Tag Archives: Magna Carta

RANDOM THOUGHTS ON RECENT EVENTS

24-storey apartment building in London on fire

I stayed up late a week ago to watch the British election results, broadcast live on BBC World’s television channel.   It soon became clear that Theresa May’s ruling Conservatives were not doing well. Mrs. May had called an early election to strengthen her position prior to the start of Brexit talks with the European Union.   Her gamble failed – she now finds herself leading a party that does not control over 50% of parliament.   To stay in office, she has had to enter a coalition with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the pro-British faction from Northern Ireland.

This is already being misinterpreted by Sinn Fein, the anti-British, pro-republican faction from Northern Ireland; it could easily lead to further violence in the province.

There’s another threat to the coalition. Mrs. May also relies on the Scottish Conservatives, who did extremely well in the election, increasing their parliamentary representation from one to thirteen seats.  Their leader, Ruth Davidson, who is married to her female partner, is a fervent supporter of same-sex marriage; while the Northern Irish conservatives are socially very traditional.

It’s going to be interesting to see how this all works out.

At the very least, it has weakened the government at a crucial time, as negotiations begin on Monday, with the most efficient and uncompromising bureaucracy on the face of the earth – the European Union.

An additional threat comes from the opposition Labour Party.   A prominent voice in the party is calling for one million people to take to the streets to bring down Mrs. May.   Sound familiar?

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”  (Mark 3:25.)

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EUROPEAN LEADERS CHILDLESS

Talking of Europe, note the following, sent by a friend in New Zealand:

• Emmanuel Macron, the newly elected French president, has no             children.
•  German chancellor Angela Merkel has no children.
•  British prime minister Theresa May has no children.
•  Italian prime minister Paolo Gentiloni has no children.
•  Holland’s Mark Rutte, has no children.
•  Sweden’s Stefan Löfven, has no children.
•  Luxembourg’s Xavier Bettel, has no children.
•  Scotland’s Nicola Sturgeon has no children.
•  Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, has        no children.

So a grossly disproportionate number of the people making decisions about Europe’s future have no direct personal stake in that future.

Additionally, in the last few days, the Irish Republic has a new prime minister.   He also has no children.  The press has been full of the fact that he is the youngest prime minister ever.   He is also half-Indian and gay, neither of which is an issue.   (Serbia’s new prime minister is also gay, as is Luxembourg’s PM.)

At the very least, all the above are thinking short-term, wanting to win the next election.   When Europe was dominated by kings, at the very least the leaders wanted to preserve their thrones for their descendants;  this also meant ensuring the continuation of the nation-state.   Both of these factors no longer apply.

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THE RIGHT TO BEAR ARMS

Talking of kings, King Henry II got a mention in the US Congress a week ago.   Henry died long before the United States ever existed as a nation – even before America was “discovered” by Christopher Columbus.   He reigned from 1154-1189.

Note the following from Vanity Fair:

“The James Comey hearing has officially gone medieval.   A little less than two hours into the former FBI director’s highly watched testimony, Comey dropped a reference to Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury who was killed at the casual request of King Henry II in the year 1170.   The reference popped up when Senator Angus King was questioning Comey, asking him about Donald Trump’s seemingly casual but firm request to have Comey drop the FBI’s Michael Flynn investigation.  Though Trump did not demand outright that Comey drop the investigation, even his slightest requests come with an air of seriousness, King suggested.

“Do you take that as a directive?” King asked Comey of Trump’s question.

“Yes, yes,” Comey replied.   “It rings in my ears as kind of ‘Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?’”

Henry II was a very significant monarch.   James Comey learned a lesson from his reign.   Today’s British people, who have experienced three terrorist attacks in less than three months, could learn something else.   Note the following:

“Henry II, who is considered the father of the common law, promulgated the Assize of Arms in 1181. This required all (male) British citizens between 15 and 40 to purchase and keep arms.   The type of arms required varied with wealth; the wealthiest had to provide themselves with full armor, sword, dagger, and war horse, while even the poorest citizens, “the whole community of freemen,” must have leather armor, helmet and a lance.   Twice a year all citizens were to be inspected by the king’s officials to insure that they possessed the necessary arms.   Conversely, the English made it quite clear that the king was to be expected to depend exclusively upon his armed freemen.   When rebellious barons forced John I to sign the Magna Carta in 1215, they inserted in its prohibitions a requirement that he “expel from the kingdom all foreign knights, crossbowmen, sergeants, and mercenaries, who have come with horses and weapons to the harm of the realm.” (Historical Basis of the Right to keep and bear arms, by David P. Hardy, 1982)

During the recent terror attacks in England, on each occasion, one armed citizen could have made a significant difference and saved lives.  Medieval monarchs were very concerned that the people should be able to defend themselves against the French; today, the threat is Islamic extremists, but the principle remains the same.

