leaders being odious, and this a profoundly important election for Britain, I decided to read the Manifestos of the two Parties most likely to reach Downing Street. I found these a fascinating collage of aims, pledges, and some principled thinking, a unique, literary form.
The 2019 Manifestos remind me of hopeful Wedding Gift Lists– prudently un-costed by the sender – with a hint of those New Year Resolutions you make as an adolescent, knowing full well, come the second week in January, they will be abandoned. The Conservative Party does offer a second document costing its pledges which you can download, and Labour claims they have done the sums. And, of course both Manifestos are lengthy and comprehensive: 107 pages of Labour’s It’s time for Real Change and 64 pages of the Conservative’s Get Brexit Done. Unleash Britain’s Potential. Notice the two imperative verbs in the latter. This is to highlight strong leadership and that is why there are eight pictures of Mr. Johnson, hair carefully tousled, plus one picture of workers with a banner “We love Boris”. A picture of the bashful, and much bashed, Mr. Corbyn appears but once in the Labour Manifesto. An unfortunate thought does intrude that the real change needed is in the leadership of the Labour Party.
The substantive, domestic contents of each Manifesto have, in the main, been covered by political commentators. But of foreign and international policies beyond the European Union, hardly a word. Both are worth looking at.
The Conservative Party’s presentation“, Britain in the World” is, as might be expected, defence and security heavy. But it does include in the section “Our Values” the commendable pledge “to seek to protect those persecuted for their faith and implement the Truro Review recommendations” (An exemplary review undertaken by the Anglican Bishop of Truro on religious freedom).
Animal welfare policy also puts in an appearance under values with a picture of a veterinary surgeon and the head of a large black dog. Well, we are a nation of dog-lovers. Lest the vote of cat-lovers is forfeit the Party balances the ticket by “advancing [feline] microchipping”. The FCO will be relieved to know Animal Welfare will be promoted overseas - though the Ambassador to South Korea, a country where 300 or so restaurants have dog on the menu, may regret this. Remarkably the Animal Welfare section comes before the one on Climate Change. Yet there is no indication that advanced swimming classes will be provided for either dogs or cats.
The Labour Party in its excellent “A New Internationalism” section of its Manifesto bravely goes for Animal Rights with a charming badger photograph. So much for farmers’ votes. They are commendably strong on human rights, international solidarity and social justice, as well as the role of diplomacy.
By far the most puzzling item in the Labour manifesto’s internationalism section is to be found among its three “pledges” saying what they will do in the first year in power, presumably the most urgent priorities. The first of these is the promise to introduce a War-Powers Act that will require parliamentary approval for military action. Fair enough – though, as in the Sierra Leone civil war in 2000, military action may need to be taken very rapidly. The third is an important FCO-friendly £400 million to boost our diplomatic capacity. But the second is as follows: “Conduct an audit of the impact of Britain’s colonial legacy to understand our contribution to the dynamics of violence and insecurity across regions previously under British colonial rule”.
There are a number of possible explanations for this odd priority. The first would be the Manifesto drafters have read their Orwell. “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past”. Another would be that the idealistic student masses who flooded into the Party have run out of statues of bad people to pull down, or university lecturers with the wrong views about colonialism to ban.
Might the National Executive simply attend a course on colonial history in our universities? What more do we need to understand, for example about the impact of torturing Mau-Mau suspects in Kenya or, say, the Balfour Declaration’s contribution “to the dynamics of violence and insecurity” in the Middle East? Do they really suppose all post-colonial ills can be placed at the door of British imperialism?
Party manifestoes are worth reading in full. They tell you a lot about what each Party’s leadership thinks the public wants to hear. And in addition they are an opportunity to scrutinize a political Party’s world-view and deceptions. Very useful for citizens, Manifestos provide a check-list of aspirations and promises which they can later call to account.
The current Labour and Conservative Manifestos give rise to two thoughts: first, the leadership of the Labour Party has completely abandoned the realist understanding of political possibilities of the Blair-Brown years; economic radicalism is brutally punished by capital flight. They have forgotten that redistribution of wealth and stability in society, increasing salaries and building better public services, can only be achieved from a broad base of popular support. Because they haven’t established that base outside Party membership they won’t win the next election. The second thought is that the moderate Conservative Manifesto means there is no real way of knowing if the Tories, if they come back to power on 13 December with a workable majority, will tilt back to a more one-nation stance, or surrender to its new-found extremism. The clear and present danger is that the extremists will win the day.
See also TheArticle.com 26/11/2019
Why are we surprised to discover that our political culture is dysfunctional, British society divided, perhaps dangerously so? Political leaders have bombarded the public with a stream of stark binary choices: a yes or no referendum on leaving the European Union, ‘the people’ versus the ‘elite’, a vigorous can-do Executive versus a “zombie” Parliament, the poor versus the Establishment and the Rich, a suffering North versus a complacent South, young voters anti-BREXIT, old voters pro-BREXIT.
