25 July 2014

The Half Shekel Party

Looks like it’s official: Israel now has its own 50 Cent Party (a troop of Internet and social-media commentators paid by the government to spread pro-government propaganda, a cyberops technique deployed most infamously by the Chinese Communist Party). These ones, however, are being recruited specifically to defend the indefensible slaughter of women and children in Gaza. Leaving aside the horror of the eight hundred deaths caused by the Israeli government there over the past two months, it is particularly unsettling that the state which endlessly trumpets abroad that it is ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’ is deploying cybertactics used specifically by authoritarian regimes to dilute and suppress dissent at home and to deflect critique abroad.

China has done some highly questionable, even monstrous things with regard to human rights in its past; no sane person disputes this. But China does not rain missiles down on Tibet or Xinjiang, for example, despite the regular and jaw-droppingly brutal terrorist attacks that have been taking place in China of late, at the hands of Xinjiang extremists. If the Chinese government did start shelling hospitals and schools in Kashgar or do something as egregious as what Operation Protective Edge is doing now, there would be instant and constant howls of outrage, demands for retaliatory measures and sanctions, crocodile tears for the Uyghurs and calls for war from the neoconservative right, in all the news media across the entire face of the West (including Israel!). Yet somehow, Israel is given a free pass not only for all of these actions, but also for imitating China’s cyberwarfare techniques to defend them, no matter how bloody and gratuitous.

Israel demands for itself a higher consideration from the West than the authoritarian states that surround it by reason of its status as a democracy and as a Jewish state; and at the same time it also seeks to excuse itself from being held to the same standards (for example, of respect for basic human dignities, military conduct and democratic discourse) as other modern democracies. It is high time we either a.) stop considering them a democracy and treat them with the same reserve with which we ought to treat any other Middle Eastern autocracy, or b.) begin holding them to the same moral standards we should hold for every other democratic polity on Earth.

Conservatism and laisser-faire don’t mix, exhibit Q

So says the Guardian. Don’t take my word for it.

The institution of marriage is made less popular and less viable, it seems, by increased living expenses, increased debt and joblessness. Who would have thought that conditions which make it harder for a young adult to provide for a household might turn those same young adults off from marriage? And all of these economic conditions turn out to be the results of the European Union’s neoliberal policy-making and IMF-driven austerity measures. The capitalist incentive to drive down the cost of labour is again and again shown to be utterly at odds with the needs of an orderly and well-adjusted society, starting at that most basic building-block of society – the family.

And frighteningly, religion finds itself powerless to stem this tide through simple appeals to morality lived on an individual basis. This Guardian article makes it clear that highly religious societies, whose religion places a high emphasis on the sacrament of marriage and on a healthy family life, are not exempt from this trend away from marriage. Indeed, some of them seem to be leading that trend. Orthodox Greece and Catholic Poland are seeing some of the most dramatic leanings in this direction of cohabitation and delayed adulthood. The ‘significant shifts in social attitudes’ dovetail quite nicely, it seems, with the demands of capitalist economic organisation which wants its labour cheap and sees its labourers as totally-interchangeable, disposable individuals rather than as members of families and communities. The only exceptions to this trend against marriage, intriguingly (and counter-intuitively to many conservatives’ eyes), seem to be ‘Scandinavia, the Baltic republics and Germany’; which is to say, those countries which to varying extents still retain a strong tradition of the social safety net.

The Guardian is showing us only one example. But the punchline of such examples (and many more such examples will come) will be this – that conservatives must make a choice, and they must make it soon. No man can serve two masters. Home stability, family life, fatherhood, motherhood and education – insofar as these are the interests of labour, none of these will be valued on the multinational CEO’s quarterly balance sheet. A ‘free market’ which privileges capital over labour will always be at odds with the rightful demands of labour in the name of tradition. Recent economic history has shown and is continuing to show that the touted ‘compassionate conservatism’ of the American right is a chimaera dependent on an assumption of unlimited growth, and that ultimately, the position of upholding faith-flag-and-family on the one hand, and cheerleading the ‘free enterprise system’ as an unqualified good on the other, is intellectually and morally untenable.

On the other hand, there is a very clear opening and opportunity for pro-life and faith-flag-and-family Democrats in the United States to begin marshalling these shifts into a consistent ethic of the common good, and to critique from a genuinely populist perspective the trend in their own party toward ‘pro-choice’ ideological ossification. (After all, can’t we see from the above trends that ‘free’ the individual from any and all family obligations – as a pretext for ‘freeing’ the fruits of their labour from their wallets – is exactly what the global 1% wants?)

