Posts Tagged ‘Copernicus’

The Nazis and the Contemporary Far Right in Eastern Europe

March 6, 2016

This is another topic on which I could say much, much more. It isn’t just in America that Fascism appears to be rearing its ugly head. It’s also on the rise in eastern Europe. A few weeks ago Hope Not Hate covered mass demonstrations against Islam which were expected to be held one weekend in Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary. They also reported that Nick Griffin, having received the heave-ho from British voters and his own party, the BNP, has gone to dine out at other’s expense in Poland.

It’s chilling. A friend of mine, who very definitely isn’t anti-Polish – he’s British, but also goes to get some of the delicacies on sale at his local Polish shop – caught sight of the Polish Far Right hold a demonstration in the street a few months ago when he visited the country of Copernicus and Chopin’s father. As well as many of the Free Polish pilots, who did so much to keep this country free of the Nazi threat during the Battle of Britain in World War II.

He can’t speak Polish, but there was a group standing in the street, making speeches to a watching crowd. They seemed to be ranting about Communists and inevitably, the Jews. When he got back, he asked one of the Polish people at work if they were the extreme Right. His co-worker confirmed it. He noticed that the people in the crowd weren’t what you’d expect. They were well-dressed, young, with families. Not the same type as the grizzled skinhead hard men you tend to get over this side of the Baltic.

And you can find similar scenes right across eastern Europe. The current nationalist government in the Ukraine includes neo-Nazi storm troopers, and neo-Nazis have also resurfaced in Russia since the 1980s.

The anti-Communist resentment is understandable. This was a dictatorship imposed on the Poles and other peoples by Stalin, and backed by military force from the Soviet Union. In Russia, the Bolsheviks took power through a coup, rather than popular revolution. Under Stalin, they killed millions. As for the hatred of the Jews, some of this comes from traditional eastern European anti-Semitism, the same anti-Semitism that saw vicious pogroms in the 1890s, and which led members of the conquered eastern European nations to collaborate with the Nazis in the Holocaust. In Poland, some of it also might come from the way Stalin, himself a vicious anti-Semite, used Jews in his secret police as he felt that they would have little sympathy for the gentile population.

The anti-Semitism is vile enough, but the outright support for the Nazis shows a profound ignorance of the nature of the Third Reich and their racism. They weren’t just anti-Semitic. They also considered the speakers of Slavonic languages, such as Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Belorussians, Russians and Ukrainians, to be racially inferior. After these areas were conquered and the Jews exterminated, the indigenous inhabitants of these areas were to be worked to death as slaves. In Poland, the Nazis compounded the horrors through a deliberate programme of resettlement and ethnic cleansing similar to that inflicted on the Jews. They also scoured its people looking for ‘Aryan’ bloodlines. Blonde Polish children and babies were held to have ‘Germany’ ‘Aryan’ ancestry, and so were taken from their parents to be raised in German families.

Hitler made no secret of these policies. His intention to conquer eastern Europe is laid out in Mein Kampf:

And so we National Socialists consciously draw a line beneath the foreign policy tendency of our pre-War period. We take up where we broke off six hundred years ago. We stop the endless German movement to the south and west, and turn our gaze towards the land in the east. At long last we break off the colonial and commercial policy of the pre-War period and shift to the soil policy of the future. If we speak of soil in Europe, we can primarily have in mind only Russia and her vassal border states.

– cited in D.G. Williamson, The Third Reich (Harlow: Longman 1982) 88.

Between 1941 and 1942 two million Russian prisoners of war died of starvation and maltreatment in Nazi concentration camps. Here is a description of such atrocities at the POW camp at Blizin in Poland, by an eye witness.

The camp consists of four huts, situated in the fields near the village, so that everything that happens there can be observed by the neighbours. Train-Loads of prisoners which arrived here had taken over a fortnight to reach the new camp and were without food or water. Each wagon when opened contained scores of dead bodies. The sick who could not move were thrown out. They were ordered to sit down on the ground near the camp and were shot by the S.S.-men before the eyes of the rest. the cam contains about 2,500 prisoners. The average daily death rate is about 50. The dead bodies are thrown out onto the fields and sprinkled with lime, often lying some days after that unburied … The prisoners received 1/4 kg of bread made of horse-chestnut flour and potato-skins, and soup made of rotten cabbage.

in Williamson, above, p. 92.

Williamson also includes the entry from Goebbels’ diary on resettlement policies in Poland.

Zoerner has resigned as governor of Lublin. He called on me to give the reasons for his resignation. He had succeeded on the whole in squeezing an unusual amount of food out of the Lublin district. Understandably so, for this district is the most fertile in the entire General Government. Suddenly, however, he received orders for resettlement that had a very bad effect upon morale. Some 50,000 Pole were to be evacuated to begin with. Our police were able to grab only 25,000, the other 25,000 joined the partisans. It isn’t hard to imagine what consequences that had for the whole area. Now he was to evacuate about 190,000 more Poles. This he refused to do, and in my opinion he was right. His district will now be governed from Warsaw by Governor Dr Fischer. Although Dr Frank, the Governor General, agreed with Zoerner’s views he hasn’t the authority to put his foot down on the encroachments of the police and the S.S. it makes you want to tear out your hair when you encounter such appalling political ineptitude. At home we are waging total war with all its consequences and are subordinating all philosophical and ideological aims to the supreme aim of final victory: in the occupied areas, however, things are done as though we were living in profound peace….

Williamson, p. 93.

No self-respecting person from eastern Europe should ever join one of these Nazi parties. Ever.


