Posts Tagged ‘Poland’

Hope Not Hate: Polish Fascist To Visit Britain

March 9, 2016

Dzien dobry mojym polskim przyjacielom! Which I hope means ‘Good morning to my Polish friends. One of the great events that have changed the world for the better in my lifetime has been the fall of the Iron Curtain. I really do think it’s great that people from eastern and western Europe can meet in peace and friendship, and visit and go to work and open businesses in each others’ countries. What worries me, is the rise of the extreme Right across Europe.

Hope Not Hate, the anti-racist, anti-religious extremism magazine posted up on their website yesterday the news that a Polish Fascist, Marian Kowalski, was coming to Britain in April to try and drum up recruits from the Polish community over here. See their report at http://www.hopenothate.org.uk/blog/insider/polish-fascist-to-speak-at-rallies-in-england-4794. Britain has benefited from its links to Poland and Polish workers. One of my uncles was Polish and Bristol has a Polish church. A few years ago, the Polish community in Bristol put on a display in the Central Library, showing some of their nation’s history and culture. Amongst the pilots who fought in the skies to keep this country free during the Second World War, most of the enemy aircraft shot down were by the Free Poles serving in the RAF. My old college also ran for a few years an exchange with a Polish college. The people I know, who went over there were impressed by their Polish exchange partners’ hard work. They told me that Britain had was greatly respected in Poland, because of the way we had stood and fought with them against the Nazi invasion that launched the Second World War.

It therefore amazes me that anyone in eastern Europe, and particular Poland, should support the Fascist right in any way whatsoever. I’ve blogged on this issue before. A day or so ago I put up a couple of pieces from Hitler’s Mein Kampf, Goebbel’s Diary and a Russian soldier describing the horrific atrocities and maltreatment the Nazis inflicted on Poles, and the other Slavonic peoples of eastern Europe. Hitler also made his contempt for the peoples of eastern Europe and his plans to enslave them very clear in his Table Talk, which was recorded by Martin Bormann. An English edition of this was published by Oxford University Press in 1988.

Here’s what the Fuehrer said about the Slavs:

It’s not a mere chance that the inventor of anarchism was a Russian. Unless other peoples, beginning with the Vikings, had imported some rudiments of organisation into Russian humanity, the Russians would still be living like rabbits. One cannot change rabbits into bees or ants. These insects have the faculty of living in a state of society – but rabbits haven’t.

If left to himself, the Slav would never have emerged from the narrowest of family communities. (p. 24)

The Slav people are not destined to live a cleanly life. They know it, and we would be wrong to persuade them of the contrary. It was we who, in 1918, created the Baltic countries and the Ukraine. We must likewise prevent them from returning to Christianity. That would be a grave fault, for it would be giving them a form of organisation.

I am not a partisan, either, of a university at Kiev. It’s better not to teach them to read. They won’t love us for tormenting them with schools. Even to give them a locomotive to drive would be a mistake. And what stupidity it would be on our part to proceed to a distribution of land! In spite of that, we’ll see to it that the natives live better than they’ve lived hitherto. We’ll find amongst them the human material that’s indispensable for tilling the soil. (Ibid).

As for the ridiculous hundred million Slavs, we will mould the best of them to the shape that suits us, and we will isolate the rest of them in their own pig-sties; and anyone who talks about cherishing the local inhabitant and civilising him, goes straight off into a concentration camp!

At harvest time we will set up markets at all the centres of any importance. There we will buy up all the cereals and fruit, and sell the more trashy products of our own manufacture. In this way we shall receive for these goods of ours a return considerably greater than their intrinsic value. The profit will be pocketed by the Reich to defray the price of the campaign. (p. 617).

And here’s Hitler sneer about the Poles:

‘As regards the Pole, it’s lucky for us that he’s idle, stupid and vain’. (p. 234).

This was how the Nazis regarded Poles and the other eastern European peoples, Czechs, Slovaks, Belorussians, Ukrainians and Great Russians – as sub-humans to be exploited and worked to death as slave labourers for the Reich. I’m acutely aware that the Poles have had to fight for their freedom against foreign domination in a way which Britain has been extremely fortunate not to have had to undergo. Nevertheless, Fascism and Nazism don’t have anything to offer anybody, except brutality, exploitation and mass murder. The last thing the peoples of Europe, in Britain, Poland, Germany or anywhere need is another set of fanatics trying breed hatred in the name of a perverted patriotism.

Advertisements

Workfare and the Nazi ‘Arbeitscheu’

February 18, 2014

sanction-sabs

As well as Jews, the Nazis also condemned a number of other groups to the concentration camps. These included Gypsies; gay men; Jehovah’s Witnesses – who were a threat to the regime as they refused to obey Hitler as a ‘secular messiah’; habitual criminals; political prisoners – largely trade unionists, Communists and Socialists, but also those Liberals and Conservatives that defied the Nazi state – who had either already served prison sentences, or been acquitted by the regular courts; and the stateless, including those Germans, who had tried to escape from the Third Reich. They and the Jews were declared to be ‘anti-social parasitical elements’. This also covered the ‘asocial’, which seems to have been a catch-all category for people the authorities decided were somehow subversive or a threat, but had no clear reason why, and the ‘workshy’ – Arbeitscheu in German.

The ‘workshy’ included those, who had rejected offers of work ‘without good reason’.

Himmler Hitler

SS leader Heinrich Himmler with Adolf Hitler. Under Himmler, the SS expanded into a vast industrial complex using concentration camp slave labour.

The reasons given for the imprisonment of Jews with criminal records, the asocial and the workshy were economic and military. They were to provide slave labour for the SS industries and the Nazi building projects. There was even a special branch of SS, the WVHA or Wirtschaftsverwaltungshauptamt, or Economic Government Head Office, that managed the SS’ commercial interests. In 1939 the SS was operating four main businesses. These included excavation and quarrying to supply building materials; a company dealing in products from concentration camp workshops; an agricultural company dealing in food, estates, fisheries and forestry; and a textile company producing uniforms for the SS from the female detainees of women’s concentration camp at Ravensbruck.

