Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Assassination of William the Silent

Four hundred and ninety-three years ago this month a German monk sent a letter to the Bishop of Mainz complaining about the Church practice of selling "indulgences"; that is, the forgiveness of earthly sins in return for hard, cold cash.

The result, eventually, was a series of rebellions, revolts, massacres, and wars that harrowed Europe from the gray coast of Dunnet Head to the sunny sands of the Côte d'Azur, from the dark headlands of Brittany to the dark forests of central Silesia. We will never know how many lives were taken amid what horrors of murder and rape and ruin and merciless hatred.

All because many people of the day couldn't agree whose church was Church and whose god was God.

Catholics and Protestants, and those who wanted to use Catholicism and Protestantism to advance their less-elevated ambitions, butchered and harried each other for over a century, from the "Peasant's War" in 1524 to the final bloody brutalities of the Thirty Years War in 1648 and the subjugation of Ireland in 1651. The hatreds bred bone-deep still linger along today; ask anyone in Belfast or, for that matter, in the stands at Ibrox or Celtic Park.
By and large the peoples of Europe - and here I exclude the turbulent breeds in the Balkans, which have learned nothing and forgotten nothing from the fucking Battle of Kosovo in fucking 1389 - no longer fight over religion.

The peoples of North America, having sprung largely from refugees of those fights or from fugitives from the very idea of such fighting, did not take their religions to the bayonet point before the modern nations of Canada and the United States were founded.

And, given that despite the lies you will often hear from those whose collection plates and political wherewithal grow from the ignorance of those lies both nations were founded largely by men with little or no use for a formal coupling of religion and the state, since the founding North America has largely been a place where religion, as Mark Twain described it, has become like dandruff; something that many people have "...and spend time and money on it and seem to derive considerable pleasure from fiddling with it."

But not to the point of killing other people over.

And that, to my mind, is a very good thing.

Religion, and its quiet companion, faith, can produce great things from the mind and the hands; art, music, and literature, love, forgiveness, and kindness, comfort and mercy.

But those same can - and only can - produce the blackest of human cruelty and pitiless destruction.

A good man or woman can do good from the heart within them; an evil man or woman can do evil from their heartlessness. Only belief that doing death and giving out pain is pleasing to a God can cause a good man or woman to do great evil.
Now bloodyhanded death is being reaped in the name of another religion, and it is even alike in that it has split into sects the better to hate and struggle against itself to kill, and maim, and rape, and hate, and destroy .

I'm going to suggest that we are seeing the Peasant's Revolt of the umma, the first violent spasms of the Islamic Eighty Years War; that the Muslim world has embarked on its own Wars of Religion, and for the next decades - and only decades, if we are lucky - we will see this war fought out amongst, and between, groups and nations wherever those professing one sort of Islam or another butt up against themselves.

Unfortunately, this will also mean that some of us living in the unchurched lands outside the Muslim world, the peoples and places that outgrew our infantile religious wars will be killed by the violent spray of this religious warfare.

Collateral damage, as it were, of the Islamic Wars of Religion.
We cannot "win" this war for the Islamic lands; there are not enough bullets cast to kill every living Muslim, which is what we in the Enlightenment West would have to do to "win" such a war.

Only those living within the places where the Muslim faith is practiced can, by doing what the West did and rejecting religion itself as temporal government, rejecting religious "law" as temporal law and religious mores as social strictures, do that. And that is what must happen - there is no middle ground. There can be no theocracy lite, no half-measures of an "Islamic State" any more than there could be compromise between the Catholics and the Protestants in the Holy Roman Empire in 1558.

Simply stated, Islam cannot stand half wahhabi and half free. The wahhabis, the jihadis, the rapists of unveiled women, the killers of unbelieving men, will not let it. It must become all one, or all the other.

We, the West, can help those who stand against these unholy holy men that kill for Allah as we stood - eventually, too late, far too late, but finally - against those who killed for Christ.

But if we respond to the barbarism of the jihadis by becoming ourselves Arnaud-Amalric we will lose even if we win. If we respond with panic, with fear, by sacrificing our laws and our liberties, we will defeat ourselves.

So we will simply have to learn to live with, and accept, that we will lose our lives, some of us, even the highest among us, in this war that is neither ours to fight nor to win. To accept those losses and go on without sacrificing ourselves to our panic fear.

On the evening of July 10, 1584 the then-leader of the Protestant revolt in the Low Countries of what is today's Belgium and the Netherlands was the Prince of Orange, William, first of that name and often called de Zwijger or "The Silent". He seems to have been a man of few words.

But of deeds, many. He was a leader in the Protestant rebellion against Catholic Spain and is still today revered in the Netherlands as a good ruler and a founder of the nation. But to a Catholic named Balthasar Gérard he was just a traitor to his Spanish king and a heretic to his Catholic religion.

So Gérard picked up a couple of wheel-lock pistols, the Desert Eagles of his day, infiltrated Delft, and met William as the Prince was leaving his house where he had just enjoyed a quiet dinner with a guy named Rombertus van Uylenburgh.

William got to the bottom of the stairs and Van Uylenburgh heard Gérard shoot William twice in the chest at close range. The Prince died on the pavement.

The Dutch set up a monument to the dead man and carried on.


As should we.

11 comments:

Leon said...

And because of that shooting (along with another murder), Harper is probably going to push for a Patriot(lite) Act. I'm hoping the opposition has the stones to hold it up if it goes down that path.

