Discriminating religions

At least three factors lie behind the huge earth-moving conflicts that have led to the current refugee crisis.  Not necessarily in order, they are the failure of Muslims and Jews to get on with each other; the failure of Muslims to get on with each other; and the collapse of nations or regimes created or supported by map-drawing imperialists in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  The first two grounds might fairly described as religious conflicts – the war against IS looks to be a war between two kinds of Islam.  The third was the shameless and heartless arrogance with which almost every nation in Europe raped and dismembered almost every part of Africa in the nineteenth century – after they had stopped mining it for the human gold called slaves – and the failure of Europe properly to divide the Middle East between the wars or after them.  The incursions of Europe and the US into the Middle East or Africa since then have on the whole made things worse.

You might therefore hope that a religious leader in the major former imperialist nation would tread carefully and lightly, and not compound the tragedy by discriminating against people on the ground of religion – the failure that underlies the two main grounds of religious conflict.

Lord Carey, a former archbishop of Canterbury, does not agree.  After taking a swipe at the Germans, and Angela Merkel in particular, he advocates discriminating in favour of Christians – and, inevitably, against Muslims.

They [the Christians] are the most vulnerable and repeatedly targeted victims of this conflict.  Indeed, a hundred years after the Armenian and Assyrian genocide, in which over a million Christians are estimated to have been killed by Ottoman Muslims, the same is happening today in the form of an ethnic cleansing of Christians in the region.  Christians have been crucified, beheaded, raped, and subjected to forced conversion.  The so-called Islamic State and other radical groups are openly glorifying the slaughter of Christians.

Britain should make Syrian Christians a priority because they are a particularly vulnerable group.  Furthermore, we are a Christian nation with an established Church so Syrian Christians will find no challenge to integration.  The churches are already well-prepared and eager to offer support and accommodation to those escaping the conflict.

The first thing to say is that this response is a word perfect example of the tendency I quoted a British traveler as seeing in religious conflict in the Balkans – we only notice an atrocity when a Muslim kills a Christian.  But for that, we would not be bombing Syria – his lordship refers to ethnic cleansing; our PM has rediscovered his horror of genocide – well, he is after all, the man who says that IS is worse than the Nazis, so they will have to be done for genocide.

Secondly, may I say something about the swipe at Angela Merkel?  His lordship says she panicked to bully the rest of Europe to follow suit.  It is an unusual conjunction, panicking and bullying, and one that might show other lesions on the psyche of his lordship.  The jingoism is full blooded.

Isn’t it a bit rich for the Germans to criticize other nations, including Britain, for failing to accept refugees? For years, our warm-hearted land has consistently accepted more asylum-seekers than Germany.

This rampant nationalist bullshit comes from a man of God.  Most would agree with The Economist, probably to the Left of his lordship, that on this issue, Merkel was ‘brave decisive and right.’  She was ahead of her electorate, and will be reeled in, but the prospects of seeing that kind of leadership here or in England are nil, nought, nothing, nix, and zilch.  It is disgraceful for a tory peer and prelate to be taking what the NRL calls cheap shots against someone with the courage to be merely decent.

May I then come to the third and main point – that Christians should get priority because they have suffered most and therefore need refuge the most?  That raises an issue of fact on which the testimony of this witness is hopelessly biased.  It would not be an easy case to make.  Common experience suggests that heretics tend to end up worse than unbelievers in religious conflicts, such as one between Sunni and Shia.  Kant said this:

Now, when, as usually happens, a church proclaims itself to be the one church universal (even though it is based upon faith in a special revelation which, being historical can never be required of everyone), he who refuses to acknowledge its (peculiar) ecclesiastical faith is called by it ‘an unbeliever’ and is hated wholeheartedly; he who diverges therefrom only in path (in non-essentials) is called ‘heterodox’ and is at least shunned as a source of infection. But he who avows allegiance to this church and; diverges from it on essentials of its faith (namely, regarding the practices connected with it), is called, especially if he spreads abroad his false belief, a ‘heretic’ and, as a rebel, such a man is held more culpable than a foreign foe, is expelled from the church with anathema (like that which the Romans pronounced on him who crossed the Rubicon against the Senate’s will) and is given over to all the gods of hell.  Exclusive correctness of belief in matters of ecclesiastical faith claimed by the church’s teachers or heads is called orthodoxy. This could be sub-divided into ‘despotic’ (brutal) or ‘liberal’ orthodoxy. 

If someone in what purports to be a Christian country seeks to establish the opposite, as I gather our government proposes, they should expect disbelief and hostility, and not just in Muslim countries.  They may also give a propaganda coup to IS – a point I will come back to.

Fourthly, what does his lordship propose?  Two things.  First, a whip-around after croquet on the lawns at Lambeth.

It is equally right that our compassionate instincts will drive us to fund-raise and campaign for the innocent victims of the conflict.

I am sorry, my lord, but just washing your hands when the natives cut up rough over a religious spat does not get a good press in the books that define your belief.  Gideon Rachman – is the Financial Times sound enough, my lord? – said this.

