A great Victory

The by-Election result last night is not only a resounding success for and endorsement of Theresa May, but it is also a brilliant kick in the pants for the appalling Nuttall and the whimpering leadership offered by Corbyn. While Labour beat UKIP in Stoke, the votes were down and in fact only the Liberal party increased its overall share by any significant amount (Conservatives up by nearly 2%, as was UKIP, but labour down by 2% as were the Greens). In Copeland, however, a real turn-around (UkIp down by 9%, Labour down by 5% and Conservatives up by nearly 9%) and the first time in years that a sitting Government (7 years in) has taken a seat from the opposition. I was delighted to see Prof Green among the crowds- if rap is the voice of youth, he is in the right place at the right time. And Theresa May was quite right, just a few minutes ago to visit the seat to personally congratulate Trudy Harrison. Mrs May said,

“Trudy isn’t just somebody who talks about things, she actually rolls up her sleeves and gets things done.”

Or as Mrs Thatcher would have said, “Simply Rejoice!” It is time to see the Conservative party as the party that will deliver social reform. Even in a traditionally safe seat, the traditional labour voters know that Labour can no longer be trusted to deliver!

trudy-harrison-by-tim

Padre Pio introduced a doubt in my disbelief

Graham Greene kept a photo of Padre Pio in his wallet. The saintly friar, he said, “introduced doubt to his disbelief.”

Despite the constant suspicion of the Church during his life, particularly during the early years after the stigmata, Padre Pio made a very speedy progress to Canonization, championed no doubt by John Paul II who met him at his friary of San Giovanni Rotundo when he was a young Priest studying in Rome in 1947.

The story of Padre Pio, photographed with the stigmata, the first priest, in fact, to be a stigmatic, was one of those that coloured my prep-school, but I was reading today of his second-sight, to see into the future and reassure people. A little reassurance is always good, and I like his command, “Pray, hope and don’t worry.”He was also famously capable of bi-location.

padre pio by TIM.jpg

It is perhaps distressing that there was speculation that he faked the stigmata with carbolic acid brought in by Maria de Vito. I remember reading about this in the press about 7 years’ ago. Shortly after this news broke, his body was exhumed to mark the 40th anniversary of his death. Recently, there have surfaced some tapes suggesting he had an oddly close relationship with a group of women. Attracting controversy during his life, it would be odd indeed if such controversy had stopped at his death!

Sergio Luzatto’s account of Padre Pio tells us “There were hints of acids and poisons, the smell of fraud and deceit.” He was addicted to valium. Sensational. Tricks not only with carbolic acid but also with veratrine, but I doubt either would have produced the hand wounds that seem fairly genuine and that apparently bled for 50 years. He places great weight on the opinion of a man called Gemelli who was actually turned away by Padre Pio and never examined the wounds. Gemelli’s summary- “these characteristic manifestations of psittacism that are intrinsic to the hysteric mind. Anyone with experience in forensic medicine…can have no doubt that these wounds were wounds of erosion caused by the use of a caustic substance.” Gemelli smears Padre Pio by association with Fascism, but then, as I know from my own brush with Italian Religious orders, that would be true all round. “Clerico-fascism” certainly exists even today, but Padre Pio would appear to have been a victim of that, not a practitioner. He goes on to say the local archbishop Pasquale Gagliardi suspected there were women in the Capucchin monastery, and that he himself was caught up in a gay conspiracy… it is really all too speculative. Francesco Cas­telli’s “Padre Pio Under Investigation” is a better book, though it has received much less press coverage!

Castelli’s book faithfully presents and analyses the documents, specifically the initial report commissioned by Bishop Rossi in 1921, just two years after Pio’s stigmata. He concludes that the stigmata is genuine.

I am about to start work on a programme about Martin Luther and Thomas More, giants in the history of Religious thought, but the two saints I have blogged about here, Padre Pio and the Cure D’Ars, were both fairly modest men. They both recommended prayer as an answer. It sounds a bit platitudinous and impractical. But sometimes actions need time and maybe passing the time is what we should call prayer? I have been involved in trying to sort out accommodation for some homeless people in my local village: it has been very frustrating and the homeless couple themselves have always managed to thwart every possible effort made on their behalf. I think they have it tough: ours is no longer an age that responds well to poverty, and as in Victorian England, we have somehow made a distinction between the deserving and the undeserving poor. God Help you if you fall into the latter camp- for clearly no council, and no charity, under current rules, will be allowed to do so! It should not stop us trying, though…

The local Priest, a wonderful lady who is more pastoral and more practical than many Priests I have known, still looks to the power of prayer. I think, in secular terms, prayer is a readiness to wait, and to listen. It is worth taking seriously. And there has been some progress over the last year.

“Pray”, said Padre Pio, “there is nothing else left”. And prayer, said the Cure d’Ars, “is the powerlessness of the All-powerful, the all-powerfulness of the powerless”.

cure d'ars

The Rohingya

In January this year, following a visit to Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, the UN’s Human rights envoy to Myanmar said,

“There are more than a million Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar deprived of some of their most fundamental rights. This is a million too many.”

She met privately with Aung San Suu Kyi in Naypyidaw to discuss the future of the Rohingya.

These people have rightly attracted the attention of the International community. They are abandoned and rejected, and many have tried to escape by boat to nearby States. In Myanmar, they are seen as a “self-defined” an unregistered Islamic community with a militant past, at a time of growing anti-Muslim prejudice. The Rakhine province, isolated by a range of mountains from the rest of Burma, was independent before it was annexed in 1785, and the only text from before the late 20th Century to mention the Rohingya by name dates to just 14 years after this annexation. Rakhine was then a stronghold of Buddhism, with a celebrated Statue of the Buddha, the Mahamuni image, which was later transported to Mandalay. Maybe there is a sense that the State has been sidelined and this is shared by both the Buddhist and Islamic communities. Today, certainly, Rakhine Buddhists say they feel vulnerable.

Aung San Suu Kye on the TODAY programme 24th October 2013

What appears to be a simple humanitarian issue shown in the 2013 Meiktila campaign, the deaths and destroyed homes that followed, the atrocities in Mandalay in 2014, the rise of 969 and in the grotesque camps of Sittwe, and an appalling example of State brutality is by no means straightforward. It is compounded by support for Aung San Suu Kyi who seems to follow an agenda in this instance that is comparable to the Nationalist agenda of her father. In a shocking interview with Mishal Husain that she gave to the BBC’s Today programme in October 2013, she justifies the exclusion of the Rohingya community in terms of the war on terror (what she calls “worldwide perception”) and allegedly commented afterwards, “no one told me I was going to be interviewed by a Muslim”. Her comments on and off record seem to suggest that (a) Aung San Suu Kyi is herself prejudiced and (b) that if she wanted to do something to help the community, she could. Significantly, however, she does not deny the rights of the Rohingya to live legitimately in Myanmar. She simply denies that muslims have been subject to a form of ethnic cleansing and goes on to say that

“Muslims have been targeted but Buddhists have also been subject to violence.”

