This week’s issue of French newsweekly Marianne has a cover story on conspiracy theories (No. 932, February 27 – March 5, 2015).

One of the articles (pp 16-17) traces the origins of the modern conspiracy theory all the way back to the 16th century.

Intrigued, I did more research and came across an essay from 2013 by German historian Cornel Zwierlein, Security Politics and Conspiracy Theories in the Emerging European State System (15th/16th c.)’.

Renaissance priorities and plots

The Renaissance, to borrow Dickens’s words, was the best of times and the worst of times. On the one hand, Europe was able to revisit philosophy, recapture classical styles of sculpture and develop the arts in a highly sophisticated manner. Commerce flourished as a new merchant class arose.

The new availability of paper and the printing press made the Reformation possible. Protestants were finally able to hear the Bible in their own tongue. The wealthier ones could read Scripture for themselves.

On the other hand, international political plots saw the light of day as did religious conspiracies against the state.

Cornel Zwierlein tells us that the overriding priority of European rulers in the Middle Ages was peace (p. 68). Nobles, princes and kings sought agreement with each other. Safety was also a concern but was more concerned with that of the highways and byways which existed at that time as well as in maritime transport.

During the Renaissance, priorities of those in power changed. Reviving the notion of state security, or securitas — reminiscent of the ancient Roman Empire — was seen as a political aim and virtue.

Zwierlein’s essay highlights Italy’s various nation-states of that era. What went on there, he says, was a ‘laboratory’ of political development.

Lorenzo de’ Medici was instrumental in emphasising the importance of bringing these states together as allies in the 15th century (p. 67).

In order to do this, state and papal officials began an informal intelligence service, tracking who might be on their side and who might be forming different alliances. Roads were improving, allowing couriers to deliver messages more quickly. Thanks to the export of paper from Aragon to Italy, not only were notes and letters more convenient to compose but political diaries were also made possible. This was the era when communication flow began in earnest (p. 73) and has continued ever since.

Political written communication evolved during this time to incorporate what Zwierlein calls ‘hard’ things ( e.g. institutions) with ‘soft’ things, such as semantics and narrative. He explains (p. 74):

The controlling of a network of office holders “inside” and “outside” the state from a center is one of the most important features – possible only with the help of paper-based communication.

The steady creation and influx of written communication became state business in and of itself. Comparatively ‘live’ information became highly important in immediate decision-making or adopting a ‘wait-and-see’ approach. Officials knew their subject and analysed it minutely. They created written archives. All of this led to (p. 74):

distinctions between “internal” and “external” affairs, between “internal”and “external” security, between an emerging public sphere and the secrecy of arcane politics, between simulation, dissimulation and real actions appear as well as those concepts that refer to the above-mentioned interdependency of states, foremost the famous “equilibrium”, measurement of alliances and allies, neutrality (Zwierlein 2006b).

Lorenzo de’ Medici died in the year Columbus discovered America. He was known as ‘The Magnificent’, il Magnifico (p. 75). Arts students think of him as Florence’s great patron. However, he was also the power behind Italian rulers and thinkers of his time. He could be considered as the father of balance-to-power politics.

He promoted state ‘equilibrium’ (contrapeso), ‘common security’ and ‘tranquillity’ (p. 76). Our present-day ‘international security’ evolved from his concepts. With regard to Italy, he wanted to create an interdependence among the various states that existed on the peninsula at the time. However, he was keenly aware that the most powerful ones — Venice, Naples and Milan — preferred to remain apart. His concern for the economic prosperity of the day was of paramount importance along with a wish to avoid regional war.

In order to achieve his aims, updated written intelligence was essential. Any uncertainties needed clarification, therefore, ‘avvisi’ — news — became a priority (p. 79). Another consideration was that rulers might change their minds on political matters (p. 80):

it is hard to “read” their hidden intentions; there are hidden secrets, things that Lorenzo is not able to know; and that stimulates his “fantasia”.

Consequently, he, other rulers, ambassadors and officials began to draw their own conclusions about certain plans, projects and motivations. Whilst fact was involved, there was also conjecture and supposition.

It would be wrong to say that de’ Medici and other information-gatherers promoted conspiracy theories. They assessed their intelligence diligently, however, they knew they did not always have the facts.

By the 1530s, those gathering intelligence information and avvisi (news) were able to assemble general regional newsletters (p. 82), the forerunner of early newspapers.

It is interesting to note that these early journalists wrote anonymously to protect their sources and themselves. Thanks to a more organised courier system, these printed sheets of paper carried the narratives of the day. Kings, princes and nobles were delighted to see their names in print: the more frequently, the better.

This system of frequently printed and delivered news spread across Europe by the end of the 16th century. The first formal newspapers appeared in the 17th century.

Wars of Religion and Counter-Reformation

Less scrupulous and more emotional men later began adopting this same information-sifting process and drew premature or wild conclusions. Often, they were from religious or political minorities.

This type of fractured narrative holds true of today’s conspiracy theories. Fact is accompanied by an additional and new narrative which turns the original version on its head. Those who feel marginalised or under-represented latch onto it.

Zwierlein tells us that the process for the modern conspiracy theory did not evolve until the Wars of Religion in France and the Counter-Reformation in Europe. The Protestants in Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and France feared Catholic dominance. Persecution of Protestants took place in the Netherlands and France in the 16th century.

Protestants considered pamphlet writing (anonymously), printing (or copying by hand) and distribution as important for their fellow men (p. 82). However, some of these contained unfounded projections about (p. 83):

the international state system and the politico-religious competition within and between the states of that system. 12

The best example of this, Zwierlein says, was a Protestant newsletter explaining a 17-point pan-European conspiracy on the part of Catholic rulers, with the help of papal funding, to depose Protestant ones and ensure that Catholicism was the only form of Christianity. The pamphlet minutely detailed how this would come about. The supposed plan involved Germany, Spain, Scotland, England, France and influential nobility of the day (pp. 83-84).

Whilst the author’s knowledge of the personalities and past politics of the major players was exceptional, Zwierlein says the conclusions were less plausible (p. 84). Anyone who has studied history will know that one cannot have a notional secret alliance involving too many parties. Furthermore, each of the nations involved would have had particular political or territorial interests which would have made it unlikely that a common cause, even Catholicism, could bring them together in concert, especially for such a huge undertaking.

Not surprisingly, a few years later, the St Bartholomew’s Day massacre of Huguenots in France engendered a number of printed and handwritten pamphlets which circulated all over Europe (p. 84). These brought conspiracy theories to a wider audience.