Through take-overs of companies in the Sudetenland, the SS controlled most of the Reich’s factories producing mineral water and soft drinks; a vast furniture-making conglomerate created through the forced acquisition of former Jewish and Czech businesses; as well as companies producing building materials – cement, brick, lime and ceramics. These were mostly Polish, and operated using Jewish slave labour.

The SS also rented out their slave workers to other, civilian companies, at the rate of 4-8 marks per slave per 12-hour day. The average life expectancy of an inmate in the concentration camps was 9 months. This gave the SS an average profit of 1,431 marks per each slave.

Now clearly the government isn’t running concentration camps. They may be horrendous in their treatment of the sick, poor, and unemployed, but they’re not that evil. Nevertheless, I have posted a number of pieces pointing out the similarity between workfare and other forms of unpaid labour in the Third Reich, such as Reichsarbeitsdienst, and the gulags in Stalin’s Russia. There is some similarity here with the Nazi’s use of slave labour and workfare.

Osborne Pic

Chancellor George Osborne, who would like sanctioned jobseekers work for big business for free under Workfare.

Since the 1990s, for example, there has been an insistence that those on Unemployment Benefit/ Jobseeker’s allowance should take any job they are offered. If they refuse, they lose benefits. The long term unemployed are placed on the Work Programme and forced to take voluntary work. This is similarly not so much a form of genuine voluntary work, but a means of supplying cheap labour to big business such as Tesco’s. Furthermore, George Osborne announced last year that he was expanding the Workfare system so that even those, whose benefits had been sanctioned, would have to do it. At which point the workfare system becomes true slavery. As many of those, whose benefits have been stopped because of sanctions, have taken their own lives or died or poverty and starvation, the government’s attitudes to disability and unemployment are also lethal. And if Osborne’s plan to force those whose benefits have been stopped to work for businesses for nothing goes through, then it could rightly be said that the only difference between that and concentration camp labour is that so far there are no concentration camps. Of course, this could all change if the firms profiting from workfare decide that they need to build special barracks for them.

I’ve no object to job creation schemes, or to voluntary work. But this is the point – it has to be proper voluntary work, where the worker and choose to do it or not, without losing benefits, and where they can choose for whom they work. They should also be paid a proper, living wage, or receive some other benefits so that they are genuinely trained for work and protected from exploitation. At present, the current workfare schemes do extremely little of this.

This system needs to change, and those responsible for it should be voted out.

Anti-Fracking Protester Vanessa Vine demolishes Peter Lilley on Channel 4

February 13, 2014

This is a video of Channel 4 New’s report on the anti-fracking protests at Barton Moss on 26th January 2014. As well as reporting the protest itself, and David Cameron’s speech supporting fracking, the programme also included a debate between one of the protesters, Vanessa Vine, and Peter Lilley. As well as a Conservative minister, Lilley is chairman of the Conservative’s energy committee, and also on the board of Tethis Petroleum, a fracking company drilling in Tajikistan and Kazakhstan.

In the debate Vine shows herself extremely well-informed, with all the facts to hand. Vine has talked to people from across the globe, from Pennsylvania, Queensland, Rumania to Poland. She catches Lilley out lying about the damage done by fracking to the environment, properties, humans and their livestock, and the way he has repeated his lies since she met him in September last year. Despite Lilley’s sputterings, she manages to get him to retract one of his points.

This shows not just how very well founded the objections to fracking are. It also demonstrates yet again the government’s mendacity, and the way it is strongly intertwined with multinational big business, that is completely indifferent to the lives and wellbeing of the ordinary citizens affected by this.

The Increasingly Authoritarian Character of Democratic Governments Across Europe

January 15, 2014

As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, I’ve been attending a course at the M Shed here in Bristol intended to better equip we unemployed to find and hold down a job. It’s an interesting mix of people from a variety of backgrounds, and it’s fascinating talking to them about their experiences and hearing their perspectives on the government and the current situation. One of the ladies on the course is Polish, and its interesting talking to hear about her country and the situation over there after the fall of Communism. Alarmingly, it seems that in both Britain and supposedly democratic Poland, the political elites are becoming increasingly suspicious and distrustful of their citizens.

We’ve seen this most recently in Britain in Ian Duncan Smith’s militaristic conduct before the Work and Pensions Committee. Smith appeared before the Committee accompanied by bodyguards and armed policemen, who pointed their weapons at the public gallery, including a party of disabled people and their carers. Quite what Smith feared a group of respectable members of the British public, who had already been checked by security, would do is a mystery. Presumably he now simply thinks that anyone disabled constitutes some form of threat, regardless of their ability or even basic willingness to assault him. This disgusting incident, the Coalition’s attempt to suppress democratic debate by third parties in their Transparency and Lobbying Bill and the threat to the right to peaceful demonstration posed by the latest anti-nuisance legislation, are merely a part of a long process that has been going on since Thatcher.

One of the other people attending the course jokes about wanting a job as an assassin so he can kill David Cameron. When he did so this week, I replied that he might have a problem with that, as I think there’d be a queue. Someone else added that you’d have a problem getting anywhere near him with the security he’s got round him. I told the Polish lady that this was a real issue. I described how Downing Street had originally been open to the public, who were quite able to go up and down the street as they wished. It was now closed off, and there were similar restrictions around the Houses of Parliament.

She replied that it was like that in Poland. One of her relatives had worked at the Ministry of Information during the Communist dictatorship. At the time it was quite open to the public, so that anyone could walk in off the street and talk to an official there. There was someone sat at a desk watching them, but that was all the security there was. Now it’s completely different. To get into the building now, a visitor has to pass through several layers of security. She said it was one ironic that the place was now so heavily guarded under democracy, when it had been free of this during the Communist dictatorship.

