On grubs, malice, malignancy and muttering on social media — and angel voices too…

An interruption to the COVID-19 and lockdown series, but definitely related.

It has in the past week been impossible not to have seen this here in Oz:

Covid-19 patients from Sydney’s Concord hospital have shared their experience of the Delta variant’s symptoms and pleaded for Sydneysiders to get vaccinated. Lung specialist Lucy Morgan shared the stories of 50-year-old construction worker Fawaz, 30-year-old pharmacy worker Ramona and 35-year-old tradie Osama in a video from Sydney Local Health District. Fawaz and Osama infected family members who have also been hospitalised, while single mother Ramona says she has been unable to see her children for weeks

But this has not escaped the malevolent attention of the nutters and bastards on social media, as last night’s excellent Media Watch on our ABC showed.

This is the whole show — a cracker it is too!

Transcript:

Footage of those patients, identified only by their first names, was recorded by Dr Lucy Morgan and released by New South Wales Health. And it made it onto all the major networks including ABC News, Ten News First and Seven News.

But soon people on social media were wondering if the New South Wales Health video was actually a fake. 

And among the sceptics was former One Nation senator Rod Culleton, whose post received thousands of likes, and another former senator, David Leyonhjelm.

And one intrepid TikToker who went digging was able to reveal:

I found all 3 actors. Now how can this be coincidental?

– TikTok, @loiannecapone, 27 August, 2021

Yes, all three, including Ramona, were supposedly paid crisis actors, who did not have COVID at all.

And another internet sleuth then set out to prove it, ringing Concord Hospital to show that Ramona Khoury was not a patient there…

So, is Ramona a crisis actor pretending to have COVID for New South Wales Health? No, of course she’s not.

As New South Wales Health made clear, the patient’s name is not Ramona Khoury but Ramona El-Nachar, who is a pharmacy worker. 

And as you can clearly see they are two different people, despite the fact that both are women and both have dark hair.

And as for the two male patients, well, we’re happy to tell you they are not crisis actors either.

As actor and comedian Mitch Garling — who was ‘outed’ online as COVID patient Osama Ahmad — said on Instagram: 

MITCH GARLING: … turns out that people are using my photo and my StarNow profile saying that I am an actor sitting in a hospital pretending to have COVID. Look, I am an actor …

But not pretending to have COVID. Not that. Just, doesn’t even look like me. Has a beard. That’s it.

– Instagram, @mitchgarling, 27 August, 2021

It is amazing what people will believe, isn’t it?…

But it’s not just fun and games for the COVID conspiracists. Because the hospital told Media Watch:

It has been highly distressing for Dr Morgan and the patients to see their powerful messages undermined by these baseless and dangerous accusations, and to have their credibility questioned. Staff in Concord Hospital’s intensive care unit have also received multiple intimidating phone calls from members of the public over this matter. 

– Email, Dr Teresa Anderson, Chief Executive, Sydney Local Health District, 3 September, 2021

It is the last thing our exhausted health workers need.

And it’s not much better for the rest of us, relying on people to take COVID seriously and get the jab if we’re ever to win back our freedoms.

And now a disgusting local example that has been playing out here in Wollongong in the past 24 hours. But first, meet an angel — or a family of angels…

Who is that masked man? Why all the toys?

In July I rather cryptically noted — and I think I must have forgotten to include the video from WIN News! “But in fact it is from our local Wollongong news, and is a marvellous example of human kindness and also of Australian multiculturalism at its best.” That is Omar Nemer from Samaras Middle Eastern Restaurants in Fairy Meadow and Wollongong, also with a food truck that has been out and about during lockdown. And the toys?

Omar from Samaras Food Truck and Catering here. I have organised a massive collaboration for this coming week. The Samaras Food Truck pop-ups will be switching to drive thru for the remainder of the lockdown and do we have a suprise for you! Each drive thru next week we will have $200 worth of toys to give away!! Every kid that is in the car during the drive thru will get something from a BRAND NEW BIKE with helmet, Scooter with Helmet, Soccer Ball, Lego, a Foam Plane, Bubble Stick and much much more. It’s all thanks to these sponsors who have each Sponsored $200 worth of toys for each day.

I have mentioned Omar and his family business often, not least in this post: Munching against the fear of “the other”…

illeatwithyou
Restaurant owner Omar Nemer and community leader Grahame Gould

In the past 24 hours on Facebook Omar has made two major posts. This is the first:

Our community & staff are our number 1 priority which is why, for the first time in 13 years effective immediately Samaras Woonona, Wollongong & Food Truck are closing its doors for 2 weeks.

One of our Food Truck staff members has tested positive to Covid. The staff member worked Thursday 2nd & Friday 3rd in the evening at the Food Truck Drive thru.

The staff member fell symptomatic on Saturday 4th & was not symptomatic previous to this date. The staff member was directed to get tested and self isolate immediately by the Samaras management team. The staff member was not aware of any direct contact with anyone that was Covid Positive. We followed NSW Health regualtions which states the individual has to isolate until results come back and no further action is required up until that point.

All Samaras staff have conducted a covid test and are now in isolation until results come out as a precaution taken by the Samaras Management Team. All direct contacts (which are very minimal) are now in quarantine as directed by NSW Health.

NSW health has advised us that due to the fact that it is a drive thru, they are not concerned about the risk of community transmission and therefore this is not being listed as a hotspot. Please do get tested if you have any concern. They are also not concerned of any community transmission at any of the Samaras Woonona or Wollongong venues.

We have been advised that we have to close until our staff test negative (approx 24-48hrs) & to deep clean our shops & then reopen. We ourselves have decided to close as a precaution for 2 weeks as you can get covid & not have any symptoms or test positive up to 12 days after any possible transmission date.

The health & safety of our staff & customers is our number one priority & we feel it is best for our community. We look forward to seeing you all soon.

This can happen to anyone at any time. Wishing our staff member a speedy recovery. Take care out there people.

Thank you,
Much love,
Samaras team

Of course that was accompanied by many comments expressing concern and goodwill.

But then the grubs and bastards started, just as they did with the Concord Hospital patients.

It has come to our attention that there have been several people writing comments, spreading rumours that the Samaras family hosted a party in Berkeley with members from Bankstown attending, and we would like to address these harmful allegations.

