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TRIGGER WARNING

triggerwarning cover

Trigger Warning: [free speech and offensive language]. This review contains strong racial and sexual slurs, discussions of –isms, or hatred of any kind (racism, chauvinism, classism, sexism, body-image shaming)

WHAT you have just read is a ‘Trigger Warning’. Increasingly common, a Trigger Warning is a notice at the start of any piece of writing, or audio or video to warn would-be readers, listeners or viewers that something potentially upsetting or offensive is on its way. The underlying implication seems to be look away, do not read this, or turn off your radio or television set.

This modern innovation has inspired Spiked-online editor Mick Hume to write an impassioned polemic in defence of freedom of speech which he claims is under threat, mainly because many of us don’t want to offend anyone. His new book, Trigger Warning, claims that politeness or fear of causing offence is undermining the hard-won rights of freedom of speech and thought that we like to think are the foundations of our society.

The Islamic gunmen who attacked the office of Charlie Hebdo acted not just as the soldiers of an oldish Eastern religion but also as the armed and extremist wing of a thoroughly modern Western creed… a creeping culture of conformism. The cri de Coeur of these crusaders against offensive speech is You-Can’t-Say-That.

The gunmen who shot up the offices of Charlie Hebdo and a Copenhagen café just cut out the middleman in order to stop anyone reading the blasphemies in Charlie Hebdo or listening to a debate in Copenhagen on the nature of free speech and blasphemy.

Reverse-Voltaires

Western culture seems to have fallen out with its own core value of free speech. The author brands the crusaders in question as ‘Reverse-Voltaires’. The famous phrase, attributed to the French freethinker had him saying, “I disagree with what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” Hume’s Reverse-Voltaires in effect say, “I know I’ll detest and be offended by what you say, and I will defend to the end of free speech my right to stop you saying it.” They don’t wish to debate or dispute arguments that they find offensive. They would deny the other person’s right to say it in the first instance. The author’s charge is that these Reverse-Voltaires’ personal emotions and feelings come first. They want to be protected from words.

What has happened to the West’s liberal lobby in defence of free speech? They still speak up for oppressed dissidents in other parts of the world but at home, too many professed ‘liberals’ have gone over to the other side and want to restrict the ‘wrong’ kinds of speech. To many, censorship even seems cool.

Under King William III of glorious, pious and immortal memory, the need lapsed in 1695 for a Crown licence to publish anything. The recent Leveson Report called for a new State-sanctioned regulator to police press freedom. Even Shami Chakrabarti of Liberty gave public support for a new Royal Charter to limit press freedom.

Hume notes sadly that the remaining Pythons – who thirty-five years ago fought massive battles against Mary Whitehouse and quite a few Church of England bishops in order that everyone could go to see The Life of Brian – have effectively switched sides and joined a secular crusade for less press freedom. Illiberal liberalism now rules the roost so that black activist Jasper Lee rejoiced in closing down the controversial Exhibit B at the Barbican with the claim that censorship was a blow for free speech.

Today, free speech is attacked in the name of defending rights and freedoms. Even worse, there is now a blurring of the line between public and private spheres so that recently a large number of public figures and celebrities were monstered for thoughts expressed in private phone calls, texts or emails that were leaked, often by former friends or partners. As Brendan O’Neill of Spiked magazine put it, “there is surely only one solution to the alleged scourge of people saying bad things in private – put a telescreen in very home to capture our banter and alert the morality police to the utterance of dark or daft thoughts.” just as was the case in Orwell’s 1984 where people were encouraged to shop colleagues, neighbours and even family members. In 1984, Orwell’s Thought Police didn’t just punish those guilty of thoughtcrime but served to encourage others to practice ‘crimestop’ – the faculty of stopping short before embracing any dangerous thought.

Historical context

Hume puts the importance of freedom of thought and free speech in its historical context in a short outline of free-speech heretics, something we as Dissenters and Non-Conformists know – or ought to know – well. The right to freedom of expression and conscience was not handed down to us as a gift from the gods or from kings and aristocrats as an act of condescending beneficence. It had to be fought for and defended, over and over again.

We have heard a lot about Magna Carta in the past few months, given that its 800th anniversary was recently celebrated in great style. It did have a genuine role against arbitrary state power by establishing the idea that the Crown is not above the law and that free men have certain rights, most notably the right to trial by a jury of their peers. However, the Magna Carta had nothing to say about freedom of speech in a society where serfs were virtually owned body and soul by the lords of the manor.