Also note, in the quote above, that Henry’s second son, John, one of the worst monarchs in English history, was required by the people to “expel from the kingdom all foreign knights, crossbowmen, sergeants and mercenaries, who have come with horses and weapons to the harm of the realm.”

No prizes for guessing who should be expelled today!

It should be noted that King Henry did not introduce the right to bear arms; he simply restored an ancient right that went back to at least the reign of Alfred the Great, in the 9th century.  The Vikings were one of the problems at that time.  The threat changes, but a threat is always there.

With this in mind, I found the following interesting while studying this morning:   “The story of David and Goliath is helpful since “five smooth stones” and a “sling” are the closest equivalent to a handgun we can find in the Bible.   David seems to have been armed with his sling at all times.   There was no way he could run home to get his sling when a lion or a bear was about to attack his flock.   (1 Sam. 17:31-37, 41-54)

It’s possible that Jesus had the Old Testament case law in mind when He offered this injunction to His disciples:   “But be sure of this, if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into.”   (Matt 24:43) (“Jesus, Guns and Self-defence – what does the Bible say?”)

Christians should, of course, strive to live peaceably with all men. (Romans 12:18)   Jesus Christ said: “Blessed are the peacemakers.” (Matt 5:9)   He also told us to “turn the other cheek.”  (vs. 38-39)

With terrorism, we are dealing with a totally different mind-set from Jesus Christ, a religious belief system that encourages and celebrates killing en masse.   People have to be able to defend themselves. King Henry understood this.   Today’s leaders in countries like the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada need to address the issue, enabling people to defend themselves from acts of barbarism.   In contrast, Australia has just announced an amnesty calling on citizens to hand over illegal weapons.

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THE GREAT FIRE OF LONDON, 2017

The tragic apartment block fire in London dominated the news on Wednesday.   30 deaths have been confirmed, but scores of people are still missing.   There were also over sixty injured.   What started the fire is not known at this time, but a material used in construction appears to have helped the fire to quickly spread.   The Daily Express said Thursday that EU environmental directives could be the cause.

Most of the people in the apartment block seemed to have been from other countries in Africa and Asia.   Looking at the high-rise (24-storey) block of flats, as they are called in England, I wondered why people would leave their own countries to live in such an awful place.

My wife and I have spent many happy days in African villages.   I can truthfully say that I would rather live in one of those than in a high-rise apartment block in London, or any other major city.   Isaiah 5:8 warns against living too close to each other.   “Woe unto them that join house to house.”

What attracts people to move to the West varies for each individual. One of the established reasons in the UK is the generous welfare benefits.   Perhaps some of that money could be diverted to African villages to bring water and electricity to communities to improve their quality of life.   Together with the abolition of welfare for new arrivals, this would go some way to help solve the immigration crisis.

On BBC World this morning, interviews with survivors of the fire revealed a lot of understandable anger.   It’s also clear that many have an “entitlement mentality,” demanding that the government re-house them immediately, claiming that hotels are not good enough; they also dismissed Theresa May’s call for an independent inquiry – they want those responsible punished NOW.

Since writing the above, some residents and neighbors have stormed the local town hall, chanting their demands, blaming the fire on the Conservative government.   There was no logic – just a mob mentality. Scary and a sign of things to come. 


