Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Erosion of Civil Liberties

"If the truth be known..."

I find myself wanting to comment here on something that I have just come across recently which I find disturbing, as part of a general trend towards authoritarianism in the UK - indeed, now approaching outright police-state status, with the Home Secretary within the past week outlining "a plan to monitor all our electronic communication and retain the records on a government database" (letter to The (Glasgow) Herald by Dr Geraint Bevan, of NO2ID Scotland, published 17 October last).

I feel I can best start addressing the specific matter by inserting here a copy of a letter which I have just sent to Shami Chakrabarti, Director, Liberty:


22 October 2008

Subject: free speech and the UK anti-racism laws

Dear Ms Chakrabarti,

First of all, just to say how good it was to see the House of Lords reject the Government's 42-day pre-charge detention proposal, and to see the ad in the Guardian letting Liberty's position on that matter be prominently known. A good fight. Well done.

But I am concerned abut another example of the erosion of our civil liberties in this country. This has to do, apparently, with either provisions in our 'anti-racism laws' or the Government's interpretation thereof, on a matter of free speech.

In The (Glasgow) Herald of 18 October it was reported that one Dr Fredrick Toben, an Australian historian, was arrested at Heathrow Airport whilst transiting from the US to Dubai, because of "an EU warrant" issued by a court in Germany, for running afoul of that country's draconian 'Holocaust denial' laws because of posting "information" online that allegedly "denied, approved of or played down the mass murder of six million Jews by the Nazis".

From his point of view, according to the person representing him in court - a Mr Ben Watson - his work is "to establish the precise facts around the Holocaust and other academic events that are taboo"; and further, according to the article, "Mr Watson questioned the validity of the EU warrant, telling the court that Mr Toben should only be extradited if he committed the offence while 'standing in Cologne market place or had posted the claims on a German website'".

Which sounds reasonable enough. However, "Melanie Cumberland, prosecuting, said that although the offence of Holocaust denial was not specifically against the law in the UK, offenders would still be prosecuted under anti-racism laws".

Excuse me? This country, having basic, fundamental, and under excruciating and unprecedented threat, liberal attitudes towards civil liberties and so forth, and not having such an impactful feeling on and connection to this particular matter as the German nation obviously has, nevertheless is arguing that it can bang up a transiting person on its soil for such a 'crime', even though such a 'crime' has not explicitly been accepted by its parliament and judiciary?

Would you ask the government to 'please explain'? And delve into this matter?

Thank you.

Yours sincerely,

Stan Stanfield
[etc, including my Liberty membership no.]

P.S. I am reminded, in this regard, of a) the continued publication of proposals by the Home Office to track everyone, everywhere - including 'New powers for state snoopers on the net' (Guardian, October 16, National, p 13), etc etc - and b) the column by Timothy Garton Ash in the same edition of the Guardian (p 27), headed 'The freedom of historical debate is under attack by the memory police'. Apparently in this country, too.

It's time, obviously, for a counterattack.


Two things. First, to say that this is not the first time that I have heard of Dr Toben, and his interests. Some ten years ago I was for awhile, whilst living in Australia, a board member of a free speech group called (I think) the Free Speech Committee, which monitored such matters in that country, made submissions to various parliamentary bodies from a free speech perspective, etc. At one of our board meetings, while we were discussing other such issues, various pieces of correspondence to the FSC were being passed around by our chairman for our perusal & information. One of those pieces was a letter from this gentleman - who was, as I recall, at that time an active member of the faculty at some university or other in South Australia, I believe it was - explaining briefly that he was going to be appearing before some federal governmental body under new 'hate speech' laws, and wanted to know if the FSC would help him to some extent with his expenses accrued thereby, and perhaps to support him in some other way. It wasn't an agenda item at our meeting - was kind of peripheral to our specific business (we were based in Sydney, with a New South Wales main, though not exclusive, focus of our activity) - and so we never dealt with it; but I must have made a mental note of his name, because I remember following up by looking at his website, to see what this was all about.

What it was about was what this current bit of news is all about. Dr Toben, from whatever influences, had begun an academic's investigation into the historical subject of The Holocaust, and had become concerned about the accuracy of the accepted story on it. This had even led him to visit some of the concentration camp sites involved, and check out various aspects of the story. Long story short: he felt there was something wrong with that story, and published his findings on his website. This was what caused him to run afoul of the (fairly newly minted) Australian law. When I dug further into his story - specifically, reading transcripts of the various hearings he had been subjected to - I found that the government refused to let him argue his case on the basis of fact and truth: at one point the woman holding the hearing said words to the effect: 'Truth is not an issue here; it's the law that counts.'

I kid you not.

