Other freelance articles, selected at random
I’ve selected for this page some of my freelance articles to give an idea of the range of material I cover
Glastonbury Abbey Was a Clip Joint!
Published: November 25, 2015
Glastonbury Abbey is the resting place for three Saxon kings and the legendary King Arthur. Well, that’s what it says on the abbey’s official website. All, though, is not what it seems. A team of 31 archaeologists led by Roberta Gilchrist, Professor of Archaeology at the University of Reading, has spent the last four years sifting the evidence with every aid the 21st century affords. Their conclusion? The monks of Glastonbury lied – for money!
Let’s be clear: Glastonbury is, still, the earliest church extant in Britain. It remains a site of antique holiness – a place where the Christian God was worshipped long before the Normans came.
There’s more – the team identified an early timber building “of very high status” and a complex of five glass furnaces that radiocarbon dating place around AD 700. ‘This represents the earliest and most substantial evidence for glass-working in Saxon England,’ says Professor Gilchrist. Compositional work on glass, metal and pottery found at the site reinforced the team’s findings. Glastonbury is, without doubt, a truly ancient site of immense importance in the development of Christianity in the British Isles.
What is in question is the connection with King Arthur.
Arthur was a legendary British leader who quite possibly never existed. He is supposed to have led the defence of Britain against Saxon invaders in the late 5th and early 6th centuries AD but the story was first written down by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his History of the Kings of Britain in the twelfth century using – in the case of Arthur – stories from earlier Welsh and Breton oral tradition. Historical fact and Geoffrey’s History are frequently far apart. Arthur was a great warrior who defended Britain against human and supernatural forces. Possibly.
According to Geoffrey of Monmouth, Arthur defeated the Saxons and ruled over Britain, Ireland, Iceland, Norway and Gaul. There is no independent source that verifies any of that. Tales of Uther Pendragon (Arthur’s father), Merlin (a wizard), Guinevere, Excalibur, Arthur’s last battle against Mordred and final rest in Avalon all come either from Geoffrey or from twelfth century French writers who added to the legend stories of Lancelot, the Round Table and the Holy Grail.
The story of Arthur was given a boost in the twelfth century when the monks at Glastonbury Abbey announced that they had found his body and that of his queen buried on the south side of the Glastonbury Lady Chapel. If his body had been found, then clearly he must have existed.
The team led by Professor Gilchrist has put a large dent in this theory. The story, as they tell it, is that Glastonbury suffered a very damaging fire in 1184. The monks rebuilt the Abbey knowing that their finances were in poor shape and that they needed to generate money quickly. The best way of doing that in the twelfth century was to attract pilgrims – and that is what they set out to do.
The place where they claimed to have found the royal bodies did indeed contain human remains – but they were placed there a few hundred years after the time Arthur is said to have lived. The abbey was rebuilt in a style already archaic with a view to making it appear older than it was.
Also brought into question – if, in fact, it was ever seriously believed – is the idea that Joseph of Arimathea had somehow touched down in ancient Britain a few hundred years after his death and founded the first Christian church at Glastonbury. Asked how much evidence there was for this theory, archaeologists replied, About as much as there is for the existence of Santa Claus.
The monks’ strategy worked – the Lady Chapel became a place of pilgrimage and Glastonbury became one of the wealthiest of all the ecclesiastical establishments and remained so until the dissolution of the monasteries.
Bangladeshi Islamists hanged for war crimes of 44 years ago
Published: November 25, 2015
Two men have been hanged in Bangladesh after being found guilty (in a trial that many observers regard as flawed) of war crimes committed in 1971. Ali Ahsan Muhammad Mujahid and Salauddin Quader Chowdhury were executed shortly after Bangladesh President Abdul Hamid rejected their mercy petitions. Mujahid was a senior leader of Bangladesh’s largest Islamic party and Chowdhury had been elected to parliament six times.
To have any hope of understanding what has happened here, it is necessary first to understand the history of Bangladesh.
When the British Empire left the Indian subcontinent in 1947, India was divided in a way that most historians since have found unsatisfactory. The population of India divided along religious lines between Hinduism and Islam. Although it did not end in two countries that were entirely of a single religion, the division of India (or partition as it is usually referred to) reflected the Hindu/Muslim division. Two states were created: India and Pakistan, with India being more Hindu than not and Pakistan largely (though not entirely) Muslim.
A difficulty faced by the new country of Pakistan was that it was itself divided – in this case, physically. What became India and Pakistan had previously been Bengal, probably the wealthiest part of all India. The centre of Bengal remains part of India and is 1,400 km from east to west. Pakistan was given an area to the west of this 1,400 kilometre barrier and another to the east.
East Bengal, which became East Pakistan, was a country with a huge population but was politically dominated by West Pakistan. It was not long before the people of East Pakistan became disillusioned with a government that ignored their needs and as early as 1952 the formation of the Bengali Language Movement brought to attention the growing friction between West and East. When the Awami League began to agitate for autonomy in the 1960s, the response of West Pakistan was to imprison its president, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (Mujib).
In 1970 a cyclone killed half a million people in East Pakistan and the lacklustre response from government brought matters to a head. Things became worse when the Awami League won a majority in the 1970 elections and was prevented from taking power. The government led by President Yahya Khan pretended to engage in discussions but then launched Operation Searchlight, an attack that killed an estimated three million people and led to more than one million refugees fleeing to India.
