Why can’t the BBC understand that we are STILL a Christian country?

A couple of things are striking about today’s offering from Stephen Glover:

“Despite being required under its charter to provide religious programming, and despite being funded by licence-payers who overwhelmingly describe themselves as Christian, the Corporation has been increasingly pursuing what can only be, at best, described as a non-Christian agenda and, at worst, as an anti-Christian one.”

These two striking things are the claim that this is a Christian country and the jumping off point for this particular article on religious persecution, the appointment of a non-Christian to the head of religious broadcasting at the Beeb. Taking those in reverse order, Aaqil Ahmed, a practising Muslim who believes that “there should be more coverage of Muslim matters in the media”, has been appointed as head of religious broadcasting for the BBC. He comes from a similar post at Channel 4 and replaces Michael Wakelin, a Methodist lay preacher. Or, as Stephen breaks the news:

“On Monday, the Corporation announced that it has appointed a Muslim as head of religious broadcasting. This is not a joke, I can assure you.

The person responsible for overseeing the BBC’s — so far — largely Christian output will be Aaqil Ahmed, a practising Muslim.”

There appears to be an implicit assumption here that to accurately represent a group you have to be representative of it. On this basis, to take an obvious example, in every constituency in the country, half the population are disenfranchised through the gender of their MP. Generally it is felt that this is not a pressing concern, as someone good, nay merely competent, as an MP should be able to see beyond their own concerns as a gendered individual and extend their representation to those of the wider community. Anecdotally, MPs at least do seem able to do this to some extent – despite being predominantly straight, parliament has over recent decades been able to roll back legislation discriminatory to gays; despite being predominantly monied, we have on the books a small number of laws running against the monied classes in favour of the underprivileged. One would imagine that it would be a condition of Mr Ahmed’s terms of reference, and the oversight that ensures he keeps to them, that he shares similar representative skills.

It’s also worth noting that, for all the use of ‘Christian’ as a concrete noun, the set of items covered by the label ‘Christian’ is very broad. If you need to have an understanding of the beliefs of a group to fully represent them, the Catholic population of the UK, for example, may well have had reason for concern over the appointment of the previous head of religious broadcasting. Methodism is a non-hierarchical denomination, structured as a direct democracy with doctrine discussed and decided on the level of elected national committees. It’s not that unlike the Women’s Institute in that respect. A Methodist lay preacher could reasonably be expected to find it difficult to fully justify the practices of a church based on the doctrinal opinions of an elderly celibate in slippers, appointed in secret by other such elderly celibates and claiming authority through a direct lineage from an apostle of the human incarnation of God. This is no small issue given the research in 2007 which suggested that Roman Catholicism would surpass Anglicanism¹ as the country’s biggest Church and so, presumably, the biggest subset of BBC-funding licence payers. Although under Mr Wakelin’s watch the religious coverage of the BBC may have become, in Stephen’s opinion, more “anodyne”, he still managed to make it through without claims that Catholicism was being ignored or slighted, or that there was a noticeably Methodist slant to coverage. The fact he was non-representative of the vast majority of the Christian population of the UK didn’t seem to affect his ability to represent them.

For this reason, there is something slightly unsettling about the claim that Muslim will not do the job as well as a Christian (and the attached claim that a Hindu won’t be as good at organising ‘Songs of Praise’), and taking their appointment as evidence that the BBC is sidelining Christianity. If we’re happy with a member of a minority denomination handling the role, and we’re happy in other areas of public life that you can represent without being representative, there seems to be no reason to see a Muslim’s appointment as a potential punchline to a joke.

Moving on to the other striking thing:

“No doubt [the BBC’s] secular suits assume that Britain is as anti-Christian as they are. They’re out of touch again.”

On the face of it, this is an uncontroversial claim – the last national census (2001) showed that (of the 92% of the population choosing to answer the question) 72% of the population felt themselves to be Christians. However, whilst there is a very vocal population of Christians in public life, 72% seems like a very large number given the number of non-Christians encountered in everyday life. Looking at more recent alternative data, the last British Social Attitudes report to look at the subject of religion (2007) found 69% of respondents did not belong to a religion or attend religious services. Leaving aside the possibility that the intervening six years of anodyne religious broadcasting had persuaded a large chunk of Christians to pack it in and worship capitalism instead, there is a big gap between these two results which needs to be explained. Part of it may be the way the question is posed – in the census you are asked ‘What is your religion?’, a formulation implicitly implying that you have a religion of some sort that is both nameable and listed on the form, while in the BSA you are asked ‘Do you regard yourself as belonging to any particular religion?’, which is much more open-ended and places ‘no’ on a par with ‘yes, and it is …’. In particular, in the BSA version of the question, the onus is on the respondent to say that which religion they follow, rather than having a list presented from which they can select the best that fits. It avoids the danger of people who were raised Christian or passed through the Christian school system feeling the need to tick the box as it brings in the idea of active pursuit of the religion rather than mere membership. This seems a much more meaningful measure – to take another political analogy, we would consider someone a ‘Conservative’ only if they voted Tory, having been raised in a Tory household but now not voting would be insufficient.

