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Warnings from the Poet of Empire – Rudyard Kipling

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MacDonough’s Song

Whether the State can loose and bind
In Heaven as well as on Earth:
If it be wiser to kill mankind
Before or after the birth –
These are matters of high concern
Where State-kept schoolmen are;
But Holy State (we have lived to learn)
Endeth in Holy War.

Whether The People be led by The Lord,
Or lured by the loudest throat:
If it be quicker to die by the sword
Or cheaper to die by vote –
These are things we have dealt with once,
(And they will not rise from their grave)
For Holy People, however it runs,
Endeth in wholly Slave.

Whatsoever, for any cause,
Seeketh to take or give
Power above or beyond the Laws,
Suffer it not to live!
Holy State or Holy King –
Or Holy People’s Will –
Have no truck with the senseless thing.
Order the guns and kill!

Saying – after –me:-

Once there was The People – Terror gave it birth;
Once there was The People and it made a Hell of Earth.
Earth arose and crushed it. Listen, O ye slain!
Once there was The People – it shall never be again!

Recessional

God of our fathers, known of old,
Lord of our far-flung battle-line,
Beneath whose awful Hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine –
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget – lest we forget!

The tumult and the shouting dies;
The Captains and the Kings depart:
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget – lest we forget!

Far-called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget – lest we forget!

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe,
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
Or lesser breeds without the Law –
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget – lest we forget!

For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard,
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And guarding, calls not Thee to guard.
For frantic boast and foolish word –
Thy mercy on Thy People, Lord!

In common with many Britons, I share a remote attachment to the places of our Empire.

I have kinsmen buried there, from Delhi Ridge to The Frontier, Karachi and Chittagong. I have good friends in Malaysia and Singapore, the scene of my End of Empire service to ‘God, Queen, and Country’. I have cousins, some fairly remote, in Australia, Canada, and New Zealand; and clansmen and women in the Carolinas. And I was brought up with Rudyard Kipling, from the “Mowgli Stories” in The Jungle Book, through “The Elephant’s Child” and others in The Just So Stories, to his “Barrack Room Ballads” and other poems.

Rudyard Kipling would generally be considered the poet of the British Empire. He was certainly the greatest ballad writer of the Twentieth Century, and some would consider him the greatest Twentieth Century British poet of the English language. But, contrary to popular belief, he was far from being a jingoist or a racist.

He was born and spent his early years in India and, in common with thousands of his fellow countrymen and women, was as a result always something of an outsider ‘back home’ and maintained an enduring love of the sub-continent.

He lived for a while in America. During his early twenties he worked as a journalist back in India again. And perhaps his most typical work is the somewhat autobiographical Kim, rather than The Jungle Book which has been rather parodied by Disney and Hollywood. Politically he was a sort of Tory (that is ‘Tory’ as opposed to ‘Conservative’ – an outlook that, though not being libertarian, shares a lot with ‘Minarchism’), though many of his views can’t be so easily pidgeon-holed.

T. S. Eliot, the American poet who adopted Britain as his home and was also politically a Tory of a kind, published an Essay in appreciation entitled “Rudyard Kipling” on 26 September 1941.

In it he wrote, “we must [recognise] that for Kipling the Empire was not merely an idea… it was something the reality of which he felt. And in his expression of his feeling he was certainly not aiming at flattery of national, racial or imperial vanity, or attempting to propagate a political programme: he was aiming to communicate the awareness of something of which he felt that most people were very imperfectly aware. It was an awareness of grandeur, certainly, but it was much more an awareness of responsibility… [but he] had always been far from uncritical of the defects and wrongs of the British Empire…”

Several of his poems are warnings, or possibly rebukes, to the more jingoistic and spencerian Social Darwinist of his fellow countrymen. MacDonough’s Song is one such, with which I began this essay. The Gods of the Copybook Headings, published in 1919 after the trauma of the First World War in which his only son had been killed, is another.

Kipling’s famous poem – some might call it a hymn, according to Eliot – Recessional, published in The Times to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Jubilee in 1897 drew outrage down on his head at the thought of the likely ‘mortality’ of the Empire.

But all of these deserve to be considered afresh in the Brave New World of America’s Empire for the warnings against imperial hubris that they contain.

Taking as given that Kipling was a believer in the British Empire, “but held a firm belief in what it should and might be”, his poetry shows that criticism, rebukes, and warnings do not of themselves add up to disloyalty or lack of patriotism – something that seems to have conceptually passed by many in American politics, media, and academia.

He was quite a devout man, in a somewhat eclectic way, and was deeply aware of the mortality of it all, and that there are always consequences: we will have to give account of ourselves and our actions on the Day of Reckoning.

In 1934, he wrote for The Pageant of Parliament the metaphysical poem, inspired by the old Catholic hymn “Non Nobis Domine!”, that uses that title. It aims to pull us up short, and to remind us just to whom is the praise and glory. Our latter-day politicastros would do well to read it and ponder.

‘Non Nobis Domine!’

Non nobis Domine!
Not unto us, O Lord!
The Praise or Glory be
Of any deed or word;
For in Thy Judgment lies
To crown or bring to nought
All knowledge or device
That Man has reached or wrought.

And we confess our blame –
How all too high we hold
That noise which men call Fame,
That dross which men call Gold.
For these we undergo
Our hot and godless days,
But in our hearts we know
Not unto us the Praise.

O Power by Whom we live –
Creator, Judge, and Friend,
Upholdingly forgive
Nor fail us at the end:
But grant us well to see
In all our piteous ways –
Non nobis Domine!
Not unto us the Praise!

© David Rosser-Owen 2013

Written by Daoud Rosser-Owen

October 22, 2014 at 7:22 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

“The Unclouded Face of Truth Must Not Suffer Wrong”: John Thadeus Delane and the Profession of Journalism

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Among the great personalities in the history of the profession of journalism, certain names stand out. Such men as John Addison, James Madison, Thomas Barnes, William Howard Russell, C. P. Scott, Ed Murrow, Alastair Cook, and William Shirer grace this Hall of Fame. There are more modern ones who are still alive, but their places would be contentious to some and a needless distraction. Undoubtedly, to my mind, towering above all of these is the figure of John Thadeus Delane, who was editor of The Times from 1841 to his retirement in 1877, and who has left an enduring stamp on the standards of rectitude and duty by which the journalist should be judged.

