Mad Max: The Cold Warrior

I remember being in Dublin ten years or so ago when Democratic Left voted to dissolve itself into the Labour Party. At the time, everyone I spoke to was firm in the belief that this marked the end of the Stickie experiment in Irish politics. “And about time, too” was frequently added. It was a bit surprising, although in retrospect it shouldn’t have been, that the Sticks would very quickly take over the Labour Party and have an iron grip on it to this day.

I thought of this a few weeks ago when Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) was interviewed on The Daily Show. Webb was promoting his new book, which is all about restoring a fair and just America. Jon Stewart, of course, is sharp enough to know that America is not based on fairness and justice but on the free market.

Stewart: Sir, I had no idea you were a Trotskyite.

Webb: Well, it was a bunch of Trotskyites who got us into this war in Iraq.

Actually, for generational reasons, about the only neocons left who actually were Trotskyists are Kristol the Elder and Podhoretz, but it’s a useful bit of shorthand for that intellectual tradition. More precisely, I suppose, the roots of the neoconservative movement are tied up with the late Max Shachtman and his tendency. And that’s an interesting little footnote for Cold War socialism.

You’ll recall that Shachtman’s WP/ISL led an independent existence for a whole eighteen years after breaking from the SWP in 1940, generally identifying as a Trotskyist current if in an increasingly loose sense. That was certainly the case in the 1950s when Cliff, having been knocked back by Pablo and Mandel in his attempts to get them to offload the bandit Healy and award Cliff the Fourth International franchise, arrived at the arresting notion of an alternative FI based around a lash-up between his group, the Shachtmanites, with a few other groups holding unorthodox theories of Russia. In this we can safely say that Cliff was twenty years ahead of his time, so it isn’t surprising that this cunning plan never took off.

In 1958, having arrived at the conclusion that their declining organisation had no future, Max led the ISL into Norman Thomas’ Socialist Party. And here’s where our Irish analogy comes in. The SP, despite being an established brand with a largish paper membership, turned out to be even more decrepit than the ISL. Within months Max and his mates had taken over the whole outfit. They did not, however, lead it to the left as one might have supposed. Instead, they led it to the right at a rate of knots and, by the time of Shachtman’s death in 1972, the majority found themselves in the Nixon camp. How did this happen?

The Shachtmanites had a lot of interesting thinkers, not least Max himself, who was apparently an attractive figure to a certain type of young intellectual, as well as being a bit of an annoying smartarse. They didn’t, on the other hand, have much theoretical output that’s stood the test of time. What did distinguish them was an absolutely consistent and ironclad Stalinophobia. And by that I don’t mean simply anti-Stalinism, but rather the exaggerated and one-sided anti-Stalinism criticised so heavily by Trotsky in the 1940 split. That’s what eventually led them from what was, if anything, an ultraleft position during WW2 to the destination of Cold War liberalism.

Not that it was a quick or straightforward evolution. Certainly, Shachtman’s The Bureaucratic Revolution, a little volume of Max’s greatest hits, was given a bit of judicious editing to make Max look as if he’d always been as staunch a foe of the Evil Empire as he was by then. No, for a long time the Shachtmanites’ Big Idea was the Third Camp, which has lately been given a bit of an airing by Max’s would-be apostle Matgamna. The idea (probably emanating from Joe Carter) was cooked up to avoid defending the Soviet Union during the Finnish war in 1939, and posited that in a clash between Stalinism and democratic capitalism (or even fascism, in the case of Mannerheim’s Finland) you back neither side but instead look for independent movements of the working class. Great in principle, somewhat more difficult in practice.

And made more difficult still by the Shachtmanites’ refusal to have anything to do with working-class or national liberation movements that had even a tangential connection to Stalinism, the logical outcome of Carter’s bright idea that the western communist parties were new bureaucratic ruling classes in embryo. Sometimes the convolutions could be quite funny. Tim Wohlforth has a nice story about how Hal Draper agonised over the Vietnam War, not wanting to back US imperialism but unable to find a local movement measuring up to his stringent anti-Stalinist standards. Hal apparently got very excited on discovering the Cao Dai religious movement in South Vietnam, who at the time were running their own private army. Could this be the fabled Third Camp? Alas, it soon transpired that the Cao Dai programme was to convert Vietnam into a theocracy…

It was so much easier, in the long run, to just defend democratic capitalism and put off the struggle for socialism to an indefinite future. And so you get the drift into Cold War liberalism, with old Marxist polemical skills being put to use on behalf of new masters. In Shachtman’s case, that meant none other than Scoop Jackson. But it shouldn’t be inferred that the Shachtman group’s support for Scoop’s presidential candidacy in 1972 was purely mercenary. No, they backed Scoop because he was the only candidate saying the Vietnam War could still be won. And when McGovern secured the Democratic nomination, they refused to support him, and a significant number went directly over to Tricky Dick. Hence Socialists For Nixon, that whimsical precursor of modern-day neoconservatism.