A better answer would be that globalisation plus Coalition and Conservative government policies have increased inequality of opportunity between, and within, regions; a decade of austerity has depressed the incomes of the less well-off. This experience has created a genuine conflict of interests, feelings and power between so-called overbearing cosmopolitan ‘nowheres’, upwardly and geographically mobile, and the ‘somewheres’, those left-behind, stuck locally with low incomes and few prospects, ignored. It is not that simple. But there is something in the distinction.
The perception of social reality as an irresolvable conflict between ‘them and us’ is the great mainstay of extremism. I can vouch for that after eight years of working on preventing religious extremism. The death of Jo Cox MP was tragic evidence that politicians’ irresponsible language in a dysfunctional society has become lethally dangerous. We see a threatening increase in the percentage of Neo-Nazis joining potential jihadists in the Channel mentoring programme of the Government’s Prevent policy.
And yet, there is something else going on. I was struck by John Le Carré’s recent observation that “Nationalism needs an enemy, Patriotism needs a commitment”. Identifying the enemy is the step after ‘them and us’ into hate-speech with the conviction that ‘them’ are evil. Then comes violence.
There are also ideological reasons for our present predicament. BREXIT is a bi-product of the rise of English nationalism. It takes an Irishman like Fintan O’Toole to name, analyse and ridicule the genie inside the BREXIT bottle. Now that the Farage/Johnson nationalist genie has been released, we will soon face significant pressures for an independent Scotland and a much more Irish Northern Ireland, possibly short of a United Ireland, possibly not.
First a confession: I have a soft spot for John Major’s English myth: Anglican ladies riding their bicycles to church, cricket on the village green, warm beer, cosy pubs. No satanic mills here. Nor rust-belts and boarded up shops. But then I also have a soft-spot for Connemara: the rugged coast and cold churches, horizontal rain, Guinness and oysters round a turf fire, good craic, the Arran Isles, Ireland’s own offshore dream of the past. But fantasy pasts are inherently weak as narratives of nationalism. Society changes leaving them behind. Nationalism finds an enemy.
In a General Election the dark arts of ‘setting the agenda’ come clamouring to the fore. Wrapping themselves in the flag of English nationalism, the new Conservative Party tries to hide its roots in what Will Hutton describes as transnational finance capital: a “regulation-light land fit for hedge funds and private equity capitalism” made for “billionaires of whatever nationality”. Yet, for an era of identity politics, neither Tories nor the statist Corbyn coterie are performing well. Corbyn is acutely vulnerable on political judgement, foreign policy, and Security. Johnson on his past performance as Foreign Minister, his personal values, mendacity, and chameleon politics.
Try applying the Le Carré distinction between nationalism and patriotism to the General Election campaigns. For the Conservative/ Brexit axis, the European Union is the enemy: virile English nationalism stifled by ‘massive’, and effete, EU bureaucracy (in reality the EU employs 32,000 ‘bureaucrats’ with responsibilities for 512 million people, the UK employs 430,000 civil servants for a population of 67 million). As new Leave slogan, ‘Get BREXIT Done’ is a doubly mendacious successor to ‘Take Back Control’; BREXIT will not be done for several years and what Johnson most wants ‘done’ is a big election victory for an English Nationalist Party led by Tory extremists. Many expelled, now former, MPs are patriotic in the Le Carré sense, committed enough to the values of ‘one nation’ Toryism to end their careers. They were unfortunate. Johnson is fickle enough to lead a straightforward ‘one nation’ campaign were it in his interests. On the scale of malignant populist nationalism, a future Johnson government might merit a three, Orban’s FIDESZ in Hungary an eight.
Why only a three? Because the new Conservative Party knows it must pretend to embrace one-nation Toryism and reflect some of the values of the majority of the British people. Not the majoritarian BREXIT values surfaced in the 2016 Referendum, but those of the overwhelming majority of British citizens who share the values and experience of the NHS and are committed to it as a precious national institution.
Founded by the 1945 Atlee Government, the NHS with its egalitarian, free-at-the-point-of delivery, cradle-to-the-grave services, its multi-racial and multi-cultural staffing, and its strong popular support, expresses a cohesive national identity, the kind of identity presented to an admiring world by Danny Boyle at the opening of the 2012 London Olympics. Here was a national institution we were proud to show off to the world. The sense of national pride and healthy patriotism was palpable. That is why, in the current financial bidding war for votes, the Labour Party could not allow another Party to outbid them on commitment to NHS funding.
Viewed from the angle of an individualistic competitive society, and the new Toryism that purports to promote this kind of society, Conservative support for the NHS is an anomaly. “A free health service”, Aneurin Bevan wrote, “is pure Socialism and as such it is opposed to the hedonism of capitalist society”. I await John McDonnell quoting that.
