Category Archives: History

Seek And Ye Shall Find



Today is Samuel Johnson’s 308th birthday

Today is the distinguished Samuel Johnson’s 308th birthday. Born in Lichfield, Staffordshire, England on 18 September 1709, Johnson is described by the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography as “arguably the most distinguished man of letters in English history”. He is undoubtedly a key figure in the Enlightenment and the development of the modern English language.

When I was pondering the remarkable work of Johnson, I recalled a story within an oration by Christopher Hitchens. Addressing the issue of free speech, Hitchens describes a curious exchange shortly after the publication of Johnson’s first dictionary. The following short passage is from a transcript of Hitchens’ speech, made at Toronto’s Hart House Debating Club in November 2006.

When it was complete, Dr. Johnson was waited upon by various delegations of people to congratulate him, of the nobility, of the quality, of the Commons, of the Lords — and also by a delegation of respectable ladies of London, who tended on him at his Fleet Street lodgings, and congratulated him.

“Dr. Johnson,” they said, “we are delighted to find that you have not included any indecent or obscene words in your dictionary.”

“Ladies,” said Dr. Johnson, “I congratulate you on being able to look them up.”

To be clear, we undoubtedly live in a world in which there is great injustice, hatred and bigotry. But we spend far too much time arguing about trivialities, rather than focusing on what really matters. If you actively seek offence, then you shall surely find it.


Related podcast

#16 – On Liberty and Free Speech

Further reading

‘The Skeptical Libertarian’, Christopher Hitchens: “Freedom of speech means freedom to hate.”, [accessed 18 September 2017]

‘Who was Samuel Johnson? The father of the modern dictionary’s funniest entries’, The Telegraph, [accessed 18 September 2017]



Finding Peace

I have – as do so many others – mixed feelings about Martin McGuinness, who died today aged 66. We must not forget what he did in anger nor what he did for peace.

As an Anglo-Irishman, a United Ireland is likewise something which presents itself to me with a number of firm contradictions.

In any case, I hope for a permanent peace for the people of the island as a whole.

Homage to East Anglia

[This article is a companion piece for The Aidan Project Podcast episode, George Orwell Versus Alternative Facts, which is available at the footer of this page or by clicking here]


He who controls the past controls the future.

He who controls the present controls the past.

Nineteen Eighty-Four

The River Orwell is a small river which runs through East Anglia. The Atlantic Ocean is a foreboding sea which separates Albion from America. Across the latter, a surprise election result led to the inauguration on 20 January 2017 of Donald Trump as President of the United States. Eric Blair was born far from either of these waters in Motihari, India in 1903, but his novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, released in 1949, has once again dashed to the top of the literary bestsellers. The novel has been widely cited for uncanny comparisons with the new order across the Atlantic. Blair, who took the pen name ‘George Orwell’, was not right about everything, but he was right about all too much.

The question as to why Blair chose his famous nom de plume has never been settled to complete satisfaction. It has been speculated that the choice of forename was inspired by the patron Saint of England, St. George, but perhaps too much is made of this. Orwell, although often regarded as a quintessential Englishman, was a man of many contradictions, including those of national identity. Too many contradictions, indeed, to be certain of this link. Moreover, Orwell, though he distrusted intellectuals, was one himself, and would have known that St. George was no Englishman.

Much less spurious is the surname. To understand this, we need not venture out of Suffolk. Orwell’s connections to East Anglia were an important part of his private life, and it is all but certain that his famous surname flowed from the River Orwell. To explore the alias further, considering how combative Orwell was in his attacks on totalitarianism, one could regard ‘George Orwell’ less as a pseudonym, more of a nom de guerre.

When Orwell’s father retired from colonial service in India in 1921, Richard and Ida Mabel Blair settled in Southwold, Suffolk. Their son followed in Richard’s footsteps to serve the Empire abroad, having passed a training course in the town. But Orwell returned to Suffolk five years later; disillusioned, despairing Imperialism, and seeking a new direction.