John Walter II, the proprietor, appointed the young Delane after the great Thomas Barnes died on 7 May 1841. Under Barnes, the newspaper had acquired its famous nickname of The Thunderer. It was Delane’s lot to serve the paper during some of the most important events in British nineteenth century history such as the appearance of Sir Robert Peel’s 1834 Tamworth Manifesto (which Barnes had had a hand in writing), the Repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846, the Crimean War of 1853 to 1856, the Indian Mutiny in 1857, and the Relief of Khartoum in 1884.

Through a number of journalistic coups, and principled Editorials to back them up, Barnes and Delane essentially laid down the parameters within which the members of the profession of journalism should seek to be judged.

“A. P. Wadsworth (editor of the Manchester Guardian from 1944 to 1956) [wrote] in his study Newspaper Circulations 1800-1954, … ‘The rise of The Times under Barnes and Delane is extraordinary even by the eccentric standards of our own day.’ The answer lies in part in the meticulous organisation and dauntless enterprise of the men who served the paper.” (Oliver Woods and James Bishop, The Story of The Times, Michael Joseph, London, 1983, p 60)

The Press lives by disclosures

It was normal then to write in what we would now consider a rather pompous and wordy style. And certain mid-nineteenth century terminologies may seem to obscure what was being talked about when seen from today rather than illuminate. ‘The Press’ is still a phrase in circulation but we would more usually come across it labelled ‘the media’. A ‘statesman’ of Delane’s day we would now call a ‘politician’ and reserve ‘statesman’ for someone more elevated and well-respected internationally. And a ‘public writer’ we would describe as a ‘journalist’. We need to bear such differences in mind in order to get at the essences. It was also quite common then for people to say and write “England” when they really meant the “United Kingdom”. This is something that we shouldn’t allow to divert and distract us.

In 1844, the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel, a Tory, had become convinced of the need to repeal the Corn Laws although most of his supporters were protectionists. The eventual outcome of this was that the Corn Laws were indeed repealed, and in doing so Peel split and effectively destroyed the Tories, who were eventually reborn as the Conservative Party. Yet Peel and his followers later, in 1859, merged with the Whigs and Radicals to form the Liberal Party. The Conservatives they had left instead produced those titanic figures of Victorian politics Benjamin Disraeli (eventually ennobled as the Earl of Beaconsfield) and the 3rd Marquis of Salisbury, Robert Gascoyne-Cecil.

Delane, who supported repeal, was tipped off by another repealer, the Earl of Aberdeen, who was the Foreign Secretary, that Peel intended to repeal the Corn Laws and that the Cabinet had decided to recall parliament to announce the measure. He reported the fact in the newspaper on 4 December 1845. The article stated,

“The decision of the Cabinet is no longer secret. Parliament, it is confidently reported, is to be summoned for the first week in January; and the Royal speech will, it is added, recommend an immediate consideration of the Corn Laws, preparatory to their total repeal. Sir Robert Peel, in one house, and the Duke of Wellington in the other, will, we are told, be prepared to give immediate effect to the recommendation thus conveyed.”

The publication of the report caused uproar. The next day ‘the opposition of the anti-Repealers proved so boisterous that the Government resigned’ (Woods and Bishop, p 64).

There followed a few fraught days, during which the Opposition tried and failed to form a government. On 21 December, Peel re-formed his administration, and the next year the Corn Laws were duly repealed.

In 1852, The Times discovered that Britain and Russia had been negotiating a secret treaty. Delane published the fact, causing the treaty to fail. The Earl of Derby, enraged, admonished The Times in a speech in the House of Lords, and took the line that it was its patriotic duty to support the government, and by disclosing the matter it had betrayed the national interest. How topical this seems. Delane’s response was the diametric opposite of the pusillanimous conduct of much of the British and American Press towards the behaviour of the Bush and Blair, and Obama and Cameron administrations.

It was the famous Editorial on Friday, 6 February 1852, in answer to this that has set the norms for responsible journalism and newspaper publishing ever since. Delane wrote:

“The Earl of DERBY remarked with considerable emphasis in his speech on the Address, that as in these days the English press aspires to share the influence of statesmen, so also it must share in the responsibilities of statesmen. If the first of these propositions be established, the second follows as a matter of course; and we, of all men, are the least disposed to lower the proper functions or to deny the responsibilities of the power we may derive from the confidence of the public. But, be that power more or less, we cannot admit that its main purpose is to share the labours of statesmanship, or that it is bound by the same limitations, the same duties, the same liabilities as that of the Ministers of the CROWN. The purposes and the duties of the two powers are constantly separate, generally independent, sometimes diametrically opposite. The dignity and freedom of the press are trammelled from the moment it accepts an ancillary position. To perform its duties with entire independence, and consequently with the utmost public advantage, the press can enter into no close or binding alliances with the statesmen of the day, nor can it surrender its permanent interests to the convenience of the ephemeral power of any Government.”

That last sentence is a salutary rebuke to today’s media that seem to take pride in performing simply as mouthpieces for one government, established interest, or political party or another. It seems to see its function as “topping and tailing” government press releases or reports, and taking politicians’ announcements at face value without further questioning or investigation. The journalist’s “nose” has lost its ability to smell out a story.

This has become so blatant, and almost normative, that independent commentators or ‘citizen journalists’ have taken to referring to them disparagingly with a variety of terms such as the “MSM” (or “Mainstream Media”), the “corporate media”, “presstitutes”, or “whorespondents”. Remember it is an aphorism of democracy that for it to function properly, the “dimos”, the electorate or ‘politically empowered class’, must be objectively well informed and not fed Soviet-style with dezinformatsiya. The Press’s job is “to educate and inform”.

“The first duty of the press is to obtain the earliest and most correct intelligence of the events of the time, and instantly, by disclosing them, to make them the common property of the nation.The statesman collects his information secretly and by secret means; he keeps back even the current intelligence of the day with ludicrous precautions, until diplomacy is beaten in the race with publicity. The press lives by disclosures; whatever passes into its keeping becomes a part of the knowledge and the history of our times; it is daily and for ever appealing to the enlightened force of public opinion – anticipating, if possible, the march of events -standing upon the breach between the present and the future, and extending its survey to the horizon of the world. The statesman’s duty is precisely the reverse. He cautiously guards from the public eye the information by which his actions and opinions are regulated; he reserves his judgment on public events till the latest moment, and then he records it in obscure or conventional language; he strictly confines himself, if he be wise, to the practical interests of his own country, or to those bearing immediately upon it; he hazards no rash surmises as to the future; and he concentrates in his own transactions all that power which the press seeks to diffuse over the world. The duty of the one is to speak; of the other to be silent. The one expends itself in discussion; the other tends to action. The one deals mainly with rights and interests; the other with opinions and sentiments. The former is necessarily reserved; the latter essentially free.”