After William Caxton introduced the printing press into England in 1476, the Crown sought to control it under a system of licensing. Today’s attempts to muzzle and control the internet are not entirely unprecedented. Nothing could be published without permission of the Star Chamber. Any criticism of the Crown was branded as treason or seditious libel.

One early free-speech martyr was the Greek philosopher, Socrates who, mirroring present-day Britain and America ‘just went too far.’ He was accused of corrupting the morals of Athens youth by saying things that ought not to be said. He replied that even if they went to spare him, he would keep on saying the unsayable and asking forbidden questions. Socrates posed the question; should there be a right to be a heretic?

As Hume notes, notions of heresy change as society changes in history. ‘Heresy’ is a label stuck on you by someone else. “From the trial of Socrates to today the big battles have been about the right to go against the grain, dissent from respectable opinion and question the unquestionable.” – in short, the right to be offensive.

In an age when many people dismiss religion as repressive and reactionary, Hume reminds secular readers that William Tyndale whose struggle to publish the Bible in English ended in fiery martyrdom, as well as the other religious heretics, came up against the censorious power of the political authorities. Their demands soon melded into calls for press freedom.

In 1689, after the Glorious Revolution which brought the immortal King Billy to the throne, the Bill of Rights wrote freedom of speech and debate into English law for parliamentarians. The system of Crown licensing for printers and publishers ended in 1695. The philosopher John Locke argued in A Letter Concerning Toleration against the State interfering in matters of conscience or faith but three centuries later, the government is still at it.

Up until the last few decades, liberty of expression and free-speech had widened in the UK. The last prosecution for blasphemous libel was in 1977 when Mary Whitehouse took a private case against Gay News for a poem she didn’t like. The offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel were abolished in 2008. However, Hume argues that this has been replaced by a form of ‘blasphemy-lite’ – the new censorship of ‘hate-speech’.

Proponents of old orthodoxies now find themselves in the dock – often literally. This might make some folk smile a ‘slap-it-into-you’ wry smile but as Hume remarks, heresy-hunting still threatens free-speech even if the person on the receiving end is a bigot. Today, a myriad of unofficial and shifting speech rules and codes apply and woe betides anyone who falls foul of them.

The internet front

In China and Turkey the State authorities are open and honest that they censor opinions that they don’t like. But the internet is today a major front in the silent war on free speech. Here in the West we don’t censor in order to enforce political repression – perish the thought – but to protect the vulnerable against harmful and hateful words.

We hear a lot in the media about internet ‘trolls’ although there is no firm definition of the term. This hasn’t prevented a government minster threatening to quadruple prison sentences for writing words based on a shaky definition of what a troll actually is.

Some people on the internet are really horrible but ‘trolls’ have just as much right to say what somebody else doesn’t like as anyone else. Like everyone else, however, they have no right to be taken seriously. In case anyone was wondering, threats of rape, violence or murder are already illegal, so no new anti-trolling laws are necessary. Not only words, but the context in which they are used should determine the credibility or otherwise of any alleged threat.

The rise of the troll has led to the emergence of professional self-appointed ‘troll-hunters’ who seek to track down and punish these people. One recent tragic case concerned Brenda Leyland who killed herself after she was exposed on television as the women who posted a serious of online accusations against the parents of a missing child.

Another threat to internet free-speech emerged after a 2014 European Court of Justice case on ‘the right to be forgotten’. This led to a pianist demanding that the Washington Post take down a three-year-old critical review of one of his concerts and many others seeking to cast stuff about their past into an Orwellian memory hole.

Universities

Two centuries ago, the poet Percy Shelley was banned from Oxford in 1811 for publishing The Necessity of Atheism. Today, universities are all supposed to be about the search for knowledge, truth and free expression; what Disraeli called, ‘a place of light, of liberty and of learning.’ That’s no longer true in the US or in the UK where often students fight for freedom from speech. Berkley University in 1964 was where students founded the Free Speech Movement. By a twist of irony, students at the same university petitioned to ‘disinvite’ the comedian Bill Maher in order that they might feel safe.

Bizarro World has come alive in many universities so that self-professed liberals or radicals are in the forefront of campus censorship campaigns. In recent cases, people have been told that ‘people who do not have uteruses’ have no say on the abortion debate and various speakers have been banned under widening cowardly and reactionary ‘no platform’ rules. Once it was ‘no platform’ for racists and fascists. Now it is ‘no platform for racists, fascists, Islamic extremists, Islamaphobes, rappers, comedians, Israelis, climate-change deniers, Christians, atheists or UKIP members. Hume says that this would be better phrased as ‘no arguments’ as their proponents refuse to countenance any ideas other than their own.