However, this bloody day in French history also brought about an early propaganda narrative. The first of the pamphlets appeared ten days after news reached Rome of the massacre. Its author was Camillo Capilupi who not only was a secret chamberlain of the Pope but also an agent of the Duke of Nantua, who was one of the masterminds  behind the massacre and a Franco-Italian of the house of Gonzaga. Capilupi entitled his work ‘Stratagem’ and used terms such as astuzia and prudenza in his elaborate description of the French king Charles IX’s brilliance in bringing this deadly plan to fruition (p. 85). In reality, Charles IX was a young king considered to be weak, relying on his mother and powerful advisers.

However successful Capilupi thought his pamphlet was, the Huguenots and other European Protestants seized on the information therein to detail how dastardly and scheming the French king and his advisers were (p. 87). Furthermore, whatever embellishments the Protestants might have added, they could always say that the ‘facts’ of the matter, such as they were, came from one of the Pope’s insiders himself.

Zwierlein concludes that fact took second place to an overall objective of careful construction of narrative to support one’s own version of a story. The powers that be and dissenters could weave fact with fantasy to suit their own purposes.

However, what had to engage the reader and keep him interested was an emotional appeal. The word ‘truth’ was often used as well as a mention of God or Providence.

Combining a narrative with emotion has continued to engage men and women with conspiracy theories from the Renaissance onward.


In England during this time, Elizabeth I was under threat:

After Henry VIII’s death, England endured the Western Rebellion of 1549; during Elizabeth’s reign, there occurred the Rebellion of 1569, as well as plots against the queen’s life, notably the Babington Plot, which led to the trial, conviction, and execution of Mary, Queen of Scots. Throughout the century and beyond, England had reason to fear an invasion and the uprising of native Catholics. The danger was by no means restricted to the year 1588, when Philip II of Spain sent his Armada to subdue England.

The court had to develop state narratives of what the Queen was doing and why. Pamphlets, tracts, plays, poetry and the Bible were part of the rhetorical devices used:

Every Englishman was required to hear the sermons on obedience three times during the year. The gist of the doctrine was this: The ruler was God’s lieutenant on earth; no subject, however exalted, had the right to actively oppose him. To do so was a sin against religion, punishable by suffering here and now and by eternal damnation after death. Even if the ruler were a tyrant, the subject had no right to oppose him, for the head of state ruled with God’s sufferance. In support of this doctrine, appeals were made primarily to biblical authority. Texts such as Romans 13 and Proverbs 8, as well as ones in Matthew, were cited repeatedly.

A new element was added to Elizabeth’s government: a spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham:

Born to a well-connected family of gentry, Walsingham travelled in continental Europe after leaving university before embarking at the age of twenty on a career in law. A committed Protestant, during the reign of the Catholic Queen Mary I of England he joined other expatriates in exile in Switzerland and northern Italy until Mary’s death and the accession of her Protestant half-sister, Elizabeth.

Walsingham rose from relative obscurity to become one of the small coterie who directed the Elizabethan state, overseeing foreign, domestic and religious policy. He served as English ambassador to France in the early 1570s and witnessed the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre. As principal secretary, he supported exploration, colonization, the use of England’s maritime strength and the plantation of Ireland. He worked to bring Scotland and England together. Overall, his foreign policy demonstrated a new understanding of the role of England as a maritime, Protestant power in an increasingly global economy. He oversaw operations that penetrated Spanish military preparation, gathered intelligence from across Europe, disrupted a range of plots against Elizabeth and secured the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots.

Intelligence was highly important in England and continued to be so afterward. Walsingham had an extensive networks of informants, information gatherers, spies and forgers to foil various plots and intrigues against the Queen.

This worked to keep Elizabeth I safe and secure. She ruled from 1558 to 1603.


Speaking of religion and conspiracy theories, the Jews have been the object of suspicion since Old Testament days.

In the first centuries of Christianity, Church doctors and councils made various inflammatory pronouncements against them. Rulers, sometimes with help from clerics, devised anti-Semitic laws and decrees:

Jews were very often forbidden to own land, preventing them from farming. Because of their exclusion from guilds, most skilled trades were also closed to them, pushing them into marginal occupations considered socially inferior, such as tax- and rent-collecting or money lending. Catholic doctrine of the time held that money lending to one’s fellow Christian for interest was a sin, and thus Jews tended to dominate this business. This provided the foundation for stereotypical accusations that Jews are greedy and involved in usury. Natural tensions between Jewish creditors and Christian debtors were added to social, political, religious, and economic strains. Peasants, who were often forced to pay their taxes and rents through Jewish agents, could vilify them as the people taking their earnings while remaining loyal to the lords and rulers on whose behalf the Jews worked. The number of Jewish families permitted to reside in various places was limited; they were forcibly concentrated in ghettos; and they were subjected to discriminatory taxes on entering cities or districts other than their own.

Nearly every town in France has a thoroughfare called Rue des Juifs: Jews’ Street. It is no doubt similar in other European countries. In the City of London, now the financial district, but, until the Great Fire of 1666, the only densely populated part of the city, a street called Old Jewry still exists, although it has been centuries since it has been a Jewish ghetto.

Martin Luther comes under much criticism for his sometimes violent anti-Semitic writing. This is because he had initially hoped Germany’s Jews would join him in opposing the Catholic Church during the Reformation. That did not happen. Just before he died, Luther adopted a much more charitable outlook and said that his followers should pray for the Jews and show them brotherly love. However, some historians think that the bulk of what Luther had said and written helped to indirectly determine certain historic anti-Semitic events.

In the 16th century, a French writer and historian Etienne Pasquier targeted not only Jews but also the Jesuits, linking them together to cause deep suspicion and mistrust among his readers. French historian Léon Poliakov told Marianne (aforementioned issue, p. 17) that Pasquier wrote:

dans la jésuiterie, il y a beaucoup de juiverie.

Among the Jesuits, there is much Jewishness.

Cromwell’s kindness towards the Jews during the Interregnum in England and, later, the French Revolution, brought about their integration into European society. Many became highly successful and influential at local and national levels. Modern-day conspiracy theorists point to banking.

In Russia and other parts of Eastern Europe, violent pogroms took place in the 19th century. The poorest Jews were affected, being driven out of towns and villages. In 1901, members of the Tsarist police wrote The Protocols of Zion. Although the information therein is false, it was designed to arouse intense public suspicion and emotion. Its main themes were making Jewish people out to be universal plotters and conspirators, especially with Freemasons and Bolsheviks. Adolf Hitler read the book and referred to it in Mein Kampf.

The Jesuits

The Jesuits have both created and been the subject of conspiracy theories.

Augustin Barruel, a French priest belonging to the Society of Jesus during the French Revolution, took refuge in Germany then in England. He accused the leaders of the Revolution of being in league with prominent Freemasons to bring about an ungodly fall of the French royal family and the Church. He dedicated his book Histoire du Clergé pendant la Revolution Française to the people of England in gratitude for the hospitality and graciousness they showed him during his stay. He ended up returning to France in 1802 and encouraged his fellow priests to accept the newly established order but to continue their defence of the Church.