Listening to this, it seems to me that there is a common process at work across the globe. The Guardian’s John Kampfner wrote a book a few years ago discussing how the world’s governments, from Blair’s Britain to Singapore, Putin’s Russia and China, were increasingly suppressing democracy. He believed that at the time the world’s governments were doing this, they were also trying to provide for economic growth. This is almost certainly true in the case of the three other nations I’ve mentioned here, but I see absolutely no evidence of George Osborne being interested in making anyone wealthy, except those who are colossally rich already. The governing elites, whether in the nominally democratic West or in the authoritarian states of Putin’s Russia, Singapore or China, increasingly fear and distrust the people, on whose behalf they claim to govern. In Britain some of this increased security was a result of the IRA’s mainland bombing campaign, which in the 1980s saw a bomb attack on hotel venue for the Conservative Party conference in Brighton, and a mortar attack on 10 Downing Street. More recently there have been fears of Islamist terrorists following the 7/7 London suicide bombers, and other attempts, like that during the G8 conference in Glasgow, which have mercifully been foiled.

The increased level of security, and the restrictions on the individual’s right of access to parliament, or passage through Downing Street, is far out of proportion to the actual level of threat. When Blair placed further restrictions on how close public demonstrations could come to parliament, the Conservative press strongly criticised him, pointing out that such measures weren’t imposed by previous governments, even during the IRA’s terror campaign. It seems very much to me that there now exists across Europe and the rest of the world, a transnational governing elite that, in the West at least, loudly and ostensibly declares its support for democracy while harbouring a deep suspicion of the masses whose interests they claim to represent, but with whom socially and educationally they have nothing in common.

And that’s every bit as grave a threat to democracy as any group of murderous extremists. The problem is particularly obvious and acute in eastern Europe. After the fall of Communism in the former East Germany, some of its citizens experienced ‘Ostalgie’, a nostalgia for their old, Communist country. Despite the federal government’s attempts to prop up the old, Communist industries, many of the firms simply could not compete in the new, free Germany and went under. The result was a wave of unemployment. Faced with a democracy that seemed unable to provide for them, some turned instead to the Far Right. There have been similar problems elsewhere in eastern Europe, and other countries have also seen the emergence of extreme Nationalist parties. If democratic governments cannot provide their citizens with a better standard of living than they had under the dictatorships, and actively seem more dictatorial and authoritarian in their way, there is a real danger that their citizens will turn to anti-democratic, authoritarian movements, whether of the Right or Left.

That’s one of the dangers in the East, quite apart from the present danger that, across the globe, Neo-Liberal elites, mouthing reassuring slogans about democracy and pluralism, are gradually suppressing democracy where it conflicts with their policies.

From the Director of 47 Ronin: The Gift Short SF Film

January 15, 2014

With the samurai fantasy epic, 47 Ronin about to hit the big screens here in Britain, I found this fascinating short film by its director, Carl Erik Rinsch. The Gift is set in a future Russia, inhabited by animal and humanoid robots, and patrolled by sinister and murderous robotic cops. A mysterious man travels through Moscow with a gift-wrapped package, containing something so precious people are willing to kill and die for it.

I found it on Youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jeve1kJCBlc.

Rinsch himself is American, and the film itself was shown about four years ago in 2010 as part of the Philiips Parallel Lines film festival. Nevertheless, it’s a fascinating little film, which certainly makes me wish for a few more, full-length SF films set in Russia. Russia has a long tradition of excellent SF literature, of which the best known in the West is probably the work of the Strugatski brothers. Their novel, Stalker, was turned into a film of the same name by the great Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky. Tarkovsky had earlier produced Solaris, based on the classic SF novel of the same name by the Polish SF writer, Stanislaw Lem. Tarkovsky, however, cut out most of the books special effects sequences, leaving the film as a long discussion on evil and human responsibilities by the characters as they roam a devastated, post-industrial landscape in search of something.

It’s very different from the book, where the weird, devastated environment of the Zone is given a rather fuller description. In the book the area has been cordoned off following a mysterious incident, the crash of an alien spacecraft. The area is now a death-trap in which normal, physical laws no longer apply. There can be sudden, massive increases in gravity, which can crush the unwitting traveller. The Zone is also populated by hostile dummies, the zombie remnants of humans caught, killed, and twisted into something not quite dead by the power of the strange forces that created and pervade the Zone.

The book’s hero is rather different too. In both the book and the film he’s an outlaw, venturing into the forbidden environment of the Zone in order to bring back valuable alien artefacts for money in order to support himself and his family. His journeys into the Zone have worked a terrible effect on him. Over time the Stalkers suffer genetic damage due to their exposure to the Zone and its bizarre forces. The Stalker of the novel in his career makes too many journeys into the Zone, with the result that his daughter is mutated. The film, however, makes the character much less morally ambiguous. In the book the character is at times quite ruthless, fully prepared to sacrifice his unwitting fellow travellers to the Zone and its deadly forces in order to get what he wants. Instead of the film’s elevated questioning of the nature of morality in the face of catastrophe, the book has a much darker tone, more Western cyberpunk with its similar amoral, outlaw heroes and noir-ish visions of a decaying or wrecked future.

Steven Soderbergh remade Solaris a few years ago, with George Clooney in the lead role. It was shorter than the Tarkovsky version, but made a few minor changes. There were sex scenes, which certainly weren’t present in Tarkovsky’s presence, one of the characters, the physicist Snow, was changed from a White man to a Black woman. In most other respects, however, the film was almost exactly the same, with some scenes almost shot-for-shot identical to the original. I’d like to see someone remake Stalker, but keeping closer to the source novel and showing some of the terrible wonders and dangers of the Zone.

