In order to understand the Spanish Inquisition, which began in the late 15th century, we must look briefly at its predecessor, the medieval Inquisition. Before we do, though, it’s worth pointing out that the medieval world was not the modern world. For medieval people, religion was not something one just did at church. It was their science, their philosophy, their politics, their identity, and their hope for salvation. It was not a personal preference but an abiding and universal truth. Heresy, then, struck at the heart of that truth. It doomed the heretic, endangered those near him, and tore apart the fabric of community. Medieval Europeans were not alone in this view. It was shared by numerous cultures around the world. The modern practice of universal religious toleration is itself quite new and uniquely Western.
Secular and ecclesiastical leaders in medieval Europe approached heresy in different ways. Roman law equated heresy with treason. Why? Because kingship was God-given, thus making heresy an inherent challenge to royal authority. Heretics divided people, causing unrest and rebellion. No Christian doubted that God would punish a community that allowed heresy to take root and spread. Kings and commoners, therefore, had good reason to find and destroy heretics wherever they found them—and they did so with gusto.
One of the most enduring myths of the Inquisition is that it was a tool of oppression imposed on unwilling Europeans by a power-hungry Church. Nothing could be more wrong. In truth, the Inquisition brought order, justice, and compassion to combat rampant secular and popular persecutions of heretics. When the people of a village rounded up a suspected heretic and brought him before the local lord, how was he to be judged? How could an illiterate layman determine if the accused’s beliefs were heretical or not? And how were witnesses to be heard and examined?
The medieval Inquisition began in 1184 when Pope Lucius III sent a list of heresies to Europe’s bishops and commanded them to take an active role in determining whether those accused of heresy were, in fact, guilty. Rather than relying on secular courts, local lords, or just mobs, bishops were to see to it that accused heretics in their dioceses were examined by knowledgeable churchmen using Roman laws of evidence. In other words, they were to “inquire”—thus, the term “inquisition.”
From the perspective of secular authorities, heretics were traitors to God and king and therefore deserved death. From the perspective of the Church, however, heretics were lost sheep that had strayed from the flock. As shepherds, the pope and bishops had a duty to bring those sheep back into the fold, just as the Good Shepherd had commanded them. So, while medieval secular leaders were trying to safeguard their kingdoms, the Church was trying to save souls. The Inquisition provided a means for heretics to escape death and return to the community.
Most people accused of heresy by the medieval Inquisition were either acquitted or their sentence suspended. Those found guilty of grave error were allowed to confess their sin, do penance, and be restored to the Body of Christ. The underlying assumption of the Inquisition was that, like lost sheep, heretics had simply strayed. If, however, an inquisitor determined that a particular sheep had purposely departed out of hostility to the flock, there was nothing more that could be done. Unrepentant or obstinate heretics were excommunicated and given over to the secular authorities. Despite popular myth, the Church did not burn heretics. It was the secular authorities that held heresy to be a capital offense. The simple fact is that the medieval Inquisition saved uncounted thousands of innocent (and even not-so-innocent) people who would otherwise have been roasted by secular lords or mob rule.
As the power of medieval popes grew, so too did the extent and sophistication of the Inquisition. The introduction of the Franciscans and Dominicans in the early 13th century provided the papacy with a corps of dedicated religious willing to devote their lives to the salvation of the world. Because their order had been created to debate with heretics and preach the Catholic faith, the Dominicans became especially active in the Inquisition. Following the most progressive law codes of the day, the Church in the 13th century formed inquisitorial tribunals answerable to Rome rather than local bishops. To ensure fairness and uniformity, manuals were written for inquisitorial officials. Bernard Gui, best known today as the fanatical and evil inquisitor in The Name of the Rose, wrote a particularly influential manual. There is no reason to believe that Gui was anything like his fictional portrayal.
By the 14th century, the Inquisition represented the best legal practices available. Inquisition officials were university-trained specialists in law and theology. The procedures were similar to those used in secular inquisitions (we call them “inquests” today, but it’s the same word).