The Samaras family have NEVER held or attended a party in lockdown.

This is false information and the Samaras family have nothing to do with these hurtful rumours. We do not live in Berkeley, nor do we have kids in a Mangerton daycare. If spiteful members of the community continue to make defamatory claims against Samaras, we will have no choice but to pursue legal action.

The people of the Illawarra that truly know who we are as a family know that we would never do such a thing. We pride our selves in being a core part of the Illawarra trying to bring unity.

We have always worked very hard to support our community and this is very upsetting and distressing for us to hear. We have never failed our community and this is no time to be divided. We have dedicated the last 13 years to the Wollongong community and have always been on the front line when the community needs us. Let’s stay united during these troubling times.

Kind regards,
Samaras family

So far over 250 people have indicated love and concern, and 22 have commented. One example is typical:

Cant believe one of our community pillars is being attacked again. Just gonna say it, the not so subtle racism that Samaras is and has experienced is disgusting.

Gonna save up my poverty dolleriedoos for a mezze plate with a side of dolmades to support ya’ll when you reopen

I commented last night:

I am utterly disgusted by this. Whoever is responsible is an absolute grub and can never be on the same human level as you and your family, whose generosity is well known and whose service is exemplary. Not to mention the food!

Let me share another story of angels in our Gong community — the local mosque:

JAB TIME: Wollongong man Muhammad Rafique gets his AstraZeneca vaccine shot at Omar Mosque from Helen Calvert from the Illawarra Public Health Unit. Picture: Robert Peet — Illawarra Mercury

Staff from NSW Health along with medical practitioners were at the mosque in Gwynneville to administer the vaccination.

An Arabic interpreter was also on hand to assist those who could not speak English.

Muhammad Rafique, one of the first people to get jabbed at the mosque, welcomed the experience.

“I’m so glad the mosque has chosen to run a vaccination clinic. It definitely played a major part in me deciding to get the jab,” the 24-year-old said.

“I had reservations about getting the AstraZeneca because of all of the misinformation around but my fears were allayed by the wonderful medical staff.”

Mr Rafique, who owns Bams, Burgers and Wraps in Gwynneville, urged his fellow Muslims to get jabbed as a matter of urgency.

“Do not delay, this is too important,” he said.

“I’m so glad the mosque opened this clinic because I’m sure a lot of people in the Muslim community have some reservations about getting vaccinated.

“Hopefully getting a jab in the mosque, where they feel comfortable, will encourage them to bite the bullet and book in to get vaccinated.

“I was always going to get a jab but the fact the mosque was offering jabs definitely sped things up for me.

“I’m now pleading with my fellow Muslims to do the same and get vaccinated sooner rather than later.”

That story you can believe, people! But do be very critical about what you believe on social media There are so many loose cannons, dingbats and just plain skunks tapping away on keyboards out there…. So much disinformation and just plain lies. Be very careful what you share.

On that see this great article in the New Yorker: Ivermectin, the Crate Challenge, and the Danger of Runaway Memes.

It’s common sense by now that social media allows us to exist in bubbles of perception. If you see many people doing something online, clogging up your social-media feeds with videos and messages, it’s easy to assume that the behavior is happening everywhere—and is therefore O.K. to do. What the Milk Crate Challenge and ivermectin have in common is that they are hazardous undertakings given more credence by their online ubiquity. In a slower, more cautious digital-media environment, perhaps the F.D.A.’s own warnings would supersede viral videos or misinformation on these platforms. But, when platforms are made up mostly of user-generated content and that content is served to viewers as quickly and as often as possible in order to drive engagement and advertising sales, content moderation is always playing a Sisyphean game of catch-up. As with the pandemic itself, problems are only identified and confronted after they have already spread.

Various lockdown hacks and escapes — 3

Things have not improved significantly. Hopefully my on-line order (see yesterday’s post) arrives this morning, keeping me in food and such necessities!

Now one thing you can do in lockdown is read. As well as my few library books, I have the vast eBook library I have posted about before. That now stands at 2,830 books! One recent acquisition — and 99.9% of my eBooks are freebies — is E M Forster, A Passage to India. I would say it has just emerged from copyright, as it was not available from Project Gutenberg before.

Now of course I had read it before, first while a student at Sydney University around 1961-2, and again later on. Naturally I also saw the movie.

All sorts of interesting things can be said about the book and the movie! We perhaps need to be reminded of three things: 1) E M Forster was a closeted gay man 2) the book appeared in 1924 3) the emphasis on the Muslim in India was one with the way the British tended to think about the “natives”. The novel, while not autobiographical, is rooted in Forster’s own experiences in India and with Indians. Much has been said, and fair enough too, along the lines of post-colonial critique; the first and still most famous example of that is Edward Said.

But what struck me most as after all this time I read the first few chapters is what absolutely brilliant writing it is. Also, that it really is better than any movie or other adaptation. Let me close by indulging in a long quotation from Chapter 1.

I quote the entire chapter!

Except for the Marabar Caves—and they are twenty miles off—the city of Chandrapore presents nothing extraordinary. Edged rather than washed by the river Ganges, it trails for a couple of miles along the bank, scarcely distinguishable from the rubbish it deposits so freely. There are no bathing-steps on the river front, as the Ganges happens not to be holy here; indeed there is no river front, and bazaars shut out the wide and shifting panorama of the stream. The streets are mean, the temples ineffective, and though a few fine houses exist they are hidden away in gardens or down alleys whose filth deters all but the invited guest. Chandrapore was never large or beautiful, but two hundred years ago it lay on the road between Upper India, then imperial, and the sea, and the fine houses date from that period. The zest for decoration stopped in the eighteenth century, nor was it ever democratic. There is no painting and scarcely any carving in the bazaars. The very wood seems made of mud, the inhabitants of mud moving. So abased, so monotonous is everything that meets the eye, that when the Ganges comes down it might be expected to wash the excrescence back into the soil. Houses do fall, people are drowned and left rotting, but the general outline of the town persists, swelling here, shrinking there, like some low but indestructible form of life.