In that interview, she suggests that the violence suffered by the Rohingya is about adjusting to the demands of becoming “a genuine democratic society.” Yet at the same time, she makes no offer to award the Rohingya any citizenship.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s views are actually supported academically by people like Christian Fink, an anthropologist who admits that the Rohingya have been denied citizenship, but also notes the “Buddhist Rakhine population’s fears of a Muslim takeover.” (“Living silence”). This is no reason to deny healthcare, education and citizenship. It also does not address the historical record that the Rohingya voted in the first Constituent Assembly Elections of an independent Burma in 1947. If they were accepted then, it does not really make sense that they are excluded now.

aung san suu kyi by tim.jpgMuch was expected of Aung San Suu Kyi and in 2015, the Dalai Lama observed, “It’s very sad. I mentioned about this problem and she told me she found some difficulties, that things were not simple but very complicated. But in spite of that I feel she can do something.” The Pope has joined criticisms observing that the Rohingya are targeted “simply because they want to live their culture and their Muslim faith.”

Official Silence and Actual threats

Since this interview, Aung San Suu Kyi has failed to take action, and remained silent about the Rohingya, whose plight has simply got worse. This has involved a rise in hate-speech, travel controls, population control, signed by the then President Thein Sein, to restrict the number of children as well as a migration, now thwarted on rickety boats to Thailand and Malaysia. The few refugees who today make it through, are left in no doubt about their country of origin. whiteboards declare them to be from Burma. In October 2016, Benedict Rogers notes that 2000 Rohingyan villagers were held in fields by the army.

This is what John Sifton, Asia Advocacy Director for Human Rights Watch, said:

“Right now, it is routine for Burmese politicians, Burmese people in all walks of life, to say extremely reactionary and hateful things about the Rohingya population of Burma. Nobody is standing up and saying, ‘No, this is not what democracy is, what modern pluralistic societies are like. Aung San Suu Kyi could have been that person, and she failed to do that.”

The militant monks

The Rohingya face the rising popularity of demagogue monks, among them Ashin Wirathu, Ashin Wimala, and Ashin Parmoukkha who stretch the pacific image of Buddhist monasticism to breaking-point, though arguably it is nothing new (cf U. Ottoma also from Rakhine). They also face political discrimination from a topsy-turvy understanding of law, like Section 295 designed to prevent inter-religious conflict, now used to silence any criticism of Buddhist Nationalism. A new law purporting to be for the Protection of Race and Religion forbids conversion and inter-marriage.

Anti-Muslim propaganda, as well as Rakhine Buddhist fears threaten even greater violence that may entrench community divisions and deepen hostility. This may well explain Aung San Suu Kyi’s silence as, after 50- years of military rule, Myanmar is finally moving towards democracy. While the local population is broadly behind the Democracy movement, it does not seem sympathetic to efforts by the international community to solve the Rohingya problem. The muslim population of Myanmar, of which the Rohingya is now the majority, makes up only 4% of the whole population. In 2015, following the rescue of 1000 refugees off the coast of Ayeyarwady Region, protestors led by monks, demanded the expulsion of what they called the “bengalis”. Initial slogans critical of the UNHCR were removed but slogans demanding that “INGO/NGO respect the truth” remained. The truth they wanted to assert is that the Rohingyas have no right to be in Myanmar at all.

The Union Citizenship Act of 1948

This act, following an earlier act the previous year, and coming just a few years after a serious massacre of the Rohingya by “the Rakhine Maghs”, restricted citizenship to any person “from ancestors who for two generation at least all made any of the terriories included within the Union of Burma their permanent home and whose parents and himself were born in any such territories.” (Section 11 iv) Following this, many Rohingyas were formally registered, given identity cards (NRCs) and allowed to vote. (under section 30 of the 1950 Burma Population Registration Rules states that no foreigner may be thus registered). One wonders, incidentally, how long a foreigner needs to be resident before he or she qualifies for citizenship, of course! This is what MA Gaffer, a member of Parliament, said at the time,

“Though Rohingyas resemble a little with the people of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), their literature, names and tittles, dresses, languages, customs and cultures are as difference as the sky and the earth. Therefore to regard Rohingyas as Chittagonians is a grevious hurt to Rohingyas and a matter of tragedy and a great blow to Rohingya and far from actual history.”

“Although Rohingya’s culture, tradition, history and civilization are not inferior to that of other indigenous races of Burma, Rohingyas are always victims of persecutions, specially, the immigration used to arrest them. In June 1959, 76 Rohingyas were rounded and arrested in Akyab and Mayu districts by the  immigration and were sent to Rangoon by steamer for ultimate dispatch to Gawdu-thoung in Pyapon District.”

“…Section 4(2) of the Union Citizenship Act. also pointed out that those persons whose ancestors had made Burma for two generation as their home and who and whose parents were born in Burma were also citizens of the Union. It had been observed by the court that in Union of Burma there were races who could not speak the Burmese language and who nevertheless were citizens of the Union of Burma.”

In the early 1950s, Government officials, including the Prime Minister of Burma, U Nu, and the Defence Minister U Ba Swe confirmed the identity and rights of the Rohingya. This is what UBa Swe said in November 1959,

“The Rohingyas are equal in every way with other minority races like the Shan, Chin, Kachin, Kayin, Kayah, Mon, and Rakhaine. They have lived in Myanmar Naing Ngan for ages, accordingly to historical facts. They are of the Islamic faith. There is historical evidence that they have lived faithfully and harmoniously with other races of the Union.”

Confusion over 1973 census

There are two approaches to the historical evidence: the first is to establish the origin of the Rohingya peoples and the second is to establish the use of the name “rohingya” itself. the two issues, however, are often (deliberately?) confused by people on both sides of the debate. Certainly, the modern term is a political construct while the weight of evidence suggests that the Rohingya have been in Myanmar for about seven centuries, though there is some confusion about nomenclature.

In the 1973 census, though, they were recognised along with 142 other ethnic groups. This put into law the statement by the Prime Minister in 1960 on Sept 25 that the Rohingya of Arakan were one of the ethnic races of Burma.

However, this was later delisted, admitting only the Kamen to the number of recognised Muslim groups. While this effectively made the Rohingya “foreigners” in Arakan, local Government records at the time do not note an increase in the number of registered aliens. Indeed, in 1972 there are 1192 foreigners recorded by the Arakan Divisional security and administration committee, while in 1975-6, there are 1037 people recorded in the three monthly report by the Arakan State people’s council. No adjustment is allowed for the thousands of Rohingya excluded in the delisting.

1982 Citizenship law

The Rohingya appear today to be utterly displaced, rejected both in Bangladesh and in Myanmar.

“There is after all, very little in common – except common religion – between the Rohingya of Arakan and the Indian Muslims of Rangoon or Burmese Muslim of the Shwebo district. These are different groups that do not identify with each other, do not share the same goal and aspiration.” Moshe Yegar, The Muslim of Burma: A Study of a Minority Group  p. 111

But I believe the Political key to their future lies in the repeal of a fairly recent 1982 Citizenship law which defined citizens as Kayah, Karen, Chin, Burman, Mon, Rakhine, Shan and other ethnic groups settled within Myanmar before 1823. At the same time, this law accepts the Rakhine historians’ claim that the Rohingya were slaves settled in Myanmar after the first Anglo-Burmese war in 1824 and therefore foreigners. (It is this law that effectively brands the Rohingya as foreign, non-indigenous and/or “illegal immigrants” without cultural, religious or social ties to Myanmar) But even so, aliens should be given proper human rights.

