Mau Mau apology time


‘Electric shock was widely used, as well as cigarettes and fire,’ says the academic. ‘A European officer had castrated him, first by crushing his testicles with pliers,’ says the activist’s memoirs. In response, the authorities say: ‘We understand the strong feelings… [this] remains a deeply divisive issue… and one on which historians continue to debate,’ and think that should be the end of it.

This, of course, was the news last week of a High Court case brought by a group of Kenyans demanding an apology and reparations for what Britain did in Kenya in response to the Mau Mau uprising of the 1950s. Here’s a reminder: as many as 150,000 Kenyans were incarcerated in response to an uprising that tried to rid Kenya of white rule. The ‘Mau Mau Rebellion’ came after peaceful protest had been met with violence, as so often was the case in British-controlled Africa. The rebellion had wide support among the Kikuyu ethnic group, so Kikuyu were rounded up and put in ‘transit camps’, for what was euphemistically called ‘screening’.

As last week’s news, which featured recently released secret documents from the time, revealed, ‘screening’ was more often than not beatings and very often extreme torture. Crude castration and mastectomies performed with iron rods and knives, sexual and physical violation with sand, hot objects and broken bottles and beating suspects to death have been documented again and again as methods used by Britain in her colony to extract information about the Mau Mau ‘terrorists’.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has been trying to get the case thrown out of court because, it says, in law Britain ceded any responsibility when Kenya gained independence. As one of the greatest Christian campaigners for justice of our age, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, argues, however: the legal responsibility may be in question but the moral one remains. Apologies must be made and damages paid.

Of course, the Mau Mau themselves were violent and committed awful crimes. The ethics of wars of liberation don’t often get discussed unless the powerful have sided with the ‘freedom fighters’ – otherwise they remain ‘terrorists’ and their motives are attributed to evil or madness. But when you read the accounts of what was done to those merely suspected because of their race in order to root out the ‘terrorists’ (this newspaper cannot print descriptions of such violence) you see the greatest argument against the logic that says: ‘sure, it’s unpleasant, but it needs to happen if we want to be safe.’ No, it does not. The Christian, with his emphasis on the golden rule, must imagine himself, his mother, his grandfather being sexually assaulted and beaten before arguing for brutal expediency. And we must, of course, oppose it.

But we must also understand that fear as a motivation to do evil is only part of the reason things like this happen. The other lies in the argument often made to justify the abuses of empire: ‘we sacrificed their liberties, their sovereignty and their choice, we gave them rough justice, but in the cause of civilizing them.’ We Christians have too often been complicit in this logic of empire.

But the Christian should keep in mind the Angel of Death on Passover night or the fate of those who tried to force Daniel to place a symbol of their empire above God to see how much the Lord values these ‘superior’ and ‘civilizing’ empires when they depart from his values and justice. We should think of the esteem in which we hold Pontius Pilate and the mechanism of crucifixion whereby our Saviour was tortured to death, whenever we try to justify Pax Romana. And we should remember that justifying brutality to maintain peace and security or only counting the lives of their own citizenry valuable was not unique to Rome, but practised by the torturing Pax Britannica in Kenya (to name one country) and has distinct resonance with the more efficiently torturing Pax Americana who refuse to count Iraqi dead. I look forward to the apologies.


September 11 reflection

I really hope it’s not ‘too soon’, but you never know. ‘Too soon’, of course, is the response topical jokes about catastrophes sometimes receive when the public mood is not quite ready for light to be made of whatever disaster, tragedy or scandal is being targeted by a comedian. It was also the response to several statements, articles and speeches written by very serious people in 2001, following the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers on 11 September. Several columnists, activists and philosophers were vehemently criticized within the first few months following the September 11th attacks, for daring to ask certain questions or make certain observations about the events. And even now, as I consider bringing them up nine years later, I suspect some people will be muttering: ‘too soon’ and wishing I’d be quiet.

But that is simply because ‘soonness’ has nothing to do with why people objected then (as they do now) to certain things being said about 9-11. It’s the same impulse that makes ordinarily rational people object to a mosque being built near the site of the Twin Towers (in which a Muslim prayer room operated peacefully for many years). Because of the great number of people killed in that area, on that day, both have taken on a kind of sacred character for many. This is understandable for the friends and relatives in particular of those who died, but it should not preclude us from asking a question that several people were lambasted for asking nearer to the time: was there anything fundamentally more important about the people killed on September 11 than all other people?