Hume excoriates the use of ‘Safe Space’ and ‘Free Speech Zones’ in many US universities which restrict opinions to the zone and make them off-limits everywhere else and turn the rule into the exception.

Trigger warning migrated from a therapeutic took to help sufferers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to many books on the university syllabus and even to things like Downton Abbey. This misuse undermines two freedoms; the right to speak or write what you want or the right to read, listen to, or watch what you want.

Football and comedy

Free speech is for (allegedly) fat and (mostly) white, male, working class football fans too.” In recent years, as money has poured into the game, there has been an attempt to ‘socially cleanse’ football terraces of its working class fan base, ostensibly to make the game more acceptable to the middle classes and ethnic minorities and more ‘family friendly’. While the thought appals many folk, a large part of the appeal of the game is winding up supporters of opposing teams by singing offensive songs. In Scotland, this can get you locked up under draconian legislation which is supposed to outlaw sectarianism. People have even been fined for singing God Save the Queen.

Players find themselves hung out to dry too. John Terry from Chelsea Football Club was found not guilty in court of calling another player, Anton Ferdinand of QPR a ‘fucking black cunt’ but nevertheless was sentenced by the English FA to a huge fine of £220,000 and forced to undergo re-education in etiquette and speech codes because of his ‘racism’. He was cleared in court of any offence but treated as guilty anyway on the grounds that he ought to have been some sort of ‘role model’ to young impressionable football fans. In today’s society, role model rules overcome the principle of presumption of innocence until proven guilty.

Hume mourns the passing of the Jewish-American comedienne Joan Rivers. Loved and hated in equal measure, she never apologised to anyone who claimed to be offended by her acerbic brand of humour. Who, he wonders, will slay all those sacred cows now? The censors once were conservative politicians, policemen and priests. Now protests are led by illiberal liberals in the media, other comedians and activists.

The alternative comedians of the 1980s have created their own alternative comedic conformism. Most recent examples are the comic character ‘Dapper Laughs’, who was killed off by an illiberal liberal lynch mob. Interestingly, the West Belfast Festival, Féile an Phobail, is under pressure from some of the same circles to disinvite the Scottish comedian Frankie Boyle because they disapprove of some of his recent material. Nobody, Hume observes, “is against free speech for comedians. Until, that is, they decide somebody has gone too far in offending their own views and hurting their feelings.”

Many opponents of free speech borrow – and distort – an argument first aired by Judge Oliver Wendell Holmes in an American court in 1919 that people have no right to cry ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre. Holmes said that there was no freedom ‘falsely’ to cry fire in a crowded theatre. His ruling against a US socialist activist assumed that Schenk could be punished after the fact for what he wrote in a leaflet against military conscription in wartime. He didn’t try to prevent its publication beforehand as Gordon Brown’s government did with the controversial Dutch politician Geert Wilders when he was banned from entering the UK in 2009. That was prior constraint and State censorship of an elected representative.

This raises the question, who decides? How can we make an informed decision if we cannot hear what a person has to say? The fire-in-a-theatre argument has generalised from a specific set of circumstances in order to shut down ideas that the offended person doesn’t like and doesn’t want anyone else to hear. Hume offers another quotation from Holmes, made in 1929. “If there is and principle in the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other it is the principle of free thought – not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought we hate.”

Words will always hurt me

We used to recite a wee verse that “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Today that has been turned on its head. Recently, Katy Hopkins – a B List attention-seeking celebrity motor-mouth who has re-invented herself as a professional troll – faced a petition to sack her from her Sun column because of ignorant and stupid comments she made about would-be migrants from North Africa drowning in the Mediterranean Sea. In fact there was more outrage and indignation over her shit-stirring article than there was over the actual deaths of would-be migrants.

Hume blames the rise of what he calls identity politics as a major cause of the modern outbreak of thin-skinnedness. When someone identifies with a particular identity group, they become fixed in it and will not accept any challenge to their worldview. It’s not only you-can’t-say-THAT, but YOU-can’t-say-that! The result of this is that we have privatised blasphemy and virtually criminalised criticism. Identity activists consciously and conspicuously go abroad in search of monsters to destroy. They look for something to be offended by. They stifle public debate by their insistence that speech is policed to protect hurt feelings of the few who claim to have been offended.

Taking offence has become the acceptable face of political censorship today. Of course, anyone is entitled to take offence at anything said or written by someone else but taking offence does not give them any right to take away that other person’s freedom of speech.

