Pakistan

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Boris Says There’s No Money to Pay Nurses, But Has Millions to Spend on Atomic Weapons

Mike’s put up an excellent and disturbing article today, which shows very clearly where Boris Johnson’s priority’s really are. He’s planning to reverse the proposed reduction of Britain’s nuclear arsenal to 180 warheads and increase it instead to 260. As the peeps on Twitter have pointed out, this is a 45 per cent increase. It’s supposed to be in preparation for a possible terrorist attack using chemical or nuclear weapons by 2030. ‘Russ’, one of the critics of this insane proposal, has asked what Boris intends to do in the event of an attack like 9/11, when the terrorists came from four different countries. Would he launch those missiles at four different capitals? He states ‘Not a chance. Idiotic, dangerous, flashy bullshit.’

The question about 9/11 is a very good one. The vast majority of the plotters came from Saudi Arabia, and there is very, very strong evidence that responsibility for the attack goes all the way to the very top, to country’s present king or his head of intelligence. But George Dubya and Blair didn’t order reprisals against Saudi Arabia. Instead, we invaded Afghanistan. The country was indeed hosting Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, the organisation responsible for it. But I’ve also heard that the Afghans denied all knowledge of the plot and offered to surrender bin Laden to the Americans, but were ignored. The American military were planning the possibility of invading Afghanistan several years before in order to control a planned oil pipeline passing through it.

Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was also accused of complicity with 9/11, and Blair was scaremongering about Hussein having weapons of mass destruction that could be launched within three quarters of an hour. This was also a lie. The real reason for the invasion was, once again, oil. The American and Saudi oil companies wanted Iraq’s reserves and its oil industry, while American multinationals also wanted to get their grubby mitts on the country’s state industries. The actual cost to the Iraqi people has been horrendous. The country’s tariff barriers were lowered as part of a plan to create the low tax, free market state the Neo-Cons dreamed about, with a result that every nation dumped their excess goods there, undermining its domestic businesses. The result was soaring bankruptcy and unemployment. The country’s welfare state was destroyed, as was the ability of women to pursue a career in safety outside the home. The country was riven by sectarian violence, and the mercenaries used as part of the invasion force ran amok, running drugs and prostitution rings. They also shot ordinary Iraqis for sport. The Allied forces also used depleted uranium and other highly toxic materials in their armaments, with the result that the country also has a horrendously high rate of birth defects.

And now Boris wants more nukes. Does he intend to use them on further victims of western imperialism, countries deliberately and wrongfully blamed for terrorist attacks just to further western geopolitical and commercial goals? Mike also suggests that it seems to him that Boris is planning to start some kind of war with a country on or near the Indian and Pacific Oceans, and would like to set off a few nukes to show how tough he is.

This is all too possible. The American radical magazine, Counterpunch, published an article a few years ago arguing that the American military was set on a policy of ‘full spectrum dominance’. This meant that it was to remain the world’s only superpower with the ability to destroy or conquer any other country that could threaten it. And it looked very, very much that Hillary Clinton, who claimed to be terribly offended by the treatment of Meghan Markle, was preparing for a war with China. Lobster has also published a very detailed article arguing that, despite the rhetoric and posturing about the Chinese threatening western security interests in the South China Sea, the Chinese actually aren’t any danger at all. But they do threaten the global American commercial power both in practice and at an ideological level. The Americans believe in deregulation and free trade, while in China capitalism is regulated and state-directed. The global struggle between America and China is partly about which model of capitalism should be dominant.