Philosophers and critics who pointed out that while the events of September 11 were tragic and horrible they were not that out of keeping with what was experienced by the rest of the world were attacked for being outrageous, disloyal and speaking ‘too soon’. Is it still too soon now to ask why we still care so much about the 3,000 victims of that attack while even then we could hardly muster as much sympathy for the 20,000 who died in India that January? Is it too soon to ask why every civilian casualty in America should be venerated and mourned, while in our wars in the Middle East they should not even be counted?

Is it still too soon to genuinely ask the question: ‘Why do they hate us?’ without resorting to cartoon answers that assume madness, fanaticism or unadulterated evil and take no factors into account like the historic and economic oppression of Muslim countries by western powers or of the millions of children that had died in Iraq due to American sanctions and been deemed ‘acceptable’ by the US Secretary of State?

Is it still too soon to point out that American lives (and British lives, for that matter) are not nor have they ever been, more valuable than those of civilians or combatants in states with whom we are at war or in regions where our friends or companies commit misdeeds? Is it still too soon to ask Christians in particular to recognise this fact?

Is it too soon to compare the motives of the hijackers to the motives of those who pushed for the Iraq invasion for moral worth?

Is it still too soon to start comparing the numbers of dead in Afghanistan and Iraq, through military conflict and subsequent chaos, on both sides, to the numbers killed on September 11?

I’m not saying that all or even any of these questions would in any way justify the taking of human life (on September 11 2001 or any other day). I am also not saying that the dead from the Twin Towers should not be mourned, and that with respect and dignity. But the ‘war on terror’ continues. Iraq and Afghanistan will live for generations with the consequences of the actions undertaken by governments we elected in response to 9-11. If we don’t ask questions now, or some time soon, we never will. And we will make the same awful mistakes again.

Burnin’ love

Korhaan (courtesy of realbirder.com)

I really need to pay more attention. Last week I was with a bunch of fundamentalist nutcases and when they suggested a fun activity I dragged the lot of them to a bird-sanctuary, petrol cans in our hands and a song in our hearts. Turns out, they wanted to burn a Quran, not a Korhaan. A Korhaan, for those who do not know, is an African bird, also known as a Bustard – clearly destined to be unfortunately mispronounced. The Quran, on the other hand, is the holy book of Islam. Ah, well, it could have been worse. We could have been Seoul or Pyongyang. In my defence, too, burning Korhaans (or Koreans, for that matter) is not much more logical than burning Qurans. And, yet, in the news last week we read about the massively ironically named Dove World Outreach Center (‘Outreach’? Really? Like this?) in Florida, USA, which has made headlines because of a planned 9/11 memorial Quran-burning.

I like to assume, of course, that nobody in this country would be hateful or ignorant enough to support this sort of thing, but then, I look at some of the local comment on the ‘Victory Mosque’ or the frankly vicious (not to mention phenomenally stupid) attacks on Peter Tatchell’s very presence at Greenbelt last week, and I suspect it has to be said out-loud: burning the Quran is a bad idea.

I say this for many reasons that I suspect will be obvious to most followers of Christ. First of all: It achieves nothing. Like Bible-burning, it does not result in fewer converts or less power for the religion. So any pseudo-righteous justification based on wanting to keep people from the lies of foreign gods is (and I do hate having to use these sorts of words) dumb.

Second, it stirs up hate. Yes, yes, I know there is a school of thought among some Christians and secularists that says that Muslims will get angry at anything. But listen. Every culture and religion has certain things they hold up as in some way sacred. It might be the image of Jesus, it might be Sunday’s specialness, it might be a specific understanding of the innocence of childhood or the privateness of sex. The point is, if it’s something you take very seriously, and somebody who knows that about you goes specifically out to debase, destroy or denigrate that thing, what does that make the destroyer/debaser? That’s right. A bit of a bustard. [too much, Mark? Make it ‘swine’?]

We need to understand that most observant Muslims take their scripture so seriously they wash before touching it. Burning it, to them, is a big deal. And all that it will achieve is anger and resentment. And when you deliberately go out to upset someone like that, you lose all moral high-ground when it comes to their response. That’s not to justify an aggressive reaction from Muslims, just to say that if they do get angry, it is intellectually dubious to try then to use that (as it was with the cartoons of Mohammed) as evidence that they, rather than their provokers, are unreasonable.

