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Time for change? Are Referenda and Direct Democracy the way forward?

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By David Rosser Owen

According to observers like Russell Kirk and Ronald Dart one of the principles of Conservatism or Toryism (depending on which label one prefers and from which commentator) is the willingness to accept organic change in politics and the society.

In other words the obvious corollary, in reverse, of Lucius Carey, Viscount Falkland’s Civil War era statement “when it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change”.

They would probably argue that the traditional Labour Party of such giants as Keir Hardie and Arthur Henderson was by their observed principles profoundly Conservative – or conservative – certainly the Canadian socialist Eugene Forsey would have agreed.

It very definitely wasn’t a Marxist or Fabian party, but one rooted firmly in “Chapel Christianity” – something that people of faith among today’s Labour-leaning populace would do well to ponder.

Through accepting organic change, we have seen politics acquiesce in methods of stating political choice and expressing popular will that were not tolerated by earlier generations.

Plebiscitary referenda would be one such example, such as the 2014 Referendum in Scotland in remaining a part of the United Kingdom which was passed by a healthy majority, and the 2016 Referendum on the United Kingdom leaving the European Union which was passed by the largest vote ever in British democracy.

Another would be the nature of the Electorate.

If we were to take the Rockingham Whig, usually treated as a Tory political theorist, Edmund Burke’s address to the Electors of Bristol in 1774 as the start point we find great changes taking place in the franchise – not always for the better.

His electorate were the 28 burgesses of the city (as a comparison the Electors of Swansea at the same time were 16 burgesses). The franchise exercised by the freemen burgesses was interesting in that the widows of freemen inherited their vote in parliamentary elections.

Agitation by Whigs of various affiliations, some of whom were later to turn into the Liberal Party, brought about the Great Reform Act of 1832 and the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835.

These, despite what is claimed for them, were actually regressive in the sense that in changing the nature of the franchise to give the vote to the members of the new middle class the women’s vote was lost and the numbers of electors not radically improved – but the ‘power’ of the freeman burgesses was broken.

The basic qualification remained a property one throughout the 19th Century, gradually being modified, and into the 20th Century.

The major change in this franchise took place in 1918 when all adult men over twenty-one years of age were included, but only gave the vote to married women aged over thirty. All women didn’t qualify until 1928 (and, incidentally, 1984 in Lichtenstein).

Universal adult suffrage was a phenomenon of the inter-war years, and it’s a truism that the first democratic election in the UK was actually the one held in 1945 that brought Clement Attlee’s Labour Party into government.

Throughout this same period the nature of Parliament changed, and the way governments were formed. ‘Parties’ and ‘Cabinets’ were considered unconstitutional during the 19th Century, but they happened anyway.

Probably the first nation-wide election of a political party to government was that through Peel’s Tamworth Manifesto in 1834 that brought the Conservative Party into being.

The Liberal Party was founded in 1859 at a meeting at the Rose and Crown Yard off King’s Street in London’s St James’s.

Thereafter manifestoes and the two parties of Conservatives and Liberals, later joined by the Labour Representation Committee which metamorphsed into the Labour Party, became an accepted feature of British political life – the emphasis is on ‘accepted’ and through this a part of the constitution, or “how we do things in Britain”.

So, are referenda now an accepted way of telling politicians what the electorate wants? And has the ‘first past the post’ legacy of the 19th Century system exhausted its usefulness? Time for further organic change?

Historically referenda were opposed within the United Kingdom on the grounds that they would violate the principle of parliamentary sovereignty.

In May 1945 the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, suggested holding a referendum over the question of extending the life of the wartime Coalition government until victory was won over Japan. However, Clement Attlee who was the Deputy Prime Minister refused, saying “I could not consent to the introduction into our national life of a device so alien to all our traditions as the referendum which has only too often been the instrument of Nazism and Fascism.”

In March 1975, when Harold Wilson’s Labour government was to hold a referendum on staying in the Common Market or leaving, Margaret Thatcher also quoted Clement Attlee that referenda are “a device of dictators and demagogues” as Napoleon, Mussolini and Hitler had exploited their use in the past.

However, given the cavalier chaos wreaked on the British system of government by politicians opposed to leaving the European Union – despite all parties having fought the 2017 general election on manifestoes committing them to abide by the result of the 2016 Referendum – it could be argued that referenda have became an essential and valid means of telling politicians what their electors want them to do.

