Are the Royal Marines acting like 17th century pirates?

Yesterday, under the headline “Oil tanker bound for Syria detained in Gibraltar“, the BBC reported:

Royal Marines have boarded an oil tanker on its way to Syria thought to be breaching EU sanctions, the government of Gibraltar has said. Authorities said there was reason to believe the ship – Grace 1 – was carrying Iranian crude oil to the Baniyas Refinery in Syria.” adding “The refinery is subject to European Union sanctions against Syria.

It further explains

Gibraltar port and law enforcement agencies detained the super tanker and its cargo on Thursday morning with the help of the marines. The BBC has been told a team of about 30 marines, from 42 Commando, were flown from the UK to Gibraltar to help seize the tanker, at the request of the Gibraltar government. A defence source described it as a “relatively benign operation” without major incident. Mr Picardo said he had written to the presidents of the European Commission and European Council to give details of the sanctions that have been enforced.

And then it gives some background:

“The Baniyas refinery, in the Syrian Mediterranean port town of Tartous, is a subsidiary of the General Corporation for Refining and Distribution of Petroleum Products, a section of the Syrian ministry of petroleum.

The EU says the facility therefore provides financial support to the Syrian government, which is subject to sanctions because of its repression of civilians since the start of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad in 2011.

The refinery has been subject to EU sanctions since 2014.”

A journalist called Neil Clark wasn’t impressed, and tweeted:

This can’t be supported. The Royal Marines should be defending the realm not acting like 17th century pirates.

Is he right?

I would say he is spot on, and that what happened was absolutely shocking and morally indefensible. Why? Let me lay out three reasons:

Sanctions

Sanctions are basically an economic attack on a country – an attempt to hurt a country economically by preventing certain imports and exports. They are generally imposed by wealthy countries on poorer countries to “put pressure on them” – which means, in practice to impose hardship and misery on the ordinary people, because the governments of the sanctioning countries don’t like the governments of the sanctioned countries. They don’t actually hurt the leaders of the countries of the sanctioned countries, merely the ordinary people – and those who get hurt worst are the poorest, for whom hardship and misery mean poverty, ill health, and premature death.

see Rania Khalek’s video for a slightly more detailed look at sanctions.

The fact that the EU imposed sanctions on Syria tells you a lot about the people who run the EU.

The strange logic

Furthermore, note that the reason that the EU imposed sanctions on Syria was because of the Syrian government’s “repression of civilians since the start of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad in 2011.

So – the government of Syria was repressing Syrian civilians and the response of the EU was to inflict hardship and misery on Syrian civilians? To say this is bizarre is a bit of an understatement

The truth about Syria

As for the matter of the “repression of civilians since the start of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad in 2011“, there is the question of what actually happened on the ground in Syria. If you have an uprising against a government, you can expect a response from the government. Western political leaders tended to claim that the response of the Syrian government to the uprising was completely out of proportion, and gave the impression that the Syrian uprising was simply peaceful protesters wanting more freedom and democracy.

Sharmine Narwani, a former senior associate at St. Antony’s College, Oxford, has done a lot of first class investigative work to get at what really happened in the war in Syria, and she tells a very different story. In an interview entitled “Reporter Sharmine Narwani on the secret history of America’s defeat in Syria“, she tells how she discovered that the uprising against the Syrian government was violent right from the early days, and the response of the Syrian government was pretty much what you would expect from any country that faced an armed uprising. Right from the beginning, members of the Syrian security forces were being killed in large numbers.

And, as it turned out, the uprising against the Syrian government largely consisted of militant Islamic Jihadists, who received a lot of support from Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar – and a fair amount behind the scenes from U.S. government.

The fact that the EU imposed sanctions on Syria in these circumstances strikes me as being simply evil.

And as for the fact that Royal Marines were involved in seizing a tanker bound for Syria – I can’t see how that is any different from piracy.

The fact that they fly a Union Jack rather than a Jolly Roger, and that they are acting under the auspices of a national government doesn’t really make any difference.  

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Tanker attacks, Iran, and what Christians should be doing

Last Thursday, the BBC reported that two tankers were “significantly damaged in suspected attacks in the Gulf of Oman. The Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous with 23 crew members aboard and Norway’s Front Altair with 23 people were abandoned after the blasts.”  It added “It is unclear what caused the blasts coming amid high US-Iran tensions.”

The US was quick to blame Iran for the blasts, and released a video as evidence.

Most people remain sceptical. Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas commented “The video is not enough. We can understand what is being shown, sure, but to make a final assessment, this is not enough for me.”   The Japanese government also asked the U.S. for more evidence, with a senior government official saying “The U.S. explanation has not helped us go beyond speculation”.

The Kokuka Courageous’s Japanese owner also cast doubt on the theory that a mine had been used to attack the ship, telling journalists that members of his crew had witnessed a flying object.

And there are further reasons to be sceptical.

Learning from history

For a start, there’s history.   Mike Pompeo, the U.S. Secretary of State, who famously said “We lied, we cheated, we stole”, has a history of making statements about Iran over the past few months which are completely untrue.

Before that, America (assisted by allies like the UK), twice bombed Syria after claiming that the Syrian government had carried out chemical weapons attacks – when the evidence indicates that the Syrian government almost certainly had not done so.

And there were the statements made before western air power was used in Libya which were wildly exaggerated.

And then there was the invasion of Iraq in 2003, based on American claims about “Weapons of Mass Destruction”, which turned out to be complete fiction.

And, if you want to go back before that, there was the shooting down in 1988 by the US of an Iranian civilian airliner (Flight 655) killing all 290 individuals on board. It later emerged that everything Iran said about the incident was true, whereas most of what the US claimed was not.

And of course, there was the Gulf of Tonkin incident which bears some interesting similarities to last week’s events.

The lesson that history teaches us is that American government statements about what is going on in the Middle East should be taken with a large dose of salt.

A likely story

But added to that, the story itself is, itself, extremely unlikely.

Craig Murray, former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, sums it up nicely: “I really cannot begin to fathom how stupid you would have to be to believe that Iran would attack a Japanese oil tanker at the very moment that the Japanese Prime Minister was sitting down to friendly, US-disapproved talks in Tehran on economic cooperation that can help Iran survive the effects of US economic sanctions. “

How stupid would you have to be?

Well, the UK Foreign Office said that it was “almost certain” that a branch of the Iranian military – the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – attacked the two tankers on 13 June, adding that “no other state or non-state actor could plausibly have been responsible”.

In response, Jeremy Corbyn tweeted

“Britain should act to ease tensions in the Gulf, not fuel a military escalation that began with US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement. Without credible evidence about the tanker attacks, the government’s rhetoric will only increase the threat of war. “

I don’t think that is very controversial. But it didn’t go down well with Jeremy Hunt, the Foreign Secretary, who responded:

“Pathetic and predictable. From Salisbury to the Middle East, why can he never bring himself to back British allies, British intelligence or British interests? “

And, as reported the BBC, “Mr Hunt’s fellow Conservative leadership candidates, including Rory Stewart, Sajid Javid, Michael Gove and Dominic Raab, also condemned Mr Corbyn’s recent comments. ”

That accounts for all the Conservative leadership candidates, with the exception of Boris Johnson, who, of course, is a former foreign secretary.   What did he say?   Well, Johnson has not exactly gone out of his way to comment on the matter, but he did retweet the response of Conservative MP Liz Truss to Corbyn:

“Yet again Corbyn sides with an authoritarian regime over believers in democracy and freedom. He seeks to undermine everything that makes our country great. “

I can only assume that Johnson endorses Truss’s comments – which is very disappointing, because they strike me as incredibly foolish. If she is really saying that one should always believe that the government of a democratic country is saying in the run up to a war with a non-democratic country, then she has clearly forgotten the Gulf of Tonkin incident, and the shooting down of Flight 655 and the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the Western action in Libya in 2011.

And, of course, those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

Looking at what is happening in the Middle East, and the sabre-rattling that has been going on in Washington DC, and the response of the British government and the contenders for the leadership of the Conservative Party – one of whom will, presumably, be the next Prime Minister, is somewhat depressing. 

Our job

What are we supposed to do?

And the answer, if you are a Christian, is to remember what Paul told Timothy:

“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”  (I Timothy 2:1-2)

The point is that we want to live a peaceful and quiet life – which requires not having a war raging all around us.

The big question is “Who’s we?”   Paul and Timothy?

Obviously not, but I suspect a lot of the time, those who read this think it means primarily me and my neighbours – people in the country I live in – or Christians in the country I live in. We take it that we are being asked to pray for our rulers. But Paul says “all kings” – and be “we”, I suspect he means all Christians, for he speaks of leading not only a peaceful and quiet life, but also a godly one.

All Christians includes the ones in the Middle East. The fact is that the West’s military incursions in the Middle East in recent years have made life particularly difficult for Christians there – in Iraq, in Syria, and in Libya for starters. Those military adventures have lead to Christians (and not just Christians) being killed and driven from their homes by Islamic extremists. If war involving Iran were to break out, you can be assured that it would make life very difficult for Christians in Iran. According to Wikipedia, there are between 300,000 and 400,000 – but Open Doors reckons that the number is closer to 800,000.

