How radical is the Greenbelt festival?

The following article appeared in the Morning Star newspaper on 2nd September 2017. I wrote it after attending the Greenbelt festival the previous weekend.

Last weekend communist theologian Marika Rose called for the abolition of the police.

It’s nothing remarkable: she has been expressing such views for years. What was different this time is that she was addressing an audience at one of Britain’s largest religious festivals.

Greenbelt is a Christian-based festival of music, comedy, arts, talks, debate, politics, worship and theology. In recent years, it has projected a clearly left-of-centre image.

Taking place every August, it is now held in east Northamptonshire. It attracted over 11,000 punters this year, as numbers rose after falling from the high point of 20,000 some years ago.

Mariks’a comments triggered a mixed response. One festival-goer told me she was delighted to hear such radical views at a Christian event. Another wrote: “Shame on you” to Marika.

The controversy provoked a minor Twitter storm, with some apparently angry that such a view should be given a platform at Greenbelt. Nonetheless, I can’t help thinking that there would have been more anger a few years ago.

This is not to say that Greenbelt is centre of communist activism, however its conservative detractors portray it. It has been described as “the Guardian does Jesus.” While this criticism comes from right-wing critics, there is a certain accuracy to it.

Like the Guardian, Greenbelt is liberal and centre-left, preferable to the powerful interests on its right, but broadly accepting of capitalism and compromised by its role as a large commercial institution.

You can hear repeated attacks on poverty and austerity at Greenbelt, but they often focus on specific policies rather than any deeper challenge to class structures.

Thankfully, there are exceptions: this year’s highlights included Teresa Forcades I Vila, often described as “Europe’s most radical nun.”

Pacifist activists Sam Walton and Dan Woodhouse spoke about their attempts to disarm a BAE warplane destined for Saudi use in Yemen. Anglican priest Rachel Mann offered a complex but accessible analysis of the link between militarism and masculinity. Interfaith events looked at how Christians can support struggles against Islamophobia and antisemitism.

Greenbelt has been a truly liberating event for many people. In the early 2000s, it was the first Christian event at which I saw a same-sex couple holding hands. Nowadays you can see almost as many same-sex couples there as mixed-sex couples.

At most Christian festivals, this would be unthinkable. For countless LGBT+ Christians, Greenbelt was the first place in which they could be open about their sexuality or gender identity.

Socialists at Greenbelt this year welcomed a new tent hosting stalls from co-operative businesses and discussions on the co-operative movement.

There was for the first time a women-focused venue on site: the Red Tent, with a number of events open to all who define themselves as women. This seems particularly important when transphobia is so prevalent in churches, and when even some on the left wish to deny trans people equality.

There were a number of firmly progressive groups running stalls in the middle of the festival, including the Fellowship of Reconciliation (a radical peace organisation), Church Action on Poverty and groups promoting resistance to the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

In important ways, however, Greenbelt fell short. The theme of this year’s Sunday morning communion service (the main event at Greenbelt) was disability.

There was an inspiring sermon by a disabled teenager as well as contributions from other disabled people about ways in which they are included or excluded.

Remarkably, however, despite all the discussions of poverty at the festival, not a single word was spoken in the service about the way in which disabled people are facing systematic attacks on their livelihoods by a government that is slashing and burning the welfare state.

And over it all hangs the shadow of an incident in 2011, when festivalgoer Ceri Owen was dragged from the festival by police as she was sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

The most positive interpretation is that Greenbelt organisers overreacted and misunderstood the situation when they called the police. But far from apologising, they continue to defend their behaviour and Ceri has been banned from Greenbelt ever since.

At the same time, she has become an increasingly prominent mental health activist, frequently appearing in the media to speak about cuts to mental health services.

The importance of Greenbelt for promoting progressive views among Christians should not be underestimated. For some LGBT+ Christians in particular, it has literally changed their lives.

But as Ceri’s exclusion demonstrates, when push comes to shove large institutions tend to veer towards self-justification and conventional power dynamics.

Such problems can also be seen in a number of secular left organisations, including certain trade unions. Radical change requires people working at the grassroots from the bottom up.

Thankfully, the more radical punters at Greenbelt will soon be joining in with the large number of protests, vigils and direct actions planned for the run-up to the London arms fair.

Despite Christianity’s many compromises with wealth and privilege, we still have Jesus’s example of standing up to the rich and powerful. The reign of God is not compatible with the power structures of this world.

