Fatah demands that Britain return Big Ben to its original Jerusalem home

Quotulatiousness has the story.

“We believe passionately …”

Mick Hartley comments on the statement by Julie Birchill’s ex-publishers about why they cancelled her book:

And you can almost guarantee that if someone states how they “believe passionately in freedom of speech”, it’s a prelude to an act of censorship which proves that, actually, they don’t.

It’s the word “passionately” that is so nauseating, in this context. What this actually means is: “Somewhat less than before this row happened, which we are going to give in to.”

Little, Brown didn’t actually use the word “but” in their statement, to signal the reversal. But, if they had, it would have changed nothing of importance.

Exotic Ely Cathedral

This, photoed yesterday morning by Ely Cathedral obsessive Andrew Sharpe, really should have gone up here yesterday, because apparently there’s a dog walker to be seen in the foreground, who, because walking, must have been clearly visible to Sharpe at the time of the photo, but who is less easy to spot in the photo, what with photos being, you know, still:

However, dog walking aside, what really interested me about this photo was also picked up by commenter Jane Elizabeth, who said:

It looks positively exotic.

Indeed it does.

Those spiky tower things, that look like small space rockets, what are they called? Anyway, those. Sharpe’s photo features several of what look like them, which makes Ely Cathedral as a whole look decidedly Islamic in atmosphere. There’s much talk nowadays about how Europe was profoundly influenced by Islam in medieval times. This is partly done to cheer up middle easterners, who have for several centuries now been on the receiving end of the influencing, but also because it’s true. Europe was indeed profoundly influenced by Islam, and not least by its architecture.

The clouds definitely add something. Clouds always juice up a sunset, or in this case a sunrise.

Trump did this good thing, but …

Ronald Forbes, for The Conservative Woman:

WHY is it that almost every conservative defence of Donald Trump begins by disowning him personally like a distasteful object held at arm’s length?

Sure, they say, Trump gave the economy and the job market an electro-shock that Obama said wasn’t possible and didn’t even try, but …

Sure, Trump pulled out of the Paris climate agreement designed by liberal greenery to throttle Western economies and living standards and also out of the mad deal that freed Iran to go nuclear by the mid-2020s, but …

Sure, Trump rolled back Obama’s kangaroo courts on campuses, stemmed the immigration free-for-all, took on China’s communist bullies, read the facts of life to free-riding European partners in Nato, started a historic normalisation of relations between Israel and Arab states, but …

Sure, Trump nominated Supreme Court justices dedicated to the strange idea that the constitution meant what it said rather than what liberal judges would prefer it to say, but …

Well said mate. I like this Donald Forbes man. Who is he?

Donald Forbes is a retired Anglo-Scottish journalist now living in France who during a 40-year career worked in eastern Europe before and after communism.

A background well suited to make a man understand the vast moral chasm that separates being an evil piece of tyrannical shit from being a great man and a great guy, who has his hair done in a rather strange way.

But reading this excellent piece caused me to suffer a spasm of selfish worry. Patrick Crozier and I recorded a chat about Trump, a couple of years back. Did either of us do any of this distasteful-object-held-at-arm’s-length stuff when we talked about Trump? I listened to what we’d said again this afternoon, just to check. Happily, there was hardly anything like that. I once mentioned that picking a President was not the same as picking a father-in-law. (I would now love to have Trump as a father-in-law.) But that’s as near as either of us got to any pre-emptively grovelling (to the evil piece of tyrannical shit tendency) stylistic criticism of Trump. There was some analysis of Trump’s personal style. (He is a Rat Pack fan, basically.) Plus, there was lots of interrupting, and hesitating and mumbling, and general conversational incompetence. But, I’m proud to report that both us talked of Trump’s style and personality only to tease out why it was working so well, and that I for one repeatedly called him a great man. Okay we missed a few of the great things Trump had already done even then, but he’s done so many great things and that’s easily forgiven.

While I’m boasting about my past pronouncements (if I don’t who else will? (the particular bit I’m thinking of is at the end of that which I am about to link to)) see also, on the subject of the difference between mere stylistic impropriety and gigantic moral evil, this.