In today’s divisive political culture the NHS remains the touchstone of a cohesive Society with strong human values. And somewhere in our lie-saturated and divisive political culture, the political leaders of the two main Parties glimpse the truth of this proposition…. even during this desultory time of binary identity politics. There is still a glimmer of hope.
See also TheArticle.com 21/11/2019
November 9th was the anniversary of the day the Berlin Wall began coming down. It was also the anniversary of the beginning of Kristallnacht, the November 1938 Nazi pogroms against Germany’s Jews. Not a bad moment for an audit of progress, or lack of it, in protecting human rights around the world. The UN Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR) is our best shot at defining the simple demands of human dignity, with Article 18, the right to freedom of religious belief (FoRB), its bellwether, now violated on a global scale.
British foreign policy has been equivocal in its promotion of rights from a high point under Foreign Minister Robin Cook’s much ridiculed “ethical dimension”, to the loss under austerity cuts of dedicated human rights staff, to Britain’s recent refusal to grant asylum to Asia Bibi, released from imprisonment on false blasphemy charges in Pakistan, and Boris Johnson’s cavalier negligence which landed Nazinin Zaghari-Radcliffe with a five year prison sentence in Iran.
In December 2018 Jeremy Hunt, Johnson’s successor as Foreign Secretary, asked the newly appointed Bishop of Truro, Philip Mounstephen, formerly head of the Church Mission Society, to review the persecution of Christians in key countries around the world, to analyse the FCO’s response to their plight, and to recommend a “cohesive and comprehensive policy” against their persecution. A surprising announcement because freedom of religious belief, let alone Christianity, had not been treated as a priority in the UK’s human rights work.
The Foreign Office’s neglect of religious persecution springs from at least two major causes. Firstly, over the last two decades the FCO, reduced under austerity has been struggling with new priorities: climate change and environment, countering religious extremism, sexual trafficking, rape as a weapon of war, not to mention BREXIT, Putin, and Trump, a crowded in-tray. Secondly and more significantly, Britain, especially its ‘Establishment’ has become a more openly secular country suspecting proselytism behind every missionary bore-hole and clinic and putting jobs, trade and arms sales before public criticism of human rights violations.
Britain’s civil servants follow government directives; diplomats paid lip service to promoting FoRB. A minority did value contact with religious leaders over and above their instrumental value in furthering UK policy objectives, and did do their best to help people of faith who were persecuted. The outcomes of policy directives seem to have depended on the belief, or prejudice, of individual diplomats and civil servants. All embassies and High Commissions were supplied with an FCO toolkit on freedom of religion but, when asked, only 63% of the “low-level” of returns from a questionnaire said they had implemented the toolkit’s provisions. Interviews with religious leaders and communities told the equally depressing story of a small minority of embassies and High Commissions, mainly in the Middle East and North Africa, active in providing effective help for persecuted Christians and in advocating FoRB with host governments.
The Bishop of Truro’s Report’s, focussing on the persecution of Christians in the context of the wider FoRB, thus avoiding rebuttal as special pleading, takes us – instructively - back to the years after the Second World War and the origins of the UN Declaration of Human Rights. The World Council of Churches’ Commission on International Affairs led by the Lutheran theologian Dr. Frederick Nolde, originally lobbied for the nascent UN to establish a Commission on Religious Liberty. It soon became clear to the Churches that these rights had to be part of a wider declaration of other human rights. Eleanor Roosevelt was the first chair of a Commission whose drafting committee produced the UN Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR). The contribution of the British Council of Churches, the Conference of British Missionary Societies and the Greek Orthodox Lebanese Foreign Minister, Charles Malik, was to add “the right to change belief” to the right to hold beliefs, their public expression and performance. It was another world. The veteran British missiologist, J.H. Oldham, saw the UNDHR with its Article 18 on religious freedom as “a new secular structure for the ‘good society’ that would inherit the fruits of the Christian centuries”. We would not wish to describe a universal declaration that way today.
What then did Bishop Mounstephen come up with? Well, a first rate and comprehensive report published in July 2019 which both details the extent of Christian persecution and places it firmly within a general wider decline in respect for FoRB, a decline affecting all faiths. The Report’s individual country assessments make fascinating if shocking reading.
Most notably the Report advocates an early warning system designed to pre-empt persecution, the mainstreaming of FoRB within existing programmes of democratisation, development and peace-building, together with further training in religious literacy for FCO staff. It also asks for a standard definition of persecution and a better understanding of the particular character of discrimination and persecution of Christians. It identifies the variety of triggers and drivers of Christian persecution. In the Bishop of Truro’s own words at a recent meeting: “If you lift the stone of persecution and look underneath, what is it that you find? You find gang warfare on an industrial scale driven by drug crime; you find authoritarian, totalitarian regimes that are intolerant both of dissent and of minorities; you find aggressive militant nationalism that insists on uniformity; you find religious zealotry and fundamentalism in many different forms that often manifests itself in violence”.