In the statement “…he strictly confines himself, if he be wise, to the practical interests of his own country, or to those bearing immediately upon it…” Delane speaks across the century and a half that separates him from Blair, Bush, Obama, and Cameron. He says, essentially, ‘mind your country’s own business’ and ‘avoid foreign entanglements’. Or in the famous words of Lord Palmerston (HM Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in 1848) “we have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.”  These are usually misquoted as “England has no friends, only interests”. (David Steele, ‘Temple, Henry John, thirdViscount Palmerston (1784–1865)’, OxfordDictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004).

“It follows, therefore, from this contrast, that the responsibilities of the two powers are as much at variance as their duties. For us, with whom publicity and truth are the air and light of existence, there can be no greater disgrace than to recoil from the frank and accurate disclosure of facts as they are. We are bound to tell the truth as we find it, without fear of consequences – to lend no convenient shelter to acts of injustice and oppression, but to consign them at once to the judgment of the world. Statesmen, it is said, have duties of a nicer order; they are bound to repress the throb of indignation which will rise at the sight of evils and oppressions they cannot avenge; they are prone to pursue particular objects rather than to pledge themselves to general principles; they are forbidden to risk for an instant the important interests confided to their care; and, though the support of the public opinion is essential to their success, it is only by rare and occasional efforts that they can attempt to guide it.”

There is a great irony in that statement, given the almost hysterical reactions of many governments to crises which tend to be describable in popular terms as “do something – anything – but we must be seen to be doing something”.

“If the public writer shares in any degree the influence of the statesman, he shares at least few of those personal objects which constitute so large a part of ordinary statesmanship. He is not toiling or sacrificing the best years of his life and the best faculties of his nature in the pursuit of personal aggrandizement, for none can either reward or corrupt the obscure course of his labours. Even the triumph of his opinions is not accompanied by the applause of a party or the success of a struggle for patronage and power. Those opinions which he has defended, and, so to speak, created, slip from him in the moment of their triumph, and take their stand among established truths. The responsibility he really shares is more nearly akin to that of the economist or the lawyer, whose province is not to frame a system of convenient application to the exigencies of the day, but to investigate truth and to apply it on fixed principles to the affairs of the world.

The responsibility we acknowledge has therefore little in common with that of statesmen, for it is estimated by a totally different standard of rectitude and duty. Of all professions, statesmanship is that in which the greatest laxity of practice is tolerated by the usages of society. Concealment, evasion, factious combinations, the surrender of convictions to party objects, and the systematic pursuit of expediency, are things of daily occurrence among men of the highest character once embarked in the contention of political life. We know not if these be useful or essential parts of statesmanship, and we more than suspect that Lord GREY would confess by his own experience that they are not so. But we know that they are absolutely destructive to the credit, the power, and the success of a public writer; and he who would traffic with his pen on such terms had better take refuge at once among those mercenary hacks who court the favours of every successive Government. Of all journals; and of all writers, those will obtain the largest measure of public support who have told the truth most constantly and most fearlessly.

Again, the eyes of a Minister are rivetted upon the interests of his own country, and his duties can scarcely be said to extend beyond it. The press owes its first duty to the national interests which it represents, but nothing is indifferent to it which affects the cause of civilization throughout the world. The press of England, standing, as it now does, alone in the enjoyment of entire freedom, would grievously neglect its exalted privileges if it failed to recollect how much is due to the common interests of Europe.”

There is another irony in this as most of the politicians of the parliamentarily represented parties at Westminster seem keener to stand up for and advocate the interests of the European Union than those of the United Kingdom.

“It may suit the purposes of statesmen to veil the statue of Liberty, and to mutter some formulary of disingenuous acquiescence in foreign wrongs, dictated by their fears rather than by their convictions; but we prefer to await for our justification the day when the entombed and oppressed liberties of Europe shall once more start into life and array themselves under the standard to which we cling. For to what, after all, are the statesmen of England to look for strength and national power, if injuries and offences rise against us, but to the enlightened resolution of the people of England to uphold the principles on which our own polity and independence are founded? Far from thinking that language of too great energy and effect has been employed to convey to our own countrymen a true and just impression of the political condition of the great nation which exists within a few miles of our own coasts, we fear that this sudden change in the state of France is still but imperfectly understood in all its formidable consequences to Europe, and possibly to ourselves. It is the unquestionable duty of Ministers to watch over the maintenance of our pacific relations with other States, and to disclaim all that might be erroneously construed into hostile intentions on our part, while they provide efficiently for the independence and security of Britain against all contingencies. But it seems to us the first duty of public writers is to take care that the people of England are not lulled into indifference to the destruction of liberty and the violation of political rights in such a country as France, since that liberty and those were the chief pledges of our pacific relations and our common interests. It is our duty to point out danger, however remote, whether it consist in the uncertain policy of a neighbouring State, or in our own disarmed condition; and a far heavier weight of responsibility than we now bear might be laid to our charge if we had neglected to describe the late occurrences in France in their true colours, or if we had affected to acquiesce, from a shortsighted and mistaken policy, in a revolution which calls for the utmost vigilance on the part of this country and of the rest of Europe.”

This Editorial deserves to be learned by heart by all journalists, especially those all too common creatures who are seduced by proximity to politicians. They should bear in mind what one wag said, “there is no principle so sacred that a politician will not betray it for gain”. Such are their friends. Or as it says in the Quran, “are they looking for dignity from them? All dignity comes from God entirely.”

“We hold ourselves responsible… to the people of England”

Two years later The Times fell foul of the politicians again.

Having been beating the drum for war in the latter part of 1853, the newspaper continued to follow the public clamour, and this led to a break-down in the hitherto cosy relationship between Lord Aberdeen (who was then Prime Minister) and Delane.

“The run-up to the Crimean War was not The Times’s most glorious hour. If ever there were times when it reflected, rather than led, public opinion, this was one. Privately John Walter admitted that the paper had been ‘brow beaten into support of the war’…” (Woods and Bishop, p 65).

