Category Archives: Religious/Politics

More Brutality – And More Grace

A couple of weeks ago I made my seventh visit in as many years to the persecuted church in northern Nigeria, this time accompanied by a British writer and commentator who wanted to see for himself what is happening there. (I’ve blogged my previous visits, for instance here, here and here.)

Together we talked with many people, and it was as distressing as ever to hear the stories of Christians and other minorities who are being crushed by the iron fist of Islam – a fist wielded in the north east corner of Nigeria by the madmen of Boko Haram, and across the north and ‘middle-belt’ of the country by murderous Fulani cattle herders.

Nonetheless some of the stories were inspirational.

In one IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camp we met a woman who, together with her husband and a 30-strong group of others, tried to escape Boko Haram violence by crossing into neighbouring Cameroon in early 2014. They were caught by the militants at a river bank. All the men were slaughtered and the women and children were carted off to the now infamous former game-reserve, Sambisa Forest, where the Chibok girls are believed to be held.

During a captivity that lasted two years she was forcibly converted to Islam and married off to a young Boko Haram fighter, with whom, she says, she quarrelled incessantly. Once she received 80 lashes across her back when she and other women tried to escape. In the end they were rescued by Cameroon soldiers who defeated the Boko Haram militants in a fire-fight; the militants ran away and the abducted women were left free to return home.

At eight months pregnant by her Boko Haram ‘husband’, she in due course gave birth to a baby boy whom she breast-fed as she told us her story. When asked how she felt about the boy, she told us quietly that she had been taught by her Pastor to love even in the most difficult circumstances; she felt nothing but love towards her son despite his brutal Islamist father.

We were profoundly moved by her dignity and courage.

Other people’s stories were informative.

We met with the elderly wife of a Pastor who had ministered for decades in and around Gwoza which borders on Sambisa. Boko Haram has decimated the thriving Christian community there, killed or injured many believers, destroyed dozens of churches and, in August 2014, declared Gwoza town the headquarters of their Caliphate in Nigeria along the lines of the  Mosul headquarters of the Islamic State Caliphate in Iraq and Syria.

The causes of the rapid rise of Boko Haram have been much debated. Although Boko Haram’s official Arabic name when translated means ‘People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad’, most authorities refuse to blame any form of Islam. Some, like the US State Department, prefer to cite poverty, bad education and “poor government service delivery”. Others reckon it is the malign influence of armed Islamists crossing the border from West African states such as Mali, Chad and Niger. Yet others identify locals’ adverse reaction to foreign influences such as decadent Western secular lifestyles and to the residual impact of British colonialism (Nigeria gained its Independence in 1960).

We asked the Pastor’s wife what she thought. She was clear: fifteen years ago or so Afghan men dressed like the Taliban arrived unexpectedly in Gwoza and started taking young Muslim men away for education and training. That is when local Muslims became radicalised, she said, and previously good relations between many Muslims and Christians cooled noticeably.

So at the territorial centre of its operations, Gwoza, Boko Haram arose out of a radical Islam imported from a country nearly 4,000 miles away. I haven’t read that in the mainstream media.

Yet other interviewees were insightful and prophetic.

“I said it would happen,” explained the charismatic if diminutive Archbishop of Jos, Ben Kwashi. We were discussing the recent slaughter of Christians by armed Fulani herdsmen in southern Kaduna. “This persecution of Christians came from the north and started here in and around Jos in Plateau State,” said the Archbishop. “I forecast then that the Fulani violence would spread south, as it has done now into southern Kaduna. I further forecast that Niger State will be next. They will not stop, you mark my words.”

The Archbishop also pointed out that in 2015 many Christians voted for Muhammadu Buhari for Federal President even though he is a committed Muslim; he had a reputation as a former military hardman and he said he would be tough on terrorism. They have been disappointed, the senior cleric told us, as government inaction over the slaughter of Christians is difficult to explain apart from the fact that Buhari himself is Fulani.

I returned to the UK sickened once again by the Islamic and Islamist violence and inspired by many Christians’ grace under pressure and persecution.

Goodbye Scotland?

12376_haggis-1I was born the son of a London-based proud Scot who to the end maintained his distinctive Glaswegian brogue, contended that haggis isn’t haggis without bashed neeps and a nip (ie. mashed swede and a tot of whisky), reckoned that sugar on porridge is solely for Sassenachs, and even on his death-bed required a dram of his favourite single-malt Scotch.

So I’ve watched with disappointment as that once significant nation, home of the Calvinist rectitude that some believe made Scotland the moral standard for the world, and of the 18th century Scottish Enlightenment whose intellectual and scientific accomplishments reached around the globe, has deteriorated since the war into a small-minded whingeing country with the national motto, nicked from the terraces at Hamden Park, of “ABE” (Anyone But England).

A country gets, sometimes, the politics and politicians it wishes for: recently Scotland has voted overwhelmingly for the blustering Scottish National Party and has got its chip-on-the-shoulder nationalists, Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon, as First Minsters.

p1080018So a breakaway from England – but not, if Scots get their way, from the European Union – is on the table and I determined during my summer holiday to try to understand why. I took historian Lynda Colley’s magisterial work, ‘Britons: Forging the Nation 1707 – 1837’, with me to the sun-drenched beaches of Sardinia. It was a fascinating read.

Colley reminds us that Britain was only created in 1707 following the Act of Union between England, Wales and Scotland and therefore – I for one had overlooked the obvious fact – the British nation is just a few decades older than the young country the other side of the Atlantic which forged its own Brexit  (Amexit?) and independence in 1776.

