Posts Tagged ‘religion’

Mennonites and Nazis

Saturday, May 28th, 2016

I am continuing to read Quakers and Nazis. It is a well-researched, fascinating history, but difficult to read. One reason the reading is difficult is that its author tends to wander away from his main subject (the Quakers in Nazi Germany). One example is his brief mention of strong Mennonite support for the Nazis. This surprised me. I found this difficult to believe, since Mennonites are pacifists, and often collaborate with Quakers in projects to promote peace. Here is the passage that disturbed me: (more…)

London’s Muslim mayor

Wednesday, May 11th, 2016

By voting in Sadiq Khan, the Labour MP for Tooting, the UK capital has provided a much-needed role model for Muslim youth who feel, rightly or wrongly, that they are socially marginalised. Though he is not the only prominent Muslim in the UK, he is the first Muslim mayor of a major western city. The symbolism is important.

At a time of rising Islamophobia, the arrival in City Hall of the son of a Pakistani bus driver and a seamstress, who grew up on a council estate, is a celebration of multiculturalism. It is also a defeat for radicalism, be it the product of populist and far-right xenophobia or the poisonous teachings propagated by Isis.

Roula Khalaf, “Sadiq Khan offers new role model for young European Muslims”, Financial Times, 11 May 2016 (metered paywall).

Sadiq Khan was born in London in 1970 to immigrant parents from Pakistan. He was the Member of Parliament (MP) for Tooting (a district of South London) from 2005 to 2016.

The FT either overlooked Calgary, Alberta (Canada), or does not classify it as a “major western city”, since Calgary, with a population of 1.2 million, also has a Muslim mayor. The Mayor, Naheed Nenshi, was born in Toronto in 1972 and raised in Calgary. His South Asian parents migrated to Canada from Tanzania. Nenshi was elected Mayor of Calgary in 2010, then re-elected in 2013 with 74% of the vote.

It is more accurate to describe Sadiq Khan as the first Muslim mayor of a major western capital city. (Calgary is Alberta’s largest city, but not the capital.)


Tuesday, May 10th, 2016

No wonder the Quaker community has always remained small: being a Quaker is difficult.

Hans A. Schmitt, Quakers and Nazis: Inner Light in Outer Darkness (University of Missouri Press, 1997), p. 10.

Quakers and Nazis – 1

Tuesday, May 10th, 2016

In the Victoria Public Library I came across a remarkable book written by the German-American historian Hans A. Schmitt. As I read it, I will post notes, limited largely to excerpts from the book, intended for my own use, and for anyone else who might find them of interest.

Hans A. Schmitt (1921-2004) was raised in Frankfurt and Berlin until 1934, when he was sent by his Jewish mother, Elisabeth Schmitt, to a Quaker school in the Netherlands, now known as International School Eerde. He attended Eerde until 1937, when he moved to the USA to attend college at Washington and Lee (USA), continuing later with graduate study at the University of Chicago (MA, 1943; PhD, 1953). He taught history successively at the University of Oklahoma, Tulane, New York University and the University of Virginia.


The book that I am reading is titled Quakers and Nazis: Inner Light in Outer Darkness (University of Missouri Press, 1997). Everything that follows is copied verbatim from pages of the book, with the exception of text that I have enclosed in square brackets.

Why the title Quakers and Nazis, not Quakers against Nazis? Was not hostility part of the interaction between the two groups? On the contrary, Hans A. Schmitt’s compelling story describes American, British, and German Quakers’ attempts to mitigate the suffering among not only victims of Nazism but Nazi sympathizers in Austria and Lithuania as well. [excerpt from the jacket of the book]

[Quakers are known for their embrace of nonviolence.] George Fox [(1624-1691), founder of the Society of Friends (Quakers)] rejected “all outward wars and strife and fightings with outward weapons for any and under any pretence whatever.” Death itself was not evil and not to be feared, but the taking of life was. A soldier who died in battle suffered in body only; a soldier who killed put his soul in jeopardy. [pp. 2-3]

Nonviolence in time became more than refusing to bear arms or to pay taxes. Friends rejected cruel treatment of prisoners, of the mentally ill, and of other religious dissidents. [p. 3]

[During World War I, Quakers came to the aid] of war victims among allies as well as adversaries. But such efforts had long been a Quaker tradition whose roots go back to the very origins of the Society. …. [D]uring the American and French Revolutions the Society sought to relieve sufferings on both sides of the conflict. Civil War in Ireland and Napoleon’s campaigns in Germany witnessed the continuation of these nonpartisan efforts. [p. 5]