So that got my dander up, and I went to some other websites, looking into this matter further. What I found was points of information like:

(1) Even some Jews reject the story as it has been given us to believe (on pain now of incarceration if we don't, would you believe); and

(2) The figure 'six million Jews' had actually been used years prior to WWII, when the Zionists were trying to stir up political support for a homeland in the historical motherland for the Diaspora Jews, and were making a case for approximately how many people they were talking about, for reasons - to make a judgment call here - of sentiment. (On one of these sites I saw a copy of a newspaper printed in 1918 or thereabouts to this effect.)

I won't go into all this in any more detail here; this is just to give some background as to this issue, and why someone like Dr Fredrick Toben is being given a raw deal. In short: there are 'Holocaust deniers' and then there are 'Holocaust deniers', and they shouldn't all be lumped together. Well; there shouldn't be laws denying people the right of self expression on such a matter in the first place - especially if they are sincerely looking for the truth of matters. But then, as Colin Powell said recently about criticisms of Barack Obama that he was 'a Muslim': No he wasn't; and, so what if he were?

Point two. The article by Timothy Garton Ash was/is an excellent one. (The Guardian, Comment & Debate, October 16, p 27; Hallelujah for the French: they are pioneering a movement, under the name Liberty for History (, to strike down so-called 'memory laws'. As Ash - who is a member of the group - says, first in quoting a public statement they made as published in Le Monde:

"(W)e maintain that in a free country 'it is not the business of any political authority to define historical truth and to restrict the liberty of the historian by penal sanctions'." And later he remarks:

"It's this process of historical research and debate that requires complete freedom - subject only to tightly drawn laws of libel and slander, designed to protect living persons but not governments, states or national pride (as in the notorious article 301 of the Turkish penal code). The historian's equivalent of a natural scientist's experiment is to test the evidence against all possible hypotheses, however extreme, and then submit what seems to him or her the most convincing interpretation for criticism by professional colleagues and for public debate. This is how we get as near as one ever can to truth about the past."

Hear, hear. Literally.

It's time for the nanny state to butt out of such a matter. And especially in the current climate; when Big Nanny is making way, step by incremental step, for her Big Brother.

Monday, 13 October 2008

The Elections, Politics & Christianity

Lately I've been asked by members of my community over here in Scotland how I feel about the elections going on in my home country of America. It feels appropriate to expand on that subject a little, beyond a brief comment I made on the presidential campaign (regarding the Republican vice presidential candidate, Gov. Sarah Palin) in an earlier Commentary.

I think I can best address the subject at the outset by quoting a contribution I made to this subject on the Comments thread of a blog on a political-oriented site (called Capitol Hill Blue):

"To all those women who are still unhappy with Obama primarily because he beat their standard bearer, let me just say, in an attempt at reconciliation:

"I realize that you feel that Obama shouldn't be let off so - too - easily. But in the grand scheme of things...there he is.

"And shall we work for a post-2-party system as they are currently constituted and led? Or are you merely going to continue to be a Holdout for Hillary, with all her (and Bill's) baggage, that could well have made her unelectable?

"I realize further that you may be remembering how you felt when, during their debates, you felt that Obama was being condescending to her. I wasn't impressed with that 'You're likeable enough, Hillary' unscripted comment either. But at some point, we all need to move on from slights, and get to substance. And the substance of this matter, now, is that the Obama/Biden ticket is far more substantial than the McCain/Palin one. At least - as old curmudgeon (I think it is, on this site) is wont to say - in my humble opinion.

"Hold your noses, ladies, if you must. It is as it is. And let's all move on.

"And with gratitude. For let's fully realize that there's a potentially major defining moment to be faced, here (which couldn't be in the Founders's day of this blessed Republic). If 'a black man' can become president of the US, then a lot of barriers can be perceived as being overcomeable. The Israelis and the Palestinians can move beyond their limiting barriers. The Catholics and the Protestants can work together in Northern Ireland. The Sunnis and the Shi'ites can recognize an opportunity to rise to a national consciousness in Iraq. And so forth. It is - can be - part and parcel of a new zeitgeist; of a potentially healing and reconciling moment, not just in America. Here's a chance to make that happen. Can we clear that hurdle? I think so. But human nature is as human nature does...Maybe - just maybe - we can look back, with Red Skelton's Mean Widdle Kid, and say, 'I dood it!'

"Sorry to slip into a time before the time of most of you, but some here will know whereof the reference. Radio, and the Golden Age thereof. Ask your parents (or even grandparents; m'gawd!). Amos'n Andy, and so forth. Another place, another time, another era. In many ways.

"But now I'm getting into a Joe Biden moment...Well; current time, at least :-)

"P.S. And if one wants to look for 'the hand of God' in human affairs, I think this would qualify as a potentially more salient example than an oil pipeline in Alaska..."


A couple of comments to this comment.

