From Reading Religion:
Race, Religion, and Punishment in the American South
266 Pages — $32.95
- Published By: University of North Carolina Press
Michael Ayers Trotti’s The End of Public Execution: Race, Religion, and Punishment in the American South opens with a short transcription of a newspaper article about an Atlanta hanging. The report is about the 1891 execution of Frank Danforth, a Black man who had been convicted of the murder of his wife. The report mentions preachers saying prayers and singing, Danforth swaying to religious music, his repeated testimony to his belief in his own salvation, and white women who stood on a jailhouse fence to watch his execution. Trotti observes that the report describes Danforth’s execution as private because it was done behind jailhouse walls, even though hundreds of people were in attendance.
HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa was re–elected for a second and final five–year term late Saturday in results announced much earlier than expected following another troubled vote in the southern African country with a history of violent and disputed elections.
An opposition party spokesperson said within minutes of Mnangagwa being declared the winner that they would reject the results as “hastily assembled without proper verification.”
Mnangagwa’s victory meant the ZANU–PF party retained the governmental leadership it has held for all 43 years of Zimbabwe’s history since the nation was re–named following independence from white minority rule in 1980.
Zimbabwe has had just two leaders in that time, long–ruling autocrat Robert Mugabe and Mnangagwa.
Gwynne Dyer — August 21 2023
“No-one will stop us from ruling this country. You will be lost if you don’t vote for ZANU-PF,” said President Emmerson Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe. A bit more arrogant than the usual election pitch in most parts of the world, perhaps, but not unusual in Zimbabwe, one of the southern African countries suffering from ‘ruling party syndrome’. Continue reading Dyer: Zimbabwe Election (With Updates)
In a June blog post here about virulent persecution of LGBTQ folk in Uganda based on a draconian new “kill the gays” law, a correspondent known to us as “William Leddra” issued a call to Quakers, who have two yearly meetings in Uganda, and affiliations with Friends United Meeting [aka FUM] based in Richmond, Indiana, to take up the work of speaking out and defending LGBTQ persons in Uganda (and other Africa countries where they are also persecuted). The call to Friends and others is also to exert pressure toward the repeal of this dreadful repressive legislation.
Reader David Howard Albert, in a comment posted earlier, said,
“I have no idea who this ‘William Leddra ‘ is or purports to be – I have never heard of him, he has never contacted us, and he seems ignorant of the efforts of more than 40 Quaker Meetings and Churches.”
Indeed, “Leddra” would be ignorant of the current plight of the persecuted in Uganda. That’s because the historical William Leddra was a Quaker, who was hanged on Boston Common in 1661, one of four known to history as “The Boston Martyrs”. (Yes, being Quaker in Boston then was in fact a hanging offense. ) The best-known of this group is Mary Dyer, of whom more is here.
Leddra, banished and then hanged for the same offense as Dyer, is less known; but he ended up just as dead, only for the offense of being true to his convictions. (“Our” correspondent “Leddra” feels pseudonymity is a prudent security precaution today, as “promoting” LGBTQ life in Uganda is now punishable by a 20-year prison sentence.)
Fortunately, what happened in the wake of the Boston Quaker Martyrs’ sacrifice was turned into memorable verse by the famed Quaker poet Whittier, a later native of Massachusetts, in his poem, The King’s Missive.
We take this opportunity to reprint the poem below, as it seems to us that there are strong contemporary echoes and resonance in it. Last month, FUM held an international conference in Kenya, which included Ugandan Friends. All participants were under strict instructions not to speak about the new law; or if they were LGBTQ, not to be visible or vocal about that reality. (Those keep silence instructions are reprinted in the postscript to “Leddra’s” column.)
Negative international reactions to Uganda’s “kill the gays” law continue to accumulate.
Here’s Whittier’s comment, from 1881:
To cove and meadow and Common lot,
In his council chamber and oaken chair,
Sat the worshipful Governor Endicott.
A grave, strong man, who knew no peer
In the pilgrim land, where he ruled in fear
Of God, not man, and for good or ill
Held his trust with an iron will.He had shorn with his sword the cross from out
The flag, and cloven the May-pole down,
Harried the heathen round about,
And whipped the Quakers from town to town.
Earnest and honest, a man at need
To burn like a torch for his own harsh creed,
He kept with the flaming brand of his zeal
The gate of the holy common weal.
His brow was clouded, his eye was stern,
With a look of mingled sorrow and wrath;
“Woe’s me!” he murmured: “at every turn
The pestilent Quakers are in my path!