 

ISLAMIC EXTREMISTS

  • At the moment, the bar for taking extremists out of circulation is set ridiculously high.   People known for their own extremism that reaches pre-terrorist levels should not be walking the streets when they have expressed support for Islamic State (ISIS) or tried to head to Syria or called for the destruction of Britain and other democracies or allied themselves to people already in prison. Their demand for free speech or freedom of belief must never be elevated above the rights of citizens to live safely in their own towns and cities.   It is essential for parliament to lower the bar.
  • Is this to be the political landscape for the future, where groups of people demanding death and destruction are given the freedom of the streets whilst those wishing to hold a peaceful celebration are prevented from doing so?
  • To see extremist Islam as a “perversion” of Islam misses an important point.   The politically correct insistence that radical versions of Islam somehow pervert an essentially peaceful and tolerant faith forces policy-makers and legislators, church leaders, rabbis, interfaith workers and the public at large to leave to one side an important reality.   Flatly, Islam in its original and classic forms has everything to do with today’s radicals and the violence they commit.   The Qur’an is explicit in its hatred for pagans, Jews and Christians.   It calls for the fighting of holy war (jihad) to conquer the non-Muslim world, subdue it, and gradually bring it into the fold of Islam. Islam has been at war with Europe since the seventh century.

(“No tolerance for extremism, “ by Denis McMacEion, Gatestone Institute, 6/16).

 

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INDIAN SUMMERS & HOME FIRES REVIEWED

indian-summers-series-1-3260

It’s hard to imagine that the British drunkards, fornicators and adulterers on “Indian Summers” could have run an empire, but that’s what the latest offering on PBS’s Masterpiece Theater is having us believe.

I’m sure that some of that went on, as it has done in every nation, but surely not everybody?   Even the resident missionary in Simla has had an extramarital relationship.

Sunday’s episode went so far as to suggest that there was one law for the Brits and one for the natives, that innocent until proven guilty did not apply to Indians.  Indian writer Dinesh d’Souza once wrote that one of the greatest gifts the British gave India was the legal system, including this very point.   Equality before the law is a basic principle of English common law, thanks to the Magna Carta, which is being remembered this year, 800 years after its signing.

I’ve written before of how in the last days of colonial Rhodesia, a young white male who murdered a black taxi driver was hanged for his crime.   The fact that he was white was no excuse.

“Indian Summers” also gives the impression that the British oppressed the Indians.  Difficult when the Indians outnumbered them 1,200 to 1.

And if the Indians hated the British so much, why have so many moved to England since independence?

A more accurate portrayal of British history can be found on the BBC World News channel.   “The Birth of Empire” is a documentary series on the British East India Company, the biggest commercial enterprise in the history of the world.   It started as a trading company in 1600, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, and was so successful it ended up running the sub-continent.

Eventually, the British government took over the responsibility of administering the Indian empire.

Note the following quote from Indian writer Dinesh D’Souza:

“Despite their suspect motives and bad behavior, however, the British needed a certain amount of infrastructure to effectively govern India.  So they built roads, shipping docks, railway tracks, irrigation systems, and government buildings.   Then they realized that they needed courts of law to adjudicate disputes that went beyond local systems of dispensing justice.   And so the British legal system was introduced, with all its procedural novelties, like “innocent until proven guilty.”   The British also had to educate the Indians, in order to communicate with them and to train them to be civil servants in the empire.   Thus Indian children were exposed to Shakespeare, Dickens, Hobbes, and Locke.   In that way the Indians began to encounter words and ideas that were unmentioned in their ancestral culture:   “liberty,” “sovereignty,” “rights,” and so on.

“That brings me to the greatest benefit that the British provided to the Indians:   They taught them the language of freedom.   Once again, it was not the objective of the colonial rulers to encourage rebellion.   But by exposing Indians to the ideas of the West, they did.   The Indian leaders were the product of Western civilization. Gandhi studied in England and South Africa; Nehru was a product of Harrow and Cambridge.  That exposure was not entirely to the good; Nehru, for example, who became India’s first prime minister after independence, was highly influenced by Fabian socialism through the teachings of Harold Laski.   The result was that India had a mismanaged socialist economy for a generation.   But my broader point is that the champions of Indian independence acquired the principles, the language, and even the strategies of liberation from the civilization of their oppressors.  This was true not just of India but also of other Asian and African countries that broke free of the European yoke.

