The police visit to blogger SeismicShock (real name Joseph Weissman) caused me to post here, and in the discussion at Index on Censorship, here, and here. Seismic’s blog targeted mainly Stephen Sizer in his blog; but he also attacked Dr Anthony McRoy. I queried his understanding of a lecture “The solace of the saviour” by McRoy online, here. This evening I have had an email from Anthony McRoy to me, asking me to post this.
Recently, I have come to your attention re. the Seismic Shock issue. I notice that you have correctly understood my paper on the Solace of the Saviour. Clearly, my position was not only to compare, but also to contrast Hezbollah’s jihad with Christian spiritual warfare, and campaigns for social change, such as against slavery. I should have thought it obvious which section I was endorsing – obviously, the Christian part!
I had given a paper the year before in Tehran, and I was invited to give another the following year. At the conference I attended, all the Muslims were excited about the outcome of the Hezbollah-Israeli conflict that year. Since the subject of the conference is Mahdism and Messianic expectation, I thought it appropriate to examine the role of Mahdist expectation in the history of Hezbollah, and compare and contrast it with Messianic expectation in Christianity. The linking theme was Justice, since Muslim expectations of the Mahdi are that he will ‘fill the world with justice and equity’. Naturally, after offering an academic description (not endorsement) of this in Shi’ism and more expressly in the Iranian Revolution and Hezbollah, I looked at the Christian approach to Justice – and the means to achieve it – obviously, one that was non-violent.
Frankly, I would have thought it ridiculous that anyone would assume that I somehow believed in Islamic eschatology, especially as it influenced Khomeinist ideas. I have given a presentation at two universities in events organised by Christian Unions on ‘Islam and Christianity – similarities and differences’. Many Muslims as well as Christians attended these events. The Muslims seemed happy with the accuracy of my presentation, as were the Christians, but no-one asked me if I endorsed the parts of my presentation dealing with Islamic beliefs – nobody thought I believed in Islamic theology! I did not even have to spell out that obviously, I only believed in the section where I presented Christian theology. Everyone understood what I was doing. No one accused me of being some kind of syncretist – everyone understood that I am a conservative Evangelical. I am amazed that Mr Weissman could have misunderstood my position – do I really have to point out to people in future when I give a ‘compare and contrast’ presentation on any aspect of Islam and Christianity that I only endorse the Christian part? Would that not be insulting the intelligence of the audience?
Actually, I was unable to deliver the paper (Mr Weissman got that one wrong – if he’d bothered to contact me I could have told him), because I could not get a visa. The same happened the following year. I don’t know why that is. One possibility is something to which Mr Weissman has alluded – when, along with a number of other delegates at the conference, I met President Ahmadinejad at the Presidential home one night. At one point questions were invited, so I suggested a meeting between him and US Evangelical leaders to discuss both contemporary and historical difficulties between the two peoples, and I specifically mentioned the 1953 US/UK coup which toppled Iranian Premier Mossadeq – which still smarts in Iran – and not just among Khomeinists – and the 1979 US embassy hostage issue, which still smarts in America, both events poisoning relations. I said ‘US’ rather than ‘UK’ because the main confrontation is between Iran and America, and also because US Evangelicals are more numerous and influential than their British counterparts. Apart from inter-state issues, my intention was that a high delegation of US Evangelical leaders would be able to raise issues about the treatment of religious minorities in Iran and the Muslim world, and especially converts from Islam.
The President gave me a long answer, which did not rule out the possibility of such a meeting, but whilst referring to the 1953 coup, he never mentioned the US embassy issue. Mr Weissman has highlighted parts of an article (this comes originally from the Muslim Weekly, but was reproduced by the Iranian institute which invited me) where I wrote the following:
Those meeting Ahmadinejad commented how intelligent, humble, charismatic, and charming he was. Surprisingly, the US delegates seemed especially taken with him. Personally, I tend to be cautious of all politicians whatever their nationality, but I could why he worries America – not because of the nuclear issue, but because he is such a contrasting alternative for people in the region to the corrupt, self-interested pro-US despots that litter the Muslim world. Recent polls in the region show that Ahmadinejad is vastly popular. The Sunni Arab delegates lauded him. Certainly, it was wise of Bush to decline Ahmadinejad’s offer a debate. Those who remember the way George Galloway wiped the floor with Senator Coleman will have an idea of what would happen. Ahmadinejad gives quick, extensive and intelligent answers to any question, mixed with genial humour. Blair, an accomplished debater, could fence with him, but Bush would merely embarrass himself.