But since Christians believe in doing unto others as you would have them do onto you, we also want non-Christians to be able to live peaceful and quiet lives, and to have freedom from war.

As we look at the Middle East, and listen to the noises coming out of Washington and Westminster, the message that should be coming through loud and clear is that we need to bring these people before God in prayer.

The justice of Pontius Pilate, and the defamation of Julian Assange

Some 2000 years ago, a court case made history. The judge was Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator of Judea, and the accused was a man called Jesus. We are told some interesting things about the trial.

1) Pilate believed that Jesus was not guilty.

“Pilate then called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people. And after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him. .” (Luke 23:13-15)

2) As a result, Pilate wished to release Jesus.

“Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus, ” (Luke 23:20)

3) Pilate decided to have Jesus sentenced to death because of public pressure, out of a desire to “satisfy the crowd”:

“And Pilate again said to them, “Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” And they cried out again, “Crucify him.” And Pilate said to them, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him.” So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified. ” (Mark 15:12-15)

4) The reason that the crowd called on Pilate to sentence Jesus to death was because they had been stirred up by the enemies of Jesus. Pilate asked the crowd, 

“Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead.” (Mark 15:9-11)

In other words, we can see that the Roman justice system could be much influenced by public opinion, especially if there were powerful people / groups who wanted a certain result – e.g. to have a person that they didn’t like executed – even when that person was not actually guilty of a criminal offence.

Public opinion and popularity 

This, of course, is not just true of the Roman justice system 2,000 years ago. It is also true in many countries today. It is potentially true in any country at any time.

What is significant about this is that in the past few days, I have heard two people being interviewed making very similar comments with regard to the case of Julian Assange.

One is Trevor Timm of the Freedom of the Press Foundation in America, who commented that the American Justice Department might think that since “Assange is an unpopular person” they could probably “get away” with prosecuting him in order to “criminalise journalism”, and that “they decided to go against someone who is, at least in mainstream circles, unpopular, and thinking they can get away with it.”

The other is George Galloway, a former member of the UK Parliament, who said:

“This is a story with multiple layers, and that will not just be decided in a court room, because court rooms are not impervious to public opinion, political opinion and the view of the government.”

In other words, what the crowds think, and what the powerful think, and how popular a defendant is (which is basically the same as what the crowds think), are all highly significant in what happens in court rooms – just as in the days of Pontius Pilate.

The usefulness of defamation

Which is why the defamation of Julian Assange, which was highlighted by Nils Melzer (the UN Special Rapporteur on torture ), and which I wrote about last week, is significant.

To put it bluntly, the more unpopular someone is, the less likely that person is to get a fair trial. If the crowd doesn’t like you, you are more likely to be found guilty. That is the sad reality of life in this world, and no-one should kid themselves that it isn’t true.

And the fact is that the main reason that Julian Assange isn’t popular  is (to use Melzer’s phrase) an “unrestrained campaign of public mobbing, intimidation and defamation against Mr. Assange, not only in the United States, but also in the United Kingdom, Sweden and, more recently, Ecuador.”

Melzer, in an interview in The Canary, expanded on this, saying

. . . we have to realize that we have all been deliberately misled about Mr Assange. The predominant image of the shady “hacker”, “sex offender” and selfish “narcissist” has been carefully constructed, disseminated and recycled in order to divert attention from the extremely powerful truths he exposed, including serious crimes and corruption on the part of multiple governments and corporations.

By making Mr Assange “unlikeable” and ridiculous in public opinion, an environment was created in which no one would feel empathy with him, very similar to the historic witch-hunts, or to modern situations of mobbing at the workplace or in school. Once totally isolated, it would be easy to violate Mr Assange’s most fundamental rights without provoking public outrage.

Defamation is serious matter. The problem with people saying nasty things about you is not just that it hurts your feelings, but that it affects the way you are treated – sometimes in horrifying ways.

And that might explain why it defamation (i.e. slander) is treated as a very serious evil in some of the Psalms. Psalm 15, for examle, begins with the question “Who is fit to come into God’s presence?” The answer, we are told, is:

“The one whose way of life is blameless,
  who does what is righteous,
     who speaks the truth from their heart;
whose tongue utters no slander,
    who does no wrong to a neighbour,
         and casts no slur on others;
who despises a vile person
bu
t honours those who fear the Lord;
         who keeps an oath even when it hurts,
and does not change their mind;
who lends money to the poor without interest;
who does not accept a bribe against the innocent.”

It’s an interesting selection of characteristics, but what is notable is that defamation comes high in the list of things that are completely unacceptable.

In Psalm 120, the psalmist is clearly very unhappy, and calls on God to save him.   What does he want saved from? What are his enemies doing that is so distressing?   They are telling lies.  In other words, they are slandering him.

“I call on the Lord in my distress, and he answers me.
   Save me, Lord, from lying lips and from deceitful tongues.

What will he do to you, and what more besides, you deceitful tongue?
    He will punish you with a warrior’s sharp arrows,
        with burning coals of the broom bush.”

If the punishment that the psalmist calls for seems severe, there is a good reason for that. Defamation can wreck people’s lives – or even get them killed.

Note

The main reason (though not the only one) that most people don’t like Assange is the matter of the rape case in Sweden – and in particular, the way it has been reported in most of the press in the UK and US.  The reality is that the case against him is very weak, and the way it has been handled by Sweden verges  on bizarre.  For those interested in knowing more, Nils Melzer has spoken about it in an interview (and he is scathing about Sweden’s behaviour), or see Joe Lauria’s article in Consortium News.   

 

Who is on trial? The UN expert, Julian Assange, and bearing false witness

Last week, the UN Human Rights office put out a statement which declared that 

“A UN expert who visited Julian Assange in a London prison says he fears his human rights could be seriously violated if he is extradited to the United States”

Furthermore, this expert, Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture,

“condemned the deliberate and concerted abuse inflicted for years” on Assange.

The BBC reported on the statement, and focussed on the fact that it said

Assange has suffered “prolonged exposure to psychological torture.” 

In the words of Melzer,

. . . in addition to physical ailments, Mr. Assange showed all symptoms typical for prolonged exposure to psychological torture, including extreme stress, chronic anxiety and intense psychological trauma. . . . The evidence is overwhelming and clear. Mr. Assange has been deliberately exposed, for a period of several years, to progressively severe forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the cumulative effects of which can only be described as psychological torture.

The headline in Reuter’s report on the statement not only uses the word “torture”, but also speaks of a “show trial”.

Reuters actually interviewed Melzer, and he told them

““I am seriously, gravely concerned that if this man were to be extradited to the United States, he would be exposed to a politicized show trial and grave violations of his human rights . . .”

Melzer (Reuters explained) did not expect U.S. authorities to subject Assange to physical torture such as water-boarding during interrogations.  Rather, 

I would much more expect him to be subjected to prolonged solitary confinement, to very harsh detention conditions and to a psychological environment which would break him eventually.””

Psychological torture and show trials are not the stuff of free countries, so Melzer’s words have not gone down well. Jeremy Hunt, the British Foreign Secretary, rejected Melzer’s accusations by tweeting:

“This is wrong. Assange chose to hide in the embassy and was always free to leave and face justice. The UN Special Rapporteur should allow British courts to make their judgements without his interference or inflammatory accusations.”

to which Melzer bluntly responded:

With all due respect, Sir: Mr Assange was about as “free to leave” as a someone sitting on a rubberboat in a sharkpool. As detailed in my formal letter to you, so far, UK courts have not shown the impartiality and objectivity required by the rule of law.

It is clear that Melzer does not believe that Assange was running away from justice, but was seeking to avoid a show trial where it was very doubtful that he would receive justice.

This, as I say, is a very serious accusation. Melzer has questioned the fairness of both British and American courts.

On this subject, I recommend reading Craig Murray’s article “Jeremy Hunt Works That Rogue State Status” in which he says that it is “immensely sad to see the abandonment of the project for an international system based on the rule of law rather than on force,” and concludes

“One by one, the UK is simply repudiating the authority of all the major international institutions that enforce international law. The UK is acting as a rogue state. “

Defamation and vilification

However, there is one particular aspect of the Julian Assange affair, and of Melzer’s report, that I think is important, and that is not getting much attention.

There is something important that Melzer speaks about that is not mentioned at all in the BBC report, but is mentioned in the opening sentence of the Reuters report:

“WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has suffered psychological torture from a defamation campaign and should not be extradited to the United States where he would face a “politicized show trial”, a U.N. human rights investigator said on Friday. “

The word that the BBC does not mention is “defamation”.

