Category Archives: Politics & Society


2017-08-20

Two Baffling Conundrums on Modern AntiSemitism

by Neil Godfrey

Jerry Coyne and Mano Singham have each posted their respective conundrums about Nazis and modern day antisemitism.

FTB (Freethought blogs) blogger Mano Singham raises his question in Why do neo-Nazis hate Jews?

But the anti-Jewish racism of Nazi Germany had a plausible explanation. Demagogues always face a particular problem. Part of their appeal is to pander to their followers by telling them how great their race is. This message resonates especially when they are not doing so well, as was the case in pre-war Germany. But then you have the problem of explaining why, if they are so great, their country and their lives are not wonderful. . . . 

Mano points out that the Jews in the US do not single themselves out as obviously different by living in ghettos; to most of us they are essentially indistinguishable from anyone.

So back to my question: Why do the current neo-Nazis hate Jews? I am genuinely baffled.

Mano’s blog post prompted me to pick up from my “waiting-to-be-read” pile of books Jacob Katz’s From Prejudice to Destruction: Anti-Semitism, 1700-1933. It had been some time since I read other answers to Mano’s question, such as Yuri Slezkine’s The Jewish Century and Israel Shahak’s s Jewish History, Jewish Religion, (see my 2011 post, Understanding the Reasons for Anti-Semitism) hence I had an added incentive to make Katz my next read.

Mano’s quandary arises from what I think is confusion between a moment of political exploitation of antisemitism and the reasons for antisemitism itself. Antisemitism has long lurked independently of persons in power who have taken opportunities to exploit and fan it.

That was part of my point in my previous post, Islamophobia Really Is a Twin of Anti-Semitism.

Hard on on heels of Mano Singham’s public query, Jerry Coyne posted his own somewhat perverse confusion in A thought about “Nazis”. I posted a short reply on Mano’s blog but Jerry seems to have a habit of banning from his blog views that dissent from his and he has certainly banned me from posting on WEIT (Why Evolution Is True) — though ironically he deplores the “deplatforming of Richard Dawkins by a Berkeley radio station as “a terrible blow to free speech” — so I cannot offer my response to Coyne personally.

Coyne has a conundrum that he posts in A thought about “Nazis” . . . . read more »


Islamophobia Really Is a Twin of Anti-Semitism

by Neil Godfrey

In his opening chapter of From Prejudice to Destruction: Anti-Semitism, 1700-1933 Jacob Katz introduces readers to Johann Andreas Eisenmenger, a late seventeenth century intellectual whom he identifies as setting out the blueprint for the survival of antisemitism beyond the Christian era of the Middle Ages. Katz points out that, ironically, just as the European world was beginning to slough off the domination of Church, superstitions and ignorant prejudices and to move at last in the direction of rationalism and secularism, to a time when states were beginning to grant citizenship and basic rights to Jews, antisemitic attitudes among both elites and the public appeared to take a vicious turn for the worse.

The explanation, Katz believes, must include a focus on historical heritage:

A heavy hereditary burden, going back to the Middle Ages and ancient times, has loomed over the relationship between the Jew and the non-Jewish world. This heritage was partly accountable for the enmity that broke out just when one might have expected it to have been eradicated by the change in historic circumstances. . . . .

Fate decreed that a certain Christian writer, Johann Andreas Eisenmenger, should have arisen at just that moment in the history of anti-Semitism and concentrated the tradition of medieval anti- Jewish doctrines in his great work Entdecktes Judenthum. (Katz 1980, p.13 – The title Entdecktes Judenthum translates as “Judaism Uncovered”.)

Johann Eisenmenger, 1654-1704

One would expect the Age of Reason and the ensuing Age of Enlightenment would rid the world of the scourge of racism.

