Facing the Rascal Multitude: John Knox, May 11th, and Perth’s little-known revolution

Facing the Rascal Multitude: John Knox, May 11th, and Perth’s little-known revolution


Malory Nye

published on 11 May 2016

Today is May 11, a date that has considerable historical significance for the city of Perth in Scotland. Indeed, it is also a very important day for Scotland too.

On this day in 1559, a large crowd went on a two-day rampage through the city, in particular emptying and then pulling down four ancient monasteries and religious houses. They were fired up by the words of the reformist preacher, John Knox, himself very recently returned to Scotland from exile in John Calvin’s Geneva. It is widely held that the sermon Knox preached in the church of St John’s in the centre of Perth on the morning of 11 May was the prime motivation for the ensuing events.

This riotous rampage was not random.

It was directed against the sites of the international social elite of the time. These were the wealthy religious orders of the dominant (Catholic) Church: the Dominicans (Blackfriars), Franciscans (Greyfriars), Carmelites (Whitefriars), and Carthusians.

These religious organisations, that were spread through many different countries, were large-scale landowners and politically well connected. They oiled the machinery of many European governments, contributed in large part to the elitist universities, and connected the ruling powers of the rival (and often warring) states of Catholic Christendom.

But these religious orders were also very out of touch with the societies in which they worked and preached, and were almost universally despised by the masses in Scotland. In many respects they were the 1 percent, bankers, and tax avoiders of the sixteenth century.

And so, after several years of political and religious tension in Scotland, the return of John Knox to his home country proved to be the spark that ignited wild fires of resentment against the Church, and in particular the representatives of the Church in these religious houses.


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Jamestown: Downton Abbey meets Lord of the Flies?

Jamestown: Downton Abbey meets Lord of the Flies?

A major new TV drama about ‘America’s birth’ is coming in 2017, so what should we expect of it?


Malory Nye

published on 23 April 2016

When and how did America get started? I mean, particularly, English (and English-speaking) America? What would it be like if we could go back in time and be there when it happened, at the point when the first English people made a success of colonizing the edge of the vast north American continent?

How much of this do we really want to know? If we lift up this particular rock of history, what darkness will be find lurking underneath? Religious intolerance, genocide, racism and enslavement, violence, hunger, and blatant land theft?

This is the challenge for the recently announced new drama series titled Jamestown, which starts production this month.

Jamestown is being made by Carnival Films (who also made Downton Abbey) for the British Sky TV (owned by Rupert Murdoch). Carnival have previously worked with Sky on the British adaptation of Stan Lee’s Lucky Man, set in a gritty, contemporary crime-ridden London.

According to Sky TV:

The brave story of the birth of a nation, Jamestown charts the early days of the first British settlers as they embark on their lives in America…

Battling against inhospitable wilderness, suspicious indigenous people and a host of brutal challenges with ambition, power and entrepreneurial spirit on their side, these pioneers will define a new way of life. Jamestown will reveal the spirit of adventure and true grit of these early adventurers who travelled in search of a better life…

With whole-hearted tales of love, affairs, births, marriage and death, Jamestown tells a modern story in a historic setting. With all manner of trials, the settlers come together to conquer and adjust to the realities of their new lives on the other side of the world. Jamestown is a place for them to build new lives and start again but it is also somewhere past secrets can be buried.

The announcement of this new drama raises mixed feelings 


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[Photo credit: Jamestown settlement, Virginia by Pablo Sanchez]

On the mundanity of evil: British slavery, William Stuckart, and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

On the mundanity of evil: British slavery, William Stuckart, and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas


Malory Nye

published on 2 September 2015

Last night I watched The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas for the first time. It shocked and surprised me, particularly for its ending, which I had not known about before.

It is an uncomfortable film on a number of levels, particularly so because it does not help you deal easily with the distinction between the ‘normal’ German boy with the English Home Counties accent and the seemingly lost souls of the Jewish men and boys herded into the death chambers.

On what level is the tragedy of the film? The one or the many?

I think there is enough in the film to make you realise that the heart of the story is in the simplistic, overwhelming denials of ‘living with’ a death camp on your doorstep.

But the discomfort is lingering. The industrial production of death was the most mundane of evils. And once it has been done it cannot be undone.