Those conservatives who want to continue promoting policies of privatisation, austerity and punishment of organised labour in the name of defending ‘free enterprise’ will ultimately be forced to admit by the political shifts that are occurring in America and elsewhere even as we speak, that they are not concerned first-order with the welfare of the median (that is to say, working-class) American family. And on the other hand, Christian religious leaders of the Grand Tradition, like Patriarch Kyrill, Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, Father Vsevolod Chaplin and, of course, Pope Francis are busily staking out grounds against individualism and materialism and in favour of the family, and building up a very strong left-wing and anti-capitalist narrative on the basis of what would ordinarily be thought of not as socialist, but as traditionalist and conservative concerns. These are the signs of the times.

And are they ever going to get interesting in the next twenty years or so!

21 July 2014

The last Christians have left Mosul

A town long considered a bastion of the historical, original form of Christianity in the Middle East now no longer has any Christians left. This comes after the ‘Islamic’ State reinstituted Ottoman-era persecutions aimed specifically at Christians, leaving them four options: conversion, heavy fines (jizya), exile or death. The ‘Islamic’ State has been marking Christian properties for expropriation using a spray-painted Arabic letter nun ن. Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Raphaël Sako declared the ISIS depredations and persecutions to be worse than those suffered under Genghis and Hulagu Khan.

Thankfully, though, the many sane Iraqi Muslims who do not back this ‘Islamic’ State have bravely stood with the nation’s Christians in solidarity and resistance. It should be noted that practically no Muslim organisation in the region apart from the ‘Islamic’ State itself supports the ‘Islamic’ State (hence the scare-quotes on my part), but that it has been receiving support instead from the usual private Saudi and Qatari sources who have been supporting extremist rebels in Syria since day zero, cheerled all the while by neocons like John McCain and Lindsey Graham. Now their terrorist movement sustains itself off of oil revenues and off of money and weapons pilfered from Iraqi banks and soldiers.

This is a tragedy. And it should be considered doubly a tragedy by a nation which prides itself so much on its Christian heritage. These Christians have been in the region since the earliest of the Church Fathers, and they deserve far, far better than to be treated as disposable pawns in this geopolitical game which each generation of our politicians (going back arguably even to Operation Ajax) seems hell-bent on bungling.

17 July 2014

Remembering Tsar Saint Nicholas II of Russia

The Right-Believing and Passion-Bearing Tsar Saint Nicholas Alexandrovich Romanov

An interesting study polling modern Russians on their past leaders – specifically, whether their contributions and policies had helped Russia develop in a positive direction or not – showed that, after V. V. Putin, the most highly-rated Russian leaders of the past century were Dmitriy Medvedev, Leonid Brezhnev and the Right-Believing Emperor Saint Nicholas II Romanov, the last Tsar of the Russian Empire before the February Revolution. Interestingly, with the exception of Brezhnev, in this poll Nicholas II came out well ahead of every other Soviet-era leader, not to mention the post-Soviets (Gorbachev and Eltsin) who wreaked the devastation of disaster capitalism across the nation.

Nicholas II is a figure who has been very wrongly despised and belittled both by the historians of the West and by those of the Soviet period. Portrayed by both Western and Soviet historians as a muddle-headed and heavy-handed reactionary, the truth of the matter was that his sole failing was that he was (as my wife would say) too young and too naïve to have been given such heavy responsibilities as early in life as he was. A pious Orthodox believer, a lover of peace, a dutiful son, an ardently loving husband and an affectionate father, such a virtuous man as Nicholas Romanov should have been universally well-loved. Even in his capacity as Tsar, his difficulties arose not from personal defects, unless his willingness to think well of the people surrounding him is to be considered a defect.

After the diplomatic mishandling of the tragedy at Khodynskoe Pole following his coronation, in which over a thousand Muscovites were killed, Nicholas was unfortunately subject to the impression amongst the Russian populace that he was frivolous and aloof. However, he had spent that afternoon with his wife, the Empress Alexandra Fiodorovna, visiting those hospitalised and injured at Khodynskoe Pole. At his behest also, a large fund, to which he personally contributed great sums, was set aside for the benefit of the families of those who had died there, and a number of the incompetents who had organised the celebration at the Pole were fired. There was more than a bit of the narodnik in Nicholas, in spite of his reputation for clinging to the autocracy – it is probably in part this narodnik tendency which led him and his wife to trust so implicitly a poor, illiterate Siberian peasant mystic by the name of Grigoriy Efimovich Rasputin.

