Northallerton Lecture Hosted By Wakefield Historical Society

Written on 14 November 2013

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Above: One of Northallerton’s historic buildings.

Yesterday evening I was fortunate to be able to attend a lecture organised by Wakefield Historical Society.  The lecture was delivered by Jennifer Allison of the Northallerton and District Historical Society in the ancient Chantry Chapel on the bridge next to the River Calder.  Its title was ‘Northallerton: The Evolution Of A County Town’.

It was well delivered and interesting to listen to and made the story of a town I have never visited come alive.  It was also interesting to see the similarities between Northallerton and my own home town of Wakefield which can also be described as a county town.

Its fortunes were in some instances shaped by its geographic position at the centre of the northern part of the North Riding of Yorkshire.  Since the time of King William II it was under the authority of the Bishop of Durham, the city where I myself studied as an undergraduate.  Due to its position on the Great North Road that linked London to Scotland it grew as a market town.  During times of war between England and Scotland, it was a stopover point for armies heading north to battles of historic importance in Scotland.  Its buildings in many ways appear to be similar to those in Wakefield.  The lecture also gave information about its many pubic houses, its race course, and its castle/Bishops’ palace.

Congratulations to Jennifer Allison on an excellent and informative lecture.

United In Tyranny – The United Nations Human Rights Council

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Above: United Nations Headquarters, New York, New York.

An article published a few days ago at alarabiya.net[1] reported that Saudi Arabia had been elected onto the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).  Once again, the concept of human rights has been brought into disrepute at the United Nations.  Saudi Arabia should not be judging human rights, it should be answering charges!  This dysfunctional nature of the United Nations itself is clear for all to see.

The old discredited incarnation of the Council – the United Nations Human Rights Commission was discredited because states with appalling human rights records were members. On 15 March 2006 the BBC reported on its website:

“The existing body has been heavily criticised for having countries with poor human rights records as members…. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan welcomed what he called an “historic resolution… that gives the United Nations a much-needed chance to make a new beginning in its work for human rights around the world”.”[2]

One word change to the name and six fewer members is does not demonstrate a renewed commitment to human rights.  So what happened?  The lyrics of Won’t Get Fooled Again by The Who come to mind:

“Meet the new boss Same as the old boss”[3]

Nice repackaging but so much for the “new beginning”!

Saudi Arabia is a member of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) which itself is against human rights as defined by the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). This group of states were so opposed to the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) that it set up its own declaration to compete with it and undermine it.  This was the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam (CDHRI) that was signed in 1990.  This declaration subordinates all human rights to the Islamic sharia and therefore is clearly at odds with the UDHR).

Back in 2007 Jackson Diehl writing in The Washington Post made the following astute observations relating to the newly constituted Human Rights Council:

“If the first year of the United Nations Human Rights Council is any indication, it’s grown sick and cynical — partly because of the fecklessness and flexible morality of some of the very governments and groups that claim to be most committed to democratic values….

The European Union includes countries holding eight of the council’s 47 seats. It has made no serious effort to focus the council’s attention on the world’s worst human rights violators.”[4]

The attitude of nominally democratic states comes as no surprise to the International Civil Liberties Alliance (ICLA).  We have for many years been highlighting human rights abuses by such countries in our interventions at Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Human Dimension meetings.  With regard to the European Union (EU), we must point out that it is not a democratic organisation – executive power is held by the unelected European Commission and the European Parliament is little more than a rubber stamping body.  Indeed the EU repeatedly highlights its profoundly anti-democratic credentials by its own actions – actions too numerous to go into here!  The actions of EU member states such as the United Kingdom also indicate contempt for the principles of the UDHR.  It could be argued the UK’s status as an observing member of the OIC[5], its decision to sign a memorandum of understanding with the OIC in September 2012[6], and its attendance at the OIC meeting in Cairo in February 2013[7] together represent an endorsement of the OIC’s view of human rights that formalised by the CDHRI.  This may suggest that the United Kingdom itself is not really committed to the United Nation’s definition of human rights and that in the future it may be willing to concede that human rights are indeed subordinate to the Islamic sharia!  Perhaps this all explains why Saudi Arabia’s membership of the Human Rights Council is countenanced by countries who claim to support human rights.