What a sad way to go out. And what’s the excuse of those who want to recreate this sorry devolution?

Harmy misses out…

They never learn, do they?

See these selectors, sometimes their logic completely eludes me. England’s big problem in this series – no, stop me before I tell a lie. England’s most serious problem is that the other side is fielding eleven South Africans, while they only have two.

But, aside from the possibility of signing up more ringers, England’s other big problem is that their batsmen have been failing to fire. The captain, once the top-ranked batsman in the world, is averaging seven this series. You’ve got Paul Collingwood MBE, who hasn’t made a score for England in I don’t know how long. The odd flash of brilliance from Pietersen or even from Thom Yorke (under his “Ian Bell” alias) isn’t rescuing some wobbly performances.

So, faced with a batting lineup that isn’t working, what do the selectors do? They do what they always do – faff about with the bowlers. And this time there’s been the expectation around Harmy’s return to the squad, followed by the anticlimax of him being left out of the XI. This instantly removes a lot of the fun, bearing in mind that Harmy has an almost Pakistani quality of being either brilliant or awful, but never boring. He could win a match single-handed, or he could decide that second slip needs some wicket-keeping practice. You never know which Harmy will turn up on the day, and that’s a big part of why we love him. I suppose you can’t really blame the selectors for getting cold feet.

Still, I suppose they deserve some credit for sticking with Ambrose, even given the crapness of his performances with the bat. You really need to decide whether or not you’ve a viable keeper-batsman, and if not, you have to grit your teeth and carry the keeper. And, let’s face it, if England’s top seven can’t make a decent score between them, then they deserve to lose.

We shall see…

Man in powdered wig and lipstick may have been slightly bendy, claims Tatchell

Is Peter Tatchell deliberately trying to wind up Iris Robinson? I ask merely for information.

From today’s Telegraph:

A leading gay rights activist has raised the temperature in the row over homosexuality by claiming there was evidence King Billy had male lovers.

Peter Tatchell highlighted the controversial allegation as evidence of hypocrisy over homosexuality in Northern Ireland, but he was condemned by unionists for setting out to deliberately cause offence.

The campaigner will tonight deliver the Amnesty International Pride Lecture in Belfast…

King Billy was married, but some academics have pointed to his promotion of young men to high office as evidence of bisexuality.

A DUP spokesman dismissed the allegation.

“This is the kind of deliberately offensive and provocative comment and shock tactics that he has used in the past,” he said.

Bearing in mind that our First Lady seems to be afflicted by Tourette’s whenever anyone mentions homosexuality, if Peter keeps this up she’ll be keeling over with a stroke.

And are no loyalist icons sacred any more? Next he’ll be saying King Billy didn’t have a white horse.

Додик: Сарајево кључа од жеље за осветом

Бошњачка политичка елита настоји од Бошњака да направи једине жртве рата у БиХ и да тиме стекну право на освету, мржњу… и да траже све што им падне на памет, каже премијер Републике Српске Милорад Додик

Чим је објављено да је у Београду ухапшен бивши председник Републике Српске и хашки оптуженик др Радован Караџић, бујица претњи бошњачке политичке елите слила се на Републику Српску. Члан Председништва БиХ Харис Силајџић одмах је рекао да „треба ухапсити и Републику Српску” и да „нема правде док она постоји”. О овим и другим питањима у вези с Републиком Српском и Босном и Херцеговином разговарали смо с републичким премијером Милорадом Додиком.

Како тумачите последње нападе бошњачких политичара на Републику Српску?

Основни концепт бошњачке политичке елите је да, у очима света, од Бошњака направи једине жртве рата у Босни и Херцеговини. А када стекнете ореол жртве, онда имате право на све. Значи, имате право на освету, на грешку, право да мрзите, да тражите све што вам падне на памет. Не спорим да је у рату погинуло највише Бошњака. Али, гинули су и Хрвати, а страдао је и значајан број Срба. Због тога је немогуће правити жртву само од једног народа. Србе и Хрвате нису побиле хуманитарне организације него поборници бошњачке идеологије која је и сада на сарајевској политичкој сцени. Та идеологија заговара да све што јесте и што личи на Републику Српску истог тренутка треба осудити на нестанак.