And then there’s the issue of whether you could ever use a nuclear bomb in the event of a terrorist attack. From the 1970s to historic Good Friday peace agreement in the ’90s, Northern Ireland and Britain suffered terrorist violence and bombings. In Ulster this was by Irish Nationalist and Loyalist paramilitaries, while in Britain the bombings were carried out by the IRA. Following 9/11, one of the critics of the invasion of Afghanistan or Iraq asked whether Britain would have used the same tactics of mass bombing and air strikes on Northern Ireland in response to the IRA’s terrorism. Of course we wouldn’t, although we did send troops there to suppress it. There’s a real possibility that, thanks to Brexit, the Good Friday Agreement could break down and Ulster could once again fall into violence and bloodshed. Which also raises the spectre of further terrorist bombings in Britain. Would Boris nuke Derry or Belfast in response? I doubt it. At the same time, many of the Islamist terrorists responsible for atrocities in Britain seem to be homegrown, Muslim Brits who come from ordinary, peaceful families, but who have been radicalised by Islamist propaganda on the Net or from some firebrand preacher in a British mosque. Obviously, Boris isn’t going to use it in Britain itself.

There’s also the danger that if Boris every uses them against a foreign enemy, it’ll pitch the world into a nuclear war that will end very quickly with the destruction of the planet. I can remember the late, great Irish comedian Dave Allen commenting on this in one of his shows on the Beeb during Reagan and Thatcher’s New Cold War of the 1980s. ‘Do you know,’ he said in his tobacco and whisky cured voice, ‘that there are enough nuclear weapons to blow up the world three times. Three times! Once is enough for me!’ It was a profound relief for millions around the world when Reagan and Gorbachev signed their arms limitation agreement in Iceland. That, and the collapse of Communism, promised the beginning of a better world, where we wouldn’t have to fear nuclear annihilation. Well, it was until India and Pakistan looked set to nuke each other later in the ’90s.

But now those dreams of a better, more peaceful world are fading as Boris once again wishes to send us all back to the days of Thatcher and the Cold War. Thatcher was vehemently in favour of keeping Britain’s nuclear deterrent. So much so that she falsified the results of an experiment to estimate the results of a nuclear war on Britain. The experiment showed that it would end with the country’s major cities reduced to nuclear cinders. This was too much for the leaderene, who had the parameters of the projection altered to give the results she wanted. But this still would have resulted in millions dead, and so she had the parameters altered again to show that Britain would have survived with minimal damage. By which time the whole exercise had to be scrapped as it was completely unreliable.

Michael Foot, the leader of the Labour party at the time, favoured unilateral nuclear disarmament. He was right, but the Tories and their puppet press viciously attacked him as some kind of fool or traitor, who would give in to the evil Commies. The complaint of many Tories was that he would give our nuclear weapons away. Unlike Maggie, the bargain basement Boadicea, as I think Roy Hattersley once called her.

It looks very much like Boris is playing the same game. He’s wrecking the economy, destroying the health service and welfare state, but he’ll have the right-leaning part of the British public praising him for standing up to those evil foreigners and protecting the country with nukes.

And all the while he’s claiming that there’s no money to give the nurses and other hardworking, front-line professionals anything more than what is in reality a derisory cut in wages. Which is clearly a lie. But it does remind me of what Goering once said:

‘Guns will make us powerful. Butter will make us fat.’

He’s following the Nazis in deliberately starving people while splashing the cash on arms.

For further information, see: Nuclear bomb announcement sends clear message: warmonger Johnson has cash to KILL, not heal | Vox Political (voxpoliticalonline.com)

Conspiracy Theories Spreading About the Covid Vaccine

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 07/12/2020 - 1:58am in

Okay, it seems that no sooner has a vaccine against the Coronavirus been announced, than the paranoids are out there spreading stupid and dangerous conspiracy theories about it. Mike put up a piece about one on Friday, which claimed that Bill Gates was going to put a microchip in each dose so that he could monitor what people were doing. This rumour, according to the Beeb, started in March when Gates told an interviewer that there would be ‘digital certificates’ that would show who’d had the disease and recovered, been tested and received the vaccine. He hadn’t mentioned microchips. But the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation stated that the reference to digital certificates referred to the efforts to create an open-source digital platform with the goal of expanding access to safe, home-based testing.

So it’s not about putting microchips in people.