Have they thus have entered British political life, whatever unsavoury uses they may have been put to by overseas regimes? In contrast to that reputation that Major Attlee and Mrs Thatcher cited it could be pointed out that they are an effective, permanent, and uncontroversial fact of Swiss political life.

Perhaps with Lord Falkland it is time for a necessary change?

© David Rosser Owen, Islay, October 2019

Written by David Rosser Owen

October 16, 2019 at 9:48 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 with the truism 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, even if your reason for being opposed to ‘halal’ food is because you simply don’t like Muslims.

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 and out of time.

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.

It was a directive some years ago from the European Union through its Common Agricultural Policy that slaughterhouses in the United Kingdom had to become concentrated into twelve principal industrial ones, although local ones of fairly minor capacity were tolerated. As a result live animals are transported over considerable distances to their fate.

I see quite regularly large triple tiered articulated trailers pulled behind prime movers crammed with sheep or cattle being loaded up at the stock yard, and driven down to the ferry ports where they embark in the bowels of a ship several at a time to face a two hour long sea voyage followed by several hours of road journey to be unloaded into the stock yard of the slaughter factory. There they are herded, trussed, and hauled upside down by gantries to be shot (sometimes not very effectively) in the head by a stunning bolt. The ambient noise, not just the bleatings of frightened animals but also of machinery, and the stink of fear hormones, urine, faeces, and blood combine to create a terror environment of impending death.

Are people who rail against the putative cruelty of halal or kosher slaughter, and demanding the humaneness of pre-stunning, willing to require reform of such inhumanity?

And for the Muslims, 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 would not be 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 for the Malikis, they would be those of Umayyad Spain, Sicily, or Calabria for analogous reasons.

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 this labelling 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 the Almighty has designated this is as 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, for example, 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.

© David Rosser Owen, Islay October 2019 All Rights Reserved

Written by David Rosser Owen

October 16, 2019 at 8:08 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Labels, Slogans, and Confusion worse confounded

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“People just sticking names on places, so that no one could see those places properly any more. Every time they looked at them or thought about them the first thing they saw was a huge big sign saying ‘Housing Commission’ or ‘private school’ or ‘church’ or ‘mosque’ or ‘synagogue’. They stooped looking once they saw those signs.

It was the same with Homer, the way for all those years he’d been hanging a big sign around his neck, and like a fool I’d kept reading it. Animals were smarter. They couldn’t read. Dogs, horses, cats, they didn’t bother reading any signs. They used their own brains, their own judgement.”

[‘Ellie’ in John Marsden, Tomorrow When the War Began, Pan Macmillan, Adelaide SA, 1993, Ch 4 page 43]

Labels can be both very useful and extremely misleading. They can identify something in summary, and can seriously obscure the real nature of the thing. And sometimes, when a label has become a term of abuse or condemnation, ironically the abuser may be better described by the very label itself.

They pigeon-hole people and ideas into categories that don’t necessarily fit them, or not completely anyway, thus describing them erroneously. In political terms a given label that may have been pertinent at one time may even no longer correctly describe the target, which might well have metamorphosed over the years into something that looks remarkably like its opposite.

Also, in these terms, there may be both a general tendency and a specific group each described by the same label. In these cases it has become conventional to represent the one in writing by lowercase and the other by uppercase initials. This distinction can obviously only be conveyed with difficulty in speech by such a device as saying “small ‘c’ conservative”, for example. Such a circumlocution must hamper conversations, discussions, debates, speeches, “vlogs”, and podcasts.

This perhaps leads to a constant search for other labels that describe the subject less badly, or which avoid the hearer leaping to false conclusions or making instant value judgments.

General labels over time seem to acquire specific uses and thus become both misleading, or more misleading, and unusable because differentiating with initial capitals doesn’t really do the job as people will still tend to make associations or value judgments of the general because of the specific.

For example, calling something “conservative” will still at some level cause people to see it as having to do with the “Conservative” Party; and similarly with “tory” and “Tory”, even though with both they have moved far from the original abusive nick-name that derived from the anglicising of the Gaelic word tòraiche meaning ‘footpad’.