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Christian Concern have crossed a line to outright racism with their attack on Sadiq Khan

The right-wing lobby group Christian Concern are well-known for their vocal homophobia and for stirring up prejudice against Muslims. With their attack on the man set to be the new Mayor of London, however, they seem to have crossed a line from nastiness to racism.

Sadiq Khan’s Tory rival, Zac Goldsmith, has rightly been accused of running a campaign that encouraged thinly veiled racial language and anti-Muslim prejudice. Christian Concern have gone further.

I have no brief to defend Sadiq Khan. I once shared a platform with him at a Fabian Society conference. He was friendly and seemed genuinely down-to-earth. But I disagree with him on too many issues for it to be likely that I would ever vote for him. I am angry not because I am a Khan supporter but because I am disgusted by racism, and furious when I see it promoted in the name of Christianity.

The day before polling day, Christian Concern published an article on their website entitled “Londonistan with Khan?”. It was written by Tim Dieppe, the organisation’s “Director of Islamic Affairs”. I was unaware that Christian Concern employed anyone in such a role; I think it’s fairly new. This being Christian Concern, it’s safe to assume that they mean “Director of Islamophobic Affairs”.

Dieppe’s article is truly vile. Some of Khan’s attackers accuse him of association with “Islamic extremists” but insist that they are not attacking him for being a Muslim. Christian Concern offer no such qualifiers. Dieppe states simply, “It is well known that he is a Muslilm who is devout in his adherence to the faith”.

The article then goes on to repeat some of the accusations about his “links” with extremists. Dieppe states that they have been “well-documented”, though the only link provided is to an allegation that he shared a platform with some extremists twelve years ago.

There is a list of six bullet points about why Khan is so terrible.

At least one of the points is factually inaccurate. Khan has not opposed the criminalisation of forced marriage but rather a particular law about it. Whether or not he is right about that law, this is not the same thing as wanting forced marriage to be legal.

But by far the most bizarre bullet point is the first. This states that, in his capacity as a lawyer, “Khan wrote a ‘how-to’ guide for people wanting to sue the police for damages”.

So whatever else he might be blamed for, it seems that Khan has been willing to help people who have been the victims of police racism or brutality. So why is this on a list of bad points?

Underneath his list, Dieppe has written, “Particularly concerning are his encouragement of suing the police for racism”. The implication is that the police should be allowed to get away with racism.

This becomes more explicit a few lines afterwards, when Tim Dieppe’s foul arguments reaches its height. He writes:

It is hard to see Khan supporting the police being more proactive in upholding the law in areas with high Muslim populations… Knowing they lack political support, the police are likely to continue in their politically correct ways, with disastrous results. Fear of causing offence will rule. We have already seen some of the effects of such politically correct policing in Rotherham, Rochdale, Oxford and other cities where Islamic rape gangs have been allowed to run riot, with the police terrified of being called racist.”

Well, at least Tim Dieppe and Christian Concern are not terrified of being called racist. They are blatant and open about being racist. I doubt they would describe groups of child-abusing priests as “Christian rape gangs” but when the perpetrators are Muslim, they blame the crimes on Islam.

The organisation says little about sexual abuse more generally or asks whether wider social attitudes and police prejudice contribute to the lack of rape convictions. Nor is such prejudice likely to be challenged by people who damn lawyers for writing guidelines on how to challenge the police.

There’s a thin line between Islamophobia and racism. Christian Concern are now clearly promoting the latter as well as the former. To suggest that police racism should not be challenged goes hand in hand with their focus on rape committed by ethnic and religious minorities rather than others.

Let’s not forget that Christian Concern have never denied or confirmed the allegation that they held a planning meeting with Tommy Robinson when he was leader of the English Defence League. That tells you a great deal about Christian Concern.

I have no doubt that Christian Concern are, at least in many areas, entirely sincere about their beliefs. What I will not accept is that these beliefs have any basis in the teachings of Jesus.

Terror threat: Let’s not fall for it again

Do they expect us to believe it all again? With weary familiarity, I have been reading the government’s claims that we face a heightened “terror threat”. UK governments have been making this claim every so often since 2001. It is usually followed by a fresh restriction of civil liberties or the departure of British troops to yet another war zone.

Despite Saddam’s non-existent weapons of mass destructions, despite the killing of the entirely innocent Jean Charles de Menezes, despite the absurdity of tanks sent to Heathrow in the run-up to the Iraq invasion, despite the widespread distrust of politicians, we are for some reason expected to fall for it this time.