See: ‘Bill Gates is microchipping you’: Vaccine roll-out prompts return of anti-vaxxer conspiracy flapdoodle | Vox Political (voxpoliticalonline.com)

This looks like a recent mutation of the old End Times conspiracy theory about bar codes. This first emerged in the 1970s/80s. I first came across it at college from evangelical Christian friends. According to this rumour, every bar code contains the numeral ‘666’. This is the number of the Beast in the Book of Revelation in the Bible, which states that under the rule of the Antichrist no-one will be allowed to trade unless they have the Mark of the Beast – this number – on the hand and forehead. So some fundamentalist Christians believe that at the end of the World, everyone will be marked with barcodes on their hand and forehead, because they have the 666 code.

Revelation is a very difficult book of the Bible to understand. One interpretation is that, apart from being a prophecy about the future End of the World and the return of Christ, it’s also a comment on the persecution Christians were then suffering under the emperor Nero. Both the Romans and ancient Jews used codes in which letters had numerical values. In this view, 666 stands for ‘Neron’, Nero’s name in Greek. Not only did Nero persecute the Christians, when he was a young aristocrat he also used to think it was jolly japes to disguise himself as some kind of beast and go round at night attacking people. Hence the Great Beast in Revelation is also reference to Nero.

Now that microchips have been developed, which can be implanted I think the fears about barcodes have changed to include them. Instead of being marked with barcodes, people will be injected with microchips. And Bill Gates is obviously a prime focus for such fears and suspicions because of his huge power through his tech company. But these stories are nevertheless just conspiracy theories in the pejorative sense of the term, nothing more.

Unfortunately it isn’t just western Christians falling prey to stupid fears about the vaccine. I saw a video the other day about a fanatical Islamic cleric in Pakistan, who announced to his audience in cyberspace that the Covid vaccine had been developed to destroy the instinct that stops people committing incest. Once people had it injected, they would start having sex with their close relatives. And it was all the fault of the Jews, because they wanted Israel to get hold of the al-Aqsa mosque.

This is real anti-Semitism, for those, who are so deluded they think it means quietly spoken senior Jewish ladies or gents, who criticise Israel.

I don’t blame Muslims for worrying about what will happen to the Dome of the Rock mosque in Jerusalem now that Netanyahu and Donald Trump have decided that Jerusalem’s the real capital of Israel rather than Tel Aviv.

But the claim that the Covid vaccine will turn people into perverted sex maniacs is stupid, wrong and dangerous.

Of course the vaccine isn’t going to do that. And the mullah coming out with this bilge didn’t say how turning people into sex maniacs would enable Israel to get their hands on Islam’s third holiest mosque. Because the theory’s total nonsense.

But it is part of a number of other stupid, dangerous fears about vaccines. The country has been unable to get rid of polio unlike many other Developing nations. It’s because there are rumours going around claiming that the vaccine has been deliberately designed as a bioweapon against Muslims and causes sterility, thus preventing Pakistani Muslim women having children. As a result, people have refused to have the vaccine and medical workers and government officials have been killed. See Meera Senthilingam’s book, Outbreaks and Epidemics: Battling Infection from Measles to Coronavirus (London: Icon Books 2020).

Conspiracy theories like these are dangerous, and stop people getting the medical treatment they need. Don’t believe them. The Covid vaccine doesn’t contain microchips and it won’t turn anyone into a raging pervert bent on incest.

But it might stop someone dying slowly and painfully from the virus.

Don’t believe the rumours and make sure you get treated when it comes to you.

Which is a good question considering the blithering idiocy and incompetence of Boris’ government!

Jama’at-i Islami – The Pakistani Islamic Party Pushing for Theocracy

Pakistan was founded as an explicitly Muslim country. It’s a democracy, but there is a section of its parliament, if I remember correctly, that’s made up of Muslim clergy, who scrutinise legislation passed by the lower house to make sure it accords with Islamic law. Since the 1970s and the regime of the dictator, Zia al-Haqq, Islam has become increasingly powerful in Pakistani politics. I believe the current president, Imran Khan, is the leader of an Islamic party. Pakistan was one of the nations that experienced protests against France over the Charlie Hebdo cartoons and there have been official denunciations of the cartoons and President Macron’s attempts to combat Muslim radicalism.