The Strugatski brothers are only two of the many brilliant SF writers from Russia and eastern Europe. One or two of their other works were also filmed under Soviet rule, including In The Dust of their Stars, in which heroic Russian space travellers try to lead a rebellion against the oppressive rule of a planet’s feudal tyrant. Another Soviet SF film, though one which wasn’t written by them, is Planet of Storms, about a expedition to Venus. More recent Russian SF/ Fantasy films have been Daywatch and Nightwatch, about a secret society protecting humanity from supernatural evil. Seeing The Gift and with its setting in Russia reminded me just how great Russian, and eastern Science Fiction generally could be. It’s at times markedly different from Western SF. Under Communism, it was often written as a parable, in which the authors made coded comments and observations about the state of Soviet society, which they couldn’t express directly in realist fiction.

Stalker, with its depiction of wrecked landscape rendered deadly through a technological accident, became particularly relevant after the Chernobyl disaster. A few years ago a computer game was released, whose creators were Russian, and which mixed elements of Stalker with that of Chernobyl and its similar, horrifically polluted zone. Although it was entertainment, it also had a more serious purpose as it was partly intended to promote ecological awareness about the dangers of the devastating effects of such human activities on the natural world. The Russian film industry suffered catastrophically after the collapse of Communism, as it couldn’t compete with the big budget films from Hollywood, like The Terminator. The success of the Day- and Nightwatch films has proved that Russian film-makers can still produce great SF/ Fantasy films in a global market, so hopefully there will be a few more SF and Fantasy films coming from Russia and eastern Europe. And that will be no bad thing at all.

This is the trailer of Tarkovsky’s 1979 film of Stalker from Youtube:

Here’s an extract from Planet of Storms, also from Youtube :

The Bedroom Tax: Tories Turning Socialism around to Punish the Poor

November 15, 2013

A friend once described the Coalition’s policies to me as ‘Socialism for the rich’. He’s quite right, of course. Under Socialism, the resources of the state are used to improve conditions for the poorest members of society. Since Thatcher, however, this situation has been completely reversed. The power of the state has been used instead to enrich the wealthiest and most powerful, while further grinding down and impoverishing the poorest. You can see that in the way immense tax breaks have been granted to the extremely rich, while companies have been given lucrative government contracts and subsidies for providing essential, including the management of state-owned organisations and parts of the civil service. These include the railways, parts of the NHS, the police service, and the welfare infrastructure, now being mismanaged by Serco, G4S and ATOS. The poor, on the other hand, have seen their state support, in the form of welfare benefits, cut and the services they use privatised and placed in the hands of the private sector.

It seems the Coalition have a strategy of finding a Socialist policy, and then inverting it to use against the very people it was designed to help. The bedroom tax is an example of this.

Something similar was to the fictitious ‘bedroom’ subsidy was in fact proposed in Germany in the 1920s by the USDP – the Unabhangige Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, or the Independent German Social Democrats. They were a Left-wing, but Non-Communist, Socialist party that had split from the Social Democrats over their alliance with the bourgeois parties and use of the paramilitary Freikorps units to put down the Council Revolution that had spread through Germany and Central Europe in 1919. One of the policies adopted by the USDP was that legislation should be passed, forcing homeowners to take in the homeless. This use of state power over the homes of private individuals may now appear shocking to a British public, raised on the Thatcher ideal of popular home-ownership. On the continent, however, most people live in rented accommodation. At the time, houses were split into multiple occupancy, with different families occupying different rooms within the same house. The poorest could be crammed into single rooms, such as the mother of one of the child victims in Fritz Lang’s cinematic classic, M. Twenty years ago one of the journalists in the colour section of the German newspaper, the Frankfurter Allgemeine, went back to visit Silesia. This was one of the two ‘arms’ of Germany to the north and south of Poland, which had been granted to the new country after World War II, and its German population expelled. The journalist had been one of those 1 1/2 million people, who had been forced to move to the new German borders further west. On his visit to his former home, he managed to find his old neighbourhood and its building, reminiscing about the various families that had shared the house in which he had lived as a boy. The legislation proposed by the USPD would therefore have been used against landlords as an attempt to solve the housing crisis that afflicted many countries, including Britain, after the World War I.

Mike over at Vox Political and a number of other, great Left-wing blogs have pointed out that the so-called subsidy the Coalition claims was granted to council tenants with a spare bedroom is entirely fictitious. It never existed. The claimed rationale for ending it, is that it would either force tenants with an extra, unused room to take in a lodger, or else free up council properties to be used by those, who really need such extra rooms to house their members. In fact it’s simply another ruse to slash welfare spending, and at the same time penalise those in council housing. In fabricating their pretext for doing so, the Tories have clearly taken the same idea as that proposed by the USPD, and then turned it backwards so that it affects and penalises not the prosperous rich, but the poorest and most in need of state housing. It is another example of the Coalition’s ‘Socialism for the Rich’.

I wondered if we should not, in fact, return to the spirit of the USPD’s original legislation. Cameron and the Old Etonian aristos and members of the haute bourgeoisie, who adorn his cabinet and Tory Central Office are, after all, public servants. They are paid salaries and expenses by the state. They are also very wealthy individuals, whose homes no doubt match their inflated incomes. This also applies to the heads of the companies contracted to run what little remains of the state infrastructure. These state should similarly have the right to force them to open up their mansions to the poor and destitute. David Cameron this week made a speech declaring that working-class children should raise their aspirations. Well, what better example can Cameron set for the new, aspiring, socially mobile working class he envisions, than for he and his colleagues to give a place at their firesides to the homeless and Job Seekers. The radical journalist Cobden believed that one of the causes of the unrest and dissatisfaction rife in early 19th century Britain was due to the breakdown of the hospitality farmers traditionally gave their workers. In traditional agricultural society, these ate and lived with the farmer himself, and so master and servants shared bonds of familiarity and loyalty. By the time Cobden was writing, this had broken down, and Cobden believed that their banishment from their master’s house and table was a major cause of class discontent. Surely, as someone determined to restore the great traditions of British society, Cameron should be the first to return to this great custom, and offer his own home as residence to Britain’s new poor as a good, paternalistic master in this century?