However, rationalism did not bridge the schism, but succeeded only in changing its character, and so the denunciations of Eisenmenger did not drop out of sight for more than a brief period. They kept coming up, and his book nourished the anti-Semitic movement directly and indirectly at all stages of its development. . .  (p. 14, bolding mine in all quotations)

My interest in reading Katz was to further understand the history and nature of modern antisemitism but his discussion of Eisenmenger’s book pulled me right back to so many anti-Islamic writings I have across on the web. The approach, the method and assumptions with which Eisenmenger “identified” the reasons for the “untrustworthy” and even “murderous” nature of the Jews were exactly the same as the way many fearful people today find reasons to fear Muslims as “untrustworthy” and even “murderous” at heart by studying their religious writings. read more »


2017-08-10

“Good ‘Swastika’ to you” — Though not in the West, thank you.

by Neil Godfrey

Not a good idea. Some culturally blind persons reportedly attempted to market a t-shirt with the rainbowed word ‘love’ embedding a swastika. The video below is from the designer’s Facebook page — you may have to unmute the sound button:

Much of the mainstream media covered the story:

So you had to be comatose not to notice — unless it was shoved into your face by an rss feed from some obscure online discussion board (which was how I learned about it).

Now I happen to be living in Thailand at the moment, and struggling with attempting to learn the language, and my first thought was, ‘Yeh, well, that’s bloody stupid in the West, but sheesh, here in south and east Asia swastikas are everywhere. No problem. Every Buddhist temple and bit of paraphernalia in various shops selling religious odds and bobs will have swastikas on display. When I was living and working in Singapore a few years ago I was still naive and hence shocked to see a whole school proudly displaying large swastikas on its main gates and naming signs. Google “red swastika school” to get the idea. Some of the pics I took while still in culture-shock….

 

That school and just about every Buddhist temple I saw forced me into a realization of just how “Western” Hitler and Nazism is. The West really is not the “whole world” after all. Sure Asia was involved in the “World War”, but the Asian experience was with Japan, not Germany. Try to understand, Neil, that your history is not everybody’s history.

But as I said, I still happen to be residing in Thailand at the moment and am struggling to learn enough Thai language to get by with some basics. One of the first phrases I learned and one I probably say more than any other is Sawasdee krap. It simply means “good-day” with the krap added by a male speaker as an indicator of politeness. (The second s is scarcely pronounced, so think aurally of “sahwahdee”.)

But one also needs to learn to read some basic signage around the place, and that means learning the Thai alphabet. Now it happens that the Thai letters are a kind of derivative (so I understand) of Indian sanskrit. Once I was reminded of that little detail, the swastika thing hit me right between the eyes. I have not double-checked the Wikipedia article on Swastika but intuitively it sounds right:

The name swastika comes from Sanskrit (Devanagari: स्वस्तिक), and denotes a “conducive to well being or auspicious”.

Every time I say “Good-day” or “Hello” here in Bangkok to someone, “Sawadee krap”, I am saying “Swastika, hey!”

 


2017-07-28

The End of “The Islamic State” . . . and information links for informed discussion

by Neil Godfrey

And so it ends in Mosul, Iraq . . . .

Mosul’s bloodbath: ‘We killed everyone – IS, men, women, children’

Meanwhile — as if one can slip from the contents of the above article with a helpless sigh — Tom Holland, a historian whose books I’ve much enjoyed — “Unlike most historians, Tom Holland writes books which bring the past to life” — has gone a bit funny with his gushiness over Christianity . . . .

It came from

Michael Bird:  Tom Holland: Why I Was Wrong about Christianity (2016-09-16)

Darrell Pursiful:  Tom Holland Was Wrong about Christianity (2016-09-16)

Larry Hurtado: Tom Holland and Hurtado on Early Christianity (2016-10-10)

and no doubt others I missed.

The reason I mention him in this context is that he has most recently he has produced a Channel 4 doco for the BBC that I have not seen, but I have read first, a rebuttal of a rebuttal of the doco, and then I read the rebuttal of the doco. I found both worth thinking about.

First, the one I also read first, the rebuttal of the rebuttal of Tom Holland’s doco:

An inconvenient truth: IS draws on Islamic sources for its inspiration by Philip Wood

Yes, there is no basis for critics of Atran and co to say that there is no religious role in terrorism. Of course religion plays a part. read more »


2017-07-04

The Declaration of Independence Disconnect

by Neil Godfrey

It’s a rainy day here where I am in Thailand and I’ve had the house to myself so with no other distractions it’s a time to return to blogging. My rss feed informs me that a number of biblical scholars have chosen today to write about (or simply quote) the Declaration of Independence as if it were a sacred document. I hate being left behind so I’ve been catching up on some American history myself and one piece of research that seems to make a lot of sense to me is Carroll Smith-Rosenberg’s This Violent Empire: The Birth of an American National Identity (2010). So here are two extracts.

