Posts Tagged ‘Netherlands’

Guns Will Make US Powerful. Obamacare Will Make Us Fat

August 7, 2013

The American Right has bitterly opposed Obama’s attempt to introduce a single-payer health service similar to those in Canada, Australia and Europe. The arguments used against it is that it has added increased bureaucracy to American healthcare. It is also claimed that American companies are also being penalised by the increased taxes needed to support it. The spurious claims that private American healthcare is superior to the socialised systems of Britain and Europe. Among the more emotive claims is that socialised medicine is somehow totalitarian, because the individual citizens in the countries that have it are supposed to be at the mercy of their government and their doctors. This argument runs that people no longer have any control over their lives, as governments and the medical profession demand that the adopt a healthy lifestyle and eating habits in order to keep medical costs low. This argument is itself specious, as it’s been a very long time since Americans have been free to ignore the advice of their own doctors. They are tied very much to the demands of the insurance companies that provide the cover for their healthcare.

One of the other arguments that the Right has used, and this is the one I intend to examine here, is that expenditure on Obamacare will critically endangers America’s military power and ability to defend freedom abroad. The Right-wing journalist and broadcaster Mark Steyn has particularly used this argument. Steyn used to write for a number of British papers, before he went to America to join Rush Limbaugh as one of the leading figures in American Right-wing journalism. The argument runs that at present, America is able to support a large military force, much of which is stationed overseas because its comparatively low government expenditure makes this affordable. During the Cold War and after 9/11, America’s forces have been actively defending the free world. This is in stark contrast to the military impotence of post-World War II Europe. Europe, according to Steyn, is crippled and decadent due to its commitment to maintaining a high level of expenditure on its welfare systems. They are therefore unable and unwilling to support military campaigns defending freedom across the world. This, warns Steyn and the Right, is what America will become unless Americans vote against President Obama, whom they deride as America’s first European president.

It’s an argument comparable to the quote from Goring about the desirability of military power over an increased food supply: Guns will make us powerful. Butter will make us fat. The only difference is that in this case, the American Right is demanding such sacrifices in order to defend democracy.

Now let’s examine the claim in more detail. First of all, many members of the present EU did not have much in the way of an overseas Empire. The main imperial nations were Britain, France, Spain and Portugal. Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Denmark also had imperial colonies overseas, but they were much smaller than those of the first four countries. Germany lost its African colonies after the First World War. Spain’s colonies in Latin America broke away during a series of wars for independence in the 19th century. Belgium’s own imperial adventure in the Congo became a major international scandal due to the enslavement of the indigenous peoples to work on the Belgian crown’s vast sugar plantations, in which truly horrific atrocities were committed. Italy was a latecomer to imperialism. Its attempts to establish an empire in Africa in the 19th century resulted in some humiliating defeats by the indigenous peoples, such as at Adowa. This resulted in the downfall of the democratically elected regime and its replacement, for a time, with a military dictatorship. Its greatest attempts to establish itself as a major imperial power came with Mussolini’s dictatorship. This was done with great brutality and the infliction of horrific atrocities. It has been estimated that between Italy’s conquest of the country in the 1920s and decolonisation in the 1950s, about a third of the Tunisian population was killed fighting their occupiers. Despite the regime’s attempts to settle Italian farmers in Libya, bitter resistance remained and Italians were unsafe except in the coastal cities.

All the European powers were left exhausted by the Second World War, which stimulated nationalism and the demands for independence in their subject territories. One African or Indian nationalist commented on the way the experience of fighting with the British destroyed in the First World War destroyed their image of invincibility. Before the War the British had appeared to be supermen. Now, seeing them injured, sick and suffering like their imperial subjects, convinced Africans and Indians that they were the same as them, and could be defeated. George Orwell in one of his piece of journalism records watching a parade of Black troops in French Morocco. He states that standing there, watching them pass, he knew what was going through the minds of every White man present: How long can we continue to fool these people? Writing in 1910, the leader of the German Social Democrats, Karl Kautsky, observed the increasing opposition to European imperialism in Asia and Africa and predicted the rise of violent nationalist revolutions against the European powers in the occupied countries.

‘The spirit of rebellion is spreading everywhere in Asia and Africa, and with it is spreading also the use of European arms; resistance to European exploitation is growing. It is impossible to transplant capitalist exploitation into a country, without also sowing the seeds of revolution against this exploitation.

Initially, the expresses itself in increasing complications, colonial policies, and in a growth of their costs. Our colonial enthusiasts comfort us, with regard to the burdens the colonies now impose on us, by referring to the rich rewards the future will bring. In reality, the military expenses required for the maintenance of the colonies are bound to increase constantly from now on – and this will not be all. The majority of countries of Asia and Africa are approaching a situation in which intermittent uprisings will become continuous and will ultimately lead to the destruction of the foreign yoke. Britain’s possessions in East India are nearest to this stage: their loss would be equivalent to the bankruptcy of the English state’.

(Karl Kautsy: Selected Political Writings, ed. and trans. by Patrick Goode (London: MacMillan 1983), p. 77.)

Historians now consider that the Empire was a drain, not a source of wealth, for Britain after 1900. Britain’s gradual departure from its colonies was also a condition for the military and financial aid given by its allies, America and the Soviet Union, during the Second World War. In a series of meeting held with the British authorities and the British Anti-Slavery Society, the Americans demanded the opening up of Britain’s colonies to American trade. The Russians also demanded access to British colonial markets and Britain’s gradual withdrawal from her colonies. By and large Britain’s decline as an imperial power was peaceful, as her colonies were granted independence one after another, beginning with India and Pakistan, from the late 1940s to the 1970s. Nevertheless, Britain did fight a series of wars to retain control of some her colonies in the face of rebellion by the indigenous peoples in Kenya and Malaya.

The establishment of the welfare state in Britain certainly did add greater expenses to the government. However, Britain was unable to support its Empire due to the immense costs of the Second World War on one side and the demands by the formerly subject people’s for independence on the other. Moreover Britain was unlike America in presenting a convincing claim to be defending freedom. America’s own attempts to establish an Empire was confined roughly to the period around 1900. Britain, however, remained a major imperial power and could not present an entirely convincing claim to be defending freedom while denying its subject people’s self-government.

Steyn’s view that the establishment of a welfare state results in military weakness and a reluctance to engage with military threats on the world stage also breaks down completely with some of the other European nations. The origins of Germany’s welfare system lie in Bismarck’s legislation providing German workers with old age pensions, sickness and unemployment insurance. This was several years before the late 19th century Scramble for Africa, which saw the Kaiser attempt to gain colonies there. Furthermore, the use of military force abroad is associated in the minds of the German public with the horrors and militant nationalism of the Third Reich. This is the reason successive German administrations have found it difficult sending troops abroad, even if they were to be used as peacekeepers preventing greater atrocities from being committed by other warring peoples, such as in the former Yugoslavia. As for Italy, the BBC’s foreign affairs programme on Radio 4, From Our Own Correspondent, stated that the country was unwilling to send further troops to support the coalition forces after 9/11 out of fears for the damage terrorist reprisals would inflict on its priceless artistic, architectural and cultural heritage. The small size of many European nations, such as Belgium, the Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands, also prevents them from sending vast numbers of troops comparable to those of America or Britain abroad. In the case of Belgium, there is also considerable amount of guilt over the horrors of the atrocities in the Congo, and it has only been in the past few decades that the country is facing up to its history in this area. After the Second World War the country, so I understand, simply wished to forget the whole affair. I don’t know, but like Germany, this may well colour any attempts to interfere militarily in another nation with the Belgian people.

In short, Europe’s gradual military withdrawal from the wider world has far less to do with the expense of maintaining a welfare state than with the economic exhaustion and social and political disruption of two World Wars, and the demands of its former subject peoples for self-determination. The European experience does not suggest that American military power will decline with the introduction of Obama’s single-payer health service, and certainly should not be used to generate opposition to it.

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The Churches and Monasteries of Medieval Nubia: Part 1 – Introduction

June 21, 2013

I’ve blogged a bit before on the great Christian civilisation of medieval Nubia in what is now the Sudan. This civilisation consisted of the three kingdoms of Nobatia, Merkuria and Alwa. Nobatia was situated in the area between the Nile’s first and second cataracts, with its capital at Faras or Pachoras. Makuria stretched from the third cataract to the Butana. Its capital was Old Dongola. It was amalgamated with Nobatia in the seventh century. Alwa was centred on its capital of soba far to the south. Alwa is its Arabic name. The Greeks called it alodia. The remains of extremely small churches and a limited number of burials suggest that there may have been a settled Christian presence in Nobatia in the early sixth century before the possible conversion of the pagan temple of Dendur into a church by the king Eirpanome in 550 AD. The Nobatian church was monophysite, like the modern Egyptian Coptic Church, which believes that Christ only had a single, divine nature. The Makurian church, however, was dyophysite. Like the modern Greek and Russian Orthodox, Roman Catholic and European Protestant churches, it believed that Christ had two natures. He was both human and divine. Nubia boasted numerous churches. Little is known about Alwa, but the Armenian traveller Abu Salih described it as possessing 400 churches. Archaeological excavations in Soba have uncovered very few buildings that may have been churches, and it is possible that Abu Salih had overestimated their number. One of the very earliest churches in Nubia was in Qasr Ibrim, which was created by the local Christian community in the fifth century through the conversion of the Meroetic temple of King Taharqa, dating from the seventh century B.C.

European and International Exploration and Archaeological Investigation

After its conquest by Islam in the 16th century, medieval Nubia was largely unknown in the West until a series of European explorers and archaeologists visited the area from the early 19th century onwards. One of the first was the great Swiss explorer Jacob Burckhardt, who made two expeditions to Nubia and travelled as far as the third cataract from 1813 to 1815. Burckhardt was the first to describe the Nubians’ way of life, and their faded memories of their ancient Christian past. Two tribes even then still claimed to be descended from the ancient Christian inhabitants. He saqw the remains of two public buildings, which were probably churches at Qasr Ibrim, and came across the remains of a chapel in one of the islands of the Batn el Hajar, lying between the second and third cataract. Later explorers included Count Vidua, Richard Lepsius, the archaeologist, Somers Clarke, and many others. Most of what is known about medieval Nubia comes from the great rescue operations to investigate its archaeology during the construction of the Aswan dam. The first of these was 1899,led by Clarke, and the second, much greater series of excavations in the ‘Save Nubia’ UNESCO campaign from 1960s onwards, caused by the construction of the High Dam and formation of Lake Nasser. These were done by teams of British, American, Polish and Dutch archaeologists.

Nubian Courts and Kings Styled on Byzantine Empire

Archaeological finds and inscriptions, including evidence from churches, indicate that Nubia had strong connections with the Byzantine Empire. Often these were stronger than its relationship with the Egyptian Coptic church to the north. Inscriptions found by J.W. Crowfoot in the region of ancient Mekuria in 1927 indicates that the Nubians used Greek and followed the Byzantine liturgy in their worship. Documents discovered and published the following year by F.Ll. Griffiths showed that the Mekurian court was also modelled on that of the Byzantine Empire. There were courtiers and officials with the Byzantine titles of meizoteros (mayor of the palace?), proto-meizoteros (premier super-mayor), domesticus, primacerius and eparchos. A graffito in mangled Greek at St. Simeon’s monastery, dating from 7th April 1322, records that the last Christian king of that part of Nubia, Kudanbes, styled himself ‘president of the Caesars’.

Construction of Nubian Churches

Nubian churches were mostly built of mud brick, which does not survive very well in the archaeological record. Otherwise churches were composed of fired, red brick on stone foundations. These were either of sandstone, or granite from the marginal areas near the desert. The roof, which could be either flat or vaulted, were supported by granite pillars. These were painted or plastered, and occasionally were covered with frescoes. Stone capitals, doorjambs and lintels were carved with a wide variety of motifs and designs which reached their zenith in the eighth century. These included fish, crosses, vine and palm leaves. Granite capitals have been found in Upper Nubia, but they are rare, and were probably robbed out for reuse after the buildings were abandoned. William Adams identified four phases in the evolution of Nubian church architecture from his work in Lower Nubia. In the first, earliest phase churches probably consisted of the Byzantine basilica type. These were rectangular buildings comprising a nave flanked by two aisles. The Byzantine influence on these churches suggest that the dyophysite Christian communities in Nubia were earlier than indicated by the historical sources. The next phase, termed Early Nubian by Adams, lasted from about 650-800. This still roughly followed the form of the classical basilica, but with some slight differences. These may have been the result of changes in the Nubian liturgy, or the deliberate creation of a separate architectural style by the churches’ builders.

The zenith of Nubian church architecture was reached in the next phase, the Classical Nubian, which lasted from roughly 800 to 1150. This was defined through the addition of a passage running across the east side of the church, leading from the baptistry in the south to the vestry on the north side of the church. These were probably constructed to allow the clergy to pass from one side of the church to the other without going through the sanctuary or heikal. In some churches of this type there was a brick wall between the sanctuary and the nave. This indicates that the ceremonies in the sanctuary was becoming more secret and spiritual, and so concealed from the view of the laity.

According to the Polish archaeologist, Wlodiemiercz Godlewski, who excavated Old Dongola, the first three phases also saw changes in the construction of the baptistry. These were usually located south-east of the nave or narthex. These originally possessed large, circular tanks into which the candidates for baptism could walk. These were gradually replaced by square fonts, which were placed on a pedestal or base, similar to those in modern western churches from the eleventh centuries onwards. It appears that there was thus a move away from large, public baptisms towards a smaller, more intimate ceremony.

During the last phase of church construction from around 1150 to 1400, churches became smaller. The earlier large tanks for baptism were not generally built in churches of this period, and the emphasis was now on the sanctuary. This suggests that the church interior was exclusively reserved for the clergy, and that the congregation were deliberately kept outside. It also indicates that baptisms were being conducted in the Nile, rather than in a special space within the architecture of the church. This may well have been produced by changes in the liturgy, or as a result of the position of Christianity in Nubia becoming increasingly endangered from Muslim and desert raider incursions from the north. It is possible that the Nubian church became increasingly orientated towards Byzantium after Muslim raiding and conquest made contact with the Egyptian Coptic church increasingly difficult.

Among the churches that have been excavated are those of West Arminna and the cruciform and granite column churches of Old Dongola. The monasteries that have also been revealed and investigated by archaeologists include those of Ghazali and Qasr el Wizz. I will talk about these in parts two and three of this essay.

Sources

William H.C. Frend, The Archaeology of Early Christianity: A History (London: Geoffrey Chapman 1996)

Niall Finneran, The Archaeology of Christianity in Africa (Brimscombe Port: Tempus 2002)