Woolwich…. is history repeating?


On the 9th of November 1938, Nazi leaders instigated a pogrom against the Jewish population and their property across German cities. The attack was a ‘retaliation’ for the murder of a German staff member in the Parisian German Embassy.  This man was killed by Herschel Grynszpan, a young man acting alone and out of anger for the expulsion of his Polish born parents from Germany. The retaliation lasted for days, cost 91 lives, synagogues and buildings were destroyed and the police and fire service intervened only to protect the property of the non-Jewish population. In the days following the attack approximately 30,000 Jews were rounded up and sent to concentration camps. Jews who had had nothing to do with the murder, who wanted to be left alone to live their lives, were attacked, rounded up, sent to concentration camps and murdered.

To add some context vis a vis the religious situation in Germany at the time, the Catholic Church in Germany had just emerged from the Kulterkampf put in place by Bismark, and as such their  loyalty was under question. The church stood accused of ultramontanism. Their status in Germany was settled only through the Concordat between Germany and the Vatican in 1933. Though it guaranteed the Catholic Church autonomy in Germany, it also demanded official Catholic silence on all anti semitic policies.  In short they were bound on a promise of non intervention made in advance (the moral being if a regime like the Nazi party asks you to make open ended promises of non-involvement and silence in advance in return for basic civil liberties, it’s very probably a bad idea. That said, silence in the face of atrocity appears to be something the Catholic church is rather good at…) Some even went so far as to support the newly rising Zionist movement alongside the nationalist groups which increased during the interwar years. Then, through the Protestant population, Nazism, found it’s ally and a route to power. To them to be German was to be Christian and the Jews represented a secular threat to Christianity. Christian apologists can scream until they’re blue in the face the misnomer that Hitler was an atheist, the German people were certainly not…

Got Mit Uns (God with Us)

German WW2 Belt Buckle

The anti-semitic legislation in place since the beginning of Nazi rule in Germany in 1933 did not only mean displacement, it meant loss of civil liberties, being barred from certain professions, barred from owning and running their own business. The universities had strict quotas on Jewish admissions which they could not exceed so he had no hope of self improvement.  At the same time the Nazi propaganda circulated blamed the Jews for all the nation’s troubles. They were called parasites and vipers. Legislation was brought in to beggar them and then the were pilloried for what the Nazis had made them. Young Herschel Grynszpan may have had some small justification for his act.

Popular intolerance had been promoted throughout the interwar years with papers, pamphlets, and church agitation reinforcing traditional prejudice all played their part in the rise of nationalism. The extreme right was embroiled in rivalry between the center right, weak leadership at the center of power, combined with the  acculturation of the Jews despite the economic decline of Germany, their decisiveness as a group, the failure of zionism (at this point, the British were severely limiting all Jewish emigration to Palestine) to provide any meaningful or sustainable solutions to the ‘Jewish question’ symbolises the mean situation of Eastern central Europe in the interwar years (1918-33), up to the beginning of Nazi rule and beyond.


On  May 22 2013, two young men, one recent a convert to Islam, set upon a 20 year old British soldier, brutally killing him with a meat cleaver in revenge for his part in the conflict in Afghanistan. They believed that Islam was under attack from non-Muslim powers. Since this brutal and utterly unwarranted attack, mosques have been attacked, the Daily mail has been printing its standard fare of anti-islam and anti-immigrant (anti anyone who isn’t rich, white, christian… well, them really) tosh, and even Radio 4’s ‘Any Answers’ had it’s share of right-wing ramblers on demanding that non-white and non-christians be deported. I was disgusted.

These young men (like the brothers in Boston) radicalised themselves through viewing online videos of radical preachers who have twisted their view to suit the agenda. The one that gives them the best possible chance of influence.  Since they [the preachers] were unable to gain credibility off their own merit, they are happy to recruit from a supply of vulnerable young men, who are equally happy to see others as a maleficent influence, deliberately ‘keeping them down’. These preachers feed the vulnerable the easy answers that will get them onside and listening. They promulgate an ideology so far from the truth of either reality or their actual religion that it’s virtually unrecognisable to the majority of British Mulsims.  These loose canons and lunatic mal-contents manage to convince others that they are under attack and must defend their faith with as much force as possible: in short, terrorise the majority until they submit and convert. They are one trick ponies who love to think that Islam in general is undergoing the same ordeal as the Jews in wartime. They are not.  Not in the west

What do the crimes have in common?