Thomas F. Madden, “The Truth About the Spanish Inquisition”, Crisis Magazine, 2003-10-01.
August 27, 2015
August 26, 2015
Strategy Page on the use of slavery to provide tangible rewards to faithful Muslim warriors of the new Caliphate:
Although ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) publicized an auction for slaves (captured non-Moslem women and children) in June they have since replaced that with a printed price list. Young children are the most expensive going for up to $200 each. Adolescent girls cost about $125 and adult women go for under a hundred dollars. The catch here is the buyers are restricted to ISIL gunmen, as something of a fringe benefit. The sales are made with the understanding that the buyer can resell their slave for whatever they can get. It is also understood that ISIL slave owners can try to arrange for families to ransom the slaves for whatever the owner can get (usually several thousand dollars each). The June 2015 slave auction in eastern Syria sold 42 Yazidi women who were offered to ISIL men for between $500 and $2,000. So being allowed to buy a slave is quite a lucrative fringe benefit.
Since the slaves were not Moslem they could not be married so their owners would use them for sex, housekeeping or whatever. ISIL was depending on Moslem scripture to justify this. Actually, ISIL is not alone as there is still a lot of slavery in the Islamic world. There is also a lot of hatred for non-Moslems especially those considered pagans. ISIL considers the Yazidis pagans but will enslave Christians as well. It was with Yazidis that ISIL reintroduced slavery (of non-Moslems, especially “pagans” like Yazidis) into their new Islamic State. This may appall many in the West and to placate foreigners most Arab nations have outlawed slavery, despite the fact that it still exists and continues to exist with much local support.
For example in northeast Nigeria a local Islamic terror group, Boko Haram, revived slavery in 2014. Boko Haram, which considers themselves devout religious reformers, consider slaving justified by Islamic law. Yet the Boko Haram revival of slaving resonates deeply in northern and central Nigeria. Northeastern Nigeria was once the center of an empire that grew rich by enslaving other Africans and selling them to Arab traders who transported the slaves to Arabia. This trade continued until the British colonial government suppressed it in the 19th century. Bitter memories linger and the Boko Haram slaving opened an old wound.
August 17, 2015
If twentieth-century history teaches us anything, it’s that political religions spell trouble. Soviet Communism, Italian Fascism, and Nazism aren’t just called “political religions” by scholars today. In all three cases, observers at the time recognized and worried about the movements’ religious natures. Those natures were no accident; Mussolini, for instance, called his ideology “not only a faith, but a religion that is conquering the laboring masses of the Italian people.”
One reason that observers saw the great totalitarianisms as religious was that each had its idol: Mussolini in Italy, Hitler in Germany, and Lenin in Russia, followed by Stalin. Take Grigory Zinoviev’s description of Lenin: “He is really the chosen one of millions. He is the leader by the Grace of God. He is the authentic figure of a leader such as is born once in 500 years.” Stalin’s cult of personality was far more developed and sometimes explicitly idolatrous, as in the poem that addressed the despot as “O Thou mighty one, chief of the peoples, Who callest man to life, Who awakest the earth to fruitfulness.” And in Italy, writes the historian Michael Burleigh, “intellectual sycophants and propagandists characterised [Mussolini] as a prodigy of genius in terms that would not have embarrassed Stalin: messiah, saviour, man of destiny, latterday Caesar, Napoleon, and so forth.”
To point out these words’ uncomfortable similarity to the journalists’ praises of Obama is not to equate the throngs who bowed down to totalitarian dictators with even the most worshipful Obamaphiles. But the manner of worship is related, as perhaps it must be in any human society that chooses to adore a human being. The widespread renaming of villages, schools, and factories after Stalin, for example, finds its modern-day democratic parallel in a rash of schools that have already rechristened themselves after Obama, to say nothing of the hundreds of young sentimentalists who informally adopted the candidate’s middle name during the presidential race. Even the Obama campaign’s ubiquitous logo — the letter O framing a rising sun — would not have surprised the scholar Eric Voegelin. In The Political Religions (1938), Voegelin traced rulers who employed the image of the sun — a symbol of “the radiation of power along a hierarchy of rulers and offices that ranges from God at the top down to the subject at the bottom” — from the pharaoh Akhenaton to Louis XIV and eventually to Hitler.