The ‘browbeating’ had been the public hysteria caused by ‘the massacre at Sinope’ on 30 November 1853, when an Ottoman naval squadron had been annihilated by the Russian Black Sea fleet in the harbour of Sinope (the two empires had been at war for some weeks by this time). This incident led to the open breaking point in the relations between Lord Aberdeen and Delane, and in a leading article on 13 December, The Times called for Britain to declare war on Russia.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the Crimean War, and the stand taken by The Times, the newspaper retained its principled stand-off from government, and, in dispatching William Russell, who Delane had recruited in 1844 to cover Irish affairs, introduced the world to the War Correspondent.

Delane intended to go for a quick visit himself to see the situation so that he could better handle the news coming back. However, before he could leave, The Times uncovered yet another story which upset the government and opposition. Delane dutifully published. His responsibility as he saw it was “to the people of England” not to Parliament.

The ultimatum from the British Government to the Tsar was sent by courier via Paris, and took quite a few days to arrive in St Petersburg. Delane discovered the gist of the message, and published it before the courier arrived. But the courier took so long, that the Tsar read the ultimatum in The Times first.

The leading article of 28 February 1854 stated,

“The Governments of England and France have resolved to address to the Emperor of Russia a formal summons calling upon him to give within six days from the receipt of that communication a solemn promise and engagement that he will cause his troops to evacuate the principalities of the Danube on or before the 30th of April. The couriers who are the bearers of this despatch from London to Paris started on their journey yesterday morning. The refusal on the part of Russia to comply with this just demand will be regarded by the Powers as a declaration of war.”

Both the British government and opposition were outraged. Lord Derby, the Leader of the Opposition, had already clashed with Delane for publishing a secret proposal by the Tsar to partition Turkey. He now accused Lord Aberdeen of leaking the memorandum to The Times, which was ironical since he and Delane were scarcely on speaking terms after the Editor had gone over to the war party. Delane’s source was almost certainly Sir Charles Napier, the commander of the Royal Navy’s Baltic Squadron.

As Woods and Bishop wrote, “The Times felt called upon to make a declaration of policy and did so in terms which have since served as a credo for all independent journalists.” (p 66)

Delane’s Editorial stated,

“We hold ourselves responsible not to Lord Derby or the House of Lords, but to the people of England, for the accuracy and fitness of that which we think proper to publish. Whatever we conceive to be injurious to the public interests, it is our duty to withhold; but we ourselves and the public at large are quite as good judges on that point as the leader of the Opposition, whose object is not to serve the State, but to embarrass the Ministry.”

It would appear that neither the Republican and Democratic Parties in the USA, nor the Conservative and Unionist, the Liberal Democrat, or the Labour Parties in the United Kingdom, during the recent upheavals since 11 September 2001, have seen their duties quite in the same light as John Delane and the Earl of Derby, behaving little better than the Peasants’ Party in the old Soviet Union whose fig-leaf role it was to give the semblance of democracy but not actually to dissent. It has been the responsibility and duty of journalists to expose this democratic failing: their own failure is a betrayal.

The supply must not be tainted

It is against a backdrop of the impact that John Delane had had on the development of British journalism that we can now appreciate the famous statement of C. P. Scott of the Manchester Guardian (nowThe Guardian) when he wrote in an Editorial on 6 May 1926,

“The newspaper is of necessity something of a monopoly, and its first duty is to shun the temptations of monopoly. Its primary office is the gathering of news. At the peril of its soul it must see that the supply is not tainted. Neither in what it gives, nor in what it does not give, nor in the mode of presentation, must the unclouded face of truth suffer wrong. Comment is free, but facts are sacred.”

This is another principled statement that deserves to be committed to memory by all who would claim to be journalists.

It is probable that Walter, Barnes, and Delane were Tories, but that political philosophy did not condition or guide their profession. In the light of the prostitution of journalism to propagandise the wishes of the small time politicastros who seem universally to hold high office after 11 September 2001, and likely before, and in the promotion of war against Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria, it is as well to remind ourselves of what Delane wrote about the danger to ‘public writers’ of trafficking in ‘concealment, evasion, factious combinations, the surrender of convictions to party objects, and the systematic pursuit of expediency’.

“…The responsibility he [the ‘public writer’,or professional journalist] really shares is more nearly akin to that of the economist or the lawyer, whose province is not to frame a system of convenient application to the exigencies of the day, but to investigate truth and to apply it on fixed principles to the affairs of the world.

The responsibility we acknowledge has therefore little in common with that of statesmen, for it is estimated by a totally different standard of rectitude and duty. Of all professions, statesmanship is that in which the greatest laxity of practice is tolerated by the usages of society. Concealment, evasion, factious combinations, the surrender of convictions to party objects, and the systematic pursuit of expediency, are things of daily occurrence among men of the highest character once embarked in the contention of political life. We know not if these be useful or essential parts of statesmanship,… But we know that they are absolutely destructive to the credit, the power, and the success of a public writer; and he who would traffic with his pen on such terms had better take refuge at once among those mercenary hacks who court the favours of every successive Government. Of all journals; and of all writers, those will obtain the largest measure of public support who have told the truth most constantly and most fearlessly.” [emphasis added].

The journalists’ professional organisations and trade unions really need to examine themselves and what they stand for. Are they representing the best standards of the profession as described all those years ago by John Delane, or are they maintaining a closed shop for employees of print and broadcast media companies? Will they review their policies and issue “Press Cards” – that much covetted identity symbol – to freelance and citizen journalists, or will they still reserve them for the full-time employees who have, in many case, become little better than ignorant mouthpieces of corporate interests?

Danny Schechter, the well-known investigative journalist, independent TV producer, and executive editor of MediaChannel.org, commented damningly on the behaviour of many of these people and their bosses

“Like blackbirds in flight, packs of reporters darken the sky, moving in swarms at the same speed and in predictable trajectory. When one lands, they all land. When one leaves, they all leave. The programmers and channel controllers from all the stations are part of the same well-paid elite, steeped in the same values, committed to the mission of maximizing audience share and profits. They are chosen for their ability to play the game and not challenge the audience with too many controversial ideas or critical perspectives. It’s no surprise that they circulate easily within the commanding heights of media power, moving from company to company and job to job. A kind of group think corporate consensus, steeped in market logic and deeply inbred by an un-brave newsculture, breeds conscience-free conformity and self-censorship. This makes frightening sense in a globalized economy where consumerism is more desired than active citizenship, where power is increasingly concentrated and the public is increasingly unwelcome in a public discourse defined by the powerful. If your goal is to numb people and drive them away from active participation, then TV as “weapon of mass distraction” and wall to wall entertainment makes sense. Shut up and shop is the now message, one that makes sense to advertiser dominated media outlets…” (Danny Schechter, “Dung on all their Houses”, Toward Freedom magazine, December / January 2000).

