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Democracy & Human Rights

Democracy & Human Rights (5)

Here at Radical Views, Easter mainly means extra long weekends and and an excuse to load up on the chocolate, but we certainly appreciate that for many people, it has a strong religious significance. Who better than Reverand Frank Gelli, then, for authoring our Easter Sunday post with a twist. Frank appreciates the celebration that many people are participating in at this time of year while keeping an eagle eye on the electioneering that has been a precursor to this bank holiday and we share with you today his words of wisdom. As always remember to Like, Tweet and share this article  - Yamin Zakaria and the Team @ Radical Views


Cameron or Milliband? Clegg or Farage? Bennett or Sturgeon? In the comedy of the British elections these are much trumpeted, bogus alternatives. But the underlying eschatological, life-or-death contest that really matters the media won’t mention: Jesus or Judas?

Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, is the infamous one among the Twelve Apostles. He betrayed Jesus Christ to the Jewish leaders with a kiss, for thirty pieces of silver. Dante throws him into the nethermost circle of Hell, where a huge, bat-like Satan sunk in ice gnaws eternally at the miscreant's body. Still, the traitor’s deep motives are not easy to discern…

First, lucre. St John says Judas was the treasurer for the Twelve and that it was love of money which caused him to sell his Master. Implausible? 30 silver shekels was a tidy sum, equivalent to 120 days' wages for a skilled labourer but…would you betray the Messiah, the Deliverer, for that? Answer: probably, yes. People have murdered their parents for less. Nonetheless…Greed really is the basest of motives. Would Judas renounce untold bliss in the Kingdom of Heaven for that?

Second, the Evil One. ‘Satan entered into Judas, called Iscariot’, relates St Luke. The devil was behind the betrayal. But diabolical action is not all-powerful, like God’s. Satan can only lead astray those already so predisposed. Had Judas been a good and faithful servant, the devil would have been powerless. Besides, Satan should not be a pretext to evade human responsibility.

Third, the Gethsemane scenario. Some have wondered about the coherence of Judas’ act. Christ had preached daily in synagogues and performed miracles before masses of thousands of people. His identity can hardly have been unknown. What need was there for Judas to identify him with the kiss?

Fourth, the most banal item of all, revolution. Judas’ name – Iscariot - is taken to mean the village of Kerioth, in Judaea. But others connect it with a sect of Jewish fanatics, sicarii in Latin, or assassins. So Judas would have been a Jewish nationalist or zealot. He believed Jesus to be the Messiah all right but, like many of his fellow Jews, he understood that as a political agitator. A sort of Che Guevara. A radical rebel intent on leading a bloody revolt against the alien rule of pagan Rome. Jesus, however, had other ideas as to what sort of Messiah he was. Hence Judas tried to force his hand. To get the Messiah, willy-nilly, to set off the great rebellion. Problem is, history is awash with religious fanatics. Indeed, Judaism’s subsequent history boasts of many Messiahs. Well, where are they now?

A faint echo of Judas’ socialist inclinations surface in St John’s Gospel. When Mary used costly nard ointment to anoint the Lord’s feet, the traitor sanctimoniously complained: ‘Why wasn’t this ointment sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?’ Not an unreasonable point to make for someone who regarded political and social action the summit and essence of religion. Of course, St John glosses it: ‘This he said not because he cared for the poor but because he was a thief’. It figures. Judas was a hypocrite. Invoking the poor was a trick to cover up his low motives.

Fifth, St John again indicates that Jesus knew from the beginning of Judas’ betrayal. ‘Did I not choose you, the Twelve, and one of you is a devil?’ (6:71-2). The traitor’s infamy was not accidental, therefore. It was foreordained, a necessary link in the chain of events leading to the Cross and to the Resurrection. Could not Judas boast of his ‘providential’ role and claim that in exculpation?

The creep was not totally bereft of conscience. No sooner did Judas realise the enormity of his crime, remorse made him try to give the money back. Two accounts exist in the New Testament on how he died. One affirms that he hanged himself, the other that he threw himself off a chasm and ‘he burst open in the middle and his bowels gushed out’. Either way, Judas took his own life. An ancient theologian speculated how Judas wanted to meet his Master in the next world, so to ask his forgiveness there. I don’t buy it.