I remember writing a parallel article for Evangelicals Now (which Mr Weissman saw fit NOT to reproduce) where I elaborated on this, expressing disappointment that Ahmadinejad did not address the Embassy hostage issue. Please note that I did NOT say that I found him ‘intelligent, humble, charismatic, and charming’ -rather that was the reaction of others. I then made a descriptive analogy of his ability and manner in answering questions to explain why it would not have been a good idea for Bush to have debated him – but note that I said that Blair could have done so. Acknowledging someone’s debating ability and manner is NOT the same as endorsing his policies. I wrote an article for the Muslim Weekly on ‘The Legacy of GW Bush’ where I referred to Bush’s down-to-earth folksy manner, but no one assumed that I was thereby endorsing his policies – which clearly, in relation to the invasion of Iraq, I did not.
As an academic, I often get invited to speak on TV programmes on Islamic/Middle East issues – not just on Western TV, but also on Middle Eastern stations, including Iranian ones. Last year I was interviewed – not so much as a Christian, but as an academic expert – by Iran-based Press TV on the three revolutions in world history – the French, Russian and Iranian. When I addressed the latter, I was asked whether the revolution had been true to its roots. I answered that the Khomenists got what they wanted, but not the leftists, or secular democrats. Moreover, I observed that religious minorities – Jews, Christians Zoroastrians – were all excluded from political office, apart from dedicated seats in the Majlis (Parliament), and that Christian converts from Islam had often either been executed or ‘mysteriously’ disappeared only to turn-up dead. I also referred to the mistreatment of the Bahais.
I then stated that if Iran wanted to improve its relations with the West it would have to redress these issues – and again, I highlighted that people in the West, whatever their religious opinions, or how secular or even atheists they are, will never accept that a person should be killed because he changed his religion. I was recently interviewed by an Iranian state channel on the revolution, where I largely repeated these points, especially the on the killing of converts. Hardly a case of supporting Iranian policy – nor of failing to say to Iranians what I say to Western audiences. I did not compromise my message to one degree. Needless to say, Mr Weissman never referred to this on his website – perhaps he didn’t know. If he had contacted me in the normal way, I could have told him.
Perhaps the worst, most disgusting and outrageous allegation Mr Weissman made against me was when he decided to ‘examine’ what he maliciously misrepresented as ‘apparent admiration for Al Qaida, and terrorist leaders Osama Bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.’ In fact, these referred to articles I wrote in the Muslim Weekly, the first of which stated the following:
Two years ago, at a Ramadan event in the Houses of Parliament, one young Muslim man approached me. He said he had wanted to meet me for some time, since he liked my articles. Then he made a telling observation: “We wouldn’t dare say the things you say about Al-Qaida!” I understood what he meant. As a Born-again Christian, nobody could suspect me of sympathy for Al-Qaida’s methods (which contradict every aspect of New Testament ethics) or its ultimate aim of the united Islamic caliphate. Obviously, as an academic, I can write articles giving a scholarly analysis of Al-Qaida from a detached perspective – recognising where their methods were clever and effective, even if from my moral perspective, based on the ethics of Jesus, these tactics were malign. If a Muslim attempted this, as the young man implied, he might be accused of sympathy for Al-Qaida. Hardly surprising that Muslims are wary of attempting this (and in the light of the Forest Gate raid, such fears are well-grounded – even a long beard is sufficient ground for suspicion these days).
My point is that as an academic, I can give an objective, scholarly analysis of Al-Qaida, and being a Christian, not face the suspicions Muslims might of sympathy for the group. Indeed, if I were to give an objective, scholarly analysis of the invasion of Iraq, I would state that it was an effective military operation. A moral evaluation would be different – I strongly opposed the Iraq war as illegal, and because of its foreseeable consequences – the strengthening of Al-Qaida, the exodus of Christians. At the end of the article I suggested a policy initiative which would, among other things ‘isolate Al-Qaida’. Again, after analysing the ruthless jihad of Zarqawi, I commented ‘Perhaps that is the greatest condemnation of the invasion of Iraq – it created the very thing it was supposed to eradicate.’ Obviously, I was condemning the Iraq war for creating the condition which allowed a murderous terrorist like Zarqawi to operate.