The force behind the growth of political Islam in Pakistan appears to be the Jama’at-i Islami, whose name translates as ‘The Islamic Society.’ The article about them in The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions runs as follows

A highly disciplined and well-organised Muslim political party, founded in 1941 by Abul al-A’la Mawdudi. it aims at establishing an observant Islamic state in Pakistan. The Jam’at’s political platform offers an alternative to teh secularists and modernists, and in this lies its appeal (especially since 1977). The Ja’amat advocates that Pakistan should be a theocratic state, ruled by a single man whose tenure of office and power are limited only by his faithfulness to Islam. The ruler should be assisted by a shura (advisory council), with no political parties and no provision for an opposition. General Zia al-Haqq, the military leader after the overthrow of Z. Bhutto (1977)., used the Jama’at as a political prop for his ‘back to Islam’ campaign. The Jama’at has influence among the military, the middle classes, and the college and university students. It publishes a monthly magazine, Tarjuman al-Quran, in Lahore that has a high circulation. On the international level, the Jama’at was on good terms with Imam Khumayni and the oil rich Arab states; the Saudis have supported the movement since the early 1970s. (p. 489).

This looks like an attempt to create a kind of caliphate, and the Dictionary notes that there is considerable support for its return in Pakistan. I also wonder about the movement’s influence in British Islam, as there has been a problem with fire-breathing radicals immigrating to Britain to supply the shortage of imams for British mosques. Which is why moderate Muslims in this country have demanded government assistance in training Muslim Brits, who have grown up in our ostensibly democratic culture, as imams and community leaders.

I’m not a secularist, and believe that people of faith have a right to have their voices heard in politics and parliament, but this is just a movement for religious tyranny. In Pakistan as it is there’s persecution, including violence and pogroms against religious minorities. We’ve seen Christians murdered and imprisoned following accusations of blasphemy. There have also been riots and murders of the Ahmadiyya. Apparently even pious Muslims have been murdered because of comments they have made, which have been interpreted by others as blasphemous. There are 200 people on Pakistan’s Death Row accused of blasphemy. Many of these accusations are spurious, cynically levelled because of other disputes between the parties concerned. If a theocracy was established in Pakistan, it would only cause more oppression and violence.

I also believe that it wouldn’t be good for Islam either. Atheist sites on the web have reported that there has been a massive increase in atheism in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia and Iran. Six years or so ago Saudi news reported that a large number of Qurans had been found thrown into a sewer. A few days ago Iranian media reported that this had also happened in their country. A poll conducted of 50,000 Iranians found that 38 per cent of the population is either atheist or has no religion. If this is true, then it’s probably the result of people becoming fed up of the repression they are experiencing from their theocratic governments. The religious violence of the Islamist extremists, al-Qaeda and Daesh, are undoubtedly another factor. A few years ago I read a book by a French anthropologist, who came to the conclusion that the Islamist movements were the response of Muslim societies as the experienced the transition to modernity. This was comparable to the way radical, militant Christian movements had appeared in Europe in the 17th century, such as those in the British Civil War. Now Islam was experiencing the same.

My guess is that if the Jama’at ever succeeded in creating a theocracy in Pakistan, it would be massively unstable as the various sects excluded from the regime’s view of what was properly Islamic were oppressed and rebelled. I don’t believe that the Jama’at and other extreme, theocratic movements have anything to offer Muslims or anyone else anything except more oppression and violence.

A 17th Century Anglican Plea for Religious Toleration

Jeremy Taylor was the chaplain of King Charles I and the rector of Uppingham. After the royalists were defeated in the British Civil War, he fled to Carmarthenshire in Wales, where he wrote his book arguing for religious freedom, The Liberty of Prophesying. After the Restoration he was appointed bishop of Down and Connor. He was also the author of a number of devotional works and sermons, but it’s his defence of religious freedom that I find particularly interesting. He said ‘they were excellent words which St. Ambrose said in attestation of this great truth, that the civil authority has no right to interdict the liberty of speaking, nor the sacerdotal to prevent speaking what you think.’