Moreover, if the law were quite as clear as it appears, I do not understand why the Myanmar government repatriated so many refugees from the 1992 Rohingya exodus.

The 2 groups

The issue is complicated by the existence of two lists of ethnic groups that underpin the 1982 Citizenship law, one of 101 groups, that is pre-colonial, and a later one that includes 135 specific groups. Neither list mentions the Rohingya. It seems that any legal advance must involve a review of these lists and a recognition that the strict definitions of the past need to be loosened today. In other words, a solution to the Rohingya problem should involve change throughout the country. Some observers question whether it is even right to talk about “national races”.

Defining a group

It is certainly not clear how any of these groups were ever actually defined- is this by self-awareness, language, political affiliation, or some sort of (dare I say?) colour-coding? There is a fundamental, legal and philosophical question that underpins this: Is ethnic identity something we choose for ourselves or something that is imposed on us? Identity is often contested; it is actually fairly fluid and becomes more so as one group is exposed, intermarries and interacts with another.

This is what a British writer in 1945 records,

“The Musulman Arakanese generally known as Bengalis or Chittagonians, quite incorrectly…To look at, they are quite unlike any other product of India or Burma that I have seen. They resemble the Arab in name, in dress and in habit. The women and more particularly the young girls, have distinctive Arab touch about them.. .As a race they have been here over two hundred years.” Anthony lrwin, Burmese Outpost (London: Collins, 1945) p.22.

Just to draw an uncomfortable parallel here- The concept of Jewishness may have seemed clear to the Nazis, but it would not be a definition shared by the average Jewish beth din. In other words, identity is by no means a clear-cut issue.

A solution today?

International Observers today tend to favour the government granting full citizenship and rights to the Rohingya community, but this solution also overlooks the growing tension on the ground. A solution “from above” or from outside the country itself would be unlikely to sort out the tension between the communities, and given the jigsaw of differing ethnic groups that make-up modern-day Myanmar, a solution that is rejected by the Buddhist majority threatens to tear apart this newly emerging Nation.

De facto recognition from 1961-1964

In this historic process of ethnic categorization, the Rohingya has been a largely illiterate group, now denied basic education, that falls by the way. Nevertheless, there is a collective understanding among the Rohingya that they have lived together in the North of Rakhine state for many generations.

Indeed, from 1961-1964, under the “Mayu Frontier Administration” (MFA)there appears to have been some sort of de facto recognition of the community which was governed as a separate province from the rest of Rakhine by the Burmese army. Rohingya language programmes were broadcast on the radio from May 1961-March 1965.

The name “Rohingya”

There are four distinct etymologies that I can find.

The first is that the name Rohingya appears to be an indian form of Rakhine. Bluntly, the term Rohingya could mean simply the people who live in Rakhine. The second, that it derives from the terms Rohai and Roshangee which denote Muslim peoples in old Arakan. It could be a version of the word “Roshanga”, used in Bengali literature in the Chittagong region. Thirdly, it is suggested that it is a corruption of the arabic term Rahim (blessing) or Raham Borri, meaning the Land of God’s blessing.

The fourth etymology is most interesting because it suggests the word derives from the Magh language and refers to the Pathan General Wali Khan and General Sandi Khan who helped to restore Narameikhia to the throne of Longgeret, setting up the Maruk-u-Dynasty in 1433. Narameikhia had formerly been in exile in Bengal.

It is clear that from the 1950s, the Rohingya has emerged as a political and military unit (the RLP and from 1974, the RPF led by Muhammad Jafar Habib and the RSO, disbanded in 1998) with an aim to defining a homeland within Myanmar. The community represents today the “largest Muslim community in Burma” (Andrew Selth 2003). The Rohingya appears to have defined itself in the 1950s but that does not rule out a clear historical record of the community in Myanmar that goes back much further. Three issues are linked: the legal status of the group, the humanitarian crisis and human rights’ violations. The Buddhist Rakhine community have, for the last 30 years contested the legitimacy of the group and it is not immediately clear from the modern debate whether there is a culturally distinct muslim identity but the same debate also confirms the view that the Buddhist majority is the aggressor and the Muslim minority the victim.

“A Comparative Vocabulary of Some of the Languages Spoken in the Burma Empire” by Francis Buchanan 1799

History is about perception and, in this case, there are 3 competing historical narratives, from Arakan, Burma and the Rohingya.

The documented history of the Rohingya -“the people that call themselves Rohingya” as David Steinberg (OUP) in 2009 classifies them- begins with an 18th Century reference which is worth examining. That single instance seems to establish both the existence of the community in Myanmar as well as its own claims to a unique and geographical identity. The 18th Century source, admittedly Colonial, specifically deals with the dialect employed by the Rohingya. In the text, Hamilton says that this is one of the dialects of the Burma empire “spoken by the Mohammedans, who have long settled in Arakan and who call themselves Rooinga, or natives of Arakan.”

Claims to earlier communities from 8th Century

There is an argument that the Rohingya community today is the remnant of a much older Bengali settlement that might even predate the arrival of the Buddhist communities. DGE Hall writes, “The Burmese do not seem to have settled in Arakan until possibly as late as 10~ century AD. Hence earlier dynasties are thought to have been Indian, ruling over a population similar to that of Bengal. All the capitals known to history have been in the north near Akyab.”(M.S. Coilis and San Shwe Bu, “Arakan’s Place in the Civilization of the Bay,” Journal of the Burrma Research Society, 50th Anniversary’ Publication, No. 2, Rangoon, 1960, p.486. Hall, D.G.E., A History of South East Asia. (London: Macmillan, 1958) pp328, 389.) and there is a record of Muslim trading in the area  going back to the reign of King Mahatyaing Chandra (780-810). Shipwrecked muslim sailors are said to have settled in villages in Arakan by decree of the Arakanese king. (Sir Arthur P. Phayre, Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Vol. XII, Part I, 1844, p.36. SLORC Government, Thathana Yong War Hmn Zay Poh. Rangoon, 1997, pp. 65-70. M.A. Rahim, Social & Cultural History of Bengal, Vol. I, Karachi, 1963, p.37. U Kyi, B.A. (History Distinction), Myanmar Jazawin Thi Hmet Bweya Apyapya, pp 156-157. The Glass Palace Choronicle, Vol. 2, p. 186.) Ceratinly, tehre is evidence of a large number of captives taken back to Arakan after the rebellion in Chittagong in 1246. As Bengal became Muslim in 1203, it is reasonable to assume that these captives were predominantly Muslim.

The kings of Arakan acquired Muslim titles from their association with Bengal. A stone inscription from 1442 speaks of Muslim kings of Arakan. It is certainly not clear that these were Muslim kings as is sometimes claimed.