ISIS’ Destruction of Muslim Cultural Treasures in Timbuktu

March 17, 2015

Yesterday I put up a number of pieces on ISIS’ destruction of irreplaceable cultural treasures, seen in the smashing of ancient Assyrian artefacts in a museum in Mosul and the destruction of an Islamic shrine of Adam’s son Seth, revered in Islam as the prophet Sheth. The Islamist terror group hasn’t confined its destruction of items and monuments of immense cultural heritage to Iraq.

This is a report from Euronews from 29th January 2013, reporting how, when they were expelled from Timbuktu, they smashed one of the important local graves, and set fire to the local library, in the hope of destroying the priceless books and manuscripts within.

ISIS’ Attack on the Graves of the Sufi Saints

This was a calculated attempted to destroy Mali’s peculiar Islamic culture, and its rich intellectual heritage that is only just beginning to be discovered and truly appreciated by Western scholars. And it shows clearly what ISIS would like to do to other Muslim nations and their cultures, including those in the West, simply for not following what they consider to be the correct interpretation of Islam.

The desecration of the ancient grave looks to me like an attempt to destroy an aspect of Sufi worship, which is strongly rejected in Wahhabi Islam. Sufism is a form of Islamic mysticism, in which the practitioner attempts to achieve union with the Almighty through a series of spiritual exercises. These can include singing and dancing. There are a number of different Sufi orders, some of whom may differ widely from orthodox Islam. The famous whirling dervishes of Turkey are one Sufi order. These orders are under the guidance of a sheikh, the term given to their spiritual head. The orders’ founders are revered as saints, their graves are frequently the sites of veneration and special ceremonies.

I was taught at College that most Muslims in fact belong to a Sufi order. Sufi mysticism was practised not only in the Near East, but also amongst European Muslim communities in the former Ottoman Empire. Many of these communities were converted to Islam through their preaching, and in particular that of the Bektashi order, who served as the chaplains to the Ottoman forces. Unfortunately, this aspect of the traditional Islamic heritage of the Balkan nations has been under attack, not only from Non-Muslim nationalists, but also from Islamic fundamentalists from elsewhere in the Dar al-Islam. I can remember reading years ago in the Independent how graves in Muslim cemeteries in some of the Balkan countries had been destroyed as part of a fundamentalist attack on monuments and practices they considered non-Muslim.

There are British Muslims, who perform religious rites to venerate the graves of religious leaders in this country. If ISIS had their way, the worshippers and mystics at these shrines, who follow the traditions of their orders, would find their beliefs and practices banned and suppressed. Just as ISIS would kill and maim their non-Muslim friends and fellow citizens.

Timbuktu’s Ancient Heritage of Learning

As for the destruction of the library, Timbuktu was one of the richest towns in West Africa during the Middle Ages because of its position on the major gold trading route. So rich was the country, that when the ruler of Mali went on the pilgrimage to Mecca, the Hajj, in the 12th century, he took so much gold with him that it sent Egypt into recession.

Mali was not only rich, but cultured. Timbuktu was a university town, where the Islamic texts and doctrines were studied and copied. Not only that, but its scholars were also interest in the secular sciences that were pursued by Muslim scientists during the Middle Ages. One of the books shown to the Beeb’s Aminatta Forna in her programme on Timbuktu’s lost library was a scientific text arguing for a heliocentric model of the solar system. That’s the same model as proposed independently in Europe by Copernicus, in which the Earth goes round the Sun, rather than the usual medieval notion of the Sun and the planets going round the Earth.

Forna’s programme was a fascinating documentary on the sheer wealth of the city’s and Mali’s medieval culture and learning. It’s also on Youtube. Here it is below. It’s nearly an hour, so not short, but well worth watching.

The modern Arabic word for literature is adabiyyat, which I understand is derived from adab, meaning manners, but also ‘culture’. ISIS in their destruction of the world’s cultural heritage and learning have shown themselves to be its enemies, both those of Muslims and non-Muslims. And if they continue, the world will be a much poorer place.

Girolamo Fracastoro: The Christian Father of Modern Pathology

May 15, 2013

Until the 19th century the favoured explanation for the origin and spread of disease was the miasma theory. This followed the ancient authors, who believed that disease was caused by bad smells. It’s the reason malaria has its name – mala aria, bad air. The germ theory of disease only became dominant in the 19th century, when medical science was able to confirm that disease was spread by micro-organisms. It is nevertheless a surprising fact that some physicians from the 16th century onwards came very close to a germ theory of disease. One of these was the classical Humanist and polymath Girolamo Fracastoro.

Fracastoro became a student at the University of Padua in 1501, the same year as Copernicus also enrolled at the university. He was interested in a wide range of scientific subjects, pursuing research and writing on medicine, pathology, physics, geology and astronomy. He also had good relations with the Church. In his long poem De Contagione et Contagiosis Morbis (Concerning the Contagion and Contagious Disease), published in 1546, Fracastoro advanced a modern theory of the spread of epidemics. He believed they were spread by little particles or seeds, and identified three different types of illness.

The first were those spread by person to person contact, such as leprosy, scabies and respiratory tuberculosis. The second were spread by utensils, beclothes and other items, with which infected people had come into contact. These were the vectors – the causes of transmission – of some of the fevers. The third type were diseases such as smallpox, that could travel great distances.

A similar explanation for the spread of disease was later advanced in the 18th century by the French Academy of Science to explain outbreaks of plague. These later physicians considered that it was spread by small spores. In this instance Fracastoro was clearly far ahead of his time.

Apart from his medical writing, he was the first to recognise and describe the magnetic poles, and one of the first to propose the modern origin of fossil beds. He can thus be considered a true Renaissance Christian man of science.