Posts Tagged ‘King Alfred’

Is the BBC Really Trying to Change the Name of the Anglo-Saxon Period Because They Think It’s Racist?

December 12, 2020

Simon Webb posted this video on his ‘History Debunked’ channel nearly three weeks ago, on the 23 November 2020. In it he discusses the BBC’s decision to stop calling the period between the departure of the Romans in 410 AD and the Norman Conquest of 1066 the ‘Anglo-Saxon period’ because the term is apparently perceived as racist. A BBC programme he was listening to on the radio referred to it as ‘the early medieval period’ and there is, or was, apparently, an article in the Corporation’s BBC History Magazine stating that there are moves to change it, as it deters Black people studying it because they associate ‘Anglo-Saxon’ with White supremacy. And in America there are moves to stop using the term altogether and simply refer to it as the early middle ages.

Webb takes this view that this is an attempt by the Beeb to rewrite the past so that it resembles the multicultural present. But he points out that his was the period when what had been Roman Britain was settled by Angles, Saxons and Jutes. ‘English’ comes from the word ‘Anglish’, for Angles, who also supplied the country’s name, England, from Engla Land, ‘Land of the Angles’. He states that this process of settlement is described in the last chapter of his book, Life in Roman London, published by the History Press, which is one of the few popular treatments of this subject. As for the term’s racial connotations, well, the Anglo-Saxons were White. Webb shakes his head in amazement at this attempt to rewrite history in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, and wonders where it will end.

The BBC wish to replace longstanding historical expressions – YouTube

I’m not sure what’s actually going on here. Historians have referred to the period between the Fall of the Roman Empire and the Norman Conquest for a long time as the early Middle Ages. It used to be referred to as the Dark Ages. Some older readers of this blog will no doubt remember Michael Wood’s great series, In Search of the Dark Ages, broadcast by the Beeb in the ’70s/’80s. However, historians and archaeologists have largely stopped calling the period that as more has been found out about it, and the period has increasingly seemed to be less dark. I think it might still be used for the couple of centuries after the departure of the Romans from Britain and the emergence of Anglo-Saxon England. Other terms used for those centuries are ‘Post-Roman’ and ‘Sub-Roman’. And the term ‘early Middle Ages’ of course makes perfect sense for the rest of Europe, which weren’t settled by the Anglo-Saxons, although northern Germany, the Netherlands and Jutland in Denmark were their ancestral homelands from which they migrated to Britain. The term also makes good sense for Ireland and the Celtic parts of modern Britain, Wales and Scotland. But in the context of English history, the period absolutely should be called the Anglo-Saxon period. That’s what the people, who founded and created England have been called following King Alfred himself. There were Black people seen in the British Isles and Ireland during this period. Round about the 8th-9th century or so the Vikings of Dublin brought in a shipload of ‘blamenn’ – blue, or Black men. I think the historian David Olusoga has also talked about the arrival of another shipload of Black people in Cumbria round about the same period. Medieval people certainly knew that Black people existed. They describe them as living in Africa and believed they had acquired their Black complexion through being burnt by the sun. But Black people in Europe at the time would have been very, very rare and the vast majority of the population would have been White. That’s not racism, but a simple statement of historical fact.

I’m afraid that racism has cast a very long shadow over this period ever since the Nazis. For many years I was a member of a Dark Age re-enactment society, Regia Anglorum. This tried to recreate the history of the British Isles round about 1066. While re-enactment in Britain is largely acceptable, except for World War II, or at least, the idiots who want to dress up as the SS, in Germany it’s regarded very much with loathing and contempt. This is because of the appropriation of the history and archaeology of the Teutonic tribes and the Vikings by the Nazis. The overtly Fascist fringe has done the same over here, harking back to the Celts and especially the Anglo-Saxons. As a result, some perfectly historical symbols were banned for very obvious reasons. Some of the pottery from migration period Anglo-Saxon graves is decorated with the Swastika, and you can find it on rock carvings in Scandinavia. But obviously no self-respecting re-enactor for the early middle ages is going to use it on their clothing or equipment because of the connections with Nazism. I can’t talk about re-enactment as a whole, as it’s a very large milieu and there were are large number of different groups, but the organisation I joined was very definitely non-racist and certainly had members from different ethnic groups. A number of the people in Regia when I was there, including some of its leading members, were Jewish. And their religion made absolutely no difference to anyone, whatsoever.