It seems obvious that Mr Weissman has trawled the Web for articles about me, as well as listening to Premier Radio. He must have heard me many times condemning Al-Qaida, and how could he have missed this article, actually written on 7/7, reporting the events of the day, and expressing condemnation of the group – http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2005/julyweb-only/44.0.html?
This brings me to the point of my agreeing to the police talking to Mr Weissman. His comments about me – misrepresenting me as a supporter of Al-Qaida – placed me and my wife and children in physical danger. My children came across Weissman’s comments once when surfing the web. Imagine if there had another major Al-Qaida operation against the UK like 7/7. What if people were killed – and then people in my neighbourhood, or pupils at my children’s school, surfing the web, came across Weissman’s falsehood that I supported Al-Qaida. In the fear and outrage following such an incident, my family could have become the targets of revengeful violence.
Free speech ends where violence is incited. If someone anonymously started a poison pen campaign against an innocent man in a neighbourhood, delivering leaflets falsely claiming that he was a paedophile, he would very likely be subjected to violence, never mind career issues. I’m sure Mr Weissman would object if someone did this to him. I am not saying that Mr Weissman intended to incite violence against me and my family, but I fail to see how anyone could make such an allegation and not know that it could physically danger the object of such an outrageous smear. What Mr Weissman did in this respect was not criticism – he is perfectly free to criticise my articles if he wishes, though I wish he would do so properly, without misrepresenting my position – but there is no liberty to place someone in physical danger, as he did with me, my wife and children.
It was on this basis that the police became involved. It was my expressed wish that Mr Weissman not be the subject of legal action – rather, that the police would simply have a quiet word with him, imploring him to see reason, by acquainting him with the fact that we were concerned that his campaign was placing us in physical danger. At NO point did I want to prevent Mr Weissman expressing his viewpoints in a normal manner. His free speech was never in question – rather, his reckless endangerment of us was the issue. Since harassment and physical endangerment is a valid police concern, I cannot see that this is an issue of free speech, or of police overstepping the mark. Moreover, the fact that Mr Weissman engaged in his campaign from a position of anonymity, as with ‘poison pen letter’ attacks, made it impossible to do anything else other than to involve the police. Further, after the police saw him, I did not request his details. I would have been happy to let the matter rest.
I have taken into account that Mr Weissman is a young man, and we have all done things when we were young that we later regret, myself included, although I was not a Born-again Christian at the time, as is Mr Weissman . The fact that Mr Weissman is a fellow-Christian who has, doubtless unwittingly , endangered my family, has caused incredulity among friends and family who know about it – one of my children asked me: ‘Isn’t he supposed to be a Christian?’ Had he contacted me the normal way I would have been more than willing to engage in a respectful dialogue with him; unfortunately, Mr Weissman chose not to do so.
Ultimately, his actions against me seem to spring from the fact that we have differing opinions on Palestine. For over thirty years, since my conversion, I have taken to heart Colossians 3:11 – ‘there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.’ Whilst upholding the uniqueness of Christ as Saviour, I have opposed all forms of racism and sectarianism, and I glory in being a member of a multi-racial congregation, living in a multi-ethnic area, having friends from different ethnic and religious groups, including Muslims, and having members of my family from ethnic minorities. This is the basis of my position on Palestine, but it also motivated my opposition to Milosevic’s policies in Bosnia and Kosova, as well as to the racist and Islamophobic policies of the BNP (whom I have frequently condemned in various articles), to the mistreatment of Kurds and Assyrians, and , of course, to the mistreatment of Christians and other minorities in many Muslim countries. I have frequently raise the latter point in article for Muslim publications, and at Muslim meetings. I did so recently at a Muslim meeting, where I called on British Muslims not to accept financing or invite officials from oppressive Muslim regimes such as the Saudis who deny any religious liberty, noting (in an oblique reference to the BNP representative present) how this aids Islamophobic elements at elections.
