Sunday, 19 April 2015

Hitler and Hillary: Sorting Out What's Evil (And What's Not...)

I’d like to begin with a brief reading list:

The War Against the Jews, by Lucy Dawidowicz;

Night, by Elie Wiesel;

A Convenient Hatred: The History of Antisemitism, by Phyllis Goldstein and Harold Evans;

The German Army and Genocide: Crimes Against War Prisoners, Jews, and Other Civilians in the East, 1939-1944
, by the Hamburg Institute for Social Research;

Masters of Death: The SS-Einsatzgruppen and the Invention of the Holocaust, by Richard Rhodes.

I've read them all, and highly recommend them to give a thorough knowledge of the Holocaust in policy and practice.

One more thing: until you have read them, do not compare Hillary Clinton to Hitler, because you will expose yourself as a spectacular idiot.

I bring this up because of this photo montage that’s been making its way around social media since Hilary Clinton announced her candidacy for the US presidency:

Obviously, the intention is to draw comparisons between Hitler and Hillary in terms of a supposedly shared philosophy. If nothing else, the picture in some ways shows the loathing that many have for Hillary, and the level of danger that many feel she poses for the US if she were to win.

Of course, I’m not supporting Hillary’s candidacy for the simple reason that I’m an anarchist and am therefore not supporting anyone’s candidacy. But regardless of that, I find the photo appalling.

It shows, first of all, a fundamental ignorance of history- the history of Hitler, the Nazi regime, and its official policy known as Die Endlösung der Judenfrage (‘The Final Solution to the Jewish Problem’), which led to the Holocaust, the prolonged, systematic genocide of the Jewish people and other untermenschen (‘inferior people’).

Secondly, I believe it shows a profound deterioration in political discourse in the US, an inability to disagree without immediately resorting to labelling a political adversary in the most hateful, malevolent descriptions available.

Finally, it constitutes a basic misunderstanding of the nature of evil. In his autobiographical manifesto Mein Kampf (‘My Struggle’), published in 1925 and 1926, Hitler laid out his political philosophy and his vision for the future of the German people. At its core is a monomaniacal loathing for the Jews and his belief that destroying them was the ultimate destiny of the German people. It is a vision of hatred, war, power, and racial dictatorship, laid out for the world to see long before he had the means or the power to implement it.

It is an evil book which led to unimaginable evil actions that led to global war, not unintentionally but by design. It led to evil so great that its survivors could only think of one word for it:

‘Holocaust’, ‘all burnt’…

Regardless of any of this, the creators of the meme would undoubtedly argue that they want to point out what they see as similarities on a policy-making level and a basic philosophical similarity between Hitler and Hillary. This cuts absolutely no ice with me. Anyone who believes a policy-making or philosophical connection can be made between the Third Reich and a moderately center-left(ish) establishment Democrat does not understand what went on during the Holocaust.

Does. Not. Understand.

Trying to compare the ‘quotes’ from Hitler and Hillary is a cynical and preposterous exercise. An un-cited and out-of-context quote attributed to Hillary, in which she says something about the importance of an individuals’ desires being thought about as part of society as a whole, is linked to an un-cited and out-of-context quote attributed to Hitler where he also comments on society vs. the individual. One might as well point out that, because both individuals once said something about 'trees', that they both hold similar ideas about the environment.

This isn’t the first attempt to equate Hillary with Hitler. Have a quick spin around the internet and other absurd comparisons pop up:

That Hitler and Hillary had similar domestic policies;

that Hitler- like Hillary- favoured ‘socialized medicine’;

That Hitler- like Hillary- wanted to ban guns.

Again, to even infer any equality between the two people shows a fundamental ignorance of the Third Reich and its diseased leadership. In short, the destruction of the Jews was Hitler’s domestic policy, the root of everything else. His ideas of 'socialized medicine' were that the destruction of the weak and the sick was far more humane than their protection, that the purpose in destroying ‘the weak’ was to allow for a flourishing of a pure, strong, superior race. Finally, the idea that Hitler banned guns is a complete myth. German Fascism was completely built around the propagation of war and armaments. Re-arming Germany after what he saw as the ignominy of the disarming of Germany by the Treaty of Versailles after WW1 was one of Hitler’s primary ambitions.