Terry Sanderson of the UK’s National Secular Society reminds us of the OIC’s desire to destroy one of the most fundamental components of human rights, the right to freedom of expression:

“The blasphemy law which is being proposed by the OIC on behalf of its members would be an entirely dangerous and regressive step if it were to be approved at the UN. It is quite clear that it would be used to persecute and oppress non-Muslim minorities in Muslim-majority countries, as the domestic blasphemy law in Pakistan does at present.”[8]

An article on the website of The Economist by B.C., that carries the rather appropriate phrase Theatre of the Absurd in its title, does not seem to hold out much hope for the UN’s ability to be a champion of human rights:

“Given that more governments (including some Western ones) violate human rights than respect them, I’m not sure that global, inter-governmental bodies in this field can serve any purpose. It may still be useful for groups of governments (like the Council of Europe) to band together to agree to observe certain standards. But for an organisation to work credibly for human rights at a global level, with no geopolitical or cultural bias, it needs to be as independent as possible from all govermments [sic], and hence from all violators.”[9]

The willingness of Western states to endorse the OIC, their lack of willingness to oppose human rights violators influencing policy at the UN, and their own deteriorating human rights records at home all suggest that human rights are now in serious danger across the board.  It is therefore unlikely that the UN will be capable of getting its own house in order any time soon.  The UN itself seems incapable of following and supporting its own principles; indeed by not acting to actively oppose alternatives to the UDHR it is undermining is own reason for being.  In some ways this inability or unwillingness to act is similar to that experienced by the old League of Nations which failed to stop the rise of the illiberal movements that were eroding human rights in the 1930s.  History does appear to be repeating itself in our institutions of collective security!

Currently the UNHRC is not about human rights, it is a forum for states to conspire to undermine them!  The UN should act and act as a matter of extreme urgency to regain legitimacy in the field of human rights.  The BBC stated in that article that we referred to earlier:

“There will be periodic reviews of membership, and any state accused of systematic human rights violations could be suspended.”[10]

Time to either remove Saudi Arabia from the UNHRC or reform the UN completely!  Saudi Arabia’s presence on the Council undermines human rights globally.  To have Saudi Arabia involved in anything remotely related to improving human rights is grossly offensive!  Saudi Arabia’s membership of the Council tells the world that the UN does not give a damn about human rights.  The United Nations itself is clearly in desperate need of root and branch reform.  As things stand, the United Nations and its member states are united, but united only in tyranny!

 

Recommendations of the International Civil Liberties Alliance (ICLA):

(1)    ICLA calls for the urgent dismissal of Saudi Arabia from the United Nations Human Rights Council on the grounds that it is guilty of systematic human rights abuses.

(2)   It also calls upon the United Nations to reaffirm its commitment to the universal nature of human rights as defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) by repudiating all alternatives to it such as the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam (CDHRI) (1990).

Only then can confidence be restored in the United Nations’ declared commitment to human rights.

 

[1] Saudi Arabia wins U.N. Human Rights Council seat, 12 November 2013, AlArabiya.net, http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2013/11/12/Saudi-Arabia-wins-Human-Rights-Council-seat.html

[2] UN creates new human rights body, Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 March 2006, 19:49 GMT, BBC.co.uk, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/4810538.stm

[3] WON’T GET FOOLED AGAIN LYRICS – THE WHO, Sing365.com, http://www.sing365.com/music/lyric.nsf/Won’t-Get-Fooled-Again-lyrics-The-Who/761EF79AAB42FA9C48256977002E72F9

[4] A Shadow on the Human Rights Movement, Jackson Diehl, The Washington Post, 25 June 2007, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/06/24/AR2007062401373.html

[5] Organisation of the Islamic Conference Admits UK as Observing Member, Islam Today, 17 June 2011, http://en.islamtoday.net/artshow-235-4102.htm

[6] Agreement signed to bring Islamic countries closer to UK, Murtaza Ali Shah, The International News, 27 September 2012, http://www.thenews.com.pk/Todays-News-2-134325-Agreement-signed-to-bring-Islamic-countries-closer-to-UK