Another reason not to do it is because Christians from across the Muslim and mixed-faith world are begging Western Christians not to. Their job is hard enough. Their position already fragile because of equivalent angry nutcases on the Muslim side. We do not help them when we do or say things that make us look like the violent, arrogant, disrespectful creeps some extremists would like to paint all Christians as.

But the final reason is because it is not an act of love. Yes, we are called to sometimes say and do things that make people who don’t know our Saviour uncomfortable. But the aim is always to bring them closer to his truth, not shut them off forever. Even bigots who see all Muslims as their enemy must recognise that carrots and love are better than sticks, burning or otherwise.

The mantra of ‘business knows best’

Mantras are not usually popular in Baptist circles. But there is a mantra accepted by far too many Christians and non-Christians alike, a mantra whose chanted rhythms are becoming more pervasive by the day. It says: ‘Big business knows best,’ and it’s been echoing for decades throughout the western world. A recent amplification came from Tony Blair and it has found something of a devotee – no, a Swami in David Cameron (with side-kick Fakir assistance from Nick Clegg). If (to extend the metaphor), during the years of New Labour, Westminster became something of a flower-power teen’s bedroom of tentative occasional chanting, the Con-Dem government has turned it into an Ashram.

Everywhere, in almost every decision our new government takes, one hears it and variations on it: ‘Big business knows best.’ ‘Profits mean progress.’ ‘The private sector is our salvation.’ Businessmen are appointed to oversee restructuring of public departments and business principles deployed in spending public money. Indeed, big businesses will soon be running much of what used to be publicly owned. The chanting of the mantra has become so loud, so ubiquitous, that ordinarily balanced people, even economic ‘atheists’ seem to have got religion, at least in terms of believing in the mantra.

Even when discussing the war in Afghanistan, NATO last week complained that all the positive stories are missed by a negative media. Examples given on the radio included building projects and economic recovery. So much of the proverbial Kool-aid has been imbibed that we are really willing to see the destruction of homes and infrastructure (with the loss of life that entails) as a positive thing, because it is good for the business of reconstruction.

But let’s not be unfair. Big business does know best about some things. Making a profit, mostly. And if a profit is what you want, the big business world has some pretty good ideas to offer. But most of those ideas involve charging as much as possible for what you provide, cutting jobs or paying people the very minimum you can get away with to cut costs and focusing every decision about quality on whether it will, in the end, make more money.

This is all perfectly respectable within the narrow world of commerce. One would not run a family that way, though. Asking little toddler Jimmy how he has contributed to the family bottom line and regretfully informing him his services will no longer be required is something most parents would prefer to avoid. When a mother becomes pregnant a second time we don’t immediately commiserate because her costs have gone up. The very idea of applying big business principles to the family (at least exclusively) is obviously ridiculous. And yet, there are many in our government who believe that big business knows best for public services and parts of government. Their faith in the infallibility of big business is amazing. After all, the economic crisis was caused by big business, and their network, the markets. The oil-spill in the Gulf of Mexico? A business called BP.

The high-priests of this mantra would have us believe that we have to choose between a world in which everything is run by big business or a totalitarian state. This is not true. Many things work better without business and don’t result in us becoming North Korea. The police are not privatised, ambulance and rescue services are not expected to make profits and making the fire department a business would obviously return us to a world where only those with money would receive help when they needed it most. It’s unthinkable in terms of burning houses. But when it comes to the lives of those who rely on public services most, we seem pretty open to it. I wonder if that’s the fault of the mantra, or just because we’re selfish and indifferent to change that is unlikely to threaten ourselves. Either way, as the Beatles eventually lost faith in the Maharishi, a little skepticism might be healthy about now.

The empire strikes mac

Some Americans have a shaky grasp of Scottishness. I saw this first-hand at a music festival in Scotland once. An American Rap group strutted onto the stage, gazed out over the crowd with its myriad of Saltires and lions rampant and shouted: “Hello, England!”

It did not go down well.

And the Wu Tang Clan (who are, themselves, nothing to funk with) have nothing on the American Senate, which last week ‘summoned’ Alex Salmond and Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill to answer questions about the Lockerbie bomber and BP.