Benjamin A. Plotinsky, “The Varieties of Liberal Enthusiasm: The Left’s political zealotry increasingly resembles religious experience”, City Journal, 2010-02-20.
August 15, 2015
We’ve seen plenty of examples of this kind of “reporting”, where the presentation of the case absolves the actors in advance of any motive or action … they’re always implicit victims of circumstances beyond their control. Theodore Dalrymple points to a recent example:
Sometimes the employment of a single word in common use gives away an entire worldview. There was just such a usage in the headline of a story in the Guardian newspaper late last month: “How the ‘Pompey Lads’ fell into the hands of Isis.”
Pompey is the colloquial name for Portsmouth, the naval town on the south coast of England, and the “lads” of the headline were five young men of Bangladeshi origin who grew up there and later joined Isis in Syria. The article describes how the last of the five has now been killed, three others having been killed before him and one, who returned to Britain, having been sentenced to a four-year prison sentence (in effect two years, with remission for good behavior). The use of the word “lads” is intended to imply to the newspaper’s readers that there was nothing special or different about these five young men, nothing that distinguished them from the other young men of Portsmouth. Its use was a manifestation of wishful or even magical thinking, as if reality itself could be altered in a desired way by the mere employment of language.
But the word that implied a whole worldview was “fell.” According to the headline, the young men “fell” into the hands of Isis as an apple falls passively to the ground by gravitational force. The word suggests that it could have happened to anybody, this going to Syria via Turkey to join a movement that delights in decapitation and other such activities in the name of a religion — their religion. Joining Isis is like multiple sclerosis; it’s something that just happens to people.
The word “fell” denies agency to the young men, as if they had no choice in the matter. They were victims of circumstance by virtue of their membership of a minority, for minorities are by definition victims without agency.
August 11, 2015
Environmentalism does indeed tell its adherents “what to eat” (pesticide-free organic food, preferably grown nearby to cut down on trucking) and “how to travel” (by public transportation or, better yet, bicycle). But it also lays down rules on nearly every aspect of life in a consumer economy: how to wash your clothes (seldom); how to wash yourself (take a shower, not a bath, and use a low-flow showerhead); how to light your house (with fluorescent bulbs); how to choose your TV (look for the Energy Star logo!); how to go to the bathroom (with high-efficiency toilets and recycled paper); how to invest, clean, sleep, and dress (in environmentally friendly companies, with nontoxic chemicals, on sheets made of “sustainable fibers,” and in clothes made of the same); and even how to procreate (Greenpeace has issued a guide to “environmentally friendly sex”).
Think about the life that a truly conscientious environmentalist must lead! Compared with it, the devout Muslim’s five daily prayers and the pious Jew’s carefully regulated diet are a cakewalk. What the British historian Alfred Cobban wrote about totalitarianism — that it “takes the spiritual discipline of a religious order and imposes it on forty or sixty or a hundred million people” — applies perfectly to environmentalism, except for the part about imposition. And there, one might give Jonah Goldberg’s answer in Liberal Fascism: “You may trust that environmentalists have no desire to translate these voluntary suggestions into law, but I have no such confidence given the track record of similar campaigns in the past.” Recycling mandates come to mind, as does the federal law that will impose silly-looking spiral lightbulbs on us all by 2014.
There’s also a close resemblance between the environmental and biblical views of history, as the late novelist Michael Crichton pointed out in a widely reprinted speech. “Environmentalism is in fact a perfect twenty-first-century remapping of traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs and myths,” Crichton said. “There’s an initial Eden, a paradise, a state of grace and unity with nature, there’s a fall from grace into a state of pollution as a result of eating from the tree of knowledge, and as a result of our actions there is a judgment day coming for us all.” That judgment day currently assumes the form of various global-warming disasters that will happen unless we immediately perform still more rituals. Never mind that the science so urgently instructing us to reduce carbon emissions — thus hobbling economic growth and prosperity around the world — is so young, and so poorly understood, that it can’t explain why global warming seems to have stalled over the last decade. Far more persuasive is the argument from faith: we’d better repent, because the End is nigh.