For almost 500 years, European nations dominated, colonized and populated the rest of the world.  After 1945, the states of western Europe signed up to a new post-imperial and post-fascist set of values, based on universal human rights and enshrined in documents such as the 1951 UN convention on refugees.

But the desperate and dispossessed of the world were largely kept at a distance, while Europeans continued to enjoy some of the highest living standards in the world.

Faced with distressing images of famines or wars in ‘the third world’, Europeans could salve their consciences by making a donation to charity or attending a benefit concert.

Now the refugee crisis is asking Europeans to live up to their values in ways that are likely to be costly, inconvenient and will accelerate far-reaching social changes.

If I may so, I agree with every word.  The chit is being called in on the white man’s burden – and it is bloody big chit.  The white man’s nightmare is that he may have no option but to honour it because they now have the numbers.

But his lordship, like our government, favours the stick, as well as the carrot.

There must be renewed military and diplomatic efforts to crush the twin menaces of Islamic State and al-Qaeda once and for all. Make no mistake: this may mean air strikes and other British military assistance to create secure and safe enclaves in Syria.

Some will not like me saying this, but in recent years, there has been too much Muslim mass immigration to Europe. This has resulted in ghettos of Muslim communities living parallel lives to mainstream society, following their own customs and even their own laws.

The second part bears out the testimony of Mr Rachman about the inconvenience of doing the right thing – which is the problem with the Sermon on the Mount.  The first part adds sabre-rattling to jingoism and is just plain frightening from a priest.  It calls to mind the remarks of Melville in Billy Budd about a chaplain on a man-of-war:

Bluntly put, a chaplain is the minister of the Prince of Peace serving in the host of the God of War – Mars.  As such, he is as incongruous as a musket would be on the altar of Christmas.  Why then is he there?  Because he indirectly subserves the purpose attended by the cannon; because too he lends the sanction of the religion of the meek to that which practically is the abrogation of everything but brute Force.

The fifth point is that it would not be hard for IS to paint this kind of stuff as partaking of a Christian crusade, and becoming a weapon in their hands.  One underlying disability of the West is its failure to hold a spiritual alternative to the grizzly absolutes of religious fanatics in the East that enable outrages to be committed in the name of religion.  We have no interest at all in reviving memories of the Crusades where unbelievers were worse dealt with than heretics and which led Gibbon to one of his more famous polemics.

… the name and nature of a ‘holy war’ demands a more rigorous scrutiny;  nor can we hastily believe that the servants of the Prince of Peace would ensheath the sword of destruction unless the motive were pure, the quarrel legitimate, and the necessity inevitable. 

Are we satisfied on those three criteria here?  Gibbon attacked the indulgences that fuelled the Crusades with savagery.  He then goes on to describe the beginning of the first Crusade.

Some counts and gentlemen, at the head of three thousand horse, attended the motions of the multitude to partake in the spoil, but their genuine leaders (may we credit such folly?) were a goose and a goat, who were carried in the front, and to whom these worthy Christians ascribed an infusion of the divine spirit.  Of these, and of other bands of enthusiasts, the first and most easy warfare was against the Jews, the murderers of the Son of God.  In the trading cities of the Moselle and the Rhine, their colonies were numerous and rich, and they enjoyed under the protection of the Emperor and the Bishops the free exercise of their religion.  At Verdun, Trèves, Metz, Spires, Worms many thousands of that unhappy people were pillaged and massacred, nor had they felt a more bloody stroke since the persecution of Hadrian ….  The more obstinate Jews exposed their fanaticism to the fanaticism of the Christians, barricadoed their houses, and precipitating themselves, their families and their wealth into the rivers of the flames, disappointed the malice, or at least the avarice, of their implacable foes.

Gibbon next savages the institution of knighthood and then goes on to describe the taking of the Holy City, Jerusalem.

A bloody sacrifice was offered by his mistaken votaries [Tancred’s] to the God of the Christians:  resistance might provoke, but neither age nor sex could mollify their implacable rage: they indulged themselves three days in a promiscuous massacre; and the infection of the dead bodies produced an epidemical disease.  After seventy thousand Moslems had been put to the sword, and the harmless Jews had been burnt in their synagogue, they could still reserve a multitude of captives whom interest or lassitude persuaded them to spare.  ….  The Holy Sepulchre was now free; and the bloody victors prepared to accomplish their vow.  Bare-headed and bare foot, with contrite hearts and in a humble posture, they ascended the hill of Calvary, amidst the loud anthems of the clergy;  kissed the stone which had covered the Saviour of the world;  and bedewed with tears of joy and penitence the monument of their redemption. This union of the fiercest and most tender passions has been variously considered by two philosophers:  by the one, as easy and natural; by the other, as absurd and critical.

The first philosopher referred to is David Hume; the second was Voltaire.

Finally, his lordship acknowledges the possibility that ‘some of what I say sounds harsh or, heaven forbid, a touch unchristian’.  I would like to know of the converse.  What part of the life or teaching of the Jewish man they called Christ is best evidenced in his lordship’s remarks?

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