Cricket contrasts

This is remarkable:

Although, Pooran might have thrown a catch to the nearby fielder and got the batsman out. All he did was save a few runs. So, not ten out of ten.

I also recommend a look at the scorecard, if you care anything about cricket. Biggest successful run chase in IPL history, apparently.

Thankyou Maia Bouchier, who I once saw play in an otherwise all male cricket match at Lord’s between my old posh school and another posh school. (Memo to self, transfer to here two blog postings I did about this strange event.)

I misspent (by which I mean I greatly enjoyed it) quite a bit of today watching Essex get their draw against Somerset, and win The Bob, as I hear they are now calling it. This was a very different sort of game to that IPL game. For starters it went on for five days, yet it was still a draw. But despite it being a draw, Essex won. You don’t see that very often. Meanwhile, that IPL game, like all IPL games, was all done in a few hours.

The only major thing these two games had in common, aside from both being cricket matches, is that, because of The Plague, there was nobody watching them at the actual grounds where they were played.

Another remarkable Trump speech

Here.

I don’t agree that Trump is defeating The Virus, as he claims. I think it is fizzling out of its own accord. I therefore think that he overdoes the criticism of China, on this particular score. But otherwise, amazing.

I was particularly interested in the bit near the end, where he said:

As President I am proudly putting America first, just as you should be putting your countries first. That’s okay, That’s what you should be doing.

This is something people have always got wrong about Trump. He does admire people like Putin. But this is not because he is a Putin agent of influence, as some anti-Trumpists have absurdly claimed. It is because he admires Putin for fighting Russia’s corner. But Trump isn’t fighting Russia’s corner. He’s fighting America’s corner.

The manner of the speech’s delivery was also interesting. He just read it out, with no gaps during which anyone might try to heckle. He didn’t seek rapport with his audience, like at one of his rallies. There was a distinct undercurrent of “I don’t give a fuck what you evil bastards think about this, and I’m taking no questions, I’m just telling you how it now is” about the whole thing. I’ve been waiting all my life for an American President willing to talk in this manner to the assembly of (mostly) pompous and tyrannical scumbags that is the “United Nations”. It’s a different world, I tell you. As Patrick Crozier and I talked about in this conversation, Trump is conferring respect upon millions of Americans who have been denied it by their self-appointed betters. Crucially, he is also withdrawing respect from the over-respected “global elite”, and never more so than in this speech. And his voters will be loving it.

Roll on the thermonuclear landslide.

“I love it when Dawkins admitted that!”

I recently watched this duet rant by David Wood and, when he can get a word in, Robert Spencer. David Wood, a new name to me, is a Christian, but not the sort of Christian who believes in turning the other cheek when his enemy threatens to slap him hard enough to cause serious harm. That doesn’t work. (That this doesn’t work is one of the many reasons I’m not a Christian at all.) But Wood makes many excellent tactical points about what you are up against when you interact with seriously Islamic Islamicists.

From that, I then found my way to this snatch of video. In the latter, a bunch of scornful Christians introduce a clip of Richard Dawkins talking about whether there is any evidence he can imagine that would convince him that God exists. Dawkins says he used to say: Yes. If evidence appeared, he’d change his mind and believe in God. But then, he was persuaded that he actually cannot imagine any evidence that would persuade him of God’s existence.

As I say, the Christians are scornful. This guy freely admits that there is no evidence that would change his mind about God!

Dawkins’s position is precisely my own position. I was once challenged along the same lines. If evidence appeared for God’s existence, would I start believing in God? I said: Yes. But then, I realised that I could imagine no such “evidence” that it would not make more sense to interpret in a non-God way. An hallucination, or a trick. Or maybe an alien who seemed to me like God, but who was merely clever at creating misleading effects, perhaps based on knowing more than humans do about how the human body and mind function, by getting inside the workings of my brain.