The UN report states

“Since then, there has been a relentless and unrestrained campaign of public mobbing, intimidation and defamation against Mr. Assange, not only in the United States, but also in the United Kingdom, Sweden and, more recently, Ecuador.” According to the expert, this included an endless stream of humiliating, debasing and threatening statements in the press and on social media, but also by senior political figures, and even by judicial magistrates involved in proceedings against Assange. 

Further down the page, the report uses the word “vilification”:

“I condemn, in the strongest terms, the deliberate, concerted and sustained nature of the abuse inflicted on Mr. Assange and seriously deplore the consistent failure of all involved governments to take measures for the protection of his most fundamental human rights and dignity,” the expert said. “By displaying an attitude of complacency at best, and of complicity at worst, these governments have created an atmosphere of impunity encouraging Mr. Assange’s uninhibited vilification and abuse.”

Melzer is saying that there has been a deliberate campaign to blacken Assange’s name. I suspect that it may be significant that the BBC report didn’t mention this.

Why do I raise this subject?  Because just about every time I mention Assange to someone, almost the first thing they say is something along the lines of “he’s not a very nice person”. It’s almost like there is something so unpleasant about him that people don’t want to talk about him.  I don’t know if anyone has every mentioned Assange to me in a conversation.  And the reason for that is that just about everybody, even those who have not made any effort to follow Assange’s case, has heard quite a few things about him that do not exactly endear him to them – things that are distasteful.

That is where the words “defamation” and “vilification” come in. People think what they think because of what they hear.  But are the things that they hear true?

Australian journalist Caitlin Johnstone has written an article entitled “Debunking All The Assange Smears”, in which she lists 29 smears against Assange, and deals with them – in great detail – one by one. It is a pretty long article.

But before she starts going through them, she makes this comment:

Looking at that list you can only see two possibilities:

Julian Assange, who published many inconvenient facts about the powerful and provoked the wrath of opaque and unaccountable government agencies, is literally the worst person in the whole entire world, OR

Julian Assange, who published many inconvenient facts about the powerful and provoked the wrath of opaque and unaccountable government agencies, is the target of a massive, deliberate disinformation campaign designed to kill the public’s trust in him.

And then she adds:

As it happens, historian Vijay Prashad noted in a recent interview with Chris Hedges that in 2008 a branch of the US Defense Department did indeed set out to “build a campaign to eradicate ‘the feeling of trust of WikiLeaks and their center of gravity’ and to destroy Assange’s reputation.” 

The fact is that it is possible to destroy people’s reputations, and thus wreck their lives, by engaging in a whispering campaign is certainly true.  And, it seems to me, it has certainly worked in the case of Julian Assange.  

Bearing false witness

Which brings me to the ninth of the Ten Commandments:

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.

What does that mean?

The Shorter Catechism (drawn up by the Westminster Assembly almost 400 years ago) spells out what it requires, and what it forbids:

The ninth commandment requireth the maintaining and promoting of truth between man and man, and of our own and our neighbour’s good name, especially in witness bearing.

The ninth commandment forbiddeth whatsoever is prejudicial to truth, or injurious to our own, or our neighbour’s, good name.

Or, in modern English:

The ninth commandment requires us to tell the truth and to maintain and promote it and our own and others’ reputations, especially when testifying.

The ninth commandment forbids anything that gets in the way of the truth or injures anyone’s reputation.

That seems pretty relevant to the case of Julian Assange.

And note the words “especially when testifying.” It is when someone is being charged in court that this becomes particularly important – because lying can bring about serious harm to an innocent person.

But in addition to that, the way that our world is, and the way our society works, means that it is also true that if a person’s reputation can be damaged sufficiently, then it is easier to get them to brought to court, and more likely that they will be found guilty.

But there is one other thing that needs to be said.

The Westminster Assembly’s Larger Catechism, expands on what the ninth commandment requires and forbids.

And I find it very interesting that one thing that it says that real obedience to the ninth commandment requires that we should not avoid

receiving and countenancing evil reports, and stopping our ears against just defence

– or, in modern English

receiving and giving credit to evil reports, and refusing to listen to a legitimate defence.

It seems to me that perhaps that speaks to each one of us about how we read and listen to news reports – and in particular what we think of Julian Assange.  Because it seems to me that when we hear bad things said about people (especially if we hear them again and again and again) we all to easily accept those those reports without making any attempt to examine them.  

Referendums, Brexit, and the dishonesty of British public life

This morning, the front page of The Times has an extraordinary story. For the first time in over 50 years, a UK poll asking people how they would vote in a General Election shows Labour and the Conservatives neck and neck in the race for third place. There are two parties ahead of them.

There have been times when the LibDems (or the Liberal / SDP alliance before them) have pushed ahead, leaving Labour and the Conservatives in second and third place. But there has never been a time when two unrelated parties were ahead of the two big parties – when both Labour and the Conservatives polled at under 20%. This is a historic moment.

How did we get here?

The big question is “What brought it about”? It all started with the EU referendum in June 2016, and that morning when I got up expecting to hear that the UK had voted to remain in the EU, but discovered that we had voted by 51.89% to 48.11% to leave. This was a shock, because a YouGov poll on the day had forecast a 52% – 48% win for Remain, which was in line with other polls taken in the week before the vote.

This was the first time ever that a national referendum result had gone against the preferred option of the UK government. But nobody could have forecast that this result would lead to such massive problems for Britain’s two main political parties.

After the referendum

Very little was said before the referendum about exactly how the UK would leave the EU if it voted to do so – about what the terms would be. People seemed to assume that should the country vote to leave, then the business of leaving would be straightforward.

In fact, the business of leaving turned out to be extremely messy – much messier than anyone seemed to anticipate. To some extent, this may be because it is much easier to turn an aquarium into fish soup than to turn fish soup into an aquarium. Joining the EU had its complications, but it was nowhere near as complicated as leaving.

The arithmetic of power

But there was another reason that leaving was difficult. The details about how the UK was to leave were in the hands of Parliament, and the vast majority of MPs were not enthusiastic about leaving. It is estimated that 486 of the 650 MPs at the time of the referendum were Remain supporters – 75 per cent of MPs.

Furthermore, when the Conservatives elected a new leader in the wake of the Referendum, they chose Theresa May, who had been a Remain supporter. The matter of making arrangements to leave the EU was largely in the hands of people who were not enthusiastic about leaving.

The Westminster fiasco

In the event, Parliament was simply unable to agree on what to do. Large numbers of government ministers resigned, parliament failed to agree on how to proceed, and the date agreed for the UK to leave the EU (29th March 2019) came and went with the UK remaining in the UK.

Why couldn’t parliament agree on what to do? Basically, because it was completely divided. The deal that the Prime Minister was offering struck a lot of people as the worst of all worlds – most of the disadvantages of being in the EU with few of the advantages. Many felt that either leaving without a deal on WTO terms, or remaining in, would both be better than accepting May’s deal. It was referred to as BRINO – Brexit in name only.

The Labour Party, like the Conservatives, were committed to leaving the EU. Like the Conservatives, they made that clear in their 2017 election manifesto. But in practice, Labour (like the Conservatives) was divided, and it was never quite clear to most people what Labour would have done if they’d been in power.

The LibDems were clear that they didn’t want to leave at all, but with only 12 seats in Parliament, they were fairly minor players. Their 2017 manifesto stated:

when the terms of our future relationship with the EU have been negotiated (over the next two years on the Government’s timetable), we will put that deal to a vote of the British people in a referendum, with the alternative option of staying in the EU on the ballot paper. We continue to believe that there is no deal as good for the UK outside the EU as the one it already has as a member.

The SNP manifesto said nothing about having a second referendum (at least not on EU membership), but it did speak about the importance of staying in the single market.

The options

This raises the question: “Where do we go now?” It seems to me that four options are available.

1) Leave without a deal

2) Leave with a deal

3) Have another referendum

4) Remain in the EU, but don’t have another referendum on EU membership

I shall assume that option 4 is not really on the table. While it is a very simple and straightforward option, and would be very acceptable to most politicians, and a lot of voters, it would be so unpopular with many other people as to be politically unacceptable. To tell voters that there would be a referendum, and that what they voted for would happen, and then for Parliament to decide that it wasn’t going to happen, would be so blatantly dishonest that few people would try it – at least not in a country with a democratic tradition like that of the UK.

So we are left with three options.

Option 1 (No Deal Brexit) is as simple as option 4. The problem is that it is not popular with any of the main parties in Parliament, and while reasonably popular in the country, it certainly doesn’t have the support of the majority – and is strongly opposed by a substantial minority.

Option 2 (leave with a deal) is what most politicians in Parliament have been trying to do, but have completely failed at – even though they have had almost three years to work out how to do it. And few people have confidence that the Labour or Conservative parties (or at least their current leaderships) would be able to do it.

Another referendum?

Which brings us to Option 3: another referendum. The LibDems clearly supported this option in their 2017 manifesto, and said that the alternative of remaining in the EU should be on the ballot paper.

However, there is a real problem with having a second referendum that includes the option of voting to remain in the UK.

Daniel Hannan puts it succinctly in his short video “Here’s what they were saying before the referendum“.