19th Century observations of a distinct Muslim group in Rakhine

A protestant missionary, JC Fink who omits the term Rohingya but can hardly be describing another community says, “They were not Mughs converted to the Mahomedan faith, but bona fide Musulmans whose ancestors had been imported into the province from Bengal… Many still retain the language and habits of their forefathers;”

In 1834-1844, another Missionary, Cormstock records “within a few years past, many BengaleeMusselmans have immigrated to Arakan, to get higher wages and better living, than they could procure in Chittagong” (Notes on Arakan) and Charles Paton estimates the size of the Rohiongya population in Rakhine to have been about 1/3 of the total population. The Reverend Comstock puts it at a more moderate 10%. By 1869, when a more reliable census was conducted, it appears to be 5% rising to 30% in 1912. In James Baxter’s report on Indian Immigration in 1941, he estimates that 1/5 of the Rakhine population was of Indian origin. Much changed the following year when Burma was invaded by the Japanese.

It seems that a report published in The Scotsman, and reprinted on the same day in the Hindustan Standard in 1949 established the current attitude in Myanmar to the Rohingya. It reads:

“the great majority of Arakan Moslems are said to be really Pakistanis from Chittagong, even if they have been settled here for a generation. Of the 130,000 Moslems here, 80,000 are still Pakistani citizens.”

While a number of authors have confidently asserted like Andrew Selth, that “most Rohingyas arrived with the British colonialists in the 19th and 20th Centuries” (Burma’s Muslims:Terrorists or terrorised?”), there seems little further evidence to confirm this claim. Until the 1990s, in Myanmar, the same group that is identified in the 18th Century and is possibly enlarged by Colonial movements in the 19th and 20th Centuries is routinely been referred to by non-muslims in Burma/Myanmar as “Bengalis” or, during the Colonial time, as “Chittagonians”. In modern Burma, there are a range of often derogatory terms used to describe any Muslims, from “kalar” and “mus” and “Bengali”. To further confuse the issue, it is indisputable that a number of migrations from Bangladesh have swelled the Rohingyan numbers considerably, after 1971 and then again in the early 1990s.

Human Rights watch 1993 refers to “Burmese refugees from Arakan”; an account in 1995 by Martin Smith notes a distinction between

“those who have traditionally described themselves as ‘Arakanese Muslims’ as a religious group within the Arakanese people- and those Muslim nationalists, largely concentrated in the north, who prefer to call themselves ‘Rohingyas’.” (The muslim Rohingyas of Burma 1995)

In contrast, it is also well-documented that the Rohingya are not recognised as such in Burma/Myranmar. So, “the muslim Rohingya in Arakan State are not recognised as an ethnic group by the SPDC but rather are labelled as ‘illegal immigrants'” (Mikael Gravers 2007). Indeed, recent reports from Al Jezeera suggest that if Rohingya are prepared to accept that they are immigrants and have not lived for generations in the State, then they might stand a chance of getting residence permits. I fear this is simply a ruse to get Rohingya to confirm their status as aliens and to abandon their claims to a homeland.

A number of Burmese writers beginning with KhinMaung Saw have written a good deal to establish that there is not a reliable record of the term “Rohingya” in use before 1950. Indeed, the name itself is missing from the 1951 “charter of the Constitutional Demands of the Arakani Muslims”. But this is by no means a secure way to establish or deny an identity. Even the fact that there have been official acknowledgments of Rohingya rights at various times over the last 70 years should be enough to guarantee those rights today. More than that, a group and individuals confirming residence in the country for so many years should not be denied rights.

 

Recommendation

About a month ago, the British Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson visited Myanmar, following up a visit by David Cameron in 2012. Although the military retain control over key ministries, and new laws about foreign relatives prevent Aung San Suu Kyi from taking up her rightful position as President, but even as Foreign Secretary, she is the effective leader of the country. There remains a significant exodus from Rakhine, with 66000 fleeing to Bangladesh because of a military crackdown since October. 65000 are registered as living in camps. There are stories emerging of brutality, arson, rape, murder and infanticide. This is unacceptable. But while condemning the violence, we must also condemn the “delisting” of the Rohingya and demand that they are given proper recognition. It is their lack of citizenship and questions about their identity that has encouraged such brutality. What is clear from even a quick review of the history of the Rohingya is that they have had rights to citizenship in the past and there are no reasons for the current Myanmar government to refuse these same rights today. Rather than silence or petulance about who interviews her, Aung San Suu Kyi should be giving proper leadership on this issue. She needs to ensure that ships offering humanitarian help are routinely supported, that a political solution is found, and that proper education and representation is provided to the Rohingya peoples and their Buddhist neighbours. This is an opportunity to empower the State of Rakhine as much as it is a demand that Myanmar observe international norms and demonstrate that prejudice and discrimination have no place in modern democracy.

Some other references

Aye, Sumon and Aung Ye Maung Maung. “Myanmar Arrests Hundreds After Mandalay Violence.” Voice of America, July 7, 2014, News/Asia. http://www.voanews.com/content/myanmar-arrests-hundreds-after-mandalay-violence/1952483.html.

VOA News. “Myanmar Police Break Up Buddhist Mob.” Voice of America, July 2, 2014, News/Asia. http://www.voanews.com/content/myanmar-police-break-up-buddhist-mob/1949083.html.

Reuters. “Myanmar Buddhists Threaten to Kill Muslims.” Voice of America, July 4, 2014, News/Asia. http://www.voanews.com/content/myanmar-buddhists-threaten-to-kill-muslims/1950712.html.

http://www.dvb.no/analysis/the-r-word-and-its-ramifications-burma-myanmar-rohingya/43271

The fact that a colonial power does not acknowledge the identity of a particular group or calls it something else should not be the basis on which the same group is treated in post-colonial times. Nor indeed has it always been in Myanmar. While local prejudice may have been on-going, it is only relatively recently that this has been compounded by National “delisting” and institutionalised Islamophobia.

 the designation “Rohingya” was completely unknown to the British who administered Arakan from 1826 to 1948. It is not to be found in any of the eight censuses compiled between 1872 and 1941. Nor does it appear in any gazetteers, reports or other official documents, nor yet in private reminiscences and correspondence. This total absence of any British record has readily been acknowledged by the Muslim politician U Kyaw Min, who was only released from prison in January 2012 and has a brilliant pedigree as a fighter for freedom and democracy, a former member of the Committee Representing the People’s Parliament during the dark days of the military regime, and currently chairman of the Democracy and Human Rights Party.

But U Kyaw Min went on to say: “Then what about some present-day Rakhine state ethnic peoples: Mramagyi and Dai-net who are also not found in British censuses?” The implication is that the British did not really know what was going on…” DEREK TONKIN 17th Aug 2014

Richard Hering (TV Journalist who has worked with indiginous people- “Plunder for Profit: the UK and Brazilian mahogany trade”) writes:

Colonial records can be a dubious source for establishing the history of an ethnic group, for all kinds of reasons. For instance, the favouring of one cooperative group over another may result in the mis-characterisation of the latter for political reasons, as happened in Kenya. The Belgian empire in Rwanda classified two inter-related and -married groups as Hutu or Tutsi based on their appearance, again for reasons of control, with genocidal consequences later. Often names are simply misunderstood or mis-translated, for instance the group known as the Kayapo in the eastern Amazon do not call themselves that name – it’s actually a rude name given them by other groups (“those who look like monkeys”). Also many indigenous peoples have in recent decades started to use again older names so as to revive or preserve their identity, or have taken an ancient name which does not have a strict continuous lineage, nor even necessarily an unimpeachable historical source, in order to argue for their rights as a people.

