Sunday, 13 November 2011

Arab Spring spreads north, democracy falls in Greece and Italy


Well it’s been a while since we last reported.  Our new students are recovering from their first essays and we are delighted to report that the Arab Spring is continuing to rock North Africa, the northern Mediterranean and is working its way on the road to Damascus as we speak. 

The Occupy Movement has caused serious headaches for the Church of England in the occupation around the London Stock Exchange and St Paul’s Cathedral and two great pillars of theology have stepped down from the Chapter.  Giles Fraser took the Dean of Westminster with him and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has entered the fray on the side of some flimsy liberalism cause against the right-wing tendencies of the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres.  Women and the Church of England have taken a bit of the backseat, as have some of the alternative lifestyle fathers in the church.  The Roman Catholic Church continues to be engulfed in child sex scandals, notably in the Ealing Abbey case where St Benedict’s rule resulted in one of their members doing a bunk.  Meanwhile, the Vatican Bank and Dr Ratzinger himself are offering financial assistance and advice to the European Central Bank and the governments of Italy and the Eurozone. 

Mr Silvio Berlusconi has just gone.  Great Silvio, we thank you for endowing Italy with a game show mentality that has swept through the region and resulted in much time-wasting. 

Another fallen empire appears to be that of the Murdoch’s.  The News of the World is dead, James Murdoch has been recalled to the House of Commons and rumours of his arrest appeared on Twitter last night.  These, of course, have been denied. 

As to Her Majesty’s government, Dr Liam Fox had a bit of trouble with separating the Werritty from the verity and has fallen on his military sword, and has probably emasculated his career by being a prize twit.  Theresa May looks increasingly inept and though I’ve said it in the past, Shirley Williams seems to be the only LibDem that talks sense; but when you pitch the likes of Clegg, Huhne and Cable against the dumb-dumbs of the Tories such as Gove, Lansley and Francis Maude, not forgetting the lunatic Oliver Letwin, it makes you wonder what they put in the water in Whitehall these days. 

Some of our favourites from last session will doubtless return, but our fresh team of students within the faculty of Obreption Studies will be hoping to join the illustrious forbears who brought you such delights in the last session.  These students are now earning £500K salaries as spokespersons in defence, banking, energy, malpractice and journalism.

Our next round-up will feature the general election campaign in the USA and we’ll be taking a look at issues such as energy, charitable giving, civil religion in our usual broad brush approach.  Student fees are maximising very well, thank you.

Welcome back, everyone!

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Riots in England

After four days of rioting in England, the finger pointing to the cause of the civil unrest is beginning its task of focussing on the culprits.  Meanwhile the politicians have been forced to return from their vacations and parliament has been recalled for tomorrow (Thursday  11th August).  Some of the BBC senior journalists have had to come back as well, in case their juniors upstage them on such critical matters. 

These riots which started off in Tottenham in north London, spread very quickly throughout south London and into the prosperous areas such as Ealing and Clapham.  The hand-wringing has started in earnest; the London Mayor is being challenged by Ken Livingstone for his policy regarding the policing of the city; many key figures in the coalition government have obviously been caught napping, and with Nick Clegg apparently in charge, the authority of parts of Britain were challenged by a bunch of teenage thugs who started to riot, smash and grab whatever Blackberry plasma TV, trainers, watches, and anything they could sell under the nose of the police, whose senior officers also happened to be on vacation.  It seemed as if the entire authority of the British Government had decided to take a 2 week nap and the ‘yoof’ had decided to take them on in a violent orgy of destruction and ‘criminality’.  At one point the cry went out: why don’t we hear  from the <insert name of religious leader here>?

Lord Obreption wishes it to be known that following our inter-faith discussions, we have decided that during Ramadan we would all enjoy God’s grace and have a prolonged vacation, in keeping with our obedience to God’s Holy Law.  For Christians, a month of Sundays has been dictated, and following Trinity Sunday we have been noticeable by our absence.  In fact many Christian bloggers have been quiet. 

With the Arab Spring having reached an indifferent summer and an approaching autumn with no resolution in Libya or Syria, our Islamic experts have decided to follow the traditions of Ramadan and await the joys of the forthcoming Eid.  In common with our like-minded members, we refuse to be drawn into a cultural condemnation of those who have been taking part in riots in London, Manchester, Salford, Nottingham, West Bromwich, but would note that Mr Salmond has said that Scotland has remained trouble free and should not be lumped with the UK.  Allan Massie in today’s Scotsman draws parallels between rioting and football hooliganism and opines that perhaps the absence of rioting in Scotland might be attributable to “The Old Firm”.  He might have a point, given that the Scottish Football season has already started and may well be providing an alternative channel for pent-up testosterone.  Also, the school hols will be coming to an end shortly.

“There are pockets of our society that are not just broken, but are frankly sick.” David Cameron

Ps: No, I do not intend to return early from my holiday in Tuscany! 

Saturday, 16 July 2011

21st Century Foxes, Vixens and Sewer Rats

Update:  (4 August 2011)

This news is bound to set the heather ablaze!  We were all ready attend a glorious shooting party in Perthshire and now we hear that "Hackgate" is also the talk of all the journalists and politicians in Scotland.