Both victims were military personnel but neither victim, past or present, had any part in the decision making process of their respective government. They were both killed by young men radicalised by a sense of victimhood: one justified (the victimhood, not the murder).  In the case of the Nazi staff member, he was JUST following orders as Germany was not a member of the Geneva convention, so even if he had been involved (and as he was not a diplomat or official, we have no reason to believe he was), he was not protected by the convention should he have disobeyed an order. This is not to say that this historical murder was justified, merely that his killer was a disenfranchised young man: a Jew who had witnessed his own parents ejected from their homes and the country they knew and loved. They had not been killed but this was a group of people whose existence really was under threat.

The murderer of the soldier and young father by these young men, had no ties to Afghanistan other than a religion in common. They had not seen their rights curtailed, nor businesses ruined, their existence threatened.  They had not been barred from further education or the professions, they had not been attacked and persecuted by the state… Their attack was ‘revenge against ‘the British’ for the deaths of muslims overseas. These ‘deaths’  (not denying there are any) were the ‘everyone knows‘ deaths referred to by demagogues without an argument

Satirical dialog moment:

Demagogue: “refer to a few deaths here, mate”…

Trainee “why?”…

Demagogue: “cos it really draws in the crowd, plus nobody argues about “deaths'”


History is only repeating itself insofar as the reactions to both murders were grossly out of proportion. Britain is not the relatively new state Germany was in 1933 (only unified as a nation state since 1870), and nor has Britain had it’s economy smashed by a punitive non-aggression treaty (whole other post). We can thank the bankers for that… The historic actions of a nation under a fascist totalitarian state is in no way comparable to what is going on today in Britain, or with the majority of our overseas action. The recent MoD balls-up is a subject for another time. This is not to say persecution is a thing of the last century either: for example Israel’s occupation of Palestine is a disgraceful act. Israel are no longer a nation of displaced persons, they have become the aggressors in an illegal conflict (yet another post) and their history does not justify their behaviour. Nor should the comparison with the Holocaust  just be bandied about the moment a group is feeling picked on as so many love to do but this seems a more typical trait of American evangelists, who claim that Christianity (their version) is under siege.

News flash: this is not new, the 17th century settlers felt ‘picked on (they weren’t allowed to persecute Catholics anymore) and under threat , its why they moved there. It has gone on so long that the idea of Christianity under threat has merged with the evangelical mission to convert followers (provided motivation) It downgrades what the actual victims of that hellish time went through, and insults the real victims when, for example, a spoiled and pampered ‘news’-doll for Fox can score a few cheap sympathy points with the idiots staring at their legs, bums, and boobs. There is only one conflict which even comes close to the actual holocaust and even that was mostly politically driven: the first and second Boer wars, where the Boers were rounded up into camps etc… by the British (Read Thomas Packenham -‘ The Scramble for Africa’ and ‘The Boer War’) (oh look another idea for a post).

What is it the right wing groups picked up on in Woolwich? The groups as equally maniacal as the preachers they deplore? They pick up on the inferences spread by the right-wing hack rags and then act on them. The EDL  added 2 and 2 and made 17, and then good people who had nothing what happened in Woolwich were attacked for being Muslims. To my international readers, the English Defense League are a source of national embarrassment. They are not representative of the population as a whole, no matter how much they would like people to think they are. What else is happening in response to a gruesome murder committed by two people, acting alone? A Conservative government suggesting they reconsider the monitoring of everyone’s individual internet browsing habits… in short, the thought police want to know what people are reading/and watching just in case… Just how they plan to operate this scheme after they have been letting public sector workers go in their thousands is beyond me.  It would probably be privately outsourced… the Tories just love doing that.

If we just ignore the ‘swivel-eyed’ loons of the extreme (insert fringe group of nutters) there is very real a danger that history will repeat itself. Pretending its not happening is not a solution which is why people like me speak out the way we do. Sometimes the nutters need to be mocked and pointed at, just so the rest of the world is aware of the danger they pose to us all.  If we are vigilant and make sure people are equipped with the skills of reason and critical thinking from an early age, we may avoid another Woolwich tragedy.  The Pope’s ‘atheists aren’t so bad’ speech and the invitation for tea (see, TEA is the answer), biscuits and football, from a Mosque in York to the wider community in front of, and inclusive to EDL supporters was a brave and positive step toward peaceful coexistence. I hope to see more of the same.  Considering the reactions of the last week though, I fear there is more conflict on its way before we see any real improvement.