Historically British identity is a modern concept, superimposed on the older but enduring identities of Englishness, Scottishness and Welshness and other regionalisms. union-jackColley traces how this new overarching identity gained so much pull and power amongst ordinary people as well as social elites in the 130 years leading up to the accession of Queen Victoria in 1837, and – my particular interest – gives explanation why the collective identity seems now to be unravelling.

Colley cites three reasons why British identity prospered:

Her second reason is mutual hostility across the English Channel. Colley point out that Britain and France were at war six times during this period culminating in Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo in 1815 – and “these were only the most violent expressions of a much longer and multi-layered rivalry”. The external threat from France united the peoples of the British Isles such that, most visibly, Scottish, Welsh and English regiments fought closely together in the decisive Waterloo victory over the French that brought extended peace to Europe after twenty bloody years of war.

british_empire_1921Colley’s third reason is the expansion of Britain’s global empire and the opportunity this gave people from different ethnic and social backgrounds to fight, trade with, govern and otherwise benefit from Britain’s increasingly valuable colonial possessions. They had a real interest in accessing Britain’s subjects and captive markets world-wide rather than limiting their livelihoods to these islands. Fame and fortune lay abroad.

However Colley’s first reason is the big surprise. Our secular age is blind about religion so her thesis is unexpected: Protestantism, she argues, was the unifying and distinguishing bond.

linda-colley“More than anything else,” she writes, “it was this shared religious allegiance combined with recurrent wars that permitted a sense of British national identity to emerge alongside of, and not necessarily in competition with, older more organic attachments to England, Wales or Scotland, or to county or village. Protestantism was the dominant component of British religious life. Protestantism coloured the way that Britons approached and interpreted their material life. Protestantism determined how most Britons viewed their politics. And uncompromising Protestantism was the foundation on which their state was explicitly and unapologetically based.” (p18)

So why have we ignored the impact of the Protestant faith on 18th century society, and its subsequent role in creating 19th century Victorian Britain? “The absolute centrality of Protestantism… is so obvious that it has proved easy (for historians) to pass over,” Colley argues. Personally, I reckon in secular UK it is opinion-formers’ and academics’ anti-Christian bias that has led to this omission; although Colley is British-born and educated, she lives, publishes and is a professor of history in the more church-going United States.

john_wesley_by_william_hamiltonIt is regretable too that Colley herself passes over the impact of Protestant preacher and one of my all-time heroes, John Wesley, plus his fellow founders of Methodism. In the half century from 1738 when Wesley first preached the Christian gospel outdoors to crowds of unwashed ragged miners at Kingswood, Bristol, “their tears making white channels down their grimy faces”, to 1791 when he died as “the most loved man in the country”, Wesley travelled 290,000 miles mainly on horseback (equivalent to circumnavigating the globe 12 times), preached 15 sermons a week sometimes despite violent opposition, and created Methodist churches up and down the land from, primarily, working and lower-middle class converts.

Wesley and his evangelical colleagues were also social reformers. Methodism promoted education and health-care amongst the poor as well as ‘manners and morals’ and a commitment to wider society. The Protestant faith brought prosperity and patriotism: “Get all you can, save all you can, give all you can,” preached Wesley, and the changes in behaviour led to widespread uplift and social improvement that benefitted the nation as well as the individual.

(c) Ferens Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Perhaps as a concession to our religious illiteracy Colley notes only the public impact of the change, not the spiritual source. “In the early and mid-eighteenth century it had been possible for high-ranking politicians like Viscount Bolingbroke or Robert Walpole to flaunt the fact that they were keeping mistresses and to be blithely unconcerned about newspapers and cartoons publishing it. But by 1800 the fashion amongst politicians… was for ostentatious uxoriousness… (and they) wallowed in domesticity. Public men acknowledged the vital importance of practicing regular church-going and conventional sexual morality.” (p189)

If Colley’s three-point thesis is right, and Protestantism amongst all social classes, armed enmity across the Channel and the widespread fruits of global Imperialism were the main contributors to British identity, it is not difficult to see why this identity has declined. Public religion, Anglo-French hostility and the British Empire have all virtually disappeared, and local identities have begun to dominate again. So Scotland may yet go independent.

But eighteenth-century Englishmen did not all want the 1707 Union anyway, according to Colley. “(M)any regarded the Scots as poor and pushy relations, unwilling to pay their full share of taxation, yet constantly demanding access to English resources…” (p13)

Hmm… Plus ça change.

Oxford’s Gender-Bender Agenda

neutral looThe rise of the gender-bender agenda, recently highlighted by the ‘bathroom wars’, is the latest phase of the ongoing sexual revolution. It is, like previous phases, imported from the US and entirely top-down and media driven.

It sees gender identity as a social construct rather than a biological given. It claims our gender is fluid, should be chosen by ourselves as we grow up and may change if we wish; it is not settled by nature (or God if you are a believer) at the time of our birth.

It is also dangerous nonsense. But it is coming your way.

It came my way this week when a polite young woman from LBC Radio contacted me. Oxford City councillors are introducing the gender-neutral option of Mx – pronounced “mix” – to official forms with a view to phasing out the conventional Mr and Ms: “Do you have views?” she asked.

Half an hour later I found myself on LBC’s Iain Dale show together with trans journalist and equality campaigner Paris Lees. (If you want to check out our chat, it’s the first item on the 16/08/16 show here (£)).

Paris’ arguments were excruciatingly unpersuasive. The stronger the binary male-and-female gender identities, she claimed, the greater the violence against women. 3935258_origThe solution is to “blur the boundaries between men and women”, she said – happily ignoring inconvenient facts like, for instance, the high level of lesbian and gay same-sex violence which some consider has reached epidemic proportions.