We have now come to the end of Passion Week, leading up to Easter. The sinister figure of the Traitor appears in the Scripture readings for the first three days of Passion Week. However embarrassing, challenging and mysterious Judas may be, he can’t be doctored out of the Gospel narrative. Jesus and Judas are like light and darkness. Forever tantalisingly, if unequally, linked.

Back to the charade of British elections. The priest fears all the mainline parties are Judas parties. Is that too strong? It seems incontrovertible that they stand not with Jesus but with his betrayer.

Conscious of it or not, politicians are renegades. Traitors to the past Christian heritage of England. Enemies to the values, the principles, the true dictates of revelation. Can you name a single, genuine Christian policy the ruling partitocracy upholds? The poor? But you know how much socialist Judas really cared for them! Women? But look at the countless way women and men are sexualised and objectified. The NHS? It will gradually be privatised and dismantled, whichever party wins. All Judas stuff.

Yet don’t despair. Not Judas but Jesus triumphs at Easter. Because after the shame of the Cross comes the glory of the Resurrection!

Here at Radical Views, we like to draw attention to serious, socio-political issues, but we are all for a little bit of satire from time to time. Properly executed satire is not the chaos caused by Charlie Hebdo, where swathes of good people in a weakened position are cruelly attacked by individuals with disproportionate power and influence. Rather, it is a nonaggressive way of critiquing those in power as a means of highlighting problems that they are responsible for. Online comedians Cassetteboy hit the nail on the head, and while we are laughing at the actual video, we love how the article looks beyond the jokes. It examines the issues that the video highlights, and how they might be solved, if only the government would take a step back and re-evaluate its anti-Muslim stance. If you enjoy this article, then as always, remember to Like, Tweet and share – Yamin Zakaria and the Team @ Radical Views.


Politicians traditionally have been unpopular individuals who make unpopular decisions from positions of excessive power. Of course there have been exceptions such as David Lloyd George the Manchurian son of a schoolteacher, who had a strong hand in implementing Britain’s welfare system. Current British Prime Minister David Cameron’s ancestry, on the other hand, has been traced right back to Lady Elizabeth Fitzclarence, illegitimate daughter of King William IV and his mistress Dorothea Jordan, and comedy duo Cassetteboy pays homage to this in their Emperor’s New Clothes rap, created for Russell Brand’s up-and-coming film with the same name.

Cassetteboy’s YouTube mashup has old Dave announcing pre-election policies such as: “Make sure the toffs stay better off.  Make sure the money stops at the top. Take every penny from the hands of the many and give everything to the few,” and while this hints at Cameron’s privileged background, it also highlights the terrible fact of modern governmental miserliness.

Indeed, the  Austerity Measures, implemented by the millionaires who currently sit in Cabinet, have seen many men, women and children in Britain fall into the depths of poverty while healthcare, another of Cassetteboy’s chosen topics, is under severe strain due to harsh funding cuts.

And of course Cassetteboy does not fail to hit upon another crucial topic, that instead of taking responsibility for the problems they have caused, the stance taken is to “blame immigration” (or more accurately, blame Islamist “extremists”). But in doing so, might they just be brushing aside a viable solution to society’s problems? As the global economy collapsed in the 2008 Financial Crisis, bankers proclaimed that this would have been prevented had we adopted the Islamic monetary system. What, then, might happen, if those that ran the country decided to look to, rather than away from Islam to solve socioeconomic problems?

The issues that would need addressing are numerous and Cassetteboy highlights some problems that come under the umbrella of economic inequality. Let’s look at a small handful of the concerns here, and what might happen were governments to learn from those they currently class as “extremists”.

For a start, foreign policy would experience possibly the most memorable overhaul in human history. As the media likes to tell us, Islamic nations, like all human nations, have at times expanded and colonised through warfare. However, this strange situation whereby we, nowadays, constantly attack weak, clearly non-combatant individuals in poor countries using weapons that can be operated at a distance is not simply modern. It is also un-Islamic from the point of view of justice, and as we are all aware in the backs of our minds, it is extremely expensive.

Cassetteboy highlights the increased waiting times required to see doctors on the NHS, which is caused by a £2 billion budget deficit. In the meantime, £3.3 billion of taxpayer money is currently being spent on the “Assessment Phase” of a nuclear weapons system which Britain may or may not choose to build. This is just the tip of the iceberg, with the government spending shockingly large sums of cash funding weaponry for other people, such as the Israelis, who use their resources to attack the generally helpless Palestinians, whose homeland has frequently been described as “the world’s largest open air prison.” If our leaders adopted an Islamic stance on warfare then we would ensure Britain had an adequate defence system for itself but this excessive blood thirst would simply dry up.