Hume attributes one ‘-ism’ as the most powerful factor in this outbreak of self-righteous umbrage – narcissism; I feel superior by my sense of outrage and offence at what these dreadful people are saying. It’s an outrage. It upsets me. It shouldn’t be allowed. The 2008 EU ‘hate-speech’ laws were drafted in order to promote tolerance and equality. One EU commissioner admitted that they were actually intended to “preserve social peace and public order” by protecting the “increasing sensitivities” of “certain individuals” who “have reacted violently to criticism of their religion”.

That went well, didn’t it? Hume argues that the hate-speech laws seem to have inflamed things by sanctioning the notion that offensive speech is a crime that ought to be suppressed or outlawed if it upsets someone, so speaking disrespectfully of Mohammed or of other Islamic symbols deserve punishment. By this reckoning, the murderers of the Charlie Hebdo staff privatised the penalty due for causing such offence. Thomas Jefferson argued that the State should keep out of religious disputes. “It does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are 20 gods on no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” Today people can be locked up or fined in the UK and Europe for expressing an opinion deemed insulting or offensive to someone else’s religion or identity group. Ask Pastor James McConnell of the Metropolitan Tabernacle in north Belfast, who is awaiting trial for a sermon in which he claimed that Islam was spawned in hell and was of the devil. It looks like the State will be wading into religious disputes in future, if somebody makes a complaint.

Liberals used to campaign for disadvantaged groups to share equality with the rest of us; not special privileges for a self-identified group. Anyone can be and has the right to be offended but not to use that feeling of offence to curtail the rights of the rest of us.

Mind your Ps – Qs – Ns & Ys

Hume recounts a Football Association dinner he attended that was entertained by the black American comedian, Reginald D Hunter, who told amusing stories of how soccer baffled ‘this nigga’. A huge media shitstorm saw Hunter pilloried for racist language and behaviour. The FA’s anti-racism lobby group, Kick it Out now ‘condemns racial slurs, irrespective of context’. According to this idiocy, Hunter calling himself ‘this nigga’ is just as outrageous as a Klansman shouting ‘lynch that nigger’ at him. Fans of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club have similarly found themselves in trouble for calling themselves the ‘Yid Army’.

A similar storm of outrage burst over the head of the award winning actor Benedict Cumberbatch in a January 2015 interview when he referred to ‘coloured actors’. Never mind that he was speaking out against racism. He used a slightly old fashioned term to describe people of colour and was denounced on both sides of the Atlantic for his use of these dreadful words of power. According to the theorists of ‘irrespective of context’ Cumberbatch might as well have gone around whipping slaves and forging new chains for them by reminding their descendants of the bad old days of segregation and slavery. He was forced to make a grovelling apology for his hate-speech.

We are entering a cultural age where people like Hunter, Cumberbatch, the Yid Army or any one of us can be sacked, censured or censored for saying the wrong word, regardless of where they said it or what they meant by it.

Liars and holocaust deniers

Hume describes the recent trend for people who question the dominant view or current orthodoxy to be branded as ‘deniers’. ‘Denier’ is a religious term just as ‘witch’ was in the seventeenth century. To brand someone as a denier alleges a moral failure. That person is not just wrong but has no right to be heard. You don’t debate with deniers; you shut them up or lock them up or burn them. That’s what happened to Michael Servetus who was burnt at the stake in Calvin’s Geneva in 1553. He denied the Trinity. In Scotland, Thomas Aikenhead was hanged in Edinburgh in 1697 for denying the Trinity and the deity of Christ. All questioned the unquestionable and denied the prevailing orthodoxy – the ‘accepted version of truth’. All were regarded as subversive, dangerous and morally debased.

Holocaust denial is now the biggest thoughtcrime in the West. It has become a crime in almost twenty countries in the past two decades since the Holocaust became transformed from a historical event into a pseudo-theological universal symbol of absolute moral evil that must be taught in schools. The best way to deal with such nonsense is not to shut it down by locking up its proponents but to expose its fallacies and errors to the light of day. It”s not as if there’s any shortage of evidence.

Like all heresy hunters, the defenders of orthodoxy don’t just want to silence their opponents but to punish them for their secular blasphemy. Denial is meant to be “a refusal to acknowledge an unacceptable truth or emotion, or to admit it into consciousness.” A ‘denier’ is someone refusing to acknowledge what everyone knows is the undoubted truth, not a sincere doubter but a despicable liar.

Similar terms are now being used to refer to persons who doubt the current orthodoxy on man-made climate change. As the debate is settled and the question closed such doubters should be silenced. This is contrary to the opinion of John Stuart Mill who wrote, “To refuse a hearing to an opinion because they are sure it is false is to assume that their certainty is the same thing as absolute certainty. All silencing of discussion is an assumption of infallibility. That’s for popes, not scientists.”

Elitists believe that the ‘sheeple’ – ordinary people – need to be protected from the media. Their lack of faith in free speech reflects and reinforces their lack of belief in humanity. Hume argues that this is the main reason why there was an official cover-up of the scandal in Rotherham where gangs of Asian men abused white girls with impunity. The story was not suppressed by the authorities for years because it was false but because it was true. Social workers and officials feared accusations of racism and that community tensions would be inflamed if the full truth came out.

Today those who think of themselves as enlightened often demand less free speech and want to restrict press freedom. The puritans of the past look like open-minded humanists compared with today’s misanthropic illiberal liberals.

The right to free speech is not sectional. It has to apply to everyone – no matter how obnoxious – or it becomes undermined for others. Once media freedom is made out to be a problem the ‘solution’ offered is more state intervention and regulation. Orwell wrote that “A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the highbrow periodicals.”

The crux of Hume’s argument is that free speech is not the problem but that fear of it is. “Without fighting for the heretical right to offend against society’s consensus views and to question the unquestionable orthodoxies of the age, many of the great political, cultural, scientific or artistic breakthroughs that we now take for granted would have been hard to imagine.”

Reverse-Voltaires claim that we will gain is a safer, more civil society where people will have to respect each other. Hume argues that we are all in danger of losing the meanings of words. Rules and codes shift and narrow the terms of debate as Benedict Cumberbatch learned to his cost. In fact, they close down any chance of debate which prohibits any proper discussion on the important issues of the day.

David Kerr

Trigger Warning: Is the Fear of Being Offensive Killing Free Speech? by Mick Hume. William Collins Books ISBN978-0-00-812545-5 £12.99

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The First Stone

First Stone cover

Click on image to buy this book!

It doesn’t take too much of a stretch of the imagination to envisage the dystopian American society of Elliott Hunter’s debut novel. The First Stone. It’s all too plausible. Set in the not-too-distant future, (or perhaps an alternative present), this America has become an intolerant place dominated by The Council of Elders, a fundamentalist group that has become the real rulers of the new America in the years after Houston had been vaporised by a terrorist nuclear device.

America had lashed out in retaliation of course. Despite protestations of innocence the Iranians had been blamed and Tehran had been razed. Egged on by zealots from hundreds of fundamentalist preachers who provided the willing cannon fodder for a new Great Patriotic Crusade against terror, American soldiers occupied large parts of the Middle East. Thousands of soldiers had died there and many more had come home, seriously wounded, traumatised or damaged by chemicals and radiation. One such former soldier was Felix Strange, a private eye who suffers from a debilitating illness picked up in Iran that has neither a name nor a cure.

Strange doesn’t normally deal with homicide cases, but when the body of America’s most loved preacher, Brother Isaiah, is found strangled to death in his New York hotel room, he is called in to investigate. He’d rather not get involved in this case, but Ezekiel White who leads the morality police, the ‘Committee for Child Protection’ has ways and means of forcing him to comply.

White’s CCP goons, known as the Holy Rollers, are outflanked by Brother Isaiah’s Crusade of Love; an independent body of religious zealots who send their spies into different towns and cities in advance of a visit by the influential preacher. Pretty-boy ‘ex-gay’ activists entrap closet gays. Attractive young ladies do the same for amorous men in positions of authority. The unfortunate victims then find themselves denounced for their perversity by Brother Isaiah at one of his huge evangelistic rallies. Brother Isaiah may have had the US President and the Congress in his pocket, and Jesus on his side, but he had surely annoyed somebody enough to kill him. Strange has a week to find out who killed Brother Isaiah and why, if he lives that long…

This modern noir reflects the grim humour and terse prose of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler for the twenty-first century. All the ingredients are there; a mystery death, a race against time to meet a deadline, people out to stop our protagonist and one of the finest examples of a femme fatale to appear in crime fiction for decades. This is an outstanding book, both in terms of characterisation and sharp dialogue and most notably in its author’s scarily plausible portrayal of a society dominated by an intolerant fundamentalist version of Christianity.

Reviewed by David Kerr

The First Stone (the first in the Strange Trilogy). Elliott Hall

 

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HARRY FERGUSON

Harry Ferguson

By Bill Martin.

Ulster Folk & Transport Museum, Cultra, Ulster.  1984.

THIS is a remarkable booklet.  Although it’s only the size of a large postcard, its 30 pages are crammed full of information, photographs and diagrams.  I really liked the way it was written – everything was direct and straight to the point.  Bill Martin is not a man who uses two words when one will do!  For instance, his introduction tells the story of Harry Ferguson in a single paragraph:

“HHarryFerguson 2 jpgarry Ferguson was born into an age of rapid change.  He contributed to the way in which change was applied.  He was born into a way of life which the industrial revolution had largely bypassed, where the horse reigned supreme, where brawn was more useful than brain and where a farmer could feed himself, his horse and four other people in that order of priority.  When he retired he was able to look at an industry in Britain in which one farmer could produce sufficient food for himself and forty others.  The other measure of his success is that some 80 per cent of tractors produced today the principles which he established.”

Henry George “Harry” Ferguson was born in 1884 at Growell, near Dromore, County Down.  The son of Mary and James was the 4th child of 11 in the family.  In 1902 he became an apprentice in his elder brother Joe’s engineering business, Hamilton and Ferguson – later to become J.B. Ferguson and Co. Automobile Engineers based in Little Donegall Street in Belfast.  The brothers were known for their discipline, efficiency, accuracy and quality.  Great innovators, they used the most up-to-date equipment.  Harry also took part in sporting events to publicise the company.

He was very quick to spot trends.  He first saw aircraft in summer 1909 and by December he had a plane built and undergoing trials in Hillsborough, Co. Down.  This was no mean feat as he was “trying to design an aircraft and learning to fly it at the same time.  There were no reference books to work from only indistinct pictures in magazines.”

After several attempts, he won a prize of £100 for the first official flight in Ireland over a three mile course.  Despite his flying success he split from his brother JB, who could not see how it would benefit the garage business.  They decided to go their separate ways.  The May Street Motor Company (later Harry Ferguson Ltd.) opened for business in 1911 and became agents for Vauxhall, Maxwell and Ford.  He also started to sell Overtime tractors imported from America in 1914 – something that would later ‘make his name.’

Tractors had been introduced in 1894 but there were only 300 in the whole of Ireland by 1917.  The situation was to rapidly change:

“1916-17 was a period of national crisis and the need to increase home food production became paramount if starvation was to be averted.  There was neither spare manpower nor industrial capacity and large numbers of women were already employed in agriculture yet the problem had to be solved and the area under the plough increased immediately and substantially.  The tillage order of 1917 gives some indication of the desperation since it required holders of 10 acres or more to plough 15% more than the previous year and large landowners with 200 acres or more to plough an extra 20 percent.  The Government made two important decisions which were to have far reaching effects on Ferguson.  It arranged to have 6,000 Ford tractors imported from America, which helped to get Ford firmly established in the U.K. tractor market, and it also made arrangements to ensure that farmers were taught how to use them properly.”  

This proved to be a turning point in Ferguson’s life – he was regarded as a ploughing expert because of his previous association with US Overtime tractors.  In March 1919 he (and his employee William Sands) were appointed by the “Irish Board of Agriculture to travel throughout Ireland and by demonstration, instruction and example to improve the quality and efficiency of tractor ploughing.”

It was during these trials that he began to think about faults and problems associated with ploughing and started to construct his own ploughs.  According to Martin: “The plough was built in the May Street premises in Belfast and compared to its contemporaries was about as revolutionary as a plough could be.”  Mounted directly on a Ford Eros tractor it was four times more efficient than other tractors and “set the pace and style for development for the next 20 years.” 

In 1933 Ferguson designed the revolutionary ‘Black Tractor,’ which was both light and powerful.  It was built in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, by David Brown Tractors Limited.  The Ferguson Brown Type A was introduced in 1936.  Sales were slow – but some success was to be found in the Channel Islands and Scandinavia.  Later on (in 1938) Ferguson met Henry Ford and – famously sealing the deal with a handshake – agreed to go into business together.  The equally famous Ford Ferguson Tractor was born and thousands were built (in the Ford factory in Detroit, Michigan) up until 1947.

Relations between Ferguson and Ford were soured when Ford’s grandson took over the company and set up the Dearborn Motor Corporation.  Here he produced tractors based on Ferguson’s designs – but neglected to obtain use of the patent rights.  As Martin notes, this led to one of the most famous industrial law suits ever: “It took four years to settle and eventually Ferguson was awarded over £3m as compensation for patent infringement and loss of business.”      