He asks the question “What would it say about our democracy if the 17.4 million people who voted to leave the EU were sent back and told to try again?” He then says “Rather than listening to me, let’s ask some of the people who are now campaigning for a second referendum.” He then gives us clips of three politicians (all of whom later came out in support of a second referendum) speaking before the first referendum. The most blunt was Paddy Ashdown, former leader of the LibDems saying:

I will forgive no one who does not respect the sovereign voice of the British people once it has spoken, whether it is a majority of one per cent or twenty per cent. When the British people have spoken you do what they command. Either you believe in democracy or you don’t.

And Hannan concludes: “Why should we listen to calls for a second referendum from people who, by definition, do not accept the results of referendums?”

Democracy . . . or honesty?

The word that both Ashdown and Hannan used was “democracy”. Ashdown said “Either you believe in democracy or you don’t.” Hannan said “What would it say about our democracy if the 17.4 million people who voted to leave the EU were sent back and told to try again? ” And yes, I take the point that if Parliament ignores the way that people vote, then it goes against basic principles of democracy.

But this goes deeper than that. It is about honesty. When Parliament agrees to hold a referendum, then it is making a promise to the electorate. It tells them “We will do what you say.” Even if it is a majority of just 1 per cent, you do it.

And offering people a second referendum on the same question – before Parliament carries out the expressed wish of the people in the first referendum – is simply dishonest. If we had a general election, and before the newly elected Parliament convened, a new general election was called, it would look extremely odd. This sort of thing would only happen if it was discovered that there were widespread fraud or irregularities – something that nobody has seriously suggested took place in the 2016 referendum.

A useful question to ask in such circumstances is the one that is implied by Dan Hannan’s video: What would happen if the boot was on the other foot? We know the answer, because Paddy Ashdown said it: “I will forgive no one who does not respect the sovereign voice of the British people once it has spoken, whether it is a majority of one per cent or twenty per cent.

In other words, to call for the results of the 2016 referendum to be set aside so that the UK remains in the EU – or to call for another referendum which offers voters the option of voting for the UK to remain in the EU – is simply dishonest. There is no getting around that.

Which brings us back to the subject of public life in Britain today. Large numbers of politicians are talking about fighting Brexit, or are calling for another referendum – one that would offer voters the option of remaining in the EU. They are doing it utterly shamelessly.

And the electorate are, apparently, not horrified. Indeed, it has gone down very well with a lot of voters.  The LibDems, a party that has been advocating a second referendum consistently for the past two years, has seen its popularity shoot up, so that according to the YouGov poll in this morning’s Times, it is now the most popular party in the UK, polling at 24% of the vote – up from 7.4% at the 2017 General Election.

What does that say about honesty in Britain today?

Syria: the explosive story that the western media won’t touch

Ten days ago, a group called the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media published a report with the rather boring title “Assessment by the engineering sub-team of the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission investigating the alleged chemical attack in Douma in April 2018.”

What the report had to say was anything but boring. It alleged that the The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) had suppressed a report from its own engineering subgroup that told a very different story from the OPCW’s final report on the alleged chemical attack in Douma in Syria a year ago. Whereas the OPCW’s report said that supposed gas cylinders found in bombed buildings in Douma, Syria, were probably dropped by helicopters on those buildings, the engineering subgroup’s report came to the opposite conclusion.

What is shocking is that the OPCW covered up the subgroup’s report.

This is important because the alleged dropping of these cylinders by a Syrian military helicopter is at the heart of the allegation that Syria used poison gas at Douma last April – whereas the leaked document differs sharply.

And this is not insignificant because, in response to those allegations against the Syrian government, the United States, France and the United Kingdom carried out a series of military strikes against multiple government sites in Syria – without, it must be added, even waiting for the OPCW investigators to arrive on the site.

In the words of Australian journalist, Caitlin Johnstone,

“As near as I can tell the kindest possible interpretation of these revelations is that an expert who has worked with the OPCW for decades gave an engineering assessment which directly contradicted the official findings of the OPCW on Douma, but OPCW officials didn’t find his assessment convincing for whatever reason and hid every trace of it from public view. That’s the least sinister possibility: that a sharp dissent from a distinguished expert within the OPCW’s own investigation was completely hidden from the public because the people calling the shots at the OPCW didn’t want to confuse us with a perspective they didn’t find credible. This most charitable interpretation possible is damningly unacceptable by itself, because the public should obviously be kept informed of any possible evidence which may contradict the reasons they were fed to justify an act of war by powerful governments.”

There are, as she points out, less charitable interpretations, which look to me at least as plausible as the charitable one:

It is not in the slightest bit unreasonable to speculate that the ostensibly independent OPCW in fact serves the interests of the U.S.-centralized power alliance, and that it suppressed the Henderson report because it pokes holes in the narratives that are used to demonize a longtime target for imperialist regime change. That is a perfectly reasonable possibility for us to wonder about, and the onus is now on the OPCW to prove to us that it is not the case. 

And she explains why this is a huge story:

Either way, the fact that the OPCW kept Henderson’s findings from receiving not a whisper of attention severely undermines the organization’s credibility, not just with regard to Douma but with regard to everything, including the establishment Syria narrative as a whole and the Skripal case in the UK.

There is something that she didn’t mention, but which is significant. In September 2017, Gareth Porter, a respected investigative reporter and historian wrote a piece in which he noted that in its report on the alleged chemical attack at Khan Sheikhoun , the OPCW broke its own rules:

In citing the positive test results on environmental samples and reporting on biomedical samples taken by one of the parties in support of its conclusion that sarin had caused the deaths and injuries in Khan Sheikhoun, the OPCW violated one of its most fundamental rules. It is forbidden from using any biomedical or environmental samples as evidence unless they have a verifiable chain of custody, as a spokesman for the organization clarified when allegations of chemical attacks first arose in Syria four years ago.

The OPCW itself took no samples of any kind in Khan Sheikhoun because its fact-finding mission never set foot in the city. Instead, it performed all of its work in Turkey or elsewhere in locations in Syria controlled by al Qaeda or another rebel group. That, too, was an explicit violation of the organization’s own rules. The same OPCW spokesman who insisted that OPCW could only use evidence with a clear chain of custody also told reporters in 2013 that the OPCW was not supposed to rule on whether an attack with banned chemicals had taken place without direct access to the relevant site. At no point did any OPCW inspector come within 100 miles of the alleged attack site in Khan Sheikhoun.

But this is not just about the OPCW. Porter continues:

Despite this flagrant breach of its own protocols, the OPCW has faced no real scrutiny from Western mainstream media. The disinterest of the international press corps in raising any questions about the OPCW’s methodology or probing the actual evidence surrounding the event has reinforced the initial story spun out by al Qaeda-tied media activists. The same pattern of passive acceptance of the official narrative is now continuing with the coverage of the U.N. Commission report, which is received as gospel despite its flaws. But as this investigation has demonstrated, the official narrative on Khan Sheikhoun doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.

And, surprise, surprise, exactly the same thing has happened this time. The silence of the western mainstream media on the suppression of the report of the OPCW’s engineering subgroup is deafening. As Caitlin Johnstone wrote (and this was 6 days ago):


This should be a major news headline all around the world, but of course it is not. As of this writing the mass media have remained deadly silent about the document despite its enormous relevance to an international headline story last year which occupied many days of air time. It not only debunks a major news story that had military consequences, it casts doubt on a most esteemed international independent investigative body and undermines the fundamental assumptions behind many years of Western reporting in the area. People get lazy about letting the media tell them what’s important and they assume if it’s not in the news, it’s not a big deal. This is a big deal, this is a major story and it is going unreported, which makes the media’s silence a part of the story as well. 

So we have two stories that cast doubt on a respected international independent investigative body, and the media does not cover them, but continues to quote the OPCW as if it is completely trustworthy. The media’s silence is, indeed, a huge part of this story.

The only exception is Peter Hitchens, who has played a major part in breaking and publicising the story in his blog in the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday.

And apart from Hitchens’ blog, even the Mail hasn’t given the story any coverage at all.

There are two other things of interest here – both covered in Caitlin Johnstone’s most recent article on the subject.

The first is concerns Theodore Postol of MIT, who has now seen the engineering subgroup’s report, and who says

I will have a much more detailed summary of the engineering report later this week. For now, it suffices to say that the UN OPCW engineering report is completely different from the UN OPCW report on Khan Sheikhoun, which is distinguished by numerous claims about explosive effects that could only have been made by technically illiterate individuals. In very sharp contrast, the voices that come through the engineering report are those of highly knowledgeable and sophisticated experts.

A second issue that is raised by the character of the OPCW engineering report on Douma is that it is entirely unmentioned in the report that went to the UN Security Council. This omission is very serious, as the findings of that report are critical to the process of determining attribution. There is absolutely no reason to justify the omission of the engineering report in the OPCW account to the UN Security Council as its policy implications are of extreme importance.