Barack Obama doubtless tapped into environmentalists’ spiritual longings when he accepted the Democratic presidential nomination. “Generations from now,” he proclaimed, “we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on Earth.” Italics mine; grandiloquent prophecy his.
Benjamin A. Plotinsky, “The Varieties of Liberal Enthusiasm: The Left’s political zealotry increasingly resembles religious experience”, City Journal, 2010-02-20.
August 4, 2015
Published on 27 Jun 2015
Justinian wanted to restore the glory of Rome, but many obstacles stood in his way. He brought on talented advisors to help him reform the tax system, the law code, and the military might of the empire. With them he made great strides, but these advisors had very human flaws. His tax collector, John the Cappadocian, centralized tax collection and crushed corruption in his agents, greatly increasing the revenue to the empire – but he also skimmed money off the top to feed his private corruption. Meanwhile, a lawyer named Tribonian took centuries of confusing and even conflicting legal precedents and resolved them into a single code, the Corpus Juris Civilis, which remains the foundation of modern law today. He even made a textbook for students to learn from. But he was also a practicing pagan during an era when Justinian was trying to crack down on pagan rituals. And last, Justinian’s chief military commander Belisarius helped the Empire recover its military glory. He defeated the Sassanid Persians in the Battle of Dara, crushing a force of 50,000 men with only 25,000 of his own through clever strategy: he dug a trench to halt their infantry’s advance, then baited the Persian cavalry into overextending and sprang a surprise attack on them with Hun mercenaries. Although Belisarius seems to have been an upstanding person, his personal historian Procopius tainted even his clean record. Procopius wrote glowing official histories of the reign of Justinian, but his long lost secret history depicted Justinian as a literal headless demon and Theodora as a debauched monster.
August 2, 2015
From the second part of the Camille Paglia interview in Salon:
I regard [Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and the religion critics] as adolescents. I say in the introduction to my last book, Glittering Images, that “Sneering at religion is juvenile, symptomatic of a stunted imagination.” It exposes a state of perpetual adolescence that has something to do with their parents – they’re still sneering at dad in some way. Richard Dawkins was the only high-profile atheist out there when I began publicly saying “I am an atheist,” on my book tours in the early 1990s. I started the fad for it in the U.S, because all of a sudden people, including leftist journalists, started coming out of the closet to publicly claim their atheist identities, which they weren’t bold enough to do before. But the point is that I felt it was perfectly legitimate for me to do that because of my great respect for religion in general – from the iconography to the sacred architecture and so forth. I was arguing that religion should be put at the center of any kind of multicultural curriculum.
I’m speaking here as an atheist. I don’t believe there is a God, but I respect every religion deeply. All the great world religions contain a complex system of beliefs regarding the nature of the universe and human life that is far more profound than anything that liberalism has produced. We have a whole generation of young people who are clinging to politics and to politicized visions of sexuality for their belief system. They see nothing but politics, but politics is tiny. Politics applies only to society. There is a huge metaphysical realm out there that involves the eternal principles of life and death. The great tragic texts, including the plays of Aeschylus and Sophocles, no longer have the central status they once had in education, because we have steadily moved away from the heritage of western civilization.
The real problem is a lack of knowledge of religion as well as a lack of respect for religion. I find it completely hypocritical for people in academe or the media to demand understanding of Muslim beliefs and yet be so derisive and dismissive of the devout Christian beliefs of Southern conservatives.
But yes, the sneering is ridiculous! Exactly what are these people offering in place of religion? In my system, I offer art – and the whole history of spiritual commentary on the universe. There’s a tremendous body of nondenominational insight into human life that used to be called cosmic consciousness. It has to be remembered that my generation in college during the 1960s was suffused with Buddhism, which came from the 1950s beatniks. Hinduism was in the air from every direction – you had the Beatles and the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Ravi Shankar at Monterey, and there were sitars everywhere in rock music. So I really thought we were entering this great period of religious syncretism, where the religions of the world were going to merge. But all of a sudden, it disappeared! The Asian religions vanished – and I really feel sorry for young people growing up in this very shallow environment where they’re peppered with images from mass media at a particularly debased stage.