Ferguson switched production to Coventry in the East Midlands and in 1946 the TE 20 made an appearance.  He later became involved with the Canadian-based Massey Harris (later known as Massey Ferguson) until 1954 when he resigned as chairman of the group.

Whilst his name is – rightly – most commonly associated with tractors, Ferguson had always retained his interest in motor cars.

He was successful in helping to launch the Ulster Grand Prix in 1922 and the Tourist Trophy Races in Ards between 1928 and 1936.  He also became interested in the idea of cars obtaining more power safely using a four-wheel-drive system.  Prototypes were built but there were no takers.  To try to encourage public acceptance of the system, the P99 racing car was built.  (Stirling Moss gave the car its first win, the Oulton Park Gold Cup in 1962.)  The system was later used in the Jensen Interceptor FF, a luxury car, but sadly never in a ‘people’s car’ as he wished.  Ferguson sadly died in October 1960.

Reviewed by John Field

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Rabbi Outcast: Elmer Berger and American Jewish Anti-Zionism

Rabbi Outcast: Elmer Berger and American Jewish Anti-Zionism.  Jack Ross. Potomac Books.  2011.  296 pages.

Reviewed by Thomas Kolsky

RABBI Elmer Berger, the leading ideologist and main strategist of the American Council for Judaism (ACJ), the American Jewish organization created in 1942 specifically to oppose Zionism, is the subject of Jack Ross’ sympathetic and well-researched.  In this biography, Ross ably portrays and analyzes the sources and evolution of Berger’s anti-Zionist thought and traces the rabbi’s career as probably one of the fiercest and most enduring American Jewish anti-Zionists.

From his early thirties until his death at the age of eighty-seven, Berger dedicated himself totally to an unrelenting campaign against Zionism.  In the course of this endeavour, he constructed perhaps the most systematic, aggressive, and persistent Jewish ideological and public assault on Zionism and its partisans in the United States.  Between 1942 and 1967, his most productive years, Berger played a leading role in the ACJ.  As the organization’s executive director and chief ideologist, Berger closely supervised the formulation of almost every official ACJ document and organizational policy.  Despite Lessing Rosenwald’s and Clarence Coleman’s formal leadership as the presidents of the organization, it was Berger who played the commanding role in shaping and guiding the ACJ’s anti-Zionist campaign.

The ACJ came into existence in 1942 as the response of a group of Reform rabbis and lay opponents of Zionism who were alarmed by what they considered to be the rapid growth of Zionism in the U.S. and its intrusion into Jewish communal and religious life.  Theirs was a direct reaction to a February 1942 resolution of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), the one-time stronghold of Reform anti-Zionism, favoring the creation of “Jewish army” in Palestine as well as to the gathering of the Zionist Biltmore Conference in New York in May in which the Zionist movement openly declared its end-goal—the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine.

Shocked and angered by the turn of events, the dissident rabbis and their lay supporters, who were committed to classical Reform’s 1885 Pittsburgh Platform that affirmed the purely religious identity of Jews and rejected the creation of an exclusively Jewish state, founded the ACJ as an act of defense against Zionism.  The organization’s platform, based on the tenets of nineteenth-century Reform Judaism (classical Reform), emphasized the purely religious nature of Judaism and unequivocally rejected Jewish nationalism.  It repudiated the establishment of a Jewish state as regressive, undemocratic, and contrary to Jewish interests.  For the ACJ, Zionism represented a philosophy of despair, a retreat from and loss of faith in emancipation, and above all, self-segregation.  Instead of a Jewish state the ACJ supported free Jewish immigration and equal rights for Jews throughout the world. For Palestine, specifically, it advocated the establishment of a democratic state wherein all citizens, regardless of their religion, would enjoy equal political rights.  This platform and the principles that it embodied, which Berger helped to formulate, guided him throughout his career.

Berger’s campaign against Zionism may be divided into three major phases.  From 1943 to 1948, he led the ACJ’s relentless fight against the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine.  With the vast majority of American Jews rallying behind the Zionist program as the result of the emotional impact of the Holocaust, the ACJ failed to make significant inroads into the Jewish community.  While remaining largely isolated among Jews, it maintained contact and closely collaborated with the State Department, the main opponent of Zionism within the U.S. government.  Berger, a steadfast and enthusiastic proponent of cooperation with American governmental agencies and international agencies, maintained close contacts with Loy W. Henderson, the person in charge of Middle Eastern Affairs in the State Department, and worked energetically until the end to prevent the creation of the State of Israel.