The reason I think this way is that the idea of God, as presented to me by Christians and Muslims, makes no sense. So to interpret a clutch of “evidence” as evidence in favour this senseless idea is itself senseless. These facts must have some other non-God explanation. If the only reason to believe in God is this one little clutch of evidence, then the chances are that this evidence isn’t actual evidence either.

A theory doesn’t only have to “fit the facts”, as in a small clutch of facts that seem to contradict it. It also has to make sense. What does “make sense” mean? Something like: Consistent with everything else I know about the world. A theory must must not merely “fit the facts”. It must fit all the facts.

The history of science is full of episodes of this sort. A theory is proposed which fits a lot of facts and which makes a lot of sense, despite being radically different from what scientists used to believe. Then, some facts materialise which seem to contradict the theory. Dump the theory! You are refusing to face the facts! You are a dogmatist! But then, these “facts” turn out not to be facts, and the new theory, because of the sheer weight of the evidence in its favour, sails on in triumph. Or, if lots of other evidence piles up against it, not.

I freely admit that what I think about evidence depends on what I already think. As does what you think. Worldviews differ. This is not scandalous. It is merely how things are. To get someone to change their worldview, you have to supply lots of evidence, not just a little bit.

Rodney Stark defends God’s Battalions

Recently I quoted a chunk from Emmanuel Todd’s Lineages of Modernity, in the course of which chunk Todd praised the historian Rodney Stark. I looked up Stark on Amazon and encountered a familiar book cover. I realised that I already possessed Stark’s book defending the Crusades, entitled God’s Battalions: The Case For The Crusades.

Here is the Introduction of that book, entitled “Greedy barbarians in armor?”:

ON NOVEMBER 27, 1095, Pope Urban II mounted a platform set up in a meadow outside the French city of Clermont, surrounded in all directions by an immense crowd. A vigorous man of fifty-three, Urban was blessed with an unusually powerful and expressive voice that made it possible for him to be heard at a great distance. On this memorable occasion, addressing a multitude that included poor peasants as well as nobility and clergy, the pope gave a speech that changed history.

Urban had arranged the gathering in response to a letter from Alexius Comnenus, emperor of Byzantium, who had written from his embattled capital of Constantinople to the Count of Flanders requesting that he and his fellow Christians send forces to help the Byzantines repel the Seljuk Turks, recent converts to Islam who had invaded the Middle East, captured Jerusalem, and driven to within one hundred miles of Constantinople. In his letter, the emperor detailed gruesome tortures of Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land and vile desecrations of churches, altars, and baptismal fonts. Should Constantinople fall to the Turks, not only would thousands more Christians be murdered, tortured, and raped, but also “the most holy relics of the Saviour,” gathered over the centuries, would be lost. “Therefore in the name of God … we implore you to bring this city all the faithful soldiers of Christ … [I]n your coming you will find your reward in heaven, and if you do not come, God will condemn you.”

There were many reasons that Europeans might have ignored any plea for help from Byzantium. For one thing, their cultural heritage as well as their Christianity was Roman, while the Byzantines were Greeks, whose lifestyle seemed decadent to Europeans and whose “Orthodox” Christianity held Latin Catholicism in contempt – often persecuting its priests and practitioners. Nevertheless, when Pope Urban II read this letter he was determined that it be answered by worthy deeds, and he arranged for a church council at Clermont, which he followed with his famous speech.

Speaking in French, the pope began by graphically detailing the torture, rape, and murder of Christian pilgrims and the defilement of churches and holy places committed by the Turks (he called them Persians): “They destroy the altars, after having defiled them with their uncleanness. They circumcise the Christians, and the blood of the circumcision they either pour on the altars or pour into the vases of the baptismal font. When they wish to torture people by a base death, they perforate their navels, and dragging forth the extremity of the intestines, bind it to a stake; then with flogging they lead the victim around until the viscera having gushed forth the victim falls prostrate on the ground … What shall I say about the abominable rape of women? To speak of it is worse than to be silent. On whom therefore is the labor of avenging these wrongs and recovering this territory incumbent, if not upon you?”