In peacetime, Nicholas would have been a great Tsar rather than the mediocrity he is often considered. But he came to power during a very troubled time. He went to great lengths, much like Metternich before him, to secure a lasting continental peace and to reintroduce norms for a more civilised conduct of war through the Hague Convention of 1899. Unfortunately, he had to contend – as the United States also later would – with the rise of a belligerently imperialistic and militaristic Japan, bent on its dreams of Asian conquest. The Japanese attack on Port-Arthur (now Lüshunkou in Liaoning Province, China) in 1904 was completely unprovoked, a cowardly sneak attack under cover of night against two Russian battleships and a cruiser. Because Nicholas had invested so much of his time and effort in negotiate a European peace, his military was unprepared to fight a naval war on the eastern coast, against a fledgling empire whose technological and civil developments were, at the tutelage of the West, far outpacing the civility and wisdom of their leaders. In spite of the débâcle at Tsushima, the Russians fought bravely and effectively on land, holding the Yalu against the Japanese. In the long run, had Russia carried on the war and had it not been for the growing tide of revolt at home, the exhaustion of Japan’s industrial and human capacity would have guaranteed victory. As it was, the unequal peace with Japan was a humiliation for Russia and left all of Asia open to Japanese depredation and debauchery; once again, though, the Tsar is hardly to be blamed for it.

The saintly Tsar was a conservative autocrat, but neither his conservatism nor his autocracy are easily modelled on Western European notions. His appointment of P. A. Stolypin is a case in point. Stolypin wanted above all else to preserve intact the office and dignities of the Russian Emperor, and he was willing to cut deals with liberal elements in Russian society to do so – to a point. He had no patience for revolutionaries, and had many of them hanged. But Stolypin’s agrarian reforms, often cited as sweeping and ‘liberalising’, were in actuality more modest and more accommodating to the traditional model than they are often painted.

True, his aim was to give peasants more individual rights in land ownership, and the ability to leave their family farms as they wished. However, it seems he either knew he could not, or did not want to, do away entirely with the collective responsibilities and shared communal life of the traditional obshchina: his reforms therefore also included a strong initiative for agricultural, credit and consumer cooperatives and institutions of collective self-help very similar to the ideas of F. W. Raiffeisin in Germany or J. E. Krek in the Austro-Hungarian Empire; these surprisingly socialistic proposals of Stolypin would later be adopted and expanded upon by the early Soviets. The saintly Tsar supported these reforms – and would, even after Stolypin’s dismissal and assassination, continue embarking on reform programmes aimed at protecting workers and farmers: instituting state schooling; limiting the workday to a maximum of ten hours; holding factories to high uniform standards of safety; guaranteeing social insurance to workers. But these were not, of course, motivated by any revolutionary fervour, so much as by the demands of Orthodox piety and social conscience!

Revolutionary fervour, though, was a major problem throughout Nicholas’s reign. He was subject to several assassination attempts, after one of which (in early 1904) he moved his family out of Saint Petersburg for several weeks. During this time, a social reformist priest (Fr George Gapon) staged a protest which wound up in tragedy as panicked soldiers at the Winter Palace fired into the crowd, leaving ninety-two protesters dead. The incident sadly crushed public faith in the Tsar. Waves of protests and strikes following the ‘Bloody Sunday’ incident forced Nicholas to adopt parliamentary reforms, which very quickly escalated into more and more unreasonable demands of the liberal intelligentsia. The appointment of Stolypin was an attempt to mitigate the growing unrest, but ultimately it failed.

Nicholas found himself also looking on in horror as the peace he’d worked so hard to build in Europe crumble as Europe reorganised into two large military alliances, and as tensions began to rise between them. He sympathised with the Serbian struggle for autonomy, but for more than a month after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand he did all in his limited power to hold back the tide of war and bring about a diplomatic resolution, until the demands of the Russian military for total mobilisation against Germany and Austria could no longer be sanely ignored. The early war on the Eastern Front was mishandled and the Germans made heavy incursions into Russian territory by 1915; as a result, when Tsar Nicholas took personal command, he had inherited a largely defensive rather than an offensive war. His decision to take command also left him isolated from affairs of state, and left him open to the machinations of the State Duma to wrest power from him.