For my part, I welcomed the good sense of Oxford Pride chairman Rob Jordan who stated he doesn’t mind Mx as a simple addition to the current available titles, Mr and Ms. If Oxford Council wants to add a gender-neutral title in order to increase choice and inclusivity, that’s OK.

But of course it doesn’t stop with this apparently innocuous change to council paperwork. Indeed the sexual revolution does not stop anywhere. So the Oxford councillors have determined that next they want to drop Mr and Ms because these titles “are not inclusive of transgender people”.

In other words they are, wittingly or otherwise, promoting a gender-destruction ideology which reduces choice and, uninvited, imposes a gender-free framework on everyone: all Oxford residents will be titled Mx on all council forms.

The-10-Richest-Transgender-People-In-The-World-2The wider gender ideology is a cancerous virus that is creeping across the western world. It is destroying foundational categories such as ‘man’ and ‘woman’ and helping undermine time-honoured healthy family structures and relationships.

And gender activists like all sexual revolutionaries are targeting our kids. They insist even pre-pubescent childen have the right to question – and receive medical help to change – their gender identity.

Fortunately for once some influential professionals have stood their ground. The American College of Pediatricians recently issued an important statement called “Gender Ideology Harms Children”. It’s worth reading in full, but I quote here excerpts that should be read out loud to Oxford City councillors at their next council meeting:

“Human sexuality is an objective biological binary trait: ‘XY’ and ‘XX’ are genetic markers of sex, male and female respectively… The norm for human design is to be conceived either male or female. Human sexuality is binary by design with the obvious purpose being the reproduction and flourishing of our species. This principle is self-evident… 

“Human beings are born with a biological sex… People who identify as “feeling like the opposite sex” or “somewhere in between” do not comprise a third sex. They remain biological men or biological women.” 

I thank God for this rock of sanity and common sense that stands out against the West’s rising tide of sexual madness and gender muddle.

UKIP – Defender Of The Faith

UKIP has a track record of saying the unsayable and promoting inconvenient truth against the mainstream consensus. mikeBrexit, control of immigration and opposition to gay marriage are just three issues where the party has, famously, refused to kowtow to the liberal establishment.

There is another issue too: the public role of the UK’s traditional religion.

Until recently Tory MP Andrea Leadsom had been a less than high-profile politician. But she’d frequently gone public about her Christianity and her religious reservations about – but personal support for – same-sex marriage.

These, together with some naïve comments about motherhood, brought a storm around her head from party colleagues and media alike during her brief bid for the Conservative Party leadership earlier this month.

andrea-leadsomConservativeHome editor Paul Goodman described the ferocious attacks on her as ‘prejudice’, ‘feral’ and ‘bullying’, while commentator Iain Dale called the media assaults ‘astonishing’.

Faced with this onslaught the MP withdrew from the contest. Journalist Allison Pearson interviewed her afterwards and concluded that “Leadsom was genuinely shocked by the poisonous attacks from within her own party. She said it was highly unlikely that the daily stories saying how useless/dishonest/Christian she was ‘are coincidental’.”

Anti-religious prejudice in the UK is reserved only for traditionalist Christians like Leadsom it seems. In her article Pearson drew attention to the fact that no-one calls London’s Muslim Mayor Sadiq Khan a ‘religious nutter’.

And when celebrity atheist Richard Dawkins claimed that then New Statesman editor Mehdi Hasan was disqualified for the job because of his Islamic beliefs, the media leapt en masse to the Muslim’s defence and it was Dawkins who came under sustained media fire.

for everyoneBy the end of the 19th century, laws requiring holders of public office to assent to particular religious beliefs had been repealed. Jews, Catholics, Puritans, Atheists – they were all free to participate in public life. It was a long time coming, but freedom of religion had come of age.

But step-by-step today’s secular Britain is turning back to public prejudice. As Andrea Leadsom found out, there is a new intolerance in the air.

Hotel owners, registrarsmagistrates, doctors and counsellors have lost their livelihoods because of their Christian beliefs.

anti-christian_hateAnd a wider targetted hostility can be observed, for instance, via the stand-up comedians in the popular TV series Live at the Apollo. Mock Christians or Christianity and the audience falls about laughing. This is no problem in a society that values satire and freedom of speech of course. Except that it does not, it seems, translate across onto Islam or atheism.

So who will step into the breach and stand against this rising tide of prejudice against the nation’s traditional religion?

Yup, once again: only UKIP.

In last year’s general election, ours was the sole party to publish a manifesto specifically for the faithful. In the document Policies for Christians, Nigel Farage wrote “UKIP is the only major political party left in Britain that still cherishes our Judeo-Christian heritage” and “we need a much more muscular defence of our Christian heritage and our Christian constitution”.

He had made similar comments previously to Fox News in New York and at the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

UKIP’s deputy leader Paul Nuttall was reported as saying too that “UKIP is the only party that will confidently protect the rights of Christians in the UK and speak out against the attack on our Christian heritage.”

The party was as good as its word. In the 2015 manifesto UKIP promised to “extend the legal concept of ‘reasonable accommodation’ to give protection in law to those expressing a religious conscience in the workplace“- in this case over same-sex marriage.

QuakersSince 1757 our society has been broad-minded enough to allow Quakers and other pacifists to refuse military service even in times of national peril, and freedom of conscience has developed into a fundamental feature of western democracy.

Yet the establishment’s growing liberal authoritarianism has meant that UKIP’s pledge on this issue is unique amongst the main political parties.

UKIP also has been the only party to speak up for Christian refugees from the Islamic Middle East and North Africa.

In Syria Christians are a vulnerable minority who frequently suffer the double whammy of having to flee first from Islamist violence in their home towns and villages, and subsequently from the hostility of militant Muslim migrants inside the refugee camps. In 2013 Nigel Farage faced down a storm of politically-correct censure when he called for the UK government to take in only Christian Syrian refugees.

MigrantBoatAerialEighteen months later, after African Muslims threw Christian fellow migrants out of the boat while crossing the Mediterranean, the UKIP leader repeated his call for Christians only, this time from north Africa, to be offered refuge in Europe.

Farage and Nuttall have both resigned from party leadership and currently UKIP is looking for a new leader. Nominations close today, and hustings and voting will take place during August. The successful candidate will be announced at the party conference on 16th September.

Will he or she be sympathetic towards Christian values and defend the nation’s traditional religion? To find out, some CAUKIP (Christian Action in UKIP) colleagues and I have formulated an online questionnaire which we will be submitting to each declared candidate.

You can view it here.

We plan to publish the responses of the candidates on the CAUKIP website. If you’re interested, watch this space too.

The Easter Jesus v The Islamic Fake

It was the weekend before Holy Week and I was on my way home across Meridian Square outside Stratford station. I was looking forward to the coming festivals: the commemoration of Jesus’ last supper on Maundy Thursday, the solemn reflection on his death on Good Friday and the celebration of his resurrection on Easter Sunday. For a Christian it’s the heart of the Gospel and highlight of the year.

HijackJesuspic2On the Square I was confronted by some Muslim men doing dawa (proselytism) at an Islamic book table. In principle there’s nothing wrong with this as freedom to promote your religion, and indeed your non-religion, is vital to our society.

But, deliberately courting controversy, they were trading upon our Christian festivals by wearing sweatshirts emblazoned with the words, “I love Jesus (peace be upon him) because I’m Muslim!

I was well aware that their “Jesus” is a fake. So I chatted with them briefly, took a picture with their consent and tweeted it with the caption, “@ Stratford #Newham this w/e: #Islam hijacks, demotes & discredits Founder of #Christianity”.

Immediately I was contacted by our local paper, the Newham Recorder. Would I write an article to reflect my views? 250 words; deadline 10.00am on Tuesday.

I did. I wrote:

The True Jesus

“We love the Wife of the Duke of Edinburgh as much as you Brits do,” said an imaginary American in my dream. 

Queen Elizabeth“If that’s so,” I retorted, “you wouldn’t downgrade her. Instead you’d acknowledge her role properly as Her Majesty, Elizabeth ll, Queen of the United Kingdom and Head of the Commonwealth.” 

There was a bearded young man outside Stratford station last Saturday. “We Muslims love the prophet Jesus (pbuh) as much as you Christians do,” he declared. 

“If that’s so,” I reflected, “you wouldn’t demote Jesus and insult his self-sacrifice. Instead you’d acknowledge him as he truly is – the Son of God who for our sakes went willingly to his death on a cross on Good Friday 2,000 years ago.” 

Easter this weekend is the highlight of the Christian year, when Jesus’ followers commemorate both his death and resurrection. It’s a wonderful time of significance and celebration. Yet Islamic zealots like the bearded young man are trying to hijack Jesus, diminish his role and spoil the party… 

‘Jesus’ translated into Arabic is ‘Yesua’, but there is no such person mentioned in the Quran. Instead there is an inferior prophet called ‘Isa’ who ranks significantly below Muhammad. Isa wasn’t God’s Son and he didn’t die on a cross, but nonetheless some Muslims insist on misnaming him ‘Jesus’ after the Founder of Christianity. 

It’s simply a ploy or taqqiya (deception) to undermine the real Jesus. 

empty_tomb11However Christians don’t need to mind. It is Easter-time once again; Jesus is Jesus; and in Christ we are free to celebrate his life-giving resurrection from the dead.

 

However the Newham Recorder didn’t publish it!

It’s not the first time the paper has failed to publish my work. A few years ago I wanted to place a campaign advert against the proposed London Olympic mega-mosque at West Ham near my home. At the last moment they pulled the ad because they feared violence.

This time they say that they couldn’t find a Muslim writer to answer my points.

So it’s published here on my blog instead.

Would any Muslim like to respond to the piece and justify Islam’s ‘Jesus’? Avoid vulgarity and personal abuse and I will publish your comments unedited in the appropriate place below.

UKIP: Christians Welcome!

Last year I helped set up Christian Action in UKIP, aka ‘CAUKIP’, an informal group whose aim is both to promote UKIP to the churches across the UK and to promote mainstream Christian ideals within the party.

Ade AmoobaWe held our first fringe meeting at the UKIP party conference last September. It was attended by Steve Woolfe MEP, the party spokesman on migration, and addressed by UK-based Nigerian Pastor Ade Omooba who talked for 30 minutes on “The Moral Argument for Controlling Immigration”.

Interestingly, Pastor Ade quoted the New Testament (1 Corinthians 6: 9,10) to demonstrate that God Himself created immigration controls for the Kingdom of God, and that therefore we are free, responsibly, to control immigration into the United Kingdom.

UKIP listeners loved this application of Christian values to political policy, especially by a Black pastor from a Commonwealth country. Contra our sniffy metropolitan critics, UKIP doesn’t do racism. It was a good meeting.