The Churches and Monateries of Medieval Nubia: Part Two – The Cruciform Church, Old Dongola,

June 23, 2013

Old Dongola was first the capital of Makuria and subsequently that of Makuria-Nobatia after the union of the two kingdoms. One of its largest and most important churches was the Cruciform church. This is 45 m long by 40 m in width (148 feet by 131 feet). Although its walls have only partially survived, they have a maximum height of four metres, giving an impression of the fast size of the church in its prime. The central bay was probably 14 m (36 feet) in height. It appears from this that the church was the centre of Makurian religion. It may have been built as a thanksgiving for the safe return of King George from his meeting with the Muslim caliph in Baghdad. It has been excavated by Polish archaeologists, who have been working in that part of Nubia since the UNESCO ‘Save Nubia campaign’ of the 1960s. As its name suggests, the church is shaped like a gigantic cross. This style of church building did not previously exist in Nubia, and provides more evidence for the shift in Nubian Christianity from the Egyptian Coptic Church to that of Byzantine Orthodoxy. It was constructed sometime in the ninth century, and was extensively rebuilt during the 500 years it was in use before its final rebuilding and abandonment in the fourteenth century.

Supporting the roof of the central bay was a series of granite columns with carved capitals. The eastern arm of the church was marked off by some kind of wall, and underneath it were two crypts. The church was constructed on the site of the earlier, seventh century Old Church. This was basilica with a sandstone floor and five sides. The floor of the heikal – the sanctuary – was lined with pebbles. It possessed a baptistery tank decorated with waves, which gave the effect of marbling. This tank was later rebuilt as an oval and decorated with a maltese cross at its centre. The two crypts probably belonged to this earlier church, and were incorporated into the new, cruciform church after the Old Church’s demolition. The layout of the Cruciform Church is shown below. The filled red section indicates the parts of its walls that have survived.

Cruciform Church 3

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)

The Religious Origins of Totalitarianism and Tyranny

April 1, 2009

One of the other articles at the Butterflies and Wheels site that Wakefield has also mentioned as requiring critique and discussion is Christopher Orlet’s attempt to claim that religion, and particularly Christianity, was the cause of the totalitarian dictatorships and murderous tyrannies of the 20th century. The article is entitled ‘Lessons of Atheist Dictatorships, and it is at http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com/articleprint.php?num=298’

Orlet’s article is basically an attempt to rebut the accusation by Christian and other religious apologists that atheist regimes have committed more and greater atrocities than Christians and members of other religions. Orlet instead argues that Christianity and other religions have also supported murderous tyrannies. He further argues that when atheist regimes have committed massacres and other atrocities, it was for purely political reasons, rather than because they were atheists. The attempt by Christian apologists to blame the horrific atrocities committed by Fascist, Nazi, Communist and agrarian utopian regimes on atheism ‘shows only a sad and unwitting lack of scholarship’.

Orlet notes the support given by the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches to Fascist regimes in Europe, including Italy, Croatia, Romania, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Austria and Slovakia. He states that the Papacy viewed Hitler as defending Europe against Communism, and did not comment or condemn the Holocaust because the Nazis were useful attacking the Red Army. After the War, senior Vatican clergyman with Fascist sympathies, such as Bishop Alois Hudal, who was a supporter of Hitler and friend of Pope Pius XII, arranged for the escape of Nazi war criminals to South America. Other leading members of the Vatican also arranged for the Fascist dictator of Croatia, Ante Pavelic, who was responsible for the organised massacre of Serbs and other nations in the former Yugoslavia, to flee to Peron’s Argentina. Ortel further claims that, with the exception of Hitler, the vast majority of the Nazis were devout Roman Catholics, like the infamous ‘butcher of Lyons’, Klaus Barbie. Ortel also quotes the various references Hitler made to God in his speeches. He does, however, consider that Hitler was a Pagan, rather than a Christian.

Ortel then goes on to state that when atheist regimes did commit their atrocities, it was because of their political ideologies, rather than because of their atheism. He states that Marx believed that religion, although originally harmless, was now an ideological instrument of the ruling class, but would eventually disappear after the working class had gained power. He notes that the French Revolutionaries had similar views on the way religion was used by the ruling class to support their power and subordinate their peoples. He discusses the attempt of the French Revolutionaries to abolish Christianity, and replace it with a cult of the Goddess of Pure Reason, and the Terror and anticlerical massacres that saw 200 priests put to death. Orlet considers that they were executed, not because the regime was atheist, but because Christianity and the Roman Catholic Church was associated with the oppression of the Ancien Regime which the Revolutionaries had overthrown. He states that Stalin committed his atrocities, including the artificial famine in the Ukraine, which was intended to destroy Ukrainian nationalism, not because of his atheism, but because he wished to establish and fulfil the Communist programme of mass nationalisations and the collectivisation of agriculture.

He also states that until the 20th century, the leaders of most nations would have been religious. This did not prevent them from committing horrific atrocities, such as those committed by the Mongols in China, Hungary and Russia. He states that the Armenia massacres committed by the Turks in the 1920s was committed as a jihad, and also states that the genocide in Rwanda was also partly the result of religious motivations, and the various churches either did not attempt to stop, or actively participated in the atrocities. He also states that Mao Tse Tung attacked Christianity as part of a wider campaign against traditional influences in Chinese society, including Buddhism and Taoism. Orlet also states that Pol Pot gained his ideas about the suppression of personality and total allegiance to a cause from the time he spent in a Buddhist monastery. His murderous ideology, however, was the result of the Marxism he learned in Paris and by the agricultural society of the non-Buddhist Khmers. ‘It was an anti-Western, anti-urban and pro-nativist ideology that defined the Khmer Rouge, not atheism, which was but one aspect.’

