Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: ethnic cleansing

Jihad on Baltimore

Muslim terrorists attack Baltimore and kidnap citizens into slavery.

What’s Bogie got to do with it? 

bogie

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Sailing on the ferry to Sherkin Island in the Atlantic off the coast of West Cork, I tried to imagine what it must have been like to see a pirate vessel from North Africa appear over the horizon and sail into Roaring Water Bay.

Murat Reis

Around two in the morning on Sunday 19 June 1631, the inhabitants of the town of Baltimore, West Cork, Ireland woke up screaming as their doors were splintered by iron bars and their thatched roofs set alight. As they ran into the streets they were confronted by Janissaries waving curved sabres and screaming like demons.

“A stifled gasp, a dreamy noise! ‘The roof is in a flame!’

From out their beds and to their doors rush maid and sire and dame,

And meet upon the threshold stone the gleaming sabre’s fall,

And o’er each black and bearded face the white or crimson shawl.

The yell of “Allah!” breaks above the prayer, and shriek, and roar:

O blessed God! the Algerine is lord of Baltimore!”

Thomas Davis thomas davis

230 musketeers divided themselves into 26 attack squads – one for each homestead. Timothy Curlew put up a brave resistance and was hacked to death, as was John Davis. However, the basic aim was to take as many alive as possible. Within a very short time 109 villagers, four-fifths of them women and children, 50 of them children, were being herded onto waiting boats. Two were released because they were too infirm to be profitable.

Why did this particular ship turn up at this particular time on the coast of County Cork? This European raid by Barbary pirates was not as unusual as one might have thought. Barbary pirates operated from the time of the crusades until the 19th century. They were based along the stretch of North Africa known as the Barbary Coast after the Berber inhabitants. The Ottoman Pashas were little more than figureheads in North Africa. Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli were independent bases for pirates in the business of capturing and trading in slaves. They carried out razzias or predatory raids throughout the Mediterranean and as far north as Iceland, capturing Christians to sell in the slave markets of Algeria and Morocco.  From the 16th to the 19th century, it is estimated that as many as 1.25 million Christians were kidnapped.

It would not have been a pleasant cruise on the Algerian ship. The dark, dank warren would have been home to rats and cockroaches and everyone crawled with lice. Arrival in Algiers would have been a great shock to the systems of simple villagers who had never been outside their own parish. A contingent of established Christian slaves got entertainment from jeering at new arrivals. The captors did not recognise Europeans as full human beings and did not worry about breaking up families. They were put on sale in the Bedistan market.

A French priest, Father Pierre Dan reported how “they sold on the one hand the husbands, on the other the wives, ripping their daughters from their arms, leaving them no hope of ever seeing each other again.” Buyers would have been interested in three classes of females: virgin girls, skilled craft workers and the outstandingly beautiful, meaning of ample proportions and fair-skinned. An English slave, Joseph Pitts reported that buyers would stick their fingers in the women’s mouths, squeeze their bosoms and check their virginity ‘in a modest way’. They made them walk up and down to check ‘the bounciness of their breasts’.

From-Baltimore-to-Barbary-the-1631-sack-of-Baltimore-2

Of the Baltimore women, Ellen Hawkins was worth about six horses and Joane Broadbrook about eight oxen. Joane Broadbrook would have been sold for the price today of a ten-year-old hatchback. The profits from the sale of the captives would have been shared out. Half of the proceeds would go to the investors in the kidnapping mission including the ship’s captain. The other half was divided up amongst the ship’s company. Each seaman would get three parts and each Janissary got half a seaman’s cut because they were already on salary. The captain got 40 parts bringing his total take to around  $73,000 in today’s money.

The imperial harem would normally be a sedate place and there were periods when the royal palace was ruled by females. Unfortunately, the period when the Baltimore women arrived coincided with the reigns of the two most debauched sultans in history. Murad was only in his twenties but the entire nation feared his unpredictable rages. He executed a cook on the spot when he was dissatisfied with dinner. He sat on the sea shore randomly shooting his subjects as they passed by. He once, on a whim, ordered a whole boatload of women to be sunk. He died at the age of 28 when he had a seizure following a gargantuan drunken spree which coincided with a solar eclipse.

Sultan-İbrahim

A skilled oarsman like Tom Paine, one of the Baltimore captives, would have been highly valued as a galley slave, but the value would not reduce the brutality with which he was treated. The life of a galley slave was described as being like ‘a species of hell’, chained three to an oar, constantly lashed and prodded. Their heads were shaved and they had nothing to cover them but a filthy cape. Their only lodging was to lie on a bare board and they had to subsist on bread soaked with a little wine.

Other slaves were put to work on state farms. Captain John Smith (of Virginia fame) was once a slave and described being ‘treated like a dog’ threshing corn. There are reports of men pulling ploughs like horses with metal bits in their teeth. Some worked in quarries pulling 40-ton rocks for two miles on sleds. Others worked in the blazing sun on construction sites.

There were methods of escaping from slavery. You could be ransomed by family or friends. You could save the pittances gleaned from working and buy yourself out. You could be ransomed through charity. Your release could be negotiated by treaty by your home government. Your patron might release you, usually because you had converted to Islam. You might try to escape.

Fifteen years after the raid on Baltimore, in September 1646, an English ship, the Charles, appeared in the bay of Algiers. On board was Edward Cason an envoy dispatched by Parliament to negotiate the release of hundreds of English and Irish slaves. Cason compiled a register and calculated that there were 650 in Algiers and another 100 in the Turkish fleet at Crete. There was an acceptance that he could not recover those who had converted to Islam ‘through beating and hard usage’, those children being raised in local households and those who had converted and been spirited away to other ports in the east. The patrons drove a hard bargain, citing the increase in value of some of the slaves who had been taught crafts and skills. Cason reckoned that he only had funds to ransom 250 slaves. In the end 264 were ‘redeemed and sent home’.

There were captives from all over the British Isles but only two from Baltimore – Joane Broadbrook and Ellen Hawkins. What had happened to the other 105? The average post-infancy life expectancy in the 17th century was about 60 and Algiers at that time was one of the world’s more healthy locations. In London bedpans were tipped into the street. In Algiers, there was piped sewage and clean running water. The streets were kept clean by an army of workers.

One of the authorities on this subject, John de Courcy Ireland, said that few showed any enthusiasm for returning. There may have been elements of the Stockholm syndrome. Slavery might have been an improvement on the drudgery they had been snatched from in the fish factory back home. Many may have been successfully integrated into Algiers society. Life may have been more pleasant and social mobility more possible in this ancient sunny town than in rainy, windy West Cork.

A greedy and corrupt English navy had failed to protect them and failed to pursue the pirates. Some may have felt betrayed and abandoned and resistant to returning to their former home. Looking back to the circumstances of the raid, the details become even more bizarre.

My friend, Richard Boyle, is editor of Travel Sri Lanka, author of the books Knox’s Words and Sinbad in Serendib and a contributor to the Oxford English Dictionary. His namesake was Joint Administrator of Ireland and Great Earl of Cork in 1631 and he owned great chunks of the county (stolen from the natives of course) including Midleton where I lived before coming to live in Sri Lanka. His son, Robert Boyle, was a noted scientist, author of Boyle’s Law and The Sceptical Chymist. The Earl was a prime target himself and had previously narrowly avoided capture by pirates. After this, he had placed spies among them and knew that the price on his head was around 390,000 GBP. He received a tip-off that there was going to be a raid but did not know where and could not persuade the government to take precautions.

1stEarlOfCork

Boyle had many enemies and did not want to dig too deeply lest his own financial shenanigans would be exposed. John Hackett (see below for his part in the episode) was chosen as a scapegoat and was dragged across country behind a galloping horse and hanged on a high cliff.

Boyle could have done more to effect the release of the Baltimore slaves. The amount he spent on a single present for his daughter could have paid the ransom for all the Baltimore women.

 Other aspects are surprising: the pirate captain was not a Berber; the captives were not Irish. A list of the names of the 107 Baltimore residents who were taken to Algiers is in the archives. A strange coincidence that  one of them wascalled Tom Paine. They were all descended from English Protestants who settled in Ireland after leaving Devon and Cornwall.

jan janzsoon

The captain of the pirate ship was known as Murat Reis the Younger but he was born in Haarlem in the Netherlands and was formerly called Jan Janszoon.    Janszoon married a Moorish woman of African Berber origin, by whom he fathered several children.

The captives were of English Protestant origin but they were not aggressive usurpers like the Presbyterians in Ulster. They were refugees who had fled to Ireland to escape the oppressive rule of Elizabeth I. Their leader was Thomas Crooke who found the Irish Anglican hierarchy more sympathetic than the established church in England. In 1624 he was knighted. At the time of the raid their settlement had been established for 30 years and their children had known no other home than Baltimore.