However, CAUKIP is closely associated with another informal but long-established group in the party, Christian Soldiers – UKIP, and we were concerned last month when a gay UKIP councillor based in Dudley & Halesowen, Shaun Keasey, called publicly for the party to cut all ties with Christian Soldiers. He was supported by UKIP MEP Bill Etheridge and on twitter by the official LGBT in UKIP group.

microwave-2-resizeCllr Keasey’s argument simply reheated cold meat. He focussed on a leaflet promoted by Christian Soldiers at the party’s Spring Conference a year ago as his reason for the ban. The leaflet had denounced attempts to create gender confusion and promote sexual-orientation discussion amongst primary school children, especially through a now-withdrawn LGBT programme called ‘CHIPS’. Although the leaflet had used robust language, it was in line with UKIP’s excellent and politically unique manifesto promise to ban all sex education in primary schools.

The Daily Mirror happily pursued its anti-UKIP agenda by manipulating the story and creating a fuss. The party was forced to handle this and, light of foot, it smartly insisted the Christian Soldiers leaflet should be withdrawn. As a result the issue was reduced to a storm in a tea cup, and was dead and buried within 12 hours.

And so it stayed for almost 12 months, until Shaun Keasey decided to resurrect it four weeks ago.

Fortunately the party is growing canny. This time around it did absolutely nothing. Cllr Keasey’s call to ban Christian Soldiers was flatly ignored and the group continues to be free to hold its regular stall and promote its Christian literature at the UKIP Spring conference this coming weekend. As they say in church: Alleluia!

Then, at a party hustings three weeks ago I was selected as UKIP candidate for the London South West constituency in the London Assembly elections on 5th May. The only other applicant at the hustings, gay activist Richard Hendron, immediately and loudly resigned from the party publicly accusing me of being a “vile, nasty homophobic individual”.

Pink News and the Daily Mirror rapidly crawled all over the story claiming that I support ‘gay cure’ amongst other things (I don’t, of course), and LGBT in UKIP activist Richard Hilton put up a public change.org petition to have me removed from UKIP’s approved candidates list.

agreement36 hours later and unknown to me, a party member in the North put up a counter-petition, “Say NO to political correctness infiltrating UKIP”, asking the party not to remove me as a candidate because of my “traditional Christian views”.

Regrettably, the party’s deputy chairman Suzanne Evans – who has since been relieved of her job – weighed in against me too. She tweeted that my views have no place in UKIP, declared openly that the party’s selection process had failed and wrote to the party chairman requesting that my selection should be reviewed. She gave Pink News an exclusive telling them she was confident I would be removed.

For a few days it was The Battle of the Petitions but, as news website Breitbart pointed out, the LGBT in UKIP petition was soon seen to have “backfired” as it was rapidly overhauled by the counter-petition. As I write, the second petition has more than 13 times the signatures of the first.

I became aware too of growing grassroots support as people told me they had called and emailed party officers asking that I should remain a UKIP candidate.

Finally, I was invited to appear before a panel of senior party officers to discuss my views about ‘gay cure’ and related issues. The meeting was confidential, but I was informed the next day that the panel had decided unanimously that I should continue as an approved candidate for UKIP – a decision then ratified by the party chairman and the National Executive Committee.

So in my experience UKIP is maturing into an excellent anti-establishment party. As you see, with a few exceptions it is fair, robust, hard-working, committed to free speech and democracy and stands firmly against the suffocating tenets of political correctness.

Unlike the old parties, there is ample room for social conservatives, grassroots Christians and supporters of family values.

bojesen_brexitIf that’s you, and you urgently want the UK out of the EU on 23rd June, join us now. There are only 16 weeks to get our country back from the dead hand of the Brussels bureaucrats.

Giving Thanks

“You say grace, Alan,” someone urged.

I was in a classy restaurant in London’s West End last week with the small celebration wineMegaMosqueNoThanks team and our professional advisers – a lawyer, a town planner, a chartered surveyor, an academic journalist – that together opposed the construction of a huge mosque close to the 2012 London Olympic stadium in East London.

The ‘Selkirk Grace’ of the Scottish poet Robert Burns sprang immediately to mind. My father, a Glaswegian Scot to his fingertips but no church-goer, taught it to us and prayed it himself on semi-formal occasions such as family Christmas lunch:

‘Some hae meat and canna eat, And some wad eat that want it; But we hae meat and we can eat, Sae let the Lord be thankit.’ 

It’s a grace that was much prayed at Burns Night suppers this week too, no doubt – but I flunked it. Burns’ poetry needs a strong Scots’ inflection and my Sassenach tongue would mangle it. I gave thanks in English.

saying graceWe had a lot to ‘be thankit’ for. As Burns recognised, ‘The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley’; but for us our nine-year campaign against the mosque had not gone ‘agley’. Rather, as regular readers of this blog will know, we’d been given real success as first the local planning authority in December 2012 and then the Secretary of State in October 2015 both rejected the mosque plans.

Tablighi Jamaat, the fundamentalist group behind the mosque proposals, are now in a desperate corner but they have very deep pockets. In December they applied to the High Court for the right to appeal the government’s decision, and no doubt they will if necessary petition the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court and even up to the European Court. This likely will go on for years. As I said, they have very deep pockets…

But as we tucked in to our Cauliflower veloute and Goosnargh duck we reckoned we had much to celebrate. We were certain that our campaign had a major impact; for instance Tablighi Jamaat explained on BBC TV that they downsized the project because of our strong opposition.

robinwalesWe also had done our bit to force Newham Council to shift – grudgingly – from 100% support for a mega-mosque to outright opposition. In celebration I had long wanted to raise a glass to Newham’s Labour mayor Sir Robin Wales who huffed and puffed much vitriol towards me personally, but in the end did the necessary U-turn and came to agree with our position on the mosque.