Adjectives only partly solve this problem, assuming that there is a wish to solve it, and there can be a localised usage that makes the same phrase in one milieu have a different meaning in another: for example, “Red Tory” in Canada and (after Philip Blond’s book was published in 2010) in the UK, and similarly with “Blue Tory”.

It may be convenient for some political usage to maintain the misleading label as a term of abuse or slogan; or, to paraphrase Lenin in “The Two Tactics”, the use of a slogan is to forestall thought. The classic example of this in the present day is the use of a slogan invented by Trotsky – ‘racist’.

As suggested above a label can lead people at a later time to believe that the object is still the same as it was, whereas it has actually metamorphosed into something quite different.

The original Labour Party that was initially called the Labour Representation Committee of the Liberal Party and was founded in 1900 held essentially to an ideology that derived from Low Church and Chapel Christianity, making it very much “conservative” or “tory” in a sense as described by Russell Kirk in The Conservative Mind.

Its major early influence was the Independent Labour Party associated with the lay preacher Keir Hardie and founded in 1893. As Morgan Phillips, Labour Party General Secretary in the 1950s, commented at the 1951 Party Conference “Socialism in Britain owed more to Methodism than Marx”. He was possibly prompted to this by the launch at the same time of the Communist Party of Great Britain’s famous manifesto by its General Secretary Harry Pollitt, “The British Road to Socialism”.

This party evolved into the Labour Party as associated in the inter-war years with such figures as Ramsay Macdonald, Arthur Henderson, and George Lansbury and in the immediate post-war years with personalities such as Clement Attlee, Ernest Bevin, Aneurin Bevan, Hugh Gaitskell, Michael Foot, Sir Tam Dalyell Bt of the Binns, and Anthony Wedgwood Benn (ci-devant Viscount Stansgate). Perhaps the last of this line was John Smith.

This was the party described journalistically as “Old Labour”, to distinguish it from the revolutionary socialist creation of Anthony Charles Lynton Blair called “New Labour”. It was not Marxist socialist, although Marxists tried consistently to penetrate it especially with the Trotskyite “entryism” after 1968.

The label “Labour” may well conjure up in many minds that Labour Party of old, and many people still react as though it were this party, but there seems to be little left in the new party presently led by Jeremy Bernard Corbyn of the Christianity of the chapel and the presbytery; just as “Conservative” no longer means the party of the Marquis of Salisbury but that metamorphosis into its mirror image now fronted by David Cameron and, latterly, Mrs Theresa Mary May.

Taking a ‘check-list’ of what constitutes a conservative party such as was advanced by F. J. C. Hearnshaw or Russell Kirk, or in more recent years by the Canadian Ron Dart, and applying it to Cameron’s or May’s party there are surprisingly few boxes that it ticks. In fact, most of the criteria apply better to the United Kingdom Independence Party than they do to the former Conservative and Unionist Party.

“If I were called upon to enumerate in summary fashion and tabular form the general principles of conservatism, particularly as it exists and displays itself in the world of modern national states, I should be disposed to say that conservatism stands for (1) reverence for the past, (2) the organic conception of society, (3) communal unity, (4) constitutional continuity, (5) opposition to revolution, (6) cautious or evolutionary reform, (7) the religious basis of the state, (8) the divine source of legitimate authority, (9) the priority of duties to rights, (10) the prime importance of individual and communal character, (11) loyalty, (12) common sense, realism, and practicality.” [Hearnshaw, Prof F. J. C., MA LLD, Conservatism in England: An Analytical, Historical, and Political Survey, Macmillan, London 1933, Part I Chapter ­1 §8 p 22]

None of those would have militated against the essential programme of the earlier Labour Party to improve the lot of the working man. Perhaps looking at these sorts of headings, and reflecting on the character of Old Labour, might explain why so many of the UK’s Muslims are taken in by the present-day Labour Party… or the Cameron-esque Conservative Party for that matter.

It is also easy to see, thus, how the Canadian socialist Eugene Forsey could describe himself as a tory or the Tory George Grant could advocate matters that might be described as socialist. It was for such as Grant, Forsey, Creighton, Farthing, Hugh Segal, or Mel Hurtig that the academic Gad Horowitz coined the phrase in 1965 of “Red Tory”.

