More From Alder's Ledge

May 16, 2014

Willful Ignorance

Turning A Blind Eye To Religious Savagery
(part of the PLUCK series)

(Joseph Goebbels and Wilhelm Frick with Catholic clergy)

There are few things that modern society leaves off-limits when it comes to polite conversation. For the most part, however, religion happens to be one of those last topics for debate that we tend to shy away from. It is, for lack of a better analogy, the sacred cow even when it comes to human rights. We are supposed to accept that religion is a sensitive subject and that all of mankind is entitled to their own views on it. As a society we tend to even take this view to the most obscene stance so as to ignore religion when it is the root of some of the worst atrocities in history. Thus allowing ourselves the opportunity to overlook it's ongoing role in such crimes as genocide.

It is no secret that some of the worst genocides in history were driven by the hatred that organized religion can be used to manufacture within a society. The Ottoman Turks capitulated to the aggressive abuse of Islam under The Young Turks during the genocides of the Greeks, Assyrians, and Armenians. 60 million Germans permitted their government to hijack their churches during the Nazi's genocidal effort to annihilate Judaism across Europe. And yet we as a society still tiptoe around the issue of religious fervor when it comes to genocide?

Was it not Christianity that was abused when the Europeans set out to make the Native Americans "civilized"? And yet we still celebrate the colonization of America under the justification of religious zealotry (example: Columbus Day)?

If ever we are to make any ground in combating genocide then we must first recognize one of the roots from which it has historically arose. And that is the willingness of the pious to turn a blind eye to the dramatic misuse of their faith in attempts to destroy members of another race, religion, or ethnicity.

Mixing Islam And Nationalism

"Turkey belongs only to the Turks."
~ Talat Pasha

For almost 100 years the "best and brightest" minds have tried to explain the rise of the Young Turks in the Ottoman Empire by linking their violence to blind patriotism. While the explanation of radical nationalism may be accurate to an extent, it is woefully inadequate to explain how the Young Turks targeted their victims. The very core of their battle cry, that of an Islamic state, points not toward a secular version of nationalism but rather religious pandering for political gain.

The main area in which the Young Turk's "revolution" promoted religious bigotry was the it's insistence upon the implementing of "Ottomanism" across Turkey. This process readily classified members of society into "millets", or classes based upon religion and race. The process also, though argued to create unity and equality, allowed a for radical leaders within the Young Turks to selfishly promote their given religion as superior. Therefore, Ottomanism permitted the three Pashas the power to lift Islam above all other religions and create the possibility to force out other faiths from the Ottoman Empire and all it's territories.

Many Muslims did oppose Ottomanism. But by the time they dared to make their voices heard it was already too late. The Young Turks had been given power by pandering to the religious and nationalistic fervor that they themselves helped to cultivate. In areas the Young Turks didn't have popular support they manufactured it with propaganda. And when that didn't work... muscle always did.

Where Ottomanism, in it's original political packaging, had be presented to promote equality amongst Muslims and non-Muslims alike the implementing of it was drastically different. Young Turk members readily gave into corruption from their own making and from social influences. Their treatment of the non-Muslims across the empire never seemed to truly reflect the ideas they promoted in Istanbul. And for the non-Muslims across the empire, the changing of power in Istanbul often appeared to be the swapping of one evil for another. The lives of these less fortunate subjects of the Ottomans never really changed... or at least until the Pashas' next stage of "Turkification".

By 1914 the Three Pashas had found their opportunity to begin what would later go on to be named genocide. In their time these acts were labeled as massacres, pogroms, deportations, and often just called "unfortunate consequences of war". When the Pashas ordered the outright slaughter of Assyrians and Greeks the Muslim populace of Turkey appeared to accept the culling of Turkey's population based upon religion. When the Turkish military was presented with the opportunity to punish Muslim citizens for looting and killing of Assyrians and Greeks the government readily looked the other way. For the Pashas it was their way of declaring it legal for "true Turks" to reclaim Turkey.