Some we have scourged, and banished some,
Some hanged, more doomed, and still they come . . .
Fast as the tide of yon bay sets in,
Sowing their heresy’s seed of sin.
“Did we count on this? Did we leave behind
The graves of our kin, the comfort and ease
Of our English hearths and homes, to find
Troublers of Israel such as these?
Shall I spare? Shall I pity them? God forbid!
I will do as the prophet to Agag did
They come to poison the wells of the Word,
I will hew them in pieces before the Lord!”
The door swung open, and Rawson the clerk
Entered, and whispered under breath,
“There waits below for the hangman’s work
A fellow banished on pain of death–
Shattuck, of Salem, unhealed of the whip,
Brought over in Master Goldsmith’s ship
At anchor here in a Christian port,
With freight of the devil and all his sort!”
Twice and thrice on the chamber floor
Striding fiercely from wall to wall,
“The Lord do so to me and more,”
The Governor cried, “if I hang not all!
Bring hither the Quaker.” Calm, sedate,
With the look of a man at ease with fate,
Into that presence grim and dread
Came Samuel Shattuck, with hat on head.
“Off with the knave’s hat!” An angry hand
Smote down the offence; but the wearer said,
With a quiet smile, “By the king’s command
I bear his message and stand in his stead.”
In the Governor’s hand a missive he laid
With the royal arms on its seal displayed,
And the proud man spake as he gazed thereat,
Uncovering, “Give Mr. Shattuck his hat.”
He turned to the Quaker, bowing low,–
“The king commandeth your friends’ release;
Doubt not he shall be obeyed, although
To his subjects’ sorrow and sin’s increase.
What he here enjoineth, John Endicott,
His loyal servant, questioneth not.
You are free! God grant the spirit you own
May take you from us to parts unknown.”
So the door of the jail was open cast,
And, like Daniel, out of the lion’s den
Tender youth and girlhood passed,
With age-bowed women and gray-locked men.
And the voice of one appointed to die
Was lifted in praise and thanks on high,
And the little maid from New Netherlands
Kissed, in her joy, the doomed man’s hands.
And one, whose call was to minister
To the souls in prison, beside him went,
An ancient woman, bearing with her
The linen shroud for his burial meant.
For she, not counting her own life dear,
In the strength of a love that cast out fear,
Had watched and served where her brethren died,
Like those who waited the cross beside.
One moment they paused on their way to look
On the martyr graves by the Common side,
And much scourged Wharton of Salem took
His burden of prophecy up and cried
“Rest, souls of the valiant! Not in vain
Have ye borne the Master’s cross of pain;
Ye have fought the fight, ye are victors crowned,
With a fourfold chain ye have Satan bound!”
The autumn haze lay soft and still
On wood and meadow and upland farms;
On the brow of Snow Hill the great windmill
Slowly and lazily swung its arms;
Broad in the sunshine stretched away,
With its capes and islands, the turquoise bay;
And over water and dusk of pines
Blue hills lifted their faint outlines. . . .
But as they who see not, the Quakers saw
The world about them; they only thought
With deep thanksgiving and pious awe
On the great deliverance God had wrought.
Through lane and alley the gazing town
Noisily followed them up and down;
Some with scoffing and brutal jeer,
Some with pity and words of cheer.
One brave voice rose above the din.
Upsall, gray with his length of days,
Cried from the door of his Red Lion Inn
“Men of Boston, give God the praise
No more shall innocent blood call down
The bolts of wrath on your guilty town.
The freedom of worship, dear to you,
Is dear to all, and to all is due.
“I see the vision of days to come,
When your beautiful City of the Bay
Shall be Christian liberty’s chosen home,
And none shall his neighbor’s rights gainsay.
The varying notes of worship shall blend
And as one great prayer to God ascend,
And hands of mutual charity raise
Walls of salvation and gates of praise.”
So passed the Quakers through Boston town,
Whose painful ministers sighed to see
The walls of their sheep-fold falling down,
And wolves of heresy prowling free.
But the years went on, and brought no wrong;
With milder counsels the State grew strong,
As outward Letter and inward Light
Kept the balance of truth aright.
The Puritan spirit perishing not,
To Concord’s yeomen the signal sent,
And spake in the voice of the cannon-shot
That severed the chains of a continent.
With its gentler mission of peace and good-will
The thought of the Quaker is living still,
And the freedom of soul he prophesied
Is gospel and law where the martyrs died.