It is important also to see also this rebuttal of Tonkin: http://www.newmandala.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Rebuttal-to-Tonkin-long.pdf

The ethnogenesis of the Rohingya which I have tried to sketch out in this article does not make it a more “artificial” or “invented” ethnicity than any other, but it does not fit easily in the all too narrow concept of “national races” as is currently understood in Burma: ethnic groups which were already formed as we know them now in pre-colonial times. Others, perhaps the Kachin or the Chin, would also fail the test, because the test itself stems from a misunderstanding of ethnicity and group formation, but it is the political context that has determined that the Rohingya, and the Rohingya alone, should fail it. Their mere existence as a people is a serious challenge to the weak mainstream historical narrative imposed by the military regime.

https://islamicommentary.org/2013/10/matthew-walton-a-primer-on-the-roots-of-buddhistmuslim-conflict-in-myanmar-and-a-way-forward/

Will it last?

I have been making some videos about poetry, some for British schools and some for a Russian university. I was asked this morning whether one of the poems I have recited is a great poem or not. It made me think.

There are certainly great poems in the anthologies I am using, but, to be frank, there is also alot of rubbish. When it comes to Stephen Spender’s poetry, I am really not sure what to say. He was one of two poets I met while I was an undergraduate- the other was Elizabeth Jennings with whom bizarrely I shared lodgings down winchester road. She was nocturnal, peculiar, deeply religious and also a film fan. There was a time when the two of us went repeatedly to see Attenborough’s “Gandhi”- at one point she was astonished to be tossed out of the cinema by an usher who thought she was a tramp. I rented a converted conservatory in the garden, and Elizabeth Jennings used to come into the garden and watch my rabbits. We also gossiped about John Gielgud and Daniel Day Lewis who was her godson and was about to take over from Rupert Everett in “Another Country”. What an interesting lady, and, of course, when I read her poetry today, I can still hear the cadence of her own voice, and her writing, thus, is coloured by a starry-eyed memory.

Spender brings with him some of the Elizabeth Jennings’ baggage in so far as he was also linked to many people in the arts’ world, and meeting him was a bit like touching literary divinity. Or was it minor sanctity?

SPENDER by TIm.jpgThe problem with Stephen Spender is that he is not really very good. Even in his day, he was regarded as second-rate, a cheap Rupert Brooke. So much so that Cyril Connolly pulled him up over his “bad writing”. But he enjoyed “being a poet”. There is a story which he quotes in his own memoir “World Within World” where he meets TSEliot for lunch and Eliot asks him what he plans to be in life-

I said: “Be a poet.” “I can understand you wanting to write poems, but I don’t quite know what you mean by ‘being a poet,'” he objected.

His was, I fear, the pose of “being a poet” rather than actually doing the job. He wrote a good deal (again in his memoir, he confesses that he wrote four poems a day while Auden managed only one in three weeks, but the quality control was different). He enjoyed the image- so much so that the leader of the communist party apparently said that the best thing Spender could do for the cause was to follow Byron and die.  There is even a link between Elizabeth Jennings and Stephen Spender- Cecil Day Lewis was one of Spender friends!

Like the current Minister of Education in Russia, Spender also admired Stalin. “Forward to Liberalism” is evidence of his gullibility, stupidity, naïveté. But it is the way he seems to have treated his lovers that really gets my goat. I don’t have alot of time for people who indulge in open relationships- in the end someone always gets hurt, but Spender seems to have gone on and on with this – leaving his first lover to tend to his garden, abandoning his first wife Inez Pearn, and cheating on his second. To judge from the account given by his sculptor son Matthew, Natasha Litvin was determined to brazen it out. When his mother died, Matthew opened up a can of worms that was an open secret anyway.

“Her take on her marriage is that my father, when he met her, had put his former homosexual life aside and become totally straight and faithful to her. This is a myth that meant a great deal to her, even after Dad had died. But she knew that I didn’t really go for it, and she knew that I felt that once Dad was dead his life should be reinterpreted in a different way. For a start, my father left hundreds of indiscreet letters all over the place. But there was never a confrontation; we just simply didn’t mention it, either of us.”

In the end, I think we read Spender only because he lived so long and knew so many people. Even his exposure in a portrait by Hugh David and then in the Leavitt book “While England Sleeps” that makes it quite clear he never took his parents’ advice to avoid the company of “rough” boys, adds to his image. It is that image, rather than any of his actual writing that will be remembered.

 

Standing against racism and prejudice

The Labour MP, Mary Creagh, is quite right to say we should be standing up to racism and prejudice wherever we find it. I entirely agree with her. What she is wrong to do is to imply that this stand is something particularly of the left, or is the preserve of Labour and she cheapens her call by throwing in concerns about the NHS and schooling. She comes out with a strange line, “immigration has become the proxy for a failure to fund public service and a failure to give people a pay rise.” She then says “politicians have a responsibility not to inflame the rhetoric.” I do not know, therefore, what she thinks she is doing with all her own rhetoric but her criticism of UKIP which should have been the main point of her message somehow, as a result, comes across as an afterthought. She is absolutely well-within her rights to point a finger of blame at UKIP’s immigration chief (an oxymoron if ever one could be imagined), John Bickley who said apparently, “if you want a Jehadi for a neighbour, vote labour in the Stoke on Trent by-election”. Outrageous! And- well- Bickley is just wrong, and if the exposure of Paul Nuttall’s repeated indiscretions might once have enlisted sympathy, I trust with the sort of nastiness implicit in Bickley’s alleged advice, it will do so no longer. If he wants to salvage this election, Nuttall must silence Bickley and distance himself publicly from these views, because this is one of those failings that he cannot blame on an assistant. And even if, God forbid, he succeeded in his bid to be elected in Stoke, he will forever be tainted with racism. Bickley’s saying confirms UKIP’s racism.

mary-creagh-by-tim

So, maybe it is time to call it a day. UKIP achieved what it wanted in the referendum and its rebranding under Nuttall shows itself to be abhorrent and wrong. It is time for right-thinking UKIPers to jump ship. Nothing good can come of Nuttall now.

There have been many calls among Conservatives to stand up against racism and prejudice. The conservatives, after all, are the party that has given us not one but two women leaders, the party that pushed through gay-marriage legislation. And I think we have come along way since Andrew Lansley said there was “endemic racism” in the party. I think, incidentally, that he was wrong then, but I know he would be wrong now.

UKIP and arguably the referendum process has certainly unleashed a wave of racism, and has opened up the immigration debate, but I hope that does not mean Conservatives promote or encourage racism and prejudice. I believe we shall find ways to combat this madness.