In 1915 Talat Pasha got his chance to go after the Armenians as well. The man who would become known to many as "the Turkish Hitler" readily began deportations of Armenians. During this drastic abuse of even the most basic of human rights, Talat Pasha rewarded Muslims with stolen Armenian goods and land. Talat went as far as to permit his military, along with local Muslim volunteers, the "right" to rape, pillage, and kill Armenians as the Ottoman Empire carried out the deportations. Rape camps and sexual slavery became a common way for the Turks to suppress Armenian society and target the women within it. Thus giving Talat his end goal of destroying Armenian culture by removing half it's population with rape and killing the other half outright.

Throughout the Armenian Genocide, as well as during the Greek and Assyrian genocides, the Pashas made a point of labeling the targeted communities as "indigenous Christians". Their goal of distinguishing between Muslims and Christians was a clear attempt at classification, the first stage of genocide, through which they could isolate the targeted victims. When this was accomplished the Young Turks went to the third stage of genocide (dehumanization) by characterizing Armenians, Greeks, and Assyrians as traitors to the Ottoman Empire. In carrying out these two stages of genocide the Young Turks were able to mobilize an entire nation behind religious and nationalistic motives for the ultimate goal of annihilating the victims.

Had the world responded to the use of religion and nationalism to commit such horrific crimes it is plausible that Germany would have been more hesitant to recreate the Pashas' crimes on an even larger scale.

Industrialized Murder And The Church

“What we have to fight for…is the freedom and independence of the
fatherland, so that our people may be enabled to fulfill the mission
assigned to it by the Creator.”
~ Adolf Hitler, 'Mein Kampf'

The connection between the church, both the Protestant and Catholic, and the Nazi party in Germany is one that was at times rocky... to say the least. Yet the willingness on behalf of Germany's Christians to accept the antisemitism within Hitler's message cannot be ignored. Like the Turkish Muslims, the Christians in Europe were sold a message that lifted them above an enemy they were far too willing to accept. Though there was no real reason to hate their Jewish neighbors, the Christians of Germany collectively can be seen as giving into social pressure to do just that. It became far too easy for the church in Europe to accept the hatred of a few over the love they claimed to have for the many.

One of the main reasons given for the acceptance of the Nazi's politically backed persecution of Europe's Jews is that of well ingrained antisemitism in Europe at the time. Christians in Europe had been raised with interpretations of the Bible that depicted the Jews as the "killers of Christ". Their hatred was further spurned on by the continual preaching that came from Europe's pulpits. When the Great Depression spread across the globe it was the Jewish population that was demonized for causing it. And the church, or a large portion of it, was far too willing to preach this exact message from their position of religious authority.

"The Church has realized that anything and everything can be
built up on a document of that sort, no matter how contradictory or
irreconcilable with it. The faithful will swallow it whole, so long
as logical reasoning is never allowed to be brought to bear on it."
~ Adolf Hitler

In 1920 the Nazi Party's platform reflected this antisemitism as it promised Germany that it; "upholds the point of view of a positive Christianity without tying itself confessionally to any one confession. It combats the Jewish-materialistic spirit..." This pandering to an antisemitic culture already well established allowed for the Nazis to get the "faithful" to swallow what Hitler had in store for Germany next.

When Hitler started the Holocaust with the euthanizing of "socially undesirables" and the "non-productive elements" of German society it was the Church's first chance to speak up. Yet the German people accepted that the mentally handicapped, the antisocial, and the repeat criminals were a "burden upon the state". This was once again also presented to the Church in the Nazi's 1920 platform when the Nazis stated, "a permanent recovery of our people can only be achieved from within on the basis of the common good before individual good." It was a decree that gave the state the authority to decide who lived and who died. Yet the Church was willing to "swallow it whole".

Some have depicted this willingness by the Church to appease Hitler's genocidal ambitions as a mere survival method. And it is true that this strategy of following closely behind party ideology did permit the German Church the ability to survive in a state that officially did not recognize any given faith. By cooperating with the Nazis the Church was able to keep it's infrastructure largely intact throughout Nazi rule. Yet the goal of appeasement cannot be written off by merely depicting it as a survival strategy alone.