Israel 2023, South Africa 1948. I’ve lived through it before: power grabbing, fascism and racism – the destruction of democracy. Israel is going where South Africa was 75 years ago. It’s like watching the replay of a horror movie.
In 1948, as a teenager in Cape Town, I followed the results of the 26 May election on a giant board on a newspaper building. The winner-takes-all electoral system produced distorted results: the Afrikaner Nationalist party, with its smaller partner, won 79 parliamentary seats against 74 for the United party and its smaller partner.
But the Nats, as they were called, in fact won only 37.7% of the vote against the opposition’s 49.2%. Although the opposition received more votes, the Nats said they had a majority and could do what they wanted.
In the Israel of 2023, I’m reliving some of these same experiences. Our proportional election system can distort results as well: last November, Likud, with its smaller partners, won 64 seats against 56 for the opposition. In fact, the rightwing bloc won by only 0.6% of the vote. The 0.6% government says it represents the will of the majority and can do whatever it wants. South Africa enjoyed democracy – that is, among the whites who made up 20% of the population. Black people had no right to vote; only some so-called Coloureds and Asian South Africans could vote. Those who were not white suffered heavy racial discrimination in every part of their lives.
In Israel, Arabs, who form about 21% of the population, can vote. But they suffer discrimination: Muslims and Christians are not drafted, and those who do not do army service lose out on benefits. The Jewish National Fund owns about 13% of Israel’s land and bars non-Jews – that is, Arabs – from owning or renting it. The coalition promises to deepen the discrimination. It has already threatened to withdraw millions of shekels meant for upgrading poor Arab living conditions.
In South Africa, the Nationalist victory meant apartheid, which intensified and institutionalised the existing discrimination against people of colour.
In 2001, I joined Israel’s government delegation to the world conference against racism in Durban. The government of Ariel Sharon invited me because of my expertise after a quarter-century as a journalist in South Africa; my specialty was reporting on apartheid close up.
At the conference, I was disturbed and angered by the multitude of lies and exaggerations about Israel. During the years since, I have argued with all my might against the accusation that Israel is an apartheid state – in lectures, newspaper articles, on TV and in a book.
However, the accusation is becoming fact. First, the nation-state law elevates Jews above fellow citizens who are Arab – Muslim, Druze, Bedouin and Christian. Every day sees government ministers and their allies venting racism and following up with discriminatory actions. There is no mercy even for the Druze, who, like Jews, have been conscripted into the military since 1956.
Second, Israel can no longer claim security as the reason for our behaviour in the West Bank and the siege of Gaza. After 56 years, our occupation can no longer be explained as temporary, pending a solution to the conflict with Palestinians. We are heading toward annexation, with calls to double the population of Jewish settlers in the West Bank, which currently stands at around 500,000.
The army is fully complicit in the illegal seizure of land and the creation of settlement outposts. The government misuses many millions of shekels for settlers. It abuses its own laws. Settlers kill Palestinians and destroy houses and cars. The courts seldom intervene. Soldiers stand by and watch.
We deny Palestinians any hope of freedom or normal lives. We believe our own propaganda that a few million people will meekly accept perpetual inferiority and oppression. The government is driving Israel deeper and deeper into inhuman, cruel behaviour beyond any defence. I don’t have to be religious to know that this is a shameful betrayal of Jewish morality and history.
In South Africa, nice words were used for destructive laws. Imposing apartheid on universities to restrict black access was done by 1959’s Extension of University Education Act. Tightening the “pass” – the document that was the basic means of control over black people – was done by the Abolition of Passes (Coordination of Documents) Act.
In Israel, “judicial reform” is used to describe the destruction of democracy, starting with ending judicial review of the executive and Knesset. The prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, tells foreign TV that the changes are small and the opposition is silly. He does not explain why, then, he and his partners have been ruthlessly determined to ram it through, despite colossal opposition.
In South Africa, removing the vote from Coloured and Asian citizens set off mass protests, led by second world war veterans. The highest court, the appellate division, struck down the vote law as unconstitutional. The Nationalists used their majority in parliament to set up a high court of parliament, which overruled the appellate division. Coloured and Asian citizens lost the right to vote.