A few weeks back, Strategy Page looked at “practical sorcery” in the Middle East:
ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) recently got some media attention because they had beheaded two Moslem women accused of sorcery. For a Moslem the only thing unusual about this was how the women are killed. Public beheading is usually reserved for men. Sorcery, on the other hand, is quite common in the Islamic world, even though it is strongly condemned in the Koran. Many Islamic majority countries consider sorcery a capital (the guilty are executed) crime. But there’s a lot more to sorcery than that.
For example, back in 2013 Mehdi Taeb, a senior cleric in the Iranian government explained that the major reason so many nations went along with the increased economic sanctions against Iran was because Israel had been using magic to persuade the leaders of these nations to back more sanctions. Without the Israeli witchcraft, the sanctions would not exist. Taeb explained that the Israelis have used this magic before, as in 2009, against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad when he was running for president. Many Iranians openly opposed Ahmadinejad, who won anyway. This, to Taeb, was proof that devout Moslems could defeat the Jewish magic.
What’s interesting with this observation is that, in 2011 Taeb and his fellow clerics tried to get rid of Ahmadinejad and his zealous (against corrupt clerics) associates. One method used was to send the police (which the clergy control) to arrest key Ahmadinejad aides and accuse them of witchcraft and sorcery. This led to street brawls between fans of Ahmadinejad and Islamic hardliners. Clubs, knives, and other sharp instruments were used. There was blood in the streets. All because of a witch hunt.
Ahmadinejad was quite popular because he has gone after corrupt officials, especially the clerics and their families, who feel they are immune from prosecution and can take what they want. In theory, the clerics can get rid of Ahmadinejad by simply declaring that he is not religiously suitable to run for election. That’s the kind of power the clerics have. But Ahmadinejad was too popular for that sort of censorship and Ahmadinejad was not corrupt. His rants against Israel and the Jews, while a bit much for some clerics, is also not grounds for being declared “un-Islamic” and ineligible to run for election. Ahmadinejad is quite respectful of Islam and most Moslem clerics but willing to go after clerics who are dirty. This is also quite popular with most Iranians, and that scares the dirty clerics at the top.
So why had the clerics decided to accuse Ahmadinejad cronies of sorcery? That’s because in most countries where there is a dominant religion, especially a state approved one, there is usually still a fear that the previous religion (or religions) will try to make a comeback. The former faiths often involved some really old-school stuff, including what many would consider magic and sometimes animal, or even human, sacrifice. It is not uncommon for there to be laws covering those accused to be practicing such sorcery and severe punishments for those convicted. At the very least, the accused will be driven from any senior government jobs they might hold, and that’s what’s being done to dozens of Ahmadinejad associates. In Iran Ahmadinejad was eventually removed from power by going after his more vulnerable associates and sorcery was one of the false accusations used.
July 29, 2015
Published on 20 Jun 2015
Justinian arose from humble roots, the nephew of an illiterate pig farmer named Justin. Justin joined the army and rose to become leader of the palace guard, then took his nephew under his wing and made sure that he was well educated. When Emperor Anastasius died, Justin used his position (and his standing army inside Constantinople) to claim the crown for himself. His nephew guided the early years of his reign, helping Justin secure support both in the capitol and abroad. When Justin died, rule of the Byzantine Empire passed to the young Justinian, who had grand ambitions to restore its waning glory. It also freed him to marry Theodora, a famous actress who was far beneath his social station, and who would also rise from her humble beginnings to become a revered empress.