Inland, the prospect alters. There is an oval Maidan, and a long sallow hospital. Houses belonging to Eurasians stand on the high ground by the railway station. Beyond the railway—which runs parallel to the river—the land sinks, then rises again rather steeply. On the second rise is laid out the little civil station, and viewed hence Chandrapore appears to be a totally different place. It is a city of gardens. It is no city, but a forest sparsely scattered with huts. It is a tropical pleasaunce washed by a noble river. The toddy palms and neem trees and mangoes and pepul that were hidden behind the bazaars now become visible and in their turn hide the bazaars. They rise from the gardens where ancient tanks nourish them, they burst out of stifling purlieus and unconsidered temples. Seeking, light and air, and endowed with more strength than man or his works, they soar above the lower deposit to greet one another with branches and beckoning leaves, and to build a city for the birds. Especially after the rains do they screen what passes below, but at all times, even when scorched or leafless, they glorify the city to the English people who inhabit the rise, so that new-comers cannot believe it to be as meagre as it is described, and have to be driven down to acquire disillusionment. As for the civil station itself, it provokes no emotion. It charms not, neither does it repel. It is sensibly planned, with a red-brick club on its brow, and farther back a grocer’s and a cemetery, and the bungalows are disposed along roads that intersect at right angles. It has nothing hideous in it, and only the view is beautiful; it shares nothing with the city except the overarching sky.

The sky too has its changes, but they are less marked than those of the vegetation and the river. Clouds map it up at times, but it is normally a dome of blending tints, and the main tint blue. By day the blue will pale down into white where it touches the white of the land, after sunset it has a new circumference—orange, melting upwards into tenderest purple. But the core of blue persists, and so it is by night. Then the stars hang like lamps from the immense vault. The distance between the vault and them is as nothing to the distance behind them, and that farther distance, though beyond colour, last freed itself from blue.

The sky settles everything—not only climates and seasons but when the earth shall be beautiful. By herself she can do little—only feeble outbursts of flowers. But when the sky chooses, glory can rain into the Chandrapore bazaars or a benediction pass from horizon to horizon. The sky can do this because it is so strong and so enormous. Strength comes from the sun, infused in it daily, size from the prostrate earth. No mountains infringe on the curve. League after league the earth lies flat, heaves a little, is flat again. Only in the south, where a group of fists and fingers are thrust up through the soil, is the endless expanse interrupted. These fists and fingers are the Marabar Hills, containing the extraordinary caves.

I just revelled in that!

Inspiration point

It is very tangentially related to the above, if you give yourself enough leeway! But in fact it is from our local Wollongong news, and is a marvellous example of human kindness and also of Australian multiculturalism at its best.

You may have read here in the past about one of the favourite restaurants of my friend Chris Turner and myself — Samara’s. See for example Munching against the fear of “the other”…

On Facebook I remarked by way of introduction:

Samara’s is such a great restaurant, and such wonderful people. Their restaurant is halal.

If that worries anyone, then those worriers have the problem, not Samara’s.

Chris Turner and I were meant to do Friday lunch at Samara’s when the signs of what we are now going through became apparent — before Gladys actually called it.

Screenshot - 24_07_2016 , 8_40_05 AM

Now see what they are up to in the current lockdown.

Update

The grocery order arrived! Early, in fact!

Blogging the 2010s — 104 — November 2010 — c

In this month, though by now in Wollongong, I was working on my last assignment as an amateur unpaid journalist on the South Sydney Herald — and it was of national import! I remain proud of my swan song.

In the matter of David Hicks

In 1999-2000 at least two young Australians were wandering about Pakistan. One of them was David Hicks.

david-hicks

The other was M.

m99

Both of them passed through places such as Quetta and Peshawar.

There is a picture of M in an arms bazaar in Peshawar dramatically holding an AK47. Both of them were in the Pakistani part of Kashmir at times. M’s six months in Pakistan (in two stages) was mere travelling; David’s was that and rather more. M took no courses and visited no camps. M has nothing to confess to; David famously confessed in order to be sprung from Guantanamo. I doubt that confession is worth much.

I have been reading David Hicks’s smiley-happy005smiley-happy005[6]smiley-happy005[8]Guantanamo: My Journey (2010).

One telling item concerns the picture of Hicks above, much used to confirm his evil activities. In fact it was taken in Albania where Hicks volunteered for Kosovo, ultimately seeing no action and under the overarching authority of NATO.

CIMG5056

He and some slipper-wearing mates are in fact clowning around with some empty weapons. The picture does not show Hicks in action on behalf of the Taliban in Afghanistan, though that is what viewers of the cropped pic were led to believe. An excellent example of framing changing meaning.

No, Hicks isn’t a hero, but neither is he the demonic supporter of terrorism we were led to believe. Some have no doubts that he is eevil: Miranda Devine for example. On the other hand see two good posts by Irfan Yusuf who knows rather more about the context of Hicks’s activities in Pakistan and Afghanistan than Miranda seems to: COMMENT: Why David Hicks matters … and OPINION: Artful dodger does himself no favours on David Hicks …  The Artful Dodger is John Howard and Yusuf is referring to Howard’s response to being confronted by Hicks on Q&A.

A recent episode of the ABC’s Q&A almost became a battle of the memoirs. John Howard was the sole guest, his appearance fitting very neatly in with his publisher’s promotion schedule. Howard was buoyed by audience responses to his mantras about the economy and his gentle pokes in the eyes of Peter Costello and Malcolm Fraser.
Then, out of the blue, David Hicks’s face appears via webcam. Contrary to the image Howard and others drew of him as a raving terrorist, Hicks calmly and in a dignified manner posed Howard his question.
Hicks wanted to simply understand why his own government showed indifference to his incarceration and torture at Guantanamo. Hicks also wanted to know what Howard thought of military tribunals. Hicks even ended his question with a polite “thank you”. Osama bin Laden would have been pulling his beard out at Hicks’s demeanour toward Howard.
It was obvious that Howard was rattled by Hicks’s very appearance, let alone by questions Howard avoided for so many years in office. At first, Howard played politician by avoiding the question, instead reminding us of how lucky we were to have a free exchange on an ABC that members of his government tried ever so hard to restrict and intimidate.
Howard also reminded us that there was …

… a lot of criticism of that book from sources unrelated to me and I’ve read some very severe criticisms of that book.

Also worth looking at: It’s right to write about Gitmo stay by Cynthia Banham; For the first time, David Hicks tells by Chris Johnston; David Hicks’ journey by Kellie Tranter…..

