Category Archives: Politics & Society


2014-10-13

The Politics of the Muslim Controversy

by Neil Godfrey

Salman Rushdie condemns ‘hate-filled rhetoric’ of Islamic fanaticism, The Telegraph:

It’s hard not to conclude that this hate-filled religious rhetoric, pouring from the mouths of ruthless fanatics into the ears of angry young men, has become the most dangerous new weapon in the world today.

If the rhetoric is the weapon then let’s find out why are we seeing so many taking it up today? Recent generations have seen several enemies — the rhetoric of nationalism, the rhetoric of corporate capitalism, the rhetoric of state socialism – and this is a new one. What has led to its emergence?

A word I dislike greatly, ‘Islamophobia’, has been coined to discredit those who point at these excesses, by labelling them as bigots. . . . 

It is right to feel phobia towards such matters. . . . To feel aversion towards such a force is not bigotry. It is the only possible response to the horror of events.

I can’t, as a citizen, avoid speaking of the horror of the world in this new age of religious mayhem, and of the language that conjures it up and justifies it, so that young men, including young Britons, led towards acts of extreme bestiality, believe themselves to be fighting a just war.

Salman Rushdie does not like the word Islamophobia but at the same time he self-servingly (probably without realizing it) distorts its meaning and the way it is used. I return to this word below where I address a Sam Harris quote.

Salman Rushdie is telling us that it is ”language that conjures it up”. The image is one of Islamic violence that has been smouldering for centuries like a vulcanic demon impatiently waiting beneath the surface of a bubbling geothermal mud pool for someone to chant the terrible magic words to unleash it.

Rushdie’s failure to reference any historical thinking, or any political-social understanding, is distressing and a little frightening. read more »


2014-07-11

Two Sides Explain the Killing in the Gaza Strip

by Neil Godfrey
Mark Regev

Mark Regev

Chief spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mark Regev, was interviewed on Radio National Thursday morning this week. You can hear the 8 minute interview here.

Here are the main points as I heard them:

Israel is currently preparing a ground invasion into Gaza.

The goal of the current Israeli air strikes (and of a ground invasion if that happens) is to free Israel from rockets from Gaza. It is a defensive goal.

In response to the claim that the threat of rockets was not ended the last time Israel invaded Gaza, Mark Regev said that in the real world we cannot expect perfect solutions but must look for the best possible solutions. After the last invasion (2008/09) Israel experienced a long period of quiet. Children for the first time knew a life free from fear of rockets.

Iranians have helped Hamas acquire the missiles.

In response to Hamas demands that Israel stop attacks on Gaza, opens the siege, stops operations in the West Bank, and releases the arrested Palestinians, Regev said if Hamas stops firing Israel will stop bombing Gaza. However, in the weeks leading up to this Israel warned them to stop firing rockets or suffer consequences.

Israel was taking every possible measure to prevent killing civilians. Not targeting people of Gaza. Israel did everything it could to avoid this fighting. Hamas has forced this war upon us all.

In response to interviewer’s question about most Palestinian casualties in the last ground invasion being civilians (using the B’Tselem figures), Regev said his figures were different and most casualties were combatants.

In response to Israel’s Deputy Chief of Staff’s declaration of the IDF doctrine that Israel targets its enemy’s civilian infrastructure as both a deterrent and to foment popular opposition to Israel’s enemies, Regev said Israel will be as surgical as possible.

Israel will try to target only terrorist infrastructure; if civilian infrastructure is used by the enemy it can be attacked.

read more »


2014-05-03

The Necessity for Mass Arab Transfer

by Neil Godfrey

Continuing the series from Nur Masalha’s Expulsion of the Palestinians. . . .

In the previous post we saw the initial reaction of the Zionist movement’s leadership to the Peel Commission’s 1937 recommendation that:

  1. Palestine be partitioned into two states, and
  2. that there be a transfer of 225,000 Arabs and 1250 Jews.

So far we have been looking at the words of Zionist leaders that were for most part hidden from the public arena. With the Peel Commission recommendations the question had to become public. Conventions had to be held. The rank and file needed to be consulted and won over. Fellow Jews who had more respect for the rights of the Palestinian Arabs also needed to be persuaded and won over.

The Peel report was debated by two of the highest organizations of Zionism. The final outcome was an emerging consensus that the two state proposal be rejected (the whole of Palestine should be given to the Jews) while the proposal for mass transfer of the Arab population was agreed upon by large majorities.

Wherever possible I have linked names to their Wikipedia pages so readers can assess the level of influence and standing each person had within the wider community at the time. It is important to know who many of these voices are but to provide details in the post itself would have risked losing the theme in a mass of web-page words.