Secularism Is the Way Forward.

Over the years the meaning of the word Secularism has become confused and misunderstood. As well as changing its meaning, and being open to interpretation in different ways, the word has also been deliberately misrepresented by some religious interests who fear the influence of secularism on privileges that they have enjoyed for centuries and taken for granted.  Certain religious organisations (and some humanists) have pleaded for something variously called healthy secularism or state neutrality, that appears to be meant to justify all of them getting handouts from the state for the mere merit of existing at all. They reject as ‘radical secularism’ any attempt to get them to pay their own way.

Richard Gilyead, letter to The Guardian:
“Tony Blair and Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor deliberately conflate secularism with atheism. Atheism is lack of belief in gods. Secularism is a belief in equality in politics, education and law, regardless of religious belief. So when they refer to militant secularism and aggressive secularism, respectively, then they are implying that such equality of treatment is a bad thing.

Firstly, to clerics who try to conflate secularism with atheism, the two are not the same thing.  Atheism is the lack of belief in god or gods.  Secularism means quite literally the separation of church and state.  It does not mean to forbid or marginalise religious beliefs, only that it protects people who do not share those beliefs from having those ‘moral’ codes and rules forced upon them.  The concern of secularism is to protect the rights of the individual against the imposition of a religious organisation within society so that they are dealt with on an equal basis.

National Secular Society

  • The National Secular Society affirms that this life is the only one of which we have any knowledge and human effort should be directed wholly towards its improvement. It asserts that supernaturalism is based upon ignorance and assails it as the historic enemy of progress.
  • They affirm that progress is possible only on the basis of equal freedom of speech and publication; that the free criticism of institutions and ideas is essential to a civilised state.
  • Affirming that morality is social in origin and application, the National Secular Society aims to promote the happiness and well-being of humanity.
  • They demand the complete separation of Church and State and the abolition of all privileges granted to religious organisations.
  • It seeks to spread education, to promote the friendship of all people as a means of advancing universal peace to further common cultural interests and to develop the freedom and dignity of humanity.

The word secularism was coined by the British writer George Holyoake in 1846.  George Holyoake (1817-1906) was the last person in England to be imprisoned in 1842 for being an atheist (The law against blasphemy was strict in Victorian Britain.). He was jailed for 6 months for a speech which included the line:

“For myself, I flee the Bible as a viper, and revolt at the touch of a Christian.”

The 19th century saw a serious campaign against the Churches by the secularist movement.  A powerful, but rather unexpected attack on Christianity came from a group of people, including the writer George Eliot, who thought that Christianity was immoral. According to the doctrine of original sin, God was prepared to punish people for a wrong that was not their fault, and the evil that He created in them, just because they were human beings. What sort of God was it, they wondered, who then decided to let us off this unfair punishment because he had punished his son instead of us?

“I would sooner perish for ever than stoop down before a Being who may have power to crush me, but whom my heart forbids me to reverence.” – James Froude, 1849

Their particular target was the state church, the Church of England, which was highly privileged (and still is).  The Church was founded in 1534 by King Henry VIII when England separated from Rome.  The Church of England traces its roots back to the early church, but it’s specifically Anglican identity and its links to the State date back to the Reformation.

  • Until 1828 no-one could hold a public office without signing up to the beliefs of the Church.
  • Until 1836 only Church of England ministers could conduct marriages.
  • Until 1871 only members of the Church of England could teach at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. (Both of which have been bogged down by the intrusion of monarchy with Henry VIII, and church interference for centuries.  It was not until Prince Albert was elected Chancellor of Cambridge, that the University began to focus on more practical subjects.)

The Church of England still has a law-making role in Britain. Twenty-six bishops (including the two Archbishops) sit UNELECTED in the House of Lords and are known as the Lords Spiritual. They are thought (but only by believers and those who believe in belief) to bring a religious ethos to the secular process of law. However, in an increasingly multi-cultural society, questions are being asked as to whether that role needs to be specifically fulfilled by Church of England Bishops. Future reform of the House of Lords could see the Lords Spiritual made up of a variety of Christian denominations and other faiths to reflect the religious make-up of Britain.  What about non-believers and Atheists?  Come on people, this is the 21st CE!!!