I hope the FCO doesn’t shelve this important work. The situation has been deteriorating with Christians persecuted in 144 countries (up from 125 in 2015 according to the respected Pew Foundation in 2016). Quoting the organisation Open Doors, the Report gives the figure of 245 million Christians in the top 50 offending countries currently experiencing persecution today. Progress in combatting violations of FoRB has been reversed whether in the cultural genocide of the Uighers in China or the decline in the number of Christians surviving in Iraq’s Ninevah Plain - alongside the Yazidis - from 1.5 million before 2003 to about 120,000 today. Between 1990-2017, 45 Catholic priests and a Cardinal were murdered by drugs cartels In Mexico. Such human rights violations are now have an alarming a scale, scope and severity scale and have multiple causes.
This Report on the persecution of Christians is a painful, revealing read, a spur to action and easily available*. In a positive step, government circulated it to the Home Office and DfID. Politicians must be pressed about what they intend to do to implement its findings. A General Election provides unique opportunities. As William Wilberforce said presenting a report on the slave trade to the House of Commons in 1791: ‘You may choose to look the other way, but you can never again say you did not know’.
What’s wrong with the Home Office? Almost two years have elapsed since Amelia Gentleman broke the story in The Guardian of Jamaican-born Paulette Wilson: she had come to Britain aged ten, lived here continuously for fifty years working and bringing up her daughter; she had no passport, never returned to the Caribbean, nor left the UK. In 2015 the Home Office informed her that she would have to leave Britain and must not work. In October 2017 Paulette Wilson was taken to Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre, where she was detained for a week awaiting deportation. Naturally she was distraught at being declared an illegal immigrant. Jamaica was a foreign country. Her local MP, Emma Reynolds, and the Refugee and Immigrant Centre in Wolverhampton managed to rescue her from Heathrow just in time. But she was not out of the woods. The threat of deportation still hung over her. This was the beginning of the Windrush Scandal breaking in the Press.
Appalling treatment of British citizens began with David Cameron bulldozing measures through the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government with the aim of reducing the number of immigrants, culminating in the 2014 Immigration Act. Theresa May, Home Secretary since 2010, was determined to create a “really hostile environment” for illegal immigrants. Norman Baker who was Minister in the Home Office at the time described staff responsible for carrying out the policy as “zealots”, ever coming up with more inhumane ideas. The touring vans in 2013 with ‘Go home or be Arrested’ emblazoned on them, immigrants avoiding vital medical assistance for fear of being denounced to the authorities, children in detention, were all products of the Cameron-May policy. As was hundreds of people of Caribbean origin who had worked hard, duly paid their taxes and national insurance, being required to prove that they were legally British, then many being declared illegal by the Home Office. A pernicious set of demands made on Home Office staff took precedence over conscience and whistle-blowing.
The Home Office leadership seemed to glory in meeting government targets for ‘assisted removals’ (a kind of ‘self-deportation’ when, under government pressure, someone leaves without being deported) with 12,800 set as the target for forced removals in 2017-2018. The aim was a 10% increase in “removals” overall. More than eighty of the Windrush generation arrivals fell foul of the anti-immigrant frenzy and were illegally deported. In April 2018 Theresa May refused a formal diplomatic request for an urgent meeting from Commonwealth countries from the Caribbean attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in London. The Windrush scandal gained international exposure and momentum.
Someone had to take the blame. Inevitably it was the then Home Secretary, Amber Rudd who had been in post for nearly two years. She denied her Ministry had removal targets then, when incontrovertible evidence of their existence emerged, claimed in Parliament to have been unaware of them. Even though she was not responsible for creating the policy, her defence was clearly untenable. She resigned on 26 April 2018.
Did the Home Office, as a result of the public outcry at the scandal, then undergo major changes? No. What were the real causes of the Windrush scandal? There were several. But who was really responsible?
I recently went to listen to Amelia Gentleman talk about her new book, The Windrush Betrayal: Exposing the Hostile Environment at the Buxton Festival in Derbyshire. Also on stage, was Colin Grant promoting his own book: Homecoming: Voices of the Windrush Generation, a series of moving verbatim reflections on being a British citizen of Caribbean origin. Together they provided a coherent account of how it had taken so long before “the Windrush betrayal” was exposed and ended.
Grant, whose father was Jamaican-born, spoke about the way many victims kept their plight and the cause of their suffering to themselves, as a result becoming even more vulnerable to state bullying. They had grown up with great loyalty and romantic views of Britain. They felt shamed by being singled out, partly a product of defence mechanisms developed over the years - against racism. They did not know to whom to turn or how to complain and seek redress. Gentleman also provided a thorough and balanced account of what went on, providing detailed cases exploring the ways victims were victimised and expected to provide often missing documentary evidence to prove their citizenship. Victims were guilty of illegality until they proved themselves innocent.