The World Convention of Ihud of Po’alei Tzion

29 July – 3 August, 1937

Zurich

Better known as Poalei Zion, this was the highest forum for the dominant Zionist world labor movement. It was closely linked with the Mapai political party that dominated Israeli politics until 1968. David Ben-Gurion was a prominent leader in both organizations.

The proceedings of this convention were edited and subsequently published by Ben-Gurion in 1938. All quotations are from these proceedings.

David_BG

Ben-Gurion

Ben-Gurion and others in their respective presentations to the convention went to lengths to distinguish between the concepts of “transfer”, “dispossession” and “expulsion” and to stress the morality of such a transfer. “Transfer” was not the same as expulsion. The Commission’s report, Ben-Gurion made clear, did not speak of “dispossession” of the Arabs but only of “transfer”.

On 29th July he further pointed out that the Jews in Palestine had already been peacefully transferring Arabs through agreements with the tenant farmers and

only in a few places was there a need for forced transfer. . . . The basic difference with the Commission proposal is that the transfer will be on a much larger scale, from the Jewish to the Arab territory. . . . It is difficult to find any political or moral argument against the transfer of these Arabs from the proposed Jewish-ruled area. . . . And is there any need to explain the value in a continuous Jewish Yishuv in the coastal valleys, the Yizrael [Esdraelon Valley], the Jordan [Valley] and the Hula? (From the full report of the Convention, 1938, as are all quotations)

Eliezer_Kaplan

Kaplan

Eliezer Kaplan portrayed the transfer of Arabs as a something of a humanitarian act to make them at home among their own people:

It is not fair to compare this proposal to the expulsion of Jews from Germany or any other country. The question is not one of expulsion, but of organized transfer of a number of Arabs from a territory which will be in the Hebrew state, to another place in the Arab state, that is, to the environment of their own people.

Other speakers doubted the feasibility of transfer. Yosef Bankover, a founder of the Kibbutz Hameuhad movement and member of the Haganah regional command said:

As for the compulsory transfer . . . I would be very pleased if it would be possible to be rid of the pleasant neighbourliness of the people of Miski, Tirah and Qaiqilyah.

Bankover stressed to delegates that the Commission’s report implied that any transfer was to be undertaken voluntarily. Compulsion was against the intent of the report. Given that Bankover did not believe the British would risk further riots and bloodshed by enforcing Arab transfers. He rejected the report’s appeal to the Turkish-Greek transfers as a relevant case-study: these transfers were in effect by force and certainly under threat of being killed if they did not move, he said.

So the issues being debated and discussed were:

  • the moral justification of transfer — (this was generally accepted)
  • would forced transfers be practical?
  • would forced mass Arab transfers be adequate compensation for the Jews giving up their aspirations to have the one and only state over all of Palestine?
  • did the Peel Commission recommend transfer far enough afield? If the Arabs were only moved next door into Transjordan then the expansionist hopes of the Jewish state would be limited. Should not the Arabs be transferred to Syria and Iraq instead?

    read more »


2014-04-30

The Myth of Judean Exile 70 CE

by Neil Godfrey
English: Jews in Jerusalem

English: Jews in Jerusalem (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While we have “sacred space” and religious violence in our thoughts, it’s high time I posted one more detail I wish the scholars who know better would themselves make more widely known.

The population of Judea was not exiled at the conclusion of the war with Rome when the second temple was destroyed in 70 CE. Nor was it exiled after the second (Bar Kochba) revolt 132-135 CE. The generations following that revolt witnessed the “golden age” of Jewish culture in the Palestine (as it was then called) of Rabbi HaNasi, the legendary compiler of the Mishnah.

In the seventh century an estimated 46,000 Muslim warriors swept through Judea and established liberal policies towards all monotheists. Arabs did not move in from the desert to take over the farmlands and become landowners. The local Jewish population even assisted the Muslims against their hated Byzantine Christian rulers. While the Jews suffered under the Christian rulers, no doubt with some converting to Christianity for their own well-being, many resisted as is evident from the growth in synagogue construction at this time. Under Muslim rule, however, Jews were not harassed as they were under the Christians, yet there appears to have been a decline in Jewish religious presence.

How can we account for this paradox? Given that Muslims were not taxed, it is reasonable to assume that the decline in Jewish religious constructions can be explained by many Jews over time converting to Islam. Certainly David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Ben-Zvi in 1918 published their hopes that their Muslim Jewish counterparts in Palestine might be assimilated with their immigrant cousins.

There never was a mass exile of Jews from Judea/Palestine. At least there is no historical record of any such event. Believe me, for years I looked for it. In past years my religious teaching told me it had happened, but when I studied ancient history I had to admit I could not see it. Sometimes historian made vague generalized references to suggest something like it happened, but there was never any evidence cited and the evidence that was cited did not testify to wholesale exile.

Who started the myth?

It was anti-semitic Christian leaders who introduced the myth of exile: the “Wandering Jew” was being punished for his rejection of Christ. Justin Martyr in the mid second century is the first to express this myth.