Will this have an repercussions on the First Minister Alex Salmond or does it prove that he was politically astute in courting the Murdoch press, especially the Scottish Sun to support the SNP?  In this there were certainly some strange bedfellows!


Over the last 10 days a tsunami of sycophants, sewer rats, gutter press journalists, phone hackers, bent coppers and pillars of the community (Members of Parliament and Peers of the Realm not excluding Piers Morgan) have been dragged into the leader columns of the international press.  We present a drama which is still unfolding as we write and reflect that tomorrow, Sunday, will be the first Sunday without the News of the World. 

The main characters in this drama are:
Rupert Murdoch, James Murdoch, Rebekah Brooks, Les Hinton, Neil Wallis and Tom Crone

Politicians have not remained unblemished and David Cameron and Gordon Brown have both been guests at events organised by News International (NI) and News Corp.   The Metropolitan Police has also been called into question, especially John Yates, Andy Hayman, Lord Blair and the current commissioner Paul Stephenson.  The MPs who have been most active in using privilege are Tom Watson and Chris Bryant.  In the House of Lords, John Prescott has been consistent in claiming that his phone was hacked and other Peers of the Realm who may have taken the Murdoch shilling have put in their tuppence worth.  If this sounds like loose change, it is.  It shows that the UK is no cleaner than some countries which the Establishment despises.  In this scandal, we have seen politicians, press and police mingling to such an extent that one wonders whether this is the lubrication of the wheels of government or the raking of money, power and influence by very opaque means. 

The attention of the public has been drawn to NI primarily because it has recently been disclosed they hacked into a child’s mobile phone after she had gone missing and was later found to have been murdered.  The cover up then unfolded and has dragged in the great and the good, though strangely Whitehall, the civil service and some others pillars of the establishment have remained untouched.  We present the following links which illustrate the status of the constitutional ramifications of the Murdoch saga, it’s unwinding and some calls for a statutory body to oversee the press, as the PCC has failed.

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown: Murdoch’s News International operated a “criminal-media nexus”

Lord Prescott’s speech in the House of Lords

Lord Grade’s speech in the House of Lords debate:

Baroness Wheatcroft’s speech in the House of Lord’s debate:

Meanwhile, the constitution is being tinkered with by Nick Clegg and his chums.  Charles Walker, MP, has made probably the shortest speech for many years in the House of Commons and other interventions are worthy of some notice. 

Mr Charles Walker: No system is perfect, but we have had a fairly dynamic democracy over the past 350 years and by fixing parliamentary terms we will lose some of that dynamism.

Mr Charles Walker: Fixed-term Parliaments: constitutional vandalism.

(you will need to search for Charles or Walker on the web page)

Stain from tabloids rubs off on a cozy Scotland Yard

Hacking row: Theresa May to 'outline' concerns over Met

Monday, 4 July 2011

Authoritarianism without hierarchy: Presbyterianism extra!


We are continuing our trend in challenges to authority with a further look at religion and society and mentioning some rather interesting one-liners which we have been gathering over the years.  I would refer you to our previous posts on: 

- Interfaith in Palm Springs

- the religious specialists conference Salon de Refuses at Edinburgh

- the event of channelling during the sacrament of the Blessed Bhaji (, and

- Presbyterian: the most fissile element in nature

These were posted early in the history of the blog.  Many had considered these to be over the top, but you will see from a list of commentators that end of term papers provided by our first class honours * essays have not been far off the mark.  To celebrate the 4th of July and the uprisings of the Americans against the British Empire, we are reviewing some of the better known reviewers of scholars.

Contemporary trends have impacted on religion in several ways.  First, the rise of science and its ability to provide more rational explanations than religion - for example Charles Darwin and his Theory of Evolution and the Big Bang theory.  For an accessible introduction to the history and current developments in the latter, we recommend Simon Singh’s Big Bang.  This has also led to the rise of rationalism and the scientific method, based on hypothesis, experimentation and evidence, which encourages a questioning and investigative attitude.   Second, and related to the first, is the rise of democracy which scholars like Professor Donald Meek suggest has led to a “rejection of central authority and authority figures” and a reaction against “metropolitan control”.  In current UK terms, this has meant challenges from the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and to some extent Northern Ireland coupled with an ideological Conservative Party mindset which encourages localism.

This has generated an increasingly free, open and more tolerant society especially in western democracies, a decline in traditional communities and an increased emphasis on the individual and an individual’s rights.  It has seen changing social attitudes to women, minorities and sexual orientation and the emphasis on human rights.  By 2011, however, Rights and Responsibilities were being coupled as some governments found themselves hauled before the courts in terms of human rights issues.  This has even led to some difficulties in Scotland regarding the authority of the UK Supreme Court having any say in criminal law.  (Lord Hope)

Third, politics, economics, and advances in transport and communication technology have all made societies more interconnected with one another.  This trend towards globalisation has meant that societies are no longer isolated or insular, but are able to compare conditions (social, economic, political) as well as belief systems between each other.  The rise of Facebook and Twitter is said to be responsible for some of the Arab Spring uprisings, though this has been questioned with uncontrollable ‘spoof’ postings by some parties.

