Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Baby P- Time for complete judicial supervision?

Five years ago I was assisting a senior member of the judiciary of the Court of Appeal during a seminal case of infant/child abuse before our courts, termed Re S Re W (see weblink). That case concerned the possibility of an implied power to courts to force children into care where there was a risk of abuse. This power would come from the right to life in the European Convention of Human Rights. The powers for judges to interpret laws according to the European Convention are derived from s.3 of the Human Rights Act. Thus the Children's Act and other related legislation could be interpretated to incorporate a principle of protecting the right of life for the child. The House of Lords rejected this approach on the grounds of judicial law-making, and taking the powers under the Human Rights Act to interpret statutes too far. However, the gap in judicial supervision of chidren and infants who suffer abuse was left unremedied by the Parliamentary process.

Prior to becoming a High Court judge, the judge had chaired a public inquiry on child abuse in 1989. The inquiry concerned the death of Tyra Henry who had died whilst under the care of Lambeth Council in 1988. Tyra had suffered physical asssault at the hands of her father. There was a distinct and continuous pattern of abuse that care-workers had become aware of. Everytime her parents met she would be beaten by her father. Though the social services and relevant care workers were aware of the relationship between her mother's meetings with her father and the violence, nothing was done. Eventually, she was killed by a physical assault by her father. There was no legal avenue available then, as there is not one now, for the doctors and care workers to refer such cases to a court for consideration. This would allow the court to prevent, insuch cases, the child from being present when the father would see the mother, by placing the child into emergency care. If a Court could have been seised by reference of the social workers or doctors and the judge had the power to grant an exclusionary order backed up by an imprisonable offence to contain the father, then such an abuse would have been prevented. Currently judges in the family courts have no power to order parents from seeing their own children or hear a reference by doctors or social workers as to the risk to a child. If any reform to prevent the Baby P scenario occuring again is made, such powers ought to be given to judges in those reforms. The reforms must include powers of reference to doctors and social workers who see the child.

There are several cases of previous child abuse that come to mind where such a proposal would be effective. Victoria Climbie's case resulted in several reforms brought in to the existing information network to do with recognising child abuse, but no real effective provisions as to how that information would be used. The public outrage at her death led to a public inquiry which produced major changes in child protection policies in the United Kingdom, including the formation of the Every Child Matters programme; the introduction of the Children Act 2004; the creation of the ContactPoint project, a planned government database that will hold information on all children in England and Wales; and the creation of the Office of the Children's Commissioner chaired by the Children's Commissioner. These were reforms, but they were reforms relating to information collection on the status of the welfare of children but none of these bodies has the power to step in and protect the child abused by an adult to the point where its very life is at risk. The EveryChildMatters programme is concerned with the general upbringing of the child, such as sports and other leisure activities and does not specifically cater for child abuse. Suprisingly, if not shockingly the Children's Act 2004 did not remedy the problem of compelling authorities to force children at high risk, those, for example, with visible marks that can be medically attributed to abuse, into care to protect their lives and for their general psychological well-being. This shocking omission led to the dithering concerning Baby P. Afterall social services will go around in circles if they cannot activiely get the law on their side to compel action. The real fault lies with the Labour Government for its ineffective and superficial response via the post Climbie measures.

The proposal of change here would allow doctors to be able to report such faults to an independent abuse or child officer to the family court. Such an officer needs to be set-up by legislation that in turn can be used by the judge to hold an investigation of his own motion. A radical step would be a list of short-term care homes or a list of families that are willing to take in the child until the court deems the risk of abuse is less, or the child is not a 'high risk' case. These will be social services approved, and then checked by the court for appropriateness prior to granting the order.

The UK has one of the most atrocious records for child abuse according to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child, in the world. Those that oppose such an interventionist approach often couch it in terms of an unnecessary intrusion into family life. But what family life? Can a child or infant in such a position of continously suffering violence really be said to have a family life? Or is the closer reality that the level of neglect is such that the Government has failed completely to protect the most vulnerable? We need to grow up on this issue and realise that such a proposal is not as drastic as it seems. It does not mean that parents who smack their children will loose them for a short-period. The power compelled by the court would be in extreme circumstances where there is a real and significant risk to the life of the child, and nothing short will suffice. Courts make decisions on life and death cases at present, and thus have the competence to do so. A recent example was a granting of an order to let hospitals operate on siamese twins, where one baby would no doubt lose its life but barring the intervention both would. This would be within our history of protecting children, we were one of the first countries in the world that outlawed child labour. Where life and suffering of the weak and innocent are concerned, and where those weak and innocent are children such a proposal should be pursued. It is not extreme but one that puts children who suffer from such appalling cowardly conduct out of harm. No civilised state should stand idly by and let the status-quo continue.