But focus on the varied components in the transmission belt of injustice, Cameron-May to Rudd to Home Office staff, risks neglecting its prime mover: the Tory leaders who in order to appease voters hostile to immigration initiated policies which produced debilitating anxiety and, often, physical and mental ill-health for victims destined for detention centres and Heathrow. A reduced Home Office staff, suffering up to 20% cuts, were doing what they were told, obeying orders from above, acting as the promoters of May’s hostile environment. At the same time, Cameron moved away from multi-culturalism as a policy towards existing immigrant communities, tacking further into the wind created by hostile public attitudes to immigrants.
The Home Office is perennially accused of being “not fit for purpose”. Two years have passed now and three things need underlining.
First, if lessons have been learned from the Windrush scandal, apart from a special unit set up to deal with the fall-out from the scandal, to date there are no signs of that. Only the economic consequences of May’s hostile environment seem to make any impact on policy. The same callous indifference to human suffering persists in the treatment of asylum seekers and migrants, with the judiciary the last resort for maintaining human rights standards.
Second, the Home Office still awaits reform, notably in training staff to understand something of the conditions and realities in the specific countries from which asylum seekers and migrants are drawn.
Third, the Home Office needs an institutional ethos free of hostility in which empathy is not a career hazard. And the ethos of institutions comes from the top.
On the broader question of dealing with inflamed public opinion, the root cause of the Windrush scandal was the failure of government and Parliament to show moral leadership. Government needs to challenge the baser instincts of citizens, as well as dealing with the legitimate grievances of citizens disturbed by rapid social change. Representative democracy does not mean robotic obedience to understandable, but often misinformed, popular demands based on fear. Nor the adoption of immigration policies that grievously undermine what we must continue to hope are British – universal - human values.
See TheArticle.com 02/11/2019
The dust has settled on Barisha in northern Syria where Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed on 26 October. Thousands of his followers and their children are today detained in insecure camps. It is a good moment to take stock of the rise and fall of Da’esh and Al-Qaida, their persistence, and their future heirs. For while the removal of their leadership dealt them a blow, no-one seriously believes this is the last chapter in the history of religious extremism.
Al-Qaida and Da’esh were both bi-products of war, in Afghanistan and Iraq. Twenty years ago almost nobody foresaw that clandestine organisations manipulating a violent distortion of Islam would regularly inflict significant civilian casualties around the world. Who, twenty years ago, would have imagined that substantial new resources, military, police, intelligence, would be needed to apprehend people planning religiously motivated terrorist acts? And who would have foreseen the need for preventative measures to address the motives, thoughts and feelings of potential terrorists, and the reaction to them? The world was unprepared.
Religious terrorism offers spurious legitimation for preexisting hatred and violence. Against an Islam preaching a merciful and compassionate God in the modern world, Da’esh posited the resurgence of an – imagined - beleaguered seventh century Medina community mutating by Allah’s power into a militarised expansionist political entity, a Caliphate. Al-Qaida re-interpreted the Islamic duty of jihad, abandoning the original concept of a defensive war, a community obligation requiring authorisation by the Caliph, for an individual obligation and decision to take up arms. Al-Qaida’s individualism was perversely modern. Following a distinctive approach, Da’esh advocated war to revive the Caliphate, and did so, making it the touchstone and supreme test of obedience to Allah.
Al-Qaida and Da’esh disagreed about when a Caliphate might be re-founded. From its origins Al-Qaida decided that creating a Caliphate would be premature and that any attempt to found one would bring down the wrath of the ‘kafir’ superpowers. Al-Qaida was both right and wrong. Da’esh made Raqaa in Syria the capital of a functioning, geographical political entity. It performed several functions of a militarised State or Caliphate, and provided both an allegedly legitimate outlet for violence and a supposedly Islamic community for its members. And as Al-Qaida had predicted, Da’esh did provoke a powerful military response (as, of course, did Al-Qaida’s attack on the Twin Towers after 9/11).
Al-Qaida’s and Da’esh used similar recruiting techniques but with significant differences. Al-Qaida’s propaganda was wordy, textual and mapped onto the logical, linear reasoning processes characteristic of the brain’s left hemisphere. It shared with Da’esh a sharply binary world of divinely sanctioned right and wrong, no grey areas, and espoused a single value, jihad, in the face of the clashing values of a multicultural, multi-religious modern world.
Da’esh, on the other hand, became adept at visual propaganda so its appeal has greater reach. Its simple, powerful messages, spread through social media, mapped onto the brain’s right hemisphere and limbic system where the core emotional and motivational centres are located. The Caliphate was presented visually as an end-times utopia. In it recruits would find redemption from a sinful past withdrawn from the hostile world of infidels, a place where all desires were fulfilled. Da’esh recruits took on a new identity, solidarity, and the camaraderie of a closely knit in-group. Such promise of belonging was a powerful pull.