Има ли идеологија о којој говорите реално упориште?

Нема. Република Српска је верификована Дејтонским споразумом, који је међународни уговор. Садашњост и будућност Републике Српске је у рукама свих њених грађана – Срба, Бошњака, Хрвата и осталих. О судбини Републике Српске неће одлучивати Харис Силајџић, Сулејман Тихић, Златко Лагумџија и слични који као инсистирају на некој правди, а у суштини само траже обрачун са Републиком Српском и освету. Сарајево напросто кључа од жеље за осветом. Можда је зато добро што је овде међународна заједница да то спречи. Али, та жеља за осветом је довела до нефункционисања земље, и лако је може одвести у коначан распад.

Реалност је да Федерација БиХ никад и није профункционисала. Слично је и са заједничким органима БиХ. Једино Република Српска функционише и има све капацитете за самосталан ход у будућност. Помало још делује и међународна заједница. Оно што Силајџић и остали нападају је могућност Републике Српске да самостално иде у будућност. У Бањалуци је данас власт која каже: „Ми имамо права која су нам дата у Дејтону и ми ништа друго не тражимо. Свако друго решење није само сукоб с нама него и са Дејтоном”. То што се њима не свиђа наш став, њихов је а не наш проблем.

Теза да ће хапшење Караџића и Младића довести до смиривања тензија и помирења у БиХ, показала се потпуно нетачном. Због чега су догађаји кренули супротним смером од очекиваног?

Делимично сам већ одговорио на ово питање. Ипак, подсетићу да сарајевски политички круг користи сваку прилику и сваки повод да прошлост искористи за обрачун са Републиком Српском и српским народом. Због тога је и Караџићево хапшење изазвало подизање политичких тензија. Иако није осуђен, Караџића су бошњачки политичари и медији већ прогласили „босанским Осамом бин Ладеном”, „крвником са Дурмитора”… Шта ако он буде ослобођен? Неко ће рећи да је то немогуће. Зашто би било немогуће када су ослобођени, рецимо, Рамуш Харадинај и Насер Орић? Зна се да је Караџић пристао на Лисабонски споразум и да је од нас посланика тражио да га подржимо. Прихватио га је и Алија Изетбеговић, а затим га је одбацио. То је, тврди творац споразума Жозе Кутиљеро, дефинитивно одвело БиХ у рат.

Како објашњавате да Караџићево хапшење није изазвало ниједан изгред у Републици Српској?

То је резултат наше укупне политике. Њен саставни део је и испуњавање међународних обавеза међу којима је и сарадња са Хашким трибуналом. И Караџић је пристао на Дејтонски споразум који обавезује и на сарадњу са Хагом. Републичка влада, и ја као њен премијер, води политику на принципима Дејтона. Верујем да је тога данас свестан и цео српски народ. Без обзира на то што је с правом разочаран неким пресудама Хашког трибунала, као и спорим вођењем истрага против Фрање Туђмана и Алије Изетбеговића. Тешко се отети утиску да је Хаг намерно чекао да они умру, па да тек потом објави да су били под истрагом за ратне злочине.

Због чега, пре свих, бошњачки политичари покушавају да суђење Караџићу претворе у процес укидања Републике Српске?

Због тога што дејтонска БиХ није остварење њиховог ратног циља. И због тога што она, од Дејтона до данас, није нашла свој унутрашњи механизам функционисања. Зато је функционисање БиХ искључиво резултат ангажмана западних сила, који је понекад био врло ригидан, наредбодаван и обележен претњама и кажњавањем многих српских политичара. Све је то чињено да би се сачувала БиХ и стекла какав-такав логистички оквир за деловање. Таква политика, ипак, није дала повољан резултат. И данас је БиХ подељено друштво, не само државноправним и територијалним целинама него и у менталитету – начину живота, поимању истина, виђењу будућности… Оваква БиХ, наравно, није онаква какву Бошњаци хоће. И зато и будуће суђење Караџићу желе да претворе у суђење Републици Српској. Од тога, сигуран сам, неће бити ништа. Њему ће се судити као појединцу. Очекујем да ће ово суђење бити фер, да ће бити засновано на чињеницама, а не на стереотипима и на медијској представи о карактеру рата у БиХ и његовим жртвама. На основу таквог стереотипа, за команду одговорност је осуђена Биљана Плавшић, што је правно веома проблематично.