At this point Pope Urban raised a second issue to which he and his illustrious predecessor Gregory VII had devoted years of effort – the chronic warfare of medieval times. The popes had been attempting to achieve a “truce of God” among the feudal nobility, many of whom seemed inclined to make war, even on their friends, just for the sake of a good fight. After all, it was what they had trained to do every day since early childhood. Here was their chance! “Christian warriors, who continually and vainly seek pretexts for war, rejoice, for you have today found a true pretext … If you are conquered, you will have the glory of dying in the very same place as Jesus Christ, and God will never forget that he found you in the holy battalions … Soldiers of Hell, become soldiers of the living God!”

Now, shouts of “Dieu li volt!” (God wills it!) began to spread through the crowd, and men began to cut up cloaks and other pieces of cloth to make crosses and sew them against their chests. Everyone agreed that the next year they would set out for the Holy Land. And they did.

That is the traditional explanation of how and why the First Crusade began. But in recent times a far more cynical and sinister explanation of the Crusades has gained popularity. Thus, in the immediate aftermath of the destruction of the World Trade Center by Muslim terrorists, frequent mention was made of the Crusades as a basis for Islamic fury. It was argued that Muslim bitterness over their mistreatment by the Christian West can be dated back to the First Crusade. Far from being motivated by piety or by concern for the safety of pilgrims and the holy places in Jerusalem, the Crusades were but the first extremely bloody chapter in a long history of brutal European colonialism.

More specifically, it is charged that the crusaders marched east not out of idealism, but in pursuit of lands and loot; that the Crusades were promoted by power-mad popes seeking to greatly expand Christianity through conversion of the Muslim masses; and that the knights of Europe were barbarians who brutalized everyone in their path, leaving “the enlightened Muslim culture … in ruins.” As Akbar Ahmed, chair of Islamic studies at American University in Washington, D.C., has suggested, “the Crusades created a historical memory which is with us today – the memory of a long European onslaught.”

Two months after the attack of September 11, 2001, on New York City, former president Bill Clinton informed an audience at Georgetown University that “[tjhose of us who come from various European lineages are not blameless” vis-à-vis the Crusades as a crime against Islam, and then summarized a medieval account about all the blood that was shed when Godfrey of Bouillon and his forces conquered Jerusalem in 1099.

That the Crusades were a terrible crime in great need of atonement was a popular theme even before the Islamic terrorists crashed their hijacked airliners. In 1999, the New York Times had solemnly proposed that the Crusades were comparable to Hitler’s atrocities or to the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. That same year, to mark the nine hundredth anniversary of the crusader conquest of Jerusalem, hundreds of devout Protestants took part in a “reconciliation walk” that began in Germany and ended in the Holy Land. Along the way the walkers wore T-shirts bearing the message “I apologize” in Arabic. Their official statement explained the need for a Christian apology:

Nine hundred years ago, our forefathers carried the name of Jesus Christ in battle across the Middle East. Fueled by fear, greed, and hatred … the Crusaders lifted the banner of the Cross above your people … On the anniversary of the First Crusade … we wish to retrace the footsteps of the Crusaders in apology for their deeds … We deeply regret the atrocities committed in the name of Christ by our predecessors. We renounce greed, hatred and fear, and condemn all violence done in the name of Jesus Christ.

Also in 1999, Karen Armstrong, a former nun and a popular writer on religious themes, proposed that “crusading answered a deep need in the Christians of Europe. Yet today most of us would unhesitantly condemn the Crusades as unchristian. After all, Jesus told his followers to love their enemies, not to exterminate them. He was a pacifist and had more in common with Gandhi, perhaps, than with Pope Urban.” Armstrong went on to propose that, in fact, “holy war is a deeply Christian act,” since Christianity has “an inherent leaning toward violence, despite the pacifism of Jesus.” And a prominent former priest, James Carroll, agreed, charging that the Crusades left a “trail of violence [that] scars the earth and human memory even to this day.”