However, the increased openness has allowed others to examine and challenge long-accepted beliefs, either to reform the religion, abandon it in favour of another or ‘develop’ a hybrid of beliefs from several religions.  This utilitarian approach has been likened by Marion Bowman to a “spiritual supermarket” or a “pick and mix” approach to religion, and has been studied by scholars using rational choice theory, which is based on economic models.   (Economic models, however, have said to have failed in predicting the financial crisis of 2007 and the recession which followed it, though anthropological research has claimed to have predicted both.)

These trends have resulted in challenging the various forms of religious authority identified above.  Thus, the inerrancy and interpretations of scriptures and texts have been questioned, as has the selection and legitimacy of religious specialists (especially to interpret texts).  Moreover, traditions (and interpretations) have begun to be seen as being a product of particular historical and social contexts, so bringing their legitimacy and current relevance into question.  A few years ago, Katherine Whitehorn, the journalist and broadcaster, was quoted on a BBC Radio 4 programme as saying that tradition was after all “habit in a party frock”.

Thus, while these authorities may have exercised power and expected unquestioning obedience in the past, religion’s declining influence coupled with changes in knowledge and social attitudes have led to an increasing willingness to both question and look for alternatives.   The willingness to question is particularly prevalent in belief systems such as Wicca and New Age and Celtic spirituality which emphasise choosing beliefs according to personal preferences and experiences.  This can be described as having mystical ‘elements’ with transformational qualities and Linda Woodhead calls this “relational religion”.  (Much of the cult of the late Diana, Princess of Wales exemplified this.)  Professor Paul Heelas* describes this situation as one in which “The individual serves as his or her own source of guidance,” with a life being lived in the “here and now” and without a reference to an external authority.  Authority is essentially grounded in experience which is also able to modify tradition according to individual needs.

Authority within these belief systems includes texts where these exist; myths and traditions pre-dating conventional religion (e.g. Celtic Christianity); traditions from ‘nature religions’, for example Native American and aboriginal traditions, but also including so-called pagan religions, occult phenomena and eastern philosophies.  Other phenomena such as channelling, memories of a previous incarnation can be linked to post-World War I increases in spiritualism.   This has given rise to hybrids based on traditions across belief systems – syncretism – or on denominations within the same belief system – ecumenism.  Thus, Richard Holloway, a former Anglican bishop of Edinburgh described himself in a BBC Radio 4 programme as a “Buddhist, Quaker, Anglo-Catholic Agnostic.”

Some have attributed the appeal of these belief systems to a lack of understanding and some justifiable disillusionment towards science (failure of education system) and an increase in the promotion of intuition (previously thought to be exclusive to females).  With globalisation and the consequent exposure to alternative belief systems has come what David Spangler refers to as an “awareness that we are all one people ... [and share] ... a common destiny.”

However, this has also raised issues about authenticity, legitimacy and credibility.  There can be a lot of sociology jargon such as emic and etic perspectives which serve to further complicate the issue.  However, some have dismissed this whole trend as nothing more than misplaced nostalgia, romanticism or just plain nonsense. With some justification, Donald Meek also debunks the ‘phony’ nature of much that passes as authoritative in Celtic and new age spirituality as well as myths that either portray Celtic Christianity as having a ‘light’ touch compared to Catholics or being more in tune with nature.

As regards legitimacy, Celts by blood such as W Davies have dismissed “self-appointed Saxon expert[s] on Celtia” of being “cultural imperialist[s] or cultural transvestite[s]”.  Further, accusations of “cultural theft” have been made whether in relation to Druidry or the adoption of Native Indian traditions by non-Indians.  It has also brought into question the legitimacy of claiming affinity with traditions that one does not belong to by birth or ancestry.  Terms such as orthodoxy, orthopraxy and omnipraxy abound and it is obvious that an outsider wishing to market an alien spirituality would claim that one does not have to belong to a tribe to espouse its spiritual lineage.

Finally, the emphasis on personal experience has brought the credibility of these belief systems into question.  Thus, Heelas regards the “authority of the participant” and the absence of an agreed body of beliefs as “sociologically precarious” while others have dismissed this as ego gratification in this current age of celebrity and event driven historical ‘analysis’.   Similarly, Steve Bruce considers the ‘pick and mix’ approach only possible in societies where “people do not have very strong religious commitments” Indeed, a review of Woodhead and Heelas’s book likens these beliefs to a fashion accessory or ‘must-have’ “ideological clutch bag.”


Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Authority: civil, religious and political challenges


Both Anglican and Roman Catholic denominations of Christianity have seen challenges to the authority of their leaderships.  In the case of the former, some breakaway Anglicans have formed an Ordinariate within the Roman Catholic hierarchy and including bishops with their respective spouses (female).  The Church of England is still making a fist of its ‘will they, won’t they allow women bishops or gay bishops’.  These have caused schisms within the wider Anglican Communion.   Roman Catholicism has been rocked by a revelation of child sex abuse cases which have long been covered up  and are beginning to enter the legal process  (civil) as opposed to having been dealt with by canon law according to prevailing norms of the Vatican. 

It was ever thus, and a recent In Our Time programme by the BBC featured Thomas Malthus (  and .  Melvyn Bragg’s guests included: Karen O’Brien, Mark Philp and Emma Griffin.  Malthus’s famous paper is ‘An Essay on the Principle of Population’ and his statement concerning population control being brought about by war, disease and famine is probably as relevant today as it was when he published it in 1798.  Malthus and his Malthusian concepts did not meet with approval from ‘the authorities’.  In the same way the views of Mohammed Iqbal were condemned by the issuing of a fatwa.  The reaction to such ‘turbulent’ or troublesome ‘priests’ or thinkers  introduces our topic of Authority. 


