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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

There is nothing new under the sun

“What has been will be again,” as it says in Ecclesiastes, “what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”

Yesterday – to my shame I did not spot it until today – the Times reprinted a letter to the editor that was a century old to the day. I wish I could say that it was merely of historical interest.

From The Times July 15, 1919

To the Editor of The Times

Sir, Will you permit an elderly man, who is not a politician nor a public character, but merely an individual among millions of honest, sober persons whose liberty is attacked by a moral tyranny, to state an opinion with regard to the crusade against moderate drinkers? It is not needed even in the cause of morality. When I was a child excess in drinking was patent in every class of society. Now, in my wide circle, I do not know of one man or woman who is ever seen “under the influence of liquor”. Why not leave the process of moderation, so marked within 60 years, to pursue its normal course? It is untrue to say that a reasonable use of alcohol is injurious to mind, body or morality. My father, whose life was one of intense intellectual application, and who died from an accident in his 79th year, was the most rigidly conscientious evangelical I have ever known. He would have been astonished to learn that his claret and water at his midday meal, and his glass of Constantia at bedtime, were either sinful in themselves or provocative to sin in others.

There is no blessing upon those who invent offences for the pleasure of giving pain and who lay burdens on the liberty of others. We have seen attempts by the fantastically righteous to condemn those who eat meat, who go to see plays, who take walks on Sundays. The campaign against the sober use of wine and beer is on a footing with these efforts, and should be treated as they have been. Already tobacco is being forbidden to the clergy! The fact that Americans are leading the campaign should be regarded with alarm. We do not express an opinion, much less organize propaganda, against “dryness” in the United States. It is not for us to interfere in their domestic business. If Englishmen went round America urging Americans to defy their own laws and revolt against their customs, we should be very properly indignant. Let crusading Americans be taught the same reticence.

The propagandist teetotaler is active and unscrupulous. He fights with all weapons, whether they are clean or no. We must resist, without fear of consequences, the cruel and ignorant fanaticism of these apostles.

I am, Sir, your obedient servant,

EDMUND GOSSE

The fall of the Temple of Reason

Terrible news from Paris of the fire at Notre-Dame Cathedral. As I write, I understand that not all is lost of this masterpiece. The collapsed spire was a 19th Century addition, but the damage must be immense.

When I was last in Paris, over a decade ago, I recall looking at Notre-Dame and shuddering as I thought of it as ‘destroyed’ (not that I believe that there are ‘holy’ places), as, during the French Revolution, it was closed as a cathedral and was declared a Temple of Reason. When egalitarians appeal to reason, you know heads will roll.

There followed years of neglect, before, AIUI, in 1905, the French State (which had assumed ownership), effectively provided the cathedral to the Catholic Church as a permanent ‘tenant’. The cause of the fire may well be nothing more sinister than incompetence, perhaps we will never know. I would like to think that commercial aviation levels of caution would go into fire precautions in such a building, (perhaps they did) which, whatever your view of the use or purpose of it, is surely one of the great buildings on Earth. However, the neglect under State ownership has continued, and yesterday’s cathedral was a revived corpse of the pre-Revolutionary building.

It is pretty shameful that neither Hitler nor the Kaiser managed to do as much damage to Notre Dame as the fire. It had survived them, and rioting Hugenots. In WW2, it was relatively unscathed. Some lost mediaeval glass was, I understand, replaced by abstract crap in the post-War period, so the scoundrels were already circling.

Perhaps the fire is a Randian moment, wasn’t there a train crash in a tunnel for which ‘no one is responsible’? Is the burning down of a ‘temple of reason’ an allegory for France after its great economists are all-but forgotten?

Does it matter if, in rebuilding Notre-Dame, stone that is geologically ancient is replaced by other just as ancient stone, carved a few mere centuries later? Should, as with the Campanile in Venice, the order be: ‘Com’era, Dov’era.‘. ‘How it was, where it was.‘?

Or will something more ‘inclusive’ replace it or be grated on to it?

Leaving the EU – a Jersey jaunt and a Guernsey gallivant

Rightly not trusting our leaders to deliver on their statements (there were, IFUC, no promises about leaving the EU from Mrs May), the Sage of Kettering and I have left the EU in that recently, we have visited our nearest escape hole, the Channel Islands. A fleeting visit, one day in each, but we have seen a future, and it works, more or less. For our more distant readers, Jersey and Guernsey are ‘Crown Dependencies’, historically part of the Duchy of Normandy, owing allegiance to the British Crown but not part of the UK. The UK government has arrogated to itself the overlordship of the islands, holding responsibility for foreign affairs and defence (well, sort of, as we shall see), but the two Bailiwicks are otherwise independent jurisdictions with autonomy in most areas, crucially taxation, and are outside of the European Union, albeit within EU Customs arrangements, allowing them to trade with the EU. Here, they say, the Queen is the Duke of Normandy, although monuments refer to ‘la Reine’. She is the only Duke I can think of married to a Duke. Whether or not they can simply declare independence is constitutionally unclear, but with Labour dangerously close to power, they might be advised to make some plans.