I know that Mr Weissman is a Messianic Jewish Christian. I am proud that my father in-law helped to save Jewish children from the Holocaust. I have confronted Muslims who have denied its historical reality – including when I was in Iran. I have objected to Muslims taking Qur’anic texts which mention Jews out of context and misinterpreting them to justify communal hostility. Some years ago I met a leading British Messianic Jewish Christian, whom I invited to speak at my church, and we had great fellowship with him in our home on a couple of occasions when he visited, despite our differences on Palestine. Perhaps Mr Weissman was unaware of this, but had he contacted me in the normal way, I could have acquainted him with the facts. After all, since we are both Evangelical Christians, wouldn’t Matthew 5:23-24 apply? Please note that I never attacked (or even referred to) Mr Weissman in any article, or tried to vilify him online or in any media, yet not only on his own website, but on others, he has misrepresented me and endangered my family. If he is really interested in a respectful dialogue, I would be willing to meet him. I would suggest that this should be everyone’s first move before engaging in an anonymous web-based tirade against fellow-Christians which only serves to bring the Gospel into disrepute.
UPDATE: Seismic Shock has responded to this here. He also kindly offered the piece to me to post here, but I felt that the discussion is moving away from the free speech issue into general areas, and that my doing so here would not be appropriate. I will post any further response from Dr. McRoy, however.
I am glad that Mr Weissman has responded to my post. I now want to make a final statement on the issue, after which I will make no other. So please, don’t anyone waste his/her time trying to bait me, since I will not respond. Firstly, I find it hard to read Weissman’s comment that ‘I did not say that Dr McRoy supported Al Qaida’ with this: ‘and now examines his apparent admiration for Al Qaida, and terrorist leaders Osama Bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. McRoy on sympathy for Al Qaida:’
If that is not an accusation that I ‘supported’ Al-Qaida, I don’t know what is. To state that I ‘admire’ or have ‘sympathy’ for Al-Qaida is surely the same as to state that I ‘support’ Al-Qaida. This seems a matter of semantics. However, I take Mr Weissman’s comment that this was NOT his intention, but for the record, I do not admire ‘Zarqawi’s cleverness’ or anything about Al-Qaida. I strongly oppose it. However, as an academic, it is my job to dispassionately analyse events. As I stated, the Iraq invasion was, objectively speaking, an effective military operation. The moral evaluation of the war is a different matter, and I opposed the invasion.
My point is that such a comment – that I ‘admired’ or had ‘sympathy’ for Al-Qaida could have serious consequences for the safety of my family and myself. Remember that after 9/11 and 7/7, ordinary Muslims and even non-Muslim Asians – especially Sikhs – were attacked. Were another bombing to occur, it is likely that such events would be replicated. What if people in my area saw it, or fellow-pupils of my children? My children have been mugged at knife-point in the past – a revenge attack following an Al-Qaida bombing could well involve more than being slapped. I know Mr Weissman is a young man, and probably not married with children. When he is blessed with children, he will be concerned for their welfare. I should emphasise that my children saw his comment and reported it to me. Can he begin to imagine how concerned I was that such language could lead to an attack on my family? I fully accept now that this was not his intention, but it was nonetheless a case of reckless endangerment to use such language that could be taken as meaning that I support Al-Qaida.
To give an example. In 2007 I reported that a young Muslim had posted a video on Youtube entitled “In memory of Councillor Alan Craig”. Pictures of Craig, which included his wife and young children, then followed. I commented: ‘It is the involvement of his wife and children that Craig has found most objectionable. In a video posted after the media attention, the video’s author – Abdullah1425 – claimed that he was not making a death threat, but rather engaging in “light-hearted political satire”. However, many people might find it difficult to spot the humour. For a start, what is amusing about a video with an “obituary” theme? Surely the message is: “we wish you were dead!” Furthermore, the video contains the quotation of the Qur’anic verse Surah Al-Baqarah 2:156 From Allah we all come and to Him we all return.’ (http://www.socialaffairsunit.org.uk/blog/archives/001665.php) Cllr Craig reported the matter to the police, who interviewed the young man, but did not charge him. However, few will feel that Cllr Craig did not do the right thing by contacting the police on this matter, especially as it involved his family.