The first reminds me of my undergraduate studies of interest-groups behind Federalist Papers, the Declaration of Independence and Constitution and that have continued to hold power up to today:

For more than two hundred years, citizens of the United States have followed Timothy Dwight in proclaiming their nation “the favorite land of Heaven,” a place of “peace, purity and felicity.” The rolling cadences of the Declaration of Independence, we insist, proclaim us a land of liberty and equality, our Constitution, a government of law and justice. But, shadowing the image the founders sought to project as wise and disinterested statesmen, observers caught sight of the hidden figures of speculators, price gougers, embezzlers, deceivers, and rogues.

The economically and politically discontented — Daniel Shays’s hardscrabble farmers, the Whiskey rebels of western Pennsylvania, Antifederalist critics — were not the only ones to see the new nation’s mercantile and political elite in this light. Many European Americans across the economic and regional spectrum continued to hold dear the civic ideals of classic republicanism: its fears of credit and speculation, its commitment to disinterested heroism and Spartan discipline. Others espoused the commercial republican celebration of industry and frugality.

Both groups watched with mounting ill ease as the national elite grew increasingly at home with the new ways of fiscal capitalism, their embrace of spectacles and the spectacular, of risk and, yes, deception. (p. 414, my bolding and formatting)

The second extract from the conclusion to the book hits a nerve — social divisions, rhetorical and literal violence — that is far more exposed today than it was when the book was first published:  read more »


2017-06-11

Thailand Holiday with Rhyming Parallels from Another Ancient World

by Neil Godfrey

Each time I visit Thailand I find myself wondering if I am in a country with religious parallels to the ancient Mediterranean world in which Christianity emerged. Obviously there are enormous differences, too, and it would be silly to ignore those and try to say that Thailand, like a number of other east Asian countries are replicas of the world of the New Testament. But history does rhyme, does it not? Take a look at these photos…

Everywhere one turns there is an image of the king or his wife looking benignly upon all and sundry. Thais overwhelmingly demonstrate adoration for their beloved king. People have photographs of him in their homes, in their business offices, in their work factories. And of course in public places, roadways, buildings. King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX) died in October last year but there is a year long period of national mourning and the amount of black being worn by shoppers and office workers cannot fail to be noticed. Westerners who come from a tradition of mocking their leaders should understand the seriousness of Thai customs and their lèse-majesté laws. Do let the reader understand!


Check out the official name of a certain hospital building, too. The same name cum date cum title cum occasion, in full just as you see it here, is attached to the building itself.

But that’s just what we should expect in a city whose full ceremonial name is nothing less than

“City of angels, great city of immortals, magnificent city of the nine gems, seat of the king, city of royal palaces, home of gods incarnate, erected by Vishvakarman at Indra’s behest.”

But you can call it Bangkok, or if you want to impress the locals, Krung Thep.

Then there is the religious variety. Thailand is a Buddhist country but people are seen pausing to pray to images or other reminders of Hindu and Chinese deities or spirit protectors as well. One even sees the occasional reminder of Christianity as one of their options.

Buddhist temples are ubiquitous, of course.

But then there are any Hindu deities everywhere, too, and people don’t mind what their provenance, they will very often be seen praying to them without discrimination. read more »


2017-06-10

What a Beautiful Result!

by Neil Godfrey

Corbyn raised a media controversy with Branson’s transport company by opting to sit on floor of a train journeying from London to Newcastle. (Corbyn, by the way, does not own a car but does have a bicycle.)

After all the elites mocking Jeremy Corbyn us unelectable:

and after the intense attack on Corbyn by the mainstream media:

and

(both images from Norton and Blumenthal) . . . .