The Awami League set up a government-in-exile in India and formed its own resistance force known as the Mukti Bahini which began a guerrilla war against West Pakistan forces. In 1971, in what is known as the Bangladesh Genocide, the Pakistan Army in conjunction with some religious militias set out to exterminate intellectuals, students, politicians, activists and religious minorities in the East. They were defeated by a coalition of Bangladeshi and Indian forces and East Pakistan became the independent country of Bangladesh in December 1971.
During the 1971 war, Ali Ahsan Muhammad Mujahid, one of the two men who have just been hanged, opposed the secession of East Pakistan. He led a paramilitary death squad, Al Badr, which killed leading Hindus, secularists, Bengali nationalists, leftists and intellectuals on a huge scale. Sydney Schanberg, then the New York Times’s South Asia correspondent, described the month-long Pakistani crackdown in March 1971 as “a pogrom on a vast scale” in a land where vultures grow fat. He described mass executions of Hindus, college students and anybody suspected of Bengali nationalism. The population of Bangladesh’s cities fell by 80% as ten million refugees fled to India. Rape was used as a weapon of war, with some 400,000 women believed to have suffered.
To preserve peace in Bangladesh after independence, the authorities saw the need not to pursue those responsible for mass slaughter and Ali Ahsan Muhammad Mujahid and Salauddin Quader Chowdhury survived to take senior roles in a coalition government and to grow rich in a country (and on a continent) famed for corruption. That ended with their hanging this weekend.
There has been an outcry from diverse sources, with Turkey deploring the executions and Pakistan voicing concern and anguish. The Pakistan Foreign Office called for a spirit of reconciliation which, it said, would foster goodwill and harmony. Sirajul Huq, the leader of Jamaat-e-Islam Pakistan lamented the loss of a true friend of Pakistan.
As may be imagined, the government of Bangladesh is having none of this. It described the comments of Pakistan as brazen interference and pointed to the irony that Pakistan and the Islamist fringe represented by Jamaat-e-Islam should be making common cause. A Bangladesh government spokesman said, Jamaat-e-Islam opposed the creation of Pakistan in 1947 and then, after tweaking its position to survive in the new state, opposed Bangladesh’s independence in 1971, with a disregard for human life that inspires horror and condemnation even two generations later.
Border Agency Sabotages British Jobs
No-one with experience of international trade expects assistance from the British government. Unlike those in, say, Germany and France, our rulers look down on trade and those who practice it. We know that. What we don’t expect is that they will actually get in the way. But the Border Agency, it seems, is determined to do what it can to throw British workers out of their jobs.
Iraqi Kurdistan is not, right now, a place you go to for fun but if your job is to keep British workers in employment by selling what they make, fun is not the objective. On my third visit, I took an order for €137,000. Not huge but a nice start to a business relationship. Till it was cancelled. The UK was “not an approved country for the supply of these products”. I assumed a competitor (the order finally went to a Dutch firm) had paid off someone and we had not, and that was the end of that.
But now I know better. Our order wasn’t cancelled because someone else bought the business but because Kurdish businessmen who receive visas without difficulty from the USA, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Italy are routinely refused entry to the UK.
On my last visit I found the same interest in our products as before and a wish to buy from us. We pencilled in a date for me to go back and do what had to be done. But what would be the point if the UK Border Agency would scupper my efforts? Because after these positive meetings I met Dara Jalil Khayat, Chairman of Erbil Chamber of Commerce, who said, “You won’t receive our people in your country so why should we receive your goods in ours?”
Board members of the Chamber of Commerce have travelled the world on business but when they applied for British visas after Baroness Nicholson had invited them to the UK for a conference, more than half were turned down.
Dara Jalil Khayat’s fury was matched by that of his colleagues. The chairman had been granted a visa but so many of his colleagues had not that they decided no-one would come to Britain – and, if they had anything to do with it, nothing from Britain should go to Kurdistan. They told us of the large number of other Kurdish businessmen who have spent around $2,000 before being told they could not visit.
Visa applications from Iraq are considered in Amman. The person there things she should ask successful businessmen where their money comes from. She says, if the conference is only for three days, they should leave the moment it’s over and not ask for a five day visa. Faced with someone with a thriving business in Kurdistan, who has in the past travelled to the USA, Germany and Italy and always gone home afterwards, she asks, “How can we be sure you’ll leave?” These are not questions aimed at making good decisions – they are the weapons of a young woman who gets a kick out of exercising power.
Only 40% of members of the Chamber of Commerce who apply for visas receive them. I took this up with my MP, Owen Paterson, and after a while received a response from Sara Jaweed at UK Visas & Immigration. It is as unhelpful and as determined to evade the issue as you might expect. “They can always apply again.” No mention of the fact that each application will cost a further $2,000. She says if application forms were correctly filled out the problem would disappear. She doesn’t think it matters that the form is in English and Arabic, neither of which is the first language in Kurdistan.
And so this body, which regularly leaves border entry points unmanned so that anyone can walk through and some of whose employees have been caught selling citizenship to people who should not have had it, actively prevents people who want to sell British goods and people who want to buy them from making a deal. If there is a better definition of an organisation that is unfit for purpose, I cannot think of it.