During Hitler's rule of Germany there were large chunks of the Evangelical Christians who willingly set out to achieve the Nazi goal of creating a "Judenrein" Europe. The Deutsche Christen movement within the Evangelical Church went as far as to push for the "nazification" of the Church itself. Their willingness to cooperate in Hitler's "final solution" to the "Jewish question" could be seen in their willingness to fight for the Nazi ideology itself. Many of these radicalized Christians went as far as to rat out other Christians who dared to stand up against the Nazi party (even those who just tried to be pacifist).

“I believe today that I am acting in the sense of the Almighty
Creator. By warding off the Jews I am fighting for the Lord’s work.”
~ Adolf Hitler, Speaking at the Reichstag in 1936

This willingness on the part of the Church to help fuel Hitler's industrialized slaughter of Europe's Jews, Romani, homosexuals, and other socially undesirables can also be seen in areas like Croatia.

On the 10th of April, 1941 the Ustase proclaimed Croatia to be an independent state with the protection of Nazi Germany. These radical supporters of a fascist state, one centered around Catholicism, had almost overnight made a lasting split with the rest of Yugoslavia. Their hatred for Serbs, Bosniaks, and Jews had given them a bond with Hitler's race based state. Yet it was that hatred for Judaism that proved to be the strongest bond between the Ustase and Adolf Hitler (also a Catholic).

During the Holocaust in Croatia the Germans were relieved that they would not have to commit troops to the Ustase cause. Instead the Croatian fascist, acting upon the common religion of their supporters, were able to rally an unbelievable amount of support for their genocidal ambitions. This led to the creation of some of the largest concentration camps in all of Europe, some of the largest death tolls in all of the Holocaust, and a lasting legacy of genocide in the Balkans. Croatia's genocidal efforts would leave wounds that would later create fertile ground for the Bosnian Genocide. And all of this was done through Croat loyalty to the religious hatred found in Nazi ideology.

Ironically, and rather tellingly, Adolf Hitler would go on to depict his devotion to the wholesale slaughter of entire races as something of a "commandment of God's will". In his book, Mein Kampf, Hitler made it clear that he believed God had dictated to the "Aryan" race (Germans in his mind) to kill off the Jews and create God's kingdom upon the earth. Of course this was heavily mixed with political philosophy and tainted ideology that was flaunted as "science". But it was clear from Hitler's own words that he believed his actions as leader of Germany were in line with his god's will.

"For God’s will gave men their form,
their essence and their abilities. Anyone who destroys His work is
declaring war on the Lord’s creation, the divine will.”
~ Adolf Hitler, in one of his more ironic quotes.

This embrace by the Church of the Nazi philosophy raises the question of whether or not Europe's church had already been on that path before Hitler or if Hitler had put it on that path when he arrived? It is clear that Hitler had gained much of his religious views from the Church in his upbringing. And it is clear that Hitler had used the teachings of the Church to formulate his genocidal ambitions. But it is up to the reader to decide if organized religion in Europe had been the source or just a pawn in the Nazis' crimes against all of humanity.

The Promised Land
“It would be my greatest sadness to see Zionists do to Palestinian Arabs much of what Nazis did to Jews.” 
~ Albert Einstein

And this, my friends, is where we fast forward to religion's role in the genocides of our time. 

In Israel there are many reasons to claim that the brutal repression of indigenous peoples for the political advancement of a religiously based state warrants the label of genocide. It is arguable that the creation of a Palestinian controlled territory (complete with walls to divide the areas) in and of itself could directly reflect the creation of the Warsaw Ghetto. It is arguable that the race based segregation that occurs within Israel (both legally and willfully by Israeli society itself) could directly reflect the race laws imposed by the Nazis. It is arguable that the exiling of Palestinians upon the creation of Israel itself could be directly reminiscent of the deportations of Jews from their homes in Nazi occupied Europe. Yet none of these are considered viable arguments due to the insulating layers that Israel's defenders have wrapped themselves in... the blood of my ancestors and the religion of my forefathers. 

I may not be a "good Jew". Hell, I may not be a very good anything. But like Albert Einstein, it is with great sorrow that I watch bigots and supporters of genocide use my faith, my heritage, and my ancestor's plight for their defense. 