Зашто вас је Странка демократске акције оптужила да штитите ратне злочинце, иако су Караџић и Стојан Жупљанин ухапшени у Србији, а сви хашки оптуженици који су били у Републици Српској одавно су у Хагу?

Њима смета јака позиција Републике Српске и њене власти коју ја тренутно персонализујем. Ваљда мисле да ће, ако „дохакају Додику”, нестати Република Српска. То, наравно, није тачно, јер је Република Српска трајна категорија, призната Дејтонским споразумом. Она ће опстати и ићи даље, без обзира на то да ли ћу је водити ја или неко трећи. По том питању ја немам дилема, иако сам био противник одређених сегмената у политици Радована Караџића. Поготово одбијања плана Контакт групе у лето 1994. године, после чега је Република Српска доживела најтеже ратне тренутке – од броја жртава, преко губитка територија, до прогона српског народа из западнокрајишких општина.

Цех Караџићевог сакривања, испоставило се у Србији, платили су многи српски политичари, па и Република Српска. Могу ли се те штете отклонити?

Доћи ће време да и о томе трезвено поразговарамо. Ја поштујем законску одредбу да је помоћ починиоцу кривичног дела кривично дело. Али, свима који нису имали везе са сакривањем оптужених за ратне злочине, а многи нису, морају се вратити сва права која су им одузета одлукама високог представника. Те одлуке не могу издржати тест правног система, поготово у заштити људских права. Што је још горе, нехапшење Караџића, Младића, Жупљанина и других, иако они нису били овде, Педи Ешдаун је искористио за кажњавање Републике Српске. Због тога нам је отео војску, цивилну и војну обавештајну службу, формирао Агенцију за истраге и заштиту БиХ, Суд и Тужилаштво БиХ… Морам рећи да смо сви ми, без обзира на то ко је био на власти а ко у опозицији, тражили начин да из те приче изађемо са што мање штете. Наглашавам да сва та решења нису била одраз става било које политичке гарнитуре у Српској. Политичка воља свих нас је изворни Дејтонски споразум. Само на тај начин БиХ може да обезбеди своје кретање у мирну и успешну будућност.

Да ли бошњачки политичари сталним атацима на Републику Српску покушавају да издејствују продужетак мандата високог представника међународне заједнице?

На прошлој седници Савета за спровођење мира рекао сам да је међународна заједница направила много добрих ствари у БиХ, али сам и упозорио да ће задржавање високог представника, поготово на силу, довести до дебакла међународне мисије у БиХ. И данас мислим да је тако. На крају крајева, пре две године, ти исти представници међународне заједнице, говорили су да ће мисија Канцеларије високог представника престати чим БиХ са Европском унијом потпише Споразум о стабилизацији и придруживању. Сада се види да су тада лагали. Ја не спорим да високи представник, по Дејтону, има пуна овлашћења везана за питања ратних злочина. Но, његово мешање у унутрашње односе у БиХ, или, пак, у односе са Европском унијом не долази у обзир. Ако се то деси, опет ћемо, као у новембру прошле године када је високи представник покушао да нам мења начин одлучивања у парламенту БиХ и Савету министара, показати наше оштре намере. То не зависи од мене лично, него од читаве једне екипе која трајно стоји на овим позицијама.

На који начин се најбоље брани дејтонска позиција Републике Српске?

Развојем, економском стабилношћу и поштивањем закона. Сви показатељи говоре да ми идемо напред. Прошле године је запослено 28.000, а у првих шест месеци ове године још 14.000 људи, иако смо имали велики број стечајева. Сада у Републици Српској има око 130.000 незапослених, а пре неколико година било их је нешто мање од 200.000. Имамо суфицит буџета, на рачуну за развој имамо 1,3 милијарди марака. Тај новац користимо за дугорочни развој. Из буџета за јавну потрошњу трошимо 36,7 одсто, иако смо знатно повећали примања јавних службеника. Повећавамо обим бруто друштвеног производа и он ће ове године бити преко осам процената. У Федерацији је јавна потрошња 63 одсто, њихова пореска оптерећења су много виша. Код нас су доприноси на плате из фондова 48, а у Федерацији 61 одсто. Порез на добит у Републици Српској је 10, а у Федерацији 30 процената. Струја у Федерацији је за домаће потрошаче 30 одсто скупља него код нас. Да Република Српска није бољи део БиХ, онда 427 фирми из Федерације не би пребацило седиште код нас, чиме су постали наши порески обвезници. Због тога што већину новца из буџета троши на социјална давања, њу су хрватски политичари назвали „садака државом”. Да смо бољи део БиХ, потврдили су и Међународни монетарни фонд и Светска банка.