They had paid a substantial rental to lease the land from a local chieftain, Fineen O’Driscoll. Why did these particular ships turn up at this particular time on the coast of County Cork? They were piloted by John Hackett from Dungarvan in Waterford whose 12-ton fishing boat had been captured by the corsairs at the Old Head of Kinsale. It may be that Hackett helped them willingly in order to guide them away from his home town.

There was considerable tension between Catholics and Protestants in the area at the time. Hackett, a Catholic, guided the fighting forces of Islam towards the Protestant English community at Baltimore. They anchored at the entrance to the Eastern Hole, concealed by a rocky outcrop out of view of the main port at the seaward base of a narrow triangular inlet bounded by treacherous rocks and cliffs. Murat carried out a full reconnaissance before the full attack. He went in a small boat with deadened oars accompanied by ten musketeers.

The small boat was piloted by one Captain Fawlett, who seemed to have had an intimate knowledge of the village, including the occupancy of individual houses. Fawlett was from Dartmouth in Devon and had been captured by the corsairs in the St George’s Channel, 60 miles from Cornwall. He became an active supporter of the Barbary slavers volunteering his detailed knowledge of the ports of southern Ireland.

It is unlikely that he had been coerced because he was released after the raid. Was his encounter with the corsairs pre-arranged? The settlers were being harassed by a lawyer called Walter Coppinger who wanted to expel the settlers and take over the port of Baltimore for himself. As well as being a shyster lawyer and a money lender Coppinger seems like a character from a Hammer horror movie. Legend has it that he started his career as page boy to Sir Walter Raleigh on Raleigh’s estate at Youghal (stolen from the Irish people). He made a fortune through cheating and intimidation. It was said that he had a yard arm fixed to the gable of his house ‘a gallows wherewith to hang the victims of his unlicensed power.’

Coppinger gave his fourteen-year old niece, Jeanette, in marriage to the wealthy Walter Grant, who was almost eighty. Grant soon died and Coppinger managed the estate, putting his name on all the documents leaving Jeanette penniless. She knew she could not get justice in Cork because uncle was well known for knobbling juries, so she took her case to Dublin. The furious Coppinger punched her in the mouth and knocked out all her teeth and got her sent to gaol for four years. One of his clients, Ellen ni Driscoll, discovered that he had tampered with her deeds and put her estate in his own name. Heavily pregnant, she begged for funds from him. ‘He did batter her in a most cruel manner and threw her over a cliff into the sea’. She survived but lost the baby.

After years of intense wrangling through the courts plus harassment and intimidation, Coppinger secured ownership of Baltimore, confirmed by Chancery and upheld by the Lords Justices. However, the courts had decreed that the settlers had invested too much in the settlement at Baltimore to be evicted even after the lease expired in 1631. Coppinger had won his long battle but his victory was tainted by the fact that he was stuck with recalcitrant sitting tenants.

coppinger

Coppinger was the only man in Ireland to benefit from the pirate raid. He was rich enough and vicious enough to pay any price to settle a grudge. He had a history of hiring musclemen to do his bidding. It would not be beyond him to hire Mussulmen.

Murat had offered to renounce his Muslim faith and serve King Charles but he had been rebuffed. He hated the English. Baltimore had been a haven for pirates but the English settlers had frozen them out. He had two heavily armed warships and 280 elite fighting troops, which suggests he was on a serious mission. He tootled around the English coast for a long time attacking small merchantmen and fishing boats before sailing 50 miles west to attack a small village that depended on pilchards.

On June 20 1610, an agreement was signed to hand over Baltimore to Coppinger in 21 years’ time. Twenty-one years to the day from the date that agreement was signed, Murat’s corsairs arrived and removed the English settlers from Baltimore. Was Murat on a contract with Coppinger to cleanse Baltimore of the English Protestant settlers? Bad Karma got Coppinger soon enough though – the vast pilchard shoals which made Baltimore profitable suddenly stopped coming and in 1636 Coppinger leased out the village.

There is another implication arising from the story. Historian WJ Kingston has suggested that the raid may have been a major factor in the execution of Charles I. The Ship Money tax was normally imposed on coastal towns in order to equip warships. Charles, fearing a repetition of the corsair raid, extended the tax to inland communities in order to strengthen the navy. He did this without the consent of Parliament which produced such opposition that civil war and regicide followed. From then on no autocrat in Europe was safe.

What’s Bogart got to do with it?

Murat Reis aka Janszoon fathered several children by his Berber wife. Two of them, Abraham Jansz (a common Burgher name in Sri Lanka) and Anthony Jansen van Salee, took up the family trade of piracy. They were among the early settlers of New Amsterdam, settling in what is now Coney Island and Brooklyn. Among van Salee’s descendants were Humphrey Bogart, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jackie Kennedy, John Hammond (producer of Billie Holiday and Bob Dylan) and John Hammond Jr (blues singer).

Des Ekin

Most of the information in this article came from a wonderful book by an Irish journalist called Des Ekin called ‘The Stolen Village’, published by the O’Brien Press, Dublin http://www.o’brien.ie. There is even more fascinating material in the book, available from Amazon.

UK took our homes; US killed our dogs

This article was published in the Sunday Island on September 10 2011.

When I look from the balcony of my favorite hotel, the Light House in Galle, I see an empty expanse of sea and think there is no more land until Antarctica. Looking at a map, I realise that travelling in a certain direction southwards one would encounter The Maldives and beyond them the Chagos Archipelago, 900 miles from Sri Lanka.

At a recent symposium, Defeat War Crimes Conspiracy, held at BMICH, Gomin Dayasri called attention to the crimes of the UK and the USA, including their disgraceful treatment of the islanders of Diego Garcia. The UK and the USA conspired to evict the inhabitants to make room for a US military base.

The biggest of the 60 Chagos Islands is Diego Garcia which measures a mere 27.20 km; the total land area of the archipelago is only 63.17 km. The islands were uninhabited until the late 18th century. The first inhabitants were lepers transported by the French from Mauritius. Then the French came up with a cunning plan to make a profit out of the islands. These are sometimes called the Oil Islands because the French produced vast quantities of oil from the coconut plantations they established. There are scant details about conditions then but it is probable that most of the workers were slaves imported from Africa and South India (rather like the British importing Tamils into Ceylon to grow coffee, tea and rubber on land stolen from the natives, and Irish slaves sent to the West Indies to tend the sugar crop).

By the mid-1950s there were around 2,000 inhabitants remaining, even though the market for the oil plantations had collapsed. It was, by many accounts, a Spartan life but a happy one in an idyllic place. Rita David recalls, “Life there paid little money, a very little…but it was the sweet life.” Sir Hilary Blood, former colonial governor of Mauritius wrote: “How lovely! Coconut palms against the bluest of skies, their foliage blown by the wind into a perfect circle…Its beauty is infinite.”

Unfortunately for the islanders their home attracted the attention of the US military and their British pet poodles. The uninhabited island of Aldabra, near Madagascar was initially considered for use as a military base. However, Aldabra was a breeding ground for a rare species of tortoise. The advantage of choosing Diego Garcia was that Aldabran tortoises could copulate in peace. The fate of 1,800 human Chagossians, or Ilois, who had inhabited the islands for over 200 years was of less import.

In his book Island of Shame, David Vine writes: “Although the British Government and its agents performed most of the physical work involved in displacing the Chagossians, the U.S. Government ordered, orchestrated and financed the expulsion.” Vine quotes military analyst John Pike telling him that the U.S. military’s goal is “to run the planet from Guam and Diego Garcia by 2015, even if the entire Eastern Hemisphere has drop-kicked us from every other base.”

The Chagos Islands were detached by the British from the colony of Mauritius in 1965, in breach of international law, before Mauritius was granted independence in 1968. During the 1960s and 1970s British governments, Labour and Tory, tricked and expelled the entire population of the Chagos Archipelago so that Diego Garcia could be given to the United States. UK Foreign Office officials conspired to lie, coaching each other to “maintain” and “argue” the fiction that the Chagossians existed only as a “floating population”. There is even doubt about Britain’s right to lease the islands as they may have been illegally acquired from France, which also illegally seized them.

On 28 July 1965, a senior Foreign Office official, T C D Jerrom, wrote to the British representative at the United Nations, instructing him to lie to the General Assembly that the Chagos Archipelago was “uninhabited when the United Kingdom government first acquired it”. Nine years later, the Ministry of Defence went further, lying that “there is nothing in our files about inhabitants or about an evacuation”.

In March 1971, the commissioner of the British Indian Ocean Territory gave the order for the islanders’ pet dogs to be killed. US soldiers armed with M16 rifles failed to kill them all so the survivors were gassed while their owners looked on.

A tank-landing ship and five other ships arrived at Diego Garcia with at least 820 US soldiers. They set up a rock crusher and a cement block factory. Bulldozers ripped coconut trees from the ground. The coral reefs were blasted to provide rock for a runway. Diesel sludge polluted the pure blue waters of the ocean.