When the “terror threat level” was raised a few days ago, I predicated a new assault on civil liberties. I’d barely typed the prediction on Twitter before Cameron and Clegg began to fulfil it. We can apparently expect some sort of announcement from them on Monday about new measures to tackle the “threat”. Cameron has spoken of filling the “gaps in our armoury”.

Ed Miliband has loyally weighed in with his own suggestions for reducing our freedom. In his article in today’s Independent, he makes some good points about tackling the root causes of support for IS and working multilaterally. He then ruins it with a call for the return of control orders and a “mandatory programme of deradicalisation for anyone who is drawn into the fringes of extremism”. I’m not sure what this phrase is supposed to mean, but it seems to imply that people should be punished for their beliefs rather than their actions.

The odd thing is that the “terror threat” claim might be true. It could be the case that we face a greater than usual threat of terror attacks on British soil. But we’ve got no idea, because the claim has been used so often to mislead and manipulate us that a true claim would not stand out.

Certainly, the announcement is convenient ahead of the NATO summit in south Wales next week. The front page of today’s Independent shows residents of Cardiff passing through metal detection barriers in order to be allowed to walk around their own city. Restrictions on peaceful anti-NATO protests, and the arrest of protesters, will no doubt be justified on the grounds of the threat of terrorism.

The concept of protecting NATO from terrorism would be funny if it were not so sickening. Unlike Iraq, several NATO members actually do own weapons of mass destruction (the US, UK and French governments own nuclear arms). NATO’s explicit policy is to encourage high military spending among its members, inevitably reducing spending in socially useful areas such as healthcare and education. NATO’s attitude to Ukraine is every bit as aggressive and imperialist as the Russian government’s.

In short, the leaders of NATO have at least as much blood on their hands as anyone that they want “protecting” from.

I’m not denying that there is a chance, perhaps a strong chance, of terror attacks in Britain. The British government’s killing of innocent people around the world makes it likely that some will wish to respond by killing innocent people here. I am not for a moment suggesting that this makes such killing justified. To identify someone’s motivation is not to condone it. Nor will I pretend that the UK government is in a better moral position than those it condemns.

Cameron’s government sells weapons to the vicious regimes of Bahrain, Israel and Saudi Arabia. British drone pilots have been killing civilians in Afghanistan for years. George Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith have snatched away the livelihoods of some of Britain’s poorest people, who may well feel more under threat from their own government than from terrorists in Iraq.

Whatever the “terror threat”, I cannot support efforts by Cameron and Clegg to defeat it. I detest “Islamic State” as it now calls itself. It is a gang of mass murderers and no decent-minded person of any religion will offer them the slightest measure of support. Nor do I support the terrorism carried out by the US and UK governments. I oppose NATO as much as I oppose Putin, and the IDF as much as Hamas.

In short, I will not unite with one group of killers against another. The people of Britain, of Iraq, of Ukraine, of Palestine, of Israel, of Russia and of the US share a common identity and future as human beings. We have too much in common with each other to give in to those who kill in our name.

Nick Baines is mistaken: Cameron’s policy is coherent, but morally foul

This morning, I was invited onto BBC Ulster’s Sunday Sequence programme to discuss my response as a Christian pacifist to the situation in northern Iraq. Our discussion followed headlines reporting that English church leaders have criticised the UK government’s response to Islamic extremism.

The story appears in more detail on the front page of today’s Observer, which declares that the Church of England has launched a “bitter attack” on the UK government’s Middle East policy. The “attack” consists of a letter to David Cameron from the Bishop of Leeds, Nick Baines, backed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.

I don’t object to bishops criticising the government; I wish they would do it more often. However, this “attack” – which is really more of a polite criticism – is far too soft on the government, making no mention of the militarism and commercial exploitation at the hear of UK foreign policy.

Baines’ letter suggests that UK foreign policy is not “coherent”. In contrast, I believe it is fairly consistent – and morally wrong.

On one issue, I applaud Nick Baines’ intervention. The letter raises vital questions about asylum, saying:

“As yet, there appears to have been no response to pleas for asylum provision to be made for those Christians (and other minorities) needing sanctuary from Iraq in the UK. I recognise that we do not wish to encourage Christians or other displaced and suffering people to leave their homeland – the consequences for those cultures and nations would be extremely detrimental at every level – but for some of them this will be the only recourse.”

The bishop is quite right to push the government on the question of asylum. There are several right-wing columnists who want to bomb Iraq, supposedly out of concern for the plight of Yazidis and Christians. I have no doubt that many of them would show far less concern about these people’s plight if they were to turn up claiming asylum in the UK.