So where did all the Jews that Justin knew of come from if they were, in his eyes, “a-wandering”?

read more »


2014-04-26

Compulsory Arab Transfer Necessary for a Jewish State

by Neil Godfrey

PeelMapContinuing the series from Nur Masalha’s Expulsion of the Palestinians. . . .

The Peel Commission released its report in July 1937 with British Government support. The Peel recommendations were to be the blueprint for future British policy in Palestine and opened the road towards a State (not just land) for the Jews. The commission declared that

  • the national aspirations of the Arabs and Jews were irreconcilable
    • An irrepressible conflict has arisen between two national communities within the narrow bounds of one small country. There is no common ground between them. Their national aspirations are incompatible. The Arabs desire to revive the traditions of the Arab golden age. The Jews desire to show what they can achieve when restored to the land in which the Jewish nation was born. Neither of the two national ideals permits of combination in the service of a single State.
  • Palestine should be partitioned so that an Arab state was made up of Transjordan and the Arab part of Palestine and the rest a Jewish state
    • If Partition is to be effective in promoting a final settlement it must mean more than drawing a frontier and establishing two States. Sooner or later there should be a transfer of land and, as far as possible, an exchange of population.
  • the Jewish state would consist of one third of the including the most fertile regions, including the plain of Esdraelon, most of the coastal plain and the wholly Arab owned Galilee (Jewish population was 5.6% of the total at the time);
  • the British would retain a corridor from Jerusalem to the coast;
  • the Arab state would make up the rest, including the Negev desert;
  • there would be an “exchange” of populations: 225,000 Arabs in the Jewish areas would “exchange” places with 1250 Jews — as a last resort this would be a “compulsory” move; this did not include the Arabs in Galilee — it was imagined that the Galilean Arabs would be encouraged to move voluntarily.

The full text of the report can be read online. (It’s an interesting read. It affirms the main themes this series of posts has been highlighting, especially the substantial and long-term Arab attachment to the land and their political aspirations in the wake of World War I.) I quote here its reference to the status of the Galilee because I find it especially interesting in what it tells us about long-term Jew-Arab relations prior to the dramatic changes from the 1920s onwards and the way the language of the report avoids the obvious implications for the future of an inevitable change of ownership and demographic shift (my bolding):

The proposed frontier necessitates the inclusion in the Jewish Area of the Galilee highlands between Safad and the Plain of Acre. This is the part of Palestine in which the Jews have retained a foothold almost if not entirely without a break from the beginning of the Diaspora to the present day, and the sentiment of all Jewry is deeply attached to the “holy cities” of Safad and Tiberias. Until quite recently, moreover the Jews in Galilee have lived on friendly terms with their Arab neighbours; and throughout the series of disturbances the fellaheen of Galilee have shown themselves less amenable to political incitement than those of Samaria and Judaea where the centres of Arab nationalism are located. At the “mixed” towns of Tiberias, Safad, Haifa, and Acre there have been varying degrees of friction since the “disturbances” of last year. It would greatly promote the successful operation of Partition in its early stages, and in particular help to ensure the execution of the Treaty guarantees for the protection of minorities, if those four towns were kept for a period under Mandatory administration.

peel-c1

The royal (Peel) commissioners

Arab response to the report

Outrage. Violence, especially among the peasantry.

Images from http://dancutlermedicalart.com/AlbertEinstein%27sZionism/06Einstein%27sZionism1930-1939.htm

Images from http://dancutlermedicalart.com/AlbertEinstein%27sZionism/06Einstein%27sZionism1930-1939.htm

Zionist response to the report

The report gave the Zionists two key goals they had long been seeking:

  1. Assurance that a Jewish Homeland (as offered by the Balfour Declaration) would translate into a Jewish State;
  2. Approval for the transfer of the Arab population from that state.

As we saw in previous posts these are the two goals Zionist leaders (Weizmann, Shertok, Ben-Gurion) had been lobbying and working towards so hard for so long. But prudence remained important. It would not look good to be seen to be rejoicing too enthusiastically over the promise to transfer the Arab population from their areas.

Thus the Jewish Agency, of which Ben-Gurion was chairman, simultaneously attacked the partition plan in public as a breach of the Balfour Declaration promises (on the grounds that the Balfour Declaration had promised a Jewish home in all of Palestine), while privately seeking to negotiate with the British government for a Jewish state based on more advantageous positions. (p. 62)

In 1918 Ben-Gurion had called for a Jewish state that extended from the Litani River in the north to the Wadi Arish in the south and the Syrian desert as far as the farthest border of Transjordan in the east.