Ortel ends his article by comparing the attitudes towards religion in Poland and Albania. In Poland, the Roman Catholic Church remained separate from the state after its partition by Prussia, Austria and Russia, and so enjoyed the support of the Polish people, and acted to defend them against the oppression of both the Nazis and then the Communists. In Albania, however, before the Communist revolution the country was ruled by a Moslem ruling class who possessed vast estates and governmental powers in the administrative system of the Ottoman Empire. As a result, religion was extremely unpopular, and the Communist authorities officially abolished it after they seized power. He therefore concludes that America is a profoundly religious country because of the separation of Church and state, and that the attempts by the Religious Right to unite the two would destroy the popularity of religion in the US.

Now let’s examine his arguments.

It is indeed true, and disgusting and horrific, that a number of Fascist regimes across Europe enjoyed the active support of the various churches. There were a number of reasons for this. After the French Revolution and its attack on Christianity and the Church, the Roman Catholic Church became extremely hostile to democracy and preferred to support traditional, autocratic monarchies, which would support the traditional social order and the Church. After the Unification of Italy by Garibaldi, the Church was also strongly opposed to the new Italian state because of the incorporation of Rome and the Papal States, with the exception of the Vatican, by the Nationalist forces. While few of the founders of the Italian state were atheists, most were anticlerical and successive governments after the Unification launched various campaigns against the Church. Many convents and monasteries were closed, and there were attempts to limit or outlaw the immense influence members of the clergy could play in education and the political beliefs of lay Italians. One of the reasons why the Papacy eventually supported Mussolini’s dictatorship and signed the Lateran Accords recognising both the Italian state and the Fascist regime was that the Fascists, in their turn, promised to support the Church in contrast to the opposition of parts of the traditional Italian state.

Many of the Fascist regimes in central Europe – in Germany, Austria and Hungary – arose as part of a reaction to the Communist revolution that spread throughout these countries in 1919, and which was only suppressed through extreme Right-wing paramilitary groups, such as the Freikorps in Germany and the Heimwehr in Austria. Religion was an integral part of these societies, which felt themselves threatened both by militant Communism and the development of modern, mass industrial society. Many of the Fascist regimes, such as those in Hungary and Romania, viewed the religious beliefs of their peoples as one of their defining characteristics, and so attempted to promote these religious beliefs and their various churches. In some of these countries, Fascism received widespread support due to the perceived failure of democracy. In Italy, for example, effective government of the country was prevented by the existence of various factions and parties, none of which had a sufficient majority to govern unaided and most of them refused to co-operate with each other in forming an administration. The Liberal Party, for example, which had previously been the leading Italian political party, was split into four different factions around four leading politicians all competing for power. In Bulgaria in the 1930s, the political scene was similarly one of increasing fragmentation as parties split and refused to co-operate with each other in the government of the country. The result was that leading politicians and public figures in these nations supported Fascism as a way of governing their countries effectively, while democracy has only produced political stagnation and controversy.

One of the political parties Ortel states supported the Fascists was in fact divided in its support for the regime. The Italian Populist Party – PPI – was founded as a Christian, Roman Catholic political alternative to socialism by an Italian layman, Don Luigi Sturzo, who had received permission to do so from Cardinal Pietro Gasparri. It supported democratic, secular reform, the defence of the family, the creation and protection of small, independent farms, the right to form unions, local government, women’s suffrage, the independence of the Church, proportional representation and the League of Nations. Although the party entered Mussolini’s cabinent in 1923, Sturzo himself was profoundly hostile to Fascism. The Vatican forced Sturzo to resign as the party secretary in 1923. During the 1924 elections, the Popolari were frequently the victims of Fascist violence, and leading anti-Fascists, such as Don Giovanni Minzoni, were murdered. Minzoni was a Roman Catholic clergyman, who had been elected as archpriest of San Niccolo in 1916, and served as military chaplain in the First World War. After the War he returned to that part of Italy, and devoted himself to political activism, setting up Roman Catholic co-operatives and trade unions. He supported the Roman Catholic daily paper, Il Popolo, and was also active in the Roman Catholic youth organisations. He founded a local branch of the Roman Catholic youth organisation, the Associazione degli Esploratori Cattolici, which aroused the vehement hostility of the Fascists. The Vatican supported the Fascists against the Populists because it considered them too radical, particularly as they were not under the control of the bishops. Sturzo was forced to leave Italy in 1924, and his successor, Alcide de Gasperi, resigned in 1925. The party was suppressed in 1926 by the Fascists after the promulgation of the Exceptional Decrees.

As for Fascism itself, this was a mixture of various, and frequently contradictory ideas and movements. The Fascists were essentially extreme nationalists, and took their ideas from both the extreme Right and extreme Left. Mussolini had been a radical Socialist, although he later joined the extreme Right in opposition to socialism, liberalism and democracy. Initially Mussolini kept the Fascist programme vague, in order to gain the support of the different sections of Italian society, and Fascist ideology regarded morality and ideology itself as relative and subject to change as the occasion demanded. Although he allied the Fascists with the Church, many Fascists remained strongly anticlerical and the Roman Catholic Church strongly disapproved of the non-Christian elements in Fascism, such as the Fascist calendar that dated everything from the year of the Fascist revolution, when Mussolini gained power.

Similarly, while the Nazis also had the support of parts of the Church, they were also hostile to Christianity. Alfred Rosenberg, one of the leaders of the Nazi party, wrote The Myth of the 20th Century, which was so strongly antichristian that Hitler was forced to withdraw it and apologize. Hitler did indeed attempt to present himself as a pious German defending Christianity against Communism, but the Nazis themselves attempted to control and suppress the churches. Hitler himself hoped that Christianity would eventually disappear, and his hostility to Christianity was certainly not confined only to him.

As for the Roman Catholic Church, in 1937 Pope Pius XI published the encyclical, Mit Brennender Sorge – ‘With Burning Anxiety’ denouncing Nazi racism. Up until 1933 in various parts of Germany members of the Roman Catholic Church had been forbidden to join the Nazi party, and the Nazis were similarly prohibited in participating in Roman Catholic ceremonies, such as funerals. Although hostile to Nazism, Pius XI signed a concordat with the Nazis as part of an attempt to gain recognition for the Roman Catholic Church in Germany and other European nations, such as Poland and Romania, that been continuing since 1922. While there were many senior members of the clergy who did support Nazism, the Church was largely afraid of a new struggle with the German authorities and the possibility of overt persecution. Pope Pius XII made a number of speeches, which, although not specifically mentioning Nazism, were certainly viewed as criticisms of that regime. In a 1939 speech he discussed the ‘law of human solidarity and charity that is dictated and imposed … by our common origin and by the equality of rational nature in all men, regardless of the people to which they belong.’ The New York Times reported the speech under the headline ‘Pope Condemns Dictators, Treaty Violators, Racism; Urges Restoration of Poland’. He made a similar speech intended for the Poles in 1943, and in his encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi. In 1942 his expressed his sympathy for those ‘persons, who, through no fault of their own and by single fact of their nationality or race, have been condemned to death or for progressive extinction’. This infuriated Mussolini and the Nazis viewed it as an attack on them on behalf of the Jews. Pius XII’s closest official amongst the German clergy was the anti-Nazi Cardinal Konrad von Preysing, and the Pope himself agreed to act as an intermediary with the West on behalf of a group of German generals who planned on assassinating Hitler in 1939. During the War, he opened the Vatican to give refuge to 5,000 Jews. When the Nazis attempted a round-up of Jews in Rome in 1943, Pius XII protested and it was halted. The papal nuncio in Bucharest openly protested in August and September 1942 against the deportation of Jews from Romania. He also granted money to the Jewish rescue organisation, DELASEM, and supported the work of Father Anton Weber to assist Jews to escape Europe and Father Pierre-Marie Benoit, who aided French Jews to escape to North Africa.

Moreover, although Pius XII hated Communism, he nevertheless did not view the Nazi campaign against the USSR as a Crusade, according to the Roman Catholic historian, Pierre Blet. When the Italian ambassador to the Vatican attempted to gain official Roman Catholic encouragement for the war against the Soviet Union, the secretary of the Congregation for Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs rejected his request, stating that ‘the swastika is not the cross of a crusade.’ The Pope never explicitly attacked Nazism or called Roman Catholics in Nazi-occupied territories to resist it, because he feared losing what little influence the Roman Catholic Church had with the Fascist authorities and the possibility of the persecution of the Roman Catholic Church. While the Allies would have preferred the Pope to have explicitly denounced Nazism and Fascism, they understood why he didn’t.

As for the French Revolutionaries’ campaigns against Christianity, although they hated Christianity and the Church because of its position within the ancien regime, as part of what they considered to be a feudal and oppressive social order, Deist and atheist criticisms of organised religion and specifically Christianity appeared in France long before the Revolution. One of the most influential of the late 18th century atheist works was D’Holbach’s Le Systeme de la Nature of 1770. There were a group of atheist writers actively challenging and attacking religion at this time, including Boulanger, Naigeon, Charles Francois Dupuis, Sylvain Marechal and Jerome Lalande, amongst others. Naigeon was the successor to Diderot and the author Recueil Philosophique ou Melanges de Pieces sur la Religion et la Morale of 1770, which collected a number of previous attacks on religion. D’Holbach, however, was probably the most prominent of the French atheist writers. He hated religion, not just because he, like the other atheists, considered it oppressive, but because he also considered it to be false, and so demanded the destruction of Christian civilisation because it was constructed on such a false view of the world. Now it’s probably true that many of the French Revolutionaries who attempted to abolish Christianity were motivated because of their hatred of the French Church’s part in the oppressive feudal regime of pre-Revolutionary France. Nevertheless, French atheists also attacked religion and demanded its destruction, and that of the Christian civilisation that was based on it, because they felt that religion was wrong and by its very nature oppressive.

Similarly, it is also true that the Communists committed their atrocities from a desire to establish a Communist social and economic order, rather than simple atheism. Nevertheless, they were atheists, who attempted to explain and reform human society on the basis of philosophical materialism. Communism was considered to provide an objective, scientific explanation of the economic forces that influenced and defined the forms of human society and culture, in contrast to other views and models of society, and humanity’s progress from feudalism to bourgeois democracy and then eventually to Communism was considered as occurring according to objective, scientific sociological laws. Thus, while Marx considered that eventually religion would wither away as true Communism was established, rather than be forcibly abolished through revolutionary action, nevertheless atheism was indeed a profound part of Communist ideology. It is therefore true that while the Communists attacked the Russian Orthodox Church, and then the others religious faiths because they viewed them as part of an oppressive and exploitative social system. However, they also considered religion itself to be profoundly wrong, and that society could only be reformed through the construction of a social and economic system based on what they considered to be the principles of scientific law, which was held to be opposed to religion and its influence.