If Baines had confined his letter to the asylum issue, it would be stronger and the press reports would be focusing on it. But his letter includes comments on the Middle East generally, as well as UK government policy on “Islamic extremism”. Predictably, much of the media have picked up on these questions rather than on asylum. Baines’ comments on these issues may well do more harm than good.

Baines writes:

“We do not seem to have a coherent or comprehensive approach to Islamist extremism as it is developing across the globe. Islamic State, Boko Haram and other groups represent particular manifestations of a global phenomenon.”

In this passage, “we” appears to mean the UK (in effect, the UK government). The examples that Baines gives are both manifestations of Islamic extremism. Unfortunately, talk of this “developing across the globe” plays down the many differences between types of extremism and the variety of contexts that have given rise to them. It also implies that Islamic extremists are somehow more of a problem than other violent and terrorist groups – from the Israeli government carrying out massacres in Gaza to Buddhist extremists burning mosques and churches in Sri Lanka.

The bishop unfortunately writes about Christians in an equally unhelpful way:

“The focus by both politicians and media on the plight of the Yezidis has been notable and admirable. However, there has been increasing silence about the plight of tens of thousands of Christians who have been displaced, driven from cities and homelands, and who face a bleak future. Despite appalling persecution, they seem to have fallen from consciousness, and I wonder why. Does your Government have a coherent response to the plight of these huge numbers of Christians whose plight appears to be less regarded than that of others?”

This, frankly, sounds petty. Baines is right to speak up for the plight of persecuted people and we all naturally tend to be more worried about the suffering of people with whom we can identify. But these comments add to the impression that Christians should be more worried about the persecution of other Christians than about the persecution of Yazidis, Shia Muslims, Sunni Muslims, Jews, atheists or anyone else. Let’s challenge persecution because it is wrong and because we are called to love all our neighbours as ourselves. Let’s not sound as if we think the rights of Christians matter more than the rights of others.

Early on in his letter, Baines says that “it is not clear what our broader global strategy is – particularly insofar as the military, political, economic and humanitarian demands interconnect”.

Again, the use of “our” identifies Baines – and by extension the rest of the Church and the British population – with Cameron’s government. Cameron’s foreign policy is, if not clear, then at least more coherent than the bishop suggests. It may seem inconsistent for politicians to wring their hands about Islamic extremists in Nigeria while preparing to bomb Islamic extremists in Iraq. It may appear absurd for Philip Hammond to condemn Russia for arming separatists in Ukraine while happily selling weapons to Israel, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

But while ministers’ words are inconsistent, their actions are not. The government’s foreign policy is based on the commercial and strategic interests of those who hold power in the UK and the class that they represent. This is a government thoroughly committed to promoting the concerns of the super-rich. This has after all the basic purpose of the Tory Party throughout its existence. While I’m sure that some ministers believe that they are acting out of humanitarian concern, their domestic policy has involved rapid redistribution of wealth from the poor to the rich. We cannot expect their foreign policy to be any more ethical.

The problem is not that UK government policy is incoherent. The problem is that it is wrong. It makes sense within the context of the values by which Cameron and his cronies abide. These are the same repugnant values of militarism and colonialism that led Cameron to back Blair in invading Iraq, triggering a downward spiral to sectarian civil war.

In his letter, Nick Baines follows the common practice of using the words “we” and “our” when he really means the UK government and its armed forces. This is unhelpful, as it implies that nationality is the primary aspect of our identity and that we are basically on the same side as those who hold power.

As Christians, our loyalty is to the Kingdom of God. I owe no more loyalty to David Cameron’s government than I do to ISIS.

Don’t bomb Iraq (again)

The stories from Iraq are getting worse. There is news of massacres and threatened massacres, reported deaths and abductions, the sufferings of Yazidis, Christians and the many Muslims who reject the message of ISIS. It makes me sad and angry in equal measure.

In 2003, the peace movement predicted that the US-led invasion of Iraq would lead to sectarian violence and possibly civil war. I take no delight in seeing our predictions fulfilled, and on an even worse scale than most of us expected.

But some of the militarists who spoke of “liberating” Iraq eleven years ago seem to have little self-awareness and no shame. The likes of Liam Fox are now popping up in the media to argue that UK forces should join US forces in bombing Iraq, supposedly out of humanitarian concern for the victims of ISIS.

These people were warned in 2003 that their actions would lead to disaster. The disaster has come, and they respond by advocating the very same thing that triggered the disaster in the first place. They want to go to war in Iraq again.