July 28, 2015
Fred Siegel and Sol Stern review a new book by Tuvia Tenenbom called Catch The Jew!:
If you want to understand why there is no peace in the Holy Land despite the best efforts of the Obama administration and the billion-dollar European “peace and human rights” industry, you owe it to yourself to read Catch the Jew! by Tuvia Tenenbom. This myth-shattering book became an instant bestseller in Israel last year, yet, Germany aside, it has largely been ignored in American and European media outlets and by the reigning Middle East punditocracy. Ostensibly, Tenenbom’s book is disdained because the author lacks the academic or journalistic credentials to be taken seriously as a commentator on the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Though he speaks both Arabic and Hebrew, Tenenbom possesses no professional expertise on the modern Middle East, nor has he had any previous journalistic experience covering Israel and the Palestinian territories.
So much for academic and journalistic credentials, then. In this volume full of personal observations, revealing interviews, and Swiftian satire, Tenenbom offers deeper insights into the fundamental realities of the Middle East conflict and the pathologies of the Palestinian national movement than decades of reporting by media outlets such as the New York Times, The New Yorker, and Israel’s Haaretz. No fair-minded person can come away from this book without wondering why such citadels of contemporary liberal journalism have neglected to inform their readers of the scam being conducted in the region by self-styled human-rights activists and their taxpayer-funded European NGOs — not to mention that this massive international intervention actually makes it even more difficult to achieve a peaceful solution to the conflict.
So what’s the secret of Tenenbom’s journalism? For starters, he disarms the anti-Israel activists and Palestinian officials he engages with by dissembling about his own identity and by playing the simpleton. The author was raised in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish family in Israel. As an adult, he broke with organized religion and moved to America, where he became a successful playwright and founder of the Jewish Theater of New York. In his travels around Israel and the Palestinian territories, however, Tenenbom presents himself as Tobi, a German gentile and unaffiliated journalist — an innocent abroad sincerely trying to understand why the Jews have chosen to oppress the poor Palestinians. Because many of Tenenbom’s Palestinian and pro-Palestinian interlocutors assume that this well-meaning German must be on their side — a reasonable assumption, since much of the financial support for the pro-Palestinian NGOs comes from the German government or political parties — the ruse works brilliantly. The activists are willing to open up to the apparently naïve German and express their true beliefs about Israel and Zionism — hateful views they might be more circumspect about sharing with, say, a New York Times reporter.
July 23, 2015
David Warren, earlier this month, on the slow-motion financial, economic, and political disaster that is modern-day Greece:
Now seriously, gentle reader, we are being reminded that there is truly no way out — no foreseeable practical and material escape — from the Nanny State web we have woven. Except by catastrophe, and/or miracle. My fascination with Greece is, as I have said, to see what happens as that state breaks down. Greece is unrepresentative in some ways; she never was a truly Western country, and thus even her way of abandoning the Christian faith is different from the Western. Since the West freed her from the Infidel Turk, Greece has had the luxury to pick and choose between spiritual destinies. The West offered three: the Catholic, the Protestant, and the Revolutionary. Greece chose to dress her post-Byzantine, Orthodox self in the robes of Marianne, goddess of fake Liberty. They don’t fit, can’t, and she has experienced one wardrobe malfunction after another. Whereas the French, whom she most likes to emulate, at least know how to carry off satanic modernism in style.
Notwithstanding, the material facts of Nanny State are universal, and Greece can now serve as an illustration of their consequences — for the simple reason that she has made more mistakes, faster, than any other European country.
My fondest hope was that the failure of Greece would provoke a genuine re-assessment of the European Union. My worst fear is that it would instead make Europe’s commissars circle their wagon (the EU flag unintentionally represents this), and advance the continental nannyism in the vain belief that they can somehow save it. This, I observe, is what most likely happens. Or to put this another way, for the third time in a century, Europe has embarked on a mission of self-destruction, and will not turn back.
The correct response, to my humble mind, would have been on two fronts. First, to acknowledge that Greece can’t pay, and therefore write off the debts. Let them start again from scratch, according to their lights, providing whatever humanitarian aid can be afforded, but making clear it is a gift, and therefore delivering it through visibly European (and North American) agencies. Never let anyone think he is receiving gifts by right, and thus confuse gifts with payment. But don’t kick Greece out of anything; they have as much right to use euros while unwinding as the Argentines had to use U.S. dollars through their last bankruptcy. In defiance of post-modern sentimentalism, I would say it is possible to be both charitable, and firm.
