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Wednesday, 23 December 2015

How did governments react to the Jewish Migration Crisis in December, 1938?

Since war broke out in Syria almost five years ago, 6.5 million people have been internally displaced, almost 4.4 million forced to flee as refugees, and more than 250,000 killed. One in every five displaced persons worldwide last year was Syrian. A new joint report from the World Bank and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) claims that 90% of the 1.7 million Syrian refugees registered in Jordan and Lebanon are living in poverty. The majority of them are women and children. (1)

The same day that the report was published, it was announced that the first 1,000 Syrian refugees have now arrived in the UK under the government's scheme to resettle vulnerable people living in refugees camps, David Cameron has said he had met his pledge to bring the first 1,000 people to the UK by Christmas. The UK government has promised to accept 20,000 Syrians over five years. (2)

European leaders are gathering in Brussels today for an end of year summit which will include discussions on the of one and a half million refugees that have entered Europe this year. The European Commission estimated last month that another three million refugees could arrive before the end of 2016. Cameron is unwilling to become involved in negotiations about taking more refugees and recently told journalists that the current crisis might be the thing that might be responsible for the British people voting to leave the European Union. (3)

Seventy-seven years ago this month, world leaders were discussing another migration crisis. This one involved the desire by the Jewish community to leave Nazi Germany. The failure to agree on a way of dealing with this crisis resulted in about 180,000 German Jews dying in concentration camps.

Once in power Adolf Hitler began to openly express anti-Semitic ideas. Based on his readings of how blacks were denied civil rights in the southern states in America, Hitler attempted to make life so unpleasant for Jews in Germany that they would emigrate. The day after the March, 1933, election, stormtroopers hunted down Jews in Berlin and gave them savage beatings. Synagogues were trashed and all over Germany gangs of brownshirts attacked Jews. In the first three months of Hitler rule, over forty Jews were murdered. (4)

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Monday, 24 August 2015

Why the BBC and the Daily Mail ran a false story on anti-fascist campaigner, Cedric Belfrage

On Friday morning (21st August), the BBC ran a story on its website entitled, Cedric Belfrage, the WW2 spy Britain was embarrassed to pursue. The right-wing press had the same story. The Daily Mail used the headline, More prized than Philby, the film critic turned Soviet agent who passed secrets while working for British security services in the US - but was never tried whereas the Financial Times went with Cedric Belfrage — ‘sixth man’ Soviet spy who hid in plain sight.

Later that day the BBC and Channel 4 broadcast the same story. These newspaper articles and television programmes had the same information and was clearly based on some kind of Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) press release about the journalist, Cedric Belfrage, who died in 1990. It must have accompanied the latest release of intelligence documents that had arrived in the National Archives. They all included quotes from Professor Christopher Andrew, the official historian of MI5. He told The Daily Mail: "Moscow were so pleased with him (Belfrage) they held him as a key asset and held him in higher regard than Philby, a member of the notorious Cambridge Five spy ring."

MI5 also provided quotes from Svetlana Lokhova, who is described as an expert on Russian intelligence (this is not supported by a search on the web although she does seem to have been a student at Cambridge University, where Andrew has taught for many years). Lokhova argues "I think he was one of the most important spies the Soviet Union ever had". Gordon Corera of the BBC tells us that "Ms Lokhova and Prof Andrew both say the fact the KGB has never revealed anything about Belfrage suggests he was important".

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Thursday, 15 January 2015

History of Freedom of Speech in the UK

There has been a lot of discussion about freedom of expression since the killing of the eight journalists at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical weekly newspaper, that had published a number of controversial Muhammad cartoons. It has been suggested that there is a long tradition of freedom of speech in the UK and that we need to defend this ancient right in response to this terrorist outrage. Although journalists have been keen to point this out it seems their editors are unwilling to publish any of the offending cartoons. It has also emerged that official guidelines previously published online said that the Prophet revered by Muslims “must not be represented in any shape or form” in BBC output.

Freedom of expression is something that has taken a long time to establish in this country. Dominant religious, political and cultural institutions have always used their power to protect themselves from criticism. An interesting case in our history concerns Anne Askew who was burnt at the stake on 16th July 1546. Anne had taken on every powerful institution that existed in Tudor England. 

Anne was the daughter of Sir William Askew (1489–1541) a large landowner and the former MP for Grimsby. When she was fifteen her family forced her to marry Thomas Kyme. Anne rebelled against her husband by refusing to adopt his surname. The couple also argued about religion. Anne was a supporter of Martin Luther, while her husband was a Roman Catholic. From her reading of the Bible she believed that she had the right to divorce her husband. For example, she quoted St Paul: "If a faithful woman have an unbelieving husband, which will not tarry with her she may leave him"? 

In 1544 Askew decided to travel to London and request a divorce from Henry VIII. This was rejected and in March 1546 she was arrested on suspicion of heresy. She was questioned about a book she was carrying that had been written by John Frith, a Protestant priest who had been burnt for heresy in 1533, for claiming that neither purgatory nor transubstantiation could be proven by Holy Scriptures. She was interviewed by Edmund Bonner, the Bishop of London who had obtained the nickname of "Bloody Bonner" because of his ruthless persecution of heretics. 

After a great deal of debate Anne Askew was persuaded to sign a confession which amounted to an only slightly qualified statement of orthodox belief. With the help of her friend, Edward Hall, the Under-Sheriff of London, she was released after twelve days in prison. She was sent back to her husband. However, when she arrived back to Lincolnshire she went to live with her brother, Sir Francis Askew.

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