→ Continue reading: Leaving the EU – a Jersey jaunt and a Guernsey gallivant

A cursory search of the soul

“France has an antisemitism problem – and not just from the gilets jaunes”, writes Cécile Guerin in the Guardian.

With a headline like that the obvious next question is where else is France’s anti-semitism coming from, besides the gilets jaunes?

France, like every nation in Christendom, has a long history of Christian hatred of Jews on religious grounds, which gradually morphed into the “traditional” anti-semitism of the far right, exemplified by Jean-Marie Le Pen. That tendency is by no means extinct. I had forgotten that despite his expulsion from the le Front National by his daughter, Le Pen père remains a serving Member of the European Parliament. But though it still has venom, that style of anti-semitism is clearly in decline and is not the source of the upsurge in recent years. So where is it coming from? To answer this question, it surely makes sense to look at the most serious manifestation of Jew-hatred: the murder of Jews. The following is a list of Jews who were killed for being Jews in France this century:

– In 2006 Ilan Halimi, 23, a Jewish mobile phone salesman, was kidnapped and tortured to death over a period of three weeks. The leader of the gang that killed him, Youssouf Fofana, arrived in court shouting, “Allah will be victorious”.

– In 2012 Mohammed Merah, shot and killed three French soldiers, two of whom were, like him, Muslims. He then moved on to the Ozar Hatorah Jewish day school in Toulouse. The Wikipedia article records that “Four people were killed at the school: 30-year-old Rabbi Jonathan (Yonatan) Sandler; his two oldest (out of three) children, Aryeh, aged 6, and Gabriel, aged 3; and eight-year-old Miriam Monsonego, daughter of the head teacher.” Merah said in a call to a TV station that the killings were done “to uphold the honour of Islam”.

– In 2015 Amedy Coulibaly, a supporter of ISIS and associate of the two brothers who had carried out the Charlie Hebdo massacre two days earlier, and who had himself killed a policewoman the previous day, entered a kosher supermarket in Paris and took hostages. He murdered four of them, all Jews. According to Wikipedia, “Coulibaly stated that he targeted the Jews at the Kosher grocery to defend Muslims, notably Palestinians”. It should be noted that during the seige a Muslim employee of the supermarket, Lassana Bathily, courageously hid people from Coulibaly in a cold storage room.

– In 2017 Sarah Halimi was killed by Kobili Traoré, a native of Mali “who shouted about religious ideas in Arabic during the murder”. One could argue that since her killer was not a French citizen her murder is not relevant to a discussion of French anti-semitism. But it is certainly relevant to anti-semitism in France, and by a cruel irony, Sarah Halimi was a relative of Ilan Halimi, the first entry on this list.

– In 2018 an 85 year old Holocaust survivor, Mireille Knolle, was murdered. The authorities have arrested Yacine Mihoub, a Muslim neighbour of Ms Knoll who she had known since he was a child and Alex Carrimbacus whom Mihoub had met in prison. Carrimbacus has claimed that Mihoub called out “Allah Akbar” after killing her.

My list was compiled from memory, backed up by the Wikipedia article on antisemitism in 21st century France. It may contain mistakes or omissions; if you see any please let me know in the comments. But whatever its deficiencies, it is doing better than the Guardian article on anti-semitism in France that I linked to at the start of this post. That has plenty about the far right and a little about the far left but omits mention of Islam entirely.

Cécile Guerin’s article ends with the words, “More soul-searching and longer-term solutions are needed”, but if she cannot bring herself to say the words “Islam” or “Muslim” in an article about French anti-semitism, when so far as I can judge every single anti-semitic murder in France during the 21st century had a Muslim as the sole or leading perpetrator and was proclaimed by the killers themselves to have been done in the name of Islam, then she is not serious about seeking a long term solution. Perhaps she should search her own soul a little harder.

Discussion point: the fate of the ISIS bride

What do you think should be done with her?

Former MI6 director says schoolgirl who joined Isis should be ‘given a chance’

Although Shamima Begum has shown no remorse, Richard Barrett says Britain should be strong enough to reabsorb her

A pregnant British teenager who fled to Syria with two schoolfriends to marry an Islamic State fighter should be “given a chance” and allowed to come home, a former director of global counter-terrorism at MI6 has said.

Describing Shamima Begum as “a 15-year-old who went badly off the rails”, Richard Barrett said British society should be strong enough to reabsorb her, despite her lack of contrition. By contrast, he said the immediate reaction of the British government “has been a complete lack of concern for her plight”.