See the article on him in John Bowker, ed., The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions (Oxford: OUP 1997) 958.

I’m very much aware that throughout Christian history there has been very little freedom of religion and conscience, and that the Anglican church’s toleration of Dissenters was very limited until the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts in the 19th century. Until then Protestant nonconformists were excluded from the grammar schools, universities and government, and could only hold their services five miles away from towns. Atheism and Roman Catholicism were illegal again until the 19th century. But it was clergymen like Taylor and his fellows in the Nonconformist churches, like the Quaker William Penn and a number of Presbyterian ministers, who laid the foundations for the British and American tradition of religious tolerance. The most famous of the works calling for religious freedom from this period is Milton’s Areopagitica.

Despite the passage of the centuries, their message is still acutely relevant. Many countries still don’t have freedom of conscious or religious liberty in the 20th century. The Communists attempted to destroy religious and viciously persecuted people of faith, while the Nazis, apart from trying to exterminate the Jews, also sent their other religious opponents, especially Jehovah’s Witnesses, to the concentration camps.

We have recently seen a French teacher murdered for showing schoolchildren the Charlie Hebdo cartoons of Mohammed in a class about free speech, and mass demonstrations against France for permitting the cartoons in Muslim countries. To many people, their calls for legislation against such disrespect seem like demands for Muslim blasphemy laws. Christians and members of other religious minorities, such as Shia and Ahmadiyya Muslims have been murdered in Pakistan as well as orthodox Sunni Muslims because of supposed blasphemy. This is banned in Pakistan and punishable with the death penalty. The only permitted religion in Saudi Arabia is Wahhabi Islam, and a few years ago the Saudis declared that atheism was terrorism. This was just atheist unbelief itself, regardless of any act of genuine terror, such as killing people or destroying property.

I’m sympathetic to Muslims regarding the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. I don’t like the way Christianity and Christ are mocked by certain sections of the media and the entertainment business either. I’ve also heard the argument that Charlie Hebdo is a nasty rag. It’s not left-wing, but right, apparently, and its targets also include Roman Catholicism and immigrants.

But there’s a greater principle of free speech and the sanctity of human life here. All religions and ideologies, including atheism, should be up for debate, with people free to choose as they will. They’re fundamental human rights, the violation of which either leads or is part of tyranny.

William Blum on the Real Reason for the Invasion of Afghanistan: Oil

The late William Blum, an inveterate and bitter critic of American foreign policy and imperialism also attacked the invasion of Afghanistan. In his view, it was, like the Iraq invasion a few years later, absolutely nothing to do with the terrible events of 9/11 but another attempt to assert American control over a country for the benefit of the American-Saudi oil industry. Blum, and other critics of the Iraq invasion, made it very clear that America invaded Iraq in order to gain control of its oil industry and its vast reserves. In the case of Afghanistan, the invasion was carried out because of the country’s strategic location for oil pipelines. These would allow oil to be supplied to south Asian avoiding the two countries currently outside American control, Russian and Iran. The Taliban’s connection to al-Qaeda was really only a cynical pretext for the invasion. Blum lays out his argument on pages 79-81 of his 2014 book, America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy. He writes

With the US war in Iraq supposedly having reached a good conclusion (or halfway decent… or better than nothing… or let’s get the hell out of here while some of us are still in one piece and there are some Iraqis we haven’t yet killed), the best and the brightest in our government and media turn their thoughts to what to do about Afghanistan. It appears that no one seems to remember, if they ever knew, that Afghanistan was not really about 9/11 or fighting terrorists (except the many the US has created by its invasion and occupation), but was about pipelines.

President Obama declared in August 2009:

But we must never forget this is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity. Those who attacked America on 9-11 are plotting to do so again. If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans.

