Monday, 27 July 2009

Equality under the Law – The Old Testament’s Socialist Legacy? (A Case for Christian and Left Unity?) - Short Article by James Morris

Equality under the Law – The Old Testament’s Socialist Legacy?

A Case for Christian and Left Unity?

A Development of John Barton’s ‘Human Dignity’ Argument found in ‘Ethics and the Old Testament’

A poorly reasoned and ill-researched Liberation Theology in which Marxist-theologians placed their own values’ onto scripture has all but died, yet this does not mean that socialist thought cannot be found in Judaic-Christian Scripture. ‘An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot, a burning for a burning, a wound for a wound, a blow for a blow’ (Exodus 21: 24 – 25), is one of the most controversial statements made in the Old Testament, yet we find under closer inspection it is a beacon of developing socialist thought in an otherwise rigidly patriarchal, conservative and dated text.

Although the supposed barbarity of such a law is apparent to modern day readers, the fact that all humans are treated equally under its constraints is rarely noticed, regardless of social status the punishment is equal, whether master or slave, man or woman. This is one of the few Israelite Laws that lacks gender or class discrimination. In the surrounding passages we find that humanity is more important than property with lower scales of punishment for the damage of goods, livestock and so on. For an ancient society this is a radical step away from a caste-like system where the poor suffer more severe punishments for crimes that both they and the rich commit. It is certainly sad to think that in many cases the criminal justice systems in modern society is far from equal. It is important to note that in practice ‘an eye for an eye’ was never taken literally as an enactment of revenge, rather a ‘good tariff for recompense’ was established based on the crimes’ seriousness. The Hebrews believed strongly in the idea of Human Dignity, which again in an Ancient Middle Eastern setting was a radical concept. Sadly however it is likely that ‘Human Dignity’ only extended to fellow Israelites, as the Elect by God they could not lower themselves to the petty ideas of other systems such as physical mutilation (which was practiced as part of other Middle Eastern cultures criminal justice systems). It is only in later historical periods that we start to see an Israelite mission to other nations, thus leading these laws to be applicable for everyone.

We certainly still have some sense of Human Dignity in the British Criminal system, yet the system is far from equal, the answer is not however to return to or to promote Old Testament values and morals but to promote the sense of equality found by closer examination of certain Old Testament passages, and to explore more deeply the possibility of unity with the Christian-Left. It is of course dangerous to promote anything scriptural, as the men who wrote the world’s ‘Holy’ books lived in radically different often agrarian cultures, with many of their ideals being confined to the time they lived, with few which are truly timeless. Although scripture can present socialist style ideas proclaiming equality, revolution and so on, we also come across a breadth of passages that are discriminatory and anti-Socialist in mind set. Moreover the risk of taking a literal reading of the Old Testament and viewing the “word” of God as infallible is too strong for those adopting its exclusive truth claims. Recoiling away from scripture yet promoting the socialist ideas which underlie parts of it could produce a great yield. Modern biblical scholarship has shown us that scripture is fallible and that Jesus was not a historical person, yet Christianity has the most adherents of any religion in the UK. Finding common ground with this majority is important for the socialist struggle, the Christian Left would be more than pleased to take part in future Left Unity agreements, but the first step is to set up dialogue with them. It could even be the case that those who are liberal minded or moderate Christians take a step towards the left when it is revealed that in some respects our views are not dissimilar. Those more read Christians however will realise that their messiah fulfilled Israelite law thus making it redundant, yet these same people will fall into the school of Christian thought that for centuries has ignored the words of their saviour and misread the passages of the Old Testament resulting in a brutal western history where equality is overtly ignored.

Equality is an ideal that both socialism and the Christian Left strive for; the time is long overdue; we must unite and open dialogue.

By James Morris

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Issues Close to Home - Scottish Traveller Community Marginalised (By Colin Turbett)

Scratch beneath the surface of opinion in Scottish rural communities and you will very probably find attitudes that would make an apologist for apartheid in South Africa blush.

There is little doubt that Scotland’s Gypsy Traveller community remain marginalised and misunderstood, and that prejudice against them is rife. As with most racism and bigotry this has its roots are in official attitudes that continue to this day.