“My conclusion is that against their intentions, the colonialists brought things to India that have immeasurably enriched the lives of the descendants of colonialism.   It is doubtful that non-Western countries would have acquired those good things by themselves.   It was the British who, applying a universal notion of human rights, in the early 19th century abolished the ancient Indian institution of suttee — the custom of tossing widows on their husbands’ funeral pyres.   There is no reason to believe that the Indians, who had practiced suttee for centuries, would have reached such a conclusion on their own.   Imagine an African or Indian king encountering the works of Locke or Madison and saying, “You know, I think those fellows have a good point.   I should relinquish my power and let my people decide whether they want me or someone else to rule.”   Somehow, I don’t see that as likely.

“Colonialism was the transmission belt that brought to Asia, Africa, and South America the blessings of Western civilization.  Many of those cultures continue to have serious problems of tyranny, tribal and religious conflict, poverty, and underdevelopment, but that is not due to an excess of Western influence; rather, it is due to the fact that those countries are insufficiently Westernized.   Sub-Saharan Africa, which is probably in the worst position, has been described by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan as “a cocktail of disasters.”  That is not because colonialism in Africa lasted so long, but because it lasted a mere half-century.   It was too short a time to permit Western institutions to take firm root.  Consequently, after their independence, most African nations have retreated into a kind of tribal barbarism that can be remedied only with more Western influence, not less.   Africa needs more Western capital, more technology, more rule of law, and more individual freedom.”      (“Two Cheers For Colonialism,” Dinesh d’Souza, 5/8/2002).

I couldn’t have put it better myself!

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A more accurate Masterpiece Theater presentation is the series “Home Fires” which has been showing immediately prior to “Indian Summers.”   This series, which ended its first season last night, is set in an English village during World War II.   The program revolves around the Women’s Institute and its efforts to help the war effort locally by growing and canning food, knitting and sewing, and raising funds to buy ambulances.

With many of the men in their lives fighting on the front lines around the world, the ladies are faced with a whole series of difficult challenges, including food rationing and the preparation for bombing raids.

The series ended with hundreds of planes of the Royal Air Force flying overhead on their way to fight the Battle of Britain.   The villagers are contemplating the reality of a Nazi invasion with all the changes that would bring.

It’s well worth watching and is available on DVD and Netflix.

CHARLES VISITS WASHINGTON

Prince Charles and Camilla

Prince Charles and his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall, are visiting Washington DC.   During their visit to the US, they will commemorate three things — the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta, the most important secular document in the history of the English-speaking peoples; the 150th anniversary of the end of the American Civil War; and the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

The Prince of Wales visited the National Archives yesterday where a 1297 copy of the Magna Carta is on loan from Lincoln Cathedral in England.  The Magna Carta is embodied in the American Bill of Rights and the Constitution.

I’ve had the privilege of viewing the same Magna Carta, signed by King John at Runnymede on June 15th, 1215, in Lincoln, which is not far from my hometown.   A depiction of the event can be seen on the bronze doors of the Supreme Court building.

It’s been over forty years since the Washington Post claimed that President Richard Nixon was brought down by Magna Carta.   The charter established the principle that everybody is equal before the law, including the king or president.   This principle separated England from the continental powers, where the head of state is above the law.   When French President Jacques Chirac was accused of corruption while in office, nothing could be done about it until he was no longer president of France.

Exactly ten weeks after King John was pressured into signing the charter, Pope Innocent III declared it null and void.  He said that no people had any right to demand anything of their king. Consequently, England was plunged into civil war.

Magna Carta reminds us that:   “God is no respecter of persons.” (Acts 10:34)   We are all equal before God, who is the ultimate Law-giver.

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It’s a good thing that the royal couple were not in America on Sunday, where they might have seen the first episode of “The Royals,” on the E! Network.   This show depicts a fictional royal family ruling in England.

I watched the first 30 minutes of the 75-minute much-hyped premiere.

It was utter and total trash.

If any of today’s royal families behaved like those in the fictional series, they wouldn’t last very long.

Monarchy has a serious side.   According to the organization “Democracy Watch,” the seven most democratic countries in the world are all constitutional monarchies.   They are:   The Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Australia, Canada and New Zealand (the United Kingdom was not included in the list, maybe because it does not have an elected Upper House).

They have all also been the most stable countries in the world.

Constitutional monarchy also happens to be the cheapest form of government.

There’s a lot to be said for constitutional monarchy.   In contrast, there is nothing positive to be said for the new television series, which raises trash to a whole new level – and that’s really saying something when it comes to TV!