What would Delane and the others make of such conduct of print and broadcast journalists and their publishers? And especially seeing since 11 September 2001 it has worsened outrageously?

It hardly bears thinking about, but it is probable it would have been forcefully stated in another memorable Leading Article that would leave them under no illusions anymore than the Earl of Derby was. It is my contention that the essence of it is already contained in the famous editorials that I have dealt with in this essay, and would be universally damning.

© David Rosser-Owen 2014 All Rights Reserved
 

[David Rosser-Owen, now a Freelance, lives in London. A former regular soldier and academic historian, he is a Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society, and a sometime Member of the Chartered Institute of Journalists. While Managing Editor of Q-News International in the 1990s he ran the in-house courses for trainees. This Essay was written from material used for teaching the Ethics of Journalism.]

Written by Daoud Rosser-Owen

October 22, 2014 at 6:42 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

‘When did journalism die?’ Thoughts on the harrying of Glen Greenwald’s friend

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On 18 August, 2013, David Miranda, 28, a Brazilian national, was held for nine hours at Heathrow Airport under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 while on his way from Berlin to Rio de Janeiro, where he lives with his partner Glen Greenwald. His laptop, mobile phone, and pen-drives were taken by police, and as yet have not been returned.

Mr Greenwald is the American journalist and columnist for The Guardian newspaper of London who has been at the centre of publishing and commenting on sensitive documents released by Edward Snowden, currently on temporary asylum in Russia. These documents revealed the extent of the illegal and unconstitutional spying world-wide of the Americans’ National Security Agency (NSA) aided and abetted by Britain’s Cheltenham-based Government Communications Head-Quarters (GCHQ).

The NSA’s activity is forbidden under the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution.

In an unsigned article, the BBC website stated “Mr Greenwald said the authorities “spent the entire day asking about the reporting I was doing and other Guardian journalists were doing on the NSA stories”, while Mr Miranda said he was questioned about his “whole life” by “six agents”. Mr Greenwald accused the authorities of “bullying” and said it was “clearly intended to send a message of intimidation” to those working on the NSA revelations. The Guardian, several senior UK politicians and the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, David Anderson QC, have demanded a full explanation. Brazil has also sought answers from the UK.”

The legality or otherwise, and the appropriateness of using the Terrorism Act in this way, including the way that GCHQ agents have been destroying hard-drives in the basement of The Guardian’s offices will presumably be tested by The Guardian newspaper and other interested parties.

It is, however, a matter of concern that nearly all the write-ups in the UK press have given the impression of re-write jobs or simple topping and tailing of government handouts or briefings.

And, given the clear intimidatory signal being sent to journalists by this action, the apparent silence of the National Union of Journalists, the British Association of Journalists, and the Chartered Institute of Journalists, is very worrying.

Mr Greenwald stated in an interview on CNN, ““If you want to start criminalizing (journalism), it means that you’re asking, as a citizen, to be kept ignorant and to allow people in power to conceal what they’re doing behind a wall of secrecy and to have no accountability or transparency,” he said. “Journalism is not a crime and it is not terrorism.”

Greenwald added that every single major news organisation in the world has classified information. “Reporting on what governments do in secret is what journalism is about.” he stated. “So if you want to support the idea that states can just go and confiscate from journalists classified information, you should be demanding that your government go physically into newsrooms and seize whatever classified information is there,” he continued.”

I have often wondered in print when journalism died.

When I would tutor trainee journalists on newspapers and magazines where I worked, I would always insist that they read the Editorial penned on Friday, 6 February 1852, by John Delane, the famous Editor of The Times, as in it Delane states quite clearly and unequivocally what the role of the journalist (“public writer”) is, his or her relationship to politicians and the classe politica (“statesmen”), and the ethics of the profession. Too few of today’s current practitioners of the art live up to Delane’s standards – Greenwald is one of them.

“The purposes and the duties of the two powers [politicians and the press] are constantly separate, generally independent, sometimes diametrically opposite. The dignity and freedom of the press are trammelled from the moment it accepts an ancillary position. To perform its duties with entire independence, and consequently with the utmost public advantage, the press can enter into no close or binding alliances with the statesmen of the day, nor can it surrender its permanent interests to the convenience of the ephemeral power of any Government.

The first duty of the press is to obtain the earliest and most correct intelligence of the events of the time, and instantly, by disclosing them, to make them the common property of the nation. The statesman collects his information secretly and by secret means; he keeps back even the current intelligence of the day with ludicrous precautions, until diplomacy is beaten in the race with publicity. The press lives by disclosures; whatever passes into its keeping becomes a part of the knowledge and the history of our times; it is daily and for ever appealing to the enlightened force of public opinion – anticipating, if possible, the march of events – standing upon the breach between the present and the future, and extending its survey to the horizon of the world…

For us, with whom publicity and truth are the air and light of existence, there can be no greater disgrace than to recoil from the frank and accurate disclosure off acts as they are. We are bound to tell the truth as we find it, without fear of consequences – to lend no convenient shelter to acts of injustice and oppression, but to consign them at once to the judgment of the world….

Of all professions, statesmanship is that in which the greatest laxity of practice is tolerated by the usages of society. Concealment, evasion, factious combinations, the surrender of convictions to party objects, and the systematic pursuit of expediency, are things of daily occurrence… We know not if these be useful or essential parts of statesmanship,… But we know that they are absolutely destructive to the credit, the power, and the success of a public writer; and he who would traffic with his pen on such terms had better take refuge at once among those mercenary hacks who court the favours of every successive Government. Of all journals; and of all writers, those will obtain the largest measure of public support who have told the truth most constantly and most fearlessly.

The press owes its first duty to the national interests which it represents, but nothing is indifferent to it which affects the cause of civilization throughout the world… it seems to us the first duty of public writers is to take care that the people of England are not lulled into indifference to the destruction of liberty and the violation of political rights…”

I detect no searching criticisms of Her Majesty’s Government’s actions in serving the interest of a foreign power, no questioning of Her Majesty’s Home Secretary for her claim that the actions of the police were legal even though there was no element of terrorism involved, and no interrogation of Her Majesty’s First Lord of the Admiralty as to why he and the government he heads were so willing to kow-tow to the United States of America for an act that is ultra vires of its own Constitution.