When at last he was forced to abdicate, he had hoped to hand the reins over to his brother, Grand Duke Michael. But Michael refused to take the throne and left power in the hands of the Constituent Assembly, which abolished the Empire and established a provisional republic in its place, which itself would fall in a mere matter of months to the Bolsheviks. The Russian provisional government placed the dethroned ‘Colonel Romanov’ and his family under arrest and later exiled them to Ekaterinburg, where they met their martyrdoms at the hands of the Bolsheviks – brutally shot point-blank in the basement of their house as White legionaries were approaching Ekaterinburg. Tsarina Alexandra and her daughter Olga Nikolaevna crossed themselves as they were martyred. The younger ones of the saintly Tsar’s children suffered the most of the Bolsheviks’ cruelty, having survived the first salvo and dying by their bayonets.

Tsar Saint Nicholas, having been born on the feast-day of Prophet Job the Long-Suffering, was likewise a righteous man tragically doomed by the vicissitudes of a brutal, wicked and adulterous age. But the doom which he long suspected lay in store for himself he bore with all the equanimity of a saint, long before the Bolsheviks in their drunken panic at the White advance decided to murder him. ‘Perhaps an expiatory sacrifice is needed for Russia’s salvation,’ he at one point said. ‘I will be that sacrifice. May God’s will be done!’

Humble, pious and meek, but strong in faith and right belief, having been given by Our Lord the crown of glory to replace the crown of this life which was wrongly taken from you, glorious passion-bearing Tsar Saint Nicholas, with blessed and steadfast Tsarina Saint Alexandra and your five children, please intercede for us on this day.

16 July 2014

Remembering Blessed Neomartyr Alexander of Munich

Blessed Neomartyr Alexander (Schmorell) of Munich

One of the recent saints for whom I have the deepest admiration is Alexander ‘Schurik’ Schmorell, a member of the anti-Nazi German student movement Weiße Rose (the White Rose), who met his martyrdom at the hands of the secret police of the wicked, fanatical German dictatorship – but not before writing and publishing a great number of independently printed leaflets critiquing the Nazis and their war against the entirety of the civilised world. The blessed neomartyr, along with his fellow students Willi Graf, Hans and Sophie Scholl, bravely and most praiseworthily stood against the warping terrors of Nazi tyranny, and sought after and insisted upon the truth.

A young man of mixed German and Russian heritage, raised in Russia (but whose family fled to Munich following the October Revolution), Alexander Schmorell was very patriotic, but for obvious reasons he could never stomach an evil phyletist ideology which consigned an entire half of his family and heritage to the status of untermenschen, of subhumans. He spent some time in a German youth group, but when this merged into the Hitlerjügend, he dropped out. When he was conscripted into the Wehrmacht, he refused to take an oath of loyalty to Hitler and asked to be released from the service. This release was denied, but neither did he face any ill consequences for his refusal to take the oath.

During his time in the military, he took part in the Austrian Anschluss and in the occupation of Czechoslovakia, and later as a field medic on the Eastern Front. He declared that he could never bring himself to shoot Russians – though if he were on the Russian side, neither could he bring himself to shoot Germans. During this time, also, however, the Nazis infiltrated and seized control over every part of the government structure of Germany: the press, the police, the army, the judiciary, the education system and all public transport and communication infrastructure. Children were indoctrinated to worship the Führer, and family members were even encouraged to inform on each other if they suspected disloyalty to the Nazi regime.

Following his service in the military the blessed neomartyr joined Hans Scholl, and together they got their hands on a printing machine and began writing and distributing leaflets under the title of die Weiße Rose. On account of the increasing stranglehold of the Nazis over all of German society, writing the leaflets was an incredibly dangerous task; and getting them sent out many times more so. Due to their different educational and religious backgrounds, Hans and Alexander wrote in very different styles. Hans, a High Church Lutheran with definite Catholic sympathies, wrote in a very formal style, making his appeals on a rational and intellectual level against the crimes of the Nazi government. In Alexander’s writing, by contrast, there looms large the Slavic spirit of revolt and alarm, which (as Nietzsche once remarked of Dostoevsky’s work) ‘cries truth from the blood’, as he put forward the only known public outcry against the Holocaust to spring from the pen of a German resister during Nazi rule:
We do not want to discuss here the question of the Jews, nor do we want in this leaflet to compose a defense or apology. No, only by way of example do we want to cite the fact that since the conquest of Poland three hundred thousand Jews have been murdered in this country in the most bestial way. Here we see the most frightful crime against human dignity, a crime that is unparalleled in the whole of history. For Jews, too, are human beings - no matter what position we take with respect to the Jewish question - and a crime of this dimension has been perpetrated against human beings.