Some commentators thought it was fair enough, that the pair should indeed answer questions about whether Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi was freed in order to facilitate a Libyan oil deal for BP. Others felt that all necessary explanation had been given and that, since Megrahi’s release had been obtained on compassionate grounds, Scotland’s hands were clean and the head of government could stay put.

Personally, I just pictured any numer of my Scottish friends squaring up to an American senator, saying: “And who the hell are you, Jimmy?” I mean, not to be petty, but what gives them the right to summon anyone who is not one of their citizens? It’s bad enough when they lord it over the (primarily English) British government. But Scotland? Did they really think that the Scottish would have no inherent resistance to being pushed around by a foreign (mostly Anglo Saxon) nation that doesn’t think of Scotland as a real country? Haven’t they seen Braveheart? Didn’t they make Braveheart?

Let’s not be distracted, however. The fact that American politicians are actually going after a multinational corporation for its transgressions is a minor miracle. I’m even willing to overlook the fact that they are probably motivated by upcoming mid-term election jitters rather than a desire for justice. I’m even a little willing to ignore the fact that the American who shot down an Iranian airliner full of civilians (Iran Air Flight 655) in 1988 was never jailed, making their obsession with Megrahi a little hypocritical. But I would like to ask them to extend their sudden righteous anger to other multinationals. In fact, I’d like them to extend it to the way they deal with big corporations generally. Banning BP from offshore drilling for a few years because of its failures? Excellent. But what if they do it again? Does the American (or this) government have the guts (or haggis) to put repeat-offenders out of our collective misery? That would be nice, wouldn’t it?

an american empire? why, yes, actually.What would also be nice is a little less of that imperial hypocrisy. Because, unfortunately, the USA, for all its many good points (and one only has to look at Noam Chomsky, Magnum P.I. and Bob Dylan to be prompted to think of more) has imperial hypocrisy in spadefuls. And that should worry all Christians (particularly those obsessed with interpretations of Scripture that see Beasts and Dragons in globally dominant political powers), because our witness to the world seems so tied in with America, that most public ‘Christian nation’, which regularly engages in conflict and destructive economics to further its control of the world. And it’s not only our witness. Christians in this country should be particularly worried by last week’s news that Britain seems at some point to have gone from being an accessory to the USA’s programme of torture (under the auspices of ‘war on terror’) to active participant. It’s not that we should worry that God will judge the entire nation, in an Old Testament fashion, for the sin of torture. That is by no means certain. But we should worry that he will be displeased with us, because we have not used our position as voters in a democracy to ensure that justice is done and the innocent are not oppressed in the cause of catching the guilty. He has a thing about justice.

Because I Got High

from legaljuice.com

‘Weed, dude…’ The dope-head said to my friend, after he’d lost his train of thought for the umpteenth time, ‘It messes with your short-term… your short-term… um…’ and trailed off. ‘Your short-term memory?’ My friend asked, and the marijuana-smoker replied in the affirmative. True story. The ‘weed’ he was referring to was, of course, cannabis, and I was reminded of the exchange last week as I listened to news of the row between the government and their chief scientific advisor on drugs.

Over the last few years, the government has pretty much ignored the scientific advice on drugs. From deciding on its policy on Ecstasy without waiting for the findings of its scientific advisers, to reclassifying cannabis from a Class C to a Class B drug, the government has demonstrated time and again that its objections to drugs are more social and ‘moral’ than scientific. This was borne out last week when Home Secretary Alan Johnson sacked Professor David Nutt, head of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, because Professor Nutt had publicly criticized the government for ignoring the ACMD’s advice.

‘Ah!’ you say, ‘It all makes sense now! The pinko-liberal politics, the hippie attitudes to the environment and war, the beard… Jonathan Langley is clearly on drugs. And that’s why he’s about to defend their use, probably on the basis of hemp making good rope, just like a typical degenerate drug-addict.’

Well, sorry to disappoint, but, I’m not a fan of drugs. I’ve tried cannabis a few times, and it’s just not my cup of (green) tea. I am, as my editor never tires of telling me, relatively paranoid when on nothing stronger than coffee. Smoking illegal herbage (while at university), nearly scared me to death. In fact, in my experience, most of the illegal drugs my friends have used have made them vacant, shallow, insincere and, well, stupid. Of course, that goes for many of the legal drugs, too. But if you asked me, I’d advise you to keep away from drugs.

drugs are bad, mkay?

from southparkstudios.co.uk

And that means absolutely nothing. Why? Because I’m not a scientist. I can recognise that my opinion on a subject I know little about is not very important. But, apparently, successive Home Secretaries cannot. Some of them may genuinely believe cannabis is dangerous (though this seems unlikely considering how many of our top politicians have admitted smoking pot earlier in life and going on to fruitful lives). More likely is that they are afraid of the social backlash against them if they take a reasonable, measured, scientific approach to all recreational drugs (including alcohol). A backlash from people like us.