APG Pandya

(Copyright Birkenhead Society)

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Sharia law- On the road to madness?

Interesting to see the piece on Stephen Hockman QC's views on Sharia law (as below, though it was the Birkenhead Society and not Islam4UK that organised the debate). Currently Sharia law is applied by lay tribunals for certain commercial and family disputes. Contrary to Stephen Hockmann QC's view that full sharia law needs to be brought in to prevent alienation of Moslems, there is a strong case to be made that its inclusion would have exactly the opposite effect. Its inclusion would lead to further fragmentation of the law and, in turn, a lack of social cohesion. This is because we would be enforcing and exacerbating the differences between communities by creating different laws for different people. This would further unedify the idea of nationhood and the importance of having a singular identity which is currently provided by having one law of the land.

A singular system of law protects a singular system of values, despite differences in view as to what some of those values might be. In a our democracy once one value is chosen through the political process it is the value we all adhere by. A simple example of this would be the making certain forms of fox-hunting illegal. Different systems of law would make enforcing the disparate systems extremely difficult, and would undermine the great values associated with traditional British democracy. It would also undermine the working of the Parliamentary process, that has a monopoly over the law where rule-making is done through debate and discussion. It would allow other
law-making processes to take place, and taken to the extreme, permit an oppressive law-making regime to function freely in a separate community or a separate part of the country.

The importance of having a singular law to govern people of differing races, cultures, and religions is vital to the functioning of any society, such as Britain, that values pluralism, the freedom of ideas and toleration. It is also important in providing social cohesion where there are peoples from varying backgrounds and culture, and to promote extra-ordinary values of the great intrinsic British culture and heritage. Further, only through a singular rule of law that is not arbitrary in its form, content or application can fair system of Government operate. This is particularly important where there is, as in Britain, different peoples from different backgrounds. The rule of a singular law provides the vital cohesion needed for a variety of people to work and function together. To bring about different rules to different parts of the populous is to fragment both state and society. It would leave open the possibility of apartheid, on the basis of ideas and culture. In turn this would encourage isolationism towards national interest and the lack of cohesiveness would unedify interest in the function of our nation state.

The alienation of the Moslem community from the mainstream of our society that a Sharia law would bring about would also increase further the chances of younger members of the Moslem community being radicalised. It would leave fundamental Islam unchecked as it would be left to be self-judged within a distinct system of values. The end result, due to enforced differences between community groups may lead to distrust, fear and loathing. The notion of one nation may quickly fade away.

Hockmann also conveniently forgets what radical forms of Islam stand for. Alienation and abuse of women are rife amongst some countries that follow Islamic law. These proposals would leave open the risk of marginalising progressive and moderate Moslems who wish to practice their religion through our secular state. It would leave to rot Moslem women who have been campaigning for reform in their own community and through the world through the platform provided by British liberalism. If radical elements of Islam are to be dealt with, then giving a carte blanche to unlimited application of the Sharia is certainly not the way forward.

On the other-side of the spectrum there is a need to evaluate whether the rise of political support for other extreme groups such as the BNP is linked to the institutional quasi-liberalism that Hockmann represents. Quasi-liberalism is being liberal for the sake of liberal and forgetting the responsibility of making a value-judgment. The rise of the far right is another form of fragmentation that undermines the cohesive of the nation state. It may bring plurality, but at the cost of undermining that which the plurality of ideas is supposed to serve- the nation state. This is by giving further unneeded assistance to extremism. Quasi-liberalism of this type is not Gladstonian liberalism. It is a form of gratuitous sentiment that has no regard to the large historical processes that gave rise to the nation state, and alienates its people by forgetting or disregarding their history and culture. Thus quasi-liberalism of leading figures such as Hockmann fuels extremism, such as that found in the BNP, by undermining the British identity.

Britain is an extra-ordinary country with a unique and powerful history. It needs to remain one nation in order to promote its political ideals of free-speech, toleration and democracy to the world. The unedification of disparate legal systems does not have to be brought in to undermine this. Mr Hockmann QC needs to sit down and re-think the implications of his suggestions on such a difficult and complex issue.

(For Hockman QC’s views:
APG Pandya ©

Wednesday, 19 November 2008


It is worth noting, see link below, that Lord Pannick last week in the House of Lords proposed that judges should be able to speak out against criticism given to them by politicians. I respectfully disagree as there are inherent dangers with respect to this. This would open the back door for judicial intervention into politics. This would be unconstitutional as it would permit unelected officials to have a say in matters of politics and public policy. This politicisation of the judicial role also undermine the independence of the judiciary.