Most histories of atheism choose the Greek and Roman philosophers Epicurus, Democritus, and Lucretius as the first atheist writers. While these writers certainly changed the idea of God, they didn’t entirely deny that gods could exist.  In 1877 Bradlaugh and Annie Besant were prosecuted for publishing a book containing birth control information, The Fruits of Philosophy by the American doctor, Charles Knowlton. In the twentieth century the NSS campaigned against the BBC’s excessive use of religion and for disestablishment and the abolition of religious education.

The French Republic has always recognised individuals, rather than groups: a French citizen owes allegiance to the nation, and has no officially sanctioned ethnic or religious identity. This view of citizenship is fundamentally non-discriminatory and inclusive.

“Secularists oppose religion or the religious being afforded privileges, which – put another way – means others are disadvantaged. [Religious secularists] don’t think that belief is a reason for [their own] special treatment.” BBC Online – Secularism

Charles Bradlaugh

Bradlaugh (1833-1891) was one of the most prominent of the Victorian atheists. He edited the National Reformer, which itself was prosecuted for blasphemy, and in 1866 was one of the founders of the National Secular Society.  He championed unpopular causes like birth control, republicanism, atheism, reform, peace and anti-imperialism. His views placed him in conflict with powerful interests, institutions and people, but most of his arguments have since been vindicated.

Bradlaugh was elected to Parliament in 1880, but was not allowed to take his seat because he would not swear a religious oath but wanted to affirm. He was re-elected several times over five years, but did not take his seat until 1886.  Between 1880 and 1886 Bradlaugh fought for the right of non-believers to sit in the House of Commons. His act of 1888 established the legal right to affirm a Parliamentary oath rather than swear on a Bible. When he eventually took his seat he became Britain’s first openly atheist member of Parliament.


Cambridge University

to the Institute of Continuing Education

Cambridge is one of the world’s oldest universities.  The University has always had strong ties with the church; in 1086 the town was an important trading post with substantial residential property and a successful commercial economy.  Since before 1112, cannons in the church of St Giles and the convent of St Radegund was completed in 1135 but the site later became Jesus College.  Two hospitals existed in Cambridge.  One was specifically for the treatment of lepers and the other was for paupers.  The latter was taken over to become St John’s college.

St John's College. Bridge of Sighs

St John's College. Bridge of Sighs

In 1209 scholars fleeing Oxford took refuge in Cambridge and eventually settled.  Henry III, in 1213, took those students under his protection from the townsfolk who were known to over charge them for food and board but also decreed that only students under the tuition of a recognised master were permitted to stay in the town due to a spate of public disturbances. By 1226 they were numerous enough to have formed an organisation, represented by a Chancellor, and have devised official courses of study. The medieval University was even more established. Ceremonies and faculties were overseen by Bedells (pronounced bee-dell) while the treasures and books were attended by a Chaplain.  By the 16 CE, a registrar was needed to administer matriculations, admissions and the decisions of the Masters, and an Official Orator wrote ceremonial letters and addresses.  Most of these offices are now purely ceremonial and no longer hold any official authority.

King's College Chapel.  View from the Backs

King's College Chapel, Cambridge. View from the Backs

Most of the places held at Cambridge were held by either clerks or clergymen in some form of holy orders and expecting to enter careers in the Church or Civil service.  In order to obtain the support they needed during their years of study, students were required to look to the church but were first subject to the scrutiny of the local ecclesiastic authority. Before the end of the 15th CE they had managed to free themselves from this and were independent of authority with the exception of the pope.   The Chancellor was then elevated to the position of an ecclesiastical judge with jurisdiction over all cases involving discipline and proving the wills of both students and masters alike.  He also provided a secular court which would convene to hear civil and criminal cases with the exception of major crimes.

Oliver Cromwell

The crown aided the independence of the university by granting it the power to prosecute market profiteers; a move which continued to be a source of contention until the 19th century.  In 1381 there was a series of attacks on the university and it’s residents (in a largely ‘Christian’ society no less). Cambridge was given the right to prosecute those caught falsifying weights and measures, endangering public health by tampering with food and drink, interruption the supply of fresh water and those wilfully introducing infection in times of plague. Even now the University retains rights over licensing and policing.