Never mind that out of the tens of thousands of people the United States and its NATO front have killed in Afghanistan not one has been identified as having had anything to do with the events of September 11, 2001.

Never mind that the ‘plotting to attack America’ in 2001 was carried out in Germany and Spain and the United States more than in Afghanistan. Why hasn’t the United States attacked these countries?

Indeed, what actually was needed to plot to plot to buy airline tickets and take flying lessons in the United States? A room with some chairs? What does ‘an even larger safe haven’ mean? A larger room with more chairs? Perhaps a blackboard? Terrorists intent upon attacking the United States can meet almost anywhere.

The only ‘necessity’ that drew the United States to Afghanistan was the desire to establish a military presence in this land that is next door to the Caspian Sea region of Central Asia – which reportedly contains the second largest proven reserves of petroleum and natural gas in the world – and build oil and gas pipelines from that region running through Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is well situated for oil and gas pipelines to serve much of South Asia, pipelines that can bypass those not-yet Washington clients Iran and Russia. If only the Taliban would not attack the lines. Here’s Richard Boucher, US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, in 2007: ‘One of our goals is to stabilize Afghanistan, so it can become a conduit and a hub between South and Central Asia so taht energy can flow to the south’.

Since the 1980s all kinds of pipelines have been planned for the area, only to be delayed or canceled by one military, financial or political problem or another. For example, the so-called TAPI pipeline (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) had strong support from Washington, which was eager to block a competing pipeline that would bring gas to Pakistan and India from Iran. TAPI goes back to the 1990s, when the Taliban government held talks with the California-based oil company Unocal Corporation. These talks were conducted with the full knowledge of the Clinton administration, and were undeterred by the extreme repression of Taliban society. Taliban officials even made trips to the United States for discussions. Testifying before the House Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific on February 12, 1998, Unocal representative John Maresca discussed the importance of the pipeline project and the increasing difficulties in dealing with the Taliban:

The region’s total oil reserves may well reach more than 60 billion barrels of oil. Some estimates are as high as 200 billion barrels… From the outset, we have made it clear that construction of the pipeline we have proposed across Afghanistan could not begin until a recognized government is in place that has the confidence of governments, leaders, and our company.

When those talks stalled in July, 2001 the Bush administration threatened the Taliban with military reprisals if the government did not go along with American demands. The talks finally broke down for good the following month, a month before 9/11.

The United States has been serious indeed about the Caspian Sea and Persian Gulf oil and gas areas. Through one war of another beginning with the Gulf War of 1990-91, the US has managed to establish military bases in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan.

The war against the Taliban can’t be ‘won’ short of killing everyone in Afghanistan. The United States may well try again to negotiate some from of pipeline security with the Taliban, then get out, and declare ‘victory’. Barack Obama can surely deliver an eloquent victory speech from his teleprompter. It might include the words ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’, but certainly not ‘pipeline’.

This was obviously written before the electoral victory of Hamid Karzai and his government, but the point remains the same. The Taliban are still active and fighting against the supposedly democratic government, which also remains, as far as I know, dependent on western aid.

But the heart of the matter is that this wasn’t a war to save humanity from the threat of global terrorism, nor is it about freeing the Afghan people from a bloodthirsty and murderously repressive Islamist regime. The Americans were quite happy to tolerate that and indeed do business with it. It was only when the Taliban started to become awkward that the Americans started threatening them with military action. And this was before 9/11. Which strongly supports Blum’s argument that the terrible attack on the Twin Towers, Pentagon and the White House were and are being cynically used as the justification for the invasion. 17 out of the 19 conspirators were Saudis, and the events point to involvement by the Saudi state with responsibility going right to the top of the Saudi regime. But America and NATO never launched an attack on them, despite the fact that the Saudis have been funding global Islamist terrorism, including Daesh. That is before ISIS attacked them.