A vibrant and self-assured press is essential for the preservation of freedom and civilisation.

So, I ask again, when did journalism die?

©DRO 21082013

Written by Daoud Rosser-Owen

October 22, 2014 at 6:37 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Halal Food? My threepennyworth, or a foray into my Orientalist past.

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Apart from the health worries, everybody should agree that one ought to be able to have confidence that what you are buying is actually what you want to buy.

If you want halal chicken, then it really should be. And if you have a personal objection to eating ‘halal’ food you shouldn’t have it given to you ‘under the radar’ as it were.

It is a common complaint that so-called halal slaughtering is cruel and inhumane. This has often been backed up by photographic and video evidence of it being done.

And if one is to go by that, then one can say that no matter what may be claimed for its halal nature what one sees before our eyes belies it. If that’s what they think is halal, then they’re wrong.

Some years ago, there was a documentary shown on BBC TV about the treatment and presentation of frozen chickens.

The programme demonstrated that many chickens sold in the UK were sourced from countries such as Brazil, that they were treated with chemicals and soaked in water that was absorbed up to 100 percent of the body weight, and then frozen and boxed up.

The solution in which they were steeped contained all sorts of animal products, including pig, and industrial chemicals. Some of the boxes were designated as being for the halal food market, and simply labelled as “halal” although the content was no different from the non-halal boxes.

So, what constitutes “halal” food?

It would seem at first glance to be a simple matter, but it isn’t. There is a simplistic obsession with cutthroat meat as being the main or only determinant as to whether the food is halal or not. This is wrong.

Nevertheless, it was the normal way of slaughtering animals in the British Isles until the fashion for “pre-stunning” took hold; and the mere stating of the formula “in the Name of God” before cutting the throat hardly, in my book at any rate, constitutes “ritual slaughter”.

I usually tell them about my maternal grandfather and great-grandfather who were working sheep and dairy farmers initially on the Hebridean island of Islay and latterly near Peebles in the Scottish Borders. If they wanted a sheep for the table, they would slaughter it by cutting its throat. And being good and practising Scots Presbyterians they would do so “in the Name of God”.

I would imagine that this was fairly typical everywhere in the British Isles at the end of the 19th Century. My point in drawing their attention to this is that there is nothing inherently “alien” about slaughtering in this manner, just unfashionable.

Were it available, I would recommend people to read the booklet authored by my friend from the past Dr Ghulam Mustafa Khan entitled “Al Dhabh: Slaying Animals for Food the Islamic Way”. Unfortunately it is out of print, and the last reprint date was in 1982 – a dereliction, I would say, of the UK Muslim communities.

In it, referring to extensive studies on schechita (koshering) that appeared in the Israel Veterinary Journal, he demonstrated that done properly the “cutthroat” method is inherently humane and painless; that the animal is unaware of what is happening and loses consciousness before feeling the cut – much like cutting one’s self shaving.

The operative matter here is “done properly”.

For the animal slaughtered in this manner to be halal, it must be kept calm and be unaware of what is to happen to it. It must not be in the presence of other animals that are being slaughtered; there must not be any smell of fear or death in the air. According to a Tradition one animal must not be slaughtered in the presence of another.

It is thus arguable that those animals or birds we see trussed up and treated like inanimate commodities being slaughtered en masse are not halal.

There is also an opinion among scholars that the way the animal is reared will affect the halal or otherwise nature of its meat. Arguably, therefore, battery chickens, or cage reared calves for veal, cannot be halal.

Further, it is a fantasy that is easily dispelled by a visit to an industrial slaughter-house that the pre-stunning method as frequently applied is necessarily more humane than the popular view on koshering/halaling.

Also, the pre-stunning method of disposing of chickens involves an often slow and painful asphyxiation with CO2 gas.

My point here is that the industrial levels of slaughter, whether according to the supposed halal method or the pre-stunning method, are not necessarily humane. And may well by their very industrial scale militate against it.

Their practises need to be inspected by the Food Safety Authority and rigorously ameliorated before any high horses are ridden.

Further, cutting the throat of the animal is not necessarily the only means by which meat acquires its halal nature.

Most people are aware that the Muslims, by and large, belong to one or other of the two principal denominations: Shiah and Sunni. Less well-known is that within those two are certain “schools” or “rites” to do with the methodology of interpreting verses of the Quran, the Traditions of the Prophet, and their applicability to everyday life: each of these is called a “madh’hab” (plural, ‘madhahib’).

The rulings in certain circumstances will depend on the surrounding communal environment. For example, the (Sunni) Hanafi rite is the dominant one in the Indian sub-continent, Turkey, the Balkans, eastern Europe, Central Asia, and China.

In India and China the surrounding non-Muslim milieux are largely Hindu or Confucianist; whereas in Turkey, Europe, and Central Asia it is Christian with an admixture of Jews.

Thus, rulings in the Christian environment differ to some extent from those of the Hindu or Confucianist ones as their food is not considered permissible for Muslims and the clearest way of establishing this was by laying a great emphasis on cutting the throat for slaughter.

However, migrants from there in coming here have entered a Christian milieu and ideas and practises from there are not suitable for here.

The normative rulings within the Hanafi rite for those of its followers living in the UK and Europe are therefore those from the Ottoman Empire, not least because it was the seat of the Caliphate, and not from the Mughal Empire.

And “halal” actually doesn’t simply mean ‘lawful’, but ‘not forbidden’. And, as I understand it, in Islam everything that is not expressly forbidden is permitted.

Many Muslims, with the strong authority of scholars of their rites (madhahib), hold that the verses of the Quran that state unequivocally “al yawma uhilla lakumu-t tayyibat; wa ta’amu-lladheena utou-l kitaba hillun lakum...” (Q5 Maidah: 6)(today the good things are permitted you, and the food of those who were given the Book is permitted to you… [Arberry’s translation]) and “ya ayyuha-lladheena amanou la tuharrimou tayyibati ma ahilla-Llahu lakum wa la ta’tadou” (Q5 Maidah: 90)(O believers, forbid not such good things as God has permitted you; and transgress not… [Arberry’s translation]) are to be taken literally.

Namely, that the good foodstuffs of the Christians and the Jews are halal by their very nature, and are not to be deemed forbidden.

Because of this, and because the casual, and even capricious, labelling of foodstuffs as “halal” has become a matter of annoyance to many in the host communities I feel that the practise should be stopped.

