Are we still a Christian country? The question was raised by an article in The Times this week by the former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey who along with the likes of David Blunkett is worried by the influx of Muslims but doesn't feel quite able to say so in so many words.
On the one hand ... on the other. That is the traditional formula for senior Church of England figures when tackling any sensitive issues. Still, after a good deal of waffle, Carey spelled out the message of sorts.
"What I am saying is that those who seek to live in this country should recognise that they are coming to a country with a Christian heritage and an established church."
Not much to ask, you would think. Yet a would-be immigrant seeking to know more in a spirit of disinterested enquiry might well feel puzzled by what the former leader of this established church is trying to say when it comes to spelling out what exactly is comprised by the Christian heritage.
One paragraph, for example, begins as follows: "Democratic institutions, such as the monarchy..." Surely, our student might ask, monarchy and democracy are two quite distinct forms of government – one is the rule of a single individual. The other the people as whole. So how can monarchy be democratic?
Even more puzzling to anyone who manages to reach the end of the Archbishop's article would be The Times's description of the author at the foot of the piece: "George Carey is a former Archbishop of Canterbury and a columnist for the News of the World."
Just as it may be difficult to reconcile monarchy and democracy, how could one begin to explain to an enquiring Muslim what the leader of the established church was doing as a contributor to a seamy salacious Sunday newspaper famous for its sex scandals?
Spare a thought for Lockerbie
Busily castigating the US intelligence services for their failures over the bomb attempt in a plane headed for Detroit, President Obama could well spend a moment or two of his time over their record with a previous and successful act of terrorism, the Lockerbie bombing of 1988.
A BBC Newsnight report this week revived interest in the long-running Lockerbie saga when John Wyatt, an explosives expert employed by the UN, gave details of extensive tests he had conducted on a replica of the timer allegedly used to blow up the Pan Am plane. It was a fragment of such a timer that helped to convict Abdul al Megrahi of the bombing. Yet in none of Wyatt's 20 test explosions did any single identifiable fragment survive. In a lengthy email to President Obama before Christmas, Lockerbie campaigner Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora was killed in the explosion, had already drawn his attention to the suspect evidence about the time given at Megrahi's trial by FBI agent Thomas Thurman who also featured in the Newsnight report.
Dr Swire also referred the President to the fact that one of the key British witnesses for the prosecution, Alan Feraday of the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency, had been discredited in an IRA bombing case and that the Lord Chief Justice declared his evidence to be "dogmatic in the extreme" and ruled that "he should not be allowed to present himself as an expert in this field". So who, Dr Swire asks, authorised the employment of Feraday in the Lockerbie case, and why?
The truth behind the jokey warning
"When the aliens come, they eat the fatties first." This scary warning put up outside a health club in Bristol has caused a predictable outcry among the friends of the obese who include in this instance an organisation hitherto unknown to me, the Eating Disorders Society.
Yet to those of us who suffer at the hands – or, as is more likely, the bottoms – of the fatties, the warning given in Bristol is a timely one.
Particularly welcome for those of us who travel regularly by train, when seats have been designed to cram in the maximum amount of passengers, the menace of the fatties is a matter of daily awareness.
Cigarette smoking is banned on trains, as we all know, yet the stench of burgers, easily and cheaply obtained at all railway terminals, is more offensive, not to say nauseating. That and the discomfort of being all but crushed by the bulging buttocks of an obese fellow passenger does little to alleviate the overall hazards of commuting in the 21st century.
Yet those anti-fattist Bristol campaigners have discovered the hardest truth in that it is becoming more and more difficult to cast aspersions on anyone without running up against the self-appointed spokesmen of organisations like the Eating Disorders Society.
Coincidentally, the BBC was under fire this week for allegedly anti-ginger remarks on the latest episode of Doctor Who; 143 viewers registered a protest when the new doctor made what was interpreted a slighting reference to gingers, forcing a BBC spokesman to reassure the nation that the corporation does not have an "anti-ginger agenda". Stand by for a new and highly paid BBC functionary to protect the rights of the ginger minority.
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