Chagossians who were away from the islands were told that they could not return as their homeland was now closed to them. Most Chagossians had never previously left the islands but were told that it was a criminal offence to stay without a permit. The British deliberately ran down supplies of food and medicine. Salvage crews dismantled the plantations so there was no work or home-grown food.

The remaining Chagossians were herded onto cargo ships and, after a horrendous voyage sleeping on decks awash with urine and vomit, were dumped in Mauritius and the Seychelles where they have had to live in tin shacks in the slums, suffering extreme poverty and alcoholism.

Some think the worse thing they have suffered is sagren, the melancholy of longing for a lost homeland.

The Chagossians’ efforts to plead their case in the English courts have sometimes been successful. However, a great deal of legal to-ing and fro-ing ended with the House of Lords, sitting as the highest court in the land, rejecting the islanders’ claims. In October 2008, the Law Lords refused Chagossian refugees in the UK the right to return home. As Lord Hoffmann expressed it: “The right of abode is a creature of the law.”

Dr Sean Carey, Research Fellow at Roehampton University, who has written extensively about this subject, wrote an open letter to David Miliband in the New Statesman, in which he said: “Perhaps Barack Obama’s inauguration as US President in January will provide an opportunity to change current policy towards the Chagos islanders.” See how that worked out! The journeys of a Gulfstream aircraft, registered N379P, are disclosed in a list of more than 3,000 flight logs obtained by Stephen Grey, an investigative journalist and author of Ghost Plane. The same aircraft flew from Washington via Athens to Diego Garcia, the logs show. Though there have been persistent reports in the US that detainees have been secretly held in Diego Garcia, the British government has always dismissed the claims. Diego Garcia was used to launch bombing missions in both Iraq and Afghanistan and some fear it could be used to attack Iran.

Pete Bouquet of Rainbow Warrior described what the base looks like: “The Diego Garcia base is alien and horrible. The quisling-like British complicity in it, from the red telephone kiosk in the airport arrival area, to the fact that UK personnel have to cadge flights off the Americans, is shameful and degrading. The Chagossians should be allowed to return and the base should be closed.”

More recent dirty dealings in relation to a Marine Protected Area were revealed by WikiLeaks

Click to access annotated-wikileaks-diplomatic-cable-chagos-island-diego-garcia-marine-protected-area.pdf

William Hague and Nick Clegg soon ditched their pre-election commitment to change the former Labour government’s shameful policy

The 1966 Anglo-American Agreement for the US military base on Diego Garcia comes up for renewal in 2016.

Militarisation, Genocide, Ethnic Cleansing

This article was published in the Sunday Island on 31 August 2013.

 

An interesting book on militarisation was recently published by Michigan State University Press. Winona LaDuke calls her book The Militarization of Indian Country. That title may be a bit of a stumbling block to PCers who think we should be talking about Americans”. For the sake of consistency, I will follow Ms LaDuke and use the term “Indian”.

Numbers Game

As always with body counts the facts are in dispute.

See: https://pcolman.wordpress.com/2013/04/21/deadly-accountancy-part-1/

It is impossible to estimate how many Indians populated the area now covered by the USA before the white man arrived. Some scholars of the subject speak of an inflated” numbers game”; others charge that the size of the aboriginal population has been deliberately minimized in order to make the decline seem less severe than it was. In 1928, the ethnologist James Mooney proposed a total count of 1,152,950 Indians in all tribal areas north of Mexico at the time of the European arrival. By 1987, in American Indian Holocaust and Survival, Russell Thornton was giving a figure of well over five million, while Lenore Stiffarm and Phil Lane Jr suggested a total of 12 million. Anthropologist Henry Dobyns in 1983 had estimated the 1492 aboriginal population of the present territory of the USA at about ten million.

It seems that a mere 250,000 Indians were still alive in the territory at the end of the 19th century. Today there are around half a million Indians in the USA.

Genocide?

According to Ward Churchill, professor of ethnic studies at the University of Colorado, the drastic reduction of the Indian population represents a “vast genocide . . . , the most sustained on record.” David E. Stannard, of the University of Hawaii, wrote that by the end of the 19th Century American Indians had undergone the “worst human holocaust the world had ever witnessed.”

The simple definition of genocide is: “The deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially those of a particular ethnic group or nation.” The international legal definition of the crime of genocide is found in Articles II and III of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide. Article II describes two elements: 1) the mental element, meaning the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such”, and 2) the physical element which includes five acts. A crime must include both elements to be called “genocide.” Article III described five punishable forms of the crime of genocide: genocide; conspiracy, incitement, attempt and complicity.

Relocation, Land Grabs or Ethnic Cleansing?

The Trail of Tears is a name given to the forced relocation by the US Army of Indians from south-eastern parts of the USA following the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Many died from exposure, disease and starvation on the route. By 1837, 25 million acres had been opened up for predominantly white settlement.

Even before the Indian Removal Act, the fixed boundaries of autonomous tribal nations were subject to continual cession and annexation. There was pressure from squatters and the threat of military force in the newly declared US territories (those federally administered regions whose boundaries supervened upon the Indian treaty claims). As these territories became states, state governments sought to grab the land therein. These pressures were magnified by US population growth and the expansion of slavery.

Relocation continued after the Trail of Tears and continues today. In theory, Indians are free to live anywhere. It is estimated that one-third to one-half now lives in cities. Nowadays, there exist about 300 federal reservations, with a total of 52,017,551 acres held in trust by the federal government, the large majority west of the Mississippi. There are also 21 state reservations, most of these in the East.

Ethnic Cleansing by Assimilation and Abduction

In the 1880s the US government implemented a policy of forced assimilation. Lakota children as young as five were forcibly removed from their homes and taken to boarding schools hundreds of miles away to boarding schools, where the motto was “Kill the Indian, Save the Man.” The policy continues today.

According to a report dated 22 January 2013, (A Report to the US Congress from the Coalition of Sioux Tribes for Children and Families) American Indian children constitute approximately 13.5% of the child population of South Dakota, yet they make up on average 54% of those who enter foster care. The number of Indian children entering South Dakota foster care every year is about 742. As of July 2011, there were 440 American Indian children in family-run foster homes in South Dakota; 87% of them lived in non-Indian family foster-care.

Nearly $100 million in federal funding is being sent to South Dakota to administer foster care each year. These federal funds constitute a significant portion of state expenditures, and, according to the NGO Families USA, they have “a positive and measurable impact on state business activity, available jobs, and overall state income.” All this demonstrates a strong financial incentive for state officials to take high numbers of Indian children into custody. A vigorous campaign is currently being waged by the Lakota People’s Law Project to secure the return of over 2,200 Lakota, Dakota and Nakota children illegally taken from their homes.

Indians and the Military-Genocidal Complex

According to Ms LaDuke, many Indians live in places called Fort Something or Other, in poor and devastated zones. She asserts that the military: “has taken our lands for bombing exercises and military bases, and for the experimentation and storage of the deadliest chemical agents and toxins known to mankind… Uranium mines, depleted uranium testing, and nuclear waste storage have done as much or more damage to Indian Country as nuclear bomb testing.”

If the Great Sioux Nation were in control of its 1851 treaty areas, LaDuke claims, “it would be the third greatest nuclear power on the face of the earth.”

Cannon Fodder

South Dakota has nine reservations, with unemployment ranging from a “low” of 12% on one smaller reservation to 89% on the largest reservation. These figures were last compiled in 2005. South Dakota’s overall unemployment rate is 4.7%, exclusive of reservations. Unemployment, poor health, violence, alcoholism, PTSD all plague the Indian community.

In spite of being victims of the US army, Indians have made a disproportionate contribution to the US armed forces. Many Indians recognize in current US wars echoes of wars against the Indian nations. Nevertheless, Indians have the highest military enlistment rate of any ethnic group and the largest number of living veterans (about 22% of Indians aged 18 or over). “How,” LaDuke asks, “did we move from being the target of the US military to being the US military itself?” She opposes militarism but wants veterans to be honoured.

Around 1.7% of US active duty forces are Indian; their proportion of the US population is 0.8%. Sergeant Brandon Bowden, a recruiting officer says: “Many want the college benefits; others are out for some skill set they could use, as the economy is very bad in this small area. Quite a few are looking for jobs, with the unemployment rate so high.” One mother was furious at the US military for the death of her son in Afghanistan. She reminds herself of what her son always used to tell her. “They are the ones who sign my cheque Mom; they are the ones who help me support my family.”

Militarisation, Genocide, Ethnic Cleansing

 

winona-laduke

An interesting book on militarisation was recently published by Michigan State University Press. Winona LaDuke calls her book The Militarization of Indian Country. That title may be a bit of a stumbling block to PCers who think we should be talking about “Native Americans”. For the sake of consistency, I will follow Ms LaDuke and use the term “Indian”. The most accurate term would probably be “the indigenous people of the territory now known as the USA”. The term “Native American” was the bright idea of the US government itself and has met with only partial acceptance. No other proposed naming conventions have been accepted by all indigenous groups. According to the 1995 US Census, 50% of people who identified themselves as indigenous preferred the term “American Indian,” 37% preferred “Native American” and the remainder preferred other terms or had no preference.  “American Indian” appears often in treaties between the USA and the indigenous peoples with whom they have been negotiating since the colonial period.