It made me think about a quite different film account of the holocaust. That is Conspiracy, the 2001 BBC/HBO dramatic version of the 1942 Wannsee conference on what the Nazis called the ‘final solution to the “Jewish question”’.

Conspiracy shows how Nazi Germany came to the decision to attempt to exterminate the Jewish people from history. In a short business meeting, the impossible evil became possible, required, and implementable.

What is most memorable for me about Conspiracy is the character of Wilhelm Stuckart (played by Colin Firth), a high ranking lawyer for the Interior Ministry, who was responsible for framing many of the ‘racial laws’ that implemented the persecution and exclusion of Jewish and other minorities (that is, those born outside of the community of the German Volk). 


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[Photo credit: Sachsenhausen clothes courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]

If the study of religion is the answer, then what is the question? Critical liberal arts and open minds

If the study of religion is the answer, then what is the question? Critical liberal arts and open minds

Huffington Post

Malory Nye

published on 26 August 2015

In a recent piece on the Huffington Post, Professor Gary Laderman, Chair of the Department of Religion at Emory University, gave us five (potentially) compelling reasons why any student should want to study religion.

As the writer of one of the many introductory textbooks in this field, Religion: the Basics, and having spent much of the last year setting up an introductory podcast for the study of religion (Religion Bites), I am largely in sympathy with his call to action.

However, there is a shadow on this seemingly bright horizon.

The news broke on Friday 21 August that the University of Stirling’s distinctive and long-standing programme on religion would be closed, with immediate effect. This comes on the heels of a similar announcement of closure of the religion programme at the University of California, Berkeley.

A programme closure is always bad news, and this particularly so. I taught in the Stirling Religion department for a number of years, and so feel a personal sadness to see the programme and subject area dying. I also feel strongly for the situation of the four full-time staff who now face considerable insecurity.

Religion at Stirling, in particular, stood out for years as the only Department of Religion in Scotland that was independent from any centre for theology or divinity. Religion is otherwise taught in the ancient universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow, St Andrews, and Aberdeen, but all within the context of much larger units that are primarily focused on the study of the Christian theological, textual, and historical traditions. Religion at Stirling was about something different from that.

The death of Religion at Stirling, if that is indeed what we are seeing, does appear to be counter intuitive in this respect. As Laderman’s rhetoric reminded us, there is a deep and urgent thirst in the world for knowledge and understanding about religion and religions — which is by no means limited to issues of Islam.  

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[Photo credit: Detail of Creation of Adam, fresco by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel. The Creation Michelangelo Vatican Museums Italy – Creative Commons by gnuckx]

Slavery? What the hell were we thinking? How the (white) British should be angry (and shamed) about our ancestors

Slavery? What the hell were we thinking? How the (white) British should be angry (and shamed) about our ancestors

Huffington Post

Malory Nye

published on 17 August 2015

Imagine if this story was the plot for an epic Hollywood blockbuster:

Two brothers clash, let us call them John and David. John steals from David, mistreating him, defiling and humiliating him, taking everything and more from his sibling…

What happens in the next generation, when the mistreated David’s children grow into adulthood? Do they forgive and seek reconciliation with their unrepentant cousins, John’s own children? Or do they seek justice or revenge?

If we were watching that Hollywood movie, who would the audience sympathise with? I think you are with me on this so far, we would most likely all root for the unfortunate David and his children?

So why don’t we, then? Let’s take another scenario, a white kid in America, when the topic of contemporary race and racism is raised.

‘Why should I feel guilty? I didn’t make slavery happen. And I haven’t taken any land from Indians. So you shouldn’t try to make me feel bad.’

But really? White privilege is not about feeling guilt. No one needs that. It is also not about being or not being ‘a racist’.

In fact, very often racism is prevalent among people who do not think they are racists. The act of ignoring (or denying) one’s white privilege is itself a form of racism.


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Photo credit: ‘Slave Market — Atlanta Georgia 1864’ by George N. Barnard, uploaded by Rolling Thunder orig. source: Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

British nationalism: a love that dares not speak its own name

British nationalism: a love that dares not speak its own name

Huffington Post

Malory Nye

published on 1 May 2015

There is a possibility that the 7 May 2015 General Election will be the last such UK election that includes Scotland.