These are not new charges. Western condemnations of the Crusades were widespread during the “Enlightenment,” that utterly misnamed era during which French and British intellectuals invented the “Dark Ages” in order to glorify themselves and vilify the Catholic Church (see chapter 3). Hence, Voltaire (1694-1778) called the Crusades an “epidemic of fury which lasted for two hundred years and which was always marked by every cruelty, every perfidy, every debauchery, and every folly of which human nature is capable.” According to David Hume (1711-1776), the Crusades were “the most signal and most durable monument to human folly that has yet appeared in any age or nation.” Denis Diderot (1713-1784) characterized the Crusades as “a time of the deepest darkness and of the greatest folly … to drag a significant part of the world into an unhappy little country in order to cut the inhabitants’ throats and seize a rocky peak which was not worth one drop of blood.” These attacks also reinforced the widespread “Protestant conviction that crusading was yet another expression of Catholic bigotry and cruelty?” Thus the English historian Thomas Fuller (1608-1661) claimed that the Crusades were all the pope’s doing and that this “war would be the sewer of Christendom” in that it attempted to deprive the Muslims of their lawful possession of Palestine.

However, the notion that the crusaders were early Western imperialists who used a religious excuse to seek land and loot probably was originated by the German Lutheran church historian Johann Lorenz von Mosheim (1693-1755), who wrote: “The Roman pontiffs and the European princes were engaged at first in these crusades by a principle of superstition only, but when in the process of time they learnt by experience that these holy wars contributed much to increase their opulence and to extend their authority … [then] ambition and avarice seconded and enforced the dictates of fanaticism and superstition.” Mosheim’s views were echoed by Edward Gibbon (1737-1794), who claimed that the crusaders really went in pursuit of “mines of treasures, of gold and diamonds, of palaces of marble and jasper, and of odoriferous groves of cinnamon and frankincense.”

During the twentieth century, this self-interest thesis was developed into an elaborate “materialist” account of why the Crusades took place.” The prolific Geoffrey Barraclough (1908-1984) wrote: “[O]ur verdict on the Crusades [is that it amounted to] colonial exploitation.” Or, as Karen Armstrong confided, these “were our first colonies.” A more extensive and sophisticated material explanation of why the knights went east was formulated by Hans Eberhard Mayer, who proposed that the Crusades alleviated a severe financial squeeze on Europe’s “knightly class.” According to Mayer and others who share his views, at this time there was a substantial and rapidly growing number of “surplus” sons, members of noble families who would not inherit and whom the heirs found it increasingly difficult to provide with even modest incomes. Hence, as Mayer put it, “the Crusade acted as a kind of safety valve for the knightly class … a class which looked upon the Crusade as a way of solving its material problems.” Indeed, a group of American economists recently proposed that the crusaders hoped to get rich from the flow of pilgrims (comparing the shrines in Jerusalem with modern amusement parks) and that the pope sent the crusaders east in pursuit of “new markets” for the church, presumably to be gained by converting people away from Islam.” It is thus no surprise that a leading college textbook on Western civilization informs students: “From the perspective of the pope and European monarchs, the crusades offered a way to rid Europe of contentious young nobles … [who] saw an opportunity to gain territory, riches, status, possibly a title, and even salvation.”

To sum up the prevailing wisdom: during the Crusades, an expansionist, imperialistic Christendom brutalized, looted, and colonized a tolerant and peaceful Islam.

Not so. As will be seen, the Crusades were precipitated by Islamic provocations: by centuries of bloody attempts to colonize the West and by sudden new attacks on Christian pilgrims and holy places. Although the Crusades were initiated by a plea from the pope, this had nothing to do with hopes of converting Islam. Nor were the Crusades organized and led by surplus sons, but by the heads of great families who were fully aware that the costs of crusading would far exceed the very modest material rewards that could be expected; most went at immense personal cost, some of them knowingly bankrupting themselves to go. Moreover, the crusader kingdoms that they established in the Holy Land, and that stood for nearly two centuries, were not colonies sustained by local exactions; rather, they required immense subsidies from Europe.