As for Mao Tse Tung and his campaign against religion, it is indeed true that he attacked not only Christianity, but also Taoism and Buddhism. Furthermore, in traditional Chinese religion, the Emperor possessed a strongly religious role, as he was responsible for performing a number of rituals and sacrifices so that the gods would grant his kingdom peace, harmony and prosperity. Now while the important place of the emperor as the intermediary between Earth and the gods in Chinese religion might explain why the Chinese Communists were so hostile to religion, because of the way it formed part of a traditional, oppressive social order, this does not alter the fact that they actively campaigned against religion as a whole as part of an attempt to create a Communist society based on Mao’s own interpretation of Marxism. Similarly, even if Christianity was only one of a number of religions, which the Communists in China and elsewhere attempted to destroy, nevertheless it still remains that the Communists attempted to destroy religion using force and violence. Orlet considers that Pol Pot learned about the suppression of personality and the breaking of personal ties, which became integral parts of his own revolutionary beliefs, at the Wat Botum Vaddei Buddhist monastery, rather than in the pages of Das Kapital. However, absolute dedication to the cause of the Revolution had been a feature of the Russian Revolutionary tradition since Chernyshev in the 19th century, and was stressed by Lenin himself, who incorporated it into Soviet Communism. Thus while Pol Pot adopted this aspect of Buddhist practice, it seems likely he used it as part of a revolutionary ideology and worldview based on important elements of revolutionary Communism. How Communist the Khmer Rouge actually were, is a matter of debate. One book on that horrific part of Cambodia’s history reviewed a few years ago in the Financial Times concluded that they did not possess a coherent ideology, and that the sheer corrupt pursuit of personal power and wealth amongst the ruling elite, including expensive consumer items, such as western motorcycles, was an important part of the personal motives of its leadership alongside any ideological notions. Nevertheless, the sheer brutality of the regime demonstrates that its leaders had rejected traditional religious values such as compassion and respect for human life in the belief that they could create a totally new society. This aspect of the Khmer Rouge certainly places them in the modern tradition of political activism that began with the French Revolution and its belief that a new, rational society could be created through the use of force directed against those who were perceived as enemies of the state.

Now the Armenian Massacres were indeed carried out as a jihad, a ‘Day of the Sword’, which affected other eastern Christian communities in what is now Iraq and Iran. However, while there certainly were religious elements involved in the genocide, it was part of a wider situation of nationalist violence with the Turkish Empire as previously subordinate nations in the Balkans and the Caucasus attempted to gain their freedom. Traditional Islam does not distinguish between the religious sphere and that of the state, and so, when the subject Christian peoples of the Ottoman Empire rebelled, there was certainly a religious element in the military response by the Turkish authorities to suppress them. However, contemporary historians of the Balkans have suggested that the violence involved in the various Balkan wars was the product of nationalism, rather than religious causes, and the massacres of the Armenians and the other Christian communities in the Middle East would also appear to be a product of extreme nationalism. There are passages in the Qu’ran that explicitly prohibit the killing of women, children and non-combatants in war, and so the destruction of entire communities and peoples in Armenian Massacres was in direct opposition to Shariah law.

As for the religious and political system in Albania, while the country was indeed ruled by Muslim Turkish feudal lords, who owned vast estates across the country on which most of the population worked as peasants, about 2/3 of the population generally was Muslim, so that the majority of the Albanian population shared their religion. This does not, however, mean that the feudal landlords necessarily were responsible for the enforcement of the law. Although they were responsible for the government of the country as a whole and the administration of their estates, the feudal lords were not necessarily responsible for maintaining the legal system. This was under the control of the qadis, judges appointed by the state. However, the ulema, the Muslim clergy, tended to distrust the state and did not wish to become involved with it, as they view the state as founded on oppression and its funds raised through extortion. Thus, while some of the Communists’ attempt to abolish religion in Albania may have been based on their hatred of a feudal system, in which power was held by a Muslim aristocracy, part of Albanian Muslim society was strongly opposed to the state because of what it considered to be its essentially oppressive nature. Thus the Communist campaign against religion in Albania appears to have been part of the general Communist attempt to destroy it, rather than necessarily reflecting popular attitudes to the religious aspects of Albanian politics and society.

Regarding the involvement of the churches in the Rwandan genocide, while this is disgusting and shameful, like their support for the Fascist regimes. However, their involvement was the result of human weakness and the power of personal, tribal and corporate motives over the demands of Our Lord to protect the weak and powerless against brutality and atrocity.

Now I do think that Orlet is probably correct in that part of the continuing popularity of Roman Catholicism in Poland may have been due to the Church’s role in defending and protecting them after the country was divided between Russia, Prussia and Austria, during the Nazi occupation in the Second World War and then under Communism. It is also possible that America remains a religious nation because the separation of Church and State has prevented religion from becoming unpopular due to its involvement as a formal aspect of the state. Much of the American political system is based on Christian principles, developed by radical Protestants during the British Civil War and the Commonwealth during the 17th century. Indeed, historians consider that one of the major factors in the development of democracy in America was the Great Awakening, when ordinary people challenged the colonial authorities and the position of the established Church and founding their own churches and religious organisations to look after their spiritual needs, rather than simply accepting the spiritual leadership of the existing hierarchy. This became part of the general tradition of American political democracy by encouraging and establishing the right of the people to decide issues for themselves, rather than simply submit to the traditional, British aristocratic social order. As for the separation of Church and State, this was based on the ideas of the 17th century Puritan minister, Richard Baxter, who argued for it in his book, The Bloudy Tenant of Persecution and demanded freedom of conscience during the Civil War in Britain. He based his arguments for religious freedom and toleration on Scripture, and believed that when governments interfered in religion, they acted against it and became oppressive. Thus, America may be a religious country because much of American democracy is based on Puritan, Christian religious principles.

Thus, although the Church and religions generally have supported oppressive and murderous regimes, this has frequently been through secular concerns and motives, often against the tenets of the religions themselves. In some instances, however, members of the Church have acted to oppose tyranny and oppression in ways that the article has not recognised. Moreover, while atheist regimes have largely campaigned against religion because of the strong role it played in oppressive political and social systems, these regimes have also campaigned against religion because they also believed it was false and so should be destroyed. While atheist dictators and tyrants committed their crimes in order to create a new society, rather than simply from their atheist beliefs, nevertheless they believed that they acted according to objective scientific, societal laws in an ideology that explained the structure of society and demanded the abolition of religion as a false ideology. Furthermore, these atheist regimes were part of the tradition of revolutionary activism that began with the French Revolution in their belief that a new, rational society could be constructed through the use of force and violence. America may remain a religious country because of the separation of Church from State, but much of the American political system, including democracy, is based on 17th century Christian principles.