In the matter of David Hicks — 2

On the 8th I mentioned that I was reading David Hicks’s recently published account of his life. I now find myself preparing a review for the December South Sydney Herald.

In addition to the reviews linked to the earlier post I have been examining other resources on the subject of David Hicks. Any review of his book must include reference to the documentary The President Versus David Hicks. David Stratton:

The troubling documentary ‘The President Versus David Hicks’, which screened on SBS earlier this year and is only now getting a cinema release, is in effect a profile of David Hicks’ father, Terry. Faced with a situation no parent should have to contemplate, his son imprisoned for years by a foreign power which won’t allow his family access, his own government refusing to intervene on behalf of its citizen. Terry Hicks sets off, accompanied by film-maker Curtis Levy, to follow in his son’s footsteps in an effort to find out what happened to him.

We discover that David, a seemingly average Aussie kid from Adelaide, son of a broken marriage and with a failed relationship, and two children, behind him, converted to Islam and determined to fight what he saw as injustice towards Muslims, first in Kosovo, then in Kashmir and finally Afghanistan, where he became increasingly radicalised.

Terry Hicks is a wonderful character, a real Aussie battler, and very tolerant of some of the less attractive things he discovers about his son during his odessy. The film was made before David Hicks was formally charged, but it still raises once again all the questions about justice, respect for international law and the apparent indifference of Australian authorities to the fate of one of their citizens. This is a documentary which every concerned Australian should see…

The letters used in that documentary are glossed over somewhat in the recent book….

There has also been an opportunity to look again at the thoroughly admirable Michael Mori….

I’ve often wondered what became of Mori later. Here is the answer from Wikipedia.

Following Hicks’ departure from Guantanamo Bay to complete his sentence in Yatala Prison, South Australia – on or about May 20, 2007 – Mori was re-assigned as a staff judge advocate, or legal adviser, to the commanders of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego. He has twice been passed over for promotion since taking on the Hicks case.[6]

Mori was presented, in June 2007, with an honorary membership of the Australian Bar Association for his defence of David Hicks.[7] In October 2007, he was awarded a civil justice award from the Australian Lawyers Alliance as “recognition by the legal profession of unsung heroes who, despite personal risk or sacrifice, have fought to preserve individual rights, human dignity or safety”.[8]

In September 2010, Mori took the navy to court, alleging that his 2009 promotion was delayed due to bias by the selection board.[9]

Now that guy is a hero!

I also have looked into Lex Lasry QC on Hicks’s trial: David Hicks Trial. The Parliamentary Library has a useful chronology: Australians in Guantanamo Bay…..

In the matter of David Hicks — 3

My South Sydney Herald project continues; the deadline is three days time.

Now I have discovered something about David Hicks’s guilty plea: it was what in US law is known as an Alford Plea: that is, a plea you make when you don’t necessarily believe you are guilty, or in fact believe you are not guilty. Now isn’t that interesting?….

In the matter of David Hicks — 4

This is the article to appear in December’s South Sydney Herald. The blog and the SSH hardly overlap, hence this preview….

Mr Howard vs David Hicks

A friend of mine was in Pakistan at the same time as David Hicks, and in many of the same places: Peshawar, Quetta, Pakistani Kashmir. There’s even a photo of my friend in Pashtun costume holding an AK47. That was a joke photo taken in a Peshawar arms bazaar. My friend went east and met the Dalai Lama. David Hicks went west and met Osama Bin Laden. My friend came home much sooner.

When David Hicks memorably confronted John Howard on Q&A in October he asked two questions: was I treated humanely? and was the Military Commission process fair? Howard answered neither question, applying the airbrush liberally  to what really happened to Hicks between 2001 and 2008.

After distracting us with a motherhood statement about what a great country we have to allow Hicks to bail him up like this, Howard spun first into irrelevance: “Now, having said that, can I simply say that I defend what my government did in relation to Iraq, in relation to the military commissions….” How did Iraq get into this?

He went on: “We put a lot of pressure on the Americans to accelerate the charges being brought against David Hicks and I remind the people watching this program that David Hicks did plead guilty to a series of offences and they, of course, involved him in full knowledge of what had happened on 11 September, attempting to return to Afghanistan and rejoin the people with whom he had trained. So let’s understand the reality of that David Hicks pleaded guilty to.”

TONY JONES: Mr Howard, on this question of him pleading guilty, Mr Hicks says in his own book that his military lawyer, David (sic) Mori, was told by your staff that Hicks wouldn’t be released from Guantanamo Bay unless he pleaded guilty. Was that your position?

JOHN HOWARD: Well, I’m not aware of any such exchange but, look, I mean, there been a lot of criticism of that book by sources quite unrelated to me and I’ve read some very, very severe criticisms of that book…

Howard’s late-blooming desire to see Hicks returned to Australia had everything to do with VP Cheney’s visit to Australia in February 2007, when the deal that led to Hicks’s “conviction” was stitched up, and behind that was the 2007 Election. Howard knew the issue was losing him votes.

Colonel Morris Davis, the prosecutor in the case, recalls that in January 2007 he received a call from his superior Jim Haynes asking him how quickly he could charge David Hicks. (Now an attorney for Chevron, Haynes had in 2005 told Davis: “Wait a minute, we can’t have acquittals. We’ve been holding these guys for years. How are we going to explain that? We’ve got to have convictions.”) David Hicks was eventually charged on 2 February 2007, even though the details about how the commissions should be conducted weren’t published until late April. (Interview Amy Goodman and Col. Morris Davis 16 July 2008.)

Davis resigned from the Military Commission after prosecuting David Hicks, stating that “what’s taking place now, I would call neither military or justice.”

Howard assured us that the US had a long tradition of Military Commissions. He failed to mention that this particular Commission had been struck down by the United States Supreme Court in the case of Hamden v Rumsfeld in June 2006 so that what David Hicks was dealing with was a reinvented version, but as much a kangaroo court, to quote a senior British judge, as the previous edition.

More  airbrushing. And there’s more.

David Hicks’s guilty plea was an odd beast, an Alford Plea, something peculiar to US law. It is the plea of guilt you make when you don’t believe you are guilty but do believe the court is likely to find in favour of the prosecution. I may also add that David Hicks was never at any stage charged with or found guilty of terrorism. Some of the charges in Gitmo seem to have been invented specifically to justify the imprisonment of people there. Mr Howard passes over such technicalities.