But of course, the point of making these comparisons in the first place isn’t part of some intellectual exercise pointing out interesting similarities between thoughts and policies of the two figures;

It’s about lazily and clumsily trying to defame a presidential candidate by associating her with the 20th century's preeminent monster, the man whose hatred of Jews was so singularly fixed that he concocted- and carried out- history's most extraordinary solution to 'the Jewish problem': harness all the resources and industrial might of Europe's greatest industrial society- all government, all transport, all infrastructure, all bureaucracy, all function- to wiping them out. 

And in large measure, he succeeded. The thousand year-old Ashkenzai Jewish society of Central and Eastern Europe- rich in culture, literature, and industry- was utterly destroyed;

All that survived were individuals;

Countries whose pre-war Jewish populations numbered in the millions, by 1945, might have numbered a few hundred...

So, if the meme-makers want to go on about the relative nature of society verses that of the individual, they should ponder that...

As to the spurious notion that a concern for ‘society’ is in some way, not only a negation of the ‘individual’, but also on some level tied to the evil of the Nazis, it might be worth mentioning that the Biblical text does not overly concern itself with the much-vaunted ‘individual’; in fact, no one did until the Enlightenment. The Hebrew Bible gives much more time and attention to God’s relationship with a ‘people’, a ‘nation’, and that through that people, salvation will be brought to the world. In the New Testament, again, the basic framework for the salvation of the world is a new type of society, the ‘church’, made up of all peoples and all nations. Does this mean that there is no thought, love, or care for the individual in the biblical text? Of course not, but the individual is always an intrinsic part of the whole of creation, and the restoration of creation is the work of the people of God.

What does all this practically mean? In the context of political discourse and electoral politics, we need to foster types of debate that don’t rely on demonization, slander, accusation, and hate;

We need to be able to see the humanity in those we politically oppose;

We need to respect the memory of the victims of the greatest crimes committed in human history by not making cheap equations to this or that current political issue;

And we need to draw a distinction between ‘evil’ and what we might believe to be ‘in error’…

Hillary is not Hitler, full stop.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Reflection for Easter Sunday: Burning the Empire Down...

Today is Easter Sunday. Jesus is risen.

He appears to some of his followers; women, to be exact. The women, astonished, tell the men. The men don’t believe them.

Then Jesus appears to the men. Then they believe.

Eventually, the men will make themselves the rulers of the Church and make sure that women never tell them anything ever again…  

But Easter will not be contained. It can’t possibly ever be tamed.

Easter is the revolution- social, political, spiritual transformation.

If Christ is raised, then nothing is impossible. How can we ever say, ‘that could never happen’ ever again?

Nothing can ever be the same. Anyone who thought the status quo could just go on as normal was deluding themselves;

Even those who eventually co-opted Christianity into their imperial structures could never truly diffuse its incendiary message.

They could cloak it, confuse it, obfuscate it, entangle it, bend it, twist it…

But in the end, this was a fire that had only one purpose:

Burn the empire to the ground.

Jesus said, ‘I have come to set fire to the earth; how I wish it were already burning!’ (Luke 12:49)

At the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday, we lit the Paschal fire;

From it, we lit the Paschal Candle;

And from it, we passed the fire into the church and passed it to each other, lighting the candles each of us held…

This is a fire that will never go out.

This is a fire which exposes all the structures of power, empire, violence, and greed for the pile of kindling it is.

This is a fire that exposes all the wealth, stocks, shares, bonds, and accounts of the world as mere paper and plastic…

The radical Good News- food for the poor, sight to the blind, release to the prisoners, freedom for the captives, life for the lifeless, a voice for the voiceless- burns every oppressive structure to ash…

Bakunin said that the urge to destroy is also a creative urge;

Jesus told us that the urge to set fire to the empire is a spiritual one.