Because, for Christians, this is not an issue where we can dispassionately criticize the government. We are one of the reasons the government ignores scientists when they try to say that some drugs are not as dangerous as others, that mental-health fears with certain drugs are nothing more than scare-tactics. We, people in churches, members of campaigning groups, ‘the silent moral majority’ that tabloids make so much noise about, are the ones who, directly or indirectly, demand that the government take a ‘hard line’ on drugs, for many different reasons of vastly disparate validity.

But if we really want, for whatever moral, spiritual or other reason, to discourage people from taking drugs, perhaps we should try telling the truth about drugs and basing our laws consistently on that truth. I know that sounds crazy. It’s probably just the booze talking.

Here’s an amusing anti-drug advert (I’d love to post the old Dennis LEary MTV one, but the only rip of it contains some of his other opinions, most of which are, well, stupid.):

Is Britain leftist? Ask a postman.

from socialistworker.co.uk

We’ve won! The Lefties and pinko liberals have finally taken over. You could tell by the reaction, last week, to the news that BNP chief-wizard, Nick Griffin, was going to appear on Question Time. Beyond the predictable lefty activist reactions, ordinary, mainstream people actually got involved. And properly freaked out. Radio phone-ins, blogs, newspaper columns and office coffee-points resounded to the sound of otherwise apolitical middle-classers denouncing the BNP in ways that made Joe Public sound suspiciously like George Galloway.

But never fear, oh conservative (or, indeed, Conservative) reader. Britain has not descended into liberalism or fallen into the arms of Marxist ideology. The vision of leftism sweeping the nation last week was just a mirage, a conscience-salving display by a populace that, like a grown-up hippie with a mortgage, likes to think of itself as a bit of a lefty more than actually behaving like one.

Because just as left-leaning newspapers produced posters making fun of how small Nick Griffin’s brain is (embarrassing) and right-leaning tabloids denounced his racism (hypocritical), the nation’s media showed its true political colours while covering last week’s strike action by Royal Mail staff in the Communication Workers Union – and those colours were not varying shades of red. Ordinarily impartial interviewers took for granted the belief that strike action in itself is a damaging, unreasonable and negative phenomenon. Otherwise intelligent commentators with a sense of proportion referred to their having to wait a week for internet hardware (delayed by the strike) as ordinary people’s ‘suffering’. And perhaps most remarkable of all, the Tories and Labour seemed to be pretty much on the same side: in opposition to the strikers.

Photo from socialistunity.com

The question is: why? It’s not like the nation has been crippled by strike after strike, causing constant upheaval to our lives. Royal Mail workers are not the bullies in this situation, either. They are overworked and facing privatisation (disguised as ‘modernisation’) which always means job-losses and a worse deal for both workers and consumers. The only power they have is in acting together. It’s not like the claims of government ministers and Royal Mail bosses of falling mail volumes are true (an excellent exposé of unilateral adjustments of figures and fiddling of statistics by bosses was published a week or two back in the London Review of Books and makes for fascinating reading) or even logical (can you say eBay? Amazon? Junk mail? Post ‘sent’ by ‘outside contractors’ that’s still ultimately delivered by Royal Mail posties?) It is just that the zeitgeist at the moment is pretty right-wing when it comes to strikers.

The reasons why could be debated in a whole book. But whether they are our sense of entitlement (outraged whenever we are even slightly put out), our culture’s hostility to those who seem ‘too political’ (as if that could somehow be a bad thing in a democracy) or just our subconscious belief that ‘the workers’ should be glad for whatever they get, because ‘beggars can’t be choosers’, Christians have a choice. We can go with the flow, side with the spirit of the present moment and accept, uncritically, the attitudes and viewpoints in which we are immersed. Or we can think for ourselves, applying God’s values, rather than those of the market or our privileged class, to issues in the news – hopefully siding with justice, mercy and the poor, rather than the forces of selfishness and expediency.

This originally appeared in The Baptist Times, under a different title.