What would be done with the money saved as a result? Indeed, it would not go straight into the leaders’ own pockets to create another Parliamentary expense scandal while, as Cassetteboy somewhat accurately suggests, our leaders “blame the deficit on people claiming benefits.” While it has been revealed that at least 46 MPs have been using British taxpayer money to fund the cost of hotel fees of £150 a night, the Islamic principle is that in an established society, all tax money must go into a state treasury and to be used for maintenance of the society (infrastructure, schooling etc.,) and into providing incomes for those considered needy, such as the poor, elderly, orphans and the disabled. Personal expenses must come from personal funds. The shaming of benefit claimants and reducing their stipend so that they could barely afford to survive would be unthinkable.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation states that almost one third of households containing a disabled person live in poverty, while the Department for Communities and Local Government published a report showing that homelessness in London alone had increased by 37% over the one-year period of 2013-2014. Perhaps Islam is so feared by many current politicians because historically, properly run Islamic states have had no tolerance for this “rugged individualism” that makes being in need the simultaneous fault and punishment of a particular individual man, woman or child. Indeed, the caliphs of Islam’s earliest days lived simple and austere lives so that their people, regardless of religious affiliation, age, gender and social background, did not have to.

I have not stated references from the Quran and Hadith here as I would typically do because economic affairs come under the broader category of social justice rather than as, for example, a banker’s job description. Moreover, I am not talking about religious specifics here. Fairness is not a religious issue, and that these principles could be applied by our current, non-Muslim leaders. The only difference would be that a genuine Muslim leader would take on the responsibility fearing eternal damnation for improper actions. We must also remember that the Nomadic Arab community, where Islam originated, did not really start to settle and establish itself as a nation. It was after the death of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) that this started to occur. Therefore, we are better off looking to the readily available humanly authored history books rather than to divine sources as a way of learning how state leadership was implemented and carried out.

The second Rightly Guided Caliph, Hazrat Umar, is recorded as using these words to sum up his leadership role: "Allah has for the time being made me your ruler. But I am one of you. No special privileges belong to a ruler. I have some responsibilities to discharge, and in this I seek your cooperation. Government is a sacred trust, and it is my endeavour not to betray the trust in any way. For the fulfilment of the trust I have to be a watch-man. I have to be strict. I have to enforce discipline. I have to run the administration not on the basis of personal idiosyncrasies; I have to run it in public interest and for promoting the public good.”

Take out the religious reference, and you still have the same basic message, that a leader should be trustworthy, responsible and just. Looking at our current model, this is quite a paradigm shift. A further look into the annals of history shows that doing the right thing as leader of a nation meant that Hazrat Umar taxed his people fairly and spent the money as it should have been spent. This was not on bespoke, designer clothing and dinner parties. Rather, money went on ensuring that people lived comfortably in an environment made secure not by CCTV, but by fairness and justice, which was implemented, for example, through the elimination of the financial stress that so often leads desperate people to criminality.

There is a handful of Muslims who, angered by foreign policy, are driven to perform acts of violence, but even they would probably be in agreement with the idea that a leader has no privileges, only a responsibility to ensure that practices are carried out for the benefit of society. And what a frighteningly radical viewpoint that must be for those currently looking down on us from the thrones of Parliament. As Cassetteboy has Cameron saying, “We are not all in this together. We want to help the rich get richer forever,” and in stirring up hatred of Islam rather than learning from it, those in power are, indeed, protecting their position.

If only Cameron and his set could get over the fear of Islam and what it demands we let go of. If only he could embrace its concept of equality. Then he would discover that he would not lose his wealth or even his comfortable lifestyle overnight. We are not in the somewhat poorer Medieval Arabia; having less is not necessary for us. Rather, Cameron and other politicians would discover what it was to spend with wise efficiency as a means of lifting others out of hardship and into the privilege that so many Brits would be able to experience if only they had a little bit of extra money.

As previously mentioned, Islam often talks about state affairs (where finance plays a huge role) in terms of the uncomplicated issue of justice. While I have not felt the need to provide specific religious references to highlight how pertinent Cassetteboy’s message actually is in this short piece, I will end with the following Hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), which instructs us how to treat our neighbours (fellow humans):

“Help him if he asks for your help.