It turns out that an astonishing number of people really are acquiring a hope that a more equitable society is possible, that it really is a good idea for public utilities and national health services to be publicly owned, that free education is the right of everyone, that wars should be settled by political means. Neoliberal elites cannot understand such sentiments; and even many of the commentaries I have read on Corbyn’s dramatic success in changing the landscape of British politics seem still as bewildered as ever: Corbyn was “just a crazy populist” and those who voted for him don’t have any idea that without the neoliberal market driven provision of “goods and services” we all be doomed! People should listen more attentively to their “elitist betters”.

It’s been a long, long, wait to see such possibilities in the political landscape once again.

 


2017-06-03

Expulsion of the Palestinians: Insights into Yishuv’s Transfer Ideas in World War 2

by Neil Godfrey

Dear Reader,

This post is for anyone who loathes racism, both anti-Jewish and anti-Arab, and who feels they have not heard details of the Palestinian side of the history of the establishment of Israel in 1948. It continues a series of posts I have been doing on a book by Palestinian historian Nur Masalha titled Expulsion of the Palestinians: The Concept of “Transfer” in Zionist Political Thought, 1882-1948. As the title indicates, the research Masalha addresses is the extent to which the Jewish Zionist movement was seriously preparing to transfer the Arabs out of Palestine prior to 1948. The significance of the research is that it indicates that the popular notion that the Palestinians virtually voluntarily left Palestine at the establishment of the state of Israel and the first war with the neighbouring Arab states is a myth.

So if you are someone who cannot tolerate any suggestion that there could possibly be two sides to the situation besetting Palestine today then don’t read any further. If you are obsessed with a one-sided narrative that Israelis are saintly innocent victims and Palestinian Arabs are devilish bloodthirsty monsters, go away.

Thank you.

Below are extracts from a diary of Yosef Weitz, director of department responsible for land acquisition and distribution in Palestine in the years leading up to 1948. Weitz was typical of many of his fellow-leaders of the Jewish settlements in Palestine, believing strongly in the necessity of Arab transfer from Palestine to make room for Jewish settlers. Nur Masalha describes his unedited diaries, now in the Central Zionist Archives in Jerusalem, as

One of the best sources of insight into the Yishuv leadership’s transfer ideas during World War II. (1992, p. 131)

All bolding of text is my own.

Josef Weitz

20 December, 1940:

Amongst ourselves it must be clear that there is no room for both peoples in this country. No “development” will bring us closer to our aim to be an independent people in this small country. After the Arabs are transferred, the country will be wide open for us; with the Arabs staying the country will remain narrow and restricted. When the war is over, and the English have emerged victorious and when the judging nations sit on the throne of law, our people should bring their petitions and claims before them; and the only solution is that the Land of Israel, or at least the Western Land of Israel [i.e., Palestine], without Arabs. There is no room for compromise on this point. The Zionist work so far, in terms of preparation and paving the way for the creation of the Hebrew state in the Land of Israel, has been good and was able to satisfy itself with land purchasing but this will not bring about the state; that must come about simultaneously in the manner of redemption (here is the meaning of the Messianic idea). The only way is to transfer the Arabs from here to neighbouring countries, all of them, except perhaps Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Old Jerusalem. And the transfer must be done through their absorption in Iraq and Syria and even in Transjordan. For that goal, money will be found — even a lot of money. And only then will the country be able to absorb millions of Jews and a solution will be found to the Jewish question. There is no other solution.

18th March, 1941: read more »


2017-06-01

Pity the dead who were poor

by Neil Godfrey

Today’s photo from Thailand. . . . I’ve met this chap a few times now, always in the grounds of a Buddhist temple. His presence never fails to put a smile on my face, so I’d like to share his company with you, too….. He is inviting you to slip a donation into the coffin at his feet. It’s to pay for the funerals of the deceased (specifically for their coffins) too poor to finance their own final farewell.


2017-05-30

There is ALWAYS another interpretation: even of the Quran

by Neil Godfrey

Thou shalt not kill. 

Can’t argue with that, can we. It “speaks for itself”. No interpretation needed, right?

Except . . . .