Imagine the (unlikely) scenario that a triumphant SNP vote elects all 59 Scottish MPs, giving a very clear mandate for a review of the issue of independence. As the largest ‘third’ party in the Commons, the SNP are able to form an alliance with a severely curtailed and dejected Labour minority government, who have learnt the lesson of adamant unionism.

This results in some form of second referendum, on the basis of the SNP mandate for change. Then, the Scottish electorate welcome the chance to revisit the #Indyref issues, and express their distaste for Westminster politics by choosing independence this second time around.

It is hardly likely, but it is a possibility. Scottish independence will not happen quite so quickly or easily, but as I have argued in my new book, independence will happen at some point.

This is despite the mighty strength of British nationalism, that thing that few people wish to acknowledge. British nationalism is very much alive, it is indeed thriving.


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Twenty years after Disney's Pocahontas: the tragedy behind the fictional love story of a Native American encounter

Twenty years after Disney's Pocahontas: the tragedy behind the fictional love story of a Native American encounter

Huffington Post

Malory Nye

published on 18 June 2015

This week sees the twentieth anniversary of the release of the Disney classic, Pocahontas. The world has changed considerably in those two decades, but the underlying issues and problems with the film remain very contemporary.

The movie evokes poignant memories for me. I never saw it in the cinema, but watched it countless times on VHS with my then toddler son, in a remote cottage in the middle of a Scottish moor.

Pocahontas was not the most successful of the major Disney releases of that era. It has been largely eclipsed by the giants of The Lion King, Aladdin, and Toy Story. But it is one of the few Disney animated classics that attempted to portray a ‘real life’ story.

Disney’s telling of the Pocahontas story was an interesting blend of actual and imagined history — tending much more towards the latter in many respects. We do not expect a Disney cartoon to tell us how it is. But what they do say — and how they say it — is of great significance. Even after all this time, I do not know quite whether I feel comfortable with the film.

The storyline for the female lead (the ‘Indian princess’ Pocahontas) was quite distinct in its time, predating Elsa and others in its portrayal of a young women choosing to defy the expectations of the men around her. However, she does rather instantly ‘fall in love’ with the first tall blond European (with Mel Gibson’s voice) that she meets.

The problem with the film was not so much how historically accurate it was, but rather how it dealt with that most fundamental of encounters in American history: the apparent first encounters between the English settlers and the native people.


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Are there too many anti-depressants?  Or is the problem that there is not enough mental health care?

Are there too many anti-depressants? Or is the problem that there is not enough mental health care?

published on medium.com, 1 October 2014

Wow. A headline on the radio last night caught me by surprise.

‘Over three quarters of a million people in Scotland are on prescribed anti-depressants.’

It made me think. That’s a lot of people, right?

And I am one of them.

I started listening as the news report went on. There was a strong implication that the numbers taking such medication were on the rise, and there were too many people taking them. Somehow things were getting out of hand.

The report ended with a quote from the Scottish government, saying that they were doing everything they could to remove the stigma of mental illness, blah blah.

But the point was clear. Something needed to be done, there are too many people taking anti-depressants. Somehow the medical profession had failed, and even more so the people on these medications had also failed.

So what does it mean to remove the stigma of mental illness?

For a start, perhaps we need to remove the stigma of the treatment of mental illness.

Anti-depressants are not perfect. There are several different kinds, some work better than others – and this can vary according to the person being treated.

I have been taking mirtazapine for most of this year. I take it every night, which means I usually get a good sleep – something that was near impossible before I started taking them. I have tried other anti-depressants, and would like to live my life without them. Hopefully I will be able to in a year or so.

But I know they are a medicine that helps my illness at the moment.

My taking them does not mean that I am crazy, nor does it mean I’m hopelessly drugged up and out of reality. Or at least I don’t think so.

The real issue of the headline is that there are a lot of people in Scotland (and of course in most countries) who have some sort of mental illness.

From wider studies, it is fair to assume that the number is somewhere around a quarter of the population (according to the Mental Health Foundation).

One in four.

Rather than counting (and then exclaiming about) the number of prescriptions given, the question should be about whether people with mental ill health are getting enough of the treatment they need?

Are the anti-depressants working? If yes, then they should be used more. If no, then what else can help?