Colin Powell’s former Chief of Staff, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, summed up his view of Guantanamo in an article published in November 2010.

…no intelligence of significance was gained from any of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay other than from the handful of undisputed ring leaders and their companions, clearly no more than a dozen or two of the detainees, and even their alleged contribution of hard, actionable intelligence is intensely disputed in the relevant communities such as intelligence and law enforcement. This is perhaps the most astounding truth of all, carefully masked by men such as Donald Rumsfeld and Richard Cheney in their loud rhetoric–continuing even now in the case of Cheney–about future attacks thwarted, resurgent terrorists, the indisputable need for torture and harsh interrogation and for secret prisons and places such as GITMO.

Curiously, one item in Hicks’s book that even he had doubts about has just been shown to be exactly as Hicks tells it: the existence at Guantanamo of a “Camp NO”, so called because it didn’t officially exist. Murders took place there, according to Marine Sergeant Joe Hickman (Harpers: “The Guantánamo ‘Suicides’: A Camp Delta sergeant blows the whistle.”)

Nearly 200 men remain imprisoned at Guantánamo. In June 2009, six months after Barack Obama took office, one of them, a thirty-one-year-old Yemeni named Muhammed Abdallah Salih, was found dead in his cell. The exact circumstances of his death, like those of the deaths of the three men from Alpha Block, remain uncertain.

Those charged with accounting for what happened—the prison command, the civilian and military investigative agencies, the Justice Department, and  ultimately the attorney general himself—all face a choice between the rule of law and the expedience of political silence. Thus far, their choice has been unanimous.

Not everyone who is involved in this matter views it from a political perspective, of course. General Al-Zahrani grieves for his son, but at the end of a lengthy interview he paused and his thoughts turned elsewhere. “The truth is what matters,” he said. “They practiced every form of torture on my son and on many others as well. What was the result? What facts did they find? They found nothing. They learned nothing. They accomplished nothing.”

I have been reading Guantanamo: My Journey very carefully for around four weeks. I have also done a lot of fact checking. I especially recommend the report on David Hicks’s trial by Lex Lasry QC, available on the Internet, which includes the texts of all the charges and the final plea bargain. Hicks had a choice: stay in Gitmo or sign the admissions and go home. What would you do after more than five years? And no, Mr Howard, he was not treated humanely, and no, the system was eminently unfair.

Former Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Danna Vale (Liberal, Hughes) got it right as far back as November 2005:

… The longer Hicks is in Guantanamo Bay, his imprisonment without trial will begin to creep like an incongruent shadow, jarring the Australian consciousness

Let’s get real. The case of David Hicks clearly fails the commonsense test. It fails the commonsense test not only in the educated minds of the legal profession, but in the gut feelings of ordinary Australians who believe in a fair go, and who believe that truth and justice and that old hand-me-down from the Magna Carta that says men are innocent until proven guilty, still deserve some currency in our world. Just like you, just like me, as an Australian, he is entitled to a fair trial without further delay. And, after four years in Guantanamo Bay, if the Americans cannot deliver this to David Hicks, in all fairness, we must ask that he be sent home.

In one of the more considered reviews of David Hicks Guantanamo: My Journey (William Heinemann 2010) Sally Neighbour claims that Hicks has airbrushed some parts of his story. At least she has read the book. I too find it difficult to believe he first heard of Al Qaeda after his capture, but endorse his recommendation of Jason Burke’s Al-Qaeda: The True Story of Radical Islam as the best on the subject.

By contrast look at Miranda Devine’s recent review of Hicks’s book,  a sustained sledge against Dick Smith who assisted financially with David’s defence. Beyond that she descends into emotive claptrap or sheer ignorance, the latter being her inability to believe Hicks became a Muslim by looking up a mosque in the yellow pages and then meeting an imam. She doesn’t seem to have mastered Islam 101: one can become a Muslim simply by repeating “There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet” to another Muslim. No course necessary. On this I absolutely believe Hicks, who, incidentally, no longer considers himself a Muslim.

One telling item for Hicks in the book is the famous picture of David with the rocket launcher. We all remember how this was used to demonise him and purported to show him in Afghanistan. It turns out to be cut from a photo taken in Albania of three friends playing around with empty weapons. Yes, he took part in the Kosovo war, but never saw action. Another photo shows him saluting the NATO flag, under which he was really serving then.

Guantanamo: My Journey is a book we need to read. I am glad it has been published. Like Sally Neighbour, there are some things I would like clarified, but I now believe it to be mostly truthful. Hicks was a bit of a fool, you know, even if a desire to aid oppressed people is quite commendable in itself. He was after all a 20-something at the time, and “under-researched” as he now says. He hasn’t killed anyone or engaged in any act of terrorism; everyone admits that.

One of the most valuable features of Guantanamo: My Journey is the extensive footnotes, a marvellously detailed documentation of the material in the book. I wish they had been set in their places at the bottoms of relevant pages rather than being gathered in the back. The book also desperately needs a thorough index.

David was pretty much a pawn. Heroes? Well, I’d nominate David’s father, and Major Michael Mori, his defending counsel, whose career after that suffered. (See The Marine Corps News 20 September 2010.)

PS: not in the article

David Hicks is accurate in his depiction of the Tablighi. I know this because I have taught one and did considerable research about Tablighi Jamaat at the time. With regard to Lashkar-I Taiba, Hicks may have polished the image somewhat, but it is fair to say that what he says about that organisation in the areas he found them may well have been true at that time and place. The organisation was not yet a listed terrorist organisation in Australia. Certainly David’s depiction of the Taliban is much less admiring in the book than it was in his letters home as seen in the documentary The President versus David Hicks. On the other hand Hicks’s explanation about his letters reflecting what he was seeing and reading at the time in the Pakistani press may well be true. It is also notable that Terry Hicks seems to take David’s rhetoric in those letters with something of a grain of salt. The book leaves no doubt about what David feels about the Taliban now. His account of the training he received in Afghanistan and Pakistan may be true but I do have some doubts about this.

Miranda Devine’s characterisation of David’s account of Guantanamo as “whingeing” is quite outrageous. Says more about her than it does about him.