Through his many challenges, not least the poor health that ultimately led to his death in 1950, he would often return to Southwold. With fish and chips, sea air and no fear of Big Brother, Orwell could take a gentle stroll along the pier, or a quick dip into the sea, and consider his next move. A Clergyman’s Daughter, published in 1935, was kindled by his time in Southwold, which is substituted for the invented Suffolk proxy of Knype Hill.

Orwell cared little for the novel and rather disowned Knype Hill, but never did he disown Southwold. Likewise, Southwold embraced Orwell. A tribute to a man so passionate about defending what he believed in (he even took a fascist bullet to the throat in Spain) takes pride of place on Southwold’s pier wall. And quite right, too. For Orwell, perhaps all English coastal towns were equal, but some English coastal towns were more equal than others.

‘George Orwell Versus Alternative Facts’

For more ways to listen, to subscribe to the podcast or to sign-up for e-mail updates when new content is available, please click here.

Challenging Bad Ideas

[This article is a companion piece for The Aidan Project Podcast episode, Left to Die: Whilst Liberals Slept, which is available at the footer of this page or by clicking here]


“Americans on both sides should find a way to address the lethal ideology of Islamism. This standoff is a distraction.”

Ayaan Hirsi Ali
9 February 2017

I have provided this companion piece to put to writing one of the most surreal examples of the Regressive Left‘s insatiable desire for self-strangulation and to address what I will simply call ‘bad ideas’. Enter the Southern Poverty Law Centre, an organisation which incomprehensibly included Maajid Nawaz and Ayaan Hirsi Ali on a list of dangerous extremists in October 2016.

The SPLC describes itself as ‘combating hate, intolerance, and discrimination through education and litigation’. There is no question that the SPLC has been responsible for a number of admirable successes in tackling intolerance, but it has now gone completely off course. Indeed, by adding Nawaz and Ali to a list of persons it alleges exploit terrorist attacks to demonize the Islamic faith, the left has struck a new low of inexplicable moral confusion.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a heroic icon of would-be Islamic Enlightenment. Fleeing an arranged marriage and the confines of a strict Islamic upbringing, Ali found asylum in the Netherlands, where she embraced liberal, democratic values. Ali, who admits in her book that in her indoctrinated youth she supported the Fatwa against Salman Rushdie, is now a brave campaigner for Islamic reform. A dangerous job, which she tackles with immense courage and intelligence.

Maajid Nawaz now operates a counter-radicalization group called Quilliam. Nawaz, a former Islamist himself, speaks with insight about Islam, and makes clear the distinctions between Muslims, Islamists and Jihadists. A distinction all too often confused by the real Islamaphobes, who address all groups as one. Unfortunately, to his enemies on the left, Nawaz is – in true regressive fashion – labelled as Islamophobic, while his opponents on the right infer that he is a secret Islamist on a mission of infiltration. What a sorry state of affairs.

The SPLC would certainly go on my list of regressive liberal organisations which have completely lost the plot. The poverty of progress could not be more pronounced than with this embarrassing own goal by the SPLC. What chance, I ask, does the left have in winning the moral and progressive argument when its own best assets of informed reason are themselves attacked as extremists? It is not only the right which have moved to post-truth, the left is at it as well.

The wider debate continues, and whilst the left argues with itself about Islam, immigration, healthcare, the economy – and anything else worth debating – there is only one winner, and it is not the left. To be sure, the left has always been at war with itself, but I simply do not believe it needs to be this way. We just need some honesty. Real honesty. Perhaps even uncomfortable honesty. We urgently need to have difficult conversations that do not confuse the true essence of liberal democracy. Bad ideas must be challenged by good ones. And there are some really bad ideas out there.

Perhaps, even with the left totally confused and impotent, Trump would still have won, and Brexit would still have happened. However, at least with a sensible, honest left, there would be a united opposition to Trump’s bigotry.  As it happens, large sections of the left are willing to defend bigotry and misogyny, as long, of course, if it is done in the name of good-old-fashioned religion. But there is no such tolerance for the President. Would Trump’s infamous “grab ’em by the pussy” utterance be okay if it was merely the sincere expression of a deeply held belief based on his closely observed religious faith? Is this not ever so slightly patronising and hypocritical to condemn Trump but let the zealots off from their nonsense because of their supernatural beliefs? Let us be clear: neither Trump nor the devout should get a pass for bad ideas. It is quite proper to expect more from all members of society. There is nothing more regressive than letting bad ideas slide for fear of causing offence. You should never have to apologise for bad ideas.

We must be able to say honestly, in the 21st century, that desiring to throw homosexuals off buildings for the “crime” of their sexuality is wrong, regardless of religious belief. I am not an Islamaphobe for saying that. If you are willing to defend the right of any religion to hold such pernicious views then you are part of the problem. If you want honest debate and want to help challenge the nonsense of the Regressive Left, please do share my message. Please also support Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Maajid Nawaz.

‘Left to Die: Whilst Liberals Slept’

For more ways to listen, to subscribe to the podcast or to sign-up for e-mail updates when new content is available, please click here.

V for Violence: The French Revolution

I can’t wait for all the conspirators to be liquidated.

Collot d’Herbois

The French Revolution is undoubtedly an epochal moment in the development of modern democratic principles. The question, therefore, regarding the role of violence in the Revolutionary process, to which modern democracy owes so much, is important. It is only natural to consider how a movement inspired by the Enlightenment can be made sense of when the modern understanding of terrorism is itself rooted within the French Revolution.

However, assessing the role of the violence is, perhaps surprisingly, uncompromisingly simple. The bloodshed, unwaveringly led by Maximilien Robespierre (1758-1794) during the Terror, served to emphatically enforce the general will. This fundamental explanation can be broken down further into three contributory factors. Firstly, the violence arose from a desperate desire to protect the Revolution at any cost. Secondly, it sought to purify the Revolution from the contamination of its enemies. Thirdly, as the Revolution encountered enemies at the gate, in addition to those being mercilessly suppressed within, the violence also served to mobile Revolutionary France’s war effort. Certainly, for the Revolution’s achievements to be sustained, blood had to be spilt.

The historiographical interpretation of the violence within the Revolution is commonly explained as having the overarching ambition of enforcing the general will, as perceived by George Mosse. This is a convincing summary of a Revolution which was longer sustained and more violent than any that came before it. This is not to say that the violence was part of a grand plan, as Stanley Hoffman explained. Considering the lack of experience the Revolutionaries had in governing, Hoffman’s explanation of a slide into violence is a persuasive understanding of the escalation from rhetoric to terror. Historians from the Jacobin or Marxist camps have drawn parallels between the achievements of Robespierre and Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924). Lenin certainly recognised the value of terror from studying the French Revolution.

Robespierre’s writings form a treatise on the use of violence to enforce the general will. Robespierre saw violence as indispensable. His political opponents felt the same. The only divergence was which faction would triumph. The unleashing of the Terror and the September Massacres were not ideas discussed on the tennis court during that lofty day of June 20 1789. As the Revolution evolved, a hatred of foreign invaders, aristocrats, priests and prostitutes, combined with a failing bourgeois Assembly, gave rise to a truly murderous method of Revolution. Violence, explained Simon Schama, was the energising spring from which all the Revolutionaries drank.

The Revolution had to be protected, and a violent obsession with blood, death and sacrifice were essential components in its mentality. There could only be sanguinary consequences of such an obsession. When the Bastille was assailed in an act of mob violence on 14 July 1789, the fuse of violence had been lit. The symbolism of destroying a royal edifice, which had been assaulted in the desire for ammunition, and then annihilating its protectors, was obvious. The gloves of the Revolution were off, as, in fact, were the heads of its opponents. With the fall of the Bastille, further inspiration was given for additional instances of revolt.