[7] Baroness Warsi attends Organisation of Islamic Cooperation Summit, Gov.uk, 7 February 2013, https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/baroness-warsi-addresses-organisation-of-islamic-cooperation-summit

[8] UK signs agreement on “religious freedom” with OIC, National Secular Society, 27 September 2012, http://www.secularism.org.uk/news/2012/09/uk-signs-agreement-on-religious-freedom-with-oic

[9] Human and religious rights at the UN: Theatre of the absurd, B.C., 12 November 2013, Economist.com, http://www.economist.com/blogs/erasmus/2013/11/human-and-religious-rights-un

[10] UN creates new human rights body, Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 March 2006, 19:49 GMT, BBC.co.uk, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/4810538.stm

Pontefract Castle In November

Written on 10 November 2013

Today I went for a walk around Pontefract Castle and since it was a nice day took a few photos which I post below.  Wikipedia identifies the following historical anecdotes about the castle:

  • King Richard II was supposedly murdered there, a crime immortalised in Shakespeare’s Richard III.
  • Henry VIII fifth wife, Catherine Howard is said to have committed the act of adultery at the castle for which she was later executed.
  • Mary Queen of Scots stayed there in 1569
  • It was a Royalist stronghold during the English Civil War and it was then that it was reduced to ruins

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The Coming Information Revolution

It is around this time each year that I get the latest issue of The World In series, published by The Economist. THIS webpage and THIS one give information about The World In 2013 to give you an idea about what I am talking about. I find it both entertaining and informative to read people’s thoughts about what the next year may have in store for us. The other day I came across a very interesting presentation entitled Workplace 2020 Keynote at Leadership Summit 2013 by Dion Hinchcliffe, Chief Strategy Officer at Dachis. This looks a timespan greater than a single year but I found it interesting for similar reasons and therefore thought that I would share it here. It looks at the accelerating pace of technological change and how computer use will change by 2020

Workplace 2020 Keynote at Leadership Summit 2013 from Dion Hinchcliffe

It seems from looking at this presentation that change will become even more rapid and fundamental than it is today. This may result in institutional transformations on a scale that have never been known. Institutions that interest groups have taken decades to control may become irrelevant or disappear overnight. The technological changes outlined will, inevitably, have a massive impact on us bloggers as well as on how NGO’s and grassroots groups can impact on policy at local, national, and international level. It seems like the ‘Global Village’ may be transformed into the ‘Global Hamlet’ or even ‘Global House’.

It looks like the years ahead will be interesting.

“Islamophobia” Imagined? – Crayon Wars or Harmony Through Colour

I recently came across a short article by Tim Murphy at a website called Mother Jones.  The title of the article[1] shrieked out “Anti-Islam Activists Are Freaking Out About Crayons Now”!   The alarmist tone anticipating some kind of ‘crayon war’ seemed to me to be yet another example of smearing, as unreasonable, people who have concerns about sharia.  Like the widespread usage of the term ‘Islamophobia’ to demonise people this approach seems to be part of a general refusal to discuss the issues and engage in dialogue.  It would have been far more positive if the article had tried to engage with those with whom it disagreed.

The article related to a decision by crayon manufacturer Crayola to make Islam themed colouring books for Ramadan and the negative reaction to this from some sharia critics.  Unfortunately, negative rhetoric sometimes results when people feel that their culture is being routinely discriminated against. Many people believe that Islam is being promoted while other religions are being undermined; the colouring book decision obviously touched this particular nerve.  This is the real issue and those that engage in promotions such as the one organised by Crayola should try to be sensitive to such feelings.

They should also, perhaps, do a bit more research before they begin similar promotions in future.  What immediately struck me about the Mother Jones article was that the image that was used to illustrate it may actually be regarded by many Sunni Muslims as un-Islamic.  This relates to the picture of the boy kneeling down happily reading his book (the Koran?).  The decision to include this particular image ignored the prohibition of Aniconism is Islam.  A Wikipedia article makes this basic point as follows:

“Aniconism in Islam is a proscription in Islam against the creation of images of sentient living beings. The most absolute proscription is of images of God in Islam, followed by depictions of Muhammad, and then Islamic prophets and the relatives of Muhammad, but the depiction of all humans and animals is discouraged in the hadith and by the long tradition of Islamic authorities, especially Sunni ones. This has led to Islamic art being dominated by Islamic geometric patterns, calligraphy and the barely representational foliage patterns of the arabesque…”[2]

The article in fact reminded me of another faux pas made by a school that changed the name of a play from the three little pigs to the three little puppies[3] without realising that dogs as well as pigs are haram in Islam.