The comment in question was made with respect to Paul Dacre’s criticisms of Sir David Eady, judge of the High Court of England and Wales. Sir David Eady has interpreted British libel law to ban a book, namely Rachel Enhrenfeld’s ‘Funding Evil’. This is a powerful act that inveighs against our inherent right of free-speech in Britain that has taken several centuries to develop. One has to look no further back than ear-cropping of those who wrote against Elizabeth I, to understand what a struggle it was to establish freedom of speech in this country.

It is no doubt very likely that an activity of judges will be of interest to public and political opinion. However, for judges to have to defend their judgments from public opinion would undermine the integrity and independence of the legal system. I very much hope that the power of the judge in making libel law is thoroughly questioned by politicians and the media, and that judges are aware of the heavy criticism that follows. Libel law in its most draconian form can be used to excoriate and supress genuine opinion, where it is not factual - and this has the danger of concomitantly suppressing the freedom of speech. Paul Dacre was right to scrutinise Sir David Eady, and appropriately there can be no recourse for the judge. It is for Parliament to put right any inappropriate wondering of the judge as it sees fit, and not for the judge to defend him or herself.

For Lord Pannick's views:
> 0016.htm

APG Pandya

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Be wary of the President who wants 'peace'.

Now, finally, Islamic fundamentalism has the President of its choice. Obama believes in peace and that's such a great thing isn't it? Suspicions and raised eyebrows should start there. Obama campaigned on removing US troops from Iraq, content in leaving the Iraqi people; with a half-finished, half-baked job; at the hands of militants. The threat of Islamic terrorism is as great now as ever, yet Obama the pacifist, will defeat them all with a sigh of peace. He thinks the fanatics will suddenly decide to stop waging the war because he wishes to remove and reduce US presence in both theatres. He is too na├»ve to realise that they do not hate for the sake of hating but for the destruction of the liberal West, that the US was just as much a risk from them the day before 9/11 as the day after. He doesn't quite grasp the geopolitics of territorial presence and influence. If the West is going to fight Islamic fascism, then a territorial foothold in the Middle East and Afghanistan has to be maintained for security and protection. The possibility to influence a move towards modern democratic governments in other states in the Middle East should not be lost. The Iranians are no doubt amused, that the voice of peace may finally give their nuclear programme the implicit consent it needs to carry on, whilst they live in a dictatorial regime that curtails fundamental freedoms with state sponsored censorship and does little to protect the rights of women. I still remember Obama’s keenness, early in the election, of wanting to get into bed with Ahmejinedad. This instinctive palm-greasing is a dangerous sign. It is the mark of a man who is willing to be a philanderer with integrity in order to gain on a desire to be liked. The possibility of Obama using US influence to change the world for the better, such as a voice for freedom, remains extremely dubious.

The election itself was a disgrace. I have never seen human beings pander in such a vile way to the lowest common denominator of race in an electoral process. Voting for someone because they are black, is as vile as voting for them because they are white, or pink or brown. If one looks beyond the man’s complexion there is very little in Obama’s empty rhetoric- How exactly is going to change the gulf between the rich and the poor that was made obvious by the faces suffering from Hurricane Katrina? He has never outlined any clear method of doing so, the electorate falling for nothing more than flamboyant vacuosity. McCain ran a terrible campaign, by god it was awful. Whilst going on about his war wounds, he never bothered to explain in full why they made him a better candidate. He had no clear game plan for a recession and did not seem wary of it. But then neither did Obama. What exactly is the President’s plan barring an increase of taxes? And is that even the right solution? When people are asked why they voted for him, it’s because of ‘change’. It is difficult to find a more empty and shallow proposition wanting of consideration than that. What and how are not questioned, spoken of, or asked about, hence their delivery becomes near impossible to assess. I am glad to have an ‘African-American’ one said. As if one was trying to bury an old hatchet in some way, it is childish and unedifying to formulate one’s opinions in this way. I would have been embarrassed. Does the choice of Obama for the reason of race mark the dawn of a new era, or reaffirm the existence of an age old apartheid? Obama's victory is a telling sign that many Americans could not see beyond the race issue, and failed to distinguish McCain, a radical in the Republican camp, from the President that was Bush. But the Republicans had fought a war and won, and only the most complacent of Americans have forgotten how important that was to corroborating US Security post 9/11. Once Obama pursues his campaign of peace fully, it is the Islamic fundamentalists that would have been the real victors of last night. They know that peace and toothlessness are one and the same.

APG Pandya.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

In the middle of a global financial heart attack...

In the middle of a global financial heart attack,
where is our Dr. House? By Douglas Bulloch.