Numbers Game

As always with body counts the facts are in dispute.

See: https://pcolman.wordpress.com/2013/04/21/deadly-accountancy-part-1/

It is impossible to estimate how many Indians populated the area now covered by the USA before the white man arrived. Some scholars of the subject speak of an inflated” numbers game”; others charge that the size of the aboriginal population has been deliberately minimized in order to make the decline seem less severe than it was. In 1928, the ethnologist James Mooney proposed a total count of 1,152,950 Indians in all tribal areas north of Mexico at the time of the European arrival. By 1987, in American Indian Holocaust and Survival, Russell Thornton was giving a figure of well over five million, while Lenore Stiffarm and Phil Lane Jr suggested a total of 12 million. Anthropologist Henry Dobyns in 1983 had estimated that in 1492 the aboriginal population the present territory of the USA was about 10 million.

It seems that a mere 250,000 Indians were still alive in the territory at the end of the 19th century. Today there are around half a million Indians in the USA.

Genocide?

According to Ward Churchill, professor of ethnic studies at the University of Colorado, the drastic reduction of the Indian population represents a “vast genocide . . . , the most sustained on record.”  David E. Stannard, of the University of Hawaii, wrote that by the end of the 19th Century, American Indians had undergone the “worst human holocaust the world had ever witnessed roaring across two continents non-stop for four centuries and consuming the lives of countless tens of millions of people.”

Readers of Gordon Weiss might pause at the open-ended vagueness of that phrase “countless tens of millions of people” but surely there is no doubt that a lot of indigenous people died.

The simple definition of genocide is: “The deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially those of a particular ethnic group or nation.” The international legal definition of the crime of genocide is found in Articles II and III of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide. Article II describes two elements of the crime of genocide: 1) the mental element, meaning the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such”, and 2) the physical element which includes five acts described in sections a, b, c, d and e. A crime must include both elements to be called “genocide.” Article III described five punishable forms of the crime: genocide; conspiracy, incitement, attempt and complicity.

Relocation, Land Grabs or Ethnic Cleansing?

The Trail of Tears is a name given to the forced relocation by the US Army of Indians from south-eastern parts of the USA following the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Many suffered from exposure, disease and starvation on the route. Many died. By 1837, 25 million acres had been opened up for predominantly white settlement.

Trail

Even before the Indian Removal Act, the fixed boundaries of autonomous tribal nations were subject to continual cession and annexation. There was pressure from squatters and the threat of military force in the newly declared US territories (those federally administered regions whose boundaries supervened upon the Indian treaty claims). As these territories became states, state governments sought to grab the land therein. These pressures were magnified by US population growth and the expansion of slavery.

Relocation continued after the Trail of Tears and continues today. In theory, Indians are free to live anywhere. It is estimated that one-third to one-half now lives in cities. Nowadays, there exist about 300 federal reservations, with a total of 52,017,551 acres held in trust by the federal government, the large majority west of the Mississippi. There are also 21 state reservations, most of these in the East.

Indians and the Military-Genocidal Complex

According to Ms LaDuke, many Indians live in places called Fort Something or Other, in poor and devastated zones. She asserts that the military: “has taken our lands for bombing exercises and military bases, and for the experimentation and storage of the deadliest chemical agents and toxins known to mankind… Uranium mines, depleted uranium testing, and nuclear waste storage have done as much or more damage to Indian Country as nuclear bomb testing.”

In Alaska, 700 active and abandoned military sites include 1,900 toxic hot spots. There was an aborted plan to create a harbour in Alaska by dropping a series of nuclear bombs. If the Great Sioux Nation were in control of its 1851 treaty areas, LaDuke claims, “it would be the third greatest nuclear weapons power on the face of the earth.”

Ethnic Cleansing by Assimilation and Abduction

In the 1880s the US government implemented a policy of forced assimilation. Lakota children as young as five were forcibly removed from their homes and taken to boarding schools hundreds of miles away to boarding schools, where the motto was “Kill the Indian, Save the Man.” The policy continues today.

According to a report dated 22 January 2013, (A Report to the US Congress from the Coalition of Sioux Tribes for Children and Families) American Indian children constitute approximately 13.5% of the child population of South Dakota, yet they make up on average 54% of youth who enter foster care in the state each year. The number of Indian children entering South Dakota foster care every year is about 742. As of July 2011, there were 440 American Indian children in family- run foster homes in South Dakota; 87% of them lived in non-Indian family foster-care.

Nearly $100 million in federal funding is being sent to South Dakota to administer foster care each year. These federal funds constitute a significant portion of state expenditures, and, according to the NGO Families USA, they have “a positive and measurable impact on state business activity, available jobs, and overall state income.” All this demonstrates a strong financial incentive for state officials to take high numbers of Indian children into custody.

A vigorous campaign is currently being waged by the Lakota People’s Law Project to secure the return of over 2,200 Lakota, Dakota and Nakota children illegally taken from their homes by DSS. In one case a young boy was abducted when he left his relatives to use the restroom while family members were attending a high school graduation ceremony. It was weeks before his family found where he had been taken.

Cannon Fodder

soldiers

South Dakota has nine reservations, with unemployment ranging from a “low” of 12 percent on one smaller reservation to 89 percent on the largest reservation. These figures were last compiled in 2005. South Dakota’s overall unemployment rate is 4.7 percent, exclusive of reservations. Unemployment, poor health, violence, alcoholism, PTSD all plague the Indian community.

It has been suggested that American Indians, as a result of the loss of life, land, and destructive government policies, suffer from a legacy of historical unresolved grief, which shares PTSD symptoms. The research that has been conducted suggests that American Indians suffer from PTSD at a greater rate in comparison to the general population; data indicates that 22% of have PTSD. In one population of American Indian adolescents it was found that 96% of children had witnessed at least one traumatic event and 75% had some symptoms of PTSD.

nodrunkenindians_sm

Indians die from diabetes at a greater rate than all other races and ethnicities combined in the US. The leading causes of death among Indians ages 1-14 are accidents, and homicides. The leading causes of death among this same population ages 15-24 are accidents, suicide and death. For those aged 25-44 the leading causes of death are accidents followed by chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, which are usually attributable to excessive alcohol use. The white man introduced firewater and it continues to be a problem today.

native-american-alcohol-690x389

In spite of being victims of the army, Indians have made a disproportionate contribution to the armed forces. Many Indians recognize in current US wars echoes of wars against the Indian nations. Nevertheless, Indians have the highest military enlistment rate of any ethnic group and the largest number of living veterans (about 22 percent of Indians aged 18 or over). “How,” LaDuke asks, “did we move from being the target of the US military to being the U.S. military itself?” She opposes militarism but wants veterans to be honoured.

Around 1.7% of US active duty forces are Indian; their proportion of the US population is 0.8%. Sergeant Brandon Bowden, a recruiting officer says: “Many want the college benefits; others are out for some skill set they could use, as the economy is very bad in this small area. Quite a few are looking for jobs, with the unemployment rate so high.” One mother was furious at the US military for the death of her son in Afghanistan. She reminds herself of what her son always used to tell her. “They are the ones who sign my cheque Mom; they are the ones who help me support my family.”

Anti-Semitism and Critical Thinking

Some time ago, I wrote a post on Open Salon which used the topic of Anti-Semitism to examine various facets of critical thinking. Recent exchanges with Ajit Randeniya prompted me to revisit it.

Let me emphasise:

  • I am not an anti-Semite
  • I am not a racist
  • I have nowhere questioned the right of the state of Israel to exist
  • I have nowhere condoned the actions of the PLO, Fatah, Hamas, Hezbollah, IRA, UDA, LTTE, FARC or any other terrorist organisation you can think of.

There were  many lengthy comments on my post, many of them off-topic and many of them angry. There was a lot of to and fro, a lot of tit for tat and the main point got lost along the way.

My main purpose was to highlight  certain tendencies I had noticed during the nearly two years that I had been blogging on OS (I served almost three years before giving up). These tendencies were brought out particularly by a debate on anti-Semitism.

The particular issue was whether criticism of Israel constituted anti-Semitism. My interlocutor, whom I will here call K,  seemed to be saying that it was possible to  criticize Israel and not be an anti-Semite. However, the upshot was a third party, DL,   called me an anti-Semite merely for using the word “sneakily” about K’s shift of ground in his argument, and an Israeli citizen  called me a hate-monger for trying to conduct a rational conversation.

Tu Quoque- the Companions in Guilt Ploy

“Don’t look at me–look at them. It reduces the debate to schoolchildren in the yard pointing fingers at each other. It is childish and self-destructive.”