Trudeau's shown he has some balls in not supporting the commitment of F-18's to Iraq, he just might be able to convince people if the law is very anti-democratic.

Ael said...

Alas, yes.

Much of the problem in Canada comes from inadequate mental health care.

This latest shooter *wanted* to stay in jail but he was turned loose.

FDChief said...

I caught that Harper quote, Leon. I "get" that he's the Canadian version of Ted Friggin' Cruz but I honestly thought that y'all had enough sense to tell him to STFU when he really went off the rails. What'll tell us a lot is if he gets the papierien, bitte!" law he wants.

But my main point is that this isn't about surveillance, or law enforcement, or war, for that matter. It's about an entire population that's going through what the West went through to rid ourselves of the turbulent priests and their bloodthirsty adherents. For their sake and ours we'd better hope that they succeed. And for our sake and theirs we'd better hope that our own theocrats and fundies get beaten back into the goddamn wilderness where they belong. Or we're ALL in for a miserable 21st Century..

Paul Bibeau said...

This is an excellent piece, man.

Anonymous said...

Well said Chief. We should all truck on like the Dutch did. Or I should say as they did back then. I note that the Royal Netherlands Air Force has a samll F-16 detachment in Jordan as part of the anti-ISIL coalition and have been bombing jihadi targets in Iraq.

I hope to God (or Allah or Mazda or Buddha or Shiva or fill in the blank) though that the suggestion of a decades long war over there is amiss.

I do believe that although what we have today in Syria and Iraq may be the start of another Peasant's Revolt; it is not a new religious war but the re-awakening of an old one. The Shia and Sunni have been at each others throats for centuries. For instance consider Karbala, where lies the Tomb of Ali, one of the holiest places in Shia Islam. Ali's shrine there was destroyed by a Sunni Caliph in 850AD. Several other times the city and the tomb suffered destruction by attacking armies. In 1801 the shrine was completely destroyed by a Saudi Arab army under the leadership of the son-in-law of Abdul Wahhab. He also massacred many of the city residents.

mike

Barry said...

The only disagreement I have with you, FDChief, is the metaphor of the European (Christian) Wars of Religion. That's assuming that what's going on in the Middle East, both geopolitically and religiously, will play out any way like it did in Europe.

Brian Train said...

Excellent piece FDChief, but the wrong specific inspiration. The two Canadian loons in question were not emblematic of the struggle going on in the Muslim world: they were drawn to Islam on their own power, because they had lost what passes for direction in life over here.
They had never left Canada.

Meanwhile, we will get out "paperien bitte!" laws.
In fact I think they are going to get rammed through this week, because the legislation was written months ago.
The Conservatives have a majority in the House of Commons (given them by only 23% of all eligible voters in the last election, because so few of us can be bothered to show up) which means all the filibusters in the world will only hold this up for a few hours before they invoke closure (meaning "shut up and vote").
Harper has an eye for tactical opportunity, and ordinary people in Canada are so vulnerable to hype and mawk since 9/11 it will sail through.
And we will never be able to turn the clock back on all this, not completely - and it's not over yet: there is an election due in about a year but there are no term limits in Canada.
Your main point stands, though, and very well put - I can only hope that in the end they will succeed and throw out the "turbulent priests."

FDChief said...

I don't know if the Islamic Wars of Religion will follow the European pattern, Barry, but I'd bet that they will, at least, mimic the European wars for viciousness and mayhem. There's nothing like religion for finding and empowering people like Arnaud-Amalric (the "kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out guy).

FDChief said...

Brian Train: That was why I brought up the William the Silent comparison; our boy Gerard wasn't some fanatical Spaniard; he was a local Frenchman "radicalized" by the sectarian conflict. We're going to continue to see those sorts of guys. We need to be very careful that we don't produce their opposite numbers from the Christian/militia/rightwingnut side or we're going to find out how places like the Bakans get so fucked up...

Barry said...

FDChief: "but I'd bet that they will, at least, mimic the European wars for viciousness and mayhem. "

Oh, I'll agree with the - Iran-Iraq War, anybody? However, in the end that was an attempt by a neighbor to take advantage of a revolution; IMHO religion was secondary.

FDChief said...

Barry: I think that that's the MOST disturbing part of the most recent round of Middle Eastern wars and uprisings. There were bloody rebellions and even some wars (Iran-Iraq being perhaps the bloodiest) between Muslim states, but the Sunni-Shia (or any other) schism was either not at all or only invoked after the fact to justify nationalist or tribal ambitions.

But THIS round...this is starting to have some nasty religious overtones. The IS boys are trying desperately to make this about Sunni purity against Shiite (and everybody-else) heresy or infidel-ity. The degree to which they succeed will have a hell of a lot to do with how toxic this mess becomes.

But...the underlying conflict has been simmering for a long time now, and that's the Islamic-theocrats-in-general against the secularists; THAT's the war that, to me, will determine whether this round of wars follows the European pattern and ends up in the wholesale rejection of theocracy and religion-as-civil-law (as it largely has in Europe and North America) or whether the Middle East continues to be half wahhabi and half free.

Ironically, I think the harder the jihadis and the wahhabis push for their version the MORE likely that the eventual pushback becomes. It took a century and a half of brutality to sicken the West of the idea of religion or faith as central to political allegiance. How long it will take for to - or whether it will - happen will be the big question regarding this hot mess...