(1) I refer to the idea of moving beyond 'the two-party system as currently constituted and led' because I feel, with others, that the Demo and the Repub parties have become false antagonists, to a certain extent - controlled by the same shadowy people at the top - and so are not true representatives of choice in the American system of government. Both Bill Clinton and Bush Sr. were two peas in the same criminal pod of dealing with drugs through the Mena, Arkansas airport, e.g.; both parties were involved in the setting up of the financial system's current meltdown, in order to provide Crisis for the Opportunity to move America beyond its federal republican form of government and its Constitution, to merge it into a region - called by the perps the North American Union - as part of a New World Order of corporate/elite control over the people of the world; and so forth and so on, in all manner of areas. The people have been misled by their leaders, and new governing forms need to emerge to represent their various interests, as free as possible from the control of the current Controllers, who can't be trusted with such power as they have assumed - clearly; and growing more clear by the day. Given that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. (There's that human nature contributing factor again...)

My response to this situation has been to be for neither of the current major parties, but for a third party candidate, to represent my unwillingness to support 'business as usual'. Not that there aren't differences between the Dems and the Repubs, Obama and McCain; but they're not fundamentally enough different. A look at the advisers of both camps gives that away. (My choice would have been to support Ron Paul, to get the country back on track to the rule of law, not of men; but my state of record didn't allow me that choice, either on the ballot or for write-in. So rather than spoil my ballot in symbolic protest, I voted for the Libertarian Party candidate, who at least wants to get politics in the US back in line with the Constitution.)

(2) I think we now need to face, clearly and decisively, the question of Christianity, and its proponents's belief system. This 'moment of truth' has come to a head because of the possibility of a candidate, in our particularly dangerous time and place, who is a fervent fundamentalist believer, being a 73-year-old 'heartbeat away from the presidency' - whom I have described elsewhere as someone, because of her staunch beliefs, who could well look at an Armageddon-like event "as a Good Thing", and let that belief system control her decision to 'push the button', as it were.

A little of my background, to understand where I'm coming from on this issue.

I was born in the Christian religion, in a particular denomination of it called 'the Mormons', or, to give it its designated name, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There's a long story here, that I won't go into at this time. Suffice it to say, for this current purpose, that during my university days I had what I call a 'spiritual experience', and left school to go out into the world in a search for Truth - in many areas, and in the ultimate meaning of the word. So off I went(from the west coast of America) to 'the largest library in the western world', which I took to be the public library in New York City; and, for the better part of a year, immersed myself in my search. All of the holy books of all of the world's religions; commentaries thereon; spiritual philosophy of all sorts; mysticism, extrasensory perception; the roots of civilization; and so forth. (Including serious questions about western medicine; but that's for another time.) My conclusion: this was an ongoing process; but as to the specifics of the Christian religion, I had read enough to develop serious doubts about the story that 'we' had been given regarding it.

This involved in particular the research of a number of Europeans - mostly German scholars - who had discovered that the origins of Christianity were shrouded in some deep curiosities and mysteries, especially regarding beliefs current at the time, in various cultures, of what were called 'fertility gods' and such, associated with the return of life in the spring. The myths included stories of the god of note being born of a virgin (well, after all, he was a god, and had to be different from mere mortals in SOME way); of being buried alive and resurrected in three days; of oblique references to zodiacal ages; etc etc. Also, to the role of what were called presbyters, or 'teaching elders' - men who traveled from village to village and made a living by telling 'strange and wondrous' stories; stories that are beyond all reason to our ears, but must have been highly entertaining then, and in any event, of the currency of the time. Anyway, there I was, in my current time, having been set adrift from all belief, and bobbing away on the sea of reality; keeping an eye on various intriguing ports of call, and weighing everything as to its merits and potential value. That is to say: keeping an open mind.

Time has passed; and in our time (welcome, fellow pilgrim, on the journey) I have been impressed, in this matter of Christianity, in particular by the research of an Aussie named Tony Bushby, who has researched the matter far beyond what I had come across lo, those many years ago now. (I highly recommend his books to fellow seekers of the truth: (1) The Bible Fraud; (2) The Secret in the Bible; and (3) The Crucifixion of Truth. And let me clarify: He's not anti-spiritual per se; as attested to by another of his books, titled Glimpses of Life Beyond Death.)

The relevant point here for this discussion is that the section called Revelations in The Bible was basically from an earlier era than the Christian one, and is not a literal rendition of matters that have become pertinent to Christians. I am saying that actions taken on faith from a belief in the literalcy of that book would be misguided at best, and horrendous in result at worst. This is a matter not 'of God' but of error. And we would be foolish indeed to put the fate of the nations in such hands as a person who takes their eschatological belief literally.

And at another time, I will be glad to take Richard Dawkins on, regarding HIS beliefs. But first things first.

In my humble opinion.