Why do the German people behave so apathetically in the face of all these abominable crimes, crimes so unworthy of the human race? Hardly anyone thinks about that. It is accepted as fact and put out of mind. The German people slumber on in their dull, stupid sleep and encourage these fascist criminals; they give them the opportunity to carry on their depredations; and of course they do so. Is this a sign that the Germans are brutalized in their simplest human feelings, that no chord within them cried out at the sight of such deeds, that they have sunk into a fatal consciencelessness from which they will never, never awake?

It seems to be so, and will certainly be so, if the German does not at least start up out of his stupor, if he does not protest wherever and whenever he can against this clique of criminals, if he shows no sympathy for these hundreds of thousands of victims. He must evidence not only sympathy; no, much more: a sense of complicity in guilt. For through his apathetic behavior he gives these evil men the opportunity to act as they do; he tolerates this "government" which has taken upon itself such an infinitely great burden of guilt; indeed, he himself is to blame for the fact that it came about at all! Each man wants to be exonerated of a guilt of this kind, each one continues on his way with the most placid, the calmest conscience. But he cannot be exonerated; he is guilty, guilty, guilty!
In all, six leaflets were printed by the White Rose movement and, copies were distributed from Munich all across Germany, through underground means – at first through the post to addresses in southern Germany and Austria, which were thought to be less receptive to Hitler’s militarism. They put out thousands of copies of the fifth leaflet, an Appeal to All Germans, causing the Gestapo to begin hunting down the authors. After the sixth leaflet was printed, Hans and his sister Sophie Scholl were caught distributing copies at the University of Munich and turned over to the Gestapo. After a show trial at the hands of the infamous Ronald Freisler, the Scholls were sentenced to death and (in a mockery of due process) beheaded the very next day. Sophie Scholl then spoke prophetically to the Pilate who tried her: ‘where we stand today, you will soon stand’.

Friends of the Weiße Rose movement tried to move the other members to safety, including Alexander Schmorell, but he was recognised in an air-raid shelter and handed over to the secret police and condemned to death at the third trial of the Weiße Rose members, and went to his martyrdom on 13 July 1943.

One of the most important things taught by the Holy Mother Church is that no worldly idea, no politician and no ideology – whether capitalism or fascism or communism – has the power to save us, however hard they try to convince us otherwise. Only one person, Our Lord the Incarnate Word of God, has the power to save us; and He does not care whether one is Jew or Greek, slave or free, man or woman. It is to this truth that the blessed neomartyr S. Alexander attested through his life and works. Holy Martyr Alexander, who stood steadfast in the truth before the face of terror, please intercede for us.

15 July 2014

Pray for the Holy Land

The sacrilege and rapine of the ‘Islamic’ State in Iraq and the Levant have reached new and unholy heights. They show no respect either to the living or to the dead; 3000-year-old Assyrian statues, a statue of Arab poet Abu Tammam, even the tomb of the Holy Prophet Jonah (who is honoured not only by Christians but also by Jews and by all sane Muslims) is not safe from these mad defilers! In Mosul alone, 11 churches have been set aflame. The Christians and Shi’ite Muslims of the region have been subject to every indignity and persecution imaginable under the ‘Islamic’ State’s tyranny: murder, rape, torture and extortion.

This must stop. Please do whatever you can: praying for the victims, giving money to reputable and trustworthy orgs helping refugees and victims of the violence, speaking out against the ‘Islamic’ State and encouraging others to do likewise.

Also, please pray for those killed and injured in the recent accident on the Moscow underground. May God quickly heal the wounded, and may He make the memories of those departed to be eternal.

13 July 2014

Pointless video post – ‘Unleash the Beast’ by Saxon

Saxon being Saxon, of course practically everything they do is golden. There is a good reason that they are, hands down, my favourite heavy metal band. 1997, though, was the year they released Unleash the Beast and somewhat reinvented themselves from being almost a glam rock band and put themselves at the heavy edge of power metal, incorporating some continental elements into their faithfully bluesy British musical style. This is an amazing video, though, more for the landscapes. Northern England certainly. Yorkshire? Could very easily be. Anyway, awe-inspiring choice of video material! Keep rocking, Saxon!