At the Bobbin Mill site in Pitlochry, Perthshire, two large extended families face yet another harsh winter in dilapidated accommodation with no amenities on a site described in a recent BBC report as ‘squalid’.

I spoke to Shamus McPhee by phone from the warmth and comfort of my home - Shamus meantime was wrapped up against the cold in a candlelit caravan he estimated to be worth £36. Perth and Kinross are charging him Band A Council Tax, even though they provide no amenities - the separate charge for water and sewerage was only dropped after persistent campaigning on the basis that these were not provided.

In 2006 the Scottish Parliament pledged £97,500 for the provision of a new chalet for Shamus’s father. Also part of the deal the SNP led Perth and Kinross Council were to provide an additional 25 per cent for a communal washing facility and provision of basic services: water, electricity and sewerage.

Nearly two years on and the Council are still at the planning stages for these amenities that are taken for granted elsewhere. Their argument that Bobbin Mill was an ‘unauthorised site’ cut little ice with the residents who had been placed there sixty years previously by the Council’s forebears, and this reason for lack of action seems to have been quietly dropped. Meantime with nowhere to wash his body and clothes properly Shamus found himself unable to get work and an unsympathetic Job Centre stopped his benefit for six months.

He found himself unable to pay his Council Tax and given the lack of progress with the promised upgrade, has felt reluctant to start since. Local MSP and government minister, the SNP’s John Swinney has not visited Bobbin Mill for many years and seems uninterested in the problems on the site.

Bobbin Mill was established in 1946 as a racial experiment to assimilate Gypsy Travellers. The reports that describe this and similar experiments elsewhere in the UK talk of the problem of travellers being a ‘stain on the welfare state’ and use language similar to that used by the Nazis when describing misfits in their society (including gypsies) who eventually became the victims of the ‘final solution’.

As the residents were not considered fit to live in normal council houses they were given huts that soon fell apart in the harsh climate of the Scottish Highlands. The logic that this would somehow wean residents away from generations of travelling and into acceptable conformism was lost on the victims of the experiment.

Instead marginalisation was reinforced and it continues to this day.

Despite the fact that Shamus and four of his fellow residents at Bobbin Mill are actually university graduates, they feel as much the victims of prejudice and societal ignorance as their forebears.

In recent years Gypsy Travellers have been recommended for status as an officially recognised ethnic minority.

This could afford protection under the anti-racist laws, but as yet there have been no test cases through the Courts and the legal establishment seem reluctant to pursue the matter.

The Scottish Parliament see racial identity as a matter for Westminster so have argued that they can do nothing more.

The last Scottish Parliament Equal Opportunities Committee produced a report in 2005 that concluded that no progress seemed to have been made in the previous five years in addressing issues raised from the travelling community: accommodation, education, health, representation and engagement. Under the new SNP parliament interest and momentum seem to have been lost and the issues shelved.

Scottish Gypsy Travellers have a rich culture of story telling and singing that has been celebrated by socialist folklorists like Hamish Henderson. Their simple mobile lifestyle provided vital labour in past years in rural communities requiring seasonal labour.

Prejudice and misunderstanding have pushed them to the margins of society and like similar groups elsewhere in the world, alcohol abuse has taken its toll. Shamus and other Gypsy Travellers consider that there is a continued systemic effort to end their lifestyle and forcibly assimilate them into mainstream society.

He and his family can trace roots and language back across the world to Asia and a migration that happened centuries ago; they are not prepared to let their traditions go.

The SNP vision of a new inclusive Scotland has no resonance in Bobbin Mill.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Wyndford Occupation Ends!

'The group of courageous parents who have occupied Wyndford primary school since Friday 26th June have decided to end their sit-in, but to fight on against the injustices and education cuts by the Glasgow Labour council, more angry and determined than ever.

They left the building in tears – sad to have to leave the building to the tender mercies of the Labour council vandals, angry at what the council is inflicting on their kids and community.'