Buildings, Lives and Legacies. A Celebration of Cambridge University

In the 16th CE Henry VIII founded Trinity College by merging the houses, King’s Hall and Michael House. Goville Hall was enlarged; Emmanuel absorbed the Dominican site; Sidney Sussex of the Franciscans and Magdalene absorbed the Benedictine house known as Buckingham College. All of these were concerned with training new ecclesiastic priests and clerics in the new National Church.   In 1536, the King suppressed the faculty of Canon Law and forbade scholastic philosophy.  This laid the path for Mathematics, Latin studies and Biblical Studies, and an education which was out of the reach to most of the population.    The statutes of 1570 ensured the continuation of the university’s concentration on churning out future leaders (The same people who directly benefited from the power and influence of having THEIR religion be the central authority of everyone’s life so they could both rule the people and live off their efforts.) of the Church of England.  Henry VIII endowed the university with five professorships; Divinity, Hebrew, Greek, Physic (purgative medicine; stimulates evacuation of the bowels) & civil law. Royal influence and pressure the Privy (private) Council continued into the 18th CE.

A sunset of King's College

The Church controlled university was given a license to print and publish works of which it IT approved in 1534 but it was 50 years until this right became fully exercised.  In the 1690s allowed the University, in conjunction with Oxford, to exploit their monopoly on Bible printing as well as producing the printed works required for its courses.  Despite the provision for natural sciences and arts, from the late 17th century, mathematics came to dominate studies in Cambridge, and eventually ‘the Tripos’ came to mean the examination in mathematics.  The University Library had expanded with the rest of the University during the later seventeenth century, and after the gift by George I of the manuscripts and books of Bishop John Moore, it outgrew its original quarters in the Old Schools.

Trinity College, main gate

Trinity College, main gate

Despite these developments, there was in the first half of the nineteenth century a continued call for change and reform in the University, which in part reflected the political movements of the country as a whole. The election as Chancellor of Prince Albert the Prince Consort in 1847 is an indication of the strength of the movement for reform, and in 1850 a Royal Commission was appointed to inquire into the two ancient universities of Oxford and Cambridge.  The Commission’s report resulted in the promulgation of new Statutes for Cambridge in the Cambridge University Act of 1856. These Statutes have been much revised since their first appearance, but the form of government which they embodied has remained as a framework. The ultimate authority in the University was at first the Senate, the whole body of graduates, together with the Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, and doctors.

Sir Isaac Newton

The natural sciences and moral sciences (now philosophical) Triposes were approved as early as 1851, and before 1900 Triposes in law, history, theology, Indian languages, Semitic (later oriental) languages, medieval and modern (European) languages, and mechanical sciences (later engineering) were all established. To develop these new branches of learning a number of new or remodelled professorships were established by the University and by private benefactors, the earliest being the Disney Professorship of archaeology in 1851.

Sidney Sussex College. View from Sidney Street

Sidney Sussex College. View from Sidney Street

‘Extension lectures’ in provincial centres were an important feature of University activities in the late nineteenth century. They were often associated with attempts to provide professional teaching and examinations for girls through the local examinations for schools provided by the University in conjunction with Oxford.  Training courses for male graduate teachers began in Cambridge at much the same time, but perhaps the most far-reaching effect of the movement was the establishment at Cambridge of two Colleges for women students (Girton in 1869 and Newnham in 1872). From the first, these Colleges aimed to prepare their students for the Tripos, and the first women were in fact examined in 1882. Attempts to make women full members of the University were repeatedly defeated until 1947.

St John's College. New library, 1994

St John's College. New library, 1994

In the First World War (1914-19), 13,878 members of the University served and 2,470 were killed. Teaching, and the fees it earned, came almost to a stop and severe financial difficulties followed. As a consequence the University first received systematic state support in 1919, conditional upon a further inquiry into its resources and organisation, and a Royal Commission appointed in 1920 recommended that the University (but not the Colleges) should receive an annual grant, and should be reorganised so as to take over responsibility for lectures and practical teaching. The Colleges retained control of individual teaching of their students and this division of responsibility continues today.


Oxford University

From its early days, Oxford was a centre for lively controversy, with scholars involved in religious and political disputes.  The first hand-written English language Bible manuscripts were produced in the 1380’s AD by John Wycliffe, an Oxford professor, scholar, and theologian and against the explicit instructions from Rome, not to.  In the 1490’s another Oxford professor, and the personal physician to King Henry the 7th and 8thThomas Linacre, decided to learn Greek. After reading the Gospels in Greek, and comparing it to the Latin Vulgate, he wrote in his diary, “Either this (the original Greek) is not the Gospel… or we are not Christians.”.  In 1496, John Colet, another Oxford professor and the son of the Mayor of London, started reading the New Testament in Greek and translating it into English for his students at Oxford, and later for the public at Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London.