The plot will be familiar. An unusual presentation of otherwise routine symptoms perks the interest of your favourite fictional genius doctor. Preliminary investigations are followed by treatments that seem to clear up the initial problem, but then the patient collapses and her organs start to fail one after the other. Dr. House then breaks every medical rule in the book in a desperate race against time when, after a suitable interval, he is touched by genius and identifies the original cause, either curing the patient with a couple of aspirin, or reconciling them with their inevitable death.

As with HBO medical drama, so with the global financial crisis. Right now we are in the organ failure stage, and desperately trying to treat the symptoms, but the diagnostic discussions are angry, vengeful and completely unresolved. Politicians around the world are agreeing with every proffered solution for the sake of unity, yet masking their ignorance behind an escalating range of worthless metaphors. Now is not the time to debate the origins of the crisis, they say, but the time to solve it. This position is exactly wrong. The cure depends upon identifying the cause, and until we recognise the cause of this problem, we are doomed to exacerbate it.

The first range of explanations that need to be dispensed with are those of a moral dimension. These cross the political divide. Those on the left blame greedy bankers, and those on the right, feckless borrowers. Neither has any bearing on the problem we are faced with today. Bankers have always been greedy, and heartless, stingy, even cruel. But it is because of these characteristics that they are trusted to look after other people’s hard earned money, not in spite of them. On the other hand, fecklessness is nothing new. Give a ne’er do well money, and he’ll fritter it away without thought for tomorrow. The problem has less to do with the phenomenon of the new super-rich class of banker, nor the sub-prime mortgage defaulter who never had the ability to repay. Both are the unknowing beneficiaries or victims of an excess of money.

Nor is the problem one of regulation or direct political interference. It is true that the Clinton administration pressured banks into offering loans to people of a dubious credit history and limited means. But as long as this was understood and underwritten as a scheme for the redistribution of wealth, there needn’t have been any problem. It may have failed, it may indeed have been expensive, but it is no more the cause of economic meltdown than Enron, the Dotcom bust, or the Iraq War. The toxic debt they produced was at least potentially quantifiable, whereas the ongoing collapse in the value of all property and global equities is not. Furthermore, lack of regulation may be an easy soundbite, but it is rarely accompanied by any estimation of exactly what regulations would prevent a ten-year asset boom followed by its sudden collapse. And it takes no notice of the fact that we have a brand new regulatory institution in London, empowered in accordance with all the latest thinking on financial regulation.

The problem is macro-economic, and if Dr. House were having his moment of realisation he would see that we have been here before, many times. What is more, the cause of the current problem would have been addressed – if not understood – by that most famous of literary simpletons, Chauncey Gardiner. In the film of Jerzy Kosinski‘s short story ‘Being There’, Peter Sellers plays Chance the Gardener, a man who was taken in as a child and brought up in the household of a wealthy man. He never learnt to read or write, only ever worked in the garden, and watched television obsessively, continually changing the channel to receive a stream of fragmentary slogans, songs, and pictures. He was, in short, without personality, an empty vessel devoid of all meaningful content, and after the death of his benefactor was thrown out into an entirely unfamiliar world, which he had only seen in pieces through his television screen. Everyone he met inferred enormous meaning into his gnomic comments, such that he ended up on television advising the President of the United States on economic policy. Drawing on the only knowledge he had, he said that in a garden, first there is spring, then summer, autumn and winter. Then after winter there is spring again. This was interpreted as a comment on the business cycle, and offered by the President as reassurance to a nation in the depths of an unspecified economic crisis.

Only later was it discovered that Chauncey Gardiner was a complete simpleton, but by then he had been elected to head up a major corporation. None of this is to suggest that what we need is a simpleton in charge of the World’s largest economy, however, the roots of this problem are indeed simple, even if the effects are extraordinarily complex.

The underlying problem stems from attempts to control or contain the business cycle. Growth, if it is real growth has to go in phases. There must be periods of consolidation in which costs are trimmed processes rationalised and strategies re-examined. If legislators attempt to delay a downturn they do two things. First of all, they sustain firms that have grown accustomed to inefficient business practices, and by doing so, weaken the whole economy. Secondly, they exacerbate the consequences of the eventual downturn.

The particular manner in which the current business downturn was deferred until now was particularly pernicious. We now know that keeping interest rates low in order promote growth fuelled a credit boom that drove up the price of assets and equities. If this had happened in one isolated economy, then this would have fed through to inflation fairly quickly, as rising property prices inevitably feed through to a rise in living costs, and impact on production and distribution costs. But in a context of rapid globalisation, consumer prices were further held down by the lowering of average labour costs through the transfer of manufacturing capacity to Asia.