Weizmann made it clear to the British High Commissioner that the Jewish State borders being proposed by the Peel Commission were only temporary:

We shall expand in the whole country in the course of time. . . this is only an arrangement for the next 25 to 30 years. (Weizmann in a private conversation with the High Commissioner, A. Wauchope, 14 March 1937. Cited in Moshe Sharett, Yoman Medini, Vol. 2, p. 67)

read more »


2014-04-21

Pushing for Mass Transfer of Arabs & Warning of “Rivers of Blood”

by Neil Godfrey

Continuing from the previous post . . . .

This post shows that the bloodshed that was to stain Palestine for decades to come and through to today was warned about in 1937. It is commonly said that the Palestinians by and large voluntarily left their lands, especially in 1948. This series will produce the evidence to demonstrate that that claim is a terrible myth.Several other myths are also being addressed in this series:

  • that Palestinian Arabs never had any really legitimate ties to the Palestine,
  • the myth of the “empty land”,
  • the myth of Arab plans from the beginning to drive Jews into the sea (the reality was the Zionists planned from the start to drive the Arabs into the desert),
  • the myth that the Zionists sought peaceful coexistence with the Arabs from the outset.

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One reader expressed concern that

  • these posts are presenting only one side of the story
  • and that I am not being duly sceptical about my source material.

I invite others

  • to provide another side to the contents of this post,
  • and/or to demonstrate fault with the sources.

I set only one condition: that any such comment does indeed address another side to the contents of this post, or to the sources and their content, and not shift goal-posts by addressing other issues that deflect attention from the points made here.

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The Royal Commission Meets the Zionist Leaders

Nur-MasalhaThe Peel Royal Commission arrived in Palestine in November 1936 to gather information about the tense and often violent Arab-Jewish relations in order to make recommendations for British government policy on Palestine. Nur Masalha writes that “several members of [the Commission] expressed open sympathy for Zionism.” (Expulsion, p. 54)

The Commission met with both Arab representatives and with “virtually every Zionist leader in Palestine of any importance”. Most of the Zionist lobbying, however, took place in London after the Commission returned in January 1937. Zionist leaders — Shertok, Weizmann, Ben-Gurion, David Hacohen, Dov Hos — went to London where they forged close relations with the decision makers: the leaders of the British Labor Party and Commission members. The Zionist delegates strongly promoted both partition of Palestine and population transfers.

Actually the idea of partitioning Palestine was initiated earlier in Palestine by a British Commissioner, Professor Reginald Coupland, in a private meeting with Weizmann. This was a major breakthrough for the Zionist movement.

Given the diverse patterns of settlement in Palestine at the time, any type of partition was going to inevitably mean population transfers of some kind.

The population transfer recommendations that the Peel Commission eventually agreed on were the same as those originally proposed by the Jewish Agency leaders of Palestine. (Recall from last post that Ben-Gurion had stated his intention to raise the issue with the Commissioners.)

In March 1937 the Jewish Agency conveyed a confidential plan for transfer to the Royal Commission. Recall in the previous post the passing mention of a non-Zionist member of the Jewish Agency who protested against the transfer idea — Maurice Hexter. Now Hexter was the one who conveyed the transfer plan to the Royal Commission.

Hexter explained that aim of the plan was to solve the problem of land and Zionist colonization in various districts such as the Hula and Beisan valleys. Under the plan, the British government was to consider proposals submitted by the Yishuv settlement companies, such as the Jewish Colonization Association (ICA), the Palestine Jewish Colonization Association (PICA), and the Palestine Land Development Company (Hevrat Hachsharat Hayishuv), all of which were engaged in the purchase of land in Palestine for the collective control of the Jewish National Fund or Zionist private investors. (pp. 55-56)

Hexter explained that the goal of these proposals was

the herding together of the existing Arab villages and their concentration in order to evacuate their territories for Jewish colonization.

Hexter went on to explain that if the Arabs refused to accept their transfer from their lands and put up any sort of resistance to selling and evacuating their lands, then the government was to intervene and

force the people to exchange land and move them from one place to another.

A Royal Commissioner then asked Hexter if the land to be evacuated by the Arabs was to given entirely to the Jewish settlements, Hexter answered:

Our intention is [that they will be] only for Jews.

(Moshe Sharett, Yoman Medini, Vol. 2, a statement at a meeting of the Zionist Actions Committee, II February 1937, Jerusalem, pp. 16-17.)