People do indeed “interpret” the sixth commandment. They interpret it to mean that it does not forbid all killing, only the killing of persons; it does not apply to killing ants and flies. You can kill those. I think it is fair to guess that most believers in the Bible interpret the command to apply to killing that is not state-sanctioned. It is state-sanctioned, and therefore right, for soldiers to kill in war time. I imagine those who disagree with that interpretation and say it means we should not kill any other human under any circumstance are the minority. Pacifists, extremists. We might jail them in wartime or even shoot them.

Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.

Again, very clear and unambiguous. There’s simply no way you can “interpret” your way out of the blunt meaning of that commandment. It means you have to kill anyone who identifies as a witch. Christians included it in their Bible so why don’t they obey that command? Paul wrote that witchcraft ranks alongside idolatry which also requires the death penalty. So why don’t Christians put witches on death row along with murderers?

Somehow most Christians do find a way to interpret that command, not to change its meaning, but to relegate it to a status that is not relevant to them today.

When the LORD your God brings you into the land which you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you . . . and when the LORD your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them; then you must utterly destroy them . . . and show no mercy to them. . . . And you shall destroy all the peoples that the LORD your God will give over to you, your eye shall not pity them. . . .

God commanded the native inhabitants of Canaan should all be killed, too. A few extremist Jews do still believe in that command and when opportunities permit carry it out. You can’t fault them for their understanding of and obedience to the Bible. But no-one except the extremists themselves would suggest that they speak for “true Judaism” today.

No doubt most adherents of the Jewish religion acknowledge the terror in that command, but at the same time the plain evidence before our eyes tells us that most of them do not interpret that command in a way that obligates them to kill all Palestinian Arabs today. A few do boast that they believe in keeping both the spirit and letter of that command and they do kill Palestinian Arabs when opportunities permit. But they are the newsworthy exception. We do not judge the entire religion of Judaism according to those few Israeli terrorists.

But what is the “correct interpretation”?

read more »


2017-05-26

Two more pics from Bangkok

by Neil Godfrey

And taken with permission, one of the most ubiquitous of scenes but one I always enjoy encountering …..


“We do not believe in God, but he nonetheless promised us Palestine”

by Neil Godfrey

Part of the Uganda Protectorate that was transferred to the British East Africa Protectorate was at one time under serious consideration as a homeland for Jews.

Odd, don’t you think, that primarily secular Jews have led the Zionist movement while pointing to the Bible as the justification for their “return” to Palestine. When the Zionist movement was founded in the nineteenth century it was opposed by religious and most orthodox Jews. Zionism’s founder, Theodore Herzl, argued for a site in east Africa as the best place for a Jewish homeland for the foreseeable future. So what happened?

It was the British who were in large measure responsible for Palestine becoming the designated homeland. Protestant Britain, informed by Western Christian scholarship in a time of colonialism and imperialism, contributed to strong support among non-Jews for the Zionist movement focused on Palestine.

Most religious Jews argued against Zionism, insisting that the Jews were meant by God to remain outside Palestine and return was unthinkable without the messiah.

The secular early Zionists quoted intensively from the Bible to show that there was a divine imperative to colonize Palestine,  or in their discourse, to redeem Eretz Israel. But in fact the Bible is not a very useful text for reinventing a Jewish nation: the father of the nation, Abraham, was not from Palestine, the Hebrews became a nation in Egypt and the Ten Commandments were given to them in Egypt (the Sinai). . . .

(Pappe, I. (2016). “The Bible in the service of Zionism: “we do not believe in God, but he nonetheless promised us Palestine” in I. Hjelm and T. L. Thompson, eds., History, Archaeology and the Bible Forty Years After “Historicity”, 1st ed. Oxon, Routledge, p. 206.)

Eventually a few religious Jews did come to accept Zionism with Palestine as their focus and argued that the time of God’s punishment was coming to an end, that return to Palestine without the messiah was the new divine will.

Despite the several weaknesses of the Bible as a justification for claiming Palestine as the natural homeland of the Jews, the Bible was used to win support from among both Jews and gentiles (especially the British and Americans).