The past ten or so years have seen the mature phase of this process play out before our eyes. 1997 saw the deliberate lowering of interest rates in the face of the Asian currency crisis, for which Alan Greenspan was hailed as a genius. This strategy was repeated on numerous occasions and global growth kept moving forward, investment flows accelerated on the back of cheap debt, trade imbalances ballooned, property prices kept on going upwards.

Now we face the prospect of unsustainable levels of debt secured against hugely overvalued assets – similar to the problems faced by Latin America economies in the 1980s – and as the assets fall in value, so increasing amounts of debt becomes bad debt; the sub-prime category was merely the lowest hanging fruit. Greedy bankers played their role in all of this, as did feckless borrowers, but the underlying problem was the artificial lowering of the price of credit by the US Federal Reserve – and by extension many other central banks – in an ingenious reinvention of Keynesian economics. Debt is after all just another kind of printed money. Bad debt especially so.

One way to avoid this would have been to have truly independent Central Banks which set their own measure of what constitutes inflation, including property prices. To his credit Mervyn King has been warning about unsustainable levels of both debt and property prices for years, although he had no power to act against them. Another suggestion would be to measure GDP by netting off accumulated debt, thus debt fuelled growth would be excluded from economic indicators, and Gordon Brown’s ‘end to Tory boom and bust’ would have been exposed as a sham from day one.

Keynes famously remarked that, in the long run, we are all dead. However, the philosophical truth of this remark should be measured against its economic meaning. The ‘long run’ in economics indicates an abstract point in the future, in which all assumptions concerning what is fixed are held to become variable. What he meant when he said this was rhetorically the same as the politicians currently urging action before considering the cause of the current problems; in other words, we are faced with problems that we need to solve, the ‘long run’ consequences are the problems others will have to solve tomorrow. The trouble is tomorrow always comes, and as a rule of thumb, the economic ‘long run’ looks to be about ten years, not so ‘long’ after all.

The current efforts to provide liquidity to the banks are understandable, and probably necessary, but the deferment of any analysis of the origins of this problem will lead to outcomes economists would describe as ‘sub-optimal’ – in English, catastrophic. Of the many things that need to be understood and acted upon, almost all of them have been known about for years, including these simple, if unpalatable truths: Milton Friedman’s Nobel Prize was well deserved. The business cycle is our friend. Retail Price Inflation (RPI) is not the same thing as real inflation. Central Banks cannot control real inflation by measuring only parts of it. Economics is quite simple really. Simple problems can be solved by a simpleton. And beware of anything you don’t understand.

When Dr. House sees symptoms that he does not understand, he investigates, even beyond the point of death, in order to find their cause. In our race to treat the symptoms of this global financial crisis, we must not forget the cause. Government ownership of the banks, liquidity injections, and reductions in interests rates may count as life support for the time being, but in the ‘long run’ we need to let the banks get back to banking – rather than laundering deliberate debt inflation – rehabilitate the business cycle, and learn to live within our means.

© Douglas Bulloch
Researcher, International Relations Department, London School of Economics.