John Robison, a Scot who was a contemporary of Barruel, popularised conspiracy theories involving Freemasons.

Robison was a scientist and an inventor who became disillusioned with the Enlightenment. He became an author, putting his belief into writing that the German secret society the Illuminati pursued links with British Masonic lodges in order to overthrow all European governments and religious practice.

One of Robison’s readers sent a copy of the book to George Washington, asking for the American president’s thoughts. Washington replied that although he did not believe that there was a wholesale Masonic plot against the United States or Europe, he did not doubt that certain lodge members had been working on such a plan.


Those who read Robison’s Proofs of a Conspiracy against all the Religions and Governments of Europe, carried on in the secret meetings of Freemasons, Illuminati and Reading Societies and Barruel’s books would have come to the same conclusion.

The same conspiracy theory narrative continues today, wrapped up in the same emotion and rhetoric used during the Renaissance.

How does one break one’s habit of reading these with avid interest? The closer one moves towards prayer and Bible reading, the less one needs half-baked factoids wrapped in sensationalism.


Thank heaven for costume dramas.

They answer questions about clothing.

Have you ever wondered why the Amish and similar sects eschewed buttons? Does the Pope still wears velvet slippers? The answers might prove surprising.


Prior to the 16th century, sleeve extensions were sewn on to shorter sleeves for extra warmth.

Gaby Wood, writing for The Telegraph, tells us that Wolf Hall is painstakingly faithful to authentic clothing conventions of Henry VIII’s time.

I’ve not been watching it but was intrigued to find out that, just as in his era, Wolf Hall‘s costumes have eyelets with aiglets — points, or fasteners — which allowed a servant to pin sleeve extensions to men’s and women’s attire. Using these holes and fasteners prevented the fabric from tearing.

Pins were used when thread was not. Not surprisingly, pins were easily lost.

This was all part of dressing in cooler weather. It gave us two saying which are still commonplace today:

point scoring: men gambled for aiglets.

pin money: money set aside for the purchase of pins.

Kirby Beard 1023KIRBYbisWhilst pins or aiglets did not break the bank, they did involve household expense. The pins were not terribly good, either. There was no mass mechanisation or uniformity of these items until the 19th century. Two Englishmen, Robert Kirby and George Beard, tried to perfect a pin-making machine developed by an American, Seth Hunt. It wasn’t until 1833 that Kirby Beard & Co. (see second half of post) began successful mass production of pins on a steam-driven apparatus capable of making pinheads directly from wire. The company moved from Gloucestershire to Birmingham. Their needle factory was in nearby Redditch. The picture on the left shows their patent. These pins were prized all over the world. Wives asked their husbands sailing overseas to bring them back Kirby Beard & Co. products. The company later produced luxury goods for the home with shops in the City of London and in central Paris. But I digress.

Back to pins in the 16th century. As well as the stars of the show, even the extras in Wolf Hall are attired in the authentic way with pins or stitching on their costumes.

Meanwhile, in Paris, a button exhibition is running until July 19, 2015, at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs.

Véronique Belloir, the exhibition’s curator, told the French online news service l’Internaute that the button was created in the 16th century.

It was considered as much a decorative item as a functional one. (By way of illustration, the article has an accompanying photo of sculpted mother of pearl buttons from the 19th century.)

By the 17th century, wealthy Europeans spent so much money on buttons that various kings instituted laws which limited the number purchased and the ways in which these new fasteners could be used.

Belloir says that ordinary Europeans considered the button to be conspicuous consumption:

It was a luxurious object which shocked Christian morality.

By the end of the 18th century, buttons cost more than the clothing on which they were sewn. Buttons served as class and political indicators.

It is for this reason that the Amish and other religious sects refused to wear them.

In the 19th century, the button became commonplace. In order to be properly dressed, men and women ensured every button was done up.

I remember reading years ago that the more buttons one had on a suit jacket or a dress, the wealthier one was. Boots also had buttons. Every household had button hooks. Without them, getting dressed and undressed would have been impossible.

Even though we now have zippers, press studs (snaps) and Velcro, Belloir says that no fabric fastener in history has enhanced our attire as much as the button:

It implies a certain charm, a certain elegance.

Velvet slippers

Traditionally, a well-to-do Englishman wore velvet slippers with his smoking jacket (or, for more formal occasions, a dinner jacket).

Both items were properly strictly indoor, ‘at home’ attire. The smoking jacket served as a comfortable yet elegant item to wear for drinks and dinner. The slippers were a necessity in an era when streets were so muddy and dirty that boots and shoes had to be taken off once one walked in the door.

Although smoking jackets are still sold, velvet slippers have overtaken them in popularity, not only in England but also in the United States. The online world has any number of shops selling them.

Tatler (March 2015, pp. 90-92) has a feature on the velvet slipper, a précis of which can be found online.

The magazine tells us that thin men are best placed to wear velvet slippers. A trim ankle is de rigueur, just as trim legs are for skinny jeans. Today, the two go together (p. 92):

A clever man in jeans and a shirt and velvet slippers over supper at a house party making you think about the world slightly differently. That’s what we’re after.

So high-WASP*!

But WASPs are not the only men wearing them today. They are very popular with certain rappers and actors, such as Tinie Tempah and Kanye West (p. 91).

And a few shops now make them for women.

Historically, the velvet slipper was not an exclusively WASP footwear item. They have been popular with popes for ages. However, it was Paul VI who put an end to commissioning velvet and silk slippers in 1969 (p. 92). Paul VI requested plain red leather. Pope Francis prefers his in black leather.

A pair of velvet slippers normally costs a few hundred pounds or dollars. Because they are becoming more popular, this style of slipper is now made in other fabrics which can bring the price down accordingly. Less luxurious fabric also makes the slippers suitable for outdoor wear.

This short YouTube video shows the detailed handiwork which goes into making traditional velvet slippers for Herring Shoes in Norwich, England:

* White Anglo-Saxon Protestant


Yesterday’s post looked at the life of Major Denis Arnold who served valiantly during the Second World War.

He, along with Baroness Platt of Writtle, today’s profile, and many others are what Britons refer to with regret as ‘a vanishing breed’. The Telegraph carries their obituaries, beautifully written and a pleasure to read.

Whilst Major Arnold was stationed in India and Burma, Beryl Catherine Myatt had just begun working for the male-dominated Hawker Aircraft.

Young Beryl’s father was an accountant. The family lived in Southend, Essex. Beryl became a Girl Guide and said that the Guide Promise was a principal mainstay in her life:

To do my best, to do my duty to God and the King and to help other people at all times.