Second, to begin a peaceful disassembly of most of the pan-European scheme, including the euro currency, which doesn’t and can’t work. Restore marks, francs, lire, pesetas; but also gradually downsize the Brussels bureaucracy to what it can and did do reasonably well — as a clearing house for trade transactions. This would be sane, now the ambition of a “European nation” is proved to have been foolish in itself. It would be insane, politically, to leave it to the member countries’ respective nationalist lunatics to achieve the same end by jingo, with the violence that follows inevitably from that.
It is in this greater (political, not religious) light that I think another bailout for Greece is a horror. It means Europe’s politicians are accelerating down a blind alley — the political equivalent of “the spirit of Vatican II.”
July 18, 2015
Megan McArdle on the imaginary-then-not-so-imaginary prejudice against Irish workers in the United States:
“No Irish Need Apply.” The signs are legendary in the collective memory of Irish Americans. Our ancestors were warned away from the jobs that were open only to “real Americans,” not to the Papist hordes streaming across the Atlantic, with their drinking and their brawling and their unsavory politicking. It is the epigraphic summation of a long war with America’s WASP elite, one that may now be forgotten by the Anglo Protestants who waged it, but not by the great-great-grandchildren of Erin.
I call it legendary. Historian Richard Jensen actually called it a myth.
Jensen, a professor at the University of Illinois, Chicago, wrote a long article in 2002, in which he argued that these advertisements were rare, and when they were found, applied almost exclusively to women, who disproportionately worked as domestics. Jensen searched the digital archives of a number of newspapers, and found that “ads for men were extremely rare — fewer than two per decade. The complete absence of evidence suggests that probably zero such signs were seen at commercial establishments, shops, factories, stores, hotels, railroads, union halls, hiring halls, personnel offices, labor recruiters etc. anywhere in America, at any time.”
This is a bit of a blow to the pride of Irish Americans, who do love a good martyrdom. Something in me rebelled when I saw this article, but as an empirical matter, there’s no reason it couldn’t be true. I filed it away under “History, maybe not quite as bad as you thought, though still quite bad” and moved on to contemplating the perfidy of Oliver Cromwell.
Then, the other day, another article caught my eye. It seems that Rebecca Fried, a high school student from the Sidwell Friends school in Washington, has done a more thorough search of newspaper archives, made possible by advances in digitizing archives since Professor Jensen did his work. Her results have been published in the Oxford Press Journal of Social History, the same place where the original paper was published. And she found lots of examples of both “No Irish Need Apply” advertisements and newspaper accounts of “No Irish” signs, even though the available archives still cover only a small fraction of the thousands of papers in which such ads and accounts might have appeared.
July 17, 2015
Shikha Dalmia looks at India’s changing views on other religions:
If there were ever a religion readymade for liberal democracy — and its commitment to religious freedom — Hinduism would be it. Unlike Christianity (and other monotheistic faiths), Hinduism has no one true doctrine handed down by the one true God to be spread and enforced through the one true Church. It’s a loose, amorphous, and ecumenical faith that accepts that all religions are valid and it doesn’t matter which one you follow, as long as you are going to the same place. Hence, it made sense when Hindu-dominated India, after gaining independence from the British in 1947, enshrined secularism and religious pluralism in its constitution — rather than going through a three-century-long process from the Reformation through the Enlightenment that the West did to pry open space for religious tolerance in Christianity.
However, India’s commitment to religious freedom and toleration has been under serious challenge for a couple of decades with the rise of Hindutva or Hindu nationalism. This ideology, that boasts Prime Minister Narendra Modi among its adherents, has always resented the special space that India’s constitution extends its minority religions — like letting Muslims use sharia in their civil matters. But now it has started openly attacking even their right to exist in India because, it maintains, India belongs only to those that can claim it as their fatherland and holy land — a rather hypocritical requirement given that the rapidly spreading Hindu diaspora enjoys strong religious protections in countries such as America and England that aren’t its “holy land and fatherland.”