Monday, 18 August 2008

Russia's Georgian Rampage

Did anyone hear about what Miliband or Brown had to say whilst the Russians were on their excursion into Georgia? No. Because, whilst the crisis raged, they didn't say anything. They were probably hiding under their beds wishing like a child, that the horrible monster would just disappear. Now they can just pretend it was shadows caused by the light through the window. Did any eminent international lawyer dare stick a head above the parapet? No, incase one day the whole thing ends up in court and they might be precluded from representing either side. Only David Cameron responded appropriately and firmly to the lawless actions by Russia. Who needs to seek a Security Council resolution these days to justify the use of force? The council is irrelevant- we might as well say the truth and state that the whole thing is defunct and perhaps only useful when the little countries are being a bit naughty. Then only of use to satisfy the loopy lefty tree-huggers that we are doing something. Converse to the recent Russian actions, at least with regard to the NATO air-strikes in Kosovo, Security Council Resolutions 1119 and 1203 talked of a 'humanitarian catastrophe' and thus provided some legitimate basis upon which to act. As far as the so called genocide and other humanitarian breaches putatively claimed by Russia, they were so axiomatic and clear cut that it was worth not even bothering tabling them at the UN. One state can subjectively decide by itself and the whole system will operate better that way. A global community based on tit-for-tat is far more sensible idea, one is inclined to agree with Mr. Putin.
One might be forgiven for thinking that the borders of another sovereign state are supposed to inviolable since the drafting of the UN Treaty, yet we have one country who seems to think that is irrelevant. No one dares stand up to the menace and threat this action is to the sovereign equality of states and the long term protection of that principle.
To be honest the Security Council has not been on best behaviour since the end of the cold war. Its mandate is to maintain ‘international peace and security’ under the UN Charter. It has used this, dubiously, to build courts such as the International tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International tribunal for Rwanda. These tribunals brought in alien international criminal rules to try persons that had little or no idea that such rules existed. Legitimacy was assumed on the basis that a few utopian idealists thought it was the moral thing to do. The consent of either state to this system was wholly ignored, despite state consent being the cornerstone of the UN charter and international law. The Security Council went further in its desire to intervene in matters that seemed to be internal affairs of states. In 1994, through the passing of Resolution 940, it would decide what type of Government ought to be present in Haiti, when the dictator baby-doc brought a coup to the democratically elected Government. That was, perhaps, a good thing if one weighs the morality of democracy over the legitimacy of the Council in acting in this way. However, there was a lack of consistency in this approach. This was, of course, conveniently forgotten when the fraudulent dictator Mugabe demanded a second election through sheer brutal use of violence. No action was sought, express or implied when the janjaweed were bashing Sudanese villages to pieces from the Security Council. The use of force in Iraq 2003 was justified with complex, difficult arguments of implied authorisations (those that the Council does not state expressly) based on Security Council resolutions passed over a decade earlier. Despite the soundness of these contentions, what the lawyers that backed the war failed to realize is that there comes a point when sophistry of a legal argument is so great that it undermines its credibility. Such circumstances, as Iraq, demonstrate the clear lack of uniformity of the system, as there is no consensus of values amongst its states. Those who criticize the system excessively forget that the Security Council or the UN was not designed to be a cohesive system of accountability of states. The system was designed to defer largely to will of states. There has always been a clear disparity of values between far too many states for a cohesive, uniform and practical international institution to work. Perhaps it is time for a league of democracies to form their own separate institution with distinct values, where real economic sanctions will have effect and isolationism hurts those intransigent states hard. Or a system based on accountability with a court whose judgments can be enforced against assets of states who violate the principles in other states. The system’s weaknesses were hidden by the cold-war. It was not used in that period as security could not, ironically, have been left to a neutral international institution with a power to make real hard enforceable law. State sovereignty, at the cost of accountability, has been preserved often to justify a human tribal insecurity of placing one’s nation free of the possibility of commonly agreed rules. It was only the complacent that thought that after the end of the cold war the real battle for ideas and values had been won. In fact, as the conflicts and regime changes in the 1990s showed, it had just begun and that one without further firm action today from Western democratic states is at risk of being lost through inexcusable complacent apathy.

During the Georgian crisis the US, France and the UK have just watched, not Georgia of course, but the convenient distraction of the Olympics. Even most of the papers in the UK had the games as the leading story not the pouding that a small ex-Soviet state received. The answer to why this is of course is simple: We believe that Churchill was wrong in the 1939-40, and we wish, very sensibly deep in our hearts, that the job had been given to Lord Halifax.The cowardice of complacency is so much better than the virtue of courage. Winston, you were a rotter, how dare one have the spirit to act. There's a lesson here for Herr Hitler too. Better have given the gold to Jesse Owens whilst one is busy invading Poland.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

The taboo of blasphemy...

A post by Dr M Niblett

Those of us old enough to remember will recall that it will be twenty years next month since the publication of Sir Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses, a novel which has achieved the rare distinction of being famed more for the reaction it provoked than its content. For the first time since the age of enlightenment, British booksellers were the subject of firebomb attacks for selling 'blasphemous' material, and citizens witnessed book burnings by angry mobs on public streets. On our television screens, we saw news stories in which translators of the book overseas were murdered and stabbed. This was the Britain into which the university students of today were born.

Astonishingly, following these activities, the largest booksellers in the UK withdrew the book from public view. Elsewhere, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, suggested that the blasphemy laws needed to be extended in order to limit criticism of Islam. For religious radicals, it was apparent that it was the rule of the mob, and not the rule of law, that was best placed to achieve their goal of censorship. At the same time, authorities in Britain demonstrated that they were quite prepared to abandon liberal democratic values for the false promise of the quiet life. It was the beginning of a brave new world.

Twenty years on, and we are an older, if not a wiser generation. Sir Salman has not yet been murdered by fanatics (though this owes much to living under 24-hour-a-day protection from armed guards), and The Satanic Verses can still be found on the shelves of most British bookshops. But the lesson learned by religious (and particularly Islamic) fanatics - that mob anger could induce self-censorship throughout large swathes of society - has gone unchecked.

Nowhere has this been illustrated more clearly in recent times than through the reaction in Western nations to the Danish cartoons of Mohammed, first published in September 2005. In Britain, veterans of the Rushdie affair, together with new recruits, marched on London carrying placards proclaiming 'Slay those who insult Islam'. Later, the present Archbishop of Canterbury offered proposals similar to those of Runcie in favour of amending the blasphemy laws to cover 'thoughtless or cruel speech' against all religions, including Islam. No mainstream British publication dared print the offending material (with the exception of the Spectator). But on this occasion we were able to witness how the cancer of religious censorship had spread to other Anglophone nations, a point I was reminded of today with Ezra Levant's acquittal in the Canadian cartoons case.

Levant, the first person to be prosecuted for blasphemy in Canada for more than 80 years, was accused of 'illegal' discrimination for reprinting the Danish Mohammed cartoons in his magazine, the Western Standard. His statement of defence can be watched here. Admittedly, his trial took place in a pseudo-court, a 'Human Rights' commission with special legal powers, and not in a criminal or civil court. But the road to such pseudo-courts has already been opened in Britain with the establishment of the Commission for Equality and Human Rights in 2007, an organisation which a number of human rights lawyers would like to see acquiring similar powers to its sister body in Canada.

In today's National Post, Levant remarks:

Some 900 days after I became the only person in the Western world charged with the “offence” of republishing the Danish cartoons of Muhammad, the government has finally acquitted me of illegal “discrimination.” Taxpayers are out more than $500,000 for an investigation that involved fifteen bureaucrats at the Alberta Human Rights Commission. The legal cost to me and the now-defunct Western Standard magazine is $100,000.

The case would have been thrown out long ago if I had been charged in a criminal court, instead of a human rights commission. That’s because accused criminals have the right to a speedy trial. Accused publishers at human rights commissions do not.

And if I had been a defendant in a civil court, the judge would now order the losing parties to pay my legal bills. Instead, the Edmonton Council of Muslim Communities won’t have to pay me a dime. Neither will Syed Soharwardy, the Calgary imam who abandoned his identical complaint against me this spring.

Both managed to hijack a secular government agency to prosecute their radical Islamic fatwa against me — the first blasphemy case in Canada in over 80 years. Their complaints were dismissed, but it is inaccurate to say that they lost: They got the government to rough me up for nearly three years, at no cost to them. The process I was put through was a punishment in itself — and a warning to any other journalists who would defy radical Islam.
As Levant points out, this is hardly a victory for freedom of the press, since the whole case rested on the whim of a certain Pardeep Gundara, a low-level bureaucrat who judged whether Levant had provided enough 'context' in order for the discrimination charge to be dropped. At stake was no criminal issue, but whether Levant's actions had offended a particular religious sect. He is unlikely to be the last Canadian journalist prosecuted in this way for insulting Islamic sensibilities, but the costs he has had to endure will be enough to dissuade most journalists from following in his path.

Unfortunately for residents in Britain, such self-censorship applies even without the shadowy presence of these quasi-legal institutions. In perhaps the most absurd instance, at Clare College, Cambridge, a student was investigated by the police and disciplined by University of Cambridge authorities for daring to print the cartoon in a student magazine. Since the Satanic Verses controversy erupted, it appears that our authorities have become more timid in the face of religious outrage, not less. Let us hope that there are, somewhere out there, plenty of British Ezra Levants waiting in the wings, willing to challenge the taboo of blasphemy.

Friday, 1 August 2008

Apathy in the armed forces, a sign of maligned youth and politics

This is a guest post by Mr Simon Paul

Following the recent report by The Times into the historic absence of morale in the armed forces, an investigation is required into the cause of this unnerving phenomenon. The proximate cause is, of course, the strain of fighting two wars simultaneously, with a military ill equipped for such adventure. But it is also the specific nature of those conflicts that has engendered such an unprecedented disaffection amongst our fighting forces. Iraq demonstrated that the polity will no longer blithely follow their leaders into the abyss; competence de guerre is questioned on all fronts. But it is not just the polity at large that entertains this new spirit of moral enquiry. Statesmen would do well to acknowledge that the debate on when and whether the use of force is just needs to be had in the public domain, as well as in the chamber of the House of Commons. The dark forces of the twentieth century compelled man towards a new moral agenda, that could barely countenance the use of force, excepting the most grievous circumstances. But the UN model of self-defence ceded its authority to the warning sounds of human rights - and thus was born the doctrine of humanitarian intervention. It is crass to say that the use of force by British governments on behalf of a third party is some kind of post-imperial harbinger. Those who enter debates on warfare should do so with appropriate gravity, and leave such cynicism at the door of the chamber. Those who have the power to provide aid must see it as their duty to do so. But it is the murkiness of this sentiment that has confounded the British public. Tony Blair attempted to elucidate this new doctrine in his infamous Chicago speech. But, rather than obey his own strictures, his carefully articulated criteria of just intervention were inflated to accommodate virtually any Westminster fiat.