“Since the tory and socialist minds have some crucial assumptions, orientations, and values in common, there is a positive affinity between them. From certain angles they may appear not as enemies, but as two different expressions of the same basic ideological outlook. This helps to explain the Canadian phenomenon of the Red Tory. At the simplest level, he is a tory who prefers the socialists to the liberals, or a socialist who prefers the tories to the liberals, without really knowing why. At a higher level, he is a conscious ideological tory with some ‘odd’ socialist notions (R. B. Bennett, Alvin Hamilton) or a conscious ideological socialist with some ‘odd’ tory notions (Eugene Forsey). At the very highest level, he is a philosopher who combines elements of socialism and toryism so thoroughly in a single integrated Weltanschauung that it is impossible to say that he is a proponent of either one or the other. Such a Red Tory is George Grant of McMaster University and author of ‘Lament for a Nation’.” [Professor Gad Horowitz, “Tories, Socialists and the Demise of Canada” in Canadian Dimension(May-June 1965), p 121]

This conservatism or toryism was never a philosophy of spivs and city chancers, but that is what seems to have captured in various ways and to varying degrees all three major parties: Conservative, Labour, and Liberal Democrats. It held that it was one of the duties of government to corral the activities of ‘fat cats’, and cut them down to size if they overstepped the mark, just as it was one of its roles to protect against the depredations of robber barons. It believed that it was none of its business to facilitate their activities, nor to protect them from the full force of a universally applicable law, nor to live in a cosy symbiosis with lobbyists and ‘big’ – as in trans-national – business. But this label is no longer available to describe this philosophy.

Any political party that actually fits the Hearnshaw or Horowitz description of conservative needs to find another short-hand way of describing itself. Horowitz’s “Red Tory” label didn’t really work for David Orchard’s 1990s movement in Canada.

UKIP – the United Kingdom Independence Party – is such a Kirkean party that would be conservative were it seen from an Old Labour or Old Conservative stand-point. Of course, it couldn’t be described as such; so it has looked for a label, consciously or unconsciously, that would separate it from the pejorative associations with Labour-as-it-has-become and Conservative-as-it-has-become.

Hence the ascription of itself as a “Libertarian” party, which doesn’t really fit – except possibly in a Milton Friedman or Friedrich-August von Hayek sense – but which label will acquire a purple colour in UK usage. There might be parallels with Hayek’s own description of himself as a ‘liberal’, but because of that label’s particular semantic load in USA usage he came to be called there a ‘libertarian’.

And, indeed, there are even so many similarities in UKIP’s programmes and base philosophy with the thought of Erich Vögelin, Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich-August von Hayek, and Milton Friedman; but also with that of Grant, Forsey, Creighton and the others.

But it is UKIP’s views on communities and rule by genuine democracy responsive to the voices and wishes of the electorate that sit at the heart of its appeal. This was well stated in 1993 by Russell Kirk in The Politics of Prudence:

“In a genuine community, the decisions most directly affecting the lives of the citizens are made locally and voluntarily. Some of these functions are carried out by local political bodies, others by private associations: so long as they are kept local, and are marked by the general agreement of those affected, they constitute healthy community. But when these functions pass by default or usurpation to centralized authority, then community is in serious danger. Whatever is beneficent and prudent in modern democracy is made possible through cooperative volition. If, then, in the name of an abstract Democracy, the functions of community are transferred to distant political direction – why, real government by the consent of the governed gives way to a standardizing process hostile to freedom and dignity.

“For a nation is no stronger than the numerous little communities of which it is composed. A central administration, or corps of select managers and civil servants, however well intentioned and well trained, cannot confer justice and prosperity and tranquility upon a mass of men and women deprived of their old responsibilities. That experiment has been made before; and it has been disastrous.”

So, like Friedrich-August von Hayek, let it be identified by the label “Libertarian”.

And, should it metamorphose into a proper political Party away from its present existence as a pressure group set to hold the Conservative and Unionist Party now led by Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson to its claim to achieve “Brexit”, this is probably the most appropriate label for The Brexit Party.

© David Rosser Owen, October 2019

Written by David Rosser Owen

October 16, 2019 at 7:48 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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 David 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 David 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 David 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 David Rosser Owen

October 22, 2014 at 6:34 pm

Posted in Uncategorized