The people were so hungry to hear the Word of God in a language they could actually understand (but still couldn’t read), that within six months there were 20,000 people packed in the church and at least that many outside trying to get in!  The 1516 Greek-Latin New Testament of Erasmus further focused attention on just how corrupt and inaccurate the Latin Vulgate had become, and how important it was to go back and use the original Greek (New Testament) and original Hebrew (Old Testament) languages to maintain accuracy.  No sympathy for this “illegal activity” (Any translation from Latin) was to be found from Rome… even as the words of Pope Leo X‘s declaration that “the fable of Christ was quite profitable to him” continued through the years to infuriate the people of God.

In the 13th century, rioting between town and gown (townspeople and students) hastened the establishment of primitive halls of residence. These were succeeded by the first of Oxford’s colleges, which began as medieval ‘halls of residence’ or endowed houses under the supervision of a Master. University, Balliol and Merton Colleges, which were established between 1249 and 1264, are the oldest.  Less than a century later, Oxford had achieved eminence above every other seat of learning, and won the praises of popes, kings and sages by virtue of its antiquity, curriculum, doctrine and privileges. In 1355, Edward III paid tribute to the University for its invaluable contribution to learning; he also commented on the services rendered to the state by distinguished Oxford graduates.

In 1530, Henry VIII forced the University to accept his divorce from Catherine of Aragon, and during the Reformation in the 16th century, the Anglican churchmen Cranmer, Latimer and Ridley were tried for heresy and burnt at the stake in Oxford.  The University was Royalist in the Civil War, and Charles I held a counter-Parliament in Convocation House, and in the late 17th century, the Oxford philosopher John Locke, suspected of treason, was forced to flee the country.  The University assumed a leading role in the Victorian era, especially in religious controversy. From 1833 onwards The Oxford Movement sought to revitalise the Catholic aspects of the Anglican Church and in 1860 the new University Museum was the scene of a famous debate between Thomas Huxley, champion of evolution, and Bishop Wilberforce.

From 1878, academic halls were established for women and they were admitted to full membership of the University in 1920. Five all-male colleges first admitted women in 1974 and, since then, all colleges have changed their statutes to admit both women and men. During the 20th and early 21st centuries, Oxford added to its humanistic core a major new (remind me again when Darwin published Origin of Species? Oh yes, 1861 so hardly a ‘new’ science.) research capacity in the natural and applied sciences, including medicine. In so doing, it has enhanced and strengthened its traditional role as an international focus for learning and a forum for intellectual debate.


The less influence and authority granted to the church over matters of higher education and laws concerning blasphemy and civil rights, the further forward we have managed to progress both in science and society. No longer are ordinary people socially expected to trot along to Sunday services to nod and agree with every word a speaker bellows at them in a language they cannot understand, let alone read for themselves.  The time that the church has had authority over us is long past expired.  It is not surprising that they are unhappy about it, when you consider the grandeur and prominence which their church given (NOT God-given)and self-assumed authority magically entitled them too.  Due to the heavy mental shackles and religious bullying hampering our progress as a species, it has taken us centuries just to get where we are today and we have had to fight every step of the way against walls of superstitions dogma and greedy power grasping.

As education was made available and eventually free and compulsory to the masses, and unhindered scientific research has provided us with solid and testable answers, religion has had to work harder and harder to not only to explain their nonsensical mythology, but to justify their artificially exalted social positions.  The time has come to look the pushy believers and the church squarely in eye and tell them very firmly that we do NOT recognise their authority over us and will no longer tolerate their bullying and public tantrums over their rightfully waning authority.



A New European Pogrom?

French police evacuate a Roma family in Villeneuve-d'Ascq, near Lille

A very moving article in The Independent this morning details a small portion of the history of the Roma people in Europe and some of what is going on in France and Italy.  It is well worth mentioning the vitriol and venom expressed within the Disqus comment thread.  Some were nothing short of outright racism and I was even accused of “reverse-racism” by one John Standing for apparently not caring about ‘The English’ and not sharing their white-supremacist views.   I am ashamed to show some of my international readers the hateful nature expressed by some of my fellow countrymen, comrades, I really am. Unfortunately it would be the height of dishonesty to hide it.  I will leave the comment thread to the end as it really would be wrong to take it out of context.

A group of northern councils in the firing line for public spending cuts has won funding to help Roma communities integrate in Europe.

Leeds, Wakefield and a partnership of other Yorkshire authorities will lead the £1m European Union-funded project, which also involves cities in Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary, Italy and Spain.