Sajid Javid, for instance, rather brilliantly spoke of the necessity to eradicate “oblique” prejudice- he urged “every decent Briton of any faith or none to join us all in the battle against extremism and anti-Semitism… the Holocaust did not begin in the gas chambers of Auschwitz and Treblinka. Indiscrimate killing is simply where hatred, left unchecked, reaches its tragic conclusion.”And it was another Conservative, baroness Sayeeda Warsi who despaired that Islamophobia was becoming “socially acceptable.” To recognise a trend is not to endorse it. Indeed, to recognise that we have a problem is the first step we must take together towards solving it!

It is the Labour party that had a recent anti-semitic problem, not the conservatives. It is Corbyn who has attended events with Holocaust deniers. What we have seen is the growth of an “anti-racist” credo which is not the same as nurturing inclusion and tolerance. Rather than positive reinforcement, it provides yet another group for the mob to attack and by lumping things together, it tends to soften the impact of what Bickley has said.

Let’s just repeat it again, because I have said it before in previous posts: UKIP’s current leaders promote racism. It is clear. It is documented and it is wrong.

Jesus or ‘Isa?

Jesus is mentioned in the Koran 154 times in 19 stories, more than the Prophet himself. Mary or Miriam, his mother, dedicated to God from childhood and serving in the Temple in Jerusalem, is actually mentioned more in the Koran than in the Bible -she is spoken of 100 times. Of course, the Muslim narrative differs from the Christian while both maintain their sometimes conflicting  accounts are wholly correct.

In Islam, Jesus is the messenger of God and his servant, as is Mohammad. He is a sign (ayat) and a mercy from God.  Jesus’ principle message to both religions is one of truth- do not do one thing and be another, do not pretend to be religious with a great show of reverence when you are not inside. Honest humanity is exactly like honest architecture: when Pugin rages against the Georgian theatrics of Bath, he is saying the same thing: the facade should honestly reflect what is going on inside.

For Islam, Jesus/’Isa is “the son of Mary” (I count 22 times and she is the only woman mentioned by name in the Koran), as he is also described in Mark 6:3: οὐχ οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ τέκτων, ὁ υἱὸς τῆς Μαρίας, ἀδελφὸς δὲ Ἰακώβου καὶ Ἰωσῆ καὶ Ἰούδα καὶ Σίμωνος; καὶ οὐκ εἰσὶν αἱ ἀδελφαὶ αὐτοῦ ὧδε πρὸς ἡμᾶς; καὶ ἐσκανδαλίζοντο ἐν αὐτῷ. Of course, in Mark’s account, while it can be understood to be a reference to the Virgin birth, it might also suggest the locals were suspicious of Jesus’ true paternity, and the Talmud elaborates on this elsewhere. ‘Isa is also called the “word of God” Kalimat Minhu and “the spirit of God”. ‘Isa is an icon and an example of humility and poverty, owning nothing and giving up the world, an important message to a society dominated by consumption and obsessed with wealth. ‘Isa had three things- a robe, a bowl and a comb. He subsequently gave away the comb and the bowl- what do I need these for when others could use them?

‘Isa is the prophet of the end times, returning as the Messiah (Al Masih): this was foretold by the angels. He is described as Messiah 11 times in the Koran.

إِذْ قَالَتِ الْمَلآئِكَةُ يَا مَرْيَمُ إِنَّ اللّهَ يُبَشِّرُكِ بِكَلِمَةٍ مِّنْهُ اسْمُهُ الْمَسِيحُ عِيسَى ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ وَجِيهًا فِي الدُّنْيَا وَالآخِرَةِ وَمِنَ الْمُقَرَّبِينَ

Differences and the Nativity

(Al Emran 45) The Koranic story differs from the Christian story in the absence of a stable, a manger and Joseph, but so much of the Christian infancy narrative is fairly loose, with contradictions between Matthew and Luke, a complete lack of any infancy narrative in John and Mark and some very picturesque details added from the Protoevangelium of James, (later reworked in Armenian and Syriac) to form the christmas crib scene popularised by St Francis of Assisi in 1223 and painted by everyone from Giotto onwards. The ox and the ass are also in icons of the nativity, together with a midwife who arrives a bit too late, but helps to bathe the baby. There is also the legend of Aphroditianus and the “Revelation of the magi” where the various visitors see the Christ-child in different forms, as a throned king, a warrior and a martyr. In the Revelation, there are 12 magi, one of whom comes from Shir or China. In the Arabic Infancy narrative, the magi take back with them the swaddling cloths which have mystical powers akin to the shroud of Turin and now on display in either Dubrovnik Cathedral or as the “Windel Jesu” in Aachen Cathedral. One tradition in the late middle ages sees the swaddling clothes made from Joseph’s underpants, rather coyly represented in a 1400 painting, now in Antwerp, by Joseph Malouel as a stocking.

nativity-museum-mayer-van-den-bergh

The site of the nativity is celebrated in the ruins of the church of the Kathisma of the theotokos, about 3 miles outside Bethlehem. This follows exactly the narrative of the Protoevangelium of James where even before the Holy family get to Bethlehem, Mary asks to get off the donkey and Joseph locates a cave in the middle of the desert. In the centre of the church is a rock where Mary rests before giving birth.

While celebrating the Virgin-birth, Islam does not say that this also means Jesus is divine. this is where the two traditions start to divide and indeed where the controversy arose a few weeks’ ago in Glasgow. Again, while calling Jesus “Word of God” Islam is not attributing Divinity to him.

In both Islam and Orthodoxy, choosing to do what is right, Mary is seen as the perfect model of what our life can be. In this, Orthodoxy avoids the pitfalls of Augustinian original sin and therefore of the “Immaculate conception” and shares with Islam in presenting Mary as a role-model not only for women but for everyone. She is a symbol of purity, obedience and dignity. In Islam, Mary is alone, giving birth to ‘Isa under a date-tree in the desert and as in the biblical narrative, she suffers gossip because of the scandal of giving birth without an identifiable father.

Miracles

There are miracles attributed to ‘Isa that do not appear in the canonical Gospels, but they are certainly found in the Apocryphal texts, that he talked from his cradle, that he brought clay birds to life, cured the blind, lepers and that he raised the dead- in the case of the Koran, one of the sons of Noah. One of the big debates that tends to pop up is completely mistaken- that the miracles point to Jesus’ divinity. In fact, throughout the New Testament, Jesus routinely attributes the miraculous to God- as indeed the early teaching in Acts 2:22 attests: “Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you…”

Crucifixion

Where things really start to get complex is in the death of Jesus. For the Christian, this takes place on a cross at the age of 33. For the Muslim, it takes place in serenity surrounded by angels at the age of 120. The Koran even acknowledges the Christian claim (4: 157) and explains that this was a deception. Some accounts talk about a replacement for Christ, a rescue operation that leads Judas to be arrested and killed rather than Jesus.