Give him relief if he seeks your relief.

Lend to him if he needs a loan.

Show him concern if he is distressed.

Nurse him when he falls ill.

Attend his funeral when he dies.

Congratulate him if he meets any good.

Sympathise with him if any calamity befalls him.

Do not block his space by raising your buildings high without his permission.

Harass him not.” (Sahih Bukhari).

First they decapitated the movement, putting the country's elected president and dozens of his colleagues in prison. Then they silenced its voice by closing its radio and television stations. Next they stormed into mosques and massacred hundreds of grassroots supporters as they protested in the street. Now they plan to eliminate the movement by declaring it illegal and making it a crime to belong.

The enormity of the accelerating military coup in Egypt is breathtaking. The world watches in horror as soldiers gas and shoot demonstrators who were no more violent and disruptive than those who protested against the Mubarak regime in Cairo's Tahrir Square in February 2011. It is little more than a year since Hosni Mubarak was found guilty of not putting a stop to the killing of protesters by the Egyptian security forces at that time. Is Egypt's current strongman, General Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, any less guilty after the greater atrocities of the last few days?

Editor's Comments In the light of the recent events in Egypt, the author in this article raises a pertinent issue of who is entitled to occupy the seat of power, because democracy primarily focuses on the procedural aspect of appointing a leader. It’s more about the votes and less about the qualities of the candidates being given the votes. Thus he asks, should the position of leadership be open to anyone as long as popular consent is obtained or should this be subjected to certain qualifications? If I recall Greek Philosophers also argued that political leadership is like a profession, one must poses certain qualities to govern. Human history has been shaped by certain men, who possessed the capabilities to become leaders; indeed there will always be leaders and followers. However, merits of leadership are not enough, as it must also be fused with justice when the leadership is put into practice. This is discussed with particular reference to the work of the Scottish Philosopher and academic, Thomas Carlyle, his book Heroes and Hero worship.

As a jolly Army coup knocks out Islamic democracy in Egypt, the priest wonders: is there an alternative to elections and parliaments? A system, a type of government better than democratic rule?

Thomas Carlyle, ‘the sage of Chelsea’, had no doubts. There is. It is the rule of the hero. The ablest men. Those driven by the divine afflatus. Superior minds and intellects. Born leaders: ‘Universal history, the history of what man has accomplished in this world, is at bottom the History of Great Men who have worked here. They were the leaders of men, these great ones. The models and patterns, and in a wider sense creators, of whatever the general mass of men contrived to do or attain.’

Who were Carlyle’s heroes, his ‘great men’? An odd assortment. He exalts them in his essay On Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History. They include poets like Dante and Shakespeare; rulers like Cromwell and Napoleon; writers like Rousseau, Robbie Burns and Dr Johnson; religious reformers like Luther and John Knox; prophets like Muhammad; even a god, like the Scandinavian Odin.

According to J.L. Borges – my own and supreme literary hero – what inspired Carlyle to come up with his heroic paradigm was the history of the Arabs. Having delved into a translation of the Thousand and One Nights, he mused on the rough conditions of the idolatrous Bedouins of pre-Islamic Arabia. Pretty primitive. Until out of Mecca a man arose with a tremendous message: There is no god but God. That cry awoke Arabs from their barbarous torpor and launched them out of the desert into a conquering, worldwide adventure ‘that has not yet ended’.

Society is in sore need of heroes, Carlyle contends. Worthies whose key traits include utmost faith, a pure heart and righting wrongs. Men like prophets, who are possessed with the spirit of the Divine. To function properly, society must be founded on the hero cult. Giants before whom you feel ‘heartfelt, prostrate admiration, submission, burning boundless admiration for a noblest, God-like form of man.’ That may strike you as excessive bombast but consider, pray, the Nelson Mandela cult. Judging by the fawning heaped on him by world media, the dying Mandela may well fit Carlyle’s bill.

‘But Mandela fought for democracy!’ Indeed. Carlyle would grant you that democratic procedures may be acceptable, insofar as they produce a hero. The crucial point is that Mandela created the new South Africa. He, the hero, is the cause, not the effect. Marxist theories of history claim that economic and social structures cause outstanding figures to appear. For Carlyle, it is the other way around: the hero is the real cause. It is the message of the Qur’an which created a certain economy and society amongst Arabs and in the world of Islam. Thus, we are back to the hero: Muhammad.