My spellings reflect usage in The Oxford Dictionary of Islam.

Blogging the 2010s — 100 — October 2016

The hundredth retrospect! Wollongong-centric….

When did the Port Kembla Steelworks start?

A friend at Diggers asked this the other day. He thought some time before World War 1. I wasn’t so sure. If either of us had had the right technology in our pockets we could quite easily have looked at Port Kembla – History where we would have seen there were coal-related developments going back to the 19th century and activity by the Electrolytic Refining and Smelting Co. (ER & S) by 1908.  However, the Hoskins’ Iron & Steel, later to become Australian Iron & Steel (AIS) / Broken Hill Pty Co Ltd (BHP), did not commence steelmaking at Port Kembla until 1928. See also A Brief History of the Steel Industry at Port Kembla.

I should have known as a family friend was closely connected to the top brass at the Steelworks for 40 years! See The woman I thought was my aunt’s maid.

Miss [Bessie] Foskett gave 40 years of service to the steel industry serving as personal secretary to Sir Cecil Hoskins and successive general managers. She retired from the steelworks in 1965 and opened her own secretarial service and was involved in many community organisations. She died in February, 1985.

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See also Hoskins, Charles Henry (1851–1926) by George Parsons.

Thanks to Lost Wollongong two great photos:

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Port Kembla from West Wollongong in 1910

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Cringila and the Port Kembla steelworks in the 1940’s

And this classic from Wikipedia Commons:

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Crossing the Bar: Tennyson

This was a favourite of my mother.

Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;

For though from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crossed the bar.

I quote it today as yesterday at Diggers I learned that an ex-student from The Illawarra Grammar School, Peter D (Class of 1974), has passed away. He had been very ill for a long time. I used to see him and his wife at Steelers and, until recently, at Diggers. He was 59.

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Munching halal and Japanese bikers again!

Chris T and I dined at the excellent Samaras again yesterday. The question of how long Samaras has been in Wollongong came up and is answered here.

A family that plays together stays together, and so does one that works together.

Mohamed Nemer remembers how, from the age of seven, his daughter Samara would plead for him to one day open a restaurant.

Keeping his promise, Mohamed opened a restaurant with his family five years ago [@2013] and named it Samaras.

Amid the array of canvas photos inside the Wollongong eatery is one of a woman making bread and another of a man picking peaches from a garden in the mountains of south-eastern Lebanon.

The Middle Eastern passion for food has been embraced by Mohamed and his children Omar, Macey, Alyca and Samara…

So eight years then.

Last time Chris T and I were at Samaras was in August: With the Japanese bikers in the halal restaurant…. Odd, but not quite so strange, that there was a pair of Japanese bikers of mature and beneficent appearance yesterday as this weekend Wollongong is hosting a sizable gathering of Harley Davidsons.

It started in the morning, a low rumble that could have been distant thunder. A 747 perhaps.

But workers across the Wollongong CBD soon realised it wasn’t going away.

It was an entire cavalry of Harley-Davidson owners arriving on their polished steeds for this weekend’s Harley Days festival.

By Friday afternoon there were thousands of bikes at Stuart Park as festivities got underway for Australia’s biggest Harley-Davidson gathering.

Ian Didlick had ridden from Beenleigh in Queensland for the event. He tried to explain a Harley’s unique appeal.

“It’s probably the roughest, most expensive, most ill-handling piece of machinery I’ve ever had – but it’s a Harley-Davidson,” he said…

The southern part of the region will roar again on Sunday when the riders go on their Thunder Run, which starts at Flagstaff Hill at 10am on Sunday and travels through Dapto to Albion Park then back via Windang to Wollongong.

Back at Samaras: we resolved on two items we had had before: grandma’s olives and the meat-lover’s platter. You may read about grandma’s olives on Munching against the fear of “the other”…

Yes, “Grandmother’s Olives!” The lovely young woman serving us assured us they were indeed from her very own grandmother, that in fact she had herself helped harvest them at one time. They proved to be delicious, not over salty. There was an enlarged photo on the restaurant wall of said grandmother in her olive grove…

I look back on Grandmother’s Olives now with even more wonder. Is not our world enlarged, even by a meal such as we had yesterday – and halal the lot of it too.  “Reclaiming” Australia = Impoverishing Australia, in my opinion. (See also Reclaiming Australia Persian-style in Wollongong.)

And the platter FOR ONE! You’d have to have some appetite!

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What we tried for the first time was an entree called Za’ahtar.

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Also Romanised as Za’atar: see Wikipedia.

There is evidence that a za’atar plant was known and used in Ancient Egypt, though its ancient name has yet to be determined with certainty. Remains of Thymbra spicata, one species used in modern za’atar preparations, were found in the tomb of Tutankhamun, and according to Dioscorides, this particular species was known to the Ancient Egyptians as saem.

Pliny the Elder mentions an herb maron as an ingredient of the Regale Unguentum(“Royal Perfume”) used by the Parthian kings in the 1st century CE.

In Jewish tradition, Saadiah (d. 942), Ibn Ezra (d. circa 1164), Maimonides (1135–1204) and Obadiah ben Abraham (1465–1515) identified the ezov mentioned in the Hebrew Bible with the Arabic word “za’atar”…

In the Levant, there is a belief that za’atar makes the mind alert and the body strong. For this reason, children are encouraged to eat a za’atar sandwich for breakfast before an exam or before school. This, however, is also believed to be a myth fabricated during the Lebanese civil war to encourage eating of za’atar, as provisions were low at the time and za’atar was in abundance. Maimonides …, a medieval rabbi and physician who lived in Spain, Morocco, and Egypt, prescribed za’atar for its health advancing properties.

The things you can experience without leaving Wollongong!

Blogging the 2010s — 88 — September 2014

My 15th September as a blogger, and my fourth in Wollongong!

Terror down under – and the Sichuan lunch

Yesterday I posted on Facebook:

Wonderful lunch (Sichuan food) at Steelers with Chris T and friends from Iran, Bangladesh and Cambodia (in part). How Australia REALLY is, should be, and will be if we are wise enough to resist the tides of panic and xenophobia…

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Good food

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Smart company: the two on the left were at our table

We did eschew pork…

In conversation last Wednesday’s episode of SBS’s excellent Living with the Enemy came up:

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When Abraham arrived in Australia he knew two words in English, ‘yes’ and ‘no’, and he consistently confused the two of them.  He is now the Slam Poet Champion of Victoria and recently came third in the national titles.  He is also about to have his second book published and perform at the Glastonbury festival.  However, he still can’t get a job, is subjected to daily racism and won’t travel on the train after dark.