Beryl was an exceptional student, the type meant to attend university. However, parents at the time — especially fathers — felt that higher education would be wasted on future mothers and homemakers. (The same was true for my late mother-in-law who deeply regretted not having been allowed this opportunity.)

One of Beryl’s teachers, the mathematics mistress, persuaded her mother that the girl should apply to Cambridge. Beryl later read that the university was looking for engineering students to help with the war effort. She attended Girton College and was one of five women reading Mechanical Sciences.

She graduated in 1943. Hawker Aircraft took her on as an aeronautical engineer:

preparing flight reports for Typhoon, Tempest and Fury fighter bombers. She often took control when her boss was away — “People would ring up and say ‘I want to know the cylinder head temperature of the Centaurus engine’. I’d rattle them off. There would be a deathly hush at the other end of the line and then they’d say, ‘How do you know?’ They assumed that if you were a woman you couldn’t be an engineer.”

Her obituary page has a Hawker employee photograph; she looks to be the only woman in a sea of men!

After the war, she left Hawker to work at British European Airways. She married Stewart Platt, a textile manufacturer, in 1949, to concentrate on marriage, home and family.

When her children were of school age, Mrs Platt devoted her spare time to volunteer activities in Essex. She started a young wives group in Writtle, Essex, where she and her family lived.

During this time, she began thinking of ways women could work outside the home without sacrificing family life. However, she would have to wait another quarter of a century before she could help to influence government policy in this regard.

In 1959, the local Conservative Party association asked her to stand as a candidate for the local council. She was duly elected and served in local government for several years. Between 1965 and 1985, she served on the Essex County Council.

In 1978, she was appointed a CBE — Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire and in 1981 was created a life peer, Baroness Platt of Writtle. (For my overseas readers: this put her in the House of Lords, the other parliamentary house.)

In 1983 — when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister — she was appointed chairman of Britain’s Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) and began earning a salary for the first time in decades.

Platt’s idea of feminism differed dramatically to the flavour of that time and ours. She saw women’s opportunities through the lens of someone who had to fight her way up in a male-dominated atmosphere. (Many years ago I saw a television interview of a woman in New York who did the same in the 1950s on Wall Street. She abhorred what passed for feminism.)

The Telegraph describes Platt’s job in the EOC as follows:

Brisk, kindly and bursting with good intentions, as chairman of one of Westminster’s least-loved quangos Lady Platt found herself cast as piggy-in-the-middle in the equality debate. “There are male chauvinists on one side, militant feminists on the other and me on a high wire in the middle,” she said. She was “passionately interested” in job-sharing, flexi-time and helping married woman to get back into the mainstream, but felt that this was better achieved voluntarily by employers than imposed by government.

So while she was lukewarm on some issues dear to the feminist heart, such as state-funded nurseries, and dismissed the EOC-backed case of two women against the Fleet Street hostelry El Vino [infamous haunt for male journalists] as “rather frivolous”, she was delighted when, for example, a woman crane driver won damages for victimisation at work: “That’s the sort of thing that will make employers think twice. It’s that, and not more legislation, that will bring about real equality in the end.”

Baroness Platt retired in 1988. Her great disappointment was that more young women were not enrolling in engineering courses at university. She blamed this on a cultural and educational bias towards feminine subjects for girls.

She lived and died a faithful Anglican, suggesting:

if people took to heart God’s commandment to love Him and love thy neighbour, “we should all be living in a very much happier and better community”.

How true. Would that we had more women like Baroness Platt today. A vanishing breed, indeed.

The obituaries in The Telegraph are often very well written, especially when they cover Britons who served in the Second World War.

In the United States, this age cohort is referred to as the Greatest Generation, coined by television journalist and author Tom Brokaw. His book of 15 years ago of the same name details lives of heroes from that era.

It is not uncommon for Telegraph readers commenting on British obituaries to say these people are ‘a vanishing breed’. Someone wrote the same of Major Denis Arnold, who died on January 14, 2015 at the age of 96.

Arnold was born and raised in west London. At that time, this area was semi-rural. It later became informally known as Metroland — freshly linked by the Tube and promoted as a newly desirable suburban community in the 1920s and 1930s. Today, it is fully built up and rather congested. Heathrow is the hub of employment for many residents.

Young Denis grew up in a wooden house in Hounslow. His parents had chickens and a goat. They also grew fruit and vegetables, allowing them to be self-sustaining where food was concerned. The family had no electricity. Nor did they have running water. They collected rainwater in old tubs and other receptacles.

Arnold left school at the age of 14 to work in the research laboratories of the renowned Associated Portland Cement Manufacturers, which, today, is part of the Blue Circle Group of companies. An adolescent who left school at that age back then was significantly better educated than 14-year olds today.

In 1939, he joined the RA Militia Regiment. At the time, war was imminent and the British government had reason to believe that Germany might invade the United Kingdom via Ireland. (There is much there which no longer makes the history books or school lessons. The evidence that some Irish were conspiring against Britain is now considered either politically incorrect or false.) Arnold was stationed in Northern Ireland to help fight off a German attack.

In 1942, Arnold was commissioned into the 13th Battalion, Royal Welch Fusiliers and volunteered to serve in Nigeria’s Royal West Africa Frontier Force. He was later transferred to India and then Burma to be trained in long-range penetration operations.

On June 1, 1944, he made a courageous — and what could have been a disciplinary — decision. However, he had to act quickly and without permission:

He was leading a reconnaissance patrol along a narrow ridge path just north of the Kyusanlai Pass, overlooking Nammun, north Burma, and following the line of a Japanese telephone cable, when he saw the tops of the enemy bivouacs ahead on a steep knoll on the ridge.

He walked quietly up the path until he was within a few paces of a slit trench. Inside, there were four Japanese with a light machine gun who were not keeping a good lookout. Having decided to change his mission into a fighting patrol, Arnold retraced his steps. Dividing his platoon into two parties, he ordered them to stalk the enemy position and attack from the right and left flanks.

Arnold himself went back up the track and disposed of the gun crew with a grenade and his semi-automatic American carbine. His two sections closed with the enemy using small arms and grenades. The Japanese took heavy losses, but the attack could not be pressed home because of the steep slope and thick undergrowth.

Arnold and his men then made a fighting withdrawal. Grenades and automatic fire from four machine guns followed them down the hill, and they beat off an attack by a Japanese section which was pursuing them. Enemy casualties were estimated at 14 killed and as many wounded. Arnold’s force suffered one killed and one wounded.

Journalism such as that makes The Telegraph‘s obituaries worth reading.

The end result was that the enemy retreated. Arnold was given an Immediate MC (Military Cross).

Meanwhile, back in England, Arnold’s mother wrote him a letter and enclosed a temperance pledge card which she asked him to sign. Oh, my! A drink would have been most welcome under the circumstances, but there was none to be had.