This coming Thursday will mark the next steps in a move to forcibly integrate the Roma population.  The Council of Europe, a group of academics, government advisers and Roma representatives, will be discussing their media-and-PR-friendly project entitled “The Decade of integration 2005 to 2015“.  The idea behind this is apparently to improve their socio-economic standards of living and will entail Romany representatives all over Europe being paraded in museums and displayed like artefacts to talk about their culture to alleviate our fears.  Does this seem to you as it does to me, like blaming them for the prejudices of the majority which have been vastly amplified by media hype and political vote-winning hyperbole?  This initiative is understandably very low key and low funded but now that the French president, Mr Sarkozy, (who is in very real danger of losing the next election) has joined with Silvio Burlusconi in a sickening plan to eject the Romany people from their respective countries of residence.  They would have us all believe that they are a grave security threat but by trying to make us believe this, they betray their own prejudices.

Dictionary definition of the word ‘Gypsy’

  • itinerant: a laborer who moves from place to place as demanded by employment; “itinerant traders”
  • a member of a people with dark skin and hair who speak Romany and who traditionally live by seasonal work and fortunetelling; they are believed to have originated in northern India but now are living on all continents (but mostly in Europe, North Africa, and North America)
  • Romany: the Indic language of the Gypsies

It began in Italy, where the descriptive noun ‘Gypsy’ has been deemed to be synonymous with ‘Criminal’.  Since the 15th century, Gypsies from the Balkans have been emigrating into Italy and the estimated population is now 180,000.  Many are believed to have been sedentary for centuries.  These are people with their own language and heritage and who are the rest of Europe to say that they have no right to their lifestyle even if they had chosen it? We did it to the native Americans when we stole their land and forced them onto ‘reservations’.  We did the same again to the Australian Aboriginals.  We should, as Europeans, take pains to not allow history to continue on this loop of repetition.

When Romania entered the EU in January 2007, it’s citizenry were given relative freedom of movement around Europe.  It resulted in vast influx of immigration into Italy and a panicked realisation that they were entitled to be there.  The Romany people are but a tiny fraction of this.  The majority of Romany people in Europe are settled and contributing members of society but Burlusconi and Sarkozy will put an end to the progress they have made by ejecting them from France and Italy on the basis of a single principal; they are Roma.  In Communist Yugoslavia, education was compulsory for all including the Roma. The Romany who were educated were then able to get jobs and improve their lives without the artificial stigma of their heritage barring them from a settled life.  In Romania they were enslaved through much of the 19th century and in Italy, they remain the marginalised and easy polemic scapegoat for the country’s social problems.

During the conflict in Bosnia Italy refused to recognise a people with a nomadic history as refugees and rather than help them to reintegrate, they forced them back into being an itinerant people by making them live in camps and continual notification to quit.  Is it any wonder then, that they bear those who have foisted that lifestyle upon them any resentment?  Italy has not allowed them to integrate and therefore it is morally wrong for them to condemn the Romany for not doing so.  The land that these camps are placed on is little more than wasteland and to pretend magnanimity by ‘allowing‘ them to stop there is dishonest to say the least.

The city of Rome did nothing to prevent unauthorised camps (of refugees they had refused to help) from appearing, beggars on the subway, strangers raiding bins, and unlicensed windscreen cleaners and the authorities seemed content to let them struggle in poverty.  When, in November 2007, a wife of a naval captain was mugged and murdered in a dark lane, a Romany gypsy was the ‘suspected culprit’ so the mayor ordered the demolition of all unofficial camps and brought in a law calling for the expulsion of any and all foreigners who he deemed a security risk.  Mr Veltroni is a hypocrit.  He claims to be on the side of the weak and deems the weak to be those who suffer.  By that reasoning he should be PROTECTING and ASSISTING  the Romany inhabitants and not persecuting them further with a populist cure-all to win votes on polling day.  It will not solve the country’s problems but exacerbate them, and when the Italian and French authorities realise this they will no doubt be looking around for yet another minority group to pile all their woes onto and send out into the desert.