Again, imagine if someone living in a Muslim area of Britain was accused of being a MOSSAD agent. What would be likely to happen to him? Last year there was another incident of Evangelical in-fighting, and Dr Patrick Sookhdeo approached me for help. One smear going round the Muslim community was that he was a MOSSAD agent. He was naturally concerned for his safety and that of his family and colleagues. I was happy to contact leading Muslims to set the record straight, as well as intervening to help the breach between him and other Evangelicals. I’m sure Mr Weissman can appreciate why Patrick was concerned at the smear and its possible consequences. I hope he now understands why I was concerned at his representation of my position.
Mr Weissman asks why I didn’t post on his blog. Basically, I don’t do that on any blog, and certainly not on anonymous ones. In fact, as a matter of principle, I never respond to anonymous correspondence. It is well-said that the Internet is a dangerous place. I can never understand people who go into chatrooms, and we’ve all heard stories of how paedophiles hide their identity in such sites to groom young victims, often posing as teenagers or children themselves. Mr Weissman never identified himself to me, nor contacted me in the normal way. All he did was to write under a pseudonym – ‘Mordechai’ – on the Premier Radio page:
At 2:49am on May 9, 2009, Mordechai said… Hi Antony, would you like to comment on these pieces? I’m sure your employers at Premier Christian Radio would be horrified to learn that you praised Mahmoud Ahmadinejad when you went to Iran, and compared the faith of Hezbollah suicide bombers who kill in expectation of the Mahdi with the faith of Christians who practise social justice in expectation of the 2nd coming of Jesus? Hmm… better delete this comment before they find it!
Is this a normal communication? It is more like a taunt. Had Mr Weissman contacted me in his own name and in a normal, polite manner, I would have been happy to dialogue with him, but his anonymity, his trawling of the Web, his misrepresentations of my position smacked of cyber-bullying and harassment. In the light of the campaign he waged against me, I wonder how else I was supposed to view his depiction of me as ‘admiring’ and ‘sympathising’ with Al-Qaida – and what the possible consequences of this were. Remember, my children reported this to me.
It was on that basis that the police got involved. I emphasis that I did not ask for prosecution, still less for Mr Weissman’s views to be silenced, but merely for this apparent harassment – i.e. the physical endangerment of my family – to be addressed. Again, had Mr Weissman never engaged in an anonymous campaign against me, there would have been no reason for the police to get involved. Rather than my posting on his blog, surely it was his responsibility to contact me in the normal way. I reiterate that I have never threatened him with violence, nor even mentioned him in any article or broadcast. Moreover, just as I helped Dr Sookhdeo last year when his safety was imperilled, I wish in the spirit of Christian compassion to extend an offer to help Mr Weissman if he ever faces any threats from Islamic extremists.
This is not PR; it is a sincere offer. Over the years I have found myself in similar positions. Once, when covering an Al-Muhajiroun demo outside the US Embassy, I went into the garden opposite to find an Orthodox Jewish gentleman on his mobile. When he finished, I approached him, informing him of the approaching rally. He was very frightened, but grateful for my help. Another time, covering a different demo, some young Muslims became aggressive to a Jewish man who was arguing with them, so I held them back while he got away. There are two other incidents that come to mind, for example when I restrained an Al-Muhajiroun member from attacking a homosexual Asian man, or a towering Kosovar who, a few days after a mass grave was unearthed in his country, went to pulverise an American heckler at a rally, but was held back by me until the heckler went away.
To return to my paper, The Solace of the Saviour. Mr Weissman does not seem to realise that I never got to deliver the paper, because I couldn’t get a visa! Perhaps it was because of my comments to President Ahmadinejad about the 1979 US Embassy hostage event, but I don’t know. I gave a different paper the year I was in Iran. I am surprised by Weissman’s comments that ‘It worries me that McRoy thinks that here he is merely expressing a dispassionate academic opinion. He must surely have had some idea of how these ideas would be interpreted by his audience in the Islamic Republic of Iran.’ The year I was actually in Iran, and gave my original paper, everyone in the audience seemed to understand my position – no one, Muslim or non-Muslim – concluded that I believed in Islamic eschatology. In fact, I was immediately interviewed by three Iranian TV stations on Christian beliefs, especially eschatology. I think we need to have some faith the intelligence of our audiences.