But it was another proposal for transfer that had the most impact on the Commission. This was one advanced by the Jewish Agency in a May 1937 memorandum and made available in Ben-Gurion’s memoirs published in 1974. read more »


2014-04-20

Zionist Plans for Mass Transfer of Arabs: Alive But Discreet

by Neil Godfrey

Nur-MasalhaThis fourth installment of a series I began in 2010 is long overdue. The previous posts are:

  1. Zionist Founding Fathers’ Plans for Transfer of the Palestinian Arabs
  2. Redemption or Conquest: Zionist Yishuv plans for transfer of Palestinian Arabs in the British Mandate period
  3. The Weizmann Plan to “Transfer” the Palestinians

My intention is to make a little more widely known a scholarly Palestinian perspective of the history of Israel’s efforts to transfer Palestinians from their lands. A good many myths have long circulated in Western countries about the Palestinian situation, such as the supposed “emptiness” of the land at the time the first Jewish immigrants began to arrive, and about the supposed lack of cultural, religious or ethnic ties Palestinian Arabs had for Palestine, or even the assumption that the Palestinians had no distinctive sophisticated cultural, intellectual and settled urban identities at all. Palestinian historian Nur Masalha has researched the personal, diaries, the letters, the meeting minutes, government archives, of the Jewish leaders and organizations responsible for bringing about the Jewish state of Israel and published one facet of his findings in Expulsion of the Palestinians: The Concept of “Transfer” in Zionist Political Thought, 1882-1948, published in 1992 by the Institute for Palestinian Studies.

I am well aware that some regular readers deplore posts like this thinking they are antisemitic propaganda and some may even loathe this blog and stop reading. Yet this is a far more important question than biblical studies. I can only ask that we pause and check whether we might possibly have not yet truly heard the real story but have relied predominantly upon emotive declamations as filtered through one side of the conflict. If these posts go beyond what the primary evidence of the documented record allows then they can rightly be dismissed. I hope to present the documented evidence for the real plans and hopes of prominent figures that resulted in the Palestine we see today. I see no point in having a blog that only repeats what many others are saying far better than I can. The posts I compose are for most part, I hope, invitations to re-evaluate (on the basis of authoritative sources, clear evidence and valid argument) what many of us (myself included) have long taken for granted.

Rather than add many explanatory footnotes I link directly to (mostly) Wikipedia articles that explain certain names and terms that I bring in to the discussion. I spell names the way they are printed in Masalha’s book.

The Royal (Peel) Commission

The Peel Commission was set up in May 1936 to investigate the causes of the often violent conflict between Arabs and Jews in Palestine throughout the six month period of a strike by Arabs that year. The following year the Commission published the report that initiated efforts to divide Palestine into Jewish and Arab entities. It also recommended the eventual “transfers” of 225,000 Arabs and 1,250 Jews. This post makes clear the thinking of Jewish leaders in the lead up to this Commission’s enquiry and recommendation for population transfers.

Background: British Opposition to Arab Transfers

read more »


2014-04-17

The Biblical Roots of Nazi Racism

by Neil Godfrey

fightingwordsNot only Christian apologists but even some respected academic historians argue that Christianity had nothing to do with Nazism and that the Holocaust was inspired by atheistic, non-Christian ideologies. Not so, argues Hector Avalos, in Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence:

In fact, we shall argue that the Holocaust has its roots in biblical traditions that advocate genocide. (Kindle loc. 4093)

Avalos surveys the range of published viewpoints that argue Hitler and Nazism were driven by atheistic, anti-Christian and pro-evolutionary agendas but writes that

the main theoreticians [among Nazi ideologues] saw themselves as religious. (loc. 4158)

Cover of "The End of Biblical Studies"Hector Avalos is already renowned/notorious for The End of Biblical Studies. There he argued that the biblical texts are without any relevance today, or at least are no more relevant than any other writings from ancient times. Scholars who attempt to argue for the moral relevance of the Bible in today’s world, Avalos argues, do so by tendentiously re-interpreting selected passages out of their original contexts and arbitrarily downplaying passages that contradict their claims. Theoretically, Avalos reasons, one could take Hitler’s Mein Kampf and likewise focus on the good passages in it and insist they over-ride the bad ones, and that the negative passages should be interpreted symbolically and through the good sentiments we read into the better passages. No-one would attempt to justify the relevance of Mein Kampf by such a method. Yet Avalos points out that that’s the way scholars justify the relevance of the Bible in today’s world.

This post is based on another work by Avalos, Fighting Words, in which he analyses the way religious beliefs can and do contribute to violence. The full thesis is something I will address in a future post. Here I look at just one controversial point made in that book.

Avalos does not deny that Nazism drew upon scientific ideas of its day. But it can also be concluded that these scientific notions of race were extras added to ideas that had a deeper cultural heritage, in particular as they found expression in the holy book of Christianity. A modern and prominent theorist of race, Milford Wolpoff, traces modern ideas of racism right back to Platonic ideas of “essentialism“.

Ernst Haeckel

Plattdüütsch: Ernst Haeckel nadem he ut Italie...

Ernst Haeckel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ernst Haeckel (1834-1913) was perhaps the most influential of evolutionary theorists and writers at the turn of the twentieth century; his views were widely embraced with his book, The Riddle of the World (Die Welträtsel) having sold 100,000 copies before the turn of the century. Haeckel popularized the idea that different human races each evolved from different species of ape-men. Exterminations and exploitation of lesser races by superior ones was considered the inevitable consequence of Darwinism. The Nazi Party’s publications cited Haeckel frequently.

