Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Animal rights activism as anti social behaviour

The picture represents twenty year old Gerrah Selby, sentenced to four years imprisonment for animal rights activism. She can neither be visited nor written as she wants to keep the place where she has been locked up undisclosed. This is a story about animal rights activists who are treated as terrorists ("extremists") and antisocial elements at the same time - a text borrowed from
On Wednesday 21st January 2009 the police's National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit issued a press release celebrating the jailing of seven animal rights campaigners for "over fifty years". In their press release NETCU are at pains to point out that the sentences have "nothing to do with freedom of expression" and that those jailed are "extremists".

NETCU, a shady, unaccountable branch of the UK's expanding political police, have thrown the weight of their press department behind a campaign to present the seven defendants, all active in the Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) campaign, as extremists. The mainstream media has swallowed NETCU's spin unquestioningly without seeing the affair for what it is -- a political trial with serious ramifications for the right of individuals to voice their dissent against corporate power.

On December 23rd, 4 out of 5 activists on trial at Winchester Crown Court were found guilty of 'Conspiracy to Blackmail' at Winchester Crown Court after a 3 and a half month long trial. Natasha and Greg Avery and Dan Amos had plead guilty during Summer 2008. During the trial much had been made about how each defendant fitted in to what the prosecution described as the "hierarchy" of the SHAC campaign. At the three day long sentencing in January, Judge Butterfield sentenced the defendants according to how he saw them in this "hierarchy", not according to the evidence against them. Accordingly Greg and Natasha Avery were given the heaviest sentences possible, but were given credit for their guilty pleas and were sentenced to serve nine years each. Heather Nicholson, who plead not-guilty, received the longest actual sentence, eleven years. Gavin Medd Hall was sentenced to eight years, Daniel Wadham got five years, and Daniel Amos and Gerrah Selby were each sentenced to four years.

One thing that was not reported at all by the mainstream media was the imposition of indefinite anti social behaviour orders (ASBOs) on four of the defendants preventing them from protesting against animal experimentation. These ASBOs make otherwise lawful protest activity into a crime, punishable by up to five years in prison. The use of indefinite ASBOs against protesters is, as far as Corporate Watch knows, a completely new development. The terms of the orders could prevent these four people, all dedicated campaigners against vivisection, from ever voicing their political views again. The orders could even be interpreted as preventing the defendants from speaking or writing against vivisection.

By giving the maximum possible sentences, the Judge was effectively saying that this case represented the most serious form of blackmail. However, the allegations against those convicted would not fit in at all with a layperson's definition of blackmail.

As Corporate Watch wrote last month, the charges related to over four years of concerted campaigning against Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS). The essence of the blackmail charge is that SHAC called for companies to cease trading with HLS and wrote polite letters to that effect. SHAC also encouraged their supporters to write to and protest against companies working with HLS. In some cases, direct action occurred, but this was never called for by SHAC. Letters were sent to company employees falsely accusing them of paedophilia, threats were received in the post and cars were paint-strippered. Evidence was presented that suggested that some of the defendants may have had knowledge of, or been involved in, some of these activities. However, many defendants were convicted because of what they said on demonstrations against HLS and their suppliers or because of the length of their involvement with SHAC.

Let us look at the case of Heather Nicholson, the defendant who received the most severe sentence, eleven years. Heather is a committed, long-term campaigner for animal rights and had been involved with SHAC since the beginning. She had lived and worked at the SHAC office and been involved with communicating, politely, with companies doing business with HLS. Only the most tenuous of circumstantial evidence linked Heather to any of the activities parroted in the press as attributed to her. Heather was convicted because of her long involvement with SHAC and given the most severe sentence because of Judge Butterfield's perception of her importance to the campaign.

In the case of the defendants who were newer to SHAC, their convictions stemmed largely from words spoken on demonstrations. These convictions are extremely worrying as threatening words should normally be dealt with, at most, by charges under the Public Order Act. Again, the catch-all charge of "conspiracy to blackmail" meant that the defendants could be dealt with more severely because of their association with others.

Judge Butterfield was not content with the harsh sentence doled out to the SHAC 7. In his sentencing he invited the Department of Public Prosecutions to consider indefinite detention in blackmail cases. Surely Judge Butterfield had seen the potential for the state to use this charge in the future as a bludgeon to silence political dissent.

Despite the repression of the SHAC 7, resistance against HLS, Europe's biggest animal testing laboratory, continues. Protests against financiers of HLS, and in solidarity with the SHAC 7, have taken place across the UK, Europe and the US while a protest against the Bank of England, who have provided HLS with banking facilities since their regular bankers dropped them, is planned for 27th February. (see

For more on the state repression of anti-corporate dissent see:

Animal Rights Activists Convicted of conspiracy to Blackmail

Whose Agenda do Reports of Eco-Terrorism Serve?