Well-meaning but ill-informed people who blindly embrace political correctness often seem to know very little about the subjects on which they make judgements.  Similarly those who denounce sharia critics as somehow being “racist” often have a profound lack of knowledge themselves.  They seem to believe that feeling something in their heart makes that something so.  It is therefore ironic when “Islamophobes” are accused of lacking knowledge of Islam.  The website Unveiling Islamophobia provides the following introductory sentence in its misconceptions section:

“In many, if not all cases, Islamophobia is often fueled [sic] by a lack of knowledge of Islam itself.”[4]

This raises the question of who the real “Islamophobes” are.  Are they the sharia critics who have done extensive research or the politically correct pro sharia crowd who have not?

Crayola’s decision to create a themed colouring book for Ramadan is certainly not a problem as far as I am concerned.  In fact, concern for the freedom of artistic expression is what made me concerned about sharia in the first place.  I am in favour of Islamic artistic expression just as much as I am in favour of other forms.  However, Crayola should perhaps consider making themed colouring books available in relation to the festivals of other religions too.  Will Crayola be giving out free Christian themed colouring books at Christmas, Hindu themed ones at Diwali, or atheist themed ones on Richard Dawkin’s birthday?  By treating all religions and beliefs equally Crayola could be making its own unique contribution to inter-belief dialogue.  “Harmony through colour” (unless of course someone has already trademarked it) might be a good slogan to promote such a campaign.  After all, colour is the business of Crayola and colour is evident in many religious themes. [UPDATE: If Crayola have already done this then they are certainly worthy of positive recognition – if there are any such promotions then please link to them in the comments]

 

chartres-cathedralAbove: The colourful rose window at Chartres Cathedral showing colour in Christianity.

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Above: Interior of the Shrine of Hazrat Ali, Afghanistan showing colour in Islam

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Above: Diwali lanterns showing colour in Hinduism.

Islamic art is beautiful and unique and should be celebrated along with other art forms.  Sometimes the coming together of artistic traditions can create new and interesting results.  When Roger II conquered Islamic Sicily Muslims were tolerated and he had Muslims in his royal court:

“Roger II hosted at his court, among others, the famous geographer Muhammad al-Idrisi and the poet Muhammad ibn Zafar.”[5]

He also must have embraced the artistic skills of many of his new Muslim subjects judging by the eclectic artistic legacy that has been left behind.  On a visit to Monreale Cathedral near Palermo in Sicily I saw how Byzantine, Arab, and Norman artistic traditions came together seamlessly and enhanced one another is the same space.  In Monreale, pagan columns, Biblical pictorial scenes, and Islamic geometric patterns formed the artistic components of the cathedral.

Sharia critics are concerned about its impact on human rights not on the arts.  Islam has produced some wonderful works of art that should be cherished by all.  Those that suggest that sharia critics are against Islamic art are wrong.  Most sharia critics that I have met like beautiful things, after all, a world without beauty is a world without hope.

[Notes]

[1] Anti-Islam Activists Are Freaking Out About Crayons Now, Tim Murphy, Mother Jones, accessed on 2 November 2013, http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2013/07/anti-islam-activists-are-freaking-out-about-crayons-now

[2] Aniconism in Islam, Wikipedia, accessed on 2 November 2013, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aniconism_in_Islam

[3] Church school renames Three Little Pigs to avoid offending Muslims, Chris Brooke, Mail Online, accessed on 4 November, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-442555/Church-school-renames-Three-Little-Pigs-avoid-offending-Muslims.html

[4] Unveiling Islamophobia, Misconceptions section, accessed on 2 November 2013, http://unveiling-islamophobia.weebly.com/misconceptions.html

[5] Islam in Italy, Conquest of Sicily, Wikipedia, accessed on 2 November 2013, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islam_in_Italy#Conquest_of_Sicily