Quoting (Glasgow SOS Blog) where the rest of the article can be found.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Wyndford Primary School Occupation – The Fascist Microcosm

2009 has been a year of turmoil, the crisis in capitalism has caused unemployment to sore, with both families and individuals striving to survive. Society has been transmogrified with a spate of protests, and the voting in of extreme-right parties in the European Elections. Yet the difficulties in Glasgow have been manifold with 13 Primary Schools and 12 Nurseries being considered for closure. Whilst capitalism struggles on, the parents of Glasgow school children have been acting, re-occupying Wyndford Primary School on the 29th of June.

Whenever an organisation decides to occupy a building as a means of protest it is never long before a private security firm and the police are called in to ‘deal’ with the situation, their ‘objective’ to protect the public, the occupants and the building. Despite this the police are likely to leave, hassling the protesters to only a small extent, allowing the security firm to begin running operations. The firm has one objective; to wear down the occupants thus making it more likely for them to abandon their protest; this will aid the company by giving it a reputation for its effectiveness helping it to amass a greater amount of work. At no point are the interests of the public, the building or the occupants taken into mind.

This scenario is no different to the current occupation at Wyndford Primary School, where the security’s tactics have led to the creation of a Fascist Microcosm, in which the occupants’ basic human rights have been stripped away. What has manifested is the antithesis of our governments’ so called liberal ethos. The Security has ensured that geographic mobility is a thing of the past, nobody can enter the school grounds and once one has left there is no return, the only movement being for the collection of food parcels or to have a quiet cigarette. The ability to move around freely allows us to indulge in our basic rights, to practice a religion, to work, to see our children and so on, without freedom of movement the people within the occupation are stripped (though maybe willingly) of these rights. The occupants have become pseudo-slaves.

Surveillance is also being used at the occupation, so that criminal activity can be caught on film. Yet the public’s money is ill spent, as any damage done to the building is merely superficial for the council plans to demolish it. There is also little risk to public or occupant safety as the general feeling in the Maryhill area is one of support for a justified occupation. Surveillance instead acts to remove any sense of privacy the occupants may have, preventing any escalation in the protest in an attempt to criminalise it.

The limited access to the occupation means that one can only speculate on the other tactics that security is using, but from personal experience (occupying a building at the University of St Andrews in an attempt to stop the University’s discriminative policies towards Palestine), it will not be mere guess-work. It is likely that the security will be carrying out ‘safety checks’ where they will inspect the building during hours of sleep, checking that no property is being damaged regardless of the fact that the property is being demolished by the council. This disrupts the protesters sleep patterns making morale easier to destroy. In the St Andrews Occupation they even resorted to an early morning fire drill. They may also attempt to instate other useless rules, such as keeping the building clean with the removal of footwear, as well as constant reminders that the floor needs to be vacuumed etc. Yet these rules only act to motivate the occupiers further and compliance with them would do very little to distort or crush the occupants aims.

Nonetheless it is easy to forget that the security firm’s draconian ruling within the Wyndford Occupation stems directly from the council, in fact it seems that the Security are held quite highly in the minds of the occupants, probably because they offer extra company and on the basis that they are ‘only doing their jobs’. The St Andrews Occupation had a similar feeling; rightly we blamed the University for the Policies the security employed, as the Wyndford Occupiers rightly blame the council. The council has even pursued its folly without the use of puppets, cutting the water supply on the fourth day of the occupation, council workers deceived the occupants by stating they were there to ‘check out a gas leak’. Water is inherent to human survival and therefore this is the most outrageous step so far and a blatant attempt to force the occupiers out. The occupants will now need to rely on a greater amount of handouts and the lack of running water will cause hygiene levels to decrease.

However it would be too simplistic to state that the Wyndford Occupation is doomed due to the council’s onslaught of deception, rotten tactics and their brutal dismissal of human rights. Both the council and the security have not considered the possibility that an occupation is the modern day equivalent of taking up arms or even martyrdom; it indeed seems to be the ultimate manifestation of the occupant’s beliefs. They have also dismissed the fact that the Glasgow Save Our Schools Campaign has been a prime factor in rebuilding the Wyndford community, social cohesion is at an all time high, and this is unlikely to be quelled overnight. When ‘dancing on a volcano’ one finds that the politics of hope are amidst their neighbours, it would take an earth shattering blow to move the parents on the Wyndford Estate from their cause.

By James Morris