In the UK, we live in a society with pitiably ineffective health care facilities for those who are mentally ill. This is not surprising, since in large part public health as a whole is straining under a million pressures.

And within this, mental health care is very often one of the Cinderella areas. It is not sexy, it is rarely seen as a priority, and in large part most treatments for mental illness seem to come down to chemical interventions. When these work they are good, but there should be much more to mental health care.

So on that level, the rise in prescriptions for anti-depressants is a ‘depressing’ piece of news in itself. It would be great to hear that alternatives to drugs were being rolled out successfully to help the one in four who are made ill by mental health problems.

Or to put that another way, it is a shame that we have to rely on drugs alone to help those who are mentally unwell.

But given that such medicine is the primary form of treatment, the rise of anti-depressants can only be a good thing.

Otherwise it would like be saying that the treatment of infections shows an alarming rise in the number of antibiotics being given our, or the treatment of strokes shows an alarming rise in the number of people who are now given warfarin.

In both cases there are other things that can be done to help, as an avoidance of the medicine. Infections are also treated by good hygiene, which requires education and support for the implementation of effective procedures to ensure such hygiene (particularly in places such as hospitals). The avoidance of strokes also requires issues such as diet and exercise, no doubt.

A successful health service needs to be able to manage all these issues, to maximise people’s life chances and the quality of their lives.

And this is no less the case with mental illness.

This requires treatment of the symptoms of depression – including medicines where helpful for those who are suffering. It also requires acute treatments for those who are suffering acutely.

For one in four people, some treatment is a necessity.

And so we also need to find some way of avoiding the hyperbole and sensationalism around the subject. We should give a cautious welcome to news that we are managing to treat more people who are suffering from this illness.

And be aware of when we perpetrate the stigma of mental illness and its treatment.

(Photo credit: “Pristiq pills” by Tom Varco, Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

When names become important: ‘Daesh’ as a silencing of ISIS’s claim to be the Islamic State?

When names become important: ‘Daesh’ as a silencing of ISIS’s claim to be the Islamic State?


There is no doubt that the so called ‘Islamic State’ (formerly ISIS) is causing considerable problems – both locally in Syria and Iraq, and in the international community.

They made the ambitious decision in June to create the ‘Caliphate’ on the basis of their initial victories, with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the first re-established Khalifah. More recently, a series of publicity grabbing executions of western hostages has now brought down the inevitable military action by the USA and some of their Arab allies (particularly several Gulf States and Jordan). The aim of these strikes has been to ‘degrade’ the capability of ISIS, as well as two other Al-Qa’eda related groups in the area, al-Nusra Front and Khorasan Group.

In preparation for these strikes, Barack Obama went to great lengths in his 10 September speech to acknowledge what many Muslims have been arguing for a while. That the ‘Islamic State’ is not a state and it is not Islamic. To quote Obama directly:

‘Now let’s make two things clear: ISIL is not “Islamic.” No religion condones the killing of innocents, and the vast majority of ISIL’s victims have been Muslim. And ISIL is certainly not a state.’

While many wish to agree with him, this statement in itself is not straightforward.

Although ISIS (or IS) act in barbarous ways, they consider themselves to be doing so according to Islamic teachings and requirements. Much of the framework of what they do is related to the teachings of Islam, even though their actions (and their clear lack of regard for the lives of any people that are not following their particular interpretation of Islam) are repugnant.

There has been no shortage of Muslims across the world condemning ISIS, and pointing out that they are not behaving very Islamically.

For example, in the UK a group of leading Imams issued a fatwa stating their position in unequivocal terms:

‘IS is a heretical, extremist organisation and it is religiously prohibited (haram) to support or join it’

Whilst separately, another group of Muslim leaders wrote to the Prime Minister, David Cameron to ask him to not call the group ‘the Islamic State’, as this name was a ‘slur on Islam’.

And a Muslim charity in the UK, named the Active Change Foundation, has launched a social media campaign, using the Twitter hashtag of #NotInMyName against ‘the criminals’ of IS who are ‘hiding behind a false Islam’. Barack Obama took note of this initiative in his speech to the UN on 24 September.