Arnold was demobbed in 1946 and returned to work with the Blue Circle Group. His wanderlust did not leave him, and he became their overseas operations director.

Even after retirement in Kent, he continued to travel around the world.

In his leisure time he played golf until the age of 90. His wife predeceased him. Three of his four children survive him.

Reading about lives such as Major Arnold’s is most inspiring. He probably grew up reading Boys’ Own adventures and was taught to live for God, King and Country.

I cannot imagine that happening now, can you?

Americans interested in similar Second World War stories and profiles of brave servicemen would do well to check out Pacific Paratrooper, written by one of my readers. I have learned much about the war by reading it and highly recommend the site.

Bible and crossContinuing a study of the passages from Luke’s Gospel which have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary for public worship, today’s post is part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.

The following Bible passages have been excluded from the three-year Lectionary used by many Catholic and Protestant churches around the world.

Do some clergy using the Lectionary really want us understand Holy Scripture in its entirety? I wonder.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Luke 22:31-34

Jesus Foretells Peter’s Denial

31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you,[a] that he might sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” 33 Peter[b] said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” 34 Jesus[c] said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.”


The setting for today’s reading is the private room where Jesus instituted the Last Supper.

Immediately following, in their carnal weakness, the Apostles debated who among them was the greatest. They still had no idea of the significance of what had happened and what would happen the following day.

Jesus interrupted their foolishness with this answer (Luke 22:25-27):

25 And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26 But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. 27 For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.

Today’s passage — our Lord’s warning to Peter — follows. Satan entered Judas to enact the betrayal. Now Jesus says that Satan is entering — sifting — Peter and the other ten.

It is important to note that ‘you’ in verse 31 is plural. So is the first ‘you’ in verse 32.

However, the second ‘you’ in verse 32 is singular. The use of the word ‘turn’ means ‘repent’, ‘convert’, ‘turn away from temptation': in other words, once Peter broke Satan’s grip, he could help the other Apostles strengthen their faith. Jesus has prayed for this to occur.

Why did Jesus use the words ‘sift you like wheat’? Matthew Henry offers this analysis:

Peter, who used to be the mouth of the rest in speaking to Christ, is here made the ear of the rest and what is designed for warning to them all (all you shall be offended, because of me) is directed to Peter, because he was principally concerned, being in particular manner struck at by the tempter: Satan has desired to have you.

Henry says this conversation could have occurred between God and Satan with regard to the latter’s ‘demand’ (verse 31):

Probably Satan had accused the disciples to God as mercenary in following Christ, and aiming at nothing else therein but enriching and advancing themselves in this world, as he accused Job. “No,” saith God, “they are honest men, and men of integrity.” “Give me leave to try them,” saith Satan, “and Peter particularly.”

Satan can act only in the parameters God allows. God and His Son will not allow a permanent falling away of the Apostles’ faith, no matter how much Satan desires it.

As for ‘sifting’, Henry explains (emphasis in bold in the original, purple mine):

He desired to have them, that he might sift them, that he might show them to be chaff, and not wheat. The troubles that were now coming upon them were sifting, would try what there was in them: but this was not all[;] Satan desired to sift them by his temptations, and endeavoured by those troubles to draw them into sin, to put them into a loss and hurry, as corn when it is sifted to bring the chaff uppermost, or rather to shake out the wheat and leave nothing but the chaff. Observe, Satan could not sift them unless God gave him leave: He desired to have them, as he begged of God a permission to try and tempt Job. Exetesato–“He has challenged you, has undertaken to prove you a company of hypocrites, and Peter especially, the forwardest of you.”

Henry also offers this explanation, which comes from other Bible scholars:

Some suggest that Satan demanded leave to sift them as their punishment for striving who should be greatest, in which contest Peter perhaps was very warm: “Leave them to me, to sift them for it.”

In any event, Satan wanted the Apostles to disperse, desert and permanently deny Christ.

Peter, upon hearing Jesus’s words, pledged his loyalty unto death (verse 32). But Jesus told him that by the time the rooster crowed at dawn, he would deny him three times (verse 33).

Peter felt comfortable as long as our Lord was in his midst. However, once separated, it was a different story.

John MacArthur posits that Jesus referred to his leading Apostle by his former name of Simon to indicate that he would soon fall into his old ways. After Peter claimed he would go with Him unto death, Jesus addressed him as Peter — the Rock, a future leader — albeit with the foretelling of his denial.

Once Peter began ministering to others, he understood the importance of resisting temptation and sin. He wrote his letters — epistles — from personal experience. (See Essential Bible Verses page, near the bottom, for 1 Peter and 2 Peter.)

When he approached the end of his life, MacArthur says:

He ended up being imprisoned for his faith in Christ and ultimately crucified upside down because he wasn’t worthy, he said, to be crucified the way his Lord was crucified.  So he did go to prison and to death. 

MacArthur says that Jesus warned about Peter’s denial twice that evening: once immediately after the Last Supper and again at the Mount of Olives in the Garden of Gethsemane.

John’s Gospel aligns with Luke’s in the indoor setting (John 13:36-38):

36 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.” 37 Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” 38 Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.

Mark’s and Matthew’s accounts take place at the Mount of Olives. Here is Mark 14:26-31:

26 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. 27And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ 28But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 29 Peter said to him, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” 30And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” 31But he said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same.

And Matthew 26:30-35:

30 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. 31 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ 32 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 33 Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” 34 Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” 35 Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same.

It is important for us to be able to tell detractors of Scripture that, with minor variations, the Gospel accounts are consistent.

Next time: Luke 22:35-38

In breezing through The New York Times, a few health headlines from the past month caught my eye.

Allergies connected to dishwashers?

A study published in the journal Pediatrics shows a correlation between allergy prevalence and dishwasher use.

Washing by hand, the researchers say, could be better.

As always, check the readers’ comments which proved to be a mixed bag. Some who grew up in homes where Mum washed the dishes by hand still had allergies. Some who grew up with dishwashers were allergy-free.

SpouseMouse and I did not grow up with dishwashers in our parental households nor do we have one now. Neither of us has allergies, but who knows?

Possible things to check out with regard to dishwashers — thanks, NYT readers — are filters which need to be replaced, too much detergent and film on plates or glasses. Any one of these, or a combination thereof, might trigger allergies or skin conditions.

Feed peanut butter to infants?

Speaking of allergies, should mothers feed their infants small amounts of peanut butter in order to prevent a possible nut intolerance?

An editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine says they should. Dr. Rebecca S. Gruchalla of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and Dr. Hugh A. Sampson of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City point to a study done in London in 2008 among Israeli and British Jewish infants. The Israeli children ended up with fewer cases of peanut allergies because their mothers fed them small amounts of a local peanut product when they were only a few months old.