I have written about Postol before, because, like Porter, he has seriously questioned the standard US government line about the alleged chemical attack at Khan Sheikhoun. What I said on that occasion bears repeating.

Postol’s contribution got almost no coverage in the mainstream media. Again, this is slightly curious, because in 2013 the BBC carried a story about Postol, describing him as “a leading US expert on missile defence.”

The second thing of interest is that while the western political and media establishments are silent about these revelations about the OPCW, the US State Department has just released a statement accusing Syria of, yes, you’ve guessed it, using chemical weapons in its latest offensive against rebel held positions.

And yes, that is getting plenty of media coverage. 

So, what we have here is an internationally respected body, which has, up to now, been treated as being fair and objective, suppressing key information.  And we we have the western media doing exactly the same thing.   I think that says a lot about where western society stands today with regard to the matter of honesty.

And I don’t think that it is any co-incidence that the information that the OPCW and the media are suppressing is information that throws into question the actions of those who hold political power in the west.  

Should we put our trust in Christian politicians?

A couple of years ago, I was chatting to a friend, and I suggested that the decision of theologian Wayne Grudem to publicly endorse Donald Trump in 2016 raised serious questions about Grudem’s judgement. My friend responded (presumably in defence of Grudem) that at least it could be said that Trump’s vice-presidential pick, Mike Pence, was an evangelical Christian.

That response reflects a view which has long been common among evangelical Christians – the view that if a candidate is an evangelical Christian, then there is a strong case for supporting that candidate. Some people might think that this view is basically the same as the way that in many countries, people tend to vote for someone of their tribe – or the way that Freemasons would be likely to vote for a Freemason. But Christians would argue that this goes beyond “He’s one of us, so we should vote for him.” Christians prefer to think of it in terms of supporting the candidate who has Christian values – who is more likely to be honest, and to vote the way a Christian should vote, a way that is moral.

I must confess that for years I tended to take that view. If a committed Christian ran for office, then there is a good case for voting for the Christian candidate. Today, however, I would say that it is not that simple.

Why? Because, it seems to me, Christian politicians are often as seriously flawed as other politicians in important respects. And there are two that (it seems to me) are good illustrations of this.

Mike Pompeo

The first is Mike Pompeo. Pompeo is currently the American Secretary of State, and thus one of the most powerful politicians in the world. According to Wikipedia,

“Pompeo is affiliated with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. Pompeo serves as a local church deacon and teaches Sunday school. In 2014, Pompeo told a church group that Christians needed to “know that Jesus Christ as our saviour is truly the only solution for our world”.

Furthermore, in January this year, he said in a speech,

“In my office, I keep a Bible open on my desk to remind me of God and His Word, and The Truth. And it’s the truth, lower-case “t,” that I’m here to talk about today.” And he went on to say “We need to acknowledge that truth, because if we don’t, we make bad choices – now and in the future.”

Which sounds good.

Hence it seems strange that last month, in a speech in Texas, he referred to his training at the US Military Academy at West Point, and said

““What’s the cadet motto at West Point? You will not lie, cheat, or steal, or tolerate those who do. I was the CIA director. We lied, we cheated, we stole. It’s — it was like — we had entire training courses. It reminds you of the glory of the American experiment.” ”

Furthermore, he was laughing as he said it.

A Christian commentator remarked“that’s not the resume of the Secretary of State… that’s the resume, if we look at the Bible, that’s the resume of Satan.” 

There seems to be a stark contradiction in what Pompeo said on those two occasions.

What are we to make of this?

For some years, I have been reading Daniel Larison, who writes on foreign policy at The American Conservative. Larison is a sober commentator who is not given to exaggeration; and if he says something, I take it seriously. Since Pompeo is the US Secretary of State, it is not surprising that Larison has commented frequently on Pompeo’s statements. And there is a word that comes up again and again and again. See if you can spot it.

On the 15th of March, Larison wrote a column entitled: “Pompeo’s Obnoxious Yemen Lies

On the 29th of April, it was “Pompeo’s Risible Yemen Lies

On the 5th of April, in an article entitled “Challenging the Administration’s Many Iran Lies“, Larison begins “Mike Pompeo lied about the nuclear deal again this morning in his interview with Norah O’Donnell . . . “

On the 28th of March, in an article entitled “Secretary Pompeo Has No Credibility“, Larison begins

“Mike Pompeo spoke at the National Review Institute this week and made several false statements about North Korea, Yemen, and other issues.”

He goes on to say

“Pompeo has spent the last ten months lying to the American public, Congress, and everyone else when he says things like this, and he never seems to pay a price for it. ”

And he concludes with the words

“Pompeo is the chief representative of the United States abroad besides the president, so his habit of making things up out of thin air and telling easily refuted lies can only harm our reputation, undermine trust, and cause even our allies to doubt our government’s claims. Thanks to his constant misrepresentations and fabrications, nothing that the Secretary of State says can be believed. “

If you are interested in the truth, and look into the things that Daniel Larison saying, I think you’ll find that he isn’t exaggerating.

Ben Sasse

Let’s move on to Ben Sasse, a Republican Senator from Nebraska.

Sasse’s credentials are a lot more impressive than those of Mike Pompeo. For me, the thing that is really impressive is that “For the next year, he served as consultant/executive director for Christians United For Reformation (CURE). During his tenure, CURE merged with the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals (ACE), and Sasse became executive director of ACE in Anaheim, California” 

I have been following CURE and ACE for over 20 years, and both have had rock solid reputations. They have been bodies that I would trust completely and look to for wisdom.

Furthermore, Sasse co-edited the book Here We Stand!: A Call from Confessing Evangelicals for a Modern Reformation with respected preacher James Montgomery Boice. If Ben Sasse has a long association with these people, he must be solid.

His record for political courage is also strong. He stated publicly in 2016 that he would not vote for Trump – he was the first sitting Republican senator to say so – and has probably been more outspokenly critical of Trump than any other Republican in Congress.

And, on top of all that, he’s smart. He went to Harvard, and has a PhD from Yale.

And yet . . .

Last month, Sasse published an article about foreign policy, in which he said that America needed a “foreign-policy imagination that is broader, more adaptive, and more creative.” He wrote:

“I am an unstinting advocate for American engagement in the world, and I think the impulse to withdraw from America’s important, long-standing commitments is a very bad thing. U.S. global leadership is indispensable, not only for the security of America’s friends and partners, but for protecting America’s own interests. When hell breaks loose on the other side of the world, it inevitably boomerangs home. When the United States doesn’t lead, chaos inevitably follows. If America continues to drift toward global disengagement, it will be sucked into all sorts of troubles that it can’t envision right now.

The lesson of the two World Wars and of the Cold War is that the United States cannot avoid the world. America ultimately must lead a system of alliances. When it does otherwise, the consequences for the United States and its partners are much worse than policy-makers are liable to anticipate in the short term, when disengagement can seem appealing.”

Daniel Larison’s comment is simple: “Almost everything that Sasse says here is untrue or significantly misleading.”

Larison has plenty of good comments, but it seems to me that the key thing is this:

“The experience of the last 20 years shows that the U.S. is much more often responsible for creating chaos and instability when it “leads” through military action and support for regime change. The more active and forceful U.S. “leadership” has been, the more destructive our foreign policy becomes.

One of the core conceits of Sasse’s case for interventionism is that our “leadership” is good for the U.S. and the world, but there is considerable evidence from just the last two decades that it imposes enormous costs on us and causes terrible harm to many other countries.”

Exactly. 

And I must confess that as I read Sasse’s words, I was astonished. “Untrue or significantly misleading” is an accurate description of much of it. So much so, that Sasse appears to live in a fantasy world, in which America’s actions on the world stage are always a force for good around the world, and governments disliked by America’s political leadership are wicked. While Sasse has been critical of Saudi Arabia, he has also voted against ending U.S. military support for the Saudi war effort in Yemen. This is astonishing. America’s support from Saudi aggression in Yemen has been utterly reprehensible – and yet Sasse has consistently supported it.

What do I make of this? I think Sasse actually does live in a fantasy world . His view of world affairs is, in many ways, divorced from reality. He describes Putin as ‘evil’, and China is ‘a bad actor’ in the world.

It seems to me, however, that any fair minded person who looks objectively at the facts regarding the conflicts and wars that have been going on over the past 25 years, would have to conclude that the governments of China and Russia have not been nearly as responsible for stirring up death and destruction as successive American administrations. And it isn’t even close.

It is noteworthy that while Sasse’s article mentions China and Russia a few times, it never mentions America’s part in the disasters in Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen. Iraq, Yemen, and Libya are not mentioned at all, and while he makes some derogatory remarks about the Syrian government, he doesn’t mention America’s support for Jihadist militants in the war in Syria, who brutalised Christians and members of other minority religious groups.

Loving the truth

How do I account for this? How could a sincere, intelligent, Christian be so completely wrong?

As I pondered this, the word that came to me was “delusional”. And as I thought further, a verse from the Bible came to me: II Thessalonians 2:11 “Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false.” So I had a look at it.