However many times the are proved wrong, the most naïve kind of militarists always believe that the solution to any problem is to drop bombs on somebody.

As usual, it is not clear who they would be bombing. We could debate whether it is ethical to secure one person’s freedom by taking the life of an aggressor. But this is not what is happening in Iraq. The US bombs will kill civilians just as surely as they will kill ISIS fighters. Warfare has never been about killing aggressors. At most it involves killing people who are the same nationality, the same religion or simply in the same place as an aggressor.

Every civilian killed by a US bomb will give ISIS another argument with which to appeal to potential supporters. The very existence of US bombing will help this vicious gang of fundamentalists to present themselves as the true defenders of the Iraqi people. ISIS can be defeated only if its support is undermined, yet Obama and his allies are acting in a way that can only increase its popularity.

I respect the fact that many supporters of the bombing are motivated by a genuine horror at the ISIS butchery and an urge to do anything to stop it. As some have said to me on Twitter, “We must do something”. But responding to this feeling by bombing Iraq again would be like seeing a house on fire and pouring petrol on the flames – on the grounds that you had to do something.

While I respect the humanitarian motivations of some supporters of bombing, I find it difficult to take such claims seriously when they come from politicians and commentators who would never apply the same principles in other areas. The behaviour of ISIS is horrific, but it is sadly not unique. The vicious fighting between Christians and Muslims in the Central African Republic has rarely made headlines in the UK, despite the atrocities committed by both sides. The kidnapping of schoolgirls in Nigeria went from being a global outrage to forgotten news in a matter of days, with the girls no more free when they disappeared from the headlines than they were when they disappeared from their classrooms.

The Israeli government and its army have massacred hundreds of innocent civilians in Gaza. The Tory MPs and columnists who want to save the Yazidi from the terrorists of IS are quite happy for the UK to continue to license weapons sales to the terrorists of the Israeli government – and to the regime of Saudi Arabia, whose ideology is hardly a million miles from the views of IS.

Indeed, the UK government sold weapons to Saddam, then helped the US government to remove him and sold weapons to the regime they put in his place. As ISIS have captured weapons belonging to the Iraqi government, there is a good chance they are using some British-made weapons. British ministers now look set to sell weapons to Kurdish troops so that they can use them against the British weapons held by ISIS troops, who have taken them from a government supplied with arms by the UK after the US and UK went to war with the regime that they had previously armed. In this context, it is difficult to regard any supply of weapons as a moral and humanitarian act.

Imagine if the Iranian government were to bomb Israel, saying it was doing so to save the innocent people of Gaza from being massacred. This is substantially the same argument as the US government makes when it justifies bombing Iraq with talk of saving innocent Iraqi Christians. If the two arguments seem different, it is only because we are used to seeing actions by the US and UK governments as inherently liberal and humanitarian. This is not how they are seen in much of the world.

I do not have any easy answers to the dangers of ISIS in Iraq. I do not have solutions to offer with a promise that I can save the enemies of ISIS from being massacred. The cheap answers and supposed solutions are provided by militarists who believe that violence can save us from violence. Their promises are empty, although no amount of evidence will stop them repeating them.

It is odd that pacifists are so often accused of being naïve, when it is militarists who repeatedly offer the same response, no matter how many times it fails. Someone asked me a few days ago if the situation in Iraq means that pacifism is no longer credible. On the contrary, the situation in Iraq means – sadly – that the warnings of pacifists have been proved right. It is not pacifism that has been discredited, but militarism.

Where do “British values” come from?

Schools in which pupils are taught to follow the same values as the government are usually associated with totalitarian regimes. This has not stopped Michael Gove and David Cameron from saying that “British values” should be taught in all British schools.

Despite their repeated use of the word “British”, Gove can determine only what’s taught in English schools, as education in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland is handled by the devolved administrations there. This is a thus a policy that fails before it gets to the end of its first sentence.

There have been a lot of jokes about attempts to define “British values”. Will children have lessons in moaning about the weather? Will there be exams on the rules of cricket? Will pupils have to demonstrate an ability to glare at people who jump queues while never actually challenging them?

Perhaps all these jokes going round social media demonstrate that one “British value” is a belief in the importance of laughing at ourselves.

Gove’s supporters suggest that “British values” include concepts such as democracy, free speech and human rights. The irony of teaching people what view they should take on free speech and democracy seems to be lost on them.

There are many countries that can take pride in their traditions of democracy and human rights. Nonetheless, I see nothing wrong with people in Britain being proud of what has been achieved in these areas in Britain. But before we do so, let’s remember two overlooked realities.