The extreme brutality of Da’esh provided an emotional counterpoint to the warm feelings of belonging. Da’esh’s own violence was presented alongside films about Western killing of Muslim innocents shockingly portrayed in video clips. Recruits’ emotions were doubly assaulted and captivated: by moral shock and by a sense of Muslim victimhood stimulating fear, fight, flight, freeze responses. The effect was to short-circuit moral thought by generating a state of anxiety, anger and fear in which brutality became normative.
Da’esh propaganda made independent thinking highly dangerous. It truncated time, conflating an ideal past and a blissful future with their actual brutal militarist, patriarchal rule. The concept of the Caliphate, in the past but lived now, collapsed linear time. The shock of watching videos of decapitations and torture was countered by the promised rewards of the Caliphate: an idealised family life – even fluffy kittens appeared on their media sites – and the long-desired just society. The visual impact of this emotional and cognitive bombardment was to eliminate and displace moral reflection and rational thought. The violent behaviour of Da’esh jihadis, their misperception of social and political reality, the torture, rape and murder around them, stems from something grievously awry in the structure of their thinking and their emotions. The particular horror of this for Muslims was the way elements of Sunni - Salafi – religious discourse were used and twisted to legitimate a descent into barbarism.
A common feature of the young people to whom extremist propaganda appealed seems to be their need for simple binary explanations of, and solutions to, problems of mental health, anger, identity and belonging. The number of petty criminals who become jihadis was significant. The high level of cultural dissonance and social mixing resulting from migration, and the recent communications-led wave of globalisation, which called identities into question, contributed to radicalisation of the few in leadership positions. And there were clearly recruits, difficult as it is to imagine, who went to Iraq and Syria out of a misplaced idealism. The key to Da’esh success was its use of social media to change minds and change perceptions of the world.
What difference has the death of Al-Baghdadi made? Killing him and Bin Laden has worked political wonders for American Presidents. But it fails to touch the root of the problem: the recruitment methodology and manipulation of Qur’anic verses that attracts young people and affects their mindset. There are estimated to be 45,000 children detained in the Da’esh family camps many of whom will be at risk of radicalisation. They have to be offered an Islamic alternative. Youth radicalized, for whatever reason, need to discover that their ideals can be lived out without violence and without the tragic loss of family, friends, and life. Everyone needs to have their identity and deepest values respected. Coercion does not work. It is vital to create an environment in which thinking develops spontaneously as the consequence of a new set of social interactions, gainful employment, new friendships, and without invalidating the needs and core values that drew the would-be, or actual, extremist into a Da’esh or Al-Qaida cell.
As things stand this seems an impossible dream. Yet it is vital that the 45,000 young occupants of the Da’esh family camps are given some hope, some future, or in only a few years’ time they will follow their fathers, and some of their mothers, into terrorism. Their different nation-states of origin should urgently take responsibility for them before it is too late. This is not simply a matter of international humanitarian and moral concern it is a matter of national security.
See also “What’s Next for Al-Qaida and Da’esh” TheArticle.com 30/10/2019
“We’re ready and champing at the bit for an election”, Jeremy Corbyn wrote to Labour Party members last week. He must have been using the royal “we”. No-one I know in the Labour Party thinks he will win the next general election. Meanwhile 38 people who had lost love-ones, killed by the IRA, wrote to Mr. Corbyn asking for an apology for his repeated failure to single out IRA murders during the Troubles for condemnation, "giving succour" to the Republican movement.
Contrary to Mr. Corbyn’s belief that he can repeat his performance in the June 2017 election – which he and his coterie and followers seem to forget he lost – the political situation has become significantly different. Boris Johnson is an engaging campaigner. Theresa May wasn’t. The Conservative Party are now aping Labour’s sky-high financial commitments to public services. The Johnson and Swinson BREXIT positions will be clear in their manifestoes. And given the mind of the country’s polarised voters, who seek resolution and clarity, Corbyn’s laboriously acquired non-position on BREXIT will be a recipe for defeat. He is tarnished by his past. Quite simply he lacks political judgement.
The political charge sheet against Mr. Corbyn has filled up. The first charge was that he was an IRA sympathiser not a peace-builder. Two weeks after the Brighton bombing in October 1984 - aimed at killing Mr. Corbyn’s parliamentary colleagues and notably Margaret Thatcher - he met in the House of Commons with two former, convicted, IRA volunteers, Linda Quigley and Gerard MacLochainn, to discuss prison conditions. The insensitivity, or political stupidity, of this meeting after five had died and 31 injured by the IRA bomb beggars belief. Between 1986-1992 he attended official Irish Republican commemorations of dead IRA members. Peacemaking?