Opposition to apartheid grew. The Nats, with their majority in parliament, enacted the Suppression of Communism Act, giving the justice minister the authority to issue arbitrary decrees severely curtailing personal freedoms. Punishments included house arrest and being forbidden to be with more than one other person, and prohibition on public speaking or writing. Offenders could get up to five years in jail. Communists were the first target, followed by liberals – even fervent anti-communists – and anyone who opposed apartheid, peacefully or violently. Then came 30-day detention without trial, which grew to three months, then six months – and finally detention without end.
Many thousands were “banned”, detained without trial and sentenced to lengthy imprisonment. Army and police repeatedly went into segregated black townships and killed and brutalised people.
In Israel, about 1,200 West Bank Palestinians are reported to be imprisoned without trial. The defence minister signs the orders for security reasons, to deal with terrorism. The army constantly raids West Bank towns, wreaking havoc and detaining more suspects. Tragedies continue.
Under the guise of fighting crime in the Arab community, the national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, wants a law to give the police the power to jail Israelis without charge or trial – a policy already practised in the West Bank. He wants an expensive “national guard” under his control.
In South Africa, a secret Afrikaner organisation, the Broederbond (band of brothers), pulled the strings behind the scenes. It approved every job of significance: school headteachers, police, senior prison and army officers and civil service members. Its partner was the Dutch Reformed Church, described as “the Nationalist party at prayer”. Calvinist and conservative, its priests declared that the Bible was literally true, that it justified apartheid and Afrikaners were the chosen people, whose mission was to save “white civilisation”.
The Nats applied “Christian national education” to schools. Radio and television were tightly controlled. Movies and theatre were censored. Thousands of books were banned as “undesirable, objectionable or obscene”. Marriage across colour lines was prohibited. The entire country was divided so that people of different races lived in their own areas; whites took the most and the best. Millions of people of colour were forced out of their homes.
In Israel, the ultra-Orthodox have joined forces with Likud and religious nationalists to secure unlimited money for their separate schools, to keep their children out of the army and to impose their religious dictates on the entire country. They control Jewish marriage and divorce, and allow only Orthodox marriages. Their reach is only spreading.
In South Africa, international opposition to apartheid was rejected. The country became the “polecat of the world”. United Nations condemnations and boycotts and business disinvestment were dismissed. The economy sank. Finally, ruined, it could no longer support apartheid and this was a major reason for whites being forced to give up their power and privileges in 1994.
In Israel, the results of the coalition’s assault on the judiciary, and its promises of much more to come, are well reported. The disastrous effects on the economy are already emerging. The United States gives Israel $3.8bn-plus military aid every year and defends us against attacks, whether justified or not, in international forums. We depend on the US for survival, but we are losing support in Congress. Coalition leaders couldn’t care less.
The education ministry’s director general has quit in protest at the judicial overhaul. Judges are denigrated. The coalition wants the attorney general fired. The lawyers’ association is being defanged. Stringent control is under way for the media. Shabbat observance is coerced. Culture and women’s rights are coming under restrictive control. Bedouin are evicted en masse. Protesters are called traitors.
We are at the mercy of fascists and racists (both carefully chosen words) who cannot, and will not, stop.
I write about South Africa and Israel because I know both of them, 53 years in one and nearly 26 years in the other. Neither is unique. The same pattern of rightwing repression has happened in our time in Hungary and Poland, in Asia, Africa and Latin America, and earlier in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s.
I did not want to write this article. It was torn out of me, addressed to Israelis because the rightwing government is taking the country into institutionalised discrimination and racism. This is apartheid. South Africa under apartheid was straightforward: white v black.
Israel is complex. The 21% Arab minority has the vote. Everyone pays the same national insurance and enjoys the same benefits – medical and social welfare. In hospital, I, a Jew, share a room with Arabs and we are cared for by the same Jewish and Arab doctors and nurses. Everything is open: beaches, park benches, movies, theatres, restaurants. The apartheid label is correct, but caution and thought are needed about comparisons.
In Israel, I am now witnessing the apartheid with which I grew up. Israel is giving a gift to its enemies in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and its allies, especially in South Africa, where denial of Israel’s existence is intense among many black people, in trade unions and communist and Muslim circles. BDS activists will continue to make their claims, out of ignorance and/or malevolence, spreading lies about Israel. They have long distorted what is already bad into grotesqueness, but will now claim vindication. Israel is giving them truth.
Benjamin Pogrund was deputy editor of the Rand Daily Mail in Johannesburg, closed down because of its stand against apartheid. He has lived in Jerusalem since 1997 and was founder director of Yakar’s Center for Social Concern.
- The original version of this article was published in the English-language version of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz