Robert Fisk and the New Contemptibles

In the run up to the century mark since the First World War there are going to be lots of articles, features, postures, and controversies. It’s already begun.

Here’s Archbishop Cranmer’s colleague, Brother Ivo, having a pop at Robert Fisk’s piece in the Independent, entitled “Poppycock – or why remembrance rituals make me see red”:

It has begun. Our “liberal progressive” friends have embarked upon a scheme to shape the narrative for next year’s commemoration of the Great War.

As those who plan the year prepare their contributions, it is hoped that scholarship and perspective will be the dominant virtues, especially when it comes to the men who won the war. None bears the brunt of insult and disdain more than Field Marshal Douglas Haig.

His reputation remains controversial: all military leaders will – and should – have their actions scrutinised to learn the lessons of their successes and their failures. There is little doubt that Sandhurst will have studied such matters with care and proportionality, but Brother Ivo’s fear is that that the popular media may still be stuck in the Oh! What a Lovely War/Blackadder mode of leftwing agitprop.

Such is the shallowness of much popular culture, however, that Brother Ivo saw one young man asserting that he could not wear a poppy because it derived from John McRae’s famous poem, and had been selected as the symbol of remembrance by Douglas Haig’s wife.

That it had been hallowed and accepted by generations of heroes, and that McRae was a serving officer who gave his own life for his king and country seemed to have eclipsed all else. There was no suggestion that there was anything wrong per se with the field poppy symbolising the lost generations, or that there was a better one: the simple fact that it could be linked to the Field Marshal rendered all further intelligent consideration redundant.

Brother Ivo subsequently realised that the young man was parroting the line of Robert Fisk in a piece published in The Independent which had Yasmin Alibhai-Brown praising his “bravery” for writing it.

It is not in the slightest brave: it is weapons grade, highly self-regarding, pseudo-moralistic cant of the highest order. And doubtless it will not be the last.

If one has the stomach to read it to the end, it should be done, for it sets the bar for the level of ignorance and prejudice from the liberal establishment with which we shall have to contend in the months ahead, as we enter the time of commemoration.

I fear the author is right, in more ways than one.

He also says:

In the likes of Mr Fisk and Ms Alibhai-Brown we have the ‘New Contemptibles”, who will tread on the sensitivities of the grieving, and who cannot allow remembrance and mourning to be untainted by political controversy as they impose their spiteful worldview upon an activity that most would prefer to keep open and inclusive.

Those who intrude into our remembrances and adopt a term like “poppycock” to describe the holy moments of honouring the sacrifice of our military are indeed beneath contempt.


He adds this snippet (about Haig):

What is little known by the generations educated by left-wing academics is that his funeral attracted more mourners than lined the streets of London for the funeral of Princess Diana. His men respected him and honoured his passing. That is not insignificant, and ought to give pause for thought to those whose judgements are formed by their own prejudices or popular culture.

Not all of his alleged mistakes were irrational.

We need to remember that the Great War, above all, confirmed Napoleon’s dictum that no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy. That was especially the case in the first war fought with 20th-century firepower directed by 19th-century communications.

If Haig instructed his 1916 citizen army to walk towards the enemy it was as much to do with his concern that they might rush into their own barrage as over-confidence that he had mastered the artillery lessons from German successes at Verdun. Even when the very real possibility for the much-hoped-for cavalry breakthrough occurred at High Wood on the 1st July 1916, there did not exist the communications to exploit the planned opportunity in the time available. The war was fought on an unprecedentedly vast scale with command structures that no one could have directed significantly better.

On the frequently referenced issue of the executed soldiers, Haig commuted 90% of the 3000 death sentences passed, and 37 of the 309 shot at dawn were executed for murder which would have seen them hanged in a civilian Court. This generation may differ in its values, but the man was no Judge Jeffreys.

Because of his leadership, the British Army held its discipline and cohesion throughout the agony of the conflict. Unlike the armies of Germany, France, Russia, Italy, Turkey or Austria, the British Army never broke, and neither did it significantly mutiny. Every military professional of the time and since counts that a remarkable achievement.

Where his reputation is largely overlooked, however, is in his role after the war.

We are so habituated to our British way of Remembrance that we do not pause to think that alternatives existed. They may have been old style Imperialists, but men like Haig and Kipling ushered in a modern and very egalitarian approach to commemorating the sacrifices made.

All Commonwealth War Grave headstones are identical. Our war memorials list alphabetically and there is no greater respect given to the Major General or the Baronet’s son than the local rat catcher. The red poppy is for each and every one of them, and recalls the sacrifice of non-combatant Quakers and VC alike. It is the intrusion of the white poppy that imports difference and division to the occasion.

In all the traditional trappings of Remembrance, the Commonwealth soldiery from all nations, cultures and religions are accorded identical respect. This is easily overlooked by those who have never seen a segregated War Memorial in the USA.

Right. And proper.

You can read the whole thing, here.

If you are too lazy to do that, here’s the final salvo:

…Those heroes and ordinary women were not deterred from paying their respects by the presence of the highest in the land. Doubtless, in later life, those widows wore their little paper poppies, which Mr Fisk loftily disdains to wear because he has a better perspective and superior judgement. If it was good enough for them, Brother Ivo is honoured to follow their example.

Their husbands and sons were those who made up the ranks of the Grimsby Chums, the Accrington Pals, the Glasgow Tramways Battalion, the Post Office Rifles, and many more groups of patriotic loyal friends. Whenever Brother Ivo comes to remember, he brings to mind these ordinary, uncomplicated folk, and stands before the Cross of Sacrifice in awe with thanksgiving, calling to mind another who shared their path.

Robert Fisk and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown don’t want to be associated with Pals and Chums: they prefer acolytes.

Brother Ivo is Christian enough to assume that Mr Fisk would not have stood before those 100 grieving widows in Westminster Abbey to declare their observance “poppycock”. There are still many grieving today, from both old and newer conflicts, for whom these rituals are their best and most comforting expression of inexpressible loss. If Mr Fisk would not say these things to their faces, he would be best not to say them at all.

Score one for Cranmer and Ivo. I think Fisk is wrong on all counts. But it will not do his trendy credentials any harm. Unfortunately, there are going to be more pieces like this.

How deep is that hate?


Blogger Archbishop Cranmer is well on form this week, with a reminder – in effect – about the extent of apparent apathy towards anti-semitism within certain parts of the Christian establishment. Let the Archbishop take the floor:

Board of Deputies of British Jews vs. Rev’d Dr Stephen Sizer

In October 2012 the Board of Deputies of British Jews filed a formal complaint with the Church of England against the Rev’d Dr Stephen Sizer, under the Clergy Discipline Measure. Almost a year on, there has still been no final ruling.

The Board summarised its complaint as follows:

The matters complained of disclose a clear and consistent pattern of activity on the part of Rev Sizer. The evidence indicates that he spends time trawling dark and extreme corners of the internet for material to add to his website. Rev Sizer re-publishes such items to support the target of his polemical writing, while at the same introducing his readers to the racist and antisemitic websites from where he draws his material. As the evidence demonstrates, there are five instances of this over the 11 month period from July 2011 to June 2012.

The Clergy Discipline Measure can lead to the loss of a minister’s licence. With that possibility looming, one might expect Dr Sizer to manifest a degree of heightened objectivity if not scrupulous fairness when writing further about Israel. Surely a Christian minister would be so concerned about the possibility of losing his licence to minister that he would avoid saying anything that could possibly be construed as anti-Semitic? He knows, by now, that Jewish people may well interpret slanderous demonisation of the world’s only Jewish state as an expressions of anti-Semitism. And yet it seems he just can’t help himself.

In an article published this month titled ‘Christian Zionism: The New Heresy that Undermines Middle East Peace’, Dr Sizer writes of ‘Israel’s apartheid colonialist agenda’ and ‘Israel’s racist and apartheid policies.’ Such statements might be excusable if they emanated from the mind of a secondary school politics student or a Liberal Democrat MP, but in Dr Sizer’s case we cannot assume that he is simply poorly informed because, as he says in the article, he has carried out ’10 years of postgraduate research’ in this area.

So there can be little doubt that he is fully aware that Arab citizens in Israel (20 per cent of the population) have the vote, and can be represented by Arab parties. He is fully aware that Israeli Arabs have freedom of movement and can do all the things alongside Israeli Jews that black people in South Africa were forbidden to do alongside the white – such as use public transport and public libraries; eat in restaurants; and visit cinemas, theatres, swimming pools and public beaches.

There is in fact no basis whatsoever to Dr Sizer’s ‘apartheid’ slander, as the CAMERA website patiently and meticulously demonstrates (and His Grace addressed some years ago). It would be perfectly understandable if Jewish observers suspected an anti-Semitic motive behind Dr Sizer’s promotion of a claim that he knows to be untrue. After all, in addition to the internet trawling identified by the Board of Deputies, he has in the past made anti-Semitic comments regarding Monica Lewinsky and Muammar Gaddafi. His one-sidedness is so extreme that he once called for the release of an anti-Semitic hate preacher and convicted Hamas fundraiser (held in Britain after passing through border control despite a ban on his entry), while simultaneously campaigning for the arrest of Tzipi Livni, the democratically elected leader of the moderate opposition party in the Israeli Parliament (who was visiting Britain at the invitation of the UK government).

Perhaps worst of all, he once accused Israel of perpetuating the Holocaust by its treatment of the Palestinians, a statement for which he has never apologised. Where Jews are concerned, Dr Sizer’s heart is cauterised.

He leads an Evangelical church – Christ Church Virginia Water. The group that is best placed to show the Jewish community that such extremism has no place in Christianity is the South East Gospel Partnership, the Evangelical network to which Christ Church Virginia Water belongs. This group is chaired by Rev’d William Taylor of St Helen’s Bishopsgate, and its Committee is made up of Rev’d Iain Broomfield of Christ Church Bromley, Rev’d Richard Coekin of the Co-Mission network of churches, Rev’d Charles Dobbie of Holy Trinity Lyonsdown, Nick McQuaker of Christ Church Haywards Heath, Brian O’Donoghue of St Helen’s Bishopsgate, Rev’d John Ross of Farnham Baptist Church, and Rev’d Simon Smallwood of St George’s Dagenham.

Everyone knows how quickly this group would have broken ties with a partner church which had begun to teach that gay sex was acceptable to God. But how have they reacted to Dr Sizer’s incessant slandering of the only Jewish state in the world? How have they responded to his anti-Semitic quips and conspiracy theories; to the extremism of his campaigning; to his trawling of anti-Semitic internet sites?

They have said that they see ‘no justifiable grounds for breaking gospel partnership with Stephen or Christ Church Virginia Water.’

In recent years there have been numerous cases of people in public life facing discipline for making precisely the same kind of comments as Dr Sizer: Liberal Democrat Baroness Jenny Tonge; the journalist Helen Thomas; Liberal Democrat David Ward MP; and a pro-Palestinian campaigner named Kenneth O’Keefe. A Greek athlete was even banned from the London 2012 Olympics for making a racist joke comparable to Dr Sizer’s remark about Monica Lewinsky. So the South East Gospel Partnership has taken a position toward anti-Semitism that is seemingly more lax than the world’s.

It’s true that sometimes the world can go into a McCarthyite moral overdrive. Someone might choose to argue that the same has happened in the area of anti-Semitism. But if that is why the Committee of the South East Gospel Partnership is taking no action, the Jewish community deserves to hear that explanation. Otherwise the Committee’s unwillingness to act in accordance with widely-accepted precedents will be viewed as apathy toward the concerns of British Jews, or even as approval of what Dr Sizer has said and done.

It is not every day that an ethnic minority’s representative organisation seeks legal redress regarding an Evangelical vicar. The SEGP Committee needs to rise to the occasion.

When did Evangelicals forget Jesus’ warning in the Sermon on the Mount about false prophets? ‘Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them’. If readers and communicants will permit His Grace to quote himself: the Form and Manner of Ordering of Priests bids those admitted to the Order of Priesthood:

Forasmuch then as your office is both of so great excellency and of so great difficulty, ye see with how great care and study ye ought to apply yourselves, as well that ye may show yourselves dutiful and thankful unto that Lord, who hath placed you in so high a dignity; as also to beware that neither you yourselves offend, nor be occasion that others offend.

How Stephen Sizer has trampled over that exhortation!

So why have Evangelical leaders done nothing – absolutely nothing – to rein in and rebuke one of their own?

Why? Whatever the answer is, it’s an excuse; and not a very good one. There is something very rotten at the heart of this situation, and everyone with any sense of objectivity and fairness knows what it is. I will leave it unsaid. Let the facts speak for themselves. Let brave souls like Archbishop Cranmer speak for those who do not accept the status quo.