In addition, it is utterly unreasonable to impose modern notions about proper military conduct on medieval warfare; both Christians and Muslims observed quite different rules of war. Unfortunately, even many of the most sympathetic and otherwise sensible historians of the Crusades are unable to accept that fact and are given to agonizing over the very idea that war can ever be “just,” revealing the pacifism that has become so widespread among academics. Finally, claims that Muslims have been harboring bitter resentments about the Crusades for a millennium are nonsense: Muslim antagonism about the Crusades did not appear until about 1900, in reaction against the decline of the Ottoman Empire and the onset of actual European colonialism in the Middle East. And anti-crusader feelings did not become intense until after the founding of the state of Israel. These are principal themes of the chapters that follow.

Historians disagree about which events were Crusades and therefore about when they occurred. I exclude the “crusades” against heretics in Europe and accept the conventional definition: that the Crusades involved conflicts between Christendom and Islam for control of the Holy Land, campaigns that occurred between 1095 and 1291. However, unlike most conventional Crusade historians, I shall not begin with the pope’s appeal at Clermont, but with the rise of Islam and the onset of the Muslim invasions of Christendom. That’s when it all started-in the seventh century, when Islamic armies swept over the larger portion of what was then Christian territory: the Middle East, Egypt and all of North Africa, and then Spain and southern Italy, as well as many major Mediterranean islands including Sicily, Corsica, Cyprus, Rhodes, Crete, Malta, and Sardinia. It also is important to examine the Christian counterattacks that began in the eighth century and soon “liberated” many of the occupied areas, for these were previews of the military confrontations that eventually took place in the Holy Land. Nor shall I merely recount the crusader battles, for they are comprehensible only in light of the superior culture and technology that made it possible for European knights to march more than twenty-five hundred miles, to suffer great losses along the way, and then to rout far larger Muslim forces.

Many superb historians have devoted their careers to studying aspects of the Crusades. I am not one of them. What I have done is synthesize the work of these specialists into a more comprehensive perspective, written in prose that is accessible to the general reader. However, I have been careful to fully acknowledge the contributions of the many experts on whom I have depended, some in the text and the rest in the endnotes.

Cat in Istanbul shop window

As not promised (see below), here’s a rather charming photo that Michael Jennings took in Istanbul last December, of a shop window:

Not just signs, but the place where they’re done from. And a cat. I recall Michael writing, somewhere, somewhen, that there are many cats in Istanbul and that they are very well respected by the humans of that city.

You can always tell how well cats are treated in this or that place that you visit, by how sociably they behave towards you. When cats hide from you, that’s a sign of a nasty neighbourhood, I think.

Another Twitter dump

I had a Twitter dump earlier. It feels so good to be getting this stuff out of my system, so here’s another. Again, in no particular order, and not chosen for bang-up-to-dateness, just funness and interestingness.

It maybe makes things a bit clearer if I indent the tweet references, and then unindent at the end, at which point I’ll be having a bit more to say:

What concrete blocks are made of in China.

Ghostbusters.

The Battle of France in 44 seconds.

This family built a hug guard.

Baihe reservoir (白河水庫) in Tainan county is at once both shockingly ugly and stunningly beautiful.

BBC’s Jeremy Bowen says there haven’t been all that many terrorist attacks in Israel.

Everyone who was worrying he was a fascist now worrying he’s not fascist enough.

150-foot iceberg passes through Iceberg Alley.

My boyfriend cheated on me, but, I love him. What should I do? A Georgist: Implement a land value tax.

James Burke had only one chance to film this scene, and the result is possibly the best timed shot in television history.

Jeremy Corbin won the argument.

The lockdown is ending because the American people say it’s ending.

I miss those carefree pre-coronavirus days when nobody died at all.

In each of the above cases, you get most of the tweet, and sometimes all of it. So, if all you want to know is what the tweet said, no need to click. But if you want to know who else besides me thought the tweets in question to be funny or interesting, click away.

And that has actually done the trick. To my great surprise I have actually cleared out all this tweetery from my hard disc and from now on my computer will surely be functioning better, until such time as I need another similar dump. There remain only a few animal-related tweets which are already scheduled to appear this coming Friday.