It was Remembrance Day last Wednesday. The day when Britain honours the squaddies who fell in the two World Wars and subsequent conflicts. One of those talking about the importance of the day and its ceremonies on Points West, the Beeb’s local news programme for the Bristol area, was a former squaddie. He was a veteran of Afghanistan, and said it was particularly important to him because he had a mate who was killed out there. He felt we had to remember victims of combat, like his friend because if we didn’t ‘what’s the point?’.

Unfortunately, if Blum’s right – and I believe very strongly that he is – then there’s no point. Our governments have wasted the lives, limbs and minds of courageous, patriotic men and women for no good reason. Not to defend our countries from a ruthless ideology which massacres civilians in order to establish its oppressive rule over the globe. Not to defend our freedoms and way of life, nor to extend those freedoms and their benefits to the Afghan people. But simply so that America can gain geopolitical control of that region and maintain its dominance of the oil industry, while enriching the oil companies still further.

Blasphemy Laws and the Muslim Protests Against France

Over the past week or so we’ve seen mass protests across the Islamic world, including the Islamic community in Britain, over the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. These have followed the assassination of school teacher Samuel Paty for simply showing his class the cartoon as part of a lesson about free speech. It’s been pointed out in articles in the I that Paty was far from a racist or Islamophobe. He had taken lessons in Islam in order to understand his Muslim students better, and had warned the Muslims in his class what he was about to do so they could leave to avoid being offended. One girl remained, told her father, her father told the local mosque, the mosque told the community. And a Chechen Islamist heard them, and took matters into his own hands. Other Islamists have carried out further attacks on innocents, who had absolutely no part in the affair. Three people, including a priest, were stabbed to death in a church, simply for being Christians, and there have been shootings in other nations.

The murders of these innocents has not been denounced by the Muslim protesters, however. Instead we have seen former cricketer Imran Khan, now leader of an Islamic party and the president of Pakistan, denounce Macron for the publication of the cartoon. He has been joined by Turkish president Erdogan, another leader of a Muslim party Who wouldn’t know free speech if it came up and bit him on the elbow. Tunisia has also denounced France, and when I looked online last night, Islamists in Bangladesh were giving their government a few hours to sever links with France.

It’s been reported that Khan has been complaining about the hurt felt by Muslims around the world about the publication of the cartoons. Supposedly the right to free speech does not mean the right to offend. But others have pointed out over and over again that that is precisely what it means. The type of free speech that only permits what is inoffensive is no free speech at all.

At the heart of this are the Muslim blasphemy laws. This is an attempt to impose them on France and, by implication, other western nations. However, Muslim are a minority in Europe and so the only arguments Khan and the others can use against Europeans is that their feelings are hurt, and that there will be political repercussions.

I looked up the article on blasphemy in The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, ed. by John Bowker (Oxford: OUP 1997). This provides information on the concept of blasphemy in Christian, Judaism and Islam, its punishments, and the problems of enforcing such laws in Britain. It runs

Blasphemy (Gk: ‘speaking evil’ ). Impious or profane talk, especially against God; and in many western legal systems , the offence of reviling God or Jesus Christ or an established church. To be blasphemous a publication must be intended to shock and endanger the moral fabric of society; one that is merely anti-religious (e.g. denying the existence of God) is not. In England in 1977 the editor of Gay News was convicted of blasphemous libel for publishing a poem which portrayed Christ as a practicing homosexual. This was the first successful prosecution for blasphemy since 1922, and showed the difficulty of objectively applying the common law definition. The appearance of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, raised the issue whether blasphemy should be extended to become a more general offence (in the UK), or whether it is an offence in the domain of inciting unrest.