And in the US, a joint initiative by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Fiqh Council of North America produced an open letter signed by over 100 Muslim scholars refuting ‘the anti-Islamic extremism and violence exhibited by ISIS’.

There is overwhelming evidence that the majority of Muslims, in Europe, America, and across the world, are repulsed by the ideology and the actions of ISIS.

For them, this is not what Islam is about.


What is in a name?

However, the problem with names is that they are used in numerous ways. They may often be used in inappropriate and offensive ways, and despite the offence that this causes (and the misrepresentations that are perpetrated) it is very hard to control the meanings and contexts of their use.

‘Caliph’ Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his followers have taken the word ‘Islamic’ and have used it for their own purposes. No one can prevent them from doing so, all that can be done is that each individual has the choice of whether or not to continue and endorse that use. This is particularly so with leaders – as shown by Barack Obama’s carefully chosen use of words.

As the religion scholar Mark Juergensmeyer has argued, however, there is an argument counter to both Obama and the Muslim leaders who have objected to the use of the term Islamic in the ISIS name.

Firstly, Juergensmeyer has controversially corrected Obama on the issue of ISIS being a state. As he says:

‘Yet [ISIS] is governing. Though its state is not recognized by any other government, and is despicable in its actions, the region under its control is administered as a state. According to some reports from Mosul, the city is better managed than it was before… So despite our reluctance to honor it with the term “state,” ISIS actually is operating a kind of state.’

Whether or not ISIS will be able to continue that governance – in the face of internal factionalism and external pressure and attacks – is hard to judge. If it can accurately be called a state, it is as a rogue state, and is a long way from the type of ‘state’ that was governed under Khilafah rule in the past.

Having proclaimed itself as a state (even the Islamic State, led by the khalifah), it will also find it more difficult to assert its credentials if it loses its territorial possessions following the air and ground attacks. The group will find it much harder to maintain its role as the Islamic State if it is forced to revert back underground into hiding.

With regard to the issue of ISIS being Islamic, Juergensmeyer accepts the denunciations of the group by many Muslim leaders. But he argues:

‘Still, the leaders of ISIS claim Muslim authority for their actions, strict Shari’a[h] law as the basis of their jurisprudence, and the promise of salvation for those recruited into its ranks… The religious credentials of al-Baghdadi give some credibility to this religious appeal. He’s received a PhD in Islamic Studies from the Islamic University of Baghdad and knows the scriptures and the tradition of Islam better than most jihadists.’

And most importantly, the message of ISIS is aimed directly at Sunni Muslims, making use of Islamic religious ideas and symbols. Much of the presentation of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the ISIS is an attempt to seek religious and historical legitimacy for their particular khawarij-type sectarian position.

However, it has of course also been noted that at least some of the British ‘jihadis’ who have signed up for this cause did so with a quite rudimentary knowledge of the teachings of Islam. This is evidenced, for example, by Yusuf Sarwar and Mohammed Ahmed’s purchase of the books Islam for Dummies and The Koran for Dummies from Amazon, in anticipation of their move to Syria to join the cause.


Islam or Islams? Authentic or not?

So what do we do with the ‘Islamic’ part of their title? Is it a neutral term that cannot be avoided, or is it safer to avoid the conflation of the majority experiences of Islam with this particular, violent group?

Two perspectives give us cause to think. First is the fact that religious names cannot be avoided in history. Groups that called themselves Christians (and are still considered to have been ‘Christians’) perpetrated high levels of atrocities through the centuries. The massacres during the Crusades were carried out in the name of Christians, as was the Inquisition, the religious wars of the seventeenth century, and the conquest (and regular slaughter) of the Native American groups in both the north and south of the continent. In the contemporary world, Christian groups lead violent campaigns against pro-choicers and abortion clinics, and are active in the resistance to now mainstream civil rights changes, such as gay marriage. At the extremes there are also the overtly Christian identity claims of the Ku Klux Klan and the religious pogroms throughout European history against Jews.

There are many Christians who would deny that any of these atrocities were ‘properly’ Christian. But we cannot deny that the term has historically been used to describe each of these within a Christian context. In short, in this sense the term is too embedded in the way we talk about these events to be avoided. Christian Europe has a very bloody history which makes contemporary Christians very uncomfortable about sharing the name ‘Christian’.