Nick is the founder of a fledgling political party who says allowing Africans like Abraham into Australia is asking for trouble.  He believes they can’t assimilate, are a welfare drain on the economy and have nothing to contribute to a society built on Anglo-Celtic foundations. This is one of the most explosive and moving episodes in the series.

Well, it sure was. Sad too, because you couldn’t really hate either of them and they ALMOST reached some empathy/understanding at one point – but it failed. Ironic that Nick turned out not to be Anglo-Celtic himself, but of Russian descent – but that’s Australia for you.

We did get to meet Nick’s guru, someone who was born in Canada, educated at Harvard, had a professorship at Macquarie University, and had his fifteen minutes of fame about ten years back. No, his name isn’t Tom Buchanan, though it could be. You know The Great Gatsby, of course, and Tom’s rant:

Civilization’s going to pieces. I’ve gotten to be a terrible pessimist about things… The idea is if we don’t look out the white race will be–will be utterly submerged… It’s up to us, who are the dominant race, to watch out or these other races will have control of things.

Yeah, well…

The abolition of the White Australia policy has had similar consequences. Australians have been stripped of the ethnic monopoly over their antipodean homeland that the federation of the colonies in 1901 was designed to secure. The resultant damage to their genetic interests can also be understood as an attack on the foundation of their constitutional freedom. The word “freedom” is derived from an Indo-European root meaning “dear” or “beloved.” In its primordial sense, then, freedom is the right to belong to a community of dearly beloved people, the family being the first and most important model for every such form of association. (Significantly, slaves were denied the right to marry or to raise a family within the walls of their own household.) Every ethny is an extended family with a genetic interest in its own survival and enhanced vitality. Just as parents have a duty to care for their children, it might be said that every free person has a moral obligation to defend his own ethny.

Unfortunately, over the past half-century, governments throughout the Anglosphere have encouraged us to ignore the genetic interests of our ethnic kin through systematic campaigns of indoctrination and legal coercion….

That’s Professor Boofhead in full flight in a piece entitled Monarchs and Miracles: Australia’s Need for a Patriot King. I think you get the picture.

Next week’s episode of  Living with the Enemy looks most topical.

Almost half the Muslims in Australia live in south-western Sydney. The majority in just five suburbs centred around Bankstown.  Ben was born and bred in Bankstown, he’s seen his world change as Arab Muslims have stamped their identity on his home suburb, and he doesn’t like what he sees.

Ahmed and Lydia are a devout Muslim couple living in western Sydney. Ahmed is from Egypt, Lydia is a convert who grew up in a country pub. Lydia converted in the wake of the September 11 attacks after enrolling in a course on Islam to better understand the religion and the motivation for the terror attacks. She wanted to find out why they had happened, and what motivated the hijackers. Instead of discovering a religion of hate and war, she says, she discovered a religion of peace and justice.

Ben believes there is no such thing as a moderate Muslim.  Can Lydia and Ahmed convince him otherwise?

A must see, I’d say.

Finally:

September 19, 2014: Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Deputy opposition leader Tanya Plibersek join TODAY to discuss Australia’s largest ever terrorism raids yesterday when 15 people were detained by counter terrorism police.

9NEWS

The Federal Government and Opposition have seen eye to eye after Australia’s largest ever terrorism raids, agreeing it is a time to be “determined not frightened”.

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Deputy opposition leader Tanya Plibersek appeared on TODAY after anti-terrorism police foiled an ISIL plot to allegedly abduct and behead members of the public.

“We’ve got to make it very, very clear that we are not going to be intimidated by terrorists,” Mr Turnbull said.

Ms Plibersek said it’s important we remember extremists are in the minority.

“This group of people yesterday are nut-jobs for sure, but are a very small section of the community,” she said.

Mr Turnbull agreed, saying “we must recognise that the vast bulk of the Muslims in Australia are good, patriotic Australians”.

“We have to get our arms around them because they are our best allies in the fight against extremism,” Mr Turnbull said…

And stop reading or even looking at the Daily Telegraph!

Brother

I posted on Facebook yesterday:

I spoke to my brother in Burnie Hospital this afternoon. He is feeling better and is positive, but there is no hiding from the fact this is very grave. We share seven decades. I assured him I would be thinking of him every minute and I am.

His daughter, who lives in The Shire, had told me of Ian’s condition yesterday morning. Ian is eight years older than I. He lives in Devonport, Tasmania.

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Ian in Surry Hills, April 2010

Thirty years on: my coming out, among other things

Actually I don’t have an exact date for my coming out, a torturous process that in fact took decades and cost me dearly psychologically and in other ways. But when around 1985 I actually ventured, having been out for less than a year, into a gay venue – the Britannia Hotel, then Beau’s, in Chippendale – this is one of the young men I met. With him I attended my first Mardi Gras Parade. For a while we saw a lot of one another.

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That is from a (linked to image) posting on YouTube which appeared in the Lost Gay Sydney Facebook Page. It is 1984 on a TV current affairs show which seems to have considerably more gravitas than the genre later developed. The people interviewed are very articulate. The occasion? Commemorated in NSW Hansard in March 2014 thus:

The Hon. PENNY SHARPE [7.19 p.m.]: On Saturday night I was proud to march in the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras with over 100 Labor members and supporters to commemorate 30 years since homosexuality was decriminalised in New South Wales. I want to thank the hardworking Rainbow Labor Team, without whom there would have been no float. Thirty years ago this year, Labor Premier Neville Wran introduced the Crimes (Amendment) Bill 1984 as a private member’s bill, removing the criminalisation of homosexual activity from New South Wales law. Premier Wran’s bill was subject to a conscience vote for Labor members of Parliament and was passed with the support of a majority of Labor members and a number of Liberal members of the New South Wales Parliament. This was a monumental law reform from which so many other reforms have been made possible in the last 30 years. The significance of this reform cannot be overstated especially at a time where we are seeing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex [LGBTI] people in Nigeria, Russia, Uganda, and closer to home, in the Pacific, becoming criminalised simply because of who they love. Premier Wran’s bill drew strong opposition at the time, with a conservative member stating:

    • What a pathetic and smutty epitaph this bill will be to a failing Premier.

Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile spoke of his concern that decriminalisation could mean that:

    • Those potential homosexuals, the confused teenagers or young people in our society, will assume that as this bill is passed by our Parliament it is lawful, normal and acceptable to engage in acts of sodomy in New South Wales.

But as the Australian newspaper wrote at the time:

    • Mr Wran took the bill into the House after virtually browbeating his troops into accepting that homosexual law reform was needed in New South Wales if the State was to be able to claim the title of most progressive in the country.

I pay tribute to Neville Wran for his courage as leader to bring this bill to the Parliament. I pay tribute to former Labor members such as George Petersen, Frank Walker and Jack Ferguson who had to fight within Labor and the Parliament to see this reform made a reality, yet were unsuccessful the first time. But I especially pay tribute to the gay and lesbian community members who showed true courage by campaigning against the criminalisation of homosexuality—at great risk and great threat to themselves and those they loved. Since the establishment of the Campaign Against Moral Persecution—better known as CAMP in 1970—gay men, lesbians and transgender activists had raised the profile of the issues faced by gay men and lesbians. In 1978 these same people, joined by many others, marched in what was a visibly gay rights protest to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York. This protest saw the birth of Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. People like me as individuals, and indeed all of the LGBTI community organisations who followed, owe these elders a great debt. During the debate in 1984 Premier Wran said:

    • I feel that New South Wales and the New South Wales Parliament will be completely out of touch with current community standards if some substantial reform of the law is not achieved. This approach seems to me to involve not only a recognition of the reality of contemporary social circumstances, but the implication of such important concepts as the freedom of choice, and the rights of the individual and freedom from discrimination.

I often wish we had more debates that put these freedoms at the centre of our laws…

Fred Nile has not evolved at all since then…

I recall exactly where I was when that hit the news in 1984: Boyce Street, Glebe. And I recall who I was with, but there is another anniversary this month, this time 25 years – more on the day. See my post In 1983 I learned more than I knew I was learning….

Last night I forewent the delightful ABC political satire Utopia in order to watch SBS Living With the Enemy.

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The first episode in a series of documentaries, Living With the Enemy, produced by Shine and SBS, will focus on a gay couple that spends ten days living with a conservative Anglican minister who opposes gay marriage.

Gregory and Michael are gay activists and atheists and David is a father of three and an Anglican minister.

The film documents what happens when they become immersed in each other’s lives. The couple go to live in the minister’s world for five days then they swap and go to stay in the gay couple’s home.

“Living with the Enemy confronts major issues by bringing together a provocative clash of beliefs, ideologies and personalities that will have audiences shouting at the television”, Tony Iffland, SBS Director of Television, said. – Cec Busby, GNN/SX

Interesting that gay marriage was not the major topic among gay people thirty years ago, but in recent years it really has become a living area of change where we lag behind New Zealand, among other places. On that and other related matters see posts on this blogon my previous blog, and on the one before that!

I have to say that David on last night’s show – respectable reality TV – was not a total idiot like this guy. He was warm and loving, could listen, and modified his attitudes if not his beliefs – those fairly typical of evangelical Sydney Anglicans. The perils of proof texting became apparent when he cited Leviticus 20: 13.

If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.

Stoning such people to death was quite OK back whenever this was written, probably not by Moses but several centuries later. That text and similar ones are explored in The Bible and Homosexuality.

Most Christians do not apply commands in Leviticus to their lives. They believe these laws are not binding on Christians. They do not believe they are under obligation to perform ritual hand washing, to refrain from eating pork or to abstain from sex during a woman’s period.

Christian churches do not make much of an attempt to apply the commands in Leviticus to corporate life. The requirements in Leviticus was that no priest serve the Lord, unless he was physically perfect. That is no longer the case. Pastors and priests are not required to marry virgins, as commanded in Leviticus 21:13. Churches do not check potential pastors for blemishes, eye defects, physical disabilities and inspect a potential pastor’s testicles to ensure they are perfect before the pastor is hired (requirement in Leviticus 21:16 to 21). For Christians who feel Calvary wipes away the need to keep the laws in Leviticus, enforcing Levitical laws on homosexuals is grossly inconsistent theology. Those Christians who wish to enforce the laws of Leviticus upon gay people need to admit their theology is very inconsistent and is potentially flawed.

One question that comes to mind regarding Leviticus relates to the word abomination. Leviticus 11:7 talks about pork as being unclean meat. Most Christians do not take the numerous texts in Leviticus seriously where the word abomination is used. Leviticus 11:10 is one of a passages where unclean food is called an abmomination. Christians generally do not consider eating pork an abomination, but Leviticus (11:11) considers even the carcases of unclean animals to be an abomination. Clean and unclean meat laws are not something most Christians feel any obligation to keep, yet many Christians insist that being gay is an abomination, when eating they feel eating pork is not an abomination.

Leviticus 18:21 -22 And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through [the fire] to Molech, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I [am] the LORD. Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it [is] abomination.

According to the respected Keil and Delitzsch Biblical commentary, Moloch was a Canaanite idol. These commentators believe going through the fire was a ceremony in which children were dedicated to the god Moloch. Immediately after a prohibition has been given to worshipping a pagan idol, by dedicating children to a pagan god, we see the what appears to be a prohibition of men having sexual intercourse with other men. The immediate context of this verse is worshipping other gods. Because the immediate context is worshipping pagan gods, one cannot be sure if this is a prohibition against gay relationships. This could be a prohibition against having sex with a man as a form of worshipping another god…

OK, some fair points and others that I find rather less persuasive, when the real point, I now believe, is that God has not written or caused to be written ANY books – Bible or Koran – that are in any way infallible, inerrant, and binding in all times and places. That is right: NONE. Though when considered as aspirations to be read respectfully, tentatively, and with scrupulous scholarship about origins and context, these products of earlier civilisations still have much to tell us.

Jesus himself said ZERO about homosexuality. Mind you he didn’t say much about computers, radios or ballpoint pens either.