Several studies have shown that the gravitation towards Palestine as the epicentre of Zionist visions and aspirations was facilitated, among other factors, by a very keen and intensive Protestant interest in connecting the Jewish colonization of the “holy land” with divine and apocalyptic Christian doctrines, which saw the return of the Jews as precipitating the second coming of the Messiah. 

The orientation of Zionism towards Palestine followed European scholarly preoccupation with biblical Israel in the age of colonialism and imperialism. (Pappe, p. 207, my bolding)

That scholarship had a strong religious bias. Palestine was viewed as a land that rightfully belonged to Israel and other peoples inhabiting the land at different times were there either illegitimately or temporarily. Essentially non-Jews in Palestine “didn’t count”, Arabs were seen as nomads, and consequently the land was in effect empty, just waiting to be reinhabited by a people without a land.

At the same time, scholarship came to invent a Jewish nation with ancient roots as the rightful occupants. Despite archaeological evidence to the contrary (see, for example, The Archaeological Evidence for Ancient Israel) Jerusalem was depicted as a major centre for a viable Israelite empire from the days of David and Solomon.

A religious narrative was embraced by many secularists as a historical charter of birthright and nationhood. read more »


2017-05-25

Ladies Parking

by Neil Godfrey

They do things differently in foreign countries, as I was reminded this evening shortly after landing in Bangkok, Thailand. I would be surprised if many immersed in Western ways would be familiar with an entire floor in a multi-storey carpark being reserved for females. (No, there’s no religious reason; Thailand is a Buddhist nation.)

Here’s a close-up:

Presumably it’s a space where women can feel safe from violent and rapacious men. We are warned in public announcements at airport railways stations not to touch any stray dogs here. Rabies being the reason. The parking floor is a depressing reminder that wild dogs aren’t the only threat.

Damn. It’s actually been a good day and I should have posted something more positive. Will try again tomorrow.


2017-05-18

“You Must Learn How to Listen to the Land”

by Neil Godfrey

The title is the heading of the opening chapter of A Land Without Borders: My Journey Around East Jerusalem and the West Bank by Nir Baram (and translated from the Hebrew by Jessica Cohen). I was alerted to the book by listening to an interview with its Jewish author on a Radio National program.  Most of my reading has been of the works of older scholars. What attracted me to this book was that its author is an Israeli born in 1976 and I wanted an insight into his post 1967 perspective. What really drew me in was the following message:

I grew up in Israel in the 1980s, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank worked in Israel and shared the streets of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa with us every day. Since the Oslo Accords of the 1990s, and with greater vigor after the Second Intifada broke out in 2000 and the Israeli government built its “security fence” (the separation wall that runs along the Green Line in some sections, but mostly sits deep in the West Bank), separation between West Bank Palestinians and Israelis became more rigid, more planned. As a result, the Palestinians ostensibly disappeared from our streets and most Israelis stopped going over the Green Line. Many Jewish teenagers I spoke with have never met a Palestinian in their lives — not even one! — while Palestinian kids eyed me curiously because I was the first Jew they’d ever met. But even older Israelis, who used to maintain both working and personal relationships with Palestinians from the West Bank, have not seen one for many years.

In fact, . . . most Israelis . . . have no inkling what the West Bank looks like today or how its inhabitants conduct their lives. . . . (my bolding)

Now that does not sound good. I am looking forward to following Nir Baran’s travels.

Among so many who claim to speak for one side or the other, there is, according to Baran, a pervasive ignorance of the reality of the daily lives of both Jews and Arabs in the West Bank. Images of certain selected persons and events flash on our TV screens and it is so easy for us to think those images represent far more than they in fact do. Baran’s purpose in his travels:

Mostly I wanted the people right in front of me to tell me their stories, and at times to prod them to follow the course of what they told me to its logical outcome, to chafe their political dreams up against the sharp stones of reality, and to leave my readers room to equivocate, to formulate their own positions.

I’m reminded of another work I recently completed, one by an older Palestinian. It is also worth picking up for an insight into the realities on the ground: Palestinian Walks: Notes on a Vanishing Landscape by Raja Shehadeh. That was a poignant insight into the perspective of an older generation too soon fading away. But now I look forward to reading a younger perspective on both the present and future.