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.

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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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Jacko and a sad day for British values…

I’m totally baffled by Amanda Platell’s column today, I can’t work out whether she’s for the rule of law or against it:

“What possessed Jack Straw to grant Jack Tweed (already convicted of a vicious attack on a 16-year-old) another extension on his curfew, just days after being convicted of a second offence of assaulting a taxi driver?

Spending a night at the bedside of his new wife, Jade Goody, Tweed says: ‘I just wish I could be there all the time.’ The irony is, he could have been – if he wasn’t such an unmitigated thug.”

It’s not the most compassionate of positions, but there’s an argument that the Law should be dispassionate and that punishments should be meaningful, so it seems fair enough. If the Law says Tweed’s punishment is a curfew, Amanda’s question of why this isn’t being applied is a reasonable one. However:

“The scenes of hysteria as Michael Jackson announced his farewell tour in London were as bizarre as they were troubling. Why on earth is a man who admits to having slept with young boys in his bed being welcomed to Britain at all?”

There are a few reasons why a non-EU national would be refused entry to the UK, a list of which can be found here. The mere sharing of beds with boys is not on the list. Odd and questionable though this behaviour most certainly is, it’s not actually a crime – it might be a reason for us to be wary of letting our youngest sleep over at Michael’s, but it’s not enough to keep Michael out of the country¹. However, Amanda can do better:

“Jackson may have been cleared on charges of child molestation, but the details that emerged at his trial four years ago paint a picture of a deeply perverted man. One whole section of evidence was devoted to the pornography he kept at Neverland, inluding two books featuring pictures of naked young boys and DVDs called Barely Legal.”

This isn’t much better, as she lets slip that Jackson was cleared of molestation charges, but it’s a decent attempt, as it implies that this exoneration was unsound. There are a couple of things to note about this. The first is that her basis for this opinion is his possession of legal pornography (the title should have given her a clue) and two legal books², which doesn’t make for a particularly compelling case. More worrying though is her implication that she, as a reader of the foreign press coverage of a court case, is in a better position to judge the innocence or guilt of a defendant, overturning as it does the idea of the fair trial. Taken to its logical conclusion, this would dispense with trials completely, allowing instead the Press to fit the more lurid bits of evidence into whatever narrative they felt was most compelling with media pundits working out guilt and innocence along the way. This is a hellish vision of utopia. If being cleared in open court isn’t enough for you to be considered innocent, what chance does civil society have? How acrid would our relations become if suspicion were considered guilt?³

Now I know that my desire for consistency across mini-articles on the same page of the same newspaper by the same author is almost as unfair as it is anal, but I’ll ask this anyway: how can Amanda complain with one breath that the Law is being stretched in one place, while attempting to sideline it completely with another? I imagine she thinks she’s being consistent as the two subjects of her disapprobation are, in her mind, guilty and all she’s seeking is to see that they’re punished. What she’s missing is that while Tweed is not being punished as the Law says he should be, Jackson is. Until her opinion is accepted as Law, this distinction will continue to make a fool of her.

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¹ Actual paedophilia would be as it’s a crime carrying a sentence of more than 12 months so a reason for excluding entry, although it’s worth noting here that the crime exclusion appears in the section looking at discretionary refusals (see here for a handy explanation), so Jackson could still be let in even then.

² My source for this is the BBC’s article on the evidence bit of the trial. The books listed there are ‘Boys Will Be Boys!’, which is available on Amazon, and ‘The Boy: A Photographic Essay’, which is also available on Amazon, and images from which are available here. I admit I haven’t read either of these, so Amanda may well be in a better position to judge this than me, but on the basis of this evidence, casting these as paedophilia pornography is not unlike casting Titian’s ‘Cupid With The Wheel Of Fortune‘ as the same. [Edit – the Titian link doesn’t work, try this]

³ Probably about this acrid: “Don’t forget, the only reason he needs the money in the first place is to pay back the massive loans he incurred thanks to years of monstrous extravagance. Bailing out greedy and incompetent bankers was bad enough. Bailing out Jacko is just asburd.” Here Amanda is against someone trying to earn themselves out of debt by selling their services freely on the open market, merely because she would not, hereself, buy their services. Jackson’s behaviour sounds like someone taking responsiblity for their actions, which, in other areas of people’s lives Amanda is dead keen on: “It’s bad enough we have to pay for their gastric bands, diet-induced diabetes and stomach stapling; now we learn that thousands of obese people are on benefits because they’re too fat to work. If they want to be fat, that’s their choice. But why should the rest of us pay for their Krispy Kreme cravings?” The clash between these two is striking. But I digress.