A more recent study based on this looked at infant reactions to peanut protein. Some mothers were told to give their infants a peanut product and other mothers were told to avoid it. The children were tested weekly for an allergic response.

Of those consuming a prescribed peanut product, only 10.6% developed an allergy by the age of five. By contrast, 35.3% of children not eating the peanut product were allergic to it.

However, as ever, this is not intended as being a conclusive debate on the matter. More research needs to be done.

NYT readers debated the matter heatedly.

Parents should check with their paediatrician first. However, a small amount of peanut butter mixed in now and then with appropriate baby food might accustom the body to handling it. It won’t work for every baby, but a consultation with the doctor and an allergy test beforehand will confirm if this is the right way forward.

Older generations never had nut allergies. I’d never heard of such a thing until the 1990s. Why is this now such an increasingly common disorder?

Should athletes turn to a high-fat instead of a high-carb diet?

This story is about the ketogenic diet, which my regular readers over the past ten months will recognise from my posts on the subject.

When I was growing up in the 1970s, many athletes were still eating plenty of steak and eggs to build muscle and stamina. That changed during the 1980s. Today, pasta and rice are daily staples.

However, new advice from the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee suggests that athletes should also be consuming a certain portion of fatty foods for their metabolism.

Professor Jeff Volek of Ohio State University in Columbus is a co-author of the paper in question. Anyone who is following a ketogenic eating plan will recognise his name as one of the diet’s biggest supporters.

In the opposing corner is Louise Burke, the head of sports nutrition at the Australian Sports Commission. She says there is no proof that a high-fat diet is better than a carbohydrate-based one.

However, both agree that there is no firm definition of a high-fat, low-carb diet.

In reality — and what the article doesn’t say — is that this will vary amongst individuals. Those who are in a normal weight range will need a closer balance between fat and protein whilst severely restricting carbs. Those who are overweight to obese will need much more fat than protein whilst also keeping carbs to 10 – 15g a day.

Clicking on my ketogenic diet link reveals the physical and mental benefits as well as the resources where one can go to calculate specific daily macros — gram ratios — for fat, protein and carbohydrate.

My complaints with the article are twofold. First, it says that ketogenic followers experience days or weeks of sluggishness when adapting. That happens only with inadequate salt and water intake. The condition is known as ‘keto flu’ and can be potentially dangerous. The remedy from Day 1 is more salt (and possibly potassium) on a daily basis, possibly 1.5 to 2x what one was consuming previously. Cups of bouillon are helpful. With regard to water, even a sedentary person on this eating plan must drink one litre per day. Athletes will probably need around three to four litres a day.

I never had keto flu nor has SpouseMouse. My year’s anniversary is coming up in April. SpouseMouse has been on the eating plan for six months.

Secondly, the reporter says that the food is boring. Not at all. In fact, it is the most fun anyone can have with food: all the tastiest things, including fatty meats, are allowed. Nearly everyone also ends up craving more vegetables and salads, too. How can that be a bad thing?

My suggestion is to copy Italian and Indian restaurants by making one basic sauce — cream-based, in my case — and varying it according to vegetable or protein (especially fish). We have creamy leeks, courgettes, onions and spinach nearly every week. With fatty steak, I sauté onions and mushrooms in butter and animal fat (goose, beef dripping or lard). We eat poached eggs in hollandaise sauce without a worry.  Bread, potatoes, pasta — who needs it? We’re quite satisfied — and keto-adapted.

It seems our media do not wish to divert too much from the received Ancel Keys dietary advice dating from the 1950s.

Yes, there are parts of the world where populations do rely heavily on carbohydrates. However, they are surviving on a subsistence diet and working strenuously during the day. Most Westerners do not fit that category. Most of us are sedentary. Even athletes can balance out their diets quite comfortably.

With any of these headline stories, concerned readers should check with their doctors first. This post is not intended as medical advice.

Not so long ago Al Qaeda received its funding from rich donors.

Nowadays it operates comfortably thanks to a handful of European governments and companies eager to pay ransom money for the release of their citizens or employees who have been kidnapped.

In July 2014, The New York Times carried an excellent article, ‘Paying Ransom, Europe Bankrolls Qaeda Terror’.

Who pays?

The US and the UK still refuse to pay kidnapping ransoms. Some might find this cruel, but it is in order not to aid and abet criminal or terrorist organisations.

However, not every country sees it that way, particularly in continental Europe. The NYT tells us (emphases mine):

While European governments deny paying ransoms, an investigation by The New York Times found that Al Qaeda and its direct affiliates have taken in at least $125 million in revenue from kidnappings since 2008, of which $66 million was paid just last year.

The US Treasury came up with an even higher amount — $165 million — over the same time period.

Ransom money is funneled to terrorists via proxies or is allocated as part of a foreign aid budget. Corporations can also buy kidnapping and ransom insurance for employees at risk. The insurance company pays out in such an event.

The reporter who wrote the article — Rukmini Callimachi — was on assignment for the Associated Press in Mali in 2013. Callimachi was given access to thousands of pages of Al Qaeda documents which detailed their kidnapping processes.

The article carries two charts of countries affected by kidnapping. We discover that between 2008 and 2013:

– A French company paid the highest amount of ransom over a four-year period: $40.4 million.

– Another French company paid $17.7 million between 2010 and 2011.

– Qatar and Oman paid $20.4 million between 2012 and 2013 for the release of two Finns, one Austrian and one Swiss national.

– Switzerland paid $12.4 million in 2009 to secure the release of two of their citizens and one German.

– Spain paid $11 million between 2009 and 2013.

– Austria paid $3.2 million in 2008.

There were also undisclosed sources of ransom money, which totalled $21.4 million.

Callimachi reported that certain governments have denied payment:

The foreign ministries of Austria, France, Germany, Italy and Switzerland denied in emails or telephone interviews that they had paid the terrorists. “The French authorities have repeatedly stated that France does not pay ransoms,” said Vincent Floreani, deputy director of communication for France’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

On the other hand:

Several senior diplomats involved in past negotiations have described the decision to pay ransom for their countries’ citizens as an agonizing calculation: Accede to the terrorists’ demand, or allow innocent people to be killed, often in a gruesome, public way?

Money brings results

Another chart reveals the numbers of hostages released once ransom money has been delivered. That said, four French people and one German died. At the time the NYT article appeared, the American and British victims were still being held captive, with one death and one escape.

Experts believe that Al Qaeda could be developing a strategy to kidnap citizens only from countries who will pay for their release. Therefore, it is possible that fewer British and American citizens will be held hostage in future.

In any event, the loosely-organised terrorist organisation is raking it in:

– $91.5 million in the Islamic Maghreb (North Africa).

