The Question of Yarl’s Wood, or Neil Robertson’s Wager

There is no point trying to defend Yarl’s Wood, as Junior Home Office minister Meg Hillier MP has, or so is the charge of Diane Abbott. There’s cause for concern, and this cause has been taken up by John McDonnell with an EDM, that reads:

That this House notes that women detained in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre have been on hunger strike since 5 February 2010 in protest against being detained for up to two years; condemns the detention of victims of rape and other torture, of mothers separated from their children and anyone who does not face imminent removal; believes that such detention flouts international conventions and UK immigration rules; requests that HM Inspector of Prisons urgently carries out an independent investigation into reports of violence, mistreatment and racist abuse from guards, being kettled for over five hours in a hallway, denied access to toilets and water and locked out in the freezing cold, which women have made to their lawyers, the media and supporters, including the All African Women’s Group and Black Women’s Rape Action Project; and calls for a moratorium on all removals and deportations of the women who took part in the hunger strike pending the results of that investigation.

This certainly isn’t the picture given here:


  • There is an on-site dedicated healthcare centre with a small in-patient facility.
  • The healthcare team accessed by residents is made up of
  • GPs,
  • General nurses,
  • Mental health nurses,
  • Health visitors,
  • Midwives,
  • Dentists,
  • Counsellors and allied Health care professionals and Consultants who attend the centre where there is an identified need
  • Education is provided for school-age children on weekdays in two separate classes; one for children aged between five and 11 and one for children aged 11 to 16. There is a nursery for children under five.
  • The centre also has a well stocked library which is managed by a full time chartered librarian. Activities for adult detainees include team sports such as badminton and volleyball in the sports hall; cardio-vascular fitness routines in a well-equipped gym and exercise to music. Supervised arts and crafts sessions are held each weekday morning and afternoon. The chance to develop ICT skills in dedicated computer rooms is also available.
  • Other facilities include hair salons; youth club and cinemas. Opportunities are available for paid work.
The centre is run Serco Home Affairs, a part of the Serco Group plc, and was once described by the Guardian as the biggest company you’ve never heard of. There is, however, much talk of them of late. And this is the main subject of a recent charge; how could Serco allow the abuses to happen under their jurisdiction?
Paul Cotterill has rightly stated in an entry that there are serious concerns about a child’s rights here, that clearly ignore many of the articles of the 1989 UN convention on the Rights of the Child. This was subject to some media coverage early last year, but talk of it had ceased somewhat up until only a little while ago.
Today, Neil Robertson for the Liberal Conspiracy, and on his own blog, has written a call-to-arms, and asked for a statement, or a kind of justification of how Labour bloggers can still support the Labour Party knowing full well what the attitude towards Yarl’s Wood is, or at least, the perceived inaction.
I think the question of Yarl’s Wood opens up debate on not just the centre itself, but immigration in general.

As a blogger and labour supporter I find the idea of Yarl’s Wood uncomfortable, I find the idea that there are beatings inside Yarl’s Wood uncomfortable, but though I find the former uncomfortable, realistically this would be one of the better options for illegal immigrants (when you consider the other dreadful things that can happen to them, when they become unknown of, all rights disappear, homo sacer etc etc) if it weren’t for the latter. So I think the majority of Labour bloggers will agree that an inquiry needs to be made into the goings on in Yarl’s Wood, so as to ensure that the extension of good will is bestowed against these desparate people, and that all care must be taken to see that they are treated according to the law, and not have their human rights disturbed in the process.

In the meantime, the action that needs to be taken here, and hopefully this will be the outcome of the EDM, and Phil Woolas will listen to calling voices, that efforts need to urgently be raised on immigration applications, so as not to keep people detained in the centres needlessly. I appreciate the complexity of the process, but the urgency of the issue trumps; it’s well within reason to expect this procedure to be sped up.

As Diane Abbott has pointed out, Labour’s handling of this has probably been mismanaged, and should have been dealt with with a lot more care than it clearly has been. Therefore, to Neil’s charge towards Labour bloggers, I don’t think he’ll get any answers back he wasn’t expecting, and I don’t think many Labour members will read the Guardian report without some guilt and distress. So I’d focus my attention away from party ideology, and seek answers from individuals.

Incidentally, Abbott’s name is not on the list of signatories for the EDM, if she had real conviction about Meg Hillier’s failure, should she not be calling into question her continued employment?


The Orphic Root of Monotheism: A Review of W.K.C. Guthrie’s Orpheus and the Greek Religions

Precious little other than playing the lyre and having women leering over him is known about Orpheus by some, but it is said that some rather important doings of our day are related to our dear chap, one being the invention of writing on the virtue of his poetry (though others who have observed the accounts of Orpheus’ life have concluded that he was an aural poet and in any case far too premature for the art of writing). Much time, also, has been devoted trying to attribute homosexual love to Orpheus, notably the Alexandrian poet Phankoles who designates Orpheus on account of his repulsion to women after the loss of his wife, Eurydice, to the underworld. But this could just appear to be homosexuality to the untrained eye, whereas it might actually be nothing less than mournful celibacy (this sort of situation in adaptionism taxonomists debate as homology/analogy). 