Шта је најбоље решење за БиХ?

Дејтонски споразум, без дилеме. Њиме је нађен баланс између три народа и два ентитета. Нажалост, поремећај тог баланса је довео до велике поларизације у БиХ. Ми бранимо оно што нам је остало, а они који су нешто добијали понашају се по систему „што више једу све су гладнији”. То је проузроковано и тиме што унутрашње политичке снаге нису решавале отворена питања, већ се то радило под притиском странаца, који су, када им ништа није полазило за руком, отварали процесе против значајнијих српских политичара, као што је Мирко Шаровић, Младен Иванић, па и ја. Све су то радили само због тога што смо се супротстављали неким њиховим плановима. Не могу ни да замислим шта мене очекује у будућности, ако о томе свему буду одлучивали странци.

Via Politika.

Rock out with Chairman Mao!

Yes, it’s the Internationale, but with a bit of a twist…

Some more thoughts on Jesus-based government…

In keeping with our recent religious theme, and Iris Robinson’s stated belief that it’s the job of government to enforce the will of God, I couldn’t resist this column from Newton Emerson in the Irish News. Brilliant stuff. Preach on, brother:

Why is nobody playing Iris Robinson at her own game? Consider the alleged Word of God from Genesis 11:7 “Let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.”

This could easily be portrayed as biblical support for an Irish language act. A west Belfast Gaeltacht is also strongly suggested by Psalms 55:9 “Destroy, O Lord, and divide their tongues: for I have seen violence and strife in the city.”

A requirement for public sector bodies to communicate in Irish is even set out specifically in Esther 1:22 “For he sent letters into all the king’s provinces, into every province according to the writing thereof, and to every people after their language, that every man should bear rule in his own house, and that it should be published according to the language of every people.”

Mrs Robinson might reply that these passages require equal funding for Ulster-Scots but that is certainly not the case according to Proverbs 20:23 “Divers weights are an abomination unto the Lord; and a false balance is not good.”

Would Mrs Robinson really defend an abomination? The following verse from Judges 16:25 is also worth quoting in full.

“And it came to pass, when their hearts were merry, that they said, Call for Samson, that he may make us sport. And they called for Samson out of the prison house; and he made them sport: and they placed him between the pillars.”

This obviously commands Stormont to build the Maze stadium, complete with its associated conflict transformation centre at the prison hospital. The reference to “Samson” could be misinterpreted to mean locating the stadium at the old Harland and Wolff Welders ground instead but a closer reading of the text (“they called for Samson out of the prison house”, “he made them sport” and “between the pillars”) reveals that God just wants the steelwork for the stadium to be fabricated in east Belfast. The scriptural parallel is so uncanny that you can almost see why some people believe this stuff, even if you cannot see why they then generally ignore it. Perhaps Mrs Robinson could enlighten us all on this question after she cuts the ribbon on that restored H-block.

For the faithful, the message of Isaiah 9:7 is similarly unambiguous “Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever.”

There could hardly be a plainer instruction to devolve policing and justice powers, except perhaps Exodus 18:26 “And they judged the people at all seasons: the hard causes they brought unto Moses, but every small matter they judged themselves.”

Mrs Robinson might find it equally difficult to support her party’s line on rural planning policy, unless she is prepared to dismiss Second Chronicles 2:9 “Prepare me timber in abundance: for the house which I am about to build shall be wonderful great.”

Jeremiah 29:5 is even more direct. “Build ye houses, and dwell in them.”

DUP opposition to an environmental protection agency could bring divine wrath down upon God’s chosen people, according to the warning in Exodus 7:18 “And the fish that is in the river shall die, and the river shall stink; and the Egyptians shall loathe to drink of the water of the river.” Is this what Mrs Robinson really wants for Ulster’s own lost tribe of Israel?

Worse still for the Strangford MP, academic selection appears to be damned by Deuteronomy 1:39 “Your children, which in that day had no knowledge between good and evil, they shall go in thither, and unto them will I give it.”