To write to the SHAC 7:

Natasha Avery NR8987 and Heather Nicholson VM4859 at HMP Bronzefield, Woodthorpe Road, Ashford, Middx, TW15 3JZ. England. Dan Amos VN7818, Gregg Avery TA7450, Gavin Medd-Hall WV9475 and Dan Wadham WV9474 at HMP Winchester, Romsey Road, Winchester, SO22 5DF. England.

Animal rights have been a Christian anarchist action issue for over 125 years, especially the struggle against vivisection. Prison sentences of up to twelve years for animal rights activism amounts to a declaration of war to any kind of activism, regardless whether it can pass the non-violence test or not. Sentences which are telling as to where the priorities of this society lie.

...and you visited me

A few years ago I read the book The hot house - life inside Leavenworth prison by Pete Earley. One of the main characters in the book was an inmate who became a murderer inside the prison - he was in it for a robbery, and once in, killed a fellow prisoner (which he denies having done) and a guard (which cannot be denied). Especially for the latter case he is depicted as the most dangerous prisoner inside Leavenworth, if not in the entire US Gulag (but there are many who are given this qualification). He has been in total isolation for twenty-five years.

Locking someone up in complete isolation amounts to torture - and this type of torture has become rather commonplace in the locking-up industry which has plagued the so-called developed world for the past decades. Reading about this man reminded me of my own activism against especially the isolation cell. In the US Orwellian phrases like administrative segregation (ad.seg) or control unit or solitary confinement (still the clearest one) are in use. And what struck me most - somehow, at that moment a few years ago - was that this man never even has seen a leaf of grass for a quarter of a century.

Finding out his address proved rather easy, and so I sent him a picture postcard of probably the main attraction of Holland's coastal strip: the Keukenhof, the famous bulb garden. And he replied, seemed to be still reasonably compos mentis, probably the only way to survive his situation. He asked me some questions about that funny country I live in which I started answering when suddenly a passage from the gospel went through my mind. Matth. 25:36, to be precise - please look it up yourself.

It was hard for me to finish the letter, and I had to confess what had gone through my mind - "you may not know it, but you are Jesus. I am writing to Jesus at the moment."
I cannot call it a mystical experience, but it was a moment of fear and trembling. And the inmate - although he certainly resembled a starets in his complete isolation, which has been softened a tiny bit since then - cannot have understood what I meant. Especially since he has a conspicuously Jewish family name. And perhaps the censors at the prison took care of my note, because we never got any reply to it (my lady-friend took over the correspondence).

A real visit is out of the question because of regulations concerning prisoners in isolation, so this is as far as I have got in meeting Jesus, the most famous inmate at death row of all times...

Sunday, 25 January 2009

I was in prison....

I just received this call to take action on behalf of two conscientious objectors in Israel. Since in most parts of the world it will not be useful to send a letter or postcard to one or both of the imprisoned girls before Jan. 29th it would be best to email a letter of support.

It looks like the regime wants to be rid of these annoying objectors by declaring them medically unfit to serve. Three of the shministim mentioned earlier have been released on this ground.

Dear Friends,

Two women objectors, Raz Bar-David Varon and Maya Yechieli Wind, both signatories of the 2008 high school seniors refusal letter, reported on Wednesday, 14 Jan., at the Induction Base, declared her refusal to serve in the Israeli military and were sentenced to 14 days in military prison. Both were told that the military prison for women is full and kept in the Induction Base for several days. Eventually, they began their prison terms yesterday (19 Jan.)

This is the fourth prison term for Raz, and the first one for Maya, 19, from Jerusalem and a United World College graduate, who has prepared the following declaration upon entering prison:
At first, like many other Israeli citizens, I too could not bring myself to confront or criticize the Israeli military’s immoral actions. I realize that this difficulty originated from my sense of identification with soldiers my own age, to whom I could relate. Today it is precisely this realization that leads me to refuse to serve. I cannot recognize the humanity of Israelis but not that of Palestinians. It is because of my deep sense of commitment and responsibility to the community in which I grew up that I am refusing to contribute to this cycle of bloodshed.

We can no longer term our military a “Defense Force.” A defense force does not conquer lands of another people. A defense force does not assist in the building of settlements on those lands. A defense force does not permit settlers to throw stones at Palestinian civilians, nor does it deny them access to their lands and source of livelihood. None of these are acts of a defense force.

The occupation has no defensive advantages. On the contrary, the pointless occupation of millions of people only leads to radicalization of opinions, hatred and the escalation of violence. Violence is a cycle that feeds into itself. This cycle will not stop until someone stands up and refuses uncompromisingly to take part in it.

This is what I am doing today.

My views are also relevant to the current operation in Gaza. One form of violence cannot stop another. This current violence is the result of decades of ongoing occupation of the territories and sieges on Gaza since the disengagement. I mourn the unnecessary deaths of both Palestinians and Israelis.