In this, Islam is paralleled by the 3rd Century Gospel of Basilides and the Apocryphal Gospel of Barnabas:

“God, who had decreed the issue, reserved Judas for the cross, in order that he might suffer that horrible death to which he had sold another. He did not suffer Judas to die under the scourges, notwithstanding that the soldiers scourged him so grievously that his body rained blood.

“So they led him to Mount Calvary, where they used to hang malefactors, and there they crucified him naked, for the greater ignominy. Judas truly did nothing else but cry out: God, why have you forsaken me, seeing the malefactor has escaped and I die unjustly? Truly I say that the voice, the face, and the person of Judas were so like to Jesus, that his disciples and believers entirely believed that he was Jesus; wherefore some departed from the doctrine of Jesus, believing that Jesus had been a false prophet, and that by the art of magic he had done the miracles which he did: for Jesus had said that he should not die till near the end of the world; for that at that time he should be taken away from the world.”

But the Gospel of Barnabas was probably a 16th century forgery.

The crucifixion story is not very reliable

Pauline Theology (beginning in 1 Cor 15) is dominated by the crucifixion, so the Islamic account appears to challenge the core belief in Christianity. I was listening to someone talking about the crucifixion event the other day, however, and was astonished by his claim that the account of the crucifixion is one of the most accurate testimonies to an actual execution in the ancient world. Well, yes and no. What the New Testament account does is to spin the story with enough graphic detail that the vital legal questions remain unasked and unanswered. It seems to me that it is not at all clear why Jesus merited a death sentence under Roman law at all. There is a hint that the apostles were armed in the Garden of Gethsemane and if Jerusalem were under lock-down, then maybe a case can be made against them, but not really against Jesus. There is no evidence that he was armed. Beyond that, while there might just be a case for the Jewish authorities to stone Jesus to death for blasphemy, again there is no good reason in the narrative why that does not happen and why instead Jesus is handed over to the Roman authorities.

Despite this, and perhaps most importantly in a defence of the historical reliability of the Gospel testimony, it is improbable that the crucifixion event would ever have been invented. Why would any group want to glorify a sadistic and shameful execution especially when the incarnation narrative, which was already emerging, provided quiet sufficient evidence of an intervention in history by God?

If we move to the Reformation and the emphasis placed by the reformers on the Atonement, then the crucifixion swings even more mightily centre-stage. More than that, the ever-present image of Jesus as a shepherd merges into an image of Jesus both as Paschal lamb and as scapegoat – one event, the crucifixion combining the festivals of both Passover and Yom Kippur.

The Gnostics

Just as there have been Christians who have questioned the Virgin Birth (the Bishop of York, for instance in the not-so-distant past), so too, quite demonstrably, there have been Christians throughout history who have questioned the reality of the crucifixion or the centrality of that event. It is not such a shocking claim.

Islam is certainly not alone in denying that the crucifixion was real. The Gnostics had already done this. Here is the relevant paragraph from the Nag Hammadi scriptures-

It was another, their father, who drank the gall and the vinegar; it was not I. They struck me with the reed; it was another, Simon, who bore the cross on his shoulder. I was another upon Whom they placed the crown of thorns. But I was rejoicing in the height over all the wealth of the archons and the offspring of their error, of their empty glory. And I was laughing at their ignorance.

Modern literature

The idea that Jesus survived the crucifixion is brilliantly done in the Kazenzakis book, “The Last Temptation” and in the film – I remember the scene where St Paul confronts Jesus and says he invented Christ, “I don’t care whether you’re Jesus or not. The resurrected Jesus will save the world…I created the truth out of what people needed. If I have to crucify you to save the world then I’ll crucify you and if I have to resurrect you, then I’ll do that too, whether you like it or not…. My Jesus is much more important and more powerful.”

The same story of survival, incidentally, is also told in “Holy Blood, Holy Grail” (Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln) and its sequel, “The Messaianic legacy”, even “the Passover plot” by Hugh Schonfield (a Glasgow academic and one of the original Dead sea scrolls’ academics, slightly given to the sensational and less glamorous than Geza Vermes but who authored a very competent reworking of the gospels  “The Authentic New Testament”) -it lies behind the dreadful “Da Vinci Code” stuff. It is implicit in the Philip Pullman novella “The good man Jesus and the scoundrel Christ” which in turn, I think, is a fantasy based on the idea, already suggested by Leonardo’s twin Jesus painted in the Last supper, that Thomas, the twin (Didymus)  was the brother of Jesus and took his place on the cross, a theological version of the 2006 film “The Prestige” with Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale. I was asked to look at the Pullmann book a couple of years’ ago to see what could be done to turn it into a film. A tough call but in the end, Pullmann got cold feet and pulled out of the project.

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And finally there is  the AntiChrist, المسيح الدجّال Dajjal, the one-eyed opposite to everything ever preached by Jesus. This cyclopedic travesty of goodness will rule with brute force, atheism and deceit. Muslims and Christians agree that Jesus will descend and defeat the anti-Christ. What Islam does that Christianity does not is to provide specifics- ‘Isa returns in eastern Damascus to confront injustice, his hands resting on the shoulders of two angels, and his hair dripping with oil. When he tosses his head, the beads of oil will fly off like pearls. He will destroy the cross and kill the pig. When the Dajjal sees ‘Isa, he will dissolve “like salt in water”.

Vague and woolly

Today, the Guardian writes more on its campaign to get Mrs May to grant residence to EU Nationals in the UK. It is an issue, I think, that we have already mismanaged and may continue to do so.

In fact, we have very little to lose and much to gain. Here is the calculation: if it only takes 5 years to qualify for UK citizenship, then taking into consideration the 9 months we will have already had, after two years of negotiation, and a further 2 years of transition, almost all EU nationals resident here when the referendum took place,  would qualify anyway to stay. An announcement at this stage, therefore, simply shows our good-intent. Signally, the process of applying for full-time residence in other EU countries is by no means as simple.

In other words, if someone currently here as an EU national, wants to stay, the opportunity is available; if someone does not have all the paperwork now, they will have it in a few years’ time. To offer unilateral residence is simply to bypass that process, but it shows goodwill and that is sorely tested at the moment. We need that goodwill.

Of course, the 85-page document that is currently being used by the Home Office is both confusing and off-putting and I am sure a much simpler, stream-lined application process could be developed: anything that cuts unnecessary bureaucracy cuts further expense.

Meanwhile, Do-gooders on the left wring their hands in despair at our lack of progress, but the Guardian also goes on to record the thoughts of ms in’t Veld – on the face of it, this is an important intervention by a Dutch MEP but here is what was actually written:

Sophie in ‘t Veld, a Dutch MEP who is leading a European parliament taskforce investigating the residency issue, said the UK government had acted “immorally” in failing to offer security to those who had made Britain their home.

“We are receiving so many emails every day from people in the UK and elsewhere worried about the future that we cannot answer them individually,” she said. “This is immoral. And if this leaked document is right, then it has backfired.”

sophies-choice-int-veld-by-timIt is a bit rich for Ms in’t Veld to point the finger and say we have behaved immorally or that our schemes have “backfired” – when the EU is open to the self-same charges! This may be about our failure to offer residence to EU citizens in the UK but Mr Junker, equally and signally, has failed, thus far, to offer any comparable residence to British subjects currently living in the EU. Indeed, to make matters worse, Mr Junker has actually allowed what amounts to threats today to be issued by an EU committee. And while there is a gathering clan of elected officials militating for EU nationals to be granted residence here, I note no similar clamour in Europe to promote the cause of our own UK nationals there.