Begum fled her home in Bethnal Green, east London, with two schoolfriends to join Isis fighters in Syria in 2015. Interviewed this week in a refugee camp in the north of the country after fleeing Isis’s last stronghold, she told the Times that she was nine months pregnant and had fled the fighting after her two other children had died. “I’ll do anything required just to be able to come home and live quietly with my child,” she said.

Those words do get my sympathy. The next ones, less so:

She did not regret going to Syria, she told the newspaper, and expressed support for the murder of journalists, whom she said had been “a security threat for the caliphate”. Seeing a severed head in a bin “didn’t faze me at all”, she said, adding that her husband had surrendered to a group of Syrian fighters.

This new thing we have instead of respect for the elderly

Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man, says the Book of Leviticus, alongside other injunctions about such matters as how to sprinkle of the blood of the sin offering upon the side of the altar that even Leave voters might concede do not go so well on an inspirational poster.

For a while after the EU referendum result was announced there was a trend among some particularly enraged Remain voters to be about as willing to honour the face of one of those senile, bigoted, gammony, UKIP-voting coffin-dodgers as to bring a young bullock without blemish to the door of the tabernacle and kill it before the LORD. I lost count of the number of times I read young activists claiming that “their future had been stolen from them” and arguing that since the old had fewer years of life left their votes should not count.

This trend has now receded, either because it finally dawned on them that in the coming Brexitocalypse we will all be counted old at thirty or because the United Nations Independent Expert told them to can it.

That must have hurt. The United Nations telling them, who had thought themselves free from blemish, that though they wist it not, yet are they ist. Yeah verily, they are guilty of an ism, and shall bear their iniquity.

And now everyone’s at it. Out: “We should ban old people from voting”. In: “Age is a protected characteristic”.

The UK is “completely and institutionally ageist”, according to the chief executive of Care England, the largest representative body for independent social care services in the UK.

Prof Martin Green, also the chair of the International Longevity Centre, said ageism in the UK was “a national scandal” that should be challenged in the courts.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) should, he added, “hang their heads in shame” over its failure to pursue as many ageism cases through the courts as other protected characteristics, such as racism or homophobia.

The people of the past thought that the old should be treated with respect because they could be presumed to have gained wisdom through experience. The only lens strong enough to let modern Britain see the elderly as worth being treated with respect is that “old age” has joined the official list of “protected characteristics”. Better than nothing, I suppose, but the image of how to treat old people as seen through the “anti-discrimination” lens is one that most of the old people I know would say is distorted. For instance Professor Green indignantly writes,

If you just flip the categories, you see how unacceptable ageism is. You hear those in the NHS say: ‘That person is too old for an operation’ but they’d never say they are ‘too black’ or ‘too gay’ for treatment.”

I have known many people who have had lifesaving operations in old age. Though I do not share in the national worship of the NHS, I am grateful that the skill of its doctors and surgeons has allowed friends and family of mine to enjoy more good years of life. But if you are going to have a taxpayer-funded health service, then, yes, at some point the NHS must say, as it does say, “That person is too old for an operation”. Eventually the law of diminishing returns cuts in. The amount that could conceivably be spent on medical treatment to give a very old person a few more months of life is almost infinite. Fine if they are paying from their own purse – though even then a time comes when a honest doctor would advise against further treatment – but not if they are competing for NHS resources against a three year old child needing an urgent operation.

Money without Kings

It appears that Kenya has some something surprisingly sane: it has decided to remove portraits of real people, especially politicians, from its currency.

At one time, policy in the United States was quite similar; anthropomorphic representations of abstract concepts (like “liberty”) were the only human images permitted on government produced money. Then, slowly, the inevitable happened, and politicians began to be deified by putting the likes of Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Jackson, and the rest on coins and bills.

I think the notion that senior politicians are not, in fact, kings and emperors, and ought not be the subject of secular worship, remembered with expensive public memorials, put onto money, have bridges and airports named after them, etc., is a rational one, and I hope that it someday becomes much more widespread.

A Lincoln Lark

The Sage of Kettering and I have been on another day trip, this time to Lincoln. We have also visited a mystery town I shall leave you to guess below, and also at Stow-by-Lindsey, a tiny village west of Lincoln, with a now incongruously large Minster, Anglo-Saxon in origin, having been added to over the years.

It also claims to have the earliest known Viking graffito in England, a carving of a long ship. It is not clear if this was a marauder or a merchant, but he presumably came up river to here, the Humber is not far away.

It also has a curious face on the font.

And an austere interior, perhaps barer than in its glory.

→ Continue reading: A Lincoln Lark

Episcopal (related) quote of the last Millennium

One of the main targets of (Bishop of Lincoln) Robert Grosseteste‘s (c. 1175 – 9 October 1253) criticism was the Papacy, which he believed was levying over-harsh taxation in England and appointing inappropriate men to benefices in the Church.