We should probably be wary of both measures – the question on the census is badly phrased while the BSA is a voluntary survey and so subject to things like selection bias² and both rely on self-definition which is changeable and non-uniform. However, taken with evidence of low attendance of religious ceremonies, low viewing figures for religious programmes and little evidence of religious belief in daily life³, we can have reason to doubt the claim that we are still a ‘Christian nation’. To what extent this means we should change our approach to questions of religious involvement in public life is a subject for another time, but at the very least we should stop seeing such claims as truisms which justify any claim to special treatment.

On which bases, Stephen’s conclusion:

“In appointing Aaqil Ahmed they do not simply offend against this country’s Christian heritage and traditions. They also further weaken the hold and authority of the BBC.”

should probably be taken with a pillar of salt.

———–

¹ Which, although being hierarchical in a way which Methodism isn’t, is much closer to it on issues like same-sex relationships, birth control and the intercession of the saints.

² Although they are actually quite good at avoiding such issues.

³ Where, for example, do we find evidence of Christian belief in our daily newspapers – judgemental, thoroughly lacking in brotherly love and doing a fine line in leery, some might say outright covetous, photos of celebrities – for all their protestations when their privileges are threatened.

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Under this rule, even Osama Bin Laden is British

Although to the outsider sometimes disturbing, I’m starting to see some comforting familiarity in Richard’s columns. Take this, from today:

“Some years ago, in the wake of the Afghan hijack fiasco at Stansted, I invented a spoof game show called ‘Asylum!'”

which reminded me of a story I’d previously touched on, in which Richard reminisced:

“Around the time of the hijack, I even invented a spoof game show called ASYLUM!, which is still doing the rounds on the internet.”

which made me think there might be more, and indeed there are, such as this gem:

“A few years ago, after the Afghan airliner hijack at Stansted, I invented a game show called ASYLUM! in which contestants from all over the world merely had to set foot in Britain to be showered with benefits, free homes and cars.”

or this:

“A couple of weeks after the Siege of Stansted, I invented a spoof game show called Asylum! Hijack An Airliner And Win A Council House.”

Although I still don’t find the concept amusing, I can at least now greet it as a part of the furniture – it’s an anecdote Richard and I share, because like him I know the punchline. Now, far be it from me, who has never invented a spoof game show in my life, to mock another man’s pride in what is clearly, to him, a beautiful child, but it seems to me that the punchline is somewhat flawed.

The thing about asylum, which should be obvious from the name¹, is that it is a type of refuge. We offer it to people fleeing persecution, war or threat to their persons. Such people tend to have trouble fleeing – if what your government really wants to do with you involves spark plugs and water, they’re unlikely to issue you with a passport or let you across the border as a substitute. If what you really want to avoid is your government having fun at your expense, a different tack must be taken. Since the legal ways are not options, the only options are illegal. The fact that you have needed to forge your passport or hijack a plane to escape almost guarantees you access to asylum – firstly because the fact you’ve gone to the trouble suggests something was up with you in the first place and secondly because, if your government did like you originally, they’re unlikely to look on you so kindly after you’ve been publicly on the run. Part of the problem with Richard’s putative game show, and his asides at Abu Qatada later in his article, is that asylum isn’t granted in these cases in spite of the illegal means by which the country was entered, but partly because of them.

The second problem again relates to the nature of asylum as flight from persecution, warfare, or threats to the person. All three of these make the hiring of a removal company to get your property out in good order, and the access to your bank accounts to do the same with your finances, somewhat difficult. Not only do you lose your country, livelihood and lifestyle, but you also lose everything you owned and had spent a lifetime building up. Even an asylum seeker who’d lived a life of Littlejohnian prudence and accumulation would arrive unable to support themselves. Throw in any problems with the language, the fact that qualifications may not be readily transferable and a sometimes unwelcoming local community and the alternative to a council house is homelessness and beggary. That is not my definition of asylum, and it is an unattractive alternative to winning Richard’s game.