Jean-Claude Juncker

When it comes down to parity, maybe Mrs May’s caution is justified because there is nothing positive in what the EU proposes.

This is what the European parliament’s committee on legal affairs is suggesting-  that Britons resident abroad will find their position increasingly difficult:

“specific entitlements acquired validly in the past” – such as a pension or ownership of a property – may continue to apply, “it cannot … be considered that a person who is no longer an EU citizen will have unrestricted rights to live, work and study in the EU, or benefit from social security arrangements such as reciprocal healthcare entitlements, unless specific provisions are made.”

But I do not think this is about parity. It is about what Mr Cameron would have said was “doing the right thing.” The moral prize is still there for the taking but the failure to demonstrate good-will  on both sides is a worrying indication of the way negotiations might go after March. If nobody yet has the courage to take the moral high-ground on this, what will follow is nastiness.

At the end of the article, the Home office is quoted thus:

“This government has been clear that we want to protect the status of EU nationals already living here and the only circumstances in which that wouldn’t be possible is if British citizens’ rights in European member states were not protected in return.

“The prime minister has reiterated the need for an agreement as soon as possible as part of the negotiations to leave the EU. The rights of EU nationals living in the UK remain unchanged while we are a member of the European Union. EU nationals do not require any additional documents to prove their status.”

It all looks very worrying.

We should really be capable of making a distinction between what is morally right, what is politically expedient and what is legally binding. In this instance, it is probable that we will draw three different conclusions about the same issue. What worries me is that both the Home office and the EU are ignoring the first category – the moral case is not about a negotiation or about a trade; it is an absolute commitment to care about those who have made their home among us.

Ratcliffe Chapel

hansom-chapel-ratcliffe

In the late 1950s, Ratcliffe College, my former school, decided to build a new chapel to replace the 1867 chapel financed by Ambrose Phillips and the Earl of Shrewsbury, and designed by Pugin who was the architect for the original building in 1844, his son Edward and the men who patented the Hansom cab (JA & CF Hansom). Pugin was the chief and largely uncredited architect of Parliament, the Palace of Westminster. Because he was a Catholic, his name was largely overlooked and Barry got the credit. But since 1847, it has been on a throne (built by John Webb) designed by a Catholic architect that the monarch has delivered the “Gracious address”.

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The new chapel, imagined in the “modern trend with basic Byzantine feeling” by Ernest Norris took two years to erect and was completed in 1960. Much of the interior was embellished with painted ironwork decorations done by Gervase and Aloysius Duffy, and with windows by Jonah Jones. The sculptures were done by Jones himself and Fr O’Malley, with two of the statues- of St Chad and St Richard modelled directly on headmasters Emery and Leetham in the style of Eric Gill, one of whose statues remains in the school. Fr Claude Leetham had a habit of rubbing his nose, and in the days when the statues were parked in the cloisters waiting to be put on-site, the boys paraded past St Richard and rubbed its nose, leaving a small mark which persists. (This story passed on by a boy who was there at the time and went on to be a priest in my day at the school). It remains a fairly impressive space, constructed of concrete, clad in brick and with a dome over a chunky clerestory. Vertical windows in the transepts make it, nevertheless, a very airy building.

ratcliffe-statueThe original chapel was deconsecrated in 1962 and used for teaching and dormitory space.

Ratcliffe’s association with great architecture extends also to the prep-school- the current in-house prep-school has just been built by a distant Pugin relative and the original at Grace Dieu manor is described by ES Purcell as “the beautiful parish church (which) underwent restoration at Pugin’s hands, the first of the old parishes to be restored upon Catholic lines with return stalls and a rood screen.”

But when the school was handed to lay-staff and the Rosminian Priests largely withdrew, a number of items went missing. This following the destruction of the baldacchino by the last Rosminian Headmaster, Fr Keith Tomlinson, who always seemed to me to be a philistine, albeit a slightly camp one, with a remit in my day simply to beat boys. I know he made alot of children miserable. No doubt he was Ratcliffe’s own John Smyth. He is probably best forgotten. Nil nisi bonum and all that, but there we are!

The Baldacchino was quite remarkable in many ways. It provided a focus to the design, which had been compromised when the then Bishop of Nottingham, Ellis, himself an Old Ratcliffian, ruled that the planned central altar “versus populum” was non-canonical, only months’ before Vatican 2 recommended exactly that sort of arrangement and which was, of course, followed in Liverpool cathedral. Ellis, though, was old fashioned and my own parish in lincolnshire continued to have services in Latin and “ad orientem” until the early 70s, some 10 years after the end of the council.

ratcliffe-college

The Baldacchino (which is in this photograph and -somewhere there is a drawing I did which will resurface again sometime- I keep coming across it and will post here the next time  I do!) was an interesting modern take on a traditional architectural feature in the Latin Rite going back at least to San Apollinaire in Ravenna in the 9th Century, though we know that Constantine gifted a silver baldacchino to the Basilica of St John in Laterano. By 1600, it was considered a mandatory item, sometimes replaced by a cloth tester, promulgated by the Counter reformation in 1600 and indeed there is a good example in stone by AW Pugin in Grace Dieu.

Ratcliffe’s Baldacchino was also supported by 4 lightweight columns crafted from spitfire metal in the old Coventry factory where the planes were manufactured during the war. Today, Steve Clark has been overseeing the restoration of a spitfire for the school. Again, a link lost. The design on the baldacchino was based on an obscure verse “On Baptism” by Tertullian – “we are little fish who cleave to the great fish Jesus Christ”, this all as much a play on the Greek Christian acrostic ΙΧΘΥC as on the trade of the early apostles. One little fish was actually named on the painting- he was a boy who had just been baptised in the school. On every level, therefore, this was heritage stuff and it was, I understand, dumped in skips by Tomlinson. Simply appalling vandalism.

puginOpposite the lady chapel, and under the organ pipes were two alcoves. On these had been hung a giant rug designed and woven by AW Pugin. This, even in the 1960s, should not have been cut in two and should have been housed in the V&A! Today, I believe it was unceremoniously stripped from the church and transported to the Rosminian motherhouse in Stressa. (Maybe the rather splendid gold-plated silver pontifical chalice, which I persuaded the then Headmaster Fr Anthony Baxter to use on the school feast-day, went the same way?) and I wonder if an export-licence was either sort or acquired before British heritage of this quality and import was taken to Italy? The Pugin rug, as valuable as any of its sister-pieces found in the Palace of Westminster, was used on the sanctuary for services from the 19th Century through to the 1960s. It was a bigger version of the rug routinely used by a Bishop in the Orthodox Church. Norman St John Stevas, also an old boy of the school, and the person who devised the committee system used in Parliament, at least, would have been apoplectic. Thank God he died in ignorance.

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