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While on the subject of royalty, I have to recommend the new “Cinderella” movie.

My son and I took his two girls to see it on Sunday.   The girls, aged 8 & 9, have gotten used to me falling asleep whenever I take them to a movie.   Brooklyn, the youngest, promised to wake me up if this should happen again.

But it didn’t.   The movie was engrossing.   It is beautifully made with real people.

I have never been one for fairy stories, even when I was a child.   But this was different.   It’s a real old-fashioned love story, with an upbeat ending that will leave many in tears.

Lily James (Rose in “Downton Abbey”) plays a very convincing Cinderella.   (One of her ugly step-sisters is played by Downton’s Daisy.)   Richard Madden plays the prince.   Helena Bonham Carter, one of England’s greatest actresses, plays a humorous Fairy Godmother and Cate Blanchett plays the Wicked Step-Mother.

The movie was directed by Kenneth Branagh, one of England’s greatest theatrical talents.

A superb movie, perfect for the whole family.   It’s also perfectly respectable for married couples to go without children — I intend to take my wife who could not go on Sunday.

 

 

SERIOUS THREATS TO OUR ANCIENT LEGAL SYSTEM

Ted Stevens

The 12-man jury system goes back to the twelfth century under King Henry II and was confirmed in the Magna Carta (1215).   It’s even possible it goes back further to Anglo-Saxon England, prior to the Norman invasion of 1066.

Nobody has ever suggested that it is a perfect system but it beats every alternative known to man. It must have been quite reassuring to hundreds of thousands of people down through the centuries to know that, when falsely accused, they had to be judged by “twelve of their peers.”

So we should all be concerned that the jury system is seriously threatened.

I first noticed this forty years ago in a former British colony in Africa.   The English Common Law was exported to British colonies, including the thirteen American colonies that eventually became the United States.

But the system, like democracy itself, may not be culturally exportable. The problem I noticed in Africa was that juries were greatly influenced by ethnicity. Put another way, if a member of a certain tribe was on trial, members of other tribes would automatically find him guilty without due consideration of the evidence.

This obvious prejudice kept us out of court in 1982 following a serious collision between our Land Rover and a bus. Passengers on the bus testified that the driver was drunk and dancing at the wheel at the time of the crash. But, we were advised that going to trial would be pointless as he was from the area where the accident took place. No jury from that area would convict him.

I don’t remember when it was but I do remember the time in England when it was decided that a jury could convict a murderer with a 10-2 vote, instead of the former 12. My immediate thought was why change a system that has served the country well for over eight centuries?

Grand juries go back to 1166. Again, Henry II was the monarch behind the idea.   A Grand Jury was not limited to 12 men. It could be as many as 23 men, hence the term “grand” as against a regular trial jury. Today, the US is one of the few countries that retain the grand jury system. It is used to determine whether or not a person should be sent for a trial, in effect to determine if anything criminal has taken place.

The grand jury that sat in Ferguson, Missouri, was composed of twelve people, three of them black. They sat for months hearing testimony from a number of people, including the accused police officer, Darren Wilson. Their determination was that there was no case to send Wilson to trial. Rioting erupted immediately and has continued sporadically since.   As in Africa, ethnicity could make it impossible to hold a trial.

Different people reading this will have differing views on the decision of the grand jury.   The concern I want to express is about the system itself.

If a grand jury or a trial jury cannot meet without taking into account the mob outside, then the jury system will fall apart. For centuries, respect for the jury system was such that when a decision was made, the public supported that decision, even if they did not agree with it. The system itself was highly respected.

If mob rule threatens the jury system, what will replace it?   Juries are composed of regular people selected at random.   Those countries that do not have a jury system use judges appointed by government with no jury. Is that what we want?

The prophet Isaiah wrote of a time in ancient Judah when there was no justice and seemingly no concept of it. We are in a similar time today. “No one calls for justice, Nor does any plead for truth.” (Isa 59:4) “The way of peace they have not known, And there is no justice in their ways. (v.8)”

I should add that Ferguson is not the only threat to our legal system.

Bill Cosby illustrates another problem. He has been accused of sexual assault by a number of different women. Without a trial, the media and the population at large seem to have found the man guilty, thereby effectively ending his career.

Both situations threaten our legal system. Is this really what we want?