Defenders of Israel tend to use a category of rhetoric known to philosophers of critical thinking as tu quoque or “the companions in guilt move”. This is brought into play in order to dilute the force of an argument by demanding a spurious consistency that the arguer may not feel is germane. Some people use it  to excuse bad behaviour on the grounds that other people also behave badly. Just because many people do something that is wrong , that does not make it right or less dangerous – for example, the defence that everyone has driven while under the influence of drink. First of all not everyone really has done so and, more importantly, it would be very dangerous if everyone took that as permission to drive under the influence.

K says that he does not think criticism of Israel by itself constitutes anti-Semitism and then  goes on to widen the definition of anti-Semitism. You don’t qualify as an anti-Semite purely for criticising Israel but you do qualify if you fail to state strongly that others, particularly Arabs and  Muslims, are as bad as Israel and probably much worse.

Straw Men

Another stale old rhetorical device is  the straw man. There is this lefty, bleeding heart, NGO, do-gooder, who hates Israel and turns a blind eye to the iniquities of Arabs and Muslims who just love to kill innocent children.

K said: “I do not believe that anyone who thinks that walking into a pizza parlor with a bomb, noticing that half the people in the pizza parlor are kids and detonating the bomb anyway should be condoned under ANY circumstances has any moral authority. I will not treat such a person’s views of right and wrong as having any validity until such time as they change their view on this. What anyone else does is beside the point – this action is intrinsically always wrong on its own. Period. I do not believe that your enemy’s moral standards should determine your own.”

That is not terribly well-expressed  or lucid  but I think it means that because Palestinians blow up innocent children in  pizza parlors they have no moral authority. Notice he does not say the particular Palestinians who set off the bombs. He says Palestinians which implies that all Palestinians lack moral authority. I suspect that the moral condemnation is extended to include those who do not condemn the action. Does “moral authority” refer to the bombers or those who condone their actions or fail to condemn? The phrase is dangling somewhat at the end of the sentence. “What anyone else does is beside the point” – what does that mean? I’m stumped!

“I do not believe that your enemy’s moral standards should determine your own.” Does that mean that the bombers have allowed their enemy – Israel- to determine their conduct? Is K condemning the bombers because they are, in killing innocent children, adopting the low moral standards of Israel? Or does it mean that, just because Palestinian terrorists kill innocent children, that Israel should refrain from killing innocent children? Israel seems to have failed morally on that score.

Opinions divorced from facts or knowledge.

Voltaire said  “prejudice is opinion without judgement”. Opinion without knowledge, truth or logic can also foster prejudice.

My meta-intention was to deal with an aspect of blogging.  (It also happens in ‘real-life’.) Before I started blogging, I used to read in the Guardian Review  a weekly summary of what was going on in  the literary blogs. I was astounded to read one self-important blogger  pompously stating: “I haven’t read X’s latest book but what seems to me to be the crucial issue is…” This seemed to be saying that whatever time, effort, imagination  and literary skill poor old  X had put into his latest tome, it paled into insignificance beside the uninformed opinions of some nonentity of a blogger.

This post came out of a general dismay at people putting forward opinions without the knowledge to back them up and proceeding with specious arguments based on faulty logic and fallacious premises. I have encountered similar tactics in relation to my posts on Sri Lanka. Someone with “Progressive” in his blog name  said that he did not know much about Sri Lanka but it seemed to him that… and proceeded to accuse me of being bigoted against Tamils (while displaying his ignorance of the reality of the situation for Tamils, a subject on which I am an expert). In his view, the fact that I lived in Sri Lanka was not relevant because he believed the Sri Lanka government controlled information.

People who are blogging clearly have access to the internet. A few minutes on Google and Wikipedia should prevent basic  errors of fact.

I quoted the Cambridge philosopher, Jamie Whyte: “You are entitled to an opinion in the epistemic sense only when you have good reason for holding it: evidence, sound arguments and so on. Far from being universal, this epistemic entitlement is one you earn. It is like being entitled to boast, which depends on having something worth boasting about.”

Leaps of logic

My chief interlocutor, K,  was a decent man with whom I got on well.  I thought him misguided in his arguments about Israel. He persistently claimed that he himself is critical of many aspects of Israeli government policy and of government actions. He claims that he has no objection to people criticizing Israel and that such criticism does not, in his view, constitute anti-Semitism.

If we unpack his actual words he was saying something quite different.

K said: “For most of my life, I drew a sharp distinction between antisemitism and antizionism. Over time, however, my opinion has changed as a result of a litmus test I now use.”

“If your standards for how Israel should behave are substantially different from your standards for how other nations should behave, chances are that you’re antisemitic.”

I don’t think he really means a distinction between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. He seems actually to be talking about a distinction between antisemitism and criticism of Israel.

My objection to his litmus test is that he gives permission to criticize Israel only if one criticizes other culprits.

“Because there’s only one factor that really differentiates the Israelis from everyone else and we all know what it is.”

I take it that he means that Israel is Jewish and anti-Semites hate Jews therefore those who criticize Israel are anti-Semitic because it is a given that they will not criticize other  regimes.

Although he denies it (and perhaps he does not realize what he is doing) he is still saying that criticism of Israel constitutes anti-Semitism.

Israel’s right to exist

DL (with whom I got on well in other contexts) said: “The topic, as Padraig Colman framed it, is the meta-debate. His launching point, you’ll recall, is his disagreement with K as to the boundary between antisemitism and antizionism. That isn’t about Israel’s conduct; that’s about responses to Israel’s conduct.”

Another problem that occurs in discussions like this is people make false assumptions about their interlocutors. This was not a disagreement about the boundary between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.  That was not my point at all! That is a completely different discussion.

At one point, K said: “I make the connection and state that antizionism under those circumstances is antisemitism by another name.“

People often talk of a distinction between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism as if the former is vile but the latter  is acceptable. I don’t think DL would approve  if I denied being anti-Semitic but proudly admitted being anti-Zionist. Wouldn’t being anti-Zionist mean that I did not recognize Israel’s right to exist? Wouldn’t  that put  me in the same box as Iran?

History

Israel uses Hamas, Fatah and Hezbollah as justification for its own violent actions. Does anyone remember Haganah, Irgun, Lehi, Palmach? These groups were official, semi-official and unofficial paramilitaries that split and reformed into different alliances in a kaleidoscopic fashion, fought with the British and against the British and, mainly, against the Arabs. Many would  class them as terrorists. Future prime ministers Menachim Begin and Yitzhak Rabin and current president Shimon Peres served in these groups. In 1946, there were 91 people, Arabs, Jews and British, killed in the bombing of the King David Hotel, 46 injured in the hotel with further casualties outside. When the King David Hotel bombing was mentioned, Chaim Weizmann started crying heavily. He said, “I can’t help feeling proud of our boys. If only it had been a German headquarters, they would have gotten the Victoria Cross.” Netanyahu described the bombing as a legitimate act with a military target, distinguishing it from an act of terror intended to harm civilians. Civilians were harmed.

Another future prime minister Ariel Sharon, was commander of “Unit 101,” an Israeli special forces unit. On October 14, 1953, in retaliation for the killing of two Israeli civilians, Unit 101 executed sixty Arab men, women, and children in the border village of Qibya. Anyone remember Shatilla? Estimates of the dead civilians vary between 800 according to international sources to 3,500 according to Palestinian sources. Robert Fisk estimated 2,000 bodies as did Israeli journalist, the late Amnon Kapeliouk in  Le Monde diplomatique : http://mondediplo.com/2002/09/08sabra. (See also articles on Sri Lanka by the estimable Padraig Colman: http://mondediplo.com/_Padraig-Colman_) In 1982, an independent commission chaired by  Irishman Sean McBride (son of WB Yeats’s muse Maude Gonne) concluded that the Israeli authorities or forces were, directly or indirectly, indubitably involved. The Israeli government established an investigation, and in early 1983 it found Israel indirectly responsible for the event, and that Ariel Sharon bore personal responsibility for the massacre for allowing the Phalangists into the camps. The UN General Assembly condemned the massacre as an act of genocide.

History and Truth

K said:

“Jews were not the only people who migrated to the area in the half century before Israel was founded and it’s a little disingenuous to assume that one population was completely indigenous while the other was completely foreign – neither contention is true.”

K and  I agreed that the territory on which the state of Israel now sits was not empty in 1948. The fact that some of the sitting tenants  were Jews is not particularly relevant. Even if, as K says, a majority were Jewish  and had been there for thousands of years – that  also is not particularly relevant.

Israeli historian Tom Segev says, in a footnote, that the term yishuv  was used because, as well as “settlement”, it meant the opposite of “wasteland”, suggesting, consciously or not, that Zionist settlers were living in a wilderness devoid of other human beings, that is, Arabs.

According to Segev, in the 1840s, “Palestine was a rather remote region of the Ottoman empire with no central government of its own and few accepted norms. Outsiders began to flock to the country towards the end of the century, and it seemed to awake from its Levantine stupor. Muslims, Jews, or Christians, a powerful religious and emotional force drew them to the land of Israel. Some stayed only a short time, while others settled permanently. Together they created a magical brew of prophecy and illusion, entrepreneurship, pioneerism and adventurism – a multicultural revolution that lasted almost a hundred years. The line separating fantasy and deed was often blurred – there were charlatans and eccentrics of all nationalities – but for the most part the period was marked by drive and daring, the audacity to do things for the first time. For a while the new arrivals were intoxicated by a collective delusion that everything was possible”.

There was huge influx of new Jewish settlers from Europe for whom room had to be found. This was bound to alter the balance. This happened even before the state of Israel was born. Segev writes: “Tens of thousands of people, most of them Jews, came from Eastern and Central Europe. Among them were courageous rebels searching for a new identity, under the influence of Zionist ideology”.

Founding father  Ben Gurion said:  “I am in favour of an obligatory transfer, a measure which is by no means immoral.” Around 800,000 Palestinians were forced into exile between 1947 and 1949 and lost their land and property.

Benny Morris and Illian Pappé confirm that it was the Israeli authorities who forced the Palestinians to flee their land through blackmail, threats, brutality and terror. Israel had been granted more than half of Palestine. The rest was to be returned to the indigenous Arabs. However, some Jews thought  the territory earmarked for Israel  too small for the millions of immigrants its leaders hoped to attract.

Moreover, 405,000 Palestinian Arabs would have lived there alongside 558,000 Jews, who would have accounted for just 58% of the population of the future Jewish state.

In 1948, Ben Gurion was able to put his relocation plan into action. In a few months, several dozen massacres and summary executions were recorded; 531 villages out of a thousand were destroyed or converted to accommodate Jewish immigrants; eleven ethnically mixed towns were purged of their Arab inhabitants.

On Ben Gurion’s instructions, all 70,000 of the Palestinian inhabitants of Ramleh and Lydda, including children and old people, were forced from their homes at bayonet point in the space of a few hours in mid-July 1948.

Yigal Allon and the future prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, ran the operation. Numerous refugees died of exhaustion en route, as they were driven towards the Transjordanian border.

There had been similar scenes in April 1948 in Jaffa when 50,000 of its Arab citizens had to flee, terrorised by particularly intense artillery bombardment from the Irgun, a militant, some might say terrorist, Zionist organisation.

In total 750-800,000 Palestinians were forced into exile between 1947 and 1949 and lost their land and property.

Avi Shlaim, a fellow of St Anthony’s College, Oxford, and author of The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World (Allen Lane and WW Norton, 2000) has demolished yet another myth: that of an Israel devoted to peace but confronted with belligerent Arab states bent on its annihilation. Shlaim recognises the legitimacy of the Zionist movement and of Israel’s 1967 borders. “On the other hand,” he says, “I entirely reject the Zionist colonial project beyond that border.”

Truth Matters- National Myths

In their book Why Truth Matters Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom write:

“History is not simply a narrative about the past; it is a research-driven form of empirical enquiry. Mythic or invented or ‘wishful’  history is thus not history at all, but a different thing – a branch of literature or story-telling. History is not propaganda, myth-making or a self-esteem inflation device, though it has often been pressed into service for those tasks. History is highly interpretative, to be sure, but it is always, when done properly, grounded in evidence. The questions are empirical ones, and the interpretation is of evidence, not of daydreams or fantasies. There has been quite a lot of glorious past-invention in the name of history recently”.

It seems that to found and sustain a nation, “glorious past-invention” is essential. Benedict Anderson has dealt better than I, with my limited powers, can with the “imagined communities” that are nations. The philosopher AC Grayling has written: “Nations are artificial constructs, their boundaries drawn in the blood of past wars. And one should not confuse culture and nationality: there is no country on earth that is not home to more than one different but usually co-existing culture. Cultural heritage is not the same thing as national identity”.

Shlomo Sand, a professor at Tel Aviv University, has argued that the Jews are neither a race nor a nation, but ancient pagans – genetically,  in the main Berbers from North Africa, Arabs from the south of Arabia, and Turks from the Khazar empire – who converted to Judaism between the fourth and eighth centuries CE. He believes that the Palestinians are probably descended from Hebrews who embraced Islam or Christianity.

Sand was quoted in Haaretz. He   was pessimistic about how his work would be received in Israel: “There was a time when anyone who claimed that the Jews had a pagan ancestry was accused on the spot of being an anti-Semite. Today, anyone who dares suggest that the Jews have never been, and still are not a people or a nation is immediately denounced as an enemy of the state of Israel.”

I have written about nationalist myths in greater depth at:

https://pcolman.wordpress.com/2011/07/15/a-nation-once-again-%E2%80%93-invention-and-amnesia/

Confusion between explanation and approval

DL: “I am referring here to your extended list of episodes of Jewish violence against Arabs, whose contextual import you left dangling before readers, thus inviting them to fill in the blank with respect to Arab violence against Jews.”

What DL left dangling is whether he defends the listed acts of violence against Palestinian civilians. I ask him plainly .”Do you deny that  acts of violence such as those listed were carried out in the furtherance of the establishment of the state of Israel?”

I hereby state  quite plainly that I do not believe that acts of violence against Palestinians by Jews justifies the blowing up of Jewish children in pizza parlors.

The actions of the Jewish paramilitaries have a bearing on the current situation and help to explain Palestinian discontent.

When I tried to explain in another article how Tamil militant separatism took hold in Sri Lanka and described Tamil grievances, I was condemned by some as a terrorist sympathiser. Explanation is not the same as justification or approval. I wrote: “Where is the proportionality between unfair university admission quotas and a thirty year war and 100,000 dead? What was the connection between discrimination against Tamils and extortion and drug trading? How did the Sinhala-only language policy lead to the assassination of Tamil politicians and the maiming of small children? How can a recurrence of such conflict be prevented?”

Disagreement is not the same as censorship

I have encountered this in real life as well as on blogs. People with whom one disagrees proclaim their rights under the first amendment. If I tell  someone I think they are  wrong they can get back and tell me how I am wrong. Disagreeing is not a form of control. I have enough trouble controlling myself without trying to control anybody else.

Someone else commented:  “Out in big boy blog world, bloggers are always challenging each other’s opinions and writing. The idea that all criticism is attacking another person , that only praise is allowed, is just idiotic.”

DL  ‘whinged’ about me accusing him of stifling debate by promiscuous use of the epithet “anti-Semite”. This is a sticks and stones kind of thing; this is not censorship in the extreme sense of having an iron-spike shoved into one’s brain through the eyeball. At the very least, though, it is a serious devaluation of the currency of language. It will not make me shut up but more timid souls might be reluctant to participate for fear of being unjustly accused of the horrible evil of anti-Semitism. Shame on you, DL!

Debasing the currency of language.

My feeling was that  K seemingly gave permission to criticize Israel and then withdrew it. I said that he had ‘sneakily’ changed his  ground. Perhaps I  should have said something about sleight of hand, or prestidigitation. DL  seemed to call me an anti-Semite for using the word ‘sneakily’. He changed his ground a little when I challenged him. He  said: “At the very least, I’d think that one would want to be highly conscious of the language one chooses when addressing topics as sensitive to Jews as antisemitism. Is Padraig an antisemite? I have no way of knowing, but I do know now that he is willing to toy with rhetoric that dances right up to the edge — and he is too clever a writer not to know just what he was doing.”

I sought further clarification and he told me: “’Sneakiness’ is part of the standard antisemitic stereotype of Jews, whether you like it or not. You are far too sophisticated to pretend unawareness. I don’t assert that you ‘must’ be an antisemite on this basis. I call it out as evidence of a willingness on your part to play around with some decidedly ugly rhetoric. Own it or not, but you deserved to be called on it.”

I honestly did not know that I could be seen as  employing a stereotype. When I said I had never been called an ant-Semite before he said: “You haven’t been called one now. I’m inclined to reserve my accusations of antisemitism for cases where the evidence is strong. I was quite clear in what I was accusing you of: rhetorically toying (flippantly, as you put it) with ugly stereotypes. Really, if you find it so wounding to be charged with such a thing, the simplest way to avoid such a charge is not to do the thing.”

I was not “rhetorically toying (flippantly, as you put it) with ugly stereotypes” I was flippantly using the word “sneakily”  without the slightest awareness that it was a stereotype that would offend a Jew. The particular Jew that I was addressing has not told me that he was offended, although we have had many friendly exchanges.

As soon as DL  suggested that the word was offensive to him,  I deleted it and told him so and asked him if he was happy. He replied: “Yes and no. Deleting what you describe as the inessential ‘sneakily’ in effect acknowledges my assessment of it as gratuitous, so, yes. But you also strenuously resist acknowledging the initial offense itself, so, no. Even Joe Biden had to acknowledge that his clumsy characterization of then candidate Barack Obama as ‘clean’ strayed into very dicey territory, whether he meant it to or not.”

Can’t do right for doing wrong!

As GB Shaw said to Zionist David Eder: “I cannot explain my position to you. There is something inherent in your germ-plasm which makes you congenitally incapable of understanding anything that I say. I have explained in writing over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over  and over and over  and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over with the most laborious lucidity.”

K and I agreed that analogies can be misleading and even dangerous. I’m going to try one anyway. Back in the last century, I worked for the Department of Health in London in the area of child protection. The leading charity in the field conducted a number of shock horror campaigns to raise public awareness of the problem of the sexual abuse of children, to raise its own profile and to raise funds. According to the “evidence” the charity presented it seemed that just about everybody had been a victim of sexual abuse as a child.

This strategy was not helpful. Ordinary members of the public were surprised by the statistics. A lot of people thought, “I never experienced sexual abuse as a child and I don’t know anyone who has.” The charity seemed to be blaming the government for not doing more to curb the incidence of abuse. Ministers were not pleased because the charity depended for its existence on an annual grant of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money as well as further grants for a number of one-off projects. Not surprisingly we began to look at the raw data. Members of the public thought sexual abuse meant rape and sodomy. We discovered that the charity had widened the definition to include accidental exposure to soft porn, inappropriate language, flashers in the park and loving relationships between teenagers who were legally below the age of consent. The currency was devalued.

Child abuse is evil. Racism is evil. The Israeli citizen said: “it puzzles me why people focus so much on questioning the Jew and his Land?” I am not doing that. “Don’t take us back to the Inquisition or the Krystall Nacht. That is regressive and not progressive.” “Anti-Semitism came and stayed.” If he is  saying that anti-Semitism still survives, I agree. How does one define anti-Semitism? Neo-Nazi parties are on the rise all over Europe. I did my bit campaigning against them in England by taking part in Anti-Nazi League marches and supporting the organization Searchlight which took great risks investigating and exposing fascist thugs. The National Front became very scary in England during the 70s (the play Destiny by David Edgar whom I knew at university was produced at the National Theatre to great acclaim). Today the British National Party has representatives in the European Parliament. I do my bit to counter the forces of racism in Sri Lanka.  Anti-Semitism is evil. Do not devalue the currency of language by absurdly widening the definition of anti-Semite or racist to include me.

What to do?!

Prime Minister Netanyahu  published  a book in 1993 called A Place among the Nations. In it he wrote that Israel had made enough concessions, by which he meant that it had abandoned its claim to Jordan which he believes should have been part of Israel. He repeatedly compares  Palestine’s  hopes for statehood with Nazism because  claiming territory for such a state resembles Hitler wrenching  Sudetenland out of Czechoslovakia. Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank would be accepting a “ghetto state” within “Auschwitz borders”.

Peter Beinart argues in the NYRB that the current coalition government is the result of trends that have come to characterize contemporary Israeli society: ultra-Orthodoxy is growing, the settler movement is becoming more radical and more influential in the government and the civil service and the army,  Russian immigrants are prone to anti-Arab racism. 77% of recent Russian immigrants support encouraging Arabs to leave the country. More than 80% of religious Jewish high school students would deny Israeli Arabs the right to be elected to the Knesset.

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2010/jun/10/failure-american-jewish-establishment/

and Abraham Foxman’s response:

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2010/jun/24/failure-american-jewish-establishment-exchange/

Acceptance that Palestinians have a right to stay and that settlements should be dismantled might would be a good basis for working out a solution for the future but what is being done? Many do want to expel the Palestinians and the settlers are radically recalcitrant. I am not arguing that the state of Israel should be destroyed,  but its own actions may not help its survival. The Roman Empire once seemed indestructible, as did the British. I remember my history teacher saying that the Soviet Union had survived so many setbacks in its early days that it would probably last forever. It died at the age of 72. Apartheid South Africa seemed rock-solid until it wasn’t. Israel is two years younger than me and I feel a bit shaky. As the Buddhists say, “Anicca”, impermanence is all.

Recommended reading

I would like to recommend a few books that have helped me to clarify my thinking:

Bad Thoughts – Jamie Whyte

Critical Thinking: an Introduction – Alec Fisher

Thinking from A to Z – Nigel Warburton

A Rulebook for Arguments – Anthony Weston

The Meaning of Things – AC Grayling

Keywords – Raymond Williams

Why Truth Matters  – Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom

Lying – Sisela Bok

Truth – Simon Blackburn

True to Life – Michael Lynch

Obama Tortured by British Shock!

The London Times reported a while ago that  Hussein Onyango Obama, Barack Obama’s paternal grandfather, was arrested in 1949 by the British during the Mau-Mau uprising in Kenya and subjected to horrific violence which left him permanently scarred and embittered against the British. He worked as an army cook but became involved in the independence movement aimed at overthrowing colonial rule.

“The African warders were instructed by the white soldiers to whip him every morning and evening till he confessed,” Sarah Onyango, 87, Hussein Onyango’s third wife, the woman President Obama refers to as “Granny Sarah” said. “He said they would sometimes squeeze his testicles with metallic rods. They also pierced his nails and buttocks with a sharp pin, with his hands and legs tied together with his head facing down,”

Onyango served with the British Army in Burma during the Second World War. Although a member of the Luo tribe from western Kenya, he sympathized with the Kikuyu Central Association, which evolved into the Mau Mau. Mrs Onyango said that her husband had supplied information to the insurgents. “His job as cook to a British army officer made him a useful informer for the secret oathing movement.”

Mr Onyango was probably tried in a magistrates’ court on charges of political sedition or membership of a banned organization, but the records do not survive because such documentation was routinely destroyed in British colonies after six years.

British involvement in Kenya began late in the 19th century when at the Berlin Conference of 1885, European nations carved up the African continent. East and southern Africa fell under the British sphere of influence. In 1888, the Imperial British East Africa Company was granted a Royal Charter to administer East Africa until, in 1895 the British government established a Protectorate.

Kenyan society was clearly divided along racial lines during colonial rule. White Europeans dominated politics, economics and were at the top of the social scale. Asians occupied the middle levels of society. They were mainly involved in small-scale agriculture and industry, retail, trade, skilled and semi-skilled labour and generally worked in the middle level of the civil service. Africans, who formed the majority of the population, were mostly poor farmers and had very little say in how Kenya was run.

The occupation of land, particularly in the Kikuyu areas of the cool central highlands, by European settlers had long been a source of bitter resentment. By 1948, 1.25 million Kikuyu were restricted to 2,000 square miles, while 30,000 white settlers occupied 12,000 square miles of the best agricultural land.

Settler farming was uneconomic, supported by government subsidies for most of the colonial period, whereas early Kikuyu cash-crop farming was efficient and undercut settler prices. But Africans were soon banned from growing tea, coffee, and sisal, and a minimum price set for maize removed their advantage. Some Kikuyu were allowed to occupy land as tenant farmers with no legal rights on white settlers’ farms, which had been their homes, in exchange for their labour. The real income of these Kikuyu fell by about 40% during the period 1936 to 1946 and fell even more sharply after that. The settlers demanded ever more labor and further restricted access to land in an attempt to turn the tenant farmers into laborers. Overstocking, soil erosion, and hunger spread. “Improvements”, like the digging of terraces by female forced labour, were bitterly resented.

Thousands migrated to Nairobi whose population doubled between 1938 and 1952. By 1953, almost half of all Kikuyu had no land claims at all. The results were worsening poverty, starvation, unemployment and overpopulation.

After World War II, there was an increase in the number of white settlers in Kenya. Most were demobilised British officers who hoped to benefit from the comfortable lifestyle that was available to them and their families. Black Africans who had served with British forces during the Second World War returned home to Kenya with hopes for a better life. I have met the spoilt offspring of some of these creatures.

There was a civil war among the Kikuyu because some Kikuyu managed to retain their land and forged strong ties with the British. Divide and rule.

The Mau Mau were able to be portrayed as savages by the British because of lurid tales of oaths which included promises to kill, dismember and burn settlers and rituals which included animal sacrifice or the ingestion of blood. There were rumors of cannibalism, congress with goats, orgies, ritual places decorated with intestines and goat eyes.

A State of Emergency was declared in October 1952. Troops arrested nearly 100 Kenyan leaders, including future president Jomo Kenyatta. In the first 25 days of Operation Jock Scott, 8,000 people were arrested. The British fielded 55,000 troops in total over the course of the conflict, although the total number did not exceed more than 10,000 at any one time. The majority of the security effort was borne by the Kenya Police and the Tribal Police/Home Guard. Over the course of the conflict, some soldiers either could not or would not differentiate between Mau Mau and non-combatants, and reportedly shot innocent Kenyans. Many soldiers were reported to have collected severed rebel hands for an unofficial five-shilling bounty,

The small numbers of British troops, a high degree of popular support for the rebels, and the low quality of colonial intelligence gave the Mau Mau the upper hand for the first half of 1953. Over 1800 loyalist Kikuyu (Christians, landowners, government loyalists and other Mau Mau opponents) were killed. The Mau Mau mainly attacked at night, emerging from the forests. They attacked isolated farms, but occasionally also households in suburbs of Nairobi. Only the lack of firearms prevented the rebels from inflicting severe casualties on the police and European community.