The Christians who took part in the Holocaust killed their Christ six million times over when they committed themselves to their "holy deeds". I'll be damned if I would turn my faith over to the crucifying of another soul in that same perverted manner. 

Judaism, and those who truly follow it, cannot be permit such atrocities as those committed by those who would pursue land over the service to their fellow man. After all, wasn't that what our prophets (of all three faiths) were preaching all along? Or should we follow in the footsteps of the Turks, the Nazis, and the Church by picking the verses we want and applying them the way we see fit? 

But Israel is far from the only place we can find religion being used to either justify or encourage genocide today.

Religion Of Peace?

"Hatred does not cease through hatred at any time. Hatred ceases through love. This is an unalterable law.”
~Buddhist Quote

Myanmar is, and for the foreseeable future will remain, a Buddhist country. It has a long history of diversity and more races and cultures wrapped up under one flag than most it's neighbors. Yet the majority have one thing in common and that is their common faith. It is for this reason that the government has largely been composed of men and women who claim to be faithful practitioners of the Buddhist teachings. So with that being said, one is left to wonder just how Burma became one of the worst offenders of human rights in our time?
Religion has played a very vital role in Myanmar's development. Some of its largest monuments and national treasures focus around it's rich heritage of Buddhist beliefs. However, outside the heart of Myanmar, almost forming a ring around the country's edges, are cultures that have rich histories of Christianity, Islam, and indigenous beliefs. These cultures have often been excluded, persecuted, and even driven out of Burma by those who claim to practice the peaceful teachings of Buddha. And it is for this reason that religion so often plays a central role to the conflicts that plague Myanmar. 

The leaders of Myanmar (the old junta) have often rallied their support through force. This muscle has been made more tolerable by their willingness to mask their atrocities with the guise of protecting Burma's Buddhist heritage. When the government targets groups like the Rohingya they are often seen to be readily playing upon the image of fending off Islamic invaders. Through the use of religiously based, and heavily nationalistic, propaganda the state is able to offer some form of rationalization for it's atrocities.

As with all other genocides where religion has been used to support the murderous ambitions of the perpetrators, Burma's Buddhists hold much of the responsibility. Their faith is often used as a tool both for and against them. And in this case it is used to offer them a reason to support that which they have often feared their government could or would do to them. While there is room to claim they are doing what they are told or fearing what will happen if the don't, there is no justification for this cowardice (just as with Germany's Christians). 

When one's religion teaches them to value every life it should be clear that it also is teaching them to cherish those their government tries to depict as their enemy. The individual can not be permitted the right to hide behind their faith. The individual can not permitted to hide behind the fear of persecution for their faith. And the individual can not be permitted to tolerate the abuse of their faith. All of which is far too often offered as a defense for members of societies like that of Myanmar's. 

"The tongue like a sharp knife … Kills without drawing blood.”
~ Buddhist Quote 

In The Service Of Others

“Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can't help them, at least don't hurt them.”
~17th Dalai Lama 

As screamers, those who witness genocide and refuse to be silent, we also believe that when it comes to genocide it doesn't matter what your faith is. If you are to be in the service of those who have been made voiceless then you have to be willing to help all mankind. That means reaching beyond those within your own faith or a faith to which you feel some kindred spirit with. It means that you come alongside the downtrodden of this world and partner with them. It means that you make whatever sacrifice you have to to make sure that the less fortunate are, at the very least, given back their voice. 

Your words have more power than you might give them credit for. When you speak on behalf of those the world has turned it's back upon you are telling their story, their plight, and their hopes. It is a wonderful opportunity to experience the essence of what it means to be human. It is also an opportunity that should never be taken lightly. For it is you chance to put their lives ahead of your own. 

Religion, the spiritual life of man, is something that should be personal to each of us. It is a part of us that nobody else will ever experience in the way you do. It is a part of you that the world, no matter how hard it tries, should ever be allowed to take away. It's this part of you that we wish to appeal to. For we believe that faith, no matter which one you choose, teaches us to show compassion and love for those around us. So if you believe... believe that you have the power to make a change for the better in this dreary little world of ours. 

Recognize the power of your faith. 

Recognize the power of your voice. 


Source Documents
(note: not all are listed)

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Rutgers University

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