The interpretation of scripture, the selection of religious specialists, the reinterpretation of tradition and the focus or lack of importance of the experience of the self account for ways in which religions have adapted, innovated and retained some of the basic tenets of the historical religion.  Set against religious authority are spheres of influence or indeed systems of other authorities such as politics, education, economics, health and welfare. 

The degree to which authority in religion influences authority in the public space has been researched using theories such as secularisation theory and rational choice theory.  While these theories have their proponents from sociologists, the religions themselves have not been inactive in coping with sociological changes.  There is a recognition that much scholarly effort was based on theorising western democracies without considering how religions developed through the ‘lenses’ or ‘prisms’ of other religious practitioners.  Thus, what is viewed as authority in one religion or indeed one denomination of a religion may not be an authority in the eyes of another.  The interpretation of what was meant in the past through scripture, religious specialists, tradition and personal experience has to be contrasted with what these ideas mean now and are likely to mean in the future. 

The proponents of secularisation theory (for example the late Bryan Wilson of University of Oxford) have suggested that the state has shed direct authority from religious institutions.  While such religious authority has become optional in some locations, in regard to acceptance of a religion’s teachings, this is not the case in some theocracies.  Religious authority, they argue, has historically been used within the civil society in terms of legal systems, legitimization of the state, society control or good over evil.   

With secularisation,  the authority of a religion, the interpretation of its scriptures, the importance of the religious priests, rabbis and imams, and the rewriting of tradition, and even invention of tradition in some forms of new spirituality, result in many options: to follow a brand of religion, selectively follow parts of a brand of a religion, or even ‘mix’ non-traditional spiritualities with established tradition.  Examples of this would be syncretism, which is a pick ‘n’ mix approach to  the spiritual ‘supermarket’ and is essentially denying any authority other than the self.  More authoritarian implementation of innovation such as making the dates of festivals ‘fit in’ with the nearest Sunday.  We have commented before on the treatment of Ascension Day  and even St George’s Day in 2011. 

While at first analysis it might appear that according to secularisation theory religion itself becomes meaningless in some societies such as the UK, certain aspects of Christianity could be said to have been hijacked for political means.  In the same way, some Indian politicians could be said to have re-worked Hindu tradition and scripture for political gain (for example the Hindutva Movement)  and some Islamic organisations have sought political control through expressions of religious authority whether through interpretation of scripture or evaluation of what is meant by tradition.  The Arab Spring of 2011 has still left some political vacuum in Egypt and in Tunisia, while at the time of writing Libya and Syria outcomes are in the balance. 

Major trends that have affected religious authority include globalisation, secularisation, developments in science and communication technology, and changing social trends such as feminism all feeding into a general trend towards modernisation.  In some countries this has led to a decline in religion generally, while in others religious beliefs have been questioned.  In both situations, however, it has also resulted in an increase in a literal or fundamentalist approach to the religion (e.g. evangelicals in the west, Islamists in Muslim countries, Hindutva movement in India).  However, in some societies the authority of scripture is restricted to personal morality and whether they choose to follow the teachings is left to the individual. 

As in sociological outlooks, religions have been subject to re-evaluation.  While many Christian denominations have sought to ‘refill the pews’ by adopting new traditions, such as Pentecostalism or Celtic spirituality; some denominations have reinforced authority of religious specialists and tradition, such as Roman Catholicism.  However, even this latter denomination has had a turbulent year with traditional Catholic communities questioning the authority of priests, bishops, archbishops and even the role of the papacy itself.  The papacy has been seen to acknowledge the digital age in launching .  While this may have delayed a decline in attendance, all forms of Christianity have been subject to churn with newer movements reinterpreting scripture, abolishing hierarchies and starting traditions of their own based on experiential authority, for example Evangelicals and Pentecostals. 

In post modern societies, claims of authority, whether scripture based or tradition based, have been subject to questioning.   An example is the controversy at the 2008 Lambeth conference and some breaking away from the Anglican Communion.  In this area of confrontation the opponents have been cast in the liberal wing against those of a traditional wing.

In conclusion, religious authority  can run into trouble with political authority as happened recently in the United Kingdom when the Archbishop of Canterbury questioned the actions of the coalition government .  Many have questioned whether the Archbishop had any democratic right but the obreption collective has considered the coalition to have no democratic mandate.  However, our praise of the Right Honourable Baroness Boothroyd has been questioned by an anonymous comment on the blog .  To some extent we have to agree with the anonymous poster and admitting some degree of moral relativism we still maintain that Baroness Boothroyd is a good egg while Nick Clegg, MP is definitely a bad egg.  Finally, we would refer to questions of scientific authority which have been admittedly ‘neglected’.  Dr A.V O’Gadro is preparing a special paper for us.  

Friday, 24 June 2011

Glastonbury: spiritual and social report


Many of us are attending The Season events and in our occasional series of lifestyle choices, we’re featuring family values, religious truths and a complete lack of authority as many ancient people who are otherwise pillars of their communities let their hair down, enjoy mud wrestling and somehow manage to get all the fun of the fair as part of their work routine, be they journalists, religious specialists or footballers.  Here are some useful links which we hope you will all enjoy (we will be passing round our respective pay wall for you to aim at).  We aim to please. 

Spiritual Guide:

Remember, the poor are always with us.  Pay your zakat, remember the widow’s mite, remember Peter’s pence (the money goes to the Vatican, so please give generously), remember the talent contest and the parable of the Talents.  Please do not bury your head or your talents in the mud!

Football news: 

Remember to pass the crystal ball.  Manchester United has some good footballers and excellent hairstyles.

Our Pensioner's Special: 

Special discounts are available to the over 100s, as long as they are accompanied by their parents.  You’re only as old as you feel, but beware of mixing too much cough syrup, wine (communion or otherwise), incense, sleeping pills and herbal remedies. 

Have a happy Glastonbury!

Glastonbury update 25 June 2011:

In Pictures: U2 are the sweetest thing at Glastonbury

For those with a very clear head and a craving for a stunning performance from Betty Boothroyd, where she summed up Nick Clegg both eloquently and elegantly in the House of Lords.  Bet you'd never think of looking this up:

Happy campers enjoy the festival and beware of the sun and wear plenty of sun screen just in case it clears up!

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Muslim theologians, experts on Islam, Islamic commentators


As the events in the Arab Spring unfold, it is worthwhile noting some of the experts over the last few years and what some are saying now that the funding of research into Islam has been questioned in several higher education establishments in the UK, and not just Gaddafi backed funding of the LSE.  Questions have been raised elsewhere. 

There is often a tendency by some to view any Islamic ‘expert’ as some sort of an apologist.  One who does not fit any idea of a pigeon hole in our book is Professor Mona Siddiqui from the University of Glasgow.  Normally, anything from Glasgow would be deemed to fall apart if you believe some of our previous posts, but over the years Mona Siddiqui contributions across radio have been impressive.  While many theological experts will throw in some theological jargon and many Islamic experts will throw in a lot of Arabic equivalence, Mona Siddiqui tends to use plain language, especially in her Thought for the Day slot on Radio 4 on assisted suicide and the Berlusconi problem in Italy.  It’s nice to comment on another theologian (Rowan Williams is the other one) who will tackle and at least air moral dilemmas and political/leadership and religious failure.  There is probably some unappreciated input of Muslim theologians and some experts on Islam which may deserve further scrutiny. 

“Mona Siddiqui is Professor of Islamic Studies and founding director of the Centre for the Study of Islam at the University of Glasgow. She researches on classical Islamic law and theology, contemporary law and ethics, and Christian-Muslim relations. Siddiqui is the chair of the BBC's Scottish Religious Advisory Committee and is a regular broadcaster and commentator on radio and other media. She is a member of the Commission on Scottish Devolution and the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the Islam-West Dialogue. She holds three honorary doctorates. During 2010-2012 she holds the Chair in Islam and Citizenship at the Universities of Tilburg and Utrecht. In 2011 she will be a Visiting Professor at the Angelicum University in Rome, sponsored by the Russell Berrie Foundation. Since February 2011, she has been an associate scholar with Georgetown University’s Berkeley Centre on their Templeton funded Religious Freedom Project. She is a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, the Royal Society of Arts and in June 2011, was awarded an OBE for her contribution to interfaith relations.”

(Obreption is not alone in appreciating Mona Siddiqui’s contributions.  See:

Another expert on the interaction of Islam and modernity is Professor Charles Tripp. 

“Charles Tripp is Professor of Politics with reference to the Middle East at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.  A prominent and well-respected academic, his research focuses on states and ideologies in the Middle East, conflict, and Islamic political thought. He is a world class specialist on Iraq and has contributed as a regional expert to media broadcasters including the BBC and NPR, as well as to print media such as Foreign Affairs, The Guardian and the New Statesman.” 

Some Muslim scholars argue that Islam has always supported human rights (  However, others contend that religion abuses human rights, though religious leaders would attribute this to interpretation rather than religion itself.  Examples include the child abuse scandals by Christian organisations in Europe and North America; and the limited rights of women in most Muslim countries. 

Studies of Islam can be problematic due to:

- cultural diversity across the Islamic world (for example Dr Katerina Dalacoura:;

- the fact that both democracy and human rights are viewed as western imports;

- and the over-arching authority of the Quran and Hadith (Tamimi and Fatima Mernissi -

There is also a problem in defining the various branches of Islam such as Sunni and Shia.  These have become more apparent in regards to the Arab Spring, where some religious divides such as in Bahrain, have caused clashes and the divide between Islam and some Christian organisations in Egypt has also caused tension.

ijtihad is defined as a process of resetting the Quran and the Hadith in context, and which has an impact on the legal, democratic, political, and human rights sectors.  This can be politically difficult as it threatens vested interests within society and ruling cliques.  The degree of ijtihad which has been allowed is that permitted by the state, as all Arab states have claimed that they are Islamic or conform to Muslim principles.  While authoritarian states have denied the democratic process and human rights discourse on the grounds of incompatibility with Islam, there is great resistance in some countries to the exposure of too much ijtihad or istihsan (‘preferance’ or discretion) as innovation (bidda) is forbidden.(see  Many Muslim attitudes to apostasy, punishments and inheritance (viz male/female inequality) appear to be enshrined in the sharia, and some claim that updating and reinterpretation are inherent in sharia and so reformation is unnecessary. (for example: Hisham Hellyer -