At the same time, Hitler saw racism as compatible with religion, as do many biblical authors. Even Haeckel, who is often maligned for supposedly introducing scientific grounds for genocide, saw himself as simply reexpressing biblical concepts in scientific language.

Note, for example, Haeckel’s comments on his vision of Utopia:

The future morality, free from all religious dogma, and grounded in a clear knowledge of nature’s law, teaches us the ancient wisdom of the Golden Rule … through the words of the Gospel: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

As in Christian and Jewish texts, “your neighbor” originally meant a fellow member of your in-group. Thus, Haeckel’s interpretation of “neighbor,” even if exegetically flawed, was based on the same concept of insider and outsider that is present in the earlier religions.

Avalos likens the Nazis to the “scientific creationists” of their day:

So from Haeckel to Hitler, Nazis did not see themselves as opposing biblical principles so much as they thought that modern science could be used to support, purify, and update those biblical principles. Nazis were often more like the scientific creationists of today who believe their pseudoscience supports the Bible. (loc. 4290-4297)

Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels & Theozoology read more »


2013-12-29

Rewriting the History of Modern China

by Neil Godfrey

dowagerHow history changes! At school I learned that nineteenth century China was easy-pickings for European powers who were able to easily kick aside her antiquated army and carve out for themselves “spheres of influence” for their own trading benefits as they willed. The most scandalous of these occasions were the Opium Wars in which Britain forced the Chinese imperial government to open up the Chinese populace to British merchants making a “killing” selling Indian opium.

Two reasons were always given for the ease with which Westerners were able to dominate China so easily:

  1. The Chinese felt so superior to the West, disdaining the “barbarians”, that they had no wish to learn from them or adopt any of their ways, not even their superior technology;
  2. The Chinese from the later nineteenth to the early twentieth century was effectively ruled by a Dowager Empress who was authoritarian yet weak and loathed Westerners and resisted any form of modernization.

Maybe those points need to be nuanced but that’s essentially how I recall my high school lessons of China before the Republican movement, the Japanese invasion and the Communist Revolution.

One thing always stood out: the Empress Dowager was bad news for China.

All that has been completely turned on its head since a new book by Jung Chang, Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China. The author writes with the benefit of documents released for the first time from Chinese and Japanese archives.

It turns out that far from being the brake on modernizing China the Empress Dowager was in fact the driving force behind modernization. At the time of her death she was even working towards establishing a Constitutional Monarchy that would have given millions of Chinese the right to vote. So much that I learned about pre-communist and pre-republican China has been completely turned on its head.

Among the reforms she was responsible for: read more »


2013-12-08

A Dissenting Opinion on Nelson Mandela

by Neil Godfrey

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The following is an article by Jonathan Cook, copied here with permission, from Information Clearing House.

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A Dissenting Opinion on Nelson Mandela

Jonathan Cook is an award-winning British journalist based in Nazareth, Israel, since 2001. http://www.jonathan-cook.net

Jonathan Cook is an award-winning British journalist based in Nazareth, Israel, since 2001. http://www.jonathan-cook.net

By Jonathan Cook

What I am going to write here will doubtless make me unpopular with some readers, even if only because they will assume that what follows about Nelson Mandela is disrespectful. It is not.

So let me start by recognising Mandela’s huge achievement in helping to bring down South African apartheid, and make clear my enormous respect for the great personal sacrifices he made, including spending so many years caged up for his part in the struggle to liberate his people. These are things impossible to forget or ignore when assessing someone’s life.

Nonetheless it is important to pause during the general acclamation of his legacy, mostly by people who have never demonstrated a fraction of his integrity, to consider a lesson that most observers want to overlook.

Perhaps the best way to make my point is to highlight a mock memo written in 2001 by Arjan el-Fassed, from Nelson Mandela to the NYT’s columnist Thomas Friedman. It is a wonderful, humane denunciation of Friedman’s hypocrisy and a demand for justice for the Palestinians that Mandela should have written.

Soon afterwards, the memo spread online, stripped of el-Fassed’s closing byline. Many people, including a few senior journalists, assumed it was written by Mandela and published it as such. It seemed they wanted to believe that Mandela had written something as morally clear-sighted as this about another apartheid system, one at least the equal of that imposed for decades on black South Africans.

However, the reality is that it was not written by Mandela, and his staff even went so far as to threaten legal action against the author.

Mandela spent most his adult life treated as a “terrorist”. There was a price to be paid for his long walk to freedom, and the end of South Africa’s system of racial apartheid. Mandela was rehabilitated into an “elder statesman” in return for South Africa being rapidly transformed into an outpost of neoliberalism, prioritising the kind of economic apartheid most of us in the west are getting a strong dose of now.