Britain’s a world-leader in sharia banking – but we haven’t grasped the sinister and dangerous implications

Right, just a quickie, because this is fast becoming a blog about Melanie Philips, but my attention was drawn to this and it seemed a little, erm, questionable.

The $18billion (£12bn) in assets of Britain’s Islamic banks are said to dwarf those of Muslim states such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Turkey and Egypt. And there are also 55 colleges and professional institutions offering education in Islamic finance in Britain – more than anywhere else in the world.”

Just to start with, having more money invested in sharia compliant banks than Bangladesh manages is not what I’d call impressive, or threatening. While being a Muslim nation, Bangladesh is also very, very poor. I haven’t the time to check what the status of sharia compliant banking is in, say, Egypt, but I’m guessing you don’t know how popular/legally accepted it is either. All we have is a list of countries, we know nothing about their circumstances. Before we know how impressive the £12 billion is, let’s not panic.

What they refuse to acknowledge is the real price that is to be paid for this. They don’t understand that the spread of sharia banking in Britain and America is a significant part of the attempt to Islamise Britain and America. Acceptance of sharia finance furthers the Islamist objective of gradually legitimising Islamic sharia law more generally in the west.”

I vaguely remember something similar reminding me of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion – who has this nefarious scheme to Islamise the West? A few terrorist groups do not an international conspiracy of Masons and bankers make. And surely the legitimisation of sharia banking only helps legitimise sharia banking, not the whole system of sharia. I can approve of a tidy return on my capital without also agreeing that apostates can be stoned.

The point which is being missed is that all who use it must conform to the dictates of sharia law. Sharia financial institutions may not be making this clear now – they don’t want to frighten people away – but at some point that IOU of sharia-compliance will be called in. This is how sharia-compliance will be spread to both the Muslim and non-Muslim population.”

While there is still capital available for lending in a competitive banking system, any company whose sharia compliant loan is called in will find one elsewhere. The price of pork is unlikely to fall on the basis of lending blackmail anytime soon.

Any Western institution that endorses sharia-compliant products therefore effectively endorses the extremist ideology behind it of conquering the west for Islam, whether it knows it or not.”

No, again, you endorse the product you’ve bought into, not the principles behind it. In exactly the same way, worshipers of the Church of England do not, merely by virtue of weekly donations, endorse the arms companies the Church invests in. You are still entirely free to oppose them or to find alternative places of worship run along similar, but less offensive, lines.

The most important point to grasp is that Islam recognises no authority superior to sharia. Sharia banks will therefore not recognise the superior authority of the law of the land. When trillions of pounds and dollars are locked into them, who will argue with them?”

A redundant point – the Law still recognises no law higher than the Law.

But charity in Islam is more like solidarity. So some of this money donated to Islamic charities may well find its way to organisations promoting jihad and supporting suicide bombing including Hamas, Hezbollah, the families of Palestinian suicide bombers and Islamist madrassas in places like Pakistan.”

See earlier point about the Law – particularly in this case the laws on money laundering and funding of proscribed groups – and watch them try.

Only certain Islamic authorities are entitled to issue the religious rulings or fatwas that can recognize investments as sharia-compliant. But the people and institutions making the decisions about where this money is sent are themselves often highly questionable.”

Indeed they are, which counsels caution on which product you invest in/borrow from, but doesn’t demolish the principle of sharia banking as such. In the same way, the fact that some banks have been very badly run does not mean you should avoid usury.