In 1954, Nairobi was put under military control. Security forces screened 30,000 Africans and arrested 17,000 on suspicion of complicity, including many people who  were later revealed to be innocent. About 15,000 Kikuyu were interned and thousands more were deported to the Kikuyu reserves in the highlands west of Mount Kenya. Entire rebel leadership structures, including the Council for Freedom, were swept away to detention camps and the most important source of supplies and recruits for the resistance evaporated. The authorities repeated the exercise in other areas so that by the end of 1954 there were 77,000 Kikuyu in concentration camps. About 100,000 Kikuyu squatters were deported back to the reserves.

One British colonial officer described the labour camps thus: “Short rations, overwork, brutality, humiliating and disgusting treatment and flogging – all in violation of the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights.” Cholera swept through the camps. Official medical reports were ignored, and the British lied about conditions in the camps.

Atrocities were committed on both sides. Mau Mau militants were guilty of human rights violations, and many of the murders of which they were guilty were brutal in the extreme. More than 1,800 Kenyan civilians are known to have been murdered by Mau Mau, and hundreds more disappeared, their bodies never found.

Kenya’s whites saw the killings by the Mau Mau as irrefutable proof of African barbarism, but Africans were engaging in practices perfected in Europe. Galician serfs hacked their Polish landlords to pieces in 1846; Spanish peasants used the scythe and the axe on latifundista families in the civil war; Ukrainian peasants did the same or worse to their better-off neighbors between 1941 and 1944.

In January, 1953, Mau Mau murdered a white couple and their six-year-old son on their farm with knives. Many settlers sacked all their Kikuyu servants. Europeans, including women, armed themselves with any weapon they could find, and in some cases built full-scale forts on their farms.

In March 1953, 1,000 rebels attacked a loyalist village, where 170 non-combatants were hacked or burnt to death. Most of them were the wives and children of Kikuyu Home Guards serving elsewhere. In the weeks that followed, some suspected rebels were summarily executed by police and loyalist Home Guards, and many other Mau Mau implicated in the massacre were brought to trial and hanged.

Only 32 British civilians were killed by Mau Mau militants. The number of Mau Mau fighters killed by the British was about 20,000, and large numbers of Kikuyu not directly involved in the rebellion were persecuted. Lawyers acting for Kenyans suing for compensation have documented about 6,000 cases of abuses including fatal whippings, blindings and rapes.

A British officer, describing his exasperation about uncooperative Mau Mau suspects during an interrogation, explained that:

“I stuck my revolver right in his grinning mouth and I said something, I don’t remember what, and I pulled the trigger. His brains went all over the side of the police station. The other two Mickeys [Mau Mau] were standing there looking blank. I said to them that if they didn’t tell me where to find the rest of the gang I’d kill them too. They didn’t say a word so I shot them both. One wasn’t dead so I shot him in the ear. When the sub-inspector drove up, I told him that the Mickeys tried to escape. He didn’t believe me but all he said was ‘bury them and see the wall is cleared up.’”

Many settlers took an active role in the torture of Mau Mau suspects, running their own screening teams and assisting British security forces during interrogation. Many white settler volunteers ran the concentration camps. Mrs. Katharine Warren-Gash—who liked to think of herself as a “white Kikuyu,” ran the women’s camps at Kamiti. There they were interrogated, whipped, starved, and subjected to hard labour, which included filling mass graves with truckloads of corpses from other camps. Many women gave birth at Kamiti, but the infant death rate was overwhelming. The women buried their babies in bundles of six at a time. Mrs. Warren-Gash brought the archbishop of Mombasa to Kamiti, where he conducted a mass oath-cleansing ceremony in person.

Neil Ascherson, in the New York Review of Books, described an encounter he had in Cyprus in the late 1950s. “Pordy Laneford had come from Kenya. He sat on his hotel bed, a chinless wonder with watery blue eyes and a small moustache, and chatted about himself. He was even younger than I was. Pordy had been named after a Devonshire trout stream which ran past his family home, a bankrupt farm (as he described it) run by a military father who collected medals and taught his children about the Empire. Pordy also took up medal-collecting and Empire. He signed up with the Rhodesian police. But soon, to his surprise, he was discharged ignominiously for torturing an African suspect. He looked around for ‘something which was good fun and sort of helped to hold the Empire up.’ In Kenya, the Mau Mau rebellion had begun, so Pordy joined the infamous Kenya Police Reserve, the paramilitary force recruited mostly from white settlers. He explained to me how important it was to kill captured suspects at once, without waiting for the ‘red tape’ of trials and witness statements. ‘Killing prisoners? Well, it’s not really the same thing, is it? I mean, I’d feel an awful shit if I thought I’d been killing prisoners.’”

“I had met other Pordys before, in different parts of the Empire. It was that schoolboy innocence which made them so terribly dangerous, because it was an incurable condition. They were worse, in many ways, than those compulsive sadists who emerge whenever licensed savagery is in prospect. For Pordys, torture was just a lark, a naughty sport like shooting pheasants out of season. Addicts are treatable. Fun-lovers will always hanker for more fun.”

Ascherson was reviewing books by Caroline Elkins and David Anderson.

Caroline Elkins, Associate Professor of History at Harvard has written a book on the period, Imperial Reckoning: the untold Story of Britain’s Gulag in Kenya, which won a Pulitzer Prize and a lot of attention.

According to her calculations, up to 320,000 Kikuyu—nearly a third of the population—may have passed through the more than 50 camps, a figure which does not include the people, mostly women and children, held behind barbed wire in the fortified resettlement villages.

She also attempts to put a figure to the total loss of Kikuyu lives, the born and the unborn. She projects population growth from the 1948 census total, compares the result with the 1962 census figure, and finds a gap between them of over 136,000—at the very lowest estimate of growth rates. In her introduction, Elkins declares: “I now believe there was in late colonial Kenya a murderous campaign to eliminate Kikuyu people, a campaign that left tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, dead.”

Lawrence James, who has written extensively on the British Empire, criticized Elkins’s book as being one-sided. James in turn was criticized for being too kind to the British. A number of historians have questioned her methodology and asserted that her figures are grossly exaggerated.

Demographer John Blacker writing in African Affairs demonstrated in detail that Elkins’ estimates of casualties were grossly over-estimated.

In the Journal of African History, Kenyan historian, Bethwell Ogot, wrote that the Mau Mau:“Contrary to African customs and values, assaulted old people, women and children. The horrors they practiced included the following: decapitation and general mutilation of civilians, torture before murder, bodies bound up in sacks and dropped in wells, burning the victims alive, gouging out of eyes, splitting open the stomachs of pregnant women. No war can justify such gruesome actions. In man’s inhumanity to man there is no race distinction. The Africans were practicing it on themselves. There was no reason and no restraint on both sides, although Elkins sees no atrocities on the part of Mau Mau”.

David Anderson went into the surviving trial archives of Emergency Kenya. He examines the grounds on which at least 1,090 Africans were sent to the gallows within a few years—a total without parallel in the late British Empire. He then uses the evidence to reconstruct in detail the story of the Mau Mau rebellion, with its intricate background and its terrible consequences.

Caroline Elkins did lengthy archival research in Kenya and London but also uses oral testimony, which can be unreliable. Nevertheless, the brutality revealed in her interviews is in all too many cases corroborated by witnesses who could not have cooked up the stories in collaboration. Chroniclers of King Leopold’s “Congo Free State,” for example, have always lamented that the firsthand witnesses to its atrocities were all European or American.  Nobody let the Congolese speak for themselves.

The “Hola Massacre” has become part of British, as well as Kenyan, history. On March 3, 1959, a hundred detainees in the remote Hola camp defied orders to go to work. A force of five hundred riot police had already been assembled. When the prisoners refused to pick up their spades, a prearranged onslaught began. An hour later, ten prisoners had been clubbed to death and dozens lay dying or injured. In spite of a frantic cover-up campaign, Britain’s domination of Kenya was fatally damaged.

Anderson writes: “What is astonishing about Kenya’s dirty war is not that it remained secret at the time but that it was so well known and so thoroughly documented.”

Ascherson comments: “The British need to believe that their Empire was run and eventually dismantled with restraint and humanity—as opposed to the disgusting brutality of the French, Dutch, Belgian, Portuguese, Spanish, and German colonial empires. Punctures in that belief have to be mended.”

“The myth that British colonialism guaranteed a minimum standard of behavior toward ‘natives’ cannot—or should not—survive the evidence of twentieth-century Kenya. In the field, the security forces behaved like Germans on an antipartisan sweep in occupied France. In the detention and work camps, and the resettlement villages, the British created a world no better than the universe of the Soviet Gulag.”

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