Mrs Robinson could face spiritual problems over her luxurious Castlereagh home, second London home and £86,000 Stormont and Westminster salary, as according to First Timothy 6:10 “The love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”

In a recent Sunday newspaper interview, Mrs Robinson revealed that she has a chandelier in every room, calling to mind Matthew 25:3 “They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them.”

However, it is First Timothy 2:12 which might give the first minister’s wife most pause for thought. “I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.” Amen.

And, speaking of Iris Robinson, here’s another daft woman sticking her oar in

Of course, we can’t really be surprised by Iris Robinson’s outbursts, at least not if we’re familiar with the realities of the North. If you listen to Talk Back on a regular basis, you’ll be well aware that most callers are fiercely sectarian, and indeed most are homophobic if the issue arises. Day in and day out, you get comments on Radio Ulster that you’d never get away with broadcasting on, say, LBC.

And we’ve been here before in political terms. Last year, Ian Paisley Jr gave an interview to Hot Press wherein he claimed to be “repulsed” by gays. Immediately the DUP supporters swung into action, defending his right to free speech and to express his personal religious beliefs. But his personal religious beliefs were neither here nor there. The point was that, at the time, Baby Doc was a junior minister with responsibility for equality issues – including gay rights.

And so it is with Iris. Her attitude to homosexuality could be overlooked if it was just a matter of her personal religious beliefs. It’s another matter for the chair of the Assembly health committee to declare that homosexuality is a psychiatric disorder that can be cured with just a little Jesus-centred therapy. Likewise, her remarks in the abortion debate caused controversy not because she opposes legalising abortion – the majority of the public would support her in that – but because she said the job of the government was to uphold God’s law. Iran has a religious government. Good for them. I don’t particularly want to live under a religious government.

But what do we have here? We have the inimitable Gail Walker coming out batting for Iris. Unfortunately, Gail is put in an awkward position vis-à-vis the gays, as only a week ago she was bigging up UTV’s Julian Simmons for coming out. So instead Gail chooses the safer ground of abortion. But she doesn’t even really argue about abortion. This is just the jumping-off point for a rant about Gail’s great bête noire, the leftwing media:

Protestant and Catholic, urban or rural, our country is conservative. No amount of phone-ins are going to ‘correct’ that truism and make us all bohemians, run off with Russian girlfriends, advocate gay bishops or think polygamy is a good thing for society.

There is a serious problem in Northern Ireland, yes. But it isn’t what people believe that’s the problem.

The problem is that our media still haven’t got to grips with the new dispensation by which we are governed.

Over the years, the media got into the habit during the ‘Troubles’ of seeking out the minority view — that meant finding someone who didn’t represent any of the main political viewpoints. Somehow that became the sensible view.

Hence people who increasingly represented nobody at all, only themselves, gained access to the media almost by rote. ‘Liberal’ people. The pro-abortion lobby. The gay rights lobby. Conservative party candidates. Those advocating so-called ‘integrated’ education. Or, a favourite of the media, trades union activists who could always be counted on to fly in the teeth of their membership by raising Iraqi flags in protest at the visit of a US president. That type of thing.

These causes — which have their own merits — unfortunately became, for the media, something of a ‘middle ground’. They were causes the media deemed to be ‘good’ and ‘progressive’ and ‘nice’ and it never really mattered that practically the only people who espoused them were the spokespeople themselves.

This take on the Norn Iron media is so grotesque that, not for the first time, I’m left wondering whether Gail lives in an alternate universe. The big problem with the local media during the Troubles was that, with very few exceptions, they were content to relay whatever they were spoonfed from the Northern Ireland Office media centre.

Ireland is united on abortion, you see. And on Euroscepticism. In fact, it is a united Ireland on just about every single social and moral issue you care to name.

The freaks now are those who take opposing views.

They are easy to find, if you wish to speak to them. They are the bottom of every single poll in every single constituency in every single ward in Northern Ireland.

And in a few newsrooms across the province.

Because Gail is rarely specific when referring to “liberals” or “lefties”, it’s really quite difficult to know what she means. What are these far-left media outlets? Who are these unrepresentative people? Is Gail saying that, in a society where violent gay-bashing is all too common, gay activists shouldn’t get their thirty seconds on the evening news? Is she simply trotting out her own prejudices, which she imagines to be the popular will, and demanding the news reflect her priorities? A strange argument for a journalist to make.