On the domestic front, Berger focused on fighting Zionist efforts to capture the support of the Jewish community, their claim to speak for all Jews as well as their drive to establish a Jewish state in Palestine.  He repeatedly warned of the dire consequences for Jews in the United States and the world, if a Jewish state did come into existence.  The ACJ’s efforts to prevent the creation of Israel obviously course failed.

From 1948 to 1967, following the establishment of Israel, Berger turned to what he called a “second line of defence” in his encounter with Zionism: defending American Jews from Israeli intrusions into American Jewish life.  He constantly stressed that Israel was a foreign state and repeatedly emphasized the need to clearly distinguish between “Zionism” and “Judaism.”  To promote his line of defence, Berger oversaw a three-part anti-Zionist campaign, focusing on public affairs, religious education, and philanthropic programs, all designed to counteract American Zionist and Israeli efforts to bind American Jews to Israel.  Every Zionist or Israeli political pronouncement or action that could be interpreted as interference in American Jewish life drew vigorous protest from the ACJ.  Berger carefully scrutinized Israeli foreign policy and frequently criticized it.

From time to time, he would appeal to organs of the American government for support in his repudiation of Israeli policies.  For example, he sought a probe of the United Jewish Appeal by the State Department.  In the 1950s, he even volunteered to offer advice to Assistant Secretary of State Henry Byroade on how to deal with Israel, earning him the nickname “Mad Rabbi.” In fact, some of Berger’s most gratifying activities during the 1940s and 1950s seem to have been his dealings with State Department officials.

The June 1967 War created an acute crisis within the ACJ that resulted in Berger’s break with the ACJ.  Berger’s vehement condemnation of Israel as the aggressor and his extremely critical comments about the American Jewish community’s “hysterical” response to the war deeply upset most of the ACJ leaders, who were overwhelmed by the intense emotional response of American Jews to the war.  His ensuing conflict with the ACJ leadership resulted in Berger’s divorce from the organization.

With his separation from the ACJ began the third and last phase of Berger’s anti-Zionist crusade.  Within two years, free from the constraints of the ACJ, he created the American Jewish Alternatives to Zionism (AJAZ), an organization with a small membership, consisting mostly of his ardent ACJ supporters, but which served as an outlet for his anti-Zionist activities.  His remained a bold, but quixotic and lonely, journey.  In the remaining almost three decades of his life, Berger focused primarily on criticism of Israeli foreign policy.  During those years, a virtual pariah in the Jewish community, he associated mostly with his Jewish anti-Zionist ardent supporters, non-Jewish anti-Zionists, Arab American organizations, and representatives of Arab states.  As for his attitude toward the Arabs, Berger claimed that it was shaped by his commitment to the principles of classical Reform Judaism and to the teachings of social justice inspired by the Hebrew prophets.

The essence of Berger’s anti-Zionist ideology was that Judaism was a religion, not a nationality; that there was no such entity as “the Jewish people;” that no Jewish organization was entitled to speak for all Jews; that Palestine was not to be a Jewish state, but a state of all its inhabitants as equal citizens; that the creation of a Jewish state would have harmful consequences for Jews in Palestine and throughout the world.  The solution for the persecution of Jews was to be full emancipation—their integration into the societies in which they lived.  Only a truly enlightened, liberal world would make Jewish life secure.  Although Berger’s main work as the ACJ’s chief ideologist for twenty-five years and subsequently as a solo spokesperson for AJAZ did not bear tangible results, he did establish a record of rational dissent vis-à-vis Zionism, of which he was proud and which he saw as his legacy.  In fact, many of his predictions about the consequences of the Zionist venture, especially those related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, did materialize.

Recently, a growing number of concerned Jews, such as the distinguished historian Tony Judt, have been coming to views reminiscent of the concerns and predictions expressed by Berger.  In his informative and engaging biography of Berger, Jack Ross resurrects the memory of an important Jewish dissident, a man with whom many may disagree, but whose important insights into the nature and consequences of Zionism may be ignored only at our own peril.  In so doing, he makes an important contribution to the understanding of American Jewish anti-Zionism.

Thomas Kolsky reviews books for the History News Network http://hnn.us and is Professor of History and Political Science, Montgomery County Community College and the author of Jews Against Zionism. (Temple University Press).

Printed with acknowledgements to The Cutting Edge News http://www.thecuttingedgenews.com/index.php?article=52393

For another review of Rabbi Outcast: Elmer Berger and American Jewish Anti-Zionism by Jack Ross, see here: http://thirdway.eu/2011/06/24/rabbi-outcast-elmer-berger-and-american-jewish-anti-zionism/

 

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