Here’s a lovely video by Die Krupps about making a choice against fascism:

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a bastard with a lawfirm!

Well, someone had to shut them up. MPs, I mean. The sound of their whining complaints about getting letters telling them to pay back expenses was distressing dogs for miles round Parliament. But the manner in which they were eventually shut up last week was, not to put too fine a point on it, evil.

They were shut up by a ‘super-injunction’, a kind of ultimate gagging order which demands that not only do you not talk about some forbidden subject, but you’re also forbidden to talk about the fact you’re forbidden. Unfortunately, it had nothing to do with their expenses.

The super-injunction was intended to stop members of the public hearing from MPs, though. Just not about themselves. It was filed by a law firm called Carter-Ruck against the Guardian (and all other media in the country), preventing them from reporting on (or reporting on the fact they were not allowed to report on) a question in parliament about how an oil company had dumped oil waste on the Ivory Coast, causing untold health hazards to the poor people living there. Oil traders Trafigura and Carter-Ruck effectively tried to silence Parliament on an issue of human rights. And for a short while they got away with it.

This obviously reaffirms the fact that you don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to believe that global capitalism kills ordinary people and tries to control our politics and media (you don’t need ‘Illuminati’ when you have old-fashioned greed), but it also reaffirms that parliament is important.

Which flies a little in the face of much of the news last week. Now don’t get me wrong. I think the MPs who were vociferously complaining last week are in need of a jolly good hiding. Possibly a public hiding. Cries of ‘getting this letter made me feel like a criminal’ will get nothing but a deeply ironic ‘boo-hoo, diddums’ from me until those same MPs do something about racially-profiled stop-and-searches taken out on ordinary, non-criminal citizens every day. Objections that ‘the relevant authorities okayed it, so I am not going to pay it back’ will find me and others metaphorically spitting on them unless those MPs change the system where over-paid tax-credits to poor families have to be paid back regardless of whether ‘relevant authorities’ made the mistake.

Some MPs clearly need to grow up and realise that they are citizens in a democracy, not special little princesses. But despite what many newspapers have said, they are not fat-cats either. Yes, they earn more than enough to be able to pay for their own bloody gardening as far as I’m concerned. But they are not bankers and they are not Royal Mail bosses (similarly-whiney in the face of their own immensely undeserved privilege and wealth though they may be.)

That said, the job they do is special. Because it’s in our name. And when it comes to doing that job, gags on what the press may report are just plain wrong because they threaten our ability as citizens to make informed decisions about what our government should do, threatening the very core of democracy itself.

Of course, if a minority of MPs keep moaning unreasonably and the media keep reporting the story as if they were a majority, then the general public is likely to become so disenchanted with politics that soon people like Carter-Ruck and Trafigura may not even need injunctions, super or otherwise.

This first appeared in the Baptist Times in October 2009,under a different title.

At least it wasn’t Homer

From Chinadaily.com

From Chinadaily.com

Marge Simpson ‘posed nude’ for Playboy Magazine last week. Sounds like spoof news from The Onion or Daily Mash, I know. But much of last week’s news had a spoofy flavour. Like Prince Philip ranting, in classic grumpy old man fashion, that ‘you practically have to make love to’ TV remote controls in order to get them to work, and NASA ‘bombing’ the moon.

Actually, Mrs Simpson (née Bouvier), one of the lead characters on TV’s longest-running sitcom (and a cartoon) did not ‘pose nude’ as the Telegraph (and Independent) said – the ‘photoshoot’ only contains ‘implied nudity’; and NASA did not ‘bomb’ the moon (the Telegraph and others again), just crashed a rocket into it in search of ice.

Obviously, newspapers using misleading words to make stories more interesting is about as surprising as the fact that Prince Philip really did say that stuff about remotes. And when we’re misled about cartoons (who, let’s face it, are no Jessica Rabbit), it probably doesn’t matter. But when it’s about the Archbishop of Canterbury and the war in Iraq, it does.

Last week, The Sun ran a story that claimed: ‘The Archbishop of Canterbury yesterday hijacked a service honouring the sacrifice of British troops in Iraq – to spout an anti-war rant.’ And that sounds awful, doesn’t it? But it’s not true. Or at least, only as true as Marge posing nude, judging by The Sun’s own quotes.