Their effectiveness [during the Irish famine] was heightened by their respect for Irish traditions. They deplored London’s support of alien Anglicanism and enlisted Catholic clergy in their relief committees. [p. 6]

While the adversaries [of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871] came to look upon each other for generations as “hereditary enemies,” German and French authorities alike welcomed and supported these selfless [Quaker] helpers from the British isles. [p. 7]

Turkish persecutions in Bulgaria prompted the Meeting for Sufferings to appoint yet another committee in 1876 to disribute aid to 250,000 refugees. …. Quakers recognized no religious distinctions. Jews, Moslems, Christians: all benefited equally. [p.7]

The configuration of lights and shadows, of triumphs and failures, as outlined in this Introduction, reflects what Quakers themselves have reported about their past. …. Nonviolence would remain their creed and was no better affirmed than by the American Friend Elbert Russell, who reminded his coreligionists that both early Christians and early Quakers “won without fighting” …. [p. 10]

the Spanish inquisition

Wednesday, March 30th, 2016

After the conquest of [the Muslims in] 1492, the [Spanish] monarchs inherited Granada’s large Jewish community. The fervid patriotism unleashed by the Christian triumph led to more hysterical conspiracy fears. Some remembered old tales of Jews helping the Muslim armies when they had arrived in Spain eight hundred years earlier and pressured the monarchs to deport all practicing Jews from Spain. After initial hesitation, on March 31, 1492, the monarchs signed the edict of expulsion, which gave Jews the choice of baptism or deportation. Most chose baptism and, as conversos, were now harassed by the Inquisition …. Under papal pressure. Ferdinand and Isabella now turned their attention to Spain’s Muslims. In 1499 Granada was split into Christian and Muslim zones, Muslims were required to convert …. But the Muslim converts (Moriscos) were given no instruction in their new faith, and everybody knew that they continued to live, pray, and fast according to the laws of Islam. ….

The first twenty years of the Spanish Inquisition were undoubtedly the most violent in its long history. There is no reliable documentation of the actual numbers of people killed. Historians once believed that about thirteen thousand conversos were burned during this early period. More recent estimates suggest, however, that most of those who came forward were never brought to trial; that in most cases the death penalty was pronounced in absentia over conversos who had fled and were symbolically burned in effigy; and that from 1480 to 1530 only between 1,500 and 2,000 people were actually executed. Nevertheless, this was a tragic and shocking development that broke with centuries of peaceful coexistence. The experience was devastating for the conversos and proved lamentably counterproductive. Many conversos who had been faithful Catholics when they were detained were so disgusted by their treatment that they reverted to Judaism and became the ‘secret Jews’ that the Inquisition had set out to eliminate.

Karen Armstrong, Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence (Knopf, 2014), p. 240.

engineers of jihad

Sunday, February 28th, 2016

Among Islamist activists, why do we tend to see a “massive overrepresentation” of engineers and medical doctors, compared to graduates in law, humanities and “softer” social sciences? Two European social scientists joined forces to examine this hypothesis with care, processing an impressive amount of data. Malise Ruthven, an Anglo-Irish academic and writer, reviews their findings.

The final chapter [of the book] speculates on the cognitive and emotional traits shared by Islamists and adherents of other rightwing movements. Students of the humanities, like those of the “pure sciences”, tend to have “more sophisticated and less closed views of knowledge than do students in engineering …. Scientists learn to ask questions, while engineering students, like followers of text-based religions, rely more strongly on answers that have already been given”. Engineering students from all backgrounds, they [the two authors] suggest, share a more rigid outlook than students of science and humanities. Intolerant of ambiguity, they show a preference for authoritarian systems and have more simplistic views about how the status quo can be changed. Far from them being more “religious” than other Muslims, it seems that it is the Islamist vision of a “corporatist, mechanistic and hierarchical” social order, combined with “well-regulated daily routines” that attracts them, and accounts for their over-representation. [Emphasis added.]

This is an important study. While its conclusions are less surprising than the authors claim, the wealth of statistical data they bring to bear provides what was once a hypothesis with solid empirical grounding.

Malise Ruthven, “Engineers of Jihad“, Financial Times, 27 February 2016 (metered paywall).

Malise Ruthven (born 1942) is reviewing Engineers of Jihad: The Curious Connection between Violent Extremism and Education, by Diego Gambetta and Steffen Hertog (Princeton University Press, 2016). Diego Gambetta (born 1952) is professor of social theory at the European University Institute (Florence). Steffen Hertog is associate professor of comparative politics at the London School of Economics (LSE).

abolition of the death penalty

Monday, February 22nd, 2016

Returning from his visit to Mexico, Pope Francis once again urges the world to abolish the death penalty.