‘In Judaism, ‘blasphemy’ is speaking scornfully of God (Heb. gidduf, heruf) and is described euphemistically as birkat ha-shem (‘blessing the name’, i.e. God). According to Leviticus 24. 10-23, the penalty for cursing God is death, but in discussing this passage, the rabbis defined blasphemy in such a way that it became an improbable crime-and thus the death penalty did not need to be invoked. Excommunication (herem) became the punishment in any case once legal autonomy had been lost…

‘The nearest equivalent in Islam is sabb, offering an insult to God. Qur’an 9.74 condemns those who sear by God that they said nothing but in fact spoke a word of rejection (kalimat al-kufr) after they had become Muslims. This relates blasphemy closely to apostasy (ridda). The expression of contempt for God, the Prophet Mohammed, the angels, or the traditional explications of revelation constitute the offence. Accidental blasphemy is not usually excusable (though Malikites allow it if it is expressed by a recent convert to Islam).. The punishment varies between different Schools of Islamic Law -e.g. the Hanafites remove the offenders legal rights, declare his marriage invalid, and declare any claims to inheritance or property void; the Malikites demand immediate execution of the death penalty.,’

The British prosecution for blasphemy mentioned in the article was brought by Mary Whitehouse, who made it her professional duty to be offended about everything. The gays on the opposite side took this as an attack on them, and launched their own protests against Whitehouse. There’s a comic aspect to this, as Whitehouse recalled that she woke up one morning to find militant gays marching about her garden waving placards.

I think the enforcement of the blasphemy laws is more or less impossible. They’re a dead letter, if they haven’t been repealed. As an example, just consider how many TV comedians since then have expressed their own contempt for Christ and his followers. The comedians Lee and Herring regularly did so on their BBC 2 programme, Fist of Fun. It came as a surprise to me a few years ago when Muslims around the world were again up in arms demanding the execution of blasphemers because of something Pope Benedict said about Mohammed in a speech when one of the two appeared on television attacking Islam. When they were interviewed by the short-lived mag Comedy Revue in the 1990s, they were asked about their attacks on Christianity and whether they would do the same to Islam. They laughingly made it clear that they definitely wouldn’t because they were afraid of violence and attempts on their lives. And thought themselves very clever for doing so. Which shows the British media establishments general attitude to Christianity.

The Muslim blasphemy laws are extremely dangerous. At the moment there are 200 people on death row in Pakistan on charges of blasphemy. Most of these are probably entirely spurious. They’re brought for entirely cynical reasons, such as getting rid of an opponent in a dispute over a completely unrelated issue. Muslims have also claimed that their attacks on Christians were also motivated by the outrage they felt at blasphemies committed by their victims. But some of it seems to me to be an attempt to enforce the Pakistani caste system. Indian and Pakistan Islam has a caste system like Hinduism, only not as severe. Most of the Christian community in Pakistan are of the lowest caste, and many are bonded labourers in brickyards, effectively slaves. One of the Christian women accused of blasphemy was accused after she brought water from a well to a group of Muslim women. Along the way she took a sip of the water. It looks to me that the real crime here was that she broke their laws of caste purity, and that the accusation of blasphemy was added on after this offence.

The ex-Muslim vloggers the Apostate Prophet and Harris Sultan have also pointed out the hypocrisy in Khan’s denunciations. When western countries have criticised Pakistan for human rights abuses, Pakistan has simply told them to mind their own business. But when France defends the publication of cartoons Pakistan and its Islamic leadership find offensive, suddenly he’s justified in interfering in their affairs. He has also denounced the closure of radical mosques and the expulsion of extremist imams as an attack on Islam. It isn’t. It is simply France protecting itself against Islamist violence, in the same way right-wing terrorist groups are banned. And Khan is again being hypocritical in his denunciations. When the Taliban made a series of bloody attacks in Pakistan a few years ago, the armed forces and security services cracked down hard. According to the two above vloggers, they went from house to house in the province of Waziristan arresting anyone with a beard. I haven’t linked to the two because I don’t want to offend any Muslims reading this blog. But you can Google the articles on YouTube if you want to find out more.

Macron should stand firm against all this. Blasphemy laws are a severe attack on free speech, and the penalties inflicted for it and the flagrant abuse of such accusations are particularly dangerous. Freedom of speech and conscience, including that of Muslims, is far too important to be sacrificed because of hurt feelings and outrage.