In my view, Mandela suffered a double tragedy in his post-prison years. read more »


2013-10-13

Protecting Our Institutions from “Meddlesome Outsiders”

by Tim Widowfield

The bewildered herd

Noam Chomsky’s recent piece in the Belfast Telegraph contained a fragment of a quotation from Walter Lippmann. It’s useful, because it helps to show how the ruling elites actually view the public: namely, not as a group of participants with legitimate concerns and ideas to offer, but rather as so much cattle that need to be prodded into going along with their betters.

English: Photograph of Noam Chomsky

English: Photograph of Noam Chomsky (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Noting that public opinion and government action are today often at odds with each another, Chomsky explains that for the power elites in our so-called capitalist democracies public opinion is something to affect, something to change via public relations, not something to follow. The governments of modern Western nation-states see the public as “meddlesome outsiders.” This term echoes Lippmann in The Phantom Public:

With the substance of the problem it [the public] can do nothing usually but meddle ignorantly or tyrannically. It has no need to meddle with it. Men in their active relation to affairs have to deal with the substance, but in that indirect relationship when they can act only through uttering praise or blame, making black crosses on white paper, they have done enough, they have done all they can do if they help to make it possible for the reason of other men to assert itself.

For when public opinion attempts to govern directly it is either a failure or a tyranny. It is not able to master the problem intellectually, nor to deal with it except by wholesale impact. (p. 60, The Phantom Public, emphasis mine)

For Lippmann and indeed for today’s policy makers, following the will of the public is a folly that would end in “failure or tyranny.” And so:

The public must be put in its place, so that it may exercise its own powers, but no less and perhaps even more, so that each of us may live free of the trampling and the roar of a bewildered herd. (p. 145, The Phantom Public, emphasis mine)

Our spectator democracies

That herd, Chomsky tells us, needs to understand its proper function.

They’re supposed to lend their weight every few years, to a choice among the responsible men. But apart from that, their function is to be “spectators, not participants in action” – and it’s for their own good. Because as the founder of liberal political science pointed out, we should not succumb to “democratic dogmatisms about people being the best judges of their own interest”. They’re not. We’re [viz., the ruling elite] the best judges, so it would be irresponsible to let them make choices just as it would be irresponsible to let a three-year-old run into the street. Attitudes and opinions therefore have to be controlled for the benefit of those you are controlling. It’s necessary to “regiment their minds”. It’s necessary also to discipline the institutions responsible for the “indoctrination of the young.” All quotes, incidentally. (emphasis mine)

For any libertarians or conservatives out there, please note that Chomsky has plenty of scathing words to say about the ineffectual parties on the left who, when in power, act exactly the same as conservatives. Public opinion is very much against austerity in Europe, but those destructive policies continue no matter which party is in power.

. . . economic policies have changed little in response to one electoral defeat after another. The left has replaced the right; the right has ousted the left.

Why does nothing change? Because the smarter class, the intelligent minority, knows better than to follow public opinion. “No man can serve two masters,” and we know who the real master is. As John Jay put it:

. . . the mass of men are neither wise nor good—those who own the country ought to govern it.

Wanted: fans not friends, spectators not participants

As it is with politics, so it is with academia, especially in that extremely rarefied realm of Biblical Studies. If you didn’t catch the undertone in the blog posts Neil quoted from in his recent post on kicking Atwill to the curb, let me remind you. Atwill’s theories on Christian origins are pretty far out there. In fact, they’re so far out there that they’re rather easy to debunk on their own merits. Yet that wasn’t enough, was it? We had to be reminded that he didn’t have the proper credentials.

read more »


2013-08-19

The Muslim Brotherhood in post-Mubarak Egypt

by Neil Godfrey

rahimExactly one week before the Egyptian military’s removal of the Morsi government I received a copy of Muslim Secular Democracy: Voices from Within, edited by Lily Zubaidah Rahim. One of my particular interests at the time was in Turkey and I posted some interesting observations in the book about the Muslim government there: Can Democracy Survive a Muslim Election Victory? (That chapter raises the question of how valid are the fears of Muslim victories in democratic elections. The way the Muslim party has ruled in Turkey provides an instructive contrast with what happened recently in Egypt.) Other posts discussing Rahim’s book are archived here.

This post has been sitting half or less done in my drafts for some weeks now, and since the Egyptian military removed Morsi this post feels very academic and pointless ancient history. Patrick Cockburn’s view that Egypt has begun to enter a new dark age with the forces that had backed Mubarak’s bloody dictatorship more entrenched than ever.

povey

Tara Povey

Anyone following Egypt’s events in any detail will not find anything new here. The author is Tara Povey. Her chapter is titled Voices of Dissent: Social Movements and Political Change in Egypt. There is an earlier version of this chapter (published before Tara Povey moved to the University of London, and so not with the same details I cover in this post) here. Tara’s chapter in Muslim Secular Democracy is a much revised and augmented version of that online post. But let me post one section from it that overlaps with the new print chapter:

Islamic movements are generally portrayed in the West as undemocratic and are equated with terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism.