Mr. Corbyn, aspiring to be Prime Minister responsible for the country’s security, has not provided any evidence to support his belated explanation for this behaviour, that he was working for peace rather than supporting the IRA. Seamus Mallon, the former Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, and Deputy Leader of Labour’s sister Party, the Social and Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), is damning: “I never heard anyone mention Corbyn at all. He very clearly took the side of the IRA and that was incompatible, in my opinion, with working for peace”.
Let’s be charitable to Mr. Corbyn. These were heady ideological times on the Left and he was only a back-bench MP. Perhaps he believed himself to be a potential mediator. It was a time of liberation struggles around the world and, perhaps, he did not realise that the IRA were rivals of the burgeoning 1960s human rights movement that could have brought about change. IRA violence, at first ostensibly to protect the Catholic community, shut down democratic redress for Catholic and Nationalist grievances. The Provisional IRA did not, as had many of the national liberation struggles worldwide, taken up armed struggle as a last resort against tyranny. That is why the Irish Catholic bishops opposed them. The Provos ruthless violence pre-empted a peaceful struggle for human rights; and their strategy was rejected by the Official IRA. In a democracy there were other options as the SDLP tried to demonstrate.
Time moved on leaving Mr. Corbyn beached on the shoals of the 1970s. The second charge that he was anti-Semitic, exposed in March 2018, happened in 2012. Tower Hamlets Borough Council (with, note, a strong Muslim presence) ruled that an anti-Semitic cartoon by a graffiti artist, Kalen Ockerman, put up on a wall in Hanbury Street in London’s East-End, had to be removed. It depicted Jewish bankers counting money on a monopoly board resting on the backs of naked black workers. Ockerman complained on Facebook about the mural’s removal. Mr. Corbyn defended him on grounds of freedom of speech. "Why? You are in good company. Rockefeller destroyed Diego Viera’s mural because it includes a picture of Lenin”. The mural by Viera, a celebrated Mexican artist, was commissioned for the Rockefeller Centre in New York and removed as a result of a public outcry in 1934.
After this exchange on Facebook came to light, Corbyn admitted that freedom of speech does not justify reproducing Nazi anti-Semitism. As leader of the Labour Party, he regretted that he “did not look more closely” at the mural. Even on cursory inspection, the grotesque beaked noses of the bankers copied the worst of Nazi anti-Semitic propaganda. Had he viewed it through his anti-capitalist spectacles and simply missed its gross anti-Semitism? How could he not have noticed the similarities to Nazi portrayals? We will never know.
Time passed. With an election in the offing, Mr. Corbyn is stranded in his BREXIT dilemmas like a sick whale floundering in the Thames. The Times last week, harpoon at the ready, went on the attack with an investigation about his views on an Iranian Charity. Before he became leader of the Labour Party, Mr. Corbyn waxed lyrical about the London-based organisation, the Iranian Human Rights Commission (IHRC). The investigation turned up that the three directors of the Charity had unsavoury views about the West, Zionists, Sadiq Khan, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the European Court of Human Rights. One director– who would have believed it? – thought Iran had a wonderful record of “standing against injustice”. He saw the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khomeini, as an example to the world. The IHRC “represents all that’s best in Islam”, declared Mr. Corbyn in an interview. “I like the sense of values surrounding it”. Ignorance is not bliss in public life. Might it not have been prudent to have “looked more closely”? The defence case might be that the Charity Commission has recently spent two years investigating the Charity and required no changes. But the ill-informed accolades are offensive to many, many Muslims. Can the Labour Party afford a leader as careless in his judgements as this?
We all make mistakes and we try not to be like the Bourbons who “learned nothing and forgot nothing”. But Mr. Corbyn’s repeated inability to “look more closely”, to demonstrate good political judgement and clarity of thought, has not been remedied by the passage of time, nor by the demands of leadership. The team he has assembled around him do not inspire confidence. He does not defer to wiser counsels. Today his ingrained ideological assumptions, his persistent lack of prudential judgement, form a major element of the BREXIT impasse. While he remains leader of the Labour Party three possible paths forward to resolve BREXIT, a Jonson agreement with the EU and a people’s referendum Mr. Corbyn makes more difficult, and a temporary government of national unity he makes impossible.
Sir Keir Starmer must now be given full authority to lead on BREXIT and allowed to perform his role as Shadow Secretary for Exiting the European Union.
Opinion polls suggest the public have concluded that Mr. Corbyn is part of the problem not part of the solution. For the common good, for the country, for the Labour Party, for all suffering under austerity, he should do the right thing and step aside gracefully now. “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher; all is Vanity” (Ecclesiastes 12.8).
See TheArticle.com 14/10/2019
Do Johnson, Corbyn and Trump feel guilt? Or, come to that, shame? If they do it is undetectable. But the Conservative and Labour leaderships are demonstrably great practitioners of blame. And these three, guilt, shame and blame, are surely alternatives, one arising in default of the other. How bad is that?