Shortly after the signing of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in August 1789, the National Assembly had established committees to report on potential insurrectionary plots. Early optimism for rapid democratisation was foiled by political wrangling and a lack of co-operation by King Louis XVI (1754-1793), leading to a standoff between a new assembly and its intended constitutional monarch. Under pressure, the king’s only hope for exerting control lay with the army. With this in mind, on 10 August 1792, a 20,000 strong insurrectionary force launched an attack on the Tuileries. Resistance was brutally overcome. With the fall of the palace, came the fall of royal authority. The sans-culottes‘ involvement in the Revolution peaked with this show of force. Key as they were to the overthrow of the monarchy, the sans-culotes had also gained political power. The mob was afforded acquiescence for their goals because their inclination for violence served the Revolutionary desire for consolidating the general will.

The government moved to create a climate of fear, allowing them to engender a proclivity for violence from its supporters. Now no longer merely an unremarkable lawyer from northern France, Robespierre was playing a key role in an agitated Paris. Robespierre had switched from being an opponent of capital punishment to boldly declare, “Regretfully I speak this fatal truth – Louis must die because the nation must live.” Robespierre, on the eve of joining the Committee of Public Safety in 1793, wrote a catechism which stated that traitors and conspirators must be punished, and criminals who outraged liberty must be made a terrible example of. To protect the Revolution, Robespierre moved to purify the nation, balefully declaring after the attempted flight of the king:

What scares me, Gentlemen, is precisely which seems to reassure everyone else. Here I need you to hear me out, I say once again, what scares me is what reassures all the others: it is that since this morning, all our enemies speak the same language as us…look about you, share my fear, and consider how all now wear the same mask of patriotism.

Maximilien Robespierre

Following the execution of Louis XVI on 21 January 1793, a crisis emerged amidst military defeat, widespread rebellion, economic turmoil, and unhappiness among the sans-culotte. Robespierre was concerned about traitors in disguise, who he suspected were the true leaders of the opposition. Indeed, just a year on from the beginning of the Revolution, Robespierre’s paranoia had been noted within the Parisian press and by fellow deputies. What better way to purify than by violence, that cure-all remedy.

Robespierre’s view of purification did not arise from God. The basis for his quasi-religious doctrine arose from the philosophes, as noted by Francois Furet. To be sure, Montesquieu’s (1689-1755) writings on vertu deeply influenced Robespierre, who argued that terror wielded by the virtuous was the refuge of the poor. Robespierre’s desire was to purify the Revolution by removing its pollutants, although as the terror escalated, what constituted impure became more difficult to pinpoint. Ultimately, Robespierre understood that he owed his political power to the violence of the people. He needed their hands and sharp instruments to operate on France’s gangrenous limbs.

Another influential philosophe, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), wrote of his wish to see reform, though not revolution. Such philosophes believed that superior principles could be discovered in an era of progress; a world view with significant democratic implications. The impetus of the work of Rousseau promulgated an understanding that, if it were not for the traitors and criminals, division and conflict, themselves unnatural, would be avoided. With this understanding, there could be violent Revolution and yet no problem of a contradiction with Rousseau’s wish for peaceful reform.


The tennis court oath of 20 June 1789. Such glorious, inspirational beginnings, but much bloodshed was to follow.

The violence, meted out dispassionately as it was, certainly focused on its enemies. As far as Robespierre was concerned, a friend could quickly become an impurity to be eliminated. Antoine-Claire Thibaudeau (1765-1855), Robespierre’s fellow Montagnard, noted the death penalty of Robespierre’s former allies, Camille Desmoulins (1760-1794) and Georges Danton (1759-1794), was handed down simply “for having spoken of moderation”. Thomas Paine (1737-1809), who had argued that the king should be exiled and not executed, was only spared the guillotine by a misplaced mark of chalk. To be sure, the greatest number of executions occurred in areas that were either home to federalism or blighted by civil war. Moreover, in departments which were not battlegrounds, there were no executions at all. To address the point still further, in several other districts, executions ran into less than double figures. In a time of war and Revolution, many innocent people were also slaughtered, but the violence rained down principally on the enemies of the Revolution.

To be sure, a potent Counter-Revolution was formed by forces from within and without France, who had their reasons to attempt to scupper the movement. Whilst the demise of Louis XVI pleased many within the Revolution, it led to the creation of many a foe, both in France and further afield. For those who were already against the Revolution, it strengthened their resolve. But resistance was not only futile, worse still, it gave the Revolutionaries greater impetus to enforce bloodier despotism. Mosse succinctly described the Committee’s mode of rule as “the despotism of liberty against tyranny” to target its enemies. For the most part, these enemies were real, though sometimes they were imagined. High spirits could occasionally mean there was little time for such distinctions. Through violence and the fear of violence, compliance was forced on an uneasy public, who were manipulated into being part of the Committee’s inclusive democracy.

Two rather mediocre attempts to assassinate Robespierre in late May 1794 led to the Committee responding with a streamlined Revolutionary tribunal. This updated dispensing of justice did not allow for a defending counsel, and a decision could be rendered on the grounds of the defendant’s moral disposition, guided by the jury’s conscience. If the accused were convicted, there could be no other punishment than death. When it came to purification, there was simply no time to waste. Writing to Robespierre back in November 1793, Collot d’Herbois (1749-1796), administering the Terror in Lyon, reported enthusiastically, “I can’t wait for all the conspirators to be liquidated.”

In the spring of 1792, to arrest a distracted internal scene of unrest and disunity, France had declared war. This brazen declaration sharpened many minds towards the Revolutionary cause. You are either with us, or against us. Threatened from within and menaced from abroad, violence was a prerequisite. The existential concern was not simply the threat of a foreign incursion causing a lack of prestige or a cessation of territory. The war had to be won to consolidate the political and social victories thus far gained. The role of this violence was to keep France on a nimble, patriotic, uncompromising war-footing. The French, for the most part, were suitably inflamed for the task at hand, and embraced war in the spirit of ‘conquer or die’. There was a pronounced increase in violence following the foreign invasion, with patriots afraid to leave Paris to fight for fear of a Counter-Revolution in the capital.

The ill-advised Brunswick Manifesto, which threatened a foreign invasion should Louis XVI be harmed, was an inadvertent incitement of Revolutionary enthusiasm. French patriots did not take kindly to this external meddling in their affairs. It was an ideal rallying call for violent opposition. The Revolutionaries utilised this feeling of resistance to whip up a violent response to enemies at home as well as abroad. Indeed, the French people were not wrong in suspecting that the king was a traitor. Louis XVI had begun to regard the work of the Assembly as merely a stop-gap. Furthermore, it was also widely believed that Marie Antoinette (1755-1793) was betraying military secrets to Austria. The duplicitousness of the royal couple would ultimately lead to their deaths. All were equal under the purifying guillotine.

Supervising the levée, deputies on mission were sent out from Paris to the provinces. The deputies were tasked with overseeing a smooth process of conscription, but also with the responsibility for ensuring that any disloyalty within the army command would be flushed out. The representatives also played a part in unleashing violence on non-conformists. Indeed, to some, Revolutionary ambitions were alien concepts which offered little. Unconvinced peasants in the countryside were resentful of the attack on their way of life. Conscription served to push them over the edge. The government was not ready for the scale of the insurrection, where resistance to conscription transformed apathy into anger. Middling nobles, too, were also opposed to the changes within France, and the issue of toleration of Protestantism was an especially contentious issue. The violence employed by the Revolutionaries was not only about securing support from patriots, but also crushing those who were admonished as traitors.

The Committee of Public Safety were young men leading a Revolution with a perilously difficult task of controlling its direction. Akin to a scared child holding on desperately to the lead of a wild, snarling dog, violence and terror were the easiest solutions. Certainly, this method was effective. But, as with much in life, you can have too much of a good thing. Eventually, Robespierre’s autocracy lost touch with the nation. The regime believed they could simply unleash the Terror on its critics to remain in control. Eventually, the violence ceased to be effective. Its role to enforce the general will was no longer working – it had become Robespierre’s will, not the will of an increasingly cynical, exhausted France.

Looking to establish control, the Convention undertook stringent measures to bolster its power, with the result being the unleashing of extreme violence. Robespierre and his allies had protected the Revolution. They had purified the nation. And they had pushed the nation’s sons into total war to defend France. But on July 28 1794, the Robespierre faction with the Committee were themselves eliminated, thereby removing their enforcement of the general will. Indeed, much like a tatty wicker basket receiving a freshly severed head, the violence had served its bloody purpose.

Bibliography for V for Violence: The French Revolution

V. Erlenbusch, ‘Terrorism and revolutionary violence: the emergence of terrorism in the French Revolution’, Critical Studies On Terrorism, 8, 2015, pp.193-210.

H. Gough, The Terror in the French Revolution, (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 1998).

J. Hardman, The French Revolution Sourcebook, (London: Arnold, 2002).

C. Hitchens, Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man: A Biography, (Tantor Audio, 2007), ch.2.

S. Hoffmann, ‘A Note on the French Revolution and the Language of Violence’, Past & Present, 116, 1987, pp.149-156).

G. Mosse, The French Revolution, iTunes University, University of Wisconsin Madison, 22 May 2012. Note: Originally recorded for the WHA radio series, University of the Air.

P. McPhee, French Revolution, 1789-1799, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).

P. Pilbeam, ‘Revolution, Restoration(s) and beyond’, in M. Alexander (ed.), French History Since Napoleon, (London: Arnold, 1999).

R. Scurr, Fatal Purity: Robespierre and the French Revolution, (London: Vintage, 2007).

D. Sutherland, The Modern Scholar: Liberty and Its Price: Understanding the French Revolution, (Recorded Books, 2009).

D.G. Wright, Revolution & Terror in France 1789-95, Second edition, (London: Longman, 1990).

A. Zamoyski, Phantom Terror: The Threat of Revolution and the Repression of Liberty 1789-1848, Audiobook edition, (Harper Collins, 2014).

Thanks also to E. DeWald for corrections.

Palestine: Only God Knows

[This article is a follow-up piece to The Aidan Project Podcast episode, The Demise of the Two-State Solution, which is available at the footer of this article or by clicking here.]

The Oslo Peace Accords (1993)

The Oslo Peace Accords (1993)

Israel is not the biggest problem in the Middle East, by a long shot. But you wouldn’t know that from the disproportionate way in which the UN has treated the country.”

Maajid Nawaz
29 December 2016

The dispute between Israel and the Palestinians remains as contentious as ever, but other issues in the Middle East in 2016, principally the conflict in Syria, momentarily sidelined the Palestinian question from the front pages. However, the recent vote of the United Nations Security Council to declare Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories as illegal has again raised the conflict’s media profile. The UNSC decision was only made possible due to then US President, Barack Obama, making the controversial call that the US would not use its veto to counteract the motion. The Israel-Palestine question gained further traction when then President-elect, Donald Trump, said he would reverse Obama’s policy. If we are approaching anything resembling peace, if not order, in Syria, following the truce brokered by Russia and Turkey, it could be that the Middle East’s big story in 2017 will again be this long-running dispute between Israeli and Palestine.

The nation of Israel itself was created in 1948, when the United Kingdom ended its mandate of Palestine, which it had held since 1917 following the Balfour Declaration. The Declaration had installed Palestine as a home for Jews. The key rationale for Britain handing Palestine back to the United Nations was essentially to focus on domestic matters, the Empire having been ravaged by war. Britain could no longer hold on to Palestine; attacks on British soldiers by Zionist terrorists certainly helped foster a feeling that this was a territory no longer worth holding. Of course, one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. I would have no hesitation in calling a Palestinian who blows himself to pieces on a crowded bus in Tel Aviv a terrorist, but I would also freely refer to the 1946 attack on the King David hotel by Irgun (The National Military Organization in the Land of Israel) as an act of terrorism. On July 22 1946, 91 people of various nationalities were killed, and 46 injured, following the bombing by this right-wing Zionist group.

This example is not given to be provocative, but to illustrate that perspective is everything. In both cases, I feel acts of terrorism were committed. Others may feel one of these examples to be completely justifiable (according to their religious, nationalist or political persuasions), whilst labelling the other example as unjust. To each their own.

Since the political existence of Israel as a nation state, it has been attacked on numerous occasions by its Arab neighbours, and has been the victim of countless terrorist attacks. Ironically, the results of these wars have generally been victories and additional territory acqusitions for Israel. You will often hear the term “1967 borders”, which refers to the Six Day War in which Israel captured the Gaza Strip, Sinai, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights, soundly defeating a coalition of Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq. You mess with the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) at your peril. Not only do you get a beating, but you leave with less than you started with.

The territory of Israel comprises some of the most holy lands in existence for Jews, Muslims and Christians alike. Depending on your interpretation of history and how far you wish to go back in time, there are numerous claims to the land, and most crucially, that of Jerusalem itself. Despite a long-term peace process and the general reconciliation of Israel with Egypt and Jordan, Israelis and Palestinians have failed to reach a final peace agreement. Indeed, it has been complicated from the very beginning of Israel’s statehood. There were factions within the Jewish faith that were opposed to Jews returning to what is now Israel at the time of the Balfour Declaration due to religious objections. Literalists believe that Jews should only return to the Holy Land once God has given a clear signal that it was time to do so.

Once again, religion, as with so many conflicts, plays the most significant part of this age-old struggle, as it does with Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, Muslims and Hindus in Kashmir, as it did with Catholics, Orthodox Christians and Muslims in the former Yugoslavia, to name but a few of many depressing examples. The primary issue dividing Israelis and Palestinians, from a non-secular perspective at least, is that of the Holy Land. There is no question that history will not judge such a petty dispute favourably, but it is a problem endemic within religious faith. It is quite clear that if faith were not an issue, there would not even be a territorial dispute to speak of, because the Zionist movement for a home in the holy lands would never have occurred. It all appears so obscene to this non-theist, but had I been born in Ramallah or Jerusalem, I accept that I may very well feel differently. However, this says far more about the mindless indoctrination of innoncent children than about my particular gullibility.

After 1993, with the ambitious Oslo peace process, Israel recognized the Palestinian Liberation Organisation as the representative of the Palestinian people, though, rather importantly, Israel does not recognize the State of Palestine. In return for the concession of recognising the PLO, it was agreed that Palestinians would promote peaceful co-existence, renounce violence and promote recognition of Israel among their own people. However, despite Yasser Arafat’s official renunciation of terrorism and the recognition of Israel, some Palestinian groups continue to practice and advocate violence against civilians and do not recognize Israel as a legitimate political entity. Two years after his efforts in Oslo, Israel’s Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, was assassinated by a domestic assailant as a curt thank you for his attempts to seek peace with the Palestinians.

Since 2006, the Palestinian side has been fractured by conflict between the two major factions: Fatah, the traditionally dominant party, and its later electoral challenger, Hamas. Indeed, in the important eyes of the West, much harm has been done to the Palestinian cause by the rise of Hamas. The latest round of peace negotiations began in July 2013 but were quickly suspended without a hint of progress. Many attempts have been made to broker a two-state solution, which would officially sanction the birth of an independent Palestinian state. In polls conducted around a decade ago, the majority of both Israelis and Palestinians preferred the two-state solution over any other as a means of resolving the conflict. Moreover, a majority of Jews saw the Palestinian demand for an independent state as just. Regardless, a lack of trust and no shortage of disagreements have prevented meaningful progress.

Counter-radicalisation expert, Maajid Nawaz, wrote a much shared article for the Daily Beast in December 2016. Nawaz, a former extremist, but now deeply involved in steering others from this deadly path, wrote a thought-provoking piece, which noted, correctly in my view, a degree of hypocrisy in the way in which Israel is handled by the wider world, and how the Palestinians are not given enough intellectual credit.

Nawaz wrote: “Israel is not the biggest problem in the Middle East, by a long shot. But you wouldn’t know that from the disproportionate way in which the UN has treated the country.”

Referring to the Jewish presence of 500,000 settlers in any future Palestinian state being deemed an obstacle to the two state solution, Nawaz asked a pointed question: are Palestinians not capable of building a multiethnic state just like Israelis? Nawaz reflected, “Is this how low the standard is to which Western leftists hold Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims?” Nawaz continued, “We who have been pro-Palestine have become our own worst enemies. When new thinking on any issue is instantly labeled treacherous, only inward looking violently inbred and dogmatic ideologies such as jihadism can thrive.”