Another quote:

“Those rascal Romans….. he hated like the poison of a serpent. He was wont to say that if he should commit the charge of souls to them, he should be acting like Satan. Wherefore he often threw down with contempt the letters sealed with the papal bulls and openly refused to listen to such commands.”

Thus say English Heritage of Bishop Grossteste (Big Head) of Lincoln, in a display in the former Bishop’s Palace in Lincoln. The Bishop was never canonised, perhaps because he was too holy. He was no fan of Rome, as English Heritage note, in their exhibition in his former palace.

A Protestant before the term was coined, and surely a model for our current political class in the light of current ‘difficulties’ from over the water.

Glenn Hoddle was treated abominably for his religious views

The football commenter and distinguished former player and manager Glenn Hoddle suffered a heart attack two days ago while at a London TV studio. His life was saved by a sound engineer who knew how to use a defibrillator, though he remains in a serious condition. I wish him well.

I do not follow football, but those who do might enjoy the appreciation of Hoddle’s career written for the Times by its sports writer Matthew Syed, “Glenn Hoddle a visionary whose face did not fit in muscular English game”:

Ray Clemence, the goalkeeper, would pass out to Steve Perryman, who would feed Hoddle. A glance up, and then the ball was off, curving into the path of the wide players, the move already in full swing. As Hoddle advanced up the pitch, he was like a grandmaster in lilywhite, seeing four moves ahead, making passes into space, and daring his team-mates to think differently.

Hoddle’s different way of thinking extended to matters other than football. Syed relates,

His managerial career for England ended in acrimony after he expressed controversial religious views. I felt then, and still feel, that he was treated abominably.

Hoddle’s reported view that disabled people are paying the price for sins in a previous life struck me as no less ridiculous or offensive than the theology I had been surrounded by as a youngster at church. The difference was that his views were unconventionally whacky, which is why he was not granted the latitude that would undoubtedly have been offered a Christian or Muslim. Tony Blair, whose religious views are as off the wall as anybody’s, called for him to resign. Hoddle said that his beliefs had been misrepresented, but by that stage, it hardly mattered. By the time he was sacked, it had become a witch-hunt.

Mr Syed’s views about religion are not mine, but when it comes to the unfairness of a man being hounded out of his job for religious beliefs unrelated to that job, and the double unfairness of the Prime Minister joining the mob, we are at one. (Blair’s bad example was followed by Cameron who also disgraced his office by denouncing a private citizen who had broken no law.) The links are all dead in the blogpost I wrote in 2004 in response to an article by Simon Barnes that placed Hoddle in the same bracket as the then head coach of the Spanish football team who had made racist remarks, but my opinion has not changed:

But there was one part of his [Simon Barnes’s] article that I thought was unfair. I quote:

“Glenn Hoddle was dismissed as England coach because he said things about the disabled that provoked a heart-felt reaction across the country. The head of the England football team just can’t go around saying things like that.”

No, he can’t. And that has the unfortunate consequence, particularly for those who oppose racism as Simon Barnes does, that until things change we can never have a Hindu coach for our football team. Hoddle’s belief in reincarnation and that misfortune in this life is the result of bad behaviour in past lives may be unusual for a white Briton but is orthodox for thousands of Britons of the Hindu religion. I have no doubt that Hoddle’s sacking had a chilling effect on Hindus striving for public eminence in all sorts of fields, not limited to sport.

and

I wish more prominent British Hindus had spoken out about this at the time of Hoddle’s exit – but I find it hard to blame them for their silence, given that it had just been demonstrated that people with their beliefs could be sacked for them to popular acclaim.

Blasphemy laws return to Europe

Guido Fawkes reports:

ECHR: Defaming Muhammad beyond “Permissible limits” of “objective debate”

and comments,

The Austrian court found that “by making the statements the applicant had suggested that Muhammad was not a worthy subject of worship”. The ECHR has now agreed that this is a crime which trumps a person’s right to free speech. On the same day that Ireland is finally voting to take blasphemy laws out of its constitution, the ECHR seems determined to put them back in…

Calling all Samizdata-reading lawyers! Is this as bad for free speech as it sounds, or are there complicating factors? How specific to Austria is it?

Note that the ECHR (European Court of Human Rights) is not the “supreme court of the EU”, that would be the European Court of Justice (ECJ). We will probably stay in the ECHR when we leave the EU.

Finally, what’s with “… he was not a worthy subject of worship”? Muslims strenuously deny that they worship Muhammad; worship is for God alone. At first I thought this might be a sloppy paraphrase by Guido, but those very words do appear several times in the original judgement.

On This Day

On 3 September 1939 the United Kingdom and France declared war on Germany. But we are in no danger of forgetting that.

When did you last think about Beslan?