Yet again we have chosen war.
The two objectors are due out of prison on 29 Jan. and are likely to be imprisoned again afterwards. Their prison addresses are:

Maya Yechieli Wind
Military ID 5984305
Military Prison No. 400
Military Postal Code 02447, IDF
Fax: ++972-3-9579389

Raz Bar-David Varon
Military ID 6000383
Military Prison No. 400
Military Postal Code 02447, IDF
Fax: ++972-3-9579389
Since the prison authorities often block mail from reaching imprisoned objectors, we also recommend you to send your letters of support and encouragement to the imprisoned objectors via e-mail to, and they will be printed out and delivered to them during visits.

Since the beginning of the assault on Gaza, there has also been an a wave of reservists who refused to take part in it. The military mostly avoids sending these reservists to prison. One objector is now serving a 14-day term for refusal, but at the request of his family we are not revealing any other details on his case.

Another exception to the rule is the case of Noam Livneh, an officer in reserves and one of the main organisers of the Courage to Refuse movement. Noam has been imprisoned for refusal in the past (January 2001). Yesterday (19 Jan.), in an unprecedented step, he was not sentenced by an officer, as would usually happen, but was rather arrested by the military police. There is a possibility that he will be put to trial before a military tribunal. We will update on further developments as they happen.

A media report on Noam's case, also mentioning Maya and adding some further background can be read here.

There has also been a news story reporting the case of a helicopter pilot, Capt. Orr, who refused to take part in the bombing of Gaza (hat tip to Max Watts, who brought this report to our attention). However, we were not able to find any independent confirmation of this story, and have some doubts about its reliability.

Finally, COs Tamar Katz and Yuval Oron-Ofir have been recently exempted from military service on medical grounds, and are no longer in danger of further imprisonment. Thanks to all who took action on their behalf.

Recommended Action

First of all, please circulate this message and the information contained in it as widely as possible, not only through e-mail, but also on websites, conventional media, by word of mouth, etc.

Other recommendations for action:

1. Sending Letters of Support
Please send the imprisoned objectors letters of support (preferably postcards or by fax) to the prison addresses above.

2. Letters to Authorities
It is recommended to send letters of protest on the objectors' behalf, preferably by fax, to:
Mr. Ehud Barak,
Minister of Defence,
Ministry of Defence,
Tel-Aviv 64743,
E-mail: or
Tel.: ++972-3-6975540 or ++972-3-6975423
Fax: ++972-3-6976711

Copies of your letters can also be sent to the commander of the military prison at:
Commander of Military Prison No. 6,
Military Prison No. 6
Military Postal Code 01860, IDF
Fax: ++972-4-9540580

Another useful address for sending copies would be the Military Attorney General:
Avichai Mandelblit,
Chief Military Attorney
Military postal code 9605, IDF
Fax: ++972-3-569-43-70

It would be especially useful to send your appeals to the Commander of the Induction Base in Tel-HaShomer. It is this officer that ultimately decides whether an objector is to be exempted from military service or sent to another round in prison, and it is the same officer who is ultimately in charge of the military Conscience Committee:
Gadi Agmon,
Commander of Induction Base,
Meitav, Tel-HaShomer
Military Postal Code 02718, IDF
Fax: ++972-3-737-60-52

For those of you who live outside Israel, it would be very effective to send protests to your local Israeli embassy. You can find the address of your local embassy on the web.

Here is a sample letter, which you can use, or better adapt, in sending appeals to authorities on the prisoners' behalf:
Dear Sir/Madam,

It has come to my attention that [name & military ID], a conscientious objector, has been imprisoned for [her / his] refusal to perform military service, and is held in Military Prison no. [6 / 400].

The imprisonment of conscientious objectors such as [name] is a violation of international law, of basic human rights and of plain morals, let alone when the same person is being repeatedly imprisoned for her self-same beliefs.

I therefore call for the immediate and unconditional release from prison of [name], without threat of further imprisonment in the future, and urge you and the system you are heading to respect the dignity and person of conscientious objectors, indeed of all human beings, in the future.


We will appreciate receiving copies from the letters to the address:

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Tanks into tractors

We are supposed rather not to say anything about it. But I too watched the inauguration, having crisps and a strong Bush beer (there you go! - lechayim; it is Belgian, actually) at hand and hardly hoping against hope. The bombing of Pakistan has started fully. Oh yes, we are in for change. Hope is Elsewhere.

But there was at the end the Benediction by the rev. Joseph Lowery, which stood out against the garbage poured out over us viewers. Specifically the modern version of swords into ploughshares provided a feel-good-factor even Christian anarchists may enjoy.
Here is the text in full:
God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, thou who has brought us thus far along the way, thou who has by thy might led us into the light, keep us forever in the path we pray, lest our feet stray from the places, our god, where we met thee, lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget thee. Shadowed beneath thy hand, may we forever stand true to thee, o God, and true to our native land. We truly give thanks for the glorious experience we’ve shared this day.