And, by the way, the media outlet that’s made the most out of Iris Robinson’s outbursts has not been the Socialist Worker, or even BBCNI, but a venerable old unionist newspaper called the Belfast Telegraph. Gail may have heard of it – it’s where her column appears, and also where she’s employed as features editor.

I don’t know, maybe Gail ought to stick to what she’s good at. Like, for instance, slagging off fourteen-year-old girls.

Is there no stopping this woman?

Actually, it appears even Iris realises there are limits. From today’s Telegraph:

Iris Robinson today made an apparent U-turn over her controversial comments that homosexuality is “viler” than child sex abuse.

The First Minister’s wife told the House of Commons, during a debate on the assessment and management of sex offenders, that “there can be no viler act, apart from homosexuality and sodomy, than sexually abusing innocent children”.

When contacted by the Belfast Telegraph Mrs Robinson said that homosexuality was “comparable” to child abuse and that she feels “totally repulsed by both.”

“I cannot think of anything more sickening than a child being abused. It is comparable to the act of homosexuality. I think they are all comparable,” she said.

Later today however, she issued a fresh comment via the DUP press office stating: “I clearly intended to say that child abuse was worse even than homosexuality and sodomy … at no point have I set out to suggest homosexuality was worse than child sex abuse.”

Well, that’s all right then. I’m sure the gay community will be pleased to learn that Iris regards them as being not quite as bad as paedophiles.

Iris does it again

Metropolitan liberals have the most entertaining habit of going completely haywire when confronted with people, or entire nations, which radically differ from them in their mores. Especially if it’s something the liberals aren’t prepared for. Back in about 1987, there were lots of Australians and New Zealanders who got very het up about apartheid, but hadn’t the first idea how to approach the ugly racial politics on their own doorstep in Fiji. Not that you could blame them for being confused – the more you know about Fiji, you quickly realise that neither the Melanesians nor the Indians are a very endearing lot. But there was a particularly hilarious TVNZ interview with Fijian coup leader Steve Rabuka. I can’t quote it verbatim after all this time, but I remember it going a bit like this:

Interviewer: Brig Rabuka, why have you overthrown the government?

Steve: God told me to overthrow the government.

Interviewer: Um, right. Some people say this is a racist coup…

Steve: Well, it’s a coup for the benefit of one race. What’s your point?

Talk about the clash of cultures.

Which brings me to Iris Robinson, Westminster MP, Stormont MLA, chair of the Assembly health committee and wife of the First Minister. You’ll recall that Iris ruffled some feathers a while back by remarking, apropos of a homophobic assault, that homosexuality was an abomination, albeit one that could be cured with the help of some Christian-oriented psychiatry. A lot of people in Britain found this shocking, which sort of prompts the question of what exactly they thought the DUP stood for. You might have thought, after that furore, that Iris would be keeping a low profile on moral issues. But not our Iris.

So, yesterday on the Nolan show Iris was holding forth on abortion. Usually, DUP reps prefer to use the democratic argument on this one – legalisation doesn’t command a majority of public opinion, and is overwhelmingly opposed by the North’s elected representatives. (This is true. In fact, with the sole exception of the PUP’s Dawn Purvis, I’m not aware of a single Stormont MLA taking an openly pro-choice position.) Iris, however, couldn’t let it go at that. She argued that it was the job of politicians to uphold God’s law.

You know, when I heard this, I couldn’t help thinking of Maria Duce, the eccentric Catholic movement of the 1950s who made waves by campaigning to have Jesus Christ proclaimed King of Ireland. Iris’ position seems to be the Prod analogue of that. I don’t really like this – although I’m not one of those hardline secularists who wants religion banned from public life, nor do I want a religious government.

A bit later on, there was more discussion on the wireless around this issue, between Bernie Smyth of anti-abortion group Precious Life on the one hand, and popular media personality Eamonn McCann on the other. The debate was predictable, but there were a couple of interesting points.

One was that the whole argument was couched in terms of liberal rights theory. Eamonn said the rights of the mother should trump those of the foetus. Bernie disagreed. You pays your money and you takes your choice.

And yet, if you go back to old-school Catholic polemics from the fifties, the rights of the unborn are not alluded to. That’s a modern innovation. From a theological standpoint, the soul of the child, being innocent, would go to heaven if it was blessed or limbo if it wasn’t. (This situation is now simplified a little by Benedict having abolished limbo.) No, the traditional reason for keeping abortion illegal was to protect the soul of the mother, by preventing her from committing a mortal sin. The fact that this argument isn’t made any more is probably the tax religion pays to secular liberalism.