It was at a different table the next day that other colleagues and I had another cause to celebrate. This time the event was held in the House of Lords dining room and we celebrated with very English mid-afternoon cups of tea, cucumber sandwiches, scones, jam and clotted cream. We had just been present at the successful third and final reading of Baroness Caroline Cox’s private member’s bill.

Regular readers of this blog will know that the bill tackles gender discrimination in Sharia councils and the growth of an Islamic parallel legal system in the UK, and also that we have been researching the issue, listening to evidence and promoting the bill for four years. The completion of the bill’s passage through the upper house means that it now goes to the House of Commons, and we were elated that en route it had received strong encouragement and warm support from all quarters in the Lords – apart from the government front bench.

The job is not yet done of course: it will be a very different ball-game in the Commons and further non-cooperation by the government will be a real obstacle. Nonetheless we had reason to celebrate progress so far and afternoon tea seemed appropriate.

dark valleyPolitical activity involves major troughs as well as peaks, dark valleys as well as sunlit mountain-tops, and in my experience it’s unusual for two political wins to coincide and enable celebrations on consecutive days. I was delighted. I was having a good week.

But in If, the English poet Rudyard Kipling famously denotes Triumph and Disaster as “twin imposters”. In Scots Wha Hae,  Robert Burns is indifferent between success and failure: “Welcome to your gory bed, Or to victorie… Let us do or die!” And in the Gospels, Christ asks us, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” 

So at some deep and personal level political successes aren’t – or shouldn’t be – important. But it was pleasurable nonetheless to ignore past frustrations, give thanks for these wins and to celebrate roundly with friends and colleagues.

Courage In A Bleak Mid-Winter

I’ve just returned from another visit to Jos at the north end of Plateau State in middle-belt Nigeria. Nigeria_map_JosHere, despite the proliferating Christmas decorations in homes and churches, peace on earth and goodwill between communities continues to be in short supply and, across northern Nigeria, the church is facing an existential threat from the violence and intimidation of Islam in its various forms.

I travelled in the company of Baroness Caroline Cox and members of the team from her Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART) charity for the first time. The Baroness is seventy-seven but her drive, energy and zeal for travelling to help oppressed people in remote and dangerous locations show she clearly considers herself thirty years younger.

Zambiri2In Jos we met with Ben and Gloria Kwashi, the Anglican Archbishop and his wife – an essential engagement in a Christian visitor’s itinerary as it is never less than inspirational. We visited Gloria’s school for 400 orphans where, for a third of the children, the lunchtime bowl of mixed rice and beans with added nutrients is the only meal of the day. Education of these precious orphans is taken seriously by Gloria and her dedicated staff of seven, not only as a Christian imperative but also as a vital route out of poverty.

We had dinner too in the archiepiscopal home and joined in night-time prayers with the fifty five orphans who Gloria also has rescued to live with them.

archbiship_ben_kwashi_and_his_wife_gloria“Good night children,” said Archbishop Ben after leading the prayers. The fatherly but diminutive spiritual colossus stood in front of the youngsters holding the rudimentary archbishop’s staff they had made for him from branches of a nearby tree in one hand, while blessing them with the other.

“Good night Daddy Kwashi, goodnight Mummy Kwashi,” they chimed in unison. The orphans have nothing, but, surrounded by the warm and disciplined Christian love of the Kwashis, they have everything. It was difficult to join in the prayers thanks to the lump in my throat.

I’ve blogged before about the inter-communal violence generated by Fulani Muslim herdsmen migrating from the Sharia states in the north onto Plateau land belonging to Berom Christian villagers. Ostensibly the Fulani are searching for grazing pasture for their cattle although their motive seems also to do with Islamic expansionism.

ShoVillage2On the fourth day of our visit and protected in convoy by two police armoured cars bristling with guns, we were taken to a distressing recent example of the phenomenon. The farmland belonging to and surrounding the Berom village of Sho in Barkin Ladi local government area, some 30 minutes’ drive outside Jos, has been occupied by force by Fulani herdsmen. Since September 2013 twenty-four of the Berom villagers have been massacred, ten of them on 7th July of this year. As a consequence they live in terror, unable to enter or exit their village or cross their own adjoining occupied farmland except under armed military escort. Their school and church have been destroyed.

We met the head man and villagers in the village square and heard their stories. They were grateful that outsiders – perhaps especially foreign ones – were being made aware of their plight. Fear and distress was in their eyes as they explained they are isolated, grieving and desperate, living in poverty without access to their farmland food source.

It wasn’t clear why the authorities have not attempted to rectify the situation except that justice is in short supply in northern Nigeria. And it wasn’t clear either how we as outsiders could help except by publicising their predicament. I left Sho with a heavy heart.

Mark_LipdoI also visited an IDP (internally displaced persons) camp run in dilapidated school buildings in Bukuru south of Jos by the under-funded but resourceful Stefanos Foundation and it’s energetic CEO, Mark Lipdo. Primarily the camp comprised Christians from the Gwoza area of Borno State in the north east of Nigeria, close to the Cameroon border.

Until the second half of the last century, Gwoza was peopled by primitive and frequently warring tribes. Then, after the Second World War, the colonial authorities allowed British and other missionaries into the area. These were doctors, nurses and teachers as well as evangelists, and they built health clinics, schools and in due course churches. The first indigenous convert, Inshaya Hutuku, became a Christian in the early 50s (he is still alive today) and the early trickle of converts grew to a steady stream. By 2013 there were over 200 churches in the thriving Gwoza council area.