We pray now, o Lord, for your blessing upon thy servant, Barack Obama, the forty-fourth president of these United States, his family and his administration. He has come to this high office at a low moment in the national, and indeed the global, fiscal climate. But because we know you got the whole world in your hands, we pray for not only our nation, but for the community of nations.

Our faith does not shrink, though pressed by the flood of mortal ills, for we know that, Lord, you are able and you’re willing to work through faithful leadership to restore stability, mend our brokenness, heal our wounds, and deliver us from the exploitation of the poor, of the least of these, and from favoritism toward the rich, the elite of these.

We thank you for the empowering of thy servant, our forty-fourth president, to inspire our nation to believe that, yes, we can work together to achieve a more perfect union.

And while we have sown the seeds of greed, the wind of greed and corruption, and even as we reap the whirlwind of social and economic disruption, we seek forgiveness and we come in a spirit of unity and solidarity to commit our support to our president by our willingness to make sacrifices, to respect your creation, to turn to each other and not on each other.

And now, Lord, in the complex arena of human relations, help us to make choices on the side of love, not hate; on the side of inclusion, not exclusion; tolerance, not intolerance. And as we leave this mountaintop, help us to hold onto the spirit of fellowship and the oneness of our family. Let us take that power back to our homes, our workplaces, our churches, our temples, our mosques, or wherever we seek your will.

Bless President Barack, First Lady Michelle. Look over our little angelic Sasha and Malia.

We go now to walk together as children, pledging that we won’t get weary in the difficult days ahead. We know you will not leave us alone. With your hands of power and your heart of love, help us then, now, Lord, to work for that day when nations shall not lift up sword against nation; when tanks will be beaten into tractors; when every man and every woman shall sit under his or her own vine and fig tree, and none shall be afraid; when justice will roll down like waters and righteousness as a mighty stream.

Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get in back; when brown can stick around; when yellow will be mellow; when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right. That all those who do justice and love mercy say Amen.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Harry Browne Interview: Hammered by the Irish

An Interview with Harry Browne, author of Hammered by the Irish: How the Pitstop Ploughshares Disabled a US Warplane - With Ireland's Blessing

For you, what is the definitive moment in the story of the Pitstop ploughshares?

Well, there are all sorts of moments that to all or each of them might be remembered as definitive. For me, from the outside, I can only go with a moment that I was actually present for, and the moment that most clearly connects their case with Irish society more broadly: the moment, in July 2006, when the Pitstop Ploughshares were acquitted by a jury in the Dublin Circuit Court. I'm pretty sure they wouldn't agree with me. Ciaron O'Reilly, anyway, seems to kind of like going to jail, to judge by his record. But if you're interested in resistance as something more than personal and symbolic, something that builds to wider social and political significance, then something like that endorsement by 12 ordinary Dublin people has got to count for something. For one thing, it clearly establishes that, despite the worries of the mainstream anti-war movement, direct action doesn't necessarily turn off 'ordinary people'.

That's not to say I would judge the Shannon action any differently myself if they had been acquitted: what the Five did was right by every ethical and political precept I hold, and I would still say that if they were now sitting in prison doing time for it. In some ways the fact that it also turned out to be legally okay is a bit of a happy coincidence rather than a fundamental element of their 'witness'. Nonetheless, it does make the story something rather different; it underlines the democratic institution that is the jury trial -- far more genuinely democratic than our political systems; and it makes it possible for me to call the book 'Hammered by the Irish' with some significance other than 'well, that was what was written on the green, white and orange inflatable hammer'.

What do you make of the US / UK differences on what makes a ploughshares action?

I go into some detail about that in the book, and I do find it interesting. I certainly don't pass any judgments and as someone whose only arrest was as part of a mass trespass in 1985 I'm in no position to do so. But I will say that of course in the end it's not about some almost-academic dispute over terminology. The important thing is that people on both sides of the Atlantic are prepared to take some action, and put themselves at risk, to make peace. If the US Catholic Worker version is more 'total' -- to use the Berrigan word -- and the likes of Trident Ploughshares arguably more 'tactical', they clearly both have a part to play. The main thing in both traditions is that something sustainable and, hopefully, signficant can be built.

Why are you the right person to write this book?

Who said I was? I'm the guy with his name on it so I'm right only in the 'de facto' sense. Plenty of people, including the defendants themselves, could have done something, something different and better, though of course it wouldn't have been 'this book'. I discussed doing a book with the defendants, who were mostly keen at the time. I'm a journalist, so though I'd never written a book I knew it wasn't beyond me. I had no ambivalence about the action or my view of it, and I'm sympathetically and reasonably knowledgable about the Catholic Worker tradition, at least in the US where my Dad sold the paper as a teenager in New York in the 1930s. There are plenty of reasons 'why not me', but I didn't dwell on them and instead hammered out the book. It was finished within a few months of the acquittal but got a bit hung up with the publisher in the US.