Away from the political talks, humanitarian considerations or social challenges, only God knows how to solve this mess. After all, he created the problem. Or rather, mankind created God, and then man created the problem in his image. It is near impossible to reason with anyone, Jewish, Muslim… Scientologist; with anyone whose worldview is based on blind dogmatic faith. Mankind needs to wake-up to what is real and what is simply make-believe. We need to stop forcing this nonsense on children. As Christopher Hitchens said, “Religion poisons everything.”

If you enjoyed this podcast companion, please let me know and I will look at producing more of these.

For more ways to listen, to subscribe to the podcast or to sign-up for e-mail updates when new content is available, please click here.

History: The Executioner of Bad Ideas

The question of capital punishment has re-emerged following the death sentence passed down to the reprehensible Dylann Roof on 10 January 2017. Roof, 22, had been convicted of the appalling murder of nine African-Americans in a downtown Charleston, South Carolina church on 17 June 2015.

Roof, it seems clear to me, is a hopeless, lost cause, much in the same way as Anders Breivik, who displayed a similar, icy lack of remorse for his crimes. But as hopeless, pathetic, repressed, undeveloped and unfeeling as Roof is, and will likely always remain, to execute a person on the state’s authority is deeply troubling. But this article is not about Dylann Roof, as should become clear.

Death, in some cases, is justified. A death resulting from a legitimate act of self-defence, or the adoption of euthanasia by an informed mind who no longer wishes to suffer are two such examples. But the state, when no longer threatened by the incarcerated individual, has no moral justification to pull the lever or press the button to end a life.

Why do people still wish to see other humans put to death? Is it a religious holdover, which is why it is so prevalent in the more religious countries, such as the United States and Saudi Arabia, than more secular ones, including Norway, home to Brevik, who is serving a life-term? An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth is typical of biblical vengeance. The prevalence of Sharia Law is undoubtedly the cause of the abhorrent public beheadings in Mecca. For this writer, however, whilst decapitation is more obscene than a lethal injection, it is just that: more obscene. For humans to kill other humans as punishment is an angry display of snarling teeth and misplaced virtue. We feel we are cleansing the planet, but we are simply perpetuating the violence. We are harming our argument that murder is unquestionably wrong. Murder is wrong if I do it in my spare time, or if the state pays me to do it on their time. The legality does not make it right, it simply makes it legal.

If you are reading this article in 3017, I am quite sure you will be baffled at the continuing practice of state execution in this writer’s era. You will doubtless scratch your head at other aspects of our behaviour, too. “I cannot believe you continued to eat animals despite their suffering”, “I cannot believe you continued to burn fossil fuels and that some of you denied climate change”, and “I really cannot believe you elected the celebrity hotel-guy as President.” This is how we, in 2017, look back at the witch trials and in not sailing too far towards the horizon for fear of falling off the other side of the world. Eventually, capital punishment will end, because human development, as slow as it seems to us in our short life-terms, is generally progressive. The rise of religion, especially fundamentalism, and fascism, is very concerning, but for the most part, humans do become better, more enlightened humans in the long passage of time.

Be honest with yourself. You know state executions are wrong. I will be honest with you. If a member of my family were murdered, I would want death for the perpetrator. There is no question about that. Maybe, in a fit of rage, I would seek to enact this personally. But the state should operate on moral principles that set the tone for the society we want for our children. If life is about anything, is it not about making society more progressive and enlightened for our descendants? Keeping a man, or a woman, locked-up for years on end is a huge burden on the state, but morality is priceless. Dylann Roof, in some abstract sense, deserves to die. But the state has no moral authority to execute him. Nobody ever said that morality is inexpensive. Much of what a state does in the public good, such as education, pensions, health care and social security, is expensive. Not killing people is also expensive. But I am quite sure that our reader from 3017 will quite understand, and will wonder why we took so long to form the same opinion.