But twelve months later, by the middle of 2014, there were almost none.

Boko Haram, who last year killed more people than ISIS and who this year pledged allegiance their brutal Iraq/Syria counterparts, moved into the area in April 2014, killing, kidnapping, burning and destroying churches and homes. On 2 June last year the militants perpetrated the infamous Gwoza massacre wherein up to 500 males were slaughtered. Then on 24 August Boko Haram declared Gwoza town the headquarters of their Islamic Caliphate. An acquaintance of mine, an elderly Nigerian minister, narrowly escaped death by scrambling up into the hills and hospitalising himself in the process through a heavy fall. His home was burnt out.

IDP2Many escaped the slaughter in Gwoza with only the clothes they stood in. Over 450 are now living in the IDP camp I visited, surviving on church generosity and handouts organised by Stefanos. The conditions are pitiful, the drafty rooms are cold during the December nights, most of the refugees are desperate to return home to Gwoza as soon as possible and there is limited cause for optimism for them. While the military under the new Federal ‘hard man’ President Muhammadu Buhari, together with increasingly effective civilian vigilante self-defence groups, are gaining some push-back against the militants across Borno State and elsewhere, there is little prospect that families can return to and rebuild their lives back in Gwoza itself in the near future.

Ben and Gloria Kwashi and Mark Lipdo – like many other Christians in northern Nigeria – are faithful, courageous, visionary and inspirational. They spread hope, joy and generosity in the darkest of places, and it is certainly appropriate to highlight and celebrate their endeavours at Christmas time when we remember the true Light who came into the world.

But the tide is flowing strongly against them. Through violence, persecution and discrimination, over the centuries and especially over the past decade Islam has chased Christianity out of the heartlands of the Middle East as well as across North Africa. The signs are that the same is happening in northern Nigeria.

So despite the joy of Christmas, rising militant Islam means it’s a bleak mid-winter for many believers there and indeed around the world.

If you are moved to help them, you can donate via HART. Your money will be well spent.

Mega-Mosque: The End

I was waiting on Dagenham East station one Saturday recently when out of the blue I received a call from Andrew Gilligan of the Sunday Telegraph.DagenhamEast

I had been door-knocking with Peter Harris, the excellent UKIP candidate for Dagenham & Rainham at the general election last May and for the London Assembly in the GLA election in May next year. He had discovered that Barking & Dagenham council were trying quietly to foist a mosque onto greenbelt land in the predominantly White English neighbourhood of Eastbrook, so we had been assessing local opinion with a door-to-door survey.

But Gilligan had good news for me about a different and much bigger mosque, the proposed London mega-mosque at West Ham in Newham close to the 2012 Olympic stadium. Mega-mosqueOriginally this mosque had a futuristic design and a proposed capacity of between 45,000 and 70,000 which would have made it one of the biggest in the world. In the face of our vociferous opposition the mosque capacity was downsized but the mosque architect still claimed the building would be the size of Battersea Power Station with a capacity three times that of St Paul’s Cathedral. I’ve been campaigning against it for nearly a decade.

At first on my own but in due course backed by a superb small team, I had spent months studying, analysing and understanding Tablighi Jamaat – the fundamentalist and isolationist group behind the project. As our opposition campaign took off I encountered vicious verbal hostility and a death threat, and had a website set up against me personally; our combative team produced the MegaMosqueNoThanks campaign website, video channel and Facebook page and participated in two huge Public Inquiries; we delivered at least one campaign leaflet to each of the 97,000 homes of Newham’s 300,000 residents, and four or five leaflets to each home in the West Ham neighbourhood;  2000px-Seal_of_the_Ronald_Reagan_Presidential_Library.svgI was flattered to receive a ‘Hero of Conscience’ award for our efforts at a glittering American Freedom Association event in the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, California; I undertook public debates in Newham and at Speakers Corner in Hyde Park, and engaged in informal discussions in cafes and on the street with mosque supporters many of whom live near my home in Muslim-majority Forest Gate; and I was interviewed by journalists and on TV and radio from around the world as well as in our national media.

crossculturalHandshakeIt has been an extraordinary journey during which I have come to like and respect the overwhelming majority of Muslim people I have engaged with, but also to loathe the dark fundamentalist Islam that is rising across the world from Saudi Arabia and the Middle East to the UK and Europe, from Pakistan in South Asia to Nigeria in West Africa. And recently in Paris too.

But the journey was coming to an end. “The mega-mosque isn’t going to happen,” Gilligan told me. “Reliable sources say that the DCLG (the Department of Communities and Local Government) will announce soon that the trustees’ appeals have failed. The mega-mosque isn’t going to be built. My exclusive on this will be in tomorrow’s Sunday Telegraph,” he continued, “and I need a quote from you.”

My joy was great and relief was deep.  I could hardly believe my ears. Gilligan swore me to silence until his exclusive was published the following day, but that didn’t matter. This massive platform for promoting fundamentalist Islam globally which also would have had a disastrous effect on social integration locally, was over, sunk, dead. My colleagues and I could relax, be grateful and celebrate. Our job was done.

Gilligan’s story was published and four days later the formal decision of the Secretary of State at the DCLG, Greg Clark, was published too. To our amazement he took a firmer line against the mosque project than the Planning Inspector recommended;Bulldozer not only is the mega-mosque not to be built, but within three months the mosque trustees must cease using the site and must demolish the 2,000-capacity wood-frame buildings they are using there as a temporary mosque.