So have a Holy and Blessed Easter.

Keep your matches dry…

Friday, 3 April 2015

Reflection For Holy Saturday: Jesus Is Dead.

This is Holy Saturday. Jesus is dead.

We spend so much time talking about how Christ ‘died and rose again’ that we fail to meditate on his death. He died. His heart stopped beating, his brain flat-lined and his body started to decay.

And when we do engage with his death, we run the risk of engaging with his death grotesquely or forensically, like the disturbing mania a few years ago over the disgusting gore-fest that was Mel Gibson's ‘Passion of the Christ’.

But for the most part, Christ’s death remains for most Christians a theological footnote, an unpleasant necessity that assuages God’s justice and allows them to go to heaven.

But Holy Saturday is when we come face to face with a dead Jesus. On that day, Christians worship a corpse.

There is no Sunday. Dead bodies don’t come back to life.

To speak of Easter Sunday on Holy Saturday is to not comprehend what happened on Good Friday. It is to understand Christ's death only on a philosophical or theological level. 

However, we must experience Christ's death from the place of the disciples who watched it happen. They did not go home that night saying, 'O well, no matter. He promised to rise.' No, they went away dead men, the most dead men ever, for they had lived with Christ for three years and experienced the Kingdom of God in a way no one ever had. And now it was over… Killed.

The Empire won. Corruption won. It was all a lie. There was no hope; and no hope of hope ever again.

We will never be able to feel as they felt. But we can take this day to meditate what it means to live without hope, to think about those who, in our world, are living with no hope:

the sex slave in a back room of an unmarked building in a back alley of a city whose name they don't know;

the refugee from an African war now living in a camp a thousand miles away from the spot where she was raped as her husband was shot in front of her and was raped by soldiers yesterday and wonders if they’ll be back today;

The detainee in Guantanamo Bay, denied any semblance of universally-recognised judicial rights, who must come to terms with the fact that, even if found to be wrongfully detained, will never be released; 

The woman in an abusive relationship ignored or called a liar because her husband holds a position of power and influence in their church;

the child handcuffed to a sewing machine who will be beaten if they don't meet their quota of designer handbags;

the family coping with disability whose vital lifelines are being cut by austerity packages;

the family of a young child killed by a drone strike which the US government will neither confirm or deny launching;

The Palestinian Christian farmer watching Israeli bulldozers tear up his olive trees to make way for a new Israeli settlement, funded in part by his Christian brothers and sisters in the US;

These are the ‘Holy Saturday people’, the worthless and the hopeless that live in a world where God is dead and will not come back to life.

There is no Easter Sunday without Holy Saturday. It is through the blackness of Holy Saturday that we must see the joy of the women at the tomb, the joy and courage of the disciples.

Easter is about life in the fullest sense. Not theological life or philosophical life, but the life of a man who was dead and then not dead anymore.

The ‘Holy Saturday people’ of this world are looking for ‘Easter people’. The essence of Christianity is not in doctrine or confessions, important as they are. The first Christians, the first ‘Easter people’, had a simple message: ‘Jesus was dead. Now he is alive. We’ve seen him.’

This is what we have to offer the ‘Holy Saturday people’. Nothing is impossible anymore. No system is so evil, so oppressive, so entrenched that we cannot overthrow it. If Jesus is not dead then nothing is impossible. We await no revolution; Easter was the revolution.

But that’s all for another day.

Today is Holy Saturday. Jesus is dead.

Reflection for Good Friday: The Bad Guys Win...

Today is Holy Friday, ‘Good’ Friday, the day Christ died.

But that’s not all that happened on that day; actually, Christ’s death was only a part of that 24 hours.

Christ was also betrayed by a former friend for money.

He was arrested on false charges and beaten up by the cops.

He was given an unfair trial, with false evidence and a rigged court, simply looking for a reason to convict.