The other thing, I guess, that makes this book distinctly 'mine' is that as an American who has lived 20 years in Ireland I took it as an opportunity to 'explain' Ireland at this weird moment in its history to outside readers. So there are large swathes of the book which to Irish readers will seem like a rant about familiar history, but which I hope will inform and contextualise the Shannon action for those not so familiar with the recent story of Ireland.

What difference did the Pitstop ploughshares make to the peace effort?

Well, the peace effort failed. You could argue that it perhaps softened the blow against Iraq somewhat in the early stages, because the invaders had to be concerned about appearing to worry about civilians, but six years later that is grasping at straws. The Pitstop Ploughshares disrupted the war effort, of that there can be little doubt. And even a little disruption of war is a blow struck for peace. I think anyone reading the book might reasonably conclude that they possibly hastened the disintegration of the Irish anti-war effort, but it wasn't very well 'integrated' to begin with and the story, of disenchantment, demoralisation and collapsing numbers, was just as bad elsewhere in the world.

What is the future for those who would hope to see all swords hammered into plooughshares?


If you could write a book on anything what would it be?

'Hammered by the Irish'.

How would you describe your own faith and politics?

I'm the Atheist Slacker whom I have been assured is welcome in the Catholic Worker.
But I'm ethnically Catholic, and care a lot about what happens in the Church, even while it sickens me: my late father was a priest so it's the family business. I'm also something of an Atheist for Jesus: I think there's an awful lot to be said for what we know of the man and his teaching. But I have little reason to believe that he rose from the dead, and less reason to believe that his mother was a virgin.
I start to squirm in the presence of political labels. I'm not, quite, a pacifist. I'm an anarchist, I think. I'm an anti-capitalist, to be sure, and was one long before the bankers and politicians started raving like Trots.

Can we ever have peace when we have nation states that defend themselves?

Who knows? It's certainly possible that we could have moments of non-conflict between armed nation states. I wouldn't call that peace -- not given how deeply military and militarist logic permeates our societies even when we're not 'at war'. The nation-state is of course a huge part of the problem, but as someone living in a postcolonial society I am wary of 'global solutions', i.e. empire.

Where do you see the Catholic Worker in the UK over the next ten years?

I'm not qualified to answer that, either by affiliation or geography.

If you had a magic wand...?

It would cause me to reconsider everything I believe about the world, where magic only happens in the eyes of a child on Christmas morning.

What's one of the most inspiring things you've ever read or heard and quoted?

"There's no free trip, there's a toll gate along every highway. Stand somewhere, walk there, sit there, refuse there, sing there, get dragged away there. Pay up, or join the inhumans." That's Dan Berrigan, and I use it in the book.

Who should buy "Hammered by the Irish" and why?

I'd like to say 'anti-war people who need a little lift' -- but though this story has some semblance of a happy ending I've got to admit it won't give you a sustained high. Reality intrudes. I'd say, instead, and somewhat pedestrianly, it should be read by people who maybe have heard something of this story and have any of the following questions: Who were these people? How did they manage to hit a US Navy plane? What is the US military doing in 'neutral' Ireland anyway? What kind of support did they get in Ireland? How in God's name did they get off? I think this book will give you pretty straight answers.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Here we go again

Peter Owen Jones avoided the sensationalism of zombies and pin-pierced dolls whilst presenting vaudou in Around the world in 80 faiths. However, he had to leave ceremonial service because of the animal sacrifice which made him sick. Did he ever read the Old Testament, as he quite probably will call it? Would he think the offerings which are supposed to supply a lovely smell unto the LORD are in it as a kind of joke?

Vaudou, as any religious belief system, is a very serious creed. It should be needless to say, but spending three times seven minutes at different appearances of vaudou in Benin for most viewers cannot have left an impression of a serious relligion. Now we know the presenter gets seasick in a very plain fishing boat after offerings to Mamy Wata, the vaudou sea goddess. The name should sound suspicious to speakers of English or Dutch, but Owen Jones did not even get this right as Wikipedia tells us:
Mami Wata is a pantheon of water spirits or deities, venerated in West, Central, and Southern Africa, and in the African diaspora in the Caribbean and parts of North and South America.

So Mami (Mamy) Wata is a pantheon in it-/herself. Oh well, being seasick is more important than a good explanation. Still, the name might have been re-imported from the American diaspora, as Mamy Wata is also known in the "West Indies" as Maman Dlo, which should make francophone people wonder. Very interesting that there should be religious and cultural interchange on both sides of the Atlantic against the odds of slavery, but Owen Jones does not bother to explain anything. He is seasick and he is sick of animal sacrifice.

Ten faiths - three of which vaudou and one Rastafarian, which should have been expected, perhaps all four of them, in an America-instalment - in one hour, and there it is folks: Africa. One of the ten was presented as Afrikaner Calvinism. This should have been very recognizable to me since the Statenbijbel has been used well into the twentieth century in South Africa, and the Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk in South Africa originally is a branch of the Church I grew up in. Rather late, but very important was the rejection by the NGK of apartheid - in 1986 - which may have been as important to the ending of apartheid as a state system as any resistance by the ANC.
But the viewers of BBC2 must think that Afrikaner calvinism expects the second coming in 2020 and it considers apartheid holy.
I am beginning to think this is doing damage rather than cultivating understanding of the rich religious "fauna" or flora of humankind.