Firstly, Britain’s traditions of democracy and free expression have sat alongside other traditions – of oppression, racism and violence. The British Empire was rooted in economic exploitation and justified by a racial view of conquered people. It diverted attention away from poverty at home by telling people to be proud of what their masters were achieving abroad. Wars were fought not only against subject peoples but against other imperial powers that threatened the British Empire’s dominance – the first world war is the obvious example. During that war, the government exercised heavy censorship, lied to the public about what was going on at the front and imprisoned 6,000 critics of the war.

Secondly, progressive traditions of free expression and human rights have survived despite all this. When democracy has triumphed in Britain it has done so in spite of the powerful and not because of them. The great parliamentary reforms of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were dragged out of a reluctant elite by mass public campaigns. In some cases, reforms were desperate attempts to avoid revolution or to buy off one section of society so that they would not ally with another. But such changes would not have happened at all without the reality of grassroots campaigns, even if the reforms often did not go as far as the campaigners wanted. Society was changed from below, not from above. Going back to the seventeenth century, the rule of law was established only when King Charles I was convicted of treason after waging war against his own people, establishing the principle that no-one was above the law.

The human rights and relative democracy that we have in Britain are due to millions of ordinary people going out and campaigning for them over centuries. They did so in defiance of the rich and powerful. Michael Gove and David Cameron have far more in common with the politicians and monarchs who resisted such progress than they do with the people who championed it.

What could illustrate this better than Cameron’s deals with the vicious regime of Saudi Arabia, to whom he continues to sell weapons? Or the government’s use of drones in Afghanistan, killing civilians in a way largely indistinguishable from the “extremists” who Gove is so keen to challenge with “British values”?

Let’s celebrate our democratic traditions. Let’s do it by campaigning against the concentration of power and wealth in the hands of a few, and by insisting that school pupils must be free to hear a wide range of views, ideas and interpretations – not just those of Michael Gove.

Arrested for quoting Churchill?

If you believe the Daily Mail, then a European election candidate has been arrested “for quoting Winston Churchill”.

It seems that Paul Weston, leader of the tiny far-right Liberty Great Britain party, was arrested on suspicion of inciting racial and religious hatred.

Whatever view we take on the rightness or wrongness of Weston’s arrest, it should have nothing to do with Churchill. If it’s right (or wrong) to stop him expressing bigoted views, then it’s right (or wrong) regardless of the identity of the person he was quoting.

There is a legitimate debate to be had about whether someone should be arrested for expressing opinions, however hateful and prejudiced they may be. Inciting violence should certainly be illegal. When it comes to bigotry that can inspire hatred, I find it hard to know where the line should be. Of course, I don’t even know whether Weston’s account of the event is accurate. I wasn’t there.

But if anything good comes out of this squalid incident, it’s that the publicity around it will make more people aware of Churchill’s real views. Churchill was a racist and strongly prejudiced against Muslims. No amount of lauding him as a national hero (based on some questionable national myths about the second world war) can make this less true.

Take the words of Churchill that Weston quoted. Churchill, in many ways an intelligent man, nonetheless descended to the level of ill-informed nonsense when it came to Muslims. He said they were cursed by “fanatical frenzy” and “fearful fatalistic apathy”.

He wrote, “The effects are apparent in many countries. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity.”

Churchill insisted that “No stronger retrograde force [than Islam] exists in the world.”

We cannot excuse all this by saying that Churchill was a man of his time. Plenty of British people at the time had a better knowledge of Islam, while many who did not were still able to understand the unfairness of sweeping generalisations not backed up by evidence.

Unfortunately, the arrest and associated coverage has probably increased the number of people who have heard of Liberty Great Britain several times over. I decided to find out a bit about it.

Paul Weston, a former UKIP candidate in central London, was briefly chairman of the British Freedom Party, formed largely by ex-BNP members with links to the English Defence League. He then went on to set up Liberty Great Britain, which is to field three candidates in the south-east region for the European election. The third candidate on the list, Jack Buckby, recently stated that no real Muslim is peaceful and that “not all nations are necessarily equal”.

No-one should be giving much publicity to these people without pointing out the far-right, racist nature of their party. The article in the Mail barely mentioned it.

According to Liberty Great Britain’s website, their main concerns are “mass immigration from the third world, the steady rise of fundamentalist Islam and the hijacking of traditional British culture and institutions by well-organised left-wing progressives”.

Speaking as a left-wing progressive, I only wish we were as organised as that statement implies.