However, the Muslim response to the question of human rights is not homogenous and the late Fred Halliday of the LSE devised five broad categories.  Thus, the “particularists” dismiss notions of democracy and human rights as inappropriate (e.g. the late King Fahd of Saudi Arabia).  The “assimilationists” claim that Islam already incorporates human rights.  However, Halliday recognised instances where minorities are afforded basic rights, yet not considered equal with Muslims. A third category, the “appropriationists”, assume that the Islamic view being decreed by God, is superior to any imported system, while the fourth category, called ‘liberal harmonising’, (see Tamimi and Judge Weeramantry do not see any fundamental conflict between Islamic and western views on rights, attributing differences to legitimate cultural and religious factors (e.g. women’s and homosexual rights).  Other liberals, however, are prepared to confront these differences head on.  These “confrontationalist liberals” like the Sudanese An’Naim suggest that the Meccan and Medinese Quranic surahs need to considered separately, claiming that the latter are necessarily more legalistic being based on conditions in Medina at the time of setting up the first Islamic state. An’Naim had proposed a tri-partite relationship between religion, state and society. However, these relationships shift constantly and are in turn subject to economic and environmental influences.  As such, they may be better explained using chaos theory rather than a traditional system-oriented approach.
(for more on An’Naim, see

In a similar vein, Mernissi has investigated a hadith (saying of the Prophet) in which he strongly cautioned against allowing women positions of power. She ‘discovered’ that the source had been found to be fallible and so should have been excluded from the authoritative sayings of the Prophet.  While she found that her grocer and the other male customers (which she regards as indicative of larger opinion) were unanimously opposed to women rulers in Morocco, Pakistan, Bangla Desh and Indonesia have all had woman leaders, so this may be an Arab rather than a Muslim reaction.  Moreover, even Europe and America have been slow to vote for women heads of government; and Mernisi cites the low level of women elected to political representational roles even though half the electorate are women.  Again, the same could be said of the Conservative Party in the UK which traditionally avoided the selection of women candidates.  Thus, culture and tradition rather than religion can often prevent women asserting democratic rights. 

Previously, Tunisia had been regarded as more western and in fact tolerant, though the Arab Spring seemed to have ignited there.   In Tunisia human rights had been debated by the Tunisian League of Human Rights (LTDH) and their draft code came close to the UN UDHR.  Other Islamic organisations produced the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights, though there are some nuances, especially regarding religion and women, which have been questioned by international NGOs.  Thus, some like Professors Mayer ( and Dalacoura argue that rights have to be separated from duties and that dignity does not include rights. However, others like the late Algerian scholar Arkhoun ( regarded it as at least a recognition of human rights and so a step in the right direction. 

Such ‘conciliatory’ approaches highlight the role religion plays in not just democracy but human rights adherence as well.  The boundaries in most Muslim countries between religion, state, judiciary, politics and human rights is not so clear cut as in western societies, and some states have experienced difficulties in adapting or implementing the UN UDHR.  However, as Mayer points out, this is not peculiar to Muslim countries as America too has only selectively adopted the UDHR to suit its own “traditions”. (  In this regard, Halliday also recognised the validity of local culture and tradition.

ps: further views on Islam and human rights can be found at

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Zwischen himmelfahrt und Pfingsten

by our Religion, Politics, Fashion, Celebrity, Cookery and International Tourism staff

As you will have noticed, we frequently gather in our reading circles to compare and contrast what we read, what we hear and how we cope with events as they unfold at home and abroad.  It may have slipped your notice, but forty days after Easter is Ascension Day, which is held on a Thursday, though some churches often shift the day to a Sunday.  Tomorrow is Pentecost, traditionally fifty days after Easter, and is a big church event with many sermons, ceremonies, ordinations and holidays. 

It was with some like-minded spirit that the following appeared in our regular inbox from The Local in Germany.  We often retweet some of The Local’s news, as they have a different view from some of the more traditional German media and we like their style. 

News from Germany often features local elections, nuclear energy, plagiarism and the recent outbreak of ecoli (Ehec).  The Local email round-up discussed the secularisation of the real Whitsun, holiday which had long been consigned to the end of May irrespective of Easter in England and Wales. We quote from part of the round-up and would recommend The Local as an interesting news source.

Will Germans finally be able to enjoy a fresh salad over the long holiday weekend?

As the nation prepared to take three days off for Pentecost - another public holiday that has largely shed its religious roots in Germany - health officials on Friday lifted their warning against eating raw cucumbers, tomatoes and salad.

Five weeks and over 30 deaths later, the authorities still aren't entirely certain what caused Germany's unprecedented E. coli outbreak. It would seem the virulent bacteria originated at a sprouts farm in Lower Saxony, but we may never know for sure.

But at least other much maligned vegetables have finally been rehabilitated.

Hurray I say! Maybe this means I'll get to enjoy some of Grandma Eva's famous cucumber salad on Whit Monday.

have a Pentecostal weekend.

Marc Young


It’s not only the three days of Pentecost, but it’s been virtually two weeks of secular celebrations of erstwhile religious holidays, and we have noted with great joy the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams giving his Ascension Day sermon from St Martin-in-the-Fields in London and which is always broadcast on Radio 4.  The sermon itself can be found on the website ( 

The service was held on Thursday 2 June 2011.  The Celebrant was The Revd Nicholas Holtam (new Bishop of Salisbury), the Readers were The Revd Rosemary Lain-Priestley and Dr Joe Aldred, and the Prayers were said by The Revd Sharon Grenham-Toze.*

The Archbishop always seems to come over rather oddly on the radio; we are convinced that the BBC has a special mike for Dr Williams (I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Mr Michael Gove must have his own resonant booming microphone when he broadcasts to the nation.  He certainly sounds very authoritative, though sadly very ‘strengulated’ – just like Fraser Nelson!) 

The Archbishop’s sermon is well-worth a read. There are one or two points in the broadcast of the sermon based on the ascent of Jesus into Heaven, leaving the disciples ‘on their own’.  It must be part of our theological and acculturation workshops, but this scene in the Bible must have been used by Mel Brooks in Blazing Saddles when the Reverend Johnson of Rock Ridge tells the sherrif: “Son, you’re on your own!”

The more important part of the Archbishop’s sermon was to do about the role of churches, and to some extent Christians, in civil society.  ‘Compassion and service’ were the themes which resonated with our listening group. 

It was, therefore, with great shock that we found the nation had erupted into a fit of hysteria when the Archbishop was the guest editor of the New Statesman (13 June 2011, pp 4-5)  As usual there was a furore, synthetic arguments within and without the Church of England, the BBC and the British media in general.  There were a lot of experts proffering their opinions and apart from a few comments, we kept our council (Nicea) and sent out one of the interns to buy a copy of the New Statesman from WH Smith - who usually throw in a free copy of The Times, in case you don’t have one delivered to your iPad.

Our reading group comprised some German tourists enjoying the long holidays in the London area, visiting museums, galleries, nightclubs, cultural events and basically enjoying London.  Here are some of the views regarding the ‘dense’ language which the Archbishop tends to use and which the English seem to be unable to understand without the aid of some Church of England spin doctor or BBC Religious expert who can translate what Dr Williams actually said and what was printed:

“we are being committed to radical, long-term policies for which no one voted.”  (We agree with the Archbishop.)

“I don’t think that the government’s commitment to localism and devolved power is simply a cynical walking-away from the problem.  But I do think that there is confusion about the means that have to be willed in order to achieve the end.” 

“The old syndicalist and co-operative traditions cannot be reinvented overnight … This is not helped by a quiet resurgence of the seductive language of ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor”.

Not surprisingly, the government disagreed with the Archbishop:

The Prime Minister said Dr Rowan Williams was free to express his concerns, but he 'profoundly disagreed' with many of the comments.” Read more:

A useful summary of opinion can be found on:

Newspaper review: Archbishop of Canterbury in headlines

Why Rowan Williams is wrong about the Conservatives by Tim Montgomerie in the 12 June 2011 edition of the Sunday Telegraph

Rather than sound like some traditional responses in an Anglican setting, we would again urge our readers to reflect on the ‘job done’ mentality which has infected much of the C of E debate whether in the virtual community, in the Church and in its gatherings.  Our circle has often found itself having to defend the Archbishop and some of the more intelligent and enlightened bishops, who are regarded with great scorn by some right-wing, sanctimonious creeps. 

The New Statesman has often provided us with many an enjoyable tweet, as has Tim Montgomerie from the Tory side.  We’ve enjoyed their take on world events and introducing other ideas, unlike some who seldom engage with reality and re-tweet within their own fallow and shallow ‘intellectual’ circle (no names). 

*notes taken from service booklet which was marked: “For copyright reasons, please do not take this booklet away.”

This piece of Material Culture has been added to the secret archives of the Obreption Library.  This can be visited by appointment.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Job done! Repossession of an expression


In the last two weeks, our staff have been very busy coping with demands of both Mr Obama and Mr Blatter regarding presidential powers, decrees, votes, transparency and how democracy actually works.  Our experts have been gathering in Dauville and Zurich for matters of the utmost importance. 

Among the topics not discussed at the G8 or in FIFA Haus was the matter of trade in moral dilemma.  We’ve visited this topic before and are pleased to note that moral dilemma was discussed in the final programme of the Moral Maze series.  This is a programme which is broadcast live on a Wednesday and repeated the following Saturday.  It can be listened on the BBC iPlayer and we discussed the programme in some detail two weeks ago. 

We would like to remind you that the said Slut Walk will be taking place on Saturday.  Lady Jean Bridie will be discussing this from the perspective of procession, orders, chivalry and the rights of women to dress as they please etc.

The FIFA coronation of Mr Blatter against the strong advice of the English Football Association, with some alleged support from the Scottish Football Association, proved to be a non-event as the election proceeded in much the same way as elections have done in tyrannical regimes, one party states  and even some religious groupings with territorial claims.  We are quite sure that FIFA has, as yet, no arrangement with the Swiss Customs Union for a partial cantonment of FIFA Haus in Zurich, though one of Lady Jean Bridie’s friends in Kanton Glarus is keeping a watchful eye should FIFA 101 be required in such wide subjects as banking regulations, copyright infringement, sponsorship, corruption and fund raising in matters of academic study for some of the UK leading universities (£9000 per year). 

The Obreption Collective (OC) is in listening mode and we’ve been listening to all our readers and followers with the same care and affection shown by Her Majesty’s Government in matters of health reform, immigration, law and order, education and constitutional arrangements within and without the United Kingdom and the European Union.  The OC is harvesting some new pools of talent and we’ve been so impressed by some of our alumni that we look forward to the next semester. 

Our discussion of the Moral Maze features a Roman Catholic commentator and an Anglican priest.  To illustrate balance, we have included a plaque which could symbolise the Methodists, who might be engaged in some sort of marriage proposal.


A few words on the final programme of the Moral Maze:

At the beginning one of the regular panellists – I think it was Matthew Taylor – mentioned David Hume and I was agog in anticipation wondering if Raymond Tallis would put in an appearance.  As it turned out, Tallis did appear at the very end of the programme and knocked the four panellists into the long grass.  Clifford Longley was totally out of it trying to bring ‘theology’ into a discussion about science and morals.  Giles Fraser, Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral, tried not to be in ‘Thought for the Day’ mode and acquitted himself fairly well. 

The other guests were:

Professor Joshua Greene ( and
Professor Jerry Coyne ( ), who could neatly sidestep any daft hypothetical idea posed by the panel.  In this case, Claire Fox sounded as if some sense was being made, but again this was all very philosophical and shows how poor some of the regular panellists can be in trying to debate subjects with which they have encountered little challenge hitherto.  I missed this programme last week, but have enjoyed listening to it twice on a live basis.  The Slut Walk was more confrontational and perhaps more entertaining; the last one less so.  This may have been due to the fact that Melanie Philips and Michael Portillo were not there.


The reference to job done may attract a wry smile from some of a certain age who have a paternal grandmother ‘Scottish’ in their ancestry.  These ladies were renowned for what is euphemistically described as ‘potty training’.  The grandmother would ask her daughter-in-law (the child’s mother): has he done his job?  To which the mother would reply: job done! 

The child would learn this to the extent that many people who are a quarter Scottish will recognise the term ‘job done’ not as a victory for Manchester United Football Club nor as mission accomplished – as often used by generals and defence staff.  The appropriation of such terms causes confusion, so it was with some sense of schadenfreude and a bit of zeitgeist and even a gestalt shift that Manchester Untied Football Club did not win last Saturday.  So there!

Monday, 23 May 2011

Rochester – spirituality, utilitarianism, injunction and rapture


This was supposed to be a pleasant picnic in Kent in the old town of Rochester in a beautiful part of the Medway, with much historical interest.  Lady Jean Bridie had gone to Edinburgh to cover the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Dr A.V. O’Gadro was very busy with his experiments and entertaining some very high value visitors of regal and presidential status in Ireland.  We had planned a very simple picnic, as you can see here, in the grounds of Rochester Castle.

We were doing the usual gossip, without the aid of Twitter just in case a superinjunction closed the whole thing down.  There was also some rapture rubbish by Harold Camping which verged on hilarious, but was nevertheless very profitable for those who follow the basic proselytise, monetise, valorise and vaporise theories of what happens in the modern day spirituality. 

After having gained entrance to Rochester Castle, courtesy of English Heritage, we passed a wedding party and wondered to ourselves where they had ‘tied the knot’.  It hadn’t been in the Cathedral as when we were there we were able to listen to the choir rehearsing for a performance.  Rochester Cathedral is well-worth a visit, but wedding was there none.

We then went to the Guildhall Museum, which is a place authorised for marriages and civil partnerships, but the wedding wasn’t held there either.  We passed by a shop called Angel Energy Centre, which was full of spiritual accessories such as crystals, mood music, sound of running water but no wedding and strangely enough no welcome either.  (We were warmly received at the Cathedral.)  It appears that the angel shop has some problem with shoplifting, though it could have been a reference to a thief ‘coming in the night’.

After a refreshing pint of Shepherd Neame’s delicious Master Brew and some soft drinks, we past by a Huguenot building known as the La Providence. 

There was still no sign of the wedding, so we went to the Corn Exchange, where we were allowed to view the assembly hall which was being set up for a prize giving function later that evening.  The staff commented that the wedding party we saw had probably gone to the Registrar’s Office.  

This vignette illustrates the ‘fabric’, ancient and modern, and the utilitarianism of life in the public sphere today.  It may perhaps illustrate how fragmented the Big Society may be if in fact Mr Cameron’s Big Society exists at all. 

Meanwhile, back at the Obreption Centre, care was being taken to avoid mentioning any footballers at all, and a contingency outreach programme was planned, care of the Royal Mail and the stunning example of a pillar box of which Rochester is famed.  There are also the red telephone kiosks. Arrangements had been made to receive the Herald, which was to be smuggled into England via the Gretna Green border crossing point facility.  

In the end, the injunction turned out to be technically a busted flush and we reflected on the hulks exhibition at the Rochester Guildhall Museum and the Keep at Rochester Castle itself.  We believe that some brave English journalist could have gone to jail/goal for a stretch.  It is worth noting that in England we suffer repressive laws of censorship, which have been likened to Libya, Saudi Arabia and other countries.

We’ve illustrated by way of modern technology an exciting mix of the old and the new in terms of civic life, spiritual life and penitence.