Part of the problem is that Mr Weissman doesn’t seem to appreciate that in my paper, I am often quoting passages that disturb him, e.g. ‘Hezbollah also used one of its own special types of resistance against the Zionist enemy that is the suicide attacks. These attacks dealt great losses to the enemy on all thinkable levels such as militarily and mentally. The attacks also raised the moral [i.e. morale] across the whole Islamic nation.’ He should really observe its footnote: ‘Hezbollah, Hezbollah: Identity and goals, http://www.hizbollah.org/english/info.htm#1 2001.’ That is, I quoted a Hezbollah statement about themselves. My position is not ‘kind words for the similarly apocalyptic drive of Khomeinist Islam’, but simple analysis.
We should remember that such conferences are not debates, such as when Jay Smith attempts to deconstruct Islam in his campus debates with Muslims. Rather, the former are presentations. I was asked to present a paper on Mahdism and Messianic expectation, the latter from a Christian view. The first part of any paper naturally dealt with Islamic Mahdism, in which I gave an objective description; the second part presented Christian eschatology, which, of course, is what I believe. I have only ever done two debates, both on Premier Radio and both with Abdul-Haq Al-Ashanti, a Western convert to Islam, who produced a work against historical Christianity called Before Nicea, to which I am writing a response (one reason that I don’t do much journalistic writing these days). Abdul-Haq and I debated respectfully but forthrightly .
Furthermore, I did not express admiration for Ahmadinejad’s talents, I simply described his abilities in answering questions, which is purely a statement of fact. The same goes, as virtually every commentator observed, even those opposed to him, for George Galloway in his appearance before the US Senate.
As I said, I think the root of the problem between Mr Weissman and myself is our different positions on Palestine. The basis of my position is Amillennial eschatology, plus concern for equal rights for all people, irrespective of race and creed. Moreover, Mr Weissman must not think that I highlight Palestine in this. I also speak up for equal rights all over the world. In my previous employment as a Bible-college lecturer, during the dark days of Apartheid in South Africa I had a picture of Nelson Mandela in my office, and as I said previously, Colossians 3:11 is my motivation in this. To bring this back to the Muslim world, obviously the central problem – after terrorism – is the unequal status of religious minorities therein. As Mr Weissman now knows, I speak out regularly on this subject. Equally, I have spoken out against Islamophobia in Britain, being one of the first people to expose the BNP for moving towards prioritising this prejudice in their electoral strategy.
The other side of opposing Islamophobia is opposing Islamic extremism. As someone from a Jewish background, Mr Weissman may be interested to learn that I have confronted a Hizb ut-Tahrir member who at a meeting made an attack on ‘Jews’ (not on Israeli policy, Jews). I have written to criticise those Muslims who abuse Qur’anic texts to depict Jews as ‘apes and pigs’. At one of the first Muslim conferences I attended in the course of my studies, I confronted one of the organisers about a speaker who denied the Holocaust. I did the same in Iran when I met a European Muslim who made similar denials.
Having repented of my sinful views as a youth, I have spent the last thirty years as embracing Biblical multi-racialism and opposing sectarian oppression, without compromising on the uniqueness of Jesus. Over the years, I have spent much time trying to persuade young Muslim men not to get involved in extremism – as I did in my teens, before my conversion. The last thing I want is to see such youths blowing-up themselves – and others – in Tel Aviv, Iraq, Afghanistan, New York – or London. Obviously – and I am quite forthright with Muslims on this issue – I would love to see them be Born-again of the Holy Spirit, who would give them peaceful attitudes, but short of that, not to join Al-Qaida, or HAMAS or Hezbollah of any militant group for that matter, but rather to utilise their democratic rights as British citizens to campaign peacefully for their concerns. The fact that I have been forthright in my criticism of negative Western policies in the Muslim world has given me some credibility in seeking to steer them away from extremism – especially terrorism. The fact that we have many Muslim friends, as have our children, make such a concern especially strong.
In closing, may I reiterate that if Mr Weissman had presented my position properly, and contacted me directly using his real name, all this unpleasantness could have been avoided. In the spirit of Christian reconciliation,as expressed in Colossians 3:11 and 2 Corinthians 5:18ff, I wish to say that I forgive Mr Weissman for anything he has done, and ask his forgiveness for anything I have done. I would hope that at the end of this, we could, as fellow Born-again Christians, break bread together.