Another perspective on this is that offered by the anthropologist Abdul Hamid El-Zein, who attempted to provide a framework for understanding the diversity of Muslim cultures and societies – and perspectives of being Islamic – that can be found across the world. He phrased this in terms of ‘Islams’, meaning that there were many different meanings and ideas attached to the name ‘Islam’, which in large part distinguish different groups from each other.

As a number of commentators, including Talal Asad and Bobby Sayyid, have pointed out this approach is not particularly helpful.

The understanding of Islam by al-Baghdadi and ISIS is very different from most British, American, or other Muslims across the world. If it can be called ‘Islam’ it needs to be prefaced by some sort of adjective, such as ‘political’ Islam or ‘extremist’ Islam, or something else (such as the term ‘false’ Islam mentioned above).

But all Muslims view Islam as singular not plural. Islam in particular is united by the discourse of a singular Islam. Although Muslims in Britain practise their religion within the particular contexts in which they live, there is no particular entity that we could say is ‘British Islam’. There are just British Muslims, with perspectives and practices that relate to their circumstances and histories.

In another context, this was a problem faced by the movement for ‘Islam hadhari’, or what has been called ‘progressive Islam’. For many it appears to violate the assumption that Islam itself is a given (by Allah). Islam cannot be adjectivised, even though of course people across history and geography have been and continue to interpret the given of Islam in so many different ways.

It is tempting to save one particular adjective for groups such as ISIS. That is, to distinguish them out as not being ‘proper’ Islam (or properly Islamic). This overlaps with the view of them as ‘false’ Islam.

The problem with this view is that it requires us to make a faith-based assumption, that we know what constitutes the ‘proper’ Islam that they are being distinguished from. In the end, what constitutes the concept of Islam is a religious (faith-based) judgement. The outsider, whether they are a scholar or political analyst, is not in a position to make such a statement, since in doing so they become an insider, speaking from faith.

That is, an evaluation of what ISIS does as not ‘authentically’ Islamic can only be made from a faith-based perspective, by people who are within those discourses (i.e., by Muslims). An appeal to authenticity in Islam is a faith-based action, as is the opposite of denouncing a group for not being properly or authentically Muslim. It is a valid action in itself, but in short it is not particularly useful in the context of western attempts to talk about ISIS without suggesting that ISIS represents Islam more than any other group.

A non-faith approach, such as taken by the media and non-Muslim commentators (including academics) can only say that it is not ‘mainstream Islam’, and that many (faithful) Muslims do not consider is as ‘properly’ Islam (and find their actions abhorrent).

Obama’s comment (quoted above) that ‘no religion condones the killing of innocents’ is contradicted by history from across the globe. Whether condoned or not by religious texts and leaders, representatives of many religions (including Christians and Muslims) have had no qualms about taking the lives of innocents.


ISIS as Daesh: silencing the controversy

There is though the matter of sensitivity about using a word in a way that inflames prejudices.

ISIS have made deliberate use of the term Islamic as the basis for their mass executions, their expulsions and pogroms of Christians and Yazidis, and their videoed executions of westerners. They appear to have gone out of their way to present the world with a blood curdling manifestation of Islam that puts into reality the western fantasies and misrepresentations of the Islamic Orient. ISIS appear to be deliberately pouring gasoline onto the fire of western Islamophobia, most likely with the aim of then asserting themselves as the protectors of Islam and Muslims against such western prejudices.

In this respect, the use of ‘Islamic’ to describe ISIS is helping the group to achieve their ends.

A new approach to counter this problem has very recently been introduced by the French state. Laurent Fabius, the French Foreign Minister has picked up on the Arabic acronym Daesh (also rendered as Da’ish) to refer to ISIS.

The letters of Daesh (from in Arabic al-Dawla al-Islamiya al-Iraq al-Sham) are roughly equivalent to the term ‘ISIS’ for the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham.

So included within the acronym is a reference to the name Islamic State, but (as with the abbreviation ISIS) the reference to ‘Islamic’ is not actually said when the name Daesh is used. Thus, the word silences the very thing the group want to say, that they wish to be seen as Islamic.