And Muslims should be encouraged to assume that all foodstuffs are“halal” unless otherwise told (for example, because the butcher has a label on it that says “pork”) because as the Almighty has designated this is a land of the People of the Book and their food is therefore lawful for Muslims.

So, in my opinion, a decent cut of Soil Association approved Scotch beef from a craft butcher is more likely to be ‘halal’ by definition than a joint of lamb – Welsh or otherwise – from a “halal” industrial slaughterhouse on the Welsh borders.

© D Rosser-Owen London May 2014 All Rights Reserved

Written by Daoud Rosser-Owen

October 22, 2014 at 6:34 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

The Common Law v Hegel and the Code Napoléon via HRA1998

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The Common Law v Hegel and the Code Napoléon via HRA1998

Some 360 years ago, through a kind of national ‘trial by combat’ it became a principle of the Common Law that – as Thomas Fuller put it – ‘no matter how high, the Law is above you’ and that the governing body was answerable to the Common Law in This Worldly courts, of which Parliament was still a High Court.

It was seen by great legal figures from Rev Richard Hooker for the Royalists and Sir Edward Coke CJ for Parliament as endorsing all the jurisprudential events of the previous thousand years especially Magna Carta, Carta Forestium, Habeas Corpus or the Great Writ (first served in 1305), and guaranteeing “the ancient rights and liberties” (King Charles the Martyr’s phrase) of the freeborn Briton.

These matters were summarised during that century by three major legal documents: the Petition of Right, the Bill of Rights, and the Act of Settlement.

All this was further summarised in the next century, some 240 years ago, by those most important British constitutional documents – the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America (with its various Amendments).

In all of these, though rarely stated explicitly except by Hooker and a few like him, what stands supreme is the belief that the Common Law is Natural Law and as such is Divinely Inspired.

A corollary of this is that what is granted by Natural Law cannot legitimately be trammelled by mundane authorities except temporarily and only in extremis. There is no Hegelian concept of any “Rechtstaat” where freedoms and privileges are in the gift of The State, and no Code Napoléon of guilty until proved innocent.

It was to correct these weaknesses of the constitutional and jurisprudential thinking of European countries, and those which had derived their ideas from them, that the victorious Common Law countries after 1945 came up with two documents – the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the European Convention on Human Rights – which listed in simple terms the absolute and unalterable “human rights” that derive from Natural Law and which the European belligerents had failed to recognise.

The European Union eventually came up with a Hegelian perversity of this and a “court” of human rights to enforce it. Mr Blair’s “Human Rights Act 1998” that presently afflicts the United Kingdom is a Hegelian outgrowth, a Napoleonic excresence, from this perversity and should have no place in this culture from which the Common Law emerged.

© DRO 30062014

Written by Daoud Rosser-Owen

October 22, 2014 at 6:29 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

“Arabic-Andalusian Music” by Beatriz Amo

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«Al Andalus, nom donné au sud de la péninsule Ibérique où s’établirent les invasions successives de peuples d’origine arabe et nord-africaine du VIII° au XV° siècles, fut pendant le Moyen-Age un foyer de culture dont l’influence devait rayonner sur toute l’Europe médiévale. L’Europe n’avait alors pas atteint un degré de civilisation comparable à la splendeur et au raffinement extrême auxquels étaient déjà parvenus les habitants du Sud de l’Espagne. Très vite, après que le Califat de Cordoue eut proclamé son indépendance en 755, la culture devint autochtone, aboutissant à une forme de vie et à un esprit typiquement andalous, nés du mélange des cultures antérieures de la péninsule, du legs grecs et des apports orientaux…» p. 6

“Al Andalus, the name of the Iberian peninsula where successive invasions of people of Arab and North African origin had established themselves between the 8th and the 15th centuries was, during the Middle Ages, a centre of culture and of influence on the rest of mediaeval Europe. At that period Europe had not yet attained a level of civilization comparable with the splendour and extreme sophistication enjoyed by the inhabitants of Southern Spain. Beginning with the proclamation of independence by the Caliphate of Cordoba in 755, an autonomous cultural life developed, growing into a form of life and a spirit which were distinctly Andalusian, born of a fusion of the earlier cultures of the peninsula, the legacies of the Greeks and various Oriental elements…” p. 11*

«Pour situer la musique arabo-andalusie dans son contexte historique, if faut rappeler que les Arabes furent les premiers à découvrir les théories musicales grecques, à les assimiler at à les enrichir. L’influence de cette musique sur l’Europe du Moyen Age est bien plus profonde et importante qu’on ne serait porté à le croire. Près de deux cents traités musicaux ont été écrits entre le IX° et le XIII° siècles, certains d’une grande importance. Ces traités étaient étudiés et connus dans les principaux monastères européens. L’example et l’art des théoriciens et musiciens arabes marquèrent la naissance de la musique européenne, telle qu’elle nous apparaît dans les premiers chants romans de l’Espagne chrétienne et du Sud de la France, ainsi que le développement de la musique religieuse et du plain-chant. Cette influence apparaît d’autant plus évidente si nous énumérons la quantité d’instruments qui devinrent d’usage courant en Europe, certains d’origine orientale et perse comme le luth, le psalterion ou canon, le rebec ou la vièle, etc. et d’autres d’origine grecque comme l’orgue décrit déjà au IX° siècle par Mafatih d’Al-Khouarezmi et Ibn Sina dans son livre de Science II (“Kitab al-shifa”)… » pp. 8-9

“In considering the place of Arabic-Andalusian music in its historic context, it must be remembered that the Arabs were the first to re-discover the musical theories of the Greeks, to assimilate them, and to enrich them. The influence of this music on Europe in the Middle Ages is much more profound and important than is generally believed. Almost two hundred musical treatises were written bewteen the 9th and 13th centuries, some of them of great importance. These treatises were known and studied in the principal monasteries of Europe. The examples of the art of these Arab theoreticians and musicians mark the birth of the rudiments of European music as can be seen in the first Romanesque chants of Christian Spain and Southern France, as well as in the development religious music and plainsong. This influence becomes even more evident in enumerating the number of instruments which were to become common property in Europe; some of them were of Oriental or Persian origin, like the lute, the psaltery, the rebec, etc., others of Greek origin, like the organ, which had been described in the 9th century by the Mafatih of Al-Khawarizmi and Ibn Sina (Avicenna) in his Second Book of Science (Kitabu-l Shifa).” p. 13