He was tortured while in custody.

He was most likely sexually brutalized, perhaps even sexually mutilated.

He was given over to mob violence.

He had the last of his possessions stolen.

He was tortured again, this time as a means of his execution.

Then finally, mercifully, he died…

What happened on Good Friday? 

Nothing particularly special; nothing out of the ordinary. Thousands had suffered the same fate.

Thousands of people all over the world still do.

They’re in some back room of a police station right now. They’re in a holding cell in our court buildings, in our unofficial 'holding centres', in our ‘super max’ prisons.

They’re at Guantanamo right now; they’re in our ‘black spots’.

They’re in some basement of some building on some street in the capital city of one of our allies in the ‘war on terror’.

Their mothers are pleading with some bureaucrat, some functionary, some police chief, some judge…

Their friends are hiding, with very good reasons for doing so; This happens all the time; you never know who’ll they’ll pick up next, how many they’ll round up…

This is the day when hope dies.

There’s no new world, no new beginning, no justice…

It was all a lie.

On Good Friday, the bad guys win. Corruption wins. The system, the structures, the ‘machine’ wins. 

The few ‘bad apples’ in the cops, of whom we seemingly see an endless parade, they win.

The crooked judges win. The bribes, the kick-backs… It all paid off.

So, if you support the death penalty, ‘enhanced interrogation’;

‘keeping the wheels turning’, the ‘best way’ to ‘get things done’;

keeping your mouth shut, getting the verdict that we ‘need’ to get;

ignoring the uncomfortable facts, the ‘wall of silence’;

getting the ‘right’ jury, making the evidence ‘work on our behalf;

'My country, right or wrong'...

'Letting them know who's boss'...

'Talking in the only language they understand'...

This is your national holiday…

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Reflection for Holy Thursday: ‘Love one another…’

Holy Thursday.

The day of the ‘Mandatum’, from the first word of the phrase,

‘Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos,

‘A new commandment I give you: Love one another, as I have loved you’- St John 13:34.

It’s said that the apostle John, at the end of his life-

frail, blind, nearly deaf, and senile-

would be lovingly carried on a bed into the meetings of the Christian community.

All he would say was ‘Love one another… Love one another…’

Over, and over, and over…

‘Love one another… Love one another…’

He had heard it spoken at that last supper;

He was the last person alive who had been at that last supper;

He had heard it said;

He saw it lived.

He stood at the cross, watched Jesus die, for years had taken care of Jesus’ mother…

At the end of his life, he wanted us to remember one thing:

‘Love one another…’

‘Love one another…’

It was everything; the whole thing, all three years…

Treat each as you would be treated.

It is still the whole thing, all law, all prophets, all ethics, all reasoning.

What if that were true?

What if that really was all there was to it?

World history would look very different.

There’d have been no slavery, because no one chooses to be kidnapped, sold, raped, and worked to death;

There’d have been no imperialism, because no one wants to have their home and land stolen, their culture marginalized, their language suppressed, their labour and resources stolen;

There’d have been no discrimination, ‘Jim Crow’ laws or institutionalized bigotry because who’d do that to anyone they loved- to their children, parents, or spouse? Who’d sign up for that for themselves? That’d be insane…

There’d have been no lynching, because no one wants to be murdered so that others can feel good about themselves and their own privileges;

There’d be no death penalty. Yeah, some people kill themselves, but who’d rig the law and the justice system against their own interests, then falsify evidence, hire a bad lawyer, and stack a jury to make sure they died hopeless and alone, vilified and hated?

There’d be no inequality for anyone before the law. I mean, it almost never happens to me, of course; I’m a Western, heterosexual, white male. Who, in their right mind, would give up THAT? Who would rain on a parade THAT fantastic?!

History would look very different.

Our present would look very different.

If only we’d have listened to that frail, blind, nearly deaf, and senile old man,

The one who kept repeating ‘Love one another…’

‘Love one another…’

‘Love one another…’