The images: Mamy Wata echoes Maria Stella Maris, who herself is a continuation of many sea goddesses. She even appears in Daoism, as Tianhou, Queen of the Sea - and China has not been cursed by colonial whips bringing obligatory belief in the Redeemer meanwhile taking away millions of people as slaves...

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Removing the Skull-crusher

In removing the mace from it's stand at the end of a House of Commons debate today, John McDonnel drew attention to an interesting bit of parliamentary kit.

A mace - and this one dates back to the restoration of the monarchy under Charles II - is an ancient symbol of military might. It is a violent skull-crushing weapon. And it represents British democracy.

It does a good job of representing British democracy: exported violently both now and in Britain's colonial past; defended by force of baton, gavel, and gun. The British parliamentary system whereby a few people get to vote for even few people who allow even fewer people be persuaded by a discrete and wealth minority is only able to persist by force. Why else would we put up with it.

Hence the mace is carried in to the house of commons every day that it is in session.

What though do Christians carry into the Kingdom of God? Not a mace, neither a gave or a gun. Christians take up a cross a symbol of torture and execution of the innocent poor a the hands of those who claim to defend the freedom, peace and security of good honest citizens.

Perhaps, in Britain, the Christian symbol of the cross should be replaced by the splintered skull. Why not, if the MPs insist on reminding us daily of their privileged use of the skull-smasher?

The Depressing press

An ex-KGB spy is due to buy London's Evening Standard. Let's see if it's readers notice any change in editorial drive? I suspect not.

On a lighter note, Sophie's just posted off the latest hard copy of A Pinch of Salt to the printers. If you don't get a copy and want one email editor.apos AT

At 7:17 this morning, on Radio 4, Jonathan Humphreys gave Mark Regev (Israeli spokesman) a spanking. Regev exposed himself as a liar and a fascist - admitting to targetting civilian police and civilian building and to refusing entry to western press agencies accept under Israeli supervision for limited periods but could not defend this decision.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009


A site that may speak of the few signs of hope for Israel/Palestine at the moment.

Nothing to lose but your business class seat

George Monbiot sums up effectively against the very unholy coalition that is selling Heathrow's third runway to the public. The selling point of those who pretend to be on the left is that the working classes are kept from flying to the costas on the cheapo cheapo by aristocratic so-called green maniacs. The figures show it is not the working class that's using cheap flights to go on their third holiday of the year - as if we should have expected otherwise.
But then there is the cultish former trotskyist crowd that is campaigning against green activism in general and against activism about new runways in particular. Monbiot does not notice them but I do: they are joined by the anarchist-classist group Class War that was crying out loud against the occupation at Stansted last year. The British (English?) working class, you see, has an inherent right to cheap flights to picturesque villages at the Mediterranean seaside - which unfortunately are no longer picturesque but who cares as long as there is lots of beer and a dance hall for your own tribe?

Just like the trotskyists of Spiked folks at Class War seem to think that being working class is particularly a matter of culture and hence a matter of choice. And stories about "Britain" losing out on the battle for aviation (you are not supposed to think about Wales or Scotland, or even the North of England) are being sold to be swallowed whole for the crowd wot reads The Sun - because they are soooo working class.

A type of reasoning that is not just plain stupid. It is willingly malignant. And of course very much on the extreme right.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Slightly more than seven minutes

It's only televison - or even better, quoting my ADILKNO-friends: blah blah blah it's only media...
Fridaynight, prime time 9pm, BBC2. Peter Owen Jones is doing the second instalment of Around the world in 80 faiths. There will be eight episodes of one hour each, I understand, which means every faith mentioned must be dealt with within the incredible time span of seven minutes.
Doing Confucianism in seven minutes.
Daoism in seven minutes.
And then - is the presenter as naive as he acts as if he is, or not? I am not sure. He is a reverend of the Church of England - how much does he know about (especially early) Church history? When he says that there is such a huge difference between Christ's teachings and the Buddha's, I start to wonder whether he knows either.
Or is it just playing for the crowd, supposed to be watching at a flagship time on an important TV night? I don't know - suppose I will have to keep watching, though.