What Paul actually says in this passage is:

The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

Now, this clearly doesn’t apply to Ben Sasse. Paul is talking about unbelievers, who reject the gospel.

But it struck me that the words “they refused to love the truth” might be relevant to Sasse. You see, when Paul says “the truth”, he is talking about the Christian gospel. But there are a lot of things that are true. And some of those things can be highly uncomfortable to us, because they don’t fit with things that we really like to believe.

Loyalties . . . and idolatry

And when it comes to politics, people have a lot of deeply held beliefs. And even more importantly, politics involves loyalty – loyalty to political leaders, loyalty to political parties, and loyalty to one’s country. Admitting that the leader you have supported is seriously flawed can be difficult. Admitting that your party has got something seriously wrong can be difficult. But perhaps admitting to the failings of your nation is the most difficult thing of all. Patriotism is a powerful force. To admit that the foreign policy that your country has pursued over the past 20 or 30 years is seriously mistaken isn’t easy. To admit that the foreign policy your country has pursued has brought large scale death and destruction can be painful.

And the fact is that Ben Sasse holds very strong beliefs about America. He wants “an American-led, American-powered global order. “

But his belief in America strikes me as being naive, unrealistic, and verging on arrogance. What if a politician from China spoke of “the value of a Chinese-led, Chinese-powered global order?” Or a German politician spoke of “the value of a German-led, German-powered global order?” Or an Indian politician spoke of “the value of a Indian-led, Indian-powered global order?” To believe that an American-led, American-powered global order is inevitably going to be be a good thing – especially after Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen – is astonishing.

In our world, and especially in the world of politics, people often speak as if loyalty to a great leader, or to a party, or to a tribe, or a nation are important virtues. Failure to show such loyalties is often described as treachery. And that is especially true of loyalty to one’s nation. But the truth is that such loyalties are not always a good thing, for they often blind people to the truth.

And I will go further. The Bible doesn’t use the word ‘loyalties’. But it does speak of idols. In the Old Testament, idols are always statues made of stone or wood. But in the New Testament, the apostle Paul speaks (Colossians 3:5) of covetousness as idolatry. And if wanting other people’s property can amount to serving idols, can we not make gods of human political leaders, or parties, or tribes, or nations? Can we not put faith in a leader or party or tribe or nation that should be reserved for God alone? Can we not give loyalty to a leader or party or tribe or nation that should be reserved for God alone?

It seems to me that Ben Sasse’s faith in America as a force for good in the world, and his belief in the value of “an American-led, American-powered global order” comes pretty close to idolatry.

And that’s a problem.

At its heart, I think that politics itself is a big part of the problem. Politics demands (and creates loyalties) – loyalties that have always been around. But as I read the New Testament, it seems to me that those loyalties were pretty much absent from the New Testament church. The early Christians, for the most part, knew nothing of loyalty to political leaders, to political parties, or to nation states. I don’t think that is accidental.

That may also be true of some modern Christians – but it is not true of many. There are many modern Christians who have political loyalties – and in particular, loyalty to their country. And in practice, that becomes loyalty to the foreign policy pursued by their country, and thus loyalty to the allies chosen by our governments – which, in my opinion, is dangerous ground.

Last year, an article in the New York Times bluntly stated:

The United States is not directly bombing civilians in Yemen, but it is providing arms, intelligence and aerial refuelling to assist Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as they hammer Yemen with airstrikes, destroy its economy and starve its people. The Saudi aim is to crush Houthi rebels who have seized Yemen’s capital and are allied with Iran.

That’s sophisticated realpolitik for you: Because we dislike Iran’s ayatollahs, we are willing to starve Yemeni schoolchildren.

Schoolchildren?  Yes, and not just schoolchildren. The UN recently warned that if a proper ceasefire is not brokered by the end of the year, the total number of dead could rise to 233,000, with 60 per cent of the deceased being children under the age of five.

The UN’s projected count includes 102,000 killed in combat and 131,000 who will die due to a lack of food, health services and infrastructure in the war.

As Daniel Larison put it,

It can’t be emphasized enough that U.S. policy in Yemen is both deeply immoral and irrational. Our government is a partner in war crimes and crimes against humanity . . . .

And Mike Pompeo is a forthright advocate of this policy, and Ben Sasse voted against ending U.S. military support for the Saudi war effort in Yemen.

When loyalty to one’s nation leads to being so deluded as support the mass killing of thousands of children, it’s no small thing.

I don’t think idolatry is too strong a word.

The Rape of Europe: a review

The Rape of Europe  is a video produced by David Hathaway, an evangelist who is the founder and president of Eurovision Mission to Europe. In 2006 he wrote a book entitled Babylon in Europe and the video is based on that book. In the video, Hathaway claims that the modern-day Europe is a continuation of the Roman Empire prophesied by Daniel. He also makes the claim that the EU is the prostitute of Revelation 17 that rides on the Beast of Islam.

The problem with the video is that when you start examining the statements that Hathaway makes, most of them turn out to be, at best, highly questionable.

Empires

The video starts by giving us a sweeping tour of world history, emphasising the great empires, and saying that now “we are seeing the absolute dominance of America in world politics and economy, but alongside it, arising a challenging force – that of the emerging European empire.”

This description is questionable. The big problem is that if one actually looks at the world, the EU is not challenging the US for dominance in world politics and economy. The EU’s share of global GDP is declining. The countries that made up the EU controlled about 30% of the world’s economy in 1980, whereas today it is about 16% and is expected to continue to fall. In other words, Hathaway’s great tour of world history sounds impressive, but when he gets into recent history, he ignores crucial facts which go against his narrative.

Having spoken about the fact that there were a succession of world empires, he then moves on to the Bible, and talks about how it also speaks of a succession of empires, and focuses on the account of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in the 2nd chapter of Daniel. Hathaway says that Daniel says that “there would be five succeeding empires.” The video shows a picture of the statue with the the Babylonian empire at the top, followed by the Medo-Persian Empire, the Greek empire, the Roman Empire, and at the bottom the “Holy Roman Empire” and “Europe Today.” He says that the only one not fulfilled is the iron and clay in the fifth empire.

What the book of Daniel says is:

This was the dream. Now we will tell the king its interpretation. 37 You, O king, the king of kings, to whom the God of heaven has given the kingdom, the power, and the might, and the glory, 38 and into whose hand he has given, wherever they dwell, the children of man, the beasts of the field, and the birds of the heavens, making you rule over them all—you are the head of gold. 39 Another kingdom inferior to you shall arise after you, and yet a third kingdom of bronze, which shall rule over all the earth. 40 And there shall be a fourth kingdom, strong as iron, because iron breaks to pieces and shatters all things. And like iron that crushes, it shall break and crush all these. 41 And as you saw the feet and toes, partly of potter’s clay and partly of iron, it shall be a divided kingdom, but some of the firmness of iron shall be in it, just as you saw iron mixed with the soft clay. 42 And as the toes of the feet were partly iron and partly clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong and partly brittle. 43 As you saw the iron mixed with soft clay, so they will mix with one another in marriage, but they will not hold together, just as iron does not mix with clay. 44 And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever, 45 just as you saw that a stone was cut from a mountain by no human hand, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold. A great God has made known to the king what shall be after this. The dream is certain, and its interpretation sure.”

What should we notice? First, there is nothing about empires – it speaks about kingdoms. It probably means empires, but we can’t be certain. Some scholars have thought that it means individual kings coming after Nebuchadnezzar. Secondly, it does not speak of five kingdoms / empires: it speaks of four. If you read verses 40 and 41, it seems pretty clear that the iron and clay feet are not a fifth empire, but part of the fourth.

As for which four kingdoms the parts of the statue stand for – the generally accepted view over the years is that they are, indeed, the Babylonian Empire, the Medo-Persian Empire, the Greek Empire, and the Roman Empire. This was the view of most of the early church fathers, and of the reformers, and of most Bible-believing scholars today. They would generally accept the view that when verse 44 says “And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever,” – it is speaking about how in the days of the Roman Empire, Jesus came, bringing the kingdom of God, which is growing over the course of history as people are added it it through faith in Jesus, and which will eventually bring to an end the kingdoms of this world.

As well as the fact that the video speaks of a fifth empire, whereas Daniel speaks of four – there is another problem. Trying to fit the Holy Roman Empire or the EU into the pattern of the four empires does not really work. The four empires dominated the known world in their day, and each collapsed in battle at the hands of the empire that succeeded it. That was not the case for the Holy Roman Empire or the EU. Hathaway tries to argue that the Roman Empire was destroyed by Germanic tribes, and so the next empire is going to be German, but his argument is weak.

Symbols of the European Union

The video says that “actually, there are two main symbols used by the European Union both of which are found in the Bible.” It goes on to say that they are the Parliament Building in Strasbourg, and a statue in Brussels of a woman riding a bull.

When one looks at that statement, it breaks down completely. If you google “symbols of the European Union”, you come to a Wikipedia article of that name. The Wikipedia article begins: “The European Union (EU) uses a number of symbols, including the European Flag, Anthem of Europe, Motto of the European Union and Europe Day.” The video mentions none of these symbols, and the Wikipedia article mentions neither the Parliament building nor the statue of the woman riding a bull. To say that the Parliament building and the statue are “the two main symbols used by the European Union” is just not true.

The Tower of Babel

The video claims that the EU Parliament building represents the Tower of Babel, and spends a lot of time looking at this claim and what it means. The claim is based on the fact that the building, in some ways, looks very like a painting of the Tower of Babel by the 16th century Dutch artist Pieter Bruegel the elder. Wikipedia says “The story of the Tower of Babel . . . was interpreted as an example of pride punished, and that is no doubt what Bruegel intended his painting to illustrate.” There is nothing controversial about that.

The video, however, claims, that the Parliament Building was modelled on the painting. I have not been able to find any evidence for that. The video claims that a journalist confirmed that the members of the European Parliament understood that it represented Babel in the Bible, and that they intended to finish what Nimrod and the people of Babel had failed to do. No source is given.

It seems to me very unlikely that all these people would choose a symbol of pride being punished as their symbol. What sort of idiot would choose, as a symbol, a great project that ended in disaster? Politicians and bureaucrats may not be the brightest people in the world, but they do tend to know a little bit about public relations – and choosing something that was a total disaster as your symbol is not good PR.

It is worth noting that the video claims that Nimrod was the builder of Babel. The Bible doesn’t actually say that. In Genesis 10, it says

Cush fathered Nimrod; he was the first on earth to be a mighty man. He was a mighty hunter before the LORD. Therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the LORD.” The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. From that land he went into Assyria and built Nineveh, Rehoboth-Ir, Calah, and Resen between Nineveh and Calah; that is the great city.

And Nimrod is not even mentioned in the account of the building of Babel in Genesis 11. He is not described in the Bible as the builder of Babel.

The video also says “In Babylonian culture, the title Queen of Heaven was the title given to the earthly mother of Nimrod.” The Babylonian goddess who they called the Queen of Heaven was Inanna. There is nothing in Babylonian mythology that says she was the mother of the founder of Babylon – or of anyone called Nimrod. In other words, what the video says appears to be untrue.

The Europa Statue

It is not surprising that Europa is used as a symbol of Europe by the EU. After all, in Greek mythology, the continent Europe is named after her. (It was common in ancient Greek mythology and geography to identify lands or rivers with female figures.) The video goes out of its way to make the story of the myth of Europa sound as horrific as possible, and then proceeds to use the fact that in the myth, Europa was originally from Phoenicia (on the east coast of the Mediterranean ) to suggest that this has implications for the relationship between between Europe and the Middle East in our time. To draw such a conclusion from an ancient Greek myth has no rational basis, and leaves me wondering why Hathaway takes Greek myths so seriously.

The video then goes on to assert that the description in Revelation 17 of a woman and a beast is actually a description of Europa and the bull. What Revelation actually says is:

Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the judgement of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters, 2 with whom the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality, and with the wine of whose sexual immorality the dwellers on earth have become drunk.” 3 And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns. 4 The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality. 5 And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.”

There is no reason to believe that John, the writer of Revelation, had in mind the myth of Europa. Nowhere does it say in Revelation that the woman is Europa, nowhere does it say that the beast is a bull, nowhere does it say that she is riding on it – she is described as seated on it. More to the point, Revelation tends to draw its imagery from the Old Testament. It does not use imagery from Greek myths.

Fact-checking

I could go on, but the point is that when one fact-checks the video, it turns out that just about every claim that the video makes falls apart. One Christian writer, commenting on the video, remarked “nearly everything in the video is untrue—both historically and biblically. There are some facts in the presentation—it is nearly impossible to talk for over an hour without some facts slipping in . . . .

My guess is that very few people who see the video – and it is up to almost 180,000 views on YouTube – ever bother attempting to check the facts in the video. And yet Christians, of all people, should know that they ought to do some fact-checking when a preacher says something radically new or different. In the book of Acts (17:11) we are told that when Paul and Silas preached in the synagogue in Berea, his hearers were more noble than those in Thessalonica, and “they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.

Final comments

I want to make a final comment about the video.

About 11 minutes in, Hathaway says “I want to try to show you in a very definite way, a very clear way, that we are actually living in the time when Bible prophecy is being fulfilled, literally today, in your lifetime.”

When Hathaway says that, it should ring alarm bells. Since the end of the New Testament, about 1900 years ago, people have often claimed that Bible prophecy is being fulfilled literally in their lifetimes, usually seeing this fulfilment in the political events of their own day.

For example, in 17th century England, during the political turmoil between King and Parliament that lasted from about 1639 to 1662, a group called the Fifth Monarchy Men claimed that the fifth monarchy spoken of in Daniel chapter 2, the kingdom of God, was about to happen. They saw great significance in the fact that the year 1666 was approaching. A lot of intelligent Christians believed it. Within a few years, it became clear that they were wrong, and today it is largely forgotten.

In the 18th Century, Jonathan Edwards, a great preacher with a brilliant mind, followed the battles between the Britain and France, trying to see how they fitted in with Biblical prophecy. Today, nobody believes that, and it is largely forgotten. These things often seem credible for several decades – sometimes for a few centuries – but in the end, they have always turned out to be wrong.

 

Postscript

Before the 2016 referendum, I wrote about why I planned to vote for the UK to leave the EU. In my piece, I spoke about the Tower of Babel, and said that what the Bible had to say suggested to me that moves toward greater unity in Europe were not a good thing. In other words, in some ways, what I had to say might appear at first glance to be similar to what David Hathaway said.

I wrote:

“Would a united Europe be a good thing? I think that a lot of people are attracted to the idea of being part of a large union because it feels ‘safer’ – remaining outside feels risky. This way of thinking believes that big is good – or at least that it is good to be part of something big – that a united Europe would be secure and strong in the big wide world out there.

I have to confess that I am uneasy with that view. In my opinion, the worst possible political arrangement for the world is a world with one central government exercising political control of the entire planet. It simply concentrates far too much power in one place. As Lord Acton observed, all power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

(It seems to me that the account of the life of King Uzziah in II Chronicles 26 is a good example of what Acton spoke about, for verse 16 says “But when [Uzziah] was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction. For he was unfaithful to the LORD his God and entered the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense.“)

And it seems to me that the second worst option is a world divided into a small handful of powerful blocks. Again, far too much power would be concentrated in only a handful of places. What I would prefer to see is a large number of independent countries – the more the merrier. That would share power out, and provide diversity instead of uniformity.

And that is basically why I would like to see Britain leaving the EU.

This brings us back to the Biblical account of the Tower of Babel, And in particular to words of the builders of the tower: “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth. ” What is interesting is that the Biblical account describes an attempt by the people of the world to form a unity. It doesn’t describe it explicitly as a political unity, but that is what it was.

God clearly did not believe that this unity project was a good idea:

The LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city.

The words “nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them” suggest that God did not think this huge amount of power (basically, political power) concentrated in one place was a good thing. It suggests that being able to do more was not a good thing. And so he scattered them over the face of all the earth – in other words, into many smaller political units, so that they could not do so much.

And if God seems to be saying that having large amounts amounts of political power concentrated in one place is not good, and that it is better to split it between smaller political units, it seems to me that moving towards a unified Europe is probably not a good thing.”

Thoughts on the Christchurch shooting

How should Christians respond to the attack that took place this week on a mosque in New Zealand?

My first response, to be honest, was not to be terribly surprised. Every so often, someone decides, for whatever reason, to kill a group of people. Last October it was a synagogue in Pittsburgh. In December 2017 it was a church in Quetta in Pakistan. Sometimes a school is attacked, sometimes a concert, sometimes a busy night club.

Upon further consideration, it struck me that New Zealand is about the last place one would expect such an attack to happen. New Zealand strikes me as about the safest place one could be. And yet even in New Zealand, things like this happen. If it can happen in Christchurch, it can happen anywhere – and I should be grateful that I have never been caught up in such an attack.

And the reason that things like this could happen anywhere is that all it takes is one person who has the motive to launch such an attack, and the means to do so. And since, I reckon, getting hold of the means, and using them, is within the capability of a lot of people everywhere in the world – all it takes is a person who, for whatever reason, has a desire to kill.

Which brings us to Brenton Tarrant, the Christchurch attacker. What everyone knows is that he attacked a mosque in order to kill Muslims. He also made known his reasons for doing so in a manifesto that he posted online.

The most important line of the manifesto – at least in Rod Dreher’s opinion is this:

“RADICALIZATION IS THE RATIONAL RESPONSE TO DEGENERATION”

Dreher continues: 

What is “degeneration”? According to the manifesto, it consists of:

1. The decline in native European populations, and native European stock in the US, in terms of numbers relative to non-Europeans within those societies.