The Archbishop ‘hijacked’ the proceedings by being their main preacher. Which is like saying David Cameron ‘hijacked’ the recent conference in Manchester with an attack on Labour.

From getreligion.org

From getreligion.org

And his disgusting ‘anti-war rant’? It included this venom: ‘Reflecting on the years of the Iraq campaign, we cannot say that no mistakes were ever made.’ Shocking, I know. He also suggested that we should think more carefully the next time we were asked to send young people to die. Which is crazy, right? I mean, as I’m sure The Sun would agree, give them better equipment, but don’t think too hard about starting wars. It is far less dramatic.

The Sun’s story not only suggested that the content of the speech was inappropriate for an occasion where our troops’ sacrifice was honoured, it suggested that to make such a point at all was disrespectful to those who’d died. And this is an argument and an attitude that is trotted out all too often when nations have been at war.

But, would German citizens have been wrong in 1939 to question whether it was right to send their young men to die for their Fuhrer? Were the veterans of the Vietnam ‘police action’ who bitterly protested the continuing war being disloyal to their living and fallen comrades? No. Because if young men and women are going to die serving a country they have committed to obey, it is up to those of us who are safe at home, not facing the danger they face, to make sure that they are not being sacrificed for nothing, or for goals that are far from righteous.

When the patriot Rudyard Kipling wrote, in 1918: ‘If any question why we died, Tell them, because our fathers lied,’ he expressed something that is too often still true today. That truth is most relevant when we honour the fallen. Pretending that is not the case or refusing at least to ask the question is not something that any Christian should be comfortable with. Regardless of what any paper says.

And, yeah, here’s who i would have picked:

Asda and arms-dealers

From Greenpeace.org.uk

From Greenpeace.org.uk

ASDA nearly killed me last week. True story. I was driving to work, listening to Radio 4, when an Asda representative ‘revealed’ that he suspected that people didn’t seem to trust big businesses anymore. I laughed so hard I nearly drove into the Thames. Really, mister British representative of one of the most reviled and hated corporations in the world? You think?

Asda’s parent company in America, Walmart, came third in Corporate Accountability International’s Corporate Hall of Shame list of most irresponsible businesses in the world last year (just behind mercenary corporation Blackwater and the world’s leading rainforest destroyer). When a corporation rated less ethical than Nestle by consumers starts talking about restoring trust, that is sort of like the Conservative Party bemoaning the demise of Trades Unions.

The thing is, while supermarkets are particularly damaging to society (their size and structure drive down wages and make it very hard to compete with them if you are an independent store, as the Competition Commission amusingly ruled last week) it is not because the people running them are evil. It is not even, despite what my Marxist agitator friends might say, because the people who own them are evil. It’s because their structure and the category of organisation they fit into carries inside it the potential for great evil. Because they are corporations.

Walmart wants your soulThey exist to make profits. Their priority is growth, even if that growth is environmentally unrealistic or damaging to society, because corporations do not worship Jesus and they don’t worship Satan, they worship Mammon.

In pursuit of lower costs, they will cut wages and pollute the earth, because neither people nor the environment show up on their balance sheets. They will even break the law, as we saw last week as BAE systems was facing fines of up to £1bn for paying bribes to support their business around the world. Such a fine is to be welcomed, but it is only the first step.

Corporations play a massive role in our society and it is only a severely idealistic leftist who believes that can change any time soon. But if they are so inherent to our society then they must be brought back under our control.

A ‘corporate person‘ (for that is what corporations are, under law) that commits crimes again and again should not just be fined any more than human recidivists should be allowed to simply buy their way out of justice. It should be incarcerated, its assets nationalised or handed over to competitors on the understanding that if they break the law (and laws must be made with ordinary citizens, not corporate bottom lines, in mind), they too will be ‘executed’.

Of course, the huge, putrefying dead elephant in the room during discussions of this story is that BAE, the UK’s largest manufacturer, is an arms-manufacturer. They make weapons. To kill people.

The British government is blessed to live in a world so hypocritical that Libya (not even in the top 20 of arms exporters) faces a righteous campaign for restitution from the victims of its weapons, while Britain (the world’s seventh largest arms exporter) does not. Christians need to speak out when businesses harm people (and applaud strong judgements against them). But we also need sometimes to evaluate what those businesses do, even when they are not breaking the law, and speak out prophetically against that too.

Here’s a trailer for a movie about Asda’s parent company. You should really also watch The Corporation, tho.