This site offers you an opportunity to spend more than seven minutes with Cao Ðai, a faith from Vietnam which might be called syncretist and new, but - just as all the other ones, let there be no doubt about that - worth taking more time for.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Irresistible revolution

I read The irresistible revolution - living as an ordinary radical directly after Shane Claiborne's Jesus for president! and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove's New monasticism, about five months ago.
I was very much enthused by this threesome of books so I got in touch with the publishing company - they specifically ask for response via email - to propose to translate relevant parts of it into my mother tongue. Alas, I got no reaction of any kind at the two mails I sent. "We want to hear from you" apparently does not mean that you may expect a reply.
Then there was the conference of the Anarchist Studies Network, at which I found that Alexandre Christoyannopoulos had become as enthusiastic about it as I (I had told him about Claiborne through email - a medium that defintiely works sometimes). Keith however was skeptical, he called the theology of the book of the copy/paste-type. So my original enthusiasm got another hitting. What does it mean when the two political scientists attached to this weblog are enthusiastic, but the theologian is not?

After some time I asked Keith timidly what he meant with his objection of copy/paste-theology and he replied that he may have been too harsh in his judgement. But he definitely did not like phrases like Mom Theresa. Neither do I, but I am afraid that's the way it goes with people from the US of A...
But it is yet another objection than saying its theology is copy/paste. And after all, is not the stressing of the importance of the Sermon on the Mount, common to christian anarchism, copy/paste-theology too? Why not choose - provided you accept the so-called Old Testament - some loci where gays or adulterers and other folks are properly stoned to death, or some places where JHWH calls for the extermination of whole lists of enemy tribes? (Maybe they take those as a motto in Tzahal?)

When Dutch christian anarchist Felix Ortt wrote his books with bible stories for children and the young he completely left out the so-called Old Testament. "There is nothing edifying of any importance in it," was his judgement. That seems to be going too far again, and anyway, you can call that copy/paste-theology too. Shane Claiborne relies heavily on the OT but he treats the unedifying, indigestible parts ironically and lightly.

To my surprise it appears you can read theology in the USA, like Claiborne, and still have no knowledge of Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek. He went to Iraq with the best possible intentions, prior to the invasion by "his country", to act as a human shield, amd he writes about his surprise at finding Christian communities in that country. About the oldest branches of christendom can be found there, so it turned out christianity is not Made in USA. Does he really mean that?

Claiborne was originally an evangelical Republican activist, and I cannot avoid to conclude you really got to have a diminished mind to be such a person. Mind diminishing is generally prescribed by Capital but a bit more in the USA than in Europe. The book is more or less the autobiographical story of the change he has gone through - from being a "christian" to being a follower of Jesus.

And he is honest about it. He describes his change from right wing evangelical to a follower of Jesus - to what I would call christian anarchism, a qualification he must be familiar with, quoting Hennacy, Eller and others. Presumably choosing for this stamp is going too far for him - admittedly, it takes explaining, and it does not really matter because the Spirit is there anyway.

Glancing through the book again for this description I get caught anew by my original enthusiasm. I can live with the simplisms regularly popping up with Claiborne, and after all: he lives in a community called the Simple Way.
Summing up: it is a book to be recommended, perhaps it is even unmissable as a manifesto for present day christian anarchism, certainly more so than Dave Andrews' Christi-anarchy.

- Shane Claiborne, The irresistible revolution - living as an ordinary radical. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006. Foreword by Jim Wallis.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Gaza - follow the money of the future

In case you - rather: we - thought red peppers and oranges would be the main products, if ever Gaza would be producing anything in the future: read this and think again. And think again about the reasons why things are happening like they are at the moment.

ASN suggested reading on the current economic crisis

Members of the ASN have been suggesting web-based anarchist analysis of the current financial situation.

And here they are!

David Graeber, "Hope in Common"
Grumpy Cat, "Beyond Economic Meltdown: Further Notes on the Financial Crisis"
Alternative Libertaire et al, "Anarchist Communist Statement On The Global Economic Crisis And G20 Meeting"
Afed, Capitalism: Not Fit for Business
LibCom, What Recession means to us

Paul Bowman, Worker's Solidarity Movement: "The cause of the crisis in global capitalism"; "Crisis, what crisis? Pyramids not houses"; "Financial weapons of mass destruction"
George Stapleton, WSM, "The historical development of the global financial order under US hegemony"
Radical Perspectives on the Crisis

The daily chutzpah of the news

The alarmclock goes off. It is pitch dark and cold in a way we are no longer used to. Makes you wonder what day it is, just for a few seconds, especially after the holiday season.
Alas. Up to work.... Put on the radio lest we fall asleep again. BBC-World Service, as ever. The news programme Analysis. The first voice utters the first words to be heard on our radio:
President George W. Bush is adamantly pro life.

He's not just pro life, ya see. He is it adamantly.
Reminds me of that even more democratically installed German head of state, who was a vegetarian.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Buzzards circling for spirituality

A remarkable quote from Thomas Merton, the author's note to Zen and the birds of appetite:
Where there is a lot of fuss about "spirituality", "enlightenment" or just "turning on". it is often because there are buzzards hovering around a corpse. This hovering, this circling, this descending, this celebration of victory, are not what is meant by the Study of Zen....... The birds may come and circle for a while in the place where [Zen] is thought to be. But they soon go elsewhere. When they are gone, the "nothing", the "no-body" that was there, suddenly appears. That is Zen. It was there all the time but the scavengers missed it, because it was not their kind of prey.