Guilt has had a bad press since Freud but most people’s instinct would be to say that guilt is somehow morally better than shame. After all it is a private, individual feeling and ours is an age of individualism. I’m not so sure. Why should a social emotion like shame, fear of the consequences of being found out and exposed, be less good than individual pangs of self-disgust? Or is it that an internal, private feeling of guilt – nobody need know about it - holds the promise of remorse, doing better next time, being “delivered from temptation?” to paraphrase the Lord’s Prayer. Guilt at least implies you have hit the ignition button of your conscience; and having a functioning conscience is usually considered a good thing. Whereas shame suggests you had better try harder not to get found out next time, and the skill of deceit is not widely applauded – unless you are a spy. Of course, acts that result in public opprobrium may shame you, with many people knowing, but being ashamed without anyone knowing borders on guilt.
If guilt and shame are denied or missing, the default position is blame. And why is blaming someone, something else, such an effective get-out-of-jail card - let’s be generous to Mr. Johnson - for the guilty heart, the joker in the pack of cards dealt by a Joker Prime Minister?
Instead of failing miserably to answer these questions, I will tell what I hope is an instructive as well as a true story. During the anti-apartheid struggle I got to know a young Catholic married couple who were ANC activists in Johannesburg. Repression had cranked up and was intense. Many were being arrested and jailed. The risk of detention was high. The couple faced difficult moral dilemmas. They wanted a child but would it be right to bring one into the world when there was a real risk of them being jailed and separated from their baby? They were afraid. ANC activists were being assassinated by a special unit of the security police, prisoners were brutalised, and jail sentences long. There didn’t seem to be much light at the end of the tunnel. They later came to London, by chance at the same time as Jon Sobrino S.J. a liberation theologian from war-torn El Salvador. Of six Jesuit colleagues, their housekeeper and her daughter, only he had survived a bloody massacre at the hands of El Salvador’s military dictatorship in November 1979. When he got news of the murders Sobrino went straight back to his Jesuit residence on the campus of the Central American University in San Salvador where they had died.
Things had reached a violent head in South Africa. Nelson Mandela was shortly to be released. The two young South Africans, like Sobrino, had experienced fear of violence from unaccountable State agents themselves. They wanted to ask a famous liberation theologian why he had returned to danger and how he had dealt with his fear. We all were expecting a theologian’s answer, Christological and lyrical, in the style of Sobrino’s books. There was a pause after the question. Then he said: “Oh, I would have been too ashamed to have stayed away. What would my brethren have said?” I am still not sure whether he was referring to the Jesuit martyrs who had died or the living members of the Society of Jesus to which he belonged (as does the present Pope). I wondered if Sobrino wanted to present and encourage shame as a virtue, or was he simply in the habit of telling the truth. I think the latter. It was a lovely moment. Our weighty earnestness was punctured like a balloon. I almost laughed. We all felt there should be no shame in admitting human weakness and human pride. We all felt we had permission to be human.
So how does someone such as Boris Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn handle shame? I have never seen two political leaders so shamed in public, derided and ridiculed for their pretensions. Perhaps the hope-filled, idealistic or feckless adulation of their followers is for them wrap-around mental body-armour. Donald Trump is another story. He shows most characteristics of narcissism and sociopathic disorder. He warns Turkey that he will devastate their economy if in “my great and unmatched wisdom” they appear to take advantage of his abandonment of a loyal US ally, the Syrian Kurds, whom he has left to the tender mercies of Erdogan’s armed forces. Estimates suggest that the Kurds lost over 10,000 troops fighting ISIS. And we also know how Trump handles being shamed. The brash, crude, nouveau riche boy on the New York block, shunned by the elite, rubbished and shamed by an upstart black President in front of his peers, seems to crave the comfort of cheering crowds, his tweet followers, and campaign banners. Obama’s ridicule probably resulted in Trump attempt’s to reverse every single one of the former US President’s achievements. Beyond Obama, Trump doesn’t go in much for blaming. He abuses and punishes.
Dealing with shame and guilt is not a matter of personality only, of inadequacies, of things missing from character and leadership. The absence or denial of guilt and shame is a growing element within our political culture, the medium in which such individuals now thrive, a medium which encourages the idea that lack of guilt and shame, apparently missing from political leadership, is of no consequence, that the blame game, part entertainment, part outlet for anger and resentment, is what matters. It does matter but because it removes responsibility from the executive. We are in trouble if we get used to this state of affairs. From the Left the blame falls on Blairites and international capitalists, from the Right it has fallen on Remainers and then the judiciary, it fell on EU negotiators, on Parliament, and then on the Irish, and then, eventually…. it will fall on you and me.
See also TheArticle 09/10/2019