Which is also a long way of saying that Richard’s prescience:

“It was supposed to be a joke but, as always, was based on fact. I can remember writing that none of the hijackers would be deported and they’d all end up living here permanently, courtesy of the mug British taxpayer.”

is not so prescient after all.

For Richard, this long interlude is merely a way of introducing his main subject, the ‘undesirables’ who were granted refuge. Now there are two obvious problems with this – the one raised above that hijacking a plane doesn’t make you an undesirable but merely someone desperate enough to hijack a plane, but also the simpler point that refuge is not immigration. The people who we would normally want to keep out, and Abu Qatada seems as objectionable as any, arrive fleeing persecution. To send them home is to condemn them to whatever it was they were trying to avoid. If that thing is sufficiently bad that we would take them if they weren’t ‘undesirable’, it is hard to see how we can morally send them back to it. To put it simply, there are some things you would not wish on an enemy. As soon as that’s the case, we’re stuck with them, and in our benefit situation previously outlined. It’s not ideal, but it’s the right thing to do.

Which brings us to:

“To add insult to injury, a panel of European judges has awarded Qatada £2,500 in damages for the brief period he spent in Belmarsh prison after 9/11.

Another ten foreign terror suspects held at the same time also received payouts ranging from £1,500 to £3,400 each.”

and the idea of the ‘right thing to do’. Having people such as Qatada, who we would normally send home but can’t, presents something of a problem. We need to find a way of preventing him from causing harm while at the same time being unable to deport him as we would normally. In such a situation, the Law is normally a good rule of thumb to follow. Were he not a refugee, but a UK national, he would be free to go about his daily business until he had done something which was against the law, be arrested for that illegal act, given an opportunity to offer a defence for his actions, and then tried in accordance with the evidence available. He wouldn’t just be banged up on the suspicion that he’d done something wrong before he’d had a chance to consider the charges. Were that to happen, he’d be entitled to compensation. Again, the facts that Qatada is here on a charitable basis and is not someone we’d have chosen to have on any other terms makes this compensation unfortunate, but those facts don’t make his claim for compensation any less compelling².

Which leads us to Richard’s crashing finale on who Britain should defend, citing the case of Binyam Mohammed:

“Binyam Mohammed is an Ethiopian citizen who was granted leave to live in Britain. In 2001, he decided he’d rather live in Afghanistan.”

Were these facts the case in full, Richard would probably have a point. However, I have not found anyone else asserting that he left to live in Afghanistan – Binyam himself says he went to see what the Islamic state looked like, and because he wanted to kick a drug habit away from his familiar haunts. He was arrested less than a year later, trying to return to Britain from Pakistan. Although born in Ethiopia, he’d lived in the UK since he was 15, and had been resident for 7 years. He’s worked here, paid taxes here, had leave to return here and was trying to return here. There is currently no evidence that he planned to commit any crime on returning. This is not quite the same as Osama Bin Laden, Richards reductio ad absurdum. This is just another example of someone who has been accepted under Britain’s protective umbrella  – and so someone who should be accorded the same treatment as anyone else under that umbrella, such as Richard himself. Again, even if we believe that Binyam is an ‘undesirable’, we would have reason to protest him being arrested without charge, tortured, detained without the access of a lawyer and slated to be tried in a kangaroo court that had the power of the death sentence. These are not things that should happen to someone Britain had offered to protect.

Fundamentally, this all comes down to the fact that foreign people are just as worthwhile as people who have always paid taxes here. You don’t buy fair treatment under law, you don’t buy the right not to be tortured abroad or have a foreign government persecute you. There are things that cannot be done to you, and that means there are things we cannot send foreigners home to have done to them and things that we cannot do to them here just because they’re foreign. That’s not the crazed punchline to a game-show themed joke, that’s consistency.

—————-

¹ The derivation I have of it is from the Greek ‘sulon’, referring to the right of seizure, ‘a-sulon’ meaning ‘no right of seizure’. Even without this derivation, we have a long history as ‘asylum’ as a practical synonym for ‘refuge’, as in mental hospitals – refuges from mental illness.

² As a slight aside, it’s worth noting here that this has nothing to do (as Richard suggests in: “And until Britain repeals the pernicious ‘yuman rites’ act, here they’ll stay, indefinitely.”) with the Human Rights Act. Rights to asylum and treatment on reception are enshrined in international law and rights to a fair trial are traditional and would be mourned by Richard if they were ever threatened.