*

«La forme poétique la plus typique des poètes andalous a été la muwaxxaha [muwashshah, pl. muwashshahat] ou zéjel [zajal], créée par Muqaddam ben Musa al Qabri, un aveugle de la province de Cordoue qui vécut au temps de l’emir Abdullah et de Abderrahman II, à la fin du IX° et au début du X° siècle. Cette forme poétique fut extraordinairement populaire pendant tout le Moyen Age. Dans les cours provençales, premier reflet de l’esprit des cours galantes et raffinées à la manière andalouse qui se manifeste dans l’Europe chrétienne, les troubadours, yoyageant d’un pays à l’autre, connaissaient très bien la musique arabo-andalouse ainsi que l’utilisation des instruments. La forme du Zéjel apparait déjà chez certains des plus anciens comme Guillaume de Poitiers. Au nord de la France nous avons une multitude de ballades et de rondeaux écrits en forme de zéjel, certains datant du XII° et la majorité du XIII° siècle. Le célèbre rondeau La Belle Aëliz, dans le Jeu de Robin et de Marion d’Adam de la Halle, est un zéjel de la forme la plus pure. Le grand Guillaume de Machaut nous a donné maintes preuves de sa connaissance très approfondie de la musique et des instruments arabes. En Italie, la forme du zéjel apparaît pour la première fois dans l’éloge de Fra Jacopone da Todi, disciple de Saint François d’Assise…»  p. 9

“The poetic form most typical of the Andalusian poets was the muwashshah [muwashshah, pl. muwashshahat] or zejel [zajal], created by Muqaddam ben Musa al Qabri, a blind poet from the province of Cordoba who lived at the time of the emirs Abdullah and Abdurrahman II at the end of the 9th and beginning of the 10th centuries. This poetic form enjoyed an extraordinary popularity throughout the Middle Ages. In the courts of Provence, where was to be found the first manifestation of the spirit of courtly gallantry and sophistication in the Andalusian manner which was beginning to be reflected throughout Christian Europe, the Troubadours, travelling from one country to another, were familiar with Arabic-Andalusian music and instruments. The zejel is already to be found in some of the earliest Troubadours like Guillaume de Poitiers, and in the North of France we have a multitude of ballades and rondeaux written in this form, some of them dating from the 12th and the majority freom the 13th century. A rondeau like the well-known La Belle Aëliz from the Jeu de Robin et Marion by Adam de la Halle is a pure zejel. The great Guillaume de Machaut demonstrates time and time again his profound knowledge of Arab music and instruments. In Italy the zejel appears for the first time in one of the Laudi of Jacopone da Todi, the disciple of St Francis of Assissi…” pp. 13-14

[Amo, Beatriz, “Musique Arabo-Andalusie”, dissertation préliminaire en Musique Arabo-Andalusie par Atrium Musicae de Madrid, compilation, réalisation et direction Gregorio Paniagua, Harmonia Mundi S.A., Mas de Vert, Arles, 1977]

Written by Daoud Rosser-Owen

October 22, 2014 at 6:22 pm

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Interesting Implications in a Poem by Gilbride the Scot

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Gille Brighde Albannach (Gilbride the Scot) flourished as a jobbing poet in the early decades of the 13th Century.

He and his friend Muireadhach Ò Dàlaigh (Murdoch O’Daly [1180 – 1222 AD], the founder of the Clan MacMhuirich – nowadays called the Clan Currie) spent some time around 1219 AD on the rather disastrous Fifth Crusade to Damietta in Egypt.

About that time, 1219, Gille Brighde wrote a stirring poem entitled A ghille gabhas an stiūir (“Lad who takes the helm”) about their sea voyage from Cyprus to Egypt in appalling weather. In it he describes them praying for deliverance from the storms in terms that raise interesting speculations.

Gerard Murphy, writing in Éigse: A Journal of Irish Studies (Volume 7 (1953), pp 719) which he edited, in his paper “Two Irish Poems Written from the Mediterranean in the Thirteenth Century” stated, “He prays for help to Mary Magdalen, and to Brigid, after whom he is named”.

Actually, in the context it appears that he is conflating Brigid with Mary:

“…a Muire mhōr… a banamail barrbhuidhe. A Brigid, a bruinne glan…” […great Mary… O modest one with the yellow locks. Brigid of the bright bosom…].

The peculiar sentiments appear in verses 5 to 7:

5
As dorcha na neōillsi a-noir
tic ō Acras ‘nar n-aighoigh;
tarr, a Muire Mhagh-dā-lén,
7 glan uile in t-aighēr.

[These clouds from the East are dark
As they drive us from Acre;
Come, Mary Magdalen*,
And wholly clear the air.]

6
Fiar is tarrsna thēid ma long,
a Muire magrūn mērchorr;
do ghuidhe re dīrgad dūnn,
a Muire mīnglan mhaghrūn.

[My ship sails crosswise and obliquely,
O tapering-fingered Mary of Plain-mysteries*;
May your intercession avail to set us straight,
O gentle bright Mary of Plain-mysteries.]

7
Tuccas aighidh ort fēine
a hucht Crīst, do chaīmchēle;
to(i)rche, a chūl slatach sleman,
d’atach dūnn in Dūilemhan.

[I have approached thee,
In the name of Christ, thy goodly spouse;
Come, ye of the smooth-tressed hair,
To intercede with the Creator on our behalf.]

(Note: The italics are letters that have been conventionally added so as to make sense of the abbreviations used. The “7” was a common abbreviation for “agus”, “is”, or “‘s” meaning ‘and’.)

*”Muire magrūn” ‘Mary of Plain-mysteries’ refers to the mysterious meaning that Mary Magdalen’s name seems to have in its Gaelic form, i.e. “Mary, Plain of two Sorrows” (Muire Magh-dā-lén).

The interesting implications for these Thirteenth Century Gaels are that for them:

1. Mary/Muire is Mary Magdalen, rather than Mary the Mother of Christ;
2. Christ and Mary Magdalen were husband and wife;
3. Mary Magdalen was seen as having intercessory saintly powers with the Creator;
4. Might these be Celtic Christian beliefs, and might they thus be indicative of survivals of the Old Way despite Roman suppressions and persecutions?

London, Friday 9 August 2013.

© D Rosser-Owen 2013 All Rights Reserved

Written by Daoud Rosser-Owen

November 25, 2013 at 8:41 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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