Their intent is to make Via Idro a transit camp with a maximum stay allowance of three months. ALL of the residents have been given notice to quit so the may move the Romanians in and close the much worse informal camps.  Moving one problem out to make room for another?  Isn’t that what the Nazi’s did in their concentration camps to make room for each new shipment of their ‘stock’?  I’m sure you’ll pardon me for noting the similarity, but ignoring it will not simply make it go away.  What the Presidents of France and Italy are doing is deeply and morally wrong and they cannot be allowed to get away with it.  After an outbreak of violence, the inmates of the Romanian camp were sworn to a pact of “sociality and legality” if they wished to stay.  This meant they were offered the ‘choice’ between a promise to refrain from stealing and begging, and from having overnight house-guests, or to be moved on yet again.  Yes, they were all assumed to be naturally corrupt and the authorities even went so far as to dictate how they should socialise.  What they were offered was not a choice but an ultimatum and they are being treated as prisoners held under erroneous charges, with neither hope of parole nor release or, indeed, any fair opportunity to improve their own lives and this should NOT be happening  in the 21st century.

Are we ever going to learn that when a minority is forced to scrape a living on the outskirts of society as the Roma people have, that is where they will stay?  It is equally wrong to deprive them of the choices we all expect as our due.  Barring them from any form of settled life is NOT the same as natural economic or human competition.  The key-word here is people and we are talking about an individuals right to not be forced to live on a scrap of waste land because those of us who chose to live a ‘normal’ life have an irrational fear of those they have little or no understanding.  To label every person of Romany heritage as naturally immoral is no better than claiming that those of us with blonde hair and blue eyes is a Nazi, simply because somebody else many decades ago had some twisted irrational idea of a ‘master-race’.  Maybe they do have members of their clans that steal but so does every other nationality and they need to be aware that among those they demonise as ‘naturally criminal’ are children and infants.

And here we are at the Comments.  61-90 on an ‘oldest first’ filter is where you can find my comments. This is the one I replied to from John Standing, but by no means the worst of them.  He was busy attacking someone else for basic human decency when I was so rude as to question his own motivation.

John Standing

You are not “human and decent”. You are selfish and you don’t care about other people at all.

If you don’t know what altruism is, I suggest you check it out. Add the word “competitive” to it, while you are at it.

I don’t think that my reply was particularly harsh but I had some questions that he is yet to answer.

Does telling yourself that decent humane behaviour toward other people who are otherwise strangers is abnormal help you ease your own conscience and justify your ill-informed prejudices?

We know what altruism is and most of us don’t need to make a conscious effort not to be sociopathic monsters only out for ourselves. What your idea of ‘self-loathing’ implies is that not putting ourselves at the forefront of our ambitions is abnormal behaviour. There is no such thing as pure altruism as this defies any instinct for our own survival, but what you decry as “acts of out-group altruism” is actually a call to discontinue the dehumanising of these people. These people have been confined to camps and treated as criminals on the basis of ‘race’. They have already been subjected to centuries of harassment and persecution. What you are implying is that the discontinuation of this and the cessation of forcing an entire demographic into the same nomadic lifestyle that has, in many cases, been the source of a culture of distrust of them, is not only wrong, but selfish. It is my experience that the truly selfish often try to scapegoat their problems and mistakes rather than face up to their own part in it and find a REAL solution.

That, Mr Standing, is a disgusting and selfish attitude. I sincerely hope that you reconsider your out-moded ideas and join the rest of us in the 21st century.

I received this reply.


There is no cost that you would not ask Europeans to pay so you can cleave to your idiotic illusions of goodness and decency.  You do not care whether the English survive into the 21st Century.  But you care about the Yamomani.  You do not care about the degradation of the English working class.  But you care about black education and black employment opportunity.  You do not care about the preservation of our cultural institutions such as freedom of speech and association, and even marriage and the family.  But you care about Tibetans and Palestinians.

I find you totally repugnant and anti-human, and your assumption of moral supremacy, while characteristic in the extreme, to be really a mental disease.

Link to comment: http://disq.us/o0rbq

Nice huh?


Firstly don’t presume to know me. Secondly these people have no desire to be looked after and have traditionally been either self sufficient or taken local jobs and moved on only when there was no work. For your info, I am very happily married and stay at home mum, so your assumption about my disregard for ‘family’ is just as erroneous as the rest of the utter garbage you have be spouting on this thread. You are a very good example of what the rest of us should strive hard not to become.

Secondly, don’t project your sickening racism on to the rest of us. You seem proud of your deep-seated prejudices which is all the more worrying. I refuse to get involved in an argument with a white-supremacist, fascist, bully. Nor will I get into a discussion with a close minded bigoted moral-reprobate who seems to delight in deprecating those who do not share your illusory nationalistic pride.

This is where the comments stopped.  I think he went off to pick on an easier target.