Arrogant, ignorant and out of his depth, is Banana Boy Miliband our worst Foreign Secretary ever?

I’ve touched previously on the paranoid style in Daily Mail articles, but I thought this was quite impressive even by usual standards.

“Beyond hectoring this country’s allies in this way, Miliband also remains a global warming zealot. This is even though the world’s climate is actually cooling, the ice is expanding, the seas aren’t rising at a rate which should concern anyone and there is overwhelming evidence that the whole man-made global warming panic is an anti-west scam of unprecedented proportions.”

I’ve spoken before about climate change in the Mail and I’ll not do it again so soon. What I find more interesting is the idea that it’s a conspiracy  – who by, and for what purpose? Is the West ripping off itself, or is this some sort of evil developing world scheme to hobble our once proud industry further? How have they managed it? I mean, it is a hell of a scheme – it’s not just Miliband they’ve fooled/bought, this con is big. A lot of people who really should know better have gone and got the wrong answer to a simple either-or question. That’s a good scam.

“Much of this comes from a way of looking at the world through a highly ideological and distorting prism. Miliband is very much a child of the post-modern era in which the dominant  belief system of the progressive classes comprises ‘soft power’ – under which negotiation, legal processes and compromise take the place of war whose objective is actually to defeat an enemy with an unconscionable and non-negotiable agenda; ‘trans-nationalism’, under which the nation state is defined as the source of all the ills of the world; and ‘cultural relativism’, under which the west refuses to hold itself superior in its values to the third world, whose ‘narrative’ of its own oppression and powerlessness thus trumps all attempts by the west to defend itself against the attacks the third world mounts upon it.”

I admit that this juxtaposition reads a little strangely, there were some intervening paragraphs, but I’m assuming that the argument is consistent, and this is the first bit that would seem to reflect back on the dastardly scheme to scam the West. Turns out that all those Tuvaluans with their plans to live in New Zealand once their nation submerges are really only trying to undermine Western values with their narratives of oppression. First the petty cultural relativists¹ let them take our light bulbs, and next it’ll be our wives, castles and prejudices.

What this misses is the perfectly reasonable middle ground between mea culpa and right all along – that the nation state, while having its plus points, can also be guilty of some fairly dodgy things. For example, the system of propping up odious dictatorships as a protection of ones own people is a rum one, as are protectionist tariffs and the Olympics. We can safely question these without giving in to self-flagellation – think of it not as relativism but healthy jingoistic introspection. Thinking things through, we might find that we are, in fact, responsible for some of the ills of the world, and that some ways of improving things may be available through negotiation with those we’ve disadvantaged (or ‘wronged’, should you wish to be accurate).

The idea that we can just pretend that the damage we sometimes cause doesn’t happen is one we should have grown out of before hitting school. We can’t pull girls hair and claim that they’re making it up when they go crying to mummy – it didn’t work then and it doesn’t work now. Ad hominem attacks ( “a twerp of the first order”) won’t change that. And claiming that the crafty poor majority are coming to steal you incandescent light bulbs under false pretences before accusing  other people of disconnecting from reality won’t either.

—————–

¹ As an aside, she’s right about cultural relativism – to suggest that ‘x is wrong’ is the same as ‘x is wrong for me, but other people may disagree and are entitled to their opinion’ seems to me to misunderstand the meaning of ‘wrong’. Presumably we’re none of us relativist about, for example, rape – when we say that is wrong, we’re saying exactly what we mean. I’m not sure how ‘chauvinism is wrong’ or ‘causing animals unnecessary suffering is wrong’ are different – that is to say, what makes them different has never been adequately explained to me.

As £170,000 a year is spent on an Afghan single mother… A story that sums up the howling insanity of modern Britain

Just so we’re under no illusions, Richard Littlejohn has nothing but respect for people seeking asylum

“Let me make it clear, I don’t blame anyone for coming here to make a better life.”

it’s just that

“we get more than our fair share”

You see, it’s about fairness.Why should

“those in secure employment [who] are pulling in their horns in the face of soaring food and fuel prices and the mounting burden of taxation”

watch while the government spends their money on asylum seekers who

“would clearly be happier in a country with which they were more culturally aligned”?

Where do we start? Well, here’s the definition of ‘refugee’ (a word Littlejohn studiously avoids, in favour of ‘asylum seeker’, a phrase which implies the prefix ‘bogus’ by long association):

“owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”

[Source: UNHCR, Convention relating to the status of refugees, 1951 modified in 1966]

And, just for completeness, here’s a table with the number of refugees given asylum by the UK in 2007, set against the number refused by the UK and the number accepted by other selected nations.

Granted Asylum 3,800
Granted Exceptional Leave to Remain 2,335
Refused Asylum 16,755
Total refugees in UK 299,700
Total refugees in Pakistan 2,033,100
Total refugees in Tanzania 435,600
Total refugees in Chad 294,000
Total refugees in Iran 963,546
Total refugees in Ecuador 264,907

[Sources: above line, Home Office, below UNHCR]

I think that probably covers us – what we’re actually talking about is offering sanctuary for people who are being persecuted, we have an ‘open door’ policy which refuses admittance to around 73% of those who ask to come in and, as a result, end up with less than as sixth as many refugees as Pakistan (including considerably less Afghanis). This is a matter of human decency towards the world’s worst off, fair shares should not come into the discussion – but since he’s brought it up: we don’t allow in as many refugees as we could, our burden is a lot lighter relative to the size of our economy than it is for many countries and the real question should be ‘shouldn’t others be doing more’ and not ‘can we get away with doing less because that would be cheaper’.

But then, Littlejohn isn’t really interested in fairness. If he were, that question above would have been quick on his lips – he could have had a pop at the French (151,789 according to the UNHCR figures) and hailed a plucky British second place in the EU humanitarian admissions stakes. I doubt he would have suggested more money to help Chad, but maybe we’d be lucky. Instead, the ‘fair share’ is forgotten as soon as it’s mentioned.

He’s also not actually that interested in the government misspending our money as such – the headline is a world away from ‘Housing allowance blunder costs rate-payers 170k – give us more oversight of spending by bureaucrats’.  If this were the issue, the column would not hinge on an anecdote about a single council interpreting a regulation in a way he himself does not understand.¹ This is a localised error, not an example of systemic misspending. As such, it doesn’t serve to introduce government misspending as a theme. Which is just as well, since instead of picking up that theme, he immediately goes off on a tangent about immigration.

This tangent is introduced quite well, suggesting that, in fact, it isn’t a tangent at all. We have an immigrant, clearly doing better than the average Briton, who is completely unrepentant. We get the ‘like winning the lottery’ quote three times, just in case we missed it – these people are laughing at us. The focus shifts immediately from the council and onto the accidental recipient of their bounty. That this immigrant should be an Afghan, who are all here under false pretences (the Taleban of 2000 and the subsequent war are forgotten while Littlejohn remembers a criminal act eight years ago²) and only leave their mountain paradise because they fancy a council house from which to plot their latest international terrorist atrocity, only makes things worse. Meanwhile, you and I can’t get houses, because

“Mass immigration is one of the main reasons we have a housing crisis”

(Not the Tory sell off of council stock or any subsequent government schemes to promote take-up by tenants, nor demographic shifts towards one-person houses. Just in case you were wondering.) It’s immigration that is the problem – that we should be spending any money at all on refugees is a waste when all they do is sap our resources.

When the  well rehearsed argument about government spending does arrive, it’s to drive home this central point – immigrants per se are just another example of government mispending, and one we can’t afford at this difficult time.

To compare the care of those fleeing death and persecution with

“pulling in [our] horns in the face of soaring food and fuel prices and the mounting burden of taxation”

would be bean-counting of the most despicable kind were the motivation for it not so painfully obvious. The hijackers, the terrorists planning atrocities, the spoof game show with its wearying predictions of people outstaying their welcome, the fatherly concern about ‘cultural alignment’: dressing it up with the faint understanding of “I don’t blame anyone for coming here to make a better life” doesn’t wash. This is odious. The only thing worse than the fact that propaganda like this can find a publisher in this day and age is that it can find an audience. If we really are “all going to hell in a handcart”, columns like this are what’s paving the way.

¹ He’s not the only one. The Local Housing Allowance (LHA), as described here, does not, to me at least, appear to have a weakness for paying above market rents built in. My best guess is that the Broad Rental Market Areas do strange things when you’re looking at houses for 7 in West London. However, since the BRMA offers an upper limit to the allowance, not a full entitlement, something has clearly gone wrong somewhere in the application.

² Note that Littlejohn also fails to question whether they might have committed the hijacking in 2000 because they were desperate to leave the land of their birth for one “with which they were more culturally aligned”, probably because he means this in the apartheid sense of the phrase, rather than the self-determining one.