In reality they are far from being homogenous and uniformly conservative.

Islamic reformism, modernism and dynamic jurisprudence have a long history in the region, beginning in the 19th century when reformers sought to strengthen and reform Islam and oppose colonialism. Today, diverse Islamist frameworks exist which are not based on opposition to the ‘West’ as a whole but rather oppose the West’s support of undemocratic regimes, the prosecution of wars in the region and highlight the importance of a society founded on the principles of social justice and equality.

In many parts of the Middle East and North Africa, Islamic groups have participated in t he democratic process and are playing the role of a genuine political opposition.

Since the 1990s a number of Islamist movements such as the al-Nahda movement in Tunisia, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hizbullah and HAMAS have entered electoral politics and have actively campaigned for democratic reform. This has prompted one author to note that in some countries Islamist movements “have been more strident in pressing for democratic change than have non-religious political parties.” Women’s activism has played a vitally important role in these movements and diverse strands of Muslim and Islamic feminisms have been formulated through which women have fought for gender equality as well as democracy, social justice and freedom from foreign domination. (my bolded emphasis.)

After the fall of Mubarak Western and other pundits were expressing fears that the events would lead to the takeover of Egypt by the MB.

The forces involved in the uprisings, however, says Tara Povey, “have been broader than any one organization or political party.”

Povey explains that the events surrounding the removal of Mubarak have forced out into the open generational and ideological splits within the MB. read more »


2013-07-12

Can Democracy Survive a Muslim Election Victory?

by Neil Godfrey
Christopher Houston

Christopher Houston

Christopher Houston, head of the Department of Anthropology at Macquarie University, Sydney, raises some interesting questions in his contribution to Muslim Secular Democracy, “Militant Laicists, Muslim Democrats, and Liberal Secularists: Contending Visions of Secularism in Turkey”.

Do those of us who believe in a secular democratic system need to broaden our vision of what a secular democracy can look like? Is our democratic way of life potentially threatened more by new social groups (Muslims) emerging in our midst of by our unfounded fear of those new groups? Is a Muslim-led government ever compatible with a secular society?

Does Turkey (and Egypt?) have anything to teach us about the future of democratic institutions in a world (Western and beyond) that is destined to find Muslims playing an increasingly influential role?

 

Adalet_ve_Kalkınma_Partisi-logoThe reason Turkey’s conservative Muslim party (AKP, the Justice and Development Party) and its supporters favour the Western democratic system is simple. They represent the majority. It is the democratic system that has brought them to power, firstly in 2002, and again in 2007 and 2011.

There are many “middle ground” Turks, too, who are apparently content enough with the current system even though they may not all vote for the AKP. These middle-of-the-roaders are not Islamists. But they seem to be content enough to accept the re-election of the AKP Muslim party. The AKP does, after all, “claim to be inspired by secularism and democracy” (Houston, p. 255).

There are other “secularists”, however, who fear the democratically elected Muslim party is attempting to “Islamize” the nation by stealth, and these people are increasingly expressing disenchantment with Western-style democracy on the one hand, and a preference for a military coup on the other. Though a minority, they do have close ties with key military figures who are sympathetic to their views.

We saw what happened in Egypt, and before that, in Algeria, when democratically elected Muslims found themselves removed by the military. Both coups appear to have had significant popular support.

What leads them to believe that the democratically elected Muslims are secretly turning Turkey into an Islamic state? read more »


2013-07-06

Can we help Burma? Another Rwanda Looming?

by Neil Godfrey
English: Burma (Myanmar) (dark green) / ASEAN ...

English: Burma (Myanmar) (dark green) / ASEAN (dark grey) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Greg Jenks — a Jesus Seminar Fellow who brought John Shelby Spong to the little city of Toowoomba where I once lived and worked (and met Spong) — has posted the following on Facebook: (I think it’s a form notice, but no matter. . . .)

Burma may turn into the next Rwanda unless we raise our voices and stop the racist attacks right now — will you join me?

Sign here:

https://secure.avaaz.org/en/we_said_never_again_c/?duWtKdb

Let’s also protest against those who are using the violence there to score points in their shallow anti-religion crusade:

To blame the killing on “religion” is simplistic and hides a far deeper and more complex problem. There are ethnic differences; local jobs are thought to be at stake; cultural differences are sharp and offensive to some; there is a new nationalist sentiment beginning to blossom in Burma; religious difference is easily identified for hostile targeting and becomes the scapegoat. read more »