From what I can make out, there was little racism in Europe until after the Middle Ages. There was conflict between ethnic groups, states and nations, but little in the way of racism based on colour. From what I’ve read I think that modern racism really emerged through transatlantic slavery, although I think that the wars with darker skinned people, such as the Arabs and Moors during the Crusades and the Muslim conquest of the Balkans also played a part. The term ‘Anglo-Saxon’ in ‘Anglo-Saxon’ history, simply refers to a period. It has, or shouldn’t have, any connotations of racism or White supremacism.

This needs to be got across, assuming that some people genuinely feel that it is somehow racist and that this isn’t a misperception or exaggerated reaction by whoever makes these judgements after Black Lives Matter. But to stop calling that period of English history ‘Anglo-Saxon’ is in itself a falsification of history. It should go on being called the Anglo-Saxon period, but also made clear, if necessary, that it is an historical term, not one from any racial or racist ideology.

Hindu Nationalist Persecution of Christians in India under Modi’s Government

July 4, 2019

One of the ladies at our church gave a talk on Wednesday about the growing persecution of Christians in India by Hindu extremists, aided and abetted by President Narendra Modi and his squalid Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government. This is an important issue for a number of reasons, and needs to be discussed. It’s naturally important to Christians concerned with the persecution members of their faith face in many other countries, but there are other reasons why it is important. It contradicts the view being pushed by the islamophobic right, that Christians are only, or primarily persecuted by Muslims. This is being particularly promoted by the neocons and Christian Zionists, like Ted Hagee’s Christians United for Israel, who, it seems, are using it to work up support for Israel and for further western imperialist wars in the Middle East. Although the article was written for Christians, the laws criminalising Christian conversion and the mob violence they face are also part of a general persecution directed at other non-Hindu religious minorities, such as Muslims and Sikhs. Discussing the resistible rise of the BJP two decades or so ago, Private Eye’s ‘Letter from India’ described how the BJP was connected to the militant RSSS, a militant Indian nationalist organisation which was partly modeled on Mussolini’s Fascists, and which was responsible for attacks on Muslims, Sikhs and Christians.

I am also certainly not blaming all Hindus for the actions of the BJP, or trying to attack Hinduism generally. Hinduism is a religion with a bewildering number of deities and sects, and thus has an impressive reputation for pluralism and tolerance. The extremists encouraged by the BJP also target moderate, liberal or secular Hindus because of their support of Gandhi and Nehru’s vision of India as a religiously tolerant, secular nation in which people of different faiths could live together in harmony and peace. The Hindu extremists not only reject this, they also passionately and vehemently despised its founder. A week or so ago one of the columnists in the I published a piece about how shocked they were when they first met a Hindu, who hated Gandhi. The Hindu extreme right despise and vilify Gandhi because they wanted India to be a Hindu state, and believed he had done too much to appease the Muslims.

I am also very much aware that Christian has also been spread through imperialism and military force, and has persecuted non-Christians. I don’t approve of or justify this. Religious persecution is wrong, no matter which religion is doing it.

Christianity in India is very ancient. Before Europeans arrived, there was already an indigenous Indian, Syriac Christian church. The Mar Thoma Christian church of Kerala believe that Christianity was brought to India in 50 or 52 AD by the apostle Thomas, who was martyred in Chennai in 72 AD. In 883 AD Sighelm, an ambassador to Kerala from the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex, visited his shrine to present thank offering from King Alfred. Another apostle, Nathanael (Bartholomew) also visited India in the first century, who brought with him a copy of Matthew’s Gospel in Hebrew. Documentary evidence suggests that Christianity had reached India by the early third century AD. By 225 there was a bishop in Baith Lapat, now Shahabad in Northern India, caring for the souls of a Christian community that had been converted by missionaries from Persia and what is now Iraq. The following century, Bishop John the Persian signed the Nicene Creed, which had been drawn up as the formal statement of the Christian faith “on behalf of (the churches) in the whole of Persia, and in the great India.”

The Indian Christian population is 65 million., and comprises about 2% of the population of India, 80% of whom are Hindus. In 2016 there were 348 incidents of persecution in India recorded by the Evangelical Fellowship of India. In 2017 this increased to 736, of which 351 were violent. Many incidents probably haven’t been recorded, and so the true number is probably higher.

The BJP has also passed a series of laws, ostensibly against forced conversion, as part of their campaign against Christianity. These forbid the use of force, fraud or allurement in conversion. I’m very much aware of the term ‘rice Christianity’, dating from the 19th century. This came from the supposed tactics of some missionaries, who promised the starving a bowl of rice if they converted. The use of such inducements to get people to convert is clearly immoral. But the laws brought in against them allow Christians to be falsely accused of these tactics. In September 2017 the Jharkhand state government passed a freedom of religion law, which punishes those guilty of using ‘coercion’ to convert Hindus with three years in prison. Anyone, who wishes to change their faith, has to obtain prior permission from a magistrate. Christians have been subjected to violence and arrest, and churches disrupted because of accusations that they are breaking these laws. But the BJP is determined to roll them out nationally. The opposition party has also moved rightward to compete with the BJP, and there is fears that this will also lead to greater intolerance of religious minorities.

The tactics used against Christians not only include social exclusion, but also assault and attacks and sabotage of church buildings and private homes. They are also subject to boycotts, and a campaign, “Ghar Wapsi” (homecoming) to force Indian Christians to renounce their faith. Two years ago, in January 2017, a 50 year-old Christian convert, Bartu Urawn, and his wife were immersed in a pond by a mob for 17 hours by a mob from their village in order to force them to recant their faith. Urawn refused, dying afterwards from his ordeal. The police, however, recorded his death as ‘natural causes’. Rural Christians are especially vulnerable, and all too often the police arrest the victims instead of the perps.

Many Christians are also Dalits, formerly the untouchables, the lowest-rung of the Hindu caste system, and are considered impure and polluting by the higher castes. There is a quota system to give them access to education and employment, but these quotas don’t apply to Christians or Muslims. They’ve also suffered attacks on their homes, churches, and water sources.

See ‘Courageous faith: India’s pressured christians’ in barnabasaid, March/April 2019, pp. 6-7.

I am also very much aware that the Christian right in several American states is trying to pass ‘freedom of religion’ laws with the same intention as the Hindu extremists in the above article: to exclude religious and secular minorities from political involvement. It hasn’t quite reached the level of the Hindu extremists as described in the above article, but the intolerance of parts of the American Christian right is similar in intensity.

The BJP is, if not Fascist, then certainly fascistic in its extreme nationalism. Indeed, a prayer used by one of the BJP’s allies or constituent organisations is included in an academic textbook on Fascism to illustrate Fascism’s mystical component. The BJP is part of the growth of religious and ethnic intolerance throughout the world. And as the book, Falling Off The Edge shows, a major cause of this tension and conflict is neoliberalism. The doctrine of absolute free trade without any form of government interference means that conditions for ordinary working people across the globe, whether in the developed West or the developing world, has got worse. And as conditions of grinding poverty have increased, so people have turned on minorities as scapegoats for their rage and desperation.

It’s what’s behind the growth of fascism in working class White communities in Britain. And I’ve no doubt it’s also behind the growth of Hindu extremism in India, all encouraged and promoted by Modi. It’s one of the classic tactics of the wealthy elite everywhere to divert opposition away from themselves by claiming that mainstream society is perfect. It’s only ethnic or religious minorities, who are behind all societies problems. Minorities like Jews, Muslims, Christians, Blacks, Asians or gays, depending on the society.

But one thing is absolutely certain: Fascism and intolerance has to be fought everywhere, along with the neoliberal economics that force people into poverty, despair and racism or religious extremism, whatever the colour or creed of the persecutors or their victims.