However, it appears that the term Daesh has come to us in part at least from Assad’s media in Syria, so it has its own baggage. But it is an interesting way to avoid the conflation of ISIS with Islam. It has been put to use largely to downplay the ‘Islamic’ claims of ISIS/Daesh and in particular to discourage Arab Muslims in the region from taking the group too seriously.

Although the term Daesh itself is meaningless in Arabic, it has various connotations of an insult, in particular suggesting that the group is ‘downtrodden’ (daes) and ‘causing discord’ (dahes).

The leadership of Daesh do not like the term. They have threatened to cut out the tongues of people who use the term publicly (which can, of course, be another way of silencing your critics).

When Laurent Fabius used the term last week, he put it together with a further adjective. He is quoted as saying:

‘I do not recommend using the term Islamic State because it blurs the lines between Islam, Muslims and Islamists. The Arabs call it “Daesh” and I will be calling them the “Daesh cutthroats”.’

It is not yet clear to what extent Daesh will be used as a replacement for the now well-known terms of ISIS, ISIL, and IS. It has only recently been picked up in the UK and the US news reports.

Its emergence does, however, come at a good time, since it helps us to focus on a means of describing the group that we know as ISIS or the ‘Islamic State’. It gives us a way of talking about them without the underlying issues of misrepresenting the group as having wider support in the Muslim world – on the basis of its violent interpretations of Islam – that is clearly at odds with their largely pariah status.

So, in conclusion perhaps we can say that Daesh makes claims to be an Islamic State, and to have reinstated the Khilafah, but it has little attraction for most Muslims.

In this respect, the name Daesh does what we need it to do. It silences their exaggerations and simply labels them as another group of violence.




(Photo credit: By deedubzzz93 (Delilah Wilson) on Instagram, #NotInMyName)

I voted Yes to an independent Scotland…  and look forward to the day when it happens

I voted Yes to an independent Scotland… and look forward to the day when it happens

I voted Yes last week. Like many others in Scotland I was gutted with the result.

I have always felt that I am British. My family origins are in south east England, around London, and I spent my childhood between Essex and rural mid Wales. I have lived much of my adult life in Scotland.

If Scotland had become an independent country I do not know if I would have taken up a Scottish passport or stayed as a UK citizen.

But I still felt passionately that it was right to vote Yes.

Me and 1.6 million other people.

A small number of people did this for narrow, small minded, petty nationalist reasons. There were xenophobes, English haters, and other general nasties – but no more so than can be found in any group of people. There were similar nasties in the ‘No’ voting group, as evidenced by the disturbances in George Square in Glasgow on Friday night.

The nasties did not define the attraction of the Yes movement for an independent Scotland.

The basis of ‘the 45’ (percent) vote was hope and respect, not hatred or fear.

It was not about the break up of the United Kingdom or about a dislike of English people. To put it simply, when an adult child wants to leave home and set up on their own, it is not because they hate their parents, it is simply that they feel the time is right for them look after themselves.

The Yes vote was a gesture of self-confidence, about the desire to make this small part of Europe and the British Isles a place that can work on its own terms.

To my regret, this was not shared by enough people to win the day. We have not been given the chance to show how well an independent Scotland could get on with our brothers and sisters in the rest of Britain.

But this is not the end of the story. We are clear that this was a once in a generation opportunity for Scotland. Both Cameron and Salmond have ruled out the possibility of the referendum being repeated soon.

Even so, the desire for this change will not disappear in Scotland. The thunderingly loud call of 1.6 million people cannot be easily ignored or brushed aside.

Scotland will one day be independent, just as other countries such as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand have become independent from the UK.

For that to happen, there is clearly a lot more work that needs to be done. It will not happen on its own.

Scotland will achieve independence when it feels it is the right time. Obviously this was not the time.

There was too much fear and caution. Economic fear (very understandable after the years of recession, and the turbulence of the international markets) and caution about the unknown steps that needed to be taken.

The other path, the one offered by the ‘No’ supporters was equally unknown. It will take us along a route that is very different from where we have been before, but it looked more familiar and so seemed more safe and secure.

When the time is right for independence, these opposites will be reversed. Independence will be the attractive and seemingly secure path to take. When that happens, the independence movement will need to offer a future that we feel we know and understand. We will have to learn ways in which that can come about.

But an independent Scotland will happen one day.


Photo credit: © Copyright Anne Burgess and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence