Hard News by Russell Brown

Some behaviour issues

There have been some behaviour issues in the local blogosphere since last Friday. In this thread alone on Labour stalwart Jordan Carter's blog, National Party member (and former office-holder) Tim Barclay claimed that the Labour Party "secretly hopes" that Sydney is hit by a terrorist attack (a view he reiterated in subsequent posts). And David Hodo, who usually contents himself with preaching on conservative "moral values", recommended that the West "Send in the B-52s and turn the Middle East into a parking lot. Millions of dead towel heads are no loss to the world."

I've been afraid to visit some of the local right-wing blogs, but to take one example, Murray at Silent Running set the tone for a festival of spluttering hate and bigotry by declaring "Islam is not compatible with modern civilisation. We can either covert them or kill them. Living with them isn't a viable option and that's by their choice. Call me a voice of moderation." Several of his correspondents then went on to urge the mass murder of Muslims. Presumably, too few Muslims were killed and injured in London last Thursday. There's nothing like the moral high ground, is there?

Happily, qualities of grace are much more abundant at St Pancras Station parish church, a mere 30 metres from the bus blast site. And Christian, Islamic and Jewish leaders have gathered at Lambeth Palace to condemn terrorism and reaffirm their belief in a multicultural Britain.

Meanwhile, I also received an abusive email regarding my suggestion that the IRA could have been seen as Christian terrorists. The author claimed that the IRA's "belief set" was in fact closer to my own, which I found highly offensive. I pointed the author to the 1972 Claudy bombing, which killed nine people, including three children. A Catholic priest (and Provisional IRA member) was actively involved, and later provided an alibi for one of the bombers. It has since been claimed that the church cut a deal with British authorities to allow the priest to escape. The church continues to deny its man was ever a part of it, although police seem in no doubt. Doctrines are not the same thing as values ...

It was that way on both sides: In Martin Dillon's book God and the Gun: The Church and Irish Terrorism the brutal terrorist Billy Wright described the Rev. Ian Paisley as his hero, and claimed that he was killing to defend his faith.

The Rev. Paisley, you may recall, was a central figure in the conflict. He helped establish the paramilitary (read: terrorist) group, the Ulster Protestant Volunteers, which carried out bombings. He also justified the burning of Catholic homes in the 1960s and campaigned in the 80s on the catchy slogan "Save Ulster from sodomy!" Amazingly, he's still around fomenting religious hatred. Check out the way he greeted the Pope's visit to Britain last year. Wikipedia has more.

The problems in Ireland were, of course, historical and geopolitical. But those sorts of problems have been solved all over the world: in places where religious enmity did not foul the air. Les Reid of the Belfast Humanist Group wrote quite a nice little essay in 2002. He looked at the original partition after the civil war in Ireland, and said:

That arrangement could have worked if people had been more tolerant. But they were not. The South became officially Catholic and the North became officially Protestant. In the South, Catholic rulings on divorce, education, contraception, censorship, etc., became law, regardless of the Protestant minority. And in the North, politics was dominated by the Orange Order, a Protestant organisation which commemorates ancient victories over Catholics, eg. the Battle of the Boyne, 1690, which they celebrate every July…

If the people had been more tolerant and had accepted that their neighbours followed a slightly different version of Christianity, then the Troubles need never have happened. If they had been friendly, rather than arrogant, then the border might have withered away in time and North and South might have been reconciled. But, instead, the two countries were in a state of tension. Instead of relaxation and reconciliation, there was tension and hatred.

Like Dillon, Reid concluded that peace in the long term will only be achieved if religion is taken out of schools, or at least if schools are integrated. This is not to say for a moment that Catholics and Protestants are terrorists, no more than Muslims are. Or even to suggest that the Irish thugs are of the same stripe as the current Islamic terrorists. Just - if the denizens of Silent Running haven't already proved it - that we're not quite as flash in The West as we sometimes like to think.

Meanwhile, Nick Thompson, who lectures in church history in the Department of Divinity and Religious Studies at the University of Aberdeen, was in touch with an observation on last week's discussions on Biblical edicts:

The distinctions that your Christian correspondents make between the moral codes of the Old and New Testaments is completely arbitrary and historically naive.

Christian expositors of scripture like Calvin were convinced that the moral law and punishments of the Old Testament were still in force and that the execution of adulterers (and of gay people, and even the odd fornicator) represented an ideal, even if not consistently observed in Christian societies. In this respect Calvin speaks for the vast majority of Catholic and Protestant theologians until well after the much despised Enlightenment.

From Calvin's perspective, Jesus' forgiveness of the woman caught in adultery was beside the point. As God, Calvin argued, Jesus was entitled to bend his own rules. Christians, however, weren't, and were culpably slack if they didn't execute such offenders.

The irony is that self-styled "family values" or "traditional" Christians have little sense of how modern their views actually are or of the degree to which they have been influenced by Western Liberal thought.

And that last sentence was pretty much what I was trying to say last week, just more handsomely put.

I'm pleased to report that visiting Lions fans - understandably shocked by the events in London last week - were not letting the terrorists win before Saturday's final test against the All Blacks. Although the bombings were probably in the back of most people's minds, the atmosphere in Kingsland was excellent.

The impressive new Kingslander pub was packed, and, as has been the case through the whole tour, fans of all the nations mingled and conversed. I didn't have a ticket for the test, but I went down for a drink with my Internet rugby mates who did. An old Scottish bloke groped Tracey's bum as he went past. We agreed that if he hadn't been elderly she'd have followed him and administered a smack in the chops, but she settled for being astonished and amused. She has recovered and posted her third test game stats.

One more reason to feel sorry for the Lions fans: that bloody song they had to sing: "It's not even a song," shared one Lions supporter as we filed up the steps to the terraces for Tuesday's Auckland match. "None of us know the words." Poor lads. Come back now, y'hear?

It's a shame that Sunday Times rugby writer and regular Sunday Star Times guest columnist Stephen Jones lacked, till the end, the sporting character of the supporters. Or even the "class and grace" he claimed New Zealanders lacked in victory. This when he wasn't bitching about every referee, the All Black forwards, the Wellington Stadium, the haka and, er, New Zealand traffic lights. He is allegedly the Sunday Times' "senior rugby writer", but, even if he's trying to be funny, I always end up thinking that he doesn't really understand the ethos of the game.

PS: Kevin List's latest A Week of It on Scoop is excellent. Includes pics of Ahmed Zaoui presenting a manifest threat to national security in a bookshop and on the Wellington cable car.