“The commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ has absolute value and concerns both the innocent and the guilty,” Pope Francis said Sunday, urging that the death penalty be abolished.

Addressing a crowd of the faithful who were gathered in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, Pope Francis said, “All Christians and people of goodwill are called today to work not only for the abolition of the death penalty, but also in order to improve prison conditions, in respect for human dignity of persons deprived of liberty.”

Bill Chappell, “Pope Calls On Christians To Abolish Death Penalty“, the two-way, NPR, 22 February 2016.

Pope Francis called on "all Christians and people of goodwill" to work toward abolishing the death penalty, as he addressed a crowd of tourists and pilgrims in St. Peter's Square on Sunday.

Here is a report on the similar petition made by Pope Francis nearly a year ago:

In a letter to the President of the International Commission Against the Death Penalty, Pope Francis expressed the Catholic Church’s opposition to the death penalty, calling it “inadmissible, no matter how serious the crime committed.” He continued, “It is an offence against the inviolability of life and the dignity of the human person, which contradicts God’s plan for man and society, and his merciful justice, and impedes the penalty from fulfilling any just objective. It does not render justice to the victims, but rather fosters vengeance.” He acknowledged society’s need to protect itself from aggressors, but said, “When the death penalty is applied, it is not for a current act of aggression, but rather for an act committed in the past. It is also applied to persons whose current ability to cause harm is not current, as it has been neutralized — they are already deprived of their liberty.” He also addressed questions of methods of execution, saying, “There is discussion in some quarters about the method of killing, as if it were possible to find ways of ‘getting it right’. … But there is no humane way of killing another person.” [Emphasis added.]

Pope Francis Calls Death Penalty Inappropriate ‘No Matter How Serious the Crime’“, Death Penalty Information Center, 20 March 2016.

Islamophobia encourages terrorism

Sunday, February 14th, 2016

I do not always agree with Hungarian-American billionaire/philanthropist George Soros, but one paragraph of his recent column caught my attention:

ISIS (and Al Qaeda before it) has recognized the Achilles’ heel of Western civilization – the fear of death – and learned how to exploit it. By arousing latent Islamophobia in the West and inducing both publics and governments to treat Muslims with suspicion, they hope to convince young Muslims that there is no alternative to terrorism. Once this strategy is understood, there is a simple antidote: Refuse to behave the way your enemies want you to.

George Soros, “Putin is No Ally Against ISIS“, Project Syndicate, 10 February 2016.

The column is available at the link above in English and other languages. George Soros (born 1939) is a pioneer of the hedge-fund industry and author of many articles and books. His latest book is The Tragedy of the European Union (Public Affairs, 2014).

A broader, but similar message was delivered as a command long ago by Christ, as recorded in Matthew 5:43-44 of The Holy Bible, King James Version:

Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

Christ is not known to have said this, but He may plausibly have thought “Hatred breeds hatred”.

the UK as a Christian country

Wednesday, January 6th, 2016

Some days “letters to the editor” is the best section of the newspaper. Today is one of those days. This is a superb letter, from a reader in the UK.

David Cameron’s assertion that the UK is a Christian country is as fallacious as it is patronising. The 2011 census revealed that just 59.3 per cent of people in England and Wales identified themselves as being Christian. The same census showed 82 per cent of the population identifying themselves as being white. The prime minister would never dream of declaring this a white country, to do so would be to propound that non-whites can never really belong.

The assertion that the UK is a Christian country is similarly offensive to those of differing or no faith who may take the prime minister’s remark as an insinuation that Christianity is some prerequisite to Britishness.

David Robert Coombs, “Don’t be patronising to non-Christians“, Financial Times, 6 January 2016.

American exceptionalism

Monday, December 28th, 2015

The idea of American exceptionalism, together with past American greatness, is often discussed in US politics, most recently in the 2016 presidential campaign.

The concept of American exceptionalism was introduced long ago by Alexis de Tocqueville in his classic book, Democracy in America (1835/1840). The following sentence from volume 2, chapter 9 of the 1972 translation is frequently cited: “The position of the Americans is therefore quite exceptional, and it may be believed that no democratic people will ever be placed in a similar one.”

But what did de Tocqueville really mean? The chapter that contains the sentence is itself titled “The Example of the Americans Does Not Prove That a Democratic People Can Have No Aptitude and No Taste for Science, Literature, and Art”.

This hardly suggests that de Tocqueville used the term ‘exceptional’ in the sense of in the sense of ‘superior’ or ‘great’. (more…)