The hero is entitled to be obeyed by the people. ‘There is no act more moral between men than rule and obedience’, he wrote. Your hackles rise. Obedience? You kidding? The Nazis and all that. Must be the least popular virtue of post-modernity. But Carlyle qualifies his claim: ‘Woe to him that claims obedience when it is not due; woe to him who refuses it when it is due. God’s law is in that.’ You get the impression Carlyle is simply hedging his bets. What he really believes is that the hero as the stronger man is entitled to rule. But the ethical question is: does he rule justly? In reality strong men wax and wane. Is their worldly triumph the only criterion?

Take Napoleon, one of Carlyle’s heroes. A great leader, sure, but was his empire just? Borges astutely observes how Carlyle’s hero cult tends to assimilate success with justice. Fine in theory when the leader wins but what when he loses? Napoleon until Waterloo was a heroic exemplar but after it presumably not. Similarly, Hitler despised Christianity as a religion for women, weaklings and the defeated. Against that, he upheld the bracing cult of the strongest – a warped principle that, ironically, was soon to operate against him.

The word ‘hero’ is etymologically related to a Greek word for a divine figure, a demi-god. That brings out Carlyle’s underlying idea. The hero is no mere earthly figure. He comes with a divine mandate. The authority of Heaven. Consider Oliver Cromwell, God’s Englishman. He saw himself as guided from God to establish his commonwealth. Cromwell’s swaggering statue outside Parliament in Westminster suitably show the truculent fellow wielding a sword in his right hand and a book in his left. The book is the Bible. God’s word. A perfect combination of power and righteousness. That Cromwell also fought, defeated and beheaded God’s anointed, King Charles I, also claiming to rule by divine right did not trouble Carlyle. (A victor in life, Cromwell’s corpse suffered post-mortem indignities at the Restoration but that’s another story.)

A perfect example is that of the Prophet Muhammad. A very victorious messenger of God in his life. With an undoubted post-mortem success. ‘A great lightening out of Heaven’, that sums up the Prophet for Carlyle. (He was less positive about the Qur’an, whose style he found stodgy and tedious. Of course, he knew no Arabic.) But also Muhammad as a complete man. Husband, father, merchant, ruler, legislator, strategist, statesman. His rule in Medina embodied all those...

Back to the starting point. The Muslim Brotherhood’s short-lived government has collapsed partly because of mass protests but effectively through a military coup. The attempt to introduce rule based on Islamic principles peacefully via democracy has spectacularly failed. In the biggest and most advanced Arab nation. What next? I expect for some the khilafa, the caliphate, will be the dreamt-for alternative. The question is: where is the khalifa, the leader of the proposed Islamic state? Or maybe an Imam from the Prophet’s family? Might he perhaps be a hero after Carlyle? A divinely-guided person? Endowed with charismatic spirit? Another Saladin? Or a more fortunate Bin Laden?

Editor's comments - This author of this article makes the basic point that the independence of judiciary is a fundamental prerequisite to ensure the rule of law is maintained, and that individual citizens are protected from the disproportionate power of the state. It was the European Court of Human Rights that has kept the Judges here in check. Regardless of one’s viewpoint towards Europe, this institution has helped to contribute towards maintaining the checks and balances in the democracies within Europe. In contrast, we witness the Judiciary being manipulated easily in many Muslim countries to suit the interest of certain ruling body. The recent shambolic trials of the members of Jamati Islam in Bangladesh are a pertinent example of this. Whilst we frequently point out the failure of the West to uphold the rule of law (Guantanamo Bay) post 9/11, concurrently we also need take note where this has been upheld.

Omar Othman is a resident of this country – guilty of no crime and up to now facing no charges – whose home country wants to put him on trial in a case where the key evidence against him will in all likelihood have been procured by torture. The only reason he probably won't be tortured is because the state concerned has reluctantly promised not to follow its usual routine.

If this person's name were Giles or Gary and the country Syria or Sudan, we'd have outraged Daily Mail editorials and a civil libertarian home secretary. But Othman is Abu Qatada, and the state is Jordan. In politics universal values (the rule of law, the protection of human rights, the prohibition on torture) are fine – so long as they don't get in the way of our diplomatic interests, the career ambitions of our leading politicians or the propensity of our allies to do evil.