What has to be understood is that sharia finance is simply a modern jihadi strategy to help Islamise Britain’s institutions and society. It was devised in the mid-20th century by the ideologues who promoted the radical Islamism that threatens us today.”

And here’s the rub – how, exactly, does the banking ‘Islamise’? What would ‘Islamise’ even mean in practice? The fact the local mosque holds my mortgage does not make me any more likely to worship Allah. It wouldn’t make me any more likely to subscribe to any Islamic principle. So long as there are non-Islamic banks I can seek a remortgage from, it is never possible that they can. I still find their fruitier beliefs repugnant and continue to resist their enforcement through the democratic process. The law is still the law and will still be upheld. Nothing in this article offers any reason to believe otherwise. It’s just paranoia.

The Mumbai atrocity is a wake-up call for a frighteningly unprepared Britain

I was having a bit of trouble with this column by Melanie Philips; after all, I have no way of disproving a negative like

“But because we don’t understand what we are actually up against, we are not doing nearly enough to prevent this  –  or something even worse  –  occurring on British soil; and if it were to happen here, we would be unable to cope.””

So, I did exactly what Melanie predicted I would do, and tried to explain the problem away – India has a long-standing dispute with Pakistan over Kashmir, so is the sort of place likely to have militants hanging around ready to attack, Western tourists are an obvious target, and a way of ticking boxes and attacks on Jewish centres show just how wide the net was being thrown. Britain is not like India, in as far as we don’t have a border dispute with a nation founded on religion, have smaller and so less-porous borders and don’t have a political party system founded on religion. That’s not, to any extent, a claim that obscenities like the attacks on Mumbai can’t happen, but that they are less likely.

This didn’t seem to engage with her central point though, even if she were to allow the fact that attacks such as these are more likely in countries like India than they are in the UK, they still could happen in the UK and we would be horribly unprepared.

“This country is simply not trained, equipped or prepared in any way to deal with something on this scale.”

Now, the reason I’m in no position to gainsay this assertion is that I am lacking two key pieces of information: 1) realistically what the scale of the threat to this country is, and 2) what preparations are being made against it. That’s the sort of information I would expect the government and security services to have. It’s not the sort of thing that someone outside those circles, such as myself, would have access to. The best I could do is speculate based on my perceptions of what the Government and security services were doing. As is Melanie.

“The Government and security establishment refuse to acknowledge that what we are facing is a religious war.”

On what could she possibly be basing this? How could she know what the Government and security establishment are thinking? The best she has to go on is public pronouncements, assuming them to be an accurate and complete reflection of Government thinking. Which is a brave assumption.

“Even more chilling was the warning by a former head of the SAS that Britain has made no adequate preparations to deal with such an onslaught upon a British city  –  even though that is precisely the ‘ Doomsday scenario’ that the security world fears.”

OK, here we’re on slightly less shakey ground – we have a public pronouncement from a former security establishment figure. However, the key bit of this sentence though is the last bit ‘this is precisely [what] the security world fears‘ – we can fear the worst, without really expecting it. Take the monster that lived under my bed when I was a child – it is still, to some extent, my ‘Doomsday scenario’, but although it occasionally disturbs my sleep, it’s not a realistic enough fear for me to go to bed armed. We can fear events similar to the attacks on Mumbai without thinking they are likely enough to occur to invest in military task-forces who’ll stand alert on the off-chance that they do. Again, I’m not in a position to make that judgement – the people who are are, oddly enough, the people who have to. If we trust our security forces, the fact that we don’t have task-forces is a sign that we don’t need them, and crying out for them won’t make us any safer.

And that brings me to nub of the problem – if we trust our security forces, we can rest comfortably knowing that we’re being protected. And what reason do we have not to trust our security forces? Or, to put it another way, what grounds do we have for believing that a newspaper columnist understands the complexities of the current world situation better than a highly funded and well staffed organisation dedicated to doing just that? Melanie tells us we should be afraid, but offers us no compelling reason to trust her judgement. Up to a point, attacks are inevitable, and when one occurs Melanie will no doubt feel vindicated. But until the inquiry into that attack reveals that “Britain … is still in a trance of denial”, the smart money is on us not being.

Beware this Saudi deal to help bail out Britain. It comes with a devastating IOU

In some ways, Melanie Phillip’s column today is quite surprising. It is surprising how many times we must relive global conspiracies to enslave us all: the Elders of Zion were fictional, the Yellow wasn’t a Peril, the Illuminati and the Masons had their eyes set on nothing higher than getting decent tee-times at the country club. Every messianic theory of global infiltration and control by a minority has been proved wrong. And so, to give away the ending, is this fear that the Saudis are coming.

“No, this loan comes with a devastating IOU — nothing less than a big slice of control over Britain and the West by a regime at the heart of the attempt to bring about the Islamisation of the free world.”

Right. Not content with unaffiliated extremists killing a few thousand people in terrorist acts, the Saudis and the wider conspiracy of Islamic believers are trying to buy the UK. At which point, they’ll Islamise it, Changing Rooms style.

This fundamentally misunderstands both the request for investment in the IMF which prompted this fear, and the concept of investment itself. The International Monetary Fund is an international lending body which lends to countries in financial trouble in return for reforms which it believes will prevent the trouble reoccurring. There is a tendency for these reforms to be perceived as more beneficial to the Western backers of the IMF than they are to those  countries receiving the money, making it something of a controversial body. With much of their money tied up at home, traditional funders of the IMF are facing difficulties when the body is confronted by the possibility of several large countries failing at once. Since someone like Hungary collapsing into bankruptcy would cause further damage to the IMF’s usual backers, Gordon Brown went eastward to see if he could find new funding to keep the Fund, and its beneficiaries, solvent. Understandably, putting more money into a body should mean more influence, which Brown took as an opportunity to move the IMF from its controversial past by encouraging new thinking from Brazil, China, India, Saudi Arabia and other potential backers.

If the call is heeded, this should mean a reduction in conditions attached to loans like ‘privatise all state-owned utilities’, ‘remove all import tariffs’ and ‘allow international ownership of your banking sector’. It almost certainly won’t lead to conditions like ‘stone adulterers’ or ‘make women wear veils’. As conditions, those won’t improve the ability of borrowers to repay their loans or avoid requiring them in the future, so aren’t relevant to the IMF’s aims. Were any strings liked to cultural dilution attached to loans, they would most likely be rejected and the system would collapse – while countries could accept bitter medicine which might make them better, no one is going to take something which is just bitter and indebting.

Even if Brown hadn’t been talking about the IMF, but had just been making a direct call to invest more widely in the British economy, as the reference to Manchester City implies, this wouldn’t lead to ‘Islamisation’ but merely to wider ownership and investment by Islamic-owned companies and governments. The needs of the British company wouldn’t change: they would still need to operate at a profit, obey equal opportunities and anti-discrimination laws and justify their actions to markets and existing shareholders. The most influence they could exert on the cultural life of the nation would be through proselytising their workforce, which would be of limited impact.

We could carry on with this level of detail for Phillips’ other examples of creeping and creepy Islamic influence, but would be missing the point. How menacing we find the spectre of an Islamic conspiracy considering the squabbling diversity of the faith and the social and demographic challenges of its heartland is debatable. However, a minimum it would require to be worth worrying about would be a way of achieving its aims. Phillips doesn’t offer this. All we have is an illustration of what things look like through a prism of paranoid fear: the mere fact of funding for cultural studies centres at universities is evidence that something dodgy must be going on; Saudi threats to stop co-operating on intelligence if they were embarrassed in the British courts is proof they want Britons dead; the development of Islamic banking is a deliberate scheme to somehow undermine the current system of non-Islamic banking. How these threats advance ‘Islamisation’ is undefined. They are menacing purely because their source is menacing.

The fear is vague. I don’t think Phillips herself could say why IMF funding is frightening, what control over British lives she thinks it will mean. She just knows that the Saudis are bad, thus what they do must have bad results.

“I fear the British Prime Minister is in danger of selling this country to those who are intent upon undermining our most treasured freedoms.”

I think she can probably relax. Stopping to think about why she is scared would be enough to calm the nerves.