That a historically tolerant faith could take such an intolerant turn suggests that a religion’s relationship to liberal values might have less to do with its own inner character and more to do with the existential insecurities of its adherents in a given time.
June 26, 2015
In the New English Review, Colin Wells undertakes to explain why Arabs hate reading:
Though little reliable research has been done on Arabic literacy, the little that has been done is quite clear in one regard. As Johns Hopkins researcher Niloofar Haeri concludes in her contribution to The Cambridge Handbook of Literacy (2009), throughout the Arab world educated people find reading very difficult, don’t like to do it, and do as little of it as possible — even the librarians.
Why this uniformly strong dislike of reading?
Haeri’s answer is that Arabic literature is written in “classical Arabic,” the archaic language of the Quran, which is stilted, difficult, and often unfamiliar to speakers of the many modern dialects of spoken or “street Arabic.”
If you look up “writing” in the current Encyclopedia Britannica online, you’ll find an article by David Olson, a leading scholar of writing systems at the University of Toronto, where much of the most important research on literacy has been done over the past half century. Among the entry’s many interesting bits of information, one brief observation is easily overlooked: writing that has only consonants must be understood before it can be read, while writing that has both consonants and vowels reverses that process.
With consonants alone, the consonants act as hints, but the reader has to fill in the missing vowel sounds, as in “Ll mn r crtd ql” or “Nc pn tm thr ws lttl prncss.” This seems easy enough, at first glance. With both consonants and vowels, on the other hand, you read it first and then go on to figure out what it means, as in “Look out the window and bring me the nail file.” In Olson’s academese, with consonantal writing “interpretation precedes decipherment,” while with alphabetic writing “decipherment precedes interpretation.”
With a fine-tuned academic alertness to thin ideological ice, Olson deftly skates away from exploring the implications of this well-known fact. Nor is he alone in doing so. Only two kinds of consonantal writing are widely used today, Hebrew and Arabic, and both are considered sacred by their practitioners. So among scholars, there’s an unspoken and perhaps understandable reluctance to look closely at how — and at how well — they work when it comes to reading them, and especially to countenance that alphabetic writing might be easier to read.
Hebrew writing is a special case, a consonantal script for a dead language that was brought back to life by European Zionists for use in Israel, where alphabetic script is also commonly used. But it’s no secret that the Arab world has a huge literacy problem, though most of us in the West are unaware of just how severe it is. Not only are very few books published in Arabic overall, virtually none are translated into Arabic from other languages. This intellectual starvation and isolation contrasts with the many millions of books published in, and the hundreds of thousands translated into, alphabetic languages each year.
As an atheist in good standing, I go to meetings every week, I’m suppose to scoff and keep directing my fire at something more vital to the modern world than the Anglican Church. Which would be pretty much everything at this point.
The Anglican Church, however, isn’t just another Christian sect, it is the official sect of the United Kingdom. Justin Welby, in theory, reports to God and the Queen. That’s a pretty posh set of bosses. Despite it’s compromised beginnings the C of E has been one of those bulwarks of English life that made England what it was. You can mock its theology, you can criticize its history yet, in its own remarkable way, it has basically worked. The manners and mores of the English speaking people have been profoundly influenced by the teachings of this church. Laugh if you want, but you’re laughing at one of the unacknowledged wellsprings of the Anglosphere.
This is deep culture stuff. Beneath the Rule of Law, Free Markets and Parliament stuff is manners and mores. It’s hard to explain really. The cadences of the language, the body language of the people and the basic decency of its public life. It’s impossible to imagine that somewhere, behind all of that, there is not some country vicar going about his business in an earnest fashion. There are thousands of Christian sects. This one helped established the culture of the modern world in a way unlike any other. Attention must be paid.
Richard Anderson, “Put A Hat On It”, The Gods of the Copybook Headings, 2014-07-16.