2. Politics and policies within European countries (that is, countries with ethnic European majorities, including the US and Canada) that disempower native Europeans.

3. Widespread drug use.

4. The loss of worker rights and stability under the reign of globalist capitalism.

5. Environmental degradation.

6. The collapse of Christianity.

7. Rampant hedonism.

These are the 7 things that Tarrant was particularly unhappy about in our society.

Dreher comments:

Here’s the chilling part: Everything Tarrant identifies as qualities of a disintegrating Western civilization is true. You may think that declining numbers of ethnic Europeans is a good thing, or something that has no particular moral meaning. But it really is happening. So are all the rest.

I suspect that most people in the west, including most Christians, would agree with Dreher. And a lot, including a lot of Christians, would be concerned about all, or most, of these seven things.

I am only going to comment on one of them, however – the one that I think is most interesting: “The collapse of Christianity”.

Dreher comments that Tarrant seems to value Christianity only as a force ethnically binding Europeans, and that may well be true. But the fact that Tarrant actually sees this as one of the seven marks of the degeneration of western society is quite striking.

As I pondered that, some words of Jesus came to mind:

“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”   (Matthew 7:3-5)

The question Jesus asks is one for Tarrant.  It asks him “What about you? You see degeneration all around you. Do you not see it in yourself?”

Isn’t it just a little bit strange that a man can speak of how the collapse of Christianity in the west is a bad thing, and yet he goes out and commits mass-murder – partly because he regrets the collapse of Christianity in the west?

Christianity, after all, is about Jesus Christ. And Jesus’ final instructions to those who were closest to him was to go into all the world and make disciples of all people everywhere, and teach them to keep his commands. Those command include the command not to murder. They also include the command to love your enemies.

Tarrant valued Christianity – and thus, in some way, apparently valued the teaching of Jesus -but failed to acknowledge that the words of Jesus applied to him.

Any Christian must surely regret that Tarrant saw that there was some value in Jesus, but didn’t realise what that value was.

And that brings us to the really interesting thing. Just as Tarrant saw value in Jesus, so, I suspect did his victims.  They were Muslims, and Islam teaches that Jesus is a prophet of God. The Jesus of Islam, however, is not quite the same as the Jesus of the gospels – and so Muslims are strangers to the Jesus of the gospels . . . just like Brenton Tarrant is.

Tarrant and his victims had this in common – they needed the good news of Jesus Christ and the gospel – but they had not yet discovered that good news. And so what they had in common was far bigger than what divided them.

Degeneration does, indeed, demand a radical response.  It demands radicalization.

But the radical response it demands is not the one that Tarrant had in mind.  Rather, it was the one Jesus spoke of when he said (Mark 8:34-35):

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”

That means me recognising that I am inherently degenerate, and that I live in a degenerate society in a degenerate world – and that the (radical) answer is to deny myself and follow him. And that means, to use John Piper’s words, to march to a different drum, to have a different King, and to have our citizenship elsewhere.

The “anti-Semitism epidemic” 1: America

When Donald Trump comes out strongly in favour of condemning bigotry, but Bernie Sanders has his doubts, you know something strange is going on.

Five years ago, stories about anti-Semitism were not particularly common in the western press. Times have changed, and in the past few months, there have been an increasing number of media headlines about anti-Semitism. 

This morning, on the BBC News website, I was intrigued to see the headline “US House votes to condemn bigotry” The mind boggles. This may be the most surreal headline I have ever seen on the BBC. Perhaps next week, they’ll vote in favour of virtue. They might even vote to condemn dishonesty, but that is probably too much to expect.

The headline on the article turned out to be slightly different: “Ilhan Omar: US House votes amid anti-Semitism row“.  It reports

The US House of Representatives has voted to condemn “hateful expressions of intolerance” amid a row over anti-Semitism. Minnesota congresswoman Ilhan Omar has prompted sharp objections recently for frequently criticising Israel and pro-Israel lobbyists in Washington. Her Democratic party was split over how and whether to censure the freshman lawmaker. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has denied the resolution was made to rebuke Ms Omar. “It’s not about her. It’s about these forms of hatred,” Ms Pelosi told reporters, denying suggestions the measure was “policing the speech of our members”.

“Aye, right.” as they say in Glasgow.

The Democratic-controlled House voted 407-23 in favour of the resolution condemning discrimination against Jewish people, Muslims, Latinos and other minorities. Some Democrats had pushed for a vote purely condemning anti-Semitism, but the resolution was broad and did not mention Ms Omar by name.

Playing Politics

The fact that 23 people voted against condemning bigotry might seem surprising.  In fact, of the 23 who voted against, 22 apparently did so because they felt the resolution was “watered down”.  They wanted one that specifically condemned Ilhan Omar’s recent remarks.

The other dissenter was Thomas Massie of Kentucky, who commented “Now that the resolution protects just about every group on the planet, can we add “babies on the day of their birth” as a protected class?”  I’m guessing that Massie voted “nay” because he thought the resolution was silly and meaningless.

Indeed, the whole thing looks like it was simply about playing politics, because the House passed a closely related motion just three weeks agoPolitico reports:

House Democrats were forced to vote Wednesday on a measure condemning anti-Semitism, a gambit by House Republicans to embarrass the majority party in the wake of controversial comments by Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota. GOP leaders used the procedural tactic — known as a motion to recommit — as a messaging tool to put Democrats on the spot after Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her deputies publicly denounced Omar’s comments this week.

The surprise manoeuvre came when GOP leaders offered language condemning anti-Semitism to a high-profile foreign policy measure, causing a 30-minute hold-up on the floor as top Democratic leaders huddled to discuss the next steps. Then in a highly unusual move, all Democrats voted in favor of the GOP amendment.

Democrats dismissed the partisan move and noted that most Republicans voted against the underlying Yemen resolution that contains the language condemning anti-Semitism.

This is what’s wrong about this place. They pushed out a [motion] to try to make us look bad, and then they’re forced to vote against their own [motion] after the bill passes,” said Rep. Max Rose (D-N.Y.), who is Jewish.

They were trying to embarrass us. They played a game,” added House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland . . .

The fact that all the Democrats supported the Republican motion meant that it was unanimous, apart from Massie (who, presumably also thought that this resolution was silly and childish) who, along with Justin Amash (who, I’m guessing thought similarly), abstained.

But, back to yesterday’s resolution. It seems to be utterly pointless. However, it is clearly all about Ilhan Omar, and the Democratic Party feeling that it had to do something, but it wasn’t quite sure what to do.

What is it really about?

Which brings us back to Trump and Sanders.  

Donald Trump tweeted

“It is shameful that House Democrats won’t take a stronger stand against Anti-Semitism in their conference. Anti-Semitism has fuelled atrocities throughout history and it’s inconceivable they will not act to condemn it!”

However Bernie Sanders – himself Jewish – said in a statement on Wednesday that he feared the House vote was to target the congresswoman “as a way of stifling debate”, saying people should not “equate anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism of the right-wing, Netanyahu government in Israel”.

And standing with Sanders on this are several other people who are (at least ethnically) Jewish, such as Glenn Greenwald, whose article on the subject is titled: “The House Democrats’ “Rebuke” of Rep. Ilhan Omar Is a Fraud for Many Reasons, Including Its Wild Distortion of Her Comments

Greenwald’s piece is good. Read it.

I’ll just quote three lines:

“. . . the irony here is glaring: what’s actually anti-Semitic is to conflate the Israel Government and those who support it with Jews: that’s something being done by Democratic House leaders, not by Congresswoman Omar. “

“In fact, if one were to apply the warped reasoning of the House Democrats’ resolution to its logical conclusions, then one would have to also condemn Congresswoman Omar for also being anti-Muslim. That’s because she has repeatedly voiced very similar criticisms of U.S. support for Saudi Arabia, specifically complaining that Saudi money has corrupted Washington and caused policy makers to be beholden to the Saudi monarchy – comments which, strikingly, nobody purported to find offensive: . . . “

And, finally Greenwald’s reference to

“all the cowards in the House about to formally denounce Omar, yet again, for the crime of telling this truth. “

However, the last word goes to Ben Swann, who in a short video, “Rep Omar’s Comments On Israel Were Not Anti Semitic“, makes much the same points as Greenwald.

Eyeless on Gaza

But Swann also points out something.  Just last week the UN Human Rights Council released a report stating that Israel intentionally shot children and journalists in Gaza, and that there are reasonable grounds to believe that Israel violated international law. And yet that UN report

 . . . has not been covered in one single mainstream media outlet in the United States; it has not been commented on by even one lawmaker.

And the evidence of what Congresswoman Ilhan Omar is talking about is right there. Instead of putting together a resolution against the killing of 35 children during protests along the border, and thousands others who were injured, rather than even debating it, House Democrats are drafting a resolution in order to silence a legitimate criticism – not of a people, not of a religion, but of a foreign government.

Jesus condemned hypocrites of his day, saying “You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!” (Matthew 23:24)

That sounds pretty much like what is going on in American politics today.