– $5.1 million in the Shabab.

– $29.9 million in the Arabian Peninsula.

The leader in the Arabian Peninsula, Nasser al-Wuhayshi, wrote:

Kidnapping hostages is an easy spoil, which I may describe as a profitable trade and a precious treasure.

Thus it has been throughout history, particularly in that part of the world.

He added:

Thanks to Allah, most of the battle costs, if not all, were paid from through the spoils. Almost half the spoils came from hostages.


How payment proceeds

Amazingly, the article tells us, in the early days of Al Qaeda kidnaps, ransom money was bundled into a suitcase and dropped off in the relevant capital city.

Nowadays, it is much more complicated. A anonymous government official told Callimachi how things are done.

European governments send an escort/negotiator and a driver with the money across several hundred miles of desert to one of two capitals: Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso or Niamey in Niger.

Nearly another full day of driving lies ahead afterward until the team reaches the first contact point. There, they receive a set of GPS co-ordinates which they follow to an intermediate destination several hours away. A second set of co-ordinates is then sent, followed by more hours of driving. At least three sets of co-ordinates are given altogether.

At the final destination, armed Al Qaeda operatives sit on a blanket and count the money. They then divide it into parcels to be buried. They record the GPS co-ordinates of these sites for easy access later.

However, in Yemen — where a Frenchwoman working there since 2013 was kidnapped the other day — Oman and Qatar act as intermediaries to deliver any ransom money.

Tourist guides are not enough

Many of us are amazed at the naïveté of tourists, particularly my fellow Europeans, who insist on travelling to dangerous countries for notional relaxation.

They think that having a trusted native guide is enough. Then they find that they’re in big trouble. The guide cannot protect them. His life is also in danger.

The article has interviews with a few well-meaning Europeans who were kidnapped.

Perhaps governments need to make it clear on their travel alerts that the risk of kidnapping and death is very high. Furthermore, stating that ransoms will not be paid might go a long way off to stem the tide.

Travel agents and tour companies should also call a halt to such hiking and climbing holidays.

The March 2015 issue of The Atlantic has an excellent article by Graeme Wood called ‘What ISIS Really Wants’.

Everyone would do well to read it at least once. It is easy to follow, fascinating and detailed. A few people commented that it tells us more than daily reports on television news or in the press.

IS propaganda involves a heady combination of bloody battle, religious purity and apocalyptic prophecy. It is Koranic; it is religious. The way its followers and recruiters present it online proves irresistible for thousands of youths around the world.

Wood’s article also addresses two prominent Christian converts to Islam.

A summary with excerpts follows.

Apocalyptic offshoot of Al-Qaeda

Before getting into the story of IS, here is (repeated) advice to Christians who get excited by prophecy involving the Apocalypse: don’t.

A number of Christians online grew up reading apocalyptic literature and think this is what the Church is about. Were they to read a balanced explanation of Revelation (see my Essential Bible Verses page) based on a Lutheran amillenialist perspective, they would be left wanting. It’s not exciting enough, even if it is the truth.

The same holds true for adolescent or young adult converts to the IS cause. It has all the elements of adventure, bloodshed and fervour.

On this subject, Wood quotes George Orwell on Adolf Hitler:

Whereas Socialism, and even capitalism in a more grudging way, have said to people “I offer you a good time,” Hitler has said to them, “I offer you struggle, danger, and death,” and as a result a whole nation flings itself at his feet … We ought not to underrate its emotional appeal.

Al-Qaeda shied away from Islamic apocalyptic pronouncements about the Mahdi (a saviour figure) and the End of Days. It was not in their framework. Will McCants of the Brookings Institution told Wood that Al-Qaeda leadership considers it unsophisticated:

Bin Laden and Zawahiri are from elite Sunni families who look down on this kind of speculation and think it’s something the masses engage in.

However, that didn’t prevent a group within Al-Qaeda to wax lyrical about it:

McCants says a prominent Islamist in Iraq approached bin Laden in 2008 to warn him that the group was being led by millenarians who were “talking all the time about the Mahdi and making strategic decisions” based on when they thought the Mahdi was going to arrive. “Al-Qaeda had to write to [these leaders] to say ‘Cut it out.’ ”

That group became ISIS — the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham:

During the last years of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, the Islamic State’s immediate founding fathers, by contrast, saw signs of the end times everywhere. They were anticipating, within a year, the arrival of the Mahdi—a messianic figure destined to lead the Muslims to victory before the end of the world.

Wood likens IS to an odd sect, not unlike those of Jim Jones or David Koresh. He does not compare it to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Koranic to the letter

IS takes the Koran seriously, to the letter. Its adherents are ever ready to accuse other Muslims of apostasy for not being holy or observant enough.

IS justifies its existence through its self-proclaimed caliphate under the leadership of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who has been in charge since 2010.

Sheikh Abu Muhammad al-Adnani is IS’s chief spokesman. He exhorts followers to crush unbelievers, borrowing the phraseology of the 7th century with passages from the Koran. Everything about IS is based on the book, down to coinage and stationery.

Wood tells us that IS believes that many deaths must take place if pure practice of Islam is to predominate. As IS is Sunni, their first targets are Shia Muslims and the Yazidis. Sunnis consider Shia as a departure from true Islam. Therefore, Wood says, it is estimated that 200 million Shias must die. Although we know little about it, those who are studying IS believe that they are murdering individuals nearly every day and staging mass executions every few weeks.

IS also considers Muslim leaders around the world to be apostate, as they favour a manmade political system and voting.

Christians, for now, are left alone as long as they pay IS jizya, a koranic tax imposed on non-Muslims. Jizya not only brings in extra money, it also serves as a constant reminder to those paying it that they have been ‘subdued’.

The Princeton scholar Bernard Haykel, originally from the Lebanon, says that it is a mistake for Westerners to consider IS as un-Islamic. He says that this type of outlook emanates from interfaith dialogue and has no basis in reality. Haykel points out that everything IS members are doing conforms to the Koran and is a rerun of the conquests that took place in the early centuries of Islam.

For IS members and supporters, the Syrian city of Dabiq is where the final battle against ‘Rome’ — the Islamic version of corrupt and worldly ‘Babylon’ — will unfold. Dabiq is near the better-known Aleppo and is in a huge expanse of rural flatland. Wood says one can imagine it could be a battleground. The IS publication is named Dabiq, and the city is often referenced in beheading videos.

Two different converts from Christian backgrounds

Many Christians say, ‘Why are we reading about this when it has nothing to do with us?’

However, even certain Christians can ‘revert’ to Islam. Wood gives us their stories and photographs.