Written in 1968, the worst was yet to come as far as the quest for exotic "spirituality" with Northatlantians is concerned. Merton did not live to see it. However, he more or less introduced Zen in benedictine liturgy, notably practiced in several monasteries.

Monday, 5 January 2009

State and government - there is a difference

A reaction containing so many important points for discussion it should not be hidden in the comment box - a response to the previous entry.

Philippe, Geneva said...
"Just say no to the State" ?
But Lumumba would have been a head of State precisely.
While I share the spirit of this blog and posts I've read, seen from Europe the contempt for the State seems odd. I more often see the State as people's tool to defend against the vast majority against social injustice rather than an independent body harming me. Without the State, what would stop the predators ? How could common good be pursued ? Social welfare ?
Of course I would prefer a self organised community, close to intentional communities, as in municipal participatory budgets (Brazil), but do you also consider that as State ?

Thanks, Philippe. Perhaps the first thing to be mentioned is that this blog at the time of writing is made by Europeans, so the continent does not count as a source for different views on the state. An important anarchist view on the state is still Kropotkin's, completely to be read online nowadays. An approach with a christian anarchist touch seems to be Bernard Charbonneau's L'état, which to me however is still elusive so I cannot judge from own experience.

Lumumba would have led the newly independent state of Congo-Leopoldville as it was called then, and we will never know if or how it would have worked. Maybe not, and it does not matter anyway: it did not happen and if it did no doubt anarchists would have criticised him as well.

A distinction should be made between government and State. As Seán Sheehan points out in his Anarchism, anarchists cannot be and therefore are not against government as principle of political organisation: a kind of executive at different levels which however must be carried by mandates which are revocable at any time. It is the original idea behind workers' councils - usurped by a state calling itself Soviet Union (Union of Councils). Yes, there is some experience with this form of government, but they were put down by States as quickly as possible (Russia, Spain, Algeria - watch out for Argentina and Greece these days).

The first way of manifesting itself is the state commanding its subjects to pay taxes. The difference between a band of robbers and the state is that this way of robbing is considered to be legal. It worked that way during the building of empires: suddenly people in Africa or Asia had to pay cash to some very distant white authority which put them in prison or worse if they did not obey. Does this sound libertarian in the anglophone sense? If so, I can only say they are right. The state is not a shield for the weak against the predators, it is the predators organised, as armed robbers and as murderers. Murder: these days shown at its absurdest in Gaza. Shooting some ragged rockets is labelled as terrorism, simply because it is done by what is not considered a state (and let us be clear about it: it really is terrorism). Throwing bombs from the safety of an aircraft carrier is considered legal punishment for this terrorism and not as terrorism, but it is worse terrorism than the rocket-shooting.
Considering the difference between govenrment and state is very important and there should be clarity about it with (religious) anarchists.

Municipal participatory budgets were new to me. I hope Philippe meant what the link is referring to. It sounds like a kind of libertarian municipalism, as advocated by Murray Bookchin. It sounds more like government than state, but I gather Porto Alegre still has a police force and there is still the federal authority ready to send in the army if Porto Alegre turns out to be too alegre for the state...

Saturday, 3 January 2009

No or yes?

After his death Dag Hammarskjöld's diaries revealed the mystic in him, for which he seems to be more famous nowadays than the function which made him well-known worldwide during his life: secretary-general of the UN.
This quotation from the published journal entries, called Markings in English, sounds beautiful, does not it?
I don't know Who — or what — put the question; I don't know when it was put. I don't even remember answering. But at some moment I did answer Yes to Someone — or Something — and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that, therefore, my life, in self-surrender, had a goal.

It sounds beautiful as long as we abstract from what Hammarskjöld actually did. Not long before his death he probably was complicit in toppling - and indirectly in killing - Patrice Lumumba, the democratically elected prime minister of the former Belgian Congo, which now bears the scornful name of Democratic Republic of Congo. His responsibility for creating the incredible mess in this unhappy country cannot be measured.

Saying yes about what?
Is there anything worth mentioning being done by the United Nations these days?

Let us celebrate those who said or say No! when it is necessary. This "no" is a more emphatic "yes" to Someone or something, and it is a no to the idea of living with an accomplice to murder or a murderer - yourself.
The no that was said by Die Weiße Rose, by the Underground Railroad, by conscientious objectors like the shministim and others. First of all it takes a no to say yes - you might call that practical mysticism but you do not have to.
Just say no to the State.

Entry inspired by Arthur Silber.

Slomo world

Slomo (Shlomo) is Aramaic for Peace
And world is English for wereld, monde, Welt, dunya etcetera
I am not certain whether it really is meant as a wish, but this is what I photographed in Leuven/Louvain on St. Sylvester 2009. And I read it as a wish.
Slomo world!