the friend online
25 August 2006


Letters - preview
A vulnerable victim
As a member of NSWMM, I am sad to see your castigation of us, and especially so because of your very emotive title 'Friends and enemies', I go so far as to suggest that your title and tone provide ample justification for our caution and discipline!

In certain circumstances, it can be the case that wholesome working through a situation is seriously compromised by premature publicity, even if accurate in its detail
  • Much more damage can be done if the publicity is inaccurate or partial, thus requiring or provoking rebuttal and alternative versions of “the truth”, with increasing personal involvements


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    Alec Macpherson-Glasgow, 07 September
    I have to object in the strongest possible terms to any attempt to minimize the sheer toxicity of Mahmood Ahmadinejad’s views and public statements, as I saw in Alan Ray-Jones’ comment. No “I believe”s or “in my opinion”s; they are the equivalent of deadly nightshade on the soul.

    Many 2.54 cms of column space have been devoted recently to the apparent mistranslation of his desire to see “Israel wiped from the pages of history”. Was he speaking allegorically or literarily? What is the true import of the classical Farsi word for ‘eliminate’? If memory serves, this diversionary claim was started by the academic Juan Cole, whose area of expertise is, I believe, arcane early 19th century Persian sects.

    Regardless of my disdain for Prime Minister Ahmadinejad’s opinions, I agree he’s an accomplished public speaker. I’ve no doubt that the words he uses are chosen with great consideration. Pontificating of the true semantic meaning of a word is a practice, however, best suited for literary criticism. International politics ain’t poetry. What matters is the intention, and I firmly believe his intentions ain’t pleasant. Yet, I’m still prepared to entertain a glimmer of a doubt. If he has genuinely been misrepresented, however, he has proved curiously reticent to issue a retraction. All that is required is to say “sorry, folks, that ain’t what I meant. Despite my utter and intractable opposition to the concept of Israel, I merely want to see her stand down and for there to be world peace. There should be an orderly relocation of the Jews to Germany. Or somewhere”. Yet he has not.

    Currently horrendous and repressive treatment is being meted out to various minority groups in Iran - Baha’i, Ashkazi, Iranian Jews to name just three - which are bracing themselves for a greater storm. This, I contend, belies the real motives of the theocratic and totalitarian Iranian regieme of which the Unpronounceable One is the public face.

    Being a non-believing agnostic, I don’t believe in evil. However, I do believe in barbarity and do believe in a sliding scale of barbarity. We must be prepared to admit that some acts are morally different. Not doing so places us at the very real risk of slipping into an ethical blackhole.

    Internationalism and Solidarity 101 tells us to listening to the testimonies and anguished cries of all victims of oppression. Preconceived ideologies should not cause us to mitigate one case - or, in the case of Iran, set of multiple cases - or disproportionately criticize another case. Equally, I dearly hope that neither Tehran nor Tel Aviv are turned into nuclear ashtrays. I wish I had Tony Blair’s self-confidence but, alas, I realize I can’t offer all the answers. Denying the full truth of what has been said, or pretending it hasn’t been said in the first place, is not one.

    If Alan is seeking to deflect attentions towards Prime Minister Ahmadinejad’s blood-curdling statements, and in process actions, my main thought is, “Why?”.

    Alan Ray-Jones, 07 September
    In his letter (25 August) about the admirable Village of Peace, John Dunston wrote: "........ the world ignores at its peril the unambiguous demands by Hezbollah, Hamas, and the President of Iran for the complete elimination and total destruction of the state of Israel". President Bush and Downing Street both said that Ahmadinejab called for
    the elimination of Israel, but in the letter pages of the Guardian at least one student of Farsi says that he only called for the present government of Israel to stand down. Also, having followed the news reports on Hezbollah and Hamas quite closely, it seems to me that the real position of both Hezbollah and Hamas on the right of Israel to exist is far from unambiguous. There are reasonable grounds for hope that the Arab position is not cast in concrete.

    John Scott, 31 August
    ‘Scare mongering at best’. Oh dear, what other nefarious motives are being hinted at? Simon Gray rightly points out the new Managing Trustees will only be concerned with central finances but in creating this body and, at the same time requiring Monthly Meetings to establish bodies with similar powers over B.Y.M. has brought about a change which, if we are not aware of the danger, limits our power of action to criteria established by the law as interpreted by the Charity Commission.

    My first letter opened by saying that I agreed that the changes brought about by the pending changes in the Charity law were sensible. I am amazed that what I had to say about the composition of the ‘new’ Meeting for Sufferings could be interpreted as an attack on the new body of Trustees. If that is how it reads then I am truly sorry.

    Having slaved away as a Clerk to M.M.Trustees for many years I think I understand the restrictions that the law rightly places on those who undertake this valuable work. Conscientious Friends cannot be blamed for placing this at the forefront of their service as a trustee.

    Put as simply as possible, and without casting aspersions on anyone, or seeking to keep the fearful awake at night, I hope that Meeting for Sufferings will emerge as the Executive Committee of B.Y.M., aided by the sound advice of the Managing Trustees but with the courage and abilty on rare occasions to ignore this advice, albeit knowing the consequences, when lead by God to do so. The relationship Monthly Meetings have with their own Managing Trustees should be of the same quality.

    David Hitchin, 25 August
    I logged in to express my views on John Scott's letter, and found Simon Gray's comment which speaks my mind almost word for word. Just the kind of experience that so often seems to happen during Meeting for Worship!

    simon gray, 25 August
    Not only is John Scott totally incorrect in his description of the powers of the new body of Trustees for Centrally Managed Work, he also contradicts himself in his letter.

    The statement "the new trustees, if they choose to exercise it, have complete control of all the finances of the Society of Friends in the UK and could exercise executive control over the whole" is wrong, misleading, and unhelpful. They are the Trustees for Centrally Managed Work, meaning they are the trustees for the work carried out corporately by the organisation of Britain Yearly Meeting as it operates from the central offices of Friends House - and thus the only finances and execute control they have is of the funds of the corporate body based at and operating out of Friends House. They most definitely do not have any financial or executive control over Monthly Meetings, Preparitive Meetings, charities, Listed Informal Groups, or any other Quaker body outside of Friends House, as John implies - the statement is, at best, scaremongering.

    John goes on to state "Wherever Friends gather, it is not the numbers of those present, the part of the country they come from, not even their gender, or their ability to reflect the views of the majority that matter. What does count is their individual and collective capacity to perceive a way forward which is that of God", whilst implying that the TfCMW will not be capable of doing this by virtue of his closing paragraph "Irrespective of profile, title, size and composition Meeting for Sufferings, as now, should remain the executive committee, between Yearly Meetings. If British Quakerism wishes to retain the vital divine spark the new body of trustees should have an important advisory role but with no power of veto".

    Indeed, it does not matter how many people serve on TfCMW, what their sex balance is, where in the country they come from, how many of them have previously served on the former Meeting for Sufferings, or anything else. What matters is those Friends' capability to discern the will of God in Meeting for Worship for Business, balanced with their own sense of reason and rightness. I have every confidence that those appointed to the initial body have that capability in abundance, and that Nominations Committee will continue to appoint people with that capability; for that is our way, so why does John appear to doubt that?

    The decision was made to move to the new structure by a group of people engaged in Meeting for Worship for Business at Yearly Meeting; all voices who needed to be heard were heard, the full spectrum of views were heard, and the meeting as a whole discerned in worship that the proposed way forward was indeed the will of God for our Yearly Meeting.

    Why do John and so many others seem to wish to continue to undermine this?


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