Travelling to Australia, Wood met with Musa Cerantonio, the son of Irish and Calabrian parents. He has an online presence as one of IS’s ‘new spiritual authorities’. Cerantonio used to be a televangelist on an Islamic television channel in Egypt until he started making too many appeals for a caliphate. Now in a suburb of Melbourne, the convert takes his message and sermons online via Twitter and Facebook.

The Australian government has confiscated Cerantonio’s passport, and he is well known to the local police. Whilst he is technically unaffiliated with IS, he and his wife attempted to emigrate via the Philippines, where he overstayed his visa. Hence the passport confiscation.

Cerantonio is thrilled with the IS caliphate. In general, he believes pledging allegiance to a caliphate is necessary for salvation. However, he told Wood that he has not personally pledged his to IS, which would be forbidden under Australian law.

Cerantonio told Wood he believes that the aforementioned Rome actually refers to Turkey, which many Islamists think had a false caliphate in that it did not enforce every rule of the Koran, e.g. slavery and stoning. After the fateful battle in Dabiq:

Cerantonio said, the caliphate will expand and sack Istanbul. Some believe it will then cover the entire Earth, but Cerantonio suggested its tide may never reach beyond the Bosporus. An anti-Messiah, known in Muslim apocalyptic literature as Dajjal, will come from the Khorasan region of eastern Iran and kill a vast number of the caliphate’s fighters, until just 5,000 remain, cornered in Jerusalem. Just as Dajjal prepares to finish them off, Jesus—the second-most-revered prophet in Islam—will return to Earth, spear Dajjal, and lead the Muslims to victory.

One can see that wrapping the relevant imagery into sermons or messages would have the desired effect on certain minds.

However, a former Catholic who is now a practising imam in Philadelphia, does not hold with IS, although he is an extreme, albeit nonviolent, Muslim. Wood met with Breton — now Abdullah — Pocius. A former Chicagoan, Pocius grew up in a Polish Catholic family. He now sounds as if he were a Muslim his entire life.

Pocius’s Islam could be compared to the legalism of an ultra-Orthodox Jew. Pocius believes that only an internal devotion to obedience of the laws of Islam will bring about a caliphate, and then only through the will of Allah. For him, Islam is all about personal holiness, not war against others.

He agrees with IS on daily observance and practices but says their penchant for violence is not for him. Wood tells us that Pocius is a ‘quietist Salafi’ and eschews anything to do with excommunicating others and a socio-political system. That said, he is not happy with the US government; he told Wood his mosque was under surveillance and that his mother had been harrassed at her place of work.


Wood’s article has much more, including a piece on London’s Anjem Choudhury, a map from January 2015 of IS territory as well as possible solutions as to how Western governments can approach this group. Yes, it is growing. Yes, it must be contained. Yes, it must be seen to be stagnating or receding.

Wood says that one of the best ways this can happen is for opposing Muslims in the area to resist expansion.

Expect a long battle ahead. This could take years.

On February 21, 2015, British media carried the story of the three London schoolgirls who flew to Turkey with the objective of travelling to Syria.

The 15-year-olds are good students and gave no reason for family or teachers to suspect that they might be drawn into nefarious activities. It transpires that one of them was communicating via Twitter with a woman active in IS.

Last October and again this month, the French newsweekly L’Obs carried an exclusive on a French girl — also 15 — named Léa (not her real name). She was communicating with IS recruiters via Facebook. They offered her a virtual husband and were working hard to get her to Syria. She planned to leave home one day after school; her passport was already in her school bag. Her atheist parents, bemused by her increasingly reclusive behaviour, checked her Facebook account and saw the conversations she had been having. They notified the security police (DGSI) who began monitoring the conversation. Léa was arrested and held in custody for two days. She now deeply regrets having been drawn in so tightly into that network. She is also afraid of repercussions.

However, the fact is that whilst the number of jihadi recruits might be small, it continues to grow. The Guardian reported findings from a United Nations report on the phenomenon from October 2014:

“Numbers since 2010 are now many times the size of the cumulative numbers of foreign terrorist fighters between 1990 and 2010 – and are growing,” says the report, produced by a security council committee that monitors al-Qaida.

The UN report did not list the 80-plus countries that it said were the source of fighters flowing fighters into Iraq and Syria. But in recent months, Isis supporters have appeared in places as unlikely as the Maldives, and its videos proudly display jihadists with Chilean-Norwegian and other diverse backgrounds.

“There are instances of foreign terrorist fighters from France, the Russian Federation and and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland operating together,” it states. More than 500 British citizens are believed to have travelled to the region since 2011.

Le Monde provided more detail:

– 15,000 people from these 80+ different countries have joined fundamentalist groups in either Syria or Iraq.

– 1,130 of them are from France: 843 men and 243 women, among them 53 minors.

– Of these 1,130 people, 370 are currently in Syria and Iraq, including 88 women and 10 minors.

– There is no single ‘type’ involved. They can come from atheist, Christian or Muslim backgrounds. They come from poor suburbs as well as solidly middle class families (such as Léa’s). Some feel disaffected, others have a good social or scholastic background. (Furthermore, two-parent households can be affected just as much as those headed by one parent.)

– Recruiters urge their candidates to watch violent terrorist videos, some of which employ themes or elements of Hollywood films and popular video games.

– Not all those who make it to Syria or Iraq fight in the front line of terrorism. Some men — and now women — are part of the IS police force. Others work in administration. Many women are given roles involving childminding or teaching jihad to youngsters. They also become recruiters.

It is a phenomenon which should concern us. Parents really need to develop close relationships with their children and engage in conversation with them. Daily dinners around the table would make a fine start.

In recent weeks certain Western countries have been considering, if not trialling, methods of dealing with terrorists.

For those suspects or those convicted of terrorist activity who have dual nationality, Australia is drafting a series of amendments which could deprive those persons of Australian citizenship.

A few weeks earlier, at the end of January 2015, France revoked French citzenship of a Franco-Moroccan terrorist. The man in question is still a citizen of Morocco, his country of origin.

On February 23, the French government confiscated the passports and identity cards of six people who had made plans to travel to Syria; their families had informed the authorities of their plans. The confiscations last for six months and can be renewed.

It will be interesting to see if this works or if those affected can obtain paperwork on the black market.

A person with single nationality cannot be stripped of it, according to the UN Convention of August 30, 1961. However, certain politicians, such as Marine Le Pen, and a number of ordinary citizens think that those working against their home countries should ‘find another nationality’. If someone with terrorist sympathies leaves for Syria, that country should accept them and offer them citizenship. It is doubtful whether that is realistic or sensible.

However, another possibility is reviving treason laws which no longer seem to exist or have been weakened beyond all recognition.

Another conversation making the rounds among everyday people is reinstating capital punishment.

Enforcing treason laws makes the most sense. However, it is unlikely that our politicians would have the guts to do that.



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