The other point is that, although I don’t agree with Bernie, I do sort of admire her. Starting with nothing, she’s built up quite a formidable operation with her bare hands, and been so successful that SPUC, the former brand leaders, are almost moribund in the North. Actually, she’s been more successful at building a movement than Eamonn, who’s been at it much longer.

And here’s something worth considering. The fact that public opinion in the North is against legal abortion shouldn’t be an insuperable obstacle for the pro-choice milieu. It’s just a challenge to be faced in building a pro-choice movement. Yet a lot of pro-choice people seem to have given that up for a bad job in the hope that the Brits might impose the 1967 act over the objections of Stormont. Yeah, that’ll happen.

Thought for the gay

Hullo Brian, hullo Sue. You know, in a very real sense, sometimes I think the Anglican Communion is a bit like the Fourth International. I don’t mean in the theological sense, though I once heard Chris Bailey call Cliff Slaughter a mediaeval scholastic, which I thought was a bit hard on mediaeval scholastics. If St Thomas Aquinas could have travelled through time to a WRP dialectics class, one suspects his first instinct would have been to point and laugh.

No, I was thinking in terms of a disparate group of people who on the face of things don’t have a great deal in common, and are held together mostly by tradition and sentiment. A more exact parallel would be with the USec of the 1970s, a church divided into two hostile factions, barely on speaking terms with each other. In that case, things were complicated by the fact that the European sections had the majority but the Americans had the money. In the Anglicans’ case, the Africans have the numbers while, again, the Americans have the money.

Things have come to a head with the opening of the once-a-decade World Congress, sorry, the Lambeth Conference, a giant knees-up for the Communion’s bishops. And at the eye of the storm is Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, who comes across in his TV appearances as a very nice, intelligent and witty man. Just the sort of bishop you’d like to have. Unfortunately, Bishop Robinson is openly gay, as opposed to the legions of closeted gays in the Anglican ministry, and the macho men of the Nigerian and Ugandan churches, who are locked in fierce competition with Muslim proselytisers, have taken exception.

In a vain effort to smooth things over, the Archbishop of Canterbury, affable John Peel lookalike Dr Rowan Williams, rather ostentatiously left Bishop Robinson off the invitation list for Lambeth, which puts Gene in the good company of Bishop Kunonga of Harare, a staunch supporter of Uncle Bob’s firm-but-fair regime in Zimbabwe. Alas, Rowan’s efforts were to no avail, as the Africans aren’t bothering to turn up anyway.

The other big issue, at least for the Brits, is the consecration of women bishops. This is really a rerun of the hoo-hah a lot of years ago about women priests, which actually managed to cause a minor schism in Ireland. That said, I haven’t heard tell of the Church of Ireland (Traditional Rite) for years, and fear they may have gone the way of the Communist Party of Ireland (Marxist-Leninist).

On the face of it, there really shouldn’t be an issue. If you’re willing to accept women as priests, there’s no obvious reason why they shouldn’t be bishops. But that would be to underestimate religious people’s ability to get upset over the strangest things. And also the Anglican knack for turning a relatively simple question into an enormously complicated fudge.

Last time around, I was tickled by the proposal for the brilliantly titled “flying bishops”, who would, it was foreseen, cater for those parishes unwilling to accept Dawn French as their vicar. Sad to say, the flying bishops never really got off the ground, as most people who cared strongly on this point upped sticks and defected to Rome. This time around, and sticking with the superhero motif, the C of E tops are mooting “superbishops” to attend to the recalcitrants. I suspect that the superbishops too will be, in the good old Yiddish phrase, nisht geshtoygn un nisht gefloygn.

This is the background to last month’s GAFCON conference in Jerusalem, which has effectively seen the creation of an international opposition tendency, consisting of those traditionalists who object to swishy poofs, uppity women and the modern age in general. Prominent in their platform is an ambitious plan to set up a parallel section in North America, shadowing the liberal leadership there. So far, the Africans have been careful not to push things to an outright schism, perhaps being mindful that the Americans and Canadians bankroll many of their missionary and humanitarian enterprises. But one senses that Archbishop Akinola of Nigeria and his chums might just be painting themselves into a rhetorical corner.

Would that Joe Hansen were alive at this hour. He would have loved this.

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