Now the seeds of doubt have crept into the nerve centre. The role of a soldier has historically been peculiar. It is rarely the duty of an individual soldier to weigh up the moral worth of his military actions , despite a regular imbibement of the basic premises of humanitarian law . But convention may be more of a potent force than duty. It is a fine tribute to the worth of our fighting forbears, that the gross suffering of the Great Wars has yielded a widespread pacifism. But soldiers are no longer respected; they are suffered as a curious sub-culture within the pacific polity; they are ostracised, and they must move in their own circles. This dichotomy is beginning to take its toll. Besides suffering from lack of funding, the soldier will suffer more greatly when he is starved of the 'soft support' that is so essential to his success as a professional, and his contentment as a human. This is just another symptom of how lost we are as a nation. In the strange consitutional welter that is modern Britain, all sectors balk at the use of words such as 'right and wrong' (excepting David Cameron, who has only recently appropriated that most worthy of niches). And this fear of moral judgement is no less prominent when directed at the use of force.

When I discuss the ethics of war with my young peers, the prevailing mood is that war can never be just. And if war can never be just, it can never be justified. The presumption against violence is almost universal. To phrase it in such terms elevates the sentiment - and it would certainly be a worthy and defeasible position were it arrived it by a useful measure of academic scepticism. But I fear that is not the case. It is cynicism that leads to this presumption; a cynicism that is the product of inadequate investigation. The facts have not been presented in a robust manner, and in so doing, the presumption against violence - worthy sentiment! - has concealed a much worthier and historically sympathetic presumption: that against injustice. The horrors of twentieth century warfare have exposed the use of force to be brutal and indiscriminate. But this should never detract from the fact that our moral judgements should always be couched in terms of justice and injustice. Indeed, to neglect this distinction, and to presume that violence can never have a noble end is to condemn our soldiers to the realm of irretrievable inhumanity. No wonder, then, that the support that a soldier cherishes is at present so cruelly withheld.

I would say this is a failure of education. Patriotism has become something of a dirty word. Current guidance on citizenship lessons requires students to focus on diversity, globalisation and the role of the United Nations and European Union. That is all very well and good. But we would do better to educate our students in the world as it is, not the world as the Labour Party thinks it should be. For whilst we live in a system of states, patriotism will remain a virtue. It is a virtue that does, though, require a redefinition, and careful separation from nationalism. It must be the first duty of an educational system to instruct its subjects in the history of their land. Now this is not because 'we used to have an Empire, you know, and Empires are jolly good things...'. To suggest that teaching the history of this country from the perspective of this country is an imperial action is worse than laughable. It is morally wrong. It is because we are afraid that people are not able to form the right moral judgments that history is presented in a furtive and roundabout manner. But this absence of trust has a price: moral judgments are made in a vacuum.

My proposals for the remedy of this problem are twofold: draft a constitution of the military of this country, reflecting its aspirations and intentions, and a renewed focus on British history in schools. We must all of us be aware that there are instances that require the use of force in the service of justice. To neglect this important point is to appease the darkness. We must all of us reflect upon the singular evil of Nazism, and the triumph of the Allies. We must also be aware of the excesses of that war: Dresden, the misplaced efforts of Bomber Command. But our engagement with this history must never cede truth to relativism. For there are moral truths; I will tell you one: Hitler was evil. And if you think that is a commonplace, then may I suggest that Hitler's status as evildoer is growing increasingly tenuous by the day. I was discussing this matter with a friend of mine. I had contemplated a military career. Her response was intriguing: "I don't think anything justifies the taking of a life". I responded that I think there are some things worth dying for. Had she not been a friend, and the conversation amiable, I would have pointed out what an insult that was to those who died protecting the liberties that we savoured in that very conversation. But then she said: the only worthwhile battles are those of ideas. And ideology never merits death. She was half correct. Today, more often than not, the only worthwhile battles are battles over ideas. Thus, to say they are not worth dying for is false , misconceived and demonstrates the ostracisation of modern youth from the true value of modern democracy. This being the ability to form and discuss ideas, openly, honestly and without restriction. I would venture to suggest that ideas are almost the only thing worth dying for. Perhaps, in these times, where are own moral and ideological values of the west are at risk, they are to be placed on parallel and integrated into the needs of foreign policy, and placed above short-term domestic political gain of the incumbent Government.