One very important factor, overlooked by modern studies, considered to be taken directly from Orpheus and the “Orphic communities” is that of monotheistic religion. Orpheus himself is taken to be prophet of a particular type of mystery-religion, as W.K.C. Guthrie, in whose book Orpheus and the Greek Religions most of the present information can be found, points out, the “mysteries of Dionysos”. Indeed the pagan mysteries of Dionysos are said to have influenced Christianity a great deal. Guthrie speculates on the notion that since Dionysos (son of Zeus, of whose leg Dionysos’ heart is implanted within) has many roles, and different names for his identification, study on this period has pointed to polytheism (more than one God) when in fact Phanes and Hades (the place, also named, that Orpheus descended and returned) etc. were used to identify Dionysos’ various functions. This and many other factors, supposes Guthrie, were what helped prepare the Graeco-Roman world for Christianity. Here we will discuss those other factors.

In an Orphic community (one in which treated Orpheus’ writings as a holy scripture, and at least followed Plato’s suspicion that Orpheus’ writings were too strong to be mere poetry) religious texts and acts were presided over by Telete, daughter of Dionysos. Some in that community thought it acceptable to ignore the “Orphic life” (some basic necessities that ought to be adhered in order to fulfill Orpheus’ prophecies, of which more in a moment) and simply assume that teletai alone would secure their salvation, of which the name for this calling was Orpheotelestai (Orpheus-initiators). But this, according to scholarly analysis, is based on a textual misunderstanding (and sounds rather like an ancient form of Pascal’s Wager in that one ought to act like one believes – just incase – and, not necessarily specified by Pascal, enjoy all the [Dionysian?] fun rather than commit to the “rules,” in order to achieve salvation). Plato, Theophrastas, and Plutarch all condemned the Orpheotelestai for, among other things, guaranteeing that no shared belief was practiced between the Orphics on account of their misunderstandings. The Orphic scriptures did, actually, demand a number of religious formalities, namely conversion, adherence to a religious way of life, original sin, communion, and a particular eschatology (final rewards of the pure Orphics was the eternal enjoyment of union with God). These said notions have, undeniably, a lot in common with Christianity, says Guthrie, and inform part of Christianity’s own identity.

Later on in the Greek world St Paul’s “Hellenism” advanced his popularity (the Gospel of Luke explains that the name Paul to identify St Paul was first used in the Graeco-Roman world, rather than using his real name Saul. Paulus was a Roman surname and St Paul was the first to use it specifically as a first name, using it when engaging in his ministerial role to Gentiles), as well as sharing a common tongue (which Paul dedicated a lot of time perfecting). According to Guthrie, other than avoiding talk of the (Dionysos) mysteries, Paul’s triumph in the Graeco-Roman world was guaranteed by the great similarities in Christianity and Orphism.

A further comparison should be found in the effect each religion has had on man, in the sense of how man has transformed into individual. Guthrie has described Orphism as “the beginning of man as an individual” since Orphism promoted the individual soul in order to curb the age of competing interests driving it “from the minds of all but the few.” The notion that separation brought people together was later used as the founding concept of Christian love, or agape (expression of love in God). In fact, it was rather ambiguously accounted for in the notoriously misunderstood chapters John 15:6 and Matthew 10:34 “Think that I come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword”. As it was rightly elucidated by G.K. Chesterton in his Orthodoxy, Christianity is “on the side of humanity and liberty and love” as well as, and not hypocritically, “a sword which separates and sets free … that any man who preaches real love is bound to beget hate. It is as true of democratic fraternity as a divine love.” The Christian pursuit, in other words, needs to know its enemy in order to realise the agape revolution (in his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells his audience that they must not hate their enemy, but love him in order that they, too, can one day be part of the expression of love. What is crucial here is that the enemy be identified, realised). This separation of souls, of individuality, as such, is the only transformation obtainable to promote both freedom and union, and who could deny that this explicitly Christian assertion has an Orphic root.

What critics may object to in Guthrie’s work is that for all his historical work, whether Orphic religion had any real – other than purely analogous – influence on Christianity is all speculation. And this speculation does premise itself on rather grand questions concerning monotheism, its roots and its theological implications. For me, it does offer cultural reasons as to why the Graeco-Roman world took to Paul’s Christianity, but it doesn’t show Christianity to be in direct correlation to the poetry of Orpheus. The main point, whether Orphism marked the beginning of monotheism is a harder question to resolve. It certainly contradicts Freud’s research on the beginnings of monotheism, designating Moses who popularised and intellectualised monotheism in order for the Hebrews to worship one God, rather than embracing the Sun-God Aten (and was subsequently killed by the Jews, who later regretted their decision to kill Moses and acknowledged him in their religion, guaranteeing guilt as part of the Jewish faith). As such, Freud considered the Jewish God at the beginning of monotheism. What is difficult to discern in Guthrie’s text is at what point in history began the confusion of whether Dionysos was one God with many functions, or one of many functioning Gods. It is certainly a more established view that acknowledged Greek Gods in their plenty, and it is a problem not having any conclusive reasons as to why Greek and Thracian (group of Indo-European tribes) societies might have found it necessary to acknowledge Dionysos as monotheistic (like Moses’ society did). But some pretty strong conclusions are drawn by Guthrie and others (like Robert Parker in his essay “Early Orphism”). It’s the view of scholar Jan Assman that Orpheus, like Moses, played the mediator of monotheism to a series of religious rites, not least of which in his poetry, and so the debate on the origins of monotheism remain.