Technically the trustees still have the right to challenge the Government decision. However, due to new and tighter regulations that came into force just two days before the decision was announced – the Government was astute in its timing – they have first to apply to the High Court for permission to make the challenge before submitting the challenge itself, and they have to do so by 9th December. Also the challenge can be only on technical points of law and not about the decision itself. This is a huge mountain to climb for the trustees and if they have any sense they will not waste their time and money.

Meanwhile I now find myself involved with UKIP in the much smaller mosque project close to Dagenham East station where I took the call from Andrew Gilligan. Here, as in Newham, the authorities have been secretive and ignored local opinion until we forced the issue into the open: Peter Harris contacted and briefed the Dagenham media; we undertook a door-to-door survey where we found 93% of locals were against the mosque for reasons ranging from “too much traffic already” and “save our greenbelt” to “no Muslims live here so no need for a mosque”; Eastbrookmeetingand ten days ago we held a residents’ meeting in a pub and invited UKIP heavyweights Peter Whittle – our London mayoral candidate – and Roger Gravett. The pub was packed. You can read about it here and here.

Inevitably, as in Newham, Labour’s borough leadership in Barking & Dagenham has been incensed by our actions.

So deja vue. Here we go again…

What’s In A Name?

Sun_lounger_on_the_pool_terraceIt’s that lazy hazy holiday month of August – and time off from the usual activities. It’s an opportunity for reading and reflection, preferably sitting beside the pool with a book, a notepad, a cool drink, and shaded from the blazing sun by a large parasol…

Involvement in heated campaigns, local as well as national, brings with it media controversy. Some time ago when I was at loggerheads with our borough’s Labour Mayor, the Labour-leaning editor of our local rag, the Newham Recorder, twice mockingly published my picture upside down: “Alan Craig turns logic on its head”.

More recently the Left-kneeling Bishop of Buckingham splurged his sub-Christian spleen over the website of the Guardian claiming that my language during the gay marriage debate was “childish”, “offensive” and of course the Left’s default catch-all,  “bigotry”.

dramaThe twin imposters of media approval and hostility are exactly that. It’s important to become impervious to both.

But it still can be a welcome change to move into the calmer waters of books and libraries and have your activities assessed by those who at least claim to be objective and neutral.

This first happened for me when “Rescue From Danger – The story of the RFD Group” by Harold Nockolds – the author also of a definitive study of Rolls-Royce – was published. I had been the jet-setting Porsche-driving young chief executive of RFD, a Stock-Exchange-quoted international manufacturing group. Not long out of business school and appointed at 29 to effect a corporate turnaround, I’d enjoyed an exhilarating time as we moved dramatically from loss to profit, revitalised and restructured the management and then started to expand by acquisition both in the UK and in the USA. The tale was told by elderly old-school Nockolds after this thrusting and often arrogant young turk had decided to move on. Nockolds’ book concluded generously, “Alan Craig left RFD… having served the company well…”

Earlier this year Emeritus Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Sussex, Ralph Grillo, published a weighty academic work, Muslim Families, Politics and the Law. Half the book is related to Baroness Cox’s ongoing Private Members Bill in the House of Lords that tackles gender discrimination in Sharia courts. My own comments made on the Islam Channel and elsewhere are cited repeatedly, and Professor Grillo quotes lengthily from one of my posts here on AlansAngle. Even if he himself would not support our proposed legislation, he is forensic, rigorous and insightful. It is refreshingly different from the media bearpit.

vintage books and a cup of coffee

Coverage of our nine-year campaign against Tablighi Jamaat’s proposed mega-mosque close to the London Olympic stadium moved recently from the newsstand to the library. Although herself a journalist, Innes Bowen’s acclaimed book Medina in Birmingham, Najaf in Brent: Inside British Islam published last year analyses the mega-mosque controversy with neutrality and nuance. Even where she flatly contradicts me, she quotes me fully and fairly. The whole book is a useful read.

Zacharias Pieri, formerly at the University of Exeter’s Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies and now a political sociologist on the staff of the University of South Florida, is an academic who has closely followed the controversy for years. Pieri studied the ‘contentious politics’ surrounding the proposed mega-mosque for his PhD thesis; authored Lapido Media’s popular Handy Book about Tablighi Jamaat and the mega-mosque debate; co-authored a study  of the ‘scalar politics’ surrounding the mega-mosque and the Olympics for Sociology journal; and recently published his magnum opus on the saga, Tablighi Jamaat and the Quest for the London Mega-Mosque.

labelsIn this he argues that the “genius” of our campaign “was to frame the issue as the ‘Mega Mosque’, an epithet that soon became a synonym of large mosques being constructed around the world.” Pieri reckons that this simple tag, and our wider moniker ‘Olympics mega-mosque’, were key to our success; from the start they put the mosque project on the back foot in the media, from which it never properly recovered.

This is flattering of course. It’s a surprise too, as at no stage were my colleagues and I aware of the power and strategic importance of these labels until Pieri published his analysis. After all, what’s in a name? We simply described the mosque plans that were promoted in front of us and ran with a self-evident description, even identifying our opposition campaign with the epithet Mega Mosque No Thanks. To us it wasn’t genius. This wasn’t a ‘giant mosque’ or a ‘huge mosque’. And ‘monstrosity mosque’ would be too pejorative. The name we chose was the gift of an easy and obvious alliteration.

Away from the heat of battle then, the detached academic can usefully both analyse the broader picture and provide in-depth insight, and here Pieri is persuasive about the power of our labels.

I must note this for future campaigns. So, now, where’s my campaign notepad?

I’m certain I put it under the sun lounger for safekeeping…